Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why I love the 4th of July from Boomer Alley

Underneath the sarcasm and attitude, there's a sincere message about safety with fireworks.
I also happen to agree with him about identifying idiots when they're small and grabbing 3000 F sparklers. Yeah. Feel free to share around. Gives the rest of the world another reason to laugh at us. Like they don't have enough already. "Stupid rich Americans..."
Granted and stipulated. We are rich Americans. We like being rich Americans. This is one of the many ways we identify the stupid members of our population. You see, Darwin was right. In nature, stupidity is self-correcting.

Lena Austin



dawgtown_banner.jpg Dawgtown Banner picture by voiceomt2002

Eight Surprising Uses for Olive Oil

Okay, color me surprised. And here I thought it was just great for cooking!
1. Ease snoring-- I could make a lot of comments on this, but I won't.
2. Cure an ear ache-- This one I knew about, and warm oil does help.
3. Tame hair-- Oh, you know I'm trying this one!
4. Get healthy skin-- This is worth checking out.
5. Care for your cat-- Hmmm! I'll try this. Prince is fairly healthy, but a little oil in his food won't hurt him.
6. Free stuck zippers
7. Furniture polish, metal protector and leather conditioner-- Oh, boy! No more expensive polishes and conditioners.
8. Fix squeaky doors-- Okay, I'll give it a go. Why not?
There were many more uses mentioned, but you can read for yourself. (wink)

Lena Austin



dawgtown_banner.jpg Dawgtown Banner picture by voiceomt2002

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fw: Applause to Jim Brown and LOGICAL-Lust Publications

OH, what an OOOPS I made! My deepest apologies to Logical-Lust Publications.

Lena Austin



dawgtown_banner.jpg Dawgtown Banner picture by voiceomt2002

----- Forwarded Message ----

Dear Lena,

Thank you very much for the mention in your blog and the link! We feel
strongly about accepting GLBT stories across the board the same way EPIC
is doing with regard to their annual ebook awards. Stories with a GLBT
focus are not always full of "adult" content and can be appropriate for
readers of any age.

We hope that you and your readers consider entering EPIC's contest.
Details can be found here:


However, could I ask for a correction? The name of our romance, erotica,
and erotic romance imprint is "Logical-Lust Publications" and not "Literal
Lust" LOL

It's an easy mistake to make!

Take care,

Zetta Brown

FAR reviewed Santa Paws! 5 ANGELS

OMG!! NeNe got my theme!! I am so happy! NeNe isn't easy to please, either! What's more, she mentioned how she'll never be able to smell pine without thinking of my story. (giggle!) Thanks, NeNe!



If this doesn't encourage me to write another holiday themed story, nothing will.

