planet

optimal

my first crush was a boy named Philip who sat next to me in the third grade. In an effort to get his attention and give us something to talk about, I told him I was a martian alien. I was very dedicated to convincing him, I acted completely serious about it. At home, I put a small amount of water in a paper cup, colored it with a watercolor marker, let it evaporate, and brought the cup to school to tell philip it had been the last of the martian water.

my youngest daughter is entering the third grade and looks very small now, but in my memories we are all normal size. I don't remember being small, or philip being small, in my memories he's a blonde jake gyllenhaal, sitting next to me, asking me why I'm so weird.

one day we were messing around in class and I put my hands over his eyes so he couldn't see, and immediately I thought to myself... he feels soft. right. Optimal. That was the word. This is what Optimal feels like.

Optimal was the word I'd seen on his paper from the Presidential Physical Fitness Test Results and now I knew what it meant. We all did these tests in elementary school gym class... can you touch your toes? do a pull-up? run a mile in some time? I could do none of those things. and finally they'd get a caliper out, pinch some side of your body fat to see how much you had. I don't remember the other words for too much or too little fat, but I remember the right amount was called optimal.

they don't do this test anymore. good thing too, it can't be good for me to remember it so distinctly. I did not have enough body fat, but I already knew that. kids in school called me bird legs. what did the teachers use those numbers for? what were we supposed to do about them? they never changed, you'd just get that paper, and you were declared to be one level of Physical Fitness. You didn't get to see your improvement. This was for the president, who wanted to know how our whole country was stacking up, did we have strong american kids? was our future going to be alright? it was like our government just wanted to size up what they'd be dealing with someday, get a paper that averaged everybody out and just know where we stood. I did not feel like I was doing good things for the average, so I was glad to know Philip could help.
planet

athletes quit

Simone Biles quit the olympics. We don't know the whole story about what's going on in her head or her body, that's okay. But there are the OPINIONS about it on both sides so I can't help but weigh in and self-reflect, because this brings back memories for me that I want to get out.

On one side there's the die hard "ATHLETES DON'T QUIT!" side... you can't quit your team! your country! you have to compete as long as you can with all you have! you owe it to US your fans and your country and to the great podium of SPORTS! NEVER QUIT!

but oh come on people. we all quit. we DO quit. It's okay.

I was never close to an Olympian, but I was an athlete. I loved track & field with all my heart. I was a state high jumper 3/4 of my high school years then went on to division II, where I ranked in conference as a sophomore and made the all-time top 20 list for my university, and I'd never accomplished anything that filled me with more pride. I competed in winter meets, then spring meets. I ran, then went to the weight room, then practiced high jumping. I had mark at 5-6" on my wall, then I jumped that high and made a new mark to look at every. single. day. I had to know what a bar at 5-7" or 5-8" looked like when I ran up to it, where on my eye level we would meet, as I'd run up and twist backwards to clear the whole height of it.

Along the way, jumpers who were better than I was quit... and I took their spots at the bigger meets. their hearts weren't in it anymore and mine was and I was thankful and never looked back, I didn't care if they quit because they were tired or didn't like the coaches or didn't like high jump, I just knew I would never quit.

until I quit.

In high school, so many kids were in sports we were all just in it. But at the college level you were strange. Set apart. you spent weekends on the road, evenings in the gym. Other girls in my dorm joined clubs and met professors for office hours and hung out in the lobby watching TV. I was on the track. There were study groups and open labs and greek parties and road trips, and I was on the track.

One day I looked at the mark on my wall, I don't remember what it was by that time, but I realized... I MIGHT have another inch in me? Maybe, by some miracle, 2"?

Was that inch worth another year of my life? 20 hours a week of working out, weekends of traveling, for that inch?

I reflected. It was off-season. I was going to engineering competitions by then, finally accepted by the guys in my classes. school was getting more interesting. and track was what it was.

