Liminal

We sit, in the western world at least, in the liminal space between One Big Holiday (yours truly celebrates Christmas as a cultural holiday rather than a religious one) and Another Big Holiday (New Year’s Eve/Day). Annual odometer changes are so ripe for “new beginnings” that the question “have you started writing up your New Year’s resolutions?” is a fair one, even if one doesn’t practice it.

As we know, I make lists, and I like to make goals; I have had my brain described as mercurial and that’s pretty accurate: I use goals and lists to keep myself in check. (One of the reasons I don’t really get into competitive sports or games is that I’m already in constant competition with myself I don’t really want to add a new adversary.) And since many of you out there are quite possibly in that “making of lists” mood, I figured I’d share some of the resolutions and plans that have stuck best and that I have benefitted from. Take this and use it as you will; I am not a professional, just a passionate amateur.

Money Matters

I’m nearly 50 so the things I have to contend with — and the problems that money solves — are different from a new college graduate, or a young family. But having been a new college graduate and started a young family, I can provide the following things I did and used that helped:

Track Your Money; Make a Budget: I once had a friend who avoided the mailbox because she knew there were bills in there. The “rationale” was that if she didn’t open the mailbox, the bill wasn’t really an issue. (Yes, yes, my mind exploded too). *Fear of money* is a real thing, and fear of decisions about money is a real thing. In the US our financial education for children and teens is appalling. It’s offered as an elective, in some schools, and in others not at all. I get it if you’d rather not look at where the money comes, and where it goes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it — this is a fear, or a task, you will need to master because (at least at this point) we are in a world where currency is exactly that.

There’s all kinds of budgeting software out there, like You Need a Budget and Mint. They come with their own downsides and detractions, and when I started out they did not exist; so I used Excel. At one point in my life I was budgeting down to the penny but you can budget to the round number and general idea you are comfortable with. The principal parts of a budget are: how much you expect to earn (income), how much you expect to spend (outgo), and that’s it. Ideally the former is larger than the latter and if not, you work the puzzle to get it to either be even (okay) or surplus (better). You can download your most recent bank statements, import them into excel, figure out what your habits have been, and go from there. (Pro tip: work in small batches. Don’t get draconian and say “I’m never eating out again” — just like crash dieting you will regret it — pick one thing and go after it in increments.) Review it quarterly and update as needed (put an item in your calendar and treat it like a work meeting!).

Get out of Expensive Debt: If you have debt — and everyone does — you need to prioritize it. Some debt is advantageous (e.g., depending on your circumstance you would still write off your mortgage interest) but debt is debt. Identify all the money you owe (cards, loans, etc.), identify its interest rate, and look at how “expensive” that debt is. The higher the interest rate, the higher the expense, so extra cash goes to pay down that higher interest rate *first*. And if you’re really in trouble? Go to credit counseling — they can help negotiate with creditors and reduce interest rates and put things on a payment plan so your credit score doesn’t go down the tubes but you also don’t live on ramen and rice. Those store cards are tempting because they give you a % off at the beginning but they almost always have the highest interest rates, so if you plan to carry a balance (or if it’s even a possibility), don’t.

Shop Around: Your insurance company has to compete for your business. So does your cell company, and depending on where you live, maybe your internet as well. Look around and see what other companies are charging for what services and you may be able to save some cash. Sometimes all it takes is letting your current company know you’re thinking of leaving, and they’ll offer discounts.

Bulk Buying, maybe: If you have the storage space for it, bulk-buying (like what you get from Costco) is great. But you may be in a 600′ apartment and… not so much. However, you may have 3-4 friends *also* in 600′ apartments and if so, you can get a Costco membership and split the purchases. While Costco won’t do this for you — it’s a per-household thing — and while you need to trust your friends won’t stick you with 24 rolls of toilet paper — it’s worth considering.

