How do you read that particular string of letters?

I saw a vanity license plate with that written on it yesterday. Actually, I don't know that it was a vanity plate, but I assume that it was, since I think normal California plates have three letters and three numbers in some combination. It was on a small sedan in a city in Northern California. I might expect to see it on a minivan or a Chevy or Oldsmobile wood-paneled station wagon circa 1979-19851, but on a small sedan? Does it mean something other than what I immediately read it as--פרו ורבו? Perhaps in Hindi or some other language with which I am unfamiliar?

1. Did anyone besides me learn to drive on a Caprice Classic or a Custom Cruiser? I don't remember how to drive anymore--that was more than ten years ago--but I would hope if I learned again on a normal-sized car with rear visibility that it would be a bit easier. Or remember sitting in the back of one of those, waving at the drivers behind us? Or arguing that one gets car sick so one shouldn't have to sit in the way back?

P.S. Sorry for the long gap in posting. I am sure that my loyal readers must miss me terribly. I've been busy with Shavuot and Shabbat and spending time with family. Things should return to normal...sometime in the future.


No Frills Kitchen

This New York Times article has good tips on saving money when stocking a kitchen. Personally, I have an odds-and-ends kitchen, stocked with hand-me-downs from my mother, my grandmother, and some great stainless steel pots from the local discount store, plus whatever my roommates own or previous roommates have left. It was also a really cheap way to stock a kitchen, although it doesn't look nearly as nice as the photo accompanying the Times article.

I was surprised that they recommended aluminum pans. I thought they were bad for you for some reason--a not-quite-proven connection to Alzheimer's, perhaps? Ah, here we go. Upshot?
"The overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that the findings outlined above do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease, and that no useful medical or public health recommendations can be made, at least at present."

"Certain aluminum compounds have been found to be an important component of the neurological damage characteristics of Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Much research over the last decade has focused on the role of aluminum in the development of this disease. At this point, its role is still not clearly defined. Since AD is a chronic disease which may take a long time to develop, long-term exposure is the most important measure of intake. Long-term exposure is easiest to estimate for drinking water exposures. Epidemiological studies attempting to link AD with exposures in drinking water have been inconclusive and contradictory. Thus, the significance of increased aluminum intake with regard to onset of AD has not been determined."
Everyone agrees, though, that aluminum (or aluminium, depending on which side of the pond you live) only leeches into food from aluminum pans if you're cooking highly acidic foods such as fruit or tomatoes. (Tomatoes are fruit, for those who are as picky as I am. I know that. But we think of them as vegetables. So be it.)

One article I read recommended not storing tomato and other acidic things using aluminum foil. I can second that recommendation, since I have observed that tomato-sauce-covered foods like lasagne actually make holes in the aluminum foil. I'm not sure what happens to the foil that disappears and is replaced by a hole, but it always freaks me out just a little. (Okay, so the acid from the tomato sauce eats through the aluminum, but where does the aluminum-which-may-no-longer-be-aluminum go? Into the air? The food? Anyone who took more than six weeks of chemistry can feel free to enlighten me here.)


If you think sharing an apartment with two or three roommates is hard...

You should try sharing it with a couple of chickens! This is a cute story ("All Cooped Up in a Manhattan Co-op"). And it puts my search for a decent housing situation into perspective. At least I don't have a chicken coop in my bedroom. Thank God.

Other things I've been meaning to share but not gotten around to yet:
  • In February, Doctor Mama wrote a post called "Why Ask Why?" that I loved. It's about our constant need to try to find reasons for things, and how we handle it when there is no reason to be found.

  • Also from February, Dr. Barbara Ehrenreich's take on "think positive, be passionate, smile all the time" advice given by business gurus. I have liked Barbara Ehrenreich since I read her For Her Own Good: 100 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women (written with Deirdre English and first published in 1978) when I was in high school. It was an interesting book and my first real exposure to gender studies and its application to history. I didn't read her book Nickel and Dimed, but I read the January 1999 Harper's Magazine article on which the book is based. I found the article to be thought-provoking and the book is probably only more so. The premise is that she tries to live on a minimum wage and finds it basically impossible.

