Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gearing up for another year

With Christmas past, everyone is starting to throw around New Year's Resolutions.  And they are always the same and usually involve joining a gym or starting some similar overly ambitious change of habits that are ridiculously unrealistic and prone to failure.  We have all done it at one time or another: setup some kind of punishment for ourselves to "correct" bad behavior just because it's a new year.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who wanted to try to start blogging every single day when she hasn't blogged in at least two and a half months (and even before then the consistency was pretty sparse...hey, I'm not judging! Just stating the facts!).  I recommended she start off smaller, maybe commit a specific time slot a week to writing.  I told her about a couple tools I use to help me store thoughts I want to flesh out later (sometimes, much much later!).

Setting up manageable goals every month has been really helpful for me.  December has been a crap month for me as far as working on my goals and keeping up with previous ones.  The holidays kind of do that.  Instead of feeling guilty, I'm just shrugging it off and doing what I can, when I can.  I'll try again next month.

I've found being specific helps.  For example, instead of saying, "I want to lose weight!" I say, "I want to cut out processed sugars like soda and start walking 15 minutes per day!"  The latter example is much more definitive and less abstract.

I'm going to have a long list of goals for January, but they are going to be small, manageable, and specific so I actually have some chance of getting something done.  Somethings I've already started working towards (because why wait for a magic date when you're ready to begin now?) but I'll put much more effort and emphasis on them in the coming months.  And, as always, every mini-goal is a step in an overall effort to better myself in anyway.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Secretly, I kind of hoped I would wake up and find snow on the ground.  Instead, I found a beautiful, red sunrise (and I'm kicking myself for not grabbing my camera).

The last few weeks, I've been giving a lot of consideration to my life and where I want to take it.  Thinking about what I have, what I want to keep, what I want to improve, and what I want to change drastically.  Most things seem to lean on the drastic.  I'm a cardinal sign, it's completely in my nature to wreak havoc on a half-started project and move onto something completely different.  Usually it's because I lose interest or get bored and need a change of scenery before I can come back and finish a project.  This time, I'm reviewing my motivations for getting where I am today and whether those motivations really had my best interests in mind.  I'm finding the motivations haven't, but in their own ways, I've had to admit reluctantly that the end results have served me in positive ways.

So now it's about finding a balance.  Instead of running screaming from old constructs, I need to find ways of improving or remodeling them to better serve me moving forward, so I can work on abandoning them completely or use my energy on other constructs.

For now, I'm off to my dad's for our traditional breakfast and present opening, but I've already received exactly what I wanted for Christmas.  Did you get what you wanted?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Red Moon

Picture courtesy of NASA
Last night (or this morning, depending on your perspective) I had the opportunity to witness relatively common events in a rare arrangement.  The full moon, the winter solstice, and total lunar eclipse by themselves are just parts of the cycles we may enjoy as part of living on Earth.  But this was special.  I was determined to stay up hours past my pass out time (roughly any time between 8pm and 10pm depending on, well, whenever I pass out).  The lunar eclipse took place between 11:41pm through 12:53am Pacific.  The kicker?  Fresno has been experiencing Seattle-like weather since the weekend.  Weather forecasts promises a zero percent chance of rain from midnight to 2am, but the clouds didn't let up during prime viewing time.  

As we craned our necks for nearly 45 minutes we saw glimpses of the orange hue of the total eclipse.  Literally split seconds occurred where the clouds would break momentarily and we could see the faint outline of the lunar eclipse.  I found it beautiful and even though I could barely make out the astronomical event for most of its occurrence I am happy I had an opportunity to witness it.

In fact, I've been feeling rather upbeat ever since.  It's a lot of energy in a single astronomical event.  First the seasonal change from fall into winter and the longest night of the year is cut into by the brightness of the full moon which then goes through a complete 29.35 day cycle in a matter of 3 or 4 hours.  The winter solstice is a time of coming together, enjoying company and revelries, celebrating the fact that the light will begin to wax again.  The moon's wax and wane cycle represents growth and decrease in efforts and projects.  Combine both of those energies and you have a very strong energy for change in general.

I took some time in the evening prior to the event thinking about the last 15 months.  All that has changed in my life.  All the changes I still want to make in my life.  Now that I have closed some very big chapters, I'm getting ready to open some very big new ones.

Perhaps that's why I'm in a good mood.  For once, rather than resisting change and flailing with my lack of control over my circumstances, I'm learning to really embrace the unknown and gearing up to take some major chances that (I hope) will change my life for the better.

The last 15 months have been a toiling of thesis and antithesis energies, a creating and destruction of life energies.  The lunar eclipse, for me, signals true change, not just the contemplation thereof.  It is synthesis.

Today, I begin.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snowman Soup

Finished product in a big Jack mug.
Obviously, I sort of fell half-off the wagon so far this month.  This month is always hectic for everyone, trying to balance work and home and preparations for the holidays.  So far my boyfriend lost his job, my car had a brief stint with death (and I was totally failed by the bus system), and I began gearing up projects for my Etsy storefront.

