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Four Things My Cats Taught Me About Life

December 6th, 2009 at 07:46 am

1. Embrace your inner predator.
When Waldo stalks The String, I have to admire the intensity of his concentration. In that moment when his eyes lock on their target, the outside world ceases to exist. There are no distractions. All energy is focused on his quarry. Every movement, every twitch of The String is processed and adjusted for as the animal prepares to pounce at exactly the right time. In a house cat, such single-minded attention comes from instinct and genes, but cultivated by a person, these qualities could enhance one's accomplishments where patience, commitment and clarity of mind are required.

2. Life is best savored from a lounging position.
Like good old boys who never tire of telling the same story over and over again, the Fur Boys repeatedly urge the following wisdom:

"When you lie down, the pace of life slows down."

"Take time to smell the food bowl."

"You only go through life nine times."

"Stretch, roll, yawn and repeat."

"Indulging in a little catnip now and then is good for the heart."

"Decisions come easier following thoughtful meditation, preferably in morning sunlight."

3. Always make time for play.
Waldo has the long legs and lean body of a ballet dancer. He'll readily go airborne to pursue a flung mouse. His twists, turns and pirouettes would earn him points from a television dance contest judge.

Luther has the body of a weight-lifter, strong, stocky and stout. He's not much of a jumper and is more inclined to look for a seat as soon as he enters a room. At play, he prefers to have The String dangled inches above him as he lies on his back, four paws to the wind. At all times, he maintains a perpetual state of innocent, wide-eyed adorableness, a fiction he frequently plays up to get himself out of trouble.

4. Lick your loved ones.

The expression of love can take several forms, Luther told me one day, feeling philosophical. Licking, for instance. Waldo's gentle snoring, Luther confided, awakens in him a fierce desire to show his love, and he does so by firmly placing his paws around his best bud's neck and vigorously bathing Waldo's head in a no-nonsense kind of way. Should Waldo have the temerity to protest or the poor judgment to move, the licks are replaced by jaws locked on the throat and a tussle ensues.

Leisurely sipping a glass of Zinfandel in the afternoon sun, Luther was feeling expansive and eager to articulate his feelings. To prove his love to me, his Keeper, he explained, he only needed to beam and squint in beatific joy and gratitude.

When feeling particularly demonstrative, Luther expresses his love by gently gnawing on delightfully odoriferous human toes, starting with the littlest and saving the biggest (and best) for last. He'll begin by artfully gaining the victim's trust with gentle, tender nipping that lulls one into complacency. Then, without warning, the delicate sampling of the 5 Little Piggies degenerates as the victim's toes are noshed on while Luther clamps down hard with a devilish grin on his face.

Are You Better Off Now Than You Were This Time Last Year?

December 5th, 2009 at 06:20 am

Are you better off now, financially speaking, than you were this time last year?

I pondered that question while I was answering a survey from the investment management firm that oversees a good chunk of my investable assets. It caused me to stop and think a while, because the answer was not clear-cut.


Speaking strictly in terms of investments, the rising stock market has buoyed my portfolio by 27% in just a year's time. (But what the stock market giveth, the stock market can easily take away.)

Earning Power

It's hard to overlook, however, the obvious elephant in the room; my present state of joblessness means I am most certainly worse off than I was this time last year.


Here's one more angle to look at: the balance on my only debt (my mortgage) has shrunk by about $9,000 in a year's time, helped along by sizable prepayments of principal until my layoff in September.

How do you measure your financial progress and where do you think you stand?

Smart Move: Roth IRA Conversion When You're Jobless

December 3rd, 2009 at 05:04 pm

Being out of work can be a daunting experience that's mostly filled with anxious questions about how you're going to pay the mortgage and your many day-to-day expenses.

While the good things one can say about how unemployment affects your finances are few and far between, there is at least one positive scenario you should take advantage of if you've been out of work for more than a few months: a Roth IRA conversion.

For most investors, Roth IRAs have long been recognized as a preferable alternative to traditional IRAs, due to their tax treatment.

With a Roth IRA, you don't get a tax break when you make contributions, but after age 59 1/2, all your withdrawals, including accumulated earnings, can be taken tax-free.

In contrast, all or a part of your contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible, which could lower your taxes. You will be taxed, however, on withdrawals, and your tax rate will vary according to what tax bracket you fall in at the time of withdrawal.

While you must take minimum distributions from a traditional IRA by age 70 1/2, there is no such requirement associated with Roth IRA withdrawals, making them an ideal tool not only for retirement, but for passing assets on to heirs.

Many workers believe their tax bracket upon retirement will be higher than in their earlier working years, making Roth IRA conversions an attractive option.

