Saving some money with Ting

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Ting!Okay, this is kind of off topic and I’m sorry but I’m not. I will start by saying that I’m not affiliated with Ting in any way other than that I’m a happy customer and I’m hoping to save you some money.

6 months ago my husband and I switched from AT&T to Ting, trading in our AT&T iPhones (a 4S and 5) at Best Buy (for store credit), then buying used Sprint network iPhones (a 5 and 5S) on Glyde and Amazon (yes, buying a used phone was scary but both of them turned out to be fine).

Our AT&T bill was ~$147/mo for two iPhones, one with unlimited data and another with 2gb, including a discount I got from my employer. We had the lowest minutes plan (500), and did unlimited texts because we’re crazy texters.

If you’ve never heard of Ting, it’s a mobile service provider that allows you to pay for your voice, data and texts in brackets. You don’t choose what you’re going to use ahead of time, you just use it and pay at the end of the month. They offer coverage on CDMA (Sprint) and GSM (they can’t disclose) networks, and although their maps don’t seem as hefty as AT&T’s coverage maps, we seem to have the same coverage we had with AT&T in our city.

I was a bit worried about switching and losing my unlimited data, but using Ting’s savings calculator showed that even if we used the same amount of minutes, data and texts that we were currently using, we would save about $60 a month. They also send you updates about your usage when you pass a certain amount of usage (you decide what that threshold is).

Six months at Ting has only cost us 2.3 month’s worth of AT&T bills.

We have saved $544 in 6 months with Ting for our two iPhones. That’s almost enough to cover the two phones we bought when we switched to Ting. We have no contract with Ting, nor do we owe them anything for our phones.

That’s pretty great when you think about how getting a ‘free’ phone at AT&T locks you in for 2 years. We could buy two iPhone 6s at $649 for our Ting accounts and have them paid off in 15 months using our savings from leaving AT&T. That leaves about $810 in savings for the extra 9 months we would have been stuck with AT&T to get the free iPhone 6s.

I can’t say we haven’t changed our mobile habits, but I wouldn’t trade back for unlimited usage either. I block a lot of apps from using data, I don’t stream music on the road, and I don’t sit around idly flipping through Pinterest/Instagram/Reddit as much as I used to. We try to keep our usage below 1gb on each device and use wifi as much as possible.

It sounds a bit ridiculous, but I feel like being mindful of my data usage has also made me more mindful in general.

Even when we travel, our bill hasn’t gone past $65 for two devices. It’s nice to have control over how much we spend on our phones each month.

Here’s a snapshot of our last two bills:

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Woops, we passed their 2gb data bracket and had to pay $.015 for each mb over.

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Looks like taxes went up and we went to the next text message & minute brackets, bumping our bill up a bit.

I encourage you to check out Ting’s coverage maps, their savings calculator (plug in your monthly usage and find out how much it would cost at Ting), their rates (these are the ‘brackets’ I mentioned), and check to see if you can bring your current device with you to Ting.

Do your own calculations and see if you’ll save money like we did (you may not). Think seriously, too, about changing your mobile habits. Download your music over wifi before leaving the house, same with your podcasts, videos, etc… Sure, it’s less convenient, but I can’t think of many situations where saving money is more convenient than spending it.

Ting may not be for everyone: if you need data coverage in certain areas and they don’t have it; if you use more than 3gb of data each month it might end up costing more than your current plan; if you don’t have the money up-front for another phone, don’t want to downgrade, and your current phone can’t make the switch.

If you think Ting would be a good switch for you, use the following link to get $25 in Ting credit. You can use this towards devices on their Shop page or towards your bills. I get a bit of money too!

Sign up for Ting, get $25 in credit: https://zl9g9331o58.ting.com/

Anyone else switched to Ting recently? Still on the fence? Have an alternative? Let me know!

Knitted: Doctor Who – Inspired Hat

INSULATE! Knitted Hat
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After the train wreck that was my mug cozy, I felt like I needed to redeem myself as a knitter and I think I did, so I wanted to share this finished knitted object with you all.

I found the INSULATE! hat pattern by Amy van de Laar on Ravelry a few weeks ago when looking for something to knit with two skeins of yarn John bought for me. It’s a 2-color hat, covered in Daleks, and the pattern is free!

Luminous in the May Day colorway, by Sincere Sheep

Luminous in the May Day colorway, by Sincere Sheep

Polwarth Shimmer in the Plump colorway by Knitted Wit

Polwarth Shimmer in the Plump colorway by Knitted Wit

I wasn’t sure about knitting pink and purple Daleks, so I held off on knitting the hat, hoping to find a more appropriate use for the yarn. But the urgent need for a pick-me-up knit trumped my color concerns and I decided to cast-on earlier this week.

