Sunday, November 2, 2014

New car! Honda Fit 2015 EX

We bought another new car! 
4 months ago, our Toyota Camry when kaput so we replaced it with a 2014 Honda Accord lx.

We have been meaning to replace our 2005 Honda Civic for a while now but it has been a low priority since the car still works great.  Low miles, engine is still in great shape.. it was really hard validating getting rid of it and spending more money on a different car.  It's just that the manual locks and manual windows are such a hassle. 
However, it just so happens that a family friend is currently shopping around for an affordable car for her to take to school so it was the perfect opportunity for us to sell the car to the friend and for us to replace the car!

Our requirements for the new car were:
  • gas efficient
  • reliable
  • repairs won't break the bank (so hybrids were out)
  • hatchback (or something where seats can fold down and haul cargo)
  • a great value. preferably something under ~$18K msrp
This car is soley intended for Jeff to commute to and from work.  Nothing fancy and nothing big. 

The preparation:

We also considered looking at used cars but the difference in price between used cars and new cars were very small.  I think right now, a lot of people aren't buying new cars so dealers are handing out killer deals.  At the same time, everyone is buying used cars, so the price to buy a used car is fairly high.  Just to give you an idea: when I purchased my Civic used 5 years ago, I purchased it for $8,000, which had a kbb value of $8-8.5K.   Right now, when we checked the resale value of my Civic on kbb, the resale value is still $8K.  Other car sites estimated my Civic would sell at $7.5K.  So the point is, it's a great time to sell a used car but it is a great time to buy a new car.

Off to the dealer we go.
We test drove a Mazda 3 hatchback 2015 and a Honda Fit 2015 and we decided that we preferred the Fit.  It felt better and the price tag was a couple thousand dollars below. 

Now it was time for us to do our online "homework".
With the Accord, I used to get an idea how much cars were selling for in my area, but the TrueCar guaranteed price wasn't the cheapest.  I also looked at the Costco auto program but that wasn't a deal at all.  Using the Edmunds Price Promise tool, I was able to get a very very low quote on an Accord, then I took that quote and went to my local Honda deal (0.5 miles away from my home) and asked them to beat that price -- they did.

So I tried to do the same approach this time:
I went to Edmunds and did their Price Promise tool.  Odd.. I was only getting quotes right around the same price as the MSRP for the Honda Fit: $17,115.  I never expect to pay sticker price!
After getting several quotes and also manually contacting dealers directly, I was getting quotes at or above MSRP.  One dealer even quoted me a price that was $2000 above MSRP.
What was going on here???

As it turns out, since the year 2015 isn't here yet, manufacturers aren't giving out many Honda Fit 2015s to dealers.  As soon as a dealer gets 1 or 2 Honda Fits, buyers come and buy them right away because the 2015 Fit is pretty dang awesome (it really is.  You get so many features in the base model that the 2013 Fit doesn't have.  The Fit did not produce a 2014 model).
Because the 2015 Honda Fits are selling like hot cakes, the dealers are able to sell them at sticker price or higher.

But I didn't give up!

I went on TrueCar and got quotes from several dealers, and one dealer located all the way in Woodland Hills (about 30 miles away) quoted us a Honda fit for $16,744, which is almost $400 below msrp. The great thing about TrueCar prices are, the price they tell you is the price the dealer has to honor.  No haggling, no hidden costs. 
We called the dealer and they said they had the colors gray, blue, and passionberry in stock (we were picky about our colors: no white, black, red, yellow, and silver for us.  Yet every dang dealer in town only had the reject colors like white, black, and yellow since people snatch up the decent colors fast).

We ate breakfast and drove off to the dealer on Saturday morning (Nov 1). 

At the dealer:
We arrive and we were promptly offered juice boxes, hot teas, hot coffees, and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.  I liked this place already.  All the other dealers we have visited in the past gave us water at best.
Caitlin played in this awesome kids play area while we waited for our sales associate.  Did I mention I liked this place?

Jeff test drove the Honda Fit LX (we decided ahead of time that we wanted the LX) while I sat and drank tea and ate cookies with Caitlin in the kids play area.

After Jeff was done test driving, the sales guy had Jeff start with the paperwork.  How pushy! We didn't even say yes/no yet!
But we mentally already said yes, so we began the paperwork.  He asked us so many questions about employment and income background and about 25 minutes in, I asked the sales guy "um, is this background check truly necessary, since we are paying in full for the car?". 
Oh.  Apparently we didn't need to do all that!  We just wasted 25 minutes!
I'm going to assume its rare for people to walk in and write a check for a car, which is why he assumed we were getting a loan or leasing.

Once all the paperwork was complete, the topic of money came up.  I showed the sales guy the TrueCar price (the manager was nearby and he seemed utterly insulted and angry at the TrueCar price we were promised....  but... they have to honor it! that's how it goes!) then the sales guy left to tally up the out-the-door price.

When he returned... I reviewed each line item on the bill.   Something was amiss! 
In addition to the TrueCar price of the car ($16,744), and the gov taxes & fees, he tried to charge us $1,590 for accessories!  This sh*t happened the last time we tried to buy a car too.
We said we weren't paying for anything more than what TrueCar promised us.
The sales guy brought over his manager who told us what a great deal we were getting with the accessories (typical spiel) and we still said "no, we don't want to pay for the accessories.  Either give it to us for free or rip it off the car".   The manager left to go talk to his "manager" about this.  Of course, that is all a lie.  They just want to make us wait and make us impatient while they leave and go watch some TV or something.  Manager eventually returns and says he can charge us an even $1,000 for the accessories.  We said "no thanks, we just want to pay the price TrueCar promised us".  The manager is unhappy and leaves again to go watch TV talk to his "manager".  A while later, he returns and says he can give us the accessories for $450.  Jeff and I had a telepathic conversation with each other where we decided that rather than spending another 30 minutes haggling down the price of the accessories down another $200 bucks, and another hour to haggle it down to $0, let's just agree to the price of $450.  So we said "ok" and we signed the document saying we agree to pay at that price.
The TrueCar price was $16,744, the accessories was $450, and all the gov taxes and fees was $2423.72.  Bringing the out-the-door grand total to $19,617.72.  Not bad!

Now.. we bring up the topic of colors.  What colors can we choose from?  Last we heard, there was gray, passionberry, and blue.  The sales guy leaves to check the colors.
A while later, him and the manager returns informing us that they have none of those colors on the lot and all they have on the lot is a red Honda fit that is used for test-drives (and the AC is broken).  What the hell?
We pack up our bags and get ready to leave.

Then the manager quickly changes his story: "wait wait.  we see a gray car on its way". 
See?  Where does he "see" this car?  I looked out the window.  I don't see a gray Honda fit LX.

Maybe he got nervous and didn't want us leaving the dealer without money.

The manager later says something like, the gray car is on its way from another dealer.
Ok. so we wait for the car, while we handle payment in the meantime.  Jeff leaves for the bank to get a cashier's check because we forgot out checkbook at home.

15 minutes in (while Jeff is still at the bank), the sales guy sheepishly informs to me that the gray car was actually just sold at the other dealer, so there is no gray Honda fit LX for us.
I was already packing up my bags at this point and getting ready to leave.

But wait wait! 
The sales guy tells me they have 1 gray Honda Fit EX on the lot, that his manager is willing to sell us for $1000 more [than the agreed on price of $19,617.72].

I said I will have to call Jeff and discuss. 
I wanted to take the time to research online if $1000 more for an EX was a good deal or not, but Caitlin was bugging me about having to go pee for the last 5 minutes, and I kept ignoring her, and then she peed her pants and all over the office chair as a result...... so I called Jeff and told him to figure it out while I took Caitlin to the restroom to clean her up.

