Thursday, February 09, 2017

Tiny Snowman

The news keeps talking about huge epic storms sweeping the country but somehow they keep missing our area!  This is our 4th winter in Maryland and all prior have had significant snow.  Somehow this year we've had 2 snows, each about 1 inch!

We've already got spring flowers coming up because it was so warm in January!  I sure hope it doesn't end badly for the local orchards - a late extended cold spell will do that.

Here's our tiny snowman made after we got a 2 hour delay this morning!  He's so small I couldn't get the rocks to stay in for a mouth!!


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Trials and Tribulations of Driving in California

Despite flying to CA almost annually for 15 years, and living in LA for two years from 2002 - 2003, I still get lost every single time I visit.  Well, maybe not lost, but I seem to have lots of trouble with the GPS.  Maybe it's because the Los Angeles and surrounding areas is in a constant state of road repair?  This last trip at the end of January found me clinching the wheel as the GPS stated in it's most alarmed voice "driving into oncoming traffic on a one way street".  It was not a one way street, it was re-routed traffic and others were clearly going the same way.  Still, it's un-nerving!

This past trip I decided to rent a truck, because I like driving trucks, but all they had was a F-150.  I had to literally hop to get into the truck!  The guy next to me at the rental place was like, "wow, you look really small in there".  It was a big truck.  I felt like I was driving a battering ram.  The biggest stress factor was that small cars literally disappeared into a blind spot and drove me into wild waves of panic.  On the plus side though, I found more than one car in my rear view mirror having second thoughts about cutting me off as I puttered down an off-ramp hoping I was taking the correct exit.  That was empowering.

California parking spots are very small so parking also very stressful.  Fortunately I was early for my  meeting had had time to circle the block before street parking at my destination and had the great fortune to find a spot that didn't require parallel parking!

My trips to CA are like a Navy Seals mission, I'm in and out in 20 hours.  I get up at 4am to leave for the airport at 4:45.  The airport drive is 1.5 hours.  My flight usually leaves at 7 or 8am.  A flight takes 6-7 hours depending on stops and then time goes backwards 3 hours for PS time zone so I get in around 11 or noon.  Hopefully I've managed to eat somewhere along the way because when I get to Burbank all I want to do is rent a car and get the drive to Pasadena over with!  My meetings are always the same day around 3pm so I have about 3 hours to get myself to Pasadena without dying in a car wreak along the way.  After a 2 hour meeting, I head back to Burbank and drop off the rental same day.  My flight the following day is usually 8am and gets in at 6pm local time.

When dropping off a vehicle at the Burbank airport rental car zone, there is no transport to the Marriott hotel which is located across a very busy 6 lane wide street.  It's very annoying to have to walk across a street with luggage but even stranger to consider asking an Uber or Taxi to pick me up and drive me the quarter mile distance!  It's probably not a big deal in normal circumstances but after being up at 4am and getting to car rental zone at 6pm, which is 9pm EST, my brain is fried!

The best part for me is always the return.  One very long day of travel with nothing to do but READ! On this particular return, my favorite author, Alex Berenson, had just released a new book giving me one glorious day to read with no interruptions!  And by interruptions I mean of the "mommy mommy help me" type.

Here's the link if you want to check it out:  https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-John-Wells-Novel/dp/0399176152/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486684814&sr=8-1&keywords=alex+berenson

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Frugal Living - January 2017 - Part 2


Here is my January big money saving idea!

My State Farm agent gave me a book on repaying student loans.  I read the entire book on a trip last year and got one big idea!  Everything else in the book was standard knowledge for me.  But this one big idea is going to save us in interest payments this year!

I have a student loan with a balance of 11K.  I'm so aggravated by this loan because it's just been hanging out on my budget for 16 years!!!  I've had so many other priorities and the payment is rather small so I've left it piddle in the background.  I've talked to professionals who say,
"don't let it bother you, the interest rate is low AND you get to write off the interest on your taxes"
But I want to have all debt paid off by the time we are 50, in 8 years, and I'm tired of paying on this loan.

So here's my big idea!

I'm already paying $100 extra per month on the loan.  What if I took out an interest free credit card for one year, and transferred $2000 of the student loan onto that card?  Then the $2000 for one year is not gaining a single penny of interest!  I'm now paying $166 a month + my student loan payment of $215.  If interest free credit cards are still available next year, I'll do the same thing, and again the year after until this debt is gone!

This happened after years of frustration in seeing my student loan balance barely shift after I paid $100 extra every month.

Full disclosure - I paid a $60 fee to move this balance to the new card but the card paid me back a $100 bonus after I spent $1000 in other expenses.  Total win.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Rooster!!

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year in parts of Asia outside of China.  I'm so happy for my co-workers who get to take a few weeks off from work and visit with their families.  It also gives me a big break at work because - NO EMAILS!  Yeah!!  

Since it's on a Saturday, I won't talk about work.  Instead, here are thing things we like to do as a family on this special day.

We only watch animation inspired from Asia, today's list includes:  Big Hero 6, Mulan and Kubo!  Later we will give the kids red envelopes with money and we will get take out from our favorite Chinese restaurant.  We will also celebrate dragons by reading our favorite dragon books and hopefully make it out to the bookstore to get some new ones!  I would like to also do some crafts but husband is working today so I don't want to over promise.  

