<< Back to all Blogs
Login or Create your own free blog
Layout:
Home > Archive: July, 2011
 

Archive for July, 2011

Day five of diet & exercise

July 29th, 2011 at 01:35 pm

Well, I made it through four days of workouts -- now I get three days off! Last night I went to the pool on our roof and did laps for 30 minutes. It was really tiring -- my arms aren't used to that kind of exercise. When I got back my entire upper body was in pain. I even felt a little hot-cold, like I had chills and a slight fever! I took ibuprofen and put on warm PJs and felt better in an hour or two. Today I'm sore but not immobilized, thank goodness!

Last night we fended for ourselves for dinner. I found some dry refried beans mix and cooked that up, salvaged the good bits of the too-ripe avocados and made guacamole with that, found a quick-cooking brown rice packet and microwaved it, and served it all on corn tortillas with salsa.

This morning I had oatmeal with stevia and cinnamon, and for lunch more chili with vegan cheese on corn tortillas.

Considering I did very little planning for this first week of the diet, I'm doing well. The big bag of corn tortillas was an unexpected lifesaver. But except for breakfasts and the one day I had tabouli, all of my meals have been either Tex or Mex or soulfood/creole style, which can all seem a bit similar after awhile, delicious as they are. I could use some variety next week. I'm working on coming up with some Italian and Asian ideas to add variety.

I feel like I did really well both in diet and exercise these first 4.5 days, which really makes me not want to sabotage any progress I might have made...I'm going to try to be very good this weekend dietwise. Knowing I have to record my eating in a log will hopefully keep me on the straight and narrow for the most part!

Huzzah, hit the debt goal! plus some savings progress

July 28th, 2011 at 09:34 pm

First the savings: $25 went into the EF, so 2011 EF progress is $3357.78, total EF is $11869.73.

And AS's other student loan hit, with $60 going to principal. That means our July debt payment is $1943, surpassing our goal of $1900! I'm very excited this payment made it just under the wire, because sometimes it gets bumped to the next month. I have automatic debit so I don't control that.

I noticed (because I'm a dork) that the payment was 9 cents less than usual. I checked the interest rate, and it's gone down from 2.25% to 2%! Of course with only $610 left on the loan it doesn't make any difference, but it is kind of interesting because several of our loans have variable interest rates, so I wonder if any others will go down a bit.

Anyway, now that I've hit our July goal, I may set up August tomorrow, since I'll be busy all weekend.

Randomocity

July 28th, 2011 at 02:05 pm

Maybe it's because my brain's not weighed down with refined carbohydrates, but I feel like I've got all these random thoughts swirling around in my head that I feel like writing about, but none of them really go together. So, time for a random brain dump, I guess!

***

Day four of the new regimen is going pretty well. I had a 30-min. brisk walk home after work, and did 15 min. of resistance exercises (free weights, situps, squats, etc.) For dinner, I had quinoa-tempeh-veggie medley with corn on the cob and sweet potato fries.

This morning for breakfast I tried the oatmeal without the applesauce, adding stevia for sweetness instead, and the texture was much better. I like frugaltexan's idea of adding dried fruit; may try that next week.

For lunch I had some of the leftover quinoa-tempeh mix and some of the creole blackeye peas from earlier in the week.

Tonight for dinner we're going to have to wing it; we have plenty of food left from the cook-off party, so we'll be able to figure it out. I'm thinking big salad of some kind for myself.

I need to do a 30-40 min. endurance-level workout tonight, so I'm thinking I'll hit either the pool or the treadmill. Don't think I'll be keeping a very heavy pace for that long, but I guess "endurance level" is whatever you can take at whatever level of fitness you're at!

I'm feeling pretty good; very light and healthy but not too deprived. I just need to brainstorm some other meals when I get back from our trip this weekend, so I don't feel like I'm eating the same thing all the time.

***

I got an email from our real estate agent with some good news about our local market; sales were up and number of new homes on the market was down. It emboldened me to try and assess our condo's value.

The first place I tried was Homes.com, which gave an estimate of about $162,000. I was feeling pretty good because that's $2,000 more than I currently value it at. But then I checked Zillow.com, and felt like I'd been suckerpunched. $123,000, down $8,000 over the past 30 days!

I mean, either way we're not moving or anything. But with the threat of interest rates rising because of this debt-default idiocy in Washington, I would love to at least have a fighting chance to refi at some point (we have an ARM that we've been lucky with so far; right now it's at 3.5%, lower than our introductory rate). Right now we owe $168,000 If the condo were worth $162,000 we'd break even on our mortgage vs. home value in 14 months. At $123,000, we wouldn't break even for years!

So I'm proclaiming my results "inconclusive" since there was such a discrepancy, but I have a sinking feeling Zillow might be closer to the truth. I'll look into it again in a few months and see if either one has changed.

***

NT's renters in England are moving out and the rental management company has asked for permission to redecorate so they can attract new renters. When he wrote back to say hopefully it would only be painting and such, they wrote back to say that the carpets were in pretty bad shape and should be replaced. Well, as far as NT knows, his flat had all hardwood floors, and he wrote back to say so. Of course now I'm all suspicious that his management company might be incompetent and/or trying to shake us down for unnecessary repairs, but there's not much we can do about it! At least we don't depend on the rent for anything but mortgage payments, and we have enough in UK savings to cover that for a while if things go bad. But I do like having that extra money from the rental to put into EF/future house savings at the beginning of each month; it's always painful to spend it on repairs, new appliances, etc. instead.

***

The vegan-chef-in-our-home dinner party thing is progressing nicely! The chef sent us a huge list of menu items to choose from, and we've had 5 people RSVP yes, which means with us we've got 8 of the 10 minimum we need. Exciting news on the SA front -- one of the yesses is "kashi," whom some of you old-timers may remember for having a SavingAdvice blog! She lives in Mpls and is vegan, and we're Facebook friends but have never managed to meet. So this will hopefully work out and I'll get to meet my first (albeit inactive) SA blogger!

***

This upcoming trip is going to be strange. NT and I are traveling to Ohio with little AA to a family reunion for my dad's side of the family. The plane leaves at 6:30 tomorrow. The lightrail to the airport goes right by my and NT's office buildings, but he has to go pick up AA from daycare before we leave. So he's getting out of work early to do that. We think he should bring the carseat and I'll bring the luggage; shouldn't be too much for just two nights and two days, but with a small child, things seem to pile up.

