Friday, July 27, 2012

finding passion, part 4: skills

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #4: What are you ridiculously good at?  What are your precious gifts?

Hoo boy.  These certainly are getting to be trickier.  I don't know that there's anything I'd describe myself as being ridiculously good at.  So let's drop the modifier for now.

What am I just good at?  No matter how silly or seemingly irrelevant it is?

  • dancing, in various forms
  • working with some animals (mostly horses)
  • cooking
  • writing
  • proofreading/editing/typesetting
  • presenting
  • throwing parties
  • planning events
  • grasping abstract mathematical concepts
  • seeing patterns
  • listening to people
  • DDR (yes, really.  Silly but true)
  • touch-typing
  • giving massages
  • being a student
  • making lists
  • memorizing things

It seems that I'm good at physical expression, learning, planning, and working with words.  Hmm.  This... will have to do for now.  Next!

What are you good at?

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibilitypart 3: gratitude.

Monday, July 23, 2012

small space fetish

I have an odd fixation on the notion of living in a small space in a city.  I romanticize the notion of being close to everything, having real public transit options, and being forced to seriously edit my mountains of crap.  To have everything I own be something I absolutely love.  To be absolutely ruthless about what is in my home.  To spend less time cleaning and organizing, and more time living.  To abolish clutter.

Granted, in reality city living is cramped, dirty, loud, and has all sorts of downsides.  My fantasy doesn't necessarily take those into account, hence the romanticization.  But fundamentally, I find myself desperate for change of some sort.  I want... different.  

Part of why I'm so obsessed with decluttering is that it feels like a step toward that goal.  The less stuff that has to be lugged around, the more freedom we'll have to jump when the next life change opportunity comes to call, whatever form it might take.  

All my life, whatever household I've been a part of has required a fairly sizeable house.  Not necessarily for the people, but for the stuff.  For some reason, saying 'this one won't work; it isn't big enough to hold all our stuff' seems perfectly reasonable in this country.  When did we start adjusting the houses to fit the accumulated junk, instead of simply living in a reasonable amount of space?

Though the average American family size has decreased about 30% since 1950 (from 3.8 to 2.6), average house size has increased more than 2.5-fold!  This is ridiculous!  That average 1950's family was living in under 1,000 square feet of space, but we still seem to be always upsizing and expanding.

Always needing more, more more... how about opting out and downsizing instead?  Living with less doesn't signify failure, and renting isn't a sign of having given up.  These things only indicates breaking free of the outdated American Dream.  What worked in the fifties due to some rather unique circumstances (the GI bill, a time of major economic prosperity, plenty of jobs, etc.) is a silly standard to still hold ourselves to.  In the current economic climate, maybe owning a house with a white picket fence no longer makes sense!  Make your own future.  Figure out what works for you.  The real you, not your fantasy self that throws perfect dinner parties and has 2.5 children.  Or maybe the fantasy self tours around the country playing the washboard in a zydeco band, but you're happier staying in one place, hopefully in a smaller (and cheaper) house than you can afford.  The point is to move beyond mindless plodding toward an outdated goal that may or may not be applicable to your unique circumstances.  

For me, I want out of the upsizing cycle.  I want the freedom that comes from focusing more on people and experiences rather than stuff.  To have more time, energy, and money not spent on maintaining/acquiring/storing stuff.  To prioritize the aspects of life that are actually important.  

Maybe this is a silly romantic notion, and maybe I'll never make it to my fantasy city.  Maybe I'll always live in three-bedroom houses.  But in the meantime, I'll keep 

But hey, a girl's got to dream, right?

Friday, July 20, 2012

finding passion, part 3: gratitude

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #3: What do people thank you for?

This one was exceedingly difficult.  I am generally rather unobservant when it comes to myself, and so at first blush I couldn't think of a darn thing in answer to this question.  I'm sure it's happened, but I don't seem to have remembered any instances of it.

