Question for my crafty friends

(It's unlikely my mom would find this, as she's not on any social networking sites, but it needs to be said: Mom, if you're reading this, stop right now!)

The other day I wandered into my local toy store for the first time and bought a few things, including some plain tins (they're the size and shape of Altoids tins). I'd like to do something crafty with them, so I started looking at all the neat projects folks have done with Altoids tins.

I've decided I want to make something out of one of the tins for my mom - either just because, or perhaps for Mother's Day.

She's a quilter, so I'm trying to think of things along that theme. Here are some things I like so far, for inspiration:

  • Video (Quilters Club of America) - they recommend affixing a magnet to the top to hold pins & needles

  • Photo (Flickr) - this person altered a tin to hold "notions" - needles, buttons, safety pins, etc. I really like this, especially the felt needle holder!

  • Photo (Flickr) - another "sewing box" that looks very cute

I'd like to make something pretty, but functional - and hopefully something she can tuck into her bag.

Do you have any suggestions? Little notions to put inside (ex. a small pair of scissors) or ways to decorate the box itself?

Thanks! :)

Money management

Lately, I've been discussing money management with a small group of friends. Due to the nature of the forum, my comments have been short, and I wanted to write about my money management system in more depth. It's not the best system, but it's not bad, I think. Feel free to suggest refinements in the comments, or tell me about your own system.

Like most people, the majority of my expenses recur on a monthly basis. For each month, I have a Google document which lists my monthly expenses. (Note: when I say monthly expenses, I mean things like rent, my gas bill, my credit card bills - I don't include things like gas or groceries.) The expenses are divided into two sections - bills or expenses that get paid with my first paycheck, and those that get paid by my second paycheck.

Actually, that's not quite true. I only get one paycheck per month. I find this confusing, so I pretend that I get two paychecks a month instead. When I get paid at the end of the month, I put about half of my paycheck into a savings account. When the middle of the month rolls around, I move that money back into my checking account. (I actually have two savings accounts; one is used specifically for the purpose outlined above, while the other is my "real" savings account.)

Usually, I have documents set up for the next month or so - two, for example, I've already created a document for February. This helps me plan ahead a little bit.

Right now, I'm planning into the month ahead - I've remembered that ConFusion (a local science fiction convention) is later in the month, so I've set aside the money I will need for a hotel room and for registration.

After I pay each bill, I write the amount of the bill (if it was different from my estimate) and then write (PAID) after it. If there is a confirmation number, I write (PAID, {confirmation #}). I check in to my bank's website every few days, and when I see that a payment has gone through, I change PAID to CLEARED.

This helps me keep a pretty decent handle on how much money I actually have. In each Google document, there are usually a few lines of long sums. A line might look something like this...

{what my bank tells me I have after the pending transactions clear}
-{that bill that I paid that hasn't cleared yet}
-{that other bill I paid that hasn't cleared yet}
-{that expense that gets pulled out of my account automatically that hasn't shown up yet}
-{gas or a similar expense}

The sum tells me now how much is in my bank account, but how much I have to spend.

Also, I'm trying to live on my old salary, basically. I make quite a bit more than I did in my last job, so I try to sock away a bit each month. I actually have money in savings now! It's not even one month's expenses, but it's a start. And it's not for anything other than savings.

What I don't like about this system is that I don't budget anything out but my bills. As I mentioned above, I don't say something like, "I'll need X for gas, Y for groceries, and I want to spend Z or less eating out." As a result, I don't really have a good idea about how much I spend on groceries or eating out, etc. I do know I spend less on gas now that I don't have to drive to work, though!

I'm not sure if this is necessary? I kind of think it is, though, if I'd like to start saving more.

Something that makes this more difficult to figure is the super-store. A trip to Meijer might include food purchases, a romance novel, and saline. That would be three different categories - food, entertainment, non-grocery needs. Having to split the receipt into a bunch of categories seems like a lot of work, but I can't think of any other way to get those detailed numbers...that doesn't also seem like a lot of work.

