Incentivize Me

IMAG0594I did our tax return yesterday, via TurboTax online. If you haven’t used TurboTax before, it leads you, step by step, through various types of income, deductions and credits you might be eligible for. One of the items I passed by was tax credits for purchasing electric or alternative-fuel vehicles.

I have an alternative-fuel vehicle. It’s my human-powered bicycle. But it doesn’t count for credits on our tax return. Those tax credits are for people who buy relatively expensive motor vehicles.

The tax credits are supposed to encourage people to buy these vehicles. They are slowly becoming more common.   I am still not going to buy one. They are still too expensive for us. We also prefer to have a larger family vehicle, due to the number and type of activities we are involved in (including Girl Scouts), and we do not want to buy a second vehicle just for my commute and the occasional instances when we could use a second car.

There IS a program that benefits bicycle commuters, if your employer chooses to participate.  Employers who provide free or discounted transit passes for employees can deduct those expenses on their tax returns (more info here). These employers can also provide a $20 per month cash benefit for bicycle commuters, to defray the costs of bicycle commuting (and the employer then deducts that expense as well).  The League of American Bicyclists has details (if you don’t see anything, scroll down).

The other option for employers is to allow employees to purchase transit passes using pre-tax dollars, which then decreases the employee’s taxable income. This option doesn’t have a bicycle component.

My employer does not participate in either option, but hey, it’s a public school district. There’s no tax benefit to them. They already give us good health and retirement benefits. They could participate in the pre-tax transit option (many school districts do, including Portland Public), but honestly, in our area it’s relatively difficult to get to the schools by public transit.

So I’m out of luck for tax credits and commuter benefits. And really, there’s plenty of benefit to my bike commute anyway. I get exercise, and we save money by not owning a second car. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were more ways to encourage people to choose alternatives? The United States famously pays farmers not to grow crops.  In light of the most recent climate report, are there more ways we could pay people not to drive?


We Are People, Not Test Scores

Lots of schools in Oregon are having parent-teacher conferences right now. If you’re a parent, you may be asked to sign a form that authorizes your student to take each OAKS test twice. That’s twice for reading, twice for math, and if your child is in 5th, 8th, or high school, possibly twice for science, at 60-75 minutes per test, or 4-7 hours altogether. Possibly longer. Many kids who have the hardest time with the tests take even longer.

You don’t have to sign that form. In Oregon, the school can’t test your student a second time unless you consent. And you don’t have to consent. We didn’t.

In fact, you can opt out of the testing entirely if you want to. In Oregon, this has to be based on either disability or religious belief, and no one is going to give you a religious test. “Judge not lest ye be judged” might  be one belief, for example.

We haven’t decided whether to opt our kids out entirely. There are reasons for doing this; they may be personal (I don’t want my kid under that kind of pressure) or they can be a form of protest (see the Why Opt Out? list down past the images on this page). My initial feeling is that I don’t really mind a one and done standardized test to  show how my kid is doing, and how the kids in that particular school are doing. But I think repeated testing  just encourages an emphasis on coaching kids for the test rather than on real learning, and I think it wastes time that could be spent on real learning.

So, unless we change our minds between now and then, our kids will take the first round of OAKS tests and be done.

Mamma Mia!

Shocking news: we watched Mamma Mia!, the film version, the other night, and not only did I pay attention, I wanted to see it again!

I was entirely indifferent to the idea of watching the movie. I figured it was just a cheesy romp through some ABBA music. And I suppose you could see it that way.

I know I’m probably the last person to realize this, since the musical is over 10 years old and the movie came out in 2008, but the story is actually about the MOM. And about late-middle-aged ladies having fun and being sexy!

Yes, it was a surprise to me. I hadn’t been paying attention, because, cheesy romp through ABBA music. But it’s true. Amanda Seyfried IS adorable as Sophie, and she has a lovely voice, but it’s not her story. In fact, her story is rather weak. I didn’t really buy that she would just suddenly decide not to get married; I hadn’t gotten the impression that she was ambivalent about it at all.

