Saturday, December 26, 2015

Better Gift Giving in 2016

So how did Christmas 2015 go on the Farm?  It went well, there were family and friends and food and presents and fun.  Nothing really to complain about, but plenty to improve.  This holiday was not the send off I was hoping for the year, and did not provide me with the kind of happiness that years past had.  In fact, I feel that I barely made an appearance this year.

I am looking forward to Christmas 2016.  Hopefully I will be able to do the things I wanted to accomplish last year, next year.  I expect to be more productive, and make better plans, and do all those wonderful things we write New Year resolutions about, and the Farm is how I'm going to get there.

What's going to happen when Christmas 2016 rolls around?  How am I going to make it an even better experience than 2015?  Simple, I'm going to improve myself through better gift-giving.  This is not to imply that I will be giving better gifts, though that is a possibility.  No, I will improve the way I give gifts, and find a better way to share the bounty of the year with others.

So, upon reflection here are the things I've learned about my gift-giving practice:

I worry too much about giving "good" gifts.  I've never received a "bad" gift in my life, yet I spend so much time worrying about the gifts I give, and whether or not they are good enough.  The stress of good gifting causes me to want to stop gift-giving all together.  I know that I'm not alone in this, yet this is really a sign of our problems, not problems with the world.  Giving gifts (if done for genuine reasons) is always good.

I hate giving money as a gift, because to me it feels like I don't know this person.  It highlights my lack in maintaining personal relationships, allowing myself to become too self-focused.  This year I received a gift certificate for new sunglasses.  This was like receiving money, but at the same time it allowed me to get something I wanted (and got to pick the style I liked).  I've been thinking about other people's projects.  I tend to come up with tons of projects every year.  I never have enough help, time, or money to finish most of them.  This year I plan to help others with their projects, with my time and if necessary money.  These gifts will not be held back till some holiday, but will be given throughout the year.

Not all gifts need to be practical.  A hammer is not a gift, it's a hammer.  When my father gave me my first set of tools it was great, not because I really needed a hammer, but because I could work on things with him in the shop.  Somehow, especially when money and time get tight, this concept of practicality rears its head.  The problem with practical gift giving is that it misses the point.  The point is about sharing and showing people that you care.  This year I received a beautiful piece of art that I will now need to build a display cabinet for.  I will enjoy this every day, and think of the person who gave it to me.  I also received a bunch of CDs that were picked randomly from a bin at a store.  Its been fun to listen to something I would never have picked up.  Art, music, food, and fun are some of the best gifts.

Sometimes it is easier to give gifts to complete strangers rather than to your friends and family.  I've often done my office Christmas Gift Exchange shopping before I've done my "important" gift shopping.  This is
simply because there is no expectations for an office party gift.  However, when I start thinking about family and friends nothing is ever good enough.  This year I thought of someone I haven't thought of in years.  A friend of my grandmother, who we would visit every summer when I was young.  Every year this woman would send a tin of homemade chocolate pralines to our house (mmmmmm), and I always looked forward to that.  It was a tradition.  I don't know how long it has been since we last got one of those tins, but I miss them and the person.  Perhaps instead of thinking of gift-giving as the tradition, perhaps I should think about the gift as a tradition.  Something that will come every year.  It's simple and meaningful.  Sometimes there's a little extra, but there is always the tradition.

Giving gifts is wonderful, and making people happy is wonderful.  To become better at this is my goal.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beware of Tree

So, I was informed by a friend the other day that I needed to rake my sidewalk.

This made me think that I've probably not been paying enough attention to the front of my house.  I used to have two sweet gum trees in my front yard.  They are nice trees with good shade and beautiful fall colors, but they have a downside.  The dreaded sweet gum ball.

When one of the trees got killed in a storm not long ago, the issue seemed to be much less; however, I've obviously been overlooking a terrible problem.  I suppose I could put up a "Beware of Tree" sign, and let people watch out for themselves.  However, I should be a responsible tree owner and help my tree to be less dangerous.

Here's what I saw when I went to look at the sidewalk this morning.

It looks pretty harmless, but I recognize that the danger is hiding right at the edges of the walk.  So, as my friend requested I got out my rake and raked all the leaves and sweet gum balls from the edges.

I then swept all this up and off the sidewalk.

After this, I raked all the leaves and stuff from the edge of the lawn back into the lawn, so it want roll out into the sidewalk.

