Sunday, February 22, 2015

What really happens when you fall off the radar

We've been debt-free for several years now. Of the three credit reporting agencies, one can't even get my name right, another hasn't been able to keep up with my current address, and the third seems to have chosen to forget that I even exist. (As if it's so hard for a company built around gathering and storing information en masse to keep one more handful of bytes of data around.)

Meanwhile, I see more and more and more articles about how it is absolutely necessary to have a good, long credit record and a high credit score, and how not having those things must mean that you are a very, very bad person.  (Who may not even deserve to get their mandated Obamacare.)

Let's spit this propaganda out and step back for a minute:  Who created credit reporting and scoring? Creditors, so they can tell who will be most profitable for them to lend to. Who is it most profitable for them to lend to? People who routinely use credit, and who might someday have to live off credit for a while. (Creditors take a little in interest and fees off the top in the good economic times, and will take much more than that in the hard and desperate times.) Who is the least profitable for them? Two types:  people who run up huge piles of debt and then never repay, either intentionally or unintentionally, and people who rarely or never use credit.

So there is more than one way to get a lower credit score, and having one does not necessarily imply immoral or irresponsible behavior.
The Bible is clear:  debt is to be avoided, but the poor cannot always avoid do this, and will sometimes get into debt beyond any possibility of repayment. There should be a mechanism to erase their debt and allow them to start over with a clean slate--this is laid out in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law that was given to the Israelites), and it is the origin of our modern bankruptcy laws. The rich who exploit the hardships of the poor to enrich themselves even further are thoroughly condemned throughout the Bible. One reason for the periodic remission of debts is to prevent the economic winners from actually taking all and permanently enslaving their countrymen.

Today, powerful corporations and their allies in media and government and academia would like you to believe that living debt-free is impossible. But debt is slavery, your enslavement is to their profit, not yours, and they are even ready to deny an honest living to those whom they can't enslave. Who is it who really determines what is possible and what isn't? God and only God. Look around you:  there are millions of people surviving and getting by who don't have "good credit", who don't have credit cards, and who don't have much of an income. A fair number of these people are even living quite well. It is not impossible if there are people who are actually doing it.

Beyond this, when God provides supernaturally it is utterly beyond the understanding of those who are merely of this world. It is this Providence that I have come to depend on more and more. The best way to make "something from almost nothing" is to follow the One who made absolutely everything from absolutely nothing, and who can always provide that little something to get you started.

Friday, February 13, 2015

More armchair design possibilities

In the library, I was leafing through a book on Arts and Crafts furniture, and came across an armchair that was similar to the one I built, but with a back that could be adjusted to tilt at several different angles. There were two versions, both had the back attached to the seat frame with hinges. One had pegs to support the back, with three sets of holes into the sides of the armrests. The other version had a wooden bar that fit into three different sets of slots. These were very interesting, and I could incorporate either of these ideas into my chair later, but at this stage of my life I need a chair that the children can't slam down on each other, or run away with essential components.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pants and purging and perusing

A lady at church gave me a couple of yards of light fleece. I drew up pants patterns based on sweat pants my kids already had, and then made five pairs of pants for them.  Very simple, back side same as the front side, zigzag stitch throughout.  I re-used elastic from their old pants for the waistbands. But sometimes the elastic is stitched in too well to make getting it out worthwhile. I like pattern drafting, and my children are constantly growing, so I usually draw up a new pattern every time.

I had enough fabric left over to make one small dress. And to lengthen the pants for one child who wanted his pants longer.

Since then, I've been working on the first task of moving, which is a huge purge to minimize the amount that needs to be moved. I try to keep things decluttered as we go, but there is always more that can go out the door. This week I have been working on cleaning behind and under as many pieces of furniture as possible. It is amazing how many toys and odd objects find their way back into the dust bunnies.

I have been reading Tsh Oxenreider's Organized Simplicity. My reaction (after one reading) is mixed. It felt like the book was aimed at people living large and complicated lives in McMansions; as a writer I understand the temptation to write to a straw audience, but it made it difficult for me to meet the book where I actually am. I have been working for a long time on a simpler and more efficient lifestyle, and never had anything very big in the first place, so I have already picked most of the low-hanging fruit that she is offering her readers in this book. Still, there were several interesting ideas and organizing principles that I took note of. The appendix of recipes for homemade cleaning recipes and personal care products is very good, and includes many that I use myself.

