New Year’s Resolutions

So there’s this tradition of making a resolution to improve yourself at the end of every year. It’s supposed to be a method of self-improvement.

When I was a kid most of my resolutions were to brush my teeth more often. After I started being interested in dating my resolutions mostly revolved around putting on more muscle mass.

This year they’re mostly about being a better person for my wife instead of my parents (teeth brushing) or a potential girlfriend (muscles).

1) When someone has a birthday I will try to make that day a little better for them.
I’ve become something of a Grinch when it comes to birthdays because I don’t like my own. I go to parties and am a nice guest, but I don’t try to do something for someone when there isn’t an established event for them already. I’ll try to change that from now on. Of course this will depend on how close I am to the birthday person. Doing something for them might just mean a message on their Facebook wall. It could mean I get them a cool present and send it in the mail or even offer to plan a party for them!

2) Enjoy my own birthday.
Related to the birthday Grinch thing, I don’t enjoy my own birthday. I don’t like the idea of getting older and have wanted to stay the same age since I was seven. Getting older sucks once you get all the privileges! Now its all about more responsibilities. Well, I should stop blaming my birthday for that and have a nice time. No more being grumpy for the two weeks that surround my birthday.

3) Try harder to be a vegetarian again.
My wife is a vegetarian for ethical reasons. She thinks its wrong to kill an animal just because you want something tastier to eat than the delicious combination of cheese and beans (We are fans of Mexican food). I phrased the question of vegetarianism to myself a little differently awhile ago. Who is a better person, someone who kills animals when they don’t have to or someone who doesn’t? That kind of made it clear to me. Someone who doesn’t kill animals is better.
While I don’t think I can stay off meat entirely because too many of my favorite recipes lack adequate substitutes. There are good soy substitutes for chicken, but not for bacon for example. Thus I told my wife two years ago that I would make an effort to replace or subtract meat from my meals when I felt it did not add anything to the meal. I’ve since started slipping in that promise, so I am reaffirming it as a New Year’s Resolution.

4) “Donate” money to Kiva.
Kiva is a cool organization that loans money to small business owners in developing countries. Note that Kiva doesn’t give money to them, it loans money. If you give money to someone they often don’t spend it wisely. There’s a natural tendency to see a gift as “fun money” instead of money to improve your station in life. But if the money is a loan, then the debt ensures that the money will be used to improve the person’s business instead of buying a TV or whatever.
About 10% of the people who receive money default on their loans (The site says 1.25%, but 10% was the number I remembered when I looked at it previously). For some perspective, the USA default rate on small business loans is 1.5% right now and was 6% during the recent recession. Another problem is that although you are fronting the money for the investment, you make nothing off of it. When the business owner repays the loan the interest is used to pay the salary of the collector working for Kiva. You get back your original investment, but that’s all. So what if someone defaults? Well, Kiva encourages you to spread your money out over multiple people in $20 amounts to avoid this problem. Then if someone defaults you’re only out $20.
I said I was donating the money though. My plan is that when I get my money back that I will just reinvest it in another person until its all gone due to defaults (which could take years). I got a $200 gift from my grandparents for Christmas, so I think that’ll be the starting amount of my Kiva account. I’ll add in more later as I get older.

5) Set up my wife’s Roth IRA.
Kind of strange to have this one follow up a resolution to invest money for other people, but investing money for yourself is important too! There are tons of different retirement accounts, but the do it yourself ones are called plain IRAs and Roth IRAs. Plain IRAs are taxed when you start withdrawing money from them after you retire. Roth IRAs are taxed before you put money into them, but never after that. Which one is better? It depends on your tax bracket. If your bracket is going to go up by the time you retire, then a Roth IRA is better. If its going to stay the same, a regular IRA is better.
I have a Roth IRA set up for myself. For someone in the bottom tax bracket like me, a Roth IRA will earn three times as much as a regular IRA in investments by the time I retire. My wife is in the same boat for her tax bracket. She doesn’t have an account set up yet and we’ve been talking about it for awhile. Next year I will set it up and we can start saving for retirement even though we are in our 20’s.

And those are my New Year’s Resolutions! I’d love to hear your own resolutions and the stories behind them in the comments below.

-Mister Ed

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Thanksgiving Traditions

For those of you who don’t know, today is Thanksgiving in the USA! Turkey time!

My family has a few Thanksgiving traditions.

First, we set up the table for everyone who is coming over. This involves adding extra leaves to make it bigger as well as covering the table in butcher paper.

The butcher paper is not for butchering, but for writing on. We write and draw things we’re thankful for, like each other, or well-made bread, or that more Star Wars movies are coming out.

Then we have the usual food traditions of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.

Additional food is for my wife, who is a vegetarian. She likes making spanikopita instead of turkey. Spanikopita is a baked dish made with filo dough, butter, cheese, and spinach. Its really good!

We all eat the dinner and usually avoid the awful drama of arguments with your relatives.

After dinner is pie time.

My sister is the one who usually makes the pies. The typical number is eight, which ends up being about one per person at Thanksgiving dinner.

After eating everything we spend the rest of the night cleaning before falling asleep early.

But the fun isn’t over there! The next morning there is still plenty of pie left to eat! My sister invites all her friends over to eat the leftover pies. I know most of them, so its good to catch up with them and eat sugar for breakfast.

