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Back from Camp

July 1st, 2017 at 09:16 pm

We are back from our annual family camp trip. (10th year! Hard to believe. 9th year at this camp).

I hadn't thought too much about it, but was describing to a co-worker. It's basically like summer camp for the whole family. The camp is run by our city. Year 1 we tried San Jose's camp (near Yosemite). But Sacramento's camp (near Tahoe) has nice cabins. It's easier to get to, and we all just love it. So as I described to my co-worker the nice cabins, how all food is provided (dining hall) and they serve beer by the patio. The more I described it the more heavenly it sounded. So that was a couple of days before we left and I really started to look forward to our trip.

I haven't had more than a day off since November? So it all sounded very luxurious the more I thought about it. Otherwise, I just hadn't given much thought to the whole thing.

Last year was really a dud because we could only fit in our DC trip if we left on the last day of school and came back the day before camp. UGH. Anyway, I never planned to stay the whole time, and DL (11) was just not having it. We both ended up leaving camp even earlier than I had planned (last year). The year before my nieces had not come up, and so the last two years were kind of a bummer.

This year my nieces made it up for camp and the kids just had a BLAST with them. I think next year if their cousins can't make it up that we may let them invite friends. It just makes all the difference, for them.

MH had also bought a couple of games right before the trip. Rolleyes It's not like we don't have a million games. But one of them, Codenames, was a HUGE hit. We just had a blast with that one. It's one of those games that is more fun with more people.

Lake Tahoe was filled to capacity. After falling below normal levels due to drought conditions in recent years. I just thought it didn't look like it could be much more full. There was barely any beach left. I looked it up yesterday and it's at its peak. They are releasing water. Extra so since we had a heat wave last week with a lot of snow melt.

Since I had heard the ski resorts would have skiing well into July this year, because of so much snow this winter, I did look it up and we had planned to go up to one of the ski resorts instead of going to the Lake on the Lake day. It would have been $$$$$, but how often can you go sledding the end of June? Big Grin In the end, the kids changed their mind last minute and wanted to go to the beach. Saved me a lot of money. I was thinking how that $15 game was infinitely more entertaining. I really wouldn't have minded spending the money for a one-time thing (the resort had rock climbing and ropes courses and all sorts of thing my Monkey Monkey would LOVE). But I think it worked out in the spirit of camp to just not spend any money. In the end, it was probably the nicest (camp) trip we have ever had.

Oh, and the theme was Hawaiian or something along those lines. We aren't really much into the themes but I bought a few leis at the party store (a couple of bucks). In the end, MH brought his ukelele. (He got into it more than he would admit). It was a fun theme. Camp was super fancy this year; they had hula dancers!

{This trip is paid for by the in-laws. My dad usually goes with us too}.

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MH had free advanced screening tickets (plus extras) for the Spiderman movie, Wednesday night. He saw some kid running around camp in a spider man costume. So he approached him and offered him tickets. I was surprised because he is generally protective about his secret movie source. But he told me that he just said he got the tickets from a friend.

{In the end, they went and LOVED being able to see the movie early}.

MH kept two tickets just in case, but we all felt up to going to the other movie he had gotten us tickets for: The Big Sick. Patient Saver mentioned in her blog about the cultural diversity in New Jersey. Growing up in California, that's all I know. (The population was something like 3% white where I grew up. Any house on my street growing up would be a look into a different culture and world). Anyway, I bring up because the movie was about the melding of cultures. & it speaks so much of my upbringing and my childhood friends' struggles with their parents. Loosely based on the true story about how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his wife. In the end she got sick and ended up in a coma after they broke up, and he bonded with her parents during that time. MH had already told me that they ended up married so not too much of a spoiler? It's more a story about all the pressure his parents were putting on him to marry a Pakistani girl, and about her parents warming up to him and working through their own stereotypes. & also some about hospitals and Doctors/nurses. (Sometimes medical stuff is just a little too close to home. Especially when it's written by someone who has been through a big medical ordeal).

Anyway, we took the kids and they liked it more than we expected them to.

Oh, and MH got Spiderman tickets for another day, so all is well in his world.

DONE!

May 28th, 2017 at 05:26 pm

**MM(13) had his final on Tuesday, so we are done with this 3-school nonsense. Woohoo!

It's still a little messy since he doesn't have a last period class and MH is going to pick him up early for the next few weeks. On one hand. On the other hand, it's on his way home, so maybe it's not that big of a deal. Though he gets out of work a while before MM gets out. I don't know. We hadn't discussed that part. Maybe some extra driving, but at least no more sitting around and waiting.

**I think I am over the hump on a big work project. PHEW!

I could feel it on Tuesday. I woke up crazy early and so went on a 2-mile walk around the lake. It was a billion degrees during the day, so in the evening we went to the pool (walking distance). It was just divine. Life is good.

Back to vacation lifestyle. I had failed miserably the past 9 months or so (don't remember ever being that busy, since having kids) but the rest of this year is looking up.

**The last few weekends we have gone out quite a bit. In a frugal manner. Free movies, using free gift cards, taking advantage of memberships, etc.

We used up our last dining gift card (credit card reward from last year) so I mentioned to MH that I might keep an eye out for a meager reward like that. If that's all there is, is better than nothing.

**I am so behind on posting that I guess I will just start with this weekend.

Yesterday DL had his friends over. Their plan was to work on their band, but thankfully I mentioned to have them bring their swim suits. The band thing didn't work out so well, and instead they really enjoyed their time at the pool. (DL is getting way into drumming. I've got a really old hand-me-down drum pad thing and we will probably him a fancier one for his birthday).

& MM(13) is friends with all of them, so he hung out with the younger kids yesterday.

Today both kids were invited to a BBQ (another 11yo that goes to school with MM now). I think DL has moved on, having switched school. So though it was his friend to start, I think MM will probably have more fun at the BBQ. Hopefully DL enjoys himself a wee little bit. He is way into swimming these days, so maybe he will be okay. If not for the swimming part, I could see him being cranky and bored. Will see...

That reminds me that we did discuss birthday plans. It sounds like MM is going to try to get a group of 13yos at the water park. Summer is a tough sell though. So, will see what we can do. We already discussed it. If everyone can go, it's just going to be the big kids. If everyone can not go (most likely) then DL and a mutual friend of theirs will be invited. I am hoping MM can find one or two friends who will be in town. (DL doesn't seem to care too much either way).

DL's new best friend at the new school shares his birthday. There was talk at some point of some mega birthday, but his friend sounds like he wants to bow out of that. Now his friend wants DL to have a party and he is not going to have a party? Regardless of how it works out, they will have to co-ordinate somewhat. So that they don't both have a party on the same day. For now, it seems like it will be rather low key. Just a sleepover at our house, or something like that. (Though it's way more fun to sleep at other people's houses, and that is what DL is pulling for. Sounds fine by me! He's got some time to talk his friend into it.).

I forgot to say, we always stay home big Holiday weekends. Too many crowds. We hadn't planned much of anything, but had some impromptu get-togethers. MH has a friend coming over to watch a movie, too.

P.S. I shared a couple of easy recipes in my last post, if you missed it.

September Savings

September 30th, 2016 at 04:18 pm

Received $40 bank interest for the month of September.

Snowflakes to Investments:

Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.

Redeemed $41 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $6 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$6 Savings from Target Red Card

Savings (From my paycheck):

+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash
+$ 900 to IRAs

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,300 to cash
-220 school expenses
-188 Medical Expenses
-110 Large Purchase**
-90 Dentist
-40 Took kids/friends to fancy pool

**MM was going to reimburse us partially for a shared electronic purchase. I think we just forgot in the chaos. I'll check with MH on this.

Edit to add: MM reimbursed us $55 for large purchase

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July Flashback:

In August we really need to get moving on some home improvements. I know I am procrastinating because I don't wanna. *sigh*

August Flashback:

No movement on this. I can't imagine readying for contractors in my current state. Though we have lost MH's free summer time to deal with this, work is really slow for me this time of year and I can handle it. I need to at least start getting some quotes in September.

September Update:

No progress on this front because life is chaos right now. I don't see how/when until things settle down a bit.

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MH is back at work. He got a nice raise but is working less hours. It almost evens out, though making a little bit less.

For this month I am just putting his paychecks (3 weeks) towards replenishing our checkbook for vacation expenditures & gymnastic spending.

Next month he will put his 401k back to 50%. He's pre-ordered a VR system, which will take all of his income in October. November income will pay for the hotel on my birthday. I guess that except for the 50% 401k thing, we are just splurging his income most the rest of the year. (We have cash for these things, but we are also working on saving up for some big expenditures, so it will be nice to just cash flow our big splurges).

Until I typed this out, I thought we had maybe gotten used to the extra cash flow and were over-spending a bit. In the end, I was $750 short in the checkbook, after MH being off work for 3 months, which is easily explained by $250 vacation overage plus about $500 of gymnastic spending. Now I just feel silly. We have enough float in the checkbook so I was just kind of muddling through in the interim. I had forgotten that I hadn't otherwise planned for the gymnastic expenses.

I was expecting that MH's income would cover the kids' extra-curriculars. In the past we've covered with other windfalls or they just haven't been significant expenses. I can't say they were a big financial priority. But now we are in a better place to afford this type stuff. I think a lot of it will be moot given the kids' school changes for this year and next. So any bigger expenses will probably be rather temporary. For the next calendar year I can plan ahead better.

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Overall, I'd say that this month was chaotic. Probably too much stress spending.

More fun spending is planned for October. MH and I are going to Tahoe this weekend, and next week we are taking the kids to Monterey. (Instead of the usual big October break that we usually take advantage off, the kids have only one day off together. {Which is why we moved our DC trip up to June}. Though technically MM is skipping his math class so that we can go to Monterey during the week).

Planning Something Fun

September 18th, 2016 at 10:34 pm

I hadn't really thought much about it, but I think it's probably pretty official that we are not going to do a National Park trip this year. I had wanted to see how our home repairs would price out first, but I didn't count on my child falling apart. (If we went on a trip it was going to be without the kids, but I don't think DL would go for that right now).

