Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day minutiae and reverence

Somehow every year Memorial Day sneaks up on us. We know vaguely that there's a day off somewhere at the beginning of summer but inevitably, we find ourselves with no plans and no thoughts for how to make the most of the long weekend. This year, things were a bit different. We saw some houses in Wellesley, made an offer on one, accepted delivery of our cars, hung out with our friends Scott and Nikki who were in town for a race and found out our offer was meagerly countered by the current owners.

Saturday morning we stopped at Sam's would-be elementary school to try out the playground. Bob was thrilled to finally find a hoop the right height for him to dunk. The little dude was more interested in shooting hoops with his Papa than climbing the playground equipment. We even met a perfectly yuppy family who also came to spend some time at the playground. All in all, it was a great Saturday morning. Note to Grandmothers: No knees were skinned in the course of our playtime.

Even though we spent the weekend mostly absorbed in our own affairs, we did spend a few moments yesterday thinking of the servicemen and women who've lost their lives to protect our nation. Now that we live in the Land of Liberal, I'm certain many of our neighbors will not share my political ideals. Even so, I hope that I'm in good company recognizing that men and women in uniform make sacrifices so we can continue to live our comfortable, protected lives. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the current war and its genesis should have absolutely no bearing on the respect due our veterans. They don't choose war, they choose to trust in their leader and assume the role they've been given. That takes bravery I'll never have. And as a mother, that's bravery I selfishly hope my son never has. (Ok, maybe that's not exactly true but perhaps he can show his devotion by serving stateside.)

Patriotism was an underlying current in my upbringing. As a second generation American, I never learned Italian (nor did my mother) because once the family came to America, assimilation happened relatively quickly. The importance of family and food persist but all else from the old country is virtually gone. My Grandmother gained her citizenship, learned English and raised her children American. In some ways, I think making the choice to move to this country makes her even more loyal to it. And although I can't remember those words ever being spoken, they were implied in subtle ways.

One day I'll explain to Sam why we hang a flag on Memorial Day, why we take it down when it rains and more importantly, that our freedom is something precious for which we should be grateful. But explanations can only help instill so much. I hope too that he'll learn by way of different subtleties-- the tear in my eye when I hear of a soldier lost or my hand over my heart whenever the national anthem plays-- and become a man of strong character who recognizes that thanking those who sacrifice for us isn't just an act of patriotism, it's an act of humanity.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Which Credit Cards are Best?

Last year, I did a review of the credit cards we were carrying and after some analysis I decided to change all of the cards we were using. I thought what I learned might be interesting to others so here's a summary of what I found.

Previously, we were primarily using an American Airlines Citibank MasterCard which carries a $55 annual fee and offers 1 American frequent flyer mile per dollar spent. American was our airline of choice and miles were always useful since we were traveling quite a bit. Increasingly, however, we found it difficult to utilize the miles we'd accrued. Flights are just never available, even with a lot of advanced notice and nowhere near holidays. I used to think an airline mile was worth 1 cent to me, but I think they are worth less now. We've got tens of thousands of miles on a bunch of airlines and last time I tried, I couldn't use the miles on any of the airlines! We also had an American Express Golf Card and a Discover Card that were seldom used.

To improve this situation, I did an analysis of our spending patterns for the 6 months prior. I created a spreadsheet that categorized each of our purchases into the buckets that credit card companies offer varied percentages back for: "gas/groceries/drug store", "dining out", "travel" and "other".

Some of the credit cards have very complex cash back schemes. If they were too complicated, I tossed them out figuring they were trying to bamboozle me with complexity hoping I wouldn't be able to figure out how weak their offerings were. I also knocked out any cards that charged an annual fee, and any card that offered anything other than cash back. It is possible that cards offering things other than cash back are good deals, but I really don't want to be obligated to spend my money in a particular way and I like the liquidity that cash offers.

After completing this analysis, I determined we were leaving about $1,000 per year on the table with our present cards as compared to what we could be getting with our new cards. Here are the new cards we use:

1. "American Express Blue Cash"
-5% cash back on gas/groceries/drug store
-1.5% cash back on all purchases
-Cash back is offered on first $50,000 spent per year
-AmEx not accepted everywhere
-All spending less than $6,500 annually is only 0.5%/1.0% cash back
-Cash back is credited to your account at your card anniversary date

2. "Chase Cash Plus Rewards Visa"
-5% cash back on gas/groceries/drug store
-1% cash back on all other purchases
-Visa/MasterCard readily accepted
-I don't see this card offered anymore (too good a deal?)
-30,000 "point" limit annually
-There's a very similar card from CitiBank called the "Citi Dividend Platinum Select Card". The specs on the Citi card are identical to the Chase card, but I've had bad experiences with CitiBank soliciting me frequently and I've had pretty good luck with Chase in the past
-Cash back comes in the form of checks in $50 increments and can be requested the month they're earned

Other card to consider:
-TrueEarnings Card from Costco/American Express
-3% back for dining out, 2% back for travel expenses, 1% for everything else
-It's the next card I'd consider, but I already have 1 AmEx and the complexity associated with using a special card for dining out/travel could be annoying. Further, I find getting a card rejected by a server at a restaurant to be annoying sometimes.

