Monday, March 30, 2015


I successfully completed my little experiment to resist the temptation to spread out my work and just do it already. I didn't work as quickly as I might have. If I had, I would have finished about a day before I did, but all in all, it was successful.

Now I am in my third week of nothing to do at work. I have had one-off jobs that take a few minutes, but for the vast majority of my time, I have been aimlessly clicking around the Internet, grasping at conversations, looking for something to do. It's painful.

I have done some procrastinated research on money software and finally revamped my whole retirement portfolio since my employer decided to "make retirement simpler and easier" by eliminating all of our previous choices, forcing us to roll our entire portfolio into something else, and requiring us to choose new funds for future contributions. Easier and simpler, indeed. The time has not been completely in vain, but I have fast run out of things to do.

So what have I learned here?

I definitely think it was worthwhile to push through my desire for distraction and just work. There was some disciple to be practiced. It's good to practice.

But I was right in dreading the inevitable outcome. I still have three more days before the new monthly files start trickling in again. I squirm in my chair. Getting out of bed is harder knowing all I have to look forward to is clicking around the Internet all day. That's fun for a day or two, but it gets old. Painfully boring, sometimes. Even writing blog posts is harder because there is nothing pricking my mind into activity.

Will I keep it up? I don't know.

In April, I am taking the entire first full week off of work, thanks to the new vacation policy. The first week of the month is my busiest time. In the past, there was someone available to pick up my slack, but those people have left. When I return towards the middle of the month, I will be very busy since a) I will be behind and b) April is a short work month anyway.

But May? I will have to decide if I will again practice working through distractions. Perhaps I will do it again. We are hoping that I will be able to submit my resignation in May or June. I can slug through those months of two weeks of work and two weeks of nothing without much discouragement.

One thing I have discovered is that I don't feel nearly as bad about all the work procrastination over the years. I have silently berated myself for wasting so much time at work, but I have a clearer understanding of how it is a coping mechanism more than a shirking of duty. I was right to suspect weeks without any work would be very uncomfortable to endure. I think this boom and bust cycle would be difficult to maintain for years. Even now, I feel the lethargy creeping. Even though it is a maladjustment outside of work and I need to break the work habits when outside of work, I think I have probably been a better employee for slacking than not, perverse though it sounds. My tolerance would be much lower by now if I had endured eight years of these weeks of boredom.

But practicing differently for now might bear some good fruit. Hopefully though, the end is near and I will develop a little more self control right here approaching commencement. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Putting Your Marriage First

The Friday outrage centered around this deeply misguided Good Housekeeping article where the author explains why it is okay that she is a terrible wife and that she puts her children and everything else above her husband on her priority list. Anne gives the piece the fisking it deserves.

And yet I am somewhat sympathetic to her plight.

“For most of the last 10 years, I’ve been the breadwinner. I worked long hours commuting into Manhattan full-time. Now, John has a job, but I still commute, and also work from home trying to keep us ahead of the bills.”

Breadwinner and mother. It's challenging and exhausting. There are so many demands made on you, your body, and your time and there isn't enough of you to go around. You are completely used up, not in a sweet, fulfilling kind of way, but in a chewed-up and spit out kind of way.

I recognize the temptation to view your spouse as an adult who just has to deal while you tend to the more urgent demands in life. It's hard to carve out time for your marriage when you don't have a strong, philosophical understanding that your marriage must be your top priority. It's hard even when you do have that understanding.

When your time at home is extremely limited, your children don't care that you are tired or have been working all day or that their father also needs your attention. They want your attention. Now. They need it and have a right to it.

 “John’s a great dad, but I play a singular role in each of my kid’s lives.”

It could be that the author is one of those women who demands to be in complete control over her children's lives and leaves nothing to her husband's judgement. He must not pick out the toddler's clothes because He. Won't. Do. It. Right. We all know people like this, so it could be. Or it could be that children want their mother's attention more than any of us quite remember or imagine.

My children spend the majority of their time with my husband. He changes diapers and gives baths and rocks babies and drives them to activities and does all the standard parenting that goes with 'at home' parenting. And yet I am the one to whom they want to pour out their problems. When I come home from work, it is I who gets to hear about the problems of the day. Problems that they never breathe in his direction, even though he asks about their day. It's isn't because he won't listen, but because I am their mother. They surround me, fight over me, and cling to me. I am astounded by how much children desire their mother. And, honestly, I am astounded that I am astounded. What could be more natural? And yet the culture has beaten this knowledge out of us.

It's easy to want to sleep after the children go to bed, especially when you know one of them will be waking in the night soon enough. My husband isn't the only one who sometimes gets overlooked. There are other things that get pushed down the priority list too, like my own hobbies and personal exercise. When you only have three to four hours a night to do EVERYTHING, a lot just isn't going to happen even if it is important.

Our oldest is nine so we still haven't exited the demanding stages of early childhood. Of course, parents of older children and teenagers say it doesn't ever get any easier, it only changes. (Oh, I don't know. I say if you get to sleep all night, it has to be easier than being woken up twice a night, every night.) But I understand the temptation to say I am done for today. I can see where you might slide into a habitual doneness if you didn't actively decide to avoid it.

If you happen to have a worldview that puts having a career! and micro-managing your children as the most important activities in your life, which is pretty common these days, I can see why you would put your spouse at the bottom of the priority list. If you must work and commute eleven hours a day and be the class room mother and plan blowout birthday parties and have your children involved in seventeen different enrichment activities and sleep and eat with your remaining time, what's left? You are completely expended. You have nothing left to give your spouse. I can understand why she can't see her way out of the problem.

Now unlike the author, I don’t think this situation is okay and I don’t think it is sustainable. Something has to give. I am already not a micromanaging parent and yet, most of the time, I feel stretched to my limit. For me, my status as breadwinner is preventing me from leading the life that we want to live and prevents me from putting first the people who need to be first. They might be first in my intentions, but my time is a different matter. We are fighting hard to change our lives so I can put my priorities in the proper order. The order *we* want them in.

But until you see that using yourself up in your job is the problem, that the money you make isn't worth the broken relationships and sheer exhaustion from doing it all, that there is more to life than avoiding student loans, and that a happy, stable marriage is the best gift you can give to your children, I can totally understand why she thinks she has no other options than to ignore her husband and hope he is still around when the children leave.

