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Monday, March 21, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Made of Win!

St. Patrick's Day was awesome. Totally awesome.

We had three different kinds of ceili events in one day. The first at Oakland City Center was the sort of event where you show up and a band plays and you figure out what you can dance to that song. Driving with Fergus is always a joy. This year, a record number of folks showed up: 21. It was great. See it here:

We walked down to Le Cheval (now LCX) where we were welcomed as usual. Seventeen sat down to lunch and I enjoyed my annual plate of Singapore noodles and carrot chowder.

We piled into cars and drove across to Jack London Square to go to Beer Revolution. This was the lazy afternoon party. With an outstanding selection of beers, I had a pint of Blood Orange cider. Folks sat around shooting the breeze, catching up, and every now and then someone said, "Hey, how about a $dancename." Folks would say "Sure!" and a set would form and music was cued. The regulars looked at us like the space aliens we were, but we had fun. A tardy return to the iPhone led to all of us dancing to "Tequila." We also danced the most rebellious Irish dance we know: Night Fever. We did not manage to get thrown out of the bar for dancing wrong, thus marking this as a place we'd surely return to again.

After that, we packed up and headed across the bay to Stanford for a ceili at the Axe and Palm. Three hours of dancing in the traditional waltz, dance for everyone, and dance for those who know. At one point, Bob had a quick count of 50 folks in attendance. There were folks I hadn't seen in years and folks from our Tuesday class and folks from the East Bay and folks from Google. It was a fabulous party. We danced everything I could think of:
  • Haymaker’s Jig
  • Reel-A-Thon
    (4-Hand/Half Kerry, Ironhand, Bronwyn)
  • Bonfire Reel
  • Trip to the Cottage
  • Galway Reel
  • High Cauled Cap
  • Fairy Reel
  • Jig-a-Thon
    (Humours of Bandon and Chutney)
  • Petronella
  • Hallucination Jig
  • 2-Hand Jig
  • Polka Sets (three!)
We had a musician show up and he drummed along with the music for a bit then offered to do a polka set. He took up his whistle and Erik picked up his drum. Folks dived in and danced their hearts out. It was magic.

At the end of the night we also did a Night Fever again and once again did NOT get kicked out. Woohoo!

I stumbled out to the car around 10:30, came home, showered, and fell into bed. It was a long, but truly fabulous day.

Spinach Pancake Update

So I made spinach pancakes again for breakfast on Sunday. I changed things up a bit. The recipe now goes:
4 cups spinach (4 big handfuls)
1 yellow onion
3 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Pour into four inch disks and spread out. Wait til bubbling (like normal pancakes) before flippping. Serve as you like. I like a quarter slice of pepperjack or cheddar and a slice of Canadian bacon.

These came out like latkes. Green latkes. Yummy yummy green latkes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And so it begins...

The time is now: St. Patrick's Day!!!

To begin, enjoy this flash mob in a Sydney train station.

After that, there's ceili dancing at Oakland City Center at noon with Driving with Fergus.

There's ceili dancing at Beer Revolution near Jack London Square around 3ish.

There's a huge ceili party at the Axe and Palm on campus at Stanford. Parking is free after 4 p.m.! Ceili starts at 7. It's a waltz, a dance for everyone, and a dance for those who know for three hours solid!!! Dance til your legs fall off!

If you want to join us, all are welcome. Never done Irish ceili before? Come out to the Axe and Palm especially. If you know how to waltz, you'll get to do 2/3s of the dances guaranteed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Food Processing

One of the gifts we registered for and received was a Kitchenaid Food Processor (Thanks Karen, Crystal, and Paul!). I love it. It magically transforms objects into food.

On Monday night, I decided to take the head of cauliflower in the fridge and turn it into pizza. It totally worked. Add steam, add food processor, add eggs, cheese, and spices, and voila - pizza crust made of healthy veg instead of high calorie, high glycemic index flour. Win! With spinach and sausage on top, it was a tasty tasty dinner clocking in a 400 calories for two huge squares. Yummy.

