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Busy Living and Loving Retirement

March 23rd, 2013 at 04:54 pm

I decided to do a quick update or another month will go by. I am alive and well in the City of Trees. Tomorrow we leave for China, where we will spend almost a month seeing much of the country. We will be on a Road Scholars tour with a small group and an English-speaking guide. We will start in Beijing and will return from Shanghai. I appreciate the educational component of this tour... we will learn much during this adventure.

The best news in a while, is that in early February our grandson was born, about two weeks early but healthy otherwise. He is adorable, but I guess I am just like any grandma when it comes to thinking ours is the cutest. We love being grandparents and spending time with him as much as we can. Fortunately he lives only a few miles away.

We recently finalized plans to have a new house built, just a few miles from our current home. The new house should be ready this summer. We felt it was the time to do it because real estate and building is starting to take off in this area. We looked at several pre-built homes but none of them had everything we wanted, so building seems the best option for us.

My sister and BIL are in the process of downsizing in CA, from their home of 30+ years to a condo in an "over 55"community near our former home. I think they will love their new, simpler and less expensive life.

Well, I need to finish packing, so I'm off. Hope all at SA have a Happy Easter in the company of friends and family.

Gave Myself a $400+ Raise

September 24th, 2012 at 07:06 pm

Well, the truth is it feels like a raise. Today I signed the papers for refinancing two rentals that are my sole and separate property. I have been thinking about it for several years but dragged my feet, mainly because I didn't want to deal with B of A (the current lender), and home values had dropped dramatically. But values are finally creeping up again.

I remembered the name of the loan broker I used when I bought the houses. He used to be with Countrywide (now B of A) but is now w/ a small mortgage company. He was able to get a rate of 3.625% locked in with no points. This is an excellent rate for investment property. I also decided to have impounds because it makes life easier for me. I will no longer have to deal with tax bills or annual insurance premiums... only HOA fees.

It will take about 15 months to recover the closing costs but after that I will have about $447 a month net, after paying for property management and reserving funds for HOA fees to be paid twice a year. Wish I'd done it sooner, especially since I've had a negative cash flow of ~$65 a month.

The cash flow will come in handy... we are expecting out first grandchild (a boy) early next year and I will want to start a college savings account. It's never too early!

Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer…

July 8th, 2012 at 11:06 am

Summer in the City of Trees is my favorite season. Dh and I spend time enjoying our adopted city before our serious travels begin again in the fall. This week we are having a heat wave in our neck of the woods, with six 100+ degree days predicted. Nonetheless, I love summer and the fun that comes with it. Before retiring, summer was our major down time and although we enjoyed it to the max, returning to work always loomed in the back of our minds. Now that we're retired, there is a carefree aspect that adds special enjoyment to summers. An best of all, many of our local activities are free or reasonably priced.

Dh and I are having our bikes tuned up in preparation for some riding on the greenbelt or the municipal park, two great areas for riding, with some long shaded stretches mixed in. It's fun, free, and healthy. Another low cost activity is a visit to the Botanical Gardens, where we have gone several times in the last few weeks. Once for a food and wine tasting fundraising event and once for a lengthy walk. We are members, so we get in free but non-members pay a very reasonable fee of $5 adults/$3 seniors. And, admission is free on Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. in the summer. Tai Chi classes are offered for a small fee every Saturday morning in this gorgeous setting, and also summer concerts on Outlaw Field. The gardens are next door to the historic Old Penitentiary, another fun place to visit.

On Tuesday afternoons we usually go to the movies, often to the theater where admission is $1 (only on Tuesdays, but $2 all other days). The movies offered are usually 2-3 weeks from their release date, so not too old. The house cleaners come every other Tuesday, so we started going to the movies to get out of the way and like it so much we go almost every week. Sometimes, depending on the movie, we'll go to the "regular" theater where we pay $7.50 to get in, but still less than the $10 we used to pay in CA.

We belong to the local Audubon club and have gone on several field trips they organize. These field trips are free, and although sponsored by our club, you don't have to be a member to participate. Last week 14 of us participated in a daylong trip on the "Bluebird Trail" to check many bluebird nest boxes and watch the banding of the baby birds. On that trip we counted 42 species of birds, including a golden eagle. We took two other birdwatchers in our car, and each chipped in $10 each for gas. Paying one's fair share for gas is the only "requirement" and the group leader determines the contribution amount.

On Saturday mornings the downtown farmer's market offers fresh, locally grown produce at reasonable prices, and much of it is organic. In addition to fruits and vegetables, this is a good place to get flowers, plants, bread, pastries, cheese, wine, and interesting arts and crafts. Before or after visiting the farmer’s market, you can treat yourself to breakfast or brunch at one of the excellent downtown restaurants like Goldie's, one of our favorites.

If you enjoy a good wine like me, a good day trip is to some of ID's wineries. A 30-minute drive will take you to the heart of the Snake River Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area). The SW region has 24 wineries and the SE region has 5. Too far for a day trip, the northern region has 5 wineries but is worth visiting if you are going that way. I'm happy the wine industry is booming in ID because in my younger days I lived 30 minutes from CA's Napa Valley, renown for its wines, and I love sight of beautiful vineyards, especially in the fall. There are endless events and concerts offered throughout the year at many of the wineries.