Fortunately, Jeff is a resourceful person.  And he's pulling extra weight around the house and taking on more chores so I can spend extra time working/researching/training.  He's also cooking all our dinner meals.  So far we've done American week (my first time eating home made macaroni and cheese!) and Indian week (curries for a week, yum!).  This week is Asian week.  I've been trying to photo-document some of the food fares, but it's hard to remember to grab my camera when I walk in the door to mouth-watering goodness.  Really, I'm completely spoiled.

Tonight, Jeff, Danny, and I spent our evening making homemade snowman soup to give away for stocking stuffers.  We could have gone with premixed, hot chocolate mix with mini marshmallows that dissolve instantly when exposed to oxygen.  Instead we got a giant, plastic bin and dumped all the ingredients in, mixed them together and scooped the resulting mixture into single serving size bags.  Toss in mini candy canes, real marshmallows, and chocolate dipped spoons (some bittersweet, some milk chocolate, and some...regrettably...white *choke* know what, it's not chocolate, it's just hard, white cream candy!).  We all had a blast laughing and playing.  We taught Danny how to use measuring cups and the difference between heaping (good!) and level (boring) scoops.  If we bought premixed packets, sure it would have been faster, sure Danny and I wouldn't have been covered in hot chocolate mix.  It probably would have cost about the same.  But dammit, we had a great time knocking out about 45 servings of snowman soup.

Oh.  Drinking it was pretty good, too.

I promise I'll post more this week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Goals

Recap: On November 1st I made two goals for the month: first to write more and second to stop using the dishwasher. Later in the month, I saw a few other bloggers ((never home)maker and RowdyKittens in particular) I follow make their own lists of goals.  Literally lists and lists of things.  It made me feel a little pathetic about only setting two things aside.

Two was enough for me.  Two goals seemed reasonable and provided a better chance of success.  Any more than that and I would overwhelm myself with my own lists.  I'm happy to report my assumption served to be true.  I posted more entries last month than in any other month and averages a single post per week.  Nothing to "ride home" about, but a reasonable accomplishment nonetheless.  I also successfully refrained from using the dishwasher for the whole month. I did use it to store dishes I didn't feel like cleaning before hosting a party, but after said party I did wash every dish by hand.  On the 24th, Jeff was already talking about ripping out the dishwasher so we could use the space for kitchen storage!  I asked him to wait until the month was up before we made any decisions, so I guess I'm going to have to start seriously thinking about that!

I started seriously thinking last week about what my goals for December should be.  I thought about copping out and picking something like "finish all hand made gifts by the holiday", but goals like that are superficial and don't help me work on bettering myself overall.  However, gift-making *can* be if I work on building up the side-business I keep fantasizing about.  I received my first commission request a few weeks ago from a coworker of my mom's to make a duplicate giraffe amigurumi (a giraffe is the hospital's mascot) and may be picking up a second commission (by trade) request in the next day or two.  I have an Etsy storefront I have yet to do anything with. Soooo....

Goal number one: post one knit item per week on my Etsy storefront.

It doesn't matter if they sell or not.  I'm not even worried (at this point) about how nice my storefront looks.  I simply need some kind of motivator to take the first step to see my fantasy become reality.  No expectations, no unrealistic demands.  Just one item per week.  And I'm totally passionate about crafting.  That makes this goal completely doable.  Fortunately, I have lots of time this month do accomplish this goal and make hand-crafted gifts for the holidays.

Hand-crafting gifts also takes me a bit further in my desire to live more simply.  On that note, my car battery died forcing a renewed interest in taking the bus for my daily commutes.  That means getting about three miles of walking time in every day which got me thinking about my overall health again.  I did really well over the Thanksgiving Day holiday and have kept up the momentum of physical activity and eating reasonably.

Goal number two: incorporate healthy eating habits and daily exercise.

I'll need to flesh out some rules for this a little better so I have some tangible guidelines to follow rather than depending on my decision-making skills (which only seem to work if I'm surrounded by other Libras).  At a time when money is tight and I'll need to be staying closer to home when I'm not at work, it's a good time to start taking my lifestyle habits more seriously.  Spending more time at home planning and cooking meals also feeds into my "live simply" ideal and affords me more time to spend interacting with my family.

I wanted to strive to plot three goals this month, but the two I've established lend themselves to a number of other ideas I had.  I'll also continue to build on last months goals through the new goals I have established.  I know it may seem silly, but I'm really excited about meeting my first two goals. Sometimes I aim to high or only focus on broader, more long-term goals.  Setting smaller bites aside make me feel more accomplished and give me more reasons to celebrate the little things in life, because they're worth it!

What are your goals for December?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trying To Be Thankful

I spend quite a bit of time in general trying to find things for which I am thankful.  The last 15 months have been nothing less than crazy. I lost my marriage.  I lost some friends who were very dear to me.  I lost two very cherished members of my family.  I can easily say the last 15 months have been both the worst and the best months of my life.

Amid the turmoil, many good things have happened to me, too.  Trekking paths I would have never imagined myself on, finding happiness in unlikely places. Mostly, I have spent more time focusing on things that really matter rather than trying to make everyone else happy at my expense.  I have had to learn who I really am rather than trying to be what I think everyone else wants me to be.  It's been an adventure, but I don't have all the answers yet.  I may never have all the answers, but I'm committed to never stop questioning.  I never again want to experience the depressing complacency I succumbed to years ago.

