For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our latest adventures

With various things going on lately, it's been difficult for me to sit down at the computer at all lately, never mind actually writing a blog post. Time to take care of that while I can! *L*

A few days ago, we met with a voice coach and ended up signing Youngest for singing lessons. Starting after the long weekend, she'll be having weekly lessons. The teacher seems to be a good match, though I have to admit to being a bit taken aback with her mannerisms. I thought she might be used to teaching very young children, but her students range in age from 10 or so to over 70! It was like talking to Mr. Rogers or something. *L* Youngest was comfortable enough with her to give the go-ahead for lessons, so we signed her up. I do hope it works out well for her. Youngest as a marvelous voice; she just needs to learn how to use and control it.

I also recently managed to take in a local government surplus sale. A couple of times a year, in a warehouse on the outskirts of town, the government sells off various pieces they no longer need for their offices. Desks of all shapes and sizes, tables, chairs, bookshelves, couches, armchairs, coffee and end tables, storage lockers, filing cabinets, and even cork boards, clocks, wall art, fake plants and more were all available and ridiculously low prices. I got there an hour before the doors opened, and there were people already there. Thinking ahead, I brought along the afghan I'm crocheting for Eldest and got some decent progress in before the doors opened. :-D

There's a trick to going to these things. First, get there early. Very early. Second, if you're looking for a number of items, bring someone along to help find things. Third, if you find something that looks good, don't leave it in the off chance you'll find something better. By the time you get back, it'll be gone. The way they work it, once you've found something, you stay with it and raise your hand. People working the sale go around with clip boards to the people with their arms raised. They make out an invoice with the item and mark it as sold; then you can take the sheet and look for something else to be added to it. For people in groups, they come in and immediately fan out, searching out the items they need. Sure, they end up with multiple sheets, but it works out. Various businesses, churches and charitable organizations have furnished entire offices that way.

On the down side, once something is on the sheet, you can't take it off. So if you *do* end up finding something better, you're stuck with the old one. Which is how I ended up with two couches. *L*

The last time I went to one, we had the car. I could only fit two chairs into the back seat. They cost me $5 each. This time, I had the mini-van, with all the back seats stowed away. It took three trips and snagging my husband from work to help with one particularly heavy piece, but I've re-furnished much of our living room and part of our dining room for under $60. I was actually there for bookshelves, but never found any, though the shelf I did get was listed as a bookshelf. It's more like a sideboard with hutch, though all in one very solid piece. It's a bit dinged and scratched, but being made of real wood, not particle or pressed board, we can refinish it.

That particular shelf just fit into the back of the van, lying flat on it's back. I'd hoped we could set it on its side and fit something else in with it, but it was a bit too long for that.

For the other trips, I was able to fit in a couch and an armchair per load. Between the number of loads and the long drive to and from our place, it took all morning and most of the afternoon. Things had to be out by 3pm. Anything left behind got donated.

So now we have a "new" couch in the living room that doesn't hurt my knees to get in and out of! Granted, it does need a serious steam cleaning, but it's solid, has almost no wear and tear on it, and only cost $15. As for the second couch, we're still debating whether to find a way to keep it in the living room (we need to re-arrange it anyways) or put it in the master bedroom. Personally, as much as I'd like it in the bedroom, I don't really want to haul it up the stairs! *L* For now, it's standing on one end in our dining room. Youngest's cat has discovered that she can use the new shelf to jump to the top of it, which puts her at about 18 inches from the ceiling. She stayed up there for most of the day! :-D

As if that weren't enough, the next day the girls and I were up early and heading for the library. No, it wasn't library day. It was the library's book sale. We walked over to arrive just before the doors opened, and there was a line up down the block! Talking to one of the staff later on, they estimated that 200 people came in when the doors opened.

Unfortunately, the room the sale was in was really quite small. The last time I made it to one of these, they'd set up in the underground parkade. There was lots of room, not only for a lot of tables of books, cds and dvds, or for people to mill about in between, but for the couple hundred boxes of books waiting to be unpacked as room became available. Not this time! They did the best they could with the space, but there was barely room to move even without everyone with boxes, bags or armloads of books.

