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Archive for March, 2015

Hodge Podge

March 28th, 2015 at 02:29 pm

This will be long and rambling and probably pretty boring. Feel free to stop reading now. There's a teeny bit about finances but most of this is off topic.


It's 20 degrees here right now. Happy Spring.

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I have to go to a memorial service for my aunt and uncle today. He died a couple of weeks ago on Thursday -- he'd been battling his second round of cancer, and his health was failing for a while. The following Sunday (three days later), my cousin found my aunt dead at home. My aunt, as far as we knew, was healthy, although in need of a hip replacement. (She was 72-73, he was 75-76. Not all that old, really.)

I know it sometimes happens that way, but I wouldn't have expected it here. Honestly, my aunt was filing for divorce every other week when we were kids, and as far as we could tell nothing had really changed. (It wasn't a grand love story, is my point.) But who knows what really goes on behind the scenes, and maybe near the end their relationship really evolved.

We didn't see too much of them; I'm not exactly sure why, probably because a) my parents divorced when I was 3 (my aunt is my dad's half-sister) and we barely saw my dad after that (and not at all since I was 19), and b) our mutual grandparents moved out of state when I was 6 or 7. So not a lot of 'family get-together' opportunities. Still, we kept vaguely in touch, they came to my wedding, etc., but it has been probably 2-3 years since we've seen either of them, or any of my three cousins.

I really feel bad for my cousins, losing both parents at once. Some people have said maybe it's better that way, you get all the grief over and done with, but I don't know. I'd think it would still be preferable to have one parent for a while.

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I find myself becoming obsessive about my finances lately. I'm constantly checking my bank accounts, tweaking my 'budget', playing with my credit card payoff spreadsheet. I think I might be over-focused on it. Not that I want to ignore it, but I get disappointed when there's nothing I can update from half an hour ago!

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We had "The Reckoning" last weekend, where my mom, my sister, and I get together and figure out my sister's and my loan repayments. (Sometimes the interest rates have changed, sometimes we pay off one thing so start paying more on another, etc.) We also settle up any random things that have come up, like my mom picked up a gallon of milk for my sister or we split the cost of a gift for someone. (My mom is very.. um... precise with her money. My sister and I almost never pay each other back for anything -- we figure it all balances out over time. Mom is down to the penny, here's what you owe me, plus tax.)

Anyway, it actually went much more smoothly than it has in the past. Mostly I think because my sister is only paying on one loan now, and it's only going into two of my mom's bank accounts (instead of four). I'm paying on three loans still, but two will be gone by January 2018. (I'm hoping that we can avoid redoing our roof this year, but if not that may be a fourth loan! We could get other funding for that, really, but "Mom loans" are at 2-3% interest which we haven't been able to beat. Plus she then gets a much larger return on her money than she would if it was sitting in the bank.) Fortunately the income from my rental covers most of my repayment amount.

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I think I mentioned before that I was testing out a few brunch recipes, in preparation for The Reckoning, because for Christmas we gifted my mom with one brunch together per month. I figured it might as well be the same day as The Reckoning, and we had talked about picking something up but then I decided to make it, instead. I'm not sure why.

I made four different "muffin" type dishes: French Toast Muffins, Donut Mini Muffins, Ham & Cheese Muffins in Hash Brown Nests, and Caprese Egg Muffins. They were all quite good, although the hash brown nests stuck horribly, despite a thorough coating of non-stick spray. (I should have used a non-stick pan, but I only had one and I already knew the French Toast Muffins needed it! Lesson learned for next time.) They all turned out well, if a little messy (the nests).

I also made some cake dip, on a whim, after I stumbled across a recipe online. Super-easy, but I wasn't crazy about the taste. This particular recipe included Cadbury Mini Eggs, which I think is what I don't like about it. (Surprisingly, because I love Cadbury chocolate normally, but I've been eating some of the Mini Eggs plain and I'm just not a fan.) I might try it again sometime without the candy.

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I've also been baking a lot of bread lately. (Well, three loaves -- one white, two honey wheat -- and then one mini-loaf and twelve 'muffins', just to experiment with baking bread in a muffin tin. It's a lot for me.) Not in a machine, just the basic, mix and knead and let rise and knead some more and let rise some more and bake, kind. The last time I made bread was in Girl Scouts -- I'm now in my mid-40s, so that tells you how long ago it was!

