29 November 2011

Life in Slow Motion

Wow, have I been out of the loop lately!  Since my last post our sweet little boy has made his appearance in the world.  That's right, I'm officially a mommy now!  And frankly, after 1.5 months, I don't know how other moms stay up with so much!  Friends assure me that schedules do slowly get better, so I'm trying to be patient until that day arrives.  I'm discovering how to do all sorts of things one-handed and have developed a new appreciation for the internet, since I can surf and type (slowly) while nursing.

In the mean time, I've been concentrating on three things: reorganizing my house (how did things get this messy in 6 weeks!?), prepping for Christmas, and small wins.  My kitchen & dining room are reasonable again and the floors have all been vacuumed in the last week.  This gives me hope for next month, since I'm hosting my favorite event, book club!  I love having a few hours just to chat over books and catch up with my friends.  It's one of the few events I don't mind cleaning for, too.  Now if only I was further in this month's book than page three...

Our Christmas tree is decorated and my village is set up.  I have part (a very small part) of the Department 56 North Pole Village collection.  It grows by a couple pieces each year but just can't compete with my mother-in-law's (yet!).  Hers is enormous and takes a whole day to set up; mine takes about an hour.  I love the thought behind all the little designs in the buildings and accessories.  My village is set up in the dining room (hence the priority on cleaning) and helps spread the holiday cheer around the house a little.

Most of my days, though, are concentrated on small wins and building a feeling of control.  For instance, today I'm updating my blog!  Yesterday I made it to a doctor's appointment on time with the LO and managed to run an impromptu errand to pick up milk.  Until now, I haven't been able to manage any of that on my own.  Sometimes I'm a few minutes late but once I was over an hour late to meet with a friend (thankfully she was very understanding!).  I'm a busy person who needs control over my schedule and every little victory in that department is meaningful to me right now.  

In short, if you haven't heard from me lately, I've been busy learning to be a mom and trying not to push myself too hard.  It's been a very different experience for me to concentrate on only one goal for six weeks.  I got the okay yesterday to resume exercising and it sort of set off a bell in my head that it's time to reenter my life.  Regaining some control over my schedule is going to be very important over the next few weeks as I pick back up with the rest of my life: lunches with friends, blogging, spouses club planning, holiday parties, and, in January, my last two grad school classes.

And I promise, those email/phone calls/facebook replies are coming soon.  Along with my terribly tardy thank you notes... but that's a post for another day!

11 October 2011

Money Thoughts

As I mentioned in my last post, we've been a little, well, indulgent of ourselves lately.  Being hugely pregnant is inconvenient in a lot of small ways that add up financially.  It's easy to forget that my energetic "stay at home" schedule (ironically named) allows me to save us a lot of money.  It doesn't make up for my previous salary (not by a long shot) but it does let us to live reasonably on a single income.

For instance, I cook most nights (probably 5-6 nights a week) and DH cooks at least once a week.  My cooking is generally more made-from-scratch and vegetable-intense, requiring more prep time.  However, since I've been in my 3rd trimester, I'm usually too tired at 5:30 to be on my feet for another hour.  This has led to DH cooking after he comes home from work (usually 10+ hours) and quicker meals... i.e. more expensive.  While still couponing and meal planning, our grocery budget went up by ~20% last month and is on track to do that again this month.  We won't discuss the eating out budget!

I expect this to change in a few weeks, when I have a little more energy or can at least devote my energy to particular activities, rather than being struck by tiredness at random times.  In the mean time, I'm reading through a blog I found via a friend on Pinterest: 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget.  It's always good to refresh my brain on finance topics, even when I've heard the majority of it before.  31 topics is a lot (and some I disagree with) but there are a few techniques I need to remember in the coming months.  I may post more specifics about this soon.

I've also been thinking about Christmas presents after reading this Yahoo Finance article today.  The first step for me is always determining how we can rearrange our money to pay for presents.  Only then do I pick who we're buying for (mostly immediate family these days) and what we can afford to do in December (lots of Christmas party invites every year, not to mention travel options).  I usually do our Christmas budget in September.  That may seem early (and sound boring) but it lets us anticipate expenses and use October & November to save for presents and travel, rather than trying to fit it all into December's budget.  I actually enjoy this task because it easily halves my stress level during the holidays when I know what we can and can't afford; plus, it's enjoyable to think about all the fun we'll have at Christmas time!  I think I'll be spending one day this week catching up.

In the past few weeks, lots of my friends have mentioned money being extra tight.  Are you doing anything extra these days to make ends meet?  Any financial wins lately?

03 October 2011

Pre-Baby Thoughts

Being out of school and (temporarily) physically limited leaves me a lot of time to sit around and think during the day.  My brain is pretty good at quickly bouncing around on many ideas.  Lately, I've been thinking about a lot of family-centric topics: baby's impending arrival and the changes it will bring, finances, fitness, the holidays, food, housework, craft projects... the list goes on.  I started this blog to help me explore some of these wanderings in a more coherent way and so far, it's been very useful to me in that regard.  As a bonus, it's also garnered some great feedback from friends.  So here's some glimpses of my latest brain-musings... let me know what you think.

  • How DH and I have changed over the years: We've been married for just over 5 years and together for 7.  5 years ago we were way over our heads in debt, with very different views of housework & daily living; neither one of us was good with credit cards and we definitely weren't ready for kids.  Today we've got a handle on our financial situation (which is steadily improving) with a more open communication about daily life and our expectations.  Along the way, we've found a lot of common ground and compromise (e.g. having friends over for dinner satisfies my introverted needs and his extraverted ones at the same time).  I don't know if we're truly ready for kids (is anyone?) but we're definitely ready to take on the challenge in a way we couldn't have 5 years ago.  I'm grateful that we've learned and grown together.
  • Recommitting to our financial goals: We haven't strayed off our plan too far this year; we're even ahead a bit in some regards.  However, we've been very lax about a few areas and somewhat indulgent of convenience over savings as the pregnancy has progressed.  I'm hoping that post-pregnancy I'll have a little better self-control and that when we do our financial review in January, we'll find a few ways to speed up our debt repayment.  Baby will probably affect this in both directions: more motivation to do better but also less available cash.
  • Our health: Maybe it's having a child that's pushing this issue but DH and I have talked a lot about improving our physical fitness recently.  Besides eating well, I can't do much in that department for a few more weeks, so I'm starting to mentally plan out my "return to fitness", beginning in November.  So far, it mostly includes daily weigh ins on the Wii Fit, more home cooking and less convenience foods, walks with the whole family (including the dogs), working up to working out on the Wii Fit at home, and trying to restart Zumba classes after the holidays.
  • Housecleaning: Yup, nesting and OCD combine to create a mental image of a house that desperately needs some TLC.  We're steadily working on this.  Baby's room is 95% done (and 100% clean) and I cleaned the desk (i.e. major disaster area) last week.  DH even cleaned the whole kitchen, stove included, over the weekend... with no prompting from me (this may be the most amazing moment ever in our domicile-maintaining relationship).  There's still plenty to be done though, including the dreaded bathrooms.  What perk of working do I miss most?  Paying someone else to clean my house.
That's enough thinking for now, off to take care of dinner.  What's percolating through your brain lately?

