Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Stuff on the Way to Other Stuff: Speeding Toward the New Year

Whoa, where has this year gone?!?  
     The Mama flew back to Michigan today, after her holiday visit -- they have a heck of a lot more snow than we do in Colorado right now. (Don't tell the ski resorts; they're busy making snow, and praying for more.) We have a New Year's Eve party to go to tomorrow night, but other than that, plan to spend a peaceful (and quiet) New Year together. Who knows what 2014 will bring! 

An easy (and memorable) New Year's dinner -- from yours truly, via Penny Thots.

Giving wisely -- making your donations count. Also from yours truly, on Midlife Finance.

"My so-called privileged, upper-class life." An honest look at guilt, jealousy and getting ahead, by Her Every Cent Counts.

Linda Taylor, one of America's original "welfare queens."

Free  apps -- 130 of them! (Thanks, Smart Apps for Kids)

Ten easy DIY projects that cost less than $25. (From Apartment Therapy)  Like this concrete stool from HomeMade Modern:

I also thought Apartment Therapy's Small Space Solutions contest winners, held back in 2012, particularly helpful.

Celebrities who are related -- but via marriage. And there's a surprising mix here...did you know, for example, that Mark Harmon was Ricky Nelson's brother-in-law? 

A great dessert on a tight budget: vinegar pie. (Think custard pie, if you're having problems with that idea. It tastes very similar.) Thanks, Pretty Hungry

He finally made it through the Obamacare process -- but Andy at Tight Fisted Miser had a lot of hoops to jump through. One guy's struggle to complete the application, and get health insurance.

Another look at "Dear Jane:" The Jane Stickle Civil War era quilt celebrated its 150th anniversary this year.

Happy New Year, dear friends, from all of us here at the Brick house:
      Cindy, Dave, Charley, Abby...and of course, the chickies

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What Went Well This Year...And What Didn't?

Budgets are Sexy did an interesting post on this subject that my boss at Retire By 40 picked up on. (Read his post here.) It got me to thinking...what's gone well for us this year, and what was a complete bust?

      I should start up front by mentioning that 2013 overall was an improvement on previous years. For one, the Brick made a lot more money as an IT guy for Douglas County Schools, than he did as a trainer. For another, because we've gotten in the habit on living on much less, we stashed a lot of that money away. (And bought a car with a big chunk of it -- more on that in a bit.) Emotionally, things were much more peaceful. Even after 32 years together (our anniversary was Dec. 26), we seem to be more closely attuned to each other. It is a pleasure just to be in the same room with the Brick, even if we aren't talking -- it's as if I can 'feel' what he is thinking. I love this guy so very much.

Now on to business:


*The business. Brickworks didn't do as much on the website as I would have hoped -- but it wasn't bad, considering I didn't put any new product up. (We're getting ready to move to a new host -- you won't notice any changes, but things on our end should run much smoother.)
     On the plus side, we sold like crazy at my teaching gigs. Although the Hanky Panky books are nearly gone (okay, because the Hanky Panky sequel will be out soon...finally!), interest has picked up considerably in my book, Quilts of the Golden West. (You can see all of these on the Brickworks website.)
     Order these books from the website, mention this blog, and we'll give you $2.50 off Hanky Panky, and $5.00 off Quilts of the Golden West! 

     The teaching and judging are holding steady. Appraising, on the other hand, is expanding all over the place. I did a lot more individual and dual appraisals this year than I can ever remember doing. (The group reports pretty much held steady.)

*Our savings. We did not go hog-wild with spending, even though our income more than doubled this year. I automatically set aside money every month that not only paid property taxes, but covered several smaller bills with the Bricks hospital stay (more in a bit)-- and gave us extra. Which was needed, because we:

*Purchased a second vehicle. We could have gotten along with just the Cherokee -- after all, we'd been doing that for some time. But it has been increasingly difficult to cover teaching gigs, and still let the Brick have the car when he needed it.
    Our Subaru Outback solved that problem. It's more comfortable. And classy -- there, I admit it -- than our beat-up-but-beloved Cherokee. It handles well in snow, and has already started paying for itself by saving on gas mileage. (30-32 mpg. Not bad.) Not to mention that this cold weather has made its heated leather seats a wonderful luxury. ("Butt-warmers," in Brick parlance. Hey, you can take the hicks out of the boonies -- but you can't take out the hicks out of the people!)
     We researched for a long time, to find the best-made, most affordable SUV we could find. Our decision was reinforced by those we knew who already owned Outbacks -- to a person, they raved about their cars' reliability and handling. It took a while -- we looked at dozens of cars, and test-drove a few. But thanks to Craigslist and patience, we got an excellent deal on our 2011 silver baby. 
     Now, if she lasts at least a decade...or more.

*Replaced all but two of our house windows. The difference in fewer drafts and cold spots is amazing. Somehow, by God's grace, we paid cash for all this -- what the insurance for the trashed roof and windows (for the hailstorm back in June last year) didn't cover.  We also paid cash when we:

*Took a trip to Ireland.  My Hollander instincts would have cancelled this trip -- after all, we had the windows and other stuff to cover, money-wise, and I had two gigs to do: one the night before the trip, and one the day after.
     I'm so glad we didn't. 
 Our cousins were living in Galway then. (They moved to the States in early December.) We would have missed their company, but more than that, this incredible place. We could have easily stayed longer.
      If you'd like to see photos from this, go to David Brick's Facebook listing -- he's got albums full. You can 'friend' him -- tell him you're with me -- to see everything.

