A blog about writing . . . and a lot of other things

Monday, December 31, 2012

Tumbling Off The Fiscal Cliff

So it seems that our Congress will not be able to come to any sort of agreement this year on how to handle the expiring tax provisions and budget issues that have been dubbed the Fiscal Cliff.  Is that a disaster?  No, not really.  They'll probably come to an agreement over the next few days (perhaps over drinks in a couple of hours), and this will all be but a happy memory.

However, in honor of our impending tumble off the Fiscal Cliff (cue the foreboding music), I thought I'd show you what this might mean for a couple of different American families, at least on the income tax side of things.  I'm not even going to pretend to know what it would mean on the budget side.

Oh, and in case you didn't realize this, I am not giving any tax advice in this blog entry (or in any of my blog entries), so don't you dare do something stupid with your money and then blame me.  Moving on...

I've invented two lovely families to use as examples of what the Fiscal Cliff would do to a couple of different tax situations.  For the purposes of my scenarios, no one ever gets raises or changes their spending habits or even pays down debt. Unfortunately, this is not far from reality.

First, let's look at Henry and Margaret Doe.  They are what most people would consider "middle class."  They live in a nice house in the city with their two lovely children.  Henry makes about $75,000 a year, and his loving wife makes about $30,000.  They put 10% of their income into their 401(k)s.  They only make about $20 of interest per year, though, because they don't actually have a lot of money.  They have a fairly hefty amount of debt, so much that their mortgage interest deduction is about $10,000 a year, and a chunk of that is actually home equity debt from when they refinanced some of their credit cards.

In 2011, they had a federal tax liability of close to $7,000 at a marginal rate of 15%.

In 2012, because Congress hasn't "patched" the Alternative Minimum Tax yet, they are going to pay about $7,800 at a 26% marginal rate.

AMT, you ask?  But Henry and Margaret aren't rich.  They are barely making their house payments and are underwater on their mortgage.  I thought the AMT was designed to keep rich people from dodging taxes!

Well, whether Henry and Margaret are rich or not is relative.  They're richer than the vast majority of people in the world, and they're richer than most Americans, too.  The AMT is expected to affect a huge chunk of American taxpayers if it isn't patched because it doesn't allow you to deduct things like home equity interest or state income taxes.  Oh, and did I mention that Henry and Margaret live in Oregon?  They pay a lot of state income taxes.

2013 is going to get even uglier for Henry and Margaret.  In fact, they won't even be subject to the AMT because their regular tax will have skyrocketed.  The 10% tax bracket is disappearing and the tax brackets for married taxpayers are shrinking.  Tax rates are going up, too, and Henry and Margaret will basically lose the $2,000 child tax credit they've been enjoying for Henry Jr and Little Maggie.  If the laws are left unchanged, their 2013 federal tax bill will be close to $10,000.  Ouch!

Now let's look at a different American taxpayer. Jake and Ally Donaldson are in their upper 20s.  Like Henry and Margaret, they are college-educated and have two darling children.  Unfortunately, Jake is only making $50,000 a year, and Ally is home taking care of the kids.

Jake and Ally are basically living at the American median income.  They aren't even pretending to be rich.  Those degrees were expensive, though, and Jake and Allie are deducting the full $2,500 of student loan interest on their tax returns along with getting the $2,000 child tax credit.

In 2011, Jake and Ally paid only $300 in federal income tax, and in 2012 they will pay less than $200 because of the increasing exemptions.

2013 is a different story, however.  Jake and Ally are slated to lose their student loan interest deduction.  In addition, the child tax credit will be only half what it was in 2012.  Consequently, if the law stands as it is, Jake and Ally will pay more the $2,600 in federal tax for 2013.  That's a big jump!

Keep in mind that Congress will probably extend the Bush tax cuts for both of these families, and they can continue to live at the level to which they have become accustomed.

I thought this would be an interesting way to look at the effects of tax laws.  You can take this information and come to whatever conclusions you want.  Note a couple of things, however:
  • The Donaldson tax bill is going to go up nearly as much as the Doe tax bill is in actual dollars, but while the Doe tax bill is increasing by almost 40%, the Donaldson tax bill is increasing by well over 700%.
  • Jake and Ally make about half what Henry and Margaret make, but have a lot less than half of their tax bill.
  • Both of these families pay a lot of social security taxes, too.
Oh, and let's not forget that as of the moment I'm writing this the national debt stands at over $16 trillion.  That's more than $52,000 per American citizen, and we currently have a $1 trillion per year deficit, so that's only going to get bigger.

What do you think?  Should the taxes on these families increase?  What can we do to reduce spending if we don't want taxes to go up?

If you haven't seen this yet, I recommend visiting the Wall Street Journal's Make Your Own Deficit-Reduction Plan.  It allows you to try your hand at reducing the deficit yourself.  Make lots of cuts.  Raise taxes on everyone you don't like (or maybe on yourself).  You'll see how big this problem really is.

I wish all of you a very Happy New Year, and please don't hurt yourself falling off the fiscal cliff. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Photo Shoot Attempt

It's been years since we sent Christmas cards that have pictures with them.  In fact, I think we've missed sending them altogether for most of the last five years, and we haven't had professional pictures done since the kids were potty trained.

This year I was determined to send photo Christmas cards.  The kids have gotten older, but more importantly, I've gotten thinner!  We need to immortalize it before I gain that 75 pounds back.

But I'm too cheap to get professional pictures done and too lazy to learn photography, so today when Isaac got home from school I made the kids do all kinds of stupid poses with the family.  Isaac was a good sport.  Mindy kept slipping away to call and report us to child services.

Here for your viewing pleasure are the photos that didn't make the cut.  Please, do not post to tell me that these are bad.  I know that they're bad.  That's the point.


There are so many things wrong with this picture.  I'm barely in the shot.  Mindy looks bored.  Jacob looks inspired.  Isaac looks pained.  It's awful.

This is set up a little better, but how cheesy can you get?  Mindy is right to look skeptical of the staged absurdity.
This should be on awkwardfamilyphotos.com.
Oh, and notice that Jacob's expression hasn't changed.  His expression never changes!

Oops.  I missed.

Again, I think Mindy has the right idea here.

This might have been nice, except . . .
To his credit, he had been incredibly patient.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

I try very hard to avoid discussing politics because I really, really, really hate confrontation.  It makes me cry.

I'm not going to talk about politics now, either, so don't start posting about how horribly wrong I am and what an awful person I am and how I'm destroying our nation with my backward political leanings, okay?  It will make me cry.

I just want to encourage you to think before you speak.  I've seen so many horrible things being said online, and I tell myself again and again that you all don't mean them.  But the truth is, if you don't mean them, you need to stop saying them.  Don't you understand that you are saying these things about your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, and your family?

Not every woman who voted for Obama because they cared about women's rights is a slut collecting a paycheck from the government.  Believe it or not, some women who use birth control do so because they  don't want to burden society with a plethora of children that they can't afford to support.   It doesn't mean they are promiscuous.  They may be happily married.  These women don't expect the government to provide them with birth control, but they certainly do want the medical insurance they pay for to cover birth control.  It's a whole lot cheaper than childbirth.

