Friday, December 31, 2010

So much for the best-laid plans!

I'm one of thousands of people who got screwed over by Jet Blue. Even though I was traveling from the East Coast back to the west several days after the latest messy storm, I was caught in the ripple effect - my plane was hugely delayed, then they couldn't find crew. Only after making us wait around for 6+ hours did they cancel the flight. And the kicker is, they couldn't get me anywhere until January SEVENTH - more than a week after my initial travel date! They refunded that part of my fare and I bought the last seat on a Virgin America flight on the first, but I'm still fuming about it. I'm not sure what I expect them to do, though - pay for my new flight? ha.

So I'm trying hard to focus on the positives:
  • I wasn't traveling with small kids, or a pet, or with people in wheelchairs. 
  • One of my friends saw my plaints on Facebook and invited me home to her parents' house, a half-hour from the airport. That saved my parents and me the hassle of dealing with a bus and car ride to their place, 2 hours away. 
  • Another of my friends was invaluable in her long-distance support, texting me about alternate flight times and eventually buying me that last seat. 
  • I have another friend picking me up at the airport tomorrow. 
  • I get to have 36 hours at home before going back to work.
  • I'm having a quiet New Year's Eve at home with my parents & older brother
  • Pizza is on the way!

So I'm scheduled to fly tomorrow. And I had better get home!!!!!!

Lessons learned:
  • Don't fly Jet Blue. Is that too harsh? I'm not sure. I am unlikely to fly them over a holiday, that's for sure.
  • Always bring my passport! I could've looked into a NYE in Toronto, but didn't have the right paperwork to do it.
  • Don't feel too smug about avoiding travel messes - at least wait for smugness til the plane is safely landed!!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


It's juuuust about 2011 - are you ready? I'm trying to decide if I'm going to make any goals or resolutions. Money is going okay, which leaves fitness and health. Which is hard. So, we'll see!

Christmas break was lovely and lasts for a couple more days. Unfortunately I'm going to spend a bunch of time in a plane, and then in a car, so the last few days won't be quite as relaxing as those around Christmas, but should still be fun and hopefully memorable!

See you soon, blog-pals. Be happy!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

End of year: Clearing the decks!

I've been out of college for quite a while now, but I moved a lot at first - eight times in my first nine years on my own! But now it seems I am settling down: I stayed in my last place for four years, and I've been in my current apartment for four and a half years (with no intention of moving), making it the longest I've ever lived anywhere since I was eighteen.

Perhaps, then, I should be unsurprised that I've been oddly motivated to clear stuff out of my apartment: my internal clock knows it's time to upend everything and give it a good shake! Moving is quite handy for that, and without one to motivate me, I've had a hard time getting going on Project Bedroom.

My kitchen and living room are acceptable, but my bedroom has needed a solid going-over for a long time. The woes include:
  • My bed was a decent purchase ten or so years ago, but it wasn't intended to be taken apart and reassembled as many times as it has and it has been threatening to fall apart for a while now. 
  • My mattress is 14 years old, as my back reminds me frequently.
  • I have two file cabinets but emptied one of them six months ago. 
  • I've got two plastic bins with drawers serving as a bedside table. 
  • My other bedside table is bright yellow and whimsical, and seemed like a good idea 10 years ago, but I'm kind of over it now. 
  • I have a friend-made dining room table serving as an unused desk/printer holder/crap catcher.
  • I have a stand-up fan just kinda standing around. I use it a couple of times per year but don't really need to look at it the other 363 days.
  • The curtains are sun-faded.
  • The rug was a mistake - it's rough and hurts my tender bare feet.
Clearly - a Major Undertaking! Well, I'm *finally* making significant progress. The bed is gone (thanks to a wonderfully helpful friend). The plastic bins have been sorted and organized and moved to the closet. I moved the dining room table/unused desk/crap catcher to a slightly better spot in the room - though I think we are going to part ways sooner or later.

I've taken a ton of stuff to Goodwill and threw more stuff out (including old ticket stubs and photographs - honestly, if I'm not interested in them, no one else will be either!). I still have more to get rid of (including the empty file cabinet) but I'm starting to get to a good place for a do-over.

