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Archive for May, 2010

I Figured it Out

June 1st, 2010 at 12:37 am

I kept feeling like I haven't had as much time as I should!

I finally figured it out - I have been cooking a lot more. Kind of time consuming! (Which doesn't really make much difference in the grand scheme of things, since dh cooks 90%+ of our meals). But, I have been enjoying cooking more, all the same.

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This weekend was nice. Had a nice visit with my parents on Saturday. Yesterday we went swimming. It was about 90 degrees (after weeks of unusual cold and rain).

Today we stuffed ourselves silly at a friend's Housewarming BBQ.

I had planned to bake up some red potatoes and I have a ton of cabbage salad in the fridge. For dinner - keeping it light.

Dh bought a $3 watermelon to bring to the BBQ - we ended up bringing about 1/2 of it back home. We can add that to dinner.

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Yesterday was the first day it got a little warm in the house, this year. I was disappointed since it was the first "hot" day, (the house heated up so quickly) but we managed to be comfortable enough without the AC. I thought we would cave at bedtime - even if we only generally turn it on a few minutes to cool off the upstairs before bed.

But, we didn't cave, and it turned out to be cooler than expected, today. Was sad not to see the sun, but the weather was "just right," otherwise.

To get through May without flipping on the AC for a few days, is a new record. Not one I could take credit for. I missed having a little warmer May, but glad it wasn't sweltering, all the same. We've got all summer to swelter. But, kind of glad to say good bye to these grey skies! Next week is looking hot. Time for that AC weather.

Gearing Up for Busy

May 29th, 2010 at 02:02 pm

The month of June is getting a wee bit crazy!

Dh is volunteering about 30 hours, nights and weekends. Just seems to be a big volunteer month (Scholastic and Public TV station).

BM has a last day of school BBQ, and a big fundraiser; LM has graduation from preschool (hard to believe!)

Dh is organizing some grade school reunion (lord knows why - so unlike him!)

My work is having a big dinner.

We are going on our family camp trip for 4 days in Tahoe.

I think I have turned down 10 invitations on the day of June 18. It's like the day all the stars aligned. Some of these things have been scheduled to work around us (work dinner got moved to the 17th?).

Oh yeah, dh has a volunteer appreciation dinner (which are always really nice - at the TV station).

I don't remember the last time the kids had a babysitter, and now we have 2 dinners in one month. I think we can arrange a "trade" with a neighbor - & have a 15% off coupon for the drop-in place, for the other dinner.

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This weekend is also turning up a wee bit crazy. I was kind of looking for some quiet/settling down time. Suppose we can try for July. Big Grin

We can tend to be really hermit-y. You wouldn't know it, but we do have one extrovert child, which forces us to come out of hermithood more than we care for. LOL. So, it's a bit much, but will be good for us all the same.

My folks are coming up this weekend and we made plans with friends on Monday. Sunday we can have a full day of being hermits - phew!

This & That

May 27th, 2010 at 08:25 pm

**So, started both kids on piano lessons. Is going well.

Time is so finite and precious with small kids, my tolerance for using precious time, has been thin the last few years. But that has lightened up quite a bit, with time.

Anyway, I am finding this good practice for me. What I need to do is get back into practicing a bit myself. Though I know I am perfectly capable of teaching, I am a little rusty, and don't have much to show how I was a much more accomplished player at some time or other.

I realized I Am probably in no shape to teach at the moment, but am considering letting the neighbors know that I teach, and starting to offer lessons. Maybe in a year. One or two nights a week. With the uncertain economy and everything, I think it is good to start building the foundation for a side income stream.

Oh teaching was so much WORK last time. As all teaching is.

For now, my kids are the guniea pigs.

I suppose another idea is to contact local teachers and ask if they need a substitute. Or a tutor of sorts. Might be more my speed. I primarily taught 15-minute private lessons to kids in group piano classes, as a student teacher. It would be helpful to network with teachers, I suppose. I've got the experience but no music degree. Not sure how it would be taken, but you don't know until you ask!


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**Well, the weather here has turned manic depressive.

(I suppose I like that term?)

I was sweltering in my car the other day around the noon hour. I Was kind of like, "oh, it's not hot enough for the AC," but whimped out in the end. About 4 hours later, when I left work, it was freezing!!!! I flipped on the heat. At 5pm. Like, I rarley do that in winter! It was so bizarre! A storm had moved in rather quickly. I think it was the shock of the cold - not that it was "that cold."

I skipped aerobics Tuesday because it was pouring rain out of nowhere and I didn't want to deal with the stupid drivers. (My drive home is rather reverse commute, and wide open, but the route to aerobics cuts through some bad traffic). I figured it could take hours, anyway. Accidents, traffic and everything.

Today ain't looking much better. It was rather nice a few days this week. Got in some bike rides and walks, etc. But stormy stormy stormy today.

That said, should warm up this weekend.

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**This weekend, plans are filling up the schedule:

Saturday - going to a little zoo/park to see a show and some sheep shearing. Free with our membership.

Sunday - is supposed to reach 86 degrees. I think Sunday will be a great day for swimming, though I think it is possible they won't heat the pool until Monday? Like, it opens Memorial Day? Hopefully they mean, "Memorial Day Weekend." Usually we get a heat wave and brave the pool anyway in May, but it hasn't been swimming weather at ALL! Well, at 86 degrees, probably fine in the afternoon, heat or no. We like the morning when no one else is there, is all. Giant pool to ourselves!

Monday - Invited to a BBQ

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I'd like to have a no-spend week - until next Thursday. The credit card closes Thursday - I think we spent enough this month. We are like this every month.

BUT, I feel like the forces are working against me.

I keep thinking of little things. Like, I thought the weekend might be nice to cook up some salmon. $10/pound. Eh, nevermind. Plus, we should bring something for the BBQ...

Well, will try to keep it low key. I can bring cabbage salad - I got a TON!

It's just been that kind of week, is all. Haven't been out to lunch in forever, and a friend was available at the last minute, yesterday. Wasn't worth saying no. I had been bugging her to get together for a couple of weeks and hadn't done much lunch since last year (surgery, tax season, everything). But sometimes no-spend weeks are easy peasy, and sometimes not so much. I will be practicing a lot of self control for the next week! Trying, anyway.

Overall, I think we have a nice, low-key weekend plan. Want to get caught up on some house cleaning, too.

Amazon & Other Updates

May 23rd, 2010 at 03:42 pm

In the last couple of weeks, dh made $130 with Amazon.

Our disgrunteld ebay buyer (or scammer?) let his complaint expire, so that whole thing is over. We theorize he probably was a scammer, and gave up once we didn't roll over and give him a refund? Either way - he doesn't seem that concerned about it.

It's for the best - I think Amazon has been easier, and more profitable, for our purposes. Not sure we would have thought to try it, if not for bad e-bay experiences of late.

Dh also made a $70 craigslist sale, today.

It's not as grand as it sounds - he took $230 from our checking to buy some big game bundle thing, and gave me back about $250 in the end. HE did it more to keep some of the good stuff that came in the bundle, than for a profit. So, with the $70 sale, it's probably a rather average $100 profit month.

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In other news, we had a good month. I don't keep cash around, nor do I keep any money in my checking (just works best for us - we are aggressive on the savings), but BM needed $20 for a yearbook. I actually don't mind the yearbook purchase. We actually don't buy the school pics - could care less - but the yearbook is a nice way to get a picture of his class and all that. $20 is pretty reasonable, I think.

Anyway, it is no biggie, but it was going to be a pain to transfer $20 over, etc., etc.

Well, lo and behold, I got some random $21 refund in the mail yesterday. A RX refund from our HMO? No idea what the heck it is.

Well, that makes it easy! It's been a while since things have worked out like that. But often, they just do.

I was actually wary, because it was clearly some blue statement or notice, which I had never seen. "What the heck is this?" I thought. I was nervous. I actually thought it was a "late/overdue statement" because a $1500 payment I had made through the mail hadn't cleared yet.

Instead, it was a check. Yup - never got a refund from them before!

They have seemed to have lots of problems adjusting to their new deductible/out-of-pockets this year. I am sure it stems from that. Maybe a RX purchase that should have been reduced to a co-pay since we had used our deductible? I don't know. We generally do not have prescriptions, but we all had pink eye twice, BM got an inhaler, and dh got some pain meds after surgery. So lord knows which prescription this applies to. Any other time it would probably be obvious - but we are a mess this year! I presume the inhaler since it cost like 3 times as much as LM's had. I suppose that was a mistake.

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We decided to get a new computer monitor for Father's Day. We primarily use one computer, and 2 of our computers have monitors circa 1980.

This is something we have been meaning to purchase for a long time, and I see our window of opportunity closing, as our finances tighten a bit.

