Singled Out: SUV

Does anyone else get tired of personal finance writers complaining about SUV owners? Seriously, I understand that gas is expensive and SUVs require more fuel but jeeze, let’s move on!

There are plenty of people who buy more car than they can afford and those
come in all shapes and sizes. There are even more people who buy a car
they don’t need so they can save money fueling their gas guzzler.  There are some who take loans out over and beyond the value of their vehicles. Explain this one to me, please!

Everyone can look to stop their own wastefulness when it comes to driving. Common examples range from driving to the corner drug store or refusing to carpool.  Or sometimes it’s just indecision when it comes to shopping causing a criss cross pattern around town.  The worst I’ve heard
is within my own family: three people living in the same house driving
less than a mile to the same office in three cars. And all these people actually like each other!

Some people did the math and calculations and determined a SUV is a
good match for their lifestyle. Good for them. If there was truly no
demand for trucks, vans and sport utility  vehicles they would have
fizzled out decades ago. But you know what? Life has this funny way of
changing. Kids quit soccer, camping trips get canceled, parents
move far away and require more help.

Here’s the shift I’d love to see: SUV owners stop whining about what
they pay at the pump and bloggers stop making them the example and
scapegoat of a bad economy.


Things to Know – Volume One

I’ve never actually owned property before. It’s true I’ve lived at my parents house until I went to college but my dad’s idea of a lawn is that big green thing we can build auto shops on! So yardwork consisted of mowing and occasionally cutting back roses.

While the new place has a smallish yard it has 18, count ’em 18, rosebushes. I’d also like to revive the lawn which has not been watered since December.

This is the first, and possibly last, edition of things to know aka “Mulch, what’s that about?”

Don’t know mulch about what to do here so I turn to my good buddy wikipedia.  Not reliable for term paper writing but great for those “I should know this” topics like mulching.

There’s always a sense of “why the hell am I doing this?” when it comes to yardwork. Mulch is no different. Apparently this practice regulates the temperature of the soil. I’ve come to think of it as a low tech thermostat for my dirt. Here’s a winning concept for me, mulch will slow the evaporation of water so more water is retained. Mulch repels inspects, another great thing for me! And mulch helps add nutrients to the soil possibly eliminating the need for expensive soil addants.

I have a bad memory from my childhood of traveling with my grandparents, aunt and uncle to Sacramento. I rode in the back of the truck (yes the 80s were a little lax on the law side) and on the way home my kind uncle stopped to buy five, yes five, bags of manure for mulching. Needless to say I’m not a fan of manure mulching.

Apparently you can mulch with anything from recycled rubber tires to gravel.  I have to consider that it’s likely my dogs may eat anything I put out there.

I’m leaning toward using shredded paper from junk mail but I’ve also got a ton of work papers I can use.  My $30 Target shredder should do the job nicely if I don’t push it too long.  A second method of mulching is soil composting and I just might use some gift cards to buy one from Costco.

When should all this mulching be done? Wiki says at the start of the growing season (whenever THAT is).

One hilarious piece of news from wiki is that “in some areas of northern California, mulch is often referred to as “tanbark” this was an urban legend in my mind, something I thought was only happening in my back yard. I hate tanbark with a passion not often seen.  Imagine wooden nuggets of crap that gave me splinters and hurts to walk on.  Booo tanbark!

I’ll keep you updated on project mulch.

the Yard

alternative title: how I spent my day surrounded by pricks!

A distinct disadvantage to buying a home that’s been empty for nearly a year is the yard is horridly overgrown. Water has been off at the property for some time and it’s dry. And did I mention I have 18 rosebushes?

I started my week by packing more boxes, I’m up to 19 labeled boxes and 11 unlabeled.  Unlabeled boxes hold things like books and smaller display boxes. All these boxes are from the grocery store.  Next time you move check out the produce boxes, they’re fabulous packers!

In addition to 19 boxes of china, kitchenware, office supplies, toys and clothes, I have some special boxes.

*the Gift box so I can rapidly locate presents in the event I don’t unpack until the New Year. Also ensures my helpful parents don’t spoil their Christmas surprises.

*the Tech box filled with wires and cables and power strips.

*the Open Me First box which contains safety supplies, candles, matches, sheets, toilet paper, a shower curtain and tools.

*the Cleaning box with various cleaning mixes, rags, a duster and a vacuum cleaner.

