Voices of MainStreet: April Lee


5 Ways to Find Balance

May 20, 2011

The truly wonderful thing about living in a thriving, metropolitan city like Seattle is that there is so much to do. When I first moved here I played and partied a lot. Then I realized how much trouble I was getting into (i.e. spending way too much money) and decided to make up for it by working far too much. By the end of the year I had run myself ragged so I made a New Year’s Resolution to not work too much. Working is important, money is important, but so is health: physical, mental and emotional. It’s easy to forget about those last two but they are just as important. In an effort to find a balance of financial security, working, playing and a little solitude I found a few things that help.

“Take the stairs.” I am not kidding about this. We’ve heard it a bunch and tend to ignore it. It’s highly unlikely you don’t have the extra few minutes it takes to walk up the stairs. I have paid attention to how much time it takes to wait for the elevator, get on the elevator, wait for other people to get off the elevator and then finally my turn to get off the elevator. Likely, taking the stairs will not require too much more of your time than it does to ride the elevator, though it will take more effort but this is good effort. It’s great effort invested especially if you work in front of computer or sit at a desk all the day. You need your blood to move. It’s an energy and mood booster. Once, I read somewhere that smokers have one thing right: They take breaks and in some ways this makes them healthier than those who do not and work through the day. I make sure to take a 10 minute walk to get coffee, chat with the barista and enjoy a little fresh air. Trust me, it does wonders.

90 minutes of exercise a week. Life is busy and often I find I “don’t have time” to work out 5 days a week like I want to. The bare minimum I need to do is 30 minutes of getting my heart rate up into its target rate three days a week. I grew up in the South and the Mid-West. We are not pro-active about taking care of our bodies stereotypically speaking. Seattlites are so encouraging to be around. Yesterday I was approached in Cal Anderson Park, located in Seattle’s hot spot neighborhood Capitol Hill, and was asked to play kickball! The last time I played kickball was when I was a kid! So go out, find ways to play.

Laugh. People always say to me, “But you look so young!’ First of all, twenty-seven is not old. I’m always surprised when people have that reaction after hearing my age. Still, they ask me what I do. I laugh a lot. I wish I could get paid to laugh. Humor helps me survive. Now that I have been out on my own in the working world as a completely independent adult, I truly understand how easy it is to go with the stress ball rolling down a massive hill. Stop, take a breath, don’t take life’s hiccups too seriously and laugh. Find a way to laugh, every day.

Make your money work for you. Find something you are comfortable investing your money in even if it’s only $100. So what? It’s the same as anything else: the more you do it the more you’ll want to. So start small if that’s what you can do, celebrate that first step and keep going. If there is one thing I’ve learned from rich people it’s this: Don’t work for money, let your money work for you. Even having a little bit working in the background for you adds to peace of mind.

Don’t wait until you’re old with a bad hip. Travel, explore, take classes, and invest in adventures. Why would anyone want to wait to do the things they want to do until their golden, senior years? I’m not trying to be doomy and gloomy but the reality is you have no idea when your life will be over. Do the things you love while you can.
There are many, many other things I could talk about but I do believe this helps with balancing a working life and personal enrichment. Work isn’t all there is to living, that’s for certain.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Mom, I’m Running Away to Join the Circus

May 13, 2011

My first job as a working adult was not the result of a job search. I was in love with a boy and I ran away to join him in the circus. It is every parent’s worst nightmare. Almost 10 years later in retrospect, I am truly impressed my parents didn’t do anything other than what they did: they let me go. I joined the circus because as far as I was concerned I had nothing else going for me except for love and no sense of direction so I traveled. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

No, I wasn’t a trapeze artist. You can’t just join the circus and do that. It takes years of training that usually begins when the performer is a child for best results. I had a choice between working in the wardrobe department or in daycare, neither of which was appealing to me in the least. I heard people complain freely about both but because naptime exists in daycare I chose to work there. I had no patience or understanding how to work with children let alone children who speak multiple languages.

My first job as a working adult was not the result of a job search. I was in love with a boy I couldn’t tear myself away from. Choosing to not be apart from that boy, choosing that path, choosing that job changed my life. It’s a simple overused phrase but it’s the truth. It changed my life. The world was traveling with me, essentially, and because of that it changed my worldview. I learned languages, I tasted new food, I learned dances, I learned new philosophies and work ethic, I learned how to teach, I learned how to be vulnerable, I learned how to love in a whole new way because of those kids. Life issues suddenly came into perspective for me.

It didn’t take long before I loved working with children. I made up educational games, we made up stories, we created art projects and when I really got going with the program I made up a sort of “travel game” so we could learn about different parts of the world by taking a “plane trip” to different countries. It was so exciting! I’m getting excited again just thinking about it! Parents and children spoke about their countries; they taught us words, they taught us numbers and colors, they taught us a lot. It was amazing to see our miniature version of the world living in relative peace and harmony. There were always conflicts and “drama” happening between individuals and departments. There were always issues but it worked.

My stint with the circus taught me a bit about world peace. I’m not suggesting recent graduates should run away and join the circus (parents, I promise! I won’t encourage it) but I can say this: Be open to what life offers you. Listen well. You’ll be surprised, and hopefully blessed, with what the world brings you.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

The Mess Hereafter
May 10, 2011

It took a few days before I could process my reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death. Ten years later and I feel so removed. Correction: I felt removed until Monday morning when I saw the reactions of my fellow Americans.

I'm certainly not the first to be upset with the callous celebrations. Many Americans quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s words about not combating hate with hate, but it is very hard to not hate a man who spearheaded the attacks of September 11th. Friends and families alike were affected by his actions, and they have every right to find some happiness in his death, I think.

