Monday, March 30, 2009
Cover Letters That Won't Get You Hired
So these cover letters, which are infinitely dorky? They're supposed to sell your personal brand to a prospective employer. Except when you have an advertising background it actually sounds like a hard sell, instead of just a cleverly phrased note designed to grab attention.

After writing these letters for awhile my brain starts melting as I try to think up new! and improved! ways to highlight my accomplishments. Then I get silly, and start out writing the cover letter as I normally would, and just for fun write in something you could never ever say to a hiring manager:

Dear blah blah blah,

I am writing to express to you my interest in the position for blah blah blah. You will find I'm pretty excellent at everything I do, fo' shiz.


I need this job to pay for summer camp. If I have to spend the summer entertaining my kids I will surely go insane.


Eating is fun! Hire me!


I need so-so health insurance which costs a small fortune and doesn't cover much anyway. Hire me, please!


I have a condition called "breadline hysteria." The only known cure is gainful employment.


Courtroom television is starting to entertain me. Quick! Somebody hire me!


The readers of this blog are tired of hearing me whine about cover letters. Hire me and you can end their suffering.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
If It's Free It's For Me, But Now What?
My quest to be thrifty and spend as little money as possible is paying off. I've been taking advantage of sales and clipping coupons and driving my family crazy with my depression budget mentality in the process.

There was the shampoo I bought for $1.38 (the "good" brand, too), the $10 coupons one of the grocery stores plastered all over the neighborhood (we collected enough to last us until they expire in June), and the other neighborhood supermarket gave away 5lb boxes of matzoh over the weekend.

So Mrs. Murphy would like to know: what should I do with a 5lb box of matzoh? Beyond matzoh brei. Anyone?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The Poor Boys in My House
First my poor husband. Turns out he really is quite ill. After a visit to the doctor, he came home armed with a strong antibiotic to treat strep throat AND impetigo. I can tell you right now that if your husband ever calls to say he'll be home as soon as he fills his prescription for his ailments, you should not Google "impetigo" or "impetigo images" because you will freak the 'eff out and spray anything in your line of sight with Lysol.

Last night, Harry was quite upset that I picked him up from the sitter, and not dad. He wailed and cried and had quite an impressive meltdown simply because I had the gall to collect him after a long day at the office. It is so much fun being a working mom sometimes.

When we finally arrived home, a time out in the naughty corner was necessary. I don't give timeouts just because Harry's having a bad day but when a meltdown involves a lot of sass, name calling, defiance and behavior that is dangerous (like starting said meltdown at the top of a flight of stairs), a timeout can give us both a chance to catch our breath. I follow the one minute per birthday rule. I don't know where I heard that this is the acceptable length of time but it seems to work.

So Harry was relegated to the naughty corner for four minutes and I planned on spending those next four minutes locating the source of the horrific stink in our apartment, which I knew immediately was from one of the cats. Specifically, Satan's spawn, Inky. As I was looking under tables, behind furniture and on the bedroom carpet, Harry kept crying for me to release him from the time out. I kept saying I couldn't at that moment because time wasn't up and I was busy looking for cat poop. Come here/I can't/I need you/You're fine. This went on for three minutes and then I gave up. Harry was getting more upset and there was nothing I could find that would cause such a stink. Then I saw that I'd placed poor Harry right in the "present" Satan's spawn had left in the naughty corner.

This will surely take me out of the running for Mother of the Year.

Monday, March 23, 2009
Random Topics for a Monday
There has been no joy in mudville lately, but lots of stuff going on.

We got our taxes done, which was about as fun as a heart attack, and that's ironic because that's I had a heart attack when I saw how much we owe the government.

We're all still ill with what I think may be The Plague. The pediatrician thinks it is not The Plague, but she said that with a full night's sleep under her belt and a medical degree to back up her hypothesis, so what does she know? Still, we are all coughing, sneezing, sniffling, unable to sleep, breathe or live like human beings ought to. She sent us home with antibiotics for the kids and told us to suck it up. Actually, she didn't say to suck it up. I made that part up but she probably would have if I'd kept complaining. Oh, and the medicine I bought the other night for Harry? Made him break out into an itchy rash, which miraculously disappeared when we arrived at the doctors office. Funny how that works.

But then. THEN! There were two robins in our yard on Saturday afternoon so Spring has certainly arrived. Thank God.

Crazy stuff, this job searching. My freelance assignment will end on March 31st. The summer off would be nice but you know, there's the food we like to eat and the clothes we like to wear. So, you know, with the prospect of starvation and nudity looming I've been busy applying to jobs and writing the dreaded cover letter. I hate writing cover letters. I might like getting my taxes done more than I like writing cover letters. They are so dorky and you wouldn't ever speak like that in an interview. But they're necessary so I trudge through the internet looking for the least dorky sounding snippets I can use and still sound like a normal person.

