Home > Archive: January, 2016

Archive for January, 2016

Gratitude photos #30-31

February 1st, 2016 at 03:47 am

Both food pics; not much else went on this weekend. (Which was kind of nice, because it meant I got a lot of editing time on my NaNoWriMo.)

Saturday I was grateful for ... (veganized) tater tot hot dish! I never heard of this casserole before I moved to MN, and I was already vegan. So I've never had the real deal, but I love my vegan version.

Tonight I was grateful for SavingAdvice, and all the support and additional info we share. I veganized a chicken paprikash dish posted by PJMama, and it was awesome! Again, I've never had the real thing, but I loved how this tasted.

January 2016 net worth update

February 1st, 2016 at 03:22 am

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($27,368)
#2: 20,501 pounds ($32,801)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $38,321
NT's Roth IRA: $9,264
AS's trad. IRA: $13,981
AS's Roth IRA: $24,025
AS's SEP IRA: $7,162
CJ's 401(k): $77,738
CJ's Roth IRA: $12,068
NT's flat: 180,000 pounds ($288,000)
CJ/NT/AS house: $440,000
Total Assets: $977,851

Total Debt: $481,787

Current Estimated Net Worth: $496,064

December 2015 estimate: $503,350

Change in net worth: +$7,286

Summary: Aaaand, just like that, our net worth dips back below half a million. Sigh. Seems like we'll never get to a point where we stay at that level.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are approximate. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update (unless I happen to get some info by chance). UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $1.60 for every British pound.

My first full month of Mint tracking

January 31st, 2016 at 05:14 pm

What a weird month to start with!

According to Mint, we made $11,388 of income, including rental money from the UK flat and the US duplex. The total is distorted by the fact that I cashed out AA's CD and reinvested the money in her mutual fund. It also includes some work reimbursements and a couple of refunds. But it was a lean month for AS in terms of receiving freelance checks (even though she booked a ton of work).

Our spending for the month, per the tool, was $20,564! A crazy number, but it includes:
$1129 of AA's CD, deposited into Pax
$5284 for our UK plane tickets (which we saved up for and are paying off the CC for next week)
$2960 of retirement contributions (including quarterly SEP contribution for AS's freelance business)
$2300 in estimated tax payments for AS's freelance work
Total of the above: $11,673

So when you take out all of those unusual transactions, our spending was $8891. Still a lot, but at least less than we brought in.

I take the no-spend days with a grain of salt, since transactions don't always post the day I make them. (For instance, I bought the plane tickets and made several of the retirement contributions Dec. 31, but they're showing up in January). But it says we had two no-spend days, Jan 10 & 16.

The highest-spend day was Jan 5, at $9617 (wow!). That included the airfare, our US mortgage, and a Roth contribution. Other than that, it was $30 on shopping and $33 on groceries that day.

I think Mint values the duplex much higher than I do, and also counts the money in checking (which I dont' because it's allocated for bills) and savings (which is set aside for taxes so I don't count it), because it has our net worth at $590,489. I'll do our net worth shortly, but last month I had it just a bit over $500K.

So, it's a very interesting tool! It'll be good for getting an idea of how much we spend in different categories, even though I won't use it to manage my budget day-to-day. I like how it's mostly automatic (I just need to go in occasionally and make sure purchases are correctly categorized).

Gratitude photo #29

January 30th, 2016 at 02:27 am

Day 29: Grateful for quality time doing puzzles with my little one, SL, before dinner. Nice way to start the weekend.

Gratitude photos #26-28

January 29th, 2016 at 03:29 pm

I was thinking about ending my gratitude photos at the end of January since it seems to have petered out, but then NT latched onto the idea and started posting his own on Facebook. So I may continue a bit longer; we'll see.

Day 26: I went to a politician's rally for the first time since, oh, about 1999. I'm very skeptical he can win, but I'm grateful for a presidential candidate whose heart and lifelong record are in the right place! (He's the tiny dot behind the podium in the distance on the far left. Big Grin)

Day 27: I didn't take any photos, but AA had a new story (with props!) she'd learned at school, so I took

Text is a video of it and Link is
a video of it to share with faraway family.

Day 28: I had about an hour of downtime at work, so I used it to finalize our menu and grocery list for the week. I'm so glad we came up with this shared Google spreadsheet, because it enables us to keep everything in one place and edit from anywhere. We categorize by what store has the best deals on what and add price estimates so we can make sure we're close to our budget. We can even access our grocery list on our phones at the store if we forget to bring the printout!

