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Archive for March, 2011

April 2011

March 31st, 2011 at 01:19 pm

I was going to do one post on how much 2010 sucked and what was going on in April. It felt wrong to mix the two - so you can read my last post if you like. All about everyone's medical whoas.

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April 2011?

I can't even think about it because my head will probably spin. Will still be working weekends, for 3-5 more weeks.

**Indian Spring festival (Holi) this weekend. I am exhausted just thinking about all the packing/planning. Covering the carseats in garbage bags so they don't turn rainbow-colored. Bringing enough towels and changes of clothes, etc. But, it will be fun. I don't think I have the energy to do it every year. Every other year has been our groove.

**The school moved it's awesome International Festival to April. Oh - the food is always DIVINE.

Why April? To torture me, I suppose. (I do remember last year it was like 100+ degrees, and the year before that rained - but I don't think April will assure better weather than May!)

Plus, I remember buying like 10 waters/sodas because it was so ungodly HOT last year!!! Seems they should have made more money. Wink

**BM has two track meets (out-of-town). Lots of driving for these... But we can kill 2 birds with one stone and visit family. I don't think it will be so bad since we have other things to do at our destinations.

Needless to say... BUSY!

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I shared that Weekend Sherpa link, recently. Lots of great ideas of outdoorsy stuff to do in California. (Indoorsy in the winter, I guess).

I haven't really looked at it much since my friend turned me onto it last fall. Tax season, surgery, crappy weather. Maybe I should read it more often - I didn't realize it had a ton of indoor suggestions during our endless rainy March.


Anyway, this is what came to my inbox today:

Rock City - Mt. Diablo


& so I found our first hiking destination for 2011. OMG - the kids will LOVE it.

Too bad we probably can't justify the gas or the time, until May. But will have to set a date.

The cool thing is it is a good half-way point to meet my dad. So, I am thinking a picnic with Grandpa. A cool hike. Neither of us has to drive 4 hours round-trip to do so. Woohoo!

+ $26

March 30th, 2011 at 09:21 am

Too much to post about - not enough time.

So will be short and sweet instead.

**Got gas for first time in a month or so? Price was $3.95. Ouch! Paid $3.75 with coupon. Still $0.40 more per gallon than last time I got gas.

I've gone back to driving dh's car more regularly (the gas sipper). Yesterday I drove 50 miles (met friend for lunch and went to aerobics). Dh drove 20 miles (I noticed when I got in the van today - we both needed a fill up). Played well. Whoever drives more takes the gas sipper, as long as prices are high.

**Dh's cousin gave him $10 for gas, after he lent him money and rescued his girlfriend after her car was towed. He was out of town and girlfriend was penniless. Will see if the check clears, but was an easy $10 profit if the check is good. Wink (He has some serious money whoas, so who knows).

Also got $16 from Amazon. Not a super profitable month, obviously.

So, I added another $26 to the mortgage. At this rate, we will make our aggressive mortgage goal this year. Was an extra $160 for March.

Any other time I might have kept the cash. Meeting a friend for lunch today, and planning an expensive weekend, though March budget is probably blown. (Weekend charges on credit card apply to March - the card closes the 3rd or something).

BUT, I should also get paid some overtime. So, I will just ignore these minor splurges and chuck every last dime to the mortgage this month. Is a unique month, anyway.

**Our nice weather has returned and my good mood has returned. Woohoo!

Next 2 nights? Walks to the park, bike rides, etc. Hallelujah, life is good! This endless rain/no sun thing was really trying. Nice to have things back to normal.

**We've all been sick and work is crazy, but I really look forward to going to Holi this weekend. Unfortunately, the gas will probably be insane. & it will be a long exhausting day. But, probably extra eager to celebrate spring this year.

Oh yes - in years past I might have got away with $10-$12 for me, but I have to pay for BM this year and it is $16 a head. Ouch!

Will be an expensive weekend, but a very worthwhile splurge.

Frugal Advice - Gourmet Meals

March 27th, 2011 at 07:43 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Today my theme is dining out.

Um, I just got a tip that there is a SECOND culinary institute just down the street from our home. Just down the street from the other one who put on an awesome fundraiser for the kids' school.

Though Culinary Institute #1 did an awesome fundraiser for our school, and didn't charge us a dime - the whole night was about $80 for us. $50 dinner (100% to school) and babysitting. Ouch.

That said, look forward to more. We can do better with the babysitting, and a nice exchange for a 100% donation.

That said, second culinary institute apparently serves lunch to the public, a couple of days a week for $7.

$7 for gourmet dining.

I think I know where my new favorite lunch spot will be.

Risk Tolerance and Career Counseling

March 27th, 2011 at 09:03 am

At MyMoneyBlog he did a full review of that book I mentioned:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/book-review-the-art-of-non-confor...

"One interesting idea was his preference for what he calls Income-Based Financial Independence as opposed to Wealth-Based. Basically, he dislikes the traditional goal of having a “Number” of say a million dollars as a goal. Instead, he wishes to create a certain income from work that he likes to do, while also having the freedom and time to do all the other stuff he wants."

This would sum my own lifestyle, exactly. I want to live life doing what I like to do. But, flexibility is also important to me.

That said, I really liked this comment to the post:

"I think if you’ve got a dream you should pursue it. I just believe people should really consider their risk tolerance before jumping in!"

SO well said.

I did a post recently about how we are often criticized for being too "safe" and "boring." The thing is we LIKE to be safe and boring. & so we have found a way to live our lives that gives us freedom, makes us happy, but appears to be safe and boring. I suppose the author of this book was a little more into adventure, and so though it sounds like I could relate on many levels, I don't have to do something especially risky or "different" to find that happiness, myself.

I think the irony is there is so little conformity in our own lives. We can be labeled conformists for having the white picket fence and the 2.2 children, but that is about where our conformity ends. Wink

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It was interesting when I read this book review, because I just had the most insightful conversation with my spouse the other day.

I've always felt his parent gave him little career guidance but "You have to work a job you hate for good money." This is the complete polar opposite of how I was raised, and I have been annoyed how little his mind shift has changed after FIFTEEN years of being with me.

So, he tells me the other day that he just has NO IDEA what he wants to do. He is good at everything, so he doesn't know where to start. On top of that, he is extremely risk adverse. So, though he knows he wants to do something artistic (orelse he will never be happy), and he does NOT want to ever wear a tie again. But he can't resolve that side of his brain with his extremely practical nature.

For the first time I realized that though his parents' influence has always been very heavy in this, that he really has an internal struggle that I didn't quite realize before.

IT was ironic that he was telling me this just after I read about this book, and was thinking about risk tolerance in my own life.

Basically, my dh needs some serious career guidance. My only suggestions were to meet with the higher ups at the TV station (his dream job at the moment - and he knows everyone since he has volunteered there for YEARS). So he isn't getting anywhere with e-mails and trying to chat during events. I'm like - invite them to lunch and ask them for some career guidance!

Likewise, I think he should probably take some community college classes (dirt cheap here) and talk to the career counselors there. I am sure there are also other state resources for unemployed, etc.

One step he is doing is trying to finish some of his creative projects so he has something to show when he can network more, etc. It's a good start. He is planning a retreat next month (a free stay in the family cabin in the woods) to get away from the TV and internet and kids and just work on his scripts.

