Monday, April 28, 2008

pie in the face

Every month I receive 2 statements that I (sometimes) open. I thumb through the pages, look at the pretty pie charts, mentally file them in the “I have no idea what this is” folder, and throw them in the shredder pile. My masterful powers of deduction tell me that they are statements for a retirement account from my previous employer. I didn't contribute to a retirement plan, so I never understood how the money came to exist in the account. That’s right, I am guilty of the worst kind of money management error: laziness. So I finally called my Edward Jones representative for a tutorial in 401(k) rollover options. Andrew, the nice man who has left me several messages over the last 12 months in an attempt to rouse me from my investment hibernation, met me at the Starbucks around the corner. He walked me through the retirement plan rollover options, explained a few diversification strategies for my existing Edward Jones portfolio, and even went so far as to call up the senders of the mystery retirement statements to request the paperwork for my rollover.

Failing to contribute to my 401(k) or 403(b) or 567(xyz) has been a major source of financial guilt for me. The episodes of regret are always overshadowed by my complete lack of understanding, which I then react to by ignoring the issue altogether. I justify the inaction by telling myself that I’m in good shape because I have a Roth IRA. I can’t be financially remiss if I have an IRA (it stands for “Incredibly Responsible Adult,” right?).

I'm trying to cut down on the number of things I avoid, so my plan henceforth is to make a concerted effort to read through my statements more carefully and to actually open the Edward Jones investment brochures that come in the mail. I’m also going to fill out the Vanguard paperwork for my Emory retirement contributions. I was fortunate enough to work for a company that funded my retirement account regardless of whether I made employee contributions. Judging from my Vanguard statement, Emory does the same thing (do all companies do this??), but I’m definitely missing out on so-called “free money” by not making a monthly contribution. I don’t want to sit through another meeting with Andrew where I hold up my hands and say, “I didn’t do this because I have a strong self-sabotage mechanism and the allocation percentages make me go cross-eyed.” Better to be motivated by guilt than by nothing at all.

As the creepy song from Fallen states, “time is on my side,” and all I have to do to remind myself of this is take out my handy retirement calculator (care of Andrew) to see how dismal my finances will be if I wait until I’m 45 to take advantage of things like employer matches and growth funds.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

matzoh mania

We went to Asheville this past weekend to see the dynamic Jew duo of Ester & Ben for Passover. I’m just beginning to come out of the matzoh haze…matzoh for Passover dinner, matzoh for breakfast, matzoh for lunch, matzoh for Passover dinner #2. Okay, we skipped out on matzoh for lunch because we went to the Laughing Seed (complete with laughable service), but you get the idea. I’m still seeing matzoh balls in my sleep.

Ben’s mother lives in the historic neighborhood of Montford, which is a 5 minute walk from downtown Asheville. We took advantage of the proximity and spent both afternoons strolling past the storefronts, gawking at the sheer number of bookstores. If you’re ever in downtown Asheville and you need a caffeine fix, stop by Izzy’s Coffee Den on Lexington Ave.

Sitting through not one, but two, Seders was interesting. Being out of touch with any sort of religious influence, I find all of the rules hard to understand (you mean I can’t bring my chocolate chip cookie into the house?), but everyone was happy to explain the different aspects of the service for the resident heathen. So I dipped my bitter herb (cucumber, not parsley) into the Jewish tears, read aloud from the Haggadah (desperately hoping I wouldn’t get the paragraph with all of the rabbi names), sat through countless songs, and did my part by eating several servings of kugel.

The dynamic duo came back to Atlanta with us for a whirlwind tour of the drrty drrty. Sadly we couldn’t subject them to some of our favorite restaurants because of the Passover eating restrictions, but I think we still managed to pack in some unleavened enjoyment. Here are a few of the photo highlights:


The local comic book/music store:

Piedmont park (that dog started out white):

Jo & Dave’s house (home of the goggles):

I'm still adding pictures to my flickr, so check it out for more premium Jewish times. Now, where's my cheese and matzoh snack...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

some cheese with my wine

I wish I could say that my life was forever changed by witnessing Sam Beam's finger picking genius and being lulled to nirvanic heights of relaxation by his voice.

But I can't.

You see, when the show went on sale awhile ago I knew I wanted to go, but I also felt guilty parting with the money, so I didn't buy tickets immediately. Then sheer laziness kicked in (I had planned to walk to the box office, which is approximately a quarter of a mile from my apartment, in an attempt to avoid the ridiculous ticketmaster service fees). So finally, about a week before the show, I stopped by the box office on my way home from work. The semi-hipster man at the window shook his head and told me that the show was sold out. Before I knew it, the word "bitches!" escaped from my mouth (it's my stock response to all things heinous). I asked him when, when had it happened?? as if the knowledge would somehow dampen the blow. Apparently they sold out within 2-3 days of going on sale.

I considered resorting to scalpers, but after hearing the prices that coffeeshopgirl found on craigslist, I knew I couldn't afford it. The rest of the shows in Iron & Wine's tour are too far away and occur too soon for me to even dream of buying a ticket. It's rare that I actually get zinged for my procrastination, which is why I continue to do it, but it looks like I've finally paid the price.

It would have been cheaper to buy the $26 ticket.

[This post was composed while listening to a playlist that randomly selected all of the Iron & Wine songs on the list while I was writing. I swear I didn't make it up. Warren the iPod is driving the lesson home]

Friday, April 11, 2008

credit hives

Can you hear that? Wait, just give it a second. Take out your ear buds and be still...

It's the sound of my bank account whimpering.

