Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Say Goodbye, Say Hello

Tap, tap...is this thing on? Does anyone still look at this?

If you do, or wander across by chance (which my stats show still happen), I wanted to let you know you can still find me blogging at homemade-handmade.net.

What happened here? Life.

Stuff went down. Namely, I was in a relationship for a long time and it ended. With not a lot of class on his part. I tried not avoiding the blog for a little while, but it was too much.

Last spring I started writing a blog with my college roommate, and I'm still there. I actually decorate (the ex didn't really want me to), make cards, cook occasionally and do some crafts.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Excuse you, Google Maps

I sometimes ride my bike to work, on a route that I got mostly from Google maps bicycle directions back in September.

I might head out to visit my mom after school tomorrow, and I'm planning on biking to work, so it would make the most sense to bike out there as well. It's pretty far, but actually shorter than my commute (thats sad). Anyhow, I looked up the route, and it gave me three routes.

And then it said, "Or take public transit (1 transfer)".

....what exactly are you trying to say Google maps? Is it too far for me? Can I not handle it? What gives?

I looked up my regular routes and I guess the beta version has made a lot of changes. The route it says to take now is different, and I might try parts of it out tomorrow (more angle streets, which are a timesaver). But I still can't get over the part where it keeps telling me to take public transit.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

This week is my spring break, and I took a road trip with a couple friends earlier in the week.

We saw some adorable new designs of Chico sacks. And these nifty collapsible water bottles (I don't remember what they were called). And as we purchased a couple items and pulled our own reusable bags out of our purses, we talked about how pretty much everyone we know carries a bag these days.

The Chico ones are a little expensive (I got one for a Christmas gift many years ago--they fold up in to their own little pouch), but they have them everywhere now. All the grocery stores sell them, and most places give you a little back (like five or ten cents) for using your own bag. But these little pocket ones (Office Depot has them for super cheap) are great, because they fold up so tiny you can put them in anything at all. No more forgetting.

Back in December, we had an assembly, and they talked about if everyone would just Do One Thing, it would make a huge difference. Carrying bags is just one option. You could turn off lights when you leave the room. Turn off the water while you wash/brush/whatever. Try to combine trips so you drive less.

We asked all our students to make one pledge for Earth Day last Friday when we did our energy bike assembly, and I hope you can too...or if nothing else, just think about it! (It's ok to pick something easy, too!)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Earth Month: Save Some Energy

Today was parent conference day at school, and seven of my students had a fabulous time forcing pretty much every person to walk in the school to take a "save energy" doortag (four designs! available in English or Spanish!) or other flier. They were nothing if not enthusiastic, and they reached a ton of people.

Their basic message was turn it off or unplug it and save money. They've been prepping for this for awhile, since we were originally supposed to do it on the day of the blizzard. It's funny how much people don't realize how much small moves can help...so let's figure it out!

Through my club, I have a Kill-a-watt
You plug it in to the socket like normal, and then plug your appliance etc into it as you usually would, and it measures how much energy it uses. Fun! (For me at least.) You can see how many watts it has used over time, and can also see other data about various electrical measurements I do not understand.

I've measured various things over the years (my humidifier=really really bad...I now use pans of water under the radiators. Christmas lights are also bad, which was very depressing. On the other hand LED lights are ugly, so I'm not sure what the answer is there). And I thought it would be fun to measure more things now, so...
What do you want me to measure?

If it has a plug (and I have/use one) I can find out how much energy it uses. I'll also do something with phantom load, which is the amount of energy things use when they are plugged in but off. I'm hoping as part of Earth Month to finally get around to installing my Smart Strip as well.

Let me know in the comments what you're curious about, and I'll start collecting some data!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Happy Earth Month!

It's Earth Month! For the past several years, I've run a recycling & conservation club at my school, and I'm also a volunteer environmental speaker for the City of Chicago (so if you're having an event and want someone to come talk about something conservation-y like work composting*, recycling, conservation issues or rain barrels*, you can request one--fun!)

As part of training for both of those things I've learned lots of really interesting stuff, and I hope to do a couple entries each week about different environmental issues.

Get excited for:
  • Recycling
  • Energy Conservation
  • The Kill-a-Watt
  • Water Policy (which I know sounds super boring but is actually pretty interesting)
  • The Energy Bike (assuming I have actually managed to schedule it to visit my school)

Happy Earth Month!

*I don't talk about those, but other people do.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Money Matters: More on Mint

Its been awhile since I talked about Mint. If you got started with it too, it takes awhile to really figure out what's going on, and how you can best use it.

We got started a few months back by getting accounts in there, so that it would have time to build up some data. Then, I gave a quick overview of the different components. Hopefully, all of your accounts are in there, and you've been checking in every week or so on your transactions. You should also have made some guess budgets, and have probably been revising them. Some of the alerts are useful; some make no sense for quite some time ("You spent $1,000 on rent. You usually spend $173.42 on rent.") as they average over a shorter period of time and apparently confuse themselves.

Anyhow, for me, I was looking for a good big picture of my spending and to help me plan. After setting up my budget categories and spending for a few months, I started noticing some things that confused me or just didn't match the way I spend or what I was hoping to track. I'm not in debt, nor am I an overspender, so this isn't something I need to monitor obsessively and some of the (over) categorization was making it confusing to get a quick overall picture.