For an extra-special activity, there is the Idaho Shakespeare Festival featuring a variety of performances throughout the summer. We have tickets to see The Mousetrap in about a week when my DS and BIL are here. We'll pack a picnic dinner, a nice bottle of wine, and some dessert to enjoy before the performance begins in the beautiful open-air amphitheater at 8:00 p.m. Not too far from the Shakespeare Festival is Barber Park, the beginning point for floating or rafting the Boise River in the summer months. We haven’t tried this very popular activity that takes you six miles down the river, but it sure looks like fun. Alcoholic beverages and glass bottles are prohibited on the Boise River and PDFs are recommended.

To get out of the heat, we can always go to one of the many museums (e.g., World Center for Birds of Prey, Boise Art Museum, Black History Museum, Basque Museum, Discovery Center, Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, etc.) or, if its not too hot, it's fun to rent a paddle boat at the park, go to the zoo, or walk the trails at one of the amazing parks. And, I can't say enough about the simple enjoyment of a BBQ on one's own patio, with family and friends, or just the two of us and lots of good food.

Another activity that keeps us busy in the summer is our volunteer work with the Red Cross. While it certainly is not "fun" to go to the site of a disaster, it is very rewarding to be able help families that have experienced a disaster. In our area, this almost always involves house fires and sometimes floods. This summer has been busy so far during the weeks dh and I have been on-call, especially during the hot, dry and windy days. Considering how popular fireworks are in this state, I'm surprised we did not have too many fires around July 4th.

Although we love to travel to explore our beautiful world and learn more about other cultures, some of the most interesting and enjoyable activities are right at our doorstep. Although I don't blog often these days, I still like to read the SA blogs. One reason I don't blog often is that I don't have a lot of financial insights to offer on a day-to-day basis. But I can say this: if you plan and prepare adequately in your working years, retirement will be all you dream of and more. However, don't forego enjoying life before retirement. Balance is important... spend some $$ now but save some for later. Hope everyone at SA has a safe and relaxing summer!

I was going to post some pictures but there seems to be a problem with the SA server... maybe later.

For kids who have it all...

December 24th, 2011 at 06:07 pm

...and even for those who do not, a donation to a non-profit organization may be the perfect gift. This year I gave my grandniece and two grandnephews a symbolic adoption of an endangered animal. World Wildlife Fund offers adoptions of 100 different species. The recipient gets an adoption certificate and a 12" plush animal in a gift box. I like this idea because the kids are young enough to still enjoy a tangible gift to open but old enough to understand that they are helping a cause.

For the grownups in the family, I will make donations in their name as we have done for the past few years. Favorite charities are American Red Cross, Kiva, Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, the Idaho Humane Society, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Idaho Horse Rescue. Family members are on board with this plan, it makes Christmas shopping easier, plus I get a tax deduction... so it's win-win.

Wishing everyone at SA a very Merry Christmas! May you make memories with those you love.

Update on the Condo Sale

July 27th, 2011 at 08:01 pm

Tomorrow dh and I leave for CA to finalize the sale of the condo... escrow papers will be signed on August 2. We are selling it for 95% of what I paid in 2003. That is how bad the real estate market is in Silicon Valley. Still, I'm grateful it sold, although I won't celebrate until escrow actually closes on August 15. I've seen too many sales unravel at the last minute.

The woman who is buying the condo is a neighbor and a lovely person. She lives with her sister who owns the unit attached to mine and she even has a key to our condo. I gave it to her a few years back because she keeps an eye on things while we travel. So now the sisters will have adjoining homes. How wonderful! I really like our complex and it is rare for a unit to come on the market, so I'm happy our house ended up with someone who already loves living there.

While we're in CA we'll be busy attending dh's family reunion, spending time with friends and my sister, and packing and preparing for the move. The movers will arrive August 3 and there's much to do. I'm giving away a lot of furniture and household items to avoid bringing them back to ID but we will still have plenty that is being moved.

We rented a storage unit in ID for the furniture and household items we're keeping. Dh wants to give all of it to his son who would like to buy a house when he returns from his deployment in Iraq in November.

In the event escrow falls through, we may decide to rent the condo. Our realtor says she can rent it for about $2,500 a month which seems high, but I'd rather not go that route. We also have a backup offer but I don't know the details. In any event, with the furniture gone, we wont be staying there again so we will just wait and see what happens.

And, finally, after much debate, we are selling the Prius to dh's daughter for a great price. She needs a reliable car but she has very bad credit so she can't get a loan through a bank. In the past, she has always been unreliable about repaying loans from her dad but my dh bails out his kids time and time again. He and I are very different in this regard, but that's the subject of another post.

A Busy April

May 8th, 2011 at 01:26 pm

First of all, Happy Mother's Day to mothers everywhere. May your day be a special one. Dh and I went out for a lovely brunch and we will be having dinner tonight with my daughters. It should be a lot of fun.

