Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I'm happy because I paid off one of my two family debts today!  It was the one that I had earlier planned to pay off in June 2011, but I decided to cash out my Roth 2011 fund (I am fully funded for 2010) to pay it off now, then use what I was paying toward the debt to refill the Roth kitty.  I'm comfortable with this - I have 15.5 months to come up with 10K in Roth money, and there's an incredible sense of relief in just getting this debt paid off as it's been hanging over my head since 2003.

Now I have one family debt and one school debt remaining.  Combined, they come to about 2/3 of our take-home income.

If our income stays reasonably steady, and we keep on track, we can pay it off in three years.  However, I have no reason to anticipate a steady stream of income; that's not how it works in the computer industry.  We've had steady income for a bit less than three years at this point, which is not quite a record, but getting close.  I figure things will change sometime in the next year, so I'm about to start socking away all extra money in savings in preparation for whatever comes next.

2010 wasn't the most efficient year ever for me due to heath issues.  I'm hoping this year will hold more accomplishments and fewer doctor visits.

Heading into the new month and the new year, I still have $7 in my toy budget.  I can't think of a better way to ring in the new year than ordering Silent Blade and snuggling down in bed with my iPhone.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Closets ... still ...

I'm still working on step 7, cleaning out my closets and liquidating.  But I'm having some real issues letting any of my clothing go.

I can't find anything in this!
 Does anyone else have this problem?  My closet full of stuff that I never wear, but can't bear to get rid of because I am sentimentally attached to it.  Several years ago, in an effort to break myself of this habit, I gave away (1) the outfit I wore to my wedding reception (4 sizes too big), (2) the outfit I wore to senior prom (I was a 34 B then, I'm a 36D now), and (3) every other thing in my closet that I had not worn for at least a year.  I vowed that never again would I get so attached to my clothing that I kept it beyond all reason and usefulness.

Today, the front third of my closet is full of clothing that I wear all the time and enjoy.  The back two thirds, and my off-season storage closet, are so crammed full of stuff that I have no opportunity to even try to wear any of it.  There are two categories of clothing (1) things that I happily remember the occasion that I purchased/received them every time I look at them, and (2) things that I purchased and have barely ever worn (sometimes never) but which are nonetheless quite cute and still fit, and which I am convinced that I will wear someday, as soon as I have something that coordinates with it.  Anything that is the wrong size or was worn out got purged in my last closet clean. 

So now I am stymied.  In general, I am ready to get rid of things.  I must pare my closet down, so that I can actually get to wearing some of this stuff.  But, in the specific,  I can't seem to let any individual item go.

Does anyone else have this problem?  How do you decide what to let go and/or make yourself do it?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

There isn't anything to say ...

A good friend's son shot himself last week and died on Christmas Eve. His family opted to donate his organs, showing incredible fortitude and class in the midst of tragedy.  Please offer a prayer for his family, especially for his four remaining brothers and sisters, of whom he was the oldest.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Homemade Christmas Presents - Fingerless Gloves

This year, I got my homemade Christmas presents done on time.  I think it's a record.

I made the gloves, using this pattern, for my sister-in-law.

I found the pattern to be a bit large around the fingers, so I decreased from the thumb from rounds 22-25, one sc on each side.  I used 100% cotton yarn.

I wanted something a bit more feminine for my aunt, so I replaced the sc with lacy shells, and sized the pattern a bit smaller (she and I both have skinny hands).  I used a bamboo/acrylic yarn for these, so they are fuzzy like wool, but super-soft.  I'm pretty proud of the results.

I already had the yarn for my sister-in-law's present (it matches a scarf that I did for her last year).  I had to re-buy the crochet hook, because I always lose them in between projects, and I bought one skein of yarn for my aunt's gloves, for a total cost of $8.  It would have been about twice that if I'd had to buy the cotton yarn, but I still think I'd have come out ahead versus buying equivalently nice gloves at the store, plus there's the "I thought of you" bonus from homemade presents.   I'm definitely doing these again next year!

Hope you and yours are having a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Closet Mess > Willpower

I have been trying to work on step 7 of out with the old, in with the new, clean out your closets and liquidate.   But between having out-of-town guests and the lure of holiday parties, I haven't made much progress.  Tomorrow I need to mail our Christmas cards; I have zero done so far, and last year I sent eighty-three.  This year I'm going to have to pare the list down a bit I think, but if I can get them to the post office by 4pm tomorrow, most of them will arrive before Christmas.  I also need to finish two homemade Christmas presents before Saturday.  So, basically, I don't have much time for anything else, so my goal is to finish step 7 this week and worry about step 8, rethink your retirement plan, next week after Christmas. Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

More About Balance Transfers

Balance Transfers are a good way to reduce debt faster
As I said yesterday, a large part of my success in paying down my debt was using balance transfer offers.  I can't stress enough how much faster you pay off your debt when you transfer a high interest balance to a low interest one, as long as the transfer fees don't eat up your savings.

Moving from a higher fixed interest rate to a lower fixed interest rate is generally a good deal
For example, if you have $15000 on a 22% card and the transfer fee is 5% to change the rate to 10%, at $300 a month paid toward that card it would take you 136 months to pay it off at 22% and 70 months at 10%, including the $750 you will pay in transfer fees.  

Teaser rates can also help pay down your debt faster
I realize that most offers nowadays aren't a fixed rate forever, they're usually a teaser rate, then a higher rate later.  For instance, today Discover is offering 0% for 18 months, with a 4% transfer fee, then a rate that ranges from 12% to 23%, variable.  If you can pay off your balances in 18 months, then it's a savings on any rate 6% or higher.*

If you can't pay off your balance, then it's a bigger savings at rates of 6% or greater until the rate resets.  Therefore it is a good deal if (a) you can pay it off rapidly after the 18 months or (b) you can transfer the balance again before the higher rate kicks in.  You can calculate (a) by taking the current balance of the loan, subtracting out the payments you will make over the next 18 months, then running that number through a balance calculator that shows you total interest paid, using the number of months after the 18 month period is up that it will take you to pay off the loan as the number in the debt free deadline.  (b) is pretty much a matter of looking at your credit score and guessing.

