We Ain't Nothin' But Mammals

Look at this awesome picture I took at the National Zoo! Seriously, it was like the animals were coming out to pose just for us. Sadly a lot of my pictures turned out quite blurry (I blame the oldness of the camera and my inability to keep my hands still), but this one is quite a beauty. I do love the big cats--and this big guy turned his head just at the right moment for me to capture his gorgeous face. I know if I got close he'd want to rip me limb from limb, but he looks so nice and snuggly from a distance.

SCL and I were running low on the "fun" funds for August, so instead of our usual dinner or movie out this weekend, we decided to head over to the zoo for some outside (and free!) fun. I hadn't been there since 6th grade, and he couldn't remember if he'd ever been. So, after lunch, we were off.

If you haven't been to the National Zoo, it's incredible. They have species I'd never seenin person before, like the red panda, which was beautiful to look at, but the poor critter had a touch of neuroses and paced constantly. And, there were certainly some humorous moments, too. SCL wanted to see the gorillas, but the indoor exhibit smelled so bad that I could not inhale through my nose and decided to wait outside. A few minutes later, he came out with a big grin on his face. "Two orangutans are having sex!" Ok, I had to see this, and sure enough, they were and everyone in the building was watching. It was pretty funny at first, but I felt badly for the female who afterward found a sheet and covered her head. Poor thing, she was embarrassed!

It was fun being a kid with SCL. Afterward we headed to 7-Eleven and had a big Coca-Cola Slurpee which we drank (slurped?) while sitting on the sidewalk outside. All in all, a perfect afternoon together.

Total cost of date: Metro fare, and a buck plus change for the Slurpee.

Bills, Bills, Bills: How well did we do our first month of joint budgeting?

While August is not officially over, I want to go ahead and take a look at our spending for the month to see how it matched up with our guesstimates.

First of all, can I get a what, what for us not going over budget in any of our areas? In fact, we were under a little in gas, laundry, household, groceries, and fun (i.e. going out on dates--although we have about $10 to spend over the weekend. Looks like an ice cream/candy date will be it for us this weekend!) We were way under in utilities, but that's mostly because our building is weird and we haven't quite figured out how they charge us.

I give us an A for the month. Seeing as how neither of us had budgeted as a couple, I think we did a damn fine job of creating a budget and sticking to it. I can't speak for us both, but personally I don't feel like we had to scrimp on much of anything. Yes, we were careful, but we also found cheaper ways of doing things we love, like using to get discounts on dinner, bringing our own candy to the movies, and choosing matinees over evening show times.

SCL and I have talked briefly, and what he suggested (and makes most sense to me) is sticking to pretty much the same budget for September to see how it compares to August. We may make some minor modifications by shifting a little bit from one category to another, but we'll probably be starting with about the same base amount for this month.

Happy weekend!

Office Lunches: A necessary evil or a big waste of time and money?

It's Restaurant Week in DC, which I had heard about but wasn't planning on enjoying much. Going out for dinner is a treat when you're on a tight budget and frankly, going out to lunch is a big waste of cash in my mind when I know I can make a perfectly yummy meal at home for pennies basically. But a co-worker suggested a "fun" office lunch at Ten Penh, a fusion Asian restaurant close to our office. She was psyched because it was *only* $20 for three course meal. First of all, only $20? That sounds like a shitload to someone watching her spending. Second of all, who eats three courses at lunch, especially when serious work is expected of you afterward?

Unfortunately, there was little room for protestation from this brown bag diva. By the time I joined in the ridiculous string of internal e-mail conversations in which everyone seemingly jumped at the chance for a delicious meal, I begrudgingly agreed, not wanting to be the odd one out. I am still the newest member of the crew and want to show that I'm a team player, even if it means dropping cash on lunch. (After conversation with another co-worker, I realized I wasn't the only one feeling it was a bit pricey for a meal.)

Here's what I will say. The restaurant was superb. My meal, although way too much, was absolutely delicious: ginger limeade, fancy spring rolls, crabcakes with tempura beans and cold peanut noodle salad, and finished it up with a chocolate mousse cake. Yum.

If only I had been able to enjoy the whole experience more. Here's why. Office lunches are awkward, at least with my co-workers. There are enough socially awkward people who work here that it is absolutely impossible to have normal, fun, or even just polite conversation. The big boss lady arrived late--and I will say that up until that point things had been lighthearted and even close to comfortable. But as soon as she arrived, you could hear crickets. She then proceeded to fill the awkward silence with shop talk for the rest of the time, excluding half of us, and boring me to tears. Is there a professional development course on small talk and making your employees feel comfortable? I will sign her up.

