Thursday, February 21, 2013

Weekend Reading: A Good American

A Good American by Alex George.  Penguin 2012.

I was just complaining to someone a while back about how no one writes multigenerational epics anymore.  I was pretty young when this was a major literary trend, but I remember scavenging my mother's book collection and finding Sidney Sheldon books like Master of the Game and Windmills of the Gods which covered a family over many years, and were just fascinating.  I've had people come into the library as well and ask if we had multigenerational sagas, but all the ones I could find were quite old and the person had already read them.

Now I have a new one to recommend: A Good American.

I honestly had no idea what to expect with this book, but I really, really liked it.  It's a pretty slim volume, but it's written in a kind of languid pace and since it covers three generations, it seems much longer--but in a good way.  I savored this book, which is unusual for me because I usually just blast right through and finish a book in about two days (I'm not bragging, I'm just an impatient person).

Best takeaways:

Hard Work:  Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer are German immigrants who somewhat unexpectedly land in Beatrice Mississippi when Jette gives birth to their son Joseph a couple days early, before they can make it to St. Louis.  They befriend the local doctor, who also owns the local bar, start working for him, and eventually buy the bar.  Once prohibition takes hold, they convert the bar into a lunch restaurant, then an all day place.  I don't know what it is, maybe I just yearn for a simpler time, but I love stories about people who just work hard and profit because of it.  There's no strategy (aide from giving people what they want i.e. booze or food), there's no investment scheme, just good, honest (for the most part) work.

Barbershop Quartet: The Meisenheimer's are also quite musical, and Frederick and Jette wind up with four grandsons--the perfect number for a babershop quartet.  I don't know why I found this who storyline so interesting, but it was just neat.  This was something I've never thought about before, and the music lifestyle is one I know nothing about.

Charming Anecdotes:  Since this is a story about so many people, it's just jampacked with funny little incidents of every day life, which is something I really enjoy in books.  Overall, it's a serious work, but there are just so many funny insertions and hilarious asides that I was cracking up way more than I thought I would.  I don't want to give anything away, but trust me when I say that this book is much funnier than its cover would let you believe.

Overall, I enjoyed this book tremendously, and I'm so glad I got to read it.  I never would have picked this up on my own, and I'm really looking forward to the discussion in the BlogHer Book Club, which I encourage everyone to check out as well.

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Craigslist Bragging Spot

I don't use Craigslist for a ton of things, generally because it's super annoying, and people are crazy, but I have had good luck with exercise equipment.  About four years ago, I bought a treadmill for about $100 and then proceeded to just wear the damn thing out.  I realized recently that the belt is just slowly crumbling away and likely to completely snap very soon.  So I started shopping.

I emailed about five people on Craigslist who were selling treadmills for as much as I wanted to pay, and none of them wrote back to me.  Then I started looking into buying a new one.  The biggest problem with Craigslist for large items like a treadmill is that I don't have a vehicle large enough to transport it.  I'd have to try to borrow one from someone and/or rent a truck, which takes more planning and time.  If I buy a new one, I figured, I might pay a little more, but I can get free shipping.

I started to get bummed out looking at prices for new, kind of crappy treadmills online.  Turns out that the amount of money I want to pay doesn't really get you much in treadmill-land, and I struggled to come up with a new plan.

Thankfully, I was on Craigslist one day as a new ad for a treadmill was posted, and I emailed the guy right away.  After some back and forth, he even agreed to deliver the machine for an extra $25.  So my new treadmill arrived last week and I forked over some hard-earned cash after hauling it into the basement and doing a quick walk on it to make sure that it worked.

Then I tried to run on it.

Turns out that the reason I probably got such a deal on it is because the belt was slipping.  I could barely walk at a brisk pace on this thing, let alone run, and I started to feel even sadder than before.  I hoped that it was just dusty from sitting in storage, but after cleaning it off, no luck.

So I did what any modern gal would do--I took to the internet to try to find a solution and it came in the form of this video:
After ransacking the basement and our apartment trying to find the appropriately sized allen wrench (seriously, how can we have a house full of IKEA furniture and only two sizes of allen wrench?), I FIXED MY TREADMILL!