Finding a way to finance our front-loaded expenses

January 26th, 2016 at 05:41 pm

As I alluded to in past posts, most of our big-ticket wants and needs this year all need to be paid for in the first six months. Last night I figured out how we might actually be able to do that.

It started when I called the AC people to see if we could do the installation in pieces, and whether that would cost the same in the end as getting all 4 zones installed at once. The lady I talked to said she'd try to negotiate a 15% discount for us if we agreed to get all 4 done at once. That would be a $2K savings off that price!

So I told her I'd consider it, but that we weren't interested in a payment plan so would need at least until May to get the money saved up for it. She's supposed to call today to confirm whether the discount was approved.

Meanwhile, I sat down with our budget projections to see how feasible it would be to get the AC done in May, plus fund our June and July trips, plus pay for NT's shoulder, plus finish the basement bathroom and allot $100 each for our five March birthday celebrations.

This is what I came up with:

2 AC zones would cost $8,400, so 4 zones at $12,000 (the proposed discounted price) is a good deal. Basically, 2 zones would be $4200 each, but 4 zones would be $3000 each.

The needs and wants that would need to be paid for in the first half of the year total about $21,000 (if we count 4-zone AC):
NT's shoulder $3,435
Barcelona airfare ($600) and hotel ($1000) $1,600
College reunion airfare, lodging, spending $1,500
College donation $500
Basement bathroom $1,300
Birthday parties ($100 each) $500
AC $12,013

Last year, AS netted about $40K over the course of the year, so there’s a chance she could net $20K in these first six months.

If I defer 5 Roth contributions (Feb-June) and double up contributions in July-Nov instead, that frees up $6875 in the first 6 months.

Our estimated budget surplus Feb-June is $3975.

That means we potentially would have just under $31K to cover all these expenses (plus whatever else comes up—I can think of a few minor things such as tax prep, kids' dance/swim classes and Valentine’s Day dinner). We might encounter more expenses, but we might also get more windfalls—I haven’t factored in the credit card bonuses for our recent offers, for example.

When I spoke to the AC lady yesterday, it sounded like we could aim for May without making a strict commitment. So if our budget went awry, we could cancel AC installation, or go for just 1 or 2 zones. I would for sure confirm with her that we’d have no obligation if we needed to back out.

Looking at all of that, it seems safe to at least say we’re going to try for the 4-zone AC, and see how the next 5 months pan out.

Gratitude photo #25

January 26th, 2016 at 02:51 am

See that?

That gray, gloomy sky may not look like much, but even overcast, it's so much lighter than just a few weeks ago. Hooray for days getting longer!

Gratitude photo #24

January 25th, 2016 at 03:05 am

Day 24: Lasagna! AS mostly does baking and dessert-type cooking, but she has a few dinner specialties, and this is one of them. I get a vegan version with a nutritional-yeast sauce that I make. Yum.

Gratitude photo #23

January 24th, 2016 at 06:11 pm

It's hard to cook with even one of the kids, let alone both of them, but they love it. So I was grateful that NT got the idea to make blueberry muffins with the kids yesterday, and actually managed to keep them focused the whole time! Oh, and we had the muffins this morning -- delicious.

Gratitude photos #21-22

January 23rd, 2016 at 12:54 am

Yesterday I was wishy-washy about what I would photograph, and it got pretty late. I was watching "Murder, She Wrote" with AS, and I realized I'm grateful for our ritual of putting on detective shows (which we've seen countless times) late at night until we get sleepy. I don't know why I find them so soothing but I do. I even had "Columbo" on near-constant loop in the hospital when I was in labor and recovering from giving birth!

Today, I'm grateful for the concept of capsule wardrobes. I realized that as I was photographing a few new items that I'm swapping for some of my fall items. It really has changed my outlook on clothing and increased my confidence!

Gratitude photos #20

January 21st, 2016 at 04:44 pm

I forgot to take any pictures yesterday, but I remember two specific instances of gratitude, so I'll bend my rules a bit...

First, reading LivingAlmostLarge's post about being rear-ended reminded me of the serious car accident I had soon after college. Although it was a traumatic event, it makes me feel grateful A: to be alive all these years later (nearly 20 now!), and B: for the different path my life took after it. If I hadn't had to move back to my parents' home to recover, I might never have met AS, moved to Minneapolis, or met the friends who eventually introduced us to NT. These are some photos my dad took at the accident scene for insurance purposes. Still unbelievable for me to look at them and know that I survived! (It does look worse than the actual wreck damage because they had to take the roof off and use the jaws of life to get me out of there.)