But yet, there is always change.  After taking a risk on a new and exciting job, my boyfriend lost the new job on an insurance technicality with no other temporary positions available as a backup.  I'm a month or two behind on some bills because I tried to help with child care costs.  Now my student loans are coming up for repayment in a couple weeks and are shockingly close to $700 a month.  The promise of a raise at work is unlikely amid low sales and some downsizing as a response.  I have just enough in savings to cover the current round of bills and get caught up and then we enter survival mode.  I could lose a lot of the things (convenience services like cell phones, random stuff, the house to name a few) I have worked very hard to achieve over the last several years and I would be lying if I said I was handling the anticipation of such a blow to my pride gracefully.  I'm more like a wounded animal: baring my teeth and snapping at anyone attempting to approach.

It's hard to look forward and be thankful when I feel like I'm in a house of cards and can see a storm blowing in my direction.  But I have many things to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for my boyfriend who is nothing less than a rock who is not just supportive, but resourceful and creative.  I have faith in him and trust him completely, and I'm proud of him for taking a risk to make his life (and our lives) better, even though it did not work out like we hoped.

I'm thankful for my best friend who always reminds me to look on the bright side of life, including exercising kindness to others and kindness to myself.

I am thankful for the amazing people I am lucky enough to call friends.  These are the people that put up with long periods of silence from me when I was stressing over some thing or another and still welcomed me back with open arms unquestioningly whenever I was free to visit.

I am thankful for my family who, despite the emotional gaps, never hesitate to help no matter what the situation.

I am also most thankful for myself because, seriously, where the hell would I be without me?!  Even though I can be an emotional wreck, I'm smart and resourceful.  I am a survivor.  I'm too hard-headed to give up on almost anything.

I'm still pretty tender right now, emotionally speaking.  I don't know how I'm going to make it to winter, much less get through it.  I'm trying to see it as a challenge to live more simply, more fully, and find and do the things that really make me happy.  And I'm thankful, very thankful, for the opportunity of change.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sitting on the Career Fence

Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering if I chose the right career path.  Progress always seems slow, I rarely feel like I'm given reasonable priorities to accomplish even the simplest of tasks, and I frequently get caught up in some kind of rut.

And then I realize I'm really lying awake because I was brainstorming some application I'm excited to design and code, and really I'm just frustrated that I don't ever seem to be able to make the most of my time in the office working on or developing my skill set to complete those kinds of projects.

It's like having this really awesome sandbox, with shovels, rakes, pails to mold sand, and fine detailing tools, and being held inside all day watching the tools rust in the rain while cats use the sandbox as their community toilet.  It makes me cranky.

There's a position opening that would (in theory) allow me to do more playing.  On the other hand, I would be forced to abandon my current niche that I was hoping to continue to explore with some major projects coming down the pike.  I had honestly hoped my position would be reclassified into a business analyst position because that is essentially closer to what I should be doing in my existing position.  Instead I'm frequently left out of the loop during decision making and forced to make an environment comply with the whims of users unfamiliar with the limitations, existing modules for use, or how such decisions are going to impact the whole organism.  It's what happens when you're just seen as help desk support rather than a part of the planning team.  I don't get a lot of internal support to help to change that mindset.

After talking with my super about the new position, it didn't sound like the new position would be a good fit for either of us.  I remember walking away from that conversation hugely disappointed with a feeling that I would have to make major sacrifices to my happiness working there for a new opportunity and that the (likely minuscule) raise wouldn't be worth leaving my comfort zone.  Money isn't everything, and I'm not interested in putting myself in a position where I am going to start hating coming to work.

On the other hand, I might be able to find a way to maintain some of my existing responsibilities within the confines of this new position and attempt to spread out others with the other programmers through cross-training.  My biggest concern here is that since everyone has their own way of doing things, this could potentially create chaos in database and class structures, but in the end that's technically such a concern is not my responsibility.

I'm on the fence about it.  I am usually a pretty good risk taker, but with economic concerns and fears about my inability to find happiness in a new position, it's difficult to just make a blind leap.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the road

I am writing this from my iPhone while lazing in a hotel bed in lovely Auburn, CA. As a computer programmer, it is rare that I get to visit our sales offices throughout the state, but due to an office plague, I get an opportunity to get away from my desk and on the open road to help our techs deploy new equipment. I really do love it. Our sales personnel are not shy about sharing their feelings about our hardware and software solutions. It's an opportunity to get honest feedback to think about current problems and how to solve them.

I just love to travel. There's a lot to see in this beautiful state. Lots of interesting people to see and meet. Lots of new experiences to be had.

I used to travel two weekends out of every month. At some point it dwindled to maybe two or three weekends every year. I certainly make more than I did, but I never seem to have the money. Now I have a mortgage and a house to maintain, a family to take care of, and an endless to do list to conquer. Over the last year, I have taken steps to just do what is important and stopped stressing about non-critical tasks. Still, there is always something holding me back.

I think it started when my ex-husband started working Saturdays. Naturally I wanted to share my experiences with him but it becMe increasingly difficult to plan around his schedule. Ironically my boyfriend so works weekends. In fact in the month of November we only have two days off together. Thanksgiving Day and the day after. It's a little sad.

