Sunday, January 03, 2021

Reflecting on 2020

One of my friends was asking on Facebook what good came out of 2020 and I was going to reply to her question, but then I thought, "Hey, I should write this up somewhere for posterity!" So, here we go...

I had started writing something up in mid-August about the pros and cons of sheltering at home. Looking at those now, four months later, they are still mostly true actually. Jason and I have been working from home since about mid-March. I had one client I saw a few more times on a monthly basis, but we have since moved to 100% remote work, so I haven't not left my house for work in months. This has been a huge plus for me. 

I've broken things down into categories! Who doesn't love categories?

General life

  • Not killing each other - Jason and I have managed to be together 24/7 for several months now and haven't killed each other! This one feels pretty major actually. So, I'll say this is #1 with a bullet. 
  • Great jobs - We are both so fortunate to be able to do our jobs remotely. Not everyone can and I think my stress levels would have been over the top if I had to be out and about with people this whole year.
  • Good friends - We are also fortunate to have a core group of friends to be in our Covid bubble. There is a lot at stake when you're in a bubble with others. There is a lot of trust and I'm happy we can trust our friends to make wise decisions. That said, as the saying goes, "Trust, but verify!" So, even though we are in a bubble, we are still wearing masks while around others.
  • Bullet Journal - I started bullet journaling in June and I love it. Here's a brief video that describes what it is and how it works. It has helped me manage my stress this year, by keeping track of everything I need to be doing. I bought a new journal for 2021 and after I finish this post, I'm going to start prepping it!

Food

  • Bread maker - I finally started using the bread maker my mom gave me YEARS ago. The loaves of bread are fairly ho-hum, but we've been using the heck out of the dough cycle to make rolls, garlic knots, and focaccia bread.
  • Zojirushi rice cooker - We purchased a 10 cup Zojirushi rice cooker. We have been using it pretty regularly. I love that it has a timer to cook rice. I can set it up in the morning and not have to worry about forgetting to turn it on at the right time. The rice turns out really well in it too.
  • Instant Pot with Air Fryer - I had a 6 quart Instant Pot, but I let my brother take it when he moved out last year. I went ahead and bought a replacement one, but this time, I bought the 8 quart Duo Crisp, so it has an air fryer lid that came with it. We've been using this at least once a week since we purchased it. It makes dinner a breeze. Our favorite recipe is air fried salmon, which we make almost weekly.
  • Eating out - We have still been patronizing our favorite restaurants, getting take out a couple times a week. 
  • Meal Planning - I've been better about meal planning. This has been a little more critical to do, especially since we've been using Instacart (referral link!) for all our groceries. Pre-pandemic, I could walk to our local grocery store and pick up last minute items all the time. I'm not going in grocery stores, so it helps to plan ahead.

Work/Money

  • Stable job for Jason - Jason had the same job for all of 2020! Woo-hoo!
  • 100% working remotely - I successfully moved most of my clients to 100% remote work. One client wanted me to still go to his home office, but I declined, so I think he found someone else to do the work. Totally fine with me as he was one of my smaller clients and one of my BFFs who was working for him no longer does. She was part of the draw of me going to his office every few months.
  • New clients in 2020 - After a few months of less work during the first few months of the pandemic, things picked up and I got several new clients during the pandemic. Overall, my revenue was up about 25% from 2019, which was up 50% from 2018.
  • Even more clients - In just the last two weeks, I have three new clients that are going to start up with me in January and February 2021. 
  • Value Pricing with Mark Wickersham - I joined the Value Pricing Academy with Mark Wickersham. Before I joined in mid-2020, I was billing all customers hourly. I've been taking his course and shifting my whole mindset and business to use value pricing, rather than hourly. I think this will be a real pivoting point for my business.

Health

  • No COVID-19 - We didn't get Covid during 2020, so that's a huge win!
  • Down 10 lbs - I'm down about 10 pounds from this time last year. I think a lot of it had to do with using Noom for the first two months of 2020. I just cancelled the subscription because I haven't really been using it since the pandemic started in mid-March. I got too far behind and then it just felt overwhelming to try to "catch up" with all the articles and participating with my group.
  • Physical - I skipped my annual physical in 2020 because I normally do it in late March, which was in the early part of the pandemic and I was just too freaked out mentally to be able to go. I have an appointment scheduled for mid-January 2021, so hoping that nothing has developed since my last physical almost two years ago.
  • Garmin Instinct - My brother gave me this smartwatch for Christmas about a year ago. It was the perfect gift. It's something I would never have bought for myself, but turns out, I love it! I wear it basically all the time and the data it provides helps me realize when I'm over-stressed or not rested enough. I love tracking things in the app. And I just got sidetracked and checked out all the Garmin smartwatches and I think I'm still good with my Instinct. The ones with the full color screens are cool, but my watch has a ton of awesome features and it only has to be charged every two weeks.