Lena Austin




Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Office Away From Home

Before I get distracted (again) by emails, promo, and my latest book, I thought I'd tell you about my new office away from home.
Ever since my DH lost his job, I lost my peace and quiet, not to mention time in my home office. He follows me everywhere out of boredom when he's not actively looking for work. Needless to say, my writing has slowed to a crawl despite my ever-increasing "talks" with him about leaving me alone for a few hours.
Desperation began to seep into my brain. Crazy schemes like drugging him into somnolence, killing him and burying him under the vegetable garden, and booting him out of the house were hatched and discarded.
More viable plans like getting up early (my best bio-rhythm is for morning hours and working late at night is hopeless, trust me) failed. He'd awaken, feel the empty place next to him, and come find me!
I don't know about anyone else, but my income has been affected by the sluggish economy. I have to work to pay some of the bills. I can't just take time off. I have deadlines to make, but can't afford a leased office space, not even a shared one.
Finally, while watching a news story on how the city may have to close libraries if the current new mill levy (Yeah, I need my property taxes to rise by about $200 a year, you bastards!) it hit me-- library! Computers, air conditioning set to arctic, research materials at your fingertips, and QUIET!
I packed up my WIP, my Alphasmart, my workbook, and hopped in the car for the relatively short drive to the West Regional library. I made no bones about why I was going, either. Both my husband and daughter hung their heads in shame, and let me go. Ah, the freedom!
Oh, the air-conditioning! After the blazing heat of a Florida summer, the cool rush of air as the library doors snap open is more welcoming than a thousand hugs. Ah! I lugged in my briefcase, rejected the need for the computers, and marched all the way to the back of the library and plopped down at a table in the non-fiction section right between the "Aerobics" and "Classic Cars for Dummies."
After an hour of FINALLY doing the GMC tables for both of my characters, and revamping the plot chart I'd never been happy with, I pulled out the Alphasmart and typed until my hands cramped. (Only about 300 words, but hey, I'm happy.) Along the way, I made a few notes about things I'd bring next time, like a notepad, pencil (for plot notes), and to put my entire workbook on the flash drive in case I needed new sheets. It didn't matter. In an hour and a half of actual work time, I accomplished a great deal and proved that using the library worked for me as an office away from home. I'll be back on Monday, you betcha! I'd go today, but I have to teach a class today and tomorrow we have a family event in St. Augustine.  
Why this works for me:
1. I have to get dressed and "go to work" with a briefcase in my hand, just like the old days when I had a "real" job. The psychologically sets me up for a "workday" mindset. It's too easy to get sloppy about work habits when you work at home. Too many distractions, and the whole world thinks you're readily available for whatever they need.
2. Food and drink are limited in the library to the "cafe" area, which closely resembles the breakrooms found in corporate America everywhere. You have small tables and uncomfortable chairs, and vending machines loaded only with overpriced high-carb snack foods and carbonated beverages.
3. Same goes for the bathrooms. To go to the bathroom, you have to pack up and haul your stuff with you. Therefore, you schedule breaks more rigidly. "I'll just hold it a bit and finish this paragraph, then I'll take a comfort and coffee break..."
4. You have to turn the phone off or down. This is huge for me. I can't stand listening to a ringing phone, and my whole fam-damn-ily loves to call "for just a minute or two" in the middle of my workday. Hooray! I now have a legitimate excuse to turn the damn phone off or on vibrate. When it vibrates, I automatically look at the caller ID screen instead of flipping it open and answering. (Sorry Mom, leave me a voicemail. I'll get back to you after working hours, Kai-thanks-bai)
5. Scheduled hours-- The library here opens at 10 AM and closes at either 6 PM or 9 PM, depending on the day of the week. Sundays, it's closed. Therefore, I'm on a specific time limit. I can play at home on my computer, answering emails, doing my own darn promo, and other tasks with no guilt outside of my working hours. Real, honest-to-god office hours. Go to the library at 9:45 AM for the 10 AM opening, write for two hours, go home for lunch, and then do promo, other projects, or (gasp!) have a life in the afternoon.
6. No distractions like my piles of other projects. Okay, other than being in a building stuffed with books, audiobooks, ebooks, and DVDS. Yes, I'm as tempted as the next book geek. I'll still need to do those other projects, but after I've spent my time at the library.
7. No guilt. This is huge, too. I'll be "at work" and I can't be guilted into helping with yardwork, feeling like I should be cleaning or spending time with my family, and even my phone time will be restricted to the absolutely necessary.
So, for the rest of this weekend, I'll get ready for my day job, teach my class, cook the ham for the family reunion on Sunday, drive down to St. Augustine, and enjoy myself. If I get an opportunity to write, I will.
But I can't wait for Monday! I may do this even after DH has a job again.

Lena Austin



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fw: Get Rich Slowly-- Do It Now Estate Planning

It's inevitable that we all will die. What's scary is not knowing where or when. After my frightening bout with DVT after my hysterectomy, I can tell you it's a bit of a shock when you become aware of your own mortality. Be smart and take the time to do these little steps along and along. Most won't hurt a bit, like #9.


I know from experience watching a friend who suddenly found out the executor of an estate could impose his personal religious views on the heirs, including my friend, who ended up with nothing from his grandmother's estate. Grandma hadn't spelled out her promises to her grandson that he could have her collection of Depression glass, or her antique sewing machine no one else wanted. All those things were sold and given to charity because my friend --a licensed minister of a non-Christian faith-- refused to "return to the Pentecostal faith" of his childhood. Yes, the grandmother's will said the executor could "distribute her money and goods as he saw fit."


In a similar manner, I know as a wife that my DH wants to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the sea he loved. My mother in law will be appalled at this, I think. She feels it important to have a burial in a grave so the living may mourn, so unless I have written instructions, there might be a battle royale over my DH's corpse. I will be devastated enough without that ordeal, thank you.


Come to think of it, I'd better update my version of #9 ASAP. If I pass first, DH wouldn't be able to find the current bills, much less know how to pay them online. Oh, dear.


Get Rich Slowly

Estate Planning 101: Preparing for the Possible — and the Inevitable

Posted: 17 Jun 2009 05:00 AM PDT

This is a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool. Robert is a Certified Financial Planner and the advisor for The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement service. He contributes one new article to Get Rich Slowly every two weeks.

