28 January 2007

Why Letters of Recommendation are Irrelevant

As part of my job, I read college applications. I take this pretty seriously. If a student took the time to submit a complete application, I think that I should give it due time to review. Many admission decisions are pretty cut and dry without spending too much time meticulously combing through the entire file; others require a deeper perusal, to include verification of proper high school curriculum, a variety of extracurricular activities, and the letters of recommendation.

Unfortunately, all too many letters of recommendation give me no more insight to a student's ability to succeed in a college environment than a Magic 8-Ball. Most letters don't warrant more than a cursory glance because I have read all of the glowing letters that spout over-the-top plaudits for (usually) average students. Still, once or twice a year, I get a noteworthy letter, and this year was no exception - usually one extraordinary in it's helpfulness and one extraordinary in it's uselessness. My extraordinary (positive) letter came from a good friend who used to work in college admissions and now works as a counselor at a private high school. The letter was forthright, but had style and personality. It also gave me insight into the student that I could not have gleaned from the application or even a personal interview with the student. My OTHER letter arrived this past week:

To Whom It May Concern:

[Student's Full Name] is the student who is going to make a difference in your classroom. I have had the pleasure of knowing [student] for two years. I taught English 11 and World Literature 12. He is a mature young man who gives positive direction for the other students. He is a true role model for others to follow. [student] is intelligent, creative, mature, hardworking and wants to create a positive influence in all he deals with. He excels in all he does with great determination.

[Student] has demonstrated high levels of initiative in learning. wants to make a difference in his life; he is not going to settle for second best. He realizes life is very competetive. knows that he has to earn everything that comes his way. [Student] realizes that education is a privilege and he is going to take full advantage of it. Based on performance, his rite of passage into college will be a smooth one.

[Student] realizes that school is a multi-faceted experience. [Student] is a vital part of [High School Name]. He has strong leadership qualities.

[Student] has left a great mark on me. He realizes education is the foundation cornerstone in starting a rewarding career. [Student]'s initiative to study in your college shows that he has taken the time to find the college that is going to put him on the right foot and in the right directions to give him every opportunity to use education to make a desirable candidate in any profession he chooses to follow.

[Student]'s hard work, responsibilities, creativity, long hours hitting the books, extra curricular activities, self esteem, and strong Christian values has prepared him for the tasks he will be expected to complete in college. [Student] is well rounded and will be a desirable candidate ofr you to consider.

I highly recommend without hesitation [Student] to your institution. He will be a positive asset to your school. You will end up being as proud of him as I have been and [High School Name]. Please do not hesitate to call me with any questions.

[Teacher's Name and Subject Area]
Stop for a second and try not to focus on the grammar and syntax errors (if you can read my writing, this should be a piece of cake!). The reason why this letter is useless is not really in the content. Rather, the reason why this letter is useless is that it appears to have absolutely no basis in fact.

The student in question submitted a transcript that includes an overall grade point average of 1.7 and standardized test scores almost 33% below our average - almost to the point that one would wonder if the score was for one section of the SAT or the composite score. Lastly, the student earned a grade of 'D' in the course which the letter writer claims to have taught. What about the grades and test scores that this student earned supports the letter that this teacher sent? Why on earth would a teacher who graded a student as barely passing offer up this positive letter of recommendation.

This student was clearly not going to gain admission with or without the above letter. Unfortunately, the letter leaves me with a negative impression of the writer. If I were to receive another application with a letter of recommendation from this person, how could I take what they say seriously? Further, won't this experience come to my mind when I read another application from this high school? I surely don't mean to indict an entire high school on the basis of one bad letter of recommendation, but I think it would be hard to not think of this when I receive the next application(s) from this school.

I can only think that the letter writer was just phoning this one in. I get asked all the time how many letters of recommendation should accompany the application. People give me a baffled look when I give them my standard answer. I usually tell people that they only need one - but, one good one, which they are not likely to get. I go on to explain that sending me five letters that all say pretty much the same thing - how wonderful the student is - "she plays six varsity sports;" "he is working on curing cystic fibrosis;" "when he farts, it smells like roses!" - are not helpful. I would trade five letters filled with unabashed praise for one clear and concise assessment of a student's strengths AND weaknesses. Yes, believe it or not, most 17 year-olds have weaknesses. You would never know it from most letters of recommendation (see above), but the letters that ignore any possible areas in which the student can improve often hold no weight with me. Letters that directly address any student flaws immediately cause me to go back and readdress the letter writer's assessment of the student's positive traits.