It's fine. I already had a good feeling that we would push that off to next year. It just popped into my head and I am thinking, "no way in heck!" We have absolutely nothing travel planned for next year, or any future years, so I am sure we will plan a nice National Park trip next year. Just MH & I. I don't know what order, but we want to do Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce/Zion and Yellowstone. That will probably keep us busy for the next 3-4 years. If we do anything with the kids it would probably just be renting a beach house or a lake house for the week, or a small road trip. It would not be a priority or wish of mine to fly anywhere.

As for my birthday, I mentioned wanting to do a weekend away near San Francisco. MH did discuss with his mom, but her timeshare did not come through on this either. !!

That kind of got pushed aside in the craziness of the last couple of weeks, but today I booked a hotel. About $500 for 2 nights (*choke choke*). But it's my 40th birthday and I wanted to splurge a bit. (It's just extra painful since we already spent thousands above our travel budget this year, and we rarely pay anything for hotels. I had to take some time to talk myself into it).

We got a beach front hotel near San Francisco.

I want to spend the day in SF doing a hike and eating at one of my favorite restaurants.

I expect that the beach will be much nicer by our hotel and we will probably drive down the coast a bit and just enjoy the food and scenery.

This & That

September 5th, 2016 at 06:19 pm

Not doing anything exciting this weekend. I live in the house of Grump, right now. HA! MH is clearly getting stressed about going back to work. DL is okay, but we are walking on eggshells around him. I think my mood is okay but I am still stuck mostly off my feet. So we are all out of sorts on some level.

{MM is off at a sleepover, hopefully having more fun than the rest of us!}

We usually stay home on holiday weekends and avoid the crowds. But feel a little extra housebound right now.

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**Still figuring out the ropes of the new school. Weird after having both our kids in only one school for the past 8 years. They've often been in different locations, but always the same school.

I get the impression that this school leans more towards just supplying school supplies. But I've been asked for $20 for lab supplies/art supplies and $13 so that DL can write in/keep his math workbook. Oh, and $20 for a PE uniform (that he can maybe wear for a few years). {I had asked an 8th grade parent about sizing and she told me her 8th grader's first uniform was still too big. So I guess that they last}.

I have no idea what other expenses will trickle in.

**I saw that the Phantom of the Opera will be playing in our city next spring. We will try, but I doubt my kids will enjoy. DL seems way more into "being in" the theater versus "watching" the theater. Will see. If they don't enjoy this, I will give up for a while. MH and I can afford to go to twice as many musicals if we ditch the kids, so I can't say that I am that upset about it. Big Grin

But I first saw Phantom around DL's age and thought that it was pretty incredible. I guess I Want to give that experience to my kids.

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We are working on figuring out some vacations

**For our anniversary this month, we usually go to Napa since it's the only place we can generally get more last minute (free MIL timeshare). Well... We failed. MIL was able to get us a hotel in Tahoe instead. I look forward to the change and I think that part is all good. BUT, they didn't have a condo/kitchen so we will probably have to eat out mostly. Not the super cheap getaway that we are used to.

I suppose we can eat dinner before we drive up there and bring breakfast. So maybe we only go out for one lunch and one dinner? I suppose it's not a big deal. We'd go up Friday night and come home Sunday morning.

**I've finally figured out what I want to do for my 40th birthday. Kind of anything I want to do (National Parks/outdoors) is not really doable in winter. So I finally settled on just staying close to home. Rather than driving really far, I just want to keep it close. (I mean, I am sure San Diego is quite lovely in December, but it's a 7-hour drive). So... I settled on San Francisco! Thinking more to the southern tip of the city where the coast is beautiful and there are some lovely hikes, plus one of my favorite restaurants. We just don't make the time to go there like ever, so that is what I settled on. Would love to stay along the coast somewhere south of the city. I don't want to do the "hills" and "traffic" part of it all. Focusing more on the outdoors and the hiking.

MH still has to see if we can get a free timeshare stay. But since we mostly struck out this year and his mom was being difficult about it, I've already looked up some options. Thankfully it wasn't as expensive as I was envisioning. Will work it out, however it works out.

Birthdays & Knitting

July 3rd, 2016 at 01:19 pm

This month is the month of birthday. We will be hosting three birthday parties this month (the third party is for MIL's 70th).

Yeah, I had forgotten about MIL's birthday, but we are going in with SIL and she seems to be in super cheap mode.

We are just winging it when it comes to our kids. Very "go with the flow". We sent out invites for LM's party next weekend but are keeping it pretty loose. Will see who can make it and make decisions from there. Was thinking of splurging on an ice cream cake but I can just pick that up during the party. We don't do party favors - I hate all that junk and clutter. So yeah, I am really not planning to do much to prepare.

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With dh working, I am not feeling like we need to pinch pennies quite as much as last year (with all the big splurges).

We are planning a mid-week trip to San Francisco in July. We were going to do a weekday trip to Monterey in August but I am not sure if we can get that to work out. Maybe that would be something to do in October. The kids don't have the same break but I think they at least had one weekday off together in October.

In addition, dh and I have a couple of weekends away planned. That is more motivated by MIL having tons of timeshare points to use up. Is not anything we plan to spend money on. These trips will be later - our anniversary and my 40th birthday.

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So... Everyone in my house has been jumping into some new skills and classes.

I went a little back and forth on this. I was feeling inspired. But I also do feel like I have plenty on my plate as is. In the end I am glad I decided to take on a new skill myself. I took all that inspiration to finally learn how to knit. I am glad I just bit the bullet because it is really something that can be done during otherwise down time. In the end I don't feel like this has taken away from anything else.

Though I am sure you can mostly learn this skill online for free, I ended up picking up a book with 50 squares to knit. IT didn't even have any reviews and I picked it up on a gut feel. But I am LOVING it. Have mostly been told that knitting a blanket or something like that would be too tedious at this point and to keep it small. So this has been kind of perfect to practice and to build up skills.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely learned online from Youtube. Since I got my needles and yarn first (Michael's) I kind of started with that. Then I have to look up all the stitches online because yeah, it's hard to learn from a book. But between the two, I am happy with this method of learning.

Honestly, I feel kind of silly for not doing this sooner. One of those things I had been putting off for a very long time.

Edited to add: Saw some tote bags to knit, which seems the easiest/most practical so far. Making a note to self since I'm not quite ready for that yet.

40th Birthday Weekend

January 16th, 2016 at 08:06 pm

I am so glad to be done with the "Year of Splurge".

Last year was a lot of pinching pennies while planning all these BIG and short-lived things. Though I see the value of doing something "bigger" once in a blue moon, it is not how I enjoy living my life overall.

Now it's back to "Vacation Lifestyle" where we can do several smaller things throughout the year. Last weekend was a perfect example of that. We spent a whole whopping $260 and it was just incredible. Of course maybe this isn't fair since we paid for several shows ahead of time. But I didn't really count those since we do those every year and this was just the first time we stayed in the city and were able to do several more. (But since we ditched the kids we didn't spend any more than usual).

The "weekend away" part was $260, and was worth every penny. We could easily afford to do something like this every single month, and is what I would rather do versus saving up for one big trip only once per year.

So I suppose I will put this under the "vacation lifestyle" category.

In the end we had wanted to hit 5 shows but one was sold out before we could get tickets. It was the Friday night show, which was probably for the best since we didn't have to rush to get there.

The first night we had a late dinner and were mostly getting ready for bed. (I think dh was already in bed). When I told dh that I had just wanted to go for a walk or go do something for a bit. I usually go to bed super early but was a little nervous about having to stay up so late the next night. Going to bed early wasn't going to help with that, even if I had stayed up a little later than usual. One of the venues that we frequent for the Sketchfest was on the same block as our hotel and I had been reading off comedians performing there this weekend (reading these off on the car ride). We had joked about stalking them and also wondered if any would stay at our hotel. So we initially just discussed sitting in either lobby and people watching.

That said, when we looked up the next show down the street it was to start in an hour and was one of dh's favorite comedians. It had been long sold out, but dh suggested trying to get tickets. I figured that would keep me awake. He told me, "The good tickets usually open up last minute anyway. They hold extra seats for the talent." So we walked over not really expecting much. Well, maybe dh was expecting more but I certainly wasn't expecting much! But... they had front row seats available. !! File that away under, "It never hurts to ask." Of course, all these shows are pretty small and the front row seats don't cost any more than the back.

It was the best show we saw all weekend. I don't know if I have ever laughed so hard at a live show.

That pretty much summed up our weekend. Dh (the birthday boy) is charmed and everything went our way. All the food was great. We got free parking everywhere we went. & so how it seemed to go.

We did get stuck in the back row at a podcast recording that dh has been to a few times and always gets crappy seats for. But I was fine with it because at least we had seats! We had to rush from another show and there were a lot of people stuck standing. We got some of the last seats though we had been able to get there an hour before the show started. In contrast, on our Sunday afternoon show we didn't get there more than an hour early and we were like third in line. This was our view:



I mean, we didn't even bother to get there until the doors were supposed to open. & it was a packed and sold out show.

All the other shows were assigned seats and we had front row seats.

So we went to *five* shows, ate at several restaurants, and met up with some friends. Birthday Success!

Spending:

$130 Restaurants
$60 Hotel parking (free timeshare stay, otherwise)
$70 for spontaneous show

TOTAL $260

(See my prior post for some pictures of our weekend).

Vacation Planning

February 11th, 2015 at 02:25 pm

We got our room booked in Maui. Cost will be $0, thanks to in-laws' timeshares.

Airfare is going for $300 right now from the west coast. I don't know that I've ever paid more than $400. But $300? WOW! It's the first time I am flying all four of us to Hawaii and so these prices sound good but the low prices have not hit for fall yet. We will keep an eye on things. I signed up at a website that had a lot of great airfare tips and sales alerts. I feel relieved because when I perused airfare last month I thought it might be a lot more expensive than I had envisioned. It's since gone in the opposite direction. $300 per person x 4, would be phenomenal.

