Sunday, January 27, 2013

$1705.55

That's how much I saved in coupons in 2012.

I have posted about this before -- I have some pretty strict rules for how I calculate coupon savings.  I count Costco coupons, because I have to bring them; I count my Target Red Card because I have to choose to use it versus another payment; I don't count sales or BOGO specials or "instant coupons," because I didn't have to do anything to get those prices.  So, this total is just for stuff I was buying anyway, at places I would shop anyway.  (I do try to wait to align sales to coupons, so that my savings is greater, but this dollar amount is just a straight total and not a percentage.)

I'm pretty pleased with that total.  Considering that we don't buy stuff just for the sake of using a coupon, and throwing in the fact that for the last five months of the year we were here in Maine, where stores don't double coupons and don't typically align sales to coupons (so it's harder to save big), I think we did alright!  My goal every year is to try to hit the $100/month average, and we blew that out of the water.  (We also saved almost $500 more than we saved in 2011, and we had a significantly reduced income in 2012 compared to 2011 -- and thus, significantly reduced spending in 2012.  So it's a double bonus, really, to have done so well. I'm actually really happy!)

Now, on to 2013.  Savings so far: $45.63, with a week left in the month.  I sure won't get to the $100 mark this month! 

--Jen

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Still there? Me, too.

I'm here, I'm here!

And sure, we've been busy in these here parts, but you've been busy, too.

Besides, my little absence has almost nothing to do with being busy.  I actually took my little hiatus because, truth be told, I've been kind-of down in the dumps and didn't want to be all doom and gloom on you guys.  I sent an email to a blogger friend last week -- a simple email, answering four questions -- and when I re-read it, I was mortified about how glum I sounded.

I'm not glum. I promise.  At least, right now, this minute, and all of today and most of yesterday, I have not been glum.

Just fighting the usual fights, but I've been taking the minor setbacks a little harder than usual, letting little things make me feel more discouraged than encouraged -- instead of finding my "fight," I've been saying "it figures."  It was a toxic combination of angry with the world and pity party, with a few genuine really crummy things thrown into the mix to keep it honest.  I hate when I get that way, and I didn't see any reason in taking my little bout with "the miserables" online to torture you.

But don't worry -- I have plenty to say.  It's midterms week here, and I've found myself with oh-so-much stuff to write about, plus all the catching up from Thanksgiving and Christmas and cooking!   (I wish I could blog from work, and technically I could, but Blogger doesn't work quite right from my work computer and that scares me.)

(While I'm on the subject, ever since I got my new phone and had to install the new version of the Google Reader app, I don't get alerts whenever any of my blogger friends post, and half of the blogs I read won't even show in my reading/subscriptions list ... I am waaaaay behind on my blog readings and can't for the life of me figure out how to fix it.  So I am waiting, impatiently, for Google Reader to fix whatever the heck is up!  In the meantime, if you're a blogger friend, I HAVE been reading ... but not always timely, and not always able to comment because it's often from work.  Shhhhh!)

Back to the blog at hand, though -- 

We have a slammed-packed-crazy-busy weekend planned, so I won't make a promise I can't keep about posting this weekend.  I do promise to be back on the stick, the horse, the wagon next week.

In the meantime, I'm going to go dream about tropical weather.   It's dang COLD here!

Still love me? 

--Jen

Monday, January 14, 2013

Imagination

CAM got a mini slinky for Christmas.  She presently has it wedged behind her jammie shorts, half of it hanging out and bouncing everywhere as she runs around.  It's her tail.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

PW Catch-Up Post

When I was having trouble posting photos to Blogger, I took a hiatus from posting my recipe results.  Now the photo issue seems to have resolved itself, but I don't have it in me to sit at the computer all night.

So, please accept my apologies for doing this in a combination post, but I wanted to at least make an effort.  And now that I think about it, there will be a few other stand-alone posts coming your way.  But since these go way back (and I foolishly didn't write them as I cooked -- what a dummy!), I don't necessarily remember all the details and I'm not sure these recipes warrant their own posts anymore.

PW Pineapple-Upside Down Cake

Verdict: Oh my goodness!
Cook it again: Yes, but only for a crowd.
Cost Factor: Canned pineapple and maraschino cherries were the only non-pantry items.  $8?