This author is wrong, but I understand more than I would like. It's like peaking over into the dark side of what might have happened if we didn't deliberately choose another path. When I read what she has to say about her life, I feel scorn and outrage and wonder what her husband thinks about his public castration, but I mostly feel pity.  Their children need their marriage more than her money.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Story of my HOA

Continuing about my house, let me tell you about the neighborhood. The place I live is a large neighborhood just outside of the city limits. It is former farmland and was purchased by a general contractor in the early 90s and he developed it over time.

The central feature in the subdivision is a lake. The lake is contained by a man-made dam which has to be inspected and maintained. Inspections and maintenance cost money.  How to pay for this? The developer decided to create an HOA and grant the HOA ownership and responsibility for the dam. Since most of the lakefront property was going to be used as housing lots, it was probably decided that creating an HOA to maintain a lake that only a handful of residents would be able to access would not fly very far so one of the lakefront lots was designated as a park for the neighborhood. From the park, all homeowners should have access to the park and have an area for recreation and gatherings. It sounds like a pretty good plan.

Reality didn't quite work out that way.

What actually happened was the developer decided the HOA was his personal favor granting machine. He decided, as he built and developed houses, he would selectively exempt buyers from the HOA. Amazingly many of the homeowners around the lake were exempted from membership in the HOA. Also his friends and family earned exemption. But the suckers who were strangers and lived away from the lake? They totally were required to join the HOA to pay for the lake. Looking at a coded map of the neighborhood which shows which homes are required members and which are not shows how completely random and non-random the membership is.

Each new section of the subdivision was developed under a separate covenant filing. In one part of the neighborhood, the fences have to be chain link and in another the fences have to be wooden. In one part, goats and chickens are allowed, in others they are disallowed. Different rules for different houses built at different times. Why did he decide to make up new rules all the time? I cannot say, but it is a mess to manage. That is going to have to be rectified over time.

It is my understanding that since the subdivision was still in development, the developer was not obligated to create an HOA board until a certain percentage of the lots were built. The neighborhood was completely at his mercy until he decided it wasn't. It is also my understanding that way back in the beginning, he collected HOA dues.

The park, which was to justify the entire neighborhood maintaining a lake which legally belonged to the lakefront homeowners, never really came to be. An narrow asphalt road was laid down, a basketball net erected, and a tiny wooden gazebo installed. The grass was almost never mowed. Since no attempt was made to maintain even these small improvements, the "park" soon fell into disrepair and no one except an undesirable population from mostly outside the neighborhood even attempted to use it. 

Eventually he stopped collecting dues, stopping acting like an HOA existed, and, I guess, maintained the dam on his own dime.

When we moved into our house in 2007, there was no mention of an HOA. It wasn't on the real estate forms. It wasn't on the title insurance. It wasn't anywhere. We lived in ignorance for months until a neighbor mentioned the HOA in passing one day. I was positive I had never seen anything about an HOA. She said not to worry because the dues were never collected. I scoured our documents once again and confirmed that an HOA had never been disclosed to us and I put it out of my mind.

Then in June 2010, when I was nine months pregnant with Sam, we received a notice in the mail. The developer was relinquishing his control of the HOA, there was to be a membership meeting in July to vote on a board, and we owed a certain sum in yearly dues. I was livid and I wasn't alone.

The meetings that followed featured yelling. A lot of yelling. It seems that we were not alone in being completely uninformed about the existence of the HOA. Many were adamant that not only were they not current members, they were never going to be members. At those first meetings, a board was elected. Well, elected is a strong word. A few people volunteered and that was the end of it.

After I emerged from my postpartum haze, I researched the state law concerning HOAs and discovered that it did not matter if it was disclosed or not. If our property was listed as a member property--and it was--we were automatically members and had to pay dues. The only recourse was for us to sue the title company for non-disclosure and even then damages are limited to the dues. So, so not worth it. As much as I was annoyed, we accepted that we really and truly were members. We write our yearly check and try to stay out of the neighborhood drama.

It seems that many will never come to this acceptance. Many still don't pay their dues to this day and have multiple liens on their property. Every HOA meeting descends into insults and yelling.

So we had a new board. That meant the control of the neighborhood was finally in the hands of the homeowners, right? Not quite.

The first immediate problem with the HOA was the dues. The homeowner's dues had not been collected in nearly a decade and the by-laws required a quorum vote by all the membership to raise the dues more than 10%. That was never going to happen. So we had dues that were ten years behind inflation--which I was personally glad for--and a decade's worth of neighborhood neglect to fix.

The second problem was the people who volunteered to be on the board. They understood what they were about and what was at stake. There was a reason they immediately jumped on the train. Most of them lived near the lake. One of them actually owned the property which contained the dam. While it was generally accepted, although not completely undisputed, that the HOA had to maintain the dam, there was disagreement about what maintenance meant. The board member who owned the dam wanted his property mowed weekly during the growing season. The other board members agreed and so it came to be. Then as time went on, more and more vacant lots were deemed necessary for the HOA to mow. And, lo and behold, most of those vacant lots were next door to properties owned by board members. Other vacant lots weren't so high on the priority list.

The third problem was all the associated legal wranglings. The developer refused to turn over the park land to the HOA. The HOA members were refusing to pay dues. So the board was simulateously suing the developer over land and paying a lawyer big bucks to explain over and over that yes, you really can't decide you aren't an HOA member just because you don't want to be and yes, the HOA has to maintain the dam because that is what the founding documents require. And they were paying legal fees to issue liens.

The vast majority of the dues were being eaten by legal fees, paying for the yearly dam inspection, and the rest of it was spent mowing grass on or near board member properties.

After about a year, the board decided they were tired of it because they got yelled at a lot, and they single-handedly hired a management company. Hiring the company quadrupled the HOA dues. Now *that* was an ugly meeting. Of course, they had no standing to quadruple the dues and it was never going to pass a vote, so the management company left just as quickly as they came.

This was the state of affairs for some time.

