Sunday, September 30, 2012

Le Grand Continental

White Bird, a local dance company, celebrated 15 years by staging a free performance in Pioneer Square.   Le Grand Continental is a dance by Sylvain Emard.  In it, 160 non-professional dancers of all types come together in a 30 minute performance.  There was no way I was going to miss this.

I stopped at Elephants for a sandwich and headed to Pioneer Square.  This couple caught my eye.  They were very exotic, her with her long flowing scarf, him with his baguette in his bag.  I suspect we were headed in the same direction.
Despite the press coverage, I didn't really realize that so many people would also want to see free dance.  The square was packed.  An usher helpfully pointed me to a spot on the ground and I started the line of people who settled in beside me.  We had front row seats.  That open space behind the woman in the red top would eventually fill with people too.
Children play in the dance space before the show begins.
Searching for a vantage point involved climbing for some.
The dancers emerge.
And take their places.
Images from the dance.  Oh, how I longed for a more powerful camera.
The man in the green shirt wrote, "Hey ladies, I'm single"
At one point, everyone fell down and the children emerged and attempted to wake everyone, with no success.
The congregated together...

...and began to dance.
The founders of White Bird came over, gave them a finger shaking.
The children danced in response, and the men followed.
Suddenly everyone began to wake.
I enjoyed this man's shirt (Pluto. Never Forget) as well as the fact that he kept a towel handy to mop up the sweat.
It was great seeing so many people who did not look like dancers dancing.
The guy in the pink shirt was one of the assistants (or something) and he was fun to watch.
I could never get a good shot of the guy in the Hawaiian shirt.  He was delightful to watch too.  He was quite old, comparatively  quite out of shape, didn't quite have all the steps and was so delighted to be there.
The dance ended with the dancers looking about.
And then there were the bows.
And then we were all invited to dance with them.
Thanks, White Bird, for a magical 30 minutes.

Books read in September 2012

Yes!  Only five books read!  This month has a nice selection of fiction/non/mystery/play and even a frustrated surrender.

Neil Gaiman
Matt and I read aloud.
I don't think I've ever read a Neil Gaiman book and this was a nice introduction.  I loved the London setting and the fantasy element was just right.

Broken Habor
Tana French
This was another great Tana French novel, I would probably rank it second on the list. (Here's my rundown:  The Likeness; Broken Harbor; In the Woods; Faithful Place) I had great empathy for the main character and loved how French knows just how to twist the plot at just the right moment.

The Man Who Quit Money
Mark Sundeen
Interesting insight into a guy who hasn't used money since the early 2000s.

The Crying Tree
Naseem Rakha
Read for Kenton Book Group
This was an okay book, mostly it was a relief to be able to read it after attempting and giving up on the September selection and slogging through--though ultimately loving--the August selection.  In comparison to Midnight's Children and Jane Eyre, this was a breeze.  I found the writing to be so-so in places, and I sometimes found the characters a bit cliched, but it was a good enough book.

10/16/12--This just in!  Thanks to the Library, our book group was visited by Naseem Rakha, the author of the book and she was rather mesmerizing.  Listening to her talk about her experiences as a reporter and her experiences with people surrounding the death penalty issue gave me a deeper appreciation of the book.  Thanks to the Library and thanks to Ms. Rakha for talking tonight.

Measure for Measure
Wm. Shakespeare
Boy howdy, but I have completely fallen off the horse on the "read before you see" project as we watched Northwest Classical Theater company perform this in the spring.  I did not love this play, with so much moral quandary and double crossing.

Started and did not finish
Midnight's Children
Soloman Rushdie
Book Group Selection.
I've not read any Rushdie before and I still haven't read any.  I made it to page 94 before giving up.  The prose was too dense, the setting too foreign, the plot too plodding.  Except for one person, the other eight of us in the group didn't finish this book.  I've heard Rushdie's essays are good, perhaps I will investigate those.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: 10 Years

Like nearly every movie I've watched that stars Channing Tatum, this was much better than expected.  It was free of poop, gratuitous sex, and possibly profanity (my filter isn't very good in that realm anymore) and was populated with solid actors (I went home and looked up all of them, saying repeatedly, "Oh yes! I remember him/her!") and interlocking stories.  Though some of the plots fell apart upon reflection, ultimately this was just a tremendously nice movie, which I mean in the best possible way.

