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Archive for March, 2008

Refreshing Sunday

March 31st, 2008 at 07:32 am

Ah, I feel so refreshed.

I have been so swamped in recent years with infants and all that, that I really have had little "me" time. I think in my job and with my husband's wonderful support I have found much more "me" time than most mothers I know. But it doesn't really mean much more than that I demand time for myself.

However, lately I find I have had much more time than I have been accustomed to over the last few years.

I stopped and thought really hard (I think I blogged before) about what I really wanted from life and what I wanted from this in-between stage. There is a lot I have planned for when the kids are older, like more volunteer work, and more work on other hobbies. Likewise, maybe returning to school. Maybe writing more.

For now though, none of these time consuming endeavors appeal to me. My job takes away enough time from family as is, so these were not the things I felt like persuing with more time.

I decided working again on small craft projects and getting out on more hikes with the kids, was what I really wanted.

It has been hard because we planned a nice hike a couple of weekends, ago but dh fell ill. So we rescheduled for this weekend. Sunday was my only day off.

Of course, I woke up Sunday feeling a little under the weather myself. This put me in a pretty foul mood. I decided I Wanted to try anyway, but as we drove into the wildnerness I griped that this is why we never get to do anything like this. !! There's just always something. I was frustrated that as I tried to make time for these kind of things, it wasn't exactly panning out.

The hike quickly alleviated my bad mood though and I actually felt much better after pushing through. I just knew that laying around the house was NOT going to help me. I had been so itching to get OUT of the house.

Anyway, so we ventured out near Folsom, not quite sure what to expect. I had found the hike online, and I don't think of Folsom as being particularly scenic. (There is so much more breathtaking scenery nearby). But as we approached, we marveled at the place hidden away (how would anyone know it was there otherwise? Thank you internet!) and the peacefulness. We did not see one soul the first hour of our hike.

Started along some backyards of some mansions, and a lot of road noises. I was skeptical, but soon enough peacefulness started to settle in and we went through a small "forest."

I was disappointed when we reached the half way point, or the river, and hadn't really seen any animals. ?? Besides all the birds.

Anyway, we stopped and lounged a while, and was surprised how quiet it was for such a BEAUTIFUL day. Saw 2 boats and a couple of people fishing on the banks of the river.

We turned back and took a different trail back to our car, and then I saw IT. A bird was flying overhead, and I looked up an was absolutely stunned. IT was a BALD EAGLE. Um, okay, that bird sure looked like a bald eagle. It was magnificent. I had seen one perched in a tree once in the Oregon wilderness. Just about the most beautiful animal I had ever seen. Unfortunately, with the sun glare I couldn't quite make out as much. & I didn't really know Bald Eagles were in California, so I Was skeptical if that's really what I saw. When I pointed it out to dh and the kids, the glare was too strong and they couldn't make out any features. I thought maybe I was wrong.

Of course first thing when I get home I googled bald eagles, and Folsom, and yes they are there. Though I guess it is quite a rare sighting. I felt so blessed. (& not crazy after all).

Next time I am bringing my binoculars!!

Anyway, the kids did really well. IT was a 2-hour hike (stops and all) and LM fared well, though I wouldn't put him through more, and he did trip a couple of times.

At that age we went on some very intense hikes with BM, but he is a daredevil. & I just don't think we're up to much more this year. LM is very cautious. Which is fine. Mommy and Daddy need to work up to some bigger hikes ourselves. We're getting old and out of shape. Wink

Anyway, they were kind of whiny towards the last half hour and could tell LM in particular was getting quite tired of this whole hiking thing. When all of a sudden the fishermen we had seen come by with a giant catch! They had a catfish that was certainly bigger than LM.

It was perfect timing as that really perked the kids up. They were walking fast and BM decided he wanted to try to catch up to them again. Also, LM said seeing that big fish was his favorite part of the hike.

We also did see some gorgeous butterflies.

On the way back we ran into a few hikers. & towards the end there was some picnic tables on a tremendous vista. It was so gorgeous. The sky was so blue, and just miles of rolling hills. We decided to return for a picnic in the future.



Of course, spring is the time of year to enjoy a hike like this. The hills just get brown and ugly in the summer. Well, that, and in this area it also gets hotter than HAdes.

Likewise, dh and I discussed doing small, local hikes in the spring, and venturing out to Tahoe and San Francisco, and Point Reyes, etc., in the summer months. A good way to escape the heat - for sure!!

Anyway, I returned home feeling much better, and refreshed. I am glad I forged ahead and we followed through.