21 September 2011

My Month

It's been a busy month around here.  As of today, the baby is full term.  Yesterday was our last birthing class.  Monday marked the end of my last pre-baby systems engineering class.  I'll have about 3 months off before taking my last two classes.  This last course was super-time intensive in the homework department, although I'm not sure it was as beneficial as other classes have been.  At least it's over now.

In between homework assignments, though, it's been baby, baby, baby!  All the furniture is assembled and, with the exception of some later arrivals, all the baby clothes and bedding are washed and put away.  Thanks to the much appreciated generosity of friends and family and some long term financial planning on our part, we're in the process of finishing off our registries right now.  I'm excited because our nursery decorations should arrive next week!  Pictures should arrive here shortly after that.  :-)

Speaking of pictures, here's some craft updates!

First, a transportable changing pad that I made last month.  It was a very easy sewing project using this online tutorial.  Actually, it was so easy I'm thinking of making more for several friends who are also pregnant.

Transportable Changing Pad
Instead of the suggested inside fabrics, I used some Yankees-themed fleece left from several earlier projects.  Fleece turned out to be much easier to work with than minky or chenille, not to mention less expensive since I already had some!  There's even a handy pocket for diapers and wipes.
Inside View

Fully Unfolded
Next are two of a set of eight placemats I made, inspired by the blue gingham I got at the $1 fat quarter sale.    Blue check patterns sort of scream summer, don't they?  Even though these were simple, they took more time than I expected, mostly because I wanted to add in some interfacing to stiffen the placemats.
Reversible Placemats
I'm actually not quite done with these next two pieces.  Our changing table came with a pad but no cover, so I decided to make a couple.  Again, it's a simple idea, essentially a pillow case.  Unfortunately, when I measured out the fabric, I was a little too exact... the finished project was exactly the length of the pad, without enough edge to tuck under.  Fortunately, Hancock Fabrics had a cute dinosaur fabric that matched both covers!  The borders are sewn on but I still need to finish one end.


Little Boy Fabric

Lastly, a couple of quick cross-stitch ornaments.  These are for the daughters of a friend of mine who are moving away soon... their little sister's ornament is still a work-in-progress.

Lots of other projects happening, including baby-themed sewing and some Christmas cross-stitch.  Pictures soon!

PS- One bonus picture: Pointing the camera down yields some interesting results these days.  :-)

14 August 2011

Today's Change of Plans

I am taking an unexpected break today, courtesy of a dog that decided that 5:30 in the morning was a great time to throw up.  Bending over while you're pregnant is never a fun experience but quickly hauling 20 lbs of dog into the bathroom at 0530 can really set your day back.

I've been working like crazy these last two weeks to accomplish some fairly nebulous goals: catching up to all the things that were neglected while we were traveling, getting ready for baby's arrival, and just generally trying to put some order back into my life.  I've actually gotten a lot done (i.e. baby clothes/blankets/bedding is 90% washed and put away) but I still have a long list of things that need to be accomplished (i.e. renewing a car title).

Being unemployed for nearly two years has required a lot of mental effort on my part, mostly to stay busy and feel like I am contributing to our family.  I'm guilty of reminding my husband a little too often that he doesn't understand "how much I do around here" but the last few months have shown me that maybe I don't know how much I do.  During my first trimester, it was a good day if the dishes got cleaned and my homework was done; grocery shopping was a great day.  For my second trimester, while I was feeling better, I was at least able to keep up with the housework and homework, even if I didn't ever get ahead (although it didn't help that we were gone so much during the last month of that energy boost).  I'm still continuing that slow down effect in my third trimester, with naps looking more appealing every day.  My to-do list shows me that I can accomplish 4-5 tasks each day, generally a mix of errands, housework tasks, and a craft project.

I'm learning to modify my plans when I need to.  For instance, today I was supposed to run some errands to Target and a couple other places but my back muscles and slightly swollen ankles are telling me that long periods of walking are not an option.  My errands can wait a couple of days, so instead, today I will do projects that can be done while sitting at home.  I remind myself that it's still progress, just on different goals.

First up: rearranging my to-do list into a more realistic timeline.  Listing always makes me feel better.  :-)

How do you know when you're doing too much?

08 August 2011

August Readings & Thoughts

It has been awhile since I spammed my blog with interesting links.  While traveling last month, it was nice to be able to keep up on my reading through Google Reader, but I didn't have much to say about what I read.  Since I've been back home, it's been easier to focus and think.  Here's what I've been thinking about:

  • Grocery Shopping: When I did my weekly grocery shopping last Thursday, a gallon of 2% milk had gone up to $3.13 from $2.86 just a week before.  That doesn't sound like much, but if 9.4% is indicative of rising grocery prices, no wonder my food budget has been creeping up a bit lately!  Get Rich Slowly (GRS) recently did an update to their ongoing "how much do you spend on food?" post.  It's garnered over 300 comments and reading through them is fascinating... everything from families of 8 living on $300/month to singles or couples spending $1500/month!  
  • Comparative Statistics: Most of the comments on that article include info about urban/suburban/rural location and how picky people are about food choices.  This is a data goldmine that I really want to sink into.  For two suburban, non-organic eaters, we spend about $300/month on groceries and another $200/month on eating out; groceries includes entertaining an average of once a month.  Surprisingly, while our eating out amount varies, it never affects our grocery bill much.  As an added bonus, one of the comments introduced me to Bundle where you can compare how much you spend in certain categories relative to others in your age, family, income, and geographic groups.  Fascinating info!  This is one place where I don't mind being below average!
  • Food & Science: Hmm, I'm starting to see a trend.  This article on biofortification of foods is why I love both the Freakonomics books and their blog.  This one is a guest post (which happens frequently) and, in addition to providing good data on a relevant social topic, gives a strong case for why waiting for the perfect solution is often a bad idea.  This is essentially why I'm an engineer and not a researcher; perfect theories blow up in the real world and you need to know how to adapt new knowledge to existing problems.  The article also brings up a favorite soapbox topic of mine: that engineered foods have, on the whole, been a Good Thing for the human race.
  • Economic Circumstances: GRS had an entry last week about what part of your personal financial situation is your responsibility/fault and what is not.  This is a fascinating discussion and, interesting as the comments are, they don't begin to scratch the surface of how complex this topic truly is.  There's a lot of personal philosophy and experience revealed in how you feel about this subject.  We all know people who complain and yet do nothing to help themselves; equally, we know people who did "everything right" and still ended up broke (hopefully, we also know lots of people who did most things right and came out okay!).  Hindsight is 20/20 and articles like this remind me of two favorite quotes: "Chance favors a prepared mind" and "Statistics mean nothing to the individual".
That's enough thinking for me today... after all, I have homework to do.  ;-)

What's been on your mind lately?  How are issues like this affecting you?

03 August 2011

More Crafting

I took the day off yesterday to do whatever I wanted.  That mostly turned in to updating my Goodreads account and craft projects.  I decided, in my typical OCD way, that I should actually list the projects I'm working on right now.  Boy, was that a mistake... but one I'm happy to share for commiseration purposes!