But still, I don’t feel safer. You see, it’s about that idea of “justice.” Truthfully, there is no justice for what someone else has done to you. An eye for an eye isn’t possible without the other person deemed as deserving “justice” being involved. So as much as millions of people would like to think that we could not have made Osama bin Laden feel any remorse or shame for what he did, we cannot make him feel our wrath as he is dead. I can’t imagine that anyone who went as far as he did would ever feel guilt, anyway, especially from something that had clearly made him proud.

Despite all that, though, no matter what you think of the War on Terror, of American activity, or of the stories of politicians behind the curtains, Bin Laden's death will not prevent further wrongdoings against being made against the American people. Because at the heart of the matter, what is the drive of the beating heart, is the right to live and survive. It is about respect for another human life, no matter what we may think of their ideas about living. Once that is threatened, once my right to live my life the way I want to is threatened, I have a right to self-preservation. And so does my enemy.

Indeed, it is a messy, messy world.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Heavy Pennies

April 29, 2011

My mother used to keep a jar mostly full of pennies. It was a game to pull them all out to sift through them and count, and my mother made rolling change “fun.” (Well, I can’t say she particularly enjoyed it, but my sister and I had a decent time.) There was something exciting about seeing all of those pennies strewn about the floor and it seemed like we had so much. We were happy to count all the shiny and rusted pennies to see how much we money we had, but the older we got, the less excited we were about pennies. A penny is one cent - one measly cent! What am I supposed to do with that?, I would think to myself.

It wasn’t until I grew a few decades older that I truly understood the value of a penny. To this day, I keep all my change in a jar, or piggy bank, and roll it in labeled papers to take to the bank and deposit into my savings account. I like to wait until the end of the year so I can see just how much I saved. It’s important to feel the "weight" of money, and it’s a valuable lesson I feel we are losing with our frequent use of plastic credit cards.

Here's what I learned from my mother: The value of even one penny and what you do with it counts. It’s easy to spend so much money when we swipe our plastic; its value is condensed to the stroke of the card--a stroke of a card through a reader. It’s more convenient, sure, but it’s also detached. Imagine if you had to carry around all your pennies? Imagine if you had to carry the weight of all you spent or all you have saved? Wouldn’t that be an unforgettable lesson?

My parents were never “great” with money and I had my own hard lessons to learn, thanks to the tangled web of credit and marketing, but I do feel lucky that my parents taught me this little bit of wisdom because it’s the little bit that matters.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

I Ain’t ‘Fraid of No Gas Prices
April 21, 2011

“Nope, no summer vacation for me. I can’t afford to drive anywhere with gas prices like that,” the man at the bus stop said to me the other day. Every morning we wait for the bus together, indulging in small talk about the weather and how much lighter everything is now that spring has sprung. Yesterday, we were discussing gas prices, which are hovering around $4.10 in Seattle.

Just six years ago, a friend and I were planning to protest the gas prices when they passed the dollar mark. Now watching them cross the $4 threshold has left me confused. Is this really happening?

Every day I’m a little more grateful that I use public transportation, even though it doesn't make me immune to rising prices. At the beginning of 2011, Seattle saw its bus fare rise by a quarter.

There may not be plenty of road trips ahead, but I don’t think rising gas prices should affect how we take vacations this summer.

There are options. While it's easy for road trips to become expensive, no one wants to see their fun dampened by gas prices.

Here are a few quick reminders:

Carpool. Having more people to chip in for fees makes driving anywhere cheaper. Just make sure the people you have with you can be tolerated in small, confined spaces.

Pack meals. Eating on-the-go can be expensive, so take an extra half hour to pack sandwiches, veggies, fruits, chips or whatever else you might prefer. Your pocketbook will thank you.

Avoid tolls. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but Google Maps has made it easier to get around roads with tolls. Just remember that avoiding the tolls won't be that much cheaper if your alternate route takes longer and requires more gas.

Keep a spare tire handy. No one wants to get stuck on the side of the road paying a hefty fee for a tow truck and mechanic’s fees.

Budget. It’s easy to overspend, so take the 20 minutes to plan out expenses. It’s best to have an idea of how much you'll be spending.

Road trips and summer vacation are still possible and are meant to be enjoyed. “Stimulating the economy” is a great excuse.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

‘Tis the Season for Fun
April 18, 2011

It isn’t quite the season for garage sales yet, but I'm starting to see a bit of spring in everyone’s step.

People are out walking around and looking for deals. What is it about spring that inspires so much shopping? Perhaps it's cleaning our closets, filing taxes and getting organized that makes us decide what to keep or sell, and buy.

A few weekends ago I passed a sidewalk sale. There were old books, clothes, shoes, new homemade jewelry and great finds, like old record players. But what was unique about this sidewalk sale was that anyone could come on any weekend to sell their items. It was a mix of old-fashioned yard sale with newbie sellers trying to launch their business.

Seattlites love to refurbish old things, and then turn around and sell them. But sidewalk sales, yard sales and garage sales have a bit of a twist here: It isn’t about getting rid of things as much as it is about offering something to the community. We focus on what’s useful and what could be a great buy for someone else, and we definitely focus on what's hip. This is why it’s so exciting when the neighborhood sales begin to pop up! Recycled cool stuff: What’s not to love?

Spring is the season for getting rid of the old and bringing in the new: ‘Tis the season to prepare to have fun!

The other great thing about neighborhood sales is the feeling of having a community. It’s a great opportunity to talk to new people, get tips on great places, hear each other’s stories and continue the long-standing tradition of the open market: negotiating.

Speaking of, here’s something I learned from an old woman: Visit sales towards the end of the day. The sellers will be more willing to negotiate a price because they want to get rid of their stuff. Personally, I never do this with new businesses or when I know someone handmade their items, but I think it’s perfectly fine to do with recycled or used items.