*The PF commitments kept growing. When I started blogging, people knew me primarily as "that quilter," though I'd worked for newspapers and others before I got the job editing at Quilter's Newsletter. This year, I not only continued to write for Penny Thots on personal finance, but picked up a regular gig for Joe, my boss on Midlife Finance. I hope to do even more 'non-quilt' writing, as well as finish off the Hanky Panky sequel and continue working on a few other books.

*Paid for an astonishing amount of items -- without going into serious debt. We still pay off our credit cards every month, and have a freezerful of food -- so much so that I plan to eat as much as possible out of the freezer and pantry this coming month, rather than buy more. (I'll talk more about that in coming posts.)

     How did we do it?

    * No big purchases, other than the car.
     *Bought most of our clothes, home furnishings, etc. from the thrift shop, instead of retail. (And got much higher-end labels as a result, incidentally.) I even picked up a deerskin rug for the Brick's anniversary present, and a 'new' Elna sewing machine.
     *Kept expenditures down for gifts, going out to eat, and so on.
     *Stayed within a budget during Ireland. (Not making reservations, early bird dinners and keeping a tight hold on souvenirs and rental car costs all helped. If you're curious, read here.)
     *Picked up extra income, much of it through appraising, and some through selling vintage and antique items, especially books on Amazon. But we also volunteered with several jobs that paid us in extra food...which fed us, and the chickies.

     We did have to borrow some money for the Outback, but are paying that back very quickly.

*The chickens. These little terrorists have more than paid for their feed by producing enough eggs for us to sell, as well as feed ourselves and the girlies. (And give for Christmas presents, too -- these were received with pleasure by their recipients.) They also contributed compost for the garden (when they weren't tearing it apart, that is), and ate up all sorts of unusable leftovers, to the dogs' chagrin.
     They amuse us every day with their antics and strutting-about.


*Losing two chickens to the resident fox, just before we left for Ireland. Two young ones, that had just started to lay. I could still just spit.
     We solve this problem now by leaving Charley and Abby outside until dark. Which means they can't go on errands with me as much.
     They hate this. But...we haven't lost any more chickens, either.

*Dave's hospital stay. Again. We went to a wonderful gun training class in Las Vegas...which was WAY too hot. (Temps near 105-110, day after day.) The night before last day of class, the Brick, who had been feeling increasingly terrible, could stand it no longer -- and we ended up in the emergency room.
     His kidney stones had flared up.  Again.

     With treatment through the night, he felt better -- but the drugs meant he couldn't take the final test. So we went -- he hung around in the shade, while I took the test. (And failed.) But we both passed the course -- and the Brick went on to pass a concealed weapons course (as well as one of the kidney stones) before we flew home.
     The result: an interesting experience I wouldn't trade -- and a hefty hospital bill to replace the one we're almost done paying off, from the Brick's hospital stay a few years ago. (An unexplained liver failure that just as surprisingly stopped. God's grace.)

     Go figure.

*More writing should have been done. I had intended to finish up at least one book by this time this year -- didn't happen. I wanted to do some other writing chores, as well -- unh unh. Hopefully next year will go better in this department.  (And maybe I'm just a typical writer/editor -- nothing will ever be as perfect as it should be.)

I need to lose some weight, and get more exercise. (So do Charley, Abby, and to a lesser degree, the Brick.) Be more polite and patient. And start planning the next trip! (We're thinking about Scotland, but that will probably have to wait a year or so.) On to 2014 -- who knows what wonderful things could happen this coming year! 

So tell me what your best (and worst) happenings were in 2013...


Friday, December 27, 2013

Can You REALLY Trust A Snowman?

Maybe you're tired of extra time on your hands...or just a big fan of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. Why not make a snowman?

Or dozens of them.

This page of wacky snowmen photos may help you get started. (And remember: you don't necessarily have to have snow for all of these creations -- a relief. Here in Colorado's flatlands, we've got barely enough to spit on.)

 You could make them bewailing the end of the world:


Or very, very busy:

I wonder where they're going - Cleveland?

A bunch of snowman homicides, too -- one of Calvin's favorite themes. Enjoy -- just click here. (Thanks for sharing, lovethesepics.com)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas...and Even After


The treeful of gifts has been decimated -- but there's some benefit in having your kids suddenly turn into adults. (They actually help clean up!) The fish dishes were a great success -- but the Brick and I ended up wrapping presents until 1:30 a.m., to make up for the festivities. That made dragging ourselves out of bed this morning doubly hard.

But that's all done now. Supper's done...game played with the Mama, the girlies and Keith. Jess is discussing finances with her dad; Angel and Keith are goofing around in the dining room...

and the Mama's gone to bed. (Nope, she's talking to the kids.) Christmas music drifts over the air...and my eyes keep closing. (Yes, that tired.)

 Hope you had a wonderful Christmas today.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

From Luke 2:

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

I'm amazed He came, too...every year. Happy Birthday, Lord.

