Sunday, August 30, 2009

Libraries in the 21st Century

Hey all,

Happy Sunday to everyone and I hope you had a great weekend! We have beautiful weather here in Central Indiana right now and I'm just relishing the nice breeze blowing through the house with the windows open. I hate being cooped up all summer with the ac on because it's too hot. It's a catch 22; while I love the heat and the warmth of summer, I don't like the closed up feeling you get by running the air conditioning all the time. I guess that's the sacrifice we make for our creature comforts.

On a different note, I was browsing my libraries' website today and I absolutely love the fact that I can reserve multiple books and have them sent directly to where I want to pick them up, which happens to be the library directly down the road from my office. Very convenient and instead of perusing the shelves of the library, I peruse the online shelf and have them sent to a location convenient for me. Check it out in your town or if you live here in Indianapolis as I do, check out the link above and take advantage of the tax dollars that you spend to have this great resource. The fact that you can rent music Cd's, videos, movies, books, etc. makes it a very useful and productive resource that is not utilized nearly enough. We love our Netflix and the fact that we can watch movies instantly on our computer (replacing our cable TV bill that we dropped due to frustration with our local cable company + the ridiculous amount we were spending on TV = much happier people with "on demand" options).

I'm not saying that dropping your cable bill and relying totally on the library (and/or Netflix) is for everyone, but it's working for us and it gets us out of the house more, reading more, and talking more. All good things. We've just decided that we get more value from traveling and experiencing things tangibly. Scuba diving in the Caribbean is better to me in person rather than watching someone else do it on TV!

Hope everyone is well and you enjoy the rest of your Sunday.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Being Content

Happy Friday Everyone!

Hope the end of the work week finds you well.

I've been reading and researching the phenomenon that is ever present in our American culture as of the last 2-3 decades: Consumerism. It's really got me thinking and self-reflecting regarding "how much is enough?" and "when do we become content?" I am reaching that peaceful ground as I approach the 30 year mark in my life and I'm realizing that I don't care about keeping up with the Joneses. I'm more concerned with socking money away for later and for the dreams that I want to pursue, such as traveling, spending long periods of time with family, and just being free with my time (the most valuable asset we have). I'm realizing quickly and repeatedly that time definitely is all we have and it's our most cherished "possession," whether we realize it or not. Making the best of it is really our only insurance for a better tomorrow and a more fulfilled life.

Obviously we all have choices in life and we all have paths that we've chosen, thus making the decisions that we make on that path appropriate or inappropriate in some cases. Do you find that you make "time" a priority and your relationships a priority? This is tough and requires a lot of self reflection. Sometimes I don't always want to look in the mirror and tell myself, "hey, you need to spend more time with the important people in your life, not the ones that won't be there when everything else falls apart."

On a lighter note, the final countdown to watermelon picking is very close. We're within a couple weeks of picking the big ones and we're going to have a whole lot of watermelons. Can't wait to share them with friends, neighbors, and family. Our cantaloupes are already ripening and I'm told they're some of the best around (I'm not a fan of cantaloupe, but am taking Evelyn's word for it). You have to love free watermelon at the end of the summer. Not much better in my book (all about the little things in life right?).

Have a great weekend and be content!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Out of Your Comfort Zone

Hi All,

Happy Wednesday to you.

I got an email yesterday and of course it got my creative juices flowing. It was an email about a job opportunity and I immediately was skeptical, but it's actually a very viable and possible job opportunity. I've been contemplating it over the last 24 hours and I'm still not sure what I'm going to do, but I've decided that I'm going to keep my mind open and try to think outside of my comfort zone a bit. The job is based in the degree that I have, which is graphic design, but would require basically working up the ladder again in a new company. Thus the reason for my hesitation, however, it's exciting to think about new possibilities and what could come with them.

So, with this in mind, how do you feel about getting outside your comfort zone? Do you have a comfort zone with your career that holds you in place? Have you ever tried to step outside of it to get a fresh perspective and/or explore other options?

My source of contention is the fact that my career that I'm in currently is going very well and I have all the flexibility in the world. How could I give that up? That's my dilemma. I want to at least think outside my normal zones of comfort though to ensure that I'm making a decision based on what's good for me and not what's the most convenient. My other dilemma is that a friend and I are working on a start up company doing graphic design, multimedia design, freelance audio work, etc., which overlaps with this new job's functionality as well. I've been thinking that I might be better off just focusing on that in my flexible time (what there is any way) and working for myself. I've done freelance for a while now and I quite prefer it any way.