After chatting with a few people and doing some deep introspection, I came up with this marginally satisfactory assortment of items:
  • listening/discussing life issues
  • emotional support
  • cooking
  • hospitality (throwing parties, having people over, etc.)
  • helping work through problems
  • being a sounding board/devil's advocate
Most of these items seem to pertain to conversations.  There is likely to be some serious sample bias base simply on what I was thinking about today and the interactions I've had in the past short while.  However, it's still an interesting result, and hopefully will yield further insights down the line. 

What are you thanked for?

Previous questions: part 1:happiness , part 2: invincibility.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

today I love...

... Julie D'Aubigny.  She was a totally rockin' 17th century lady who kicked a whole hell of a lot of ass.  It's well worth reading about her ridiculously impressive achievements.   She's my new hero for badassery.

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, July 16, 2012

5 things I've learned about student loans

I'm not going to talk about prohibitive college expenses, interest rates, or loan marketing.  Nope, I'm just going to talk about my own experience with student loans, and what I wish I'd done differently.

Some background: I attended a ridiculously inexpensive university, and managed to escape with only a small (under five figures) amount of loan debt.  I know that many, if not most students, have a much more difficult time and wind up with truly unmanageable mountains of debt.  My rambling in no way is meant to belittle that abysmal situation or to put my burden on the same scale as those who've had to work much harder to scrape by.  

Some of these might seem obvious, but they are all lessons that I had to learn the hard way.  

1) If you can possibly get by without loans and not actually starve, do it.  

For the first few years of my undergraduate career, I got by on scholarships, my part-time job in a laboratory and some support from my parents.  In my fourth year or so, I scored a much better paying student internship.  However, after five years (yeah, I know, it's only supposed to take four), my scholarships dried up.  Suddenly the school actually wanted me to pay them to go to school!  Can you imagine.  

I hadn't had the foresight to save up tuition money over the prior years, despite the surplus from my scholarships (yep, they literally cut me a check each semester, which I promptly spent on... I have no idea what).  The school wanted what seemed to be a large lump sum of money that I didn't have, so I figured I'd need a loan.  

Now I wonder about that.  Maybe I could have borrowed from my parents or a friend, and then paid it off over the course of that same year.  Maybe there were deferment options.  Maybe I could have scraped the cash together somehow.  Who knows?

What I do know is that I'd be so much more happy now without that particular, maybe unnecessary debt.  If I had to live a bit leaner in the meantime, so what?  Students are famous for being poor, and yet I suspect I maintained a higher standard of living than was strictly speaking necessary.  I wish I hadn't sacrificed my future self's (that would be now-me, writing this article) income and sanity for my standard of living then.  

2) If you have to go into debt, loans >> credit cards. 

During those same late-undergraduate years, I racked up an embarrassing amount of credit card debt.  I splurged on parties, I bought so many presents for friends, I went to Europe.  Maybe those loans were needed after all, and though I'm potentially contradicting the advice above, maybe I should have taken out more money than I did.  Interest rates are lower on loans than on credit cards in general, and I probably would be paying back a slightly lower total balance now.  

Avoid credit cards like the plague, especially when you feel like you don't have much money.  If you can't afford something, you certainly can't afford to pay even more by financing it.  Don't do it.  

3) Figure out what you actually need. 

When filling out loan paperwork at the financial aid office, I simply guessed at a number and wrote it down.  Okay, so tuition and books are reasonably predictable expenses, but I had no idea at what rate I was otherwise hemorrhaging money.  That information might have been useful.  Maybe I could have taken out a bit less, and accrued less interest.  Or maybe I should have taken more, and thus avoided high-interest credit card debt.  Or maybe I should have done the damn calculations just as a reality shock to myself, to get me to pay better attention to my finances.

4) Shop around.  Know interest rates. 

Ah, yes.  Being in a research field, one might think that I would have found all the reference materials available about loans and educated myself ravenously.  I would have found out who the different lenders were, what their practices looked like, their interest rates, their policies.  

I did none of that.  

When it came to selecting a lender, I quite literally checked a box at random. 

When my husband and I were comparing finances, I learned that the interest rate on his student loan was something like four whole percentage points lower than mine.  That's a huge difference when it comes to the evils of compounding interest. My interest rate looks more like it belongs on a credit card, not a student loan.  

