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Archive for February, 2009

Big Haul at Costco

February 28th, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Today dh and I went to Costco, even though I swore I'd never again go on a weekend once I retired... so I had to eat my words! Actually, we had not been in over a month and our Am Ex rebate check for $294.41 was in the mail yesterday when we got home from a business trip. And, since the frig was pretty bare, we stocked up... now the pantry and freezer are full, and we have cleaning supplies and paper products to last at least 6 months.

Our cart totaled $354.80 but we paid only $60.39. This was on top of getting $38 off for products that had coupons (e.g., Brita filters, Skinny Cow, vitamins, etc.). I found out Costco now automatically deducts the coupon amount when the cashier rings up, so I wasted a lot of time cutting coupons this morning. But I really can't complain... the savings are nice no matter how you get them.

I usually budget ~$200 a month for Costco where I buy our meat, soy milk, organic cereal, cheese, coffee, tea, canned tomatoes, Skinny Cow, pasta, cat litter, vitamins, dried blueberries, Romaine, some fruits/vegetables, and cleaning and paper products (some items are bought every few months). I always pay with the Am Ex card and then pay the balance in full each month. I like the tiered rebates: 3% for gas and restaurants, 2% for travel, and 1% everywhere else... and the card has no fees, other than the Costco membership that is required.

Am I Addicted?

February 25th, 2009 at 09:55 am

A few days ago, during a completely normal online session, my Internet stopped working. Just like that, I was offline. First of all, I didn't even know whom to contact about the outage. After all, I always access my ISP account online. Fortunately, my cell phone has Internet access, so I was able to get a phone number. I won't go into the gory details, but the customer service agent (in the Philippines) was not able to get me online after more than an hour of troubleshooting, and he determined I needed to have a technician come to my house the next afternoon. So, now I just had to wait.

My resulting behavior, though, has given me cause for concern... am I addicted to the Internet? Why did I keep checking every 30 minutes to see if maybe I was somehow able to get online? I even caught myself looking out the window, as if somehow the problem would be sitting out there in the front yard. This is not good, and it's made me wonder if I have a problem. Was I experiencing withdrawal symptoms?

It's not as if I surf all day long, but I do have my habits. In the morning, cup of coffee in hand, I read the news online, check my email, read my favorite blogs, and maybe comment or post if I have something to say. If I'm home, in the afternoon I check my email again... and, after dinner I usually check my email and maybe go online, depending on what's happening on the home front. And if I happen to be in the vicinity of my laptop and the email alert sounds, I will check it then. I don't know, is this excessive and why do I feel so disconnected when my Internet is down? (no pun intended!)

Lucky Pennies

February 22nd, 2009 at 12:20 pm

When I was recently in NYC, my grandnephew (age 5) kept finding pennies... everywhere. Of course, he loved picking them up and I told him they were lucky. I've never seen anything like it, and it made me wonder if life in New York City is so fast-paced that people don't see the change or whether most just don't want to bother with mere pennies.

Grandnephew found .11 in 5 days. I guess being closer to the ground helps, too! He was very sweet and generous to give me one of his pennies for the tiny "lucky cat" piggy bank I bought in Chinatown. Hope it brings me good luck.

Confessions of a Secret Piggy Banker

February 21st, 2009 at 08:46 am



Ever since I was a kid, I've had a piggy bank. I don't know how many adults keep piggy banks of some sort, but I suspect there are others like me out there. On my kitchen counter I have a piggy bank that I use for spare change, and in my bedroom I have a piggy-bank cat that's chock full of quarters... so full I can't get another one into it. In my underwear drawer, I have a red makeup bag that does double duty as a bank (CYA has a literal meaning here). My most prized coins are some I've had since ~1968, a gift from my father. I keep them in a small blue bag in a secret place. I'm not the only one in the family who is involved in this practice. Dh keeps a gallon jar of coins, mostly pennies, in our closet.