So, all this online transparent brainstorming has me weighing my options and thinking about my future. I hope that you all will think outside your comfort zone when it comes to life decisions as well. Challenge your norm and keep yourself inspired!

Have a great day!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Embracing Seasons

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"

-Robin Williams

Hello All,

I've lived in Indiana all my life, with brief traveling stints all over the place for periods of time, but I've grown up with seasons. After a solid (nearly) 30 years here, I've become a bit complacent with winter and cold weather. I do enjoy Spring, Summer, and Fall though. Winter is so dreary and gray in Indiana and I have a tough time with a lack of sunshine. However, it's a bit nice to have a change in seasons and it creates an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" attitude towards summer and all the sunshine that comes with it.

The reason I bring this up is because it cooled off quite a bit this weekend and it got me thinking about fall, which is right around the corner. I like the changing of the leaves, but I'm never quite ready for the temperature to drop drastically.

The conclusion/life lesson that I've come to in my own life is that I need to embrace change more and be more accepting of things that I cannot change. The one thing that I do have control of is that I can travel and be in other places on the globe that bring sun and an environment that cheers me up in the winter. I like being active and outdoors and I find that hard in the winter in Indiana, however there are some fun activities that I can look forward to.

I can ski in Michigan, hike in southern Indiana, cross country ski in Northern Indiana, among other things. I've decided to see the glass half full and approach the cooler weather in a pleasant light.

Another upside: football season. I can't wait for some good Colts football this season, although I'll miss baseball season again.

Enjoy the rest of summer and have a great rest of your weekend!


Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's Fun to be Frugal

Happy Saturday to everyone!

So, in the past I've talked about do it yourself projects and generally how much money you save by doing things yourself. I found another great article here that highlights some great things you can do yourself that save you money. These are basic at home projects that any hack can do and you'll see some dollars added to your budget. One of the things that was a stand out to me was the "rent don't buy" section. I think as consumers, we tend to think that we need to just buy that tool for a job that we're only going to use 1 time this summer, then relegate that tool to the shelf in the garage for the next 4 years, or until we move. That's probably not the most financially fit move you can make. Trying renting and you'll save space and money in the long term. Clearing your garage of clutter is never a bad thing either.

A couple other things that can save some cash that are easy to do on your own with regard to car maintenance:
  • Fill your tires with air every other time you get gas. This is one of the biggest drainers of gas mileage that you can have, not to mention contribution to the life of the tires as well.
  • You can change your own oil if you know how to unscrew the drain plug underneath your car, and if you have a drain pan (both are very easy and cheap). This saves me about $15 each time I change the oil.
  • You can wash your car yourself in the drive way. This one really adds up quick. Mike's Car Wash here in the Midwest is expensive. $7 for the basic wash and that doesn't really include any extras. I can wash my car for pennies at home. Buy the soap, a sponge, some Turtle Wax and you're good to go with minimal expense and effort. Sure it takes getting out of your car and some manual labor, but well worth it.
I was feeling frugal today and just thought I would share a bit. Hope this finds you all well.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Backyard Abundance

Hey everyone,

As of lately, we've had an incredible abundance of fruits and vegetables from our backyard garden. I've talked about the garden in the past, but wanted to touch on it again because of the pure joy that I get from seeing the 8 or 9 organic, tasty tomatoes on my counter each day. Evelyn is awesome at finding recipes (and just generally making some up) to use up our rapid abundance of produce. August is unquestionably the month in Indiana where the combination of the rain and sun make gardens very fruitful.

We've been harvesting tomatoes, green and red peppers, yellow peppers, eggplant, cucumbers in rampant numbers, cherry tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe (a week away), green onion, bulb onion, mint, peppermint, cilantro, basil, lavender, and jalapenos. Lately it's been pico de gallo, ceviche, roasted tomato salsa, grilled eggplant and squash, breaded eggplant and squash (from a friend), zucchini bread (from a friend that gave us some zucchini), and various other concoctions. There's nothing better to me than homemade zucchini bread and some fresh salsa in the fridge for eating. I have been spoiled and had both over the last week (thanks do doubt to my tireless and experimental cook of a girlfriend Evelyn).