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In all this, I realized I was extraordinarily lucky because though dh and I both seem to have the same risk tolerance, I am perfectly happy in a well paying and steady career.

Of course, I don't think dh has to be worried so much about the "Well paying" and "steady" side of things, (being married to me!) but his practical nature will never let him move past that. It is what it is.

Believe me - our kids will get far better career guidance. I just couldn't stand to watch them struggle the same way.

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For myself, I identify with dh in that I also tend to be good at many things, and have many interests. As such, when narrowing down a career, I decided that a steady/safe/consistent job was what was most important to me. Accounting became the obvious choice.

I had seriously considered astronomy, biology, and music for careers. I even have a degree in the humanities. I totally understand how hard it is to narrow things down.

(Humanities - history, art, english, philosophy - was completely written off by the practical side of me - I just enjoyed studying it).

Through college I ruled out science.

My parents were extremely supportive "you can do anything in this world" types. OF course they were. My dad had little ambition until a community college career counselor suggested that he get an engineering degree. Was such a perfect fit for him. This left my dad with a strong sense that you can follow your dreams and do quite well. (Turned his life around significantly since he grew up poor and is now a millionaire).

That said, when I did express interest in music, my dad was always introducing me to his musician friends. He just wanted me to know it was a hard road. Not to discourage me - but to impress that it was something maybe better as a hobby than career. & that was with what he knew about me.

When we moved here, I immediately volunteered for a local wildlife rehabilitation nonprofit. I quickly realized it was not my thing. Thank goodness I didn't go to vet school. I loved caring for all the animals, and maybe I would have been happy as a zookeeper type. But, I just could not grasp the medical side of it at all. To me it was a re-assurance that I picked the right career. Phew!

My love for music and animals fits better as hobbies, for me. I know I could make a decent living teaching piano (I taught through college and had many music teacher mentors who did quite well financially), but I don't think it is as strong a fit for me as accounting is.

I know I Was very blessed to learn all this before I turned 23 or 24. Part of it was really getting my feet wet in a lot of different endeavors. Same careers that sounded great, I Was immediately able to rule out once I stuck my toe in the water. I figure the best I can do for my kids is give them those same type experiences.

For Californians

March 24th, 2011 at 08:43 am

My friend, who lives in San Francisco, told me about this awesome website a while back.

Weekend Sherpa

http://www.weekendsherpa.com/

Find weekend activities from hikes, bikes, camping, water activities, and skiing for Northern California

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For reference, Sacramento is only about 90 miles from San Francisco. If that.

As she told me all about this great website, I Was like, "Send me the link!"

Her: Oh, but it's a Bay Area website.

Rolleyes

Like I never go to the Bay Area!

Anyway, she was wrong. It is a Northern California website. Though it may be heavily focused on the Bay Area, there are plenty of other Northern California destinations highlighted in this newsletter.

(I just had to share because Sacramento has this reputation of this no-fun, "middle of nowhere" place to live. So I am perusing this website wondering what world my friend is living in - that I couldn't possibly get anything useful from this website. But, I get this all time. It's a wonder we can enjoy our sad existence in the middle of nowhere). Wink

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Anyway, I just got an e-mail that they are also starting a Southern California newsletter.

So, I thought it was time to share the link again.

The interesting thing is though I don't think it is a goal of this newsletter to be frugal, but since there are so many hikes, bike paths, etc., mentioned, that it does give you a lot of frugal weekend ideas.

I just got some "whale watching from land" ideas - one of our favorite beaches has prime whale watching campsites (I had no idea). I like this idea after our last whale watching sea sick diaster. We really need to do some camping this year.

Zappos

March 23rd, 2011 at 06:23 pm

In my 1-minute chat exchange the other day I asked for a "Refund or a credit."

I know - I should have asked for a refund.

She told me they issued a "credit." So, I presumed that was store credit instead of refund to my credit card.

That said, I didn't see the credit anywhere, but I hadn't returned the shoes yet. (Had asked for a bigger credit since the next size up ended up costing more - when first pair were too small - because sale ended).

Just updating my Quicken, and lo and behold, a refund to my credit card. There it is!

I didn't even put the return in the mail until today. So, they just refunded me, without waiting to see if I followed through with my return.

That's pretty sweet. Big Grin

Now I just have to keep an eye out for my credit for the returned shoes - I hope it hits before the end of the month.

Cookies! + Real Estate

March 23rd, 2011 at 01:31 pm

Well, the weather still sucks and all the rivers are being monitored.

I saw something about fresh-baked cookies in someone's blog, and I have been wanting home-baked cookies since.

I was telling the kids we could make some chocolate chip cookies this weekend (perfect weather for it) and they were whining why we couldn't do it last night or something (was probably 8pm?). I finally gave in and said why don't we make cookies tonight??? Sounds better than waiting until the weekend.

Dh picked up some chocolate chips for us - so will be cooking baking night.

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Kids got some colds - it will be a miracle if booger boys don't give me their germs.

We've had a good year. Even with this cold, we haven't broken out the inhalers yet. I was thinking about it in February - many months since either kid needing their inhalers.

Anyway, they both made it 2/3 through the school year with perfect attendance. We just got their 2nd trimester certificates.

Now that's a miracle!

I don't think BM has ever gotten perfect attendance recognition, before. He is never generally sick. But, he will be sick for a day here and there, spread out throughout the year. I don't think he has ever missed more than a day. (His illnesses are always fast and furious, and done in a flash). But LM is the type to perpetually have a cold. So lord knows how he manages to be so healthy around all those germy kids. I've never seen him so healthy? I think pink eye and strep went around 5 times since January - always some note or other from the school.

I'll cross my fingers that he is outgrowing his asthma. Other than that, the kids have always been pretty resilient. After paying their first year of preschool "sick dues." We were all sick non-stop for about a year - but everyone told me they would be less sick once they hit public school. Seems to be true.

Maybe LM has already been exposed to all the school germs through his brother.

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I had two lunch dates (With friends) this next week but kind of wanted dh to come meet me for lunch. It finally occured to me to just aim cheaper than usual, to fit it in (financially).

Of course, when I called dh to invite him to lunch, the first thing he says is "anything but fast food." Well that made it hard!

I finally remembered a great little hole-in-the-wall mexican restauarant that had expanded back to a full restaurant and their lunch specials. (They had become a little taco bar for a time and we hadn't it made it over there much in that time). Anyway, then dh tells me he also had a "buy one get one free" coupon so we could actually eat a decent lunch for $5.99 (for the two of us).

I was skeptical of his coupon (would they honor it with their dirt cheap lunch special?), but they took it. Then, they brought it back. Wrong restaurant. We paid something like $13 with tip. They must have given dh a discount since he didn't get a drink. Doesn't quite add up if I think about it. Anyway, still, not bad for a REAL meal. Big Grin

Next time he can bring the right coupon and we can do even better.

It was just my "duh" moment of the day. If I want to eat out with the hub, I can. Just had to be a little more creative than usual.

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Came across this as a reply to a very pro housing article (was something like California will go up 25% in 5 years? Really???).

I liked the long list of reasons why the economy is not poised for immediate rebound.

Why Housing is Going Through a Double Dip

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Why-Housing-Is-Going-Through-c...