We already knew that the EX is a more expensive model than the LX, and we were aware of all the cool new features you get on the EX model, like a bigger screen, right lane camera, hdmi input, ally wheels, etc .  But it has one big feature that we weren't so thrilled about: the push-start engine.    That is one big compromise to consider.

5 minutes later, Jeff calls me and says he thinks it's a good deal and we should move forward.


I told Jeff to get the cashier check  then get his butt back to the dealer.  While we waited for Jeff's return, the sales guy asked me if we decided.  Even though I knew our answer was "yes", I told the sales guy "please sit tight for a few more minutes.  Jeff is on his way back to the dealer and we will decide then".   I said this to buy me some time to do some research on the internet.

I quickly checked the MSRP for the Honda Fit EX ($19,025) and I got some TrueCar quotes ($18,650), and since we were being offered the Honda Fit EX for $17,744, I felt much better knowing we made the right decision.

Jeff returns, he gives the Honda Fit EX a test drive (even though we already test drove one 2 weeks ago), then we agreed to buy it.  We paid for the car (they made the total cost of the car an even $20,500.  So we actually only paid an extra $883 to upgrade the Honda Fit from an LX to an EX. YES!!!), got the keys, and got our butts out of there (but not before I grabbed 2 extra cookies for the road). 

Overall, this car buying experience was a lot more positive and and faster than our process 4 months ago when we purchased the Honda Accord.  Using TrueCar helped a lot, and just understanding the whole car-buying process helped a lot too. 

It was 4pm and we were starving (we didn't have lunch yet!) and we were exhausted (none of us had our naps yet!).
We went to Red Robin 0.5 miles away since I get a free red robin burger on the month of my birthday, then we drove home. I sent Jeff and Caitlin home in the crappy ol Civic while I cruised along home solo in the fab new Honda Fit! 

The rest of the evening was so so odd.
Since we had lunch at 4pm, none of us was hungry for dinner.  Caitlin dozed off during the car ride home so I didn't know what time to put her to bed.  And Jeff and I didn't get to take our naps so we were zombies.  I hate when our schedule is thrown off. 
Let's not make car-buying a habit.  It's so much work.

 Our gray Honda Fit EX 2015. Exact same color as our 2014 Honda Accord LX

Now our old 2005 Civic is ready to be sold to our friend. 
Unlike other car-sellers out there, I have the courtesy to professionally wash and vacuum the car, rotate the tires, change the oil and get a smog check (actually legally, it is the owner's responsibility to get a smog check but some sellers will still refuse to do it)  prior to selling it to our family friend.  More car sellers out there should be more like me   =)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

5th wedding anniversary & our last 5 years

It feels like we have been together for a lifetime, yet it also feels like we just got married yesterday. Happy 5th anniversary to my husband, my best friend.

And who doesn't love infographics?
Here's our life in the last 5 years:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cape Cod trip part 2

It appears we have returned from Cape Cod for exactly a month and it completely slipped my mind that I never wrote about the rest of the trip!

It has been a whirlwind ever since returning from our little vacation, with lots of entertaining and catching up with friends and family. Jeff also just celebrated his birthday and we have our 5th wedding anniversary later this week.

Here it is!!

Sunday Sep10
We left Providence and drove to Newport Rhode Island to visit Mansions and do the Cliff Side walk.
Apparently there are a ton of mansions in that area.  I really know nothing about Rhode Island.
The mansions were meh. I'm not big on big dusty homes that I can't sit down or take a nap in.  And geez, the museum/mansion staff were really uptight.

Then after the mansions, we drove to our final destination, Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  With all the driving and sight seeing, Caitlin did not nap at all this day. =(
the view from the Breakers mansion

the Cliffside Walk.  You really walk along a cliff.
We actually did the walk because Uncle Bruce was GeoCaching, looking for GeoCaches

Monday Sep 11
Lots of settling in and unpacking in our lodge.  The lodge is lovely, with a lake view.
We all went to visit a lighthouse not too far from our town.
After lunch, Jeff, Caitlin , and I retired to the hotel for our afternoon nap while the rest of our party drove 2 hours to the tip of Cape Cod.
Nobska Lighthouse

Tues Sept 12
Martha's Vineyard day!
Funny story. 
We originally were supposed to spend the entire week in Marthas Vineyard rather than Cape Cod, and we even booked our flight and rental car to go to Marthas Vineyard.  But after some issues regarding some people in our party dropping out and us not being able to get a ferry ticket to get our rental cars onto the island, we made the decision to stay in Cape Cod instead (and subsequently changed our flight and rental car).
And you know. I'm glad we stayed in Cape Cod.
I think I would have gotten claustrophobic in Marthas Vineyard. It's tiny and there is nothing to do.  It's very similar to Catalina Island off the coast of LA. 

Sure, there isn't much to do in Cape Cod, but at least I don't feel trapped and I don't feel separated from civilization.
To be able to get a seat on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard (since you cant' reserve seats), you need to get there at 8am to get tickets and wait in line.  Of course, Jeff, Caitlin, and I were all still on Pacific time and we were still sleep deprived from the plane ride from hell, so it sucked getting our ass up at 7am.

We were able to get on the first ferry out to Martha's Vineyard.  When we arrived, it was basically: ok, now what.
We walk around, got  some hot tea, rode the oldest carousel in the world, walked around town some more, grabbed lunch, hopped on a bus to..... AN ALPACA FARM!!! OMG ALPACAS!!!

he caught me trying to take a selfie with him

There is a small farm in the center of the island that breeds alpacas! It's pretty unknown but thankfully, Alice knew about it.  You get to pet them, and you even have the option to take one home for $200. Caitlin loved the alpacas, and she learned the word "alpaca" immediately!  We bought home a mini  stuffed animal alpaca for her, which she sleeps with often. =)
Despite sleep-deprived Caitlin being up so early that morning, we weren't able to leave the island until close to 5pm.  As a result, Caitlin was TIRED (most likely hungry too, and she also didnt want to leave the alpaca farm). She threw the biggest tantrum we've ever seen. I felt sorry for everyone on the bus.  When we finally got back to our hotel past 6pm, and we let her take a late nap and go to bed late.  

Traveling truly is difficult for a baby/toddler that still requires naps.  I give Caitlin kudos for putting up with us adults.

Wednesday Sep 13
Boston Day!
Alice flew out of Boston on this day so we tagged along to Boston, which is a 1-1.5 hour drive.
Of course, Caitlin (and Jeff and myself) wakes up in the morning, while the rest of our party enjoyed sleeping in til 11am.  So we sat around and watched morning cartoons until everyone woke. We finally headed out to Boston around 12:30pm. We arrive at 2pm in Boston and went to the aquarium first. We waited in a long line for tickets, paid well over $100 for tickets for everyone, walked around the aquarium for less than an hour, then we left because Alice had a flight to catch, and it was past 3pm -- Caitlin was tired and ready for her nap.
 Myrtle weighs over 500 pounds.

Upon leaving the aquarium parking lot, we had to pay $38 for parking our car there for 1.5 hours.
And I thought LA parking was steep. 
In total, we paid a little under $200 to play for 1 hour in Boston.  So glad we don't live in Boston. I'm too poor for that place!!!
Jeff, Caitlin, and I picked up Burger King drive thru for lunch and we drove in rush hour back to Cape Cod while Caitlin napped in the car.  It was a cold rainy day in Massachusetts so on our way home, we stopped by a Walmart to buy some warm clothes for me and Caitlin. I was so happy! We dont get to have. Walmart in LA.

Thursday and Friday Sep 14-15
Relaxation time! 
After a hectic and busy last several days, we spent these days living life slowly, the way folks in Cape Cod do.  We visited the beach, ate some local fare (LOBSTER and more LOBSTER), and lazed around.  Now that's my idea of a vacation! woot!!

