Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's New in New York City - Costco Comes to Manhattan

Whether the news makes you cheer or grimace, Costco is finally opening in Manhattan. The East 116th Street store opens Thursday, November 12th at 8am (this is a special time for opening day). A basic membership is $50 for a year. I think I audibly gulped at the price.

Until the end of the year, there's a special offer if you bring a friend to sign up with you. Maybe the $10 (or $20 if you can convince 2 people to sign up) sweetens the deal a bit. (Click here for the original email that you'll need to take with you)

Costco is the first store to open in the long awaited East River Complex. The New York Times reports that the others (like Target, Best Buy and Marshall's) will open next spring.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tumbleweed House, Now with Motion Pictures!

A while back, I blogged about the 96 Square Foot Tumbleweed House. Recently, a video has been going around that show off the interior, the designer (and occupant) as well as his reasoning behind a life like this. He and his wife are expecting -- think they can stay? Answer at the end of the video.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's New in New York City - The Guggenheim Turns 50 (with a free admission day!)

The beautiful (if oddly) shaped structure known as the Guggenheim will turn 50 on Wednesday, October 21st and is celebrating with FREE admission! There are tons of exciting opportunities, including tours, raffles and free cookies (at 3pm)! The hours are from 10am- 5:45 so Pumpkin and I will be headed over to this museum after her nap to take advantage of their story circle events (starting on the hour every hour from 11-3) and maybe get a free cookie.

Now I will finally say I've been in the Guggenheim for something other than to use the restroom. =)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Columbus Day Weekend on the Cheap

4 Years ago today Columbia and I got married. Every year since then we have gone away to celebrate. This year is no different (well, a little different, but that's okay), meaning we'll miss all of the fun and free activities in NYC. Such is the bane of having a (semi)romantic weekend away (with a now 19 month old).

  • TONY Kids has posted Free Events for Columbus Day Weekend. This is a great list, divided by day to help with planning.
  • Don't forget Open House New York is this weekend. There are still LOTS of amazing tours available. Check out their list here.
  • Just incase you need a new dress shirt (ehem, Columbia), shoes or a cute Martha Stewart baking dish, Macy's is having a big sale. You can take an extra 15% off with this to help keep your wallet a little more plump (or that credit card bill a little lower).

Happy long weekend and Happy Anniversary Columbia!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We Moved! Just not to our new home...

Goodbye Upper West Side, Hello South Harlem!

Our previous landlords were unwilling to extend our lease for a month or two until we close on the new apartment we are buying. We needed a place to stay temporarily and we miraculously found it in the same building we are buying in, and even on the same floor!

It's not an ideal situation (we really are mostly living out of boxes) but it's better than we could have hoped. This also means we'll probably push the closing date back a bit on the new place so we don't have to pay rent and mortgage for an entire month.

There's been so many fun things to post, but no time. Hopefully life will settle down a bit and we can get back to all of the wonderful (and cheap =) things that happen in New York City!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Housing Update: Early September 2009 (aka We Signed a Contract!)

Columbia wrote an awesome housing update for August, and for some reason we never hit the 'publish post' button. So here you are with an early September update. Why such a long gap since there was housing news? Because buying a home is stressful! Could someone have told me that... more often... with more emphasis... and then urged me to stockpile some 2 Buck Chuck and chocolate?

To summarize Columbia's eloquence:
- We put in an offer on an apt that needed A LOT of work but was in our neighborhood. We couldn't get the seller's to negotiate and their broker was not pleasant to deal with... at all.
- We started looking at apts in Central Harlem, just north of the park. It was an area a little our of our comfort zone, but was still safe. We saw a few great apts. One felt a lot like a home: was beautiful, had plenty of space and was in a well-maintained, gorgeous old building. We put in an offer (through our amazing broker Rachel) on Friday night and had a counter offer back on Saturday morning. We accepted that offer and had a verbal agreement!

This was 3 weeks ago. We did not plan for it to be so long before we signed a contract. There has been some slowness on the management company's part for various reasons. However, all of that is done with and...


And wrote a check that had a lot of zeros on it.

Everything is still not done. We need to wait for the seller to counter-sign before we are officially "In Contract" and the rest of the headaches... I mean exciting work, is still ahead. Thankfully we used the last 3 weeks to reorganize our financials and filled out all of the paperwork with our mortgage broker. It is at times like this that we are very thankful we have professionals working with us. We could NEVER do this on our own. I'm not even sure now why people try.

I am not sure we have an amazing sense of excitement. There has been a lot going on with my family, and the wait time has brought the joy down to a manageable level so that if things didn't work out we wouldn't be too disappointed. Our lease is up at the end of September and our landlords are refusing to extend it a month. Columbia started work early and the munchkin and I are making an unexpected trip to PA to help out my fam. With so much going on and so much to do I am more glad to have this major milestone behind us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Free Kids Stuff:

The Children's Museum of Manhattan (83rd b/w Broadway and Amsterdam) has a program where admission for adults and children (all ages) is free on the first Friday of every month. We took the pumpkin last month and she had a blast. As it gets busy fast, we recommend getting there as close to 5 as you can, especially if your little one is under two.

Target First Free Friday! (Next as of this writing: Friday, September 4, 2009)
Children's Museum of Manhattan
(212) 721-1234
Admission is free from 5—8pm

Extra bonus? During August's event, there was a Time-Warner ice-cream truck outside (that isn't a typo) selling cups and cones of soft-serve for a buck!*

* More info on that TW ice-cream truck: One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to nonprofit organizations that offer science, technology, engineering and math programs for kids. Cool, huh?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tax Lot Photographs

If you're a fan of "old new york," you might get a kick out of the City's "tax lot photographs," which are now are now available for sale. For $80 total, you can have a black and white 8x10 of your building of choice taken around 1940 ($35) and a color 8x10 taken in the mid-80s ($45). There is also mention of being able to view low-res images of the Manhattan collection for free if you make a visit to the archives.

From the site:

Between 1939 and 1941, and again in the mid-1980s, the city photographed every house and building in the five boroughs. Photographic prints of these unique images are now available for purchase.

Link: Tax Lot Photographs

The Municipal Archives is located at:
31 Chambers Street, Room 103 · New York, NY 10007
Open to the public Monday through Thursday 9 AM to 4:30 PM, Friday 9 AM to 1 PM

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Measure Twice, Prep Once

The other night I was sitting with my father, and gleaning a few cooking tips. While there have been a few dishes which he'll never live down (my sisters will jump at the chance to discuss the peanut-butter pork chop incident), he's a great cook who makes flavorful meals -- and that man can make a buck stretch. Dad always had dinner ready for the 6 of us, and even if guests were there, we somehow all got fed.

