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Archive for December, 2015

Plans and goals for 2016 (6th of many posts today)

December 31st, 2015 at 08:31 pm

I'm hoping (hoping!) that 2016 is a little less crazy than 2015. Well, we don't know what NT's medical bills will come to. And now it's looking like our basement bathroom is going to cost more and be more trouble than predicted. And of course, I have it in the back of my mind that my mom isn't doing well, and NT's grandma sometimes mentions that she doesn't think she'll be around much longer. Anything happening to either of them would throw our emotions AND our schedules/finances into turmoil. But aside from those known unknowns, hoping it's a fairly calm year.

That's not to say I don't have fairly ambitious plans and goals for the upcoming year. First, the financial:

- To fully fund a trip to my 20th college reunion in New York for me, NT and AS in early June, with possibly a day or two tacked on to visit NYC. As part of that, I want to make a largish donation to my alma mater, possibly $500 if I can swing it.

- To fully fund a 2-week trip to England late June-early July for all five of us. (We've saved up enough for the plane tickets, and hopefully the UK rental money we accumulate between now and then will be enough to cover incidental expenses.)

- To fully fund a side trip to Barcelona for me, NT and AS during the England trip. (Our plan is to leave the kids with the British grandparents for a few days and go to Spain with some friends.)

- To continue home renovations. Under consideration: our main-floor bathroom (complete redo), central AC. We also may need to replace our dishwasher before we're ready to completely redo the kitchen. Maybe replace some old weathered window frames and windows, and get a bit more electrical work done (adding outdoor outlets for the front balcony and back yard). We'll firm up plans for priorities as we start to see our budget surplus big picture. We'll only do as much as we can pay for upfront.

- To max out our 2016 Roth IRAs. (I would also LOVE to max out our 2015 Roths, but I'm going to start contributing to the 2016 ones in January to make sure we max them out by the end of the year. Any extra money will go toward the 2015 Roths until the April deadline. After that, whether or not we maxed them out, I'm going to start earmarking budget surplus, which has been almost exclusively going toward retirement catchup these past 6 months, for renovations and other expenses.) I've set up quarterly automatic transactions for all of our accounts: AS will contribute $1375 in January, April, July and October; me in February, May, August and November; and NT in March, June, September and December.

- To get my and NT's 401(k) contributions up to 10%. I'm including company match, so it'll really just need to be 8% of gross for NT and 8.5% of gross for me. Right now he's at 4% and I'm at 6%, so it would be a 4% bump for him and a 2.5% bump for me. (Maybe, if things are going well this year, I'll bump all three of us up to 12% at some point later. But baby steps!) Still trying to decide if I should do this right away (which would reduce our surplus we'd be putting toward maxing the 2015 Roths) or wait until after the April deadline for maxing 2015 Roths.

- To continue exploring the possibilities of selling part ownership of the duplex to my downstairs neighbors, and of converting our garage into an accessory dwelling unit. I've made a couple of calls to the city and can't really tell my chances of doing that, so I need to do some measuring, gather some info and go in to talk to someone in person. And I can't move on the ownership thing until my neighbor finishes up the papers; he's been promising those for months, so who knows when that'll become a priority? At this point figuring out the ADU situation is a more pressing issue for me, because my friend would like to know whether it's a possibility so she can decide whether to stay in her current apartment a little longer or explore getting a different place.

Those are all the financial goals, and I think it's more than enough. It's hard to predict our income now that AS is a freelancer, so I'm not sure how much of it we'll get done.

As for non-financial goals, AS came up with an idea during NaNoWriMo in November: to make every month a "do something" month in 2016. In other words, to come up with a creative or outside-the-box goal for each month of the year.

So that's my goal. The great thing is, nothing has to be set in stone. I have a few ideas, but I'll basically pick something at the beginning of each month. Some ideas so far:

- Learn to play my harmonica
- Read X novels in a month
- Edit my 2015 NaNoWriMo
- Have a "Rocky" marathon and do a related activity (boxing workouts? Essays? haven't decided)
- Do NaNoWriMo again in November
- Learn to crochet or knit
- Take a drawing class and produce X drawings

So we'll see! Oh! And I want to try and do the photo-a-day gratitude project that PatientSaver suggested.

I may also make one organizational or productivity goal per month as well. At least for the first few months; I've got some tasks I've been putting off, so I'm hoping having a goal and a month to complete it will motivate me.

2015: The year in review (5th of many posts today)

December 31st, 2015 at 07:44 pm

Phew, what a long strange year it was!