I don't know when I'll be done but I have picked out what bed I want. I think I know where I'm going to put it. I envision a room that contains my bed, my bicycle, a small desk, and not much more (my clothes live in a very large closet). It's exciting but tiring and I'm glad I'm going out of town for a bit so I don't have to look at it for a while!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fiscal Fridays: bills bills bills

It's Friday! I've got fiscally thoughts on the brain!

Early in this series of mine, I posted a chart of my money flow. (You can click -->here<-- to go directly to the graphic.) I've talked about several of the accounts shown on that screen - mad money, travel, and misc budgeted spending. But I haven't talked about an account that I've had around the longest, makes the most sense, and has freed me from the tyranny of balancing my checkbook: my bills account.

This account gives me peace of mind more than any other I've ever had. The concept is so simple but I haven't run into too many people who have set their finances up this way. Not everyone needs it, but I think it's very handy for anyone who is ever concerned about not having enough in the bank to cover their bills.

The first step is to figure out what I pay in bills every month. Right now this is: rent, land line/internet, cell phone, electric bill, and auto & renter's insurance. Since some of those smaller bills are variable, I rounded them up by 10% to get a comfortable estimate of my monthly bills. Now every time I get paid I put half of that amount into my bill-paying account. For my bills that are set amounts, I have scheduled checks that are issued in a timely manner; bills that vary monthly get scheduled once I receive the latest bill.

In this golden age of internet banking, it's amazingly easy, but I've been doing some version of this since I graduated from college. It lets me know exactly where I stand and if I'm in any sort of trouble. I typically have the next month's rent funded by the middle of the previous month, so I don't have to stress about timing the mailing of the check to correspond with bank deposits. Nowadays I always have a little slush in that account, but I remember when I still lived in Boston, and I was living extremely lean. I discovered a math error in my bills account, and had to call my friend who worked at my bank and ask him to deposit eleven cents into my account in order to fully cover a check that had already been mailed. He gave me a quarter instead, nice guy that he is.

Having a bills account means I can spend what's in my day-to-day account without worrying whether it will affect my rent. I can sleep easily knowing that my next month's rent is already set aside. I can't even really remember what it felt like to live on $8.25/hour in Boston, and I have to say I'm glad.

So to sum up where we've been so far:
I get paid twice a month. The check is deposited in my day-to-day account. I immediately transfer most of it out to mad money, travel, misc budgeted spending, and bills.

What I have left to cover:
short-term savings, longer-term savings, my day-to-day account, and retirement savings. Exciting stuff, huh?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WIP: silly hats

Actually these are complete - I made two goofy little hats to give to people I know having babies. If you can't put a silly hat on a kid, what's the point of having one?
 I hope I get a picture of the hats on the kids' heads. fyi, that means a lot to the knitters in your life!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weekend over. wah.

I had a great weekend visiting friends in Portland. That city is still my favorite place, even though it rained and rained and rained this weekend!

While I loved getting to visit, I sure wish I had some weekend left over. Well, one full week of work, 2 days of work, and then I get a chunk of time off - yay for Christmas in New England! I've got my shopping mostly done and am engaged in my annual cycle of regret and recrimination - why oh why did I ship the gifts to California, instead of sending it directly to RI?

I've received a promotion at work (which I think I mentioned) and I'm in the throes of trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing with my time. Some days (like last Thursday) are non-stop from start to finish. Today though I had a couple of hours of time when I wasn't sure what I should be doing with myself. I'm also not sure how best to do my job but I guess I'll mostly have to feel my way through it. Usually my big transitions come with all-new jobs at all-new places of work, so this is unusual for me but I suppose it's a nice problem to have - at least I have a fairly good chunk of known quantities for once!

So I'm ending the year on lots of notes of change, but lots of uncertainties as well. But I suppose really I'll just keep going forward and washing dishes and doing laundry and going to work and dealing with what's in front of me... I guess that's what we all do with ourselves. Right? right.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Giving Goals

Like so many people around me, I have great intentions to help make the world a better place. I feel daunted by the sheer scope of the problems I see, yet when I'm actually asked to give money, I usually say no, or defer the decision until a later which never comes. I confess that part of my reluctance to give is that I'll get on endless mailing lists, but truly the majority of my non-giving is just me wanting to keep my money for myself.

Since I've been tracking my spending for a few years, I was able to see in black and white how little I was sharing with the rest of the world. Since my financial house is mainly in order, I decided that I wanted to change my behavior. The best way to do that was to set giving goals: for the last three years I've made a conscious effort to give money, and have set a target for the amount I want to give away.

