Archive | December, 2013

Update On “7 Books Til Christmas”

29 Dec

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I was going to read 7 books before Christmas (click that link to read the post.)

I got through 5. Or, 5 1/2 if you count my current effort to slough my way through a science-fiction anthology. Don’t get me wrong- there are some decent stories in there, but most seem to be written in the I-write-novels-so-I’m-gonna-drop-you-right-in-the-middle-of-the-action-and-offer-no-real-ending style that drives me crazy. I mean, it’s a short story, not a novel excerpt. For the love of scribbling, give me a cohesive plot & a definitive ending! (Ok, end rant. Except to say my short story totally has both. You’re welcome.)

So instead of getting my To Be Read bookcase down to 18 books, I was only about to get it down to 19 (& 1/2). That wasn’t too bad for a week’s effort, and it did result in the bookcase being the barest it’s been in almost a year. I was feeling OK about it. Hopeful even, that one day I would get it down to single digits.

Then Christmas came.

It started with one innocent book- a collection of Doctor Who stories that is only available in the UK. My brother ordered it off Amazon UK for me. (Fun fact- Amazon Prime works for shipments from other countries. Once American Doctor Who fans find this out, Amazon is going to be hemorrhaging on international shipping costs.)

One book was fine. I could put it on the shelf and still be at 20 books to be read. A nice round number, and still below where I had started the previous week.

Then came the gift cards. To Books-A-Million AND Barnes & Noble.

At that point, it was all over but the buying. Two nights of frenzied shelf perusal ensued, including an awesomely awkward stand-off that I won against a couple of teens who seemed to think the manga section was a good place to make out because, “only nerds go here,” but that’s a different blog post. The point is that I bought 11 new books over the last two days, bringing my To Be Read bookcase back up to 30 (& 1/2) books.

I suppose this means you can expect my New Year’s Resolution to be to drop 25 pounds.

Of books.

At least I won’t need a gym membership.

On Buying The Couch

27 Dec

I bought a couch today. This is blog-worthy as it’s the first piece of furniture I’ve purchased on my own, and also because couch-buying turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected.

I’ve been in the market for a new couch for about six months now. The old one is still functional (doubly so in fact, as it’s a sleeper sofa), but it’s second hand and has seen more than it’s fair share of bodies, both human and animal. It’s also small, and the only couch I own. It was time to go for something newer, bigger, and just generally more conducive to having more than one friend over at a time.

Cue the planning stage. There was the financial planning, which was easy enough. I added a line item on my budget to save a little bit each month. A bonus from work helped greatly in this area. I was aiming for the $500 range, which my research said would allow me to get a nice non-leather (because of rabbits. Or actually, because of just one rabbit who loves to chew leather) sofa that could accommodate 2-3 of my friends, depending on how much we liked each other at the time.

There was also the spacial planning. Anyone who has heard me tell the story of the time I slammed my thumb in a drawer in front of the district manager knows that I have issues in this area. (Read The Bureaucracy Strikes Back if you want to hear that story, and also find out why I’m not allowed to fill out accident reports anymore.) I can visualize what I want a room to look like, but furniture always seems to grow or shrink in size in my imagination, resulting in rooms that don’t work nearly as well in reality.

My plan was to move the old couch into the office to turn it into a guest room/library. In my head, the furniture already in there could easily move to allow for the 73-inch wide couch.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

Not only would the couch not fit, I had forgotten that the chosen wall for said couch turns about 20 degrees halfway along it. The couch also wouldn’t fit along the opposite wall, which is split by a 4-inch recess. This left me with one wall, which would have been fine, except for the sleeper sofa part. The couch couldn’t sit in the corner and still be extended into a bed, due to the aforementioned wall angle, but offsetting the couch meant the desk would not longer fit in the opposite corner. On top of all of this, three side tables and a bookcase needed to be removed from the office altogether.

Like I said, I have definite spacial processing issues.

After several hours of organizing and staring blankly at walls which refused to move to suit my whims, I managed to clear off the one bookcase and all three side tables. Even more amazing, all that stuff fit nicely onto the other two bookcases left in the room.

Once I got the couch into place, I realized that I could reduce the amount of space in the room blocked off from the rabbit (who likes chewing cables almost as much as leather) and allow her access to the rest of the room.

Cue one very confused rabbit, who nonetheless has already claimed the spot under the table as her own.


With the rearranging done, it was time to literally fill the space with something new. I called my mom and invited her on a shopping trip. She agreed, probably because she didn’t really know what she was getting into with me, and off we went.

The first store was a bust. None of the couches had the proper squishy-cushion-to-price ratio, and there was another couch-tester in the store. It’s hard to properly determine a sofa’s cushiness when there’s someone over your shoulder waiting their turn to have a seat.