There's a credit card in the other room. A robust piece of plastic that just happens to be green (other USAA members can sympathize with this ill twist of fate).

There's a certain person with a certain purchasing philosophy that I'm using as a mantra to keep my credit card out of my back pocket. I've been aware of this individual's propensity for acquiring stuff for awhile now, but I wasn't quite aware of how he procures it. That is until a recent conversation in which he tried to persuade me to go out for dinner. My immediate response was, "No, I can't afford it." To which he replied, "Uh, credit card?" while making a swipey-swipey motion. Judging from his tone of voice, I was clearly missing the simplest solution. Did I mention that this individual had just returned from a shopping trip and was sending me down the path of doom while wearing a crisp new jacket?

I confess, I have the itch. I've even gone so far as to make a list of big ticket items that I'm coveting. But my bank account is not suffering because I've broken down. No, Uncle Sam drained it of what little extra cash I usually have at the end of a given month, and a necessary flash drive replacement squeezed the last drop of lemon juice into the wound.

There will be no swipey-swipey with the little green monster.

Unless you count the green roller I've been painting with.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

lining the government's wallet with pollen

I've had a lot of inane post ideas running around in my head, but I can't seem to concentrate long enough to flesh out something cohesive, so it's smorgasbord time.

I did a considerable amount of painting over the weekend. I can't say just how much because a certain monkey might be reading this, and I want him to think that his living room will be still be red when he comes back from Portugal. I've done my fair share of painting in the last 5 years. I've even come close to starting my own business, but there are a few things that have always held me back. One of them is my unflagging desire to prevent myself from committing to anything at which I may actually succeed. Other more tangible reasons include things like licensure and the environmental impact. Then again, the environmental impact of my last paper-pushing job is probably just as severe. If I really want to work in a green career field I might have to move to Colorado and become a squirrel therapist. It's hard watching other squirrels get all the good nuts.

This week's task list also included finding out just how far I'm going to have to bend over for Uncle Sam. I always wait until the last minute to do my taxes because I'm paralyzed by the fear of screwing them up were I to try them myself. Every year around the 13th of April, I head to H & R Block where some nice old man named Warren does them for me. I liked Warren. He only chided me a little bit when I told him 2 years in a row that I wasn't contributing to my 401(k)(back in the sock days). This year I decided to do my own taxes and hope that the IRS agents who storm my apartment will be allergic to cats. I might be able to sneak out if they all go into anaphylactic shock. Or maybe I should purchase a bee hive in the hopes that they're more allergic to bees than they are to cats. All joking aside, I did my taxes last night and the results weren't as damaging as I expected. My brief stint as an independent contracting massage therapist resulted in owing some money, but I've had worse years. Now I can just sit back with my honeybees and wait for the government to hand out my rebate, which I will most definitely NOT be using to stimulate anyone's economy but my own.

I rode my bike to work today for the first time since the dreaded pinched nerve. I'd forgotten how much I like the 3.5 mile ride from my apartment through the affluent neighborhoods surrounding Emory University. The landscaping budgets of these homeowners is probably greater than my yearly salary. Yet again, it begs the question of: is it worth saving $50 a month to give up my parking pass. I've been working from home about 70% of the time for the last several weeks because of a data entry project that requires little more than thumbs and an internet connection. I'm not even sure it requires thumbs. I can't say for sure that I'll be able to keep up this dreamy (mind-numbing) schedule for the duration of our Atlanta tour. My boss is flexible, but I'm not sure she'd go for "I'm sorry, I can't ride my bike in this weather so I'm not going to make it in for our meeting today." There are alternatives of course, but they're time consuming and involve the wholly unreliable Atlanta mass transit system.

Maybe if I had a milkshake the answer would come to me...

Friday, April 4, 2008

el hombre gordo hermoso

This past Tuesday, coffeeshopgirl and I went to something called "Boozer Doodle" at the Vortex on Peachtree St. This establishment is known for it's burgers and crispy tots, but there's also a secret back room where people gather to drink beer (or cider as the case may be) and draw live models.

We arrived early because we both suffer from a touch of social anxiety and arriving late means making an entrance with the special bonus fear of not finding a seat. People eventually filtered into the room in clumps of 2 or 3 carrying large clipboards, sketchpads, and supply boxes of various sizes. I had a good laugh at how much like kindergarten it felt when everyone sat down and set out their drawing materials.

My drawing skills don't generally go beyond an amusing stick figure scene or the occasional birthday monkey, so I went with little intention of participating. But I was quickly swayed by the easygoing atmosphere, the free tater tots, and a tall Bass Ale (or three). It turns out I may have a penchant for drawing overweight men in cheetah print speedos. See the wondrous April Fool's Day model for yourself...

you can check out coffeeshopgirl's version of the evening here

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

gooey day in the park

I'm taking care of buckley, the curb vacuuming wonder, for the next few days. Sadly it's because of a family emergency, but I'm happy to have the opportunity to spend time over in grant park. Spring is in full force right now, which makes for a beautiful view through my itchy and half-closed eyes.

This morning's stroll took a turn for the worse when buckley discovered a gooey puddle of possible regurgitation with unidentified chunks. At first I thought he was simply going to go for the chunks. Much to my horror, he sniffed the puddle, gave it a cursory swipe of the tongue, and then proceeded to hunker down and try to ROLL IN IT. Now you can't really tell from the picture, but buckley is no waifish canine. I had to throw my weight into his shoulder to keep him out of the toxic waste that was apparently the perfect substance for a refreshing tumble. Judging from the disturbance in the goo's surface, I didn't catch him quickly enough, but I did prevent a full on romp.