Sunday, April 30, 2023

May Goals

I'm really surprised that I didn't publish goals for April. It's been a long time since that happened, but April was a wild month, mostly with planning for Dubai, as well as a college tour, Nick getting his license, and just a lot going on in general. 

I'm ready to get back on the wagon, and work on my productivity again! Having goals is always a helpful reminder to me to get things done. Even when I may not feel like it in the moment. 


  • Stick to our budget
  • Use 6 "hard to use" freezer or pantry items
  • Make $200 in side hustle
  • Update our withholdings 
  • Decide on car insurance


  • One fun activity with the kids
  • Finalize our summer plans (still waiting for the boys employment contracts, which will clarify the weeks they need to work)
  • Have two dates with M


  • Focus on my running training plan
  • Track calories & average below 1500 calories/day
  • Stay focused on overall fitness goals on trip to Tokyo. Despite the jet lag & travel days :-( 
  • Do something social with friends
  • Practice French on Duolingo
  • Start France trip plans
  • Give away 10 items on Buy Nothing
What about you? Any goals for the month, so we can cheer you on? 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Workout Recap

I'm behind on getting this posted, and my jet lagged workouts were nothing too impressive. Luckily, I'm back to my harder workouts this week, & will share that recap next week.

  • Monday - 45 minutes on the elliptical + quite a bit of walking
  • Tuesday - 45 minutes on the elliptical + quite a bit of walking
  • Wednesday - 25 minutes on the elliptical + fooling around at the water park
  • Thursday - 45 minutes on the elliptical
  • Friday - no workout, but a lot of walking (our flight left at 1:55 am on Saturday am)
  • Saturday - no workout, a little walking, and a lot of jet lag
  • Sunday - I sat by the pool & read my book. It was a very lazy day
Highlights - I managed some low energy workouts, even with the jet lag in Dubai, & I ate pretty well for most of the week

Lowlights - I had a ton of coffee, and by Saturday, I was using sugar/carbs for energy as well. 

Goals for the week ahead - this week is pretty much passed, but my goals were: reboot my sleeping, get back to hard workouts, and drop caffeine again. I've done well with 2/3. :-) 

What about you? How are you doing with your health & fitness goals? Any wins to share?

Friday, April 28, 2023

Frugal Friday

Everything seems small on the frugal side, after our spending over the last few weeks, but we're trying to get back on the wagon!

Saving on things we buy

  • I received a $55 gift card for the meal service I ordered. The $55 was good for a variety of places, but I chose a Safeway gift card, so we could use it to offset the cost of groceries.

Earning money

  • Earned a $3 Amazon gift card on Swagbucks. I haven't used the site in a year, so unsure what triggered that reward, but I'll take it. 

Avoiding spending

  • We didn't buy groceries last week (out of town) & this week, we were able to use our executive rebate to cover the cost of our groceries, with some cash left over. I rarely get cash, and hate going to the bank, so this is a double win. 
  • We considered getting takeout on Saturday, when we flew in from a very long travel day. Instead, I had some pretzels, M & Nick had frozen pizza, and Sam went straight to bed. 

Eating what we have

  • Between stocking up at Trader Joes, M grilling a ton of chicken over the weekend, and our meal plan delivery, we actually have quite a bit in the fridge! I froze the remaining chicken, so we could eat it another week.
  • I also finished off the rest of the Trader Joes chicken salad, eating that for dinner last night, along with 1/2 an apple I found in the fridge. It was the perfect light dinner.
  • We've been eating the lettuce from our garden, in salads.
  • M used the last of the limes in our fruit drawer, to make delicious margaritas on our first warm day. Margaritas by the pool is always a treat. 

For others

  • Our neighbor was having a hard time with a plumbing issue, so we helped her out. 
  • We were able to gift M's family with money & the trip last week. 
What about you? Any wins to share?

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Dubai - financial recap

Now that we are back from a very expensive trip, I thought I'd recap how things went from a budget perspective. In total, there were 10 people on the trip.

Before I get into all of that, a bit of helpful background. The average income in Iran is very low - $5k/year for a family. My niece is an accountant, works full time, and makes $2400/year. So, it was important for us to pay for as much of the trip as possible. We cannot send money to Iran, due to the sanctions, nor could we cover any expenses before they left the country. My mother in law used a lot of her retirement money to pay for flights for everyone (minus us), and we paid for everything else on the trip: hotel rooms, food, activities, etc. Rather than bringing gifts (culturally traditional), we opted to give everyone money to spend in Dubai. In Iran, you cannot buy branded goods of any kind (Nike, Gap, Apple, etc) due to the trade embargoes, so everything is either fake, or made locally & not particularly high quality. On this trip, the family wanted to buy clothing & shoes that they cannot purchase in Iran, and spent a lot of time stocking up on items for themselves, and for other relatives who couldn't attend. We spent a lot of time at the Nike store. :-) I'm not a big shopper, so this was particularly painful for me, but I understand that I can purchase literally anything I want online, and have it delivered to my house. Every 8-10 years, they can buy name brand goods (if they travel out of the country), so it's a very different experience.