If you can pay off your balance in less than 18 months, it may or may not be a savings.  You can calculate whether it is a savings by running it through a credit card calculator like this one, using your current interest rate and the time it will take you to pay off the loan.  Then compare the total interest paid to the cost of the balance transfer fee.

It's no fun, but it helps in the long run
As I said, I did this pretty much constantly for the first two years that I was paying down debt, until I got a 3% for the life of the loan offer from Amex and could transfer all of my credit card debt there.  It got really tiring; I can't tell you how happy I was to pay off my last revolving debt on that Amex .  But it saved me a ton of money over trying to pay down the cards at the original rate.

* Because the balance transfer fee comes out of the original total, and credit card rates are compounded daily or monthly based on the debt at the time of calculation, you don't pay more in interest until you reach a 6% interest rate.  (It's actually a number greater than 5.5 and less than 6, so I rounded up).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Debt Organization

The Next Steps to "Out with the Old, in With the New" are to clean up your debts and to create a debt repayment plan.  I've been working at this debt repayment thing since 2005, so my debts are pretty consolidated at this point.  I've got three left - 2 interest-free loans from family members, and my student loan consolidation at 1.65%.  So there's not much cleaning left to be done.

As far as repayment goes, I've decided to throw everything at the family loans first, because it bothers me way more to owe money to my family than it does to owe money to a big bank.  Basically, I'm putting aside enough each month to pay family debt #1 in full in June 2011.  Then I will start paying down family debt #2, but I don't anticipate being able to pay it off until July 2012.

In August 2012,  I will start on my student loan, although my plan for it is a bit different.  Since the interest is only 1.65%, I anticipate being able to make more than that, risk free, on a savings account when I can start throwing money at it.  So I plan to save extra money until I have enough in a savings account to pay it off in full, then make that my account for automatic withdrawals and leave it be for the next twenty years or so.

But the reason that my debt is so manageable now is that 5 years ago I did everything on the Simple Dollar clean up list, multiple times.  I played the card transfer game all the time.  Basically, I would find a card that would give me 6 months or more interest free, transfer my debt there, and then pay it  down as much as I could before it was time to transfer it to the next 0% offer.  Eventually, I got a 3% for the life of the loan offer from Amex, transferred all my balances there, and then didn't use the Amex card for years until I had the loan paid back (this was back in the bad old days when credit card companies were allowed to pay off your lower interest rate loans first).  I was always careful not to pay more in fees than I was saving in interest when I did balance transfers.  And it worked: I paid those loans back far faster than if I'd continued to pay off my original balances at the original rates.  So, if you have credit card or other high rate debt, I encourage you to spend some time on bankrate or a similar site and see if you can do any better than you are now.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Bigest Mistake, and How to Fix It

I thought I would plow through the Simple Dollar's "Out with the Old, in with the New" in order, and #2 is "create a five year sketch."   But it tied in too well with #3 and #4 "figure out your biggest mistake" and "plan how to erase that mistake" to block them out separately.  Because my biggest mistake was giving up my last set of life plans without figuring out where I wanted to go next.

In 2003, I was a shiny new law school graduate, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do: become an associate at a premier law firm in Texas.  That was in the middle of the last recession/depression/economic slowdown, and the market for newly minted lawyers was crap.  Since I couldn't get the associate job right out of law school, I did the next best thing and got a federal clerkship.  I really lucked out and got one in Texas.  It was a two year term, and I figured that would be enough time for the market to pick up and allow me to get the associate job that I wanted.  I wasn't exactly where I wanted to be, but I was on the path.

Clerking was pure misery.  I had waited tables in undergrad, and I thought I hated that.  Clerking was worse.  It was dull, it was monotonous, it required me to keep a set schedule in which I woke up at 7 am every day and  spent eight hours a day catering to the whims of another person.  It was Hell on Earth.  It was pretty much a starting associate position, except the hours were shorter and the pay was worse.  Also, I really liked the judge that I worked for, both as a lawyer and as a human being, and my summer clerkships had already taught me that I could not assume that it would be the same for the partners I might work for.  Life was too short to spend like this, even for the money premier law firm associates made.

So I decided to go to Beijing.  This isn't as weird as it sounds, I had studied Chinese in undergrad and before law school; I wasn't fluent, but I was conversational.  I had always thought I might like to work there.  Unfortunately, Mr. Goat hates China, so he wanted me to be 100% sure that moving to China was what I needed to do before he moved out there with me.  I had a good time, but I decided that it wasn't really for me.  I have a delicate constitution, and I just couldn't hack the pollution; I was sick pretty much continuously.  So in May 2006 I came back to Texas with no real plan for what to do next, and I pretty much did nothing for the next two years.

In March 2008, Mr. Goat got a 100% telecommute job and we moved back to my family's ranch.  I tried ranching full time for a while, and I enjoyed it, but my constitution again got in the way.  In May 2009, I started having some pain in my right hip.  By October 2009, I was pretty much disabled by hip pain and headaches, and it's only been in the last couple of months that I have really started to recover. 

So now we have a full-time manager on the ranch and I am no longer in the work rotation there.  I could work back in, but I am not sure that that is where I would like to be.  I've also got an offer from a friend who works as a broker to mentor me there.  I don't know much about the day to day operations of the job, but she seems to believe that a love for the stock market and complex formulas (which I have) would translate into enjoying what she does.  Also, if I'm going to have children, now is pretty much the time to start.  Or I could give writing for profit a shot, which I have said I was going to do for the last 5 years and have never done (this may be a sign that it ain't gonna happen).

I have a ton of great options to choose from, so what I need to do is decide a direction and start heading toward it.  I just can't seem to make myself decide - some days one thing seems better, some days it's another.  I'm paralyzed by the idea of shutting down so many choices to pursue a path, but what I have now are so many choices that nothing is getting done at all.  I'm beginning to think I should just flip a coin.  But I've decided in the spirit of Out with the Old, in with the New,  that, by the end of January, I'm going to have a five year sketch. 