"Consumer sentiment: Awful. No confidence in this market. Only the investors are out in droves, looking for and getting bargains. We need them, but we need real buyers as well."

Precisely!

There are no real buyers in my city. Just investors. Something about that just seems very "off" to me.

It's only speculation that is maintaining my home value for the moment. I'm grateful for that, but nothing about the situation makes me feel warm and fuzzy about the housing market as a whole.

Of course, I am thinking of specific markets like Sacramento and Vegas. Maybe all of California (it's just so over-priced, still).

Asked for the credit

March 21st, 2011 at 01:47 pm

I rarely return anything.

For one, dh usually has more time for that stuff.

Secondly, we try not to buy things we will have to return.

Anyway, I ordered some shoes from zappos that were too small, but when I ordered the next size up, the price had gone up.

I had set it aside in the interim but decided to return the "Too small" shoes yesterday. Hoping for a refund before the credit card closed at the end of the month. So, better get on it!

I had to print out the return postage, so did all that.

I didn't see anything about their exchange policy, so decided to call them today. While looking up their phone #, I saw a "live chat" option. Figured might as well give it a whirl - I was in the middle of a couple of things anyway.

Asked for a credit for the difference, and within a minute I had gotten it.

Don't get me wrong - I have to follow up on that. I printed out the online chat and will keep it as a reminder that I have a credit. IT wasn't apparently obvious in my account, and didn't get further confirmation. But, that said, that was so EASY to ask for and will be so easy to follow up on.

Live chat for customer service - it has won my heart. LOVE it!

Frugal Advice - Arts and Culture

March 20th, 2011 at 06:10 pm

**I suppose I didn't literally do nothing today. I actually helped BM make breakfast (though he did most of it), went to Kohls, and hit the gym. Washed some bed sheets.

Vegged out, read, and watched TV for HOURS. I needed a nothing day to just recharge. Today did the job.

My score at Kohls was 3 sweaters for $10. I "saved $125" in the process. I probably wouldn't have hit the sweaters so hard, but they had a lot of turtlenecks and my neck scar will be pretty ugly for a long while. So, I got 2 turtle necks and another sweater that was like one I have (& really like) but in another color and design.

The weather wasn't horrid when I went out, though it was most of the last couple of days, and for most the 10-day forecast. I have never seen the place so empty. I think the clearance rack had more good pickings than usual, likewise. Woohoo! I was limited by the number of arms I have since I didn't want to do the dressing room more than once.

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The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

Today my theme is art and culture.

The topic (art/music) came up because my friend called me up last night and invited me to a family concert thing that we had been to before. I declined with the weather and all, and my looking forward to doing NOTHING today.

BUT, it did remind me that we had gone to some great family concerts (FREE) the past couple of years.

There were 2 local Symphonies we had seen, and so I looked up their concert series and marked them all on our calendar. The next performances were in May and October. It's not an "often" thing, but they are free. & geared towards the kids.

Less for the kids, I remember all the performances I saw in college - put on by music students and professors. Always something interesting, unique, and low cost.

So, it seems to me there are plenty of opportunities to get out there and see some art - even if you don't have much money to spend.

Don't get me wrong - if money were no object - I would love to support the arts more, etc. I just have other priorities at the moment. I don't get the feeling my lifetime will be limited to free and low cost concerts. But while a college kid and while raising small kids, that is what I am limited to.

In addition to all that, there are always free performances in the community. A local farmers market is a pretty grand affair - and we love to go picnic there and enjoy free live music in the spring and summer. We also have weekend art walks with street performances, etc. The opportunities are endless.

On top of all this, I am strongly considering a fine art museum membership. I just wanted to go test out the parking situation on their "pay what you want" days that they have once a month. As long as I don't have to pay an arm and a leg to park, the membership is pretty lucrative. (We already have a handful of memberships. Thinking of dropping the zoo one for the museum, as the kids get older).

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Since all our family lives in the Bay Area, we have ample opportunity to explore their arts/culture too. Since I could not find more than 2 concerts per year for the local symphonies, I started expanding my dragnet. I saw the Silicon Valley symphony also has "Target family concerts," which happen to be at our alma mater in the summer. No dates announced for 2011 yet, but it looked like they had put on some GREAT concerts in past years (reading reviews and comments, etc.). So I am really excited about that. There are probably several other large cities in our immediate vicinity that I could dragnet, but I think that is enough for now. I've got 2 concerts on the calendar, and a note in summer to check out the Silicon Valley concerts.

While at it, I did my first precursory check into the local youth bands, etc. I learned to play violin in 3rd grade, and flute in 4th/5th grade in public school. Did concert band and orchestra through high school, and marching band too (high school and college). I know that the public schools are no longer supporting music like they used to. Our school has a hard enough time making ends meet without adding a music program. I just don't expect to have those same opportunities. BUT, I know there are nonprofit organizations and other avenues.

I was pleased to come across a youth band that offered beginning lessons, a beginning band experience, and had many advanced bands and a marching band. Seeing that just made my day. The cost is nothing compared to private lessons, and it is nice to know there are so many group playing opportunities. (The kids can start in 5th grade. Might consider private lessons to start learning an instrument in 4th grade - and then switch to the lower cost option. Just depends on our finances at the time. I would prefer the kids be exposed to piano, a string instrument, and a wind instrument. From there, you can do anything. But piano is a good stepping stone to everything, and where we have already started).

Even in this internet age, I am always amazed by the opportunities I become aware of just talking to neighbors, etc. I have no doubt that once we meet more people in the local music community, that we will hear about far more learning opportunities, concerts, etc.

Beef-Barley Soup

March 19th, 2011 at 07:35 pm

We ate well tonight:

Bacon-Beef Barley Soup

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Bacon-Beef-Barley-Soup

This was a crockpot recipe. Though it was recommended to serve with mashed potatoes, we didn't see the point. (The soup had potatoes in it).

Perfect for a cold winter day!

We were also out of bacon (it had gone bad), and so skipped it. It probably tastes even better with bacon, I am sure.

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I worked all day and plan to do NOTHING tomorrow.

I suppose I may run to Kohls, but the kind of weather will just stay holed up in side, for the most part. I will enjoy a lazy day.

Hard to believe, only 3 more weekends!!! Though it is pretty busy through April 30th, my boss has taken to paying us overtime checks April 16th the past few years. I find I am never as motivated to work the extra hours when I get paid early. Might have to work 40+ hours or even a couple of hours on the weekend, but no more ALL DAY weekends after the 16th. Until next January. Woohoo!

It's kind of funny how the stars all seem to align at crazy some years. I feel like, surgery aside, the stars aligned at non-crazy this year. & it's probably been a while since it has. As such, I can't believe only 3 more weeks.

IT's like literally everyone has issues and corrections and outstanding items, or no one does. I don't know if I ever remember such a calm and uneventful tax season (knock on wood).

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Since I am not uber stressed out and the stars did not align at crazy, we will probably make it to Holi (Festival of Color) this year. It will depend on the weather. Will hope for some sunshine and some drying out before April 2nd.

http://www.ashanet.org/stanford/events/holi2011/index.html

This & That

March 19th, 2011 at 08:50 am

**Ugh! The weather is terrible here. Yes, we were just in drought a little bit ago. Now we are on flood watch. Worse, I just read another big storm is coming in next week. There is nothing but rain in the 10-day forecast, and more storms to come after that!