Teachers and counselors have the ability to return the letter of recommendation to some relevance, but in it's current form, these letters serve no purpose other than to make the average student's file a touch thicker.

**Welcome Carnival of Education readers! If this is your first visit, you may want to stop by the Introduction page. That will give you a brief overview of what to expect to see elsewhere on this site. This is not a single-focus blog, so you will find posts here on more topics than just education. I do travel a lot for business, so I have quite a few posts (and pictures) of where I have been and the food I have discovered on the road. My finances are equally as important to me, and my work in college admissions allows for some unique perspective on the college search and financial aid.

I am glad you stopped by, and hope that you might poke back again sometime soon. The newest posts can be found by clicking on the "Home" tab at the top of the page.

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27 January 2007

Love and White Castles

File this under "Is It Any Wonder I'm Single?"

White Castle is going upscale for Valentine's Day this year. They are offering hostess seating, candlelit dinner, and your own server as part of their dinnertime promotion. As with many an upscale restaurant on this festive holiday, reservations are required. Right now, all I can think of is how bummed I am that there is no White Castle nearby for me to have a proper Valentine's Day celebration. Yep - hard to believe nobody's scooped me right up, huh?

If you would rather treat your sweetie to a sack of Whiteys in the comfort of your own home, White Castle is offering a take-home deal with "eight cheeseburgers, one sack of fries, two regular soft drinks, coupons and keepsake items to heat up your homespun romance." For $20, I would consider this, if only to find out what "keepsake items" White Castle thinks will "heat up my homespun romance." I can't imagine what a White Castle sex toy would look like. [shudder]

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12 January 2007

Announcing the Carnival of Dining Out

I have recently sent articles to the Carnival of the Recipes and the Carnival of Personal Finance. I have searched and searched but could not really find an existing carnival devoted to a combination of my two favorite activities - food and travel. When one travels, one tends to dine out quite a bit. I guess also being a single guy lends more to grabbing a meal in a restaurant than cooking and cleaning, too.

I hope to have a monthly review of all of the best posts related to dining out. If there is more than enough demand, perhaps we can go bi-weekly or weekly, but that is probably a few months away, at the bare minimum.

I will be hosting the first edition on February 1, 2007. Subsequent editions will be held on the first of every month thereafter. Submissions are due by 5 pm ET on the last day of the month preceding the carnival. Posts should be current (*within the month), not submitted to other carnivals, and contain your own original content. Acceptable topics include:

  • Recent dining experiences at a local restaurant
  • Recent dining experiences at a restaurant while away from home on business or personal travel
  • Commenting on your local/national restaurant scene
  • Commenting on the state of the restaurant industry
  • Almost anything else (within reason) that deals with restaurants and dining out
I will admit to having a bias for locally-owned and operated establishments, and when I am hosting, I will give spacial preference to those dining experiences that do not involve national, corporate food entities.

If you are interested in hosting a future edition of the Carnival of Dining Out, please contact me. I will post future hosts here and on the Blog Carnival web site.

*Leniency for the first edition will be considered, as you may have an "all-star" post that was previously not suitable for another carnival. In the future, all articles should be current.

I hope that this becomes successful, and you enjoy reading the articles as much as I will.

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11 January 2007

Time for a Career Switch? Try Grocery Stock Clerk!

Working in college admissions provides me with a lot of job satisfaction (on most days!), but, as I have mentioned before, it does not provide me with a pocketful of $100 bills on a bi-weekly basis. I have grown to accept that (to some extent). I accept that I will be underpaid relative to society - police officers, teachers, doctors, fast food employees, etc.

OK, the fast food thing was a joke....I think.

This week, Money magazine released it's annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For 2007. Surprisingly, my employer was not listed among these fine 100 companies (I was shocked!). My favorite supermarket, however, was ranked #57. Publix is a fine company, and I spent one summer working there in between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I worked in the deli, and it was a decent job until I decided that I could make more money working my own business over the Thanksgiving weekend than I could working in the deli. Apparently, Thanksgiving is a busy time in the grocery business. Who knew?

Florida Today had an article about Publix' ranking today. In the hard copy of the paper, there was a chart that highlighted some of the figures mentioned in the article. The one that stood out for me was the average salary for the most common hourly wage job - grocery stock clerk. On average, these folks make $27,453 per year! More than $27k for stocking groceries! Why did this number, in paricular, leap out at me? The starting salary in my office for an entry level admission counselor is $27,500. An extra $57 per year over the average stock clerk, and yet our office generates nearly 80% of the university's operating budget of about $119 million.

