Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Since I didn't spend that much during the holidays (a whopping $15 for two 4 by 6 inch picture frames) I didn't break my budget overdoing the peak consumer season.  However, my finances are in disrepair from a year of happy spending (house toys, my best friend's wedding, lots of trips and travels all while Jeff was on and off employment status) and so the upcoming year is going to be my big year of saving.

With a few notable exceptions, I have kept my plans for the upcoming year to a minimum.  I wanted maximum flexibility for spontaneous plans with friends or adventures in the wildernesses not too far from home.  Now that a new opportunity has sprung up, I'm doubly happy I gave myself plenty of space.

A pared down calendar is synonymous with less spending for me.  This coming year will be a time for me to focus on saving, paying down debt, and taking advantage of my skills and passions to earn extra income for the previous objectives.  Sure I have a couple of more elaborate plans during the course of the year, but they may not pan out either.  I'm keeping things open to possibilities.

Fortunately, we received a lot of gift cards to the movies for Christmas so that gives us something to do for free (other than the gas to get to the theater).  We also got some Amazon bucks to get some pretty toys or time wasters.  I may just use mine for household items that have been on my wishlist for awhile, like curtains for the bedroom or living room; or maybe more jars for canning deliciousness.

To earn some extra cash, I'm planning on throwing a yard sale in a couple weeks.  This means I'll have to buckle down and turn my living space into a chaotic staging area before things can be moved out front.  However, it'll be good to go through all our junk and make a bit of extra money.  Ten percent of whatever we make will be spent on something fun, another 10% will go into savings, and the remainder will go towards any past due household bills or credit card debt.

Also, I'm slowly whittling away at my existing commissioned yarn projects.  I completely missed my self-imposed deadlines, but I'm closing in on finishing.  I will working on smaller projects that I can mass produce easily for sale.  I may not get everything up on Etsy before the next holiday season, but I'd like to build some stock to take advantage of the buying season.  Income from this will be handled the same way, 10% fun, 10% savings, and the rest to bills.  All other crafting time will be focused on making stuff for the debut performance of Piper.  With her parentage, she's guaranteed to be the quirky and outrageous show-stopper.

I won't be pursuing yoga teacher training this year, but I intend on maintaining my once a week class schedule.  I may look at offering an additional class at night during the work week, but I'll base this off of demand.  Some people asked for bellydancing classes, but this is a big maybe.  I'm also playing with the idea of asking a bit more for classes, while offering a "discount card" deal.  During the first four months of me opening my home to classes, there were a lot of last minute cancellations.  I don't mind this at all, life happens.  But I hope by raising a single class price while offering a multi-class card will help encourage attendance and allow me to continue to invest in my own growth and training.  All income will go towards my own continuing education with a professional teacher, investing in props for students, and maintaining the space (like paint and carpet cleaner).  If I offer bellydancing classes, the income breakdown will work the same.

I have one more trick up my sleeve, but it hasn't quite panned out yet and I'm not ready to jinx it yet.  However, I hope to share more about it soon!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And A Happy Holidays Were Had By All

I had a remarkably peaceful and relaxing Christmas weekend with my family.  It's my third Christmas season with Jeff, and we have a pretty comfortable and predictable schedule we've settled into.  It involves mostly time with my family, but it's usually pretty low key so it works.  

Although now that we have a program to stick to, I'm entertaining the idea of sneaking off next Christmas and having a quiet retreat instead.  

I know I said I wasn't going to do presents, but I ended up doing a couple things for my folks.  When we went to Disneyland in November with my family, we had a family photo done at Goofy's Kitchen.  My brother, however, decided not to show and was obviously not present in the photo.  In an act of stubbornness, my mother refused the photos because he wasn't in it.  Knowing my mom (after all, it's where my brother and I inherited our own stubborn, thick heads!), I waited for my parents to leave the restaurant and saved the photos from being doomed to the garbage bin.  Surprise, surprise, my mom apparently spent a lot of time a couple weeks later trying to hunt down the photos (they are supposed to make them available online).  I spent $15 at Target getting a couple of cheap frames and placed the now framed photos between two relevant cooking magazines (both my parents love to cook) and wrapped with dollar store wrapping paper.  One package per parent.  