As I mentioned, the trip was very, very expensive, so to humor myself, I'll start with the things that were financial wins:

  • We booked the boys their own room (separate from us), and I used hotel points (accrued when traveling for work) to cover the full cost.
  • The hotel room came with free breakfast every day. The breakfast buffet was fantastic, and I'd put it on par with a $30-40 breakfast buffet. Because it was Ramadan, it was difficult to get food during the day, so we typically ate only 1-2 meals a day, with several days being just one meal a day, and a snack. 
  • The hotel we chose to stay in was very middle of the road, cost wise. There are some seriously luxurious hotels in Dubai - we were not staying there :-). We had six total rooms, with one being covered with points. For a total of six nights. 
  • I used United Plus Points (status from work travel) to get on the waiting list for free upgrades. You get a certain number of Plus Points per year, and can use them to apply to the waiting list for various flight segments. This worked out well on the flights from Newark to Dubai, where M & I were double upgraded (from Economy Plus to Premium Plus, and then to business). On the return flights, M & I were upgraded to Premium Plus on the flight from Dubai to Newark, and I was upgraded to first class on the flight from Newark to SFO. Altogether, this was about a $7-8K value in upgrades. 
  • Additionally, I paid extra ($500/pp) to upgrade the boys to Premium Plus on the flight from Newark to Dubai. This was a backup plan, in the event that we didn't get upgraded. We were planning to take these seats. A friend had Plus Points that were expiring, and used those points to add the boys to the upgrade list, never expecting it to actually clear. However, due to a storm on the east coast, and lots of flight delays, the boys upgrade also cleared! That's another $5k in value for the upgrades.
  • We priced out transportation options to/from SFO, and went with the least expensive option - Lyft. I used my new travel credit card to save another 10% off the trip.
  • My new credit card also comes with a Priority Pass membership, which gives you lounge access at a few places. In SFO, they didn't have a lounge, so we got a $56 credit on a meal, and fed everyone breakfast before our first flight. In Dubai, we had access to a very fancy lounge for two adults, and I paid $70 for the boys to also be able to go in. We all ate, got drinks & relaxed for two hours during that time period. M & I got free wine with our meals as well.
  • I packed snacks for the flights, and the boys ate quite a bit of those on the trip.
  • I had planned to send our laundry out, midway through the trip, as my hotel research indicated they didn't have laundry service. I double checked with the hotel, and they had an onsite washer & dryer. I walked across the street to the convenience store, bought a small container of soap & washed our laundry for about $1.50, saving $35 or so. 
And, now on to the rest of the trip, & the less frugal things:
  • The hotel cost $5,200 for all of the rooms, for the full trip. 
  • The flights (including the boys paid upgrades) came to $6500. Not bad for four international flights, including a 13 hour leg that was in business for all four of us. 
  • We paid for one very fancy dinner out, at a Michelin Persian restaurant. The food was fantastic, and it was cheaper than expected. Alcohol was not available during the majority of the trip, due to local law, as well as Ramadan. I was delighted to see a wine list, and had two glasses of wine during the dinner. 
  • We took everyone to the largest water park in the world one of the days, which cost $1,000 for tickets for the group. The food was also expensive, but I'm still in disbelief that the only sunblock cost $86. We didn't check bags, so I brought only a small travel sunblock. We used that earlier in the trip, & I just had no idea sunblock would be so expensive at the water park. I brought it home with me, and I hope it's life changing, for that price. ;-) 
  • We did two other paid activities: a trip to the top of Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) & a desert tour. The tour included the camel rides, ATV trip of the desert, and a dinner in tents, with entertainment. Together, I think these activities were around $1,200. 
  • As mentioned above, we gave everyone cash to spend on the trip. That was $8k. It sounds a little crazy, but remember that we can't exchange gifts (EVER) with M's family, due to the sanctions. That means, no birthday/Christmas/etc gifts of any kind. We have definitely spent more than that, over the past 14 years on my family. 
  • The rest of the trip (transportation to/from the airports, Uber rides while in Dubai - x3 (needed 2-3 cars per trip), food for everyone, activities, gifts for them to take back to other family members, souvenirs for the kids, etc) made up the rest of the spending. 
How much did we spend, in total? $26,200.  