Our annual vacation budget is $1,500 and so I think I will just try to fit airfare in that range. (We usually don't plan trips to Hawaii and I Would not expect our usual vacation budget to cover that!). I plan to use credit card rewards to pay for the car rental. I may hold back $1,000 from my overtime this year to fund the trip. We wanted to take surfing lessons, maybe two of us do a zip line, etc. But most the lazing around and swimming, snorkeling, hiking and boogie boarding type stuff should be fairly inexpensive. I am feeling optimistic that this trip will be easily funded without pushing into our savings goals.

Of course, our usual vacation budget funds our overall more "vacation lifestyle" and frequent weekend trips and so on. This year is going to be "two BIG trips and not a lot of money to do much else" kind of year. We still live in a resort community, have some amazing hikes in our backyard, and maybe we should make more of a go of some camping excursions this year. I think we can easily keep our "vacation lifestyle" but it will just be more frugal than recent years. Will just have to plan accordingly.

Beach Trip Update

August 13th, 2014 at 01:29 pm

Beach Trip:

Spent $400. The bulk of that was food, and then the kitty hotel. That maybe includes $20 gas. I won't worry about the rest of the gas (maybe spent $50 gas total).

I don't remember the last time we went somewhere so crazy expensive on the food front. Never?? Their Round table pizza prices were 70% more expensive than our own local RT. We went there on the last night for a "cheap dinner" and couldn't believe the bill. Large pizza was about $30. !!

I'll pull $400 from the vacation budget. It works out perfectly because I also wanted to donate $100 to Camp Sac. I just hadn't gotten around to it yet and so made that donation this week and will pull $500 from vacation budget. $400 + $100. (Since MIL treats for our camp trip we always make a donation instead. Money used to keep up the non-profit camp).

Here are a couple of pictures from our trip.

First is the Mendocino coastline. Breathtaking.

Second picture was taken at Glass Beach. Old dump site where the trash has been ground down over the years into a beautiful sea glass beach. When you look closer at some of the rust colored areas of the picture (in person), is remnants of the old dump. There was one part that had an old giant car part and shards of glass. It's fascinating how old trash can be so pretty. Lots of the sea glass on the shore is plastic (red and orange pebbles used to be car tail lights) and ceramic (lots of pieces of china).

Our hotel accommodations were free, think to MIL's endless timeshare points. The property was so beautiful but the rooms were really run down. We are not picky people by any means, but when we got there I think we were both a little uncomfortable. I will say that the place grew on me. The beds were surprisingly comfortable and so we got over it. The beauty of the grounds won us over. Which is maybe why MIL's timeshare covered this place. Usually WAY NICER properties.

So, we finally did it. It took us 13 years, but we finally ventured up north for the beach. Since we now live up north. What was our overall feeling about it? It was beautiful but the drive was so stressful getting there. I don't know if I have ever been on such a windy road in my life and felt really horrible for carsick younger child. (I know I would have been miserable most the drive if I wasn't driving).

Glad we saw it, but think we will stick with Pismo Beach. Oh, and it took us 6 hours to drive home (supposed to be a 4 hour drive). SO... Pismo is a lovely and very easy 5 hour drive with hardly a windy road. I think that is just *our* beach.

We certainly had fun and have no regrets about it. It will just be a long time before we go back again. & new adventures sometimes give us extra appreciation for the places we already know and love.

Beach Trip & Citi

August 12th, 2014 at 08:12 pm

We are back from a long weekend at the coast, and kids start school this week.

I have no idea how much money we spent, but guessing $500-ish for gas and food and kitty hotel (4 Days).

My parents picked up airline tickets for visiting my sister in October. Phew! Glad that it is confirmed for sure that I don't need to cough up $500 for that (before they changed their mind). Which meant I had $1,000 left in vacation budget, and it doesn't look like I will be spending much in October (We won't rent a car and at worst it will only be $25/night to split a hotel. Just me, so not a lot of food to buy either). $500 should be more than plenty leftover for that trip.

Dh wants to go to Napa next month (I doubt we'd even spend $100) and I am still toying with the idea of going to Pismo Beach for my birthday. The kids don't get their usual day off (Monday after Thanksgiving) so it would just be dh and I. Will probably just make that a last minute decision, based on funds available. I suppose I should just use my Citi reward to book that hotel, and call it a day.

Will post more about our trip later.

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When we got home the Citi card was here. I charged it up already. $215 school lunches for first half of year, $260 field trips, $70 supplies and spirit t-shirts, this month's health insurance, plus $35 to pre-pay next month's insurance. Total = $1,500.

$200 earned - now I wait until I can redeem.

Short Vacation Update

July 18th, 2014 at 02:39 pm

A sure way to vacation success is to go in with low expectations. Big Grin

Background: In-laws invited us to So Cal for a week. We were wary about the heat and crowds and spending all that time with them, but in the end it turned out pretty well. Unfortunately FIL had an injury and they didn't end up really doing anything with us. ??? So it was kind of weird (to go on vacation with someone and then never see them), but WE certainly had fun.

Disneyland: Glad we didn't spend our own money to confirm that the kids are over it.

My parents took me to Disney once. I always kind of appreciated the magic of vacations like that because they were so rare. Living a 6-hour drive from Disney I certainly know many people who go many times a year and seem to enjoy it. But, dh and I are just so bored with it, and our kids even moreso. (I think they have both been 6-8 times? The older one a couple of times more?). As dh said, "We don't care enough about anything to actually wait in line for it". We saved that for Wednesday and the day started out pretty well but it was so crowded in the afternoon and evening. We gave up and left early. For the most part it was way better than expected and we did all the "long wait" stuff early on before there were any lines. Phew.

The kids still LOVE Legoland and the in-laws did join us for a few hours.

For BM's birthday we went to Six Flags. Best day of our week. We could not believe how not-crowded it was. There was only one ride BM could not get into (didn't want to wait 45 minutes and the ride shut down when he decided to do it last even if the wait was long), was the new one. We told him we will come back in 5 years and everyone will be bored of it. It was surprising how short the lines were on everything else.

So, we decided that he did 11 mega coasters for his 11th birthday.

Oh, and the Six Flags by us is just awful. They won't let you carry fanny packs on the baby rides or set your drink down while you ride. Ridiculous $1 lockers by every ride where you have to put your hat and sunglasses. Rolleyes Dh and I both worked at an amusement park in high school and we were just kind of annoyed about everything last time we went to that Six Flags, in comparison. Looking at the website this one seemed to be about the same so I Was resigned to being the "stuff holder" all day. In the end, they had very few rides that requested lockers (BM saw one or two) and they still let you set your hat and drinks to the side for the ride. It's a small thing but it makes a big difference in enjoyment.

Compared to the other crowded parks, Six Flags was heaven. Big Grin LM and I had a surprisingly enjoyable time though we didn't do many rides. Dh was a sport and rode most the BIG rides with BM. I am just getting too old for that stuff. Dh feels the same way, but he is a trooper. Next time we need to find a friend who is brave enough or tall enough. We could not for this trip. (His best friend is way too short to ride anything!)

I am guessing we spent $500 for the entire trip. Will see where we end up. Six Flags was entirely paid for by credit card rewards. In-laws paid for our other park tickets. We treated MIL to a $100 meal for her birthday dinner but she got us $100 Disney dollars (going to a timeshare talk). So I think we made out pretty well. We could have made the Disney day free, with the disney dollars, but decided to splurge on a ridiculously expensive lunch. $90 for four. IT was okay. If we had spent real money we would have been pretty disappointed.

Dh and I also made it to one show. A podcast one of his favorite comedians does. There were some other $10 shows but the timing didn't work and these are all shows that come to San Francisco at times. So, those will have to wait for another time.

I can't believe we were gone for 5 nights. I can get pretty cranky when we are away from home too long, but I think I am mellowing with age. I seem to travel better. But still very happy to be home! LM too seemed to have a surprisingly good attitude but this morning he told me he was happy to be home and he was going to hug the floor all day. That is usually how I am. Big Grin

Edited to add: $500 in expected costs is for food and fuel.

Good Money Week

July 8th, 2014 at 01:37 pm

I feel like I have been on vacation for weeks. Work is just really quiet. (Clients are mostly on vacation so I am getting caught up with stuff, just doing what I want to do). The long weekend was extremely refreshing (feels like it was more than a week or something). I think a lot of it is that I don't work a full week again until kids go back to school. Two more vacations in that time. I am already winding down for vacation after a quiet couple of weeks and a long weekend.

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I updated my 2014 rewards tally in my last post.

It's been a good money week. I did receive the $2k kids' college money.

I redeemed $200 Chase Freedom reward towards Six Flags expense, as planned. (Just saw my rewards hit today). I saved the rest ($36?) to redeem next month with gas 5% cash back (vacation driving). I expect this reward to be a grand total of $250. Will redeem the remaining $50 next month and will figure out what to do with it at that time.

We received our $500 (SW Chase) gift cards yesterday.

I won't know about dh's other $200 checking reward until Friday?

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I had yet to close the last two Chase Sapphires we opened. No rush, until the annual fee comes due a year after we opened. I probably would have closed them by now, but I did not want to close them while opening other accounts for rewards. In case it lessened our chances for any reason. The checking offers were because we had Chase accounts, and so I decided not to close them until we got our checking rewards, at the least. We have since both applied for new Chase accounts. At the time we both only had one Chase credit card.

SO...

Today I closed my Chase Sapphire card and dh's SW Chase card. The SW chase card was paid off yesterday AND we received the reward. It's best to close that one ASAP to get the annual fee refunded. Crossing my fingers on that too.

I will pay off the Chase Freedom next pay day and close that account. I will close dh's Chase Sapphire as soon as I sort out the SW Chase. Maybe tomorrow.

I can't close our Chase checking accounts before December. I have those set up in Quicken with a reminder. If we close before 12/31/14, we will be eligible to do the same rewards again in 2015. But if we close before December we forfeit our rewards.

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I suppose I have been somewhat in cleanup mode. Also managed to do some light de-cluttering around the house. Freecycling a few items, recycling batteries, etc.

I was going to say I wish that I had anything to sell. BUT, I guess that is not true. I am glad I don't have much laying around that we don't use or need. The difficult part for me is the stuff I don't want to throw away. (Thank goodness for freecycle! So glad to get things to people who can use them, even if can not sell for money or give to charity). I did have two freecycle no-shows, which is really annoying. I got a slew of e-mails of interested parties, but it's hard to tell who is actually serious I guess.