When we started 2015 we owned our duplex and an empty condo (sitting on the market since July 2014) in the U.S. and a rental flat (badly in need of refurbishing) in the UK.
Debt: $675,788
Retirement: about $224,000
Net worth: about $352,000

Besides the main mortgages on each property, we had a promissory note to the duplex seller, a 0% interest credit card with about $10K on it, and a couple of student loans. We had a bunch of money in the bank, but only because we knew the various home-related things we were going to do this year would clean us out and then some.

I'd gotten a raise in 2014, which was great, but NT was still waiting on a long-promised raise, AS was in the beginning stages of being a freelancer, and we were waiting on/anticipating several things: selling the condo, renovating the UK flat, refinancing the duplex, and the prospect of getting $80K from my dad for a pipeline deal he'd agreed to. And we badly wanted to renovate and decorate our shabby "new" home, but didn't know when we'd ever be able to.

We were doing OK in the budget, but things were pretty tight, and any extra money got socked away for all the upcoming house stuff instead of put toward debt or enjoyment or retirement.

So that's where we started. Then came a very eventful year:

January. NT finally got his $5K raise. Two people expressed interest in the condo but neither panned out. I hurt my shoulder sledding with the kids -- an injury that would plague me for months.

February. We adopted a second cat, Clue, who turned out to be FIV-positive. I started bugging our mortgage broker about possibly refinancing the duplex mortgage. I set an ambitious retirement goal but knew I wouldn't be able to work on it until a lot of other things fell into place. AS got offered her teaching gig for the fall. The two potential buyers kept stringing us along without an offer and gradually petered out.

March. We got an offer on the condo -- the day after my birthday! We sent about $22,000 to the UK property manager to renovate the flat (cleaned out our UK savings plus borrowed about $2000 from NT's mum). My dad gave me a surprise $2500 from an unrelated land deal.

April. Closed on the sale of the condo, paying nearly $30K for the privilege. Paid off the $26,500 promissory note to the duplex seller (taking out a $15K unsecured personal loan for part of it). Got news that the pipeline money would be coming through! Bought a new stove, one of our first improvements to the new home. Our cat Noodles ran away. The UK management company told us they needed another $1000 to finish renovations. We refinanced the duplex mortgage after much hassle and with a short-term high-interest loan from our checking account reserve line, but it lowered the payment by $400 per month. Went down to mere dollars in all of our accounts, but knew things would turn around rapidly.

May. We borrowed roughly $1000 from NT's mum to cover the last of the UK renovations. Noodles came back -- only to disappear again 2 days later, never to return. Paid off the reserve line loan. NT graduated college after about 8 years of part-time night classes! We chipped in w/ our downstairs neighbors to get a back fence installed. We fixed up our backyard, including pulling up pavers and laying down sod in part of it. Finally started putting money toward AS's retirement again.

June. The pipeline money arrived! Paid off nearly $40K of debt, becoming debt-free except for mortgage debt and the loan from NT's mum. Donated $8K to various good causes. Got our new fence. Made a down payment on our first major renovation: removing the archway and extra door in our living room and more. Put $15,200 away in savings to earn interest until tax time.

July. Bought new living-room furniture. Renovation was mostly finished! Spent freely on fun stuff for the first time in ages. Brought home a foster cat (Whiskers aka Whiskey).

August. Nearly maxed out AS's Roth IRA (couldn't do about $1000 of it because of a mistake on my part earlier in the year, but eventually contributed a commensurate amount to her SEP). Paid for the renovation which was finally finished. Had drama about getting AA to her old daycare for post-school care, but resolved it by paying our daycare lady extra to go get her. AA had her first day of kindergarten!

September. Started dealing with our not-up-to-code bathroom. AS started her teaching gig, using my novel from last year's NaNoWriMo as the material they would use to learn the publishing process. I created my first capsule wardrobe, which sounds like a silly thing to mention in this post, but it has basically changed the way I look at clothing. I'm still using the same capsule and I love it so much! Decided we couldn't live without our foster cat Whiskey, so we adopted him.

October. Spent a ton of money decorating the living room and dining room. It set back other savings categories but it was SO worth it. Having our main living spaces the way we want them is so pleasurable. Found out during a visit from my sister that my mom isn't doing so great, so scheduled an impromptu visit to Va. to see her and my dad (had a great time despite my worries about her declining health). Had a big Halloween party for the first time in years.

November. About a week in, I got sick, and it dragged on for three full weeks. Turned out I had flu, sinusitis and nearly got pneumonia. Somehow, I only took about 4 sick days. Also, I managed to still complete my NanoWriMo novel!