The other thing I felt grateful for: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the fact that history regards him as a hero (meaning he changed hearts and minds, because there were many many people who just thought he was a troublemaker or worse at the time). AA came home from school asking to learn more about "that man that got shot who brought black people and white people together." So we watched a few things on YouTube, and discussed his life and impact, and related it to the struggles we're having now in America and how we're helping continue Dr. King's work. I'm so glad she has this connection, and that it's something they teach at schools.

Various financial things, starting up credit card churn again

January 20th, 2016 at 05:31 pm

As I mentioned in a recent post, we seem to have many things competing for our money this year. So a few weeks ago, NT, AS and I sat down and made a list of rough estimates of everything, as well as rough estimates of our budget surplus. Not surprisingly, our wants/needs list was several thousand more than we expect to come in this year.

So we made some compromises and downgraded some ideas, and got it to work out. For retirement, I gave up trying to max out the 2015 Roths and getting NT to 10% on his 401(k), but I kept my commitment to max out the 2016 Roths, and upped my 401(k) percentage to 9.5% (as close to 10% as I could get without going over).

We found out that NT's medical bills are nearly $3700, so we thought maybe AS could get her tooth replaced next year, or start the process this year and finish up next year, to split the cost over two years.

We got an estimate for AC and because we don't have any ducts, we'll need a ductless system. It was much more than we anticipated--over $14K if we do the whole home. We'd been thinking we'd redo one of the bathrooms and had estimated $15K for that, so we decided to just do some smaller improvements to that and focus on the AC. NT and AS already repainted the discolored old clawfoot tub in the main floor bathroom, and that makes a huge difference. There are a few other cheaper things we can do to make that bathroom more pleasant until we can afford to redo it completely.

I hadn't really thought about credit card bonus offers because NT and I had been turned down for a couple back when we were in the aftermath of home buying and refinancing. But AS showed me two offers in the mail (one for me and one for her) for a Capital One "spend $500, get $100 cash back" offer. It made me think we should really see if we can start getting approved for CCs again and do the churn thing to help offset some of these bigger expenses.

So I applied for those two cards and was instantly approved. I went to and saw Chase Sapphire was still a top offer, so I applied for one for NT and was instantly approved. It's a "spend $4K and have an authorized user make one purchase, get 55,000 points" offer. We can charge NT's medical bills plus a couple more things and easily make this one. We'll either get $550 cash or even more in travel rewards--AS suggested we could use it to purchase the airfare for my college reunion in June.

Then I saw that Chase Freedom had a "spend $500 and have an authorized user make one purchase, get $175" offer. I went ahead and applied AS for that since I don't know if she's done a Chase Freedom before. I only got a "we need more time to review" message on that one, so not sure if she'll be approved for it. If not, I can try NT or myself on it, or move on to other offers.

The main problem I'm seeing with our list of things we want/need to do with our surplus this year is that most of the expenses are coming up in the first half of the year. So we'll have enough money to pay for them by the end of the year, but will need to make the purchases before that. I'm hoping we'll have more money coming in than anticipated, but if not, I may have to find ways to "float" the purchases until we have the cash flow for them. Since we usually have several thousand in checking thanks to being ahead on bills and saving up for AS's quarterly estimated tax payments, it maybe be doable, but I'll need to plan it carefully.

Expenses coming up in the first half of the year:
NT's medical bills $3673
NYC airfare $750? plus lodging (could stay on campus for cheaper if necessary), reunion fee and donation to college
Barcelona airfare $600 or so
AC $14,500 if we decide to do the whole home

Most of the other stuff on the list can wait until later in the year, but these are most of the bigger-ticket items, so it's going to be tough!

Gratitude photos #14-#19

January 20th, 2016 at 04:30 am

I was visiting my parents in Va. Thursday through Monday with no access to a computer, but I did take photos for every day. Smile

Day 14: Technology while traveling with kids. Yes, it's the slightly lazy way out, but it's a godsend! It kept them sane on a long trip that lasted well after midnight.

Day 15: My 84-year-old dad, having some fun with my kids. Smile They don't see my parents very often and are normally very shy with them, but this trip was better, possibly because they'd just seen them back in October. So I was grateful for this casual moment that signified a closer bond between my dad and my kids.