I went back & forth quite a bit over posting this, given how much this cost, but thought I'd go with transparency. Traveling with a group of this size was beyond expensive. No regrets of any kind, and if at all possible, we will save up to do it again in a few years. If that doesn't happen, this will definitely be a once in a lifetime trip. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

Menu Plan Monday

 I pre-ordered a different delivery service (our work was offering very inexpensive trial options, for a few different services) before we left for our trip. I think I'll appreciate the help this week.

  • Friday - our last night in Dubai. We ate at the lounge at the Dubai airport
  • Saturday - I didn't eat when we got home from the airport, Sam immediately fell asleep (and then, at midnight, I heard noise & found him in the kitchen eating Cup o Noodles, and a protein bar.) ;-) M & Nick had pizza
  • Sunday - chicken Caesar salads
  • Monday - sesame chicken bowls
  • Tuesday - chile turkey tacos
  • Wednesday - crispy arrabbiata chicken
  • Thursday - TexMex enchilada meatballs
  • Friday - leftovers
What about you? What's on your menu this week?

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Trip recap - part 1

I don't know that I'm awake enough to write this, but I'll give it a try. I slept for 12 hours last night, and am trying to get my body adjusted again, after a red eye flight, two 25+ hour travel days, and then being jet lagged & not quite sleeping enough in Dubai.


  • Our way to Dubai was quite stressful, as our flight from SFO to Newark was delayed numerous times, and we needed to make a connection in Newark. In the end, we made it, after sprinting through the Newark airport. We got on that flight, and then sat on the runway for 90 minutes, with the doors closed. I'd put in for upgrades for M & I for all of the flights, and then as a backup plan (it looked like we weren't going to get upgraded on status), I paid to upgrade the boys to premium plus seats. (There are four classes of seats: business, premium plus, economy plus, economy.) One of my work friends had extra upgrade points, and added those to the boys flights, to try & get them upgraded to business. To be clear, if the boys were upgraded, M & I were planning to take those seats. ;-) We love them, but they are teens, and recover from sleep deprivation better than we do, and have flexible bodies that sleep in many different positions. 
  • We got to Newark, and my work colleague had been tracking our flight & ugprades, and due to some bad weather on the east coast & many people missing their connections, all four of us were upgraded to business! M & I were somewhere in the 14-15 waitlist for upgrades, so this was never supposed to happen. The chance of the boys getting upgraded was very small. We hustled onto the Newark to Dubai flight, and...what a treat!!! I've flown business class for work before, and the ability to really stretch out & fully recline makes a huge difference in how much I can sleep. The boys were blown away by business class, but the flight home for them was a little more difficult. ;-) 
  • Fast forwarding to our flights home... I was in premium plus, with M & the boys in economy plus. All quite a big downgrade from business. After the doors were closed, there was one seat left behind me in premium plus, and M was next on the upgrade list. The flight attendant was able to clear his upgrade real time, and he quickly changed seats. Premium plus is nothing to write home about, but he ended up with an aisle vs middle, and the seats recline slightly more. The boys expressed their sadness about not being in business class, to which I reminded them that was a once in a lifetime happy accident, until they start paying for their own travel. ;-) 
  • We landed in Newark (after 15+ hours), and Sam & I finished his global entry conditional approval interview (it's easy to get this done at the airport on a return flight, but otherwise takes a year or so to get an appointment at a local airport). My credit card offered free global entry/TSA pre check for one person, and M & I already had it. Next up, we'll apply for Nick. I was upgraded to business class on the Newark to SFO flight, which was nice. We were all beyond tired and everyone slept a bit more. 
All told, we left our hotel at 10 pm Dubai time, our flight left at 1:55 am (local time) & we landed in San Francisco 25+ hours after the flight left. It was a very, very long return. Today is going to be a struggle!

As expected, the trip was super emotional. When we landed in Dubai last Sunday, we cleared customs, and then Ubered to the hotel. We'd booked a Hyatt Place which was...very okay. It was fine & clean, but there were some definite quirks! We covered the hotel costs for everyone (more on the financial side of the trip later), and needed something that was mid-priced. I also used points to cover a room for the boys. They really enjoyed the privacy, and since we were all so jet lagged, M & the boys & I appreciated being able to sleep on our own schedules. 

M's mom skipped dinner with the rest of the family, so she could wait outside the hotel for us. It had been 14 years since she was last able to see the boys, and they were tiny little people last time she was with them. It was so emotional for all of us. I also was able to meet my sister in law & niece for the first time, as well as her fiance, and another cousin & her four year old son. There was a lot of hugging, crying & picture taking, before we all finally went to bed. M stayed up every night, having family time with his mom & sister, as it was very difficult for us all to converse when the boys & I were around. (M was the only person who could translate between our group). 

