Thoughts for the day

Rest but never quit. Even the sun has a sinking spell each evening. But it always rises the next morning. At sunrise, every soul is born again. ~ Author Unknown

Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. ~ Albert Einstein

Light tomorrow with today. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The best dreams happen when you’re awake. ~ Cherie Gilderbloom

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Leap of faith

The house is off the market, at least for a while. Not a good time to be selling at this price range in Ketchikan, Alaska. So the listing will get a rest, at least till spring, and regroup begins.
 
I ask myself: if I can’t control the housing market, what do I control? What is my response?
 
I’ve taken inventory of commitments, obligations, opportunities. I’ve talked with managers at my office who can work with me through a transition.
 
This is my plan.
 
I’m moving to relief status with my administrative position for the medical group in January. I’m also enrolled as a substitute teacher for the local schools. I can’t continue to keep both feet in Ketchikan on a weekly basis and maintain a life with Rob. So I’m choosing. I’m choosing opportunity for the unknown over security, change instead of stability, serendipity over structure. I’m stepping off.
 
The house will still be a commitment, and one that I have to support. So I’ll do it, but in a way that doesn’t require a daily presence.
 
I’m reducing my income, streamlining my habits. If I’m working relief, and subbing in school when possible, that’s just a given. I can’t have it both ways.
 
And what do I get in exchange?
 
I get more time to be with my partner, the husband I chose long ago, and the relationship I’ve committed to. When he’s in the region to work, I’ll work, and when he’s off traveling, I’ll travel.
 
I get more opportunity to be with others who are important in my life.
 
I get potential for adventure.
 
I’ll have time to develop new interests and hone new skills.
 
I get…I don’t know…that’s part of the charm and the magic. I don’t know what I’ll get!
 
Planning for this means that thought, budgeting, organizing, daydreaming, anxiety, stress, hope, excitement, and joy are all part of the process. There are days I am excited and days I am nervous. I’ve left jobs and income before. I’ve moved. I’ve sold houses. But I’ve never left a job behind, kept the house, and planned to stay afloat on part-time work, not knowing what the future would hold.
 
It’s a brave new world, for me, anyway. I’m sure I can do it. I think it will be like the sky diving adventure in June. The first step was the hardest, and after that initial leap out the door, the rest was easy, including the perfect landing.
 
Granted, doing this is possible because I’m at a time in my life when kids are grown, there are more resources and flexibilities built in. But it isn’t easy, and it isn’t automatic. I suspect, as is the case for most things that promise great reward, it will take a lot of energy to stay ahead of financial needs, work scheduling, travel arrangements, and syncing of schedules. But isn’t that life in general? Outcome requires input. Result requires effort.
 
I’ll be shifting my efforts come January. I’ll be living life in a different way.
 
When Rob and I did the sky dive in June, we were each hooked to a professional jumper, we each had a buddy who did the work for us. We were along for the ride. This time, we’ll have to hold on to each other. We’ll be doing the work ourselves. But I think we’ll be safe. We’ve held hands before, through some pretty rough rides. This one should be good…just have to take the first step out.

Alaska hummingbirds

This video features some hungry hummingbirds at a local lodge near Ketchikan. Fun to watch the birds, and keep watching the clip after for some scenes of this area. It is beautiful, even if the rainfall is epic!

Enjoy!

Cash-free by design – how to do it

So, I’ve had a few people ask me if I really live cash free. And the answer is, almost. There are literally months that go by when I don’t touch real money, the most commonly recurring exception being the $5 fare for the airport ferry that I complained about a few weeks ago.
 
The follow up question is, how do you do it? Well, maybe the first question to ask yourself is, does it matter to you? If it doesn’t, if you’re one of those individuals who pays cash for everything, or has a hybrid approach of using cash, credit cards, debit cards, and checks…well, as long as your choices are working for you, great.
 
But if you’re curious about living a cash-free lifestyle, read on. I’ll give you my game plan.
 
