Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Are These "Finances" You Speak Of?

I just consolidated my federal student loans today. Let me tell ya, that was a big step for me. I did it all by myself, too. I did call my mom to let her know what I was doing because at age 24 and three quarters, I still feel like I should be running my financial decisions by my parents.

So I got a call from a financial specialist, and she told me all about her particular company's student loan consolidation plan. It sounded good. But was it? I immediately told my co-worker about it. She said not to do it; it sounded like a scam. This was not an unusual sentiment. I hear that a lot, actually. My mom and second oldest sister think it's best to stay with the federal government because they are easier to deal with if you're in a bind and can't make some payments, I guess?

I decided to take charge of my financial life. I learned a lot (well, a lot for me) about investments earlier this summer, and I wanted to learn more. So I asked the financial specialist a lot of questions. I called Sallie Mae to see what kind of options they had, and even when they didn't look like the company I needed, I still asked the guy all kinds of things. I checked the company out on the Better Business Bureau Web site (interesting organization and site, by the way). I called the girl I had talked to again and asked more questions. Finally, I decided that, yes, I was going to consolidate with this particular company. I did call my mom to let her know what I was doing, but I had made up my mind that I was going to do it, regardless of her response.

This whole thing may not be a big deal to you readers, but for me, it's kind of life-changing. I thought about why signing my name on that e-document was as life-changing as it was. Why did I study that company? Why did I ask tons of questions about all of it? Why was I slightly wary of this financial endeavor? I don't get wary about where my toothbrush is coming from, I don't question my purchases at Target, I don't check the score of the restaurant I'm about to dine in, and I don't check to see whether or not Borders is a member of the Better Business Bureau. Why?

I have to recognize that no one in my family really knows THAT much about money. My parents didn't teach me about investing in stocks or planning for retirement when social security isn't enough. My dad plays it safe with money, and my mom knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to make money work for her.

I've realized, though, that a lot of people don't know what to do when it comes to their finances. They get up each morning, go to work, receive their paychecks, and pay their bills. Every day is the same. I don't [think] I know anyone who really knows how the stock exchange works and how to effectively make money by buying and selling. At least, no one I know has the guts to actually do that. Why?

I wonder if it has to do with seeing and feeling. I can see the canned olives I'm about to buy from Sam's, and I can go to an actual store called Wal-Mart. But I can't see this mysterious thing called "finances." Even though there's an entire semester dedicated to economics in high school, we don't really learn about personal economy; we just know we're supposed to be good at that when we graduate. Finances, economics, investing, the stock exchange, inflation -- these are all words and phrases that don't have meaning to a lot of people. But somehow, we're supposed to find out how it all works when we're on our own. It's rather frightening.

So I think it's not so much about seeing and feeling, but about understanding -- understanding this ambiguous "thing" that probably only a small number of people get. (Whoa, I think I'm getting onto shaky Foucauldian ground right now.) That loan consolidation company was fishy because I didn't understand the terminology or loan consolidation protocol. The world of money is so big; we can't understand it all.

But I "got" a small piece of it today. It made me feel really good. It almost made me want to go back to school to do something in finance. Nah.

Thing I'm thankful for: anybody who's reading my blog right now. I haven't posted anything in about 2 weeks, and if you're here anyway, I thank you. From the very bottom of my blogging heart.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Man Rules

A friend forwarded this to me, and I thought it was worthy of a post. I put my favorite rules in bold.

The MAN Rules:

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down. We need it up, you need it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.

1. Shopping is NOT a sport. And no, we are never going to think of it that way.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!

1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. A headache that lasts for 17 months is a Problem. See a doctor.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all comments become null and void after 7 days.

1. If you won't dress like the Victoria's Secret girls, don't expect us to act like soap opera guys.

1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one.

1. You can either ask us to do something, or tell us how you want it done, not both. If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a color. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches, it will be scratched. We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," we will act like nothing's wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, expect an answer you don't want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine...Really.

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball, the shotgun formation, or golf.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this. Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight, but, did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Fellow CDC-ers

A couple of weeks ago at work, two of my co-workers and I all wore yellow, and we decided to capture it on film. So now you can see some of the people I work with. Well, we don't work with each other; we work alongside each other. But we're all in the Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH).

