Monday, December 30, 2013

Year-end financial review & goals

Well here we are, end of the year. Seems like a natural time to do some financial review.

Current situation:
  • I bought a house! I've been in for almost exactly a year, and have gotten more used to paying a mortgage and all the bills that go with it. My old apartment's rent was $1035.20, and that plus all my bills (electricity, internet, cell phone, car insurance) cost me $1206/month. Now that I'm in a house, my mortgage (including taxes & insurance) runs me just under $1200, but the bills (all of the above and also gas, water, trash, yard guy (which I admit is optional)) bring me to just under $1650/month. In other words, the mortgage was only a 15% jump over my rent, but when I factor in all the bills, I'm paying 37% more per month. It's doable, and I think I can bring it down 5-10% this year by making a couple of tweaks.
  • I'm still saving 16% of my income for retirement, with a 4% match. I'm not Roth-ing though, and I'm not hitting the max allowed in a 401(k) either.
  • I have more in the bank (retirement savings + emergency fund) than I owe (mortgage + loan from my parents toward the down payment) so even with this first year of home ownership I did not tip into negative net worth. I wasn't sure that was going to happen, and it's not a HUGE number in the net worth column, but at least I'm in the black! Note that I'm not counting the house as an asset, just looking at what's in the bank vs what I owe. Note also that just because I have $X in retirement savings doesn't mean that X is available to me - it would be taxed and penalized if I withdrew it. So this metric isn't that solid, but it works for me as a rough thumbnail of my situation.
Immediate future goals:
  • By end of January: pay off credit card. I've been doing a lot of credit card churning to bank airline miles. I'm mostly handling it well but I am currently carrying a small (sub-2k) balance that I will pay off by the end of January (I could pay it now from savings but prefer to feel the pain a bit). Overall I'm happy with my churning - I'm using miles to inexpensively do things like visit my BFF in Toronto, fly to Key West with my parents for my mom's birthday, travel to my brother's wedding in Hawaii, and attend my company's holiday party. I do have to be careful to NOT carry balances, and to remember that cheap flights often come with other travel expenses (namely lodging & food!). After this next card I think I'm going to take a break for a bit. I swear I can go clean at any time!
  • By end of January: set a budget for living room furniture and decide how and when it'll be funded. 
  • By end of February: finish stocking up my emergency fund. I could definitely get by for six months on it, but I have a specific number in mind and $1,000 more will get me there. 
Rest of the year:
  • By end of March: start investing in taxable (non-retirement) accounts. I was going to start paying down my mortgage, but the interest rate on it is 3.35% and it seems like I'd likely get a better return by investing that money. My paycheck should be going up a bit due to a change in the cost of my benefits, so I'm mentally earmarking that increase to go into my investment accounts. I'll know by mid-January how much money I'll have to work with. 
  • By end of April (probably a lot sooner): see how taxes work out with this house thing going on. Not sure I'll get a refund since I have to offset some contracting work. I usually do my own taxes but I'm a little trepidatious this year.... we'll see how that plays out. 
  • By end of April: if I get a refund, decide how to split it between various options (Roth? non-retirement? living room furniture?).
  • By the end of June: decide if I want ALL my non-emergency savings to be invested, or if I want to create a separate savings account to use for specific house projects such as a new deck. That's not something that would come from an emergency fund, and I'd like to do it in a shortish time frame (1-2 years) if nothing else comes up, so I don't know that paying for it from an investment account makes sense.
  • By the end of June: in a similar vein - decide if my emergency fund (6 months' worth of spending) can also count as a house emergency fund, or if I'd rather have a separate one, and if so, how much should be in it. Should I save enough to replace my fridge (1k), my furnace (5k), or my roof (10k)? Or should I have some percentage of the house value (I read somewhere it's wise to budget to spend 1% of the house value in maintenance every year) in savings instead?
  • By the end of 2014: finally consolidate my two IRAs into one account with Vanguard. 
  • By the end of 2014: Have my finances in maintenance mode. I think once I make all these decisions this year, I'll be able to review my accounts but I won't have to make any major changes to my plans. We'll see though!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Minor travel

