Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Veggie February Summary

At the end of January I decided that for February I would be a vegetarian for one day a week for the month. Well, then I accidentally ended up being a full out vegetarian and it has made me very very happy. My stomach feels great, I've lost a little weight, I'm trying a lot of new foods, and I'm feeling really good about making a more ethical choice.

I spent some time looking into vegetarian nutrition, though I still don't really feel like I know what I need to eat.

Therefore, as I am going forward with this I'm bringing a new tool on board: 

Not only does this help me track my calories and take better care of myself all around, it also helps me make sure I am getting all the other things I need that I'm used to getting through meat. 

Unfortunately, today I ate way to many calories. However, I know what I did wrong and I did get enough potassium, protein and not too much sodium. But now I know, so now I can be more conscious. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The lessons in defeat

This is my fourth year coaching speech and debate and the first year that zero of my debaters qualified to states or nationals. I could blame this on a job at a new school, or a lazy batch of kids (this is for symbolism; I don't have a lazy batch of kids), or the other people I work with. But I won't. It just is what it is.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this meme, it essentially means that I have a first world problem: a problem that does not affect my physical well being and, therefore, is fairly irrelevant in the grand scheme of life. However, it still feels kinda like crap. 

First and foremost I am disappointed for my students who put work into something that they did not succeed at. But, that's life.  It will happen again and again to both them and to me and nothing actually detrimental will come of any of it. 

Knowing what to stay to students who have not succeeded at something has been the hardest part of my job for the past 4 years. I don't know why it took me so long to finally as a colleague what to say to them, but I'm glad I did. Yes, there are the trite answers about working harder next time, but there are some bigger lessons at hand too.  

1) It is okay to be disappointed. This is huge. Students and people in general need to remember that it is okay to be sad. We must let ourselves grieve for a little while, we must get through the grief, and then we must get on with our lives.

2) This is a step in the larger story of your life. Life is not about just one moment. Today you may loose, or today you might win, but these moments are only a fraction of the experiences that will take us through our personal journey. Life will balance itself out, there will be another chance at another goal before we know it, and we have to take all the pieces as part of the whole of who we are.

3) Life isn't about being fair, life is about being. This one is my favorite. This comes a lot from the Buddhist meditation I have been studying, but I feel it really helped some of my students this year. Fairness is something we should strive for because it is right, but fairness is an imperfect art and it doesn't always work out for everyone in every situation. Yes, the moments we get to stand on stage and accept a trophy are amazing, but they are not any greater then the moments when we gave our best performance (even if it didn't earn us a trophy) or the moments we got to spend with our close friends while practicing, or the moments of gratification we took in getting there. We must look for the moments where we are really alive and use them to better ourselves.

4) Don't look for ways you were cheated, look for things you did well. This one is my least favorite. Every year I have a student (and often their parents) who stares at the statistics of the outcomes and looks for ways they were cheated. They concoct bias out of a list of numbers and cheating out of a list of names and conclude that they lost because someone was out to get them. The truth is that if they had succeeded then I, or another coach at another school, would be having this exact same conversation with another student. This year I had this same situation and I was honest with the student and said exactly that. And do you know what she said in response?: "You're right." This doesn't fix the sad feelings, but it does remind someone that the same system that they would have championed if they had won also has to let someone down. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

4 lessons I have learned so far in my budgeting adventures

I have been keeping a budget since for the past 2 years. I didn't make much money then, I don't make much money now, and I have had some huge financial obstetrical in the meantime. But, I firmly believe that if it wasn't for me knowing where my money is going that I wouldn't have been able to make it this far with the little I have.

I started using the Cash Wallet System about a month ago. My self-control isn't awesome yet and I still borrow money from my grocery folder to by a Diet Coke on the way home from work when it's been a long day (which is NOT part of the system), but I have learned a lot about my finances in the past month and I have also learned a lot about what works for me.

Below are three overarching lessons I have learned that I think can apply to everyone, not just my personality:

1) Adjust as you go
Recently I wrote about a lesson I learned about my lifestyle that resulted in me having $22 left for 4 days worth of groceries. The lesson I learned was that I don't need to split my grocery money into 2 weeks to cover the pay period because I don't like to grocery shop every week. Therefore, the $22 was actually more than  I needed for the second half of the pay period because all I really needed was bananas and milk.

The lesson I learned was that I need to adjust my budget every pay period and every month as I learn new things about the way my life works as well as to adjust for changes in the expenses every month. 

2) Utilize the things I am already paying for 
I have had some pretty big but temporary bills lately that have caused me to make some serious adjustments to my budget. A month ago when I sat down and realized that I have $90 for groceries for two weeks and no money for entertainment I panicked. But then I remembered that I have a stocked pantry and freezer to help supplement my fresh groceries and that there are already things I have built into my life and my budget that I have been underutilized because I've been paying for new things. 

For example, I still have movie and restaurant gift cards from Christmas. And I have an Entertainment Book which is the best thing on earth. I pay for the gym, can go to the library for free, and can easily afford to have a friend over for dinner and feed them out of my pantry.

