Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

If I Were a Rich (Wo)Man…

Tudor Style House in Berkeley Place Neighborhood

Image by StevenM_61 via Flickr

Sometimes, I hate posting on Friday. I mean, seriously, how can I follow Mandy’s ultra-altruistic post yesterday? Oh well, I’ll do my best…

I like to think about what I would do with millions of dollars. Frankly, I can’t even comprehend that much money.  My first priorities would be practical – pay off the huge amounts of student loans that I have accumulated, the credit card debt that I am actually making some headway on, and pay off my car.  I’d buy myself a nice Craftsman or Tudor style house in North Seattle, preferably within walking/biking distance to school. Unlike a lot of people, I wouldn’t quit my job. I feel that I can do a lot of good where I am and I worked hard to get here. It would nice not to worry about the salary aspect of teaching. I would also pay off my sister and brother-in-laws student loans and buy them a new house.  I’d pay off my mom’s mortgage and buy her a new car.

However, being a teacher leaves some nice chunks of time to travel.  I doubt I would be anywhere near home during the summer, I would spend my Christmas breaks with my East Coast family, and I’d spend the President’s Day week someplace much, much warmer. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, especially since Amanda studied there years ago.  I also would love to travel to South America.

Unlike me, my mother hates her job. Not the job so much, but she’s tired of working at a stressful job.  I would buy her some property somewhere – likely closer to my sister – and let her fulfill her dream of opening a dog shelter for those dogs who don’t have forever homes.  She would do a great job helping these unfortunate dogs whose only crime is existing.  I would start a philanthropic foundation and put Amanda in charge. Then she can fund her fantastic idea for revitalizing urban areas.

Now for the frivolous – I’d buy a studio apartment in Manhattan.  That way I’d have a place to stay when I’m in town. When friends needed it, they could stay for free.  I’d also buy a beach house large enough for family and friends to all come when they choose.  I’d make a significant donation to my school, particularly in the area of technology and to the library.  I’d also have a fully stocked classroom with the most amazing classroom library you’ve ever seen.  I’d like to go back to school to work on my doctorate in a few years. I’d commission someone to make a dog chew toy that Toby doesn’t destroy in less than 10 minutes.  I’d take up dance classes again and finally learn to play the cello.

And I’d definitely fly first class.

Now you can get this stuck in your head too…

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Figured it out

Several months ago, after a giant jackpot was making headlines, I wrote about what I would do if I won the lottery. My responses were similar to most of the other posts this week: taking care of family and friends, having a splurge or two and donating money to charity. In that post, I was struggling if it would be better to “spread the wealth” and give smaller donations to a lot of charities or focus on just a few charities and give a more substantial amount of money so they can make a greater impact. Since that time, I think I have answered my question. Allow me to digress for a moment.

My commute takes me through Newark, NJ. If you are unfamiliar with the area, let me explain that, to put it politely, Newark is not a nice area. In fact, is about as far from a nice area as you can get, or at least the parts I’m familiar with are. There are several abandoned warehouses and factories along the train lines that are covered in graffiti and are being overrun with weeds. It’s a depressing sight, especially if you can imagine back to a time when these factories might have been fully operational, employing hundreds, if not thousands of people with decent jobs that would provide for their families. I ride by these factories nearly every day and am always struck by what a tremendous waste it all is. Real estate in the NYC metro area is at a premium and I can’t help but think this land could be used more productively than as a canvas for local hoodlums armed with spray paint cans.

In recent months, there has been some building in the surrounding blocks. First a parking deck and now what appears to be a retail plaza. It got me thinking about how the abandoned spaces could be better used. I thought how great it would be if someone would build a homeless shelter that would provide much more than a bed to those in need. I started envisioning a modern, airy space that felt more like a home than a prison or dormitory. I imagined a secure playground for children to play in and an onsite day care that would allow parents to go look for work with the peace of mind knowing that their children were safe. I saw a training classroom where residents could get assistance on building a resume and learning computer skills, or improving their literacy. I saw English language classes and trained counselors that would visit regularly to help diagnose and address mental health issues. I thought about how incorporating green technologies and could help the shelter save money and lead to a healthier environment for the residents. And I thought how all of these things together could combine to create a respectful environment where people who have fallen on bad times could get the assistance they need, and actually might have a chance to break the cycle of poverty.

