Read in February

Ugh! I didn’t love anything I read this month! Okay, Tales of Beedle the Bard was fine, I didn’t hate it. But it was a small wisp of a book. Every single book I finished this month I would have been fine with not finishing. Oh wait. I really liked the How to Hepburn book. But overall, I’m in a disgruntled stage with my reading right now. I think it doesn’t help that I’m currently reading six books right now. Usually I have 2-4 books started, but I read steadily through one, then pick up another. I’m trying Matt’s rotation method (reading bits of many books at once) and I think it doesn’t work for me. Perhaps my March plan will be to finish all the books I have started and focus on no more than three books at a time. Also, if you can recommend me some good fiction books down there in the comments, I would be forever grateful. Just one or two good fiction books you have read recently. Please!

Life on the Refrigerator Door.
Alice Kuipers
Quick read. You know those notes you scrawl back and forth to the people you live with? The entire book is composed of the equivalent of those. It’s an interesting exercise, but it turns out I missed all the description, etc. Still, even without all of those things the ending was a tear-jerker.

How to Hepburn
Karen Karbo
Karen Karbo appears occasionally in the Oregonian and I enjoy her voice. This was an interesting combination biography and “self-help” book, though it was really more of the former and the latter was a bit tounge-in-cheek. I liked the biographic details of Hepburn’s life, but my favorite part was the commentary by Karbo. Her musings on friendship, women and marriage and women and work were astutely observed. She is funny, too.

Tales of Beedle the Bard
J.K. Rowling
I liked these tales just fine, but learning about the charity the book is supporting was really interesting.

Carrie Brown
How could I love one of this author’s books (The Rope Walk) so much and not like any of her others? This started out well: Jewish immigrant and his son from Austria by way of England becomes a driver for a wealthy man in upstate New York. The flashbacks to pre-WWII Austria were interesting at first but the whole pace of the book was a bit plodding to me. I do have to give her props for writing about vastly different characters and settings in each of her novels.

Robin McKinley
This started out great. It seemed to be set in present day, with a brassy main character, happy with her life as a baker in her family’s cafe. Then details crept in and it turns out that was at first felt like present day is set in some parallel universe with “wares” and “suckers” and troubles. Then the main character is kidnapped by Vampires. I was totally into it, excitedly telling people about the book, even people who I know don’t read books. Somewhere near the last quarter, though I lost interest. The story kept going, but lost its edge for me. Alas. Still, better than Twilight. By a lot.

Om Yoga Today: Your yoga practice in 5, 15, 30, 60 & 90 minutes.
Cindi Lee.
I liked the workouts, though I only did the five and fifteen minute versions. The illustrations were sparse, literally stick figures, so I would say this isn’t a book for beginners, but rather people already familiar with the poses. I liked the illustrations, but I would have preferred there also to be some indication of “breathe in” and “breath out.” If I end up buying this book I will add my own symbols. Overall, a good book to have around, I would say.

Started but did not finish
Comedy at the Edge: How stand-up in the 1970s changed America
Richard Zoglin

A good academic study of comedy, which was a bit too academic for me at this point in my life.

American Photobooth
Nakki Goranin
I started to read the essay about the evolution of the photobooth and got distracted and didn’t finish it. But most people will get this book for the photobooth pictures, which were striking.

The James Beard Cookbook
James Beard
Someone recommended this cookbook to me as a nice basic one, so I thought I would investigate the library’s copy. Indeed, it appeared to be a nice basic cookbook.

Telex from Cuba
Rachel Kushner
I wanted to like this novel set in the pre-Castro Cuba. But I just couldn’t get into any of the characters.

Geometry Success in 20 minutes per day
Debbie Y. Thompson
I was feeling blue about my upcoming Praxis exam and so checked out this book to supplement my Geometry learning. I took the quiz at the beginning at got an 84% and felt much better. So I sent the book back without doing the rest of the activities. I did like that the author had a message at the beginning asking people who check the book out from a library not to mark answers in the book. She even helpfully suggested that you mark your answers on a scratch sheet of paper, advice that someone before me ignored.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Julia Child
I was thinking of using this to find fun new ways to cook vegetables, but now is not the time for me to find fun new ways to cook vegetables.

Didn’t even start
I started everything. Though a lot of good that did me.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If no professional, semi-professional or student athlete game in any sport was ever played again, I would not be sad. I’m not into sports. I am, however, into equity in sports and these signs frost my liver. What century are we living in?

Though not team-sports oriented myself, I have always been thankful I came of age after Title IX passed. These signs show that there are still miles to go before we have true equity.

How do I think the signs should be worded? How about:
Viking Men’s Basketball
Viking Women’s Basketball.

If you are going to put the qualifying possessive adjective on the women’s sign, the men’s sign needs it too.