I got to go to the Bay Area for a work party this weekend. I really appreciate getting to go there to visit - living there was never a great fit for me, but I miss seeing my friends down there! I got to admire some of the city lights - and have a hot dog/pretzel dinner with some goofballs,
I went on a road trip north of the city and visited a really great open studio at a pair of potters: 
And I started the nigh-impossible task of furniture shopping, since my sister (with her living room furniture!) is moving out shortly: 
I had a great time, and I'm glad to be home. I don't know if he missed me, but I was thinking about this guy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back it up, baby

Nothing like a few blue screens of death to remind me to back up my work laptop! I've got an external hard drive so it's pretty easy to do a quick-and-dirty backup of the files that I have semi-organized on my desktop.

It reminds me of something interesting though: having a phone with a decent camera and an easy upload option has really changed how I take and share pictures.

Back in the dark ages of 2012 and earlier, I'd:
- take pictures on my digital camera
- eventually boot up my laptop (2006 and still working, largely because I don't use it for anything anymore but the occasional print job) (from 2006-2010 or so I'd often have my laptop up and running when I was home from work, but once I got an ipod touch connected to my home wifi network, my laptop time dropped dramatically)
- pull the memory card from the phone and insert it into my computer
- copy all the pictures onto my hard drive
- spend some time ruthlessly culling only the best pictures ("best" being a bit generous, but not for me ten pictures of essentially the same thing)
- use software to add tags and titles and descriptions to all the picture
- upload the pictures to my flickr account
- and finally, delete all the pictures from the memory card and re-insert it into the camera.

Now I've got a camera with me at all times, but I don't spend much time at all with metadata or deletion. I never understood how people would have reams of pictures on their phones, and yet here I am with 1,073 after nine months of owning my smart phone.

I do still upload things to flickr, but I have to remember to go in after the fact to cull and to add metadata and create albums. I email and text pictures more easily, but any photographic skill I had is atrophying.

Some of the history of the building and how its artist tenants worked with the city to pioneer legal use of
industrial buildings for artist - click to read, it's fascinating! 

I got to spend some time in an early 1920s industrial building yesterday, and was so glad I had the camera on my phone, yet wished for a great camera and better light. On balance, I think I'll take what I have now - and it IS one less thing to have to back up!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A new new thing

I have a new thing! After helping with the quilt earlier this year, I decided it was finally time for me to learn to sew - on a sewing machine. I resisted it for a long time since I didn't have the equipment and didn't want another expensive hobby that makes stuff I don't necessarily use (see also: knitting - I have a LOT of hats and stuff... though I also knit baby gifts and love my knitted socks and sweaters; and I'm happy to have a skill to make something special for friends who aren't well).

But ... I decided to learn anyway after I enjoyed the quilting project. I don't think I want to make more quilts, but I wanted to know how to do it at last. My friend has given me the long-term loan of her dead husband's sewing machine, with the injunction to make him proud, so I'm equipped! I found a 10-week class at a local community college, and it's been perfect. Most of us had never threaded a machine or loaded a bobbin, so I fit right in.

Pajama bottoms.. someday soon!
So far we've talked about the machines, about fabric, have done test stitching on a piece of paper to practice going in straight lines, and have pinned and cut out what will be pajama bottoms. I think next week we may actually sew some seams!

Now that I've got my toes in, though, I'm already trying stuff on my own. I made my very own cloth napkins earlier this week - well.. I made one so far:

And I also sewed a tube of fabric, filled it with bulgher wheat and steel-cut oats (they were inexpensive/on hand) and some lavender buds from my yard, and made a microwave-able heating pad to drape on my neck and shoulders. Actually I made two of them - and I just love it. I've wanted one for literally years and finally have achieved it! 