But I love traveling. I'm thankful for an opportunity to do some (and get paid!) this week. Maybe this will help encourage me to get out some more in the future. Afterall, I do have that annoying fear of snow I promised to work on getting over this winter.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Obese, but still healthy

Yeah, that pretty much sums me up. I read an article on Yahoo! News a few weeks ago (here) about a study researching whether it was still possible to be obese and healthy.

Needless to say, the research still leaves a lot of questions unanswered and nothing is really safe to assume yet.  But in the last year I've often sardonically joked that I must be genetically predisposed to being obese.  All my vitals are perfect, my blood work came back as a shining beacon radiating health.  I'm still fat though.  Quitting smoking actually killed most of my risk factors.  Given my age and current BMI my risk of health-related complications is still super low.

Frankly, vanity compels me far more than health risk factors do.  I'm relatively comfortable in my own skin, but dammit, I could be even more comfortable.  I certainly think I could breathe better at night and get better sleep.  Recent bouts with chronic pain have made sticking to a regimen difficult, but I'm learning how to deal with that one day at a time.

Living in a culture that demonizes and legislates against the growing number of fat people, it's an interesting concept to push that some people are generally healthier being fat than our existing model of so-called "health".  I look at shows I grew up with in the 80s and 90s and find that what passed as "hot" then generally has more meat on the bones than today's standards of bony waif-ness.  Even Megan Fox confessed her diet generally consists of coffee, cigarettes, and a regular vinegar "cleanse".  That's just gross, lacking in health, and likely to be masked in plastic surgeries and Photoshop editing down the road.  Assuming the rumors are true she's already gone that route.

I have to deal with the issue of projecting an image of health frequently with our son who has two vastly different households with dramatically different eating habits and takes on what comprises healthy eating/living.  One is hugely restrictive on food yet (seems like) little emphasis is placed on organized meal times or family-style meal plans.  The other is very permissive on food and places great emphasis on everyone sitting together and eating the same dinner.  Fortunately, he isn't all that picky and regularly tries new things; we never have lack of appetite issues although we have had problems with him declaring fullness when he didn't want to eat what we gave him (he would like the food, but want something else), but now that we're better aware of what he is doing, this hasn't been a problem for weeks.  I mostly worry about pressing the issue of clearing his plate (eating beyond his hunger).  We just encourage him to eat a little more of something, negotiating a couple bites for escaping from the dinner table (after helping with cleanup, of course!).

It's hard not projecting my own issues with food onto a child, but I think we're doing okay so far.  We try to give us all ample time to do some physical activities together and make sure our meals are relatively balanced.   I still worry about what our physical image projects about our health, true or not.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


There's this whole "green revolution" thing happening right now.  It's the weirdest thing I think I have ever seen, and I've seen some might weird stuff in my limited time on this earth.  Some of it makes sense: trying to lower waste, reusing things that can be retasked elsewhere (our 4-year-old loves my pirate-shirt-turned-pillow-case).  Some of it is ridiculous: advising we buy and consume more by "tossing" our chemical-laden cleaners and switching to more gentle (but still chemical) cleaners.  Some of it is simple economics.  It's more affordable for me to buy a used dress from a thrift store (or better yet, find some through a local "freecycle" program) than to go to the mall and buy the latest designer model (although I can't say I have ever done that--it's an issue of genetics).

It makes it difficult to do any one thing without sounding like a complete hypocrite.  I have friends that bemoan our dependence on foreign oil, and yet they drive gas-guzzling cars, live in over-sized houses, and wouldn't even dream of taking public transport for their commute.  When I started taking the bus to work, quite a number of people pointed and laughed at me (mostly from within my office) as if taking the bus was something only the under-privileged did, or conversely many people said they would take the bus if the system was improved.  Well, the first view point is just a sad projection of those who think image is everything; the second can never be resolved if people aren't taking the bus in the first place (because if you're not riding it, you're not contributing to the cost of running it).

Here's a personal example: I try to reduce my waste (seriously, I think I am the only house in the neighborhood where the cans only go out once every month), but some things lend themselves better to my lifestyle.  Take cheese singles.  If you know me, I don't even need to explain the logic.  For those that don't...well, let's just say for my safety and for yours, you are legally forbidden to allow me to handle sharp objects. That means I can't slice or grate my own cheese.  Pre-sliced and grated cheese include additional processing and manufacturing, but boy does it keep my ER bill down.

Buying local slogan is an irritant to me.  Many people tout the importance of buying locally while shipping more and more jobs overseas or looking to purchase goods in electronic markets where shipping is free or state taxation doesn't apply.

Life is a give and take.  We all try to do something to make our existence and hopefully that of our community (be it your neighborhood, state, country, or the world) a bit of a better place.  Hopefully those attempts are informed.  But sometimes, even with the best intentions, we just end up looking like jack-asses, regardless.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November Goals

I started this blog in order to get back into writing.  This is just a general forum for my thoughts.  Nothing special really.  Well, except I get all perfectionist on it once I start taking it seriously until I'm not updating.  I have over two dozen half-written blog entries that haven't been finished or fully fleshed out, much less posted!

Goal number one: post my thoughts while I'm thinking them.

