12.31.2010

we are here

We made it to SF...I got sick on the plane, but other than that things went fine. We are rested up and ready to start writing.

Starting now.

Happy New Year everyone!

12.28.2010

packing paralysis

We leave for SF in less than 48 hours for a month and I am not packed. I don’t even know where to start.

A bag.

Ok, I have the bag, but now what?

I pack better under pressure...

Tomorrow.

12.27.2010

August G. Beckemeier Conservation Area


Across the street from Gram's house in St. Louis is the August G. Beckemeier Conservation Area. We have driven by it a thousand times and finally on this trip made it across the street. What a nice little conservation area. We were there just before sunset. See more pictures by clicking here.

12.21.2010

ghost butter



We got this ghost butter the other day at dinner. It was too cute not to memoralize.

12.18.2010

12.17.2010

bike share in dc


Brent and I both joined the new bike share in DC. The bike share has bikes all over the city. A phone application lets you know which stations have bikes available. There is one station two blocks from our house and then another right by my office. I can walk over, get on, ride to work, and park the bike there. Then if I want to ride home, I do the same thing again. The first 30 minutes of any ride is free. You do have to pay a $75 annual fee to join the program, or in the alternative, you can buy a day pass for $5.

The only hassle really is remembering to bring your helmet everywhere in case you want to bike home, etc.

http://www.capitalbikeshare.com/

12.14.2010

how Japanese people multiply


This is simply amazing. Love it.

Ok, it is apparently not Japanese but Vedic...Read more by clicking here.

12.11.2010

nonprofits and annoying address labels

Dear Nonprofits of the World,

Please stop sending me address labels. I will not give you money if you send them to me. I understand, you see this as a service and a way to guilt me into giving you money. I am stronger than that. I will not feel guilty using the damn labels, even if I don't like the way the look...or the cartoon character on them. I don't want to be wasteful and they are perfectly good labels...I just don't want them.

STOP.

Sincerely,
Nicole

12.09.2010

subculture

There is an emerging (maybe) subculture of people who are more interested in living a minimalist lifestyle on their own terms rather than working in a cube. I find this interesting...

Here is a link to one such blog: http://rowdykittens.com/about/our-downsizing-story/

They live in a small apartment in Portland.

Here is another one: http://manvsdebt.com/.


He and his wife sold everything they owned, moved to Australia and New Zealand with their baby....amazing.

This is the blog post that brought this subculture into my brain today:
The Minimalist Guide to Leaving Your Soul-Crushing Day Job.

"The first step to leaving anything is preparation (but not too much of it.)

Written by Everett Bogue

This is the first of a three part series on using minimalism to leave your day job in order to live and work anywhere.

Don’t miss out! Sign up for free updates via email or RSS.

If you’ve been following this blog long, or read The Art of Being Minimalist, you know that I left my job last August in order to launch my minimalist business and live and work from anywhere.

If you’re in a situation like I was a year ago, –the monotonous repetitive days, the future of my creativity rapidly dying,– I imagine you want to do this too.

You want to be like Colin Wright, and country hop every four months. Or like Karol Gajda, making a reasonable living online while crafting a hand-made guitar in India. Maybe you want to be like Tammy Strobel and start a very small writing business to support your car-free lifestyle.

Maybe you want to be like you! That’s even better.

It doesn’t matter what ideal life you imagine, you just need to know that it’s possible.

Before I get started: whenever I write these types of things, I always get comments from two kinds of people who think I’m nuts.

The first is the people with kids, “oh it’s so hard, I could never do that” crowd.

I know, it’s so much easier to quit your job when you’re single and in your twenties, but it’s not impossible to change your life just because you decided to procreate. Leo Babauta started his own business and quit his job through minimalism, and he has six kids! You can too, no excuses!

The other group of people who comment are the ones who claim to love their job.

Great! I’m so happy for you, don’t change anything.

But, if you really love your job, why are you reading a blog post about leaving your job? Go read and comment on something else! …unless you actually secretly hate your job, in which case you need to ask yourself some hard questions. Don’t just deny everything until you wake up one day 15 years down the road and wonder where your life went.

Now then, let’s get to business…

The obstacles of leaving your job.

Quitting your job is never easy. There are a number of obstacles to overcome in order to even think of going out on your own...'

Read more by clicking through.

12.08.2010

can you believe this?


Photo: Will Burrard-Lucas

Isn't it cute? It is a mini-Chameleon...Read more about it here. It is only an inch long...

12.06.2010

adorable free calendar to download



Check out this fun calendar. You pick the month you want the owl to go with and then you put it together and print it. What a wonderful free gift to give! You can download it by clicking here.

bloomberg's businessweek

We love this "new" magazine. I put it in quotes because Businessweek has been around for years, but it was not until Bloomberg bought it that we started reading it. The magazine strikes the balance between business and cultural information perfectly. You get national and international information in proper size: not too much, not too little, just right. They profile CEOs and small entripenuers. And the graphics are simply amazing. They use the graphics to add to and distill the information presented in the magazine.

Here is a link to the magazine...click here.

12.05.2010

the gingerbread party

It was a success again. Check out the pictures here...

12.02.2010

interesting

"Wind turbins in America kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds every year." Who knew? I found this article, from the Wall Street Journal to be so interesting, I posted it in my cube.

Original can be found by clicking here.

Studying the Biases of Bureaucratsby Matt Ridley
The Wall Street Journal

There is a fashionable new science—behavioral economics, they call it—which applies the insights of psychology to how people make economic decisions. It tries to explain, for instance, the herd instinct that led people during the recent bubble to override common sense and believe things about asset values because others did: the "bandwagon effect." And it labels as "hindsight bias" the all-too-common tendency during the recent bust to imagine that past events were more predictable than they were. Behavioral economics has also brought us notions like "loss aversion": how we hate giving up a dollar we have far more than forgoing a dollar we have not yet got.

But while there is a lot of interest in the psychology and neuroscience of markets, there is much less in the psychology and neuroscience of government. Slavisa Tasic, of the University of Kiev, wrote a paper recently for the Istituto Bruno Leoni in Italy about this omission. He argues that market participants are not the only ones who make mistakes, yet he notes drily that "in the mainstream economic literature there is a near complete absence of concern that regulatory design might suffer from lack of competence." Public servants are human, too.

Mr. Tasic identifies five mistakes that government regulators often make: action bias, motivated reasoning, the focusing illusion, the affect heuristic and illusions of competence.

In the last case, psychologists have shown that we systematically overestimate how much we understand about the causes and mechanisms of things we half understand. The Swedish health economist Hans Rosling once gave students a list of five pairs of countries and asked which nation in each pair had the higher infant-mortality rate. The students got 1.8 right out of 5. Mr. Rosling noted that if he gave the test to chimpanzees they would get 2.5 right. So his students' problem was not ignorance, but that they knew with confidence things that were false.

The issue of action bias is better known in England as the "dangerous dogs act," after a previous government, confronted with a couple of cases in which dogs injured or killed people, felt the need to bring in a major piece of clumsy and bureaucratic legislation that worked poorly. Undoubtedly the rash of legislation following the current financial crisis will include some equivalents of dangerous dogs acts. It takes unusual courage for a regulator to stand up and say "something must not be done," lest "something" makes the problem worse.