Not every man who voted for Romney is a selfish, racist misogynist with a binder full of women.  It is highly likely he is a father deeply concerned about the rising debt crisis and afraid that current political policies are leaving his children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt and a lifeless economy.  He doesn't want his years of hard work to be squandered by those who haven't earned it, and he particularly doesn't want his children to spend all their working years just trying to pay the bills of the last generation.

Some people who voted for Obama think he might just be able to help the economy.  They see the Bush years as evidence that lower taxes for the wealthy and low regulation don't stimulate the economy the way they teach in Economics 101.  Perhaps the way to dig ourselves out of this huge deficit is to increase taxes on those who actually have some money instead of continuing to concentrate wealth at the highest end of the spectrum while bills continue to mount.

Some people who voted for Romney think he might just be able to make something good happen in Washington.  They think Obama has had four years to fix the economy and all he's done is increase class warfare.  Perhaps someone with success in business can appeal to businesses and get our economy functioning at full power again.  They certainly believe Romney is more likely to stem the tide of spending that is pulling the country into a hole it may never dig its way out of.

A lot of people who voted for Obama did so because they are willing to pay higher taxes to keep our country strong.

A lot of people who voted for Romney did so because they are willing to get less from government if it means the national debt problem can be reversed.

The election is over.  Regardless of whether your man won or lost, there is a ton of work to do, and none of it will be done if we waste time hating on each other.  Let's talk constructively about what comes next and perhaps we can find common ground.

Just don't resort to more offensive name-calling.  It will make me cry.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Yesterday I mentioned in my post that when you're trying to do NaNoWriMo that all sorts of other things suddenly start to seem important.

A shining example: today when I got home from work I sat down to start my novel and started researching earthquake preparedness.  I was going to make a list and start putting together all the things our family needs in case of an earthquake, but I stopped myself because I am supposed to be writing!  I hunkered down and churned out almost 1,700 words, a respectable start.

Granted, because I have written this, there will be a massive earthquake and my family won't be prepared and my insistence on writing rather than preparing my family for disaster will look pretty foolish, won't it?  I apologize for bringing disaster down on everyone.  If you aren't doing NaNoWriMo, here's a link to a site to help you prepare for the earthquake: http://www.ready.gov/earthquakes.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, then what on earth are you doing wasting time on my blog.  Go write your novel!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How to Write a Novel

Since NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow, I figured I'd offer some tips on how to complete a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

  1. Write.  I know this seems fairly obvious, but you wouldn't believe how many "writers" fail because they don't actually write.  
  2. Don't worry about quality.  During the month of November I've written some of the most awful scenes you can imagine.  I've written scenes where my main character has long internal monologues about how difficult it is to write.  I've even written scenes where my characters sit around and play icebreakers.  The truth is, these scenes can help you move to a place where you can write something good. You know what the best thing is about these terrible scenes, though?  They can be deleted in December.
  3. Keep writing.  Writing a novel is like eating the proverbial elephant -  you write it one word at a time.  Don't think about how many words you have to write or how far behind you are.  Just keep writing.
  4. Avoid distractions.  Are you sensing a theme here?  If you are going to finish this novel, you need to be writing.  That means that this isn't the time to take on a new project - remodeling the kitchen, landscaping the yard, teaching yourself to crochet - no matter how fun it sounds.  It's time to write.
  5. Do take breaks, though.  You need to bathe.  You need to eat.  You need to hug your children and clean the bathroom and walk around a bit.  You probably even have to go to work.  You can do all these things and still succeed.  I've successfully completed NaNoWriMo while parenting two toddlers and going to school full-time.  It can be done.
  6. Take chances.  I'm not saying you should drive too fast or go snowboarding.  I'm saying you should let your story fly free.  You were planning to write an epic saga of one family's struggle against famine in Ireland?  It's okay to go ahead and turn it into a horror novel if that's the direction the characters seem to be headed.  The Irish epic would have been tedious, anyway.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Last year I got stuck and asked for help on Facebook.  My heroine was just wandering in a meadow.  It was beyond dull, and I had no idea what to do with her.  My friend Meagan suggested ninja pirates.  I let my main character get kidnapped and thus was born one of the best characters in the book (according to Jacob).  And now I have a novel with both space ships and pirate ships.  How cool is that?
  8. Don't be afraid to write while on narcotics.  So maybe you're not firing on all cylinders.  Apparently it's still possible to write some compelling narrative.  I imagine this advice isn't useful to most people, but I'm glad I went ahead and wrote through the fog last year.
  9. Throw in some healthy competition.  My brother and I generally do NaNoWriMo together.  On the website we are buddies and can see how many words we've each written.  It is a big motivation when I see that he is 5,000 words ahead.  I can't possibly let my brother beat me!
  10. Write some more.  You're feeling fat from Thanksgiving and exhausted from Christmas shopping and just realized you're still 20,000 words short of your goal?  Sit down and write.  It's not too late until December 1st.  Last year I wrote more than 12,500 words in the last three days alone.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012


It's almost that time of year again.  The weather may be getting colder, wetter, and windier, but I'm warming up to start one of my biggest exercises of the year.

No, not Christmas shopping.  That doesn't start for another month at the earliest.

Not "No Shave November," although I've been known to participate in that, too.

What I'm excited about today is National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo.  Every year hundreds of thousands of people commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.  Is it an impossible task?  By no means!  I have successfully written more than 50,000 words three separate years.

Amy's NaNoWriMo Timeline:  

2004 - Untitled Romance Novel:  I set this one in the town where I now live, although at the time I lived in Portland.  It's actually a satire of romance novels, and I like to think it's great comedy, but it probably sucked.  This one will never see the light of day.

2005-2008 (also known as "The Dark Years") - I didn't do NaNoWriMo, but I did raise two toddlers to school age while going back to school and becoming a CPA.

2009 - Ravenswood:  This paranormal young adult novel has been revised and critiqued to death.  Some of you have read it at one point or other.  It has been shopped about, but not lately because it has no ending thanks to my latest, unfinished revision.  I know how it'll end, but I have to actually write it.

2010 - I did start a novel this year, but not only did I have sinus surgery during the competition, but I also had a difficult plot idea involving Russian spies.  I know very little about Russians and even less about spies.  It's not the 1980s, anyway, so Russian spies don't sell.  Had I finished it, this novel also would not have seen the light of day.

2011 - Blue:  Despite having major surgery and being mostly unconscious for a week of NaNoWriMo, I fought through and succeeded!  This book remains completely unedited.  I haven't even read through it.  Isaac, on the other hand, has already read it twice, and he and Jacob maintain that it is my best book yet.  It starts as a dystopian novel (I've never claimed to be original), but then I send my characters off-planet and it gets a little Anne McCaffrey-esque.  Eventually I turn the main character into a superheroine because that's how you get to 50,000 words in just a few weeks.  Now that I think about it, I loved writing this one more than any other.  I really need to read through it and start the revisions.

But I can't start revisions now because it is almost time for 2012 NaNoWriMo, and this year is going to blow all prior years out of the water!

2012 - Untitled: This year's book is also going to be a young adult novel, this time set in an imaginary post-war society.  I could tell you lots more about it because I have characters and setting and even major plot points, but I'm not going to tell you.

