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Archive for October, 2009

Expanding My Horizons

October 30th, 2009 at 12:08 am

Today I bought a domain at GoDaddy.com to use for a travel blog "we" are planning to initiate. I use the term "we" loosely because I haven't informed my dh that he is about to become a blogger. Since he will be 100% retired in December, I figure this will be our hobby and also useful to keep family and friends informed as we travel. In the next few weeks I will be designing our blog and will initiate it with the trip we have planned in December through the Panama Canal.

I suppose I could have gotten a free blog through blogger.com but I wanted to create something unique that I could potentially expand in some manner that might include the possibility of earning $$... not sure what, but the wheels are turning. Actually, I registered two domains, the .com and the .net versions. The two privacy-protected registrations and the web hosting service through Quick Blogcast is only $7 per month... for everything.

I chose Quick Blogcast because I'll be able to create podcasts, and upload videoclips and photos. If we find the need to expand, GoDaddy also offers several site building plans that would enable us to turn our domain into a comprehensive website. I've really been on a learning curve, but it's good exercise for my brain. I'll share the url (thenameofmyblog.com) when it's ready in case anyone is interested in the travel topics we'll be blogging about.

Caring for Elderly Parents

October 27th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

My parents died when I was twenty-five and consequently, my daughters grew up never knowing their maternal grandparents. I always felt this was a huge void in their lives as well as in mine. No matter how old you are, you can still feel like an orphan. My parents, while not perfect, provided unconditional love and were there for me when I needed them. And I've never stopped missing them each and every day of my life.

So, naturally, unlike some of my friends, I will never have the experience and the challenge of caring for elderly parents. Seeing what some of my friends are going through makes me determined to not be a burden on my daughters when I can no longer care for myself. To this end, I am making sure I address some of the financial aspects of being too old, ill, or frail to care for myself.

One of my friends is facing the likelihood of having to postpone her retirement because she has to subsidize her parents' income. She is dealing with an 82 year-old mother with Alzheimers and a father who until now has never been involved in the family finances. Sadly, he spends uncontrollably because he doesn't understand how to budget. My friend is fortunate that her dh is supportive because the care of her parents is consuming more and more of her time and money. This is just one example, but I know of several others. I have vowed not to do the same to my own children. So what steps have I taken?

My DD1, a registered nurse, is in charge of our advanced health care directives. We figured she would be in the best position to fully understand any health issues and the resulting implications. I also have two revocable trusts because of our somewhat complicated financial situation. I had considerably more assets than my dh when we married, so one trust addresses my sole and separate property (my DDs are the beneficiaries). The other is a community property trust (our 4 children are beneficiaries). My trust also includes instructions for my funeral... I guess you can say I'll be a control freak even after I'm dead.

Health care is one of the biggest expenses in old age and we are fortunate to have some good resources. I have limited long-term care through my former employer who also provides health care for life (through an HMO) to retirees meeting certain criteria (I did). My recently-retired dh also has health insurance through the Public Employees Retirement System, giving us access to a comprehensive PPO for a nominal fee (currently ~$46 a month). We earned these benefits through our 30+ years of service as public school educators, saving us hundreds a month on health care alone.

At a future date, we will move full-time to ID and live in the house we purchased in 2006. The house is small and easy to maintain and best of all, it's mortgage-free. When we get too old or incapacitated, our income should be adequate to pay someone to help cook, clean, run errands, and take us to appointments. Although I know my DDs would gladly help as much as they could, we do not want to burden them. And because I raised daughters that are honest and financially astute, I know I can trust them to oversee our finances when we can no longer do so. I dread doing some of the crazy or foolish things I've heard about... like another friend's mother who subscribed to 27 magazines and donated money she doesn't have to every charity that solicits through the mail.

And lastly, we've earmarked funds to be used if we have to go into an assisted living home. It comforts me to know my daughters will be there for me in the end, and that we will not be a financial burden on them. Someone was telling me about an 89 year-old woman with no family or friends. She apparently had been dead in her house for weeks before she was discovered because the mailman couldn't fit any more in the mail slot. It's very sad when you hear of someone dying alone and unnoticed. Even though you can arrange to pay for your care, in the end it's the relationships that matter most.

