The Catalyst for Homemade Bagels

May 14, 2010 I left my super-cushy job at the bank without another job lined up. Besides being a huge leap of faith it was the first major decision Bruce and I had made together since getting married. I was absolutely miserable, and by virtue of being my husband, so was Bruce.

Making the decision to leave the bank was easy, but executing it was a little more nail-biting. I was unable to find a suitable job for after I left the bank. Options like collections and sales, although lucrative and available, were off the table. Why leave the bank to do exactly the things I hated?

Obviously our income took quite a hit when my paychecks stopped. We had been living large – meeting friends at favorite restaurants twice a week, grilling steaks just because, and not questioning online purchases. All of that came to a screeching halt in May and we had to quickly adjust our priorities. The adjustment period wasn’t as difficult as expected. We were both sold on the idea of me working a job that I loved that we were able to meet dealing with a huge income cut together.

There were a few main areas that we attacked in order to save some serious money. First, we looked at our outrageous cell phone bill. I’m embarrassed to say that we both really wanted Droids and we were willing to pay out the nose for them – to the tune of $160/month. Now I’m a huge fan of Verizon’s pay-as-you-go plan and my bill is under $50. We’re lucky that Bruce is able to have a work phone, but if he wasn’t I’m sure he’d be using a burner like me.We also sold our second car. With me not working that summer and then taking a part time job as a preschool teacher we were able to make this work easily. Again, we were blessed that Bruce has a work vehicle. The amount of money we saved on car insurance would be worth any hassle that was created by only having one car.

Next we attacked our food budget and we went from eating out whenever the mood hit us to a meal plan and tight budget. This was one of the areas that we were able to make a big impact and it was exciting to see the numbers drop each month until they stabilized where they are now. The last major change for us was to stop playing with the thermostat! Seriously, there are stats all over the internet about how much money can be saved by setting it a degree or two higher in the summer and lower in the winter, and they are true. Sweaters are a one-time purchase, and nothing beats snuggling under blankets while watching a movie in the dead of the winter.

By cutting these four areas we were able to save a ton of money, and we were pushed outside of our normal comfort zones. I have always loved to cook and bake but never really had the time when I was working at the bank. Now that I teach preschool I’m able to spend a lot more time in the kitchen. This is not only good for our budget but also for our health! I stopped buying any sort of bread at the store a while ago and love that I know exactly what ingredients go into C’s food. One of her favorite things to wake up to in the morning is fresh bagels with homemade apple jelly.

bagels

Homemade Bagels

1/2 T yeast

1/2-1 T brown sugar, plus 1 T for boiling

3/4 C warm water

2 C flour

1 T salt

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and proof yeast. In the bowl of a mixer add flour and salt and mix for 10 minutes, scraping down hook as necessary. Let rise in greased and covered bowl on counter for 1 1/2 hours, or in fridge overnight. When ready, form into 4-6 bagels and rest under tea towel while you bring water and extra brown sugar to a gentle boil. Add bagels in batches, cooking for 2 minutes on one side and then 1 minute on the other. Bake in preheated oven at 425 for 25-30 minutes.

Although they only have to rise on the counter for 1 1/2 hours, putting them together the night before and then boiling and baking them in the morning means fresh bagels for everyone!

Working at the bank was not all bad. I made enough money to be able to afford buying a house by myself at 23, met Bruce, and learned what truly makes me happy in a job. Quitting it however, pushed me to find a job I love, gave me time to explore other interests (including lots of time with C!), and pushed me to learn how to make homemade bagels. Worth it? Totally.

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Why I Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures

Let me back up and start by saying that I fully condone taking part in what some people might consider guilty pleasures. Things like binge-watching Gilmore Girls is ok by me. I also fully support drinking way too much tea (obviously), lacy undies (if that’s your thing), and skipping work on really really nice days. I don’t, however, agree with self-destructive actions like drinking to excess, smoking around kids, and drug use. Sorry.

I like what I like and I don’t want to apologize for it. Our days are spent doing things we have to do – work, laundry, making dinner, paying taxes. So when I find something I truly enjoy I’m going to take part in it completely. I will eat the last piece of Valentine’s Day candy at 4:30 in the morning while my tea steeps and everyone else is asleep. I’ll do it, I’ll enjoy it, and I won’t feel a moment of guilt or regret over it. And yes, that happened this morning and it was a great start to the day.

