Monthly Archives: September 2007

Cleaning Out The Home Office

So, I’m in the process of cleaning out my home office.  I was partially inspired by It’s All Too Much, a book by Peter Walsh that I read last month.  But the real catalyst was the fact that we had carpet installed in my office this week.  Although I didn’t have time to clean out as I removed stuff from the office, I decided that, insofar as possible, nothing was coming back in without a good hard look.  So far, I’m doing pretty well, but there is still lots and lots of stuff out in the hall.

One of the things that Walsh says (though not in these words) that hit me like a lightning bolt was that you should keep the stuff that enables you to live the life that you lead, not the life that you imagine leading.  If you don’t like the life you lead, then change it, but don’t just accumulate stuff in support of an imaginary existence.  As I was cleaning out a desk drawer this evening, I decided to pitch quite a bit of stationary.  It was perfectly fine stationary, but it has been years and years since I sat down and wrote someone a letter.  Maybe that’s a bit sad, but it’s true.  And I really don’t see myself taking up letter writing again any time soon.  So why keep a drawer full of stationary?  I did keep a couple of boxes of notecards, as I actually use those sometimes to dash off a note to friend or family member.

Also in my drawer, I found a set of hard plastic coin tubes.  These are supposed to save you from the trouble of having to actually count your coins when rolling them, though you still have to sort them into denominations.  An easy choice to pitch, as they reminded me of something I recently learned.  A few years ago, I poked around with a CoinStar machine at the grocery store.   The fee for using those machines was (and is) almost 9%.  That is, in order to get a \$1 bill, you have to put in \$1.10 in change.  I scoffed.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a machine almost 10% to count my coins.  (This probably has as much to do with being a cheapskate as anything, but anywho.)  Well, somewhere along the line, they added the option to turn your coins into a gift certificate with no fee.  Put in 100 pennies, get a \$1 gift certificate to Amazon (or one of several other retailers).  Easy.  Since then I don’t count coins (and I’m no longer tempted to buy those crazy coin sorting and counting banks, which I always loved as a kid).

Annoyed with Appalachian Power

A few months ago, I started using our power company’s “Average Monthly Payment (AMP)” feature.  While it means that the power company gets to hold onto a few of our dollars for part of the year, it seemed like a good way to smooth out the family budget a bit.  Well, now I am annoyed with them and tempted to call and tell them to put me back on the regular billing program.

First, I joined the  AMP program during a contentious period with Appalachian Power.  They had applied to the state utility commission for a massive rate increase, and they had started charging it to their customers.  (Apparently Virginia law allows utilities to do this.)  Then, the state utility commission denied a substantial portion of their increase, and they had to refund much of the extra money they had collected.  Well, I started doing AMP after the state utility commission denied part of the rate increase, but before Appalachian Power issued the refund.  For most folk, the refund hit their account, reducing or eliminating their power bill for a month or two.  Since we are on AMP, the refund hit our account and increased our account balance considerably, but didn’t change our monthly payment.  So, the power company is holding onto a couple hundred bucks that should by rights be in my pocket.  Not only that, but since they apparently didn’t adjust their AMP formula at all, they will now be holding this extra money in perpetuity.  Very annoying.

Then, last month, I was out of town when it came time to pay the electric bill.  I figured, “Hey, no problem, we’re on AMP.”  So, even though I didn’t have the bill in front of me, I went ahead and paid the same amount as the previous month.  As it turns out, this was \$1 off, because they recompute your AMP payment every month.  So, my payment was \$1 short of what they requested.  Well, this month’s bill showed up yesterday with a \$0.01 late charge.  This, despite the fact that I am currently carrying a balance of several hundred dollars on my account.  (We have our peak electrical usage in the winter, so early fall is when our balance should peak in the AMP program.) It’s only a penny, so I really don’t care about the charge itself.  It’s the principal of the thing.  If you are holding several hundred dollars of my money in escrow for future charges, earning interest which you get to pocket, purely for my convenience, then you don’t get to charge me a late fee.  I should be able to stop paying my bill altogether, and, until my balance goes negative, you have nothing to complain about, much less charge me fees over.  (The fact that this is purely for my convenience is critical here.  This is quite different from the escrow account with my mortgage company, as I am contractually obligated to pay into that account monthly to cover projected homeowner’s insurance and property taxes.)

I just talked myself into it.  I’m going to call Appalachian Power on Monday and tell them where they can put their AMP.  That should leave me without a power bill to pay for a few months.  Awesome.

Bedtime Poem

I spent a few days in Glasgow, Scotland this summer for a conference. I stayed in the Hilton Glasgow. Every night with turndown service, they left a card on my pillow with this poem. I liked it very much (almost as much as the chocolates), and I have had the card on my home office wall ever since. I just about have the poem memorized. I’m in the midst of a massive purge of stuff, though, especially in my home office, and I decided that the card should go. Nonetheless, the poem will stay here for our enjoyment…  Since the poet, Charles Mackay, died in 1889, I believe this is solidly in the public domain.

I have lived and I have loved I have walked and I have slept I have sung and I have danced I have smiled and I have wept I have won and wasted treasure I have had my fill of pleasure And all these things were weariness And some of them were dreariness And all these things but two things Were emptiness and pain: And Love – it was the best of them And Sleep – worth all the rest of them

Parenting Advice…

This morning, a little before 7 a.m., I was out walking, as I often am at that time of the morning, with Charlie strapped onto my back and our two dogs at my side.  We live off a two lane, curvy road with no sidewalks where people drive too fast.  Hence, I am always prepared to take our party into the ditch to avoid oncoming traffic that doesn’t seem to be paying us adequate attention.  This morning, such a vehicle was headed our way.  They probably saw us and probably would have moved over, but I didn’t want to take any chances, as it was a bit foggy.  So, I jumped across the ditch with dogs in tow.