  • Speaking of how easy or difficult it may be to live as a poor person in America today, here is the blog of a woman in San Francisco, named Rebecca Blood, who is trying to eat all organic food on a food stamp budget. She's not actually on a food stamp budget; she's just doing it to see if she can. I know that I wouldn't be able to.

  • Speaking of spending minimal amounts on food but still trying to eat decently, here is a post from Half-Changed World about one woman's attempt to feed her family on the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan in January 2005. (Here [pdf] is the 2006 version, published in April 2007.) In case you hadn't heard of it (as I had not), the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion website says of the plan: "The Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for maximum food stamp allotments, is a nutritious, minimal-cost diet." For background, here is Half-Changed World's introductory post to the problems of poverty and obesity.

  • Huh. This is turning into a post about poverty and food, under the guise of sharing a Manhattan co-op with chickens. Interesting. So, while you're at it (or even before you read all of that stuff above), read Michael Pollan's column ("You Are What You Grow") from the New York Times Magazine on April 22 about the upcoming US farm bill and the way groceries are priced in the US, due to corn subsidies and other nefarious practices. He does an excellent job of answering the question: "So how is it that today the people with the least amount of money to spend on food are the ones most likely to be overweight?" I know from my own experiences, that when I went to buy cranberry juice in the grocery store, it was either $5-$6 for a little bottle of 100% juice, or $3 for a bottle of "juice" in which the very first ingredient was corn syrup. (I ended up not buying it at all.)

  • Here is an old news story from January about hareidim in Israel burning what they deem to be immodest women's clothing. It's old news, but I didn't get a chance to write about it before. The photo is disturbing. Is that a hareidi guy using a havdalah candle to burn women's clothing? That seems particularly sick. Can't they sew up the slits, give clothing that's tight to smaller women or pre-teens, etc.? Add material? Kick pleats, anyone? I mean, is burning clothing really the best way to handle this? SephardiLady over at Orthonomics said this much better than I ever could awhile ago. I want to write more, much more, about tsniut [the Jewish concept of modesty] sometime, but don't have the guts/energy/oomph to do so now.

  • Finally, on a lighter note, go to cringebook.com if you want to:
    Share [your] old diaries, journals, letters, notes, songs, poems... anything you wrote during the crushing misery of adolescence and then saved in a hidden box at your parents' house all these years. Top secret no more.

    The more dramatic, embarrassing or excruciating the writing, the better. A good test to determine whether or not your material is Cringe-worthy: when you read it to yourself, do you physically cringe? Then for the love of god, it needs to be in this book. Seriously. You are going to be so glad you did this. Cheaper and better than therapy.
    Oh, it looks like they are no longer taking submissions. Oh, well. The book will be out in Spring 2008 and you can then revel in the knowledge that other adolescents (and pre-adolescents) also had crushing, miserable experiences growing up.

Special thanks to everyone who voted for me in the JIB awards! It looks like I came in third place (bronze?) for Best Personal Blog. Yay!


What I Learned from My Mothers

I ought to have posted this on Sunday, but I didn't get a chance. Belated happy Mothers' Day!

This is about what I learned from my mothers. Yes, mothers. While I've clearly learned the most from my actual mother, I also have two wonderful grandmothers, and this is a tribute to their wisdom as well.

Since my parents moved abroad seven years ago, I've probably spent more time with my grandmothers (certainly collectively, possibly also individually) than with my mother. The past seven years, seeing as they involved about four house-moves, graduating college, and starting to take care of myself in a more serious way, have also been a period of calling up my mother and grandmothers for advice quite often. They've never let me down. If I tried to take all of their advice all the time, I don't think it would work out, but applying different things I learned from them at different times has worked out quite nicely, I think.

Thank you!

Some of what I learned from my mothers (not in any specific order and I'm sure that I have left out many, many things):
  • You should stand up for yourself.1

  • Doing your taxes yourself really isn't that difficult.