But I differ with her on washing windows; instead of newspaper, I have a scrubber and a squeegee. With a towel (to wipe the squeegee and window edges) and some warm water with a little dish soap in it, I can wash the windows very quickly. It's very similar to washing the car's windows at the gas station, now that I think about it...treat your home like a car.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Taxes and the business of being a household

I was disappointed to discover that the IRS is no longer supplying copies of most tax forms through public libraries, only the 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ forms. Without the instruction booklets. You can order up to ten IRS forms and publications for free through, but I am going to have to wait until after we move. Another useful feature on the IRS web site is a withholding calculator.

Yes, I still do all of our taxes myself and on paper--it is the most frugal and fun way to do it, if you can handle basic math and follow directions carefully. The entire process was designed to be done on paper. Also, understanding your tax incentives is an essential part of financial management, as Don Lancaster said in The Incredible Secret Money Machine. He was talking about very small businesses, where knowing which expenses are deductible and where can make the difference between profit and loss, but it applies to households as well. I have learned enough for our particular situation that the idea of paying even $50 for tax preparation is just laughable.

So far this year, I have sorted through our financial papers from 2014, and have pulled out the numbers for income, potentially deductible expenses (medical expenses and charitable giving, in our case), and federal and state taxes paid so far. I summarize these on a single page. Some things, like the percentage of our income that goes to giving, I calculate for my own use. The next step for me is to start working through the 1040 form, line by line. I may print out some of the worksheets in the instructions; in the past I have found that trying to follow a complicated worksheet, in two columns, up and down a computer screen is no easy task.

In my state, the income tax form relies so heavily on the calculations from the federal form that it is impossible to do the state taxes first. I learned this year that there is a state version of the W4 form, for those of us who need more state income tax than federal income tax withheld.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The finished but unfinished armchair

I did a big push this week toward finishing the armchair, but the final sanding and finish are going to wait until spring, because Danish oil is volatile and not something that I want to work with indoors. The chair is not perfect, but it is done.  In theory, it can be pulled apart into four sections, but two of the bolts are in too tightly for me to pull them.

Costs:  I used about $20 worth of my husband's wood, bought two boxes of drywall screws for $7 (of which I have many left over for other projects), and will spend $12-$15 for a can of Danish oil later on. I did use many of the mistake screws, where three-inch screws would have been too long. Not that I am above sawing off or filing down a too-long screw once in a while. About half of the wood in the chair is salvaged from the previous armchair and from our scrap pile. I still need two more small pieces to finish the arms at the back. I was thinking of reusing the flat springs from the old chair, but didn't have hardware on hand for attaching them securely, so I put 1x2 slats across instead.

The cushion and cover are from the old chair. I cut down the cushion with scissors and a steak knife, and then refit the cover using slipcovering methods: put the cover on inside out, pin it to fit, mark the lines that need to be sewn, then remove the cover and sew them. This particular cover was essentially a slipcover made from old upholstery fabric anyway, so no cording or anything to worry about. I will replace it when better fabric becomes available, and it is getting washed on my very next laundry day.

The chair is more square than it looks in the picture; the skew in the seat support evened out under the weight of the back, as I thought it might.  I might make a pillow for the back, but it is comfortable enough without it. I do get the feeling of sliding off if I slouch, though. The children alternate between using it as a royal throne, and a base on which to build couch cushion houses. It is sturdy enough to stand up to them standing all over it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Finished the Mobius scarf

This is the project that I mentioned here. I reached the necessary length (sixty inches) sooner than I expected. It is narrower than the ten inches recommended by Elizabeth Zimmermann. A half twist, and join the ends. This size of scarf can go twice around the neck, or once around the neck and then up and around the head.  I am still learning how to wear it gracefully, but it is warm.

The stitch is Porcupine Stitch, from Barbara Walker's A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. I saved my sanity with this fuzzy yarn by substituting (slip 1 stitch purlwise, purl 2 together, pass slipped stitch over) for the purl 3 togethers. I made mistakes in the pattern, especially at first, but it's not obvious in the finished product. I also ran out of yarn twice, so there are three different yarns in it.