More Jake

Here's another photo of Jacob:

I love this picture. It almost looks posed, although anyone who knows Jacob knows that it's next to impossible to get him to pose for anything.

Another friend's blog

As Josh (a friend from work) pointed out, I neglected to add him to my list of friends' blogs. So I added him.

One more thing

Another quick note about my Christmas gift from Dad - he says, "every time you use it, you'll think of me."

This makes me very uncomfortable.

Christmas report

This was the first year I've ever woken alone in a house on Christmas morning. That was a little strange, and it was stranger still to get dressed and head out without talking to anyone but Dakota. Still, it was a wonderful day.

I went to my church's service in the morning, then ran home to pick up some things (including gifts, Dakota, and baking supplies) for the day and headed to Mom and Dad's house. We had brunch, then opened gifts and got ready for dinner with the rest of Mom's family. I stayed up late and did a lot of nothing, which, I think, is one of the best ways to spend Christmas.

I think my favorite gift was the KitchenAid stand mixer, from Mom and Dad. It was totally unexpected, and one of those things I just figured I would get when I got married and could register for it. After all, it's a luxury - a hand mixer works pretty well for most things you make. Oh, but it's nice.

The award for the most surprising and unexpected gift, though, would have to go to my dad -he bought me a toilet. His reasoning? The plumber said I needed one (the plumber really said I needed to use less toilet paper) and it would increase the value of my house. (He bought Katie and Mike a railing for their house, for the same reason - it will increase the value of their house. It will also make it much easier for him, and others, to get in their house).

So, I have to admit I was pretty surprised, and didn't know what to say (I had absolutely no idea that was coming. None. I'm pretty sure my mouth actually dropped open when I saw it). So, I need to decide which toilet I'm going to replace (either put the new one downstairs, or put the new one in my master bathroom upstairs and move that one downstairs - I need to find more about exactly what Dad bought me). Dad said he and Jon would help me, and I think I'm probably going to take advantage of it and replace the flooring in one or both bathrooms as well (both projects I had planned to undertake, at some point). Getting a toilet for Christmas definitely surpasses the hair-on-fire as my funniest Christmas moment.

I've got to go - Dad and I are going to see the Chronicles of Narnia. This will be my third time - really, it's that good.

Funny Christmas moment

I'm hesitating to post this, because I know I'm going to get teased about it at work.

But, it's just so ridiculously funny, I'm going to post it anyway.

Tonight, at the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my parents' church, I set my hair on fire.

I'm fine, you can't tell to look at my hair, I can't even find the burned strands, and no one noticed. Though my sister Kelli could smell it after I pointed it out to her.

I'm pretty sure, when it happened, I said, "oh, crap." Since no one heard me, I must have said it quietly - this is a good thing.

Friends' blogs

I've added link to several friends' blogs on the right.

The Thinking Padre - Nick used to be, until recently, the youth pastor at my parents' church, as well as a really good friend and an adopted member of my family. His wife Heather is one of the people in this world who knows me best. Nick and Heather, and their son Nathan, are planting a church in Virginia.

VBerg - Steph was my best friend when we both lived in Chicago. She moved to Grand Rapids shortly before I moved back home to Maryland.

sarah magda - Sarah is a friend from Taylor. We reconnected a couple years ago, when we joined several other college friends on a cruise to the Bahamas (even though she lived in DC, an hour away from me! go figure!). Sarah is moving to Lithuania soon.

This is creepy

Here's the weird thing about blogging, and having people you see every day read it - you forget that they actually know things before you might tell them.

Case in point - at work today, Jillian asked me how last night's dinner party went. I started to tell her, and Josh filled in with details. Josh wasn't at the dinner party - he just read the blog post I wrote last night, before this conversation.

This has happened before (Josh was involved then, too - hmm). I still do a double take.

It's kind of like, when you start to tell a story that you've forgotten you've already told, and someone finishes the story for you.

Domestic? Me?

I've been in a domestic mood lately.

Maybe it's the Christmas season, and all of the wonderful opportunities to cook and entertain. Maybe it's the Pampered Chef catalog party Kelli had recently, and all the inspiration I've gotten from that. Maybe it's just that I'm paying more attention to my finances, and trying to cut back on my more expensive hobby (shopping).

Tonight was our small group's dinner party, here at my house, and it went pretty well! We had some small issues. A few people came late, either because they had other plans or because they didn't know what time we were starting. And Bethany and I both experimented with two new recipes. My spinach and artichoke dip turned out really well, and the chocolate dip was decent (though not very much was eaten, since we also had apple pie and ice cream). Bethany's cheese fondue was good, but didn't work as well without the sterno, and the Spanish rice didn't turn out so well. But everything else was really good! We should do this more often.

I got to expand my table to the full 60-inch square, and I set it up with plates and all the night before. I even saw these cute little Christmas stockings on sale, so I bought several, filled them with candy, and placed one each plate. It looked really festive - I wish I had taken a picture before everyone arrived.

Need a stress reliever?

Here's something fun to check out:

My sister Katie, who works in retail, says she wanted to keep this site open on her computer all day and shake it whenever she had to deal with an annoying customer.

Christmas shopping - done.

I finished my Christmas shopping last night. The only things I have left to buy are some boxes, but I made a final list of those things, so I could easily take care of that this afternoon.

I also finished wrapping a huge number of presents, so there's only a handful left. I'd like to get those done tonight, but I also need to do some baking and cleaning in preparation for our dinner party tomorrow. I'm going grocery shopping and buying everything I need for the dinner party, Christmas Eve at my house, and Christmas brunch and dinner at Mom and Dad's. I'll need to go shopping again before my friend Kate's going-away party a week from today, but I haven't finalized the menu yet and need to do that first. I want to see what kinds of food I have left over first.

Christmas stuff

This morning our family had our annual Christmas breakfast at a local restaurant. But, because plans and reservations were made at the last minute, I had to be at my parents to go breakfast at 7:30. This means that I got up earlier today than I have any other day this month (and yes, you could probably extend that through another month or so, too).

After a bit of shopping, I headed home for my Christmas baking marathon. My friend Bethany came over to help, and it was good to just spend time with her. There were some successes and some failures, but as those were mostly with cookies I had never made before, I didn't feel too bad. The candy cane sugar cookies turned out kind of weird, so I'll only be sharing those with my family. :-) The stained glass cookies were a complete failure (I didn't even keep them), but the rest of the stuff turned out well. I took a bunch of it to the Young Life Christmas party tonight, and will package the rest into cookie/candy baskets for people at work.

Christmas gifts are going well, almost done, and if I force myself to finish my lists and spend a couple hours one evening this week, I should be able to take care of what's left.

The biggest thing still to do is my Christmas newsletter and cards. I have the notes I've made throughout the year, so writing the text will be a snap, but it's the layout of the newsletter that's slowing me down. I could just use a similar format as I did last year, but I'd really like to change things up a bit, and I can't decide what that looks like, exactly.

Blessings in disguise

It's Thursday night, and outside it seems that everything is one big sheet of ice. My normal Thursday plans, praise team practice, were canceled because of the weather, and also because of the weather, I'm basically stuck here. I could go out, I suppose, but as I'm not a big fan of driving or even walking on ice, I'm staying put. The rest of the evening stretches before me, and I'm trying to decide how exactly I want to spend it.

Being snowed in, so to speak, is a good thing, as otherwise I'd probably be hanging out my parents' house with the rest of my family, or out shopping (which I need to do sometime, but I don't need to do tonight). There's certainly enough to do around here that I don't need to be bored.

I could avoid using this time to get things done that I need to, but frankly, none of those usual time-wasters appeal to me at the moment. There are no books in my house that I want to read right now, I can't think of anything I really want to do online, and the first floor is so cold that watching a movie has no appeal, either.

I'm going to work in my office, I think, getting it decluttered and cleaned up and set up the way I want it. It's ridiculous, really, that's it's been in this state for so long. Hopefully, I can blitz through quite a bit of it.

Edited 8:50pm: Well, an hour later, the office looks a lot better - not nearly as much stuff on the floor. But, not yet done. And what have I been doing for the last 30 minutes? Playing around online, including downloading Narnia wallpaper for my computer. Back to work!

Edited 10:30pm: I can finally say that I'm done. All of it - everything is where it's supposed to be. The supplies on the shelf in the closet need to be sorted through, and possible reorganized, but they'll still end up on that same shelf. There's both a bag and several boxes of trash that need to go out, and a pile of stuff in the hallway that needs to go to Goodwill, but as far as clean/sorting/organizing the office, it's done. All that's left is the decorating. Boy, this feels good. I'm going to head downstairs and have a marathon gift-wrapping session, while I watch a movie and eat chocolate chip cookie dough.

The office project. Again.

Katie came over last night to help me set up the bed in my guest room and move my new desk into my office. We moved a few other things around, too, and I'm hoping this will be the kickstart I need to really get my office finished. It's not that much work, really, if I would just get off my butt and work on it. Not that I worked on it for very long after she left.

She brought Jacob with her, who fell asleep in the car and woke up the second she layed him on the sofa. When he wasn't asking us to go "all the way downstairs" to dance to the music I was playing through my DVD player, he was climbing up on his pirate ship (otherwise known as the bed we were trying to set up) and looking through his spyglass (otherwise known as a roll of wrapping paper). I love his imagination - I think my conversations with him are usually the best ones I have all day.

