Archive | June, 2012

I’m Being Chased By Zombies Today, So Here Are Some Things To Entertain You

28 Jun

That title wasn’t a lie to get you to click on my blog.  I really am being chased by zombies today, and I really did plan ahead and find a couple of things to entertain you in my absence.  You’re welcome.  If the zombies don’t win, I’ll see you all on Monday.

1) I wrote a thing.  It’s not a big thing at all, but it’s a thing I quite like.  It is also a thing that has nothing to do with finance.  It’s called The Astrophysicist and The Napkin.  You can read it here: http://voices.yahoo.com/the-astrophysicist-napkin-11504108.html?cat=44

2) I do have some finance info to share.  One of my readers sent me an infographic on debt collection, which appeared on his blog at the beginning of June.  I don’t repost things unless I find them a) highly amusing, or b) highly insightful.  This entry is mostly part b, but it does have pictures of blobby-robot-type creatures with telephones, and that kind of stuff just makes me giggle.  As such, I’ve decided to report the infographic here.  Read on and learn some important things about what is and is not legal in debt collection.  You can see more tips and tricks from Colin at http://frugaldad.com/

american debt collection infographic

Source: http://FrugalDad.com

Contingency Plans

25 Jun

I might be one of the most OCD people you’ll meet.  You won’t see it on the outside.  My office looks like a tornado just blew through it at any given moment.  In fact, I’m writing this from my similarly-decorated bedroom, since my home office currently smells strongly of wood stain (hey, thanks, younger-brother-home-from-college. One word: ventilation).

So no, you may not see the OCD on the surface.  But once you take a peek at my alphabetized and cross-referenced DVD collection, my perfectly alphabetized and lined-up book collection, or how I follow the same steps every morning to get breakfast and start work, you’ll start to see the crazy.  If you know me in real life, perhaps you’ve even seen my attention wander during a conversation.  I’m not ignoring you- there’s just a really interesting sign behind you and I have to mentally rearrange the words and letters so it’s right.  Just give me a sec.  I’m still listening, I swear.

So yes, there’s a certain level of oddity about me.  I’ve come to accept that, and even embrace it at times.  For example, I am prepared for every contingency.  You name it, I’ve got a plan.  I can even prove it.

Contingencies For Which I Have A Viable Plan

Unemployment: No big deal.  I’ve got a diversified portfolio in the job market (I can’t claim credit for that gem of a description.  That comes from one of my church’s elders.  It’s my new favorite phrase.  You may be seeing it a lot).  Working five part-time jobs means I can lose a few and still have money coming in.  Status: prepared.

Financial Emergency: I’m set for two full months of expenses if I’m rendered totally unable to work, four months of expenses if I’m only able to work half my usual hours, and six months of expenses if I stop paying on my student loans (which I can do without penalty until 2015.  That’s an unexpected bonus of paying off loans early).  Emergency Funds are your friend, people.  You should seriously have one.  Status: prepared.

Medical Emergency:  If it’s someone else’s emergency, I’m trained in CPR, first aid, and basic water rescue techniques.  I’ve been working with kids for over a decade, including a stint at a skating rink, so I’ve pretty much seen it all: broken bones, allergic reactions, the odd impalement or two, even a few gnarly head wounds.  If someone else is bleeding, I’ve got it covered.  Now, if it’s my medical emergency, I’ve got health insurance and an emergency fund.  Both kept me from going completely broke after a car accident in 2010, and both kept me from losing a lot of money when I was sick a few months ago.  I’m also pretty cool with the sight of my own blood.  I’ve seen it enough, to which my co-workers can probably attest. (Related- sorry about that, co-workers).  Status: prepared.

Sugar Emergency: My blood sugar can go up and down faster than a Six Flags roller coaster (the really fast kind, not the kiddie coasters, just to be clear).  When it’s down, I’m not always a pleasant person.  As such, I’ve developed a contingency plan: Operation SUGAR (Sweets Under Guise As Required, which kind of makes sense if you don’t think about grammar or syntax too much).  There is a candy store within 100 feet of one of my jobs.  For the others, both offices have hidden candy reserves.  No, I won’t tell you where they are.  Yes, I will probably share.  Status: prepared.