Exercise 

  • Peloton - This has been the shining star of the last third of 2020! We ordered it in late August, it finally arrived in late October. Before buying the bike, I had never taken a spinning class. This was part of why I had been resistant to trying this out. But then our friend Renee got one and loved it. So we decided to try it. There is a 30 day money back guarantee, so I figured that if we didn't like it, or weren't really using it, we could return it. Needless to say, we have been using it! And not just the bike. I love the strength classes in the app too. This really deserves its own post, so I will leave it at... We've used it a lot since purchasing it and looking forward to doing even more rides in 2021! I logged 2,000 minutes of workouts/classes in 2020. Not too shabby!  If you are buying a bike and want to save $100 on shoes or other accessories, here's my code: DRM9WHDRM9WHDRM9WHDRM9WH

Socializing and Hobbies

  • Hanging with faraway friends - I've been playing Die Crew every Tuesday with the same group and it's been great. Especially since three of them aren't living near me at the moment! It's been great to reconnect with everyone Zoom and Discord.
  • Continuing Wednesday night gaming - I'm still playing games every Wednesday night with my usual crew. It's nice to have consistency.
  • Thursday night trivia - What used to be my in-person Tuesday night trivia morphed to Thursday night trivia with Nikki and Paris, hosted by the always fun Steven. 
  • Rotary - I tried to attend as many Rotary meetings as I could this year. We kept it alive and even had a virtual wine tasting event in November! It was super fun. I miss seeing my fellow Rotarians, but it's been nice to hang with them, even virtually.
  • Virtual Puzzle Events - Sadly, the annual NPL convention was cancelled, but instead we had Conline and then Conline2! We also moved our Puzzled Pint meetings to virtual as well, so it's been great keeping up with everyone each month via Zoom.
  • Letter Jam - Nathan made an online version of Letter Jam!! It's been so fun and we've used it quite a bit.

TV/Movies/Podcasts

  • Tiger King - watched via Netflix Party Chrome extension... seriously, didn't EVERYONE watch this?
  • Love is Blind - watched via Netflix Party Chrome extension with Nathan and Chia
  • Kim's Convenience
  • Schitt's Creek
  • Queen's Gambit
  • Wonder Woman 84
  • Mandalorian season one - still need to watch the second season 
  • The Boys
  • Atypical
  • The Vow (documentary)
  • Fake Doctors, Real Friends - Scrubs podcast with Zach Braff and Donald Faison, where they have one podcast episode per Scrubs episode. I'm still pretty new on it, but I just LOVE TO DEATH
  • Britney Runs a Marathon
  • I'm sure there is more, but those are the ones coming to mind.

 

Random Highlights

  • Diana is pregnant! - One of my friends is pregnant! Currently on bed rest, due in early February. But she's my age and had not had much luck in the first several years of being married, so thrilled to soon have a baby in our group! But also, she moved to Arizona (sad trombone!).
  • Shane bought a house - She and JJ bought a house in September! Sadly, it's still an hour away, but at least it's somewhat nearby! Once the pandemic is done, looking forward to actually seeing it in person. 
  • Two person cookie party - My normal cookie party was cancelled due to Covid, so on December 18, Nathan and I baked several hundred cookies while masked and then drove them around to deliver them to various friends and clients. It was a very exhausting day, but we kept the tradition alive!
  • Alt BGG.con - We rented a house with our bubble and had our own gaming convention. I was sad to miss BGG.con, but glad we could keep this tradition alive as well. The two really exciting things from this were: a saltwater pool at the house, which I utilized just about every day, and going to Cortina's multiple times to pick up food and snacks. 
  • Three(!!!) cabin trips - Nathan and I made THREE trips to the cabin! It was SO nice to get out of town and just be in a quiet space! It's so peaceful there. And the birds. I miss the birds so much! I sometimes watch this video when I want to see them. The chickadees will literally eat out of your hands. 
  • Paris had a heart attack - Fortunately, it was mild and it happened a week before Thanksgiving, so it was before the insane surge of Covid cases so he was able to be seen and treated quickly. If you could time a heart attack, he did it just right.

