Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Concert Story

The following is a story from back when I was in college:

One Saturday night my college roommate and I decided to go to a concert with a group of friends. It was at another campus which we had to drive an hour to get to. There were about 6 or 7 of us total; some of which had tickets already, but others, including myself, had to buy tickets when we got there.

So we arrived at the venue about an hour early. We go to the ticket window to get our tickets, but when we ask them, they are all sold out! So now what? We drove to this place, half the group has tickets to get in, but the others do not. The options now were either wait outside for a few hours and do nothing or find a way to get in.

One of the girls in our group knew one of the bands and thought she might be able to get us in. Since she had a ticket, she was able to go in and talk to the band. She came back out and told us they could open up the back and let us sneak in.

Understand, we wanted to buy tickets, but at this point, we were willing to find another way to get in. So we go to the back door, knock, and sure enough someone opens it for us. We were all excited! We marched on in with smiles on our faces. The door was behind the stage and led out to the main floor. So we walk out onto the floor, only trouble is it was completely empty. We stood out like a sore thumb, as group of kids that just randomly emerging from behind the stage.

Needless to say we were confronted by security immediately. They asked to see our tickets and since we didn't have them, they promptly escorted us out the front door. Strike one. But we didn't give up. We put our thinking caps on and tried to come up with another solution.

Someone came up with a good idea. Since we had a few tickets, those with ticket stubs would all go in. Once inside, they would all give their ticket stubs to one person who would then walk them out and distribute them to those of us who needed them. Good idea, but their was one more barrier.

They stamped your hand when you went in the first time so if you left and came back, you had to show your stamp. We needed the stamp to get in. Luckily it was a simple design, just a block letter with black ink. With a quick trial, we figured out you could color over it with black ink, then press it against someone else's hand to make a light copy. Then you could darken the new copy in with the ink pen. We did this and it looked good!

So with our homemade stamps and recycled ticket stubs, we approached the doors. Feeling nervous, but trying to act as normal as possible, we walked up, showed the ticket stub and the stamp and before we knew it, we were in!

By this time the place was packed, so even though there was a slight chance of being noticed, we blended into the crowd. We got to enjoy the concert and we all had a great time!

What we did was not necessarily right and I certainly do not recommend it, but at the time, given the circumstances it seemed like it was ok. We gladly would have paid to get in, but because they were sold out, there was not much else we could do. Also, the place was standing room only so we were taking anyone's seat. Yes, it was a bit crowded, but that's how concerts are. All in all it was an adventure filled night that involved suspense, creativity, and live music from one of our favorite bands!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Chipotle Story - How Little Suggestions Can Have a Big Impact

Sometimes giving feedback to a company can really make a big difference. I learned this one time years ago when I replied to a question on a website for one of my favorite restaurants at the time, Chipotle. The question was something like, "Do you know of a location where we should build a new restaurant?" Now at the time, the closest Chipotle to my house was a good 20 minutes away; not super far, but not exactly close either. Also around this time they were building a new shopping center near by and there were a bunch of openings for new stores. I thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be nice if the put a Chipotle in there?" So I went ahead and put in the suggestion for the new location.

I didn't actually expect them to take my advice, but it was worth a few minutes of time just for a chance. I don't remember if I got a reply back; maybe an automatic reply stating something along the lines of, "Thank you for your suggestion. Our team will look into this location..." So months went on and I forgot about it.

But then something amazing happened. I was driving by the new shopping center and guess what sign had just gone up? "Coming Soon - Chipotle Mexican Grill"! I was shocked and excited! They actually must have read my email, looked into the location and decided it was indeed a good place to open a new restaurant. I was going around telling everyone how I had recommended they put a restaurant there and then they actually did! It was so nice to be able to drive only a couple minutes instead of 20 minutes to get to one of my favorite restaurants.

Sometimes it pays to take the time out of your day to give feedback to businesses because they actually do listen and might make big moves based on what you have to say!

Monday, May 4, 2015

What to do with Old Clothes, Shoes, Electronics and More

Whenever you are cleaning up and trying to get rid of stuff you don't want, the first solution you may think of is to just put it in the garbage.  This may seem like the easiest thing to do, but usually there is a better option.  Recycling is becoming easier these days and most things can be recycled rather than thrown in the garbage.  Here we will go over some of the options for getting rid of things you do not want by ways such as donation and recycling.

Clothes and Shoes - Unwanted clothes and shoes are easy to donate if they are still in good condition.  Most local thrift stores will accept them.  Examples include Good Will and Salvation Army.  Often there are also convenient collection bins set up around town for drop offs of old clothing. For items like these that are in poor condition, you can still donate them to organizations such as USAgain which recycles them and has many drop off locations.

Electronics - In the fast changing tech industry, electronics such as tvs, computers, and cell phones seem to get outdated faster than any other category.  If your device is still fairly new, you may be able to sell it on sites such as eBay or trade it in at Best Buy, but if it is older, you may want to donate it to a thrift store, or recycle it at an electronics store such as Best Buy which will accept most electronics for recycling at no charge.

