Jan 2, 2018

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I Need A Budget

I’ve never been good with money, mostly because for so long I never had any. Then I got my first IT job and my first credit card and promptly had less than nothing, despite the fact that I was making more than I ever dreamed I might just some five years earlier. These days I make almost twice as much and yet, somehow, it feels like I can never get ahead. Enter budgeting.

Some three or four years ago I was constantly anxious about my money. I kept putting money into my savings but then something unexpected came that wiped me out. I loathed every time I had to go to my savings account or ask my partner to bail me by paying bills that I was supposed to handle. I was in desperate need of a budget. So, my partner researched budgeting software and got me an application called YNAB, short for You Need a Budget. Turns out, it was much more than what I was looking for.

Most budgeting is simple; this is how much you make in a given month, this is how much you have to pay in bills, this is how much you should put into your savings, this is how you should invest. YNAB is some of that, too, but it’s also more than that. It starts with figuring out what’s most important to you in the big picture. I want to be a full-time writer someday and to make sure I won’t tear my hair out because of money, I want to have a full year’s expenses in the bank before that happens. I want to get rid of my mortgage and buy an apartment for my mom to live in so that she can have more financial security and do more fun things. And I want to travel. Any one of these alone would require a huge commitment in any budget. One of the things I like about YNAB is that it makes me make actual choices about what I want my money to do for me most right now.

After that, you “just” follow the four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job Basically, every money that comes in is working toward a specific purpose. Whether it’s rent or a personal satellite, every money has a job. It also doesn’t matter as such where the moneys are located, whether it’s a bank account or inside your mattress, as long as it has a job. Although there are a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t have your money in your mattress. And you only ever budget the money you already have available. This seems like a no-brainer at first, but it took me embarrassingly long to understand. For example, one of my priorities is paying for a tattoo sleeve from the supremely talented Linda Räihä at L&R Tattoo and Art Alliance. So a portion of every budget is going toward paying for it.
  2. Embrace your true expenses There are some things that you have to do; you have to pay for your electricity and groceries to be able to keep going. Most likely you’re also paying for internet and whatever else. Maybe you ´don’t know how much these are going to be but you know it’s more than zero. For example, I get an electricity bill once every a quarter. That’s a long enough timeframe that I’m never entirely sure how much it will be. But I know it’s going to be more than a certain amount. So I budget enough every month that by the end of the quarter I have at least that much on my account, ready to go.
  3. Roll with the punches Sometimes, a high priority bill comes and it’s more than what you’ve budgeted for and you just have to deal with it. I’ve been stuck in this place for a long, long time. I get paid on the 25th of each month, so by the time I get paid, the money is more or less already gone, especially since a lot of my bigger bills also fall due on the 25th. Look how that happened. More on that in a bit. But the beautiful thing about YNAB is that there should always be lower priority categories. And if not,
    it might be time to see if there’s a way to cut back.
  4. Age your money This is the thing that I’m working on right now. Like I said, by the time I get paid, most of the money is already gone. YNAB assumes a first in – first out mentality about the moneys in your budget. The age of your money is the time it takes from when money enters the budget to when it’s used to pay for something in the budget. The age of my money right now is 20 days, which is a little terrifying, considering that I get paid every 30 days. I’m planning to run lean for the first quarter, only paying the absolute necessities, which means that I’ve stopped my subscriptions for a whole heap of services. No more HBO until April. I’ll miss John Oliver terribly. Anyway. The idea is, that by the end of March, my money will be a lot closer to 60 days old, from where I can then get back to my regularly scheduled saving goals with some reasonable spending included.

Those are the basics and the rest is essentially implementation. I’m really excited about this system right now, because Jesse Mecham – the guy who built the system – just came out with the YNAB book and the system finally clicked home for me. I realized that if I did a lean January and more or less drained my savings account, I could get a full month ahead in my expenses. My January pay will actually be funding all of my February expenses as well as part of March expenses, which means that by the end of March, I should be able to start funding May expenses. Doing that made me feel like a weight had been lifted, even if I am fairly secure in general. It feels like I’m making actual headway in my long-term goals and dreams, which is basically turning me into a new convert preaching the good word of YNAB to all who will hear it.