Day 16: Nature art by AA. We visited the playground by my old elementary school and soon became wrapped up in collecting sticks and rocks. AA loves to arrange things and make art, so this was the natural next step. Grateful for my imaginative creative kids.

Day 17: Quality time with AS's mom, who also lives in Va. pretty close to my parents. Very grateful that all our parents are accepting of our unusual relationship and happy to call both kids their grandchildren, whether biological or not.

Day 18: Grateful for my mom, and any time I have with her, since I know someday she won't be with us anymore. She's crazy about kids, especially grandkids (mine are #12 and #13 and the only ones still minors), so it was nice to see her get to hang out with them a bit, even if she can't do much other than sit around on the couch.

Day 19: AA's suddenly neat handwriting! Pretty good for a 5-year-old, huh? (She did need help spelling these words.) I love having smart kids. (SL is super smart too, so I'm sure you'll see some of her handiwork throughout the year too.)

Whew! All caught up on gratitude. Big Grin

Gratitude photo #13

January 14th, 2016 at 03:57 am

Ah, wine.

Red or white (or rose, or sparkling), wine is one of my favorite beverages. I used to prefer harder stuff, but it's too strong for everyday use now that my tolerance is low and my responsibilities many. Smile

So wine is one of my favorite treats when I want to relax. Like tonight, when I have a million and one things to do before my trip to see my mom (and my dad and nieces and nephews and AS's mom). We leave tomorrow (I head straight from an offsite meeting to get a bus to daycare and take a Lyft from there to the airport; we have a layover and won't get to Va. until around midnight).

Oh, and did I mention my family doesn't drink? So yeah, I'm really grateful for wine tonight. Smile

Gratitude photo #12

January 13th, 2016 at 04:35 am

My kiddos will each get their own gratitude pic someday, probably several. But today I was especially grateful for a peaceful moment they shared.

They're 3 and 5, and for well over a year they've been at a point where they're inseparable, but at each other's throats almost constantly. Getting them to play apart is nearly impossible but so is getting them to play without yelling and/or crying.

Today they bucked both trends. First they relaxed together (as pictured) watching a show, then they played together re-enacting a scene from the show, with AA being very patient and SL staying engaged and calm. Then when AA was doing her homework (reading with NT), I took SL upstairs and she didn't mind being away from AA; we played a couple games and read some books very pleasantly. Bedtime seemed less difficult today too for some reason.

So here's hoping for more days like these, but I'm just grateful for this one!

Gratitude photo #11

January 12th, 2016 at 09:23 pm

Yesterday I worked from home so I could go to a follow-up appointment about the medical problem I hope to solve. (They were a bit stumped but offered some things we could try.)

I don't know if it was the let-down after feeling tense about the appointment, or just my body being sick and tired of antibiotics on the last day of a 10-day regimen, but I felt drained and out of it yesterday.

All I wanted to do was lie around, so AS suggested playing a game, and we pulled out Scattergories and played two rounds. It was fun and relaxing, and I realized it was the first thing I'd felt gratitude for all day, so I snapped a pic of the scorepad.

Gratitude photo #10

January 11th, 2016 at 03:45 am

Though I'm a vegan, surprisingly, I'm not a big fruit person. I love veggies, but rarely go out of my way to eat fruit. But I do have a few exceptions, and here are two of my favorite fruits, available only in winter (at least here in Minnesota).

The red one is pomegranate, and the light pink one is pomelo. They're both kind of a pain to get the fruit out of, but SO worth it. If you haven't tried either of these fruits, I highly recommend them! I discovered pomegranate in high school, but only came across pomelo maybe eight years ago. It's like grapefruit, only sweeter and crisper.

The season for both of these fruits is waning; I may not get any more until next winter. It just makes me all the more grateful for them today!

Gratitude photo #9

January 9th, 2016 at 09:18 pm

Today was our family's "haircut day." I'm grateful for this little tradition of ours. I took this shot so I wouldn't get any people in the photo, since I don't like to post photos of people without their consent. It looks a bit gloomy but only because it was nice and warm inside, fogging up the window.