I'm setting it at the end of January because this is an exercise that will take a lot of thought, time, and prayer for me, and I know that I won't have the mental energy for that for the next two weeks.  But if I don't put a time frame on it, then it's just too easy to push it further and further out on the to do list, and continue to compound the mistake.  Now I have written it out in black and white, with a date, so I have to be accountable to myself for it.

Did anyone else have blocks like mine or problems imagining where they would be in five years?  How did you move past it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I've gained weight since last Christmas ... but today I don't care

I had a Christmas party today.  I confidently took out my party dress from last year ... and it didn't fit.  Well, it sort of fit.  I could SQUEEZE into it, and I only looked a bit like a sausage around the chest and hip area.  And it only dug into my arms a bit.  Trying to prolong the denial, I almost talked myself into wearing it, but then I had a rush of sense to the head and went and found a slightly less dressy dress for the party.

So,  anyway, I was kind of moping on the way there.  I knew I hadn't maintained my weight as well as I had wanted, and now I couldn't wear this dress (which I love) to this party or my cousin's wedding this weekend.  I was feeling kind of sorry for myself.

Then God definitely smacked me upside the head and told me to get over myself.  No sooner did I walk into the party than I found out that one of my friend's daughters had been arrested for child abuse, and it was the talk of the party because it had been the lead-in story on the local news the night before.  (I had not seen it since I don't have a television.)  Also, it was on the second page of the local newspaper.  So I called the friend and, sure enough, her daughter is using again, and the child abuse allegations stem from poor decisions she made while under the influence.

Let's compare problems here - a 7 lb weight gain vs. a daughter who (1) is charged with things that could put her away for 40 years and (2) is back on drugs, not to mention having everyone she knows hear about it on the evening news.  Suddenly my problems (the need to eat less candy, the need to find or buy a new dress before Saturday with no money left in my discretionary budget) just didn't seem so bad.  And then my mom took me shopping and bought me a really cute new dress for my birthday.  I sure am blessed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Net Worth Calculation

Per day one of The Simple Dollar's out with the old, in with the new, I calculated my net worth today.  I'm afraid that I'm a bit like Babci when it comes to hard numbers, so I'm not going with exact figures - but although my net worth remains negative, it is about 3% of the negative number I got when I first sat down in 2005 and figured out just how much trouble we were in (answer: a lot).  Basically, since then, we have improved our net worth by paying down debt and saving for retirement.

Paying down debt
This is pretty obvious.  As the debt goes down, the negative side of the net worth calculation goes down, making the positive side count more.  

Additionally, that nasty interest that makes the negative number go up every month, even when you are not adding debt, becomes a smaller and smaller factor.  When we started this journey, we had debt on which we were paying 22% variable .  Now our highest interest rate is a fixed 1.65%.  We got there through a combination of paying down high interest debt and transferring it to places with lower interest. 

Saving for retirement
We are a long, long way from retirement, so the smart place for our money to be is in equities.   Because we didn't panic, and kept our money in (and kept putting money in) through the 2009 crash, our retirement accounts have actually grown past the value of the money we originally invested in them by about 6%, even though we had 2/3 of our money invested before March 2009.  Naturally this number fluctuates every day, but I am comfortable that it will continue to reflect a broad upward trend over the years.

Because most of our net worth is in retirement savings, we also have a big pile of debt remaining.  But I am comfortable with my decision  to put money into retirement accounts rather than debt repayment for two reasons.  First, because the interest rate on our debt is low, so the cost of paying it off over time is low.  Second, because Roth IRAs (where all of our retirement money is located) are a very good deal if you believe that income tax rates will be higher for your tax bracket in 35 years, and putting money into Roths is a use-it-or-lose-it deal every year.   So I am paying the taxes and interest now for the comfort of knowing that, in retirement, my income tax rate on this money will be 0.

Anyway, it has been a while (at least 6 months) since I calculated our net worth, and I was pleasantly surprised by the result.  If we are able to keep up our debt repayment at our current level, we will have a net worth of $0 in 3 months!  This will a huge milestone for us; we have had a negative net worth since day one, as I brought a ton of student loan debt into the marriage. 

Have you calculated your net worth recently?  Was it a surprise or not?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reflecting on 2010

The year's not quite over, but this year I hope to have my goals and financial plans together by the 1st, so I'm starting with a recap of how well I did this year.  When I made these goals, I was thinking that the surgeries I had just finished and the physical therapy I had just started was going to give me a relatively pain-free year. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, but as of October, I think I'm finally getting my medicines in balance and my pain under control without opiates.   

1) Religious / Spiritual:
     A)Never miss church unless sick or out of town.  Win. I've gotten into a good routine vis-a-vis church, so I consistently make it when I am in town.
     B) Participate in a mission or outreach with my churchFail. This never really got off the ground.
      C) Read The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.  Fail (s0 far).  I'm through to Kings.
     D)Write every day in a prayer and gratitude journal. Fail.
     E) Continue to Tithe. Win.  
2) Health
     A) Maintain my weight between 145 and 155 pounds.  Fail (but not too badly).  Today my scale says I weigh 161 lbs, but my weight does fluctuate; last week it was 158.  Not where I want to be, but nowhere close to regaining the 30 lbs.
     B) Swim or do Physical Therapy 4 times a weekFail to Win.  Didn't happen for me until July, and I was sick during one month, but I have made it to the gym at least 17 times a month for all of the last 5 months.  I see a big difference in my cardiovascular fitness.
     C) Do Physical Therapy Exercises Every Day. Fail. The exercises didn't end up helping, and I dropped them.
     D) Practice Aikido Every Day.  Fail.  I barely did any aikido this year.

3) Financial 
     A) Pay off loan from relatives in the amount of $1000Win. One more debt paid off!
     B) Pay off loan from relative in the amount of $30,000  Fail.  My health did not allow me to find any extra money to pay this off.  I did keep working on it, though, and I should be able to pay it off in July 2011 if everything goes smoothly. (Update 1/1/2011 WIN - got the money together to pay this off in December 2010)
     C) Fully Fund 2009 and 2010 Roth IRAs Win.  And this year the stock market actually went up, so there was some advantage to getting it together early.

