Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Marriage Matters: DINKs (part II)

Lately, we have truly started to shift into being DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids).  I wrote about this pretty much this time last year, when I had just gotten my first job where I made less than a checkout cashier but was finally working.  Now, we both actually make salaries.  We are saving for retirement, for a house, for vacation.  We are able to go out to dinner, and now that we are both so busy, we find ourselves actually sometimes throwing in the towel, saying, "I don't want to cook tonight, what groupons do we have?"

When we realize we need something for our house or our kitchen, we buy it.  When we realize we need something for our bikes, we buy it.  When one of us realizes that we either need something or want something, we buy it and tell the other person later, without getting permission first.  We are also patronizing small local shops for many of our needs rather than buying from large chains or ordering online, which is something that we always talked a lot about doing but never actually did.  We still don't have Nice Things - preferring to spend our money on going out and doing Fun Things, but the funny thing is that we don't necessarily have to choose between happy hour and upgrading our TV - as long as we are practical, we can do both.

We go out more generally, to things that sometimes cost money - we've gone to see two plays recently, both with discounted tickets that we still couldn't have afforded a year ago - and yet I find myself having trouble paying full-price for a movie.  We went to the Baltimore Eco Ball, a fabulous top-chef style event put on at the Living Classrooms foundation.  We go to the farmer's market and buy goat cheese.

I remembered recently a conversation with a friend where he was saying he and his wife were on the fence about having kids.  On the one hand, he thought his forties would be pretty dull if he didn't have kids, but on the other hand, it was really nice being DINKs.  I feel like now I understand what he meant.  It is really nice to live comfortably with very few actual responsibilities (besides our jobs).  When I was unemployed, we were never actually broke or hurting - we simply needed to cut back a lot on our spending to make ends meet, which we did, and it's nice to know that we can do that - but once you have a job instead of school, and almost no homework, it's a lot more fun to be an adult.   You can go see a play on a weeknight, or go camping at the last minute on the weekend (we haven't yet, but we could), or go out of town if there is a good deal on flights somewhere.  It's been pretty good, and I think when it stops being fun, we'll know it's time to move on to the next step.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Marriage Matters: We need a wife.

Last week as I was struggling to get dinner in the crockpot before work and not be late to court, I found myself muttering, "I want a wife."

This is of course a reference to the classic feminist essay Why I Want a Wife, which is a good read.  Ultimately,  I think the reason this article resonates with so many working women is that somehow, we end up doing two people's jobs.  We end up doing our own jobs, and the job of being a Wife.  Which while maybe not a full time job all the time, is definitely a part-time job.  Which I know, because I used to be a full-time Wife.

For example, I need to go to the optometrist.  And the dentist.  If I had a wife, she would have scheduled these things for me.  How do I know this? Because when I was a full time wife, I did these things.  Now that I'm a full time lawyer, nobody does these things.  I should point out that my husband is currently doing three people's jobs at work, so I really don't expect him to be at home being a good wife.

We also have suffered muchly in the category of healthy eating.  I used to meal plan and then shop and then prep food and then we would eat well during the week.  We don't do that any more.  We go out a lot more, partly because we can and partly because we couldn't get our act together to menu plan.  I have been trying to use the Meals for a Year menu planning site that Sara set up, but April's recipes really didn't appeal to us at all, and the last thing I want to do when I get home from a long day is make a new recipe, let alone doing that every day.  If we had a wife, she could sort through the menu plans, take out all the recipes with brocolli, and figure out what we're eating.  Then she could cook, or I could, because I believe in equality, after all, and then maybe she could do the dishes so that my poor husband doesn't have to when he gets home from work at 9pm.

If we had a wife, she would do the laundry for us.  Lately it has been overflowing.  To the point where I have actually had to help out with the laundry.  And we have had to do laundry during the week.  And somehow I still don't have anything to wear for court.

All of this whining is of course, natural when two people have both been working harder than they ever have before in their lives for a long period of time.  I started this job two months ago, and we've been simply putting off the stuff that hasn't been getting done, and enjoying life.  It's time, of course, to reassess our lives and figure out how we make things easier for both of us.  I have suggested, amongst other things, a chest freezer, so we can make frozen meals in advance and also stock up on healthy frozen dinners to turn to instead of going out.  I have struggled to not make bigger messes in common areas, because this way at least the place has been staying sort-of clean.   We will stock up on pantry items so that we always have ingredients on hand for quick, healthy meals like taco casseroles and chickpea curry.   And I don't really have a solution to the whole doctor's appointment thing, except to try to remember to call during lunch.