I started going to this barber over a decade ago when I wanted a no-nonsense boyish haircut for not much money. One of my now-downstairs-neighbors suggested his barber, so I went and liked it. We began going regularly, and then AS (who has long dreadlocks that are difficult to shampoo) started coming with us to get her hair washed. Eventually our now-neighbor's partner started coming, and when NT moved here he did too, and now the kids also get their hair cut. His clientele is mostly gay white men, but he knows how to handle all types of hair and styles, so it works for us! He did a girly blowout for AA today (the 5-year-old) and she felt very fancy.

So every five weeks, we block off three and a half hours and all get our hair done. Our new place is even closer to his shop, so we can walk over on nice days (though today was definitely a bus day!). Sometimes we all go and hang out there, and sometimes we just work out who's taking what slot and go on our own. In our kid-free days we'd sometimes bring cocktails or sparkling wine, and sometimes our barber would too. He's become a good friend over the years, and we go to parties at each other's houses or go out to music shows with him once in a while.

MonkeyMama very kindly pointed out that even though we have no grandparents in the area, we do have a good network of caring adults in our kids' lives. It was a nice coincidence that shortly after that comment, we had a haircut day, and it made me appreciate it all the more.

Been on fire this week!

January 9th, 2016 at 05:45 am

Phew, let me see if I can remember all the ups and downs and productivity of this week. Throughout it all, I felt pretty under control. I was actually surprised how on top of things I was, given my two weeks of utter sloth over the holidays.

I haven't started my creative goal (editing my NaNoWriMo), but I've been hammering away at my three organizational goals. The first one, clearing out my work and personal inboxes of about 3500 emails total, I accomplished over several days. The last few dozen in each inbox lingered because they were attached to some task I'd meant to handle. So whenever I had free time at work, I checked off those tasks so I could get rid of the emails:
- Signed up for a required training course for work
- Responded to a charity I'd donated to who had emailed me
- Posted several links AS had sent me onto my Ordinary Savers Facebook page
- Sent photos of a stroller to a company to get a safety add-on, so I can sell or give the stroller away
- Figured out what to do with AA's cashed-out CD to get it into her mutual fund
- Requested time off for every upcoming trip and daycare closure I need to cover
- Did a bit of work for the college reunion I'm on the committee for
- Emailed pics of the alumni holiday party to my contact at my alma mater
- Got AS to narrow down the family photos our neighbor had taken so we could request files from him
- Found some boxes and gradually packed up my stuff for the upcoming move to the next floor

And maybe some other stuff! Then my second organizational task was to gather info to go down to the city planner and ask about the potential for an ADU with a real person. So I gathered what I could from the assessment from when we bought it, and then measured for the info that wasn't there. I took pics just in case, and today my friend who would like to live in the ADU accompanied me to the city planner.

Somewhat to my surprise, he confirmed there was only one zoning requirement we didn't meet -- we only have 1.5 feet setback from the side property line instead of 3 feet. But he also said that was something we could request a variance on.

Then he said we needed to talk to the building code people in his dept. to see what they thought of our intention to convert the existing garage into a residence. We didn't have time today, but we'll try to go back next week. My friend and I were really excited that at least the idea didn't get shot down at the first stage, though there are tons of hurdles still to clear to make this reality.

I got lots of other stuff done this week too:
- Went to the dentist to see about my achy tooth. He said it didn't seem damaged, but said if I get another infection later, after I stop taking antibiotics, I'll need to go to the surgeon. So we'll see.
- Got my annual checkup with my OB/GYN. Finally asked her about a nonserious but intrusive chronic problem I've had for several years. She referred me to a specialist, and I've scheduled an appointment with them for Monday.
- Got a call about a late dentist bill, and remembered I'd left a message with them disputing the bill and never heard back. After a rather long conversation I conceded defeat; I owe $52 for some X-rays they took on SL's teeth at her last appointment. Frown

As a matter of fact, it was a week of bad money news. - First, I saw that we got charged a $105 foreign transaction fee for our UK plane tickets. Kind of wiped out the benefit of buying directly from the airline site.
- NT brought home some initial estimates for bills from his shoulder issue. So far: $3700, and we're not sure whether that will go down or up. Ouch!
- A gift box we'd bought for AS charged us for a second month even though I'd asked for a cancellation. Luckily they finally got back to me today to let me know they would cancel it and refund our money.
- Found out I'd left one carshare with less than a quarter tank of gas, triggering a $20 fine.
- We're going to get itemized estimates from our contractor for the various tasks of fixing the basement bathroom, since NT is injured and our neighbor who was the other person on it seems to have lost interest. So we'll just see how much it costs and decide whether to hire him for all or part of the work.
- I'm not sure how much my followup appointment for my chronic issue is going to cost, or what tests/procedures it might lead to.