First, as I said in a previous post (repeated here in case you’re not a regular reader of this fascinating and clever blog!), the primary reason I choose to be cash free is for the benefits I gain from savvy credit card use, and for the convenience of having virtually every purchase recorded, tracked, verified, and paid through one source. Now don’t go all Dave Ramsey on me, this ONLY works if you are disciplined and pay attention to your money. If you can’t pay your monthly balance IN FULL every month that rolls around, or if you don’t keep up with what you spend throughout the month, this will not be a good thing in your life, and you’ll find yourself going into credit card debt. I would never encourage anyone to do that.
 
Second, I truly feel more in control with a credit card than I do with cash. I know that is exactly opposite the general belief of many financial planners, but I am not good at managing cash. It just slips through my fingers. So I would not want my financial management to be cash-based. If I have to think about paying with a credit card, I am less impulsive. Avoiding cash helps me refrain from small purchases that add up for my money flow, as well as my diet, as food and coffee/soda purchases would be the primary way I would fritter cash away if I used it. Not that I don’t eat out, or have a coffee stop now and then, but when I do, I pay with my card, or my coffee card.
 
My salary is direct-deposited to my bank, and I also have a couple of recurring payments debited from my bank, so even though a few things are not funneled through my credit card, neither do I have to write checks for these bills each month. But most of my monthly charges are billed to my card. When I pay my utility bill, or my fuel oil bill, when I used to pay college tuition, it all went on my card. Groceries go on my card. Haircuts and professional fees go on my card. I accumulate miles for the money I spend, and I find that to be the most useful payback in terms of credit card rewards. But that’s important to me because I live in a place that requires flying in and out (unless you have enough time to take a much slower ferry). And I sometimes use my miles to have family come up to visit. I like the flexibility of use I get with the mileage benefit. But for some, one of the cash back cards might be a better option.
 
So, I never have to cash or deposit my check, and other than a few checks I write for charitable organizations, everything else is either automatically debited or paid by swipe.
 
One of the things that I watch is the billing cycle each month. If I have a large purchase coming up, I sometimes purchase right after the card has cycled. It give me the full benefit of the next billing cycle to pay. One of my rules is that I can’t exceed in my monthly payments what I am able to pay in any given month. The goal is to NEVER have to take money from savings to pay monthly expenses. So in effect, my monthly income is my budget number each month. That number has to include transfers to savings, payments that are debited from my checking account, and the total amount due to my credit card for the month.
 
Other strategies for management by credit card: check your online balance often. I don’t check mine daily, although if I’m out of town and spending freely, I tend to check more frequently just to verify that charges are added appropriately. I also keep a list of my charges each month in my planner, and I log these at the end of the day when I review any receipts I have in my purse. It’s another way to insure that I don’t lose track of what I’m spending. It also gives me a back up tally in case I can’t access my digital account. My mom debits what she charges on her credit card from her check book register as she charges, so that she’s already debited the amount from her account (on paper). Using that system, when it’s time to make your monthly payment, you’re already reconciled with your checking account, albeit in incremental amounts. You just have to make your online payment for the full sum due.
 
I have one primary credit card that I use, so I don’t dilute my mile accumulation factor, and also to keep life simple. One card to charge with, one to keep track of, one to pay. I do have a couple of back up cards just in case I lose my primary card, or in case of theft. I don’t want to be without options if life happens on the way to the grocery. But about the only time I use a different card (since I’ve experienced neither loss nor theft) is at a big box store that prefers American Express to Visa.
 
If you have concerns about online banking, let me say that I’ve been doing it for years now, and I have not had a bad experience yet. I use my credit card company’s bill pay service to make my monthly payment digitally, and it works like a charm. I particularly like that I can pay it when I want (as long as it is by the date required to avoid interest). So if I choose to pay early, pay twice a month, schedule a payment to occur when I’m traveling, it’s like clockwork. I find it particularly helpful as mail in Alaska can sometimes be unpredictable. Mail goes out and comes in, but if you’re dependent on getting an actual check to a physical location in the lower 48, you may have late charges if you’ve run close to the due date. No offense to the post office intended, but length of delivery times can be variable from this state.
 
