Saturday, June 30, 2007

Local Eats: Niko's

While we are trying to eat out less, it would be a lie to say we haven't enjoyed the culinary opportunities the UWS offers in the past few years. We usually try for less expensive options, but we will sacrifice some plastic for something outstanding.
A favorite of ours is Niko's.

Niko's is a Greek resturant at the corner of West 76th and Broadway. Appetizers are about $10, plates from 15-25, or more if you're getting something exotic. With the exception of one piece of poorly cooked tuna in 7 years, I've never had a bad meal there. The Greek specialties are always great, Fish is always (despite said tuna incident) always awesome, portions are sizable, drinkable Greek wines start at $15/bottle, and I can say hands down, the lamb shank in orzo will give a warm bear-hug to your soul. A couple can expect to spend anywhere from 50-100, depending on how you order (appetizer, wine, seafood, specials, etc). The check is delivered with a piece of sponge cake and "shot" of dessert wine for each guest.

DW and I have a special place in our heart for Niko's as it was the place we went the night we got engaged in 2005. The string lights in the 76th street side "sun room" made her ring sparkle like a diamond twice the size (Mental note, gents: The aforementioned $15 bottle of wine may be necessary to convey this optical illusion). Food, service and ambiance has never let us down; Niko's is a great choice for couples or those entertaining visitors to NYC.

Link: Niko's Mediterranean Grill and Bistro

Free Stuff: Want to go to the movies?

I mentioned that I went to see the movie The Kingdom recently. It's an amazing movie -- a bit "Hollywood" at points and very graphic, but still a good way to spend a Friday night. As good as it was, it might be more interesting that the movie doesn't come out until September 28th, and the cost to see it was Free.

I didn't bittorrent it or get a Canal Street $5 special. I saw it on the big screen at the Sony/Loews 68th street theater through the Screening Exchange. The Screening Exchange is one of those things that helps make up for the high cost and sacrifices of living in the city. In select theaters, you get to see rough cuts of the film; sometimes the ending is changed*, the score isn't complete or the film quality in certain scenes is grainy. In most cases, it feels like a complete movie and the cost is right -- Free.

Very often at 68th street Loews, you'll see people standing outside with fluorescent sheets of paper. They look like they might be trying to give you a coupon for 15% off men's suits, and the urge to avoid eye contact is great. One day I passed one of these folks, and as I pass I hear a muffled "free movie?" To get an idea of the tone, replace "free movie" with "need tickets" or "smoke?". Sounded fishy, but the words "free movie" really do hit me at a primal level, and I had to go back. That was Griffin & Phoenix, a movie which came and went with zero fanfare. We saw it a little over a year ago. Okay movie, made better by the ticket price -- Free.

The ticket mongers outside the theater are the easiest way to grab tickets. The other way is to sign up [see below] and be contacted by email when shows are upcoming. They call you the day before usually, tell you what ages are permitted and when and where to meet. You'd be wise to show up 15-30 minute before the time they say, as seating is limited, and the line fills up quickly. Also, bring something to do - knitting, reading, crossword, su doku -- since you'll be standing for a while.

Since last May, we've seen:

  • Griffin & Phoenix
  • Music & Lyrics
  • Smokin' Aces
  • Blades of Glory
  • The Kingdom
We think it was a few more maybe, and there were lots of calls we just couldn't go to, ie. a weekday at 1:30 pm, etc. Signing up is free, and the movies are fun. The only downside it waiting on line for an hour, but it's worth it to bring a friend if your calendars are empty!

Link: The Screening Exchange

* When I worked in web design, my company got to see a screening of Kate and Leopold. In the version I saw, Liev Schrieber's character was dating Meg Ryan, just as in the final version. For the theatrical release, they omitted the storyline where she also happened to be his grandmother... Icky.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So long sammie (and hello summer)

Today was my last egg sammie for the school year. To make it one to remember, I went to the Dominican place (Las Vegas) across the street. They have great lunches, and I assumed their breakfast would be just as good. I also knew that this place wasn't going to play games with any of that milk-in-the-half-and-half basura that the Kitchen Door tries. The sandwich was the size of a cubano, but I didn't argue. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

DW met me at home today after school and we sat and talked about school being over. She and I are both employees of the Region, which is being dissolved (and rebuilt as something else, of course). Technically, we're all excessed until the new organization staffs itself. Our teams are disbanding, each teacher going back to a school or hoping for a district position. DW is hoping to go back into the classroom while I am hoping to work at the district level. We are both excessed to our last in-school position -- the school in the Bronx where we met.