Crazy, huh? But I sat down with NT and AS last night, estimated our annual surplus as best I could, figured out the needs and wants that would need to come out of it (rather than our regular budget), and then identified what we thought we would cut out first. We trimmed a little of each category: travel, retirement, home improvement, medical, charity, entertainment, etc. It's just a rough outline but at least it makes me feel like we can control what we cut back on if the medical stuff turns out crazy or any other expenses arise.

As if the week wasn't insane enough, the newest proofer I'd hired turned in her resignation. She is fantastic, and had just finished training in on this complicated task that takes months to master, so it was a blow. Oh, and my main proofer, who's always had punctuality and attendance issues, emailed me to let me know that recently her mental illness had been flaring up and she was struggling. Honestly, I hadn't noticed any more punctuality trouble than usual; she's always been terrible at getting in on time (or at all; she asks for work from homes more than I'd prefer).

I've been trying to groom her to take over as supervisor, but the attendance stuff is frustrating to project management and now the mental health issue is worrying. So I'd been turning it over in my head that as soon as my company got its crap together and hired the newest proofer full-time (right now she's a half-time contractor, and they'd made promises but dragged their feet on following through), I could maybe think about grooming HER to become supervisor. It would maybe be awkward but not unheard of for a newer person to get promoted over a long-termer. But now that she's leaving, I don't know what we'll do.

I'm half thinking recommending that we just hire for an editorial supervisor and bypass this whole dilemma. I mean, it would be awkward, but hopefully not a total surprise. Every year we deal with punctuality in her performance review, and unless I ride her constantly, she just falls back into bad habits. Plus, if she's struggling, she might not want to become responsible for a team anyway. So I don't know. Lots of thoughts swirling through my head. I can't wait to hand over the reins to someone and divest myself of the proofing department, just focusing on my writing role, but I want to make sure it's a good transition and everything is as stable as possible before I do it.

Oh! And I met my new boss yesterday, finally. It was just during the HR walk-through to introduce him to everyone, so neither of us acknowledged that he was going to be my new boss, which was kind of weird, but I just didn't want to say something and have it be overheard or have the HR lady get weird because we're not supposed to talk about it yet. But anyway, he seems really really nice, so I've got high hopes that this is going to be a good change for me.

Considering everything, I should feel just crazed. But I don't. I'm pretty exhausted this evening, but I feel OK about how I've been handling everything that's been coming at me so far this year.

Gratitude photo #8

January 9th, 2016 at 02:45 am

This one is bittersweet. Today was my last day in my first office. I've had the office for a little over a year, I believe; shortly after I became a copywriter, they moved me out of my cubicle into this space.

But now we're moving. Not far; my company currently rents half of the 4th floor and half of the 5th, and now they're renovating the 5th and taking over the whole thing. But there are fewer offices, so anyone not at a director level or higher is going into a cubicle.

It wasn't like the most gorgeous office (though it did look cuter than this, thanks to some decorative items NT and AS gave me for my last birthday, but now it's all packed up, to hopefully go in my cubicle if it fits). But it was mine and I so enjoyed feeling like I had my own space. With full walls and a door.

They're moving people gradually, so I've been packing gradually. But I heard I'm being moved Monday, and I likely won't be in the office, so I finished packing everything today.

I'm not grateful for being moved into a cubicle; in fact I'm a little concerned because my last cubicle was very out of the way from noise and traffic, and now I'll be in a row with a bunch of other people. But I sure was grateful for my office today, knowing I was about to lose it.

Not to be melodramatic, but getting my own office at the beginning of my writing career was a big boost of confidence, as well as being a place where I could shut the door when I needed to do some intense research or writing, or when I wanted to interview someone on speakerphone and record it. It gave me that little extra feeling that I'd grown up and moved up in the world, which was great because my first few months as a writer were nervewracking; it took me a while to feel that I was good at the job. Thanks in part to this office, I now feel that I'm very good at my job.

So thanks, office! And goodbye.

Gratitude photo #7

January 8th, 2016 at 01:58 am

Today I am grateful for my spreadsheets, and for Google Drive, which makes it free and easy to keep my own homemade budgeting tools.