A follow-up from the unexpected...

I've often heard Brad quote statistics from a National Census Bureau survey that claims that 1 in 3 high school students has thought about killing themselves, and 1 in 10 has actually planned out how to do this. I believe this statistic - I've talked to enough high-schoolers (and remember high school well enough) to remember how whatever you're in the middle of always feels bigger than anything else, and often bigger than you.

Still, the number is really staggering to think about, especially when you start applying the statistic to people you know. For example, you're sitting in a room with 30 high school students, and you realize that if the statistics hold up, 10 of them have thought about killing themselves, and 3 have planned out how they would do it. For all of my attempts to realize just how staggering this is in my head, it has still felt a little abstract to me.

Until Friday night, when I'm out to dinner with several friends, and we're talking about this high school student who just took her own life. There are eight of us there, and two friends are sharing about how they were those 1-in-10 when they were high school. It was a good conversation, as I got to pick their brains a bit about what they were thinking (did they think no one would care? did they just not care if anyone else cared? how did their family and friends' reactions play into their thoughts, or did it at all?), I realized, this is really true. There are far more high school students who actually think about killing themselves than anyone realizes, and since by nature it's such a private, deeply-held secret, the problem just seems overwhelming.

Anyway, I don't know what to do with all of these thoughts, or this new-found awareness.

Hooray for snow days!

Here's one perk they didn't list in my benefits package, but probably ranks among one of the things I most enjoy: they (whoever they is) will actually close Army posts during snowstorms, and since I happen to work on an Army post, I sometimes get snow days. It's a wonderful thing, and I'm oh-so-glad it's not limited to students and those who work with them as a career.

So, my teacher friends (I have a lot of those) and I, plus one other friend who has yet to find a job, went to see The Chronicles of Narnia.

By the way, the movie was absolutely amazing. I'd heard it was amazing, and still surpassed my expectations. Definitely the best movie I've seen all year.

Heather says I should dedicate a blog to all of the crazy things my family does. I would certainly update it more often than my own, recent entries not withstanding. But, here you go, proof that crazy people attract crazy people for friends. I was telling my family about the movie, including my 16-year-old brother's friend Chris, and in particular I was going on and on about the amazing graphics, and I said, "If I didn't know for a fact that lions don't talk, I'd be tempted to believe it." Chris says, "How do you know lions don't talk?" I had no answer for that.

Introducing Secret Agent Picklehead

I'm pretty sure I have the cutest nephew ever.

Jacob's latest thing is to run around wearing sunglasses and calling himself "Secret Agent Picklehead" (his name, honestly - he came up with it completely on his own). He puts his hand out and says "You'll never get the key!" (This is from a Backyardigans episode). But, since Jacob is two, this sounds more like "You'll never det da dee!"

This photo was taken with Katie's camera phone on Sunday.

The unexpected

On Monday, one of the teenagers who attends my church took her own life.

I didn't know her, and though I know who her parents are, I don't know them well. I can't even begin to imagine their grief and confusion. I know there are lots of people who are really from this. I don't know that you ever expect suicide (because then, wouldn't you be doing something about it), but when it's someone who everyone says to have been happy, healthy, and well-adjusted, it just seems that the questions are unending.

I'm thinking a lot of Doug's death, almost two years ago now, and watching Nick and Heather walk through that. And mostly, I just find myself thinking about it, with no way to put into words my thoughts or feelings.

Mostly I think it's so overwhelming because I can't imagine ever being at that place, that place where you literally feel like there are no more options, where the fear of death and dying is less than the fear of living. Is that mental illness? Is it spiritual?

I don't know.

Hi, Dad

My father has found my blog. Or, to be more accurate I showed it to him.

He says I shouldn't be allowed to write about him on the Internet (see the blog below, Strange Christmas music). I say, if he can talk about me to the old people in his classes, I can certainly post about the ridiculous things he does. As a matter of fact, that would be a blog in itself.

Good quote

I spent some time today reading my friend Nick's blog. I knew he had one, but had never read it. Now I have.

Anyway, I think this is my favorite post:

Nick, your dad is a wise man.

Strange Christmas music

I'm a huge fan of most things Christmas, including Christmas music, and yet even I am surprised by this one: Pokemon Christmas CD. Am I the only person that finds this a bit odd?

I'm just sitting here working, listening to AccuRadio's Holiday Pop station, and out of nowhere, this craziness comes through my speakers.

A couple more stories that make me just shake my head..
  • Did you know that you can make angel Christmas ornaments out of tampons? And that people actually do this? And hang them on their tree? And give them as gifts?
  • A few days ago I was helping Mom clean out her front room, and I carried two hot chocolate machines down to the basement. At first, I assumed they were gifts. But no, they're not. They're back-ups. Dad wanted a couple extra ones around in case the one he has in the kitchen, that works, stops working. Seriously. Two extras.

Good friends

It's good to have friends.

I'm reminded of this because I spent a few moments this morning chatting with my good friend Kate (Hi, Kate! Are you reading this?). What we talked about isn't important (meaning only that it isn't central to the point I'm making - it was an important conversation to me). What is important is that when she signed off, I was just overwhelmingly grateful that God has given me these friends.

These are people with whom I can be totally honest and vulnerable, who know me and all my weird quirks and inconsistencies. I've laughed with them and cried with them, and when I'm convinced that I am completely screwed-up, they still stick around. They're there when I need them and when I don't.

What I can't figure out is how I managed to live so long without them in my life. I spent too many years being too insecure to let down my guard, at least completely. Now, having done so repeatedly, and finding them still there at the end of the whole mess, I'm amazed that I didn't just have nervous breakdowns all the time.

Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort, of feeling safe with a person, having to neither weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out - chaff and grain together - certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and, with the breath of kindess, blow the rest away.
- Dinah Mulock, "Friendship"

The wedding and a weekend in Rochester

James and Bethany's wedding was this weekend in Rochester, and it was hands-down the most fun I've ever had at a wedding. Part of this was probably because I was in it, and there were so many good friends who were there, too.

It's hard, because although I am so incredibly happy for them, weddings just tend to resonate in me how much I want that for myself. Plus, it's kind of weird to come back to normal life.

But Bethany was absolutely beautiful, and both the ceremony and reception were so them. I hope my wedding is like that - the kind that has my personal stamp on it.

I miss Beth, though. I know they need the week away to themselves, to start their marriage, but this weekend was such a major life event for her (and emotional for me, too) that it's weird not to be able to process that with her. At least not yet.

Embracing wonder

Blue like Jazz, by Donald Miller, is one of those books that's had such a great impact on my life, that I feel the need to re-read periodically. I learned a lot the first time, but I feel like there's so much good stuff in there, I feel like I can tap into it better if I read it again.

Last I started reading the chapter on worship, and mostly the chapter on worship is about wonder. It's about how it makes sense that there are things we don't understand about God. And if we truly understood the fullness of God, the fullness of all He is, wouldn't we be God ourselves? We need wonder. We need to know there's something bigger than us, there's someone who has it figured out when we don't.

And so I've decided, I'm embracing wonder. Instead of shying away from the fact that I don't understand everything about God, instead of thinking it's a cop out to say that to other people (especially non-Christians), I've decided I'm going to take hold of it. I'm going to hold on to it, and revel in the fact that God is bigger than I am.

It's Monday, and I wish I could crawl back into bed

I woke up today with a killer headache and an unsettled stomach. I took two Aleve, which has reduced the sharp pain in my head into a dull ache. I shouldn't have come into work today, but I don't have much sick leave left. Plus, if this is anything like the illness that Mom's been dealing with, I have several more days to go.

I ate something for lunch today, but now I'm regretting that decision. I thought not eating anything would be the worse of two, but I was wrong.

Tonight we have Club, after having last week off because Brad was on vacation. We might end up playing ultimate frisbee, depending on how many people are there, and I can't imagine the idea of running around at this moment. It's taking most of my energy to lift my head off the back of my chair.

I'm headed home to rest, and maybe take a short nap, before Club.

What type of coffee are you?

This online quiz was surprisingly accurate.
    You Are a Frappacino
    At your best, you are: fun loving, sweet, and modern
    At your worst, you are: childish and over indulgent
    You drink coffee when: you're craving something sweet
    Your caffeine addiction level: low

Homecoming, part 2

It's been almost a week since Homecoming, and I still haven't followed up on my first post about it.

It's somewhat weird to go back to a place you haven't been in four years, and feel like you're such a different person than you were then. It's also weird to go to your class reunion, where the vast majority of people are married and have babies, and be one of only a handful who are unattached.

So I hung out with people I've seen a couple times since leaving school and leaving Chicago, and reconnected with several that I'd completely lost touch with. And, got to meet the significant others of a few friends.

I also realized something important about friendships. I think it's really true that there are some people who are only in our lives for a short while, and that's okay.


I just returned to Chicago with my friend, Laura, after heading to Taylor for Homecoming and my 5-year reunion. I saw some great friends, and generally reconnected with lots of people, so that was good.

I have more to say about the whole experience, but I'll post about that later, when I'm in a better frame of mind to process it (too tired right now).

Are my feet shrinking?

I think my feet are shrinking. No, seriously.

