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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolution 1 -- Operation: Save Money for Law School

I like to read Ramit Sethi's blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which offers more practical and accessible financial tips than many finance blogs out there. One of the things I've learned from his blog this year is that there are two main approaches to saving more money:

(1) Cut back expenses (obviously)
(2) Make more money (not as obvious)

So in keeping with the above approaches, I have formulated the following plan for increasing my savings in 2009:

(1) Cut back expenses so that I can save half of the money that I earn
My plan is to automatically put half of each paycheck into my savings account, and then live on the other half by decreasing my spending. If I end up needing to dip into savings as a last resort, I will do so conservatively, but will make it my top priority to keep that money in savings. If everything goes well, I should enter law school with about 9 or 10 grand in savings, which will definitely come in handy when I no longer have an income.
I remember what it was like back when I made $300 per month and spent half of that on rent and the other half on utilities, food, and fun. It's not always easy to stretch money out like that, but when it has to be done, it can be done. I won't be in quite as tight of a financial situation next year, because I do make a decent wage at my current job, and even putting half of that away will leave me with more than $300 per month to live on, so once I adjust my spending level and become a more conservative consumer, I'm sure I won't feel too high and dry.

Ian's income also contributes to our combined expenses, but for the most part we try to keep our finances separate while sharing expenses evenly. I am attempting to burden his pocketbook as little as possible with my law school endeavors. This is my dream, and I have chosen to shoulder the majority of the burden.

(2) Make more money by selling stuff that I own
I have already gotten started on this by selling a bunch of my old books, particularly most of my LSAT study guides, which happily still retain much of their value. So far I have recovered about $200, and have already deposited that money directly into savings. Next I will attack my CD and DVD collection, although I'm not sure there is much to get rid of there, and then I will move on to some more substantial items.

I plan to sell a set of china that we have but never use. We have two separate sets, and one just sits in a box in the closet. I don't anticipate ever using this other set, and it would be overly burdensome to schlep it across the country with us anyway. I'm not quite sure how to unload a set of china, but I'll figure it out.
I am also contemplating selling my Ibanez acoustic-electric guitar, but am still undecided on the matter. I am more of an acoustically-inclined musician, but this is a very fine sounding guitar with excellent play on the neck, and part of me wants to keep it in case I ever do decide to experiment with more electric sounds. I'm on the fence, but if I do end up selling it, I anticipate recovering about $400.

I'm sure in digging through our closets I will find much more stuff that I can get rid of, if not sell, and that will decrease our load when we end up moving, which should in turn help save some money.



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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Super Secret Santa Gift, and other pirate booty, for which I am terribly thankful


This is a gorgeously handmade Vagabond travel guitar. It was my super secret Santa gift for Ian and myself this year -- a final splurge before I adopt the pocketbook of a pauper in January. It was totally worth the price. The sound is beautiful, and authentically that of a guitar (unlike many travel guitars), and the craftsmanship is admirable. We are excited to have this to take with us on roadtrips and campouts.

I was also very pleased to receive several books that I will need in law school, or that are relevant to my focus on intellectual property, public domain, fair use, and the arts.


Ian gave me a digital picture frame, which is something I've desired for quite awhile. It's nice to have your photos cycle through next to you while you work. Every now and then a picture catches your eye that you wouldn't have otherwise considered noteworthy. It keeps memories alive.


We also received a really nice microwave to replace our old one, which really wasn't very old -- less than three years -- but it kept blowing fuses. Microwave burritos shall be mine again! (Bwahahahaha!)


See that silvery thing to the left of the microwave? That's a burr grinder -- part of my coffee-themed gifts from Ian (he knows me well). I had heard that burr grinders were superior to chopping grinders for creating the best flavor from your beans, and now after brewing several pots using my burr-ground beans, I have to concur.

To compliment my new burr grinder, I also received this coffee maker complete with water filtration system.


