October 19, 2017

Just a little (link) love: sneaky owl edition

If this week has a theme, it’s emergency preparedness! So what do you think of Lily’s exercise in preparing for the second Great Depression? Do you think it’s likely to happen again in the next 10, 20, 30 years?

Big Law: “Those institutions are built on a pile of broken dreams and paralyzed children. They are towers of stolen money and lives. And the bulk of their activities which are not downright sinister are simply parasitic. They’re vampire squids wrapped around the face of humanity.”

Liz at Chief Mom Office answered my question about how to teach kids about money.

A hard but good read on estrangement and grieving

How do you find time to cook / eat healthy meals? Sherry’s got an amazing routine down for feeding her family when you’re a busy parent. I may steal a few pages from her book!

Sarah Gailey’s “Women of Harry Potter: Ginny Weasley Is Not Impressed” is a must read.

Sneaky owl!

October 18, 2017

My sibling, my nightmare

Looking back at life decisions and my sibling Othalafehu’s old post about a problematic sibling surfaced on my radar recently, reminding me of a memory that struck me a few weeks ago.

I think I was 18 at the time this happened. I had been working at my post-high school job for over a year and had become one of the most reliable staff. The power of youth, by the way, is one of the few reasons I could power through my chronic pain. It’s heady stuff!

The office manager sat me down one day, asking me to weigh in on an application. This being totally out of the norm, I was puzzled. Then I was horrified. She revealed that it was my brother who had applied, and would I have a problem working with my sibling?

He was a difficult human. Older but aimless, he’d never held down a job for longer than a couple of months, None of them were glamorous enough for His Nibs, he of the mighty dreams of glory. He wanted to be the overnight success, the billionaire entrepreneur. Some of this delusion was his own making, some of it was inherited from Dad’s entrepreneurial streak. He definitely inherited the family streak of charm, that manipulative skill which let him talk his way in and right back out of trouble. That mix was toxic and part of why he got himself in deep with an MLM and took my parents in with him.

His ego was almost all there was to him. He had incredible artistic talents but they were wasted because he had zero work ethic and was a nightmare to work with. Even as a younger sibling asking for his help with homework, he would never help me in a way that was truly helpful. He always insisted on doing it entirely his way, insisting he knew best even though he’d never listened to a word of the requirements, wasting time and making more work for me every time I had the misfortune of needing his help.

Can you imagine having to work alongside someone like that? Our dynamic was worse because, as my older sibling, he naturally thought he was superior to me.

Back to the job – I had run my butt off proving myself, taking care of animals, clients, paperwork. I worked overtime every week to cover shifts, to make sure the job was done right, and to earn the money I needed to pay off our parents’ debts.

Without telling me that he was thinking of it – we lived in the same house! – he applied to my place of employment. My gag reflex almost got the better of me at the horrific suggestion that he might be brought in on an interview, on the strength of his relationship to me.

Almost dizzy with the horror of the embarrassment to come, of being painted with the same brush once his carelessness caused harm to someone once he lied one lie too many, I almost whispered that I didn’t think it would be a good idea, and to my distinct relief, the office manager closed the discussion without asking more questions.


Looking back many years later, I am the only person he even pretends to listen to. That’s not saying much. More accurately, he holds a moderate amount of fear/respect for me that he doesn’t hold for anyone else because I have always been hard on him, expected more from him, insisted that he toe the line, and never fell for his blandishments. He could manipulate anyone but me. My second-guessing brain wonders: Could I have forced him to learn to extend that respect to the workplace? Could I have set an example for him that would have changed the course of his life?

I think we all have those defining moments in our lives where one decision sent us down an entirely different path. A better path. Did I take that away from him?

I’ve done a lot of time soul-searching, wondering. It’s possible that that was the opportunity he needed. It’s barely possible I could have exerted some influence. But at what cost? Probably too high a cost.

That job provided 5 years of income – it paid for my entire college education and a huge portion of Mom and Dad’s debt. A lot happened in those five years as a result of that job. I worked and went to school full time, graduated with a four year degree without debt, made enormous inroads into our parents’ debt. It wasn’t a glamorous job, it was retail level stuff. I never made more than $10/hour there and that’s after 5 years of more than full time work. But because of that flexibility and the seniority I earned from busting my butt, they worked with my schedule so I was able to go to school.