My dad had run track. He had loved it even more. He practiced as a kid, pretending that backyard swings were hurdles. He lettered in high school and college. He went to every one of my track meets, videotaping them and watching them later together with me. He drove all over the midwest, took me to summer meets, talked about his glory days on the track and how he wished he'd been world class, "a contender". but there was one thing that confused me... he didn't run all four years in college either. he quit. he couldn't explain it. he'd talk wistfully about the past, but he'd also made a choice to quit. so I just didn't talk about it... until my junior year came, and I quit. and he understood. the team filled in around me like sand.

I don't know if Simone Biles is taking a little time out or a big step back, I loved watching her and missed watching her. but she's done amazing and magical things and she's on the path that every athlete in the world is on... this doesn't go forever. she doesn't "owe" us anything. someone else is getting a chance now.

I know why I quit. It wasn't worth it anymore. I had seen what I was capable of, but the track was still taking and taking and taking. I loved the beautiful spring days stretching out on the lawn, I loved high jumping, but I wanted a normal college student's life.

after I quit I earned straight As for three semesters. If you'd asked me before, I would have sworn that track was good for my studies, it forced me to focus on the little time that I had. but the numbers told another story. It was time to move on. I didn't have to go until I was thrown off the team, ineligible to compete, out of years... I could quit on my own terms.

I didn't have pressure, nobody cared, I was always running track for myself, so I can't relate to someone who quits at the absolute top of their sport. But I know that there are things in life that will take from you. Sports. Careers. People. They'll take all that you have to give. They'll never tell you "that's enough". So you have to set your own limits. You might have to quit. You might have to say that it's taken enough, you've given enough, you want something else.

If we value independence and freedom, personal responsibility and accountability, we have to value the art of knowing when to quit.
planet

running sucks

I used to say I was a fair weather runner who would take winters off, but now that I've had a full year where I ran during the winter, I think I'd rather take summers off.

I mean really I want to KEEP GOING because there are days when running is wonderful. but these past few weeks I've just felt like I was dragging. and running in the heat is the WORST!

running in the winter is great! winter is cold, but running makes you hot, it's rare precious warmth. it does not take much gear at all to stay warm in most temperatures. sure if it's way below freezing it sucks because your face freezes, but if it's just a little chilly? I feel free!

I thought running in the summer would be nice because I could wake up, run early when it's cool, see the stars and planets and moon. but lately I wake up and it's freaking 80 degrees at 5AM. dammit. totally zaps my motivation. I'll go out, but I've slowed down a lot. yesterday I just wanted a nice long relaxing time outside, but I lost all my motivation after a mere 3 kilometers and just walk/jogged sweaty blocks back home. it probably didn't help that I went on a week vacation and lost some endurance, but I am not running 10Ks anymore. 6 at the most.

I bought new shoes, I hoped that would help. I went to the real running store that does laser analysis to size you. I left with a new pair of Brooks. I love the shoes. I'm sick of being hot. I wonder what's the least clammy sports bra? My nike ones are soft but not exactly wicking. I have a Champion one that I swear just feels like plastic, like the band might as well be a milk bottle ring just against my skin holding all the sweat *right there*. sorry I didn't warn you all how sexy this post would be. it is truly, truly gross though.

oh and I have long hair now. pandemic, no haircuts hair. I like how it looks and i want to keep it but it's one more thing to absorb sweat, even with hats and visors and hair bands. I bought a dry shampoo that claims to help but it just tries to cover it with other good smelling stuff. I feel like sweat and dry shampoo then.

it's not even august yet.

adding to this, I am trying to run a little faster and practice negative splits. when I do run 5K, I run the first two as slow as I possibly can, then speed up again and again. I can't get the pacing quite right but it makes the run more interesting.
planet

how I use credit cards to track spending

There are many good ways to track spending. Mine is weird, but it's working for me, I don't see any downsides, so I'm going to write about it.

First here are two ways that I don't use.

Dave Ramsey recommends the envelope method. When you get paid, you convert it to cash, and sort it into appropriate envelopes based on your budget. When your "grocery" envelope is out of cash, you scrounge around that week. He hates all credit cards. The downsides I see to this: it sounds like a real pain in the ass, you have NO real record of where cash goes, and you miss out on credit card points, which I like. Upside: you definitely won't get into credit card debt!

