Thursday, December 31, 2009

Black-eyed Peas for Luck, CitiMortgage for Money

Unlike many black women across the U.S., I am not tasked with making black-eyed peas for luck and greens for money to celebrate the new year. My one and only task to prepare for the coming year is quite simple:

Make a mortgage payment on December 31.

This is no small feat. Banks close early. Call centers are swamped. I can't set up my online bill pay function to do it because the bill pay function starts before my paycheck is deposited. My mission is simple: Pay the mortgage over the phone before CitiMortgage closes for the day on December 31.

You see, BMNB and I have been in income tax hell for the past three or four years. When we moved to California and were waiting out the overpriced housing market, we no longer had a primary residence for purposes of mortgage interest and property tax deductions. As a double-income, no kids professional (albeit civil service professional) couple with few tax deductions, we were getting taxed out of the behind and coming up short every year. We re-jiggered our withholding, increased our deferred comp contributions, even increased our charitable contributions, but to no avail. We still owed. Big time.

Finally, BMNB got to the end of his rope and decided we had to pull the trigger and buy a house, no matter how much it cost. So last year we did, but late in the year. And, desperate for the mortgage interest deduction and having made only one mortgage payment, I sprang into action on December 31, making our January 1 mortgage payment one day earlier for the sole purpose of getting the mortgage interest deduction for our 2008 tax year. It helped. We still owed, but it definitely helped.

This year, with me being furloughed and given the availability of mortgage interest and property tax deductions to us for the entire year, we're looking at a much better outcome for tax year 2009. Having been in income tax hell for so long, BMNB and I don't make any major money moves -- or even some minor ones -- without consulting our accountant and taking into consideration the tax consequences of any move we make. Oh, and we got a new accountant. I prefer to think of him as our personal tax samurai. He's aggressive on our behalf and gives us helpful tips throughout the year to make sure we're not "surprised and ambushed" by the IRS and FTB as we've been in the past.

So, in order to maximize our mortgage interest deduction, my one and only task was to make a mortgage payment today before CitiMortgage's customer service phone lines shut down. I prepared the night before, having my checkbook, our mortgage statement, and, most important, CitiMortgage's customer service number sitting by the phone. It was the first thing I did when I woke up this morning. I got kicked out of the customer service phone que once, but I promptly got back in the game and made our payment with the assistance of a customer service rep with a lilting East Indian accent. We wished each other a Happy New Year.

So, in our household, it's not greens for money -- it's CitiMortgage for money.

Happy New Year, Y'all. May you enjoy a healthy, peaceful, and prosperous 2010.

BWB

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tidings of Comfort Food and Joy

I hope you had as wonderful a Christmas as I did. My Christmas wasn't about expensive gifts or overworked hostesses bearing overladen platters of food, but about gathering with family and exchanging small but meaningful gifts -- a photo of a departed, beloved pet; recipes from my late mom, SWIE; books to inspire travel; even a book of Sudoku puzzles. It wasn't the price but the thought put into the gifts that counted. And it was nice to have just about everyone gathered around without there being a funeral as the reason.

Indeed, one gift I treasured greatly was a book of my mom's recipes given to me by my sister. You see, I had been hankerin' for some good ol' chili beans like my mom used to make, but I had long forgotten how she made them. Luckily, my sister had it all written down. The gift of that recipe means that my mom's comfort food -- my comfort food -- will still live on.

If you're nice, perhaps I'll share the recipe with you, along with some of my mom's other comfort food recipes, like chili chicken. Good eatin', y'all.

Tidings of comfort food and joy . . . .

Happy Holidays . . .

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!




I can't take credit for my neighbors' outdoor Christmas decorations, but I thought I'd share a photo or two of them just to same. Merry Christmas to all!
Black Woman Blogging

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let Those Old Republican SOB's Fillibuster

It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has locked up the 60 votes he needs to end a Republican filibuster.

I say, let those old Republican SOB's filibuster. Just for the hell of it.

I'm not saying give up the 60 votes. I'm not saying that we shouldn't move forward with what's left of the health care bill. I'm less than thrilled that the public option will probably disappear from whatever bill emerges from the conference committee. But I'd rather see health care legislation enacted and possibly amended in the future than no health care legislation at all. I guess I'm a realist.

But I think this whole filibuster threat is one that is beyond the physical means of the Republican senators to carry out. Just look at their ages -- most of those old farts are in their 60's and 70's. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm in my 40's and my eyesight, back, and bladder aren't nearly what they used to be twenty years ago. I don't even want to imagine how those old farts are going to attempt to occupy a podium and speak into the wee hours of the night until they piss and crap on themselves.