The YNAB software is available as a cloud-based software, but the system is the thing and if you like or don’t have the $45 to put in an annual subscription, you can totally do the thing in Excel. That’s how Mecham started out. They have a great Youtube library full of free resources, but I still recommend at least getting the book, which is a surprisingly fun read and explains the system in great detail. Mecham is such a nerd that it’s also a really enjoyable read. I am especially fond of this book because as previously mentioned, it made the whole system really click for me and it completely changed the way I look at my money. I honestly never thought I would be excited about budgeting.

So. What is it you want your money to do for you?

PS. Just in case you, dear reader, should feel like it, here’s my referral link for the cloud-based YNAB. With a referral, we both get a free month of YNAB. It’s a win-win situation in my book!

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Dec 30, 2017

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2017 Year in Review

The road goes ever on and on

2017 has been an odd year. At large it seems like the world is a trash fire; nazis marching the streets at home and abroad and people wringing their hands about the various ways people are mean to the literal nazis. Loved friends having a hard time whether it’s because of divorce or otherwise ending relationships, losing healthcare or a career, facing financial hardships just in general.

And in the meanwhile, personally, I’ve had a very good year. I’ve gotten to know some amazing people, after years of applying, I finally got in to the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, friends came to spend time in Helsinki, I did some well-received panels at Worldcon, I got a lot of lovely knitting done, read a whole heap of lovely books, took part in a productivity workshop for creatives and all in all had a good time. I sold nothing but that’s okay because I have high hopes that selling will start happening next year.

This year in numbers:

  • 40 000 words 1n a first draft of a new novel
  • 160 books read
  • 15 rejections garnered
  • 12 shawls knitted
  • 6 weeks spent abroad
  • 5 short stories written
  • 4 Bullet Journals used up
  • 3 museums visited
  • 2 short stories edited
  • 1 new tattoo

Here’s to a better 2018.

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Dec 19, 2017

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Knitterly Pursuits

Over this year I have been knitting furiously. As such, that does not distinguish this year from any other. What is different is that I’ve been knitting shawls. So many shawls. Almost only shawls. This is because sometime around the last New Year’s I somehow got the idea that taking part in the 12 Shawls in 2017 challenge over on Ravelry. I’ve finished 9 shawls all told and unfortunately, I have 6 more heading toward the finish line that are unlikely to make it all the way there. One more, maybe two are in the cards still for this year, others will need to wait.

Next year, I’m thinking that I’ve had enough shawls for now. The cupboard is overflowing and several have gone to friends and family, so it’s time to turn my eyes elsewhere. And oh hey, look. I’m in need of sweaters and cardigans. And since my Work In Progress pile is getting kind of ridiculous, I’m also turning my hands back to the sweater projects that I’ve abandoned over the years. At least for some of the time. The goal is to finish 12 sweaters in 2018, regardless of when they were started. It’s time my startitis took a back seat from actually finishing stuff.

That said, I love all these knitting challenges. I’m always knitting anyway so it gives me such joy to get stuff off the needles. And I’ve made no secret of the fact that gamification works really well for me in all areas so why not knitting, too. And with my self-imposed yarn-diet almost over, I’m really looking forward to being able to plan projects around what I want rather than the yarns in my stash. All in all, it’s been a good year for knitting and I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2018.

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Dec 6, 2017

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Finland centennial

Aerial view of Helsinki capital of Finland

Today marks 100 years of Finnish independence. I’ve been baking pretty much non-stop since I woke up this morning but I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge the occasion. It’s no secret that I love this country even if it sometimes also infuriates me. Medium happily put together a list of 100 things that make Finland a kick-ass country.

For my part, I love the food. Karelian pies, rye bread, reindeer. I love that wherever you go, you can get at least fair coffee. I love that we, at least for now, have an assumption that everyone should be equal, even if we sometimes need to be reminded of that. I love the language even if my own usage of it is pathetic. I adore the mythology where it’s just assumed that everyone does magic because that’s what Finns do. I love that the mythology more or less explicitly recognizes the differences in people like the fact that there are people for whom a length of silk cloth is a bigger draw than sex. I love that enduring is so codified in our society that it is considered one of our primary virtues while recognizing that that codification probably contributes to the high number of suicides. And I love the fact that we’re so far up north that we get such long summer days, even if does mean that we get endless winter nights in return. I so many words, I love Finland.

There are serious problems that we as a people need to deal with, the rise of the far right and the infinite patience the police hold for the same, for one. But I’m hopeful. In the last 100 years, Finland has dealt with some huge problems and come out on the other side. Battered and bruised, maybe, but still standing.

Happy birthday to Finland.