First, I forgot to post yesterday that I did end up repairing the dog blanket last month.  The replacement batting and patching I had in mind worked out pretty well.  It's not elegant, but then again it's for my dogs.  They seem happy to have their comfy blanket back and I'm happy to be done with another project.

This leaves me with 17 projects at various stages.  Yeah, that number's not a typo.  Shh, don't tell my husband!  Especially since he said something the other day about not needing to go back to a fabric store for a few years...

Without further ado, my list of projects (1-6 are current; 7-13 are doable but not started; 14+ need something):
  1. Placemats - Found some cute blue gingham at the $1 fat quarter sale.  With the addition of some even cheaper red gingham, it will make 8 double-sided placemats.  Everything's cut, I just need to pin, sew, and iron.
  2. Cloth Napkins - Coordinating yellow starburst/flower pattern to make napkins to go with the placemats.  Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of fabric needed for this and actually have to go back to Hancock for another yard.  Who knew cloth napkins ranged from 16 - 21 inches square?!?  I discovered yesterday that this may be a good test run project for my new serger!
  3. Picnic Bench Cushions - Blue leafy fabric I found back when we lived in Vegas (no comments on how long ago that was...).  The pieces are cut, the batting is cut, the straps are made (that was a pain); one cushion is even basted.  Just need to install that walking foot on my sewing machine and get going!
  4. Memory Game - Made some progress on this last night.  Interfacing is all cut out, felt is all cut (including frames).  Now I need to start cutting squares of fabric to insert.
  5. Baby Quilt - It's really a twin size quilt, which turns out to be a good thing.  Apparently all the crafty people in my family decided that making blankets for baby would be a great idea!  Plus, the 20+ receiving blankets we received as gifts are likely another craft project in the making.  They are all super cute but at least the quilt I make will be big enough to be useful for a long time.
  6. Dragon & Castle (cross-stitch) - I've been working on this one off-and-on for over 4 years.  Just getting it set up to work on is time consuming.  It is a huge design and I'm probably 60% done.
  7. PJs/Sleeper - Have the fabric (teddy bear fleece!) & pattern & notions & thread.  Just need to cut it all out and sew it together.
  8. Gift for my sister-in-law - This is a stamped cross-stitch project kit, the first one I've ever done (the other type is counted and that's what I learned when I was young).  Not sure if she reads this blog or not; if not, pics may be coming after I start.
  9. Crib Bumpers - I got the pattern from my mom and discovered last night that I may not have enough fabric (whoops!).  I based my cut size on another pattern I saw in a store, so I might just go back and get that one.  Once I decide what to do about that, it's cut and sew.
  10. Clothing Repairs - Ugh.  What uninspiring sewing.  I think I need a basket, like my friend Jen suggested.  I need this more out of the way than I need it done right now.
  11. Christmas Ornaments - Another cross-stitch project.  Each of these takes me 4-6 hours to do, so it's a good car-ride/TV-watching type project.  I make at least one for us every year plus a few for family/friends, but I'm running out of kits (only 5 left).  I haven't been able to find any at all the last two Christmases, so if anyone sees these (they generally run $1-2), please let me know!
  12. Hand Towel - Cross-stitch pattern that took me longer than I estimated.  I intended to make 2... one is done and given to my sister as a wedding gift... now I need to finish the matching one.  Whoops.
  13. Baby's 1st Christmas Ornament - Yeah, started this cross-stitch kit when I was 9... as in, for my new baby sister.  She's in high school now, so I should probably convert that to my baby's instead.  It would definitely take me less time now than it did then!
  14. Bear Cross-stitch - Picked out the pattern, need to order it.  This is going in the baby's room... should probably get on that!
  15. Curtains #1 - For that same sister, actually.  Still need the dimensions of her closet since she hasn't sent them yet!
  16. Curtains #2 - Not sure if this is still valid.  I got fabric to make curtains for our house in Vegas and did about half of them before we moved.  Still have the fabric (and the curtains) but they don't fit this house at all.
  17. Curtains #3 - These were for curtain sheers at the house in Vegas (it's very sunny there).  Never made any of them, but they might be retrofitted to another purpose through the sheer amount of fabric I have.
That's a lot and it makes me want to dive in and sew!  I also discovered that I have 9 fabrics with no plans.  I thought of uses for a couple, but still at a loss for the others.  It's good to have options, right?

Ever discover that you have more going on that you realized?  How do you handle the overflow?

02 August 2011

July's Cross-stitch Projects

Okay, craft update time.  I'm pretty sure that all the things I've finished since my last update were gifts.  I'm hoping to get to more me-crafts this week.  Either way, it feels good to finish some projects!

 Wedding Gift: This was for a very good friend of mine but was severely tardy (worked on it for close to a year).  The corner pieces are from a different pattern, but I adjusted some things, selected the verse (from Hamlet), and arranged the whole piece, so it's a semi-original design.  I would never have guessed that a red/silver double matte was the way to go, but it definitely trumped the blue design I was considering!  (The date on the pattern has been blurred out for information privacy reasons... I'm kinda big on the subject.)  Sorry that the pictures are a little blurry; I only had my sister's camera and it's not quite fancy enough to make up for a poor photographer like me!
Matted Final Piece
Close up of Verse
Better shot of stitching (wish I could get these two pics melded!)

Baby Gift: This piece was slightly less tardy but, because it was a little late, I was able to give it in person rather than having to mail it!  My friend Amy and her husband decided to do an arctic animals theme and she made an adorable quilt to match.  I was so pleased to see that this piece went with it!  She also made us a very cute amish puzzle ball, themed to match our teddy bear nursery.  I haven't taken a picture yet, but she posted a good one on her blog.  (Again, the little one's name is blurred out... no reason for an infant to have an online presence yet!)
Frolicking Orcas!
Thank You Gift: We got thank you gifts for everyone who threw us baby showers, but this is the only one I made.  My sister-in-law is a big Winnie the Pooh fan and I've looked for years for a cross-stitch kit to do as an ornament for her.  As luck would have it, I found one this summer instead.  Guess I'll have to do something else for Christmas!
Pooh Bear Says Thank You
Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of this one with its matte.  DH procured it (and picked out a good one) and we gave it as a gift right after.  I'll have to try to get a picture the next time we travel to see her!

That was a lot to finish in one month, but it was mostly matting and framing that was needed to complete these projects.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm almost done with my current class, so the next couple of weeks should be crafty ones!  I intend to get the quilt front pieced, make some placemats and napkins, start on crib bumpers, and make some progress on the memory game.  What are you working on these days?

Before I forget!  My friend Amy is also interested in doing an internet-based fabric stash swap.  I will definitely be participating!  If any of you are interested, let me know and I'll put you in touch.

01 August 2011

Crazy in its Many Forms

Crazy traveling lady here, back from a whirlwind month!  We traveled to see my family in Florida (with fabulous baby shower #1), then drove to New York to see DH's family (with fabulous baby shower #2), and then (because the AF can't let a good thing be) ended up spending a weekend in Alabama because DH got called up at the last minute for mandatory training.  Not that I'm complaining; better now than when there's an infant in the house, but it's still just that much extra craziness to handle.