3) Stock up when you have the money
This also goes with #2. I have diapers as an individual column in my budget. I spent $25 a paycheck on a big box that is about 3 weeks worth of diapers and enough wipes for the same amount of time (Walmart brand diapers are awesome!). Because of this I am usually a week or 2 ahead on diapers in case I ever need that $25 for something. I also have a few grocery staples that I keep in the house: spaghetti sauce, chick peas, frozen/canned veggies, peanut butter and cereal. That way, no matter what happens I know I will be able to feed and diaper Odin and I. My savings is kinda pathetic right now because I was off work last summer and have been working on building it back up  but I do have enough money to survive for at least 2 weeks with zero income. My tax refund is going to replenish my 3 Months emergency fund that I ended up using this past year specifically because I know now what it is like to really need it.

All this taught me to stay ahead on the staples in case I need to use my reserves. This sounds like a no-brainier, but procrastinating on things like this is easy. 

4) Leave room for fun
This was the hardest for me. To give you an idea of where my budget is I want you to know that I made $14,500 last year (this includes the pathetic amount of unemployment I got) I paid $3,600 in student loans and $2,000 for daycare on top of living expenses. Needless to say we live on a tight budget. However, when I try to say I'm going to spend zero dollars on anything besides groceries, diapers, gas and bills it never happens. The honest answer is that I get tired and forget to pack my lunch, or I run out of coffee, or I am too stressed to cook or wait the 75 minutes it takes me to get get home after leaving work to wait to eat.

These things are a natural part of life, and we can't see them as weakness. 

Choosing to eat Taco Bell instead of packing your lunch 3 out of 5 days is lazy. Running out of coffee every week and substituting it with a daily $5 latte is lying to yourself. And letting your friends talk you into going out to eat when you have all the stuff to eat at him is being weak-willed. Don't mistake life with actual bad decisions.

But because life happens and we all need a break (or an espresso) sometimes, leave yourself space to be human. Even if I only budget $20 in "entertainment" for the a pay period I know that between Entertain Book coupons and wise decisions that it will be there when I just am too tired to cook or want to go have a drink with a friend on my one night off a week. Because when I don't budget it, I end up using it anyway and it messes up my whole plan.

Overall, a budget should be fluid and dynamic from month to month. You must adjust to what you learn works and doesn't work for your lifestyle just as much as you adjust to new expenses and income. 

Chick Pea Salad

This week I committed to making 3 out of the gazillion  vegetarian recipes that I have been collecting. Well, turns out I didn't have tahini and I didn't want to go back out to go to the store so instead of making Sweet Potato and Chick Pea salad I started with the recipe for Chick Pea Sandwich Filling, ignored 95% of the recipe, and came up with something delicious. 

Because it's basically a bunch of veggies with chick peas and cheese, I am simply calling this bowl of (mostly) healthy awesomeness "Chickpea Salad."

*I just used what I had on hand and didn't exactly measure any of it. Play around with what you like. 

1 16 oz can drained and rinsed chickpeas
1/2 cup cucumber
1/4 cup shredded and then sliced carrots
1 roma tomato, diced
1/4 cup almond slivers
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Low fat cole slaw dressing_ Drizzle over top. Be careful not to add too much or you will make soup rather than salad. 

Just mix all the ingredients together and enjoy. 

Make sure to taste it before you start cleaning up. Cole slaw dressing has a tendency to be too sweet. If that happens I add a little more cheese, a little more nuts, and a pinch more salt to cut the sweetness out. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekend Roundup: All around good stuff

On Personal Finance
1) The Simple Dollar shares a few thoughts on higher gas prices that are exactly what I'm working on right now: "Start developing a side business right now that can sumplement your income, but don't give into lifestyle inflation. 

On Teaching
2) This is where I want to be in 5 years. Heck, how about 3 years: Life in an Inquiry Driven, Technology Embedded, Connected Classroom. 

On Careers
3) Invest it wisely tells about how he quit his job. Actually, he tells the background, why he decided this was a good idea, and what he is going to do now. I think this is an awesome article that really takes you through his thought process and gives some great examples of things to consider when you are thinking about leaving a job. 

On Life
4) LaRae Quy describes three ways smart leaders prepare for the unknown, but I think this very much applies to everyone. 

On cooking
5) I have spent a ton of time recently collecting vegetarian recipes on my Pinterest (Mostly) Veggie Friendly board. However, some links just don't work right on Pinterest so I've also been keeping a Cooking stack on Delicious. Come check out what we will be eating in the future. 

Today's fun game: I have $22 to spend of groceries to last until Thursday

Okay, this isn't actually as bad as it sounds. Really, it is going to be a game today, not a trauma. 

I get paid on the 15th and the last day of the month. I use the cash wallet system and though I tend to fudge things a little bit it has given me a really good idea of where my money is going. Also, Odin eats two meals a day at school that I pay for in daycare not in groceries and I eat lunch at school every day for free. So, really I don't spend that much on groceries anyway since I'm just feeding the two of us. 