Light Bulbs and Batteries -  Many local hardware stores and Public Works departments accept the CFL bulbs and batteries that should not be disposed of in the trash.  You can find your nearest drop off center with recycling websites such as Earth911.

Furniture and Large Items -  Often these items can be donated but they can be hard to transport.  In situations like this, you may want to have someone pick them up by posting about them on a website like Craigslist which has a Free section where you can post about items to give away.

Recycling Events - Keep an eye on village news for local recycling events such as paper shredding days and specific dates to drop off specialized items such as tires or hazardous materials. Events are usually found on the calendars on the local community websites.

They say one person's trash is another person's treasure so before you are going to throw something out, make sure to consider the donation and recycling options above because in most cases there is someone else who would be glad to have it! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pagoda Egg Rolls Review - Vegetable Egg Rolls

I was looking for some new frozen foods to try out when I saw the vegetable egg rolls by Pagoda. I've never been a huge fan of egg rolls, but I decided to give them a try. I went with the vegetable rolls which have cabbage, carrots, celery and bok choy. The ingredients also list water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. They come with 4 individually wrapped egg rolls per box and retail for around $3 - $3.50.

Preparing the egg rolls is pretty easy. You can cook them by oven or microwave, but I always go with the microwave for speed and convenience. They recommend a time of about 1- 1:15 in the microwave. I found this to be pretty accurate at the 1:15 for a good cook all the way through for 1 roll.

So how do they taste? Surprisingly good! The outside shell is very flavorful and the veggies inside taste good also. It does not even seem like you are eating vegetables because it tastes so good! The egg rolls each come with a sauce packet, but I just eat the egg rolls which have enough flavor on their own. The sauce packets are connected to each other and kind of hard to open without a scissors. The sauce has a spicy kick to it but is also pretty good if you are looking for extra flavors to go with it.

Nutrition on these egg rolls is pretty good. Calories are 140 per roll and fat is 6% daily value. Each roll has 3 grams of protein. The only thing that is kind of high is sodium which is at 19% daily value, but overall it is ok as long as you eat them sparingly. I only make 1 roll at a time and combine it with other food for a meal.

Overall I highly recommend the Pagoda vegetable egg rolls, in fact I have already gone back and purchased 2 more boxes! I will probably check out some of the other items from this brand soon.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What I Learned From 5 Years of Blogging

I starting blogging a little over 5 years ago as an experiment to try out for fun. I didn't have any expectations or clear goal but it was something I wanted to try out. Over the years my writing has improved and I have learned how to make better articles and attract more readers. Here are some of the things I have learned from blogging over the past 5 years.

1. You never know what is going to be popular.
This is one of the most interesting things I learn from blogging and that is, you never really know for sure which articles are going to be popular. There will be times when I write what I think is an good thought provoking article and it will get very little traffic while other times I will write some random article that might be not much longer than a paragraph and it will get lots of traffic.

2. Which articles tend to do well with traffic.
With unpredictable traffic being said, I have learned a few tips on the kinds of articles that do tend to get more hits. Usually it is articles that are more specific and niche in nature which many people have not written about yet. The trick is to find a high interest topic that has not been widely covered yet. Localized articles tend to do well because they are more specific and do not have as much national and global competition. Also articles that do not get outdated fast tend to do better in the long run (ex. a how-to article) vs articles that might only draw interest for a week or so (ex. a current event).

3. Optimize your articles with tags, images, and good titles.
I'm no expert in search engine optimization but I have found it is wise to add tags to your articles to help them get found in searches. Also adding images helps make them more visually appealing. For titles, make sure is is something that describes your article well and is something that people would search for.

4. Don't expect to get rich quick.
Making money from blogging is hard. Usually it is done from putting ads on your site, but this only brings in a small amount especially if you do not have a lot of visitors. If your site becomes very popular then you may be able to start making a steady stream of income from ads. Start with a goal to write good content that will attract readers. Once you have an audience, then you can look into ads and ways to monetize your blog.

5. Be careful what you put online.
This is one of the most important lessons I learned and that is to be careful what you put online. This can be anything from text to images to links. For text, obviously be cautious about putting too much personal information online. Also be careful what you write about other people or companies especially if it is negative. If you are adding images, be sure those images are ok to use and do not belong to another person or company who does not want their images used. For links, be sure you are linking to trusted content and that the site you are linking to is ok with you sending traffic to their website.

6. Back up your work.
Not only should you back up files and data on your own computer, you should also back up your blog and or website. Just like a computer can crash and lose everything, so can a website. Most blogs are pretty easy to back up with a download that will at least save all the text and articles. Making a blog can be a lot of work and you don't want to lose it in the rare chance that there is a server crash so make sure you are backing it up frequently.