Kate Winslet’s crow’s feet…


Last night while watching the Oscars, more than one comment was made about the lines around Kate Winslet’s eyes. Age was brought up, children were brought up, but I think it boils down to one reason I love Kate Winslet. She seems entirely unconsumed with the “Hollywood” part of acting, yet remains a Hollywood star. She doesn’t seem to let people push her around about her weight, she followed up the biggest blockbuster of the late 20th century with a strange independent film set in Morocco, and she comes to awards ceremonies with her aging skin on view. Granted, her aging skin is in its early 30s, but still. The above things alone would propel me to see nearly every movie that she makes; the fact that she is an incredible actress is just the cherry on top.

I want to see my actors age! I want their skin to soften and go slack and the wrinkles creep across their face. When I look at their 40 year old selves, I want to see something different than their 20 year old selves. I don’t want to see an immovable, porcelain forehead, I don’t want to see a 50 year old without wrinkles and I really don’t want to see a bunch of women looking like Sophia Lauren, whose strange appearance on screen caused more than a few “aaaaahhhhs” in the room.

All the rest of you regular people out there, same goes for you. Let us age as we age. There is no fighting age. Let us enjoy it.

A made-up holiday for February.

I strongly believe that this country needs much more vacation time. Much. However, the powers that be in this country think that having no national standard for vacation time is entirely acceptable. “People can negotiate for the amount of vacation time that is right for them.” some clueless executive said once on a radio program I was listening to once, completely ignoring the fact that a lot of Americans don’t get to negotiate their vacation time at all, and that for most people the amount of vacation time that is right for them is not an amount that is acceptable to the company.

But I digress. Because of our severe lack of national holidays, I think you can make up your own. Here is one for the end of February. Watch the Oscars. During the Oscars they usually show a lot of clips from many decades of film. I usually find myself thinking something along the lines of, “You know, I’ve never seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Make notes of all those movies you have never seen. After the show is over go to the video store (oh, alas East Coast people, the video store has closed. You’ll have to make do) and pick up a bunch of those movies. The next day, call in sick to work and watch them. You won’t be sorry.

I think we should call it Oscar Day.

The level of debt you feel comfortable with.

In Brent Hunsberger’s financial column on February 15 in the Oregonian, he discusses why we need to all step up and help people facing the foreclosure of their homes. He gives as an example, the Gott family who three years ago “bought a new, four-bedroom house in Albany for themselves and their two girls.” At the time, their annual income was $64,000/year; both parents worked, the father in building supply and the mother as a special ed. assistant. They had no car payment and no credit card debt and felt their $1,900 payment on their $260,000 home was reasonable.

Hunsberger describes what happened when they lost 23% of their income. He then goes on to explain how concerned he is by comments left on his blog when he posted their plea for help. “Several readers skewered them for getting into a house above their means and not shutting of cable or a cell phone.” The Gott husband argues that cutting those things off wouldn’t make a difference and Hunsberger goes on:

“Sure, it’s unfair when those who made a mistake get bailed out while the rest of us foot the future tax bill. But the carnage could affect everyone if we don’t step up and deal. As employers shed jobs and cut pay, millions of other US homeowners will find themselves in a similar fix.

“A foreclosure doesn’t just hurt them. The lender loses money. Surrounding property values drop. That makes selling homes more difficult, puts more homeowners underwater and leads to more foreclosures. The cycle feeds itself.”

I agree with Hunsberger’s closing argument, but let us return to the Gotts for a second. Was their home purchase reasonable. I’ve just Googled “How much home can I afford?” and found the following paragraph on the first hit.

Here’s the super-quick rule of thumb: Most people can afford a home that costs up to three times their annual household income, if they can make a 20% down payment and have only a moderate amount of other debt. If you have little to no debt and can put 20% down you can probably buy a house worth up to four times your annual income. (

The article doesn’t mention how much down payment the couple was able to make, but let us run the numbers as if they did. $63,000 X 4 is $252,000.

So according to this quick look the Gotts, with no debt, have overbought a bit.

Then I plugged the numbers into the financial calculator at the bottom of the page. I entered their monthly income ($5333) and their debt payments ($0) and I gave them a down payment of $10,000, though it has been my experience that a lot of people in the last five years bought their first homes with little to no money down. According to the calculator, with a 6% interest rate, a 2% property tax/insurance rate (those were defaults I used) if the couple takes out a 30 year mortgage, the most house the couple could afford is one for $201,853 with a monthly payment of $1546. So according to this rough calculation, the Gotts have overbought a lot.