Cost:  $10.50 (I know!  But Channing Tatum calls.)
Where watched:  Regal Fox Tower.  It was me and one other guy and that was it.  I can't even remember the last time I was so alone in a theater.

ps.  This movie has a forgettable title and probably the worst poster I've seen all year.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Essay: Patricia’s Money Philosophy Series. Part IV of IV: Tracking & Involving Others.

I believe in paying attention to your money.  I think that how you care for it and what you spend it on make a difference—not only for your own piece of mind, but also in the context of the universe and energy and whatnot.  Money ignored is money that won’t be around for long.  So here’s an incredibly long and detailed four-part series about how I manage my money.  To see the entire series look for the tag “Money.”

I devote time to tracking my money
My money management system is overkill.  I know this. But it brings me comfort to keep an eye on my cash.  Please keep in mind that if you develop a system to regularly manage your finances, it need not be this complex.

I keep track of my accounts two ways:  the analog method and the digital method.  I still have checkbooks and savings account registers which I fill in with pencil and use a calculator to do the addition and subtraction for me.  My early pledge to always figure my checkbook transactions in my brain led to many hours of fixing addition and subtraction errors before I decided to depend on technology to keep my sanity in this area.

I also use a computer program to keep track of the activity on my accounts, but also to tally my budget and keep track of how much money I have in each spending category.  My software program of choice for many years was “Microsoft Money” which came free on a computer I bought in 2001.  I used this in conjunction with a spreadsheet from the Simple Dollar to keep track of my budget spending amounts.  This changed when Microsoft decided to not continue updating the Money program and I bought YNAB (You Need a Budget, pronounced “Why Nab”).  YNAB keeps track of my daily spending, helps me adjust my budget each month, as well as keeps track of category spending levels.  It’s a really amazing program and I highly recommend it.  It was a bit of an investment ($60.00) but has saved me time and is easy to use.

Here’s what my money tracking looks like.
Ideally, I check in (hah!) daily with my checking and savings accounts and update them.  Actually this happens about one to three times per week.  First, I check my electronic statement from my bank and update the pen-and-paper checking account and update all the math in the register.  I used to use a physical calculator to do this once upon a time, but then eventually realized that there was a calculator on my computer and I use it instead.  Lately, I’ve set up an Excel spreadsheet to do the math for me because I find I make fewer mistakes if can see a string of entries and what I have typed in for the number.  I also use this time to check off anything that has cleared the bank.  I don’t check it off using the official column where you check off items used for monthly statements, instead I make a checkmark on the line that divides the transaction description line and the payment amount.  This helps me keep track of how much money is actually in the account.  It also lets me know when I’ve entered something in the wrong checkbook, or paid cash for something and written it down in the checking account.  When everything around the item has been pre-checked off, and that one still has not, I start thinking more deeply about how the transaction was transacted. This part takes five minutes if I’ve kept up with the accounts or it can take longer if I’ve been neglecting my baking tasks.

After that is done, I do any transfers necessary.  I have two checking accounts and a savings account and the boyfriend and I have two checking accounts so there are usually transfers to do.  The reason I (and we) have two checking accounts is because of Mary Hunt.  Hunt advocates for a regular checking account for all the regular purchases you pay monthly (Groceries, student loan payments, mortgage) and then a Freedom account where you regularly transfer monthly amounts of money for things that you don’t pay monthly, but come more intermittently. Think car insurance, vacation expenses and—in Portland—the Water/Sewer bill which only happens every three months, for some unknown reason.  We used to keep track of these amounts on a spreadsheet or ledger and then pay the bills when they intermittently arrive.  Having two checking accounts keeps a person from the psychological mistake of thinking, “Oh, I suddenly have an extra $200.00, I can buy that overcoat I’ve been wanting) and then spending your car insurance payment on said coat, leaving you scrambling for money when the insurance bill arrives.  I’ve also found that having two checking accounts means fewer errors in computation.  However, the budget/money management software I currently use manages the category spending amounts so well that it eliminates the need for more than one checking account.  But we soldier on with two.