REduce, REuse, REcycle

Marie Kondo did a bunch for many people (including me, I learned a new way to fold things) but I don’t sit there and hold up my vitamin container and ask if it brings me “joy”. There’s stuff you need to have. Clothes seems to be though the one that gets away with many of us, and so here’s some ideas:

  1. Clothes Clutter: On New Years’ Day (or some other very familiar “start of a year”, like a birthday or anniversary), flip all of your hanging clothes backwards, so you have to work to get the hanger out (so instead of the curve of the hanger facing away, it faces towards you). As you wear something, when you put it back put it the proper way (facing away). At the end of the year, anything facing you has not been worn, and at that time ask yourself: is there a good reason it has not been worn? (Oh, I dunno, maybe a pandemic rendered all those work outfits kinda useless for a bit?). Then ask if it’s worth another go. If it is, relegate part of your closet to these “unsure” clothes, put them backwards again, and go another year. If after two years you *still* haven’t worn them, and there isn’t a specific sentimental value and/or practical value (I mean, formalwear is a thing), consider donating or consigning.
  2. Paper piecing: Do you scribble notes a lot? I do. I use the backside of discarded envelopes, or misprinted pages, to jot a temporary note. (Because frankly sometimes I don’t have patience to type it into my phone with thumbs and it’s ephemeral in nature). You can make a specific tray/location for this “second chance paper”.
  3. Food Foraging: Make leftovers and use storage containers to store it. Tupperware and/or other storage containers can be got for cheap secondhand and/or accommodate your current set with a practically-priced set (bonus: organize your food storage so it isn’t hard to get at and you know where the lids are). Then, store your leftovers oldest-to-newest in the fridge (oldest at front). If you can, take lunch from home.
  4. Kitchen Kvetching: Declutter your kitchen. I am one of the friends in my group that “cooks a lot” and I was the one to do dinner parties and such in my 20’s and 30’s (and early 40’s). As a result I collected, over the years, a ton of cooking stuff… that I rarely use. I mean, how many casserole dishes does someone need? How many blenders? A friends’ friend recently pulled out all of her kitchen tools onto the counter and laid them out, and picked one (maybe two) of the favorites from the group, and donated the rest –(or if you have good stuff and larger stuff, consider selling on Mercari or Marketplace or Craigslist).

Health is Wealth

I do realize that I’m atypical here – I mean, I’m not the only one in my circle (or family) that has a spreadsheet and chart of my cholesterol levels (and other tests) over the last 15 years, but bear with me: your health is everything. (Overtones of Baz Luhrmann’s Sunscreen here).

  1. Move every day for 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a run or biking — even if it’s a brisk walk (<20 minutes per mile if you can manage it, and/or up a hill or two). It’s good for your heart but it’s also good for your head – you can listen to podcasts, or music, or mull over that issue you need brainspace to mull over. It’s raining? You don’t have a treadmill? Do some basic stretching. Check out YouTube for “bodyweight fitness” and find something do-able.
  2. Get your blood panel done annually – like my friend and her mailbox with bills, just because you haven’t gone to the doc doesn’t mean there’s nothing to attend to (and by attend to I don’t mean worry about). A regular blood panel will check for lipids, sugar, etc. and provide guidance on some changes — or not– that you may need to make. In the US, even though we don’t have socialized medicine, insurance companies are *required* to cover 100% of the cost of preventative care — which includes a blood panel over 40 and for at-risk folks.
  3. Wear sunscreen.
  4. If you want to start some sort of fitness regimen — e.g., regular work outs, tracking time and such — there’s a wealth of stuff out there to help – Strava and MapMyRun have free modes where you can sign up and just track what you do/where you do it. Or if you’re like me and less into the social aspect of working out, you can track it in Excel/Google Spreadsheets. In my 30’s I belonged to a “run club” at work where we basically had an annual goal of N miles per week and were free to track and/or do as much as we wanted. You could leverage others for accountability or not, and you could be as detailed in your tracking as you wanted.