Speaking of being pregnant (and crazy), I have definitely hit the 3rd trimester full on.  A friend told me that going from trimester 1 to 2 was like a light switch being thrown and I definitely agree... over the course of 2-3 days, my energy (and appetite) suddenly reappeared.  Some mom-friends have told me that this energy lasted them till month 9, others that it went away just as suddenly at the beginning of month 7.  I am apparently in a third category: let's call it the "long slow decline" group.  I'm starting to feel my energy flag a little earlier and easier, but I'm no where near the exhausted state of my first few months.  I just hope this decline isn't too rapid; there's a lot to be done still before the baby arrives!

It should be a quiet few weeks around here.  I'm almost done with another class and will be starting my last pre-baby class in a couple weeks.  After that, I take a 3 month leave of absence, then return to take my last two classes after the first of the year.  I'm hoping to get further on some sewing projects and put up a post soon about ones I've completed since my last update.  I'm also hoping to actually crack open a book this month!  Then there's the baby furniture to be assembled and the clothes to wash and the registries to update.  Maybe it's not going to be as quiet as I thought...

Oh!  One last thought/question: what's your favorite personal finance blog?  Mine is Get Rich Slowly, but I'm looking to add one or two more to my subscriptions.  I'm also on the lookout for a purely military personal finance blog.  If you know of one, please send it my way!  Thanks all!  More coming soon!

02 July 2011

In Which I Do My Version of Nesting

It's a well known feature of pregnancy that most women like to "nest" towards the second half of their baby-carrying time.  For most women, I would assume that this takes the shape of doing some long forgotten house projects and decorating a nursery.  Me, I apparently sew.  And sew some more.

My friend Amy has started a weekly "works in progress" update on her blog.  Not sure I could do this weekly, especially with my crazy July schedule, but it did inspire me to stop and take stock of what I've done recently and what projects I'm still planning to do.  Here's what I came up with:

Projects that are nearly complete:

  • Wedding gift for a friend: Cross-stitch piece is done, mattes are on order, frame and mounting board are purchased!  I will finish this between trips to see family, which is when the custom mattes will arrive.  So excited to finally give this one in person (8 months late)!  Not only is it for a very good friend, but I (sort of) designed it myself.  Pictures will be posted after it's given.
  • Baby gift for a friend: cross-stitch piece is done; mattes, frame, and mounting board are assembled; just need to put it together!  Probably finishing this tonight.  Also very excited to give this one (less months late).  Again, pictures will be posted after the gift is given!

Projects that are in progress:

  • Baby Quilt: blocks are cut and sewn, piecing is organized, working on sewing the whole front together.  Updated pictures coming after that's done and I pick out a backing fabric.
  • Picnic bench cushions: All the pieces are cut out.  This was on hold while I looked for a walking foot for my sewing machine.  That finally arrived a few weeks ago, so I should really get to this soon.
  • Various clothing repairs: Very back-burner.  It's hard to motivate myself to do these when I don't fit in those clothes right now.  Although it would be nice to have the space back!
  • Doggy Blanket repair: One of my dogs ate a hole in his blanket (he's not a destructive chewer so this was very unusual).  Plus, he pulled the batting out.  I cut away all the chewed up fleece, but I need to replace the batting in about a quarter of the blanket as well as patch the hole and I'm still not sure if I've got a good idea on how to approach this.

Future projects:

  • Curtains: These are actually for my sister's closet.  I've had the fabric for awhile but misplaced the finished dimensions I needed.  I should probably call her and ask for them; this would be a pretty easy and quick project to finish.
  • Crib bumpers: Fabric is purchased for two sets, but I'm getting a pattern from my mom next week (mostly for the dimensions).
  • Baby romper/sleeper: Just got the fabric and pattern for this today (and discovered that there are a lot more clothing patterns for girls than boys).  This may wait till the quilt is mostly done.
  • Unknown baby project: Purchased some very cute blue boy-themed fabric today for $0.85/yd!  Not sure what I'm doing with it just yet.  It's just over 1 and 3/4 yards, so I'm thinking maybe a onesie and something else.
  • Memory game: Again, kudos to Amy for pointing out this blog project a few weeks ago.  It's a cute way to use up some fabric remnants from my ever-growing stash.  Thinking about doing two sets, one as a gift and one for our future little boy.
  • Cloth napkins/placemats:  I got some cute blue gingham print fabric at a recent $1 fat quarter sale.  Just need to see if I have enough to do placemats or napkins.  This should be a quick project and I should at least try to finish it before summer's out!
I'm sure I've forgotten something, especially considering the incredible stash of fabrics I'm staring at in my craft corner.  How do you keep track of projects?  Do you work better when you know exactly what you're doing or are you more creative without organization?

14 June 2011

Quilting Progress

I had lunch with my friend Leah today, who is very crafty and is making me an awesome baby carrier that I will be sure to post pictures of once it's home!  But our talk about sewing reminded me that I haven't said much about my quilt's progress recently.

First, the promised picture of the border fabric:

Another friend of mine pointed this out to me at the local quilting shop.  At first, I couldn't see how to incorporate it, even though I liked it.  But when I discovered that I needed a border fabric, this was perfect!  It's hard to see between the pictures, but the colors of the letters match the solid block colors.  I can see now why so many quilters keep fabric "stashes" for just such an occasion.

Tonight I completed sewing all the squares for the quilt!  Here's the stack:

And here's an idea of what they look like unfolded:

I still have to iron out all blocks and then square them off, which might be a little tricky (yay rotary cutter!).  But after that, the piecing can start!  I'm not sure how I'll arrange the blocks, but I enjoy organizing things (I know, weird), so I'm sure to have fun!

I'm trying to finish piecing the front before I travel to see my family next month.  It's going to be tight, but I want my mom's help with the backing and some serious advice on the actual quilting part.  We're going fabric shopping while I'm there (yay!) so my mom can pick out some fabric to make nursery paraphernalia.  We have a teddy bear theme going for the room and I was able to score a great deal on two teddy bear fabrics at Hancock last month:

Aren't they cute?!  I especially love the green one.  The tan-ish one is a regular cotton, but the green plaid is just a little heavier.  There's enough fabric of each to make crib bumpers and plenty of the green fabric to do something else.  Both fabrics are licensed prints and for $2.00 and $2.50 per yard, they're even cuter!

I also have a cross-stitch project I need to finish before the same trip. I think I better start devoting more time to crafting!

13 June 2011

College Cost Stats

College and statistics... what crazy games you can play with these two topics.  Today I read an article (short) and watched a film (long and best watched in multiple sittings) about the rising cost of college.  On the surface, these two seem to agree with one another, but their stats disagree tremendously, undermining their whole argument.

No one doubts that the cost of college is rising, although the relative rates (especially versus income) are hotly debated.  The film argues that college is no longer worth the investment; the article only opines that colleges are pricing themselves out of the middle class' ability to pay, with no mention of return on investment.