Can't win - drought or flood. Not much in between. We live in a very low lying area and so these weather conditions make me nervous.

I think we will be holed up inside the next 2 weeks or so. Bah!

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**The messages we receive about the fiscal health of other school parents is decidedly mixed.

I got an e-mail requesting items for a raffle basket, and rolled my eyes at all the $50-$100 items requested. Within a day, all the expensive items had been snatched up, but so far we are the ONLY ones to buy a $5 item. They asked for like five $5 items to round it out. Heck, we will probably buy one or two more, if no one else will.

What the heck does that mean????? Some people are doing very well? No one wants to buy the cheaper stuff? (But me???)

**In addition, the school district has offered us crap for a location next year. We need more space, regardless of our expansion. Though maybe they would have just crammed us in somehow (more portables). But we added several Kinder & 6th grade classes, to boot, so the best they can do is split our school into 2 locations 5 miles apart. There is talk of renting commercial space instead, since space is cheap and abundant (post-bubble). The only plus to the school district's crappy offer is that it is "free." When I hear all the complaints about the new location, I wonder if anyone has bothered to look around the current one. No one complains about the current location simply because it is "convenient" and close.

I suppose it is possible that some landlord out there would get some tax break if they gave us free rent - so I suppose there are other options available. Anyway, so we really don't have anywhere to go next year, for the most part. The state is cutting budgets, and now we may need to come up with rent for adequate facilites.

I share, because everyone in BM's class is getting iPads. Rolleyes Okay, there is no doubt that this will be cool, and the teacher is very excited about the use of technology. BUT, all I Can think is that $10k or so could probably be put to MUCH better use. I have no idea the details on that. A deal with Apple? A generous benefactor?

My kids' ELEMENTARY school will be split and shared with TWO high school campuses. The facilities are crap. But they get iPads!

I am also not thrilled because it is probably something they will get used to just to have it taken away. Heck if I am spending that kind of money on an iPad. Let's hope I don't eat my words at the end of the year! I know it's hard to get used to something and then have it taken away - something so technologically advanced. HEre's to hoping we hate it. Big Grin

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**I signed up for Kohls e-mails in order to get $5 off. That was just a couple of weeks ago. I just got coupons e-mailed to me for 15% off + $10 off. Woohoo. I'll probably go buy something over there.

I don't think I have bought one item of clothing for myself all year. Usually what I spend my "fun money" on. So, will probably buy something. I have been fine with walking in and buying just one item because I need so little at this point. My wardrobe is fine, but I enjoy buying new tops once in a while to change things up a bit. I'll wear the same pants every day, but a new top here and there keeps things fresh. That's what other people notice. Practically free with all these coupons. (When I pull out an old top not worn in a while, people will often comment on my new shirt. IT's my little trick. They maybe notice because I do not have a HUGE wardrobe, but I always think it is so funny when I get a "new" comment about a 10-year-old shirt. Wink ). I am easy to amuse.

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**I have been seeing all these posts, blogs, etc., about Ally bank. Eh. I am underwhelmed. I just feel like, "My credit union has been doing all that for many years." I am continually frustrated about all the presumptions that credit unions are just small and not as competitive. I have ranted a few times about how my friends couldn't possibly use a CU because it's so "inconvenient," and yet I am stuck driving around with them looking for a specific bank ATM machine, to avoid fees. Rolleyes I can guarantee my CU is more convenient than most any bank.

That said, I have steered cleer of any interest-paying checking accounts over the years. Usually too many hoops to jump through. Keep a minimum balance or get slammed with a giant fee. Even the best CUs. Stuff like that. I just treat my checking account as a conduit, and keep the balance at $0. Any money gets transferred to savings/investments/bills once I have it.

So, Ally caught my attention with its "no hoops to jump through" checking with interest. I figure my balance is often $3000, since I get paid the first and don't pay many bills until the last day of the month. The interest they are paying adds up to a whopping $15 per year. & I am probably over-estimating my balance, anyway. So, needless to say, I am not switching my checking account over there. I am not hugely tied to my local CU, but I have grown accustomed to having a branch I can practically walk to. I'll take that over another $1/month interest. But, when interest rates rise, it may be something to consider. I am not tied to a local bank - this is the only one I have ever had. Was nice in the in-between years when the mail was very unreliable. Now I can just scan my deposits? I'm happy to go back to online/other city banks. If the benefits make it worthwhile. (15 of the last 20 years or so I utilized CUs in other cities and never had much reason to go into a branch).

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**In other news, I just happened to be driving dh's car when it rolled over to 120,000 miles.

By our standards, it's just a BABY!

That said, the car is 10 years old, and we've had it for 9 years. We paid just under $8k cash for it in 2002. We've had 9 years to save up for its replacement. I have a solid $8k to replace it. We expect it will last another 5 years, at least, and that dh will probably get a Ford Fiesta next round. Used, of course. Will see though. We have looked at cars the last many years and wonder what the heck. Like homes, I guess - they had gotten so big and expensive. Ford Fiesta gives us hope that we can buy something as fuel efficient again, and small and inexpensive. It's like, "phew." We have gotten accustomed to this small/fuel efficient vehicle. Ford Fiesta is the only thing that seems to compare, but maybe there will be even more options in a few years. (I admit I am a little brand loyal. I am sure there are other cars out there, but I am not 100% sold on Huyandai, etc., yet. Will do a lot more research when it is time to buy - who knows. Ford Fiesta has got a lot of press, and seems most comparable to what we already like about this car - small, low cost, and fuel efficient. Ford had impressed us so we may lean towards some brand loyalty. I couldn't say the same about their cars in the 80s/90s, but this car has been pretty sweet. NO issues, and we didn't have to pay a huge premium for that).

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P.S. Thanks to people like Lux and ccfree for getting old bloggers to come back and update. I think about a LOT of old bloggers, often. Too many to list - I wouldn't even know where to begin. But I just kind of figure life has moved on for them, they are busy, they are no longer in a bloggy mood. I am not a very pushy person and though I may comment on their blog once in a blue moon and let them know we miss them, I usually don't say much. Now I see all these people saying they came back because "so and so asked about them."

I suppose I should be more pushy, too. Big Grin

Kids...

March 17th, 2011 at 02:21 pm

**First off, we hadn't turned on the heat in over a week, and so I decided to turn down the water heater last night. I get the feeling it is later than usual, but it has been cold. (We set it to a lower level in the spring/fall, and even lower in summer).

Woke up and it was FREEZING. Might have been 40 degrees outside - maybe colder.

Now (2pm) it feels like 70 degrees outside.

Can't win!

So, do I turn the hot water back up? Probably will. I saw some cold mornings in the forecast. Bah.

We are also due for tons more rain, so hoping we can stay dry here. The rivers/creeks are full and the ground is so saturated.

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Dh is so funny because he keeps telling me how annoying all the girls are in the kids' classes. How they are always asking him stupid questions, playing dumb, etc.

I finally said, "I bet they just all have a CRUSH on you." I was teasing him, but kind of what it sounded like.

Anyway, we just left LM's conference and all these little girls came running up to dh and hanging off of him. O.M.G.

I called it!