My point in all this talk is going back to simplicity. I started this blog to make me accountable for a simpler life since work, self-employment, career, and school had been getting in the way of life for a long time. I'm making priorities for my life and realizing that it's way too short to complicate it any more.

Having a back yard garden is one extension of this change and the ultimate change in thinking/philosophy. The garden grows with work and toil, however, there are large time lapses where it needs to be left alone to be rained on or watered, and then drenched in sun. Our lives are not so different. We require some tending to, but not too much to make us wither away. We need some simplicity to keep going and thriving.

Keep on fighting your fight!

Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Get Inspired With Your 401k

Happy Monday everyone. Well, as happy as they can be I suppose. The weekend never seems long enough, but alas, that will always be the case.

Combing through my daily reading today, I came across a good article about how 401k's are regaining momentum and people are back to contributing to their 401k's, instead of pulling money out. Being a finance guy, I am amazed that a large percentage of Americans actually wanted to pull their retirement savings out during one of the lowest points in the stock market in the last century. The fact that we could buy stocks at 100 year lows should be enough inspiration for the general population to pump all the money they can in to their 401k's, but people panic. I'm happy to see that the general confidence in saving for retirement in a 401k is coming back. That's good for Americans and good for the financial planners of the country as well.

We as a society are not a bunch of savers in general terms. Americans love to spend and consume. The debt treadmill seems to be the norm in most American households. Are we in sight of getting rid of that philosophy? Many economists say that the rate of savings in todays' recession is in jeopardy of stalling the recession and not getting us out. That argument can be made, but isn't our household financial health more important, especially when we all got ourselves in to this mess in the first place?

The lack of spending, while creating less cash in the economy, is creating a safety net for middle class Americans to fall back on in times of need. I think this may be the best thing that could have happened to all of us. How long could we all continue to live or depend on our credit cards or home equity loans?

If you haven't set up your 401k at work, I encourage you to do it. The compounding interest is really amazing as it accumulates through your lifetime, especially when you start young. Check out this calculator here and see what I mean. I put in some general numbers that can give you an idea of how powerful this really is if you leave this money alone and keep contributing to it. Let's say you start off with $10,000, you contribute $5000 per year for the next 30 years (assuming you have 30 years to retire), you gain 6% average in compounding interest every year (that's conservative historically speaking), the interest compounds every month, and you end up with $480,866 when you get ready to retire. What could you do with that?

Have a great rest of your week!


Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Value of Ditching Monotony

All seasons are beautiful for the person who carries happiness within.

-Horace Friess

Hello everyone.

I spent my Saturday today kayaking on the White River north of Indianapolis, ending up down the road from our house. All in all, it was between 15-20 miles that I traveled. It doesn't seem like that far, but when you're paddling the whole time, it sure is. It was a gorgeous day today for being on the river as well. I saw a lot of wildlife and really got the essence of slowing down in to my system.

This activity made me thing about the fact that we as humans have to take a break from our routines and responsibilities to cut the monotony from time to time. That's essentially what makes the weekend the weekend, but doing something different and out of the norm really makes life more colorful. The clarity that I get from being in nature by myself is unrivaled. I find time to think and relax, breathe and take everything in. It helps me gather my thoughts and ideas, as well as plan for the future, surprisingly.

The cool thing about this kayak trip is that it's free, well, not including the gas to and from the drop off and pick up, or the peanut butter and honey sandwiches that I took with me. We already had the ingredients and the gas, so I didn't really include those. My point being, it was an inexpensive day with great enjoyment gained. What's that cliche old saying, "The Best Things in Life are Free." Definite truth in that.

Have a wonderful Saturday and I hope you break the monotony as well!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheap Labor From..Myself

Hey everyone,

Happy Thursday to you. I was talking with my neighbor this fine evening and have been following his outdoor living space project that he's doing and got to really thinking about how much money we all save by doing this labor on our own. He's put in a coy pond, natural stone with mortar joints, a wall that is covered in natural stone, outdoor lighting, and a fountain. All very, very nice and very cheap based on the fact that he's doing it all himself. He estimated (he's in commercial construction and I know the cost of labor, materials as well) that it would have cost him upwards of $12,000 to do this project had he not done it himself. All told, he's only got about $2000 in the whole thing, which is really quite cheap given the space and vibe that he has created.