In any case, it's a great excuses to show off that new summer dress.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Sacrifices: Over Our Heads

April 1, 2011

From what books say and from what I can imagine, this decade’s “sacrifice” is nothing like what was sacrificed 60+ years ago when World War II was fought. Neither is this current war. I doubt very few people hesitated to call WWII a war like we do now when speaking about our military involvement in the Middle East.  It’s safe to say most Americans felt quite passionately justified to strike Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, but since America’s invasion into Iraq, the support has dwindled, which leaves a lot of us feeling quite strange since we are still involved.

Certainly, we feel the effects of inflation and higher unemployment while we hang on to what we have. I don’t feel we are sacrificing in this decade for the “war” so much as we are feeling the impact of the flux of the market: supply and demand. They are shortages; not sacrifices.

For WWII, the majority of Americans were willing set aside luxuries and work to support the troops. Right now, there is no support for the war and we are not willing to sacrifice. Is the unwillingness due to lack of support for our involvements overseas or is the unwillingness more about a different generation with different priorities? The most damaging is the latter. Most people will know what I mean when I call this younger generation the “Entitled Generation.” There are two types of people on welfare and government programs: Those who need it and those who simply don’t care enough to not need it. I’m afraid a lot of my experience is filled with people of this last group’s mentality. Now is a time of need but now is also a time of being creative and figuring out how to not lean on the government as much since we are in so much financial trouble. They are cutting spending anyway. Now people will be forced to figure something out.

I don’t think my generation is only full of those who are lazy and careless. Plenty of my friends do care about sacrificing but I can’t say that is the majority thinking. We are all about instant gratification. Put it on the credit card so I can have it now. Take out a loan so I can have it now. Is the 52” TV necessary right now even if it’s on sale? Most likely it isn’t. Even in this economic state, I see people trying to take out more loans. Whatever happened to saving up for something? You can still give back to the economy and help it grow by saving and buying out right. Loans and crediting is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Things are tight but they aren’t so bad. Our problem isn’t the recession but that we’ve been spoiled.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

My Phone and I: In it for the Long Haul

March 25, 2011

Cellphones are impressive gadgets, aren’t they? There is a whole world living inside of this tiny machine that fits in my pocket (that’s a requirement I have). The whole world, metaphorically, fits in my pocket. I can call whomever I want at any moment, something which was not possible all that long ago. I can look up words, check to see how long my favorite TV show has been airing, look up the Dow’s numbers today, read email (electronic mail), and check my bank account balance either by calling or texting. This is amazing and also incredibly invasive.

There is a saying that goes, “When staring down into the abyss remember it is also staring back at you.” It is, truly. Nothing comes without a price, eh?

Cellphones are complex machines that make our lives a bit more accessible though not necessarily easier. In theory, answers are right at our finger tips.

Two years ago I walked into my cellphone provider’s store to purchase a simple flip-phone. I didn’t want anything fancy or unnecessary, “just a phone,” I explained to the salesman. It wasn’t long before I walked out with a smartphone, unsure and excited about my new purchase.

It took months to readjust to the phone. Really, it was like a mini-computer. Though I didn’t care for the operating system it was running on, I can’t imagine living my life without it now. It’s become an appendage to help me function.

Now the time has come to upgrade to another phone. It’s overwhelming. Truthfully, I passed the buck to loved ones who know what I need and are far better shoppers than I am. Best left to the professionals, I suppose. Okay, they’re not professionals but close enough for jazz.

There are many contestants now to consider: Some people like to exchange their phones every year but I’ve heard of others exchanging their phones every three to four months! Of course, those I’ve heard of exchanging phones this often are typically in the technology industry and sometimes it’s pertinent to their job to keep up on trends.

One individual told me he thought he might possibly buy an iPhone simply because he hated it and wanted to know all the reasons why he was not a fan of Apple. He works at Microsoft but don’t be fooled into thinking his distaste for Apple has anything to do with Microsoft. Plenty of Microsoft employees use Apple products.

If I didn’t dislike the operating system my current phone uses, I’d be more than happy to keep it until it no longer works.

I suppose I’m old fashioned that way.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Thank Goodness the World Can Respond

March 18, 2011

The earthquake and the ensuing aftermath in Japan hits “home” for many. Most people have at least distantly experienced the trauma of natural disasters. I remember watching tornadoes form in Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma; watching the hurricanes unleash on New Orleans and have felt an earthquake or two on my own.

I was at work the entire day and didn’t see any footage until I returned home. It was shocking to see the wrath of Mother Nature. It was also impressive to see how quickly the world responds to these things. It warmed my heart and relieved me to see a country that has just experienced a massive earthquake has help from more than just its own people. I thought of how this might affect people hundreds of years ago. There is no comparison. Had this earthquake happened in an earlier time period, the lasting damage would have been much worse. I can hardly imagine what those people are going through. The terror of personal experience, the fright of possible, and likely, lost loved ones, and the awe of seeing huge boats, cars, buses and the like being swept away by the waters.  They wait in uncertainty for what will come next.

This is when giving money charitably means the most to me. I wish I could devote my time to helping those in need but flying to Japan is out of the question so it is money that matters more. Donating to the RedCross is as simple as a phone call, visiting the website or texting the message “REDCROSS” to the number 909999 to give $10 (visit the site for an electronic receipt). It is easy, it is simple and if tax deductions are important to you then know that this is applicable when you itemize next year when tax time rolls around.

I have always said if you cannot give your time then give your money to those who do have the time to help.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

A Reluctant Taxpayer

March 11, 2011

“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

Yes, taxes are unavoidable, and I am always eager to get my taxes out of the way. I wait for the W-2s to arrive in the mail and as soon as I get them I file. Otherwise it weighs on my mind. Unfinished business makes it difficult to enjoy my weekend.