The transfers I do between my own accounts are generally one big transfer at the beginning of the month to move my Freedom money over from checking.  I’m paid once per month which is tough until you get used to it, and then it seems normal.  The advantage of once-per-month pay is that what is there at the beginning of the month needs to last until the last day of the month whether the month is 28, 30 or 31 days.  It’s also handy because most people are taught to budget monthly and the money arrives with the beginning (or end) of the month.

Our joint checking accounts do not have debit cards attached to them.  When we set them up we opted to opt out of that technology as the things the joint checking pays for all work well with checks and I didn’t want the extra confusion of us both having debit cards or us trying to manage one debit card together. You will hear more of these categories in the last segment of the series when I talk about how we manage our money jointly.  Transfers between joint accounts and my own happen most often when we go out to dinner and I use my debit card to pay for the dinner.  In that case, the dinner gets charged to the account “Money Loaned—For Home” and I make a note in another spreadsheet of transfers to do.

I’ve found that for some reason, making transfers is my biggest stumbling block in keeping the checking account running smoothly.  I have to force myself to do it and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it is because I am miserly to my core, with hints of a spendthrift who pops out now and then, and I don’t like to see any money leaving my account.  Plus, there is room for error. I might transfer from the wrong account into the wrong account leaving me with more transfers to make to put things right.  When it’s time to transfer, I take a deep breath and give myself a good mental push.

After that, I type the information from my paper and pencil ledger in to YNAB, my money management program.  After entering each transaction, I compare register balances to ensure my math is correct.  This helps tremendously to catch computation errors and it’s the main reason I keep both a paper and pencil record and an electronic record.  Once that is done and all computer account totals match paper account totals I am done.  If I’m keeping up on a regular basis, this daily routine takes fifteen minutes or less. If I’ve fallen behind it takes longer.  Sometimes I devote a bigger chunk of time to catch up, other times I set a timer for 15 minutes and work several days in a row.

Monthly, I have some other things to do.  At the end of the month, right after I am paid, I make sure all my transactions for the month are entered in the register, and I count my cash to see what I haven’t correctly recorded this month.  I have chosen to keep track of my cash as if it was a checking account, and reconciling the difference at the end of the month.  This means I count my change every month.  I realize that most people would find that a bit much, but I have always loved stacking and rolling coins and because it gives me great comfort I do it monthly.  I’m usually off in my cash account by a few dollars, but I put those into the Cash register in the category “missing money” and then subtract the amount from my Random Fun Things to Do category.  I only keep track of cash in my electronic software, I’m not quite so obsessive to also use a paper register.

Once the cash is reconciled and the checking accounts are updated, I look at a report in the budget software that tells me my income and expenses amount.  These numbers get transferred to a separate spreadsheet which has income and expenses, as well as account balances at the end of the month.  Looking at this spreadsheet I can see my account balance total for the month as well as the monthly difference between income and expenses, which ideally would be a positive number, indicating a bit of savings each month, but is not.  This is mostly because of some big-spending months (the time around Christmas for instance, or, when I am taking college courses, when tuition is due) when I am spending down categories in which I have budgeted larger amounts.  Businesses avoid these fluctuations by depreciating things, but my budget is already complex enough.

I’ve involved my partner
When the boyfriend and I moved in together the first thing we did was open up a joint checking account.  People who know me and my feminist self, are sometimes surprised that I have a joint checking account with my partner, but I agree with Suze Orman and she thinks having a joint checking account is a good idea.  Here’s why.  We both have retained our own money that we may spend however we please.  We pay our joint expenses into an account once per month which makes it easy to pay our bills.  It also allows us to adjust what we pay based who makes more money.