Buying Update

Until this morning I’d been doing rather well, not picking up a single thing for the house.  I didn’t go too crazy today though. Here’s what I bought:

Garden hose (Osh) $10 – I needed something to make that sprinkler worthwhile and the water should be turned on at the house this week!

2-pack Fire Extinguishers (Osh) $16 – One for the kitchen, one for the garage, a must safety item!

Pruning shears (Osh) $10 – these have already proven valuable as I trimmed all 18 rosebushes in under one hour. I have photographic proof as soon as I find my cable hookup doohicky.

Garden gloves (Osh) $4 – this is one item I regret. Don’t get me wrong, my hands would look like I’d been mangled by a gang of street cats without them but these are clearly not rosebush safe gloves. They’re pretty and they fit well but the thorns pierce the fabric easily. This pair will probably get retired to backup status once I find a pair of good strong gloves.

Total spent: $40

Total so far: $128

Dealing with Life

One show I enjoy watching (when I have cable) is Monk, maybe because I have OCD Lite. You know, the desire to make things perfect and clean but not the dedication.

In one episode, Monk has an obsessed fan portrayed by Sara Silverman. She follows him on a case and in the middle of a shoot out yells, “TIME OUT! I don’t wanna play anymore!” and proceeds to try to leave.

When I was in Girl Scouts I learned a lot of lessons, very few came with a merit badge. The most important lesson was probably when our scout leader stole the cookie money but that’s a story for another time. One day sticks in my mind, we used to meet in the school cafeteria and play tag and once a particular member of our pre-adolescent troop would throw a fit every time she was tagged and quit the game. Each time we would restart the game and she would join us until she was tagged (again) and would quit (again).

Life has a funny way of making us want to throw up our hands and quit. To stop and sit on the ground and pout or run away from it all.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break and getting a breather. Even the best athletes get a time out. Even the president has Camp David. We all need our rest and relaxation between stretches of life.

But how do we deal with life and those much needed breaks?

Letting life get SO overwhelming we just plop down and revert to the terrible twos is less than becoming, especially if such a meltdown happens in public.

Besides, life has a way of getting back at you. Like Sara, it could drag you back to face reality – life is not a video game and “pause” is rarely a viable option in crises. Or like my Girl Scouter you can pretend to be out of the game but you’ll just get tagged again.

We can’t quit every time life gets scary or doesn’t turn out exactly how we expected.

How I deal

I get this question from a lot of people, usually in relation to working four jobs but recently concerning my escalating pain and personal frustrations.

Despite the troubles I face, perspective always brings me back to reality. I have food and drink, shelter and safety. Life isn’t perfect but it’s a lot better than what many people experience.

We’re a nation of whiners but while I won’t downplay my pain or frustrations, I do remember this is only a season of my life. I very clearly remember a difficult time in my life when I curled up under a desk and cried for what seemed like hours. As I move through my life I tell myself “at least I’m not under the desk!”

At this time I can’t rely on escapism, my workload won’t allow it.  So instead of dreaming of that deserted (except for cabana boys) island in the Caribbean, I retreat to my office, the car or the backyard.  I may not get to run around Disneyland this year and smack Goofy on the butt, however, I can hop on the swings at the park and get a thrill of the whooshing air throwing my hair back.

I also watch a lot of movies when I can’t sleep, working at a video store has its perks. Sometimes that hour and twenty minutes while I work on my filing or clip coupons is enough to refresh me. Dramas remind me my life is pretty good (no drug dealers or dirty cops in MY life), Disney animated movies take me back to a time when my biggest worry was if Sleeping Beauty would wake up and Comedies make me smile despite myself.

Writing becomes therapy for me, a way to push my frustrations on a fictional character and let them handle it in ways I cannot. Focusing on a writing project gives me creative power over something and yet the ability to let it all go once it’s submitted.

Little breaks work wonders but long breaks are detrimental. I work well under pressure, that’s just a fact. If I had no deadlines and all the time I would never get things accomplished. For example, I was out of a job from December 17th last year through February 21st. I worked maybe three temp assignments and went on half a dozen interviews. I had a gym membership I never used. I didn’t volunteer. I didn’t call friends. I had resumes I never sent. I kept the house clean but didn’t organize much. Most telling during this time is I did not write. Despite finishing a very rough draft of a novel in December I was not motivated to edit or rewrite it one iota.