Saturday Sept 16
I can't believe a week has passed already.
We had a flight out of Boston in the afternoon so we all went out for brunch as our final Cape Cod meal. On our drive to Boston, we stopped by Plymouth for some photos of the faux Mayflower ship and Plymouth rock.
the famous rock.

Our flight back home to LAX went off without a hitch! Thank goodness.

An update regarding the plane ride from hell:
I wrote Delta a firm email complaining about the hell they put me and my family through, and I was pleasantly surprised that 1. Delta actually replied to me and 2. Delta tried to compensate me with something that wasn't miles.  The provided each flier (so Me, Jeff, and Caitlin) with a $125 gift card (so a total of $375) to any merchant on the Delta Gifts website. We chose Amazon since we shop on there almost everyday.  I am happy with the compensation, so, happy ending. =)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cape Cod trip Part 1: the plane ride from hell

We are currently in Cape Cod, Massachusetts for the week to attend a wedding and squeeze in a little vacation at the same time.

The trip started off with a plane ride from hell, but we somehow made it to Providence, RI in time for the wedding and we are now nicely settled into the Cape Cod lifestyle. hehe.

It all began last Friday morning, when I got up at 7:30am to do last minute packing and house tidying before the trip.  Prepared breakfast, got everyone up and dressed, and we were out the door at 9am.  Right on schedule.

We dropped off our car at FlightCar next to LAX at around 9:30am.
For those unfamiliar with FlightCar, you can park your car there for free as long as you agree to let others rent your car while you are out of town.  You get paid if someone drives your car and if no one does, you still get a free car wash and free airport parking. Win-win.
We needed to either do FlightCar or pay an exorbitant fee for longterm airport parking because it was difficult to find someone to drive us To and From LAX (nobody wants to drive there), AND have that someone have a toddler carseat installed for Caitlin to use.
FlightCar took our car and whisked us away to LAX in a blackcar (courtesy of Uber).  So far so good, we arrived at LAX right on time.

Caitlin was cheery the entire time.  She had a blast sitting in a fancy blackcar for the first time and we let her ride the 1.5 mile ride without a carseat.

The line to check in our luggage at Delta moved swiftly, and TSA wasn't too bad either.  I initially intended on wearing Caitlin in my ErgoCarrier through the airport but Caitlin was actually really independent.  She didn't run off and disappear and she didn't fuss or cry.  She just walked along with us and helped us pull our carry-on luggage.  It's like she was another human or something!

We arrive at our gate maybe 30 mins prior to boarding time.  We sit down and eat the breakfast I prepared, then used the restroom, filled up our water bottles, window shopped, then hopped on the plane!  Jeff and I remarked at how smoothly our entire morning has been.

We had no idea what we were in for.
All smiles!

Caitlin spent the entire plane ride in high spirits.
She sat in the window seat, read the safety brochures stuffed in the back of the seats several times over, ate snacks, and entertained crying infants on the plane.
Caitlin was the model toddler flier. I spent the 2 weeks prior to our trip preparing in-flight entertainment for Caitlin, and as it turned out, I didn't even need them.  Caitlin was fine at entertaining herself while Jeff caught up on some much needed napping while I caught up on my magazines.

We touch down in Detroit, 3 hours early of our connecting flight to Providence.
That's fine.  We will stop, stretch out, eat some dinner, and catch the 9pm EST flight to Providence.

After eating a subpar dinner at Chilis (that was a mistake. lol) and riding the super cool red train from one side of the airport to another, we arrive 30 mins before boarding time at our gate.  9pm rolls around, and the gate still has not opened yet.
9:10pm rolls by.. 9:15pm rolls by... still nothing.

Jeff goes and inquires what's going on: apparently, the flight attendants scheduled for our flight weren't available.  The flight attendants were still in Nashville, Tennessee and the flight has not left yet due to weather.

Our flight was delayed to 10:30pm.
I have another 1.5 hours to kill with a toddler!

10pm rolls by and the flight was postponed again to 11:00pm! The flight attendants were still stuck in Nashville. We were assured by Delta that the Nashville plane will leave as soon as possible and are estimated to arrive at midnight.  Due to the delay, Delta was not sending people to hotels since we will board our flight shortly.

The pilot and co-pilot that should have been flying our 11pm flight were also standing around, waiting for the flight attendants.  Unfortunately, they eventually ended up leaving too, because they had to go fly another plane to Managua and couldn't wait for our flight attendants any longer.

Still no flight attendants. Our flight was delayed again to 2:10am.

My heart sank.
Caitlin has not napped all day, it was late at night, her energy was running low, we already killed 5 hours at the Detroit airport, and we have to kill ANOTHER 3 hours.
Thankfully, between the 3 of us, Caitlin was the most optimistic and kept on a smiling face.

Can you imagine how difficult it us to be up so late, in an uncomfortable airplane terminal, with a 2 year old to take care of (one that hasn't napped all day)?  Not to mention, we were freezing cold (why is the airport so damn cold?), my phone was low on battery, and my teeth really needed a brushing.

Of course, since my backpack was full of in-flight toddler entertainment and my carry-on luggage was forced to be gate-checked because the overhead compartments on my 1st flight was full, I had no clothes, no phone charger, and no toiletries on me.

An hour later, we learn the flight still has not left Nasheville, so the ETA for our flight attendants to arrive in Detroit was moved to 3:05am.
Remember, no one dared leave the airport to get a hotel, and Delta did not provide us hotel rooms, since our flight "should be here within a couple of hours"!
Our new pilot arrives and I see him entering the plane, making preparations.  The light at the end of the tunnel was near.  The 3am flight was going to happen!

Between 1am and 3am, Caitlin ran around, ate the complimentary chips Delta provided, played with her jigsaw puzzles, and doodled on her notepad.  Almost every person waiting at the gate with us remarked what a wonderful baby she was, acknowledging how difficult it must be for Caitlin, but she's taking it all in stride.
Jeff and I were very proud too.

3am, the plane from Nashville arrives!
We all rejoice!!

The flight attendants and the Nashville fliers emerge from the gate and us folks waiting this entire time all stand up, preparing the board our plane.
Minutes pass, and no one is able to board yet.  The gate door never opens.
Uh oh.

Then the Delta associate on the loudspeaker informs us that the flight attendants arrived 30 minutes too late and our pilot timed-out.  Meaning, the pilot is no longer legally able to fly our plane.
First we had a pilot and no flight attendants.
Now we have flight attendants but no pilot.

Our flight was marked as "canceled" and Delta created a brand new flight, scheduled to leave at 7:30am.  We were all issued brand new boarding passes.
Delta associates apologized profusely, saying how this was all our of their control, and even though they understand our frustration, there is nothing they could do.  We were each issued a $10 voucher for breakfast, but no hotel room since, we will be on a plane headed to PVD in less than 4 hours.

At this time, Caitlin was very exhausted. She tried as hard as she could to play with her puzzles and paint her crafts quietly, but she kept rubbing her eyes, and she was smiling less and less.  Jeff held Caitlin on her lap and asked if Caitlin wanted to sleep. Caitlin nodded yes and asked Jeff to "turn off the lights" in mandarin.
The airport terminal was brightly lit in that harsh, blinding, white light, and there was no way to turn it off.  I gently told Caitlin that we were unable to turn off the lights and Caitlin responded "I want to go home" in mandarin.

That statement really broke my heart.

Caitlin tried really hard, since she woke at 8am Friday morning, to be really accommodating for us, and now she wants to go home, and we couldn't even do that for her.  There wasn't one thing we could do for her.