That evening's advice was about how he saves time in the kitchen. I never realized what a feat it was to be able to scale a dinner up or down with little or no notice. His secret? Keep a cache of cooked, chopped food in the freezer. He always makes sure there's at least 40 (cooked) meatballs in the freezer at any time. He makes sure there's a Tupperware of cooked, sliced sausage ready to drop in a bubbling sauce. While we were there, he was freezing a large batch of pesto he'd made, ready to spoon out a portion just enough to flavor a dish. Your cooking style would dictate what you might keep in the freezer, but you'd be surprised how well homemade food keeps in the freezer.

We could not operate on such a small budget if not for our freezer. We always have packages of ground meat or chicken breast at the ready. Dad's freezer tip is a good way to cut some serious time off of making dinner, and having just the right amount of food available to you when you need it. If you're going to make meatballs, make twice as many. If you're going to make a red sauce, make twice (or three times) as much. The additional clean-up and prep time is negligible, but the time savings at the dinner hour is substantial. This was the kind of handy money- and time-saving-tip that we can put right to use.

Trent (the simple dollar) has some similarly themed advice. Read more about "Eating What You Have on Hand" over at his site.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Housing Update, July 2009

(For those playing along at home, the last update was the May 22 Housing Update.)

A lot has happened in a little amount of time, but here are the big updates and what drove us to make them:

  • We've decided to stop working with ACORN, at least for the time being.
  • We've reconnected with Rachel Melniker at Corcoran.
  • We've gotten some helpful advice from a broker at Manhattan Mortgages
Stopping work with ACORN
On June 4th, I met with ACORN with updated paperwork and begun my 2-3 day wait for a Pre-Qual from the bank. By June 29th, I still hadn't heard back, and they had stopped returning my calls altogether. With help (see next paragraph) I was able to pick up the pre-qual on July 1st. The numbers were nothing in line with what I'd been told, and the authenticity of the letter itself appears to lack credibility. While there's been no official break, our relationship with ACORN may have outlived its usefulness (or if nothing else, our patience).

My intake package was delivered on April 4th, 2009, stretching a 10-15 day process to 3 months. There is financial incentive to working with ACORN, but working with someone who doesn't respect your time comes with its own cost: mental and financial. If nothing else, in those 3 months, the mortgage rate has increased about a half point.

Partnering with a Real Estate Agent
Never having bought before, we knew that we were going to need someone on our side to represent us. We had a great experience working briefly with Rachel Melniker last year, and we contacted her again. Within two days of working with her, she'd sent us listings, took us to an open house, made one call to ACORN and got directly connected to our MIA loan councilor, and she did some ACORN research of her own which proved very insightful.

Contacting a Mortgage Broker
When we finally got the pre-qual from ACORN, and it seemed off, Rachel suggested connecting with a Mortgage Broker, if just to get some advice and more accurate numbers. We did make the call, and it was a very smart decision. the broker gave us real numbers, explained why they were what they were, and was very generous with information and answers to our questions. With clearer numbers, we were able to better refine our search which made everything a bit less stressful.

...And compared to ACORN taking 3 months to give us a pre-qual, Beth gave us an estimate in 15 minutes.

What's Different For Us?
When you walk in to ACORN, you take a seat on faded couches and stare at a rat-bait-box across the waiting area. You walk into the back and it's a mob of cubicles and papers, and no one seems especially happy to be there. Comparatively, everyone on the private sector has been helpful, courteous and professional, and with good reason -- they're compensated based on performance. While we might miss out on potential savings at ACORN, we wonder if a transaction would ever take place. Swift action and prompt replies have made our search go from twiddling thumbs for months to looking forward to making an offer on one of a few apartments in the next few weeks.

My dad has an expression, "Never let a poet fix your sink". This comes from some DIY plumbing of his that ended up with a more serious problem, and eventually calling in a professional. We initially thought we could do it alone, you know "save some serious money", but regardless of how much you hear "you can do yourself", there's too much on the line to miss important steps or get hustled by the seller's team.

We could have exciting news in the next few weeks. A real fixer-upper might be in our future -- we couldn't be more excited or more nervous, but we think it's the right move for so many reasons. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Manhattanhenge 2009

You may remember when Columbia first told you about Manhattanhenge, when the setting sun falls directly inline with the street grid that is New York City. While there are 2 days a year when this magnificent event occurs, in truth, for several days around each set day are also breathtakingly beautiful.

2009's 2nd and last 'henge of the year is July 12th at 8:25pm.

Be sure to check out Hayden Planetariums's page on the phenomenon that is Manhattanhenge to satisfy all of your sun-worshipping curiosities.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's New in New York City: BurritoVille Reopens!

I think I hear the angels singing in heaven: BurritoVille is open again! At least the one on Water Street is, according to Eater.com. When Columbia first wrote about their closing, we never thought we'd see our old friends again. The wiki on them reports many more will be opening soon:

The Financial District location (36 Water Street) that re-opened on July 6, 2009 is just the first of several planned locations in New York City and throughout the country. In NYC, many of the new locations will be at or near the old stores. (Planned locations are 226 West 23rd Street and 36 Seventh Avenue).

I'm crossing my fingers for the one on West 72nd Street to open again. Pumpkin needs a Vegetarian Sloppy Joe with tofu sour cream! (Or at least her Mama does. ;)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Haaaave you met my friend Alice?

I may have a new love in life (don't worry Columbia). Her name is Alice. She could make my life easier. Let me explain:

Today is the launch of Alice.com. It's a merchandise site, but there are some interesting twists.
  • FREE SHIPPING. No matter how much or little you spend.
  • Good prices.
  • Coupons - not the ones in your coupon binder, but ones you don't even have to search for. The site has connected with manufacturers that offer coupon (extra discounts) on their products.
  • They will remind you when you are close to running out of supplies if you want them to.
  • $10 0ff of your first purchase. If you order a few items around $10 to try out the service you will be getting them for FREE!
  • Budget tracking. Alice will keep track of your purchases for you. If you need a little help with budgeting, Alice can do this for you. (For your household expenses anyway.)
  • They have an affiliate program so you can earn money when your friends (or lovely blog readers, ahem =) sign up through your link or referral email. Those you refer also earn $10 site credit when they spend $50.

I am always intrigued by a service that is willing to deliver items for free to my door. In this city, lugging is a way of life, but one I would rather avoid. Especially with Pumpkin. In the winter. Sludging through slush in 8 layers.