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Hustling Toward Christmas

It's almost 11:30 p.m...and I'm just getting around to putting up the Monday Stuff list.
Does that give you an idea of what today -- the whole week, for that matter -- has been like?

The Mama is busy planning for Christmas dinner, while I take care of the Seven Fish Dishes for Christmas Eve. A big pile of presents still need to be wrapped -- but we had to run several errands today, instead. 
     I have this awful feeling that once again, the Brick and I will be wrapping presents at 1 a.m. Christmas morning, instead of blissfully asleep in bed. 
    Hopefully all of your preparations are DONE, and you'll just relaxing. Meanwhile:

Got a Kindle?  Get a free copy of  'A Charlie Brown Christmas!' 

Dark Chocolate Salted Almond Fudge...that's gluten-free and sugar-free. Oh my.  (From Freelance Homeschool Mom)

Making an easy backdrops for photos -- including things to sell. (From Bloglovin)

Things Grandma taught me. (From yours truly, via Midlife Finance)

The biggest technology flops for 2013. Some of these may surprise you.

French Toast cups with Eggnog syrup. Yum. (From Baked Bree)

Entertaining with little space or cash. (From Slate) One of the best: serve your box wine in a decanter, and it automatically 'improves' the taste!

A bittersweet photo series of a dad and his daughter --  when she was 3, and again at her marriage.

A two hour house-cleaning plan. (From MoneySaving Mom) Oh, that I could actually do it this fast...but some good ideas here, nonetheless.

Government assistance -- is it just a given, or should some say "No?"  They did in Australia... (From Monster Piggy Bank)

Different ways to display manger scenes. (from yours truly, via Penny Thots -- go to the authors page, and you'll see more posts.)

Peppermint adult -- or kid-friendly - milkshakes. (From Who Needs A Cape?)

And if the money issue's looking a little scary --
    How to Live on Beans and Rice for a Week, via But First, We Have Coffee
    Here's Moneysaving Mom's rev on the same subject. 

And finally, something to get your funny bone going -- a very silly rendition of Christmas Jammies:

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Maybe This Violin's The Next One For You?

This beauty, an antique from the Gagliano family workshop in Naples, Italy, went for $168,000 at a recent Skinner's auction.

Lest you think that was a tad wacky, pre-auction estimates weren't that much less: $120,000-130,000.  (I have a soft spot in my heart for string instruments -- Daughter #2 played a violin in her school orchestra. from middle through high school.)

Read the full report here.

Did You Shop At A Target Store On Black Friday Weekend?

If so, you're running the real risk that your credit card was HACKED!

People who ordered from Target.com during that period are apparently not in danger...or so the Target people say. (I would change my password, anyways.)

Read more about it here. Quick.

And for ways to create a password that's not easily hacked, read here. 

Good luck.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Just Plane Music...A Cappella And Otherwise

A cappella... some kind of Italian custard, right?

Naahh. It's singing with a group, but no instruments -- the voices and parts form a blended sound, instead. Fun to listen to -- even more fun when you're in the middle of it, and can hear that rich harmony all around you.
     The Brick and I have been singing regularly this month with a small group -- and every one of our songs has been done with just voices alone. Takes practice, and listening carefully. But it's rewarding as all getout.
     I'm headed to DIA, Denver's airport, this evening to pick up the Mama for her Christmas visit. It got me to thinking -- about music and planes. So here's what I came up with, as a sort of celebration of both.

     In honor of all those starting to travel for the holidays:

     This group was stranded at an airport, and showed off their skills while waiting:

"When life gives you lemons, sing," one of FACE's group members says, during their delay:

Or if you're lucky, the musicians have their instruments on the plane! 

You might even meet up with a flash mob or two, as well. (This one happened at DIA.)

    Have fun -- and be careful. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Getting Ready for the Holidays

Strange -- I've actually somewhat enjoyed vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms and putting stuff away this past week. Lest you think I've lost my mind, remember that 1)I haven't had much time to do this stuff the past few weeks, and 2) the Mama will arrive on Wednesday for a Christmas visit, and I want it to look nice around here. We haven't put up the Christmas tree yet, but I'm guessing the Mama will enjoy helping out with that. She's already got big plans for making Christmas cookies and breads.
      Why is it, though, that the more you clean, the dirtier it gets? Part of the problem may be the mud the dogs track in -- while the rest of the country has been shivering and shoveling snow, we've had slightly above freezing temps, up into the 60s -- and dirt. (Ok, we shiver too, but at night.)
      While I empty the trash and make up the guest bed, you might enjoy these:

Twenty surprising facts about the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Being frugal AND organized. Some very practical ideas here, including setting a workable schedule. (From Thrifty Fun)

Best places to find personalized gifts -- at a reasonable price. (From Money Beagle)

A 3.5kg gold nugget ("The Slugget") found in Australia, near old 1856 mine workings. Turns out some other large nuggets have been found in this area, too...

In keeping with the theme: a 25,000 pound (as in worth 25,000!) gold cross, found with a metal detector. Some up-close photos, and a long and loving description by its finder. A beautiful piece.

How to bless the less fortunate -- without making them feel like heels. A two-parter, from Moneysaving Mom. Part I is here...  Part II is here.