To make matters more awkward, another coworker who could have a doctorate in TMI decided that dessert is the proper time to tell everyone about the time she went to a nice restaurant and enjoyed a nice piece of tuna.... and then proceeded to have very bad gas and diarrhea for the next day. I am not even close to kidding. Seriously, I'm begging for these people to take Social Skills 101...or even Table Talk Do's and Don'ts. Or even Manners for Five Year-Olds. Even that would cover not using potty talk at the freakin' table!

When the bill came, our supposed $20 meal ended up being $31 per person. Frankly, I'm pissed that I paid $31 dollars for an hour and a half of awkwardness. Needless to say, my personal spending budget for the month has been maxed, so it's going to be a frugal weekend for me. As long as it's free of talk concerning bowels or work, that will be just fine with me.

So, lovely readers, what have your experiences with work lunches been? Friend or foe? Worthwhile or worth skipping?

I'm not so in love today

It was bound to happen--the end of the honeymoon phase. No, I'm not talking about living with SCL, which is still awesome (even though math camp means math I'm talking about my relationship with D.C. Here are some annoying things that have happened in the last day or so that have really made me question whether or not my relationship with the city is going to work out.

First, the Metro. Yesterday SCL and I were riding in together (so fun!). I kissed him good-bye at the Foggy Bottom station, took a seat, a pulled out Jimmy Carter's book to read for the next five minutes until arriving at my stop. That was until I heard the annoying message that a train ahead had broken down and we would be moving "momentarily." They proceeded to announce this repeatedly over the next 20 minutes. Finally we move again and get to the next station...where we proceed to stall for another 15 minutes. By the time I got to work, it was close to 9:30 and I was not so happy. (Also, this is one among many issues I've had with the Metro this summer.)

Second, the dynamics of my job. My boss today, I kid you not, emailed me to print out some spreadsheets for her. WTF? In the time it took her to email me about it, she could've done it herself at least 3 times! What, did she want me to deliver the sheets on a gold platter? I took the annoyance of having to go to her office as an opportunity to ask about some logistics for an upcoming event, which she had requested I research. When I came back with details, she proceeded to act terribly annoyed that I had bothered her with all of this cumbersome information because she was so busy--and for me to go over it with someone else in the office. Grrrr.

Third, the awkward networking. I went to an event tonight that was free (!) and supposed to be a networking opportunity with other health non-profits. Upon arriving, I realized I was the only newbie and everyone was speaking in those horrible acronyms that make absolutely no sense to me at all because--hello! this is DC, land of the non-profits. There are scads of them, all of which think they're the shit and think everyone should know what their stupid letters stand for. Needless to say, I drank my drink (non-alcoholic, trying to cut back), ate my overly priced appetizers (which were free--perk!), and scooted out of there before I could hear one more person defend Sarah Palin. No, I am not joking.

True, I am being emotional, and I'm not giving my beloved city much chance to tell its side of the story. But right now all I want to do is crawl into bed, finish my Julie Andrews memoir, and hope to wake up with a better attitude tomorrow. DC, let's give it another try, shall we?

Commenting Trouble

Friends, I've heard from several of you that the word verification on the comments was messing up, so I have removed it and switched to comment moderation instead. I can't even believe that there are those of you reading AND wanting to comment. Wahoo! You all are the best and encouraging me so much.

Off to eat the delicious homemade pizza that SCL baked!

(Is it feminist to talk about coupons?) Or, How I Got a Week's Worth of Groceries for $38

While many of our expenses are fixed (rent, parking, Metro, Internet), our monthly grocery bill is something we can have a bit more control over. This is our first month budgeting together, but we gave our best estimation and designated $250 for groceries this month (approx. $55 per week). Up until last night we'd done a bulk of our grocery shopping at Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, a relatively low-priced store just a mile from our house. Each week we sit down to make a meal plan and write a list. Generally speaking, we follow it almost exactly with the exception of an occasional impulse ice cream or candy purchase. (Before entering the store, I'll scrawl "candy" on the list and claim that we must get it since it's written on the list.) Each week we spend approximately the same amount of money on groceries, generally between $50 and $60, no matter how much or how little we buy. While reasonable for two people and even well below most of my friends' grocery bills, I still thought we could do better.

A few weeks ago I got something in the mail that our local Target was opening a fresh food section in their grocery department. Although I'm quite the Target lover, ours had been cramped and understocked, most likely due to the redesign, but last night we decided we'd try it and compare some prices, figuring we could get anything we didn't find there at the grocery store in the same shopping center.