We interrupt this regularly cheerful website to bring you some unpleasant news: You're not going to live forever. And, just to pile on the unpleasantness, you might become incapacitated before you join that Great Tax Shelter in the Sky.

I know, this isn't fun to think about. But what's even worse is not thinking about it at all, which could leave your family trying to sort through all your affairs at a time of turmoil and grief.

We're talking about estate planning, something many think is just for "rich" people — but it's not. Everyone should take the following 10 steps to get their legal ducks in a row.

  1. Create (or update) your will. If you die without a will, the state decides who gets what (including your kids or pets), costing your family time and legal fees. If you already have a will, update it every three years, whenever you go through a significant life event (e.g., marriage, divorce, sell a business), or if you move to a different state.
  2. Get a living will. Make known the kind of medical care you wish to receive, and at what point you no longer wish to receive any care.
  3. Appoint a durable power of attorney. Designate a trusted person to handle your financial affairs if you ever become incapacitated.
  4. Factor probate into your plan. Probate is the process by which the state validates legal documents and ensures they're properly executed. Depending on the state, this can be a lengthy, costly, and public process. There are several simple ways to avoid probate (discussed later) and a few more complicated and expensive ways (e.g., trusts). Research the probate process in your area and determine whether bypassing probate should be a priority.
  5. Update your beneficiary forms. Insurance policies and investment accounts with properly completed beneficiary forms bypass probate and go directly to the named beneficiaries — even if the deceased person's will directs the assets to go to someone else. Contact your financial-services companies to make sure they have updated forms, and keep copies for yourself.
  6. Review the titling of your property. The legal status of your accounts, home, and other assets will also determine whether they bypass probate and a will. For example, an asset that is "joint tenancy with rights of survivorship" will become the sole property of the surviving co-owner(s) when another co-owner dies. That automatically disinherits other heirs from that asset, which may or may not be what the deceased intended.
  7. Make moves to lower estate taxes. If the sum total of all you own — investments, cars, homes, furniture, collectibles, and other assets — is close to $2 million, then start considering strategies to lower your potential estate tax bill.
  8. Know the truth about trusts. Trusts can be useful for avoiding probate, lowering estate taxes, and providing for relatives who may not be able to manage assets on their own. But they can also be expensive and over-promoted by law firms pejoratively known as "trust mills." Get informed before agreeing to a trust.
  9. Create a document that explains everything. If something were to happen to you, you'd want your family to know how to locate your accounts, insurance policies, legal documents, safe-deposit boxes, hidden stashes of cash, attorney, financial planner, and other trusted advisors. Include the important information in a document that you give to someone you trust.
  10. Discuss your plan with the people who matter. Explain your wishes to important friends and family, especially if they might have a future role to play (for example, you want them to raise your kids if something happens to you). And encourage them to get their own estate plan. If your relatives have their affairs in order, it could spare you a great deal of difficulty down the road and keep as much wealth as possible within the family.

The Bottom Line
Those are ten important steps, and they'll involve some very difficult decisions, such as who will be your executor and your plans for your final arrangements. But creating a well-designed, complete estate plan will save your family a good deal of heartache and money.

As fee-only financial planner Sheryl Garrett (of the Garrett Planning Network) told me during an interview:

Get your financial household in order and it will take as much of the financial burden off of your family and your survivors. When death occurs, it is a very, very traumatic thing on the surviving family. Don't make it worse by not taking care of your financial affairs ahead of time.

How do you get all this done? Seek out the help of a qualified, experienced estate-planning attorney in your area. Yes, you can take care of some of this by putting your notarized John Hancock on forms downloaded from the Internet. But laws vary from state to state, and recommendations vary from person to person. So spend the extra money to get the professional help. And send this article to all your relatives; making sure they have a solid estate plan will save you grief and money down the road.

J.D.'s note: I was just talking with our house painter about this on Monday. He's settling his mother's estate, and he says it's a nightmare — one filled with lawyers and $100,000 in fees. He told me, "Get a will. Learn from my family: Get a will." Photo by Seize the Photo.

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fw: Get Rich Slowly-- Online Banking

I am a serious cheerleader for online banking. My bank (a credit union) makes it easy once the frustrations of the sign-up security is done. Banking and paying bills can be done in a hurry!

Get Rich Slowly

Online Banking: 12 Choices for Higher Interest Rates and Increased Security

Posted: 16 Jun 2009 05:00 AM PDT

In its July 2009 issue, Consumer Reports Money Adviser published a brief overview of the best online banking options according to their research. "Online banking, despite a rocky start, is becoming the rule rather than the exception," the article says, noting that online banking can net savers better interest rates and increased security.