April came and went in a whirlwind. Early in the month I was in NYC, spending a quiet week with my sister and grandnephew. We managed to do lots of sightseeing and shopping. I especially enjoyed the annual Macy's Flower Show. When the week was over, I headed back to Idaho and my ds, back to her teaching job in CA.

Mid-April was tax time, and unexpectedly, we got a $713 federal refund. This was due to adequately estimating our withholding, not because we had any write-offs to speak of. As expected, we owed a tidy sum to the state. One good aspect of living in ID: our CPA charged $290 compared to our California CPA who charged $925 to do our taxes last year.

On Friday, April 15, we left for a week in El Salvador. Easter week is seriously celebrated there, and it meant most of my family had the week off (government sector workers) or part of the week off (private business workers). The city, usually a crazy hub of people and cars, was calmer because many people leave the city for the quiet of the mountains or sea shore. We stayed with my cousin and dh enjoyed bird-watching without having to leave the grounds of her home. This is her garden:


Plants we know as house-plants flourish outdoors in the tropical climate of El Salvador:


These cashews grow on a tree outside her kitchen. The fruit is used for a refreshing beverage, and the nut is roasted:


On Good Friday, we left El Salvador for Costa Rica to begin a 10-day excursion. We traveled with a company called Caravan.com and I highly recommend it. The cost is reasonable ($995 per person for 10 days) and includes three excellent meals a day, all excursion fees, baggage handling, and 9 nights at 4 and 5 star hotels. We traveled in a very comfortable bus and although there were 40 in our group, the trip was orderly and well-managed. Caravan uses a seat rotation system that is fair and eliminates competition for the "best" seats.

We loved Costa Rica, a clean and safe country. I've traveled to Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Panama, but Costa Rica is the first Central American country where one can drink the tap water in most places and not get sick. Costa Rica's infrastructure is advanced compared to other Central American countries, largely attributed to the fact Costa Rica has not endured destructive civil wars as have the others.

We expected to see lots of wildlife and were not disappointed. Here our guide, Derek, holds a rhinoceros beetle that is sucking juice from sugar cane:


We traveled to Tortuguero Island, and although not the season for the annual sea turtle migration to the sea, a very worthwhile two-day visit. We saw many howler monkeys, lizards, toucans, egrets, herons, and caimen, and more. We stayed at Laguna Lodge, in the midst of the rain forest. This is the view from the nearby Tortuguero Village:


Then on to Fortuna for two days where we stayed at a comfortable hotel called Magic Mountain, located at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, seen here from the plaza in town:


Our last two-day stop was in Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast, where the weather was warmer and the terrain dryer. We stayed at the Marriott Resort and Spa and had great rooms. Here is the view from the nearby beach:

Taking Stock

March 30th, 2010 at 11:55 am

Today I decided to analyze my stock portfolio, something I haven't done in over a year. Here is the lowdown:

1. The portfolio has now surpassed the high of October 2007;

2. It's gained 95% since the low of February 2009;

3. Overall gain since inception has averaged ~7% a year;

4. I have not bought or sold any stocks or mutual funds in years;

5. My portfolio consists of 90% individual stocks and 10% mutual funds;

6. My best performing stocks in terms of gain over purchase price are: AAPL, SBUX, PG, WMT, ABT, HPQ, AMZN;

7. I buy stocks based on liking/using a company's product, not on a high-level analysis. (Note: I DO NOT recommend this approach!) For example, I bought AAPL at $6 a share in 1996, because I'd used Mac computers since they first came out in 1985. I was lucky... AAPL has split twice and has had outstanding gain;

8. Most (but not all) stocks I bought outperformed mutual funds I bought (VFINX, SNXFX, SWPPX);

9. When I decide to buy a stock, I will buy between 100-500 shares;

10. As much as I'm interested in personal finance, I just haven't gotten into educating myself about the stock market, but maybe this is an area to explore. I still feel like a rookie.

I've always thought of my stocks as an asset I'd probably leave to my children or a charity and had not counted on these funds for retirement, but it's a good backup option. On the other hand, my retirement accounts (403b, IRAs, 457), some of which are invested in mutual funds, are entrusted to a professional financial manager.

------------------------

In other news, dh and I have been in ID for the last two weeks, enjoying some special time with my daughters and SILs. The weather's been colder than CA, but nothing unbearable. Dh has a new interest: photographing birds and wildlife, so we've spent hours at local parks and wildlife preserves. Idaho has abundant wildlife and beautiful landscapes, so there are endless photo ops. Dh just spent a small fortune upgrading to a better camera (Canon EOS 7D) but saved money on taxes (ID is 6% vs. CA @ 9.25%).

At the end of the week, we'll drive back to CA (with TC the cat) to spend Easter with family and friends. I'm looking forward to seeing my sister, niece, grandniece, and grandnephew. I love how the kids get excited about their Easter egg hunt and we'll all have a wonderful brunch with close friends and family.

Then in mid-April, dh and I are off to Mexico for a few weeks to explore some major archeological ruins in the states of Tabasco and Yucatan. From our base in Villahermosa, we will go to La Venta and Palenque. Then we'll fly to Merida, and will go to Uxmal and Chichen-Itza from there.


