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Archive for March, 2009

Finder's Keepers

March 25th, 2009 at 07:51 am

The trip to San Antonio is going well except that I lost my camera. It was a careless thing on my part... I put it down to pay at the food court of the Rivercenter mall, then walked away and only remembered it later. By then, it was long gone. We checked with Security and the Lost and Found to no avail. It's disappointing that it was not turned in and that I lost an entire day of photos, including those taken at dinner with some good friends.

On the positive side, I did buy a replacement camera (Nikon S210) on sale at Office Max for $109 and soon resumed taking photos. The camera also came with a "free" digital key chain that is a $20 value. It's not something I need but, hey, it was free. I like to carry a small, pocket-sized camera and the Nikon fit the bill. I still prefer the one I lost which was a Canon PowerShot 1100.

Yesterday we drove to Natural Bridge... the cave tour was very interesting and I think worth the money.


Then we went to the wild animal ranch next door... maybe worth it if you have kids.


I did enjoy feeding the animals with the bag of alfalfa pellets they give you. The beasts will come right up to the car but guests are cautioned to throw the pellets on the ground.

Greetings from San Antonio

March 21st, 2009 at 01:40 pm

To celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and because it's spring break at dh's university, we arrived in beautiful San Antonio, Texas, on Friday afternoon. We will be here for a full week. It was not a "spur of the moment" trip... we planned it months ago. Why San Antonio? Well, why not! It is replete with history and many interesting things to see and do. We also wanted to explore San Antonio as a possible place for a pair of old snowbirds to fly to every once in a while.

Best of all, it should be a fairly inexpensive trip. Staying in a lovely one-bedroom apartment of an old historic building on the Riverwalk was "free" because of our timeshare. Well, we did have to pay ~$400 for annual dues, but this is essentially the cost of one night. The airfare cost us the price of airport taxes, ~ $20... do I ever love using those miles to save money!

Our apartment has free wireless Internet, so I'll be posting some pictures when I can. Here is one of the famous Riverwalk, a beautiful place that is just alive with action.


A large fountain and lush foliage provides a safe haven for this little family.


Remember the Alamo? We enjoyed our visit to this monument that is just two blocks from our apartment... and the entrance is free.


A sign we'd never see in CA... at the entrance to the bar of the Menger Hotel, famous as the place Teddy Roosevelt recruited the "Rough Riders." We didn't go in... I'm allergic to smoke.

Our Carbon Footprint is Shrinking

March 19th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I'm making very good progress on my goal of reducing our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last three months compared to last year:

1/2008 $165.17
1/2009 $154.07
~7% less

2/2008 $186.94
2/2009 $151.70
~19% less

3/2008 $109.03
3/2009 $ 72.77
~33% less

I was pleasantly surprised at the savings in February, especially since I am home more now that I'm retired. But the reduction in March was even better, so my challenge is paying off. Here are a few things we've done or are doing that have helped:

~ Switched out all the incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent;
~ Lowered the thermostat on our FA heater;
~ Unplug appliances/computers that are not in use;
~ Grab a sweater when it's chilly instead of turning on the heater.

A Survivor's Story

March 16th, 2009 at 08:37 am

I have a friend who is 92 and an inspiration to me. I'll call her Rose, although it's not her real name. Rose is a very independent woman, a widow, and she lives alone in the beautiful home she has owned for 50+ years. And, yes, it does concern me that she still occasionally drives her well-maintained, new-looking 1985 Honda to visit her older sister who is in a nursing home, but she is still a good driver. But at her age, we know that reflexes diminish, so neighbors and friends help out by driving her on her errands whenever possible.

Rose is spry, intelligent, and personable and she has impeccable manners. It amazes me she can still walk at a fast clip in heels, something that would challenge much younger folks. At 92, Rose is the same age my mother would have been had she not died so young and I'd like to think my mother would have been like Rose.

I am convinced Rose's diet and work ethic have helped her live this long. She loves to drink tea and eats a healthy diet with little meat, but lots fruits and vegetables... and she enjoys a glass of red wine with dinner. Rose has several fruit trees in her yard and still grows a small garden each summer, although she is slowing down a bit in this area. About six years ago she relented and hired a gardener to mow her lawn and prune her trees.