The one job I am most interested in has not contacted me. Yet. Must say yet in the spirit of optimism. I stalk the posting on the employment site it is listed on. I want the listing to still be there so I know the position hasn't been filled. That way I can fantasize that they are busy making plans to have me come aboard because they can't believe their luck in finding someone so perfect for the position. On the other hand, if it is no longer listed I can move on already (and fantasize that they are regretting hiring the current employee). The job is at a university and I know I could do it and it would mean a pay cut BUT it would mean access to a university and a new degree with a new career one day. Keep your fingers crossed for me, wouldja?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Gee, thanks, I Think.
I honestly can't believe we're all sick again. Surely there is a germ out there that we have some resistance to, no?

For this round of the common cold, Harry's gotten the worst of it and last night he walked up to us at 6:30 p.m. and said "I want to go to bed." We got him into his pajamas and let him sleep while the rest of us ate dinner and talked.

At about 8:30 I walked over to the drugstore to pick up some more cold medicine for Harry. When I went to the cashier, she scanned the box and demanded "WHERE did you get this?"

I was a little surprised, since, you know, when one buys items in a store you typically find those items on something called shelves. So that's what I said, plainly and clearly, so there could be no misunderstanding, "On the shelf."

"Well, the pharmacy is closed. How did you get this?"

"I picked it up off a shelf."

"From the pharmacy?"

"No, from the shelf."

"I'm going to need to see your ID. Do you have ID?"

"Is there a problem?" I asked, handing over my license.

"It's just that this is, you know, like, a controlled substance. You're not supposed to have this."

I must have looked really confused because then she clarified it for me: "You're only supposed to get this from the pharmacy as an over-the-counter drug. The pharmacy's closed so I just need to know how you got it."

"As I said before, I picked it up off the shelf."

"OK, I've entered your information into our database. You need to sign this," she said, pointing to a screen. Then she said "WOW, you look, like, really good for your age."

Monday, March 16, 2009
Mrs. Murphy's Corned Beef and Cabbage
AKA "I'm NOT Eating That" by the under 10 set in our house.

Here's what you need:
1 corned beef brisket, 3 - 5 lbs
3-4 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
6-7 small red bliss potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 onion, quartered
1 small head cabbage
2-3 bottles dark ale (we use McSorley's)
1 T pickling spices
3-4 bay leaves
1 t peppercorns

Place your corned beef in a pot bigger than you think you need. Include the juices from the packaging, it's full of flavor.

Add 2-3 bottles ale and the flavor packet from the corned beef if it came with one. Add the pickling spices, peppercorns and bay leaves. Then add enough water to cover the meat by at least an inch. Let it simmer, like all day. At least 4-6 hours. At least. Drink the rest of the beer while you're waiting.

Here's what it will look like after the 4-6 hours.

About 30 - 45 minutes before you think you'd like to eat, add the potatoes.

15 minutes later add the the carrots and the onion.

When the vegetables are tender, remove the meat and vegetables from the pot to rest on a platter.

Add the cabbage to the pot and simmer until tender.

Put the meat on a carving board and load up the platter with the cooked cabbage.

Slice the corned beef thinly against the grain and add to the platter.

Serve with rye bread, grainy mustard, more beer and soda bread.

I had fully planned to show you a table set with the platter and the soda bread and nice glasses of ale but then things went awry and someone had a meltdown. Timeouts were issued. Dinner got cold and the ale went flat. Things don't always go according to plan. When they do, it's the luck of the Irish. When they don't, I guess it's called life. Oh well!

Sunday, March 15, 2009
Mrs. Murphy's Irish Soda Bread
Full disclosure: I'm not really Irish. My husband is the red-headed Irishman but his family's been in America so long they barely qualify as Irish. That doesn't stop me from making a St. Patrick's Day dinner every year, complete with soda bread and corned beef and cabbage (even if it isn't authentically Irish; it's an American re-invention. Whatevs. It's really, really good.)

I suppose you could buy your soda bread at the grocery store but then you'd be out $2-$3 per loaf. We had all the ingredients in the house except the buttermilk and the currants. The currants cost $.96 from the bulk bin (and are organic!) and the buttermilk cost $1.29 per quart. DIY...more economical, healthier since there's no preservatives and it makes two loaves. No bread line hysteria here.