We think we're going to wing it in terms of food for her; we'll bring crackers, milk and her favorite applesauce packet treats, but other than that we'll just get what we can from restaurants and stores along the way. She's usually pretty flexible, and doesn't always need a lot of food (her appetite varies wildly from day to day, which I hear is typical of toddlers). Actually it'll probably be harder to find food for me (a vegan trying out a wheat-free, rice-free diet) than for her (can't go wrong with bananas, cheese or crackers).

So NT will pick up AA from daycare, bring her back downtown, and we'll take the lightrail together. We called the hotel and they can provide a travel crib, so that's one less thing.

NT keeps asking what we're going to eat and do for two days in Strasburg, a town of about 2,000 people. I keep telling him, fast food and reunion. Oh, and the day before the reunion we'll be at a corn festival that my sister and her family attend every year; I'm sure it's great but I can't imagine it's going to take all day. I guess we'll probably do some sitting around in the hotel rooms together. Play cards and chat. It's only a day and a half, so we'll live. Smile I love my family, but the one and only reason I agreed to do this was to assuage my guilt and let my mom see AA; she's such a fiend for grandbabies and I know she's wistful that we don't live closer so she can see AA once in a while.

Meanwhile, AS decided to stay home this weekend. She is just really overloaded with obligations lately, both work and personal, and I think she'll benefit from a quiet weekend to herself. But it'll still be weird to be without her! We've been in different cities maybe a dozen times over the 14 years together. Separation is just not our thing. Smile

I don't think most of my extended family knows about my unusual relationship situation. I've brought AS to reunions before so I'm sure a lot of them just think I'm a lesbian, so it might confuse them a bit when I show up with a husband and child! I've decided not to worry about it; if someone asks the right sort of questions they might get to the truth, but otherwise I just won't say much about my personal life.

***

I guess that's all my random thoughts. Oh, I realize I need to sit down with our various credit cards now in use, and make sure I pay off all the balances. But I think I can do that tomorrow. I don't like to wait the whole month since I do to-the-penny budgeting; it gets too complicated. Doing it every couple weeks works out much better.

Even after the expensive cook-off party, we have about $480 of extra money for July. Since the end of the month is going to be too hectic to have a detailed meeting about it, I suggested we just take an extra $20 each to help with the irregular eating situation this weekend, and put the rest toward student loan debt. They both agreed, so that's what we'll do!

Day three of new regimen

July 27th, 2011 at 02:27 pm

Last night I tried jogging through the park on the way home, after briskly walking the first leg of my journey. I forgot what an instantly exhausting activity it is for the out-of-shape: I jogged until it hurt to take a breath and I was slightly dizzy feeling, checked my time -- 4 minutes had passed. 4 minutes! So I walked for a few minutes until I felt slightly back to normal, then forced myself to jog for a couple more minutes. The second I hit the hill that leads to home, I stopped and walked. Even that was an effort at that point. Good grief, that was sobering! I did have a semi-heavy backpack on, but even without it, I'm not sure how much longer I could've gone without a break.

Tonight's exercise is a resistance workout (I'm going to use free weights and also do squats, lunges, pushups etc.) I don't mind weight training; it can get kind of boring if I do it a lot but I haven't done it in months, so it'll be novel.

Last night's dinner was a success with everyone: broiled spicy tofu, creole-flavored blackeye peas, and a simple broccoli and cauliflower medley.

This morning I tried my oatmeal-applesauce-almond milk-cinnamon combo. The flavor was pretty good but I really couldn't get past the weird mushy texture; I think the applesauce did that. I think I'm going to take the applesauce home and bring in some no-calorie sweetener (stevia). That with the oatmeal, almond milk and cinnamon will hopefully be good.

Today for lunch I had more of the chili I made. This time I had a smaller portion and ate it over corn tortillas and vegan cheese, for a change. I have more for tomorrow; if I remember I'll bring diced onion in for another slight variation. I know I'm going to be eating similar things a lot, but I don't want to get bored too early in the game.

Tonight was supposed to be avocado-mango salad, but the mangoes had to be eaten earlier in the week because they were about to start going bad, and I'm afraid the avocado may have suffered the same fate. It felt awfully soft last night so I stuck it in the fridge. We'll cut them open and see if anything is salvageable, but I doubt it.

We're moving Thursday's meal to tonight: tempeh (another variation of soy) for me and NT, salmon for AS. We'll have sweet potato fries and some other kind of vegetable. We'd bought some Ore Ida frozen sweet potato fries with a double coupon, so we want to use those up. I checked the package and there is rice flour in the coating, but I don't think that's much of a cheat on my no-rice rule, as long as I don't do it often.

Not sure yet what we'll do for Thursday's meal; we'll have to look through the pantry tonight and figure it out.

Friday night, all day Saturday and most of Sunday NT and I will be in small-town Ohio for a family reunion, so I'll kind of be at the mercy of the limited options there. I will probably have to cheat all three days, though I'll try my best not to go crazy; I'd hate to have all my efforts so far be for naught. I am kind of fantasizing about getting hashbrowns and toast at the diner though. Wink

Progress on debt goal -- so close! + lots of regulars missing?

July 27th, 2011 at 08:05 am

One of AS's student loan payments hit, with $123 going to principal. That makes it $1883 down, $17 to go on the July goal! I'm rooting for her other student loan payment to process before I do my end-of-month wrap-up, because it would push us over the goal amount. I was thinking about it yesterday -- we have a family reunion this weekend and won't be back until late Sunday night, so I won't wrap up until Monday morning. That might mean the payment processes over the weekend and shows up in time!

For some reason when I was waking up this morning all dazed, it suddenly occurred to me that there are several regular SA bloggers who haven't written anything in a while, at least not that I can remember. Miclason, whitestripe, BA, ApprenticeBlissHunter ... are there others too? I hope they all check in soon! frugaltexan's been gone a while, but I know she's probably settling in at her new home and job.

Day two of food & exercise program

July 26th, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I don't think I'll write every day about this; it might get kind of tedious. But while it's new to me it's basically what's on my mind.

Yesterday I ate a banana with dabs of peanut butter for breakfast, tabouli (Mediterranean bulgur & parsley salad) for lunch, cherries for a snack, and veggie-bean fajitas for dinner (served on corn tortillas with avocado, salsa, lettuce, tomato and vegan cheese). I had a massive plate for dinner, and I felt very full at first, but the feeling didn't stick around for long. For exercise I walked home from work, about 30 minutes (I tried to pick up the pace from my usual stroll).

