Coffee heat rising

Dog

It’s four in the morning. The dog’s heavy breathing woke me an hour ago and puts sleep out of the question. Well…the steam-engine effect plus worrying about where the money to pay the vet will come from put sleep out of the question.

I’ve now spent almost $500 on the dog so far this month. The billing cycle closes on the 20th; today is only the 9th: plenty of time to rack up more costs against the amount available to spend—which also has to cover food, gas, and all other necessities.

In spite of four Benadryls, the dog can barely breathe through her nose. At this point she gets ten pills a day and four doses of eyedrops. She’s now developing the cracked, scaly skin around her nose said to be a symptom of lupus, another wildly expensive chronic disease. In saner moments, I think I should put her down. But in fact most of the time she seems pretty lively: she eats well, she plays with her toys, and although she can no longer run after the toys, she still wants them thrown and she still retrieves forever, albeit at a walk instead of a run. She’s as alert as a 13-year-old dog gets. Is a stuffy nose a capital offense? Or running the human into bankruptcy?

The thing that’s frosting my cookies here is that after two weeks of dosing her with antibiotics and smearing a veterinary ear ointment on her nether parts-a procedure that puts me at risk of having my hand removed at the ankle—she still stank until I broke out a tube of Myconazole 7, which brought an end to the problem in two days flat. Same as it brings an end to similar problems in a human female. In other words, $10 worth of an over-the-counter antifungal did what $500 worth of veterinary care did not do.

Since it’s not possible to get the stuff up inside the dog (not and live to tell about it, anyway), it may be that two rounds of $50 antibiotics were necessary. But as far as I can tell, they did little or nothing to clear up the infection. What worked was the grocery-store ointment. It would have helped a great deal if the vet had suggested this first, rather than clipping me for drugs that I can’t afford and that don’t seem to have done much.

That makes me reluctant to drag her back in over the nasal congestion. I suspect that every time I take the dog to the vet, the vet takes me to the cleaners.

But she’s doing the same thing Walt did at the end of his life: sticking to me like she was glued on. She won’t let me out of her sight-she follows me if I get up to go to the bathroom. The “Velcro dog” effect, IMHO, is not a good sign. Dogs, being social animals, want to hang out with other pack members, but it’s not their nature to be on top of each other all the time. When this happens, it means the dog is uncomfortable or in pain and is seeking reassurance. So, there’s probably more at work here than simple old age.

Sigh.

Graduation Day

Today the Great Desert University will confer degrees on an astonishing EIGHT THOUSAND students, enough men and women to populate a small town. GDU is a learning factory and most of these degrees rolled off the assembly line, one of the few remaining products stamped Made in America.

Even so, many of our finest faculty were not. Made in America, that is. Nor were quite a few of our students.

Many of today’s graduating seniors, master’s degree holders, and Ph.D.’s are first-generation college students, often children of immigrants-especially those who attend the westside campus, which serves a large working-class population. With just a slightly stronger recruitment effort and some credible support from the throne, the West campus could be a Hispanic-serving institution, a status that opens doors for grants, scholarships, internship, and employment opportunities for all its students. But Hispanics make up only one contributor to the cosmopolitan nature of the enormity that is the four combined campuses: walk across the main campus and you will hear languages from all around the globe.

It’s an exciting polyglot campus whose intellectual and cultural diversity build sophistication for every student who attends classes there. That’s quite a remarkable thing, considering that just a decade or two ago, the place was something of a backwater.

For a first-generation college student, graduation marks a truly huge milestone, not only for the individual but for her or his family. These young (and sometimes not-so-young) people, many of whom have worked their way through school, have achieved a tremendous accomplishment, often against tall odds.