Snuggle Emergency: No, I haven’t been gnawed on by a zombie.  I mean a real snuggle- the kind that doesn’t involve any brain-chewing.  Sometimes, you just need a snuggle.  For those times, I have this:

codename: floppykitty

Status: prepared.

Zombie Emergency: Speaking of zombies, you’ll be relieved to hear that I have a plan for this contingency too.  First, track down my roommate’s two brothers, codenames: Mountain Man and Thanatos (There’s not really any significance behind Thanatos- I just think it’s an awesome code name).  Second, stay behind Mountain Man and Thanatos at all times.  End plan.  Seriously- those two are like every History Channel & Discovery Channel reality show combined.  If the zombies are coming for you, come find me and the boys.  Oh, and bring candy.  Status: prepared beyond belief.

Undead Emergency:  I’ve been watching a lot of training films on this topic, and I believe I’ve developed a fool-proof vampire repellent for each species.  For the brooding Brad Pitt type, you throw a starving yet adorable orphan in their path.  They will become so focused on saving the poor child that you’ll be able to make your escape.  The same principal works for the glittery type, as long as you substitute a brooding teenage girl for the orphan.  As for the maniacal Tom Cruise type, well, you’re pretty much out of luck on that one.  There’s no escape from the maniacal Tom Cruise type of vampire.  Status: prepared, except in the case of Tom Cruise.

Like I said, I have a plan for everything.  Except for Tom Cruise.  But to that I do have to ask: can anyone really have a good contingency plan for Tom Cruise?

Think on that til Thursday, folks.

How To Properly Spend Your Time While Waiting For Your Meal In A Restaurant

21 Jun Challenge accepted.

So while driving to New Orleans yesterday, I saw this sign.

My first impulse was to run into the building, yell “Congratulations!” Elf-style, and depart.  However, we’d been on the road for six hours and I was under strict instructions not to reenact any movie scene at a restaurant that would prevent us from eating at said restaurant.

When we (calmly, with no Will Ferrell antics) walked inside, I immediately noticed that every available wall surface had been covered with laminated quotes about life, death, marriage, children, jobs, etc.  You name it, and Wintzell’s Oyster House had something to say about it.

Naturally, I found some that were related to money, and pennies in particular.  I snapped a few pictures, and figured I’d post them here today.

Then I read The Bloggess’ newest entry, about unfinished quotes by anonymous writers.  As is usually the case after reading anything by The Bloggess, my plan took a sharp left turn down the path of whimsy and creepy trees.

Thus, we arrived here- the part where I present:

Personality Profiles of Fictional People in Penny-Related Quotes

1) 

This is good advice, spoken by a regretful Canadian accountant.  You have to keep a close eye on those pennies.  Otherwise, they might run right out in front of Congress and get themselves abolished.  Just look at what happened when Canada got all lassiez-faire about raising their pennies to a higher standard.  Such a shame.  People- do your part.  Don’t let a good penny go to waste.  It’s 10 o-clock.  Do you know where your change is?

2) 

Truer words have never been spoken by a pensioner living on a fixed income.  This man is over 65, has finally paid off his house and car, and uses his Social Security check to buy groceries for himself and cat food for his wife’s 17 cats.  The wife left him for a cabana boy three years ago, but the man just can’t bring himself to get rid of the cats.  Especially not since he began training them as attack ninjas who activate at the sight of that back-stabbing two-timing nag of a demon woman.  Yes, the cats have proven very useful indeed.

3) 

This is a classic case of OCD.  The inability to see the forest for all the damned trees that won’t get themselves into a reasonable tallest-to-smallest order by species even though you’ve asked politely at least a dozen times.

