Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top five: first impressions of France

I was in France for two weeks in November, and there were some things that really struck me about the country and the people. I'm sure there will be many more cultural shocks to come once I'm actually living there, and I guarantee they will be documented on this very blog, but I thought I would introduce you to the first things that caught my eye.

View of the Rhone, Lyon

  1. Everybody smokes. OK, not literally every single person, but waaaaay more people than in the US. (Those gross PSAs here must be working!) There are cigarette butts everywhere on the street, and hanging out with my boyfriend and his friends felt like being in bars before they banned indoor smoking. I even started smoking - minimally, I assure you - while I was there.
  2. Razor scooters are everywhere. In fact, they are a legitimate mode of transportation for people of all ages. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to see a grandma scoot by me on the sidewalk on a Razor scooter! I get it - the sidewalks and streets are narrow (see #5), and you can fold them up to take into work or onto the subway - but man...I laughed so hard when I saw people commuting to work on those things. 
  3. I am overweight. Time to address the elephant in the room (pun intended). French women, and men, are generally quite thin. I found myself constantly comparing my physique to the women around me, and I lost the contest every time but maybe twice. I don't know if it's lifestyle, genetics, diet, or what, but I definitely intend to find out, and then use it to my advantage. It's no fun being the "fat American."
  4. Damn you, delicious French pastries!

  5. Toilets are in the closet. I'm not exaggerating. In the homes I visited, the toilet was in a tiny little room that doubled as a storage closet. I peed next to vacuum cleaners, old books, and cleaning supplies. It was...interesting. 
  6. The streets are TINY. I didn't realize just how wide our streets are until I saw European streets. Like, wow. Most of them can't be much more than just one car width wide! And people ask if I'm going to drive over there? Aw hell no!!
I only have two more weeks to enjoy genuinely American things in their natural habitat, such as ubiquitous commercials for fast food and delivery pizza, supermarkets open until midnight, massively wide streets, and 8-lane freeways, so I better make the most of it!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

France, here I come!

Well, it's official: I'm moving to France in January!! Hooray!!! I just got my passport back from the French Consulate, complete with visa inside. It's taken several to-do lists and a few sleepless nights to get here, but today I can claim success.

So now I get to finish my preparations for the move, safe in the knowledge that I have permission to stay in France for a year. I haven't been blogging about the process of getting the visa - I found a VERY helpful blog that told me almost everything I needed to know, so I don't want to reinvent the wheel by repeating everything here - but I will tell you about the most important things that I learned.

  1. Be prepared. I made sure to have all the paperwork and documentation that I would need for my application, even to the point of excess, so that I would have a complete application packet when I arrived at the Consulate in Chicago. For example, for my proof of income/support, I submitted six months of bank and investment statements, instead of the typical three months of statements. I also brought copies of my marriage certificate and divorce papers in case they wanted proof of my marital status. I'm sure it bordered on paranoid, but I was not about to take any unnecessary chances.
  2. Be patient and polite. When I arrived for my appointment at the Consulate, not only was I called to the window nearly an hour after my scheduled time, but I was also told that I had the wrong medical insurance coverage (the requirements were not anywhere on the website that I could find, so it was an unpleasant surprise). I was super stressed out and ready to put my bitch face on, but the Consulate employee was just doing his job, and to be frank, I needed something from him and his office. I kept my cool, remained polite, and thanked him very much for explaining the requirements...and then started bitching as soon as I left the building.
  3. There are very specific requirements for the International Medical Insurance you carry. I needed a zero deductible policy with at least $50,000 coverage, and repatriation expenses fully covered. I had already bought a policy through Cigna Global Health, so I had to change the policy. Of course, I freaked out about getting my Certificate of Insurance quickly enough, but Cigna offered exactly what I needed and they issued my updated certificate in just a day or two. (Sidenote: I highly recommend Cigna if you are looking for expat medical insurance. Great customer service, tons of policy options, and you can do everything online OR via phone with their fabulous employees. Hi Scott!)
I also have to say thank you to all my amazing peeps who are supporting me through this process. It happened crazy fast - I decided to move just two months ago! - and if it weren't for all these wonderful people around me who I get to call my friends, I would be a hot mess. Y'all know I love you!!

So now my preparations enter Phase 2: The Moving. Anyone want a crock pot?

Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm a quitter and a quilter

So I couldn't post this until the quilt was delivered to the giftee, since it was a surprise, but here it is! I MADE A QUILT. Like, what?! Clearly early retirement is aging me, and quickly. The thing was, even though it was a ton of work (and it's pretty wonky in spots - it's hard to sew in a perfectly straight line), I enjoyed the process and am very proud of the results!

I made this using the Quick Triangles Baby Quilt tutorial, and learned how to bind the edges with a tutorial at cluckclucksew.com. I hand-sewed my niece's initials to the top before quilting the top, batting, and backing fabric together. As much as I complained about how much work it was, I would totally do it again! Not tomorrow, mind you, but sometime...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Plautus in the backyard

I'm pondering, as I watch this casual staging of a Plautus play in Galesburg (Classicists really know how to party), how to adapt an ancient play for the Fringe Festival. Maybe a Crassus Molasses staging is in order?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cutest selfie ever

Yup, I know, it's hard to look away. I've cursed the world with the cutest selfie ever. I'm sorry and you're welcome!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cool sewing blog

So I heard an interview on the Marketplace podcast (NPR) yesterday, and it led me to this super cool blog: grainlinestudio.com. It's a gal in Chicago who sews and makes patterns - a "dying job," supposedly. It was a great piece, and her website is cool and useful. As Dr. Steve Brule would say, "Check it out!"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Clearly they didn't take weather into account

Check out the latest bullshit "happiness" chart (thank you Business Insider):

This is the kind of stupid horseshit that always pisses me off. HOW THE FUCK IS NORTH DAKOTA THE HAPPIEST STATE? Is the ability to snowmobile for 6 months out of the year one of the prime factors? And Minnesota is 4th happiest? Only if you like living in a frozen hellhole that people are obnoxiously snobby about because we have a lot of lakes. (Did anyone ever consider the fact that water is where mosquitos breed?) Next time, take the number of polar vortex events into consideration, and we'll be at the absolute bottom of the list.

DON'T follow your passion?!

Thanks to the Farnam Street Blog (which I highly recommend to anyone who will listen), I just watched an intriguing video that featured Cal Newport, the author of Maximize Your Potential. He presents the idea that telling people to "follow your passion" is actually detrimental advice, and that instead, people should work hard at what they do in order to become so good that they "can't be ignored." Being a master at what you do is the way to take control over your life so you can then mold your work into the life that you want.

That's perhaps an oversimplification of what he says, but I thought it was intriguing. Mr. Newport reported that in a study of Canadian college students (those Canucks just love being studied, don't they?), no more than 5% of them even had an identifiable passion to begin with, which would make the typical "follow your passion" advice meaningless, if not even somewhat cruel. I myself have struggled with finding a passion that was enough fun to try to do for a living. But in the end, it turns out, I just need to practice something enough to get really good at it. (Mr. Newport recommends something called "Deep Work" which is essentially working very hard at what you do in a systematic way.)

I highly recommend watching the video. Even if you're not struggling to either find or work at your passion, he has some good advice that applies to everyone. Plus, he's pretty charming... (wink)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Conned by the rom coms

Why do I feel like the only way a man can prove his love and commitment is to want to have children? Oh yeah, probably because of every romantic comedy I've ever seen. It's a pretty twisted yardstick to measure a relationship by, even the more so for me, since my relationship history proves me thoroughly unlovable by this methodology. The unfortunate thing is that as I've gotten older and my maternal drive has kicked out of first gear, I've started feeling like a bit of a loser. Out of all the great (and terrible) guys I've dated, none of them ever confessed their love to me by saying, "I want to have kids with you." And that makes me feel shitty. I feel stupid for feeling this way at the same time, so it's a super fun double whammy of emotional shame.

So thank you, romantic comedies, for making me feel like a pathetic, unloved, never-a-leading-lady fool who will either settle for less than she wants or end up alone in a house of guinea pigs and garbage. Yay me!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Best/Scariest website

Have you been to ConferenceCall.biz lately? If not, I highly recommend you check it out. It's a nightmarish experience, much like most of the actual conference calls I've been a part of. If you don't have an office job, take a trip over there and see what you're missing out on.