Research.  Educate yourself.  This stuff is important.

5) Think about the options.

At one point in the consultation, the loan officer asked me if I'd like to pay off the accrued interest while still in school.  

Hell no!  Are you crazy?  I don't want to have to pay you now --- I'll be living on that money!  I'll deal with it after I graduate, thanks. 


Fast forward: after two years of paying down the loan, I have the balance almost down to the original borrowed amount.  That's as though these two years of money have only gone to the interest I avoided paying at the beginning.  The amounts would have been relatively tiny, and paying then would have kept the compounding in check, resulting in a much lower total payback amount.  And then I would be where I am now (owing approximately the amount I borrowed) two years ago when I graduated.  And I would be that much closer to debt freedom.  

Know the options.  Actually think about them, and examine your knee-jerk responses.  Second-guess yourself.  Your future self will thank you.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

finding passion, part 2: invincibility

I'm working through the '27 Questions to Find Your Passion' worksheet from Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  Join me!

Question #2: What do you do that makes you feel invincible?

Invincible, in this context, I take to mean guaranteed of success, unable to fail.  Feeling so good that nothing could possibly go wrong.  This isn't a feeling that I'm especially familiar with, outside of the bliss of losing oneself in a dance with a great partner and a great shared dynamic.  But let's see what I can come up with.  As with all of these questions, I'm doing my best to not over-think the answers, and just write down whatever comes to mind.
  • dancing
  • climbing to the top of a mountain on horseback
  • massive decluttering
  • editing
  • writing, to a lesser extent
...I'm not entirely sure what conclusions to draw from this particular list.  Hopefully it will all come together further along in the process.

What makes you feel invincible, dear reader?

Previous question: part 1:happiness.

Friday, July 06, 2012

finding passion, part 1: happiness

The other day, I stumbled upon Live Your Legend, a fabulous site devoted to encouraging people to discover their passions and pursue them.  To stop being mediocre.  To release other people's dreams and find their own.  Good stuff.

If you sign up for their email list, you get a bunch of nifty pdf resources.  Normally I resent content being held hostage for my email address, but I feel like this one may actually have relevant and useful emails.  We'll see.

Regardless, the free-but-with-a-catch documents are remarkable, and I'll be working my way through some of them in the coming months.  Today I want to embark upon a beauty called 27 Questions to Find Your Passion.  As you know, my sense of dissatisfaction and ennui is the driving force behind this blog, and I need to get serious about figuring out what I am actually here to do.  Passion-finding resources seem like a good place to start.

So, we have question #1: What makes you happiest in your life?  What excites you?

Without thinking too much, I made a list.  Much on it is silly, some is obvious, and some seems strange.  It's in no particular order, unless you count the order in which items occurred to me as I was writing.  It's incomplete and changing and comprised of the things that I happened to write down one afternoon.  Here goes.

Things that make me happy:
  • dancing
  • cooking
  • good food
  • cloudy, gloomy skies
  • good company
  • hot baths
  • stretching
  • sweet-smelling flowers
  • acceptance
  • fuzzy socks
  • cuddles
  • reading a good book
  • music
  • creating
  • making a positive impact
  • wearing fabulous hats
  • feeling exhausted
  • the smell of horses
  • spontaneity
  • fresh air
  • cold drinks on a hot day
  • planning
  • going new places
I find it interesting that most things on the list have nothing to do with material possessions.   Presumably as long as I have enough socks, hats, and a kitchen to cook in, I'll be perfectly happy with my stuff.  Interesting.  My happy list is mostly about doing things, getting outside, traveling, and being with people.  

Presumably, the questions will get progressively more challenging to answer.  I'm endeavoring to not read ahead too much, and to just address each question.  

What makes you happy?  

Thursday, July 05, 2012

today I love...

... this video.  A video blogger apparently got a bunch of 'fat-shaming' feedback, and this is her response.  This is the best thing I've seen in a long time.  You, my dear, totally rock.