Well, it had been a couple of years since I'd forced myself to roll coins, so early this morning I decided it was time to deal with some of these stashes. But since I HATE counting and wrapping coins, I took most of them to the Coinstar machine at Lucky's. I recently learned that by donating the money to one of their non-profit partners or by getting gift cards, there is no fee for using Coinstar. The kitchen piggy and the red bag produced $197.39 that I donated to Feeding America. The piggy-bank cat produced $134.50 that I used for Starbuck's and AMC gift cards.

As far as my little blue bag of old coins, these may be worth more than their face value because they are silver dollars, quarters, and dimes, so they definitely won't get fed to the Coinstar machine... I'm not quite sure how to go about unloading these, but I'll figure it out. And the penny jar... well, it's destined for Coinstar if dh is willing, but not until he can help with it. It's too heavy for me to carry.


Blood Oranges and More...

February 20th, 2009 at 08:48 am

Yesterday I was in the vicinity of my favorite Asian market where I find the best selection of produce items I like to occasionally buy. It's not in a convenient location so I don't go very often, but when I do, I always come away with some special treats. I spent $8.86 for 8 blood oranges, 2 large Asian pears, a big bag of taku choy, and ~ 1/4 lb. of winter mushrooms (shitake).

The blood oranges are delicious... wish I'd bought more. Taku choy is similar to bok choy but the stem is thinner and the tops are leafier and darker green. I will use it to make a stir-fry with fresh garlic, winter mushrooms and strips of lean pork, served over brown rice. I also put it in soup. The pears will be chilled, sliced and served for dessert with slices of gouda.

I wish I lived where I could walk to a store for fresh produce several times a week, or even daily. Unfortunately, getting fresh produce entails driving but that is how it is... I live out in the boondocks. But I'm beginning to think the bargain-priced produce I get at Costco is not really a good deal because I inevitably end up throwing half of it away.

In case you've never seen a blood orange, here is what they look like:

My Hypothetical Life vs. My Real Life

February 19th, 2009 at 10:54 am

Well, today is the 6-month anniversary of my retirement and I've been reflecting on whether it's been all that I expected it to be, all that I planned and dreamed for it to be. And the answer is not a simple "yes" or "no."

While I have yet to regret retiring, I have to admit there have been a few times I've wondered if I should have worked another year or two. These are the days when the economic news is so ugly (read: downright scary) that I wonder if I should have padded the retirement accounts a little more.

Then I begin to think about where I'd be if I were still working, and I remember why I retired: endless meetings, daily problems, too much stress, and long, long hours. I also remind myself that my pension income and retirement savings should be adequate if I manage my finances carefully and continue to live as frugally as I have done most of my adult life. Yep, I did the right thing.

But is it all I thought it would be? Actually, retirement has exceeded my expectations in many ways... having choice about how and where to focus my time and energy is great. Yet, the life I hypothetically imagined didn't just instantly materialize. I'm still learning how to better manage my time. There is such a thing as having too much choice and I now realize that some structure, such as that which defined my life when I worked, is necessary for me. But it is sometimes easier said than done.

So, retirement is a work in progress, and I am constantly tweaking the rhythm of my daily life, trying to find the balance that eluded me when I worked. Sometimes being able to simply relax and have fun has been a bit of a challenge because I can't shake the feeling that I should be doing "real" work. I am getting better at being OK with days that haven't resulted in the completion of an "important" task. Some days reading a good book, going for a bike ride or a long walk - activities that are self-focused - have been the accomplishment of my day.

What would I do differently? In retrospect, I'd probably pass on taking on as much part-time work as I did back in September, at least for the first few months. I was so used to being super-busy that I accepted consulting and part-time work at the university even before my retirement was official.

Don't get me wrong, the work is interesting and I'm grateful for the extra money, but I think I could have used a few months to just decompress. Then later, I could have taken on extra work if I felt the need to do so. I guess I was afraid to turn it down for fear it wouldn't be offered again and more so, I feared having nothing "important" to do. Ultimately, the part-time work has been rewarding even though it's kept me busier at times than I really want to be.

