My family moved to Alaska in 1990, a year after the last volcanic explosion. I remember the Asian tourists wouldn't go outside for all of 1990 without white face masks and people sold souvenir ash in little jars for months. Alaskans are amazed whenever we see the rest of the country paralyzed by natural disasters or cold weather, canceling school and hunkering down at mere -20F temperatures. We have never experienced runs on bleach and double-A batteries in the face of a hurricane.
Our natural disasters usually are of the Earthquake variety, which you don't know are coming and can't dread while watching them advance. We just keep a few canned goods and our typical "stuck in the ditch" survival kit from the car which we use to survive until help comes when we run off the road in the winter avoiding a moose. The most we prepare for is tsunamis in the coastal areas and where to stand/brace/hide in an earthquake. So, knowing that Mt. Redoubt is going to explode in advance is really freaking them out.
The volcanic ash will probably spew 30-50,000 feet and isn't the silty stuff you find in your fire place, but more of abrasive volcanic rock particles. If it gets into the jet stream it could probably give a few frequent fliers some heart-burn. In Anchorage they are making runs on hardware stores buying dust masks, goggles and tarps to cover their cars so their paint jobs won't be messed up when they wash the abrasive ash off. Its not going to be one of those cool lava volcanoes like they have in Hawaii, *sigh* everything is better/warmer in Hawaii. In Fairbanks we don't have anything to worry about, but a few people who moved up from Florida are buying bleach, just in case.
Finances are always an issue that all families, not just military ones struggle with. So this months topic is financial readiness and resources for you.
I don't know where to begin!
Attached you will find a pdf copy of Suze Orman's 2009 Financial Plan book. (This was available as a free download fro Oprah.com for a week, but is now pretty easy to find on Google. You can also buy it here.) It is an easy read that teaches you a lot of terms that I found confusing, and gives you step-by-step actions that you can take to get yourself off to a sound financial start for 2009. It is also written very recently so it takes the current "bad market" into account in all of its advice.
When can you throw that receipt, bank statement, check book register, etc. away without panicking (assuming you shred it of course). Suze Ormon ~ Financial Clutter, What To Keep And What To Get Rid Of
Can I talk to somebody locally?
The Army has an office on most posts called Army Community Services, and each of them have a Financial Readiness Program (FRP) whose goal is to assist all soldiers, retirees, and families with improving their financial situations. Our local post is Fort Wainwright and they have a Financial Readiness Program Handbook that will give you a good idea of what these types of programs have to offer.
Money for Military - This daily blog offers tips geared towards military members and their dependents. Everything from how to get military pricing on Disney Land tickets to GI Bill advice. http://www.moneyformilitary.
Two of my other personal favorites, albeit without a military spin, just common sense:
Get Rich Slowly - http://getrichslowly.org/blog/ (just like dieting, saving takes time, but is worth it)
My Money Blog - http://www.mymoneyblog.com/ (this guy dug himself out of $35,000 in debt and shares his advice)
Where should I focus first?
I hope this helps you get off to a great start in the new year.
I flew to New Orleans for a meeting this weekend and I must say there is nothing like the red eye to bring out the best in public displays of pajama wear. I had the misfortune to be routed through Houston. Now that's an airport I dread. We landed 5 minutes after my next flight began boarding. And Houston isn't one of the big airports that has made it easy to get around. Instead I'm sprinting through the airport avoiding the people who should have to pass a test before being allowed to drive wheeled luggage, don't understand what the phrase "walk left, stand right" means on the moving walkways, and generally desired to get wherever they were going without acknowledging the presence of any other humans along the way because otherwise they would have to realize that they are standing around in public in their pajamas.
By the time I arrived in New Orleans I was wasted. The red-eye always does that to me. The last time I was in NOLA it was the Saint Patty's Day before Katrina. The french-quarter has come back rather well, but the area to the East of town is still hard-hit. A friend of mine who has lived in NOLA his whole life and who has traveled the world with me took me out for dinner. K-Paul was the restaurant. Chef Paul Prudhomme is the 2nd most famous NOLA chef to Emeril, but the best cook (according to my local friend who has all of both of their cookbooks anyway). I ordered all traditional local food which was both fresh and delicious. I avoided the traditional alcohol choices after my long flight and went with an Old Fashioned instead. The gumbo was dark and delicious and the seafood topped veal was to die for. I highly recommend it.
The next day was my meeting, which ended 3 hours before my return flight, not leaving a ton of time to look around. You can walk most of the french quarter in about an hour and get a good feel of what all is there. Having already been there once I didn't feel the need to go out at night and "experience NOLA." I've already seen enough co-eds, green barf, beads, and female-impersonators to get the sense of that part of town. I've also seen the art museum, historical neighborhoods, graveyards, the super dome, and driven the surrounding area, so a quick walking tour was enough to give me the sense of the place again. I was tempted to skip my walking tour and go to the Nine West shoe outlet instead, because really, shopping in Alaska stinks, but I resisted the temptation.
The best way to see NOLA is definitely on foot. Stroll along, admire the iron work, buildings, have a few drinks and soak in the environment around you. Then come back at night and watch how everything transforms. Here is my quick walking map that takes about an hour at a slow stroll and takes you down Chartres (pronounced Charters), over to the waterfront, down past the artists set up around the Cathedral and then back through the heart of the action along Bourbon Street. Here is a map of a few places I saw and a short 1 hour walk. There are tons more places to go so Google the tourism bureau before you go, or better yet, try and get a local to show you around.