I'd never made one of these before and was a little nervous.  Not because of the difficulty of the recipe, but because I wasn't sure I'd care for it.  Pineapple upside-down cake?  Clueless.  Strange, I know... there are weird pockets of things I've never tried that make people look at me funny. 

It bakes right in a cast iron skillet, and other than the nice burn I got on my arm from accidentally leaning into the skillet when Mick and I tried to flip the cake out of the pan and onto a platter, this recipe was fantastic.  And how cool is it to cook a cake in a skillet?!  It's always fun when you get to do that, right?!  PW says it's best to eat it warm, and boy-oh-boy was she right.  It makes an ENORMOUS amount of cake, though -- best to bake it for a crowd, if you are able to.  For our little family of four, with Mick not super into cakes, we ended up throwing away a lot.  (And it didn't reheat nearly well enough -- it tasted best right out of the oven!)  We used to have home-cooked dinners with Caitlin's godparents a good bit when we were in Georgia, and this recipe would have been the perfect cake for those nights -- you can prep it while you're having cocktails with your guests (it's that easy), and throw it in the oven while you eat dinner.  Then it will be hot and ready just in time for a fresh, delicious dessert.  In fact, even though I have no idea if any of us in that group would have necessarily loved or hated pineapple, this recipe made me especially miss those nights.


PW: Pumpkin Cream Pie

Verdict:  People liked it.  CAM looooooved it.  I didn't try it.

Cook it again:  Probably ... for a big enough crowd where there's a demand.  It was easy enough and a nice change from regular pumpkin pie.
Cost factor:  I have no idea!

Prior to this Thanksgiving endeavor, I'd never made a graham-cracker crust before.  Holy moly are graham crackers expensive!  I don't know what's in grahams, but I need to invest in some stock.  But the crust?  Oh, my goodness... it was two things in equal proportions: ridiculously easy and ridiculously delicious.  I could have stood at the counter and eaten the crust all alone.



(I didn't.)

(Maybe a little.)

As you know, I can't stand pumpkin -- or anything in the squash family, for that matter.  That made this recipe torturous, because it involves pudding and oh!  I soooo wanted to like it when I dipped my finger to taste it ... I mean, it's pudding!  It must be good!  But I didn't like it.  (Point of fact: I liked it when it was just vanilla pudding and nutmeg and whatever else, but once I added the pumpkin, my heart broke a little.)  I just don't like the taste of pumpkin, and although I'd hoped the texture aspect would be overcome by this "cream" cake (more like a cheesecake, really) -- it didn't happen.

The filling on the stove.  Oh, how desperately I wanted to like it!
CAM, on the other hand, LOVED this pie.  I have never seen her enjoy anything more.  That sounds silly, but it's true.  She asked for the pie for every meal, and this pie over all others.  She absolutely, positively, could not get enough.  With the exception of the few slices everyone had Thanksgiving night (that would be four, we had plenty of pies), CAM single-handedly ate this entire pie.

[Pretend I have a photo of the actual finished product here.  I kinda forgot to take one ... you know, with it being Thanksgiving and all!] 

Anyway.  About the recipe.  You make the crust.  You press it down.  You call your husband to help because your pie dish is a little smaller than the amount of crumbs you have, and you need his superman strength to help compress it.  You make some concoction with pudding and other stuff and canned pumpkin, and you pour it all in the pie dish.  It sets up similarly to a no-bake cheesecake, and you serve it the next day after your fabulous Thanksgiving dinner.

Everyone likes it, but your daughter really loves it.

The end.




PW: Red Velvet Cake

Verdict: Not bad!
Cook it Again:  Definitely
Cost Factor: Pantry items, plus red food coloring (which is also a pantry item in my house, but I always replace it when I use it, so I count it here).

Our cooking club wasn't clear about whether to use PW's layer cake recipe or the recipe on the blog, which is for a sheet cake.  I compared them, and they were identical -- with the exception that the recipe online called for more red food coloring -- but the recipe online also called for a non-cream-cheese "best frosting you'll ever have," and although that was hardly the point of the recipe, I was intrigued.  (I've got a buttercream down pat, and a cream cheese frosting down pat, and I already have a pretty decent recipe for a red velvet layer cake that, when I don't over bake it and dry it out, is delicious.)  Plus, I was hoping to make this to bring to our extended-family Christmas party and it was easier to do that in sheet cake form.  The combination of the ease of the sheet cake and the claim to be the "best" icing meant the blog recipe won.

