Saturday, October 25, 2008

Life and Death

Today, we got news that Gregg’s maternal grandfather passed away last night. Obviously, Gregg, his mom and the entire family are upset especially as it was sudden and somewhat unexpected. I feel so bad for them all.

This incident got me thinking about death in general. Any death leaves one with not only a sense of loss but brings home the mortality of human beings. So, it is both sad and scary. And, for some morbid reason, it gets me thinking: how do you want to be remembered when you die? For whatever reason, I cannot come up with anything more specific than that I want to be remembered as a nice cheerful person. More importantly, however, the question is: should we live each day thinking of our deaths (as some writers suggest)? Live as if each day was our last? And if we did, what would be more likely: that we would indulge ourselves because this is the last day or that we would live virtuously/kindly etc. hoping that we would be remembered this way?

At this time, I just want to say how much I appreciate all my friends and relatives. Thank you for your presence in my life. And I want to take this time to take stock of all the ways in which I am fortunate – because if death should teach us anything, it should teach us to enjoy and appreciate life.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Frugal Life

As the economy takes center stage in the national election, I have my personal indicator of how bad the economy is: my retirement account. This is the first year, I have had one and therefore, I check it periodically to see how much is in there. But every time I check, there is less in it than there was before. Every time the Dow takes a nose-dive, so does the account. But the good thing about this bleak scenario is that checking it makes me frugal. It is a constant reminder about the nature of this economy and the necessity for frugality.

However, frugality has to be relative. It depends on who you are, what you like and your life-style. I have been trying not to let my life hijack my frugality. It is so much more difficult to be frugal this year – the first year of a tenure-track is really difficult. The temptation to eat out, especially, instead of cooking at home has been high. But I have stayed remarkably within budget.

So, here are a few things I have been doing that have worked for me. I have tried this year to take Gregg and my nature into account when budgeting as well as our life-styles. This is why these pointers are all relative – people are different and have different needs and life-styles.

1) A Realistic Budget: I had a very unrealistic budget last year but this year I have made one which I can actually stick to. This means taking into account the fallibilities of your entire family. If there is something you cannot do without, do not think you are going to cut down on it for the entire year. This could be anything – cable, an expensive dinner every week, a shopping trip every 10 days, whatever.

2) Have a weekly spending budget: I have a maximum amount which we can spend in any given week. If we go over the amount, Gregg and I sit down and talk about what we did that sent us over the top.

3) Coupon cutting and buying in bulk: Jill turned me on to coupons but I have been terrible about it recently. However, they did save money when I was doing it, so I would recommend it. As for buying in bulk, it depends on what you are getting. For two people, it is silly to buy a ton of bulk foods but I do buy things like paper towels, mac and cheese etc. in bulk. I never buy spices in bulk, however, because they would lose their freshness about halfway through.

4) Cook a large (maybe expensive) dinner once a week: On Sundays, I have been making a large meal which then yields leftovers for the beginning of the week. Yesterday, I made a roasted turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. This means I do not have to cook for the next couple of days – a casserole or turkey soup is very good this time of year. Next Sunday: lasagna.

5) Cook a very inexpensive easy dinner during the middle-end of the week: Last week, we had soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on Thursday. Cheap and quick!!!

6) Prioritize: In our household, the priority is Giggs. So, we buy what we have to for him and then restrict ourselves.

7) Reward: Have an idea of what you can do if you save. It is easier to be frugal when there is a reward attached. If you save a certain amount, maybe you can get that ______ that you wanted. If there is a whole list of things you want, prioritize them as well.

8) Shop every couple of weeks: Since I hate shopping, I thought this was silly but it means that you can buy things only when they are on sale. This is how I plan to do Christmas shopping this year. The outlet malls around here will help with that plan - they usually have HUGE discounts.

9) Loyalty: My favorite grocery store is giving a free turkey to everyone who spends a certain amount there by Nov. 15th. I am certainly saving up for mine. However, buy store brands instead of name brands whenever possible.

10) Pick your poison: I have realized that though I save more money shopping for food at Wal-Mart, I really cannot make myself do that. To make matters worse, Wal-Mart is much further than Stauffers where I prefer to shop. To make up for this, I buy meats and fish at Stauffers but sometimes go to Giant for the canned stuff. Anyway, I figure I am saving on gas.


In Other News:

Work: Has been crazy. Advising and committees take up a lot of time and that and 3 preps has made this very hectic. Plus, I have to write another diss chapter for a conference coming up in 3 weeks. Have not started that yet.

Fall Colors: Fall is finally here and so is cooler weather. We woke up today to a solid frost all over the grass and temperature in the 30s. The leaves are changing which is beautiful but Giggs is loathe to go out in this weather.

Driving: This will be my first time driving in snow. I am not looking forward to it. However, it will also be my first northeast winter – which will be cold but fun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Addendum on Facebook

This is why I did not want Facebook. Today, a student added me as a friend on Facebook – and of course, this awaits my confirmation. Now what? I do not like to hurt people by rejecting them. But I do not want my students to be involved with me through Facebook or through my blog.

I have been wondering what my response should be and this is what I decided. I am not going to add her but I will talk to her in person and tell her that I will add her after the semester is over. I would like to keep in touch with former students, just not current ones. She will be graduating this year anyway.

Is this the right approach? Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Facebook Etiquette

Forgive my obsession with Facebook but since joining it, I am realizing all sorts of things about this social networking site. First of all, I realize the draw of Facebook now. It allows you to communicate with people in small quick exchanges. You can divulge your mood, what you are currently doing, intimate and/or useless pieces about your life to people at any time through the simple act of writing on your/their Wall. Thus, you give people access to yourself without really any trouble on your or their part.