I can hardly think of a better way to spend a Sunday!

Of course, after that, we had promised the kids to a trip to IHOP for their "Horton HEars a Who" special menu. I admit the commercials got ME. I thought it looked very clever and I like IHOP anyway. So we took the kids.

Let me say, this was quite a splurge for us, and we were rather disappointed. I glanced at the kids' menu and didn't see any prices. Likewise, it was a confusing menu. We don't eat out that much, but used to a few choices and clear prices. (USually says it comes with a side, a drink, a dessert, etc.)

Anyway, dh later mentioned the same thing. What's with the no prices? We weren't particularly pleased by this. Though we gathered from some of the prices on the big menu that the Horton special was probably the cheapest choice anyway. ($3.99. They listed a few of the kids' choices - not all - in the $4.99 range on the big menu).

Anyway, of course, on reason this perplexed me was there was a picture of a rather large piece of ham, a large scoop of green eggs (yes - green eggs and ham) and some smaller pancakes. I was thinking - they will serve that for $4.99????

OF course, dh pointed out the false advertising when the food came out. The ham was little itty bitty and the pancakes were much bigger. LOL. I said, well, that certainly looks like a $4.99 meal. Makes more sense.

Anyway, beyond all that the service was pretty blah.

We ordered waters and used a 15% off coupon.

Anyway, I like IHOP, but that experience left me rather bummed. Not the best.

I just got a cheeseburger. But I have to say that the ham/eggs/bacon/sausage meal was pretty tempting. I am a meat lover. I laughed when I realized it was on the lighter menu as "low carb." LOL. I mean, it didn't say it was "light" - more like the specialty menu. But I just laugh at eating all that food in an effort to lose weight or be healthy. Egads! It was tempting to me as a major meat gorging fest, indeed. But yeah, I wasn't going to fool myself that that would be good for me because it had no carbs. Yeesh.

Well, the kids did like their pancakes, but LM was having problems with their big fork. Was having problems stabbing his food with it, and it was probably a bit heavy. So when we left he said, "Restaurants are stupid. I never want to go to a restaurant again." Dh agreed. LOL.

So much for that treat. Though I guess I take pleasure knowing the kids enjoyed the hike 10 times more than a trip to IHOP. Big Grin






Frugal Saturday

March 30th, 2008 at 07:54 am

Well, not entirely.

Dh had gotten the art of $50 groceries down at the Bel Air (for 10 cents per gallon, off gas). But then they added the lucrative, spend $100, save a quarter per gallon.

Of course, Safeway has been having better deals of late (and we get smaller gas discounts there, bus discounts nonetheless). But I really prefer the BelAir gas station as far as convenience.

So I didn't have a coupon last week and was out of gas. So dh went shopping at BelAir and got the 25 cent discount, and filled up for me. That was the first time we had reached 25 cents actually. BEcause dh has so accustomed to shopping for $50.

My tank was 1/2 full yesterday, but I did my convenience store/junk run before work yesterday and occurred to me to just fill up while I was there. Dh had no plans to go shopping there and I figure with the quarter off last time I could pay full price and still be farther ahead than usual.

Of course, the gas prices were insane. Yikes! I'll pay a good $50 for my round trip to the Bay Area next week. A trip that was only $20 when we moved here. Ouch. (Well, taking the van instead of the subcompact doesn't help).

I took my lunch to work though and worked most of the day.

In the evening, dh made dinner. and the kids and I played in the backyard after dinner.

I try to avoid the outside because of my usual allergies, and because of my extreme fear of spiders (& the monster spiders that take up in our yard. Egads!!!!) & we have huge wasp problems. Anyway, we had a pest control company for a while, but we really only needed them for the wasps and the giant spiders. They quit doing wasp control so we just figured we'd do it ourselves. OF course, I don't think we did anything last year. Which did not make me inclined to hang out in the backyard with wasps and giant spiders. We tend to go to the park instead, and they spend all their time backyard exploring at preschool. (I think the poor bugs who end up in that yard - LOL. I can't tell you what BM brings home in his pocket. Worms, bugs, etc. Boys!! & though I appreciate their curiosity, I told them to be a little gentler with the bugs last night. One got its head squashed - poor little thing). I know, the gentleness is a lost cause with them. I should let them be...

Anyway, I think it was the first time I really felt I could let them roam around without watching them every second (well last time we really enjoyed the yard was when LM was 18 months??). YEah, 2 years makes a difference. Plus I can always bring out the laptop and just hang out while they play.