Poor dh. Irresistible to the 8 and under crowd. Wink

Life Planning

March 16th, 2011 at 02:49 pm

An excellent and relevant post at MyMoneyBlog, today.

Life Planning Exercise: Creating My Perfect Day

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/life-planning-exercise-creating-m...

I have so many thoughts about this, I wouldn't know where to begin.

Of course, this exercise was an idea from Guillebeau's book, "The Art of Non-Conformity"

"The underlying message of Guillebeau's book, based on his popular blog, is that "You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to." Those who are open-minded, ready to challenge the status-quo, hard-working, and personally responsible can lead lives of rare authenticity through radical goal-setting..."

Okay, so I have GOT to read this book. My curiosity is definitely piqued.

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Anyway, my perfect day? That is an exercise that needs some thought and care. Something I will definitely meditate on some time after tax season.

I think this is a GREAT exercise and one that should be done often. I can't help but notice that life changes rapidly and humans have a tendency to think the grass is greener. As much as I feel in touch with what is truly important to me, I have found over the years that sometimes I was wrong, or things changed very quickly. Instead of making New Years' resolutions, maybe it makes sense to reflect on what our perfect day is, and how much that ideal may have changed from the year prior. Food for thought.

I was thinking about it because what I have been wanting more than anything is just some down time at home. Interestingly, I got that opportunity after my surgery. I felt great for about 100% of my time at home, recovering. But, I did not feel like there were enough hours in the day. I just felt like I more easily wasted more hours in the day. Suddenly, instead of planning summer vacation at home, not doing anything (which I always TRY for), we now have 2 vacations planned. Time home sounds nicer than it really is, to me. In more recent years when the kids were little, it meant more and I needed the time to accomplish more. But, the kids are at school and I have plenty of leisure time. I don't really need MORE.

Likewise, I have tried to warn other women about the lure to be home with their kids. Never felt it with my eldest, but had a harder time with child #2. There was a year or two in there that I felt a strong pull to be able to work part-time and be home more.

Those times? Dead and gone. My kids get home from school about 4:00 - I get home at 5:00. I am the type person who is far more productive and happy with a schedule and a job to go to. More time at home means little to me at this point in my life.

Just, don't turn your lifetime upside down for a pull that will only be there a short time, is all.

On the flip side, dh and I are very practical hard workers. It was only once we were ready to have kids that dh could put aside a well-paying job to pursue something lower paying or less "responsible." Between this mind shift, and all we have gone through these past few years on the medical front, we have come to a much deeper understanding about what is truly important to us. By the same token, when he first stopped working, we had a very limited income. As my income has grown over the years, we have made an effort to reflect on what was truly important, and how to best allocate that money. I honestly can't tell you what has made us think more - finite resources, or more time. Both, I guess.

As such, though I haven't sat down and planned out a "perfect day, hour by hour," my spouse and I have spent a lot of time reflecting about what is important to us, and how we want to live our life, these past 10 years or so.

Things that are important to me and that I do keep top of mind:

**Sleep - I value my sleep so much. Nothing gets in the way of a good night's sleep.

**Exercise - I know regular exercise elevates my mood. Exercise in the a.m. will improve my day ten-fold.

**Weather - I prefer to live in a mild climate, with lots of sun. My work schedule kind of works around the weather nicely. (i.e. summers are by the pool after work - many perfect swimming hours. Mornings and evenings usually pleasant for exercise/walks. The days are hot and suck, but then I am happy to be inside with the A/C. Winters are not my favorite - but that's when work is busy - so just kind of works).

**Quality of life - I don't do traffic and I don't do crowds. I think I have made that abundantly clear in my blog. Wink

**Work - I prefer NOT to work at home, but somewhere close to home. This may seem idealistic, but I have always lived a few minutes from my office, and spend many lunch hours at home. These days I get nice lunch dates with my husband - with the kids in school. LOVE it. I personally can not stand to mix home and work. Work is work. Home is home. Completely separate. I do better at my job that way. I do better with my family that way. The boundaries are clear.

I prefer little supervision, and I'd be happy to not talk to anyone all day.

That said, being self-employed does not appeal to me in the least. (I have been self-employed and I hated it!)

What I really like about my job, besides all the numbers (which I LOVE), is the feeling of appreciation and really helping people. (Even if I have to talk to people more than I would like!)

Though my current job is amazing, this would describe most any job I have worked. I have many positive work experiences, and so know clearly what I want and what I don't want.

I am fine working 8 hours a day. 4 days a week might be nicer than 5, but I think it runs a bit "the grass is greener." Not sure it would actually make me much happier. I actually find since I work extra during tax season that 9-5, 5 days a week, feels very leisurely to me the rest of the year. When it is light out until 8pm, I am happy as a clam. I wake up early, hit the gym, take the kids to school, work, and have 3 hours daylight left to enjoy at the end of the day (lounge by the pool a few hours, go for a bike ride?). That's when life is good!

**I don't want my life bogged down by chores. So I hire out chores that I absolutely can not stand (yard work) and dh and I share in the other household duties - to our strengths and preferences. Thus, neither of us spends much time doing things we don't want to do.

**Kids - spending quality time with our kids is everything. When they are grown, that time will be replaced with more time to volunteer, grandkids (I hope), etc. As much as our kids are everything, I know that there has to be something else, for the long haul. This may be one reason working less doesn't overly appeal to me.

Pay Day

March 16th, 2011 at 08:36 am

**Pay Day Today. I actually usually forget it is pay day and am surprised to get a check. I remembered because I had some other checks to deposit. Asked dh to just run them to the bank (had some cash, too), since I can easily scan my paycheck. So, became front of mind. BEfore this scanning thing, I just held all deposits to pay day.

The credit card is due the 31st, as is the mortgage. I will probably set the credit card to pay once my paycheck is deposited. Since I am adding extra principal to the mortgage - I will just pay it last minute. See if we can drum up more principal in 2 weeks time. It has a 2-week grace period, so no biggie. With no extra principal, I always pay it the 30th. But, I will likely pay it later with the extra principal factor. I'll decide exactly what to pay around the 31st, anyway.

Anyway, with 2 weeks before any bills due, no wonder I forget it is pay day. I just figured out this month with raise, tax cut and piano lessons, that I can pay everything on the 1st, transfer everything to savings, ROTHS, etc., and then nothing else to worry about until the end of the month (mortgage & big credit card). I like the simplicity. It doesn't always work out so easily...
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I had awesome news for a tax client. Couldn't have planned it better if I tried.

$50k taxable income? How much was his tax?

Um, $350???

That is an effective tax rate of 0.8%.

Is a low income tax client that came into some money. So, all he had was investment income - taxed at 0%. Tiny bit of tax on social security and disability. A whole $350 on that.

I sent him on his way and figured it was right, but couldn't wrap my brain around it. I had forgotten (or not known?) that capital gains rates were 0% up to the 15% tax bracket. I knew for 10% tax bracket. But not 15% tax bracket (up to $68k tax-free income for married couples).

I told him to enjoy it while it lasts - maybe 2 more years. I said "Welcome to being wealthy - the wealthy get all the tax breaks." Wink

Not very many people can manage that kind of scenario (no income but loads of investment income). BUT, some can.

Movie Night

March 15th, 2011 at 06:31 pm

**Track practice was canceled, so we might have an impromptu movie night. Had wanted to do that over the weekend (popcorn/movie at home) but ran out of time.

