Thursday, May 31, 2012

May goals progress

It's that time again, the end of the month, when I post my progress on the goals I set way back in January as well as the new one I set in March.

  1. Once again, I didn't work on my novel. But I did print the current draft and I'm ready to tackle it again.
  2. I didn't work on my script either. 
  3. I got back into reading! I have read 15 out of my 40 book goal. It's a good thing I was ahead at the beginning of the year, because I'm now 1 book behind on pace, but it's only 1. After the reading hiatus I took in April, that's not too bad.
  4. May was a busy month for us at the IU Cinema. We spent 2 nights there, May 1st and 2nd, seeing the student productions and the Made In Bloomington series that I helped program. 
  5. I am happy to report that I took the boys to McCormick's Creek today (yep, just squeezing it in this month) for a hike around the falls/trail 3 area. They really like that area and asked to go there. We had a great time, and the weather was perfect.
  6. I am consistently running 1 mile now. There have been a few times when I haven't made that, but nearly every run this month was at least 1 mile. I plan to run every morning (Monday through Friday, at least) that is possible. I just started that this week, since the boys are now out of school, forcing me to get up early and run. That isn't a bad thing, since it's getting hot early now. Of course, I set that schedule and didn't run Monday (we had to get up early to get to a Memorial Day service) or Tuesday (it was raining) or Wednesday (I had an 8:15 a.m. dental appointment). But I did get up and run today. 
All in all, not a bad month. No progress on 2 goals, but something to report on the other 4. Let's hope June is even better.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

YA is the PG-13 of novels

Last night I had an interesting conversation with a writer named Shirley. We had attended a screenwriting panel and are both aspiring writers.

Shirley is adapting a script she had written, turning it into a novel. She has tried to shop it around as an adult novel, but didn't have any takers. She wondered if maybe it was more of a young adult novel.

The idea of it being a YA novel had been suggested to her before. I mentioned that the novel I am writing was a YA fantasy novel, and mentioned that I thought her themes sounded like a good fit for a teen audience.

I haven't read her novel, but the idea had occurred to me from her description. She's now mulling that idea.

All this is to set the stage for something I was thinking about as I wandered the grocery store at 10:00 last night:

Movies often aim for a PG-13 rating to increase their possible audience. R ratings by definition exclude the under 18 set. PG-13 is seen as still interesting to adults, unlike PG or G, which are "for kids".

At the book store, there is a similar sorting. The children's section is like G and PG movies. The YA section is like a PG-13 movie. The rest of the store is adult by default.

Now, just because a book isn't in the YA section doesn't mean a teen can't read it, so in that way the sections aren't exactly like movie ratings. But consider the number of adults who read books from the YA section (The Hunger Games, Twilight). There are many books I have read that I was surprised to find in YA - The Art of Racing in the Rain, for example.

There are the examples of children's books that get read by adults as well (Harry Potter), just as there are G and PG movies that adults enjoy. But that YA section is pretty popular just as PG-13 movies are pretty popular.

Writing something that is appropriate for and appeals to young and old can certainly expand your audience. And even if it doesn't, if it only appeals to younger readers, isn't it better to have your story out there, being read, than to have it collect dust in a drawer?

Now I just need to finish my novel so it can find those readers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How may I pay thee

Today we received a letter from City of Bloomington Utilities, where we get our water. They are changing their billing system.

Great. I've been waiting for paperless statements... Oh, that part isn't ready yet. (But it's coming. Sometime.)

Hmmm.... They are adding the option to use a credit or debit card for one-time online payments. Wonderful! I love having choices. Except that online payments to bank accounts won't be accepted, except through Aqua Pay, their automatic payment option. So really, they aren't adding options, just exchanging them. 

Now, for us, these changes aren't a big deal. So I have to use the debit card number rather than our account number. Or I could sign up for Aqua Pay, because we always have money in our account when the bill comes. But I did note on Twitter: 

So now we can pay our water bill online via credit/debit card but can't via bank account (ACH)? That's not improving, just changing.

Which started a discussion about the unbanked, the minimally banked, and people for whom this is a big deal. Because this could be for some people. And water is not a luxury. It's not like someone who has a problem with the payment options can go somewhere else for their water.

If you are able to pay your bills, if you have a checking account with debit card, and credit cards, you may be asking why this is a big deal. 

First, my experience: I used to work in a credit union. I processed electronic payments, which included credit and debit cards, ATM transactions, Automated Clearing House (ACH*) transactions, and, yes, check clearings. Because checks clear electronically these days. 

It was a fairly small credit union, with about 20 employees. The CFO was my immediate supervisor; I processed payments for the collections side (a 1-person department); the accountant was my backup if I was sick or on vacation. Yep, back office was a whole 3-person department. Which meant I handled my fair share of account closings, as the person responsible for clearing or bouncing checks. 