My idea was to just buy it because it would probably save energy. (Changing light bulbs was a bust because apparently we don't use them enough. That, and our non-CFLs were apparently quite energy efficient, as is). The computer monitor is something clearly heavily used and ancient. I think we have better odds to improve on it!

I think dh has a modern monitor in his office for video editing and such. (Now that I think about it - we only bought that one because one ancient monitor went dead after nursing it along for many years). When I brought up the idea to dh, he really liked it, since he plans to use the main computer for more editing. Basically, I didn't realize he was kind of thinking of getting a monitor anyway - for his own working purposes.

We will pay for it with the first month of "no preschool." He's already picked one out - I asked him to card it in June or after, is all. So I don't have to touch savings for it.

I think that will cool it on big purchases for us. Last year was really good financially, and this year has not been so good. We used last year's bounty to really catch up on some stuff around the house. So, it's been a really good run. But we are happy to cool it for while.

We also discussed keeping it a low key/close to home year. We re-instituted a vacation budget in the last couple of years (survived many years without one) and it's kind of the first thing to go. Last year we used it more for season pass/amusement park type stuff. Staycation. We didn't even go on a big trip. But, I was telling dh last night that maybe it's best his surgery used up so much of my vacation time - and this big Hawaii trip his mom has planned. Because, I think we should contract it in and be a little less spendy this year.

I can't even manage a day off for an amusement park (avoid places like that on the weekend - can't stand crowds). So, works out.

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We will survive just fine!

We already went to Monterey Bay Aquarium (which is quite a treat!).

We have memberships to the local parks/zoos, museums, and can spend our summer at the pool and bike riding by the lake. Cost is like $100 vs. $1500! (Our vacation budget is only $1500 - and we generally do the memberships on top of that, anyway).

It's fun to splurge once in a while, but it doesn't have to be all the time.

I think this is also an easy year to be low key. IT has more to do with my work situation than anything (which we haven't vocalized to anyone, so no one really knows our compensation has been hit. I might have talked about it to my mom, but that is it). That said, dh's surgery situation hasn't been that huge a hit, but people kind of expect us to be broke because of it. It's always easier to be frugal when people expect that you are broke. Wink So, phew.

Borrowing Ideas from Thriftorama

May 22nd, 2010 at 05:09 pm

I am in the way super early stages of thinking about gardening.

I've never had much luck in the garden, and don't consider it really my thing. But as I look for new ways to economize, gardening is kind of the next obvious step. Dh is also a little more into it, and has always liked the idea of growing a garden with the kids.

"Sacramento's long growing season (240+ days) gives us two major vegetable planting periodsó spring and fall. As you'll see from the calendar below, however, there's actually something edible to plant every month of the year."

{I am having no luck pasting the link here - something like sacramento gardening dot com.}

I suppose we will start with peppers (easy and May is the time to plant). Next would be carrots, radishes, and deciding on some herbs. Those seem obvious, anyway.

Anyway, yesterday, I came across a blog entry on gardening (on another local blog). The blog mentioned it is nearly impossible to grow edibles in our soil, and went into "frugal" ways to build raised garden beds. May be on the fugal side, but seemed pretty complicated to me. Ugh.

I thought, "there has got to be something more frugal!" So I googled "cheap raised garden beds," or something of the like, and probably got a zillion ideas on re-using recycled materials. Much more my speed!

OF course, then I came across the best idea of all:



I have been storing these forever (to freecycle, or use, at some point. I might have at least 6 laying around the house right now (some white ones too!). We will probably cut them in half (top half/bottom half) and make holes in the bottoms of them.

So, today I was ruminating on where to make space for all these plastic containers, in our soil. I am sure we will invest in some nicer looking ones for the patio and such. These will be good around the yard as we find places to sneak in some veggies around the yard.

I thought of Thriftorama's plan to hide her veggies behind bushes in her front yard (you know, due to the "no gardens in the front yard" thing to which I have the feeling my HOA would subscribe to). Even if that wasn't an issue, fact is, we have very little yard to grow anything out front.

So I Was ruminating, and then it hit me! I totally forgot that we had some unused space in our front yard, hiding behind a pile of bushes. We used to fret about what to do with that space and eventually just figured no one could see it so who cares.

ding ding ding!!!



We will have some weeds to clear out - but it ain't half bad - looks like it even gets water back there? Big Grin



SO, I have to think Thriftorama for that idea.

Time for a secret garden! Wink

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Finally, I need all the luck in the world. The only thing I have successfully planted, ever, is my wildflowers (from seed). As I mentioned earlier. While taking pictures, I snapped a pic.

My little wildflower jungle! Big Grin



Hopefully I can expand my horizons beyond wildflowers...

Anyway, if nothing else, I feel relieved that it looks like we can start gardening, whenever. Summer and fall is a good time for lots of plantings. Yay!

Birthday, Check

May 20th, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I didn't go the cheap route, but I did go the SIMPLE route.

Got the kids' party reserved.

Was going to say, now all we have to do is show up. BUT, I suppose I need to send out invites first. Then track RSVPs, and then show up.

& if I drive down some day at lunch (not too far from the office) I can pick up 15 invitations.

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We've got room for 15 kids, including my own 2.

We want to invite about 45 kids. Is that insane?

Thing is, the 20 kids from BM's class, and about 10 from LM's - I don't expect most of those to show. It's hard to say though. Last year we did a weekday party (only a few showed). On the flip side, even if Saturday is more popular, it is still in the middle of summer when everyone is on vacation.

Also includes cousins in another city who likely will not come.

cousins = 4
friends = 7
my kids = 2

That leaves 2 random kids to show up. More like 6 since I don't expect the cousins to show.

For another $45 we can double the size of the party, up to a week before. So I will just hope people respect the RSVP! I wouldn't mind doubling it if the turnout is big. I just don't expect it to be big.

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Dh has scored a bunch of video games and books for the kids, and has some Scholastic shifts this next month (where he gets paid with games and books). SO, I ain't shopping for them or anything. The in-laws will also spoil them rotten.

I'd say, that was the easiest birthday to plan, ever! It took a 10-minute phone call. Big Grin

Unseasonably Cold?

May 20th, 2010 at 01:59 pm

I am still adjusting to the weather here, but I don't remember May as a month of endless rain. I remember it as Hotter than Hades! Not that HOT is normal, but it seems we get at least one or two heat waves every May.

So, I am enjoying the pleasant weather (not crazy hot) but am kind of over the rain, all the same!

Today I did my first a.m. bike ride, this year. I could stand to lose a few pounds. The secret, for me, is just to be active every day. So, I am hoping summer will help motivate me.

I was wide awake at 5:30 am (not unusual for me) and the sun was peeking out, so I Decided this morning was a good of time as any.

The air was SO COLD!!!!! Bah. It was slightly humid and I didn't feel overly cold, but my ears and eyes (if you can believe it) were FREEZING. It took me a while for my eyes to adjust to the cold. This was something new.

It got a little better as the sun rose and I felt some warmth.

I thought I was just being overly whimpy, but the I checked the weather when I got back. "Feels like 45 degrees." Holy Hell!

This girl does not do 45 degrees. Gah! I mean, that is a winter low temp. WINTER!

So, I was awake, and the sun was out. But next time I think I will hit the gym. Or at least check a thermometer before I head out. There is a reason I don't do dawn bike rides in the winter. So my eyes don't freeze?

What can I say - I am a California girl.

Anyway, I did warm up a bit and it was a nice ride. I saw a TON of jack rabbits. I will usually see a couple. Today I disturbed a lot of them, and saw some little baby rabbits. Too cute!

I didn't see a soul outside - it was divine!

SLAW

May 20th, 2010 at 01:15 am

First off, I am terrible at eating my fruits and veggies. Doesn't matter how well dh cooks or stocks the house, I've got 25+ years of bad eating habits to overcome! (I don't think I ever saw a fruit or veggie as a child - don't ask. Thank goodness for dh to set us all straight).

Secondly, my unofficial goal this year has been to expand my culinary skills. Dh and I cook a fair amount, and well more than the average American, but that isn't saying much!

I suppose it started when my mom gave me a pile of extra potatoes. I decided I better figure out what to do with them. I've never cooked a potato before. I might have made mashed potatoes from scratch - once?

Of course, I felt silly because it was uber easy to cook with. & I love potatoes. A good way to add something on the healthier side, to my diet. We are hooked on potatoes now. I just fry some up every weekend with some seasonings. I never have to order a french fry again - home made is so yummy! & much healthier, I presume.

Next was fresh salmon. I decided to be adventurous and try some new things.

Of course, since then, I haven't thought of anything new. We did try some lentils, I suppose (dh did, in the crockpot).

Until, slaw!

Actually, it all started when we pigged out all weekend. The in-laws ordered us a pizza. My parents treated us to a mexican feast, etc., etc. Come Sunday night I told dh I would be happy to skip dinner. I told him all I could possibly eat was a salad. Very out of character for me, but I couldn't take one more giant/greasy meal, either.