December. After my lost month of sickness, I proclaimed this month to be Family December, and put extra effort into having fun times with my kids and partners. AS's class finished, and as a bonus she printed several copies of my 2014 NaNoWriMo as a real book! Early in the month, NT fell while riding his bike and broke his collarbone. It was his turn to lose weeks of his regular life. Pain, painkillers, surgery, forced rest and the temporary loss of his right arm (yes, he's right-handed). NT got a $4K+ bonus and I maxed out my Roth plus made good progress on his. AS ended the year with $57,000 of gross income, a good deal better than the $37K she grossed at her old full-time job!

So here's where we ended the year:
Debt: $482,768 (down $193,020)
Retirement: $258,118 (up $34,118)
Net worth: $503,350 (up $151,350)

So, yeah! I hope to see better years of retirement gains, but I doubt we'll ever see changes in debt and net worth like that again!

Retirement goal progress (4th of many posts today)

December 31st, 2015 at 07:31 pm

The goal: $486,000 in retirement assets by 2019

Current balance: $258,118

Nov balance: $256,156

Progress: $1,962

Working toward this goal is like wading through molasses lately. I contributed over $4K this month but poor fund performance meant only minimal progress.

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 38 months, so we'd need $5997 per month to reach it. Not likely through straight contributions, so we'll have to hope for some growth on top of that! Buying low, buying low...

December 2015 net worth update (3rd of many posts today)

December 31st, 2015 at 05:43 pm

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($27,368)
#2: 20,501 pounds ($32,801)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $39,312
NT's Roth IRA: $9,817
AS's trad. IRA: $14,745
AS's Roth IRA: $24,047
AS's SEP IRA: $7,577
CJ's 401(k): $82,539
CJ's Roth IRA: $12,789
NT's flat: 180,000 pounds ($288,000)
CJ/NT/AS house: $440,000
Total Assets: $986,118

Total Debt: $482,768

Current Estimated Net Worth: $503,350

November 2015 estimate: $500,403

Change in net worth: +$2,947

Summary: Ever since I've had money to contribute to retirement, performance has been dismal. For instance, I contributed over $4K this month but our balances are only up $2K, which means we actually lost $2K in value. Oh well, buying low, buying low. At least I did contribute enough and pay off a bit of debt, so our net worth went up some.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are approximate. 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 $1.60 for every British pound.

Looking into automated budgeting tools (2nd of many posts today)

December 31st, 2015 at 05:13 pm

I've always been impressed with how people know their spending totals at the end of the year. My budgeting system, while exacting, only looks at the present and future. If I need to move money around, I do, but I don't track that, so I'm not sure how close my variable spending line items are to reality.

But I don't want to add another manual task to my system; it works great for me but requires a lot of involvement, so I definitely don't need any more manual budget work.

So I signed up for a trial YNAB membership to see what that was about. But it seems to be a very manual process where I'd end up having to do more work. So I signed up for Mint, and I think that's much more promising. I like how it automatically captures transactions and categorizes things for you but you can change the categories. I couldn't get a couple of accounts to register (my Target RedCard is the main one), but I could probably figure out a way to categorize my payments to that card as grocery.

So we'll see. I'm definitely intrigued about it being able to track my spending so I can see my monthly or year-end totals.

Days 28-31 of Family December (1st of many posts today)

December 31st, 2015 at 03:41 pm

Monday (28th) the cold I'd been nursing hit its peak. Not too bad, but I chose to rest and focus on myself most of the day. I did have two activities with the kids that didn't require much effort, an "Equestria Girls" movie marathon with homemade popcorn and other snacks, and playing "daycare" where AA was the teacher, SL was the little girl and I was the parent, so I didn't have much to do. Smile

Tuesday (29th) I slept until almost 11 a.m., but that seemed to knock out most of my cold. I roused myself enough to take the kids out to a park for some more sledding on a mini-slope and playing on the snow-covered playground. From there I took a bus with SL and we did some grocery shopping. Bought her a piece of candy for being a good helper, as usual. When we got home, a former co-worker of AS's had come for a visit. We put the kids down for a nap and had a nice visit. That night, we took the kids out for dinner at a pizza place we go to all the time for trivia, but the kids have only been to once or twice, as babies. AA discovered the joy of mozzarella sticks. They were both really good and the waitress enjoyed meeting our kids after so many years of seeing us. AS helped NT take the kids home while I stayed, and some friends joined me for trivia (AS came back after putting the kids to bed). We didn't win, but really enjoyed our first night of trivia in months.

