Sorry for the quiet,…

Sorry for the quiet, guys -- our airport went out early Friday, and I am too impatient to sit by the ethernet cable and work. Yes, truly a sad excuse. But Kev fixed the airport last night, so we're back to normal.

Quick recap -- Friday, mostly spring cleaning, actually scrubbing all kinds of things that don't normally get scrubbed. Saturday, rehearsal for tonight's show, studying Spanish, more cleaning. I got a dual-language book of stories, which I have to say is by far the most pleasant way to study Spanish I've ever encountered. Barring someone buying me a trip to a Spanish-speaking country, that is. :-)

This morning, I've made myself tea and cleaned the kitchen counters and baked a daffodil cake; this is a variant on a cake I found in a book of tea recipes. Make one lemon bundt cake, dust with powdered sugar, decorate with fresh daffodil heads (put a few in the well, and scatter around), serve with lemon sauce. Very spring! Very Easter! Oh, happy Easter!

I forgot -- another thing I did last night was color eight eggs (well, I did half of them and then Kevin finished them when I got sleepy and went to bed). This morning, I've hid them around the apartment; if people are up for it, we'll do a quick little Easter egg hunt at breakfast. I don't have anything to use as a prize, though -- hmm...I need to run out for milk anyway, so perhaps I will also pick up a big chocolate bunny. :-)

Still to come this morning -- two quiche (broccoli and cheddar, spinach, onion, and gruyere) to bake, and roasting beets for salad (with goat cheese, num). That's it for my cooking; everything else is being brought. I love potluck! Big crowd today too -- about a dozen people, a mix of old friends and new, which I'm quite excited about. After two years, I'm starting to finally feel like I have a reasonable number of friends here, enough people to throw a party and not worry that not enough people will show up. That makes me feel surprisingly happier and more stable, oddly enough. I really am an extrovert. :-)

22 thoughts on “Sorry for the quiet,…”

  1. Just curious – what would you estimate your monthly food budget is, and if you can break it down into at home versus eating out?

  2. Heh. I’d say highly variable. Not counting Kev’s 2-3 sandwiches eaten out/week (because he just pays cash for that, so I’m not at all sure how much he spends, maybe $50/month), I think about $300/month for groceries, plus about $50 for eating out — occasional meals, a fair number of chai teas at Borders. More when guests are in town — closer to $150/month then, I think. And then $40 or so for the occasional potluck brunch; that’s what this one cost.

    So total for us is roughly $400/month normally, up to $500-$600 when people are visiting. Does that help?

    It would undoubtedly be more if I didn’t cook so much — curry is cheap! A pot of chicken curry with rice and potatoes costs about $10 and feeds us for 2-3 days (lunches and dinners). When I was living alone in Utah, I generally spent about $30/week on groceries. Living here, I get to be more indulgent; Kevin likes high-end items like steak. 🙂

  3. Okay, but remember you asked. I was thinking about class, that it’s about more than income, it’s about cultural capital – information and connections. That connects to you – as living a middle or upper-middle-class lifestyle (as it seems, via how you describe it) on a small income.

    I would agree as to your assessment of how that’s possible – Kevin’s income and tastes, your experience cooking. I’d also still expect that your food budget is really high for someone of your income. It’s lower than I expected – I had the impression that the two of you would eat a nice dinner out once a week (more than $50 a month), and that would be supplemented by regular sushi/sashimi/chai at Borders, snacks when you’re out kind of thing. You’re not quite the daily $3.50 latte at Starbucks kind of gal that I imagined. 🙂

  4. I’d say that when I lived alone as a grad student, I lived beyond my means, running up credit card debt; I pretty much suck at at sticking to a $15-$20K income budget. It makes me feel poor, and I end up feeling even more urge to spend money, which I am bad at resisting.

    When I was making $30K a year as an adjunct or a secretary, though, I lived very comfortably within my income. It helped that my travel was pretty much entirely subsidized; the guys I was dating (both Jed and Kev made 2-3 times what I made) would pay for airfare, as would my parents when I was visiting them. I don’t know if the percentage I spend on food is more than most people do; it’s possible. I like food, and I do tend to buy food as if I had access to more money than I actually do. 🙂

    Everything’s different now, with Kev’s income. Last year we had my stipend as well. And what perhaps isn’t clear in this journal is that we pay very little for housing; only about $400/month. If it weren’t for my pile of embarrassing debt that we’re slowly paying off, we could afford to eat out a lot more than we do. 🙂

    But I’d say I’m more a once-a-week chai girl than a daily one. Most days when I go work at cafes I actually don’t get chai; I drink 3-4 cups of milk and sugar tea at home in the morning, and by the time I get to the cafe, I’m usually content to have water to sip while I work. That’s even more true now, since cafe chai usually has something like 200 calories!