SO, I don't remember what I ate Monday, but Tuesday I came home and still felt bloated from the weekend. Dh had a package of cole slaw in the fridge. It sounded DIVINE! I have never had it but for at a restaurant and always thought it was super yummy. I don't even know what cole slaw is. I am not a veggie fan, but love salads, for whatever reason.

So, I asked dh if he needed it, and actually, he had no idea what to do with the leftover slaw (had used some for a recipe).

I wondered aloud what I should do for dressing, and dh pointed out it had a recipe on the bag. It was okay.

Today I perused online and found this recipe, and read how great cole slaw (cabbage) was for the diet.

Anyway, this link had a vinegar-based and a mayo-based dressing. I will try them both.

http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/coleslaw

I am sure I could get sick of it real fast, but today a summer of cole slaw and frozen fruit smoothies sounds divine! Big Grin I could eat that stuff all day. (I'll eat any fruit in blended/frozen form). I don't even care so much about the cole slaw dressing. Just something to help slide it down a little easier. A little dab will do!

Actually, I also love green onions, which was mentioned in the recipe above. Carrots, green onions, and cabbage. Yum!

Anyway, dh asked if I wanted more cole slaw, when I told him I got some dressing recipes. Oy vey. No, I need some cabbage, carrots, green onions, and maybe some radish to spice it up. Prepackaged, shredded cabbage? Is he kidding me? Wink

It's just one of those things we generally don't *get.* How hard is it to chop up a few veggies? Particularly now that we have the big processor and a mandolin slicer. I told dh I think I could handle shredding some cabbage up. Wink

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Cole slaw and potatoes. Pretty basic stuff, eh? I am learning...

I've actually been experimenting with rice recipes as well. Screw rice-a-roni. I think the internet is awesome as far as finding those "just right" recipes. I always tell people that a well rounded cooking repretoire takes time. We've eaten primarily home cooked meals for about 8 years, and we still have so much room for improvement. But, it's like one habit at a time. Get used to home cooking A, then B, then C, and on and on and on. Slowly the prepackaged items have been disappearing from our pantry. Which means, our grocery bill continues to go down, with time. The learning possibilities still seem endless.

So, what shall I tackle next???

This & That

May 19th, 2010 at 12:31 am

I did end up picking a couple of mens' t-shirts up at Target. Actually, kind of stupidly, since I picked up a couple in San Jose with higher sales tax rate. They did not fit, so I returned them at home. (We had noticed the reverse was true before, and scored some extra sales tax refund a few times recently, so I guess it evens out!). BUT, they didn't have the same dirt cheap t-shirts, either. I spent $28 for 3 shirts. Was about $20 for 3 shirts, in San Jose! But, it is really nice to have some t-shirts for working out, etc.

The only other problem is I avoid Target for clothing since it all seems to fall apart so quickly. Admittedly, depends on the brand, but Target is heavy on crappy clothes. So, I am not sure if this is the best solution for the long run. I am replacing some REALLY old shirts! 15 years?? Will see how these hold up...

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While there, I picked up some flower seeds. I really wanted to get dwarf sunflowers (they love our hot summers), but all they had was full sized sunflowers that grow from 6 to 8 feet tall. Not what we need! Big Grin

So, I grabbed some poppies (variety) and another variety of daisies, etc.

I admittedly have a very black thumb. BUT, I got a wildflower mix almost a decade ago, and now those things grow like weeds! (I planted them close together since I didn't expect them all to take, and well, I have a mini windflower jungle in my yard, now).

We may rip them out to make room for a veggie garden. That is what I really want to get going, eventually. Dh is kind of like, "We don't have the "just right place" for that." He tends to be that way. It's not rocket science - we will make room! At the least, we can make some raised beds and put them on the lawn, you know? I am sure we can utilize the side of the house for things that don't need a ton of sun. That entire space is not being utilized, and looks very similar to where my parents grew their garden when I was a kid.

Anyway, our front yard has no flowers, I have a couple of pots, and our backyard has some spots we can fill in. So, I plan to do some seed planting this weekend. Wish me luck! I hope they take because some color in the front yard would be good!

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I am making progress on the car rental options.

Dh was cute. HE told me whatever I do, do not go super cheap just to save a few bucks. He was telling me about how horrid his experience was when his family went to Florida last time. He said, all that, to save $5 a day, or something. (They went to a place that was not at the airport).

I suppose it's good because I was wary of the super cheap stuff I came across. So, I think we will be a little particular. I've whittled it down to $400 for a convertible (about 8 days?) and maybe $250-$300 if we go economy. I could care less about the economy - we have a compact car and would be totally fine with it, even if we had the kids. BUT, we may splurge on a convertible. It is Hawaii, after all! For now, I got time, and am just waiting out deals.

I wouldn't be surprised if we go cheap and get the economy. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think it matters either way. But for a small premium, I'll take the convertible. Big Grin

Will probably go directly with a car rental company, because they do not have deposit or pre-pay requirements, in general. I am not interested in pre-paying $200-400 to save a very few dollars. Since kids, we always lean towards more travel insurance and cancellation leeway, etc. So, I haven't been very impressed with the discount sites. Of course, I have found that over the years anyway. At one time the discount travel sites were AWESOME. Now, you prepay, everything is non-refundable, and they charge you more anyway. How it has been with hotels and airfare, anyway. Rental cars look about the same.

AAA discount has come in handy. Duh - I could have thought of that!

Anyway, same goes for our Colorado trip. Just waiting for an airline ticket sale. We have got some time to wait it out.

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I forgot it was payday yesterday. I also forgot to deposit a check last time. So, went to the bank today, to deposit all that and some cash dh made on Craigslist.

I set the credit card to pay (last month's balance), and that's about it for the rest of the month. I spend so little time actually paying bills or worrying about it all. I LOVE Quicken. Was thinking of getting it for my sister, for her birthday. Yup, I should do that. I was just telling dh, I wish I had gotten it sooner. Have had it about 4 years (since age 29???). & thought I should get my sister a copy! She's an accountant so I know she can get the hang of it quickly and appreciate it.

I just read an article about a guy on Net Worth IQ who was kind of obsessed with keeping meticulous financial records and had Quicken from 11th grade. Color me jealous. How young is too young to get my kids set up on there? Big Grin

I probably could make separate files for them, yes? Don't tempt me!

Car Rentals?

May 18th, 2010 at 02:34 am

I perused airfare to Colorado, today. It's not horrid. Probably $250-$300 per ticket.

But, hard to stomach all the same. I am a very "reactive" traveler. Not "proactive" at all. Last time we flew to Colorado was "because tickets were $150 per person."

In fact, I've rarely flown anywhere across the country for more than that.

So, I should probably just suck it up and be happy that I have probably never paid more than $200 for an airline ticket. May this be the first and last time? Big Grin

OF course, I have never PAID for 4 airline tickets before, either. Yeesh!

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Along the same lines, when in the hell did car rentals get so expensive?

I was thinking about our Hawaii trip today and thinking maybe we should get a car reserved. It will be our main expense, since the room and air is covered with timeshare points and miles (courtesy of MIL - she ain't SO bad!)

I peeked today and cringed at the prices.

So, I was discussing it with dh. I don't think I have ever rented a car. Maybe once like 10 years ago. To which dh tells me it should be $35 a day. To which I think he is crazy. He did tell me, "It's been a while. Maybe it cost more these days."

So, I have questions for all you wise bloggers:

1 - How far in advance would you generally reserve a vehicle?

2 - Where and how do you get a good deal on a rental car? What are all the tricks??

Airfare, I can so do. Car rentals are like a foreign language to me - hehe. I suppose we just drive so much or tend to travel to areas with good public transport. Just not something that has come up much.

Last time I rented a car was because we got some awesome one-way air ticket deal, to Vegas. So we rented a car to drive back. Must have been 1997 or something. Big Grin Another reactive trip! I don't think we had much choice - being 21 and renting a car - not many companies would rent to us. (The plane ticket was something like $30, and splitting the car rental 4 ways was like $20 each - a trip with the girls).

We rented a car in 2003 also. That was a whole other thing. Basically, our flight home from LA was canceled (indefinitely, due to wildfires - the whole airport was shut down), and getting this nursing momma home in 6 hours was priceless. I don't remember what that cost was - just that I can't imagine the alternative. It's a miracle we got that rental car in the first place. I don't think we had much choice that time either - probably got the last rental car at the airport.

That really sums up my car rental experience!

Came Out Ahead This Weekend...

May 17th, 2010 at 08:03 pm

Due to bad planning, I had to cancel a camp that I had signed up BM for. So, got the $160 (partial) refund and decided to use it for Monterey this weekend.