For my brother, I made up a batch of my popular spicy peanut sauce.  I didn't think he'd be interested, but he seemed excited to experiment with it.  Maybe I was fooled, but I'm glad he seemed to like it.  

And since I think would be murdered if I didn't share, half of the peanut sauce batch I jarred up for my bestie and her hubby.  The last jar will also be gifted to friends.  Although these gifts have more to do with my love of sharing rather than the holidays.  I would have done it if I made it on a Tuesday night in February.  In fact, I'll probably make it again the first week in January.  Maybe I should start asking for my jars back.  Those things get expensive!  Oh well, I digress!

For the boy we got really simple things.  A glow in the dark puzzle.  A Lego board game (which technically I bought for myself a year ago, and still haven't used).  A Lego R2D2 present which actually never made it to my parents to be unwrapped.  A signed picture of Woody and Buzz Lightyear that never made it to the frame or got wrapped (again technically was a present from the Disney Hotel to Jeff for his birthday, but better suited to the boy).  We might save the other two presents for his birthday at this point since he isn't going to miss what he doesn't have.  He received a few presents from my family and Jeff's family and appeared to be pretty satisfied with the quality of gifts.  My mom got him a set of binoculars so we promised him a trip to the mountains or something to use them properly.  Just an excuse to get some time outdoors and be active.  To all of which I say, YAY!

Jeff and I received lots of candies and gift cards.  Looks like we'll have few excuses to make it out on some dates over the next couple months (we all received ridiculous quantities of movie bucks, so hopefully some good stuff comes out this year!).  We have seriously been neglecting date night time and it shows.  I'm thinking date night on weeks we don't have the boy and family night on weeks we do.  I need some creative, low-cost options and plan on making a list and will share here in a couple months after we have tested some.  I'm open to ideas on the cheap if anyone has some to share!

Monday we all relaxed.  I played too many video games in the morning and spent the rest of the afternoon in my office plotting devious...plots.  Danny played with some of his new toys and in the evening we helped him build a big Cars Lego set my mom got him.  

So, enough about us! How were your holidays?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sometimes You Just Need a Break

Some of you may have noticed, and maybe some of you haven't, but I have been totally blowing you off.

That's right.  I went into hiding.  I didn't answer calls or texts.  I didn't respond to emails or Facebook Wall posts.

No, I gave the finger to social activities, thumbed my nose at coffee dates, and generally pooped on invitations to get out of the house.

Okay, maybe none of that is true, but I definitely have been avoiding making much in the way of plans as the year winds down to a close.  The Minimalist Mom reminded me this week of the importance of slowing down and discerning between busy work and productive stuff.

I needed some me time.  I needed some time to initiate some new projects that I'm excited to be sharing with you over the next few weeks.  I needed to recommit to myself, my partnership, and my home.  I needed to cut out distractions and really focus on the things that matter and let the things that aren't just fade into the past where I can keep the memories fond and the resentment non-existent.

I miss my friends and my family, but this has so far been time very well spent.  I look forward to getting back in touch with everyone after the first, but I might have to make a "life sabbatical" a regular thing throughout the year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Christmas Rebellion

First, a great big, bright, happy, and merry Yule to all my friends!

Yule and Christmas both are about the light returning to the earth.  Yule being specifically celestial in nature, Christmas playing to that in the metaphorical sense of the birth of the Christ child.  Whatever you believe, may you find warmth among loved ones this week.

Those of us in the Western world have likely been scurrying to buy or make presents for all our family and friends, stressing out about the tsunami that is our dysfunctional family dynamics, and trying to keep up on day-to-day activities to boot.

I decided months ago that I wasn't going to participate in present exchanging this year.  I might bake or cook to contribute to family feasts, but I wasn't going to purchase or make anything specifically for Christmas.  I bought some packages of cards from the dollar store and am writing up cards to give to family and friends we see between now and the New Year with little poems I think they'll like handwritten inside.

On present buying, I'm broke.  I knew a couple months ago the season was going to be hard.  I just got back from some serious traveling, there was going to be no way I could responsibly put my money on anything other than essentials.  Now, we have been collecting things for the boy for months, but it isn't much and since I'm trying to promote a minimalistic lifestyle (and he spends more time interacting with us than he does playing with toys anyway) he'll have a few small things to open at Christmas.  I think when you're 5 the experience is more about opening things than what you end up getting.