A Day to Remember

October 25th, 2009 at 03:06 am

Over the years I've been to many weddings but yesterday I had the pleasure of attending one of the most beautiful and memorable, an elaborate affair that spanned the entire day. The bride is a young woman I met several years ago when she was a student teacher at my school. I subsequently hired her to teach full-time, and she proved to be an extraordinary teacher and continues to be a good friend.

She is Cambodian and very proud of her culture. So her wedding day began in the morning with a traditional Cambodian wedding ceremony. The bride wore a stunning gold-beaded traditional dress that highlighted her exotic beauty. She is tall and slender, the type that can wear anything and look gorgeous, but in this gown she looked like royalty.

The Khmer ceremony began with a procession around the block of the family home, then moved into four phases:
~ Presentation of the Dowry
~ Tea Ceremony
~ Hair Cutting Ceremony (symbolic, no actual cutting)
~ Pairing Ceremony
I was told some traditional Khmer ceremonies can last several days or a week, but it is becoming more common to have a "condensed" version that lasts several hours and is held on the same day as the Western wedding.

At the Pairing Ceremony, four songs were sung and the last one, Tying the Wrists, goes like this: "We tie, we tie three strings to each wrist of our children. We wish for true happiness and success to this couple, who will always be together like wet grass seeds. We tie your left wrist to make you remember your parents. We tie your right wrist to make you carry on the family lineage and traditions."

In the afternoon the couple held their Western wedding ceremony at a winery with beautiful grounds, and we were blessed with perfect weather. The bride wore a lovely Vera Wang gown, looking as if she were modeling for Vogue or a bridal magazine. Her long hair was combed up in an elegant twist and was accented with a birdcage veil. The vows were written by the couple and were romantic and sweet. After a celebratory toast and hors d'oeuvres, the formal photos began. After a while, dh and I got back in the car again for the next stop: the reception.

The reception for more than 500 guests, not all of who were invited to the ceremonies, began at 6:00 p.m. although guests were still arriving at 7:00 p.m. The venue was a restaurant known for its exceptional Asian cuisine. We sat through a 10-course meal that included some dishes I had never tried. I'm proud I tried everything, although I can't say the same for the squeamish folks at my table. We were served jellyfish and seaweed salad, crab soup, chicken, pork, sea bass, garlic lobster, abalone, prawns, shiitake mushrooms with bok choy, and the last course was white wedding rice with shrimp and scallops. Oh, and did I mention there was an open bar that served wine, beer, and spirits?

The first dance by the bride and groom was to "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker. They took dancing lessons and it showed in their polished performance. Then guests were treated to a slide show that featured the couple and their large family of many aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides. Later the bride and groom, visited each table, accompanied by their parents, a videographer, and a photographer. By now, the bride had changed into the third outfit of the day: an elegant burgundy velvet dress with gold embroidery on the bodice. When we left at ~10:30 p.m., the dancing was in full swing.

I enjoyed catching up on all the news at my former school with guests I knew. Most were teacher co-workers (actually, I used to be their boss). One teacher shared she is expecting her first baby in April and had just learned it is twins, so she had lots of questions because I am also a mother of twins. Another teacher is expecting her first baby in January... it seems like I was just at her wedding, but it was actually a year ago. So, there will be baby showers and more celebrations in the future.

No Signature Required

October 19th, 2009 at 11:04 am


I've been noticing that more and more stores do not require a signature when you use a credit card, depending on the amount of the transaction. I like to pay for everything with a credit card for the rewards, and then I pay the balance in full each month. Yesterday I made a small purchase at Costco (~$27) and I was told I did not need to sign my AmEx receipt because the total was less than $100. This also happened to me a few weeks ago at Target with a purchase less than $50. Noah's Bagles at the airport and theaters are another example.

Although this practice streamlines checkout, my concern is that it makes fraud a lot easier. Years ago, when my purse was stolen, the thief ran up a huge debt with my credit card at the gas pump... he must have filled up the cars of every Tom, Dick, and Harry he knew. No signature or verification was required... he just had to slip the card into the machine at the pump. Now at least they ask for a zip code, but if someone has your license, this is easy to get.

