Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson dead

The Wall Street Journal reports that Michael Jackson has died. His was a life that should remind all of us that all the fame and money in the world cannot buy happiness.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Random Updates

(1) I decided to pre-order Aion, and spent the weekend vegging in front of the computer. So far, Aion looks like a prettier version of Warhammer, except the PvP looks less organized. I am crossing my fingers that I will like the Abyss (the PvPvE content that the game is hyped for) better than what I have seen so far.

(2) Got my Any Soldier package mailed. Apparently, you get a discount of $2 for mailing the large flat-rate box to a military address, thus explaining the price discrepancy noted in my earlier post.

(3) Set up an account at SmartyPig to save up for Shochugeiko 2010. At this point, I can't put aside enough each month to cover the entire cost; I am hoping for a birthday or Christmas windfall to make up the difference. I figure any savings is better than no savings, although if I keep this up I will have more accounts than Shtinkykat.

(4) Am heading to the beach tomorrow. Grand Isle, LA, aka Cajun Paradise. My family has rented this cabin. Two weeks of fishing and lying in the sun, here I come!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pre-order Aion?

Aion is finally almost here. I have been looking forward to it for almost a year; I actually had it pre-ordered last October. But, in the interim, I have sworn off pre-ordering hot new games. I have just been burned too many times in the past couple of years; I pre-ordered Pirates of the Burning Sea, Age of Conan, and Warhammer Online and suffered crushing disappointments. My resolution was recently tested with the release of Darkfall, but vindicated when my guild's division flamed out in less than two months due to game play issues, saving me the cost of the game.

I am oh so tempted, though. Aion is an NCsoft product, and NCsoft also published Guild Wars, which is the best MMO I have ever played. I canceled my Warhammer subscription in January, and I am suffering severe gaming withdrawal. Aion won't be out until September, but if I pre-order now, I can play the US betas. The next beta starts Friday, so I feel some pressure to decide before then. After all, if I am going to pre-order, I should get all the beta joy I can out of it. I also cherish a hope that, should I try the beta and hate it, I can cancel my pre-order.

Several people in my guild have been playing the Chinese beta and love it, but none of them are people that I know from other games, so I'm not sure how much weight to give their opinions. After all, I know people who love playing Eve Online, but that doesn't make it a good game. Ten Ton Hammer gave the first NA beta event a favorable review, but they didn't get to try any PvP.

What do you think? Should I give in to shiny beta temptation or wait a couple of months after release to see if the game actually has legs?

Monday, June 15, 2009

AnySoldier June Mailing

I try to mail out a care package to a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan every month. It is my small, personal way to say "Thank You" to those that serve my country. This year, I have not been as consistent about t as I would like. However, I was determined to get it done this month. I don't know anyone personally there; I get addresses from Any Soldier, Inc.

This month, I decided to see how frugal I could be and still come up with a good care package. Here is my final result:

At the Any Soldier, Inc. website, the soldiers can request specific items. As part of my frugal challenge to myself, I determined only to send things that were specifically requested.

First I looked around my house. I had:

(1) Toothbrush - given to me by my dentist at my last visit, but not my brand.
(2) Pantyliners - accidentally ordered (I meant to get the X-long ones); not worth sending back (postage would cost more than I paid)
(3) Pens - I buy these in bulk at Sam's, because I hate looking for a pen
(4) Books - I found that I somehow had duplicates of these two books in my collection

Out of pocket costs = $0.

Then I went to Rite Aid, where I had the end of a $25 gift card that I got for transferring a prescription. With it, I bought (all prices include tax)

(5) Shampoo - $1.13
(6) Conditioner - $1.13 x2
(7) Large Hershey Bar - $1.08
(8) Microwave Popcorn - $1.38 x2

and I also paid for

(9) Off Sportsman - $4.35

At Winn-Dixie, I bought

(10) Crest Toothpaste - $1.00

At Wal-Mart, I got

(11) Suave Deodorant - $1.06
(12) Notebook - $0.27

Walgreens was having an advertised sale on their store tampons - 2 packages for $4. Normally, I buy myself natural 100% cotton tampons, but these soldiers had specifically requested plastic applicators. As far as I know, there are no natural cotton tampons with plastic applicators available on the market. So I saved a ton of money vs. what I would usually buy, Natracare Organic All Cotton Tampons. I buy them in bulk, but they are still almost $5 each. So,

(13) Plastic Tampons - $2.18 x2

I was doing well - under $20. I got it all packaged up ...

... then realized that I still had a big space. You can't see it in this picture, but its under the pens. I did not want to waste a big space; since this is the flat rate box, it wouldn't be frugal.