Last night I made vanilla cupcakes, from scratch. I've never made any kind of cake from scratch in my life. I had a lot of leftover cake dip, though, and my mom suggested using it as frosting, so I wanted to give it a trial run. (Because if it worked, I'd make cupcakes for Easter.) I normally would have bought a box mix, but looked at some recipes and it seemed pretty easy, so I tried it out.

The cupcakes are OK; I'm not a big cake fan regardless. The flavor was good -- I would use more vanilla next time (the recipe calls for vanilla bean, but I didn't have any and wasn't about to pay $15 for two beans for a test batch of cupcakes!). The texture was a little dense, more like a muffin. One of the comments I read said that might be from mixing it too much, but I mixed by hand and stopped as soon as there were no lumps (which is what the recipe said to do). The batter was very thick -- but I've seen some batters on "Cupcake Wars" that look the same. I may have over-cooked them; the recipe called for 20 minutes, but maybe I should have stopped at 15 or 18. The flavor is good, they aren't horrible, I just like my cupcakes a bit lighter in texture.

The cake dip frosting is -- well, I didn't love the dip so it makes sense that I don't love it as a frosting. It kind of works, although if I do it again I'll add some powdered sugar to sweeten it up.

The buttercream I made as a taste-test comparison to the cake dip, on the other hand, is divine! I could eat the entire batch in one sitting.

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Again, I don't know why I've been baking/cooking so much. I've never really been a 'chef' type. If I stumble across a new recipe that sounds really good I'll try it, but I don't typically seek them out. S makes dinner at least half the time, if not more. And I've never really baked, except Christmas cookies. I make chocolate chip cookies from scratch on occasion, and peanut butter cookies even less frequently. S insists on killer turtle brownies for his birthday, but they're partially from a box. Mostly I either buy pre-made cookies or get the break-and-bake kind.

I'm wondering if it might be related to my giving up pop (Pepsi, primarily). I stopped drinking it, mostly, at the end of January. I'm not "not drinking" pop, because a) deprivation just makes me want it more and b) I have had it a few times since then, and will have it again (especially if I ever get to the movies; popcorn and pop are movie must-haves). I'm just not drinking it every day, and especially not all day, every day, like I had been. (Sadly, unlike 99% of the population, giving up pop hasn't resulted in any kind of weight loss for me. Which I knew, because I gave it up totally for two months before and lost four pounds -- and that could have just been my normal fluctuation. Of course it could be compounded by the fact that it's Cadbury Creme Egg time of year.)

Or, it might be my version of a mid-life crisis. In which case, there are worse things I could do. (Cue Stockard Channing...)

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Anyway, those are the thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head lately. First world problems, right?

If you've read this far, thanks! And if you have any thoughts on the cupcakes (or anything else, of course), please share. I still might make them for Easter, if I can get them a little lighter and fluffier.

52-Week Savings Challenge

March 23rd, 2015 at 03:38 pm

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 12 (save to Week 15)

The unexpected $100 snowflake I blogged about last week really bumped me up here, I'm now three weeks ahead on this challenge. (Which might be handy in May, when I'll be out of town for a week and so probably won't have much chance for snowflakes.) I had several good deals and ExtraBucks from CVS last week, stocking up on Easter candy mostly. We also had our "Family Financial Summit" yesterday and I got reimbursed for some stuff, so I'm counting that, too.

Snowflakes
Copyright Fee - $100.00
Reimbursement - $29.23
CVS Savings - $15.08

Total Snowflakes: $144.31
Rounding (to reserve): $0.31

Beginning Balance: $297
Deposit: $144
Ending Balance: $441

Reserve: $0.11 + $0.31 = $0.42

This puts me at almost 32% of the Challenge, and we're just over 23% through the year, so I'm a bit ahead at this point.

Totally Unexpected Snowflake

March 17th, 2015 at 09:40 pm

I have a website for my critters, and on that website I have several articles about various items of interest and/or debate within the breed. I try to be educational, rather than simply opinionated, and without being too immodest I do get a lot of praise for those articles. So it irks me when someone steals them and posts them on their own website -- even if they give credit, it's still copyright theft. (Most people simply think everything on the Internet is free for the taking, but of course that's not remotely true.)