Wednesday (30th) we met our out-of-town friends at Pizza Hut so AA could use her other reading coupon. She and this little girl had only met once as babies, but they formed an instant bond a few days ago, so they were very happy to see each other. SL had a good time with them too. And AS and I loved getting to talk to our friend and getting to know her better (we'd met her once in DC years before and become Facebook friends, but this visit was the first time since then that we'd gotten to hang out in person). After lunch, we took them on the bus to the sculpture garden (the one with the big spoon and cherry) and the three kids had a great time running around in the snow while we chatted some more. We showed them how to get home on the bus and got off before them. We got a nice FB message after, and it sounds like we'll try to keep AA in touch with the little girl.

Today I'll be mainly focusing on myself, honing my goals and my year in review. But tonight, we're celebrating the new year downstairs with our neighbors and a couple friends (including SIX other little girls besides ours). I'm looking forward to it!

Days 26 & 27 of Family December

December 28th, 2015 at 08:51 pm

Saturday (26th) we finally got some snowfall. After opening one last gift each (a Boxing Day tradition NT brought with him) and eating breakfast, I took the kids down to the front yard to play in the snow. I helped made a pitiful snowman (it wasn't good packing snow) and shoveled our front walk and sidewalk. The kids mostly wanted to eat snow (it's no good trying to stop them) so I didn't let them stay out too long, concerned their faces were getting too cold.

After lunch we put them in bed and AS and I went out to pick up a few staples we'd run out of. Three of the things were cat litter, cat food and a 10-lb. bag of basmati rice, so we were quite worn out when we got back! The adults watched some Doctor Who and relaxed. We ate leftovers and easy stuff for all meals, and people ate whenever they felt like it. The kids are going to have quite a culture shock when we get back to organized meals around the table!

The 27th (Sunday) started off on the wrong foot, with me and NT sniping at each other for various things. For one thing, some out-of-town acquaintances wanted their kid and ours to hang out, and NT suggested sledding at the big dangerous hill where I damaged my shoulder last January. Eventually we came to a grumpy agreement to meet our friends at a nearby park with virtually no slopes at all. Luckily after that things perked up. We had a nice time there, and went to a coffee shop across the street afterward (hot chocolate for the kids, coffee for the grownups). At home NT and I took it easy -- he'd jarred his shoulder and I was still nursing the cold I'd caught on Xmas -- and cuddled up on the couch as best we could without me hurting his shoulder more. AS went for drinks with our downstairs neighbors.

Days 24 & 25 of Family December

December 26th, 2015 at 07:47 pm

These of course were completely family-fun-filled days. Smile

Christmas Eve I basically let the kids eat and do whatever they felt like (up to and including macaroni for breakfast, which I also indulged in Smile ). I did a ton of cooking, making veggie sausage and pepperoni for our downstairs neighbors, fixing little snacks for whoever wanted something, making a Persian herbed rice called sabzi polo for dinner with the neighbors, and making "sunrise pasta casserole" (spaghetti with sauce, veggie sausage, eggs/tofu and cheese) that we could throw in the oven Xmas morning for brunch. We set out the British and the American Santa snacks (mince pie and rum, cookie and milk) and I helped the kids write and sign a note to Santa.

Xmas Day we did the usual, opening presents, playing with the presents, stuffing our faces, lazing around and napping. We (well, Santa) got the 3-year-old SL a play toolbox and tape measure and that went over huge. AA got a ton of girly stuff by request, but we also got her some science stuff (a kit, a microscope with slides) and those ended up being some of her favorite toys of the day. I read them some of their new books, played some of their new games, etc. Our friends came upstairs for dinner; AS and I cooked veggie ham and roast (both store bought), fried potatoes and biscuits, and our friends made a bunch of different veggie sides. SL and I developed slight colds, and NT was still out of it from pain medication, but overall it was a really good Xmas.

Days 21 through 23 of Family December

December 24th, 2015 at 10:16 pm

Monday (21st) I had to work a bit late and then cook, so didn't have much quality time. But I did play "art school" with AS and the kids.

Tuesday (22nd) was my last day of work for the year. I hurried to get things done so I could head out early for the daycare holiday party, one of my favorite Xmas events. No songs this year from the kids (darn!) but they made us cute homemade gifts (decorated wine glasses and big cloths that we'll be able to use as the tree skirt next year) and they got to decorate gingerbread cookies and play and read. After that I was really tired (and had to finish up a few work things from home), but I did take time to draw and color imaginary creatures with AA.

Wednesday (23rd) I had the day off but the kids were in daycare. So AS and I went to a favorite diner for brunch (we invited NT but he wanted to stay home and rest some more), then did a couple errands. We had a $10 off gift certificate, but I decided to give the waitress $10 more of a tip as a holiday gift. It was drizzly and gloomy, but AS and I had a fun time hanging out anyway. The daycare lady messaged me on Facebook to thank us for her gift, a $400 bonus that we'd slipped into a Christmas card and given her that morning. AS and I wrapped a bunch of the kids' presents from us and from grandparents, and put them under the tree. That evening, I splurged on a Lyft for AS to pick the kids up since it was snowing, and I cooked an easy dinner. Played silly games with the kids.