**I love daylight savings, but not much enjoyment here. It's just raining cats and dogs. I thought last year was bad. Good lord. Rain rain rain rain rain rain rain. That's all I see in the 10-day forecast.

**BM had such an excellent report for school, that I announced he could go wherever he wanted for dinner. Probably tomorrow night. I don't think dh was pleased with that. BUT, he chose McDonalds. I think we can swing it. Wink

Of course, I told him we were so impressed that it would be separate from his brother's celebration (presuming he also does well). Little brother just wants to do McDonalds too. Easy to please, I guess.

Heck, I think we have $10 in Gift Certificates still, from Christmas.

Great Few Days

March 15th, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Well, Saturday and Monday were pretty good.

Saturday:

**Made it to aerobics (2nd time since surgery?)

**Worked for 3 hours

**Finished parents' taxes

**GIL treated us to lunch.

**Took a nap

**Played tennis/enjoyed the nice weather

**Read some of my book

(Interesingly - now that I bought last book for nook - it is now available at the library. Probably for the best - there is no way I can finish it in 3 weeks! Way too big. Dh checked out 2 ebooks - all was fine but no renewal, which makes checking out giant books kind of useless).

PERFECT day. Put me in a very good mood.

SUNDAY:

**It rained, I worked alone all day. Not too much exciting.

**That said, MIL made us a St. Patty's day dinner - corned beef and cabbage.

MONDAY:

Monday was shaping up to be hectic.

Tried to re-arrange piano schedule around track schedule, and realized we had a parent/teacher conference.

**Crazy day so we all went to BM's track practice. Dropped him off and was running to Taco Bell. Dh suggested grocery store for sandwhiches. Ended up with sushi. YUM. Just kind of a nice spontaneous evening of sorts.

If it was crazy hectic like that all the time - wouldn't be my thing. But I suppose was a nice change of pace from our usual "plan ahead - plenty of time to cook/eat dinner" schedule. Just, a little spontaneous.

**Spent 1 HOUR chatting with BM's teacher. Telling each other how great we are. Have got to enjoy these parent-teacher conferences. IT seems to be how it goes (he is a great fit for BM and thus absolutely no issues since he is so happy). That said, went better than expected - if that is possible.

HE also has AMAZING things planned for next year. I am more excited about it than I was.

Since I know BM is a brain, I am always more impressed with behavioral praise than academic praise. We got some of that too, and an insight into how the teacher was rewarding him for that. I kind of presumed it was an "everyone gets a turn" thing, and was pleased to hear BM had been singled out for extra praise and as an example the other kids should follow.

What more could a parent ask for?

Windfalls

March 12th, 2011 at 04:32 pm

Received $850 this week.

Dh gave me $50 from his focus group. ($15 of $65 went to kids' allowances).

Got $300 from a relative for taxes.

Got $500 from MIL, for 6 months' piano lessons.

Total $850.

I am also expecting $110 from my mom (1/2 cell phone bill 2 months) + $40 from Amazon sales.

I decided to put $80 of the gift money/amazon sales to the mortgage. Will make $130 in extra payments total - just like last month.

If I transferred $680 to savings, the balance should be $9000 (mid-term savings) by end of the month, once interest hits. Sounds good to me. How I determined how much to put to the mortgage. The rest above the $9k mark.

I had expected to put the focus group money + $100 from savings, for some expenses last month.

So, paid for that out of the surprise money. All taken care of!

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Next month will be another nice month. $1150 in medial bills due, but I Expect $2k-$3k from work overtime, to replenish the medical deductible fund.

This is one way I found to fund our ROTHs, even with 10% cut in compensation. I usually save $250/month for the medical deductible. This year I am depositing that in my ROTH. It's kind of depressing to put 100% of my overtime to medical bills. But, it is what it is. In fact, there is a chance that we might not even use it all next year.

As such, it's kind of nice to get a small boost to other savings this month.

I actually don't mind putting 100% of my overtime to savings. There is nothing I rather do with it. It is 100% to "medical savings" that just isn't very exciting. But, I will get over it.

Of course, I have been motivated to work more overtime, in the offchance I can take home more than $3000 and can do something else with the rest (like put some in the ROTHs).

10% to retirement - or close enough

March 11th, 2011 at 07:15 am

Was able to fund 10% to 2010. Woohoo!

Maybe 9.6%, but close enough for me. Big Grin

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Background? We always put 10% gross income to retirement. Since we graduated college at age 22.

It's mostly non-negotiable. 10% to retirement. (Usually we put in more, but that is the minimum).

Then 2010 came along. We maxed our our medical deductible in both December 2009 and January 2010, with dh's brain tumor stuff. & then I got a 10% reduction in compensation around that time.

We quickly decided to put $0 to retirement in 2010. Was just a crappy year. We needed a year to just regroup.

I was not happy about it, but kind of felt it would work out. When we first had kids and neither of us was working for a time, we decided to put $0 to retirement, for the short run. In the end, we were able to put in about 12% every year since my spouse stopped working. So, I remembered back to when I had my first child, and how we were able to meet our retirement goals even when we chose to temporarily put them aside.

I didn't expect the answer to fall out of the sky, this time, but I did know that I had about 16 months to find more money for retirement, and that something would probably work out.

& so it has.

So how did we do it?

$1000 in mid 2010 - deposited into a new IRA I had to open to roll my work retirement plan into.

$3000 in December 2010. Transferred $3k from cash Efund to ROTH cash efund. Might as well not give up the contribution. This portion doubles as efund for now. I did have to be creative. But this made me feel better - at least I set 5% away in retirement accounts. Without depleting cash.

$2000 tax refund - all the medical bills gave us a nice tax refund. I was able to milk an extra $500 by depositing the refund in my regular IRA instead of a ROTH or savings. (I had kind of counted on the tax break, all along - knew this would come through. A very small return on all the medical bills).

That is $6000, and I was pretty happy with that. About 8% gross income for 2010.

I also felt so behind (another surgery - another maxed deductible 2011), that I gave up on putting more to 2010. In the past I just cram all my retirement into the last year (before April) because I want retirement to be all maxed out if some windfall comes along. Though we've had some lower income years, there is no doubt we could max (this year, last year, whatever possible) the minute dh returned to work, too. So, bigger income/windfalls are always perpetually on the horizon. We try not to give up retirement contributions, accordingly. Maxing out in more recent years - even if it took 16 months to do so.

It was probably stupid to give up on 2010, because dh and I have even talked about him returning to work this year. But after a not-so-great year financially, and being so "creative" about that 10% I think I was just DONE. I gave up. I Was tired of finding $1k here and there and not thinking I was going to do much better.

But I had a change of heart. In one of my last posts I said I may get $1300 (for taxes and piano lessons), from dh's family. Entirely unexpected. & so I start thinking I should finish funding 2010. Suddenly it seems actually doable. Max out 2010!?! Hard to believe...

I went ahead and put $500 to 2010 ROTH, which was just what i Was putting away this month in dh's ROTH. Vanguard apparently makes it really easy to switch your year designation (before April, anyway). I was able to switch last month's ROTH contribution to 2010. With the click of a button.

If I earmark next month's $500 ROTH contribution to 2010, that will get our grand total to $7500 for 2010.

