Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Sometimes I'm just happy I'm older"

What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was certainly confused about my life, but I felt I had things under control:

In January, I made some major headway in reducing my debt. In February, both my financial and my giant ass situation improved, but my relationship didn't. Then, the summer, um, sucked. Like, a lot. And then, you know, healing and change.

I spent about a week at "home" during my holiday break from work -- partly out of boredom, but mostly out of genuine interest. I suppose I still put home in quotations because I think I'm still a little resentful about having grown up in a place that had little to offer. Or in a family that wasn't able to keep me as safe as I believed they should. But, amazingly, I don't really feel that way anymore. It was certainly a gradual process -- all 27 years of it -- and I only really started to notice my own appreciation for my home this year. Because of circumstances -- some positive and some negative -- I've been back to Pennsylvania, and my mother's house, five times in the last six months. That's, like, a record. Every year since I left at 18 I've hated going back and avoided it whenever I could.

But, in June, I began to notice a slight shift. Which, oddly enough, I attribute to the price of cereal. I visited home for my first extended period since the middle of college, and while there, I made a trip or two with my mother to Wal-mart. And, while I don't necessarily agree with their business practices and much prefer Target for my bargain-priced groceries and personal care items, Wal-mart is just closer to my mom's house. They sell two things I wanted -- hair color and cereal -- for dollars less than I pay in New York. And, it occurred to me that, maybe, just maybe, there's something to be said for living in Central Pennsylvania, particularly with an economic crisis barreling down on us (hindsight is, of course, 20/20).

I noticed it again at Thanksgiving (Honey Nut Shredded Wheat is $2.50 a box?! Seriously?!), only not directly tied to a trip to Wal-mart. Although I was in a pretty terrible emotional state, I had pleasant conversations with my mother and brother, and gained perspective (and, more accurately perhaps, distance) to their considerably less than perfect living situations. It was not only nice to feel genuinely missed in their daily lives, but missed period. And while their situations are not ones that I wish to be in (and am grateful that I am not anymore), I've come to appreciate the value of staying the hell out of it. I love them, but I don't need to fix them.

And having just returned from another extended stay, I can honestly say that I had a nice time (dance party in Brett's room!). I was asked by numerous people if I have any plans of moving back. And, for once, rather than laughing, I responded with, "well, I wouldn't rule it out someday." And I certainly couldn't have thought that, let alone said it, five years ago when I moved to New York. I have no plans to move back -- or anywhere -- in the immediate future, but unless something (or, more likely, someone) keeps me here, I don't see myself ringing in 2012 in Times Square. The psychic did tell me I was moving in 2009, after all, but I thought she just meant to Park Slope with Michelle.

On the year-end note, though, 2008 wasn't all misery. I thrived on strengthening two of my closest friendships -- Michelle, Mary: I would be at the bottom of the East River without your support and quick-witted insights; and making new ones -- Kim, Marissa, JP: I adore you and look forward to more drama to discuss ahead. And while I may not be more than 12 pages into the book, for those that don't know already, I did lose my publishing virginity this year to a real live magazine (with a circulation of 2.5 million, no less!).

No... I still have no money, I'm still in the same job and my ass is still bigger than I'd like, but, as has become my trademark phrase over the year... I'm doing just fine. Thank you to everyone and everything (Coldstone, Celexa, writing, Yellow Tail Shiraz and reruns of House of USA) who helped me get through 2008. And a preemptive thank you to all who will hear me bitching through 2009!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adventures in cookie-making

As most people who know me can attest to, I'm not really what one would call a holiday person. I went through brief periods of loving the holidays -- when I was young and it was all about what Santa brought me ("TWIN CABBAGE PATCH DOLLS AND THE TWIN STROLLER??!?!! For me?!"), then again when my high school sweetheart made me a part of his family's many holiday traditions like the weird card game I can't remember the name of, and again when I first moved to New York and started to make my own (albeit rather short-lived) traditions of visiting Rockefeller Center, adding ornaments to my own tree and celebrating "Fibonacci Hanukkah" in addition to Christmas.