Second, Facebook does not make distinctions between “friends” and “acquaintances”. Thus, everyone is your friend. I enjoy this feature but in sending friend requests, I did not send requests to all people that I knew. I just sent requests to those I had considered my friend in the past. Since then, many people have sent me friend requests and it has occurred to me that people either define “friend” much more loosely than I do or have some kind of competition about how many friends they have on Facebook. Some of the people were merely nodding acquaintances. Others I was delighted to establish contact with again. I don’t mind this at all but the nuances of relationships can obviously never be replicated on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook does allow you to interact with a large and diverse group of people. In this sense, this tool is unlike any other – unlike telephone conversations, email or anything else. But does it minimize one-on-one interactions? I called Jill about a month ago and she said she thought that I was calling to tell her that I was pregnant. Since this was absolutely crazy, I asked her why she would think this. She said, “That’s the only reason people call anymore.” Is this true? Is all our interaction now on internet – IM, email, Facebook?

On the whole, though, I must say that I have enjoyed Facebook – and am totally hooked. Also, thankfully, after the first couple of days, my activity on it has reduced significantly, so I do not worry about it any more.


In Other News:

Work: I am way behind. I need to grade 40 papers, prep a class, teach 4 classes and decide on 3 paper topics by the end of the day Friday. I also need to find time to work on an article and a conference paper for NPSA.

Weekend: Gregg’s parents will be here this weekend – we are thinking of taking them to Lititz, PA to do the “Chocolate Walk”. Thankfully, I do not like candy much so it should not make me put on 30 pounds.

Giggs: He is now 9 pounds – up from the 6 he was when we got him. He has been a little sick but is recovering now.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More on the election

I thought that would be my last Sarah Palin post a few weeks ago but I have some comments on the Vice-Presidential debate. First, let me say that Sarah Palin did a very good job. She made some good points, beat Biden over the head with them and winked, smiled, and empathized her way to the hearts of Americans. Second, I think the line of criticism which states that Palin was not original in her thoughts is unfair. It is true that she was rehearsed and was clearly repeating her talking points, but this is something which most politicians do – maybe less obviously than she did yesterday. But that is easily correctable through experience and time. Finally, there is an argument to be made for connecting with the voters in a visceral (as opposed to a purely intellectual) way – and Palin clearly has the capacity for visceral empathetic connection.

Having said that, I have two major criticisms of Palin and one of Biden. Biden did not respond to some of Palin’s barbs which showed the difference between Biden and Obama. I think those issues should be dealt with. He should have responded more seriously to these assertions.

In case of Palin, two parts of the debate worried me. First, her assertion of constitutional power for the Vice-President!!! As we all know, the Constitution does not tie the Vice-President to the legislature, nor does it give the office the power she was talking about. There is no such discretionary power given to the Vice-President as she seemed to suggest. That statement showed a profound misunderstanding of the office she is running for.

Second, she refused to answer the questions posed to her by Ifill. Now, all debaters do this to some extent but she did it to an unprecedented extent. In fact, she acknowledged what she was doing saying, “I may not be answering your questions Joe or those the moderator wants me to answer…” Now if a student came to take a test and then said, “Prof. Bagchi, I am not answering the questions you have given me on this test, but I am saying what I think is important” that student would fail immediately. This was not a campaign speech, it was a debate. You cannot make the rules here, you have to play by pre-set rules. By not playing by these rules, you give the impression that you are incapable of doing well by playing by the rules. Wouldn’t you assume that your student was not answering the given questions because he/she did not know the answer?


In Other News:

The local branch of the grocery store, Stauffers, has opened about 3 miles down the road from us. This is the equivalent to Whole Foods and is really very good. I had been traveling to one about 15 miles away every couple of weeks or so. Now, I will pass it every day on my way to the train station. The good thing is: I will be saving on gas. The bad thing is: I will probably lose that saving by buying too much at the store. But I am delighted nonetheless.

Caving in – and joining Facebook

After my rants against Facebook, I have finally thrown in the towel and signed up for it. I talked to Stacie about it and was surprised when she said she had joined it. Stacie also enumerated the positives: you can contact all the people you have lost touch with, you tend to talk to people more than you otherwise would and just reading their pages keeps you in touch with others. This got me thinking about it more than usual. Then, she sent me an email today with the message that I should join Facebook to keep an eye on Gregg – his marital status does not say “Married”!!!! Well, since Gregg does not even add his own friends (I do it for him), I was not worried but I finally decided to jump into the fray. So at 7am this morning, I joined.

However, I have checked it incessantly since then. I have spent 4 hours on Facebook today – I did not even bother to prep for my Intro to AP class. So, anyone who is like me (with an easily addicted personality) – BEWARE!!!! It is addictive. On the other hand, I enjoyed myself. I have reconnected with at least 4 friends who I have not talked to in years. It is so nice to hear their news. Plus, I have exchanged emails with tons of others – very funny emails at that!!!

So, what does this say about me? First, I clearly lack will-power. In spite of having tons of good reasons for not joining, I joined regardless. Second, I am never on the cutting edge of technology. I shy away from it until it becomes a phenomenon and then give in to it. I came into blogging late and to Facebook late for that reason. Third, as I said before, I get easily addicted. Lastly, I am a joiner, a member of the masses, a person with a mob mentality. I am a follower. If others do it, I tend to join in.

Wow!!! Joining Facebook clearly shows off some of my worst qualities.


In Other News:

Fall Break: This is fall break which means I have Monday and Tuesday off. Though it will be very busy (I have to grade 80 exams, prep for next week and work on my tragedy chapter) at least I can work from home.

Midterm Evals: I did midterm evals in my classes and got solid 8s and 9s (out of 10 points) for all my classes. My Introduction to Political Theory class was the worst – have to work harder to make that entertaining. Problem is, I think it is entertaining and thought-provoking – my students do not.