Despite all the illness, busy-ness and injuries, we're all having a good time so far this Xmas Eve. Hope all of you in SA land are also enjoying yourselves!

Another December debt payment

December 23rd, 2015 at 01:25 am

I just remembered, a couple days ago I called my new mortgage lender and was finally able to make my December payment. They waived the usual fee for phone payments and there was no late fee since I had 60 days to make the first payment.

$662 went to principal, so that's $986 of debt paid this month (not counting the loan to NT's mum, which I was tracking separately).

Paid off loan to NT's mum!

December 22nd, 2015 at 04:54 pm

I just remembered in the midst of this super busy December that we'd probably gotten our latest rental deposit into NT's UK account. I checked and it was there, so I sent 450 pounds to his mum. That means we've fully paid the loans she gave us earlier in the year, when we were down to virtually nothing in all bank accounts (due to simultaneously selling the US condo at a big loss, refinancing the US duplex, and renovating our UK rental flat) and some additional bills appeared for the UK renovation.

Those were crazy times. As off-kilter as we feel now with long illnesses and serious injuries, at least now we've got plenty of financial padding, and that makes everything so much easier.

Days 16 through 20 of Family December

December 21st, 2015 at 06:04 am

Well, THOSE days went by in a blur. Let's see if I can remember family-oriented things from each of them:

Wednesday (16th): We got a paper-chain kit in the mail, so AA and I made chains. (SO much easier than when I was a kid and you had to cut construction paper into strips!)

Thursday (17th): Took AS to a work function (a vendor threw us a party), and we had a really good time. Drinks, snacks, and karaoke. I cannot resist karaoke, so we stayed fairly late. AS had too much to drink, so she was up much of the night, and I was too, trying to keep an eye on her.

Friday (18th) I had the day off, but it didn't really feel like that. I was so exhausted from my sleepless night that the whole day felt like I was in a dream. I took AA to the bus for her last day of kindergarten and SL to daycare. I had a 10am work meeting that I had to attend, so I had breakfast at a bagel shop and then headed to work for the meeting. Then I met NT at the surgical clinic so I could get instructions for post-surgery care and when to pick him up. I went home and had lunch, then worked on the menu and grocery list for the following week (including Xmas Eve and Day). The clinic called and said the surgery had gone well, so in a while I went back and sat in the waiting room. I thought they would call my cell when he was in the second recovery room, so I didn't bother telling anyone I was there, but they only called me when they were ready to discharge. Oh well, NT was really out of it anyway so he wouldn't have cared much if I was in the room. I got a Lyft and escorted him home. Everyone was so tired that we ordered pizza and sent the kids upstairs to eat and watch TV in the book nook. After we put them in bed, our neighbors came up and we finalized our Xmas Eve and Xmas dinner plans.

So it was certainly a family-oriented day for the most part, just not one I enjoyed.

Saturday (19th): Another busy busy day. I took SL and AA to their first march/rally/protest, along with a friend and one of our neighbors. The kids had helped make their signs, and AA was really into marching and chanting, but SL was bored and annoyed. She'd played with a stick before we got started, and I made her leave it behind so she wouldn't poke anyone during the march. She could not give it a rest about the stick. I carried her part of the way (which I NEVER do) just to pacify her a bit. Then we broke off from the rally when we had to leave, and we had trouble finding where our friend had parked. Eventually we did.

Then it was time to get dressed for my alumni group's holiday party. The same friend who drove to the march was also babysitting for us. As it turned out she also had to keep an eye on NT, who of course couldn't come to the party. But AS and I had a really good time, even though it was a short party. We used a carshare to get there and back.

Once we got home, AS and I had ANOTHER commitment, with a group of friends who go out drinking and socializing about once a month. Our friend who had driven us and babysat is in that group, so she drove us to the restaurant where we were meeting everyone. We had a wonderful time there too. The friend came back to our house and watched some TV with us, but after such a full day, I dozed off in the middle of a show.

Today (20th) we had our friends up for toast for a change (usually we go down to their place). AS took the kids to dance class while I did some of the grocery shopping and put together a super-easy lunch (beanie weenie with canned baked beans and vegetarian hot dogs). Then AS and I did the rest of the shopping. I cooked dinner (twice-baked potatoes and broccoli) and the kids had a long-overdue bath. I then tried to get AA to help me wrap the presents that had built up in the past few days when I'd been too busy to wrap. But she was hyper and spazzy and distracted, so I mostly just wrapped them myself.