I've always been a size 11. Trust me, you don't just forget that you have feet that big, and no matter how much you may want to collect shoes, at that size, it's just not practical.

But, yesterday, when trying on an outfit I bought to show a friend, she lent me shoes to try with it. They're size 9 1/2, and they fit. I tried on the same pair at the shoe store today, thinking I might want to buy them (because otherwise I would need to return the outfit because I have no shoes that would fit). Same shoes, same size, and they were just too close for me to be comfortable. So, I'm thinking about it.

But, even if I did want to go a 1/2 size higher (which would be all that I would need), that would still be an entire size smaller than I'm using to buying.

Is this possible? Can your feet shrink?

In the Windy City

I made it! I'm in Chicago, on vacation, and today stretches out before me with nothing at all that I absolutely have to do. It's wonderful.

Done, done and done.

It's Friday night, late. I'm sitting here at my parents' house, planning to spend the night in a real bed for the first time in a couple weeks. And, my bedroom floor is almost completely done. I say almost, because I still need to do the transition pieces and quarter round. But, the floor is basically done, and tomorrow I can begin the process of putting my bedroom back together. Cutting the quarter round and transition pieces will create some dust, but nearly as much as cutting the floor boards themselves.

So, really, I should be sitting here happy, proud of myself for what I've accomplished. Instead, somehow, my mom has managed to pull the joy out of this moment for me. She doesn't think that I should take on a project like this again, and she doesn't think I should have taken it on alone. In fact, she specifically told me not to do it again.

I'm upset by this, partly because I really hate it when my mother forgets that I'm 27 and tells me what to do. But I'm also upset because I really enjoyed doing this, and I worked hard, and I'm proud of myself for accomplishing it. And, I want to do it again. And I think it's okay to be proud of what I've accomplished.

Going to bed on time

They say that Americans don't get the sleep they should. I certainly don't.

Maybe it's just that when it's time to go to bed, I keep all of the other things that I could be doing. Maybe I have no self-discipline.

I do know that it's hard for me to come straight home and go right to bed. About the only time I manage to accomplish that is if I'm coming from Mom & Dad's house, and it's late. I need that transition, re-entry time to slow down my brain and body a little bit.

Monday night I got a good night's sleep, probably the first in several weeks. I actually went to bed before midnight (a huge feat in itself). Tuesday night, I undid all the benefits. Last night wasn't that much better, although it's certainly been worse.

But I'm tired. And there are enough things going on this week that I just need to be more diligent about getting to bed at a decent time. Otherwise, I'll never make it to Chicago for my vacation - I'll have a nervous breakdown before that.

Bedroom floors, Saturday's update

Dad and Mom came over this morning/afternoon to help me work on the floor. When I started, I really hadn't planned on asking for Dad's help, but he knows so much more than I do about all of the complicated cuts that need to be made around the door jambs. We finished up two of the six, but then Dad was getting tired and started making mistakes. So, we decided to call it a day.

There's room for a couple more rows in the bedroom, which get increasingly more complicated until they finally end at the closet door.

Dad and I aren't both free to work on it again until Wednesday, so I think I'm going to start working at the back wall of the closet. I can do that myself, if I have to, at least up until the door. If that's all we have to do on Wednesday, we just might get it done completely. And, if I can get to Lowe's and pick up the quarter round, and we can get started on that, I might just be done by next weekend. Since that's Bethany's bachelorette party, that would be good.

Bedroom floors, update

Dad came over and helped me get some more of the floor done in the bedroom, including cutting the hole for the outlet. He's also going to replace the outlet Saturday, so I can use a regular face plate, and not have to buy a sunken one, that only comes in brass, and then worry about painting it. Though I may end up painting one anyway, to get the color to match.

He was actually more help than I thought - I figured he would do most of the cutting for me, which he did. I had planned to lay the pieces myself, including tapping them into place. This is a tricky thing, since you actually need to put weight on two boards at once, to get them to snap into place. So, Dad walked around with me, just standing where I needed. It was a huge help, and gives me hope that we can move pretty quickly when he and Mom both come over on Saturday, as she can stand where I need and he can cut the boards.

He also said that he doesn't think the angles will be all that hard, since they're all 45-degree angles. If he's right, that will certain make cutting the quarter round easier. The worst part will be the doors, since there are three of them.

I'm hoping to move things around a bit in the next two days - move the work bench to the finished part of the floor and clean up the existing sawdust, then add another roll of underlayment. Depending on the time of day, I might even start the next couple rows, if my back and knees can handle it.

Bedroom floors, part 2

So, there hasn't really been much progress on the floors.

I was hoping to work on them some tonight, since my mom was coming over to help. But, my dad is determined that it's a bad idea to cover up the outlet we found in the floor (the live outlet, previously covered up by the carpet), and has promised to help cut the whole for the outlet. Tomorrow night.

Mom ended up babysitting Jacob (Katie, Mike, Kelli, & Jon went to work out at the Y, and there was no babysitting available), so we couldn't have worked on the floors, anyway, not with an active 2-year-old and a plugged-in circular saw in the same room. Sometimes, I wish she would just say no.

Anyway, I offered to buy Dad dinner for his help tomorrow. He won't be able to do much, just basically cut the pieces that I need, but hopefully I can do a decent job of putting the planks in myself.

Hardwood Floors

I started installing laminate hardwood floors in my bedroom this week.

First step, get rid of the disgusting, stained, smelly carpet. I can't even begin to describe how disgusting this process was. Fortunately, having a 16-year-old brother, I have access to a great workforce that will carry the disgusting stuff out to dumpster with only the promise of free ice cream.

Then, pulling up all of the tack strips and carpet pad staples. This was time-consuming, to be sure, but I've heard it can be a lot worse, so I'm not complaining. My brother came over on Saturday (because I offered to pay him) to help for a few hours.

Then we started laying the floor. It took a while to get going, just to understand how to do it, and by the time we started to figure it out, we were done for the day.

But Sunday Bethany came over, and my new friend Lisa, who loves hands-on stuff and didn't have anything else to do, and we finished half the bedroom. Granted it was the easy half, but it's still a huge visual improvement.

So far the biggest drawback to the entire project is that I absolutely can't sleep in my bedroom, between all of the dust and animal dander stirred up when I pulled up the carpet, and the wonderful green dust from the flooring. I've been crashing at Mom & Dad's, which worked for the weekend, since they didn't mind having Dakota around. But Mom doesn't want to deal with her all week, so this morning I drove her and her crate back home, put them inside, then headed on to work. Sleeping on my couch downstairs will be a lot less comfortable, but I think it's going to be the best option, since I can't keep moving things back and forth each morning and evening. Hopefully, the discomfort will urge me to move a bit more quickly.

Clutter and Productivity

It’s certainly true that clutter gets in the way of productivity. Right now, in addition to the stuff that actually belongs in my living room, I’m looking a dog crate that needs to go upstairs, a set of Pyrex bakeware that I won at a Christmas party a couple years ago, four rolls of underlayment for the wood laminate floor going down in my bedroom, and a box of assorted Hawaiian and beach gear from our week at camp at the beginning of August. All of this is in addition to the assorted papers and mail and such littering the dining table, and the shoes all over the floor.

I know I need to clean these out. In fact, I’ve got to do it before Sunday, because our Bible study is meeting here then. And yet, instead of cleaning, here I sit – watching Singing In The Rain and blogging about cleaning.

It's been a while

It's been a while since I last posted. Sometimes this is because there's really nothing going on to post about, and sometimes it's because too much is going on. In this case, it's both.

We've started Young Life Club again for the fall. We kicked off the semester with a pool party on August 26, and tried to keep momentum with Club that night and the next Monday. We were off this week for Labor Day.

High school games start this week, which means I'll need to be a bit more creative with my work schedule. Mostly, this really means coming in to work earlier, which I should probably do anyway, just for the sake of my productivity. Now that school is back in session, this also means my schedule picks up drastically, really starting this week. In addition to regular Campaigners, we have Club every week and Leadership more often. Plus, my women's Bible study starts meeting again every other week, and praise team practices move to the week. One a regular basis, I only have one weeknight free a week, not including games. And of course, that fills up quickly.

I spent the holiday weekend working at Lake Champion for Family Camp. It's amazing how much has changed in my life since last year's Family Camp - it's almost hard to believe. But it's good, because it means that God is doing some great things in my life. Going away to camp, though, especially when I'm not going as a leader, kind of rocks me a bit. Camp is just such a total escape from real life that it takes me a while to adjust back in, and this transition has seemed a bit rockier than most. There are other things going on in my head, but nothing I really feel ready to share here, at least not yet.

So, because of all of this, I feel a bit like I'm just hanging on at the moment, waiting for life to short itself out a bit into the new fall routine. It's good, though. :-)

My Christmas card mailing list, part 2

In my last post, I explained how I use my PDA to track my Christmas card mailing list.

It occurs to me that if you don't want to keep track of how your list changes from year to year, or who sends you cards, you could just use a simple notation - "CC". Then, the process would be a bit simpler. Just export the files, and update the Excel file directly if there's someone you want to add or remove. Just make sure to update the notations in your address book accordingly, for next year.

Using my PDA for my Christmas card mailing list

When I mentioned, over at OrganizedChristmas that I use my PDA for my Christmas card mailing list, someone asked for the exact process. So, I'd thought I would go ahead and post it here.