We initially used Amazon.com's subscribe and save service for diapers. It was a decent deal for 7th Generation and we didn't have to think about when to buy them or having to lug them home. When Pumpkin was a newborn with sensitive skin, this was a huge help. But... the cost isn't worth the advantage for us anymore. We are happy enough with Target's store brand diapers and they are not that frustrating to get home now that Pumpkin is bigger (and as Columbia will carry them for me).

Here's how Alice compares with Amazon for 2 products you don't want to haul around NYC:

7th generation Diapers Size 4
Amazon S&S 4 pack w/15% discount: $37.39 (no shipping cost as it's over $25)
Alice: $10.19 per package = $40.76 for 4 (shipping is always free)
Result? Amazon wins!

Iams Proactive Health Dry Cat Food 4lb bag
Alice: 8.47 per bag = $42.35 for 5 bags
Result? Alice wins!

So while Alice may not beat amazon on their subscribe and save deals, there does seem to be a savings on other items. And not just in storage space if you don't want to buy the mass quantities to save on shipping from amazon.

Alice will not beat the sales at the chain stores, especially when you can match up the sale with a coupon, but they do have good prices. If you are a "my time is worth more than the money I will save in the hour it takes me to cut out and organize the Sunday coupons" type of person, Alice is definitely the place for you.

After the initial $10 purchase I do not know home much we will use Alice. Every penny counts for us at this point and as I am home with Pumpkin I do have a bit more free time than the average person. Columbia is a champ to lug our groceries and household supplies. Still, in those cold months of slush and bulky clothing, I could see free cat food delivery as a MAJOR perk.

Here are 2 giveaways around the blogosphere for Alice: Sorry, both giveaways have ended.
Northern Cheapskate is giving away 5 $100 gift certificates and all you have to do is enter your info in a form. She also was a beta-tester for Alice and has a 1st hand review of using the site.
Brazen Careerist is giving away 5 $100 gc's to Alice also, but you have to leave a comment telling how you automate your life to make it easier
And if you should want a link to find out more about Alice, please allow us: Alice!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NYC is Safe (Until You're A Victim)

I came across a piece the NY Times put together called the NYC Homicides Map. You can look at murder data mapped out across the city, each grim event appearing as a pinpoint with correlating data (victim/perp age, method used, date, etc). It's not pretty to look at, but it is incredibly informing. If you are willing to understand this as a reality where we live, you might not avoid the data, but rather try to find a use for it. Just as you could get hit crossing the street or end up with a cessna flying into your bedroom, danger can happen anywhere. This data doesn't say that you'll be murdered in one particular area; it just shows where to go to increase your odds.

My immediate application for this map was to help me understanding relative safety of neighborhoods with which I'm less familiar. One such neighborhood is East Harlem, said to be one of the last good deals in Manhattan Real Estate. So we bought in to the hype, and visited an open-house that looked promising. Outside the very charming apartment, my comfort-level was challenged (especially in thinking about my girls), and this was during daylight hours. I thought maybe the map could help inform me: was it really unsafe or just my lack of knowledge of the area?

Neighborhood of the open house:
Each dot represents a murder at that location (Since 2003)

For comparison, I looked at my neighborhood.

While it's true that where we live is very quiet and safe(comparatively speaking), it's affirming to know my sense of discomfort in East Harlem had some grounding in reality.

For the a God's eye view, here's the big picture of NYC:

The map and data is really interesting and slightly disturbing all at the same time. We've already looked at other areas where we are (were?) considering buying and are wondering the following:

  1. Will we let this information effect our home-buying decision?
  2. Is the "sense of the neighborhood" more meaningful to us than these statistics?
  3. Is there any way we can keep our families from finding this map?

Link: NYC Homicides Map [via StreetEasy Talk]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lost their Lease (NYC Economy Snapshop, Part 1)

The picture on the left is of the Health Nuts, formerly at Broadway and 75th Street. I always loved this store, with its shelves stocked to the 14' (at least) ceilings. It was a small store, where you knew the people and things were still priced with a sticker gun. This picture was taken on Feb 28th 2008. The store closed shortly thereafter and has been vacant since. The manager, David, opened up the Vitamin Peddler on Amsterdam after The Health Nuts closed, though the variety of his offerings is significantly smaller than before.

I was searching for a little more information about David, and found an incredible article from the West Side Spirit called "Closed For Business," which looked at how many stores in the UWS are sitting empty:

To discover exactly how the financial climate has affected businesses, West Side Spirit conducted a survey on Feb. 20 of Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus avenues from 59th to 110th streets and discovered a total of 103 empty, on-the-avenue lots. Five more had announced their imminent closure and 11 others were closed but planned to open with new shops in the month ahead. Overall, 8.44 percent of individual stores on these three avenues stood empty that day. Amsterdam was the worst off, with nearly a tenth of its lots unoccupied. [Full Article]

I always find it a cruel twist of fate when a store, like the Health Nuts, closes from being being priced out. The area is what it is (desireable, profitable, etc) because of places like this: Small shops with good products, salespeople with heart and experience that offer solid advice, yet somehow don't need to mark up everything to a "luxury" price point. In short: Stores with a soul.

So now The Health Nuts is gone, which is clearly a loss for the neighborhood. With nothing in its place, there is a loss for the local economy, the neighborhood offerings, neighborhood appeal, security and other intangibles. Whoever owns 2141 Broadway has lost over a year's worth of rent due to greedy aspirations. And now the market has taken such a hit that they'd be lucky to get a tenant to pay whatever the Health Nuts was paying before, and surely would have continued to pay.

Link Closed For Business [West Side Spirit]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The True Cost of a Membership

Just about a year ago, JC and I decided that it would probably be worth it to buy a membership to the Central Park Zoo. We looked at the price for the two of us (Children under 3 are free) to get in and it was $20. We decided to get the Individual Premium membership, which would pay for itself in 4 more visits on admission alone. For $90, we'd get free admission to all five WCS wildlife parks (including the NYC Aquarium at Coney Island) for one adult and a friend plus unlimited access to Bronx Zoo attractions. We also have had a membership to the Museum of Natural History, which is a stones throw from our place. With both memberships coming to a close, and our plans for an upcoming move by October, the idea of renewing these memberships has been brought to the budgetary table.