When you’re in the trenches, it’s easy to generalize from evidence of plagiarism and near-illiteracy that all U.S. college students are desperately wanting in every way and to conclude that the next generation is racing to Hell on a skateboard. That’s because the worst episodes and the most recalcitrant students take center stage in your consciousness. The ones who don’t give you trouble tend to fade into the background. But in contrast to the plagiarized paper and the incompetent efforts turned in this semester, I also saw one paper whose quality was on the professional level-a proposal that a charitable foundation support a program for blind children-and in fact, its authors intend to present it to the foundation’s board. Two or three other papers were excellent, and the rest were adequate.

No doubt among those 8,000 new graduates, the proportion of the competent and the truly excellent is the same as it is in any upper-division course.

There’s still hope for America.

1 Comment left at iWeb site

Mrs. Micah

Yay, a hopeful post. 🙂 Sometimes the people who come to the library really get me down about the country. But many are reading and plenty are quite fun, so it’s not as bad as all that.

Thursday, May 8, 200811:36 AM

Monday Household Hint: Hide cords with no special gadgets

Dunno about you, but I loathe seeing wads of computer cords, lamp cords, and telephone cords laying around the floor. Besides making a ugly-looking mess, they get in the way of Roomba-she chokes on them-and they’re a nuisance when I’m vacuuming with a more serious machine.

You can buy various gadgets to bundle cordage together. But in the first place I’m too lazy and cheap to track the things down and order them, and in the second, people who use them tell me they’re nuisances in their own way.

There’s an easier way, involving hardware you’re likely to have around the house: cup hooks. Got some heavy-duty stick-on Velcro around the house? That’ll work, too.

For a desk with an “apron” around it, get a few cuphooks. Climb under the desk, bringing your handy-dandy electric drill with you. Drill small guide holes, not very deep, about every six or eight inches along the inside of the “apron” or, if your desk top is thick enough, on the bottom side of the tabletop. Screw in the cup hooks, using the guide holes as starters. Then untangle the cords, bundle them neatly, and tuck them into the cup hooks, so that they are held up off the floor and prevented from wadding themselves together.

Here’s how that works:
apr21cords1

These are computer and printer cables, phone lines, and a lamp cord running under my desk.

And here’s how the desk looks to a viewer in the room:
apr21cords2

With the chair in place, the power strips are barely visible. Some of the other cords extend to the right and plug directly into a wall outlet, which is completely out of view. It would be even less cord-cluttered if I would bestir myself to get AirPort. But that might be work. And it certainly would cost me something. Horrors!

A table in the family room has a lamp that has to be plugged in way across the room. Check this out:

apr21cords4

The view from above. Before I secured it under the tabletop, the lamp cord dropped off the table on the right side and ran across the floor under the chair-messy and a hazardous nuisance.

For cords sitting on a table whose backside always will be turned to a wall (that is, it’s not the kind of furniture designed so that someday you might place it in a room where it can be seen from all sides), cut a strip of Velcro three or four inches long. It should be long enough to go over the cords with plenty to spare on either side. Stick one side of the Velcro to the back of the table. Place the cord where you want it, and then place the other side of the Velcro over it, pressing firmly to secure the strips of Velcro together. Do not remove the plastic backing on the top piece of Velcro.

Well…you get the general idea. My PC has had it with uploading graphics and refuses to import these either in Flash or by web browser, & I am tired, having copied & pasted wayyyy tooooo many old posts from accursed iWeb into WordPress. If you want to use Velcro, do the obvious: Stick a strip of glue-on Velcro to the back of a piece of furniture. Press the cords into place and stick the other half of the Velcro, with its gooey backing protected by the plastic backing, over the cords. This will hold the wires where you want them.

Weekend Roundup: New neighbors edition

This morning as I drove past my old house, I spotted some people moving in! Stopping to say hello, I met a friend of the new owners who was helping the young family to move and was wrestling with the watering system, which (welcome to our neighborhood!) had sprung a leak. He asked if I knew how to get into the system’s control box–someone had shut it and lost the key. Well, Richard the Landscaper Extraordinaire had installed the same make of system over here, so I had an extra little plastic widget, which I lent to them.