This year I set a goal to give away 2% of my take-home pay to charities and organizations I like. While it's not a ton of money, it's not insignificant either! The way this works for me is that I spend the year giving occasionally (when a friend is participating in a fund-raiser, or when I run into people selling raffle tickets for various organization), and then at the end of the year I add up my contributions and then give a bunch of money to make sure I meet my goal.

Last year, I listed the organizations I selected, and I'm mainly going to stick with them this year.

Here's how my giving has broken out so far this year:
  • January: I donated money to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti
  • January: I sponsored my younger brother, who was supposed to jump into freezing water to raise money for the Special Olympics (because only people with limited mental faculties would do this?? It does rather beg the question.). Alas, the weather was bad and they cancelled the plunge, but kept the money. That's fine by me - our older brother participates in the Special Olympics every year, it's a great organization, and I've done very little for its benefit. 
  • May: donated money for a raffle for some organization. Didn't win.
  • May: sponsored a friend running in a race to benefit her local animal shelter.
  • May: sponsored my local public radio station.
  • July: joined a local bicycle advocacy organization.
  • December: contributed to a fund to help a local second-run movie theater reopen (yes, I get benefits for my contribution, but I'm counting this anyway)
  • December: contributed to a fund to help a local coffee shop move and reopen (again, I get a benefit from this, but I'm still counting it)
... and that's it! They add up to just more than half of this year's Giving Goal, so I have some catching up to do now.

Here are the organizations who will get money from me this year:
  • My local food bank. I love food, I enjoy sharing it with others, it's a great topic of conversation, I read food blogs, and I can't believe that in this prosperous nation of ours, people go hungry. Every day. It kills me. This is my top giving priority every year. 
  • Doctors Without Borders. I have the Yarn Harlot to thank for this one - she's raised over a million dollars over five years, by asking fellow knitters to give to this wonderful organization. She says it much better than I can, so go read her blog posts about it
  • The Kristin Brooks Hope Center, because depression and suicide are unspeakably tragic (and I'm grateful that I've been only lightly exposed to them). I first found out about the center through PostSecret, which I try to read weekly.
At this time of year, when so many messages are about consumption, it really does feel especially nice to be looking for ways to share my good fortune with others.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Thousand Ten: December!

Will you look at that calendar - it's the last month of the year! Without futher ado, here is my calendar shot for the month:

It's San Francisco, at night, from Alcatraz Island. Last fall, I got to spend the night there with a group of 30 hardy souls. Fortunately for me and my not-so-great memory, I already wrote it up. The view from the island was magical, and I am so very grateful that it's been preserved for all of us to enjoy - though usually you can't spend the night there!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WIP: Calendar 2011

For the last three years I've created a wall calendar using my digital photos, and have used my creation as Christmas gifts. I keep a couple for myself, give copies to my immediate family and one local friend, and sometimes if I have spares I give one to one friend or another. Like anything handmade, it's a personal gift, and it feels a bit risky - I know I typically pick out my own decor, including calendars, and I don't want to force my nice-but-admittedly-amateur art on anyone. Plus, just because I like it doesn't mean they will, and if they obviously reject it (I admit it!), my feelings will be a little hurt.

It's been pure pleasure, however, to do a monthly post with that month's picture and the story behind it, and I will certainly continue the tradition next year. 

So it's again time to create a calendar and then agonize over how many to print. I am very good about getting my pictures tagged and uploaded, and as the year goes on I add the ones I really like to a particular group; right about this time of year, I start winnowing! I run slideshows so I can try to imagine what the picture will look like larger than onscreen. I arrange and rearrange the order of the pictures. I try to use images that are roughly congruent with the month during which they'll be showcased; it's hard, since I don't see snow too often, to get anything useful for winter!

This year I'm running into the interesting dilemma of having a consistent style. In other words, there are a couple of pictures I'm thinking of using that are very very similar to pictures I've used in the past...I think! Unfortunately I don't have an intact calendar from the past years - I recycle one, and rip the other apart to use as a rotating art display in my cube at work. (It's quite nice to have 36 photos to choose from - I tend to have three hung at a time.) Work has been a bit busy of late, but hopefully I'll have both time and inclination to look through my folder of ripped-out images, and see what I've used and how it compares to this year's candidates.