The other day someone linked to an article that, it turns out, lifted quite a bit of text directly from my website (and rephrased quite a bit more). Not only that, but the text was also used as part of an e-book they are selling. Well, that tipped me over the edge -- bad enough to steal, but to steal and then profit from it? Plus it was one of those cookie-cutter sites that's basically the same for every breed, with a few specific items thrown in. So I dashed off an email demanding they either give me credit or remove the text, and also that they compensate me for the use of my work to day or purchase the rights to it for the past and future.

I'm not usually confrontational, unless I get worked up, and of course I immediately felt I'd been a little rash. Of course I also didn't expect any response, or at best a flat-out refusal, and had decided I wasn't going to bother pursuing it regardless. Imagine my surprise to get an email from the site owner apologizing, along with a $100 goodwill payment! I thanked her, told her I'd consider the matter settled, and offered my services on a work-for-hire basis if she ever had a need. Wink

That $100 snowflake will go toward my 52-Week Challenge, knocking out a couple of the larger numbers.

52-Week Savings Challenge and Chase Freedom Rewards

March 14th, 2015 at 03:30 pm

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 12

Somehow I got my weeks goofed up on this, I had myself a week behind where I really am. This week I had more than the highest amount, so now I'm a week ahead of schedule. (Fortunately I track this in Excel so everything is straight there, even if I goof it up here!)

Snowflakes
Reimbursement - $22.48
Freedom Card Rounding - $40.05

Total Snowflakes: $62.53
Rounding (from reserve): $0.47

Beginning Balance: $234
Deposit: $63
Ending Balance: $297

Reserve: $0.58 - $0.47 = $0.11

This puts me at almost 21.5% of the Challenge, and we're just over 21% through the year. So right now I'm on pace!

Chase Freedom Rewards
Another good month for rewards; we actually maxed out the 5% bonus category (grocery stores). We still get 1% on any grocery store purchases, of course.

I've projected an average of $50 per month in rewards; this month was still a bit higher, at $78.19! I think for now I'll be allocating the funds to our anniversary dinner; it's the one time a year we go all out, which of course means $$$; it probably averages at about $200. Since our anniversary is in May, I have two more months to count rewards.

I think I'll shoot for $300, which should be covered if I stay at around $50 per month. (I had $124 extra last month so I'm already at $200.) I'll pay for the bill with the Freedom card and then just transfer the cash after the fact, that way if I have extra I'll just leave it for the next goal. (If S decides to tell me where we're going, I might get a $200 gift card if I can find a good discount. I would get a Visa gift card but I've got to imagine those don't come across the discount places very often, since you can use them just about anywhere.)

Starting Balance: $224.20
Ending Balance: $302.39

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0

Anniversary Dinner Fund
Goal - $300
Balance - $202.39
Remaining - $97.61

52-Week Savings Challenge

March 10th, 2015 at 08:36 pm

Week 9

Not a whole lot this week. I expect a somewhat bigger chunk next week with the credit card rounding. I did have quite a few CVS Extra Bucks, and then some money I transferred over from my PayPal account.

Snowflakes
PayPal - $25.01
CVS EB - $8.13

Total Snowflakes: $33.14
Rounding (to reserve): $0.14

Beginning Balance: $201
Deposit: $33
Ending Balance: $234

Reserve: $0.44 - $0.14 = $0.58

This puts me at almost 17% of the Challenge, and we're just over 19% through the year. (That's a little off, since the Challenge is calculated as of last Saturday and the year is as of today.)

52-Week Savings Challenge

March 2nd, 2015 at 04:15 am

Down to just the regular challenge now!

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 8

Interest hit yesterday, of course, and I had rounding from the checking account. I'm including the excess from the Mega challenge. I got a car wash today, since it was finally warm enough (at 23 degrees, sigh). I was out running errands and went to a different place than usual -- which was $3 less than I was planning on spending, so I'm counting that, too!

Snowflakes
Mega reserve - $2.24
Checking rounding - $13.37
ING Interest - $3.03
MSD Interest - $5.22
Chase Interest - $0.03
Car Wash Savings - $3.00

Total Snowflakes: $26.89
Rounding (from reserve): $0.11

Beginning Balance: $174
Deposit: $27
Ending Balance: $201

Reserve: $0.55 - $0.11 = $0.44

This puts me at just over 14.5% of the Challenge. Week-wise we're 17.3% through the year. (I'm not necessarily trying to match that, but it's interesting to me to see how it compares.)