Tuesday, July 31, 2007

hello eagle

The other morning I waited at the bus stop minding my own, when out of the corner of my eye I saw our resident bald eagle, perched a few hundred feet away. For the five minutes I waited, I watched him on the edge of a roof, nipping at something under his wing, then stare regally out at the bay.

I've never seen a bald eagle so close. It was really something.

And then I went to work.

The end.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

in Canadian news...

I hear water lapping against the shore. Rocks mostly.

I'm watching "The Aviator" on CBC. There is now a ten-minute intermission to show the news. It led off with a story about gunfire in Iraq - celebrating their soccer team victory.

I'm afraid I will stay up too late to watch the end of this movie, even though I'm recording it. It is that riveting.

I probably should've done laundry.

do you like luxury?

I hesitate -- and yet am compelled -- to share with you how I spent my afternoon.

This is my sickness.

I've ignored my credit cards for a couple of years now. I paid them off, then literally put them in a drawer and attempted to forget they existed. It's not exactly fair to those little pieces of plastic who meant so much to me for so long, but there it is.

I stopped activating new cards, and when they arrived just added the whole envelope to a pile to deal with at an undetermined date. I closed a couple of them a few years ago, but left the oldest ones open to keep my credit history up-to-date. That pile has nagged at me, silently, melodramatically, in the darkest hours of night and the brightest hours of day. And yet, I persisted in allowing the pile to grow because hey, it's not hurting anybody. (Except Jer, who hates clutter.)

Yesterday I opened every envelope, logged into every website, and verified and activated each card. It was such a small thing, but a symbol of procrastination I've nurtured lo these many years. I think I waited because I was afraid I'd start using them again, but that's silly. I learned my lesson. I should trust myself.

When I called to activate my card, one of the credit card companies forwarded me to an agent. He kept asking, "What can we do to get you to use your card again?" I laughed at him. He said, "We just want you to use it." I said, "I bet!" Then I laughed some more.

I was born at night but not last night, baby!

The catalyst for action was this: I want to buy a house within two years and need to make sure I have at least 3 active credit lines, with a great credit score. It's good to have little to no debt, but it means I have to work that much harder to re-establish my credit. I now enter a two-year phase I call: Operation Strategic Spending.

So the pile is now kaput and everything is filed away where thieves will never find them. (Not a challenge, by the way.) Whoo hoo!

Then since I was feeling good about conquering the procrastination beast, I updated my spreadsheet with recent index fund purchases -- dates, quantity, and price paid.

Maybe it's just me, but this was a very satisfying way to spend the afternoon. Especially because it took so long to get to this place and it took a lot of sacrifices over the years, but the benefits are tangible now.

It's not my intention to rub it in if you are struggling to make ends meet, I'm just saying there's a light at the end of the tunnel. And it's a great feeling when you finally move from being reactive to proactive about your finances.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Simmering Saturday

It's the nicest day outside, just the right amount of sun, blue sky, and breeze. I rode the water taxi downtown to meet my trainer, worked out, rode back, and then Jer and I went to a lunch buffet at the Royal India Grill. For only $6.95 they had a large assortment of curries, naan, and even vegetable samosas. Very tasty.

After eating more food than necessary, we walked to Hiawatha Park to see their tennis courts, wading pool, and play sets. The weather reminded me of Santa Barbara, and strolling through the trees in the park cemented that deja vu feeling. Jer and I took turns shoving each other off the path, just like in the old days. Awwww.

Then I broke my spending moratorium and bought a corned beef brisket. It's in the crock pot right this instant, simmering in beer. Last week I bought some sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, rye bread, and Thousand Island dressing, so we'll be having Reubens later.

On the way back, we stopped to get iced mochas and the barista told us a sad tale about getting hit by a car earlier. She was limping and still in distress. I hope it works out for her; she makes excellent mochas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

stock up for summer

I know it's not great for a lot of investors that stock prices are falling, but secretly it makes me very happy. Between you and me, it feels like my favorite store is having the best sale ever, and it's time to stock up (hardy har har) on this season's hippest fashions. Or, you know, place a buy order.

Sadly, I'm still on my budget and can't do much, but I had a few bucks set aside in my account for this exact opportunity and just placed the order. And my regularly scheduled purchase goes through in a week, so we'll see where it ends up then.

The plan for maintaining this week's budget is still on track. Jer bought dinner twice and I used a gift card last night. It's another beautiful day here, so I might skip the gym and go for a walk.