Most of my finance communities OVERWHELMINGLY recommend an app called You Need A Budget. It lets you assign a "job" to each dollar and tells you automatically where you're at. The downsides I see: first, these apps will require you to input your credit card and bank info for easy tracking, they have to, you can do it manually but that sounds awful. Second, the app is $12 a month after the trial. Its users say it's worth every penny but... you know, pennies.

Maybe that's my pattern. I hate all manual tracking. I hate the idea of putting my receipts into a place and writing them down someplace.

So I use the credit card method. All the credit cards I currently use at least have a website where I can check my balance whenever I want, a notification setting to text me when they're used, and a download utility where I can go get a csv file of my transactions to mess with in a spreadsheet.

The chase app is my spending card because it has this "weekly snapshot" where I can see at a glance how much I have spent this week, including the pending charges that I just swiped 30 seconds ago. I'd like to know about any other cards that have this because I use it a lot:



I don't know if chase is the best for points/rewards all the time. Some travel hackers love it but I am not them. I mean yes if I happen to know that I get 5% on groceries this quarter with my freedom card, then transfer those points to my sapphire and then to hyatt rewards for 50% off a hotel, it's like I get $10 back when I spend $100. If I don't use the special categories, don't need a hotel, then it's $1. Complicated as hell. But if you're a US person and you want to try it here's my link.

The more simple card is the one I have from fidelity that gives me 2% back no strings attached auto-deposited into Josie's college fund. $2 back on that $100. No thinking required. But the spending tracker isn't as cool, they don't have an awesome app, so it has become my Card in the Drawer used for spending I don't have as much control over day to day so I don't need to stare at it. Automatic bills, subscriptions, charities... it'll be the same balance every month and it'll be very boring. I can watch my spending card to limit my spending, without it being clouded by "well I spent more this week because of the electric bill" or whatever. Those things confuse me.

I tell everyone getting their first credit card that the trick to avoiding debt is to know in advance what you plan to spend on it and what you're going to use it for. Don't just start buying stuff. Spend consciously. Know that you are going to spend $1000 on groceries and $100 on clothes, or whatever, and then you'll be able to predict what the bill is and definitely afford to pay it off every month.

I program all credit cards to message/text/alert me when they're used. Yes, even if I swipe it myself. This sounds like a pain, but it helps me hold each transaction in my hand individually like Marie Kondo, so I can ask myself if it sparks joy. If an auto-bill crept up this month, I'll know it. If a subscription I don't use is on there, it has its time on screen to be specifically considered. If, heaven forbid, a card is ever compromised, I will know pretty quickly.

At the end of each month I get the statements for my cards. I record the "purchases" line on a spreadsheet I have kept forever. It has each card's purchases total, the whole total spending, and a notes section where I keep track of big unexpected expenses of interest in case I'm wondering why my total was high. Repairs, vet bills, the house breaking... I've learned that there's something pretty much every month, so how much is it? Or maybe we had a fun trip or made a big donation. just a few words explaining myself.

I also download a .csv file of all transactions. I've only done this for a few months, and really, you should only do this if it's fun for you, it's work. but it's interesting to me. Every credit card I have comes with this utility. You can even download a year at a time. I combine them all together, sort by "merchant", and categorize appropriately. I do not keep track of individual things I buy, just where I buy them. I assume that if I spent money at the grocery store it was on groceries, and try to stick to that, even though it's only 90% or so true that's good enough for me. Most things we buy at Target are Not Groceries, Kansas still has specific liquor stores where we buy alcohol so that helps, all the odd merchants get throw into the "shopping" category. Doing this helps me understand our best case scenarios, worst case scenarios, what a "good" month looks like, what a bad month looks like, so when we want to talk budget we have great ideas of what we should be spending.

There are lots of good tips out there. Most of them acknowledge the fact that a month is a long time, and to keep credit cards in check you should have a system for checking in more often. I think one of my lj friends said they pay off their full balance every week instead of every month, I like that. All I know is that I used to have credit card debt and now I don't, I'm on like month 40 or something of paying everything off every month. I got out of the debt by staring at that "purchases" total on my statements and trying to predict what it should be... less than my income, that's the magic yet totally unsurprising answer! Sat down, made a budget, and started tracking.

