Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tradition at the Mission

     Last night, we made our annual pilgrimage to The Mission Inn to enjoy the Festival of Lights. 

     Now let me begin by telling you that our family outings fall in likeness somewhere between The Grizwalds and Parenthood (that movie with Steve Martin, you know the one).  There is a 100% chance of something crazy happening, but like a roller coaster, you just have to learn to enjoy the ride.

    As fate would have it, this particular outing began just as one would expect.  "Short Stack" freaked out because I opened the car door for her instead of "The Boss."  I'm often short on patience when it comes to such trivial matters, but "the Boss" quickly reeled us back in.  She's the queen of diplomacy amongst everything else in our house.


     With our first crisis averted, we unknowingly moved on to the next.  "Tall Stack" had been so excited about ice skating at the outside ice rink that The Mission has set up just across the street.  She talked about it all day and couldn't wait to hit the ice.  Turns out, the session was sold out and no one else would be permitted to skate for another two hours.  As ten year old girls do, "Tall Stack" proceeds to let her disappointment avalanche to a state of devastation.  Once again, the quick thinking "Boss" persuades her to go to the little shop which claims to have the best cup of hot chocolate in the world. Hey, they're right.  Holy Crap that's a tasty cup of hot chocolate.

     With everyone finally as Holly Jolly as Burl Ives after a cup or two of the adult variety egg nog, we hopped on a horse driven wagon for a ride around the Inn with some good friends of ours who we hadn't seen for quite a spell.  All in all, it was a perfect evening. 

     These are the moments which remind me of just how thankful I am.  They remind me that now is the best time of my life.  They remind me of what "The Boss" has been telling me all along.  "Just enjoy the ride." 

     Are you enjoying the ride?





Friday, December 16, 2011

King Of This Blog

          So I started that Dave Ramsey Project some time ago.  I wrote about it until I was tired of writing about it, which didn't take long.  Not that I don't believe in what Dave Ramsey has to say, it's just that that isn't what my blog is all about.  I lost interest in my own writing which only meant that my few readers must have jumped ship as well.  Am I right or am I right? 

     Then it occurred to me that this is MY blog.  I am the king here.  The only rules are my rules.  And if I want to switch it up and go back to writing about nothing like I always have, then dammit that's what I'm gonna do.  I'm going to write about nothing, you guys are going to like it, and life as we all once knew it can continue as it did pre-DRP.

     That was liberating.  As you were.

     PS:  My return was inspired by a post I read over at Back to the Kid's Table.  Mary's got a way with words to say the least.  She made me want to write again. 

     I'll be back when I have nothing to talk about.  Happy Holidays!




Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dave Ramsey Project. Volume 4: We've Made It A Game

     In this, the second week of our trip to financial freedom, I have taken a closer look at our spending habits and I'll share them with you here because I don't think what we do is too much different than what you do with your money.  This is going to blow you away.

     We tend to buy things in our every day lives without thinking of the cost.  A Starbucks here, a pack of cigarettes there for example.  These are the things I have been focusing on for the past few days.  I buy a Monster Energy Drink on my way to the train station every morning.  It's only $2.70 and it helps me get going.  $2.70 is nothing right?  On that same morning, "The Boss" stops at that same gas station and drops $1.50 on her cup of coffee.  I'll buy a hot dog and a soda at work because it's quick, cheap and easy, only $1.63.  Again $1.63 is no big deal right?  I have more than $1.63 under my couch cushions.  Those three meaningless items tally up a grand total of $1800 per year.  Crazy huh?  Now I know that $1800 a year isn't going to make or break anyone.  But that's just two drinks and a hot dog.  That doesn't count the cheap $7 bottle of wine that we drink 6 days a week.  That only amounts to a little over $2000 a year.  Our little family of four eats out at a fast food joint at least once a week.  On the average we spend about $25.  Not bad for a family of four to eat for $25 huh?   That's only $1200 per year.  Now we're getting somewhere.  That's $5000 baby, and I'm just getting started.  Every two weeks, I buy a case of beer for around $25.  Now let's not get crazy, I'm not giving up my sweet nectar, but that's $600 a year.  In my last post, I told you that we had the cable company knock us down to local channels.  That saves us $1200 a year too.  I have two train stations equal distance to my house.  One of them is one stop closer to work but is in a less desirable part of town.  By getting on at that station, I save $2 a day.  Not a big deal until you do the math.  $384 per year in my pocket.  Add it all up and we spend roughly $7200 per year on worthless crap.  Add credit cards to the mix which I wont get into here, and what you have is a recipe for disaster.  This is how we've been living our lives for years.  Scary huh?