So, think about your financial strategy with regard to monthly expenses. I’d be interested to hear what others have found works for them. This is pretty simple for me, and these days, simple, digital, convenient…that’s what I want.

Preserved lemons; or, genetic memories calling?

I’m preserving lemons even as I write. It is a work in progress. Yesterday I satisfied my inner Martha Stewart with a home kitchen exercise that fulfilled multiple needs at once. The prep work for making preserved lemons is ridiculously fast and simple. But as the process itself takes about three weeks of wait time, the jar of lemons sitting in plain view all that time on my kitchen counter, it feels like I’m engaged in a much more complex endeavor. And the result, three lemons, so beautifully softened by kosher salt and time, can be stored in the fridge for up to a year. Nice! I’ll have a lengthy period of time to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

Let me tell you how intense those labors were.

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It all began with a beautiful image of these lemons on a food blog. The accompanying text promised flavor so luscious, so bright, so wonderful…well, I was inspired to put my hands on a Mason jar and buy some new lids to try this at once. There isn’t really even a recipe. You just choose the size jar you want to use, select a few lemons (I used three); you wash and quarter the lemons, slicing not quite through with each cut, so that the pieces stay attached. Then you fill the cut areas with kosher salt, stuff the lemons into the canning jar, and put a lid on. You don’t even have to go through a sterilizing process, just run the jar and the lid through the dishwasher before using. I did add a little extra salt on top of the last lemon, following the well known, “if a little is good, a lot is better” philosophy. That’s it. Now I just wait for the magic to happen.

Supposedly, in the next three weeks, the lemons will soften, and their flavor, enhanced by the salt, will intensify. You can use slivers of the lemon rind in salads, or add slices to roasting meat, or find your own unique ways to utilize your bounty. Already, overnight, the lemons have released some of their juices; a small amount of liquid has pooled at the base of the jar. I understand that lemon-watching can become quite an obsession during this period, requiring regular checks to see what they’ve done overnight, or since I left for work, or between dinner and bedtime…you get the idea. I’m going to have a regular entertainment center on my counter!

I’m looking forward to trying these in my favorite lemony recipes. But the preserves are just the bonus. The real joy in this is that I’m feeding some need within myself to be domestic, beyond home-cooked meals and laundry processing. I don’t understand where it comes from. I’m not even aware the need is there. Until I see something like this blog post, and I’m fired with an intense desire to can, or preserve, or somehow participate in the time-honored arts of a farm kitchen.

Really, if I believed in genetic memory, I would think I’m experiencing the combined promptings of grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and all sorts of extended kin, who were queens of the garden: canning, freezing, making jams and pickles all summer. Like the little red hen, immortalized in the story of an industrious chicken who works for her chicks, my ancestors were not corporate ladder-climbers. But they worked, none the less. It would even be safe to say they were driven: growing, harvesting and processing all season long. As a child, my summers were blighted with never-ending buckets of black-eyed peas, butter beans, and worst of all, lady peas, those tiny peas that require HOURS of shelling to produce a “mess” of peas large enough to be worth cooking. My siblings and I shelled, and shelled, and shelled some more.

Then I grew up and left home, and I don’t think I’ve shelled anything since. I’ve dabbled in flower gardening, actually grown a few tomatoes and herbs. This year I grew a pot of lettuce, and I have a pot of rosemary. My prize outdoor edible is a rhubarb plant. I love to harvest the stalks and chop up quantities to freeze for winter cobblers and pies. That’s pretty satisfying. But there’s something about canning…don’t know what it is. Mind you, I don’t really want to go whole hog. I don’t want to invest in home canning operations or stockpile jars. But now and then, a little freezer jam, or this find…preserved lemons…that seems just about right for me. I get all of the pleasure of anticipating jars of produce, thriftily and skillfully (!) stored for later use, without the intense labor of serious canning.