Sometimes I'm away from the computer.  I have an iPhone that's usually pretty easy to type on.  There's no reason that I can't step away for 20 minutes to post a blog entry.  I previously considered updating before bed to clear my mind, but usually I just keep thinking well past I've published a post.  So from now on, I'll post in the moment and see where things go.

Other than that, I've been wanting to live more simply or at least cut down on my clutter!  This has been a slow process.  I wish at times I could take it more seriously, but I love stuff.  On my lunch hour today, I read an article about a minimalist who gave up using a dishwasher as part of his journey to simpler living.  Since I have been considering buying a new dishwasher as a Yuletide present for my house, I thought November would be a good time to challenge myself.

Goal number two: cease using the dishwasher for the month of November.

I usually end up washing my dishes before I put them in the dish washer anyway.  This wastes my time and my water heating costs since I'm doing double-duty.  It's going to be difficult washing dishes after every meal (especially since I usually eat breakfast then run to the office) but it is a challenge after all.  Most importantly, I'll have the potential to be saving myself $300 to $600 on a dishwasher I may not even need.  That's more money into savings or paying down my student loans.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Telling Time

As I sat in the hospital lobby waiting for clearance from my BIL to see my sister and new niece, a Hispanic fellow sat next to me observing my browsing on my iPhone. He motioned to his wrist and said something I didn't understand. From his pointing I discerned he was requesting the current time. For all I know he said nice tits!  I gave him the time and he nodded to himself and turned away (momentarily).

But how many people wear a watch these days? Most people I know use their cell phones as a time keeper. Very few people wear watches that I can recall outside of the stereotype of older, white business executives. I wonder for how many generations the universal sign for "Do you have the time?" will be relevant. Some phases remain in common usage even though their original meaning has long fallen from common knowledge (and sometimes relevance).

Oh the things I ponder!

As this gentleman has been staring at me during the entire time it's taken me to jot down this post, I'm starting to wonder what he really did say!  He only looks away when I look up, but he didn't even notice me blatantly taking a photo of him staring at me.  I love camera phones.

About an hour later I saw family starting to arrive and caught up with them near the elevators to wait for my BIL to come down.  He came downstairs, fielded dozens of the family questions, and we retreated to the cafeteria so he could eat a bit of lunch.

When we had a quiet moment I shared my thoughts with my BIL and we looked around the table.  No watches. Like clockwork (LOL!) someone asked for the time. Half a dozen cell phones whipped out.  What will the gesture be for Shutterbug a generation from now?

Thursday, August 19, 2010


A friend posted a couple noble goals on a social networking site.  My first reaction was, “I am glad my friend is considering how to be better with others!”  But the stated goal was simply to be better.  No plan of action was laid out.  No details about what it means to be better and how achieving this illustrious pinnacle is to be accomplished.  Granted, it was just a status update, but I became a bit embittered.

And then I thought about it some more.  I considered my own past and future goals.  I thought back to my project management and innovation classes in college and considered some definitions that are worth remembering.

Goals: goals encompass abstract ideas, a desired outcome, or an overarching mission.  Goals are the output, the end result.  Sometimes goals are more like aspirations and are constantly worked on, perhaps for a lifetime.  The finished puzzle.

Strategies: strategies are the methods used or applied to achieve the desired goal.  There can be one or many, but there must be some activity to get one to the eventual goal. Strategy is the action of putting a puzzle piece next to another puzzle piece to make connections.  Sometimes, this requires a bit of trial and error.

Objectives: objectives are the definitions of a goal and its milestones. Objectives need to be completed or accomplished to achieve the goal.  This is the HOW of a goal.  Objectives are like putting the edge pieces of a puzzle together so there is a frame to build upon.

Tasks: tasks are the smaller accomplishments that together complete an objective.  Each should be honored and celebrated because each task represents a small battle won towards the end goal.  Tasks are the puzzle pieces.

(amusingly, I found this image after I wrote the post with the puzzle analogy)

Resources: resources can be tangible or soft.  This is the means by which you can apply to tasks, objectives, and strategies in accomplishing a goal.  This can be time, talent, etc.  Resources is the time is takes to work on the puzzle, the surface it sits on, the chair one sits in, the helper advising, etc.

In the last year I’ve closed a lot of chapters in my life.  I have seen the manifestation and completion of several long-term goals that I have been working frantically to achieve for years.  As I shed the last vestiges of childhood and make my way into real adulthood, I made a five year plan with five goals.

A couple of those goals I’m keeping close to the chest for now, but my point is that all I wrote down were the GOALS.  I didn’t keep in mind how I wanted to achieve those, what I expected achieving them, I defined nothing.  I simply wrote out abstract ideas.  A couple of them I’m not quite attached to, but even with an abstract “plan” I still feel listless and wandering.  Perhaps the exercise for formulating real plans will provide me with some arbitrary sense of direction and help me to decide what goals are realistic and cause-worthy.

Another friend (look at me!  I have more than one friend!  At least, that’s what Facebook tells me), upon reaching an age milestone, lamented to me that they had hoped to have achieved some specific goals by that time and now believed that those goals were lost and impossible (or at least very unlikely) to achieve.  I think if my friend truly wanted to accomplish these goals, steps would be taken to do so, but that’s neither here nor there.  There are a million reasons why people in their 50s haven’t set out to do what they promised they would in their 20s.  I’m curious though, how many people state goals and actually map out a plan of action to achieve those?  I’d venture to say not many.  

