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?