Complaints from Rosings Park

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t written enough about our cats lately. I apologize. Here, then, is a revealing look at the psychology of the beasts with whom we share Rosings Park. These are the top complaints from each animal.

Max

Max is Very Serious

“Not enough birds.”

“This family is boring.”

“Simon plays too rough.”

Nemo

Nemo

“Dad is scary.”

“Dad is very scary.”

“Simon plays too rough.”

Simon

Simon Loves Kris' Lap

“The front door is shut.”

“Dad is in my chair.”

“My brothers are pansies.”

Toto

Toto and TS

“I want to snuggle.”

“I don’t want anyone to touch me.”

“I hate my brothers.”

The squirrels

Mad Squirel

“Too many cats.”

“Not enough pumpkin seeds.”

“Too many birds.”

The birds

Blue Jay in an Apple Tree

“Too many cats.”

“Not enough peanuts.”

“Too many birds.”

A Comics Geek Gets Serious

I originally intended to post this at Get Rich Slowly, but Kris rightly noted that I’ve beat this topic to death lately. I’ve revised it for posting here.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about my motivation for collecting comics. On some level I do it because I’ve always done it. I’ve been buying comics for 35 years. It’s a part of me. It’s a habit. But more and more, I’ve come to realize I don’t enjoy all of the comics I buy. That’s the main reason I’ve been able to cut my spending on them so sharply over the past few years.

After two days of introspection, I realized that what I really enjoy are the comics I remember from my youth, the ones I might have picked up at the grocery store or the mini mart when I was six, or twelve, or sixteen. I’ve decided to focus my collecting on the years between 1975 and 1986.

Making this decision is a huge relief. It gives me direction. Now I can look at my bookshelves and know exactly which anthologies to sell and which to keep. Now I can budget for future purchases. Now when I stumble on a stack of comic books at the thrift store or a garage sale, I won’t feel the urge to buy them all.

I’m actually excited in a geeky sort of way because I’ll be able to apply several of the techniques I’ve shared at Get Rich Slowly:

  • First, I’m going to purge some of this Stuff from my shelves. I’ll sell the books on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace. The money I earn from selling these books will be used to fund my future purchases.
  • In fact, I’m going to create a special savings account specfically for my comic collecting. Initially, this will act exactly like the stuff replacement fund I wrote about last week. As I sell the comics I no longer want, the money will go into this account.
  • Even more exciting (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this), I’m going to set a comics budget. That’s right — J.D., the man who does not budget, is going to create a budget for one aspect of his life. I’m going to place $50 a month into my comics fund.
  • To implement my monthly comics allowance, I’ll make an automatic transfer from my checking account into an ING Direct subaccount. It’s from this pool of money that I’ll allow myself to buy now books.
  • I’ll draft a list of goals. It may seem silly to have comic-collecting goals, but without them, I’ve just been buying things willy-nilly. (Why on earth do I have an Aquaman compilation? Nobody needs an Aquaman compilation.) With some goals for my collecting, I can focus on what’s important to me.

Earlier this month, I wrote:

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That’s the purpose of money. If you’re spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you’ve crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

For a long time, I’ve been collecting comics because I liked the idea of having them.

Kris, who views comics as a waste of time and money, would probably prefer I just got rid of them all, but I enjoy them. Now that I have no consumer debt, I can afford to spend a little money on them, and I’m happy to do it.

This isn’t really about the comics, though. It’s about taking a hobby I enjoy and determining why it brings me pleasure. It’s about setting limits, about setting goals, and about turning a collection of Stuff into a books I will read and enjoy.

Next: How I discovered that May 1980 marked the start of my “golden age” of collecting.

How to make your own canned salsa

J.D. and I already have our favorite fresh salsa down to a science, but we only get to enjoy it for a few short months when real tomatoes are in season. In order to see us through the rest of the year, I went searching for a canned salsa recipe that we’d like just as much.

Starting with a high-rated post on RecipeZaar, I’ve adapted this to our taste and the crops we grow (Anaheim and jalapeno peppers as well as the tomatoes), but you can play around with the heat by varying the types of peppers.

In the interest of full disclosure, the original recipe site has a few comments saying that the posted recipe doesn’t have enough acid to be safely canned in a boiling water bath. They suggest increasing the vinegar to a full cup or processing the jars in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure for 30 minutes.

On the other hand, there are plenty (200+) readers who say they have used this recipe for years and never had a problem. It’s only my second year with it; last year’s jars showed no problems. It’s up to you, but to be on the safe side, be sure not to decrease the vinegar, salt, or lime juice or alter the ratio of tomatoes to other ingredients. More lime juice or vinegar can be added if you like your salsa a bit more on the sour side. I hope you enjoy it!