4)  Dreams
     1) Write something besides this blogFail.  I didn't even do a good job writing  on this blog this year.
     2) Learn how to Accompany on the PianoFail.  This fell by the wayside about March.
     3) Get officially affiliated with a dojo.  Fail/Win.  I didn't manage to figure out aikido, but I did find a nice Judo dojo, so I'm back to my Judo practice 2x a week.
     4) Keep up with my ChineseFail.  This fell by the wayside about March.

5) Prosaic
     1) Practice with my carry firearms at least once a month.  Fail.
     2) Keep my house in a reasonable state of neatness.  Fail (but not too badly)  My house never really got neat, but it is not any messier than it was a year ago.

There's a lot of fail there, but a bit of win too.  OK, so the lessons I learned from this to use next year are:

(1) Prioritize goals.  I made myself a wish list and called it "goals," but basically it required too radical a lifestyle adjustment in all areas of my life.  I need to decide what is really important to me and set a few clear goals at a time to really get this to work.

(2) Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good.  On the other hand, I've got several goals that, while I did not succeed, I made some progress.   For instance, I won't be paying off the 30K loan this year, but I did keep throwing money at it, and, barring unforeseen problems, we will pay it off in July.

(3) Sometimes life kicks you in the nadgers.  Some stuff on this list did not get done and should have.  But a lot of stuff just fell by the wayside while I tried to regain a modicum of reasonable health.  Although I should have re-prioritized sometime around March (when I knew that there wouldn't be a quick fix), I kept thinking it would turn out OK and that I'd have time to catch up.

The Simple Dollar is doing a "a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011."  I'm thinking about using it as my template for resolutions next year.  How are you going to set goals for next year?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why the Next Congress won't Fix the Deficit

The WSJ has an article about what percentages of your taxes the federal government spends on what programs.  There's an attached table showing two hypothetical families.  This table shows that the first 44% of our tax dollar goes to (in descending order) Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Interest on the National Debt.  The next 18% pays for the military (they broke it down into the categories of non-Iraq/Afghanistan operations, Iraq/Afghanistan operations, personnel, weapons, and research).  That's 62% of tax revenue right there; in order to cut the deficit we'll either need to make deep cuts in everything else or cut some of this stuff out.

There are a few things on the list that I think should have been gone a long time ago.  For instance, Headstart (which sounds nice in theory but, in practice, does not change educational outcomes) takes up .2% of our tax dollars.  Agriculture subsidies take up .3%, and, as a sustainable farmer, I'm telling you that the number one thing we could do to improve farming practices in this country is to cut this subsidy.   But there's a lot of stuff on the list I don't want to give up, like federal highways (which make up 1% of our tax dollars).  So we can't just cut "everything else" and call it good.

So basically, to live within our means, we need to cut either social programs, military programs, or both. Given the powerful interests behind both that are entrenched in Washington, how likely do you think substantive cuts in these areas are right now?  Basically, we're going to be wallowing in debt until the pain of the debt is greater than the pain of cutting these programs.  Here's hoping we're Greece and not Zimbabwe!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day - Water Edition

According to Debt Ninja, today is Blog Action Day, and this year the theme is water.  Debt Ninja has a nice post up about clean drinking water, and the opportunity to donate to charity: water and make his friends' 27th birthday extra awsomesauce at the same time.  I'll admit it - I was touched.  I'm also cheap; that measly anonymous donation is totally me.  But if everyone who likes Ninja chips in a measly few bucks each, his friends will reach their goal in no time flat.

In my neck of the woods, the biggest issue with water is the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.  Basically, the Mississippi River takes all the fertilizer runoff from the middle of the United States (with a side of animal waste from large processing plants and human sewage) and spews it into the Gulf of Mexico.  This nutrient-dense stuff causes lots of algae to grow.  Algae sucks all the oxygen out of the water.  Marine life in the area either dies or migrates. Currently, the dead zone is the size of New Jersey and growing.  (For a more complex explanation, see this website or just Google Gulf of Mexico dead zone)  For extra special fun, it looks like higher water levels on the Mississippi and possibly the BP oil spill are creating mini dead zones closer to the Louisiana coastline.This is terrible for the enviroment and terrible for all the people who rely on the marine life in the gulf for their livelihood and their tradtional way of life. 

There's no easy solution here.  We'll have to fundamentally change the methodology of food production in this country to make a significant impact.  But the dead zone, along with other feedlot-associated problems like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, makes me think that Mother Nature may not give us any choice.  If you're interested, a good place to start educating yourself about the industrial food production system, its consequences, and alternatives is by watching either Food, Inc.or a local screening of FRESH.  If you're more of a book person, I recommend Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front.

Jinx is so fail ... I am sadpanda

The T-shirts were crap.  The woman's T-shirt was so thin that you could literally see through it and the guy T-shirt was sized tall and narrow; it barely fit over my hips, and hung to mid-thigh.  So I'm out $10 (shipping and handling, return shipping), assuming Jinx actually processes my return.  Lesson learned - never shopping there again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The evil power of sales ...

Jinx put all of their T-shirts on sale this week, so not only did I get the 8 bit baby, I also got this one:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jinx is really tempting me ...

with the new Guild shirt, on sale for $13 (plus $6 s/h is really $19).  Do I need it? No.  Have I got a use for it?  Not really.  Do I want it?  Yes, Yes, Yes!  Think I'll wait until tomorrow and see if common sense kicks in.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thinking about setting up a Smarty Pig account?

SP is having a contest in which, if you set up a goal under their "race out of debt" category, you are entered to win a bit less than 5K.  If you needed any extra incentive to save, this might help.

Sp is currently paying 1.75% on accounts less than $50K, which isn't great, but is better than anywhere else I have found.

If you know of a savings account with a better rate, please let me know in the comments, so that I can switch over :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Best Month for Deals?

Yahoo claims that these are the best months to buy each of these items.I'm not too sure about some of this stuff - for instance, I find that swimsuits were cheaper in January of last year than they are now.  Of course, there's not nearly as much selection in January as there is now, either.  On the other hand, it does give a nice jumping off point for thinking about when to buy big ticket items like furniture and cars.

Monday, July 19, 2010

1st episode of the Guild

Basically just sets up the season, hopefully there will be more going on in ep 2.  But I'm excited that it has begun!