Finale

The important thing to remember here is these are ideas for *if you want to do them*, if you identify that you need/want change and if they are appropriate to you at this time. They’re also by no means the only ones out there and, with it being that time of year, the internet is full of lists and opportunities to review. My one last piece of advice is this: you don’t have to do “all the things” and if you try you may go nuts. Pick one, maybe two, and tackle those. If that’s working, maybe pick a third and go from there. Remember: you’re not doing this for anyone else; you’re doing it for you.

Giving Tuesday

It’s Giving Tuesday, and while this is but one of many opportunities to donate to the charities that have meaning for you, it’s the one that’s here right now, nestled between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

A couple of weeks ago I reached out to family and friends to find their favorite charities. It’s not that I don’t have an idea of where my money can go, it’s more that I usually see these folks during the course of the year across a banquet table with elaborate, biddable centerpieces and carefully-folded linen napkins and dubiously fresh rolls and frozen butter. If your thirties are spent at soccer matches and theater practice, your forties (at least mine) are spent at fundraiser breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; at auctions and pop-up shops and cookie drives and popcorn sales.

I don’t get to see my friends much these days, we’re all disinclined to collect a new health concern (being in our forties we save discussion for “what’s the latest part of my body to go south” until after dessert). There’s no dessert lately, because we’re all staying home; so there’s no emotional guest-speaker, no witty and quick-moving emcee, no carefully (or not) placed nametag over the ubiquitous scarf-of-the-season.

So I reached out to my friends and asked them about their local charities, the ones they like, the ones for which I should’ve got an email invite to a downtown hotel that would make me mentally calculate my parking options, except that there are no said events. I got replies, some expected, some not, and in case you’re looking for some places to give, I hereby give you the List. It is a working list, I’ll keep adding to it, but here’s the list, this Giving Tuesday.

If these aren’t for you, I encourage you to reach out and find the one(s) that are, and see what you can do; COVID has hit not only the predictable health, homeless, and food security spots, but also there are downstream education and childcare impacts, disenfranchisement, etc. You can also reach out to me if you’d like to add to the List.

Stolen Identity and Next Steps

Well, it’s finally happened. Some enterprising twat has used my identity to do something naughty and it’s causing no small amount of consternation.

Like many in Washington, my information was used to file a false unemployment claim.  Some pseudo-human got hold of my social security number and my email, went to the ESD, and said they were me and that I was unemployed and “I can haz money now?”  I heard about this from my employer, who wanted to know if I really had filed for unemployment, while still employed.

  • Of course I couldn’t concentrate on anything after reading that email.
  • Of course I went and put a credit freeze with all three bureaus.
  • Of course I changed all my passwords.
  • Of course I filed this as a fraudulent claim with the ESD.

There’s a couple more things I didn’t realize I should do (that I have since done):

  • I have filed a police report (this can be done online!).
  • I’ve documented it with the FTC.

Going through all of this is a hassle of course, and on top of other things right now it’s quite unwelcome. Here’s the thing: I have resources, and time, and a really great employer who identified it and let me know it was happening, along with specific guidance on what to do next.  Given the size of this fraud (there’s thousands of fraudulent claims for state of WA right now) there are literally thousands of people dealing with this, and not all have time to deal with it or guidance to deal with it. So, if you or someone you know has discovered some sort of identity fraud, here’s some links and things to do:

  1. Put a credit freeze (free to do, and can be done online) on your credit with Equifax(yes, that Equifax), Experian, and TransUnion.
  2. File a fraudulent claim with the entity that was defrauded (in my case, it was the Washington state employment office– and it was filed online)
  3. File a police report (also online, non-emergency).
  4. Document it (online!) with the FTC.
  5. Call (or email, or go online) your banks and let them know, so they can guard on their end.
  6. Change all your passwords and/or your password algorithm.

Will this make you bulletproof to future fraud? No — shit can still happen. (Murphy’s Law is a law for a reason). No sense in making it easier for the assholes that do this.