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Nov 17, 2017

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Friday Night Movie: Spiderman: Homecoming

I am probably the last person in the world to see Spiderman: Homecoming and so will probably have nothing new to say in terms of a review. Just in case you haven’t seen it, if you like action or superhero movies, you should. It’s a good take on Spiderman (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with a teenage Spiderman and the troubles that go with that premise. We have an actually age-appropriate Aunt May and all that jazz. Plus, no rehashing of the origin story that we’ve all seen a thousand times by now.

What I’m actually interested in, is the villain; Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. (Spoiler warning). For a superhero movie, the villain’s motivations are built almost intricately. Firstly, it starts with an acknowledgment, not just in an abstract sense, that the large-scale battles that we see in every movie come with consequences. There are cleanup companies and construction companies all over that are getting lots and lots of work out of all this. But then there’s also all of that alien tech that needs to be accounted for. And when some dickhead SHIELD (or similar) agents come to take Adrian’s big break contract away from him, it’s not a huge surprise that he decides to go rogue with the alien tech he’s managed to stash away. Seriously, there was no reason for that agent to taunt the guy whose business he was just party to putting a coup de grace to. He deserved getting punched. And, you know, when you get desperate enough, robbing a bank seems like a reasonable thing to do. But that’s just the thing; he wasn’t really that desperate. He has an expensive, gas-guzzling car that doesn’t make sense for his business, which means that he probably has at least one other car, like a pick-up, a giant house in the suburbs (although the house he lives in does seem out of place with the rest of the houses in that part of the suburbs) and a wife who wears designer clothing for just hanging out around the house. This is not someone who’s hurting for money. Sure, he’s not Tony Stark rich, but he’s still fairly well-off. Sandman Vulture is not.

And that in itself is a kind of sad commentary on the state of his life. And I’m not entirely sure if it’s his morals or if he just really feels so pressured to be the good provider that he never feels like he can reach out to his wife, who’s supposed to be a partner to him that maybe they should scale back on things at least for a while until he can pay off for the investments he’s made into the business to allow for it to grow. I mean, sure, there has to be something a little wonky inside him and the people working for him for the crime spree to happen and for them to decide that selling terrifying weaponry to local drug dealers is a good idea but ultimately he’s not a terrible person. Except for the murders. The murders are obviously bad.

All of this makes Vulture, for me at least, ultimately more of a pathetic figure or poorly thought out than a lot of the other superhero villains. He’s too much of a coward to have a difficult conversation with his wife, so instead, he chooses to risk his life over, and over, and over again. In a way, it’s a neat turn-around on the Spiderman of this movie, who’s hiding his activities from Aunt May not to keep her safe, but because of how afraid he is of how she’ll react to the fact that he’s Spiderman. And then, of course, echoed in Tony Stark who’s too afraid of what Peter will do if given full information of the situation he’s already involved in. I feel like none of this movie would have happened if any of these conversations had taken place and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And much of that indecision stems from the fact that I don’t know if all of this lack of communication is intentional or not. It could be a commentary on the way modern Western society teaches men that it’s not okay to communicate about any other feelings than anger or lust. Or it could be just a factor of just how steeped in that culture the 8 different men credited for the screenplay are in that culture that they didn’t even realize that was what was happening. And maybe that sort of exploration isn’t even the job of a superhero movie. It sure would be interesting to find out though.

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Nov 10, 2017

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Friday Night Movie: Colossal

Technically, I’m in NaNoWriMo land, but my partner and I decided to keep up the movie habit we started in October, just scaled way back. So on Fridays we’ll be watching various movies. This time it was Colossal.

Anne Hathaway is Gloria, an unemployed reporter whose life has slipped into alcoholism and partying. She comes home from another night of partying to find that the boyfriend she’s living with has had enough and is dumping her. She moves back to the small town (for some reason I have it in my head that it’s somewhere in New Jersey but I couldn’t confirm it) she’s moved away from where her parent’s house is standing empty. At her lowest, most embarrassing moment, a former school friend sees her and takes her to the bar he owns. She spends the night drinking with him and his friends and goes home around the time that children are going to school, then passes out on the floor. She wakes up to find that the world has changed. It turns out that while she was passed out, footage began to surface of a colossal monster tearing through downtown Seoul before disappearing into thin air. As things progress, even more out of her control, and the monster keeps appearing and destroying Seoul, she finally finds a way out of her situation and starts working to make things better.

