Friday, January 31, 2014

I've Got a Gas (Bill) Problem, St Louis: Friendly Money Tips

St. Louis weather, if you haven't noticed, is a little mercurial.  Which means, when it's Winter, my bills are inflated.  I can stand heat, but Dante got it right.  Being cold is a form of pain.  And doubly so when you have to pay for it.

I hate being cold and my body seems to have an inability to stay warm, but does that mean I really crank up the  heat?

I turn the heat down when I am out and sleeping, dress in layers, have a portable space heater, and drink warm beverages.
Even with all of this, my past gas bill from Laclede had a hefty price in the "Amount Due" column.  

So hefty that I sprung to action (read: googled), because between us I can't pay that amount again this year. 

There are a few challenges though. 
1.) I have an apartment, and while it is as homey as a house with a paid off mortgage, it is not mine.  
Which means whatever I do to outsmart the cold, I can't make lasting structural changes.  
2.) And I have to keep the ROI in mind, because someday I will be leaving and can't necessarily take my improvements along. 
3.) Googling. Websites galore tell you how to save money, but they assume a certain level of...let's call it naive thinking.  Additionally advice is geared towards home owners.  Basically I found the tips to be relatively unhelpful.  
Big challenges.

After tackling these and having a little success, I thought, why not help prevent bill shock for you?
I want you to be able to save (hopefully) many dollars.

I will post a few of the things I had not considered and have now employed.

Your Water Heater and You 

That's right, it's in your creepy basement, the water heater.
I was scared to approach mine and dial back the temperature of the heat. 
I envisioned slipping with my screw driver and getting scalded.  
Also I envisioned a scary person lurking down there, but both of these fears were needless.
(The person lurking down there was actually quite nice.)

I read that you need to remove a plate on your water heater with a flat head screwdriver to reveal the temperature knob. 
As it happens, I did not even need a screwdriver. 
This is what I found:

It was as if the water heater wanted to be condescending.  Hot, Warm, Vacation.
(Really water heater?  You think I go on Vacation? More like Stay-cation.)
I turned the knob and hope that next week my new bill will show an improvement.

Am I taking cold showers?  How is the water temperature now?
Not terrible.  Some days the water is hotter than others. It is not scalding hot but not cold and in the long run my skin is probably better off.

How have your bills this season been?  Have you stumbled across any great tips you'd like to share?

Check out this site if you want to learn more.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Flirt, Write, and Talk Boldly: Listed Resolutions and a Revelation

Here is my short list of New Year's Resolutions.

I will at any point expand or annotate it, because I love a good list.

(Yes, this is written on a Christmas card envelope.
I love writing on envelopes.)

Typically I don't commit to a list before the new year.  Nor do I kick it off right away or broadcast it.  I try (if I do have some resolutions) to adopt new habits, not abolish them.  They are born out of necessity, not convention. 

Can you see the pattern in my list this year?
It took awhile for me to spot.  
Think on it a moment.

Actually, the pattern, was revealed in a quiet moment of prayer.  It came during one of those liturgical moments of silence, during a prayer of confession, while praying for sins to be revealed. 
The thought without lead-in came fully formed: 
"You're hiding."

And so I am.  And so I have been.  Daily pulling a metaphorical huge hoodie over myself.  The soft folds swallow and comfort all of me and conceal me as well.  We all are at times, hiding, and need to be to heal or grow, but my time and need for hiding is over.  It has become a protected, easy, and admittedly lazy place.  
I know it's high time that I am seen again.  Full on. 
Not quite metaphorical spandex unitard with visible panty-lines "seen," but...this metaphor is unraveling fast. I hope you understand.  

Not to say that this list came out of those revealing two words.  
It came before.  

I'm so glad that they align.  
But of course with a listening heart, they always would. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dear Jon (Letter), The Breakup Part II

Returning home with my new phone was problematic.  I left the store glad and sure of my purchase.  I did not get far.

I remained in the parking lot for 20 minutes and became exponentially less certain each minute that I was unable to use said device.  In attempting to send a celebratory text to  my mom, dad, and brother, I found that I could not.
No, I am not that daunted by technology as to not know how to text.  My contacts list had not transferred, or at least the contacts that had are not in my "inner circle." Try as I might, I could only call my mom, because outside of my childhood home phone number this is the only other phone number I know by heart.

Calling mom was not the celebration I had hoped for.  It only made us keenly aware of the expense of adding a third phone to the plan and made me question my resolve to  not go with the confusing Mobile Share + Next program.  Was I only being resistant and stubborn because I like to be resistant and stubborn, I wondered.  Possibly...
The price and the lack of ability to use said expensive thing was upsetting.
I hate buying things.  And probably like every other human on the planet, I hate being made to feel small, especially when it is an object that you own.  It's insulting and I felt it as such.

By the time I got out of the car at my home, I decided that I'd made a terrible mistake.

I wanted out.