Worked out. Spent $155, to be exact. About $100 for the admission (4), $15 to park, and $40 to eat lunch there.

We could have maybe gone cheaper on lunch, but dh's Grandma slipped him $40 to splurge. Ironically, lunch was $40 about exactly - we considered it a treat from her.

Thus, we really only spent $115!

There was gas and all that too. But we drive around the state enough, we won't really notice the gas. That's already in the monthly budget.

Um, last year we had stayed in Monterey a night and made more of a vacation of it. We decided it wasn't really necessary this time, but had plans Saturday so didn't make it to the aquarium until Sunday. The part I didn't think through was the almost 4 hours to get home, since we had to get home Sunday night. There was little difference in crowd on a May Saturday vs. Sunday (I hate crowds, but it was pleasant enough). So, I suppose cutting out the night stay was fine. Next time we will go on a Saturday though, and crash with a Grandma before heading home. As such, we felt rushed - no time to go out to eat by the ocean, grab ice cream, window shop, etc.

Personally, I'd be fine to crash, wake up before dawn, and drive home Monday morning. I have done it many times in the past. The kids would probably even be fine with it. But to the night owl dh, this plan would be a nightmare. So, we got home quite late last night.

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Visiting with the fam was, interesting...

My Grandma is doing much better and I talked to her on the phone. She practically begged me to bring the kids to come visit her. Oy vey. I think I had to impose myself to bring BM to meet her, a couple of years back. She did not want us to come, at all. BUT, in the end it was a really pleasant trip. I am sure this is what swayed her. BM and her got along quite well.

So, she REALLY wants to meet LM, after her recent "near death" experience. This is fine, but he can be a bit of a difficult personality, and I am not thinking it would go so well. She also wants me to bring BM. I suppose I could travel all alone, with the kids, to save a few bucks. But I don't really look forward to it. I think it would be worth the 4th plane ticket for dh - the only added cost of having some adult company/help.

Of course, MIL has insisted we go to Hawaii for our anniversary, for about 10 days (no complaints here!) AND I took a few days off with dh's surgery. Plus I got some attitude about that from a co-worker, who is now gone. It's really none of her business and I probably shouldn't worry about it. My boss is very low key and flexible. But with the economy and all, I don't want to push it either. I have taken advantage in past years, and I don't want to be perceived to get special treatment, or people to think I demand extra time off every year, either.

It's a pickle, but I think I will work it out. We would probably go on a Thursday night and come back on a Sunday. To Colorado. A quick trip. I could work the weekend before to avoid using any vacation time. That, my boss doesn't care about. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for one non-vacation day off, if I make it up. It's not like dh's surgery was some super fun time!

I've never really been in a position to spend money "now or never," but this would be the time. My Grandma's health has been going downhill, and we feel we should go as soon as possible.

Ironically, we aren't very close. But even my "could care less/not so nice" Grandma came around with age. Like, she wanted nothing to do with me, and suddenly around 18 she wanted to act all interested in my life. I am closer to my Grandma than probably any other faraway relative, and I think she wants a little more time as the end draws near. She suddenly is much more excited about her only great-grandchildren, that is for sure.

Not the wisest financial choice, but we will do it. I just think this is the first time I have ever been in this kind of position. A "screw the money" type position.

OF course, my mom has offered to pay our way, but that just feels ultra weird considering their current financial situation and the fact that they aren't going with us. Will see. Maybe we can compromise with 50/50.

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OF course, then yesterday my dad tells me he wants to take the kids and I to Japan in a couple of years. Maybe even dh. This is very awesome and generous, while overwhelming all the same.

Particularly since dh has a relative in Asia, and then he brings up it might make since to plan that "eventual" Asia trip and combine it with a trip to Japan.

Of course, all I Could think, was my dad really going to take us, and not my sister? How is that going to fly? (She is crazy in love with Japan). I hadn't even thought about her husband, which dh brought up to me later.

Of course, for dh's family Asia trip, he has a much bigger extended family that may want to go along.

I have a headache thinking about it. & while there is no way we could justify such a trip, financially, I would feel obligated to contribute a few thousand dollars if we did go.

This means, I should probably sit on all my vacation time next year, and we shouldn't go anywhere, at all, to hoarde up some cash for this wild trip.

*sigh*

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I think this whole thing kind of touches at the edge of why I don't like to travel. I suppose if time and money was unlimited, I could get into it a little more. But honestly, I like to use my 3 weeks vacation time every year, to buy 3-day weekends and flexibility. This means, I can generally take time off whenever I Want, and we do a fair amount of 3-day-weekend type stuff. But the commitment of one big trip means I can't get 5 minutes off the rest of the year. Ugh! No wonder people hate the rat race. I can't stand that, either. I usually don't identify because I am totally happy to stay close to home, and buy flexibility with my vacation time.

Anyway, I generally rather buy myself flexibility, than go on big trips every year. A big trip is fine once every few years, as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, dh's mom is WAY into travel and these giant family trips. What is unusual is finding my dad in the same boat. I didn't really know this side to his personality. I never saw it when he was a working stiff. But now, he has all the time in the world.

So, I Feel totally blessed to have so many travel opportunities, and yet overwhelmed at the same time.

I told dh, part of me says "screw it," we should humor all of our elders while they are still around. The other side of me just wonders if they all live a really long time. Dropping everything to go wherever everyone wants us to, isn't terribly practical for the long run, is all. But I suppose for now, we will just go with it, a bit.

More Real Estate

May 14th, 2010 at 08:52 pm

What do I know?

Just came across an article in print:

INVESTORS STORM HOUSING MARKET
Absentee, cash buyers pounce on deals


http://sacramento.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2010/05...

Thank you to the French for helping keep home prices afloat? Big Grin

Some excerpts:

"Investors are pouring back into the Sacramento market and now account for more than 25% of homebuyers."

"This time, it's France. French investors seeking San Francisco real estate found the prices too expensive and so headed east to Sacramento."

"Absentee buyers made up 27% of all buyers in March. Cash buyers made up 31% of home sales."

WOW!!! (Cash buyers - not young, locals, I will tell you that much! I think the absentee investors go with the cash payments. I was just griping about all the virtually non-existent down payments of friends buying right now).

"Prices relative to rents are looking attractive to a lot of people."

"Small-scale investors are also on the rise." They talk about someone who works at Target and is buying an investment home for $130k and expecting to rent it out for $1300/month. Oh yeah - sounds familiar. I presume these are not the cash buying type. I know a lot of BROKE people trying to strike it rich with these type purchases. $130k does not buy much worthwhile around here - I'll tell you that.

--------------------------------------------

I personally think it's a lot more of history repeating itself. Investors went crazy in Sacramento the last decade. This depressed rents. I mentioned the other day I Was surprised by the rent fetched by our next door neighbor (just got new tenants). Maybe rents are holding strong, and prices are bottoming out. I don't know how terribly sustainable it all is. We had a huge problem of way too many investment homes, just a few years back. A LOT of vacant homes, since they just flooded the rental market.

That said, I have said all along, Sacramento will never go back to the little town $100k-median priced homes. It's a REALLY nice place to live and the secret is out! As long as LA and SF still have insane home prices (& they do), we won't sink into despair or anything. Some of these investors may be smart. But, the frenzy of it all feels very remniscent of the bubble, all the same. Leaves me skeptical. Though I am relieved some people actually have some REAL skin in the game.

See what I mean? The real estate is in the toilet, but the frenzy is insane.

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Another quote: "Home values have plunged as much as 40% from the peak."

Yes true, but they also spiked at 200% appreciation in a few short years, before the "plunge." Are prices rock bottom? I suppose as long as people believe they are... My house is still worth what it was in 2001. I remember people at the time we bought our house, freaking out about the "unsustainable peak prices." Fast forward a decade later, as far as I am concerned nothing has changed, and now it's the "deal of a century."

Human nature is pretty interesting to watch.

Real Estate Update

May 14th, 2010 at 07:59 pm

I haven't said much about real estate lately, because it's pretty same old, same old here. What is the phrase I keep using to describe it? Manic depressive? Balancing all the foreclosures and market depression with the enthusiasm of first time homeowners and wanna-be investors. Means a nice house will sell in minutes, if the price is good. But there is a lot of empty homes and foreclosures going down all the same. I think "manic depressive" sums it up pretty darn good.

The single story homes in our neighborhood had bottomed out around $200k. Anything priced $199k or below would ignite a bidding war of bubble proportions. (Which is good to know, since we owe about $208k on our mortgage, still!) The split level homes (like ours) had settled around $250k. Maybe a little more.

So anyway, I peeked to see what was going on. Tons of foreclosures in our neighborhood. But a house sold for $292k!!! Woohoo! I looked at it to see if it was a large lot. It was a house facing the empty field. They might have fetched a small premium for the view, but otherwise, nothing much unique I could see about the house. It looks like a slight uptick in price. It's hard to tell though since so little is actually selling.