We tried hugging her, draping a blanket over her head, telling her to go to sleep, but Caitlin did not like any of it.  She wanted the lights out, in a quiet room, on a bed.  No blinding white lights, no loud announcements on the airport paging system.
After playing jigsaw puzzles for another 30 minutes, I sat Caitlin on my lap, and she passed out on my chest for about 2 hours.  I was unable to move, lest risk waking her, so I let my tailbone get crushed and my arms go numb (I still have DOMS in my arms as I type).  Caitlin woke up at around 6am, in REALLY MISERABLE shape.
She was really whiny and did not allow us to set her on a chair.  We had to carry her in our arms the entire time.
Boarding time for our 7:30am flight was at 6:45am, so we decided to cash in our $10 meal vouchers (we had $30 to use among the 3 of us) despite us having zero appetite.  But hey, free food is free food.

We ordered some breakfast platters to-go, and we were ready to board the plane.  We walk back from the restaurant to the gate, with our breakfast all nicely packed in plastic bags, to hear a giant uproar from our gate:

Our 7am flight was delayed to 11am because Delta couldn't get ahold of enough crew members to fly our plane.

At this point, I truly believed that I was not going to make it out of Detroit alive. I truly believed we would not make it to the wedding in Rhode Island.

Jeff was beyond fed up.
He needed to find somewhere for our 2-year old to sleep.

Jeff went and asked the Delta associate if Caitlin could board the plane (which has been sitting at the gate since 8pm the night before) and sleep on there, because it's quiet and dark on the plane.
I already knew the answer was "No" but Jeff insisted on asking.

I sat on a chair and watched Jeff ask the Delta associate from afar.
I knew the answer was "No" from afar.
I knew that it was against FAA regulations from afar.
I watched Jeff not take "No" for an answer and started punching numbers into the keypad, trying to open the gate to board the plane, from afar.   Sleep deprivation and frustration does unspeakable things to a person.
I mumbled "jeff. god. don't do that... seriously" to myself, from afar
I saw the Delta associate threaten to call security on Jeff from afar

Jeff came back to me and announced that he was taking Caitlin to the family bathroom and letting Caitlin sleep there.  The family restroom is a single restroom which has a lock button on the door, a light switch to turn off the light, and has a diaper changing station that Caitlin can sleep on. 
Caitlin was quiet this entire time, clinging onto Jeff for dear life, with miserable look on her face.
I said "ok, take her too the bathroom".

Getting a good nights rest on the baby changing table in the public restroom at DTW

The family bathroom idea was brilliant.
Caitlin slept from maybe 8am-10am in the family bathroom.
Me, I dozed off for maybe 15 minutes, but the loud overhead paging system and the blinding light from the morning sun woke me up and prevented me from falling asleep again.

The Delta manager arrives, bearing breakfast burritos and coffee.
Once again, none of us wants food; we want to get our asses to Providence.  We all complain to her about our frustrations. I even heard other people tell the Delta staff about a "darling poor baby that was here all night" (referring to Caitlin).
I go to the manager, venting my frustrations, and  I inform her that my 2-year old did not sleep all night and is currently sleeping in an AIRPORT BATHROOM!!! The manager simply kept apologizing, reminding us to complain to the Delta company via email rather than to her -- there is nothing she can do for us, there is no compensation she can provide us.  She also told us to use Twitter to complain, which I already did, before my phone died.

At 10:20am, Jeff woke Caitlin up (poor Caitlin) since it was near boarding time.  We all clapped and cheered as each crew member arrived and boarded the plane.  By 11am, us patrons boarded the plane with a large sigh of relief.

Jeff, Caitlin, and I were one of the last people to board the airplane.  As we walked down the airplane aisle to take a seat at the end of the plane, a lot of people looked at Caitlin with a big smile, remarking what a behaved baby she was and how impressed they were.  I said "thanks" and joked "who knows. she may have a meltdown during the plane ride".  One patron replied "let her! She can do whatever she wants!!".
I couldn't be prouder of Caitlin.

The plane ride was a short 1 hour 25 minutes (typically a 1 hour 45 min flight).
Caitlin wasn't in the best of spirits but she ate a little bit of breakfast burrito and played on the ipad.  When it was time to put away the ipad during landing, Caitlin fussed a bit but I was able to curb any complaining buy giving her a lollipop.

We landed and that concluded our 25 hours of traveling (due to the 14 hour delay in Detroit)
 All frowns.  Caitlin has bags under her eyes.

Caitlin helped me get our 3 pieces of luggage (we had 1 suitcase that was checked-in, and 2 carry on bags that were forced to be gate-checked) off the carousel while Jeff ditched us to find out which way to go to the rental cars.

After I collected our 3 pieces of luggage, I put on my ErgoCarrier (it got gate checked with my rolling carry-on, which sucked because I really could at used my ErgoCarrier at the terminal during our overnight-stay-from-hell) and Caitlin was never happier to see that Ergo Carrier. She jumped on into the carrier and I strapped her in, while I waited for Jeff to return.

Jeff comes back and tells us that the rental car place was 0.6 miles away and there were no shuttles -- we had to walk it.
Too cheap to rent an airport luggage cart, Jeff pulls our 48 pound suitcase, wore his backpack, and carries 1 duffel bag.  I pull the rolling carry-on suitcase, wore my backpack, wore Caitlin on my front side in the ErgoCarrier, and carried my handbag, and we walked those 0.6 miles.  We probably looked like some kind of traveling circus.

We arrive at Dollar Car Rental, got our crappy compact rental car with a beyond crappy rental infant carseat (You heard that right.  We booked a reversible toddler car seat and all they had available for us was an infant car seat.  Don't rely on a car rental place since they don't understand baby/toddler/big kid car seats the way parents do.  They think they are all one and the same.  And yes, I know we could bring our own toddler car seat from home and gate check it for free, but that's another 30 pound item we didn't want to bring along on our cross country trip).

We high tailed it to our hotel in Providence, arrived at around 2:30pm, took a shower, brushed our teeth, and all collapsed for a 2 hour nap.  We decided to skip the 4pm wedding ceremony and just attended the photo session + wedding reception at 6pm.

We wake Caitlin up at 5:30pm and OMG SHE WAS PISSED.
With good reason.
I don't know the last time I saw her that angry.

We get the screaming baby dressed, threw the screaming baby into the car seat, and drove the screaming baby to the wedding.

The photo session was almost done and we had missed the group photo, but they squeezed us in for the family photo.  Caitlin stink-faced the photos but at least she wasn't screaming. Caitlin did not allow anyone to put her shoes on, so I covered her exposed foot with my hand during the photos.  

I was glad that most to the wedding guests, including the bride & groom had heard about our plane ride from hell, so they were understanding that we were incredibly late to the wedding.

Caitlin cheered up and was back to her normal cheery self during cocktail hour because she was able to refuel and raise her low blood sugar (we all had a very small breakfast and zero lunch).
Cocktail hour was great (I actually had a cocktail, omg!), the first dance and the toast speeches were brilliant, and the buffet reception dinner was beyond amazing.  And did I mention how beautiful the bride was?
I had a feeling going in that it was going to be a really nice, and lavish wedding.  and it was!
 Meet Joe Black was filmed here

On one hand, seeing how happy and in love the bride and groom looked really made me miss being a newlywed.  This look you give each other, knowing that the other person makes you feel so happy and complete, I miss that.  I'm not saying Jeff and I no longer are happy and complete.  We are.  But we also feel like we have been married for a million years.  Something about being a newlywed on your wedding day, how everything feels so brand new, it's a feeling that only happens once.
Of course, on the other hand, I remember what a heachache it was to plan a wedding, and how sick I got immediately after the wedding due to all the wedding planning stress... I don't miss any of that. =)

The day following the wedding, we drove 2 hours to visit the large mansions in Newport, RI, then we drove an additional hour to our final destination in Cape Cod.  We will be relaxing here for 1 week, and we fly back Saturday afternoon!

The Cape Cod trip continues!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Our new Honda Accord lx 2014

We recently had to get rid of Jeff's Camry, which meant it was time to buy a new car.  After deciding whether we wanted new or used, hybrid or traditional, and after reading up on the top recommended family cars for this year, we decided it was best to buy a brand new Honda Accord 2014 lx.