Anyway, what spurred our little venture outside is the kids had asked to paint outside a while back, and we never made it out for some reason. You know, the old water painting thing. Bucket of water, some paint brushed, and the kids "paint" the house and the ground. So last night I didn't feel 100% so thought the backyard would be a nice alternative from a walk to the park. Plus it's not wasp season yet. (& I didn't even see any spiders...)

Of course, I remember buying a paint brush specifically for this before LM was born. & I even found it! But the only other thing I could find was a giant paintbrush from when we painted LM's room.

Likewise, it was a little big and heavy for BM, so they fought over the smaller one.

I asked dh to pick up a cheapie brush (or 2) next time he was out. Wouldn't be surprised if you can just get one at the grocery store. Not worth the gas to go elsewhere.

So the kids had a blast. & I enjoyed not having to watch them like a hawk. They have learned pretty well the dos and dont's of outside play at preschool - they play outside so much. You know, last time the 18-month-old was probably eating dirt or something. LOL. So it's nice to move past that age where they put stuff in their mouths, etc.

Anyway, besides all this, for some reason I was thinking about one of my favorite records growing up from childhood. It was "Urban Chipmunk" - country songs from Alvin & the Chipmunks. I looked it up and saw it was out of print and asked dh if he could download the songs. So I played some of those for the kids and they LOVED it.

So I would say that makes a pretty frugal Saturday.

My $2 convenience store run wasn't very frugal BUT it's my treat for working overtime and I'd say I only had to work 5 minutes to earn $2. So, no, not frugal. But I won't sweat it. Wink

For some reason I thought "My Sharona" was on that album, but dh said that was on Chipmunk Punk. I don't remember having that one. Which is funny because I am not a country girl - I am a rocker. But something about that Urban Chipmunk. Very memorable. So we'll download some of those to CD.

I have to tell you those are 2 CDs I would gladly BUY if they were still in print.

Well, I really look forward to a relaxing Sunday. Big Grin

Just an Update

March 29th, 2008 at 12:13 pm

I'll look at my Quarter 1 Net Worth progress after all my interest posts Monday/Tuesday.

I don't expect much. (same as 12/31? loss?)

We'll see.

The credit card also closes Friday, so a little premature to start summarizing expenses. Though overall, we had a lot of "unexpected" bills this month. I felt like we were well prepared and, even more importantly, I felt we have had more wiggle room in our budget lately. This month most noteable, even with all the medical, daycare, car expenses.

Which is good.

Of course, I try not to get too excited, because this time of year we are always both busy and sick. Not a lot of going out and having fun. Certainly makes the budget easier! Big Grin We'll see how we fare in summer...

OF course, we were going to go on a 2-hour hike a couple of weekends ago, but dh fell ill. We are going to try again tomorrow. So far it looks like the weather will be okay.

We all went to the park Thursday I believe, and the weather was DIVINE. Since it has cooled off and we even ran the heat a little bit. Today is gloomy and wet. I hope tomorrow is the sunny 65-degree weather promised. We'll see... IT's hard to do much with just one free day a week, at the whim of the weather...

On the flip side, I have had TERRIBLE allergies ever since we moved here. This year - nada/nothing. ??? I mean the last 5 years were horrid in the spring. I maybe only had bouts with allergies once or twice where I grew up, and for specific reasons. So I have been pretty miserable here.

Anyway, I kept telling dh that maybe it was early, but not a thing. Usually I can't go outside on Easter because my eyes get so irritated. But I wondered aloud if it hasn't struck yet because Easter was early.

Anyway, dh just read that pollen counts were at a very high level this year. So I find that interesting. Though I wonder if it is not the pollen, but something else. There are many other allergens. So we'll see. So far so good (knock on wood). I have even questioned the sanity of getting a convertible down the road (you know, my dream) because I have to admit when I had one, I didn't use it as much up here. Weather is just too extreme (From what I Am used to anyway - used to 70s year-round) and in the spring I had to keep the top up and the windows shut with my allergies. So this gives me hope. Maybe I am acclimating!

I also told the kids I would treat them to IHOP. So we were thinking that would be good to refuel after our hike tomorrow.

Seems like we have been getting more restaurant coupons than usual (with the economy) and we will certainly take advantage! Trying to go home for lunch dates more with dh. But we have a coupon for buy one buffet/get one free - for Round Table pizza. Was going to use last week but didn't pan out. Will try next week again. We have the same coupon for a new Japanese buffet. A little further out, but I want to try it. Much cheaper at lunch, and we already pay for the kids' care anyway, during some weekdays. So trying to take advantage more.