I wasn't necessarily planning on this being my gratitude pic, but it felt like I got hit and/or had to deal with several unwelcome fees and expenses today. These kinds of fees are more painful, in a way, because I know exactly how I'd rather be spending my money. But the spreadsheets help me control spending in bad times, and reassure me that it's OK to spend fun money in good. So even on a day that makes it clear some belt-tightening is in order, I'm grateful for them.

Gratitude photo #6

January 7th, 2016 at 01:39 am

Coffee, in my favorite work mug:

I adore coffee. I've been drinking it probably since age 12. I love the heat, the smell, the taste and of course the stimulating nature of it. I can do without it, but why? It's not only harmless but even has some beneficial health qualities.

And this mug. I'm not even sure why this is my favorite mug. Maybe it's the color, or the way it tapers at the top and keeps the heat a bit longer, or maybe I just got into the habit of grabbing this one, so it's associated with how coffee in the morning makes me happier to be at work. Whatever it is, I'm always inordinately bummed when it's not in the cupboard, and I get this inexplicable joy when I see it. Today was the first time I'd gotten it since I came back to work this week, so I was especially thrilled. Human beings are odd creatures, especially me. Smile

Gratitude photo #5

January 6th, 2016 at 06:08 am

Today I knew I was going to trivia, so I thought I'd photograph some of the trivia sheets as my thing I'm grateful for. First, NT had a meeting for one of his groups he belongs to, and was going to be home soon after 9. The meeting ran late, and he didn't get home til nearly 10. But I was really looking forward to ordering my usual snack and seeing our friends, so I grabbed a carshare and headed down.

I was too late to get a pic of the answer sheets; they'd all been turned in and the results were being read. But, I did come just in time to hear that my team had won first place!

So this is a pic of the $30 gift card you get when you win.

I'm grateful for this fun activity at this friendly, affordable little neighborhood bar. We've been going, off and on, sometimes infrequently and sometimes very regularly, almost since I moved to MN in 1997. I lived right across the street from it in my first place, but we didn't do trivia until a few years after that, maybe 1999 or 2000. The current group I've been going with has been pretty regular for about 5 or 6 years. One friend, this is the only place we ever see him anymore (works weird hours and has a wife and two kids), so I'm glad we have that common ground.

January 2016 debt payments

January 5th, 2016 at 04:25 am

All our mortgage payments finally hit. Took a while because of the holiday and weekend.

US: $663 to principal
UK1: $226
UK2: $48
UK3: $50

All told, that's $987 paid to principal for the month.

Gratitude photo(s) #4

January 5th, 2016 at 02:51 am

I'm grateful for a home big enough for everyone to have their own space. After 10+ years in a 2-bedroom condo with open-plan kitchen/living/dining room, it's quite a novelty! This is my book nook. I cheated and took two pictures because it's kind of an odd L shape.

Unlike everyone else's (the kids' bedrooms, NT's record room, AS's craft room), my space isn't a room per se. It's a large area at the top of the stairs, and people have to pass through it to get to the bedrooms and one of our bathrooms.

And it's not really *my* space; the whole family keeps their books in it, the kids watch shows up there sometimes, and we often do bedtime reading there. But it's mine in that I get the final say in what goes in it and how it's decorated. That's a nice feeling. So is having "my" space be somewhere everyone likes to hang out once in a while. I haven't really had a chance to decorate properly, but I've scrounged some free furniture, put up old art, and my downstairs neighbor helped finish out the bookshelves (I only had the two tall ones when I moved in; he bought me all the short ones.) I just got a print of one of my favorite paintings, so I'm going to put that up at some point. I also have a stack of boxes my dad sent me from my childhood bedroom that I need to go through. An organize/declutter project for one of these months!

And once I get in gear on my creative projects this year, hopefully this space will be a nice place to sit and work on them if I need quiet time to get them done.

Gratitude photo #3

January 3rd, 2016 at 11:48 pm

After posting a pic of our picture-perfect Clue, I just couldn't resist a photo of our other FIV+ rescue cat, Whiskey (Whiskers).

As you can see, he's no beauty, and not photogenic. When we agreed to foster him, he had the least cute photo on the whole adoption site. In addition, he was about 2 lbs. heavier than he is now -- practically a bowling ball -- and he fear-pooped in the carrier on the way to our house. We did *not* think we'd be doing anything but giving him a temporary place to stay.