If you look carefully, there are little butter flecks in the frosting.  That's because my butter wasn't soft enough and I was impatient when I was mixing it.  It did not affect the taste, but if I'd been more on the ball, it would have looked a little prettier, for sure.

This recipe -- like every red velvet recipe I've seen -- calls for mixing the red and the cocoa separately from the rest of the batter and then mixing it in.  I need to call Alton Brown and ask why red velvet cakes are that way.  (Also, Alton, if you're reading: what's the purpose of the vinegar that's also in so many recipes?)  But it was easy, and just the right balance of sweet versus chocolate.  (If that makes sense?  Hopefully so.)  And although one person said she thought it was a little bland, others raved, and no one complained.  It was a hit, no doubt.  I really liked the frosting, too -- a nice change of pace and apparently, from the countless comments I've since read online, the original way red velvet cake was iced back in the 60s.  Red velvet's having a second heyday now with the cream cheese frosting, but this other recipe was wonderfully sweet and simple, and just a tiny bit off from the expected, because you could taste the fact that it's made with butter.

This recipe was a success, but I'm probably lame-o because I was a bit turned off by its need for a cup of shortening.  Call me old fashioned, but I'd rather use butter than Crisco.  I know, I know ... and from everything I read, red velvet really came to be in the 1960s when Crisco was the rage.  So I have to wonder what would change, or how I could modify this, to get rid of at least some of the Crisco required. On the other hand, I have no idea if it really matters.  It wasn't as if the cake tasted terrible, not by a long shot!  The cake was great!

And check out how pretty:

I cut up a cardboard box, made two layers for strength, and wrapped it in foil.  I didn't have to worry about the cake sliding, and I didn't have any dishes to bring back home!

I did learn, though, that the original red velvet cakes got their "red" from beets or other natural colorings.  Independent of the fact that I like this recipe and will likely make it again, I think I'm also one day going to try a more natural version.  Not because I'm a health nut (I had bbq potato chips for breakfast, my friends), but because that kind of stuff fascinates me.  I love learning more of the science of cooking -- what the color is like, what the flavor is like, how I have to make other accommodations, all that stuff.  Besides, if we're going all "as it was originally" with the frosting, may as well go all in -- at least once.  :)

--Jen







Pioneer Woman: Italian Chicken Soup

PW: Italian Chicken Soup*

*Not Italian Wedding Soup. Clear your mind. Because if you are craving Italian wedding soup, you will not appreciate this quite as much.  Just sayin’.


PW Italian Chicken Soup

Verdict:  Yummy!  It makes a lot, but for a family with kids older than 3 and 5, not an overwhelming amount.  And the leftovers are even better.

Cook it Again:  Yes, but for our family, we’ll halve it.

Cost Factor:  $10ish?  Maybe closer to $15, depending on the price of chicken and tomatoes.



This was another recipe I couldn’t post about when I was having the photo issue.  Since I knew that was going on, I also neglected to take many photos.  I apologize.

The ONLY thing I can say bad about it is that I had it in my head that it would resemble an Italian wedding soup, and it didn’t – and that threw me at first.  Truth is, I still can’t tell WHY mine doesn’t look like the photos, but based on the ingredients it never would have tasted like IWS.  (Also, I have no idea, other than the use of ditalini and tomatoes, what makes this particularly Italian, per se.)


So … boil up some chicken.  The recipe calls for a whole fryer chicken cut up.  I went to our (dwindling, sadly!) freezer stash of bone-in split chicken breasts and boiled them instead … it was easier for me than pulling chicken from thighs, drumsticks, and so forth.


The one moderately negative thing about this recipe is that it is pot-heavy.  I use heavy pots, so for me it was heavy-pot-heavy.  Hah!  (No, really.  Not very funny.  Very labor intensive. Which was nice, because while I was cooking and cleaning, I was working out.  Smaht, huh?!)  Seriously, if that’s the worst of it, you know it was a nice meal.  But I really did think about taking a snapshot of my stove while the soup was cooking, because it was so ... impressive (as long as you didn't know it was all one giant effort for soup)!