A Pluot Principle

“…And then I heard this guy say, ‘I feel like I’ve missed pluot season’…”

It was a surreal Seattle moment: at a friend’s house for the Sunday before Labor Day, eating fresh, organically home-grown grafted tomatoes from a tomato plant nestled next to kale and squash, with three young urban professionals (not including yours truly and the Editor), one of which we will call John.  (The others we will call K and Margles). John had been on Bremerton for the day, rode the ferry (and heard the above quote), cycled to K and Margles’ house for dinner, and shared the quote.  (Note: my garden failed this season due to rabbits, deer, opossums, raccoons, and possibly a plague of locusts. I’m not bitter.)

There is nothing not Seattle about all of that. From the cycling* and the ferrying and the home-grown tomato-ing and the quoting and the pluot piece, that was all so clearly Seattle it made me ache (appreciatively). It also made me vaguely jealous: somewhere, out there, is someone for whom that is a thing. Someone out there has TIME to worry about whether or not they’ve missed a season of a fruit that is only a recent addition to the fruit sphere.  They’ve worried enough about it that they were talking to someone else about it, like there is some sort of Pluot Appreciation Week or Festival that was missed. (NB: you can get a 12 pack of pluots at Costco. I’m not sure how artisanal they are anymore).

*Not just John who is the cyclist – K and Margles once spent a season doing nearly every long-range ride (including at least two double centuries) the Cascade Bicycle Club arranges. They called this “fun”.

What I am getting at (albeit laboriously) is it seems to me, more often as of late, that there are a wide variety of things out there to learn/do/participate in/obsess on and a diminished resource of time, and that some of the prioritization I have had to make of late (work… obsessive housecleaning…) combat with this time scarcity issue.  I’m not entirely sure if this realization is driven from a burgeoning sense of mortality or if this is something that’s been floating around in my head for a while and now it’s just beginning to gel. I find myself increasingly weighing the experiential benefits of a reorganized library or an extra couple of hours’ sleep on the weekend against a bike ride or sailing or woodworking or such. In effect, the culmination of years of only marginally completed “to-do lists” seems to be weighing in more heavily as I head to 40. This is compounded by the fact that I am the product of four hyper-driven parents, each with hobbies that involve activity and analysis (cataloging, if you will).

I haven’t been entirely a bump on a log this time, and have done a little cycling here and there, for example. But I think it’s time to start a new list and drive a little harder on it.

Item one: experience pluots. Before they go out of season.

Plus One To Self Worth

In Dungeons and Dragons (yes, I used to play D&D, get over it) the very first thing you do, once your DM has declared the arena in which you are playing (or RIFTS — we did that too), is you wrote up your Character Sheet. Inevitably a piece of Xeroxed paper, it had check boxes and blank spaces for you to detail your character’s physical appearance, social abilities, physical, mental, and emotional abilities/proclivities, as well as a back story. It was not uncommon for everyone’s character to be a fantastically good-looking crack-shot nuclear physicist and ace-pro lover, ala Buckaroo Banzai, but there would be the “fatal flaw” they’d introduce in their character: you know, to remain interesting.

Life doesn’t hand you a character sheet. You are given the looks you inherit genetically, you are alloted the IQ points that amass themselves in your grey matter. Your character, however, is something you can develop and change. (Yes, you can “train your brain”. Yes, you can use surgery to enhance your physical appearance. But really, your character is something both easier and harder to manipulate, and it’s what we’re discussing here, so let’s ignore the caveats and nota benes, shall we?)

One of the best speeches in recent movie history was in The American President, where Michael Douglas’ president makes the statement that a the upcoming presidential race would be *entirely* about character. Any race: presidential, rat, or otherwise, is about character.