For breakfast today, I was stumped, so I had ...a banana. With a little bag of roasted peanuts that I picked up at the convenience store. Basically what I had yesterday. I realized I needed to figure out vegan, wheat-free, sweetener-free, potato-free breakfast options. Uhh ... finally NT and I figured something out together over lunch. I went to Target and got a box of quick oats, a carton of sugar-free almond milk, a jar of applesauce and a shaker of cinnamon. I'll try putting that together tomorrow and hope for the best!

Last night I made chili with beans and TVP (a soy product that can sub in for meat) for lunches. As I was smelling and tasting it, I kept picking up the TVP, which isn't good on its own. I finally gave up and left it in the pot on the counter overnight and today at lunch, it smelled and tasted really good! The flavor finally soaked into the TVP.

Tonight we're having blackened tofu, blackeye peas and some kind of veggie (we have a ton to choose from after our cook-off).

For exercise today, I need to do something at an "endurance" pace, according to the little guide I'm following. I wasn't sure I'd have time to work out when I got home, so I brought sneakers and workout clothes in a backpack to work. I'll change into that, put my purse and other clothes in the backpack, and walk home, except as soon as I'm clear of the crowds, I'll jog the rest of the way. (The last half mile or so is through a park-like walkway and then a park, so much easier to move quickly than when I keep hitting stoplights and throngs of commuters.)

AS and I are trying to figure out a way to bike to work. We take AA to daycare in the jogging stroller, which NT then attaches to his bike when he picks her up at night. There seem to be two main options:

- We discovered a "NiceRide" station near daycare. You can rent bikes and drop them off at another station. So if we found stations near our jobs, we could do that. There's also a station right near our condo, so we could pick up another bike for the evening commute home. It's $5 for unlimited rides in a 24-hour period or $60 for the whole season, and if you turn in your bike within 30 minutes, no additional charges. Otherwise, you get charged by the hour for however long you have the bike out.

- NT and I were also discussing the possibility of getting a second stroller attachment and adding it to my or AS's bike. He reckoned it would cost about $30 and we'd probably have to special-order it at the bike store or online. (We would want to test-ride his bike with the stroller attached to make sure we could do it. NT is a much more practiced cyclist than either me or AS.) That way we could bike to daycare, detach the stroller, then ride to work on our own bikes. NT could pick up AA after work as usual.

Either way, so much logistical stuff to figure out. Might be worth it in the end, though, if it helps us get more exercise this summer and fall.

New diet and exercise plan starts today

July 25th, 2011 at 02:49 pm

I weighed in last night and had gained nearly 3 lbs. -- back up to 153. Sigh. That's OK; I didn't binge or anything this past week, but I definitely didn't limit myself or watch my eating very closely. I knew I was going to try and be very disciplined very soon, so I was getting my kicks while I could.

Regular exercise and very healthy eating are something I always struggle with. Especially the exercise. I'm trying to go into this new chapter with confidence, but I also have a fair amount of skepticism since I always tend to fall off the wagon sooner or later. I now have 14 lbs. to lose before I get to my desired weight, so if I stuck to the diet really well and lost 2 lbs. per week, that would be 7 weeks. I think I can do this for that long, at least. And maybe some of the healthy habits will stick around longer than that.

Since Google Docs is such a good way to control my spending and organize other aspects of my life, I'm turning to it for this new challenge as well. I set up a spreadsheet with two tabs: one for workouts and one for food. I don't know if this will turn out, but here are screen shots:


Basically, on the workout log I'll create goals for each day and then on the next line I'll say what I actually did that day. The food log doesn't have goals because my goals are always the same: to not eat wheat, white rice, white potatoes, chips, beer, or sugar/high-calorie sweeteners. So for the food log I'll just write what I ate at each meal. Not going to try for calorie counts, but I may go into more detail if it seems to call for it.

Today I only have to do a moderate workout, so I'm going to count walking home. The next few days I'll have to do something more athletic. I may bring jogging clothes to work and try to jog through the park on the way home? Or go for bike rides after work, or go use the treadmill in the other condo building's exercise room. We'll see.

I gave myself Friday, Saturday and Sunday off because I'm going to Ohio for a family reunion. Most weeks I hope to not take three days off in a row.

Small addition to EF plus foodie adventures

July 25th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Put another $20 into the EF as part of NT paying for his parents' gifts, so that brings 2011 progress to $3332.78 and the total EF to $11,844.73.

Totaled up the spending for our cook-off party; it came to $216.69. I'm glad we're paying for this with extra income so it doesn't have to come out of our budget! About $25 was for small gifts for the contestants, $75 for drinks (including four bottles of wine for the contestants and the $20 bottle of amaretto liqueur, which will come in handy at a future party, I'm sure). The other $116 was groceries; much of it was left over. The fresh stuff we'll try to use up this week; the nonperishable staples will all come in handy down the line (I think we bought all things we would cook with ourselves).

As we were wrapping up planning for this party, AS got a message from a Facebook friend. He has a friend who's a vegan chef, and sometimes he does dinner parties in people's homes. Turns out he's coming to Minneapolis for a few days. He asks for about $20 per person and cooks a seven-course all-vegan meal (including cocktails) right in your kitchen! We thought this sounded like such a unique opportunity, so we signed up with him. He requires at least 10 people in order to make it worthwhile, so we have to find 7 or more friends to go in on it. I don't think it'll be too hard; even though we don't know many vegans, we know lots of vegetarians, and besides, how could you beat $20 for a 7-course meal plus drinks?

We're still waiting for final confirmation from him, but if it happens, it'll be Saturday Aug. 6. It would be so great! This has been a whirlwind of a summer; I'm so glad I have this blog because I think it'll all be a blur in the fall. If I wonder what I did all summer, I just have to look back here. Smile

Cook-off party!

July 24th, 2011 at 07:08 pm

As promised, a wrap-up of our cooking party, which was FABulous!

We asked four of our friends to be contestants. They cooked one at a time. We provided a bunch of ingredients they could all cook with, including a table laden with vegetables, but they each had a mystery bag that included three mystery ingredients. Once they looked at the ingredients and had a couple minutes to think about it, we started a timer for 40 minutes. (They were allowed to finish up the last couple things for a couple minutes after; we were much more lenient than the show we based this on.)

