About those resolutions …

Back in February, I followed up on how I was doing with my New Year’s Resolutions after only a month. I was surprised to find that I was doing pretty well. Let’s see how I’m doing now that we’re five months into the year.

Creativity

1. Write more consistently, whether journaling, blogging, or creative writing.

I haven’t been able to attend my writing group for the last month or so because the meeting day changed due to a scheduling conflict for Melanie, the group’s instructor. I don’t have to have a writing group to write; I could blog every day if I simply had the motivation, and that would count as writing. In other words, I just used the writing group as an excuse for not writing. Sorry, Melanie. I take that back and restate it thus: I have not met my goal of writing more consistently.

I did, however, finally check out Ficlets.com after reading about it a few times on Wil Wheaton’s blog in exile. More on that a little later in this post.

2. Find another outlet for article writing (since ComputorEdge has gone virtual.)

I never heard from one of the computer magazines to which I sent a query letter, but I did hear back from another one, which is in its startup phase. We’ll see how that one works out. In the meantime, I wrote a second pro bono feature article for ComputorEdge, officially my 25th article for them. (Link goes to a PDF of the online issue.)

3. Publish some fiction. (Didn’t I say this last year?)

Other than putting a little piece up on Ficlets, I haven’t done anything in this regard except think about it. I think I like Ficlets, though. I’m a fan of structured writing, and the 1K limit on posts forces me to write tightly.

4. Play more musical gigs.

SR3 has played a couple of gigs recently, and we have a few more lined up. We will probably play at Federal Heights Day on September 20, as well.

5. Start teaching my stepson how to play guitar (his request, my responsibility to follow up.)

We haven’t done much with this since our initial attempts. It’s clear that Logan needs a Logan-sized guitar with standard tuning, but I haven’t had the money to get him one.

6. Transplant my Variax electronics into a Carvin Bolt kit or Warmoth guitar body.

I’m still not in a position to do this yet. I have scaled back my grandiose plans, though, and will be simply transplanting the Variax electronics into a nice body and adding a tremolo. I’ll save the passive pickups for a future project.

Physical & Mental Health

1. Learn how to get up earlier, consistently.

Through March, I did very well with this. However, I’m back to having a hard time getting up on time in the morning. In an effort to make progress, I have stopped taking the medication that was making me bleary-eyed in the morning, with no apparent negative effects. The key is going to be consistency. I need to get to bed at the same time on most nights, and then I will be able to get up on time easier.

2. Utilize my handheld BalanceLog software to track my eating and exercising habits.

Again, I haven’t been using it, but I’m at my lowest weight in the last few years. Go figure.

3. Ride my bike or walk to work more often. (If I get up earlier, this is not a problem!)

I still have not ridden my bike to work as much as I would like. Now that spring is here, I really have no excuse.

4. Schedule dental appointments to get my teeth taken care of.

I have not done this yet, despite my wife’s repeated urgings to do so. I’ve definitely dropped the ball on this one.

Financial Health

1. Get the amp out of the pawn shop, and never put it in again.

I had planned to get the amp out in February, but then I got a major wage garnishment from the State of Colorado for back taxes. (This relates to the 401k disbursement I took to buy my house not long before Intermountain Color — now Signature Offset — fired me and two other managers with no severance pay.) With this garnishment almost behind me, I’m hoping to get the amp out soon, as well as the two guitars I had to pawn in order to make rent and mortgage payments. 🙁

2. Continue to provide quality computer consulting, but stop devaluing my services as much.

I’ve been doing well on consulting. In the last week alone, I have made over $200 on consulting. I also have decided to take on the web hosting and design for a liberal poetry and essay site. In the interest of no longer devaluing my services, I parted ways with Flying Pen Press in March. The amount of time I spent working on the site was not worth the return I received when compared with other consulting jobs, so I officially resigned as their webmaster. I wish no one in the company any ill will, and I still want the company to succeed. I simply won’t be part of it when they do.

3. Keep current on space rent, car payment, mortgage, and car insurance.

Because of the garnishment I mentioned earlier, we did get behind on mortgage and space rent again. With my next check, the garnishment will be over, and we have a payment plan in place to have both space rent and mortgage payments current as of May 31 (including the June mortgage payment!) After August, things will be easier, because our mortgage will go down by about $275 per month. Before then, I should be receiving a raise at work, as well. See that light at the end of the tunnel? It’s actually daylight, not a train this time.

4. Make a spending plan (a.k.a. budget) and stick to it.

The “Mad Money” budget that I made is working pretty well, although most of my Mad Money has either gone into the gas tank or to help pay bills. Again, after my (hopeful) raise and reduction in mortgage payment, it should be much easier to stick to the budget, as well as pay down other old debts.

