Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolutions for 2008

I am continuing my tradition from last year, which is to shun the standard New Year's Resolutions everyone makes, and instead make a list of the resolutions I should have made last January 1. I love setting goals and I do believe in the power of a fresh start, but I am realistic enough to know that when I wake up tomorrow, I'm probably going to eat the other half of the box of Nilla Wafers even though I shouldn't, so why make an even grander list of the things I'm going to fail at also? Besides, I am pretty good at psyching myself up for goals all during the year. The beauty of doing resolutions my way is that I get to focus on the positive, which (if I were making resolutions, which I'm not) would be something I'd like to work on more next year.

So here are my resolutions for 2008, in no particular order:

1. Go to Europe. Live my childhood dream of visiting Paris, speaking French to actual French people. Don't even mind too much when I can't understand their replies, just be happy because I went to Paris! Also see Milan, not enough of England, and freeze my tush off in Switzerland, one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Realize that the best vacations are made up of beautiful scenery, old (and interesting) buildings, and people I love. Gelato doesn't hurt, either.

2. For the first time in my entire life, get in the habit of going to the gym every single day. Every day! Since September! And also for the first time, finally start to understand why people enjoy exercising.

3. Lose 17.5 pounds. This comes as a surprise, since one of 2008's resolutions was also "Eat whatever I want." Does guilt burn calories?

4. Start taking English classes. Realize they are way, way harder than what I was used to, but also kind of like the idea of pushing myself. Get out of my comfort zone. Read some classic books and poetry and annoy everyone within the sound of my blog by whining about school. Vow to keep next year's whining to a minimum.

5. Keep writing this blog. Be constantly surprised that anyone is willing to listen to the insecurities and craziness that goes on in my head.

6. Hold an impromptu high school reunion on Facebook, with all of the people that mattered so much back in the early 90's. Discover that we've all grown up, matured, and put things behind us. Also discover that these friends still matter, and be grateful to have a second chance with their friendship. Life is a little richer with them in it, like they filled a hole I didn't realize they had left.

7. Keep on truckin, one more year. Survive Darcey learning to walk/climb/draw on the walls and enjoy her talking/smiling/laughing. Survive Zack learning to write his name on every surface including, but not limited to, the walls, counters, tables, desks, the floor, and his jeans, and enjoy his crazy personality. Survive Noah and Brad learning how to ski and the paralyzing fear that they will crash into a tree, trigger an avalanche, break a leg, or something worse, and still send them off with excitement that they are doing something they love. (That's one of the hardest things to do when you're a mother.) Enjoy Noah learning to read (and loving it), and trying to keep up with his older brother. Enjoy Brad learning to like Noah as a friend, singing in the choir, and taking on more independence. Enjoy Ryan's company, our late-night discussions when there's no one to interrupt us, our friendship. Especially enjoy his presence at home more, now that his work schedule is more relaxed. Look forward to the day when we can travel more and do more with the kids as they get older, and know there's no one else I'd rather do those things with than him.

If I were the resolution making kind, which I'm not, here are some things I would resolve:
-To tell people how much they mean to me, more often. Give more compliments.
-Lose the cynicism that I've acquired, and reclaim the optimism I seem to have abandoned. (This might make my blogs less interesting, but I'll try to make it work.)
-Take things less personally, and forgive quicker. Not get as riled up about mundane things. (Is this my blog's death knell?)
-Keep exercising. Lose 20 pounds. Still enjoy life and food.

So many people are saying "good riddance:" to 2008, but I have to say that it hasn't been a bad year for me. Yes, our IRA balances are pathetic, but I'm not a great saver so they were kind of pathetic to begin with. I've seen a lot of personal growth this year, a lot of great family experiences, I have amazing friends who are supportive and patient with me and boost my spirits any time I talk to them. Ryan and I see the hand of the Lord in our lives, and there's not much else that can reassure us in turbulent times than knowing that someone's looking out for you. I feel a lot of gratitude for having such a full and blessed life, and my New Year's wish is for all of you to have love of family and friends and God. I hope your 2009 is everything you resolve it to be!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Money Is An Object

Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who buy things for fun - the people who can spend money without the constant analysis that I seem to have. For whom the phrase "money is no object" actually applies - even if I say it, money is always an object. And rarely an object of pleasure.