10% - DONE.

I think I am done with 2010 though. Still, exhausted. Ready to move on and stop thinking about 2010.

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I know. I don't want to have to do that again. Blech!

This year I am just setting aside $700/month. Which is a little more than 10%.

Since I moved $1500 to 2010, I have to find another $1500 now. For 2011. That's the only thing. (I already had to find $1500 to max out).

I'll work it out in December, or next April. Coming up with an extra $3k is much less daunting than feeling like I could put away $0, one year ago.

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2010 was actually much better than expected. About $3k less medical bills than initially expected, plus a $1k break on our flood insurance. So, phew!

Unexpected cash is going to cash savings, for now.

Home Prices - Am I On the Same Planet?

March 10th, 2011 at 02:54 pm

I hear almost on a daily basis how home prices are rock bottom throughout California, and the "deal of the century."

????????

Honestly, I've read enough articles and talked to enough people to know that the majority of home buyers around here are outside investors (other cities, other countries, other states), and buyers with little-down loans (FHA?). That's what is keeping the home market from collapsing in Sacramento, specifically. People who know nothing about the local market, and more creative lending.

Oh boy!

I know a handful of people who got off the fence and bought - maybe with some decent down payments and fixed rates (but I wouldn't know for sure - the terms of their purchases). But, that's rare. I know far more broke people buying because "it's a good investment and no money down required."

The more I talk about this with people, the more disconnect I see between their lofty "get rich quick" schemes and the real estate reality.

I even went through zillow and examined historical home prices in several cities I am familiar with because there is such a huge disconnect between what people are spouting about home prices, and reality. As I expected, home prices are largely higher today than they were in 2001 or 2002. Zillow backs up my impressions. (Zillow runs pretty accurate here because home sales are so constant. Home sales prices are a good indicator, and there are tons of sales).

Sure, prices are lower than the peak, but any year before or since about 2005-2008 would be lower than the peak. That doesn't MEAN anything!

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Anyway, in 2004 or 2005 I saw a graph of Southern Cali Home prices compared to median incomes. It was a historical graph with a HUGE and sudden spike around 2002-2004.

I had seen similar graphs in regards to Sacramento real estate. Back then, it seemed obvious that home prices were unsustainable.

So as I hear all this nonsense, in recent days/months, I was poking around to see if anyone had updated any of these graphs through the year 2010 or so. I'd mostly expect home prices to either have leveled off, or still be quite high. I wouldn't have expected prices to have dipped down to some historic low. Because they haven't. Not from the long historical perspective.

To the next person who tells me I am a crazy investing know-nothing about real estate:



Courtesy of econintersect.com

http://econintersect.com/wordpress/?p=4487

Look at all those graphs on this blog post. Beautiful!

"And the irrelevance of interest rates to home prices during a housing market depression is obvious when one looks at the ultra-low interest rates of the 1920s and 1930s accompanied by home prices one standard deviation below the historical average."

"There is no way that a thorough look at the data can lead one to rationalize that the housing market is poised for recovery."

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If you are wondering why I am not running out and investing in real estate, this would be why...

This & That

March 9th, 2011 at 07:09 am

**Shopping shopping shopping

Bought BM a jacket for $15 at Target. Wasn't my choice, but he really liked it. Looked like it would last 5 minutes. (I don't buy adult clothes there generally, but the kids' stuff usually holds up well enough for the rock bottom prices - all their $4/$5 shirts, shorts, pants). Anyway, I will keep my eye out for something better. This one will do for now.

Kohls - had no jackets (we had gone there first), but I had expiring coupons. One was $5 off. So, I bought some earrings. Full price $16 - I paid $4. I LOVE them.

My ears are sensitive so I usually get silver earrings, or apply nail polish to them. I try to avoid the cheapies, that said. BUT, those cheap earrings I got at Payless have been very nice. No ear irritation, etc. Go figure!

Kohls - one final shopping trip. After first track practice. I felt dumb about how unprepared we were (since we signed up ages ago). Went to look for some sweats or more appropriate track wear. Plus look at the shoe sizing there (didn't expect to find wides or half sizes, but was able to get a better idea how the Nike shoes fit BM - the zappos order was way too small).

Got the info and ordered up a full size from zappos again - will see. IT was $10 more, same shoes. IF these fit, I will call and ask to treat it as an exchange - can maybe get $10 back.

Anyway, we scored gold at Kohls, this round. Track pants on sale for $4. I got about 4 pairs (LM wanted one too - whatever for $4). Got a couple of pairs of shorts that were reasonable, and the kids wanted these matching t-shirts. I chose Kohls because I had a store credit from a gift exchange. So, was feeling generous.

Full price for everything was $120-ish. (I know - who pays that???). I had a $45 gift card and ended up paying about $5. I could have used a 15% off coupon, too, If I had planned ahead better. Didn't have it with me. Oh well.

Once we get track shoes, BM will be SET.

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**Track? I think track will be great for BM. They were torturing him yesterday by going around the track with the slowest person in the lead. BM Was second and I wouldn't be surprised if there was pushing and shoving. He ALWAYS has to be first. I was thinking, that was genius - he needs to learn some patience. That said, I think they will quickly see he can easily outrun his age group. He was pretty bored because they were mostly walking, but I told him he had to stick with his team and work together to get everyone's stamina up. So, will be interesting. He liked Monday much better since he was able to run a mile full speed. Whoever was in front the second half was a little faster, anyway.

Likewise, one of his school friends was there. They are probably both the top of their class - nerdiest of their age group. I was kind of surprised. What is it about track that attracts the nerds? That said, I liked the parents a lot more than the soccer parents. Track is a thinking person's sport? Who knew? The school librarian was there too (her daughter) so people were reading instead of yacking on their cell phones and talking about all their stuff. A VERY different dynamic. Hopefully BM likes track. Seems right up his alley - he loves to go to the track and time laps, so I think he will enjoy it. That is why I signed him up. I liked that I could read my book without appearing extraordinarily anti-social.

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**Had a thyroid blood test and everything came back normal. Absolutely no surprise (I feel great - better than before), but is nice to have the solid numbers. I personally think my thyroid is functioning better than before. From the second I had surgery my body acted like, "Good Riddance!" So any feelings about surgery being way overly aggressive have gone out the window.

I suppose "normal" thyroid levels are very subjective. I've had hormonal issues since 2006 (last baby), so wonder if I have had this growth since then. When my body kind of went whacked. As such, I may feel better than I have in 5 years. I didn't feel bad before, and most of that had worked out, but I definitely seem to have slightly more energy. I also believe my metabolism has sped up a bit.

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I may come into a little money this month.

Close relative insists on paying me $300 for tax help. For the most part, EASY money. Will just put to savings. Dh and I discussed it - will somehow get it back to this person or use it for family stuff.

MIL insists on paying for the kids' piano lessons. She had mentioned it before, BUT FIL is retiring this year and she has been kind of wishy washy about this kind of stuff. I think dh and I feel more weird accepting this kind of help with our parents not working. IT's one thing when they are working and have all this disposable income. But, particularly with my parents (unexpected early retirement), I feel weird when they offer to pay for this or that. I suppose dh's family had a little more planned retirement. But, they will take a large income hit - that they have been open about.

So, I was pretty surprised about this.