The cool thing about this unit is that I can set a timer so my coffee automatically brews in the morning. How slick is that? I have also discovered that condensed milk makes an excellent creamer for coffee. Now the power of the perfect cup of coffee is in my hands!

So I feel pleased and grateful and very fortunate this holiday season. I hope you all had a happy holiday season as well.



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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Amusements


Looks like your average liquor store sign, until you see the bit about how underage patrons may be accompanied by a parent or spouse of legal age. I did a double take on that one too, until I remembered I am living in Utah, where it's normal to be married when you're underage.

 
I prefer to do most of my Christmas shopping online so I don't have to deal with the momentary insanity of holiday shoppers. It's nice to know that the UPS guy has an eye for camouflaging my packages when I'm not home to receive them.
 
 
This Jimmy John's used to be an ice cream store, and apparently removing the old ice cream cone from the sign was too much of a hassle, so they painted over it. No one will ever notice, right?

 
I don't know if you can tell, but the sign underneath Asia Palace reads "American Cuisine". It's supposed to read "Asian & American Cuisine", but the "Asian &" has been missing for months. Maybe that's why you never see anyone in there.
 
 
Someone at my apartment complex made these cute little foot-high snowfrauen after a recent storm. They melt my grinchy little heart.



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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TAKE ACTION -- UTAH'S WILDERNESS AT STAKE!

My dear Bunsnip readers,

I invite you to read the following communication from Robert Redford concerning President Bush's plan to auction off some of Utah's incredible wilderness to oil and gas speculators on December 19, 2008.

You can take action to try to stop this by clicking on the link in the letter below, which will send you to The Natural Resources Defense Council's website, from which you can send a form letter that will be directed to the Bureau of Land Management, your state senators, representatives, and the Obama transition team. A copy of the letter that will be sent appears below Redford's communication.

Time is of the essence, as the auction is scheduled to take place this Friday. Go register your opposition now.

Sra


Dear Friend,

No one voted on Election Day to hand over Utah's Redrock wilderness to oil companies.

But the Bush Administration cynically chose that very day to advance an outrageous plan that will sell off leases for some 300,000 acres of spectacular Utah canyonlands to oil and gas speculators.

While America was voting for Barack Obama and his vision of a clean energy future, Bush and Cheney's underlings were conspiring to plunder one of the crown jewels of our natural heritage for their fossil fuel cronies.

Please register your own opposition right now.

http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/wilderness_giveaway

The auction of Redrock country will take place on December 19. At stake are world-renowned vistas near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, as well as near Dinosaur National Monument. The highest bidders will earn the right to turn vast tracts of pristine wilderness into industrial wastelands.

It's bad enough that Bush officials went behind the backs of the American people with this disastrous scheme. But what's worse, they didn't even tell their own National Park Service until after the fact.

In my mind, this theft of our heritage goes beyond the cynical -- it's criminal. What will be left to give to our children and their children if we allow this administration, in a parting shot, to destroy our legacy of public lands for short-term gain?

I hope you're as angry as I am about this blatant land grab, because we've got to stop it -- and we have to act fast. The NRDC Action Fund is mobilizing more than one million Americans in an outpouring of protest over the coming days.

Send your own message of opposition immediately. Tell the Bush Administration that you will not allow it to destroy one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/wilderness_giveaway

We'll automatically send copies of your message to your two Senators, your representative, and to the Obama transition team, which has signaled their opposition to this disastrous attack on our Redrock heritage.

The Bush Administration is racing to complete the auction of our lands before Inauguration Day, which will make sales difficult to reverse.

We must fend off this land grab now -- before the oil and gas companies can lay claim to the spoils.

Those spoils include stretches of Desolation Canyon, which has been proposed for national park status. Bush's own Interior Department describes the canyon as "a place where a visitor can experience true solitud -- where the forces of nature continue to shape the colorful, rugged landscape."

The very idea of oil and gas operations invading these remote sanctuaries -- which have remained untouched for millennia -- is deeply upsetting. Once the dirty deed is done, our wilderness can never be restored. That's why I'm asking you to help us
sound the alarm and organize now.