This is the best recipe I've found to date. My only deviation from the published recipe is to use unbleached all-purpose flour in place of the bread flour. I've been known to double the amount of caraway seeds sometimes. More often than not I use currants instead of raisins.

So, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the caraway seeds...
and the soaked currants. I didn't pat mine dry. Whoops!
Add the buttermilk.
Stir until a soft, sticky dough forms.
Knead for 1 minute on a floured surface.
Divide the dough in half and place each on a baking sheet. Cut an X in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.

Bake for 45-55 minutes. Loaves should be golden and sound hollow when tapped.

Serve with lots of butter and jam.

Up tomorrow: corned beef and cabbage cooked in ale.

Friday, March 13, 2009
Time to Get Cracking
This blog has been neglected since my last post about cutting the fat. It's just that there's not much to report on in these parts. I'm on hiatus from work this week and the freelance gig is finished at the end of the month so I've been updating my resume, looking for a job and cleaning the house.

Actually, I've been doing more cleaning than anything else because isn't that the best way to procrastinate? You avoid doing something and gain a clean, germ-free home in the process. Win-win, no?

Yesterday, in the most desperate attempt to procrastinate I vaccuumed the bathroom. Our bathroom has little nooks where dirt collects and I find the vaccuum is the best way to gather it up in order to wash the floor.

Today, the laundry is all washed, folded and put away. The breakfast dishes are clean. The kitchen is scrubbed. The vaccuum was run over the floors and all the errant cheerios that fell while Harry ate his breakfast are gone. The pets are fed. Beds are made. Email has been checked and answered. Blog has been blogged. Guess it's time to get cracking finding that job!

Monday, March 9, 2009
Cutting the Fat
Over the weekend I was having yet another moment of bread line hysteria, which is my own brand of full-on panic over the economy. I mentioned to John I'd like to know when the economists will finally admit that we are in a depression. Collapsing banks, stock market plunges, high unemployment; don't they all scream "Depression Ahead?"

I poked around a little and as it turns out, there were a couple of stories published (here and here) explaining that while we are most certainly in a recession, a depression is much harder to define. There are no rigid criteria the economy must meet to be classified as a depression but today's landscape pretty much matches the landscape of 1929. So according to this guy, we probably are in a depression but it won't be acknowledged for years.

That same guy, Peter Morici, also wrote a an Op-Ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer about a year ago that said, quite frankly, Americans must learn to live within their means. (You can download it if you'd like to read it; click the first title under selected OpEds in that last link.)

We haven't always, but now we do live within our means. Mostly because we never found much happiness in buying and buying and buying. Don't get me wrong, I like stuff, but how much stuff does one person really need? After awhile, it just collects dust and then you get sick of looking at it and you end up either throwing it away and it sits in a landfill, or donating it for a paltry tax deduction or trying to find someone else who wants to buy your stuff.

We are fortunate that we can live within our means but that doesn't mean its always easy. Sometimes (OK, a lot of times) it means saying "no" to things that would bring a nice rush of instant gratification, sometimes it means staying up an extra 15 minutes to make a brown-bag lunch because it is at least 50% cheaper than buying a similar meal at the cafeteria and sometimes it means living with basic cable and waiting to see The Tudors on DVD (and most movies for that matter). It means passing up nice little luxuries because the kids are having a growth spurt and need new ____________. It almost always involves making larger purchases at the end of the season and shopping around. Always with the shopping around. Oy.

So beyond brown bagging lunch and buying as many generic products as we can stand, can we tighten our belts any further? Is there any more fat to cut? Yes and yes. Here's the fat I've been cutting:

I started cutting my kitchen sponges in half, as well as Brillo pads and Magic Erasers. I don't need a full size of any of those items to keep things clean and the Brillo usually rust after a couple of uses anyway. I also bought a spray bottle at a discount store, filled it halfway with Lysol cleaner and topped it off with water. It cleans the kitchen counters just as well as the full strength stuff.

Waste Nothing/Freeze Everything
If I don't think I'll use it before it goes bad, I freeze it. Bread, eggs (beaten and stored in a small container, not their shell), hard cheese, butter, tomato sauce, overripe fruit (cut up for smoothies), leftovers, uncooked bacon, muffins and pizza slices. I have even frozen milk at the camper if it won't keep until the next time we're there. Air is the enemy in the freezer so if you wrap it well enough, it ought to keep for at least a couple of weeks. My mother in law recently told me her parents did the same thing during the depression.