<a href=";from=sp&amp;fg=shareObject&amp;vid=9c194351-975c-4b54-9462-e85b3e87af8e" target="_new" title="Season 4 - &nbsp;Episode 1 - Epic Guilt">Video: Season 4 - &nbsp;Episode 1 - Epic Guilt</a>

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One more week 'til Season 4 of the Guild!

<a href=";from=sp&amp;vid=ed36f5e6-10be-4663-8eda-82f9610b7a41" target="_new" title="'The Guild' Season 3 Recap: Auto-Tuned">Video: 'The Guild' Season 3 Recap: Auto-Tuned</a>

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Thinking of Opening a Scottrade Account?

I use Scottrade for my self-managed Roth and a general savings fund stock account, and they provide pretty good service.  I just got an email from them offering 10 free trades to me and to you if I refer you and you set up an account.  If you are interested in a referral, just let me know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Touchdown Jesus is Fail

Is there any part of this story that isn't humerous?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Low-Fat Bread Machine Bread

I got a bread machine for Christmas ... and I am beginning to think that it is not a coincidence that I've been having weight management problems since then.  I've been counting each 1 oz slice of the recipe I was using as one point, according to the generic Weight watchers standard.  I worked out the actual points the other day - it was 5 points a slice!  Figure 2-3 slices a day, and I've been eating a "stealth" 8-12 points a day.

Looked around on the internet, and the only book I could find was The Best Low-Fat, No-Sugar Bread Machine Cookbook Ever.  I ordered it from the library, and quite franky the recipies all looked gross.  Instead of honey or sugar, most of her recipies use ... prunes.  I like prunes, but I don't like sweet bread at all.  Still, as I had no other options that I could see, I chose a beer bread with 83 calories an oz as the least disgusting looking and gave it a try.

It was delicious.  Despite being sweetened with prunes, it tasted earthy and wheaty, not sweet, with a lovely chewy texture.  Since I was already two days late on returning the book to the library, I haven't had a chance to try any of the other recipes, but I have ordered it online and can't wait to see how her other disgusting-looking creations taste.  I am really exited about this - I didn't want to go back to preservative-full, flavorless store bread, but I just couldn't see how I could stay at a reasonable weight when every ounce of bread I ate had more than 200 calories in it.  I love the internet!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cheating on Eating Sustainably

I love the convenience of steaming vegetables in a bag that I plucked right out of the freezer.  But I feel guilty every time I do it.  I know there's nothing good about encasing your vegetables in plastic and running microwave power over them.  I know that it's 100 times better for me to get stuff from the farmer's market and quick-steam it over the stove.  Not to mention half the price.  But I confess that I steam veggies-in-a-bag probably twice a week.

I am also addicted to Weight Watcher's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.  In addition to being the most expensive ice cream in my grocery store on a per ounce basis, it's a pile of completely non-nutritive crap.  But such tasty non-nutritive crap that I eat it almost every day.  Sometimes twice a day.

I'm so committed to the local and sustainable food movement that I live and work on a farm.  But even I am seduced by the convenience and packaging of industrial food.  I tip my hat to people in big cities who are fellow travelers in the cause - the huge time commitment required makes them as much heroes of the local food movement as the farmers from whom they buy their produce.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer Garden

Here's today's harvest from the summer garden*:

Add some tomatoes I bought from a roadside stand yesterday and

*This is actually from my parents' garden.  But I think it should count as mine too since I turned over the bed and planted the plants :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

April Anysoldier

I've slacked on Anysoldier for the last couple of months, but I did finally get a package out a couple of weeks ago.  Basically I just stuck everything in there that I'd purchased for the last 3 months, plus some magazines and playing cards that a friend had given me to send out there.  It was a pretty random assortment of valentine and Easter candy and personal hygiene items.

Today I saw that the guy I sent them to, SPC Farley R. Batista, has given me a ty note on the website.  You can see it by going to the "where to send" section of the website and clicking on his name. 

I don't send stuff for the thank you notes, but it's always nice to know it has arrived.  And they do give me the warm fuzzies.  What a great way to start the morning!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Stamp Out Hunger

As a reminder, if you live in the United States, Saturday May 8th, the USPS collects non-perishable food items from mailboxes to deliver to area food banks.  I generally use this as on opportunity to purge canned foods that I bought but am never going to use (i.e., if I bought it last year or it is set to expire in the next six months, it goes).   It's kind of embarrassing how much stuff that turns out to be.  I bought the tuna fish (on sale for 59 cents each) and one of the 28 oz bags of rice ($1.29), but everything else comes from my pantry.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Starting Tomorrow, I Suppose?

On sale at an anti-war rally in Los Angeles, CA, per Zombie.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Small Deception

Until now, I have managed to crochet an afghan for every one of my sorority sisters' babies. But I just didn't have time since I got the notice for the current baby shower 2 weeks ago (baby not due until July, so I thought the shower would be next month at the earliest). So I'm buying one that's been hand crocheted by someone else. If anyone asks me, I won't lie and say that I made it, but I won't specifically state that it wasn't made by me unless asked. Am I a bad person?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