DW: I am really kinda sad. That's the last time I'll see some of them.

Me: I know what you mean. I feel that way too.

DW: It will be weird not seeing them.

Me: I only wish I had gotten their plantain lasagna when I had the chance.

DW: [empty stare, pause.] You're ridiculous.

We're going to see "The Kingdom" this evening, though the thunder outside might keep us tucked in our bedsheets. It's a free movie screening, which I keep promising to write about. Speaking of movies, we just finished Dreamgirls (not as bad as I thought it would be) and have BBC Planet Earth at the ready. We watched about 5 minutes last night before bed, and it looks awesome. I can't wait.

"There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."
— Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)

June 21st is a myth. Summer is finally here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hazy, Hot and Stupid

Ugh. It's one of those days. From Long Island City, the Manhattan skyline is a slate gray silhouette. The subways are already muggy and miserable. The Kitchen Door has been refilling its half and half with milk, and today I witnessed it in action. The reply from the owner? "It's too expensive... maybe when it gets cheaper..." Now that I've been suckered into the half-and-half club, milk just doesn't cut it and black is a fading memory. I would (and should) stop going there... if only I could.

Two days left, and just trying to make it without any more blackberry messages from my boss with the subject line "call me" (no message body). I hate those. I like them even less than these three types of phone calls: Driving, smoking and walking. I can't say exactly what it is that bothers me about them, but they really just rub me the wrong way. "Hi! I'm calling not because I have something to say to you, but rather I'm stuck doing something I'd rather not be doing, and you're the person to help me forget it." Conversely, I generally only call because I need something -- rarely calling just to say hi. Then again, I hate the phone. And blackberries. And tin cans too, because that's how this whole mess started.

When I get the Dick Tracey (videophone) watch that my generation promised me, then maybe I'll be less of a prat about communicating with my fellow human. Until then, I'm putting on my away message.

Photo used under CC license from flickr user corsaki.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

How do I love Google? Let me count the rays...

Check out this blurb from the Google Solar Panel Project website:

In October 2006, Google announced a commitment to solar energy production and launched the largest solar panel installation to date on a corporate campus in the United States. Google has installed over 90% of the 9,212 solar panels that comprise the 1,600 kilowatt project. Panels cover the rooftops of eight buildings and two newly constructed solar carports at the Googleplex.
The company that makes the simplest search, online versions of word and excel, and even free wireless internet keeps on impressing me. Just wait; it gets better.

(from Keetsa) – the philanthropic arm of Google, Inc. – put $10 million towards promoting plug-in hybrid cars. Plug-in hybrids let you charge up the car by plugging in (to, oh let's say, a 1.6 megawatt oil- and coal-free solar panel array) or any electrical outlet. Then, the first 50 or so miles per day are all electric. You might not use gasoline at all during the week if your commute is 25 miles or less.

On the weekend you decide to take a road trip. The first 50 miles are still electric, and then you switch to gas and you've got a regular gasoline car for the rest of the trip. The end result is a car that gets about 75 mpg with about 70% fewer CO2 emissions than your average car in America.

Anyway, check out the site. It's more than a little late to say "this is a company to watch," but imagine what's in store for them, and for us...

link:'s RechargeIT project
link: Google's Solar Panel Project

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Weekly savings at your neighborhood store

DW and I are finally home, drinking coffee and eating omelets on a Saturday morning. This type of weekend has been in short supply as of late due to typical NYC crazy schedules. But we're glad it's here, and soon we'll have a few more to cheer about -- School ends for us on Wednesday! Woo hoo!

We've been going through previously clipped coupons and weekly circulars to see where we can save some dollars on things we need. I thought it would be handy to have a list of local circulars to see easily what's on sale and where. I might incorporate a few of these into a sidebar for easy access.

Pathmark Circular: There are a few in Manhattan, but when we go it's usually at the inwood location. Straight shot up on the 1 train. East siders might check out the one on 125th -- if I recall, it's above the 4/5 stop. I love fairway, but some things are just too damn expensive there. It's not worth the trip to Pathmark for the produce (sorry, Pete), but do load up the freezer with their meat and chicken.
Food Emporium
Gristedes (PC Only... argh)
Whole Foods (store specials)
Key Food

(No ads from Westside Market, or Trader Joes. Fairway sometimes posts specials, but it's rare.)