The first person had grass jelly juice (a drink we found in the Vietnamese grocery store), refrigerated crescent rolls and mushy peas (a standard British veggie).


He decided to make an Indian-spiced mixture with the peas and roll them up in the crescent rolls.


Then he served them with a dipping sauce that incorporated the grass jelly drink.


The next contestant had amaretto liqueur, fruit strip snacks and wasabi roasted peas.


He made a pesto pasta with amaretto and wasabi peas in the sauce, and a gazpacho soup sweetened with fruit strips.



The third person got nori (seaweed) sheets, tomatillos and Diet Cherry Coke.


She made sushi (using Minute Rice!):


She incorporated the tomatillos into the rice and Diet Cherry Coke into the dipping sauce.


The last contestant's mystery ingredients were frozen shelled edamame, BBQ Pringles and HP Sauce (a British condiment similar to steak sauce).


She put the edamame in a vegetable salad with a creamy onion dressing, and made a dip that used the HP sauce to dip the Pringles in. She also made crostini for dipping.



Although we knew our friends liked to cook, I thought the mystery ingredients would be way too hard, but they did an amazing job! Everything tasted and looked great. We had the rest of the guests rank their favorites in taste, presentation, creativity and overall favorite and handed out presents. As it happened there was pretty much one winner in each category (well, two people more or less tied for Taste, but one of them won the Overall category, so I gave the Taste prize to the other one). We awarded kitchen gadgets for each category and also gave each contestant a bottle of wine.

Not a frugal party, although we'll be able to incorporate the unused ingredients into our menu for the next week. But it was SO much fun! I'm really pleased that our friends stepped up to the plate. A couple of them said they were surprisingly nervous beforehand and that the clock was nerve-wracking, but that it was kind of a rush to figure out something delicious and make it.

Small addition to EF; AS net worth progress; other ramblings

July 21st, 2011 at 02:24 pm

$20 went into the EF as part of NT's slowly paying off his recent gifts to family. That brings our 2011 progress to $3312.78 and our total EF to $11,824.73.

I just realized I never calculated individual net worth after I did our collective net worth statement earlier this week. I'll do that now and add to this entry; I'm eager to see how close AS is to positive net worth!

UPDATE: Great progress this month! AS's negative net worth decreased by $1216; her net worth is now just negative $1400! Another month or two and she should be in the black.

The heat wave finally broke here in Minneapolis! It's now in the 80s and feels marvelous compared with the "95 feels like 115" type days we've been having here. This was the worst heat wave I've seen in my 13+ years here, I think.

Our party is coming up fast and we have lots of planning to do! At least, since we announced it on such short notice, our guest list looks small. That means fewer canapes and drinks to prepare or buy. Usually I like bigger parties but I'll be just as glad to have just a handful of people over, since this cooking-contest thing is totally new to us and we don't actually know how hard it's going to be to pull off! NT and I walked through the farmer's market and Target today and brainstormed potential mystery ingredients.

The day after the party, my new food and exercise regimen begins. The menu creation for this next week might be a bit harder than usual, since I'm taking many of the staples of our diet off my plate. I really hope these changes help kickstart my weight loss. And that I don't feel totally deprived. We shall see!

Productive day (just not for my job!) + one more freebie from Chase?

July 19th, 2011 at 11:06 am

Today has been pretty slow at work, which has been great because I had a ton of stuff to do that's not work-related!

- Canceled AS's old Visa card she never uses (the annual fee [which we always weaseled out of anyway] was going up to $55 per year, so it motivated us to get rid of it)
- Paid AS's dental bill ($580 -- yikes, but the good news is we have a medical fund, plus this helps her get to the 2nd set of Chase Sapphire rewards points more quickly)
- Called my doctor to resolve an unanswered question from my annual checkup
- Did some MySurvey and MyPoints things
- Researched NT's and my new Amex card. It has a $75 fee but offers 6% back on groceries! I just want to make sure one or both of our main grocery stores we shop at qualifies. (It looks like Rainbow, the big chain we use, will qualify. The natural foods co-op may not, but I found a link to a story where some woman pressured them to add her local natural foods store and succeeded, so hopefully we can do the same.) Even if only one of our stores qualifies, we should be able to net $75 per year minimum after the $75 annual fee--and there's a $100 bonus that will offset the first year's fee!

Looks like I may delay closing our Chase accounts a bit longer. Yesterday we got a voucher in the mail for one free night at a new hotel, courtesy of our Chase Freedom card. We checked and there are two of the hotels in our area. I believe the offer will turn out to be for double occupancy only, but even so we'll probably take advantage; hotels are fun! I was thinking two of us could have a date night away at one of the areas -- probably AS and NT; it's been awhile since they had some time for just the two of them.

I saw some interest in the cooking-competition party I posted about yesterday, so I'll try to take pictures and give a detailed description of it once it happens! I've never done anything quite like this, so I'm not really sure how it will turn out. But it's very informal and all in good fun, so I think it'll be a nice change from the usual cocktail party.

Downgraded cable + got Chase Sapphire points + diet & exercise plan

July 18th, 2011 at 02:18 pm

I really should blog more often; as it is, I store up topics and end up with these long titles and rambling posts. But anyway, here goes another one. Smile

I called Comcast today and got them to downgrade our cable TV. We lost all channels 100 and up. Still got DVR, and 90% of our favorite shows are in the lower channels, so it shouldn't be too hard an adjustment.

Last week when I was just making exploratory calls, the phone person had a 3-month internet discount to offer me. I was pretty sure I was going to go back and get the Blast upgrade for a 12-month discount, so I turned it down. Today when I asked if there were any deals, the customer service guy had nothing! So weird and annoying -- I guess all the deals dried up the day after I called/chatted.

On a brighter note, I checked my Sapphire account last night and my 50,000 points were showing up! Actually 54,000, so I ordered a $540 check right away. As soon as I receive it, deposit it and confirm that the money has gone into my account, I get to write my cranky email to them letting them know they lost a customer! Big Grin

It looks like we'll have over $1000 of extra money this month. I suggested we use some of it for a party we're hosting this Sunday; we devised a cooking contest where four of our friends will compete against each other and the other guests will taste their food and vote for their favorite. We'll be providing ingredients and we have to provide a fairly large range, as well as some prizes for the winners (bottles of wine and/or cooking supplies, probably) and participants. We should still have a fair amount of money left over for extra debt repayment! This party really will be my last day before I start my new eating plan.