Tell the Bush Administration to cancel the Redrock auction. Remind them that we the people are the rightful owners of this majestic wilderness and that we won?t stand for its destruction.

http://www.nrdcactionfund.org/wilderness_giveaway

And thank you for joining with me and the NRDC Action Fund to save these beautiful wildlands for all future generations.

Sincerely,

Robert Redford
NRDC Action Fund

P.S. After you send your own message of protest, I'll let you know of an easy way to spread the word to your friends and family. With only 10 days to mobilize one million Americans, I'm counting on you to rally everyone you know to speak out and save this precious wilderness from destruction.
http://www.nrdconline.org/campaign/stop_wilderness_giveaway?rk=q7vX80dqNSpmW



Here is the letter I sent to BLM, my two senators and my representative, and the Obama transition team. The first two paragraphs are my own additions, and the rest is the stock form letter.
I am a life-long resident of Utah, and every summer of my life I have spent time enjoying southern Utah's incredible wilderness. Some of that wilderness is under threat of attack by the Bush administration, who is attempting to auction off some of this beautiful land to people who would drill it for oil and other resources. But this would come at the expense of the important resource we all ready have -- irreplaceable, beautiful wilderness. If you have visited southern Utah, you know what is at stake here.

Our Utah air is already not what it used to be. I remember a time when I was a child, and you could look up into the night sky and see a multitude of stars. These days inversion and choking pollution are the norm -- not the exception. We don't need more of this in Utah. If anything, we need less drilling.

I urge you to halt plans that would allow oil and gas drilling on Utah wilderness lands and to cancel the December 19th auction of any such lands.

Utah's Redrock wilderness is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth. These lands belong to the American people and should be preserved for all future generations, not sacrificed for the enrichment of a few energy companies. Over the past eight years, we have witnessed a destructive oil and gas drilling boom on Western lands that has contaminated our air and water, destroyed sensitive wildlife habitat and degraded our legacy of public wildlands.

I support a new and cleaner energy path that will save our environment instead of destroying it. In that regard, it is particularly outrageous that your agency would auction off wilderness-quality lands, as well as lands adjacent to national parks or monuments. The fact that you proceeded with this expedited plan without first informing the National Park Service has added insult to injury. Officials from that agency have expressed their dissatisfaction that they were not formally consulted about plans to lease parcels of federal land adjacent to National Park Service lands.

Please cancel all plans to auction Utah's incomparable Redrock wilderness lands, and take immediate steps instead to ensure that these national treasures are fully protected in perpetuity.




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Monday, December 15, 2008

Instinct

We must have been between 11 and 15 years old, because we were old enough to go out on our own, but not old enough to drive ourselves. I think we were probably 13, and we hitched a ride with Dee's older sister, Ali.

I don't know why we thought hanging out at the Fred Meyer off Foothill after dark would be a fun idea, but that's where we had Ali drop us off. We wandered the store, looking at clothes and shoes, and whatever else caught our fancy. We probably shopped for an hour, and then, having had our fill, made way for the pay phones to call Ali.

The pay phones were nestled in the corner of the little foyer that divides the parking lot from the store, two sets of automatic doors on either side enclosing the room and protecting the store from the elements. There were also shopping carts and baskets, a couple soda machines, and one of those rip-off claw games in which you pay a buck to fail to snare a stuffed animal much heavier than the strength of the claws could carry.

We were on the phone for two or three minutes, or I should say Dee was on the phone, and I was listening and unconsciously taking in our surroundings. I did register the fact that a man stood in front of one of the soda machines for the entire time that we made our call, and that during that time he never made a purchase. It was one of those facts that you register instantly, but notice only later.

