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Archive for November, 2009

Free eBooks!

November 29th, 2009 at 11:35 pm

A good source of free eBooks is through Barnes & Noble. First you have to download their free reader. It can be installed on your PC, Mac, or cell phone. I've installed it on both my Mac and my iPhone.

Once you've completed the reader download and installation, you will be able to access from a large collection of free eBooks. Or, you can also buy others. So far, I have gotten the following free books:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry (this is a "Harlequin Romance"-type novel, not classic literature, but hey... it's free)
Merriam Webster's Pocket Dictionary

To download the free eBooks, you have to create a B & N account (it's free) and enter a CC number. The CC is NOT charged but you will later need to enter the card # to "unlock" any books you've downloaded. Your eBooks, free or purchased, are archived on the B & N website under "My eBooks Library."

The B & N Reader lets you go into full-screen mode and has other handy features. For example, you can "highlight" passages or view the eBook in single or two-page mode.

My Top Ten

November 25th, 2009 at 04:03 pm


With Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, I was reflecting about all I am profoundly grateful for and decided to make a list of my Top Ten:

1. My husband - He is second to none. It's great to live with a man who tells you he loves you every day, and you know it's true... tells you are beautiful, even though you know it's not true. My dh is my best friend who supports me in every way, except financially. In this regard, I support myself... but he supports himself financially, too, and this is how we make the financial part of our relationship work for us.

2. My daughters - When I got pregnant, I fervently prayed for a daughter. Well, it worked! Five days before my baby was born, I learned I was having twins... and it was TWO daughters! They are equally beautiful inside and out, my pride and joy. When I "kick the proverbial bucket," I will have left the world a better place by having produced two intelligent, caring, and socially responsible human beings. My best work ever.

3. My sister - She is my only sibling, older by twelve months, and my other best friend. She and I have lived through joy and sorrow, bonded by blood and experiences only we share. We are very close and she is always there for me, no matter what. Everyone should be as lucky as I am.

4. Friends/assorted other family - The friends in my life who are near and dear to my heart are a blessing, yet I count them on two hands... not many, but very special. And then there are my other family members: my niece, nephew, grandniece, grandnephews, BIL, SILs, aunts, uncle, and many cousins... I cherish having them in my life.

5. My health - Although not perfect, it's "good" and some days just "good enough." It's not a big deal to have a chronic condition or two when you're over 50... so, having a good health plan and access to excellent medical care is something else I give thanks for every day.

6. My cat - I've had a cat as far back as I can remember, since about the age of three. I am a cat person. My current cat is Antonieta, AKA Toni or TC (Toni Cat, The Cat, The Critter, Trouble Cat, Terrific Cat...) and a host of other secret cat names that only she knows. TC's silly antics keep me in stitches and it's good for my BP. Too bad she doesn't like walking on a leash, then she'd be good for my fitness challenge, too.

7. A "job" I can't get fired from - The greatest thing about being retired... I am my own boss and I can't get fired! Of course, it only took 30 years of working, planning, and saving to get here. But I am here, nonetheless, and it's great. Yep, "I am the boss of me!"

8. Our homes, humble as they may be - When so many are struggling to keep afloat and their homes are under water, we are blessed. Our small condo in Silicon Valley and our cottage in Idaho are perfect for us. We chose to scale down our habitats because we realized it gave us more financial freedom. No regrets.

9. Curiosity about the world - I've always had a sense of adventure and ever since I was a child, I've loved to see new places and learn about other cultures. Traveling is a great way to learn, to grow, to expand our worldview, and I do this with gusto (and with my dh!). And I am grateful to have the wherewithal to travel.

10. Living in the USA - I was born in a country people have fled due to political persecution. And as much as I love to travel and see other countries around the world, there is no place like the USA, where our freedom is sometimes taken for granted. I am grateful I became a naturalized citizen and take my right and responsibility to vote seriously. I am proud to be an American... sounds corny but it's true for me.

There are many, many other things that I am grateful for... being debt-free, having food in the pantry and freezer, having my blogs and other hobbies, but my Top Ten are, well, my top ten. What are your top ten?

Home Ownership is a Myth!

November 24th, 2009 at 04:22 am

I'll never forget these words from my Political Science professor when I was in college. He was a passionate teacher and kept us debating his often radical points-of-view about the American government and politics in general. Of course, this was back in the 70s and it was a radical time.

