I *Heart* Mexican Music

For the past month, I’ve been training our new salesman at the box factory, David Gingerich. He’s not a Roth, but he’s darn close. His father and my father grew up together (though Dad was closer to David’s uncle, John). David went to school with my brother, Tony.

David and his wife recently returned from a two-year mission trip to Ecuador. I love to hear his stories of life and culture in South America. As we drive around Portland looking for people to buy boxes, we have many fine conversations about immigration politics, theology (though I’m atheist now, I’m proud of religious roots), and, of course, Latin music.

When I was young, I made fun of “beaner music”. (“Are kids still racist like that?” I asked David today. He didn’t know.) The oom-pa sound of the songs the Mexicans listened to while picking berries was easy to mock. When I went to work for Dad after college, I was dismayed to find our Mexican employees preferred this sort of music.

But you know what?

I actually grew to like certain songs. In fact, several years ago I made an entire CD devoted to my favorite oom-pa Mexican songs. (I borrowed CDs from Jose, Jesus, and Sabino.) Sometimes I’ll be driving along an sunny day and the mood will strike me to listen to my Mexican mix. I don’t understand a word they’re singing, but I love it.

This afternoon as I started cleaning the house, I wanted some upbeat background music. I wasn’t in the mood for classic rock, though, and the dance station on XM was just too chipper. What I really wanted was Mexican music. Did XM offer any? I looked at my channel card…

Sure enough! For the past hour now, I’ve been listening to XM 92, Aguila! (“Regional Mexcian” it says on the channel card.) I still don’t understand a word they’re singing, but somehow I don’t care. It’s the perfect music for my mood.

The key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have

For the past few weeks, I’ve been making sales calls with David, my replacement at the box factory. We’re visiting existing customers to explain the transition. Most of my clients know that I’m part-owner in the family business. “Why are you leaving?” they want to know. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to write,” I say.

“About what?” some of them ask.

“Personal finance,” I say, and that’s usually the end of the conversation. But this morning my answer launched a great discussion with a long-time customer named Ray.

“I was going to get into personal finance at one time,” said Ray. “Too many money guys are jerks. They’re slimeballs. They take advantage of little old ladies. I wanted to help the little old ladies. I was going to become a Certified Financial Planner. ”

Our conversation turned to the economic doom and gloom so prominent in the news media over the past few weeks. With storm clouds on the horizon, he’s been trying to get his co-workers to pay attention. “Get out of debt!” he tells them. “Spend less! Save your money!”

“I talk about money a lot,” Ray confessed. “My son is afraid to bring his friends over to the house. ‘Your dad is going to talk finances again,’ they tell him. And I do.”

“‘Do you invest in your 401(k)?’ I ask them. ‘No,’ they say. ‘Then you’re an idiot,’ I tell them. They can’t believe it. ‘Your dad just called me an idiot,’ they say to my son. ‘You are an idiot,’ he tells them.”

Ray laughed. “Some of my own friends wonder what I could possibly know about money. I live in a small house. I drive a beat-up old car. They drive new cars and live in McMansions. They don’t think I know what I’m talking about. They don’t understand that the key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have.”

I murmured agreement as Ray continued: “‘I’ve lived in the same house for 28 years,’ I say to my friends. ‘My house is paid for. Is yours? My car is paid for. Is yours? I could retire today. Could you?’ I don’t have a boat, I don’t have an RV, and I don’t have fancy clothes,” Ray said, indicating his modest attire. “I save my money. I invest it. That’s the way to wealth.”

Normally when I visit customers, we only talk about boxes. It was exciting for me to find somebody so passionate about saving, somebody who grasped the fundamentals of personal finance. But one point stuck out especially: “The key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have,” said Ray. He’s right.

I used to believe that “wealth” meant being able to buy whatever I wanted. I felt rich if I could buy something new, even if I were purchasing it on credit. Over the past couple years, however, I’ve learned to take pleasure in the things I already own. Why do I need more comic books when I already have a large library of them? Why do I need to own another bike? What will a new chair do for me that my existing chair does not? If anything, I want less stuff.

Like Ray, I’ve discovered that wealth doesn’t come from buying new things, but from being satisfied with what I already have.

Home-made treats for backyard birds

If there’s one area of our household budget where frugality goes out the window, it’s the birds.

There’s a large picture window over our kitchen sink, and I love to spend my Saturday mornings standing with a cup of tea, watching our neighborhood avian community. Or I keep an eye on the flight activity while I do the large-batch cooking that will see us through the week.

Blue Jay vs. Flicker
Outside our kitchen window is the birdfeeder, a spot worth fighting over.