Me, Ashley, and Allyson (who used to be a figure skater, and she's from Chicago, so she has this great accent, of course):

Patricia (I don't know her very well, except she moved here from Texas, my homestate's neighbor), me, and Ashley:

When I first got to DASH, people kept confusing me with Ashley because we're both tall, pale, and have light blonde hair. We're also rather cheerful, and neither one of us can stand for our hair to be down for very long so we wear ponytails a lot.

Anyway, I thought that was funny. Now you know a little more about my work life -- I really, really like all the people I work with. They're so great!

Thing I'm thankful for: oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Go Braves!

Okay, people. I'm gonna try really hard to get some pictures up on this here blog. So the first few pictures I have are low-quality images from my cell phone. (All I want for Christmas is a digital camera. And an oversized chair.)

ANYWAY, here are pictures from the Braves game I went to last Tuesday. I can't believe Michelle invited me -- she's so California cool. It was a small group, but just right.

Somehow, Andrea got us these super great seats. (Thanks, Andrea!)

Me, Walter, and Clark:

Yeah! Baseball is hardcore!

Steve(n), Andrea, and Michelle:

Oh, the Braves won! Against the Phillies! I can't even remember the score, though. 2 to 1? 3 to 1? Sorry, guys.

Thing I'm thankful for: Steve bought me two Taco Supremes. What a gentleman. :)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Truth: I Like Pre-Teen Flicks

I have a taste for the "finer" things in life, like foreign films, opera, art museums, and gourmet food. I'm very cultural.

But I never rule out those kitschy bubble-gum pop pre-teen movies, like "Aquamarine." Who says it made me cry?

Thing I'm thankful for: kickin' back on a Friday night/Saturday morning doing whatever I want!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Content Is King, or Sara, Plain and Tall

It's 11:45 p.m. on a Friday night. Here's what I did today:
  • Worked late at the office
  • Grabbed a quick chicken nugget meal from Chic-fil-A, complete with a new hand-spun chocolate milkshake
  • Talked to my sister on the phone for about an hour
  • Fell asleep around 8:00 p.m.
  • Woke up at 11:00 p.m.
Since I'm young and single, I could probably still go out for the night and not miss a beat. But I prefer the dull tapping of my computer keyboard as I write the night away!

So here's what I've been thinking about:

In the Writing for the Web seminar I listened to on Tuesday, it was reiterated that content is king. Having an incredible format for your Web page doesn't really matter, if the content stinks. If there's no meaning behind what users first see, people won't stay on your page.

It was perfect timing for me to hear it that day. It should be my daily mantra because despite my radiant beauty and hot body, keeping a positive self-image is something I struggle with a lot. I've never felt very pretty, physically. Sure, I have my good days, but most of the time, I feel extremely plain. I know I don't stand out in a crowd, especially the one of really pretty and cute girls at church. How do I shine, when every girl I hang out with does too?

Part of my problem is that I was born last in a set of 6 kids. That's really not a good place to be if you are trying to form your own identity. Growing up, this is what I heard (the name in parentheses is the sibling about whom the particular phrase was said):
  1. "Man, you're SO quiet! Not like your brothers and sisters! What happened to you?!? Why don't you ever talk?" (Blake and Lexi)
  2. "You're so different from your brother! He's SO funny!" (Blake)
  3. "Your sister has the best butt I've ever seen." (Summer)
  4. "Your sister is hot. Can you give me her number?" (Lexi)
  5. "Say hello to your sister for me." (Lexi and Summer)
  6. "Oh, your brother -- " followed by a pleasant, reminiscing smile. (Brooks)
  7. "You're brother is AWESOME!" (Brooks)
Keep in mind that this is just a sampling. And also keep in mind that lines 4 and 5 were spoken to me by boys in my grade about a sister who is only 363 days older than me. She looked like a model at age 13 -- I'm seriously not kidding. And since Lexi and I were best friends and were almost always together when we could be, people started to distinguish the two of us. Lexi was popular and fashionable and gorgeous. I was quiet and studious. So what naturally follows? She was dubbed the "pretty one," and I was the "smart one."