Right now, Matt and I are pretty even in salary.  He pays 53% of our total joint expenses into our account and I pay 47%.  However, figuring your total joint expenses and dividing the total by percentage is one of the better pieces of advice for couples I’ve seen.  What if suddenly one of us gets a high-paying job and is making much more than the partner?  Would it be fair for someone making $100,000 per year pay 50% of joint expenses when the other partner is making $25,000 per year?  No.  So if the couple’s joint expenses were $1,000 per month (probably not likely, but I’m using this example for the ease of the math) and each were paying an equal percentage of their own salary into their joint account, the person making $100,000 would pay $750.00 per month and the other person would pay $250.00 per month.  Both are contributing equally to the joint living expenses and each partner still has their own money for their own expenses.

The second thing that happened is that we established what our joint expenses would be.  The current categories are:
Food—we currently buy our own groceries, but this pays for our fruit delivery and for about one meal out together per month.
Mortgage, land lease fee—Because we bought our house through a land trust, we pay a small amount each month for the land our house sits on, as well as a maintenance reserve.
Phone—Matt has a cell phone, which he pays for himself, but we both still use the landline so this is still a joint expense.  It’s also part of our internet expense as we get our internet through a local provider who also contracts with our phone company.
Supplies—the things in the house we both use including soap, detergent, toilet paper etc.
Water/sewer—Portland combines these two expenses into one bill, for better or worse.
Furniture/decoration—the category appeared when we bought a house.  We’re set on the furniture, and this is mostly toward decoration at this point.
Garbage—we both make the garbage and so we both pay it.
Insurance, Life—This is another category which appeared with the house.  When we bought it, we took out a joint term life policy for $200,000 so if one of us dies we can pay off the balance and have some money left over as a cushion.  This is a pretty small amount for a life insurance policy, but our mortgage was not very much, we both work outside the home and we have no children.  If any of those things were different our policy would be much more.
Insurance, House—back when we rented, this was renters insurance.
Yard—a nominal amount is paid each month for expenses related to the yard.  This includes new plants, or straw to put down.  Someday it might include gravel for the paths in the yard or bricks for a paved walk down the side yard.
Alarm—this category appeared after our house was broken into.  We budgeted to pay for the alarm, but never actually got around to activating the alarm system and so the money eventually went to buy our new washer and dryer.
Vacation—for our joint vacations, this account is underfunded, but perhaps will expand as we continue to work and ideally, get raises.
Dates—for joint dates such as plays and the like.
Cleaning—each month we combine our money into a $50.00 pot.  During the month we keep track of the chores we do to keep the house running and at the end of the month we tally our efforts and then pay out an amount to each of us based on the points split. It is both of our goals to get back more money than we put in.  I then use this money to fund my Random Fun Things to Do category.

Another category of our budget is what I have termed “floater” which is our joint savings account for the house.  Various sources recommend homeowners save various amounts per year for big maintenance projects such as a new roof or painting the house.  Our current “floater” amount saved is just under 10% of our total combined expenses.  This way we have joint savings and I have individual savings.

We meet regularly to pay our bills.
This was an idea from various sources such as Steven Covey, Suze Ormond and my friend Kelly.  Matt and I meet most Sunday evenings to check in with each other about the state of our relationship, plan time together and to manage the household expenses.  I think it’s especially important to do this if one partner would entirely be in the dark about finances and what bills should be paid if the other partner became incapacitated.  We have a regular agenda which means that we regularly pay into our joint account, the bills are paid in a timely manner and both of us share in this task.  I’m confident that if I were to be hit by a bus Matt could carry on with the finances side until I rejoined him.

So that’s my financial system.  It has evolved over the years and will continue to evolve and change as needs arise.  For many, my process is labyrinthine and complex and overwhelming, but I believe that everyone can develop a financial system that works for them.  Your money deserves your attention and care and you will feel peace of mind.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: The Hurt Locker

I knew this would be a tense film and I didn't want it to keep me up late at night on a school night, so I came prepared with knitting to distract me.  This was a fine film, with fabulous performances by all and some excellent cinematography.  I'm quite glad it won best picture, even if it did take me over two years to see for myself.