I should note that I do this for all mailing lists, not just Christmas cards. It takes a bit of time, but it's easier than keeping two separate lists updated, in my opinion. And, I got this idea originally from pdaaddict over at OrganizedHome.

To start, I modified one of the Custom fields in my Contacts list to be called "Mailing." In there, I make notations for anyone who is part of a mailing list. For Christmas cards, the notation looks like this: CC-04 or CC-04X. 04 represents the year, so this year's notations will be CC-05. I use the X at the end if I received a Christmas card from that person.

Here are the basic steps I go through:
  1. Review last year's card list.
  2. Create this year's list.
  3. Export this year's list into Microsoft Word for labels.
Review last year's list

If your contacts list is small enough, you could just go through the list on your Palm. Mine contains nearly 500 entries though, the vast majority of which do not receive cards. So, I go through the following process to export my list into something I can read a bit more easily.
  1. First, I export all my records using the Palm Desktop. I only export the following fields: First Name, Last Name, Address, City, State, Zip, Country, and Mailing. I export them as a Comma Separated file (csv).
  2. Next, I import this CSV file into Excel.
  3. I use Excel to filter the results based on the Mailing field. This year, I'll filter using CC-04, followed by a wildcard.
  4. Then, I copy and paste these filtered records into a new worksheet, effectively getting rid of all the other records.
Create this year's list

Using last year's list as a reference, I add this year's notation (CC-05) to the Mailing field of all contacts I want on this year's list. Then, I go through the same export process:
  1. Export the Palm Desktop records into a CSV file.
  2. Import the CSV file into Excel.
  3. Filter the Excel file, using CC-05, followed by a wildcard.
  4. Copy and paste the filtered records into a new worksheet.
Then I clean up the data a little bit, including changing the formatting on Zip column to the Zip Code format.

Export this year's list into Microsoft Word for labels

Once I have the Excel file, I step through Microsoft Word's Mail Merge wizard to create labels, using the Excel file as my data source.

And that's it!

Back from camp

It's been almost two weeks since I last posted, which is mostly because of being away at camp for a week and the mad rush to get things done before I left. I'm also sick, which isn't helping my energy level much at all. I'm always pretty wiped out when I get back from camp, but this sickness is really throwing me for a loop. I have no desire to do anything but just lay around.

I was 15 minutes late for Campaigners last night, because at some point, Brad had changed the time without telling me. I think he didn't change it intentionally, and announced the new time at the area meeting the morning we left camp. Unfortunately, though, I wasn't there, because I was with Jami. This is still extremely frustrating to me, although I realize that it was all just an accident, because I have this general feeling that my input isn't really important here. I'm not sure when we got to that point, but right now I'm debating whether or not I should mention it to him whenever we have our next team meeting.

In the meantime, I need to get back to work. Blah.

Catching up

I'm generally feeling exhausted. I have so many things I want to get done over the next week (before leaving for Young Life camp), and it feels like there's never enough time to do them all. And I don't want to just dedicate myself to my to-do lists - I want to spend time with friends and family, too. Which makes things just a little more vague, at a time when I feel like I'm straining for clarity.

Dad's weight-loss surgery was yesterday, and things seemed to go pretty well. His liver is pretty small, which can be caused by his weight (apparently, fatty tissue can do more damage than alcoholism). The doctors did a biopsy, and depending on the results, may not be able to do the second weight-loss surgery that Dad wants.

I decided to forgo white-water rafting this summer for a trip out to Chicago. I'll spend some time there, then drive with friends to Homecoming (my five-year college reunion!), then back to Chicago for a couple more days. I'm excited, because I'll get to see all of my midwest friends, even though they're spread through three states.

We leave for camp a week from tomorrow, and to be honest, I'm not looking forward to it. I think it's because I'm overwhelmed with what I need to get done between now and then. And then, of course, camp isn't exactly relaxing. It's a lot of fun and very rewarding, but it's exhausting and hard work, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - so it's not really a vacation. I think I need to get my heart in the right place.

I offered to babysit Jacob for most of the day tomorrow. Mom can't do it, as Dad will hopefully be home by then and she needs to be able to be with him. Katie has the day off, and has the opportunity to go to Kings Dominion with friends. She wasn't telling me because she wanted a babysitter, because she had resigned herself to the fact that she couldn't go. Which is probably why I offered in the first place, and because I get to spend time with Jacob, and because it's something I can give her that she will value.

I think she will value it, too, and does - otherwise, I would be kicking myself for being a doormat where my family is concerned. This is one thing that I'm vowing, though - I will not feel guilty about asking my family for help when I need it. I'm pretty independent, and don't need a lot, but give and take is what a family should be about.

Laser Vision Surgery

I had my yearly eye exam with my doctor today (everything's perfectly fine), and we talked a bit about Laser Vision Surgery. I would really, really love to get this. It just seems so much more convenient than having to deal with contacts and glasses.

The problem? It's so expensive! I know that there are probably places I could get it where it would be less expensive, but this is the only place my doctor will recommend. And I have enough recurring eye issues that I'm really hesitant to go anywhere else. I know I'll reap some of the cost back, between buying contacts and the contact lens exams my insurance doesn't cover. But that's more of a long-term consideration.

I've been saving for this, though not seriously - a little bit of money every two weeks on payday, but hardly enough to make a dent in the total. I could get more serious about it, but it just seems so far away, even if I get a roommate and have money coming in there. In the meantime, I can think of a ton of other things to do with the money I've already saved - everything from the responsible (pay down the HELOC) to the generous (Young Life campership) to the frivolous (buy furniture, take a vacation).

I don't know what to do, and I'm a little disheartened.

Decluttering the basement

The sump pump in my parents' basement recently failed, flooding their basement (including the apartment where my sister lives) with 2 inches of water. Because of the water damage and the need for space to move furniture while new carpet is being installed (in the apartment half of the basement), my mom has initiated a massive decluttering and re-organizing of the entire basement.

It's been interesting to watch her approach to so much of it, since I'm very methodical in the way I deal with large projects like this. Part of this is just my nature, and part of it is that I like organizing. I think about it a lot and am often reanalyzing the best way to go about accomplishing things.

The most important thing for me is that I need to see progress. Some people can just work and know that if they've worked hard for a couple hours, that's enough, and they're proud of what they've accomplished. I, however, am not one of them.

This is part of the reason I'm so particular about going through things in a specific order, and about breaking big projects into smaller tasks. If nothing else, I at least need to see the checkmark on that to-do list.

I'm trying to help her as much as I can, but it's frustrating to me, because I don't always feel like I'm getting anything done (though I know we are). I'm trying to remind myself that the point here, for me, isn't to declutter and organize her basement, but to help her. And as long as I'm down there with her, working, and she feels good at the end of the day, I can check that off my to-do list.

I'm still going to organize my decluttering and organizing projects my way, though.


Last night, after Campaigners (a Young Life thing), we headed to Jimmie Cone, and then back to Kate, Bethany, and Erin's apartment for a while. It was an interesting group of people - Katherine (one of my Campaigners) rode to Campaigners with me, so she was there, plus Kyle, Pete, and Rico (friends, and Kyle is one of my co-leaders). Then Colin, one of Kate and Josh's Campaigners, stopped by with his friend Aman. All in all, it was weird - I've never hung out with that group of people together before, I think. But it was fun.

Oh, and we played Mafia, which would be why I called this post Mafia in the first place.

A new roommate, and additional monthly income

My friend Bethany will probably be moving in with me next month. I say probably, because this is technically dependent on her current roommate Kate moving out, which is almost-but-not-quite certain. This will only be for a few months, until her wedding in mid-November.

Last night I worked out what I would charge for rent and utilities ($350-$400), and then, of course, started dreaming about what I would do with the money. I have several options.

Option 1
I could just put the money toward paying off my home equity line of credit. The problem with this option is that the HELOC is so stinkin' large, it feels like I'm never making any progress. I've recently changed my monthly budget to be more aggressive about paying this off, but because this is only three months worth of additional income, I just don't feel like it will make much of a dent.

Option 2
I could put the money, at least some of it, toward some house things I've been thinking about - refinishing the wood floors on the first level, buying a new coffee table and entertainment center, and/or adding wood floors in another part of the house (maybe the master bedroom). This, honestly, feels like the most frivolous way to spend the money, though some of these things will clearly be investing in things that will improve the value of my home.

Option 3
I could put the money toward Laser Vision eye surgery. I currently have a savings fund for this, though I'm not aggressively funding it. It currently has $769.36, and three months of rent would bring that total to a little over $1800. This would be most of the money I need for the surgery, according to the most recent numbers from my doctor (I'll be getting updated ones later this month). I think that if I managed to get close to my goal here, I would get pretty agressive about setting aside the rest of it. Then, I would take the amount I'm currently directing to this fund every two weeks, and redirect it to the HELOC.

Different views on finances

It's interesting to me how so many people can have so many completely opposite views of money. I wonder why that is, and while I'm sure that your learning environment plays a part, I can't help but think that there are many other factors involved. So many times I've had conversations with my parents, about things that seem so logical to me, and yet, we have differing viewpoints.

