Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
We had some major disappointments, like an unexpected tax bill of over $5,000, which added to the spectacularly huge amount we owe our creditors. But we pushed ahead and trimmed fat from the budget and made some sacrifices at a time when the media and our culture is encouraging us from every angle to spend money to stimulate the economy. We focused on putting every spare cent toward the giant debt monster. We started in earnest in February, and eight months later we've paid off 21% of our debt. This is both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because in eight months we've paid off nearly a quarter of our debt! And discouraging because if it takes us a year to pay off a quarter of our debt, that means it could take us three more years to pay off the rest. Ouch. We're reminded of the old adages A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It's just a lot more difficult than expected, conditioned as we are to getting instant gratification. And it's no secret that we like to be counter-culture, to go against what everyone else is doing, to purposely take the more difficult path. But the idea of getting out of debt, and staying out of debt, is so far counter-culture that it's actually radical and revolutionary and really upsetting many people close to us who think we've gone nuts. But I care less about that than what I see as modern day, legal slavery: consumer debt. So call me crazy if you want, but I will scratch and claw and sacrifice and do whatever it takes to get out from under the debt we've gotten ourselves into, and if takes three more years, then so be it. These are uncertain times, and we're committed to making at least one thing certain, freedom from the bondage of debt! There are so many things we dream of doing, good and noble things that will make the world a better place and impact the lives of people in desperate situations. But these dreams are hobbled by the chains of debt pulling us back. So today we're going to celebrate our 21% because we are getting closer to our goal, toward doing the things we dream of. Maybe being debt-free is crazy to you, but surely living out your dreams is not!
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. -Henry David Thoreau
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Both boys, getting their hair cut at the same time. Nathan in the rear, Ben in the front. Nathan always says semi-flirty things to the hairdresser. He'll say things like, "So... you cut hair, huh? Must be a lot of fun. You meet a lot of people here?" When I cut his hair, he just scowls and asks if I'm done yet.
Here's the "after" look, with most of the blond cut off. I told them they didn't have to smile for the photo...
The boys have a lot of matching tee shirts, and I used to dress them in matching clothes a lot when they were younger. Now I don't have to, because they get up and decide together what shirts they will wear! They crack me up, and secretly thrill me! I know if I'd had little girls, they'd be wearing matching dresses all the time. So it's neat that my little boys like to match. For now anyway!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Nathan is so tall! He towered over all the boys, including all the ten year olds. Poor boy, everyone kept making comments about it, kids and adults alike. I need to remember not to make a big deal out of it. But it's hard not to!
They went on a hike in San Pedro this week as well. Michael has been quite sick after working long hours, but it didn't stop him from going along. He thought the hike would be about four hours, but it ended up being eight! Everyone was tired! I stayed home and worked on clearing out Nathan's dresser, packing up everything he's grown out of.
Fun was had by all! Here you can see the rest of the boys' uniform. Eventually we'll get them the navy blue pants to complete the uniform, but all these little things add up pretty quickly so they recommend waiting. I'm cool with that! Especially since he only has two pairs of pants that fit him right now. I bought him some jeans in late August, and he's grown out of them already. What's the hurry? Slow down, stay in your current size awhile little boy!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I guess things just get a little lax when I don't have to prepare a big meal for the whole family. When Michael is here, we always set the table and eat together as a family. We've done this for as long as Michael and I have been together. About twice a year we'll have a "picnic" dinner, where we order a pizza and sit in the living room and watch a movie while we eat. But that is the very rare, very special, exception to our normal dinner tradition. But when Mike isn't here to help the kids set the table or pour the water and to wash all the dishes (yes, I married Mr. Wonderful), then the experience of dining together is less about the pleasure of each other's company and more about me being bitter about managing the 5 to 7 pm witching hours while making dinner. Something has to give so I can remain somewhat calm and cool throughout the evening. So if Ben wants Shredded Wheat for dinner, who I am to say no?
Things are hard enough when Daddy isn't here, and I like to do something a bit out of the ordinary in his absence so that they aren't really reminded of what they are missing. Also, I just don't have the energy to do everything I normally do plus what he normally does when he's here. Michael normally does the whole bath/story/bedtime routine (sometimes a two hour process depending on how many chapters the boys convince him to read to them), and many times that is the first time I've had to just sit down the entire day. I relish that time. I live for that time. When he's not here, and I'm responsible for getting the boys in bed, I find I have to cut something from the routine or by the time they are finally snoozing and Michael walks through the door I'm pacing and muttering to myself like a crazy woman, pouncing on him the minute he walks in. So in the interest of domestic tranquility, dinner goes low maintenance when Daddy's not around.
- 1lb lean ground beef
- 1 16 oz container of tomato salsa (use the heat level you prefer - we're all fans of spice 'round here)
- 1 8 oz can tomato sauce (I like the kind that is only tomato, no sugar or salt, etc.)
- 1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed, drained
- 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 2 cups water (fill up your now empty salsa container to get 2 cups & every last drop of salsa!)
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Oh! We did the same exact thing four years ago with the same family members right after we moved here from Hong Kong. I know this, because I forced them all to take a photo back then, too! And here's the proof:
Sure, they grumbled. Especially because the nephews had already changed into their jammies out of the nice clothes they were wearing when we all went out to Buca di Beppo. But I'm sure someone is bound to be grateful this photo exists! Right? Okay, I am!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
When we lived in the San Francisco Bay area, Michael was the technical director for a good sized theater company, producing about five or six shows per year. During the week of load in and tech (when the lights are hung and focused, and all things technical are ironed out) he generally lived at the theater. During the nearly two years we lived there, Nathan was a toddler and then Benjamin was born. I was no fool - during Hell Week I took off with the kids at stayed at my parents' house where the pressure of dealing with small children 24/7, sans husband, was relieved by doting grandparents more than willing to play with the wee ones so I could get a much needed nap and a full eight hours of sleep at night (a luxury beyond comprehension to parents of little ones).