Also, when I got paid on the 15th and set up my envelopes and budget for this pay period I divided grocery money into week 1 and week 2, splitting it down the middle evenly, and then spent all of week 1 and half of week 2 during that first week. So today I don't really have much left at all.

But, I have a ton of groceries. Actually, the only thing I absolutely need is bananas. And I have all the ingredients to make the 3 things I committed to cooking this week. And I have a huge craving for broccoli slaw, which I don't have all the ingredients. My menu planning is on hold for right now until I can keep working on setting up a more regular routine, so I don't know exactly what we are going to eat this week but I know I have more than enough food. 

This all is telling me something very specific about my budgeting: It's time to adjust. 

It worked well splitting my gas money into 2 envelopes for the two weeks, but I don't actually full out grocery shop every week so I don't need two separate envelopes for grocery money. 

Budgeting is a continuous process of adjusting. In order for it to stay functional I need to stay flexible and this is the perfect example of how to continually tweak my plan to keep working towards something even better then my current plan.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ways I'm increasing my income

File:20dollarbill.jpgIt's no surprise that the most basic personal finance plan is to decrease expenses and increase income. 

Well, I have been looking for ways to make money while working on my own time. Obviously this is the classic "be your own boss" situation, but it's a little more than that to me.

I have a college degree and a part time job that takes up my whole life. I've been trying to get my finger in a lot of pots so I can hopefully get a full time job when one becomes available and that means I do a lot more than I get paid for. 

Therefore, I have been working on a few different things: 1) Sell all the junk I have. I read an article recently on Frugally Sustainable about how to get the most out of consignment shops. This is my goal for spring break when it comes to the 16 months worth of baby stuff I have. I also want to get rid of a lot of my books. 

2) Free lance writing work. This has come in the form of working for one of those online study guide sites. The pay isn't awesome, but it's from home and I've done a really good job of pairing up the things need to do for school with the things that they will pay me for and it is working out well.

3) Mystery shops. I haven't started this one yet, but my sister does it. She has a site where she can select the shops she does, she pays for the services (meals, small purchases, etc) upfront (some are even free, like test driving a car) and then gives the desired feedback to the companies. She gets a certain dollar amount back on the purchase (usually enough to cover herself and a guest if they eat cheap, etc) and a payment for her feedback. As a former customer service employee myself this is something I am excited about. I not only get to give my feedback but I also will get paid for doing the things I wanted to do anyway.

4) Making well-planned decisions. This is a little more complicated. I currently pay $300 a month on my gazillion dollar student loans (okay, $50K, but I was irresponsible and paid too much for a 5 year bachelors). I also just got accepted to grad school. Because I work part time right now and didn't make much at all last year most of my tuition will be covered under grants and scholarships, and when I am in school my student loans come out of repayment. Due to my meager teacher salary that extends through the summer I can not work, be in school, and actually make the same amount I am making now. This still isn't much since I am part time, but it's definitely enough to live cheap and get to spend the summer with Odin. Oh, and him not being in daycare saves me a bunch too. 

5) Finance individual large trips. I am planning a 10 day backpacking trip the beginning of August. As I said above I am planning on just taking classes and not working. Therefore, I am going to work a 2 week summer program at work to finance this trip. 

6) Keep my options open.  Though I have a job for next year, it is still a part time job. I'm not giving it up unless I get a lot better offer, because I love where I work now, but I can't possibly find that better offer if I don't look. Therefore, I applied for a graduate assistantship for the fall, have a few full time interviews in process, and am still going to apply to more schools. Constantly looking for new opportunities is a better plan than waiting for something to fall in your lap. 

What the heck are we supposed to eat now? Gluten Free AND Vegetarian?

My best friend was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease. While I'm glad she figured out what is wrong with her I am a little baffled by what on earth she and I are supposed to eat since we like to cook together.

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of recipes that come up when you search "vegetarian and gluten free". I'm particularly excited about this:

Vegetarian and Gluten-Free Felafel with Dill Yogurt

Okay, this might not be the end of the world.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What I'm giving up for Lent

Well, I'm a day late in writing but I did decided this yesterday so I wasn't a day late in starting.

I've been watching a lot of Bones lately. On an entirely unrelated note, they had an entire episode where Angela basically describes, in heartfelt and jargon-less words, the cause of the vegetarian. I already knew I had a girl crush on her before this episode, but this pretty much solidified it.


So, besides saving pigs and having the best hair on earth, Angela also decided to be celibate for 6 months as a way to connect with people in new ways.

I'm not necessary looking to connect in new ways, but I'm definitely looking to connect more with the people that already are in my life and that are already very important to me.

Therefore, for Lent, I am giving up dating. 

I know this isn't exactly in the same spirit of the Christian version of lent (that goal is to give up something we love to symbolize and better understand what Jesus did for us) but, as someone who recently gave up meat and who is starting to see those stories more as symbols then actual historical events, I feel like my own purpose for Lent is more in the spirit of love for my friends and family as opposed to love for myself. I'm pretty happy with that.