Rose and I have lunch together about once or twice a month although I check in on her more frequently, and I always enjoy our chats. What is remarkable about Rose is her positive attitude and a resilience that enabled her to survive a host of challenging events in her life, events she tells me about with stoicism and sometimes even with humor.

Rose was a teenager during the Great Depression. Everyone in her family pooled resources and worked to bring money to the home. Rose and her siblings took turns being out of school to work in a cannery to help put food on the table. She had one pair of shoes and two dresses, one for everyday and one for Sunday and special occasions. Her dresses were hand-me-downs from relatives that were better off. This is quite a contrast from what many of today's teenagers make do with.

I asked Rose what she remembers from those years that has remained with her to this day. Here is what she shared:

~ Never waste anything - buy only what you need
~ Try to do things for yourself instead of paying someone to do it for you
~ Wait to buy something until you have the money to pay for it
~ Take care of your things so they will last
~ Save money so you will always have something to fall back on
~ Work hard and get along with people - it could mean you will keep your job


Can you imagine rebuilding your life after the Great Depression only to have everything you've worked for taken away again? This happened to Rose. In a future post I may share Rose's story about her experience as a Japanese-American in the Tule Lake interment camp starting in 1942, but this was a time in her life that was difficult and the good memories are few. She did meet her beloved husband of 50+ years at the camp and they married in 1945 when they were freed. To their disappointment, they were never able to have children but she helped raise and support several nieces and nephews over the years. I admire that Rose is not bitter or angry about the events in her life and I am convinced her positive attitude has been another factor her longevity.

Eco-Friendly Sandwich Wrapper

March 13th, 2009 at 08:00 am

Yesterday the Wrap-N-Mats I bought came in the mail. While we're in Guatemala later this year, we'll have to pack a sandwich for lunch to work every day so my motivation to buy them was related to this foreseen need. I like these little contraptions because they're a reusable wrap and also create a "place mat" for eating. They're made of food-safe materials (free of lead, BPA, and Phthalate), have a liner that is easily cleaned, and it stays secure with a small Velcro strap. These will come in handy whenever we travel and pack a picnic lunch. Best of all, we can reduce of use of plastic lunch bags that take over 1,000 years to decompose in landfills!

Retirement is realy happening...

March 11th, 2009 at 09:38 am

for my dh! Yesterday we went to a meeting where dh filled out his retirement application. His last day of work will be June 30 and his official retirement date will be July 1. However, for up to five years thereafter he will be able to participate in a program offered by his employer that allows retired faculty to work 50% of their former assignment. So in reality, dh is transitioning into retirement. But this is good for him because, unlike me, he would keep working until the day he dies even though he has been teaching for 35 years.

And, this is not such a bad thing, to keep working. It's just that dh is in the season of life where IMHO work should be redefined to allow a few adventures here and there. We will have long stretches of time from December to August to travel, enjoy a slower pace, and do some of the things we've only talked and dreamed about... like living in another country instead of just visiting. Then in the fall for up to five years, dh will teach 3-4 classes and get working out of his system for a while.

In the financial area, dh will continue to have health benefits, so we were happy to have this verified. His benefits will complement those we receive from my former employer and we think they will be about the same as they are now. But we're checking into the dental coverage as we are not sure about this one. If we lose dental coverage, I will add dental to our monthly expenses and make necessary adjustments to the budget.

And, because dh will not be tax-sheltering any income and eliminating expenses like parking and union fees, his net pension amount will be higher than we previously estimated. Nonetheless, we are ready, willing, and able to live on less. Now, the application is complete, but we can't turn it in until after April 1. The pension plan won't accept applications for retirement unless retirement is within 90 days. So we made an appointment for April 2 and I'm counting the days.