After the management company debacle, there wasn't much movement with the HOA until it became apparent the board members weren't that interested in holding another election for their replacement.
They would not hold an election until a quorum was established which is fine enough, but they wouldn't resign at the end of their terms and they would not make any extra effort to creatively establish quorum aside from being physically present at the yearly meeting. If quorum wasn't established at the meeting, they just decided they would stay in office for another year. This was a source of discontent.

A lady in the neighborhood decided getting the old board out of power and a new board elected was going to be her special project. While I generally agreed with her objections, her methods lacked a lot to be desired. Her major point of attack was to argue about what a quorum is. She fundamentally did not understand why quorums existed or how to calculate one.

The by-laws stated that quorum was established by the presence of 50% plus one households of eligible voting households in the HOA. Only households with dues paid up-to-date were eligible.

It blew her mind that with every new household that came to grips with the idea that yes, they had to be members of the HOA and pay dues and then *actually* paid their dues, the number required to meet quorum would change. She desperately wanted quorum to mean the majority of those who show up.

Now I have to give her credit because she hounded and harassed the board into finding creative ways to meet quorum. They were so tired of her, they finally agreed to proxy ballots and canvassing the neighborhood, and doing all the things they should have been doing all along. In the process we got a nice argument over whether ballots returned blank or marked abstention should counted towards quorum requirement. Obviously yes, but that would have been too easy.

Eventually the old board was removed and a new one elected. The cranky lady immediately turned her sights on the new board and demanded that her understanding of the word quorum be put to a vote. And so it was. Or something. We got a ballot in the mail, but we haven't had the yearly meeting yet. And she is back to arguing that we don't have to maintain the dam (except we do). I expect the next meeting to feature more yelling as well. Have mercy as I get to listen to people argue over the meaning of clearly defined words.

But the unnecessary mowing ceased, the HOA quickly gained title to the park, the cleanup has begun, and things are all around on a better track. Many still don't pay dues, but what are you going to do?

That's the HOA here.


You know, in retrospect, June 2010 was a pretty rough month. I was nine months pregnant. I was passed over for promotion for the second year in a row. I had a horrible respiratory illness where I was prescribed precautionary antibiotics because they didn't want an infection so close to delivery. All the other people in the household were sick too. And the HOA got dumped in our lap.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Random Observations

This is not an announcement. I just was reading an FB thread that made me think about it.

The most productive days of my life are probably the ten days between confirming a pregnancy and the onset of a year of incapacitation. All the things that have been nagging at me get done immediately in a frenzy of desperate activity as I wait for the other shoe to drop. It all comes to a sudden stop on that dreadful morning when I finally wake up with a queasy stomach.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Music I Actually Like

Since I have been cranky about the church music, I thought I would make amends and tell you what I actually like to hear at church. Again this list will be pieces I really hear in my current parish. I am totally running down the index, so it will be in alphabetical order.

1. All Creatures of Our God and King
2. Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
3. Be Thou My Vision.
4. Crown Him with Many Crowns.
5. Faith of Our Fathers.
6. For All the Saints.
7. Go Make of All Disciples.
8. Hail, Holy Queen.
8. Holy, Holy, Holy. (the hymn not the Mass part)
9. On Jordan’s Bank.
10. Panis Angelicus.  <--- I can count how few times, but it did happen.
11. Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow.
12. The Church’s One Foundation.
13. The King of Love My Shepherd Is.
14. ’Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here.
15. What Wondrous Love Is This.
16.  We Walk by Faith.  <-- See, I am not totally immune.
17.  Ye Sons and Daughters.

There is one more that literally has two verses that you just sing over and over, but it is eluding me at the moment. I like that one too. If you have a guess, tell me.

But my very favorite of all time is Alleluia Chant Mode vi. I can't describe how happy it makes me to sing it. 

What are your favorites?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Songs That Make Me Weep...

...because I never want to hear them again. With apologies to those of you who like these songs. We can still be friends.  :)

In my agitation over the musical situation at my parish, I ran across this piece which offers the sage advice that if you can't sing the music you want to hear at your parish, you are not yet part of the solution. The first step is to teach yourself first. That's advice I can actually use and fit into my current life's schedule.

So in the meantime, here are church pieces that if I never hear them again, it might be too soon. I am only including songs heard at my current parish. There are more from my childhood parish, but I'd rather not be reminded.

1. On Eagle's Wings.  The melody starts on the tritone, the devil's own interval, for crying out loud.
2. Hosea.  Fresh from Mass this weekend
3. Gather Us In.  What is this song about?
4. City of God.  I can't help but think of Starship every time.
5. Lord of the Dance. This one horrifies me.
6. Here I Am, Lord.  The changing viewpoints where we totally put words in God's mouth.
7. Be Not Afraid.  I just don't like it.
8. All Are Welcome. Again, what is this song about?
9. Eye Has Not Seen.  Flashbacks from childhood.
10. Hail Mary, Gentle Woman.  It just goes on and on.
11. Let There Be Peace On Earth.  What are we, a bunch of hippies?
12. Sing A New Song Unto the Lord.  I just don't like it.
13. They Will Know We Are Christians.  Because we are the greatest ever.
14. One Bread, One Body.  Not because it is so terrible, but because it is so overused.
15. Mass of Creation. Also so, so overused.

That's my top 15. I am sure I have forgotten some. Tell me where I am wrong or add to it, if you like.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Things That Annoy Me #4

You get a two-fer of annoyance and they are both Facebook related since I am spending copious time there today.

There is an odd habit that some people have where they explain a problem they have, ask for help and advice, and then proceed to shoot down every suggestion as impossible.

The other day I saw on a group page where someone said their family's spending was out of control and they wanted advice about budgeting. Every single suggestion was declined.

"Track your spending" We buy stuff at too many different places.
"Cut nonessential spending" Most of our expenses are required.
"Buy Budgeting software" I don't have time to input data.
"Use envelopes" I don't like carrying cash.
"Have budget meetings with your husband." He doesn't think we have a money problem.

Since keeping my money records up-to-date is the housekeeping task I prioritize over anything else, these exchanges caught my attention. Now, I don't think everyone needs to be as fastidious as I am about it. I wish I could relax a bit, but my spreadsheets make me so happy.