There are many people who believe things always work out, or things work out the way they are “supposed” to.  For example, a co-worker was trying to sway me to start having children on the premise that “God takes care of everything” and all that matters is that I provide that child with love.  This was after I expressed my concerns to wait until I felt more financially secure before attempting to bring a child into the world (yes, I know there’s more to child-rearing than finances, but being secure financially is a specific objective you could say).  Now, while I am still very much undecided whether or not I want to bear and rear children, there is a part of me that agrees with the sentiment that some perceived needs are mostly superficial.  I’m resourceful, and I accomplish relatively anything I want to do.  There’s the key: want.  I don’t want to worry about providing basic needs.  I want to be able to let my (potential) child explore as freely as possible without having to say, “Sorry, I can’t afford soccer/piano/dance/martial arts lessons/equipment/supplementals/uniforms because we can’t afford it.”  

Now, I agree there’s a lot of positives in being flexible and handling the randomness that the Universe brings.  Rigidity is problematic, stressful, and unrealistic (and I know this from several years of experience).  It’s good to have boundaries, but one shouldn’t live in a world of absolutes, including being overly free.

Maybe my friend’s post was simply a witty update.  Nonetheless, it offered a chance for me to evaluate my own goals and take a look within.

McNamara, Carter. Retrieved August 18, 2010.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Viva L'Autobus!

A couple weeks ago I talked about trying to be more frugal.  One way of saving over $100 was by starting to use the Fresno Area Express as my primary method of transportation for my work commute.  Because I waited so long, I was able to pick up a discounted bus pass on Monday. Tuesday I had a doctor's appointment and I didn't want to miss a lot of work trying to navigate the bus system for the first time in a long while.  So I started this morning.  I woke up about an hour earlier than normal, did my regular routine and was out the door by 5:45am to catch the bus.  I don't feel any more tired than normal.

The mile or so walk to the bus stop was lovely.  The streets were still quiet and the air was cool and moist.  Instead of popping my headphones in, I listened to the neighborhood sounds.  As I came up on a corner I started to hear a rooster crow.  I saw a black rooster wandering around a corner lot's front yard.  I thought roosters were illegal to own in this area of the city, but maybe they were in a county island that permitted it.  I don't know.  Our little suburb is right on the edge of a more rural area.  I listened to his crows as I walked, but as I rounded the corner he made the strangest gurgling crow!  I turned and realized he must have started the next crow and got slammed in the head by the owner's sprinkler system turning on.  I literally lolled.  Don't worry!  The rooster was fine!  He was crowing normally a few seconds later.

In fact, lots of houses along Brawley had black roosters roaming around, singing their little songs.  It was kind of cute.  I wondered how many people found the noise annoying.  I wondered if I would find it annoying if they were closer to my house.  I had a moment of gratitude that they weren't peacocks!  And yes, I did refrain from talking back to the roosters.  I learned my lesson when a friend's rooster with a Napoleon complex chased me down for getting too clucky!

So back to the bus.  I arrived at the bus stop 10 minutes early.  It was an awkward stop in front of a ranch style home with no bench or shelter.  Eight minutes later when the bus reached the intersection, I realized there was a bench and shelter caddy-corner from the stop I chose.  Doh!  I scurried across the street and hopped on.

Mostly high school and college students filtered onto the bus after that, trying to reach the inner city schools.  At one point the bus actually passed some jerk going 20 MPH on Blackstone.  That was pretty funny.  The ride was otherwise uneventful.

I listened to my music, but I didn't busy myself with the crochet project I brought along.  I was too fascinated looking out the windows taking in the buildings and happenings on the street level.  Plus I needed to get my bearings.  The ride home might be different.

I'm pretty pleased with the first venture.  I won't be taking the bus most Thursdays due to my having a yoga class that night.  It's just too difficult to make all the transfers and arrive ready to relax while hot and sweaty.

I'm lucky to have a straight route.  Transfers can be a pain!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Becoming Clutter Free (Relatively)

Back in May, I began an ambitious project to clear all the junk out of my house.  At the time, I experienced considerable stress due to my inability to manuever around my home.  I never quite settled in due to various situational issues, but it was time to do so.  The clutter had been hindering my relationships because I was constantly distracted by...well, more clutter.  Receiving an email from my frustrated ex-husband for repeatedly failing to give him a copy of an important piece of paperwork helped me come to terms that I couldn't put off the overhaul any longer.

So I had one really good productive day.

Then between focusing on finishing my last class (which was loads of fun!) and the excitement summer social engagements always bring, I forgot.  Well, I didn't forget, I just didn't make time to continue.  In fact, I haven't had a single Saturday home since May 15.  If I was home (two days) I was entrenched in homework.  This Saturday, I have a yoga class and that's it.

I originally planned on doing some garden work, hitting a yoga class, taking a long tub soak, and finishing the day giving myself a mani/pedi while watching some British movie that would bore the beau.