Our FL trip: the good, bad, and the ugly

March 9th, 2010 at 02:50 pm

Well, we're back from two weeks in Orlando and overall we had a great time.

The Good
~ A side-trip to the Everglades... awesome! You can read more about the Everglades on my travel blog if you're interested in the flora and fauna of this immense area. I took some great pictures of gators and birds.

~ Disney World... we visited the four parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) and Magic Kingdom twice. I bought our tickets from a discounter at Denny's at a good savings, paying $418 (including tax) for two adults for 5 days, single park per day option. I researched the best days to attend and we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for any of the rides.

~ Floridays Resort - For Week 1, we had a lovely two-bedroom apartment with all the amenities including free Internet, W/D, and a full kitchen. We got a good deal through Expedia and our accommodations came to ~$105 a night including the surcharge added upon checkout. It was located close to everything, but it was way more space than we needed. Two people do not need a two-bedroom apartment with three TVs but this was the smallest unit available. We probably could have saved a little more by shopping around (maybe ~$85 a day) but it was a last-minute trip. This is a great unit for 4-6 people and the resort is beautiful.

~ St. Augustine - This was an easy day-trip from Orlando. What a great, historic city with so much to see. In retrospect, we should have planned to stay several days. We used dh's senior pass, good at any national park, to get in free to the Castillo de San Marcos. Here I am at the city gates.


~ Our rental car from Alamo was a good deal... the pick up and delivery was easy, and we saved ~25% though Costco plus got a free day. This was a good investment because it gave us flexibility to go to the attractions or anywhere else without having to follow shuttle bus schedules. We were able to go to Tampa Bay, Daytona Beach, Miami, St. Augustine, the Everglades, and more.

~ Arabian Nights... this was a good dinner and an amazing performance featuring beautiful horses. We paid only $13 for the two of us to get in and had great seats. I'll explain more later.

The Bad
~ We went over budget on meals by ~ $9 a day... so not too bad. We just couldn't resist those snacks at Disney World, and they are not cheap. For example, a Haagen Daz bar was $3.75. I also had not budgeted $14 a day for parking at the Disney resorts, but it was well worth it to have the flexibility. But as much as I love to save and always have a budget, our travel account is padded so we can absorb going over budget without causing any distress.

~ The weather was COLD... even colder than back home in Silicon Valley, but we dealt with it by layering and it didn't dampen our spirits. It did mean no swimming or sunning, though.

~ I got sick... a serious sinus infection sidelined me for a day and required going to urgent care, but I was soon on the mend. The visit and 2 prescriptions were only $40, thanks to our good health insurance.

~ Westgate Lakes... Week 2 was at this resort and it was a timeshare exchange that cost only $139 for the week. That being said, I won't get too nit-picky, but let's just say we won't be staying there again if we can help it. Mostly, it has to do with the management and not the facilities which are older. We were given wrong information about basic things such as the location of the laundry facilities, the "free" breakfast, the housekeeping service, etc. At check-in, before giving your room key, they pressure guests into considering a timeshare sales pitch, which leads me to...

The Ugly
~ We decided to sit through their 90-minute timeshare sales pitch in order to get our almost-free tickets to Arabian Nights (normally ~$64 per person). We did not want to buy another timeshare and once they figured that out, they were rude and ugly. But they did "dismiss" us before the 90 minutes was up and we still got our tickets.

~ My dh actually went on two "scary" rides with me. After riding DINOSAUR at Animal Kingdom, I took a photo of the photo they try to sell you when you get off. We are the two on the right in the very back. Yeah... we are a pretty ugly sight, for sure. He also went on Thunder Mountain, so I'm proud of him, but I had to go on Space Mountain by myself.

Jam-packed January

January 31st, 2010 at 03:40 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...

Three Weeks Have Whizzed By

December 30th, 2009 at 02:32 pm


December is almost over and what a busy month it's been. I've enjoyed reading the SA blogs I follow and posting to my travel blog, but I don't have much "financial" news to write about. We did come in under budget on our recent trip, so that's good news. In the near future, I will be reviewing my 2009 goals and developing new ones for 2010.

After our trip through the Panama Canal, we returned to CA for only one day. Then we hit the road for the 12-hour drive to ID with TC. I did not want to leave her alone for another 2-3 weeks after she'd been cared for by our cat sitter for almost two weeks. She did remarkably well in the car and has adjusted beautifully to our ID home.

We are currently in ID... we enjoyed a quiet Christmas dinner with our DDs and SILs. There was some snow on the ground when we arrived, but we have had fairly good weather. Last night a storm came in and left ~3 inches of snow. This morning, dh went out to shovel the walkway (and also the neighbor's), more for the exercise than because it needed to be done.

I am still trying to get over a cold that started on my last day in Acapulco, so I am taking it easy and just enjoying some quiet time reading and relaxing.

Happy New Year!