I loved working with these yarns. They are both 85% Polwarth wool and 15% silk. The wool makes the yarn squishy and the silk makes the yarn soft(er). They’re both hand-dyed and had slight variations in color. (And in case you’re wondering, which you’re probably not, fiber-enthusiasts care to know what kind of sheep their wool comes from, which is why it is known that this wool is from Polwarth sheep.)

Whovian in a knitted Dalek hat

Dalek hat and a Doctor Who reference on my shirt (not planned, but I have so many Whovian shirts, it was bound to happen)

Oh, how I love to knit a hat. They’re so quick to knit up and this one only had 3 ends to weave in when I was done — quick finishing FTW.

If you enjoy stranded colorwork, I’d definitely recommend this pattern. Amy (the designer) gives very clear instructions on how to knit the hat and how to knit it without needlessly wasting too much yarn. Rows with minimal color changes actually just use slipped stitches from the previous row so you don’t have to carry the other color around the back. Pretty snazzy!

In other knitting news, I started knitting a shirtie today (that’s a shirt and a hoodie). This is my first non-accessory garment that I will be knitting. I’m nervous but excited at the same time. Will keep you all posted!

Knitting Pattern: Nailed It! (NOT)

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I’ve been working on a test knit for my mug cozy for probably a month, picking it up and putting it back down. The intarsia was a slow process, since I designed the color changes based on my own visual likes rather than ease of knitting. I’d also never done intarsia knitting before this.

Sheep in a field - gridded drawing

For your memory, this is the color pattern I was working from.

With intarsia, you create a new little bobbin of yarn to work from each time there is a color change. So, you’re knitting around in blue, get to a cloud, switch to a small bit of white, then switch to a new bit of blue (that’s right, you don’t just pick up the old blue you were using before until you come back around). Because you don’t bring the yarn along behind the work, every time there is a color change, you get a new bit of yarn. For every new bit of yarn, there is going to be an end to weave in.

Intarsia chart

For a visual representation: All of the stars in this section of the pattern show where a new bit of yarn is going to be used. The thicker black lines indicate a section where a bobbin of different yarn is used.

As I was designing this, I had no experience with intarsia, therefore, gave no thought to how many ****ing ends there would be to weave it when I finished the cozy.

Knitting - so many ends to weave in

Attack of the spaghetti monster

I don’t even want to pretend I’m going to finish this test knit.

But either way, NAILED IT!

Crappy knitting

NAILED it! (NOT…)

Hahaha, just kidding. This poor mug cozy is a step away from being knitted vomit.

Aside from being a finishing nightmare, my technique was just not very good. The randomly loose stitches above would be fixed after I weaved in the ends of the yarn — they’re just loose because they’re not quite attached.

The blob thing that should be a sheep in a pasture though… wowwee.

I knit the clouds in seed stitch – k1, p1, then on the next row I’d purl the knits and knit the purls, creating these cute, fluffy clouds because purl stitches create a little horizontal bar that puffs out a bit.

The problem with purl stitches in colorwork is that the previous stitch is visible behind the purl bar. Not so noticeable when it’s white on light blue, but super noticeable when it’s white on dark green. I wanted the sheep to be fluffy, so I tried the same thing on them.

Colorwork gone wrong - knitting

Another example of how using purl stitches in colorwork can go horribly wrong, since I did purl the white stitches below the black stitches

Another issue I had was in using this technique to be able to knit in the round while still using the intarsia technique. I thought I did this correctly everytime I turned my work, but apparently not because the start/end section of the mug cozy looks quite… jacked. If you’re not a knitter, just notice how most sections have a straight line of Vs going down, but in the middle… who knows what’s happening? Also, you should become a knitter.

Bad knitting

Did I add stitches? I’m not sure, but that section looks totally wibbly-wobbly.

And my last gripe with this is that the green on the bottom needs more saturation. It’s being ousted on the next run.

So, it’s back to the drawing board with this pattern. Lessons learned:

  1. Practice the intarsia in the round technique way more, or just knit it flat and sew it into a cylinder when you’re done.
  2. Make sure your yarn colors are all equally saturated or it just looks sad.
  3. Don’t try to be cute with your fluffy purl stitches when doing high-contrast colorwork.
  4. It may not be worth the pain to create a color chart based solely on visual design — take the knitting experience into account and try to reduce the number of ends that will need to be weaved in at the end.