     As a household we make approximately $30,000 more per year than the average family, (I Googled it).  We do live in Southern California where the cost of living is higher than in many parts of the country but how long can I use that as my excuse?  No more!  We have made the decision to manage our money instead of continuing to let it manage us.  We've made it a sort of game to see how much money we can not spend instead of how much we can spend.  There will be time for playing with our loot down the road.  But for now we are focused on fixing our mistakes.

     In Dave Ramsey's book, he writes about a man who was known in his community as "The Secret Santa."  Every year, this guy would walk through the streets of his town handing out $100 bills to random people and wishing them Happy Holidays.  It is my Christmas wish to one day be able to do the same thing.  This guy didn't reveal his identity until he was diagnosed with cancer.  He then held a press conference and stated that his only wish was that once he was gone, that those who he had helped would one day pay it forward.  The people were grateful for the gifts that he had given them.  But what a gift it must have been for him to be able to help those less fortunate.  That to me is what it's all about.  How about you?  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dave Ramsey Project. Volume 3: Death Of A Couch Potato

     It's been a week since we started our Total Money Makeover, and I have had several friends and readers approach me about it.  Let me make one thing clear about what we are doing.  We are not desperate, there is no financial crisis, the kids are fed, the bills are paid, and everything is just fine.  We as a family have simply decided that we no longer want to live with debt.  We are taught from day one that credit is good, debt is necessary and that's just the way it is.  Like everyone else, we bought into it.  We lived like everyone else.  We did everything we had to do to keep up with the Joneses.  Turns out the Joneses are in debt too.  We're taking an alternative approach and changing our old spending habits.  We have never been fiscally responsible and so now is the time, nothing more, nothing less.  So don't worry about us, dear friends.  Everything is going to be ok.  We're living like no one else now, so that later we can live like no one else. 

     Three days ago, I did what I consider to be the hardest part of our Total Money Makeover.  I called our cable company and told them to knock us down to just the local channels.  No HBO, no CNN, no NFL Network, not even Nick At Nite (we sleep with Nick At Nite on all night.)  The physical reaction my body had to this decision was real..  I thought for a moment I might vomit.  I paced around the house for what seemed like forever trying to figure out why the heck I would deliberately do this to myself and my loved ones.  Then I realized that the physical feeling that I had experienced was the couch potato within me dying a slow and painful death.  I don't like regular network programming  and local news for the most part is not news.  I don't care that Jane Smith passed away in her Pacoima residence this afternoon.  Surprise!  Jane Smith was 108 years old.  Of course she died in her Pacoima residence this afternoon.

      Why get rid of cable?  For a number of reasons.  For one, it saves us almost $100 a month.  That money for the time being is going toward building our emergency fund.  We are saving up six months worth of expenses so that when a rainy day comes, and it will come, we wont have to use credit cards because we will have the cash on hand.  2. we spend a lot more time hanging out together instead of burying our brains in some worthless TV show.  3. we have Netflix($9 a month) so it's not like we're totally in the Dark Ages.

     This program is not for the squeemish.  I was squeemish at first.  Sacrifices, and I mean big sacrifices are necessary to make it work.  We have a long way to go but  after a week, our world hasn't crumbled, we are on the same page, and we're excited to finally be in control of our finances.  We have a plan and we're going to see it through.  For years, "The Boss" has been in control of the money.  She has told me what we have or what we don't have and I just went along.  Now, we are in this together which is how it should have been all along.  I am more involved than ever before which takes some of the burden away from her.  Sorry I'm so late to the party.  Thanks, Babe.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Dave Ramsey Project. Volume 2: The Dirty Old Shoes

     My first true test on our quest to kill our debt came three days ago when I ventured out to find a new pair of shoes.  My dirty old shoes were still comfy, but as age does to the body, it also does to the sole. It was time to move on.

     As far back as I can remember, I have always been a bit of a shoe snob.  I'll wear a $5 Tee shirt but you can rest assured that  I'd paid a pretty penny for some good quality shoes.  So as you can imagine, having just read 3/4 of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, this trip to buy some new shoes was going to be unlike any I had ever taken before.  I went out with a $30 budget, 1/3 to 1/2 of what I would normally expect to pay for a pair of shoes.  I knew this was going to take a lot of self control and a lot of telling myself no.  At the bottom of every page of Dave's book is a quote that I am struggling to learn how to live by.  "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else." I kept repeating that to myself as I walked by the shoes that I really wanted to buy.   If I make sacrifices now, later it will be well worth it.  MAN THIS IS TOUGH!