Yet the stumbling block for some has been the sizable tax bill that can often come due from such a conversion, since the amount converted is added to your income and is subject to tax.

That's why long-term unemployment or underemployment can make a Roth IRA conversion a much more doable event with a much less painful tax bite.

In my case, I was laid off in September 2009, so I will still have significant 2009 income to report when I do my taxes. But given the extraordinarily poor job market, it's conceivable I'll remain unemployed for much of 2010; what income I do earn, aside from unemployment benefits, may come from freelance writing or other temporary work assignments.

If that's the case, or for others who have already been out of work for much of 2009, this could be an ideal time to take advantage of your lower tax bracket during this time and convert your IRA to a Roth IRA. The conversion could cost you very little.

In my own case, I've been wanting to convert at least a portion of my traditional IRAs into Roth IRAs for some time, but the subsequent tax bill made me reluctant to do more than think about it. If my unemployment continues well into next year, however, my income will be abnormally low and I could fall into a lower tax bracket.

Remember when calculating your total income to include any unemployment benefits you may be receiving.

A Roth IRA conversion now might still make sense for you, even if you've only been out of work for a few months. If, for example, your salary when you were employed placed you close to the minimum income within any of the federal tax brackets. In a case like this, even a small reduction of income could bump you into a lower bracket.

Remember, you can only convert to a Roth IRA if your modified adjusted gross income is under $100,000 in 2009. And this limit on income disappears next year.

Consider such a tax-advantageous move only if you have adequate savings and won't hurt yourself by paying the IRA conversion tax bill. But then again, if your only income is unemployment benefits or sporadic, part-time work, the tax bill could be pretty manageable.

Please consult a certified finance planner or tax professional to determine whether a Roth IRA conversion is suitable for your needs.

Important Note About the No Heat Contest

November 22nd, 2009 at 02:05 pm

I am not sure who is still in the contest. I believe at last count there were 3 or 4 of you, including ImaSaver and MonkeyMama?

If you are STILL living with no heat on in the house, could you please email lbruno@gannett.com.

She is especially interested in talking to you if you don't live in the Northeast.

She's a reporter with USA Today and she is spring-boarding off a recent story on the no heat challenge that appeared in the NJ Star Ledger.

This is a great opportunity to get some exposure for your blog and offer your thoughts on what it's like to live with no heat.

No Heat Contest Update

October 25th, 2009 at 05:47 am

Here's who has already turned on the heat:

Canoineag (Denver): Oct. 1
Dido: First week of October
creditcardfree (Iowa): Oct. 3
wowitsawonderfullife (Toronto) Oct. 8
AnnLink (Buckeye)(Ohio): Oct. 8
Boomeyer: Oct. 10
Fern (CT): Oct. 12
JoanoftheArch: Oct. 12
NorthGeorgiaGal (GA): Oct. 16
LuxLiving: Oct. 17

To Debtfreeme, Househopeful, monkeymama, imasaver, momfrommissouri, Patrick and PrincessPerky, are you still in the contest?

One Last Kayak Trip

October 23rd, 2009 at 11:19 am

With temperatures expected to reach into the low 70s yesterday, I knew it could be one of my final chances to take Little Minnow out for a fall foliage cruise. So I set out yesterday and put in on the lake at one of my hometown's boat launches.

I've learned from experience that one can look mighty foolish getting into a kayak in shallow water, only to find yourself unable to move because the hull of the kayak is wedged on the water's bottom. Unless you have a boating companion who can push you out, you really need to wade into deeper water so the kayak is truly floating before you get in. So, because I knew I would get wet, I wore a pair of sweatpants with those elasticized cuffs on the bottoms. I scrunched them up to my knees before wading in. I was expecting freezing cold water, but in truth, the air temperature was so warm it didn't bother me.

Once on the lagoon that leads out to the lake, I can only say the view was exquisite. It reminded me of a John Denver song.

Like a night in the forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses

The lake really did fill up my senses. A warm breeze riffled through low hanging tree branches and sent cascades of leaves floating down to the water's surface. That's what I heard, too...the wind in the trees and acorns raining down, some of them plunking into the water. Even the air seemed incredibly fresh and clean.

Once through the lagoon and on the lake, I decided to head south toward the dam, hugging the shoreline. The rhythmic sound of my paddles dipping into the water put me in a meditative state as I gazed upon the birch, beech, hemlocks, maples and mountain laurel with their impressionist-like palette of rust, gold, rose, red and amber foliage.