January Goal Updates

At the beginning of this year, I set myself some ambitious goals, and, since the year is ¼ (almost 1/3) over, I need to take a look at how I am holding up, and what I plan to do about it.
1) Religious / Spiritual:  A) Never miss church unless sick or out of town. I haven’t missed once for Sunday morning sloth.  Go me!
 B) Participate in a mission or outreach with my church I’ve thought of some ideas, now I just need to get some momentum going.
C) Read The Bible  I started off fine, but then tapered off.  I still have plenty of time, I just need to get back on the wagon
D) Write every day in a prayer and gratitude journal. This happens some days.  I need to make it happen every day
 E) Continue to Tithe Pretty much done.  I’ve put it in the budget and my church gets a cheque from the bank automatically every month. 2) Health A) Maintain my weight between 145 and 155 pounds   I weighted in at 155.8 last week.  I need to get back to exercise, as I can’t seem to stick to my assigned points without some extra from exercise. B) Swim or do Physical Therapy 4 times a week.  I am so fail on this.  After I ended physical therapy in January, I’ve done basically nothing.  I have not even joined a gym.  I go out of town this weekend, but I am going to join first thing on Monday morning.
C) Do Physical Therapy Exercises Every Day.  N/A I am out of physical therapy.
D) Practice Aikido Every Day.  I’m not doing this.  I don’t understand why – I really want to get better, but I can’t seem to make myself practice.  I guess I’m just a “casual” who can’t bring herself to practice solo.  This is a problem for me now that I don’t have a group to practice with.  I don’t have a quick answer for how to turn this around. 
3) Financial A) Pay off loan from relatives in the amount of $1000  Done!    
B) Pay off loan from relative in the amount of $30,000  Just not gonna happen this tear.  I’m saving as much as I can toward it, and I’ll look at it again next year.
C) Fully Fund 2009 and 2010 Roth IRAs.  Done! 4)  Dreams 1) Write something besides this blog.  This and aikido practice are my two biggest wants that I never make time for.  I need to figure out how to make this happen for myself or just let it go and realize that I’m not going to write.
2) Learn how to Accompany on the Piano I did well for the first month, but fell off the wagon.  Time to get back on.
3) Get officially affiliated with a dojo I haven’t looked into this at all.  I need to consider it as part of my overall aikido planning.
4) Keep up with my Chinese I haven’t been doing any character writing, but I have been practicing with a friend every couple of weeks, which is much better than what I did mefore. 5) Prosaic
1) Practice with my carry firearms at least once a month Massive fail.  This just needs to get on my calendar.
2) Keep my house in a reasonable state of neatness This is not even close to the most wretched my house has ever been, but it’s not where I’d like to be, either.  I started Flylady, but then stopped doing it.  I’ve gotten her book from the library in preparation for starting again next Monday.
In Summation: I restarted my Aion subscription and I’m still spending too much time reading news on the internet.  I’m managing Aion fairly well, though.  I still need better time organization, but I’m not as far behind on this list as I thought I would be when I began this exercise.
I obviously need to add blogging to my list of goals, as I have been massive fail in that direction as well.   Time to get back on the wagon!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Unanticipated Blogging Vacation

Life's been totally crazy for the last few weeks and I have neglected this blog shamefully.  I'll try to get back on track this weekend.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Flylady Day 3 and 4 - ouch

I think my life heard that I called something easy on my blog.  Because it's really gotten in the way of doing anything Flylady-related in the last two days.  I have not looked at the Flylady big tent and I have not put up any post-it notes for myself (day 3 and 4 respectively).  Nor have I done any of the housecleaning that the daily emails recommend.  I have kept my sink nice and shiny, though - that should count for something!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Flylady Day 2 - Easysauce

The Flylady day 2 exercise is to put on shoes.  As I left the house at 6:45 am to make a doctor's appointment and didn't get home until 6 pm, wearing shoes was not really a problem for me.  However, she does want lace-up shoes, and, well, my MuckBoots  don't have laces.  Now all I have to do is clean my sink before I go to bed - it has of course gotten filthy while I was gone.  So far I haven't had to do much and I will have a clean sink 2 nights in a row.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Getting Control of My House - Flylady Day 1

My housekeeper quit at the end of last year and I decided not to replace her. Instead, one of my goals for this year was to keep my house in a reasonable state. So far I am failing miserably.

I have decided to do the Flylady system. I've seen several people in the blogosphere use it with some success. Also, it's free, so the price is right. The website is a bit too cutesy for my taste, but I figure that if it works it doesn't matter.

She's got a 31 day beginner program, so I've decided to do her system religiously for 31 days, and then evaluate whether it is doing me any good.

Day One's task is to clean your sink until it shines. It was surprisingly satisfying to clear all the sludge out and scrub the ring of dirt off the sides. And here it is in all its glory - one clean sink in a terribly dirty house.  Hopefully it is the beginning of better things!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Haven't had much to say lately

Somehow nothing too interesting seems to be going on here. I'm working, spending too much time playing Aion, and in general enjoying life.

My church is doing a Lenten study of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - I highly recommend it if you've not read it before, although I don't find it as inspirational as The Screwtape Letters.

It's almost harvest time at the farm, which means that we're moving the cows two to three times a day to get them nice and fattened up. I was supprised to read that Food, Inc. is actually up for an Academy Award. We've had several people call us after having seen it. I watched it the other day, and it didn't have any new information for me, but it was a good introduction to what really goes on in our food system.

Hope your weekend is going as well as mine!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chance to Win $300

Well-Heeled Blog is giving away a $300 cash prize courtesy of Prosper. Unlike most website giveaways that I see out there, she doesn't require any sign-ups, so go over there and comment on your Easter savings to enter!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Progressive's My Rate Program

After I bought my new car (and added collision coverage) my car insurance has more than doubled. Progressive has a plan in which you can add a tracker to your car and possibly save on insurance, depending on your driving habits. They claim that you can save as much as 25% on your premiums.

I have privacy concerns about this, but I am considering it anyway, if I would really save that much. I walk to work, so I really only drive my car to run errands and for the occasional road trip, and I think I drive like a Memaw, so I should be a shoo-in for a discount. But I am dubious as to whether this is like life insurance, where they quote you the premium health rate and then find reasons to slot you into the standard health prices afterward.

Do you have any experience with My Rate or a similar plan? Would you recommend it?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Breaking News: Dems and Republicans disagree over heath care

According to the Wall Street Journal, today the health care summit featured "sparring over the parties' approaches and trading some pointed barbs but making little apparent headway toward a bipartisan approach to a deal on legislation."

It turns out that Democrats and Republicans are really far apart when it comes to substantive changes on heath care issues. This is news to you only if you have eschewed every form of media for approximately the last year.

So I don't know what we taxpayers spent on the security, munchies, overtime for staffers, etc. to make this meeting happen (even assuming that the cost of our lawmakers time is zero, which I am starting to believe), but I'm sure it's more than I'm going to make this year, and it might be more than I'm going to make this lifetime.

All for an outcome which anyone who can turn on a TV and fog a mirror could have predicted for free. Who do these guys think that they are impressing, anyway?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Would Blippy make you spend more or less?