Well, that’s the idea at least. It’s logical but it doesn’t always work out that way. Life happens, distractions do what they do best, March has begun and I still haven’t finished my taxes. They’re not all that complicated. I don’t owe them any money. I’m pretty sure they owe me money. So what’s so unpleasant about doing my taxes?

It began as joke but now I am beginning to see the truth: I am very much like my cat, Billie. She’s fiercely loyal and insists on independence. Her whimsical moods are exhausting but there is no doubt that she is my cat. Most of the time she’s fine with doing what I ask as long as I give her room to be independent. I can convince her to do things but I can never make her do it. That’s the key. She chooses her own actions.

I don’t want to be forced to do my taxes for fear of punishment. I’d rather you convince me it’s in my best interests. So far, my government is doing a terrible job and now I’m stuck like a dog obeying orders. There is no doubt I love my country and support its well-being. I’m happy to have been brought up as an American. Taxes seem very un-American. I’m not on the tea party band wagon, I’m only thinking this through.

My money has sat in two different banks so far in my life. I didn’t like one bank so I switched. Currently, I am researching credit unions because I am thinking of changing my money’s location again. Competition is great for business, efficiency, productivity and ethics. People will stop supporting a business when it has ceased to provide what they consider good service. As it is, I’m in the “dog house” with my cat, Billie. I’ve been out too much lately and now must make up for the time I haven’t given her. She’s right. I’ve been a terrible pet-owner lately and I’m glad she keeps me in check. Freedom of Speech!

I wish I could do this with taxes without punishment. “Hello, U.S. government. Yes, I see you’ve spent here when I told you I wasn’t happy with that. You know what that means? I’m cutting you off. A deal’s a deal. I’m giving my money to the National Government (my made-up competitor for the government). No, I don’t owe you this. I’m happy to give it as long as you’re doing something I support. Take it up with someone else. Maybe my neighbor supports your policies. Good day.”

If the government had a competitor, we’d see better craftsmanship when it comes to taxes. On the other side of the coin, the customer has to care about quality. Research must be done. Billie never lets me feed her anything less than her standard of quality.

Perhaps if we did enough meowing outside of our government official’s offices we’d see some improvement. An immediate counter to all the complaining is, “Why don’t you move to another country then?!” Because I love America! I do. I don’t know why complaining is ever seen as a testament to not loving something. Being a citizen is like being married, I imagine. I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I’m an American for life. I’d rather work with America instead of walking away but then I haven’t been pushed to my limit, yet. So I pay my taxes, speak up, I sign petitions, I vote, I stay as involved as I can and hope for the best.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Spring Break Anytime, Anywhere

March 4, 2011

It has been some years since I’ve thought about spring break. Spring break exists for school children, college students and those who work in any touristy area or tourist business. Seattle is a touristy city, but spring breakers want to vacation in Mexico, Florida, California or any other sunny beach area. Seattle’s infamous rain doesn’t exactly fall into the spring break ideal.

Seattle may not have much to speak of when compared to Rio de Janeiro but we do have Alki Beach, ferries to take to islands and a “tall thing” to look at and venture into (i.e., The Space Needle).

Visiting another city or vacationing can be expensive, so here is my tried and true tip: Make friends. Yep. Make friends with people who are visiting your city and be hospitable so that when it’s your turn to travel you at least have a friendly tour guide.

Two years ago I went to four different cities and crashed with friends. My vacation cost me considerably less than $1,000 and I visited San Jose, Portland, Boise and New York City. I only had to pay for a hotel in one city!

Also, if you haven’t made friends with visitors then hopefully your friends have moved away to great cities. Once I moved to Seattle last year, I happily invited my friends to stay and visit me, and they did. Seattle is a great city.

If that won’t work, have a vacation in your own town. I’m convinced of this after spending the last few weekends having mini-vacations. Spend a day and a half lounging, eating good food and doing activities that make you feel good. Take advantage of local coupons to spas, restaurants, entertainment, etc. and make a vacation right in your city.

If you really need the beach atmosphere, grab a lime to pour in a coconut, turn on the Beach Boys and light a “sea breeze” scented candle. It’s hard to get a truly authentic feeling away from the source unless you’re willing to throw sand on your floor.

You can have fun during spring break even if you’re not the traditional spring breaker.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

The Cuts We Can’t Make

Feb. 28, 2011

I don’t envy the people hired to manage the budget for millions of people. It’s a tough job and I’m beginning to think people who choose to run for government positions might have an insanity wish.  The proposed question to me this week was basically, “What would you do with the budget?” I looked at the diagram and explanations on the White House website.

The biggest criticism I continue to hear is not enough cuts were made to the entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
I agree with those criticisms and yet I’m not sure what to do either. What can I say to this? Yes, I want the giant health care costs the government is paying cut back but I also know that it isn’t right to swipe the care they depend on out from under their feet. Baby boomers are in trouble. Most of them don’t have the savings necessary to survive without Social Security, which leaves them out in the workforce, still, when some shouldn’t be anymore. There are many, many people who cannot afford health insurance. America is one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world and we can’t afford health care (in this thought I am including the surprises of all the things health care doesn’t cover when poor people “can afford it”)? This is an old topic but it astounds me. Now that I am older and out on my own to face these topics, I am beginning to feel the impact. This is wrong.

How did we get here? How did we get to a point where we can’t afford antibiotics? I’m angry the government is in this position. I don’t feel the government should be involved with my health care. The market is supposed to take care of this. Business is supposed to take care of this in my eyes. I’m wary of government having too much money. Once the taxes begin it doesn’t want to let go so I depend on the market but the health market is filthy right now.  What happened to responsibility and honest business ethics?

