Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Laid Off Spouse Part 5: What about money?

I used to worry a lot about money, sometimes unnecessarily so.* Which is ridiculous, given that I didn't have much need to worry, especially when I was first out on my own, and working my first job. I wasn't one paycheck away from homelessness. I didn't have debt collectors knocking down my door.

It's just how I am. When C got laid off the first time, I worried more than usual, which seems to be the reaction most people have when someone is laid off and income is lost. When he found a job, I worried a bit less...but not much. (We did buy a house soon after he started his new job, which might or might not have been a good idea, but it's worked out and we can't go back even if it didn't.)

During this lay off, I often think, "Come what may!" Why? You might be wondering how we're surviving, especially as new homeowners and going down to one income. No, I'm not paid THAT well, haha. Here are some truths that have made me feel better.

We're holding our own. Our current weekly/monthly income is taking care of our needs. Notice I said NEEDS. Not WANTS. That's important to point out. There are lots of things we want to do, but cannot. Vacation and home improvements are big on our list.

We have savings. The goal has always been, even when we were both working, NOT to dip into it because we want something random. It's always been for emergencies. Which came in handy during this layoff, as I went to get an oil change a few months ago and left with the diagnosis of needing new tires that week. I didn't enjoy moving $700 from the savings to the checking, but on the other hand, I enjoyed it MORE than handing over the credit card and paying it off slowly, with interest added in.

We have no debt beside our mortgage. Part of it is luck or circumstance, and part of it is common sense.

Luck/circumstance--we both graduated with zero student or personal loans. Our grandparents were very generous to either pay for school outright (C) or with monetary gifts while growing up which were invested appropriately (me). I will toot my own horn for a second and let you all know that I also had a scholarship for all four years that, in the end, equaled the full bill for freshman year. So we were responsible only for three years. My mother also returned to full-time work when I was a senior in high school.

Common sense--we don't spend more than we have. And we hardly use credit cards. If we do charge anything, it's because it's easier to put it on a credit card and pay it off when the bill comes in (like a large purchase) or when we're ordering something. I know not everyone has this ability, but we do and since we've seen so many people jeopardize themselves or get tied up in debt, we made a promise NEVER to do this.

Part of it comes from my upbringing. I grew up in a house very similar to how C & I live now, where "you never spend more than you make." You go without if you don't have it, or figure a way to do it cheaper. So while my mom's salary went to my college, which was a bummer for my parents, she was putting money into a retirement fund and was the benefits holder for our family, too. And, they weren't putting themselves (or me!) into debt so that I could further my education. My mom going back to work was a good thing, financially, for my parents. When we had health insurance through my dad (self-employed), it cost my family a LOT of money, especially since my mother has a benign brain tumor (aka, pre-existing condition) and has been living with it for years, with very few side effects. She just needs to take a daily medication to keep it from growing.

Side note: I really don't understand how people who make more than me and live in a cheaper area can have running credit card balances. It's like they have no self-control when it comes to saying no to things--be it shopping, gadgets, trips, etc. Yes, I would like those things too, but I don't like bills. Maybe they look at me and wonder why I'm overweight--is it a lack of self-control with something else? Then again, maybe if I had more of a social life, I would then need to spend more to "do" more, if that makes sense? I guess not having a happening social life is saving me money? Haha.

Anyway, back to where I was.

You're probably wondering, "Okay, so you don't have consumer debt, and you're holding your own, but you're down one paycheck. When both of you were working, you must have been either crazily spending with cash or have been really socking away the money! What's going on?"

Good question. To be honest, I don't know. I've combed through our spending spreadsheets and I don't see much change. The obvious things are that C's car isn't taking as much gas anymore since his mileage has reduced to almost zero, and piggy-backed with that, there's lower maintenance costs. But his gas and maintenance weren't almost his entire paycheck! His work clothes weren't dry cleaned, and he rarely bought lunch.

It could be the little things. But then again, I'm not really pinching pennies here. I'm not saying "no" to an afternoon Starbucks run with coworkers or not buying shoes when I need them. I think it might be that C's lay off came when we had reached the sweet spot of home ownership. We had already bought a lot of bigger ticket items. We had work done on the house that we needed to--either hired someone or did the work ourselves. I can't see anywhere else that our spending has changed. It's strange, especially when you think about how gas and food prices have both increased.

During moments of clarity and optimism, I think "wow, maybe this layoff happened to teach us that we CAN make it on one income, that it WILL be possible for me to stay at home when we have kids." Of course, that all depends on job stability for C, which is a joke these days for everyone. I wouldn't mind working part time, if necessary, but I feel that lately, I've been ignoring my inner voice, that I'm being called to stay home. Obviously I can't respond to that calling right now, as it would be selfish and irresponsible, but at least I know what I want to do. While I might be slightly unhappy because I'm working and am getting very little satisfaction from what I do all day, at least I know WHAT will make me happy. Even if I have to "play house" at night and on weekends.