So Heidi and Spencer blew $10 million in less than three years. Should we feel sorry for the poor little things? Maybe they can talk to Linda Tirado about a gofundme page. (I'll give a penny.)

Weird (old) things found in the snow. 

And interesting ways to get that snow off your car. (From The Weather Channel) 

Candy cane cookies. (From Who Needs A Cape?) These are easy, and will dress up a cookie plate.

A boy dodges cars to rescue a dog hit in traffic -- and photos capture it all.

Try an Irish goodbye (or a French exit or Dutch leave) at the next party you go to!

Prince Harry made it to the South Pole! (Bet you didn't even know he'd left.) 

A surprisingly honest look at becoming a writer. (By J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly fame)

And in honor of the soon-to-come-out Anchorman 2, one of the funniest fight scenes in film history, from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy --

Have a great week.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's A Cat's Life...Or Is It?

Back in 1914, photographer Harry Whittier Frees did a series of cat photos -- more properly, anthropomorphic subjects: cats (and a puppy or two) dressed up and positioned as if they were people. (Think Wind in the Willows, and William Wegman's Weimie subjects.)

These photos are being billed as 'LOLCats'...because they're often amusing. 

I've seen them on antique postcards. If you're an animal-lover, they're quirky, and fun to decorate with.

But one wonders: what did the animals themselves think about it?

(Click on the link here for more.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pink Tutus...And Relief

The quilt restoration is done. The quilt's delivered. The client loved it. Whew!

Now it's on to sweeping up the piles of dog hair that have accumulated all over the house, getting out the boxes of holiday decorations and baking a Christmas cake. Hopefully the chickens are kicking out their contributions to said cake, as we speak.

Sometimes people do odd things for good reasons. Like wearing a pink tutu all over the world...and nothing else. Bob Carey's been doing it to help raise interest in the fight against breast cancer. (His wife is one of the survivors.) Take a look:

Someone's cackling...I'd better go check.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Update on 'Why I -oops, Poor People - Make Terrible Decisions'

Linda Tirado's recent editorial on poverty gutted out people's heartstrings. It also resulted in a flood of contributions to this poor unfortunate girl.

Her circumstances? The editorial?

They're both fake.

Turns out that Tirado is actually a Democratic activist (and a night cook, she insists) with a comfortable income. (She also owns her own home, thanks to the generosity of her parents. Who probably got fed a heart-wrenching tale, too.)

And now she has some private surgery, 'plus enough leftover to keep me while I'm writing,' thanks to generous benefactors who donated nearly $62,000. She then had the grace to finally shut the begging page down. She thanks her recipients, but makes it clear -- these bucks are staying with her. Period.

I feel sick. I have this awful feeling that if generous donors knew what kind of surgery she was talking about -- surgery she's careful not to name -- they'd also feel sick. She does obsess about her teeth a lot. Caps? Some kind of cosmetic surgery, instead?

Linda's response to the truth coming out? Oh, she didn't mean all that poverty was happening right now to her:

    "Then they [the readers] willfully misread my essay. I can't help that."

And at the bottom of her 'gofundme' begging page:

"How is it that someone with such clarity and evocation has any right to assert that they are poor? It is likely untrue. Well, it is and it isn't. You have to understand that the piece you read was taken out of context, that I never meant to say that all of these things were happening to me right now, or that I was still quite so abject. I am not. I am reasonably normally lower working class. I am exhausted and poor and can't make all my bills all the time but I reconciled with my parents when I got pregnant for the sake of the kids and I have family resources. I can always make the amount of money I need in a month, it's just that it doesn't always match the billing cycles."

(By the way, her Huffpost live interview makes it clear -- plain, uneducated and badly-spoken, with rotten teeth, she is not.) 

Hmmm. Privately educated. (Cranbrook School, her alma mater, is a very expensive private academy in Michigan -- wealthy Detroiters would send their children there.) Comfortable upbringing. A paid activist for the Democratic party. (She shut her political blog down in 2011. Too bad I wasn't aware of it...an old Facebook page is here, using the same photo as in the essay.)

More here, if you can stomach it. (My original response is here.) As the columnist points out:
      "You're not moving this person out of seedy quarters by donating money that you earmarked to help a person in need. You're financing a book written on a bunch of fictional musings about what Linda Walther Tirado thinks it would be like to be poor."

She wrote the original post in October, on her own blog.  An update says:
    Because I am getting tired of people not reading this and then commenting anyway, I am making a few things clear: not all of this piece is about me. That is why I said that they were observations. And this piece is not all of me: that is why I said that they were random observations rather than complete ones. 

  Go back and read her original essay, to see if you agree with this. Then wonder how in the world someone would stretch the truth so badly, then try to justify it by comments made in response. (After the 'random observations' didn't go over so well, she switched to 'Well, it's happened to others...so it's still true.' Too bad she isn't sharing that money with the 'others,' instead of using it to fix her teeth and go on vacation.)

By the way, she didn't close her 'gofundme' page down until two weeks ago -- until some of the truth about her real situation started coming out. She was actually gunning for $100,000, then talking about $150,000 before she finally shut down!

Poor little underprivileged dear. In another 'update,' she promises to give back by writing (her book, I assume), 'not by paying back the cash,' and ends with this interesting statement:

I am always surprised at the amount of people who are surprised by my reality.