I do have Quicken - though I don't have the newest version. One thing I like about Quicken is the ability to enter transactions. For example, I can tell Quicken that I paid my credit card bill. Then, a few days later, when that payment has cleared, Quicken is (for the most part) smart enough to realize that those two payments for exactly the same amount are, in fact, referring to the same thing. This is really important to me - I want to know how much I have to spend. My bank balance is only part of that number.

The inability to enter transactions is one reason I am not a big fan of Mint. Unless Mint has changed recently.

The other thing is that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the numbers they (Quicken, Mint, etc.) give me. I don't really care what the balance on my student loans is, or my car, for that matter. Those are things I might check every 6 months or so, but really, they're large balances and I know that the money that's pulled out of my accounts to pay them will continue coming out for the coming years.

So...those are my thoughts on money management. Although this entry is public now, I'll probably make it friends-only in a few days.

Returning to Ann Arbor

After my recent trip out west, I decided I don't want to move out there after all. I've decided instead to return to the Ann Arbor area. I've already given notice to my current landlords, and they have actually found a new tenant - so I hope to move in about a month or so.

I'm appealing to those of you in that general area for help in finding housing. I'd appreciate recommendations you might have about apartment communities or homes for rent, or things of that sort.

I'm looking for:

  • 2 bedrooms; one for me, and one for my office (I work from home now)
  • a pet-friendly location; I have one cat and one (small; she's about 30lbs.) dog
  • a house, townhouse, duplex, or apartment; I'd prefer not to have to share too many walls, and I'd love it if the dog could have a yard to run around in. Still, I'll happily consider good apartment communities.
  • covered parking (perhaps not a must, but could definitely be a deal-breaker)
  • central air (a must)
  • washer/dryer included (another must)
  • dishwasher included (not a deal-breaker; this would fall into the "nice to have" category)
  • wood, laminate, pergo, etc. flooring (again, not a deal-breaker)

I'd be surprised if I found a place with all these things, and I might not be able to afford a place that has all of these things. That said, I'm making quite a bit more money than I did when I worked at Eastern Michigan, so I think I should be able to afford a decent place.

Ideally, I'd like to move to Ann Arbor proper, but I'm flexible - I think I'd be willing to look at places in Ypsilanti, Dexter, Saline, and maybe Canton and Plymouth?

A very serious question!

I have a question for my female friends who, like me, wear plus-size clothing more often than not.

I have an account with 5/3 Bank, and I have this rewards thing going on. I've got enough points to cash in for a reward, and I'd like to do so. I'm probably going to get a $50 gift card to a store. What I'm wondering is which of the following retailers has the best selection of plus-size clothing? Preferably for reasonable prices.

Here's the list of retailers I can get gift cards from and don't hate or don't know. I've put asterisks next to the ones that I know have stores that are local to me. That said, I know certain retailers do carry plus-size clothes, but that they are generally only available online (like Gap).
  • JCPenney*
  • Kohl's*
  • Amazon
  • Macy's*
  • Banana Republic*
  • Bloomingdale's
  • Dillard's
  • Eddie Bauer*
  • L.L. Bean
  • Gap*
  • Jos. A. Bank [not really the look I'm going for, since they sell men's clothing]
  • Lands' End
  • Sears*
  • Target*

[Edited: I think I'll probably be holding off until I get can get a $100 card. I'm going to a conference next week, and I have received a cash advance from work to pay for it. So, while that money isn't "mine," I'll still be spending a lot of money using my 5/3 check card, so I should be able to rack up quite a few points from this trip.]


My father called the apparently-very-young-woman (as in perhaps 12?) and roundly chastised her. (She was duly apologetic.) It probably would have been smarter to ask to speak to a parent, but at this point, I don't really care just as long as she doesn't accidentally text me again or hurt my dog.

I probably overreacted about the whole situation, but it's been rather a long week.

I also still think that the Grand Rapids Police Department sucks.

Law enforcement fail

I wanted to call my parents, and had left my cell phone in my coat pocket last night. I pulled out my phone and discovered someone had texted me. I smiled, thinking it was a friend saying hello.

Instead, it was a message that read, "Im going to kill your dog."

I didn't recognize the number - it is almost identical to mine, digit-wise, except for the last digit. All I can gather, then, is that the person who texted me probably lives in Steuben County, Indiana. (It's where my parents live, and where my own phone number is located out of, due to our being on a family plan.)

My parents have lived in this area for about 12 years, but they moved there after I started college, so I don't know many people there, aside from a handful of people at my parents' church. What I'm trying to say is that the number of people in Angola that (a) know me (b) know I have a dog and (c) know my new phone number (I just got this number perhaps a month or two ago?) is probably 0.

Still, I'm pretty upset by the message.

I called AT&T, the Steuben County Sheriff's Office, and the Grand Rapids Police Department.

AT&T was the only entity that offered to actually do anything. They told me I could block the number, and also offered to change my phone number for me at no cost. They recommended I call law enforcement if I felt I was in danger.

I called Steuben County Sheriff's Office next. As I outlined above, I think it's far more likely that the offender meant to text someone else - probably someone in Steuben County. (Since the digits are so close, I'd even go so far as to guess that the offender and the intended recipient of the message were on a family plan of some sort. Perhaps some sort of love affair gone awry.) They were unable to do anything and suggested I call my local police department, and it would be up to them if they wanted Steuben County's cooperation.

Okay, so, yes, I would have preferred it if they were able to do something, but at least I felt like they took me seriously.

So then I called Grand Rapids Police Department. When asked if I thought someone actually meant to hurt me or my dog, I said no. Perhaps I should have said, "Logically, I don't think so, but yes, I'm now afraid to let my dog out to pee by herself. I'm now afraid to take the dog for a walk. I'd like to take a self-defense class because yes, this scares the hell out of me." Basically, the police officer told me that they had no control over what people texted, and that they couldn't go investigating every little thing. He made me feel like an overly paranoid idiot.

I'm not even sure what to do now. I think I probably will ask AT&T to change my phone number. I feel deeply sorry for this hypothetical dog and owner, and I hope that they're safe from this person. I hope I am safe from this person.

Car accident Tuesday evening

As you might have surmised from the subject line, I was in a car accident yesterday. Let me first address what I am sure is forefront in your minds - I am physically fine. Well, not 100% fine - I am sore - but I didn't break any bones and I do not have a concussion or anything like that.

The accident occurred on campus as I was leaving work. As far as I can remember it, I had stopped for a pedestrian (which we are supposed to do on campus roads) - suddenly, I suppose - and had just started to move forward again when I was rear-ended, rather hard. I was thrown forward and then backward, hard enough to knock the seat back. I hit my head on the headrest and my back on the seat.

Unsurprisingly, the rear of the car is quite squashed. The driver's seat is also stuck in a reclining position; I am unable to get it into a normal position.

I was really disoriented by the accident. I had no problem remembering my name or other pertinent personal details, but it was pretty clear to me I was hurt. I elected to go to the emergency room to be on the safe side. I got a CT scan which revealed that I have a sprain, but that there was no serious damage done to me.

After being released, I got a cab back to campus. Public Safety had my keys, and had moved my car for me. They gave me the accident report information and drove me to my car, which I then drove home.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my cell phone with me at the time, so I was unable to contact any of my friends or family. This is going to change - I plan never to leave my house without my cell phone again! It was terribly lonely in the ER.

I feel a bit sore today, so I am home from work. I am currently uploading photos of the accident to Flickr (you can see the set here if you are curious) and will be contacting my insurance company shortly. I thought it would be good to take pictures of the damage so that I can more accurately describe it to my insurance company (or send them a link, if need be) and to write this entry in order to refresh my memory of the details.