    I agree that I live a upper-middle-class lifestyle. I do a lot of homemade stuff, though — tailor my own clothes, cook, paint my own walls, certainly don’t pay anyone else to come in and clean or do laundry, as most upper-middle-class seem to. That probably helps.

    There’s also the undeniable fact that if you buy nice things, they tend to last longer — I haven’t quite gotten myself to do that in all areas yet (I still tend to buy $10 shoes at Payless that last a season instead of $100 shoes that will last forever, just because I can’t bring myself to pay that much for shoes), but I think I do that more than many people of my income level do. Probably has to do with expectations; I came from a upper-middle-class background, and then I went to high school with actually upper-class kids at Miss Porter’s. That undoubtedly shaped my ideas of what I wanted my life to look like. 🙂

    Oof — you got me rambling! I find class issues fascinating.

  5. You’re right, it isn’t clear at all that the condo is paid off (or not being paid by you two). Interesting that your idea of paid help is upper-middle-class. The people I know with help like that are generally working families with nannies, and I guess to me that seems upper-class, as differentiated from daycare. Though some daycare can be as expensive as private school. Can’t think of anyone without kids who hires someone to do their laundry.

    Also “I do a lot of homemade stuff though” – but your homemade stuff is quintessentially upper middle class. You don’t “make your own clothes” (I startle people by telling stories when my Mom and sister used to do exactly that for me), you make silk blouses with French cuffs that cost a fair amount in materials. You don’t “paint your bathroom” to save on painter costs, but to be artsy. It’s not a chore, it’s creative fulfillment. You’ve read David Brooks’ book on Bobos?

  6. The condo is paid off; it’s a huge help. If it weren’t, I’d be working full-time now as a secretary or adjunct, and trying to squeeze in everything else around that; I probably wouldn’t have started the SLF.

    When I mentioned paid help, I was thinking specifically of cleaning, not childcare; I know people who have all their laundry sent out, for example, and others who get people in to clean the floors. None of them have children; they’d just rather pay someone to do that work than do it themselves, and they’re definitely in the middle or upper-middle-class income bracket, not upper-class.

    The people I know with nannies also seem upper-middle-class, not necessarily upper-class. The ones who use daycare range from working class to middle class to upper-middle-class, depending on how expensive the day care is.

    My mom actually made my clothes when she was young; I tried that for a bit, but I’m nowhere near competent enough to make it time-effective. My cotton skirts all looked a little sad — and it wasn’t any cheaper than buying cotton skirts. Readymade stuff on sale is what I generally buy, and it costs less than it would cost me to make it. I’ve never made a silk blouse — way beyond my sewing skills — so I’m a bit confused by your reference there. I may have intended to try once, but if so, I gave up when I realized my incompetence. I did make a Thai silk skirt once, and it was noticeably cheaper to make than buy — not sure why.

    Our homemade stuff is mixed, I think. If the rooms needed a coat of paint because the walls were peeling, we’d do that too. We generally at least attempt home repairs like plumbing before calling someone (and succeed about 75% of the time). I hem my own pants (being so short, everything needs hemming), which is actually what I meant by tailoring, rather than taking them to a dry cleaner’s to get that done. And I always shop for the sales. I love clearance, which is probably a mark of being hopelessly middle-class deep down. 🙂 I generally save about $30/week on groceries by buying primarily sale items and then making something yummy with them.

    I do think you’re missing the point on the artsy stuff — part of being upper-middle-class is having beautiful things and a beautiful space to live in. If you have the income, you just buy that stuff at Pottery Barn or wherever. We can’t actually afford to do that, so we could just do without — but since I do enjoy the artsy stuff, we get a double benefit; I get to have fun making art projects, and then we get to have the beautiful things that upper-middle-class people would buy. They’re generally not as perfect as what you’d find in the stores, but they’re personalized, which is better in many ways. And that’s an intriguing upper-class value, actually, the sort of thing Martha Stewart pushes, and which I tend to buy into.

    I haven’t read the Brooks book, though I think I’ve heard of it. The bobos are the ones with poly mating patterns, right?

  7. I have to say, it’s disconcerting having this detailed a conversation with Anonymous. If you don’t want to give a real name, you could make something up. You could be Joe. Or Sue. 🙂

  8. Well, if it makes you uncomfortable, don’t share.
    But it does remind me of the adage that money and class are the most taboo subjects in America.