We Were Poor But Didn't Know It

December 3rd, 2009 at 09:39 am


The other day I was visiting my 93-year-old friend who loves to reminisce about her youth. My DF said she didn't realize how poor her family was until she was in about third grade. That's when some classmates started teasing about her threadbare, hand-me-down dresses. A lot of folks were poor back then, but it seems that with a large family, they were very poor. Her simple lunches consisted of rice with a few vegetables and sometimes a hard-cooked egg and a piece of fruit, taken to school in a little tin pail... an actual pail, not an insulated lunchbox.

Her mother prepared nutritious but economical meals that my DF loves to this day. Of course, now she knows the ingredients were more affordable for her family back then: rice, beans, oatmeal, potatoes, fruits and vegetables grown in the backyard garden, and bread baked at home. They ate a lot of soups, stews, and casseroles. Meat was a luxury and they ate very little of it.

My DF shared that her parents taught her to take care of her belongings and appreciate what she had, not covet what others had. And, in the midst of the Great Depression, they had very little. In the evenings, her parents read to their children, played cards, or the family listened to the radio. They seemed to focus on spending time together and enjoying being together as a family. All the kids had chores and if the older ones worked, they contributed most of their earnings to the family coffers.

I admire that my DF's parents raised their children to feel happy and positive about their lives, even though they were poor. While it's good parenting to educate children about money, it should not be done in a way that makes them anxious about "being poor." After all, a child is powerless to impact the family's finances. Kids thrive when they feel loved and safe, and it does not cost to provide these things. My DF is a prime example... not only did she thrive, she is a resilient and remarkable lady.

Great, Easy Christmas Gifts

December 1st, 2009 at 06:44 am

This is probably one of the easiest years for my Christmas shopping. By mutual agreement, adult family that we exchange with wanted an honorary donation to their favorite charity in lieu of a gift. So, early this morning I made donations to:

~ Habitat for Humanity
~ Second Harvest Food Bank
~ Heifer International
~ Susan Koman for the Cure

Not only are we helping others, we can deduct these donations on our taxes. And because I used my CC, it will generate miles. These charges will be paid in full when the bill comes, so we are not creating debt.

The only exceptions are my grandniece (10) and grandnephews (6 and 11 months). I completed their shopping a few weeks ago, but it was easy to buy just for three. I do give gifts to the lady who cleans our house and my pet sitter, but their gifts are easy, too: a large box of Sees candy and money (a nice tip). So, yipee... I am done and it is only December 1!!

My Top Ten

November 25th, 2009 at 08:03 am


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?

The Cardinal vs Golden Bears and More

November 21st, 2009 at 12:12 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 19th, 2009 at 04:29 pm

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 03:07 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.

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.

Greetings from the Land of Famous Potatoes

July 21st, 2009 at 09:26 am

For the last two weeks, dh and I have been in Boise enjoying our second home. Most of the time the weather's been great but it's gotten very hot in the last few days. It hasn't stopped us from making some great summer memories, though.

Last week we spent two days in McCall, one of my favorite areas and about a two-hour drive from Boise. Payette Lake is in McCall and we found it to be very quiet and not at all crowded during the week.


For a reasonable fee, you can dock you boat at the marina. Payette Lake is popular for waterskiing, jet skiing, and fishing. There are abundant hiking and biking trails at the Ponderosa State Park.


Through our timeshare we were able to stay in a comfortable two-bedroom apartment with great amenities... we were able to cook some of our meals in the well-stocked kitchen.


We had fun watching the resident raccoon. I think he lives under the deck and comes out when he hears folks talking or grilling on the gas BBQ that is provided for guests. "Mmmm... can I have a piece of chicken, pleeeease?"


There was no cost to use the apartment, except for the annual fee that we pay. When you take into account these timeshare fees, it comes to ~$37 a day for accommodations. Not bad for a place that sleeps six.

We are finding that in Boise, most people are friendly and helpful. Life just seems slower-paced and simpler. We can go to the local theater complex and see a movie for $6.75 each (senior discount) and not worry about getting a seat. We went to see Harry Potter on the second day of its release. It was good... it was long and lacked the impact of the first movies, but still worth seeing.

Boise is a bike-friendly city. We've been riding our bikes quite a bit but since the heat wave started, we are riding less. The Boise greenbelt provides about 25 miles of paved pathway. It's great!

We went to the Shakespeare Festival on Saturday to see Comedy of Errors... it was a lot of fun, especially because DD1 and SIL went with us. We enjoyed a nice picnic dinner, followed by DDs homemade strawberry shortcake... which was decadently good.

Even grocery shopping in Boise is more enjoyable for me... you can actually find parking at Costco on a Saturday. That's a big deal for me because, back in Silicon Valley, we NEVER go to Costco on a Saturday due to the crowds and difficult parking.

I'm finding that the cost of living is much less in Boise, especially food and gas. I used Sperling's calculator and found that it is 42% cheaper to live in Boise than in San Jose. Housing is 62% cheaper in Boise than San Jose. This is good news for us because our retirement dollar should go farther when we move here permanently next year as planned.