Last week I bought Starbuck’s RED African Blend coffee beans. $1 of that purchase goes to the Global Fund to aid people living with AIDS in Africa. I’m happy to be a contributor to help people in other countries but I’d like to see more donations like that happening for Americans, too. It doesn’t matter that we are a powerful, rich country. We still, still have people to aid here.

Truly, I’m disappointed with the market and its lack of forethought. I’m disappointed the government can’t manage money. I’m disappointed it won’t make the cuts needed to survive but even more so than that I’m disappointed the government can’t make those cuts. It’s easy to say “slash the entitlement programs.” What will happen to those people in desperate need of health care that only the government seems to be able to provide? Someone please step up and do the right thing. Take care of your fellow countrymen.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Feb. 18, 2011

Yesterday I paid $4.99 for a dozen local eggs and $4 for Simply Orange’s Grapefruit juice . Frozen shrimp was on sale for $11.99 but I found shrimp meat for $5.99 per pound from the seafood counter.

I happened to noticed that there were signs apologizing for the inconvenience caused by a certain lack of fruit. I acknowledged the thoughtfulness, but then I noticed something else, the price: $2.99 for one green bell pepper! I guess “lack of” also means “we jack up the prices.”

Yup, food is definitely more expensive these days.

Knowing what's important to you while shopping is crucial, and being an impulsive buyer just isn't going to help you in this economy.

Buying local and supporting business ethics I believe in are priorities for me, but this hasn't always been the most affordable tact. 

I'll admit that I don’t always buy the local eggs. Sometimes I buy the “evil” guy’s stuff because it’s cheaper.

It's sad, but true that sometimes spending less is simply more important.

The quick advice is to not eat out as much, but if a person is lazy one night or one morning and doesn’t prepare some meals and snacks, then not eating out can be a hard thing to do. It's a frequent problem for me, anyway.

Being healthy, mindful, and aware of your spending habits requires much more responsibility.

When things are “normal” it’s a hard enough balance, but now it’s even tougher.

These are the principles I follow when eating out or shopping that can also help you save:

  • Buy smaller sizes or eat half of whatever you’ve bought.
  • Make an effort to prepare more meals.
  • Choose to walk when you can.
  • Hit pause on the impulse buying. Ask yourself if this is something you can afford to indulge in. If you can, indulge! There is no      reason to deny yourself simple pleasures, but be honest with yourself. If you can’t afford the simple luxury, then don’t push it.
  • Be grateful for what you have now.
  • Forgive the mistakes and the process of learning. It takes time.
  • Strive to be more efficient with your priorities.
  • Indulge every now and then.

Come to think of it, being thrifty looks a lot like being healthy.

There's another thing to remember, too. Invest in your future starting now. Save for your retirement because who knows what’s going to happen. One of the best statements I ever heard was, “If I want something done I just do it myself.” Don’t wait or rely on anyone else to make the change.

My opinions are merely one way of thinking. One could also protest the prices and buy all the cheap stuff, too. But why support higher prices? Maybe the companies and farmers will think, “since you pay $5.99 for a dozen of my eggs, you’ll pay more next year! Ha!”

I did take a stand at the grocery store, though. I didn’t buy any green bell peppers.

So as they say, choose your battles wisely.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

The Unenthused Movie-Goer

Feb. 14, 2011

Seattle is a film city. My first summer in Seattle I unknowingly went to two festivals. One festival is called SIFF, Seattle’s International Film Festival, and the other is called STIFF, Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival. The two are easily confused but certainly different. SIFF has been described as a “school” vibe whereas STIFF is the “recess.” These festivals go on for weeks at a time. Seattle loves its festivals.

There hasn’t been much fuss about the Oscars at all in Seattle but I am beginning to think Seattle is too focused on its own films to notice. More likely, I am too wrapped up in my own world to notice. To be honest, I don’t watch a lot of films. My time is taken up with books and writing. I won’t be paying attention to the Oscars this year just like every other year but I can say there was one film I am glad, I heard, was nominated: Black Swan. I saw it in the theaters twice and I would gladly pay to see it again. I won’t seek out the answer but I’m sure I’ll hear about whether or not Black Swan won the awards it was nominated for.

I have friends who are into that stuff.

I won’t have a party but I’m sure others will. It’s hard for me to concentrate on a movie. If it’s a good one that means I especially have a hard time paying attention because it makes me think and then my mind wanders off. If it’s a bad movie, well, of course I don’t pay attention. For movie enthusiasts, I am a lose-lose situation. Ah well.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

The Non-Hallmark-Approved Valentine’s Day

Feb. 4, 2011

There is always the moneymaker scheme in every celebration. There are always the people who count the monetary value of the gift as equal to the value of your affection. There are always people who desire the clichés, the traditional or simply the act of celebrating.

There are always those people who have had bad holidays and so they shun them. On the surface, I tend to be one of those people. Underneath, I’m secretly wishing someone will right all the wrong Valentine’s Days before this one.

But what to get a Valentine?! Who knows?! It depends on the person who is receiving, of course. There’s the traditional route of teddy bears, chocolates, candy hearts asking “Will you be mine?” and singing Hallmark animals. That one is a recent tradition. There are plenty of naughty routes which I will not mention here.

The “Hallmark Holidays,” as they say, don’t really seem to exist in Seattle. It’s mostly local businesses that work on all the swooning, bleeding-heart Valentines. I like that about Seattle. There is nothing more romantic than a fresh sprinkle of rain on the evening’s air as we are likely to get over here. Walks in the rain are romantic aren’t they? You don’t even need money for that here in our lovely city. Maybe that’s just it; Seattle is romantic at its core.

