Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I found these great comics at another blog and thought it would be fun to share them with my friends. I hope you all have a good holiday.

We're laying pretty low today. Our party was last weekend so we're just hanging out at home.

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Week Zoomed By

I have been keeping so busy between school and the internship this week, I hardly know how it got to be Friday afternoon.

I worked at my internship on Monday and Thursday. On Wednesday, I spent 5 hours at the law library. Tuesday was my one "goof off" day. I sort of watched Jane Eyre (I mostly listened) on Netflix while I was formatting and getting started on my final project for Legal Research and Writing.

I typed up the contents and the table of authorities and started the rough draft. I'm quite determined to get my final project done by Thanksgiving, then I can enjoy the holidays. I can simply attend classes and take notes, and I'll have all the homework done. At the end of the semester, all I'll have to worry about is two in-class finals, which hopefully won't be too difficult.

Today I had planned to spend several hours at the law library again, but I think the house simply got too messy for me to ignore it. One minute I was packing up my school stuff, and the next I found myself doing dishes and sifting piles. Oh well, it will be nice to have the piles reduced somewhat. Unfortunately, it is still not clean, just a bit less of a disaster.

We've been terribly neglectful of cooking dinners at home lately. With Jeff working full time and me as busy as I am, we've been buying dinners several nights a week. It's quite shocking for us, since we are normally so thrifty about our eating habits. Tonight, however, we'll be cooking Beef Barley Soup. We have two quarts of beef broth and veges we need to use up, so we're going to make this recipe. We made this recipe, sort of, a couple weeks ago and it was quite good. (We rarely follow recipes exactly.) And we'll also have some leftovers for lunches, too.

We really need to get back into the habit of cooking again. Hopefully once I get into coast-mode at school, I'll have the attention span to deal with putting together crock-pot meals in the morning. We do love crock-potting!

On Tuesday, I have an interview arranged for another internship, this one with an intellectual property firm. I hope it goes well. I do sometimes say such stupid things...(for an interview, anyway).

Finally, to follow up with my whining about my current internship, it has gotten better. As of next week, I'm changing my hours and now I'll be working on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The attorney I'm working for will be in at least one of the days. And I'll also get to work on Jeff's and my will and estate docs in a few weeks. I'll get to learn by doing! I've also decided that I'm going to work on getting my notary public commission. I'm not going to pay for a class; they're expensive. Instead, I'm going to do a cheap at-home study course and then go take the test. Unfortunately, the testing, fingerprinting and supplies cost more than $200, but it should help me find a position when I'm done with school.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Giardia

Well, it's official, Shasta has giardia; the vet called this afternoon. When it was first suggested, I didn't even remember what it was, so I had to go look it up at Wikipedia. I was reminded that it's the intestinal parasite that you worry about when you're out hiking or camping; that's why you boil water before you drink it.

So, now Shasta is getting a bit more stepped-up treatment. She is taking two Metronidazole pills, twice a day, and some Panacur powder added to her food once a day. It's easy to give her the pills, just pop them in some canned dog food and she swallows them right down. Getting her to eat the powder is quite another matter... I guess it makes the food smell not good and she is reluctant to eat it. Well, she's not getting anything else until she eats that dish of food.

I'm curious where Shasta got the giardia; we haven't been hiking at anything remotely like a park lately. The person at the pet store who first suggested she had giardia listed the dog park as a likely source. But Shasta has not been to the dog park in weeks; maybe only once since we bought the scooter. Perhaps she caught it from the K9 Casa where we boarded her a couple weeks ago. Wish I knew... I hate to blame the boarding place, but I'm not likely to take her back there if it's going to add over $200 in vet bills (and inconvenience) to the back end of any trip we take. Maybe once we get her over this, we'll have her immunized against giardia. I don't know...I hate to over-medicate my dog child.

Since we had to take her to the vet anyway, we had a heart worm test done and got a prescription for Revolution. We've had quite enough with fleas. We got spoiled in Oregon—it got cold enough the fleas died over the winter. It doesn't seem to get cold enough here in California to adequately wipe them out. So, we give up; flea treatment, here we come.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Preparing for Midterms

Next week is midterms. (Ugg, we're only halfway!) I lost a lot of momentum when the semester got off to such a slow start, so I basically decided to backtrack. This week I started reading the books over, only this time I'm taking notes while I read. I've realized that I retain material better if I write it down. It's not the notes, it is something about the process of making the notes that helps etch it in my memory. Plus, I have the handy notes when I'm done.