The second and third stores were also busts, and I mean that somewhat literally, as both were closing. One store was moving to another location and had 4 ovens and 3 increasingly sad looking mismatched recliners left. The other looked to have a promising couch, but had closed forever a few days before. That took care of the discount stores in town. It was off to the retail chains for us.

After lunch, of course. That wasn’t part of the original plan, but to grossly paraphrase Ghostbusters: when your mother asks you if you’d like to go to lunch, you say yes.

We next found ourselves at a big-name furniture store, mainly because it was across the street from the cafe. And there, tucked into the back left corner of the showroom, I found it. The couch with the perfect squishy-cushion-to-price ratio, in the right color, and in the right size. It was comfy, it was large, it matched my existing decor, and it was under my $500 budget. By $1, but hey, under is under.

Cue the salesman working on commission. After informing me that there was no flex room in the price, he gave me a delivery charge estimate. I’d forgotten to factor delivery into my budget, so there was a bit of an awkward pause while I mentally recalculated my available funds. Seeing my hesitation, the salesman launched into his “interest-free financing until 2015” spiel. This led to my spiel about why I don’t finance anything (short version- so I can’t lose anything if the bottom falls out of my employment), and a slightly more awkward walk to the register for all of us.

Over the course of checking out, the salesman and I repeated ourselves a few more times, as he tried to sell me on various extras and I insisted that a stain treatment, no matter how cool, would not make an extra $70 appear in my bank account. Throughout it all, my mom sat on an oddly-stitched leather sofa and watched. I arranged for delivery, completed the transaction, and got a high-five from mom for being only $4.53 over budget.

As we left the store, I thanked my mom for coming with me. She responded with, “I feel like I didn’t really do anything. You were making all really good choices.”

You guys, receiving that validation was better than finding the perfect couch within my budget.

Also, the couch will be here on Thursday.

‘Twas The Retail Night Before Christmas

22 Dec


(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the store,
All the creatures were stirring, searching for one present more.
The staff stockings were hung in the breakroom with care,
Stuffed with candy & such sugar-rush-inducing fare;
The staff were nestled in their nice collared shirts,
Dreaming of being home with family, eating desserts;
And the manager in his name tag, and I in my shoes,
Were bemoaning our luck & singing the “working Christmas Eve” blues.

When up at the front there arose such a clatter,
We all sprang from the cashwrap to see what was the matter.
Away to the display case we flew like a flash,
Armed with the alarm code: alphanumeric, with a dash.
The florescent on the breast of the new-broken glass,
Gave a lustre of lawsuits to all who would pass,
And what to our wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature boy, his face frozen in fear.

With the locking mechanism still clutched in his hand,
We knew in a moment that this boy had been left unmanned.
More rapid than eagles we shifted the blame,
And demanded and pleaded to find out his name:
“Are you Henry or Alex or Joseph or Chris?
Maxwell or Allen or Ezra or Fritz?”
Try as we might, the boy gave us no reply,
He just held his breath, still ready to cry;
So out to the main mall a junior staff member flew,
To find the boy’s parents before he turned blue.
And then, in a twinkling, we heard our coworker shout,
“Hey you in the suit, can you come help us out?”

My manager’s face showed relief, the boy’s father had been found,
When in between the anti-theft barriers, St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his feet,
And he looked bone tired, from hours on the hot seat.
A new video game system was clutched in his hand and he thus
Looked a bit shamed he hadn’t bought it from us.
His eyes caught sight of the still petrified kid,
And he signaled to us with a wink of his eyelid.

He knelt on the floor, right amidst all the rubble,
And he said in a kind voice, “what seems to be the trouble?”
The boy started to sob, it was really quite sad,
And he cried aloud, “Santa, I’ve really been bad.”
St. Nick’s face softened, his eyes held a bright spark,
And he said to the boy, “that’s true, my dear Mark.
You’ve been naughty indeed, and for most of the year,
But I’ll tell you this now, you have nothing to fear.’
With a wink of his eye and an offer of his hand,
Santa made it clear to the boy that he had this all planned;
He spoke no more words, but they went straight to their work,
And tidied the display better than any sales clerk.

And then laying his finger aside of his face,
Santa smiled at us all and departed the place.
It was only afterwards that a customer inquired,
“Didn’t the mall say no Santa had been hired?”
They were right- the mall employed neither Santa nor elf,
Was is possible we’d just encountered the real legend himself?
As we looked at each other with mixed wonder and appall,
We heard a jolly, “Happy Christmas to all, especially those at the mall!””

7 Books Til Christmas

12 Dec

Ah, Christmas time. The month of the year when it is not only acceptable but encouraged to eat as much delicious junk food as possible. This tradition used to bring me a lot of joy. Now, as a gluten-free person, it brings me a lot of terror. Homemade Christmas cookies are a minefield of potential allergens, while the non-gluten-free assure me that, “it’s ok to cheat a little. It’s the Holidays, after all.”

