31 May 2014
Earlier this year after I'd bought the house and settled in things were looking good: my job paid well enough for me to actually eat out from time to time, go have beers with friends like once a week, that sort of thing, and I had put together a savings plan and some financial goals for the year, and it really looked like it was going to work. I wanted three months' expenses set aside in one account, and in two other savings accounts I was putting money so I could travel (two exotic trips, to Virginia and Ohio), buy a sound bar (I'm tired of listening to music through my television speakers, so I don't listen to music any more; my ex-wife sold my old speaker set at a garage sale and I can't for the life of me imagine why I let her), pay for a personal trainer certification course, and other small things.
And the thing is I just about got all three accounts filled up. The two-months-expenses one is good. The savings for travel and other things are basically where I want them; I overestimated travel expenses and other costs so that, even though I'm about 10% shy in both accounts, I think I'll be good. And I've got some cash stashed away for the travel expenses that probably more than makes up the shortfall.
Of course, I could just turn all the money out of all three accounts and finally pay off the goddamn credit card (I finally made the last payment on the second one earlier this year, hooray), but what is the point of this life if I can't get out of town once in a while? Well, that's the nature of low income. You don't get to do the stuff you want. Piss.
And of course, I went and bought a new mattress a couple months ago. Wasn't planning to do that, either, but it became obvious that my old mattress was the cause (or at least a cause) of my back and neck pain. And it was expensive, and I'm still paying for it, and it was sooooo worth it. The new mattress is fantastic. I love it. It hasn't helped with the anxiety and stress that keep me from sleeping well most nights, but I don't wake up in pain any more, and it's hard to put a price on that. But there was a price on it, and I'm still paying it.
Nonetheless, with a new roommate helping me pay for the mortgage and bills, my savings accounts look good enough that I've been seriously shopping for a new bike. My current bike is a ten-year-old mountain bike, but I don't trail ride any more and don't care to. I'm going to use the bike as a daily commuter to campus, and have been thinking it would be nice to have a more efficient one, something designed for roads where the high gears are actually, you know, high gears, and where the top speed is better than 20 mph at full tilt.
Road bikes are expensive. You can find some really cheap ones on line for as little as $300 from Bikes Direct. And they are worth $300. According to most of the reviews they'll get you about 1000 miles. They are intended as "intro" bikes for new riders who will either ride for a while and decide they don't like it, or will quickly want to upgrade to a better machine. I'm not the target consumer there; 1000 miles is somewhat less than one year's commuting (assuming I bike in 4 days a week), which means sometime next spring I must either buy another $300 bike or replace all the components on the old one. That just doesn't make sense.
And I thought to myself, you know, I just spent $350 I didn't have on a brake job on my car. My whole goal here is to put more miles on the bike around town in the next year than on the car. Shouldn't I at least consider spending more than $300 on my daily commuter? That doesn't seem unreasonable, right? I plan to ride this thing almost every day and use it as my primary transportation. My car cost me 16 times as much and I have to put $40 worth of dead dinosaurs in it every week (which is over $2,000 a year) and pay hundreds more in additional maintenance a few times a year, just to keep it running. Cars are terrible investments. By comparison it would be crazy not to buy a good bike.
I can get a very good road bike that will last me for many years and be an efficient and useful daily commuter from the bike shop on my delivery route, for about a grand (or half the cost of gas for a year). If I hadn't had to replace the car's brakes I'd have a third of that price in savings right now. But I don't. And if I hadn't replaced the mattress I'd have the rest of that money in savings right now, too. But I don't. And again, while I don't regret either of those purchases (it's hard to regret replacing your car's brakes, you know?) it does make it tough to justify spending any money at all on a new bicycle when I have an old bicycle. It doesn't really meet my needs, but it exists. If I'd paid off my divorce debt entirely already and not gone to Mexico in the spring on last fall's savings, I wouldn't be worrying about this, I suppose. It's not that I've spent money on things I wish I hadn't; it's that I wish I hadn't NEEDED to spend money on some of those things.
It's been seven years now since I earned enough money that I wasn't constantly doing this simple calculus. This is why I'm going back to school. My job prospects seem limited to the exact sort of dead-endery I've been doing the last several years. Oh sure, I could have stayed at the factory and after five years been earning more than enough, but the intervening time would still be fraught with this constant cost-benefit analysis and the necessary choices to give up things I want to do for things I have to do. And I don't want to work in a factory on the night shift for the rest of my life. Or drive a FedEx truck.
And I'm rich by the standards of my neighborhood! Hell, many of my neighbors make 2/3 of what I make, or less. I know how they manage it; I know I could manage it. I've done it. I don't want to anymore.
But what really got me pissed this morning... I mean, these things are all true, and that's what life is, and I live with that every day because honestly it's way better than the alternative, so it's really not something I normally feel the need to rant about. It's frustrating, finances are frustrating when you don't make much, but it's hardly impossible. There's lots of stuff I'd like to do and lots of it simply will not get done, probably ever. Living with that reality is shite, but it's shite I'm used to and it's what most people deal with on one level or another. What's interesting after a few years of this is how different the things I want to do but can't are than they used to be; when I was comfortable (back in my USAF days) I wanted to rip out my kitchen and take a rally-driving school in New Hampshire, things with five and two thousand dollar price tags, respectively. Now I want to finish putting ornamental grasses in the front yard and take a trip to Cedar Point, things with $100 and $450 price tags.