So what happens when you are the smart one and constantly compared to your beautiful sister and boys from your grade are calling your house and asking to talk to her? (Keep in mind that this occurred in my formative years, a highly critical point in the evolution of a young girl's self-image.) Well, I think I developed a complex. And I think my sister did, too. She likes being told that she's smart. I like being told that I look good. But it's still something that I think about, especially since I'm not married yet, and especially because I think most guys are taken away with pretty, shiny things.

Nobody notices the unnoticeable. I'm one of those people who "grows on you," I think. And though it phases me sometimes, I can handle it, and I'm okay with it now. I know, for example, that there's really nowhere for my looks to go but up, since my middle school days. So I'm not worried when I see a wrinkle or an undereye circle. I don't mind aging.

But mostly, I know that I have one of those personalities that is -- what do they call it? "Winning?" (Don't get me wrong -- my sister and the rest of my siblings are the very best kind of people, and I'm proud to be related to them. But I'm talking about me for a minute, here.) Once I open up and start talking, I can be warm and friendly and funny. I love making people laugh. I know I have killer analytical skillz. And I know I'm a generally good person. I know I will be a devoted wife and mother. I know my kids will think I'm great. I know that despite my shortcomings, Heavenly Father is pleased with my spiritual progress.

Content is king. I may never feel physically beautiful, but I know that that doesn't even matter very much anyway, if the content isn't there. The principal substance is what's going on inside someone's spirit. And maybe this is a juvenile revelation, but it's one that I've needed for a while. It's a lesson I've learned over and over again, but the specific phrase used in that Web seminar is one that really hit home for me on that particular day. Oh, I never knew how good usability principles are for the soul . . . :)

Thing I'm thankful for: a body that works properly. I don't want any of you thinking that I'm not deeply grateful for the physical body I do have. I'm grateful that I can sit here and type this blog right now. And I'm grateful that I can walk and see and feel the ground under my feet or the pain that comes from an accident.

What I Said, Only Better

I read the following statement on The Fanatic Cook (thanks to Yvonne for pointing out the blog). This is basically what I want to say when I get in an argument about why I think "organically-grown" food isn't always a realistic option in today's world.

I go to the farmers' market every week and I get most of my produce there. But I'm in a privileged position -- as are many people in this country -- and what works for us doesn't necessarily work for the world as a whole. Look at genetic engineering. The top four food crops of the world -- corn, rice, soybeans and wheat -- feed billions of people, and they take up millions and millions of acres. If you can tweak their genetic makeup so they're a few percent more efficient or require a few percent fewer acres, that translates to huge plots of land. In a lot of ways the industrialization of human life has not been good for the planet. But given where we are, if genetic engineering is properly and thoughtfully applied, it might actually help limit the further encroachment of human activities on the environment by making food production more efficient.
- Harold McGee, Food scientist, author, and contributor to Food & Wine's August, 2006 article What Does Eating Well Really Mean?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Writing for the Web

I just took a class for CDC employees at the Roybal Campus -- that's the big CDC center that gets all the media attention (i.e., it's the one with the nice buildings). It was a nice treat to change up my routine for the morning, and one of the best parts? I live about 7 minutes away from that center. This is the first time in a long time that I haven't had to rush my lunch when I come home.

Anyway, the class was "Writing for the Web." It was mostly about writing with Web usability in mind, so I would actually call the seminar "Formatting for the Web." At any rate, it was a nice refresher on everything I read in Don't Make Me Think, and I also learned some pretty good tips and tricks.

But what I really walked away with was a sense of relief and gratitude that I graduated with an English degree. Or that I have an aptitude for correct grammar and punctuation and concise writing. I think people think there is a quick fix for Web content -- that there are a few things you can learn, and all will be well with your Web page. And while that's partly true, I've found that the same writing that I was expected to do in my English literature classes is the writing we all expect to find on the Web. Any good writing -- whether it's a brochure, a Web page, a short story, a critical review -- has the same basic rules and principles. Engage the reader, but be concise. Use correct grammar and punctuation. Use active voice. Present things in a logical and intuitive format. (Yes, one could argue that this is not the case with stream of consciousness, but they would be wrong. There is a logical format behind it all.)

