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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 SummerÖ

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 http://www.idahobotanicalgarden.org/, 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 http://www.capitalcitypublicmarket.com/ 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 farmerís 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 http://www.idahowines.org/ (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 http://www.idahoshakespeare.org/ 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 havenít 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. http://www.worldwildlife.org/home-full-5.html 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 http://www.redcross.org/, http://www.kiva.org/, http://www.heifer.org/, http://www.habitat.org/default.aspx?tgs=MTIvMjQvMjAxMSA4OjU5..., http://idahohumanesociety.org/, http://shfb.org/, and http://www.idahohorserescue.org/. 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 http://www.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.

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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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Venta and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palenque. Then we'll fly to Merida, and will go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uxmal and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 http://sagetravelers.com/ 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.

~ http://www.arabian-nights.com/... 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.