My father and I had such a conversation this weekend. While I was reconciling my most recent bank statements, he began to question me about the different accounts that I had, particularly savings accounts. (I have a local savings account, with just enough in it to cover an immediate emergency, with the rest of my emergency funds, as well as savings toward irregular expenses in an online money market account).

He also asked if I had set up overdraft protection with my checking and savings accounts. (With overdraft protection, if I overdraw my checking account, my bank will use funds from my savings account to cover the overdrawn items, and charge a fee less than what I would be charged without overdraft protection). I don't, because I don't see the need for it. The only way I should be overdrawing my checking account is because I'm not paying attention, and the money in my savings account should be saved for true emergencies. If any of those come up, I ought to be aware of it enough to intentionally use the emergency fund.

Dad doesn't agree - he thinks that overdraft protection provides a nice "cushion." I say that the overdraft protection isn't the cushion, the money is. And the money is still there, and easily accessible. In fact, it's even more guaranteed to be accessible, because I won't ever dip into it without meaning to.

I didn't explain this to him, though - I just changed the subject. My father is a very intelligent man, and ordinarily very logical - just not always when it comes to money.

And yet another...

So after the family medical issues of last night, Jacob seems to be mostly okay, though he has been nursing an on-again, off-again fever all day together. It got pretty high this afternoon, when he fell asleep laying on me on the sofa, but finally broke a little over an hour ago.

Mike (Jacob's dad and my sister Katie's husband) is another story. He played football tonight with guys from work, and called Katie to say that he had messed up his eye, thought he had a concussion, and was driving home. He finally stopped at a friend's house, but as of the last we heard, was unwilling to go to the emergency room. (Mike is your stereotypical, pain-is-all-in-your-head, never-see-a-doctor male). Katie's trying to convince him.

It's crazy, I tell you.

Family crisis

My nephew, Jacob, had to spend the night in the hospital last night.

He got into my dad's pills, which is pretty scary in itself, since Dad takes all kinds of crazy blood pressure, diabetes, and pain related stuff. In particular, though, we think he took a pill to lower blood pressure. So he went to the emergency room, and they admitted him for the night to monitor his blood pressure.

He's okay, thank God, and took a very long nap this afternoon, as he wasn't able to sleep much last night. My sister is pretty exhausted, too, since she spent the night at the hospital, and went into work for a few hours this afternoon/evening. I took the day off, so I could watch Jake this afternoon while Katie was at work and Mom and Dad were at a doctor's appointment.

Enjoying summer

I need to find ways to enjoy summer more. Mostly, I think this means being outside every opportunity that I get. I read an article about this today, although the article had more suggestions for eating in your backyard than anything else. As I don't have a backyard, this doesn't apply to me.

But yesterday, I went to the library and spent the evening reading, inside. It occurs to me that it would be fun to do this outside, and yet, I need to find a way to be with Dakota at the same time.

Sometime last year, I talked to my grandmother about using her fenced-in yard as a place for Dakota to run off-leash a little bit. She's basically okay with it, assuming the neighbors don't complain (and really, why would they?). However, I need to either find or buy a board that I can use to block off the back portion of her yard, as it isn't completely enclosed.

I'm thinking this needs to be more of a priority. And since I have very few specific plans for the weekend, it sounds like a good time to do it.

Weighing the options

At the moment, I'm trying to make a decision between two possible volunteer opportunities at my church.

The first option is serving as First Serve Coordinator. I talked to the senior pastor about this, mostly because they said they needed someone and I wanted to know exactly what it was. I would basically try to coordinate getting people plugged in to volunteering, and, in particular, coordinate opportunities for people to try out different ministries in the church, to see where they best fit.

The second option is as a singer on the praise team.

I'm analytical by nature, so I've decided to make a list of pros and cons for each.

First Serve Coordinator
  • I could set my own schedule.
  • I could still help out with nursery on Sunday mornings.
  • I would get to use my administrative gifts.

  • Cons:
  • This is a lot of work.
  • I'm feeling a little ill-equipped to handle something like this, especially because I don't think I have a very good handle on all the church's ministries, and because I don't know that many people at church, really.
  • If I can't find others willing to help out with this, especially calling and visiting people who are interested in getting involved, it's really going to be a lot of work.

  • Praise Team
  • I would get to sing.
  • I've always wanted to sing on a praise team.

  • Cons:
  • I would need to commit to another night away each week.
  • I may not fit on the team - there's still a process to go through yet.
  • I couldn't do nursery at the same time, except maybe as a substitute.
  • They might want me to sing a lot of harmony, which could be really tough for me to do.
  • The weekend

    It was a good weekend.

    I think the best weekends are the ones filled with good times with friends and family, lots of fun and little stress. With some productivity thrown in for good measure. :-)

    I hung out with friends Friday night, after Young Life leadership, then went home and did a lot of work setting up my office. I made a huge amount of progress, and that felt really good. It's still a mess, but shaping up nicely.

    I spent Saturday with family. Kelli's graduation open house was in the evening, and I spent most of the morning running errands and the afternoon helping prepare for the party.

    Sunday morning, before the worship service, I auditioned for special music and the praise team at church. I thought it went pretty well, though I was really nervous and forgot the words at one point, but it's so hard for me to judge my own performances (aside from the obvious). I got a call this morning, though, asking me to sing this coming Sunday and inviting me to continue in the audition process for the praise team. Which, I guess means they liked it. :-) So now I have to decide if I want to continue to pursue this - more on that later, probably.

    After church, I went to lunch with friends, then shopping with my sister, then hung out with friends again for a while. I went to bed tired, but very content.

    Aging gracefully?

    I think I'm getting old.

    I got invited to a party last night, and since it was going to be turned into a somewhat surprise birthday thing for a friend, I went.

    Who plans a cookout for 9:00 pm on a Wednesday night? A college student, that's who. For crying out loud.

    I need to find some new, single, older-than-30, non-schoolteachers to hang out with.

    Thinking about moving?

    One of the most fun sites on the web, in my opinion: Find Your Spot

    This interactive quiz asks you tons of questions about the things that are important to you in a place to live, and presents you with a list of your top results. Of course, it can't take into account things like family nearby, but it's still a lot of fun.

    For most of my family members, our results were pretty similar - I think Mom, Dad, Kelli, and Katie all had several in common in the top 5 (Virigina and North Carolina, mostly). Mine were close, and the differences can probably mostly be accounted for when you know that I tend to prefer ocean to mountain views. Mike (Katie's husband) had completely opposite results - his top 5 locations were in Alaska. I'm still trying to figure out how he managed to grow up in Florida.

    Productivity, intuition, and the nature of getting things done

    Last week was a very productive week for me. I could probably come up with several theories as to why that is - but suffice to say, I crossed a lot of things off my to-do lists.

    As, as is inevitable, I finally found myself left with tasks that I was just resisting, things that had been on my list for months without progress. Rather than deal with these things, I've just pushed them aside.

    So tonight I asked myself - why am I resisting this? Why aren't I just doing it? I started to go through this thought process, not methodically and comprehensively, but instead for just a couple of these tasks. And for one in particular, it hit me - I am not doing it because I can't do it, because in reality there is another step that must be completed first (in this case, Internet research on exactly how to do the task).

    This whole things makes me realize that what I think is intuitive, isn't. I should know this. It makes so much sense to me, it seems just basic logic, to write every place I have to be down on one calendar. But I know this isn't intuitive, because many people don't do this (and it works just fine for them). I didn't even do it myself, until a couple years ago (though it didn't work out very well for me).

    Staying organized, working efficiently, getting things done - this takes practice. And I think it also takes constant monitoring.

    A poem

    A friend shared this Maya Angelou poem with me recently:

      Love arrives;
      and in its train come ecstasies
      old memories of pleasure
      ancient histories of pain.
      Yet, if we are bold
      love strikes away the chains of fear
      from our souls.

      We are weaned from our timidity.
      In the flush of love’s light
      we dare be brave
      And suddenly we see
      that love costs all we are
      and will ever be.
      Yet, it is only love
      which sets us free.
    I like it, not because it talks about love. Because, to be honest, I don’t like reading poems about love - unless I'm in the right mood, I find them rather sappy.

    But what I like about this poem is that to me, this is not about human love, but about a deeper love. Because I think when a person first encounters God’s love, it is scary. We base our perceptions on imperfect human relationships, faulty by nature, and the idea of a love that literally does cost everything we are is intimidating. But it truly is the only thing that sets up free.

    It reminds of a quote from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, about the lion Aslan:

      "Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

      "That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else silly."

      "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

      "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

    The appeal of doing nothing

    I had a great conversation with my friend James last night, about the power of being exactly in the moment that you're in, without spending time and energy on anticipating whatever is next.

    It got me thinking (and I still am), about two things in particular:
    1. Should we set aside specific time in our schedule to do nothing, or is it something that we should learn how to do in the midst of everyday activities?
    2. Why is it sometimes so hard to achieve?

    For the first question, I think there's value in both approaches. Before this conversation with James, I was thinking about making plans for Saturday, because I have none. Now, I'm thinking that planning nothing at all is the most appealing thing. This doesn't mean I literally won't do anything, because first thing in the morning, I will probably make a list of 5 small things to do that will take no longer than 10-15 minutes each. (This is part of my new effort to improve both my productivity and my sanity). The point is, though, that there is nothing that I have to do, nothing that I must accomplish, and nowhere that I have to be.