There may be more, but for now, this will do! If I delay in posting this, I'll forget and next thing I know, it will be 2022! This was fun! I'll have to post more in 2021. Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My Favorite Dallas Restaurants

My friend Marc wanted some eating recommendations for his friend who is working in Dallas this week, so I worked up a list and thought I should post it here so that next time I can just send a link to this page...

We go to Dallas every November for BGG.CON and this is pretty much my to-do list every year:
  • Pecan Lodge - BBQ, but it's kind of far, closer to the heart of the city. If he goes with maybe 5 other people, he can skip the line and go to the front to the "big orders" register and order a trough, which is enough for about 6-8 people depending on their appetites.
  • Lockhart Smokehouse -  If they have it, get the bread pudding. Also, the beef rib, which is only made on Wednesdays and served until the run out, so get there early for lunch on Wednesday.
  • Meat U Anywhere BBQ  - A bit north of DFW. They open at 6 am with breakfast burritos/tacos made from BBQ. :-) Perfect for morning BBQ.
  • Damian's Cajun Soul Food -Iit's in Arlington, only open 11 am - 4 pm during the week, but delicious. I never miss it when I'm in Dallas. The peach cobbler and cakes are a must!! Prices are very reasonable.
  • Hard Eight BBQ - Also, not terribly far from the airport, maybe a little northeast... The worst of these amazing BBQ restaurants, but still solid.
  • Andalous Mediterranean Grill - Freshly made pitas, variety of meats/kabobs and about a dozen veggie-friendly options. The fried cauliflower is amazing. 
  • Babe's Fried Chicken House - Great fun with a group. You choose your meat and all sides are family-style with unlimited refills. The whipped potatos and corn are crack-tacular.  They have multiple locations, but we usually go to the one in Carrollton.  I usually get the fried catfish or chicken, but people love the smoked chicken.
  • Elotes La Esperanza - This is a cart in front of a Fuel City gas station. There is also a taco stand right next door to the gas station. I'd recommend both of them. The elotes cart is cash only.

Friday, July 31, 2015

New-ish House, New-ish Budget

We started budgeting in 2013.  It's worked out pretty well.  I feel like we're both on the same page with money and we have a common outlook toward our future.  -- I originally wrote these first couple sentences almost a year ago, but it still holds true.

We have a new-to-us house, which has changed our budgeting.We did a ton of remodeling and used savings plus some cash flow to fund all the renovations. In addition, my work-life has been turned upside down in various ways since last September. Right now, I'm working very part-time and it's kind of weird. I've been getting little projects done around the house, but it's just weird not having someplace to go every day. Thankfully, Jason is gainfully employed. :-)

On the plus side, I've been able to volunteer a bit more, exercise a bit more and cook more, so overall, it's been pretty positive. I haven't been pursuing a full-time job just yet because we're waiting to adopt. So I'm using this time as a time to get refreshed. I have no idea how long it will take to find children to adopt. We're adopting through the foster system. We got officially licensed in April and so far, we've only received one call about twin boys, but they fell through. I'm not sure why the process is so slow. Maybe bureaucracy? I have no idea.

Since 2013, we've been using Mint.com, but last week I decided to try something else. The best thing Mint has going for it is that it's easy. It's a lazy man's finance tool. You enter all your information and it will automatically download your transactions. The bad thing is that the budgeting tool sucks. It's so hard to interpret. So last week I downloaded You Need a Budget. The interface doesn't automatically download everything, but I can download transactions in Quicken format and upload to the program. It also has mobile apps for iPhone and Android. August will be our first whole month using it. I'm excited to see how we like it. I already like how the budgeting looks WAY better than how it's formatted in Mint.

The next financial goal is to pay off the house early. We've been paying a little extra toward the mortgage each month. If we precisely followed the Dave Ramsey Baby Steps, we'd pay any extra we have in our budget toward the house after putting our 15% into our retirement plans. I'm not sure if we will follow this exactly. We will have to scrutinize the incoming funds for August to figure out how much is reasonable.

More of an update on You Need a Budget after I've used it for a full month.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Still going...

I was listening to Dave Ramsey a few weeks ago and someone had written in with a question about whether flipping houses was a good way to make some money on the side.  His reply?

He said there are three rules in real estate... (paraphrased)

  1. It will cost twice as much as you think it will...
  2. It will take twice as long as you think it will...
  3. YOU are not the exception...
I'm not flipping this house.  We're remodeling it to live in it.  And yet, this encapsulates my life lately.  Our original remodeling budget was blown out of the water.  Well, not "blown out of the water," but definitely more than we thought we would spend.  