But here is my real point, (I’m quite good a burying the lead). When times were good, the Gott’s house payment was 35% of their expenses. When their income decreased, the payment suddenly took up 48.5% of their income. The smart spending money blog states that you shouldn’t spend more than a quarter to a third of your before-tax income on housing. In good times, the Gott’s only exceeded that by a bit. But currently they are in completely over their heads. Should they have committed so much to housing their first time around? I think this is where their initial mistake was. If they had limited themselves to a house payment of 25% of their current income ($1333 per month) when that income dropped to its current level, their house payment would only take up 34% of their budget, less than their original percentage.

Though I think the Gotts made an unfortunate choice, I can understand why they did so. I started looking at houses in 2004. I was hoping to get my first teaching job and become a home owner shortly afterward. At the time in Portland, there were still houses available for $130,000. They were old and some of them needed a lot of work and all of them were tiny, but they were available and I was looking forward to the challenge. I didn’t get my first teaching job and my financial situation was not good for a few years. When I began looking again in late 2006, it was difficult to find any home in Portland proper for less than $200,000. Home ownership seemed very, very far away. It was frustrating and depressing.

I, unlike a lot of people in the country in the early 2000s, did not believe that the good times would always roll. I’ve never felt that the income I earn from work will continue to be there, either at it’s current level or in an ever increasing amount. It probably has to do with messages I got growing up, (though my family’s income did grow in slow but steady amounts) and the many bad employment choices I made throughout my 20s.

I’m also very uncomfortable with debt. I currently have no credit card debt and I hate that I took out $30,000 in student loans for graduate school. When I was planning to buy my first home, there was no way I was going to commit 35% of my monthly income to mortgage, etc. It seemed too risky.

In 2007, with my income, a partner in graduate school and home prices at record highs in Portland, I faced the facts that there was no way I was going to be able to afford a home in the next 5-10 years. The story of how I bought my first home ends happily: I found the Portland Community Land Trust, we happened to income qualify, a house came available we could afford, family generously gave us money for more of a down payment and we bought it. We were incredibly lucky. My partner has subsequently graduated and now has a job. I just did a rough calculation and our house payment is 13% of our combined income.

Here’s where I have a problem with the Gotts. In “stretching” to buy their first home, they bought more home than they could afford. They are no different than many, many people across the country. I can’t tell you how many times I read the dubious advice to “stretch a little” to get into your first home. Who was giving that advice? People who gave loans. People who sold houses. People who stood to make money off of the “stretching“. All that stretching drove up home prices and left people who weren’t willing to stretch with the following options: keep saving and renting and hope for a downturn; give up and “stretch”; or find an alternative way to home ownership.

When I worked for Census 2000, one of the things we said a lot when kidding around and giving each other a hard time was “you are part of the problem.” As in, “Why aren’t the reports done? Because you didn’t finish proofing them. You are part of the problem.” I think of that phrase now and then, and lately a lot in context of the housing problem. Who is part of the problem? The lenders and real estate agents. The crappy oversight, sure. But people like the Gotts? They are part of the problem too.

Striving for a future

Well, the economy is in the tank. If we aren’t in a Great Depression, capital letters, I think the populace of the US is currently depressed, small d. Every day there is more bad news. This is not good for a variety of reasons. Namely, that I want a teaching job and teachers tend to hold onto their jobs when times are tough, economically. Not to mention that in Oregon, our education funding is on its usual horrible slide downward due to a crappy tax system that no one in our state has the courage to overhaul. There is talk that thankfully, they might only have to cut a week from the end of school, instead of two weeks or more.

What’s a girl who is tired of being an Admin Assistant to do? Thus far, become gloomy like the rest of the country. However, I realized today that I need to start the job hunt now. So here goes.

New feature.

Weekly, I will post my progress of what I have been doing to become a middle school math teacher. I am thinking Thursday will be the day, as that is a day I tend to get some time to blog.

Here is what I am doing now:

  • I have given up on the idea of becoming a Social Studies teacher. It does not seem to be valued at the middle school level in the Portland Public School (PPS) District, being combined with Language Arts. Then, only Language Arts teachers seem to be hired. At the high school level? They are looking for coaches. Of athletics. Not me. I’ve done my mourning and moved on.
  • I have instead decided to focus on my love for middle school students and my healthy appreciation for math and become a math teacher. Not to mention that math teachers are in much more demand than social studies teachers.
  • I have enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Middle School Math at PSU. I am currently working on class 2 of 8. I will be done after Winter Session of 2011.
  • I have been putting in many hours studying for Praxis 0069 which I will take March 14. Passing this test will qualify me to teach math at the middle school level.
  • I have read a bit about some of the remaining middle schools in PPS and have identified a few that sound like great places to work.
  • I am currently reading books about teaching.
  • I have started yet another blog to keep track of my learning as a soon-to-be math teacher and to eventually market myself when I begin applying for jobs.