I now have a functional, gym-quality treadmill of my very own!  I was so excited, I ran on it far longer than I should and now my legs are sore--but I don't care.

I was so, so bummed when I thought I spent $125 on a crap treadmill, but now I think I got such a good deal because the guy just wanted to unload it!  I'm damn near euphoric, and it took about 20 minutes total to fix (once I found the appropriate tools).  Double bonus, the city will haul away my old, broken down treadmill for free.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Frugal Perks of the Storm of the Century

I just woke up to a world of white:
Across the street
Tree in front of my house
I'm pretty excited to get out there and go sledding later, but let's take this massive winter storm and make some lemonade!  You could get cranky because all travel is banned and you're stuck at home indefinitely, or you can take this historic weather event and find the frugal perks, which is what I will be doing.
  1. Everyone knows it's cheaper to eat at home--no you have no excuse not to!
  2. Everything snow related is excellent exercise--shoveling, sledding, just walking in it.  So what if you can't make it to the gym, you can still get a good workout.
  3. A chance to finally use those snow shoes/ skis that you own without searching out some luxury ski deals and all the planning involved with that.
  4. If you lose power, you save money on power?  This one doesn't really count, but at least in the winter, you can put your freezer food outside and lose less.
  5. It's an excellent excuse to hunker down with a book, which you should have gotten free from the library.
You can find more awesome snow photos here and here, and I'm going to get outside soon and take more crappy cell phone pics.  Stay warm, everyone!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Branching Out

My motto has always been, "Why have one job when you can have three!"  Just kidding--kind of.  Same goes for blogs.  I've noticed that this blog, though it's supposed to be about personal finance, keeps dipping a toe into sports and fitness.  I'm taking this as a sign that I finally need to start a running blog.  I've been thinking about it for years, but never felt like I was actually good enough to do it (same mental wrestle I had about starting this blog too).

After all, other people that write about running are REAL RUNNERS, I'm just a faker.  So I decided to embrace my faker status and start a running blog for the completely average runner.  If you want to follow my adventures as I enter the 2013 racing season and try to convince myself that I need to stretch and do cross-training, join me at:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Don't Want That

I've mentioned my co-worker before and how her poor health serves as a cautionary tale about getting older and (possibly) making poor choices.  I really don't know too much about why she's so sick, but she takes 25 pills a day, and that's just not something I want in my future.  I don't want to seem like I'm picking on the woman, but we had a brief conversation a few days ago that terrified me to my very core.

The organization I work for recently switched dental insurance providers, so we were all waiting for new cards to arrive in the mail.  Mine came--with a horrible, laughable misspelling of my name and a misprint of my address.  I'm not even sure how it actually arrived at my house, or how long it took for the mail carrier to figure out it was supposed to come to me (they put a Z in my last name--there's no Z).  My co-worker was wondering aloud when we would get our cards, and I told her that mine had arrived about two weeks ago.

"I've been avoiding looking at the mail lately, I guess I'll have to take a look." She said.

Her husband has been in Intensive Care with a laundry list of problems since before Thanksgiving.  They had to bring him in am ambulance more than 60 miles at one point and I can't imagine what other expenses are piling up--even with the decent health insurance we have.  She's over 60, in poor health herself, in a constant state of worry about him and also money and I'm pretty sure that she has no savings and probably a paltry retirement fund.

That is my worst nightmare.

Whenever I try to talk myself out of putting money in my IRA, I think of her.
Whenever I think it might be more fun to buy something silly, I think of her.
I think of the fact that she probably wants to retire--in fact she had retired two years ago and then had to come back to work full time, and I just don't want that.

Saving for the future may not be the sexiest thing in the world, and plenty of people think 'oh, I'm too young to start worrying about that', but she's only 30 years older than me, and both she and her husband are falling apart--financially and healthwise.  I don't want that.

I want a real retirement and to be healthy enough to actually enjoy it.  Sure, things could change and my health could go south through no fault of my own, but to have the added stress of being broke on top of that?  Not interested.