5. Track finances better with Quicken on computer and handheld.

I have completely fallen off the wagon with Quicken since my last post about this. I need to take statements for the last three months and reconcile them with my Quicken account so I can get back on track.

Home Improvements

1. Clean cat boxes daily.

I started out the year well with this chore, but I’ve fallen back again. I’m not as bad about it as I once was, but I’m definitely not in the habit of cleaning the boxes daily. This is one of the simple things that I can control; I just need to do it.

2. Help more with household chores without having to be asked.

I still help out in the kitchen, though not as much as I was. Again, I’ve backslid on this, and again, it’s something I can control.

3. Reduce household clutter gradually (this will help mental health, too.)

This is a tough one. Lannette and I have too much stuff and not enough room, and although I consider myself to be fastidious, I get overwhelmed with clutter and give up. We have made some changes; the city had a trash amnesty day recently, in which we got rid of quite a bit of unused stuff, and we’ve re-arranged some of the storage cabinets inside the house to make them more useful. Lannette found a china hutch and buffet on Freecycle, which allowed us to free up one of our huge bookshelves that we had been using as a pantry. This means I can bring in the books that I still have in storage in our shed. 🙂

4. Upgrade my computer (new mobo, RAM, and video.)

Eventually, my old motherboard died forever. The culprit: bad capacitors. I have fixed other motherboards with similar problems, but this one had far too many capacitors leaking brown fluid to spend time replacing them all. So, I was forced to upgrade to a new board, and now I have a great base upon which to build. Unfortunately, I’m running onboard video because I couldn’t afford to get a new PCI-E video card to go with the new board. When I can, I will get a good video card and maybe get back into gaming a bit.

5. Replace carpet with hardwood flooring throughout the house.

No change here. I really hope we can do this this summer. It will take a good chunk of money and a lot of work, but it will get rid of the carpet that the cats ruined, will make the house easier to keep clean, and will increase the value of our home.

6. Landscape yard.

Things are moving on this front. The park where I live replaced some poorly made rampart walls with better ones, driving piles into the hillside to help support the walls. This left a lot of old rampart bricks available for resident use, so my neighbor collected a lot of them. His lot sits about four feet below mine, and we would both like to see a low wall placed along the property line, which I would backfill with the dirt I moved into our back yard when building our shed three years ago. I just found a $10 used wheelbarrow to help with this task. My neighbor doesn’t have enough bricks to run the length of the yard at the height we need, but I promised him that I would purchase the necessary bricks to bring the wall up level with my yard later this summer.

7. Install carport/awning.

Nothing has changed in this regard. I would love it if I could build one of these this year. I can envision it, but I don’t know if I can afford to do it, either in terms of money or time.


Overall, it feels like I’ve backslid since February, particularly in the areas of keeping up with the catboxes and the household chores. The garnishment didn’t help things any, and if I’m able to rescue my amp and guitars, I will be very surprised and happy. I just hope there’s not another garnishment waiting around the corner.

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Resolutions follow-up #1

Since it’s February, I figured I’d better check in and see how I’m doing with my 2008 resolutions. Without having looked back at the list, I think I’m doing pretty well, but we’ll see. Following is a list of the resolutions and how I’ve done on each.

Creativity

1. Write more consistently, whether journaling, blogging, or creative writing.

I have been blogging and journaling more, though not always publicly. I haven’t done any creative writing, though.

2. Find another outlet for article writing (since ComputorEdge has gone virtual.)

I sent a query letter to another computer magazine, but have received no response. I am considering writing for a website that gives ad revenue shares, but am still on the fence about that one. My experience with Associated Content leaves a lot to be desired, but much of that is probably on my shoulders for not marketing my writing there enough.

3. Publish some fiction. (Didn’t I say this last year?)

I’ve done nothing in this regard as yet.

4. Play more musical gigs.

Steel River Three has a gig scheduled on March 29th. That’s a start.

5. Start teaching my stepson how to play guitar (his request, my responsibility to follow up.)

We started on this, and he’s done a great job of learning the first position notes. It’s clear, though, that a full size guitar is not going to work for him right now. His left arm is not long enough to have proper hand position on the low frets, and that will lead to poor playing habits and frustration for him. This is what he needs, I think. Unlike some of the other mini guitars, it actually tunes to standard EADGBE tuning, which is important for playing along with other instruments.

6. Transplant my Variax electronics into a Carvin Bolt kit or Warmoth guitar body.

This takes money, and I’m not in a position to do it yet.

Physical & Mental Health

1. Learn how to get up earlier, consistently.

The first half of the month, I got up consistently at 6:00 AM. The second half of the month, though, I started taking new prescription meds (part of the mental health thing) and am still working out the adjustments to my sleep schedule.

2. Utilize my handheld BalanceLog software to track my eating and exercising habits.

I did this for about a week before I fell off the wagon. The odd thing is that I’m still losing weight.