I've got it down to 14, so I'm nearly there. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fiscal fitness and raises!

A month ago, I vaguely alluded to the fact that there's a lot going on in my world around career and stuff. Oh, I could share several months' worth of agonizing, but the short and happy news is I recently received a raise. woot!

So now I don't know what to do with it. I'm out of debt, I already spend more than enough on travel, and I'm in reasonably good shape for retirement savings (and since I save a percentage of my income, that savings will be increased automatically). At this point I think I'm just going to save the difference toward unspecified future expenses like a house or car. I'm wondering if I should put something like 10% into a shorter-term account? There are many things I need/want/would like, but they're too big or expensive or recurring to receive as a gift.

We'll see!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WIP Wednesday: wintery goodness

This is coming out even better than I hoped.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Link love

I was going to send these to a friend, but thought I'd share with all my boggy-friends!

I don't know if this is a joke or not, but it's hilarious: Six takes at suave
and this is just something great to keep in mind. Nicely written: Being happy with what we have

Laugh, then ponder, and revisit the laugh if you want to!

(ps - got the reader down to 200 and am getting offline for the evening)

I like big bundts.. happy international bundt day!

Happy International Bundt Day! This critically important holiday has been brought to my attention two years running by Mary the Food Librarian.

Last year I invented the Quadruple-Ginger Pear Bundt (which sadly, after a depanning incident, became bread pudding). This year I used one of Mary's recipes, for Mexican Hot Chocolate bundt. I brought it to a party this weekend, where it was devoured!

Happy eating, all!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fiscal Fridays: misc budgeted spending

yeah, it's not Friday this time! I wound up taking Friday entirely away from a computer, so didn't get to this 'til the weekend. Still, the theme works for me.

In September I posted the complete diagram of my money flow. Today I'm going to finish talking about this chunk of it:

I've already discussed the travel and mad money accounts; that leaves the one so descriptively labeled "misc budgeted spending." This is yet another savings account (insert rave for USAA's banking interface here), and as with the rest of my accounts, I transfer money into it every time I get paid.

The real purpose of all this account-having is that I don't have to watch my daily expenditures too much, yet don't have so much money lying around that I spend it wantonly (fun though that may temporarily feel!). This account funds the catch-all spending that I do over the course of a year, but not necessarily on a weekly or monthly basis.

Here are some recent expenditures that were funded from that account:
 - oil change & tail-light replacement
 - yarn for the wedding finery
 - plants for the garden's winter crop
 - membership in a local walking/biking advocacy group
 - bicycle wheel replacement
 - new tires for my car
 - flowers for my sister's graduation
 - membership in my local public radio station

These expenses fall into different categories in my budget (transportation, hobby, charity, and gifts), can't be predicted in advance, yet always occur sooner or later. I don't have a perfect solution for allotting money for those types of expenses, but what has been working for me is this separate misc account.

So how did I figure out how much to stick in that account every paycheck? Like most things in life, it's part art, part science. I've been tracking my spending for 3 years or so; once I knew where my money was going every month, I could decide how I felt about it, and whether I wanted to change anything in particular. With a reasonably good handle on my average expense per year for all my budget categories, it was a matter of basic math to figure out how much per paycheck should go be allotted for each type of expense.

Now - I have 14 budget categories, and even though I love me some complicated banking, I wasn't about to make separate accounts for every single category! So, I lumped the irregular expenses into this account, and fund it monthly.

The balance is running unusually high right now, but I can even figure out why, thanks to my handy little notebook with my spending figures in it. I know what I plan to spend in each category per year, can add up what I've spent already, and can see where I'm over or under, and use that information to spend or save the money accordingly.

For two concrete examples: I think I'm a bit low in transportation and charity spending. I set a goal to meet for the latter, and it'll be enjoyable to figure out how to spend the last bit of money to meet that budgeted amount. As far as transportation goes - if I determine I did spend less than planned, I'll bring my car in for a tune-up before the year is over, rather than wait til' next year and risk messing up my 2011 numbers.

Finally - actually using the account works simply. I charge the expense and then transfer the money from the savings account to my credit card. Easy! 

Clear as mud? any questions?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

WIP Wednesday!