This was my both Jeff and my first time buying a brand new car from a dealer (my current car, I bought used from a friend and Jeff bought his Camry used from Cerritos Auto Square).  What an experience this was!

Why we had to get rid of Jeff's car:
The big headache started a year ago, when Jeff's check engine light went on.  Busy with demanding-needy-Caitlin in our lives, we never took it to a mechanic and instead, continued driving with the check engine light on. Come September 2013 and it was time to renew the car registration and get a smog check. 
The smog check failed.  We take Jeff's car into our mechanic and he is unable to determine what was wrong with the car because the error log was completely flooded with bogus errors due to us driving with the check engine light on for months.  Whoops.
The mechanic cleared the error logs and told us to drive on the car again and when the check engine light comes on, bring the car back in, as the error log should show the appropriate error code.  Although he suspected there was something wrong with the catalytic converter since the car was emitting a yucky smoke.

With the car error code free, we brought the car back to the smog check, and voila! we passed!  You can ignore the part where the car is emitting yucky smoke.  Since the error log is clear, the car passed the smog check and we walked away with a renewed car registration.
And then we got on with our lives
The check engine light went back on and we never brought the car back to our mechanic.

Fast forward to June 2014. We probably all have lung cancer by now from inhaling the yucky smoke.  Jeff drives to work one day and notices that the car has trouble accelerating and the entire car rattles!
Hmm.  Perhaps it's time to bring the car to the mechanic.  (This happened right before our Palm Springs trip, so we had to take my lame-o car to Palm Springs. Such terrible timing).
Our mechanic examines the car and says the catalytic converter needs fixing (for the smoke) and the rattling may be due to an axle issue.  He doesn't handle catalytic converters nor axles so he sends us to a different guy.  However, Jeff takes the car to a place walking distance from his work instead.  This new mechanic says he isn't able to fix the catalytic converter and we would need to take it to the dealer.  He estimates that job would cost $2,000-$3000.  As for the rattling, he opens the hood of Jeff's car and saw that the engine mount was broken!  Everytime the car rattled, the engine was *this* close to falling out of the car.  He fixes the engine mount, charges us $100, and sends the car home with Jeff.
The car still rattled on the drive home.
It was obvious that the broken engine mount was a side effect of the rattling, but not the cause of the rattling.  The car was still unable to accelerate as well.  Since when do we pay people to not get a job done correctly?

We bring the car back the mechanic and he takes over a day to examine the car further.  Finally, he discovers the issue.  The power to the front right wheel was broken so the car was powered on a one-wheel drive! That was why when the car was moving at high speeds, the car would rattle: a car running on a one wheel drive is like a person trying to run on a limp -- very wobbly.  On top of that, the part that connects the wheel to the car was broken too.  To fix the right side of the wheel and replace the power on both sides of the car,  it would cost $750.

So we are looking at potentially spending $3,750 to fix Jeff's car.

We had to decide whether it was worth it to fix all the issues and try to sell (or trade in the car), or to just scrap the car.
If you go to, they can give you an estimate of how much they think your car could sell for, and they will also help you find a buyer for your car (and they take 5% commission from the sale of your car). estimated that if we fixed everything in our car, we could get ~$6,000 (really? that seems generous).  After talking to a Carlypso agent, they said to get the $6000, this would also mean that we would need to fix all the dents, dings, and scratches in our car.  Fixing the dent and a new paint job would run us... what.. $500 to fix the dent, and $2000 for a new paint job (I'm just throwing ballpark estimates here)?  So $2,500 + $3,750 (for the mechanic to fix the catalytic converter and the front wheel drives) comes out to $6,250.

More than the value of the car.
Not to mention, not worth the time and headache.

So now what? 
We cannot trade-in the car in it's current state.  In CA, if you are selling or trading in a car, the car needs to pass a smog check within the last 90 days.  For us to pass the smog check, we would need to pay $3000 to fix the catalytic converter.  But trading it in, we may only get about $2000 for the car.

Not worth it.
What other options are left?

We could scrap metal the car for ~$300.  But that would do such a disservice to Jeff's car.  It's worth more than that.  I mean, passing a smog check is a CA thing.  If we lived in a different state, we would just pay the $750 and the car would be driveable and sellable.  The smog would not be an issue at all. So I didn't want to scrap metal the car.

My mom told me about this gov program where they pay you $1000 to retire your car if your car failed a smog check within the last 90 days.  We thought that was a good plan, EXCEPT Jeff was not comfortable driving the car from the mechanic to location where you surrender your car because with the front right wheel not powered and not properly connected to the car, the wheel could fall off at any minute during driving! And I could imagine that the driver could easily lose control of the car if the car is completely powdered by it's front left wheel.    For Jeff to safely drive the car off the mechanic's lot, we would need to pay the $750 to make the car driveable.  Then pay an additional $50 to get a smog check certification, showing that we failed the smog check.  That's $800!  That means, after getting $1000 from the goverment, we would only have $200 in our pocket. 
Would be more worth it to scrap metal the car.

Instead, I asked Jeff to propose this deal to the mechanic that is holding our car hostage:
instead of fixing the car, we will sell the car to the mechanic for $1000, and this would include the cost of his labor for investigating our car further.
The mechanic countered with $800, and Jeff wanted to accept, but I counted with $850, and he accepted.

and that was that.  We got $850 in cash and handed the title over.

Our Honda car buying experience:
I started by doing a ton of homework at home.  Thank goodness we can do almost everything on the internet.  Gone are the days where we have to drive from dealer to dealer getting quotes.  You can find quotes online all with one tool.  First, I used to determine how much I should expect to pay for a car in my area.  You put in the car you are looking for, your zip code, and they tell you the lowest, average, and highest price paid for your desired car in your area.
For Honda Accord 2014 lx with cvt transmission:
The factory invoice is $21,828 (this is the value that dealers pay to the manufacturers)
The MSRP is $23,545 
The average price sold is $22,020
The lowest price sold is somewhere in the range of $20,089 - $20316
The highest price sold is somewhere in the range of $23,497 - $23,724 (now why the hell are people paying over sticker price).

Ok, so now I know that I ideally want to pay between $20,089 - $22,000 for a car.  I have no idea if this is the out-the-door price or the base price. It would make most sense if these values are the base price.

I went to the website for the 3 nearest Honda dealers near me and filled out their "contact us" form, saying I want a Honda Accord 2014 lx, and to give me a quote via email.  I got 2 quotes via email ($20,228 at Honda Airport Marina  and $20,663 from Honda Santa Monica) and 1 dealer phone called me (they didn't follow directions (I said I wanted a quote via email) so I never returned their call). I made an appointment for Honda Airport Marina for the upcoming Sunday morning.
I also went to the website of this Chinese car dealer place that my parents referred me to, and I also filled out their Contact Us form. I never got a response.  Oh well, their loss.

After that, I went to, and at the top of their site, I clicked on the "Price Promise. Get upfront pricing" button.  I filled in the car I was looking for and the zip code that I lived in, and they pulled up the upfront costs for my desired car of all the dealers in a 25 mile radius.  The lowest quotes I got was $19,837 from Nelson Honda (all the way in El Monte.  Jeff didn't want to drive that far) and $19,891 from Gardena Honda. I printed out these quotes and kept them in my purse so I could use them for leverage while haggling  at a dealer. I made an appointment for Gardena Honda for the upcoming Sunday afternoon.

I learned from both my mom and my brother-in-law that Costco also has an auto program where they sell cars at a no-haggle price.  It may not be the lowest price but it's a decent price and you can get in/get out with a car in a snap.  It's great for those wanting a deal but are too busy to take the time to price shop (we tend to fall into this group).  Jeff contacted the nearest authorized Costco auto retailer and made an appointment for the upcoming Saturday morning.