When someone calls you out on something that you are doing (or not doing) it can be a bit jarring.  I have a laundry list of reasons ready to go to defend my lack of lawn care.  I won't drag it out here, but know that I have one -- hahaha.  I had to ask myself if someone wants me to do (or not do) something, should I.  Of course, I want to be a good neighbor, and responsible tree owner.  Therefore, I must do this whether or not I have a valid excuse.  This is part of why I started this blog, and this commitment to improve myself this year.

Please enjoy the safer sidewalk, and remember that sweet gum tree is really a nice tree.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

And then the Horse got sick

I was driving home from work last night, when a friend of mine texted me that my headlight was out.

"Oh, Great. One more thing," I thought.

My car is great, it's worked very hard for me; however, there have been some issues cropping up lately.  Last winter a chip in my windshield turned into a crack, which I've been meaning to get fixed for almost a year now.  There is a belt that been consistently screeching at me for a month now.  And, there is some kind of issue with my wheels.

So, I took the car to the shop today.  For three hundred and fifty dollars I received a new headlight, a new drive belt, and new brake pads (installed).  But of course, where did the money to pa for this come from?  Well, yes my job is the basic answer, but was this money already earmarked for another purpose -- probably.

Like the federal government we often pre-spend money, and pretend that we have pre-saved the money to pay for it.  I think it's rather obvious how this leads to deficit spending.  There has to be a better way, but what exactly does that look like?  Stuffing money under your mattress is not the best, though perhaps it's the most honest.  How can you make plans which require money you don't have, without spending the money ahead of time?

There is a common sense financial concept called an emergency fund.  This is the liquid capital that you keep available for unplanned expenses (broken car, plumbing repairs, etc.) -- mattress money.  How to calculate the proper amount to store in the mattress? One thousand? Five thousand? Ten thousand?  What is the answer.

Here is a proposal.  It's the amount of your most expensive month.  This plan requires that you know how much you spend per month; however, if you can cover all your bills for a month, and you aren't living beyond your means regularly, then you can spend a month figuring out how to take care of this sudden issue without missing any regular (expected) bills etc.   You can use this account for any unexpected expenses, but you have to pay it back up.

So this is another plan for the farm this year.  Build up the soil with some emergency fund fertilizer. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Working on Kitchen

This weekend I hope to get a kitchen redo.  I've created a slideshow presentation to help myself make decisions about what I need to do (kinda like this blog it helps collect my thoughts).  Here is a before picture for those that care.

I see this kitchen as the lungs/guts of the house.  Everything comes in through here, and goes out through here.  There are several problems with that flow (besides the fact that it's a small kitchen).  It's funny how much space is covered by cabinets, and therefore inaccessible.  Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Back Yard

Here's the backyard currently.  A relatively productive bell pepper patch in the middle of a lawn.  My goal for this year is to increase the number of plants, and add an outdoor deck/theater/planetarium/...

Friday, November 27, 2015

No Harvest this Christmas

I have done a poor job of saving and planning in 2015.  My desire is to go out and spend lots of money on the gifts for my family and friends, like always.  Every other year I have done so.  Standing in a field of winter grass I feel at ease with giving.  Of course, I run into problems.

First, I am almost never happy with the gifts that I give (which mostly amount to money).  There is the immediate gift of food or fun which lasts for the day.  Then there is the kind of gift that will be there for years to follow, and be useful.  I often spend too much on the former because I am unable to determine, or afford the latter.

Second, I am often running on fumes when the bills of the new year come due.  I stand there on the dirt in the same position I was 12 months earlier.  Knowing that I will not be able to provide any better Christmas that year.

Therefore, I have decided to spend less money on Christmas this year, and increase the amount of time I spend on gifts.  Of course, I cannot post what I am working on here (in case someone looks); however, after Christmas I will be posting some of what I've done this year.

One thing I am trying is buying empty boxes and spending the month filling them.

Winter Grass

Sometimes in early winter, grass will sprout and the yard will look like its getting greener, but this is false.  The winter grass will be gone before spring, and the dirt will be back.  I've fallen victim to this winter grass in the form of money and success time and again.  Life can start to look pretty good, but then the season changes and all that green is gone and you're back to dirt again.

Right now I'm looking at winter grass all around me.  I know that it will soon be gone, and I should not let it distract me from the hard work I need to do in order to get the real seeds to take root and grow.  This blog is going to be my progress report to myself.  Perhaps it will be inspiring to others as well.