Well, I've made some headway on this lace-knitting business. I had to completely rip it out once, and have since successfully completed the lacey bits. There's some extreme fudging going on in a few spots, but I intend to continuously swirl and twirl the finished product so no one gets a close look. How's that for a genius plan?!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Three hundred seventy-two

Sheesh, you go out of town for a week here, a long weekend there, and suddenly the ol' Reader account has a massive backlog!

I subscribe to lots of feeds using Google Reader - blogs of people I know and/or have found (give me your link if you blog and I'll add you if I don't have you!), personal finance and knitting blogs, and lots and lots of food blogs. It is the latter that is woefully backlogged: 201 of the unread posts are in one of my food feeds. Sigh.

Do I mark them all read and start over? Maybe I'll see if I get in any quality down time this weekend - I can probably plow through a bunch of them then!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two Thousand Ten: November

Wow you guys, the year is drawing to a close. As was the case last month, this month's photo is from my Halloween weekend in Yosemite last year.

This was up above the valley floor in McGurk Meadow, along the road to Glacier Point. It was a crisp day, and there's actually a little ice floating in that water. The most exciting part of the hike was the pair of bears we saw - they seemed to be mother and teenager, from our perspective - and who happily ignored us. In fact they were so relaxed that I can now definitively answer the question: Does a bear poop in the woods? With a resounding YES.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fiscal Fridays: travel!

In last month's Fiscal Friday post I showed a chart of all my accounts. As I explained, my paycheck goes into my account I call day-to-day spending, and I immediately funnel most of it out again.

As you can see here, one place I set aside money every paycheck is my travel account. After retirement savings, this might be my highest-priority account, and I certainly manage to spend as much as I save.

I think it's important for me to have a specific pool of money for travel purposes so I can figure out what travel choices work - it's what made it possible for me to go to New Zealand earlier this year on a near-whim, and is what lets me know it's okay to take a week off to go on a road trip, and still know I can plan to go to New Mexico, Honduras and Greece next year - especially if I do manage to work out a free plane ticket to Greece!

However, it also firmly alerts me to the fact that I can not ALSO do some glamorous trip for my 40th birthday later next summer! 

And.. it's possible I have a spreadsheet tracking my vacation balance - time has to be budgeted just like money, I'm learning, and while we can make choices to do what we want, so far I'm unable to figure out how to do everything I want every time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WIP Wednesday: wedding finery!

Nope, not my wedding! But I have two couples-with-whom-I-am-friends who are getting married next summer. I'm definitely making it to one of the weddings, and I hope to make either the wedding or the party for the other one (the events are being held on different coasts). So, you know, that means when I saw a summery dress on sale, I got it! And now I need to make a little something to go with it.

Here's the dress & the yarn I selected:
Pretty good job matching, huh? I know! So then I had to pick out a pattern for some sort of shawl or wrap or shawlette-thingy. I didn't want to do acres of stockinette, and didn't think a super-busy pattern would work well considering how much is already going on with the fabric. I chose Knitty's Annis and have so far had to rip it out completely once. I'm back up to the tricky bit (about 8 rows in, but there are 363 stitches per row!) and have been more careful about putting in a lifeline, and counting the stitches as I go. Fingers crossed I get through it this time!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fiscal Friday: Update on the great plastic experiment

I've missed a few Fridays, what with vacations and all. I've been quiet on the blogging front but be assured there's plenty of turmoil in the background! I'm thinking all manner of Deep Thoughts about life, career, money, happiness, challenge, change - you name it. It kinda sucks, to be honest - but we carry on, right?

So in lieu of a specific Fiscal Friday post, I thought I'd give an update on the Great Plastic Experiment. About a month ago I decided to explore the magic of airline bonus miles and signup incentives, in hopes of getting a free ticket to Greece next summer. I got two cards which will give me 75,000 miles per card on American Airlines, so long as I charge $1500 on each card within the first six months of having them. My travel guru assures me I'm looking at business class travel to Greece! I'm hopeful he's right.

At any rate, the experiment is going swimmingly - my trip was a good for a chunk of expenses that I've already paid off. At this rate I'm going to make the deadline with months to spare. I'm skeptical it could possibly really be that easy.. but it's looking good!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

WIP Wednesday: straight to completion

Oops. Forgot to post this WIP (work in progress) and now it's a FO (finished object). I made a mini shawl from a pattern called Citron. Here's the starter picture, from Sept 26

It's crazy - you cast on three measly little stitches, then somehow magically get make it grow and grow and grow. And I finished it last night:

The ruffled effect is created by knitting a band of x number of stitches (say, 100), then creating double the number of stitches for a while (200 stitches), then decreasing back to the original number (100).