Cost:  free from library
Where watched: at home.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good Wishes to Kristen

Kristen (that's her in the middle getting ready to slice the cake) got a new job and so our six years of working together came to an end.  But not before the staff got together to wish her goodbye.  Not only was there good food and cake, but also singing.  It was fun to send her off in fine fashion.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Essay: Patricia’s Money Philosophy Series. Part III of IV: Learning & Saving

I believe in paying attention to your money.  I think that how you care for it and what you spend it on make a difference—not only for your own piece of mind, but also in the context of the universe and energy and whatnot.  Money ignored is money that won’t be around for long.  So here’s an incredibly long and detailed four-part series about how I manage my money.  To see the entire series look for the tag “Money.”

I learn
When I was first out in the world on my own, I started reading heaps of personal money management books.  It got so I would just wander over to the section of the Dewy Decimal System in the library to see if there was something I hadn’t read that caught my interest.  Most of them say the same thing in different ways, so after you’ve read five, you can move into skimming mode once you hit say, the “how to budget” section.  From time to time I dip back in if a book interests me.  I’ve gleaned good advice from these books, and all for free.  Thank you, public library system. 

If you are looking for somewhere to start I recommend Your Money or Your Life, All Your Worth by Warren and Tyagi. I have also found the debt-free philosophy of Mary Hunt to be inspiring.  Also, anything by Suze Ormon is good.  You can also follow my example and find the personal finance section at your local library and choose books at random.

I save
Since my first job in high school, I’ve always put some percentage of money aside.  Not that the money has always gone toward my far-future.  In fact, the savings from that first job financed my personal spending in college.  I’ve saved various percentages of income over the years, from as little as $50.00 per month during the grim, incredibly boring and low-paying job I got after graduate school all the way up to 20% of my net pay in a brief heady time when I finished paying for my certificate program and other things hadn’t cropped up.  With all that saving, I’m probably sitting on a pretty big pile of cash right now, right?  Not so much.  Though it’s a bigger pile then I’ve ever had. 

In my mind, “saving money” is a particular thing where you put money aside and never, ever touch that money so it grows and grows until you retire when you can use it.  I’ve never met that standard with my savings.  A graph of my savings account over the last ten years would show peaks and valleys.  For instance, I saved over $5,000 to fund my move from Massachusetts to Portland.  Well done!  Those were the years where I had no debt and my living expenses were quite low.  I made the most of my savings, concerned about the many potential expenses that could crop up during the move.  So the move took up $2,200.00 of the savings and the subsequent unemployment while looking for work ate away at some of the rest.  I took on temporary work and the company hired me and I had a brief period of saving until I entered graduate school. 

Beginning with graduate school, I began to draw down the savings.  This was not an easy time for me.  Once, while once again withdrawing money from savings, I sighed while handing over my paperwork.  The bank teller inquired as to what was wrong. 

“I hate having to pull money out of savings.” I told him.

“But that’s the point of savings accounts,” he replied, “so you can draw from them when you need them.”

This concept was exactly the opposite of my “put money in account never touching it until you retire” savings concept, but I had to conclude that he was right.  Without that savings account I would have exited graduate school with not only student loan debt, but also credit card debt.  It’s always better when you can be your own emergency credit card and I still hear that bank teller’s words from time to time today.

So the savings account was humbled by graduate school, but the six months of unemployment following graduate school made an ever bigger dent.  I counted on steady temporary work, as I always had found in the past, but temp work didn’t materialize over the summer.  Nor did any jobs.  The temporary work picked up in the late autumn, giving me a new appreciation for the paycheck incredibly mundane tasks provides.  Then I made a rather large financial mistake and took a job I was extremely overqualified for.

In my year and a half as a secretary, I went slowly crazy, both from boredom and disgust at my pay rate.  I was paid less than $10.00 per hour, which at the time was only a few dollars over Oregon minimum wage.  I’ve never had to watch my finances so closely.  My rent took nearly half of my gross pay and I shopped carefully for everything.  If I had loved the job, or even liked it, I would have done these things happily, but there was little work to do at my workplace and that made the scrimping even more grim.  I was barely putting anything aside, and my goal to save $5,000 was being fed by a trickle of $50.00 per month.  I didn’t want to do the math to see how long that would take.