In our neighborhood, it seems that the real estate market is perking up. Last year in June there were 40+ properties for sale (newly-built homes and lots). Now there are about 12. With a few exceptions, the homes in our neighborhood are well-cared for, thanks in part to our HOA that is doing a better job of monitoring CCR enforcement.

Our Boise home has limited storage so we are getting bids for adding a large storage area in the attic space above the garage. We will be getting two or three bids and will make our decision after we analyze the proposals. It will be interesting to see how ID construction costs compare to CA.

Change is in the Cards

June 30th, 2009 at 09:04 am

My dh is retiring tomorrow, on July 1. Originally, once he officially retired, he was planning to participate in a program that allows tenured faculty to teach 50% for 5 years. He has decided that doing this for one or maybe two years may be enough. So he will teach in the fall and then may completely retire at the end of 2009. Although his decision is not set in stone, it surprised me. I will support him whatever he decides... working 50% for a few years or "completely" retiring. So, now we are facing some decisions.

We live in a condo in Silicon Valley and have a second home in ID, where my DDs live. Our plan was to eventually sell the CA condo and move to the ID home once dh was 100% retired. Until recently, I didn't think it would happen for at least five years, so we were just coasting along. But now I am facing the reality of moving from the area that has been my home for ~17 years.

I love the diversity of Silicon Valley and the excellent access to so many activities. But the biggest change will be moving away from family and friends. My only sibling and best friend, my sister, lives 45 minutes away. My niece and her children live 25 minutes away, and I am very close to them. Over the years, I've made good friends and will miss seeing them on a regular basis. My dh's children live in Fresno, ~4 hours away, so we will see them less often, too.

But ID is a beautiful state, made all the more special because my daughters live there. However, they have lives and careers of their own. Although it will be great to be minutes away from them, I can't and won't expect them to alter their lives for us. Once we are permanently living in our new city, dh and I will have to work on making new friends and getting involved in community activities. And while I don't think it will necessarily be an easy transition, it will be an exciting challenge.

Another issue is that real estate is extremely depressed in our area, and we may not be able to easily sell our condo. So, dh and I have been discussing the idea renting our condo, something we did for the first three years after we bought it. We can rent it for enough to cover the payment and a 10% management fee. And, we could rent it for up to three years and still get our capital gains exclusion. Not that it matters right now... I think the place is worth about the same as we paid for it in 2003, so there is really no gain to consider at the moment.

I have been reflecting about why I am leaning toward renting our condo. To be honest, I feel we can always move back to Silicon Valley if living in Idaho is not what we expected it to be. It's not that I think we won't enjoy living in Idaho, but I know it will be different to live there full-time instead of just spending a few weeks here and there. So, we'll see... time will tell and help us clarify our decisions.

R & R in Alaska

June 28th, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Five days after returning from ~ a month of intense work in Guatemala, dh and I left on our long-planned cruise to Alaska. It was a wonderful experience, especially because we were joined by my DDs and SILs. It was great to see them every day for a whole week, enjoying meals and some excursions together.

Alaska is beautiful and we had clear but cool weather most days. Juneau was the exception, where it rained as we sailed away through the icy fjord. The wildlife is abundant... we saw seals, whales, dolphins, eagles, bears, and even some reindeer.

I photographed this eagle near the Ketchikan rain forest.


The Glacier Gardens in Juneau are alive with color and texture.


Here is a view of Mendenhall Glacier (Juneau) from the observation area... it is magnificent.


This is Dawes Glacier, seen as we sailed through Endicott Fjord.


We saw some beautiful, rugged country on the train excursion to White Pass in Skagway.


The view from our stateroom was amazing.


We had three adjoining staterooms and had fun visiting from our balconies. My DDs/SILs are enjoying the view as we leave Seattle.


Cheers!


Newfound Appreciation

May 18th, 2009 at 08:17 am

Before I retired, I had a busy and rewarding, albeit stressful job as an elementary school principal. Although I enjoyed the work and it paid well, the job required ~60+ hours a week and there was always something happening at least one evening a week, and even on weekends. I used to think that that my dh had it made with the easier job because he is "just a teacher."

Well, since retiring, I have a newfound appreciation for my dh's job. Now that I am home more, I see and understand how much time he puts into his job. He teaches adults, graduate students, and they generate copious amounts of writing through the various required course assignments. He carefully reads every paper and writes comments on each one. He stays on top of the research in his field and must prepare for his classes, not to mention having to publish scholarly articles and books on a regular basis, and coordinate his program. And then there are the frequent and time-consuming department and committee meetings.

I guess I never noticed before because I was too busy with my own job. In retrospect, I was so wrapped up my work that I became oblivious to what my dh actually does and how hard he works. The workaholic life I used to lead was a selfish life because I tended to focus on my own work as if it were more important then dh's, and it consumed so much of my time. Now, things are very different... although I earn less than half of what I used to, life is by far richer and more rewarding.

Nothing like a deadline...

May 17th, 2009 at 09:26 am

to prod you into action! Deadlines motivate me, so I volunteered to create a slideshow for a celebration at the university where I've been working part time. I used iDVD, iPhoto, iTunes, and Keynote to create a 10-minute slideshow that loops. Students emailed me photos and I incorporated more than 150 of them in the slideshow. After I added transitions and music, it was ready to be burned on a DVD. The DVD was played on the high-tech audio system of the auditorium and the slideshow projected on a huge screen behind the podium.