My next effort at this type of kitchen magic is making my own vanilla. Found a recipe (same thing, you just split vanilla beans open, add a good quality vodka, and wait for the liquid to darken). Simplicity in itself! The particular charm here is the beautiful jars I’ve found for vanilla storage. I have to admit, that’s the real hook of this experiment. I have a long-standing clear glass fetish love of clear glass, and cool bottles always call to me. Check out this company: see my find? You can order in bulk, or buy one bottle at a time. How fun is that?! But more on this later, when my bottles have arrived and I’ve completed my commitment to the lemons.

As an adult, I turned to people like Martha Stewart for inspiration. She gardens more elegantly than my family members did, I have to give her that. When Martha is in her garden, she looks invitingly rustic, never seems to break a sweat, or even get very dirty; and she always has interesting tools, perfect rows of plants, or wonderful raised planter boxes, no doubt designed by an upscale firm specializing in agricultural architecture. Martha changed my view of gardening. It went from something decidedly un-glamorous to a skill to be proud of, or at least interested in. Thus my move from reluctant child pea-sheller to an adult, able to appreciate the pleasure of having home-grown produce. I’m happy to say that for many years now, I’ve appreciated the talent and skill that I was dismissive of when I was younger. It seemed a given at the time. Didn’t everyone’s grandmothers garden and can?

Well, maybe there is something to genetic memory. Or at least the inspiration that comes from memories of seeing the hard work and skill that generations of women put into feeding families. Martha made it cool to be in the kitchen, to have my own domestic skills. But my grandmothers made it real for me. I can close my eyes and see rows of finished cans of beans lined up on the counter, or freezer bags full of corn, cooling, waiting to be tucked away for a winter meal.

Hmmm…wonder what else I can preserve in salt…or vodka…I might be on to a whole new thing. And if it’s a good thing (thank you, Martha!), some lucky ones of you might be getting these as Christmas happys. We’ll know in about three weeks.

In the meantime, if you’re wondering, I’ll be perched at my kitchen counter, watching the magic unfold in slow motion.

Good advice!

A few new favorites…

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate. – Thornton Wilder

If you want to be happy, be. – Leo Tolstoy

The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.  – Anna Quindlen

She took the leap and built her wings on the way down.

You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  You’re on your own and you know what you know.  And you are the one who’ll decide where to go. – Dr. Seuss

Today is a new day. – Chicken Little

Earth’s crammed with heaven. – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

She decided to enjoy more and endure less.

She was kind and loving and patient…with herself.

A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at her. – David Brinkley

Anything you are good at contributes to happiness. – Bertrand Russell

A strong woman understands the importance of creating space for personal well-being, spiritual nourishment, and regeneration in order to maintain her authenticity, especially when the universe whacks her with its two-by-four and hands her days when it takes a great deal of courage just to show up. – Laura Folse

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.

She discovered that she was the one she’d been waiting for.

Summer? Did I miss it?

Well, well, August 19th, and another cool rainy weekend in the forecast. I’ve definitely had the “summer was on a Tuesday” experience this year. I remember one of the summers we lived in Michigan was like that. You kept telling yourself, believing, that any day now, the full force of sun and warmth would arrive and the glorious summer weather would bring all things good…outdoor cookouts, trips to the park, bike riding, ball games. But no, nothing, it just fizzled before it ever got off the ground. Like this one.

Oh sure, you try to keep up appearances. Can’t tell you how many days in the past few months I’ve worn something more suited to Arizona, complete with a sweater or windbreaker or jean jacket…whatever COAT was best paired with my summer garb. I couldn’t face going through the summer months wearing turtlenecks. But with only a few exceptions, I could have done it and been very comfortable during June, July, and now August. I’m hoping for a bit of an Indian summer season in September. But who am I kidding? I might as well be unpacking my corduroys and wool right now.

20110819-062943.jpg With the exception of a few days spent in California and Arizona (alright, that was a bit warm, even for me), we’ve sailed right past spring and into October. Honestly, some of the rains we’ve had have been wicked! Thank goodness my leak in the bathroom appears to be fixed. (You know the repair has been successful when you forget to check each time it rains.) Many days the temps hover in the 50s. Twice in the next week we’re supposed to hit 60! And this is August!

