Thursday, January 30, 2014


Introspective has been my mood of late... Knitting projects set aside for a bit, perhaps this my mistake, while the weather is simply cold & grey. Of course I've been on Pinterest, hoarding and vicariously enjoying the lovely photos on my boards, yet still being burdened by the sense of wasting time waiting.... Waiting to start classes, waiting for the Spring thaw, waiting for a break. It is not that I am not doing anything, it's just that I'm doing the same things. While all the small changes I accomplish, do not seem to be contributing  any significant difference in my current day to day life.

I have taken some comfort in the quotes of Cicero. The Roman statesman, who as a non-supporter of Mark Antony, was ultimately beheaded by his adversaries. I am amazed at how many familiar quotations are attributable to the ancient rhetoric of Marcus Tullius Cicero. Here are a few of my favorites gleaned from this website,
 "Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others."
 "Where there's life, there's hope."
 "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

Quite inspirational concepts passed down through the ages and still meaningful today.  Although I do have a garden and a library, there are obviously seasonal restrictions here in Missouri for garden comforts, so to the library I shall go. Cicero wisely said, "Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body," thus my treatment for these seasonal doldrums is an extensive dose of library and writing therapy. I shall also begin the annual winter sock knit-a-thon with my daughter and challenge ourselves to a more decorative sock pattern. A snowy weekend is expected so what better time to start something new...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Brrr--- It's been Cold!

Apparently, the once in a lifetime polar vortex will be returning. There was a frozen inch of crusty snow which melted today when temps hit 58F/14C! Midwest weather is whimsical at best, yesterday it hailed, rained, then got sunny... Now tonight we are at 23F/-5C, the wind is howling and snow flurries are in the air. The dogs, Emma & Wendy, got a walk in the park today before the arctic wind started again. They have been happily wearing their coats around the clock, but today had some fun without them.

I have become somewhat reclusive staying indoors, reading, drinking gallons of hot tea and knitting. Since returning to work post knee surgery, the challenge of reconditioning my body to the demands of the shipping industry has left me quite sore after sorting thousands of pounds of packages per night. I now refer to my bed as the "recovery pod," from which I drag myself out every afternoon. I have regularly been doing my exercises but most of my day is low key as I get used a higher activity level. Every night at work is a bit easier and this week I'm starting to feel back to normal energy-wise.

Anyway, a few knitting projects have been on the needles lately. I finished and mailed to my sister, a cabled hat in Mochi Plus, color #560, which since you won't be able to see it was in shades of lime, purple and turquoise. Having forgotten to photograph it before it left the house, the pattern example is the purple cabled hat at left. This is the perfect, quick cabled beanie, definitely a satisfying knit. Unfortunately, since I have been knitting this pattern for years I have no idea where I found it. I just keep copying the tattered original.

 I also finished knitting a new pattern beanie for my brother. Via Pinterest & Ravelry, the Swirl Hat by Mandie Harrington is a free download, get it here I'm using Imperial Yarn, Tracie, a 2 ply sport weight in color #116 Black Cherry. This 100% wool comes in twisted 400 yard hanks and is a pleasure to work with, please view the website here at beanie goes in the mail tomorrow, so he can have it when the cold wave here reaches him on the East Coast in a few days.
Swirl Hat

Some of the excellent books I've read or listened to recently are: Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan; a mysterious bookstore which has links to the first books ever printed and Google. The Maggie Hope series (3 books so far) starting with Mr. Churchill's Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal; set in WWII London during the Blitz interfacing spy intrigue with cryptography. My final selection is The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna; a novel set in a post-war Croatia into which a British woman and her children have moved and hired handyman Duro, who shields the family from local hostilities. As you can tell I lean towards the mystery genre but enjoy novels set in Europe or with a historical reference. Got to keep the mind as active as the body through these doldrums of winter. Hope everyone is keeping warm, well read and creative during this cold season.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Financial monkey file

Here in America tax day is April 15th. Our Congress may not be able to work together on partisan agendas but they have gotten quite good at enacting taxes on the American public. Obviously we, the public, work together to fund this government, so the adage about the only certainties in life are "death & taxes" is an annual truism. Procrastination is a habit that makes tax time akin to physical torture, so I am going to share my hard learned lesson about preparing to file your taxes.