Read more about my adventure in creating my first knitting pattern:

Lost Projects Club: Accountability for Your Insane Crafting

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My pals and I had a problem. We are crafty gals and dabble in many things. Fleur has ceramics, jewelry making, crocheting… Carly has sewing, paper craftiness, knitting… I have knitting, crocheting…

We started lamenting about our stashes of unfinished projects. The things you start with every intention of getting done as soon as possible that end up in the corner of a room or packed up in a box. You think about that project every once in a while, wishing you had just finished it when you had the chance but now you have so many more new projects to work on, you couldn’t possibly…!

We blame Pinterest.

I can’t remember if it was Carly’s idea or Fleur’s, but somebody called out with a battle cry,

“Let’s finish this stuff, dammit!”

We decided that we’d get together over tea and the only rule was that you had to work on something that has stagnated, that you haven’t touched in months (or maybe years). We called it The Lost Projects Club.

Every few weeks, we meet up and spend 3-4 hours together doing our crafty thing. The club keeps us accountable to each other to at least continue on with old projects, if not finish them (we’re not very demanding of each other).

It has helped me by forcing me to keep a list of on-going projects and noting how far into them I am. I even finished a scarf last year that I had started in 2009!

If you’re feeling scattered, like you’ve started too many new things and just don’t have time to finish the crafts you felt so inclined to start before, get a group of your friends together and start your own Lost Projects Club!

Woman crocheting

Fleur, doing some tunisian crochet wizardry. Notice the awesome abundance of snacks available in the background to keep morale up!

Woman ironing a skirt

Carly, working diligently on her skirt-making skills

Loom knitting

Fleur, working at this loom knitting!

Paints and a birdhouse

Carly’s daughter took up her own craft too… then got bored

 

Homemade Veggie Bao Buns

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Mandy Bee:

Check out our amaze-buns! :9

Originally posted on Coffee, and the Quill:

2015-02-24 16.42.01Tuesday was a super busy day for me and I didn’t find a whole lot of time to be home. While I was out and running around, my wife decided to give this recipe a try. They’re a Jamie Oliver styled asian bun that you might find at any dim sum restaurant you go to. Typically, they’re loaded with barbecued pork and they’re absolutely fantastic. This recipe, however, calls for mushrooms and water chestnuts instead, which makes it perfect for vegetarians and vegans alike.

2015-02-24 16.44.45Mandy marinated the mushrooms and water chestnuts in hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and mirin. I managed to make it home in time to help with the dough, and we set out to make our own self-rising dough which was really simple. The whole recipe is deceptively simple for such a great dish, and surprisingly good for you with the addition of the vegetables. If you’re a fan…

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Learning to draw again

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One of my goals for this year is to illustrate a children’s book that John has written.

Drawing used to be a huge passion of mine. I could spend 5-8 hours at a time drawing in high school and college.

And then I didn’t have a reason to keep drawing. I had finished school and no longer had drawing or art classes to force me into it. It’s a bit strange when you love something but you find that you need someone to tell you to keep at it.

I assumed that I’d end up needing illustration skills a bit more in my career. Someone would need an icon for their website or something, right? But no one wants to pay you to make one from scratch when they could buy a set for $10 somewhere.

My skills got stale.

When I picked up the pencil again to start drawing for this book, I was discouraged at first. I am way out of practice and I don’t really have my own style.

I started looking for inspiration on Pinterest: Follow Mandy’s board Farm Animal Illustration Inspiration on Pinterest.

As well as drawing tips: Follow Mandy’s board Illustration / Painting / Character Design / Drawing Tips on Pinterest.

And just started sketching, trying not to be too hard on myself for having completely weird-looking animals.

Sketches of farm animals

Sketching farm animals

I found that the inspiration board I made helped me play with different styles for the animals. For example, the cow on the bottom right of the collage is in a style that I would draw on my own, but the one to the left of it was inspired by other cow drawings I found on Pinterest. I’m not sure which is better, but the one on the left is definitely easier to draw in repetition.

Drawing and coloring farm animals

I attempted some colored penciling

The alpaca is definitely the hardest animal to get right. She’s the main character of the story, so I want to make sure she has a lot of her own personality.

Alpaca drawing

Alpaca face and some empty alpaca heads

Drawings of a pink alpaca

Different alpaca styles

Then I switched from pencil to Photoshop / Illustrator. I was having trouble getting a good face on the alpaca. I’d either get the eyes and nose and mouth right, but mess up adding the hair, or vice versa. So I drew a face that I liked, drew some ’empty’ alpaca heads, then attempted to put them together. With this technique, I feel that I got a lot closer to a more finalized character than I had sketching on paper.

I’m not sure which alpaca will win. The curly hair is fun and fluffy, but I kind of like the spunk the shaggy/straight haired alpaca has.

