Thursday, April 28, 2016

celebration of Kendra and Merle's bond

It was obviously Kendra's classroom :)

Kendra's sisters threw her bridal shower in Kendra's science classroom!
The invite asked us to join in celebrating the "bond" of Kendra and Merle at a "Mad Scientist" party!

The afternoon was full of experiments and good times.

Kathryn made an amazing confectionery periodic table

the scientific spread of refeshments

Amanda grew these brilliant crystals

in lieu of traditional party games, there were SO many science experiments... 
Amanda prepping the crystal ball


prepping the final explosion!

definitely a non-traditional bridal shower cake :)
so perfect

four super special people!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Accounting Lesson: Natural Accounts


One part of my job is communicating accounting-related information to non-accounting people... A task that is not necessarily simple or easy. For one thing... accountants talk jargon: debits, credits, chart of accounts, depreciation, accrual, assets, liabilities-??? and that's just the beginning...

In order to explain a topic in "normal people" English, I have to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter myself... and that is part of what keeps my work challenging.

I spend hours thinking through how things work, why they work that way, how the process may be perceived by users, how we can improve the process in the future, what parts of the process are non-negotiable (and which parts can be adjusted case-by-case). Though it takes generous amounts of time and energy, the thinking part of work is usually not as exhausting as the communicating part.

For every hour I spend in the initial jargon-to-normal thought world, I spend multiple hours in the basic-explanation/communication world. I compile screen shots, scan hand-drawn diagrams, simplify official statements and codes, talk through ideas with coworkers, and wrestle with words to try to bring at least a little more clarity to an itty bitty segment of the non-finance-focused majority of the world.

Since many of the people I interact with at work are scattered across the globe, I rely on digital communication methods. Each week, I spend hours upon hours writing hundreds of emails (usually not more than 40 a day). I also regularly have skype meetings with folks a few time zones away.

One of the recent pieces of our office's migration in the financial world is a shift in how expenses are tracked. Part of my job is communicating our shift from the old-style relational-category-type-approach (well, more of a mixture of multiple approaches) to a 100% natural account method for tracking reimbursable business expenses.

Are you ready for a simple accounting lesson?
Here we go...

{for starters, I've chosen a (large) healthy, colorful picture to aid with digestion}

photo compliments of Google

In the old, pre-natural world, expenses could be assigned to an expense account based on relationships. In the current, natural world, expenses are filed by their specific type of expense-- not because of their connection to another account or a more general category.

Say you just returned from a business conference in Brazil. The conference had fees of its own, plus you spent money related to your travel to and from the conference, oh... and you had to eat and sleep along the way as well. You returned to the home office with a great suntan and an envelope bursting with receipts to submit to your employer for reimbursement.

#1 OLD Method (assigning expenses by relationship)

Your account choices are:

1200 Conference Expense
1300 Office Supplies Expense
1400 Utilities Expense
1500 Staff Party Expense

Since all your receipts were related to your conference, you code all the receipts to "Conference Expense" (#1200). It doesn't matter that some expenses were from different parts of your trip (conference fees, taxi, airline tickets, multiple meals)., because all of the expenses were related to the cost of attending the conference.

Easy, right?

#2 {new} Natural Account Method

Your account choices are:

1200 Conference Fees Expense
1300 Office Supplies Expense
1400 Utilities Expense
1500 Staff Party Expense

1600 Staff Travel Expense
1601 Airfare
1602 Taxi
1603 Train/Metro
1604 Parking and Tolls
1605 Travel Meals
1606 Lodging
1607 Other Travel Expenses

In this scenario, the only expense you charge to Conference Fees Expense (#1200) is the actual cost for attending the conference. Your hotel expense is charged to Staff Travel: Lodging (#1606), all your meal receipts are labeled as Staff Travel: Meals (#1605), the flight receipt is coded to Staff Travel: Airfare (#1601).

If you want to know a total of all expenses related to a particular event (ex: Annual Brazil Conference), the finance team can attach a specific code number to your conference-related receipts. The code number is used to group all expenses from ANY accounts into a summary by relationship (Total transport+meals+lodging+conference fees, etc. for the Annual Brazil Conference).

makes sense, right?

Using the first method, the total dollar amount listed under "Conference Expense" would show the total amount spent on any conference-related expenses of the organization throughout the year. There would be no way to know the breakout of such expenses, though.