Oh wait, that says gowned foolish, doesn’t it?  Hmm.  This presents two possible explanations, then.

a) The poor girl has sensory issues, and fabric texture goes a long way towards making each day bearable.  Thus, she spends all her money on luxurious silk dresses, the kind that do not have a tag sewn in anywhere.  Her spouse does not understand this, and just thinks her delightfully quirky if slightly fiscally irresponsible.  He doesn’t mind the silk neckties that she makes him out of the old dresses, however.

b) She’s a Kardashian.

(Note- these two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.)

4) 

There’s nothing like a sign in an Alabama restaurant that takes a dig at its clientele.  No, that’s not a commentary on the general intelligence of Alabama-dwellers.  It’s just that I’m pretty sure this guy was sitting three booths away from us at the restaurant.  He’s the good-ole-boy type with a heart of gold and a head full of rocks.  And now a gut full of small change.  He’ll go home tonight, announce to his wife that he’s planning to make a change, and request transportation to the hospital.  He’ll repeat the story to the pastor at church on Sunday, and again back at the bar on Wednesday night.  The waitress will sigh, and tell Ol’ Billy that she’d sure like to see some change in him, same as she does every week.  Ol’ Billy will get to thinking on that over his third YuengLing, and it’ll all start again.  Ah, the vicious cycle of poverty.

It’s such a privilege when I can put that Psychology degree to work.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to finish this…

If I ever end up on Death Row, remind me that this ought to be my last meal. It’s that good.

Letting Go

18 Jun

A strange thing has happened to me.  I realized late last night (or extremely early this morning, to be perfectly correct) that for once in my life, I’m not worried about the future of my employment.

The funny thing is, this is probably a time when I should be most worried about the future of my employment.  I’ve got one job with a contract set to expire soon with no definite word on what will happen next, another job where I’m always just one “I forgot to close the safe last night” mistake away from fired, a third that is also time-limited because the kids insist on continuing to grow up, and a fourth that pays almost literally nothing but brings me a lot of happiness.

Basically, I’ve got one job out of five that promises a steady paycheck indefinitely as long as I don’t majorly screw anything up.  Yet I’m not worried.  And no, I’m not on medication, nor should I be.  (Odd how that mental health pendulum swings both ways, isn’t it?)

I wish I could tell you that I had this great epiphany, or that I got a great piece of advice, or I won the lottery, but honestly, I don’t know what changed.  It just finally clicked that maybe it’s not such a big deal after all, and that I’d be a lot better off not worrying about how things will turn out.

I do have an emergency fund in place that will cover two full months’ of expenses if I were to lose all sources of income at once.  It used to have enough to cover three months, but this year has had some unexpected financial situations (human illnesses, pet illnesses, computer illnesses, I-can’t-properly-balance-my-checkbook illnesses, etc).  It will last longer if I only lose one job, and am able to pick up some of the slack with more hours at another job.  It’s a valuable safety net, and I think that it has a lot to do with my new-found piece of mind.

Note- If you don’t have an emergency fund in place, you really need to get on that.  I’ve had one for three years, and have only needed to live off it once.  I emptied the account out just trying to pay all the unexpected bills over three months following a car accident, but simply knowing that the money was there during that time far exceeded the actual balance of the account.  I’m still trying to rebuild the account up to the recommended full six months of expenses, but that’s going to take a while.  For now, it’s enough to know that I wouldn’t drown in bills immediately.

I don’t have any idea what my employment status will be come the beginning of July.  I’m hoping that it all stays the same, but I may have five jobs, I may have three, or I may even have none.  For right now though, worrying about their life expectancies only makes it harder to focus on the tasks at hand.  If I spend too much time worrying, my performance will slip, and then my concern over losing a job will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So I’m focusing on the tasks at hand right now, not the ones in the future.  I’ve got quite a bit of data to organize today, a couple of kids to remember to pick up from summer camp tomorrow, two freelance articles to write by the end of the week, four lessons to plan by the end of the month, and a script or two to edit at some point in the near future.