Purchase or re-purpose any 1-1/2" 3-ring binder and fill it with 20 clear plastic page sleeves. You can find standard weight sheet protectors at most stores that sell office supplies, even WMart has a package of 25 for about four dollars. This is what I call my "monkey file," no offense to monkeys but this file is simple enough to use... Throughout the year, insert into the clear page protectors any check or check copy, receipt, and donation record generated. It is important to take that minute to place the item into the monkey file as you receive it or even think it might apply to your taxes. I leave my notebook in the kitchen, so it is in an obvious place and not forgotten. Believe me, these two seconds of filing are so worth it when tax time rolls around.

It is especially important in January of the following year when the W-2s, annual bank, retirement fund, and education tax forms arrive you have a safe single place to store these important tax summaries. Then review the already organized information, just hanging out in the monkey file. No more hunting through annual check registers, searching for receipts or estimating mileage, that data has spent the last year stored neatly in plastic protectors. Whether you do your own taxes or have an accountant, your financial records are already available at your fingertips. No more frantic searches, nor the need to dig through a box of receipts. And, if you are really a stellar monkey file maintenance human, make a list of the annual bits of tax paper you are required to have and check it off as you receive it, then you'll know what to call for or copy before tax preparation time if it's left unchecked on your master list. Once you file your taxes you empty out the monkey file and include that information with copies of that year's tax forms, leaving an empty monkey file for next year. Simple & satisfactorily segregated stuff!

So start a monkey file this year for next and you will make a positive impact on your attitude towards doing your annual taxes. You might even be able to file earlier and get an early return check. Woo-hoo! A few seconds of filing throughout the year creates an accurate tax data resource simplifying your life immeasurably.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gimme 10

Think 10...  A lovely number, in fact every kindergartener is thrilled the first time they can count that high. It's fun to add and multiply, just a one and a zero. In minutes it's not too long, and for sit ups or weight lifting its a goal, take ten is a nice little break. I like the number ten, it's universal, metric and all around a happy number, so I use it surprisingly often throughout my day. The number ten can be an integral part of your financial plan too.

Take ten. Even set a timer and with pencil and scrap paper write down ten dreams, those things you would really want to do or achieve perhaps this year or in your lifetime. Now, write down ten life essentials, stuff like love your family, pay bills, or develop healthy habits & then, ten things you could do without. These are all exercises to encourage conscious goal directed life choices, not the autopilot cruising which causes us to forget we are the cruise director on this journey. Now read through your lists; is there a theme? Lists are wonderful tools to simplify your life, whether on index cards, post-its or in a lovely Moleskine journal. It is important to have a hard copy reminder.

So now, it could be easy to say chuck all 10 items on the list you could do without, but focus is a key element to bring about positive change in your life. Big or small, #10 or # 1 choose a single item and focus on how to eliminate it, because those life essentials and ultimately your dreams are negatively effected by the ten things you could do without. Successful life changes are gradual processes of re-education, reminding and modification. Keep your lists in your wallet for handy reference.

The final ten is making sure you are saving 10% of every paycheck. Set it aside and be disciplined. Use direct deposit to automatically remove the percentage from your regular pay, when you don't see it, you don't spend it. Dreams need regular fundraising to be successful. Use the focus of your simple lists to provide direction & accomplishment of the stuff which gives personal value and joy to your life.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Makin' it work

How to live cheaper in 2014... I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't think the jobs situation is going to get any better for at least five more years. Yeah, I know a depressing thought for most, but look at Europe, post 2008, work opportunities have crashed. When I was in Iceland in 2012, they were recovering their economy but citizens were hustling, doing lots of entrepreneurial work for cash.

In my humble opinion, the age of the eight-hour-full-time-job-with-benefits has passed. Folks are going to have to make due with a series of cobbled together part time jobs to generate an income. Creativity is going to be key to developing a marketable niche, as well as designing a lifestyle that is smarter and cost efficient, rather than spartan. The whole "living within your means" is going to become the mantra of the successful participants in this new economy. Let's face it, Americans need to cut down on stuff. We live in a consumer driven economy and until we rein in spending on luxury items, those beyond basic food, shelter, clothing and transportation, we are not going to get ahead. I know everyone's budget is different, but I think we will all be "making do" for a significant amount of time in this coming year, erasing debt not creating it and saving is key.

