Nothing obligatory about this at all

I’ve resisted writing this post for a while, since it’s so common for everyone in our hyper-connected society to issue a Thanksgiving message (well, in the States at least). But how are you giving thanks by offering an almost obligatory message? Obligation != a genuine giving of thanks.

But here I am writing a Thanksgiving post the day before. Hrmmm.

The older I get* and the more counter-cultural I become, the more I love the idea of American Thanksgiving. Of all our major holidays, it is the least commercialized. There’s an appealing irony to that fact, since it’s also the holiday with the least explicit religious overtone or source material. One would expect to least religious holiday to be the most susceptible to commercialization, but history has proven otherwise. It’s about getting together as a family and celebrating over a meal. That’s it.

2014 has been an interesting year for me. As a person. As a husband. As a father. I’ve changed and grown a lot. With this blog and my other mind palace a number of you have joined me on the journey as fellow travelers. Sages even. I’ve had so many amazing inter-personal interactions this year. It can be tiring since I am an introvert, yet because I’m also highly empathic it touches me at a deep, core level that I find difficult to express in words. Pathos** sometimes can’t be translated into logos.

Those who I love and am loved by know how thankful I am for them. In the interest of breaking out of the traditional Thanksgiving message, and thus its distasteful obligatory connotation, my expression of thanks is going to be a little out there. There’s a lot I could write about, and there’s still more I wish I could, though I lack the words. I’ll keep it simple. Not restrained, but elegant.

I’ve always known, to some degree, how empathic I am. I think that’s why I love to write, even though I’m terrible at finishing anything. I just love exploring the different headspaces – and entire cognitive worlds – of fictional characters. I’m very sensitive to the emotions of others if I don’t intentionally ‘detune’ myself. I think sometimes I’ve done this more as a defense mechanism than anything else. True empathic listening is exhausting. But seeking first to understand, before trying to be understood is amazing. To do this, you must get out of your head. In doing this, you teach yourself it’s okay to be here. Practicing this habit takes a lifetime but I’m thankful for learning about it in a way that’s finally clicked.

Alongside the discovery above, I’ve recently learned about karezza. I won’t go into much detail, but the separation of sexual intimacy into two categories – calm, non-orgasmic (bonding) and conventional orgasmic (procreative drive, even if you take preventative measures) – is an incredibly powerful concept in personal union. As mammals driven, at some level, by selfish genes lifelong sexual intimacy with conventional coupling is fraught with peril. The research behind karezza demonstrates first why that is, and second, the amazing alternative at the fringes of many different ancient traditions both East and West.

The final thing is something I’ve talked about at length here but communing with something fundamentally unknowable yet which you can commune with at a level floating fuzzily between logos and pathos (and occasionally beyond both) synergizes really well with the prior two thanksgivings. God, though I hesitate to give that which is hyperousios (beyond-being) a positive name, is fundamentally unknowable but we can commune with it by living according to our natures. Embracing seasonality, living close to the earth and in good stewardship of it, communing with the unknown agency at the core of each other. All of this is worship, not in the stale sense of ritual and the polluted hierarchical functions of organized religion, but worship in the pure sense of giving honor (and thanks, for that matter).

I doubt I could find a way to say it without sounding like an asshole, but I wish in celebrating the winter holidays which come next month by saying – in genuine love and affection – “Happy Midwinter.” I’ve mentioned this series before, but the way the longest night was celebrated in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series still gives me chills thinking about it. I wish we had traditions half as powerful as either the formal masque or the stoic vigil of Elua. Sigh.

*I’m 30. I realize how absurd it is for me to talk about how old I’m getting :P

**Pathos need not carry the common connotation of dysfunction. Pathos just means ‘emotion’. In contrasting it with logos, it means something closer to ‘language of the heart’ (as opposed to logos as language of the mind).


Steward of the House

wage-slave-small-equal-money-faqThere are a variety of ways a partnership can have friction about money. I’m not going to talk about all of them, and especially not all of the solutions, though judgment free communication about individual and shared priorities will typically allow any couple to work through the problem. No, instead I’m going to talk about one particular type of partnership friction that, in all honesty, mystifies me. It’s the situation where one partner is the primary (or sole) earner, but the non-earning partner is the “spendy” one of the two.

