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Archive for August, 2008

8/31 Home Equity Loan Update

August 31st, 2008 at 05:45 pm

It hasn't been a full month since I posted a loan update, but I want to start doing it at the end of each month.

As of today, my home equity loan balance is $6,211.45.

In August, I made extra principal payments of $1,170.00 as well as the regularly scheduled payment of $218.01. My goal (which I'm quite sure I can meet) is to pay if off by the end of the year.

New glasses for DW $$

August 25th, 2008 at 12:54 pm

All 3 of us wear glasses. We keep the costs down by almost always going to For Eyes. They have a good selection, good service and reasonable prices. I usually get mine with their 2 pair for $99 offer, getting my regular glasses and my sunglasses. DW and DD also got their current glasses there.

DW has needed a new pair for quite a while now as hers got dropped and the lens chipped right in the center some time ago. We went to For Eyes and she couldn't find a frame that fit that she liked. She has to wear kids frames and it is sometimes hard to find a pair that looks okay on a 44-year-old woman. The bright blue ones with Spongebob on them just don't cut it. Also, many of them are too narrow for a bifocal lens.

We also looked at America's Best, another discount chain in the area, and didn't find anything there, either. So she put off getting new glasses. We didn't want to have to resort to the outrageous prices at LensCrafters or somewhere similar.

Well, yesterday, we broke down and went to Pearle. They advertise that AAA members get a 30% discount. I realize that the only reason they can give such a big discount is because their mark-up is sky high to begin with, but she was tired of looking through chipped glasses. She actually found a good frame quickly. It was priced at $120, 20% more than we pay for 2 complete pairs at For Eyes, but such is life. With lenses, the total was going to come to over $400. Fortunately, the frames happened to be on sale when the tech pulled it up in the computer, so they were "only" $80. That and the 30% discount for AAA brought the total down to just under $300. Still an obscene amount of money for a pair of glasses, but since the discount places didn't work out this time, we were kind of stuck. Yes, I know you can order glasses online, but there is no way that would work for her since she is so hard to fit and measure.

New financial goal?

August 19th, 2008 at 09:55 pm

I think there may be a new financial goal in our future - a vacation home. In the past, we had considered buying a home in Florida to use for our Disney trips and to rent out the rest of the time. After looking into it, speaking with a realtor, a property management company and some other owners in the area, we decided against it.

Now, though, we are thinking about getting a place much closer to home in a location that we actually visit regularly, multiple times per year. It is close enough that we could use the place just for an overnight or weekend stay. We wouldn't be looking to rent it out, though we would consider offering it to a select group of friends and family for a modest charge (well below the going rates in the area) just to help defray our costs a bit.

I've just started to look into it and run numbers to figure out what we can afford, what places are going for in the area, and when we can seriously consider it - we can't at this point in time. Maybe in 5-10 years or so, though, we would be in a position where we could make it a reality. Just something to dream about right now.

Washington, DC Trip Report

August 16th, 2008 at 11:22 pm

Apparently a few of you would like to hear more details about our trip, so here is more info. I'll try to keep it brief, but I'm happy to elaborate on anything if you have questions.

Day 1: Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian. We went there primarily for their Asian collection as my daughter has developed an interest in Japanese culture. Very nice museum right on the Mall.

After lunch, we went to the Museum of Natural History for a while and saw the Hope diamond, the dinosaurs, and a few other things before we ran out of steam and went back to the hotel.

That night, we went to the Arlington Fair that we had seen advertised on TV (and went online to get all the details - how did we live without the internet). That was fun and was a neat way to spend my birthday. We had dinner (carnival food - corn dogs, fries, funnel cake) and went on a bunch of rides.

Day 2: We drove out to Dulles Airport to see the satellite location of the Air and Space Museum. They have a huge building there where they display many aircraft that they simply don't have room for on the Mall. Some highlights are the Enola Gay, a Concorde jet, the space shuttle Enterprise and many others.

We had lunch at the McDonald's there, a place that we are very unaccustomed to eating (I know, it's un-American but we simply don't go there). I have to say we were very pleasantly surprised. I had the Asian salad which was really quite good - fresh veggies, tasty grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, slivered almonds and sesame dressing. I'd definitely recommend it.

That night, we had dinner at the Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant in Falls Church. This was another place that we located on the internet. Very good food and service. After dinner, we stopped at Fashion Centre Mall at Pentagon City. We browsed the shops and we actually got my daughter a nice bracelet at one of the jewelry shops. My mom wanted to give her something for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah but wanted her to pick it out, so that was good.

Day 3: We had 11:00 tickets for the National Holocaust Museum. I knew that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was next door and they give out timed tour tickets each morning. We headed over a little early and I went and got tickets for later in the day so we could see the tour after the museum.

Holocaust Museum is wonderful and does a great job telling the story of what led up to and what occurred during and after the Holocaust. My family and I are very well versed on the topic but still learned some new info while there. I found the early years of Hitler's career very interesting as I really didn't know much about his rise to power.