In any event, while the chicken is boiling you need to cook up some ditalini.  I left mine al dente, knowing it would simmer again in the soup.  PW mentions in her blog that she doesn’t like to let the macaroni cook entirely in the soup, because she fears it makes it overly starchy. For my money, I’m not sure it mattered, but it was certainly fine to do it this way.

You also need to chop and cook one onion, two bell peppers, two jalapenos, and two celery stalks. They get saut├ęd in olive oil. And in addition to that, you need to separately quickly wilt some oregano in oil.  Fresh or dry doesn’t matter, but that's another pan there, kids.

Once you have the chicken ready, PW says to use 8 cups of low-sodium broth; I just took 8 cups of the broth I had just created by boiling the chicken.  Then I added the chicken back in, the veggies, and chopped tomatoes from a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes.  (You have to chop them but preserve their juice.)


I'm not getting into too many details here because I didn't take as many photos as I should have... but the short version is that you cook this, add two cups of heavy cream, and there’s your soup.  

Here’s where I don’t understand what happened.  I did not make any alterations to the recipe, but my soup was substantially more tomato-y than the photos in the cookbook AND the photos of other cooking members.


My soup.  Actually here it looks even creamier than it really was.

PW's soup.  I stole this from: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/09/italian-chicken-soup/  Point is, hers looks broth-ier.  But maybe it's the blue bowl??

So, let’s get to the point.  In the end, this is a chicken-noodle soup that adds tomatoes and cream.  It’s a nice hybrid – not a tomato cream soup, but a soup with tomatoes and cream.  I also appreciated it because it really got to the heart of what the cooking club was about, at least for me -- I learned something.  It never would have occurred to me to put cream in a broth-based soup. I know that sounds ridiculous -- I've made my share of chowders, after all -- but it's true.  This was a nice way to stumble upon the very pleasant result when you do mix the two. 

I’d recommend it, both for cooking and for eating.  It’s hearty, but not a minestrone; it’s flavorful, but there’s still room for calling out one or two flavors over the others – kick up the jalapeno, kick up the salt/pepper, kick up the broth with some bouillon … whatever you like.  It’s easy to cook, and there are ways to make it even easier.  I came home from work and started prepping and cooking around 3, and we ate at 5:30.  Now, this kind-of is a long time -- but that took into account all of the prep and all the cooking, and I didn’t think it was unreasonable for a soup.  The nice thing is that if you want to make this but don't want to spend that much time on a weeknight, there’s a lot of advanced prep work you can do to make this the kind of recipe where you dump everything in a stock pot and let it simmer for 45 minutes while you're doing other stuff.

I’ll make this again.  It’s not the best soup I ever made or had, but it’s tasty and worth making, and I think now I have a few ideas on how I'll tweak the recipe for whatever audience I might have. 
--Jen

Monday, January 7, 2013

Photo Montage Catching Up...

Crossing my fingers that this works!

I'm not going all the way back to Thanksgiving -- I'll give that its own post as soon as I can carve out the time. Bwah hah hah.  Carve!  Get it?!

Let's start with ...

WHM's Christmas show.  The few weeks leading up to Christmas were actually very busy in our household, and Mick was on the road a good bit.  I suppose it worked out well that I couldn't post photos, because that kept me quiet -- but I wouldn't have posted that he was out of town, anyway.

In order to help out with the logistics of getting WHM to and from school while Mick was gone and CAM and I were at our own schools, my dad came into town.  Lucky Grandpa, he got to see WHM's Christmas show!

I can't post the photo here because his shirt had his name on it back then, but a year ago WHM stood on the stage with his classmates and alternately froze and then sobbed -- sobbed to the point where we had to take him off the stage.

Check out how much of a difference a year makes:

Not only does he march in without a blink,


But he gives us a thumbs-up ...


... participates in all the actions [oops -- missing photo!], and is all smiles with Grandpa at the end.