I have yet to learn whether it helped, but in the meantime got to see a bunch of my old neighbors, who I miss a lot. It’s good to be further away from the war zone at the corner of Nineteenth and Dunlap and almost out of reach of the unholy construction that’s already started on Nineteenth, but friendly neighbors are worth a lot.

The young family moving in has three kids. The house has four bedrooms, so I suppose it’s doable…but unless two kids bunk together, it means Mom and Dad have no private space other than their bedroom, which in these houses is not large. But then, when we were growing up nobody ever heard of home offices and “den” was a word that meant “family room.” They have all three kids in the mid-town Catholic school, so that’s good, since the public school that serves this neighborhood is notorious as a “problem school.” People move here, put their kids in that school, and forthwith their house goes right back on the market. So if the kids stay at St. Francis, maybe the family will stay in our neighborhood. ?

It’s a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. To the extent that interesting stuff is going on, it’s happening on the Web. Check out J.D.’s startling post at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity asking what the heck you’d do it if was your mom and your sister who stole your identity and racked up 17 grand of debt in your name.

Five-Cent Nickel explains what is meant by “mutual fund correlations” and points to a tool that reveals correlations among Vanguard funds. The Micahs have figured out how to spend their tax rebate: Mr. M. needs a new computer.

Across the Pond, Plonkee has a very interesting post on “the credit card shuffle,” a maneuver calculated to leave you with the smallest interest on your largest debt and the largest interest on your smallest debt. This allows you to follow the Dave Ramsey version of snowballing, wherein you work on the smallest debt (regardless of interest) first to charge yourself up psychologically, but to get rid of the stiffest interest rate first.

At Wisebread, Jabulani Leffal offers up ten ways to go on a date for $20 or less, plus some lively prose.

Jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity pokes a hole in the myth that a 15-year mortgage necessarily saves you more than a 30-year mortgage.

RacerX is back after a short hiatus. Glad to see he’s returned.

SVB offers ten practical tips for new entrepreneurs at The Digerati Life.

Be This Way highlights the brilliance of a Florida state elected representative. We have geniuses like that here in Arizona, too. Just now ours have set aside their prudery in favor of displaying their bigotry.

Trent at The Simple has another one of those posts that make me feel glad I’m past child-bearing age, this one about the infuriating ubiquity of commercials in school curricula. If I had a kid today, you couldn’t get me to put her or him in the public schools, and probably not even in private schools. It’s beginning to look to me like if you can’t afford to have one parent knock off work and home-school a child, you can’t afford a child.

Well, Granma is tiring out, so it’s time to roll up the sidewalk and dodder off to bed. Hope all you young pups are having a wild and wonderful Saturday

Cheap Eats: Polenta

I’ve decided to rename the Friday Frugal Crafts department “Cheap Eats,” since it’s more likely to include recipes and cooking crafts than paint-and-fabric projects.

Here’s a kind of comfort food that’s fast, easy, and cheap. You can top it with sauces, tomatoes, or cheeses (or all of the above) and have it for lunch or dinner, or you can pour some cream over it (hey!!) and eat it like hot breakfast cereal.

Polenta is really nothing but cornmeal. Instead of buying the pricier boxes labeled polenta, just get yourself a box of plain yellow cornmeal. Keep it in the refrigerator to discourage any little six-legged critters from moving in.

Memorize this: the proportion is one to five. One part cornmeal to five parts liquid, give or take. The classic recipe is just cornmeal and water, but you get a lovely creamy effect-and add nutrients-if you combine some milk with the water, in any proportion you like.
apr18polenta

Pour about five cups of water into a large pan. Bring the water to a boil over fairly fast heat. Sprinkle one cup of cornmeal into the boiling water, a little at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, large kitchen spoon, or wire whip. When the cornmeal is fully mixed in to the liquid, turn the heat down and allow the polenta to simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Cover with the lid slightly ajar, so steam can escape but bubbling cornmeal doesn’t splatter on the stove. Stir several times during the simmering process.