Things improved when my boyfriend and I moved in together.  The rent we paid together on our one bedroom was only a bit more than I paid on my studio and sharing expenses really gave me some breathing room.  I eventually landed my current job, which came with an $8,000 per year pay raise and my savings could begin again in earnest.  Over the last six years, the graph of savings has been more of a steady upward climb, though it has dipped now and again, as things have cropped up.  I accept those dips, and set my course to recover the savings as soon as I am able.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This was much better than I remember it* and fun in an incredibly embryonic Joss Whedon way.  First of all, it's totally the "girl gains her power" story I keep complaining there aren't any of in the movie world and it also provided me with the bonus that fashion in the movie coincided with my high school fashion years so I know that I wasn't being weird when I wore a dress with dorky shoes and socks, that was actually a fashion forward move on my part.  Also, I have now been reminded what that Luke Perry thing was all about.

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home.

*I can clearly recall that I found it to be "kind of weird." when I saw it during high school.  And maybe Ms. Sterner and I saw this together? Maybe at Overland Park?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"we think you will be too!"

My whole life the newspaper people have been changing around the paper which drives me out of my mind. On top of switching up things that are just fine they way they are is that they always say something to the effect of, "And we think you will love it too!"

Um, no.  It makes no sense to me to put the "living" stuff with the "travel" stuff and make the "arts" stuff separate.  The former section with the "living" and "arts" together with a separate "travel" section was working just fine for me.  But clearly someone needed to justify keeping their job, or needed a promotion or something, so I will roll with it until you change things up again and I get annoyed all over again.

Three sentence movie reviews: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Having never seen this movie on the big screen, I was happy to spend a Sunday afternoon seeing Harrison Ford in the glory days before he developed his wattles.  The movie holds up pretty well and it's an interesting contrast to see Action Adventure before CGI (like in this movie) compared to the previous night's viewing which was all CGI.  Also, Karen Allen is the best Indiana Jones heroine.

Cost:  $8.50
Where watched:  Regal Lloyd Cinema 10

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: The Avengers

I greatly enjoyed this movie when we saw it in May, but if you had asked me to recount the plot to you, I would have only been able to stammer "Uh, it's pretty funny.  Um, and. Uh."  Watching it this time was an experience of repeatedly thinking "oh yes!  I remember this part, this was quite enjoyable."  I think it was the frantic pace that caused the post-viewing amnesia in that I was all in during, but there was so much that happened my brain just got overwhelmed and forgot it all.

Cost:  $3.00
Where watched:  Portlander Inn Cinema. (at the Jubitz truck stop)

(I was looking for one with Agent Colson on it, but no dice.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Essay: Patricia’s Money Philosophy Series. Part II of IV: Debt

I believe in paying attention to your money.  I think that how you care for it and what you spend it on make a difference—not only for your own piece of mind, but also in the context of the universe and energy and whatnot.  Money ignored is money that won’t be around for long.  So here’s an incredibly long and detailed four-part series about how I manage my money.  To see the entire series look for the tag “Money.”

I avoid debt as much as possibly can.
Aside from a brief period in my twenties, where I combined my lack of skills with an iffy job market and no clear idea of what I wanted to do for a living, I have avoided credit card debt.  At the time, I had about $800.00 charged to a high-interest card, which was the only kind I could get due to the fact I did not establish credit while in college.  I also had a $2000.00 computer loan and $16,000 in student loan debt.  And I had no job.

I often read financial stories of people who come into a windfall and happily pay things off, or realize that they could sell the rental property they own and make more money than being a landlord.  These stories leave me with an intense feeling of jealousy.  “I wish I just had a windfall like that.” I mutter to myself.  But the truth is, I had a windfall and it saved my bacon.

Beginning when I was in elementary school, a check used to arrive every month made out to Patricia and Chris Collins.  Every month my brother and I would endorse it, with me grumbling that I had to write my full name (I was Patty then) while Chris got to write his nickname.  The check was for $128.00 and change and was a mortgage payment made on my father’s boyhood home.  I’ve never really understood why we got the mortgage payment monthly, but it happened for twenty years.