It probably sounds like I'm using Jer to bail me out of my budget issues, but that's only a little bit true. Every penny of my paycheck is accounted for in a text file that I update monthly -- and the money is spent on joint expenses as well as personal. Jer's paycheck... not so segmented. He's more freeform with his funds. The way we structured it, he ends up with leftover funds that eventually go into a savings account. A few bucks spent here and there going out to dinner don't affect his overall target. Whereas with me, every penny is critical.

It works for us. I'm passionate about money and he doesn't want to spend as much time thinking about it, but we're still able to reach our overall targets -- through scheduled automatic withdrawals to a jointly held account.

Can you tell I love to read personal finance blogs? Because I do. Someday I'll update the sidebar with some of my favorites. It'll be my own version of paying it forward.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

a little victory

I just got back from the gym and boy are my arms tired.

(That's not exactly true since today was ab and lunge day.)

I've got great news for me though. I'm back to losing weight instead of gaining it. I lost the 4 pounds I gained after the last contest and my parent's visit. And I'm back to recording my meals in a food diary and bringing my lunches -- okay, mostly out of frugality, but it counts. I'm actually back to where I was at the end of the last contest, at the end of June, only this time without giving up booze. Yay, booze! Especially red wine!

Do you doubt me? WRONG ANSWER.

practicing what i preach

I'm working on a new experiment this week. It's called, "Living within my means." I'm seeing how long I can resist the urge to spend money. I've come to the conclusion that it's about as hard as dieting.

For example, this morning my purple Doc Martens were hurting my ankles and I had no Band-Aids, so I decided I needed to buy some -- work rarely has them and that's where I was headed. But wait! I can't use my debit card and I don't have enough cash. However! I am carrying my sneakers in my gym bag, which is on my back right now, what if I switched them out? The only downside is it won't look very professional, but it will be super comfortable. Okay. I'll do it. I will make this aesthetic sacrifice.

I did spend $0.75 on a soda yesterday, but I had the change in my desk, so it fit the rules. Also, Jer bought dinner, but I ordered something with lots of vegetables so I could take the leftovers for lunch today. Healthy and frugal! (So I like the exclamation point. Sue me.)

Four more work days until I get paid. I have lunches planned, and frozen dinners, plus some wheat pasta I can whip up if I get bored with Tasty Bite and brown rice. I realize I've been getting complacent in what is acceptable to spend money on and this is a good reality check. I have my budget and I overspent, so now I must deal with the consequences.

In some ways, back when I worked in the box office it was far easier to live within my means, because I was living from paycheck to paycheck. Now that we are a little more comfortable -- photography school loan is paid off, for example -- it can be tougher to mentally set aside the money I need to reach my goals. And just like incorporating diet and exercise as a daily habit, it's a new struggle everyday and a different way of thinking.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm on a self-imposed money diet due to some unplanned clothes spending, so today's grocery store trip was interesting. It's been a long time since I paid for groceries in cash. I originally intended to buy a couple of corned beef briskets for the slow cooker, but the one I saw was $17 and that'd blow my budget. Then I noticed a package of boneless beef short ribs in a Caribbean citrus marinade on the shelf next to it, about 3.5 pounds for $5, and went for it. They just reached their sell by date, and since I planned to cook them immediately, it worked out great.

They're in the crockpot now. Only five more hours to go.

As for the clothes I purchased, I stocked up on work and workout clothes last week and then a few days ago went to Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale and bought two coats -- a rain coat and a wool pea coat. Once I replace my shoes, I'll finally look like a normal person again, instead of someone with big holes in her coat and baggy black slacks. The only down side is that the homeless people will probably start asking me for money again.

I go for long periods of time where I forget about clothing, with the exception of putting some on in the morning and doing laundry. Then one inevitable day I look down and realize my carefully constructed ensemble is hanging on by a literal thread. At that point I must have new clothes immediately; groceries be damned!

I did well though. I've got enough food to last the ten days until I get paid again, without dipping into savings. I just need to stay away from bookstores and bars and possibly Cold Stone Creamery, and it should be all good.

Friday, July 20, 2007

bang, smash, yum

After work last night I walked over to Jer's parking structure so I could get a ride. As we drove through downtown, we passed a bus attempting a right turn. Next to a Jaguar. Cutting it a little close. The next thing we heard was metal tearing metal -- a very sad sound -- but we couldn't see much. After a minute, the bus driver made everyone leave the bus and we drove on. I have nightmares about things like that; I am uncomfortable driving large vehicles -- and a Jaguar of all things! I don't even park my little, inexpensive, no frills car on the street downtown. Ugh.

We ended up at the Royal India Grill, which was excellent. Jer and I shared 2 vegetable samosas, chicken vindaloo with basmati rice, and garlic naan. It was the perfect amount of food and extremely tasty. I can't wait to go back and try their lunch buffet.