It’s so sad that we feel pressured by others to hide what we really enjoy so that we feel like we can fit in. I think that this need to be fulfilled by others fuels consumerism and judgmental lifestyles. Like I wrote about in my last post I really want to break away from that way of living. I want to spend my days doing things I truly enjoy, even if that’s not what is considered  normal or cool. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went clothes shopping and I’m ok with that. Whenever I do need to replace an item I head to goodwill instead of the mall. I have to have clothes, but they don’t have to be brand new or expensive.

In the spirit of being who we really are here’s a list of my top 10 guilty pleasures:

1- Reba McEntire – This girl is awesome. I crank her up when she comes on the radio and now I vow not to turn her down the next time I pull up next to someone at a red light.

2- Cook-Out – Where else do you know that you can get an order of chicken nuggets with a side of chicken nuggets? Nowhere, I’d wager. This is fabulous food.

3 – Wearing my pjs all day on snow days – Snow days are THE BEST. As the only teacher in a family full of professionals I often feel a stab of guilt when I shower and put on my day pjs. No more. Snow days don’t happen nearly enough and they make up for all the bodily fluids I get on me in a day.

4 – Shower wine – OK, this is not something that happens very often. But it should.

5 – Peppermint Mochas – From Starbucks, of course. They come around once a year and I always feel like the people in the store are judging me and my gift cards I use to buy them. What, you think I’m paying out of pocket?

6- Naps – I don’t do this very much in the winter, but when summer break is here and C and I have played outside all morning you best believe this is going to happen. Extra pleasure points for naps in hammocks.

7 – Talenti Gelato with C and my mom – This is a cross-generational pleasure and the best it can get. We’ll buy a pint of gelato and sit on the sofa together with three spoons. The best part? No dirty bowls.

8 – Period dramas like Reign and The Tudors – Something about the outfits and the accents make me keep pressing “next episode”.

9 – Craigslist “missed connections” – I’ll sit, happily married, next to Bruce on the sofa and giggle over these. I’ve actually seen one directed at a close friend before!

10 – Letting a dog on the couch with me – Letting the dogs on the furniture is frowned upon in our house, but sometimes Bruce is working at night and the snuggles are nice. Extra points for watching The Tudors while breaking the rules.

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Yes, I’m wearing pearls and long underwear at the same time. It must have been an interesting day.

So there’s my list of ten awesome things I really enjoy. Life is short. Enjoy it.

Finding Happiness Now

I haven’t been able to sleep very well recently. I think that a combination of being on a short-term prescription, slacking on working out, and eating a higher than normal level of sugar due to Valentine’s Day is taking its toll. I find myself snoozing on the sofa after C is in bed and then wide awake at 4:15. Instead of tossing and turning I’ve been dragging myself to the kitchen for a cup of Earl Grey in my favorite mug.

Sometimes in these early mornings I imagine that I’m in a different house, perhaps smaller, with a barn and some goats. My husband and I dream about our cabin in the woods and the life we will have there. I’m excited to downsize and live a little farther out from people. For now I nurse my backyard garden and can small batches of jam. In the fall when a family friend blesses us with bushels of apples I can applesauce and dehydrate apple rings to my heart’s content. When we’re feeling stuck in this place we play Schrodenger’s lottery. This is a ridiculous mental escape and we both know it, but every time the stakes are high we buy a ticket and stick it on the fridge. The morning after the drawing we go about our routine pretending that we’re rich (because, who knows, we might be. Or not.). And you know what I’ve noticed? I always come to the kitchen and sit with my Earl Grey. Maybe my life is closer to what I desire than I thought.

So the question here is: what is keeping us from happiness now? Maybe we’re not as skinny as we’d like to be, or our gadgets are out of date. But why wait for happiness? Who knows when you’ll be skinnier, richer, have a faster car, better salary, nicer hair? I’ll admit – I fell prey to the “bigger is better” phenomenon. After C was born and we thought we’d have more children I wanted a larger home. Three bedrooms was a must! And now we have that three bedroom house, and it’s lovely, and I’m so glad we live in our quiet neighborhood, but my husband and I can’t wait to build a small cabin. The draw of a quiet life is greater for us than keeping up with our friends. They can have their giant houses and huge mortgages. I’ll be happy with my tea.

So, my challenge to you, and to myself, is this: find gratitude today in something small. Perhaps it’s the way your favorite lamp lights the room at night when you’re reading, or how your dog warms your bed up before you climb in. I love both of these things and realized today that I love them in our too-big three bedroom home just the same way I’ll love them in a small cabin tucked away in the woods.