Another interesting observation was a single story home, listed for sale at $250k. The home was purchased in 2002 for $340k. Ouch! I keep thinking that people's memory is so short term - that we bought well before the boom - but we only bought a few months before this home owner did (though I admit they must have had a TON of upgrades or something. Or the public figure could be wrong). I suppose people were really getting into bubble terrirtory as early as 2002? WOW!

But that is not the interesting part. The interesting part is that our neighborhood peaked out at $650k prices in 2005. Only a few really gullible people bought at that price (most after the market started to turn - REALLY gullible people). But, I remember getting little flyers about all these homes in our neighborhood, for JUST $3000/month. Some of these were ARMs and etc. JUST $3k/month mortgage payment! (For reference, our payment was $1300/month, at the time).

Right now, our payment is $1100/month (we refied below 5% - fixed rate), and this house advertised home ownership for as little as $1041/month!

A larger home advertised a mortgage payment of just $1200/month.

I don't think I have ever seen advertisements of such low payments, in our neighborhood. (Or in this state, ever, for that matter!) IT's a combo of the prices and the interest rates. My how things change...

For now, we get to stay in "well above water land." But, I am still wary what the short term will bring. For now, our neighborhood is attracting first-time borrowers and anxious wanna-be investors. Phew, for that. What makes me nervous is the sheer number of people I know who are borrowing for home with like 3.5% down. Those FHA loans, correct? I don't know anyone putting any real money down on any home purchases. I still get the feeling no one has learned anything, and this mess will be prolonged for a while. It's kind of a mess, and I don't think I have had anything new to add. I have said all of this before, pretty much. Big Grin We may be the only ones in our age group, with some equity to spare around here, but we are ALSO quite clearly the only people in our age group (+10 years) who ever considered putting a real down payment on their house. It just boggles my mind that this "no down payment business" still prolongs. $9k down payment on a $250k home? Give me a break. OF course people walk away when the going gets rough!

Not Much Financial...

May 13th, 2010 at 07:46 pm

I had kind of given up on the piano lesson thing (teaching my kids). I was teaching okay, but couldn't get dh to co-operate with practicing during the day, etc. I can't do it ALL!

I had mostly given up and was resigned to sign up BM for lessons.

BUT, this year has been a little spendy with medical bills, and I lost 10% in compensation. Yeah... I no longer feel like I can afford the piano lessons. I suppose it is good we didn't started.

A 10% compensation cut means back to the drawing board. So, will retry lessons.

I had talked LM into lessons too, briefly, and he backed out. He turns 5 soon - no rush. I do not want to wait much longer to really get into it, for BM. HE will survive with parental lessons (the big no no) to get started. In a couple of years it may not be a big deal to pay for lessons.

I think the biggest "no no" is because it is hard to make the commitment. I am determined to overcome that to save money. (I used to teach piano, in college).

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My Craigslist sales are abyssmal. I am leaning towards donating everything, but the couple of items I know I can sell for decent money, with patience. *sigh*

I tried! Couldn't sell a thing...

With the economy, I find it harder to sell things. Though EASIER to give things away...

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Amazon selling is doing good. Dh has been averaging one sale a day.

For the longest time we didn't have a post office. Not within 10 miles? I know - but I am a CITY girl! We need closer post offices. Anyway, this never would have worked.

BUT, we now have a post office branch in our grocery store, and so dh has been stopping by every day. Usually it has been on his way somewhere (or he had to run and get some groceries, anyway). So, it's working out well. He is trying to build up positive feedback, so runs to the store with every sale - to mail it out ASAP. I am sure he will tone it down a bit, with time. But yeah, was thinking this whole Amazon thing wouldn't work out quite so well with 20 mile round trips to the post office.

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Yesterday I went on an adventure. I had found a semi-decent bike route to downtown. It's only about 6 miles - easy peasy. I was estatic to have found a bike route that avoided freeway overpasses and such.

To get to the meat of the stores, etc., in our own neighborhood, we have to cross the freeway overpass. Too dangerous. No lights or anything - cars coming on and off can be very reckless. So, we avoid. I would cross it, but refuse to take the child along.

So, I tested out this route I found.

It was a bit of a dissappointment. Might be quieter on a Saturday morning, but still way too many streets and cars for my liking. I also knew there was a unsafe stretch that I doubt I would ride without a large crowd or a big strong man.

I ended up making it about half way and called dh to pick me up. I just didn't want to ride back.

Left me dissapointed, but I will get over it. I think I will stick close to home. I may not be able to pleasantly ride to downtown, or even to any stores, but all we have is wide open space by our house. NExt time, we will just enjoy that.

I realized just how much I hate city bike riding. I also extra appreciate the fact that we have some insane long bike trial in our area.

We may have to drive up to the bike trail, and ride it to downtown, but that will have to be our comromise! IT is a ride I want to do soon.

My favorite ride is about 25 miles away by car. (It's the end of a bike trail which extends well east and west of our home. The trail is a 3-mile drive from our home, I suppose - though a little less crowded and safe in our vicinity - why we go to the safe/beautiful end).

But yes, we may try some other parts of the trail, as well. I want to explore closer to home, this year.

Eye Appointment & Purging

May 11th, 2010 at 03:23 pm

I still feel a little overwhelmed (catching up around the house and PILES at work to plow through), but feel like I am setting back into my normal groove. Phew. I think May will be a bit stressful yet, and things will settle to "normal," in June. I can hope, anyway.

I'm only working 9-5. I've got PLENTY to keep me busy for the rest of the year, but no need to work overtime to get uber caught up, just to twiddle my thumbs all summer.

Last week I worked a bit of over-time so I could take Friday off without decimating my vacation time. I don't have a lot left with dh's surgery. Actually, I have none left, with our 2 weeks of vacation this year. SO, last week was maybe more stressful (though SO worth it to get a day off!) and yesterday it felt nice to get home super early - it had been a LONG time. With this work schedule, I don't really need a vacation. 9-5 always seems like a breeze, after tax season!

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I went to the eye doctor yesterday and got chewed about a bit. Big Grin

Actually, I settled on my HMO for a few different reasons. The first thing she asked is if I had last been to an eye doctor in 2001? Um, no. But I had been in 2004, I know. (Last time 2001 - with my HMO).

My glasses are just dandy, and even last time they told me I didn't need a new prescription. So, I have been lazy, but didn't think it mattered much.

Meanwhile, I am apparently blind as a bat in my right eye. My glasses are no longer helping me at all.

Well, not blind. I am near sighted, so I can see totally fine. I didn't realize I couldn't read small print, 20 feet away, is all. Not at all.

*sigh*

My other eye was rather un-changed, and no doubt has picked up the slack.

I promised I would come in again, in 2 years. This is just one of those things that slid by the wayside with less means and babies and everything. But, time to put my eyes up front, yes.

I am still really skeptical about ordering eyeglasses online. I think I will buy some with my insurance, and get the proper measurements, etc. Once my eyes adjust to the new prescription, I will experiment with a backup pair and a pair of eyeglasses online. I will give it a whirl, but after researching a bit, I think I rather just get "professional" measurements and everything. Though I will ask for the info, for future online ordering. I saw some pretty mixed reviews on the online glasses, and I just don't want to go cheap on my full-time eyewear, personally. OF course, I would love to say I won't need glasses again for another 6 years. But with age, looks like I may need a new prescription every 2-3 years.

I was browsing the glasses yesterday and think the online ones are great to mix it up a bit and get some variety. What, am I going to go from "one pair of glasses in 6 years" to 6 pairs of glasses? Wink Will see.

Since we had used our deductible this year, this doctor visit was "free." I have other insurance that will cover most of a glasses purchase.

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Today is purge day! I set out 3 bags of clothes and toys (& candles) and a little basketball hoop thing for a little toddler. I think we have purged the "baby" toys at this point. We also have about 3 "baby" items to try and sell.

I feel a wee bit lighter!

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Dh made about 7 sales on Amazon, within 36 hours. It is going great!


Amazon Market Place & Birthday Plans

May 10th, 2010 at 08:06 pm

I am well aware that Amazon has some of the same issues as Ebay, BUT, we were fed up enough with recent Ebay/Paypal issues, that dh decided to give Amazon Marketplace a try.

It's been about 48 hours, and he already made 4 sales, so he decided to list a bunch more stuff today. So far, so good?

The only real reason that I was more in the loop with Ebay is that he used my account (I had bought a few things over the years and so had some positive feedback, to start). So, I don't know all the details.

BUT, the fees really seem rather similar in the end. I read that ebay has lower fees, but not really, once you consider both ebay and paypal fees.

I also read that Amazon buyers tend to pay more.

So, we don't really expect to make less money, per items that sell, and so far this has proven to be the case.

Amazon is also infinitely more easy to list items on.