Based on the positive comments from students and their families, the slideshow was a hit. I've wanted to learn how to create a DVD slideshow for a while, and having this project with its deadline forced me to work on it until I figured it out and got it just the way I wanted. Now I know how to use digital photos and video clips to create a special DVD... and this could make a great, inexpensive, and unique gift. All the programs I used came pre-installed in the laptop I bought last year, so I only had to spend about 40 cents each for the 5 copies of the DVD.

My next project: scan old family photos from the pre-digital days and create some DVD "albums" for our children.

A Great Weekend

May 12th, 2009 at 07:36 am

The weekend went by very quickly... I guess time flies when you're having fun. My DD2 came from ID for the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together until I took her to the airport late Monday. On Saturday, we went to the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It was the first time we'd been there since it was rebuilt and then reopened in September 2008. This is the "greenest" museum in the world and houses the Steinhart Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum, a four-story rain forest, and more. It was crowded and the lines long, but we got right in because I bought our tickets online and printed them at home. Following are some photos taken at the CAS.

The albino alligator is very rare and has become a CAS mascot.


The giant sea bass lumber around like gentle giants.


These tiny red and blue bromeliad frogs thrive in the rain forest.


Watch out for hitchhikers in the rain forest.


Looking down from the second story of the rain forest.


For Mother's Day, we had a lovely brunch at my sister's house and were joined by my niece and her family, so it was even more fun and special because the cousins rarely see each other. On the way home, we stopped at the Farmer's Market in Santana Row for fresh fruits and vegetables. My DD insisted on buying me a beautiful white Phalaenopsis orchid, my favorite. I love orchids because they last for months and this one has lots of blooms that are just starting to open. I love shopping for produce at farmer's markets and the Santana Row market features organically and locally grown fruits and vegetables, something I am trying to buy more of this year. Hope all of the mothers at SA had a wonderful Mother's Day, too.

Dh Ran Out of Gas!

April 24th, 2009 at 11:03 am

Literally. He called me because he was stranded so I went to the rescue. We found a gas station that sold us a cheap plastic 2-gallon container filled with gas for $18.91... What an expensive "mistake."

This is the first time dh has done this in all the years I've known him. All I can think of is that he has been super-busy and very distracted, so he didn't notice the indicator on the dash. Am I ever glad he's decided to retire!

An Uplifting Shopping Trip

April 19th, 2009 at 04:55 pm

Male readers be warned: you will want to skip this post.

JC Penney had a sale today where everything in the store was 20% off, even if items were already on sale. So, I trekked to the mall and bought two bras, normally $35, on sale for $17.99 minus an additional 20% off. Then I paid for the purchase with the $25 gift card I received from My Points, so the bottom line for me was: $6.44. I love savings like this... more then $50!

But I made up for it with my next purchase, although I still got 20% off. I bought some adorable, girlie clothes for the newest member of the family, a baby girl born Friday to my cousin and his wife who live in El Salvador. This baby is truly a miracle... they have been married for 14 years, and both are 41. They had given up on ever having children even though they wanted them badly. So, as you can see, this baby was a big surprise, and as my cousin said in his email to me, "a gift from God."

Retirement Planning Pitfalls

April 16th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who is considering retiring in July. She is 62 and has worked as a teacher for over 30 years. My friend is widowed with a grown son and four grandchildren. (Thankfully, her son will not be a financial burden... he is a successful engineer). According to her retirement estimate, my friend's pension will be about 72% of her current working income. My DF wanted to "pick my brain" because I retired last August, and she's searching for other perspectives on anything and everything related to retiring, especially some of the financial aspects.

So we chatted about what she's done to prepare for retirement. My friend has a 403b account ("small" in her words... not sure what that means) and a savings CD with about "one year's gross salary." DF owns her home that is almost paid for and has no other debt. In talking to my friend, here are some things she DID NOT take into consideration:

1) Inflation: although the state teacher's retirement system guarantees an annual 2% COLA, inflation will likely be higher. DF said she would use her 403b funds as needed to keep pace with inflation.

2) Health insurance: she will not be eligible for Medicare until almost 3 years after her retirement, so she has to plan for health coverage once COBRA runs out. (She thought COBRA would go on until she is eligible for Medicare, but I think it is only 18 months.) She said she would substitute teach to help pay for her health insurance until age 65, or take money from her savings.

3) Paying for increased cost of travel: after retirement, DF will reduce some expenses, but she didn't take into account that travel, a priority for her, might incur more expenses. She said she would use her savings or take on part-time work to pay for travel. Fortunately travel is a "want" and not a "need."

All in all, it seems my friend is on track to retire. She shared that she currently lives on about 80% of her net income, so that is another big plus for her. DF will use her retirement benefit "lump sum" to pay off her small mortgage. And, since she will no longer have a mortgage payment, she will try to add to her savings each month.