NPR did a little segment today on Blippy. Blippy lets you enter your credit cards into their site and then shows your friends what you purchase in real time. According to the site's founder, people tend to "buy virally," in other words, they check out what their friends are buying and then get one for themselves. So it seems like it's the opposite of frugal.

On the other hand, if I knew that Moneyfunk and Revanche were looking at everything I bought, I think I'd spend way less.

I'm afraid to add my credit card numbers to another web site, so I'm not planning to sign up. Do you think signing up on Blippy would cause you to spend more money or less?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Places to Meet Single Men

I'm surrounded by female friends and relations who continually lament the lack of dating opportunities for ladies in their mid-thirties. Personally, I'm hit on all the time, and I've been married 6 years. And it's not just because I'm married (and so unavailable) or look like Megan Fox (not even close), it's that the things I do for fun have an enormously skewed male to female ratio (and I don't always wear a wedding ring). If you're looking for new places to meet men, here are my suggestions:

(1) To meet cowboys join a sport that uses guns. Many, many guys out there are looking for a lady who shoots, or at least is tolerant of their love of the shooting sports. I have attended, participated in, and enjoyed events held by the Single Action Shooting Society which combines guns and costume competitions, rather like a renaissance festival of the wild west. The International Practical Shooting Confederation and the International Defensive Pistol Association, are both fun handgun competitions. There are organizations for just about anything you can think of to do with any kind of firearm that seems interesting to you.

It's not a problem if you've never held a gun in your life and don't currently own one - just show up to an event and start asking questions. If you don't want to be a total noob, the National Rifle Association offers all kinds of beginning classes, including some that are women-only (not great for meeting men though). You can also check the internet for private classes in your area, although I'd try to get a recommendation for one, as there are some really bad private outfits out there who will teach you terrible habits.

(2) To meet geeks join a martial art. Like shooting guys, guys who love martial arts dream of finding someone that they can train with forever. I personally enjoy a form of Aikido, but there are lots of other arts out there - look around until you see something that interests you. Avoid any place that won't let you take a free lesson or watch one or two. Really good places tend to require you to watch at least one lesson before they'll take your money so that you know what you are getting in to, and fun places won't require a year's commitment; they figure that you'll want to stay. You may need to pay an up-front fee when you join to cover the cost of the gi/uniform.

(3) To meet charming, sociable guys join your local libertarian party or tea party movement. You can probably find the same male to female ratio for any really fiscally conservative candidate (look for opinions about the Federal Reserve to judge the candidate's conservatism. If s/he talks about it at all, you're good). If you're a Democrat, you may be SOL - the demographic skews strongly toward women (of course, if you'd like to meet a nice girl, this is a great option). The tea party and libertarian movements are generally broadly painted as kooks and crazies, and I'm not saying they don't exist, but I've met a ton of nice single guys with good jobs who just have a bee in their bonnet for fiscal conservatism.

Even if you're only vaguely interested in one of these topics, it might be worthwhile to give it a try. Even if you don't find the guy of your dreams, you might pick up a great hobby!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who Dat?!?!?!??!!

That is all.

Going back to singing Saints songs and dancing around my living room now.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emergency Chicken Harvest

Harvested a chicken today for the first time since I was 10. My mother's dog killed it right in front of her. So then we were left with the decision - should we try to make it useful, or throw it away? I'm sure all you PF bloggers out there understand why I didn't want to waste it. This is a 100% real grass-fed, free-range chicken - I'm not throwing that in the trash if I can help it. (The dog had not chewed on it in any way). But we had to act fast to keep it from spoiling.

We don't usually harvest our own animals at the farm. As I have said before, the art of red meat harvesting is a lifetime mastery. We've got someone local who does it spectacularly well, and we use him for our usual beef and goat needs, simply because he will do it so much better.

Luckily for me, though, we have one customer who insists on harvesting himself at the farm. So I've assisted on a couple of goat harvests in the last year. Extra-luckily for me, he just gave me a book on how to harvest a variety of animals, including chickens. I also had Joel Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profits to use as a reference, although he advises you how to harvest 400 chickens at a time, not one.

So, basically, it was me, a dead chicken, a knife and two books. An hour and a half later, I have the ugliest-cleaned chicken in the world sitting in the fridge, and I'm having chicken gumbo tomorrow.

I had several bad moments. First, my knife wasn't sharp enough to take the head off, and I had to look for a cleaver. Second, I tore the skin while trying to pluck it. Then, I had trouble eviscerating the chicken, as the guts did not scoop out neatly as both books intimated. Fourth, only one of the books gave any advice about getting rid of the craw (a pouch full of gravel and recently-eaten food, the first stage in the chicken digestive process). Finally, I couldn't find the gizzard (a necessary ingredient for a good gumbo). After looking through the guts again, I realized that I had save the gizzard, mistaking it for the heart. The heart is much smaller - doh!

I'm sure that anyone who knows anything about processing chickens would have laughed their heads off at my noobie efforts. Still I am very proud of myself for getting this done, and turning what would have been a total loss into dinner.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amazon 30% off

Amazon sent me a link to 30% off Valentine's Day gifts. It looks like mostly jewlelry, but some of it was really cute. For instance, you too could have your own Great Turtle:

I also really liked this bracelet:

OK, done with window shopping; time to start the day.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


What I've been up to in the last week or so:

(1) Had 5 goats die. Between the rain, the cold, and the parasite load from the wet, they are keeling over like ninepins. I've yet to save even one that starts looking peaky, which is one of the problems with goats. Once they look sick, it's over. I've given them two doses of Cydectin (off label used of the sheep oral drench, given to me by my Vet) so far. According to my Vet, I'll need to worm them every month forever now. If this is the case, I'll probably have to give up my goat program, as I just can't see selling a natural product that I pump full of chemicals on a regualr basis.

(2) Interviewed someone to help rub the farm. He seems knowledgeable, but I didn't like him. My parents will make the final decision, though, and they plan to offer him the job unless they really like the people that we interview next weekend, which should be our last interview.

(3) Was told that my current level of back pain is permanent and there is nothing to be done. This means that I am now firmly in the hands of quacks and new-agers. I am currently seeing this guy, who practices what he calls quantum neurology. Willing to try anything non-invasive at this point.