We decided that the zoo membership would be worth it for admission. The AMNH membership is a little more difficult to value, since a non-member can enter via a donation. In trying to crunch numbers and be wise with our money, I have to remind myself about the value from which we benefit with a membership:

1. Unlimited Access to The Collections
Want to see dinosaurs today, gems tomorrow, and maybe a deciduous forest on a whim? Do it. It's already paid for, so use it as much as you want. Zoos, museums and the like give us a view of something we don't have access to otherwise, and it's an exciting way to learn for Pumkpin and ourselves.

2. Significantly Shorter Lines
The next time we went to the Zoo after getting our membership (Labor Day Weekend maybe?) we almost turned around because of the lines to get in. It was bright out, and our pasty pumpkin would have looked like a cooked lobster before we even got through the gates. I thought, nay - I hoped! -- that maybe, just maybe, there was a members' line. Sure enough, there was. We went from a line of about 75 to a line of none and walked right in. I remember thinking at the time, "that just made the membership worth it." That line has been a very nice perk, and saves us time waiting on line that could be better be spent admiring the new Snow Leopards.

It should be mentioned that JC finds the non-members' lines to be very mild during the off-peak weekday hours, so this might not be a huge factor for stay-at-home-parents, or zoo-goers with non-traditional work hours.

3. Energy Savings
With a little more groundwork, I could put this into dollars, but I'll say this: Last year one hot month with two air conditioners running left us sweating a $300 electricity bill. Since the home is occupied during the day now, we use more electricity than if the house were empty; the hotter months exacerbate our electricty use. Turning off all the lights and AC for an hour a day while walking around the climate-controlled AMNH can only have a positive effect on our wallet.

4. Free Parking
While we've only benefitted from this once, but the membership to the Zoo came with 4 FREE parking passes for the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium. A free parking pass at the Aquarium saved us $12 while were we galavanting around on four wheels.

5. Developing Curiousity and A Love for Learning
Definitely an intangeble, but really priceless to me. I wonder how much Pumpkin picks up at the AMNH, but I do believe she knows that it's an important place with experiences she gets nowhere else. She's just starting to love the Central Park Children's Zoo, and is excited just to explore its grounds. At 15 months old, her curiousity and cleverness makes it clear that before long she'll be asking to go pet the animals, see the big whale, and asking the favorite question: "what's that?". I honestly can't wait!

Our memberships run out around the end of june, at which point we will hopefully be narrowing down on our future home. It sad to think that we might lose accssibility to these excellent resources if we leave our nabe', but I'll have to remind myself that similar options exist throughout the city and beyond. So until July 1, we'll party like it's the Mesozoic Era.

* Pumkin explores a "Sea Turtle's Egg" on May 30, 2009. Picture by Columbia.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's New in New York City - the June 9, 2009 edition

Today the long awaited High Line in open for business or rather park-ness. It's a little sad that the weather was not more cooperative. Maybe all of those thunderclaps and lightning flashes were really just part of the celebration of the train line-turned-park, and greening of an eye-sore. While their are many places to access the park, an elevator is located at 16th & Washington St. for the handicapped and those of us with strollers.

Yesterday marks the start of an open air art installation in Central Park known as the Central Park Sound Tunnel. It's located in the tunnel by the Central Park Zoo's Tisch Children's Zoo and plays every half hour for 20 minutes from 8am until 8pm. As it plays so often (and for so long) and runs through September 10, 2009, it seems impossible not to hear it if you're anywhere in the area. That doesn't really stop me from wanting to run over there as soon as the weather clears. =)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

New York Bagels for 7¢

About a month ago, Lifehacker linked to an article about "groceries that are actually cheaper to make at home" food items: Bagels, jam, etc. As someone who asked for "Better than Store Bought" for my birthday one year, I was of course intrigued. So intrigued in fact, that I dropped hints to the resident baker (JC) at every conceivable opportunity. Last night JC said to me, "I was thinking about homemade bagels for tomorrow's breakfast. Are you interested?" Ummmm... okay!

So we rushed over to the A Home in the City Test Kitchen with the bagel recipe she'd found online. (The only variations were: a substitution of whole wheat for some of the white flour, 10 bagels instead of 8, and the use of a kitchen aid stand mixer instead of hand-kneading.)

Once the dough was made, she formed balls and let them rise. We used the "make a snake and wrap" method, but I think next time we might try the "punch a hole in the ball" method.

Then we boiled them (1 minute each side) and let them dry on a towel.

And then into the oven, then cooling racks, where they cast seductive glances at me for the entire cooling period.

Voila! While the first attempt lacks a little of the cosmetic finish you'd find at the corner bagel store, the taste was nearly spot-on.

So were our efforts frugal? Absolutely.

Recipe Cost (made 10 bagels) 2 cups white flour = $0.22 per recipe (from 25lb @ $8.88)
2 cups whole wheat flour = $0.44 per recipe (from 5lb @ $2.50)
1 T sugar = $0.01 (from 5lb @ $2.50)
1.5t salt = $0.01 (from 3lb @ $1.99)
2t yeast = $0.03 (from 2lb @ $5.00)

Total cost per recipe: $0.71
Total cost per bagel: $0.07 (electricity/labor/rent costs not factored)

To put this into perspective for us, our local bagel shop charges $0.85 per bagel for fairly decent bagels, before any toppings. The neighborhood's fanciest bagels (H&H) are a little too rich for our blood -- $1.30 a piece. For us, these ones we made at home are pretty spectacular, and gives us a more affordable way to enjoy this New York tradition more often.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Free Movies in Manhattan this Summer (2009)

The June '09 issue of Time Out New York Kids showed up the other day, and the issue is fantastic. Lots of great articles and lots of FREE stuff to do this summer. Below are a list of places to get your cine fix.

The last movie JC and I saw together in the theater was Wall-E (matinee, natch), so as former movie regulars, we're looking forward to some free entertainment this summer.

