Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Money can't buy happiness...

I saw an article on Yahoo today about how lottery winners can end up broke just like anyone else. The worst bad story in there was about a guy whose brother tried to kill him to get the inheritance. That is just awful!

I guess it goes to show you that money can't buy happiness! Also that some people REALLY don't know how to handle money. It's a skill and the hardest part about saving money is having the discipline to do it!

On a retirement note: I do have a Roth IRA at Vanguard and I just changed the investment. For the last few years, I've been in the Vanguard 500 Index Fund. Last Friday, I switched my IRA to invest in the Vanguard Target Retirement Fund 2045. I don't want to retire in 2045, but I'm trying to be agressively diversified! These new target retirement funds reallocate themselves every year as you get closer to retirement. All I have to do is just keep putting money in there and forget about it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Talking about money is a no-no

My favorite things to browse on the internet are (in no particular order): food, games and money. I bring this up because lately, I've been having periodic fits of money obsessions and I find myself (like tonight), lost in a sea of personal finance blogs reading about nameless faces' net worths and saving techniques and suggestions. There are tons of blogs out there on every subject under the sun and I started thinking that maybe I should start writing about personal finance tidbits that I find interesting. The problem is, talking about money is one of those taboo subjects.

If I had an "anonymous" blog, I would feel free to write about all my trials and triumphs related to money. But since I personally know people who read my blog, I usually don't put hard numbers in the blog, but make general statements like, "I want to save more." Isn't that odd? I'm pretty forthright and if a good friend wanted to discuss it, I would. However, it's weird to have acquaintances knowing the ins and outs of my financial world. After a minute more of thought, I think the problem I have with it is the inequality of information. I have a couple friends that I can discuss all my financial stuff with because it's a give and take situation. We discuss our situations and I know about their money woes too.

How do other people reconcile this? I'm in good shape financially, so it's not like it's an embarassment or anything. Hmmm... I guess it's just not considered "polite" to talk about money, sex and religion. Technically, it's my blog, so I guess I could talk about anything I want, but... I don't know. I'm considering it. Just putting it out there.

In the meantime, there's a website where you can track your net worth called NetWorthIQ. You can plug in your numbers and see how you compare to others. I think some of them are inflated though and throw off the averages. There's no verification to make sure things are on the up and up. Thanks to the southern California real estate market, my net worth looks pretty good. Yea!

Friday, February 24, 2006

100 new games?

My gaming friend Dave tries every year to play 100 new games. I don't really know how that is possible for him since he's been doing this for years. Do 100 new games come out every year?

I was thinking about that and thought, hmmm... I wonder if I could play 100 new games a year. I wrote down a list of the new ones I've played this year, and I'm already at 13. I won't backtrack to cover them, but 13% of 365 days is about 47 days, so I'm a little behind schedule, but close! Today is the 55th day of the year. We'll see how it all shakes out.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tater tot casserole and games!

Last night was a pretty busy night for me!

Right after work, I went to Shane's house for dinner. She fixed a tater tot casserole for me. It was good. I think it needed to be cooked at a higher temperature. Here's a photo:

Tater Tot Casserole

Tater Tot Casserole (adapted from Cooks.com)

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 can green beans (14-15 oz.)
1 can corn (14-15 oz.)
2 12 oz. cans cream of mushroom
1/2 c. water
freshly ground black pepper
enough tater tots to cover the top fo dish
shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450 F. Brown the beef. Drain the fat and place at the bottom of a 13 x 9 casserole/baking dish. Combine green beans, corn, cream of mushroom soup and water in a bowl. Mix well and pour over the ground beef. Arrange the tater tots to cover the mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tater tots are lightly browned. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top and bake for five more minutes. Let cool for 5 more minutes and serve.

Then, I headed over to Lincoln & Nikki's for some games. I had a TON of fun! I arrived around 7:30 PM and chatted for a bit while unpacking my cheese ball and crackers. Then I proceeded to play:

Ra - with John, Karen and Mike. This was my first time playing it and I enjoyed it. I probably need to play a couple more times to really get the hang of it, but it was fun. Karen got points for the most pharoahs in all three epochs and dominated us!

For Sale - with John, Karen and Mike. Again, my first time with this one. Simple to learn and play. This is a good filler game. We were waiting for a game of Kreta to wrap up.

Can't Stop - with Davebo, Lincoln and Dave. I played this last weekend at Gary's for the first time and not only could we not stop playing last night (two games before Davebo took off), but I couldn't stop laughing! The D2 were cracking me up!