    I’m not sure I’m following the bulk of the discussion, but:

    1. the distinction between upper and upper-middle is fuzzy to me. I would say that the kids who got BMW’s at 16 were definitely upper middle, but only the trust-fund babies are upper, and I’ve never had much contact with those folks. Maybe you have. I would say that Martha Stewart (the concept, as opposed to the person) is very middle class. I would also say that the Bobos that Brooks describes (and, yes, poly-amory fits with his description) are upper middle where he calls them the “new upper class”.

    2. I think some of the distinctions you’re drawing are hair-thin. I would say that a middle class family of any ilk can afford some luxuries, but generally has to make choices. Some choices are smaller – I think the difference between your food budget and mine would pay for twice-a-month house cleaning and sending laundry out – and some are larger: family vacations yearly versus private school education in college; lawns and space with house in suburbs versus condo in city. But the key point is that there are a fair number of choices to be made. The lower classes have rare luxuries, the upper class have few wants unfulfilled.

    That’s still overly broad – I don’t think the upper class can afford an infinite amount of Rolls Royces, mansions, diamonds, etc. But, at least, the question of “can we afford to send our children to Harvard if they can get acceptance?” is not one that comes up.

    By the way, although class issues have been on my mind for a while, the catalyst for this particular conversation – your mention of goat cheese. For me, that’s an artsy, overpriced luxury. Not that I don’t like it, appreciate it; and not even that your food budget would break my bank. I’ll appreciate good food when it’s given to me, which it often is. But, along with caviar and good olives and elegant desserts – they’re things I will look for a special occasion to buy. Which means what? That food is my Payless? The kinds of things you mention doing – buying what’s on sale at the grocery store, doing repairs as able, hemming and sewing buttons – seem like “of course”, common sense things that, if you can do it, you do. I know people who make 6 figures who do all these things, and do their own lawn care and snow shoveling and changing the oil in their car. That doesn’t make them any less upper-middle-class in the rest of their choices. I think that part is about skills – I know how to cook well enough and regard shoveling snow as great exercise, but would hate lawn care and don’t know how to change the oil.

    Okay, sleepy, hope this makes sense.

  9. PS – I figured out the silk blouse – it was a skirt and you wore a blouse with french cuffs with it. I misread it.

  10. I’d ask yourself why you feel the need to be anonymous, given that I’m comfortable discussing these specifics with someone who might be a stranger or a friend. What are you afraid of? It’s not a taboo subject to me.

    As for the fine distinctions; well, I suppose I think all of class is essentially made up of fine distinctions — that and confused perceptions. Class has much less to do with how much you actually make than it does with how you perceive yourself — thus an impoverished aristocrat is still an aristocrat, rather than simply poor. Even if they take a job as a governess, they’re not working class.

    So although my dad earned a lot of money, my folks managed it badly, and they were constantly worrying about money, having trouble paying our school fees, etc.; that seems like a middle-class or lower state of mind, even if they should have had an upper-middle-class existence.

    I tend to think a rough idea of upper-middle is the kind of person who can buy a $2000 chair at Pottery Barn without really worrying about it. That may be way off, but it’s where I tend to make the distinction in my mind. I know quite a few people in that bracket, and it’s not the bracket we’re in, not yet. If I actually brought in a decent income, we might well be.

    I did meet a lot of actual upper-class girls at Porter’s, and became close friends with one of them, so I got to see that lifestyle. That’s the BMW for your eighteenth birthday, the every vacation on a tropical beach, the debutante ball, the casual use of service people for every need — cooks, nannies, cleaning, etc. The masses of charitable contributions as well; my friend’s family sponsored a wing of the Art Institute. That’s just a different scale altogether from anything in my experience.

    As for goat cheese — hmm…it just isn’t that expensive, especially if you’re buying everything else on sale. Around $4? With maybe $4 of beets and salad greens, to make a salad that serves a dozen people? Seems cheap to me. I suspect you’re reacting more to your idea of goat cheese than the actual price of goat cheese. Caviar is actually expensive, and that would certainly be a very special occasion thing for me.

    I actually know lots of people whom I’d describe as financially middle-class who don’t shop for sales (either with clothes or groceries), who don’t attempt their own repairs, who don’t know how to sew on a button and have no interest in learning. Presumably they’re skimping somewhere else, but I’m not sure where. (Actually, Kevin pretty much fits that description — I guess he skimps by just going without things he doesn’t need; this apartment was appallingly bare when I got here. Rooms without chairs, bathrooms without trash cans, that kind of thing.) It’s a different mindset than mine.