I’ve also got to find inspiration for Thursday’s Penny Story blog.

Oh, and I have to remember to pack.  I’m going to New Orleans this week.  Hello Vacation Fund?  I’d like to make a withdrawal please.  Gumbo, bookstores and the French Quarter await!

Discarded

15 Jun

A year or so ago (or a few months or a few years, I’m pretty terrible with remembering time frames), there was a bit of an uproar on Twitter.  It seemed someone in a certain Southern US state decided that her local library was stocking books of the sort of which she didn’t approve.  Rather than simply look for books in another part of the library, or even talk to her child about what sort of books they as a family think are appropriate, she decided to make A Big Stinkin’ Deal about it.

I’m not going to get into the censorship debate here, except to say this.  It’s totally fine to have your opinions about what you think are good or appropriate books.  It’s even totally fine to have those opinions influence which books you have in your home or which you encourage your family to read.  When it becomes totally not fine is when you force those opinions on people that you have never met and whose life circumstances you do not understand.  Perhaps that book you are denying someone access to could be the one that finally helps them identify with the world.  Perhaps it’s even the book that could save their lives.

In any case, when this particular woman decided to clean up her local library, she made a Very Important List of which books should be removed.  On the top of the list of books with “questionable content” were several of Maureen Johnson’s books.  Sadly in this case, the library buckled to the woman’s demands and the books on the Very Important List were removed from the shelves.

But it turns out that there is a silver lining to this story.

I recently purchased a lot of books from a company called Better World Books.  If you don’t know this company, you should.  They do awesome things for literacy all over the world, and they give a second life to used books while they’re at it.  Go visit them at www.betterworldbooks.com.

My large box of books arrived today.  Inside was a copy of Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes.  I had purchased it knowing that it had been a former library copy, and I expected that it would have some wear and tear.

What I didn’t expect was to see the name of the library from which it originated, along with several large DISCARD stamps on the inside cover and top edge.

That’s right- this book came from the SAME LIBRARY THAT BANNED IT!

It would seem that while the library did remove the books from the shelves, it didn’t destroy them as the woman had demanded.  At least some of the books were donated to Better World Books.  Now one of those books has found a safe new home on my bookshelf, nestled in between three other Maureen Johnson books.  I can only hope that the other books have found new homes with readers who will love them as well.

Take that censorship.  And hats off to the library for having at least some good come from a terrible situation.

The discard stamp inside the back cover.  Wear it as a badge of honor, dear book.  You’ve survived a battle.

A Most Terrible Fruit-Based Murder

14 Jun Those poor, poor baby carrots.

Those poor, poor baby carrots.

Last night at Art Club, a terrible thing happened.  There was a murder in the kitchen.  The poor innocent baby carrots saw it all.  They will never be the same.  Warning: the following pictures contain graphic depictions of a fruit-related homicide.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the googly eyes make it any easy to see.

Let me back up a bit, and explain how this all started.

For being such a low-pressure social setting, Art Club can do funny things to a person.  It makes one person bring in dragonflies, makes another root through desk drawers to find old art supplies, and makes a third put a poll up on a blog asking/begging for inspiration.  (That last person is me, in case you missed it.)

The winner of yesterday’s poll was “D) Nothing.  You should just hover by the food and put googly eyes on the carrot sticks.”

You people know me so well.

As soon as I arrived at Art Club last night, I was informed that despite the Internet Having Spoken, I would be forced (forced I say!) into making An Art.  No hovering was allowed.  My well-crafted plan to eye-bomb the vegetables and have them stage an off-off-off Broadway musical number at the end of Art Club would not be allowed to proceed (not least because off-off-off Broadway show tunes aren’t allowed at Art Club.  The fascists.)

