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Archive for April, 2007

Nah. I'm 45, that's all. You?

April 30th, 2007 at 07:20 pm


This sign appears every 50 feet or so along the Aurora bridge, a magnet for this sort of problem.

Today I changed some dollars to euros for the trip. Too bad that 1507$ is only 1005 euros, but I hit it lucky at the Travelex in Westlake Center. They had a special - no 1% change rate, and a free buyback program to change the euros to dollars at the rate I got today. Due date for the buyback is 31 days, but I'll be in Atlanta on a 3 hr layover on May 31 (last day of my buyback). I know what I'll be doing!

In addition to that, it was a spendy day - a couple more bras, tights, ankle socks, and bubble bath ($38). Lunch at a kaiten sushi place ($13). DH was eyeing my Japanese-style fold out Moleskine notebook, so to avoid a fight, I picked a couple more, along with some office supplies ($29). And to top it off, a bubble tea ($3.25).

Radio station testing

April 29th, 2007 at 11:00 pm

If you are interested, the internet radio station I've been doing some work for is nearly ready. This weekend and next week DJ friend is testing the server and is broadcasting a bit. If you're interested, follow the link under Sites I Enjoy, wait after the little flash thingee, hit the button Tune In, and hit Server 1.

Right now its working for most sound programs - Real Audio, iTunes, QuickTime, WinAmp...everything except Windows Media.

B-day 2007

April 29th, 2007 at 10:51 pm

A nice relaxing day:

Received a card, box of chocolates, a bottle of red wine from DH, with some other surprise gift the end of this week, and a dinner this week.

The best gift of all: not having to go to work tomorrow. It feels like a Saturday night.

Hit an impromptu yard sale and picked up an unused Oxo teapot for $5. By unused, I mean the inside looked clean with no water spots inside and the bottom was clean. It was larger, shinier, cleaner, poured better, and the handle was more ergonomic than my old teapot, so into a donation bag the old teapot went. Its nice and relaxing when the stars align like that - a true upgrade and replacement so clutter is kept to a minimum.

Went and browsed the Greenwood library, part of the Seattle neighborhood library system. Here's a picture of the front.

The renovation was finished in April 2005, about 6 months after the Seattle main library was renovated.

Then went and checked out the used CD store, bought a little bit ($38! eek!) and chatted with the owner. He's doing well, so he needs stock and is buying CDs. Since all of my CDs are ripped onto my hard drive, I figured I might just as well sell my CDs for store credit. It will keep the clutter down, rotate what I have and will listen to, and help with my music/ entertainment budget. Yes, I'll be losing a bit of money with every CD I buy then resell, but its probably better than buying them, enjoying them a few times, then listening to NPR - my normal mode. If they make it onto my MP3 player, they get listened to at least once in awhile.

Why you need a price book

April 28th, 2007 at 06:56 pm

From the files of "come to think of it, they should have something like this", an article about price optimization software:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2003684689_price28.html

The takeaway message that I get from this is that there is an art to pricing, based on psychology. There is a fair amount back and forth on other frugal sites. Some people, like me, swear by a price book, which is a list of prices, per unit, of items I normally buy, at the store I bought 'em at, and the full date (including year) when I encountered the price. Other people tell me that they have great memories, and they know for a fact that one store had consistently lower prices for stuff so why waste time and effort?

This article strengthens my suspicions that price optimization software really target how shoppers perceive price and value, especially for those shoppers who rely on their memory and impressions. In other words, those who fly by/buy the seat of their pants. A store will specifically target their loss leaders to give shoppers the impression that they have consistently lower prices, yet after a few months...not so much.

Besides, the store is using the most sophisticated calculations imaginable to determine their price. The willingness to maintain and use a price book (and if necessary, not buy) at least shows the shenanigans.

It was amazing to me learning my first week of pricebooking that Larry's Market, not known for cheap prices, beat out Costco's price for canned tuna...handily. And best of all, I could buy exactly the number of cans I had the budget for, not in packs of 12.

So you just never know ... unless you have a price book.