Both offer some interesting numbers:

  • The film says the average cost of college is $27k per year, which must be some sort of public/private average (and, in my not researched opinion, not weighted for enrollment).  The article says the average public institution costs $6,500 per year.  There's an obvious choice here, in my opinion.  If the private school you're considering doesn't provide you a value equal to the difference in tuition, go to a public school.
  • Both the film and the article claimed that the Department of Labor's statistic about college graduates making $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetimes is bogus, but neither offered an alternative amount or percentage.  Whatever the difference, I have to assume that it's more than $26,000, the cited average cost of four years of undergraduate work.  This seems to make college worth it, financially speaking.
  • Both the film and the article state that the median household income in the US is about $33,000.  This statistic (cited in the article) comes from the IRS's 2008 data.  Interesting, the US census bureau disagrees.  And by disagrees, I mean, wildly disagrees.  Their data says the median household income is about $52,000, a 57% increase.  I imagine $19k a year would make a difference in affordability for a lot of things, including that $6,500 college bill.
  • Neither the article nor the film looked at grants or scholarships.  I've seen numbers that show how little they cover, but surely even a small cost offset should be mentioned.
  • The film talked some about the total cost of college, including loan interest and lost income.  This is a worthwhile topic, but again, their stats are skewed (they assumed 6 years to finish an undergrad degree, taking the full 10 years to pay off loans, and no income at all while in school).
  • The article starts with an incredibly misleading graph.  It has its axis on two different sides and makes it appear that college costs exponentially more than the median household income, when in fact it's about 19.7% (according to their numbers).
Statistics are a funny game.  Numbers never outright lie, but they can be incredibly misleading.  It's hard to accuse most sources of skewing numbers; these institutions probably just found figures that agreed with their values and stopped looking.  Opinion pieces like these two underlie the need for the public at large to understand the specifics of what a statistic says, its validity in making generalizations and forecasts, and where it is correctly (and incorrectly) applied.

Have you seen any funny statistics lately?  Do they bother you as much as they bother me?

07 June 2011

Couples, Money, & Choices

Wow, it's been a busy few weeks!  One of the nice things about being currently childless is that summers actually slow down, rather than becoming schedule-crazy.  That means I've had a chance to catch up on some things lately, from laundry (there's my favorite capris!) to reading to finances.

Speaking of reading and finances, Get Rich Slowly had a cool article today about couples and managing money. One of the things I like about the site is the promotion of a "do what works for you" mentality.  The site author/owner (J. D.) and his wife (Kris) were recently interviewed for a short Redbook article about modern couples and finances.  Because of the number of questions he gets about their choices, J. D. put up the longer interview on his site.  It's an interesting look at one couple's system and a reminder that it's a good system if it achieves what you want it to.

The reason this caught my brain, however, is because my husband and I recently did something we swore we'd never do: bought a new vehicle.  Not just a new-to-us vehicle.  A new-to-the-whole-world vehicle.  A new-car-smell vehicle.  A vehicle with an odometer reading of less than my age (at least till I drove it home... I'm not that old!).  Scary!  But to me, it's a great example of meeting our needs with our resources in our way.

As I've mentioned before, we're expecting our first child this fall and we only have (had) one vehicle.  The one vehicle situation has been tricky but good, cutting our cost of living for well over a year.  But a new baby forces a lot of new questions, like: what if the baby spikes a fever and the car isn't at home?  Which, on the surface, is ludicrous; one of the reasons we decided to start a family here is the incredible friends we have, one of whom would surely either drive us to the hospital/clinic or would loan me their keys.  But you still worry.

Then we started asking more sane questions: what about our next move?  My husband is in the military and moving is inevitable, likely to happen in the next 18 months.  Our last move was done in one vehicle... packed to the brim with two dogs crammed into one seat for four days, because all the other seats had Stuff in them.  While my packing priorities will change this time (baby-stuff likely outweighing the Wii Fit), neither of us could picture a situation with less bulk to carry.  We still have two dogs, we will have an infant, and who knows how long we will be house-less.  So, we said, larger vehicle, an SUV.  But not till next spring, when we have to plan our move.

Right.  Then we started talking about summer plans, like the baby showers that our family is graciously throwing for us.  We save money by driving to see family (looked at airline tickets lately!?) in large part because we can take the dogs with us; plus it's built in us-time.  But baby showers, unsurprisingly, come with baby-stuff and it's the same stuff that we will eventually be moving with.  And my sister will be traveling with us for 1.5 trips this summer.  All of which adds up to needing the space now.

And so we researched.  And shopped.  And did a lot more research because we are nothing if not careful with large purchases.  We calculated what we could afford; we started a car fund where we've made a monthly car payment to prove we could do it; we looked at cost of ownership, not just sticker price.  And then we did some more shopping.  It turns out that through a combination of USAA's car buying program and a Memorial Day special, we could buy the basic Nissan Pathfinder we wanted for less than what we could afford.  In fact, for less than a two year old version cost, which is what we had been considering.

It was scary.  The whole time I was thinking "Are we really doing this?  We didn't come in today to buy and we especially didn't think we could buy new.  Are we jumping on something when we should wait?  I know we ran (and re-ran) the numbers, but can we really afford this?"  We asked the salesman to let us talk it over several times and (to his credit) he did it with no pressure to us.  We talked it over, re-ran the numbers quickly, and couldn't find a downside worse than not having intended to buy that day.

And you know what?  Besides one false-panic moment (3 in the morning is a bad time to be awake and trying to do math, especially while pregnant), I've been comfortable with it.  It's what we wanted, for less than we were willing to pay, for way less than the average sale price, and it has all the benefits of a new, warrantied vehicle. It would never have been possible for us to do this without prior planning, some serious advice-style help from family and friends, and a lot of communication between the two of us about what we wanted and could handle.  I'm thankful that my husband and I can have regular conversations like that without it becoming an argument.

Plus, since it's the color I wanted, what's to argue?  ;-)

18 May 2011

Spelling and Financial Role Models

The next post I was planning was going to be an update on my quilt making and some pictures of the teddy bear fabric I found.  In the meantime, I was perusing Facebook and my Google Reader links and found a couple of interesting topics that I feel deserved some thought and conversation.

In the funny category, the sister of a former roommate of mine posted a link to this comic about 10 words you need to stop misspelling.  Misspelt homophones and possessives are a pet peeve of mine and I love the descriptions and examples on this comic!  I would also like to add are/our to their list, as I've seen that one a lot on Facebook lately (proof that people increasingly write/type like they speak).

Otherwise, one of the latest posts on Get Rich Slowly caught my brain today.  It's about frugal role models and surrounding yourself with similarly minded people (financially speaking).  Friends, family, famous millionaires/billionaires... the comments were nearly as interesting as the post.  Many people responded with not only role models but anti-role models, people they're trying to avoid becoming.  I'm intrigued by the idea of actively seeking out support by starting a savings club (sort of like a financial book club) but think it has a lot of potential to backfire.  You'd have to be very clear about rules and expectations from the beginning.  Ever tried it?  What do you think would make such a group work?