So great, we were armed with 4 prices and 3 appointments.

Saturday morning comes and we go to the authorized Costco auto dealer (Culver City Honda.  walking distance to my home, which was nice).
The sales rep first shows us the car selection and I decide that I liked the gray with the gray interior the best (What can I say. in my mom's words, I am a "gray person".  Ask me in person what a "gray person" is, if you are really curious to know). Jeff tests drives it while Caitlin and I rode in the back seat and we all had a jolly good time.  The bluetooth connection to smartphones was cool and I really like the "economy" button on the car.  It helps you save gas.  And I couldn't get over the new car smell.

We were really happy with the car.  Then, it was time to talk no-haggle pricing.
The Costco price for the car was $21,278.15
Unfortunately, the car has accessories installed on the car (they get installed at the manufacturers so the dealer doesn't have a choice about this) and they wanted us to foot the cost of the accessories: $1,295.  With costco membership, we get 15% off parts, so the accessories came out to $1100.75.  We wanted to add on the "remote start" feature (you can start your car from 400 feet away and get the AC running, so by the time you arrive to your car, it isn't nasty hot in there), for $2,300.
In total, with the Costco pricing, it would have come out to ~$24,679, and this isn't including the cost of sales tax, titling, licensing, etc.. (which is roughly about 10% more).

Sorry, but the Costco price wasn't good enough.
In addition, I was not happy that they were forcing me to pay for accessories that I never asked for.  They cannot remove the accessories since the cost of the labor to remove it is more than the cost of the accessories themselves.

That was when I busted out the quotes that I printed out earlier.  I showed them that other dealers were selling the exact same car for $19,837.  $1441 less than the Costco price.

This was when the haggling began and we no longer were shopping through the Costco auto program (since Costco prices are haggle-free).  We were simply shopping through the Culver City Honda dealer.

the text below is the cliff notes of our haggling process.  there were even more numbers and counter offers flying around in the conversation, but I just highlighted the main points below:

Our sales rep called up the Nelson dealer to confirm that their ridiculously low price was final, and didn't have any hidden costs.  Turns out, that price is the price that people "could" get for a car.  Meaning, if the right requirements were met, such as, financing the car (we planned on paying cash), and if you qualified for rebates like military and recent grads discounts. 

So the sales rep said he couldn't match the price of the other dealer since their price truly wasn't that low, but he could lower the asking price from the Costco price of $21,278 down to $20,879.  But that would mean that I no longer get the Costco discount on parts, and instead of paying $1100 for the accessories, I would have to pay the full price of $1,295 for accessories. However, for the remote start add-on we wanted, instead of $2,300, he would sell to us for $2,000.

That will wasn't good enough for me. 
Jeff was actually ready to say "Yes", so I handled all the talking.   What can I say, even though I hate haggling, I'm a cheapskate.
I reminded him that I still had other appointments set up at other dealers and I wanted to hear what they had to say too!
I had him ask his manager if he would be ok with the asking price to be an even $20,500 (instead of $20,879), to give us the Costco 15% discount on the accessories, and give us the remote start for $2000.

While he was gone, I called Honda Airport Marina (remember they gave me an internet quote of $20,228 over email), and asked him if that price was contingent on things like financing, or if it included rebates I may not qualify for, like the military discount.  I also asked if the cars on his lot included accessories that I would be stuck paying for, even if I didn't want them.  His response was no, no, and no.  I could pay in cash or finance, the price for the car is the same.  It doesn't include any rebates and the cars on his lot were accessory free.  He told me the out-the-door cost for the car would be $22,406.47 ( Selling price 20228.00 , tax 1827.72 , DMV Fee 233.00 , 80.00 doc fee 8.75 CA tire fee).

It sounded too good to be true.
I was this close to walking out of the dealer right then and there.

Hey, wait a minute. 
Where was Jeff and Caitlin during this 4 hour haggling process?  Oh, they were goofing around inside one of the cars on displays.  I was all on my own. =|

When the sales rep returned from talking to his manager, he tried to sell me the car for $20,500 the accessories for $300 dollars (instead of $1100) and 3 free oil changes in addition.

Jeff was ready to say "yes".  Well, he was ready 2 hours prior, so, it was all up to me.
But to me, that offer still wasn't good enough.
I tried to get him to understand that I really didn't give a rats ass for those accessories so I didn't want to pay a dime.

Then I told the sales rep that I just got off the call with Honda Airport Marina.  I was completely honest and upfront with my sales guy and told him that the guy offered me a car for $20,228, no accessories, no payment restrictions, it doesn't include rebates I didn't qualify for, and it would cost me $22,406.47 out the door.
This sales guy needed to beat Honda Airport Marina's offer.
I told him that I had an appointment with Airport Marina the next day and I requested that he lock in his offer price for 24 hours, just to give me enough time to go talk to Airport Marina in person.  He refused to lock in the price.  If I walked out that door, the last 4 hours of haggling would be out the window.
With Caitlin 3 hours past her naptime, I really didn't want all of this for be for nothing.

My sales guy left to talk to his manager.
A few minutes later the manager showed up and explained that he really wanted our business, as, it was not only the end of the month (it was 2 days before the last day of the month), but it was also the end of the quarter.
The manager offered me:
Selling price for the car: $20,279 ($51 above the selling price for Airport Marina).
Accessories: $0 (woot woot)

Remote Start: $2000
A grand total of $24,655.06 (which includes tax, titling, fees, etc..) out the door.

I accepted the offer.
I'll be honest. I'm not 100% happy with the offer, but after being there for so many hours with a toddler so many hours past her naptime, I had to throw in the towel at some point.

I think Jeff was mentally checked out at this point too.  His body was merely an empty vessel sitting inside a showroom car. Caitlin was still going to town, turning on and off headlights and pressing buttons.
 After an hour of doing all the paperwork and exchange of monies (we paid $22,000 via check and the remainder on our AMEX card.  The max they allow to charge on a credit card is actually $2,500 but he let us do $2,655.06 to make the amount due on the check easy), the keys were ours and I had to draft a heartbreaking email to Honda Airport Marina, thanking them for their time.

I drove Caitlin home in my ratty ol Civic and Jeff drove the beautiful new car home. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cinderblock raised garden bed

More improvements to the backyard!  It never ends!  It's just that much of a train wreck.

When we installed the artificial grass, we weren't aware of all the unsightly tiles and concrete on the perimeter of our backyard.  But.. I don't think the artificial grass guys would have been willing to jack hammer away the concrete for us anyways.
So we have been stuck with beautiful articial grass with some random tiles and concrete adjacent to it.  This is the same area where I mentioned in this previous blog post about a creepy alley that needs to be barricaded, and a wall that needs to be hidden or repainted.

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner, but 2 weeks ago, I realized: I can cover up the alley, the ugly wall, AND the concrete+tile with a raised garden bed.  I spent my entire 8th grade woodshop class shivering in the corner, fearing I would lose a finger in the circle saw... so.. building a traditional wooden raised bed was out of the question.  Now, Jeff is too busy to participate in my random hobbies, like... increasing the value of our home... so recruiting Jeff's assistance to make a wooden bed wasn't an option.  I knew I had to do this project all on my own, and I had to find a different material for the raised bed.  Something that was already pre-made, that I can just purchase and lay down in the yard myself.  At the church across the street from my home, they built a small cinder block raised garden bed a year ago.  I'll do just that!

4 trips to Home Depot with my good friend Savvy in tow, we returned back to my house with 28 cinder blocks, 2 half cinder blocks, 2 bricks, herbs, succulents, and 30 bags of soil.  Over the course of 1 week of working during Caitlin's afternoon nap,  my cinder block raised garden bed is complete!!