Speaking of that, I found a PDF of helpful suggestions for getting started on improving diet and increasing exercise on my work computer. NT sent it to me years ago and I saved it to my desktop but never got around to reading it. Today I did, and it had some pretty helpful hints, as well as a log that you could use to track eating and activity. Well, I don't want to carry around a hard-copy log, but I saved the PDF to Google Docs so I could refer to it from anywhere, and I plan to start an Excel log that mirrors their suggested log.

July 2011 net worth update

July 18th, 2011 at 01:37 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,753 pounds ($27,506)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $13,465
NT's Roth IRA: $3,576
AS's 401(k): $5,884
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $4,636
CJ's 401(k): $41,711
CJ's Roth IRA: $3,576
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $11,805
---
Total Assets: $573,269

Total Debt: $337,834

Current Estimated Net Worth: $235,435

June 2011 estimate: $229,941

Change in net worth: +$5,494

Summary: A fun month to record! All our retirement accounts increased in value and we paid off a ton of debt. If we have three more months like that, we could hit the quarter-million mark!

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out per person.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are fairly conservative. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update (unless I happen to get some info by chance). UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.60 per British pound.

Thoughts on telecom savings, weight loss efforts

July 17th, 2011 at 03:23 pm

Boy, I'm getting sick of companies going back on their word.

On Thursday night, I was online-chatting with Comcast customer service, looking for cheaper options for our cable and internet. They offered me an upgrade on cable with an introductory rate $15 lower than what we pay for our current internet.

I wanted to talk it over with my family and make sure it was a good deal, and we decided it was; we could always switch back to regular-speed internet before the introductory period ended.

But when I went back onto Comcast chat today, that customer service person made me wait about 20 minutes online before telling me that the offer was no longer available. Less than 3 days later, no longer available. Ugh. I closed out of the chat immediately, I was so disgusted. Probably should've stuck around to see if they had a different offer, but oh well.

We still have other easy cost-saving ideas. We're currently enrolled in cable the next step up from basic. Getting rid of that will save us nearly $20. We'll still have our DVR and all channels below 100, so we're only losing about 4 shows we love, and we can look into other ways of seeing those. Then in September when Netflix is going to split their service, we'll cut back to just streaming movies; instead of our bill going up about $6.50, it'll go down by about $2.

So we'll still reduce our costs by $22; not as nice as $37, but better than nothing.

When I call Comcast tomorrow to downgrade our cable, I"m first going to ask if they have any internet deals. I thought the last person I talked to said something about a 3-month discount; any little bit is great in my opinion.

I'm going to set $10 per month aside in case we want to get some of our shows we're losing on demand, but the other $12 I can roll into debt repayment. Nice!

***

I'm getting impatient with myself over my weight. I can't seem to get motivated to take off these last 10-12 lbs. of baby weight. I've been trying to do it naturally, but I'm thinking a more structured plan might work better for me.

So I've been mulling over what changes might bring the biggest results, and this is what I came up with. I want to cut out these foods and ingredients:
-Bread products
-Chips of all kinds
-Pasta
-Flour and other wheat products (including my favorite, mock duck)
-White rice
-White potatoes
-High-calorie sweeteners like sugar, honey and high fructose corn syrup
-Beer (I don't have it often, but I see the difference when I do!)

If I stay away from this list, I think I should be able to lose weight pretty quickly. My goal will be to get under 140 lbs; at that point, I would start reintroducing these foods if I wanted to. I'm pretty good at maintaining weight naturally without much extra effort; it's just losing that I have trouble with.

I think I'd have a better chance of succeeding if I allowed myself one cheat day per week, so I'll start that way and see how it goes. (I'm also not going to count vacation and travel days and parties, just regular eating days.)

We just bought groceries for the week and already have meals planned, so I'm going to start next week. Last night I had tofu dogs (on buns) and fries, and chips and salsa, and this morning I had hash browns and toast for breakfast, and a big sandwich on sourdough for lunch! Tonight, risotto (arborio rice counts as white rice, I'd say). So I'm getting my kicks, and you can also see why I think cutting these things out of my diet will help me lose weight--my diet is riddled with this kind of stuff! LOL.

This week will not only be my last hurrah -- until I either give up or lose the weight -- but it will give me time to research meal options. I lean on bread and pasta and potatoes and white rice a LOT. I'm not sure I'll be able to come up with things that AS will go for, and I doubt NT could give up his bread or desserts, so I may be going this mostly alone. But I think I can do it. I noticed the carrot-craisin-walnut salad we made today to go with the sandwiches accidentally fit my new diet requirements, and it's one of my favorite salads. So I know the meals are out there; I just have to figure out what fits.

Big debt payment

July 15th, 2011 at 10:26 am

An extra payment to one of NT's student loans hit, with $966 going to principal! That makes our July progress $1760 down, $140 to go to reach our goal.

Unfortunately I have a bad feeling about this; since the last two days of the month are a Saturday and a Sunday, I don't think both of AS's student loan payments will hit her accounts in time to meet our goal. But oh well. Just a scheduling glitch. Hopefully at least one of the payments will get there and we'll get a bit closer to our goal for the month.

Savings progress + thinking about media savings

July 14th, 2011 at 03:32 pm

$25 went into the EF, as well as 51 cents of interest. That brings 2011 EF progress to $3292.78 ($11,804.73 in the EF total). Nearing the halfway mark on my goal of raising $7000 for the EF this year!

I'm so glad I save up medical money separately. Last month our kitty Noodles needed about $250 of medical treatment; this month we got a $500+ bill for AS's root canal. It hurts to take that money out of savings, but not as much as if I counted my medical savings in my emergency fund!

NT and AS have proven willing to at least discuss cheaper options to cable and Netflix, since cable raised our rate recently and Netflix is planning to in September. We've talked about renting movies from Redbox and the library, getting an alternate device that streams content from the internet, etc. I haven't seen a clear way to save a lot of money and still get the entertainment we like best, but we'll keep working on it. The biggies for us are BBC shows such as Dr. Who and Torchwood (though Torchwood this season is on Starz, which we don't get anyway). We'll see if there are ways to stream them online when they come out; otherwise, we could wait and buy/rent the DVDs once those are available, but as a Brit NT would be dying inside if he knew there are new Dr. Who episodes and had to wait months to see them!