Changing the subject, I added another paragraph to the blog entry How To Store Grocery Produce. I think it's a good tip, making the entry worthy of revisiting.

cute commuter

April 27th, 2007 at 07:28 pm

Saving log - $1 tip box
Spending log - .65 milk + $15 lunch

Did the chirashi lunch today because I needed brain food for the afternoon. This afternoon I interviewed for my promotion. It went okay, considering I was the only contender. I fretted, though, about what I said or didn't say. As I was fretting, a co worker said to me, "remember what your competition said!" Big Grin

Still, it will be a battle not to think about it this 3-day weekend. I have Monday off for my birthday and plan to do a couple of trip related errands.

The picture today - we get all types of morning bus commuters in Seattle.

addictive curry

April 26th, 2007 at 08:51 pm

2 images I had to show. On the postcard rack at the curry joint I saw this:


And I had to take a snap of the curry. The most addictive thing in the box is the little plastic container of green sauce. I think is comprised of yogurt, green chili, and cilantro. Sour, hot, and cilantro-y sharp. I could dip a slice of cardboard in it and happily eat it.

out of the mouths of babes

April 26th, 2007 at 08:41 pm

Yesterday, April 25, 2007
Saving log - $1.35 tip box
Spending log - $.65 milk + $8 lunch at the food court

April 26, 2007
Saving log - $2.35 tip box
Spending log - $.65 milk + 7$ curry lunch + 12$ grocery run

Yesterday I had lunch with lawyer friend. He made the "affirmation statement" but he is not long for the job; he's talking that anything would be better. It will surprise me if he is still here after I get back from Paris. I told him that I want to avoid looking like a tourist; he mentioned that they don't wear fleece.

I'll remember that. Or I might go the Ugly Betty route. Big Grin

Today more fun happened. First off, it was Take Your Child To Work day. Several of us from different departments met with the kid crew this year. We all introduced ourselves.

The first question: What are your job titles?
We went around...
Second question: Why are your titles so long?
We laughed, out of the mouths of babes. We honestly said that if a workplace can't give us money, they give us a fancy title instead. Why not tell them the truth, they're ten or so.

Did two bank moves. I called and got the note put in my account so I don't look like an identity thief having a good time in gay Paree, and I moved the first $1500 out of savings to the checking account for the Paris trip. I had two things in mind for that:
1.) Get a quick supply of euros.
2.) Time how many days it took the transaction to occur, to plan ahead so if I have move it from Paris, I know how long it takes. 3 days.

And finally, I did something at the gym that I have been fantasizing about from the beginning. Today, there was a fairly buff guy...

Ha, ha, not that Big Grin

There was a fairly buff guy struggling with a flared leg lift, which strengthens the side of the leg. He was working with his trainer, who set his weights and watched his form. They left to do something else. I came in to do the VERY SAME EXERCISE and had to INCREASE the weight. Wow.

It was from 5 lbs to 10 lbs, but still a victory.

How to ... store grocery produce

April 24th, 2007 at 08:12 pm

As threatened...

Well, now that you bought good produce, you’ll probably want to keep it for at least a few days. I like to grocery shop, but I don’t buy every day, and I can’t eat 5 of anything in 2 days. Storage has to buy time.

If you bought items that were heavier than you expected and smelled good, you also bought a little bit more time. Again, remember that a piece of produce is a piece of plant, and that piece of plant behaves like a water pipe with one end open. The two things you must know to store produce properly are:

1.) Produce – if it’s not cooked – is metabolically active. It is a live plant, it respires (breathes oxygen), it photosynthesizes if it’s green, the enzymes in it are active, and it transpires (sucks up water and releases it).
2.) Plants are all plumbing. If water escapes (transpires) and plant wilts, it’s generally all over. Your job is to keep the water in the plant.

Know what should go in the refrigerator and what shouldn’t.

Whole fruit, whole tomatoes, potatoes, onions generally stay out of the refrigerator. All of these guys convert sugars to starch and tend to turn mealy if they’re in the reefer. I like the deep fruit bowl with a layer of cheesecloth on the top to repel fruit flies. Once the fruit is cut, it probably should go in the refrigerator with the knowledge that it better get eaten or tossed within a couple of days. Leaves like lettuce, stems like celery, crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc), roots (carrots) can go in the refrigerator. Corn and berries are problematic – if they go in the refeer, they get starchy, if they stay out they get moldy. I buy them fresh and don’t bother with long term storage.

Here's an easy rule of thumb if you are trying to figure out whether it goes in the refrigerator or not. How did you buy it? Did you buy it in a bin in the middle of the produce department at coolish room temperature (should probably stay out of the refeer), or did you pull it from the cooler (goes in the reefer)?