Do you feel the excitement?  NaNoWriMo is loads of fun, and at the end, if all goes well, you have a book that you wrote.  That's pretty cool even if the book is lousy.

Who is with me this year?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Looking on the bright side

I was just reading my cousin's blog, and her optimism in the face of a very unpleasant experience was so overwhelming to me that I just have to share it with you.  Some of you already know that she was diagnosed a couple of months ago with breast cancer.  She's young and healthy, so it's quite a shock.

Although most of the news throughout the process has been good, recently she found out that she will, in fact, have to have chemotherapy.  This is a blow.  Chemotherapy is never pleasant.  However, she has a great attitude, and I am encouraged by her strength.

Here's her take on it:

I've had to remind myself today of some of the positives in all of this.

  • That this is happening in the fall/winter months. I feel like I would be sad missing out on so much summer fun. 
  • I have health insurance which goes right along with my job and wonderful co-workers who have been so supportive of me. 
  • I'm thankful that I have already been considering cutting my hair...now I can get rid of all of my split ends! I've also heard that sometimes your hair comes back in different, like curly, or something fun like that. 
  • I have a wonderful team of doctors taking care of me.
  • I only need 8 chemo treatments, it could be worse. 
  • I have excellent friends who are riding Chevy for me while I'm out of commission. 
  • And finally I have wonderful family support. 
I'm sure there are SO many more things that I should add but I'm tired and can't think straight anymore. :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A few things I miss

Times have changed, I've gotten older, and as I stare at a proposal for a new furnace to replace the one in our garage that is apparently just moments away from killing us all in our sleep, I'm inspired to think back to a simpler time.  A time before cell phones and sodium restrictions and central heating that they tell me requires regular maintenance.  A time of wonder and innocence.  

A few things I miss:
  • The smell of a card catalog.  I can't describe it - and I was probably allergic to it - but I miss it.
  • Eating an entire pizza and not really thinking much about it.  Although if I'd thought about it then, I perhaps wouldn't have to think about it nearly as much now.
  • Wondering about things.  There is no more mystery; now you can Google anything.  Granted, what you learn from the Internet might be utter rubbish, but at least you can pretend it didn't come from your own head.  Unless you are my friend Ben who updates Wikipedia to include stuff he makes up.  
  • Going for long drives.  Considering that the price of gas is around 16-20 cents a mile (in my vehicles), you have to really want to go somewhere.  And, yes, I do think of quick drives to the store in terms of how much the gas will cost me.  I'm an accountant!
  • Photocopying body parts.  Nobody does this any more because it's wasteful.  It's sad.  I remember all those lovely black and white printouts of smooshed faces and hands and I weep that my kids may never do something so silly.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Kids can always find new ways to be silly.
  • Writing letters.  There used to be something so exciting about going to the mailbox, wondering what news it will bring.  Now the most exciting thing the mailbox brings are bills that I haven't managed to pay electronically   A lot of magazines are even going digital, abandoning the post office, which is left sadly delivering piles of junk mail.  There must be hardly any postcards for the mailmen to read any more.  
  • Experimenting with Jell-O.  Okay, I'm lying.  I don't miss this at all, and I'm glad that it mostly died in the 80s.  My mom used to fill orange-flavored Jell-O with grated carrot (I'm guessing because they are both orange).  It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't terribly good, either. (I love you, Mom!)  I'm just glad she didn't ever do meaty aspic.  
Whenever I make lists like this, I'm struck by how few things I actually miss and how silly most of them are.  The truth is that a lot of the changes are good.  For example, email is a great way to communicate - fast, free, and easy to attach pictures to.  And I didn't actually need a photocopy of my cheek, anyway.  

So I will be thankful for what I have, accept the inevitable furnace replacement along with the rest of my adult responsibilities, and leave you with one important lesson: Remember to change your furnace filters!  

Monday, October 15, 2012

A pointless way to end a rainy Monday

The first thing I remember about the "World Wide Web" (a term you never hear anymore) was the humor.  When I started college in 1994 we'd all head to the computer lab and log onto the Internet and look up jokes.  Lots and lots of jokes.  That was in the days before every company had a website, before the Internet was for research and socializing and shopping.  There probably was porn, too, but I went to a Christian college, so that would surely have been blocked from any student foolish enough to look for it.

Even today the Internet is still a fantastic place for humor, and tonight I thought I'd share a couple of things that have been making us laugh this week.

If you haven't seen the reviews on any of the following products on Amazon.com, take a moment to look at them now.  They are an excellent example of humor crowdsourcing.

Don't forget to look at the photos that users have uploaded, as well.  I love the effort people put into this stuff just for a joy of it.

My kids keep asking me to let them watch the Bad Lip Reading videos for "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" again.  Every time I watch them I laugh out loud.  I already shared these on Facebook, but if you didn't follow the link from there and aren't one of the 12 million plus who've already watched them, here's another chance.

I hope something I've posted tonight helps you end your Monday with a smile!  (Or, if it's too late to cheer up Monday, I guess it can be used to raise your mood on a different day of the week as well.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

My dysfunctional relationship with cars

So I got in another car accident this week.  It was probably the mildest car accident I've been in, although the one where I rear-ended that guy on the freeway because a spider was crawling on me was a pretty minor one, too.  That one felt less minor because it was officially my fault.  According to the claims adjuster, the spider was uninsured and couldn't be held liable.
Wasn't the Mazda pretty when it was brand new?

This time a truck was turning left out of a gas station and didn't see that I was already occupying that space on the road.  Luckily I saw him coming and swerved into the right turn lane.  That's why it was a mild car accident that requires replacement of a car door and some touch-up painting rather than the "Jaws of Life."

Our cars have been in a lot of accidents - many of them all by themselves while legally parked.  My little Mazda alone has now been in three car accidents - this last week's, the spider one, and the one where we got rear-ended by the kid in the Jeep in which I got whiplash and the poor kid cried while his drunk friend remained unconscious.  The only side of the Mazda that hasn't been replaced now is the passenger side.  

Even though the Mazda is coming home soon with one side all shiny and new, the truth is that its days are numbered. Why?  Nothing personal, you understand, but it has nearly 100,000 miles on it, has had to have several thousand dollars of repairs over the last couple of years, and more importantly, it doesn't meet our needs any more.

The only one of our car accidents I took pictures of, probably because
this one was so awesome.   The Subaru was slaughtered in dark of night
only inches from where the Mazda - only a few weeks old - was parked.
It will be the end of an era.  From the days of our old Honda Accord hatchback we have always been a family that loved small and zippy.  The Mazda is the zenith.  Bright blue with plenty of horses, the little guy has been intensely fun to drive.  Mazda isn't lying about the whole zoom-zoom thing.  I love driving that car.

When the time comes, our little blue Mazda will be replaced by something  less fun to drive.  It will have all-wheel drive, probably have an automatic transmission, and it might even be a small SUV.  I might as well hang a sign on the back saying, "I have abandoned my youth."  The truth is that getting in and out of the low-slung Mazda wrenches my knee nearly every time and working the clutch in traffic can be awful.  Zoom-zoom has a price.