    I’d say that I have a middle-class concern about money most of the time, an upper-middle-class effective income right now (though at the bottom end of that range, since we can’t actually buy those Pottery Barn chairs), and an upper-class set of values and expectations (a combination of four years at Porter’s, plus an academic intellectual background, plus natural inclination). But I don’t actually want or need an upper-class income. If I do get a job that makes, oh, about $40K, that would entirely satisfy all my financial desires. Anything beyond that (if a book sold wildly, for example), would probably be funneled towards some sort of charitable organization.

    Martha Stewart is middle-class, but what she’s pushing is an upper-class aesthetic — perfectly designed for upper-class wanna-be’s like me. 🙂

    Marshall Fields is doing a massive “country-club lifestyle” promotion this spring, and I am simultaneously attracted and repulsed.

  11. Quoth MA: “The bobos are the ones with poly mating patterns, right?”

    Ah, no, you’re thinking of bonobos, aka pygmy chimpanzees.

    I’ve been off-and-on reading Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class, and he takes a much less negative view of the mixture of bohemian and bourgeois (“bo”+”bo”) values, specifically taking issue with some conclusions David Brooks draws in Bobos in Paradise. I don’t have the book in front of me (so pardon if I mis-remember), but Florida sees the integration of bohemian desires for authenticity and diversity into mainstream culture as a source of positive change more than an upper-class indulgence to be mocked.

  12. Just a couple quick comments:

    1. Class is complicated, as both of you have noted. In particular, as you’ve both sort of indirectly indicated, it’s not always possible to say “person X is Y-class” and have everything about the person fit into that category. I, for example, currently have an upper-middle-class income, but my background is a weird mix that I’ve taken to calling “intellectual class”; when I was a kid, we bought clothes at the thrift store (and we usually had enough to eat, but sometimes only just), but we always had plenty of books on hand, and it was always assumed that my brother and I would go to college. (My father worked, at various times, as a ditch-digger, shipfitter/welder, carpenter, and computer programmer; now he teaches at a community college. I’d have a hard time assigning a specific socioeconomic class to him. I went to an expensive school, but it was paid for almost entirely by scholarships and loans.) Anyway, it took me a long time to adjust my attitudes and spending habits to my adult income—perhaps in much the same way that (I’m told) a lot of people who lived through the Depression still continue to be very frugal and hoard food and so on.

    2. I think what class you assign certain attributes to may depend partly on where you live and what you’re used to. In my part of California, for example, goat cheese is still not a working-class food, but it’s also not exactly a luxury. House-cleaning, on the other hand, or really having any servants at all (especially a nanny!), is something that still feels very much like a luxury to me; I didn’t know anyone who had people working for them until a few years ago. (And a friend of mine worked as a nanny for years, so I felt more connected to the class of nannies than to the class of people who hire them.) When people I knew needed childcare, they would take the kid to daycare, or hire a babysitter, or have a friend or family member babysit. These days, I know lots of people who have nannies, but I still don’t know anyone who has a live-in nanny.

    3. I don’t know all that many people with the skills, interest, and tools to hem their own clothes. (Sewing on buttons is a little different, I think; even I can do that if need be. Though if I lose the button, I’m out of luck, ’cause I don’t have spare buttons lying around.) And I think in general most of the local people I know (who mostly have upper-middle-class incomes) tend to get rid of damaged clothes rather than repair them (as my mother used to do when I was a kid); if you have the income, it’s easier to donate the old clothing to Goodwill and go buy more than to try to find a friend with a sewing machine and fix a rip.

    4. A meta-comment: Mr. A, I’m reading your comments as sounding a little antagonistic. I’m not sure whether you meant them that way or not, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case you didn’t. (And I should note that nothing in my comment is meant to be hostile or antagonistic, so if any of it is coming out that way, I apologize.) For what it’s worth, in my experience Mary Anne is more willing to talk about class than almost anyone else I know; despite my hippie-radical-leftist upbringing and my attending a notoriously leftist college, Mary Anne was the first person I can remember engaging me in a serious discussion of class issues. I’m not sure whether that’s relevant to what you’re talking about, but I thought it was worth mentioning, in case you were thinking that she doesn’t think about this stuff normally. (And btw, I hope this doesn’t come across as “boyfriend leaps to Mary Anne’s defense”; I’m not defending her, just providing some background information about her that you might not have.)

  13. I was thinking of bonobos, oops. 🙂

    I think it’d be a really interesting exercise for everyone to assess their own class standing, and delineate how they came to that conclusion.

