Saturday, January 31, 2009

Privacy

When Don and I switched over from Time Warner to AT&T service a few weeks ago, we ended up getting a new phone number. As soon as we got our new phone number, the solicitors were on us like flies to honey. It takes thirty days to process your information on the National Do Not Call Registry (which we promptly registered for) and in the mean time we were getting as many as 20 solicitations a day.

That was bad enough. Then yesterday, some girl started calling the house repeatedly asking for a guy named David, convinced that she spoke to him on our line a week ago and has been trying to reach him ever since. Although we explained to her that this is a new number and that we are the only ones that live here and that we have no idea who this person is, she has yet to get it through her thick skull. She continues to call back from a blocked phone number more than a dozen times by now hoping that David will answer the phone and immediately hangs up now when we answer it. The only thing I can think of is that she is a mentally deranged lunatic and this David guy her ex-boyfriend who we of course are hiding from her. What?!

So I called AT&T to find out what we can do about this and they came to the rescue with our new Privacy Manager phone service. Privacy Manager does not let unidentified callers through yoru line. Period. If someone calls from a blocked or unlisted phone number, our privacy manager picks up and explains to them that we do not accept unidentified calls. The caller either has to press a number to display their phone number or record a message saying who they are. Only then does our phone ring and it's not the caller directly, but the privacy manager who plays the message for us and asks us whether we would like to accept the call, reject the call, send them straight to voicemail, or option #4 (my favorite) if it is a solicitor we can play for them a prerecorded legal rejection notice instructing them to block our number from their registry or face a lawsuit! The service should be in effect by the end of the day. And although it normally costs a monthly fee of about $6.00 which I would have gladly paid, it turns out it's free with our phone package!

By the way, I'm also told that it directs out of area calls (which I'm hoping includes 800 numbers) through the privacy manager so if you are calling us from out of town, I apologize for the extra steps but please record a brief greeting and we look forward to accepting your call promptly! I'm sooooooooo excited to have control over our phone in our own house again. Is nice!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Detox Day

I need a detox day. I haven't been eating all that great lately but I think the biggest thing is my total lack of hydration. I've hardly been drinking any water, but, rather, in it's place, soda, beer, wine and coffee. One cannot live on these things and as I cannot seem to moderate myself, I think I'll have to nix them all for an extended time. Well, all of them except coffee which I will allow myself once a day. My new best friends are going to be milk, water, and iced tea, which should get my body well on track to feeling better.

When it comes to diet, I've certainly been snacking more than I need to, but I'm also trying to find the best way to eat healthy while also saving money. Don and I have cut our food budget way down while we are working on our house savings. We're trying different things like eating discounted frozen foods a few times a week to cut costs and we even bought lunch boxes and started packing our lunches every day. Some things have worked and some haven't. The frozen dinners are certainly a luxury when it comes to the convenience of cooking and cleaning which also helps a lot with curbing our impulse to eat out on nights that we don't feel like cooking, but I definitely don't feel like I'm getting the same nutritional value as when we were cooking with fresh foods every night. So this week I think I'll try cooking a couple of big bulk meals that aren't too expensive like Sausage Spinach Soup and Tacos and that way we'll have leftovers to carry us through most of the weak. Also packing lunches has worked really well for me considering that I have access to a full kitchen at work so can easily bring leftovers and convenience foods to reheat, but it has been a little bit of a struggle to get up early enough in the morning to make ready to eat foods that Don can take with him in the car. So we've figured out the balance. I will try to take my lunch most days, and we will pack him some snacks, sides and drinks so that all he has to do is pick up a sandwich or burger every day which should keep us pretty close to our $25 week lunch budget. I think for us, the big thing we've discovered when budgeting is to set realistic goals. If something costs a little bit more, but we know we can stick to it, it ends up being cheaper for us in the long run because where we tend to waste the most money is when we aren't prepared or doing something impulsive.