Summer 2009 Free Movie Schedule

Thursdays at
Clearview Cinemas
Kids' Club
Thursdays at 10:30 am July 2nd - August 20th

Sony Wonderlab 500 Madison Ave @ 56th Street
As there are only 73 seats in this hi-def theater, you'll want to call the Monday before to make a reservation (212) 833-7858.
Movies for Adults Saturdays at 2pm
May 30th - Paul Blart: Mall Cop
June 6th - Winged Migration
June 13th - Not Easily Broken
June 27th - GhostBusters

Movies for Kids Saturdays (plus one Thursday) starting at noon
May 30th - Sesame Street: Elmo Visits the Firehouse
June 6th - Elmo & Zoe's Scientific Exploration
June 13th - Dora the Explorer & Go, Diego Go! (Double Feature)
June 18th (Thursday) - Elmo's World: Wild Wild West
June 27th - Sesame Street: Zoe's Dance Moves

HBO Series at Bryant Park Not really family entertainment, but I used to love this series regardless of what's on the screen. Bring a blanket, a couple of bottles of wine, and bribe your slacker friend to get there and nab a spot at 5pm (when the lawn officially opens for the screenings). Bring a friend from out of town, and they'll remember it for life.
June 15th - The Sting
June 22nd - Breaking Away
June 29th - Gold Diggers of 1933
July 6th - Dog Day Afternoon
July 13th - How Green was My Valley
July 20th - Harold and Maude
July 27th - The Defiant Ones
August 3rd - Kramer vs. Kramer
August 10th - The Magnificent Seven
August 17th - Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Hudson River Park - River flicks (for Kids and Grown-Ups) Even as partial as I am to Bryant Park, the films chosen for River Flicks are (IMHO) just more fun. :) I've never been, but I imagine watching a movie on the edge of the Hudson has to be incredibly peaceful. Movies begin at dusk. Seating is available (but we'd bring a blanket just in case). Free popcorn. Beverages and Snacks are for sale.

RiverFlicks for Kids (Fridays)
Pier 46 at Charles St.
July 10 - Wizard of Oz (G)
July 17 - Kung Fu Panda (PG)
July 24 - Ghostbusters (PG)
July 31 - Star Wars: The Clone Wars (PG)
August 7 - Muppet Movie (G)
August 14 - Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (PG)
August 21 - Curious George (G)

RiverFlicks for Grown Ups (Wednesdays)
Pier 54 at 14th St.
July 8 - Iron Man (PG13)
July 15 - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (PG13)
July 22 - The Dark Knight (PG13)
July 29 - Hancock (PG13)
August 5 - Tropic Thunder (R)
August 12 - Sex and the City: The Movie (R)
August 19 - Pineapple Express (R)

Regal Entertainment Group's Free Family Film Festival

Every Tuesday and Wednesday select Regal Theaters offer free movies at 10am. There's only 1 location in Manhattan but several Regal Theaters in Brooklyn and Queens
are offering these free movies as well. It's so nice that the theaters offer a choice of movies... so nice you may have to go both days. =)

Battery Park Stadium 11
, 102 North End Ave. 212-945-4370
June 30th & July 1st - Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Veggie Tale Movie (G) & Inkheart (PG)
July 7 th & July 8th - Clifford (G) & Evan Almighty (PG)
July 14 th & July 15th - The Tale Of Despereaux (G) & Barnyard (PG)
July 21 st & July 22nd - Charlotte's Web (G) & Star Wars: Clone Wars (PG)
July 28 th & July 29th - Horton Hears A Who (G) & Spiderwick Chronicles (PG)
August 4 th & August 5th - Polar Express (G) & Kung Fu Panda (PG)
August 11 th & August 12th - Wallace And Gromit (G) & Surf's Up (PG)
August 18 th & August 19th - Mr. Bean's Holiday (G) & Firehouse Dog (PG)
August 25 th & August 26th - Space Chimps (G) & Nim's Island (PG)

Kid's flicks at Maclaren

According to TONY Kids, the Maclaren showroom in Soho (150 Wooster Street, 212-677-2700) will be showing kids movies (e.g. Kung Fu Panda, etc.) on Wednesdays 11-2. I can't find anything about it online, so I'd call for info if that's a desireable spot for you. It's worth noting that the space is quite intimate from what I recall.

So that's what we've got for Summer 2009 Free Movies. If you hear of any not listed here, please add it to the comments!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eating out for $2 IS Possible... who knew?

Columbia's burger - delicious and the fries were made right on the spot. Oh, so good!

Last month I saw a deal on dealhack that got me curious. I'd heard of restaurant.com before and how you could get a $25 gift certificate for $10, but dealhack had an 80% off code for the site. That meant a $25 gc for $2!?! I decided to take a look. There were tons of restaurants in our area that were offering gift cards, but there were SO many restrictions. Then I found one neighborhood restaurant without restrictions: Roth's Steakhouse. Columbia had taken me there once for a birthday dinner (pre-Pumpkin) and I remembered it being fantastic. I checked out their menu and we could easily eat lunch or brunch their for $25. I bit. And then I bit again. I ended up getting 4 gift cards. Then I felt buyers regret. What if it didn't work? What if I just wasted $8. Ugh.


We went for brunch. They were pleasantly not busy and we were able to sit outside where Pumpkin could be entertained by the passerby's. They were very kind about us having the gift certificate and were very familiar with it. We did end up spending a little more than $25 gc covered but we wouldn't have needed to. The portions were huge (Pumpkin could have shared with us rather than ordering her the side of grilled asparagus but it was delicious!) and the food was fantastic. We had such a fabulous time and are anxious to use a another of our gift certificates (because of course we still have 3 left).

One of the best ways to get the deals at restaurant.com is to sign up on their site. They send out a lot of emails but the I think the treat of eating out for cheap is worth it. Also, you print out the gift certificate at home so there's no waiting for them to send it to you. Quick, convenient, a guilty pleasure without the guilt... I think we might have to head to Roth's again this weekend. =)

Here's restaurant.com's latest deal:
This ends May 25th 30th (offer extended!), but there's sure to be another offer after that. They seem to restock gc's at the beginning of the month so the best deals can be found towards the end of each month.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Housing Update - meeting the loan counselor, more paperwork, and lessons learned

Did you all know? I feel like we should have known. We had to send in all of our recent financial paperwork, and we did. 6 weeks ago. Of course we'd have to give them all of our updated numbers. Why didn't we think of this ahead of time?

Besides our obvious omission, the meeting with ACORN Housing's loan counselor went well. She threw some numbers around (ones that we can work with), told Columbia what else we needed to bring in and gave us a lot of hope. The meeting also gave us some answers to those nagging questions. We will continue to work with ACORN, at least for now. The benefits they offer (no PMI, help with closing costs, etc) do seem to be worth the hassle. Also, the timing might be perfect. When we give them the newest papers (end of next week, I think) they send our packet to Citibank. Citi gets back to them in 2-3 days with the pre-authorization. That lasts for 90 days. Our lease is up in 4 months. We can always stay here a few extra months if we need to, but it would be nice if that didn't have to happen.

Here are a few things we learned from the meeting about looking good to lenders:
- Credit Cards are Important to Have: While many frugal bloggers sing the praises of cutting up your credit cards, it turns out having credit cards demonstrates responsibility to lenders. As Columbia only has 2 credit cards, we have to show proof of 'soft credit.' Thankfully our phone company and ConEd are willing to send out letters stating that we pay our bills on time.

