Monthly Archives: January 2008

Skipping around, socioeconomically

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Like most people, my relationship with things is related to my relationship with money. When I was a child, my family started out working class, and worked its way up to middle class. I had a lot of typical middle class experiences, with private school, and my parents helping me out financially long after I moved out, but I remembered our not-so-secure start. We had friends and family who were still there.
College was a mixed bag—I wasn’t well-off, but I wasn’t poor. I worked hard, with at least one job all the way through, but between my jobs and my parents help, I had plenty of money to buy new clothes and go out partying. I wasn’t buying the designer stuff, but I wasn’t avoiding the mall, either.
When I got married, things went downhill, money-wise. I had my daughter 10 months and 2 days after we got married, and we didn’t have much money. We didn’t fall under the poverty line at first, but we were just over the top. After my ex and I went back to college, we did fall under the poverty line, but we had enough financial assistance to get by. Plus, my parents were still helping out. This was a really hard time for me, because it was very different from any other time I remembered. I avoided stores, because the amount of stuff I simply could not buy depressed me. When I went to the grocery store, I had to keep a running total in my head to ensure that I didn’t exceed our extremely meager food budget. I couldn’t afford to decorate my home in a way that I liked—it was all hand-me-downs or doing without.
Around the time I got divorced, I got my first professional job with my new college degree. I also had a second child, increasing my expenses. It took a while to pull myself out of the debt and just get some of the basic things we needed, and get out of the expensive daycare years. But now, I am doing well in my job, comfortably ensconced in the middle class, no full-time daycare fees to pay, doing pretty well.
I still remember vividly those poor years, though. They make it even harder for me to moderate my spending. When I go to the grocery store, I buy what I like. At a minimum, I can think about how much we will be home, and whether I am just buying too much volume, but I simply cannot keep a running total of what I am spending, even when I am buying groceries near the end of a pay period with not too much money in the checking account.
I did without so much for so long, that it is hard for me to see many of my purchases as extravagant. Sure, I don’t need 4 winter coats, but a knickknack for my shelves seems reasonable. We live in an expensive area, and I want my children to look nice at school; all of their friends have lots of nice clothes. But my 5 year old has finally started stabilizing in his growth, and I have somehow ended up with nearly 2 months worth of shirts that still fit him. I have to struggle not to buy him another shirt when I see something particularly nice in the stores, though, still.
I used to avoid malls and other stores because I couldn’t afford to buy anything. Now, I find that I need to avoid the stores because I CAN afford to buy things, and I WILL buy too much. I need to find other ways to feel better-off, not poor, than bringing a bunch of extra stuff into my house. One thing I have started doing is going to more plays. I have season tickets to the Rep for the second time this season, and I will do the summer Muny shows again this year.
For now though, I am still trying to avoid the stores and the temptation. Or I will be as soon as I am done buying new furniture for my front room. And new bookshelves. And some storage for my kitchen. But I really need these things, don’t I? I think I do. I think that by making my home inviting and pleasant, maybe I will calm some of my acquisitiveness. Maybe then I will be able to look around and think I have it pretty good.

A slow start

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I haven’t gotten very far yet this year, but I got off to a slow start last year, so I don’t think the goal is in jeopardy yet. In fact, even though I have only finished 2 books so far this year, I think I will end January with more than the 4 I had last January, so I should be a bit ahead. I have about three books going now, and I have been reading a lot faster in the past week or so than I did in the first week or so.

I find it interesting that my reading seems to be changing now that I am keeping track. I have been consciously searching out some more good science fiction since I started the list, so I am not surprised to see that I am reading more of that. But, some of my more guilty pleasures (J.D. Robb books, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series) have fallen off. I don’t think it is because I don’t want to write them on the list–I don’t really care if anyone approves of my choices. I think I have just found it easier to get good suggestions for books I want to read more than that kind of brain candy. I have a long list of higher quality books fighting for a spot on my tbr list, so this kind of thing gets pushed down to the bottom. Maybe this is cyclical, too, though, and I will get back to them in a few months or so.

I am so loving this long term list of books I am reading. I am totally geeking out on the thought of more data to analyze as time goes on. There is no hope for me.

1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Good but not great. Sad. A bit overwrought in the middle, but enjoyable. Not Atwood’s best.

2. Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James

Great. Good development of recurring characters, without taking a lot of time away from the main focus of the book–the mystery. The story was compelling, although it was a bit odd how sympathetic everyone was to the pedophile priest. I thought it was odd that they equated the murder victim’s dislike of the pedophilia (although it may have been more accurately pederasty, which involves post-pubescent children, which, while still being totally wrong, is not quite as repellent) with prejudice against gay people. Being gay and molesting children are two entirely different things, regardless of the gender of the children abused. But, the rest of the story was very interesting, and the conclusion was satisfying.