Emerald - with Dave and Lincoln. First time, quick to learn. I need to pay more attention to how my moves will affect others. The graphics were cracking me up because you have to go through a tunnel thing and it looks like a birth canal going up to a uterus. Here's a picture of Emerald:

Emerald with Lincoln & Dave

Here's a close-up of the board. Can you see the resemblance to the birth canal?? :-)

Emerald board

Overall, a very fun evening with all of them. I left around midnight and I listened to my Katamari Damacy CD that Lincoln made for me! Yea!!

Oh, and I almost forgot, Shane with lipstick! Probably not the right color, but for someone who NEVER wears it, what a difference!!

Before: Shane with new glasses, but NO lipstick

After: Shane with lipstick!

And if any single guys are out there checking this out, she is single!! :-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Joy of Baked Potatos

It's been years since I actually baked a potato. Since buying a microwave with handy-dandy cooking methods on it, I've used the "baked potato" feature that allows you to wash, stab and microwave potatos (or potatoes if you prefer), then wrap with foil for 5-10 minutes and voila! A microwaved (baked) potato. The big pro: Super fast - maybe 15 minutes from start to finish.

I was talking to Shane on Monday night and she said that she had eaten a bona fide baked potato. Apparently, she enjoys the crispiness of the skin and the texture of the enclosed potato that you can only achieve from actually baking the potato in an oven. Since it's been a little chilly here lately, I decided, what the heck, I should give it another try.

I used Shane's easy recipe...
Wash the potatos, stab them and bake for one hour at 400 F.

The results? Yummy, potatos that had much more flavor than the microwaved ones I've gotten accustomed to over the last eight years! She was absolutely right! The skin is crispy and yummy, the insides delish! I think what I enjoyed the most about it is the uniform texture on the inside of the potato. Microwaved potatos are sometimes not as soft in the middle, while at the same time sometimes a little overcooked near the skin. Also the "roasted" smell coming from the oven while they were cooking was yummy!

Verdict: I think I will switch to baking them in the oven when the weather permits! They were very tasty. I forgot how much I missed real baked potatos.

I also tried a recipe from Allrecipes. Preheat oven to 300 F, rub down potato with light amount of olive oil and sprinkle with desired amount of kosher salt. Do not wrap. Bake on the rack for 90 minutes! Perfecto!!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Weekend update - Food and Games

What could be better than friends, food and games over the weekend?

I met Shane over at A Window Between Worlds to do our karmic souls some good and we did data entry for a few hours. They had about 20 sorority sisters in there doing the regular volunteer work (painting the envelopes) and boy did I feel old! And very practical! I listened to a few just going on about their dresses and accessories for some big dance that was coming up and I thought, boy they have NOTHING to worry about in this world yet.

Then, Lincoln and Nikki came over for dinner. I made the Sunday rib roast and asparagus with parmesan cheese (both from a Barefoot Contessa book). I also tried a new buttermilk mashed potato recipe from my first Cook's Illustrated magazine (thanks Shane!!). The mashed potatoes were good as was everything else. I was hoping that everything would be excellent, but I'd have to say it was very good. I let the meat sit a little too long, but Lincoln and Nikki both said that they thought it was good, so that's all that matters.

After we ate, I introduced them to Katamari Damacy. That game is just so darn cute! I love it. They loved it too, so I was glad to spread the Katamari love. In fact, Lincoln already has the soundtrack for me! Yea!

Shane & I went to Gary's house for a games day. It was fun. I played Time's Up, Can't Stop, Boggle, and Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player expansion.

Time's Up - Fun as usual. This is probably one of my favorite party games.

Can't Stop - This was my first time playing and we couldn't stop! We played three games. It's quick, easy and fun. I'm already hunting down a copy on eBay. I loved it!

Boggle - OK. I had a little stint of playing Wordracer on Yahoo! games for a while a few years ago, so I can play it, but not my game of choice.

Settlers - Always fun! First time I've played with six players and it didn't slow it down as much as I though. The board is bigger and there are two extra ports. Jesse (new guy) who hadn't played Settlers before LOVED it and wanted to play again immediately, so they played a four player version. At the beginning of this games day, he listed is favorite games as Uno, Scrabble, and some other generic games. I have a feeling he will fall in love with the German games and never look back.