But it is practice more than the specific topic that I'm pointing out. I ask questions on a regular basis, but I really want suggestions. If you don't really want help, why ask for help? If you just want to whine, whine. But this ritual of whining in the form of advice seeking annoys me.


The other thing that bugs me is when people delete threads and posts over minor disagreements. I know that the online world can get ugly and that when things go astray, the delete button is a legitimate option. I certainly understand needing to take drastic action when the discourse descends into a lunchroom food fight. I am not talking about that.

I am talking about when someone posts a link to an article and gets any response that is anything less than, "This is so awesome! Love it! I am so inspired!" For some reason any ambivalent, "I am not sure I agree with this." type of response demands the delete button. This annoys me because it seems so fake. Why must everyone be in lock step agreement all the time? Is there no room for respectful discussion where there are points of disagreement?

On some pages, the answer is that there is no room at all. If we all smile all the time, that means we are all happy, I guess.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Music Ministry

A few weeks ago, I was part of a conversation where we discussed the "hymns" on which we would like to drop the ban hammer at church. Since I have been gathered in one too many times recently, I am struggling with what my status should be in regards to the music at Mass.

I grew up in a parish where I was absolutely appalled by the music. It was so bad and performed so poorly. I fell into the awful habit of snickering and smirking throughout Mass as we listened to warmed over hippy music on guitar sung by people who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. My mother and I had many arguments over the music. My mother would object to my ill-concealed disgust. As I once again rolled my eyes at the assault on my ears, she would remind me that we didn't come to Mass for the music. This is true enough as far as it goes. She was right that, in my youth and immaturity, I was letting a superficiality trump true worship at Mass. In fact that superficiality obliterated most of my connection to the Church for years. I was wrong.

But I was not wrong about the music. It was bad. And I was not wrong that it was an affront for it to be sung so poorly. In my ignorance, I had no idea while growing up that the Church had a long history of chant which had been suppressed. I also had no idea the liturgy has been so recently and drastically altered. The only information I knew was that Mass used to be in Latin and now it wasn't. I assumed that was the only thing that changed. The art music settings of the Mass confused me. How could we say our parts with all that music playing? Total cultural disconnect. Here is what I did know: 1) Traditional hymns existed. 2) We did not sing them at church.

My current parish does not have the same degree of musical problems as my childhood parish. There is a mix of traditional hymns along with the newer dreck. The regular cantor at our early Mass is a gifted singer even if she might sometimes get carried away with a blues/gospel bent. The piano player is also quite good even though his first Communion meditation was Eric Clapton's Tears In Heaven. Seriously. I wish I were kidding. But that was a one-off event. I am sure someone spoke to him about it. The rest of the choir does a decent job harmonizing--something that was completely absent in my childhood--and following the lead of the cantor.

These things are well and good. The problem with the music in my parish is the depth of involvement by the parishioners at large. Our parish claims over six hundred families, but if you add up all the people involved with the music across the four Sunday Masses offered, you probably have around ten people. Definitely fewer than twenty. I am aggravated by the apathy.

When the above mentioned cantor and piano player are absent, the choir struggles mightily. There is no back-up piano player. The back-up cantor, bless his heart, tries hard, but his voice is terribly unpleasant. I am not sure he actually reads music. I don't know it for certain, but it is my educated guess from watching him through the years. I admire his attempts, but it makes me wonder why someone who so obviously cannot sing volunteers to do it week after week. When he is cantoring, the selected hymns are sure to be dreck. I guess he likes it or is more comfortable with it. I don't know.

The choir regularly asks and sometimes begs for additional members to volunteer, but no one ever seems to step forward. Not even me.

Even though I am a trained musician, I am not a singer. I can carry a tune and read notes and rhythms well enough, but my voice is thin and does not carry. My range is limited where fourth line D is the highest note I would ever feel comfortable performing in public even after thoroughly warming up. I am not at all a piano player. I would be comfortable singing in the choir, but I have no desire to cantor. More than that though, I have no desire to sing dreck. I struggle enough to refrain from rolling my eyes when the hymn board announces numbers from a certain range in the hymnal. There are a couple of frequent choices where the forefront thought in my head is, "What, exactly, is this song about?" I exchange knowing glances with Dave.

I sometimes feel guilty about my lack of involvement. There are probably not that many people with music degrees sitting in congregation. Me. My sister. My husband. None of us are in the choir. But then I think of the practical realities of my involvement and just don't think it is my time right now. The choir area is right up front next to the altar. There is no discreet way slip away when necessary. You can't just stop the action to say, "Excuse me, Father, don't mind me, the baby needs to nurse." Or worse to have to run for the bathroom to throw up while pregnant. No, this is not reasonable. I would have to take long hiatuses. Not to mention the time requirement of the rehearsal schedule. It is not strenuous, just one night a week, but I already feel overwhelmed and stretched most of the time. I don't see adding another weekly item to my plate.

I suppose an on-again, off-again membership in the choir would have been more helpful, but the truth is that I am not interested in joining unless I can move the music itself in a positive direction. To steer the selections away from the awfulness and towards more traditional pieces, and maybe some, gasp, chant. But I know this isn't possible without a long term commitment, especially given my age in relation to those currently in the choir.

So then I get irritated with my fellow parishioners. Why does no one step up? Is it because it's bad and nobody wants to sing bad music? Is it because nobody really cares? How can that be? I bristle at feeling like it shouldn't be my responsibility. At some level, though, it is my responsibility.

For now, my general contribution is to sing louder when I hear the backup cantor struggling with a rhythm he obviously can't read off the sheet music in order to give the people around me some guidance. Selective cantoring from the pew, perhaps? I do think it helps a little bit. But true confession: I never sing the dreck.

So what do you think? Should I buck up and join the choir? And which songs would you ban if it were up to you?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tax Post Mortem

I spent the weekend doing our taxes.

Happily this year's edition was much less painful than last year's. In 2013 my desire to keep proper records was thwarted by pregnancy, childbirth, recovery, going back to work, and the mental space all those things require. When I finally sat down in March 2014 to do the taxes, a bona fide disaster awaited me. If I recall correctly, it took three or four weekends of solid work to finally make a coherent data set and complete the taxes.

The reason our taxes can be so onerous is because Dave has been running several micro-businesses over the years. We run these ventures through Schedule C in order to write off his expenses so documentation is the name of the game.