Motivated reasoning means that we tend to believe what it is convenient for us to believe. If you run an organization called, say, the Asteroid Retargeting Group for Humanity (ARGH) and you are worried about potential cuts to your budget, we should not be surprised to find you overreacting to every space rock that passes by. Regulators rarely argue for deregulation.

The focusing illusion partly stems from the fact that people tend to see the benefits of a policy but not the hidden costs. As French theorist Frédéric Bastiat argued, it's a fallacy to think that breaking a window creates work, because while the glazier's gain of work is visible, the tailor's loss of work caused by the window-owner's loss of money—and consequent decision to delay purchase of a coat—is not. Recent history is full of government interventions with this characteristic.

"Affect heuristic'" is a fancy name for a pretty obvious concept, namely that we discount the drawbacks of things we are emotionally in favor of. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill certainly killed about 1,300 birds, maybe a few more. Wind turbines in America kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds every year, generally of rarer species, such as eagles. Yet wind companies receive neither the enforcement, nor the opprobrium, that oil companies do.

If lawmakers are to understand how laws get applied in the real world, they need to know and understand the habits of mind of their officials.

—Matt Ridley's many books include, most recently, "The Rational Optimist" and "Francis Crick." His weekly column explores the science of human nature and its implications.

12.01.2010

speech

My good friend Carol is at the end of her 4-year term as County Commissioner in Queen Ann's County Maryland. She won four years ago in an October surprise. She worked tirelessly for the people of her county trying to build a sustainable future. She sent me her farewell speech which I really enjoyed.

"Our government does things for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Our family’s taxes could not even pay for our public school educations. We in QAC are fortunate to live in MD that has the best schools in the country. We have some of the best schools in the state. Even more important, we pay the lowest cost per pupil than any other county in the state.

That is real value, but not the only one we receive here.

I am an experienced manager and I can say that our County employees and staff are some of the most dedicated, hard working and skilled people I have worked with. They give us true value for our tax dollars.

Our public safety people, fire and EMS volunteers, are top notch. Our paid, professional DES has reduced response times dramatically during the past four years – all real value to our citizens and all who pass through our County.

The County depends upon many other citizen-volunteers who serve on our boards and commissions, in our schools, on our playing fields, and in volunteer civic groups such as the Local Management Board, animal rescue, the arts, 4H, Future Farmers, and scouts. ALL are of real value to us.

All of these people are the real Queen Anne’s County. We 5 are just the public face.

I have done my best to help protect our flora and fauna, watersheds and waterways as I promised four years ago.

Thank you all for giving me this opportunity, the honor of serving my adopted county.

I can now devote more time to my family, reading books (I held up two books – “The Poky Little Puppy” (it got a laugh) and “Mark Twain’s Autobiography”.) This is a copy of one of my first books and this is the one I am reading now – still slogging through the Introduction. (Gregg Todd shouted out “He dies at the end.”) Now I don’t have to finish reading it. …and civic activities.

We all need to become better informed and more active. None of this comes for free and all County costs are rising. Please attend and speak out at the Budget Hearings, especially if you are concerned with the losses of necessary services.

As Thom Hartmann says – “Tag, you’re it!” Actually, WE'RE it."

Great work Carol!

11.29.2010

new listserv

I am trying to make the place I am
the place I want to be.

To that end, I just started a listserv called: WashingtonDCScholars.

When I lived in Germany, there was this great listserv, BerlinScholars, which people used and continue to use to sell stuff, find subletters, find apartments, exchange information. DC did not have a similar thing that I could find until I started this one yesterday.

Already there are 13 members! Maybe this will work.

If you would like to join, click here:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/washingtondcscholars/


It would be fun if this works.

interesting video about waste



This guy Dan Phillips does a really interesting job analyzing why we seek perfection in our housing and how we can go about re-imagining what it is we are seeking in our shelter. I wish the talk had been longer.

Here is a link to more info about this guy in the New York Times.

11.28.2010

funny joke, necessarily offensive

try not to take offense:

In Heaven, the French are the cooks, the Italians the lovers, the English the police, the Swiss are the managers, and the Germans are the engineers.

In Hell, the English are the cooks, the Swiss the lovers, the Italians the engineers, the Germans the police, and the French are the managers.

funny.

11.24.2010

i love the post office

All we ever hear about the US Post Office is bad stuff: prices going up, stopping service on Saturdays...and of course people going postal.

But the postal workers of America rock. They do lots of good things...

Charlottesville, VA Branch 518 member Mary Good was making her deliveries when she came across a man lying in the center of the street, bleeding profusely from his head. Good quickly grabbed a phone to call 911 and protected the injured man from being struck by oncoming traffic. She remained with him until the rescue squad arrived. The man had been crossing the street when he apparently blacked out and suffered a concussion. Good then ran to the realty office the man owned to tell his son what had transpired.

NOTICING ACCUMULATING MAIL IN THE mailbox of an elderly customer, Audel Garcia grew concerned. Since the 89-year-old Mrs. Ho picked up her mail regularly and because there was no vacation hold order, Garcia went to knock on the door to check on the woman. When he heard her feeble call for help in response, he summoned police and emergency crews. Ho’s son wrote to the post office to commend the Santa Clara, CA Branch 1427 member for not only saving his mother’s life, but also for his professional and friendly service on a daily basis. This was not Garcia’s first heroic act. He was also spotlighted in the March 2009 Postal Record for performing CPR on a customer who had collapsed in his driveway.


And you can read more about these feats by clicking here...at the "Postal Record."

11.23.2010

bodymedia part deux

So, I have been wearing my BodyMedia fit for a month now. And I have the data to prove it!

Here's a summary:

I am only sleeping on average 6 hours and 53 minutes a night. I thought I slept 8 hours a night. I am lying down for an average of 8 hours and 35 minutes.

I eat on average 1400 calories a day. This seems low to me. I bet I eat closer to 1600, but even still I have burned on average 2785 calories. How can this be? I eat on average 16% protein, 46% carbs, and 36% fat...oh and 3% alcohol.

I have only lost 2 pounds...maybe.

I average 9812 steps a day. Not bad.

Interesting....

This just reenforces my feeling that calories in do not equal calories out.

And I need to sleep more.

11.21.2010

great idea

Marriage is about the ability to agree on a central narrative.

Idea from Elizabeth Gilbert.

I like this idea. I think couples should have to put together a statement of purpose or something before they get married. I think it would help people make sure they are on the same page....

11.20.2010

one way to cheer up your grandmother




I just love the idea of dressing Grammy up like a superhero. I wonder if she would be game!?!


"A few years ago, French photographer Sacha Goldberger found his 91-year-old Hungarian grandmother Frederika feeling lonely and depressed. To cheer her up, he suggested that they shoot a series of outrageous photographs in unusual costumes, poses, and locations. Grandma reluctantly agreed, but once they got rolling, she couldn't stop smiling.

Frederika was born in Budapest 20 years before World War II. During the war, at the peril of her own life, she courageously saved the lives of ten people. When asked how, Goldberger told us "she hid the Jewish people she knew, moving them around to different places everyday." As a survivor of Nazism and Communism, she then immigrated away from Hungary to France, forced by the Communist regime to leave her homeland illegally or face death.