    Still, setting aside a day, or even a evening to plan nothing isn't that practical. This is actually okay with me, because I like my life this way - the alternative sounds rather boring, really. Which means that we must find ways to relax in the midst of the things that we do every day.

    This brings me to the second question - how do you achieve this on the regular basis? I'm still figuring this one out, but one thing I've decided - part of it is about being comfortable in your own skin, being able to just be who you are, wherever you are.

    At the moment, though, I'm just looking forward to not doing anything tomorrow.

    Christmas in June?

    A few days ago, while shopping at Kohl’s, I saw a potentially good Christmas gift idea and called my sister to talk about it.

    Having someone you can call about Christmas gifts in June, without that person thinking you’re weird – this is a good thing.

    Fight Night

    (This happened a few days ago, so I figured it was time I blogged about it already.)

    Saturday night Josh (a coworker) had several guys from work over for Fight Night - the Ultimate Fighting Championship 53 on pay-per-view. I've never watched mixed martial arts before (Josh made me watch a DVD before I was allowed to come, just in case I got totally grossed out), and I have to say it was pretty interesting. Some of it was brutal and somewhat babaric, as you might expect, but there's a lot of skill involved, too. These guys have to be good a lot of things - kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, martial arts, etc.

    In a way, it's kind of like football - you need to be good to play, but there's also a point where you just ram your head and body full force into the guy in front of you.

    Here's Josh's post on his weekend, including Fight Night:

    Ugh. Allergies.

    I thought my allergy season hit in force last weekend. I was wrong.

    Today has been a pain. My nose feels raw from blowing it, my eyes are bloodshot, and I'm dreading even the 10-minute drive home.

    Probably the worst part - I was planning to hang out with a couple friends this evening, in the park. After less than an hour there, I was so miserable I had to get home. I hate it when things like this interfere with my life.

    Out of town and under the weather

    This weekend I traveled with several good friends to Young Life's Lake Champion property, just over the border into New York state, for the annual Leadership camp.

    It was a good week, though my allergies (which seemed to come out of nowhere, honestly) left me with a travel tissue pack permanently attached to my pocket. But, I met new friends, relaxed and took naps, felt spiritually refreshed, and Kate met a guy. All of these are good things.

    I came back to real life Monday night, though my unsettled stomach had me calling in sick to work this morning, which postponed a full re-entry into the routine. At least until tomorrow.

    Last Night I Danced

    I danced last night.

    I don't dance often, mostly in the car. If you can all tapping your feet and drumming on the steering wheel dancing.

    Sometimes, when I'm doing chores around the house, I'll move to the beat of the music. A little. But it's been a while since I've danced just to dance.

    My dance partner was wonderful. Not because his moves were all that smooth - in fact, he even fell down once. But he just grinned, got up, and kept going.

    He didn't care how coordinated I was or how goofy I looked. He was just thrilled that I danced with him at all.

    That's the best apart about dancing with a child.

    New sectional, moving furniture, and good friends

    It's good to have friends.

    My new sectional arrived today (for the record, I love it), so in preparation, my old sofa needed to be moved upstairs, to my third floor bedroom. Several friends and my kid brother came over to help, and this was wonderful. They also moved a bookcase down to the second floor, and carried a new bookcase (in two boxes) upstairs and put it together.

    My newly designed bedroom looks fabulous, so much so that the lack of really good bed linens became very obvious (I'm working on rectifying that).

    The sectional is a little bigger than I expected, and I might need to rearrange the room a little to accomodate it. I'll ask Heather to come over and take a look, and give me her ideas.

    Shopping, part 2

    Okay, so I did buy something. A few somethings, actually - 3 shirts and 4 tank tops. And in addition to the $10 gift card I used, I spent less that $40. That's not bad.


    I'm going shopping, and with two of my closest friends in the world.

    Kate needs to get some things in preparation for her month-long trip to Saranac, and I don't have anything specific to search for, but even if I don't buy anything but dinner, I'm looking forward to hanging out with them.

    Garbage disposals

    I hate my garbage disposal.

    It wasn't working, I swear it wasn't. I know this because I would flip the switch and nothing would happen. Oh, and that oh-so-pleasant aroma that greeted me every time I opened the door, due to the food still in the disposal (and no, I couldn't get it out - I tried).

    I spent Tuesday night trying to track down the problem. I did research online. I pressed the reset button. I used a broom handle to turn the thing, to make sure there wasn't something stuck in there. I flipped the breaker switch (not a small feat, given that I had managed to paint it shut and needed an exacto knife and screwdriver to get it open). Then, finally, I called my friend Josh-the-plumber and made arrangements for him to come replace it. I even bought the replacement garbage disposal.

    So, Josh-the-plumber called me this afternoon, I met him at my house, and when he arrived, I ran upstairs to put Dakota in her crate. And came back downstairs to the sound of a perfectly-functioning garbage disposal. Apparently, all it needed was a good bump on the side.

    Funny my online research never mentioned that.

    Last Young Life Club of the semester

    Last night was the last Young Life club of this semester. I think, if I counted correctly, that we had 41 kids last night, which means that we averaged the same number as the week before. There were several new kids though, so that was good - both Lauren and Mikey brought new friends. And there were some kids there who hadn't been in a while, so that was also a good thing.

    I yelled so much I was hoarse by the end of the night.

    It's a good way to end the Club semester.

    In Salisbury

    I'm visiting my sister this weekend in Salisbury. She finishes her undergrad degree at Salisbury University in the next week, so this is my last chance for a visit before she moves home.

    I'm a litte unsure about the whole thing - I don't think Kelli and I have ever spent this much time together, just the two of us. Neither of us really have an agenda for this weekend, except for a bonfire on the beach tonight with several of her friends. So, at the moment, we're trying to decide what to do for the afternoon.

    Kelli and I don't have a fantastic relationship. We're sisters, we spend time together with our family, and I would do anything for her, but we're not friends.

    You know what it really comes down to? Kelli doesn't know me, not really. She thinks she does, because somehow, somewhere, she's imagined this image, this little box that I'm supposed to fit into. The problem is that when I'm uncomfortable, when I feel judged and not really known, I act differently. I'm quieter, more subdued, and more defensive, especially about moral issues. And this quiet, subdued, and morally defensive person is exactly who she imagines me to be.

    This is the challenge - just to be myself, even when I'm uncomfortable and in unfamiliar territory.

    Otherwise, when Kelli finally moves home, and if she ever comes with me to church or to my small group, she's going to be in for a big surprise. And I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

    I think family relationships are hard, just because you're stuck with them. These people, especially when there are other family relationships in common (other siblings, parents), will always be a part of your life. So you keep trying. Which is, after all, the reason I'm here in the first place.

    The nature of work

    I've been doing a lot of thinking about this recently - about the nature of work, about how we go about getting things done, about how we approach each work day and how that changes from day to day. And, so far, here's what I've discovered.

    Focus on the big stuff
    Some days (and weeks) I spend all of my time working on a single project. It takes all my effort and focus. I usually make a lot of progress, and also make the client happy. Of course, this means lots of other things get dropped by the wayside.

    Focus on the little stuff
    There are other days where my primary goal is to check as many things off my list as possible. This usually results in a feeling of accomplishment, but it's short-lived and not based in reality. For one thing, my work is highly project-based, and I have far too much like it (like everyone else on the team - this is just status quo for us). Focusing on the little stuff usually means that I'm not working on the large projects, and therefore, neglecting the more important stuff. Even if I do manage to cross off small tasks from large projects, there are always more to take their place. The number of things on my to-do list rarely actually goes down, and over time, this is frustrating.

    Keeping all the balls in the air
    Then, there are weeks like this. Weeks where every single one of the 10 active client projects on my list require at least some of my attention. Weeks where I am all too aware that this means an average of four hours a project, assuming that I literally spend 40 hours on active client projects. (With internal projects, and normal work breaks, this doesn't happen.) Weeks when this completely overwhelms me.

    This is one of those weeks.

    The thrill of generosity

    I'm learning what it means to be generous.

    It's always something that I thought I would do later - when I paid off this or that, when I made more money, etc. And to some degree, there's truth there - when you live paycheck to paycheck and up to your ears in debt, it doesn't leave much room for generosity.

    That said, I believe it's possible to be generous in every circumstance. If you're fighting your way out of debt or barely scraping by, even giving a small amount can be generous. And there are more things to be generous with, too - such as your time and your talents.

    Plus, giving is a reminder that it's not really all about us, anyway. No matter how bleak things may look financially, there are others in greater need than we are. And for those of us that believe in God and that all money, even the ability to make money, is a gift from Him, it's an expression of gratitude to a God who has blessed us beyond what we deserve.

    The lack of posts...

    I haven't posted much lately.

    I don't think it's because I don't have anything to say.

    It's not because I'm too busy. In some ways, my commitments at work and such have stepped up, but I'm not overwhelmed by it.

    I'm still here, just really enjoying life at the moment. I love this time of year (when it doesn't rain) - I love the sun, and the warmer weather, and wearing brighter colors and capris, and shopping for sandals, and being outside. In a few weeks, my allergies will hit, hard, and for a few weeks, I'll be lamenting this time of year, but for now, I love it!