So I stopped by CVS on the way home from shopping for swimsuits, and purchased

(14) Ivory Soap - $1.78

At the end of the day, I did not keep it under $20; the total came to $20.05. I count the items I bought on the gift card in this total, since I could have used the card to purchase other necessary items for myself.

In a final effort at frugality, I am trying out the Post Office's pre-paid shipping services. According to the website, I will save $.45 by printing the label myself. According to the postage notice at my post office, I will save $2.45. I am using the large, flat-rate box, so weight is no issue (it comes in at ~9 lbs). This is my first time to try this, so I am hoping that it is as simple as the post office website said that it would be.

Here it is, ready to be sent:

Total Including postage (if pre-paid shipping works): $31.55. Not bad for a month's worth of toiletries and a few extra goodies.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

His Majesty's Dragon - Free for a limited time

One of the neat things about owning a Kindle is that Amazon gives you free books. Of course, they hope to entice you to buy more. I am OK with that - if I like a book enough to pay money for it (rather than borrow it at the library) it makes my day.

I understand that, if you have an iPhone, you can download an free app that allows you to read Amazon Kindle content on your phone. Details here (directs you to

If the price below shows as zero, you can still get this book free.

Anything free is worth what you paid for it. I liked it so much that I also bought the next 4 novels in the series and made them my vacation reading.

The series is set in the Napoleonic wars. Except that, in Ms. Novik's world, dragons inhabit regions all over the world. All regional dragons possess different characteristics; some are acid breathers, some are fast, some are more intelligent than others. And the nations of the world use them to wage war.

A British Navy captain captures a Chinese dragon egg. No one on board knows anything about dragons, except that they have to be tamed at birth, and there is no time to get the egg back to England. Because it is Chinese, it is infinitely precious, because the Chinese breed the best dragons in the world. Due to misadventure, the Navy captain tames the dragon, and thus is thrust into the word of the Dragon corps, a licentious, freewheeling lot, despised by the Navy, that even accepts women into their ranks. Of course, they see the Navy as a bunch of supercilious prigs, and most of them treat him accordingly.

This book contains enough classic fantasy elements to make it a rollicking good read, without so many cliches that you can anticipate the entire ending ten pages in. By the fifth book in the series, Ms. Novik has taken her characters to a different place than I guessed at the end of book one, or even at the end of book two.

It's not deathless prose. But if you like fantasy, and you need a summer read, I would suggest it. If you don't like ebooks, it also comes in paper here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Credit Cards are not the Devil

I read a lot of PF blogs, and a lot of PF bloggers love Dave Ramsey. They love him so much that I think some of them would like to bear his children (whether or not that would be biologically possible). So I finally broke down and read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness, admittedly mostly to see what all the hype was about.

I don't want to knock the guy too hard, as his system obviously works for a whole lot of people, and you haven't noticed me writing any bestselling PF books lately. He has some good advice: figure out what you make, spend less than you make, know your debt, pay down your debt, make sacrifices now to save yourself the pain of compound interest on your debt, etc. However, his methodology, the snowflake, seems counter-intuitive to me. I think that my brain just doesn't work the same way his does - to me, 1K of debt is the same whether I owe it to one creditor or 10. So paying down smaller amounts, rather than higher-interest amounts, just doesn't make sense. As far as pop-culture PF books go, I strongly prefer Suze Orman's The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, as I felt that it had better debt reduction and savings strategies for the way my brain works.

My real issue, though, is his insistence that those who follow his plan cut up all credit cards. Don't get me wrong - I have gotten in trouble with credit cards before myself. However, the problem was not the cards, the problem was that I spent more than I made. Once I solved the problem, credit cards became a very useful tool for me.

I make over 1K a year by using credit cards. I currently have 4 - an AMEX, 2 Mastercards, and a Discover. None of them has any annual fees. I use whichever card will give me the most cash back wherever I happen to be buying stuff. I try to get Mr. Goat to do the same, but he doesn't have the same love of cash back that I do, so he does so only when he remembers. I pay all four balances off each month.

Additionally, I don't have the problems inherent in carrying cash. I don't worry about being mugged with this week's grocery budget in my purse. I don't drop cash accidentally. I can tell panhandlers straight out that "I never carry cash," thus removing the temptation to give them money. (I refuse to give panhandlers money as a matter of principle, but my principles are easily tested by a hard luck story.) My wallet doesn't present any temptation to my housekeeper.