For example... (using the first method) how would we know what portion of the Conference Expenses were spent on travel versus how much was spent on the actual conference fees? and... say a total of 15 conferences were attended throughout the year by various staff members. How would you ever know the actual annual amount the organization was spending on Staff Travel-? Even if there were a category for Staff Travel, how accurate would it be if all conference-related travel was recorded in the Conference Expense account instead of in the Staff Travel account with other types of staff travel?!

If the Conference example above was too in-depth, here's a boiled down example:

When you lived in Zambia, you used to record your trips to the bank as a business expense (your travel to the bank was a business expense, because part of your job was banking!). In the old method, you charged the travel to/from the bank to "Office Expense," because you were driving to the bank as part of your office-related work responsibilities. In the natural method, you charge ALL business travel to the "Travel Expense" category-- no matter WHERE you were going or WHAT you were doing, as long as you were traveling for work.

[and, yes, this is a true-life example from some gal who used to live and bank in Zambia ;) ]

Here ends today's accounting lesson.
I hope it wasn't too painful... and that you have at least enjoyed a piece of natural (virtual) fruit if nothing else...
Have I ever told you how much I love pomegranates, mangoes, passion fruit, peaches, watermelon, apples, grapes...

PS- If the above explanations weren't helpful, perhaps this definition will make sense:
NATURAL ACCOUNTS in the Chart of Accounts are user defined accounts for the activities associated with the accounting entity that capture data at the transaction level. Natural accounts exist for a range of Assets, Liabilities, Equity accounts, Revenues, and Expenses.
...then again...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Beauty Deal

When Amy and I were leaving Trader Joe's, we noticed a shopping cart of flowers parked beside the dumpster. Amy picked out two bunches of flowers (some of which were droopy already) and re-arranged them into two fresh bouquets back at our half-a-house. The re-made bouquets are still brightening the house; I wish I knew where to find a regular supply of free flowers!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

George Washington DC*

at the "Food" exhibit at the museum

Amy attended a national TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference last week in Baltimore. Since she was in the area, she took some vacation days to spend in Pennsylvania after her conference.

Saturday morning I drove down to Baltimore and picked Amy up. Then we headed a bit further south and boarded the metro into DC. Last time Amy visited DC was when she was 9 and I was 5.

We weren't the only folks who decided the Smithsonian American History museum would be a great place to visit in case of inclement weather. At 9:59am, we joined a couple hundred others who were waiting for the museum's doors to open at 10am... the weather was really unpleasant, and those of us who brought umbrellas were grateful for a bit of a shield from the cold wind and precipitation.

After a couple hours in the museum, we ventured back outside and discovered the sun was shining! It was still cold, but we enjoyed being tourists at the monuments. Though it was technically still Cherry Blossom time, the blossoms were already finished-- unlike last year when Heather and Malinda and I visited DC in April.

On the drive back to our half-a-house, I introduced Amy to the wonderful world of Trader Joe's (we don't have any in this part of PA, but there are several near DC). Needless to say, Trader Joe's now has another fan :)

practicing our selfie skills in front of President Lincoln

It was a really special treat to have Amy visit for the weekend.

*Betsy used to refer to Washington DC as "George Washington DC" when she was little.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Granola Bars

My friend from Washington told me about the "Granolas" who live in that area...
I think if I lived in Washington, I might be labeled a "Granola."

I love trail hikes
and nuts and fruit and chocolate-- and granola.

and... (naturally) granola bars.


For the most part, I follow the recipe exactly (last time I decreased the sugar to 2 Tablespoons, and still found the bars plenty sweet enough). The bars in the picture have dried cranberries, cashews, almonds, and chocolate. I used coconut oil for the fat.

These bars are easy to make, and even easier to eat!
I like to keep them in the freezer to spread out the goodness. 
Plus, this recipe makes a lot of bars for one person.

Friday, April 8, 2016

tea date

When I asked Naomi what we should plan during my visit home, she suggested a little tea. Mom, Amy, Naomi, and I had a delightful spot of tea Thursday afternoon. Naomi baked a scrumptious treat to make our tea time extra special. Click here for the recipe if you'd like to make your own delicious blueberry tea treat.

ps- just in case you wondered-- no, we did not eat the entire blueberry treat ourselves; we shared :)