Aside from great strength, Frederika has an incredible sense of humor, one that defies time and misfortune. She is funny and cynical, always mocking the people that she loves.

With the unexpected success of this series, titled "Mamika," Goldberger created a MySpace page for his grandmother. She now has over 2,200 friends and receives messages like: "You're the grandmother that I have dreamed of, would you adopt me?" and " You made my day, I hope to be like you at your age."

Initially, she did not understand why all these people wrote to congratulate her. Then, little by little, she realized that her story conveyed a message of hope and joy. In all those pictures, she posed with the utmost enthusiasm. Now, after the set, Goldberger shares that his grandmother has never shown even a hint of depression. Perhaps it's because her story serves some sort of purpose. That through the warm words of newfound friends, she's reminded of just how lucky she is to be alive.

We got in touch with Sacha Goldberger, the grandson and talented photographer to ask him more about his background and creative process. He told us this: "I've been photographing for four years now and before that I worked as a creative director. My grandmother is very professional. I'd show her some poses, and she'd propose some of her own. I like to tell stories and I also work with some very creative friends.""

See more pictures here: http://www.mymodernmet.com/

11.17.2010

11.15.2010

interesting video

11.14.2010

really neat movie...seeking funding



A story about a man, his house, and his adopted Japanese son.

11.13.2010

book review: the sound of a wild snail


by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

A woman in my last writing class did a book review of this book, and it was possibly the most eloquent book review I have ever read. Instead you are left with my more pedestrian review.

This book was WONDERFUL. Really wonderful. Bailey took a topic I thought I had figured out, namely snails, and complicated them. My previous understanding about snails: dumb, slimy, easy to kill with salt, some people eat them. Now I know a lot more.

Bailey was struck with some kind of illness that left her bedridden for years. A friend brought her a snail, and watching the snail, at the snail’s pace was the only activity Bailey was capable of for many months. She would lie on her side watching the snail. Day after day she and the snail co-existed. If you listen very closely, snails even make noise.

Of note:
“Some [snail species] (sic) are so minute that they would not hide the letter o in this print.” REALLY? That is small people.

Here you can see how snails have sex:

Bottom line: this is truly a book to read, regardless of whether you care about snails or not.

11.12.2010

very cool video

Kim Rugg from Cool Hunting on Vimeo.

11.11.2010

so f**king cool



Wow. So this photographer, Abelardo Morell, turns rooms in to cameras. The results are amazing. (I have inverted his pictures. See the original Summer version, by clicking Summer, and Fall, by clicking Fall.)

See more of his work here...

How it works...from his website:
Camera Obscura
I made my first picture using camera obscura techniques in my darkened living room in 1991. In setting up a room to make this kind of photograph, I cover all windows with black plastic in order to achieve total darkness. Then, I cut a small hole in the material I use to cover the windows. This allows an inverted image of the view outside to flood onto the walls of the room. I would focus my large-format camera on the incoming image on the wall and expose the film. In the beginning, exposures took five to ten hours.
Over time, this project has taken me from my living room to all sorts of interiors around the world. One of the satisfactions I get from making this imagery comes from my seeing the weird and yet natural marriage of the inside and outside.
A few years ago, in order to push the visual potential of this process, I began to use color film and positioned a lens over the hole in the window plastic in order to add to the overall sharpness and brightness of the incoming image. Now, I often use a prism to make the projection come in right side up. I have also been able to shorten my exposures considerably thanks to digital technology, which in turn makes it possible to capture more momentary light. I love the increased sense of reality that the outdoor has in these new works .The marriage of the outside and the inside is now made up of more equal partners.

11.10.2010

book review: hector and the search for happiness



by Francois Lelord

On the fishing trip I got through two books. It was just glorious! One was this little book about Hector and his search for happiness. Hector is a French psychologist. He realizes that he is unhappy and decides to go on a trip to different places in the world in order to figure out rules to remember about happiness.

Hector has quite a few adventures and all the while he keeps a small notebook of the lessons he learns. I find the lessons to be incredibly accurate:

My favorite lessons from the book:

Happiness often comes when least expected.
Many people see happiness only in their future.
Happiness is being with people you love.
Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.

I am now reading a book about Stoicism and I really think this book and that other book compliment each other well. I will write about that book when I finish it. Until then, I would love to share these three excerpts from the Stoic book here.

Excerpt 1: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/10/27/twenty-first-century-2.html
Excerpt 2: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/10/29/twenty-first-century-3.html
Excerpt 3: http://boingboing.net/2010/11/01/twenty-first-century-4.html

11.09.2010

book review: A Secret Gift



A few months ago Grammy called us late, really late, like 2 AM. It was before her heart surgery. She was all kinds of upset because of the economy. She had spoken to her son earlier that day and he had offhandedly said asked if she was ready for the second depression, since she had made it through the first.

Grammy's question to me and Brent really revolved around one major topic: food. During the depression she told us she had eaten beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She was not going to do it again.

Brent was able to talk her down. He explained that after the depression we, as a country, had enacted a series of programs to act as social safety-nets. Gram seemed to calm down.

I both believe and could not believe that she only had beans to eat. That is until I started reading A Secret Gift, How One Man's Kindness- and a Trove of Letters-Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression. When I think of the depression I think of it in aggregate: bad things happened all over the world. People were poor.

But tangibly that meant nothing. After reading this book, I have a much better sense of what happened.

For example, all of the banks failed. We have all seen It's a Wonderful Life but that does not really bring the failed banks idea home.

Since the recession started, 306 banks have failed, but no one has really felt it, because your savings are insured by the US government. What if they had not been? Can you imagine your life savings just going away? Not there anymore? Maybe Americans have such small savings accounts, that it would not be that big of a deal, but I can't really believe that.

I have numerous friends and family members who have lost their jobs, but because of unemployment insurance, their lives went on. They eventually found new jobs.

The book really brings home what life was like and could be like if we did not have the safety net in place we have to day. I wish more people who are so supportive of smaller government would read what the results of these types of policies can be in real life.

Oh and it is a super heartwarming tale that makes you want to give more away, because as we all know, the giver gets more than he gives.

11.08.2010

the pantry

Brent and I have been getting the vegetable share for the four years since I returned from Berlin. It comes once a week from Washington’s Green Grocer. We get a weekly list of what is planned to arrive on Sunday.

We have often failed to eat all of the veggies, which really made me feel guilty. That said, we kept ordering, because I felt like we were learning as we went along.

Linda did not cook a lot. So my first exposure to really good food made a home was when I went to visit my aunt and uncle in western Massachusetts. They live so far from take out and the city, they had to become chefs in their own rights. One Thanksgiving I spent there we had southwestern Turkey, with all of these tastes which I had never been exposed to.

While it has taken me quite a few years, I am finally getting the handle of cooking. And really, it starts with the kitchen. A few years ago, we pared down our kitchen utensils. We used the list from Mark Bittman. (found by clicking here.) Then, a few weeks ago on a whim I purchased a book from Amazon called Urban Pantry. What a great little book. She explained the pantry to me. And boy was that a simple change that has made all the difference in how easy it is to cook at home. The secret: Line up your pantry like it would be in the grocery store with all like things together. Linda NEVER did this. I just don’t think she had the patience for cooking.