Kris' Salsa

Canned Salsa (Medium-hot)

  • 8 cups very ripe tomatoes, cored & chopped (no need to peel or seed)
  • 2 1/2 cups yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups mild green Anaheim-type peppers, chopped
  • 1 cup jalapeno peppers, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle chili (optional– or you can add more for super hot salsa)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoon canning salt (also called pickling salt — it has no iodine)
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce (homemade or from the store)
  • 12 ounces tomato paste (homemade or from the store)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Chop tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and chipotle chilis by hand or in a food processor. Make it as chunky or fine as you like. In a large non-aluminum pot, mix everything together except the lime juice and cilantro.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Continue boiling 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice and cilantro.

Fill six pint jars (or your choice of jars) with hot mixture. Wipe rims and add lids and screw-bands. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Make sure the boiling water is deep enough to cover the jars by at least one inch, and start timing when the water returns to a boil after adding the jars.

Makes about 3.5 quarts (7 pints). Check the jar seals. If any haven’t sealed, you get to eat that right away! Keeps in the fridge for several weeks once opened.

If you want a very mild salsa, start by omitting the chipotle, cutting the cumin to 1 teaspoon, and removing the seeds from the jalapenos. Once the mixture has cooked for about 5 minutes, give it a taste, and season to desired “hotness” by adding the cumin, jalapeno seeds and chipotles (with or without the adobo sauce in the can). The recipe as listed makes a medium-hot version.

Self-Disciplinarian

It sucks to have a lack of self-discipline.

The month of August was rough for me. For a variety of reasons, I was under tremendous stress. My response was to do all the bad things I could think of, and do them a lot. I ate a lot of junk food. I drank a lot of alcohol. I played a lot of World of Warcraft (and other videogames). I did not write, did not exercise, and did not do my chores around the house. I gained 9 pounds between the end of July and the end of August. Unsurprisingly, my depression returned with a vengeance. It was a mess.

Fortunately, I knew it was a mess. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to stop. In the end, I decided to confess my self-destructive behavior to Kris. She wasn’t happy, of course — who can blame her? I wasn’t happy, either — but she listened patiently, and then helped me get my shit together.

And I have managed to get my shit together. It’s shocking, but good. In the past ten days, I’ve stopped eating junk food, stopped drinking alcohol, and deleted World of Warcraft from my computer. I’ve begun exercising again. I’m eating better (still not perfect, but much better than I was). I’m getting my chores done. I’m answering e-mail. And, best of all, I’m writing.

In fact, I’m writing so much that I’m almost a week ahead at Get Rich Slowly. Just two weeks ago, I was scrambling for every post.

I wonder why it is I sometimes lack self-discipline. If I knew, I could fix it. Sometimes this “flaw” makes life fun, but only in the short-term. (Long-term, it almost always makes life worse.)

Anyhow, things are back on course. I’m exercising, writing, and eating right. Now the key is to keep things going!

The Whole Point of Having a Tree

More from the J.D. and Kris show.

I’m upstairs, eating my dinner and answering e-mail. Kris is downstairs making a taco salad. She stops moving around, comes to the bottom of the stairs, and in a whiney/sad/bewildered voice, says, “Jay Deeeeee…..

I know I’ve done something wrong, and I wrack my brain to think of what it might be. I come up blank. “What?” I say, timid.

“I didn’t mean for you to harvest all of the apples,” Kris says, and I laugh. “It’s not funny,” she says. “I don’t have time to take care of all those apples. I told you I only needed three.”

“But you said, ‘Those apples need to be harvested.’ That’s a direct quote!” I say. I feel vindicated. I’m right!

“What I said was, ‘It’s time to start harvesting the apples,'” Kris says. “What are we going to do with all these?”

Actually, I had been wondering the same thing as I picked them. They’re pretty good apples: firm, fleshy, and not too damaged. I was impressed. Our pest traps seem to have worked. This is the first year we’ve had a big crop from our Jonathan tree, and it yielded about nineteen pounds. That’s a lot of apples. But what will we do with them?

“I’ll take care of the apples,” I say, hoping to buy some time, but Kris only sighs.

“You don’t pick apples all at once,” Kris says. “That’s the whole point of having a tree!”

Does anyone like apple pie?

By Any Other Name

Kris and I went to the local Methodist church rummage sale last weekend. I found a 25-cent label maker, a “cartigan sweater”, and a hideous lime green-and-yellow turtleneck. Kris found some treasures of her own.