Dee hung up with Ali, who was finishing up her own shopping at some other stores, and would be by to get us in a few minutes. We decided to wait on the curb, and began walking toward the external automatic doors. Just as we passed the vending machines in the middle of the foyer, and in the split instant between the time the automatic door registered our presence and opened, I noticed the reflection of the man who had been deliberating over the sodas. He had turned just as we passed, and followed a mere foot or two behind us. Odd.

The doors opened and we stepped outside. I tried to sense whether the man was still behind us without turning around. One step. If he was there, he was very silent. Two steps. He probably wasn't there. Three steps. But then I didn't notice him in my periphery, either, so he hadn't veered off to the side. Just then a white 4-door sedan with tinted windows pulled quickly to the curb in front of us, 5-10 paces away. The rear door swung open, but nobody stepped out. A dimly lit and apparently empty back seat lined with cushy red velvet lay open toward us. That was enough for me.

"Dee," I said, grabbing my friend's elbow and pulling her abruptly off to the left, quickening our pace.

"What is it?" she asked. I pulled on her arm and continued to tug her along with me several more paces before, breathing heavily, I glanced over my shoulder and watched the soda man shuffle into the back seat of the sedan, which immediately peeled off.

"I think we were almost kidnapped."



The above story is true, to the best of my memory. I can't be sure there was anything nefarious going on with that man, but my instinct told me something wasn't right, and I listened to it. And doing so might have saved the lives of my friend and I.

The memory came to me last night as I took a break from the two novels I'm reading to begin a bit of non-fiction: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. This book is recommended all the time by Carolyn Hax, one of my beloved advice columnists, so I finally decided to put it on my library list. I was skeptical that a book about trusting your intuition would offer much interest, since it seems too much like common sense, but it ended up hooking me from the first sentence:

He had probably been watching her for awhile.
Ooh, chilling.

I usually read for about a half hour before going to bed, even if I'm going to bed late. It helps me relax. So when I looked up from my book after many adrenaline-filled pages to check if I had time to read on, I was surprised to see that my clock read 1:32 AM. I had been reading an hour and a half and would be sorry in the morning. I begrudgingly surrendered my book to my bedside table, and then realized that I had to pee, but was too scared to make the trek down the dark hallway to the bathroom.

Don't be silly, I told myself, you know the door was locked. It's always locked before bed, and you know nobody got in before then. But I would have to pass the sometimes opened doorway of the second bedroom, and the always opened doorway to the living room on the way, and I didn't want to be grabbed by someone lurking in the shadows.

I thought about just sucking it up and going to sleep without visiting the toilet, but that always results in uncomfortable urination dreams. I also thought about waking E and asking him to protect me on the way to the bathroom, but I knew that would piss him off.

So, not wanting to piss E off, or piss on myself, I decided that if I was facing my impending doom in the form of a villain in the shadows, I might as well just get it over with. So I jumped out of the covers and hurried down the hall, adrenaline pumping and pulse quickening. I made it to the bathroom and quickly shut the door behind me, relief flooding my system. But after finishing my business, I realized I still had to face the return trek. Maybe I could just sleep in the bathroom, I thought, but the cold porcelain tub was uninviting. So I opened the door and let the light from the bathroom flood into the hallway. I squinted and examined the shadows with my uncorrected vision. Maybe I should invest in some of those 24-hour contact lenses, I thought. But that wouldn't help me now.

Ok, it's now or never. Go!
I raced down the hallway past the opened doorways with their threatening shadows, and pushed through my bedroom door, thrusting it shut behind me. I climbed safely into my bed, snuggled under my down comforter, and watched the shadows of the crooked tree behind my blinds blowing in the wind, before drifting off to sleep.


The moral of this story: There's a difference between instinctual fear, and irrational fear, and it's important to recognize the difference, so that you can successfully dodge the kidnapper behind you, but also successfully make your way to the bathroom in the night without inviting a coronary. So maybe reading this book isn't such a bad idea after all. Reading it right before bed, on the other hand, is ill advised.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dear December,

You are the coldest, most expensive, and busiest month of the year. It is for these reasons that I hate you.

