Friday, May 28, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wrong turn

Looks like someone's a little lost.

I found this guy sitting right on top of a fence post after a recent rainstorm.

(Sorry, that was redundant. Rainstorms are always recent in Seattle.)

I thought this snail was kind of hilarious. What the heck was he doing all the way up there?

Maybe this fence post was his Everest and I captured the thrilling moment of his summit.

Or maybe he just took a wrong turn and once he got to the top, he realized that he had to go allll the wayyyy back dowwwwn.

"Aw, man! This is gonna take me forever."

I'll never know what this little guy was really up to. Maybe next time he'll use the yard's new flagstones to find his way.

If only all of life's paths were so clearly marked.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For the win

Victory is sweet.
I actually paid off my credit card in full on April 30 and made a small interest payment in mid-May ($2.40!), but this is the first time I've gotten this email alert with the most beautiful balance in the world: $.00.
I wrote here about my struggle with debt and my plan to get out of it for good. In January, I actually started being smart with my money and wrote a budget, plus a few major goals:

1. Pay off my credit card by my birthday.
2. Pay off my student loan by July 1.
3. Move out of my mom's house by the end of January 2011 with no debt and more than $10,000 in the bank.

It feels so good to cross off my first goal, especially since it means that I have gotten rid of something that has been a drag on my life for four years. After spending carelessly for so long and ignoring the mounting interest each month, I finally woke up and got mad enough to do something about my debt.


I didn't just write a budget. I crafted a plan of attack.

And although I've lived on less these past five months, I can't say that I miss my spendthrift ways. I used to waste tons of money on eating out, going to bars (yay, college!) and buying clothes (with my irresistible employee discount), and then wonder where all my money went. Now I take a small amount of cash from the ATM each payday for fun stuff, and I make it last until the next payday. In fact, oftentimes I have cash to spare when the next payday comes.

(I should note here that it helps to live 30 minutes away from all your friends and to wake up at 5 a.m. five days a week — you won't have much time or energy for expensive fun.)

I've also lost 10 pounds since January. I attribute this to the fact that I have been eating less, eating better, drinking (wayyy) less, getting more sleep and getting more exercise than I ever was during college.

Oh! And I started contributing 6% to my 401(k)! I've got 42 years of compound interest on my side, baby.

Compound interest is so sexy when it's working for you, not against you.

Aaaand I've been reading too many personal finance books. Good night.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Treats abound

My parents are divorced. This is not an ideal situation, but it does mean that I get to celebrate each holiday twice.

This includes birthdays, baby. That means twice the treats.

And when it's my birthday, that means twice the chocolate.

As Martha Stewart says, it's a good thing.
This is the birthday cake my mom lovingly baked for me. Please take note of its location in the microwave. This is no accident.
Cake domes are unnecessary space-wasters. Microwaves keep cakes just as fresh.
As long as you don't accidentally nuke the cake. Then... well, then you'd probably go buy a cake dome.
So that was Treat #1. I told my dad not to get me a birthday cake because I already had one, and it was staying nice and fresh in the microwave. I thought I'd make things easy on him and told him to just go to the grocery store and get three cupcakes — one for him, one for my brother, one for me. Simple and satisfying.
This is what he presented to me:

Somehow three grocery-store cupcakes turned into 12 Trophy cupcakes, two of each flavor they had available. There are vanilla/chocolate cupcakes, chocolate/vanilla cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes, waffle cupcakes(??), peanut butter cupcakes and my personal favorite: chocolate/chocolate cupcakes.
My daddy just wanted my birthday to be special.
Like I said... it's a good thing.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Twenty-three

Those are not my cans of Rainier. Don't judge.
He got those teeth without braces. I demand a re-do of the genetic blessings.
I lived with the guy on the right for 16 years, the girl on the left for 4 years and the girl in the middle for one night. Thanks for letting me crash at your place, dude!
It was her birthday, too.
We've been friends for 9 years.
Twenty-three is off to a good start.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Life

On family

Last weekend my dad, brother and I went to southern California to visit family. My granddad Mills is 90 years old and in declining health, so it was wonderful to get a chance to see him. We last visited for Christmas 2008, so a lot of things had changed.