Later I fell asleep on the couch reading about millionaire women. When Jer woke me, I had no idea where I was. It was the strangest experience. I asked him if it was time go, I think, because I was pretty sure my parents were still visiting and we needed to drive them downtown. I've never been so disoriented. I wasn't even completely sure who I was or that I was in the right apartment. Have you ever experienced anything like that?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

to pay the piper

It should come as a surprise to no one -- except my stupid self -- that after drinking and eating everything in sight for 5 days, a normal workout is exceptionally hard. I somehow managed to forget.

Today was a painful lesson in remembering.

At least my trainer didn't make me use the quad mill again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Hate UPS

I am back. Did you miss me?

I went to UPS this morning. I do not like UPS because something always goes wrong when I deal with UPS. For example:

  • They deliver boxes to the wrong place and then blame you. (See Tasty Bite incident of April 2007)
  • They can't manage to take items off the truck and hold them when I request it and they confirm it will happen.
  • They only ever have 1-2 people working the counter so it takes a half hour, minimum, to pick up a package.
  • Their office is dirty. Or maybe it's clean. Hard to tell when everything is brown and sad.
  • Even though the tracking slip says they'll leave my package if I sign the back, they never do.
  • They are only open Monday through Friday.
  • They waste my time.
So... okay. You get the point. Me equals no love for the boys (and girls) in brown. (Unless you are one, then I'm sure you're the exception I haven't met yet. I would probably like you very much.)

This morning I went to pick up a package they'd tried to deliver last night around 7:30pm. I was at Pegasus Pizza, so I came home to a slip. There was no name on the slip, just a scrawled apartment number. It could've been Jer's package or my package or for a different building, you think they might have written a name?

Anyway, this morning I went to pick up my package. I timed it to fit in nicely with taking my parents to the airport, but I forgot that when you go to UPS, multiply how long you think it will be by 5. The man disappeared in the back for 15 minutes, after I'd been waiting for him to finish with his 1 customer for 10 minutes. While he was in the back, other customers came and went with packages, but when he finally emerged from the bowels of the warehouse, no package for me. They forgot to remove it from the truck, he said. So I was late to pick up my parents (and I have to go back again, argh), which was okay because there wasn't any traffic. But I was still angry after I dropped them off at the airport, so I decided to finally go clothes shopping.

This is kind of a big deal. I haven't been clothes shopping in a looooong time, but since I'm down to 1-2 pairs of work pants and one of those just lost a button, I'd say it's time. Also, I'm down a couple sizes and all the old stuff fits badly.

In the end I came away with two big bags of clothes -- some for work, some for play, and some for the gym. I could use a new pair of shoes and some socks, but hey one step at a time.

That is my story. I hope your experiences with UPS are superior to mine. And also, yay, clothes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

At Random

Here are three random shots from the last 5 days.

Bill Spiedel's Underground Tour, View from under the sidewalk:

Snoqualmie Falls:

Washington State Ferry shot from the Elliott Bay Water Taxi:

Day Number Blurrrr

Wow. The last few days have been a blur. We left off the recap with Saturday morning. Here's the new recap:

Saturday. Picked parents up from their hotel and went to McDonalds for breakfast. Drove to Snoqualmie Falls and hiked to the bottom, took photos, and hiked back up. Went to the gift store. Drove to Twede's Cafe in North Bend, ate dessert (I had chocolate cream pie), then drove to Roslyn (about 50 minutes away). Drank at the Brick -- the bar in Northern Exposure -- took some photos and looked in the gift shops. Drove back to the hotel, enjoyed the air-conditioning and had a scotch. Drove to Tap House Grill, ate dinner, walked around downtown Seattle, then dropped parents back off at their hotel.

Sunday. Parents rode the water taxi over to West Seattle. Met up with them and ate brunch at Salty's. Rode the water taxi back downtown, stopped at the pirate store, dropped some things off at the hotel, then walked up to Pike Place. It was very crowded so didn't last long. Stopped at the Blarney Stone for awhile. Rode the Monorail to the Seattle Center, went to the top of the Space Needle, walked through the Seattle Center because there was a Bastille Day celebration going on, ate a Merguez sausage sandwich. Walked to T.S. McHughs in Queen Anne, stayed there for awhile. Met up with Jer at McMenamin's Queen Anne location. Ate and drank way too much. Hobbled/wobbled back to the car.