Of course, the problem isn't money. It's the fact that I have to over-think every decision. With a notable exception for, strangely, those decisions that turn out to be life-changing but I didn't recognize it at the time. Those decisions are completely off-the-cuff. But when it comes to something as trivial as how much to spend on a mixer repair, my stress level hits Def-Con 5 and all of a sudden the various options need the kind of examination not given to the Shroud of Turin.

Today's mental battle started about ten days ago, when my KitchenAid mixer broke. Out of nowhere, this horrible clanking sound. I took it to The Mending Shed to have it fixed, and the guy took one listen and said it's a bad gear that will cost $75 to fix. That's fine - the mixer is about six years old and I really like it. I liked it even more after I hijacked my neighbor's handheld mixer and realized I can never go back. It'd be like going from a cable modem back to dial-up - completely intolerable. (Only someone from a developed country like ours can take a stand on luxury items like this - I recognize just how frivolous this would sound in, say, India. But I digress.)

I called today to see when the repair would be done, and was told that as it turns out, the part is no longer available. The entire motor housing would need to be replaced, to the tune of $175. Instantly my brain is whirling through the different scenarios: Can someone else find the obsolete part? Is a 6 year old mixer worth $175 to fix? Would I be better off just getting a new one? If I get a new one, should I stick with KitchenAid, or try a Bosch? All of these, and many more, in the thirty seconds of "ummmmm" that I gave the guy on the phone.

I told him to fix it, but I don't know if that was the right decision, and the kicker is that I won't know if it was the right decision for years. If the mixer only lasts six months before something else goes wrong, it was the wrong decision. But if it lasts another six years, then it was a good one. But until there's a final judgement, I'll be in bad-financial-decision limbo, neither able to reconcile myself to a loss nor to celebrate a good call.

This was minor compared to buying a new car in October. I felt like my mental status and hyper-analytic-ness were under a microscope. I hate buying cars. I am absolutely baffled by people who find any happiness in either the process or the result. When people say "congratulations" for buying a new car, I always find that a little inappropriate. Shouldn't they really be saying, "Hey, good job on going thousands of dollars in debt on a depreciating asset that is already worth less than you paid for it!"?

The way cars are sold also make me bananas. The salesman holds all the cards, and we're the humble petitioners, begging for whatever tiny scrap of a discount they might be willing to toss our way. Information is distributed so lopsidedly that you can't help but assume that there's something they're not telling you that would make a difference in your purchase. Since we don't get a real price up front, and don't know all the other fees and whatnot, there's no way to compare apples to apples. And it doesn't matter how much I can haggle the guy down, I always feel like a sucker.

I hate feeling like a sucker.

The only other industry that makes its sole profit on people failing to beat the system are the casinos. The house always wins, and it is the same when you buy a car, although less showgirls involved. There's no way to beat the system, to get a better deal than the dealer wants you to have. That's why, even though car salesmen are considered the least trusted profession, according to this USA Today/Gallup poll, there's no big rush to make a change in the system - it works.

The capitalist in me has to applaud, because it makes complete sense to put a high price tag on something. If at least one person buys it at that price, then fantastic! And everyone else who wants to pay less, well, the dealer can then look generous by knocking $500 off the price (but not more, because after all, they have to make some profit off of this, right?) But now that everyone knows not to pay the sticker price, you have an entire industry being deceptive about how much their product costs, at the expense of consumers who feel taken advantage of, who are convinced that the dealer is raking in the dough.

These are all of my beefs with the car industry even without any of my hostility about the bailout. You don't even want to get me started on that.

So knowing I was going to get a bad deal, I drove myself absolutely crazy. I got as much information from Consumer Reports as I could. I haggled with the salesman (who, I was dismayed to see, had many "Salesman of the Whatever" certificates on his wall) and walked away to think it over. I tried to weigh each option in my head and try to find the absolute best use of our money possible - which to me meant spending as little as possible.

