Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Personal, Frugal and Financial Goals: Recap

For some background, here is the link to my 2015 Recap and then my 2016 Recap.  You might want to read the introduction because all of it still applies, up to the "Retirement" header.

I tried to make my list of 2017 goals less ambitious and detailed than it had been in 2016, but I still ended up with a very long list!  

I was supposed to publish monthly goals and then monthly accomplishments in order to keep myself motivated, but that didn't last long. Big surprise, I'm great at making plans but not so great in actually executing them.  

Here is how I did, overall.

Family - Keep in Touch
  • Call my mom once a month.  I really don't like talking on the phone anymore, but there is something to be said about hearing your mom's voice and being able to chat about everything and anything and laughing and crying about events.  I'm paying for an international plan on my phone so I can get cheaper rates when I call France, and yet I almost never call. So I'm going to try and call her once a month.  She has a challenging schedule, especially with the time difference (6 hours) but I will try.  I tried calling several times but it was very challenging to get a hold of her. I didn't keep track of how often we spoke on the phone (maybe 3 times?) but we did email several times. But I should have tried contacting her more often. I might try texting her in 2018, if she's not opposed to it due to the cost.
  • Start a blog in French so I can share stories and pictures with my family.  I think it'll be easier than emailing and I can still avoid going on Facebook, which I do not want to use.  I did that and kept it updated for a couple of months but my family didn't show much interest in it  and it was very time consuming, so I quit.
  • Write to my great aunt once a month. It doesn't have to be a long letter, a postcard that I buy or make would be enough, and she would enjoy it.  I dropped the ball on this one I think. I did write to her several times and sent her cards during the first part of the year, and then again for her birthday and Christmas in December, but there was a big chunk of time when I didn't do anything.  I had said to my mom that I might start giving my great aunt a phone call instead of writing to her, but I didn't do that either. 
  • Continue to correspond with Oldest Son's GF. Send her a short email once in a while asking her how she's doing. Absolutely didn't do this and she didn't reach out either, ever. 
  • Schedule regular lunches with Middle Son. We did see each other regularly, especially since he keeps on coming over quite regularly to use some of our equipment or for me to buy him lunch :)
  • Go on day trips/field trips with Daughter (before she goes to college) - We did and we also went on a 10-day trip together this summer.
  • Invite Youngest Son to join me in an activity once a month and don't take "no thank you" for an answer. Hmm, we played D&D on several occasions and with other people at the beginning of the year and we went to visit a couple of comic book stores together. Over Spring Break we drove to St Augustine for a day trip. I've been teaching him how to drive every week day since some time in September. So we've spent time together but no, I haven't made him join me in an activity every month. I really should, he's getting more and more of an introvert.
  • Most of our dinners at home should be at the dinner table. No more of this constant: let's all eat in front of our computers nonsense!  I didn't do as well as I should have so we had more dinners when we all ate on our own than I had wanted, but overall I think we ate most dinners at the table together.
Friends - Support Them and Allow Them to Support Me
  • Continue monthly lunches with my friend Juliet (unless I start working for her and we get enough chatting going on with that!).  Yes, for the most part. On the months when we didn't do it it was because we both agreed that we had other things to do :)  I didn't end up working for her though.  But it might have been an easy goal to keep because, on top of her being a delightful person, this included EATING.
  • Make sure to meet with BFF once a month, even if it means that I have to go down to her neck of the woods.  Yes, most months.  Again, when we didn't do it it was because we both agreed we had other things to do. But usually when one of us asked the other for a date, we accepted.  And again, this included EATING, most times. Although we mostly had coffee. And some breakfast food. Yes, so EATING.  I'm really good at EATING.
  • Check on my French BFF  and her family regularly via email. She emailed me and I took a super long time to reply because I didn't have much to say, and then I did email her a couple of times but she didn't reply.
  • Reopen blog comments and start engaging with other bloggers again. Done!  But then I stopped blogging regularly in April-May, and then again in October-December. But as of right now, I'm engaging again :)