    Another note: I've recently decided to get serious about losing weight, probably for the first time in my life. I'm doing this with my mom, weighing in together, pooling our money to provide accountability, and it's going well. I'm loosely following Weight Watchers, though not formally joining the program, and in general, just trying to be more healthy - eating only until I'm full, snacking on fruits instead of chips, planning ahead. There's a long way to go, but I'm making progress, and that's what counts, right?

    Until next time...

    The office project

    My office is a mess. It started out organized, somewhat, but is just out of control. Dakota (my dog) just walks over the mounds of disorganized papers on the floor.

    Slowly, though, I am reclaiming it, piece by piece. The cheap perfectionist in me is no longer going to keep me from making this a functional, useful, and attractive part of my home.

    To start with, I got a little creative with furniture setup. I removed the hutch from my desk and set it on the floor beside me, where it serves as additional storage space without cramping my work space. I turned a small, inexpensive nightstand on its side and set my file boxes on top. Someday, I’d love to buy a nice, wide desk, with plenty of workspace, a matching file cabinet, and matching shelves. But I’m sick of this room looking like this until I get to that point.

    I started processing the piles of just stuff on the floor, forcing myself to decide what to do with each item when I picked it up. (Thank you, David Allen.)

    The biggest help was appropriating several as-yet-unopened photo storage boxes for miscellaneous storage. One is labeled Miscellaneous Parts, and contains the bits and pieces that come with various purchases, items you don’t want to throw away but aren’t totally sure you will actually use. Each item is stored in a Ziploc bag labeled appropriately. I also created a similar box, called Project Parts, for craft and decorating projects that are in process. All supplies are now grouped together and in one single location. I even stored a few extra bags in those boxes. I already know I’ll need to buy more boxes, though.

    I think most of the simple storage solutions are in place – it’s just a matter of processing all the things on the floor.

    Baby steps, baby steps.

    No cable? Are you crazy?

    I’m almost three weeks into my no-cable experiment, and it’s time for an evaluation.

    The main reason to cancel it in the first place, was to force self-discipline upon me in a way that I could not seem to achieve on my own. Admittedly, I come from a family that’s really big on TV – I don’t think my dad could survive long without electricity (a 2-hour blackout left him baffled – he took a nap). But my primary problem is that I would turn on the TV for background noise, as many people do, get hooked into a show, and another, and another. And suddenly, hours later, I found I had long-surpassed any hope of a reasonable night’s sleep. This, of course, led to rushed mornings, being late to the office, and a complete lack of productivity both at home and at work.

    So, I pulled the plug. And yes, there have been nights when I’ve been tempted to go hang out at my parents’ house for the evening (and nights where I’ve succumbed to said temptation). But overall, I’m happy with the results – I go to bed earlier, get up earlier and find it easier to do so, have more energy both at work and in the evenings, and am actually accomplishing things proactively, instead of in crisis mode.

    Of course, I still do need to practice self-discipline (evidenced by the fact that I’m typing this at 1:30am in the morning). But removing the temptations of TV and the Internet are working well, and when I do stay up late, I’m doing productive things (like cleaning up the office that somehow exploded while I’ve been sleepwalking around these last few months).

    I do plan to camp out in front of either my parents’ or friends’ TVs during the upcoming March Madness games.

    Blue Like Jazz

    Without a doubt, this is the best book I've read in a long time. Even apart from the fact that I haven't read a lot recently, I still walk away from this book thinking about it.

    I'm not finished yet, but already I know that it's changing the way I approach faith. When I finally finish the book, and I have time to process a bit more, I'll post more details.

    Not just personal finance

    I feel like I should mention this, as it has been part of the reason that I haven't posted in a long time.

    Though many of my first posts centered around personal finance, I really never intended personal finance to be the main subject of this blog. It just happens that when I started writing here, I was in a phase of thinking about all things money.

    That time has since past (not that I still don't work to manage my money well). Not sure why - but I just felt the need for a disclaimer.


    I’m a huge fan of Stargate. I like the movie, and I love the TV shows (Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis). Everyone has their guilty pleasures, I guess, and this is mine. In fact, if I only watch 2 hours of TV a week (which happens only at Young Life camp, where I don’t have access to a TV for that long), this is what I watch. And if my parents didn’t have Tivo and I didn’t know they were saving the weekly episodes for me, I’d actually bother to record them on my VCR.

    This is a geeky thing about me, I realize. Science fiction fans tend to be a rare breed, anyway, especially those who become convinced that the characters and storylines are real life. And I don’t know that I would even classify myself as a science fiction fan, because (1) the only other sci-fi thing I get into is Star Trek (and not even all of those) and (2) Stargate is arguably not science fiction, since it takes place in current time. (Any sci-fi fans out there, I realize this is a lame and probably wholly inaccurate argument).

    I say this as proof that I’m not extreme – I don’t go to Stargate conventions, I don’t own a Star Trek uniform (though I do know someone who does), and I am very aware that this stuff isn’t real life. Still, every time I see Christoper Chulack’s credit as an executive producer for E.R., I’m reminding of Stargate, because actor Christopher Judge plays one of the lead characters, Teal’c, and Teal’c (the character) is from a planet called Chulak. That’s weird.

    And to prove this is somehow genetic? My 15-year-old brother swore for the longest time that our nephew’s first word was “naquadah”.

    There, my inner geekiness exposed. Though given that this is about as bad as it gets, I can handle that.

    Word Vomit

    There’s a scene in Mean Girls where Lindsey Lohan’s character experiences one of those moments when words just seem to come out of your mouth on their own accord. She calls it word vomit. The term is disgusting, but I think the idea is accurate.

    There are times that I’ve valued this in my life – not necessarily the words I say or my inability to control them, but rather that I’m with people with whom I may do this. Dinah Mulock wrote a great poem about this idea, called "Friendship":

    Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out - chaff and grain together - certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

    There are also times when I’ve longed to do this on a personal, private level, when things are too overwhelming or I’m just too tired to think through things clearly. Times when I just need to write, to express what I’m thinking, in whatever form that takes. Sometimes it looks like a journal entry, sometimes it looks more like a to-do list, and sometimes, like tonight, it looks like some kind of planning/evaluation sheet.

    Really, what it amounts to, is that I’m stopping and taking time to identify a problem. This, at least in my problem-solving mind, leads me to consider the real causes of the problem, and possible solutions.

    I’m tired tonight, and this has been a very busy week. And, next week is not going to get much better. It seems that every spare moment is filled with things to which I’ve already committed, so there’s not even much I can do to lessen the load – I just need to ride it out, and hold on to every possible second of sleep I can grab.

    In the midst of this, my house is a mess – a fact that alone is responsible for no small bit of stress. So, I’m trying to identify (in a detailed way) the problems, and consider solutions. I have several ideas – everything from routines, to habits, to organizational products I need to buy. I just need to prioritize them among all the other things on my to-do lists.

    Baby Name Voyager

    This is great:

    Baby Name Voyager

    Search on your name to see its popularity over the years. Mine peaked in my birth decade, which I guess means that my parents just followed the trend. My sister is following in their footsteps - Jacob's name was the most popular in the year he was born.


    Interesting conversation

    I had an interesting conversation last night.

    I was sharing about some of my planned purchases with my tax refund, as well as some other money that's come in this month. Right now, the dining set is on the top of my list, and I think a laptop is rapidly taking second place. (This would make tracking finances a lot easier, but that's another story).

    At any rate, I was talking about these purchases with a few friends, all of whom are a little older than me, and married with three kids. And, for whatever reason, as I was talking about these larger purchases, I felt the need to explain myself. (Why, I don't know, but that's another whole topic).

    So, I explained that I was getting a "large" refund. I think, really, compared to the rest of America, it's not that big. But it feels huge to me. Anyway, they asked about the size of my refund, which didn't bother me. But what did bother me was the general attitude when they said that they each were getting a much larger refund, but were using the money for bills. I almost felt guilty.

    I shouldn't feel guilty, just because I have been doing a good job of managing my money. But I did.


    One of my brother's friends just found out he has thyroid cancer. He's 16 years old.

    I suppose he's doing well, all things considered. The cancer hasn't spread beyond the thyroid, and they took his thyroid out yesterday. The doctor is confident they got everything, and now David and his family wait for a week to find out what they do next - monitoring, radiation, all that stuff.

    So, good news in the circumstances, I guess. But I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that one of my brother's friends has cancer. It's such a dirty, horrible, ugly, scary word. I know people live through cancer, I even know some who have, but there's still a definite mental association with death in my mind. Probably because both of my dad's parents died from different forms of it.

    David's older sister Jennifer is out of state at college, and truthfully, this is probably the hardest thing for me to deal with. I know realistically there's nothing she can do, that this is a waiting game that will take a while, and that she can't just drop everything for the long process this will be. I also know that different people react different ways to situations like this, and I have no idea if she wants to come, doesn't feel she can, her parents won't let her, or whatever.

    Still, I keep replaying this scenario in my head, with me away at school in Indiana or living in Chicago (before I moved back to MD). If I had gotten a phone call that either of my sisters or brother had cancer, I don't think anything would have stopped me from throwing clothes in a bag and heading to the airport.

    The benefits of being responsible

    It's funny how posting about internal debates seems to help me make a decision.

    The other day, I detailed my tax refund dilemma, and decided after re-reading it the next day that I was going to stick to my original plan - 1/3 to savings, 1/3 to HELOC, and 1/3 to smart purchases.