So, it was a meh day in terms of the quality of the family time, but oh well. With NT incapacitated, AS and I have just been trying to keep up with things. There's a triple burden of taking over his usual chores (and he does a LOT of regular chores), then also taking care of him, and then since it's Xmas there are all these extra little tasks to handle. So it's just been a lot. But everything is going pretty well, all things considered.

Good news, bad news -- lots of news this week

December 17th, 2015 at 05:30 am

Well, I sat wracking my brain for anything to report on days 14 and 15 of Family December. I know I helped AA with her homework Monday, and she helped me wrap presents both days, but other than that I'm drawing a blank. It's been a really busy overwhelming week at work so far.

Oh well. It's been really good so far; a couple off days can be expected.

However, lots of other non-family time news, good and bad.

First, Spirit was having an airfare sale, so I booked my next trip to see my parents. Going for four days in mid-January, when AA has some days off kindergarten. They also got me to sign up for their $9 fare club or whatever it's called; annual membership was about $60 and fares were about $120 cheaper, so I saved money by doing it. I put a reminder on the 2016 calendar to cancel the membership if I don't end up using Spirit enough to make it worth it. Total for 3 tickets and a rental car: $615. So that's mostly good news.

The bad-news part of that is that we've been borrowing from the UK airfare fund recently for various things. We'd made up a lot of ground, but the airfare pushed us back, not to where we had been but we did lose a lot of progress.

More good: My boss called me in to his office yesterday to let me know he wouldn't be my boss for much longer. They're rejiggering things and I'll be reporting to a new guy I haven't met yet. I was very happy (though I acted neutral) because A) my boss and I are like oil and water, even though we try to get along, B) I'll be moving into an area that focuses on the stuff I'm comfortable with writing and C) my boss (who's not an effusive guy) said several times that I'd been doing really well and getting lots of praise from other higher-ups and that this move was positioning me really well to move up or take experience with me to another company. (I probably wouldn't do that because I'm happier not having to get to know a whole bunch of new people, what with my shyness and face blindness, plus I'm really happy at my new position in this company.)

Then a VP that I've been working closely with lately called me into HIS office, and told me more of the story. Apparently he's retiring in about a year, so this new guy is going to need to absorb as much knowledge about our main client as he can. I'm one of the most knowledgeable people in the company about the ins and outs of the company, its corporate tone of voice as well as the services it offers, so I'll be helping with that.

It's not like I was promised a promotion or raise or anything, but everything they both were saying made it seem like I'm in a really good position here, so I'm hoping it leads to something in the next year or two. Anyway, I'm relieved I won't have to try and impress my current boss much longer, and the new guy sounds great by all accounts.

More bad news: NT went for a follow-up appointment on his broken collarbone, and they determined it was broken in a bad place and would need a steel plate. So he goes in for surgery on Friday sometime and will be out of commission for a while. Poor boy is bummed to have so much down time; he's not good at being lazy. And goodness knows how much this will cost! We've only got a couple hundred left in flex, so that will be a drop in the bucket. But I know from his ER visit of a couple years ago that bills take forever to arrive, so we've got time to come up with the money. I'm not going to worry about it.

The last big bit of good news: NT got his annual bonus! They had a really good year so he got $6K (netted a little over $4K).

I immediately put it to use: made up the $1460 we were behind on saving up for the UK tickets, maxed out my Roth for the year ($575), set aside $400 for our beloved daycare lady's Xmas bonus, and put the rest toward NT's Roth (about $1650). I also had some surplus in the January budget so I bumped his Roth purchase up to $2400. We still have a long way to go on his Roth since I've neglected it all year, but hopefully we can make up the last $3K before the April cutoff date. Even if not, at least we made some good progress. Next year we'll definitely max out our Roths!

We're really close to having enough to purchase our UK airfare for next June now. We'll get there by the end of the year for sure.

Yay for pictures!

December 15th, 2015 at 03:52 am

I didn't even realize until everyone started commenting on it. Hooray for pictures! To celebrate, here's one from day 12 of Family December. That's SL on the left (3) and AA on the right (5).

That was a really good family day. I did sleep in a ton after staying out so late the night before with AS, but once I got moving, I took the kids out for about six hours. First we were going to eat at the Pizza Hut in Target; AA had gotten a coupon for reading and it was going to expire soon. To my disappointment, the Target Pizza Hut doesn't accept the coupons!

I got on the phone with NT and he told me where another Pizza Hut was located, so we went there. It was much nicer anyway, with a restaurant-y feel, and had more menu options so I wasn't stuck with a big pretzel as the only vegan option.