And, in the back of my head, I've wanted an apron like this for ages, too:
I like that it doesn't drape on the neck or tie in the back - easy on & off, but looks like it's pretty secure. I don't love that it's $88 but I realize it's sold at a specialty shop. Anyway, I want to make one like that. I had a hard time finding patterns at first, but got some help from a friend, and have found one that looks promising. And a couple of stores have fabric sales this weekend. So.. stay tuned, friends. I expect I'll make one based on the pattern that my friend found, and will then probably make some improvements on it. Fun!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Festa di pomodori

At some point in the middle of the summer, one of my genius friends decreed we should plan to have a tomato festival to celebrate the end of summer. Early in September we made it happen! Most of us brought home-made tomato dishes, and one person brought drinks, and we drank repeatedly to our cleverness. The festa must be repeated!

We started with salsa:
Then  had crostini:
Then we moved on to my sister's offering, gazpacho:
Then tomato salad - made with a surprising combo of water, oil, and vinegar, so it's soupy for dipping purposes:
Then we had pasta with a POUND of brie in the sauce... (but it did make a lot!):
And finished with my offering, a cherry tomato cobbler:

It was probably as well we had no dessert, though we did ponder whether tomato ice cream, gelato, or sorbet might be good. Perhaps we'll find out next year!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One year, or seventeen

It's officially been a year since I moved back to Portland! It's also just over seventeen years since I moved here for the first time - how's that for a concept to bake my noodle (as the Oracle phrased it so well in The Matrix).

I'd had a few things I wanted to accomplish in the month of September, to round out my first year back in town. I did get a few bike rides in, and I went to an Oregon winery's tasting room (and bought a pinot noir), but I didn't make it camping. I had sites booked, and friends lined up to participate, but we wisely cancelled when we were hit with massive volumes of rain - and had a pizza and game night instead!

It's been such a full and busy and great year. Highlights:
October: enjoying the terrific chef's tasting menu at clarklewis with three friends, putting to rest for good my admittedly ridiculous fear that I wouldn't get amazing meals here; house-hunting with my new friend/realtor; spending a weekend in Seattle and once again vowing to get there more often!
November: going on a hike with women I've known since the first time I moved here; seeing a wide range of local musicians all covering Bruce Springsteen songs at a local venue; continuing house-hunting; making an offer on what would become my house; joining a new book group; having Thanksgiving at a friend's house.
December: eagerly stalking the house I was in contract for, visiting the Bay Area for the first time post-move; traveling home for Christmas on the same flight as my brother.
January: starting the year right with a New Year's Day bike ride; closing on the house; moving in with the help of old friends; starting winter hiking up in Forest Park; having my sister arrive to begin living with me.
February: snowshoeing on Mount Hood; having a rocking housewarming party with friends from near and far!
March: starting the quilt project; visiting Hawaii 
April: showing my parents my new house; enjoying another Bay Area visit, this one including an absolutely perfect day in wine country - I felt tangible happiness that day that I can still experience when I remember it.
May: completing the quilt; getting a promotion at work; attending a friend's daughter's first communion; seeing another friend's band play at their very first gig!
June: risking a weekend at the beach with the women in my book group - and having it pay off when the houseful of semi-introverts had a lovely time; hosting a couple of friends from the Bay Area.
July: delivering the quilt to the brides; attending Happy Hours in the Park most of the summer; starting to harvest some garden bounty; picking something like 50 pounds of berries.
August: seeing Pink Martini at an outside concert; starting to consider painting in my house (project has stalled, but we'll get there); finally experiencing Trek in the Park; having a bunch of friends over for a potluck for an out-of-town visitor; having lots of birthday celebrations including three houseguests at once!
September: Enjoying a Festa di Pomodori with friends (about which I have yet to blog); generally appreciating how great life is.

And many happy returns!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One second everyday experiment

I read about the One Second Every Day app recently, and thought I'd give it a shot. The idea is that you make a video clip every day and then choose just one second for each day. You then cobble together these moments using this app.

It was a fun little experiment, though I wish I could slow down the playback. I don't mind choosing one lone second, but it's hard to process such different seconds in any sort of coherent way.