Finally, as part of my budgeting process, I track all my purchases. Credit cards make that way easier - if I somehow lose a receipt, I know that it will show up online in a couple of days. If I ever get really organized and start tracking using Quickbooks, I'll be able to download my tracking automatically.

The credit card companies pay me for all this convenience. All I have to do is pay my balances on time, in full, every month. Since I am checking them every couple of days to crosscheck the accuracy of my tracking, it is easy to schedule a payment as soon as the bill comes due. The power of the Internet has allowed me to do this even while living in China.

More importantly, if you close all of your credit card accounts, it will wreck your credit score. Mr. Ramsey seems to think that you don't need a good credit score if you aren't looking to borrow, but the truth is that everyone from insurers to employers judge you by your credit score nowadays. It may not be fair, but it's the way it is.

I am not saying that credit cards are for everyone. If you don't enjoy item-by-item tracking, and prefer the jar method, cash is probably an easier and more efficient day-to-day option for you. Some people truly cannot restrain their spending with a credit card in their name; I agree that they should forgo the use of them. A universal ban, however, seems unreasonable to me.

Canceling all your credit cards is a lot like joining AA - you are making a radical behavior change that will put you outside the norm for our society, with all the consequences that that entails to your credit score. If you are an alcoholic, you may need AA. If you quit drinking as part of a plan to lose a little weight, AA is overkill. Mr. Ramsey is treating all his readers as though they have a credit card addiction; I don't think that we all do.

All addictions entail denial; do you think I am making a good point, or trying to use a good cover story?

Friday, June 12, 2009


Thanks to Won't Go Down Without a Fight, I too have been promised free chocolate (check my mailbox in 4-6 weeks).

I don't actually eat Mars-brand chocolate, as I avoid high fructose corn syrup. However, I regularly send care packages to soldiers in Iraq through Any Soldier, Inc., and Mars products are one of the things soldiers request.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June Baby Goats

We had some new baby goats born in the last couple of days. They are adorable, especially before they have quite figured out the walking thing. Here one of Cinnamon's new babies has just tripped over her sibling. She's probably about two hours old at this point.

It doesn't take long, though, before they have the fundamentals figured out. This is about 10 miniutes after the first picture.

Cinnamon started to get a little aggravated that I was hanging around her babies so much, so I went off to check on our other new baby.

This is Chica and her new baby, who was born the day before Cinnamon's babies.

Hard to believe that they will look like this soon!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Is our students learning?

I went to, an organization that connects donors to classrooms in need. This was the front page request.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why the First Year of Marriage is the Hardest

Disclaimer: I've only been married 5 years, so if you think it's really the 10th or the 25th, I can't contradict you:) But it was definitely the hardest year so far for us, in part because of external factors, but in part because of this stuff that I believe is universal to every marriage.

(1) The person you wake up next to every morning is the only person you will be having sex with for the rest of your life.* Intellectually, you are prepared for this. Unless your religious beliefs prohibit it (and sometimes if they do), you have probably already taken this person for a test drive and are pretty sure that you can live with what you got as your only nookie for a lifetime. Emotionally, though, you may not be. Most of us get some emotional validation out of new sexual partners or potential sexual partners, and you have now signed up to forgo this validation forever. Chances are you thought you were past this ... until temptation strikes and you realize you aren't. Or perhaps it happens to your partner. Either way, minefields all over.

*This is not true for open/polyamourous/multiple marriages. But I don't have one of those and the chances that you do are vanishing slim. If you have one, and its lasted past the first year, I'd love to hear your version of this issue.

(2) All your problems are now your spouse's, and vice versa. That cute little habit he has of going out with the boys every Thursday night? It's now coming out of your budget. Same for her need for a new designer purse every month. Bigger problems, like mental disorders or addictions, can no longer be glossed over. Your spouse may have promised you, with the best intentions in the world, that s/he will quit. This year is where you find out if s/he can do it or not, and whether or not you can live with the answer.

(3) Your baggage from your parents' marriage is different from your spouse's baggage from their parents' marriage. And yes, you both have baggage, all of which will be landing on the other at the same time, as you try to understand why they are not behaving like "normal married people" (i.e. your parents). Some people's parents' marriage(s) is/were so dysfunctional that they have baggage about their baggage. But I am not really talking to them - they generally already know there is a problem in this area. I am taking about really little things - like being annoyed that your spouse does not fix the leaking toilet (even though they have previously displayed no aptitude in this area), which you are subconsciously expecting them to fix, because that was the job of your parent of that gender. Sounds silly - but it happens. I thought that it didn't matter to me whether my husband was employed ... until he was suddenly unemployed, and I discovered a whole pile of buried stuff about who was supposed to be the breadwinner in the family, even though I had a well-paying job with excellent benefits at the time.