No, what pissed me off this morning is piss. Specifically cat piss. On my nice couch.
It's not enough that he pissed on the guest mattress some months ago. He got himself locked in the guest room while I was on an overnight trip, and obviously at some point he had to pee. Okay. He peed directly on the large pile of clothes (including a suit and several old flight suits) and also peed in nine other discreet locations around the bed. The entire mattress is trashed. I haven't replaced it yet because I can't justify spending hundreds of dollars on a mattress that's going to get slept on at most ten nights out of the year. I need to find a $100 mattress somewhere, maybe Sears Outlet or Big Lots, but with those places I also have to get the damn thing home.
But the couch? Why my fucking couch? What is the bastard's problem? He's done this once before, after we moved into the apartment in Greenville. I chalked it up to his being scared in a new home and went out and bought this current couch, which is frankly better in every way anyway (but wasn't too expensive).
It's not a medical issue. He goes outside most of the time, and is perfectly capable of using his litter box; he also doesn't habitually pee on furniture. But all three couch cushions right now smell like cat piss. I don't know when he did it or why, but suffice to say he had no reason to. He gets fed more than enough and any time he wants it; has a clean litter box; gets to spend most of his day outside if he wants or stay in if he'd prefer; he even has a new human around to give him extra scritches and cuddles. The thanks I get is a comfortable and essentially brand new couch that now smell like fucking cat piss.
I can't afford a new couch. But I can't even sit on my nice comfy couch any more because of the smell. Where the fuck is that money supposed to come from? Seriously. If I was really poor I'd just have to live with it, but thankfully I can at least fathom the idea of taking all the money out of savings to replace something that was brand new two years ago and should have been able to last twenty more. And of course that's put the kibosh on the new bike idea, if not on Cedar Point as well. So it goes.
Money is always spent before it's earned. Maybe earning more isn't the answer. Maybe I shouldn't go back to school at all, but just sell everything I own and backpack around the world on tramp steamers and stay in hostels until all the money runs out and I mooch off of relatives and friends for the rest of my life. That sounds pretty nice, actually.
So who has a couch I can crash on?
01 January 2014
Often I’ve looked back over the previous year in horror or disappointment, but 2013 was different for me. For the first time in a while I took control of events this year in a way I often avoid. It’s been good. And as I look around at what may be coming in 2014, I see a lot of sprouts from seeds planted in the past year. Things are working pretty well.
I decided in 2013 that I was going to go back to school. Not only that, I decided where to go and what to study. I decided I wanted to own a home again, own land (I still say all I really need is a big field with a kitchen and bath), be able to make it my own. And here I am, in a different city in a different state in my own living room. I raked mulch and cut the grass today. I organized seeds and made arrangements to get a few yards of compost delivered. Last year I planted several trees I’ve been growing in pots for the last few years.
I’ve had a delay in my school plans, but it’s just a delay, and that, too, is my own doing. It’s not like I planned to fail a class this spring so I’d screw myself over later, but at least I know where the issue is, whose fault it is, and what to do to fix it. I can quite comfortable look at 2014 and say it’s the year I will go back to college, and that’s a good feeling.
Not that 2013 was perfect. Not that I did everything I wanted or should have done, or refrained from doing everything I should have avoided. No year is perfect. It would have been nice not to fail that class this spring but there you are. I might have hoped to move into my home earlier, to pay less for it. I would have liked to pay off my credit card debt sooner, and fully (there’s still a little chunk sitting there laughing at me). I really wanted to go home to see the family but never made the trip. And the job I’m working…well, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.
Still, on balance, 2013 was one of the better years I’ve had of late; we’d have to go well back into the last decade to find one that went as well. And so it comes to look forward to 2014. I have some travel planned already, which is good, and I have a steady paycheck to start the year with. I have a class scheduled for the spring that should be tons of fun (and where I should get a solid A, which I need), and look forward to starting full time in the summer or fall. I have lots of plans for the yard, for the vineyard and the sorghum patch and the vegetable and herb gardens.
But some things do need to change. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions because I think too many people (myself included) tend to look at them as a New Year New You proposition, and nobody and nothing changes overnight. But there are things I need to work on. Budgeting is a problem, so I’ve come up with a list of financial goals—amounts I want to get stored up in my savings accounts to pay for stuff like travel (I have two trips planned, three more in the planning stage) and a new sound bar (I’m sick of listening to music through the TV speakers), and to have a nice three-month cushion in the main savings account. And I have a plan to get there.