When the polenta is cooked, you can do any of several things with it. I serve up enough for the meal at hand, and then pour the leftover onto a plate so that it spreads out like a flat pancake. Allow this to cool, then cover it and put it in the refrigerator for later use (see below).

To serve hot polenta, try one of these:

  • Top a serving of polenta with a generous pat of butter and shredded or grated parmesan cheese. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley over the top. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Top polenta with hot spaghetti sauce.
  • Chop up a tomato. Add a little minced garlic, some fresh or dried herbs, and a bit of salt. Mix well and use this to top the polenta; then drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the top and add a generous sprinkle of parmesan.
  • Stir-fry some fresh chard with a little chopped garlic in olive oil. Serve over the top of a mound of polenta with plenty of parmesan cheese.
  • (This is very bad for you!) Place a serving of hot polenta in a small bowl. Pour heavy cream over it and sprinkle on some fresh or dried tarragon. Oh, what the heck-add a little butter, too! Season with salt and pepper.

Now, what to do with the polenta pancake?

Slice the refrigerated pancake, which should set up very much like a cooked pancake, into quarters or eighths or even into strips, depending on your purposes.

Melt some butter in a frying pan (you can use olive oil if you feel virtuous). When the butter or oil is hot, gently slide a piece or two of the polenta into the pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook the polenta over medium-high heat until it’s browned and starting to get kind of crisp on the outside; turn and brown the other side.

You can top this with any of the above (or anything else you feel like putting on it). Or you can cut it into 1/2-inch-square pieces and add it to a Caesar-type salad in place of croutons.

Clean-up:

Some of the cooked polenta will stick to the bottom of the pan, especially if you added milk. Fill the pan with cold water and let it soak for a couple of hours; the stuck-on stuff will lift right off.

Taking Stock: Money, stress, and Funny about Money

It’s been a little more than three months since Funny about Money came into being. During that time, several changes for the better have happened in my life, some of them having to do with the very issues of stress and finance that the blog was built to address.

I’d like to look back over the past few months to see how some of the things I’ve been blogging about have changed. While much has improved, it’s not all beer and skittles: some positive changes have involved trade-offs, and some new developments are not pure golden sunlight.

The Poison Poppy of Stress, as you may recall, sprouted five petals:

  • 1. Money
  • 2. Vandalism of my house and ensuing harassment campaign
  • 3. Dogs
  • 4. Workplace stress
  • 5. Financing and renovating the Investment House
  • 6. My own house and its questionable neighborhood

Let’s look at how each of these has evolved.

Money

The immediate cause of the stress attack that landed me in the hospital was the Great Desert University’s switch from bimonthly to biweekly pay. The smaller biweekly checks were projected to result in a net bimonthly pay cut of $220 for me. At the same time, the administration announced it was jacking up the cost of parking exponentially: disabled parking would go from $440 to $770 and then to $880. Just a few months earlier, the state legislature had voted in a 6.1% pay increase for state workers. These two changes would reduce my net income to less than I earned before the pay increase, which was arranged because legislators recognized that we are among the country’s worst-paid state workers.

To compensate, I increased my federal exemptions from zero to four, eliminated the extra $50 federal tax withholding, and canceled my parking pass. The city where GDU resides, as it develops, allows drivers with disabled placards to park in any metered parking for free. It meant a walk of four blocks instead of one and a half, but most of the time that’s tolerable. A lot more tolerable than having eight or nine hundred dollars ripped out of my paycheck!

A month or two before the biweekly announcement came down, the PPO plan I’d subscribed to decided to quit covering the Mayo Clinic, where my doctor practices. In response, the state held a mini-open enrollment, allowing employees to switch plans. I changed to the only other plan that would cover my doctor, an EPO. The result was a cut in monthly premiums from $240 to $23, an enormous and much-needed saving.