  • You can make doll clothes out of cloth scraps when you're eight and nine years old. With a regular needle and thread. Really.

  • If you don't know how long it takes to cook something, look it up in Joy of Cooking.

  • The best recipes are the ones that aren't really recipes. That is, the tastiest things don't require exact amounts of this or that, in which you can substitute all kinds of ingredients.

  • A picnic in the park is a great way to spend the day when you're a kid.

  • You should brush your hair before you leave the house. Actually, scratch that. You should brush your hair before you come to the breakfast table.

  • Nail polish is fun.

  • Chocolate is delicious.

  • French toast tastes better if you put a lot of eggs in it.

  • To keep tuna casserole from falling apart, put some brown rice into it. (I asked my mother why, when I followed her recipe, it disintegrated, and she told me that she always used to sneak brown rice into it to help it stick together. Who knew?)

  • You can get a PhD when you're in your 50s if you want.

  • It's important to help others. (My mother volunteered as a translator (Hebrew/English) for Rofeh and assisted a blind Israeli woman during all of my childhood.)

  • You shouldn't fill up on challah when other good food is about to be served.

  • How to make a bean salad: Open three or four cans of beans of different sizes and colors. Add diced tomatoes from another can. Add garlic, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil until it tastes good. Mix it up. Refrigerate. Optional: Chopped up red onions, canned corn, broccoli, asparagus, or whatever else you have lying around.

  • It's important to take care of yourself.

  • You can use baking soda to clean almost anything.

  • The proper way to dress when shopping at Filene's Basement in Boston (the original): Wear shorts with a skirt over them, a tight-ish short-sleeve shirt, and another shirt/sweater/jacket over that. This is from the days when they didn't have even the communal dressing room that they have now, when you had to just stand in the middle of the store and try on clothing. The shorts and skirt combo allowed one to modestly try on pants or skirts, as did the tight-ish short-sleeve shirt covered with a more normal shirt.

  • Never, ever pay full price.

  • You should spend money on nice experiences sometimes, like the ballet, the theater, or a good concert.

  • You are going to forget things. Write it down. Make a to-do list, a shopping list, a menu, a packing list.

  • Before you leave the house ask yourself (or have your grandmother ask you): Do you have your keys? Wallet? Glasses?2

  • Be nice to your mother.

  • It is not difficult to fold hospital corners on beds, and the sheets stay tucked in much better that way. (I need a brush-up on this skill. It's less necessary for fitted sheets, but still useful for the bottom of the top sheet.)

  • Writing letters is an excellent way to keep in touch with people. If you can't or won't write letters, though, the least you can do is e-mail and/or call regularly. It's not that hard and it makes a big difference to people.

  • Always take a sweater when you go to San Francisco.

  • Wash your hands with soap before coming to the table for a meal.

  • Waste not, want not.

  • There are lots of things that you can use for purposes other than their intended purposes, which will save you money. For example, the bag that onions come in makes a handy-dandy dish scrubber while doing dishes. You can save and reuse string from pastry boxes.

  • It's not nice to put the pot that you cooked the food in on the table. Transfer it to a nice plate or serving dish. Presentation matters.

  • It's not nice to serve meals on paper plates. Presentation matters.

  • You should dust your domicile often. Like, once a week or at the very least, every other week. Dust bookshelves, picture frames, windowsills. The works. If you don't, things will get very dusty.
Finally, there are still 31.5 hours left to vote for my blog in the JIB Awards, for the category of "Best Personal Blog." Please vote here before 10 pm US-EDT. I was in first place for a bit, but have fallen precipitously down to third place. Thanks for your support!