As they passed, I noticed that the passenger side window was open and the man in the passenger seat was preparing to speak.  I expected that he was going to apologize for running us off the road, or maybe say that they saw us and there had been no need for us to jump in the ditch, or maybe even just say something neighborly about what a lovely, comfortable morning we were having for late September.

Instead, he shouted, “Get some socks on that baby!  Are you ignorant?”  He continued yelling at me as they rounded the bend and sped away, but his first two sentences were all that I understood.

The willingness of people to proffer parenting advice, often rudely, is one of the most shocking things to me about being a parent.  While this morning’s example was among the most extreme, it certainly wasn’t unique.  (Last winter, a woman yelled at me in a parking lot for not having a hat on Charlie, despite the fact that we were parked no more than 20 or 30 yards from the door to the store.)

Rather than follow a universal rule about wrapping babies in 5 layers of clothing even when it is 62 degrees outside, I choose instead to pay attention to Charlie.  Does he look cold?  Is he crying?  Are his fingers and toes cold?  Any goose pimples?  (I can’t believe how many people wrap their babies in excessive clothing.  You see those red-faced babies in 5 layers?  Their faces are red because they are hot.  Duh.  Maybe I should start yelling at those people out of my car window…)

More troublesome to me, really, is my reaction to this verbal harassment.  Even though in my head I know that Charlie was perfectly happy and comfortable without socks, I still find myself dwelling on the criticism.  Maybe it’s because I’m a “people pleaser,” as Becky would say, and (apparently) I want crazy people who yell at strangers from their cars to think I’m a good parent.  Just as significant, though, I think, is the fact that parenting is so subjective.  Babies don’t read parenting books (not even the good ones), and they often don’t respond the way the books say they will.  (I speak, especially, after having trying oodles of “expert” advice on getting Charlie to sleep.)  So, you just have to keep your goals in mind, adapt your strategies, and muddle through.  As a result, there is plenty of second-guessing involved, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I write this from Charlie’s nursery.  The windows are open, letting in the 62 degree air, while Charlie still isn’t wearing socks.

Travel Tip

I travel a fair amount in my work. In fact, I’m currently cutting back, because I don’t really like to be away from Becky and Charlie more than necessary. To give you an idea of how much I travel, in a period of just over two months this summer I was away from Becky and Charlie for 19 nights. That was an extremely heavy burst for me, but my goal in cutting back is no more than 10 nights per semester (counting Fall/Spring/Summer as semesters). That doesn’t sound like much compared to some road warriors, I’m sure, but it’s still a month per year that I’m away, which seems like plenty to me.

In any case, here’s a travel tip that I came up with on my own several years ago. It seems obvious to me, but I don’t think I’ve seen it elsewhere. It has been invaluable in my own travel.

Here it is, in all its simplicity: Buy duplicates of your toiletries and leave a toiletries bag packed in your suitcase.

For me, this vastly simplifies the packing process, allowing me to pack for a 2-3 night trip in no more than 10 minutes with confidence that I haven’t forgotten anything. (I think I forgot to take a belt on one trip last year; that’s it.) It also allows the suitcase to be 100% packed the night before. (Previously, the suitcase might be packed except for a few toiletries items that had to be used on the morning of departure. Going from 95% to 100% packed the night before is a huge difference for me. It means that I can stumble out the door at 4:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight in Roanoke with only the vaguest notion of a shower and shave without worrying what I might have left behind in my stupor.) Over time, it has also allowed me to simplify the toiletries bag to bare essentials.

If something is running low, I either pick it up during the trip or make a note to myself to pick it up after returning home. I tend to buy a small size of the items in the kit, but I generally avoid the travel size, which runs out too quickly. If you travel rarely, the travel size may be fine.

Recently, I’ve been revising the toiletries bag somewhat to reduce the number of liquids and gels I’m carrying. I’ve gone to solid shaving soap and a brush (which I use at home anyhow). And I’ve switched back to solid antiperspirant, although it tends to get broken in transit. (Again, I use solid at home, but had been using a gel in travel due to the breakage issue.) At this point, I think the only liquid or gel that I’m carrying through security is toothpaste.

Bonus tip: Have a plan for going through security. Empty your pockets into your carry-on and remove your belt and watch before you get in line. Be prepared to remove your laptop from your bag and your shoes from your feet. Think about how many trays you will need and what will go in each tray. (I usually need two trays: one for my laptop and one for my shoes and jacket. Your carry-on bag does not require a tray.) Otherwise, I’ll be standing in line behind you fuming while you stumble around like an idiot. Yes, it’s an absurd and ridiculous process that’s mostly security theater. But your failure to prepare for your role in this drama isn’t helping anyone.

(Last week, I violated the bonus tip. I got in line to go through U.S. Customs in Montreal before preparing myself. I thought I would have plenty of time before I got to the security checkpoint. I did have plenty of time, but it was all spent in lines which were slowly, constantly inching forward, making it all but impossible to do things like stow my pocket contents in my carry-on. I managed to get everything settled before I reached the checkpoint, but it wasn’t pretty. Taking thirty seconds before getting in line would have made a huge difference.)