And lastly, on the note of detoxation, I need a detox from television. I've definitely been getting sucked in to the black hole of the boob tube and I'm pretty darn sick of it. I'm really getting to the point where I wish we didn't have television anymore. It seems like more and more of our social gatherings are centered around the television instead of more interactive games and visiting. I waste a lot of time watching programing that I really wouldn't miss if we didn't have it and when it comes to television, Don and I have different tastes and different interests anyway so we end up spending more time apart than we normally would in different rooms of our own house which obviously leads to less husband and wife activities of every kind. I miss the days where all we had was Netflix and we would choose our shows and watch the seasons through from start to finish and it was an event to look forward to at the end of the day together. So blah for television. I think the only reason I'm not ready to push giving it up just yet is because it was such a major pain going through the process recently to get everything switched over from Time Warner to AT&T that it would feel like such a waste to discontinue now after all that effort. Additionally, the one and only show I do really care about right now is Battlestar Gallactica which is in the final season. I think I am willing to stick it out through the rest of the season, but as soon as it's over, I'm really hoping Don will be open to the idea of saying goodbye to cable hopefully for the last time, and welcome back our beloved Netflix lifestyle.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chris Angel is a Douche Bag

Best Title of a Supernatural Episode ever. Don and I are just starting the program now. Don't even care if it turns out to be a good episode or not. We've already gotten plenty of amusement out of the title alone. Love this show!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Getting Up

Enough of this sleeping in business. The dogs and I were up at 6 am this morning and got in a 3.5 mile walk. And it felt great! Such a nice way to start the day. Why is it such a battle every morning when the alarm goes off whether to sleep in or get some exercise? I always feel better when I chose the latter. It's just hard to remember that when you're buried in plush warm blankets.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sleeping In

This is what the dogs get to do every morning while Don and I have to get up and get ready for work. Can you say "Not Fair"?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cordy & Seumas' Trip to Griffith Park

Don and I headed out to Griffith Park today to get a little sunshine and exercise. It was a nice hike, good shade, nice rolling hills. It is a huge park and lots of other avenues to explore so we will surely be back. Here are some videos of our little adventure, as seen through the eyes of Cordy and Seumas.

video video video video

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Windy Picnic

I know you all have been waiting on edge for pictures of our picnic. It was a very fun afternoon but sooooooooooooo windy. Not windy cold, just knock you over windy and tie everything down windy. No, I did not accomplish everything on the list but that's OK. We made it work anyway. It was a very fun outing and hopefully the first of many.


Camille and Matt doing his Gold Digging expression - as in Precious Metals Mining, not the Girls Next Door. But that could work too.


Nathan and Camille - with the unfortunate downwind position.


Paige and Katy, flash back to the eighties.


The dogs were so cute with their ears flapping in the wind. They had a great time.


Isn't she sweet? Don't be fooled. She'll kick your @$$ at Bootcamp!


Feed the Birds. Toppins a bag.

Countdown to the picnic

Things to do before our picnic today:

1. Shower and get dressed
2. Charge the camera battery
3. Go to Target and get some supplies
4. Pick up Groceries
5. Pick up some cash for the Farmer's Market
6. Sort and start the laundry
7. Pack our lunches
8. Pack our outdoor games, blankets/towels, camera, sunblock, etc.
9. Find the dog tie outs in the garage somewhere, pack water dish
10. Light housecleaning

I have two hours. Think I can do it all? Ready, set, go!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dog Days

There is no doubt about it. Don and I have been neglecting the dogs. We've definitely been laxed with the whole dog walking thing over the last couple of winter months. And by laxed, I mean nigh on nonexistent. No excuses either. I don't care if it gets dark earlier and it's a few degrees cooler. It's not like there is rain to contend with and we live in a super safe neighborhood. So it basically comes down to our sheer wussiness and lazy behavior.

So we are making it up to the pups by trying to cram in a months worth of excitement in one, beautiful weekend. With the Santa Anna winds blowing through and temps this weekend in the 70s and 80s, Don and I are as itching to blow off this cabin fever as the dogs. You already know from my previous blog that we have a lovely picnic planned for tomorrow which of course we'll be bringing the dogs to.

Today we decided to make the most of the day by getting in some exercise and errands at the same time. Seumas could barely contain himself in the minutes before we left when he "sensed" that we were getting ready to go for a walk and was bound and determined not to be left behind. We started off with a walk to Subway for a nice healthy lunch and a cup of water for the dogs. Then we cut through the park and over to the bank to deposit some checks for our house savings. After that we cut back through the park and saw a few people out with their small dogs and decided to join them for a little puppy play time.