Even a simple (and seemingly free) hobby like this can be costly. Other than growing your own seeds crops, there aren’t many ways to save money on birdfood. There are websites where you can order birdseed, but the shipping costs will kill you. You can buy seed in huge quantities for bulk discounts, but you’ll need a place to store it. Also, I’ve had problems with moth larvae in my seeds during long-term storage. I’ve just resigned to spend the money, since I enjoy the birds enough to make it worthwhile to me.

Yesterday I spent $50 on bird food:

  • Twenty pounds of thistle seed for the finches
  • Forty pounds of wild birdseed
  • Twenty pounds of black oil sunflower seeds

This will last for about two months, but I also supplement with bags of unsalted in-the-shell peanuts (for the jays), and with suet & seed blocks.

Because J.D. recently purchased eight loaves of bread for a blog post he never wrote, I decided to use some of the leftovers to make my own suet cakes. I did some internet research and found a variety of recipes for do-it-yourself suet. Some of these recipes called for rendering your own lard, but I didn’t feel quite that dedicated. Instead, I chose a formula containing pre-packaged lard, plenty of breadcrumbs, and peanut butter. It was simple to make, and the birds love it.

This type of suet cake typically hangs in a wire cage. Birds that feed on it are clinging feeders. In our neighborhood, these cakes attract flickers and downy woodpeckers, bushtit flocks, nuthatches, finches, and (of course) the occasional starling. Sometimes even a naughty squirrel finds his way to the suet:

Bad Squirrel
Even the squirrels like suet.

Here’s the recipe I used (with a price breakdown):

Home-Made Suet Block

  • 1 pound lard ($1.49)
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (40 cents — wait for a sale to stock up on a cheap variety)
  • 1/2 cup flour (7 cents)
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (30 cents)
  • 1 cup sugar (25 cents)
  • approximately half a loaf’s worth of bread crumbs (variable, but no more than $2.00 — free if your husband is a blogger)
  • 1-1/2 cups of mixed seeds, nuts and/or chopped dried fruits (12 cents for seeds only)

Melt the lard and peanut butter over low heat. Mix flour, cornmeal, and sugar and stir in. Add enough bread crumbs to absorb all liquid. Add fruit, seeds, and nuts as desired. Pour into a 9 x 5″ bread pan (lined with plastic wrap), or pour into suet cake molds. (I used molds I had saved from store-bought suet.) Allow to cool completely. Makes about 4 cakes. Keep refrigerated or in a cool place like a basement.

Total cost for four cakes: $4.63, so about $1.20 per cake.

One batch makes a bit more than four cakes of typical size. The cost savings of home-made suet blocks is minimal — at our local hardware store, they typically cost $1.49 each. But this was a great way to use our extra bread, effectively reducing the cost to $0.70 per cake. I processed all the spare loaves into crumbs and stuck them in the freezer to make more of these in the months to come. (This fall I’ll mix in some chopped windfall apples.)

This would make a fun family project that can be customized with whatever you have handy — cereal, dried fruits, stale bread, etc.

180 Degrees

It feels so good to finally break through a barrier. Or two.

The last week has been awful. I haven’t been able to write. I sit and stare at the computer screen, but nothing comes. “I’ve lost it,” I think. “I’m doomed.”

I try to find other things to occupy my time, but all I can think about is that I cannot write. I had 4-1/2 days during which nothing came. It was like pulling teeth to get even a basic weblog entry done.

“There’s a lot of fluff around here late,” one Get Rich Slowly commenter noted. No kidding. Believe me, I know it.

Yesterday afternoon, I could feel things changing. I had lunch with Michael Hampton, and the conversation jarred something loose. It removed whatever had been obstructing the writing process. I took the long way home from Monmouth, which also helped. I exchanged a bunch of e-mail with Lauren Muney. I went to bed early.

Today I went to work for the first time since noon on Friday. I expected to be making sales calls with David Gingerich, my replacement, but he had called in sick. I stayed in the office to answer phones, but it was slow. What I really did was write. And write. And write. And write.

I wrote four posts for Get Rich Slowly and four posts for Get Fit Slowly. In many cases, I took articles I had begun to piece together last week and rework them to final form. Before, I would look at these pieces and want to give up. I just couldn’t see how they were supposed to end up. Today it was easy. Today I could see how to get from point A to point B.

I also took my bike into the shop to get an overhaul. I’m ready to ride.

Now I’m sitting in my favorite chair listening to XM 81 (BPM – dance music), waiting for my sweetheart to come home. We’re going to Gino’s. I’m going to have clams.

And to think that two days ago nothing was going right…

A Touch of Spring

The birds are happy.

