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Archive for January, 2010

Jam-packed January

January 31st, 2010 at 11:40 pm

It's the last day of January and looking back, the month has flown by. We were in Idaho for the first week then drove back to CA. Since weather conditions were very icy, we opted to break up the trip by spending the night in Reno instead of making the 12-hour drive in one day. We stayed at La Quinta, a "pet friendly" hotel that was clean and reasonable (~$63). The hotel didn't charge extra for TC the cat and provided a free continental breakfast in the morning (with choice of warm oatmeal, cold cereal, juice, coffee, yogurt, toasted bagels/cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and more).

A few days after arriving back in CA, dh's colleagues honored him at a brunch at the Dolce Hayes Mansion. My DDs flew out from ID for the event, in honor of his retirement and almost 30 years of distinguished service. The day before the celebration, we took the girls whale watching on the coast. This is something I've always wanted to do, but never had. The excursion was reasonably-priced, very successful and one we'll do again. Some of the best experiences are in our own back yard.

We saw an abundance of migrating gray whales... this one flashing its beautiful tail.


We encountered a school of Risso's dolphins. Here a calf is sheltered between two adults.


These California Sea Lions like to pile up on the jetty.


Mid-January, I took off to NYC with my DS. There are some great fares to be had from SFO to NY, even cheaper than flying to Boise. After spending a week with my sister, I realized how much fun it is to have our "girls only" time. Well, we did have a little man with us... my grandnephew who just turned one. One of the reasons DS and I went to NYC was so my grandnephew's parents could take a much-needed vacation. So DS and I enjoyed being grandma and great-auntie for a week. Fortunately, the baby was happy and easy to care for. We enjoyed decent weather... very little rain, and clear but cold (low 30s and high 20s).

Staying in my nephew's apartment was an interesting experience. Their apartment is one of ~22,000 (not a typo) in an East Side complex known as Stuyvesant Town. The apartment is ~700 square feet and they pay ~$2,500 in rent that includes heat, electricity, water, and garbage. I guess this is average rent for NYC.

It struck me as odd that they cannot regulate the heat in their apartment. For my taste, the apartment was frequently too warm, so much that I'd wake in the middle of the night. When I did, I'd look out the window and see many apartments with the lights on and windows cracked open. What a waste of energy, and especially alarming since Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town are having economic woes.

I stayed well below budget on this trip. We saved money by shopping at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and in Chinatown for produce, all within walking distance. Dinners were home-cooked gourmet meals but we did eat lunch out several times. The thin-crust NY pizza is yummy but my favorite is Bon-Chon chicken.


In Chinatown, a good place for bargains, I bought dried mushrooms and ginger at reasonable prices for my CA pantry.


On many street corners you can find small "bodegas" that sell groceries and fresh flowers.


One of the most entertaining things to do in NYC is "people watching." This professional dog-walker has her hands full. New Yorkers love dogs.


And for those who want to save time...

"30 in 30" Update

January 15th, 2010 at 06:50 pm

Thanks to Fern, I joined the January "Purge 30 in 30" challenge. I am pleased to report I have exceeded my goal, but decided not to keep track of the points because there are already many far ahead of me. But nonetheless, the "contest" motivated me and has been very productive.

At our Idaho home:
~ Sold 7 books to Hastings for store credit ($32. 47);
~ Donated 31 books to the library.

At our CA home:
~ Donated two blankets and a jacket to a drive at a local school;
~ Donated a box of household items to Goodwill (mugs, vases, frames, and 2 small throw rugs);
~ "Donated" a wool pantsuit, 2 sweaters, vest, and 3 blouses to a friend (good work clothes);
~ Donated a box of office supplies, a printer, and two file cabinets to some of dh's former colleagues (he just retired and these were items in his work office not supplied by the university);
~ Donated at least 88 professional books to dh's colleagues and his niece.

Yay for us!

Rental Nightmare Update

January 5th, 2010 at 07:19 pm


In June, we hired a property manager who promptly evicted the tenants at one of our rentals. Back in August I posted about how the evicted tenants had trashed the house. I am happy to report that the property is FINALLY back to normal and it has been rented effective January 1. It was expensive to renovate and if it were not for the sad state of the real estate market in ID, we would sell it in a heartbeat. We are finding that rentals require far more work than we have the energy for.

One of the mistakes we made was hiring a property manager who wanted to do all the work himself. In the long run, he cost us more money because he has a full-time job apart from his rental management business, and he did the work when he had time. He is a hard-working, honest man, but it took him way too long to complete the repairs. And since we were in CA most of the time, it was "out of sight, out of mind." But we are grateful he was able to evict the tenants who had stopped paying rent.

So, more than $15,000 later, here is where the money went:

~ Six PITI payments @ $835 each
~ New linoleum and carpets
~ Two coats of KILZ on the subfloor
~ New paint throughout
~ New blinds on all windows
~ New backyard landscaping (top soil, lawn, sprinkler system)
~ New DW and micro-vent
~ Electrical outlet repairs
~ Trash hauling and cleaning (it was utterly unbelievable)
~ Utilities, including the $329 water bill of former tenants

As it was, the house would not have been ready to rent by January 1 if it had not been for my DDs and SILs who spent the day after Christmas helping us finish up the cleaning and repairing the front and back doors. The property manager was out of town on a family visit and dh and I were determined to get it ready.

You may be wondering if the evicted tenants vandalized the house. They did not! This was the result of four years of living in a house without ever cleaning it. We made the mistake of not having a property manager for several years and not bothering to do an annual inspection. So, most of this is our own fault for being lax about an investment and "assuming" all was well. We paid dearly for our mistakes and learned something about human nature through this experience.

There are people who are simply not clean... they think nothing of fouling their own nest, worse than animals. I have a hard time understanding what would compel a human being to live with animals and their feces... how do they present a semblance of normalcy outside the home? In my career as a school principal, I saw youngsters removed for "neglect" from filthy homes that were cleaner than this one.

And, no, we will not try to recover anything from the former tenants. It would be like trying to get blood out of a turnip. They apparently lost their jobs and like many people living on the edge, were only a heartbeat from being homeless. I feel sorry for these people, especially the children in this family.

New paint, carpets, and blinds:


Sparkling clean kitchen with new micro-vent:

2009 Net Worth Analysis

January 5th, 2010 at 02:34 am

Once a year I analyze our net worth to get a current picture of our financial position. For the sake of simplicity, I don't include the value of autos or personal property, and I use the assessed values of real estate, minus mortgages, to determine equity.

I was surprised our net worth actually grew by 3.44% in 2009. It would have been significantly more except that real estate values continued to drop in CA and ID. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the positive growth, far better than in 2008 when our net worth shrunk by 5.6%.

My goal for 2010 is a 5% gain. It will be a challenge now that we're both retired, our income is lower, and we can no longer contribute to tax-sheltered accounts as we have done in the past. CD interest rates at 2-3% are not much help, but if all goes as planned, we will save about 20-25% of our net income. We'll see where things stand a year from now. Check out the page on my sidebar for my 2009 Net Worth Analysis if you're interested in more details.

If you're curious how your own net worth stacks up against other folks in the same age/income bracket, use this calculator to compare. I did, and I learned our net worth is above the median for people in both our age and income brackets.