Despite the state of the economy, I am VERY happy I retired. Through the years, I've learned there is never a perfect time for anything, whether it's retiring, having children, or some other adventure. There will always be issues and challenges to face, but careful planning and a positive attitude go a long way to ensuring success.

Red Egg and Ginger Party

February 11th, 2009 at 08:22 am

My nephew and his wife are the proud new parents of a sweet baby boy who was born in early January. I've received many photos and I can see that my new grandnephew is a beautiful combination of his parents, but I am most definitely biased. Tomorrow I am off to NYC to celebrate the baby's red egg and ginger party, a custom in his mother's culture. I can't wait to meet my grandnephew and to see my NY family once again.

Dh is staying behind due to his work schedule, but he'll be driving me to the airport, and on the way we'll pick up my niece and her children (my grandniece and other grandnephew). We are all traveling on the same direct flight to NYC, and my DS and BIL will also travel with us. Despite the cold NY weather, we are all excited and looking forward to the trip.

And, because it's off-season, I got some excellent deals on my hotel and airfare. I learned it pays to call the hotel directly and negotiate a discount instead of just booking online. I saved ~$275, and found a nice, smaller "boutique" hotel that offers a complimentary hot breakfast daily and is only two blocks from my nephew's apartment. Another money-saver was to buy two one-way tickets on different airlines instead of a round-trip ticket on one. I chose Virgin America for the trip to NYC and I'm returning to CA on AA, so my total airfare was $279.20 instead of ~$375-$450 for the itinerary I wanted.

Quiet Winter Day

February 10th, 2009 at 03:54 pm

The morning's thick gray fog burned off by 10:00 a.m. so it seemed a good day to spend a few hours working in my small patio, sweeping leaves and birdseed shells, and tending to my potted plants. TC the cat loves to explore while I'm working there but I have to keep an eye on her for fear she will hop the fence. It would be easier to leave her in the house but I am a pushover for her cute little silent meow as she watches me intently through the patio door. So, out she comes to get some fresh air and have a little fun chasing leaves, bugs, and feathers.

The potted herbs were ready to be pulled so I did that and also pruned the brugmansia I keep in a giant pot. I will replant the herbs in late March or early April. The trumpet vine looks slightly frostbitten where it is most exposed to the elements at the top of the fence. I will have to trim it when all danger of frost is over. In the spring, I will focus on planting more geraniums and succulents since these seem to be the most hardy.

After lunch, I went to Walmart where I get the best price on the black oil sunflower seeds and thistle (niger) that the birds like so much, and stocked up. These are the only two seeds I offer the wild birds. I also provide nectar for the humming birds.

I cleaned and sterilized the feeders and filled them, so now it's just a matter of time for the birds to re-discover them. I love to watch the birds at the feeder and don't mind spending money on this hobby. I spend ~$20 a month, well worth the enjoyment I get in return.

Dining Out on Overdrive

February 8th, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Dh and I have eaten out every day since last Thursday when I got back in town. This is unusual for us, because we have actually been eating out less now that I'm retired. But, dh wanted to go out, and it was fine with me because we used a couple of the entertainment.com coupons by going to new restaurants (new to us).

Thursday dinner ~ at our favorite Mexican place: $20.19
Friday dinner ~ at local "fast food" Mongolian grill at food court (we were going to a movie): $16.57
Saturday lunch ~ new restaurant, used coupon (saved $10): $12.75
Sunday breakfast ~ new restaurant, used coupon (saved $8): $18.29

Total spent: $67.80. This took a bite from our February "dining out" budget and it's only the 8th. We did take home some leftovers, enough for 2 lunches, so that was nice.

We'll be eating at home for the rest of the week, or at least dh will. I'll be going out of town again in a few days for a family visit, and this will mean more dining out for me, at least some of the time.