I did get an offer to upgrade our internet for $15 less per month -- for 12 months. After that, it would be about $15 more than what we pay now. I guess we could downgrade after the year is up, or look for other promo offers...haven't decided on that yet.

Anyway, we're not going to be hasty, but I'm glad we're looking at options. I got cable/internet and Netflix at what I considered fair prices, but I don't like to see them going up incrementally, when income has pretty much stagnated.

Charitable donations + credit card progress + retirement calculations

July 13th, 2011 at 11:19 am

I haven't been noting individual charitable contributions, but we've donated $910 total for the year, just passing the halfway mark on our 2011 goal! Having it as a regular budget item is great because it ensures we remember to donate. We have several recurring monthly donations set up as part of it; the rest is a random budget item that we can donate to causes that get our attention along the way. We each get $50 a month total to allocate as we please, whether it's through recurring monthly payments to a charity or one-time gifts.

***

Thought I'd give an update on my credit card situation:
- I haven't received the 50,000 points for spending $3000 on my Chase Sapphire card. I assume they update the points total monthly, since it hasn't increased in weeks. Hopefully by next week I'll have my points and can request my check, at which point I can instruct customer service to close my accounts. I'll explain why again; we'll see if they make any attempt to salvage our relationship.
- AS still has a couple hundred to spend before she hits $3000 on her Chase Sapphire and receives her second 50,000 points, so it may take longer to cancel her Chase account.
- AS and I got approved for a Citi MasterCard that will give us a $150 bonus for spending $500 in the first 90 days. Easy peasy. There's also a regular rewards program for purchases. We should receive the card within a week.
- Haven't heard whether NT and I were approved for an Amex card that will come with a $100 bonus yet. Should hear in a week or two.
- I decided to keep my Discover card open for now since it has the same rewards program as the Chase Freedom I'm going to cancel. I added NT to the account in case I end up keeping it. If I get the Amex I may cancel Discover, but we'll see.

***

We had our annual meeting with Prudential, my company's 401(k) provider. Mostly kiddie stuff in the presentation, but I did learn that 7% is considered a fairly safe assumption for how your retirement savings will grow over time. It used to be 10% but the Dept. of Labor made companies like Prudential revise it downward in recent years, after so much volatility in the markets.

I've only ever had 401(k)s during volatile times. I got my first real account shortly before the tech bubble burst, and a foolhardy co-worker had just convinced me to put 90% of my 401(k) into a brand-new, high-risk tech stock fund that had been going gangbusters. Needless to say my meager account was decimated. Smile I've also seen my account buffeted by the recent real estate bubble burst and the Great Recession. So if a retirement calculator gives me the option to choose a growth percentage, I usually pick 4% or 5%, and the results are that we're seriously underfunding with our contributions. But estimate 7% and it's a whole different story.

I ran the calculator on Prudential's website after the meeting and was pleased to see it predict we would have a $220 surplus every month in retirement. Now granted that's if we all work until I'm 70 (I rolled all our stats into one profile) and contribute the same amount we do now the whole time. So we could do better, in case we want/need to stop working before then (or our salaries drop from where they are now). But it's good to know we're on basically the right track.

Savings progress

July 11th, 2011 at 03:22 pm

I moved $20 more into the EF; as I was doing it, I realized my spreadsheet amount didn't match what's in the account itself. I was $25 short on the spreadsheet. I thought I recorded every deposit recently, but I'm also $25 short on my sidebar here. So I must have not followed through after blogging about my savings.

So that means $45 of progress from where I said I was here; that makes $3267.27 of 2011 progress; $11,779.22 total in the EF.

Credit cards I'm considering

July 7th, 2011 at 11:04 am

I've obtained credit reports for all three of us to make sure I know all the accounts we have open, and I intend to close them all:

A Sears card we all three hold jointly
An American Express card I never use
A Discover card I never use
A Visa card AS never uses

And eventually, once I get all our rewards points and cash:
My Chase Sapphire
AS's Chase Sapphire
A Chase Visa that AS and I hold jointly
A Chase Visa that NT and I hold jointly

I found some cards I want to apply for. There aren't any more crazy $500 bonus cards available at present, but there are some pretty good rewards cards, and they're ones I wouldn't mind holding onto if I don't see better offers coming along soon after them:

American Express Blue Cash Preferred: Has a $75 annual fee, but offers 6% cash back on grocery purchases! So I'd easily earn more than that back. Plus you can get a $100 bonus for opening a card if you spend at least $500 in the first 60 days.

Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard: No annual fee, $150 cash back if you spend $500 in the first three months, 1% rewards on regular purchases and 5% rewards on certain purchases (categories change).

Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards MasterCard: 1% rewards on most purchases, 2% on groceries. Haven't found a good intro bonus, but this might be a good workaday one to replace my Chase Visa that I use all the time. Though the Citi one might do the trick.

I've already canceled my existing American Express and requested Discover cancel that account. I'm trying to cancel the Sears card but have been getting a busy signal for hours. Isn't that weird? Oh, and I realized Citi handles Sears cards, so it's making me wary of opening a Citi card, if they can't even staff their phones... (UPDATE: Just got an email from the facilities manager that our company's phones are having trouble dialing 800 numbers, so it isn't Citi's fault.)

I used Credit Karma to get an approximation of our credit scores, to see how much effect having old cards has. AS got an A on longevity of open accounts, while I got a C and NT got a D. Our credit scores?
AS: 781
CJ: 784
NT: 766
So as MonkeyMama said, doesn't seem to have much effect at all. We're all in the "Excellent" range and in the high 80s to low 90s percentile-wise.

How Chase lost a customer (long and mostly verbatim)

July 6th, 2011 at 05:14 pm

As some of you know, I applied for and got the Chase Sapphire card with the 50,000 bonus if you spend $3000 in 3 months. AS also applied for and got one.

When I heard there was an even better offer for 100,000 points that you could get upgraded to by emailing customer service, we both did that. AS immediately got her extra 50,000 points (which we redeemed for $500!), but I got the following email:

"As per the offer on your account, you will receive 50,000 Chase Sapphire bonus points after spending $3,000.00 in purchases within 93 days of account open date. These points will post to your account within one to two billing cycles.

