Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dallas, From a Hotel in Middle of Nowhere

I'm feeling suburban/business hotel strip locked. I can see the Dallas skyline, but on map, it looks about five miles and two freeways away, so unless we decide to cab it into the city, we will be spending another night in a nondescript, duller than dishwater, part of Texas.There's a couple shots below to prove my point. I totally understand that property is cheaper, therefore the hotels and conference centers can offer lower rates than if they were in the heart of the city, but if I am going to be away from home, it would have been nice to at least enjoy the few hour of downtime. I'm in a basic Doubletree Hotel, nice and friendly staff, comfortable rooms, of which I have a balcony. The hotel left a fruit bowl out along with a big icy dispenser of fruit water, so I had grabbed a banana last night and ate it for breakfast, along with the leftover chicken from my lettuce wraps from last nights dinner. I ate with three colleagues from Minnesota.There was intermittent showers, so we stayed in their hotel, a huge modern thing, with several restaurants, with overpriced drinks and dinner prices that were double my per diem rate. The appetizer size was more than enough though, and with leftovers.

I saw a former younger colleague who left my previous employer just a few months after I did to go to grad school in the East, and now she works for a big national organization in Washington D.C. Visiting with her was a nice unexpected surprise. I also met up with a former co board member from a different national organization housed in DC. She and I served together for two years and remained Facebook friendly, so had an opportunity for a live catch-up. I attended a data workshop, mistakenly thinking it was going to be a different type of presentation, but was pleasantly  surprised on how much good information I received that I will be able to utilize immediately.

When I'm away, I always seem to straddle both the hone front, the office front, and trying to engage in the meetings at hand. I had an 8:000 conference call that went long so would have missed 1/2 the first workshop, so I decided to finish up a couple e-mails and a task left from Monday and feel very accomplished on the work front. Nothing I could have done to prevent the IT glitch, but we have a plan of action, and a message ready to go later today giving our system users the heads up on the change of plan. I talked with both DH and DD2 briefly yesterday. She pulled off the meatloaf and instant potato dinner-no one is starving at home. I'm off now to head don the road to the conference hotel as a new session starts in 45 minutes.

Cloudy early morning photo-building blocks this view of downtown Dallas.

Early evening photo of Dallas-and the ugly parking lot and streets that surround the hotel.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blogging While on Business

I'm trying to make sure I have some off work time whenever I travel for work. That's often tough to do since the expectation is to do business dinners with colleagues and maximize the travel costs.  Relationships are key in just about any job, so this is an important part of traveling. Then there's checking e-mails and following up on phone messages. As I did last Monday night, I try and get some time walking on my own. This trip, I decided against  bringing my real camera, but hope I can capture a thing or two on my phone that might be of interest.

Welcome to Dallas, Texas. I've been to Dallas a few other times, all for work with the exception of driving through when I was 15 on route to a small community for a 4-H exchange. I've never been for fun, so I don't know much about the social life here, and doubt I'll get much of a taste of it tonight or tomorrow night.I am woefully tired as I had a stupid o'clock flight and stayed up later than I should have.Hopefully that means I will sleep really well tonight. 

I have a quick 30 minute conference call to figure out our best and worst case scenarios for July launch of a new phase in my program. Unfortunately despite best laid plans, an IT contract didn't get executed early enough and will not be in place July 1. No contract, no software developers and project manager to launch the software changes. There's nothing more I could have done beyond my area to finalize, so now problem solve is what I need to do, and where I unfortunately have honed skills. My meetings start at 1:00, so best be on my game. Hope your Tuesday is off to a good start-I may be back with a few Tuesday affirmations, if I can find them.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Prepping for the Week Ahead

I have only Monday and Friday in the office and a very early flight tomorrow morning. I need to pack tonight and make sure everything on the home front is organized and ready for the week. I'm planning to make a chicken stir fry for supper tonight and while that cooks, a tuna hot dish and a ground turkey meatloaf. DD2 can heat those up for their supper tomorrow and Wednesday. There should be plenty from all three dinners for leftovers for Thursday. Last night I made sure all laundry was done and clean for the week.

DH does a fair share of household duties, but laundry beyond towels or his athletic stuff is not his forte. Neither is cooking other than pasta and frozen pizza. DD2 needs to get better and more comfortable in the kitchen, so it will be good for her to be in charge of the meals even if I give her a head start. There are frozen vegetables for steaming and I have a packet of instant mashed potatoes. We're stocked to the gills with easy lunch items. I'll probably grab a light dinner before getting on the plane Thursday and maybe some fruit for on route. Friday we'll just cobble together any odds and ends for supper and I'll do a minimal shop Saturday morning or even Friday night for the long 4th of July weekend, first looking through our cupboards and freezer to see what needs using up. We'll be up at the lake Sunday morning through Wednesday night.I mentioned in a comment on yesterdays post we need to stretch the budget until July 5th pay day. Challenge accepted.