I’m not naïve enough to think this would be a panacea for Newark’s problems. But I’d like to think that a model like this shelter I’m envisioning could have a significant impact on some people’s lives and could truly help them succeed in life. So after much debate and thought, I think I’ve found what I would do with my millions if I won the lottery.

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My diamond shoes are too tight

Every day, a man prays to win the lottery.  He does good deeds, he’s a good person and he prays really hard.  Weeks and months and years go by, and his prayers are unanswered.  Finally, one night, instead of praying to win the lottery, he asks God why he hasn’t won yet.  God ends his years of silence by saying, “You never bought a ticket.”

I don’t usually buy lottery tickets, the 1 in 200 million odds just aren’t enough to motivate me to shell out my dollar.  But I do dream about what I would do and buy with that kind of money.  Of course, my dreams, as ever, are tempered by practicalities.  It would be the amount after taxes, after all.  And my spending habits would depend on whether I decided to take the lump sum payment or the annualized amount.  I’d probably opt for the lump sum, do some investing and only pay taxes on my interest, in case you were wondering. 

I would quit my job.  Lots of people wouldn’t and I understand, but I don’t think I could focus on my work if I was dreaming of my 5pm-9am life of luxury.  I’d buy a couple of houses.  One in New York City, a nice town house in Brooklyn or the Upper West Side.  I wouldn’t live there full-time, so I’d see if my friends wanted to stay there, keep it up and enjoy a rent-free life. 

I’d buy our lake house from my father and his brother, tear it down and build my dream house there.  A Craftsman style home, with a big patio, outdoor kitchen and big windows to watch the water from. 

I’d take a luxury vacation and I’d bring my favorite people with me.  We’d spend the first day getting pampered in the spa, fresh haircuts, new clothes.  Then we’d dance and party and swim (or ski, depending on where we went) and have a grand time for a few weeks. 

I’d make some donations.  Some organizations do wonderful work, and I’d want to support that.

I’d start a business, something to fill my time, employ a few people and make my life fun and interesting.  Maybe I’d help my sister start a business for herself.  Get her the capital and start her off right. 

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.  So, I suppose I should buy a ticket already.

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Worthy Causes

Frosted Banana Nut Cupcakes

Image by clkohan via Flickr

I want to use this space for something a little different this week.  I have recently become aware of Kickstarter – a forum which helps people raise money for various creative products.  I became aware of this because I have two friends who are raising money for two vastly different projects.

The first project is from a college friend of mine.  He wrote a script for a movie and they want to film it this fall.  From his Kickstarter Campaign Page:

Here’s the skinny. Scrappy Cat Productions (managed by J.T. Arbogast and Kimberly Dilts) are teaming up with Director Charles Haine to make Angel’s Perch, an independent feature film. But we need your help!

The basics: Angel’s Perch is slated to begin shooting in Cass, WV in the late summer of 2011. The funding earned through Kickstarter will be used to begin principal photography and secure additional capital prior to shooting. The more support we’re able to raise on Kickstarter, the closer we get to fully funding the film and shooting on schedule. If we reach our financial goal of $25,000 we will have real momentum and a proven crowd of angels, which is essential for making an indie film succeed. Your contribution and interest is critical to get this train going! And we promise it’s going to be a great ride. Any amount of support over $5 gets you behind-the-scenes access, and we’re going to share images, thoughts, videos, and questions as we go. (But we won’t ruin the ending for you. Promise).

I have to say, I love this idea – getting a bunch of people each to pitch in a bit to help the greater whole is fantastic. This group promises those that help out a peek behind the scnes and regular updates on the project so everyone who donates can be a part of the whole process.

The other, equally worthy cause is from another friend of mine. Louisa started a bakery and creamery that specializes in gluten-free and vegan items. Last year, she did the farmer’s markets and worked out of a friend’s commercial kitchen. This year, she bought a trailer and she’s raising money to retrofit it to be her own mobile connection. This will allow her to be more independent and vastly more mobile.  Her Kickstarter Campaign Page says she’s over 40% of the way to her $6500 goal with 20 days left!

I’ve personally donated to each of these groups as I feel that they are both very worthy causes.  Time is starting to run out on both of these projects and they need the help – please consider giving to one or both of them.