I did advise my DF to meet with her HR department regarding COBRA, and a financial planner and/or accountant to get specific financial and tax advice. Taxes in retirement can be an unpleasant surprise if you're accustomed to sheltering income and then find you have few deductions. However, I was happy to share some of the steps I took in my own retirement planning. My DF is doing exactly what I did prior to making the decision to retire... talking to others who have been through the process and leaving no detail to chance.

Stretching a Chicken and Other News

April 14th, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Today I cooked a big, plump 5-pound chicken. I decided it would be fun to challenge myself to see how many meals I can make from ONE chicken. So here is the plan:

Meal 1 ~ Chicken Soup with rice and vegetables, served with whole wheat French bread
Meal 2 ~ Chicken Stir Fry served with brown rice
Meal 3 ~ Chicken Curry over brown rice, served with cucumber salad
Meal 4 ~ Chicken Divan Crepes served with Cesar salad

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On another note, by some miracle we are getting a federal tax refund, but after we pay additional state taxes and the $895 fee to the accountant, we are in the red by $54. Not bad, especially since I thought we would owe much more. It helped that we adjusted withholdings to have more taken out of our checks. We will tweak withholdings again once dh retires.

*****************
My DD1 spent the weekend and we a wonderful visit. I enjoyed every minute with her until it was time to take her to the airport Sunday evening. The whale-watching trip on Saturday was canceled because the water was too choppy for the small boat, but we did enjoy a nice picnic at the beach at Point Lobos. We were blessed with glorious weather and it did not seem all that windy on shore. Then we had fun watching the sea lions and otters frolicking just off shore. The rock in the photo below is covered with sea lions soaking up the sun.


On Sunday, we had Easter brunch at one of our favorite restaurants. In past years, it's been hard to get reservations and they've had so many people that they've had to set up tables outside. It was very different this year... there were more waitpersons than customers. Granted, we had 9:30 reservations, but still, it was weird. The food was amazing and abundant but by the time we left at ~10:45, it was still pretty empty. The buffet included seafood of all kinds, roast beef and turkey, omelets made-to-order, and more.

Sabotage

April 10th, 2009 at 07:45 am

I was without Internet all day yesterday but my situation was minor compared to what could have happened. There was a major communication services outage in the south Bay Area caused by the sabotage of someone who climbed down a manhole in the middle of the night and cut several critical fiber-optic cables (in four different locations). It is clear our infrastructure is unprepared for acts of vandalism of this magnitude. I also think it also gives us a preview of what to expect in the event of a serious natural disaster (e.g., major earthquake). This vandalism will cost thousands of dollars to repair, impacted all communication and emergency services, and put lives at risk.

Aside from the inconvenience, the worst part is that many people were without BOTH cell phone and/or landlines. They were told to go out to flag a patrol car in case of emergency... as if this were easy or practical. Fortunately no one died as a result of a 911 emergency or a fire that could not be reported, but I heard of some very serious situations involving critically ill people. I hope they throw the book at the wretch who committed this vandalism and make him pay. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s) so that gives you an idea of the seriousness of the crime.

On the positive side, we got some much-needed rain yesterday. So, I caught up on my sewing, went to the bank and the grocery store (saved ~$15 with specials), and enjoyed reading by the fire with TC snuggling next to me. My DD1 is coming today to spend the weekend, and I can't wait to see her. I'm off to the airport in a few minutes. We will spend a few hours relaxing at a local spa, enjoying each other's company. On Saturday we are supposed to go whale watching off Monterey Bay, weather permitting. My DS and BIL will go with us so it should be a fun family outing.

My Nightmare

April 3rd, 2009 at 05:12 pm

When dh submitted his retirement application, he had to provide a copy of our marriage certificate... not a big deal, and dh was "almost certain" we had a copy in our safe deposit box. We just celebrated 15 years of wedded bliss, but for some reason, this requirement resulted in a chilling thought: what if we are NOT really married? To explain why I would think this way, I must share some of the details of our wedding day.

Our wedding was the epitome of simplicity. We got married on a glorious spring day in our own home, in the company of our children and our closest family and friends, about 25 guests in all. The ceremony was officiated by a friend, a kindergarten teacher I worked with. The delicious food was catered by another teacher and her husband and cost ~$125. The exquisite wedding cake was baked by my sister and was a culinary work-of-art decorated with fresh roses from our yard. My DS also made my delicate wedding bouquet.

The live music (guitar and vocals) was provided by my step-children's godparents and added a very special touch. Champagne and drinks were from Costco, and my stepdaughter and I had fun making the favors. My wedding dress cost ~$150 and was an elegant tea-length ivory gown (bought on sale, of course). We married on a Sunday and took Monday off for a mini-honeymoon in San Francisco. On Tuesday, I returned to work.

Somehow, the details of filing the official document to record our marriage fell to someone else, because I KNOW I didn't do it. What was most alarming was that dh told me he didn't do it, either. Well, the good news is... we ARE legally married! I carefully read the certificate and it is true AND official. Neither one of us remembers how the paperwork was filed, but all that matters is that it was. Phew!


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