Then CAM had a ballet recital.  Of course, you can't take photos during the actual recital because they record it for you (for a fee), but we could snap all we wanted at the dress rehearsal.  Here are some of my favorites.  

notice the hair accessory hanging from the back of her gown.  Never saw it 'til it was too late.  Oops!

backstage at the actual recital -- hence the make-up. And you'll notice that this time, the hair accessory is in her hair.

We finally (finally!) got our tree decorated December 20th or so, once both Mick and WHM were back home ...

It was a strangely-shaped tree, but it was decorated with a gazillion ornaments the kids made.  Awesome.
... and then it was Christmas!


To make a pretty perfect day even better, it snowed.  A lot.  And it was awesome.

This is with only a few inches.  It snowed nearly a foot, though by the end of the day on the 26th!

--Jen

PW: French Onion Soup

In the spirit of catching up on my posts ... and hoping that these photos will work this time ...

A Tutorial:  How to Make French Onion Soup Completely NOT according to the Recipe

Verdict: Decent.  Not the best ever, but some of that’s my fault.
Cook it again: Tough call.  On the one hand, I want to try to redeem myself, but on the other hand, I have since discovered another recipe I like better.  So, maybe.
Cost Factor: Gruyere and French bread are the only two things not always already in the house, so not bad. The next biggest expenses are onions and broth.
 
First of all, I love French Onion Soup. And then, B, I own an inordinate amount of ramekins.  And yet, I’ve never made French Onion Soup (well, other than pouring Lipton mix into a tub of sour cream, if that counts)*, because I always thought it would be too much work. 

Not quite true … but I did manage to make this recipe more complicated than necessary.  Here’s how to repeat my stellar performance:
 
First of all, when the recipe calls for chopping six onions, try to buy a particularly potent batch. Make sure that these particular onions make you cry so hard, and make your nose run so much, and make it so that all told, you have such trouble breathing from the stinkin’ onions that when your mom calls, she thinks something is dreadfully wrong.
 
Then, punt and chop only three small ones instead of the six the recipe calls for.  (Because you're in agony and can't bear it any longer, of course.) 
 
Next, follow the directions about cooking them on the stovetop, and pause to be pleased with yourself, and eventually put them in the oven for two hours as the recipe says.
 
Open some windows, because you’re still crying and ... oh!  the burning eyes!  The burning eyes!
 
Peek at the onions, which are supposed to be browning in a dutch oven with the lid ajar.  Refer to the PW blog and see that her pot lid is off-center by about an inch, so crack yours about half an inch.   
 
Wait 30 minutes and check on your onions.  Decide that there’s no browning happening and crack the lid a little more.  Proceed to burn the onions to charred little crisps.
 
Decide that you’re working with damn burnt onions because this recipe has a lot of steps and you’re not starting over – especially since that would mean chopping more onions. 
 
Follow the directions to add the wine, and the garlic, and the broths, praying that they "reconstitute" some of the blackened fossilized onions, and add some Worcestershire.  
 
Forget that you don’t really like the underlying taste of Worcestershire in soup and oh, what the hell, add a little extra accidentally.
 
In the meantime, butter the bread for the broiler.  Since you’ve never used a broiler before, be sure to char it within three minutes.  Call your husband and have him cut the edges off and try to salvage the bread for the ramekins because you don’t have any extra bread in the house.

 


Nevermind.

 
Ladle soup into the ramekins, and then layer with the broiled bread and cheese.  Throw them in the broiler again until the cheese bubbles, call it a meal, and eat.
 
 
It’s good.
 
Just a little too …
… Worcestershire-y.

--Jen
* -- point of fact, I've since made other recipes, which is why I say this recipe isn't my favorite.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Netiquette Lesson Plan

I teach high school math.  I am part of a team here at my school, because freshmen and sophomores are still following a sort-of hybrid of the middle school "team model" to help them be successful, and so I have teammates who teach English and Science.  (History is an elective, believe it or not, so it's not part of the team.)  On our team, one of the things we've been frustrated by is that our students don't have good manners in real life, and that translates -- as you'd imagine it would -- to poor online etiquette.


We work with a "disadvantaged" population, if you will, so although we're not in the inner city by any stretch, we are talking about kids who don't get these kinds of lessons at home, and so it makes sense that they don't get the next step.  It's a learned skill, and hey -- we're teachers!  Works out well.