Other things we learned about him: He's got one floppy ear from a kittenhood medical event, that may puff up occasionally. His eyes can get kind of weepy and goopy. He's polydactyl (has 6 front toes instead of 4, and they're pretty useless; they just kind of flop along with his paw). He's kind of messy when he pees, so he needs covered/high-walled litterboxes. Three of his four fangs have broken off or been removed, and he has terrible breath even for a cat. He's a shameless scavenger and always tries to get more food, even if it means getting people food left on the counter.

He's loud and talkative, and his body just doesn't seem to fit together right. He always looks awkward, and his lidded eyes means he always looks grumpy.

But he is the most loving, trusting, cuddly sweetheart of a cat I've ever met in my life. He leaps onto you whenever you sit down and rolls over, completely relaxed and vulnerable, or tries to climb up and press his head under your chin or touch his nose to yours. You can rub his belly at length, or play with his paws and claws -- things that most cats hate or at least are sensitive about. Even though he was twice the size of Clue when he arrived, he never responded to her hissing or clawing with anything but friendliness and curiosity, and he won her over even after her traumatic experience with our much more hostile runaway cat, Noodles.

Yes, he gets into food and sometimes claws one of our brand new chairs. He yowls loudly whenever someone approaches the room where his food is stored, hopeful that it's mealtime. He can be clumsy and accidentally scratch you when trying to launch his large body onto your lap for some cuddling. But we adore him as much as we do our perfect little sweetheart Clue. They both brought so much joy into our lives when we adopted them.

Already facing potential big expenses

January 3rd, 2016 at 08:01 pm

I'd already mentioned NT's broken collarbone and related surgery in my 2016 outlook; that is still an unknown. What I forgot to mention is that AS has been putting off dealing with a dying front tooth that will need to be replaced with an implant, and her foot problem that she has self-diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. She tried all the recommended remedies and is still having problems.

So those are two important things that will need to be handled and likely cost a pretty penny.

Then there's my own recent tooth infection. The antibiotics were less than $10, but I'll need to go in on Monday, and depending on what they find, that could wind up being another big expense.

Then there's the basement bathroom. We found out a while ago that no wall rebuilding is included in what we paid the plumber, so we either need to build our own drywall or hire someone to do that separately. I'm not one of the point people on this project, so I'm just waiting to find out what is required financially. We've already gotten a $100 fine for dragging feet and not getting the thing done one way or the other; more fines will be coming if someone doesn't do something soon. (I'm determined to limit my role to nagging since I was always very specific that I didn't want to be part of the DIY project.)

That's all I can think of so far, but it's only Jan. 3! I half-jokingly told AS the other day that it may not be a year of home improvement because we have so many bodily improvements that need to be taken care of first.

Gratitude photo #2

January 2nd, 2016 at 08:35 pm

My teeth/gums started giving me pain yesterday afternoon, and by this morning I knew there must be an infection. (I managed to get in touch with the on-call dentist and got some antibiotics.) So even though we had a fun day with the girls, I was having trouble feeling grateful. Then I saw my sweet girl Clue when we got home. This little darling has been with us about 11 months. She likes her space a lot of the time, but when she wants some love she sits in front of you purring and taps or gently kneads your arm or leg very politely. I love the intense eye contact she gives sometimes too.

If you look at

Text is the first pic we took of her when we adopted her and Link is
the first pic we took of her when we adopted her, you can see she really filled out -- she was just skin and bones. But she's still a tiny delicate cat.

Gratitude photo #1

January 2nd, 2016 at 01:26 am

Here is my first gratitude pic of the year: my dinner! Hoppin John, braised mustard greens and cornbread. Not pictured: butter for the cornbread and hot sauce for the hoppin John. I'm very grateful for all the wonderful vegan food available to me and for the opportunity to cook with lovely ingredients like shallots, greens, and beans and rice, and to share them with my family. AS made the delicious cornbread. I chose to cook this meal, of course, because of the Southern superstition about eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day being lucky.

January non-financial goals (and financial goal progress)

January 1st, 2016 at 09:15 pm

My January "do something" goal is to edit my NaNoWriMo novel from this past year.

I have three organizational goals:
- Apply for the accessory dwelling unit permit
- Consolidate my clothes and get rid of one falling-apart dresser
- Clean/organize my work and personal email inboxes so they're as close to zero items as possible

On my financial goals, I've made some progress:
- Booked our flights to the UK for the summer (still need to purchase travel insurance)
- Set up automated withdrawals to ensure we'll max out all three 2016 Roth IRAs