Succulents hiding the alley behind our garage.
A wall that needs a paint job, also hiding behind the succulents
Random tile and a square of concrete on the ground, next to my artificial turf

The cinder blocks laid down.
No soil added yet.
Succulents still in containers.

Cinderblock location is finalized
Soil has been added into the raised garden bed, as well as into the nooks of the cinder blocks
Succulents have been removed from their containers into the raised bed.
2 herbs have been planted into the right side of the raised bed.
Ugly wall that needs a paint job is still successfully hidden.
Oops... the scary alley behind my garage is exposed.  How do I hide it?? 

I plan on taking my time deciding what plants to grow in my raised garden.  This is all the soil I have on my entire property since the rest is artificial turf, so I must choose wisely! 
I am terrible at keeping plants alive and watered, so  I am thinking that the left of the garden bed will be dedicated to my succulent collection and the right side will be for edible, bee-friendly, drought tolerant herbs.  Small vegetables like green onions and arugula will be grown in the "nooks" of the cinder blocks.

What are your thoughts?
Does the raised bed make the yard look better?  Did I increase the value of the home?
Or did I ruin it, and I should have just left the yard the way it was?

Tide Pools at Abalone Shoreline Park for Mothers Day

This year was my 3rd Mother's Day.  How quickly time passes.
My first Mother's Day, I bought flowers from Trader Joes and we took pictures of me with the flowers.
My 2nd Mothers Day, we did afternoon tea at Rose Garden Tea Room in Huntington Library.

I considered doing the tea room again this year, but, the hours of the tea room doesn't work well with Caitlin's current nap schedule, and honestly.. I ate way too much at the tea room last year, that I still feel ill just thinking about it.

I thought about what other activities I enjoyed doing.  I like beaches but we go so often that it isn't as "special" anymore.  Then I realized how much fun I had tide pooling back in January 2012, that I wanted to go again.  We went to Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Ranchos Palos Verdes for my birthday last November but we didn't see any tide pools because we did not go during low tides (we just went when we were able to, because of Caitlin's nap schedule).
We got lucky this time because when I checked the low/high tide schedule, it said that the low tide was at 1:25pm.  That is perfect. We had plenty of time to enjoy the tide pool before heading back home for nap time.

I planned out the entire outing (if I don't do it, no one will).
The plan was: pick up take-out lunch from Hong Kong Bakery in Torrance, which is on the way to Abalone Shoreline Park.  They sell dim sum and hawaiian pastries... one of my favorite things to eat.
From Abalone Cove Shoreline Park - May 11, 2014
 Then we arrived at Abalone Shoreline Park around 11:30am, 2 hours before low tide.  We paid $5 for parking , grabbed our picnic food, and hiked down to the shore to eat an early lunch. 
From Abalone Cove Shoreline Park - May 11, 2014

After eating, Caitlin splashed around in the water for a bit, then we started hiking over to the tide pools around 1pm.  We arrived around 1:20pm, just in time for low tide.  I was expecting to see star fish but there weren't any.  I'm sure if we went deeper into the water we would have seen them, but with a 2 year old, it's safer to stay closer to shore.  We did see crabs, hermit crabs, sea slugs, sea snails, anemone, urchins, fish, and barnacles.  Not bad. 
From Abalone Cove Shoreline Park - May 11, 2014
Caitlin was absolutely obsessed with the hermit crabs, and even today, she still requests to see some crabs.It was a painfully long, hot, uphill walk back up to the parking lot, but the views were absolutely beautiful.  I was so glad Jeff was able to carry Caitlin back to the parking lot, while I took my time walking at my own pace. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it back alive. 
From Abalone Cove Shoreline Park - May 11, 2014

Overall, the trip was such a success.  I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate Mothers Day.

Abalone Cove Shoreline Park
5970 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
Phone: (310) 377-1222

Checkout my tidepools photo album here:
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park - May 11, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy 2nd Birthday Caitlin!

Our little girl turned 2 a little over a week ago, on the 14th! I'm still in disbelief.  I actually sobbed several times the day of Caitlin's birthday because I just couldn't believe my little girl is 2 already.  If the first 2 years went by that quickly, I don't want to know how fast the rest of my life will pass.
I felt so out of control.
Me 2 years ago (March 10, 2012).  Wait, are you trying to tell me this photo wasn't taken yesterday?!

But enough about me.
Caitlin had 2 birthday celebrations to celebrate the big 2!
She had an intimate dinner and cake with the grandparents the Sunday before her birthday, and a pizza party playdate with Caitlin's little friends the Sunday after her birthday.

At the grandparents house, I brought over Thai food take-out and my sister brought over good ol' Kee Wah Bakery strawberry cake.  Lots of eating and hanging out, the way a birthday should be!

For Caitlin's party with her friends, I was initially reluctant to throw a party because I'm terrible at hosting parties.  I get all anxious at the thought of having to entertain a lot of people together at one time and figuring out the guest list is always a big point of stress for me too.  After some convincing from friends, I decided to throw a party, initially called a "glorified playdate".  But knowing me, if I do something, I gotta do it right! I had to throw the best 2-year-old party ever.  I needed to have good entertainment and good food!  We just recently fixed up our backyard so our yard was the perfect venue to host the playdate party.
I rented a Sesame Street bouncy house (it was harder than I thought to find Sesame Street) for our "main attraction".  Caitlin's new playhouse and Cozy Coupe were also fun toys that kids could enjoy at her party.
I stopped by the local Dollar Tree and Party City and picked up all my party supplies: bubbles for party favors, party favor bags, table cloths, construction paper, and mylar balloons.  Party finger food was from Costco and Trader Joes (veggie sticks and dip, hummus, fruit salad, rice crackers, pretzels, potato chips, goldfish crackers, vegan "chicken" tenders, and butter noodles) and pizza was from Pamore's.  Drink selections (from costco) included bottled water, coca cola, Hansens soda, and Fruitables juice boxes (fruit and veggies in every box!).  I borrowed 2 tables from my sister.  Every thing else you saw at my party was stuff I already had around the house.
My good friend and I spent all of Saturday (the day before the party) making awesome Cookie Monster and Elmo cakes and cupcakes.  Everyone was impressed with our cakes.  We should really be bakers.  I tried to keep the Sesame Street theme tasteful and not too over the top.  I got a lot of ideas and inspiration from Pinterest.
The party was at 4pm on Sunday so I assigned Jeff the task of getting Caitlin out of the house Sunday morning so I could finish last minute party details and also to wear Caitlin out, to ensure that she takes a good long nap before the party.  Jeff took Caitlin to Noah's Ark at Skirball (which she loved, and ended up taking at 2.5 hour nap!), while I worked on the veggie platter, fruit salad, waited for the bouncy house delivery guy and picked up 9 mylar balloons.  My good friend arrived at 2pm to work on backyard buffet table set up and any other last minute details.  I assigned my sister to take pictures and bring serving spoons, and my brother in law the task of picking up pizza at 5:15pm.  It takes a village to make a glorified playdate party happen! hehe! 

Overall, I think the party went well. People were well fed, the turnout was great (about 40 people), kids were entertained, and Caitlin had the best day of her life.  I know Caitlin won't remember this day and has yet to understand the concept of birthdays, but I know that she had a great time and she knew that we did something very special for her.  That is good enough for me.

Birthday Cake with the Lin Grandparents

The cakes my good friend and I made. It took us 6 hours to frost them:
We had to make 2 extra trips to the store to get more food coloring and I was *this* close to giving up and buying grocery store sheet cake.  I'm glad we didn't.
I also made these cupcake tiers out of 3 different sized paper plates with a paper cup glued in between each plate.  Convenient and disposable!
From Caitlin's 2nd Birthday

Party Favors  I made these Elmo and Cookie Monster bags!
(homemade sesame street bubbles and Albertson's chocolate chip cookies in each bag):
From Caitlin's 2nd Birthday

the homemade sesame street bubbles that went in the party favor bags

Sesame Street Bouncy House
From Caitlin's 2nd Birthday

Cake and birthday song
From Caitlin's 2nd Birthday

The Good Lookin' Family!
From Caitlin's 2nd Birthday

View the entire album here:
Caitlin's 2nd Birthday

I will write up a 2nd-year Caitlin review blog post on our Raising A Family blog very soon!  Don't think I have forgotten!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Our backyard -- playthings for Caitlin

Just when I was all done writing about the improvements to our backyard, turns out, there is more!