Knowing the weekends of doom that were awaiting me in the Spring of 2014 from the 2013 neglect, I started tax year 2014 with the resolution to keep up with as much documentation during the year as possible. This resolution turned out quite nicely since it took less than a weekend to do both our taxes and my MIL's taxes. Dave also kept up with most of his mileage this year so I did not have to reconstruct a thousand trips with email and Google maps as reference. That was a big sigh of relief. I hope to maintain this system in the future. So far, so good.

Here are results of the 2014 tax reckoning. Based on AGI, our tax rate is -5.45%. If you calculate on gross income and include paid payroll taxes in the figure, our tax rate is 2.28%.  So we weren't a net drain on society this year! That is gratifying, I suppose.

What I find interesting is that our AGI for 2014 is about $900 more than our AGI for 2013, and yet our tax "refund" this year is about $800 higher than last year. Why is this?

I mentioned Dave's business ventures. One of his sources of income is to create projects to display on his blog to advertise the blue big box home improvement store. The way the program works is they send him gift cards and a list of project ideas. He picks one of the ideas, builds the project with materials purchased with the gift cards, writes a blog post about it with links, and then he can pocket as income anything left on the card which he uses for other projects that need done around the house. The big box store reports these gifts cards to the IRS as nonemployee compensation on a 1099. We run this income through Schedule C where we can write off the project expenses and report the balance as profit. All profit is subject to the self-employment tax which is just the payroll taxes in disguise.

This system worked reasonably well for us until, at the very end of 2013, the powers-that-be dumped about $2000 worth of gift cards on us in pre-payment for the 2014 projects. To say I was wrathful is an understatement. I knew at the very moment of opening the mail, we would have to pay taxes on their year end dump because we could not write off expenses which had not yet been incurred. And so it came to be.

This year, it just so happened that my employer decided to discontinue our vacation banks and made us cash them out--at 50 cents on the dollar, but that's neither here nor there--and the extra income we received from that maneuver just about equaled the amount of the gift card dump at the end of the previous year. So the money in our pockets was similar, but the unexpected income this year was run through the standard employee tax model instead of through the self-employment tax model.

Last year for 2013 based on AGI, our tax rate was -3.93% and 2.88% based on gross income and payroll.

Running wages through a standard employment model causes the individual to pay fewer taxes than he would pay as a self-employed person. Isn't that an interesting take on America as the land of independent businessmen?

However after calculating these percentages, it occurred to me that the employee portion of the payroll taxes are not all the taxes paid on my behalf. My employer also pays an identical amount of payroll tax in my name. I decided to calculate the full percentage of all income based taxes for 2013 and 2014. The full tax rates are:


So after all, we earned a smidge more money in 2014 and a smidge more in taxes was contributed on our behalf. I thought that was interesting.

Of course these numbers do not include our true income, noting that our health insurance premiums and retirement contributions come right off the top, and I don't get a handy sheet of paper every year telling me what these items cost. A vexing piece of the tax code is that health insurance paid by the employer is tax free, but health insurance paid by the individual counts towards taxable income. This might have changed with all the Obamacare. I'll have to research it. Once my employment is gone, we will have to figure out these vagaries of law since we will have to buy our own insurance.

Something else of note is the saver's credit. This credit is over and above the tax free contributions allowed into retirement accounts. Basically if you choose to make a deposit into a retirement account, you get a little bit of a credit, but choice is the key component. If you are required by your employer to make the deposit, you do not get the credit. My employer requires a 3% deposit into a retirement account but will match up to 5%. We take full advantage of the match, but only get the savers credit for the 2% difference between the requirement and our actual deposits. It creates an odd paradox where the paternalistic urge to compel employees to save actually takes money out of their pockets. I would be better off if the 3% retirement contribution were not required because I would always take full advantage of a match. That's 100% guaranteed ROI coming right out of the gate. It would be foolish to let that money go. And yet I know that without the requirement, many employees would never save a dime since present needs always seem more pressing than future ones.

Anyway these are just some of the thoughts that occupied my mind as I completed a thousand different forms. I am really curious to go back and see how our percentages shake out for Tax Years 2011 and 2012. Those years we only had my wages and the small profits from Dave's little ventures. Nothing unexpected happened income-wise those years so I do wonder how negative our tax rate got and if it was absolutely negative or just negative in the narrow sense.

But the saddest thing about having done the taxes is that it somehow never made my written 'to do' list. It only took up mental real estate in my head which means, now that it is done, I have nothing to scratch off the list. Sigh.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Working Diligently

After discovering how bad my work procrastination habits have gotten, I have been trying hard to not get sucked into the Internet and to work diligently down my work to-do list.

This is hard. What is hard about it is that I have to constantly suppress a panicky anxiety of running out of things to do. I can see what I have accomplished already this month and can project ahead to know that if all the audits shake out right, I will be completely finished with the month's work by next Wednesday. Wednesday! A full two weeks before my next set of files is set to arrive.

I am not even working as diligently as I could. I spend at least an hour every morning doing what I like before settling in to work. I have also typed up a few posts and had some longish FB chat conversations. I am not pedal to the metal, here, and yet I will be finished soon enough.

What is different is that I am forcing myself to put in several hours long chunks in every day. I find myself constantly wanting to stop and pace the work. I start to think about how to procrastinate and I have to interrupt my internal dialogue to say explicitly to myself, "Yes, I know I am going to run out of tasks long before I run out of the month. This is okay. Do it anyway. Keep working."

I am practicing resisting my preferences. Ouch. While it is of no significant consequence here at work, I want to be able to begin to break my flighty work habits in order to have better discipline in other areas. I have to remind myself that I am not losing any playtime by concentrating on duty first. I'll have as much time as I always did without the looming deadline to hurry up and get finished.

Really, I'm going to have a lot of free time at work by the end of the month.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Difference a Year Makes

Since we are around the halfway point of Lent, I thought I would share some thoughts from my reading on Introduction to the Devout Life. Let me amend. Less about the actual content and more about me reading it.

From a practical point of view, all that free time I envisioned by forsaking the bedtime Facebook has only materialized in drips and drops. First, the children's bedtime keeps getting pushed back a few minutes later than it should be and then a few minutes more. Now why might that be happening? Ahem.