So, what about money? What about it, indeed. That is not my biggest worry anymore. Stay tuned, the next installment will cover what I am worried about.

*And to be honest with everyone, I still do, from time to time. I blame it on my genes. Not only did I inherit blue eyes from my dad's side, I also got their obsessively conservative nature about money!

A recipe post: Roasted Tomato Sauce

I don't share many here, probably since I hardly ever cook. I am blessed with a husband who enjoys cooking, and, as a bonus, is fabulous in the kitchen. I've preferred to take a back seat, performing more sous chef duties or scullery maid chores. C says that I'm lazy about cooking, but to me, it's not so much that I don't CARE about's just that there are other things more important to me rather than spending hours in the kitchen!

We had a ton of fresh tomatoes that needed to be used up. The inspiration for this sauce came to me a few weeks ago. At that time, we were making a Rick Bayless sauce which we then froze for later (will be great over some enchiladas or huevos rancheros!). While we were making it, I commented on how much it looked like pasta sauce. C replied that there was a sauce recipe out there, with a similar method, and that I needed to watch a video first. Then we could make the sauce.

It look me a few days? weeks? to watch the video. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. The guy is a genius--C found him months ago and has been eating up (ha!) his ideas.

After viewing, I knew I could make the sauce--it was that easy. So last night, while C was hunting, I noticed that the tomatoes we had picked during the week were starting to look scary. I didn't want them to go to waste.

Now, due to poor planning on my part, I had to deviate from the recipe. I'll share with you what I did as well as the REAL recipe. Guess who didn't have any onions in the house??? I don't know HOW that happened. And we didn't have any fresh oregano, but...we don't often have it, so whatever.

Here's Chef John's recipe, in case you didn't want to watch the video or did and forgot to write it down:


1/4 cup good olive oil
28-oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes, regular or packed with basil

1/2 onion, sliced

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

2-3 springs fresh oregano

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups cold water

  1. Preheat oven to 425*
  2. In casserole dish, pour in olive oil.
  3. Cut up tomatoes and onions. Peel and crush garlic.
  4. Add tomatoes to dish, then onion, followed by garlic, red chili, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix.
  5. Roast, uncovered, for 1 hour.
  6. Take out, stir, and put back in oven for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Pour contents into saucepan, add water.
  8. Mash up vegetables.
  9. Simmer (to reduce liquid) and season to taste.

My Version:


Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the casserole dish
3 pounds of raw tomatoes (I used mostly 4th of July and some heirloom)

14.5 oz can tomato sauce

1 head garlic (to make up for the missing onion)

red chili flakes



onion powder (to make up for the missing onion)

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups cold water

PLEASE NOTE: I didn't really measure much here, so bear with me :-)


  1. Preheat oven to 425*
  2. In casserole dish, pour in olive oil. I used enough to coat the bottom. The point is, you don't want anything to stick.
  3. Cut up tomatoes—not too small, mostly in half. Peel and crush garlic. It was at this point where I decided it would be a GREAT idea to use the entire head, you know, to compensate for no onion. More on this, later.
  4. Add tomatoes to dish, followed by garlic, red chili, and oregano. I just sprinkled the last two over the tomatoes until it looked "good." Because that's a measurement!
  5. I added about 1/3 of the canned sauce on top, since Chef John's canned tomatoes had sauce.
  6. Roast, uncovered, for 1 hour. I don't know how long it was in there when I realized I never set the timer. Oops. Probably 20 minutes. The tomatoes on top and around the sides might get a little blackened, but that's OK.
  7. Take out, stir, and put back in oven for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Pour vegetables into saucepan, add water.
  9. Mash up vegetables.
  10. Simmer and season to taste.
I was at step 9 when I realized that just salt and pepper were not going to make this anything great. I then added:
  • onion powder. By the time I was done, I ended up using a lot. Maybe 1/2 cup?
  • dried basil. Probably a tablespoon, maybe two?
  • more salt and pepper
Stir, taste, add. Stir, taste, add. This went on for awhile, also because the sauce was too thin for my eye, so I needed to reduce it. Oooh, I made a REDUCTION; that's some fancy restaurant language for you. I did add the remainder of the can of sauce at some point, just because I didn't want to waste it. The need for reducing could have been because I used fresh tomatoes, versus Chef John using canned.