1. When I moved between apartments in New York, and my movers broke my couch because they disregarded my advice about the best way to move it, I didn't know what to do. Should I not pay them? But I had signed an agreement that I would. Should I call the moving company to complain? Could they be held liable for fixing the couch? How was I--exhausted, a woman, not the bravest type--going to stand up to three enormous male movers? The head mover had already proven himself to be a jerk by the way he treated his two underlings. I couldn't reach my mother, so I called my grandmother as I fought back tears. My maternal grandmother told me to stand up to them, and suggested that I withhold the tip unless or until they fixed the couch. She told me I could do it. Knees quaking, I did. They were pissed off, said they deserved the tip. I countered that a tip was for a job well-done, and breaking a piece of furniture by ignoring my instructions about the best way to move it was not a job done well. I promised them that if they came back and fixed the couch, I would give them the tip they were "owed." I stood my ground. I arranged a time for one of them to come and fix the couch. He didn't show. He called to apologize and set up another time. He didn't show again. So, instead, I went to the hardware store, spoke with a knowledgeable sales person, and using an electric screwdriver, wood glue, and a few phone books, fixed the couch myself. Thanks, Grandma!

2. I am nearsighted, but not very, so, yes, I have accidentally left home without my glasses. I usually realize it before I get out of the elevator, though.


Living at the office--not just an expression anymore! and more on UWS rent

Read this article ("New York City Renters Cope With Squeeze").

I mixed feelings about this particular article, although mostly horror at the prospect of looking for an affordable place to live in this market. But, come on, people whose parents are rich camping out in an office space? Weird. People who choose to go to NYU, which is notoriously expensive without a great reputation for financial aid, living in an office space? Also weird. Maybe they should consider one of these schools (click on the multimedia link) that meet 96-100% of students' financial need (as they determine it based on FAFSA and school-specific forms) through a combination of loans and grants? I'm not sure about all of the schools, but it looks like a decent list of choices for someone who could get into NYU. (In the same NYT Education Life supplement were this interesting article about community colleges and who benefits and who doesn't benefit from them and this long-overdue article about plans to simplify the FAFSA form).

On the other hand, this part of the article resonated with me, and I thought was good to bring to the public's attention (if they aren't dealing with it directly themselves):

Renters without high salaries have not been shut out of the market. They are squeezing in extra roommates or making alterations as never before much to the frustration of landlords. The rents for one-bedroom apartments in Manhattan average $2,567 a month, and two-bedrooms average $3,854 a month, according to data from Citi Habitats, a large rental brokerage company, but rents tend to be far higher in coveted neighborhoods like the Upper West Side and TriBeCa.

Because landlords typically require renters to earn 40 times their monthly rent in annual income, renters of those average apartments would need to earn at least $102,680, individually or combined, to qualify for a one-bedroom and $154,160 to afford a two-bedroom.

Young people making a fraction of those salaries are doubling up in small spaces and creating housing code violations, said Jamie Heiberger-Jacobsen, a real estate lawyer with her own practice. She is representing landlords in 26 cases that claim overcrowding or illegal alterations in elevator buildings in Murray Hill, the Upper East and Upper West Sides and the Lower East Side. A year ago, she handled a half-dozen such cases. Ms. Heiberger-Jacobsen said she was seeing the overcrowding not only in tenement-type buildings, but also in doorman buildings. “It really does create fire hazards,” she said. “You can’t just have beds all over the place.”

But more renters are finding that they cannot afford to stay in the city without resorting to less conventional living arrangements. For the last five years, Mindy Abovitz, 27, a drummer and graphic designer, has been living with four roommates in a 1,500-square-foot loft with one bathroom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which has become a haven for young people, that rents for $2,600 a month.

About these doubling and tripling-up situations: I'm pretty sure that it's illegal according to most leases, but most landlords know about it and don't say anything, because they get extra rent money that way. When Archstone-Smith bought the Westmont and the KeyWest (see this post for more info), there were rumors that they were going to actually enforce the no-building-extra-walls-to-stick-two-extra-people-into-your-apartment bit of the lease. However, they were unable to get people into their super-expensive, large, luxury apartments, so they relaxed and let people keep their walls or put up new ones in apartments that didn't already have them.