Granted, you've been kind to us this year, weather-wise. You've only given us one snow storm so far this month, and it was much needed to clear out the nasty pollution in our air, which is not really your fault, but the fault of the oil refineries that plague our state. And it only took me about 2 minutes to scrape the snow off my car. Also, it hasn't been quite cold enough yet to induce involuntary shivering, but I can feel that you're tempted to go there, so I'm going to have to ask you to consider your next move carefully. Or else.

Also granted, most of the expensiveness is my fault and the fault of cultural expectation. When I have to get presents for everyone that I love at the same time, it can add up quickly regardless of how much I try to cut back. Throw in the fact that my brother's birthday belongs to you, along with the birthday of one of my most favorite friends, and the fact that people feel this sick compulsion to get married or have babies with you (err, uh, within you, I mean), and the expense of gifting in the month of December grows greater. Besides, I do LIKE giving presents to my loved ones. I just want to know who thought up this Christmas thing so I can pound them one good. Presents for everyone at the same time! What were you thinking, you sadist!?

And, I know I probably should have held back on the special secret Santa present I bought for myself and E, but really, I feel like this is the last chance I have to splurge for myself before I begin Operation: Save $ For Law School, followed by Operation: Live Like a Pauper so as Not to Break the Bank in Law School. So I bought that special secret Santa present for myself and E, and it arrived today, and is totally freaking rad.

Since this is my last December at the Law Firm, and next December I'll be basking in the stress of Finals immediately followed by a small respite, I really shouldn't be too angry with you for making my work day a living hell at this time of year for the past three years. Tell me, what is your secret to exhorting extra productivity out of my attorneys, December? Because that information would come in handy during other times of the year when I'm bored out of my mind at the office.

In short, it may not be your fault. But I hate you. And I'm looking forward to your death.

Sincerely,

Sra



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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thoughts

10 minutes is too long to snooze.
Remember when my alarm clock mysteriously didn't go off? Turns out it had decided to kick the bucket, so I went out and purchased a new alarm clock. I was not warned that this new alarm clock uses a 10 minute snooze instead of the standard 7 minute. Those 3 extra minutes are totally messing up my snooze habit. With 7 minutes, I can manage to fall lightly back to sleep, and sometimes even dream a bit before being gently pulled back to consciousness. With 10 minutes, I fall much deeper asleep, and am just as startled when the alarm goes off again as I am with the original alarm. Furthermore, I can hit the 7 minute snooze 3 times in 21 minutes, but the 10 minute snooze only gets 2 hits in the same amount of time. I feel cheated out of a snooze.

If you use birth control to prevent having regular periods, when you do actually have a period, the crampage and PMS is SO MUCH WORSE than when you have them regularly.
Is this the price I have to pay to not bleed monthly? Ah well, it's still worth it. (Apologies to my male readers.)

I can not be trusted to make a pound of fudge last the entire holiday season.

Instead it lasted only a weekend. Now I'm afraid to step on the scale. So I think I'll avoid doing so until after I've had a few sessions of my cycling class in January. Looks like HealthQuest2008 will be receiving a 2009 update.

A watched mailbox never delivers law school admissions results.

I know it's too early, but every day when I come home from work, I search my mailbox for some word, any word, but nothing ever comes.

December is the worst time to get married or have a baby shower.
I will still buy you a gift, but it will likely not be as generous as it would be in, say, July.




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Monday, December 1, 2008

Newsflash: We are in a recession

From the AP today:

Most Americans sorely knew it already, but now it's official: The country is in a recession, and it's getting worse. Wall Street convulsed at the news — and a fresh batch of bad economic reports — tanking nearly 680 points.
So this is why people are afraid of uttering the -R- word (and god forbid we let out the Great -D- word, either): merely announce that we are officially in a recession, and suddenly stocks plummet.

I can't pretend that I know how the market works, or why it's so volatile in the face of an uttered word, but all I can say is a big fat DUH to this announcement.



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