In any case, the GRS post makes a good point about having different role models for different areas of your finances, which is definitely true for us.  The post made me think a bit about who I associate with and who I look up to, as well as what I want our children to learn from us.  For instance, our parents are great about planning for retirement.  My friend Jen is an awesome coupon and bargain hunter.  She and my friends LeahAmy, Kari, and Sarah are great about comparison shopping, making things at home, and spending where it counts (something I value highly as a financial attribute).  We have lots of friends at various stages of paying down debt.  It makes it easier to stay on track when you know other people are also working hard, even if their circumstances aren't exactly the same.

Do you have financial role models?  Are you like me, looking for more?

15 May 2011

The Beginnings of Quilt 1.2

I finally uploaded the pictures of the new quilt I'm making to the computer last night... sharing time!

First, I'm using the "orange quilt" pattern on Cluck Cluck Sew as my template.  I love the white and orange look; I originally meant to make a quilt with solid tan blocks (for the teddy bear decor in the future nursery) and different colored patterns.  But, after finding some good deals ($1 fat quarters!) at a local quilting shop, I'm going with something a little different.  Instead, I'm using three different solid colors (red, green, & blue) and tan patterned pieces.  Here are some pictures, including gratuitous shots of my new (50% off!) self-healing cutting mat:
This is the selection of solid colors (the red one has a nice little texture pattern to it).  The teddy bear & ducks design is a cross-stitch pattern that I'm buying soon to stitch and hang in the baby's room.

 Four of the six patterns I picked out.  I wanted to make an 8x12 pattern and counted total squares in the store, not a per pattern amount.  Didn't realize I'd need six till I recounted at home (whoops!).

A close up.  My favorite is the paisley!

 The pieces of future blocks in order and pinned for sewing.  I used the recommended stack 'n' whack method to cut them all out and it was much quicker than measuring and scissors!

A close up.  You can see some of the color combinations here.  This is only 4 of the 6 tan patterns.

The center squares and flaps are sewn and ironed.  The pattern on the right is the missing fifth pattern and has some cute stars and swirls.

And, in this picture, the pattern on the right is #6.  It's darker than the others, but I'm planning on a dark brown backing (I think!  You know how these things go.)

Next step is pinning the strips onto either side of the center strips and sewing and ironing them.  Then they'll be ready to finish piecing!  After cutting out most of the blocks, I discovered that by using the stack 'n' whack page, I had cut blocks that will finish at about 1" too small to make an 8x12 quilt approximately twin size.  So instead, I got to return to the quilt shop and buy not only 2 new brown/tan patterns but border fabric!  The fabric I picked was one a friend pointed out to me on an earlier trip and it is super cute... tan with solid color letters everywhere.  I forgot to take pictures of that but will add them soon.  I also have two new teddy bear fabrics (Hancock Fabrics was running some great deals!) that I will post projects for in the near future.

So far the quilt has gone together easily, although I'm slowly remembering why quilting is so expensive both in time and money.  I'm excited to see the finished blocks and to play with the arrangement for the front!  What do you think?

07 May 2011

Dogs and Quilts

Being pregnant has lead to some odder-than-usual observations; for instance, it makes me understand my dogs better.  They're beagles and they're known for a number of traits: their enthusiastic greetings, their loud beagling (beagle literally means "to trumpet"), their insanely sensitive noses, their insatiable appetites, and their willingness to nap on the couch at any time.

I can't compete with the noise they make (or their joy at meeting someone!), but in the first trimester, my hyper sensitive nose revealed all sorts of smells of which I was previously unaware.  For instance, I now know why my dogs run over every time I open the fridge or pull the kitchen garbage bag out.  Even though they never get anything out of either event, it smells like food... all the time.

Now that I'm past that stage, my sense of hunger has returned.  I'm actually supposed to eat every couple of hours because of sugar problems, so I'm also never allowed to over indulge.  This leaves me in a perpetual fix-food/eat-food/hungry-for-food cycle.  I often joke that my dogs will eat anything that will stay still, or occasionally just move slowly (Dog #2 and grasshoppers are great entertainment!).  In any case, I'm beginning to seriously sympathize with their continual drive to eat!

As I write this, both dogs are lounging on the couch "watching" the Yankees game with us.  Even with the increased energy of the second trimester (relatively speaking) I'm spending more time resting these days and can tire myself out in a hurry.  And when I need to sit and rest, it is nice to have two warm dogs to lay next to me on the couch.  :-)

In the mean time, I'm (ambitiously) starting my first quilt this weekend!  Well, let's be honest... my second quilt.  I started one way back when I was... 8?  9?  Anyway, it's a patchwork quilt that never got past the piecing stage (I'm seriously considering seam ripping the squares and using them for other projects).  I've meant to learn some quilting techniques for several months now and, as so often happens, it looks like I'm largely going to teach myself.  Pictures of the pattern and fabrics I've chosen are coming soon!

05 May 2011

Internet Brain Food

If the internet has one overwhelmingly awesome feature, it's definitely the ability to bring me other people's thoughts and research with such ease.  I use Google Reader for this and it continually surprises me with what it reveals.

Take this for instance: a two-part post on Get Rich Slowly about how money does buy happiness.  It sums up a study that discovered that if money isn't buying you happiness, you're spending the wrong way.  Read the posts for tips on better ways to spend; my favorites are "buy experiences not stuff" and "delay consumption" and I was most surprised by "beware comparison shopping".  This falls very neatly in with my personal theory that money is a tool like any other.  The good or bad it does is related to how it's used, not any innate qualities.  (A favorite quote of mine: "Whoever said money can't buy happiness forgot about puppies!")

Does information like that change how you approach your finances?  Over the last year, DH and I have been trying to concentrate more on experiences than Stuff and it has definitely been good for us!  In digging through the last couple of weeks of posts at Get Rich Slowly, I also found a link to an interesting article that lists things we really could do without.  Some I agree strongly with (GPS, tanning beds) and others (microwaves, debit cards) I think provide a greater benefit than cost, especially in regards to time.

In addition to personal finance, I also get blogs and articles about a variety of science topics.  Yesterday, the Freakonomics blog posted about education versus expertise.  While I could use this to rail against the education system, instead it made me wonder about something psychological.  What the blog and the study it references seems to say (to me at least) is that people who spend time introverting a problem progress better than people who extravert it.  Now, there is definitely some personal bias coming through that interpretation, but the study supports the idea that mentally handling a problem (i.e. thinking about it) produces better comprehension than physically handling it (i.e. repeating a procedure over and over).  Coupled with Myers-Briggs typology (especially the I/E and N/S spectrums), there are all sorts of fun implications for that, but I think the salient point is that education should focus more on teaching people how to approach a problem, how to consider, rather than how to do.

What does the internet bring you?

19 April 2011

Book Reading Update

In September of last year, I wrote a post about slimming down my reading list.  Looking back, I'm pretty sure I never followed up on this on the blog, which is a shame since it was one of my most-commented entries.