The final change that has lead to way more cooking at home is another Mark Bittman suggestion. We put the toaster over away and we put the food processor down on the counter. It is there always ready to go. I think we have used the processor at least 5 out of 7 days since we did this one small thing.

More on this topic as it evolves. But the bottom line is that it costs less and tastes better to cook at home.

11.05.2010

do this

Go to http://maps.google.com/.

Type in: San Francisco, CA to China.

Scroll down to 15.

Laugh.

awesome

Bad Things That Could Happen from This Is It on Vimeo.

11.04.2010

thoughts for thursday

“Each moment of our life, we either invoke or destroy our dreams. We call upon it to become a fact, or we cancel our previous instructions.”

Stuart Wilde (never heard of him... learn more about him here.)

Brent stumbled across this quote this evening. I like it. I like the idea that you are either working towards your dreams or not.

Reminds me of Unkle Ed's mantra:
Decide what you want to do and then
Decide what you are willing to do to make it happen.
Then all of your other decisions become binary.

11.03.2010

unschooling?

Has anyone else ran across this idea? Instead of homeschooling, you unschool your kids? I would describe my understanding of it as a cross between Montessori- where kids learn at their own pace- and home schooling - they learn at home.

I think this is both cool and scary, this unschooling idea. What if your kids are lazy? In one book I recently read, one son spent a year playing video games. That's it. On the the couch playing...

So, I would love to hear what others think about this. I ran across a great blog about a woman who is unschooling her kids.

More information about unschooling:
http://www.unschooling.com/

From Wikipedia:
"Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child.

The term "unschooling" was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the "father" of unschooling. While often considered to be a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically estranged from homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Popular critics of unschooling tend to view it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their peers, especially in the job market, while proponents of unschooling say exactly the opposite is true: self-directed education in a natural environment makes a child more equipped to handle the "real world.""

11.01.2010

personal financial plan

This is a plug for our personal financial plan and the advisor who helped us put it together. Brent and I decided a few months ago that we needed a third party to look at our finances and help us figure out which debt to pay off first. Brent may have balked at the price at first, because if you use a third-party who is independent from a company, and thus not selling you anything, then you have to pay for this person's services and time. Being lawyers, this is kind of funny.

Anyway, we did our shopping. There is a website which has a long list of independent financial advisors. We went out and met with one guy. But Brent and I are tough clients: we are highly educated, not only generally, but also about financial issues. We also hold a number of unconventional ideas: we don't believe that buying a home is the only way to financial security and we believe in saving big for retirement. (There are more, but I will keep those to myself!)

So, the fates stepped in after the meeting with the financial advisor: we were out near our friend Mark and Pam's house. We called them up to get dinner. We told them about how the advisor thought we were crazy. We lamented finding anyone who understood us. We drove home and then it hit us: Mark should be our advisor. He fit all of the criteria.

We went out to see him to receive our financial analysis two weeks ago. We left with a great binder of information about all kinds of topics ranging from a health care analysis, to cash flow, to a recommended monthly savings goal, and finally insurance recommendations. We also have a long "to do" list of things Mark would like us to get in order. It was great. I felt like we had finally gotten our act together on this front. And Mark did a wonderful job explaining things with us and sparring with us. I really left with a positive feeling.

So, hire Mark. He rocks. Or find your own advisor. Either way, I would recommend using some one who is independent.

Mark Weber, Certified Financial Planner

10.31.2010

random clouds

10.30.2010

how big is Africa?


Montana is big. People don't really get how big it is. Well Africa is much much bigger. Bigger than most of the rest of the land mass in the world. That big.Click here to see some other interesting views on land mass.

10.29.2010

living more responsibly

Look, you might believe in global warming, you might not. I don't really care. But, if you are religious, or not, we can all agree that ethically we should act as stewards for our planet. Period. End of statement.

But how? Erin sent me this great article from the LA Times. This is a great newspaper that I don't read often enough. The author tried numerous ideas to live a more environmentally responsible lifestyle. She tried chickens (fail) and compostable toilets (fail too) and gray water systems (success!). The article is simply fascinating.

This year Brent and I have tried a few things since reading that DIY book. I bought a rain collector for our deck. Just used it to water our little bit of plants we still have left. We have a huge drying rack, but routinely forget to use it. We got this super neat recharging valet which turned off the electricity once your appliances were fully charged, but it never worked properly so we sent it back. I have started carrying my reusable coffee mug in my purse so I have it when I need it. Now just to remember to take it out of said purse...anyway, we are trying.

Read it and try some of these things!

Eco-friendly projects: One woman's report on living green

By Susan Carpenter

Los Angeles Times

It started with gray water, then escalated to chickens, composting toilets and rain barrels. I'm talking about the two years I've spent transforming my humble California bungalow into a test case for sustainable living — an experience that's cost me hundreds of hours of my time and thousands of dollars, an endeavor that has tested the limits of not only my checkbook but also my sanity — and my DIY skills.

When I first delved into the subject, the idea was to look at environmentally promising home improvement projects through the eyes of a budget-minded consumer. I had seen so much media coverage that heaped praise on newly constructed eco-manses or expensive retrofit products, but the stories didn't answer my biggest question: For the green-minded person writing the checks, are the improvements worth the time, effort and expense?

Although everything I retrofitted seemed wise at the time I did it, hindsight tells a different story. Over time, I occasionally questioned the wisdom of some actions.

The idealist in me finds value in every improvement, but the realist can't deny that some have been far better in payback — if not financially, at least morally. The systems that easily fold into my busy life are the ones I've enjoyed most.

What's been worth the money and effort, and what hasn't?

———

WORTH IT: PROJECTS THAT REALLY PAID OFF

GRAY WATER

First place

Gray water is the waste generated from faucets, showers and laundry machines — water that accounts for 54.2 percent of all water used inside a home, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With California deep into a drought, in August 2008, I retrofitted the plumbing on my laundry machine to send its gray water onto my landscape. Over the last two years, that simple switch has sent 9,720 gallons to passion fruit vines instead of the sewer, and it required only one change to my usual routine. I had to swap laundry detergents because my usual brand, like many, contained salt and other ingredients that kill plants.

When I first installed a gray-water system, it wasn't legal. Making it legal would have required a permit, extensive filtering apparatus and lots of cash. But in August 2009, these laundry-to-landscape systems were legalized in California, as long as homeowners followed 12 guidelines.

I've been so pleased with this low-cost, high-impact system that I hired a plumber to expand it in January, tying the wastewater from my bathtub, shower and bathroom sink into the same gravity-fed plumbing line that handles my laundry water. This so-called simple system also was legalized in California in 2009. Its legal status has since been rescinded, so once again I've gone rogue. I estimate my additional savings to be roughly 1,120 gallons per month.

Financially, this system is paying for itself, just slowly. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power charges me less than half a penny per gallon, so technically, gray water has saved me only $95 in water costs so far. But it's also reduced my sewer charge by about one-third, saving me an extra $3.30 per month. In drought-prone Southern California, gray water feels like the right thing to do. It's been the easiest, most sensible, hassle-free, sustainable system I've put in place at my house.