I still plan on doing all those things, but with a twist.  I was inspired by a Yahoo! article about a woman who began getting rid of stuff in order to better manage her finances.  She found being content living simply actually improved her and her husband's happiness.  I was re-inspired to take charge of my space (which has become way out of hand) and attempt to conquer another room.  I think I've settled for making what I wanted to be an office, an office.  The pieces are all there, just not in a fashion that is usable as an office space.  Bookshelves need to be relocated, miscellaneous papers need to be tossed or filed, and an old computer will be setup for my beau's preschooler. Actually, it's kind of weird to think that I was actually YOUNGER than he is now when I started using computers in 1985!

I've been seriously thinking about how to use the space efficiently in my home as well as how to free myself from my love of stuff.  The aforementioned woman participated in the 100 Thing Challenge that essentially limits you to owning 100 personal items.  Okay, I'm not interested in getting that serious about it.  I love stuff. I love to buy stuff.  I love to buy stuff that makes me feel good.  Not having money with which to buy stuff makes me unhappy, so I try to be as frugal as I can.  That also means I need to be smarter about what I buy. Spending $1 on a chocolate bar will give me the same satisfaction as spending $20,000 on a new car.  It's having something new that I can enjoy.  But since I don't really need a new car and would rather have financial security, I go with splurging on the occasional chocolate bar.

Anyway, back to what I was saying before my chocolate craving took over.  I read an article by a guy (with the cutest anecdotal story) talking about how clutter hides issues, but when clutter is gone one is left with empty space.  Usually people end up recluttering rather than addressing the underlying issues.  I'm not sure what that means for me (other than my obvious inability to actually let things go in general), but I'm hoping the experience of cleaning things up acts as a meditation on the matter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Art of Being Frugal

T's first big shopping trip

Over the last several months, I've been trying to find more ways to save money.  We started out small: using the compact economy car for weekend errands over the gas-guzzling mini-van; use dried goods like rice and beans sitting in the cupboard over buying perishable perishables that will inevitably perish before we can consume them; switching out lightbulbs for CFL's.

We even have a vegetable garden that has been producing like mad!  Zucchinis, crookneck squash, tomatoes, but especially Armenian cucumbers have been life savers during the heavy potluck season.

The beau, fortunately, has always been a thrifty shopper.  My weekly food bill for two quickly went from nearly $175 a week (long story, don't ask!) to an average of $50 (and that includes feeding the sometimes children we'd have roaming around).  I regularly tell my friends who complain about their shopping bill that they should take him shopping with them.  (And yes, he will do it, he loves saving money even if it's not his money he's saving.) He stumbled across a couponing blog last week and now he's buying $250 worth of groceries for $23.  I'm serious.  It's insane.  The picture above is very real!  I mean, I had to find space for all that stuff!

It's a little sad that it's not very wholesome food.  I'm not much into processed cereals (I was brought up on Cheerios and Kix and sometimes Honey Nut Cheerios when my parents went shopping with a sweet tooth), and I'll have the very occasional Poptart, but I anticipate most of this will be given away. Maybe the fruit snacks will hold out until Halloween!  Maybe I'll learn how to make chocolate rice treats for the next potluck. I don't know.

So obviously, we'll be saving a lot of money on groceries.  The couponing is a little too complicated for me, but I'm glad the beau enjoys it and saves me money in the process.  I'll try not to complain too much about the quality of foods and try to make the most of it.  Fortunately, there's some wheat bread and three bags of grapes to make me feel better, too! (And cornflakes, which make THE BEST crusting agent for chicken, yum!)

The next major area I'm hoping to save money is on gas.  One of the things I love about my new house is the public transportation access.  The closest bus stop is about a 15 to 20 minute walk (after some time, probably closer to 10 minutes) from the house and is a direct route to my office.  The last drop off point is followed by a 10 minute walk from the stop to my office.  So yes, plenty of walking AND leisurely reading time.

Gas costs me approximately $35 a week.  That's filling up a 12 gallon tank once every 6 to 8 days (depending on the schedule).  My commute is about 16 miles a day to and from the office not including other stops.

A monthly bus pass costs...$35!!!  So for one week's worth of gas, I can ride the bus for a month.  I would probably end up spending about $35 in gas per month for any extra driving I might do on the weekends or evenings after the buses stop (shouldn't be very often).  I even figured out how to time and switch buses to make yoga class after work two nights a week.

I had every intention of starting my new bus program today (just to and from home for a couple days with dollars before I invested in the pass), but life (read: I'm making up excuses) got in the way.  So I committed to start tomorrow.  I have to leave the house before 6am to get to the office before 7:30am.  Seems a little excessive, but I'm going to be saving money, getting decent exercise, and finally making time for all those books and magazines I've been wanting to read!  It will make evening planning a little difficult, but I'm excited to try it.

So, what drastic measures have you taken (or wish to take) to save money?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy Birthday Grandpa...and Goodbye

The last month has been hell. I lost my grandfather on Friday, July 9. My father called me the day before barely able to control his own emotional despair (marking the second time in my entire life having heard him cry) to tell me my grandfather had been hospitalized and put on a morphine drip to make him comfortable. I spent the next four hours at the hospital just sitting with him, trying to encourage him to eat when lunch came, making him more comfortable when he became fussy, until he fell asleep. My boyfriend brought me my favorite dinner and beverage and ate with me in the cafeteria before going back and saying goodbye.