    And last night, guess what was in my mailbox? A refund check from my previous mortgage company, with the balance of my escrow account (used to pay property taxes only). And since I refinanced just before taxes were due, it's a large amount of money.

    Interesting timing - draw your own conclusions.

    The mighty tax refund

    Well, I'm getting a big tax refund. And I mean big, or at least it seems to me. I've never had to figure out what to do with this much money at one single time in my life (at least when I didn't have several bills screaming for my attention).

    And yes, I know, it's an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam. I realize that, and will be taking steps to fix the problem in the future. (The nice thing is, I can up my 401(k) contributions, and not even notice the difference.) It's just hard to believe (still) the huge tax benefits of paying my mortgage company huge amounts of interest with every monthly payment.

    Here's the problem. I know, if I was being totally financially responsible, I'd take the money, put a nice chunk (1/3) into savings (since they are now depleted), and put the rest toward my HELOC. I thought about this a lot.

    Then, I decided, I would balance between being completely responsible, and split the remaining 2/3 (after the savings part) equally between the HELOC and some smart financial purchases. (By this I mean that I wouldn't just spend it frivolously on junk, but, rather, well-thought-out and planned purchases).

    Unfortunately, in the course of deciding just what those well-thought-out purchases would be, I visited a furniture store to do some research. I spent the drive home adding up the total cost of everything I would like to buy, and trying to justify spending it.

    So, now I'm in a quandry. I know what I should do, I know what I want to do, and I'm even considering a middle-of-the-road compromise.

    The problem with the only non-mortgage debt being a very large sum is that it is very difficult to see any progress. This is why lots of popular financial gurus recommend paying debt off starting with the smallest balance.

    It will be a while before the refund will clear my bank. In the meantime, I'm off to check out some financial sites for a calculator, to calculate the impact of paying a large lump sum. I'm hoping that will get me motivated to make a more responsible decision.

    Furnace, part 3

    Well, the problem with the furnace didn't exactly take $300 to fix.

    The replacement gas valve cost $320, plus $157 for a year's maintenance contract, which included a deal that saved me $140 on the replacement cost. And this is on top of the $50 I paid for the first technician's diagnostic visit. And, I could have paid more, if I was willing to pay the charges to overnight the part here (I'm not).

    I guess it was about time I started to experience some of the disadvantages of home ownership.

    Hello, Murphy!

    Dave Ramsey (and the devoted followers on his message boards) often claim that the first step to getting control of your finances is to save for a "baby" emergency fund ($1000). Their reasoning is that, just when you commit to stop using credit cards, Murphy will come visiting, and there will be lots of financial emergencies that pop up - your car breaks down, your furnace goes out, unexpected medical expenses, etc.

    Well, I have to say - this is certainly the case with my life right now.

    Yesterday I thought I had finally licked the problem with my heat - and paid a relatively small price for a technician to come fix the problem. Total cost: $49.50, and it came straight out of my freedom account for Home Repairs.

    Last night I discovered that in fact, the problem was not fixed (something the technician had no way of knowing). Or, to be more accurate, there was a deeper level to the problem than we previously thought.

    So, I need to call them again, and quite possibly have a part repaired. Even if they waive the diagnostic fee, I've been told that there isn't a single part in my furnace that wouldn't cost at least $200 to repair.

    On top of that, on my way to work this morning, I heard a horrible scraping noise. Apparently, the mud flap on my front passenger side tire has been knocked loose, and now scrapes my brand-new tire (literally - installed a little over a week ago) whenever I'm driving.

    I left the car in the parking lot, and will call a mechanic cousin to see if he can come fix the problem, or at least keep the loose flap back so I can drive to a body shop to get it repaired.

    I was frustrated - thinking of how this would involve some creative financing to pay for these costs. Then I realized - I've started an emergency fund! Come Friday, it will have $300, which should pay for these repairs or at least make a large dent. It just means I'll have to keep saving.

    All of this has got me thinking - it's interesting how financial peace comes about. I thought I would feel more comfortable with just the process of planning for these expenses (via emergency funds and freedom accounts), and there is some peace in that. But I think really, the real peace comes from the first time you have an unexpected expense, and have the funds to pay for it. Not because there's just extra sitting around, but because you planned, as much as possible, for the unexpected. Now that's real peace.

    Freedom Accounts

    I've decided freedom accounts are a wonderful thing.

    I first read about the concept in Mary Hunt's The Complete Cheapskate (a great online explanation here), and though I've tried to use them before, this is the first time it's actually working. (Before, I wasn't committed to funding them, or I tried to create too many separate accounts and got quickly overwhelmed).

    I've been using them for this last month, though, and the concept really, really works! Each paycheck I withdraw even a small amount of money and set it aside (I'm using both Excel and savings goals in Quicken to track contributions and withdrawals). I started with just six accounts (which is actually a large number - I'd recommend starting smaller), for both irregular expenses (Medical, Pet, Auto Service and Repair, Home Repair) and specific upcoming expenses (Christmas, Savings). By the way, the Savings account is just a way of setting aside money until I have the minimum balance I need to open a savings account without paying account fees - I'll be there by the beginning of next week.

    I've already seen these to be useful. I jump started the Auto Service and Repair account with $300, because I knew I needed to replace the tires on my car. When I did replace them last week, the money was there, ready and waiting. My savings for Christmas expenses is steadily growing. And today, when I needed to call a H/AC technician to deal with my heating problem, the money was there to pay for the call (I had to jumpstart this one, as well).

    A good financial tool, and once in the habit, not really so difficult to manage. I like that!

    401(k) Investing, Part 2

    So, I was wrong about my employer's contributions to my 401(k).

    The company actually contributes 5% of my salary, regardless of my contributions. Which means that I am currently maxing out their contributions, at least - so that's good.

    Still, I can still make better use of the pre-tax benefits of my own contributions.

    401(k) Investing

    I confess, I know almost nothing about investing.

    At some point, I really need to start actively managing my 401(k). I just dumped 5% of my salary in it, and signed up for a 100% agressive portfolio - because as someone in their mid-20s who can handle the fluctuations, that's what I'm supposed to do.

    I've done some reading online today, though, and here's one thing I realized: at least up to the 5% I'm currently contributing, my employer matches dollar for dollar. And that seems rare - most other numbers I'm seeing are closer to 50 cents on the dollar.

    So, I've decided I need to take better advantage of this. First, I need to figure out exactly how much I can contribute, and up to what percent my employer will match. Then, max that out.

    I'd like to find a calculator online that will help me figure out the real impact of increasing my contribution. If I contribute $100 more into my 401(k), I know that my actual take-home pay will not decrease by $100, since 401(k) contributions are pre-tax. But what's the ratio? Is it $65 for that $100? I need to figure this out before I change my contributions.

    Financial goals and status

    I've been doing a lot of thinking about my financial goals lately.

    Originally, the goal was to be debt-free, except for a mortgage, by the time I was 30. I came to the realization recently that probably wasn't going to happen. Now, I'm thinking, do I really want that to happen?

    Dave Ramsey outlines 3 baby steps to achieving financial peace. (Please note: these are from the reading that I've done on his website's forums, not from the book, The Total Money Makeover. I am hoping to get to the library soon to read this book, though.)

    1. Save $1000 in a emergency fund.
    2. Pay off all non-mortgage debt.
    3. Save 3-6 months expenses for a full emergency fund.
    4. Contribute 15% of paycheck to retirement savings.
    5. Save for kids college fund.
    6. Pay off house early.
    7. Give and build wealth.

    Here's where I stand with each of these.

    Baby Step 1 - $1000 Emergency Fund: I have very little in savings at this point. I opened an ING account, and got $25 to do so. And I started a Freedom Account for Savings, and have been transferring money this month, until I have the $300 I need to open a free savings account at my bank. I'll have this by mid-February. After I have the first $500 there, I'll save the rest at ING. That should keep enough easy to get to. My yearly bonus, when it comes, should be a nice boost, as well as any tax refund.

    Baby Step 2 - Debt Repayment: I have two personal loans to repay, and these will be repaid in the next couple months. Other than that, I have a home equity line of credit, and given that I can't possible repay that in the next couple years, Dave recommends moving it to Step 6 (mortgage repayment).

    Baby Step 3 - 3-6 Months Expenses in Emergency Fund: I'm not even sure what 3-6 months expenses would total right now, and would rather live on my budget for at least another month before determing that amount. Given that I'm single with no kids, I can probably focus on a smaller amount.

    Baby Step 4 - 15% to Retirement: I'm currently deducting 5% to my 401(k). And I think there really is enough wiggle room in my budget to increase this to 15%, especially after I change my W-4 to withhold less taxes (waiting until I finish my taxes to do this).

    Baby Step 5 - College Fund: No kids (yet).

    Baby Step 6 - Pay Off Mortgage Early: And in my case, the HELOC first, then the mortgage.

    Baby Step 7 - Give and build wealth: Not even close right now.

    So, depsite that fact that I was disappointed that I couldn't pay off the HELOC before I was 30, I really am in a good financial position. That was an impractical goal; now I just need to make realistic ones.

    Here's a start:

    By January 2006, I will have an emergency fund with 3-6 months of expenses, and be contributing 15% to my retirement.