Cost: $1,988 ($312 for the laundry-to-landscape plumbing, $1,676 for bathtub and bathroom sink tie-in)

Resources: Greywater Action, www.greywateraction.org; Oasis Design, oasisdesign.net

———

SOLAR POWER

Second place

Photovoltaic systems pay off most quickly for consumers who use a lot of energy because tiered rates impose a penalty for heavy use, but solar electric still makes sense for low-energy users such as myself.

So much of Americans' carbon footprint results from buildings — about 43 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. I'm a household of 1 1/2 (mom and 7-year-old), and we use only about 4 kilowatt hours of electricity per day, something we've managed through behavioral changes, such as turning off the lights in rooms after we've exited, and through in-home efficiencies, such as swapping out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents and using power strips that can turn off DVD players, coffee makers and other energy vampires.

Using less electricity means I can get by with a smaller, less expensive photovoltaic system that not only covers my use but also produces a credit on my power bill. Going solar also meant my house was upgraded with a time-of-use meter. This type of meter allows me to receive credit for the electricity I generate during peak hours when electricity costs the most, but pay the least for the electricity during off-peak hours, when I recharge my cellphone and laptop and perform other tasks requiring power.

The downsides are that I am tied in to the grid and still susceptible to power outages, and I now have panels that need to be cleaned. It's a subject of debate, but my installer, REC Solar, said dirty panels decrease energy production by 6 percent to 8 percent. Many panel manufacturers recommend cleaning panels at least once during the summer. I wash mine whenever they look dirty or dotted with bird droppings, which is about every other week.

I think $6,000 is a small price to pay, not only for panels that should generate my next 20 years of electricity, but also for the greenhouse-gases I'm not creating.

Cost: $5,939 ($11,564, minus a $3,898 DWP rebate and a $1,727 federal tax credit)

Resources: California Public Utilities Commission, www.cpuc.ca.gov; 1 Block Off the Grid, www.1bog.org; REC Solar, www.recsolar.com

———

RAIN BARRELS

Third place

I was a rain barrel skeptic before I joined L.A.'s rainwater harvesting pilot program last fall and received a 55-gallon pickle barrel. Though rainwater holds such enormous potential for supplementing Southern California's dwindling reserves of imported water, rain barrels seem like such thimbles. During a normal L.A. winter, my 1,500-square-foot roof generates 13,500 gallons of water — a tidal wave compared to what a little barrel can handle.

Having lived with rain barrels for a year, I've learned that their small size makes them manageable and affordable. The water they catch isn't stored only for summer use. It can be drained in between rains to water nearby plants. An added perk: reducing storm-water runoff to the ocean.

I have three rain barrels — one from the city and two that I purchased separately. They're along the edge of my house, at the halfway point in a row of kiwi vines and berries. The 175 gallons they hold were a lot more useful than I'd expected for feeding my exceptionally thirsty fruit plants. The water they held lasted about a month into the summer.

I never had mosquitoes. I did, however, have some algae growing in the plastic tubes connecting my rain barrels, but it wasn't significant enough to reduce flow. Water pressure was problematic only for the last few gallons of each barrel.

I still think larger rain catchment systems are preferable. Alas, larger systems frequently need electric pumps and are far more expensive. In this economy, affordability rules. And it's affordability that could lead to mainstream adoption and significant water savings for our parched city.

Cost: $500 ($300 for rain barrels, $200 for installation and parts)

Resources: L.A. Rainwater Harvesting, www.larainwaterharvesting.org; Rain Bud, www.rainbud.com

———

EARTH WORKS

Fourth place

Rainwater isn't only a resource. It's also a potential pollutant if it runs off property onto pavement, picking up fertilizers and automotive fluids that are washed, unfiltered, into the ocean.

To prevent my home's contributions to runoff, which could be as much as 10,000 gallons per year, according to L.A.'s Bureau of Sanitation, I've sculpted my landscape to retain as much rainwater as possible.

The parkway between the sidewalk and the curb is concave and mulched. My backyard is home to a 15-foot-wide hole in the ground that is fed with gutters from my roof. During the rainy season, this infiltration pit can hold as many as 500 gallons at a time, allowing it to gradually replenish groundwater. During the dry season, it's been doing double duty as a skateboard pit.

Cost: Not easy to determine because it was part of a larger landscape project, but for DIYers, potentially free

Resources: Rainwater harvesting books by Brad Lancaster, www.harvestingrainwater.com

———

NOT WORTH IT: TASKS THAT LEFT HER MORE BLUE THAN GREEN

WATERWALL

The Waterwall is an Australian product that is exactly what its name implies: It's a wall that catches and stores water. Water channeled from the roof and gutter drains into a tank shaped like a thick concrete-block wall. It operates similarly to a rain barrel but holds six times as much water and is better looking. It's also modular, allowing water to flow freely from one wall into another in series.

The Waterwall was expensive, and installation was a nightmare. It's an excellent idea that simply wasn't worth the money for a person of my means. If California's drought persists and water prices start going through the roof, I'm likely to change my attitude. But so far, the $4,078 I've spent to store 634 gallons of water I could have bought from the city for about $3 is an embarrassment, particularly with so many ways to conserve.

Even worse, it's been annoying to use. I put my Waterwall near a trio of stone-fruit trees that would happily drink in the water. Unfortunately, the water pressure drops along with the level of water in the wall, and running the water through a relatively short, 15-foot length of hose or even lifting the hose above the spigot decreases its flow rate.

I love the Waterwall in theory, and I still think I would've ringed my backyard with Waterwalls if I'd known about them 10 years ago, when I installed an appallingly expensive redwood fence.

Cost: $4,078 ($2,300 for two walls, plus $944 for shipping and taxes, plus $834 for installation)

If I had to do it over again: I'd go with a cistern or a large, agricultural above-ground tank.

———

EDIBLE LANDSCAPING

When the economy was freefalling two years ago, I couldn't shake the fear that the American infrastructure was about to crumble and that I should start growing my own food. Thus began an incredibly long, expensive and back-breaking journey. Not only did I have soil that was high in lead, but I also had critters that liked to dig and destroy. Then there's the water issue. It takes a lot of the wet stuff to grow most fruit and vegetables.

Having transitioned my low-water ornamental landscape to edibles, I'd say this is a project for people with time, money and a love of gardening and cooking. It isn't a job for single mothers with high-stress jobs who'd rather not spend their precious down time watering, pulling weeds and bringing in their harvest.

I've resigned myself to the fact that I won't likely learn as much as I should to maximize my yields. At this point, I'm just hoping this whole project won't end up being a high-cost intellectual exercise that bears little fruit. Passion fruit and tomatoes have had the biggest payoff so far. Beans, corn and kale? Not so much. It's so easy to get high-quality produce from a CSA, or community supported agriculture group, which is what I've been doing for the last year: spending $18 a week for organic, locally grown produce conveniently delivered to my son's school.

Cost: outrageous

If I had to do it over again: I would install one or two planter boxes. I'd buy the rest of my produce from a community-supported agriculture group such as Equitable Roots.

———

COMPOSTING TOILET

Water is a precious resource, and we flush an awful lot if it away. At my house, my low-flow toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush. If it's flushed 10 times a day, that's 16 gallons of imported drinking water that's pooh-poohed and sent 23 miles to a wastewater treatment plant that uses precious electricity to process it, then has to dispose of leftovers.