- Credit Cards are Important to Use: While Columbia and I are longtime users of credit cards, it turns out we only use 1 now. The loan counselor knows this, as does anyone who looks at Columbia's credit report (i.e. the bank). The counselor said that not using a credit card could actually work against us. While having a card demonstrates a companies trust in us, lenders want to know we can use credit responsibly. We are going to purposefully charge on both cards each month from now on.

- Don't Cancel that Overdraft Protection, Just Make Sure You Don't Use It: Columbia and I were not on top of our finances a few months ago, and didn't transfer money to the checking account (from our high-yield savings) when we needed to. Overdraft kicked in. In the past it had not been a problem when this happened, but our bank charged us this time. Everyone's trying to earn as much as possible in this economy, I guess. We decided to cancel overdraft and be vigilant about watching our account balances (setting up reminders to do so on our Google calendar). If we could have turned back time... Overdraft protection is another form of credit and would have worked in our favor.

- It's Important to Check your Credit Reports: While Columbia has an awesome credit score (yea honey!) we didn't actually know the number until he went to the meeting. It would have been nice to be prepared. Also, there's an address on one of the reports that is inaccurate. Columbia needs to have that removed. There could have been other inaccurate information on the report that could have weighed against us. Periodically checking your credit report is not only wise, but free. Our goal will be to check every 6 months.

We have more work to do, but we also have a lot of hope. It seems like we are headed in the right direction to be home owners. The biggest challenge now seems to be not getting caught up in looking for apartments online - incase the bank's numbers are different from the loan counselor's. Oh, Street Easy, you do know how to tempt a person...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Housing Update - the big wait is over... at least for now

We'd told you that Columbia went to an informational seminar with ACORN Housing in February. Our union has an agreement with the non-profit that makes going through ACORN's house buying program financially beneficial if you qualify (which we do). However, the process has not been especially expedient.

- February 10th: Columbia attends ACORN's mandatory information session, which was very informative and allowed for Columbia to ask a lot of questions.
- April 2nd: We mailed ACORN a detailed history of every purchase we have ever thought of making since the day of conception. In all seriousness, it's a lot of paperwork. We waited so long because Columbia got another raise that showed up on March 16th's paycheck and because we wanted our tax return to be in our bank account. At the February meeting, Columbia was told to expect a phone call about 2 weeks after ACORN received the intake packet.
- April 4th: ACORN received our paperwork. We paid for tracking. We didn't want to risk all of that paperwork getting lost in the mail.
- Then began the phone calls. Columbia's. The poor guy kept calling, and calling and calling. He left a dozen messages and never got anywhere.
- April 30th: Columbia calls again and explains to the receptionist how long the paperwork has been there and that he can't get anyone to return his calls. The person responsible for processing paperwork then takes Columbia's call. She explains that they have been working on a grant proposal and apologizes for the inconvenience. She said that she hoped to process our paperwork and call us back tomorrow (which would have been May 1st).
- May 12th: Columbia calls ACORN again and explains our saga to the receptionist, including the fact that this agency has had all sorts of personal information for 6 weeks and has not contacted us to discuss it. We received a call back within an hour informing us that our paperwork had been processed and we had been assigned a loan counselor.
- May 13th: Columbia calls the loan counselor and leaves a message (I begin this post...).
- May 14th: Columbia finds the email address for our loan counselor - the man's a sleuth! He decides not to write on a Thursday night as we think they may not work on Fridays and he doesn't want the email to get lost in the cluster of weekend emails.
- May 18th: Columbia calls and emails the loan counselor, asking her to call him.
- May 19th: Columbia gets a call from the loan counselor at ACORN and sets up an appointment for... May 20th - TOMORROW!

He scheduled it for after work and mentioned he may bring his wife and daughter with him. The counselor didn't seem thrilled. I would love to be there, and Pumpkin is very well behaved for a 14 month old, but... We'll decide tonight.

We are hoping tomorrow will bring us big answers... especially the amount of the loan for which we are eligible. The bigger answers might be 1) Should we continue to try to work with ACORN? and 2) Are the benefits from going through their process worth the hassle? I would also be happy to know if I can finally start making plans for this summer.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thank You ConEd Solutions, we will GLADLY pay you less for green energy

While Columbia has posted on our decision to choose green energy, and last years rise in cost, I am THRILLED to report that even ConEd's green users are now paying less! While there have been numerous reports that ConEd customers will actually be paying less this summer, we weren't sure how that would effect those who chose one of their green options for fuel. Then came the glorious letter:

"ConEdison Solutions is offering you GREEN Power at a fixed price of 11.90 cents per kilowatt-hour, excluding sales tax. This price will be in effect for a 12-month period beginning on your meter rea date for June 2009..."


We have currently been paying 18.000000000000002¢/kWh and we can't wait for the break in our electric bill. We'll let you know what the actual difference is - while not the 60% from kWh price once all of the other add-ons are tallied it will hopefully be a significant change.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The skinny on weight and the environment

Over at the Environmental Blog, there's an interesting look at weight loss and its affect on the environment. Simply put, consuming less leads to lower food-related production, which results in less energy used and lower emissions. And if that's not enough, visit the link for a picture of Michelangelo's David that's sure to make you chuckle.

link: Weight, Health, & the Planet

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring in the City

While Christmas may be the most glitzy time of year to be in New York City, Spring is definitely the prettiest. Trees are blossoming, grass is covering up the muddy spots created during winter, flowers are blooming and hiding the rat holes, it's warm but not hot enough to make heat rise from the sidewalks or the garbage smell: it's a glorious time to be in the city! Below are some pictures from the many excursions we've had over the last week while Columbia was on break and the weather was nice.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

America's Favorite Pastime has me Cheering (at the Radio)

For Christmas '07, JC gave me $50 worth of "Bomber Bucks" to use towards buying some Yankee Tickets. We didn't get a chance to use them last year, so I went up on Friday to see what I could get for their first year in the new stadium. You might have heard that the prices in the new stadium are not entirely in line with our economic situation. Catch a game on TV, and you'll see a lot of empty ($375) field level seats. Last year, sitting with the bleacher creatures would set you back $12, while hiking up to the nosebleeds would cost $19/seat. This year, bleacher tickets are $18 and upper level start at $23. Happy to watch any game, I thought I'd go up to the Bronx and just pick up two tickets to any game. I got to the window and found out that the lowest priced ticket left is $60... for the rest of the season. All the "cheap" tickets are sold out until the 2010 season.

