Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feeling like an old, old dog

Did I mention I'm taking scuba classes? Wow, is it hard to learn a new physical activity.

I'm not a real fan of learning stuff in general, believe it or not - not if it's hard for me to learn. Bring on the knitting, the jamming, the canning, the baking - those things all make sense (even if I can't yet properly caramelize sugar after all of four or five attempts). It's not that I'm totally out of learning-practice: I have a ridiculously hard job and even after almost five years I run into a wall every single day. You'd think I'd be more graceful about it by now, but most days I have a silent hissy fit ("This is hard, it's stupid, I don't understand, can't someone else do it?!") before I remember that everyone on my team is overworked, and that I'm the boss and therefore should do the hard stuff. (Maybe I need to get over that last bit.)

I do physical stuff too: biking, hiking, camping - admittedly in small doses. There's a lot of silent freaking out on those events, though, and a lot of self-doubt. But at least I have a lot of miles under my belt and know I CAN do it, even if it's hard and I'm not loving it.

Well, scuba is hard. I feel UN-graceful UN-comfortable and UN-adept. I am clumsy and disoriented and a little scared the whole time. When I talk over my lessons with friends I see I am learning and have learned a lot, but nothing about it feels easy or natural or smart. I can never find all the stupid hoses, the dumb buttons don't depress like they ought, the darn vest WILL inflate if I  hit the inflate button, even if I meant to hit the DEflate button.

Is it the hardest thing I've done? I don't know - it's for sure the most complicated, given how much you have to put together pretty much all at once. I've done things that are harder in different ways, sure, but this is very very very not-easy.

I will hang in through my course and hope that when I get to do real diving in real water with real scenery that my pity party will be firmly behind me. As ever, stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Restoring order to chaos

Dear blog-friends! It's been quite the busy few weeks around Exploring With Beth HQ. I'm getting caught up ever so slowly. Help buy me some time: what do you want to hear about? My parents' visit? My weekend in Los Angeles? My sweater? My favorite blogs?

Here's what I'd like to hear from you, two things actually:
YOUR favorite blogs, and why you like them (yes, you may pimp your own)

Your favorite gin. I got a little interested in the fancy tonic options (and will do a head-to-head tonic tasteoff between Q and Fever Tree some evening when I can tolerate a couple of gin and tonics), but haven't explored the gins out there. I have Bombay sapphire at home, and have no problem with Tanqueray. The ol' Bombay is getting low - what should I try next? It IS gin & tonic season, after all!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

what I did this evening

I was busy tonight!

I made lemon curd, blackberry-rosemary simple syrup, and lemon meringue cookies. The lemon curd is from some Meyer lemons friends brought over - I still have, oh, nine or so left to do something with!

The simple syrup is for a VERY delicious drink called a Black Rose that a friend introduced me to recently. As tasty as it is now with grocery store blackberries, I hope I remember to harvest some berries this summer and make the syrup again. The rosemary is from the courtyard - is rosemary insanely prolific everywhere? It seriously grows in massive shrubs here.

What did I *not* do tonight? I didn't clean the floors or the bathroom, or deal with the miscellany scattered about. Yes, my parents are coming to visit soon (in 32 hours or so!) but I just know they want to see me in my natural habitat. Heck, I'll just run them ragged, then give them booze & sugary snacks and they won't even notice! It's all part of my Genius Plan for Visitors.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fiscal fitness: Rolling over an IRA

Like many people who've been out of college for a while, I've worked for a number of employers. Naturally (since I preach the gospel of saving for retirement!) I've enrolled in each employer's retirement plan as soon as I've been eligible, and always contribute whatever it takes to get the full employer match.

So yay me and all, but the down side of this is that I've had retirement accounts scattered all over the place. I always kept track of them (..sorta) but I knew it was a bad idea. It's easy to lose track of account paperwork; it's a drag to have to update your address with multiple organizations; it's hard to figure out your asset allocation if your money is held in different funds; you may be paying more in fees than if you consolidated! 

