Lunch in Paris

Unfortunately, this is not what I am doing, or why I haven’t been writing here. It’s the title of a wonderful memoir I stumbled across when I search “lunch” in my library’s e-book search engine. I actually wanted to read Best Lunch Box Ever (which I now realize is aimed at kids’ school lunches) so I could jazz up my work lunches–try eating sliced peppers, a piece of fruit, and some sandwich meat sans bread five days a week, because it will bore you to tears. They didn’t have it, but Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes was available. So far, I’ve read 80 percent of it since midday yesterday, and there’s still another hour and a half or so to kill before 5 p.m. today.

What has really resonated with me is Elizabeth’s desire not to be ordinary. She experienced all of the expectations that come with going to a decent college (Ivy League, in her case) and then wondering why, five or 10 years later, she and her friends hadn’t experienced the success they’d expected. “We were supposed to be famous, or at least rich by now. What the fuck have we been doing with our time?” she says.

She has a French husband, and in French culture, working above your station is looked down upon. Being ambitious and trying to do more than a basic office job–unless you were basically born into a higher or lower station–is almost offensive. She eventually convinces him to pursue his dream a la American. He succeeds in the preparation, networking, and execution, then encourages her to go out and follow her passion.

But the problem for her, and for me, and probably for many others, is that we don’t know how to do that. “What I want is to go to lots of cocktail parties with famous writers–peers, mind you–sign books, eat tuna carpaccio on wasabi flat bread, all while never having to sit down at my computer ever again.”

She was getting pieces published, but slowly. And she was giving tours of the Louvre, but for someone else’s company.

“I felt like I was doing something really valuable–sharing the love of museums my father had given me. But it wasn’t mine. Once again, I was a charming cog in someone else’s wheel. I was once again forced to confront (with the accompanying self-loathing) the fact that I had the goods, but not the discipline or perseverance to create something for myself. How could anyone so ambitious be so inert?”

THIS IS WHAT I FEEL LIKE EVERY DAY. I know I’m good at certain things, like writing, editing, and research, and I enjoy them, too. But getting myself to follow through with any kind of step past a job with someone else as a boss, where nothing is completely reliant on me, has been impossible. I know I want to do more. I think I want to start my own company. But beyond coming up with ideas and skeleton details for them, I never get anywhere.

How do you nail down what you want to do on your own? How do you get there?

Happy hour at home

Hey everyone. (Really, no one, but whatever.) I kind of forgot about this blog, or when I remembered it, I actually had work to do, or I was in the middle of reading a good book online at work. (Public library e-books are my greatest recent discovery.)

But here we are!

I’m instituting happy hours at home. K is trying to save money, because his car got totaled and the insurance gave him enough money for half of a down payment. So that means a lot fewer burgers at HamTav and Thames Street Oyster House, and definitely less spontaneous “let’s get pizza” nights during the week. (That won’t keep us from going to Tokifact on Thursday, though.)

I’ve been having a glass of wine at night during the week. That’s been especially enjoyable when I went to class at Inline in the morning–those empty calories mean nothing! K and I both end up snacking before we eat a real meal after work, too. But it’s never anything particularly exciting. I had a few bites of leftover stir-fry last night, and K had his usual Tostitos lime chips and Safeway “fresh” salsa. It seems way fancier and less depressing to intentionally make little bites before we actually have dinner. Kind of like going to happy hour, but we can wear whatever we want and no credit card swiping is required. Plus no alcoholic drink mark-up.

What kinds of snacks should I make? I’m in need of some recipes, you guys.

Getting into good financial shape

Last night, I went to see Alex von Tobel, CEO of Learnvest.com, speak about her new book (which I wasn’t going to buy, but it was $8, so…) at Sixth & I in DC. I thought I wasn’t going to like her, and that the session would be light on helpful content.

Opposite happened. She’s surprisingly likable, even though she’s clearly super rich and went to Harvard and seems like one of those girls who has a TV show on Bravo–someone I definitely wouldn’t feel that I could relate to. She used the word “bananas” a bunch of times, and she shared anecdotes with the crowd of about 200 that made her seem like an older, wiser sister, rather than a fancy-pants CEO with millions of dollars.

You could tell how much she really cared about helping people get their money situation sorted out, and for an affordable price. Certified financial planners generally cost at least $3000, which is pretty prohibitive for most people I know–that’s what I make in a month. Learnvest offers three plans that vary in price. The Budget Starter costs $89 initially, then $19 per month. The others have higher start-up fees ($299 for the Five-Year Planner, $399 for the Portfolio Builder), but they’re all $19 per month after that. For all of the plans, you work with the same CFP every time, and you can email them as often as you want.