If he had been hired and I couldn’t push him to be a better person then, going by the pattern of his sparse work history, his spiral into grandiosity might have taken the form of ghosting the job, or flubbing serious judgment calls causing harm to a person or their pet, or lying about any number of problems that his ego would have caused. Finally, if we’re being really sensible, his almost-respect was developed over many difficult and contentious years – he wouldn’t have listened to me back then.

I would have been tainted by association, so the next domino to go would have been my own reputation, called into question as the person “recommending” (or not vetoing) his hire. I would have had to find a job elsewhere, but no job in town had that same kind of flexibility and capacity for overtime hours so my schooling would have been delayed. Maybe for a year, maybe for ten, because the debt I uncovered was never going to be paid off with a $10/hour job.

If that’s how that played out, we both would have been burned by his hire and disgrace.

We recently made a $1000 mistake giving an amateur a chance to do some garage work for us but the guy was sloppy and didn’t know a quarter of what he needed to do the job. We stopped him mid-job when PiC had put in as much work as Amateur had, without getting close to a satisfactory result. It was a situation that called for micromanaging to the worst degree because nothing the guy did was close to good enough. At the very best, working with my sibling would have been like that.

Once upon a time, I felt responsible to be his keeper in some ways. I don’t feel the full weight of that responsibility anymore, but that he has never yet found a turning point is not just a tragedy of his life, it’s had enormous impact on my life as well.

My veto on his hire at our place didn’t blackball him in town. He could have worked hard at any equivalent retail job anywhere else in that town before or after that application didn’t pan out. But he didn’t.

I have some regrets about decisions I made in the past, both for taking chances, and not, and loads of relief in hindsight about choices made. I’m not sure which column this falls under, I just wish things had gone a different way.

:: Do you remember making a decision that would change your life? Did someone ever take a chance on you? How did that work out?

Edit: On a less depressing note, I also have a guest post over at Chief Mom Officer’s on being a breadwinner. Timely.

October 16, 2017

Earthquake and disaster preparedness

Earthquakes & fire: what supplies we need to stock up on I’ve written about being prepared for pet problems, considering a wide range of What Ifs and preparing for them, and financial preparedness in my In Case of Emergency series focused on getting a household in order for the worst possible scenarios. I started this post for a few reasons, but the disastrous wildfires in Santa Rosa no more than a couple hours away from us has made this even more compelling. One of our community members, DadsDollarsDebts was directly affected by the fire and had to escape with only minutes to get out, so I’m sharing this post earlier to join the Chain in hopes that we’ll motivate more people to get prepared, sooner.


This was a full to the brim month with oh, moving, and closing on our old place, and settling into the new place, and figuring out how to work everything.

Settle In mode has made me acutely aware that we aren’t prepared nearly enough for any surprise massive earthquakes, and the world around me makes me even more aware that we’re in no shape to face a major earthquake.

USGS warns us that we’re overdue and that it’s going to happen in the next 30 years: “In 2003, earthquake scientists led by the USGS estimated that there is a 62% probability of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake in the Bay Area in the next 30 years.” As a California native, I don’t even roll over in bed for anything 5 and under, but 6 and up in close proximity? I’d sweat that. Every minute that goes by without being sufficiently prepared to last 3-7 days on our own is another minute developing my very own micro-ulcer. I know that it’s not likely to hit tomorrow but Mexico was just rocked by two very large quakes and that reality does nothing for my sensibilities.

Action is the only thing that helps, of course, so I’ve started working on our emergency plan with our friends in the region, updated Seamus’s microchip information, started a spreadsheet with our emergency supplies and a rotation schedule, bought our first batch of food supplies from Costco because they were on sale.

Still to buy: updated tags for Seamus with our new address, 28 gallons of water (7 days of water for the 4 of us), more lightweight, high-calorie, non-perishable food items, flashlights and backup batteries, a generator ($$$$), fuel for the generator. If I can’t unearth adequate medical and first aid supplies from our packing detritus, I’ll have to resupply those as well.