Then there is the long shower problem. I don't know how to take a short shower. I try and fail. I don't try and fail worse. I think the base of the problem is that I move slowly when cold and I'm cold when I'm wet. July is the only solution. Also: long curly hair.

Lastly there is Marian. I have heard tell of women who hold or nurse their babies and read. I've never had a baby that allowed such a thing. Anything I hold in my hands becomes the subject of a wrestling match. If she is put in her crib while I read, she objects. If I hold her, there is no reading.

So when all goes right and the bedtime doesn't get pushed back too far and I don't spend all night in the bathroom and Marian falls asleep while rocking with Dave, then I get a few minutes to read.


Since I started to read Introduction last year, the parts I have covered are not new to me, but the difference between me this year and me last year are striking. Last year, I was reading along and came to this bit:
Spend an hour every day, some time before the midday meal, in meditation, and the earlier the better, because your mind will then be less distracted, and fresh after a night's sleep; but do not spend more than an hour unless your spiritual director expressly tells you to do so. If possible, it is best to make your meditation in church, because neither your family nor anyone else is likely to prevent you from staying there for an hour, whereas if you are dependent on others you might not be able to promise yourself an uninterrupted hour at home. (2.1)
The despair I felt at this piece of advice can't really be described. An hour everyday? So, so impossible. "(B)ecause neither your family nor anyone else is likely to prevent you from staying there for an hour." You wanna bet? I cried behind my closed office door, trapped in my dark office which prevented me from doing an hour of anything much less go pray in a church.

I knew very well I didn't have an hour available to me since I had just completed a time study which showed me in black and white that I spent no more than fifteen minutes doing anything during the work week. I had solid evidence that my regular schedule was as constrained as I thought and my time off was as singlemindedly focused on beating back the chaos as I felt, failing to accomplish half of my intended goals.

Even as I continued on in the book that paragraph nagged at me. "Stop pretending," it whispered. "This book is for people who have a modicum over control their lives. It isn't intended for wage slaves like you."

It was also around this time that I first read Anne Kennedy's blog. The very first post I ever read was linked by Kyra on FB and promised to be about the travails of homeschooling. I clicked over because I am a sucker for that kind of thing. I happily read along, laughing at the humor, until I got to take seven:
Pray. Pray all the time. But don't pray scared. Don't not ask for patience because you think God will make your life more frustrating to "teach" you patience. Don't not ask for humility because you think God is waiting to humiliate you. You are already in frustration and humiliation for screaming and yelling and having a filthy house and not meeting your own expectations, let alone the state's or anyone else's. When you are a homeschooler and you pray, God gives you grace. People say this all the time but they never spell it out, which I find extremely frustrating. When you ask God for something, like, say, the ability not to yell at a particular child for a particular offense, and you throw yourself down on your face and beg him to have mercy, he will, when you're sitting in front of that child consider whether or not to yell, remove the desire from you, miraculously. Or, when you can't get the children to spell anything, not even their own names, and you throw yourself on his mercy, he will improve their spelling, or give you some insight into how to make it click. It's not just that he died and rose again, it's not just that his "grace is sufficient for you", is not just that you have to "lean on him". No. He will answer specific prayers for particular problems when you ask him. Because he loves you. He's not going to make it worse by "teaching" you into more suffering. Just ask, and he gives. That, I think, though sometimes I'm not sure, is what Grace means. That when you throw yourself down, God hears you and loves you, even for your children, even when you fail.
Sucker punch. I had to catch my breath and close the office door while I sobbed and railed in prayer. "It must be nice," I silently yelled, "to be a homeschooling mother and have that pipeline to God's ear. To be able to depend on answered prayers. Because I surely know whose prayers He doesn't answer!" I ranted and raged on. "I guess if you start out right, you have a fighting chance of being heard, but if you make a mistake and take the wrong road, there is no going back. Oh sure you can repent and realize your mistake and try to make it right, but to be made whole is entirely too much to ask. I guess that's a privilege reserved for homeschooling mothers. I just get to drag my millstone around forever." It poured a whole container of salt into an open and bleeding wound.

We were in the midst of the long parade of no from perspective employers.

Her follow-up post convinced me I wasn't insane for feeling the way I did:
But the Christian knows that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces strength and strength produces love or something, and we know that God brings suffering so that we will grow strong and lean on him. And sometimes, woe is me, when the Christian prays for humility or patience, God answers that prayer with a nice big dose of suffering so that the prayer is really truly answered. You end up humble and patient. And grateful for Jesus. But also not wanting any more of either of those things.
She won me over with that post and that's how I came to read Anne Kennedy.

A year ago, I was in a pretty dark place and when St. Francis suggested a general confession, I spun my wheels and then spun out. I didn't need much prompting to be sorry for everything I had ever done, but the light at the end of the tunnel of repentance looked mostly like an oncoming train. I was pretty sure I was being ignored at best and punished at worse.

As the year progressed, we never got that clear cut answer we were looking for. Every reasonable opportunity for standard employment evaporated one after another. We were forced to make different plans. Plans that played to Dave's strengths instead of relying on an employer to overlook an incomplete resume. We have been forced to assertively make happen what we want to happen instead of passively waiting. To demand the crumbs from the Master's table.

With these plans comes the enthusiasm of hope. Not just the intellectual acknowledgement that hope exists, but the *feeling* of hope. Hope which makes enduring the present possible with a sweet patience instead of soul-crushingly bitter.

These new plans also offer benefits which were not possible with a standard job. Dave gets to work in an area in which he has always had enthusiasm and gets to channel that enthusiasm into supporting our family. It is an everchanging type of career which helps satisfy the itch of his restlessness at sameness and desire to start new projects. He has the opportunity to continue working and managing the local farmers' market, which seemed like a lost dream if he had a regular job. The prospect of having enough income to be able to someday purchase land is real instead of the withered expectation from my dead-end career. He will be around the house, in and out, instead of gone miles away for eleven hours a day so my fear at being overwhelmed with all the duties of home is nearly gone, although I still need to learn how to use a kitchen knife. It seems that this new, scary, unforeseen plan might work better for our family than any job that had been possible.