We'd been planning for the kids to do their Xmas shopping at Target, but we just went to the CVS across the street from the Pizza Hut. There was a stocking-stuffer section so I helped them pick out gifts for each other as well as me, NT and AS.

Then we went to the winter carnival. It didn't have a miniature carousel like last year, but it was free to enter this year! There were wooden things to take pics with (like the one above) as well as ones to stick your head through. Every half hour or so, another community choir or school group got up on a stage and sang carols, and there were hay bales to sit on. It wasn't cold out at all by MN standards, so we stayed quite a while. We got hot apple cider and mini-donuts, hung out in the warming house for a bit, took lots of pictures, listened to the singing, and went to an enclosed Xmas shop where I let the girls pick out ornaments to give our downstairs neighbors.

As we were leaving the carnival I saw we just missed the bus we needed, and we happened to be by the sculpture garden with the famous Spoon Bridge and Cherry (we used to live across the street from it and the girls could see it from their bedroom window), so we ran over and took pictures, then ran back and caught the next bus.

Here's the sculpture. On the right-hand side in the distance, you can just see the top of our old condo building peeking out -- it's kind of beige and hard to see.

When we got home, I did grocery shopping with AS and came home to make an easy spaghetti dinner. I helped AA wrap the gifts we'd bought that day.

Day 13 (Sunday) we went downstairs for toast with our neighbors, which we try to do every Sunday (but have been missing a few because of various illnesses, injuries etc.) After breakfast our photographer friend took our family photos. He just sent over the link to review today, so we'll have to pick quickly (he takes hundreds and we pick 10 or so) and get them to our families (luckily you can just arrange to have them developed at various stores, including in England, so the grandparents can just go pick them up).

I chilled a lot after that long Saturday. I did cook a curry for me and NT for lunches that ended up being quite time-consuming to make, but we both tried it today and thought it was awesome. The girls went to dance class with AS and made a rocket ship out of a box (NT's idea). I helped AA help me wrap a couple more presents that had come in the mail; she's getting pretty good and now I've been letting her wrap and label all presents except her own.

December 2015 debt payments

December 13th, 2015 at 08:03 pm

Well, since I'm still waiting to be able to pay my U.S. mortgage payment to the new bank that owns it (weird), I may as well log our UK mortgage payments.

UK #1: $226 to principal
UK #2: $48
UK #3: $50

Total paid to principal so far this month: $323

Figured I do that since I'm in NT's account anyway to work on his UK taxes. Blergh.

Days 10 and 11 of Family December

December 13th, 2015 at 01:11 am

Thursday (10th) I had to stay a bit late at work. AS had her last day of teaching so she was too. Our second family (our downstairs neighbors) picked the kids up from daycare and cooked us a delicious dinner. I read to the kids before bed, and after they were in bed one of our neighbors came up to watch a Simpsons episode we'd been telling him about.

Friday I had to get the kids from daycare (we are piecemealing this task since it's normally NT's), and then we dropped the kids downstairs with the neighbors so we could go to some friends' house for their traditional holiday party. Right before we left, NT got a terrible cramp in the arm that's affected by his broken collarbone, so he had to stay home with a heating pad and some Icy Hot. AS and I went to the party and stayed way later than we intended to, because we were having so much fun. So we took a cab home. Then she and I stayed up even later watching Youtube videos together. I don't think I got to bed until after 2am! But it was nice to spend so much time with AS (and not have her worrying about teaching her class anymore).

Eighth & ninth days of Family December

December 10th, 2015 at 05:21 pm

Tuesday (8th) I didn't spend much quality time with the kids after work/daycare, but it was because I was on the computer ordering photo calendars and other gifts for my and AS's parents. So at least it was family-oriented time!

And after I was done, I played a game with AS and AA where AA was a teacher or librarian and AS and I were her students. It made me realize it must suck to be a kid sometimes and be under constant scrutiny by adults -- I kept getting in trouble for making faces and talking without raising my hand. I think it was a good outlet for rule-abiding AA to get to boss and scold grown-ups for a change. Wink

Wednesday (9th) we got thrown a big curveball, when NT's bike slid on some black ice on the way to work and he broke his collarbone! Just a couple days before he was remembering last year's illness and how he had a bad back for much of the holiday, and looking forward to a Xmas free of pain and painkillers. Oh well! He got a cast and some Oxycodone and has to take it easy for a while. I guess making tea and bringing him dinner and pills counts as family time.

I did get some quality time with SL when we turned off the TV early (yes, we let our kids watch it kind of a lot) and I read her some Dr. Seuss books. She's starting to memorize How the Grinch Stole Christmas (she has an incredible memory for books and songs), so we read that one twice.