It wasn't until we had signed the paperwork and been handed the keys that we finally saw the car we bought, because it was sent down from a different dealership. It didn't have automatic windows or doors. I didn't even know car companies MADE cars with a crank for the window anymore! I was half afraid that when I peeled back the car mats I'd find holes for our feet to help pedal. (I'm guessing I paid an anti-Flintstone fee that I didn't realize.)

To make a long story short, my over-analyzing about each penny caused me to scrimp when it would have been worth it to spend. It's the same mistake I made when we bought our minivan, not spending the extra few thousand to get the automatic sliding doors. How many more purchases will I skimp on before I let go of this insane need to spend as little as possible? I don't want to throw money away on frivolous things, but I don't want to throw money away on junk, either.

There's got to be a great economics chart out there, that shows quality on one side and price on the other, and you buy a product when the quality is highest at a still-affordable price. I try to approximate this data in my head, and always seem to miss the mark, spending too little (like the mediocre dishwasher, or the injury-inducing wooden swingset), or spending too much (like the Swiss Pass train tickets this summer). Some of it stems from unrealistic expectations - the last sedan I bought was 14 years ago, so the number in my head that a car "should" cost was too low. Our mental estimate for what our kitchen remodel "should" cost ended up being pretty close, so I don't have a lot of angst over that. Our recent road trip to Albuquerque didn't fulfill the required amount of fun to have made it worth it, so there's some regret there.

Apparently, I have some issues with money. There's probably an Oprah episode that shows how to have less anxiety about money, something like opening my arms to spending will allow me to embrace my inner peace. Whatever. Ryan, for once, had a positive view of my broken mixer repair bill. He said congratulations on using your appliance so much that you wore it out. He's not focused on the money at all, just that I need a mixer and this is clearly one that I can't live without.

At the end of the day, money, like dishwashers and cars and mixers, is just an object.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Getting Back On The Wagon

This year, I'm going to do something that no one else in the whole world would think of - I'm going to vow to lose weight! That's right, I'm blazing a trail, and I invite all of you to follow in my slightly overweight footsteps. Join with me, in this bold new tradition!

Okay, just kidding. I know that I'm not the only one reaching deep down and trying to find some willpower to help drop the 20 pounds. But as some of you might remember from last year, I hate New Year's Resolutions. I completely dislike the idea of being one of the "Lose 20 pounds" lemmings that follow each other off the cliff every January, only to find themselves at the bottom of the cliff in March, a few pounds heavier. And probably dead, although I might be taking this analogy a little too far.

I don't want to be the person that every woman's magazine, grocery, or apparel store is going to be marketing to - the chubster who is making the same goals as they did every year since they had any body-consciousness. I don't want to be that person.

The problem is mostly timing. In the spring, there's the big push (by magazines and ads, mostly) to get your body swimwear-ready by summer. And in summer, it's easier to imagine a diet, because of all the great fresh fruits and vegetables, plus the idea of baking a loaf of pumpkin bread is ridiculous in 100 degree heat. By fall, though, biology kicks in - there's no more talk of diet as we start to bulk up for winter hibernation. The idea of a nice thick layer of fat to help keep warm is good - if I still lived on a farm in 1834. But no one told my body that we moved (and found a time machine).

I think there's a conspiracy. The marketers who are my nemesis in April are busy telling me that the holidays are all about indulging and don't give me a lick of encouragement to buy anything other than the chocolate chips that are on sale.

By January, those marketers have fattened us up like lambs to the slaughter, and have primed our guilt and our pocketbooks to buy every frozen diet entree, every meal replacement drink, every gym membership, every skinny diet guru's book that they can sell us. Plus new shoes and clothes for the gym, because you certainly won't be effective on the treadmill in what you bought back when you were not planning on losing weight. This is the New You! The New You needs to look her best! (That advice will be $59.95, no checks or money orders.)

Well, not me, sister. I'm going to beat them at their game. I'm not going to be at Weight Watchers on January 2, ready to hand over my credit card with all the other Resolutionaries. I don't need the fresh start of the New Year to unleash the New Me. I'm going to start tomorrow.