For some reason, I took my camera, but the only thing I found worthy of photographing was the attendance chart in the children’s Sunday school room. It started with March 6th and ended in late June, but was still on the wall. There was heavy attendance from mid-March to mid-April, but otherwise things were sparse. I wouldn’t call any of the kids “regulars”, either. I don’t think anyone made it even half the time.

But what interested me was the list of names:

Alstin, Zachery, Daniel, Cameron, Devin, Damon, Caprial, Jacob, Aidan, Ellie, Stephen, James, Ryan, Sierra, Spencer, David, Berkeley, Gerome, Adrianna, Lauren, Samantha, Conner, Aaron, Ben, Taylor, Kim, Tiffany, Brandon, DeLancey, and Hannah.

Aside from Alsin an DeLancey, there’s nothing too strange here. Some of the names (Conner, Taylor, Sierra, Berkeley) make me tense, but that’s just personal preference.

Still, this list of names is pretty different from a similar list you might have found 30 years ago, when I was going to Sunday school. The crossover names are: Jacob, Stephen, James, Ryan, Spencer, David, Lauren, Aaron, Ben, Kim, Tiffany, and Brandon.

What I find interesting is that it’s the boys’ names that are most likely to stay the same from generation to generation. I’ve noticed this in the past. When looking at a list of popular baby names by decade, you’ll find that the girls’ names are much more changeable. There’s fluctuation among the boys, to be sure, but the girls’ names, especially after 1910, are subject to all sorts of whims and fancies.

Behind the Scenes at Pok Pok

Every evening it’s a struggle to keep from heading north to Pok Pok. I love Ike’s Vietnamese fish-sauce wings with a tamarind whiskey sour. Yum.

Amy Jo forwarded this short video of Pok Pok’s owner Andy Ricker describing his inspiration for the restaurant:

Now The Oregonian reports that Ricker plans to open Ping, a Chinese restaurant in Portland’s Chinatown. You can bet I’ll be looking forward to sampling the menu!

My Wife Is Sometimes Wrong

Toto vomited on the bed again today. She does this all the time.

It’s not so bad if we discover the hairball midday, but it’s kind of a pain if we don’t notice it until we’re ready for bed. This time was sort of in between. Kris happened to wander into the bedroom just after dinner, and from her loud cursing, I could tell what had happened.

Sometimes Toto manages to get the outermost layer of bedclothes, which is fine. But often — like tonight — she pukes all over the fitted sheet.

“Can you help me take the covers off?” Kris hollered down to me. I was writing at the kitchen table.

“In a few minutes,” I called back. “I’m in the middle of something.” I had spent all day trying to craft a rare personal-finance article about credit cards. I couldn’t find the right tone. I was frustrated.

I continued to write while Kris watched the Republican National Convention. Half an hour later, she came downstairs.

“Do you need help with the bed?” I asked.

“It’s too late,” she muttered. “I’ve already done it.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see she was carrying something in her arms. Oops.

Later, when it was time for bed, I went to the laundry room to fetch the sheet. It was dark, but I didn’t bother to turn on the light. The sheet was easy to spot amidst the socks and t-shirts. I also found a pillowcase. “Toto must have vomited on that, too,” I thought.

“Just one sheet and one pillowcase?” I asked Kris just to be certain.

“Yes,” she said. I went upstairs to make the bed.

When I got there, however, I noticed that both of my pillowcases were missing. (I sleep with two pillows, and have done so for most of my life: one for my head and one for my side.) I sighed and walked back to the laundry room to fetch the other one. I couldn’t complain, of course. If I’d helped Kris in the first place, I would have known how many pillowcases were in the dryer.

We made the bed. Kris fed the cats their bedtime treats. (Each cat gets three “greenies”, a sort of organic treat they love. Then they’re kicked out of the bedroom. Except on Cat Night. Cat Night occurs once or twice a week, and is a cause for much feline celebration. On that night, they’re allowed to sleep in the bedroom. Of course, during the summer it’s rare that all four cats are even ever in the house at the same time, even over night. Tonight, for example, Simon is outside and refuses to come when called.)

The bed made and the cats indulged, I went to my office to write.

“Aren’t you coming to bed?” Kris asked.

“I’m not done with tomorrow’s post,” I said. And I’m not. I can’t find the right tone, and I’m not sure if I should list specific credit cards. Hell — I’m not even sure I should cover credit cards at all. I’ve given them a wide berth so far.

“Oh,” Kris said sadly. Then she said, “Where’s my pillowcase?”

“What?” I asked.

“Where’s my pillowcase?” she said.

I got up from my desk and walked to the bedroom to gave her my best look of incredulity. Then I said, “When I asked you if there was just one sheet and one pillowcase, you told me yes.”