Last week it was spinach pancakes. Based on a recipe recommended by Erin, I added some salt and pepper and topped with a quarter slice of cheddar cheese and a slice of Canadian bacon. Three pancakes for about 315 calories, and made of yummy. Next time I'm planning to reduce the flour a bit and maybe add some onion. With a little luck (and mixing in cheese and maybe bacon crumbles), these little green pucks may make an appearance as a healthy savory treat backstage at Fezzis next year.

Both of these things were easily prepped in under 20 minutes with the food processor, and definitely was something that I wouldn't tackle without it. Maybe in a blender, but oh the easy is seductive, especially when it means I enjoy eating my veggies even more.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marriage and Taxes

Doing my taxes this year was a whole new experience. I've always been very self-sufficient on taxes, having filed my first return at 16. Now, 20 years later, I get to learn how to do it all over again - married. One little ticky box makes all the difference.

To be clear, my husband and I still have relatively separate financial lives. He owns a condo in Davis. I own our house. The household bills are pretty much all in my name. After watching what my mom and others went through getting divorced and trying to set up their own financial lives in their 30s for the first time, it's always been extremely important to be in charge of my financial welfare. I pay bills when they arrive, not when they're due. I have automatic payments scheduled for nearly everything that I can. I have a credit score over 800.

Luckily, my husband is also financially together. It's a big part of why I married him. Still, the idea of co-mingling our finances enough to file "married - filing jointly" gave me a pretty good case of the heebie jeebies. But we're married, so I kind of have to get over that to some degree, right?

Entering everything in as married, filing separately first gave me enough comfort wading in that I was ready to swim out to the deep end and do this together. Mostly. Kind of.

But then Turbo Tax got stupid. In the first few screens, it asks your basic info - name, address, and so on. Then it asked if there were any life changes. Yes, got married! Then it asks if you want to file jointly or separately. I said separately, figuring we could fix that later if we wanted (and honestly having no idea or guidance on which was appropriate for us). Then I spent weeks entering everything as it came in. By the first week of February, I had a good idea of what I'd get back and just needed to wait for Erik to set things up. He got things mostly entered by the beginning of March. He was going to owe a little and I was getting a nice refund. I went to the next step to look at reviewing my data and it said that since I lived in California, I could not e-file as married, filing separately, since it's a community property state. Wait - so you couldn't have mentioned that back in January when I started this and the first bits of information I gave was that I was newly married and lived in California??? Grr.

So I contacted Turbo Tax and asked after this misadventure. This takes a good chunk of time in March, so I waited for assistance on the chat window for 45 minutes. I almost missed the rep finally coming online since the waiting messages that pop up every 2 minutes are all in red and her statements were all in red as well. No ding, no change of color, just better be paying really close attention to something that has had you waiting for 45 minutes. Right.

Anyway, turns out that though we've both used Turbo Tax previously, though they have our SSNs and are already cross-linked in a few places (Erik had to itemize because I'd already done so), they could not import his information into mine when I change to filing jointly, nor could they give us both login access to the same return. Logins are done via email address, so if we wanted that, we'd need to set up a separate, joint email address, or I could give him access to my email.

Now let's pause here for a moment. We're married, but integrating your lives takes some time, but email is not something I think of as co-mingling, and certainly not by default. I don't answer Erik's cell phone nor read his email as a matter of course. Sure, if I notice it's his mom calling and he's brushing his teeth, I'll answer for him, but generally his phone is his. Same goes for our respective email accounts, but our tax prep software can no longer handle us as individuals, so this is the first push-point that requires us to form a group email account. I guess we add that to the post-nuptial checklist for modern geeks, but it certainly wasn't listed on any of the wedding checklists I looked at online. No, we left it up to Intuit to let us know this six months later. And yet no one has ever suggested that they can't handle us having separate phone numbers. Grumble. Moving on.

The woman from Turbo Tax offers us a free prepaid code for this year's submission if we want to use Turbo Tax. I say that it will likely keep us as customers this year, but that we'll be shopping. I post to Facebooks noting my displeasure and hoping for recommendations. We come back to the taxes project Sunday, March 13th armed and ready to tackle this one more time.