In the meantime, our school system is slowly making its way to a standards-based grading system, and as part of that process we are required to give a number of rubric-based grades each year.  The rubrics are school-wide and cover topics such as critical reading, technology, problem solving and critical thinking, civic and social skills, and a few others.

Even though I teach math, I get my fair share of student emails.  Poor student emails ... with awful etiquette.  Between the rubric requirements and the teaching opportunity that landed in my lap, I thought I had a great opportunity to do some good in the world.

I culled these rules from my own experiences and opinions AND from a bunch of online resources.  If you stumble upon something that looks a little too close to something on another site, it's an honest error -- please let me know and I will rewrite.  I did this in my "downtime" during the school day and I know there are places that are not properly cited (yet).

And in the meantime, PLEASE let me know what you think. I'd love your feedback, good and bad!

--Jen
-->
TEAM WEST:
RULES and WISDOM FOR EMAIL ETIQUETTE

These rules are written as both requests for communications you send here at LHS and as advice for how to be a courteous email user in general.  You’ll email a lot in your “real life,” and proper email etiquette will make a huge difference in the types of responses you receive -- and whether you get what you are seeking!
1.        Be nice.  There’s an old Southern adage, “you catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.”  It means that you’re more likely to get what you want if you’re nice.  You’re more than likely sending an email because in some way, you want something (even if it’s just a good grade!), so be nice.

2.        Use a greeting with your recipient’s name.  Be sure to use proper salutations.  Unless you’ve already been emailing back and forth for a while on the same message, always use a greeting to start your message. (And be careful – check that you spelled the person’s name correctly!)

3.        People are busy, so be patient.  If you wait a day and still don’t have a response, send a polite inquiry.  Say something like, “I sent you a message yesterday and I’m fearing you didn’t receive it … “ and then either copy and paste your original or summarize it.  DON’T just forward an email you already sent, without including an explanation.  It comes across as angry and rude.  Of course, it’s possible that your email was just missed – so sending a courteous follow-up is important for both you and for the recipient.

4.        Be realistic about reply times.  If you send an email at 2 a.m. on a work or school night and expect a response, that’s not realistic.  There’s no harm in sending a late-night message while you’re thinking of something, but be reasonable in your expectations for a reply – and keep in mind that you may not get it before you see your teacher or boss in person. If that happens, politely ask your teacher, “did you see my email?”  Don’t be argumentative or upset.

5.        Be courteous!  Check for grammar and spelling in your email – and especially check for correct capitalizations.  Don’t use text-speak.  Never send an email in anger.


6.        But what if you ARE angry?  Send an email that says something like, “Mrs. M---, I’m upset about _____.  Is it possible for us to talk about it?  Thank you, YourName.”  You’ve conveyed that you’re upset but you haven’t gotten into the details – and so you haven’t given yourself a chance to ramp back up and get angry again.  In turn, you’ve been professional and courteous and not ended up emailing something you’d end up regretting (or given your teacher or boss a chance to take that anger as an excuse to not budge on whatever it was that upset you to begin with!)  Remember that time helps – and if you’re polite and reasonable you may find that whatever the issue was originally, your teacher or boss has also had time to think and change his or her perspective.

7.        Remember that email is not always your best choice for communicating.  The value of a face-to-face chat is HUGE … and some stuff is just better handled in person than via email.  Make an appointment (even via email!) if you must, but don’t be afraid to chat in person.  Be respectful and reasonable, though – don’t barge in when your boss or teacher is clearly busy and expect to get immediate time or a satisfactory response.  If they’re busy, ask them when would be a good time to chat.   

8.        Unless you’re emailing your friends, treat the recipient of your email like someone you’re trying to get to hire you. Would you email Human Resources and say, “im writing 2c if ull hire me. I think I’d really add 2 ur team :) ?” (I hope not!) Speak to your teacher like you’d speak to your boss. Avoid abbreviations and “emoticons,” and pay attention to the basic rules of grammar.
9.        Remember that off-time is off-time.  Yes, many people have smart phones and check their email frequently.  But that doesn’t mean they check their work email all the time, or that they are necessarily able to act on a work email when they are away from work.  More importantly, they don’t owe you an explanation as to why they could not reply to your message.  Whether it’s your boss, your potential boss, your teacher, or anyone else – if they’re going to spend their time off reading and replying to your emails, be sure to have the courtesy to say “please” and “thank you.”  And don’t be upset if you don’t get a reply until business/school hours resume.