Yes, I know that I am comparing starting salary with average salary. It doesn't matter - the comparison is staggering, and surely doesn't make me feel better about my job. I also don't think that my university is unique in underpaying their admission staff. Admission counselors are charged with recruiting new students, a process that includes many days and nights of business travel - time away from family and friends. Most typical business travelers earn more than the average stock clerk at the supermarket. In addition to recruiting, we are also charged with evaluating prospective students' applications - and holding their hands through the entire process - have you sent your SAT scores? did you send all of your recommendation letters? do you have questions about financial aid? etc. Yes...the people who decide whether or not your children get into college make marginally more than the guy who puts cans of soup on the shelves at the supermarket.

The long-standing perception is that the people who work in the admission office are the people who couldn't get "real jobs" after graduation, so they took this entry-level position until something better comes along. There are some people, though, who find that they truly enjoy representing their university to prospective students - they enjoy seeing families moving students into their residence halls on the first day of Orientation - they take pride in seeing "their" student recruits successfully traverse the stage on the morning of commencement, because they just "KNEW" they were going to make it.

Next time you are at the grocery store picking up a dozen eggs and a jar of pickles, think of the guy moving pallets around the docks and the people back at the university reading your daughter's college application.

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08 January 2007

Carnival of Personal Finance is up!

The latest edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance is posted over at Get Rich Slowly. This was my first submission to this carnival, and I hope to enter more during the 2007 calendar year. Word is that there were 92 submissions for this week, and some didn't make the cut. I am glad that my article was chosen. Go check out some of the other topics...I know that I have some reading to do myself.

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Stuff You Oughta Know - Version 2.0

I would like to think that the reason I haven't posted too often is because I have spent hours tweaking the layout and design of this site. The truth is that I probably wouldn't have spent that time posting anyway. Still, within the last couple of weeks, mostly due to Blogger's recent upgrade, I was able to do a drastic layout change with relative ease. Understand...I know very little about HTML, CSS, or any of the other helpful acronyms that would make maintaining this online life a little easier.

The most useful information that I found came from Hackosphere. This guy knows a whole big lot about making Blogger templates a lot more usable. He writes in a way that even a relative moron like myself can follow. From Hackosphere, I learned to turn Blogger's two-column format into a stylish three-column page; to reintroduce collapsable posts; and to make the label tabs underneath the header, making it easy to find the most popular categories. I suppose the bigger thanks goes to the folks at Blogger for adding labels/categories to the newest version of Blogger.

Hopefully, some snazzy new colors, shiny new functions, and a renewed commitment will help push me to post more often.

Type rest of the post here

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07 January 2007

Smart Move 2006: Healthcare Reimbursement Account

This is the time of year when I spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing obsessing over what went right and what went wrong in the previous year. This is my own way of planning what actions to take to ensure more right things and fewer wrong things in the current year.

I think one of the smartest things that I did happened almost by accident. My employer, like many others, offers a number of medical insurance options. To boil them down to their simplest parts, each plan offers to cover a percentage of medical expenses, descending in value commensurate with the required payment assumed by the employee - 90% (the most expensive plan); 80%; 70%; and "risk-reward," which also covers 80%, but has higher deductibles, annual maximums, and co-pays. The previous year, I had the 70% coverage, which cost me $35.78 every two weeks. The cost for the same coverage for 2006 increased to $37.57, which I thought was pretty reasonable. It seems that I have heard nightmare stories from co-workers, who need to insure their whole families, about double-digit percentage increases in health care coverage.

After I signed up, when I read through the plan coverage, I found that I was eligible for a new benefit - the Healthcare Reimbursement Account (HRA). This new account was funded exclusively by my employer, to the tune of $60/month, and the money could be used by me in a manner similar to that of a medical Flexible Spending Account. In effect, I would be paying about $80/month out of my pocket in medical insurance, and getting $60 of that back to be used to any incurred medical expenses. Some common examples of what the money could be hospital services; physician, dental, vision and chiropractic services; eyeglasses, contact lenses and saline solution; co-pays and deductibles; prescription drugs (including co-pays); home health care; durable medical equipment; and drug and alcohol rehabilitation - almost everything except elective cosmetic surgery. Note: If I had additional dependents on my health plan, my monthly HRA reimbursement would be $120/month; the "risk/reward" plan comes with a $90 monthly HRA payment for singles, and $180/month for families. In addition, the money that remains unused each month earns interest while it sits in my account. The money rolls over from year to year (unlike a medical FSA) and becomes fully vested and portable after three years of participation in this plan, otherwise you would need to spend all of the money prior to terminating employment.