Duane Reade Circular: Since they are about as numerous as Starbucks and McDonalds, you don't need me to point out your local DR. Sometimes worth it just for the convenience.
Rite Aid

These are the ones that come to mind first. If you leave comments with others, I'll revise the post.

As a side note, we got our credit card bill in the mail yesterday. Now every month has its odd expenses, and this might not have been full of them. That being said, I still have to assume having two weeks of home-cooked meals (vs. eating out) is partially to thank a statement over $500 less than last month. Obviously we need to keep this up to see if it wasn't just a fluke, but what a reason to keep it up. We're enjoying our defrosted meatloaf for lunch today. :)

A successful surgery, the party that wasn't and a fri-date

What a week. I had an interview, DW had two, and I've been hustling to try to get things finished up for the year. This Friday comes at the end of a infinitely long week.

DW's dad had surgery today, which had a successful outcome. It's added to the stress of the week (especially since she couldn't be there), but we're both just grateful it's over and he's alright. We'll probably take a trip out this summer to see them in western PA.

Today was also the end of the year luncheon for my technology team. Since my team is disbanding, it's also the final goodbye for a lot of those people. My sole office-mate of three years is moving to Las Vegas in August, so that's a goodbye of sorts too. We went out to meet with other Dept. of Ed. tech nerds to have a goodbye drink for him, but this year attendance was slim. It was a nice time to chat anyway, and say our macho, emotionless goodbyes.

I got home to a Fri-date! DW took me to a fine dinner (Gray's Papaya) and then to see a movie -- Knocked Up. Our favorite TV show is probably How I Met Your Mother (or heroes), and we fell in love with the DVD of Freaks and Geeks -- so if you are a fan, you'll recognize lots of familiar faces/talent. The movie was a little uneven*, and crass at points, but a cute enough movie for a Friday night. After the movie, we went to The View at the top of the Marriot Marquis in Times Square. We had never been, and had a gift card from Christmas. Nice date night. :)

I feel like I have other things to talk about (Jury Duty, interviews, Google and more) but I am exhausted. After a few zzzz's and my weekend omelet, I'll be back in business.

* We were called to see this movie maybe 5 or so times in pre-release -- I can't imagine how much was changed, as a few things made me think "this was the best take they got??", etc. I'll talk about how to see free movies one of these days too.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Woo hoo! Free Stuff!!

Wisebread's got it: Free Stuff -The Cure For the Summertime Blues!

Funny timing for the post too, since today in the mail we got a free sample of Dove anti-perspirant. Technically DW got it. I have to use my sloppy gel until it runs out. After that, I'm going to be an Axe man, just like her suavest 7th graders.

Free cat food is on the way to the house. Free is good.

Yankees Game Upset

DW and I went to the game on Friday night. We had bought tickets to see the Yanks at Tampa Bay while we'll be down there and saw that tickets for the Mets/Yankees game were on sale. Assuming they'd be sold out, we tried. Sure enough, they were there and we got great seats! Four rows in! Take a look!

Oh, wait... that was the Mets / Diamondbacks game that we were given great seats for. Four rows off the field. Here are the seats we got Friday, also four rows in:

Yeah, bad seats on paper, but we would never care. Baseball is baseball, and there really aren't any bad seats in Yankee Stadium. We can now attest to this. ;) It is a hike up to the section, but you can still watch all the action pretty clearly.

Since we were really psyched to see a fun, "premium" game, we came ready to cheer on our boys. Of course, when the visiting team can come via subway so can all of its fans. And they did. It started out good natured enough, but took a turn for the mean-spirited really fast. We cheered, they hissed, they scored, we got to take all of the verbal abuse.

While our failure to perform didn't help curtail the smack-talk, we were surrounded by some really arrogant and obnoxious Mets fans. I would expect this kind of banter at a Red Sox game, but we're New York vs. New York already! Where's the respect for the big apple? To top it off, I was sitting next to an 11-year-old who kept yelling in his manliest pre-pubescent squeal, "Stop it! Stop it! This isn't your house! Be quiet!!" Oh, the memories of being a child dorkus.

We did win the next two games so I should really get over it. DW hopes the Mets fans will have learned their lessons, and become more respectful and responsible citizens. I, on the other hand, hope someone spilled mass amounts of beer on them and their dumb smug smirks. But that's just me.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why bad food is cheap food

Kitty writes about saving moolah (a post which references two simply-must-read blogs). She notes that those with little money are caught in a catch-22 when purchasing foodstuffs. Those trying to be frugal can save money today, but can find much more expensive problems tomorrow:

...if you can’t afford food, you certainly can’t afford vitamins or a gym membership. It’s easy to see how people become obese.