I purged a personalized frame (unique spelling), my very old and tired cat carrier, and a small animal pet leash. The free stuff got enough interest that I will try a few more random things next weekend.

Back from Camp

June 25th, 2014 at 08:28 pm

Just checking in. Got back from camp today and have lots of laundry to do. A shower would be nice too!

I know we have lots of new bloggers around here, so I will do a bigger update. We have an annual family tradition to go to our city's "Family Camp". Several of the cities around here own or lease campgrounds in various areas. (Near Yosemite or Tahoe). Some of our family lives in other cities so we have tried various camps throughout the years.

BUT, Camp Sac has really nice cabins and it's a lot closer. So we have come to prefer it. It's about 90 minutes from our house and 1/2 hour from our family cabin. Only about 20 minutes outside of Tahoe.

The kids get the run of the campground and various supervised activities, so the adults can rest. It is DIVINE! Especially when our kids were younger. They provide all food.

So, we just returned from our 3-night stay. We went with my nieces, SIL, my in-laws and my dad. We decided this was our 6th year at Camp Sac. I can't believe that!

I think the weather has mostly been okay the past few years, though one year the camp was buried in snow this time of year and another year they had just cleared out most the snow. THEN last year rained the *entire time*. Which this year the staff said they never remember happening before. Yeesh!

But I guess this year made up for it. *Perfect* weather.

This picture is at Lake Tahoe. Sometimes it is warm at camp but too chilly by the water to really enjoy the lake. But we were blessed with perfect lake weather yesterday.



Some of the camps are more reasonable. I'd say Camp Sac is fairly expensive. (They try to advertise it as a cheaper alternative to Disney, but WE tend to spend about as much go to Disney. It's probably cheaper than an average vacation, but is expensive if you have a very small vacation budget. Camping is certainly infinitely cheaper and we have many beautiful campsites in our state). But anyway, MIL loves to vacation with the extended family and it seems to scratch that itch for her. We may have paid the first couple of times but now she insists on covering it. I am expecting this to cost us $0. We drove a little extra but didn't have to buy food for 3 or 4 days.

I was reflecting on what special times the kids have had there. My kids may outgrow it soon enough. So we are cherishing the years that they still enjoy it.

This & That

June 20th, 2014 at 07:49 pm

**Just waiting for a few bank and credit card rewards to come through. $200 seems to be the number, of late. (I think we have racked up 5 x $200).

I am pleased to say that the Southwest Chase double dip worked. Woohoo! That will be $500 in gift cards.

Crossing my fingers that our "fake direct deposit" worked for another $200. Will find out next week.

**Kids finished school this week and so we are slipping into vacation mode. I don't think I work a full week again until they go back to school.

**The kids' birthdays are coming up in July. That whole thing has been interesting. We literally and seriously told them not to expect anything for their birthday. Which we did achieve last year (no gifts). But have failed this year. We told them that because we bought some things earlier in the year that we did not want to wait until July for.

BUT, with credit card rewards and deals, their gift pile has gotten absolutely ridiculous. At least it will be very unexpected.

We spent $50 on them. Dh saw a prepaid Moto G phone deal and picked that up. They use my old phone to play games they can't get elsewhere. So, when dh saw this deal he was very excited about it. I thought it was the perfect surprise gift. (The Moto G is much nicer, and they won't have to share the one phone as much).

Dh wants to pick up a Wii U with the gift cards. We are negotiating on that. (He seems pretty set on it so I am trying to talk him into buying it after birthdays or holding until Christmas. It seems ridiculous for birthday). We had also already agreed to pick up a tent for them, with gift cards. We saw a massive one for $100-ish and thought that it would be nice for them to have a tent for the backyard. One that we don't care if they muck up.

THEN, I am talking to MIL the other day and she tells me to tell dh she "picked up a DS2" and then quickly changed the subject. I was thinking, "Surely that is not for my kids?" So I asked him about that, and surely it *is* for my kids. Rolleyes (The in-laws are crazy on the Christmas gifts but usually don't do much for their birthdays. BUT, they are trying to rack up some travel rewards).

So that is how their "expect nothing" birthday turned into the Great Gift Extravaganza of 2014.

**Our trip with the in-laws is coming up. (Which is also a birthday gift of sorts, for the kids). I never know if these trips are going to cost us $0 or $1,000. When they invite us and insist on paying for the bulk of it. But it's been several years and we are in an infinitely better financial position than last time we planned a trip together. So we will just roll with it.

Since the in-laws are racking up credit card rewards, they already bought all the park tickets and we have our kitty daycare covered. Which is a great start. I think if I suggested they put us as authorized users on their reward credit card that they would be over the moon with us charging up all our gas and food on the trip. But, I didn't go there. As is, we can handle food and gas. & I am sure they will manage to squeeze in and pay for some of that.

May Doings, New Project

May 10th, 2014 at 01:32 pm

Shifting from work mode to play mode, over here.

I took yesterday off, which was first weekday off since December. Having 3 days off feels like having a week off, after tax season. Big Grin

Dh and I went on a beautiful hour long hike about a 40 minute drive from our home. I just googled "easy" and this is what I came up with. It was close and it looked gorgeous, and it was indeed easy. We were rewarded with a waterfall at the end of the hike.





Afterwards, we went over to Fry's for 50 cent hot dog/soda meals. Dh picked up a blu ray on sale for $9.99. The full prices of those blu rays astound me. Yeesh! ($40 for a movie??)

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Other May doings:

**Robot Wars seems to be a no-go this year. I haven't heard anything as to what happened with that. Frown Frown Frown

So, we have plans to go to the Maker Faire this month, instead.

"Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned."

You name it, they will probably have it. I expect to have some interesting pictures to share.

**This weekend the kids have a birthday party at a rock climbing place. The place has a very reasonably priced summer camp, so we make look into that for BM. He probably needs a membership to one of these places. He is a born climber.

I also noticed the drop-in play place was open Sunday. Hard to get open play on the weekend, due to birthday parties. So, I may take the kids. It's only $7 per kid and it might as well be Disneyland, as far as they are concerned.

**For Memorial Day weekend the HOA has a BBQ and turns on the pool heat.

BM will be at camp that week with his 5th grade class. IT sounds fairly identical to the family camp we always go to in June. I think he will have a blast.

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We have a movie theater in our home. Which I have mentioned before, but probably not much the past few years. My husband is deaf in one ear, post brain tumor. & so I think this has really dampened his enjoyment of the theater room. In addition, he has since bought a couple of HDTVs (which are smaller screens but higher quality). We are also both fairly set on downsizing, so I don't think anyone here has been too upset that the theater room is not getting a lot of use. We aren't taking it with us. (Will just buy a ridiculously large TV for our new home. Which can be way more expensive than our theater setup, but will work better in a smaller space).

BUT...

Dh is getting renewed interest in utilizing the room more. I told him I was more than fine with him upgrading the projector. I know he has been unhappy with it for a long time. I did express my concerns about long-term future. But we both kind of feel if we have the space and the equipment, we might as well enjoy it. We don't plan to downsize for another 15 years or so.

So, we have a loose plan to build a platform for the seating so it is at a more ideal height. & this will allow us to add another row of more formal seating if we ever want to. For now, we have some old office chair and bean bags, which I think will work for a long time. We've been using those anyway, but more seats will work better with the back row raised. I don't think dh cares that much about additional seating aesthetics, but I will keep an eye out on Craigslist for theater seating. The only reason we ever bought theater seats in the first place was we stumbled onto an incredible deal. I am sure we can find a deal on a second row.

Before dh and I discussed it, I was kind of thinking we had really gotten pretty up to date on everything. Finished furnishing our home a couple of years back (took it very slowly over the years) and replaced most our electronics in the past year. I was thinking that really the only thing on our wish list at this point is to replace the old projector. We've agreed to probably do that after Christimas. Dh's parents have been generous lately and if he wants to take all of what they give us at Christmas, I am fine with that. Will probably work on the seating before that since it should be fairly inexpensive to build a platform.

I don't know if I fully realized how much dh has been sulking around the last 4 years, but he seems to be snapping out of it. I am so happy to see him impassioned about his movie set up again. I think financially the timing just works, too. This may have been a ridiculous splurge 2 years ago and it might be two years from now too. But for now, it works. I think his parents will likely pay for it anyway. They have been fairly generous the last couple of Christmases, with cash gifts.

We are waiting until Christmas to see what his parents give us and what kind of year we have financially. We can buy a much better projector for $1,000-ish otherwise. But holding out to potentially spend closer to $3,000 of gift money. Whatever our budget, we will make it work. A $1,000 projector will be a significant improvement.

Our home theater setup is fairly simple. It started with an inexpensive projector on a small table. That was when dh had a dream and we all thought he was a little insane. Wink

We eventually bought a screen and seating, and a new ceiling mounted projector. Around $3,000-ish for all that, but it was about 5 years into this whole movie theater thing. For the first 5 years, a blank wall and a projector and some hand-me-down couch was the setup. We have had the current set up for about 10 years.

That's the bulk of it. Dh has a surround sound setup that he bought in college. He eventually bought a fancier tuner and a blu ray player, but can watch most anything through his computer.

I share because I think it's something really important to share as far as debt free living. It has never been about deprivation for us. It has always been about being creative, and usually means having more than other people anyway. It means starting small and building up. Which is how we approach just about everything. I couldn't tell you how a $30,000 theater set up is any better than our current $3,000-ish set up. The difference would be fairly indiscernable to most. (Especially when you turn out the lights!!) Yes, our projector is outdated, but that would happen no matter how expensive we went. It's a 10-year-old projector and TV technology has blown it out of the water in that time. Dh is fairly confident that this projector will be the last one he ever buys. For this house, anyway. We may be able to swing a theater setup in a smaller space.

As an aside? Technically we paid an extra $30,000 for the room for this theater. That is not exactly frugal. It came to be when we moved to our lower cost haven. We figured we might as well splurge on that because we were saving *so much* on housing. BUT, at then end of the day, since we bought new construction we got the extra space at a deep discount. Today the extra room fetches a premium of about $100,000 over the smaller homes in the same neighborhood. I had to share because I think at the end of the day this little splurge will have been a fairly profitable investment. (It's been like that since Day 1 and was obvious we got an incredible deal on the extra space. Which is why we chose this house in the first place. The space was perfect and the price was right!).