How has the national pastime become so expensive? I guess it could have something to do with a 1.5 BILLION dollar stadium. When JC lived in the Bronx, she could show up on game night and pay $5 for bleacher tickets. Today, if a family of four decides on a whim to catch a game (given what's left), you're talking $240 before you walk in the door. It makes me more and more interested to watching some local minor league games, like the Brooklyn Cyclones or the Staten Island Yankees.

My first few games cost me more in sausages and beer than the ticket price, but I later got wise to going for the game, and learning the stadiums rules on bringing in outside food. At this point, I can't justify spending an extra $70 for "free" tickets, so looks like I'll have to hold on to the gift certificate until next year. This year I'll have to enjoy the new stadium through the magic of my AM radio.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Says Food to consumers, "Rescue me before it's too late!"

You had great intentions for that rice, right? "Oh, I'll just eat the rest tomorrow," you said. Then tomorrow came. You took a bite of what used to be soft and fluffy rice and instead nearly broke a tooth at the dry and unappealing cold, sad rainy-day-in-a-bowl staring you in the face. What to do when life gives you old rice? Make lemonade! ...um, rather in this case, "fried rice."

A NY Times article from last year claims that we throw out about 27% of food that could otherwise be eaten. Some is discarded after being put on a plate, and some never makes it there to begin with. Since this equates to cash-in-the-trash, JC and I have three ways to keep this number much lower: The Weekly Plan, The Deep Freeze and Improv Night.

  1. The Weekly Plan. We look at what's on sale or what is in the house, and try to build a weekly menu out of it. We've found that if we don't know what we're having by about noon, we're probably going to pay for take-out. It's nothing too fancy, just enough to help us prepare for our week, what needs to come out of the freezer the night before, etc. What's "nothing too fancy?" Here's last week for us:

    (click for a larger version)

    (Lunches with "L.O." means left-over from the dinner before. In that case, we plan to make enough dinner for the next day's lunch.)

  2. The Deep Freeze. This one takes a little effort, but we've found that it's well worth it. Rather than buy small portions of food for a night of cooking, we try to buy family packs when they're on sale. For instance, 3-pound family packs of sausage were on sale at Pathmark last week for $1.99/lb. This is about as cheap as we ever find it, so we bought three. We wrapped them in 3's in saran wrap, then put them in Ziploc freezer bags. When we need sausage, we easily pull 3 links out of the bag, or more as needed. Since we only take out what we need, we're not left trying to make additional sausage meals, or worse -- Throwing out meat due to spoilage.

    Measure twice, cook once: Want to only eat 4 cookies? Don't make a batch, just pull out cookies (ready in 14 minutes), sausage or a meal of chili. Want not, waste not. I'm sure I could think of more cliches that are apropos, but you get the idea.

    We do the same thing with ground chicken/turkey/beef (flattened bags of 1.5 lbs, which thaw very quickly), larger batches of crockpot meals (chili, tomato sauce, etc.). There's no (apparent) loss in quality in using frozen meat, and the savings in cost combined with the convenience of a mini-supermarket in your freezer makes planning meals so much easier. An added benefit is that the sales for these items usually coincide with our stock, so when the sausage is out, it's usually on sale again.

    Super space-efficient, the right side is a stack of 1-Gallon Ziploc bags with ready to thaw: Chicken breasts, sausage, ground beef, Chili and more.

  3. Improv Night. The idea for this post started when JC and I were making a fritatta for dinner. That meal should have lead to a post about kitchen safety and 2nd degree burns, but I digress. We had some cooked string beans from the previous night, and thought -- eh, throw them in! It got us thinking about meals that can be made with leftovers. Leftover white rice from Chinese take out? The next day it' perfect for making a quick Fried rice. Are your strawberries or bananas starting to head towards the light? How about making fruit pancakes (and freezing what's left) or making a batch of fruit muffins? Leftover steak/roast/london broil, etc? Cube it and toss it into a chili and making it what what we call "Cowboy chili". The idea is to find a way to save the food before it winds up in the trash. Be the "Cinderella Man" of your kitchen, and give those onions one last chance in the ring....

    You can google what to do with your leftovers, or check out sites like Love Food Hate Waste for suggestions.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Paying too much for produce? Try your green grocer

One of the best parts of my commute to Elmhurst is passing by the local fruit stand, "Mango Rico". I stopped by one day because the produce I needed was so expensive at the nearby Associated Supermarket that I couldn't bring myself to buy it. So I thought, eh -- I'll try it. Now I can't remember the last time I was in the Associated.

CBS News ran a video the other night -- it seemed a fluff piece, easy to ignore -- but I looked over at JC and we both nodded a telepathic "that's what I'm talking about" at each other. The piece was about knowing where to get groceries in this time of recession. (You can watch the video or read the transcript if you missed it.) It claims the best places to get produce, fish, meats and more are:

  • Chinatown
  • Astoria
  • Flushing
  • Arthur Avenue
  • Flatbush Avenue
I can attest to the deals around Canal Street and Mott streets too. Perfectly high-quality produce for insanely cheap prices. Big bunches of slim asparagus for $1, gorgeous bundles of baby spinach for $1.25... While most people try to get out of jury duty, my recent stint on Centre Street might have been the best thing that could have happened to dinner.

link to video
link to article / transcript

Friday, April 3, 2009

Change of Mindset Yields Change of Pants Size

A funny thing happen on the way to the scale -- I lost about 45 pounds.

It's funny, because I didn't really diet, per se. I didn't head off to the gym each night, and I didn't take the latest and greatest pills. I didn't starve myself and I didn't join weight watchers. I just lost weight.

Around the middle of the summer, I hit the scales at the heaviest I'd ever weighed. I was in a rut at my job, and had little energy to make a change in my life. Luckily, change found me. Maybe I got caught up in politics, but lets just say I was overwhelmed by this phrase I kept hearing, "yes we can!". So I did. Weight loss has tapered recently, but it hasn't gone back up yet, so I'm happy to be in a healthier place and state of mind.

If you're reading this for weight loss tips, here are the things I found helped me to lose weight, but with this disclaimer: Without the change of mindset to want a better life for myself, any attempts at change would probably have been given up on after a week.