The final frontier of green living, the composting toilet is a low-tech option. There are a surprising number of commercial composting toilets on the market that look nice, cost a fortune and can't handle heavy use, which is why I went with something called a Separett. Developed in Sweden, it's a piece of plastic foam that looks like a toilet seat except it's outfitted with two holes — yes, No. 1 and No. 2. Each empties into its own 5-gallon bucket I access through a trap door on the side of my house.

I'll admit, as committed as I am to living green, this is not a system I use all the time. In fact, I use it rarely, and only for No. 1

As much as I support the premise of a composting toilet, I'm more devoted to the traditional porcelain god. I just try to flush less.

Cost: $627 ($127 for Separett, $500 for construction labor and materials to convert built-in cabinet to toilet)

If I had to do it over again: I might need more clearance under my house, but I'd go with a commercial composting toilet from Clivus Multrum.

———

CHICKENS

This is one of the projects I was most excited about and one that's turned out to be among my biggest failures. After buying a chicken coop, feed and hens procured through L.A. Animal Services, I got only four eggs.

L.A. may be a sprawling metropolis, but it isn't devoid of wild animals. Some people have coyotes. I've got possums and raccoons, which breached my coop and gobbled down my ladies.

A forensic investigation revealed the intruder had dug under its edges, so I fixed the problem by driving stakes deep into the ground and nailing pieces of wood to other possible areas of entry. Although I wasn't 100 percent confident that these beady-eyed villains wouldn't return to the scene of the crime, I nevertheless journeyed back to the animal shelter to purchase two more chicks, only to be woken up at 1 in the morning to the sound of distress. Running outside, I found a lady bird dangling from the mouth of a shiny-eyed raccoon. The other chicken was missing.

I've been buying eggs at the store ever since, but I was hipped to my local egg underground. Last week, I got my first dozen eggs from a neighbor who's more game than I for the challenge of raising chickens.

Cost: $530 for coop, feed and chickens

If I had to do it over again: I would skip the coop and find a local alternative.

———

SMALL, EASY WAYS TO LIVE GREENER

Green home improvement doesn't have to mean elaborate new systems or expensive construction projects. Some small steps for a greener life:

Laundry line

Clothes dryers account for 5 percent to 10 percent of a home's energy use. I have one, but I use it only if I'm desperate. My laundry line is strung unobtrusively across my backyard deck, and the sun dries clothes in mere hours. For me, the low-tech laundry line is about the easiest and simplest thing I can do to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Cost: about $50 for equipment.

Diet

My home improvement retrofits have convinced me that more environmental savings could be obtained by eating less meat and dairy. The cattle business creates more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, according to a 2006 United Nations report. So, although I love burgers and can't give them up entirely, I eat fewer, and I'm mostly substituting almond and soy milk for dairy.

Composting

About 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream is yard and food waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Composting that waste is how I produce only a small grocery bag's worth of trash every other week. It's one of my greatest achievements. About a quarter of my trash savings comes from composting food scraps. Cost: $20 for a bin through a city of Los Angeles composting workshop.

Recycling

The other three-quarters of my trash savings comes from recycling, for which I have an almost-religious fervor. About 80 percent of what Americans throw away is recyclable, yet only 28 percent actually is recycled. Cost: nothing but the time it takes to throw something in the blue bin.

———

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

10.28.2010

fun new camera


My friends Mike and Opal had this old camera hanging around. They gave it to me. I took the lens off of my digital camera and put the camera up to the camera to use the lens to take these pictures. They are only the first of many. Fun!!!

10.27.2010

stop catalogs

I am so tired of getting catalogs. Grrrr.

This might help you stop getting a few if they are a problem for you:

Click through to this link:
www.catalogchoice.org

To stop other junk mail write or email these people:
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

ww.dmaconsumers.org

Remove my name!

This seems to have reduced our catalogs/junk mail a bit.

10.25.2010

lovers and friends

"A scientific study reveals that having a new romantic partner comes at the cost of losing two close friends."

Brent sent me this article a few weeks ago. (Read the article here.) I have been thinking about this idea since then. And I think I did in fact lose two close friends when I gained Brent.

The article does not really satisfactorily discuss the "why"...Why does this happen? They think it just has to do with time management.

Interesting.

10.24.2010

boy, isn't this true

Bureaucracy was born out of the human desire
for complete assurance before taking action.

Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happen

bodymedia fit

A few months ago I got this cool GPS watch for running, except that it had problems connecting with the satellites. By the time it connected, I was either too annoyed to run or too something...so I took it back to REI. The reason we shop there is so we can take things that don't work back...so I am glad they took it back. Their customer service is going downhill though.

In its stead I got this new little gadget: BodyMedia Fit. It is this little guy that you wear on your arm. It tracks your activity and sleep. They recommend wearing it 23 hours a day. I have been wearing it for four days. (The device is the same as a bodybug.)

Results so far:
1. I don't sleep nearly as much as I need to or thought I was sleeping. (6.5 hours v. 8 hour laying in bed.)
2. We walk a lot, but not enough on the weekends.
3. I tend to eat much worse (read more carbs and sugar and refined foods) on the weekends.

You are supposed to measure your calories in v. you calories used to create a calorie deficit.

The only problem I really have with this whole set up is that I don't believe in the calories in - calories out = weight loss, but I am going to stick with this for a few months. Let's see what happens.

10.23.2010

relative direction

We have spent a lot of time on faceblindness lately. I know. I know. It still blows my mind. There are other problems people have. One is a problem knowing right from left consistently. I have this. If someone says turn right, I have to physically lift up my hands and say, "right, left." Then I remember.

The other relative directions are: up, down, forward, and backwards.

Some cultures use relative directions, and some use cardinal (absolute) directions, like north, south, east, and west. (I wonder where that leaves up and down?)

The Economist has covered this topic in a few articles, one of which can be found here: Article 1.

I have also read, and I don't remember where, that women and men tell directions differently. Women tend to use landmarks more while men use streets more.

"Go down to the Stop and Shop, then turn there towards the McDonalds. Drive until you go past the blue house and our house is the next green house with a walnut tree in front."

"Go down to the next light, go right. Then drive to the address 6377. That's our house."

These directions could essentially get you to the same place, but sound completely different. I feel this demonstrates one of the difficulties in communication in heterosexual relationships: we conceive of the world differently. (Query whether homosexual relationships have the same issues. I don't know.)

The New York Times magazine ran a long magazine article about whether language shapes how people think. (click here to read it)

I believe language does shape how we think. We just listened to another mindblowing Radiolab about language. In that article, one theorist posits that until we acquire language, we can't think. We can't think. Think about that. The show also has a story about a man who does not have language at age 27. (I told this to someone and they brought up the "your ability to acquire language ends at a certain age." I have heard that but that was not the case here. I don't know why. Maybe Claudia could weigh in on this?)

Speaking of Claudia, in German I am a whole different person. I am cuter. I am less direct. I swear a lot less. Isn't that strange? Does anyone else have a different personality in a different language? Katerina? I bet you are different in Greek v. German v. English v. French, but I don't know for sure. Marika? Hai? Laura?