An Adventure on the Horizon

March 9th, 2009 at 09:00 am

Well, it's finalized... when the semester ends in May, dh will take 16 graduate students to teach in Guatemala for about a month. He has done this for the last five years, and now that I'm retired, I'll be going as a volunteer instructor. This will be a special trip because it's dh's last one in this capacity. He will retire in June and pass the baton to another faculty member. I'll help supervise student teachers in exchange for the experience working and living in a foreign country, even though it's just for a short while. Although I won't be paid a salary, my airfare and housing will be covered through the project.

Our university students will have the opportunity of teaching in diverse bilingual schools and Guatemalan students will benefit from lessons taught by native speakers of English. The program continues to be very popular with our university students, despite the economic chaos that's deeply hurt higher education. Students must pay their tuition, airfare, housing, transportation, and meals. So, dh strives to make the trip as affordable as possible by negotiating group rates with the posada (hotel) and the transport company we contract with.

For example, housing will be $20 per night per person for a double occupancy room with a bath. The posada is clean, secure, but very Spartan. The rooms do not have phones or TV, but happily, we will have wireless Internet. The transportation fee of $250 per person includes airport transfers to and from Guatemala City to Antigua, two weekend sightseeing trips (to Lake Atitlan and Copan), and daily transportation to and from the schools. And, for less then $2, one can take a tuk-tuk to anywhere in Antigua.

Most of us will prepare at least some meals in one of the posada's two kitchens so this will save money. A great variety of fresh produce is available at the outdoor market and there is a supermarket for other items. However, if I don't feel like cooking after a long workday, dh knows several good, inexpensive restaurants that serve typical dishes for under $5. So that might be the plan for some of our dinners.

While I hope this will be a memorable and exciting experience, dh has been reminding me it is NOT a vacation. We will be working daily from 8:00 to 4:00 and then hold some evening meetings with our university students. Yet, I look forward to the adventure although I may need a vacation when it is over!

This is a street scene in Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala. In 1979 Antigua was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

A Sense of Desperation

March 8th, 2009 at 10:08 am

Yesterday while on a little outing with my niece and grandniece, we were enjoying the beautiful day and some treats at the outdoor dining area of a local Starbuck's. While we sat there, a lady came up to our table and asked if we lived locally, and we said we did. Then she proceeded to tell us about a line of clothes she was selling at "wholesale" prices at the store across the street. The sale would be just for the day and the store was Costco.

Well, intrigued, we decided to go over and check it out. The clothes were cute, a well known brand that is made in the USA. But I found the prices still too high, at least for what I was willing to spend on items I really did not need. And, sadly, there seemed to be very little interest in the "sale" from other customers. People are sticking to basics these days.

What really hit home for me, though, is the sense of desperation I am seeing with so many retailers nowadays. It seems more and more businesses are struggling or on the brink of collapse. I'm seeing it too often in the faces and the voices of people at the smaller stores and businesses. The lady that told us about the sale tried so hard to sell us something that I almost bought out of pity. In the end, I decided it would not be money well spent for me.

On a positive note, I did find three very cute items for a baby shower I am attending on Thursday for the baby boy of a colleague at the university. So, now I can cross that off my "to do" list for Monday.

Banishing Unwanted Email

March 7th, 2009 at 10:46 am

The spam filter on my computer is pretty decent, so very few unsolicited junk emails get through to my inbox. But recently I noticed I was getting way too much email that I somehow initiated when I placed an order, signed up for coupons or alerts about specials... that kind of thing. What opened my eyes was the realization I was routinely deleting about 6-8 of my morning emails without even opening them.

Then I found I could simplify things in just a few clicks. I've eliminated these emails by scrolling to the bottom of the email and "unsubscribing." Sometimes you are directed to a website and have to go through a few steps, but it's quick and easy. I've done it with Home Depot, Harry & David's, World Market, Fandango, Macy's, Ann Taylor Loft, and a few more. Good-bye!!


Allergic to Annoying People

March 5th, 2009 at 08:40 am

Every month or so I go to a favorite sushi bar with a group of friends I've known since graduate school. We always have a good time, enjoying the food and camaraderie. In the past, we've always split the tab evenly, and it's never been a problem. But lately, I've been skipping this gathering because one friend has been inviting someone new. I'll call the newbie Barney (not his real name). Inviting someone new is not the problem.