I'm really only gone two nights since my plane leaves early morning and the conference doesn't start until early afternoon. I hope I have enough time to drop of my suit case and just walk the few blocks to the hotel where the conference is with just a single tote bag rather than lug the suitcase. We have a convoluted travel arrangement situation at work and for the second year in a row, our travel coordinator booked my hotel too late to get in at the main hotel. I don't really mind though, as it gives me a bit more away time after the meetings and such are done. I have a mix of clothes as I'm not completely sure how far we will be walking to dinner at night in the Dallas heat, but then both the conference rooms and the restaurants could be over air conditioned. I'll also bring work out wear and walking shoes-can't lose momentum. 

I've gotten out of practice traveling for work. Three years ago it was a regular occurrence. Now, I feel like I'm doing a load of planning to pull it off. Today will be a busy day at work, making sure nothing is left for chance while I'm out, and I know I'll be on e-mails each night I am away, just as I was last week. If I can't squeeze in a blog post or two, this might be it for a few days. Have a great week.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Frugal? Thrifty? What Are These Words?

I may have forgotten what either the term, frugal or thrifty, means. I'm not anticipating putting a lot into our savings account in June, and in initial looks at the check book, I am a bit frustrated as to why.

To remind myself, Merriam Webster says this:

Definition of frugal: characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources
Definition of thrifty: given to or marked by economy and good management

In reminding myself of the definition, I feel better about our use of resources, and where we have economized as a family. There have been a few indulgences, but nothing gregarious or out of character. Some of  the cash flow impact has to do with large out of pocket medical expenses, but not yet reimbursed through my flex account at work. I need to get on that. It is unlikely we'll see this yet in June, and that is a whopping $1300 out of pocket but  will be made up in July. 

I am currently sitting at total grocery and household spending for June at $575, that is $225 above my stretch goal, and $175 over my realistic target and may still need before the end of the month.This is huge, but to consider, included in this is the money spent on strawberries and more sugar for jams, more seals, and pectin. Some jam will be gifts. I've made 13 jars so far, plus a container of each strawberry-rhubarb, and straight up strawberry, for our immediate eating, not in jars. DD2 is home for lunch everyday and I'm not spending on school lunches. We are stocked up for the rest of summer in laundry soap and for July with toilet paper and personal items, plus earned $10 in gift cards from Target. July should be better. We're also stocked up with  higher quality frozen pizza, keeping us from ordering take out. I believe I am using good management in the grocery and household stuff area. Is there room for improvement? Of course, but with the stress I've had from work, the fact that I didn't just blow the budget on restaurants and take out is a mark of good economy. 

Here are a few of our extra costs:
  • New sheets from Kohls, but good quality at 70% off plus and additional 15% off
  • Starbucks gift card for DD2's friend as a thank you for playing a duet with DD2 on violin at a special church service for DH's father. (this is a whole story in itself)
  • Gift card for family friends who passed a barely worn  formal black orchestra dress on to DD2
  • Pianist honorarium for DD2's recital and treats for the reception
  • Funds spent on Graduation presents 
  • Funds spent for funerals/condolences
  • Slew of birthday presents that normally wouldn't be part of our spending  
  • Concert tickets for Journey
Things really add up quickly with $20 here and $50 there. However, when I think hard, we had some good efforts at economizing as well. Food waste has been so much better in June. Items left at the cabin memorial day weekend were used again on Fathers Day (stuff for guacamole still good!) I made a refrigerator vegetable noodle soup using all the odd vegetables. Leftover plain yogurt and bananas that turned faster than we ate them went into seven small and one large loaves of bread, perfect for 4th of July when we will have a cabin full eating breakfast and for snacking. DD1 found a second hand perfect little black dress that will get oodles of wear, plus the formal black dress for orchestra passed on to her that even with the gift card as a thank you, it is 1/4 f what it would have cost to order her one in the fall. We brought back two items to Walmart that were bought for school projects for DD2 but then not needed. 

I don't know if canning is cost effective, still costing about $1.75 a jar, but little jars of homemade jam are very much appreciated by family and friends. If I could source pectin (or do without), and lower cost lids, bands, and jars, I could get the cost lower. I found 13 jars in my laundry room but will need to buy more to make more, which will up the cost. If you have ideas,let me know. they are never in garage sales.

If you are like me and get down on yourself for not saving enough, or not thinking you are doing enough to move your family forward, take heart. You may be doing more than you think. Plus, life can't all be about squeezing every grain of copper from those pennies, but enough to have a good balance of spending now and saving for later that aligns with your values.  

A few pictures from my jam making.

Stirring the bubbling fruit.

Two batches:. 6 Strawberry-Rhubarb, 7 Strawberry.