As it turns out, everything on our list we found at Target. Note: we didn't need a ton of fresh stuff this week as we had leftover fruit and veggies, so that made shopping there a breeze. Here's what we got for $38.
Strawberries (on sale for $1.79)
Target brand half-and-half
Lunch meat
Garlic Bread (coupon for 50 cents off)
Cottage Cheese
Tomato Puree
Two boxes of whole-wheat pasta ($1 coupon)
Newman's Own Pasta Sauce (75 cents coupon)
Graham Crackers
Marshmallow Fluff (in oatmeal--seriously, try it)
Granola Bars ($1 coupon)
5-lb bag of flour (for pizza dough!)
Dove chocolates ($1 coupon)

Now, you may be thinking, "Gross, what could you possibly eat?" Before heading to the grocery store, we made an inventory of stuff we already had and what we could make by supplementing a few things. Generally, we never buy for a dish that requires us to buy all new ingredients. We incorporate what we already have and supplement each week. We buy things we use all the time at Costco (for a later post) and shop at the grocery store to fill out with extras in order to make meals.

Our cuisine isn't sophisticated, but we do eat relatively healthy dishes and don't find our evenings too chaotic with trying to make elaborate dinners. All in all, it works for us, and we're saving a lot of money in the process.

But, this post brings up a point about financial blogs and gender norms that my friend L and I were discussing. This is something I'd like to explore, but I wonder if others have thoughts on this. Our sense was that women generally talk household expenses and men talk investment, retirement, etc. Is this true? And if not, can someone lead me in the direction of a feminist financial blog? I used to follow Feminist Finance but she's taken a hiatus for quite some time.

Math Camp Commences! (It's sad that this is more exciting than my own life.)

For the first time since moving to DC, SCL and I left our apartment at the same time this morning to hop on the blue line--he to GWU and I to work. Same direction, same line, pretty awesome. It was fun having a buddy, although it's harder to find two open seats together than one and I didn't get a chance to do my daily Metro reading (current book: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land by Jimmy Carter). Today was the first day of Math Camp (which I will clarify here that all incoming PhD students in his department must take, not just those who didn't have stats in college.) So it begins.

To be honest, I didn't even have the slightest bit of first day school envy, although I did try to convince him that he/we really, really needed to go school supply shopping and that he really, really did need a pack of colored pencils, a protractor, and a Hello Kitty backpack. I guess I've just had so much new happening in my own life that I am kind of sick of things feeling foreign or unfamiliar. I appreciate that I have a routine now, that I know how long it takes to get from our apartment to my office, that I have a decorated cubicle full of feminist paraphernalia--the best being a new button I scored at NARAL Pro-Choice VA's happy hour event last week that reads"I heart Pro Choice Boys." Love it. You can get one for yourself here.

But, this is a big day. It's the real beginning of our journey as student and non-student for the next five years or so. One day down, (approx.) one thousand eight hundred twenty-four to go...

Bonding with Your Partner, Homemade Pizza Style

Over the last year, SCL and I have become what you might call pizza purists. It's not that we don't enjoy on the occasion a slice of Domino's, Pap John's, or other commercially-prepared pies. It's just that we think we do it a LOT better, healthier, cheaper, and delicious-er. You should try it, too!

The elements of the perfect pizza

1) The crust. This took a lot of hard work, attempting many different recipes, until we discovered the right one for our tastes. The recipe is from and is called Jay's Signature Pizza Crust. Seriously, trust me on this; it is the perfect balance of crispy and chewy. Each recipes makes two thin or one ridiculously thick crust. We usually double the recipe, split up the dough, and freeze each ball separately. One tip: the pizza dough will be a bit sticky if you follow the recipe exactly, so feel free to add up more flour until you get the right consistency.

2) The sauce. (I'll stick to tomato sauce for now.) I do not purchase jarred pizza sauce because it is so easy and cheaper to make your own at home. We buy a big can of tomato puree and I mix in garlic powder, oregano, basil, and black pepper. You could add a bit of tomato paste if you want it thicker. Also, I do not recommend using canned tomato sauce as its too watery. Trust me, tomato puree is the way to go.

3) The cheese. Do not buy shredded cheese! This is a big no-no. Shredded cheese has some kind of added preservative that makes it rubbery and gross when it melts. Buy some low-moisture mozzarella and grate it yourself. We buy ours at Costco because we can get a 5 lb. block for what it would cost for 1-2 lbs at the grocery store. It freezes just fine if you are careful to wrap it in plastic wrap, and some even suggest shredding the cheese when it's a little frozen because it's easier to grate. Tip: use the smaller grate as you'll need less cheese if it's more finely grated.

4) The toppings. This is the time to play! Some of our favorites are:
Mashed Potato and Bacon (Use the potato as a sauce. Believe me, it's delicious)
Sausage, Pepper, and Onion
BBQ Chicken and Red Onion
Pepperoni, Feta, and Sundried Tomato (If the tomatoes aren't in a jar, add them towards the end of cooking or they'll get charred!)

5) The baking. We figured out that it's best to cook the crust for a few minutes before adding the sauce, cheese, and other toppings. If you put it all in together, the crust might be underdone. Underdone crust = yuck. Ours cook at around 425, but you may need to adjust for your oven. If you like your cheese a bit browner, you can broil it for a few minutes (but be careful or your toppings might burn.)