Listen to the radio lab below:

10.22.2010

ebay: experiment failure

So the last two weeks I have tried selling some things on ebay. I just wanted to see how it worked and if I could make any money doing it. I have sold:

2 pairs of shoes
1 raincoat
1 bag

One pair of shoes went for way more than I expected. The purse was sold for a lot less than I wanted. The raincoat was a wash. And one pair of shoes went for a steal.

It took a lot of actual time to sell this stuff and a lot of mental time. I kept checking the things to see if they were selling. Yes, I made a few bucks, but I think in the future we will just give things to friends or goodwill. That makes me feel better...giving away the stuff.

10.18.2010

9 tips to get rid of clutter

These are from Gretchen Rubin (who has a blog about happiness and used to live in our apartment!!)

These Ideas Come from Zen Habits, where she wrote the article:
1. Does this thing work? I was surprised by how hard it was to admit that something was broken and couldn’t be fixed—say, our dud toaster or my daughter’s frog clock. Why was I hanging on to these things?
2. Would I replace it if it were broken or lost? If not, I must not really need it.
3. Does it seem potentially useful—but never actually gets used? Something like an oversized water-bottle, a corkscrew with an exotic mechanism, or a tiny vase. Or duplicates. How many spare glass jars did I need to keep on hand?
4. Was I “saving” it? Leaving bath gel in the tube, or hoarding my favorite stationery in a desk drawer, was as wasteful as never using these things. Spend out!
5. Does it serve its purpose well? For example, we have a lot of “cute” kitchen objects that don’t really work.
6. Has it been replaced by a better model? Inexplicably, I’m in the habit of keeping a broken or outmoded version of tech gadgets, even after they’ve been replaced. Pointless.
7. Is it nicely put away in an out-of-the-way place? One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: Just because things are nicely organized doesn’t mean they’re not clutter. No matter how tidily a thing is stored, if I never use it, why keep it?
8. Does this memento actually prompt any memories? Sometimes I automatically keep things that fall into the category of “mementos,” assuming that they’d set off some sort of response, but they don’t. The attendance trophy from my daughter’s pre-school sports class—out.
9. Have I ever used this thing? I was absolutely shocked to find, when I started looking, how many things we owned that we had never once used. Many were gifts, true, but I promised myself we’d either put these things into use within a few weeks or give them away.

How about you? Have you identified any questions that help you decide whether or not to keep a particular possession?


I used these tips to clean out the closet, under our bathroom sink, and to organize our kitchen pantry on Sunday. I would add a few tips to her list:
1. Is the product expired?
2. Was the thing a gift that I don't like?

10.17.2010

pumpkin patch


kids are cute. kids in pumpkin patches become even cuter. kids in striped sweaters with their parents in pumpkin patches are the cutest.

10.15.2010

keys to happiness

Sometimes when I find something really neat I will take notes about that thing. I just stumbled across some notes I took from an Atlantic Monthly article from last year or so. The article was about factors that help people live longer. The study profiled followed college age men from just after WWII to today.

Factors that help you Live Longer:
1. Mature psychological adaptations
2. Stable Marriage
3. Education
4. Not Smoking
5. Not Abusing Alcohol
6. Some Exercise
7. Healthy Weight

Factors that don’t matter:
1. Your cholesterol at age 50.
2. The Importance of Social Ease Decreases with Age
3. The importance of your childhood temperament goes down with age.

Exercise in college equates to better late in life mental health.

People who are depressed die earlier. Pessimists suffer physically more than optimists.

The bottom line of the study was:
The only things that really matter in life are your relationships to other people.

If these are the factors that lead to a long life, how are you doing? Can you change something in your life to increase your odds?

10.14.2010

slideshow of arkansas

10.13.2010

the food pyramid


Since I am doing the "lowcarb" thing these days, I decided to look up what the daily recommended intake of carbohydrates by the USDA were. It was hard to find, surprisingly. Lifehacker has a great post about how to understand and use the food pyramid to help make your food choices. Check it out by clicking here.

This was my favorite food pyramid they posted.

10.12.2010

your desk

Do you have a desk? Not everyone does. I love my desk. The image on the banner is of my desk. We found it at a store randomly, and bought it on the spot. I am not even sure I was looking for a desk then. Anyway, this is a movie about desks and what they mean. Only 6 minutes...worth the watch.

Desk - Music and Sound Design from Aaron Trinder Film:Motion:Music on Vimeo.

10.10.2010

how much salt do you eat?


This graphic is just amazing. I love how they represent the amount of salt we eat. I should subscribe to Good Magazine, where the image comes from.

10.09.2010

amazing pictures of bubbles being popped


(c) Richard Heeks, all rights reserved.

Click here to see more of Richard Heeks' photos.
They are really amazing. I had no idea what a bubble looked like when it pops. What a fun and creative idea.

10.08.2010

where do ideas come from?



Great video. Love the use of the white board too.

10.05.2010

(JOHN READ THIS) book review: The Art of Non-Conformity



(photo from this nice book website: http://readingbyeugene.com/.)

by Chris Guillebeau

“It is not the decision you make that is the most important; it is the degree of commitment with which you make the decision.” (Quoting Beau Bartlett.)

This book is very similar to the 4-hour Work Week guy’s book: instructions on how to start living the life you want to live. He admittedly takes his blog posts and rework/reorganizes the posts into a book, but it works. The book is good and offers a lot with respect to realizing your dreams.

“Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.” (Quoting Barbara Sher, in Wishcraft) I like this idea. Take your dreams seriously, no one else is going to do that.

Somewhere we developed a dichotomy between dreams and reality, making them mutuality exclusive. If you are in a dream, you are by definition not in reality. So how does someone go about starting to live in a dream world? One aspect that keeps me from living my dream is that it seems really selfish and self-centered. My dream is to be a writer, but how does that help anyone? How does that make the world a better place? Which then spirals into the rabbit hole of doom. Guillebeau acknowledges this problem and tackles it straight: just help people. It makes you feel better and the world a better place. Worry about the rest later. Ok.

One thing that drives me crazy is when they tell me they “wish” they could do something I have done. They can/could. I like what Guillebeau says when people say this to him: “They have chosen to prioritize other things above their stated desires.” Priorities. As my friend Maureen points out: life is just a bunch of choices. Make good choices, get good outcomes. Thus if you prioritize the things you really want, those are what you will get. (Naturally, bad luck and illness can get in the way. I don’t deny this.)

Towards the end of the book he advocates a “Top Stop Doing List” rather than a “To Do List.” The idea behind this is that here are lots of things that cut into our time. Cut those things out of your life to achieve the live you want. I would put commuting on our list of things we stopped doing. Of course we have to get to work, but instead of spending an hour in the car every day, we live where we work. Some of you will say this is impossible or impractical. I understand that is what that means is you have chosen to prioritize other things over not commuting. We have not. That is fine. ☺

The book concludes with travel tips. He likes to travel a lot.

One criticism I have of the book happens to be a constant topic of conversation in our home: being a non-conformist is hard. It takes a lot of energy to buck the culture you live in. I don't think he really give the difficulty enough discussion. More on this later though.

Even if it just a restatement of his blog posts, I really liked the book. Lots of life affirming tips to help you lead the life you want.