I worked two days this week. Yesterday, I worked on a probate file. I didn't get much done, but I spent a lot of time researching how these types of cases work. It sounds like the languishing probate files will be my project for this internship.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Netflix Convert

We debated about subscribing to Netflix for many of the last several years. I always pushed back because I thought we didn't need it and it would be an unnecessary expense. I'm pretty tightwad on the whole, and subscribing to a DVD rental service seemed extravagant. Of course, when we first talked about it (probably in 2004), we had cable. Cable paired with a 2-channel TiVo provided us with a nearly infinite supply of quality programs to watch.

Then once we moved down to California, we didn't even have a TV for the first year. But when my father gave us one, we were able to borrow from a large DVD library he had, so I again successfully argued against Netflix.

Our recent move to Redwood City, and our purchase of a new TV, brought up the question again and I finally relented. Netflix has a free trial and I figured it was worth a try. Well, I'm glad we tried it. Cable, back when we had it in the early 2000s, was typically more than $50/month. (I couldn't even get a quote at the Comcast website without entering personal information I didn't want to enter.) In my experience, they set a low advertised rate, but then they charge you $5 here and $10 there for premium channels—the ones you'd actually want—so you end up spending far more than their advertised rate. The Netflix membership we signed up for is $18.56/month (includes taxes). (We signed up for two disks in transit $13 and the $3 Blue Ray disk upgrade.)

Since one of the activities we enjoy is watching movies, I think the money we are spending on Netflix is well-justified, especially when compared to cable. And with their huge instant download library, there are so many great programs to watch. While we also incurred the additional expense of a Roku Digital Video Player, we could have just hooked up a computer to the TV. We decided the convenience of the player was worth the extra $124 one-time expense.

Of course, we're not watching the latest episode of those hot new TV programs (like Glee and Dollhouse), but we don't care about that. We are more than happy to catch last season's episodes. Now I'm wondering if we'll ever subscribe to cable again...probably not. We've even decided to get rid of our old TiVo because we just don't have need to store it anymore...

Another thrifty benefit of Netflix has been our total lack of desire to buy new DVDs. When we went to Fry's this weekend, we weren't even tempted. We are more than happy to rent programs, or download them, from Netflix. And of the dozens of movies we've watched over the last month, there are only two that we might buy, if we find the right deal. In the old days, we might have bought a dozen movies on a shopping trip and then decide to just keep a few of them to watch again. I shutter to think of how much money we blew on entertainment back in Oregon.

The worst thing about Netflix, in my opinion, is the unlimited nature of the offerings. It's a bit like going to a buffet: you've paid for your dinner and now you're tempted to eat as much as you can, to get your money's worth. There's a lot of good programs to tempt us to use up our discretionary time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shasta ♥ Her Scooter

I took this video a couple days ago and wanted to share it. Shasta has gotten used to her scooter now and can barely wait while we hook her in. She is so impatient to get running.
video
With the rain, she's driving us a bit bonkers today. We're hoping it clears up enough to take her for a run.

Rain!

We woke this morning to a loud crash and splashing water noises and Jeff correctly surmised it was our pop-up in the backyard collapsing under the weight of the rain water accumulated on the roof. We hustled into our clothes and rain jackets and went out and did our best to cram all we could into the garage. I thought it was a little funny; Jeff was not as amused. =)


That gray tarp in the foreground, that's our stained glass. We hope it survives. We had it in the garage over the weekend, but then it got taken out again when my Dad and stepmother came over on Sunday to clean out the back of the garage. Oh well, there's no room for it now since we crammed everything else in. At least it's covered.

I love fall! We get to wear sweaters and drink hot tea and have hot oatmeal in the mornings. Yeah!

Here's a quick video of how hard it's raining outside. If it keeps this up for too many more hours the garage may flood! I wonder how the storage facility next to the Bay is... I guess we're insured so I won't worry about it. =)
video

Surveying the damage on Wednesday:

We had a couple of cardboard box casualties in the garage due to the poorly sloped floor. Luckily it was just a box of clothing donations (which I've thrown in the wash) and a box of mostly glass jar food storage. We lost a very little bit of food.

I found this garbage can sitting outside the garage and it was nearly full. It didn't look to be in a position to catch any runoff and it was holding just under 7 inches of water! (That includes the rain for all day yesterday plus the rainfall through the night.)

The popup is entirely destroyed and needs to be disassembled and recycled/tossed out. Too bad; what a waste!

The weather forecast called for more rain today; but it's absolutely sunny and gorgeous outside. What a good day to be in California.