But I sure would like to see them try. I don't think they have the balls -- even the gray-haired or bald balls -- to carry it off. If they feel that strongly about opposing health care, I say, let them stock up on Depends and handle their business. I say wear them down like Nolan Richardson's University of Arkansas basketball team used to wear down their opponents -- but this is going to be far more arduous than "40 minutes of hell" given their ages.

I'm about tired of these Senator Republicans. Go ahead -- let them filibuster. I want to see them piss and crap themselves.

Go ahead, Senate Republicans. In the name of that great civil rights obstructionist and secret lover of black women, Senator Strom Thurmond, I double-dog dare ya.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I'm Having A Merry Christmas

In the words of Maya Angelou, I'm singin' and swingin' and gettin' Merry like Christmas. I'm having a wonderful holiday season, and here's why:

I'm not doing anything I don't want to do.

First, let's talk about all the things I'm NOT doing or didn't do:

Drama. If something even vaguely hints at drama, I'm not going near it, no sirreee Bob. I've passed up some events and will continue to pass up events because the potential for drama is high.

Spending lots of money. I've focused on a few gifts for a few people -- my godchildren, my husband, BMNB, and a few others. My siblings and I drew names for a "Beg, Borrow or Steal Yankee Swap" for Christmas in which we're not allowed to spend money (more on that below). I bought office gifts on sale or at the Dollar Tree and stayed within my budget, which was very low. I have only one more gift to buy, and I will not have spent more than $100 on gifts when I'm done. I'm not buying gifts for folks who don't want gifts or complain about the gifts I give. This is a huge change from years ago, when I would spend hundreds on gifts. One time, I spent thousands. It took me a long time to realize it's not how much you spend, but how thoughtful the gift is, no matter how much it cost. One of the best gifts I've received this year? A jar of gourmet salsa made by one of our local high schools, Grant High School. With a bag of organic baked blue corn chips. Yum!

Cooking like a madwoman. My siblings and I are doing a potluck for Christmas. I'll make a small dinner for BMNB and myself just because he eats alot and likes to have something at home to munch on. But the days of my putting on a huge family meal and footing the bill for it are over.

Responding to last-minute requests to do anything. Okay, everybody knows when Christmas is, and it comes once a year like clockwork. So if folks can't get their act together to plan something and give advance notice, well, not my problem. Any last minute requests to do something, cook something, or bring something will be, in the words of my favorite financial guru Suze Orman, "DENIED."

Stressing out. I might get all my shopping done, might not. Oh well. Nobody ever died for lack of a gift, other than someone on the organ donor list. As long as my godchildren are taken care of, I'm good.

Doing everything myself. BMNB and I split the duties on lots of things -- he buys gifts for his side of the family, I buy for mine; he addresses and signs the Christmas cards for his side of the family, I take care of my side of the family. No woman should be the social secretary for her family all the time. Unless your husband's or your children's hands are broken, put them to work doing something, no matter how small.

Trying to be Jesus. I'm celebrating the birth of our Savior, but I'm not trying to be our Savior. This is especially difficult for me because, as my best friend tells me, I have somewhat of a Christ complex: I try to rescue people from bad situations no matter how responsible they are for being in those situations. This is especially hard for me when the decisions, or lack thereof, of parents have deleterious effects on their children. My oldest brother has given me wise counsel on this front which sounds kinda harsh but is true nonetheless: Some people need to suffer because it is through their suffering that they learn and grow. By interceding and rescuing them, I'm not doing them a favor because I'm short-circuiting their growth process, and it is this growth process that will lead them to better decisions in their own (and hopefully their children's) best interests. So, unless it's life or death, I seriously weigh my options before coming to the rescue of people, especially fools. If I do so, it's with the goal of teaching them to fish instead of giving them a fish, so to speak. As my best friend counsels me, "Don't forget how that Christ story ended." Word.

Now, to all the wonderful things I AM doing or will do:

Listening to and sharing Christmas CDs. I have a collection of Christmas CDs that ranges from Dolly Parton and Lou Rawls to Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole. I have a tradition of buying a new Christmas CD every year. This year I bought Michael McDonald's "This Christmas," and I'm so enjoying it! I've never heard as soulful a version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in my life. I brought all my Christmas CDs into the office right after Thanksgiving and offered to share them with my co-workers as long as I got them back by Christmas. This has proven extremely popular, and I would imagine a lot of my co-workers have filled the Ipods with musical Christmas cheer. I'll list my Christmas CD collection at the end of this entry. The most popular CD borrowed? Nat King Cole. Least? Barry Manilow, with no takers. Poor Barry.