Anyone else there want a wife?  Or just somebody to pick up the slack a little bit?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Household: Floors, shoes, and dirt.

I have a number of friends who have recently purchased houses, and one of them expressed that as soon as their hardwood floors were done, they were going to become "crazy shoe people" and require everyone coming in to remove their shoes.  Inwardly, I kind of groaned, because while I totally and completely understand that shoes track in all kinds of dirt, I also don't really like removing my shoes when I come into somebody's house, but it seems that you cannot answer the question, "do you mind removing your shoes?" with, "yes."  (As Carrie Bradshaw learned in that Sex and the City episode.  Which is pretty much the only one where I sympathize with her.)

Removing my shoes bothers me for a couple of reasons, all of which are pretty much exclusive to being in a house with hardwood floors.  For the past two or three months, I've had this odd pain in the ball of my foot.  It's fine as soon as I put on shoes, and I've made it through marathon training as well as a 20-mile trail race without it getting any worse or better, and it finally lightened up a bit after the marathon (hmmm), but when it flares up, it is excruciating on hardwood floors.  (I know this because my yoga studio also makes people remove their shoes, and limping from the cubbies to the mat pretty much had me in tears.)  In addition, when I had another foot injury a few years ago, my podiatrist basically told me that I was to wear sneakers at all times, at home or at work, until I had fully recovered.  So I feel like maybe this is a valid reason to leave my shoes on. 
Another issue is that my feet are always cold.  Always.  Especially at my in-laws house, where removing your shoes is expected, and their kitchen floor is some kind of tile that must be chilled with frozen water running underneath it or something.  Even with regular socks on, I spend any time in the kitchen shivering.  My in-laws all wear slippers, and even my husband keeps an old pair of his slippers there.  Since we started dating, I began stocking up on fuzzy, warm socks which I always toss into my overnight bag when we go visit*.  In fact, pretty much anytime I go to stay at anyone's house, I bring the fuzzy warm socks, because it's just necessary.  I don't bring the socks to my friends houses when I am just coming over for dinner, although I'm thinking to start.  I also have a couple of pairs of shoes that I wear without socks, so when I have to remove those and am barefoot, it's quite chilly.

I've been wondering for a long time what the solution to my issues are.  I repeat, I definitely understand why people ask others to remove their shoes when they come into their houses.  Especially with hardwood floors, or pets, or children, or me as a friend.  However, I think that there are a couple of things that hosts could do to consider their guests feelings when maintaining a shoe-free household.  One friend on Twitter (I think Beth) suggested providing a basket of slippers for guests when entering your house.  Since slippers are generally pretty generic sizes, I thought this was a great idea.  Another alternative would be to provide a basket of socks.  I think a final alternative is to remind guests when inviting them over for dinner that you maintain a shoe-free home and they are welcome to bring their own slippers or socks.

Do you maintain a shoe-free home?  Are there any alternatives that I haven't suggested for making sure that both your guests are comfortable and your house stays neat and tidy?  Would you ever implement any of my suggestions?

*I think my mother-in-law also turns the heat up when we come to stay.  She's a nice lady.  She also buys me slippers for Christmas, but I don't yet have a spare pair to move up to their house.  I did find a pair of fuzzy socks in my stocking this year.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book Review: The Two Income Trap

I went to see Elizabeth Warren speak last summer, and after concluding that a) she was totally freaking amazing and b) she should totally be Senator Warren, I immediately picked up The Two Income Trap.

This book is amazing.  It is eye-opening.  And it will change your approach to marriage, to saving, to finances, and to your family.  Basically, the premise of the book is that since women have started working, households have begun to require two-incomes to stay afloat, meaning that if one partner loses their income, the household is screwed.

Warren and her daughter Tyagi carefully deconstruct the ideas that are rampant about American families who declare bankruptcy - the myth of the immoral debtor, the idea that if they just had more money, families would be financially comfortable, that if deadbeat dads just paid their child support on time, families could stay afloat.  They point out the way that creditors have changed the nature of the debtor-creditor relationship, making it nearly impossible to keep ahead of massive debt, and that there are very few ways for middle class families to save money.  They point out millions of scary statistics, like how much more likely single mothers are to go bankrupt now than they were ten years ago.They also point out how many of us are house-poor versus twenty years ago, and how bad it can be for a family if most of their income is tied up in their shelter costs.  They point out that Americans actually spend less on consumer goods than we used to, but somehow are also saving less than we used to, and point out all the places that money goes that it didn't used to - a house in a good school district, college, health care. 