To summarize:
1) Two credit cards: one for spending, one for auto-bills
2) I have predicted what the balance on the "Spending" one should look like, per day/week/month, and I watch the balance very closely
3) The whole story is told by the "total purchases" line on my statements

I get a lot of questions when I post my spending entries, so I wanted to sum this up. I am not a financial expert but this is working for me. I've paid off all balances for something like two years now, it seems like a good run.
planet

astrological signs

for my birthdayI had two Taurus questions... harbourwitch asked what do you think of horoscopes and zodiac signs? All hoax or do you see the traits or a Taurus in yourself? and halfmoon_mollie asked, You are on what a friend of mine used to call 'the crust' of Taurus, almost a Gemini. Do you notice traits of both signs in your personality/life?

My sister went into a phase where she was reading all kinds of stuff on zodiac signs. I told her I didn't believe in any of it. She said, "Well yeah, Tauruses never do."

hmm.

I do like personality tests though, no matter how arbitrary, I think it's fun to throw words at people to give them something to think about.

I went to several websites to see what they said about being a Taurus/Gemini and they are really all over the place with descriptions, so I settled on this one: https://www.astrology-zodiac-signs.com/ . I did a strikethrough on anything that is totally not me.

Taurus Strengths: Reliable, patient, practical, devoted, responsible, stable
Taurus Weaknesses: Stubborn, possessive, uncompromising
Taurus likes: Gardening, cooking, music, romance, high quality clothes, working with hands
Taurus dislikes: Sudden changes, complications, insecurity of any kind, synthetic fabrics

Gemini Strengths: Gentle, affectionate, curious, adaptable, able to learn quickly and exchange ideas
Gemini Weaknesses: Nervous, inconsistent, indecisive
Gemini likes: Music, books, magazines, chats with nearly anyone, short trips around the town
Gemini dislikes: Being alone, being confined, repetition and routine

Marc would say that I am definitely NOT patient. I do not like waiting. I hate restaurants because I'm nervous the staff will not deliver my food, I have to really get in a mental state to deal with that ambiguity. Travel makes me nervous because I'm afraid of getting lost and wasting time. Marc is good for me there, he doesn't care about wasting time if we're in a new place, as long as we're someplace cool. I don't know if Marc believes that one can "waste" time, he is much better at life without an agenda. I see most days as a checklist. He's a capricorn, by the way. My Dad and almost all of my best friends have been capricorns. January is a busy month for birthdays.

That lack of patience might make me look like a person who only likes my comfort zones... but I'm not like that either. I do like learning new things. I am the first in the office to adopt whatever crazy new software is being laid down upon us. When everybody else is complaining about the oppression of a button moving, I'm looking for the new buttons.

I am oddly devoted and loyal. I've stayed at the same company for 18 years, the same husband for 13, the same blogging service for 20. I will delightfully tell you that I've got shoes at t-shirts I've owned since high school.

Are those two things opposed? Or maybe I am impatient because once I get something, I'll be loyal to it, so I want to know if it's happening or not? When something nags at me it REALLY nags. I get to it.

I do not like romance. I do not like short trips around town.

I can chat with nearly anyone, but I also like being alone.

I do like working with my hands. I do not like synthetic fabrics.

I like finding a routine. I don't know if I like sticking to it FOREVER. It's okay to make small tweaks.

I always thought of Tauruses (Taureans?) as being bad ass leaders who won't put up with crap. That can be me. I can yell in a meeting. I can fight for what I believe in. I can come in VERY opinionated and convince people I'm right. I try to only do that for the right causes. I was once told by a mentor that I should NOT to go into customer service, because I don't know when to let go of things. I'll hear a customer, and want to tear down the whole 8000 person company, making all kinds of enemies, in my quest to yell about what I think is Right. But I'm three years in and still have some friends.

