Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Dream of the 90s...

... is alive in Portland.

You know you're in Portland when:

* Airport toilets include detailed flushing instructions for saving water and specially treated, non-germy handles.

* You don't bother with tickets for the interconnected system of light rail, street cars and buses as long as you're in the downtown "free rail zone."

* You eat at stationary food "carts," not mobile food "trucks."

* Food carts appear in narrow sidewalk spaces in between buildings. Who needs waivers or permits when they make the most delicious homemade peanut-butter, cherry jam, jalapeno and bacon sandwich on grilled challa bread you've ever tasted!?

* Community gardens spring up in vacant lots. Instead of complaining, the neighbors donate water.

* Community gardens spring up on construction sites, with cisterns to collect rainwater. Homemade signs thank the developers for the space.

* Instead of for-sale flyers in plexiglass in front yards, you find poetry flyers.

* The beloved visionary governor who restored open space and limited development was both a journalist and a Republican.

I was raising kids and missed the '90s zeitgeist, but Portland is definitely weird. In a good way.

Check out this photo album that Steve put together.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Working Naked Day

When I heard about Working Naked Day, I had a disturbing mental flash of Wall Street staffers stalking around with only their briefcases for "cover."

Then I read further and found out that the designation - it's today in fact - was created to highlight the millions of us who work from home and have little to no outside support, except for what we find for ourselves.

Lisa Kanarek, founder of National Working Naked Day, offers these appropriately provocative tips for all of us who are working naked (figuratively, if not literally!):

Expose yourself to new technology. In addition to storing data on your computer or an external hard drive, use an online data storage option, such as Dropbox, and start implementing planning software, like Evernote, into your everyday tasks.

Strip your home office down to the basics. Instead of using separate machines for faxing, printing, scanning and copying, use an all-in-one machine.

Don't be modest. Share your accomplishments by hanging diplomas or business awards on your wall. Let your home office reflect your personality and style.

Dress up your office. Your home office doesn’t have to have a boring, corporate look. Install draperies with interesting patterns and designs, paint your walls bright colors and hang colorful artwork.

Cover up your floor (or at least part of it) to absorb sound. By adding an area rug or wall-to-wall carpeting to your home office, you won’t sound as if you’re in a cave when you’re on the phone or a video-conference call.


I love Lisa's concept and her tagline, "Working from a home office never felt so cool."

Last year, I reconfigured my office after years of staring at a wall. I also got a beautiful, much larger desk and finally have adequate lighting. I think working at home on a shoestring means that many of us (I'm guilty) endure less-than-optimal conditions. Lisa has some good advice about making a home office attractive and fun. I'm going to take them to heart.

RadioLab

I love this podcast and never miss it.

But this week's episode is truly outstanding. Give it a listen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Portlandia

We happened to visit Portland, Ore. the same weekend that the city was parodied in a new IFC comedy sketch show called "Portlandia." It was clear, reading the local media and the local mood, that residents were both slightly defensive and slightly tickled to be in the national spotlight.

Many of the silly stereotypes in Portlandia seemed all-too-true, at least to casual, short-term visitors like us. Plaid shirts and beards are the norm for men; and yes, the hot girls all wear glasses. You don't eat anything without hearing about its provenance.

The city is an odd mix of uber-progressive young adults and old-fashioned, elderly white people who still seem perplexed by the last couple of decades. My mother grew up in Portland, so we tracked down one of her old addresses. When she took us there in the '80s, the neighborhood had deteriorated badly. The old Portland Foursquares were crumbling and the once-glamorous local movie palace, the Bagdad Theater, was a sad shadow of its former self.

But due to still-controversial urban planning, "in-fill" is the norm for Portland's neighborhoods, as opposed to the ugly, pollution-generating suburban and exurban sprawl found outside of so many other cities.

Most of the homes in mom's old neighborhood have been lovingly restored and sport creative paint jobs. The Bagdad is part of an entrepreneurial chain of brew pub-movie palaces that have been reclaimed and refurbished. A fancy market selling locally-sourced meat, cheese and produce is right around the corner, along with a Powell's outlet, record stores and lots of terrific restaurants.

I only wish Mom could have seen it. She would have been proud.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stretch That Extra Dough

Have you noticed a little extra dough in your paycheck lately? I really haven't, since I'm (mostly) self-employed, but we have seen a slight upswing in my husband's pay stubs.

The money comes from the tax compromise bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama last month. For most middle-class Americans, the extra money adds up to about $100 a month.

Doesn't seem like a lot? It's not, but if you manage it carefully you can make an impact on your long-term financial survival, says Brent Neiser of the National Endowment for Financial Education.

The nonprofit organization suggests these six tips for using that extra money:

1. Build up an emergency fund. Tuck that extra money away into savings. Even a modest amount—as little as $500—can help soften the blow of typical unexpected expenses. If you already have an emergency fund, give yourself an extra boost toward reaching that three-to-six-month-living-expenses recommendation. If you have yet to establish a plan, learn how you can maximize your savings.

2. Pay down credit card debt. Is high-interest credit card debt weighing you down? Use your extra money each month to make higher payments toward that alarming balance. First, attack the card with the highest interest rate. If you can pay off the card in full, that’s even better. For more tips on dealing with debt, click here.

3. Avoid the holiday shopping hangover in 2011. Use the money to establish a holiday savings account for your gift purchases this year. After all, this is an expense that you know you will have, so set aside a little each month starting now. Be sure to put this money in an account separate from your other savings.