We stayed at the home of my Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Richard, a house that seems to be the major gathering place during every visit. My two older cousins, Jason and Aaron, have families of their own, and their little ones run around the house like my brother and I used to just yesterday... or 20 years ago.

Jason and his family live in Fresno, so we didn't see them this time, but we fortunately saw a lot of Aaron, his wife Mindy and their beautiful girls, Riley (3) and Kaylyn (5 months).

Unfortunately, the youngest member of the Mills clan (Kaylyn) and the oldest (Granddad) haven't met yet, but that would make for a great photo.

I spent a bit of time looking at old photos with Rebecca one night. She had a bin full of them from the 50s, 60s and 70s, as well as letters that my grandmother, Jeanette Mills, had written to my great-grandmother, Emma Mae Gard. I saw lots of childhood and teen photos of my dad — super tall, skinny, always making a funny face — and pictures of my young grandparents that I had never seen before.

There was one photo in particular that I would love to have a copy of. It's a beautiful family portrait of my grandparents and their three boys taken in the early 1960s. My dad looks to be about 5 years old. My granddad is the spitting image of my brother today. My grandmother is stunning and sadly not the spitting image of me, since she was a 6-foot-tall pinup girl/Amazon.

I'd like to remember my grandparents that way — as part of that young, happy family. As my granddad said, these few years of bad health are so minute compared to the many years he's lived in good health. He survived two wars, and had three children, four grandchildren and now four great-grandchildren.

I got to thinking about families and what it means to have children. It's such an enormous task to take on. When you have kids, you're not just becoming a mother or father. You're making others into grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and even great-grandparents if you should be so lucky. You're creating a force of love bigger and stronger than yourself, a self-supporting clan built to endure whatever comes its way. And you spend your whole life pouring all of that love into your children.

I was thinking about this while I read a birth story by Kristen Frantz. She ended it with some powerful words about motherhood that grabbed ahold of my heart:
"What can I expect from becoming a mother? Disappointment. Frustration. Surprise. Joy. Love. Love. Love. Do I have what it takes? Sometimes yes, so much so that you will astound yourself. And sometimes no, this job will ask for more than you can give. What does it cost? All of you. And you will never regret it."

Friday, May 21, 2010

On my 22nd year

Today I am 23 years old.

My 22nd year was such a transitional period. I graduated from college. I got two jobs, and quit two jobs. I had my heart broken... twice. I finally got rid of the debt that has plagued me for four years. I moved back home.

The whole time, I wondered what I want to do with my life and what kind of person I want to be. Still working on those ones!

I read some life-changing books. I became addicted to memoirs, continuing my longtime fascination with others' lives: Barbara Walters, Helen Keller, Martin Fletcher, Jeff Henderson, Rosie O'Donnell, Sam MacDonald, Kathy Griffin and more.

I plucked a book called The Simple Living Guide from my mom's bookshelf and it changed my outlook. It began with this quote from Henry David Thoreau:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life..."
It's all about living intentionally, with purpose — not perfection. It has helped me become at least a little calmer, a little more patient. And I appreciate the time I have alone.

Last week, on a clear, sunny evening, I walked around my neighborhood with no particular route in mind. No destination, no time limit, no cell phone. I walked to be alone with my thoughts, to breathe the fresh air and observe everything I miss outside when I spend all day on the 18th floor of a Seattle high-rise.

I wandered into an area of the neighborhood that I'd never seen before and kept walking. I said hello to couples out walking their dogs and a mom who was landscaping part of her front yard. I watched kids play basketball and skateboard. I noticed how tall the trees were, how many birds and bugs were out and about, and — to my surprise — how you can see clear out to the mountains in one area.

It may sound silly, but I felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole and ended up in an entirely new world. I headed home only when it became too cold and dark to continue.
"Each moment is truly a miracle, but this can only be so if humans are willing to slow down, to turn off the lights, to be silent, to listen, to see, to wonder... Yes, revel in the fireflies. And live calmly, so that they may revel in you as well."
—Kirk S. Nevin
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