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Day of Internship

I started my new internship today. I got to work on a special project, helping a CPA dig through financial records to try and reconstruct the last several years of a client's financial activity. We were trying to track what money was transferred between accounts and was used to fund annuities. It was really quite fun and I was heaped with praise for my good job! I always enjoy financial puzzles. I won't be disappointed if I get to spend a bunch of hours through the rest of the semester doing tasks like today's.

We're finally getting some rain here in California. I'm loving the weather because it feels like Oregon--which we still miss terribly.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Busy Weekend

There's nothing like a deadline (me starting work on Monday) to inspire motivation. Jeff and I got a lot done this weekend and we're still going strong.

Yesterday we spent much of the day working on a list we made in the morning; we got about half of it done. We were able to, finally, start getting my Dad's stuff out of the back of the garage and we continued to work on sifting our pile of stuff in the backyard (under our pop-up). We don't want to leave it all outside over the winter and the forecast calls for rain this week, so it will be good to get as much of that stuff inside. We're still waiting for my Dad to take his antique car away, but the most exposed stuff is under cover now. We have a bit more to deal with, but the bulk of the sifting will wait until my Dad takes away his car at the end of this month.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning, cooking and doing laundry.

This morning ended up being shopping day. We started at the bakery thrift in Sunnyvale and we bought a couple month's supply of breads and cakes. Then we dropped by Jeff's favorite produce shop in Cupertino and bought a bunch of organic fruit and funky imported foods.

Finally, on our way home, we made an unplanned visit to Fry's. Jeff ended up buying the rest of his home theater system. They had a conveniently packaged set of speakers and receiver and he decided it would be good enough for his needs. Of course, he still has the un-fun task of setting it all up (running wires and figuring out where to mount the speakers). Since buying the home theater wasn't on the weekend's list, and Jeff is spending his afternoon setting it all up, we probably won't make it through the rest of the list. But since he's wanted to do this for a while, it will be a relief to get this project done.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Work Clothing Shopping Challenge

I got the internship. I had given it up, but they called me yesterday afternoon and offered it to me. I expect to be working two days a week now, starting Monday, in a law office.

Unfortunately, I need to buy some work clothes. Ugh, I really hate shopping for clothes, but all my professional clothes from the last time I worked full-time are long gone, and they wouldn't fit now anyway. Since they're not paying me for my efforts, I don't plan to dress to the nines, but these days I am wearing basically jeans and t-shirts, which won't do. So, I decided to spend today visiting my local thrift stores to see if I could find at least a few pieces of clothing that would fit me and were suitable for the office environment.

The stores I planned to visit today were:
  1. Goodwill Boutique in Menlo Park
  2. Savers in Redwood City
  3. Family Tree in San Carlos
  4. Thrift Center in San Carlos
  5. Perfect Rose in San Carlos
I started with the Goodwill Boutique. I learned when Goodwill tacks Boutique on their name, the prices become astronomical. I walked in and the store was fairly small. I looked at the price on a pair of women's pants and it read $41.99, so I figured this was not the store for me.

Next I went to Savers. That was by far the best shopping experience I had today. They have a large store with all the clothes sorted by style. All the clothing had sizes and prices on the tag. And within size sections, they occasionally had the clothes sorted by color. If I had my act together, I would have gone looking for a coupon; apparently they publish them in the newspaper (which we don't get). At Savers, I was able to buy 16 items for $94.35. The most expensive was a sport coat for $8. If I hadn't had a mission to visit more stores today, I would have stopped after this trip.

Next I went to Family Tree in San Carlos. It was a tiny charity shop with some really beautiful, professional clothing for good prices. If I wore size 10, I would have been set. I did buy one 100% wool Jones New York woman's suit for $12 that was close to my size. I'll be optimistic that my PE class will work... =)

Then I went to Thrift Center. It was a really large store and the clothing was sorted into sections, and then within the sections all of the clothes were sorted by color. The clothes weren't marked with sizes so you have to constantly dig inside looking for labels. The prices weren't as good as Savers, but I learned that on Tuesday mornings, the clothes are all 50% off. It might be worth braving the store on Tuesday mornings. I bought a jacket and 4 blouses for $27; at half that it would have been a great deal.

Finally, I went looking for Perfect Rose. I couldn't find it. I think it may have been replaced by another used clothing store, called English Rose, but I didn't see it until I had practically passed it. Since I was tired, I called it a day...

Overall, I had a successful day. I found enough clothing to last through the semester and I spent only $120. I'll definitely make it a point, when I go shopping again, to visit the Thrift Center on Tuesday morning, otherwise I probably won't shop there much. And I learned the closest shop, Savers, was absolutely the best.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gazingus Pins

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, gazingus pin is a term coined by the authors of Your Money or Your Life. They define a gazingus pin as something you think you have to have. Something that when you see it at the store you think, "I don't have it in that color," or "That looks just a little different than the other ones I have." The point being, it is something very, very hard to resist buying, almost a guilty pleasure. Gazingus pins are an enemy to thrift and financial independence and they need to be dealt with.