I grew up watching my Dad do home improvement projects and eventually chipping in when I was old enough or when he'd show me how to do the work. It's very rewarding and something that I'll use the rest of my life. When you really stop and think about this though, that's a lifetime of work that costs you nothing but the time involved, and sometimes it's downright therapeutic working on those projects.

This topic got me really churning the wheels in my brain and thinking about all the lawn work, painting, cleaning, woodwork, handyman work, etc. that I've done through the years and I'm grateful that I can do it myself. I find more reward in being a "do it yourself-er" anyhow. So thanks Dad, for the drive and the inspiration to get these things done myself.

Evelyn, my partner in crime is quite handy and willing to do home improvement projects as well. She's helped me on many occasions as well as repainting the majority of our house recently.

I have to hand it to my neighbor for his tenacity with his projects. Not only is he doing this outdoor living space, but he has remodeled his whole house on his own as well, not to mention building his own furniture. Quite impressive and handy.

The point in all this: next time you think you might want to hire someone to build that patio, or paint that bedroom, do it yourself if you're capable. You'll enjoy the rewards, both monetarily and in your pride of accomplishment.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

$2 Billion More for Clunkers...Auto Bailout #2

Just as quickly as the "Cash for Clunkers" program was nixed, it was put back in to action on August 7th with $2 Billion more in funding from the Federal Government. Apparently the 1st weeks running gave the auto industry that much needed shot in the arm that was required to resume business in a grand fashion and American consumers found the $3500 and $4500 rebates very appealing as well. There was mention that the car dealers over sold the limit in automobiles eligible for the program as well, so the timing was impeccable.

Now it seems that the interest in the program is waning back to pre-Cash for Clunker status and the "gold rush" may be over for the auto makers. Speculation seems to be that the rush to take advantage of the federal government money has become less pressing with the additional funding. I think it can easily be said that this program is saving the big American auto makers though. We probably would have seen more bankruptcies ensue had something not been done to spark interest in the auto market again.

My problem with this whole program still lies in the fact that our wonderfully resourceful government did not think to deal with the motors and transmissions of our "recycled" vehicles that will be deemed "Clunkers." This not so green "green" approach is quite a juxtaposition if you ask me. Oh how lovely are the contradictions in the political arena.

Speaking of financial thoughts in the midst of a recession, here's a fine article on how to continue to be thrifty and thrive post recession.

Good luck with all your recession proof goals and have a great mid-week!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Music and Social Past Times

I spent my Sunday today doing what I love to do; tending to the garden, playing music, relaxing, and watching music documentaries on my laptop. Sounds funny but I have discovered so much cool stuff on Hulu that is free and very accessible. I am literally considering cutting the cable in our house in favor of Hulu because a) cable is the biggest rip off ever and b) there is just as much cool stuff on Hulu and c) I don't follow any shows religiously, so what's the big deal if I have to watch them a week or two after they've aired?

Or, in the case of the "Buena Vista Social Club," I watch the musical documentary and became inspired and rejuvenated musically again, and for free. I have seen this documentary in the past, but I love to venture back to great musical performances for inspiration and a bit of enlightenment when needed. These guys do it. Here's a video clip of them if you'd like to check them out as well: The Song Chan Chan. The sad thing is, most of the guys in this movie are now deceased, but Ry Cooder saw it fit to record them and keep the candle alive. The spirit and energy in this documentary are awesome. I found myself at times thinking about my own social "club" that our friends have with our music. We have found our little niche and occasionally have people that jump in our musical group that bring new flavors. Last night at our get-together at our house we had that happen. It's always fun to play music with new people and experience that new energy again. Can't wait to do it again.

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

~Berthold Auerbach

Any great music or social environs that have inspired you lately?

Hope all is well and you have a great new week!


Friday, August 7, 2009

Mountain Tops

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

-Harriet Tubman

When we indulge in our passions and our truest talents, doesn't it seem like time flies by us? I find that when I'm doing something that I truly love, like playing guitar, or scuba diving, or hanging around awesome people, time just gets by me and there's a certain ease with which life passes. This ease is something that some may call the "zone," or a flow, but whatever you call it, it makes us forget the time and space that we're in and focus on the now. Isn't it funny that it takes certain events to make us get to that part of our self? What if life were always like that? Do you think that we'd take things for granted?