We have a planned tech-refresh cycle at our house. Rather than impulsively buying the iPod, digital camera, cell-phone, or computer that we crave as we used to do, we plan these purchases and buy them at specific intervals based on how far technology has advanced and how well our current tech meets our needs. We used to buy a new computer every time the game that we just bought no longer met the minimum requirements for memory/hard drive space etc.. Now we buy a more expensive computer, but keep it longer, usually 3-4 years. My laptop was on its last legs after 4 years and was getting so frustrating to use that I basically didn't use it except to download photos off of my digital camera. My blogging slowed/stopped, I lost touch with friends, hadn't updated Facebook in months, and basically had to buy a new one.
I travel 150,000 miles a year and hate to lug my 7+ pounds of current laptop, not including chargers or other accessories. Most of my flights are over 3 hours in length so battery life is important and only 2-3 of them are international trips so the seats don't usually have chargers. Like the engineer that I am I tried to quantify my laptop buying decision to help my naturally indecisive nature. I wrote down all of the characteristics that were important to me, ranked how important they were on a scale of 1-5, then ranked how well each option met that characteristic and multiplied the two then added up the total points. It went something like this:
Some of the Characteristics:
Light Weight (worth 4 points)
Cost (worth 2 points)
Long Battery Life (worth 5 points)
Reverse compatible with Windows XP (worth 5 points)
Macbook = 5*4+2*2+5*5+4*5=69 points
Dell XPS = 4*4+4*2+3*5+3*5=54 points
I was totally floored when I ranked all of the options and ended up having the 13.3" Macbook come out on top. I resisted, I went and looked at my numbers to see if I could tweak it and get the XPS Dell that I thought I wanted to come out on top, but then I stopped and realized that I was defeating the purpose of the ranking system in the first place, to take emotion out of the decision. So I took the plunge and am now the owner of a 13.3" Macbook. Ack, "what have I done?" was the sensation as soon as I hit the final purchase button.
What will my geek/nerd/tech guy friends think?
That just cost me how much?
Oh my God, my laptop has a glowing Apple on it! Can I find a sticker thick enough to cover that?
And once the laptop arrived I continued having questions:
How the heck do I right-click?
Where is the Home button? Or the End button for that matter?
How in the world do you get the cd to eject? Uninstall something? (Drag to trashcan!)
After a week, the Mac still didn't have a name. I definitely decided that she was a SHE and not a he like Fred, Fred Jr. Freddie and Felix before her. I hated not having a native copy of Microsoft Office installed and didn't understand gestures.
Then, after that first week, things began to click. I discovered how to right-click, how to Home, End, uninstall, eject, and a bunch other things. I discovered how everything was designed to go so well together and what a difference that can make. And, as you've probably noticed, I'm blogging again.
The fact that people say you should get 8 hours of sleep a night really is an average. My husband for instance continually amazes me be cheerfully hopping out of bed, eating breakfast, dressing in a color coordinated outfit, feeding the cats, brushing his teeth and washing his face plus occasionally showering and shaving before leaving for work. I, on the other hand, with an equal amount of sleep barely manage to assume a mind over mattress vertical orientation after the 3rd snooze button session, eating no breakfast, and wake up at my desk 20 minutes after leaving my pillow wondering who let me out of the house in that outfit and grateful that I at least have something on both my top and bottom and wishing that I kept a hairbrush and toothbrush at work, not to mention makeup and a spare outfit.
There will always be people who can live with 4-8 hours a night and "not only walk the following morning, but also make remarkably informed fashion decisions; and those of us who need "eleven" or more hours of sleep if we even hope to fall successfully onto the wooden floor beside the bed." as Dooce says.
If there is one thing about -45F to -50F overnight lows, it definitely speeds up the creation of homemade ice cream. What normally takes a trip to the grocery store to procure or 4-5 hours to freeze when made from scratch and placed in the freezer can be made simply by sticking milk, sugar and vanilla in a pitcher on the back porch for an hour. It has been so cold this week with temperature peaking at -30F, but mostly staying around the -40F to -45 range. So cold your eye-balls hurt just walking to your car. So cold that we haven't gone grocery shopping in 3 weeks because we just want to race home and climb under our down comforter and watch Netflix on my laptop rather than running around grocery shopping or doing other important things like buying socks and sweaters. As the days drag on and the cold front switches to coming from Canada instead of Siberia the most intelligent thing I have thought/realized is that -40F equals -40C so I don't have to do math to tell my friends in Croatia how cold it is, I can universally complain! My poor brain is frozen.
We have long since run out of groceries that we bought with a specific purpose aka a recipe in mind. We are getting increasingly creative/desperate. Last night we made ice cream from scratch out of sheer desperation from our lack of dessert options. (We were soooo spoiled by Christmas choices.) Tonight we made a well balanced dish consisting of rice (starch) with parsley flakes (that's a veg right) and bacon bits (our protein). Mmmmm... Mmmmmm... Tomorrow we may have to actually go shopping because *gasp* we're out of Bisquick and life without waffles just isn't worth living.