My husband's reaction tonight when I heated it up for dinner, serving it over penne and some grilled chicken sausage??? "A plus, excellent job. I don't think I could have done this better." Which is a HUUUUUUGE compliment coming from him. He's so good, he's often a harsh critic on other peoples' cooking.

Some of you might be wondering how long this took. It's no thirty minute meal, that's for sure. Obviously the prep, then roasting of the tomatoes will take you about an hour and a half, if not longer, then the reduction of the sauce will take you time. I started this sauce before I made dinner on Saturday night, and finished it well after we were done eating. So it's a good thing to make if you're going to be sitting around the house for a bit. I'll guesstimate 3 hours, tops?

It made about 5 cups of sauce--enough for us to have two generous helpings for tonight's dinner, AND I have enough for Monday and Tuesday lunch! I love when that happens.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pretty Happy Funny Real

The flowers I received from my current boss, in celebration of my fifth anniversary of working here. Don't get any ideas, they were very simple, almost a wildflower bouquet, probably from a local farmstand. In a Mason jar. Which is just my style.

I haven't been very happy lately, but I guess I can be happy that I have completed five years of employment. Especially when so many people are out of work or underemployed. And that I can make a difference for my family--even if it's just C & I. I also was treated with a "fancy lunch" today, which was a treat.

Thinking...thinking... Ah! Me running around the house this morning because I couldn't find #3 cat. I checked all of her usual spots, but she was nowhere to be found. I checked closets, the basement. Then I pulled back a blanket on our bed, and there she was, sleeping in the part that was pooled on the floor.

Excerpted from an email from my old boss:
"It does seem that some people are constantly having to overcome obstacles while others do not. I wish I understood why some are challenged while others appear to coast through life. I wish I had answers for you. I can only encourage you to remain strong and know that you guys will get through this."

I wish I had an answer as well. I wish someone did. I know there's a reason to all of this--C getting hurt and career paths now closed to him, one layoff with a huge resume gap, and now this layoff--my faith tells me that it's just the Lord's plan, but after awhile, one begins to buckle a bit. It is so relieving to share this kind of thing with someone and not be answered with a brush-off, a platitude, or to be ignored. To have my feelings respected and to receive encouragement. If only I could find more people like this, instead of hearing from someone every few months.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Laid Off Spouse Part 4: I have a secret

I'm not keeping it from anyone reading this blog. You already know what it is. This is a secret that I'm keeping from very old friends, people who know my full name, where I grew up, what my nicknames were in high school.

I haven't told certain people about C getting laid off again.

Why? Because it's easier NOT to say anything. It's easier to just keep things vague, or not answer emails for a long time, hoping that you have better news when you get around to replying. I don't say much to those people who DO know what's going on, either.

Why? Because when I have spoken out, I've been told that I need to get over it, [life] happens, etc. I've been treated as if I'm a dog, with verbal head-pats of the "keep your chin up" variety. It's especially condescending from those who have never been laid off or never had a spouse be laid off. Been asked "How do you DO it???" as if I have a choice. Some of these examples are from the last layoff, but they work in this case too. Four years of marriage and almost 2 of them (combined) dealing with layoffs, I think I have a right to feel as I do.

It's no wonder I feel alone at times. I can't vent to people. Others have husbands who work too much or who have two jobs--how can I get them to understand what this is like? Some act like all I need to do is change my attitude and things will get better. Um, no. I can smile all day long and think happy thoughts but when my husband is still jobless and feeling horribly about it, that doesn't change the situation.

I don't blame him. It's not his fault. There are so many other factors out of everyone's control. I can't be the only one to feel this way, but some days, it is terribly isolating.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So today is 9/11...ten years later...I'm not crying either

My blogging pal Jessica wrote a post today, about what day it is, and I feel very similarly. She closed comments (you can read why over there), but I wanted to respond, so I am doing so here:

Today, I'm not crying either. I have no reason to. Yes, it was a horrible day. It will always be a horrible day.

I was a senior in college when it happened, and while I watched people all around me panic and worry about loved ones (while most students came from MA, NY was #2 and SO many people knew people who died that day), I had no fear, really. I knew where my family was, no one I knew died that day, no one I knew lost anyone. Oddly enough, I knew a few people whose parents used the WTC subway stop or worked in one of the towers...but they either were safe in their buildings already, took the day off, or were RUNNING LATE FOR WORK. How awesome is that? I was horrified by the images on TV, and I watched with my friends all day, especially after we heard about the Pentagon and Shanksville. (Um, and WHY does everyone forget about THOSE TWO PLACES??? Because the Pentagon didn't fall down? Because Shanksville was a farm?)