These are all I can think of for now, but I am sure there are more - What were your big challenges in your first year of marriage?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Destination Weddings

Dog Ate My Finances has a post up about how she has been invited to her second destination wedding this year, and what a hassle it is. She feels that it is unreasonable for the bride and groom to require her to pay vacation prices to attend their wedding.

These people are taking the ultimate destination wedding - they are going to be married in free-fall. Per the article, they and a "handful" of their friends will be married by Richard Garriott (side note: Would YOU want to be married by Lord British?) on a Zero Gravity Corporation flight. Cost: $5200 per person, which they are paying for themselves and their guests. "I think we will spend some of our married life simply paying off the expense, but I think that weightlessness is probably the best metaphor for love that one can experience,"the groom-to-be says.

Like Dog, I am not a big fan of destination weddings, but my take is slightly different. To me, destination weddings are the ultimate expression of the Bridezilla/Cinderella complex our culture has instilled in women. Prospective brides seem to believe that this must be the most wonderful, special day of their life. Everything must therefore be done in the most expensive manner possible, even if that mean sending yourselves or your parents hock deep into debt. Should anything fail to go as planned, then their special day, what is supposed to be the most wonderful day of their life, is ruined. As a consequence of the Bride's expectation about the importance of themselves and their day, all guests are required to make sure that everything is perfect for the bride and groom, at whatever cost or inconvenience this may entail.

This is a remnant of the time when a woman's entire function in life was to marry and have babies to carry on her husband's line. I would hope that we are a little beyond that now. I had a good time at my wedding, but I don't think that it was the epitome of my life experience; I am more than who I married.

The response I hear most often to this is something along the lines of "it's my day, and if you don't want to participate, don't come." This is true as far as it goes. But my distaste for destination weddings has very little to do with the inconvenience of the guests.

I don't go to any weddings that I do not want to attend. I agree that for business/social reasons people are sometimes obligated to go to weddings, but they have made the decision to be in the business/society where such things are obligatory. If a wedding is obligatory for those reasons, count it a work or social expense and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. If wedding attendance is not obligatory, then guests are going because they want to and therefore have no cause to whine.

My concern is actually for the couple. I have three major concerns (1) that the wedding not eclipse what you are actually celebrating; (2) that the wedding not send someone into bankruptcy; and (3) that the wedding not distract you from the fact that you are getting married.

A wedding is about more than being more posh/weird/whatever than your sister-in-law's/Princess Diana's/whoever. If you are religious, this is pretty much self-evident. If you are not, you are still gathering in front of those whose opinion you care about and announcing a solemn obligation. After the ceremony, a couple is just as married, wherever they were married and whatever they did afterward. But marrying before your friends and family is part of the joy of the occasion, and a destination wedding artificially parses your guest list. Five years on, what enjoy most about my wedding is remembering all my good friends who came.

A wedding is not worth going to bankruptcy court over. I do not understand how sensible people, people who would never consider having any other sort of huge party and charging it to their parents, feel that their parents are obliged to sacrifice so that they can have the perfect wedding. I know someone who denuded her retirement savings so that her child could have a "dream" wedding. I don't understand how anyone could let their mother put her retirement in to jeopardy for a party. I find it a lesser offense, but still quite silly, to borrow money yourself for a wedding. Take the example of the weightlessness couple above - do you think it would be any less meaningful if they saved until they could afford it? Or how about just having the wedding for the two of them and then a party after? Marriage is a difficult enough endeavor without going into it with a huge pile of debt for a huge party tacked on. Destination weddings are often sold as less expensive, but they can still be quite pricey, especially after all the little extras they try to sell you to make your day perfectly special.

A wedding means that you are married. Too often, I have seen the preparations for her "special day" overwhelm the bride's realization that she is actually going to have to be married to the flesh and blood groom. Once she has received the proposal, her entire mind is fixed on the wedding, with no thought to the day after. Sometimes this leads to quick divorce; some of my friends have held on with stubborn determination for years, making both themselves and their husbands unhappy. The common factor is that they got married, even though they were not happy in the relationship they were in before they were married. It was as though they believed an extravagant wedding would fix all the problems in their relationship. Destination weddings are sold as the opportunity to go to a fabulous location and have everything arraigned for you; the ultimate wedding fantasy.

Having a destination wedding does not make someone a bad person or mean that their marriage will not succeed. I don't understand, though, why anyone decides to artificially parse their guest list to pay extra money for someone else's conception of a what a wedding should be.