This one line made me think about something I'd read about recently: Corn. Let's see if I can't find a link with charts and graphs and tight copy... here we go: I'm Hatin' It: How the feds make bad-for-you food cheaper than healthful fare.

The premise disturbingly simple. Corn Syrup, the cheap sweet found in sodas, baked goods, cereal and more is made from corn. With me so far? In the time that it's been used (about the past 25 years) obesity has nearly doubled. Childhood obesity has nearly tripled. Occurrences of type II diabetes rose 41% from 1997 to 2004.

So if it's so bad for us, why use it? The Farm Bill helps increase corn production by subsidizing those farmers. This leads to an overproduction of corn, which causes lower prices. More cheap corn = more cheap corn products = more corn syrup. But just because it's cheap, doesn't mean we have to use it. Does it?

Actually, yes and no. Let's say you go into a supermarket to buy a sweet product. You might be a responsible individual and scan the ingredients list and say "High Frutose Corn syrup? I'm not putting that in my temple". You'd pass it and buy the alternative. It has a nicer package anyway and says good things like "pressed cane juice" and "organic". You feel better leaving the store, though it cost a little more.

Another responsible individual goes to the same market, and picks up the same first item, and looks at the ingredients. "Sure, I know what's in this, but I also know I can afford this. My kids will eat it and it costs less than half of the fancy one next to it." Money is an issue for most people, and saving big bucks at checkout time is often times priority one.

Now, let's say you're a teacher in the Bronx. You watch your students coming into school at 8 in the morning with a buttered roll and a blue drink that in the shape of a plastic jug. You scoff and shake your head; "how can you drink that stuff so early in the morning!? It's blue sugar water!" Wiping the sleep out of their eyes, they shrug their shoulders. At the bodega (deli) across the street, the buttered roll costs 25¢, as does the blue juice. For 50 cents, breakfast is taken care of. You'd spend at least $3 for eggs on whole wheat and an orange juice. Get them hooked while their young -- twice the sweet for half the cost. What could you expect?

The money saved today is going to cost us later, when we have doctor bills and health related illnesses keeping us from enjoying life. Unfortunately for many, the real challenge is making it until tomorrow, by any means necessary.

Two Houses

Look over the descriptions of the following two houses and see if you can tell which belongs to an environmentalist.

HOUSE # 1:
A 20-room mansion (not including 8 bathrooms) heated by natural gas. Add on a pool (and a pool house) and a separate guest house all heated by gas. In ONE MONTH ALONE this mansion consumes more energy than the average American household in an ENTIRE YEAR. The average bill for electricity and
natural gas runs over $2,400.00 per month. In natural gas alone (which last time we checked was a fossil fuel), this property consumes more than 20 times the national average for an American home. This house is not in a northern or Midwestern "snow belt," either. It's in the South.

HOUSE # 2:
Designed by an architecture professor at a leading national university, this house incorporates every "green" feature current home construction can provide. The house contains only 4,000 square feet (4 bedrooms) and is nestled on arid high prairie in the American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal heat pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F.)

heats the house in winter and cools it in summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas, and it consumes 25% of the electricity required for a conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land surrounding the house. Flowers and shrubs native to the area blend the property into the surrounding rural landscape.

HOUSE # 1 (20 room energy guzzling mansion) is outside of Nashville, Tennessee. It is the abode of that renowned environmentalist (and filmmaker) Al Gore.

HOUSE # 2 (model eco-friendly house) is on a ranch near Crawford, Texas. Also known as "the Texas White House," it is the private residence of the President of the United States, George W. Bush.

So whose house is gentler on the environment? Yet another story you WON'T hear on CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC or read about in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Indeed, for Mr. Gore, it's truly "an inconvenient truth."

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. On the heels of yesterdays hoorah for Gore's solar panels, this is a sad find. Link at the bottom goes to the Snopes article, if you want to verify for yourself.

More curious than ever what other upgrades have been made to the Gore home, I found this measly list from truth and progress:

  • install a geothermal system that will, among other things, drastically reduce the cost of heating his pool.
  • upgrade windows and ductwork.
  • install more energy-efficient light bulbs.
  • create a rainwater collection system for irrigation and water management.