That's right, I'm going to beat the crowd by going to Weight Watchers tomorrow morning. That way, by the time everyone else shows up two weeks later, I can be one of the "regulars." I can look down my nose at all of the newcomers, who are only there because of their resolutions, and won't be taking up valuable meeting space six weeks from now.

There's really no reason to wait. I've already done the indulgence route, and frankly it's not doing it for me anymore. I've been going to the gym almost daily since September (minus two weeks of never-ending sickness on Darcey's part). I have a husband who is completely supportive and encouraging. The only thing I fear is deprivation. I have true fear of having to say no to eating something I really want. I'm afraid that I'm going to be miserable and never get to do what I want ever again. I'll be one of those boring people, ordering salad at Pizza Hut, chewing on my celery stick at a party when everyone else is having cookies. Looking with longing at the ice cream section of the grocery store, or the chips and cookies aisle.

But there's nothing to do with fear other than face it. So I'm going to, tomorrow. I'm going to stare down that scale at Weight Watchers and the scale is going to blink first. And then it's going to wince when I step on it, because like I said, I've got some weight to lose. But I'm not going to care about that, because I'm a trail-blazer! I'm clearing the dieting path, so all of you can follow after!

I just don't want to find you at the bottom of the cliff. That's going to be messy.


Yes, that's right, I'm back from the world of exams and papers and reading-out-of-obligation and back into the world of the living. I apologize for not posting during the last few weeks, but if I was overwhelmed before, the end of the semester brought work like I had never dreamed. I made a to-do list of all the stuff that needed to be turned in, with like two weeks left to go, and it was 14 items. And while I normally pad my to-do lists with easy things so I can feel some sense of accomplishment (i.e. take a shower, eat lunch, etc.) these were all hard things, including reading two plays, one book, writing three papers and 6 journal entries, etc.

So it is with great pride that I say I finished this semester. I feel like I've whined about this topic so much that most of you are saying, "Enough all ready!" and I apologize. I don't like to be so one-note but school was very much all-encompassing this semester. And if you can handle one more blog entry about it, keep reading.

I figured out why this semester was so hard for me.
1. There is a lot more work required in these classes than my previous ones. I haven't decided if it is English in general, because there's a lot of reading and writing required, or if it is attending school two days a week. The business classes I took would be one night, for three hours, and one pile of homework for the week. Tons of class discussion and lectures. These English classes were 2x per week, 1 hour and 15 minutes each, so less lecture time and two piles of homework for the week.

2. In the business classes, it was clear that people were there to get the degree, because the piece of paper was worth a lot. I think the degree is second, in these classes, and learning is first. I love that. A degree is so far off in the future I'll be flying my air-car to graduation. I'm there to learn, most of all.

3. I'm being challenged to think and work in new ways. I got used to the read-the-text, take-the-test type of classes, and I'm good at those. These classes I had to be much more creative and analytical, and it took a lot more brain power than I was ready for.

By the end of the semester, I felt like I had found my groove. I was getting my work done and not stressing, at least until the very end when everything was due. I realized that I probably will be pretty good at this one day, but I wasn't there yet. It's nice to have a challenge, to know that I have room to grow and the possibility to excel in a field that is hard. I like the idea that one day this will be easy for me.

Naturally, this semester wasn't going to let me off the hook so easily. On Monday I had one large project due in my mythology class and one final in the critical lit. class. The project went well but the teacher handed back a paper that I had turned in, which was two pages too short. I knew it was short but I figured I'd rather turn in something concise and too short than something long and bloated. Apparently, bloated is preferable, because the paper came back, "Well written! C-"

I don't get C-'s. Ever.

Then on the 20 question final exam, I had to leave one question completely blank. I had so little idea what the answer was that I couldn't even make something up, and I'm usually pretty good at BS'ing my way into a correct answer. That was frustrating.

So instead of feeling like I had conquered the world when I left school that night, I felt like I'd gotten a good bruising myself. I was drained, deflated, exhausted. I had no energy left, and no sense of accomplishment. But I had learned enough in school to misquote these lines from a poem:

This is the way the semester ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Thanks, T.S. Eliot, that was perfect.