    Why in the world does the Huffington Post continue to publish her column?? Doesn't honesty and integrity count for anything?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Christmas Decorating

I've been putting off this important step -- partly because I've been finishing up a quilt restoration (last for a long, long time - yeah!) and partly because I haven't felt that great. And it's been really, really cold. As you already know
     The fireplace mantel in the living room is full of poinsettias. It looks wonderful -- but they'll be headed out this weekend as decorations for the monthly Seniors Luncheon. (Someone at our church is allergic...so they had to come home with me.) This year will be the first that we have an artificial tree -- but it will just be up for fun. We'll still get the traditional real one later in the month. 
     I am not looking forward to lugging out the boxes and schlepping them upstairs. But it will be worth the effort in the long run. Maybe I'll even make some cookies. Meanwhile:

An elegant IKEA wardrobe renovation...now it looks more like custom work!  (Thanks, Domino.)

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, thanks to Easy Recipes. I've just started reading this down-to-earth blog. It has a wide range of recipes for everything from chicken to soup to cake. Best of all, they sound like a regular person -- and her kids -- are actually making them. 

 A crunchy, de-lickety winter salad.  (From 101 Cookbooks)

One million worth of Lord of the Rings movie items is going up for auction. I love this film series...of course, you wouldn't have known that, would you...

Speaking of millions...
Millionaires are investing in stuff...but not stocks, according to this study. And...

A man sues the hospital that switched him at birth -- he was actually the son of rich parents, but got to grow up poor, instead. (And he wins!) I wonder...did he miss the folks, or the money most?

Moby's Sky is Broken... one of the moodiest, most rainy-night evocative pieces I've ever heard.

A $500 giveaway? Why not...we could all use a $500 Amazon gift card. (From Five Little Homesteaders)

Keeping an eye out for scammers -- and giving your money to the charity that will make it count. Five Cent Nickel says:
     Folks from coast to coast, touched by emotional appeals at a time of holiday giving, dig deep in their pockets for donations...The only problem with these heart-tugging requests... they are in reality the creations of people intent not on assisting the less fortunate, but on lining their own pockets with as many free greenbacks as they can hoist.
Says Daniel Borochoff, president of Chicago-based CharityWatch, which rates and evaluates charities to help folks make more informed gifting decisions: “Just about anyone can set up a charity, implement a website and send out letters and solicitations that pull at the heartstrings. Some are quite expert at this. Many of them simply look at this as a business decision.”

 Thrift Shop by Macklemore. Yes, this video is vulgar, with a handful of swear words thrown in. (For shock quality, I'd bet.) But it also catches the sheer fun of finding an incredible bargain.

And in honor of the season:

A huge list of links to homemade stocking stuffers (from Moneysaving Mom)

Twenty-six ways to save on Christmas, from Midlife Finance.

Weird ways to celebrate, from Penny Thots.

The latter two are from yours truly. Have a fun week. Christmas only comes once a year...why not take some time to enjoy it!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Musings, Confusings...And Thoughts on Why Poor People Make Bad Decisions

Sunday night...I've been fighting off the flu. Couldn't get warm all afternoon -- but that may have been in part because it's FREEZING around here. Nearly every night, it's been below zero, and often around -10. We look on 30-degree temps as a heat wave!  (but gee, what am I griping about -- Antarctica just set a record -- more than 135 degrees BELOW ZERO.)
     Despite the iciness, the Broncos won today's game against the Titans. People were standing up a lot in the fourth quarter -- not because they were excited, so much that they could move around to keep warm. It was COLD out there on the field, with big plumes of breath coming up from the players. On the other hand, the field was dry, in spite of a quick morning snowfall. A lot more snow on the field for the Lions and other teams today. 
     The Brick went down the hill to close the chickies up this evening in the twilight. He was just coming back up from the coop when he heard a cluck...one of the girls was sitting underneath the tree, rather than with her sisters. I'm so glad she said something, because she would most probably have frozen to death outside the coop. On the other hand, she may not have...these hens have weathered temps I would have thought would kill them, with no sign of discomfort at all. On the plus side, though, we keep a heat lamp in there that goes on at 40 degrees. 
     Holiday lights and decorations are shining up and down our street. I've got wreaths on the front door and a wooden arch by the steps, plus one little pathetic string of solar LED lights on the arch. Haven't done more because I've been trying to finish up a quilt restoration...and frankly, I just haven't felt up to it. Maybe in the next few days, after the quilt is delivered. And it warms up a little outside.

Update:   Linda lied -- both about her essay, and her current situation! See more here.

Now, on to thoughts about the guest post I recently posted, on why poor people make bad decisions. Thank you, Linda Tirado, for your willingness to share your thoughts on this subject!