Fiscal Doings

May 3rd, 2014 at 01:19 pm

**For the first of the month I received $19 in bank interest and $100 in credit card rewards. ($50 for ROTH and $50 cash; two different cards).

**I am taking care of some fiscal chores. I finally got around to making sure I was set up as secondary custodian on kids' investment accounts. I was mostly concerned about those (real $$$). Though I guess I should look into getting dh set up as secondary custodian on their savings accounts.

**Got my first Ting bill ever! We signed up right after Thanksgiving? First 4 months were entirely free. For April, we were charged about $10. $5 of that is for our household.

Next month we will likely pay a full $26 for our half of the bill. That has been our consistent monthly usage.

**I plan to open Chase checking account this weekend. That will be a $200 reward earned in something like 10 days.

I am not sure what I will do with this reward. Might just set it aside for vacation/kitty hotel, though I don't know if that is necessary. Otherwise, will probably invest the $200. We are diverting our snowflakes into an investment account, starting this month.

**I opened a new investment account this week, for my current year raise and to divert all snowflakes to. The purpose is a supplementary unemployment fund, college savings, and mortgage paydown/retirement. Gives us a little more liquidity and flexibility for the first two purposes, but mostly expect to use it for retirement or mortgage payoff, eventually.

No firm decisions yet. If things go well we may do 50/50 mortgage paydown/investing. I think that is probably where we will eventually end up.

I guess we are all backwards. When we graduated college the IRA contribution limits were a mere $2,000 per person. But we were saving 50%+ of our income. We started out with much more money in taxable savings and investments than we could possibly put away into tax-deferred accounts. Over the years that has shifted and we have certainly tried to be very tax efficient. In the past we have also done the complete opposite. We were saving too much into retirement, but funded ROTHs anyway knowing that we can use that money for college and so on. IT ebbs and flows.

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**I think last year was a dud on the "vacation lifestyle" front, but this year is shaping up pretty nicely.

Had a few loose vacation plans fall through. (Yellowstone wedding is postponed for a year or two; National Parks don't seem to be in the cards for us).

But, several other things popped up in the meantime. Most of them involve free hotel stays and driving, and so I think I can leave most the vacation budget intact for my plans to visit my sister in Ohio in the fall. Other than that, we have a short trip planned every month for the rest of the year. The Northern California coast, the Southern California coast, Napa, Tahoe, etc.

MIL invited us to Disney. I feel a little bad for her. She wanted to do something nice for us. We could really care less about going to Disney. Even moreso though with the summer offer - hot and crowded! (Even our kids don't want to go. What did we do to our kids??? Big Grin ). I might regret it, but we are giving it a go. Trying to compromise with Lego Land, which the kids are excited about.

Nice Weekend & Snowflakes

February 2nd, 2014 at 04:30 pm



Another gorgeous weekend in San Francisco. WOW!

I met up with my bff since we couldn't mesh our schedules last weekend. We had lunch and drinks with a beach view. The time went too fast.

We actually had some rain last week and might get more this week. Phew! (Not enough, but it is something).

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**I redeemed $25 credit card reward and added to mortgage payment. Also added $20 for carpool savings and $15 for internet savings. Total $60 snowflake for 2/28 mortgage payment. I will pay it at the end of the month.

I also expect a $200-ish insurance rebate (we get every February) so will add that to the mortgage payment as well.

**I updated side bar for total January interest received. No other savings this month since it was only a one-paycheck month.

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I think we pulled off a no-spend weekend. We went down to Bay Area for FIL's birthday. The car already had a pretty full tank (filled up when we got home last weekend). I spent money on lunch, but MIL slipped us a $50 gas card when we left. She often gave us cash when gas prices were very high and we were dealing with dh's medical problems and so on. BUT, it has been a long time. Not expected in the slightest.

So, if I spent about $20 on lunch, and I got $50, then it nets out to a profit. FIL took dh and the kids to the movies while I had my girl time.

I wasn't expecting to make out so well this weekend. Was just expecting to spend.

It's carpet cleaning weekend at work. I should probably work from home. I should probably do some errands. But, I think I will torture myself by doing nothing. Will mean a crazier schedule next week, but am looking forward to a breather before things get REALLY crazy. Maybe if I relax all day I can work up to a little shopping tonight. I have $90 in Kohls gift cards, and only need some nice pants (my work pants are getting pretty worn from so much wear). So, not expecting to spend any actual cash or to use up all my gift cards.

More details on AmEx Amazon $25 Deal + Good Vacation

December 3rd, 2013 at 04:14 am

I've been subscribing to a few more blogs trying to get better notification of credit card bonuses and so on. Anyway, so I had already heard about the Amazon deal about 10 times, but I am glad I read through this post because it had a lot of info that I did not know:

http://millionmilesecrets.com/2013/12/01/american-express-am...

I realized that I was able to register my Fidelity American Express (which in general does not have all of the same perks of a true American Express card). I also saw the tip that authorized users *with different account numbers* can also register. My dh thought I was crazy at first, but I was pretty sure our real and true American Express card had different credit card numbers (our transactions show up separately online because of the different card #s). So, we checked and I was right.

So, we will be able to get $75 off of $225, multiplying by 3.

**Now the trick is to remember to use the right card each time. I think that is TRICKY!!**

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I was starting to worry that I got denied on that Chase $550 bonus. They absolutely *never* contacted me - I have a fraud alert so they always call when I apply for new credit. They certainly did not approve me instantly - never do with the fraud alert.

So, I was relieved today to get a letter that they just needed to confirm my identity. I roll my eyes at the letter because it says they "couldn't contact me". Well, they would have if they tried. ??? But, if I don't even get this card for another week or two, I think I will pass on charging up the property taxes and will just take my time. In this case it probably works out for the best. IT will take a little longer, but the $3k is no problem with all the insurance bills I have due.

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I feel like I have been tested very much this year. !!

But I am pleased to say that our third try of the year for a "vacation" went VERY smooth. It did not start out that way and we had our moments, but overall I'd say was an A+ trip. Phew!!!

So yeah, that above was my view for the weekend. It was about 80F degrees and the weather could not have been more perfect!!

My parents went with us and we celebrated my birthday AND also that dh and I have been together for half my life. Not sure on the exact date for that milestone so we just decided, "good enough!" Was also 18th anniversary of our engagement. So, we have been together 18.5 years - we started dating when I was 18.5. We officially got engaged on my 19th birthday but had talked about it and agreed to marry months before that.

I usually am not really into making a big deal about birthdays or anniversaries, but I enjoyed being treated like a Princess all weekend.

Why do I feel tested??? Well, the week started out with a bout of food poisoning. {I am so behind at work I can't even think about it. Stress!! I was hoping for a quiet week to catch up but instead I was home puking out my insides}.

LM was sick on Turkey Day - we had already called it off due to my illness - so we both stayed home for Thanksgiving.

{I have no idea what I ate or what happened, but my body just reacted so violently. Food poisoning was my guess, the symptoms were classic, and no one else in my house got sick. LM had a sore throat/fever thing; totally different. Thankfully he mostly slept in the car and seemed good as new once we got to the beach}.

I was feeling optimistic for the beach weekend, but after bouncing back in about 12 hours (how my kids usually are), LM woke up pretty sick the morning we were supposed to leave. Somehow he snapped out of it and we took a deep breath and we gave it a go. I Wasn't sure until we left that we would even go. I was determined to enjoy our anniversary no matter how we ended up celebrating, but feeling pretty sorry for myself when I woke up and thought we'd have to cancel. & kind of beating myself up for even trying because it would have been our third ruined trip of the year (NONE would have went well). I think any other time BM and I might have just gone with my parents, but it was an anniversary thing and so dh and I were intent on spending the weekend together.

I guess in the end I learned it was good that I tried. Phew!!

Relaxing Weekend

February 3rd, 2013 at 10:34 pm

**I am so happy to be home. We had a nice/relaxing weekend, and I think dh had a GREAT time (I think he appreciates breaks like this more, being with the kids every day). BUT, I slept terrible, and killed my back staying up last night to watch a movie on their small TV/uncomfortable couch. I told dh, "I know this place is fancy schmanzy, but I like our home MUCH better!!" We certainly have a much nicer TV and a much nicer bed and couch! Big Grin

So, I am personally just glad to be home.

WE did soak in the hot tub this morning, and my back does feel much better.



Last time we went to Napa, we gave it a try and saw the sights and did the wine tasting. This time the location was just chosen for the last minute vacancy. We decided to stay in and relax. That we succeeded with. I think dh's mom was appalled that we did stay in and did a take and bake pizza. LOL. Frankly, nothing appealed to us about going out and spending a ton of money. We did order some room service, the take and bake pizza our local grocery store does is A+, and we went out for an excellent Greek lunch. So, certainly no complaints from us. Since she did slip us $60 (I suppose was for dinner?), I don't think we will spend any of our own money for this trip. At least the vacation budget will remain intact for *this* weekend. Phew!! {We did have to pay $10 for the room - for whatever reason - it has been $0 generally lately when we use their timeshare points}.

We also did go walking for a couple of hours - bird watching by the marsh. There was absolutely no one there; I only wish we had thought to bring binoculars. But still saw plenty of beautiful birds, and enjoyed the peacefulness.





Weather was pretty nice, but not as warm as expected. I still broke out the flip flops and worked on my tan a bit. Big Grin

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Room service: I had to order again because last time we were in a splurgey mood and ordered smoked salmon, toasted bagel, chive cream cheese, red onions and capers. So we ordered again this time, but I think what I should do is just re-create this at home. YUM!! We are entertaining in a few weeks, and will have to remember this. I wrote it down so I do not forget.

While at the store picking up our pizza, I also noticed ranch/carrot packaging with sunflower seeds. I had never thought of that. I just picked it up because it looked tasty, but we always have these ingredients on hand at home. So I will have to remember this next time we entertain, too. Or to keep on hand for the kids.