Here are some stats (numbers = happy me!):
  • Read in 2010: 17,347 pages (35 books)
  • Left unread in 2010: 23,882 pages (48 books)
  • Eliminated: 5,449 pages (14 books)
  • Added in 2011: 10,152 pages (22 books) 
  • Read so far in 2011: 5,785 pages (12 books) + 1,245 pages (2 books) re-read = 7,030 pages
  • Left to read in 2011: 22,800 pages (44 books)
I ended up completely eliminating about 20% of my reading list, although I've certainly added back pages.  The titles that I added fall in four categories: books I owned but hadn't recorded, titles for book club, books I received for Christmas, or books published in 2011 by favorite authors. I have another 2,644 pages that are potentially going away; they're in a box that hasn't been opened since last October, probably for a reason.  I'm also thinking about taking the complete works of Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Anderson, and the Brothers Grimm off my list, which would eliminate another 4,000 pages.  I'd never sit down and read those works cover to cover, but I tackle one or two offerings from time to time.

At this rate, I would almost finish this group of books by the end of the year, assuming I don't go overboard buying new publications.  What do you think... do I go ahead and eliminate those 6,600 pages?  Should a few more books go?  How are your reading lists coming?

Bonus Update:  Books I've read since my last book review post, with hyperlinks going to my reviews:
Persuasion (4 stars)
Stone of Tears (2 stars)
The Forgotten Garden (3 stars)
The Wise Man's Fear (5 stars)

18 April 2011

Women Hurt Women

It has been a long running theory of mine that since our great-grandmothers fought for our right to vote and wear jeans and our grandmothers fought for our right to earn a living outside the home and go to college and our mothers fought for our right to earn equal pay for equal work, that our generation is working for our right to have an equal voice.  I also think that our biggest opponents in this fight are ourselves.  Women seem to have a natural self-effacing quality that shirks praise or the limelight.  We also have an innate, evolutionary need to camouflage ourselves in public; most women hate to be dissenters in appearance or opinion, at least when others can see.  Doing otherwise is very much a learned behavior.

So it makes me particularly happy to read the recent backlash against a New York Times' review of HBO's newest series, The Game of Thrones.  The series is based on a set of books by fantasy writer George R. R. Martin which have received rave reviews for their creativity, gritty realism, and intricate, genre-defying plots.  The NYT review of the show, however, seems to think this:
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
As one of those women (apparently statistical anomalies) who "read books like Mr. Martin's", this rubs me the wrong way.  (I'm not even going to pretend to know who Lorrie Moore is.)  But what's really horrid about this review?  It was written by a woman.  Thus, I was going to write a little blog entry about why it's particularly awful that a woman was unable or unwilling to seek out diversity in her own gender.  But happily, I find that it's already been done and done well!  Any number of blogs that I follow, with both male and female writers, are up in arms about such a sexist, uninformed viewpoint.  Here are some of the best:
  • Geekfemme: about how "woman" and "geek" are not mutually exclusive terms.
  • Almost Diamonds: A quick personal story about why some people read fantasy.  Amazingly, for the strong female characters who get themselves out of tough spots.
  • Bleeding Cool: A longer but very thorough piece on why it's particularly heinous that a woman wrote this review.  She says it in a more controlled and precise way than how I would have rambled from point to point.
  • MSNBC: A regular article from the day before the NYT piece about how women are increasingly driving geek trends.  Guess we're not so anomalous after all. (Plus, the point that the article makes about women's shirts at the end is a pet peeve of mine.  I am not a small man.  If you want me to buy your merchandise (and why wouldn't you?), make it in my size!)
  • io9: My favorite of all the responses; this piece asks why men would want to watch a show so obviously geared toward women?  The snark is great because she makes a relevant, valid point: it's all about perspective and individual taste... and it should be.
This comes off sounding like a rant about empowering geek women and maybe it is a bit.  But whatever your favorite literary flavor, here's why you should care: Anti-Bullying Starts in First Grade.  It's a very personal article about a little girl who was teased at school for having a Star Wars lunch box & thermos.  That sounds like a typical scenario (and kids will do this kind of thing in spite of what they're told), but what is important is the response.  The little girl wanted to change her thermos; essentially hiding her individuality, although at 6 years old she's just trying to avoid teasing.  I think her mom's response is spot on and it's why I'm pleased that so many writers responded to the NYT review's defaming and wrong characterization of women who read and watch fantasy.

As I think more and more about what I want my child to know, it comes down to this: the point isn't that teasing and bullying and narrow-minded people are facts of life.  Knowing that it's important to stand up for yourself every day is the lesson.  You can't appreciate the wonderful diversity of life if you don't promote it in yourself.  I hope my children grow up knowing that individuality should be approached with interest and wonder, both in themselves and others.

17 April 2011

Tea and Penguins

After my last huge post, here's some fun:

  • Penguin Tickling!  Yes, you read that right.  This 22 second video is much more hilarious than it should be.  Mild warning: this made my dog sit up and look for the noise, so if your animal(s) is irritated by weird noises, well, be prepared.
  • English Tea History.  I found this in my quest to decide on a Jane Austen menu for book club.  It's a great site for all things Jane Austen or Regency, but that particular page gives a great, accurate history of tea drinking.  I was surprised to find some particulars on the how tea was served during the Regency/Georgian era versus Victorian and Edwardian eras.
  • American & English tea history.  This website is harder to read, but worthwhile if you're interested in the differences between early tea service, tea as a separate event, and tea in America.
After all this talk about tea and penguins, I sort of want to pull out a copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins to read.

And best of all, my dad is now a published author!  His book, Spann's Guide to Gibson: 1902 to 1941, is available for pre-order through Amazon and other major distributors.  My father is a historian, genealogist, and musician, so the information in this book is a showcase of both his talents and his interests.  How cool is that!?

13 April 2011

Debt Free Month! Or not...

Note: This is the story of why April 2011 is no longer our debt payoff month.  It's a bit long, but I tried to make it flow for easy reading.  I hope you get something worthwhile out of it... please feel free to comment on your own experience!

About 3 years or so ago, we got serious about getting rid of our debt.  At that time, we had some substantial credit card debt (thanks to financial classes that were not a timely investment) and a lot of student loan debt (thanks to a private college that kept hiking rates).  We did have a financial game plan before we got married, something that I highly recommend for committed couples of all types, and we paid everything on time with extra when we could afford it.  But it becomes very easy to slip off the debt payoff wagon when things don't go quite like you expect.  For instance, it took a lot longer than we had planned for me to start my first career job.  We also discovered that there are some peripheral expenses to being a military officer (and really, just having a career... lunches out, anyone?) that we hadn't accounted for.

So, when I did get that job in April 2007, we recommitted to paying off our debt faster.  Much faster.  Because I have graduate loans, some of our debt had a 20 year payoff period.  Crazy!  I did not want to be one of those parents who writes the last check for their own student debt just to turn around the next month and start paying tuition for my own kids!  We crunched the numbers and decided that we could live off my husband's income for bills and groceries and in turn use ALL of my paycheck towards debt payoff.  As an engineer, I brought in just over half our take home pay, despite also taking a bigger tax hit.  By moving from a retail job at $10.75/hr to a career position, I had effectively doubled our total income.