Meanwhile, at the same time the university made the change to biweekly pay, our admired administrators decided to change the payroll system to PeopleSoft, with no testing or any kind of intelligent planning. The result was a horrific fiasco. Many people didn’t get paid at all; others were double-paid. During five nightmarish months, no two of my paychecks were the same and, as far as I could tell, not one was correct. PeopleSoft quit crediting my vacation time and tried to argue that I was not entitled to vacations. It failed to make my 403c contributions or failed to make the university’s matching contributions. It screwed up payment of my long-term care premiums so badly I had to cancel the payroll deduction for those payments and arrange to pay the insuror out of my checking account. The mess never seemed to end, and as you can imagine, that didn’t help the stress levels.

After half a year, the situation finally settled down. Once I knew how much my paycheck was supposed to be (apparently), I changed my exemptions again, from four to two, and reinstated the extra federal tax withholding, which was there to cover freelance income so I didn’t have to do quarterlies on top of my salary withholding.

Though my net income has now returned to about what it was before the payroll change, the timing of paychecks no longer can be relied upon to cover my bills. The second paycheck of the month sometimes comes in after all my monthly utility, insurance, and yard maintenance bills are due.

I’ve dealt with this by designing a weekly budget. Budgeting by the week gives me a lot more control over how much is in my checking account at any given time. Also, realizing the university might not pay my salary on time or to get it correct, I went to the credit union and arranged overdraft protection in the amount of one month’s pay.

These two strategies have effectively relieved the worry about whether I can pay my bills without bouncing automatic funds transfers.

Vandalism

Tapr16signhe computerized surveillance camera system that M’hijito installed demonstrated that, contrary to three pool repairmen’s insistence that the pump pot lid could not work itself loose, the thing indeed was doing exactly that. The discovery that no bogeyman was hopping the fence into the backyard was a vast relief.

Since then, the disturbed Son-in-Law has disappeared from the scene. It’s been months since I’ve seen the guy around. In his absence, that situation has dwindled to nothing and is no longer a problem. Other members of the clan are rarely seen, and I’m even thinking of removing some of the thick shrubbery the landscaper planted to screen the view between my front yard and Other Daughter’s house.

Dogs

Walt the Greyhound is still missed, and his demise was a sad thing. But the truth is, one dog makes for a lot less care and expense than two.

After I explained to the vet that I cannot get Anna the Superannuated German Shepherd into the car by myself and that the only person who can help me lives 20 miles away, he agreed to prescribe her thyroid and eye medications without the twice-yearly exams. This saves me $800 a year plus a great deal of hassle.

While Anna’s health and frailty (and amazing stink) are still worrisome, half as much clean-up and feeding plus the savings in medication and food have really cut the stress level in the pet department.

Workplace

I reneged on my resolution to cease keeping the office log demanded by our HR representative. Instead, I finally did what she and my boss advised: rode herd on my personnel problem until the woman finally resigned, effective February 15.

This has changed the landscape at our office and in my life. Apparently My Bartleby was the most serious source of jaw-clenching stress for me.

The entire atmosphere in our office has changed. Staff members, who had taken to arranging their arrival times to avoid this woman’s presence, now show up during the morning. They actually engage in conversations. We no longer have to arrange staff meetings at restaurants so as to deal privately with problems created by Bartleby. I no longer have to waste hours keeping track of her antics, putting out fires she starts, or redoing her work. And I come and go at will, with no further worries about what she might say to my boss about my presence or absence.

Her line was replaced by a fourth editorial assistant, and so we will be able to grow our empire. I expect we will take on another two client journals over the next few months. Our office will look more indispensable, and this will enhance my shot at staying put until I reach full retirement age.

And in my personal life, the day Bartleby exited I felt like a hundred-pound weight lifted from my shoulders. I still feel that way.

The Investment House

apr16menworkingM’hijito and I are now in the process of refinancing, a strategy that will combine our two mortgages into one. The 5.3% interest represents a savings of around $200 a month.