Most of those traditions are getting disrupted this year. My sister has moved to Ohio and is staying there this year. My dad and step-mom are going to my step-mom’s aunt’s house for the holiday, so they’re not in town either. I’m spending Thanksgiving with my lovely in-laws!

Most everyone in my wife’s family are vegetarians, so there will be no turkey this Thanksgiving. The spanikopita will be replacing it. Everything else is still going to be here though! Stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, pie, and people that I love.

There’s also talk of going on a hike before cooking begins.

I miss seeing my direct family, but I saw them last month and I’ll get to see them all again in December for Christmas. At least I get to see the family cat because I’m taking care of her while they’re away.

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving wherever you are and however you celebrate it!

-Mister Ed

Bois Blanc Island Dinners

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Food on the Island

Due to popular request (one person) I’ll be going into a little more depth about what food we ate on Bois Blanc Island.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of what we ate. Instead, here’s a nice before and after photo of our rental car’s license plate.

Look at how much dust gets on a car when it drives on Bois Blanc!
Look at how much dust gets on a car when it drives on Bois Blanc!

And now on to the food!

There were seven dinners we had on the Island. Ribs, meatloaf, tacos, kebabs, risotto, lasagna, and one night we went out to Hawk’s.

My wife and I made the risotto. We enjoy making it together a lot.

Risotto is a dish made from rice and broth for those of you who don’t know.

The broth is slowly added to the rice over a low flame. The rice absorbs more and more of the broth until it goes past normal rice consistency into something more like thick stew.

Vegetables and stuff are added to the risotto as well. Carrots, peas, celery, or potatoes.

Spice are welcome as well. Garlic, salt and pepper usually.

Most people add something more substantial like meat as well. My wife is a vegetarian so we opted for cheese and mushrooms instead.

It tastes pretty much like what you’d expect, thick rice stew. We really like it!

Risotto seemed a little boring for us to serve on its own. We included a side dish of roasted potatoes covered in honey dijon mustard and my aunts made a salad as well.

We were a little worried that risotto would weird people out but I think it was a success!

The other notable dinners were mostly the meat ones because of what my wife ate instead.

We were forewarned that my grandmother would be making ribs ahead of time. Fortunately, there is an excellent substitute meat product made by Morningstar for ribs. I call them fibs because they are fake ribs.

My wife ate the fibs while everyone else ate the ribs.

My wife made a side dish for herself of macaroni and cheese (her favorite) to replace the meatloaf.

My aunts made my wife some kebabs without chicken for that dinner. Unfortunately most of the vegetarian kebabs were bell peppers which my wife doesn’t like.

The gesture of preparing something especially for my wife to eat was still appreciated. My wife still had plenty to eat with all the other food made by my aunts (salad, leftovers, crackers, bread, etc).

So there it is! A few of the dinners that my family had on Bois Blanc Island.

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: Arriving to and Leaving from the Island

A Typical Day on the Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Mackinac Island

I’ve described what’s on and around Bois Blanc Island, but what do we actually do there?

A typical day starts with my wife and I waking up in the Pines Cottage at 8:30. We sleep that late partially due to a three hour jet lag, but mostly because vacations are created for sleeping in.

In the morning we turn on the space heater in the living room (I’m bad at lighting fires in the fireplace) before doing some activities in no particular order.

We shower, eat breakfast, work on a 1000 piece puzzle of a dragon on a cliff, read, write, and play on my wife’s iPhone with limited internet access.

We finished! One piece was missing. Probably stolen by our cat before we brought the puzzle to Bois Blanc.
We finished! One piece was missing. Probably stolen by our cat before we brought the puzzle to Bois Blanc.

At the end of the morning we eat lunch before calling my relatives on the West End to figure out dinner plans.

My wife is a vegetarian. If meat is in the main dish we have to make sure she has something else to eat.

After calling ahead we pack up what we need for the day and go over to the West End.

When we arrive at the West End we put away any food we brought that requires refrigeration before starting another group of activities in no particular order.

We read, write, wade in the water, kayak, watch my cousin and his friend from Montana windsurf, go on a walk, bike, work on a 500 piece puzzle of a pile of beach glass, eat snacks, play board and card games, and chat with my relatives.

This kayak is FILLED with invisible spiders.
This kayak is FILLED with invisible spiders.
Bois Blanc has butterflies too! Take that Butterfly House!
Bois Blanc has butterflies too! Take that Butterfly House!
Two missing pieces that we found later on.
There were two missing pieces that we found later on.

We don’t do all those things in one day, but we managed to do them all in the week we were on Bois Blanc Island.

Around 5 or 5:30 we go over to the New Cottage for drinks with my grandparents, drinks being anything from vodka to diet soda.

We talk with them or they talk around us about people all my aunts know but I’ve never met.

Half an hour later dinner is served and we gather around a big table or two tables if one isn’t enough.

We eat dinner and dessert if there is any.

After dinner we do a few more of the afternoon activities with the additional options of watching the sunset over Round Island at 9:15, or starting a fire in the fireplace or on the beach.

First time messing with my wife's panorama option on her iPhone.
First time messing with my wife’s panorama option on her iPhone.
I made the fire with my uncle's help. Maybe I can eventually make a fire without help.
I made the fire with my uncle’s help. Maybe I can eventually make a fire without help.

Then we pack up our stuff and dodge deer on the drive back to the Pines Cottage.

At the Pines we read, write, work on the dragon puzzle, and eat a few snacks before going to bed around 11.

Then we do it all again!

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: Food on the Island