This is familiar territory for me: the sheer panic that comes after a commitment.  I have a rather large internal eject button.  I can't explain why. People like to tell me, when it applies to a relationship, that it is a sign that things "aren't right or meant to be," a comforting thought, but seeings how it also comes just as easily with major and minor purchases, I think it's more to do with realizing that I have misgivings and not deciding felt better than making a choice and entering the world of "what if."

Let's just say when I got inside my home I was in tears and crestfallen.  I called Jon alert him of the problem (read: call it off) but he didn't pick up.  I ate lunch (to get my blood sugar up) and then headed back to the store.
The manager checked me in, said "oh you're back" (yes I really was there that long) and Jon came over.

"My contacts aren't in my phone.  I can't text anyone and I think I want an iPhone" I blurted out.
Jon hung his head and sighed.
"I'm sorry.  I just can't do it."
And we went back to the ridiculously tall table and non chairs.

Jon calmed me down and counseled me to keep the phone for another day, because if we changed them out then the manager was going to charge a 35 dollar fee.

I do not know the ending of this yet.  I returned to the store again today, the different manager also wanted the restocking payment, and the iPhones were sold out.

Now I guess the question is, how many trips to the store does it take to get a Smart Phone?
More than three.
But I have survived and thrived this long without one, so what does it really matter?
And for kicks and grins, here's a peek at how I am keeping this phone safe before I switch it out.

Introducing the Smart Sock!

(The store was sold out of protectors.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Buy a SmartPhone at a Brick and Mortar Part 1

This is a series of events that really happened. It is a 2 part least.
Today I went to a cell phone store.  It has been my 3rd visit between December 18th to present.
My phone has been due for an upgrade since November and because my current phone's back has been missing for 3 months; it was time.
In November of 2011, I got a phone with texting capabilities, and it changed (perhaps forever) the way I communicate.  My 2014 upgrade I wanted more of the same.  Not faster speed. Not the Internet.

(As a side note I am opposed on at least 2 fronts for having a Smart Phone.  One is the philosophical opposition about society and our lack of connection which is enabled/ worsened by technology.  The second is one of fear.  I wonder how I will react to having instant gratification and knowledge at my fingertips, and if I have enough of whatever it takes to let myself wonder, think, remember, and forget.)

These qualms I hold up next to the knowledge that this technology is what the world has embraced, businesses and people alike.  I wonder if resistance is futile and if I should instead learn to take the technology and mold it to my terms and values.)

Reconciling my feelings over several months, I decided to take the next step.  After gathering recommendations from friends I went to the AT&T store prepared.  Preparedness being a relative term, because how can a person be prepared and enter into an environment that's layout, delivery of information, seating is designed with confusion in mind?

Would you like to know what was in my survival kit?   Hint: the opposite of technology.

A hardback of David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Several pens
My composition notebook
An old school calculator
Lipstick and gum (They don't hurt when you need to get good service.)

I shook Jon's hand, introduce myself while hearing piped in dance mix music that's a little too loud for conversational speech.  I let him lead me to a high top table with seats that are not quite stools and not really chairs.  If you sit down incorrectly, you can swivel right off. Believe me.

I was direct and asked many specific price point driven questions, took notes, made a grid and after what seemed like hours had Jon very flummoxed himself.  He was doing a whole-handed face rub.  I always interpret this as someone holding back what they want to say and massaging it out and off until they have to do it again to remain composed.

Poor Jon.  I wasn't cooperating with the script.
But this was going better than the second to last time I had gone in, when I told the sales rep that he had made me very confused.  That I was going home.  And I was going to do research on my own.

But dear reader, this is not a complaining piece, because my time in the store took a positive turn.
While Jon was crunching numbers, and I was asking about the final bill and resisting the "value plan" he started to talk about not phone things.

I am not saying that at any point I was treating this man shabbily, I wasn't.  In fact I was apologetic for having him run so many numbers and for my asking so many questions.  I even told him a time or two, "I am not asking this because I don't trust you, I just don't know that I trust this plan is what it seems like."

I am fairly certain changing our dialogue helped him as well, from a non-verbal standpoint it did, but it absolutely helped me put in perspective that this was a person doing his job, was doing it well, and doing it as he'd been trained.

I don't recall which of these things happened first.
One was, "I don't think of myself as a retail person."
The other was, "Oh that was awkward.  That's my ex's brother who just walked by."
But both of his statements were completely humanizing.
I was able to respond with, "I was horrible in retail.  I only lasted 2 days."
And, "Oh him? He felt awkward too.  I saw his face.  Don't worry, there's glass between you."

Had this been a team building exercise these exchanges would have gotten us back on track.  Because we were working towards a common goal.  And we've had common experiences.

