Finance made simple

It’s been awhile (more than 6 months!) since I’ve posted. I don’t have much to offer for creative writing but I wanted to share a link. I’m trying out some plain talk for finance at avoidingretirement.wordpress.com. Comments are welcome.

Making a simultaneously boring and complex area like finance seem engaging and/or easy to understand is a serious challenge. It will take me a bit of time to find my sea legs!

Discussed so far: George Jetson and Spacely’s Space Sprockets, George Jefferson vs. Thomas Jefferson, future (broke) Justin Bieber, Homer Simpson’s grease business… So it’s different over there, but still same old weird ‘me’. Cheers!

(more to come on this blog, thanks for following!)

Resolved: Live Presently

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I’m going to write every evening. I’m going to work out six days a week. I’m going to grow a beard. I’m going to the moon.

Look, it’s not going to happen, but I enjoy the concept of New Year’s resolutions as much as anyone. I’m realistic (ahem, old) enough to know they rarely last the week, never mind the month or year.

In years past, I’ve started January by writing a paragraph a day (summarizing the day), which always halted early once something traumatic happened. I’m a bit superstitious about those promises, but I also know writing when I’m not inspired will mean I will never re-read it. I’ve said before that I write because I have to, not because I wish to read or record. When you don’t see me on the blog, it only means I’m not publishing. Consider yourself saved of a thoughtless and unedited brain-dump.

My theme for this year is to be present.

That may sound ridiculous to you, but I live a dangerous combination of ‘in my head’ and ‘in the past.’ I made radical changes in 2013 and I’d like to build on that in 2014. Knowing I have a checklist to face each evening should make me more aware during the day.

Yes, I created a checklist, the tool of the wannabe organized. Most seek yes or no answers, and I may elaborate if I wish to. I have accepted that I’ll surely tinker with it through the month, but more than anything else it identifies if I was aware: Did I have fun? Take notice of the sunrise? Find a good way out of a stressful situation (an hourly occurrence at work)? Talk to someone not over the phone?

The list will work for me but if you also have a goal to live 2014 presently, then please feel free to adapt:

Calmed (after being upset), Colors (noticed), Creative, Finished Something, (Was) Inspired, Laughed, Learned***, Heard* (Music or Birds), Progressed, Resisted** (Temptation), Sky (Color or Weather), Smell, Stopped Procrastinating, Sunrise/set, Talked (face-to-face), Tried***, Yummy

* Only music or birds count because typically I watch news or listen to comedy podcasts, forgetting that music makes me happy.
** Mostly related to shopping on amazon.com and eating gluten-full food.
*** Means specifically something new. For example, I learned (read) about Richard the Lion-heart and tried making ice cream.

Naps didn’t make the list because I already excel in that arena. For the most part its an achievable list. It’s narrowing my tendency to live in the past to the immediate (today) and a positive way to end the day. Today, for example: Old-school Looney Tunes made me laugh out loud, I hung a window shade that’s been leaning against the wall for almost a year, I inhaled a new jar of crushed Vanilla bean seeds (STRONG!), and miraculously stayed away from Amazon.com.

Also, hearing Frank Stalone’s ‘Far From Over’ pop up on my iPod made me laugh out loud. That was a twofer on the checklist! Seriously, do yourself a favor and listen. I forgot how serious and un-ironic that song tries to be. My iPod followed it up with ‘Let It Whip’ by Dazz Band, a great 80s song that dares you not to funk out.

Anyone else might think my playlist needs to be trimmed but instead I’m reminded to seek out more obscure once-loved music. Way to start the new year!

ADVENTageous for Dec 13: Tante Arie, Père Fouettard & Hans Trapp

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In France, an old woman–who is half fairy, half good witch–named Tante Arie leaves her cave and rides her donkey (Marion) down the mountain on Christmas Eve. She brings gifts for good children but birch rods or dunce caps for the naughty ones. She is considered the reincarnation of the beloved Countess Montbéliard, Henriette de Montfaucon, who passed away in 1444. (“Arie” is short for Henrietta.) Tante Arie has white hair but a youthful face and will often wear disguises to see if people are still kind and hospitable to each other. Children can hear her coming on Christmas Eve by the bell she wears around her neck. I’m not sure why she doesn’t put that bell on her donkey, but she probably does. My high-school french is terrible and just as bad as google’s translate feature.