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If I had a million dollars…

With all the lottery hoopla last week surrounding the MegaMillions jackpot, I found myself revisiting a question I ponder from time to time: “What would I do if I won a huge jackpot?” I find my mind wandering to this question when I’ve had a particularly frustrating day at work, when any given lottery jackpot has gotten large, or if I want to splurge on something but can’t justify the expense. I consider myself to be a planner; I like to be prepared for all eventualities, so naturally, I have debated this topic. Here’s what I have determined:

  1.  Debt free, naturally:  Bye-bye student loans! So long mortgage! I wouldn’t just cover my own debts of course. Mortgages of our parents? To whom do I write the check? Sisters’ student loans? Taken care of.
  2. Getting our houses in order, literally and figuratively: I’d set up both of our sisters in nice, comfortable houses, paid for in cash so they don’t have to worry it. I’d also get my mom set up in a little house with a yard so her dog can play in. We’d also buy our very own McMansion for ourselves (actually, I wouldn’t want a McMansion, but a nice big house with character on a lot of property). I’d make sure our grandparents were taken care of so they wouldn’t have to worry about money and I’d set up college funds for my current and future nieces and nephews and my future kids. Maybe the kids of my friends too. I’d figure out something special to do for my dad’s family and my in-laws too. Maybe a vacation house in Jamaica for dad to make his annual trip a little bit more comfortable.

Last week’s MegaMillions jackpot was over $300 million. If you took the cash option, you’d be left with about $150 million. Take off taxes and let’s assume you’re still walking away with $100 million. To me, that’s unfathomable. I have no idea how to conceptualize $100 million. My plan above would only take about 4 million dollars (only!) and I’m probably overestimating too. If I were to win a mega jackpot like the MegaMillions jackpot from last week, that would leave me with a whole lot of money. On occasion, I’ve asked my friends and family what they would do if they won a huge jackpot. One of my favorite responses came from one of my friends who said he would get all his friends together and go on a cruise and just party for a week. Sounds like a plan to me! Still, after accounting for various splurges there’s still a lot of money to spend.

I’m sure I would give lots of money to charity. The trick would be to determine who would get all this money. There’s a lot of debate in the philanthropic sector in how to best allocate money. Does it make sense to give fewer large gifts or lots of smaller gifts to a variety of organizations? Personally, I don’t know. I guess when it came to giving away my fortune I’d think about a few causes I really cared about and find organizations with the capacity to really make a difference. In any case, since I wouldn’t have to work I’d have plenty of time to think and do my research and find organizations that could make a real difference with my money. It’s a burden I’d love to bear.

 So….what would YOU do if you won a mega jackpot?

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The best decision I’ve ever made

I move a lot.  In the past ten years I’ve moved nine times.  No, seriously, I’ve just counted and I’m as astonished as you are.  These weren’t just cross-town moves.  Seven of nine moves took me to another state or cross country. 

Every time, it’s the same  fever dream of anxiety, heavy lifting and yelling.  In most of these moves (save one) my family has been the backbone of the moving effort (which explains the yelling).  Friends help out, lending me their arms and backs in exchange for beer and pizza.  But every time, I feel like it’s an unending torture and I hate it. 

Also, for some reason known only to meteorologists, I always move on either the hottest, or the coldest, day of the year. 

I have acquired something of a moving expertise, however.  I’ve inherited my father’s calibrated eye so I can easily determine whether something will fit in a small space.  I’m a great packer, and I usually emerge on the other end of the move with all of my belongings intact.  And I’m a pretty good weeder-out of things I no longer need.  (A separate and very funny story has two of my best friends in a deathrace for the give-away box of books and dvds from one of my more recent moves)

But, I finally got fed up with all the bullshit hassle that a move entails.  So, for my most recent move, cross-town from Somerville to Brighton, I broke down and hired movers. 

Let me tell you, that was the BEST $300 I ever spent. 

In typical fashion, the day of my move saw a 20 degree increase in temperatures.  I had asked my dad and my sister to help with the final push and they showed up early, before the moving team arrived.  My dad looked at me and said, “What do you need me to do?”

I wish I had a picture of the look on his face when I handed him the keys to my new place and said, “Can you go over and be there to let the movers in? Thanks.” Shock and awe and absolutely zero lifting.  He was bowled over.  He hastened out the door before I could change my mind.

The moving team arrived and they took 25 minutes to load the truck and were underway while my sister and I finished cleaning and throwing out the remaining detritus.  About another 25 minutes later, we were all in the new place, the movers were finishing up and I signed the bill and sent them on their way. 

It was all over by 11 am and worth every penny.