Again, will just put to savings. For the short run, will build up future piano lesson savings. One of the reasons I resisted the idea initially is I don't want to turn off piano lessons if something happens to their finances. If I signed up the kids I wanted to commit to it. So, I think it is best saved for future years when MIL may not be so generous. In addition, I told dh that maybe we should save it for travel with MIL, since she always wants to travel everywhere and we can never justify the expense. Then she insists on paying, and it can get a little weird.

So, all in all, another $1300-ish to savings this year that I didn't expect. I presume MIL will just give us a $1k check. She knows we manage our money well. Getting a monthly check wouldn't be my choice, but will see. Beggars can't be choosers...

A lot of this comes from the fact that MIL and GIL babysit SIL's kids for free. So MIL feels a strong need to make this more fair and give us money. Which always has annoyed dh and I. It's like, "You don't need to give us money because SIL can't afford her own daycare. We don't want that kind of charity and would never ask that of you." But, it is what it is. In past years she would sometimes mumble under her breath that dh should get a job. Particularly when we couldn't afford a last-minute Florida vacation. Interestingly, that was before SHE retired and took over most of the SIL daycare. I think she has come to prefer that we don't ask for free daycare, over the years.

Likewise, $1k here and there wouldn't come anywhere near the cost of full-time daycare. But it makes her feel better, so, lucky us.

Updates

March 5th, 2011 at 07:57 pm

**Dh got called in for a focus group. Pay is $65 + dinner. (Dinner? that's a new one!)

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide detectors went through on the February credit card (didn't expect that) and I paid $60. So that will be taken care of.

**I don't expect to put any extra to the mortgage this month. I bought some school shirts for the kids (should last a LONG time) and they both needed new shoes. I Was short $100 in the checking account and took me a while to narrow down. I just left it since I have about 30 more days to come up with the money. (Or can try to make it up next month). So basically, any extra will go to the kids' school clothes, this month. I could pull it from short-term savings (one thing that is for), but rather not.

**Bought BM new shoes for track. Found some for about $30 on zappos (wide size and everything!) so I was pleased. Should arrive Monday - which is also awesome. Love zappos!

**For Kohls I have a $5 off coupon and a 15% off coupon. We may go tomorrow to buy BM a jacket for next year. He's outgrown his Kinder jacket which we will give to LM.

I had to take some of the online reviews with a grain of salt. (Was looking around online - no extraordinary deals - but rather buy before the selection dries up). Anyway, lots of complaints about useless lightweight jackets. Sounds like it would be fine for our purposes (in California).

**Today the weather was gorgeous and we got a tennis game in. With the weather it has been sporadic. Like, last time we REALLY sucked. Today we actually played pretty darn good. Not so much running after the ball, anyway. Certainly tons of room for improvement. LM has taken to pretending his racket is a light saber or something while the rest of us play. If he's happy...

Oh - but the mosquito situation is ATROCIOUS this year. Mental note: invest in mosquito repellant. I know - stupid me hasn't got around to it yet. Mosquitos in January was a horrific red flag. We usually only see them in summer?

**Reminds me, I broke LM's bike. I broke the tire while trying to fill it with air. Rolleyes Since it is our smallest bike, dh had the grand idea to sell it. We will sell or donate it, and just give him the next bike up.

He has NO interest in riding it, but that is another story. It's there if he changes his mind.

**Next week will be CRAZY.

3/15 is a big deadline at work. 3/15 - 4/15 is just CRAZY. & so it begins.

To top it off, dh has a focus group and a couple of volunteer nights at the TV station.

BM's track practice starts. 3 nights a week??? Oy vey.

Dh was smart and thought ahead. Told BM he had to get his homework done over the weekend since he had practice every night + a dentist appointment on the one day no track.

What have we gotten ourselves into?

I just figured the stars aligned at crazy for next week.

I'd be happy to bring a chair and read my nook, during practice, but will have to entertain LM while dh is busy with all his stuff.

**I finished my 1100+ page book. Book 3 in series. Starting book 4. Book 5 was announced to release in July. Game of Thrones series. I feel lucky I didn't start reading it until now. Going much faster than I expected. Hard to put down. I peeked at the end of Book 4. There was a note, dated 2005 or 2006, about how the next book would come out in ONE YEAR. 5 years later... That said, I still have to wait for books 6 & book 7!

Updates & Awesome News

March 1st, 2011 at 10:40 am

Lunch Challenge:

Lunch In: 21
Lunch Out: 3

I did better than planned, BUT was extraordinarily anti-social. So, I probably should have ate out more. With friends. One of those lunches out was alone - fast food.

I always see a direct correlation between my eating out and the scale. I didn't eat out at all the last 10 days or so, and the scale knows. I've been kind of a lifeless lump and haven't gotten back to the gym post surgery (nothing regular) but the scale was nice to me today.

I am in no mood to eat out, even after such a dining out fast, so that will bode well for my waistline.

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I suppose there is some new law where we have to have carbon monoxide detectors in California. I believe one per bedroom and one per level?? Starting this summer?

I had perused them a while ago, and yesterday amazon e-mailed me that they were 50% off (a lot of them). I still had some gift card balance from that groupon deal, so I picked up a couple of them. A great deal in the end! Will see. Was thinking one for the hallway upstairs (would be right outside both kids' bedrooms, and between the furnace and all of the bedrooms). I was thinking one for downstairs hallway (just inside house - next to laundry room and garage). Now that I think about it, may not be the worst to put another one in the main living area - kitchen and living area is just one big room. The kitchen is right by that one hallway, though, so maybe it is fine. I think for the most part this is pretty ample.

Will see.

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The kids' middle school charter was approved. Woohoo!

There was no legal ground to deny the charter, but the district is not known for sane decisions. They could have really made this process much longer and more difficult than it had to be.

Anyway, it might not bt the *best* choice for my kids, but their "assigned school" just got a lot better - moving up the ranks considerably. Phew! I feel great about that aspect. (Doesn't mean we won't seek out other options - lots of other charters in the city).

I am presuming that all 5th graders get first choice. I am not 100% sure on all the details, but since they need the support of the parents to get everything rolling, that seems pretty given. In fact, I am not sure how much this will be a different school or just an extension of the current school. All the parent support has been for an extension so our kids get priority.

There is a LOT to figure out. I am glad it will be several years before our kids hit the 6th grade. Likewise, I hope it doesn't cause too much turmoil to the lower grades, while they get it all panned out. Will see. They do K-5 excellently, so I can only hope we can say the same for 6-8.

In addition to all that, this speeds up the moving process. The current school location is VERY temporary. We are well aware. But looks like they may send half the grades elsewhere next year, etc., etc. So our nice easy walk to school will come to an end very soon. Oh well. We knew that day was coming, anyway.

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That is not the awesome news. The AWESOME news is that BM's techer is looping up ANOTHER grade.

So he gets to keep him for 1st, 2nd, and now 3rd grade.

O.M.G.

His class and his teacher is a spectacular fit for him. Plus, the teacher is just plain awesome.

I am just over the moon with this news!

I admit it, BM hit the LUCK machine when it came to his schooling. We've done what we could, but BM seems to get all the luck. He is very blessed to have had so much time with Ms. Preschool and Mr. Loop. Just two of the most amazing people I have ever met and such wonderful influences in his life.