We're delaying the AC installation until after we move in to help cash flow that expense. In a rare occurrence, procrastination has paid off!  The energy efficiency rebates offered by our city are doubled starting 9/1, so we'll get a rebate of close to $1,600!  Very exciting!

I've been my own general contractor and it's been fun, but a little stressful.  There are so many details every day!  Thank goodness I've been working part-time since May. It's given me plenty of time to meet with plumbers, electricians, inspectors, and and and!  It's rapidly coming to a close and I can't wait.  I'm ready to just chill out.

But it's good.  While packing, I found a card from my grandfather that he sent when I bought my first house in 2000.  I read it aloud to the new Jason and then filed it away and pretended that he sent it to me for this house too.  

Pictures to be posted soon!  This was rather disjointed, but it's the update. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Escrow

After months and months of searching, we are finally in escrow!  And, because I'm a procrastinator, we're actually almost all done with escrow.  We should be signing all the docs on Friday, the loan will fund Monday, and then it should be recorded Tuesday, July 1st, aka: The Day We Become Homeowners!

It's been a really bumpy road getting here, but I'm happy to report that since entering escrow with this home, everything has been going relatively smoothly!  No crazy real estate agents or weird sellers.

When we started looking, I told Jason, "I'd love to buy a house in Burbank..."  I didn't expect it to actually happen because:  (a) homes in Burbank are typically a tad bit more expensive than other areas, (b) the ones that are for sale (in our price range) are what we affectionately call "Frankenhouses" due to the illegal, weird room additions, and (c) the market is so crazy, we never expected to actually win a bid in such an in-demand area.

Well, what I thought would never happen is happening.  We are almost owners of a home in Burbank!  It's a 3 bed/2 bath house in the flat part of Burbank.  It's about 1,800 square feet with a spacious 2 car garage in the back.  And in true SoCal real estate fashion, it needs some cosmetic work, plus central air.  The sellers have lived in the house for the last 40 years without air conditioning.  Shocking, really...

We have a long list of things we'd like to do.  Once we get keys next Tuesday, we'll have to go and figure out what we "need" to do before we move in.

Here's a picture of the front of the house:

More to come!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Buying a House in Los Angeles

We've been considering buying a home in Los Angeles.  Actually, more than considering... we looked for a few months last fall, bid on a couple houses... one we really wanted, but didn't get.

Here was the situation:

The home was listed for $599K.  We really liked it and knew that they already had multiple bids, so we bid $631K.  The sellers put out multiple counteroffers for $640K, with the add-on of removing the appraisal contingency*.  We responded to the counter accepting the increased price and agreeing to pay up to $20K over the appraisal price in cash, if the home didn't appraise for $640K.  Well, the sellers ended up going with other buyers.  Who can blame them?  They chose the buyers who had ALL CASH.  Crazy.  Who has $640K in cash lying around to buy a house?  I can only assume people who just sold their own homes in this crazy market... And this is a fairly typical scenario in the Los Angeles housing market the last year or so.


After that, Jason's job was a little tenuous and we knew there was a very good chance the company would run out of money (being a fairly new start-up).  So, we took a break during Christmas to re-think everything.

And now we're back.  Starting to look at houses again.  When we're at these open houses, we see kids younger than us (get off my lawn!), browsing the same houses we are and I think to myself, how can they even afford this house?  We have a good down payment saved up and decent paying jobs and even then, we're like "wow, this is going to be a stretch!"  I just don't know how they're doing it.

I'm so tempted to stay in our apartment.  I have the added bonus of being the apartment manager and only paying $950 in rent!  So it's hard to imagine going from that to over $3,000/month with the mortgage, taxes and insurance.  I keep crossing my fingers that a 2 bedroom will open up in my building and allow us to move within the building (keeping the building manager discount).

As it stands now, we're looking.  It took almost three months last year to find one we both really liked, so who knows how long it will take this year.  We can bide our time, waiting for the right home to pop-up.  Or maybe that two bedroom apartment will open up... :-)  Either way, I'm going to enjoy my below-market rent while I can.


*Side note:  The appraisal contingency is there to "protect" buyers from overpaying.  If you bid $900K on a house worth only $500K, you can use the fact that it didn't appraise for enough to either back out or renegotiate your deal with the sellers.  And if you're financing the home with a mortgage, then you're pretty much stuck because the bank isn't going to lend you more than the home is worth and not getting financing is definitely a way to back out of a real estate deal because there are usually financing contingencies as well.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Food Challenge: Eating from the Pantry and Freezer

As I've been trying to take advantage of various sales, I've realized I have no room left in my freezer to freeze meat!  I pulled out a prime rib roast to cook this weekend, just so I could make room for something else.  My pantry is also pretty darn full.