I love language. And I couldn't be more grateful that I chose to study English. It really is the best college major. :)

Thing I'm thankful for: prayer.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Genius Detective in Action!

Speaking of my sweet detection skillz, I should mention a situation that occurred Wednesday at approximately 11:30 p.m. I was eating an incredible meal of French toast and le sausage at IHOP. My crime-fighting partner (a.k.a., the person who went with me to IHOP) noticed the pair of men first. They were sitting two booths away. One man was hispanic -- I'll call him Man #1. The other man was, well, I forgot his ethnicity, but I'll call him Man #2.

Apparently the two men were having a very inappropriate conversation. I overheard Man #2 say something like, "That's guilt. Just ignore that feeling." They continued talking not-so-quietly about feelings of guilt and what to do when they did whatever they were going to do. At one point, I looked over at Man #1, who saw me look at him and whispered to Man #2 to "keep his voice down."

Huh? What was going on over there? Should my friend and I have called the cops? I dunno. He overheard more than I did, and I forgot to ask him what he heard.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting situation. And in light of my recent truth, I thought I should share it. Have any of you ever overheard or seen any suspicious behavior? What did you do? What do you think I should have done?

Thing I'm thankful for: my bubble-gum pink skirt from J. Crew. I think it's probably my 2nd best clothing buy.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Truth: I like Word Verification

Some people may think it's a hassle, but I actually really like the word verification feature on Blogger. Every time I have to type the letters in the box, I feel like a genius detective cracking a code.

Thing I'm thankful for: David Bowie's masterful lyrics and mesmerizing voice from Labyrinth.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Drama Killed the Comedy Star

Lauren was watching a trailer for a new movie due out this fall. She saw it on Brigham's blog, and while I was just gonna leave the advertising to him, I decided I should say something about the movie myself. The movie is "Stranger Than Fiction," starring Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. Now, I obviously haven't seen the movie yet, but I think it looks very much like a drama. It still has funny lines and comedic moments, but it makes me wonder whether Will Ferrell is going through his metamorphosis -- and I'm talking about the one that almost all very well-known comedians go through. Let's look at his predecessors:

Robin Williams -- "Laugh-In," "Mork and Mindy," "Popeye," "Good Morning," "Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society." Yes, he had comedies, like "Aladdin," along the way, but more and more his movies have become very serious -- "Jakob the Liar," "One Hour Photo."

Tom Hanks -- "Bosom Buddies," "Splash," "The Money Pit," "Turner and Hooch," "Joe Versus the Volcano," "A League of Their Own," "Philadelphia," "Forrest Gump," "Apollo 13," "The DaVinci Code."

Jim Carrey -- "In Living Color," "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "The Mask," "Dumb and Dumber," "Liar Liar," "The Truman Show," "Man on the Moon," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Adam Sandler -- "Billy Madison," "Happy Gilmore," "The Wedding Singer," "Big Daddy," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Spanglish."

Yes, I'm leaving out a lot of movies, but I just don't have room to list them all. The point is, is that the early movies of all these actors are much different than even the funny later ones. Maybe it's just that comedy has changed and what was once funny to the world isn't as funny anymore.

But I just wonder if it's a certain feeling comedic actors get at a certain time. Like, is Will Ferrell saying, "I think it's time for me to accept a semi-serious role"? Do comedians have to "prove" themselves before producers will give them a shot at drama? Do they start getting an itch for an academy award? (If so, they're doing the right thing. The "Academy" never gives accolade to comedies the way they ought to.)

What do you think, readers?

Thing I'm thankful for: my big, soft bed. I love you, bed!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Uh . . .

This bread is so not conducive to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Thing I'm thankful for: 2% milk

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

I think everyone's in a blogging freeze. I check people's blogs all day and no new content. Of course, if I logged into an RSS reader or remembered my password to Bloglines, this wouldn't be a problem. But I'm always a little disappointed when I see that no one has posted anything lately. I know we're all busy, though. That's probably the most disappointing thing of all. I wish we could all stay young and playful. :(

That's why I've decided to rededicate my efforts to this blog. And I'm going to try to be silly more often because that can be very fun.

And just as soon as I get a digital camera . . .

Thing I'm thankful for: a conscience.