So, it's a good start. I am relieved that we can still work on that income stream, because we both have kind of had enough of ebay. But the income was good. Just not so worthwhile with recent hassles.

Maybe we should have done this sooner. The video games and accessories that dh's sells, I read that sellers tend to prefer Amazon for that kind of stuff.

Anyway, for now, is just a start. I'll keep you updated how it goes!

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In other random news, the rental vacancy next door to us was short and sweet. I am kind of surprised. They were asking $1600/month (for a much smaller home than ours) and as I recall, that is what they requested last time, before much of the bust. SO, I thought it would be interesting how it would pan out. The price equaled a lot of interest and a quick renter. Color me surprised. I figure we could rent our home, comparably, for $2000-$2200/month. Not bad (for current state of economy and rental market). Our own PITI runs $1700-ish monthly, at current.

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Went to a GREAT birthday this past weekend. Aaaaahhhh, it was so refreshing compared to recent parties jam packed with kids and rushed at these big kid play places.

I'm sold!

We usually do a pretty frugal at-home party (ages 1 - 5?). Last year we did a weekDAY Chuck E Cheese party for the kids, for about $150-ish. I would never go there on the weekend - you couldn't pay me to do it. So I know a lot of parents didn't like it, but oh well. I'd rather have only a couple of kids show up, than deal with it.

As a compromise, I did look at some of the other places, but they completely gouge you and offer very little outside a super rushed party with a billion kids. (Most of them are just like Chuck E Cheese! Though they cost a ton more...)

SO, yes. This was a new play place in the area. The kids LOVED it. The entire play area was reserved for the party. They did EVERYTHING, right down to writing down all the gifts, and making a little viedo of the day. The kids DELIGHTED in watching the video of themselves while they ate pizza and cupcakes. I am sure dh won't be impressed with the video (he's a pro) but it caters to the 4-6 age group quite well. Big Grin

So, it will be about $300 for the whole thing. I had my mind made up when we left, but I didn't consult the kids. They both told me on the way home that they wanted their party there, too. Well, that makes it easy - so we all agree.

I told them it was okay but that they would have to share a party. They don't seem to care at all. So, phew. Their birthdays are a week apart which makes this kind of stuff easy. LM is not in school yet and doesn't have quite the number of friends, so it still just makes more sense to do one big party for them. Maybe we will separate them down the road. Then again, they have a lot of the same friends...

The only added cost I can see - with 2 kids - is a second video. I am quite sure we can work something out - they must do twin parties and such. So - will call the place and get that reserved.

Was it frugal to have the kids close in time and age? Um, yes it has been! Big Grin Not that I can take credit for the birthdays being so close. Not quite sure I have that much control over all that - but I did try.

This may be the "Easiest" birthday party yet. We won't have to do a thing! I expect a $250 Chase rebate next month, so will consider it covered. I can squeeze $50 from the budget. We probably won't buy them any gifts either - dh has a stockpile of games and books to gift them. Phew! (I've got savings for this kind of stuff - but even better not to need it!!)

Updating my MP3 Player

May 9th, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Happy Mother's Day!

My 3-day-weekend has been both relaxing and productive. Big Grin

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I finally decided to take the time to update my MP3 player. Dh might have gotten it for me a couple of years ago, but for a random free MP3 here and there, from Amazon, or a request for dh to rip an old CD for me, he mostly set it up with stuff he thought I might like.

I am a huge music person, but pretty much stopped buying music when I was 17/18. CDs were so expensive, and I was too broke to keep up with the music habit. OF course, dh had a ton of disposable income (no bills) so, the flip side of the coin is he will get me copies of anything I like. But, fast forward about 15 years later, and our library leans heavily to his taste. Our tastes are mostly similar, but we've got some large differences in taste, too.

So, I was disappointed that we didn't seem to have a few albums. But I suppose I will just buy them. I can stomach the cost of MP3s, at least. Things have kind of gone the other way, with time. So, I am making a list of things I would like to purchase for my library. The list isn't too big...

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Anyway, my taste in music is very wide. I know the topic has come up around here, at times. Like, "Who is your favorite band? What are the best songs of all time?" That kind of stuff I just couldn't even begin to narrow it down! So, I figured I'd share a sample of what is on my MP3 player, to give you an idea:

Beach Boys
Ben Harper
Cake
Chris Isaak
Crosby Stills Nash Young
Enya
Guns N' Roses
INXS
Jack Johnson
*Some Folk & Classical musical
Led Zeppelin
Primus
Hope Sandoval
MIRV
Norah Jones
Queen
The Presidents of the USA
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stray Cats
Tegan & Sara
The Airborne Toxic Event
U2
Violent Femmes
Ween
Weezer
The White Stripes

& yes, I have seen most of these bands, live, in my younger years. When concerts used to be reasonable and "affordable." We went to concerts all the time, in college. A while ago, my dh found a pile of ticket stubs, and we had tickets for like $10 to see a lot of these (lesser known) bands. Boy, things have changed! I only graduated in 1999 (I am not that ancient!)

I remember paying like $50 to see U2 and that was BIG. Like the most expensive concert I remember. These days, I don't know if some of these more local bands would do a concert for less than $50. IT's gotten that pricey. (Though a lot of it is the fees and the service charges, which I guess we have officially boycotted).

Interestingly, our concert-going decreased drastically when we had kids. I don't know if it more of an income or a babysitting thing. I think both are to blame. Of course, now that dh is deaf in one ear, and concerts have gotten so expensive, I don't think it is a habit we will much get into again.

Anyway, it feels good to get the crap off my MP3 player I never listen to, and to fill it up with all my favorite music.

I suppose it is good dh did not have everything I want, because I don't have much room left!

Anyway, that was a nice present to myself, for Mother's Day.

ETA: Funny memory - my dh used to be a bootlegger. Not for profit, but he's got a bunch of bootleg recordings from concerts we have been to, for his own library. His pet peeve is yappy people at concerts. Wink

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P.S. Also took the time to update my blog color scheme. Similar, but more elegant, I think!

Credit to the following website for a proper color scheme:

http://www.colourlovers.com/palette/693847/Dogs_Blood_Rising...

I think I am getting the hang of it - took some trial and error.

Appreciated All Around

May 7th, 2010 at 02:34 pm

Teachers should be feeling appreciated today:



Monkey Mama sure feels appreciated:



Early Mother's Day Gift! Big Grin

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I am starting a 3-Day weekend. My first one since December (heck, I haven't had many 2-day weekends, since).

I haven't decided what exactly to do, but I actually feel a little productive. So, I may hit Craigslist or scrub the showers, or something productive. Now if I could get the inside of the house as shiny as the outside...

Oh, I am quite sure I will also find some time to laze around and take a nap.

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I offered to bake a cake for a teacher. In the end they didn't have enough people, so most of us made two. In the end, it was the perfect cake to make 2 of. I thought I may be up all night, but it worked out pretty well. Probably baked from 6:30-ish to 8:30-ish. Frosted and wrapped around 10pm. Not bad.

http://southernfood.about.com/od/cakemixrecipes/r/blbb658.htm

Simple, but DIVINE.

This was a good lesson for the kids. They were quite upset that I was making TWO cakes, and that they couldn't even have a bite! Wink Told them it is nice to do things for other people...

OF course, dh bought me some powdered sugar and I didn't need it (he had gotten all the ingredients for me while I was at work) and so I decided to make my "2 minute" fudge today. Had been craving it for a while.

http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,179,150165-227201,00.html

This one is also simple, but divine. I think that would sum up my cooking motto pretty good. I like simple!

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Between baking and a board meeting last night (I was baking while dh was meeting), we squeaked by with our school volunteer commitment for the year. I just read deadline was May 31 - yikes! We missed a couple of months with dh's surgery, and he has been unable to volunteer at all during the day, with LM's reduced preschool schedule. They also canceled bank day with the demise of WAMU - which was where I got most my hours last year. This year was mostly baking, board meetings, and Scholastic.

Next year should be a little easier. So, phew.

BM was counting the other day. He said we have 500 books. Yikes! Dh is looking forward to way more Scholastic hours next year, with both kids in school and no daycare to consider ("volunteer" though paid generously with books - many that we keep). I think I have to institute a sell/donate the same amount of books we bring in. They are mostly kids books, and small, but it's still kind of absurd. Knowing that he can volunteer a bajillion hours, I better be prepared with a plan. Of course, I would hope he donates most of the books he earns, to the school.

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But for a birthday party, we really have no plans this weekend. I likey!

Got My Free Bread

May 5th, 2010 at 02:13 pm

Hadn't been in the area of the bread store, since February? Work has kept me busy!

I had earned 2 free items.

Dh just mentioned he needed to go to the store for bread (think I just asked if he was going anywhere). He said, "unless you are going to aerobics and can pick up some."