We only have to wait for the structure to be strongly built before we can remove the safety net of my job. It takes time and patience. It isn't a hopeless wait, but a time of eager expectation, a time to make my own plans and dream about the future.

And as I wait, here at work I notice that it seems likely that my exit will closely coincide with the mothballing of the system I have worked in for over eight years. In my own fantasy, I would one day announce that they could take this job and shove it. I would gleefully leave them in the lurch and then they would see and understand how much of their work depends on me doing my work well. They would know that I mattered. Yet it doesn't look like it will work out that way. I will one day quietly slip away, the old server retired, and the person who is doing now what I will be doing then will resume his work from me and they will hardly notice my absence. They will not be left high and dry. And I am okay with that.

As this year has unfolded, it seems that maybe I wasn't being ignored or punished. Perhaps the wait had more to do with the circumstances of other people. Maybe Dave had to get to a place where he would walk the path we needed instead of accepting a stopgap measure in service to my desperation. Maybe my bosses didn't need the added stress of my quick and unexpected absence. Maybe this hasn't been about me at all. Hard to believe, I know.

So I come back around to Introduction to the Devout Life again and instead of finding condemnation in my lack of time, I find this sentiment instead:
True devotion never causes harm, but rather perfects everything we do; a devotion which conflicts with anyone's state of life is undoubtedly false. (1.4)
This wisdom was in the book last year, but I couldn't see it. And now as I read again that it is recommended that I pray for an hour in a church every morning, I quietly acknowledge this piece of advice does not apply to my state in life right now and I move on.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Time Study

This is a time study I did a year ago and posted on Facebook. I'm republishing it here first because I want to reference it in another post and secondly because it's hard to believe it has been a year. As for my resolution from this study, I never got into the habit of walking on Saturday mornings. I'm just too dang tired and I sleep away every last morning I can. I don't love that I don't ever get exercise, but I've got to get my sleep out.

(First published February 25, 2014)

If graphs drive you crazy, avert your eyes!

Inspired by Erin's quest for the "new normal" schedule and reading over her time study posts from a few years back, I decided I needed to do a time study of my own. Dave even consented to do one too only because he likes me.  Time and I have always had a contentious relationship so these graphs are attempt to get a handle on what is really happening.

Last week was a normal week with some irregular happenings so maybe like most weeks. Over the weekend, we had zero commitments and we could do whatever we wanted. This is unusual. I went out to eat with coworkers twice. This is very unusual. I cut out of work early one day to go to the big semi-annual consignment sale in town. Again, unusual. But here is my week of February 15-21:

The first graph is the whole week with fairly narrow categories. Anything that could be separated, I put in its own category. I had to decide how to handle multi-tasking which I do a fair bit. I decided that I would count all the time toward the main thing I was doing and ignore the add-on task. So for example, if I were feeding Marian and decided to hop on the Internet to pass the time, I would count it toward Marian time. If I were already on the Internet and had to feed Marian at some point, I counted it as Internet time. This lack of an ability to differentiate cuts down on the accounted time for more intellectual activities. I am usually reading during pump sessions and have a book on CD playing during commute.

I am spending enough time in bed. It would be great if my sleep were higher quality, but it is what it is for now. What jumped out at me immediately is that work doesn't take nearly as much time as I thought. I feel like work is this mammoth that eats my time, but the graph clearly does not bear out that impression. Hmm. I also only spend 2% of my time pumping. Feels like more probably because I dread and procrastinate every session. Nursing a pump is not nearly as satisfying as nursing a baby. Of course I spend about as much time nursing a pump as I do tending the older ones so that's a bummer. I also only spent 10 hours commuting last week. This is a massive improvement over what was happening in December. Yay!

I broke time spent caring for Marian away from time spent dealing with the others since she gets so much more of my attention due to the whole feeding her thing. I spent five hours last week where Marian was the focus of my attention. Also separated was time I spent on the Internet. I suspected that I hopped on too often at home, but at under four hours for the week, it really is not that terrible. NB: I didn't count Internet time at work as being Internet time. I am usually running several jobs at once while surfing and I'd have to be at work whether I was on the Internet or not.

But the graph didn't exactly satisfy. Too many categories. I decided to group several categories together to give a better impression of what is happening. Initially I had one category for eating, but eating at work and eating at home feel completely different. I decided to split the eating category into two. Then I grouped anything that had to do with work into one giant work category that contained work, commuting, eating at work, and pumping. I combined the childcare categories and put eating at home in with regular family time. Anything leisure related was put together as well.

Now that looks more like it. Sleep, work, and then everything else. I had more family time than I expected, although this is probably a function of grouping home meals in this section. I spend as much time caring for myself as I do the children. I don't know if this is good or bad. Leisure activities also make up the same amount of time as childcare. What really surprised me is how balanced my time is outside of sleep and work. Housekeeping also only takes 6% of my time. It feels like I almost never sit down because I'm wandering the house picking things up. Then the thought occurred to me that this graph looks at a whole week. What if I just looked at the work week?

And there it is. During the week, my time spent doing 'work things' beats everything else by a mile. The most telling when looking solely at the work week is that I almost never do anything for more than 15 minutes at a time. This leads to feeling completely ADD about everything I do and pulled in all directions. I am not sure how to spend more than 15 minutes doing anything because there is a minimum that must be done and a limited amount of time to do it. When I hit a stretch of time where I don't have any responsibilities or a time crunch, aka Friday night and Saturday morning, I completely hit the decompress button which usually involves wandering around the house trying to figure out what to do first. This is not efficient or restful.

I spend only 2% of my time doing housekeeping during the work week, but overall, as I said above, I spend 6% of all my time doing housework, which can only mean that an outsized portion of the weekend is used cleaning up, 16% of the weekend if I did the math right. I don't think I do anything for 16% of the time except work. I don't feel like I'm getting enough bang for my time buck in the housekeeping dept and the reason for this is that I think I am stuck in ADD mode over the weekends.