YMMV – I live in Seattle, where it doesn’t get that hot. I used to live in Arizona, which was a nightmare for storing produce. Unless you ate it within 12 hrs, it went in the reefer.

With bagged produce, get rid of as much air and keep as much water in as possible, seal or knot the bag tightly. Keep it dark.

Get rid of as much air from around the plant as you possibly can – when exposed to light, the plant photosynthesizes enough to make its own oxygen. To store produce you have to keep it from transpiring – what makes that fog inside the bag – and to do that you have to keep the produce cool (not frosty), dark, and contained. Sometimes adding a teaspoon of clean tepid water to the bag helps.

Refrigerated produce should be bagged. In addition, those little drawers on the bottom of your refrigerator – the vegetable crispers – are your best friend. Use ‘em. Honest. My DH loves the vegetable crispers enough to call them the beer drawers. Big Grin. The problem with putting produce in the crispers is that its out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

Sterile technique begins at home

Cut your produce with a clean knife. Icky things that eat your produce – bacteria, mold, critters - have to work their way into a plant. Cutting with a dirty knife gives all of them a free pass and a free first lunch. If you buy bagged salad (hey, I do!), shake out the leaves from the bag, don’t put your hand in. Then remove as much air from the bag as convenient and seal.

Pace their ripening

Again with the gas. Ethylene gas, that is. If your fruit or produce is ripening too fast, spread out the fruit a bit, along with eating, cooking, or if necessary tossing the over-ripe offender. If a soft something like a peach is growing fuzz, admit defeat and toss. A hard something like a cabbage you can trim the outer leaves and rescue.

Exit strategies

Vegetable stew, sauces that you can hide chopped vegetables in, roasted vegetables with olive oil, tahini sauce or béchamel sauce, soup, fruit sauces, crumbles, clafoutis, and cobblers. All good exit strategies for slightly over the hill produce. And remember, sometimes you do have to toss. You want dishes, not compost in a pot.

Storage buys time, generally 4 days to several weeks. Happy storage!

getting in the spirit of the thing

April 23rd, 2007 at 10:58 pm

Saving log - $2 tip box
Spending log - $.65 milk + $6.45 lunch (today and tomorrow) + $.75 peppermint tea

Had to admit defeat this pay period - I moved $100 from the brick and mortar savings account back to checking. I'll try to tighten things up, then move the leftover money back.

Bought the footlong sandwich which I will eat tomorrow. The resume and cover letter that I needed to submit to apply for the promotion I finished up this morning, with a chiropractor break in the middle.

I'm getting more and more excited about my trip. Anticipation, just like anything else, has to be timed just right. You want to be at the peak of anticipation just before you go, not a few weeks before. Right now its remembering to hold the mail, call the bank so they won't hold my money, call the executors, donate my newspaper subscription, get some euros so I won't have to find spare coins at Charles De Gaulle airport. There is a Travelex in Seattle for that. The rates are $5.95 flat or 1%, which ever is greater. So $600 is the break point.

The image is from last Friday night while I was waiting for the bus. Not quite Paris, but Paris in spirit.

the sequel

April 22nd, 2007 at 08:56 pm

Got done with revising the resume, due tomorrow. So to reward myself with fun writing, its time to blog. Since the How to Buy Grocery Produce was so popular (450 hits!), I'm planning on writing the sequel - How to Store Grocery Produce.

Picked up several more solid colored tops for the summer (and for Paris). ($7)

Yet more images from yesterday's festivities:


DH is on the sidewalk, in the jeans and black T-shirt.

Tulips of different colors


Lulu - the pug hard to photograph. Her owner was watching me through the window, laughing her blank off.

oh the stuff you can buy!

April 22nd, 2007 at 12:13 am

At one of the Greenwood yard sales...


That's where I went today instead of the book sale. I stopped off at a number of places, but controlled myself and bought only what I could use right now - I bought a framed poster, a book (that was free), 3 art tiles, bath oils, and a 4 pack of coasters. (15$)

Snapped a number of pictures, including a very cute pug. Hard to shoot pets, they don't stand still.