It was a rushed trip and we didn't really need anything else. It felt weird to just walk in, and walk out, with 2 free loaves of bread. Big Grin

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In other news, I found my credit card. Doh!

I noticed my backup credit card, was "missing" a while ago. I remember reassuring dh that I knew it was "around here somewhere." & anyway, it's with my main CU, so I see the $0 balance on the card every time I log in to pay bills and such. I knew it was fine.

I had forgotten about it, since, but found it yesterday, in my gym bag. !! I suppose I put it there last fall when we went on our beach trip. I didn't take my entire purse, and slipped it in a bag "just in case." It is my backup card.

Doh. It is back in my purse, where it belongs.

It's Done!

May 5th, 2010 at 02:44 am

& so it is done...

Dh called me around noon to tell me the painters were done, and called me back in the afternoon to tell me the paint company's owner picked up the check.

I just got home, and boy, they did a GREAT job!

I had wanted to do a once over before dh handed over the check, but I guess it didn't matter.

They just have to come back tomorrow to put the weather stripping back on the front door.

& so ends our first "big maintenance" as homeowners. Heck, the only other maintenance we have done, is bird proofing. We've been homeowners for about 10.5 years.

$2200 to paint the exterior. Definitely worth every penny.

I am just in awe in how quickly they painted the house and what a great job they did. It was about 12 hours of prep, painting, and cleanup, I'd say. Not including a couple of hours of power washing, last week.

I will post pictures, later. Big Grin

It's official...

May 4th, 2010 at 03:21 pm

We have the shiniest house on the block. Big Grin

Actually, that isn't my intent at all, but the house is coming along VERY nice. I suppose they will be working on the trim today?

It happened. While inspecting the paint job we found another problem with the house. Ugh! I just knew we would find something else. Just along with the "there is always something" reality. The gutter is pulling away from the house in one area, and is exposing some of the house (whatever is under the stucco). Like, it scraped the stucco off when it pulled away. Not good! We think it is possible that the painters made it worse, walking on the roof and such, but it was probably already a problem. Didn't see it before, but not sure we have ever looked at the house that closely.

The plus side is we have all summer to figure out what to do with it.

I don't expect it to be an overly expensive repair. The hard thing in these cases is finding the right person to deal with it. When it came to the "ugly" crack on the side of the house, I asked a home inspector and a couple of realtors who to hire for that kind of work. No one knew! How annoying. I suppose we just need a roofer who repairs gutters, or even just a gutter person, though we may need someone else to patch the stucco. Blech. Or maybe we just need a jack of all spades handyman. The plus side is that it is on the lower level of the house. So we don't need people with specialized ladders and such - always harder to find.

IT took me about 8 years to get this crack fixed (in the end, the painters took care of it - what I understood after starting to research painters a few years back). I don't think I have that luxury with this repair. It's a wee bit more than a superficial crack...

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Today I got the gas bill for April, and we used about 50% more gas than last April.

I think it has been cooler (REALLY stormy!). But, this week is summer-y, and seeing the bill reminded me that I hadn't been turning the hot water all the way up in the shower, like usual. I probably usually turn the hot water down sooner.

It was easy to do today - was sweltering a bit. I already marked the summer level and the winter level, so just turned it half way between, this morning. Will see how that goes. This week, the summer level would probably do. We may turn it down more before May is over. IT was like 85 degrees yesterday.

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Today is a big day. Working all day, and going to aerobics in the p.m.

Dh told me he needed to run to the store for bread. I told him I could pick up 2 free loaves at the bread outlet. I haven't been to the outlet in ages because I haven't been to aerobics in ages. I still think that works out well - to only get mounds of bread when I go to the butt kicking aerobics class. They are in the same vicinity. For today, just getting free bread. Maybe Saturday I will do more bread shopping.

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I got a note re: charity pickup next week. Perfect! I've got a bag all ready to go, from the clothes purge last weekend. I just have to remember to set it outside Monday.

Not So Manic Monday

May 3rd, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I think dh mentioned it, but I remembered my LONG put off optometrist appointment was today. I decided to postpone it, with the pink eye and everything. BM also stayed home from school today - because he looked terrible. LM and I look like we can *fit in* with normal looking eyes. Though we shouldn't be contagious; just kept BM home to be safe. He has been really difficult to give drops too - not sure how much is making it into the eye!

I was relieved that his eyes looked a little less red, at lunch.

I suppose this is another reason I am glad I just went with my HMO for the appointment. It was simple to reschedule, online on a Sunday. I just put off to next week.

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Painting has started on the house. How exciting!

I have heard that the first 8 (or 10?) years is when a new house really settles. There are lots of little cracks to fill in and such - it is more than just about the paint. Though we didn't wait for the paint job to look "horrible," I still look forward to the facelift.

Oh - I believe there will be some "hidden costs" to the paint job. I presume they will use our electricity and water, which we tend to be quite frugal with. So, will expect a big bill, for May!

Also, we have a LOT of natural light in our house - it is so open and has so many windows. Anyway, with the windows all taped up, it was eery how dark the house was. We will be using way more lights than usual, I am sure. They should finish up Wednesday.

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Here's something I had never heard of before. A friend told me that her neighbor paints one side of his house, every year.

May be a little overkill, but it is definitely an interesting approach, to just bite off a little at a time. I suppose the every year thing keeps it looking fresh. One wall every 2-3 years might start to look a little more weird?

Maybe part of me is glad to have a very tall house so I don't have to do the math and feel guilty for not doing it myself. Paying a $1500-ish premium (over cost) to not break my neck, sounds good to me. If I had a single story, I would consider the once a year/frugal strategy.

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Had the funniest exchange with dh over the weekend.

I am probably guilty of not vocalizing all my plans - I keep a lot of things up in my head. IF it's "hell no we can't justify that right now," I just file it away (in my head) for later.

Anyway, I saw some decent patio set on sale, in the paper, for $300, and I just said aloud how maybe we should buy something like that, next year.

My dh flipped out a bit. To which I took great offense. Thing is, he rarely wants to buy anything for less than $1k-$2k. It's always big things, with him. So of course I told him to give me a break - it was flipping $300. Since when do I get to buy anything?

Anyway, we both calmed down, eventually. I told him that we had treated our patio furniture really bad, and I just wanted to start over. To which he replied, we never use it. To which I replied, because it's repulsive.

So anyway, AGES AGO, I bought a cover for the table, and dh hemmed and hawed about how ridiculous it was and how hard it was to remove the umbrella. To which I pointed out that I didn't really have issues with the table, or all of the chairs. Maybe we just needed an easier to remove, umbrella. IT really should be brought in every winter, with the chairs, and the table covered. The cover still sits unopened in the garage. I swear I bought it before we had kids.

NEedless to say, at some point dh went outside, and hosed off the umbrella. He opened it to dry off. IT was a bit windy and I saw it spinning around and suggested he put it down (I just meant close it). I would open it later when it settled down. It gets wasp nests when it is closed, and so then we can never use it!

SO, dh misunderstood and put the thing in the garage!

So I Ask him - if he left some of the pole sticking out or if I could actually put a cover on it. HE said the table was ready for a cover.

Oy vey! All that hemming and hawing, and he was able to remove the entire umbrella twice in one day.

So, all I had to do was threaten to spend $300??? Give me a break.

The whole thing is still not resolved. We have 3 white chairs that have turned a dark rust color. They are disgusting. The other 3 are fine. I will commit to bring them inside during winter. The other three can go in the trash as far as I am concerned. I told dh I may still buy some chairs - they don't have to match 100%. He doesn't agree. Sometimes he drives me nuts. Lord forbid I Want a chair that doesn't look disgusting.

In other home imrovement news, I am so tempted to get a screen door. With the house all spruced up, and a little cash, I think it would be a nice touch. I have wanted one forever - like a storm door so we can open up the front door in the summer and get a cool breeze through the house. Maybe it will save us some electricty (AC) costs in summer. Big Grin

But, I may put that one off. We need a custom door, is the problem.

Anyway, I can identify with ceejay. Having some money to get some stuff done around the house - and I have some long put-off projects in mind. I'd just like to get it taken care of so we can jump into super savings mode, for next year.

For whatever reason, dh was not opposed to the door. Maybe because I mentioned it multiple times over the years. Seriously, I am sure that's all it is.

Well, glad I mentioned it. I am going to scrub the patio table, and get out the nice chairs, and enjoy the backyard a bit this spring. Hallelujah for shade (from the umbrella).

Spring Cleaning - Clothing Shuffle

May 2nd, 2010 at 07:49 pm

IT's funny, because my kids were always so tall, and wore bulky clothe diapers, that I am used to buying up a size (or 2) for them. Now, it's opposite because they are so skinny. For the summer clothes anyway - where the height doesn't matter.

Decided to go through all the clothes.

