We've been in our little house for about four months now, and I've just realized that I am still acclimating.

Sure, I don't feel the numbness in my fingers anymore as I sit in the cold dining area, shivering just a little bit as I wait for the heat to kick on (or so I tell myself, when you and I both know it rarely gets above 65 in here during the winter).

The creaky spots on the floor are familiar enough now. So's the raspy struggling fan in the guest bathroom. Even our neighbor's (giant, totally BA) truck that sits outside our window only sometimes wakes me as he makes his pre-dawn morning commute. And the barks of neighbor dogs are fairly familiar now, too.

That's the thing, though. The dogs. I would venture that at least half the houses in our neck of the neighborhood are home to at least one dog. There are lots of dogs. And they make noise. Like, a lot of noise. I'm not complaining - Lord and sundry know that my dogs probably make the most noise. But I just had a moment, and I realized that I have these moments almost every day.

With all the dogs around, and all their attitudes and urgent communications, it can sometimes be hard to tell a shrill bark from a panic, or to tell a lonely, bored wail from agony. And when I hear what sounds like panic or pain from the canine cacophony, something happens to me.

I get a rush of adrenaline. I drop what I'm doing immediately, and make a visual sweep for my pups. Eli is usually passed out on the couch, easy to find. Rory, though, could be anywhere. I'll call for her if I don't see her within half a second, and the clank of her collar tags is instant relief.

When I hear what might be, but probably is not, a distressed animal, and I have to make sure my own are safe.

It's not exactly my favorite way to pass the time. Really though, this might be the only complaint I have about our little house. That, and the chilly corners.


Tha Mountains

Just a quick update this Tuesday morning. I'm still 'recovering' from the events of the weekend, and Monday sort of melted away without my even realizing it!

Specifically, I managed to go along on the young adults ski retreat this weekend - something I wasn't sure I'd be able to do, like ever, for lack of dog-sitting. Which was fine with me, I'm not a skier. But when a friend kept making a big deal about how much she liked our dogs, and I realized she wasn't going on the trip, I thought I'd ask if she'd mind hanging out here while I made a brief escape. She is awesome and it all worked out.

Breckenridge is a cute ski town, but I was laid up all weekend knitting, thanks to my chronic hip problem making a gnarly time of things. I wasn't able to go snow shoeing, but I had lots of down time to finish what may be one of my favorite knitting projects of all time. I'll post pictures once I get it washed and dried.

This week is shaping up to be eight kinds of busy. I totally phoned in last week, so there's some stuff to be done. You know how that goes...you spend too many days doing not quite enough, and then it bites you in the butt? I am right there. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Happy Monday Tuesday to you!


Financial Milestones

I mentioned here that I'd found a list of 20 financial milestones to reach in your 20s. Well, I'm in my 20s, and it's not too late to take a gander at this list. The list comes from Gen Y Wealth, a GREAT personal finance blog for people like me.

I've pasted the list of 20 milestones below, with my comments about where we are and where we're going. All in all, I think we're in pretty good shape. Once I get some retirement funding set up, we'll be in great shape.

Here goes!

1. Finance a dream vacation in cash.  Doing. We've been married three years now, and we've only really had one vacation - our honeymoon (8 months after we got married). We didn't take on any debt for that trip, but a lot of it was made possible by our parents (frequent flyer miles, timeshare, a wedding gift of cash specifically for the honeymoon). This summer we're going to Israel with a group of young adults from the church. Part (ok, nearly half) of the trip will be funded by the church since Brian's a pastor, which is the only way we'd be able to save enough in the 10 months from plan to execution (THANK YOU, CHURCH!!). We are so excited.

2. Pay off your student loans. Doing. I was fortunate enough to make it through college without taking on any student loans, thanks to my mom and grandparents. Brian made it through grad school without any loans (amazing) , but we're still being visited by the undergrad loan fairies monthly. We make steady payments on these and are on track to paying them off early, but there's still a ways to go. It'd be pretty awesome if we could get these taken care of in the next 2 years, but that isn't going to happen unless I start bringing in some cash money (which is admittedly the goal).

3. Automate paying your credit card bill in full. Done, but done MY way. Everyone says that automating your finances is a good thing, and it probably is. But I've found that I much prefer having my finger in every pie, so to speak. I like writing the checks. I like tallying and pushing buttons to make the money go here and there. I like reviewing every credit card statement before paying it off (in full every month). I get why automating is pretty sweet, but I have deliberately chosen not to automate at this point. We do pay off our credit cards in full every month, and I have about a billion email reminders set up to make sure I don't miss anything.