10.    Be as concise as possible.  Your teacher or boss doesn’t need to know what you did over the weekend or all the sordid details of whatever it is that triggered your message.  Get to the point of your email as quickly as possible and leave out irrelevant details.  (It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “it’s a long story and I am happy to share the details later.”)



11.    Stick to a simple font.  Most teachers and businesses prefer papers to be in Times New Roman, size 12 font.  Your email need not be quite so specific, but you should use a standard, non-frilly font and a dark, easy-to-read font color.  (Black is best, because it’s easiest to read in any browser.)  Keep in mind that colors and special fonts don’t always translate well from email-system to email-system, so your message may end up hard to read or garbled if your message is overly stylized.  Stay away from lots of colors, heavy graphics or backgrounds, and comic-style fonts.  Remember your audience: you are trying to make a good impression, not run a lemonade stand.   (Steer clear of “comic sans”!)

12.    Read your message aloud before you hit send.  Email is notorious for “losing” tone-of-voice, and it is very easy to mistake someone’s sarcasm or attempt at humor for being angry or mean.  Re-read your messages out loud before sending them to ensure you’ve achieved the proper mood or emotion. You want to come across as respectful, professional, and friendly, not demanding, rude, and sullen.

13.    DO NOT SCREAM!  Using all caps is a major faux pas.  It is considered yelling.   

14.    Use a helpful subject line.  Don’t put “student concern,” or “important,” but instead put something like “Question about Algebra 2 Homework,” or “project questions.”  The more specific you can be, the more likely it is that someone who is quickly reading through their emails will stop at yours, read it, and answer it.  And don’t leave the subject line blank, or you may trigger a spam filter and your message may end up lost or blocked.

15.    Don’t put the entire message in the subject.  Subject lines should be short.  Think of them as a title for the email. They should never contain the entire message.  And remember, too, that many email programs will truncate the subject if it is too long – so if you want your recipient to be able to read and understand it, keep it short.

16.    Use paragraphs.  If you’ve got more than a sentence or two, use paragraphs to break up the body of your message.  Again, keeping in mind that some people check their emails from their phones, it might even be helpful to put an extra “return” between paragraphs to make the message easier to read.  Too much in one paragraph, and the recipient is likely to stop reading – or at least, to stop reading carefully.



17.    Put your message in context.  If you’re replying to a message, include at least some reference to what you’re answering.  If you can’t include the original message, include a sentence or two that refers to it and explains what your own message is about.   Even if the other person sent the original email, that doesn’t mean that when they get your reply they will necessarily remember what you’re replying to.  Help them out, and don’t make them have to track down stuff from their sent folder – because most people won’t.

18.    Don’t use reply-all.  There are so few occasions where it is appropriate, and it’s so easy to abuse it (or accidentally use it and send something you didn’t mean to send to people you didn’t mean to send it to …) When you hit “reply,” double-check that you did not hit “reply-all,” and don’t send your message until you’ve confirmed this.

19.    Be mindful of your signature file.  If you have one, make sure it’s appropriate and not overly-long.  You don’t need clip-art.  You can include a statement about something important to you, but keep in mind that political and religious statements can offend recipients, even if they never mention it to you. Keep your email professional.  And most importantly, if your signature file includes phone numbers or web addresses, make sure they are correct!

20.    Remember that your email conveys who you are. The nicer you are both inside and outside school or work, and certainly in your email communications, the more seriously teachers and employers will take you. If you prove to be professional, smart and polite, they may be more lenient when you ask for an extension on an assignment or time off from work.   It will also help you to earn good references down the road – and you never know when you may need them!

21.    Remember that once it’s written and sent, it’s forever and it could end up being public.  Don’t say something in an email that you wouldn’t want to read out loud to your mom or grandmother, or see on the front page of a newspaper.  The Internet is forever – and email messages are, in fact, subject to subpoena.  That means if you write it, it can be read and used against you.