As I spent this afternoon washing, ironing and folding yards and yards of fabric, I mused about my spending habits. I clearly have enough fabric. I have an entire seven foot bookshelf brimming full and now I've started to spill over into a second bookshelf. It is obvious fabric has become my gazingus pin.

Back when Jeff and I first read Your Money or Your Life, in the early 1990s, my gazingus pin was athletic shoes. I used to buy them constantly and my closet was filled with them. Now, clearly, fabric has replaced athletic shoes... Oh well, and I did very well last winter working on busting my stash, but clearly fabric sales are my downfall. I must get off of these fabric mailing lists and I must find the motivation to start sewing again. I have several projects waiting in the queue.

Our long-term goal is financial independence. In 2007, we thought we were close, then the stock market crashed 40% and we lost significant process. But, of course, that doesn't mean we should give up. We're in a wonderful situation financially right now and we need to do what we can to save more towards our retirement.

Do any of you have a gazingus pin? What do you buy to help yourself feel better?

Fall Has Arrived

The cool weather has finally arrived in Redwood City. I am so grateful because I much prefer cool weather to hot.

My paralegal classes at school have finally reached the point where they require work. I don't know why, but the semester got off to a very slow start, but now we are getting regular assignments and homework. I tend to spend at least a couple of hours everyday reading and working on assignments. I've also begun typing up notes of the content in the books because I think it helps me retain the materials.

Early last week I received an email from Thousands of Bolts informing of a batik sale. I resisted the urge to shop for several days, but finally, as the end of the sale approached, it was too much for me to resist. They were selling batiks for less than $5 a yard! I absolutely adore batiks for my quilting projects.

Now I'm definitely done buying fabric this year! While I did buy a couple pieces for projects I've planned over the next year, most of these pieces are for my fabric stash; I just tend to have better luck shopping that way. Often when I try to buy fabrics for a specific project, I am rarely able to find the right color fabric when I need it. And colors tend to display wrong on the computer, so I rarely have much luck buying online when I need a specific fabric. And I had been so good at my stash busting efforts early this year... Oh well, there's always next year.

Speaking of projects, I need to try and convince myself to get back into the sewing room. I started cutting out my brother's quilt, but I have yet to sew any of the pieces. I'd really like to have the quilt top and backing assembled in time to take it up to Oregon in December. I have a machine quilter up there who I've been using for years who is (relatively) inexpensive and fast.

And now that cooler weather has arrived, it would be nice to get the living room drapes made. I tried to get started on that project a few weeks back, but the drapery hardware in the living room was taken down for the repainting and in the process some of the pieces went astray. I keep hoping we'll find the missing pieces, but we may end up having to buy new rods.

I finally had an interview yesterday for that unpaid paralegal internship position I mentioned like three weeks ago. When I got the posting from Cañada College weeks ago, I was led to believe this was a sure-thing job placement, but it turns out it isn't. They have interviewed a number of candidates and have more coming in. It's quite astonishing how much competition there is for an unpaid position. I'm not going to get my hopes up because I've gotten pretty discouraged in my earlier job searching efforts. And now I'm also faced with the ordeal of trying to reverse the internship class they made me sign up for in order to apply for this position. I don't think it's fair that I should have to pay the class fees as well as have a W (withdrawal) grade on my transcript because I embarked on this process.

On the bright side, I have this morning arranged an interview for later this month for a possible internship next semester at an intellection property firm. If I'm offered a position, this process should go more smoothly next semester.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Quick Visit to Southern California

Jeff and I had a quick visit with his parents and sister.

We left Friday late morning and it took about seven hours to get there. We goofed off too much on the way; we stopped at too many fruit stands and, so, unfortunately we got stuck in the absolutely horrid L.A. Friday night commute. It took us two hours to go the final 40 miles.

I was surprised at how many trucks filled with tomatoes we saw during the trip. I kept trying to take pictures but we were all moving so fast.

We helped Jeff's mother, Marianne, pack up all of the their bookcases and sift several boxes. We brought home a secretary that we used to have in our house in Oregon and a few other boxes of stuff from Jeff's parents. Not sure where we're going to put it all.

Last night we got to visit Jeff's sister, Joy, and her family; we saw three of her six kids. It was nice to visit them all again; it's been so long. Her 13-year-old son, Jeremiah is absolutely huge. He's probably more than six foot tall and he's got the build of a football player.