During a trip to Costco to do some returns and pick up some bananas, we came across a kid playhouse and a kid bench on display.  Caitlin absolutely loved playing with the playhouse and even ended up locking out some other costco kids that wanted to play in it.  Solid cedar wood, fits 5 kids, even comes with a play kitchen, for $280... we knew we had to get it!
There was a matching toddler picnic bench for an additional $85 so we went ahead and got that too!

Yeah. that was probably the worst case of impulse buys ever.

It wasn't until we reached our Camry, with our recent purchases in tow, that we realized we couldn't drive everything home!  There is no way the playhouse would fit in the trunk...
I've had enough Ikea-furniture-buying experiences combined with more-hours-than-I'm-willing-to-admit Tetris experience that I was able to get all the pieces of the playhouse into the trunk, backseat, and front seat of the car.  Of course, that meant that Jeff had to drive home with the trunk slightly open and tied down with a rope.  And that also meant that Caitlin and I had no where to sit!  While Caitlin and I killed time in the local Albertsons, Jeff drove all the furniture home, unloaded everything into the driveway, then drove back and picked up me and mini me.

The playhouse had.. a ton of pieces..
The manual said that it will take 2 adults 8-10 hours to build.  We spent the following week building the playhouse.. a couple of hours at a time.  Some nights, we were were up until 1 am working on the playhouse.  We had a deadline to get it finished by the following weekend, because we had cousins coming over with their kids.  10 hours later, we got it done!
After that, Jeff and I put the bench together -- took less than 30 minutes.

Our yard looks playdate (and birthday party celebration) ready!!
 the playhouse's pieces.  Not picture are the itty bitty tiny pieces
 Daddy's little helper
the playhouse is complete!

building the bench!

Our yard looks absolutely amazing and kid friendly!
Caitlin's in this picture.  Can you help me find her?

Ok, so this isn't related to the backyard, but it's related to the new playthings that Caitlin recently acquired.
I noticed that Caitlin has always had an interest in play kitchens but I have a hard time throwing down $90 on a play kitchen for her.  Especially when I think she will lose interest in a few weeks.
Instead, I collected some large cardboard boxes, covered then in contact paper, glued on some old milk caps, built cardboard some racks/shelves.. and VOILA! Caitlin has her very own cardboard kitchen.  All the supplies cost me under $5 since most things were things I already had around the house. 
I gotta admit.. I even impressed myself!
Caitlin absolutely loves this kitchen.  She totally ditches her Legos now, and would rather "cook" in her kitchen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Dr Oz: 3-Day Detox Diet Smoothie Meal Plan recipes

Thanks to a friend, Jeff and I have been inspired to do a 3 day detox.  We've never done one before, so here's to new experiences.  And it never hurts to purge your body of toxins!  right?... right?? =/

I plan on following the Dr Oz: 3-Day Detox Diet Smoothie Meal Plan, as described here.  But that page doesn't actually tell you the recipe on how to make each drink (I think that's their scheme to get you to buy his book.).  So instead, I scoured the internet for the recipes (or ones that are similar enough), made a few tweaks to the recipes, and also followed some tips from my friend who did the detox already.
I'm super excited.
So I wanted to share with you right here, all the recipes I compiled for the detox drinks.  Also, so I have a place to reference back to later if I want to make the drinks again. =)

BREAKFAST:  Green Goodness Smoothie
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 -2 medium cucumber (approx 2 cups)
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1/2 inch gingerroot (or 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 bunch chopped parsley (approx 1/2 cup chopped)
  • 2 apples, cored
  • 1 lime, juice of
  • 1/2 lemon, juice of
  • 4 ounces almond milk or water
Blend. makes 3 servings. Dr. Oz suggests adding other items at first to sweeten the green drink to your taste.

Raw Almond Milk
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • water for soaking nuts
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
Soak the almonds in water overnight or for at least 6 hours.Drain the water from the almonds and discard. Blend the 3 cups of water, almonds and dates until well blended and almost smooth. Strain the blended almond mixture using a cheesecloth or other strainer. Homemade raw almond milk will keep well in the refrigerator for three or four days.

LUNCH: Cranberry Apple Juice
Mix together 100% cranberry juice with 100% apple juice. 

AFTERNOON SNACK: Sweet Potato & Apple Smoothie
  • 2 peeled sweet potatoes boiled or baked
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • handful of walnuts
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Blend  (makes 2 servings)
DINNER: Bravocado! Pear Avocado
  • 4–8 ounces cold water
  • 1⁄2 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage (such as So Delicious)
  • 1⁄2 avocado, pit removed, flesh scooped
  • 1 pear, peeled and cored
  • Blend (makes 1 serving)
Evening Snack: Raw Walnut Milk
  • 1 cup walnut halves, rinsed (4 oz.)
  • water (about 3 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or agave nectar)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1: Place walnuts in a medium bowl and fill with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Cover and set aside. Soak at room temperature at room temperature to soak at least 1 hour to 12 hours for easy blending.
2: Drain walnuts; rinse thoroughly. In a blender combine walnuts, 3 cups water, honey, vanilla, and salt; blend on low until very smooth, at least 2 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  Yields 3.5 cups

Monday, January 20, 2014

Our backyard - back wall edition

Finally! I think we are finished with our backyard revamp.
After installing fake grass, mulching the palm trees, getting patio furniture, and building a succulent container garden, we did the last and final touches: repainted the far back wall of our backyard and covered up the hideous alley+corner.

2 weeks ago, my good friend Savannah came over and helped me paint the back wall.  It was dirty, chipped, and had random splotches of pink.  I picked out a cute beige-tan color at Home Depot the day before, called "weathered sandstone", and we got to work!  Jeff watched Caitlin while S and I got to work; she made sure I didn't half ass the task (grr!).
Our 2 hours of hard work paid off.  The wall looks terrific!
Here is the before and after.  (by the way, the paint color ended up coming out WAY lighter than on the color swatch.  liars!!).
who knew a fresh coat of paint makes a world of difference.
we didn't even repaint the red trimming.  It just looks so much bolder contrasted against the clean coat of beige paint

Next is the creepy corner of my backyard.
There already is a filthy alley there, that we covered up with 2 succulent shrubs a few months back.  But the wall adjacent to the alley needs a lot of TLC.  The wall has paint (but it doesn't look like paint.  It looks like someone previous painted a layer of plaster on the wall) that is peeling away and falling off towards the bottom.   To fix it would require scraping the layer of plaster off, sanding the wall, then putting on some new coats of paint.  It's really a lot of work.  Not to mention, this "wall" in the back of my yard is actually the side of my neighbor's house. WTF! Only in LA do houses not come with real partitions.  To put in so much work would require the approval of my neighbor, and I also feel like I shouldn't be fixing my neighbor's house unless I'm getting paid for it!
So, we did the quick easy solution:  add even more succulent shrubs to cover the wall!!  We purchased 3 pots of firestick succulents this weekend and moved some of my succulent containers (from my container garden) to the wall as well.
I think this area of my yard looks a lot better.  
ooh, that new paint job on the right looks fantastic

All the work on my backyard is completed just in time for us to host Caitlin's 2nd birthday party in March!  (We are getting a bouncy castle in our backyard!)  It's a great excuse to show off our new yard to our friends and neighbors too =)