Once upon a time I had rolled over one account, but it was under duress: in 2001 I was laid off (for the second year in a row, thank you high tech) and my ex-employer told me I had to do something with that retirement account. I rolled it into a Roth IRA at Vanguard, which was a good call, but I ignored the rest of my accounts, since no one seemed to mind if I left them intact.

Time flew, as it does, and at the beginning of 2010 I still had three accounts to deal with:
 - the software company that laid me off in 2000 - that account was still maintained by my ex-employer, who mailed me quarterly investment reports
 - the state of Oregon's public employee retirement system, from my library gig that I left in 2006
 - the other retirement savings account from that same library job - if I recall correctly you can't contribute additional funds to the PERS account so you can contribute to a 403b (aka a 401k for public employees) instead

So it only took a full decade, but I did  finally begin to deal with those accounts. I contacted my former employer and got the paperwork to roll over the funds from 2000. Of course we'd had a couple of stock market crashes since then - it had fluctuated wildly over the years and still wasn't at its highest when I did the paperwork. I have to say it felt good to finally cut the cord with that employer!

I also closed the PERS account, but that was a little more complicated, involving two checks, one of which got lost, two 1099Rs (which confused me greatly), and one call to American Public Media's Marketplace Money show! The call was to help me understand which tax year I should claim the disbursement in, since I asked for it in 2010 but actually deposited the check in 2011 - the answer is: 2010! he said I could ignore it if I get a 1099-R next year. More likely I'll have a heart attack but I'll let that be Future Beth's problem.

Attentive readers may note that I still have to deal with the third account listed in the bullet points above. It's true, I do, and I will. Soon. I swear.

So, for my future reference - and yours! - here are the steps to roll over a retirement plan:
 - Decide where you want the funds to go, and open an account with that institution.
 - Contact the plan and tell them  you want to roll over your account into an IRA at the other organization. Since you will tell them it is a rollover, they will issue it to your chosen bank/investment house for your benefit. (If you give them the new account number that makes it all the smoother.)
 - If they mail the check to you, do not file it!!! (personal experience is speaking here!) - mail it to your chosen bank/investment house.Two of my checks went straight to Vanguard, so chances are yours will be mailed for you as well. Try to pay attention to make sure the money gets there!
 - Come tax time, look for a form 1099-R to come in your name. It will list the payer, the amount you rolled over, and should have the distribution code G which indicates it was a rollover and also indicates that you would have been unable to cash the check.
 - When you fill out your taxes you'll have to use a 1040 to declare the 1099-R information, but it's not a taxable event - it won't change anything about what you owe.

My resolution for 2011 is to get that last account rolled over. One of my little quirks is that I hate to use the phone so I tried requesting a rollover packet from their site, but I got the wrong thing. I'll try again today though.. here's hoping I have better success!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Before and after

The gory details on the sweater. Here is the before:
It was cool to finally get this far in the project. As I sorta thought, you just attach the sleeves 
and start knitting the rest of the shoulder cap along with the top of the torso. 
I think it would have worked if not for the matter of it being entirely too small! 

Here is the after: 
I didn't rip out the sleeves yet - there's a chance they may fit. Probably not really, 
but I guess I'm not ready to totally scrap this sucker. 

Even more nuts, I already cast on to start over!

Friday, April 1, 2011


I should probably just get used to the idea of feeling like the year is flying by, hm?

I took this last November (hey, sorry, I live in California! It's crowded for a reason!) when I went to wine country. One of my friends has been a member at a couple of different wineries over the years, and I really love that she opts to pick up her quarterly wine delivery instead of having them mail it. That gets her to recruit friends to go on a day trip - and without that kind of nudge I could go a long time between visits to Napa and Sonoma and those parts.

This flower was at Gundlach Bundschu just outside of downtown Sonoma. They are friendly, gracious, have lovely grounds, and their wine is really tasty. I highly recommend a visit if you're ever in town! If you can go with a member - all the better, as the tastes are free!