3. Ride my bike or walk to work more often. (If I get up earlier, this is not a problem!)

I have ridden and walked a few times, but not as much as I’d hoped.

4. Schedule dental appointments to get my teeth taken care of.

I just added this one. It was already one of my goals, but I forgot to include it in the original Resolutions list. I’m certain I will need oral surgery; I have wisdom teeth that have come in vastly crooked over the years and are damaging the insides of my cheeks. I also have at least one extra tooth below the gum on the lower right that will probably need to come out. I’m not looking forward to this; I am very afraid of surgery, and the one surgery I’ve had didn’t go well. (It was outpatient surgery, and I had a panic attack in the middle of it.) Anyway, the dentist is lined up, I just need to make the appointment.

Financial Health

1. Get the amp out of the pawn shop, and never put it in again.

My plan is to get it out this month, then I’m going to learn how to play Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Goin’ Back Again” as a reinforcement to never take it back to the pawn shop.

2. Continue to provide quality computer consulting, but stop devaluing my services as much.

I’ve had several consulting gigs in the last month, and the small amount of extra money has helped. I haven’t raised my rates, but I also haven’t given away as much of my time (except to family, whom I don’t think I should charge.)

3. Keep current on space rent, car payment, mortgage, and car insurance.

The mortgage is current, the car payment is current, and the space rent will be current by next weekend, as will the car insurance. (The insurance is not in default, the payment is just late.) I’m considering talking to the mortgage company about changing our payment date, if possible.

4. Make a spending plan (a.k.a. budget) and stick to it.

I made the budget, but sticking to it has been hard. Part of the plan is to give both me and Lannette a specific amount of “mad money” per paycheck to spend as we wish, with the rest of my paycheck going to a household account for paying bills.

5. Track finances better with Quicken on computer and handheld.

After having some initial trouble getting Pocket Quicken to work with Quicken 2008 (and receiving very little helpful support from Landware, the developer of Pocket Quicken, who just dropped communication when they couldn’t solve the problem), I finally have my accounts syncing up correctly and am entering all transactions in the handheld. I know at any given time exactly how much money is available and when all bills clear.

Home Improvements

1. Clean cat boxes daily.

This may sound silly, but I’m very proud of this one. Although I love my cats, I hate cleaning cat boxes, and that has led to behavioral problems (i.e. peeing on the floor) before. Every day in January, I cleaned both cat boxes, and it now feels like a habit, which was my goal. I also realized part of the way through the month that since I was cleaning the cat boxes, I may as well clean the ferret’s litter box daily, too, which had been my wife’s chore (by her choice.) Makes sense; I have the scooper, so I may as well do it, right? My thanks go out to the ZenHabits.net forums for providing a place to check in daily to reinforce the habit formation.

2. Help more with household chores without having to be asked.

I’ve done well with this over the last couple of weeks. I’ve kept up with the dishes and the trash (for the most part) and I’m finding that when I get started on one chore, the others naturally follow. I hope I can continue this habit.

3. Reduce household clutter gradually (this will help mental health, too.)

In addition to moving my main dresser to a more convenient location in the bedroom, I also picked up a suitcase that had been laying on the floor and constricting access to the master bathroom for months. One final toe-stubbing was all it took. There is still a lot of clutter, but this is something that I expect to work on a little at a time over the year. Otherwise, it will seem insurmountable.

4. Upgrade my computer (new mobo, RAM, and video.)

This really needs to happen, but I don’t have the money right now. My motherboard is losing track of its USB ports and it has started taking 5 minutes to POST when booted. 🙁

5. Replace carpet with hardwood flooring throughout the house.

I really hope we can do this this summer. It will take a good chunk of money and a lot of work, but it will get rid of the carpet that the cats ruined, will make the house easier to keep clean, and will increase the value of our home.

6. Landscape yard.

This is something that will have to happen in spring, if it happens, and it will just take some significant shovel and back work. (And money, again.)

7. Install carport/awning.

I would love it if I could build one of these this year. I can envision it, but I don’t know if I can afford to do it, either in terms of money or time.


Well, not bad. Of the twenty-two resolutions I set forth, I have made at least some progress on twelve of them, and taken steps toward another three. I feel good about that.

How are you guys doing on your resolutions?

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24th ComputorEdge article

My latest article for ComputorEdge hit the web on Friday. It’s entitled “The Dark Side of the Coin,” and is about Internet resources people can use for climbing out of debt. It was while researching this article that I truly found the usefulness of JD Roth’s GetRichSlowly site, as well as Leo Babauta’s ZenHabits site (which just won Best Overall Blog for the Performancing Blog Awards 2007. (I’m not sure I would make a verb out of “performance,” but then again, it does make a unique blog name.)