It turned out to be purebread pairs day at the park. We of course were representing the Wiener Dogs. There was another couple there with two little Jack Russels, a lady with two Pomeranians, and eventually another guy showed up with his four Scottish Terriers. All the dogs got along great and Seumas ran himself ragged playing fetch and impressing everyone with how fast he could run and how high he could jump.

All of the dog owners were nice and fun people, and I have to comment that it was nice for once to be around other purebread owners. Sometimes I feel like going to the dog park is a bit like going to the pound. Everyone has their rescue dog and this great story about how they gave a condemned dog a second chance at life. Don't get me wrong. I think that is a wonderful thing and I applaud everyone who does it. I may even be one of those people some day. But I also understand what it is like to love a breed and to want that experience of bringing a pup home from the litter and raising it "from scratch" so to speak. It was nice for once to enjoy being around other dog owners without feeling like a criminal for owning a purebread. At the end of the day, we got the dogs that we did because we loved them and they were the right fit for our family just like everyone else, not because of any pricetag or certificate that they came with, and I wouldn't trade them for any other dogs in the world.

On the walk back home, we passed a guy who had a nickname for our dogs that I'd never heard before. Of course the common ones are wiener dogs, sausage dogs, and hot dogs. But as he passed by and pointed at Cordy and Seumas he commented in his thick accent, English clearly not being his first language, "Twinkies!" This of course has already become my new favorite nickname for the dogs. As we walked away, as soon as the guy was out of earshot, Don commented that with her winter weight Cordy looks more like a Ding Dong right now than a Twinkie. Alas it is true. But hopefully with this change in weather, in no time we should have them back in Twinkie Shape again.

Our total trip today was about 4 miles all together and that's not including all of the running around at the park. Right now both Cordy and Seumas are having the best nap of their lives.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ladybug Picnic

The weather is taking a nice up turn this week. We've actually had several weeks now of 50-60 degrees which our Northern friends will make fun of us about, but it is chilly for us in our drafty, uninsulated California Bungalo. So I was so thrilled when I looked at the forecast for 80 degrees on Sunday that I immediately took the opportunity to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Plan a picnic! Don't know who all is going to make it yet, but we'll meet at the awesome Farmer's Market in Encino, pick up a few fresh produce snacks, and then head over to the park for a relaxing afternoon in the sun. I can hardly wait. And the best part of the afternoon is that for all the fun to be had, it's an activity that doesn't cost a bunch of money so we'll be saving money for down payment! Hopefully I'll even remember to take my camera and get some fun new pics for the blog!

Now how did that Sesame Street Song used to go.... "One, Two, Three.... Four, Five, Six.... Seven, Eight, Nine... Ten, Eleven, Twelve... And they all had fun, at the Ladybug Picnic!"

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Weighing In

I'm sorry to inform you that I am not the Biggest Loser. But our contest finally ended at work yesterday and overall I lost 3.5 pounds. I'm pretty happy with my results. Congratulations to my co-worker Karen who won the contest losing 10 pounds in 10 weeks! But she does have a wedding to prepare for. Can you say "motivation"?! I've been enjoying my Bodybugg Armband that Don got me for Christmas. It measures your calories burned and then you go on the website and log in everything you eat so you can see whether you have a calorie surplus or defecit for the day. It definitely takes the guess work out of dieting. And the immediate feedback and visual results are pretty inspiring.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Christmas 2008


My awesome Christmas Brunch Strata! Delicious!


Don working on Christmas dinner.


Christmas Dinner: Balsamic glazed Rack of Lamb, Apricot Glazed Roasted Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Herb Stuffed Red Peppers, and Pumpkin Biscuits with Orange Honey Butter


My Beautiful Nieces - Amber and Emmi



Happy 31st Birthday to me!


Our adventures with Mr. Potato Head





Amber helping her Aunt Cindy with some exercises


Friday, January 02, 2009

A New Year

Happy New Year to everyone. Don and I had a great 2008. I think it is safe to say that it has been our best year yet. We got settled into life in California. Our careers have finally surpassed the entry/mid level and are both on a great path. Don was promoted yet again to an outside sales position and I landed my job with a great company that I plan to be with for a long time. My first management position! And we can't complain about the salaries we are making, not to mention all of the nice perks and bonuses that come with Don's job.