It's quite a nice effect, though I don't know if I'll actually use the thing. This is the problem with knitting - I enjoy the process, but can't use much of the finished works.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Vacation's oddest roadside attraction

Last week I posted the route of my road trip. When we crossed back into California, my friend and I stopped at the well-known and extremely old-school roadside attraction called Trees of Mystery, in Klamath. They've been wowing visitors for over 50 years, and it very much felt like a throwback to earlier times.

Visitors are greeted by a 50-foot (15-meter) tall statue of Paul Bunyan (now with a webcam!), and can pay an admission fee to follow a walking trail. 

In 2001 they joined the modern era by adding an aerial tram. The guy working it said they brought in much of the components via helicopter, so this place really must make some serious money! The view from the top was wonderful.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Belated WIP: completion!

Remember those slippers I was knitting? Done, and done. And both pairs fit. Phew!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lovely vacation

I had ten whole days away from work, and went on a road trip with a friend from my Boston days, lo those many (14!!) years ago.

We drove a lot, which was especially impressive for her, as she's a New Yorker who's never spent much time driving a stick shift. After a refresher session, she was on her way. We drove from the Bay Area up to Crater Lake, then to Portland, then hit the coast and drove south. Add in some great weather and lovely people, and the vacation was really amazing. I'll post a few more pictures later - gotta give me a way to get back into my blog!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two Thousand Ten: October

Oh, isn't this picture evocative of crisp air and sunshine?
I have a little ceramic figure I call the Traveling Dude. He was a gift from a good friend to commemorate a road trip - we left his brethren along the route of our drive from Portland to Rocky Mountain National Park and back in 2003. I wouldn't dream of leaving my Dude anywhere, but I do like to get him in pictures now and then. He's been to Yosemite with me several times; this picture was taken last October. Pro tip: Go to Yosemite on Halloween weekend.. most people tend to stay home!

I can't believe it's been a year since I was last in Yosemite, with no trip planned in the near future. That makes me a little sad. If I choose to focus on the positive, though, I've been there five times since 2006, so I'm doing pretty well. I've climbed great heights (though not Half-Dome, not yet),
Lembert Dome, Sept 2006

admired the beauty of a long-abandoned orchard
Yosemite on Earth Day 2007

cross-country skiied through TONS of snow (and got to put chains on the car!):
February 2008

admired crazy-huge rock formations - this is about the size of a car:
North Dome hike, October 2008

and of course, breathed deeply of the fresh clean air (and slept like a log).
October 2009. yep, it's that beautiful.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Slippers, continued

Before felting:

During felting/shaping/drying (the wool is still wet and - I assure you - very icky-feeling):

Not assembled quite yet:

I'd thought I might have them done in time for this post, and indeed they're dry and I have picked out buttons (and wasn't THAT agonizing). But.. I haven't quite stitched 'em up and am rapidly running out of time, as they must be done by Thursday of this week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fiscal Fridays: charts

I realized that with last week's inaugural Fiscal Friday post, I got WAY ahead of myself. It will probably be more useful for me to explain how I route my money, and then break down each account in turn.

Also, let me preface this by saying: some people like things simple, but apparently I don't! The important thing, of course, is that this works for me. Anyway, thanks to the good folks at bubbl, I've created this work of art:

I fear it's not very legible, but hopefully the colors will help. Here's the deal:
I get paid regularly (paycheck square, top center). A chunk comes out pre-tax into my 401(k) - just enough to get the full company match.

The rest of my paycheck gets dropped into the account I call day-to-day spending (red block, center), and I route more than 85% of the cash right back out again. It goes into the following accounts, all linked and easy to work with:
  • bright green block on left: short-term savings 
  • three light green blocks in the lower middle: travel, misc budgeted spending, mad money
  • right-hand dark red block: bills
The gold boxes in the top left represent my retirement accounts, one of which is orphaned and is the last loose end for streamlining my old 401(k)s. I rolled two old accounts into one IRA and doing this last one will feel GREAT (when I get around to it!).