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In other news, we went to San Francisco twice last month, AND my friend just bought a home in San Francisco. !! That is another post for another day. But looks like I may be going back in a couple of weeks to see her new place.

{Short version - paid $500k+ to own 1/4 of a home/four-plex kind of thing. She will probably fare better than most the locals who can't hang onto their $100k-$300k homes. So though it sounds kind of crazy insane to me, I am also not too worried about her finances. Wink Just because she is crazy insane frugal, and I do think her parents would help her if she lost her job or anything like that}.

SO, I looked up once again into getting an electronic toll tag, and for the first time it actually makes some financial sense. In fact, I almost got one for each car before I read that it had to be used at least once a year. Unlikely with our van, as we try to drive the gas sipper for longer trips and especially for big city parking. SO, we decided to just get one. The fine print on the toll tag said we could switch it between cars. So, PHEW! That is PERFECT!! {THey did not say this so much on website, as they prefer you do not switch it. But for once in a blue moon, makes me very happy. Now I just have to remember. !!}.

This is kind of significant to me, because when we moved here, one thing I felt like was that we were not much farther out from San Francisco. BUT, in the end we never go (directly from home) because the bridge is such a nightmare. So, I am so happy to erase that part as a downside to our low-cost-of-living move. No more waiting hours just to get past the toll booths. WOOHOO!!

Work/Vacation

January 26th, 2013 at 05:02 pm

**Got the kids' passports submitted, finally. A VERY painful process... Rolleyes

As of right now, LM is no longer going on the trip. Will see...

We saw a Ted Talk about War Horse last night (& also saw it mentioned in the blogs). I will send the link to MIL if they have time for a show while in London.

Overall, they have a timeshare place (of course), are using miles for flight, and I believe a lot of the museums there are free. So, is not near as expensive as it sounds, that is for sure. MIL did not say it had to be frugal, but I think she is pleased with the choice. & I am sure there will be PLENTY to spend money on.

**Work/Vacation - Trying to do both**

**Today we see Thrilling Adventure Hour in San Francisco. Any other time we may have made a weekend of it, but I will probably work all day today and tomorrow. I told dh we could go, if we drive straight there and back. But we may have a quick dinner there, just due to the timing. Nothing fancy. Maybe even Taco Bell. I was not sure how this weekend would pan out - and it did not pan out good. Will try to work from home tomorrow. At least I feel it is feasible to meet all my deadlines, even taking time out for several hours today.

**Next weekend is historically "carpet cleaning" for our office. Post 1/31 deadlines, but pre-tax appointments. SO, I told dh we could go away for his birthday, but had to be next weekend. (His birthday was last weekend).

He never made the arrangements, until I told him nevermind, I would figure it out while at work Saturday. At which point he decided to get it done. Glad he did, because sounds like he was on the phone a while. There was nothing anywhere along the coast on such short notice, and so all they had was Napa. I was pushing something a little closer to the Bay Area - just a quiet hotel to unwind all weekend - if we couldn't be near the beach then I didn't care if it was down the street from our house honestly! BUT, Napa came up as the only vacancy. Why Napa? Lord knows. So, we will stay at the same place we stayed last time. It was REALLY NICE. We will stay put and not go anywhere, for sure. That is what we should have done last time (not big wine drinkers). The timeshare stay is free - we will probably order in pizza. Or maybe get some groceries if we stay in - is a nice condo. Reminds we should just grab a take and bake pizza when we leave - even cheaper - our grocery store pizzas are A+. I told dh we could go away, but didn't want to spend money. Especially with the show tickets we bought for today.

I am hoping after next weekend to feel VERY refreshed to tackle the rest of tax season. It won't be May until I can get another weekend off.

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**My dad has offered to give us one of his older keyboards (music). We were thinking of buying one for LM, so this works nice. I believe I will buy a stand for it (will look for something used). I also have some Amazon credit I can use for that. It has all the midi sounds and yadda yadda. We already have a piano. But I am sure we will eventually get a sound studio of sorts with LM's musical passions.

I have a tuner that I have had since sometime in my teenaged/childhood years. It is the one we use in our main living area for stereo/MP3 players and such. The speakers too (they are awesome). So, dh is salivating at moving that old tuner with the keyboard and buying a new tuner. He found one for $250. I don't know when he is going to buy it - not sure when we will pick up the keyboard.

Dh has an office that is mostly unused. It is a place to hoard his junk. I am thrilled he seems motivated to go through some of the junk, to turn the room into a music room. Big Grin {I went into major decluttering mode while pregnant, between nesting and being displaced from my office - and with my ebook and MP3 player - I don't really own a lot of stuff any more. Mostly "electronic/doesn't take up space" stuff}. Dh has always been a movie and music collector - always will be. Electronic quality just isn't good enough for him. I have no doubt he has tons of junk he could get rid of though. Like the boxes in his office that haven't been opened. Fair enough - all his blu rays and CDs he actually uses on a regular basis. But I think there is some "haven't looked at it in 10 years" stuff to go through...

He was using his office for editing when the kids were younger, but now does that all downstairs at night or while the kids are at school. He's got some really old music equipment, and a bunch of video game systems in there. We are also storing are "on the fritz" TV in there while we decide what to do with it - but it would fit in our giant closet.

My old desk (solid oak - very nice) is in there unused. I think we could probably give it to LM.

I'd like to eventually buy a drum set for the music room. Dh already has the guitars and amps - we could be quite a band. We are pretty passionate about music - but has been really on the back burner for us lately. But LM in particular is very musical, so we are excited for this music room project. (& who knows, maybe my dad will be in a big drum upgrade mood at some point - I should ask him about that... Overall, my dad is a "keep it forever" type, so won't hold my breath. This keyboard is totally ancient that he is "letting us borrow.")

Music room - was always sort of the plan. Just hadn't got to that yet. But I think before we weren't sure exactly *where.* So far we are starting with a $250 tuner investment, and using what we have and hand-me-downs. This is always how we approach things. Eventually may be a full sound studio, but since I would like to stay out of debt, it will start small and improve over time.

Paradise

November 25th, 2012 at 03:04 pm

I wish I could figure how to share pictures from phone. I am watching the most beautiful sunrise on the beach! We got here just in time for a gorgeous sunset too.

Best surprise was that the drive was only 5 hours. Everything here is closer than I remember. Anyway, that means two less hours in the car. Phew. & my dad wants to travel around and take some pictures but decided to do on the way home. This means lazing around the pool and beach all day today.

To The Beach

November 24th, 2012 at 04:14 pm



I am SO Excited about our beach weekend. Big Grin

It took "forever" to align our schedules, and my parents aren't very vacation-y, and so this is definitely the first fun vacation thing we have ever done with my kids and parents. (We might have done some camping with my dad, but not with my mom).

Unfortunately, both kids seem a little sick so I am stocking up on cough drops and packing the inhaler. I was really worried yesterday, but they seem okay today. They never particularly get sick, so I am not surprised they seem pretty okay today. BUT, it's been so hard to align our schedules and they are probably due for some big illness. ??? For example, LM has 3.5 years perfect attendance. He just never gets "sick." Though they are both a little allergy and asthma prone. So when LM was sick - you see why I think he might be due for something bigger than just a sniffle.

Anyway, I think our biggest worry this weekend will be that I will probably want to let them swim and run in the ocean and dh might have a cow. But, will see. (I don't see the point in taking them and telling them not to do anything fun - they have pretty tough immune systems).

Oh, and the weather looks to be GORGEOUS the next 2 days. Don't know how we lucked into that - but will see. Which is funny, because we got odd comments about going to the beach. I think California beach weather is the same pretty year-round. Cold and foggy. More sun in the fall. I know we are pushing winter, but I also didn't think it would likely be any different than July. Crossing my fingers that weather forecast is right on. Sunny and warm!! I don't know how we could pull that off - it was so gorgeous last we went a couple of years back. I am skeptical until we actually get there. (Any other memory I have of the place is cold and fog).

We are going to Pismo Beach. About 6 hours drive for us. The long drive is a little prohibitive, but is a special place for my parents and I. We do need to find an inexpensive beach hotel closer to home. Many decades ago my dad just found this hotel on the beach and it's pretty reasonable, even to this day. (Like $80 per night?? Beach front!) I used to be in love with the area, but I no longer have friends there and it's such a long drive that I am a little bit over it. But going with my parents will be special.

We splurged on an ocean-view suite - paid for with credit card rewards. OF course!!

Vacation Budget & Planning

September 18th, 2012 at 01:35 pm

I was going to do this a few days ago, but then everything vacation was up in the air.

But since we seem back on track, here we go. I find it useful to write everything down, just so there are less surprises. & it always adds up faster than you think!



Our annual vacation budget is $1500. We usually spread it out a lot more throughout the year and do a lot more staycation type stuff. Or travel closer to home (driving). This year, we haven't done squat, so we have $1500 leftover.

I was looking at the budget last week and I think we had about $100 left over for food, so I figured we'd be tapping into other savings a bit. This is just a unique/rare trip. But, that said, I would be a lot more stressed about the food side while we are there. Because every penny over would have to come from somewhere else.

I knew the in-laws would likely give us a couple of hundred dollars (which has the added bonus that we don't have to go to the ATM - just one less chore - since we don't keep any cash with us in general, but like to have a few more dollars on hand when traveling - even if we usually just deposit most of it when we get home).

BUT, MIL gave us a generous check over the weekend - intending to pay for all the parks. Which it just about exactly will pay for. {I was not expecting anything like this, in the least!!}

I only added $500 of it to the budget, since we don't need to spend $1,000+ on food. Wink $709 left over for food is also ridiculous, but it's just the point where I am not going to stress. Whatever we have left over upon our return will go to savings/mortgage.

My first inclination was to put the $1k check to the mortgage, but I have medical bills on the horizon (could be large - I am not sure) and we have another vacation coming up in November. So I already put the $1k to the credit card (balance is a credit balance) and I will consider the parks paid for. (There is always a possibility we will not go to all these parks - someone could be sick - we may chose to chill one day - so could have even more left over for savings).

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PLANNING

I wanted to lay out my vacation planning because I have been doing it a little bit at a time. All we really have left to do is make the arrangements for our cat and pack. !! I feel like all the hard work is done.