But for tonight I made wild mushroom penne with EV olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and pine nuts, served with asparagus and whole wheat French bread. I also made a split pea soup that will be part of tomorrow's dinner and then some.

Kiva Translations

February 7th, 2009 at 09:49 pm

Today I completed four more translations for Kiva, and this makes 11 that I've done since the start of the year. I'm finding that I really love doing this work... It helps keep my Spanish skills fresh, but more importantly, I am touched and inspired by the stories of people who want to improve their lives through hard work.

Through Kiva, we can lend money to the working poor throughout the world and promote their economic independence. I've decided to add a line item on my monthly budget for Kiva, instead of just lending or donating from time to time. It's not a lot, maybe the cost of a lunch out, but it will make a difference for someone who just needs a chance.

I'm a "paw-dicurist"

February 6th, 2009 at 08:16 am

For some reason, my cat TC has nails that grow quickly and she needs them trimmed about once a month. She is very playful and has been known to damage the carpet or furniture if her nails get too long. In the past, I've always taken her to the vet to have her nails trimmed because she wiggles too much and I was afraid I'd hurt her. But I invested in a pair of guillotine trimmers that make the job easier. Practice makes perfect, and I am getting better at the process. The best part is that it avoids a stressful trip to the vet for TC, and the $18 it saves me is also a nice bonus. Here's what works for me:

1. Get the guillotine cutters and hide them near the recliner;
2. Sit in the recliner but ignore the cat;
3. Soon the cat will jump in the recliner with you;
4. Gently push the cat off the recliner;
5. The cat will now really want to get in the recliner;
6. Allow cat to jump up and get comfortable next to you;
7. Read a book or work on your laptop while ignoring the cat;
8. The cat will soon fall asleep;
9. When the cat is very sound asleep, grab the trimmers, then gently squeeze a paw to extend nails and quickly trim, being careful to stay ~ 2 mm. from the quick;
10. After trimming 3-4 nails, the cat will wake up and jump off the recliner;
11. Repeat steps 2-10 until you have cut all nails;
12. Give cat a catnip treat and pour yourself a glass of wine. ;-)

The Thriftiest Family in America

February 3rd, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Featured on Oprah today: "One of the thriftiest families in America shares their money-saving secrets with you! Then, slash you grocery bill in half. One mom says she can show you how." I'm planning to watch the show, but if you prefer to get the information online, here is the link.

Oh baby, it's cold outside!

February 1st, 2009 at 10:56 am

Caught a late flight out of Silicon Valley, off for a few quiet days at our second home. I'll enjoy spending time with my DDs and SILs. DD2 and SIL live a few blocks away (from our house) and DD1 and SIL live about 25 minutes out of town in the country. I didn't get to see them during the holidays because we were in Central America, so this is a treat for me.

Dh's work schedule doesn't permit him to take time off, especially at the beginning of the semester, so I came alone. I'll go back to CA in time for my Friday afternoon seminar, the only "work obligation" I have in the coming week. Later in the semester, the pace will pick up, making it more challenging to get away, even for a few days.

Outside, it's 19 degrees (~7 C) and the ground has a patchwork of snow. I'm not comfortable driving in extreme weather but we keep our reliable, well-maintained 10-year-old SUV here, and it has 4x4, so that helps. Fortunately, today the roads are clear and there is no ice or snow to contend with.

Our second home is averaged-sized (~1800 sq. ft.), one-story, and highly energy efficient. Right after we bought it in 2006, I invested in shutters for all the windows and this has added to its energy efficiency. This morning I analyzed the total energy costs for 2008:

Gas: $369.11
Electric: $196.29

Monthly average for both: $47.12

Not bad, considering that our townhouse in CA is smaller yet costs much more to heat and cool even though the weather there is milder year round.

Guess I'll get my book and relax by the fire until it's time to go to DD1s to watch the Super Bowl.