By Tuesday morning, the whimpering was gone and I was a new person. All of a sudden, I had no major obligations, and on top of it, it had snowed about 4 inches and I had nowhere I needed to be all day. I spent the whole day at home, relaxing. Wednesday I got stuff done, but Thursday was another snowy day at home. I love it!! I have had the absolute best week this week!

I'm also counting down the days until the first time I say "I'm bored." It's coming, I know it. At some point I will have caught up with my backlog of tv shows and projects I've been dying to work on and end up with that restless feeling that tells me I want to be accomplishing something bigger. It's a vicious cycle. Sorry you guys are along for the ride. I'll try to keep next semester's whining to a minimum.

So, I'm back. I hope to do more writing over winter break - I've had weeks worth of thoughts banging around in my head that have need a blog entry to let them out, but by now they might be too stale for consumption. I have loads of thoughts on the bailout, for example, but I think the bailout might have been done to death. I also never was able to perfectly crystallize my hatred of the auto industry due to our new-car buying experience in October, and now it might be too late. Also, I didn't get to moan quite enough about losing a hard drive in the family computer, the one that had my entire iTunes library on it (instead of on my laptop) because my laptop's hard drive is smaller than my ipod's. And that the external backup drive it was saved on ALSO failed. But those will have to wait for another day.

Thanks for your patience with me. I promise to keep future school whining to an absolute minimum.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recommended Reading

My sister-in-law Kim was looking for a book recommendation this week and asked me what I would recommend to her. That's kind of a dangerous question. In fact, most people don't ask me about books, because they know I probably won't stop talking. But she asked, and if I've got a captive audience I'm going to take it.

I couldn't recommend just one, however. It's like if I had 500 children, how could you pick your favorite? I would be able to tell you the stinkers, that's for sure, but could I pick just one?? I don't think so.

I decided to go according to mood. Sometimes you want a book that's light and fluffy, sometimes you want some serious thought-provoking stuff, sometimes you want a rip-roaring adventure. So here's a list of some of my favorite books. Most of them I've read more than once, and all of them would be worth having a conversation about. I hope you enjoy the list, and please put in the comments other books you'd recommend, or your thoughts on my faves. Just don't tell the other books that they aren't my favorites - I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings.


If you aren't picky about bad writing and just want something action-packed, try The DaVinci Code. Sometimes I wanted to tear my ears off, but the story was too entertaining to stop.

If you are in the mood for romance, try Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Yes, it's trendy, and tends towards juvenile, but it's good, mostly clean escapism.

If you want a fictional Nazi-Germany book, try The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It's sad, (but aren't they all?) in a positive way. And Death is the narrator, which I just love.

If you want a great historical fiction book, and can handle a little bit of risque, try Memoirs of a Geisha. Might be too much if you're sensitive.

If you're looking for a Harry Potter replacement, try The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The first two books are great young adult fantasy. Skip the third book, unless you are okay with unhappy endings.

If you want a fantasy series that will last you for months and months of reading, try The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He wrote 11 volumes and then died with one book left. It's being released next year. They suck you into this world, kind of like Harry Potter, but it's a big commitment. But you also don't have to ask what to read next for a really long time.


If you want to challenge your brain, but not too much, try Freakonomics. It's faux-intellectual - it gives you the feeling of learning stuff but in the most entertaining way possible. Plus now you have all sorts of facts to dazzle people with.

If you want something to talk to your doctor about on your next visit, try Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande (his other book, Complications, is also very good). It 's a fascinating inside look at the medical system, although slightly scary right before surgery. :)

If you want a true adventure story, try Into Thin Air. It's fast paced, a little heavy on the swearing, but a fascinating story of the disaster on Everest. If you want a little more Everest after that, try No Shortcuts To The Top.

If you want a good book about grief, try The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

If you want a fun memoir, try A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. Also the sequel, She Got Up Off The Couch. Totally fun and entertaining.

If you want a memoir about someone overcoming great obstacles, try The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

I feel like I've left off a ton of great books, so remind me in the comments.