I'd love to be able to point you to an online version of this article, but none exists. And I'm not about to reproduce large chunks of the text here. (Consumer Reports doesn't like that.) But I can highlight their main points about online banking, as well as list the results of my own research into online banks.

Some of the article's main points:

  • Traditional banks that have moved into online banking (such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo) generally offer lower rates and impose higher fees than established online banks like ING Direct and HSBC Direct.
  • If you're worried about bank failures, remember that the FDIC currently insures deposits of up to $250,000. (This limit has been extended through the end of 2013.) You can research the financial safety of online banks (and traditional institutions) using BauerFinancial's bank safety ratings.
  • The biggest thing that holds people back from online banking is concern over security. Via Twitter yesterday, @thenonconsumer told me, "My husband is very skeptical about using an online bank like ING Direct for savings." He's not alone. But according to Consumer Reports Money Adviser, online banking can be safer than traditional methods because there's less of a paper trail, and your transactions are digitally encrypted.

Here's a list of online banking options I compiled in four hours of research yesterday. I haven't tried to be comprehensive here (a comprehensive list would be huge), but have based my research on my own interests and the requests of my Twitter followers. I've made no attempt to rank these banks. They are listed in alphabetical order. Rates are annual percentage yields. All accounts are FDIC insured.

[Ally Bank]
Savings 12-month CD Money market Bill-pay
2.05% 2.35% 1.85%
Notes: No fees, no minimums. Money-market account appears to act as a checking account and has no ATM fee. Ally Bank is the newly-renamed GMAC Bank.

[Capital One Direct Banking]
Savings 12-month CD Money market Bill-pay
1.75% 0.50% 1.40% Free
Notes: No fees. Savings rate is 1.01% for balances below $10,000. $5000 minimum balance for certificate of deposit. No minimum for money-market account, which includes an ATM card. Capital One does not charge for ATM withdrawals or balance inquiries, but the owner of the ATM may.

[Charles Schwab Bank]
Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
1.35% 1.25% 0.75% Free
Notes: No fees, no minimums. ($1000 minimum for certificate of deposit.) Charles Schwab is a discount broker, but also offers banking services. Checking has no ATM fees.

Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
1.40% 1.70% 1.50% Free
Notes: $500 minimum for certificate of deposit. No fees, $100 minimum for savings and checking. Checking is actually "ultimate money" account and may require a second account. To earn the 1.50% "ultimate money" rate, you must make at least two online bill payments each month. ATM access for checking.

[Dollar Savings Direct]
Savings 16-month CD Checking Bill-pay
2.00% 2.25%
Notes: No fees, no minimums. ($1000 minimum for certificate of deposit.) No ATM. Sibling to Emigrant Direct.

[Emigrant Direct]
Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
1.55% 2.00%
Notes: No fees, no minimums. ($1000 minimum for certificate of deposit.) No ATM. Sibling to Dollar Savings Direct.

[E*Trade Bank]
Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
0.95% 0.40% 0.70% Free
Notes: No fees, no minimums on savings. $1,000 minimum for certificate of deposit. Checking has minimum balance of $5,000, else rate is 0.05%. No ATM fees (and ATM card appears to be available for savings as well as checking).

Money market 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
3.01% 2.00% 3.01% Free-ish
Notes: $1500 minimum to open accounts. Low-balance fees may apply. Money-market APY is a 3-month promotional rate, after which APY drops to 2.00% (with conditions!) for the rest of the first year; it's fixed at 1.65% after that. Checking APY is a 3-month promotional rate, after which APY drops to 1.96% for the rest of the first year; it's variable (1.02% - 1.65%) based on account balance after that. Online Bill-Pay costs $8.95 per month if you do not maintain a $5,000 balance in checking. Checking has no ATM fees.

[FNBO Direct]
Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
1.65% 1.50% 0.00% (?) Free
Notes: No fees, no minimums. No ATM. The FNBO site used to be more informative; I had trouble finding the data I needed for this article.

[HSBC Direct]
Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
1.55% 2.00% 1.00% Free
Notes: No fees, no minimums. ($10 minimum for certificate of deposit.) No ATM fees for checking. ATM available for savings, but I can't determine fee structure.

[ING Direct]
Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
1.50% 1.50% 0.25% to 1.65% Free
Notes: Easy to set up multiple accounts. No fees, no minimums. Checking allows ATM access.