I got new bookshelves this weekend!

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And, they are gorgeous. I’d put a link here, but Costco doesn’t seem to have them on their website, which is a shame. So, I will have to make do with describing them, at least until I unpack enough boxes to come across the software and cords to download pictures from my digital camera.

The shelves are double wide, about 48 inches, and made out of dark wood. There are six shelves on each side of the middle divider, with the top two shelves having glass inserts. There are lights in the top molding that shine down through the glass, and there is a touch pad to turn the lights on and off. It’s a lot of shelf space, and I am sure I am FINALLY going to be able to get all of my books on shelves, rather that stacked on top or or in front of other books. For a while at least.

The most fun part of all of this is that I finally get to organize all of my books. When I first moved into this apartment and got my new shelves up, I wanted to get everything in some sort of order, grouped by genre and author. But I was moving and I was in a hurry to reuse the boxes in which I had carried the books to the new place, so I just grabbed books and put them on shelves. It has bothered me that my books were all jumbled ever since, but I was putting off rearranging, in the hopes that I could channel that organizing energy toward unpacking the mound of boxes and making our home look presentable. Now that I have new shelves, though, I HAVE to move all the books around! After all, I do have to put some of the books on the new shelves. I suppose, in theory, I could have just grabbed all the books that were on top of or in front of other books and put them on the new shelves, but I could not restrain myself any longer. My books were crying out for some order, and I could not ignore them.

This is so much fun! I am putting non-fiction on my new shelves. I don’t have enough non-fiction to fill them, but that is good, I have room to grow. I have been picking up big armfuls of books and moving them from room to room. Science fiction is going on the shelves next to the reading chair. Mysteries will be in the other set of shelves in the front room. I have two shelves in the family room that will be devoted to unread books. Or, maybe not. Maybe I will just put all unread books in their categories, but put them over to the right, or something like that. Actually, that sounds like a good idea, both because it will be more organized, and because I am afraid all of my unread books won’t fit on two shelves. I think I will have to try it both ways, and see which one is better.

All of this empty space is great, too. My shelves were getting seriously crowded, and I was wondering where I would put new books. Not that I need to buy any, with all my unread books, but let’s be realistic; I am going to buy new books. I bought 5 new books tonight*, and I haven’t even finished my first book of the year yet. I love having the books around, and I will read at least some of them. Some day when I have more time to read, I will get through my whole tbr list, a thought which actually fills me with a bit of anxiety. Fortunately, I am kidding myself–there will always be more books to buy!

Oh, and I saw that the shelves that I bought at World Market are on sale! I don’t actually need more shelves right now, but I do want to get another set of these eventually. This is such a good price, I think maybe I should go ahead and get them now, but I am not sure I want to. For one thing, I don’t know if I have the energy to carry the shelves up to my third floor apartment. I can’t carry the whole box up, even with a friend helping, so it means multiple trips up the stairs with pieces of the unit. Then, I have to put it together, which is not undoable, but it is time-consuming. And, I would need to clean some stuff out of my bedroom, where I want to put the shelves. That’s not the end of the world, but it is one more thing to do. I like to do some relaxing on my weekends. Still, I am thinking about it. I need an excuse to buy more books. Don’t I?

*Mandy, again, although I have to admit, the bookstore was my idea. She wanted to go clothes shopping, but I figured the bookstore was less likely to make me feel fat.

Year End Statistics

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I hit 93 total books in 2007, 10 more than 2008. I am a little bit surprised at how much reading I got in, because it was a busy year. I moved to a new apartment, which was very time-consuming. I made a big push to de-clutter my apartment and start doing the regular cleaning maintenance more regularly. Although, it seems like I spend more time cleaning these days, because I do some every day rather than waiting for the weekend, but I never spend 3 or 4 hours in a row cleaning anymore, so that may actually have been a net gain in time. I have had a very active social life, because I was starting to get worried that I did too much by myself. My job has been very busy, with some overtime, although not a lot. And, I started my third blog in 2007, and did more blog posting in general. This is not even getting into all the time I spend on Library Thing.

Even so, I got in more reading than ever. Part of that is all the time I spend at Library Thing, which seems counterintuitive, but makes sense when I think about it. First of all, posting about what I read makes me think a bit more about what I read, which actually makes me enjoy my books more. Also, all the great recommendations make me anxious to get through my reading list and get to even more great books! So, I am going to increase my goal for 2008 to 100 books, but first, a look at 2007 through statistics.