I was thinking this was a CA practice until it happened here in ID. Is anyone else seeing the same trend?

$3.99 worth of cheerfulness

October 18th, 2009 at 09:03 am

is what I see in these beautiful fresh-cut alstroemerias from Fred Meyer. I am here in ID, enjoying the quiet solitude since dh stayed in CA. I arrived late Wednesday night and the next morning headed to the local store for fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Back in CA I have a bounty of houseplants, some with flowers, but here... nothing. So I buy flowers and will enjoy them for the week. Once we move here permanently, there will be plants... all over. DD2 and SIL take care of our house and I will not ask them to add plant care as well. So for now, cut flowers will do.


On Saturday, the handyman came as arranged to sand, stain, and seal the front door. The trim around the glass was peeling and although the door wasn't as bad, it got thrown into the deal. It cost $120 and I think this was a fair price, considering it took about ~3 hours and he provided the materials. The house is only 3 years old but the afternoon sun hits the door directly. Hopefully the new paint job will last more than three years. The smell of the fumes was so intense I had to open front and back doors, deal with a headache, and now go catch a few flies.

It was a dark and stormy day...

October 13th, 2009 at 10:43 am

Today we are experiencing the first severe storm of the season. I live in a part of CA that has relatively mild climate, so winter storms like this one are not too common. The weather reports have been heralding this storm that was supposed to arrive yesterday and deposit several inches of rain. I even stayed up late anticipating a spectacular storm, but as of the time I went to bed, nothing. Then this morning I woke to the sound of the rain pounding the roof and windows. There is nothing like a good rain to renew the landscape, not to mention how much I enjoy being cozy inside my house when the weather is stormy outside.

Downstairs, the house was chilly, so I turned on the gas fireplace. TC is in heaven because she loves to flop in front of the fire. It's funny because MC, my other cat, used to love to do that, too. There is something primordial about fire... it doesn't just provide warmth, it also seems to soothe the spirit. Today I started thinking about what we would do here in our townhouse if we were ever to have such severe weather that it knocked out the power for a good long while.

When my daughters were little we lived in the country and heated our house with a wood stove. Winter storms would cause us to lose our power at least 2-3 times each year. The stove not only heated the house, but it also enabled me to cook warm and nutritious meals of beans, soup, or stew and get us through the worst of the storm. One time, we were without power for three days. We cooked on the wood stove and flushed the toilets with buckets of water from the pool. My kids, toddlers at the time, stayed cozy, warm, and well-fed.

With the storm raging outside, I decided that today is a good day to inventory the pantry and assess exactly what's there and to make sure I'm rotating the items to keep up with expiration dates. I saw that Costco sells an emergency food kit for around $85. It has a shelf life of 10-20 years, depending on the storage temperature. I don't think I want to go that route but we have done some things that will help us get through a prolonged emergency.

First of all, we have an emergency box with candles, lighters, matches, flashlights, new batteries, a crank radio, and basic first aid. I keep 6 one-gallon jugs of frozen water in the garage freezer. In case of a power outage, these will help keep the food frozen longer and we can also drink it. I can boil water or cook a simple meal using my Cobb BBQ, making sure it is outside because it uses charcoal which must NEVER be burned indoors due to carbon monoxide emissions. But it heats up quickly with only 6-8 briquettes and will cook for hours.

And then there's the pantry. We keep a variety of packaged soups, canned chicken, tuna, tomatoes, corn, fruit, pasta sauce, pasta, brown rice, lots of dried beans, split peas, and lentils. We could easily eat for weeks with this bounty. So, off I go to take the inventory.

My Shrinking Carbon Footprint

October 9th, 2009 at 10:29 am

I'm somewhat amazed but very pleased at our progress on the 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:

7/2008 $83.85
7/2009 $63.38
~25% less

8/2008 $99.57
8/2009 $61.91
~38% less

9/2008 $130.14
9/2009 $ 82.02
~37% less

I am home more, but apparently using less energy. Reducing our energy consumption has not resulted in deprivation of any kind. We manage to keep warm on "cold" days and have stayed cool in the heat. On warm summer nights we always open the bedroom window to let in the cool night air. We also changed all the light bulbs to energy saving CFLs. PGE offers a "Balanced Payment Plan" option that is now at $91 a month vs. $125 about a year ago. I don't use this option but it illustrates that we are making good overall progress. This could change... it seems colder this year than last year at the same time. So far, we have yet to turn on the heater but it is waiting with new, clean filters.