The challenges in not speaking the same language were very real, and we used Google Translate a lot to help us out!

All of the above aside, it was an amazing (and challenging) trip. The language gaps, the travel timing & jet lag, and getting everyone around due to the size of the group were difficult. But, they were offset by the opportunity of us all to get to meet each other (most for the first time), & for M's mom to get that time with her son & her grandsons. We would love to do one more trip, before it's too difficult for her to travel, but nothing is guaranteed, so we all knew when we left the hotel & said our goodbyes, this may be the last time she sees the boys & M. M's dad was not well enough to make the trip, which was also quite emotional. I take for granted that, if I needed to, I could be at my parents house in a few hours. M hasn't seen his dad in 14 years, and barring some sort of miracle political change in Iran, won't be able to see him before he passes. 

I can't imagine a more worthwhile way for us to spend our money. The trip was very expensive (I'll do a financial write up at some point), but worth every penny. No regrets of any kind. 

I'm off to try & come up with a menu plan, and figure out how to stay awake today! 

Saturday, April 22, 2023


We flew in this afternoon, after a 25 hour travel day. I'm beyond exhausted, but trying to stay awake until as close to a normal bed time as possible. 

The trip was everything we wanted it to be - so much wonderful family time, and lots of laughs. I'll share more, but leave you with a few photos of the adventure.

View from the top of Burj Khalifa:

Desert tour:

It was very emotional leaving yesterday, and closing out the trip with a VERY long travel day+. But, we're home now & can relax tomorrow, before we all go back to work & school on Monday. 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Frugal Friday

 It's a light frugal week, as we were busy last weekend, & this week is all about prepping for our trip.

Saving on things we buy

  • Took advantage of a few credit card perks, and signed up for a Lyft membership, which saves 10% on each ride. Additionally, booked our ride to the airport on Saturday, using Lyft. 

Earning money

  • Nothing special here

Avoiding spending

  • I bought the boys dinner at the airport on Friday, but made do with snacks from my bag
  • I also used two Southwest free drink coupons (one for each flight), and enjoyed a vodka lemonade
  • We stayed for free on Friday night in Bolder, using a free night award from my hotel status. The hotel also came with a free breakfast, which was nice. However, parking was $25 (and not super close), so that wasn't great. But, a night at a hotel for $25 is still a pretty great deal. 
  • I also used a credit card perk, to apply for global entry/TSA pre check for Sam. He'll likely be traveling on his own soon, so wanted him to have this option. It was free with my credit card, and M & I both already have this. 

Eating what we have

  • I unearthed a chicken sausage from the freezer, and had that over a salad for lunch one day

For others

  • Took a required training course, so I can keep volunteering at a food pantry
What about you? Any wins to share?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Workout Wednesday - x2

 It's been a rough few weeks, with a back injury, and I've had a terrible head cold for the past week. So, not nearly as many workouts as I'd like, and much lower intensity.

Workouts for the week (x2)

  • Monday - 3 mile run
  • Tuesday - 45 minutes on the elliptical
  • Wednesday - Orange Theory workout class
  • Thursday - 45 minutes on the elliptical
  • Friday - 20 minutes of my workout class, before I pulled the same muscle in my back
  • Saturday - 35 minutes on the ellpitical
  • Sunday - 3 mile run
  • Monday - 90 minutes on the elliptical
  • Tuesday - 2.5 mile run + 1 mile walk
  • Wednesday - 50 minutes on the elliptical
  • Thursday - 45 minutes on the elliptical
  • Friday - 55 minutes on the elliptical
  • Saturday - 2 mile walk (college tour)
  • Sunday - 2 mile walk (college tour)

Highlights - it's been a not great stretch for a few weeks, and I'm feeling frustrated & missing my harder workouts. I suppose - I'm healthy enough to still be moderately active?

Lowlights - I'm really ready for this cold to be over, and to be back & ready to get in some more intense workouts. 

Focus for the week ahead - get plenty of sleep, lots of fluids & kick this cold before our trip to Dubai.

What about you? How are you doing with your health & fitness?

Monday, April 10, 2023

Menu Plan Monday

 We are back, after a whirlwind trip to Colorado, for a few college tours. We had a fabulous time, and the boys got a chance to get a small flavor for college life, as well as what they might be looking for in a college search. All in all, it was a great trip, and I'm so happy we did it! 