I'll talk about these more in-depth as I touch on the various accounts, but I found that it's a really interesting exercise to chart out all the accounts in my life. I first did it in 2007 and this is the first time I've tried it since. I highly recommend doing it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WIP Wednesday: slippers!

I realized recently that the last time I was away from work for a full weekend-to-weekend chunk of time was last December. I can't quite express how ready I am for a break! I'm going on a road trip with a friend in a couple of weeks, spending a day & a bit in Portland (still my favorite place, stupid stupid city...with any luck the weather will be crap) before heading west and spending several days driving down the coast of Oregon & into California. In 1995, I think, I drove up the entire coast of California with a friend, and I've visited the northern Oregon coast many times. So, I'm most extremely excited to see the legendarily beautiful and hard-to-reach Southern Oregon coast!

I decided to knit some cute little slippers for the trip, so my friend and I have something cute for our hotel rooms and a fun souvenir. The Yarn Harlot popularized some felted slippers (good examples here and here) and I decided to give them a go. I had limited yarn options and picked a bluey-green that is hopefully somewhat reflective of the colors of the Oregon coast, but realistically that color would be more piney and brown and gray. Still, pretty, right?

The crazy thing about felting is that you make the object so HUGE - then shrink it. So here are the two pairs of slippers, pre-felting (the toe strap and button get added later):
For some perspective - they are quite big right now!

My astute readers will note that the bottom of the slippers contains some black yarn - I had some leftover from my first felting project, this bag that I never carry:
And thank goodness I did use the extra yarn. If you go back to the picture of the nearly-completed slippers, see those two little lumps of yarn to their left? Yep, that's all that's left of the skeins! woot, no stashing for me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The great plastic experiment

I've got some great travel coming up next year - Honduras, Greece, and maybe I'll tack a little something onto Greece as long as I'm there (OR try to explore the country thoroughly.. tough to say just yet). Of course the less I spend on airfare, the easier it'll be to enjoy the rest of the trip. I've never gotten into the whole airline mileage thing, but I think I'm going to take the plunge, with the help of a friend.

The goal: free flight to Greece without paying any annual fees or interest on the charges.
The timeline: I'll be there in June 2011
The process: So far I've signed up for one Visa that gives miles on American. I have to spend $1500 in the next six months to get 75k miles. If I also sign up for their Amex, that'll be a commitment of $3,000 spending in six months to get 150k miles, which would be PLENTY for the trip - if I can successfully use them to book the travel. 

I hereby dub this the Great Plastic Experiment (GPE for short. I do love me an acronym).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fiscal Friday: Feed me, Seymour

Welcome to Fiscal Friday! This post was inspired by a blog post by librarian friend of mine. She was lamenting that going out to eat can be a little pricey, and given that half of her household is in school, that makes it a little tough.

I totally sympathize, and it's where my Mad Money spending account came from. I live in a big-time foodie part of the world, and I really do want to experience some of its amazing offerings. But I can't just scrape up $100+ at a moment's notice to go to the fancy-pants restaurants! (to give some context, I try to keep my eating-out expenses under $200/month)

One of my friends mentioned that she sets aside $20 a month in cash into an envelope, and intends to use it for an annual Amazing Dinner Out (we're talking $200+ to eat at the restaurant she mentioned). I don't do well with cash sitting around - somehow I dip into it for other spending - but I loved her idea. So, with my lovely bank USAA, I opened a separate savings account, labeled it Mad Money, and started saving a little bit of money every paycheck. I started small, just $10/month, but then I paid off the last of my debt and bumped it up to $25/paycheck. I don't miss it, and I know it's there if I really DO need it, but mostly it just adds up.

So far I've used Mad Money this summer to eat at Prospect, a new restaurant in San Francisco where a coworker's partner is the pastry chef. I used Mad Money in January to take advantage of Dine About Town, where I squeezed TWO fancy meals out of the account: at Le Central, a French bistro that's been open since the 1970s, and at Chaya Brasserie, a Japanese-American fusion restaurant.

Next up? I think I'll see if I can find anyone who wants to eat at a local-to-me honest-to-goodness-Michelin-starred restaurant. I think if you do the tasting course and paired wines it's something like $90 per person - not something to be undertaken lightly, but certainly something I can save for with my Mad Money account!