Well, that sounds like a good amount of things. I just listed them there to reassure myself that I am working towards this goal. Those things are sort of ongoing right now and part of the Patricia-as-student phase. Here is what I will do to start the job hunt which will lead to the Patricia-as-employed-educator phase.

  • Craft a message. In my last, endless job hunt, I learned from Vicki Lind** that everyone should have short statement that succinctly answers the question, “Oh, you are looking for work, what kind?” I think that last time mine was, “I’m looking for a position where I can use my organizational and communication skills to further the education of children and adults.” It came in handy and the job I have now pretty much fits that statement. So now I need one for the next job I’m looking for. I will have a few statements to play around with next week.
  • Start my “student teaching.” I work full-time right now, so actual student teaching isn’t possible, but luckily I work in a school. I’m going to see if I can take a little time to observe fourth and fifth grade math classes with my ultimate goal to teach a unit or two. This will give me some current teaching experience to put on my resume. First step: ask my boss if I can take some time to observe.
  • Start the informational interview process. Groan. I hate this. HATE IT. But I think where my teacher job hunt really failed the first time around was partly due to the lack of schmoozing on my part. So I will go and talk to current teachers (ideally current middle school math teachers) about their thoughts on teaching and the best ways to get a job. I will contact at least 10 people in the next week asking if they know any current teachers I could meet with.
  • Kick up the blog posts on the teacher blog. I am aiming for three a week. They don’t have to be long, they just have to be there. I would like for two of them to be “things to learn more about.” In my reading about middle schools, I’m coming across unfamiliar jargon. And I really need to master the jargon. I think my disdain for learning the jargon also didn’t help the last go-round. So for this week I will remember what my math blog name is, the password and post three posts.

Okay, so I have plan, I have goals and I’m on it. Do I still feel the process will be long, arduous and not fun? Yep. Do the goals help? Yep. Wish me luck.

**Vicki Lind rocks. If you live in Portland and are frustrated by the job search process, go see her. She manages the wallowing and the kick in the pants perfectly. She also has a book called Finding a Job Worth Having that I really liked. And, she has a job club that was everything I needed at the time.

President’s Day Walk

Kelly and I took a President’s Day walk. This was also from Portland City Walk. It is walk 3, the Fernhill Park to Alberta Street Loop. It was a nice stretch of the legs and there was a lot of nice architectural details and yard art.

Like this. Isn’t the stonework on this chimney fantabulous?
And if you can’t afford custom stonework, perhaps you can customize with records in the window.
Or buy or make a whirlygig for your yard.
Or paint a masterpiece on your door.
This was a fun side trip. On the side yard of a house, you can see the variety of rain barrels the Rainbarrel Man has for sale.
In that small space he had several different styles along with a price list. You could even get a do-it-yourself kit.
Even the trees were artful.
This house used a lot of river rock in its construction. A lot. I would love to hear how it was hauled there.
This cactus didn’t fare well in the snow. I’m not sure if it will recover.
The little yard art raccoon had red reflectors for eyes and looked quite evil.
We stopped to teeter totter. Earlier, at a different park we went on the most excellent merry-go-round and I found out that merry-go-rounds make me a little sick now. Plus, it is difficult to jump off of them and stay upright. The teeter totter is more my current style.
And these were awesome teeter-totters. They were adjustable! So excellent for the parent and the child who weighs a small fraction of the adult’s weight.

Three sentence movie reviews–Sunset Boulevard

You know how you watch some classic films and think, “Okay, I get why this was a big deal and is a classic now, but this movie is boring!”? This is NOT one of those classics. I was glued to the TV the entire time, loved hearing all the lines I knew were from the movie and never had heard in context and couldn’t get enough of either characters.

Bechdel rating: has two women: yes. Who talk to each other: nope. Alas.

poster from:

Bechdel Test

In a movie review in the Oregonian, I came across the following test:

(1) It has to have a least two women in it who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man.

This is known informally as the Bechdel Test, having originally appeared in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and has been embraced by others on the Internet. I particularly like this site ( which has icons for which levels the movie meets.

Here ( is the comic strip. Apparently, it should be known as the Liz Wallace test.

I love the Bechdel test because I hunger for more movies that are not so man-centered. From now on, my three sentence movie reviews will also include a note if the movie passes the test. I’m guessing that a lot of them won’t. Doubt for instance, doesn’t really pass, though you would think it would. It did have at least two women in it, and they did talk to each other, but they pretty much only talked about a man.

For those of you not familiar with Dykes to Watch Out For, you should read it. You can read the entire strip in book form in several volumes most likely available from your library and I’m guessing it is on the Internet, too. It is a very funny literate comic, with politics and many memorable characters.