I found this of special interest because I grew up pretty shorthanded in the income department. Our family would not have described ourselves as "poor," but we worked for everything we got. Both my brother and I had regular jobs beginning as soon as we were old enough to babysit, and or start working at stores. He worked at the tractor dealership my dad worked at -- I worked at the hardware store, beginning as a freshman in high school. We also both worked at the school cafeteria to earn our lunches, even though we also both did band and/or choir and sports.
     We did not go hungry, but we also did not buy tickets to events -- except for a subscription to a monthly travelogue, when I was little -- and our restaurant visits were reserved to birthdays or the Thursday night special at the local A&W. (Kids got a free drink, if the parents ordered one.) 
     There was also a number of years, back when the Brick went from being an engineer to driving a school bus, that we made less than $20,000 annually. (In fact, the first year, I remember it being $17,500.) This was with two middle-school-aged children and a mortgage payment. My business was just starting to establish itself; it brought in a little extra, but that was eaten up by expenses. I took every temp job I could, to help out, including some time working at Wal-Mart. (Which is not nearly as bad as the moaners imply. A fair amount of the people I knew who worked there had opportunities, but either didn't bother to apply for them, or didn't care. It was easier to gripe than try to improve.)
    Some memorable Christmases, nearly all the presents under the tree came via the thrift shop. Because that was all we could afford at the time. Both our girls worked part-time jobs to pay for clothes and incidentals; our youngest (like her mom and uncle before her) started at 14. (In Colorado, you can do this if you work fast food -- in her case, it was Taco Bell.)
     So, as someone who has known what it is to be poor, I feel I have a clearer look on the subject. 

  Linda begins by saying,
     They [the comments in this post] are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

What follows seems to be a list of excuses -- and why they're okay, because after all, she's POOR.

"Rest is a luxury for the rich," she announces, and proceeds to list her daily schedule, including classes, two jobs, kids, etc. She then says she does have two days off a week from this hectic life, but she uses them for schoolwork, 'soothing' Husband and taking care of the kids.
     Welcome to life. We all have full schedules...and plenty of people with higher incomes feel exactly the same way you do. By the way...how come your husband doesn't seem to be working at all? Did you apply for financial aid? (I would think you're eligible for a boatload of it, in your current position.) Have you applied for a scholarship?
     And, although it doesn't feel like that now, school will end eventually. Short-term hard times do not mean that you're doomed to have them last forever. Yes, I know it feels like things will never change. What you feel -- and what is true -- are not always the same thing.

Next on the list: "I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant." She needs it because of her hectic schedule. (See previous paragraph.) Hmmm. Smoking isn't just expensive -- it's OUTRAGEOUS. Could that money be used to start a savings account, instead of going up in smoke every day? There are other stimulants that help, like caffeine. Or drop a job (and have the Mister go to work, instead!) and get some sleep.

I was also puzzled by the rant about not being able to get a hotel room with $1000 in cash in her pocket (did you ever know a place that wouldn't accept cash?); accusing the Patriot Act of making it impossible for her to get a bank account (??), and describing herself as "not good enough" for anything but a kitchen job. (Honey, could it be your attitude that's not getting interviews, instead of your "bad teeth?" You look pretty good in the photo that accompanies the post...a heck of a lot cuter than me. And in spite of little money, I managed to get interviews for jobs. Hired, even. Obviously, you did too, since you have two jobs.)

"I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don't pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It's not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn't that I blow five bucks at Wendy's. It's that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There's a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there's money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway."
     Oh yeah? Has it ever occurred to you that this attitude -- and certainly your response to even trying to economize, or put money away -- is precisely what's keeping you poor?  Actually, small sacrifices can and will result in "improved circumstances." Even temporary sacrifices help. And why in the world would you think that it's not only okay, but important to spend every bit of money you've got, all the time? Won't your kids need food and clothes in the future? If you're not willing to save for your own sake, do it for theirs. Don't you want life to be better for them, at least?

"I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It's certainly self-defeating, but it's safer."

     Familiar, yes. Safer, no. Keep up your life this way, and when you're finally eligible for Social Security, you will have little else. Even worse, you will have brought up your children to think this is the way that everyone lives -- day to day, never planning for the future, never thinking about the consequences of your quickie decisions. They will expect to be taken care of, either by you or the government, instead of taking care of themselves.
     Not only that -- they'll be teaching their children the same thing. So the cycle continues.

    Is this what you REALLY want?

In her update, she mentions that a lot of people have given her money via Paypal, and substantially increased her yearly income, in the process. So let's see -- if she follows her credo, that extra will not go into an emergency fund, or buy food or clothing ahead for her kids. Instead, it will go for "luxuries." In a week or two, she'll be back in the same position, only this time with the knowledge that she just wasted a golden opportunity, with little to show for it.

     I really, really hope she uses it to change. She could. But I have my doubts.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Waiting For the New Hobbit

Are you a big fan of the Lord of the Rings, too?

I read them back in college, as a break from the realities of school. Somehow, wandering around on the plains with the gallant Riders of Rohan was a heck of a lot more interesting than filling the ice cream machine at the cafeteria. (One of my several jobs back then to pay tuition.) Although the Brick also read them about this time while in the Navy (we hadn't met yet), he came at them straight. My entry into this wonderful universe was more indirect -- I'd studied C.S. Lewis' books, and Tolkien was Lewis' friend.

We've been re-watching Peter Jackson's flicks, getting ready for:

The first Hobbit movie was terrific,

giving me high hopes for the new one, too.