I am fortunate in that I don't spend too much time (translation: don't spend much money!) with doctors. One of the reasons why the 70% plan is a viable option for me is because I can assume some additional risk and hope that I can continue to live a relatively healthy life. I was choosing the 70% option anyway - so, this new benefit didn't really encourage me to assume this additional risk. It was literally, an added bonus, for me.

It is incredibly easy to use. I was sent a debit card last year and I use it just like I would use any other debit or credit card at my doctor's office or pharmacy, etc. I used it at the doctor's office flawlessly - my $20 co-pay was immediately credited, and deducted from my account. I also picked up a prescription and some over-the-counter medication at the drug store. For that transaction, I had to send in a copy of the receipt (so they could be sure that I didn't purchase Twinkies, I guess). I sent in a fax and received a letter in the mail a couple of days later approving the charge. Easy as pie.

Since I didn't bother to crunch any numbers before making my selection last year (I was just really re-upping with what I had), I need to sit down and do that this year to compare the relative value in downsizing my plan to the "risk/reward." It would save me about $8 per paycheck (nothing substantial), but also give me an additional $30/month in HRA money.

I don't think that my employer did a particularly good job of educating people about the availability of this additional benefit - and that it would be paid by them, into an account, for the empoyee. Clearly, this is designed to encourage the insured to assume more risk, as that would be less expensive for the insurance companies. You would think that employers would WANT their employees to sign-up for something that would save them money in health care costs in the long-term. I suspect that when it comes time for choosing plans this year, their will be a better effort to educate people on this plan.

Assuming I can keep up my relative health, my biggest question will be on what to spend the money? I am considering saving for LASIK surgery, but treating this like "found money" in the meantime.

**Welcome Carnival of Personal Finance readers! If this is your first visit, you may want to stop by the Introduction page. That will give you a brief overview of what to expect to see elsewhere on this site. This is not a single-focus blog, so you will find posts here on more topics than just recipes and food. I do travel a lot for business, so I have quite a few posts (and pictures) of where I have been and the food I have discovered on the road. My finances are equally as important to me, and my work in college admissions allows for some unique perspective on the college search and financial aid.

I am glad you stopped by, and hope that you might poke back again sometime soon. The newest posts can be found by clicking on the "Home" tab at the top of the page.

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02 January 2007

Dining Out: Best of 2006

Consider this post the sequel to last year's Best of 2005 list.

It seems like I traveled more this year than in years past. Unfortunately, a lot of it was to the same places I have been in the last couple of years. That's not really such a bad thing - I don't suppose that I would have wanted to return to the same places if I didn't like it there - but, since fellow ROGUEfooder "wanderingjew" laid down the challenge of only using places that are new this year, I thought I would have a tough time coming up with a Top 10 of just new places. As it turns out, I had to whittle down a list from about twenty. I will deviate from my past rule of only including restaurants recommended by the Sterns. Still, I think that the quality of the following 10 destinations would prove worthy. To rank one ahead of another would be a grave injustice (but, #1 will be considered #1 for those who feel that there should be a definitive "winner."

10) Smitty's; Lockhart, TX

Central Texas is my absolute favorite place for BBQ in the whole country. The picture of my own meal, however, does not nearly sum up the quality of Smitty's the way this picture of one of their smokers in action does. In addition to serving this wonderful food, the staff here was very freindly and cordial - allowing me to take a number of photos, with full run of the place. I enjoyed a plate that consisted of two healthy slices of beef shoulder (brisket) and two pork ribs. I was trying to eat light so that I might also get to Kreuz's Market (and compare the two!), but alas, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, once again. My plan is to make it back to Lockhart sometime in February. The thought of getting my hands on some of that beef is probably what gets me through the next few days!

208 S Commerce St.
Lockhart, TX

9) Tony's Restaurant; Bridgeton, MO (RIP, as of 12/06)

I am glad to say that I made it to this hidden treasure before it's untimely demise in late 2006. This picture doesn't do the size of this omelette justice. If I was told that there were a half-dozen eggs in there, I wouldn't blink. The menu did not mention that this was an item to be served family style, but it fed three healthy adult males with no problem at all. The pancakes, wonderful as they were, had no business being on the table. These two plates made for too much food for three adults. The best part of the whole meal - that cost of that omelette was around five bucks.