But there are a bunch of free features, and their 50/20/30 rule has been helpful. You allocate 50 percent of your monthly take-home pay to essentials–rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation to and from work. Twenty percent goes toward your future–debt, savings, retirement, investments. Thirty percent is for lifestyle, which is everything else, like restaurants, bars, the gym, etc. They’ve got one of those account managers like Mint, but I like Learnvest’s better. You’re able to group transactions by 50/20/30 category, so you don’t have to take the extra step of calculating the percentages yourself.

At the talk, she gave a bunch of helpful tips that I didn’t know. Did you know you CAN close credit cards? One per year, and only if you won’t be applying to grad school or for any kind of loan or mortgage, because your credit score will take a dip for a short period. I knew you could call your credit card companies and ask them for a credit line increase or a lowering of your APR, but I didn’t know that you should only use 30% of your card’s value–more than that and you’re making credit score ratings think that you might have some trouble with money. You accrue credit card interest DAILY, not monthly. An emergency fund to cover six months’ expenses is important, but if the more degrees you have, the more months you need to have put away. Renters insurance is a no-brainer, and if your apartment burns down, or someone steals all of your valuables, you get money back to buy all new stuff. Amazing.

I’m actually kind of excited about saving money now. Next thing on the list is paying off my credit cards so I can build an emergency fund.

Picking a new city (again)

K (boyfriend) and I are planning on moving to a new city in a year and a half, after he’s done with five years of teaching at his school. He will have been in the city for five years, and I’ll have been here for two.

Neither of us is particularly enthralled with Baltimore. It’s a small city, and there are a few small neighborhoods that I like. But there are only a handful, and I feel like we’ve been to most of the restaurants that we’ve wanted to go to. As people who really measure a city by its quality of food and number of options, we’ve kind of worn out our choices in Baltimore. Sure, DC is close, but not close enough to make for a spontaneous trip.

I’ve also felt more unsafe here than I have in other cities I’ve lived in, like DC and Boston. It’s possible it’s because I live at the edge of a pretty safe neighborhood and a not great neighborhood, or that there were two separate shootings in a few days within two blocks of where I live. Also, muggings seem a lot more common here than they do where I’ve lived before. Maybe my concerns are irrational, but I don’t feel comfortable walking alone, or even in small groups, at night. This isn’t something I want to feel in a place I plan to be for a while.

Right now, I think we’re considering Chicago, Portland (OR), Philadelphia (though K isn’t too jazzed about living there), and maybe Denver or Austin or Seattle. I’m hesitant about the West Coast, as my family is here and I’d miss being within a reasonable distance, but really, once driving home in less than a few hours isn’t an option, it’s all the same.

The idea of moving yet again (I’ve moved to new apartments, sometimes to new cities, every year) is so daunting. Finding a new group of friends, new jobs, a new apartment, new routines doesn’t sound like fun to me right now. I’ve done it so many times, and with varying degrees of success. Still, I can’t imagine living here forever.

Anyone have positive experiences living in Chicago, Portland, Philly, Denver, Austin, or Seattle?

It’s the little things

You know how you start the day and something small happens, like you forgot to bring your gym clothes to work, or you discovered a scuff on the back of the shoes you wear practically every day? And then it seems to compound–you made a small error on something for work, the doctor’s office you called that has great Yelp reviews doesn’t accept your shitty insurance like they supposedly did, and your chin acquired a painful zit overnight that probably looks like it’s taking up half your face.

Gradually, you feel like the day is going down the tubes. If someone asked you how your day went, you’d think about it and say, “It wasn’t that great.” While you were in the midst of it, it’d seem like it could get better, and anyway, every day doesn’t have to be the best day ever. But after a quick reflection, you’d realize that it was actually kind of shitty, that the ho-hum of your usual day was punctuated with small events that tipped the scales to make the day not good at all. And you find yourself in a funk, in a grumpy mood, and like the day was a total wash.

It’s only 12:30 (also part of the issue–how is it not anywhere near 5 p.m. right now?), and I can already tell this is the kind of day I’m having. I’m looking at recipes for sweet potatoes and smoothies and salads and NOT thinking, Maybe I’ll actually make these, maybe they’ll taste good, like I usually do. I’m thinking, No way I’ll ever actually choose to eat a sweet potato, I’m not putting cabbage in a smoothie or even bothering to make one before work, this salad will never fill me up at lunch.

I know it’s partly mental, and that you make choices throughout the day, and that you can choose to be happy. But when you’re not inspired, and you just want to go home and take a nap with your cats, it’s real hard to keep that in mind.

I also just realized it’s that time of the month for me. Totally forgot. This probably explains it. False alarm?