6) The eating. Self-explanatory. We usually can polish off a whole one in one meal because the crust is so thin. It's perfect for two people with healthy appetites.

Happy Pizza Making!

TV Will Bring Us Together

One of the great things of having a computer genius/nerd as a boyfriend is that I benefit from all of the crazy computer skills (Napoleon Dynamite was right about that one), my favorite being the DVR-like computer he built for recording TV shows. The program is called MythTV, and to me it is a god.

This comes in handy for many reasons, but in particular for me because I'm lame and like to go to sleep around 10:00 (I get up at 6:30 to go to the gym and need all the sleep I can get), I don't get to watch some of my favorite shows while they air, such as Chelsea Lately and Mad Men. So, our little MythTV is my friend and stays up to record my shows. It's so smart--it can even search for later showings of the show if there's a scheduling conflict, so that I don't have to choose between Project Runway and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Whew!

Now, you might be wondering, why is this better than my DVR/TiVo/etc.? I'll tell you why. First, the program is free to use (right, SCL?). Second, the subscription to get TV listings is $20--for a whole year. Third, and best of all, it flags commercials. You read that right; it automatically detects commericals and skips them for you as you watch. Brilliant! This means no having to skip forward manually and risk losing a few riveting seconds of More to Love.

Strangely enough, I have found recording TV actually results in less overall TV viewing for me, mostly because I know it's there waiting for me whenever I want. There's no more urgency. Sometimes I'll binge on a whole week's worth of Bravo reality TV on Saturday, but seriously, there are worse things I could be doing with my time.

Big props to SCL for being such a good cable provider.

When "Ice Cream" means "Stop"

Sara over at 2000 Dollar Budget Wedding (yes, I read wedding blogs--sue me) wrote this great piece about what to do when tensions are high, and you and your partner fall into less than ideal communication patterns.

Her steps are:
  1. Decide how either of you can initiate a time-out. It may be a signal or a word. Matt and I opted for the word "ice cream" because it has so many positive associations for us and it seems like it has the potential to lift the mood just a little.
  2. Decide what each of you needs to do during the time-out to help you cool down. For me, I need to go do some yoga breaths and stretches.
  3. Decide what you can say to yourself to help ground you. I need to say things like, "We're on the same team; we're building a life together."
  4. Commit to coming back to resolve the issue with a conversation after both parties have calmed down and can talk rationally about the situation.
Amen, sister. I love how they've got a code word for "stop" but is actually a lot nicer sounding than "stop." Basically, it's all about giving yourself space to reflect on something bigger than just the current annoyances. It's not about denying the fact that no matter how much we love another person, we're going to get pissed off sometimes. Trying to work through being pissed off is not a good use of energy, especially when all it may take is a few minutes to cool off and resume the conversation.

SCL and I hit a rough patch a few weeks ago when we (re)discovered that our communication patterns are very different. Our conversations were just frustrating both of us, and I was left feeling hurt--and SCL felt misunderstood. So, we talked it over and decided in the future that we will:

1) Speak up when a conversation is not helpful (maybe we need a code word!).
2) Agree to drop it for the time being.
3) Decide a specific time to resume the conversation and honor it.

Any communication tips during stressful times that you find helpful?

Where the f--- did summer go?

It hit me this week when my friend said she was heading back to grad school in a few days. Is it really mid-August? This has been a crazy summer with moving, new job, new apartment, etc. and I guess I haven't noticed how ridiculously quickly the summer has gone. Before the move, life had come to a screeching halt, but it quickly made up for lost time when I got to D.C. Work has picked up speed a lot this week, too, contributing to the whole "where the f--- did summer go?" phenomenon.

I'm having trouble making time for this blog. Like a lot of blogger wannabes, I started with good intentions and thought that a lot of people would benefit from my writing (pretty narcissistic of me). But, since I'm doing my best to protect my privacy, I haven't told many people I'm writing this, and I'm not sure how best to go about promoting myself--so, my readership is fairly non-existent. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm writing only to myself right now (and possibly SCL since he added me to his google reader. Hi love!)

But, with math camp (!) starting in just over a week and real school starting after that, I know that things are going to shift soon, and that I'll start learning just what it means to be in a relationship with a PhD student--and if it's really that big of a change. This summer has been great, at least for me, since SCL has been working from home and we get a lot of time to spend together once I'm off work. He's been awesome about starting dinner and not complaining about the days I go out with co-workers to happy hour. I wonder how our time together will change once we throw class and homework into the mix.

We'll see how things go. So far we've been able to talk through most everything that's been hard about living together, and I hope the same is true for our upcoming adjustments to student/work life.