I definitely didn't do this every day - I have 12 seconds that represent August 7 to September 9. The seconds are:
  • My bike and my stuff at Happy Hour in the park
  • Orange Kitty
  • A beer at a conference I attended
  • Star Trek in the Park
  • BBQ with a friend at Podnah's, which I'd long wanted to try
  • Oregon Public House: the first non-profit pub
  • Grill at my place, with the chatter of friends in the background
  • Laundry day
  • Cocktail and book for book group
  • Book group setup
  • Driving in Saskatchewan
  • The swifts doing their chimney act here in Portland - the crowd is cheering/booing a hawk that showed up for a snack. It seemed like the swifts fought him off. The swifts are a migratory flock and every year for a few weeks crowds show up in NW Portland to see something like 10,000 of them settle into a chimney for bed each night. 
 The app was easy to use and the experiment was fun, so if I am inspired I'll do more of this. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer recap

The rain has set in here - unexpectedly, but I should have known it would happen since I've had out-of-town visitors! It's an unmistakeable reminder that summer is wrapping up. We should get a good month in September, but I view this rain as my nudge to consider what I've done this summer, and make a short list of things to do before the rainy season arrives for keeps!

I've been good on the social front - one highlight was when a friend visited a couple weeks ago and we had a potluck here, complete with twelve or so adults and an uncountable swarm of kids running around screaming happily (okay, maybe 8 kids).

This past weekend I had friends in town partly for my birthday, which was lovely. I had a couple of birthday gatherings, one of which included bubbly, appetizers, and cake. I sliced the hell out of my thumb making this app, so my friends finished assembling: bread, peach, tomato, mozzarella,basil, olive oil: all super fresh and so yummy.
My sister made cake:

Other summer highlights:
Making a dent in the billions of berries by making crumbles, cakes, smoothies, and even blueberry syrup:
Hanging out with several thousand of my people at a live-action Trek in the Park:
This year was the fifth and final year, and has become quite a Portland institution! They did The Trouble with Tribbles:
Sound quality wasn't great, but it was a ton of fun anyway.

Biking has slipped by the wayside, and I haven't gotten to explore the area quite as much as I'd like, so my goal for September is to get a couple of weekend rides in, do a day trip to wine country, and go camping. It's ambitious with everything else that's going on, but I'm willing to try!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fun with tagging

Now that I'm working with a designer, sorta, I'm looking at some of the many (so many!) pictures I've taken over the years. I'm thinking about printing and framing a bunch and making a hallway gallery or something.

I started by going through my flickr albums and tagging anything I was considering with the tag "print" - this will let me then look at all those photos together.

Of course it was like a billion too many pictures, so I started adding tags, like wood, fire, water, nature, landscape, beer, stone, train, transit, bike, flower ... you get the idea. Then I can look at all the pics that are grouped by a particular tag. You can click each group below to see a bigger screenshot.

 Tag = art
  Tag =bridge

  Tag = graffiti

  Tag = landscape

 Tag = red

It's been fun! I don't think I'm a LOT closer to picking what I print, but maybe I really am. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I'm so hoity toity

So, I seem to have acquired an interior designer. Sorta. Kinda.

A friend had a brunch a couple of weekends ago, and when she was pulling together the guest list I asked her to include the aunt who helped pick out her color scheme when she repainted her house. The house looks terrific and uses colors I might not have chosen. My friend had said in the past that her aunt would be happy to help me pick colors, so this seemed like a great way to finagle an introduction.

To backtrack a bit: I moved into my house in January, and it had been flipped over the previous two months. I got what I wanted - a solid house that didn't need work, and it's got terrific light, but it is rather.. beige. I do plan to sell this house in about 20 years...but I suppose I can paint in the interim!

Move-in day; yes, I've decorated some since then!
 However, I've never picked colors before. I am a decisive person, but when there are a ton of options, and one of the options is NON-choice, I'm likely to take the path of least resistance and go with doing nothing. So I picked up some paint chips my first week or so in the house, but pretty much dropped the idea thereafter.

Fast forward to the brunch, and I find myself making a date for Laura to come over and look at my house and talk about colors. She came over on a Sunday morning and spent nearly two hours hanging out, admiring the light, and getting a feel for the space and my thoughts about color.

