Thursday, March 25, 2010


It's interesting, the reactions I've received when speaking of my husband's impending layoff. The response is, overall, very supportive. But there are still those who seem to believe that it's a failing of skill, character or work ethic to be laid off. And that those that are still employed are always the better option to hire. Yes, beloved colleagues, I am talking to you. I adore you all. I think you are brilliant.


It's a slightly insidious superiority complex combined with 'it can never happen to me' thinking. And quite frankly I think that's a combination of denial and an overinflated sense of self worth. The reality is we're all expendable on the altar of profitability. We're all vulnerable. And hard, good work isn't a guarantee, no matter how we would like it to be - even for us, colleagues. Bitter pill maybe. But so true, and pretending it isn't doesn't make it so.

There's a line in Jean Chatzky's book You Don't Have To Be Rich where one of the people she interviewed says "Relationships are better than money". They are, and this kind of thing is a good reminder. Sure, it's going to suck if his severance isn't a windfall and is instead living expenses. But we'll still be happy, job or no job. I actually have found it a good reminder to focus on what is important. Maybe that's the silver lining.

Overall though, the support has been overwhelming. And I'm grateful for it. Even though we're okay for a good while to come, it's nice to know people care and worry for us. We're okay, but deeply appreciate the sentiments.

That said, we're hardly burying our head in the sand. There's been some planning. We're cutting back - not a bad thing to do in the first place (I'll be the first to admit our financial management got a little wacky in the first year of parenthood). I've been working on the delta of what we'll really need for income.

And we'll be cutting costs more and more as time goes on. Even the little things.

The other thing I've noticed as a result of the layoff is how many people have a lot of aversion to talking or thinking about all that 'cheap, penny-pinching stuff'. Even in the midst of the Great Recession. Those that have weathered the storm well still seem to have the same disdain for frugality as before the recession, which is interesting. I think again, it's a mindset thing. It's something that 'poor people' do - washing out baggies, growing their own food (although this one admittedly is growing in popularity due to environmentalism), packing lunches, skipping the coffee purchase for homemade, and so on.

It's interesting to me because it's behavior that is often very much in the closet. Even those people who don't like to talk about that stuff do some of it - okay, maybe not the baggie washing, so far that's just a few of us - it's almost like admitting it is a sign of economic failure.

The thing is, no one I know currently in the workforce is rich enough not to care about the financial impact of their decisions. Some may ignore it, and hope that everything works out, but I don't think most of us would set the alarm on weekdays if money wasn't some sort of concern.

So why do we try so hard to make it seem as though it isn't? This is one of those questions I've never found a good answer to. I wish I knew

Lastly, while my blog tries to stay apolitical, I am truly and honestly disgusted by the threats of violence, cutting of gas lines, and 'reload' comments from the far right on the health care bill. Everyone is entitled to their perspective, but this behavior is not far off of other revolting displays of behavior like wearing sheets on heads and burning crosses.

We're overdue for a little more civility in the American political conversation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day Review

Recently, I've been making homemade bread a lot. For one thing, it just tastes better. For another thing, it's inexpensive, easy, and healthier than buying loaves at the store.

I've been using a master recipe from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

The bread is delicious and easy. The dough makes multiple loaves, and keeps in the fridge for about 2 weeks. And it really does take about 5 minutes of prep time. Of all the 'fast and easy' bread recipes I've tried, this one is tops. The basic recipe, along with some variations are available free online.

But there are a few changes I've made that I do think improve the end result.

Here's my variation, based on the original:
3 cups lukewarm water
1.5 tablespoons yeast
1.5 packets, or do yourself a favor and buy it in bulk, and store it in the refridgerator. Far cheaper
1 scant tablespoon salt
The original recipe calls for 1.5 tbsp, which, if you butter your bread with salted butter makes it far far too salty for my tastes
6.5 cups flour
I've been using 5 cups of white, 1/2 cup bran flour, 1 cup wheat flour. You can also use bread flour for 1/2 cup, which will make it denser and chewier. If you want a more whole grain bread, use the whole wheat bread variation with additional grains in the article.
Liberal dusting of cornmeal or flour for your baking pan
The original recipe calls for a pizza peel. I dont happen to have one, so I've been using a cookie sheet. Works fine.

Follow the instructions in the article, with the following variations:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. I don't have an oven that takes 20 minutes or more to preheat, so I wait the about 5 minutes for it to preheat fully and then pop the bread in.

Add a pan of water to a lower shelf before you turn on the oven if you don't have a reservoir built in. Make sure there's a fair amount of water in the pan.

My bread was still pretty chewy at the specified 30 minute mark, so I let it go 35-40 minutes, watching it closely the last 5-10 minutes.

This is a great recipe for busy families, and was a huge hit in my home.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Facing a Layoff

The other day, we got some bad news. My husband, after 11+ years with his company, is being laid off, along with every other member of his team, and his boss. His job is being outsourced.

The severance terms are fairly generous, and there will be extensive support provided to him in his job hunt. Our financial standing is not going to be at risk unless this goes on for a fairly long time. The job market in Massachusetts is starting to look better and better every month, and was never as dire as other areas. And realistically, if we're cautious with our spending and cut back now, the delta between what we'll bring in and what will go out will be there - but will be fairly manageable. And I now have a fair amount of job security, which is a far different picture than if this had happened a year ago.

That said, it does change things for us. House projects we had hoped to tackle this year will be delayed. How we're going to handle health insurance, which has been through him, is up in the air. My company's insurance plan is definitely the lesser of the two plans, and doesn't cover some key areas for us.

And it's a stressful experience. Even with the uptick in job postings, there are no guarantees. We've seen firsthand extended periods of unemployment for friends and family. And with my deeply ingrained fear of running out of money, I admit to struggling with the news. Some of that is fear of the worst-case scenario (unlikely, but always possible). Some of it is sadness at having to put off goals for more immediate needs.

Interestingly, this news came just days after we had finished booking our vacation for the summer - a road trip to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania and a weeklong stay in a house we rented in Lancaster County to see the sights. Because we've paid a significant chunk of the vacation up front and wouldn't get it back, we'll still be going. But it will be a more reserved vacation - we'll be cooking in more than we might have otherwise done. Any purchases will have to be carefully considered.

But really, that's not so bad. We have enough clutter in our lives already. And most of the things we want out of the vacation - to see some friends and a cousin who lives in the area, to relax, to explore Amish country and see Gettysburg - don't cost much.

This may turn out to be a blessing. It's hard to know. Even though I probably fall into the category of 'financially paranoid', drowning in fear and what-ifs isn't going to serve us well at all.

I guess we'll wait and see.