This Is What $5 Looks Like

So when I got my post-grad-school job, I spent the first six months living like I was still in grad school. I had to buy some furniture for my new apartment, and a (more-)professional wardrobe for my new job, but other than that I was on a strict budget. My goal was to put three months’ of living expenses in a savings account, which I did by Christmas.

I pulled it off by creating a cash-flow budget, in which I pre-populated expected debits and credits (bills, paychecks) and anticipated debits (Christmas presents, birthday dinners). Then I gave myself $100 in “life money” per week to cover all groceries, clothing, movies, happy hours, etc.; and I stuck to it.

This caused some interesting moments, the most humorous one being a conversation with a friend in which I tried to explain that yes, I was making more than enough money to survive but no, I couldn’t go buy a mixing bowl this week (I was mixing things up in old yogurt containers) because I had already earmarked the $11 for museum tickets, and any more spending would put me over $100.

After Christmas, I decided to cut myself some slack for the occasional week in which I spent $115 instead of $100, and gave myself a new weekly budget of $150—which I promptly ignored. I still put large chunks of money into savings, but it took me nine months to save the amount I put away in the first six.

Where did this extra spending money go? Meals with friends, clothes, and long afternoons spent writing at Tryst. The dinners with friends I don’t regret for an instant, nor the clothes; but I do have to smile a bit ruefully at weeks in which I packed every lunch and cooked lentil soups “to save money” and then spent the same amount I spent on weekly groceries on Saturday and Sunday afternoon lunches. (If you’re a math nerd who knows a bit about average food costs, you can probably figure it out: $40 on groceries; two meals at $20 each, including tip.)

At the beginning of the year I set a savings goal for December 31, 2009; today I sat down and realized that to achieve that goal, I’ll need to go back to my original budget of $100 per week. This actually shouldn’t be too bad, since (luckily?) I just bought enough clothes to fill out my wardrobe through winter—though to be fair, after December 31 I will probably want some new ones just because I am that kind of person.

And here I am, still in Tryst, still writing; only I ate quinoa at home before coming and am surviving on a single cappuccino instead of an entire meal.

So this is what $5 looks like. Including tip.

And we can pull this off...

Quinoa and Kiwi

Someday I will serve this to my future children, and they will refuse to eat it because they'll claim it looks like barf.

And, despite the fact that I will try to convince my future children that it is a nutritious dish of quinoa in a spicy tomato sauce including Farmers' Market tomatoes, three cloves garlic, cumin, mustardseed, chili peppers, and turmeric-and-pepper (for their precious health), they will continue to insist that it looks like barf and they want hot dogs.

Also they'll probably compare the kiwi to snot or something.

(The quinoa dish tasted really good, btw--much better than it looks! I probably should have plated the quinoa into a mound, made a well with my spoon, and ladled in the sauce. Then, at least, I could have told my future children it was a volcano. A volcano... of nutrients.)

...And A Sensible Dinner

This meal suffers from too much of the same color; but I suppose the plum was purple before I cut into it, and I could just as easily have turned the slices skin-facing-up.

The white stuff on the right is yogurt with chutney powder, a combination I have to admit I really enjoy. I know I'm completely mixing cuisines to serve chutney powder with spaghetti, but I don't care.

Oh, and if you scroll down and see the pictures I took of this morning's breakfast and lunch, you can see how the lighting changes in my apartment between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.. Not that it's interesting to anyone else but me, but it makes a surprising difference in the clarity of the photography.

There's Just Two Blogs In Me, And I Just Wrote The Third

So I started blogging in January of 2007, as part of a travelogue project, under another URL (which you can find pretty easily if you know where to look). The travelogue was an extremely successful project; I met a lot of great people through the blog, many of whom I went on to meet IRL and a few who I would now consider some of my closest friends.

After I got back from the trip, I started getting flack from trolls because I was still blogging under this travelogue URL even though I was very obviously not traveling. So I switched to another URL and started Blog #2 (lovely, I know; and again you can find it if you know where to look). Blog #2 chugged along for about a year but never felt particularly coherent; it didn't have an organizing theme the way the travelogue was organized. It was just one of those blogs about stuff I did, and movies I saw, and all of that. For a while I posted pictures of everything I cooked for myself, since I really like cooking, but it wasn't even a cooking blog.

Then I stopped blogging altogether.

And now I'm back.

Here's why.

So I have this job, which I love; and about the time I stopped blogging, I got promoted to a new position. I know I'm very lucky to have the ability to work somewhere that is, in all aspects, a great place to work, and to have a job that is both challenging and fascinating (both the original position and the one to which I was promoted).

The thing about this new position is that it is in one of those fields of Great Importance. The issues I'm working on (though "assisting with" might be a better way of putting it) are right up there with curing cancer or putting space probes on Mars. And this was right about the time that the whole Manager vs. Maker essay was making the rounds, and because I thought Paul Graham was an interesting essayist I read most of his stuff over the next few evenings, and there he was, asking these three questions:

  1. What are the most important problems in your field?

  2. Are you working on one of them?

  3. Why not?

And then he goes on to write that anyone who wants to get anything of importance done needs to devote all their time to it (somewhere he writes "good thinkers have hobbies; great thinkers don't").

Which I did. I stopped blogging; I stopped reading anything that wasn't directly related to The Issue Of Great Importance; I stopped cooking beyond the basic "throw lentils in crockpot" needed to keep myself alive. I spent a lot of extra time at work.

And while I find the work I do fascinating, and I am eager to read the next article, I missed... other stuff. I missed the connections I was making between my work and the rest of my life; the interesting parallel threads I discovered that made both work and life better. (I also missed having a forum to shout out awesome things like I got one of the first-press CDs of The Else which included the FREE SECRET COPY of Cast Your Pod To The Wind!)

So there you go. Blog #3, theme (if any) TBD.

Also I made a fantastic spaghetti sauce today. The Farmers' Market red peppers gave it just the right amount of bite, and the three cloves of garlic made my insides feel all flushed-out and ready to start the week.


...And A Nutritious Lunch

Whole-wheat "organic" spaghetti with Farmers' Market tomatoes, sweet red peppers, cilantro, and garlic; a bit of turmeric and pepper (for the health benefits), a handful of lentils (for the protein, obvs), and a good shake of generic Safeway Parmesan cheese.

Every Blog Should Start With A Nutritious Breakfast

Kashi, kiwi, yogurt, and honey.

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