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I hereby resolve…

I seem to do this post almost every year (2008, 2010). For me, I feel like stating my resolutions publicly helps me stick to them, as if the readers of my post will hold me accountable. Realistically, I know that most people just read them and then forget about them, but I don’t. I think it really does help me. So, here I am, ready to list the resolution I will attempt in 2011.

First, though, I want to look back at what I resolved last year and how I did:

Goal #1:  Improve my health

I think I pretty much failed at this one. Not that I didn’t try.  I did well for awhile – I was working out with a trainer and was increasing my endurance.  However, my trainer was suddenly let go when the gym decided to sell to another gym. I tried with another trainer, but she left soon after.  I did okay on my own for awhile until I got sick at the end of the summer. I don’t get sick often, but when I do, it’s a doozy. I was unable to do much working out for weeks. Then the school year started and I had a hard time making working out a priority.

Goal #2:  Manage my money

It’s not too hard to manage your money when you don’t have much. Coming out of grad school, I definitely had more debt than I had before school. However, I managed to win a scholarship and was able to continue subbing throughout my student teaching, so it could have been worse. As I am about to get my third regular paycheck since starting my new job,  I’m finally getting to a point that I am comfortable. My bills are all paid, including extra to pay down my credit cards. I’ve saved up a deposit for a new apartment. I think I did as well as I could, considering my situation.

Goal #3:  Get a job

Woot! I got this one covered. As most of our regular readers know, I was hired at the end of September as a special education teacher in a north Seattle middle school. It was an unexpected move for me – I wanted a high school in Snohomish county – but it’s really working out well so far and I’m truly happy with my students, my school, and my colleagues.

Okay, now for 2011. I feel this will be a year of many changes. I’m finally in a place to take some steps that I have wanted to take in awhile.

Goal #1:  Move out to my own place

I am eternally grateful to my mother, who let me move in with her when I decided to move back to the Seattle area a little more than three years ago. We get along well, so it worked out nicely. However, neither of us expected on me staying this long. We also didn’t expect the recession, me losing my job, and the crash of the housing market. Staying here turned out to be to both of our advantages over the past 18 months, but I am ready to move on. My stuff has been in storage since I got here and I miss it. I want my own space where I can do things my own way, instead of the same way my mother has been doing them for the last 30 years. I have a deposit saved up, I just need to find a nice little place that takes 20 lb. dogs!

Goal #2: Expand my social circle

When I lived back in PA/NJ/NY, I had a great groups of friends that I could call up and they would come to visit or I would visit them. There were months where I rarely spent a weekend at home because I was off visiting someone else.  Since I moved here, I haven’t had much of a social life. It got a little better this past year when I met some great people at the UW, but we’ve sort of lost touch these last few months – half of us are starting new jobs, the rest are in their student teaching. I hope that in moving down toward Seattle, I will better be able to meet up with friends and make new ones.

Burke-Gilman Trail

Image by nathansnostalgia via Flickr

Goal #3:  Improve my health

I hate making excuses, but I really feel that moving will also help this goal. I will have more control over the food that comes into my house (if someone buys cookies, I will eat cookies!). I will also gain about two hours a day since my commute will be much shorter.

The biggest area for improvement is in exercising. I need to lose a bit of weight, and according to Toby’s last vet appointment, he could lose a pound or two as well. So, he and I need to get out for some nice long walks soon. The area I’m looking at moving to is right near the Burke-Gilman trail, a long bike/running trail along Lake Washington. I bought a bike last spring and haven’t been able to use it much.  It would be convenient to ride on the trail or even to work everyday. Ideally, I would like to run a 5K in the fall. I’m not going to commit to a specific one because I’m not sure when I will be able to get started, but there are plenty of great runs in the fall that I can choose from, including the 5K that is part of the Seattle Marathon weekend (which takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving). I’ll figure that out when it all gets a little closer.

They aren’t ambitious goals. I know my life is going to change a lot in the first few months of the year, and everything that I’m hoping to accomplish will be greatly affected by that.

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This year I resolve to:

  • Spend more time with my friends.
  • Spend more time outdoors.
  • Eat less; move more.
  • Spend less; save more.
  • Write more, of everything: email, letters, cards, essays.

It’s a typical list, no?  It’s approximately the same one I make every year.  In 2010 I even made significant progress on several of these fronts.  I made myself proud, really.  I didn’t make any changes until mid-year, so I suppose that doesn’t really count as keeping a New Year’s Resolution, but rather, just making a change.