7. Update old articles.
Over time it is inevitable that articles will become outdated. Links to older websites and videos may not work over time as 3rd party content changes. A lot of times you will find your opinion on what you wrote years before has changed and will require an update. Another things is that old articles tend to not get as much traffic, so updating them with new information can help make them fresh and relevant again without writing a brand new article.

8. Blogging is fun!
Making a blog and writing about topics you are interested is fun! You get to express yourself and share your opinion with the world. Others with the same interests will find your blog and comment on your articles. It is great to get the feedback to reinforce that what you are writing is actually getting read and people are taking the time to respond to it. I recommend everyone try blogging as it is free to get started and can be a great way to get your ideas and thoughts out there in the world!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Cross Country Conference Race Story

I had never run competitively in anything more than a quick foot race before I started high school. I was a decent athlete, but I never tried distance running until my mother suggested that I join the cross country team. She wanted me to get involved in extra-curricular activities and she heard good things about this team. Someone I knew was going to join also so I thought I would give it a try.

I showed up on the first day, nervous, in my new shorts, shirt, and running shoes. Most of the kids looked older, but I found a few kids I knew from jr. high and hung around them. The coach introduced himself and talked a little bit about the sport.

Next thing I know, we are running a mile warm up. A mile for warm up? As far as I was concerned, a mile was a long way to run. I was in good shape, so I was able to do it and finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, but it wasn't easy. After that, we stretched and then did our workout which consisted of running various distances at various speeds. Overall I thought it was ok, but not something I wanted to do on a daily basis.

In the days to follow, my mom really had to push to get me to stick with it. I was sore and didn't want to keep running, but for whatever reason, I stuck with it. After a few weeks it got easier. I started meeting new people and it actually became fun. I kept training with the team each day and got better each week.

By the end of the season, I was one of the top runners on the freshman team. The problem was, I had become injured. I could run, but it was painful, and I really needed time to heal. This was unfortunate because the conference race was upon us and it was the most important race of the season. All the teams would be there.

I told my coach I was injured, but he really wanted me to run because it would help the team. I thought to my self, I could run, but it might make the injury worse. Then I thought, well, it was the last race so even if I was injured more, I would have plenty of time to heal after the season was over.

So, after weighing the options, I decided to run. On race day I prepared myself mentally as best I could. When the gun went off, I sprinted out fast, but at the same time, tried to be relaxed and conserve energy. It was a 2 mile run. Throughout the race I kept advancing and passing people slowly, one by one. Up until this point in the season, I was getting good, but I was not the best on my team, or the conference for that matter.

As we got to the last 400 meters, in the open field, I realized that I was at the front with just 2 other people. I couldn't believe it. Even with the injury, this was my best race yet. Now I was not the best sprinter, so I knew if I was neck and neck at the end, I might get passed. So at that moment, with about 300 meters left, I just took off.

I pulled into first and didn't look back. I went all out and just focused on the finish line. It was a blur, but the next thing I knew I was across the finish line and there was no one in front of me. I heard other runners pile in behind me huffing and puffing.

I was in shock. I had just won the freshman conference race! I was actually a bit frightened because this was the first time anything like this had happened to me and I didn't know what to expect. Then my teammates and the spectators started crowding me and congratulating me. I was exhausted, but relieved and happy at the same time. It was one of my greatest accomplishments growing up.

I still look back in disbelief on how I started out having never done any kind of distance running and ended up the season winning the freshman conference race. It shows if you are focused and work hard you can achieve goals that may seem impossible at first, but are in fact attainable.

Monday, April 6, 2015

HealthCare.gov Review and Update on US Health Insurance

Last year I signed up for one of the new health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. I was hesitant but considering you have to pay a fee anyway if you do not have health insurance and the fact that it is just a good idea to be covered are a couple of reasons I decided to sign up for it.  I signed up for a plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield through the healthcare.gov website.  You can read the review of the sign up process and selecting a plan here.  

About a year into it now, overall I have been pleased with the program.  I was able to choose a new doctor close by and set up an appointment.  I had actually been putting it off until they encouraged me to set up an appointment that would be covered at no cost just by having the insurance.  The new doctor and office turned out to be just fine and I would go back again.  I did not even have to pay a co-pay for the appointment which was nice. 

During the first year, the cost per month was manageable but a bit higher than I would have preferred.  It is reduced depending on your income level.  For example if you make under a certain amount, you will qualify for a reduced rate each month.  This is tied into tax credits which we will go over next.

I was curious as to how it would effect the taxes this year.  When filing the taxes, they now have a section to enter in your payment information from the health insurance.  I had not started the insurance until May of last year so I actually did have to pay a fee for the earlier months in the year when I did not have the plan.  But for the remaining months when I was covered, I did receive a credit back which lowered the taxes. I was able to recalculate the health insurance for the new year to bring down the monthly cost a bit.

Overall the new health insurance through healthcare.gov has been pretty good and I would recommend it for anyone who is not covered yet.  They have a wide range of plans for pretty much any budget and they have many different companies to choose from.  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments on the new health care.