My poli-sci professor argued that we could never really own property in the USA, and in fact, home ownership was a myth. "You don't own your house... the bank and the government own your house," he would say provoking a debate. He maintained that even if our home was paid for, we would always continue RENT our property from the government and the rent is called "property taxes." "Just stop paying your taxes to see how long you will stay in your house," he asserted. Yeah, I think he was on to something here.

I got my ID property tax bill today expecting a reduction in my taxes. After all, our property value dropped almost 13% last year. But guess what? The local government raised the levy... the tax rate used to calculate taxes... so my taxes actually stayed the same. Well, maybe not exactly the same... they're ~$12 less. So yes, when you read in the local paper that taxes went down, it's technically true. And yes, I guess your landlord has the power to raise your rent, especially when you have no lease.

Flycell Scam

November 22nd, 2009 at 07:13 pm

About a month ago, I took an online "IQ Test" and when I got to the end, I was asked to enter my cell phone number to get a PIN for the "results." Although I hesitated, curiosity got the best of me and I bit. I was texted a PIN, I entered it in on the website and got my IQ number.

So yesterday when I got my ATT bill I noticed it was about $30 higher than usual. After carefully reviewing it, I saw I was being charged for some "mobile purchase downloads." Turns out when I entered my phone number, somewhere in the fine print gobbledygook, I was SUBSCRIBING to Flycell. When they send you a text with a PIN, unless you text them back "STOP," you are subscribed!

I got on the phone with ATT and learned a lot. First of all, I had a block put on my line that prevents any download purchases without a PIN. It's free and part of the "parental controls" option (and we don't even have kids at home!). I further learned that unauthorized phone charges from third-parties is getting to be very common. There is a website gathering complaints for a class-action suit.

ATT was great... they reversed the charges and explained how dangerous it is to provide your phone number online... it could be a phishing scam, like the IQ test I took. So much for having a genius IQ... what a joke!.

I'm glad I check my bills as soon as I get an email alert they're available. Some of the stories I read about on the class-action website told about getting charged for months and months before they noticed.

The Cardinal vs Golden Bears and More

November 21st, 2009 at 08:12 pm

Yesterday I met with my student teachers for the last seminar of the semester and led a discussion on interviewing strategies. Over the years as an administrator, I hired about 90-100 teachers, served on countless interview panels for other positions, and recruited for the district teaching pool. It was good to share information from my experience that will hopefully help them land jobs.

In CA, this is possibly one of the worst times to secure a teaching job. Due to state budget woes, school districts are laying off or cutting back their teaching staff. Getting a job in education is extremely competitive and thus it's necessary for candidates to stand out in a sea of applicants. During the last week of November, I will meet with each student to debrief and verify that all program requirements have been satisfied, then they will be ready to apply for jobs.

Work is really winding down for us. After December 4, we are completely and utterly free... me from my part-time job and dh from his full-time position. Then we will begin some serious adventures. I will be posting about our travels on my new blog. I welcome any guest posts if you are inclined to share your travel stories or photos.

As far as the weekend, things look good. Last night was a dismal and drizzly and I was concerned it would continue into the weekend. Today the sun is out and the weather is beautiful. Later today, we are heading to the Stanford stadium (with DS and BIL) for the big game... The Cardinal vs. Golden Bears. Stanford does not have an official mascot which I find odd. They are known as "The Cardinal" as in the color, not the cleric. They used to be the Indians but that is no longer PC and then there's a tree but it's not really a mascot. Strange. Hope it's an exciting game.

Using the "B" Word

November 20th, 2009 at 12:29 am

I have to chuckle about a conversation I recently had with a friend I go walking with. She shared she wants to retire in the next five years (she is 55, ~two years younger than I was when I retired). My DF is VERY tired of working but wants to repaint her house before she retires and says she needs to save up for it. I asked if she had used any of the online retirement calculators and she said she had not.

"You might want to check some out..." I told her... "A calculator can help you analyze your budget in relation to your retirement income, so you have a good handle on when you can retire. There are lots of calculators available online..."

"Budget? Oh, I don't have a budget. Except for the mortgage, I like to pay cash, and when I make an ATM withdrawal, as long as there's a decent balance in my account, I'm good. I think having a budget is too much trouble, so I don't bother. I'd never be able to stick to it anyway. I know where I am financially, more or less."

"Hmm. Okay... well, good luck with your retirement plans..." I say no more. What's the point? Yes, some people definitely have simplified view of retirement planning. Now I wish I had asked what she considers a "decent balance" in her checking account.

Fashion for a Good Cause

November 14th, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Today I enjoyed going to the American Girl Fashion Show, a benefit for the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. This is the third year I've attended this special event, always as the guest of my niece who is one of the volunteers.