I’m curious to see what Seattlites will do for their Valentines. The local free weekly newspaper, The Stranger, offered a free printed ad to your Valentine. Considering it was the sassy, sarcastic newspaper in the area, I thought it was a rather sweet offer. Or will Seattlites choose to get tattoos with their sweetheart or will they buy skinny black jeans for each other? Maybe they’ll indulge in books and their favorite coffee shops together or take a Valentines cruise from Argosy Cruise Tours (a local favorite). Maybe Seattlite Valentines will run a marathon hand-in hand! Oh what joy it is to sweat together for a cause. It’s very Pacific Northwest. Anyway, only tourists and lame-duck yuppies have dinner in the rotating restaurant in the Space Needle. It’s hard to say what people will do but time will tell.

In any case, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! If you are confused on what to get your sweetheart remember to be thoughtful. Be simply thoughtful. Often, it is the thought that counts most.

Oh! Last ditch idea: pink or red construction paper heart! What? It always worked on my Mom.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Banks: The Big, Bad Wolf

Jan. 28, 2011

When thought of simply, loans are a win-win for both consumers and banks. The individual gets what he wants or needs quickly and the bank makes money in the meantime. If getting the cash fast is more important than costs, then this isn't a terrible trade-off. At the most fundamental level, this is how a loan works. Pay your bills on time, and if you can’t, for whatever reason, then the banks are willing to work with you. After all, they’d rather not lose the money that's flowing freely into their hands.

With banks there is theory, what happens and the way of the world to consider.

The older I get, the more I realize how futile loans can be for the consumer. I can’t imagine saving up enough money to purchase a house outright but certainly I can save to purchase other things like used cars and the like.

Seattle has a steady flux of people arriving from all over the world. Many foreigners are astounded by the amount of loans Americans take and after learning how they simply saved, spent wisely and sacrificed their immediate wants for something they’ll need later, I think they're onto something. I don’t think loans are evil, but I do think they should be used as a last resort.

Anyone who has remotely paid attention to the news has heard much about the disasters they encountered with banks during the recession. There were horror stories with Bank of America, the current bank I use. Personally, I have not encountered any issues as a result of their actions, only mine.

I started banking with Bank of America because I was traveling for work and it was the most convenient bank to use. Now that I've settled in Seattle, I’m considering switching to a local credit union.

As a general rule of thumb, I disagree with the State of Texas that “bigger is better" and this is why the credit union is so appealing. Most everyone I meet here recommends a local option.

Seattle seems to agree with the rest of the country that banks simply suck. I don’t agree with the “hippy” view that anything bigger than a tiny mom & pop store is bad. After all, business by itself is not bad, it's just business (except when people become greedy or plain irresponsible). Unfortunately, the stories about banks have been fairly damaging to their image and, for lack of a better term, business. The banks don't see what we see when they look in the mirror.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

To Sacrifice the Sexy Engine

Jan. 17, 2011

The wonderful thing about Seattle is that it is a walk-able city. I lost 15 lbs. within my first two months of living here. That is how much of a walking-friendly city it is, but plenty of Seattlites commute by car as well. I see a lot of old BMWs, VW Bugs and plenty of Priuses. A lot can be told about the city by the cars people drive. Trucks or SUVs are a rare find here unless you live on the outskirts of Seattle.

Personally, I do not have a car. I walk and take the bus but I used to drive a Pontiac Firebird years ago when I lived just south of Detroit, MI. It had a V6 engine and was a gas guzzler but I did love the car. It was thick, meaty and it saved my life once. My father drove Thunderbirds. I like thick, meaty cars but times are changing and there are new things to think about.

Gas prices are high, resources are being fought over causing all sorts of political and environmental problems but fuel-efficiency cars are still pricey. It’s difficult to decide what to do when thinking of long-term costs and short-term costs. Either way, it’s all expensive. I am pretty happy to use the public transportation system but when time suddenly becomes more valuable than money I will have to get a car, motorcycle or Vespa. I don’t have a long commute, at the moment and cringe when I think of those who have to drive more than 30 minutes one way to work; but I walk for 30 minutes one way to work. I suppose it is the same.

I think fuel-efficient cars are strange. Change is always strange though isn’t it? It doesn’t purr the way I am used to engines purring. It doesn’t really purr at all, actually. Cars are sexy and I feel with this efficiency focus we are losing the sexiness of engines! How disappointing! I would love to wear heels everywhere but it isn’t efficient or practical so I choose to wear flats, every day, instead. There go the sexy shoes, there go the sexy engines. What will go next?! Will I have to cut my long hair because I can’t afford the amount of shampoo and conditioner it takes to clean it? It’s a joke ... sort of.

But we have a world to take care of and, as responsible adults, we must sacrifice, yes? We must do away with the things we desire in order to preserve which is far more important than anything else. It is a beautiful world. I’d like to keep that way.

I can still pretend the sexy engine exists in whichever car I purchase next. I can make engine sounds. That’ll work. Yes.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

The Big Goals in Little Bites

Dec. 27, 2010

I have a love/hate relationship with goal setting. If I don’t meet my goal, I’m upset but the reason I have not often met my own goals is because I haven’t made it specific. For example, “Save up money” is far too vague to be effective. The problem is that questions are not asked about this goal and they need to be. “How much money can I realistically set aside each week? How much will that amount to at the end of the year? Is saving important enough to me to save more than initially thought and cut out other expenses?”

I like to begin with the “bigger picture” of my desired future and then look at what I can do right now to work toward that. The important element is honesty. This is what helps to keep my goals more realistic and attainable which is a helpful motivator in continuing to set goals. If you cannot find a way to your goal with the means you currently have, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It only means you will have to reach out a bit. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one is an expert in everything. There are people who are trained with knowledge who can help you reach your goal no matter what it is.