Overall, very fun weekend. I'm already scheduled for another games night on Wednesday! I'm really hoping to play Caylus, Vinci or Euphrat & Tigris. I'm new to this group, so we'll see. I will go with the flow...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Schreiner's Fine Sausages

Mmmm... sausages...

I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture. That being said, I picked up some sausages from Schreiner's Fine Sausages in Glendale and they were delicious! I ended up buying four bratwurst, rolls - like French bread hot dog buns, a jar of sauerkraut and a small jar of grated horseradish deli mustard. I also picked up some desserts from the bakery next door, an eclair and a white chocolate heart shaped bowl with marzipan mousse and topped with about 15 gigantic, delicious raspberries. Actually, that is probably worth a picture.

We grilled the brats and I made a big pan of grilled onions to put on top too. Very good. I don't know why I waited so long to go there myself. I had eaten sausages from Schreiner's a while ago at my friend Stephanie's house. I will definitely be going back again soon. Everything was delicious!!

Everything is better with pictures. I was just so hungry, I had to eat!

Here's their contact info:
Schreiner's Fine Sausages
3417 Ocean View Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91208
(818) 244-4735

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lingo Update

Oh, the horror...

The Lingo taping was fun. We weren't sure whether we were going back for just another game or if we would be playing past winners. It ended up that we were playing people who had won some $$ online playing Lingo. So all the matches that day were online winners vs. TV winners. I've never tried the online version, but apparently you can win hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately for us, I have a hunch that the online version is tougher than the TV version. The online winners were REALLY good and kicked all the TV winners' tails.

On the plus side, one of the people on the online winners team that we played against was Andrew Hutchings. I started talking to him during our orientation because he mentioned that he likes games, trivia games, board games, and game shows. Turns out, so do I! So, I had to ask if he also likes German games and so we were chatting about that a bit until the casting director "shushed" us and told us that we weren't allowed to talk to our competition.

During all tapings, Lingo has a third party company who monitors everything to make sure there is no game fixing, etc. going on a la Quiz Show. While we were waiting to tape, they took us out in the hall and said, "In the interest of full disclosure, we have to let you know that Andrew was on the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions and that aired less than a year ago..." blah blah blah Sony Pictures blah blah blah. All I heard was Jeopardy! ToC. Geez!

Fast forward: We lose because we get our first Lingo too quickly and missed the word "NINJA" (arghh!) and they had control of the board longer so we could never catch up. It was fun and stressful, but great fun! After we got done, my sister and I went to talk to Andrew, because as a J! fan, I know that they don't just invite anyone to be on the ToC. I had to find out how he got on the show! Inquiring minds must know! The answer: Andrew was the 1998 College Tournament Champion. I was impressed! It was my first time meeting any big winner on J! Definitely a day to remember. What was shocking too is that he was actually social and funny! I went to a college prep magnet school (last year #2 or 3 in the country, yea!) and some people were so smart that they had no room in their brains for any social prowess. So it was shocking that someone who I assume is so smart could act like a normal person. We were chatting about games and J! and then I realized that he brought his girlfriend with him and I was worried that she might think I was talking to him too much, so I cooled it. I didn't want to be too pushy, so we pretty much left after that.

Overall, the game part was OK, but I was really excited to meet Andrew - real life Jeopardy! champ and German games lover.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Lingo !!

Dawn and Stephanie on Lingo (1st appearance)

I love games and I love gambling. Game shows is like a combination that takes the best of both worlds! You get to compete (yea!), play a game (double yea!) and hopefully with some skill and a little luck, you'll win some money!

In fact, that is exactly what my sister and I are trying to do. We were contestants on a game show hosted by Chuck Woolery (world-famous game show host!!) called Lingo on Game Show Network last year. We won the big money and they called us back for another episode. We are filming it tomorrow!! Yippee!!

I will be bound by the contract to not reveal any information about the outcome of the game, but I'm hopeful that we will win again! Keep your fingers crossed for me!!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

I have been thinking about what my new year's resolutions should be. I came up with the most important one is to take better care of myself. That kind of encompasses so many things like: getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising so that I feel good, not falling into the negative thinking trap and in general being more positive.

My financial goals are to:
1. Continue and increase saving money outside of my retirement accounts;
2. Write a will or living trust and a power of attorney for my medical needs;
3. Start investing outside of my retirement accounts;
4. Rebalance my 401k account quarterly;
5. Increase the amount put in my 401k (ultimate goal is to max it out).

The rest need some more thinking... maybe they'll be ready by March! :-)