One or two motor boats made a few passes down the middle of the lake, creating broad swells that smacked against the banks of the lake. I thought it ironic that these same boaters, who evidently enjoy being on the water as much as I do, could be so disrespectful of the environment. There was quite a bit of floating debris, all of it plastic. I fished out about a dozen objects ranging from a motor oil bottle to bait containers, along with the usual food and beverage containers.

When I neared the dam, I turned round and headed back from whence I came. I considered crossing over to the other side of the lake, but in truth I was afraid of getting mowed down by one of the motor boats patrolling up and down. Kayaks are low-lying boats and I doubt you'd even catch my profile in the bright sun, doing about 30 mph, until you were practically on top of me.

So I contented myself with the same view, only in reverse. It was a picture-perfect day, so no regrets.

The cost of a kayak, roof rack, life vest, paddle, anchor, and assorted pulleys and ties about 5 years ago? About $1,500. Two-and-a-half hours out on the water in late October? Priceless.

My No Heat Date to Beat

October 1st, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I decided to look up in my old blog posts what date I finally turned the heat on last year. I figure, that's the date I want to beat this year, by at least one night, preferably more!

I turned on my heat in 2008 on October 18.

Brrr. So i have a few more weeks to go, and it got mighty chilly here last night, down to 59 degrees inside.

It's harder this year because now I'm home all day long.

As for who won the No Heat Contest last year, I see from a December 13 08 blog I wrote that I still had, as far as I knew, 3 semi-finalists:

1. sevenofseven - Northern California
2. nomorecredit- NY
3. swimgirl - Northern California

No one ever got back to me, I don't think, so I'm not actually sure who won!

2nd Annual No Heat Challenge

September 11th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

For anyone who wasn't around these parts last year this time, a bunch of us entered a challenge to see who could hold off turning on the heat the longest.

There's no special prize if you win, but it's a lot of fun (umm, yeah, right). Let me know if you're in; I'll make a list and try to update it (who's caved, who hasn't) every weekend.

May the best frugalite win!

How Green the Water Looks From the Cockpit of a Kayak

August 24th, 2009 at 10:19 am

I was really waffling on how to spend my last day at home. The weather, as I've mentioned, has not been cooperative, but today is a decent day and not as humid as it's been.

I was torn between kayaking, bike riding or tackling my "to do" list.

After reading MonkeyMama's post, i decided to do the kayaking. I've only been out once this summer, and I'd been wanting to go on a quiet weekday when I knew I'd have the lake to myself.

I was out for 2.5 hours and got another good upper body workout in. Only three boats passed me; otherwise, complete solitude. The sound of my paddle dipping into the water becomes rhythmic and so relaxing. Still, I could feel my stomach muscles tightening as I put some "oomph" into my paddling.

Saw 5 great blue herons. (It's possible some were the same bird.)

Emerald green waters

Rocky shoreline

A Good Place to Be in a Heat Wave

August 15th, 2009 at 08:06 am

Day #1 of heat wave....I decide to take the kayak out, alone, for the first time in about 2 years.

Although it's not my favorite spot, I went to the closest put-in spot in my town. I headed for the town boat ramp on Lake Lillinoah, about a mile or so past the state boat ramp on the same road, same body of water. They call it a lake, but it's really just a very wide river.

When I arrived at 7:50 a.m., the gate was closed, causing me to do a u-turn back to the state boat ramp a mile down the road.
There were about a half dozen vehicles and empty trailers already in the parking lot.

I unloaded the boat and pushed out into a channel that opens into the lake after about a half mile.

Today's the first day of at least a week-long heatwave with temps in the 90s, so I wanted to get an early start, and in fact, the fog was still overhanging the water, so much so that I worried a powerboat bearing down on me might not see me.

I hugged the shore and entertained myself by looking at all the houses.

Some are quite grand.

And some homes can't even be seen from the lake.

I startled a great blue heron on the dock (at right) who silently took wing when I came too close.

The first hour of my journey was calm and quiet, but 9 a.m. seemed to be the magic hour when a jet ski as annoying as a high-pitched, buzzing mosquito buzzed around. Mostly, there were just people fishing from their boats.

I went as far as the bridge, then turned around. I didn't want to overdo my first kayaking trip in a while, even though it's wonderful upper body exercise for me.

I made it back in half the time, due to the current.

There were more people unloading boats in the water, and an older man with his own kayak offered to help me get my boat on my car. Since I'd been paddling for a few hours, I was tired, so I said yes.

I enjoyed it so much that I hope to go again next Friday (a day off) when I think it might be quieter on the water. And I want to leave from the town boat ramp, about a half mile further north, so that I can paddle beyond the bridge. I'll have to call Parks & Rec to see when they open that gate up on a weekday.

And maybe I'll pack a simple lunch of some sort.