Friday, January 30, 2009

Barry Manilow

Back when I was young and well off…well, doing better than I am now … I used to do Barry Manilow. Well, I didn’t exactly DO him but you know what I mean. I was definitely a world class Fanilow. I traveled around the country going to see him. I went to conventions, concerts, etc. I didn’t keep track but I would estimate that I probably saw at least a 100 concerts and that’s a conservative estimate.

It was good clean fun during my family raising years. When the kids went to their Dad’s for vacation, off my friends and I would go. This went on from 1980 through the mid-90’s. Then concert tickets went into the triple digits and I dug in my heels and refused to pay those prices. I read a quote in a financial book “The more you feed an addiction, the stronger it becomes.” This was my addiction and I went off of it cold turkey.

To my surprise, I found that I missed the other fans more than I missed Barry. I mean how many times can you pay big bucks to see Barry Manilow sing "I Write the Songs", you know? I was always mindful of whether I was getting enough bang for my buck during my heyday and I’m glad I stopped before my addiction became just a mindless habit.

Would I like to have the money back I spent on my hobby? Not for the concerts, each show was a delight but yes, I wish I hadn’t spent so much on travel, conventions, fan clubs, dressing room decorating, photo taking, etc. Some of it was just plain stupid. But I don’t regret those days or the life long friendships that resulted.

Amazingly, the friendships continue. I have friends all over the United States and Europe and my youngest daughter (who inherited my wanderlust) has taken advantage of these connections to couch surf her way around the world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Big Love

We sprung for HBO & Showtime and somehow hit it so that we are paying less now for the same package we had two years ago.

I am in love with HBO and Showtime On Demand! You can click on Series or Movies and watch whatever you want whenever you want.

I was able to catch up on all last seasons Lword episodes and just caught the first episode of Season 3 on Big Love. OMG I love that show! They managed to pretty much show the entire ensemble of actors. It looks like everyone is back to reprise their roles. Even the oldest Henrickson daughter who played Meryl Streep’s daughter in Mamma Mia is back. And a stellar ensemble of actors it is.

The show is a series about a polygamist family trying to live a mainstream life and blend in with their friends and neighbors. They keep getting called back to Juniper Creek though, a traditional polygamist compound a two hour drive away from their Utah neighborhood. A strange concept for a dramatic series but definitely timely and highly entertaining!

One of the most interesting characters is the Henrickson ‘Sister Wife’ #2 Nicky Grant. Being the compound patriarch Roman Grant's daughter and born & raised in Juniper Creek, she’s really straddling both worlds while battling her own addictions of shopping & gambling.

So in the opener last night they showed a snippet from seasons past of the elder Roman Grant saying something romantic to the young girl slated to be his next wife. It jarringly reminded me of Hugh Hefner interacting with The Girls Next Door.

It looks like there might be a Wife #4 for ole’ Bill Henrickson. The woman he’s been haphazardly courting finally bedded him and that convinced her to give polygamy a try. I swear this show makes everyone want to give polygamy a try! At least polygamists hold on to the old wives instead of giving them the heave ho when they are ready for something new and different.

The financial obligations of maintaining such huge families would be horrendous, of course but if you think about it there would be a lot of able bodied adults to bring home paychecks.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Prepaid VISA Cards

For Christmas I was given a couple of prepaid VISA cards. I found that I could order stuff online and pay for it with these cards, rather than my debit card. The advantage to this is tremendous.

Frequently when you order something and pay with your VISA, you are somehow giving the company permission to send you more product periodically and for them to thus help themselves to another chunk of money out of your account without warning. I had this happen to me several times, which is why I now go over my bank statements with a fine tooth comb.

One of the offenders was Lauren Bacall cosmetics. They send you all kinds of shit monthly once you’ve ordered their main item, the round makeup set compact (which in all fairness I have to add is a great product!)

Other companies that have continued to dip into my bank account once I’ve ordered from them are travel clubs, magazine subscriptions, gourmet food orders, credit report agencies, etc. It’s very insidious and sneaky, many many times even after reading the fine print I didn’t realize that this was an ongoing thing that I was agreeing to.