And one last helpful hint:  if you’re sending a message you really want to be perfect – such as for a job you want -- don’t put the address in the “to” section until you’ve proofed your message. Put it as the first line in the body of the email, and then paste it in the “to” section when you’re ready.  That way you can’t accidentally send the message before you’re ready!  (And check for attachments; if you say you’re attaching something, be sure it’s there!)

Now that you’ve read the rules, here is your assignment:

1.    Go to the following Web site and read the article. 
www.gcflearnfree.org/email101/3

2.    Go to the following sites and check out the email/netiquette policies from some universities.
http://usm.maine.edu/doit/email-communication-policy
http://www.ru.ac.za/static/library/infolit/ecom.html -- click on the link for Curtin University of Technology

3.    Send Mrs. M-- an email* with at least one thing you learned from the first article, and at least two things you learned from the email policies at the universities.  Be specific and clearly explain what you learned from which site.  Be sure to follow email etiquette!  Also include a few sentences about what you learned/think of the 21 points in the reading.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it here just in case:  your work needs to be your own.  There is plenty of information on the various sites, so I do not expect to see the same few answers repeated over many student emails to me. 

Your email must be received by 2 p.m. on January 11, 2013.   You will receive three grades:
1.    A daily grade for completion according to the requirements above
2.    A rubric grade for technology
3.    A rubric grade for reading, assessed by the quality of the responses you provide to questions 1 and 2 above.

* Mrs. M's email address is
[redacted]

NOTE: If you do not have your FirstClass login information, see Mrs. M-- and she will get you a pass to guidance.



Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Obligatory Resolutions Post

I feel as though I should be making some really lighthearted, hilarious post about resolutions for 2013.

Or, failing that, I should be really serious and post a meaningful, thoughtful list of things I hope to accomplish this year; things I want to change and improve about myself and for my family; things to make this world a better place.

Meh.

I don't make New Year's resolutions, generally.  First of all, I'm back to being a teacher.  My new year came and went with Back-to-School season!  And second of all, I do make lists -- countless lists!! -- every day.  I cross-reference my lists.  My to-do list will have a "see work to-do" list, and a "grading" to-do list, a "see grocery list" list ...   Every day, I resolve to make progress on my lists.  Well, except on the days I resolve to not worry about my lists, in which case I usually just make new lists.  You know -- prettier lists all written in the same sharpie extra-fine point, all nice and ready for things to be crossed out ... when I get back in the crossing-out kind-of mood...

And I feel like in my own quiet way, I am always trying to do better.  I don't mean that to sound either flippant or trite; I really genuinely try to always do better.  Not for bragging's sake, but for being a better person's sake.  Better at work, better at home, better at staying on top of household chores, better at being a good mommy, a good wife, a good teacher, a good person ... heck, just plain old better at crossing things off my lists!

And I can't stand people who show up at church just on Easter or Christmas, so I extrapolate that and say that don't like showing up at the gym just in January.   I think that connection makes sense -- at least, it does in my head.

Anyway.  So, I have no resolutions.

Well, other than the usual, every day resolution:  to do the best I can, all the time, and to be as nice as I can be to most of the people, most of the time.

I will give up something for Lent, though.  When God's holding me accountable, that's a whole different can of worms! 

Happy New Year, everyone!  May 2013 bring us all more blessings than we deserve, and less sadness than we deserve.*  

--Jen


*it's an Irish blessing somewhere, but I think I butchered it.  Sorry. I hope you know what I mean -- may your 2013 be great!

I did it!*

*well, sort-of!

Things I did:

1.  Blog for an entire year, and have people who were perfect strangers follow me and -- dare I say it -- feel like longtime friends. 

2.  Keep a thankfulness journal for an entire year.  (101 Things, Numero-74, CHECK!)

Things I did NOT do:

1.  Figure out the stinking photos issue on said blog.  (This one, if you're wondering.)
2.  Timely finish my cooking club recipes.
3.  Post about said recipes.
4.  Blog about the list -- the ever-growing list -- of things I promised to blog about.  Mostly because it's insanely frustrating to blog without photos (and insanely boring, I imagine, to read the posts without the photos and I am trying so hard to respect you!). 

So... we'll call it a draw.

I'm getting on the stick, though, and I really, really mean it this time.  You do believe me, don't you?!

--Jen