Monday. I rode the water taxi downtown and met my parents. We all went to the ferry terminal and bought tickets for Bainbridge Island. Took the ferry to BI, ate breakfast at Doc's Marina Grill -- very nice. Window shopped for a long time. Also bought fudge and truffles and fancy stationery. Rode ferry back downtown, stopped at Red Robin to wait for the water taxi, and split up. I am now at home, and my parents will be meeting up with us later for dinner at Pegasus Pizza. Whee.

I have a gazillion photos to share with you. I will probably only share about 5, but be warned matey, they be coming.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Lists disguised as paragraphs

Good morning!

We are on day 3 of the parents' visit and I have been keeping everyone busy. No sooner did they claim their baggage, I whisked them downtown for sandwiches at Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, which you may recognize as the brainchild of Armandino Batali, Mario's dad. I had the Hot Sopressata sandwich with onions and peppers. Mmmm.

Then we stopped to take photos at Waterfall Garden Park, but it was still so warm outside, we stopped at the J&M Cafe for a pint. The bartender was very friendly and shared all about the secret upper floor that still has all its original mahogany fixtures but is closed to the public. This was a perfect segue into the Underground Tour, next on our schedule.

After the Underground Tour we went on the Harbor Tour where we tried all the beers on tap and learned about the waterfront. Also, we bought a copy of our group photo for all posterity. Everyone everywhere should go on the Argosy Harbor Tour because it is informative and fun.

Next I showed my apartment to my parents, we met up with Jer, and we all went to the Jules Maes Saloon for dinner. Eventually we slept.

Yesterday Jer and I took them to breakfast at Easy Street Records and Cafe, and wandered into a street fair. So we walked around the fair for an hour -- my Dad disappeared into a coin shop for awhile -- then drove to Fremont for a tour at Theo Chocolate. The tour was very warm, but fun, so we stopped at Brouwer's Cafe for a pint and a cheese plate. After that, we went to see the Fremont Troll then Gasworks Park on our way to Woodinville, where we did a wine tasting at the Columbia Winery and ate dinner at the Redhook Brewery. Eventually we slept.

Today will probably also be busy. I should get up and shower, but there's a cat in my lap and you know what a sucker I am for cats in the lap.

The new GPS/Navigator thing has been a life saver. I call it Daisy, after a character on Spaced. If you aren't familiar with Spaced -- as I wasn't only two weeks ago -- I suggest you obtain its two seasons and watch them. Funniest show I've seen in a long time. It features actors you may recognize from Shaun of the Dead, but that came later.

Time to be a tourist again!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On a Jet Plane

My parents are in the air, about two hours away. I've just finished a mug of Bailey's and coffee -- E-Z on the Bailey's -- and am contemplating what cleaning I can manage before they arrive. Also, I'm printing out directions, which is silly because Jer bought a Garmin Nuvi 350 Pocket Vehicle GPS Navigator that arrived yesterday but I don't know how to use it yet.

I am a Luddite at heart.

There are roughly two thousand beer bottles that need to be taken downstairs for recycling (okay, 25) and a load of dishes to run through the washer, maybe some vacuuming, but that can probably slide. It's cooler than it was yesterday -- not over 90 yet -- and the cats are hiding in a closet somewhere.

But hey, I'm not at work! It's a Thursday and I don't have FrameMaker open. And I'm wearing shorts, not slacks. And I'm going on a Harbor Tour today!

Maybe I should have another Bailey's and coffee to celebrate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Epic idea!

Our complex is having the exterior windows cleaned today, which means removing screens and shutting all windows tight...

It's supposed to be 90 degrees today. The cats will probably spend the entire time plotting their revenge.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Jer and I went to Alki yesterday -- he used rollerblades, I walked -- to see the Seafair Pirates' landing at Alki Beach. It was our first time and it was a beautiful day. The best part was all the kids dressed as pirates, and the huge amount of people that turned out. The worst part was that I never saw a pirate, not really, and the backs of my legs were brutally sunburned -- at least I remembered sunscreen for my face.

Here is my pseudo photo essay of the event:

Two pirates posing on Alki Beach:

Pole vault contest:

Carstar Model:

Pirate skeleton:

Crowd shot:

Potato mascot from an Alki fish and chips restaurant:

Crowd shot with Space Needle in the background (waiting for pirates):

Boy waving his pirate flag, waiting for the pirates to land:

Crowd, still waiting to see the pirates:

Eventually the pirates landed, but there were too many people and not enough pirates. I couldn't see a thing. Oh well. Then we made our way home. The end.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Fourth

To view the full photo, go to the On Focus Photo Store.