Raspberries have been impacted by all the wet, or cool, or something. All I know is that the other summers we’ve lived here we’ve had lots of berries on the vines behind the house. This year, there was a dismal, one-cup crop. Yesterday I noticed a few leaves already turning.

Ok, I know for anyone outside Alaska reading this, it sounds petty. I’ve seen the news about the heat wave and the dry spell much of the lower 48 has been living through, and I know my frustration must seem un-imaginable to many. But trust me, if you heard your heat kick on in August, or decided to put your electric blanket back on the bed before Labor Day, you’d be complaining too.

Most days this cruise season, I’ve felt sorry for the poor tourists, trying to have a good time in a downpour. I’ve hardly had a chance to run the AC in my car. I have brats in the fridge. But I need the right atmosphere. I can’t enjoy grilling out when all I want to do is go inside to warm up.

So that’s my lament for late August. What happened to summer? If you find it, please send it my way. It’s not too late.

Random goodness

Here’s a fun new find: drink in Food Gawker. You can see recipes with a click of a button, sort of like looking through a big card catalog. You can save or share, so click away!

Other discoveries this week: I’m addicted to quotes that are pithy, clever, witty, wise, funny…any or all of these things. Found a great blog that has a roundup of 100 quotes, a few of which I already love, many of which were unknown to me: Visit Demanding Joy.

Made the simplest of shrimp salads for dinner: 1 dozen large shrimp, deveined, cooked, and chilled; mixed greens; fresh cilantro leaves; grated carrot; a sprinkling of lime juice; handful of roasted peanuts; add a light drizzle of Sesame Ginger dresser. Toss to mix. Devour. Serves one hungry diner. Yum!

Discovered a lot of new uses for my dishwasher. Seriously, who knew?! Check it out. (I don’t necessarily endorse all these ideas, but some of them sound good.)

Saw a post about the rising popularity of drinking vinegars, long popular in Asia. I must admit, my grandmother is a big fan of drinking apple cider vinegar…according to her, it can cure pretty much any ailment you’ve got. But I didn’t know she was cutting edge. Here you go, in case you want to serve the latest flavors at your next dinner party: From Serious Eats, the new-old-fashioned drink…

I like this blog: great idea, simple but inspiring: Share some kindness.

See you out there!

Consistency

You cannot raise a man up by calling him down.

-William Boetcker

This seems self-evident. Who doesn’t know that it’s better to be positive than negative, that it’s better to offer encouragement than ridicule or criticism?

A positive attitude begins in the mind. A positive attitude is not a false view that everything is rosy. A positive attitude allows you to acknowledge imperfection, and determine to do what you can to improve the situation.

I come back to this again and again in my own life. When I let myself be drawn down a negative path of thought, my attitude and actions spiral down too.

The hardest part of being positive is being consistent. Anyone can be positive for a short time, for a sprint. It takes practice and effort to maintain hope and an expectation of good for the long haul. Because life frequently disappoints, people regularly disappoint, and many things are beyond individual control.

This morning, I couldn’t control the weather.

I couldn’t control the stock market.

I couldn’t control the real estate market.

I couldn’t control events in my kids’ lives.

I couldn’t control health for my family.

I couldn’t control actions of other people.

I could control my smile, my temper, and my heart.

Controlling the last three makes the other factors beyond my control more bearable, more manageable.

Controlling my responses, my attitude, doesn’t make me perfect. It makes me tolerant, forgiving, and accepting.

Determination to keep a positive spirit in the face of disappointment exercises personal strength, demonstrates self-discipline, and keeps me grounded in what is important: what I have determined is important to me.

Things are not important.

Relationships are.

Perfection is not important.

Excellence is.

Mistakes are not important.

Trying is.

None of these thoughts are new. All of these thoughts are challenging. Why is it so hard? Because consistency is the single most difficult component of choice.

Today, I’m trying again. I’m my own cheerleader, saying the words, the phrases, that motivate and inspire me.  I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna, too naïve or too afraid to face reality, to see the bad stuff. But that’s not who I am. I’ve seen, and I’ve chosen.