     5 stores, 1 emotional breakdown, and 4 disgruntled texts to "The Boss,"  later, I found a pair of shoes that I actually kind of like. $30!  I didn't think it was possible, and you know what?  It actually felt pretty good.

     This program to get us out of debt and living on cash and not credit is going to take us about two years to get through.  This was just one small hurdle that I had to jump on my own.  Volume 3 is going to reveal a much tougher sacrifice that we have decided to make.  One that will take a toll on the whole family for a short while.

     In my last post, I called Dave Ramsey a Hellraiser.  This is not to say that I think he is demonic in any way or that he is a bad man.  I called him a Hellraiser because after reading two chapters of  his book, my life was turned completely upside down.   I don't like having my life turned completely upside down.  I don't like to admit that I have made horrible decisions with my loot.  I hate to admit that I bought a house that I had no business buying in the first place.  Whatever.  I can't change that now.  What I can do is make much wiser decisions from this point forward.  And so that is what we are going to do.  $30 shoes and all.    

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dave Ramsey Is A Hellraiser

     Where to start?  In the neighborhood of two years ago, my wife, "The Boss" decided to give our mortgage company a call just to see if there could possibly be any way to lower our monthly payment.  The response she got went a little something like this.  "Well, Mrs. The Boss, we can't even talk to you about this until you have failed to make your house payment for two months."  Immediately, we hoisted our red flag.  But our mortgage company who we now refer to affectionately as, "The Devil" assured us that we were perfect candidates for a loan modification, and that there is nothing to worry about, as long we stay in constant communication with them and to be truthful along the way.

     After 8 months of jumping through flaming hoops and sending pay stub after pay stub to "Verify" our income, "Devil Mortgage" came to the conclusion that we made far too much money to qualify for a loan modification and that we needed to come up with the 8 months worth of unpaid funds in order to remain current on our loan or face foreclosure.

     In the 8th month of this process, I received a bonus from my employer, one of two that we receive every year.  As it turns out, the following paycheck included all of the sick pay that I had not used and was paid for in one lump sum from the previous year.  " Mr. "The Boss's husband," our records show that you alone without "The Boss's" income make about $8000 a month, and we think that you are more than able to pay your monthly obligation to this loan."  Whereupon I responded, "Are you on drugs? Have you not seen my pay stubs from the past 7 months?  If I made that sort of loot, do you think we would be having this conversation?"  Hither nor yon, because a year later I am in a rental home down the street from where I once was drowning in debt.  Our home was stolen from us simply because we asked for a little assistance.

     A few days ago, my inlaws gave us a book titled, The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey.  For those who don't know of him, Dave Ramsey is a Christian man who is well versed in the arena of finance.  He is a man who has experienced first hand the ups and downs of wealth and poverty.

     "The Boss," asked me to read this book with her and to make the neccessary sacrifices in order for us to get out of this financial downward spiral that seemingly has no bottom.  Last night I dove in with her.  She is a speed reader, so when I got home from work, I realized that I had 108 pages to read just to catch up.  It took me from 8:00 to 12:00, but finally we were on the same page.  After page 8 or maybe 12, in an uncharacteristic fashion, this Christian financier had his Hellraiserian hooks in me.  This is going to be very difficult.  This is going to pitch me far outside of my comfy little box, and it's gonna fuckin' hurt.

     Obviously I am changing the normal tone of my blog.  I may lose some readers because of it and I'm gonna have to be OK with that.  I have decided to further expose my personal world to the real world.  I am going to chronical our journey through this financial crisis until we reach freedom on the other side.  If I don't go out to eat with you, if I don't go to the ball game with you, if I don't have HBO, if I don't wear the latest fashions, if I have a shitty attitude, if I serve you beans and rice for dinner when you come to my home, blame Dave Ramsey.  But when I am completely debt free, taking the vacations I want to take, eating at the restaurants I want to eat at, wearing the clothes and shoes that are currently on the other side of the storefront glass, I hope that you will still be my friend.  I hope that you will have supported me from the get go.

     I am going to be very Julie and Julia about this process.  It's gonna be a running through Times Square without any pants on kind of experience for me.  But at the end of it all I am hoping that the story I have shared will be one of success that ends with a deep exhale and a smile.  Wish us luck . 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Riding The Rails

     With the halls undecked, and the hangover of a pretty challenging year worn off almost completely, I have decided to come out of my cave and write again.  I've missed you guys.  It sure is nice to be back.