I make Erik read off his stuff to me because the thought of not getting those nice reassuring emails at each step of the submission process (or even having him forward them to me) makes me really uncomfortable. I know it's irrational, but that doesn't make it less real.

We get to the end of the reentry and find out that filing jointly, we're going to get an extra chunk of money back, so that's good for my general anxiety level surrounding the whole co-mingling thing.

But after having this initial kerfuffle with Turbo Tax, I figure it's likely best for us to cross-check all of this using another tool. Other friends recommended Tax Act, so we now went to reenter everything a third time using another tool. Erik set up Tax Act while I was finishing in Turbo Tax. It had the same single-address issue, but at least it allowed for a username that didn't feel like I was immediately excluded. It asked if we wanted to import from last year's PDF return, and Erik uploaded his. However, we found out later that it couldn't upload both, so it took his last year's info only. We entered everything again finding it very similar, if perhaps a tad less welcoming and helpful, to Turbo Tax. We got very similar numbers, with Tax Act giving us just a smidgen more back. Since we'd been copying everything over rather than working from original documents, I suspected this was perhaps just a little transcription error, or the lack of my tax info from last year. Still, no sense in leaving free money on the table, so I started to go through the wrap-up and completion process with Tax Act. Then it said that to give us our refund options, it needed the consent of the taxpayer by typing the taxpayer's name: Erik D Woodbury.

The taxpayer.

The taxpayer. Not his spouse. The taxpayer.

Erik tried to diffuse this. It's just because he started the account. It's just the way it does it. It's just...

Yeah, not okay. We're two people, and if anyone is The Taxpayer in this family, it's me. I currently (earn and) pay far more than he does. But really, we're both taxpayers and should be addressed as such, whether or not we're married.

So I flip back to the Turbo Tax window. On the quite similar screen, it refers to both taxpayers. Both of us have to give consent. I flip back to the Tax Act window. After flipping back and forth several times, I realize that for about a hundred bucks, I can't really let that one go. Likely it would be different if the money was bigger, but with more confidence in my Turbo Tax entries anyway, this was the deal breaker with Tax Act.

I contacted them to let them know, hoping that they could improve this detail before next year as I'd like to use their software next time.

I don't think of myself as some extreme feminist, but for the first time since being married, I felt marginalized as the wife. Filing taxes made me feel like I'd lost part of my identity rather than gained a lot of privileges. Too often, I'm amazed at how many doors using the phrase "my husband" opens. I've been able to sign for things or get access or lots of other privileges for me or my husband at a word, just by virtue of being married. Feeling like I'm losing control of my taxes, even the tiniest bit, has been the first time since actually taking the leap that I've really gotten squicked out by what the world expects me to turn over as a married person. Hopefully, a few minor programmatic changes can help assuage that for me, and they've got a year to get it right. In the meantime, it looks like Erik and I need to get a group email account that forwards to both of us. We also need a joint bank account to deal with our first really truly common money - the extra we get back by filing our taxes as married, filing jointly.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Annual Irish Madness

The Irish madness begins tonight. Every year, for less than one week, the rest of the country cares a little more than average about Irish dance. I fully take advantage of that.

Tonight I'm teaching an hour of ceili stuff from 8-9 at Friday Night Waltz. Then I'm DJing (for the first time ever!) for FNW.

Tomorrow I'm teaching ceili from 7-9 at East Bay Waltz.

Monday there's a big outing to Death Guild for Goth Ceili. Such fun!

Tuesday there's the usual Tuesday night ceili lesson here at Stanford. We'll probably work on Bronwyn and Ironhand so folks aren't left out on Thursday. Oops! It's finals week, so Roble isn't open. No ceili at Stanford on Tuesday. Plenty of ceili at Stanford on Thursday though!

Thursday is the main event - St. Patrick's Day. This year, all the ducks are lined up neatly and we've got a full docket. There's the traditional dancing to Driving With Fergus at Oakland City Center. This is always followed by a big lunch at Le Cheval. (Shut up, Vietnamese food is totally traditional for St. Patrick's Day!)