Commenters at treehugger had these great things to say:
zorn says:
wasting green energy heating a pool is STILL wasting energy.
Jim says:
That's good stuff, but I wonder how much more energy has been wasted retrofitting this stuff as replacements for things that didn't need replacing?
Eg. how much energy to create a complete set of new windows?
Anonymous says:
Improvements done using sums of monies the average person couldn't hope for.
I would love to have a nice sized home at some point in my life, with a few bedrooms and a yard. At some point you need to evaluate how much is wasted (or wasteful) space. Especially when your career has taken you in the direction his has. >sigh<

link: Urban Legends Reference Pages: A Tale of Two Houses

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blood money & Is Al Gore Superman? (plus others)

Last Thursday was the last day I was able to go through my feeds, and it looks like there's no chance of getting out from under them. I definitely need to scan more and read less. Though personal blogs (especially nyc-based) vs. link-a-day blogs have recently become like peppermint candies for my soul.

On that note, here are my link-a-day links for today.
First three links come from Keetsa.

Enterprise is forming a fleet of green cars

I always want to rent a hybrid when we rent, but it never has been an option. I think the cost of the car is prohibitive for rental companies, but I guess that's changing. Enterprise, by the way, is my car rental company of choice. Not just because they usually have good deals going on, but the one in Yonkers will pick you up from the end of the 1 train. Spend $2 on the train and save about half of what it costs to rent at your local NYC location. Plus, while we wait for the pick-up, DW and I grab an iced coffee at the Dunkin' Donuts.
...and I might partake in a chocolate creme filled cover-your-mug-with-powdered-sugar heart-attack-in-a-fluffy-ball-of-fried-goodness donut. mmmm, donuts.

Solar Electrical Vehicles creates solar roof for Prius Owners
Such a slick addition to the already stylish Prius, the company "Solar Electric Vehicles" will create a solar panel for your Prius that adds the ability for 20 miles of solar-powered-driving per day. The cost of the option is supposed to be recouped in about 2-3 years (who knows with gas prices), but that's also 2-3 years that you're putting 29% less emissions into the air.

Al Gore installs solar panel roof in his nashville home
Like the fabled son of Krypton, Al Gore too gets his power from the Earth's sun. For Gore, this should have been a no-brainer, but better now than never. Apparently the house features upgrades that are LEED-certified (green) and act as a model of energy efficiency. The renovations come in the wake of the Gore's being chastised for having higher-than-normal electric bills. I guess the squeaky wheel gets the oil (vegetable based, of course).

When we were in Long Beach Island this past weekend, I noticed a good number of buildings had solar panels installed on their roofs. I thought it was such a good sign to make them public and start conversation where there might not have been before. Of course, if anyone should be concerned about global warming, those who have multi-million dollar homes sitting 500 feet off the Atlantic would be at the top of the list.

Thank You Blood Donors
A few weeks ago the school I work in had a blood drive. It had been about 5 years since I did it, so I thought I was definitely due for a donation. Yesterday I get this card in the mail telling me, "give blood this summer and win fabulous prizes!" Now, I probably shouldn't ask to be rewarded for a donation (and you can opt out of the prize round if you just want to give), but what the heck? They win, I win... Though in the back of my head, I know this might be one to be filed under "morally grey".

By the way, this "Drippy the Clot" character kinda gives me the creeps.

(Update: Rewards from the gold level include $50gift cards to Mobile, Barnes & Noble, and Home Depot... Morally grey just got a whole lot greyer...)

Monday, June 11, 2007

100 things about me (part II of IV)

What a crazy week!

Friday: 7am at Laguardia for a school tech fair
Saturday: 8am in LIC for school robotics competition
Saturday night: Rent a car, drive to Long Beach Island, NJ
Sunday: Play on the beach on LBI, drive back to NYC...

Today after school we're watching our friends' son for the evening. It's been a busy, but fun weekend. As a Long Islander, I'm legally supposed to scoff at New Jersey. As a New Yorker, I'm socially supposed to ignore it. That being said, I publicly admit that it was a beautiful trip, with much more nature than loading docks to admire. Egrets, hawks and marshy estuaries seemed to abound. The house we stayed at was a 15-second walk to the ocean. Here's the beach at 5am:

Here is the next batch of my neuroses.