     Just before the holidays, I transferred from one department to another at work.  Same rank, different responsibilities, and different hours.  "White man's hours," as the guys from my old night shift refer to them as.  8AM to 4:30PM is the new deal, and I am loving it.

     I drive a truck, a big GMC pickup truck that guzzles gas like a chubby kid on a birthday cake.  So when the opportunity to work these new hours presented itself, "The Boss" came up with the idea that I take the train to work and back instead of driving "The Beast," as my truck has come to be known.  In a word.  Brilliant!  No sitting in some of the worst traffic that Southern California has to offer. No road raging. Reading a book or listening to Pandora Radio through the headphones on my Droid with my eyes closed while someone else is worrying about getting me to my destination?  Sign me up!

     One of my favorite things to do is be the silent observer.  I love to listen to people talk, and one thing that I've noticed over the years of mastering my voyeuristic craft, is that while we are all different, we're all pretty much the same.  From manager to maintenance man, we are all the best at our jobs, and there is no way the place would ever survive without us.  We all fix everyone else's  screw ups, and we all know the best way to do the job.  It's just a matter of time before the rest of the world agrees with us and jumps on board.  Hey, it's not eavesdropping  when someone speaks loud enough for the entire group in the third car to hear them.  For one hour a day, on this train we are in each other's lives and your business becomes my business until I exit at Irvine Station.

     "Ladies and Gentlemen," the conductor's voice calls from the PA system.  "Please keep your personal belongings with you at all times and notify the conductor if you notice anything...........Askew."  He says this every morning and this morning was no different.  Only, this morning there was something "askew."  As I'm stepping off the train at Irvine Station this morning, an African American woman came running out on to the platform from the third car right behind me.  I call her African American, but how do I know she isn't from Jamaica or Haiti or New Zealand originally?  Here nor there.  "Someone forgot they lunch!" she yelled as she waved the red and white cooler in the air above her head.  Above my head too for that matter.  Now, the likelihood that the contents of that cooler were anything other than a turkey on whole wheat, a banana and a cup of Activia was slim to none.  But I couldn't help but think, "Honey, that cooler is the "Askew" that Scott, the conductor has been talking about every morning."  So instead of sticking around to watch that banana explode, I got the hell out of Dodge.  Then I got to thinking (as I always do in any situation)  about food. How, if that were my turkey on whole wheat that the nice lady was swinging around the platform, it would have a nice dijon or brown mustard liberally spread on both slices.  And the Activia would not be an Activia but an orange, because I'm not much of a yogurt eater.  Now you're riding my mind.  It's a bumpy ride sometimes, I know.  A little strange, I'm aware. But it's real and I'm sharing it with you.

     The best part about this whole thing, is that at 6:08PM and not a minute later, I am home with my girls.  Every night we have dinner together.  We share our daily happenings, we laugh, sometimes we're grumpy, but we're together.  I get to kiss them goodnight, at least on the nights that "Short Stack" allows me to.  She's 2 years old tonight and quite the character.  Kisses goodnight or not, I get to be a part of their lives more now than ever before.  So, for as long as I can, I'll continue to ride those rails.  They always seem to bring me home, where I belong and just in time.      


Friday, January 21, 2011

Scuba Diving Catalina Island

     Back in October, before the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I, along with 3 of my good friends jumped on a boat and sailed 25 miles west off the California Coast to a little island called Santa Catalina. This was the place where we would complete our last two required dives under the supervision of our instructor before becoming certified open water divers.  Words alone cannot describe what that experience was like.  Luckily, one of the guys (who has been diving for many years) brought a camera along to document our adventure.  The visibility here was so much better than our first dive at Shaw's Cove, Laguna Beach.  Take a look and you'll see why this place is a diver's paradise.

The Garibaldi. Our very territorial State fish

A pic of me with our gracious hosts.

The sunlight shining throught the kelp looked really cool.

Just hangin' out 45' below the surface.

Everything is A-OK
Weightless. If only for a moment.
Going through some survival drills.
Greetings From The Pacific
Extreme Close-up

     As a new diver, these winter months seem endless.  The waters off of our coast are far too cold to dive comfortably this time of year leaving us only one option... Wait.  We have to wait for warmer weather and warmer waters. Until then, we talk about diving, we share pictures and stories with friends...........And we wait...............And wait...