I dragged my poor injured self (seriously- I partially dislocated my patella on Saturday.  I have a fancy knee brace and everything now) over to a chair and sat down.  I promptly stood back up and started wandering.  I wander a lot, but especially at Art Club.  There are just so many places to get inspiration from.  I grabbed one of the 12” x 16” canvases and snagged two jars of Scrabble letters and typewriter keys.  I sat back down in my chair and stared for a second.  Then I got back up and got a pencil.  Then I sat down again.  Then I got back up and got a ruler.  Then I sat down again.  Then I spent five minutes trying to convince fluffy-white-muppet dog to come over and let me pet him.  Then I gave up and stared at my canvas again.  Surprisingly, after all that effort, the canvas was still blank.

I opened the typewriter key jar and started spreading out the letters.  A line from my blog has been spinning around in my head for a while, and now I can’t actually remember if it even made it into the blog.  In any case, I thought it was a cool quote, even if I did write it, and I wanted to illustrate it.

Yes, I know.  “C) A quotation-based piece, since it turned out so pretty last time” came in last place in the poll, but I can’t help myself.  I like words, and especially the way they can evoke beautiful images through the simple lines of the letters.

Also, I’m really good at drawing trees.  And this particular quote let me draw a nice forest scene again.

But I’m getting off-track.  We were discussing a murder, not my artistic tendencies.

So, before all this chair-sitting and not-chair-sitting stuff happened, the apple bird came into existence.  Carved carefully with a rather large (for the job) knife, the apple bird was painstakingly crafted, crisp slice by crisp slice.  The three of us in the kitchen (definitely NOT hovering over the food, as that wasn’t allowed) just watched in amazement.  Once completed, the apple bird stood in majestic repose upon the cutting board.  We all stared, transfixed by its beauty.

The apple bird: the most majestic of the fruit-based avians.

The artist scooped up her creation and went to show it off to the others.  As soon as she left, a voice was heard to say sadly, “Now that bird is going to have to die a terrible death tonight.”

No one admitted to saying it, but we all heard it.  And we all knew it to be true.

That bird would have to die that very evening.  Beauty can never last.

Fast-forward an hour or two.  I am now sitting in my chair, and have been for some time.  I am sketching a lovely forest scene on my canvas, and everyone else is doing Art Stuff too.

Actually, that part is kinda boring. Fast-forward another hour.

Now I am painting a lovely forest scene.  I am using a sponge (I know, I know, I’m so clever)  to create an authentic worn path/ field of grass/ tree canopy look.  Everyone else is still doing Art Stuff too.

Suddenly, there is a scream from the kitchen, cut short by the sound of a knife hitting a plate with a sickening thwack.  I leapt up from the table, ready to spring into action.  No one seemed to notice, or more likely, were purposefully ignoring the now-muffled weeping emanating from the kitchen.

You guys, the scene in the kitchen was awful.  The baby carrots were sobbing, the baby tomato was poking the apple bird’s severed head with a toothpick, the cookie mobster (code name: Salacious Crumb) was falling apart with laughter, the cucumber was contemplating the life choices that had brought him and his three adopted offspring to the park this evening, and the apple bird died a beautiful yet tragic death.

You know what? The googly-eyes kind of do make it easier to look at, don’t they? Interesting…

After that, it was a bit difficult to finish my An Art.  But I peeled away the bad thoughts and found the seeds of inspiration again.  I dug to the core of my artistic abilities, and pared off my insecurities.  I plucked the fruit of inspiration off the orchard-dwelling tree of…. you know what?  I’m going to stop there.  I’m getting off track again.

Back to the murder scene.

Everyone was trying to figure out who did it.  Was it truly the cookie mobster (code name: Salacious Crumb)?  Was he really so careless as to leave a literal trail of evidence?  Or was it the cucumber in an effort to keep his kids from begging to go to the park during a critical hockey match ever again?  Could it have even been the baby tomato, with his gleeful expression at the apple bird’s demise?

The world may never know.

In any case, I wonder what kind of food will be at the next Art Club?

Oh, and I did finish my An Art.  Wanna see?