Sending Christmas cards. This almost didn't happen, as I lost my Christmas card address list and didn't find it until Saturday morning. BMNB and I started sending out Christmas cards last year because so many people send us Christmas cards. We scrambled to get ours done and in the mail this weekend. We love sending them as much as we love receiving them. It's a nice way to let folks know you're thinking about them. However, I will be putting the address list on a flash drive so I won't have to scramble next year to find it.

Making baked goods for my neighbors. This is one thing I'm extremely proud of because it's long overdue. You see, I have really good neighbors in the old school sense of the word. My neighbors send BMNB and I plates of food (including, but not limited to, hot homemade doughnuts), mow our lawn, put away our garbage cans on trash day, give our dog dog treats, and they have given us trees and plants for our yard. Last year, they gave us Christmas cookies despite the fact that that we'd only been in the neighborhood for a little over a month. This year I said thanks with baked goods: A holiday sampler with dozens of Christmas cookies-- Kanella (a hazelnut cookie), Chocolate Decadence cookies, cream cheese cutout cookies (one dozen decorated, one dozen plain -- they're way better than shortbread and moister than sugar cookies), and a dozen and a half of cheese straws, courtesy of Paula Deen's recipe. It took me a day and a half straight to finish, but that pales in comparison to all the things they do for BMNB and me during the year. Thanks to the wonderful folks at Sunset Magazine for the Kanella and Chocolate Decadence cookie recipes featured in their December issue.

Being creative. My siblings and I are doing a "Beg, Borrow or Steal Yankee Swap" gift exchange. Here's how it works: 1) Draw names. 2) You can't spend money on the gift -- you have to give something you already own, or beg, borrow or steal to get it. 3) The gift can't have a value of more than $10. 4) At Christmas, we'll draw numbers to decide the order in which we open gifts, starting with the person who draws number 1 opening the gift brought for him or her first. 5) Anyone can make anyone else with a lower number "swap" gifts with them until all the gifts are opened. This has really forced me and my siblings to be creative about our gift giving -- thinking about stuff we already have that our recipients might want or paying special attention to the things our recipients like. I've even advised that the gifts need not be tactile -- they can be gift certificates for services, like "2 hours of closet organizing" or "mowing the lawn" or "washing and vacuuming your car." Plus, I've had to confer with some of my siblings on what their recipients might want. It's been really fun, and I'm looking forward to the gifts being opened to see how creative we can all be on the cheap. Again, it's not about the money, it's about the thoughtfulness of the gift.

Enjoying Christmas shows. BMNB and I watched Oprah's special on Christmas at the White House and had a ball. We caught the tail end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and, miffed that I missed it, I decided that I would buy it on DVD so that I can play it every year. The Christmas show that nearly brought me to tears? Paula Deen's Christmas on the Food Network. That lady sure knows how to live! Although it aired a year ago, it was still timely in its focus on good and easy dishes, gathering of family, and love. Paula says that their family gift giving really isn't about stuff because they have just about everything they want. It nearly brought me to tears when Paula opened her gift from her husband Mike: A card stating that he was taking her to Paris so that she could "eat, laugh, and have fun." The gift was special because, at the time, Paula Deen had never been "across the pond." Imagine that! One of America's top chefs, and she'd never been to Paris! It wasn't the cost of the gift, but the pure thoughtfulness of it and how it touched her heart that nearly brought me to tears. Now that's a meaningful Christmas.

Enjoying outdoor Christmas decorations. If there were an Olympics for outdoor Christmas decoration, my neighbors would medal. Now, BMNB ain't trying to climb a ladder to put up lights he'd have to take down thirty days later, so that means that I enjoy outdoor Christmas decorations, and the creativity that goes into them, all the more. I've even taken photos of some of them. Yeah, I'm corny that way, but who cares?

Put up my Christmas tree. Yes, it's fake, and yes, I didn't change the theme and color scheme from last year (silver and blue winter wonderland), but I like it and it pleases me. Plus, I didn't have to spend any money.

Getting myself at least one gift. I bought myself a gift certificate for yoga classes in my neighborhood. I'm also giving myself non-tangible gifts for the coming year: Better health through exercise and cooking; organizing and painting my home office; traveling with BMNB on weekend getaways every other month; and giving myself time to finish projects near and dear to me. I'll also be spending more on self-beautification -- hair and nails -- with a concomitant reduction in our food budget. I'll let BMNB make up the difference. Hey, he makes more than I do and he wasn't furloughed. He likes it when I spend money on myself. No, he really does.