My 10 year-old grandniece also participated as a model... this year her costume was Felicity, a girl who grew up during the American Revolution. It's refreshing to see these adorable little girls modeling the attire of various historical periods. They looked very happy and wholesome, the way little girls should, and it was a good experience for them to learn about the daily lives of girls during different eras of American history.

My grandniece is the cutie on the right.

Chase Me Away as a Customer

November 12th, 2009 at 06:32 pm

I am finding more and more, that it pays to check your credit card and bank accounts online DAILY if you can. Here in CA, WAMU fully transitioned to Chase Bank at the end of August. Good thing I've been checking my account daily because I caught TWO huge errors:

1) Through "Bill Pay" I send a monthly amount to a trust account at another Chase branch. The amount was deducted from my checking account on October 27. As of November 10, it still had not arrived at the other Chase branch (it normally takes up to 3 days).

It took two hours on the phone to resolve it. I had to place a stop payment on the check and set up a Quick Pay account with the Trustee. It was a nightmare. In case you're wondering, WAMU had required this to be done through Bill Pay instead of a transfer because I am not the owner of the Trust Account.

2) Also through Bill Pay, I noticed that my house payment was deducted and sent on November 6. Then, they deducted it a second time on November 12. The worst part of this was the customer service rep insinuating I did this deliberately.

Rep: "Well, this is how you set it up."

Me: "Umm, no. Why in the world would I want my house payment paid TWICE!? I haven't changed a thing since the WAMU transition to Chase."

Rep: "Well, we didn't change anything, either."

Me: "Something is wrong, and I did not do it. Looking at the scheduled payments link, I see that my December payment is scheduled to go through twice... Please put me through to your supervisor." Arghhh!

The supervisor was not much better, like dealing with dumb and dumber. An hour later, it was resolved, but not before I seriously considered getting a new mattress with a secret compartment.

I Love Tuesdays!

November 10th, 2009 at 07:10 pm

About once or twice a month, on Tuesday, we enjoy the prime-rib special for TWO at one of our favorite restaurants. For only $29.99 it includes a spinach salad, freshly baked bread, and a half carafe of the house wine. The serving of prime rib is so large that we take half of it home for lunch the next day. The special is not on the menu, you just have to know about it and ask...

Tuesday is Senior Day at one of the local cinemas: tickets are $6 for any show, at any time (regular senior price is $9.75).

If you join the "Tuesday Club" at Ross, you get 10% off on Tuesdays. It's free and open to anyone over 55.

And things I love any day of the week:

10% senior discount at my vet ('cuz of my age, not the cat's)... you have to ask for it the first time, then it's in your file.

Going to Costco any day/time EXCEPT on the weekend.

Retirement Accounts on Track

November 9th, 2009 at 05:51 pm

It's weird thinking about my "retirement accounts" because I've been retired for almost a year and a half. I'm fortunate that for the time being, my state teacher's pension enables me to live comfortably and I have health insurance provided at no cost through my former employer. In my early 20s, I got into the habit of saving for retirement, and I never stopped contributing throughout my working years.

When I retired in August of 2008, the plan was to leave my tax-sheltered accounts intact as long as possible, possibly being able to hold off until age 70 1/2 when the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) kicks in. An emergency and travel savings in taxable accounts rounds out our cash funds. If the need were to arise, I would tap these before the tax-sheltered funds.

Since retiring I hadn't thoroughly reviewed the status of my tax-sheltered accounts (403b, IRA, and 457). So today I analyzed the growth in these accounts from September 30, 2008 to September 30, 2009. I was surprised to see that growth has been 4.6% overall... I expected it to be lower. This is after taking into account that my 457 Plan had 0% growth last year (this account is keyed to the S & P index and makes up ~22% of my tax-sheltered funds).

If my calculations are correct, in ~12 years when RMD kicks in, the RMD will be less than 4% of the total. If the accounts continue to earn @4.6% and I withdraw ~4%, the funds will continue to grow. Of course, this is a hypothetical situation because in 12 years I may need a lot more than 4% to make ends meet... and then there's inflation. My pension has a 2% COLA that may not be enough in the future.

My tax-sheltered accounts include a Roth and a non-qualified annuity that I did not include in the projections because they are exempt from RMD. If I don't have to use these non-qualified funds for my health care or living expenses, then I may use them for a legacy gift. I am considering leaving a bequest to my alma mater to establish a scholarship fund to support single mothers working to become teachers.