I’m noticing that I am more comfortable in Photoshop and Illustrator than I am on paper, at least for getting a more finished look to my drawings. I can’t seem to sketch on the computer or refine very well on paper, so I guess I’ll have to merge the two. Sketch, scan, trace with the Wacom tablet.

After wearing myself out on sketching animals, I attempted human figures.

Sketches of knitting and shearing

Sketching some knitting action, some shearing, and just trying to figure out a face for the woman farmer.

Loose sketches of someone spinning yarn

Loose sketches to try and get the posture right… ain’t workin’.

At one point in the story, there is some spinning of alpaca fleece. I scoured the internet for good reference photos of women at a spinning wheel. It was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be, mostly because the photos you find are of women in giant dresses, so you can’t really tell much about their bodies.

Drawing of a woman at a spinning wheel

Some sketching, then some Photoshop coloring

I want the woman who is spinning the fleece to look relaxed. She almost does, but she also looks really stiff, so I’ll definitely need to keep working on it.

I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I need to keep sketching, refining and practicing before I think I’ll be close enough to start really laying out the illustrations for the pages of the book. I definitely have more confidence in my skills than I did two months ago. I don’t know if practice will make perfect, as they say, but it’ll definitely increase my confidence and get me to a final product.

If you’re interested, I’ve been using these awesome Photoshop brushes for the watercoloring: Kyle’s Real Watercolor for Photoshop

Adventures in Intarsia-land (Or the Difference Between Intarsia and Stranded Knitting)

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I’ve done a bit more research on the color knitting techniques I should try out for my mug cozy and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to learn intarsia knitting.

Before today, intarsia and stranded knitting were all the same to me. Now I know better…

When using the stranded knitting technique, the floating yarn on the inside of my mug cozy was unruly and out of control. To try and fix this, I looked for tips on stranded knitting and found that I could secure the float every few stitches to keep the wrong side of the stranded knitting from looking like a bowl of spaghetti. In that Knitty article that I’d found a few days ago, I failed to notice the “when to use intarsia vs color stranding” section, which suggests that if you have a pattern with blocks of color that span more than 5 stitches, you’ll probably want to use intarsia. Which I do.

Today, as I started yet another Google search for more suggestions on yarn management in colored knitting, I kept seeing “intarsia” pop up. I figured I should at least see what the deal was and when I started learning how to do intarsia knitting (not just looking at end-results), I realized that although intarsia may not make knitting my mug cozy easier, it will probably make a better end product.

Differences Between Intarsia and Stranded Color Knitting

  1. The presence (stranded) and absence (intarsia) of floating yarn behind the work. This is a big deal for my mug cozy, which would be a huge pain in the butt to get onto a mug due to the floats inside the cozy.
  2. If you’re not switching back and forth between colors every few stitches, you’re going to waste yarn with stranded knitting. Intarsia is good for big blocks of color and vertical stripes because the yarn is carried a short distance  up to the next row behind the work.
  3. Setting up for intarsia looks like a lot of fun (not). For every color change or block of color in a pattern, you will want to create a mini ball of yarn that hangs behind your work. With stranded color knitting, you would typically knit from the same ball of yarn the entire time for all colors.
  4. Each color block in intarsia knitting will need to be weaved in when you’re done. Unless you’re not using a color for a long while, you probably won’t have much to weave in as a result of stranded knitting.

References and Helpful Tips for Beginning Intarsia Knitting

  1. The Woolly Brew has a very beginner’s guide in 10 tips for intarsia knitting. I loved this article because it gave me a fairly good overview of how to get started. It also made me dread making all of those little bobbins…
  2. For a visual guide, a video from KnittingHelp on intarsia. A comment on their site also alluded to the difficult nature of intarsia knitting in the round (which is how I’m knitting my mug cozy).
  3. A video on intarsia knitting in the round from Planet Purl, which shows that to do intarsia in the round, you’ll need to purl every other row (eeewwwww). I suppose that’s better than not being able to put the mug cozy on a mug.
  4. Introduction to intarsia from Twist Collective. The author gives some tips at the bottom of the article, such as adding in detail once the knitting is complete using embroidery or duplicate stitch.

After learning these things, I’m still a bit hesitant to use intarsia for my mug cozy. There are some sections of my pattern that seem like they will be obnoxious to set up and the thought of purling even though I’m knitting in the round is not appealing. But the amount of yarn I would waste in using stranded knitting for this, especially in the sheep section, makes the annoyance of intarsia seem pretty worth it.

I will keep you posted on how this intarsia adventure goes! If you have any tips, let me know!