4. Be good to your car and your home. Use your additional money to help out with costly, but necessary, maintenance and repairs to your home or vehicle. Replace that leaky roof or buy new tires for your car.

5. Invest in a retirement plan. Enhance your future now by using your money to invest in a tax-deferred retirement plan. If you have an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), boost your contribution amount. (Be sure you understand your annual contribution limits.) If you don’t have a retirement account, learn more about them here.

6. Treat yourself. If you have all of the above covered, then it’s OK to reward yourself, but do so responsibly. Put your extra money toward a vacation or a flat-screen television. Just be sure to maintain your fiscally-savvy ways by finding the best deal, and click here for tips on making a major purchase.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Free checking for entrepreneurs

Here's another freebie I thought might be useful to some.


In an effort to partner with more small businesses to help them better manage their finances and ultimately reach their goals, Citibank this week launched a promotion to offer free checking to new and existing business customers for one year. The promotion runs through March 31, 2011.

The checking promotion gives qualifying small business customers who open a CitiBusiness Streamlined or Flexible Checking account free checking for one year, providing them with greater flexibility, value and support. To qualify for the offer, new customers must deposit $500 and enroll in a cash management product, such as CitiBusiness Payroll Manager, Citi Merchant Services or Remote Check Deposit, or make five bill pays with CitiBusiness Online. Existing customers can qualify by enrolling in a cash management service.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

We Get Offers

Every once in a while, I pass along offers from my sources to entrepreneurs and other virtuous types. Here's one I got recently from an outfit called Getty Images:

On the official Photos.com Facebook page, a series of contests will offer small U.S. businesses the chance to win a makeover of their website, landing page, brochure or other marketing elements. To enter the contest series, U.S. business owners are encouraged to become a fan of Photos.com on Facebook.


If you use stock photos for your website or marketing materials, take a look. It sounds interesting and the prices are pretty low.

As John Hodgman would say, "You're welcome."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Winter Garden

The broccoli is sprouting



The greens just keep on giving



The cauliflower is growing, despite the worms



We've also had spinach, red mustard, rainbow chard, kale, thyme, sage, basil and Italian parsley, which grows like a weed. My root crops, on the other hand, are not doing well. The Thumbelina carrots are cute but not very useful and my beets are just sitting there.

My experiment with jicama died out early and my artichoke flourished early in the fall only to succumb during the rains last month. I'm afraid it drowned, poor thing. I think it's a perennial, so I have hope it may return in the spring.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Analog Girl in a Digital World

I am always quite thrilled, in that small-t thrilled way, to hang my new calendar up and crack open my new At-A-Glance each January. There's something hopeful about all that fresh scheduling space and all those pretty pictures to look forward to each month.

But the other day when I mentioned this, my kids looked at me quizzically, as they so often do since they went away to college. "Why do you need a wall calendar?" one son asked.

"So I can see what date it is," I explained.

"You can Google that, you know," he replied, scornfully.

"I know, but I like to see what day goes with what date, and how many more days are left in the week and how many more weeks are left in the month," I replied, patiently.

"Pfffttt" is the closest I can come to the sound he made next, something between bafflement and pity. Poor old girl, stuck in the last century.

Remember when the Generation Gap described a dichotomy in parents' and kids' musical taste, political proclivities or sexual mores? No more. I would like to posit that today's Generation Gap involves the analog vs. digital divide.

What distinguishes my attitudes and habits from those of my Millenial offspring? It's wearing a wristwatch and reading the print version of the newspaper, and even watching the television set.

It's a spatial thing. I seem to need the physicality of objects to orient myself in space and time. And not only do I rely on a watch, I actually prefer an ancient two-hands-that-point-at-the hours-and-minutes timepiece.

But why oh why do you need a watch, or even a clock, when your phone can wake you up and tell you the time? my kids will ask.

And why trek outside to pick up an inky newspaper (or several, at my house) made from dead trees when you can read any number of them online, for free?

The other day, when I informed my son that I had recorded his favorite TV show for him, he made another one of those "pffffttt" noises. "I can watch it online, you know," he said.

"Yes, but I thought you might enjoy watching it on the big screen in the comfortable living room, instead of hunched in front of your computer," I replied, teeth clenched.

He smiled patiently. "Thanks, Mom," he said, patting my hand.

I didn't say anything, but I noticed later that he did watch the show in the living room, on the teevee.

Score one for the old girl. There's some life in that analog universe yet.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land

Everything was perfectly fine on the World Wide Web. I checked email and noodled around a bit - it was a Sunday afternoon, after all - and then I took my son to a fun holiday show.

When I returned a couple of hours later, all hell had broken loose. Or rather, my computer had gone to hell. Commands were not followed, programs did not open and it was slow, slower, slowest - until it just quit working altogether.

There's nothing quite as disorienting as being without my computer. I hate to admit it, but I rely on this machine like I rely on my right arm. When it abandons me, I am lost.

This was back in mid-December and my college students were home, so there were lots of spare laptops available. But they weren't my laptop, with my bookmarks loaded and my passwords stored. Stumbling around cyberspace on a strange contraption whose keys are in all the wrong places is like being a stranger in a strange land.

Thanks to my computer repair guys, I was able to save needed work on a flash drive and meet a couple of crucial deadlines over the holidays.

But along with the computer virus came a biological virus that had me down, and even more disoriented, for a good two weeks. The energy is only now starting to return.

Why, dear reader, do I subject you to this long tale of woe? Only to apologize for my long absence and assure you that I will do better in 2011. Happy new year all, and may your backups be diligent and your cybersurfing efficient and familiar.