We need enough supplies for sheltering in place (with every hope that we’re able to safely do so here in our own home), and a portable version of the supplies if we have to evacuate. We’ll need large jugs of water and the more portable water packets for bottles.  I already keep extra medication for myself and Seamus on hand but I’m going to need to make up a go bag with those medications prefilled in case we have to get out quickly.

A satellite phone was tempting until I saw the cost – from $200 to $700 for the phone, and monthly fees on top of that. As much as I want to ensure that PiC and I will absolutely be able to find each other if a quake hits when we’re separated, that’s a really steep cost for something that might not even be in arm’s reach in the event. Plus, PiC has a terrible habit of forgetting things in weird places. We don’t fight often but I’m pretty sure we’d get in a big fight if he lost THIS phone. Scratch the sat phone for now. I’d considered walkie talkies but those seem to work best when you’re on a flat landscape.

A fire extinguisher at home, and maybe in the car, are also a good idea. Fires are a concern after earthquakes because of broken gas lines, and that’s why I’m looking at ways to heat up food that don’t involve an open flame. Food in the form of bars do in a pinch but I’d like to eat real food if we’re stranded for more than a few days.

A 5-minute bag. Much of my plans assumed we had as much as an hour to get out the door because when an earthquake hits, you just sit and deal until it’s over, THEN you creep out.  But fire can easily follow, as mentioned above. In that case, as many victims of the Santa Rosa fires experienced, sometimes you have less than ten minutes. I’m pulling together an essentials roller board suitcase with two changes of clothes for each of us, diapers and wipes for JB, a blanket for Seamus, some food and water for all, a first aid kit, our birth certificates, passports, credit cards, cash, and checkbooks, and the hard drive where I backed up all our photos and documents. I try to update that hard drive every couple of months but I’ve fallen behind due to the move. Time to get back on the ball.

Insurance coverage. This may seem like an afterthought but that’s only because it’s the first thing I took care of when we made an offer on the new place – I asked for quotes for both homeowner’s insurance and earthquake insurance through CEA. The latter is critical because losing your home to a quake is not covered under the normal homeowner’s policy. I’ve heard people who seem otherwise financially smart question the need for this rider and to that I’ll always say: do what you want, but we live in CALIFORNIA, home of the earthquake, I have no intention of being homeless AND on the hook for the remainder of my mortgage. We also have warranties on all our appliances and those will be stored online and in the hard drive as well.

Edited to add – gas up! This has been a really important change to our lives that I forgot to mention it because it’s been rather seamless, but thanks to Stacking Pennies for reminding me! Whenever our cars hit the  half tank mark, I always take it over to Costco and fill up on gas. Because if a natural disaster strikes and we’re fortunate enough to be able to evacuate, having a quarter tank of gas would not get us very far.

:: Do you know what your insurance covers? What natural disasters are a problem in your area? What do you do to prepare? Have I missed anything?

Other posts in the chain from the community:

Anchor: DadsDollarsDebt – Tubb’s Fire – A Sudden Evacuation
Anchor Two: Chief Mom Officer – A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community – Beyond The Emergency Fund
1: OthalaFehu – Cool As A Cucumber
2: The Retirement Manifesto – Am I A Prepper?
3: Mrs. Retire to Roots – In Case Of Emergency Follow The Plan
4: The Lady In Black – Emergency Preparedness
5: The Green Swan – Preparing For The Worst
6: Minafi – Minimal Hurricane Preparation
7: A Gai Shan Life – Earthquake and disaster preparedness
8: The Financial Journeyman – Emergency Preparation: Be Proactive
9: John And Jane Doe – Thinking the Worst: Emergency Planning or Fighting the Last War?
10: Adventure Rich – Emergency Preparation Up North
11: Money Beagle – How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?
12: Crispy Doc – Fighting Fire With FI/RE
13: She Picks Up Pennies – How Can A Planner Be Unprepared?
14: Chronicles Of A Father-Getting Ready for a Natural Disaster



October 12, 2017

Just a little (link) love: fools at the table edition

Financial privilege exists. Recognizing it and how it works in your life means you can learn where you too can make an impact for others.