She has started to ask for a hug and a tickle instead of a hug and kiss at bedtime. That kid is crazy about getting tickled -- any excuse! I don't think I actually ever really tickle her, because she immediately flops over laughing as soon as my finger pokes her side. It's just the concept that she finds hilarious.

Sixth & seventh days of Family December, plus weird mortgage thing

December 8th, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Sunday (the 6th): In the morning I played silly games with the kids (bad pony, baby pony and something about repeatedly sneaking up on a sleeping bad guy). In the afternoon, I helped them finish decorating the tree. In the evening, we decorated a mini-tree up in the book nook, and they helped me wrap the few presents we already had and put those under the big tree.

That night, I finished ordering Xmas presents for all four family members. Now all I need to worry about is gifts for my parents and whether we want to send Xmas cards to friends and other family.

Yesterday, NT and the kids got on the same bus as me on the way home from work, which is always a nice treat, because the kids run up yelling "Mom" and give me big hugs. Smile

I watched the '66 How the Grinch Stole Christmas several times with SL. (It's not available free on Netflix or anywhere, but I can get it on a random website, so we watched on my laptop, cuddled up on the couch.)

I helped AA do her homework (reading 2 books per night); she's up to Level C on the books they send home and can sound out quite a few words without any help!

I cuddled up with NT on the couch for quite a while, because it seemed like all through November we hardly even hugged (what with my various awful illnesses).

We were all three going to have a family budget chat but I fell asleep on the couch before we could. I'm still getting tired sooner than normal, but my energy is coming back little by little.

So a few days ago I realized the mortgage payment still hadn't come out of my account. I sent an inquiry online, but when I didn't hear back in a day or two I called them.

Turns out my mortgage was sold to another company, and I must have missed the letter about it! They gave me the name and number of the new company.

I tried going on the new company's website and setting up a payment, but my old loan number didn't work and I didn't know my new one. So I called them and it turns out that I'll be able to pay them once I get a letter from them, but until then I can't. They assured me there would be no late fee or anything for 60 days. So now, I guess I just wait! So weird -- you'd think they'd have a way for me to pay them right away.

So that was stressful, because the only other time I've been late on a mortgage payment was when I supposedly didn't have to make one but the payoff of the condo got lost. I'm glad to know this, too, is just a weird administrative thing with hopefully no repercussions for me.

Fifth day of Family December

December 6th, 2015 at 08:20 pm

Yesterday's family doings:

Helped SL write her alphabet. I had no idea she could at least approximately make all of the letters! Right now they're barely legible giant scrawls, but she's farther along than I realized.

Took SL grocery shopping and to get haircuts. Bought her a piece of chocolate for being a good helper, and then our barber gave her MORE chocolate! Used a carshare for part of it and sang along to the radio together.

Drove AA, SL and NT to drop them off at a community event using another carshare. Oohed and aahed over the Christmas lights decorating people's houses along the way.

It's amazing, when you're being conscious of it, how the littlest day-to-day activities can feel like special family time. Smile

Before and after house pics

December 5th, 2015 at 06:42 pm

I finally took "after" pics so I could share all the decorating we've been doing for the past few months!

You can see "before" photos

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You can see "after" photos
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Here's the door we got rid of

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Here's the archway we got rid of

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Days three and four of Family December

December 5th, 2015 at 05:54 pm

The third day got accidentally derailed from having much quality family time -- I went to a rally straight after work that I didn't know was going to lead into a three-hour march through the city! Got home after 9pm, exhausted, and the kids were in bed, so just vegged out on the couch with AS and NT.

Day four, NT and AS and I went to his company's holiday party. Afterward NT and I went to a music show. The kids had a sleepover with the downstairs neighbor, so AS got some much needed downtime at home.

Second day of Family December

December 3rd, 2015 at 03:21 pm

Yesterday, AA was telling me a story she'd learned at kindergarten (The Gingerbread Man), and it was so good I asked her to do it again while I filmed her. Then I posted the video on Youtube so distant grandparents will be able to see it. (I did the same thing with SL "reading" a book she memorized a few days ago.)

Then, AS and NT and I went out for dinner to celebrate 10 years of being together and 9 years of marriage. We had a wonderful meal and a surprisingly deep conversation about goals, causes, childrearing and other things. It left me feeling very inspired and close to my family.

First day of Family December

December 3rd, 2015 at 01:01 am

I thought I should try to document the family-oriented stuff I do this month, since I proclaimed it to be Family December. Yesterday, I worked with NT and AS to get the kids' Xmas lists together, and the three of us played videogames together.