The appraiser estimated the house’s worth at $270,000, twenty thou more than it was allegedly worth 18 months ago and $35,000 more than we paid for it. This eliminated the worry we both felt that our investment might be dropping in value.

The Workman Waltz is over. Most of the renovations are done, except for the landscaping. With the interior livable, we can work on the outside a little at a time.

M’hijito got a raise and a nice bonus, allowing him to pay off the last of his debts (!). He is putting money aside to replace the air conditioner, relieving me of having to figure out how to pay for that.

I have snowflaked the $25,000 Renovation Loan down to about $23,000 and meanwhile, by dint of ambitious savings and taking on a couple of overenrolled classes this semester (and so getting paid to teach four instead of two sections), I’ve managed to set aside $13,000 in the money market as a fund to pay off the loan. I expect that fund to cover the balance on the loan by the end of next year, at which time I will decide whether to pay off the loan or to put the money into mutual funds with higher risk but a better return.

So, although a mortgage payment is always a nagging worry and you never know what will break next, the most immediate sources of stress associated with the Investment House are either resolved or well on the way to it.

My House and the Neighborhood

This is the only Poppy Petal that remains a problem.

The B*** tribe has settled down, Carlos the Knife has quit chasing his wife over to my front door, and Biker Boob seems to have lost the chopper or at least to have given up letting it idle in the driveway for 15 to 30 minutes at a time. However, Dave’s Used Car Lot, Marina, and Weed Arboretum is again hip-high in dandelions and milkweed. The other day the sheriff came by to serve poor Dave with papers, and so I imagine he’s still quarreling with his ex-wife.

The city slum abatement office got after Dave about the Weed Arboretum and made him park some of his rolling stock elsewhere than in the front yard. Also, one of the wacko neighbors has been issuing death threats against Dave over the mess in front. So, Dave has at least been trying to clean up the premises.

The results are mixed.

Meanwhile, and far more dangerously, the City is about to trash our neighborhood.

The City’s absurd light-rail train will go right up the middle of the main drag to the west of our tract. This road, a conduit of blight, serves as a permeable barrier between the middle-class housing on our side and the tenements and gang-infested slum directly west of us.

Tenements, bear in mind, are businesses. The City of Phoenix historically has favored businesses over residents-in the past our City Parents have changed the routes of freeways to avoid demolishing businesses but thought nothing of ripping out homes by the square mile and trashing the neighborhoods flanking the freeways.

Light rail is no exception: the City plans to tear out the access road that gave the houses along the main drag some nominal distance from the traffic and the bus riders. Not only that, but unknown to most residents, the City’s right of way goes about three or four feet inside every property along that access road. Walls, trees, and landscaping will be ripped out and replaced with asphalt to accommodate an alignment that spares businesses and apartment houses on the west side of the road. Several houses will be torn down and replaced with noisy equipment. And a three-story parking garage will be built on the corner where a train station replaces a tacky strip mall, further enhancing our view to the west.

One of the neighborhood grocery stores has already closed; the other has announced it will close before light rail construction begins. This leaves us with no neighborhood grocery shopping except for a small Sprouts, which doesn’t carry anything like all the goods one needs to run a kitchen and a home. The three doomed houses are locked behind hideous storm fences, and the City is allowing the weeds to rival those in Dave’s Weed Arboretum.

These developments will not help our property values. Construction is expected to take as much as four years, during which trucks and diverted traffic will roar across our neighborhood streets. The result will be a trolley that plods through town at an average speed of 15 miles per hour, hardly a crowd-pleaser for busy commuters.

My property value has already dropped $75,000 off its Bubble high of $375,000. At $300,000, it is about where it should be if no bubble had ever happened. If prices in the neighborhood continue to drop, I will lose money on my house.