4. Get rid of all bad debt. Done. A lot of finance people say any debt is bad debt. I get that. And I don't like being in debt. But I'm ok with two kinds of debt - home mortgages (which we don't have) and student loans for a finished degree (which we do have). We lived on credit cards for a few months in the first year of marriage, because we simply had no money and all of our savings was gone (not to mention my ability to sleep at night...2008, the year of depression and anxiety). But I found a better job (better pay, not necessarily environment) and wiped the credit card debt within a couple of months. Because that stuff sucks the life energy from you.

5. Build an adequate emergency fund. Done. I haven't really decided what an adequate emergency fund is for us, but whatever it is, we've got it.

6. Make your first, and last, investment mistake. Done? I think we've made ok investment choices, but the biggest mistake we've made is not doing more, sooner, especially retirement investing. BIG mistake. After having negative dollars for a while, I kind of needed to see commas in our regular checking and savings accounts. BUT, this is the year to get past that and start setting up some things for the future. More on that in a minute.

7. Develop a statement of cash flows.  Doing. I haven't done this before now. I kept the checkbooks balanced and made sure there wasn't more outgo than income. But as far as anything on paper, haven't done it. Until now! I spent an hour or so on New Years Day putting together some new spreadsheets for our new budget. (Is it weird that I get a rush from that stuff?)

8. & 9. Max out a Roth and Contribute to your 401(k). About to do. So....we don't have any retirement accounts set up yet. Being nonprofit/church workers for the vast majority of our working lives, we've never had 401(k)s. I did have a shot once at a 403(b) but we couldn't eek out the minimum monthly contribution, so it stayed empty (no employer contributions before a year of employment, and I left before reaching the year marker). I think Brian has a retirement account of some sort through the denomination now, but I haven't figured out what exactly is going on there. But it's on the to-do list for this month, as is opening a retirement account for me! I've started researching and expect there will be a new Roth IRA in my name in the next ...oh...8 weeks? By April I should have a good idea of what kind of contributions we'll be able to make, and then I'll get those automated. Or at least I'll get Brian's automated. Or something like that.

10. Get a degree or certification that increases your earning power. Done? Brian took care of this with his masters degree. Me, I'm not sure how to approach it. I took some coursework, though not a full certification, to increase my earning power, when I was working. Getting a certification doing the kind of office work I do is overkill. As a freelance editor, I've read that certification isn't going to help me out a whole lot since I already have the right degree. But if I do go back to admin work, I think there's plenty of room for certification.

11. Take a career risk. Done! I worked a hellish soul-sucking job right when the market crashed and hundreds of thousands of people in Richmond lost their jobs. In the middle of the bedlam, I got an offer for a 2-month temp job paying a lot more than what I was making, doing work that was a lot more enjoyable, with people I'd worked with before and knew I liked (and who wouldn't stand outside my door talking in raised voices about how some people had better step up their game because there were lots of people looking for work). I decided to go for it. And it worked out to my great benefit. My new boss connected me with a friend who needed someone to do what I do, which led to probably the best job I've ever had. I was really sad to leave that job when we moved out here, but I'm crossing my fingers that my days with the organization aren't over.

12. Negotiate something. Done. I don't think I've negotiated anything of import (though marriage has been one long negotiation, it seems). I do negotiate every Craigslist deal I've done, though. Brian is a terrific negotiator when he sets his mind to it. He talked himself out of a contract with one cell phone company 9 months early and then talked himself into a contract with a new company to include no startup fees and a reduced price on a cell phone. I'm still dazzled by that, and it happened a year ago.

13. Earn your first side grand. Doing. I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way! Brian's about halfway there, too, I think. Though he's not really trying.

14. Start a sub-savings account for an upcoming financial goal. Done, basically. Our banks don't do this, and the ones that do offer a lower interest rate, so I keep the numbers on a spreadsheet instead. I'd rather earn higher interest and still have the numbers handy. If you're really into line-item savings, ING Direct gets rave reviews.

15. Set a target retirement date. Um... not there yet. I can get my head around retirement savings, but retirement itself is kind of an enigma. I guess I would have had to have a steady career for retirement to be a factor. Brian says he doesn't want to retire...we'll see what he says when he's 65. I think that's kind of a minister thing, though...not retiring.

16. Monitor your credit. Done. For three years now. Did you know I have credit accounts dating back to 1978? This is of particular interest to me, given the fact that I was born in 1983.

17. Say no to a financial salesman. Done. Step off, life insurance salesman guy. We've got bigger priorities right now.

18. Give just enough to make it hurt. Done, and doing. We made a lot more money last year than we have ever before. We also gave away a lot. Some days I really would have liked to skip the giving, just for a month or two. But we never did. And that hurt. Looking at our donation balances and comparing them to our student loan balances hurts. Those debts could be more than halfway paid down by the amount we gave last year. But ultimately, giving is more important to us. I'm really glad we stuck with it.

These next two are for the Over Achiever, which I apparently am not. 