Here's what's on the menu this week:

  • Friday - the boys ate at the airport, I had snacks I'd packed
  • Saturday - we went out for pizza, and met up with my BFF's daughter & her college roommate, which was very fun
  • Sunday - M grilled burgers
  • Monday - we're taking the very easy option, and having Trader Joes orange chicken & stir fried rice
  • Tuesday - we are doing our last week of one meal service (I have another one on deck for after Dubai), so we will be choosing from ranch baked chicken, chorizon chili, or sun dried tomato pasta
  • Wednesday - whatever we didn't have earlier in the week
  • Thursday - leftover burgers
  • Friday - either the last of the meal delivery options, or something easy (wings, pasta, pizza, etc)
What about you? What's on your menu this week?

Friday, April 7, 2023

Frugal Friday

This doesn't belong in any of the below buckets, but I registered for a status matching promo at work, and think I have enough hotel nights upcoming (spring break trip, plus one work trip) that I'll get a valuable status through 2025. That would be lovely, as it comes with free breakfast & room upgrades. Fingers crossed. 

Saving on things we buy

  • In California, permit drivers need three lessons with a driving instructor (plus, a bunch of practice with parents). I bought a package of three lessons in October, and Nick needed his last lesson on Saturday, ahead of his test. The company was convinced that I owed them $160, but a few extra messages & a copy of my check later, and they realized I'd paid upfront. $160 "saved". 
  • Priced out options for parking/transportation to & from the airport over spring break. There's quite a large variance in options, so we narrowed in on the cheapest, which should save between $50-80 (using Uber). This is surprising, because the opposite is true at the other airport we use more frequently, and that airport is quite a bit closer to our house. 

Earning money

  • Drove Nick to a reffing game, so he could earn money

Avoiding spending

  • Returned a pair of shorts that didn't fit Nick.

Eating what we have

  • We picked up takeout Greek food on a night with lots of evening activities. M ended up eating something else, so I had the remaining leftovers for lunch one day. 
  • I was really swamped with driving activities on Monday night (took Nick for his drivers test, came home & then had to drive to a soccer carpool), so I brought dinner to eat at the soccer field. It wasn't my favorite (protein bar & a banana), but I avoided the temptation of something from a drive through. 
  • M made a big batch of grilled chicken on Sunday, which we've had a couple of times, and froze another two dinners worth. 

For others

  • We have a copier at work that's super finicky, and I've become the copier "fixer". People stop by & I help them troubleshoot. This is really not my area of expertise, so it always makes me laugh.
  • Helped a friend out with a ride for her son. 
  • Volunteered to help out at a school event
  • Donated snacks & drinks to the school tennis team, x2. 
That's it from our side. What about you? Any wins to share?

Monday, April 3, 2023

Menu Plan Monday

 This week will be a bit different than normal, as we are trialing a meal service box. Mostly, because I'm burned out from cooking & meal planning, it's a super busy week, and it was very cheap. ;-) I don't expect this to be a regular thing!

  • Friday - spaghetti & meatballs
  • Saturday - out (M with soccer players, at an away game, me with Nick on the way home from another away game)
  • Sunday - grilled chicken & rice
  • Monday - leftover chicken & rice
  • Tuesday - a variety of options from the meal service, so  likely sun dried tomato chicken or creamy parmesan chicken
  • Wednesday - a variety of options from the meal service, so  likely spicy poblano beef bowl, or jalapeno popper burger
  • Thursday - whichever meal service dinner is left over :-) 
  • Friday - at the airport? Heading out for our college tour
What about you? Any new meals on your menu this week?

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Sunday Happenings

I went to two soccer games yesterday (both wins, always a treat) & got to see the boys enjoy themselves. I try to remind myself, when I'm setting the alarm for 6 on a Saturday, that these days are fleeting, and to soak them all in. 

I re-pulled that muscle in my back, going back to my workout class too early. I'll give myself a longer break this time - lesson learned. 

M made dinner last night, Sam was out late with friends, and Nick played tennis with friends until late as well. While we aren't quite empty nesters yet, we can definitely see it approaching, as they spend less & less time with us.

Here's what we're doing today:

  • Take Nick to a reffing game. Run or walk at the game, depending on how my back feels
  • Laundry
  • Vacuum (unclear how this will feel, but the house needs it)
  • Clean the bathrooms
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Wrap up the last couple of clothing returns
  • Packing list for next weekend
  • Make the schedule for the week ahead
  • Make sure we have everything ready for Nick's DMV trip tomorrow
  • Make a salad
  • We're having an early Easter egg hunt for the boys (we will be gone next weekend)
  • Call my parents
What about you? What are you up to today?