(4) Arraigned to buy a car. I'll do a post on it if it works out.

(5) Acted as moderator at my church while my pastor was out of town. I'm glad I don't have to do that every weekend - it's pretty stressful to stand up there in church and hope that God inspires you to say the right things.

(6) Read a ton of books. Got the new Ilona Andrews Book, On the Edge, and it was a good as her stuff usually is. Also read Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh, and found it interesting enough that I'll be requesting other books of hers from the library. The strong heroine paranormal fantasy / romance is so popular that it's been done to death at the moment, but as I've been a fan of it since I read Arrows of the Queen in my middle school library, I'm happy that so many talented authors are getting published.

(7) Played too much Aion. Also too much Guild Wars. Video games sure are fun time wasters!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Homemade Detergent, revisited

About a month ago, I calculated that homemade detergent didn't really save money versus buying value detergent on sale. However, I have had to revisit my calculations; in actuality I've been using half as much detergent for each load as I had anticipated. So each load actually costs me about $0.035 per load. I haven't tried using half as much value detergent; I don't know whether it would work as well or not. But it's the fastest way I can think of to save money on detergent - use half as much as you usually do, and see if you notice a difference.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Four Things to Assure When Donating Money

This past few days, Americans have been bombarded with images of the pain and suffering in Haiti. Our ability to transmit images to each other is now so advanced that it feels as though the suffering is occurring in our living rooms. This makes their suffering so immediate and personal that we naturally want to help. Stymied from giving directly of our time and talents by the distance and logistics involved, we have poured a stream of money into charities that purport to be able to aid the Haitian people on our behalf.

If you are planning to give to organizations in Haiti, or anywhere else, I urge you to assure that:

1) None of your donated money is being siphoned away into avoidable fees

Credit card companies, in general, take the same 1-5% off the top for credit card donations as they do for any other purchase. Some fees are being waived for Haitian donations right now, but if you're donating anywhere else using a credit card, the card companies are making money off of it. To give your intended recipient the full amount, mail them a check instead or whipping out the card.

Additionally, agencies that solicit for charities generally collect a percentage of your donation as their fee. This can be as high as 90%! If you plan to give as a result of a solicitation, find out how much money will actually end up at the charity of your choice. You can always contact the charity directly and ascertain how to send them money yourself.

2) The Organization is Legitimate

This is easier the larger the charity becomes. One of the reasons the Red Cross is such a popular recipient of donations after natural disasters is that everyone knows who they are and what they do. If you're uncertain about a charity, you can check sites like Charity Navigator and the charity section of the Better Business Bureau.

Especially in crises like Haiti, the con men (and women) come out of the woodwork. Take the time to research any charitable organization you are not already personally familiar with. The legitimate ones should be happy to send you literature, direct you to their website, and answer your questions. Don't feel pressured to send money right this minute; this is a time-honored scam technique. Real charities have on-going programs that will be able to use your donations next month as easily as this one.

3) The Organization is Efficient

People who work for non-profits need to eat too. Non-profits have to buy printer ink and toilet paper just like the rest of us. So not 100% of every dollar donated will go directly to the cause. Everyone should decide for themselves how much overhead they think is reasonable for a charity to have.

Charity Navigator and Guidestar (free registration required) can give you overhead costs for larger organizations; smaller organizations may or may not be able to provide detailed statistics, but they should be able to give you a general idea, perhaps by providing you with their latest annual report or their IRS Form 990 (for tax exempt organizations).

4) You Can Afford to Donate

This seems obvious, but especially in the heat of the moment, it is easy to rationalize giving more than is affordable. I am not immune - I often find it very difficult to keep my charitable giving within the bounds of what I have planned when confronted with the vast amount of need in the world. If you are planning to cut from one area of your budget to be able to afford a donation (for example, brown bagging your lunch instead of eating out), don't donate until after you've made the substitution and have the money in hand. Putting yourself financially underwater with charitable donations is just as painful as any other way; I promise you that your creditors won't care what you did with the money when the collection calls start.

God calls us all to be good stewards of what he gives to us, including stewardship over that category of expenses known as charitable giving. We need to have more than good intentions when we give money; we should also have reasonable assurance that the money will be used properly and efficiently. Following these steps should provide that reasonable assurance.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Used Cars Part 2 - Gas, Insurance, and Cost to Own

My other metric with which to evaluate a car is a determination of the non-purchase costs associated with it. Consumer Reports has an estimate of how many gallons of gasoline that you'll use per 12K miles, but I find their gasoline pricing system optimistic. So I'm going to use my own guesses as to fuel price, on average, for the next 10 years, in 2010 dollars. Totally unscientifically, I guess that Regular will average more like $3/gal and premium will be $3.25. I ran insurance numbers on all three cars using Progressive's Quote system, first with no collision and second with comprehensive and collision with a 1K deductible. So those numbers were:

Ford Fusion: $1065 per 12K for gas, Insurance increases $179 or $296 per 6 mos

Acura TSX: $1543.75 per 12K for gas, Insurance increases$172 or $365 per 6 mos

Infinity G35: $1770 per 12K for gas, insurance increases $206 or $422 per 6 mos

So without repair and maintenance costs, with comprehensive and collision, and assuming 12K miles per year, annual costs will be:

Ford Fusion: $1657
Acura TSX: $2273.75
Infinity G35: $2614

Thus giving me a savings of $399.38 a year for the Ford and a cost of $584.59 for the Acura versus buying the Infinity. Of course, if I could really accurately predict gas prices, I'd be a millionaire. And all these numbers are really kind of silly without repair costs to add in. Consumer Reports claims to have an "owner's cost" number that includes repairs, but their repair numbers also seem optimistically low to me.

Grrr ... I hate not being able to run real numbers on my options! I hate that cars are so idiosyncratic! I hate that I am totally mechanically fail so I am at the mercy of others for such a huge purchase! And I really hate spending all this lovely money on something that is just going to depreciate!


OK, I guess I am going to have to suck it up and do this. I promise not to post on this again until and unless I have some actual information to report.