Truly, this is An Art. Or rather, truly, those resemble trees. If you squint a bit. And turn your head to the left. And look at it in the right light. See? Told you they were trees.

Quick Question:

13 Jun

If you could all take a quick second and vote, I’d appreciate it.  Then I can show up to Art Club tonight and tell everyone that the Internet Has Spoken.  (Note- no email or anying required for a vote- just point and click.)

Counter-Pressure

11 Jun Not sure if the message here is "be ridiculously happy in everything you do," or "take joy in smacking others around," but in any case- I want to be the ball on the far right.

Not sure if the message here is “be ridiculously happy in everything you do,” or “take joy in smacking others around,” but in any case- I want to be the ball on the far right.

I’m a big fan of Newton’s Third Law of Motion.  It’s the one that states that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.  Newton used it to describe motion and kinetic transfer, but I think he may have missed the broader applications of his law.  Sometimes I feel like it should be called Newton’s Third Law of Life, and I think anyone who has ever felt the universe pushing back on them can agree with that statement.

This month, I finally hit my ideal monthly student loan payment of $1,334.  I was so happy, you guys.  It took me six months and a lot of recalculations to do it, but I had finally hit my goal.  It was the largest single payment I’ve ever made on my loans, and I’m telling you- it felt awesome to click YES on that “are you sure this is the right amount?” prompt the loan website flashes before allowing me to submit a payment.

Two days after that payment posted to my bank account, my computer crashed hard.  I talked about this on Friday, as I tried to write a coherent blog post via my phone.  (It turns out, that’s really hard to do.)  When I finally got my computer back, the total was $85 and a grim warning that my hard drive might be in the beginning stages of systematic failure.

*sigh*

It was all right, though.  I have an external hard drive and I back everything up regularly anyway.  I have an emergency fund, and it had $85 in it to cover the repair.  I am out the  roughly $210 paycheck from Thursday and Friday, but I’ll figure out how that affects the budget next month when the check comes in.

What is not all right is that the next day, another unexpected financial cost came up.  I twisted my knee at work while helping a customer search the bottom rack of Wii games for a copy of Mario Power Tennis (and no, the irony of a knee injury while searching for a tennis game is not lost on me.  Neither are the Skyrim-related jokes, such as “I used to be a video game sales person, but then I took a Wii game to the knee.”  Ha.   Ha.   Ha.)

It’s two days later now, and my knee is still a painful mass of useless flesh.  It’s not swollen, but it hurts every time I move it, hurts even more every time I move it in any direction except for straight ahead, and my ankle and foot are in a constant pins-and-needles state.  This makes me think I’ve got a pinched nerve in my knee.

That kind of injury isn’t cheap, people.  I’ve got an appointment with a orthopedist tomorrow, which means specialist rates, and I’m not entirely sure this doc is in my insurance network.  (There’s so much wrong with the US health insurance system, but that’s another post.)  Besides the cost of the doctor, I’m not sure what it will mean for my ability to work.  Two of my jobs allow me to sit at a desk or on a couch, but the other three require a fair amount of physical activity.  I’m already down $210, which is just shy of 10% of my monthly budget.  Missing more days of work means losing a bigger cut.

But there is good news.  As a Newton’s Cradle (i.e.- the thing in the picture above) will demonstrate, the equal action-reaction concept swings both ways (pun totally intended, by the way.)  Just as the universe seems to be pushing against me right now, I can push back.  I’ve got two freelance writing tasks on my plate right now, and I have the rest of the week to try to make up some hours at the consulting job.  Since I’m plainly not going frolicking through the flowers anytime soon, I should have plenty of time to spend typing away at the keyboard in the next few days.

Provided my hard drive doesn’t fail again.

Please, hard drive, don’t fail me now.

The Value Of A Day*

8 Jun

My computer died yesterday (you may have noticed there was no post yesterday.  The two things are not unrelated).

Here’s what happens when my computer breaks down:

1) I stare at it blankly.