  1. Recent pet peeve #1: Pump soap that has been watered down instead of replenished.
  2. Recent pet peeve #2: People who think pressing both the up and down buttons for the elevator will speed up their trip
  3. My first job was a delivery boy for (Thursday local paper) The Long Island Advance.
  4. I worked weekends at a seafood store when I was about 13, gutting fish for 10 hours a day.
  5. I didn't drink until I was 21.
  6. The first beer I bought was just after I turned 21 (a Guiness for an Irish stew recipe)
  7. I made up for lost time during my mid-twenties.
  8. I recently shaved my head instead of waiting 25 minutes for a haircut.
  9. At MSG, I've seen Billy Joel twice, and Simon and Garfunkel twice.
  10. I've seen Weird Al in concert, and considered going again this summer.
  11. I went to my first Yankees game this year, and at least two more are upcoming (one at Tampa Bay)
  12. We sat down the row from some weirdo banging on a frying pan. (DW banged Freddy's pan before she met me.)
  13. I can drive a manual stick and ride a bike, but I can not sail a boat.
  14. I love puzzles, riddles and drinking-game-type group games.
  15. I never know how best to help a homeless person on the street.
  16. I love to travel outside the US.
  17. I love being a tourist in NYC.
  18. I love helping lost tourists in NYC.
  19. I don't know how to choose steaks, shirts or Indian food.
  20. I don't keep a sketchbook anymore, but I'm not quite sure why.
  21. I don't play the guitar anymore, but I'm not quite sure why.
  22. I'm a snob about paper quality and art materials.
  23. I enjoy programming, though I don't do it at a very advanced level.
  24. I'm a decent speller but sloppy typist.
  25. My shortcuts are rarely shorter.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Too good to be true

Over at wisebread there's an article about the morally gray areas of frugality. The things that your average joe might partake and question if he or she is a dirty rotten thief. "Borrowing" wifi, "downloading" music, "getting" free cable... Or "stealing." Sometimes people call it that too.

DW's old apartment got cable. There was a jack in the wall, it was the world series and the bunny ears just weren't cutting it. I saw, I tried, I conquered. The one thing I didn't do is tell Time Warner. We assumed there was a great antenna on the roof. This is NY afterall, and the empire state building's antenna is barely a stone's throw away, so it would make sense. She didn't get HBO or anything fancy, so.... must just be a great antenna! ... a really, really, good antenna. Yup.

Morally gray issues are all around us. I returned some unused CFs to target, which I had bought with a coupon. I brought in the receipt, yet was refunded the original pre-coupon price. This seemed too good to be true possibly dishonest, but coupons had already been submitted. What was I to do? Let Target be the thief? I couldn't have that on my conscience.

The list is a good one, and food for thought. I come from a family of teachers, so frugality runs through my blood. My additions to the list, NYC style:

  • "Free" cable
  • Showing up late or leaving early from work
  • Mis-marked produce (ie. filet mignon with a sticker reading "ground beef")
  • Excessive pre-weight tasting. (I recently saw a woman nearly empty her sack of bulk granola before bringing it to the scale, mouth covered in oat bits.)
  • Purse snatching. Do people still consider that a crime? ;)

link: Frugal, or Just Plain Wrong

100 things about me (x.25)

This idea most recently stolen from Two Write Hands and Susan's Sister. So sue me. I'll try to fit the 100 items within the theme of a home in the city.

  1. I grew up on Long Island, but I don't tawk funny, thank gawd.
  2. I moved to Brooklyn in 1995.
  3. I moved to Woodside in 1999.
  4. I moved to the East Village in 2000.
  5. I moved to the Upper West Side in 2001.
  6. I left the city on September 11th and felt like I was abandoning it.
  7. I used to be a big time Flash developer for a company in Brooklyn.
  8. I quit to become a teacher.
  9. I once lost a lot of weight and then put it all back on.
  10. My wife met me when I was skinny.
  11. She married me when I wasn't.
  12. We taught in the same school in the Bronx.
  13. Some days I taught art.
  14. Other days I called in sick.
  15. My cats are cuter than your cats.
  16. I took a girl geocaching on a first date.
  17. Two and a half years later, I married her.
  18. When DW is sick I make her Italian Wedding Soup.
  19. I love The Cottage on Amsterdam.
  20. I used to love the Chirping Chicken on Amsterdam.
  21. I now love Lite Delite on Amsterdam.
  22. I have no clue what's north of 81st on Columbus.
  23. I make the best tasting yogurt.
  24. I have good veins for giving blood.
  25. I'm terrified that someday I'll have to leave Manhattan.
Kitty at NY Portraits posted this humbling NYC observation:
There’s the feeling that there are 10 people waiting for you to leave, whether it be your place on line, your job or your apartment. [link]

>sigh< There are the first 25, in no coherent order. More to come.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Fifteen minutes a day to frugality, and a meal chart

Trent, over at the Simple Dollar, has a post giving you quick solutions that add up to big savings. Each one of them (there are 20 in all) can be done in 15 minutes a day or less. Some aren't everyday tasks, so divide the time investment over a week or month.