We aren't buying a new car yet, though.  You know how I mentioned in my last post that we'd done Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University?  I didn't spend all that time getting out of debt just to jump into another car payment.  We're going to wait until we can pay cash for a car, and that's going to be a while.  

It's hard to be patient and wait, though.  It's hard when I had to spend another $1,200 on car repairs last month.  It's hard when my knee complains every time I get into the car.  It's hard when I'm in a little blue Mazda (without side airbags) staring down a large Chevy truck aiming right at me.  It's hard when everybody else is driving shiny new cars that they financed and my cars have developed that "old car smell."

But I'm staying strong.  And I'm watching this because it helps me remember why I'm waiting:

I wish you safe driving.  Keep your eyes peeled for those big Chevy trucks, and watch out for spiders, too!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Personal Finance

Last month, Brent Hunsberger wrote about Oregon's new financial literacy standards in his "It's Only Money" column in The Oregonian. Although I'm pleased that Oregon has reinstated these standards, they don't really have teeth.  There are no required competencies for graduation and nothing much to ensure what is taught.  The bottom line?  It's not enough.

But it's the parents' job to teach their kids about personal finance, right?  Sure it is.  It's also the parents' job to teach their kids about personal responsibility, hard work, and healthy sexuality.  How do you think that's going?

From a strictly personal finance standpoint, we're failing miserably.  In Oregon, almost one in five families are on food stamps.  Nationally, 46% of Americans carry a balance on their credit cards.  That's pretty bad considering that the average interest rate on those credit cards is nearly 13%.  I could keep throwing depressing statistics at you all day, but looking them up is depressing to me, too.  Instead, just think about people you know.  Think about your own personal finances.  What have you taught your own kids?

My point of bringing up this topic is not to depress you.  I want to spur you into action because there are things you can do.

First, talk about money.  I realize that it's a big no-no, but I'm sure you're aware that not talking about sex doesn't prevent young people from having it.  It's the same way with money.  Even if we don't talk about money, it manages to get spent and squandered.  Be open and honest about it and you might be able to make some healthy decisions with it and help other people to make better choices as well.  Or perhaps you'll just talk each other into spending more.  That happens, too.

Second, learn about money.  Perhaps this should come before talking about money, but you need to break through your reticence to talk about it before you can learn about it.  There are a lot of resources out there, but one great way to learn about personal finance is through Financial Peace University.  Feel free to disagree with Dave Ramsey on his politics, his religion, or even his financial philosophies, but his program is good, and it has helped a lot of people to get control over their finances.  I went through FPU and paid off all my debts and it has given me a lot of peace. Further, even though I'm a CPA and know a lot about money, FPU helped me to understand how to better approach talking about money with my family.

Third, get involved in helping others.  Whatever your political slant, it is in everyone's best interest for our citizens to be financially healthy.  There are many problems with our economy, but an actual lack of wealth has never been one of those.  America is still rich.  We just don't know how to handle those riches.

How do you get involved?  There are a number of ways.  For example, if they haven't already, you can encourage your church or organization to offer a Financial Peace University class.  

You can also support or volunteer for an organization like Financial Beginnings.  Financial Beginnings is dedicated to educating young people about finances so that they don't find themselves in the financial messes that so many of us have.  It operates in Oregon and Southwest Washington and provides free financial literacy classes to schools and organizations.  It provides all the curriculum at no cost and sends a volunteer instructor.  If you are a teacher or affiliated with a school, please set up a Financial Beginnings class for your kids.  I've taught several classes for them over the years in a variety of different schools.  I've taught at a small Christian school, at an alternative school with a guarded gate, at the high school I attended as a teen, and at the high school here in the town where I live.

There are two things that I've learned from my work with Financial Beginnings.  First, that the kids need to learn what I'm teaching.  This is not review for them.  What I teach, whether it is insurance or budgeting or credit, is foreign to them.  That horrifies me because financial literacy is vital.  No matter where they go in life, young people need to know how to handle money.

The other thing I've learned is that the hour or two I spend with them is not enough.

Get involved.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Life in the Fast Lane

Our family has entered a completely new version of reality, and that is football season.  The preseason started a couple of weeks ago, and it has been a nearly seven-day-a-week adventure ever since.

Suddenly we're dealing with serious laundry - blood and grass stains and a stench that requires the car windows to be rolled down on the way home from practice.  And the laundry has to be done RIGHT NOW.  When we get home from one practice there are barely more than twenty hours until the next one, and somewhere in there we also need to shower, sleep, and eat three square meals, in addition to going to work, church, and keeping up with everything else on the calendar.  (For example, Grimm is having a very nice second season.)

The football equipment has taken over.  Shoulder pads, knee pads, hip pads, butt pads, helmet, game jersey, undershirt, game socks, game pants, practice pants, practice jersey, cleats, spare undershirt and spare jersey needed to survive practices in hundred-degree heat before the jerseys are ready, and not one but two mouth guards.  The undershirt must be black for games, but white for pictures.  And he needs a short-sleeved undershirt for summer and a long-sleeved for fall.

Today he said he wants white cleats because the black ones are hot.  I drew a line at spare cleats.

But he's happy.  He loves football.  He looks great in his uniform.  He's learning a new sport and exercising without being bribed.  Okay, I admit there's ice cream after practice, but that's as much for me as for him.

The truth is that I am really enjoying football season.  I just hope no one is expecting much from us.  We should be back to normal in November.  Just in time for basketball season.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Setting the bar too high

Doing something well is dangerous.  Why?  Because people then expect that level of excellence out of you.  For example, over the last couple of years I worked part time and took several leaves from work for various and sundry surgeries.  Being stuck at home may get other people addicted to soap operas (do those still exist?), but it gets me addicted to cooking.

I make dinner pretty much every night.  I also make lunch when I'm home.  I really, really like to eat good food.  I don't want to eat lousy food.  Consequently, unless I am away from home or trapped under something heavy, I will arrange to have a yummy home-cooked meal, usually with some produce from our farm share or from our backyard.

But then people start to expect that.  We got busy a couple of weekends ago and our house was full of teenagers and so meals consisted of pizza and donuts.  My family thought I was trying to kill them.  Seriously!  When I was a kid I would have thought I'd died and gone to heaven, but my kids were begging for more vegetables.

I've done this to myself.  

It's not just the kids, either.  At a potluck at church someone spotted me walking in with store-bought cookies and was disappointed I hadn't made my usual double batch of chocolate chip.
If I started a food blog I'd have to get way better
at photographing food.

Apparently I am doomed to be a disappointment to those around me.

Even this blog, that I was so good at maintaining while recovering from surgery, is lucky to see one post per week lately.

Which is why I'm considering starting a food blog.  I know that I said I wasn't going to make this a food blog, but this would be a separate blog.  It may sound absurd to start another blog because I'm having trouble keeping up with the first.  However, the truth is that I'm meal planning, trying out recipes, and cooking all the time anyway.  Might as well blog about it, right?

So, would you be interested in a food blog from me? Do you have any idea what I should name it?  I'm terrible at thinking up names.

On a completely separate note, the new Grimm season starts Monday.  I'm jazzed, are you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Suspending disbelief

One of the most important tricks of fiction is getting readers to suspend their disbelief.  Most of the time readers are happy to do this.  Delighted, even.  Let's be honest.  We're not swarming to the latest super hero movie or reading The Hunger Games because we're desperate for some gritty realism.  We don't expect it to be factual or even necessarily plausible.