The lending and member services departments were responsible for credit checks, opening accounts, determining if someone could have a credit or debit card. But I was responsible for letting them know if accounts were regularly overdrawn.

Now, this is probably getting tedious, but I want to show a little bit of what happens behind the scenes at your credit union or bank. Because not everyone has plastic. Not everyone has a checking account.

When I tweeted about the changes, it was more just a gripe that they were advertising this as an improvement, which it may end up being, but were not actually increasing the options. And then I got responses. So let me answer some of those responses in more than 140 characters. 

1) Aqua Pay: It's wonderful that Aqua Pay is an option. But consider someone who might not have a credit or debit card. Someone who might barely make ends meet. Having a payment debited from your account automatically isn't always an option - because maybe the money won't be there until the day after, and the return payment fee sure takes a chunk out of that already overdrawn account.

2) Doesn't everyone have a bank account? Actually no. There are actually quite a few people who don't. One reason can be the fees that banks increasingly charge for low balances. If you don't have much money, it's awfully hard to maintain a minimum balance. There are many people who have a poor history. Have you ever seen a notice at a store that checking accounts are verified? Just like the credit bureaus collect information on credit histories, there are companies that collect information on bounced checks (yep, problem accounts get reported). Try opening a checking account if you've had one closed for too many bounced checks. If a bank or credit union does open an account, they probably will require a secured account (which means you need to have extra money to leave in savings to back up your account).

3) Everyone has a credit or debit card! Once again, not everyone does. Many, many people get denied due to poor credit history. Have you paid attention to the news lately? Consider all the people out of work, deeply in debt, declaring bankruptcy. Even if you have a bank account, you may not have a debit card because that increases the risk of being overdrawn. (This doesn't even take into consideration the questionable idea of paying your bills with a credit card, thus increasing your debt.)

4) But you can still mail your check. Ok, yes, you can. You can spend 45 cents on a stamp and mail it in. You can also find time, during business hours, when you are probably working, to take it to the office. Are you working hard, trying to make ends meet? I suppose the price of a stamp isn't too high. It just wasn't something you had to budget for back when you could do an ACH payment from your bank account.

Here's the kicker: the people making these decisions don't have to worry about how to make a payment, so it often doesn't occur to them that there are people for whom this could cause problems. Just like me, the people making the decisions can just shrug and figure they will pay another way. They don't have to think about how they will do it. They don't have to worry about late payments. Sadly, it's all too easy to see the letter through the lens of middle class privilege.

*ACH, or Automated Clearing House, is how payments are made electronically directly to your bank account. Any time you enter your bank account information for a bill to be paid, it most likely is being sent via ACH. Sometimes you may even see a check you have written converted to ACH during processing. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Vegetables galore

We picked up our first box of vegetables from the CSA today. We bought a half share from Stranger's Hill Organics, which we will pick up each week through October. (There were still shares available a week ago, so call them if you want to try a local CSA.)

Our box
I love the idea of a CSA - what could be better than farm fresh, locally grown vegetables, in season? And these are organic, too.

Ooh! What did we get?
In practice, it will be interesting to see how this works. We're pretty set in the few vegetables we usually eat. I'm more adventurous than Chris and even I am not sure what to do with beets and radishes, which we received this week, or some of the other vegetables we will receive throughout the season.



Sage and oregano



Looks like lots of salads right now. And I can dry the herbs. Sam loves carrots, so he was thrilled to see those, even telling Ben, the CSA coordinator, how much he likes them. 

So let the experiment begin! Anyone have any idea what to do with beets?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April goals progress

I'm a little late with this post, but that just reflects what April was like for me. I think my brain needed a break and there was a lot going on, so I failed on a lot of goals for the month.

  1. I didn't work on my novel. At all.
  2. I intended to do Script Frenzy, but only added about 1 page. I just wasn't feeling inspired to write.
  3. I didn't finish a single book all month. I slacked off reading. I even skipped book club since I hadn't read the book. Although I started reading Street Gang toward the end of the month and have been enjoying it.
  4. We didn't see a single show at the IU Cinema. We have more than made up for that this week, with 2 shows last night (3D Student Showcase and Made in Bloomington program 1) and 2 more (Student Showcase program 1 and Made in Bloomington program 2) tonight. 
  5. No state park in April. Yep, we really slacked off.
  6. Now this is the only goal that I made progress on. After a month of plateauing around .75 miles, I blew past that to 1.15 miles on 4/29. My breathing has been getting easier each time, so I know I've been getting better. But my shins have been the limiting factor. I used to frequently get shin splints in high school, so when my shins start hurting, I stop running. Then Sunday happened. And I hit my usual limit and felt fine. I reached our house and felt fine so I kept going. And jogged another block before my legs hurt. 
I hope taking the month off has reset me. I really want to report progress at the end of May.