This system was tough at times, but it had a huge effect.  Both of us kept lunches out to twice a month.  Dinners out were also twice a month and we tried to do one as a date night and one night out with friends.  We carefully budgeted for everything, especially household items and groceries.  It was hard sometimes, especially when friends bought new cars (mine was 15 years old) or went out to dinner constantly; but seeing those numbers go down was worth it!  At some point in our debt payoff scheme, I calculated how long it would be till we had canceled out all of our credit card and student loan debt.  The answer?  Fall of 2010!  Much better than December 2026!

Fast forward 18 months, to August 2009.  My husband got orders to PCS, which is military-speak for "relocate your life".  We only got about 8 weeks' notice, so we immediately changed our plan; no extra moving debt for us!  We kept paying debt minimums (of course), but everything else went into a savings account, just in case.  Moving is expensive, even when it's reimbursed, and it means finding a new job for me; there are no guarantees.

After lots of moving fun (read: annoyances), I wound up unpacking the house about three months later (the military is also fond of sending people to training, heedless of timing).  We planned for me to be out of work for about 9 months.  At the time, most people in my industry who were looking found new jobs in about 6 months, but they could go anywhere.  I recalculated that debt payoff date using our new lower cost of living (city to small town move): if I had a comparable job/income by July of 2010, we would be debt free by April 2011.  Still awesome!

You probably know, or can guess, most of the rest of the story.  The economy is still down; the local economy is non-existent for highly-skilled/educated jobs.  Our experience living on one income has been a lifesaver; my husband has been promoted and gotten the commensurate raises since then, meaning that his income now roughly equals our starting income from four years ago: his career plus my retail job.  We can and do live on one income comfortably, but April 2011 is no longer our debt payoff month and it's hard to say what it is now.

Some good things we did:
  • Savings build up.  We rarely touched this, but it has given us tremendous peace of mind and stopped us from running up credit card bills (if we're not willing to sacrifice savings for something, why would we pay interest for it?).  We recently reduced the disproportionate amount we had to pay off a couple of low balance, high payment loans, which has been great for our cash flow while still leaving us plenty for emergencies.
  • Early debt payoff.  The credit cards and loans that were paid off before we moved (plus the two paid off since then) meant that our minimum payments were much lower.  Our original minimum payments would leave no wiggle room on a single income, so this has made a huge difference.  We are also continuing extra debt payments, albeit at a slower pace.
  • Rented out our property.  It doesn't cover the mortgage, but the extra money that this brings in is being split between debt payoff and a baby fund that will likely purchase our next (family-sized) vehicle.  This income is only guaranteed for the length of the lease, however, so we don't count on it past a certain point.
  • Living on one income.  This move would have been an insane adjustment with no prior experience; instead, it was just a question of juggling some numbers.  I cannot overemphasize how little stress this has caused us and how horrible it could have been.
Now you know the story of my not-quite-debt-payoff month.  What about you... have you set financial goals that you've needed to re-evaluate?  What steps have you taken that turned out to be great in the long run?

06 April 2011

Random Findings

My post about our former debt free month is coming soon, but I ran across a few unrelated links today that I want to share before I forget:

  • First, the most important one: Preeclampsia Fundraiser.  My sister works for the Preeclampsia Foundation in Florida and every year they host a promise walk, just like those cancer walks we've all been on.  Pre-eclampsia is basically a condition during pregnancy where a woman's blood pressure rises to levels dangerous for both her and the fetus.  Although there are some known risk factors, it can develop with absolutely no warning.  Even with modern medicine pre-eclampsia is dangerous (sometimes fatal) to both parties and generally leads to early labor induction (with all of early induction's risks) when it is caught.  Besides labor induction, there is currently no treatment or prophylactic available.  The participants try to raise some donations themselves, so if you could help out with even $15, you would be doing a great thing!  
  • Second, a fun link: Suvudu's Final Cage Match of 2011.  Alright, so this is for sci-fi and fantasy geeks like me, but here's the scoop anyway: Suvudu runs a cage match of dozens of sf/f characters from different series each spring.  Each match also features a write-up of how the judges think it will go, but the winner is determined by an online voting poll.  The tournament is single elimination and eventually results in a final showdown: this year, Quick Ben from Steven Erikson's Malazan series is pitted up against a favorite character of mine: Vin from Brandon Sanderson's awesome Mistborn series.  You (yes, you!) can go vote for who you think would win in a fight between them; no registration is needed and you can only vote once, so no annoying reminders from me either.  And if you like me at all, you'll vote for Vin!  ;-)
  • Lastly, an everyday life link: Thoughts on Tipping.  I think that pretty much sums up what I think on the subject (especially about auto-gratuities).  I will add two thoughts: one, a party of 6 is not a "group", even though I've observed more restaurants lowering this number.  It would be more effective to have a policy of "8 adults" or "more than two checks".  Two, when out with a large party, we let a waiter or manager know (before ordering) that tips will be higher if they are not automatically included; otherwise, they will get the 18% only or (if the tab includes the "suggested" tip and we can adjust down), 18% will be the maximum they get for great service.  This has worked the majority of the time, both to get rid of the "auto-tip" and getting us wonderful service.
Alright, off to do some quick homework and my beginning of the month financial update.  Then tutoring, class, a volleyball game, and hopefully back here to write that debt payoff month post.

29 March 2011

Three Weeks!

Wow, I have not blogged in a long time.  Almost like I've been busy or crazily exhausted in the last few weeks...

First, I've finished a couple more books since my last post.  As always, my reviews are on Goodreads; this month I read The Wise Man's Fear (5 stars) and The Forgotten Garden (3.5 stars).  Wise Man's Fear was the second really excellent book I've read this year and Forgotten Garden is my latest book club read, which I think will yield some very interesting discussion!

Second, I haven't hyperlink spammed you recently:

  • Elementary Math vs. The Real World - You'll be unsurprised to see how disconnected they are.
  • Good Social Science - Were you aware there's a growing epidemic of whooping cough (pertussis) in this country?  If not, you should be, especially if you have young children.  This short article makes a great point about people who cannot vaccinate because of health complications.  If you can (and most people can), please vaccinate.
  • Bad Science (i.e. NOT science) - What are all those researchers doing when we can just use how people feel about radiation to make judgments?  ~sigh~
  • Sad Science - Well, not so much sad as disappointing.  Evolutionary theory is better proven than Newtonian theory.  No, really.  I'd love to see a similar survey from past years for comparison.
  • Science & Society - This is a longer interview with the author of Panic Virus, a book about the autism/vaccine scare and what caused and propagated it (I have not read the book).  Fascinating mostly because the author fully acknowledges something that most scientists overlook: anti-vaccine (and anti-science) movements are popular because they give people answers, even if they're wrong answers.  Regardless, it's an interesting look at how misinformation gains credibility and the role that major media plays with its lack of fact checking.
Okay, that's a lot of science, but it's all relevant and readable and interesting, I promise.

And lastly, I have planned another financial post in honor of what would have been our debt payoff next month.  Coming soon!