"I feel that every relationship is based on mutual trust and support, including one between a bank and a customer. I would like to inform you that, once you have spend $3000.00 within the first 93 days, you will need to re-sumbit your request for the additional 50,000 points, however, make sure that it is within the first 93 days and we will be happy to have the additional 50,000 points added to your account."

I thought, great, no problem! I wrote a very nice thank-you note.

A couple weeks later I had gotten up to $3000 of spending, so as this email had instructed, I resubmitted my request:


"I'm happy to report that I've spent my first $3000 on my new credit card. Per the attached message, I would like to request an additional 50,000 as well as the 50,000 that were part of my original account offer. The customer service representative promised that I could have the additional points but only if I resubmitted my request after spending $3000.

"Thank you very much for your generosity and understanding in granting this request."

To my disappointment I got the following note:

"I am glad to know that yo have fulfilled the first use requirement of using the card for $3000.00 within 93 days of opening the account. The first use 50,000 points will post within one to two billing cycles.

"In order to view and redeem your rewards information online, please click on "Rewards Details" located in the bottom left corner of the Account Details page. After viewing current reward information, you may also click on "See Rewards History" for more information or "Redeem Rewards" to complete a redemption request.

"The offer for 100,000 points was an acquisition test offer only and was sent to a select customers through direct mail. Regretfully, this is a non transferable offer. I apologize for any miscommunication in this regard."

Naturally, since this seemed like a direct contradiction of their earlier communication, I fired back another message to make sure they understood what I'd been promised:

"I'm very disappointed at this unexpected change of heart. As a long-term and loyal Chase customer with several active accounts, I would be very disillusioned if what I was told isn't followed through on. I quote the previous customer service representative's email:

"'I feel that every relationship is based on mutual trust and support, including one between a bank and a customer. I would like to inform you that, once you have spend $3000.00 within the first 93 days, you will need to re-sumbit your request for the additional 50,000 points, however, make sure that it is within the first 93 days and we will be happy to have the additional 50,000 points added to your account.'

"In light of this explicit promise and of the long relationship I have with Chase, I hope you will reconsider and grant me the additional points after all."

I soon got another email:

"I sincerely apologize about any miscommunication caused due to the bonus offer points on your Chase Sapphire account.

"The 100,000 point enrollment bonus offer was sent to a select group that have no previous Chase Sapphire
accounts. We do not transfer promotional offers that a customer may have seen or heard about to their account. We only honor promotional offers that customers actually apply for.

"We are sympathetic with your position, however we must be consistent in applying the terms of our contract. To make exceptions would not be equitable to our other Cardmembers. We hope, therefore, that you can understand our position."

Now this just annoyed me more, since I knew very well they'd been handing out points to people who hadn't applied for that specific offer. So I wrote another message:

"Thanks for your quick response. However, I actually have a friend who is a cardmember and had the same agreement as me, and she was given the extra 50,000. So to say it wouldn't be equitable to not give me the extra points doesn't make sense.

"I'm afraid if you go back on your word, I'm going to have to reconsider being a Chase customer and will have to look around at other credit card companies. Knowing someone else who got the points, and having that past promise in writing from another customer service representative, it seems unconscionable that you would now tell me I don't get the extra points."

I got a quick response that I found slightly promising:

"I have forwarded your message to the appropriate department for review and you should receive a response within one business day.

"If you require immediate assistance, please contact the number listed below and either myself, or one of my colleagues will be able to assist you. For your
convenience, we are available to assist you 24 hours a
day."

So I waited a day and then got one more message from them:

"Unfortunately, we are unable to comment on actions taken on other cardmember accounts.

"As indicated in our previous e-mail response, the 100,000 enrollment bonus offer was sent to a select number of people who had no previous Chase Sapphire account. The offer is by invitation only and can not be applied to anyone who was not solicited for this promotional offer.

"Unless you can provide an invitation and offer code that sent specifically to you, we are considering this issue closed. I regret any inconvenience this may cause you.

"If you have any further questions, please reply using the Secure Message Center."

Sigh. So now, they've ticked me off enough that I'm not only going to cancel the rewards card (after I get my 50,000, heh heh), but I'm also going to cancel all our other Chase cards (AS's reward card after she gets her second 50,000, plus the one NT and I use all the time, and another one AS and I hold jointly that we hardly ever use).

I wouldn't have minded if they'd said "no" at the outset. But to say one thing and then not honor it, whether or not the original representative made a bad decision promising that ... I can't really do business with a company that would do that, and that would stick to that in light of my threatening to take my business elsewhere.

So ... I've been looking around, and I think I know what cards I'm going to apply for. (I'll talk about that in more detail in a later post.) But first I'm going to look through our records and cancel some other extraneous non-Chase cards I've been too lazy to handle, just to do some housecleaning. Then I'll apply for new cards and, once we get approved and Chase finishes sending us the rewards checks, I'll cancel all our Chase accounts.

Maybe they won't care; after all, I'm a "deadbeat" in credit-card-company parliance. I don't pay annual fees or late fees, and I no longer pay interest since I paid off our credit cards about 8 months ago. And I'm just one customer (albeit with 4 accounts total). But I'll be glad to see them go; I know credit card companies are just heartless corporations, but lying to a customer to their face when they have something in writing is just bad form.

Lost some of the weight (again) plus fun weekend recap

July 5th, 2011 at 03:04 pm

Weighed myself Sunday and was down to 150 again! Woo hoo! I've plateaued for a few weeks so was glad to see a bit of progress. It won't feel like real progress unless I get under 149, since I already hit that weight once this year, but I'll take what I can get.

I was glad it's paid off to eat tons of veggies and fruits. Even for a vegan I've felt like I'm eating a lot of them.

The weekend was way fun and food-oriented. I had Friday off and kept AA home with me. We went to meet NT at his job for a couple hours, then back home. We needed NT to hit the grocery store for our planned dinner but temps were in the high 90s, so I made the first course (tofu spring rolls) and that tided us over until the temps dropped to a reasonable level for him to walk to the store. Then I made a very tasty pad thai. We had some beer and wine, watched TV and played video games. Nice mellow night.