I need to carve out time in my days to meditate, something I didn’t do often in 2013. But I’m not going to say I want to meditate for 20 minutes every day. If I could do that starting today, I would have started months ago. I figure if I can manage five minutes a day that would be a good start, but even that could be tough so I’m saying five minutes a day, at least four days out of the week. That’s an attainable goal, and by the end of January if I’m managing that, I can add minutes or days in small steps. That would be nice. Habits take time to build.
I need to write more. That should be easy since if I write 10,000 words all year I think I’ll double my 2013 output. This here is a nice start, and to keep things simple I’m going to start by trying to write a few stories, vignettes about the Air Force, deployments, the farm, maybe some other things. There are some open mic nights in the area for storytelling, spoken-word creative nonfiction. I really want to go to one, but I need to work on a story to tell. I have plenty. I shall spend some time writing them down. This is a much simpler task than working on Lauderdale or another novel or story, since the characters and plot are already set and I need only to work on the craft of writing.
And finally I intend to earn my Personal Trainer certificate. I’ve been talking about it for eight months, it’s time to take action. One of my savings goals is money for the CPT study materials and test; I’m leaning toward going through NSCA to get my certification, as it’s a more respected organization than NASM while being less expensive than ASCM. I have just about enough money in savings right now to start on this, and I plan to take the plunge this month. It’s time. If things work out right, I could study for a few months, test, and with any luck have a job in the field by summer.
Certainly there are plenty of other things I could stand to work on; self-improvement is not really one of those things that has an end-game. I have got to do something about this tendinitis; my right arm is on fire just from typing this (well, and assembling drawers today which required screwing in about 100 little screws). I’m terrible at maintaining friendships over any meaningful geographic distance and feel awful about that, but I don’t know what to do. For that matter I don’t relate well to people seated next to me, but I think that’s just me. If I was meant to relate well to other people I’m pretty sure I’d be better at it. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.
Also, I want a puppy (or a nice shelter mutt). Everybody wants a puppy, right?
07 July 2013
22 June 2013
Then there's the sort of thing that happened to me today. I went out to Lake Wheeler Park and rented a kayak. It was a sit-on-top kayak, which I always find incredibly uncomfortable (I miss my old kayak, which was very comfy but also 16 feet long and a bit of a nightmare to take places), so I spent much of my paddling tour sitting lotus-style on the back end of the boat. This is very peaceful and calming but not conducive to getting anywhere very quickly.
I paddled down one arm of the lake to find the end. It was very quiet; there was a little drizzle, and consequently very few people on the water. I drifted along the shore, past what looked like an anhinga (couldn't have been though, right? This far north?) resting on a branch sticking out of the water, and down a small stream lined with alders. It was peaceful. I drifted by a turtle sitting on a log and the turtle didn't even feel the need to dive into the water.
The alder-lined stream got too narrow, so I went back out by the anhinga-lookalike and down the next channel. This was all rushes and cattails and willows, completely different from the almost exclusively alder community down the stream literally forty or so feet to the south. I pulled the paddle out of the water and laid back in the kayak and just drifted.
And a fish jumped in the boat.
Actually this was entirely terrifying. You don't expect a fish to jump in your boat, especially when you haven't seen any fish all day anyway. And it was so quiet and peaceful, light rain, almost no sound at all, and then *splash* there's a fish flopping around by your feet.
It wasn't a mullet, either (that would have been truly shocking in a small lake in inland North Carolina). I don't know what it was; I would guess some sort of lake bream or something, but it was pretty big, 14-18 inches. I've honestly never seen a bass in my recent life except in that Dan Aykroyd SNL commercial (and that may not have been a bass) so I wouldn't recognize one. This fish was not tall like a bluegill or crappie, though, so that's what it may have been.
I did not fall out of the boat but if I'd been sitting up lotus style on the back of it I definitely would have. As it was I struggled to get up and tried to grab the poor thing, but he kept slipping out of my hands. After probably two seconds (it seemed longer) the fish flopped out of my hands and out of the boat and back into the water. I watched him go; he stirred up the dirt on the bottom, and then jumped again a few feet away from the boat. Maybe he had a parasite he was trying to dislodge.
In any event, given the ease with which fish simply present themselves to me, it seems unsporting to actually go fishing.
Oh, hey, there aren't any trails at Lake Wheeler Park that I know of, apart from a par course. There's the lake. That's enough reason to go, right? Kayak rental is $5 an hour (they also have canoes and other sorts of floating things). You can park way closer to the rental building than I did; when you go for the first time, just keep driving toward the water and you'll see the final parking lot on the right when the only alternative is to drive into the lake.
19 June 2013
18 June 2013
13 June 2013
On my way home, I stopped by Hinnant Family Vineyards in Pine Level. I like pretty much every winery I've ever been to (even the ones without any actual wines I liked), so henceforth just assume that if I mention a winery here, I'm encouraging you to visit. Hinnant has mostly muscadine and fruit wines, which aren't always my thing, but they make good use of the Blanc du Bois grape and the Norton is very good (there's a bottle of it in my wine fridge right now). And the blackberry wine would be out of this world with a slice of cheesecake. $5 gets you 8 tastings (your choice out of a list of about 20) and a glass.
10 June 2013
08 June 2013