There's actually a blog you can follow, if you're a Hobbit-lover. I must say...also being a huge Sherlock fan has given me a giggle about Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch starring together in this movie, as well...except in the Hobbit, Freeman is the head star, and it's reversed in SherlockGo figure. They do work well together, but it's one of the odder combinations in filmdom. (P.S. How do they show up together in the Hobbit movie? Benedict is the dragon...)

C'mon time. Go faster...open, open, open.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2014's 'Official' Color Is Out!

Pantone's chosen color for 2014 is out...and it just continues the trend of brighter in-your-face shades. (I especially could have done without their 2009 choice...wear this shade, or paint your walls with it, and it makes you look like you've got the flu. Ewww.)

Previous years' colors:

 And this year's choice? Drumroll please....

RADIANT ORCHID!  ("A captivating, enigmatic, magical purple")
Okay with me...I love a beautiful fuschia or chartreuse. Pantone calls this "an enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones" that "inspires confidence and emanates great joy, love and health." Sounds like someone is just a leetle bit fond of gushy emotions. But hey -- enthusiasm isn't to be sneezed at, even if it's corny.

I've been saying to students that we're headed toward the vivid, brassy colors of the Bicentennial era. This is just the continuing trend toward that direction -- more's coming!

(Read more about it here at Apartment Therapy, or on the Pantone site.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yes, It's Snowing Here

At least 10 inches, maybe even a foot. I actually measured how deep it was, by falling down in it. Twice. In my robe and sporting the Brick's workboots, on the way to let the chickies out. (Sensible creatures that they were, they refused to come out of the warm coop pretty much all day.) 

We got a lot of it -- but our friend Bert, who lives further south near Monument Hill (where normally it snows even when the rest of the state is dry) got what he described as a "skiff" of snow. Hardly anything. Kind of like this weird guy:

Now, in late evening, the temps are in single digits. I can see the red of the heat lamp shining out of the coop, and shadows cross the light. What are they doing in there -- playing cards? Holding a discussion group? Surely it can't be anything connected with a red light district...

We've had so little snow that this snowstorm is actually a blessing. I keep reminding myself of that every time I have to trudge through the drifts, muttering: . Why can't the chickens get their OWN water?! How come I have to bring out the feed? (And fall down, I add grimly.)

But today the chickies rewarded us with a full dozen eggs, in spite of the chill in the weather. And the evening light really is lovely, shining on the snow. (Here -- go see for yourself.)

It's good incentive to stay inside and get Stuff Done. The fire is crackling cheerfully as I work. Time to read a little, type, drink a lot of tea -- and listen to Charley and Abby snore.

Welcome to December in Colorado.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Poor People Make Bad Decisions

I just read this post from Linda Tirado...see what you think.
I'll give you my opinion in a bit - but I'd like to hear yours, as well.
Linda's original link is here.

This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense

Linda Tirado

There's no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.
Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12:30AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I'm in bed by 3. This isn't every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I'm in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won't be able to stay up the other nights because I'll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can't afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn't leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn't in the mix.
When I got pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel. I had a minifridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12/$2. Had I had a stove, I couldn't have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron whilst knocked up.
I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn't. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you'll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they'll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That's not great, but it's true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick. We have learned not to try too hard to be middle-class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.
The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That's a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can't afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don't want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We're aware that we are not "having kids," we're "breeding." We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.
Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it's hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety.
Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I've been turned down more than once because I "don't fit the image of the firm," which is a nice way of saying "gtfo, pov." I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won't make me a server because I don't "fit the corporate image." I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying.
Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realizes that. I've spent a lot of hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick pikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn't work, but is amusing.
"Free" only exists for rich people. It's great that there's a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don't belong there. There's a clinic? Great! There's still a copay. We're not going. Besides, all they'll tell you at the clinic is that you need to see a specialist, which seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. "Low-cost" and "sliding scale" sounds like "money you have to spend" to me, and they can't actually help you anyway.
I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.
I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don't pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It's not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn't that I blow five bucks at Wendy's. It's that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There's a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there's money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It's why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that's all you get. You're probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don't plan long-term because if we do we'll just get our hearts broken. It's best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.
I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It's certainly self-defeating, but it's safer. That's all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

Additions have been made to the update below to reflect the responses received.
UPDATE: The response to this piece is overwhelming. I have had a lot of people ask to use my work. Please do. Share it with the world if you found value in it. Please link back if you can. If you are teaching, I am happy to discuss this with or clarify for you, and you can freely use this piece in your classes. Please do let me know where you teach. You can reach me on Twitter, @killermartinis. I set up an email at killermartinisbook@ gmail as well.
This piece has gone fully viral. People have been asking me to write, and how they can help. After enough people tried to send me paypal money, I set up a gofundme. Find it here. It promptly went insane. I have raised my typical yearly income as of this update. I have no idea what to say except thank you. I am going to speak with some money people who will make sure that I can't fuck this up, and I will use it to do good things with.
I've also set up a blog, which I hope you will find here.
Understand that I wrote this as an example of the thought process that we struggle with. Most of us are clinically depressed, and we do not get therapy and medication and support. We get told to get over it. And we find ways to cope. I am not saying that people live without hope entirely; that is not human nature. But these are the thoughts that are never too far away, that creep up on us every chance they get, that prey on our better judgement when we are tired and stressed and weakened. We maintain a constant vigil against these thoughts, because we are afraid that if we speak them aloud or even articulate them in our heads they will become unmanageably real.
Thank you for reading. I am glad people find value in it. Because I am getting tired of people not reading this and then commenting anyway, I am making a few things clear: not all of this piece is about me. That is why I said that they were observations. And this piece is not all of me: that is why I said that they were random observations rather than complete ones. If you really have to urge me to abort or keep my knees closed or wonder whether I can fax you my citizenship documents or if I really in fact have been poor because I know multisyllabic words, I would like to ask that you read the comments and see whether anyone has made your point in the particular fashion you intend to. It is not that I mind trolls so much, it's that they're getting repetitive and if you have to say nothing I hope you can at least do it in an entertaining fashion.
If, however, you simply are curious about something and actually want to have a conversation, I do not mind repeating myself because those conversations are valuable and not actually repetitive. They tend to be very specific to the asker, and I am happy to shed any light I can. I do not mind honest questions. They are why I wrote this piece.
Thank you all, so much. I don't know what life will look like next week, and for once that's a good thing. And I have you to thank.
This post first appeared on killermartinis.kinja.com