After several months of the cold and rain, the weather has begun to turn. Yesterday the sun came out all day, and the temperature climbed to 14 degrees (that’s 57 for those of you in Oregon City). When Kris and I left to run errands, I was wearing long underwear, a turtleneck, and a woolen jacket. “Hm,” I said. “I’m going to be too hot.”

In the afternoon, I watched the birds come and go while Kris pruned the roses. The cats basked in the sun. Toto stretched on the floor of the parlor, befriending a sunbeam. She was so happy, in fact, that when Max came in, she tolerated his presence, even though he was playing with her tail!

Today isn’t nearly as warm, and the skies are overcast. It’ll probably rain. But the birds don’t care. They can sense the coming spring. They’re chirping and flitting about the yard. The flickers seem to be especially pleased.

One male flicker is sitting outside my office right now. Every thirty seconds or so, he pecks the metal gutter: t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t. The other neighborhood flickers fly to his side, hang around for a while, and then leave. The females spread their tail feathers in courtship.

Spring isn’t here, but the world can sense it approaching.

Pocket Pairs

This one’s for all my poker-playing friends:

Poker’s a game I love to hate. It’s not just about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play them. I don’t do such a good job at playing them.

A Quick Browser Hack: Taking Control of All Those Open Tabs

I just had a moment of revelation. I know this is probably no big deal to many of you, and that you’ve probably been doing this all along, but it’s new to me.

I generally have about fifty open browser tabs. It’s a mess. These tabs are spread over six or seven browser windows. There’s no rhyme or reason to how things are organized. It’s all very stream-of-consciousness.

Just now, however, as I was prepping a piece for Get Rich Slowly about Valentine’s Day, it occurred to me that it would make sense to have all of my tabs related to this subject in the same window so that I didn’t have to go hunting for this article or that whenever I needed it.

Like I said: DUH!

So I spent ten minutes dragging my tabs around, making things orderly. As a result, I have more open windows than before, but each one is devoted to a specific topic or activity. It makes so much more sense. Now if only I could label a window. I could call one “Valentine’s research” and another “Animal Intelligence links”, etc.

Maybe nobody has thought of this before. Maybe I’m a genius!


The Laments of an Aging Cat

When Toto was younger, she was an agile hunter. She would fly across the lawn and nab unsuspecting birds in mid-air. At the old house, she would sit beneath the rhododendron, and then make a dash and leap to catch birds at the feeder. At night, she would spring gracefully from the ground to the nightstand, not making a sound.

But now she is no longer graceful. She’s almost fourteen years old. Somewhere along the way — about the time we moved from Canby to Oak Grove — her agility evaporated, seemingly overnight. Now it’s a challenge for her to leap from the floor to the couch. She’s clumsy — all claws. It’s sad to see, because I know that deep in her heart she still wants to be a hunter.

This morning we’re sitting in the parlor, writing. Well, I’m writing — Toto is keeping me company. She’s watching the birdfeeder outside. A screechy jay keeps landing on it, declaring his woes to the world. Smaller birds stop in once and a while.

Toto finds this all very interesting, and she’s been practicing that special cat cackle that means, “Birds, I will eat you.” But of course she won’t eat them. She no longer has the agility. I know it’s probably just my imagination, but I think this makes her sad.

Sitting above her, latched to the window frame, is the fake crow that Kris gave me for Christmas. I’m not sure what the crow’s intended purpose is, but I use it to torment the cats. “Oh look! A bird in the house! And it’s coming after you!” Toto, however, isn’t scared of it — indeed, she finds it fascinating.

After cackling at the jay at the feeder for a couple minutes, she’ll look up at the crow. She’ll stand on her hind legs, lean against the frame, and reach for the fake bird. Toto wants it. But she doesn’t put much energy into. I think her bones hurt or something. Maybe she has arthritis. I feel so sad for her.

Hidden Gems

It’s humbling to realize I have gaps in my musical knowledge. I know that’s a strange thing to say, but nowadays it’s rare for me to find songs from the 1970s and 1980s with which I’m completely unfamiliar.

Here’s a song I heard recently on XM 49 (which plays rock hits from the 70s and 80s, and which is my “station of the moment”). What makes it remarkable is that it’s a song from REO Speedwagon that I’ve never heard before. I love REO Speedwagon!

REO Speedwagon – Time for Me to Fly

Not only have I not heard of this second song, but I haven’t even heard of the band: The Sweet. According to Wikipedia, this song reached #5 in the U.S. during 1975 and was “one of the year’s biggest hits”. I can’t help but feel this is an elaborate hoax. How come I haven’t heard of the band or the song?

The Sweet – Ballroom Blitz

Wow. Can that be any more camp? It reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show

One of my favorite parts of XM so far is discovering hidden gems like these. You should see my list of newly discovered dance and chillout songs. I’m discovering whole new worlds of music.