I am a person who needs a lot of time in my own head to figure out what I think and what I should do. The fact is I don't get enough of this kind of time during the week and there is no where to get it. There ain't no time. I need to try to create some of this time on the weekends to clear my head so I don't spend the weekend aimlessly wandering the house. To try to break this ADD cycle, I have decided to let Friday evening slide and will veg and wander as much as I like. On Saturday mornings, I will use the earlier hour I have gained from my 'get to work earlier' experiments to go out walking in the neighborhood by myself (or with M), weather permitting. I don't plan on spending a lot of time walking or even worrying about distance. This is just a way to put a hard stop on the work week and add a little exercise to my life which you might notice is almost entirely absent. Hopefully this little addition will allow me to settle my brain and use my weekend time more efficiently.

So there's the grand final analysis of my time study: Go walking Saturday morning.

Dave also has his own graph which I won't publish because it's his, but I wanted to publicly say thank you for playing along.  :)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"I Don't Know How You Do It."

There is nothing that prompted this post except memory. For some reason this phrase bubbled to the forefront of my mind and I remembered the pain it can sometimes bring:
I don't know how you do it.
Usually the context of this phrase is when a mother who normally stays home with her children has had to leave town without them for a few days. She is struck by how much she misses her children and how happy she is to be reunited and then the fatal phrase is uttered:
I don't know how you working mothers do it. I missed my children so much. I could not do this everyday.
It stabs. The intent is almost never malicious. It is an innocent wonder at how such a burden could consistently be borne. The problem with voicing such a thought is not that it isn't reasonable or true. The problem is that it very reasonable and terribly true.

Other working mothers might have a different perspective, but here is my response to those who might wonder.

First of all, I leave every day because I have to do it. You could do it too if you had to do it. There isn't anything special about me that makes it possible for me to leave which you might lack. The truth is that I experience the same pain that you do from being separated. I am not inured from it; I just get used to it.

When I first have to leave an infant, the pain is overwhelming. It is stabbing and constant. Every day is a battle and it takes every fiber of my being to make myself go where I have to go. The first few weeks are the worst because I feel like I am being ripped in half. Leaving every day opens the wound again. It stings. It does get easier but it doesn't get better. Over time, after poking open the wound day after day, the pain subsides not because the wound is healing but because scar tissue forms. The scar tissue is numb. It isn't that it doesn't feel, but that it can't.

I function in this state of numbness until something interrupts the daily routine. An illness, a few days off, anything at all breaks open the wound anew. Returning to work after such an interruption is hard, almost as hard as it is in the beginning. All of that scar tissue gets rips away and it takes time to build that newly hardened layer again.

This alternating state between raw pain and numb scar tissue lasts for the first year or so of baby's life. It is so intense, I think, because of the hormonal dance between mother and baby and because the baby is so dependent. I cannot kid myself into believing the baby is happy with our separation because each night brings a baby desperately clinging to me. The baby may not be directly unhappy while I am gone, but her behavior after our nightly reunion clearly indicates that my absence is disruptive. Her behavior isn't even one of distress, but of needing to be close all the time. Happily wanting to be held and nursed and toted by me all evening. I cannot pretend she does not notice my absence because I know she does.

After the first year of separation is over, the acuteness of the pain mellows into a hollowness. The baby is growing up and needs you less and less. This isn't to say that a toddler doesn't need his mother, but only to say the desperation of the need is less. He is happy with others and plays more independently. As the baby grows through toddlerhood and preschool and begins elementary school, the routine of leaving is just part of life. It is not like I am being ripped in half to leave anymore, but this easing of the acuity of the pain also comes with the aching hollowness in the realization of how much I miss.

This pain is a different kind of pain. It doesn't stab; it only sighs. It sighs at the missed moments and activities, the missed library trips and school parties, the missed outings that mothers do with their children. It sighs as the children get old enough to ask why you have to leave everyday and you have to explain.

Absence is the constant companion of my motherhood. There is a hollow spot where the memories of my children's days should be. Spending too much time examining this spot is counterproductive, but it's there even as I avert my view from it.

So how do I do it? One day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. I keep my attention fixed on what is required and try not to think about what is preferred. I take comfort in the knowledge that if I was supposed to have been doing something else, I would have been doing it even while I don't understand why this way was best. I work to make the future look less like the past and know, if I do my part, all will be well, whatever 'well' ends up being. Wait. Trust. Hope. Love.

Mostly though I want you to understand there isn't anything special about me that makes it easier or even possible. It's just the way it is. You could do it too, if you had to.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dresser Problems

Jumping off from yesterday's thought about the laundry, I have a question for those of you with more children than me or have fewer rooms to put your children.

We have three bedrooms. Marian has lived her whole life sleeping in my room. Her clothes occupy one of my dresser drawers. Although I have a box full of sweaters that haven't seen the light of day in 21 months and her clothes get crammed in there without much regard for organization, this is a decent arrangement. Soonish (months, years, who knows), she will be moving out of my room and then we will need to find a place for her to sleep and store her clothes.

The two bedrooms upstairs are rather narrow. The girls' room is longer than Sam's room, but they both have the same narrow width. In the girls room, we have a full bed with a twin bunk on top. There is room for one dresser. It is a pretty good sized dresser and the girls split it. Their closet has also been upgraded to very functional. The problem in their room is that we have room for another person to sleep, but no where to put her clothes.

In Sam's room, we have his twin bed and the big crib, which is currently a blanket container, and one dresser. Sam's closet has not been made functional and mostly contains boxes which were never unpacked from our move. In 2007. With this current arrangement, there is no room for another dresser. Theoretically we could replace the twin with twin bunks and get another dresser in there. The closet could be cleaned and made functional. Maybe. One fine day. But that is pretty much the limit.

Essentially we can arrange clothing space for our current number of children. I can imagine how to fit more sleeping space if we ever were to need it, but I would have no idea what to do about the clothing.

So my question is: Once you run out of dressers or places to put dressers, where do you put their clothes?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Random Observations

I have a theory that the latest in the day a load of laundry should be started is 2pm. If you start it at two, you have a fighting chance to get it through the washer, through the dryer, and put away. If you start it any later than two, there is no way it is going to end well. Supper and the evening requirements will interfere. It will be left in a heap somewhere along the way and I will feel sad and horrible. So if it is after 2pm, I'm not starting a load unless it is an emergency. It's just not worth the bother to me.

Does anything else work on a schedule like this?