When author Richard Ford was on The Colbert Report he argued that novels are better than lies because "novels can actually aspire to be the truth."  I think that because novels are freed from reality, they can reach for a truth that is higher than a simple recounting of facts.

However, this may simply be an attempt to justify spending a large percentage of my life reading books that are chock full of nothing useful.

Anyway, I do think it's funny how inconsistently we as readers and viewers are able to suspend our disbelief.  My last blog post (can you remember back that far?) was about distractions in literature and how these distractions often ruin the story for us.

Jacob and I were discussing it in reference to the NBC television show "Grimm."  I like this show because it is filmed in and around Portland.  I've even seen them shooting.  If you haven't watched it, you should, if only because I want TV stars to keep hanging around my neighborhood.

One of my favorite episodes this last season was "Leave it to Beavers."


Near the end of the episode, Nick "sends a message" by shipping the severed heads of a couple of reapers back to Germany from whence they came.

Jacob didn't like this.

"What?  You didn't think he should have chopped the heads off?" I asked.  Admittedly, this behavior was a little extreme for a police officer.

"Oh, no.  I loved that.  Great message.  I just didn't know how he got the address of where to send the heads."

So what is too much for Jacob?  He has no problem with there being fairy tale creatures like reapers and the big bad wolf or with Nick being the only guy who can see these fairy tale creatures because he's a Grimm.  He doesn't even mind Nick decapitating a reaper or mailing severed heads internationally and them arriving in pretty good condition.  What Jacob couldn't handle is that Nick somehow knew where to ship the heads.

I figure the guy's the cop.  Surely he can track down an address.

Personally, the thing that has tested my belief is the sheer quantity of people that Nick has shot in the line of duty.  We've had a lot of officer-involved shootings in Portland over the last few years.  We've even had a cop who was involved in more than one of those shootings.  Let me tell you, the residents of Portland do not take that sitting down.  There would be riots if Nick the cop were actually responsible for killing several citizens.

Again, I have no problem with Nick being a Grimm or women being part tarantula or Monroe being the big bad wolf who is a vegetarian and does Pilates.  But the residents of Portland allowing Nick to stay on the job when he shoots someone in episode after episode?  No way.

Which reminds me.  The second season of "Grimm" starts up in a couple of weeks.  You should check it out and keep the ratings up.  Maybe if the show keeps filming here, I'll manage to squeeze my way into a scene.  Keep your eyes peeled.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Novel distractions

I'm now officially back to work, so there'll be less time to put into my blog.  The timing was good.  I was running out of things to write about, anyway.

This morning between phone calls with clients and preparing amended tax returns, I was thinking about things that distract you when you are reading a novel.  They don't necessarily have anything to do with the novel, but they catch your attention and bother you, preventing you from suspending your disbelief.

For example, years ago I was reading a novel and the main character was a single mom.  Her son was eight years old.  They had moved to a new town and as she's being introduced around to the townspeople her son inevitably shows off his amazing intellect by reciting the alphabet.  Everyone is extremely impressed and goes on and on about how smart he is.

I'm not an expert on early childhood education, but I'm pretty sure there is nothing exceptional about an eight-year-old that knows the alphabet.  In fact, if that is all the eight-year-old knows it is time for some special reading instruction.  I couldn't care less how smart the kid in the story was or wasn't, but the fact that the author made such a show of stating that the boy was very smart, her evidence being that he knew something most kids learn in kindergarten, just drove me crazy.  In fact, it's been five or ten years since I read it, and not only is that the only thing I remember about the novel, but it still annoys me.

A major thing that can be distracting in novels now is the presence of modern technology or lack thereof.  This is a real challenge because technology changes so quickly whereas publishing takes an eternity and books can stay on the shelves for a while.

In the young adult realm, where I've positioned most of my novels, many authors highly value realism and think that the characters need to talk, dress, and act authentically like teenagers.  They will carefully research current slang and clothing so they get it exactly right.  The intrinsic problem with this is that it is going to change extremely quickly.

When I went away to college I spoke all sorts of local slang that I had picked up in high school.  I toned it down to fit in with my college crowd, and when I returned home and talked with an old school friend I could barely understand her.  It wasn't merely that my vocabulary had changed, but that hers had dramatically changed.  This all occurred over a span of less than a year.

Technology takes the rapid changes in teen culture and makes it even more obvious.  For example, who uses myspace?  (Yes, I know musicians still use it.  I'm talking about regular people.)  If a character hangs out on myspace because a book was written in 2007, it is completely out of date by 2009, about the time it might hit the shelves.  A teenager sees that the author thinks myspace is the place to be and tosses the book down in disgust.

It's tempting to set books back a few decades to when technology was more stable.  New innovations like microwaves, computers, and cordless phones didn't necessarily change the way people interacted on a daily basis.  With the Internet, cell phones, and now smart phones we have made a broad shift in our social interactions.

An example of this shift and a very good portrayal of it in entertainment was in the first episode of the first season of Sherlock, "A Study in Pink."  At one point, John Watson is riding in a car with a lovely woman.  The humor in this scene is that the beautiful women spends the entire scene texting.  John even tries to make a pass, but she ignores it, absorbed in her phone.

In fact, Sherlock does a great job incorporating modern technology into the storyline.  It's great fun now while it's still fresh, but I imagine five years down the road people will watch it and laugh the same way we do when Richard Gere in Pretty Woman pulls out a cell phone the size of a brick.

What do you think? Are there any things in novels that have distracted you from enjoying the story?  Do you think that authors should back-date their novels or make them strangely timeless to avoid technology shifts from distracting readers?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Living life online

Do you ever think about what a tremendous shift there has been in the way we live in the last hundred years?  In 1912 most houses did not have electricity or indoor plumbing.  Think of how much of a person's time must have been spent doing the basic things that are so much easier for us today.

What did they do with their spare time, though?  There was no television and very little radio.  When the power goes out now we all wander around bouncing off the walls, not sure what to do with ourselves.  We can't work, we can't play, we can't eat.  We barely function at all.

I'm interested in the new television series Revolution that is coming out in the fall.  It may be awful, but I like the idea of exploring a modern world without electricity.  We are so dependent on it that I wonder in the long term how we would function.

When I was a kid we had video games and lots and lots of television.  Once I was in high school email existed, but it was not commonly used.  No one had really heard of the Internet.  The shift to an online focus happened while I was in college.  The students would spend hours in the computer labs emailing and chatting with each other and looking up jokes on the World Wide Web.  By the time I graduated from college every company had a web address and regular people were starting to carry mobile phones.

Over the next decade the Internet became not just a place to shop or hunt for jokes, but a place to live.  Social networking grew, and it was ten years after I left college when I took the plunge and joined Facebook.  Now I have to check it regularly or I don't know what is going on in my friends' lives.  We've lost all other forms of contact, apparently.

Can you believe things have changed so much in so little time?  Now we're living a life represented by short blurbs and pictures. Our lives are framed by the reference point of online narcissism.  If there's not a picture on Facebook, did it happen?  Why waste time with something that won't look good online?