I see this situation time and again. I see it on the forums I frequent. I saw it a ton among the stay-at-home parents when we still sent our goblins to private school. As a frugal person, I won’t defend a spendy spouse regardless of whether they are the earner or not, but something about wasting money when the other partner is the earner really runs core to my values. Clearly I’m a fan of having one partner focus on offense and one partner focus on defense, but that’s just it: you need defense!

The homemaker must be a steward of the family’s finances. A kingdom could have riches beyond measure but ruin itself with poor stewardship. Another kingdom could be poor but secure, given sufficient stewardship.

If you’re a homemaker like myself, you owe it to your partner to be a virtuous* steward. Every dollar you spend on a regular monthly basis requires $300 more to fund in perpetuity. Do you want the latte now or a lifetime of freedom years earlier? What do you love – your partner or your possessions?

The past year has taught me I love being a steward, and while I find accepting praise rather difficult, I’m told I’m rather good at it. I can’t claim success until we reach FI, but lifestyle design and rescripting is an incredibly engaging field of interest. Saving absolutely every penny isn’t the point. The complexity of the cheapskate’s life is just as bad – or perhaps worse – than the servitude of the wage slave. True freedom is elegant, beautiful in its minimalist lines and enduring appeal.

The earning partner shouldn’t have all the power in the relationship. A partnership is not a dictatorship. If you chafe at a section of your budget, try and come to an agreement about priorities. But realize your priorities always come at a price. Therefore, a certain deference should be called for.

I still earn ~25% of our combined income, so I know my perspective is slightly colored by the fact that I still have skin in the game. But even though our plan has me earning my freedom before the Alchemist, we’re both incredibly aware of the fact that every hour you work before reaching financial independence, you are at some measure a slave. White collar or blue collar, it’s still a collar.

*This is a powerful concept if you think of virtue in the original Latin sense of virtu – strength, especially strength of character. Or to borrow MMM’s term: badassity.


Challenge: Lose 20 Pounds Before Spending Any More Personal Money

It’s been a while since I’ve done a challenge on the blog. With winter arriving and my activity levels falling, I’ve been gaining some weight. I’ve also been feeling the “need” to buy this, and that, and this other thing.

Take a breath.

Let’s step back. Hey, how about a Win/Win solution? How about I’m not allowed to spend any of my personal $ until I lose 20 pounds. The money will simply accrue until I hit the goal weight or give up. (Hey, admitting failure is an option is just being honest!)

Feel free to join in the challenge if you want via comments.

Goal Weight: 195

Initial Weight: 216.2

11-21-14: 218.2

11-25-14: 217.2


Frugal Scripts

I’ve been slowly making my way through The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People at the pace of a few pages every week or so. It’s dense, potent stuff that I’m only in the mood to absorb occasionally. I’m only just starting Habit 3, but one concept I really, really like in the book is the idea of having “scripts”.

Script is a fancy term for a habit (in normal parlance, not the eponymous Habits). They’re how we act, how we talk; most importantly, how we respond to situations when on auto-pilot. The conventional wisdom about habits is that they’re hard to change. That’s true, and replacing ‘habit’ with ‘script’ doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. But, at least for me, I think it does. A script is something you can write. You’ve inherited a lot of programming via genetics, upbringing, environment, social influences, etc. But YOU can pull up the script and tweak it. Edit it. Reprogram yourself.

Being pretty sick on and off for the last two weeks has had me reflecting on how my scripts have changed. As little as 6 months ago, if I was as sick as I’ve been, I would have forgotten about baking bread and resorted to tasteless, spongy store bread. Now, even when I was on the cusp of vomiting, the idea of resorting to store bread horrified me. It was NOT an option. There was one day last week I was laid up in bed most of the day, except getting out of bed to handle the next step of the baking process.

Yesterday and today I haven’t been feeling nearly so awful, but not exactly great. I’ve enjoyed making a batch of granola, a pumpkin pie with puree that’s been thawed for quite some time and I would hate to spoil, more bread, and started a couple experimental batches of extracts. These have become activities I not only like to do, but they’re so programmed into me that I can functionally perform even when ill.

Frugal scripts like this can have various motivations. One popular motivation is saving money. We have, in MMM parlance, “hair on fire” debt – non-mortgage debt in excess of $30K, and our mortgage’s rate is pretty fiery as well. But as laudable as money-saving matters like this are in our situation, it’s sub-optimal in the grand scheme of things if an external factor is your true motivation. My mind has been clear enough to reflect that pinching pennies isn’t my primary motivation. My motivation flows from a core, internal principle of desired self-sufficiency.