With the new jobs came our first major purchase as a couple – Don’s Mini Cooper. As an outside sales rep, the Ranger was no longer a practical car. Given the amount of time Don spends in his car all day, the high mileage, lack of a working air conditioner, and zero cab space were no longer working for him. As soon as I landed my new job and had stable income again, we started shopping for Don’s dream car – the Mini. It is no secret that Don and I have different values and opinions when it comes to cars, but we found some commonalities in the Mini that we could both get behind – good gas mileage, not too expensive, and retains value better than just about any other car I’ve seen on the market. And even though I made my limits clear, for the most part this was Don’s decision. This is his car and he earned it. I’m proud of him and what the car represents for all he’s worked towards. Every once in a while when we are driving along I catch myself thinking, I can’t believe this is our car and our life. How did we get so lucky?!
We've also reached a milestone in our financial strategy. Since we started our life together with a pretty significant amount of debt, our financial focus for the last five years has been tackling that debt. A couple of months ago we paid off the last of our credit card debt, some household items, and the last of our smaller student loans. I can't say that we are completely debt free as we still have a couple of long term low interest student loans. Technically we also have the car loan but Don's car bonus more than adequately covers that. This morning I dug into our old files and pulled out the debt schedule we put together when Don and I first got engaged and sat down together to determine our financial strategy. The total balance at the time nearly gave us a heart attack and we wondered how we would ever pay it off. But after five years of putting all of our surplus income to our debt, we've managed to pay off $56K in debt, cross eight out of the ten items off the list, on top of financing a new bed, laptop, refrigerator, and our $10K move to California.

Thinking back to the first several years of our marriage when we were just starting off with our low wage jobs making nearly a third of what we make now, I wonder how it was that we ever managed to carve out $1000 a month toward our debt. But we made it a priority and now, with our minimum monthly payments slashed down to less than 4% of our income, for the first time in our lives, our financial focus has shifted from paying off debt to saving and investing. Of course our first big investment we are working towards will be the purchase of our first home. It has taken us a long time to get to the place where we could start to think about being homeowners. We definitely wanted to free up our debts first and geographic stability has not exactly been a common thread for us. We have lived in 6 different apartments/houses in the last five years. But the timing has definitely worked out in our favor. Given the current market conditions, foreclosure crisis, and declining home values, by the time Don and I are finally ready to purchase in the next 6 to 12 months, housing prices will be at a record low and we will actually be able to afford a SoCal house in the Valley as a first time homebuyer.

The trick of course will be coming up with a down payment and closing costs which down here are considerably more expensive. We figure about $25K is a good number to shoot for though we may be able to make do with less. So we’ve got the fundraising thermometer on the fridge and we’re working on cutting back expenses and saving everything we possibly can. We started with $1000 and so far in the first week we’ve managed to save an additional $500! Don gets paid weekly which is great because we can continually stay focused and see the payoff in the short term. The biggest thing we did this year to help us reach our goal was move (once again!) a few blocks down the street to a significantly cheaper rental house. Not only are we saving an extra $700 a month cash, but the shared yard and nosy neighbors have helped us realize just how much we are ready to be in our own space with our own property and have no one to answer to but ourselves. By this time next year we will have a house of our very own!

And of course with the new year, there are always goals to continue to achieve better health. Our weight loss contest at work has been a lot of fun and good motivator to keep diet and exercise in check. Though I’m not going to win the contest by any means, I’ve built some stronger foundations that will carry through to the long term particularly when it comes to my diet. I’ve become for the first time in many years a breakfast eater. Turkey bacon is my new best friend. I’ve also all but eliminated fried fast foods from my diet (vacation excluded). Subway and Quiznos are my new best friend. And I’ve discovered that the best thing I can do to stay fit and healthy is make an effort to walk the dogs every morning. It’s a quick and easy 200 calories at the start of every day and then I can squeeze in other more intense workouts here and there, but at least this way I’m consistent.

I have the pleasure of starting off my new year with a four day weekend so I’m going to make the most of it of course by doing a major house cleaning, organizing, errands, and planning. To all of our family and friends, I wish you a safe, happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Love,
Cindy