Gemini is the two-faced, inauthentic symbol, right? Sorry to be negative but I've heard too much negative! Maybe it could describe me too... surrounded by conservatives at work every day yet secretly, totally, not a conservative. Seeking alone time, but trying to chat with the person who sits next to me on on airplane. Loving to read books and blog, but looking for public speaking chances and getting back on the Toastmasters board. I think i'll stick with being a taurus, but there are parts of Gemini that are worth relating to.
planet

the friday 5: generational edition

What toys were popular when you were a kid?
My favorite toy was Lego, which is timeless, not just in the 80s. I still say we had the best spaceships. My 2nd favorite toys were our my little ponies. I still remember getting the show stable playset when I was like, 6? 7? and it was the best.

What musicians were popular when you were a teenager?
Early 90s grunge music, which I carry in my heart. I wonder if we'll ever come back to such random lyrics, as art? It's always been funny to be weird, but when was it a statement? Rabbit, where'd you put the keys, girl?

What unique personality traits do you think you have in common with others born around the same time as you?
We remember a time before the internet, and I think we're all a lot happier WITH IT. But I might be wrong. It seems like 2000s kids wonder nostalgically what it'd be like, and 60s kids remember nostalgically the good things without it. But we were just on the edge of it, coming of age at the same time the internet did, meeting friends through ICQ and livejournal when we really needed friends.

Do you think stereotypes about your generation are accurate?
I've heard that 80s kids are the more pampered, little league, "baby on board" stickered generation whose parents really did a lot for us. But doesn't everybody think every generation was helicoptered over?

What do you admire about other generations?
Well based on livejournal, I'm glad there are still some of us 1900s people around who write full paragraphs online, not just tweets, photos, or oddly SEO-keyword-laden recipe blog posts. I wonder if kids all stopped journaling. maybe just my kid.
planet

Pandemic snapshot

by the numbers, all approximate/estimates/major rounding:

500,000 population of my county
113,000 fully vaccinated
100 new cases a day at this time last year
500 new cases a day in November, at the peak of the virus when schools and offices closed
25 new cases a day now
12 years and older can get vaccines

Seems like we'd have even FEWER new cases than the 20-30 a day but there are those more contagious variants now. I watch it a little. I have family members who watch it REALLY CLOSELY but my pandemic concerns have plummeted since I got my 2nd vaccine dose months ago. we aren't wearing masks anymore, I don't see them any place. the grocery store, the restaurants.

we are still a ways out for kids vaccines though. I'm reading middle of winter? Just my luck, to have an 11 year old, barely missing the cutoff. I guess both my kids will get vaccinated at the same time. at the very latest, josie will turn 12 in a year, then she could get it like any 12 year old. they say it's not that bad for kids, but until they're vaccinated my kids are germ spreaders that's my main concern.
planet

introvert challenge year

I liked this book: "Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come: An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously" by Jessica Pan

It's about an girl who decides she is lonely. She's married! But doesn't have a ton of friends, any close friends, and wants to change, so she decides to extrovert.

First let me ask you all an important question... this is the 2nd book I've read this year where somebody tries to do something life-changing for a year and it changes their life. So lj friends, it's up to you, what can I do for a year to improve my blog and make me a bestselling author? think hard now there's got to be something! this is a genre... can't I get into it? They all start out as bloggers and end up with a book deal!

okay back to Jessica Pan.

I personally see myself as an introvert on the cliff edge of being an extrovert. It's not hard to look like an extrovert when you work with engineers, that's part of the identity crisis. Compared to engineers, I am a butterfly cheerleader popular girl. I walk around and talk to people. I make phone calls. I loved getting back to the office. I schedule meetings and zoom to conferences.

But even though I keep going, I come home positively exhausted and can barely stay up past 9. I could go to sleep at any time. I must have a sleep strength too.

The author of this book has some traits I identify with... a little FOMO, a lot of yearning to have a few close friends. So she takes charge! She asks herself what truly scares her, talks to the best EXPERT she can find, and pulls herself into new situations.

She gets a therapist who challenges her to ask stupid questions to people on trains, like "who's the Queen of England?" (and she's in London). She gets a stand up comedian to explain how to stand up in front of people, and takes improv classes. She tries a friend app. She throws a dinner party!