  1. I started walking more. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I think it was a critical early effort to raise metabolism. Get off at one subway stop further from your house or job, if it's a possibility. Or just walk anywhere. Walk to the movies, to the park, to the next post office, to the further Starbucks. We all have to walk to get where we're going; my advice is to just walk more.
  2. We started cooking almost every meal. JC is home with the Pumpkin, and has taken on the duty of head chef. Cooking at home has done three things:

    • We eat healthier. Fewer oils, fewer preservatives, fewer ingredients that sound like they were made in a laboratory.
    • We eat less. Take-out portions are huge, but if, like me, you eat with guppy mentality, "everything is servings per container: 1"
    • We don't have to buy lunches. Lunches are packed when dinner is dished out. This means smaller portions than take out, with the added benefit of massive savings, the amount of which I can't imagine.

  3. I rarely drink alcohol anymore. This was mostly a financial decision, but the calories avoided from my nightly beer(s) surely add up. I'll still enjoy a drink with friends, but we almost never drink at home we're really jonesing for it.
  4. We eat more fruits and vegetables. I stop in my fruit stand in Elmhurst about twice a week and pick up what's cheap and looks good. I've gotten pineapples for $1, 3 red peppers for $1, and so on. Filling my belly with fruits and vegetables means filling it with less processed ingredients or "bad for you" food.
The recession is hitting everyone hard, but we found ourselves ahead of the curve when we decided for JC to stay home and raise Pumpkin. Who knew we'd be preparing for the storm? We've given up a lot, as I imagine everyone is doing now, but I have to say I really don't miss any of it. Every so often I yearn for a pricey tech gadget, but for the most part I really just stopped "needing" all the things I don't have anymore... including those 45 pounds!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Foreclosures : a great oppotunity, or ambulance chasing?

I've got a moral dilemma of a dialog going on in my head lately. It goes something like this:

Me: "There sure are a lot of folks being victims of foreclosure these days..."
Angel Me: "Yes, it's true. We sure should have these folks in our prayers."
Devil Me: "True... We should wish the best for them. Say, how's that real-estate hunt going?"
Me: "Wow... funny you should mention that. Not too bad. Could always be better."
AM: "That hard work will certainly pay off. I know you trust that everything will work out for the best."
DM: "I'm sure. So what happens to these homes that are foreclosed?"
Me: "Well, the owners can't afford them anymore so they lose them."
DM: "I hear they sell for way under market-value. You should snag one."
AM: "And profit off of the misfortune of others? Do you think he has no conscience?"
Me: "No, you're absolutely right. I couldn't do that."
AM: [proudly] "See?"
Me: "How much under value?"
DM: "I have a website so you can find out."
AM: "Wow -- A 2 bedroom? For that price? Well, if this isn't a sign of God's providence, I don't know what is."
Me: "Isn't this kinda... um, morally grey?"
DM: "Well, the bank is the bad guy here putting mom and little baby joey out on the street. The damage is already done."
AM: "It's true... You'd actually be helping out the economy."
DM: "If you don't, someone else will get it."
AM: "Do you really want Pumpkin to have to grow up in a 6'x5' bedroom, always wishing her daddy loved her enough to not store root vegetables under her makeshift bed?"
Me: "What on earth are you talking about?"
DM: "Yeah, I'm kinda lost on that one too..."

...I'd go on, but it just gets weird from there. You get the point. Morally grey or just pricing based on circumstance?

[link] Free Forclosure Searching

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Home of Our Own, not just a home: how we've been doing and our future plans.

Columbia and I were talking last night and decided we needed to set a reasonable goal for ourselves. 1 post a week. It's not much, but it's SO MUCH more than we've been doing lately. Before we share our plans with you, here's how we've been doing:

Living on One Income in NYC
  • Even though Columbia completed 30 credits above his masters degree (the top salary in the doe) this past summer, it took a couple of months for the transcripts to come through... then processing time... FINALLY at the end of December we got the raise, and the retro-active pay (for the day he completed the last credit). We had been just learning to break even (and not dip into our savings anymore) when this happened, so we were overjoyed for the new monthly cushion and to be able to pay back some of our savings.
  • We've cut out spending even more. It's funny how frugalness really leads to more frugalness. And we don't feel like we're depriving ourselves or Pumpkin. Our families also gave us quite a few gift cards for Christmas and birthdays (Columbia's is November, Mine is in January) so we've been able to use them for special treats as well as necessities like clothing.
  • Columbia found an awesome produce stand near his job in Elmhurst. He is at that school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, so twice a week he stops there. He spends about $10 each time and gets their best deals on the best looking fruit and veggies. This week one of his hot finds was 2 quarts of beautiful strawberries for $2. His purchases there have become what we base our menus around.
  • We have actually started paying into our savings again each month. Yep. We're working with an excess. I'm feel as if I should maybe erase that - just incase typing the words jinxes us or something (so the bold and italics was probably really overdoing it =). I was looking through our bank statements in February and realized that we are at the same place we were last year at this time when we had 2 salaries. We feel so blessed that I am able to stay home with Pumpkin without putting us into debt.
  • Cha-Ching! Tax refund! We realize we will not get this windfall next year, but it is nice to have such a big addition to our savings. We even got a good amount back from the state, which is unheard of for us.

Our Plans
  • At this point, all signs point to my staying home another year. I am thankful that the NYCDOE lets me decide on a year-by-year basis. I'm still a commitment-phob at heart, so this makes it easier on me mentally.
  • We are looking to buy an apartment. Yep. Really. A 2 bedroom at that. No, I'm not kidding! The housing market has hit NYC and we are in a place where we can take advantage of it. Columbia even went to TWO open houses last Sunday and we plan on going to at least 2 more this week. Last year at this time I was telling friends that 1 bedrooms were finally coming into our price range. Now, we are seeing twice as many 2 bedrooms for that same number! Our union has worked out a relationship with Acorn Housing (they are NOT Acorn) so that we get extra perks (lower interest rates, etc). We'd went to an informational seminar several years ago and thought they were a great resource. Columbia went to another in January to start the ball rolling this time. We are nearly ready to send in our paperwork and see what our loan pre-approval number is. This will decide a lot for us. Including if we continue to look in Manhattan or start searching the outer-boroughs (Columbia, stop crying, it will be okay =). A good reminder for me has been that the apartment we buy does not need to be our home forever, just the next 5-6 years at least. This realization takes a considerable amount of weight off of my shoulders.
  • One post a week. It will probably revolve around apartment hunting, where we are in the process, or how our 2 cats are not only the bane of my existence, but are crippling our chances at getting approved by a coop or condo board. Just kidding about the cats... sort of. :/

On another note, Pumpkin turned 1 March 9th! She is such a joy.
Our Birthday Girl!

(Note: this is not our apt, but a family member's home in LI)