IF we can lunch out like that for under $20/month, while the kids are in school? Indeed!!! This is the one thing I miss with the kids. We just don't have the money to eat out much. & I find great pleasure in squeezing these kind of dates in.

Likewise, every other week we can have a lunch date at home. Those are nice too. Just nice to have quiet time together. So rare!

The following weekend, MIL is taking LM for a few days, and we figured we would leave BM at daycare for a few hours on a Saturday so we could get some time out. We keep getting coupons for this drop-in care place and the kids LOVED it. So, woohoo. One free hour and will pay $7/hour for just the one, to leave for a few hours.

Not bad. He has been begging for a return visit. For now we are trying to utilize the place for date night once a month. Maybe more once BM graduates preschool. (Twice a month?).

But the weekend will be busy. We picked that date since I will be in the Bay Area next Sunday. So dh will meet his mom 1/2 way to drop off LM during the week, and I will pick him up Sunday. I think she has not offered to babysit so much lately due to gas. Certainly why we have not asked. IT has popped into mind, we consider the gas, and quickly change our minds... Meeting half way is a 120-mile round trip.

So this will be nice. Fitting the pick-up in with an already planned trip.

For Sunday, I am taking BM to the Holi Festival again this year. It was so fun last year and we are hooked. Great Indian Food, lots of fun, and a big mess. It's a spring celebration where everyone throws this colored powder on each other. LAst year was my first time and I took a friend. We have been looking forward to it again. Woohoo. I am not sure who had more fun, us or the kids? This year we are bringing more people, will caravan down. We'll see how it goes.

The busyness at work is REALLY winding down. It's a tad early, but I am quite stoked. Plus it is only like a month to my big summer vacation. Woohoo!

April is usually busy because I am so behind on everything (regular, non-tax work, and April/May deadlines). But I am pretty caught up and don't expect to work too much overtime in April. I think 2 more Saturdays will do it. I know my family can not wait. Working 40 hours after tax season always seems so easy. Like a calm, relaxing work schedule. So I look forward to it too, of course.

We'll see though. Anything can happen... Just don't want to get too optimistic, too soon... Big Grin

In the meantime, I am enjoying the pace. I certainly don't mind the overtime either - it will go a long way to fund our savings. I'll get a nice OT bonus in the next month or so. KEeps me going strong all these weekends...

I am SO cash poor right now too. (For my comfort level anyway). So OT bonuses and stimulus payments will go a long way to replenish our reserves. Phew.



Saved $1.81

March 29th, 2008 at 11:26 am

"You earned a credit under PG&E's 10/20 Plus Winter Gas Savings Program. You've
received a bill credit of $1.81, which is a total of 1.00% off your total PG&E gas charges from January 1
through February 29. The credit is based on your cumulative gas usage reduction of 1.00%, compared to
the average usage at this location in January and February over the last three years. Thank you for
conserving natural gas and for helping to keep costs down for all customers."

Woohoo.

Actually, I saw this promotion. It was vague. Cut costs by 10% and get a 20% discount on some bill in the spring.

Since our bills in the spring are usually like $10, it was like, eh. Plus we tend to be conservatively minded anyway. Not like we are going to cut our bill 10%.

Anyway, so I got this note in our bill. January/February are the coldest months, so they wanted to reward us for using less. All I Can say is, thank you mild winter. LOL.

Likewise, I am stoked to see they took 1% off our Jan/Feb bills. Now that's something. Since my MArch bill was a whopping $20! (What would 1% be? 20 cents?)

The original wording had made it seemed like you would get a discount on your spring bill. So that was nice. Well, it was on my spring bill, but the discount for the winter months is certainly nice.

Extra $30?

March 28th, 2008 at 12:28 pm

I got a note from Chase that if I spend $2k each month, April/May/June that they will give me a bonus $25 in cash rewards. (I round up to $30 since I usually wait to $200 to redeem an extra 25%).

Anyway, we put about $1300 on the card monthly (well, ideally - that is the budget for regular expenses) and often hit $2k during certain time of year (random one-time expenses and such). BUT I doubted it was worth $30 to try to hit in 3 months in a row. I told dh jokingly, asking if there was anything he wanted to buy. There wasn't. HE mentioned it didn't seem worth it. Well duh.

We have a few electonic purchases in mind, but end of the year is the time to buy, and prices will no doubt come down much lower than by $30, if we wait...

I did tell him that if we got the emergency room bill ( never got a bill yet!?!) that I just received word that I could card it. So maybe if we got in sometime before May, would help.

Likewise, we have our big vacation in May and $2k will be no prob.