Facebook has been an eye-opener to the people around us.  Whether we like it or not, we've learned who fritters away hours every day playing games.  We've learned who is ALWAYS ON FACEBOOK.  (Do they work?  Do they go outside?  Do they use the restroom?)  We've learned who is highly political and what their views are.  We've learned who has absolutely no filters between themselves and the Internet.  One of my "friends" online shared their bowel movement experience recently.  Really?

There are some unwritten rules of etiquette for online life.  I don't know what they are, though.  As I said, they are unwritten, and I'm certainly not on the cutting edge of anything.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that bowel movements are probably not okay to share.  Another thing that shouldn't get posted online?  Your fight with your husband, child, parent, friend.  One of the darkest sides of the Internet is the way that it immortalizes our flashes of anger, our ill-thought prejudices, our foolish whims.  If you don't stop and think before posting, you inevitably post something you regret.  I know I have.

But does the image we put online represent who we are?  If we are careful what we post on Facebook, what we put on our blogs, what are we really putting out there?  It's a sanitized version of reality that has no authenticity.  If you know me only based on Facebook and my blog, you would think I write, cook, garden, and go for walks with my family.  These are all true, but I also grumble to my husband, veg on the couch, yell at my kids, surreptitiously scratch, and say things I regret.  I even pay bills and, believe it or not, sometimes go to work.

I think one of the dangers of our modern online existence is that it makes all of us mini-celebrities (at least in our minds).  We're fluffy characters on a sitcom, taking pictures of our shoes and posting cute things our kids say.  We try to have our lives look as cute as Pinterest, while the things that really matter fall by the wayside because they don't look good in a picture or sound good in a status update.

I think there's a happy medium between exposing too much online and portraying a perfect image that doesn't have anything to do with the absurdity of reality.  I hope I can find that place.  I hope I can step away from my laptop and live life authentically, without just using that time to come up with things to post on Facebook.

By the way, the inherent contradiction of saying that I should be spending more time offline through the format of my blog is not lost on me.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where's the plot twist?

Last night I was watching Sherlock with the family, and I was thinking about how sublimely perfect the show is.  I really think they've done a marvelous job both in the writing and the casting of that show.  I mean, how can someone as pasty and odd-looking as Benedict Cumberbatch be so utterly compelling?

(Yes, I know there's some pot-kettle action in me calling anyone pasty.)

Oh, have you not seen Sherlock?  Then by all means hit the couch and watch it.  The first season, three 90-minute episodes, is available on Netflix, and the second season I was able to check out from the library.  They are relatively clean.  I felt okay with Isaac watching them, and Mindy just ignores it or runs away in protest of television in general.

The third season of Sherlock starts filming in January.  It's going to be a long wait.  I may have to start watching Dr. Who.

One of the strengths of Sherlock - of any mystery - is the plot twists.  How I wish I could write mysteries or at least throw some decent plot twists into my novels.  Even as I fell asleep last night I was wracking my brain, hunting for a plot twist for Ravenswood.  Nope.  Nothing there.

Then this morning at breakfast we were discussing the novel Divergent by Veronica Roth.  We've all read the novel.  Jacob had anticipated the first major plot twist, while Isaac and I had both been appropriately surprised.  We discussed the clues the author had given that Jacob had caught.

(Yes, our family does discuss novels over breakfast.  Don't you?)

As we were cleaning the kitchen Jacob brought up Ravenswood.  "I know you want me to give you some specific advice, but I don't have any ideas.  There is something that's missing, though.  You need a good plot twist."

Yep.  There it was.  Even though I didn't anticipate what Caleb was going to do at the beginning of Divergent, I did totally see Jacob's comment coming.  I bet you did, too.

"You're just too honest," Jacob went on.  "You don't lie enough and your characters don't, either."

Who knew that being such an open person would rub off on my characters?  So now I've got to figure out how to be more devious and deceitful.  I'm assuming sneaking three Oreos and then admitting it on my blog a few minutes later doesn't count.

If only I could just throw in some ninja pirates.

So if you find that I'm being sneaky and dishonest, you'll know that I'm just trying to come up with ideas for how to strengthen my novel.  It's nothing personal.

Now go watch some Sherlock.  It's way more interesting than me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Give it a second!

I wanted to share this video clip with you.  It's Louis C.K. from an interview with Conan O'Brien.

He's got a great point that we live in this amazing time and nobody seems to appreciate it.  We expect so much out of everything.  We feel like life owes us.  It's absurd.

So, your homework for today is to think about what is deeply awesome about the world we live in and spend a little time being amazed.

I'll start:

  • Sliced bread.  Seriously.  I hate slicing bread.
  • Microwaves.  I don't need to explain, right?
  • Internet.  There are so many people I have contact with that I wouldn't were it not for the Internet.  I may not have any direct contact with them, but through Facebook I can at least spy on them.
  • Antibiotics.  Because it's really neat that we don't all easily get sick and die.
  • Electricity.  Because it's very dark in Oregon in the winter time.
  • Telecommuting.  Oh, yeah.  I work in slippers.  I listen to my own music and eat in my own kitchen and take breaks in my own home.  I can move laundry over when I need to.  
  • Modern Plumbing.  Because pit toilets are disgusting and life's too long to live without hot showers.
  • Public School.  I am so glad that I'm not expected to try to teach my kids everything myself.  I'm one smart cookie, but I can't remember any history to save my life.
  • Olive oil, crusty loaves of bread, butter, red wine, chocolate, etc.  Another thing I really don't need to explain.
How about you?  What is deeply awesome about modern life?

Monday, June 25, 2012

In pursuit of washboard abs

I've mentioned several times that I'm participating in a Biggest Loser competition.  There are about thirty of us - friends and acquaintances - and if the competition goes anything like it has in the past, there will be a range of results.  There will also be a few outliers who manage to lose twenty to thirty pounds and start running marathons twice a week. I will try very hard not to hate these people.

My goal this time is to lose ten pounds.  This will not allow me to win the competition.  It takes more than that.

So why do I keep participating when I won't win?  Because it doesn't matter if I don't win the competition.  If I lose a couple of pounds, I have won.  If I simply manage not to gain, I have won.

Fat Amy.  I am not fond of this picture.
I used to weigh about seventy pounds more than I do now.  If you've ever been really heavy and lost the weight, you know how much work - physical and emotional - losing that kind of weight requires, and how horrifying the thought of putting it back on is.  I still need to lose about thirty pounds, but even more important is keeping the weight off.

Before I had kids I always assumed I was just doomed to be a fat person.  I wasn't one of those people that hits adulthood, eats too many pans of brownies, and has it catch up with their metabolism.  No, I always ate more than my metabolism could handle and was heavy from the time I was six years old.  There was no "getting back to my high school weight."  I'm thinner now than I was in high school.

Still fat, but much better now.
After my daughter was born I was so horrified by the condition of my body that I joined Weight Watchers.  Okay, I'll be honest, I didn't officially join Weight Watchers (at that time).  I just got the materials from my sister-in-law and did it by myself (I'm cheap that way).

Having kids has this effect on you sometimes.  Suddenly you realize that your health is important to more than just you.  There are people depending on you and kicking the bucket early would be a big disappointment for them.

