Wednesday, December 24, 2008

So much for auld lange syne

Nothing says "cliche" like a list of New Year's resolutions. To avoid such a stigma, I've compiled a list of to-do items for 2009.

About a month ago, I took Planet Fitness up on their $10/month gym membership offer - and so far, so good. I didn't realize how much I missed running until I started running again. An annoying pain in my knee stopped my previous running effort just as I had completed my first full 5k in 2007. Over the summer I tried again, and the pain returned. It even plagued me on my New England trip: there were some hills I just couldn't manage, and I was lucky to make it up Mt. Cadillac.

But now the pain seems to be gone. I stepped back in to the couch-to-5k plan I started with last year, and I've found this year it seems to be easier. It's like my body remembers what all this nonsense is about, and decided to take it easy on me. "Okay, you fool," it seems to say to me, "have it your way."

I drive across town to the Planet Fitness facility two to three time a week, after dinner, and work out for an hour or more. The first half-hour is dedicated to the treadmill, and the second half-hour is centered around weight training. I haven't used a full-on gym since high school; I used a small free weight and a lot of push-ups and sit-ups to get me through the years since. But now, with a complete gym, it feels pretty darn good to really work myself.

Winter is tough for everyone, and I always seem to gain a few pounds. Not this year. The ultimate goal will be to finally(!) run in a true, organized 5k run somewhere in the area. As long as the knee holds up, and I keep myself motivated, I can finally strike "run a 5k" off life's to-do list.

And you know what? It's like my body remembers what running is like. I've actually skipped ahead of the couch-to-5k workouts because I needed the challenge. Check the weather in hell!

Most people have sensible, easy-to-explain hobbies: horses, scrapbooking, photography. It's a little harder to center your hobby around technology that was discontinued 10 years ago. But that's what I've done, and my little Newton blog has grown and grown in the year since I launched it.

I set a modest goal - 500 visits a day - and once that goal was achieved, I told myself (and my readers) that I would launch Newton Poetry as a self-contained blog. I already switched the domain name from a .wordpress-hosted blog to, and since then there's been a measurable uptick in readership. The magic of the Internet can never be fully understand, I think - only negotiated with.

So sometime in 2009 I will take the blog off of Wordpress and buy hosting space and experiment with PHP and JavaScript and all these crazy languages that no sane person dabbles in without preparation. My prep is in the doing itself, and God Help Me it should be interesting.

It seems like forever ago that Suzanne and I took Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover class, but I only have to look at my savings account, my self-accountability, and my spending habits to realize the lessons we learned have stuck - hard as glue.

I don't have Suzanne around to keep me accountable anymore, but I gotta say - I've done okay on my own. I have $1,000 stored away for my emergency fund, I've paid off three credit cards, and this year - if all goes according to plan - I'll pay off my final and largest credit card. Last year I transferred the balance to a 0% APR Chase card so that every time I make a payment, I'm hammering the principal. It feels damn good when I plunk down $150 on the barrelhead every month. As the year has gone on, I've chipped away at the balance so that, in 2009, I'll make one big payment and have the goddamn thing out of my life forever.

After that, I'll have my two student loans (about $18k) and my car payment (about $4k) to go. Ramsey recommends that I take the credit card payment ($150/month) and add it onto my next debt (one of the student loans) so that I'm making giant payments each month. That giant money hammer will pound that debt, and then I'll add THAT giant payment to the next debt, and so on. A debt snowball. It works like a charm.

I've cut my spending down so that every week I give myself enough to buy groceries, fill up my tank (easier these days), and have a bit of fun - so that I'm by no means "sacrificing." But I think back to my bygone college days and LBD ("Life before Dave"), and I wonder how I put away any money at all.

My point in all this is not to brag (though I do congratulate myself a bit for maintaining this level of discipline), but to point out that even before the economic crisis I was concentrating on getting my financial affairs in order - and 2009 will feature the biggest payoff since I started. To celebrate, I'll overpay by $1.25 on that Chase card so that they're forced to send me a credit check when I close the account. Why? Simple. So that, for once, they owe me money. Cool, huh?

That's not all for 2009. If you really know me, you know three measely goals are never enough for Dave Lawrence. I have one in mind that I meant to tackle at the end of last summer. More will spring up in the meantime, I'm sure. They always do. But 2009 is lucky: I won't put a lot of pressure on the the new year, which means life can go at my speed: methodical, prepared, a slow grind.

No stigma there.

Monday, December 8, 2008

See how they twist and shout.

It wasn't so long ago that music had an appreciable impact in my life. I remember, in high school and in college, making music as big a part of my life as anything at the time - the long road trips for concerts, buying CDs on their release day, talking bands and influences and learning how to play my favorite songs on the guitar.

These days, it's vastly different. In fact, I've always thought one of the markers of old age is when you fail to recognize what the kids are listening to. When that happens - well, friends, it's all over.

That's why I was refreshed and thankful for seeing The Verve Pipe on Friday. The concert at the Small Planet, a great little venue with a bar and Mrs. Pac Man, was a short trip up US-127, and - at $17 a ticket - was very affordable. These things matter when you get older.

Calley was nice enough to tag along with me. We both noticed the mix of Gen Xers and the younger crowd, and I felt the grim suspicion that most everyone was here to hear That Song.

Thankfully, my own Verve Pipe favorite - the catchy video there at the top - came only two songs into the playlist. "Hero" has long been my second most-played song on iTunes, right under Earth Wind & Fire's "September," ever since I downloaded both "Villians" and the self-titled album from Katie. It's the kind of song to start your day with, when you need a reminder that taking yourself too seriously is a disastrous way to live.

Which is why I fear the music of today's generation. The eye liner and the '80s glam and the mood swings - it's a real bummer, in ways that Mr. Cobain's never was. It's a First World bummer, and it's just not the same.

Thinking back, the Post-Grunge rock scene was a super one. Bands like Collective Soul, Live, Our Lady Peace, Sponge, Fuel, and our good friends the Verve Pipe ruled the Earth, even if they failed to gain the super-stardom of the rock scene before them. If you like four people jamming away on instruments they can actually play, it was a great time to be a music fan.

The Verve Pipe, though - they hit the big time in ways that help only VH1 pay attention to you years later. It's sad.

Yes, The Verve Piped played That Song right in the middle of the concert, but I crossed my arms and waited for it to end. And it did, just like the rest, until the band finished with a stellar classic that got the whole joint rolling. They're local boys, though, so it's not like getting the Small Planet excited was a difficult task.

The show left a big enough impression on me that now I want to check out the rest of VP's catalog. They haven't released anything new since 2001, but then I haven't really enjoyed anything (Interpol and a few others may be the rare exception) since then, either. That makes us even.

Sometimes you need a good rock show to give you that boost you've been looking for. That feeling is amplified when the music takes you back to some pleistocene era, when you knew music was worth listening to. It's been that way a lot lately, and I'm learning to accept it. I don't much listen to the radio. Luckily I have a large enough music collection to keep me occupied until Doomsday. But then old favorites spring up and introduce a few albums I had missed, and it's like discovering something new - all over again.