19. Invest $1 for every $1 you spend. Right now this is simply not feasible. I'm ok with that, though. Unless you define 'spending' as leisure/recreational spending, and not total spending. If that's the case, we probably could do this. If we chose to, anyway.

20. Start a 529 College Savings Plan. I get how flexible and cool these things are, even for folks without kids, but I think it's more important for us to get our loans paid off and our retirement beefed up before looking at things like this. 

So tell me, what do you make of this list? Like it? Hate it? Wish you never saw it?


How to make Greek yogurt

What is this madness?

We've been making some changes in our food habits lately. Eating more vegetables. Eating  less in general. Making less-bad snack choices (usually). Brian's been having yogurt-based smoothies. I have kefir when it's in the house. 

Brian asked the other day what the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is. My understanding is that Greek yogurt is regular yogurt with whey drained out of it. Incidentally, it's pretty easy to make. I made my first go of it yesterday, with a little encouragement from my Nourishing Traditions cookbook.*

Have you ever gone a day or two and then looked at your yogurt tub and found this yellowy liquid in the middle? That stuff is whey. And have you noticed that the yogurt itself is a little thicker when it separates like that? Ta-da, Greek yogurt by neglect!

It's easy to make on purpose, too. Most instructions will tell you to set a strainer in a bowl, line it with cheese cloth or a dish towel, and spoon the yogurt into it. Check back in a couple of hours and test it for thickness. When it's as thick as you like it, put it in a container. 

Me, I'm not so much into washing dishes when I don't have to. So I saved the previous yogurt container and washed it. If you look at that picture, you can figure out what else I did....but I'll spell it out for you here, anyway. 

I pulled the yogurt container from the fridge, folded up some cheesecloth, rubber-banded it over the container, and turned that thing upside down over the empty one. Easy, peasy, and no extra dishes to wash. (I did wash the cheesecloth, though. That stuff is gonna see some good use.)

Too thick? Stir some whey back in. 
Lots of time to wait? Let it drain until it's done draining and you've got cream cheese!

My guess is that most people toss the whey, which is unfortunate because there's some cool stuff you can do with whey. I haven't tried any of it yet, but I have some ideas. It'll keep in the fridge for 6 months, they say, so I've got time. 

I'm thinking about soaking rice grains before cooking them and/or playing with something called lacto-fermentation. 

I really love this stuff. 

*Not an affiliate link.

What's the most ambitious thing you ever made, in the kitchen or otherwise?


frugal hack-job of the day

I washed a load of dog towels the other day. You know, the ones we use to clean up messes the dogs (and maybe the people) make from time to time. It's the stash of towels Brian and I brought to the marriage and thankfully replaced via wedding gifts. They didn't see the light of day much, other than use as makeshift bath mats, until Rory came along. 

The Danger of Working Dog Puppies in Apartments

Rory, you may know, was a hot mess as a puppy. She was, to put it nicely, a roly-poly bundle of floppy, bouncy, fluffy, shrieking, chewing, pooping, agonizing hell. And she really did a number on my psyche these towels. There are holes in every single one. Some of them progressed beyond holes into 'half-shredded' territory. The shreds and strings would always get tangled and caught in the wash, but I, as a young mom puppy caretaker, was exhausted. (This animal, she sucked my lifeforce. All of it. Bone dry. It's a wonder that she and I both managed to survive her early youth.) And in that exhaustion, I could never manage to cut more than a few of the strings at a time. 

That was then, this is now

Thankfully, we have progressed. I learned to stop putting towels in her crate, and then we moved to a place more suited for her insanity nature. We might cycle through the towels once a month at this point, rather than once a day. 

As I was attempting to fold the load of towels, it occurred to me that perhaps it was high time that I create some order out of the jumble of strings and tangles and holes. And so I did.

I thought about documenting the process, but really, who wants to see pictures of cutting up old towels? That's what I thought. 

What took ya?

This is one of those things that was on my mental to-do list forEVER. It took maybe 10 minutes to finish. And what a relief to check this one off the list!! I now have some cleaning rags, which I use all the time now that I'm a housewife again, and a few larger pieces that are about half the size of a regular bath towel. I put all the strings and bits and scraps in our lint bag, which we take on camping trips to start camp fires. And there were a few odd-sized pieces that will do nicely for another sewing project of a personal and feminine nature. (Take a guess if you're so inclined.)

The Greater Good

It feels so good to take something that looks like trash and reuse it - in this case, every bit of these towels will be reused. This may be my triumph of 2011. Fortunately I've got about 350 days to top it.

What's your greatest frugal hack to date?


2010 Books in Review

It's official: I read 62 books in 2010.

Note: See my 2008 books here and my 2009 books here

62 books. Awesome. I think only one of these was a young person book, too.