As a side note, I'm so glad I track my spending - it was the only way I could locate the names of the restaurants I ate in 9 months ago!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New feature: Fiscal Fridays

I decided to run a new semi-regular post called (as you see in the subject) Fiscal Fridays. I read a lot of personal finance blogs, the best of which is Get Rich Slowly. I have no intention of becoming a personal finance blogger, but I do want to share thoughts with y'all.

So stay tuned!

WIP Wednesday: Leafy socks

I think I was inspired by the Yarn Harlot's post earlier this year about knitting green goodness. I bought some similarly-green yarn way back in February, and have finally started turning them into some leafy green socks.

I've got one sock done, and one foot about half-completed.
Pattern: Interlocking leaves, available at Knitty.

Of course it's possible that I've recently been distracted by some other pattern... I might've cast on these super-cute slippers. Maybe.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Go go gadget!

It was my birthday recently, and I received an unexpected gift from my parents.. a pineapple corer! But on closer inspection I found out it is *awesome* and I highly recommend getting one.

First, choose your victims carefully. Apparently you want pineapples that are more golden than green, and give a little when you poke 'em.
Good old Berkeley Bowl had lots of great pineapples - I don't know if they happen to be in season, or what, but these were amazing. First, you cut off the top, then line up the gadget with the central core area:
Twist the gadget, coring and slicing a lovely spiral of delectability as you go:
Pull said spiral of goodness out of the pineapple. You have to tug a little.
Pop off the handle of the gadget, so you can overturn it and remove the spiral of deliciousness in one long piece. Two pineapples' worth:
It leaves a hollowed-out core that apparently some people use to hold fruit salad, rum, or pineapple fried rice. So many options!
I wound up not using it for anything... but I'm certain I'll be coring pineapples again soon!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Something in the air

Last weekend I actually had all three days off - usually I am either traveling, or sign up to work (so I can save the vacation time for later). It was so nice I wish I could always have three-day weekends (or all weekends, no work!).

I made bread from this recipe even though his writing style makes me nuts. It came out purty:

but I'm not a huge fan of the flavor. Do any of you have good/easy/tasty recipes? Right now I'm reading a book on baking: 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust - but his recipe looks harder than I want to do (and calls for a sourdough-ish starter). Help a baker out!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Two Thousand Ten: September

Can we take a minute, folks, to catch our collective breath? September?! Really?? I don't think I'm ready. Okay, thanks. 

September's picture is a cheat - I didn't take it in 2009. But these are my self-imposed rules, and we all know that self-imposed rules are made to be broken.

I took this picture in October 2007, on my first post-California-move tent camping trip. (It took over a year to get back into tent camping, but I'd already been to Yosemite not once but twice, lucky me!).
 Big Sur is about 2 1/2 hours south of me, and after two days of extremely vigorous hikes, my camping buddy and I were happy to take a meandering wandering walk through Lime Kiln State Park. Sun-dappled rocks, gorgeous yellowed leaf - the picture practically took itself.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WIP Wednesday: me!

It is Wednesday, and I realized the perfect topic for my Work-In-Progress Wednesday post: ME!

My birthday falls on a Wednesday this year. I'm one year away from a so-called "zero birthday" so I've spent more time thinking about that than thinking about this one.

I'm pretty sure that if you asked me at 20 what I'd be like now, what would be going on in my life, where I'd be, who I'd be with, I'd never have guessed anything correctly. Software barely existed waaaaay back then, I never expected to live in California, and of course I assumed I'd be married with kids.

Then again, I wouldn't have guessed I'd be interested in hiking, biking, camping, cooking, baking, canning, photography, libraries, cities, personal finance, alcohol-infusing, gardening, and knitting. I'd have been glad to know about the decent amount of travel I've accomplished, and I'd have been quite surprised (but gratified!) at my sociable self.

I thought a while to see if I've got any life predictions, but honestly, my life has been so changeable in the big picture that I really don't. Fifteen years ago I was living in Boston, planning my big move to Portland. Ten years ago I was in Portland, recently laid off from my first software job, thinking about grad school, and planning a trip to Italy for summer 2001. Five years ago I was a librarian at a suburban library, still living in Portland, without an inkling about all the changes coming at me in a mere nine months.

I'm super lucky to be healthy, have a challenging job, stable and excellent friends, and a loving family. I might be officially middle-aged (am I?? I'm not sure!!) but it's been a fun ride!

Tonight I've got friends indulging my refusal to grow up. Ice cream for dinner!