Now that's full service

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Less work = better

I just read a commentary on startribune.com about one potential response to high unemployment: reduce the number of hours each employee works. I think it's a great idea. First off, I like long weekends. Two days is just not enough. Second, it worked for Mr. Henry Ford (who also paid extravagantly high wages so that his employees could afford to buy his product).

You might think it sounds Socialist. You might think it sounds lazy. You might think it will mean lower wages for everyone. I just don't care. I want to work less, and if that means spreading the work around so everyone gets a piece, I'm all for it.

Here's to advancing society through selfishness! Channel that laziness for the betterment of your countrymen and countrywomen!

Frugality is the new thirty

I've decided that in order to get my early retirement goal on track, I need to take a more serious approach than just buying into the Powerball pool at the office. Enter frugality: the art of spending as little money as possible. Now I'm not going as far as the Extreme Cheapskates on TLC - goat head is not on the menu - but I'm making small changes that I think will add up quickly.

Change #1: bringing my own lunch. I know this is one of the classic pieces of advice, ala the "latte effect," but I'm really trying to do it. I bring a salad every day, pretty much the same every time - spinach, beans, feta crumbles, and sometimes chopped mushrooms or bell peppers. I can seriously save $8-10/day doing this. Hell-o!

Change #2: Stop buying so much shit. There are certain things I just won't give up, including beer, haircuts, pet stuff, and eating out, but I can still cut back. I don't need to eat out multiple times per week; I don't need to buy everything I want; I just don't need as much stuff as I've been giving myself. The rationale is no longer "I deserve this" - now it's "do I want this more than I want the freedom to not have to work?"

Change #3: I am finding a lot of inspirational articles, blogs, and websites to help keep me focused. Reading about other people who have paid off their houses, quit working full time, and have zero financial worries convinces me that it is completely possible. I really like Mr. Money Mustache (read his "Are You Cleaning Out Your Own Wallet" post - it's spot-on, pardon the pun) and MoneyNing. These guys both have real families and still manage to live frugally yet comfortably. I am convinced that I earn enough money to live comfortably, and still contribute to savings AND pay down my debts.

Here are my goals:
1) Save $750/month in my "emergency savings" until it reaches $30,000
2) Pay an extra $300/month towards my mortgage - this will allow me to pay it off 11 years early!!!
3) Once my "emergency savings" is funded, begin investing in low-cost Vanguard index funds, allowing it to grow until it is self-sustaining (i.e. the dividends getting reinvested equal the contributions I would otherwise be making)

Ultimately, I'm hoping that I can get that mortgage paid off even sooner. Losing that payment would save me $800/month - yes please!! Not to mention that if I then sell the house, and move South towards the sun and its warm rays, I'll have a big ol' pile of cash to start over with. Sounds like paradise to me.

Not what they meant

Just how well do I need to know you, door, before I can go through you? Three dates?

Monday, January 20, 2014

New demographic: "Hipstie"

I think I've found the hot new demographic that all the advertisers will want to woo: the Hipsties. Half hipster and half hippie. Young-ish adults who listen to random music (the less-well-known the better), will buy/carry/wear anything bearing a mustache, and generally enjoy "throwback items" like Pabst, handmade bags, their great-grandparents' stuff, and dark rimmed glasses. However, these young-ish adults also want to rebel against the commercialism of the modern world, which is half the reason they like "vintage" things like vinyl records and wood carvings. That's the hippie part of the equation.

I will place myself into this newly created category. I have to consider myself a hipster, although I do NOT appreciate the mustache trend (it's already too "done" for me). However, there are several tell-tale signs that I am one of them: I create my own designs using my sewing machine as well as make stencil art in the basement; I eschewed a new townhome or condo and instead bought a charming old house (built in 1906); I own a record player and found some free records on someone's curb, which I took home exclaiming "how could anyone just throw these away!"; I clear snow the old-fashioned way (see previous posts); and I generally consider my taste unquestionably excellent. I could go on and on, but I think these examples speak for themselves. I also am somewhat leaning toward hippie tendencies, however, as I have recently discovered: I am a pescatarian (and I will probably stop eating seafood in the near future too) because I feel that eating animal meat is both hypocritical and bad for the environment; I joined a local co-op so that I could easily buy local, organic, and natural products while at the same time avoiding corporate behemoths; I'm researching how to make my own clothing detergent and cleaning solutions so that I can use natural products while "voting with my dollars" against the corpo-industrial-complex that runs so much of our society; and I am saving money to have solar panels installed at my house so that I can avoid using energy that comes from coal and nuclear power plants. Again, there are other examples, but I think these illustrate the mindset I carry well enough.