Combining #2 (write a grocery list), #6 (make a meal) and #16 (make food for a later date), DW and I made a food chart this weekend. We had had a pretty deplorable week of spending cash on fried food (that honestly stopped tasting good months ago) and decided to get it together this week. We looked what was in the freezer, thought about what would be good and paid attention to what our days looked like: I'll be home late this day, we'll both be home late that day, we'll be going out early that night, etc.

We planned for a week, even what we'd plan to eat at the ballpark last Sunday. The benefits so far have been:
  • We've stuck to the plan (We haven't ordered take out yet)
  • The food is healthier
  • The portions are normal sized
  • Lunches are made (we make four portions, two go right into lunch containers)
  • The cost is far less expensive. Our only splurge has been for quality/choice instead of convenience; $4 fresh salmon steaks vs. $4.29+ turkey burger on a soggy whitebread bun.
  • We've reduced the amount of waste from (over-)packaging.
  • Time saved thinking about what to have has been decreased to roughly 0 seconds.
  • The time saved idling in the supermarket has been decreased.*
  • The time investment for the week-long chart was about 10 minutes.
DW made two meatloaves last night, each of which makes 6 servings. As with tip #16 from Trent's list, one went right into the freezer. In the not to distant future, we have a meatloaf to reheat that only took an extra 15 minutes to make. That right there is the beauty of batch cooking.

Link: Can You Devote Fifteen Minutes A Day To Frugality?

* DW will tell you about the day I walked around Fairway, miserable and hungry, sent to get dinner. An hour later I came home with three boxes of cereal, shampoo and a bottle of lemon juice.

Free books for Kids this summer

Barnes & Noble is having a promotion this summer where kids read 8 books and they get one free. The books can be from the library or borrowed from a friend, so this isn't a buy 8 get one free kind of deal. It's a read 8 get one free kinda deal. Buy none, get one free... you get the idea.

Here are the shortened rules, go to the link for the fine print.

  1. Kids read any eight books of their own choosing
  2. They write about their favorite part of each book on a Summer Reading Journal form.
  3. Bring the completed journal to a B&N bookstore between May 29th and September 2nd, 2007.
  4. They get a coupon for a FREE book! (choose from a list of titles.)
Pretty sweet deal, and good encouragement to keep reading this summer. This is a good time to remind you to get your orders in for Book 7!

link: Summer Reading in the Magic Tree House

Monday, June 4, 2007

Rent increase & green power, part II

I thought I'd give you an update on two prior posts.

the dreaded lease renewal form...

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my shock at finding a $175/month increase to our rent in our
lease renewal form. Our understanding is something shady went on to cause our apartment to become no-longer rent-stabilized (as the older tenants in our building are rent stabilized). The long and short of it is, we're no longer protected by the law which regulates rent increases to normal amounts. If the owners wanted to charge $500/month more, they're completely within their right.

We did call, and asked what the reason was for the super high increase (last year, it was $75). When I asked if there was anything we could do, the managing agent suggested putting our concerns in writing, and so we did. We got their response in the mail at the end of the week.

"The rent is decided by the market rate. We received your letter and understand your concerns. Enclosed is a revised lease renewal form. Your new rent increase will be $125/month."

So that phone call and letter saved us $600/year. If you are in a similar situation, call your landlord and see if there is anything that can be done. Include in your letter any reasons you feel that it is more than you can afford or why the amount is much more than you would have expected. I don't know how often this tactic may work, so you might want to hold on to it until you need it. For us, this was that time.

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a green planet today

I briefly commented at the end of April about the law of unexpected consequences, and its
significance in our attempts to "green" the planet. Its application here says the good we do now will have consequences later that we might not enjoy.
  1. CF bulbs reduce energy use.
  2. CF bulbs contain mercury.
  3. In a few years, when CFs are inappropriately tossed into the landfills, the mercury will seep into the water supply, and presumable have negative consequences
I was wondering about that majestic, renewable-energy creating, natural-resource using beauty, the wind generator. In a butterfly-effect sort of way, do wind generators were slow down the wind in those areas? Could they be prevent pollen/seeds/etc from being carried where they need to go? It seems that they have caused a stir, and (surprise!) politicians want them turned off. I wonder what type of energy they would prefer we use?