Saturday AA and I played for several hours in the morning, reading, playing music, dancing. NT and I went grocery shopping and saved nearly $50 in coupons and sales. Lunch was super easy Asian lettuce wraps with a sugar snap pea salad NT had made up earlier. Oh, and we ate the first Rainier cherries of the season! They haven't hit their peak yet but they're already delicious. For dinner, NT grilled veggie burgers, garlic scapes, zucchini and cauliflower on the balcony, and I made kale chips in the oven. Later that night, I went out with some friends to a drag-queen show. It was so much fun! I got home late, thought I'd unwind in front of the TV for a couple minutes before I went to bed -- and woke up at quarter to 6 on the couch! LOL. Went to bed and slept a few more hours.

Sunday I had some tummy troubles and took it really easy, mostly just lazing around reading. NT went on a long bike ride with friends and AS got caught up on some work. NT made lunch of fresh spinach and sundried tomato pasta, and for dinner we went out to one of our favorite pizza places (it's a huge plus that they have vegan cheese options). AA was really good, and for the first time we accepted their offer of a colorable kids' menu and crayons. She's working on some fine motor skills at the moment, including trying to learn how to color, brush her hair and put on her own clothes. (She's not very good at any of them yet, but she's just begun.) We walked home from the restaurant, about 15 long blocks.

Monday we had pancakes for breakfast, then headed out on our bikes (NT towed AA in one of those attached chariot things). We met up with a friend, biked over to a grocery store to pick up deli stuff, then rode to a nearby lake with a beach. We ate in the shade and then NT and our friend took AA into the water. She freaked at first, but once she got used to it she didn't want to get out! Then she just wandered around the lakeside for about half an hour. When she started to get cranky, we headed for home, and she fell asleep in the chariot almost immediately. We stopped at a neighborhood ice cream shop and she slept the whole time we were there.

We were thinking about heading out to NT's work where there's a perfect view of the downtown fireworks from their 33rd floor balcony. But the fireworks weren't starting until 10 and we were tired out. We can see lots of displays dotted on the horizon from our 18th floor balcony at home, so NT watched that. We get an even better fireworks show in a couple weeks during the Minneapolis festival called the Aquatennial, so we'll probably go watch those from his job's balcony.

Oh, and I booked a trip to Ohio at the end of June for my family reunion. While she was visiting last month, my sister convinced me to consider going by saying Dad would pay for the trip. When he heard there was a chance I'd come he called to tell me the same thing. AS didn't want to go this year, so it's just me, NT and AA. NT hasn't been to one yet so I'm glad he'll get to experience it. And of course my mom has only see AA in person one other time (when she was 4 months old), so that's the real reason for the trip. It came to over $1000 for the two plane tickets and two nights in a hotel. Yikes! Because we needed such specific timing on our plane tickets, they cost over $400 apiece. But my dad didn't seem to mind. He's a frugal guy but doesn't think twice about shelling out money for certain things, especially where his wife and kids are concerned.

So let's see, I went to San Fran in March, New York in June, going to Ohio in July, doing an overnight trip to Memphis in early August for work, and doing a plane/train combo trip to St. Louis and then Chicago at the end of August. I usually average two trips a year, so five trips in six months is unprecedented for me! AS is going to NY again in September for work, so if you count all travel for our family, that'll make six trips in seven months! (If three of them weren't being paid for by others, it just wouldn't be possible!) Only some will be really fun, but I kind of dig traveling even if it's just for work or family obligations, so I don't mind.

Quick entry: progress on savings etc.

July 2nd, 2011 at 03:35 pm

Just a quick note that I added $15 to savings, bringing EF progress to $3222.27 for the year ($11,734.22 total EF).

Also, AS's extra Chase bonus came in the mail: $500! If we're lucky we'll get $1500 more from Chase over the next month or two; if not, we'll at least get $1000.

I can't believe I'm contemplating this when we've just had a trip in June and have two lined up for August, but I may fly to Ohio (courtesy of my dad) for a family reunion at the end of June. If so, that will bring us closer to spending the necessary amount on the Chase cards, and it won't even be our money because my dad will reimburse me. NT is considering going with me, but AS has too much work (plus she's been to a couple of my family reunions, whereas NT has never been).

Progress on July goal + good news on our mortgage + holiday weekend plans

July 1st, 2011 at 09:04 am

First off, thank you for all the advice on my last entry. I think I'll stay the course, keeping us to a few fund-type accounts per person but not putting all our eggs in one basket. That means I'm still going to look at a mutual fund to stash some of our EF money, so that it's potentially earning more money but still fairly liquid.

All our mortgages hit, and a bit more went to principal than expected (only a few bucks more, but I'll take it!):

US: $416 to principal
UK1: $263
UK2: $56
UK3: $59

All told, that's $794 down, $1106 to go on the July debt repayment goal.

Also, added $549.64 to the UK savings account, taking 2011 EF progress to $3207.27 (and the total EF to $11,719.22). It would have been a bit more but NT bought his parents b-day gifts using his UK checking; he's going to make up for it by paying $75 into US savings in installments over the next 4 weeks. So the EF will see some more progress over the course of the month.

Also, got a letter from our mortgage company yesterday with a check for $154.78; apparently our escrow account had more money than necessary! Per our new household arrangement we conferred about what to do with it; we threw around some different ideas. Right now we're putting it aside until we decide for sure. It may go toward more eco-friendly lighting for the bathroom, or we may put it toward summer fun of some sort. Our new system is working well; NT had some overtime pay this week, and we used some of it for a nice dinner out, finished paying off my sister's hotel room, and put the rest toward a future debt repayment.

The mortgage company also informed us that our monthly payment would be $4.60 lower beginning Aug. 1. May just be a temporary reprieve until November, which is when our mortgage rate adjusts each year, but I'll take it! I'll put the extra toward education debt repayment.

I have an extra day off today! Well, I still have to take care of one aspect of my job, but only until noon, and I'm doing it from home. It was lucky because daycare is closed today as well. I'm getting the budget sorted while AA takes a nap, then we'll probably head out to see NT and his co-workers later. It's a scorcher today, so we'll be movin' slow!

Looks like it's going to be a fun long weekend. We're planning to grill on the balcony one night, eat out somewhere that has outdoor seating another, go for a bike ride and picnic another day, and I and possibly AS or NT will go out to a local bar Saturday or Sunday night to see a drag queen perform who's a minor TV celebrity! Oh, and I want to take AA to the wading pool at our nearby park either today or sometime this weekend. I hope everyone else is planning lots of fun this Independence Day!