The girls and I managed to score some good stuff. I found some cookbooks, craft books, photography books, etc. Eldest got a couple of interesting finds, including a book on North American birds that's she's enjoying. Unfortunately, she was after art books and, before she even got to the section, she saw someone going in the opposite direction with her arms filled with all the art instruction books she could find. Ah, well. For Youngest, I spotted and snagged a bunch of mythology books from the Time Life series she's been borrowing for a while now.

It didn't take long for me to fill the backpack we'd brought to overflowing - thankfully, we brought an extra bag. Grand total for them all? Only $13.

That was just the first trip.

We met up with a friend later on and went back in the afternoon. Things weren't quite as crowded, but it was still hard to get through to some sections. This time, I actually got into the dvd section and we got a bunch of Cirque du Soleil dvds, as well as a couple of nature documentaries. Youngest asked me to show her where I'd found the mythology books I'd snagged for her earlier, but when we got there, there were no similar books left at all. She kept me company as I worked my way down the table. There wasn't much order left by then. As we were doing that, a staff member started restocking across the table from us. That's when I see Youngest suddenly reach out across the table and grab a book that had just been added. The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. She's borrowed that book so many times and really loves it, so this was a major score for her!

All in all, it was a very successful event for us. The sale is actually still going, and I will have to really resist going back for more! They may be incredibly cheap, but we do still have to stay in budget. ;-)

Monday, August 17, 2009

That time of year...

Well, here we are again. "That" time of year.

The time when stores fill with binders and pencil crayons and backpacks.

When, everywhere you turn, signs scream out "SALE! SALE! SALE!" almost as much as Christmas.

When Staples puts out the horrifying "it's the most wonderful time of year" commercials.

Yes, it's that time again, when parents apparently can't wait to send their kids off to school. The adults are supposedly all excited, jumping, dancing and smiling with glee, while their children sit morosely, depressed and saddened.

Parents, it seems, can't wait to foist their little monsters back to school, while kids universally hate it.

Heaven forbid parents actually might enjoy spending time with there kids. Or that some kids out there actually like going to school. What novel concepts.

I have to admit, there are some things I like about this time of year. I happen to really like stationary products, and I like getting papers, writing instruments and similar tools on sale. The selection is better now, too. Before long, the varieties will disappear until next year, so it's a good time to stock up. Even my kids enjoy being able to get their supplies at better prices.

This is also when we get our favorite haunts back. No more crowds of tourists, kids on "day camp," or groups of kids who have no idea how to behave appropriately without constant supervision, at the museums, science centres and art galleries. We'll be able to shop during the day and not get bowled over by crowds.

For us, little else will change. Our summer was busier, as we took in various festivals and events that aren't available in the winter, but that was about it. We still had our library days (though I relax posting the lists over the summer). The girls still work on their various projects, etc. As I'm writing this, they're both on the couch, going through some new art books from their holds I picked up at the library for them today. We stopped going to the weekly park days, as they are on a different day and a different location for the summer. The day happens to be on what's now our regular library day. Those will start up again soon, though I'm considering getting involved with a different group. I don't think we can swing both, so we'll see which one we end up going to regularly.

Meanwhile, time for me to stop procrastinating and kick the girls off the couch. Then get them to help me re-arrange the furniture as I clean the living room.

Hmmm... maybe I should get a few more rows of crochet in before I start... Or marinade the meat for supper... or...

... or get my butt in gear and work on the living room.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, then no, then yes after all!

Buying our new van has been an interesting experience. Long story short, though, we do have the same van we took home for an "extended text drive" that I wrote about in my last post.

Shortly after we took the van home, we got a call telling us the monthly payments would actually be much higher than what we were talking about when we agreed to buy it. After some back and forth-ing, it turned out that the original payment we were quoted (based on a 72 month contract) did not include life/disability insurance or warranty, but the second amount did. This was well above our budgeted amount, so we were going to take the van back.

We ended up dealing with a different manager. This turned out to be someone we enjoyed working with a lot more - the other one that gave us the original numbers was much more of a hustler type. Anyhow, after some discussion, we figured out where the miscommunication was - we'd thought the original numbers we'd agreed to included all taxes, insurances and warranties. Since it was outside of our budgeted amount, we started talking about lower priced vehicles. It turns out they only had one older mini-van in stock - all the others were the same year or newer. We test drove the other van (a 2002 Venture), and it really sucked. The payments wouldn't have been any different, either, as the older van would have been on a 4 year term, instead of 6 years. The payments would have been only about $20 a month less than the newer van, and we'd be paying more interest, because the banks charger higher interest rates on older vehicles.