4th of July went well. The nachos turned out tasty. The company was awesome, and some of the fireworks pictures turned out. I cleaned my lens earlier in the day but there was some crud that didn't get removed, so I'll have to touch up all the pics for dust.

I'll post a couple here once they're ready. Then maybe I'll track someone down to clean the camera professionally.

This year I experimented with f/11 and f/16, bumped up my ISO, and used a remote control for shutter release. Last year I stayed at f/8 and ISO 100, and held my breath every time I took a shot.

My On Focus Photo Blog received a bunch of Google hits on the 4th -- people searching for fireworks information. Still not a lot of hits overall, but I'm pleased since it showed some of my SEO work was paying off.

At lunch I'm meeting with my trainer, who has lately taken to working me very very hard. For example, I'm still sore from Monday's workout. Here's hoping we limit the excruciating pain today...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

But... the cart!

I have to begin: I am not complaining. Really, I'm not. I might be procrastinating, but there is no whining anywhere on this beautifully sunny, and 80 degree holiday. With my parents' imminent arrival of very soon and this evening's nacho party, the apartment is in dire need of de-cat-hair-ification. Short of tossing the cats, I've ingested my Claritin, applied eye drops, got a cat in my lap to pet, and decided to update the blog. Yes, that is clearly a logical project flow.

So today is the day I've set aside to clean. Then nap. Then put together some nachos and have good times. Luckily, my friends live up the street so they will not have to face the entire aftermath of driving on fourth of July by my apartment, only a little bit. It is a very bad thing to drive around here post-'works. Mostly on fireworks holidays, such as New Year's and Independence Day, Jer and I sit by the balcony with our drinks and cringe at the insanity. Pedestrians and cars in a fight to the death... you know, literally.

This summer, more than any other, I've been the victim of multiple sneezing. Six times in a row, easy. I mention this now because I just started another uncontrollable sneezing jag, scared the cat and now I no longer have a cat in my lap, which means I have to get up.

An update to the last entry. The lists have migrated to my hand. In faded black ink it currently says: tupperware, tissues, eye drops, and headphones.

Oh, ha. Last night, Jer and I went to Wal-Mart for the first time here, and the first time in a couple of years. In the checkout line, an older single guy in front of us took the items out of his cart, put them on the conveyor belt, and then proceeded to pretend that he'd never seen that cart before in his life. He walked forward and left the cart. So I nudged it forward. He ignored it. He paid for his purchases, turned to walk away, clearly having abandoned the cart in the middle of the checkout lane, when I said, "Excuse me, sir? Sir?" He finally turned around, like what? I smiled and said, "Sir, you forgot your cart." He blinked, opened his mouth as if to protest, then lurched forward and took the cart.


For the rest of the night, I annoyed Jer by saying, "You forgot your cart!" and then laughing. The look on that guy's face was priceless.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

List Love

I make a lot of lists for the usual reasons -- I would be more than happy to enumerate if you hand me a fresh sheet of paper and a ball point pen. Suffice it to say I enjoy the thrill of a good plan.

Yesterday I made two lists in my composition book. The first was a list of appetizers I might like to make for my parents' visit. The second was a list of activities -- broken down by day -- that my parents might enjoy. Because, you see, I asked my parents for input and they assured me that whatever I want to do will be fine by them and that requires lists, options, pros and cons! Somebody fan me!

Here is a snapshot of the current plan.

Day 1 (after 1pm):

  • Underground Tour
  • Pioneer Square
  • Salumi?
  • Uwajimaya?
  • Elliott Bay Bookstore
  • Harbor Tour?
Day 2:
  • Fremont: Troll, Chocolate Factory, walk around
  • Ballard: Locks
  • Gasworks Park?
  • Woodinville?
Day 3:
  • North Bend: Snoqualmie Falls, pie and coffee, Salish Lodge?
  • Roslyn
Day 4:
  • Brunch at Salty's
  • Monorail
  • Space Needle
  • Pike Place Market
  • Library?
Day 5:
  • WA State Ferry to Bainbridge Island
  • Tourist stuff
Day 6 (before 10am):
  • Breakfast?

Other items on the list:

  • 94 Stewart
  • Tap House Grill
  • Jules Maes Saloon

It's not all settled, but it's a start. And a mighty fine list to boot. Speaking of boots, they will probably want to see the original Nordstrom's store, which originally sold shoes. Or the original Starbuck's with the breasts-exposed mermaid sign, a popular tourist draw. What about the Arboretum? Or Leavenworth?

Oh, bother. I feel another list coming on... the Alternate List of Possible Things To Do with Family in July who Have Never Been to Seattle Before and Think It Rains All the Time.

Stay tuned for exciting list conclusions!