Can Ethical Shopping Ever Be Budget Friendly? Kara asks a question that I’m trying to answer with my own shopping choices. The fact is that so far, in my experience, the cheaper the item, the more likely it wasn’t made ethically or that the company engages in really iffy behaviors. An overnight change isn’t feasible but we do the best we can, one decision after another.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed a very simple inquiry that cut to the core of the case: “Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?”

I loved Ruth’s Letter To Student, Raised Below Poverty Line, at Threshold of Middle Class

SP asked: What percentage of your assets are in home equity? And I ask – are you comfortable with your percentages? I would like our percentages if they were based on a much higher net worth and less debt.

The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don’t Want To Be Accused of Sexual Harassment – this is pretty fantastic.

Little Green Revolution bid good-bye to a parent recently. I’d never heard of the Swedish art of death cleaning before but it’s what I’m practicing now, looking for ways to stay on top of our clutter, getting our financial and personal affairs in order, making sure that JuggerBaby will be cared for if we pass suddenly any time soon.

Soooo many fools, y’all….

October 11, 2017

The fun we had: Summer 2017

What I read

As promised, I treated myself to some Terry Pratchett this summer because I needed guaranteed funny – and no stress – and that’s where I can find it. There’s nothing I can say about my enjoyment of these books that quotes won’t say better so I’m sharing a few of my favorite passages. I know humor is subjective but I think this level of funny is recognizable in other authors, right? If you have favorite solidly funny authors, please recommend them! 

Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett

“It was a rich and wonderful voice, with every diphthong gliding beautifully into place. It was a golden brown voice. If the Creator of the multiverse had a voice, it was a voice such as this. If it had a drawback, it was that it wasn’t a voice you could use, for example, for ordering coal. Coal ordered by this voice would become diamonds.”

““You!” she shouted. “You’re dead!” The luckless former corpse, who was eating a ham sandwich to calm his nerves, fell backward off his stool.” 

“Back down on the plains, if you kicked people they kicked back. Up here, when you kicked people they moved away and just waited patiently for your leg to fall off. How could a king go down in history ruling a people like that? You couldn’t oppress them any more than you could oppress a mattress.”

Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett

“Besides, Verence would rather cut his own leg off than put a witch in prison, since it’d save trouble in the long run and probably be less painful.”

“There are no delusions for the dead. Dying is like waking up after a really good party, when you have one or two seconds of innocent freedom before you recollect all the things you did last night which seemed so logical and hilarious at the time, and then you remember the really amazing thing you did with a lampshade and two balloons, which had them in stitches, and now you realize you’re going to have to look a lot of people in the eye today and you’re sober now and so are they but you can both remember.”

P.S. from Paris, Marc Levy

Reminiscent of Notting Hill, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expect but it wasn’t good enough to want to reread it. That happens with about 15% of the books I read, and I’m not sure what it means about the books or me.

The Designer, Marius Gabriel

This was an Amazon Prime – Kindle First book. There seems to be a trend to World War II reading right now and it’s both beguiling and depressing. It was a fast read, and interesting but not a candidate for rereading either.

Children’s Section

We read with JB every night and some books are worth highlighting here.

Nearly 200 pages long, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr Whiffle: The Dark of Deep Below has become a part of JB’s rotation. It’s well paced but still, I wouldn’t have thought an under-3 would be ready for it. I’d like to add The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed to our collection sometime.

Where we went

San Diego, naturally! Thankfully the weather was much more mild this year. We’ll never forget the freezing cold winter suffered a few years ago, or the blistering hot SDCC of last year, and are always grateful when San Diego is the perfectly mild 71 degrees we expect.

A weekend in Monterey Bay – We’ve been paying for an annual subscription to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a few years but usually fail to make it there more than once a year, if that much.

Local parks – We found a fantastic dog friendly park for kids with the newfangled squishy bouncy flooring type stuff and great big climbing domes. Seamus was thrilled with all the grass to sniff and roll in, and all the dogs to meet. JB was over the moon about the additional water feature that would spout fountains of water every five minutes.

:: I’m surprised and grateful we had any fun in this summer of work. What was the highlight of your summer?

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