Maybe I’m making up for what feels like wasted time.  Maybe I realize now that when my life is full to the point of bursting I’m happy that I can manage it all.  But when the needle tips toward OVERWHELMED I deal with it and jump right back into life.

How do you deal with life?  What helps you when times are rough?

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming

thank you all for your kind words and indulging my ennui over the past few days; I promise not to be so morose for at least another year.Onto happier news like…. the economy!

I was less than pleased to read the morning headlines that consumer spending “plunged 1.2 percent” last month. Apparently this is proof that consumers are “shunning” department stores and malls, the third month of such declines.

I’m not upset at the news per se, but the characterization of this decline as horrible and devestating for our economy is disheartening. I am not inclined to enjoy the prospect of a recession or economic meltdown because I do not enjoy seeing good people out of work or the poor going hungry. But this is also a positive step for our country, if we let it play out.

Nearly everyone will, at some point in their lives, have a financial meltdown. Not necessarily go broke, bankrupt or bust, but most will have a day when they come to realize that their financial situation is less than secure. We realize we own too little real assets (playstation games don’t count), we owe too much or we’ve not saved enough. These meltdowns follow emergency room visits, mr. fluffy’s run in with a bigger, meaner fluffy, the pink plus on the pregnancy test, a job loss and a dozen other circumstances.

Our country just saw the pink plus sign and we’re experiencing labor pains.

We realized, collectively, that we’re overextended on credit, importing more than we export, out of touch with daily necessities and dependent on unstable commodities.

I would have adored, loved, worshipped and proposed to marry the writer and editor who were brave enough to post the following headline:

“Americans cut back on unnecessary spending; secure financial futures”

We need to stop building businesses that rely on overconsumption. Stop demanding and paying for more and more excess. We need to get back to the basics of quality food, quality clothes and quality transportation and away from the sunless tanning, $1.99 drugstore t-shirts and coathanger head scratchers.

This “apocolyptic” sign that we are fleeing the malls and *gasp* saving our money for hard times is encouraging to me.

I do recognize that lower sales may mean minimum wage workers have their hours cut back or jobs eliminated and I’m sympathetic.  But I have two theories. First is that if each worker did his or her job with the highest standard of quality fewer labor hours would be required. Full disclosure here, I work a part time job and see this first hand. A good night is two dedicated people who can turn over a large level of inventory, clean and restock shelves in six hours while attending to customers. On a bad night we could have four lazy, unmotivated people working eight hours and get very little accomplished. There will always be workers who are not internally motivated to work hard. Managers must hold their workers accountable.

My second theory is that optimal staffing of these lower wage jobs should propel more workers into better jobs. I know, it doesn’t work this way. But I do wish that we had the national demand for solar power researcher, for teachers with smaller classrooms, for environmentally safe engineering and building.

Let’s talk a little more about this consumer spending crises. Economists point out that spending drops indicate less lending in the credit market. Again, I’m not unhappy.

According to MSNBC, “The weakness was led by a 3.8 percent drop in auto sales. Sales dropped below 1 million units as consumers struggled to find financing.”

This part does make me sad.  It’s not that consumers are not making large purchases, like cars, because they’re saving for the future when they can purchase outright. Consumers just can’t get the money to buy what they want right now.  And with more Americans upside down on vehicle loans and losing their homes to foreclosure it’s amazing to me that our concern is not securing enough credit to do it all again.

So, despite my hopes for a national awakening, it seems we’re ignoring the elephant in the room.

Not all fun and games

I suppose I’ll post this if only because blogs that are happy all the time don’t ring true to me.

Today is a bad day, the culmination of all the frustrations in my life over the past year.

Twelve days ago I picked up some flowers and a slice of cake to celebrate my grandma’s 79th birthday.  She has advanced Alzheimer’s disease but we ate the chocolate and chatted, she giggled like a school girl and had the peace of genuine happiness about her.  I found myself hoping the later years of my life would be suppounded by such peace and love.

Today I was in the same grocery store picking up the same cake for myself, refusing to give into the self-pity of being alone. That didn’t really work.  I couldn’t sing to myself or even blow out my candles and the cake, along with my Kahlua, is untouched.

I woke up alone, I worked alone, I ate lunch alone, went to the bookstore alone and had dinner alone.  I will go to bed alone tonight.  In the past I’ve felt a certain pride in being independent, taking care of myself and mine.  But on days like today I wish there were someone else here for me.