And drop they will. Faced with a full understanding of what this project means to the area, homeowners have flocked to real estate agents. Houses are on the market at figures well below $300,000. And four houses that I know of are in foreclosure.

How dire is this?

Well, I think it’s fairly dire. Yes. Pretty dire.

But there’s nothing I can do about it. So, I guess the best course is to resign myself to the fact that you can’t fight City Hall, get used to loud noise and construction dirt and hellish traffic, and hope the long-term increase in the Investment House’s value offsets the loss on my home.

What Worked?

Five out of six of the stress sources (three of which are associated with personal finance) have improved since I started Funny about Money. How did I manage to get the best of so many of my stressors?

Number one: Write down everything that bothers you. This was the key to success overall. Brainstorm all the issues that might remotely be called stressors. For each, write down:

  • 1. Why is it bothersome?
  • 2. Is it really significant, or am I blowing this one out of proportion?
  • 3. What can be done about it?

Next: List the significant issues in order of importance, from most to least urgent.

Then: Work on each issue a little at a time. Some issues will have to be tabled while you deal with matters that seem more crucial.

  • 1. Don’t expect your problems to go away instantly. Realize that something that’s been making you nuts for a while will take a similar while to figure out and solve.
  • 2. Work at identifying your part in the stressfulness of each issue, rather than blaming someone or something else. After all, you’re the person who is in the best position to resolve most of your issues.
  • 3. But don’t blame yourself for situations or conditions you can’t help or you didn’t bring on yourself.

Listen to what people who are in a position to speak intelligently are trying to tell you (but ignore those who talk for the sake of hearing themselves talk). For example, it took me a long time to register what my boss and my HR representative were urging me to do about my personnel problem. If I’d paid attention sooner, I wouldn’t have had to suffer a major stressor as long as I did.

Take positive action to resolve each issue. Identify strategies that may help to relieve stress or eliminate situations that cause stress, and follow through on them.

If an issue has no solution, try either to move away from it or to accommodate it psychologically by resigning yourself to it. Exception: Do not, under any circumstance, remain in an abusive relationship!

Declutter. This is a positive action in its own right. Simplify your daily life, get rid of unnecessary paperwork, and throw out or give away junk you’re not using. It’s amazing how much better this will make you feel.

Turn off the ambient noise. Shut off the television. Turn off the cell phone. Do not listen to local news broadcasts that dwell almost exclusively on stories of the bizarre and the terrifying. Never listen to talk shows while driving. Make your external life quieter and your internal life will quiet down.

Be patient. Don’t feel you have to solve all your problems at once. There’s a limit to how much you can deal with.

  • Identify the issues that feel most important and work on those first.

Engage in an activity that relaxes you and takes you away from your cares. This is huge.

  • One of my friends paints to distract herself from the stresses of her job and her life. I have found that blogging relaxes me and keeps me entertained for hours. Find something you like to do and do it.

The Incredible Lightness of Stress-free Being

The quality of my life has changed over the past few months to an extent that I would call almost weird. Things that used to set me off — aggressive drivers, endless traffic signals, ninnies in the grocery store line who feel compelled to argue with the cashier over every penny — no longer seem to matter much. Time itself seems to have slowed down. Where before my days never seemed to have enough hours to accommodate all the things that needed to be done, now I get things finished and have time to sit down and read a book, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a lovely afternoon.

I’ve stopped drinking, which a) saves a chunk of dough and b) has caused me to lose six pounds over the past month or so. My blood pressure has dropped into the amazingly healthy range and my blood sugar is down to normal.

And thanks to the biweekly budget and the improved equanimity, I no longer worry whether I can make ends meet from month to month or from year to year.

This is not to say I have achieved the calm of a Buddhist monk. The sound of George W. Bush’s voice still causes me to fly into a rage. A mistake in Quicken can drive me to tear my hair. I’m not at all happy about what the lightrail promises to do to my neighborhood. And the prospect of putting the dog to sleep worries me a lot.

But it’s better. Much better.