We also dropped by Brad and Marianne's new retirement community and wandered around to see their new digs. It looks like a fabulous place to live--it has a craft studio, bistro, library and a lot of other great hang out spaces. I'm hoping we can afford such a nice place when it's time for us to move into a retirement community. They're going to be living across the street from Disneyland!

Today was Jeff's mother's birthday so we stuck around until lunch time and went and dined with them. We got on the road by 1:20. We made good time until we hit the narrow portion of Pacheco Pass and there must have been an accident because we practically coasted for several miles.

Luckily, we managed to retrieve Shasta before the 9PM deadline. It's good to have her back.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Winding Down Prosper

Back in early-2007, I got the clever idea I would try person-to-person lending and I signed up for Proper.com. At the time, I considered that this was "play money"—in other words—I felt it was highly speculative and a lot like gambling. Turns out I was entirely correct. =) This experience is finally winding down.

Back then, I transferred in $1000 and funded 19 loans. I spent a lot of time searching through the possible loans and I was clearly very gullible. I tried to make careful investments. In fact, one of them was for an attorney setting up a bankruptcy office; how could that go bad (it did). Of the 19 loans, 10 were charged off (one of them never even made a payment); 3 were paid off very early (and thus we made virtually no interest); and 6 loans are still active and nearing completion. According to Lending Stats my estimated Return on Investment is -2%; actually I thought it was far worse. 40% of the portfolio defaulted, so I'm not sure how my return could only be -2%. I'll have to have Jeff help me calculate the Actual Return on Investment.

I actually used to pay attention to my portfolio, but it just made me annoyed with Prosper, so I stopped. Prosper was a very unethical business and it was a rip off! I would not recommend others do business with them. I am mostly posting this in order to warn others about person-to-person lending.

I wouldn't recommend anyone use prosper (unless you want to borrow). For those who are sure they can make money and really want to try, before you send them any money, I recommend you sign up at the Prospers.org forum because it is independent of Prosper.com. The forum at Prosper.com is heavily moderated and they don't allow users to post negative material. For those that do, they'll remove the posts and ban the users from using the forums.

Prosper.com is certainly a good deal for the borrowers who don't pay! And I can certainly understand why they don't pay, since Prosper doesn't do much in the way of collection, as far as I've seen. Why should they? They're not losing the money.

It also turns out that when I signed up, Prosper was selling unregistered securities and they were shut down temporarily. I'm not sure why they didn't have to buy these loans back from us since they were breaking the law selling them... Buyer beware!

On a somewhat related topic, I've been able to watch a couple of good documentaries this week:
I.O.U.S.A. and MaxedOut. Both are excellent movies about the massive debt problems this country has. The country back in 2007 was $8.7 trillion dollars in debt, now we're at $11.8 trillion! Check out this excellent debt clock.

The future of this country is scary.

Thrift Store Jeans Shopping

Jeff's clothes are starting to look, well, aged. So, yesterday I dropped by our local Savers thrift store to find him some replacements. In barely more than a half-hour, I was able to buy Jeff three pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts and two shirts and I only spent about $45 in total. The most expensive item was a black, like-new pair of jeans for $8. And when I say like new, I mean not faded. I totally don't understand the demand for pre-faded jeans right now.

Earlier this year I went into a store and tried to buy new jeans and I was quite frankly appalled by the dead-looking jeans that went for $40 and upwards off the rack. (Check out this $60 disaster; thank goodness they're on clearance. Hopefully this fad is on its way out.) Why do people buy "distressed" jeans from stores? Honestly, if you like that style, why not visit your local thrift store and buy truly distressed jeans for a fraction of the price. Many of the more worn pairs of jeans at Savers were $5 or less.

I also picked up a pair of jeans and a pair of shorts for myself for another $12. They're all in the washing machine right now and I'm looking forward to being able to wear them for our family visit this weekend.

About 20 years ago, I had a hard time convincing myself to buy "used" clothing. But in the early 1990s, when we were just out of school and really tight on money, I shopped garage sales and the local thrift stores out of a need to find ways to cut back on our spending. (We had a lot of mortgage debt at the time and maintaining the payments was difficult.) Over time, though, I've found the thrift stores to be nearly the only places I can find clothing I like. I clearly have not kept up with the clothing fads.

I'm grateful for the availability of out-of-style, unfaded clothing that I only seem to be able to find at the local thrift store. I'm really not looking forward to another decade from now when the crap they sell at the stores today finds it way to the local charity shops. Maybe by then unfaded, undistressed jeans will be back in style and we can buy new; I can only hope so.