One of the ways they get you is to offer you something amazing … a free airplane ticket for trying their travel club, for example. You can cancel within 30 days without having to give back the ticket … that sort of thing. I stumbled into that by opening a bank account once. The travel club was presented as a “free service” that came with the account.

By paying for anything you order online with a prepaid VISA card, you aren’t allowing anyone access to your bank account or line of credit. All you are risking is the $100 (or whatever amount) that you used to buy the card initially. From now on, I intend to buy a $100 VISA card when I get paid once a month and use it for all online ordering.

Another thing I do is to once a year destroy my old ATM debit VISA card and order a new one with a new account number. Even going over my statements carefully, you can miss things plus it helps to clean out the cobwebs and avoid identity theft.

Another way to use prepaid cards is as a budgeting tool, especially for those of us who are paid once a month. Rather than keep envelopes of cash in your purse - it's too easy to grab from envelopes for impulse buying - instead I'll put $20 on my Starbucks card, buy a gas card to the station I frequent most often, buy a Trader Joe's card to use throughout the month. It's the same thing as buying prepaid cell phones. When the card is used up, no more luxury items until next month.

My friend Breann has a $500 limit on a visa card. Once that card is used up, that's it. That's her spending money for the month. A clever idea I haven't tried yet.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Buying Tires

I’m not very knowledgeable about buying tires. In fact, I dread anything to do with auto-related purchases. I always feel taken advantage of since I’m a single woman. Also, I used to buy a new car every couple of years back in my wealthy past so no new tires were needed, but those days are gone forever. I now have a Saturn Vue that I’ve been driving since the summer of 2003.

I drove on the original set of tires that came with the car for 3 and a half years and finally got new tires in December of 2006. They were a size larger than the car originally came with and it felt a lot sturdier to have those larger tires on. The new tires lasted just about exactly 2 years. Lately they’ve been dying one by one. So last September I bought one new tire and in October I bought a second new tire. I crossed my fingers and hoped we could get through the holidays without having to buy the final 2 tires.

In November I had a coupon for an oil change at Ramon Tires in Rancho Mirage. They told me that I had 2 good tires and two bad tires (duh). Unfortunately one of the new tires was the wrong size!!! This led to a lot of panic with trying to figure out who sold me the wrong sized tire and why didn’t they know any better. They warned me about how evil it was to have two different sized tires on my car (“like walking with one high heel and one sneaker on”) and how it would throw everything out of alignment.

Since my boyfriend Phil was visiting after Christmas I took him with me back to Ramon Tires and asked how cheaply I could get out of this mess. They gave me a quote for 4 new tires at the price of $749.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 new tires when I already had, at their admission, 2 perfect practically new ones!

I came to the conclusion that having a man along was having it's ups and downs. Clearly I must look like a wealthy snowbird (a visiting tourist) but now I also looked like I had a husband and price was no object. Phil told me that he didn’t think it was that big a deal to have two different sized tires. If one was taller than they other, perhaps they could let a little air out of one tire so it was the same size as the other? I like how he thinks!

I went by COSTCO and looked at their tires. Phil pointed out that they only carried high end tires … specifically Michelins, which I couldn’t afford. A friend advised me to get out of Palm Desert and buy my tires in the less affluent areas of the Coachella Valley, like Cathedral City or Indio.

So I dropped Phil off at the golf course and went to Discount Tires in Cathedral City (my usual haunt) and the guy there said that the 2 good tires were exactly the same size. They were just different brands so the numbers were different but they translated to the same size. Hah, take THAT Ramon Tires!

He quoted me a really good price for 2 more tires and we had a deal! By the time Phil finished his 18 holes I was driving around with 4 good tires!!!!!!! *phew* Now I don’t have to go through this again for another couple of years.

Lesson learned - buy all 4 tires at once, a matched set.

Monday, January 12, 2009

At The Movies

There is something about recessions/depressions that makes people go to the movies even more often. Escapism for the price of a movie ticket, I guess. I know I’ve been to a ton of movies this holiday season, way more than usual. Also, we are a little more comfortable these days because we have paid off our moving expenses (utility deposits, security deposits, etc.) and are now paying our true rent.