The time we lived in Japan and Hong Kong was a bit different. He didn't have a new show to load in every two months, he had an entire theater to build and then one major show to load in that would run for five years.
The title of technical director can mean a few different things. When a theater is being built, the technical director's role is generally to interface with designers and architects to make sure that the structure itself will have all the things necessary to fit it out for a show, like the right number of electrical outlets at the right power level, large enough ramps leading to the stage door for big trucks, and appropriate HVAC considerations. This is Michael's favorite thing to do. He is quite good at it and has been called in for many projects all over the world to give his input in this way (yes, I'm biased, but really, he is good at it). Unfortunately, there isn't a huge demand for more theaters to be built, especially in America. Which is why he has worked on projects in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, and China, where suitable theaters appropriate for modern stage spectacles just don't exist in abundance.
When there is already a structure in place, such as the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, there may be a technical director who works directly for the theater. That person would interface with the touring companies who travel all around the country. The tech director would make sure that what the touring company plans to use will work with what the theater has, and make sure that things go smoothly on the technical side of things. Michael hasn't really done too much of this.
The third thing a technical director may do is to work directly for a theater company (which is different than a theater itself) and interface between the director, designers, and the theater where a show will be mounted. The show director may say they want a character to be lifted into the air on a giant tire (Think Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats). The designer may draw up a lovely barn-sized tire that looks like it is free-floating, no visible wires or other apparatus to show it's flying by any means other than magic. The technical director would then create CAD drawings to show how to build the tire, hire a scene shop (or use the theater company's if they have one) to build the tire, and figure out how to get that tire to life up into the air in a very safe, yet magical manner. This has been a majority of Michael's experience (although he's never worked on Cats), and similar to the type of work he's currently doing. This is the reason we have moved so often during our 13+ years of marriage - we go wherever the work is!
What he's doing right now is managing just one element of an enormous production. The production itself has its own technical director who is managing all the hundreds of other elements going into the production. In the past, he has worked directly for this particular company and been the technical director for similar productions. However, about eighteen months ago we started our own company which allows people to hire the company rather than Michael directly. This benefits us in many ways.
First of all, there have been many jobs Michael has had to turn down because the job was only for three months. A three month gig is great if you're single or married with a working spouse who has their own health insurance. But in our case, we're a whole family, and I'm a full time mom who does some freelance copywriting. Our youngest son has congenital heart disease and a kidney defect. He's doing fine, but it's not the type of thing we'd ever risk taking a job that wouldn't provide health insurance, even if the job was the chance of a lifetime. But having our own company means we get our own group health insurance, and Michael can take as many three or six month, or even one week jobs he wants. This is also very attractive to many theatrical companies, as paying a contractor is a better deal for them (no overhead, they don't have to keep a staff, they can hire only as needed). It's a win-win situation. It's also helpful in making sure Michael is reasonably compensated for the frequently crazy-long hours he works. He's always worked on salary. This is nice when things are kinda slow and he's only doing 40 hours a week. But when things kick into high gear and there is a firm opening date with four months worth of work to get done in only two months and he ends up working for twelve or more hours a day, seven days a week for two months straight (which means Hell Week stretches into Hell Month)... well, being on salary isn't that attractive. Especially when you calculate the equivalent hourly pay if you take the full salary and divide it into actual hours worked. Now we can bill based on a set number of hours, and if additional hours are called for, we can bill for them.
Twice this week Michael has worked over 32 straight hours as they've been putting the final touches on their show element and then actually going over and installing it and testing it in the field. He is a very hands-on manager. If he's got a crew out there working, then he's out there alongside them. After his first 32 hour marathon of work, he drove himself home, talking to me on the phone the whole way (I was half listening/half praying that he wouldn't nod off). This afternoon he was wrapping up a second crazy-long shift and when I calculated that he'd been awake for over 36 hours, I roped his sister Holly into driving out with me to bring Michael and his car home, without him actually having to get behind the wheel. I barely made it onto the freeway before he was passed out, sawing logs, in the fully reclined passenger seat.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Here are all the cousins along with cool Auntie Holly waiting to board the Toy Story Midway Mania attraction at Disney's California Adventure. It's an interactive, 3-D ride that my boys really love. Please note the three boys in the back row, Nathan and my two nephews. Don't they look thrilled?? Nathan is about to turn nine, but he's got the teen WhatEVer look down pat.
But here they are, when they were young and sweet and cute! This was taken after Mitch's wedding in 2001, back when Nathan and our nephews were the only Chase cousins! Now there are seven cousins. This was the first time these cousins met... we'd returned from Japan just days before 9/11, and Mitch and Jamie got married on 9/15.
I have to laugh when I see this photo, as we were the recipient of many items of hand-me-down clothes from these two boys, including the very outfits they are wearing in this picture! Thank you, generous Auntie Heather, for sharing all those great clothes! Now if what you want is cute, then let me present Benjamin and our niece! Our niece is one year older than Ben. Look at those stunning curls! She's such a beauty. Ben had an amazing head of curls until he turned three and his hair went straight like his Mama's. Sigh. Why did my straight hair genes have to dominate over all the curly genes that both Mike's family and my own family were blessed with? Anyway, these two sure are cute.
As Chinese New Year approaches (February 10th this year), we bid a fond farewell to the Year of the Dragon. My oldest son was born in the Ye...
I love cloth and fabric, and especially love the handmade kind which is such a beautiful form of art. Here in Shanghai I am lucky enough to ...
Timely. Thank you, Pentatonix.