2) I cross my fingers/ wish I was a wizard and that yelling “reparo” would actually work.

3) I press and hold the power button.

4) I wait anxiously for the restart, praying it works.

At this point, one of two things happens.

5a) Everything works fine, and I feverishly back-up the hard drive before the computer breaks again.

or

5b) I slump in my chair, defeated once again by a machine.

5b happened this time.

I hate it when 5b happens.

Monday through Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm, I work as a data consultant.  This means I pull data off one website, download more data from another website, and combine all of it into a single document.  It sounds straightforward, but when you’re dealing with two websites and a lot of people with their hands on the data, a lot can go wrong pretty fast.  Overall, it’s interesting work, if sometimes a bit tedious.  The biggest benefit is that I can work from home (ie- pajama pants and fuzzy slippers are totally acceptable).

It’s also an hourly position. As in, I get paid for the hours I work. As in, I don’t get paid for the hours I don’t work.

My computer is dead.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s 1 pm on Friday, and I still haven’t heard from the computer repair shop.  It looks like I’ll be missing another day of work.  I thought I would take the time to explain why missing a day or two of work can be so bad for me.

There’s the obvious financial factor: I miss out on the money.  This is my best-paying job with the most hours, so it makes up the majority of my income.  That means that when I miss hours here, it’s a much bigger impact on my income than at any other job.

Then there’s the work-flow factor.  I’ve been compiling these reports for a year now and I know the process very well- which parts are tricky, which words need to be changed, how to address a website that is being weird, where to find missing data, etc.  When I can’t work, the reports either have to wait, or they get compiled by someone who may not know all the little tricks and solutions.  It slows down the process, and it’s unfair to my coworkers to have to pick up my work on top of their own duties.

But mostly there’s the useless factor.  I spend a lot of time on my computer.  As in, at least 8 hours a day.  I work, I write, I creep through Facebook and Twitter, I read, I watch, I play, I organize, I plan, you get the idea.  When the computer goes down, it not only takes my ability to work the consulting job, it takes my ability to work two other paying jobs, my freelance writing tasks, and my main source of entertainment.  (It also throws off my carefully constructed daily routine, but you all have heard enough about my OCD).

I went to bed last night feeling like the day was wasted.  I didn’t work, and I didn’t do anything I enjoyed.  After dropping my computer off at the repair shop yesterday, I came home and tried to take advantage of the unexpected vacation.  I finished the last few chapters of three books (I don’t usually read multiple books at the same time, but this time the library due dates caught up to me), I returned those books to the library, and I got a new book.  While I love to read, doing so in the middle of the day just felt wrong, and I couldn’t relax into the stories I was reading.  I kept waiting for the repair shop to call, telling me that I could have my computer back.  The call never came, and I never found a new rhythm to the day.  Frustrated, I gave up on the attempt and went to bed early.

So today I’m going to find a way to enjoy this unintentional time off.  I’m going to play a video game, or chase the dog around with my Sphero robotic ball, or teach the rabbit a new trick, or even start reading that new book.  Maybe I’ll go crazy and paint my toenails.  Maybe I’ll go really crazy and paint the dog’s toenails.  Who knows?  Maybe the computer repair shop will call and I’ll get my computer back.

Until then, let me know some ways that you enjoy unexpected time off?  Do you read?  Catch up on a favorite show?  Torment a beloved pet?  Or does it, like me, just totally throw off the rhythm of the day and leave you feeling slightly resentful towards the universe?  Leave me a comment and let me know.  I’ll talk to you all on Monday (provided I have a working computer by then).

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*posted via smartphone after an extremely frustrating hour and a half.

Free Things To Do That Only Require Two Other Things

4 Jun

I don’t mind spending money.  Really, I don’t.  It just seems that way sometimes because I so rarely have extra money to spend.  If it didn’t get included in the month’s budget, chances are it’s not going to get purchased.  If it’s important enough, it will get included in next month’s budget.  If it’s an emergency, it can come out of the emergency fund. Otherwise, it will just have to wait (like Harry Potter World.  That place has been waiting for me for a long time.)