So this weekend I took my 16 year old granddaughter Rachel to the Palm Springs Film Festival. You can get a “six pack” of tickets for $50 and that got us into 3 films. Luckily all 3 films turned out to be really good. Saturday morning we went to see “The Witch Of The West Is Dead.” Shirley Maclaine’s daughter Sashi Parker played the elderly grandmother in a Japanese film and it was fun seeing her speak most of her dialogue in Japanese. It was also fun to see her in the audience looking very young and glamorous and ungrandmotherly. Aren’t actors amazing people?

Saturday afternoon we saw “The Black Balloon”, an Australian film about a family with the oldest boy being autistic. It was a wonderful story about how the younger brother both loved and hated his brother and dealt with how his life was turned upside down on a daily basis because of his brother’s condition. Rachel really identified with this film as she has two little autistic girls who frequently come to visit and was able to spot their different kinds of behaviors in the austistic onscreen performance of actor Luke Ford.

The third that we saw at noon on Sunday was “Tales from the Script” about screenwriters experiences having their scripts made into movies. I was worried that she might find this one too boring but she’s a prolific writer (just like her grandma!) and was really in to it.

All in all it was a great weekend visit, one of our best ever! Usually we have to go buy special Rachel food but now her palate has matured and she’s also into eating healthy, so no special food was needed.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reality TV

We spend a lot on our cable bill. I just can't bring myself to go back to basic cable, plus we don't go out much so ... what to do but pay up and enjoy ourselves? Over the last couple of years, daughter J & I have become addicted to Reality TV. One of our favorite shows is Jon and Kate Plus 8. Like the rest of America, we just love those kids.

Monday night we stayed up late to watch the start of the new season. At least it appeared to be the first show of the new season, but it looked old because of Kate’s hair which was short and red. She’s been growing it out lately, based on recent booksigning photos and those photos sure didn't match how she looked on this show. The network must have a ton of old footage that can be made into episodes but are limited by having to keep the kids around the same age and trying to match the parents evolving looks.

This episode was about making soup at home. I watched it carefully and don’t believe I heard Kate use her favorite word “organic” even once. She & Jon described some of the ingredients in her soups – broccoli & cheese in one and beef with an assortment of veggies in another. Once again I was amazed me at what sophisticated and adventurous palates her 8 kids have. When my 3 were growing up, they never cared for cheese-based soups or the squash or root vegetables that she named. She had two huge lobster-style pots on her stove and were cooking both soups at once which had to have taken forever! I also wondered at how many meals she’d be able to get out of that batch, since there are 10 in the family – she claimed that she’d be able to get 5 or 6 lunches out of it if she included grilled cheese sandwiches. This definitely made it worth all that effort!

Kudos to Kate in this episode for keeping her cool when her stovetop exploded and she had to get a entirely new stove. Trust me, non-working appliances are a biggie in the Mom stress-o-meter level counter. It was always the one thing that threw me as a single parent - the one hassle I couldn’t just shrug off even back when money wasn't so hard to come by.

The kids were jumping on a Little Tyke inflatable bouncy toy. I saw something like that at Sam’s Club recently and thought it would be a great thing for the Gosselins to have since they have so many kids of the same age. Lunch time brought about the oddest part of the episode - watching six 4 year old children sitting in high chairs and wearing bibs ... all righty then!

During lunch they announced that they would be moving soon. Kudos to little Alexis, the oldest of the septuplets, for figuring out how to get her own bedroom. Evidentally she’s “disruptive” and so sleeps on her own and was informed that this arrangement would continue in the new house. Yup, she scored a major coup in that family!

the 99 Cent Store

Cool things I’ve found at the 99 cent store:

Kitchen sponges with the scrubber on one side

Fat Free Half and Half (for my coffee)

Super fresh produce

The best Italian meatballs ever

Plastic food storage containers

Holiday decorations

Office supplies



Vanilla frosting

A full color coffee table book about celebrity marriages (half of which were already kaput…)

Pizzas & Pizza rolls

Cute socks

Revlon Makeup

Tooth whitening kit

Sugar free candy

Sparkling water

Dog treats

Hair ties and clips

Self-tanning lotion

Pregnancy Testing Kit (!)
Joke gifts

The 99 Cent Store Rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!