As for the others – the singing was often imperfect (and Pierce Brosnan REALLY shouldn’t be allowed to sing, although he is still nice to look at and looks like he is having fun most of the time), but this almost fits the storyline. After all, it is about imperfect people who have made mistakes in the past. So imperfect singing fits.

So, WOULD WATCH AGAIN. And maybe buy it. I also have a hankering to buy a copy of Evita. Yes, the Madonna one. Yes, I like it.


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Back to Work?!

Photo 9Well, the time has finally come — I have to go to work tomorrow! It’s just the one day this week, though, for a training. And then next week I go back to my school to set up the computer lab and train teachers on how to use the new student database system and maybe some other stuff. I don’t really know yet. Our school district has so many things changing this year that they are giving the students an extra four days off so the teachers can be trained and get comfortable with new curriculum. Plus we are moving back into our classrooms after having everything in storage for summer remodeling and construction.

So I do feel some anxiety about all of this. And maybe that’s part of why I’m not sleeping well. I’ve been having trouble GETTING to sleep at night, and then people and dogs and things keep waking me up either early in the morning or in the middle of the night. Or both.

Today we went to the middle school and registered our two older kids for the school bus (new this year, because we moved) and paid their school fees (fortunately not excessive). And we got our youngest daughter’s information packet in the mail, with her class assignment. So we are getting ready to start school for them, too! The eldest is at her same middle school, our sixth grader is just starting middle school, and the youngest is starting third grade at her same elementary school. So not too much has changed for them, although their schools have been under construction this summer, too.

Did we do everything we wanted to do this summer? Of course not. But we did the big ones: our family trip and the move to the apartment. We are not quite as settled as I’d like to be before school starts, but we’re getting there. One step at a time.

Links for August 11th, 2013 through August 12th, 2013

Need some reading material? These are my recommendations for August 11th, 2013 through August 12th, 2013:

Where I Am Now

I posted a couple of weeks ago about our move to an apartment, and about selling my Xtracycle.

I’m still mourning a bit, especially when I think of an errand I could run by bike, or of things I’d like to grow.  But here’s where we are now: the balcony of our apartment, and me with my current bike, a Schwinn Avenue hybrid.

Kathleen new

And those would be planters on the left. Our youngest and I planted some seeds from her day camp, but only the fava bean plant has survived so far. I’ve got some more seeds, though, and we’re going to do some replanting. But that’s it for our garden, so far.

You can also see our pool toys on the right. Our complex has a pool, and that’s definitely an asset.

We’re still doing Girl Scouts, as you can see by my shirt. We went horseback riding yesterday, then today I dropped our eldest off at resident camp, and at the end of the month we’ll be going on a medieval-themed campout together.

I’ll still be riding that bike to work, once school starts. Actually, I had started riding it back in June, when I took the Xtracycle in for a tuneup. It’s lighter and faster, but I can’t carry much yet; I need to get a rack and/or panniers. And fenders, before it starts raining!

We have most of the boxes unpacked, but we’re still getting organized. So, life moves on.

Living in the Future: Mobile Gift Cards

A while ago, I posted links to my SwagBucks and MyPoints accounts because I was trying to earn enough points to get gift cards to use for our family vacation. I didn’t make my goals in time for that, but I did recently get enough points to order some gift cards to use for school supplies and household items. So I’ll be getting a regular plastic gift card in the mail for Staples, but for Target the only option was an e-gift card.

Now, I’ve gotten e-gift cards for Amazon before, and of course you have to use them online. You can do that with Target as well. But Target also lets you use e-gift cards in-store, via mobile phone!

What you need: a smartphone, the Target app for your smartphone, and the card number and access number for the gift card.

The Target app will ask you to enter the card number and access number to load the card on your phone. When you get to the checkout counter, open the app, go to My Gift Cards, tap the button for that card, and have the cashier scan the bar code. That’s it! Well, I suppose you could have the same problem I did – my phone completely lost its wireless connection somewhere in the store, and I had to get it to reconnect first.