I really enjoyed this movie but it’s touted as a hilarious comedy and it didn’t work for me as such. There are funny and heartfelt moments in there, for sure, but overall the movie read to me as a drama. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I hadn’t seen or heard anything about it before we watched it so I didn’t know what to expect and as such this might have been a disappointment if I had seen the marketing material. And to explain why, we veer into spoiler territory.

So that former schoolfriend, Oscar, played to perfection by Jason Sudeikis, gave me a creepy vibe from the very first moment he pulled up next to Hathaway’s Gloria, walking with a very obviously heavy thing in her hands (and on her back, to be honest). I mean, it might have been just movie physics, but given how deliberate the rest of the movie felt, him recognizing someone he hadn’t seen in 10 or 15 years, walking down the road, heading the same way he was in his car felt suspect. And the veneer of friendship suffered another blow when, instead of offering to help, he was so delighted at Gloria being forced to move back to an empty home that he asks her to hang out. At a bar. Then proceeds to give her drinks until she’s so drunk she doesn’t remember anything about what happened or what they talked about that night. And when he turns up with a GIANT tv to just give to her, I was convinced that he was not a good guy. To the credit of this movie, I never even suspected that it was anything sexual, more along the lines of “I’m miserable, you’re miserable, so let’s make sure that you’re content staying miserable” And what do you know, that’s exactly what ends up happening. Like I said, it all feels very deliberate and it’s kind of brilliant.

I loved the way the movie used the gimmick of Gloria being the monster of Seoul (oh I see what they did there) to parallel her journey of going out of control with her alcoholism and her life, in general. The monster is used as a way to show her just how out of control she is and it’s kind of beautiful. I mean, Hathaway has always been a great actor, but that moment of muddled, drunken realization that she had killed someone really hit me in the feels. And the way they draw attention to that change is through Oscar’s temper tantrum about Gloria being about to put her life on track. After she sleeps with one of his friends and has the gall to not be ashamed about it, is when the claws come out. And again, it’s beautifully done. He doesn’t actually care that she slept with the friend (Joel, played by Austin Stowell), just that she did it deliberately and had fun instead of shame. So he uses the threat to Seoul as a bargaining chip to try to get her drinking again, trying to make his own choices be her fault unless she chooses to inhabit the same messed up headspace he does. And I know I’m getting repetitive but it’s beautifully done. But none of it was actually hilariously funny to me. More of a sad jaunt through the mind of an abuser. All in all, though, I have no doubt I’ll watch this movie again.

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Oct 31, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 31: Alien³

Once more (and as far as I’m concerned, for the last time) we follow Lieutenant Ellen Ripley into danger. Alien³ starts as the EVV Ripley and the other remaining survivors escaped in crashes into a mostly abandoned prison planet housing only male prisoners (“double Y -chromosomes” which doesn’t seem to make much sense). This time, the chestburster comes out of a water buffalo, which changes the way the xenomorph ends up moving. It soon starts eating the inmates. For fans of the Alien franchise, the movie proceeds apace.

Although I feel like I must have seen this movie before, I could not remember anything about it, except the last image. As such, it’s not all that surprising. Ripley here doesn’t seem consistent with the Ripley of movies past. The Weiland-Yutani Corporation’s higher-ups finally make an appearance. The movie is a solid addition to the Alien franchise and a fair ending to the trilogy that never got any more movies. Nope. Never. There’s a lot of worldbuilding silliness going on but mostly it’s fine. Ultimately, this movie doesn’t really work on its own and it doesn’t need to be as long as it is but it’s still an enjoyable way of spending a couple of hours.

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Oct 30, 2017

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Fright Night Challenge 30: Aliens

Aliens begins pretty much where Alien left off, just 57 years later. Ellen Ripley and the cat, Jones, have been asleep all that time and the Weyland Yutani Corporation has managed to find terraforming colonizers to send on LV-426. They get Ripley to agree to go back with the promise of killing basically everything that isn’t human. She joins a bunch of marines when the colony stops responding with the hope of finding out what happened, although by now, everyone can probably figure out what happened. What follows is a breathless jaunt through xenomorph infested environs where a lot of people die gruesomely, surrounded by many, many xenomorphs.

I saw this for the first time when I was about 9 or 10. Some little shits in my class convinced the teacher that it wasn’t that scary. I had nightmares for weeks afterward. It took me years before I could watch it again. And I’m glad I managed to come back to it. Just like Alien, this is still and will remain, a perennial favorite. It’s one of those things I can’t really be objective about.

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