I tried to go to work the next day, but couldn't concentrate. I left with the intent to go back to the hospital, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I went home and alternated between sleeping and crying. My father called me at 6pm to tell me my grandfather passed at 2pm while they were making arrangements to have him transferred to hospice care.

He loved to boast to me and others that I was his favorite, the "golden grandchild" as he would often call me. He loved to threaten boyfriends about taking proper care of me. I was the only one he would waste air preaching to, despite my grandmother's protests that he shouldn't. Every time I saw him, he always had something to give me, whether a new coin to share (he loved collecting) or a bag of candy from Grocery Outlet (he later became known to pretty much everyone, affectionately if not slightly creepy, the Candy Man). All my life, he was a rock I could talk to, and even the day before he died, my grandmother lamented about how she couldn't get him to talk to her, but he would still talk to me.

Several years ago he went in for what they thought would be a double-bypass surgery. He must have known it would be bad or they gave him a weird survival percentage because he seemed very desperate just before going in for surgery. It ended up being a quadruple-bypass surgery and he came out without complications. The downside was that he would never be able to play golf again, his true first love even though he was terrible at it (I have fond memories of driving him and his golf buddies around on a golf cart trying to dodge old men trying to pimp out their grandsons to tame the wild goth chick). He resolved to play cards at the various fraternities he belonged to. About a year ago, his doctor advised the DMV to administer a driving test, which he of course failed.

He told me at our New Year's Day dinner that this was going to be his year. And not in a celebratory, everything is going to turn around sort of way, but in a this-is-going-to-be-the-year-I-die way. He stopped communicating with family members. His appetite (already significantly reduced after the bypass years ago) dwindled even more. His freedom completely stripped, he suffered from depression. Four months later, he fell and broke his leg. It was weeks before they could do surgery on it. He was then confined to a recliner getting up with lots of assistance only to use the bathroom and eat on occasion. He became increasingly depressed, until he stopped eating and talking altogether. He was admitted into St Agnes sometimes Wednesday, July 7.

I didn't have an opportunity to really acknowledge or deal with the loss of my grandfather, with whom (if you couldn't tell) I was very close. Alongside my own loss, I was having to help support my boyfriend in a custody battle for his son. The combination of stressors had me lose sleep for over two weeks and unable to get the nurturing I needed from the person I needed it from the most. It's taken me awhile to realize how much animosity I'm still carrying from all of that.

Today would have been my grandfather's 89th birthday. The family is going to go to dinner, like we always do, to celebrate. I'm thankful for the near 29 years I had to know him and to love him. But now it's time to say goodbye.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No More Roaches!

No More Roaches

Stupid roaches have slowly been invading my kitchen. It would seem they must have burrowed in the microwave and come over during the move from the apartment to the house. Now they hide in the electrical outlets and scurry out if I leave the dishes in the sink too long. It's really gross.

So I'm supposed to be having this graduation party on Saturday, and I'm completely embarrassed by the weird infestation of ants, roaches, and now (oddly) house flies. So last night we went to war.

I wish I would have thought to take pictures, but this article on Instructables covers the project pretty well: No More Roaches.

We got home from work, ate, and got to work making the weird blue concoction. Forty-five minutes later, the whole bottom floor was done. We should have probably done the second floor, but we're lazy. I did, however, jaunt around the front and back yards applying the mixtures under the weep-screen (trying not to block it, of course).

Commenters posted positive results, so I hope we can expect the same!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Purging the Material Dross

I'm a pack rat. A low-level one, but I hate to throw things away. The worst part is you generally can't tell walking into my house. If you can't tell, that means I can't tell. If I can't tell, that means I'm not consciously aware of my problem.

As of last Saturday, that's all about to change.

After going through bins, drawers, two closets, a million and a half random bags, and under the bed, I produced a small fortune in junk I was just hanging onto. Much of it was clothes I thought I might fit back into one day, and if not, something I would reconstruct into something else. Three huge Rubbermaid storage bins, two laundry bins, some boxes, and a few bags later, I trucked everything out of my bedroom and plopped it down into my crafting room. Two bags of recyclables made it to the city sanitation bins. I didn't have that much in the way of landfill garbage, and that was refreshing.

Armed with a roll of garbage bags, I rifled through the dusty hoard and separated things I really wanted to part with from things I wanted to keep or saw a vision as something else. The box that stayed to metamorphosis into something new was significantly smaller than the bags and bags full of crap to go out.

Purged Stuff Purged Stuff

Actually, looking at the pictures it seemed like so much more. Anyway, I posted my goodies on ClovisFreeCycle and moved back inside to get to work making stuff. One of my keepers was a pirate shirt my boss gave me one year for Christmas. Here it is in it's new form as a pillow cover:

Reconned T-shirt

I was so pooped (I spent over seven hours altogether on everything) I took a nap after completing the one pillow case. I have a whole box left to go through. Whatever isn't reconstructed after six weeks gets donated to Goodwill. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Over the next six weeks, I'll be targeting every other room, cupboard, shelf, cabinet, and crevice until I am satisfied I have only that which I love.