So now I will segue into a bit of personal history.... I have always been a saver, obsessed with maintaining a financial safety net no matter how small. Most folks fall into one of the two obvious camps, saver or spender. Of course even savers have moments when they spend, with sweaty palms & heart pounding, an example is my impulsive trip to Iceland (which I am still working to pay off). In my experience though, spenders spend with much less anxiety, assuming the expenses will all work out and consider saving sort of boring. So spenders have more work to do in this area than savers, but let's face it we can all be smarter about how we use our money. As a disclaimer, I am not a financial advisor, go to a professional if you need to, but I've got a few hard learned life lessons to share.

Let's start with a reading list. These are a few books I have found helpful & enlightening:
1.) Your Money or Your Life:  9 steps to transforming your relationship with money... by Vicki Robin
2.) Affluenza: The all-consuming epidemic by John De Graff, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor
3.) Simple Prosperity-Finding real wealth in a sustainable lifesyle by David Wann
4.) The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard scroll down through the donate ad to see the video and the original "stuff" videos. (Certainly donate to this worthy organization if you are inspired).

All of these reads are at your local public library and possibly downloadable online. Chose one, even a chapter or two that interests you. Take it slow and think about some of the concepts, you don't need to adopt them all, try just one easy idea. Small changes involving your financial habits are easier to maintain; I stopped driving past TJ Maxx on payday and saved $40 a week! I'm planning to do a few posts on this theme. So hang in there & get reading.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bitter cold

When snow and polar temperatures are forecast, Mid-westerners definitely heed the warnings. It is quite impressive when folks are shopping Thursday night (2 days in advance) and clearing off grocery shelves by Saturday evening in preparation for predicted severe weather. Besides all the bread & milk that was wiped out, it looks like the local household storm menu would be soup, chili or spaghetti. The sandwich fixin's were also fairly decimated, and of course the cheaper liquor selections and bottled water took major hits at our local grocery. Friday & Saturday saw long lines at grocery checkouts and gas stations, but by late evening, everyone seemed to be home, snugged in with their provisions.

I cooked up a big pot of lentil soup. So when everyone returned home from work by 9PM the savory kettle was simmered and tasty. Val baked a delicious chocolate cake with homemade cream cheese frosting, so we were stuffed and happily readying for the storm. The snow shovels were set by each door along with a few bags of sand. A few arm fulls of cord wood were brought in for the fireplace and the rest of the blankets came out of the cedar chests for additional bedding.

Wendy in green & blue flowers, Emma in mod neon.
 I got busy sewing up a dog coat for Wendy. I had made Emma one a few years ago, so fortunately I had a demo model to work from. There are only three pieces to my creation; it is insulated with polyester quilt batting, polar fleece and topped with decorative corduroy. Wendy needed a couple more inches across the chest and back, but otherwise I remembered how to assemble the pieces correctly and had a new dog coat in a short time. The girls have been wearing their coats for potty runs, which given the chill are brief. I decided to leave them wearing their coats inside tonight in case we lose power. Aren't they stylin'?

The anticipated blizzard arrived about five hours late, but the snow accumulation was a significant ten inches by mid-morning Sunday. Handyman Todd made it by the house tonight and was surprise snow blowing the driveway! The roads are still not plowed but with a couple hundred extra pounds in the back of his van, he managed to slowly get through the neighborhood. He earned a big hug, a hot mug 'o' tea, and a sack dinner to go... 

Temps are now down to -3F/-19C with a bitter wind chill of -24F. I am not sure many folks will be going to work tomorrow... the plows still haven't been around. The trash haulers texted us that all Monday pickup routes will be cancelled. The local schools are also cancelled. The world is definitely quiet here as folks are all inside keeping safe and warm. Our fireplace is a pleasure and we are finally burning some of the half cord of wood I've been saving for years. Here's hoping everyone keeps warm and safe during this severe weather as it blankets the Midwest and heads East.