Clip, Scan, Bulk
I was lax for a couple of months but I started clipping coupons and scanning circulars for sales again. This week I was able to buy a few things we'd run out of at a deep discount. The store I shop at has a habit of opening up their bulk boxes of Annie's mac n' cheese, putting the individual boxes on the shelf and charging $1.89 each. If you buy the bulk box, you get 6 boxes for $5.99. They also have a great bulk bin section. I bought organic oatmeal (enough for one small batch of granola) for $.98 and some coconut (for the granola) for $.19. It requires organization and planning but the savings add up.

Work the System
I joined ebates last fall and earn a small percentage back on purchases I make online, plus got a $5 bonus for joining. You can still use promo codes and free shipping coupons if you roll like that. I totally roll like that.

My keychain is full of those little cards you swipe at drugstores and supermarkets. I've been remembering to use them more and more. Sometimes they just give you a coupon to use at the store but occasionally the store will give you something for free. CVS has given me box of tissues and a small bottle of Purell so far. During the summer, when we head up to the camper for the weekends, we use a supermarket loyalty card that gives you a break on gasoline from a nearby gas station, anywhere from $.10 to $.50 a gallon.

So Long Pedicures,
(I Will Miss You the Most)
I usually only go during the warmer months, anyway. Assuming I go once a month from May through October, I'll save $138 doing my own toes at home (6 pedicures at $20, plus 15% tip). Even if I splurge and buy a new bottle of polish to keep at home, I'll still be up at least $130 (that's if nail polish even costs that much).

Do it yourself and make it yourself (see also pedicures, above). This summer we're tearing down an old shed and landscaping our yard ourselves. I stopped giving the fancy bakery $3 for a loaf of french bread so now I make it myself. I've seen lots of blog posts on homemade laundry detergent (here's but one) and I have to admit, I am intrigued. I love making granola at home and Ali over at the Cleaner Plate Club has been making her own yogurt and she's learning to do her own carpentry. Again, I'm intrigued!

I know we can hunker down and weather the storm but it'll be nice when we're all laughing 5 years from now about cutting sponges in half. Any other tips, tricks or ideas out there?

Friday, March 6, 2009
Last night we attended the Zing Zang Zoom Circus. I remember going to the Ringling Brothers circus as a kid and this totally took me back thirty a few years. I wondered if Harry would lose interest after awhile but he was into it the whole time. Sophie really like it, too, but she kept telling me all the secrets to the magic tricks.

When we arrived, we met Zing Master Alex and his nemesis, Gravity.
Alex is not your typical ringmaster. He's young and fresh faced. He doesn't have that big, portly build or black handlebar mustache like you see in circus cartoons. He doesn't wear a sequined top hat (I don't remember him wearing one) and did I mention he's young? Gravity walked into a wall and made Harry laugh so hard I thought he'd pee his pants.

This is another clown we met before the show started
He made Harry laugh by tripping up a flight of stairs.

This is the elephant that marched during the singing of the national anthem.

A little hard to tell but this is a dog. On a scooter. The kids got a big kick out of that.

Acrobatics on a giant swing.

Don't look down!

Elephants on parade.

The guy that trains these tigers was a trip.

Grand Finale.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
l Let That One Slide
Last week Lent started and I was feeling very peaceful about it. I was going into the season with serenity and I was giving up on obsessing and worrying. Not the usual thing to give up, I know, but I am of no use to anyone if I am constantly obsessing over things. So out with the negativity. I would not worry about employment, the economy or whether we would or wouldn't buy a house. I wouldn't worry about the kids and be so rigid in their schedules and we would play more and do more together. I wouldn't worry about fitting it all in, my 401k, terrorism, health care reform, cancer and the fate of the world or the fact that I get a headache every time it rains. Because worry is negative energy and what good is all that negativity when I am supposed to be bettering myself and reflecting more?

Instead of worrying I would care and take care. I would try to have more patience. I would turn off the TV, the Facebook, the email, the phone. And I would read more and give more and make more and go-with-the-flow more. Do more with less. Just get back to basics to focus on what matters most.

Things were going swimmingly until yesterday. It started with the Dow tanking to 12-year lows, which induced my "we are most certainly in a depression and any day now we will be eating beans from a can cooked on an open fire while we wait in line for bread" hysteria, and ended with a ceiling that is falling apart because the upstairs radiator is leaking. No one seemed to notice until I brought part of the ceiling with me upstairs to ask "hey, have you noticed anything leaking? No? Here, maybe the ceiling that is in my hand will help jog your memory."

So the neighbor came down to see the water damage and when we showed her the leak, Harry, god love him, pointed to the ceiling and the plaster on the floor and said "SEE? LOOK AT THIS MESS!"
I normally don't condone such sauciness and, yes, I know we're supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves-especially if one is observing Lent-but the timing was so perfect (and adorable) I let it slide.