I’ve spent some time evaluating the things about myself I don’t like: I send emails too quickly, I take things to heart too easily, I spend too much time worrying about others opinions, I continue to not have the discipline to have the physique I’d like. Some of these are correctable via self-direction, some of these I will have to run into a brick wall or two in order to acquire the necessary mental note. Others seem doomed to compromise: my weight being one of them. 

I’ve known a few people who have taken stock of their life completely, and turned it around in a fashion amazing to those who knew them well and those who knew them casually. One good friend lost nearly a hundred pounds,  got divorced, acquired all sorts of new hobbies (including running, triathlons, and barhopping); another lost a significant amount of weight (she is not telling, nor should she), stayed married, took control over her education and career and is literally living the dream in Hawaii. Some friends have made changes not so sweeping: leaving an unsatisfying job, taking on new hobbies, reinvesting in their health; I think part of the human condition is to self-evaluate and, for some of us, to target improvements.

I have no idea how much of this is driven by the checklist mentality or the presumptive dopamine rush that comes from living this way. I do know that I have a few things I’d like to change, and maybe if I’m open and outward about them, and write them down, and profess them, if not in a character sheet with 8 or 12 friends and a 20-sided dice but in a blog with 8 or 12 readers and a 20-sided life, maybe then, I can upgrade my character.

Event Driven

In keeping with my usual way of doing things (e.g., the dopamine rush that one gets from chocolate, online Scrabble, and checking things off of one’s list) I have signed on for a whole bunch of stuff this year. Some I will discuss, and some I will not. There will likely be an announcement of the Not Currently Discussed Items around June or July. But this isn’t about that. Think of it as one of those teaser trailers before the show.

The Events of 2011, at least sporting wise, are:

  • A 5-k run. Yep, I have to get back into running. I’ll be starting a team of at least 10 here at Expedia for the American Lung Association’s annual 5k, and so I shall go forth to the Running Shoe Store where they will provide me with shiny new shoes. Be prepared for posts about sore knees, the amazing physics of excess flab as you run, and whether or not this was really a good idea. Also, I have to raise money.
  • A 2-day double-century bike ride, known as the STP. The Seattle To Portland, more specifically, and training for that has already begun. The fact that as part of training we will be riding 80 miles one day and 80 miles the next which is what I did for The Whole Ride last year is a bit of an eye-catcher.
  • An October stair climb event for the ALA (place to be determined). Again with the raising money.
  • And then, depending on how things went with the 5 k– the Seattle Half Marathon in November. Again.

Folding into this training schedule is that thing I call my job, which I love but which has gone up to 11 as of last November and *stayed there*. When your boss looks at you earnestly and asks you when you’re going to take any time off, and at least three coworkers suggest you need a drink, you may need to take some time off. But when you’re committed to having everything come off PERFECT or at least NOT MESSED UP then you have a hard time putting down the iPhone and the Email. The Job is having me travel a bit this year, including to Geneva (let’s hope my luggage doesn’t get lost) and then there’s personal travel too (hello, Phoenix! Hello, Hawaii!).  Oh, and then there’s boy schedule and its companions of sports and karate and boy scouts and camp and PTSA in there too. Mustn’t forget that.

This year is the first year I’m operating completely without a paper calendar. Usually, I am the recipient of a calendar from a friend who likes dogs, from a family member who defaults to Calendars, and some sort of work gift thing. And this year, I got none of it. My wall at work is empty, my dedicated calendar space at home is devoid of said calendarage. I’m operating completely on my Google and Outlook (syncd!) calendars. It will be an experiment in e-venting, I’m sure.

What I’m discovering thus far is that I need to stick to plans if I’m going to make them. When you put in your calendar that you are going to go to spin class, it’s because you realized two weeks ago when you put that there that you had a 7am call the next day and so you wouldn’t make it to *that* spin class and if you were going to get your required weekly time in the saddle then yes you really did need to do spin class on Thursday. Or when I lay out the menu for the week then I really do need to stick with it because if I wing it and use the potatoes with the pork tenderloin instead of the pasta then that means the chicken has to now go with the rice and you have to put peas with potatoes which takes it away from the cacciatore that was supposed to go with the pasta. Oh, and you end up with really weird menu combinations, which sounds fine for Iron Chef but not for Random Sammamish Hurried Dinner Wednesday.