I think those talents that we are given and those moments that we have that give us the ease in life are the moments that make us appreciate the life we have. If we did have those "flow" moments all the time, we may let life pass us by without knowing how much something meant to us. It does take the valleys to really appreciate the mountaintops.

Here's to hoping that you experience a lot of mountaintops!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making It Count

"Lost time is never found again."

-Benjamin Franklin

Hey All...

Another great day in Central Indiana. Beautiful weather after lots of rain yesterday. I had some serious challenges yesterday with work and my business, but today is a new day and this too shall pass. All is well in my mind again. Isn't it funny how we can get so bogged down with life's challenges and we can't see past the current situations and how they affect us now? I am constantly amazed by it and am constantly learning how to better cope with every one of life's challenges.

In thinking about all of this everyday life stuff I thought back to a speaker that I saw a while back. The guys name was Brian Tracy and while I'm not necessarily crazy about his approach with selling all his wares to you in his seminar, he did have good messages and great approaches to sales and life. One of the things that I took from his seminar was that you need to write down your short term and long term goals to make them "real" and physical. I totally agree with this and did that on the day of the seminar. I've been using this approach for the most part prior to the seminar, but really took serious action that day and have kept to it since. I write down everything that I want to get done and then get to it in my current day or week. I find that it holds me accountable for my goals and dreams. If I have something physical and tangible that I look at all the time, it constantly reminds me that I need to keep working at these things. This approach can work for your work life, finances, traveling, relationships, etc. It really all depends on your needs and goals for the moment and/or the future.
Another personal challenge is perfectionism. I constantly am my own worst enemy and I'm learning to slowly let that go as well. Not to the degree that I accept mediocrity, but to the point that it doesn't eat me alive. Anyone else struggle with this and find great ways to overcome it?

Have a great week everyone!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surfing in Indiana

I bet your laughing at that one.

If you know me, you know that I like water sports and especially surfing. I really enjoy it when I can get to a place that has big waves (read California, Central America, etc.) even though I'm really not good. I do enjoy being in the water though and the workout that comes with trying to put yourself up on a board on a wave and then continue to stay upright. Lately I've been wake- surfing behind boats here in Indiana since that has been my only real option close to home. Luckily I have friends that own boats and wake-surf boards, so I can stay practiced up fairly well. So imagine my surprise when I starting looking for cool places to surf around me and found Lake Michigan to be a hot spot. I know, crazy. Check this out though. Apparently there's a whole culture of surfers in the Chicago-land and northwestern Indiana region. I can't wait to get up there now and find out where these surfer dudes go.

The thing about surfing, and scuba diving for that matter, that really draws me back to the earth and how cool it really is. The power of the waves really push you along and keep you going on a small chunk of wood. I think I was just born to be a fish with no gills. I love the water and am drawn to it but I want/need a tank of oxygen, my swimming trunks, or a surf board to navigate it.

I found a pretty cool surf shop in the region of Southern Lake Michigan call Third Coast Surf Shop as well. They also have a cool video on their site that talks about the beaches in Chicago where you can now surf as well. Chicago...a surf town. Who would've thought? Check it out...

Surfs up.....Cheers!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Exploring Your Backyard

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

Mohandas K. Gandhi

I had a great weekend traveling around my old stomping grounds in Northeastern Indiana and even played golf at a place that I used to play in high school. Had some trips down memory lane but most of all I had a reawakening of inspiration. The reason for the trip is because an old friend from back in LaGrange that I played baseball with and went to school with has a disease that is challenging him. The golf outing was a charity event to help him and his family out. The hope and tenacity that he has is incredible.

It seems lately that I've been in the path of some pretty incredible people and events that shape how I'm thinking. I'm constantly reminded of how fortunate we are to have the people we have in this short span that we live here.

The drive home today got me thinking about exploring places that are close to home as well. With the economy the way it is, it's trendy to do "stay-cations" and one tank get aways. Driving around Indiana can be pretty cool. I tend to get caught up in saving to travel around the world, but there are some awesome places to explore in Indiana and your own proverbial backyard. I enjoy kayaking and saw some really cool places that I could have kayaked this weekend. Lakes, the Wabash River, ponds, wetlands, etc. Lots of places that would have been really cool to explore. I can't wait to take some free time this fall (yeah, that's easy to say right) and go check these places out.

I hope everyone had a great weekend and enjoy your Monday. Cheers!