My only salvation is the advent calendar, especially the cheap ones they sell at department stores for a few bucks. Made with some obscure chocolate brand from a land where they’ve never heard of wheat, barley, or rye, these slim cardboard boxes come embossed with my favorite design in the world- a gold circle with the letters GF inside. Certified Gluten-Free. It takes a lot of self-control to limit myself to a socially acceptable number of calendars for one person (it’s still 5, right?) when the fear of reaction has been removed.

This year, I have no advent calendar of chocolate. Instead, my advent calendar is decidedly less edible (at least in a conventional sense). This year, my advent calendar is made of books.

As most of you may know, I have a very bad habit of buying more books than I can read, leaving me with an ever-growing To Be Read pile. As some of you may know, this has expanded from a pile to an entire bookcase. The population usually hovers around 36, with new books being added as soon as one or two disappear. Right now, it is at a record low of 25 books. With the coming of Christmas, the shelf is only guaranteed to grow more.

So, I’ve decided enough is enough. The Tsundoku (a wonderful word meaning the act of buying a book and leaving it unread) bookcase must be vanquished, or at least partially vanquished. There are nine cubbies on the shelf. 5 of them currently hold books. My goal is to get it down to 3 cubbies by Christmas, for a total of 18 books or less left on the shelf. This means reading 7 books in 13 days.

Side note- this is a decidedly more fun goal than paying off student loans. Why didn’t I buy 60,000 books instead of going to grad school? I’d very happily spend ten years paying off that debt.

The list of books to be read by Christmas is below. You can also follow my progress on GoodReads, which is a great site for readers if you’re not familiar with it. My username is Kaedance. Look for the “Advent Calendar” shelf. Then feel free to look at the “to-read” shelf and laugh at my inability to stop buying books.

To Be Read By Christmas:

Alice In The Country Of Hearts, Volume 1 by QuinRose & Soumei Hoshino
The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand
Vacations From Hell by Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Claudia Gray, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Mlynowski
Pet Robots by Scott Christian Sava, Diego Jourdan, and Villagran Studios
Peter & Max by Bill Willingham
Megatokyo Volume 1 by Fred Gallagher & Rodney Caston
Eclipse One, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Three of these are novels, three are graphic novels, and one is a collection of short stories. All of them have been on my shelf for more than 6 months, and some of them have been there for over 18 months. Hopefully, they’ll all soon be promoted to one of the “read” bookcases.

With that, I’m off to read. I mean, I’m off to work. And then read. No reading books at work. I’ve never tested it, but I feel it’s probably discouraged in favor of reading spreadsheets and reports.

Gotta make money so I can buy more books.

Starting Over

4 Dec

Well, it finally happened.  They found me.

The graduate student loan company.

My Income-Based Repayment plan for my Master’s degree came due in November.  This meant I had to drag out my 2012 tax information and reapply. (Boy are there some bad memories associated with that pile of paperwork. The HR company that handles my paychecks made a clerical error that led to a $4,000 tax bill.  I’m still not over this.  I actually Googled how much a kidney sells for these days.)

The good news is that I made more in 2012 than I did in 2011.  The bad news is that the loan company took that as a sign that I could start sending them money. $158 each month, to be exact.

So, after a year off of student loan payments, I’m back on the treadmill of never-ending interest.  My current loan balance is $73,296.75.  My initial loan amount was for $60,000.  We’re not here to get into the bad financial decisions that led to that initial amount, but yeah.  2009 wasn’t my best financial year.

Fun fact- students pursuing a degree in a medical field are allowed to borrow over the legal student loan limit.  Funner fact- students can override the legal student loan limit with one click on an online survey. One click. By a 22 year old kid. Suddenly the student loan crisis makes a lot more sense, huh?

Anyway, my goal is to pay off these loans by the end of 2020. (My current balance is 6 times higher than my undergrad balance, therefore I get 6 extra years.) There’s also a failsafe built into this plan- since my loans were issued after 2007, any remaining balance can be forgiven after 120 consecutive minimum payments. If I don’t make it by 2020, at least I know the loans will be gone by 2024.

Rather than go all out like I did in 2011, I’ve decided to set yearly goals. After all, this repayment is going to be a marathon, not a 12-month sprint. So, for my goal for 2014 will be to get the balance under $68,000.  For those that hate math, that means a monthly payment of $458 per month, for a total of $5,493.87 to be paid by the end of 2014.

You guys ready to dive back into the agnst-inducing world of student loan monthly payments?  The posts will be just as weird as 2011, and on a more regular schedule than 2012.  Beyond that, I make no promises.

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