Total number of books: 93
January: 4
February: 4
March: 7
April: 5
May: 9
June: 7
July: 10
August: 11
September: 9
October: 10
November: 7
December: 10
Total number of pages: 33,276
Average number of pages per book: 361.70
Science Fiction books: 39, or 41.94%
Non-fiction books: 15, or 16.13%
Mystery books: 21, or 22.58%
Re-reads: 7, or 7.53%

Since I read a lot more toward the end of the year than I did at the beginning, I think I can easily add in the 7 books I didn’t have to make up the 100 in 2007. I am glad to see I got in quite a bit of science fiction this year, although that is partly fantasy, actually. That is only a few books, though, because I am not a big fantasy fan. I found a good list of science fiction classics this year, and I have been trying to work my way through that. I am going to try to get a little bit more non-fiction books read in 2008, I think.

Overall, this looks like a pretty good year’s reading to me. Now, I just need to get my first book for this year completed!

Consumption at the Macro Level

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I started to right a great post on why Christmas time is not so good for my affluenza recovery, but it got kind of depressing, so I never got around to finishing it. I am not far enough along in my recovery to delve that deeply yet, I think.

But I did read a great article in the Times today that I wanted to post here on global consumption. It is very encouraging to see that people are taking the problems of consumption and sustainability seriously on a global level. Also, that it is not realistic to complain about consumption in the rest of the world when we (Americans) are the largest contributors to the problem. That is why I am working on an individual basis to figure out how much I can cut back without lowering my standard of living in any way that matters to me. There are ways to cut that consumption and actually raise my satisfaction with my life, but there are lines I don’t want to cross. I figure that if I gradually push those edges, I will lower my consumption more and more.

One thing I have been looking at lately is electricity. My electric company has a new program where you can pay an extra cent and a half per kilowatt hour to support sustainable energy programs. I went out to look at my account online to see how much this would impact me, and I realized we are using a lot more electricity in this apartment than we were in the old one. Part of that is the extra bedroom. Both kids spend more time in their rooms now that they have their own spaces. They leave the light on all the time, too. So, now I am reminding them to turn the light off when they are not in there. It’s not like it is difficult to turn the light back on when they go into the rooms. Another issue is the computers. We have two now, and I have gotten into the habit of leaving them on all the time. No more. When we are done, we shut them all the way off.

Those are the wasteful things I noticed when I went sleuthing, but there are other things affecting this as well. I found my alarm clock radio and plugged it in. So now I listen to NPR to gradually wake me up in the mornings, and keep me going as I get ready for the day. The dishwasher uses electricity. It is a fairly new dishwasher, so I think it is pretty effiecient with the water, plus I LOVE IT, so I am not giving that up. And, as we have been de-cluttering, our home has become a more pleasant place, and we are just plain here more often. Overall, I think the slight raise in electricity use is offset by the increased contentment with our home, and decreased driving time to go out and do other things. We are also getting more use out of things that we have here at home, since we are here to use them. I think the net effect of our increased time at home is probably actually a decrease in consumption, although I don’t have any numbers to back that up.

After a month of cutting our electricity use where we can, I am going to go out and see what kind of affect this has on our total usage. Then I am going to join the Pure Power program, although the thought of what it will do to my electricity bill in the summer is scary. Still, if I can support a program that is working to reduce our consumption effects so that I never have to give up my air-conditioning and dishwasher, it is worth a little extra money–or even a not-so-little extra money.

Finishing up a series

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92. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
93. The Last Colony by John Scalzi

I got The Last Colony from the Science Fiction Book Club (before their TERRIBLE customer service forced me to leave, which is a shame, because I liked the books), only to realize it was the third book in a series, forcing me to buy Old Man’s War and TGB before I could read it. I am sure I could have read it alone and liked it, but I prefer to read books in order. I am really glad I got all three books, especially these two. I really like the way that Scalzi sets up a situation that seems rather straightforward and then shades the gray in there. The characters are well-drawn, too, and I like the way he handles his male and female characters, making them whole people who sometimes behave in stereotypically gendered ways, but generally just behave like themselves, not a man or a woman primarily, but a person. And, although I liked the characters a lot and I wonder what happens next, I was glad to see him say he is done with them. It is good to leave on a high note, not drag things out until people get tired of reading about your characters and your world.

So, that is 10 more than I read last year (or, rather, in 2006, since I am behind here). Much more than I thought I would read this year!