After the yard sales, DH and I went to the grocery store. The produce looked okay, but the price was wrong, so I only got bananas, spinach, potatoes. I also bought some No Jet Lag for the trip, which several coworkers swore by, and a tube of facial peel. ($44)

And no, although I was tempted and could probably use the item right now, I didn't buy the handcuffs. Big Grin

How to ... buy grocery produce

April 20th, 2007 at 09:12 pm

Several people –okay, family members – have asked me, “so when do you use that botany doctorate?” Well, as a former plant physiologist, I use it every time I hit the grocery store, fruit stand, or farmer’s market. Now I share some of my tricks and techniques.

If you want to save money and eat better at the same time, you want to buy only good stuff – you’ll want to eat it all then.

A produce item is a piece of plant. Simple enough. Conceptually, it is also a pipe, full of water with one end cut. The more water your plant contains, the more likely it is crisper or juicier and the more likely it will hold up better in storage. If you pick up nothing else from this how to, pick up this tip:

Good produce weighs more than you expect.

Technique 1: take 5 of anything of the same size, preferably medium. Grab each one and gently hold it in the palm of your hand for a few seconds. Pick the heaviest feeling one. No need to squeeze, no need to dig in with your fingernails and disgust everyone. Works for citrus, works for corn, works for melons, works for tomatoes, works for celery, heck, it works for garlic bulbs…it just works for everything.

Good produce smells good.

Technique 2: sniff the stem end of a fruit. It should smell appetizing, like the fruit. If you don’t smell anything and especially if it feels light, it means it’s mealy and dry. If you smell fermentation, pass it by, and if you can’t smell it because it’s wrapped in plastic … ahem, you’re not in the spirit of this, are you? Big Grin This, along with technique 1, is an especially good tip for melons and pineapple.

Side tip for the uninhibited: A quick way to assess the whole produce bin is to move some of the top most pieces and put your nose in the bin. If you can’t smell anything if you put your nose deep in the bin, it might mean that nothing’s ripe.

Good produce has a firm cut end.

Technique 3: check the stem or the cut end. It should be firm, not soft or slimy or with weird colors. It can have a little bit of soil on it for street cred, but if it’s filthy, pass it by...if it’s a farm stand, pass the whole stand by. It probably means everything was cut with that dirty knife and the storage life of anything you buy at that stand will be short.

Side tip for corn: feel the tip through the husk. The fatter, less pointed tip is the ear you want. Very pointy tips means the ear hasn’t filled out.

Good produce is not the biggest.

Technique 4: try to pick medium, medium-small sized fruit in the bin, not the largest. All the good stuff the plant puts in the fruit – sugars, acids, fragrances, flavors, secondary plant products, water – it seems like the plant will put in a certain amount, but no more. The good stuff in the larger sized fruit is diluted, spread out, while in the medium or small sized fruit, the good stuff is concentrated. It’s no secret that the gigantic apple is going to taste like a softball, while the smaller apple will taste like an apple. Not to mention that it’s a whole lot easier to figure out if something’s heavy when you don’t get thrown off by grabbing the biggest thing.

Good produce ripens with its friends.

Technique 5: check the bottom of the basket. Okay, the joke is that the produce guy puts the rotten strawberries in the bottom of the basket, and I would believe that in some cases. The truth is that many fruits ripen in the presence of ethylene gas, and that ripe fruit produces more ethylene gas. Baskets and bins often produce an enclosed space so that the fruit at the bottom of the bin or basket gets a bigger whiff of ethylene and therefore ripens faster.

Side tip: Aim for the middle of the bin for produce that you want to eat that night. Not everything is sensitive to ethylene – middle of the bin tip seems to work best for citrus, berries, bananas, and apples, and should be applied after all the other tips.

A word or two about the classic, “buy slightly soft, when the flesh yields to gentle pressure.” Good advice for buying ripe stone fruits and tomatoes. However, there are two caveats: 1.) most shoppers know that – after the sixth person submits the fruit to “gentle pressure” I guarantee you that it will be soft, but not in a delectable way. 2) you’ve picked ripe produce. Moreover, if you buy 6-7 ripe pieces of produce, you are committed to eating them within 2-3 days, which can be a challenge.

My aim with these tips is to give you the tools to pick wonderful, ripe and slightly under-ripe produce, some which you can eat right away, the rest slightly under-ripe that you can put in a bowl so you can eat wonderful produce through the week. Lots of strategy here!

Happy produce shopping!