Coming from a public interest background, I have seen the symptoms that the book describes, but never really understood the root causes the way that the book explains them.  For example, the bidding war for a house in a "good school district" has made property values in the area where I grew up skyrocket, and makes them crash in the neighborhoods where my clients live and then they can't sell their homes. It also disadvantages poor and  middle-class families.  In addition, some of the changes in the way creditors and banks are allowed to operate in the United States is pretty appalling.  There are also some pretty large holes in the safety net of unemployment and disability problems.  Warren also talks a lot about sub-prime lending, and how bad it is, particularly for women, and this was several years before the market crashed.

I think anyone who is young and trying to deal with the tricky art of navigating budgeting and expenses, as well as anyone who is living on a limited income, should definitely read this book.  Even though it is really scary and depressing, it offers some very practical solutions and considerations, like how to make sure you are putting enough in savings to have an adequate safety net.  It feels totally hopeless as you read it, but it's also encouraging for how to negotiate your life going forward.  If you've never really thought about what your financial plan should be, or what your plan could or should be with regard to public schools and kids, it's definitely great food for thought.  I'll be honest with you all, I'm not a big nonfiction person but I found this really thoughtful and engaging. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Household: The Gift Shelf

When we moved into this apartment, we got a storage room with a bunch of empty shelves.  We immediately commandeered one of them as a "gift shelf".  When we buy gifts, they go on the shelf.  It only starts to get really bad about three weeks before Christmas, when we move them to under the tree.  I like the gift shelf for several reasons:

1. I am not a naturally organized person, but I like to give gifts.  If I buy a gift in June for Christmas, I lose it and then you don't get it until next year.  

2. We can keep spare gifts there in case we have a last-minute thing for which we need an appropriate hostess gift.  

3. We keep all of the wrapping materials, cards, and gifts in the same room, so prepping is easy.  

4. I don't forget where we keep the gifts.  This was a problem at our old apartment, and we wound up with multiple gift locations.  

I do even put gifts for my spouse on the gift shelf, but I usually wrap them first.  He doesn't go through it unless somebody's birthday is coming up.  It's worked really well for us - on Black Friday, I bought his mom's Christmas and birthday gifts, and just stuck them both on the shelf.  It meant that we didn't forget that we had gotten her something, because we checked the shelf, and it means that we can be more efficient about shopping.  We can also buy small things as stocking stuffers, etc. when we are on trips and just unpack them onto the shelf.  It works really well, because then we aren't saying, "didn't we buy something for everybody when we were in Hawaii?"  

My parents do the same thing - my mom used to keep a bin of stuffed animals for emergency baby showers, my dad has an emergency stash of gift knives.  I really never knew that it was normal to bring people a bottle of wine until I hit my twenties.  I really thought the appropriate hostess gift was a paring knife.  We now have an emergency stash of wine as well, but that stays in our wine cellar (er, coat closet).  

Do you have a gift shelf or another stashing place for keeping gifts?  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Feminism Friday: Round Up!

There has been some interesting discussion of feminism in the blogosphere this week.  I missed a lot of it because I had four hearings this week and despite the fact I spent at least five hours sitting in a courtroom waiting for my case to be called, you aren't allowed to check Twitter on your phone, so I'm trying to catch up. 

Liz, over at Happy Sighs, seems to have lit the fire under everybody.  Here she is talking about why we still need Feminism, and here she is talking about being totally broke in her marriage, which somehow led to a discussion of women opting out of the workforce in the comments. Which led to a discussion of what feminism means.  Which led to a discussion of whether Sarah Palin is a feminist, which I checked into long enough on Twitter to point out that feminists do not make women pay for their own rape kits, end of question. 

My friend Renee posted this link to an article about why men should be willing to split the check or allow women to pay for dinner if they request to.  I will just say, I never really dated but I had this experience a lot.  I never liked having men pay for me.  I made it pretty clear to my husband early on, and usually we alternated who picked up the check. I grew up hearing the guys at my high school say, "if the guy pays for dinner, the girl should at least kiss him goodnight."  So I never liked the connotations of letting men pay.  But I also don't like being disrespected, and not respecting my desire to pay for my half of my meal, or even just saying, "you get the next one" is annoying. 

If you haven't yet seen the Doonesbury strips on Trans-Vaginal Ultrasounds, you should check them out

Apparently pregnant women are very similar to cows and pigs.  I wonder if the Representative who made those comments gave any thoughts to castration. 

If you are looking for a feminist children's book this Easter, or perhaps just a really really cute kid's book about bunnies, I highly recommend the Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

And for some truly light fare, Texts from Hilary.  