Card to be avoided:
-Any green/gold/platinum/black American Express Card that charges a fee. I like AmEx customer service and I've occasionally heard stories that make carrying an AmEx seem like a good idea. But I just cannot justify paying the significant annual fees these cards charge.

Do you have other suggestions for credit cards to check out or avoid? Please post a comment if you do.


When it rains, it pours (quite literally)

While the floodwaters receded in Massachusetts, we were hard at work back in Arizona coordinating the cross country move to end all moves. Seriously people, this time we mean it. No more flighty back and forths, this is the REAL DEAL. Bob says we are "mailing it in" and never ever moving, or for that matter, traveling anywhere again. At least that's the story today, after a week of moving mayhem with a feverish toddler. I'm sure by next weekend he'll be talking about a San Diego getaway or at the very least, a Newport-bound roadtrip.

So we flew back to the desert last weekend, worked with the packers on Monday and Tuesday, the loaders on Wednesday, closed on Thursday and spent Friday nursing Sam back to health in preparation for our Saturday flight back to New England. Don't you know that Wednesday he woke up with a 102+ fever? The flight back yesterday was bearable mostly thanks to Sam's Benadryl induced sleep. I felt a bit guilty about his unprecedented three hour nap but hey, his doctor told me to keep him comfortable so that's exactly what I did. His doc diagnosed him with a virus so it's just a matter of time before he's back to his wild ways. Even though the timing was lousy for him to fall ill, I'm still glad we brought him with us because he got to play with his cousins and I would have felt sick myself if I'd been so far away from my glassy-eyed little boy.

The move itself was efficient, and all things considered, did not require much more of me than orchestration. The benefit is that I barely had to pack at all; the bad news is that I saw summer sandals being packed in the same box as a gum ball machine. In other words, I will likely be hunting for possessions until every last box is unpacked. Our cars were confidently loaded onto a transport truck to make the trip and we hope that despite its position, the BMW will not suffer an early demise resulting from low clearance roadways. Also, I didn't watch my beloved antique china cabinet get wrapped or loaded. I try not to think about it and when I do, I remind myself -- it's all just stuff.

When we left the house for the last time, I was struck, to my surprise, with melancholy. Listening to the echos off the barren walls made me reminiscent of our early days there before Sam. Of the two and a half years we lived there, almost all of that time was spent preparing for and adjusting to life with him. I recall walking the neighborhood endlessly with Bob, gently urging the dude to make his appearance. I remember putting the infant carrier down on the dining room table for the first time feeling the magnitude of those expectant eyes looking back at me. Before settling down to sleep in our bedroom for the last time, I relived his early days when, same as ever, I would check on him careful not to step on the squeaky spot outside his bedroom door dare I wake him. Once all the last bits of our stuff were out, we walked around one last time and all three of us shed a few tears. Some were for the past (Bob and me) and others were out of impatience (Sam). Before long, we remembered the two scorpions and diamondback (not the kind that plays baseball) who greeted us upon arrival and we knew it was time to go.

Now that we're back in New England, there's an excitement in the air. And some humidity too. There's no better time in my humble opinion than spring here to start something new. The home search begins now in earnest and according to my Dad, time is of the essence! After all the rain, the time is right to weed out the leaky homes from the tight ones. I say, bring on the new listings!

Monday, May 01, 2006


There's something worrisome about counting my chickens before they're hatched but nonetheless, I can think of almost nothing besides the pending sale of our home. Saturday evening we received an almost gleeful call from our dear realtor Max who reported that he was holding an offer in hand for its purchase. We hemmed, hawed, went back and forth and finally settled on the terms last evening. Closing is scheduled for the 18th and I can barely believe it. Provided nothing goes awry, we will be moving to Massachusetts in short order.

Bob was a little melancholy last night as he looked at the sunny photos of his beloved desert getaway. While I too have a fondness for the place we call our home, there's nothing sentimental about my own couch or pots or books that reside within those walls. My home is wherever we come at the end of the day to reconnect; it's wherever I know my boys will rest their heads. I view our moving as a new chapter. We've chosen a place that we think embraces the values we share and a community where we can see ourselves a part. It's always hard to move past the known and into the unfamiliar but we hope it will be worth all this effort.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...