Mint auto-categorizes transactions, usually pretty accurately. My problem was in things I won't spend regularly on--I'm looking at you, stamps. Or a magazine subscription. I don't spend enough (or frequently enough) on little things like that to have a budget for them, but I do want to know where and how they're adding up. For me, what made the most sense was to pare down my categories into the following:
  • Home (with Home Improvement & Furnishings subcategories)
  • Auto & Transport (with a Gas & Fuel subcategory)
  • Food & Dining (with Groceries & Restaurants subcategories)
  • Charity
  • Travel
  • Bills & Utilities
  • Shopping
  • Gift
  • Personal Care
I know some people will want more categories than that, but for me it made things simplest. For things that are technically "Pharmacy" like shampoo, I categorize them as Groceries as well. I buy both food and drug items from both food & drugstores, so instead of splitting out purchases or trying to remember if that CVS purchase was detergent or eggs, I call it all groceries. I never overspend on shampoo etc anyhow, so I don't really need careful tracking.

Other than that, if you don't see it on the list, its probably "Shopping". There are subcategories under that like "Clothing" "Books" "Sporting Goods" and "Hobbies", and I categorize things that way, but it all pulls from the same budget. I don't spend enough on any one category for it to need its own bucket, and as long as I stay within my overall budget, I'm not too concerned where my money goes. This is especially true since I often spend in cycles. I might not buy any new clothes for several months and then want to refresh my wardrobe, or have a shopping spree at Michael's.

Along those lines, there are a couple of options when you set up a budget, including to set up a budget for "every month", "every few months" and "once". The idea behind it is to help you budget for things like auto insurance, which is only due once a year. However, this confused me. I swear it double counted my auto insurance, and I think my way is much easier:
Mint also allows you to rollover a budget, and virtually all of mine do this. That means I put aside an extra $70 a month in my "Auto" budget, and by the time my car insurance is due, I've built up enough of a surplus to pay that money out of my regular budget. And I still have that "on average" idea of how much I spend in a month. This also works well for things like Personal Care, where I put only $25 each month, not even enough for a haircut. But I get my haircut infrequently, and if I have the money in that account, I won't feel guilty using it on a manicure either. I also "save up" for bigger things using this method, instead of Mint's goals. I put money into my travel, home improvement and furnishings accounts, and know that as long as I don't go over, I can do any home projects I want that fit within the budget. The goals are great if you need to regularly transfer money (like to pay off debt) but if you're just trying not to spend more than an average of $100/month on furnishings, I think my method is way easier (and I didn't get confused, like I did with Mint's saving up feature, or yelled at, like I did with goals). 

Although this makes me recategorize things sometimes to make it more streamlined, it gives me a good (and quick!) overall picture of my spending that I find really helpful. If you want to use a similar method, think of the places you're really interested in monitoring and where you spend enough to be able to see trends, and make smaller categories for those. For everything else, make life easier and don't create a zillion budgets!

I know this was a lot, so let me know if there's anything else I should have covered! What has your experience with Mint been?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Party of the Year

Last night was a bittersweet one for me. For the last five years, I taught (math) in the the JROTC academy at my old School. JROTC is a fantastic program, and they do tons of cool activities with the kids, one of which is the annual Military Ball.

This was my fourth and final one--I had a blast, but it's sad knowing it was my last. My kids are seniors now. They planned this, they were the ones sitting at the head table, etc. I won't really know next years kids, and it won't be the same.

My favorite Division 146 girls
But enough of the weepy stuff...Military Ball is SO FUN.

It's held at a cheesy banquet hall (this one was actually pretty nice)
They include the centerpieces etc...at the last one our package included the wedding cake (?!), so it was in the middle of the dance floor. Colonel cut it with a saber.

Military Ball can be described as a cross between Boy Scouts & the Prom. The girls wear dresses, the boys (the ones that are in JROTC and not dates) wear their uniforms. The evening starts off with the saber team marching in. They do a little formation thing, and then line the sides of the dance floor (to the left and right in the photo above). Then the MC announces each member of staff (those are the student leaders) and their dates. Each of them has a different rank, and so the sabers do a different twirling* motion. For the Battalion Commander, they do their thing and then all bow down. It's pretty awesome. And I knew a lot of the kids being introduced and sitting at the head table this year, which was fun.

Anyhow, then the saber team goes back to attention, and the Color Guard posts colors (I love posting colors--its a cool military ritual, and our kids are really good--they've done it at Cubs games and everything). Then, in all our formal wear, we say the pledge of allegiance and someone sings the Star Spangled Banner. After that is dinner, which is just, you know, high school dance dinner, and then they announce royalty.

My awesome friend & also former coworker did the announcing, and I did the presenting. This should mean I got the easy job, since I basically hand things out. But there are four tiaras (one for each level), 3 scepters, a crown and then sashes too for the king & queen.
But four slightly different sets
 And everything is taped and plastic-ed together within an inch of its life. Which we didn't realize until she read the first name and I could tell that tiara was never coming out. Which was ok, because I was about to give the LET 2 tiara to the LET 1 princess just as soon as I could set that sucker free. Oops. Also, I do not have a future in tiara placement. I was worried about messing up hair and I couldn't figure out where it should go, and so I mostly just plopped it on their head with a worried look on my face. Some photo op I make (and some mom made me re-tiara her daughter--I tried to look less concerned for that one). The sashes at least I've got down, thanks to beauty pageant themed Sorority rush party back in the day. And scepters are easy. 

We even got JROTC coins in recognition of our help, and the student speaker gave me a shout out in his speech ("Like Ms. C, who is over there eating her ice cream!"--awkward!). Then the dancing started up--probably not like any dances you go to, as the music that's the biggest draw is Bachata, a Puerto Rican dance music.

Anyhow, it was a blast, it was fantastic to see so many of my students, I miss them like crazy, and now I can't wait to see them again when they (OMG how did this happen) graduate.

*I bet what you do with a saber should not be called twirling. But whatever.