The money was deposited into an annuity account, which I’ve since learned was a horrible investment vehicle for children still in elementary school.  My brother and I cashed out the annuity in our twenties and the amount I received was enough to pay off the credit card, the computer and the student loan, along with putting something in savings.  This gave me the heady feeling of being debt free, which not only was an amazing feeling, but also kept me from ever wanting to carry credit card debt again.  So I had my windfall and something good came of it.  But I am also happy to accept windfalls in the future too.  I am just putting that out there, universe.

I do have debt, though.  When I went to graduate school I took on student loan debt again.  Because I had used the windfall to pay off my undergraduate loans I left graduate school with loans that totaled just a bit under what I expected to earn my first year as a teacher. Loans equal to or less than expected first-year salary is the phrase that is bandied about when advice is given about student loans.  I’ve slipped into the passive voice in that last sentence because I know that I read that advice multiple places and yet I’m not sure who is giving it, or if it is good advice.  I’ve been paying those loans for seven years now and have thirteen years left to go and I’ve yet to work a year as teacher.  To say these student loans drive me crazy would be an understatement.  My monthly payment is one I can easily meet each month. I was faced with bleak employment prospects coming out of graduate school, so I chose the graduated repayment plan over 20 years.  Right now I pay $160.00 per month.  Would I love to accelerate those payments and get rid of this debt early? You betcha.  Would I be willing to work 40 hours per week instead of 32 to do so?  Not in my current job, no.

The other debt is the mortgage.  Mortgage debt seems a fact of life for everyone I know, so I don’t begrudge the debt, though when I look at the interest-to-principle ratio my tightwad self shrivels a little.  However, while I regret the student loan debt, I think we did it right with the mortgage.  For one thing, we didn’t overbuy.  Our house is modest, but is as much house as we need, as far as I’m concerned.  Also, we bought our house from a land trust, which means that the land trust owns the land below our house and we pay a small fee for the lease. Since the value of the land isn’t included in the purchase price, our mortgage is that much less.  When we bought the house, I felt comfortable that I could lose my job tomorrow, pick up temp work while I looked for a new opportunity, and still be able to meet the mortgage.  In addition, should we ever decide to sell our house, it will be resold to another first-time homebuyer, which preserves an affordable stock of housing for people who would have otherwise been shut out of the market, like we were.  This is a very important concept to me.

For me, owning a house was important psychologically—once we got into the house and unpacked, I felt incredibly settled.  Here was where I could live for the rest of my life, if I so chose.  This brought a feeling of peace that was not present through the apartment living period of my life.  Apartment living has its advantages, but I always felt an underlying bit of tension.  You never know when the landlord is going to raise the rent, sell the house out from under you, or tear down the beautiful building to build a parking garage.  I didn’t like that feeling of insecurity.  There are tradeoffs, though.  Before I bought my house, homeowners told me that they were astounded at the amount of time they spent on the house.  “Oh, but I will love that time spent,” I told them, all heady with the idea of projects.  I’ve done a lot of projects over the five years we’ve lived here and they have been mostly satisfying.  Before the house, I used to be bored on a regular basis.  After the house, I think I’ve been bored maybe two days.  This is good and bad.  Sometimes the house can seem a bit overwhelming, but at least I don’t have a regular sense of ennui.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: Take Shelter

This was one of those amazing movie experiences that make all those so-so flicks worth sitting through.  I've seen Michael Shannon's fabulous acting on display in two other films* and he carried me away during this one too.  This is completely worth your time and money so go and find it today.

Cost:  Free from Library
Where watched:  at home.

*Revolutionary Road, where he was the key turning point in Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet's marriage and The Runaways where he played sleazy Kim Fowley. The first role was a quiet crazy building to an explosion, the second an exuberant, bacchanalian picture of rock and roll excess.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Oh beginning of school, you torture me.  This corner of my desk was clear just twenty minutes before.  But then all the families walked into school and handed in their massive paperwork packets and I'm back on the paperwork bandwagon.  Back-to-school paperwork keeps me busy through October.
And yet there are still things to do that aren't paperwork.  This is why I wrote all my September essays over the summer.