This year, the holidays hit me hard and I hit right back:  I hit the cookies; I hit the booze; I hit the buffet table (multiple times).  So, I’m resolving, right here and now, to attack my New Year’s Resolutions with the same vigor and intensity that I’ve had for food and drink these past few weeks.

Saturday morning, I’m going for a run.  It will be my first since Thanksgiving.  Wish me luck!

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The Joys of Home Ownership

I tried. I really, really tried. I’ve noticed my blog posts tend to be on the snarky side. While I enjoy snarkiness and sarcasm, I thought you, my lovely readers, might like a change of tone. Maybe not everyone appreciates sarcasm and dry wit. I had half a post written out about common, every day things I’m appreciative of. This post will have to wait for another week because now I need to discuss the *ahem* joys of home ownership.

I had just put dinner in the oven and began cleaning up the dishes I had used in putting everything together. Tonight’s dinner was chimichangas – quite delicious, but also quite messy. I dried off the last pan and put it away and went to get something from under the sink. I pulled it out and felt that it was wet and covered in food particles – never a good sign. We pulled everything out from under the sink and began investigating. We discovered an 1/8th hole in the metal housing of the garbage disposal. So rather than disposing, it’s more spraying. Of course, we’re planning a party for Saturday and I have to do lots of baking between now and then. Perfect timing as always.

I guess this is the home repair of the year. Last year was the water heater. I had fortunately stayed home late that morning because I had a dentist appointment. Right after my husband left I heard a strange noise that I couldn’t identify. I soon smelled gas too, which really freaked me out so I called my husband. Fortunately he hadn’t gone far and was able to come back. In the meantime, I found out it was the water heater that had gone and was able to kill the water before it got to the carpet (The gas smell came from the pilot light of the furnace being blown out by the water heater breaking). Had I not been there, water would have been running for about 12 hours before either of us came back home. All the carpets and a good portion of the furnishings would have been lost. It was another headache, but certainly much better than it could have been.

Aside from these minor calamities, there’s the painting and the general upkeep – changing old, loose electrical outlets; having the air conditioning and furnace maintained; getting the dryer vents cleaned. We bought the condo because at the time, it made more sense than renting an apartment. We figured we could sell the condo when we were ready to upgrade and use the proceeds of the sale to have a nice down payment on our next house.  And then the housing market tanked. I know prices around us aren’t nearly as bad as other parts of the country, but still, I would be shocked and amazed if we don’t own more on our house than its worth. Oh well. What are you going to do? We’re not worried about making our payments and I’m sure when we’re ready to sell, something will work out. It’s just when “one more thing” like this happens I really question this whole home-owning racket.

What are YOU smiling at, House? (free-clipart-of.com)

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Give it Away, Give it Away Now…

American coins (also a jigsaw puzzle )

Image by uhuru1701 via Flickr

I could have written any of the posts this week. I, too, chose a job I love over better paying options. I, too, made a poor choice to go to (the same) expensive graduate school and will be paying for it until approximately 2036 (that is not an exaggeration!)  I have also felt the belt tightening and have chosen to turn down an employment opportunity because my gut said so (and yes, Christine, it did work out for the best!)  I have rarely been what most would call financially stable, and certainly not in the last three years.

But this post isn’t about that.  It’s about giving it away.

To be honest, I hate money.  I hate what it does to people, I hate what people do for it, and I hate how for so many it drives life.  The one thing I do like about money (besides buying that occasional pair of shoes) is giving to various charities.

Even though I haven’t been financially stable, I still find it very important to give money to various charities.  I give regularly to my church. It’s not a lot, but it’s steady and it adds up.  I also like to give to charities such as the Susan G. Koman Foundation, especially when people are doing the 5K run or the 3-Day walk.  I support friends in Relay For Life, and for many other national charities.

I also try to support locally.  Last year, the Rainier Valley Food Bank was broken into just before Thanksgiving and everything was stolen. Due to a news story and an outpouring of support, they were able to fully furnish many in need with their holiday dinner.  Last year, my mother and I took a carload of dog food, blankets, towels, and a pet carrier too small for our animals to the Everett Animal Shelter. I also have a soft spot for school fundraisers for either my students or friend’s kids. I didn’t really need that 3 lbs. of Snickerdoodle cookie dough, I did it for the High School ROTC program. 🙂

I’m not trying to make myself look all saintly.  My point is that even when you don’t have a lot, you can still give.  None of these were huge donations – $25 here, $15 there.  But it still made a difference to those in need and made me feel better about my world.

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