The problem and the source of my annoyance is that Barney orders (and eats) at least twice as much as everyone else, greedily perusing the menu for new dishes to try. He NEVER shares with others the way the rest of us do and he typically orders the most expensive drinks and sushi enough for a small army. Then, when it's time to pay, Barney is only too delighted to split the tab evenly... can't whip out his wallet fast enough. And did I mention Barney's favorite topic of conversation is, ad nauseam: Barney's Horrible Day (Week, Month, Year, Life, Job...)!

For me, it's not about the money... paying an extra $10 or so won't break the bank. It's Barney's utter lack of consideration and his boorish behavior that annoys the c!%& out of me. It's interesting how one person can change the group dynamic. So far, I've kept mum, not wanting to be cheap or feel awkward by asking Barney to pay his fair share (or to shut up for that matter).

Since it had never been a problem, we just kept up the practice of splitting the tab as we had always done before Barney. It's what a lot of folks do, I think. When dh and I go out with friends, or when I dine out with a group, everyone keeps track of their tab and pays the corresponding amount. It works out just fine and someone usually volunteers to be the "banker" and collect the cash. Or, if we all order about the same, we evenly split it.

Nowadays, if I know that Barney will be at the sushi bar, I decline rather than having to deal with him. I guess I have no spine when it comes to some things... and maybe Barney's behavior doesn't bother anyone else but me. Who cares? At this point in my life, I avoid annoying, irritating, negative people the same way I do pollen and stinging insects... or anything else that provokes my allergies. Do you know someone like Barney and how do you deal with him/her?

Car Service Ripoff

March 4th, 2009 at 11:57 am

Yesterday I took my SUV to the dealer where I bought it in 2007 for a service appointment. The car is running fine but the LCD panel alerted me to the need for an oil change. No problem... I decided to take it to the dealer because they will do the service for $29.95, and will also wash the car for free. And, since the car is still under warranty, having it done at the dealer seemed like a good idea.

While I was registering with the service representative, he pulled up my file and informed me the car really needed, in addition to an oil change, an "intermediate" service that should be done every 15,000 miles. My car has 16,000 miles so I didn't think this was unreasonable, but I but did ask how much it would cost. The service rep crunched numbers, flipped through some papers, entered some data in the computer, and then announced: "We can do it for $499.90 but I will give you 10% off."

After I picked my jaw off the floor, I asked him for the details. He said it was $399.95 for the 15,000-mile service and an additional $99.95 for "Throttle Body & Air Intake Cleaning." The latter is supposedly required so that my car "doesn't forget how to drive." I told the rep that if I had to pay $100 every 15,000 miles for my car to remember how to drive, then it must have a major design flaw. I also told him there was no way I would pay their prices.

As I was leaving, the rep warned me that the warranty would be void if I used filters that were not made by Nissan. Long story short: I called our trusted mechanic, Ed, that we have used for 20 years and he told me he could do the entire service for $165, including the tire rotation. Ed specializes in Honda and Acura and is certified, but he is very competent and can work on Toyotas or Nissans, too. He is reasonable, honest, and has never steered us wrong.

It really bothered me that the rep at the dealership tried to scare me into paying their exorbitant prices for a routine service. He must think I just fell off a turnip truck or maybe because I am a woman, I can be talked into thinking service work must be done at the dealer to keep the warranty valid. I noticed I was the only customer there and maybe it's a sign of the times and the desperate state of the auto business. The evening news just the other night had a segment about how DIY auto repairs are creating a little boom for auto parts stores. Who knows, except I won't be going back to the dealer any time soon, not even for a cheap oil change and free car wash.

Want to hulu?

March 2nd, 2009 at 01:12 pm

Today I finally got around to checking out hulu.com and was pleasantly surprised. If you have the software requirements (e.g., OS X on my computer), you can watch TV programs and movies free on your computer. Now I can watch my favorites TV programs or movies on my computer (using headphones) while dh watches his on the big screen (and vice versa). What will they think of next?!