Back to the horror at the prospect of looking for an affordable place to live--yeah. That's probably why I won't live in NYC forever. Right now, it's super convenient, but if I have to leave the Upper West Side because of skyrocketing rental prices, and live elsewhere in Manhattan or another borough, it will be less convenient to one or another of the many things that I have gotten used to here, and I may as well live somewhere else where I can't walk to work or to Fairway or to ten different kinds of kosher take-out in both dairy and meat varieties. (I don't get take-out all that often, but just knowing that I can! At 10:30 on a Wednesday or Thursday night! Six blocks from my apartment! That would be difficult to give up.)

Here's something funny. "The Melar, that...luxury Upper West Side development at 93rd and Broadway, finally has its very own website and pricing info. Studio rentals start from around $2,580 a month, while there's a high-floor two-bedroom with two bathrooms listed for more than three times that: $8,050." The scary thing is that only one apartment is still available, a two bedroom going for the bargain price of $5675/mo.

Another funny: The Lyric, where you can get a studio for only $3,295/month, a one-bedroom for a mere $4,095.00/month, and a two-bedroom for only $7,295/month. Oh, but it has two bathrooms. And a terrace. As if that makes it worth $7295/month!

Who are the people who can afford these apartments, and why won't they go live somewhere else? Go to the East Side, people! Or downtown! Somewhere where I don't really want to live!

Now, I'm not suggesting that I, or anyone I know, wants or needs to live in these sorts of luxury accommodations, where fewer than three people share one bathroom and no one lives in the living room. I'm only sharing these prices so any of you who live far away from this insanity can get a better sense of the market.

I met what looked like a woman and her teenage daughter who recently moved into my building, displacing some of the long-term tenants who had to flee in the face of 50%+ rent increases. I told my new other-side-of-the-building neighbor that I thought the new rents were outrageous, and she said, "Oh, but the apartment is so large!" So I guess people are willing and able to pay these prices.

Sigh... (I know, I know, David is going to leave a comment telling me to move to DC. Maybe I will, someday. I heard rumor that you're even going to have a partnership minyan of some sort down there one day, which is a nice added bonus. But, tell me, will I be able to walk to work through a park? Get kosher take-out at all hours? Do my grocery shopping at midnight on a Sunday night if the mood strikes?)

A few other bits of news related to rising costs of renting on the Upper West Side:
  • I heard, from several people, that West Side Judaica is going out of business. If you want to try to save them, you can go shop there today. I'm not sure if it's too late or not. I'm sad because there are always people in there buying things--both people who look less-than-comfortable in a Judaica store and those who appear to be right at home--and so I feel like they provide a valuable service to the Upper West Side.
    I mostly go there go buy milk-meat-pareve stickers, pretty Chanukah candles, the occasional haggadah, siddur, or reference book, and dreidels for playing with my cousin, and if it wasn't there, I would miss it. I don't want to have to go running to midtown or Brooklyn for these things.

  • The Dale & Thomas Popcorn store on Broadway between 76th and 77th closed in mid-April. Yummy, kosher, super-rich popcorn is no longer walking distance from my domicile. I hope the one in Times Square is still there.

  • Morris Brothers, which has been open on the Upper West Side (currently Broadway at 84th) for more than 50 years, lost their lease and is going out of business.

  • You may already know about Eden Wok closing. It was very sudden. They closed for Pesach and never reopened.
Soon, the entire Upper West Side will just be a bunch of Gaps, Banana Republics, Starbucks, banks, and cell phone stores. Nobody else will be able to afford the rent.

* * *

Need to get away after reading all of that? Try www.localhikes.com, where you can find information about hikes near both large and small cities. Here are the New York City/Northern New Jersey/Long Island ones.

* * *

Finally, if you want to vote for AbacaxiMamao as the Best Jewish Personal Blog in the final round of the JIB Awards, you can vote here. There are lots of other good people to vote for, too. I mean in the other categories. Vote for me in my category; for them in the other categories. Voting is open until 10 pm US-EDT next Wednesday, May 16. Thanks for your support.