I remember someone bringing up the day a few years ago, and I was kind of "whatever" about it. Which shocked a few people. But, look at it this way, if I'm sad for not losing anyone, aren't I cheapening the sadness for those people who did lose someone? I cried the most I had ever cried in my life when I lost my grandfather last October. I sobbed and wailed in church. I had never done that, ever. I couldn't stop crying. Even thinking about that right now makes me want to tear up. To me, that's totally fine.

Being sad and/or crying on 9/11 makes me think of this story: When I was a sophomore in high school, a very popular and well-liked student died from cancer. He was either a junior or a senior. The school arranged for buses to take his friends and teammates to the funeral. They also opened it up for anyone else to go. So many people used it as an excuse to get out of school, while they didn't know him, they still went to the funeral, to "pay their respects." I remember thinking "How dare you? You weren't friends with him, you didn't play football with him, you weren't friends with his siblings...why do you need to go? Why are you 'sad'?"

I was thinking today about my life since 9/11/01, and if it has changed that much. People have called it the day everything changed. Sure, we need more ID when we do things, but that's not a bad thing. The rules about flying are a pain (including the 3 oz liquids rule), but before 9/11/01, I'd flown TWICE in my life. After that day, I've flown three times. Big deal. I'm sure the rules about flying would have changed at some point eventually. I go to NYC more now than I ever did before 9/11, but that's because I'm older and have friends who live there. I never feel scared there.

For a person who is often anxious, it's funny that this attack didn't make me too upset and that I don't fear another attack. When I was a sophomore in college, a kid on my floor died of an asthma attack. I didn't know him, his room was on another wing, but that bothered me more. Same as when a guy in my class died a month before graduation, after falling out of a tree. I didn't know him either. Maybe it was because both deaths were close to my then-home? Maybe because they were peers? Who knows.

Why don't I fear another attack? Because bad things have always happened. I can't predict another one. I can't stop one from happening. I've experienced a different kinds of trauma since then, more personal types. My focus has been on those. Some might call me selfish, but I don't see it that way. We always need to focus on what's affecting us, before we can worry about other things. To use an airplane analogy (and if this is seen in bad taste, my apologies): you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help someone with theirs.

I don't know how to wrap this up--this post as a whole seems pretty disjointed. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your Sunday, and if it was a good day, great! If it was a sad day, tomorrow will be better.

(PS. Today is also the fifth anniversary of me starting my job. Who knew I'd still be there?)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What we learned, and a different kind of aftermath (post-Irene)

What we learned:
  1. Plan ahead, as much as you can. While there is NO WAY you can plan for everything in life (and yes, I'm saying this, as much as I like to control things), there are things you can do, especially when your area is being threatened by a serious storm.
  2. Watch the weather. This goes with #1.
  3. If you definitely know a storm is coming, start the preparations early. What C did on Thursday and Friday, before Irene, was good because it allowed us time to get last-minute things accomplished. Some things have to be left to the last minute, others just "happen." Doing as much as we could, ahead of time, really worked.
  4. Have water on hand. Especially if you have a well. Or, know where you can get water for free. Besides our cemetery pump, there is a brook/river nearby, and we could have pulled toilet-flushing water from there. We had plenty of drinking water, and sadly you need more to flush a toilet!
  5. Also, if you have a well, the SECOND the power goes out, your water is GONE. There's no "when the tank is empty, you're out of water." I hadn't realized that's what happens. I thought there was a holding tank where the water sat after it got pulled from the well. Not even HOT water was held in the "hot water tank." I was surprised but recovered quickly.
  6. Conserve the water you DO have. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, we had one bathtub filled. We had 2 or 3 buckets filled in another bathroom. That all could be used for toilets, since the buckets had been used in the garden and probably weren't that pristine. But what about washing? We also had a big stock pot filled in the bathroom that had the buckets. Since the stock pot was super clean, that became the hand washing water. After using the bathroom, we rubbed liquid soap onto our hands, and rinsed in the stock pot water. We used that bathroom throughout the 2 days of no power; it was just easier. Toothbrushing was done with bottled water, but we didn't worry if the toothpaste "suds" didn't get washed down the drain. I could clean out the sinks AFTER the power was restored.
  7. It's OK not to be green. We used disposable utensils, cups, and paper plates, since we had no water to do dishes. This didn't bother me that much since 95% of the time, we use reusable things in the kitchen. When we couldn't use disposable things (like the wok, for soup), we wiped food residue off of them with paper towels. This totally goes against how I live, but I didn't want the power to be off for a week (like it was in some places) and wind up with so much mold on dishes, that I needed to use a power washer to get it off.
  8. It's OK to eat junk. Well, not really. We didn't sit around and eat chips and candy all weekend, we let the food in the house (mostly the fridge stuff) dwindle prior to the storm. Who wants to stock up with perishables, then lose power AND all of their purchases? So when C stocked up on Thursday, he bought things that could supplement the non-perishables we already had on hand. We also decided what could go in the cooler on ice. So it meant that we did eat pretzels, crackers, and cookies, but also leftover steak, apples, and tomatoes from the garden.
  9. It's good to clean before storms hit. Then you can relax in your clean house, instead of worrying about the dirty floor and how you can't run the vacuum since there's no power :) Also, if you have a well, clean all of your toilets THOROUGHLY prior to a storm. Especially if you have to "let it mellow" every few trips.
  10. That being said, don't let your house fall into chaos. Try to have a routine. I still cleaned the litter box, still swept the floor if it needed it. We still picked up our stuff after being done with things. It made for a much easier transition back to "real life" as we didn't have to stop everything and clean the house first.