Then we're off to Beer Revolution for a little more dancing in the 3-5 p.m. range.

Then we head across the bay to Stanford for a ceili at the Axe and Palm. I'm looking forward to a yummy turkey burger and the usual waltz, dance-for-everyone, dance-for-those-who-know drill from 7-10 p.m.

If you're not dancing Irish for St. Patrick's Day, it's not for lack of opportunity in the bay area. Come out and play!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Life in the Bucket of Suck

So the last few weeks have been pretty bad. Really really bad. I knew in 2010 when we were having a great year and everyone we knew was talking about it being the worst year of their lives that I was in for some downs on life's little roller coaster, but wow, it's impressive how much bad can come at once. For a quick tally, this includes:

  • Erik did not get the job at Foothill. This is roughly akin to being rejected by someone you're in love with. He loved the school. He wanted the position more than any potential position anywhere. And worse yet, he got to go back to work there after getting turned down.

  • Over that weekend, Erik's external hard drive slid off the sofa and hit the floor. Restarting it made it sound like the Tardis was arriving. Now having sent it to a drive recovery service, there's nothing to recover. For reasons I don't really understand, this was the sole repository of our honeymoon photos save for the ones loaded to Picasa, so at least there's some small versions of those. We can get copies of most other things (wedding photos, etc.) again. I'm no longer remotely okay with the external hard drive as a storage solution.

  • Pixel became ill and after $2000 in tests, it turns out he had FIP, an incurable viral disease. We got the call about the FIP result on Friday night at 6:45 on President's Day weekend. His vets were all out of the office til Tuesday. He stopped eating. He stopped asking for belly rubs and head butts. He withered away rapidly. He died Friday and is buried in our back yard.

  • To make matters worse, Pepper and Leeloo are not getting along, even more than normal. Pixel really was the peace maker between them. Now that he's gone, Pepper has taken to chittering at Leeloo every time she sees her come around the corner. The only thing keeping her from killing Leeloo is a baby gate. Leeloo is terrified. Their prey/predator relationship continues unabated. We've tried Feliway. We've tried all the behavioral recommendations of vets and the Humane Society. The next step is Prozac. Seriously. (The step after that is finding a new home for one of them. Sigh.)

Then there's the petty shit:

  • My car insurance company screwed up and never sent a revised bill after we sold Erik's old car. I was expecting it, so was not prompted to pay the old, incorrect bill. Then Pixel got sick. Insurance lapsed on Sunday and we had to scramble Monday and Tuesday to get it reinstated, but I still don't have a proper bill nor know what is and is not covered. We'll deal with that next week. They do not offer a 30 day grace period even after all the years I've been a customer of that company. They were unapologetic. The broker tried valiantly to get it straight for us, but he's confused too and is doing more research. (Adding "shop for insurance again" to the to-do list.)

  • My favorite facial cleanser seems to have been discontinued. I found some online and ordered a year's supply to give me time to find something new. It arrived yesterday and the order was partially wrong. Now I'm dealing with Amazon and the seller to figure that out.

  • My favorite little found-items clothing shop, Susie's Deals in San Leandro, is gone. Drove by on Sunday hoping for a moment of retail therapy and was greeted with a vacant hole stripped to the concrete. Sigh.

  • Our first Gaskell Ball as members of the committee was a financial loss. Not a huge loss, but geez I was hoping we'd break even.

  • Leeloo barfed for the first time in ages the other night. She expelled four hair ties. Yes, she's still eating things she shouldn't whenever she has a chance. My hair ties are routinely up on a high shelf in a basket in the bathroom. She didn't get them from there. (It would've had to dump for that to happen.) I don't know where she got them. Luckily, she seems no worse for wear, so that's probably the extent of her haul this time, but I'm not sure how to be even more vigilant about this. Nothing is ever left out for her consumption, but somehow she found four hair ties, ate them, and they tangled together in her belly and she was lucky enough to expel them. The girl is running short of lives.

I freely admit things could be far worse. I've got a job. Erik has a job. We have a place to live. We undertook a weight loss plan and it's working.