So I tried to lose weight and it worked.   I was able to lose sixty-five pounds over the course of nine months.  Don't I make it sound so easy?  It wasn't easy, but it was possible, and I was so happy.  It's an amazing thing to learn after several decades of obesity that the trick to weight loss really is to eat less and exercise, that you really do control your own weight.

I'd be lying if I pretended that my only motivation to lose weight was my health.  I'm a woman and I live in the modern age of advertising when the media portrays women (compliments of Photoshop) sans anything resembling a realistic womanly shape.  I'm as vain as the next girl.

However, at this point it has a whole lot more to do with my health.  I've had the joy of having my body develop lots of problems at a pretty young age and also watching my father's health fail pretty spectacularly.  Thankfully none of my health issues are life-threatening, but keeping my body in the best condition possible has become a lot more important to me.  I still have many years left ("Good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise," as my dad used to say), and I don't want to spend them on a motorized scooter before I have to, even if Medicare will pay for it.

This blog post was not as much fun as I like them to be, but if it can be an encouragement to somebody then it's worth writing.  I'm as big a fan of food as the the next person, but it's not worth eating your way into an early grave.  You only get one body.  Take care of it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more crunches to do.  If I'm ever going to get those washboard abs, I'd better get to it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Knowing yourself

Years ago a teen girl in a small group that I was leading asked if there was anything good about becoming an adult.  "Aside from the sex, of course," she said.

I'll be honest.  It took me a moment.  At the time I had two toddlers, was back in college, and had a husband who worked a lot of overtime, so I wasn't feeling happy about adulthood myself.

I did eventually figure it out, however, and I still believe it.  The nice thing about getting older (yes, I know I'm not old - work with me here) is that you finally get to know yourself.

You would think that knowing yourself wouldn't take that long.  I mean, you've been there all the time!  But you have hidden depths you never suspected.  Frankly, once you figure yourself out it makes life a LOT easier.  Living with someone else can be a challenge, but living with yourself can be worse and is completely unavoidable.

Over the years there are several things I've learned about myself, and it's helped me to change my lifestyle so that I get along better with myself (and, consequently, with others):

  1. I have an uncontrollable addiction to Oreos.  This is not something to mess around with.  When I was first married we would blithely buy a bag of Oreos from the grocery store.  Then the next day Jacob would go to grab an Oreo and be unable to find the bag.  "Amy, where are the Oreos?"  Hmmm?  Suddenly I no longer habla'd the ingles.  We stopped buying Oreos after that.
  2. I must have clean kitchen counters.  Messy kitchen counters = irrational psychotic Amy.  I know it's stupid, but there it is.  So now I compulsively wipe down the counters and it's not a problem.
  3. Nothing must be on my bed.  Stuff on bed = irrational psychotic Amy.  I don't know why it bothers me.  I think I just need to know that at any moment I could go to bed and there would be nothing in my way.  I really love sleeping.
  4. I need a lot of attention.  And I will act out accordingly.  Jacob does a pretty good job of paying attention to me so that I don't have to resort to naughty behavior.  Every once in a while he gets busy, though, and then I have to write a blog post and pretend I have fans.
We do play with these quirks from time to time.  For example, every once in a while Jacob decides to live dangerously and will leave a notebook and a backpack or a load of clothes or something on the bed in the evening.  I think he wants to see if I'll come completely unhinged like last time.  (I do!)

We got stupid this last week and bought a bag of Oreos.  I started a new Biggest Loser competition yesterday, and there's a bag of Oreos in my kitchen!  How insane is that?  Yesterday I was jumping up and down with my arm in the cabinet above the fridge, desperately trying to reach the bag that Jacob had stashed behind the pancake griddle.  I wasn't able to get to the Oreos. 

However, this afternoon I reached up there and they had moved forward a good six inches.  I managed to toss three cookies back before the kids came into the kitchen and I was forced to pop a bag of popcorn in self-defense.

How about you?  What have you learned about yourself and what steps have you taken to make peace between the two of you?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

And in this corner . . .

Everybody knows that married people fight sometimes.  Let's be real.  Anytime you are living with another human being there will be occasional fights unless you don't pay any attention to each other at all.

The crazy thing about fighting with my husband, though, is that it's so stupid.  We don't fight about important things like money or the kids.  No, we usually fight about really awesome things like fighting.

Here is an excerpt from an imaginary fight:

"I don't want to go and leave you alone."
"No, you should go."
"And you won't feel bad?"
"No, not at all."
"Okay, then I'll go."
"Are you mad?"
"Of course I'm not mad.  I told you to go."
"You sound mad."
"Well, now I'm mad at you because you won't stop telling me I'm mad."
"I'm only saying you're mad because you're acting mad."
"Stop yelling at me."
"I'm not yelling!"
"Yes, you are!  Stop yelling.  You are so unfair.  I haven't done anything to deserve being yelled at!"
"Now you're yelling!"
"You yelled first!"
"I did not!"
"I'm not talking to you if you're going to yell like this!"

The fights are even more fun if one of us is hungry.  We've learned from experience that it's important to keep regular mealtimes because I, for one, am completely unreasonable if my tummy is empty.  Indeed, sometimes our best fights are because we take too long to figure out what to have for dinner.  That's why it's important to have something in the house that you can easily throw together into a meal while you're still muttering under your breath and slamming things.

In an ideal world, I suppose that there would never be any fighting at all, but that's just not possible.  We're people and people are emotional and often (if hungry) unreasonable.  The thing to remember is that fighting does not mean that you don't love each other.  Let it burn out fast, laugh about how stupid it is, and get on to the forgiving and forgetting part.

Now let's hope Jacob isn't mad at me for this blog post.

"Perhaps I did not always love him so well as I do now.  But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable.  This is the last time I shall ever remember it myself."  
- Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Friday, June 22, 2012

Taking a break from torture

Some of you are probably wondering how the torture of Piper is going in Ravenswood.
What?  Is this a food blog?  No, but isn't that
 the prettiest breakfast you've seen in a while?

Well . . .

Um . . .

I haven't been working on Ravenswood!

>ducks as virtual rotten tomatoes are thrown at her<

See, I was torturing her, and doing a great job of it.  Then I rescued her from the worst of it and now she's sitting in a motel room, freshly showered and looking forward to a nap.  I think she deserves the rest, so I'm letting her have it.

Mindy watering the geraniums.
Okay, that's only half of the truth.  The other half is that I don't know how to end the book.  I emailed my latest draft to Isaac and Jacob and begged them to help me.  Isaac the Speed-Reading Demon finished it in a few minutes and his main input was that I didn't torture Piper enough.

I've raised a very bloodthirsty boy.

So what have I been doing with my time if I'm not working on Ravenswood?  I obviously haven't been posting to my blog for a few days (sorry about that).  I haven't returned to work since I still have healing to do.
Mindy showing off the kale in her secret garden.

What I am doing is having fun with my family.   Mindy and I sewed together a quilt top out of old jeans and together we built a lattice for our Cinderella pumpkins.  She and Isaac both have helped me make at least twenty pints of strawberry jam. Today the whole family sat around and tied the jean quilt together.