The one artifact that really got to me was the train car. I think that is because of seeing the movie "Paperclips." If you have any interest in the topic and haven't seen the movie, definitely rent it and watch it with a box of tissues handy.

We had lunch at the museum cafe. Food was fine but overpriced.

Then we got to learn all about printing money. It is always quite a sight to see stacks and stacks of sheets of $100 bills coming off the presses.

That night, we had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant near the hotel called Cafe Italia. My daughter had homemade gnocchi for the first time and absolutely loved them. I don't think I've ever seen her enjoy a meal quite that much.

Day 4: I had ordered tickets in advance for the International Spy Museum and their Operation: Spy program. Wow! This place is fantastic. I had no idea it was as large or as involved as it is. Operation: Spy is a 1-hour long interactive experience where about 15 people are taken into a totally themed area made to look like a foreign country and embark on a spy mission to retrieve a missing nuclear trigger device. You have to work together to solve puzzles, do surveillance, search an office, crack a safe and more. The theming is excellent and the whole program is well worth every penny.

Then you enter the museum itself (you can buy either admission separately or a combo ticket for both). The museum tells all about history of spying, famous spies over the years, lots of displays of spy equipment and pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about spies. Great place to visit.

We had dinner at a little Greek diner near the hotel. Quick, reasonable and good food cooked to order. I took DD to the pool after dinner for a little swim.

Day 5: Hopped the Metro to Old Town Alexandria, an old favorite of ours. King Street is filled with unique shops, galleries and restaurants. We found a nice Thai place for lunch. Food was excellent. Then we spent time browsing the shops. We visited the Torpedo Factory which is a working art studio for about 80 artists. We stopped for ice cream before heading back, just in time as a thunderstorm started when we were riding the trolley back to the Metro station.

Day 6: Checked out and headed toward home. We stopped at Inner Harbor in Baltimore for lunch and shopping. DW actually found jewelry to go with her dress for the Bat Mitzvah there - a necklace and matching earrings. She's been searching since she bought the dress and hadn't found anything, so now she's set.

And that's about it. Let me know if you have any questions.

I'm home from vacation

August 16th, 2008 at 03:47 pm

We got back from D.C. yesterday. We had a very nice trip and saw lots of interesting stuff. It seems that no matter how many times you go to Washington, there is always something new and different to be seen or done.

Stuff we did that I've never done before:

Air and Space Museum at Dulles airport
Holocaust Museum
Freer Gallery (don't think I've been there)
Spy Museum

We also went to some places that have been renovated since our last visit or I hadn't been for many years, like the National Archives, the Museum of Natural History, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Old Town Alexandria.

We found some great places to eat, both cheap casual things like the food court in the Ronald Reagan building just off the mall, and finer dining like a wonderful Italian place in Arlington called Cafe Italia. My daughter had her first taste of fresh homemade gnocchi and was in heaven. We'll see what she says the next time we make the packaged stuff at home.

We walked many, many miles. I'm sorry I didn't think to bring a pedometer. I'm sure we got our 10,000 steps in every day.

It was an all around great trip. Other than a few miscellaneous items (tolls, etc.) I figure the total cost for the trip was about $1,600. That was for 3 of us for 7 days/6 nights including everything. We splurged a little more than usual on food (and prices are on the high side in DC) but overall, I think the trip was very reasonable.

I'm on vacation!

August 9th, 2008 at 12:37 am

Today was my last day of work until 8/18. We are going to Washington, D.C. tomorrow for a week. We haven't been there for about 6 years. Our daughter doesn't really remember a whole lot about the last trip since she was only 6. We have tickets for the Holocaust Museum (DD and I have never been; DW was there once). We also have tickets for the Spy Museum and the interactive spy experience they have there. Other than that, we will make it up as we go along. We want to go to the Freer Gallery as DD is into both art and Asian culture, particularly Japanese, so we want to visit their collection.

I'll have the laptop so I'll still be checking in and reporting on our visit.

Home Equity Loan Update

August 7th, 2008 at 07:14 pm

It's been a few weeks since I posted about the light at the end of the HEL tunnel. At that time, my balance was $8,419.51. I thought I would start posting regular updates as I work toward paying it off by year's end.

As of today, the balance is $6,903.59, so I've repaid $1,515.92 in the past month.

July Survey Total

August 1st, 2008 at 05:54 pm

Quick recap - I'm a physician and get to do various online surveys that pay quite well. These are not available to the general public. I also do some regular surveys like PineCone and AOL Opinion Place.

For July, I earned $723.75 doing surveys which was very good. I'm expecting that August will be somewhat lower because I've actually slacked off a bit and neglected to do all of the ones I've been invited to do recently. Really no excuse as I've got plenty of time. Instead of chatting on the boards, I could be doing more of the surveys, but sometimes I just get burned out doing them.