All that waiting for things has meant that I’ve become very good at finding free ways to entertain myself.  My favorite free things are the uncomplicated free things (rather than the things that require you to collect 15 empty soda cans, 3 Hawaii quarters from the same mint, 2 Mexican pesos, 1 large tupperware stolen from a grandparent, and the ability to be one of the first 50 people in line at an obscure venue at 8:52 am on the dot in order to be free.)

So, I have decided to make a list:  My Favorite Free Things To Do That Only Require Two Other Things.  (yes, I know- that’s a great title.)

1. Write a book.  Yes, believe it or not, writing is a free activity.  This is a secret that has been jealously guarded by generations of authors, but I’m revealing it to you now.  Writing a book, a poem, a short story, or even your name is totally and completely free.  In fact, most of the time you won’t even have to worry about unnecessary money coming back to you from writing things.  Isn’t that great?

Items needed: 1) a computer/notebook/piece of paper/Starbucks napkin, 2) at least one hand/pen/a copy of that fancy “speech to type” software.

2. Read a book.  Just like it doesn’t cost anything to write a book, it does not have to cost anything to read one either.  Most cities have places where you can take books off the shelves, take them home for a time, and not have to exchange your money/collateral/lifeblood for the privilege.  The best part is, the more you frequent these places, the more books they will be able to offer you.  No, wait, the real best part is that they have computers there.  You can write a book while you read a book!  (Just don’t write the same book that you are reading.  That activity is frowned upon in the author world, and could end up costing you a lot of money later on.)

Items needed: 1) a library card (which is free!), 2) a strong back to carry all those books home with you.

3. Look for relics from Narnia/Middle Earth/Hogwarts/Panem.  This one is easier than it sounds.  There’s a worldwide game called Geocaching, where you find hidden items using only coordinates provided by the hider.  You look up the coordinates, find the cache, and sign the logbook.  Some of the bigger caches let you swap out items like coins, small toys, pictures, etc.  There are caches hidden all over the world, and chances are there are at least a few in your area.  This is also a great family activity, as small children are useful for reaching some caches.

Items needed: 1) an internet connection (bonus- you can get this at the library), 2) a map/GPS (also sometimes available at the library.)

4. Explore Narnia/Middle Earth/Hogwarts/Panem.  This one is also easier than it sounds.  Only about half the states in the US have national parks, but all but one have some form of open-to-the-public area overseen by the National Park Service (Sorry Delaware). These places are free to walk around, climb over, wade through, and imagine in for everyone.  As a bonus, there are private groups that sponsor similar places, such as the Southern Conservation Trust that oversees two such areas in my town.  As a bonus bonus, there are often geocaches in these areas.  As a bonus bonus bonus, you can bring a notebook and pen and write a book in these areas.

Items needed: 1) transportation to the park entrance (extra points if you find this for free), 2) a strong pair of shoes.

5. Watch the rain fall.  There is nothing quite like a rainstorm, especially the gentle ones we get here in Georgia in the summer.  There’s something so calming about the rain.  The light is softened, the noises are dampened, things are washed clean, and it provides the perfect backing for the “it’s raining and the internet is out. I guess I’ll have to read a book instead” excuse.  Even in the middle of summer, a rainstorm is the perfect excuse to curl up under a blanket with a book or for a nap.  Note- this activity is best accomplished indoors, but it is allowable outdoors if a) you are under the age of 12 (or at least you are in your mind) and b) you leave out the book-reading part.

Items needed: 1) a window (this is technically optional, but it adds to the ambiance), 2) a blanket/pair of boots (depending on whether you are indoors or out.)

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There you have it.  A list of free things to do that only require two other things.  Feel free to mix and match as you see fit. It’s raining right now, so my plans for today include spending a significant amount of time doing Activities 2 and 5. See you all on Thursday.

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