A different kind of aftermath
As I mentioned in earlier posts, I had three days off from work (not counting weekends). I didn't ask my boss if we were being paid or not, and he didn't mention anything. I also spoke to one of the owners by phone and email, and nothing was mentioned. C told me not to be surprised if I wasn't paid for these days, but I said to him "don't be silly, they can't NOT pay us!"

Ha. Wrong. When we got into work on Thursday, nothing was said. Oh, and the power was ON when we got in, so we were full speed ahead. Finally, I asked my boss an indirect question of "what do we put on our timesheets for Monday through Wednesday?" He said he didn't know, that he'd find out, but "I'm SURE you'll be paid."

He was wrong, also. Now, we didn't find out the answer until LATE on Thursday afternoon, which was annoying enough. The answer was: take it unpaid, use PTO, or make it up over the next few weeks.

Wow. I was shocked. We're salaried employees, which means that even if you work 24 hours a day, for 14 days, when you get your paycheck, you're still only being paid for 80 hours. Why isn't it the same for when you work LESS than 80 hours? Especially as most of us work well over 80 as it is right now. My argument has always been, it all balances out eventually. (My boss agreed with me on that point.)

I might remind you that Thursday afternoon was the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. So this was putting a damper on some peoples' weekend plans, as those who wanted to make it up, wanted to do so as soon as possible. I was one of those people: the longer you wait to make up something, the more you're apt to have SOMETHING ELSE pop up. There were other people who had used up all of their vacation time for the year, and had no choice, other than taking it unpaid, and MOST people can't afford to do that.

What did I do? See below:

Monday 8-29: used a vacation day, after I found out that we had to make up the time
Tuesday 8-30: had worked 1 hour from home
Wednesday 8-31: had worked 4 hours from home
Thursday 9-1: worked 11 hours in the office
Friday 9-2: worked 12 hours in the office (at this point, my balance was 36 hours)
Saturday 9-3: off
Sunday 9-4: off
Monday 9-5: Labor Day, went in, worked 8 hours, also got 8 hours for the holiday
Tuesday 9-6: about 9.5 hours
Wednesday 9-7: about 9.5 hours
Thursday 9-8: about 9.5 hours
Friday 9-9: I know I worked 8 hours, 20 minutes. When I left at 5, I had 53 hours on my timesheet, or 45 hours of actual WORK.

Honestly, I don't remember the exact hours worked for Tuesday through Thursday, but I can figure out an average. It was a lot of extra work, even with a "free" 8 hours. In the end, between holiday, vacation and regular work, I had 89 hours for the pay period. And I was exhausted on Friday night. I had hoped to leave early, like around 3 or 4, but had to stay until 5. Sigh.

You might notice I have more than 40 hours of work per week. We're told to have an average of 42.5 hours a week, but no one's ever said what the average's span is, per year? Per pay period? I always assume it's pay period. I hope they're happy now.

Looking back, I feel that this entire things was handled rather poorly. My company should have said something right away when they first closed. I understand that we've never been in this situation before, but it's not THAT hard to say "no pay!" Also, I understand that they didn't know how long we'd be without power for, but I wonder what they would have done if we were closed for a week or longer? Who had THAT much vacation time, especially when we're not allowed to carry over more than a week from year to year?

On the other hand, I'm happy to still have a job. Not just because of economic reasons either. What if the building was damaged or destroyed? What if the owners were killed? (Which reminds me, I don't know if there is a contingency plan God forbid that were to happen!) I hope we are in the clear when it comes to hurricanes for the rest of this year, and now that winter is around the corner (as it's 75* today), I hope that we're spared from crazy winter storms like last year. At least last winter, we didn't lose power and could work from home ;-)