10.04.2010

book review: The Magicians



by Lev Grossman

Everyone seems to love The Magicians. I did not. I read the whole thing, so I suppose I did not hate it. I did, however, take a large break in the middle of it. The book is basically a piece of fan-fiction based on The Chronicles of Narnia books (which I loved). The main character is a depressed kid in New York City (popular these days...). He loves the books and really wants to believe in magic. And then magic comes knocking at his door.

I am sure there will be a second novel. They set it up to be that way. There are some lose ends left hanging. Some things don’t match up. Maybe I felt the novel was a bit sloppy.

There were some great lines and thoughts:
“The problem with growing up is that once you’re grown up, people who aren’t grownup aren’t fun anymore.” pg. 199

On pgs. 216 and 217 we are told that the headmaster at Quentin’s school thinks they are all magicians because they are unhappy. “A magician is strong because he feels pain.”

I won’t read the next book. This one just did not suck me in enough.

10.03.2010

book review: Some Day This Pain Will be Useful to You



by Peter Cameron

But for my professor assigning this book, and the fact that I respect her opinion, I would not have finished this book. Once you get past chapter 2, though, it really takes off. We finally get to the “conflict” in the book. I think this is the professor’s point: get to the conflict earlier. We will see if I was right as my class moves forward this week.

The book describes the fictional life of James Sveck, who I would describe as an over privileged, over thinking, brat from New York City. Oh and he is depressed. A lot of the book takes place in his brain. The way he analyzes and over thinks everything is excruciating and tiring. Do people really think like this? This thinking paralyzes him.

Ultimately, we only spend from July 24th to the 30th with him. A lot happens in this week, and we hear about some events that took place a few months earlier and his agonizing over going to college at Brown. There is also a postscript that I saw coming miles away. Before anything even happened I started crying.

I wonder now if the book was really as good as I think or if it just struck a cord with me, and now, I am not even sure what the difference would be? Does a great book have to speak to us to be considered great? Maybe that is why I still feel Crime and Punishment was just that; it did not speak to me.

10.02.2010

and now we explain why we can't get the New Yorker

We get New York magazine in this house. We love it. We do not get The New Yorker. And let me show you, rather than tell you why:

...

Ok, this is annoying, but since I only really have five regular readers and one of them is my husband, I will just email you the article, since it is now behind the New Yorker pay wall. How annoying. (If you want to read the article and I don't email it to you, email me. h a r k i n n a @ h o t m a i l . c o m...without the spaces.)

The bottom line though, is the story is easily 20 pages long and is FRICKEN amazing. I mean, once I started reading it, I could not put it down. I loved it. And here lies the danger: what if stories and articles arrived in my mail box EVERY WEEK that were this good? I would never do anything else. I would have to call off work. I could never keep up. The New Yorker would take over my life.

So, now you know why Brent and I will never be card carrying literati: we just can't handle it.

9.30.2010

corcoran and art: Chuck Close and Spencer Finch


(Spencer Finch art of Jet Stream, see below.)

We love the Corcoran. In DC we are really spoiled because most of the museums are free...so the ones where you have to pay get short shift. Since Brent works across the street from the Corcoran, we became members a few years ago. Then they sold our information to a credit card company, and I decided to cancel our membership.

But this is a story about the great show we saw there last week...well 2 shows really. The headline was a Chuck Close exhibit. I mentioned him a few weeks ago, because he is face-blind. What is interesting about him is that he ONLY paints faces. Isn't that crazy? Oh and he had a spinal aneurysm, and is in a wheelchair now. Read more about him here. His portraits are really life like and he uses all manner of mediums: oil, etchings, paper.
See a video of the show here:

Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration from Corcoran Gallery of Art on Vimeo.


The other show we saw was by Spencer Finch, "My Business with the Cloud." His artwork mixed science with art and was really lovely. For example, in one piece he painted with watercolors the forecast of the Jet Stream over North America. It is just so enticing to look at.

NOW: Spencer Finch at the Corcoran from Corcoran Gallery of Art on Vimeo.

9.29.2010

women and retirement

Some of you guys know I work on retirement issues. Last week my boss sent around this SmartMoney article that I really want everyone to read. I think the article does a great job at outlining the differences in how men and women think regarding retirement issues generally, and saving/spending money specifically.

Here is the lead in to the article:


"After a long career managing large accounts for an insurance company, Lynn Brooks is hardly a financial novice. But when she sought help from a financial adviser at a brokerage after her husband died, they might as well have been speaking different languages. Brooks, who's now 60, knew she'd reached the age when her savings should be managed conservatively. Her adviser, however, had something more testosterone-fueled in mind, urging her to go for growth and buy riskier assets like small-cap stocks. And when she phoned him, she says, he was often in a hurry: "It was as if he was saying, 'Leave me alone. I'll take care of this.'" Brooks, who declines to name her adviser, says she eventually took her business elsewhere -- but only after her nest egg had shrunk 30 percent over the course of a decade before the crash.

This is how the battle of the sexes plays out in the complex world of retirement planning -- and all too often, women come out on the losing end. To a surprising degree, many women are unprepared for retirement: A recent survey by financial-services company MassMutual found that women's retirement accounts were, on average, just two-thirds the size of men's. The disparity is made worse by simple demographics: Because they live longer, women need more money than men for a comfortable retirement -- up to 40 percent more for health care expenses alone, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. And the gap isn't expected to close for decades. "Millions of women are going to lose their standard of living unless they take hold of the situation," says Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement.

But as women step up to do just that, many find that the financial-services industry is an obstacle, not an ally. Indeed, in a recent Boston Consulting Group survey of women investors, respondents said they routinely feel underserved by the financial-services industry, with more than 70 percent expressing dissatisfaction with the service they are getting. Among the complaints: disrespectful advisers, narrower investment choices based on the assumption that women can't handle risks and patronizing pitches like one from a bank's Web site that urged women to give their finances a "makeover." The disenchantment is especially acute among women who find themselves managing money on their own after their marriages end. Seven out of 10 widows and divorced women leave the advisers that their spouses used, according to a study by financial-services giant Allianz."

9.28.2010

Is dissent allowed anymore?

I posted a comment to a friend’s Facebook post today. It was the political ad for one of the candidates in Alaska. I am interested to find out how people respond to the comment. The ad makes the point that this candidate is just trying to make sure Alaksans "Get their fair share" from Washington. When has Alaska ever not gotten their fair share, more than their fair share really? I posted a link to this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/business/19stimulus.html

Then I wondered if the person would just hide me. I hide people. I don’t want to de-friend them, because that would hurt their feelings, but I also don’t want to read what they have to say. I don’t want to thank Jesus for the popcorn at the movies. I don't want to read gay-bashing. So why I am I supposedly 'friends' with these people? I guess I am not. I am acquainted with them. Were I friends with them I would call them out about these things. I would tell them how I really felt.

But today it is much easier for us to just avoid conflict or even topics we are not interested in. I don’t have to read about places I don’t like or have interactions with people who don’t fit my democrat-leaning, literati-loving, coffee-snob self. I can just avoid these people. I can avoid trying to explain myself to these people. I can insulate myself.

What does this behavior do to people? Does it make it harder to deal with conflict when it comes along? Does it give us a eschewed view of the world? Does it end up making us worse citizens? If everyone can just hide other people when they don’t like what they say, where does that leave public discourse?