This will work for both e-gift cards (sent to you via email) and for physical cards. Just add the numbers from your physical cards to your phone, and you’ll always have them with you.  You can even send and receive gift cards by phone.

I’ve been using bar codes on my phone for airline tickets, bus tickets, event tickets, and now gift cards. This is hugely convenient, and I look forward to using this method more often.


No, Target didn’t pay me or give me anything for this post. Just a happy customer.

The Times, They Are a-Changin’

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.  ~Anatole France

This is a summer of change for us. In early June, our landlord notified us that they would be changing our rental terms; if we stayed we would henceforth be paying them a larger amount of rent, which would include utilities.

Unfortunately, that amount was about 200 dollars per month more than what we had been paying for rent and utilities combined. So we had to decide whether to try to manage the new amount or move someplace more affordable.

I had the prospect of a higher-paying job, but no certainty, and I haven’t had even a cost-of-living raise in three years. Steven has been getting step raises, but that’s not enough to make up $200 per month.

So, we decided to look for a lower-cost rental, and found one. It’s a three-bedroom apartment, just about a mile from where we lived before, and within the same school district. Everyone goes to their same schools in the fall. And my two (TWO!) middle-schoolers will get to ride the bus now, because we moved further away from the middle school (this is good, because before they had to walk over a mile).

But we’ve moved from a decent-sized triplex unit (about 1700 square feet) to a smaller, second-floor apartment (about 1100 square feet). We sold or gave away quite a lot, including some furniture, a piano and…my Xtracycle. But we’re still struggling to make everything fit.

And it’s just hard on everyone to leave our home. We’d been there for eight years. We moved in just before our youngest was born, so she had never lived anywhere else until now. She cries about having left. She’s not the only one.

But, here we are. And it IS a good apartment, and the complex seems well-managed. There is a pool. We are all together. We have enough money set aside for next month’s rent. The girls are still going to their camps, thanks to cookie sales and scholarships.

And we still took our family road trip that we had planned for June. We had reserved a rental car on Priceline back in April, which is GREAT for getting a lower price, but also means you can’t cancel and get any kind of refund. So we decided to go ahead with the trip (which was important to us because we were visiting family, as well), but canceled a few things we had planned to do. And we’d already planned to camp and stay with family everywhere, so we didn’t have hotel expenses.

But still, change is hard! And I’m seeing a pattern here…I keep saying BUT and AND. Obviously I am conflicted. There are good things happening, and there are disappointing things happening.

For instance, I didn’t get the higher-paying job that I was hoping for. I’m disappointed, BUT I am going back to a decent job at a good school.

I’m sad about not having the Xtracycle any more, BUT, I am glad that I was able to get money for it, which is helping us get through the summer. AND I still have a bike to ride; a Schwinn Avenue that came from a family friend. It has no carrying capacity as yet (I need to get a rack and/or panniers), BUT it is lighter and faster and can be carried up and down stairs.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.  ~Victor Frankl

Where do we go from here? I’m still feeling some uncertainty. We are working on income for the rest of the summer, but I’m wondering about my long-term career options as well. Every time I’ve applied for a different job within my school district, I’ve been told that my application was good, that I interviewed well, but that someone else had more experience. I’ve been there for eight years, two as a special ed assistant, and six as the computer lab specialist. I’m most interested in either library or technology jobs. I’m not sure how I can get more experience, unless I try for a lower-paying library assistant job, which is not really a feasible option right now.

So I’m pondering options. Should I take some technology-related classes to increase my skills? Get a teaching credential? Get some volunteer experience? Look for jobs elsewhere? Be happy where I am?

I don’t know. I sort of have time to think about it. I don’t go back to my regular job until the end of August, and I can’t really afford to take classes as yet. So I can work on getting this apartment unpacked and organized and take time to ponder things.