  14. MM, thanks for alerting us to this thread. It is exceptionally interesting and almost impossible to get a handle on. So much of class has to do with how one feels, one’s comfort zone, etc. My own father was a tire builder (an actual go to the plant and build tires laborer). I was raised in a classic working class environment. He managed to send me to an excellent private college, and like you I have a UC diploma on my wall and my students call me Doc, legitimately. My life experiences have left me comfortable in any social setting, and I have eaten many a goat cheese hors d’oeuvre in the homes of millionaires (because of my work social environment). I do think, though, that I will always be a working class guy. My basic values come from the laboring class, and no wall of diplomas can create the upper class mentality. My dad once said, when I pressed him, that we lived on his weekly paycheck. No savings, nothing but his $80 a week. I had no childhood sense of that fragility. By the way, no one with a Norwegian background would think of goat cheese (gjetost) as upper class cheesosity. The dry, hard brittle stuff was present at every holiday in my poor childhood. So my poor man’s tradition becomes the rich man’s delicacy. Sort of gustatory slumming. Very amusing.
    Another angle on this issue might be to ask oneself in what areas does one have epicurean taste. I collect rare books, and it is just about the only area of “taste” in my life. Oh, and your bathroom is beautiful. I thought I would hate the blue, but it is really superb.

  15. Hmm…I think of goat cheese as extremely soft, softer than any other cheese I normally eat, in fact. But perhaps there are many varieties…

    Areas where I have expensive tastes: food, clothes, furniture, houses (though I don’t like grand, unless we’re actually talking about castles 🙂 — I don’t think most normal homes look good clad in marble). Almost everything — but interestingly, not books. I’m happiest with cheap paperbacks that I can destroy with a clear conscience; I can admire a beautiful book, but I don’t feel any particular desire to own it. Ditto fine art, actually; I’d rather have interesting photography by my friends on my walls. And I’m just as happy with cheap student travel as with expensive luxurious travel; they serve different purposes, different aesthetics.

    Glad you liked the bathroom!

  16. I thought I’d throw some numbers into the mix: as of 1999, the median household income was $42,409.(www.census.gov) The top 5 percent of households are at $150,000, the top 10 percent at $114,000, the top 20 percent at $84,000. Bottom 10 percent $10,000, bottom 20 $18,000. I don’t have a cite for it, but I remember hearing that the top 1% means $300,000+.

    Also see http://www.lcurve.org/

    A tangent to this (fascinating) thread–for me, what’s really important about class questions is how they become political questions. One result of the American inability/unwillingness to talk about class is that politicians who try to point out the wide class differences in this country (and the Republicans’ success in making them wider) are accused of trying to incite class warfare. (George Bush Sr. and Jr. have both gone far with this rhetorical strategy.) So, more power to all of you for bringing up the issue.

    And one final thought–web communities like this one are remarkable collisions between the world of computer types (way above average income) and the world of artsy types (mostly below average income). I expect that that collision gets worked out (or not) on the battlefield of gender relations.

  17. That’s really interesting — that means if I get a job, we’ll move into the top 10%! Pretty stunning in terms of luxuriousness, given that we aren’t currently planning to have kids. I suspect once housing and such is taken care of, we’ll start funnelling a fair bit towards charities. I hope so, anyway.

    The main reluctance I’ve heard about class is that most of the people I know are reluctant to admit that they’re upper-middle or upper-class. It’s okay to be middle-class, but anything above that is shameful. Which makes everything worse, of course — if you deny your economic privilege, it makes it a lot easier to ignore it and not take responsibility for working towards a more equitable distribution of the wealth.

    And re: the computer/arts thing — it *is* awfully convenient for me. But I can’t help feeling like Kevin gets gypped on this; not so much that I’m taking advantage of him, but that I can’t quite believe that the math world is as much fun as the writing one. But he may disagree. I hope he does. 🙂

  18. I am sure Kevin does disagree. Mathmatics, ESPECIALLY topology, is really joyful and exhilirating. There is nothing quite like discovering a fact that no one else knows, and knowing FOR CERTAIN that it is correct. No fuzziness or uncertainty.

    Back to the subject of class: I am interested in whether there are different class-associated attitudes. For example, is strict, scrupulous honesty a mostly middle class and aristocratic class value, but not a value so much of the very poor or the rich-but-not-aristocratic? The story of Abraham Lincoln walking miles back to a store to return a nickel that he had gotten in excess change that he was not entitled to was always very meaningful to me as a child. And I have always had the feeling that, although I grew up in a working class setting, both my parents thought of themselves somehow as aristocrats who happened not to be wealthy. I am inferring this; I have never asked either of my parents about this issue directly.

  19. I’ve actually always thought of scrupulous honesty (and a disinclination to take charity) as a characteristic of the poor working class, the ones making just enough to scrape by. But that may be more of a romanticized ideal than an actual reflection of anything real.

    Upper-class people are often honest, sure, because they can afford to be. It hardly counts, does it? There’s nothing testing it…

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