As a hipstie, I would summarize our qualities thusly:

  1. We care about the planet and local environment, and want to impact them as little as possible
  2. We want to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit (those PBR's notwithstanding - clearly spiritually valuable but perhaps not so much for the body or mind)
  3. We do not want to be part of or support the corporate/industrial complexes that currently reign in the society (media, agriculture, energy, etc.)
  4. We reject the consumerism and consumption patterns that have emerged since the 1940's
  5. We ignore the "mass"es - mass media, mass consumption - and embrace the "niche"s (e.g. local bands over American Idol, handmade goods over Walmart mass-produced items)
I'm sure there are more traits to be found, and when I realize I forgot one, I'll be sure to mention it. For now I think this is a pretty decent start. Behold, wonder of wonders, a new demographic has been born! Good luck, marketers! Mwahahahahaaa!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Die Wand des Schnees

I am now convinced that the reason Minneapolis is consistently ranked highly in health & fitness categories is because of all the damn snow clearing we have to do. I just did a 45 minute set of weight lifting (i.e. putting snow in piles via shovel), and I am exhausted. Since this is the only exercise I get - I don't think strolling with the dog counts since it's extremely low intensity - I suppose I should be grateful to live in this hellhole. Yes, we get -60F degree windchills, parking tickets in front of our own houses, and cabin fever the likes of which only Jack Torrance can understand; but at least we have the built-in workout of snow shoveling. Unless you're a lazy bastard who has a snowblower (a.k.a. not a cheap bastard, like me, that doesn't), or a creative but mentally questionable wierdo who uses a flamethrower (granted, he was in North Dakota, and here's his delightful quote).

All I'm saying is that I should probably be grateful for living in a state that "provides me the opportunity" to build a 6 foot high wall of snow just so that I can get in and out of my own garage. Thanks, MN!

The fruits of my labor

My dog is knee-high, so yes, that snow is higher than my head.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Guinea pigs shall inherit the Earth

And now, for your viewing pleasure:

From my new favorite website! Enjoy!

What have dolphins ever done to you?!

It's already time for an angry post. What the fuck is going on in Japan, herding and capturing a bunch of dolphins, many of whom will then be killed?

Albino dolphin captured

This makes me SO mad. I don't care what kind of cultural heritage you claim makes it okay - and I also don't care if you think I'm "culturally insensitive." If this quote doesn't make you question the morality of what is going on, there is no hope for you:

"The calf was removed in a sling that was dragged through the water alongside a small boat.
Prior to this, it had been clinging closely to its mother in the collection pen."
This innocent albino calf was swimming along with its pod, when suddenly they were all penned into a cove, stalked, and then this little guy was taken from its mother. It's fucking sick.

Winter wonderland

This is my life: shoveling paths through the snow in my backyard so the dog doesn't have to squat in 12 inches of the stuff. You're welcome, and I hope you appreciate it.

Neko NOT using her new snowpath

House Rules

I know what you're thinking. "Why are you starting a blog? As if the world needs another self-obsessed, the-world-needs-to-know-what-I'm-thinking asshole, spouting whatever useless bullshit comes to mind." I agree, the world does not - but I do. So I commence this new blog, full of innocent hopes and naive dreams, not particularly caring if anyone else stumbles across it (much less reads it) on this world wide web. I highly doubt that anyone will, actually, so I'm not starting out with an expectation of a Kim Kardashian-esque rise to fame or other such nonsense. This blog doesn't have any kind of theme, either, which conventional wisdom tells me makes it even less likely to get any traffic whatsoever. I just want to put some stuff out there, into the ether, and hope that the NSA doesn't conclude I'm any kind of national security risk. (Trust me, I'm not - I have guinea pigs, for Christ sake.) 

I thought I would put down some house rules, just to clarify what little direction I do intend to have here.
1) Be nice or leave. First rule, always.
2) Keep it interesting. Since I'm the judge of what is interesting, it should be easy.

So there you have it. My first pointless blog post. Keep reading, please. It would be nice of you.