New Year’s resolutions have been a bit of a rebellion of mine. Why would anyone wait for a specific time of year to set goals? If you want to do it, do it; don’t wait. But the winter, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, is a great time for reflection. It’s likely we are indoors more and activities are quieter apart from the holidays (I like to set goals after the holidays have passed). This year I am setting financial goals toward education, savings and travel; and downsizing my cup of coffee to a small instead of a medium. Well, I can’t take it out completely! I live in Seattle! The land of great coffee!

Speaking of Seattle and financial topics, the bus fare will raise another 25 cents. The ferries tried to raise their fare but can’t because the job belongs to the legislature and not the Transportation Commission because voters enacted Initiative 1053. Apparently this is costing the ferries an estimated amount of $6,000 a day even after there were $17 million cuts in ferry services. I wonder why keeping the fare rate the same is costing them so much money? Perhaps, individuals should think more like business. “Because I am not doing this, it costs me this.” Maybe questions should be asked about why they are losing so much money every day. Food for thought.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

New Year's in Boise

Dec. 20, 2010

Surprisingly, traveling during the winter holidays is brand new to me. I’ve managed to travel every other part of the year, except in 2010. I think I’m doing something smart, though. I’m not traveling to a major city like New York City, Austin, Atlanta, L.A. or San Francisco. I’m not traveling back home to Ohio. I’m flying in to Boise on Dec. 30th. That's right: I am spending my winter holidays in Boise, Idaho.

It is a very happy thought for me to spend part of the holiday season with my good friends. The plane ticket cost roughly 65% less than a plane ticket to Ohio during this time. (As a sidenote, it's still completely possible, and I recommended booking those last minute flights. Just go to www.kayak.com and use their round trip ticket calendar to find the best days to fly for cheap.)

Getting to the SeaTac Airport, Seattle’s Airport, is fairly easy. There are cabs, buses and a light rail from the heart of downtown. The thing people aren’t used to thinking about when using the light rail is to tap their ORCA card, the overall transit pass, on the card reader before getting on the rail. The security people hop on periodically and check everyone’s tickets. They do actually kick you off if your pass wasn’t read or your ticket isn’t legit. But unless you are attempting to get to one of the islands during bad weather, it’s very simple using public transportation to get to and from the SeaTac Airport.

And here's another useful tip: Be sure to check airport carry-on guidelines--again. Give yourself extra time because things happen, and if they do, it won't be that big of a deal. In other words, do what you need to do to make it work but don’t cramp everyone else’s style. This is what I always ask myself when I’m stressed out: In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? It matters, but do I need to be this upset? Being loud and obnoxious works, but you can get things done a little easier. Remember, kindness goes a very long way. And as they say, you get what you give. Everyone is cramped on the bus, airplane, train or car with you. Don’t turn the already unpleasant into something nearly unbearable.

“Worse things have happened to better people.” I read that recently, and I think they are wise words to remember. Plus, they can help you brush away the bed bugs and nightmares of holiday traveling.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Robin Hood Is Not the Answer

Dec. 13, 2010

I was still in high school when the Bush tax cuts were formed and now that they are being extended it’s like hearing about it for the first time. People are outraged the tax cuts are being extended because they think that money should be used to fix the deficit the government created.

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed this but the government did a terrible job managing money. In fact, they spent a lot. They spent a lot more than was affordable (and have now printed out more which might as well be Monopoly bills).

They say they have the intentions of paying it back. Right. When will people learn that people lie, push things back, make up excuses and look for the quickest solution that benefits them right now? We are talking about politicians, for crying out loud. You know what this situation reminds me of? The person with credit card debt who uses another credit card to pay off the credit card debt but ignores that they are continuing to gain more debt because of interest. Doesn’t anyone else see something wrong with this?

I am truly surprised Obama is extending the Bush tax cuts. He just spent a ton of money during the first two years of his presidency. Maybe he is having buyer’s remorse.

The controversy is that it cuts “rich” people some slack. Critics say it may have contributed to the predicament our economy is in now. Really? That seems far-fetched to me but then there is much I am learning about this topic and possibly I am too practical for government and politics. It seems we’re in this predicament because people were greedy, which wasn’t likely fueled by tax cuts. Where there is a will there’s a way. They’re smart. They would’ve found a way regardless of whatever law or program was put in place.

The “rich” people that make up the majority of this bracket receiving tax cuts are probably the people who run my favorite deli. McDonald's is right across the street but I always choose to go to this deli because 1) Their food tastes better and 2) Supporting local business, especially small business, is extremely important to me and very important right now. Those people at my favorite deli give other people jobs.

What I love about Seattle is that it is essentially a small town. Growth, in all ways, and consideration are pretty important here. We care about our neighbors very much. I care about what happens to the people at the deli. I care about their jobs and their well-being. I don’t want to see their choices “taken away” because someone else already did that by being inconsiderate of how their decisions affect the general public. One big network steals from under their noses. And now another is angry they can’t do the same.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

No TV, No Shopping Problems

Dec. 6, 2010

Holiday gift giving has not crossed my mind this year. I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the economy or my general attitude shifting.

Possibly it’s because I do not have a TV. I’m thinking that because I have avoided many advertisements this year, I have forgotten about all of the expected shopping I am supposed to do. It’s not that I think shopping is a bad thing. I enjoy shopping but removing sources that bring unnecessary items to my attention has substantially lowered my drive to buy things. It’s kind of cool because now I can see what is truly important to me.

“Stuff” collects and eventually becomes clutter in my home. Eventually, I have to deal with that clutter. I can’t hide it in my closet forever.

If I don’t need something I do not want to have it: except for a subscription to Jazz Improvisation magazine. Do you know how many years I have asked for this? Then I open presents of pins, brooches and cat sweaters I will never wear. Do I sound ungrateful? I think I do.