Wednesday's normal 'love' feature is a bit late this week, due to the holiday.  Enjoy!

Every Wednesday, I write about something I love that day.  It doesn't necessarily have to be remotely related to anything; it just has to be fabulous!

Monday, July 02, 2012

financial retrospective: june

June was a mild financial success.  I've got that pretty purple 'savings' wedge on the pie chart, indicating that the Master Equation (spending < earning) has been adhered to.  It's nothing dramatic, but it's a step along the way to financial freedom.

This month saw a few atypical expenditures, mostly pertaining to a replacement futon frame (the old one was literally falling apart, and the 'new' one is a Craigslist find, touched up with a stain marker), a housewarming gift for a good friend, and an oil change for my car.  I did contribute to our shared checking account to help with bills and such, and even threw a little extra money at my credit card balance.  All these things still didn't manage to throw me into the negative, so I call this a win.

Another month closer to December 2013, my projected month of achieving debt freedom!

pantry challenge, final

This month I issued a challenge to my household: we would refrain from buying anything that resides in a package, to clear out pantry (and freezer) clutter. 

June has come and gone, and with it, our silly little pantry challenge.  We managed to get through the month without killing each other over shopping lists, so that's a plus.  Let's revisit the original goals for this project: 

use up the majority of the forgotten food

I must confess that we didn't manage to use up nearly as many stockpiled food items as I'd hoped.  As I mentioned last week, one revelation during this challenge was that we simply don't seem to do a lot of cooking from the pantry, at least in the summer when fresh veggies are plentiful.  This means both that we could probably make do with a much smaller 'stash,' and unfortunately that it will take a lot more than a month to go through the extra.  

temporarily reduce the grocery budget

Viewed from a strictly budgetary standpoint, the experiment was a dismal failure.  As you can see at the bottom of this post, I spent nearly $500 on food this month, and that's rather higher than my monthly average of around $350 ($368.25, if you're into precision).  So... goal #2 was not particularly successful.  But we did eat better, with a focus on the fresh food available at the farmer's market.  I'm mildly disappointed that we didn't manage to save any monty this month, but the lack of actually using up cupboard materials quite sensibly correlates with a lack of reduced expenditures. 

create more space in the kitchen

While there's a little more wiggle room in some areas, it's not necessarily noticeable.  No significant elbow room gain has been realized.  

At this point, it seems that the project has failed on all fronts --- we've still got a lot of ignored food to use up, June saw a rise in food expenditures, and the kitchen is no more livable or organized.  However, this brings us to goal #4...

gain a better awareness of what we have (and what we buy)

...and this is the real triumph.  Through the month we've poked through cupboards and freezers, can see what's behind where the 'staple' items customarily live but have not been replaced, and we now have a pretty solid idea of how much food we've got stashed around the kitchen.  If June was a failure in terms of money and actually using up extra items, it was a definite triumph in terms of mindsets.  By focusing out attention on the issue for a whole month, I feel that we've come to have a subtly different outlook when it comes to shopping. 

The original stated purpose of the challenge was to do a one-time clean-out, and wind up with less stuff.  That didn't happen, but we gained the infinitely more valuable shift in outlook that will be needed to change our food-buying habits and be just a little more sensible about stocking the kitchen and avoiding some of the excesses of consumerism.  Instead of a single massive purge, I suspect that we'll slowly whittle down the superfluous, and the problem will self-correct over time.  With periodic reality checks, of course.  Habits can be tricky to change, but it's never too late to tackle them.  

Yesterday my husband asked me to add dijon mustard to the list for the simple reason that we were out of it.  Then a bit later he crossed it out and declared that we could simply  use up some of the fabulous gourmet mustards lurking in the cabinet.  When at the store, I actually think about each thing I'm getting, not just in terms of price but also whether we actually need the item, and if anything else could possibly substitute.  

Shopping is no longer done on reflex.  I kind of like that. 

food budget tracker: week 2
farmer's market: $12
grocery: $109.66
other (kettle corn): $11

total: $132.66

grand monthly total: $497.16