Maybe I got scammed...

October 4th, 2009 at 03:20 pm

but then again, maybe not. I'll never know, but I did what I felt was right at the moment. Let me explain.

Today I went to Walmart to buy birdseed and cat food. In the parking lot a nicely dressed woman approached me. She had just gotten out of a late model sedan parked next to me and proceeded to tell me her purse had been stolen out of her car. She had no money, not even for gas... Could I spare some cash? She had a desperate look on her face, so I gave her a few dollars, remembering that once my purse had been stolen and it was a horrible experience.

The woman thanked me profusely and further explained that she had left her purse in the car and her boys (teenagers) had forgotten to lock the doors. She said her purse contained her Social Security card and theirs, too, along with her cash and credit cards. I asked if she'd reported it to the police. She hesitated, then said she had but was told there was nothing the PD could do.

On the way home I reflected about the experience and began to think that maybe I'd just been scammed. I remembered that when I parked my car, the woman had also just parked hers and two boys got out and went into the store. As I drove away, I saw the boys return to their mother's car with a small bag.

If this was legitimate "emergency," then I did the right thing. But if she "had no money," how did the boys pay for their purchase? The experience made me think about the importance of being cautious and using common sense, myself included. In hindsight:

1. Why tempt fate by leaving your purse in the car?
2. Double-check your car is locked instead of depending on teens who aren't always careful.
3. Keep your SS cards in a safe place at home.
4. An emergency cash stash at home can save you in a pinch.

Farmer's Market Finds

October 3rd, 2009 at 07:49 pm


Today dh and I headed for a nearby Farmer's Market that features organic produce. This was an impromptu trip because we had the carpets steam cleaned early this morning and we wanted to give them a chance to totally dry. I hit the jackpot at the market. For $17, I bought:
~ two baskets of strawberries, picked this morning (so sweet!)
~ two extra large white meat peaches (one is enough for two people)
~ two large onions
~ a bunch of long beans
~ two bunches of bok choy (two different types)
~ a large bag of squash blossoms
~ a medium-sized white phalaenopsis orchid

Squash blossoms are highly perishable and should be used the day of purchase. Here is how I prepared them for dinner: First I cleaned them by removing the stamens and sepals (there was a mix off male and female blossoms), then washed them and used the salad spinner to completely dry. Next, I sauteed one fresh crushed garlic clove in EVOO, added the blossoms, and tossed in some fresh chopped basil and cooked until wilted. What looks to be a huge amount will be greatly reduced (it's like cooking fresh spinach).


Today's dinner menu: sauteed squash blossoms, brown rice, and grilled tilapia. For dessert: fresh strawberries with 1/3 cup plain Fage yogurt (0%) that I flavored with a little honey. Delicious!

Economical Herb Gardening

October 1st, 2009 at 11:40 am


I love to cook with fresh herbs but find that they are quite expensive at the supermarket and they are also very perishable. Several years ago I began to cultivate my favorite herbs in pots and keep these on the patio. When I need some for cooking, I just step outside and clip. My herb garden includes:
~ rosemary
~ thyme
~ oregano
~ basil
~ mint
~ lavender

I probably have less than $20 invested in the original plants and because we live in a mild climate, they usually last several years. Herbs are easy to care for and great for small or patio gardens. The exception is basil which I buy each spring from Trader Joe's. A a gallon plant is ~$2.99 and I will use it until December.

I also dry my own bay leaves because I have access to a beautiful Bay Laurel on one of my walks. A very small clipping will yield dozens of leaves that will quickly dry and will last for a good long while.

Have you ever eaten a dish that contains lavender? A lot of folks don't realize that lavender is edible and there are many culinary uses. A few years back, at a little quaint restaurant, I tried a "flower omelet" that included lavender flowers... it was one of the best I've had.