Friday 30 December 2011

A time of reflection

Did you have a merry Christmas?  Or was it just so-so?  Mine was excellent, thank you, although it felt strange working right up to Christmas Eve.  For the last four years, I've managed to take the last few days of before Christmas, but not this year.  Still, I have had the time off between Christmas and New Year - a much needed break.

For me, the time between Christmas and New Year is always a time for reflection and goal setting.  What did I achieve last year?  What do I want to achieve in 2012? Etc, etc.  It's that whole "New Year, new me" thing.

In 2011, I set 8 goals:-

  • No stash enhancement (I've gone cold sheep)
  • To conquer the garden
  • To do the Lincoln 10k
  • To finish the year with no UFOs
  • To get pregnant (yes, this cancels out other goals)
  • To knit 1 pair of socks every 2 months
  • To knit 6 sweaters
  • To lose 25lb in weight
So how did I do?  On the whole, not badly.  To summarise:  cold sheeping failed spectacularly.   We did manage to remove the non-hedge trees from the back garden so it no longer needs to be napalmed, but it is still far too wild and unruly.   I walked the Lincoln 10k dressed as a French Maid and we raised about £1,000 for charity in the end.  2011 is going to finish with the same two UFO's it began with (a shrug from Verena that just needs to be sewn together and my Hibiscus for Hope socks, which had to be suspended while I knitted the Sunray Ribbing top from A Stitch in Time because I wasn't sure whether I'd need to frog them for the yarn).  No, I didn't get pregnant.  And I lost 15lb in weight. I actually managed to knit six sweaters in 2011, as well as the second half of a seventh, so that goal was well and truly met (I'll put up photos eventually).  As was the one to knit a pair of socks every two months - I completed 6 pairs, almost finished a seventh and re-knitted one of the Hibiscus for Hope socks.

For 2012, I have a whole new batch of New Year's Resolutions goals:-
  1. To really work at having a decent veggie garden this year.  I'd like to be able to feed us from it for days/weeks at a time.
  2. To use things up.  I have a stockpile of "stuff":  make-up, fabric, cross stitch stuff, yarn, even cooking ingredients.  As Gigi Knitmore once said, "There's no point in saving things just in case the Queen drops in. Use it and enjoy it".
  3. To only buy yarn from a) charity shops or b) if it is less than £3/ball.  Oh, and the yarn budget for 2012 will be £60 for the year, no more. I've tried going "cold sheep" and not buying yarn and all that happens is that I'll be good for months and then go mad.
  4. To be tidy.  I have the messy gene - I can put a pen on an empty table and it'll look like a bomb hit it in 2 minutes flat.  I can't do neat but I can do tidy.
  5. To be more organised.  No more forgetting things or procrastinating and putting off things that need to be done.
  6. To buy less than 12 items of clothing in 2012 (underwear, socks and stockings exempted).  Ideally, I'd like to buy them from charity shops - I've had really good luck recently and scored 3 brand new suits for less than £10 each.  (I have far too many clothes anyway, so need to wear some stuff until it wears out.)
  7. To lose at least another stone (14lb) in weight.  I want to lose the spare tyre that has settled on my midriff.
  8. The nebulous fitness goal:  to strengthen my body by working out/lifting weights three times a week.
  9. The not-so-nebulous fitness goal:  to be able to run 5k/3 miles without stopping, and to achieve this before my birthday in August.
  10. To knit another 6 pairs of socks and 6 sweaters in 2012.  And to make them from stash yarns.
  11. To blog more.  I didn't post nearly enough this year.

What about you? How did your 2011 New Year's Resolutions do?  Did any last beyond January?  Are you planning on doing any for 2012? 

I'd like to wish you all a very happy New Year.  May your resolutions be achieved and all your dreams and wishes in 2012 come true. Here's hoping 2012 will be a kinder year for all of us.

- Pam

Friday 16 December 2011

Other things to think about

I have other things to worry about besides the impending Great Depression...