Then she came over a couple days later and we spent 45 minutes going over some design pages she'd bookmarked with me in mind, looking at ideas for colors and space and contrast and decor. Apparently just painting isn't enough: I also have to do things like curtains, pillows, wall hanging - it's exhausting!

Anyway, she also brought me paint chips for the various rooms. We talked them over, and now she's going to go buy me samples of the paint so I can try them on for size. All this is free, mind you - she's doing it because it's fun for her! She did at least take money to pay for the paint samples!

So, I'll definitely take some before & after shots, because I think this painting thing is going to happen. August is nuts for me, but September is looking good.

My assignment this week: start getting a feel for wallpaper; also go through my flickr albums and look at photos I might like to have framed to hang in a gallery in the hallway.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Berries berries berries berries berries berries berries berries

Perhaps you get the idea. I made a plan to go blueberry picking with a friend on Sunday, and we rolled my sister and another friend into the fun.

We started with blueberries, but didn't stop there. It took just an hour to pick over 35 pounds of blueberries! The bushes were absolutely DRIPPING with fruit:
And there was row upon row of bushes:
I was already unsure what the heck I was going to do with the fruit, but the rest of my party was all fired up and wanted to pick MORE. So, we drove a bit and stopped at a place that had both raspberries and marionberries and picked.. a lot more fruit.
SO  much more. The red are raspberries, the darker are marionberries. I think those might be specific to the Pacific Northwest - I'd never heard of them before I moved here, and it makes sense that they may not ship well. They only really should be picked when they're absolutely falling off the bush, and they are rather soft and very juicy. I really like the flavor - sweet and complex. It kind of reminds me of wine.
They look a lot like a blackberry, I guess, but I think marionberries are juicier and their form is a bit bigger and more oblong. I tried to get a picture of one in the wild, so to speak, but it's blurry. It was a nice day, though. (That's a field of raspberry canes in the background.)
By the time we were done with these berries, we were DONE. It took a lot longer to gather these and we were pretty tired. And my freezer is now absolutely jammed with berries! Stay tuned for Usage Reports.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Garden update

My, have I been lax. I've been taking pictures of my garden, but not sharing them! Here's just one glimpse of the progress.

Right around May 17 I planted this spaghetti squash. It's actually two starts lumped together because I'm lazy, foolish, optimistic - your choice of adjective.
 Less than two months later, this is what we're looking at (look at the bricks in the pics to get some scale): 
Here's another shot: 

I just counted at least 14 squash-bubbles forming on the plants. Here's the biggest - I swear it's getting larger on a daily basis: 
It's clearly too soon to harvest it, and I know they probably won't all make it .. but good thing I like spaghetti squash fairly well. I may have to make some secret deliveries, too, to get rid of the bounty!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Now it can be told

I've been keeping a crafty secret for six months! One of my very best friends got married this weekend, and two local friends and I conspired to make a quilt for the brides. Talk about blog-fodder! It was really hard to not mention it. And now that it's done it's hardly worth the blogging, alas.

Here's a picture of it on the long-arm sewing machine:

And here is some of the detailed quilting we did with the machine:

And a shot of the mostly-finished object:

I guess we got it done in about four months, from buying the fabric to hand-sewing the binding. It was a fairly simple pattern, and my quilting-expert friend probably could have knocked it out in a weekend, but with three of us and busy lives, we really did have to schedule our work nights!

I made a photo book for the recipients so they could get caught up on the process of making the quilt, and since I found a 60% off coupon online, I made small soft-cover versions of the books for the quilt-makers to have.

It was great fun, and I don't imagine ever making a quilt again. But now I can assist my expert friend when she wants some clumsy help!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Easiest summer dessert ever

I wanted to make a summery dessert to bring to a pot luck; I found a recipe for roasted apricots with honey mascarpone, and decided to make it. But as per usual, I tweaked it some! I needed to scale up the recipe, and mascarpone is expensive, so I bought a good-quality Greek honey yogurt instead.