Saving. I suck at saving. My idea of saving has been, whatever's left at the end of the month, well, that's saving. No more. As my oldest brother has encouraged me to do since I got out of law school, I will indeed start "paying myself first."

Giving to charity. I've given food to our work food drive and will give more. One of my friends has as a signature in her email, "If you continually give, you will continually have." So true.

Being thankful. I'm so very thankful for the little (and not so little) things. I'm thankful that I have a wonderful family, a most excellent husband who has my back, great co-workers, a home of my own that no landlord can kick me out of, a dog that is, well, still kinda healthy although mentally ill (it's a long story), wonderful baristas at my local Starbucks, a great book club with fabulous women members, and shoes I can still fit no matter how big I get. I'm also thankful for our Savior.

Remembering the reason for the season. Need I say more?

My Christmas wish? That every child born be greeted with the same anticipation and joy as Jesus was on Christmas Day. Doesn't every child deserve that?

Merry Christmas,

Black Woman Blogging

Black Woman Blogging's Christmas CD Collection:

Handel's Messiah -- A Souful Celebration (Assorted Artists) -- This is my favorite Christmas CD.

Dolly Parton, Home for Christmas

Boyz II Men, Christmas Interpretations

Lou Rawls, A Merry Little Christmas

Nat King Cole, Christmas Favorites

Bebe Winans, My Christmas Prayer

Sleigh Full of Songs (Assorted Artists)

Jazz to the World: A Christmas Collection (Assorted Artists, 1995)

Yolanda Adams, Christmas with Yolanda Adams

Barry Manilow, Because It's Christmas

Whitney Houston, The Preacher's Wife Soundtrack

Crystal Gayle, Crystal Gayle Christmas

Holiday Sounds of the Season 2001

Christina Aguilera, My Kind of Christmas

Bebe and Cece Winans, First Christmas

Dave Koz, December Makes Me Feel This Way

Barbra Streisand, A Christmas Album

Vanessa Williams, Star Bright

Rosemary Clooney, Classic Holiday Treasures

Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas (I can't seem to find this one, but I know I have it)

Michael McDonald, This Christmas

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copenhatin', Or When The Polar Bears Eat Sarah Palin's Pets

The poorer nations at the Copenhagen Summit (Is the term "lesser developed countries" considered politically incorrect?) want the richer nations to not only accelerate their decrease of greenhouse gas emissions, but to pay the poorer nations for having to adjust to climate change. The U.S. wants China to reduce its emissions more, and China is waiting for the U.S. to take greater steps, to wit, some form of legislation from the U.S. Senate. Good luck with that. I'm sure Joe Lieberman would be opposed to that, too. And Sarah Palin, the Britney Spears of politics, is dismissing climate change and the "politicized science" behind it (Is that similar to "politicized memoir-writing?") while taking swipes at California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is, well the Arnold Schwarzenegger of politics.

And while all this Copenhatin' is going on, some polar bear is swimming a marathon trying to get to an ice floe. Trust me, evolution is on the bear's side. When they can't find seals or walruses to eat and ice floes to get to, they're gonna come on land. We and our pets are next. And since Sarah's pets, assuming she has any, are closer to the polar bears than ours, well, she should have a greater stake in climate change legislation than the rest of us in the lower 48. To borrow from a Stanford joke, I don't have to outrun the polar bear -- I just have to outrun Sarah Palin and her pets. Assuming she has any.

I don't think effective responses to climate change are going to come from Copenhagen, Kyoto, or any other city with some trumped-up summit where nations play prisoner's dilemma with respect to ratifying any resulting treaty. Instead of climate scientists, we need some economists skilled in game theory to figure out how this Copenhagen thing is going to play out.

No, effective responses to climate change are going to have to come from you and me. We're going to have to make those small changes that, when heaped one upon the other, like one-dollar contributions to the Obama campaign, make big changes. We're going to have to hold industry accountable for greenhouse emissions and pass up their products that contribute greatly to the problem. We're going to have to buy locally, eschew our cars for mass transportation, and get used to those funny light bulbs. Because if we wait for the fools and climate change pimps in Copenhagen to act, there won't be any economy or much of anything else left to fight about. Because if we wait for people who don't represent our interests to act in our interests, we're doomed to not only be disappointed, but to join the food chain in a way I don't even want to contemplate.

Although it would be funny watching Sarah Palin trying to outrun a polar bear.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hey Sixteen

Way back when in '87
I wore a size eight
In dresses and suits
Now time has passed
I’m fat and sagging
Wearing plus sizes
What the hell am I?