I know I missed a bunch. I know some people wrote posts in response to APW and I know more elected officials did more horrific things to women, so please post links here to stuff you think I, or everybody else, should read!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games

I wrote this review awhile ago, but I held off on posting it, thinking both, "do I really want to do book reviews?" and also "do I really need to tell all my smart readers that they need to read the Hunger Games? Hasn't everybody read it?"  However, my friend recently admitted to reading The Hunger Games and her husband said, "sounds like a chick book."  And then on Facebook, a friend gushed about it and somebody commented on her wall saying, "is that some dumb twilight sh*t?" [sic]

Let's just start out by disabusing the notion that a book that has a female main character is a chick book, mmmkay?  It's also not really a kids book, although the three books are all short and read really fast (you should have all three on hand before starting the first one.)

The Hunger Games is, at it's core, about politics, revolution, power, poverty, friendship, and survival.  There is a romantic story to it, but kind of the way James Bond movies have a romantic story.  It's not a romance, the way Twilight is.  It's much more Harry Potter, but instead of good vs. evil, everything has shades of gray. 

Hunger Games is about a society in which there are 12 districts and a Capital.  The 12 Districts once tried to rebel, and they lost. So now, every year, each district sends 2 children to the Capital to "The Hunger Games" in which the 24 participants are locked in an arena and fight each other to the death.  The books are incredibly creative, and not quite like anything else I've read.  I spent each book trying to figure out what would happen, and I never saw it coming. 

In most epic tales, you have a main character and a Gandalf/Dumbledore/Obi Wan Kenobi type guy.  Eventually that guy gets killed off and the main character has to finish what the old wizardy/advisory guy started.  You also have a main character that is a boy who goes on an epic quest to rid the world of evil.  Here, you have a girl who is simply trying to keep her family together and fed amid serious poverty and a hostile political environment. The Hunger Games turns the modern epic trilogy on it's head.  You also have a true partnership between the characters, in which both have strengths, weaknesses, and enormous respect for each other.

If you like:
-good stories
-strong female characters
-cautionary tales (think Oryx and Crake)
then you will probably like The Hunger Games.  Note - I did not put romance on the list.  That is because I think that if you are looking for a romance, you're going to be disappointed.

If you like Twilight, you will probably also like the Hunger Games.  This is because I believe the popularity of the Twilight books and the Hunger Games has a lot more to do with the fact that there aren't enough books that feature young women as the main characters, and a lot less to do with the fact that the Twilight books feature sparkly vampires.  However, if you hated the Twilight books and/or you subscribe to the belief that "if women like it, it must be stupid", you will probably also like the Hunger Games because they're awesome.

Have you read the Hunger Games, or are you holding out because you think it's a chick book?  Or perhaps a young adult book?  Do you agree with my assessment that it's not a romance, or were the romantic aspects of it a big draw for you?  Should I do more book reviews?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday Marriage Matters: No Regrets

So it's April, which means that I can barely remember what my New Year's Resolutions were, but I remember that our resolution was "no regrets" - that is, to really enjoy this year, and also to do all those responsible things that we've always said, "wouldn't it be nice if we were the kind of people that did that?"

On Friday night, I went out for girl's night with a few friends, and one of them commented to me that it's cool how my husband and I actually go out and do stuff.  And I thought about it, and then explained that it is probably because we spent so much of last year living on essentially a single income, and looking at all the fun stuff we could do, and thinking, "gee, when we have money, let's do that!"  Which is partly true - since we've both had full time, salaried jobs, we have gone out for happy hour, dinner, gone to a concert, etc.  Which is a big part of "no regrets" - I don't think we've had a single weekend where we said, "man, we didn't do anything".  We've had a few quiet Friday or Saturday nights, but they are pretty far between - we've been more overbooked than hurting for plans, so that contributes a lot to not feeling like we've been wasting our weekends.

We've also been spending more money - which is part of no regrets - not that we are spending stupidly or we bought a life-size storm trooper to hang out in our living room.  But we finally bought a couch, which we've been talking about for nearly two years.  Mark bought a new bike and it, and mine, needed to be tricked out for biking to work - so we finally got to do what we always talk about, which is put our money where our mouth is.  We went to locally owned bike shops and purchased products and made friends with the salespeople and got their advice about several things - which is how we've been wanting to shop, but generally feeling like we couldn't afford.

The thing that has definitely fallen by the wayside is our house - so we've been better lately about guarding some time on the weekend to make sure that we can get things done.  However, we've made some real progress looking at things like our cabinets and figuring out what how to organize everything better, which is great.  We will also be celebrating the holiday of "spring cleaning" this week and next, in which we thoroughly clean the house so that it is at least clean under all of the clutter.

How are you doing on your new year's resolutions?