By the end of my time buying said phone I was solidly on team Jon.  We were laughing.  I got to see pictures of his dogs.  I had ditched trying to use the chair and was standing to help me feel more grounded and stable.
I felt comfortable with my phone decisions and I left.
All because he let me realize that yes, he was working in a huge retail store, but he is a person.
Isn't it interesting that in the midst of my internal dilemma about technology and in the center of a phone store, I had a pure example of what it means to put down phones, learn, and relate to each other?
This is what I crave.  This is what I want to protect.  This is what I want to remember.  People are everywhere.  And we can connect.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Guidelines, of sorts

As is my custom, the order of things, even with as few as 2 posts is disordered.
And so is reflective of every research paper I've ever written and is an interesting reflection of life as well. 
In an attempt to have a touchstone in this blog, here are a few clarifying statements for when I lose my way.  

1.) Safety first. 
In the event something inappropriate happens, be it comments, strange emails, being found and contacted on other media, etc, it will be addressed.  I will never disclose my habits, haunts, workplace, address, phone number, etc. 
I am a proud St. Louisian, that you will know. 

2.)  Story-telling does not mean "tell all."
I will respect my private life and take strides to not compromise it. 
In the same vein, I will respect the privacy and lives of others, post things with permission and/ or change names when appropriate. 

3.) This is an honest portrait of myself not who I want you to think I am.
I am a human.  I make mistakes.  I am sensitive.  I am messy.  
I will not pretend to be better than I am.  I will not clean myself up for you.  At times I imagine will discuss messiness and struggle, when it is processed enough inside myself.  Not to hide, but to honor my feelings.  

4.) This blog is to have a positive voice.
I will highlight creativity, curiosity, learning, and joys through sharing.
It will not be a forum to vent my problems or opinions.  Those are for true conversations with people face to face to work through and learn together.  

5.) This blog will have some variety.
To the extent that I can now and that I can grow into, I will develop and write posts on various topics and in different formats to stretch myself as a writer.

6.) This blog will be pleasing to the eyes. 
There will be some pictures, but above all I want the content to speak for itself.

If I ever stray from these, I promise to myself and to you (readers) that I will make strides to make my way back.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Importance of Being Neighborly Over Coffee

Yesterday, on MLK day, I set out to write my first (after a long break) blog post.  It was on the To Do list.
I was at a coffee shop.  The blog name was taking shape.  Just one quick post and I'd be off.  The first post can be tricky.  Or at least have some sort of emotional pressure associated with it.
But readers, I did not write a post.
Instead, I had a fun experience that I will share with you.
My computer was out on a table with 2 composition books, a legal pad, and a cup of coffee.  My possessions are like my thoughts, strewn about.  I was listening to a class online, jotting down a business idea, prioritizing my to do list, when a person walked into the coffee shop.  Clearly I wasn't giving the online class my rapt attention.
I hesitate to say the name of the man or location of the shop because I appreciate my privacy.  I appreciate his as well.  I assume he might like to have some.

At any rate, this very talented singer walked in and my thoughts were thus:
I like his 20s/ 30s look.
His hair is different.
I know his face.  That is _________ (left intentionally blank).

Then I second guessed myself and Google imaged him, verifying my recognition skills. (Oh the world we live in!)  Then I remembered one of my many New Year's Resolutions: Do things that scare you. 
(More resolutions to come...) 

So there I sat, thinking it out, debating, weighing, and I decided that the scary thing to do would be to act aberrant and ask for an autograph.  I stood up with one of my composition books, walked past him, sort of cut in the coffee line said something about how I was not really cutting and then awkwardly pointed out I knew who he was and could he write his name down for me.  What an odd custom.
"I started a new notebook today," I managed to say.
"It's a good day then." This guy replied.  
And we talked about notebooks.  Spiral vs. bound. 
This was familiar territory; things felt less scary because a new notebook does mean it's a good day.  My brain took a detour and wanted to revel in the fact that someone else knows this is true.  But we were still talking and I didn't have the capacity to contemplate finding a kindred spirit while also conversing.  I tried, but it resulted in sentences like this: 
"So you're here. I normally just see you on t.v."  Classic me.  Did I think he was a hologram? Of course he was "there."
When it was his turn to order I was content to leave him in peace (ahem, run away), since I felt like an intruder.  But, he said that he'd get his coffee and come find me.  
I went back to my pile of notebooks and computer and sat down feeling dumbfounded.  I quickly updated my Facebook page.  Then pretended to continue learning about Content Strategy.   
When he came over, I still hadn't decided how to behave.  There were times when I began to start to drift off into musical thinking.  Musical thinking is when you think in a moment everyone around you will begin to sing and dance in perfect harmony.  I am not sure at what age I came to understand this doesn't happen.  I suspect I figured out about Santa before I let this dream go.  It took some control to get those thoughts quashed yesterday.
Outside of my flight of fancy, it was a pleasant talk. This doesn't sound like much, but to talk to someone who looks at your face and in your eyes, is rare.  He didn't check his phone or watch, and when he needed to go, did so.  I was flattered to have a person's attention for that long.  Not to mention the attention of someone who understands: the importance of writing in notebooks, the consequences of emptying a fridge a day before traveling, and the pleasure that is a French patisserie. 
And I hope that I'll have the pleasure of talking with him again.  Being neighbors and all, it just might happen.