8) Grimaldi's Pizza; Brooklyn, NY

This is the scene outside Grimaldi's most of the time that they are open for business. New Yorkers, impatient bunch that we can be, will wait - for something worth waiting for. Grimadli's pizza is one of the things worth waiting for. In my case, excellent company made the wait for a table and the food seem all too short. Don't poke in expecting to grab a slice to go - there are no slices at Grimaldi's. Even calling and ordering in advance may not get you a pie any quicker. Everyone is queued up together, egalitarianism at it's best. Upon completion of your pie, bang a right out the front door and walk a block or two down to the water and grab a fine dessert at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.

19 Old Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY

7) Dinic's; Philadelphia, PA

Located inside the Reading Terminal Market, Dinic's is destination food in Philly. Pictured above is the roast pork, served "wet," which is just as it sounds - drenched in it's own juices. A side of locally produced Herr's chips is the accompaniment. It would take you weeks to eat your way around RTM without duplicating any single establishment, but Dinic's is on my list of places to hit whenever I am in town. Everyone may tell you that the touristy thing to do in Philadelphia is to get a cheesesteak from Pat's or Geno's. Let the tourists head there while you get a better meal at Dinic's. Everything pictured above was less than $7 (including the fountain drink).

Reading Terminal Market
51 N 12th St.
Philadelphia, PA

6) Pho Van; Portland, OR

This was my first experience with Vietnamese food. I am sure that part of what made this meal exceptional was the company - fellow ROGUEfooder Mr. Chips, and his family - Trudy and Sam. I will be darned if I could remember the name, but the bowl pictured above was my entree, which included BBQ pork, large shrimp, ground pork and veggies in a chicken broth with vermicelli noodles. This bowl followed some excellent spring roll appetizers (well, the bite or two that I managed to sneak in before Sam torched the rest!), and was more than I could finish. What you see pictured above was about $7. I only hope that I didn't set the bar too high with my first Vietnamese experience. The odds of me being able to walk into any other local restaurant expecting to get this same quality is are probably not that high.

1919 SE 82nd Ave.
Portland, OR

5) Puerto Sagua; Miami, FL

The aforementioned "wanderingjew" traveled down to my home state for some baseball and eating, and I met up with him and a friend of his down in Miami. After a sunny afternoon of Marlins baseball, we drove down to Miami Beach to eat some of the best Cuban food served outside of Havana. This picture isn't even my own meal, but upon being served, I immediately regretted not ordering the seafood enchilada.

700 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL

4) Avalon Diner; Houston, TX

Sitting at the counter at the Avalon Diner is like taking a step back in time to the 1950's. I suppose that the 1950's wouldn't have seen the Avalon in as strange a place as a strip mall, but sometimes you just have to roll with the times. A burger, fries, and a shake - All-American comfort food, if ever there was such a designation. In addition to the hand-dipped shakes, the Avalon still squeezes the lemons and limes fresh for their homemade lemonade and limeade, respectively. Seems like every town used to have at least one of these places. Now, they are stretched far and wide.

2417 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX

3) Primanti Brothers, Pittsburgh, PA

When I mentioned to friends that I was heading to Pittsburgh, every single person told me that if I only had time for one meal, that meal should be the sandwich made famous in Pittsburgh - the Primanti Brothers. I will admit to being skpetical - a sandwich with bread, french fries, and cole slaw all slathered on a sandwich together did not really appeal to me. I am a basic fellow - I want to taste the meat in a sandwich, and am usually resistant to any and all condiments. Still, I was told, this slaw is different...the fries add a unique texture....it's an experience. I figued that the worst case scenario would be that I would never have to eat another - and I could claim the experience as done. Instead, the sandwich, and the experience was unforgettable. I was seated at the counter in the original Strip District location, next to two college buddies, in town on summer break. One lived in Pittsburgh his whole life, the other was visiting from NY. For the NYer, this was his "must" experience in Pittsburgh, too.