* * *

Oh, one more thing. A lot of people get to my blog by Googling various things about the crazy rent in Manhattan generally and the Upper West Side specifically. For any of you just joining me, previous posts on this topic are below:
  1. Rising Rent on the Upper West Side (updated)
  2. Historical perspective on Upper West Side rents...and more!
  3. More (depressing news) about the real estate situation in Manhattan
  4. Separate Entrance For Poor People? (Real Estate Ramblings)


Home again home again

...lickety split?

...jiggety jig?

Lickety split immediately came to mind, but Josh suggested jiggety jig, and suddenly I was afraid that the entire lickety split ending was a figment of my imagination. But, no, it isn't, it just seems less well-documented than jiggety jig.

"Home again home again jiggety jig" comes from the "To Market, to Market, to Buy a Fat Pig" nursery rhyme.

I have no idea where "home again home again lickety split" originates. I thought maybe it was "This Little Piggy Went to Market," but I don't think it is. Going home in "This Little Piggy" is connected to crying "wee wee wee" all the way there, not to any lickety splitness. Anyone know?

I'm sorry that I haven't posted anything more substantial lately. I've been a bit distracted by things like this and my paying job--you know how it is--and, of course, nursery rhymes. Ah, to be little again and have someone read nursery rhymes to me! I'll just have to find some little kid to read them to instead. (Although some are at least a little bit disturbing. Nonetheless, please disown me if you ever find me reading this to any little kid! "And brightened Miss Muffit's whole day," my foot!)


Useful Google mashups for housing searches

Ah, look at all of the things that didn't exist when I was young (i.e., when I last went apartment-hunting)!
Of course, these are only as accurate as their third-party data, and I have no idea how accurate that data is. The second mashup seemed to relocate some clearly East Side craigslist apartments to the West Side in the map.

If you need some coffee to maintain your strength for the search, check out this mashup.

(Wikipedia defines a mashup here, for those not in the know.)


Shabbos reading

For your reading pleasure, here are two blog posts (on unrelated topics) that I adored and think my readers will also appreciate:
If you've also been thinking about higher Biblical criticism, you might enjoy this article: "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars" (Biblical Archeology Review, March/April 2007). I originally posted the link in late March, but I like it enough to post again for anyone who missed it the first time around.

Shabbat shalom!


JIB update


I would like to thank the Academy, my mother, my father, my sisters, my brother, and the other 7-10 readers of this blog, including BZ who nominated me, for their great support.

I apparently made it past the first round of the JIB awards for "Best Personal blog." Thanks, everyone! There is no way I will make it past the next round to win the award, which is why I was so, um, insistent that people vote for me in this first round. I won't be as annoying about the second round, since if I have no chance of winning, I don't want to bother people. Go read someone else's blog who might have a chance of winning and vote for them!

If you're too lazy to click over there and scroll down, I've copied and pasted the results of the top two finalists for all four groups of best personal blogs, which will clearly illustrate why I won't win the final round (just look at the numbers that people in other categories got). I included the third place person in my group (Group C) to illustrate the importance of thanking my mother, father, sisters, and brother. Without them, I would not have gotten this far! (Please pardon me while I wipe away the tears of joy that well up as I stand here, accepting my finalist status in the JIB awards.)
Vote for Best Personal Blog - First Round Group A

Treppenwitz 37.12 % (85)

mentalblog.com 19.21 % (44)
Total votes: 229

Vote for Best Personal Blog - First Round Group B

Seraphic Secret 38.21 % (94)

Letters of Thought 13.82 % (34)
Total votes: 246

Vote for Best Personal Blog - First Round Group C

The 90th Minute 24.27 % (50)

Abacaxi Mamao 23.30 % (48)

The Balaboosteh 21.84 % (45)
Total votes: 206

Vote for Best Personal Blog - First Round Group D

Aidel Maidel 45.60 % (88)

Point of Pinchas 17.10 % (33)
Total votes: 193

If you still want to vote for me after seeing those numbers, the next round of voting starts on Wednesday, May 9.

I haven't been in a finalist in anything since the 6th grade pillo-pollo championships, and, trust me, that had nothing to do with my own personal athletic prowess.