Knowledge, learning, travel and people are the most important things to me. I tend to give that way too. My “gift” I am giving to myself and to others this year, is visiting them. I will make pies, cookies and enjoy watching their children rip open Christmas presents wrapped under a tree. We’ll sing songs and maybe play in the snow if it’s available. Likely we will tell lots of stories and pretend we caught Santa and asked him his secrets.

I don’t have children of my own and if I did I am sure I would buy them lots of presents. But at this point in my life, I have different priorities that aren’t based on giving a lot of things. I’m enjoying it for what it is and one day I will enjoy giving lots of things to others.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

The Joy of Traditions

Nov. 29, 2010

Downtown Seattle trees are lined with lights like any other city does around this time of year.  Macy’s plays Christmas music over the street speakers while children wait their turn to sit on Santa’s lap just behind the giant windows. It truly feels like Christmastime!

But let’s not rush into things, folks. I think the majority of the population would like to have a little breathing room in between holidays. This year I made a pact with my sister: We are not putting up Christmas decorations until Dec. 1. And she can play Christmas music for the entire month of December.

My uncle used to send a new Snoopy ornament every year to both of us when we were kids. Holiday school projects and musical Christmas lights also hung on the fake tree (my mother is allergic to the real thing). On Christmas Eve we would place the hastily wrapped presents underneath the tree and sing along with the “singing” colored lights. Traditions are typically something of an obligation but it seems to me people find pleasure in the familiar. Every year, though we are grown adults, it is heavily implied by my sister to eat the cookies and drink the milk she has left out for “Santa.” See what I’m working with? What can I say? I love her and her silly traditions she refuses to let go of. This is the only time of year I drink milk. I dislike milk but it’s an obligatory tradition I may have a little fun in continuing.

She bought me a Santa hat with “Bah-humbug” sewn with green thread across the bottom. I am a joyful Scrooge, at least.

Families are not the only communities that have their own traditions. A 61-year-old Seattle Christmas tradition is to go on the Argosy Christmas Ship. The Christmas ship, which is actually a Christmas ship parade since there are ships following, stop at 45 different waterfront communities while local choirs serenade the masses. The actual Christmas Ship is more family oriented while the “parade ships” are a little less geared toward family friendly atmosphere. Just imagine: the reflection off of the water at night, the lights, the joyful but haunting voices of choirs, children giggling. It’s a lovely little picture.

But aside from the downtown area, it seems the rest of Seattle might want a bit of a break from the Holidays too. I haven’t seen any Christmas decorations but I am sure even my fellow joyful Scrooges will come out to play soon unless there is snow on the ground. Psst. If you haven’t heard, check out videos on Youtube of the recent “snowstorm” Seattle braced on 11/22/10. Cars were skating; people had their cameras: it was a “good” time.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Black Friday: Are you really saving money?

Nov. 22, 2010

If it were not for being asked what I am doing Black Friday, I would have forgotten about it, even though Thanksgiving and Black Friday are essentially synonymous in my family. Every year at Thanksgiving "dinner" – which is really more a lunch – strategy is plotted: Typically, the young ’uns (i.e., adult children) have to stay up late and wait in line for the big-ticket items while the parents go off to hunt for the "necessities," or not-as-expensive items. This used to be an exciting thing for me, but over the past few years I have become something of a minimalist. I have no personal interest in the purchases other than knowing others will be happy about the prices.

The reason low prices are important doesn’t bear repeating. It’s a tough time and saving any amount of money is welcome, though I don’t think buying something on sale necessarily means you are saving money. The consumer is only saving when compared with what it would have cost some other time; consumers continually overlook that they are still spending money. People tend to exclaim “Look at all the stuff I got for these low prices!” when the question to ask is why the product is being bought. Is it because the consumer was thinking about it before or because the sale itself is exciting?

Well, no one likes to hear practical questions when Christmastime (i.e. gift-giving time in secular and American culture) comes around. This time of year is supposed to be fun! (Yes, I know gift-giving is supposed to be about the thought, not expenses or necessity.)

After this Scrooge pops up in my brain, my next thought is how this is a great time to “boost” our economy. You know what they say: Spend money to make money (though I think Americans are a bit tired of that philosophy at this point). Personally, I feel it is wise to check out local store sales over the next week, save the big-ticket items for the bigger corporations, since they can afford to slash the prices more, and stick to what is useful – but not so useful you wind up giving another pen to your Grandpa. Does anyone do that anymore?

And if you’re anything like myself and aren’t a fan of big lines, don’t forget about the newest thing: Cyber Monday following Black Friday.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

Different Recessions in Different States

Nov. 15, 2010

"I can't afford that," isn't something I often hear from my sister.

Of course, the recession hit everyone fairly hard in America, but I know firsthand that it's much harder in the Midwest than here in Seattle.

The big reason I moved to Seattle in March was because it had the 14th best job market in the nation at the beginning of this year. And that's a sharp contrast between Seattle and northwest Ohio. Specifically, Seattle is thriving: Coffee shops are open, there are still plenty of job openings, and Pike Place Market bustles with activity even in the middle of November. Plus, there are people running down the street with umbrellas hoping not to miss their bus. They can afford to ride the bus here, not where it's desolate in northwest Ohio.

It's true some of my Seattle friends do not make as much as they used to. They have tightened the belt on their personal budget, acquiring roommates to lessen their rent, and cooking more often at home. They may not have as much money as they are used to, but they're employed.

Personally, I'm feeling financially free here in Seattle. I'm ecstatic to take my sister out for dinners and tea. And while these are small things, to those who have truly struggled through this recession during the last two years, it's a relief.

—April is a well-traveled young woman planting her roots in sunny Seattle, or well, just Seattle. Her writing covers whatever piques her interest and curiousity. Check out her blog here.

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