They were going to get a couple more mini-vans in later in the week, though. These were 2005's, one of which had things like the bucket seats in the middle instead of a bench seat. The dealership's garage needed time to go over them and fix anything that needed fixing, we couldn't actually see them until the day after they came in. At this point, we were no longer expecting to get the 2006 we already had on loan and were going to go home in our old car. Instead, they told us to keep it until we came back to test drive the other vans! That was fine with us!

So we come back on the Friday, late enough in the day that I could pick my husband up from work. The van we wanted to test drive, also a Grand Caravan, was so fresh out of servicing, the carpets were still wet from the steam cleaning. In most things, it was identical to the 2006 we'd been using. It had a few extra toys, like a dvd player for the rear passengers. The mileage was still quite low, too - only another 5000km more than the newer vehicle.

Then we test drove it.

It was a short drive - pretty much just around the block - but it was enough. It didn't handle corners or bumps in the road as well, and the engine seemed less responsive. Since one of the main purposes we have for getting a new vehicle is to be able to do road trips, these were things that were important to us. In comparing the financial side of things, the older vehicle was a slightly cheaper base price, but that 1 year added another 1% on the interest rate. That was enough to put the total cost and payments at just about the same! At that point, it made no sense to take the older vehicle.

So we decide on the 2006 Grand Caravan we'd had for almost a week already. We start talking to the finance guy so did some juggling of numbers and managed to get us payments that we could live with that also included life/disability insurance and even a warranty, though not a premium one, by any means. The total payments were still higher that we wanted, but live-able. It means some other purchases we wanted to save up for will take longer to get. We've also delayed our trip to visit family until Thanksgiving weekend in October. I'd hope to get out there this month, but that just wasn't a possibility anymore.

Things should have been finished at that point, but it didn't quite work out that way. As if anything ever does work out the way it should? *L*

Because of our move, our driver's licenses still aren't updated. We just kept forgetting to do it. Normally, that's not a problem, and for my husband, it wasn't. The loan is in both our names, but we ended up just registering the van in my name, as we'd done with the car. The bank needed a couple of recent pay stubs from my husband, which had our new address on them, but of course, my name isn't on those. I was going to give them my updated vehicle registration, only to discover that the person had made a mistake and put our old address on it. That was what they had on file, since we hadn't bothered updating the registration due to our plans to get rid of the car soon. I was able to get it fixed and the finance guy faxed a copy to the bank. We both that that would be it.

Of course, that wasn't good enough.

The bank said that a bill would be enough. That's when I realized that none of the bills coming to our home have my name on them! Since my husband came out here 6 months ahead of us, he set all this stuff up in his name, and we've just kept it that way. We had nothing!

Talking to the finance guy again, he told me the bank said they'd be willing to take just about any piece of official mail (not personal mail) with my name on it! The only thing I could think of was my personal bank account statements, which I certainly wasn't comfortable giving them. I finally thought of our occupancy agreement. It has both our names on it. When I looked at it to bring it in, though, I noticed that it doesn't have my hyphenated name. I usually use my full name, but when space is an issue (a lot of forms, both written and on computer, don't have enough spaces for my full name), I just use the half that's my husband's name. Just in case, though, I grabbed the vehicle insurance papers that just happened to come in the mail the day before, just in case!

When I got to the dealership, I had a chance to talk to the finance guy again. He told me that the bank had said they don't normally accept lease-type agreements, which he thought was strange. After all, if you're looking for proof of address, wouldn't an occupancy or lease agreement be the best thing? He told them that it had better be good enough for them, because if it wasn't, he wasn't going to be sending any more business their way! Still, he took a copy of the insurance paper, just in case they had issues with the name thing after all.

Meanwhile, he'd also had the folks upstairs (various managers in their upstairs offices) questioning him about why our purchase wasn't financed yet. He told them about how we've only been living here for 5 months and hadn't changed our driver's license yet. Not only where they understanding, but several of them admitted that their driver's licenses still had their old addresses, too - and I don't think any of them had moved within the last 6 months!

I haven't had any calls back, so it looks like things were finally worked out. They'd better be, as our first car payment is supposed to come out next week!

In the mean time, we're really enjoying our new mini-van!