On crafting, I'm behind.  After a sudden tragedy in February, I couldn't even look at yarn for months.  I go through phases of excitement, but they burn too hot (I always injure my wrists) and too fast (I don't want to look at yarn for weeks at a time).  I have one project that is huge, and while I keep making progress on it, the progress is slow (it's thankfully gorgeous though and I hope it's future owner thinks it's worth the wait).  Most of my other projects are small, but with all the traveling and hectic stuff there's still only so much I can do.  I just didn't want to stress about it.

I don't like the obligation of gift giving, and after making the decision I wouldn't be participating I feel really positive about the holiday season.  I'm looking forward to spending time with our families and relaxing.

Will I accept presents?  Yes, of course.  Most of my friends and family are either in the same boat as me or have been duly warned.  But for those that decided they still wanted to put forth the effort to think of me and picked up something they think I would enjoy, it seems insulting to turn away their gifts.  Perhaps that seems selfish and contradictory, but you try turning someone's gift away and tell me how it works out for you. Personally, I plan on focusing more on offering gifts throughout the year.  They're unexpected and random and I think have longer lasting positive effects.

What did you decide to do for the "gifting" season?  Did you make a budget?  Did you stick to it?

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Review of 2011

It's that time of year when everyone stops among the holiday bustle and shopping trips and thinks about where they are headed for the future.  We begin to think about the dreaded and hopeless New Year's resolution lists and that gym membership we promised ourselves.

Last year, I made a long list of goals that I hoped to accomplish throughout 2011, but I didn't really finalize them until March or April.  I also broke them down into categories: Physical, Spiritual, Career/Education, Fun, and Other.  I spent a great deal of time thinking about them and setting them up.  It didn't take long before I forgot about the list completely!

It was a blogosphere meme that reminded me to go back and look over my beautiful list of lovely aspirations.  At first glance, I assumed it was just a list of failures, a reflection of my inability to see anything through.  But as I stared at it, I realized that I actually did accomplish some things towards my goals.  In fact, I think there were only two items that I actually completely failed at.

My biggest failing, other than completely forgetting about the list, was making the goals too abstract (even though I really knew better).  And whereas I was good about listing my goals at the start of every month, January 2011 was the last time I did that.

A lot of my goals for 2011 will be carried over into 2012.  However, I'll be more specific and assign several mini actions to each so I have a way to gradually build up to whatever the goal is and ways of measuring my failures and successes.  They'll also be more relevant to each other and that helps make everything a little more successful.

I'll be detailing more about this over the next two weeks.  You'll probably want to stab me or something before 2012 even gets here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Finally Back and Settling In

I've been neglectful in my blog posting duties!  Sorry folks!

Well, I'm finally back from my travels and ready to get back into the swing of things.  There's so much to say and do!  I'm not even sure where I left off!

There are several future posts I have in the works.  Lots of announcements to make in the next several weeks.  But all good things in time, right?

I have to say, Great Britain was amazing!  The land was gorgeous, the buildings beautiful, the people pleasant, and the food and drink were spectacular (I developed an addiction to steak and ale pie).  While it's good to be home, I wish home was there.

I think my favorite place was definitely South/Southeast Wales.  Pictured above is Tintern Abbey.  I had the good fortune to spend several hours milling about there.  When we left to make the trek to Manchester, England the area around the abbey revealed everything I expected from the UK.  It matched the image I had created and held in my mind for so many years.  I hope my next visit affords me significantly more time in this area.

I have tons of photos from my trip.  I took something like 1,318 pictures and kept 896 of them.  Most of my pictures are of buildings because I simply love Gothic architecture, but if you fancy a time sink you can help yourself to them.

When I got home, I didn't have any time for rest.  I got a couple hours of sleep and hurried off to work.  My first week home was kind of a whirlwind and I spent most of my first weekend home catching up on Skyrim to the exclusion of everything else I probably should have been doing with my time.  My cats didn't mind.  It meant I was stationary long enough to provide much needed comfort through lap-time to sooth their lonely cat selves.

Now I'm gearing up for the holidays and some new projects that should keep me busy for awhile.  I'm also looking back over the last year to check my progress on the goals and projects I set in motion last year.  You know, because that's what you do this time of year.  Reflect and stuff.