“I know,” she said.

“But then I came up here and I put that one pillowcase on my pillow, and I realized that you were wrong. My other pillow needed a pillowcase, too. So I walked back downstairs to fetch it.”

Kris realized what I was getting at. She started to laugh. I continued my lament: “And now you tell me there were actually three pillowcases in the laundry?” I let out a long, dramatic sigh and trudged downstairs.

“See how it is to live with you?” Kris called behind me as she continued to laugh. I confess that I laughed a little, too. Our roles in this sort of situation are usually reversed.

Now if only Kris could see how it is to live with her.

Disclaimer: I love my wife, and would not share these stories if I didn’t think they were fun.

The Idea of Having

My mother has been out of the hospital for two weeks now. She’s home and recovering well. The past two Sundays, Kris and I have driven down to see her, and the three of us have spent part of the afternoon sorting through mom’s Stuff.

“Do you still want this?” I asked mom again and again, holding up an old computer printer, a plaque with a pithy saying, or a calendar from 1998.

“No,” she’d say, and sometimes we’d laugh. Who still needs their calendar from 1998? But not everything was funny. “It seems a shame to get rid of some of this,” she said as she sorted through her clothes. “They’re all still good.”

We’ve thrown away some of the Stuff (calendars from 1998, for example), but last Sunday Kris and I hauled a lot of it to Goodwill. We dropped off nine large garbage bags filled with clothing and a couple more containing books and gadgets.

The idea of having
When we got home, I spent some time alone, thinking. I sat in my office and looked at the bookshelves. I looked at the rows and rows of comics. It occurred to met that although I’ve gained control of my current and future spending, I still struggle with the past.

 

“Will I ever read these?” I wondered. “Or are they just clutter?” I remembered a conversation Kris and I had last week.

“You know why you can’t get rid of Stuff, don’t you?” Kris had asked.

“Because I want it,” I said.

“You think you want it,” she said. “You like the idea of having certain things, but you don’t actually use them. You’ve got dozens of books stacked in the guest room. They’ve been there since the last time you purged Stuff a year ago. Have you needed any of those books in that time?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s my point. You can’t bring yourself to get rid of them, yet you don’t use them, either. You don’t even really want them. So they sit there. You wouldn’t even notice if you got rid of them.”

Kris is right. It’s the idea of having that appeals to me. When I look through my stacks of books, it pains me to think of purging them. Yet it also pains me to have them cluttering my life, always within eyesight, taxing my mental energy. I like the idea of having them, but not the actual possessing.

Who we were or wished to be
After I told my friend Amy Jo about our clutter conversation last week, she shared her own thoughts. “We each have so many interests, and certain things — like books — keep us connected to those interests, or give us the illusion that they do,” she said.

“But they also clog up our lives and make us less efficient at doing what we are and what we want to do right now. It’s hard to let go of the things that we believe represent parts of ourselves, or we hope represent us. In many cases, these things represent who we were or wished to be at one time — not who we are right now.”

Looking around at my collection of comic books, I had to ask myself, “Is this who I am? Is this who I wish to be? Are these books a part of me?”

I didn’t have an answer, and I don’t have one now.

The purpose of money
I truly believe that by gaining control of my desire to have things, I can better control my personal finances. Many people struggle with lifestyle inflation — increased spending with increased income — which is nothing more than a battle with Stuff. This problem is common, even for those who don’t spend beyond their means.

I’ve become adept at preventing new Stuff from entering my life, but it’s difficult for me to part with the Stuff I already own. This is a very First World problem, and in a way it makes me feel guilty. We’re trained not to be wasteful. That’s not a bad thing, but I think it can prevent us from making smart decisions.

I also continue to struggle with sunk costs. I know that I spent $30 on this book, for example, or $20 on that pair of pants. It pains me to think of getting rid of them. It feels like throwing money away. And so I stack Stuff in piles and carry it to my workshop where it will sit, doing no good to anyone, for months or years.

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That’s the purpose of money. If you’re spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you’ve crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

The Promise of Winter

The past two days have been strongly autumnal. The high temperatures have been in the low sixties, even though the sun has shone lazily through light clouds. The nights are almost cold. The lawn has begun to turn green again, a month earlier than I’d expect it to do so.

This evening, I worked in the yard. I wore a sweater as I pruned the trees. In the air, I could smell a nearby fire, but not a barbeque fire — a fire in a chimney for warmth. I could have sworn it was late October or early November, except that the leaves were still green (and the berries and tomatoes were still on the vine).

And just now, it’s 8:15. The sky has gone dark. Night is closing in, and with it comes the promise of winter.