Hey sixteen
No you can’t weary skinny jeans
No True Religion for you
Please slap that eggnog
Right out of my hand


(with apologies to Steely Dan)

Yesterday, I finally accepted an unfortunate milestone I've reached: I can now shop freely in the plus sized women's department. I am officially a size sixteen.

Talk about payback being a mother. When I was interning for a state agency as a graduate student in my twenties, I laughed at all the women in their 40's and 50's complaining about saddlebag thighs, sagging boobs, dragging asses, weight gains, and turkey necks, all of them dreading swimsuit season. I swore that I would never let myself go like that. I promised myself that I would never, EVER, wear a double-digit size, that I would never have back fat sticking out of a backless dress or a one-piece swimsuit.

If you held up a swimsuit to me right now, it'd be like Kryptonite to Superman or garlic to a vampire. I would not only walk, but run in the other direction.

And, quite frankly, I was doing pretty well until I hit my mid-thirties. I didn't think much of it when I had to, for the first time, buy a size ten dress for a formal event. "Whatever," I thought to myself. "They didn't have the dress in an eight anyways."

Talk about denial. Like I could have fit a size eight.

I'd been pretty content holding at a size fourteen for the past six years or so. Any woman will tell you that size fourteen is pretty much the outer limit for finding anything in the stores approaching something you'd be willing to wear in public. Once you get beyond size fourteen, the pickins', unlike you, are pretty slim in terms of style and quality.

Well, I'm there. And I don't like it one bit.

Please, not Weight Watchers again. I hate that "falling off the wagon" feeling I get when I drag my fat ass into a Weight Watchers meeting for what would be the, oh, fifth time now. There's got to be a better way.

If I can just get off my fat ass and find it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Greatest Golfer, But Not The Greatest Player

So it looks like my favorite Cablasian got caught cheating on his wife, confirming what I’ve believed all along: Women are smarter than men. Tiger may be one of the world’s best golfers, but he’s a lousy player, if you get what I mean.

Think about it: If politicians, NBA stars, rock stars, and even the President of the United States got caught cheating on their wives, what made Tiger Woods think he wouldn’t get caught?

Here’s where I think women are smarter than men: Women think of cheating in terms of relationships; men think of it as transactional. Let me explain.

For example, married women would find a way to use relationships to shield their husbands from their extramarital relationships. A married woman would be smart enough to assume that the person she’s cheating with is as low-down as she is and has nothing to lose from outing her, so she would choose a cheating partner who had some “skin in the game,” so to speak – someone with something to lose by going public with their cheating, i.e., a married man, preferably a wealthy one living in a community property state who would stand to lose half of his fortune if caught.

Second, what a woman understands about relationships that men don’t is this: Sooner or later, if you keep cheating with the woman you’re cheating with, she’s going to think, “If I’m so much better than your wife that you’re sleeping with me, why aren’t I good enough to be the wife?” Kinda like Monica Lewinsky thinking she was going to take Hillary’s place. Whether we care to admit it or not, women can be extremely competitive when it comes to gaining and maintaining the affections of men. Therefore, what men don’t understand that women do is that you either have to maintain the hope of ascending to the wife’s place for your mistress if you want to keep the cheating going, or stop cheating with this particular mistress before such hope can take hold in her. But you can’t keep the cheating going without some false hope unless she’s got something to lose by outing the relationship, i.e., a wealthy husband. In Tiger’s case, the mistress’ wealthy husband would have to have been worth at least $ 1 billion to make it worthwhile to keep her mouth shut. And the false hope won’t sustain her forever. When your mistress starts singing lines from Jill Scott’s “My Love,” i.e., “My love is deeper, tighter, sweeter, higher, flyer . . . didn’t you know this?”, then you’re about done. The demands will increase and secrecy of your “transgressions” will be on the line.

Finally, a married woman would have removed all traces and evidence of cheating to maintain the marriage, if for no other reason, to avoid losing her children. Unlike Tiger, a married woman would have had more than one cell phone for her dirty deeds, and the one used for her cheating would have been a non-contract throwaway without phone records. She would have had separate credit cards with the bills going to different addresses to pay for her misdeeds. And she would have maintained her sexual relationship with her husband to remove any doubt. Because for women, if you can’t maintain the relationships, you risk losing the “transactions,” if you will. It’s all about balancing and insulating the relationships. We women excel at this.

That’s why Tiger may be the greatest golfer ever, but we women are the greatest players.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Today, This Seat Is Reserved


During my husband's morning bus commute, he noted a placard reserving a seat in the front of the bus for Rosa Parks on what is the 54th anniversary of her refusal to give up her seat in the front of the bus. May she rest in peace.