Along the way she learns to relax a LOT about what people think about her, worry less about the people who disappear, and she makes friends. Introverts can get lonely! We get into our heads too much. It takes us longer to get lonely... Marc will go find people if he's left alone for 20 minutes. We might not understand that the loneliness is giving us anxiety. But we all need some people, and it's hard to find them once you're an adult.

I think her best tool really was her improv class. There's one down the street from me. It's on my list. I swear I'll do it, someday.
planet

quiet weekend & cooking

this weekend concluded the cousin exchange. we sent josie to my sister's for three nights, and marc went to some festival in missouri, so it was just 8yo Olive and me.

I made a new years resolution once to cook decent food when marc left town. he's the one who cooks and grocery shops for our family, and over the years he's developed a nice set of lovely things he can make. I have none of these things. He also has his own taste... if it was up to him we'd have steak and potatoes every night, if it was up to me we'd be practically vegan by now. I have to make LOTS of requests for a vegetarian night. He loves to buy the mega-costco ground beef pack, split it up, and feed us for days. You'd think there's only so many things you can make with ground beef and you'd be right, but he makes them all.

oh, but the other issue is that when he left, all I knew how to make was macaroni and cheese out of the box. that's not great either. That is why I challenged myself to make real dinners when he leaves.

Thursday night: cheese ravioli (frozen) with tomato sauce made from the America's Test Kitchen quick sauce recipe. Canned dice tomatoes in the food processor (ATK endorsed method!) garlic, oil, fresh basil from the garden.

Friday night: roasted sweet potato tacos, corn, black beans, avocado

Saturday night: salad with baked breaded cauliflower nuggets according to jocooks. I think just plain roasted cauliflower would have been fine, so I probably won't bread it again but I was trying to be fancy.

We also made muffins. Olive went back and forth between wanting to be left totally alone, and wanting to be right next to me telling me about everything in her games. On Saturday I DRAGGED her to the Kansas Aviation Museum just so we'd get out of the house. I'd worked from home Thursday and Friday so she was really just left to her electronics, which is living her best life if you ask Olive. Saturday she slept in and didn't want to eat lunch and really didn't want to leave the house, but I made her. She admitted it was fun. We spent a ton of time playing with their magna-tiles. The aviation museum is in our old airport, and you can go up to the top of the control tower and see out for miles. She declared the whole experience to be pretty boring but also asked me a lot of questions about boeing 737 and fuselage production at the spirit plant next door.

so after that torture you'd think she'd want to game all night, right? but no! she wanted to talk about school, play Just Dance with me, play dominos, make muffins, help with dinner, then we watched The Greatest Showman together and stayed up all kinds of late.
planet

Targeted Ads

Not my next read. Sorry Marie.
Not my next read. Sorry Marie.

This year Apple introduced a feature in the iPhone OS so we can turn off tracking across apps, preventing them from spying on us and stealing our souls to sell, etc.

It makes me think of my kindle. Well, marc's kindle. It's ancient! I don't know what year this thing is but it's not a kindle pro or fire or extreme or whatever... but it's working and I really like it so I read on it all the time now. I get library books on it. Log in to my library's libby app on my phone, check out a book, and tell it I'll read on my kindle. It opens an amazon login to prove it's there. Then over on the kindle, as long as there's wifi available for it my new book appears. 

Amazon is not spying on my reading material even a little bit. Maybe it can't? That's good. How do I know it's not spying on me? Because when the Kindle is off, it advertises books to me that look TERRIBLE and totally not what I read! I'm reading memoirs, non-fiction, sometimes historical fiction, business books, investing, finance, science... and what does it show me?

Hot summer romance! Or, rarely, hot winter romance! All the single ladies, all unprepared for the MENZ they're going to meet.

If that's your book genre I won't judge, I'm happy when anyone in the world reads anything. I have read romance novels because I like to know what people are reading. But they're not for me. 

So maybe this is a plot by amazon to convince me to support targeted ads, in the general overall world? There have been several iphone apps that asked me CAN I TRACK YOU AND SEE INTO YOUR HOUSE. and I happen to be near my kindle, off in idle mode, showing me a full-screen ad for "The Cowboy's Woman" or whatever. I look back at my phone, and tell the app "you know what? SURE."