--Around May? we decided to go to Florida and book our airfare. Since $1500 is obviously not enough for a week in Florida, we decided to divert 5 months of savings to airfare. We have already replenished it, and by careful airfare shopping I was able to drop the figure down to "4 months of savings."

{This is the first *big* flight/trip for four that I have ever considered as a family with our own funds}.

So this is why I don't have airfare on this budget - it's done and paid for. I am trying to manage everything else that we have yet to pay for.

--Cat Care - I already checked with neighbor and a friend if they would be available to help with the cat. So I just have to finalize that. I am doing a tax return for a friend, so will probably give neighbor $30 for the help (is a teenager). My cat makes such a mess in her old age, that I bought a GIANT litter box in the hope she isn't as messy as usual. I literally scoop it every day, and am just trying to make it easier on whoever watches her. I will probably buy a second GIANT box to that end.

WE can't find any spare house keys, so dh will make a couple this week.

--Dh has been collecting quarters for tolls, and I am just rolling my eyes. Obviously extremely slow going consider how we don't even use cash for anything. Wink One of us will run to the CU and get two rolls of quarters - he finally agreed this made sense. Rolleyes

--I spent a lot of time last week considering transport options. Airport parking is the most expensive, BUT there is not savings of any note by paying for transport. So, parking wins. Convenient convenient convenient. (One option we have living so close to the airport is that several hotels in our neighborhood have parking at $2-$3 per day cheaper, but their shuttles "run every hour" and had some pretty poor reviews. So, we will pass! The shuttle/economy parking at our airport is very good- never remember waiting at all - they must run every 15 minutes. I will double check before we depart, as these things do change).

--In May or June we booked our hotel - free with MIL's timeshare points. Sometimes they have fees (usually taxes or parking). So, will see.

--On the car rental - I reserved around $130 for one week. We will probably want to add me as a driver - will pay whatever it is. I read that we do not need a transponder and that they try to tack it on anyway, so we will be vigilant about that. We will have our quarters for tolls - their transponder fee is absurd. This will be an issue in the future since apparently they are going all electronic. But I researched carefully that we do not have to have a transponder for the areas we will be driving.

We were planning to buy a booster car seat there, but I found one at Target for $15 last week (very small). I was going to put it in our luggage but not sure it will fit. At least I know $15 seats will be easy to find (I can return it and just buy a seat in ORlando). LM is 7 and very tall, so I have no problem waiting until we get to the store, or driving him to and from the airport without a booster. The car seat rental industry absolutely sucks eggs, and the car rental company charges more like $13 per DAY. Rolleyes The airline will likely make us check it, could get lost, could charge us - so I don't want to mess with our nice seats.

I have been so looking to the day where we don't deal with all this. We are 90% there. Next time will be heaven! Big Grin

--I priced all the park tickets, taxes and parking. I haven't found any discounts, because we are buying only one-day tickets. IT is what it is. Dh and I have two one-day park hoppers left over from the year 2000. So we are saving a little there. The plus is we are just buying all tix at the gate - this leaves us a lot of flexibility. IF we all get sick one day and have to skip one day, we won't be out the tickets.

--The museum and Gatorland are just big *maybes* if we are up to it. I have never been to Gatorland, so that one is probably more of a priority. It's dh's family tradition.

--Aside from gas and food, I don't see us spending anything else while we are there. GMIL gave the kids $50 for souvenirs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they keep it to spend on something more important to them (like video games). So, will see. None of us is into the "stuff."

--I got paid yesterday, so paid all the bills through mid-October. So I don't have to worry about any of that on vacation (& jiggled things around since I won't get my paycheck until we return).

--We borrowed two carry-ons from family - might only need one (for the kids). I already have one. We have never traveled "four of us" and "so long a trip" since airlines started charging for checked bags (airlines have also reduced carry-on sizes, rendering most our bags useless). I think 2 carry on luggages will probably be more than ample (we will also all carry backpacks). Our strategy is to pack 3-4 days of clothes and to do laundry mid-week. Since it's a "family visit" too, we should have plenty of down time for that. Florida = packing light clothing, so makes it easier. I picked up a couple of light exercise/water resistant type shorts at Target, on sale/clearance. It will help me immensely to pack light, and to be comfortable. It's just not the kind of clothing we have or need in our non-humid/dry climate.

So, all in all, I got some cat things to take car of, and we have to pack. Dh is going to get keys made and I will pick up some quarters. I think most the work is done!!

We don't leave for a couple of weeks. I really am the anti-procrastinator. I just want to relax and enjoy best we can. I think I have done everything that I can to that end!

Back from Camp

June 28th, 2012 at 04:00 am

Back from camp. Weather ended up being pretty nice, and enjoyed views like these:









Now back to reality!

We did Family Camp in the Sierras, as always. It's really only about an hour drive from our house, so not too far from reality.

I think with all the trees it is hard to appreciate a good sunset. Don't remember catching many in the mountains, so was pleased to catch a bit of color in the sky one night.

Not Much Doing

June 10th, 2012 at 03:27 pm

I guess I am saturated on the personal finance front because I really haven't had anything to say. *shrugs*

Has it all been said? Wink Oh, I am sure there will be more to say. Just nothing new this week.

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I am waiting for $1000 in credit card rewards - should redeem half on Monday and half on Wednesday?

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This week is all about BBQs and lazy days at the pool. One down, two to go. Today we are meeting friends at the pool (no BBQ).

Oh, dh and I are working fast and furiously on my parents' anniversary gifts. I am scanning photos (for a photo book?) and dh is doing a little documentary about their married life. Their anniversary is next weekend.

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The theme this weekend is "starving artist." I read a really good memoir about the daughter of a writer. I was then watching some profile of artists on Netflix.

I now have a deep appreciation that my husband is not a starving artist. He may come across that way, but he is far too practical, and not near insane enough.

I appreciate his willingness to pursue his dreams, while keeping a firm hold on reality.

Awesome Weekend

April 23rd, 2012 at 02:33 pm

**I did get my $250 Amazon redeemed. Woohoo!

I should have just bought my Quicken with these rewards, but I was not 100% sure they would come through this month. The points were there Saturday and I redeemed them last night.

I will pay off the credit card next paycheck, and close it shortly thereafter.

**We are still working on spending on Chase. Up to $2300 of $3000. I figure we will be done around 5/31.

**Mid-May I will try the Citi double dip. Or I may wait until we get dh's MRI bill. He has an MRI scheduled in May, but we often don't get billed for many months. I figure that bill will help immensely on our next reward. If the Citi double dip does not work, AmEx Gold is next on the list.

**I still need to apply for my $150 reward. No other offers have popped up in the mean time, so I will probably apply this week.

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**Reminds me, we had a couple of free options for lodging in Denver, but this weekend we confirmed the nicer option (studio suite with MIL's vacation points). Phew!! More driving for us. We could have stayed free with Grandma, but she has been a little confused, and I Wasn't 100% sure if she would get it set up correctly. I was worrying about showing up with no place to stay. She tells me the bed is terrible (they have rooms for guests at her retirement home), but I didn't really give a flip if it was free. BUT since this is free too, I think it will work out better.

Our airfare and car rental will probably be covered with rewards, so this is working out much better than expected.

**I just checked the weather because we went to the beach yesterday. It was supposed to be a record 80 degrees (it was 90 on Saturday!!), but it was foggy and cold. We tried to wait it out a bit but gave up around 1:00 when it felt like it was just getting colder and foggier. I just checked and it was a whopping 59 yesterday. Rolleyes Well, we tried. I was just stoked we'd be at the beach on such a nice day. But I felt better to see that the sun never came out. At least we didn't just miss it with our impatience. Wink

Anyway, we had fun anyway and we found a jellyfish on the beach. How cool is that??? {I had no idea jelly fish were around - that is good to know. Yikes!!}

**We had a very vacation-y weekend with our folks. Went down for a birthday party, spent the day in the in-laws' pool (aaaahhhhhh) and hit the beach Sunday.

Perfect Beach Day

November 28th, 2011 at 05:30 pm









I am so glad we made it to the beach yesterday.

First off, gas was significantly cheaper from last time we filled up. Yay!

We got to my folks house around noon and gave my mom her kindle (Christmas/Birthday present). She seemed to love it though we couldn't get their library system to work with it. Dh will figure it out. Or maybe it is just the library. Oh well!

We ate lunch at Burger King and it only took 45 minutes to get to the beach. Dh is definitely not a beach person, but with the short drive I realized it would be really easy to take the kids again. It was just a "Gee, this is a lot closer than I remembered!!" kind of moment.

We saw the monarch butterflies, and it wasn't all that exciting. There were a lot of them, yes. But they were all way up in the trees, so not much to see.

That said, the beach was AMAZING. I had never been to this particular beach, but it is definitely now my favorite.

The tide pools were amazing. We ended up getting there so late we stayed for the sunset and the low tide.

IT was crowded, which didn't bother me, BUT everyone and their brother was there to take pictures of the sunset. We moved away from the main picture focus to a little beach off to the side, and I heard someone say about my kids, "We should tell those kids to get out of the way." I could only think: Rolleyes Some of us were actually there to enjoy the beach and not just take pictures of it. Thankfully, they decided against asking the frolicking kids to get out of their way.

Of course, I figured we'd do Taco Bell for lunch and the deli for dinner - keep it cheap. BUT, my parents took us out to my favorite mexican restaurant for dinner. We might have gone anyway, but my birthday is this week so was an early birthday dinner.

All that, and we got home by 10pm.

Oh, and the weather was just perfect. I was questioning the weather report I saw because on the drive we mostly saw thick fog, both ways. But it was a very sunny and beautiful day at the beach, which is hard to come by. Thank goodness weather.com did not lie! Big Grin Since when is the land covered in fog and the beach clear and sunny? Bizarro! It's usually the opposite around here.

I have today off of work. & tomorrow I have a seminar. So, I have been very happy with this vacation. IT was kind of spontaneous, but I mostly prefer to stay close to home and keep it low key. As such, I definitely feel very refreshed! It was a very good call.

IF we have time, we might go to the art museum today. If not, we will maybe go Sunday instead. Today will mostly be a lazy day at home.