I’ve been dealing with debt in various degrees for at least the last twenty years. After losing my job in 2005 (during my honeymoon, I might add) and after Lannette’s diagnosis of fibromyalgia and resulting need to leave the corporate workspace, we found ourselves living on about a third of the income we had been bringing in while both of us were employed. The effect was catastrophic to our lives, resulting snowballing debt we couldn’t pay, a vehicle repossession and near eviction from our home.

Things are better now, but still somewhat tight. I’m working on creating multiple income streams that can help a little; my writing for ComputorEdge was one of those streams, but the magazine’s new Web-only business model (a.k.a., no more pay for articles) means that I need to find a replacement for that. Perhaps the replacement will come from computer consulting. Perhaps it will come from selling other articles. If I get really lucky, maybe it will come from writing short stories (but that means I need to actually submit some, and not squander the opportunities when I get them.)

At any rate, the blog resources mentioned above are very helpful and inspirational, and I recommend them to anyone who wants to get a handle on his or her finances (or life, for that matter.)

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We have a winner!

Since last year, I’ve been subscribing to the GetRichSlowly blog, written by J.D. Roth. I found his blog through Gina Trapani’s LifeHacker blog, and I’m finding that reading GetRichSlowly is helping me to keep a focus on getting my finances in shape. I’ve always had a tendency to bury my head in the sand when things get dark in my financial world, and keeping up with GRS helps me avoid that tendency.

Last week, GRS ran a contest, asking for true stories of frugality by readers or people close to them, and I submitted a revision of my Of Laptops and Cub Scout Slides post. The contest was to have three winners, all of whom would receive copies of Jeff Yeager’s The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches. It actually turned out that there were four winners, and I was one of them!

I had linked to the above blog entry from the GRS site, and I was surprised to see a big spike in traffic on that post. Over the weekend, nearly 200 people read my “Cub Scout Slides” blog post, which I didn’t expect at all. I’m hoping I got some new RSS or e-mail subscribers out of those page views; if you are new to the Lytspeed Communications Creativity Journal, please speak up in the comments and let me know. And thanks for visiting!

I don’t think of myself as being good at being frugal, so I feel a little like I don’t deserve to be awarded a book about frugality. What this shows me, though, is that I do have wonderful examples of frugality in what my parents taught me, specifically my Dad. My wife has told me before that I need to collect all these great stories that I have of my Dad and put them together in one place. Maybe this blog is the place. I’ll create a new category for those kinds of stories.

It’s also interesting to note that I had referred to GRS in my most recent ComputorEdge article, which comes out Friday, January 11th, 2008. The article is called “The Dark Side of the Coin,” and is about debt reduction.

Hmmm … the stars seem to be aligning. Maybe this really is the year I will make headway against 17 years of constant debt.

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2008 Resolutions

Why do we have resolutions if all they do is depress us when we don’t keep them? Earlier tonight, I composed my initial list of resolutions for 2008, and just a few minutes ago, I looked at my 2007 Resolutions post from last year. Of last year’s resolutions, I only completed two to my satisfaction: I got my taxes done on time and I bought a Variax.

This year’s list is much bigger, but possibly less restrictive. Several resolutions from last year carry over (and may well be perpetual entries, no matter how well I perform them), with lots of new entries. I’ll try to organize them into manageable sections, though I’m sure there will be crossover.

Creativity

1. Write more consistently, whether journaling, blogging, or creative writing.
2. Find another outlet for article writing (since ComputorEdge has gone virtual.)
3. Publish some fiction. (Didn’t I say this last year?)
4. Play more musical gigs.
5. Start teaching my stepson how to play guitar (his request, my responsibility to follow up.)
6. Transplant my Variax electronics into a Carvin Bolt kit or Warmoth guitar body.

Physical & Mental Health

1. Learn how to get up earlier, consistently.
2. Utilize my handheld BalanceLog software to track my eating and exercising habits.
3. Ride my bike or walk to work more often. (If I get up earlier, this is not a problem!)
4. Make appointments with the dentist to remove my errant wisdom teeth and extra teeth below the gum on the lower jaw.

Financial Health

1. Get the amp out of the pawn shop, and never put it in again.
2. Continue to provide quality computer consulting, but stop devaluing my services as much.
3. Keep current on space rent, car payment, mortgage, and car insurance.
4. Make a spending plan (a.k.a. budget) and stick to it.
5. Track finances better with Quicken on computer and handheld.

Home Improvements

1. Clean cat boxes daily.
2. Help more with household chores without having to be asked.
3. Reduce household clutter gradually (this will help mental health, too.)
4. Upgrade my computer (new mobo, RAM, and video.)
5. Replace carpet with hardwood flooring throughout the house.
6. Landscape yard.
7. Install carport/awning.

Whew! Am I setting myself up to fail? Probably, but as I established at the beginning of this post, that’s what resolutions are all about, right? At least making the list helps me keep an eye on the goals.

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