Anyway, not so much into the holiday spirit the last few years. I've come to see December, in general, as a monsterous drain on my financial and emotional resources. Can I spell G-R-I-N-C-H? Yes, yes, I can.

But for the last few days, as I've walked around the city and peeked in people's windows, I've actually regretted not getting a Christmas tree this year. I walked by one this evening that was so colorful and festive and I had to have it. I wanted to sing songs about Santa Claus around it with my non-existent children and drink HoCho by the fire. In the absence of these things, though, I bought some cookie mix and, at 11pm on a Wednesday night, am making Christmas cookies.

However, this Christmas cookie-making isn't going exactly as planned. Well, no, that's inaccurate... it wasn't planned. So then, I guess, technically, it's just not going well?

First of all, my cookie sheet is ever so slightly too large for my oven. (Why do I feel like this is an "only in New York" anecdote? Tiny apartments equal tiny ovens?) So the oven door is ajar during the baking process. Tip number one for unsuccessful cookie baking, let me tell you. Doesn't produce an evenly baked cookie. And, if you want anything in a cookie, you want it evenly baked.

Issue two is less of a logistical one: I live alone. I love cookies. Theoretically, I have all of the cookies to myself. Which, um, is pretty freaking awesome... I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this... Over the last several months I've lost about 15 pounds and I am now in significant danger of putting it back on in one evening by consuming my weight in both unbaked and fully baked cookies. So, a solution? I'm giving at least half to my Secret Santa (I think we're calling it Elfster or something, though?) tomorrow at our holiday party. I hope she likes oatmeal chocolate chip.

Forget what I said about the cookies not baking evenly and this not going well... batch numero dos just came out of the oven and they are bloody amazing! Someone should really just scoop me up right now to bear their child because I make a mean cookie. Kids will be coming from all over the neighborhood, I tell ya.

Observe how they are all perfectly circular and delicious-looking. They are, and I am responsible.

I think I had a third mildly amusing point about Christmas cookie-making when I started this post, but it doesn't matter now, as I am a success! Fa la la la la la la la laaaaaaa!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"When I get money, I'll get funny again"

I'll return to one of my original themes of this blog: my debt. These last few months have been especially difficult for me financially. Like, retired dad bailout bad. Of course, I'm not alone, with the country being in a recession and all, but having company in my misery doesn't really make me want to do a jig. Financial life sucks for pretty much everyone. I get it. This is just what I have to say about it.

I've been writing down everything I spend like a crazy person for months. Months. I have an Excel spreadsheet where I record all of it from a coffee at Starbucks to my student loan payments. Its truly exhausting to keep such an extensive record of my cash flow. I come home each night with my receipts and type away in those little judgmental cells, until I see what a douche I was and curse myself for allowing myself a $5 footlong from Subway that was actually my lunch and dinner. I tend to send myself into a tailspin when I forget to add in the 75 cents I spent on peanut M&Ms from the office vending machine. And then, suddenly, I'm $20 short for my cable bill and I feel like a complete failure as an adult.

Could I move to a less expensive city and get a job and live happily ever after? Probably. I often wonder why I'm still here when in a more normal place (read: median rent for a one-bedroom apartment less than $2K a month) I could be on my way to owning something. People I know are buying houses. My stepbrother, four years my junior, is house-hunting.

Yesterday my father asked me about the will I was supposed to have made out months ago. I asked him if he thought he should get my laptop, my Oscar de la Renta coat, my book collection or my unfinished novel. Because, sadly, I have nothing else. ("I'll take the novel," he joked.) If I had to moved to, say, Philadelphia, a five years ago instead of the if-I-can-make-it-here... capital of the world, I'd probably at least be able to will my dad a car or something. But I live in (and, unfortunately, still kind of love) New York. And, the city is only partially responsible for my debt problem. A love of eating out (why would I try to cook my own pad thai when someone who knows something about it can?) and an obsession with beauty products did play a small part, too. Having said that pad thai and lipstick are more expensive here than most other places, so, really, F you, New York. City that I love to hate, but won't leave.

The stress of living on a to-the-dollar budget has manifested itself in the form of near-constant pain in my left shoulder. I wish the government was giving bailouts that included free massages.