46 18th St.
Pittsburgh, PA

2) Round Rock Donuts; Round Rock, TX

It is almost hard for me to justify a "Top 10" spot on donuts - but, these donuts are THAT good. I made two visits to the Austin area in 2006. In March, I stayed in Round Rock, and Roadfooder "Bushie" sent me to these fried doughy delights. When I booked my hotel for my October trip, I clearly wasn't thinking about donuts, and booked a hotel on the south side of Austin, near the airport. Waking up and needing a donut fix, I drove about 1/2 hour, in driving rain, to Round Rock to get my hands on these treats. They raised the price from my first visit to my second - up a nickel now, to FIFTY cents a piece. On a recent road trip, I stopped at a roadside Dunkin' Donuts and found donuts had risen in price to 84 cents. I know that it is only 34 cents per donut, but a difference of about 40% in price, for quality that is not anywhere close is a complete injustice. Round Rock Donuts is just one more reason to look forward to that February trip.

106 W Liberty St.
Round Rock, TX

1) Ess-a-Bagel, New York, NY

I try not to throw around the label of "best ever" too often, or it loses its impact. Unfortunately, I don't know any other way to say it - these are the best bagels I have ever eaten. Period. The cinammon raisin that you see right in the middle are fresh and warm out of the oven. I ordered a half-dozen, and walked out towards my hotel. As I was walking, the heat from the bagels permeated the bag and began toasting my hands. Between the physical signs of the warm bagels, and the aroma coming out of the bag, I couldn't resist reaching into the bag and tearing off a hunk of fresh bagel as I walked. The crusty exterior texture blended with the chewy interior to make bagel bliss. My boss often asks me to bring back "real" New York bagels whenever I travel to the Motherland. If she only knew, she would think that anything else I had brought back to this point was absolutely inferior!

831 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10022

As I look back at the remaining restaurants on my 2006 list that didn't make the cut, I could easily make ANOTHER Top 10 list that would rival most anybody's travels. It really was a good year. In the next couple of days, I will try to highlight some of the honorable mentions, some of the places that would have made a Top 10 if there was no "first visit" rule, and feature my biggest disappointment of 2006.

I wish you all good eats and safe travels in 2007!

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01 January 2007

2007 New Year's Resolutions

I am not usually a resolution guy, but what else should one blog about on New Year's Day? They may be a little vague, but I like success stories.

I resolve to take more days off from work in 2007. I am ending the year with nearly 200 hours of vacation time banked (and another 350+ hours of sick time, too!). Fortunately, they will all roll over to the new year (of course, I have another 160 vacation hours to earn in 2007). I will make every effort to NOT grow the number too much higher than 200.

I resolve to blog more often in 2007. Who knows if anyone cares what I have to say, but dammit, I am going to say it. I took too many extended periods of darkness in 2006, and will make every effort to not let that happen again. I will also submit articles to blog "carnivals" in an effort to increase exposure and readership. This is really about making the next resolution a little bit easier....

I resolve to make more money in 2007. I make a pathetically small salary, even with an almost 10% salary bump this year. Another 10% is a pipe dream, so I need to figure out how to make money via other means. I did some consulting-type work for a friend the last couple of years to boost my income, but that will not be available for 2007. Passive income streams, like investments, selling things on ebay, and the small amount of revenue generated from my own web site would help. This is really about making my NEXT resolution a little bit easier....

I resolve to further reduce my outstanding debt in 2007. I am down to two outstanding credit lines - my mortgage (relatively small - I owe about 1/3 of the value of my home) and my student loan (for my outstanding balance, the payment that cleared a few days ago reduced the number to the left of the comma by one!). Obviously, the benefit to reducing debt is to free up the money being paid to creditors to do the things that I like - travel, good food, baseball, and gambling (both the Vegas variety and the much more common investing in the stock market!). 2006 saw the elimination of all credit card debt and medical bills. Hopefully, I will be able to keep that going in the new year.

Lastly, the tough one...I resolve to live a healthier lifestyle in 2007. I need to exercise more and eat less crap. Throw in a few vegetables, and I can be on the right path. For me, this will easily be the toughest of the tough. I have very little willpower when it comes to exercise AND eating healthy. Still, I am going to take a shot at this one. Look, I know that I love fried chicken and a good corned beef sandwich. I am confident that I can continue to eat those things - in moderation - but interspersing some miscellaneous green things and a walk on the beach every now and again can only do good. BTW - this is the first time this sort of resolution has been even thought of by me.

Hopefully, I will be able to revisit this list in a few months and say that progress is being made on all accounts. If not, I am not going to jump off the causeway...this time! :-)

I wish you all luck in whatever resolutions you choose to make for 2007.

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