The kitchen roof failed on Tuesday. I heard a slow drip when I wandered down to make breakfast. Dashed into the kitchen and found a small puddle forming on top of the recycling. Shoved the "laundry basket" under that (a large trug). It collected maybe a pint of water before the rain stopped. Phoned the builder - he can't get to us until the week between Christmas and New Year. Hopefully he can patch it up enough to take us through to the summer, when he is scheduled to replace it with a pitched, tiled roof. (I hate flat roofs.) It's rained since then but no more drips.

Worry number 2 is that DH'a job finished abruptly yesterday. In a way, I am not surprised. They'd already informed him that they were halving his hours and splitting his job into 2 in a misguided bid to save money (it won't). I think they picked an excuse and ran with it because the other guy was cheaper. They've shot themselves in the foot though because the other guy can only work part time and won't work Saturdays.

As they say, bad things come in threes... Eldest Sis phoned me yesterday - Dad's baby brother died at 2am. He'd just faded away since Uncle Ron died. So now there is nobody left of that generation.

This has turned into a depressing post! I'm not normally like that. I'm one of life's optimists - keep trying and something good will happen is my philosophy. Ok, so what good things have happened? Well my boss told me I will get a raise in January's pay reviews. No idea what yet - I didn't put him on the spot and ask how much (anyway until it is approved by corporate, he won't know for sure how much anyone will get but it will be something). How's that?

- Pam

Monday 12 December 2011

Life's unanswerable question #24: the Euro crisis

Over the past few months, I have been bemused, puzzled and worried by the situation in Europe - the near default and bailout of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.  Italy is the latest rabbit in the headlights and France is being lined up to follow (French banks have had their credit status downgraded). 

These are all countries that have been throttled by the straight-jacket that is their membership of the Euro.  They cannot devalue their currency in order to give themselves a competitive advantage over their neighbours.  They also cannot print currency to inflate their way out of the current crisis, as Britain and America have attempted to do ("fiscal stimulus" by another name). 

Since joining the Euro, Ireland, Spain and Portugal have experienced property booms, funded by interest rates that were far lower than they would have been if they'd kept their original currencies.  Money was cheap, borrowing it became easier and easier as banks funded themselves on the wholesale market.  Prudence was forgotten.  Then along came 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  The supply of easy money dried up overnight and many banks turned to their national governments for bailouts, effectively nationalising themselves.  That's what did for Ireland, Spain and Portugal.  Spain, in particular, wasn't a highly indebted nation until it had to bail out its banks.

Greece has a different set of problems.  If you listen to the stereotypes, the Greek's are a profligate nation: they retire earlier than anyone else in Europe, have a huge and inefficient public sector and get well paid for the privilege. The average salary in Greece is €20,000 higher than the average salary in Germany.  I was therefore surprised to read on the BBC website that the Greeks pay more tax than pretty much any other Europeans and have higher levels of personal savings too.  They also have lower personal borrowings. 

As a nation, Italy is suffering from the hangover of debt that was incurred in the decades leading up to the last recession, the one at the beginning of the 1990's.  Since then, Italy has balanced its budget and does not borrow to fund its day to day operations (unlike, say, the UK and the USA).  Until the current Great Recession, they were slowly paying back the old debt.

The big question is:  will the Euro survive?  I both like and dislike the Euro:  on the one hand, having a single European currency is really useful when travelling or when dealing with invoices for my big work project (it made life so much easier).  On the other hand, the current situation was foreseeable 20 years ago during the last recession when Britain exited the ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism), the Euro's predecessor which tied currency exchange rates together.  Ditto 40-odd years ago, when the Bretton-Woods Agreement collapsed. 

Monetary union cannot work unless the countries involved give up the rights to control their borrowings, their taxation policies and their budgets to central control.  Whether the Eurozone will get to that point is anyone's guess - right now, they're still trying to stick plasters (band-aids) over the wounds instead of biting the bullet.  Will we have another credit crunch and a world-wide Depression?  Or will the Euro collapse instead?

- Pam  (I have no answers)

PS:  Most of my background knowledge re Italy, Spain and Greece, I owe to the BBC.  Naturally, I can't find the articles on their website when I need them for attribution.