Knitting -- and Other Textile Pursuits -- Comfort and Something More

Meandering through an interesting post on what nine famous people take very seriously for hobbies, I found this:

Meryl Streep loves to knit!

She even knitted the shawl she wore for her part in the movie Doubt. 
(A lot of work there...I hope she got to keep it.)

On a BBC Radio interview some years ago, she said that she knits between filming, partly for stress management:

      "For me it was a place to gather my thoughts and understand the contemplative (life)".  She went on to say "It's a sort of clearing out place".

She's taught others in the film industry to knit, as well. Passing it on, so to speak.  And she's certainly not alone in her love of textile arts; many others do this. S. Epatha Merkerson, one of the cops on the long-running series Law and Order, is a dedicated quilter.

     I have long thought that there's something more to knitting, crochet and yes, quilting, that lets these pursuits calm and comfort our hearts. It's not just the creativity, or the sense of productiveness. It could be the physical sensation of repeatedly rubbing across the textiles as we sew/knit/crochet/embroider -- in the same way that following the rosary beads encourages recall as you repeat the words of the prayers.
    No, I'm not Catholic. But I do understand the value of prayer, and I have seen in my own life how my faith in Christ (the Boss) keeps me going. If the rosary encourages the meditative periods that prayer does for your life -- then why not.
    Or perhaps it's something more basic...the memory of the texture of a beloved "blankie" that repeats itself as the fabrics or yarn move through your fingers.

I do know that it works. 

Sewing with thread and fabric, or knitting a pair of slippers for much-loved daughters, calms me. Not only that, it gives me time to think and plan. Some of my best writing has happened during the same period I've been working on a new quilt design. They must originate in the same well of creativity -- because when the writing's going good, so is the quilting.

Try it yourself this busy holiday season. Even a small project inspires and helps!  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Stuff On the Way to Other Stuff: Cleaning Up, Getting Done

Is it really December? I can still go outside barefoot...well, briefly, anyways. It's been a little warm outside. The chickens are out scratching away -- and going up in egg production all the time. Yesterday, our 16 hens kicked out 15 eggs!
      But a storm's coming. Clouds are hazing up over the mountains, and the wind's picked up. Lows are supposed to be in the single digits by the end of the week. So much for warmth. 
     The quilt restoration is nearly done. (It's been weeks longer than I hoped or planned.) I've got dozens of quilts to fold and put away, and paperwork needs to be double-checked for year's end. But it's more peaceful here than it's been in a long, long time. 

Keeping yourself from overspending -- or throwing a pity party about it. (From  FI Journey.)

Need help paying your mortgage? If you'll let your house be painted for advertising purposes, they'll pay your mortgage for a year...then paint the house back to its original colors.

Is it better for a two-income couple earning only minimum wage to have one stay home? The Simple Dollar brings up some good points, including pointing out that you can waste just as much time and money at home, as you can at work. The larger question: can you commit to money-saving techniques, whether or not you're working?

The whole fuss about a homophobic restaurant receipt seems to be...a big fat hoax. Apparently it was done by the waitress who accused a couple of not only stiffing her, but writing an insulting message on the receipt. Oops...the couple proved they DID leave a tip. And they're disputing the message, as well.

Holiday gift card bonuses. (From My Frugal Miser) I'm planning on doing this via Red Robin -- a $100 worth of giftcards from them means a $20 bonus for me and the Brick!
    MFM's post on saving money by watching Youtube is also enlightening. Learn how to do something by watching a Youtube video, and you've just saved the the bucks you would have paid someone else to do it for you!

Holding forth on the 100% off Black Friday Sale. (From Mr. Money Moustache, who also did an interesting look at dealing with a power failure on his birthday.)

Having a simpler Christmas - 21 days, 21 posts from Moneysaving Mom

If you could turn back time, what would you tell your younger self? April at Get Rich Slowly (and a bunch of readers) have comments on this.

Karma's reunion with her calf. Cows are very intelligent creatures - way more than most people give them credit for. Take a look at this tearjerker...but ignore the corny music.

And an inside look as a tornado tears through a school in Lafayette, Indiana: