Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breaking the Internet with Uploads

It feels like we've been breaking the Internet lately. First, due to the oft-mentioned hard drive blow-up, we've been uploading our entire lives to Mozy for the past 3 weeks. THREE WEEKS. I had no idea we had that much data, but apparently we do, and it takes forever to back up. It should be done today or tomorrow, though, which is pretty exciting. Now, if our house burns down, I'll still have an electronic copy of my to-do lists and debt repayment plan. Yippee!

We would be done with that already, except we paused it over the weekend for a different uploading project. We've been printing our photos with Snapfish for a few years now. They do a good job, they're quick, and it's 9cents per 4x6 print. Even though the shipping ALWAYS ends up to be so much more than I expect, every time I've compared the cost to somewhere else, Snapfish ends up the winner. Especially because we usually prepay credits, which knocks the price down to 8cents/print.

At first, we opted to do the highest resolution upload to Snapfish, but at the rate we were going, it would have taken us another 3 weeks to upload all of our photos. We changed to a faster upload option, which still gave us enough resolution to print enlargements up to 8x10 (and I certainly don't need to see pictures of myself any bigger than that), and finished uploading by Sunday afternoon. THEN, I threw together a photo Christmas card and we uploaded that to Snapfish, too.

So later this week, we should be receiving about 9 pounds of pictures. Did I mention that we printed over 1,000 4x6 prints?

This rambling story does have a point, I swear. Keith and I were marvelling at how many photos we take and print, and how that wouldn't have been possible in the days of actual film. I don't even want to think about how much it would have cost to print that many photos from film—plus the cost of buying the film in the first place. And what about all of the pictures we take that we don't even end up printing? We wanted a picture of my entire family at Eleanor's birthday party, and with two toddlers in the picture I think we took at least 20 shots to make sure one was usable. Can you imagine using almost a whole roll of film at once?

And likewise with the computer files. A lot of them are photos, but not everything. We also store a significant amount of music in iTunes. At this point, most of the albums are ones of which we also own the physical CD, but lately we've done a lot more simply downloading MP3 files. At some point in the not-so-distant future, I imagine that the majority of our music will all be files instead of CDs. Flash drives these days have more memory than the computer I had 10 years ago. Can you imagine if I tried to physically store all of the electronic information that we have? There's no way it would happen. Or if I tried to do by hand all of the things that are accomplished by programs like Word and Photoshop?

Realizing how much digital information we have also makes me realize how much our lives have changed since 20 years ago. I would say that Keith and I have jumped into the digital age with both feet, yet I'm still on the fence about whether it's made our lives better or not. Am I happy about digital photography quality and price? Yes. Am I happy to have constant access to new music, news, and information? Yes.

Is my life any easier? I don't really know. But is that the goal?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Etsy: Grammar

Meg's response to "Geeky Processed Meat?" inspired me to do a few more Etsy-themed posts for the Christmas season. Of course, the first thing I thought of ... no wait. What happened first after I had this great idea was that I drew a blank. What word could I search on that would use as interesting and varied results as bacon?

So rather than wait for that one fantabulous word to come to me, I did the next best thing. What is a word that I would want? So I searched on grammar.

The results were neither as robust nor as random as with bacon. The emphasis fell heavily on grammar nerd jewelry. Although it wasn't as surprising, I did enjoy looking at it. These are pieces I would definitely wear to class!
There were a few non-wearable items:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We've had a good, uneventful Thanksgiving. Keith and Eleanor are already in bed, but for some reason I'm just not ready to fall asleep. Here's 10 things I'm thankful for today:
  1. Eleanor
  2. Keith
  3. spending time with Keith and Eleanor, like we'll be able to with the long weekend
  4. mid-afternoon naps with Beckett and Gomez
  5. only 2 weeks of class left in the semester
  6. Christmas music
  7. laughter and good food with family and friends
  8. a new hard drive and NOT losing all of our pictures from the past 4 years
  9. having a job that is challenging (even if a bit too challenging, sometimes)
  10. my fluffy, warm bathrobe and cozy gripper socks

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Speaking of Quality Time

Let's see, first I complained about not having enough money, but then said that I'd rather have no money and more time home with Eleanor. And now I'm going to somewhat modify that statement, because I'm in a bit of a quandary: we can't decide what to do about preschool.

I can't believe the time has already come to think seriously about this. But she'll turn 3 in July, and local preschools are having their Open Houses now (we missed one last weekend) for kids who will start as 3-year-olds next fall. Registration opens in January/February. I always knew this would be a tough decision for me, but has it really arrived already?!?

Some of you more experienced parents (or aunts/uncles/etc) might think I'm making too big a deal out of this. Let me explain why I feel it's a dilemma, and then you all can tell me what to do.
  1. I didn't go to preschool. My mom argued that we had to be on a set schedule for the rest of our lives, so why not enjoy our freedom for the 4 short years we have before kindergarten? There's a lot I like about this philosophy. I feel like I can teach Eleanor a lot that she could learn in preschool, so I'm not entirely convinced that she would be behind for kindergarten.
  2. Many people argue for the "socialization" aspect of preschool. On the one hand, Eleanor plays with her cousin Gavin twice a week, every week (during the school semester). She lives on a street with at least 10 other children under the age of 4. We have many playdates; I know that she's learning how to play with other kinds. But on the other hand, she's not learning to play with them in a school environment, where she has a teacher and doesn't have a parent there with her. Is this something she needs to learn now?
  3. On the other other hand, I'm sometimes wary of what socialization she will learn. Will she learn that girls should be quiet? Will she learn about how to deal with a bully? Or that teachers don't always listen to children? These are aspects of our society I'm in no hurry for her to learn.

  4. I have no idea how much it costs. Again with the finances! But it is a consideration. What if I end up working Mon/Wed and she's scheduled for preschool on Tue/Thurs? That would mean missing even more time with her AND paying separately for childcare and preschool.

I am considering the compromise of possibly sending her to preschool at age 4. But unfortunately, we found out that our local kindergarten (maybe most, these days?) is a 5 full day program. So I don't feel like we can go from zero school days to a full week of long days, with no transition time.

Any advice?

Friday, November 19, 2010

One Right "Financial" Decision

When I was complaining about our finances earlier, I looked through old blog entries to find a good picture to use with it. That's how I came across "Weighing Future Financial Options," my post from when I was pregnant with Eleanor and debating whether to continue working full-time or not.

Wow. I am so glad I didn't do that. And even though I complain about wanting more money, Eleanor is so much more important than that. And we do have enough money that it is tight, but definitely feasible, for me to work part-time until she's in school.

It means so much to me that I am her primary caregiver. Her alphabet? I taught her that. She knows that polygons are flat shapes with all straight sides, like a triangle, because of a book she and I got from the library. And whenever she ends a sentence with "or not," like, "Are we going to the playground or not?" she sounds just like me.

She's a wonderful, amazing little girl. And if I have to give up frou-frou coffee drinks for years, I will do that to keep spending time with her. It doesn't always feel like it, but I do know the money will sort itself out with time. And by then, Eleanor and I will have spent many happy hours together.

Still Waiting for the Disposable Income

Earlier this week, we paid off a loan. It was the smallest of our many loans for house improvements, but according to schedule we would have paid it off in August 2011. Paying off a loan almost a year early should feel really good, right? You would think so, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I'm starting to get frustrated at our lack of disposable income, which is a bad thing because the situation isn't going to change any time soon, for 2 reasons. Number one, I will keep working part-time until Eleanor is in school—or until any other kids we have are in school. So my income is not going to increase in the new few years, and we will continue to have childcare costs.

The second reason is that we owe a lot of money. Between education loans, mortgage, and all of the money we borrowed to fix up the house in the past 4 years, I feel like our debt-to-income ratio is quite unfavorable. The amount of money we put towards debt, every month, is quite substantial.

On the other hand, I know that part of the reason our disposable income is nonexistent is because of our personalities. Keith and I are both savers. We are saving a good chunk of money for retirement, a piddly chunk of money for Eleanor's college, and we are also putting extra money towards our loans, in order to get rid of them more quickly. These are all good things, but they still make me feel poor when I can't afford a coffee at Starbucks more than once a month.

Finally, I know a big part of why I'm so worried about our finances is because we are naturally at the lowest income level for our adult lives (see reasons mentioned above, mainly: young children). This predictable state of tight budgeting just happens to hit at a time when economy's around the world are, like us, somewhat strapped for cash. And I think this is the part that really freaks me out. Right now, we don't have a lot of cushion. If something terrible were to happen, we don't have much to fall back on. And something terrible, in terms of job loss, is happening to people all over the country—and they are finding it nearly impossible to find a new job. What then?!?

So here I am. We're continuing with our debt snowball repayment plan. Or I guess a modified plan, because we're not sticking with the smallest loan first strategy. We chose the order of payment based more so on interest rates (getting rid of the highest ones first) and threw in a few smaller loans along the way at certain times, just for the sense of satisfaction. The important part is that we are committed to continuing our same debt payment amount per month, whether it's going to 5 loans or one remaining loan, until everything* is paid off.

I feel good about that choice. I yearn for the days when we're not so encumbered by debt, and our choices won't be so heavily influenced by the ultimate question, "Can we afford it?" And to have everything paid off by 2013—no more car loans, education loans, or home equity loan by the time Eleanor is 5—would be pretty amazing.

Except that, today, that still feels too far off. Debt accumulates in the blink of an eye, and takes sooooo long to pay off! It feels like we're making sacrifices on a daily basis, but the debt glacier doesn't ever move. Even paying off the one loan isn't enough to convince me that this is actually feasible. That it will all be worth it, and one day we will be (nearly) debt free. I guess I'm really afraid that we'll spend all of this time watching our budget, having no disposable income, and then something else will come up and the situation will never change. I know, I know .... if we've already paid old loans off by the time something new comes up, we technically will be better off. But I can assure you, it won't feel that way.

Am I making any sense, or just sounding whiny? A part of me realizes that we're doing fine, and we are lucky that we're both employed and able to pay our debts and living expenses at all. But the majority of me seems to believe that everyone else has more money than us, lives better, and drinks Starbucks all the time.

*Except our primary home mortgage loan. Because that doesn't count, right?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Geeky processed meat?

I've started my Christmas shopping by browsing around Etsy. So many cute things! Having the wonderful family and friends that I do, I went ahead and clicked on the "Geekery" category, figuring that would be the best place to start.

All the video games, chemistry (hey Josh!;) and anime items in that category, I get. Dr. Who? Yes.

But bacon?!? How is bacon geeky? How is it anything other than bacon?

And how are there so many handmade bacon items? Lamps, scarves, magnets, earrings ... so many ways to wear and display your bacon.

One of my favorites was the magnet pictured above, which is a combo of bacon-loving and public restroom hand dryers. Don't be surprised if you find this in your stocking this year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I'm sitting at a coffee shop on a bright, sunny morning. Usually I teach on Thursday mornings, but it's a holiday due to Veteran's Day. I still had the child carer come for her usual 3 hours, but instead of getting up and out the door by 7:30a, we bumped back the time to 9.30a. I walked to the local coffee shop to sit and grade papers instead of driving to campus and teaching class.

I've been very low energy lately, so I'm happy to have a day off to catch up on grading and, well, to not be "on." To not have to present ideas to a class and present them with enough energy and interest to get the class interested as well.

So of course, with less than an hour of my time left, I haven't even cracked open the grade book. I've caught up on emails and blogging, chatted with another professor who's sitting a table away, and generally just enjoyed not being on campus.

While sitting here not working, I saw a grandmother and two young girls trying to enter the coffee shop. The grandmother was pushing the baby in a stroller, and a toddler was trying to open the door for all of them. However, she kept pushing against the pull door with all of her might and wasn't getting very far.

An older black gentleman with black glasses and salt and pepper dreadlocks was sitting with his computer at a small table right by the door. As soon as he realized the situation, he got up and opened the door so the family could enter. He exchanged a brief, warm smile with the grateful grandmother.

So many times, I feel like I complain about being in public and seeing all of the stupid, insensitive things people do. Being "off" for a day is helping to recharge my batteries, but I also think that witnessing random acts of kindness goes a long way towards recharging my soul, too.

Storing in the Cloud

Right so, as a follow-up to my earlier post about our external hard drive dying: It died. We were in the process of pulling off all our files when it kicked the bucket.

The good news is that we got all of the pictures (of Eleanor's entire LIFE) from the hard drive and a lot of the music. We did lose some other random files, but not many. We're not really sure what's gone, but our consensus is that it's not anything we're really going to miss.

Moving forward, Keith bought another (different brand!) external hard drive, but with 1 terabyte of memory, which is just insane. But the big difference is that we also signed up for online back up through Mozy. I think we both feel a lot better having a separate copy of our digital lives stored somewhere physically distant from here....just in case.

Or at least, we will once it's a reality. Currently everything is being slowly uploaded from the hard drive to Mozy. Keith has assured me that it will take literally 20 days of pretty much nonstop uploading to finish. So we will feel relieved, in about 18 days.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Antithesis of NaBloPoMo

Yes, I am pretty much the opposite of the people participating in NaBloPoMo, who promised to post a blog entry every day for all of November. Nearly November 11 and my first post.

I always get nervous, the first post after a short (or long) hiatus. What do I have to say that makes it worth hanging around? Surely I've been doing something in my time of silence, right?

We're getting to the novels in my classes. I'm teaching The Things They Carried in two classes and Frankenstein in the other one. It's exciting to teach novels that I've taught before, which might sound like the antithesis of exciting, but not to me! I've already read the books multiple times, I have summaries and discussion questions and essay questions prepared.

I'm really learning to like the 2nd or 3rd time teaching a subject. I feel like the classes are so much more mine, more engaging, deeper. I can only imagine what the 4th or 5th time would be like, and I can't imagine the 10th or 20th!

Hey, maybe this relates to the start of this post, after all. Maybe it will get easier, the first post after a hiatus, with practice? Or is it more like the first day of class, that I think will always be exciting and nerve-wracking?