And as a random side note, I hate the way my spices are in my cabinet because it's so hard to read.  I bought a plastic drawer thing that is *really* to be used as a filing cabinet.  It has two shallow drawers on top and then one bigger drawer on the bottom for files.  I'm planning on putting the spices in the top two drawers with the spices lying down so the labels will show when you're looking down. I'm thinking about putting the potatoes and onions down the in the big drawer.

So, back to the freezer and pantry... I think I'm going to try to start cooking my way through it.  And clean it out on an as-needed basis.  I need to make space!  We usually spend about $300/month on groceries.  So maybe I cut that budget in half for January and try to use up the stuff in the freezer/pantry?  With the holidays and actually being in-town, I think we'll need our full budget of $350 (added a buffer due to Christmas/New Year's).  

I think it's worth a shot! I'll bet I have things in my freezer that I've completely forgotten about!  What I really need is a better system for keeping track of what I have in the freezer to cook.  I'm going to research that and I'll post any techniques that work for me here.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Non-Baby Update

We've been trying for a baby all year, so far no luck.  So we decided to take the advice of Jason's parents to just get checked out and make sure everything is functioning properly.  We both went for some tests.  His was pretty simple. Meanwhile...

My tests included:
  • Pelvic ultrasound to check out the status of my fibroids (especially my biggest one which is now 12 cm all around!),
  • Vaginal ultrasound to then check for more fibroids - apparently I have even more in my uterine walls.  Some of them are near where the baby would implant, so I had to go for another test (HSG) to check the lining because he couldn't tell if the fibroids were disturbing the lining of the uterus around the implantation area,
  • Ovarian blood test - This tested a few different levels and everything here checked out normally,
  • Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) - to check the lining of my uterus and the status of my Fallopian tubes.  This test was to check the area around the implantation site to make sure those small fibroids weren't causing a bigger problem than the 12 cm one.  Turns out, the lining at the implantation site looked good.  And my Fallopian tube by the big fibroid is stretched out some, but it's not blocked or being squished.  
The bottom line is that everything appears to be functioning normally. So now we're just wrestling with the next steps.  My doctor is recommending taking Clomid for one cycle.  It's an oral medication that should make me "drop" 2-3 eggs instead of just one when I ovulate.  If that doesn't do the trick, then we can try injectibles which will "drop" several eggs instead of just one.  The Clomid is supposed to help my chances of getting pregnant like 10% and the injectibles like 20%.  

We're definitely not doing anything for November.  The time that I would be taking Clomid would be exactly when I'm at BGG.CON in Dallas and I don't want to be worried about having hot flashes and everything else while I'm around 1,000 of my closest friends.  So the earliest we would try the Clomid would be December.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll get pregnant by then?

We've also been seriously considering doing foster care, but I was informed by someone who deals with the foster care system that if we got pregnant during our licensing process, they would put us on hold until our child is one year old.  So, I think we're going to have to give getting pregnant a little more time (both naturally and with the pharmaceutical help) before we decide to follow through with the foster care process.  The foster care stuff requires its own post, so I'll save that for another day...

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Budgeting

I went out to lunch with my BFF Shane today. We met up to catch up and do a little shopping. While we were out, I looked up how much I spent at Maggiano's the last time we did a liquid Saturday lunch. This got is on the subject of mint.com and budgeting. 

Jason and I put all the money in a joint account and budget from there. She and her hubby (we each got married two weeks apart) have separate accounts and then put a set amount into a joint account to pay bills out of. 

I am not a huge fan of their method, at least not for myself, but it seems to be working for them. There are so many different ways to budget and I think they're like outfits. Each fits in a different way. 

The thing we can agree on is that we like Mint, which was not the case when I started using it. I hated it. There are certain things I still don't like but overall, it's been pretty great as we finish up 10 months of budgeting!  

I think having the monthly budget meetings has been good for our relationship. We do talk during the month about how we're doing, but having that monthly check-in time is good to make sure we're still on the same page. 


Friday, November 01, 2013

NaBloPoMo 2013

In theory, I'll post a blog entry everyday in November.  I'm this post at 11:45 pm on the first day of the month.   I'm not sure this bodes well, but it's worth a shot anyway. 

I may not post everyday, but I miss writing about the various events happening around here. 

Topics to cover:
Being married a year!
Pregnancy quest
Foster care info
The Great House Hunt
Saving
Retirement
Puzzles

And given that BGG.CON is in a couple weeks... Games!!

Until tomorrow, aka: 9 minutes from now...