I stopped by my closet and chose about 6 items I never wear, to make way for the 6 or so items I bought the last couple of months. To the donation pile...

BM's wardrobe was also easy. I picked just a few items that he had outgrown, to move to LM's room.

He seems awfully low on pants (that don't look like floods), so I presume I will be buying him some pants, come fall. Otherwise, he is good. (He's got ample school pants, and a pair or 2 of jeans, which should be ample for summer).

I dug through the "in between" bins to see if I had any stuff LM could wear for school in August. Funny, I had a few pairs of pants, but that is it. I found one school shirt in BM's closet that was on the small side (for BM).

BM's school shorts were like size 4. Oy vey. (He wears a size 7 pants - in order to reach his ankles). He is still wearing the same shorts I bought him for Kinder, 2 years ago. I presume that I will buy BM some new shorts in August, for BM, and will hand these shorts down to LM.

I opened up LM's drawers and just cringed. I had gotten rid of BAGS of stuff last fall or spring. I swear it was FALL? I knew there were more hand-me-downs in the bins - his size. Oy vey. I liberally tossed anything that looked tired, stained or worn, into the donation pile. There were also a fair amount of 2T/3T shorts that I tossed aside based on size alone. I am sure they still fit, but I had to narrow it all down somehow.

He's still got WAY too many clothes, but I basically have a giant bag to donate now.

It's sitting by the front door - charities come by every month or so. Will be able to just sit it on the curb within the month, I am sure.

He just gets so many hand-me-downs, from everyone. MIL has a knack for buying stuff for BM that doesn't fit. It gets used, eventually, by LM.

I really didn't expect I would have that many clothes to remove from LM's room. Yikes! I was also surprised how little of the hand-me-down size 5 clothing fit him. He is still wearing mostly 3/4, for shorts and shirts.

Admittedly, as the kids age, the "in between" bins get way more sparse. They basically are wearing the same size shorts at this point. BM can immediately hand his shirts down to LM. The only thing in the bins is really size 5 and 6 pants, that are a bit too big for LM, yet. & a few shirts that look on the large size for LM. So, it makes the whole shuffle much easier than in years past. Eventually they will just be the same size, I am sure, or we can at least skip the "in-betwen" time. They are 2 years apart.

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Next weekend, it's the toys. The kids have some old/baby-ish toys we can sell. I have a pile of stuff to clear out of my bedroom as well. It's strewn around from when we moved the shelves out of there and re-purposed them. I intend to sell most of it - just have been too busy to deal with it.

Odds & Ends

May 2nd, 2010 at 04:08 pm

I did a short post the other day, but it got lost. So, it's been a few days I think.

**My parents visited yesterday, which was nice.

My Grandma ain't doing so well. I suppose we have been blessed as longevity tends to run in the family, along with health and sound mind. My Grandma was in VERY sound mind and we didn't expect much different. However, she fell and hit her head. We were just talking about how fast everything changed. One day she fell. Then she had a few falls and they decided to move her out of her home into an assisted living facility. She fell on Easter, and moved last weekend. (She had ended up in the hospital somewhere in there, and basically went straight from there to her new home).

She is basically living in a luxury facility and has the means for it. She seems to be liking it there, at least.

Anyway, on one day in between when she was home alone, my mom asked me to call to keep her company (& to have someone else check up on her). To me, she sounded like she had a stroke. Just went through that with my dad, last year. I was taken aback, because my mom hadn't warned me. BUT, by the same token, I knew she was on a lot of drugs, and that could be it. I checked with my mom to be sure, and probably freaked her out a bit. To which she later called me back and said she was fine. She was just overly tired.

Only recently did she tell me that they think she hit her head and has some brain damage. It seems quite obvious to me. My mom could be in a bit of denial. In the end, her mind is clearly going. One day she was sharper than anyone, and now she can't remember things from 5 minutes ago. It's really sad. I know she has a chance to recover and all that, but basically her worst fear was always something like alzheimer's or memory loss.

We were just talking about it last night and I told my mom that frankly, we have been extraordinarily lucky that we have never had to deal with anything like this before. I know too many people who have dealt with Alzheimers, etc.

Anyway, I think the change could be good for her. She has refused to hire any help, whatsoever, though her health has been deteriorating anyway. Though I am sure she resists, it has got to be nice to have someone feeding you, cleaning your room, and taking care of all the meds for you. It is possible she will feel a little less lonely, too. Though she had lived in a retirement community before, and hated it. She was far too healthy for it at the time. So, hoping this change is good for her.

I presume that it is possible for her memory to return to normal. Not sure how likely, though.

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**In other news, today the kids and I woke up to pink eye. LOVELY! I actually still had a full thing of drops, so got them out and started administering. Dh is still asleep, so who knows.

I noticed LM's eyes looked a little weird the other day, but dh convinced me there was nothing unusual. Why I listened to dh over mommy intuition, lord knows. Not that it matters. I wasn't confident enough that it was pink eye to give him drops. Today was a different story.

I suppose we all exposed my parents yesterday. It's a wonder they ever visit us!

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The house was power washed already, and painting commences tomorrow.

Now I am just crossing my fingers that the job stays in budget and nothing bad is found.

I had been kind of scared to power wash the house seeing how bad some of the paint has faded around here. I guess a lot of that is more stucco/heat/chemical reaction kind of issues than anything having to do with over washing, etc.

I presume, going forward, we will power wash the house, once in a blue moon. You would never notice anything different, but they got all the birds nests and wasps nests knocked down. They have been accumulating for about a decade. Which was a good reason I wanted to do this now - before the wasps and birds moved in for the year. Well, I am not as fond of the wasps, but didn't need them to be attacking the painters.

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This weekend has been glorious. Next weekend I get a 3-day weekend, to boot. Big Grin

Absolutely, no plans today. Which is the gist of my 3-day weekend, as well.

I made it to aerobics/yoga twice this week. Hadn't been in about 3 months? I made it once, post surgery. Big mistake. First visit and I think my stress level went down about 10 notches. It's been a bit stressful, yes, but I don't remember the last time I felt so relaxed. I usually make sure to go at least once every week or 2. I have learned my lesson. $2.50 per class - money WELL spent.

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Yesterday we did all pitch in and clean up the house for an hour. It always amazes me how much we get done working together. I would like to commit a half hour to clean a bit further, today. My pretty dining room is a bit of a mess, again.

Yesterday I also washed all the bed sheets/blankets.

I do need to take some time to scrub some bathrooms, but that is about all that is really left. Maybe next weekend. Some deep cleaning for summer. Yesterday was just a good reminder to make the time - it doesn't take much.

We also have some Craigslist piles to tackle. Maybe next weekend.

I have been bad, as I bought some clothes but didn't make a goodwill pile. I didn't think about it until another blogger mentioned that was also their method. I also noticed I was running out of hangers. So, I suppose today I will commit to be rid of some clothes that I never wear. I am less excited about it because I hit my closet HARD last year. But I am committed to the habit of not increasing my wardrobe. I need to count up what I bought and find as many things to purge.

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In other news, we are this close to boycotting ebay and paypal. I knew the day would come. I only realized last year that I had to have my checking account linked as primary funding method in paypal. I don't like that ONE BIT. It used to be my credit card and I was trying to change it back. I primarily do not like it due to fraud potential. (Someone hacking in and draining my bank account?)

So I knew a day like this would come.

Someone claimed they received a broken game. We are skeptical. It happens of course, but has never happened to us. Doesn't mean it wouldn't happen once in a blue moon. BUt it doesn't help that when we asked him to return the game back for a refund (our only real option though we don't do refunds) the guy filed a claim. I told dh to be fair, it could be to cover his own butt. But he never responded, either. We just nicely said we would gladly issue a refund once the game is returned. Send it in an envelope with a 1st class stamp - who cares - it's broken!

Anyway, but we are a bit skeptical. It is a typical scam move.

In the meantime, Paypal debited my account for the amount, and dh is ranting and raving about suing them (good luck with that!)

I told him I didn't blame him if he boycotted them. It's been a nice income stream, but I have never been a fan of Paypal. Ebay has progressively gotten less seller friendly. I wouldn't be surprised if we stop all ebay selling. I don't remember the last time I bought anything on ebay, either.

Will see how this pans out. But, like I said, I am not comfortable with Paypal anyway. Maybe it's for the best if it ends badly and we close our account.

This is over $8. We will survive. Wink For a truly broken disc - just a small cost of doing business.

Want to hear something REALLY funny? Like the day before this started, I found a CD in the drive way, that looked like a bite had been taken out of it. I put it on the trash bin in the offchance it belonged to dh. I didn't think it did. So in the midst of all this "broken disc" mess, he walked in with it the other day and asked me what the hell it was. I said, "a bad omen. I found it on the driveway and thought it might be yours."

LOL. It's kind of creepy if you think about it.