I have — and love — my iPhone. I may need to expand its applications to help me keep the dopamine rush at a steady state.  Meanwhile, you are to fully expect more e-Venting.

PS — Starbucks is releasing a 31 ounce coffee drink. ‘Nuff said.

Wheels

I don’t know how to drive a stick shift. Yet.

Learning to drive one is/was part of my “quest for awesomeness”, e.g., my ongoing list of things I should do before I become a useless, shriveled old maid. The fact that I hadn’t learned in my younger days — mind you, at sixteen I could change the oil, transmission fluid, coolant, and tires on a 1981 Volvo — is sad and crippling; my instructor (Mr. W, who is an Aussie and happily accepts payment in gastronomie and vin!) is patient and thorough. I have completed lesson two.

Lesson two involved repracticing start/stop, and that sorta-glidey-thingie you do with the clutch in and the brake off and you’re rounding a corner and going into a parking space. Or something. I also learned to shift up and down, which I need to practice.

Two hours later I was on the bike for the first time in five months. We did but 13 miles courtesy of a blown tire (mine) and only one spare (Duncan’s); it felt *good*. And tomorrow? Tomorrow we enroll for the STP, the Seattle To Portland, 200 miles in 2 days, with a stop (thank whatever God(s) you select) at my mother’s house at the halfway point.

And so January turns! (PS — this week? I lost two of those three awful pounds, and went to the gym 5/7 days). Go me!

Getting it in Gear

I have this list of things I think I really ought to learn to do, or should change in my habits. For example, some of the latter include an average of one “me” night per week, or healthier eating habits. The former include things like “learn to ski” and “learn to drive a stick shift”.

Today was my first driving lesson: stick shift. It was in a Subaru which was fancier than any other Subaru I’d been in, and the car itself had been driven to the arctic circle. It had a good deal more computers and junk in it one would expect of a Subaru.

It also had a stick. On the stick was a little diagram, like the three-man Henkel’s diagram, except this one had little numbers (1-5) and an R. We didn’t mess much with that. Instead, there is this other thing it had: a clutch. I can understand the physics of a clutch just fine.

Practical application, however, found me lacking. Safely nestled in the semi-empty parking area in the back of Bellevue Square, my instructor (hm, let’s call him G, to protect the innocent) had me, before starting the car, have my left foot fully extended to fully depress the clutch. Then, my right foot fully extended to depress the brake. Then, and only then, could I start the car. The image you should get here is of someone trying desperately to force their feet through the floorboards, white knuckling the wheel.

At this point, I should note, I hadn’t moved or done anything, except for starting the car.

With the car started, there was oration on how I would carefully lift my foot off of the brake, carefully put said foot (the right foot – Dexter) on the gas so as to get to 1,500 RPM, and then carefully remove my foot (left foot – Sinister) from the clutch, and roll forward.

This I did, but in no way shape or form was it elegant. It was a bit lurchy, although I didn’t stall the car there. I stalled it on the next go, and then at the turn I had to do, and then a third time. The total of stalls were about 3, the total of start/stop practices were roughly 12 (4 laps, 3 each) plus some extra little ones at the end. I learned many things, including:

  • Wearing high-heeled boots is not an intelligent driving choice when dealing with a stick.
  • That little wiggly thing people do with the stick actually has purpose.
  • You can tell if you are revving the car up too much because it sounds different.
  • You can tell if you are at the point where you will not stall because it sounds different.
  • Mall security will wait patiently behind you while you practice driving until your instructor waves them by, whereupon they will rev past you at 40 mph, to illustrate their point.
  • Thirty minutes go fast when you are clenching every muscle below your waist and at the end of your arms.