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Credit card closes on the 4th (Sunday) and so not much fiscal I have to do before then. At that point I should have a good sense of our 12/31/11 status.

When I get paid on Thursday I will pay the mortgage and the property taxes. The assessed value of our home went down about $7000, but the taxes went up with all the voted tax increases the past year.

My mom did slip me $40 for groceries on T-Day, per usual. Yay!

Vacation Update

October 9th, 2011 at 07:03 pm

We did it - Disney under $1,000. Woot!

Disneyland $236 (special night event)
Legoland $162 (kids were free)
Museums $84 (3 museums; one was free the day we went)
Parking $18 (Legoland + Hollywood street parking)
Souvenirs $80
Food $250
Gas $140
Sunblock $4
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TOTAL $974
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Some thoughts and commentary:

**Hotel was 100% free. Though we are used to free hotel stays with MIL's timeshare, it was because of her new *elite* status that we were not charged fees for taxes or parking. Yay! So literally paying -ZERO- was a nice surprise.

**We took the gas sipper and 4 tanks of gas got us there and back. We had good luck finding cheap gas. Phew!

**We'd generally spend $0 on souvenirs, but I let the kids go a little hog wild on the day we got rained out of Disney. I also really wanted to get them swords/shields at Legoland (their friends had gotten them a while back), BUT it does add up fast! (I am not sure I Would have gotten them either, but dh and I had miscommunication on the price). I hope they enjoyed because next time is probably going to be $0 budget for souvenirs!

**Food is always the biggest part of our budget when we vacation. I think this illustrates why. It's the biggest number of the bunch! & of course, it hurts to spend like 50% of our monthly food budget, in just 5 days. Ouch!

**Interestingly, we spent absolutely $0 on snacks. Last time we went to Disney it was a HOT week and I remember we were just always hungry, and buying up snacks, which did not help the food budget at all. I think you have the tendency to feel hungry when thirsty and also need that extra jolt of energy. This time we brought TONS of snacks from home (I was more aggressive in sneaking them into the parks) and barely touched them. Figured! In fact, all we bought while we were there was some sunblock (Was forgotten at home and only needed it one day). Food was strictly bought for lunch and dinner. Hotel had continental breakfast. We only went through our piles of snacks in the car. I couldn't tell you why - we all have huge metabolisms and usually have to eat more often. I am surprised what a difference the cool weather made. We were probably not used to eating such hearty lunches.

**I am personally not opposed to TV watching in the car. If it keeps the kids happy on a long drive, whatever. I certainly remember my parents torturing me on long drives through half the united states when I Was kid. I would have loved a TV to help pass the time!! But, the kids are pretty good at traveling (used to many 4-hour roundtrip drives to see family). & though a TV in the back would be nice for them, it doesn't do much for those of us in the front seat or specifically for the driver. SO, our main entertainment was audio books borrowed from the library. Between that, sleeping and video games, I didn't hear one, "Are we there yet???" Phew! & the trip went pretty fast for us adults, too. Dh and I always do audio books (library) on long road trips. I just think it was the first time we could all agree on something - kids were too young to appreciate last big road trip.

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The vacation budget is definitely blown for the year, but I think we did very well!

So Cal Week $974
San Francisco $100
San Francisco/Staycation $200
Camp Sacramento - 3 nights $100
Six Flags Staycation $200
Camping Trip $140
Water Park/Monterey $145
Water Park with friends $40

TOTAL - $1,899

Vacation budget is $1500. MIL gave us $200 for Disney, bringing total to $1700. At face value we are over budget by $200 for the year, but some of the gas and food can come from our gas and food budget. SO, I think we just squeezed in with our budget.

That said, we still have weekend Napa trip for our anniversary. Point is to get away and enjoy the scenery. I doubt we will spend much of any money on the trip. I don't think we care at all - the hotel is supposed to top notch and we will enjoy that.

I am expecting a $300 credit card reward in November, so may consider that to pay vacation expenses and/or to allow one nice dinner in Napa. I haven't really decided what to do with it yet, but considering I put most the rest of our substantial rewards this year to the mortgage, I can live with splurging this last $300. It is one reason we decided to go to Disney Monday night (we had also planned to go another full day if not rained out - $300).

This & That

August 29th, 2011 at 08:35 pm

Looks like we probably have about $500 left in vacation budget. Should do for So Cal trip (primarily need to pay for park tickets, and food). Not much left for Napa, but oh well. Dh got us tickets for his favorite pod cast - live audience. Since it was in the vicinity. Relaxing and enjoying the scenery should mostly do. Both trips will have a kitchen, so we can at least whittle down the food costs.

This past weekend we went to the night slides at another local water park. IT's one we have never been to (kind of pricey), but we had a BLAST! IT was so HOT the day we ended up going. Worked out well. (I think while Irene hit land, we were baking in line at the water park!). I was having second thoughts about the crowds - but in the end the experience was really pleasant - we can maybe do night slides next year once or twice. To keep costs down, just BM and I went - met up with friends. LM could not ride any of the slides at this place, anyway. Maybe he can next year (just needs to grow a couple of inches).

LM ended up at a focus group getting a free toy, instead.

Next weekend is the annual "Gold Rush Days" in Old Town Sacramento. Always SO FUN!!! & some relatives are visiting the in-laws from Australia. We invited some friends to the Gold Rush since MIL will be busy entertaining (she LOVES to come, usually). We will maybe go down to San Jose for the day to see relatives. Will break our rule not to drive anywhere on big holiday weekends! But, aiming for the middle of the weekend/day trip type thing to avoid traffic.

Soccer season has started, but it's been bearable to break up the duties. BM had a seeding tournament on Saturday (HOT DAY) and I got stuck there from about 12:30 - 2:30. Some frozen water bottles and an umbrella for shade saved the day. (What are the odds we'd have an umbrella? Not like we ever really need one - but found one in the car. PHEW!) Dh took morning shift which was longer, but cooler. ORiginal plan was for me to bring lunch and switch off, but we were lazy and went to Taco Bell instead. On the weekdays I take BM once a week to practice, dh takes the other day.

Camping Mt. Diablo

August 22nd, 2011 at 12:42 am

{See last post for some older photos I finally got around to posting.}

With the likes of Tahoe and Yosemite in our backyard, it's probably no wonder we have NEVER heard of this gem before. We went camping on Mt. Diablo this weekend, and it was just amazing! (& a MUCH shorter drive - turned out to be about 80 miles from our home).

We met my dad for lunch around 1:00. We met at a fabulous and reasonably priced Thai restaurant. We feasted! I thought, "Where else can you eat authentic Thai cuisine, and drive 15 minutes into the wilderness for some amazing camping!" Maybe other places, but not many?

Our plan was to set up camp (check in 2:00), explore the famed "rock city," and drive up to the peak in the morning before we left, for the views.

Wildlife spotted: primarily deer, hawks, owls, coyotes (?), rabbits. Which isn't terribly exciting because these are the same animals we see at home. But, we saw the coyote a handful of times running around very close. Was beautiful. I suppose we also saw a lot of lizards. I didn't see any spiders bigger than a centimeter or so, so no complaints!!

"Rock City" was just amazing. BM loves to climb anything and everything. & though I held my breath a few times and had to chastise the kids to be more CAREFUL, they just had a BLAST. It was a huge rock playground. Just beautiful!

When we drove in we saw there was a star gazing event, and decided to go. (What luck!!!) Just BM and I went with Grandpa. We drove up to the top of the mountain and saw the most AMAZING sunset. We were above the fog rolling in, and arrived at a great scenic overlook just as the sun finished setting over the horizon.

At the top of the mountain, the night sky was pretty amazing for how early it was and how much light was coming up from the valley down below. If we had been up to staying longer, would have been even more amazing. The fog was starting to roll in (below us)and drown out the city lights when we left closer to 10pm. The moon was nowhere to be seen, and the sky couldn't have been more clear. We saw a handful of shooting stars. Basically, several people were there to show off and share their telescopes. IT was so much fun!!! We looked at several planets, galaxies, nebulae, stars, etc. I used to have a telescope, and love astronomy. We had actually planned this trip in the hopes of spotting the tail end of the recent meteor shower, but got much more than we had hoped for!

In the morning we hit rock city one more time to let the kids play, and then drove to the top. We stopped at the same scenic overlook again. Camp was very foggy and WET in the morning (got to test the water proofness of our tent - it passed. & it was so clear it would have been easy to leave off the water proof cover. It has sort of an open design for watching stars, etc. But for whatever reason we put the whole thing up. It felt like a little rain, when I Walked away from the trees, but was possibly just fog and condensation that hit our tent all night. My dad said the coastal redwoods get gallons of water from the fogs and he never quite understood that (until he slept under a tree in the fog!)

Anyway, so we drove up above the fog line and just soaked in the view for a LONG time. We decided to not drive to the very top of the peak since the observation tower was temporarily closed. I think we were happy with what we were able to see!

The peak was about 3500 feet - and probably the highest peak in the Bay Area. (I am not sure, but we saw several peaks in the distance that were quoted as being 2500 feet high - like Mt. Tam. I suppose we only got a view of the west, so not sure what else can be seen on the east side. Heck, to the east are the Sierra Nevadas. REAL mountains, but those are far off in the distance).

We let the kids play on the rocks some more before we drove home.

Throw this in the "vacation lifestyle" category because it was about on par with our last Hawaii vacation, but was mostly a 24 hour vacation! & certainly MUCH cheaper!!! We are definitely going back for a whole weekend next year. & is a good spot for day visits as well (when driving to/from visiting family).

Frugal note: We took gas sipper (compact vehicle). We were able to easily fit all of our camping gear (for 4), 4 camping chairs (clearly not necessary), etc. I share because most people look at us like we are crazy to try. Big Grin Of course, kids have short legs so not like there is any need for more space. I just find it funny how giant vehicles are seen as such *necessity* in this day and age - the minute you have one child. & yes, we have a minivan, but it is certainly not a necessity. Anyway, was for the best because we probably couldn't have parked at the campground otherwise - not a lot of room for cars. The gas sipper can squeeze in anywhere (& squeeze we did!)


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