Cut a bunch of apricots in half, dip the cut face into some sugar, and place cut side up in a shallow pan:
Broil for a few minutes, until the sugar starts to brown a bit. Remove from the oven, dollop the honey yogurt into the center of each, and sprinkle with toasted pistachios and chopped lemon verbena:
 Summer in a mouthful!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Deelish chicken dinner

I stumbled on a great recipe recently: Pan-roasted chicken with carrots and almonds

It was pretty easy, too: toss carrots & almonds in oil and honey, then roast:

Also pan-roast some chicken, then stick it in the oven.

Voila: delish. The crunchy almonds were a very nice touch. Just needs a salad!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Catastrophe averted?

Little did I know it, but apparently I'm a power user of Google Reader - the soon-to-be-defunct tool I use every day.

In addition to using Reader to follow blogs belonging to people I know and/or have found online, I subscribe to blogs about cooking, personal finance, knitting, biking, and local stuff. This is no different from many Reader-users. However, my power-user-ness comes from my extreme use of tagging.

I have a list of over 100 tags that I've assigned to items in my feed that I want to be able to find later. Want a peek into my brain? Here you go:
account balancing, alcohol, appetizers, baking, book rec, bread, breakfast, brunch, bundt cake,
cake, candy, cleaning, compilation, cookies, crock pot, cupcakes, day trip, decorating, dessert,
dinner, DIY, drinks, easy, fall, food processor, fruit, garden, Gardening, gift, gluten-free, happy  hour, healthy food, holiday, household, interesting ingredients, investing, loaf cake,
local info, lunch group, meat, menu, muffins, need gear, party, pasta, pdx, pie, potluck, preserving, restaurants, salads, side dish, snack, soup, spa B, spring, summer, technique,
travel, travel tips, tried and liked, useful, vegan, vegetable, vegetarian, weekend project,
winter, wine group, wow, yum

Whenever I read an article I want to find later, I tag it - almost always with multiple tags. So, for example, the Food Librarian's post about nectarine buttermilk upside down cake is tagged baking, cake, summer, tried and liked. Shove it in the oven chicken stew is tagged fall, meat, soup, tried and liked, winter. And, final example, a post titled What is a Weekend? is tagged meat so I can find the recipe it contains for world's best chicken.

You see how this is powerful? When I'm looking for ideas, I don't have to surf the web aimlessly - I can go to my reader account, click on my dinner or meat or seasonally-appropriate tag, and browse for ideas in posts I already know appeal to me.

And of course, Reader is going away and I'm devastated. So far the best option I've found is to subscribe to Feedly. I recreated my tags and it LOOKS like my content has made it over. When I look at a previously-tagged article I don't see all the tags I know I assigned to it, but when I check its various tags from Reader, it does appear in each place.

Tragically, Feedly only allows me to supply one tag per item in its interface. I'm going to suggest they support multiple tags, and they seem to have been very responsive to this Reader debacle, but I'm more than a little concerned that my six years of metadata is going to be lost at the end of this month.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Salted Caramel GENIUS

I've had this recipe for salted caramel brownies bookmarked for ages - well, for four months, I guess. I initially thought I'd make it for my housewarming party, but I ran out of time. Fortunately, a friend had her birthday yesterday and I was in the mood to bake!

I got up early to make the caramel before work.
Oh MAN it was so easy, and came out looking great. I did make a slight mistake, as I poured it a bit too thin. I didn't notice that in her example, she poured it into a plate and let it get a little deep. I think the thicker caramel bits would have resulted in more-noticeable in-brownie caramel pools, but I assure you, it didn't suck as it was.

Anyway, during my lunch break I made the brownie batter and stirred the caramel shards in; I sprinkled some on top as directed in the recipe:
The results were gorgeous:
I followed the directions to freeze them before cutting (and then had to thaw a bit), and it was a good idea. The room-temp results are dense and amazing, but quite sticky.
They were very popular at the birthday outing! They're so rich, and the guests were so restrained, the birthday girl even got to take half of them home.

Of course I didn't give them ALL to her... I've found they go very well with coffee.