Recipe – Adios to Peanuts Nut Butter

Nut butter

For those (like me) who have peanut allergies* or who want a different taste, I’ve really come to like alternative nut butters. The most commonly available pre-made butter is almond butter, but I find the texture of commercial almond butter leaves a lot to be desired. Different brands have different tastes, many of them actually quite off-putting. Maybe you’ll find my recipe off-putting yourself, but after a few months of tweaking I’ve got something I’m quite happy to share.

Note: homemade nut butters are more prone to rancidity than commercial ones. I store this in half-pint jars, the active one in the fridge, the extra portions (depending on batch size) in the freezer. The olive oil added to the mixture helps keep this nice and spreadable even when refrigerated – another plus versus commercial butters, which are impossible to spread when cold.

  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 1 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp sea salt, or to taste (I like it salty but even half this amount is enough to enhance flavor)

 

  1. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet at 350F for 15 minutes
  2. Add the toasted almonds (no need to let them cool) and remaining ingredients to a food processor or high-powered blender. (From what I’ve read, unless you have a super blender like a Vitamix, a food processor is your better bet. I have a $40 Hamilton Beach model that handles this task just fine.)
  3. Process on low speed until butter reaches desired consistency, scraping sides of the bowl as necessary. With my machine it takes 5-10 minutes.
  4. Enjoy it warm. Store in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, or freezer for several months.

*Luckily mine isn’t severe, but when I was on an elimination diet years ago to understand my chronic health issues, peanuts are DEFINITELY a trigger for bad things in my system (mainly sinus congestion).


Goblin Hoard Report Card – October 2014

October was a massive income month for us and we were able to put that to good use by keeping our spending low. The close of the month was our first time using the Frugalwoods’ idea of a “finance date night” to help talk about how we wanted to allocate funds into our various earmarked savings accounts. I think this method works well for us. I made a separate little worksheet that does most of the calculations for us, but the purpose of the meeting is to override our normal parameters. For example, we socked away an extra $750 or so for an upcoming vacation.

We’re split on whether to go ahead and pay off our 0% home improvement loan now (we finally have enough) or hoard the cash until closer to the April 1st, 2015 deadline before interest accrues. I’ll make a final decision sometime in the next couple weeks. I know the math is in favor of letting the money make (pittance) interest, but the Alchemist really just wants it off our back.

Budget for October 2014

Income (combined after all deductions): $6,042

Fixed Spending

  • Housing (Mortgage+Tax+Insurance): $1,061
  • Student Loans (combined): $859.78
  • Auto Insurance: $82.58
  • Life Insurance: $60
  • Internet: $58
  • Amazon Prime: $8.42

Variable Spending

  • Fuel: $148.87
  • Gas/Electric: $102.20
  • Medical Expenses Out of Pocket: $57
  • Water: $0 (billed quarterly)
  • AirVoice cell: $0

Sink Funds Spending

  • Groceries/Necessities: $562.95 (the $38.05 under our $600 limit contributes to the discretionary account)
  • Discretionary: $157 (Forward balance: $103.04)
  • Transportation Capital Fund: $44.97 (Forward balance: $130.55)
  • Travel: $0 (Forward balance: $1,000) –> We’ll be taking a rather long vacation over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. It should cost us closer to $600-$700, but I’d rather have some buffer here.
  • Kids/Education: $0 (Forward balance: $66.09)
  • House Capital Fund: $0 (Forward balance: $66.29)

November should be a pretty quiet month, as we’re staying local for Thanksgiving. The goblins and I will continue biking (we’ve already braved some pretty nasty cold/windy days) as our primary transportation. I need to fix some lingering problems in our secondary car, but should be able to do it relatively cheaply.

 


Bike Versus Car – October 2014

bike-vs-car1

October 2014 Report

  • Vehicle Miles (this month): 948
  • Vehicle Capital (this month): $227.85
  • Vehicle CPM (all-time): $0.38
  • Bike Miles (this month): 314
  • Bike Capital (this month): $148.07
  • Bike CPM (all-time): $0.46

bike versus car october 2014

Car spending this month was basic usage. Bike spending was high because, as the weather gets colder and darker, we’re finding we need a few more things. We also bought a trail-a-bike off Craigslist for Goblin Gamma. While he misses the ability to nap after a long day at the park, in general he likes it quite a bit more than the trailer.

 


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