Savings 12-month CD Checking Bill-pay
0.75% - 1.77% 0.75% 0.50% - 1.51% Free-ish
Notes: No fees or minimums for savings account. $10,000 minimum for certificate of deposit. $500 minimum for checking. Free bill pay for 90 days. Free bill pay if you maintain an average $10,000 balance in checking. ATM card available on some accounts.

To compile this list, I pulled information directly from bank websites on 15 June 2009. I also used the tools at Money Rates to fill in gaps. Note that many of the checking accounts above are simply online bill-pay accounts — you can't use paper checks with them. Please let me know if you spot errors.

The Consumer Reports Money Adviser article about online banking included a handful of brick-and-mortar institutions. My list leaves most of them out. I visited every website that CR mentioned, but I have to say, a lot of traditional banks have terrible web presences. Bank of America? Wells Fargo? Chase? Good luck trying to figure out how online banking with any of them or what rates you'll receive. They're still marketing to the pre-Internet generation.

For more info, you may want to visit Money Rates or check out some previous GRS articles about online banking:

One final note: The Money Adviser article emphasizes that rates are low right now. It might seem silly to worry about the difference between 1.50% and 1.65%, but eventually rates will rise and there will be more differentiation between online banks.

If you have thoughts about any of these online banks (or about online banking in general), please leave a comment.

Related Articles at Get Rich Slowly:

Daily Links: Worry, Planning, and Sufficiency

Posted: 15 Jun 2009 04:00 PM PDT

I've written before that I'm not a natural handyman. I'm thinking that maybe it's time to develop those skills. We've been working with contractors all spring to do repairs around the house, and the constant drain on the pocketbook is beginning to hurt. I'd rather do some of this work myself. (Of course the reason we need to hire these folks is that the previous owner did a lot of the work himself — and he did a crummy job.)

Let's think about happier finance stories, shall we? Here are some recent money articles that have caught my eye:

Have I mentioned that Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity has my favorite blog right now? He does. I enjoy following his adventures as he travels the world, but I also think he does a great job of discussing topics more relevant to my own life. Today he writes about sufficiency, the state of having enough. "For me, the most important principle of personal finance is self-awareness," Chris writes. "To become self-aware, it helps to know exactly what sufficiency looks like for you." This is a great post.

Yahoo! HotJobs has a quick list of 8 fast-growing, high-paying jobs. If you're looking for new work, you might want to check this out. Several of the careers are computer/tech-related. The list also includes physician's assistant, plumber, and media buyer.

Kris and I recently went to see Up, the new animated film from Pixar. I loved it. I thought about writing a short post discussing the movie's message that you should not postpone your dreams, but Lucia at moneyStrands has already done it for me. She writes: "We often dream about things like going on our fantasy vacation, paying off student loans or buying a brand new car, yet unexpected expenses and mishaps in life always seem to get in the way. So what can we do to better prepare ourselves financially so that we have an emergency fund but can still save for a vacation? Create a financial plan!"

Finally, David at MoneyNing has some thoughts on how not to worry about money. He has a good life and his finances are solid, but he still worries about money sometimes. This is interesting. I, too, worry about money even though my financial situation has never been better. I think we all worry. How can we learn to just let go? (Maybe this is what I need to do with our remodeling projects!)

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The Personal Finance Hour, Episode 12: Earning Extra Money

Posted: 15 Jun 2009 12:58 PM PDT

We'd all like to earn a little extra money, but sometimes it's difficult to know where to begin. Today on The Personal Finance Hour, Jim and I will discuss our own experiences trying to supplement our regular incomes. We'll talk about blogging for dollars, it's true, but we'll also talk about finding side jobs and selling the things we already own.

We would love to have you share your own experiences! There are four ways to hear the show. You can listen through an audio feed at the show page, or you can dial the call-in number at (347) 327-9144. You can also listen through this widget:

Note that the widget always holds the archive of the most recent episode. So, right now it contains last week's episode about frugal weekend fun. Later this afternoon it will contain episode number twelve.

We're also on iTunes! You can subscribe to The Personal Finance Hour as a weekly podcast by following this link (which will open iTunes).

Jim and I do this every Monday — and we hope you'll join us. We think this is a fun way to connect with readers and to help everyone learn more about money management. You can catch The Personal Finance Hour live at 3pm Pacific (6pm Eastern) every Monday.

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Welcome to my Blog!

Thanks for popping by! Don't sit on the whipping horse unless you want to find out how it's used. I speak my mind and annoy many people, but all of it is meant in good spirit. Feel free to argue with me. I like it.

Best way to reach me is by email: voiceomt2002@yahoo.com