Elsewhere in France, the Père Fouettard (translated as Whipping Father) is a companion of St. Nicholas who dispenses lumps of coal and/or floggings to the naughty children while St. Nick gives gifts to the well behaved. The origin stories vary, but let’s say some bad things happened, some kids were resurrected, and Saint Nicholas forced Whipping Father to join him as penance. In some places, instead of coal he may leave badly behaved French children sugar beets. That was a bit of a head-scratcher for me until I saw France is second only to Russia in sugar beet production for the world. My guess is it was easier to hand out a beet than a potato, since apparently everyone grows sugar beets in France. That could be a vast over-generalization. What is clear, is he is looked at as the bogeyman. If you’re bad, Père Fouettard will get you. Doesn’t sound to me like Saint Nicholas has much of a handle on the man, and maybe jail is a better alternative than this so-called penance.

Other parts of France had a similar tradition with the equally creepy and threatening servant to Saint Nicholas, Hans Trapp. The misbehaving children could only hope the Christkindl (Christ child) would intervene on their behalf, or they would be tossed in Hans’ basket and later buried alive. An interesting note about why the Christkindl visits instead of someone based loosely on St Nicholas–it turns out during the Protestant reformation, for obvious anti-catholic reasons, they needed a symbol other than a Catholic saint. Always bathed in white, Christkindl appears sometimes as a woman or an angel and not always as a young boy.

Speaking of lads…

BUT WHAT ABOUT ICELAND? Tonight is a visit by Icelandic elf, Giljagaur (aka Gully Gawk), a Yule Lad who hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk.
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Gavle’s Yule Goat: “Gävlebocken”

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Rather than try to recreate the wheel, or the Yule goat in this case, I’m just giving you the direct link to a great article.

Learn about the attempts to keep the Gavle goat from burning down in Sweden this year. Place your bets on which day it will go up in flames! (I’m guessing 12/21.)

“We’ve made it from material that’s a little stronger this year, so it should be much harder to burn down. But we’re aware that the goat is only famous because it gets burned. It would be great if it didn’t actually burn down this year, because that would be the most unexpected result. Then we might really get a lot of attention.”

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/will-the-gavle-goat-burn

I laughed out loud when I read people throw gingerbread men at it, and the long list of demises is priceless.

ADVENTageous for Dec 12: Superstitions II

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I was too tired to finish writing about French traditions (they have three gift-bringers and I gave up after two) and instead pulled together a few shorter stories for you. But then I became obsessed with the source for the last one. It took an hour and it definitely wasn’t worth it, but… Oh wait. I already said it wasn’t worth it.

Just before the festivities begin in Finland, people usually take a Christmas sauna. The tradition is very old; unlike on normal days, when one would go to the sauna in the evening, on Christmas Eve it is done far before sunset. This tradition is based on the belief that spirits of the dead return and have a sauna at the usual evening sauna hours. [So ghosts have an annual bath at Christmas and not Halloween? Also, would it be such a bad thing to see beloved deceased Uncle Walt in the sauna? Ok. It would.]

The Irish believe that the gates of heaven open at midnight on Christmas Eve. Those who die at that time go straight through without having to wait in purgatory. [Evil-doers, take note.]

There is a game in Germany where they blindfold a goose. The girls circle around the goose and whoever it touches first will be the first to get married. [We had a pet goose when I was a little girl. That animal hated me, but in hindsight I was probably a ‘grabby’ four year old. If my friends had tried to play this goose game, I’d have run in the opposite direction.]

During the Middle Ages in Latvia and Estonia, it was believed that on Christmas a lame boy went through the countryside gathering all the devil’s followers together. These satan worshippers would then forsake their human forms and become wolves for 12 days.

At one time in Poland, it was believed that a child born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day ran the risk of becoming a werewolf, possibly as a punishment for their mothers’ sin in bearing them at a time sacred to the Mother of God. If there was a chance a child might be born on one of these days, an elaborate ritual would be followed to protect the fetus from becoming a werewolf.

On the island of Malta, those who are born on Christmas Eve may expect to turn into ghosts on every future Christmas Eve while they sleep. They will wake up exhausted and not have any recollection of their haunting activities. The remedy for temporary ghosting is to count the holes in a sieve (colander) from 10:00PM on Christmas Eve until dawn breaks. The reason for this curse was because the Christ child does not like sharing his birthdate. [But seriously, Happy Birthday.]

BUT WHAT ABOUT ICELAND? Custom has children putting a shoe in the window from December 12 until Christmas Eve. When the Yule Lads first became a tradition, food was a very important thing. Some scholars suggest nowadays there would be ‘iPhone thief’ and ‘diamond burglar’ instead of the imps we will meet.

If the children have been good during the day, one of the Yule Lads leaves a gift for them to discover in the morning. Bad children receive a potato (mmm, hash browns).

Tonight is a visit by Icelandic elf “Stekkjastaur”–aka Sheep-Cote Clod–a Yule Lad who harasses sheep for their milk but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs.
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