So no great novel is being written at the moment.  However, I'm taking long walks with my family on sunny days and listening to the rain on dark days.  We're having french toast for breakfast and home-grown kale chips at dinner.  Bread is being baked, quilts are being assembled, pumpkins are growing, and hopefully my kids are building some memories and learning a little bit from mom while she's home with too much time on her hands.

So Piper can have a break from being tortured.  I'll eventually figure out what to do with her.  In the meantime, I don't feel the least bit guilty for taking some time to focus on my family because I think my kids are the best novels I could write.

The family gathered around to tie Mindy's new quilt.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The ice cream diet!

From a juicing website - I think she's been
juicing a little too much.
Next week I kick off another round of Biggest Loser with some friends, acquaintances, and a few complete strangers.  I've been doing this for years, but I've never won.  Not even when I had part of my stomach wrapped around my esophagus and couldn't eat for weeks.  However, other people lose lots of weight, and I'm very happy for them, so I keep putting in my $12 of support.

It would be fun to win, though, or at least lose some weight.  So, I was thinking about doing a juice fast.  A couple of months ago I watched "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" at the recommendation of a friend who did an extended juice fast and lost thirty-five pounds.

With all the glowing testimonials, it's hard not to want to try it.  One website said that if I did a juice fast that I would lose weight, my skin would tighten and be clear, my hair would be shiny, my eyes would be brighter, my mind would be clearer, my vision would be better, and I would have more energy.  In addition, it would heal my internal organs, eliminate my chronic illnesses, and boost my immune system.

Wow!  I mean, wow!  It'll fix all that?  And all I have to do is buy a juicer and a lot of produce and not chew anything at all for a while.  It's like magic.  Or not.

Do I think that doing a 30-day juice fast like my friend did can have health benefits?  Yes.

Will I be doing a juice fast?  No.

First of all, a juice fast is a bad idea for anyone with kidney disease.  My kidney disease is fairly mild, but I do have one, and I make it a point not to mess with it.

Most scientists and medical professionals agree that the health benefits from a juice fast are from eating so many fruits and vegetables, and you can do that without fasting.  The weight loss is from not consuming enough calories.  Chances are that if you restrict your calories sufficiently and consume plenty of fruits and vegetables you can get the health benefits without the risks.

There are so many health claims out there for various things, and the Internet is a veritable font of misinformation.  You can find someone who advocates nearly anything and says it will cure all your ills.  I mean, look at me!  I'm writing about health claims on a blog and I have no medical training whatsoever.  I could be making it all up.  I'm not even documenting my research.  Feel free to disbelieve everything I say.

Most health claims are for weight loss, of course.  We all want to be thin and svelte, or at least get the cash prize in Biggest Loser.  I'll tell you right now that I lost 20 pounds one summer in high school eating pretty much nothing but Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip ice cream.  I should start a Haagen-Dazs diet! Granted, the weight loss might have been due to the four hours a day I was swimming rather than the Haagen-Dazs.

Want to have some fun?   Faddiet.com (motto: 30 Ways to Lose the Same 5 Pounds) lists information on many fad diets, some more serious than others.  For example, one of the fad diets it lists is the Amputation Diet.  By amputating your leg, you could lose between 15 and 45 pounds.  Frankly, I would want to lose at least 50 pounds before trying something this drastic.  (Please note: This website has some potty humor and the ads can be quite dodgy.  You can take this as a warning or a recommendation.)

Want to know what really works to lose weight?  Okay, here goes:  if you want to lose weight, you should eat fewer calories than you burn.  It works every time.  You can lose weight safely if you make sure you eat quality, wholesome foods, lots of fruits and veggies, and exercise regularly.

Oh, is that no fun?  Sorry, reality is annoying sometimes.  Feel free to try the Cookie Diet instead.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Getting old before my time

I know that I'm not that old.  I do.  But sometimes I feel old.  It might have something to do with having four surgeries in eighteen months, but it goes deeper than that. I will present the evidence and you can tell me what you think.

Twelve Reasons I Think I'm Old

  1. Classic Rock stations play music from my childhood.
  2. I care deeply about retirement. (Although this could be because I'm an accountant.)
  3. When dining out I spend half an hour evaluating different options based on whether they will work with my specific physical, dietary, and financial requirements.  99% of the time I decide it's easier to eat at home.  Besides, then I don't have to put on real pants.
  4. The "hottest bachelors" in People Magazine look like they aren't old enough to vote, let alone get married.
  5. I've paid less than a dollar per gallon for gas, and it doesn't feel like it was that long ago.  Except it was nearly 20 years ago, and this is why I'm old.
  6. I'm not too cool to do that stupid dance.  I'm just pretty sure my knees aren't up to it.
  7. Similarly, I now take glucosamine for my joint health.
  8. Children I once taught are married with school-age children of their own.  These are not the kids that got knocked up in high school.
  9. Movies and television shows from my childhood now look really old.  Have you tried watching an episode of MacGyver?  It's grainier than Perry Mason was when I was a kid.
  10. Speaking of Perry Mason, it started in 1957, which means that it was about as old when I was watching it as MacGyver would be to my kids today.
  11. Buildings my age have dry rot.
  12. It has been thirty-five years since the Blazers won the NBA Championship.  I'm getting old here, people!
So, since I'm officially old, here's some fun nostalgia from my childhood.  A lot of it is very local, so it may only work for kids who grew up in Portland watching too much TV.

The Pop Shoppe.  When I was a kid we always had a red crate from the Pop Shoppe full of bottles of soda.  We'd take the crate of empty bottles back to the Pop Shoppe and exchange them for full bottles of all different kinds of soda.  It was like magic!  I miss it.  This is silly of me since I can't drink soda any more (because I'm old) and if I did I could always get it at Cosmic Soda Pop and Candy Shop.

The Kite Man.  Just watch the commercial.  Either you saw it as a kid or you didn't.  Either way it is WEIRD.  The 'stache is awesome, though, isn't it?

Ramblin' Rod.  I told you I watched too much TV.  When I was a kid the coolest thing in the world was being on Ramblin' Rod and getting to smile into the camera and cheer for the cartoons.  Now the whole thing seems creepy to me, but much of my childhood does.  This clip on YouTube is especially awesome because it mentions The Pop Shoppe.  (I am not receiving any endorsements from The Pop Shoppe.  I promise.)

He-Man.  Yet more TV.  Is that all I ever did?  Yes.  Back then excessive TV-watching was considered a sign of intelligence.  I'm not going to provide a link to this one because it still gets some syndication, which I find especially impressive considering how absolutely dreadful the show is.  

Hostess Choco-Bliss.  I spent my childhood consuming a lot of Hostess treats.  However, by the time I reached adolescence the pathetic Ding-Dongs and Cupcakes of my childhood were replaced by the wonder of the Choco-Bliss.  Two layers of devils food with a whipped chocolaty filling and chocolate frosting.  Mmmmm.  I was walking to 7-Eleven to buy one of these tasty treats in high school when I was picked up by the cops for violating curfew.  That's why they discontinued them.  They were contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  X-Entertainment has a nice discussion of the demise of this particular snack cake and a really awesome TV commercial.

Is there anything you are particularly nostalgic about?