There was a noticeable decline in reading (heh...and blogging) in November and December - most of my free attention went toward Christmas knitting. I did a boatload of Christmas knitting.

There are other books that I started but put down. Probably half a dozen or so.

I think I'll aim for 75 in 2011!

How many books did you read in 2010? Did you start but not finish any?

and now for the list, with stars by my favorites:

Note: None of these links are affiliate links. Because Amazon hates Colorado. 


Vivian Maier: 50s and 60s street photographer

YOU GUYS. If you have any appreciation for art, history, or even 'retro' you have to see this. Like, NOW.

Click here and watch the video

I am so taken by this woman's photography. It's possible that you might be, too.

Her work, perhaps hundreds of thousands of negatives, spans decades and covers a vast array of subjects. Portraiture, landscape and architecture, and everything in betweenFrom on vivianmaierphotography.com,

"A nanny for many years, herself childless, Maier revealed the beauties and complexities of domesticity. Her photographs demonstrate an intimate exploration of family life, as well as seemingly allegorical treatments of “home”—a space sometimes idyllic and whole, and sometimes troubled—as in her photographs of homes destroyed by tornadoes or street riots. "

Visit the website, the flickr stream, and the blog to see more.


why i'm not a writer

I used to think of myself as a writer. I was on the school newspaper, I journaled, I enjoyed a lot of the writing assignments in high school (and I had a full load of them, too, being in IB). I thought I wanted to be a journalist, and my dream job was being a travel writer. I went to school to study journalism, and I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in the stuff. See? Writer.

But I'm not a writer. I don't write for a living full-time, though I do write stuff. Sometimes a lot of stuff. Sometimes I even get paid for it. There are books about writing all over my house. I have full journals in the garage. There's a half-full journal sitting next to me, ready to be put away for tomorrow's entry. I could tell you all about the benefits of writing, the importance of setting aside time every single day to write, the value of exercises like journaling and NaNoWriMo. I could point you to my favorite resources for the craft, tell you about what I find most inspiring. All of these things are evidence of me 'being' a writer. But I'm not one.

Writing - and more generally, words - could easily be called my biggest, or greatest, interest. My physical life is scattered with books, pens, notebooks, papers, grammar books and dictionaries, computers, even a typewriter. All tools of the trade. All evidencing care and, perhaps more importantly, use. But I know I'm not a writer.

I'm not a writer because there are times - perhaps the most important times - that I can't write. I just can't bear it. When I am in my deepest internal struggles, dealing with the most difficult pain, processing a great challenge or problem, I don't write. I can't. My most important things never meet paper. They are never read. No record exists of my greatest joys, nor my agonies. When I have something, something really big and important and even necessary, I don't write about it.

To me, a writer is someone who lives by the pen. Someone who can't fathom being anything but a writer. Someone who is always writing. A writer doesn't leave the important things unwritten. 

Why are my most important things unwritten? I don't know. But if I were a real writer, those things would be on paper. This is perhaps the thing I most regret about my life: I don't record what is really important.

The deepest, most essential facets of my life go unrecorded. I let them. And I suffer as a result.

What was I thinking, the night before my wedding? And what were the biggest fears the night I thought my marriage might be ending? Could what got me through the last wave of doubts help me get through my current spiritual crisis? What did it feel like the day I brought my puppy home? How have I changed, and what priorities have shifted? I don't know. I don't remember any of these things in specific detail. I wish I had recorded my thoughts then, so that I could see them now. 

I wish I could say that things are different, that I've become better at recording the greater things. But I'm not. I make an effort here and there, but not a consistent one. The regret grows deeper, but the block is still there. Something prevents me from living, fully, on the pages of my journal. Fear of being read? Fear of real insight? Fear of uncovering something that is best left unacknowledged?

Or am I so easily distracted by deep emotion that I simply can't be bothered to scratch out what's going on?

One thing is for sure. A writer would write. No matter what. So I am not a writer. That's ok with me. But what's not ok is letting the big things in my life pass by, unrecorded.

In this sense, I must become a writer. Or I will continue to suffer with regret.


swf iso kefir

Kefir, in case you don't know, is a culture milk product, kind of like yogurt but not as thick. I make my morning smoothies with it all the time. It's a probiotic and I've found it to be really filling and satisfying. Most morning anyway. Some days I need a bowl of grits.

My store stopped carrying the brand I like, and all the other brands are loaded with crap and sweeteners and yuck. I just want kefir, straight up kefir. So it's time to start making my own! As best I can tell, you put the kefir grains in milk and let them work their magic a while, and then you have kefir.

Except I don't know where to source kefir grains. Sadly.

But you all are smart, and maybe you know where I can find some!

So tell me - have you ever bought kefir grains, and if so, where did you get them?