Quilt One: Amy Butler Blues

In preparation for the Pants Project, I decided I would try my hand at a throw quilt and use less important fabrics. I collected a bunch of Amy Butler fabrics that had light and robin's egg blues as either the main or accent colors and cut the fat quarters into nine 5 1/2 inch squares. I have a fair bit of fabric leftover: this will be made into a throw pillow or two, and whatever's left over from that will go into Quilt Two, a quilt made of a multitude scrap fabric for my friend Toby. Only after I have completed Quilt Two will I embark on the next steps of the Pants Project.

But I digress. I had nine 5 1/2 inch squares of each pattern and just pieced them together into blocks of nine randomly. Then I pieced rows of five together, and finally pieced five rows of five into a square throw-sized quilt. I had originally planned to make it four blocks by six, but four seemed a bit too short, so I adjusted. Unfortunately, this impulsive decision led to my not having enough backing fabric, a problem I solved by hacking the remaining squares in half, sewing them into a train, and then sewing backing fabric on either side. Clever, right?

I had a LOT of trouble with the quilt sandwich (front of quilt + back of quilt + batting) and had to rip back stitches twice (well, my husband did, because stitch ripping is my least favorite activity, possibly ever). In the end, I had to get creative with the batting, because it shifted insanely during the sandwich assembly (there may or may not be overlapping pieces and some cosmetic cutting so that the finished quilt would lie flat). So far this hasn't effected either the cuteness or comfortability of the finished product.

So without further ado, here is the quilt:

Quilt front, sans ironing.

Cute detail courtesy of poor planning. Also, I really do own an iron.

Close-up of one section; you can see the patterns a bit better this way.

So what do you think? Not too shabby for a first time, eh? I think I'll go join the dogs, who have already claimed it as their own, on the couch. It's time for a movie.

Game On!

As you may recall, the first time I went to a hockey game in the Tri-Cities, I fell in love. By now Chris and I have gone to a dozen or so games, but we keep track of the team even when we're not at the games. I visit the team's website several times per week, and I regularly read a blog with awesome game commentary. Chris and I have a lot of discussions about hockey, hockey games, and the Tri City Americans, and a game is just not as good if we don't get to sit in our favorite section (which is N, if you're curious). Despite having been to so many games, the excitement never gets dampened, and in fact I think they're more fun as we understand more about what we're watching, and as we feel more connected not only to the team's progress, but to other fans, too.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what it is about this sport and team, specifically, that interests me so much, and honestly I haven't figured it out yet. It's surprising to most people who know me that even on a Monday I am SO EXCITED to go to a game on Friday, not just because I'm a homebody, a total nerd, and I normally dislike loud places, but also because I have never been a sports person. Ever. I think part of the draw is, as I said, the feeling of being connected with a community. Part of it, too, is getting to know the experience: in which period certain announcements happen, becoming familiar with the songs that play. Being able to predict or expect something and then watching it happen makes me happy.

The Tri-City Americans' Team Logo.

It should not surprise you, then, that I took this love affair with the Americans to fangirl levels and combined two of my favorite things: knitting and hockey. It took me a few tries, but I was finally able to use a South American Chullo pattern, Vanna's Choice acrylic in appropriate colors, and a graph paper chart to do my first color-stranded knitting. Behold, my handmade team gear:

Front view.

Front detail

View from the back. Those amorphous blobs are supposed to be stars, natch.

Back detail

I'm so proud. It's held up pretty well for the last three or four games I've worn it at. I may need to make another for next season, though, depending on how long these playoffs last. For a (maybe) prototype, I think it turned out pretty well though, eh?

On Marital Finances

Having been married almost eight months at this point, you'd think Chris and I would know by know how to handle our finances. The truth is, we have been trying different things for random periods of time and nothing has stuck. Part of the problem is that neither of us has any idea how other couples keep track of and plan for their money, so we are limited in our knowledge of options.

We have tried keeping two different bank accounts, which works to a point: splitting bills and other incidentals becomes difficult when due dates, pay dates, and income levels differ. We have tried sharing one bank account which, due to our exclusive use of debit cards as a payment method, gets pretty confusing (especially when one of us doesn't keep track of his spending). We have considered taking out a certain amount of cash as an allowance for each of us for the week, but have not yet taken the plunge.

And we have no experience budgeting. This, I know, will be the key to savings and to keeping better track of our money, but to be honest, I've never known where to start. While at the library last week, I picked up Personal Finance for Dummies and The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke, and placed a request for The Total Money Makeover (I'm number seventeen on the request list, so if I get to read this book before the year is out, I'll count myself lucky). The knowledge in these books will probably help, but it won't tell me everything I need to know, and it certainly won't implement anything for me.

For now, after much discussion, I believe we have formulated a plan that may well get us at least halfway to where we need to go. First, to combat the "We have no idea what we have spent, what our balance is, or what needs to clear" situation, I made a bank ledger in Google Documents (the perks of which are that it is accessible from anywhere, we both have access to it, and it's easy to use). Then I found a better one on the Google Docs Template Directory that calculates your balance for you (my ledger had to be calculated manually). We have begun using this with success. In addition, to make sure we keep track of absolutely everything, when out and about we have begun sending text messages to our email accounts with where, when, and how much we have spent for input into the ledger when we get home. It's a bit lo-fi, but as long as we're on top of it, this should work.

Second, there's the budgetary issue. The biggest barrier we've faced in creating a budget is that when we're ready to do it, we want to get it done. To get it done, we need the past month's worth (or more) of transactions and what they included, so they can be categorized. We don't save m/any receipts, so this is a problem. Enter Mint. You can plug all of your account numbers into Mint, and it pulls your statements and shows them on the Transactions page, automatically categorized (some of these need to be fine-tuned, but once you classify something, you can set future transactions to be categorized the same). From there, it does many magical and helpful things. One of the best ones, I think, is the section showing how much of your money goes into a certain category - video games or hockey tickets, for instance - and creates a typical monthly budget based on your spending history in that category. Another cool feature of Mint is that it will alert you when your bills are due for the accounts you have plugged in (we have our car loan and credit cards in the system, as well as our checking and savings accounts).

The only thing that could be better about Mint is that you can't enter anything that hasn't cleared your account. You can view your statement, and it shows you a current balance, but if you have transactions that are pending or checks that have not yet cleared, the information is not up to date. I would totally be using Mint as a bank ledger, too, if I could put in this information. Overall, just using the transactions and categories to show us where our money goes is extremely helpful, and you can change your budget in each category as you wish, too. It keeps track of each category's budget on a little barometer (though keep in mind, the barometer is about two days behind, depending on how quickly your bank clears transactions), which is pretty neat.

We still have some work to do, particularly when it comes to setting the budgets. I know that having all of our spending in one place and categorized will make this much easier, however. For the moment, I'm interested in how other couples (married or not) manage their money. What can you tell me about how you budget and keep track of your money? Does it work?