The article
Possible Ban on Wind Energy… Why? [] says this:
[...] The H.R. 2337 bill is camouflaged as an “animal protection” bill which would help save the lives of migratory birds that are killed by wind turbines. Unfortunately, birds are occasionally killed by wind turbines, but the number is so small, it is barely worth mentioning. The fact is, of all bird deaths, only .003% are a result of wind turbines, that’s 3 wind turbine related death out of every 100,000 bird deaths. [...]
Follow the link and read up. I'm sure that there are no animals dying from the toxic crud we're pumping into the atmosphere from oil and coal plants... >sigh<

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Plastic *is* my bag...

It's my environmental skeleton in the closet. My pack a day. My NKOTB poster. I love plastic grocery bags, and I don't want you to take them away.

There is a growing movement worldwide to get rid of plastic bags. "Plastic Ain't My Bag" is one in the UK. Ireland has cut the amount of plastic bags by 90%. San Fransisco has already banned them. [Taking Aim at All Those Plastic Bags, NY Times 4/1/07] Boston and NYC are supposedly trying to ban them too.

Typical plastic bags require oil to be produced (another way, use up our non-renewable resources), they don't biodegrade for 500-1000 years (depending who you ask) and they cause problems for wildlife as well. Plus, they make horrible children's toys.

How could I avoid the facts and still idolize them?

  • They are free, strong, leakproof garbage bags (which is technically re-using...)
  • They have handles that work. Those of us without cars have a hard time carrying groceries without handles.
  • They're free.
If I were a better planner, I could bring a bag to the supermarket to schlep my goods home, but that would require WAY too much forethought. When my supermarket gives me paper bags with strong handles (made from recycled paper, of course) without the choice of plastic, I'm game. Then the search will be on for cheap biodegradable apartments-sized garbage bags. Until then, I have to look my unborn children in their hypothetical eyes with a deep sense of shame.

For more information and facts, check out the Conserve Plastic Bags blog. There is a wealth of information on these silent killers.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Devil already has you!

There's a store at my corner that I prefer not to frequent because a) they're expensive, and b) I'm convinced it's a drug front. But when I want a few beers and I'm feeling particularly lazy, I bite my moral bullet and head over.

I was on my way to the Chirping Chicken for a very unhealthy dinner. It used to be delicious, now it's just okay -- service and quality has decreased since "the chicken crossed the road". But I wanted some good eats for the Yanks game, and I was too lazy to cook. I thought I'd pick up a few beers on the way.

I walk in to the corner store and there's a small woman, either intoxicated or homeless (maybe both) yelling at the two store owners. I try to keep my eyes on the prize (Stellas and a couple of "interesting somethings" for DW), but this woman is making quite a commotion in this always empty store.

"I'm not stealing! I'm not stealing! I'm a good person! You're the bad person! You call the cops, you can call the cops because I'm already leaving. I hate you, and you're going to Hell! The devil already has you and you're going to hell! But not you," signaling the other man behind the counter, "you're a good man. But you, you're going to Hell!"

She popped her head in a few more times to inform my cashier of his looming damnation, while I paid $10 for 4 bottles. Charging $2.50 a bottle should be a deadly sin in itself.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Time for oil's swan song?

Meanie Greenie over at Greener than Money has two recent posts about reducing carbon footprints. We're not talking advice to change your bulbs to CF. These posts focus on the bigger picture of green -- what's happening across the pond, and let me tell you it should embarrass us.

(Both links go to Greener than Money posts.)

Sweden to phase out oil based economy. Woot!

Sweden announced that they aim to be the first oil-free country by the year 2020.
Abu Dhabi to become ZERO EMISSION city
They have decided to start a BILLION dollar project creating a 6 kilometer ultra-clean city that emits NO CARBON, and NO WASTE.

Features of Abu Dhabi include wind and solar farms and the absence of cars. You've got to admire a place where the people in power are looking out for the future of the entire planet.

I mentioned that this should embarrass us, and it should. What has your town/city/state/country(!?) done to look out for our future? Tonight on PBS (just before a repeat of "Columbia's Eyelids") there was a program featuring Reynolds, Indiana, aka BioTown USA. From the site:
The long term expectation of the BioTown Project is to completely meet all the energy needs of Reynolds via biorenewable resources, including electricity, natural gas replacement, and vehicular fuel.

The BioTown USA site provides good background on the town. It should be a model for any town geographically capable of supporting it.