So we pondered what we could do for June. Of course, now it looks like we may go camping and the fee is a few hundred dollars.

So may just earn another $30!!

Of course, I had kind of forgotten about this since I have not received this medical bill yet. (Phew, since gives me more time to save for it).

Anyway, I recieved my state CPA society dues notice yesterday and it was almost $500. My boss reimburses me, but I always card it for rewards. Woohoo. I'll have to look at the due date and push the payment to June if possible. But I can pay it in April if the medical bill doesn't materialize. Maybe I can push the medical payment to June.

Who knows. I think I have some other dues coming up and some other things I can prepay a bit.

I'll have to keep that in mind and juggle some things around.

Actually, we can also buy our Disney tickets in April, so that might be a wise move too. Spread out some of the costs. We can pay for everything else in May (gas, food, other activities. We won't pay lodging so not a lot of other expenses, now that I think about it).

But yeah, this will take a little strategy!

Foreclosureville

March 27th, 2008 at 01:49 pm

Real estate bargain hunting
Three lessons from a one-day tour of Foreclosureville:

[url]http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/day-foreclosureville-serves-up-lessons/story.aspx?guid=%7BDE50DF42-206A-457F-8781-8CE3B496C5D3%7D[/url]

Anyway, I found this article interesting. I already mentioned, but some of the real estate activity I See around me is very reminiscent of bubble behavior.

I keep hearing about bidding wars on foreclosed homes.

Well, yeah, $300k for 3000 square feet. Haven't seen these prices, here, since 2001.

So the people who have been bitter and priced out of the market for years are swooping in for their chance. They seem to be quite convinced that now is a good time to buy. Better jump before it gets too expensive.

Overall, I Don't disagree with this assessment. That it is a good time to buy. But, wow. I don't exactly see the hurry either.

I think it raises the point that there is still a very strong demand for home ownership in the area. There is a huge pool of people who can afford $300k homes who could not fathom home ownership for the last 7 years.

Likewise, the part I think I mentioned before was the people I know frothing at the investment properties. The scary thing is they are talking about buying properties they can not afford in any, way, shape or form, without rental income coming in.

You wonder if these people have been paying ANY attention the last few years.

Overall, both groups have great optimism that high prices are here to stay, and it's time to jump on the discount wagon. BEcause it has nowhere to go but up.

Where is all this optimism coming from?

I did read somewhere that prices will yo-yo for a while. I guess, that, I can agree with. It is yo-yo-ing.

IT's certainly interesting to watch from the sidelines.

What next??

I've just always found real estate fascinating. So I rather enjoy watching it all unfold.

I keep reading the locals saying they won't buy until prices settle around $100k again. I personally think they are dreaming. PEople were moving here in droves because it was much more affordable than places like the Bay Area and So Cal. But then with all the equity, the people with no ties here moved on. Cashed out and moved on.

I can almost see it happening all over again...

Anyway, what the locals don't understand is that if the average house here is $250k or so, and the average house in the Bay is $750k. Regardless of jobs, people will move here. They will retire with their Bay Area riches, or they will super commute or telecommute. For this very reason, they are absolutely dreaming if they think prices will ever hit $100k again.

OF course, I think you had to be dreaming to think the $500k prices could be sustained here. I actually would buy that more because there isn't a lot of logic, historically (& I mean long term history) to housing prices in California. They have always been something like 10 times average income. I really thought Sacramento was just becoming an arm of the Bay Area. Problem is all that fast equity run up, and people fled. So, I Don't know. If it builds gradually and slowly, I think a lot of the higher prices may be here to stay. But, then again, as the price differential narrows, the less attractive Sacramento is. IT's a pretty big catch 22. We'll never be Bay Area. But I think things have changed and I would be shocked if $100k houses return.

I could be wrong, who knows. We'll see... I haven't ruled out a significant price collapse in the Bay Area. They seem to be on REALLY shaky ground. I have menioned our relatives who do own homes - with ARMs and TWO incomes. The shaky economy has me worried for them, how they would fare if they lost their jobs, etc. Or if they could not sell before ARM resets, etc. They look strong for now, but looks like pretty shaky ground to me.

I think significant price drops there wouldn't bode well for us. IT really is the bubble that drove so many people here. When prices were high (for many many years), they didn't move here in droves. They moved here in droves when it turned into a bubble though.

But what do I know? I am just watching it all unfold.

I think the bidding wars around here are absolutely fascinating. That is for sure. Not sure I would have guessed that. Seems like PLENTY of foreclosures sitting empty. Why all the rush for a few houses? You got me there...