I was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago and they were in full preparation mode for this holiday.  Here are a few photos of the decorations:






Friday, January 27, 2017

Frugal Living - January 2017 Part 1


I found this tweet recently by one of the leaders of 4 Word Women:
Time is more critical than money. You can make more money. Time's a nonrenewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, it's gone so use it wisely.
This is interesting in the context that as I've been reading Penny Hoarder and Money Saving Mom, there's this creeping desire to want to spend time making more money.  There are so many apps, side hustles, freelance, etc that are highly time consuming and I have to wonder - at what point will we be satisfied?  When we reach our drop dead money point?  This being the point where we have enough to retire and can walk away from full time jobs.  Even then, would it be enough?

The more time I spend in my basement, working at my full time job and then doing any side jobs it's less time to spend with my family.

Recently I went through photos of our 2016 year, getting them organized and uploaded to Shutterfly to make photo books.  There was a free book but I just couldn't seem to find the time to upload enough photos to  make the book.  When my husband called for dinner each night, I went and didn't come back to my computer and missed the free book.  I'm sure there will be more free books this year.

Last year I spent an enormous amount of time preparing for consignment sales and probably earned $2 or 3.00 per hour when I was done.  It's just not worth my time.  I have some items already priced from last year and ready to go so I'll probably take those over when the next sale comes up but I'd rather donate the bulk of my items and write off the value on my taxes.  It's far less time consuming and I still feel like I'm getting something for our stuff.  I can't bring myself to throw things into the landfill that might be helpful to someone.  We are very serious around here about composting, recycling and keeping our landfill footprint as small as possible.

Time is important and we don't know how much of it we have left.  My dad died at 58.  If I died the same year, I'd only have 17 years left.  Both of my grandmothers died at 50, which would give me 7 years remaining.  I want to spend it with my family having great experiences.  There are also a few friends I need to reach out to this year.  I'm looking forward to more time spent away from my computer.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Home!

I got home around 9pm on Thursday.  It's a 25 hour journey from the time I set foot outside my hotel so it feels pretty incredible to be home.

Friday was spent with the kids getting caught up.  They are home from school on Fridays because their private school goes slightly longer Monday - Thursday in order to give older teachers and students a break on Friday.  They usually come home with extra homework but it's nice to have an extra day with the kids.

We spent the morning doing crafts, I found laser cut wooden puzzles of sea creatures at the Design Gallery at the Hong Kong toy fair.  Afterwards everyone was hungry by 11 so we went to Chick Fil A for lunch, our monthly splurge.  Later we watched Kubo which is a fascinating movie.  The parents die so Charlotte's not too happy with the ending but I love how it explains how the Japanese deal with death.  My Violette and Sam love the movie and baby just seems to enjoy most movies.

The day got hard about 3pm when my body started to ache and wish desperately for sleep.  Somehow I managed to stay away until 9pm by doing too much activity and got fitful sleep until 5:30am.  It feels like such a victory to wake to coffee and a quiet house.  The weather looks cold with possible snow today.  We need food but maybe we'll just make due and stay home!

I'm loving the very early hours.  I've already answered work emails, last minute projects that need to wrap up before the team leaves for Chinese New Year and this blog post.  I think I'll go crawl back in bed now and play games on my phone with my coffee.  :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Last Day in Asia!

My trip has ended 3 days early!  What luck!!  I'm told my work here is done so I can go home early.  So glad it worked out well with the airlines to change my flight to today.  Wish I could have written more while I was here but we did stay very busy.  Looking forward to life back in the states!

Review of London House

London House is a Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Hong Kong.  It's in the building where I work, so for me a very logical conclusion to the day.  So much so that I went three times!  Maybe 4?  Here are my thoughts on their food:

For lunch on my first day of working in Hong Kong I chose the Chicken Tikka Masala with Mango Juice - It was wonderful!  Decent size proportion and I was very happy with the service.  It was a lunch time so more quiet, quick in and out timing.

I went back the same day for dinner with co-workers and had the Shepard's Pie.  I was not very happy with this dish.  I didn't like the recipe and the dish was also very small, in a 5" iron crock, about 1.5" tall, I think.  Very bland.  I found out later the dish was the same size as their side dish Mac and Cheese so I found that to be a bit odd.  My tea was served lukewarm.  It was very crowded, that may have been why.  My advise if if you want to try this dish it must be ordered with a side because it's just way too small for a meal.

However, I would not be deterred!  Confession time - I'm a bit of an Anglophile so having a British pub within walking distance of work means I'm going to come here as often as possible if the food is decent.  

The next day I had the Salmon for lunch.  It was incredible!  I eat Salmon because it's good for me but usually the taste is just boring Salmon.  This was buttery and lemony - it's hard to describe how incredibly good this was.  As I've said before, Hong Kong IS really good at seafood but it was also a very good recipe.  I also had a side of Mac and Cheese with Bacon, it was very creamy and delicious!  The cheese base tasted like it had a bit of fresh cream, it was very rich.

I had dinner in my hotel that night so I took a little break from London House, I was too tired to sit in a restaurant.

My last night in Hong Kong I had the Bangers and Mash and it was a very large dish with three bangers and a giant pile of mashed potatoes with onion gravy.  It was wonderful!

Well this just goes to show that one bad night of service and food does not mean the restaurant is bad.  I'm quite looking forward to my next binge at London House when I return to Hong Kong later this year.