Health - Start my 5th Decade on the Right Foot and Not Because The Left One Hurts!
  • Lose 50 lbs by the time I'm 50. NOPE. In fact, I PUT ON WEIGHT. HORRIBLE FAILURE :(
  • Input all my food intake into MyFitnessPal or sign up for WeightWatchers again.  NOPE. I only did it when I was actively following my diet in January and then again in May-June.
  • Exercise portion control! What's that?!
  • Exercise at home every week day, no excuse, for at least 30 minutes. Hmmm, that would be a nope, most weeks.
  • Take at least 2 walks a month with Greg. OK, on this one, I think we did pretty well aside from the summer months.  We visited state parks 16 times together and we walked on the Van Fleet Trail and the South Lake Trail a bunch of times. So we're close and I'm counting this as a success, damn it.
  • If/when we go out to eat, drink only water and order salads and other low-calorie meals.  Hahahahahaha. Ha.  What was I thinking?!
  • Drink at least 32 oz of water a day (plus 2 cups of coffee).  What is this water you are talking about?  Oh, it's what's in my coffee and tea?  OK, so I drank water but definitely not near 32 oz a day.
  • Deal with my plantar fasciitis by: As of 2/4/17, my son is no longer hurting! But as of 12/31/17, it's hurting again for a couple of days after a hike.
    • buying a boot from CVS and wearing it at night while needed didn't do.
    • practicing stretching exercises every day. I did that for a while until it stopped hurting and I should start again. Setting up the alarms on my phone right now.
    • icing my foot when it hurts (keep ice pack where I can reach it in freezer) didn't do.
    • losing weight! NO. I have already confessed to failing miserably.
  • Get trifocals YES!!!! finally, some unequivocal success!  And I love them!
  • Go to the GYN and get mammogram. Hmm, nope. I went to the dentist instead.  THE DENTIST.  SEVERAL TIMES. AND I HAD DENTAL SURGERY AND WILL HAVE MORE OF THAT IN 2018. SO GET OFF MY CASE ABOUT THE OBGYN, NATHALIE.

Education (general) - Stop Wallowing in Ignorance!  Well I wallowed.
  • Read the manual for my dSRL camera - I ended up buying a different camera and I did read the manual. I also hired Middle Son to give me photography lessons and gifted him the dSLR camera back since he didn't have one and I didn't need that one.
  • Read the dSLR e-book that I purchased NOPE
  • Read one non-fiction book per month. Hmm nope.  I didn't keep very good track of the books I did read, but I know that I read far fewer books than in the past, fiction or non-fiction.  I know for sure that I read at least 4.5 non-fiction books.
  • Learn at least one new skill such as sewing something, crochet, knitting...  HAHAHAHA. HAHAHAHAHA.
Entertainment - But Have **Some** Fun Too!
  • Read at least two fiction books per month (refer to my 2016 reading goals since I didn't read most of those books!)  I read at least 11 books that I actively kept track of in my spreadsheet but I know I also read more that I didn't keep track of. Unfortunately, I also started several more that I didn't finish because they were so horrible.  So I probably read 1 little over one book per month. Hey, that's more than I thought I had read!
  • Limit my mindless TV watching.  NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. But at least I mostly was doing something else while the TV was on. Like blogging :)
  • Limit my mindless internet surfing or at least do it while I'm exercising. NOPE. I discovered Reddit and let's just say that I spend too much time tearing up at pictures of puppies (I don't even like dogs!) and cats. And laughing at idiots who do idiotic things in gifs. And sending emails to Greg and my kids with Reddit links to pictures or videos I think they'll think are funny. They're probably sighing every time they see an email from me now.  This is why I'm NOT on Facebook, people!
  • Go on field trips on my own: P.E.A.R. park, Leu Botanical Gardens, local museums and attractions, county and state parks... I did go to P.E.A.R. Park on my own... twice, I think.  But that's it. So I guess it wasn't a total failure since I didn't specify a minimum amount of outings :)

  • Join the Friends of the Library. I did talk to them on July 4th and explain that I didn't want to be calling people on the phone or begging for donations. So they told me that's pretty much all they do so I was of no use to them. Well, then.
  • Volunteer as a driver with the American Cancer Society. I was "blue" a lot this year so not a good person for a cancer patient to be around... and vice versa.

Homefront - Don't Be So Lazy!  I wasn't so much lazy as distracted by my comfy futon, the internet, Netflix, etc...
  • Set a 15 minute timer everyday and try to do as many housework chores as possible during that time. OK, I did try that on several occasions and that was pretty cool, so I need to do that way more often, especially when I don't feel like doing anything.
  • Unload the dishwasher every morning and reload it during the day. Most of the year, I did NOT do that. However, go figure that the 2 months when I didn't blog between October and early December?  I pretty much did that every week day.  So... blogging is keeping me from having clean dishes. What do you want, readers?  Me to have clean dishes or to be able to laugh at my blog over your morning coffee?  Because apparently, you can't have both. You know what? That's what paper plates are for :)  But in 2018, I intend to try to do BOTH at once. Woah. I bet your mind is blown.
  • Declutter the house, it's starting to look like a hoarder lives in here. I did get rid of several things that I donated, for the most part, and we took a couple of trips to the dump to get rid of larger, broken items.  I also got rid of most of the glass and plastic containers that I was hoarding "just in case".  But my house is still cluttered so this will be an ongoing project in 2018.
  • Mop the kitchen once a week. It's good exercise! Yeah, that didn't happen. Which is probably why I got fatter.
  • Vacuum or sweep the rest of the house once a week. Ditto.
  • Buy fewer snacks. It's better for everyone. Look into making healthier snacks for everyone each week. *wipes a tear of disbelief* How did I come up with that stuff?! I kill myself!  Well, kind of literally, even, because I did buy quite a bit of snacks under the pretext that I was buying them for Youngest Son, who is the healthiest person in this house! Uh, will do better in 2018?

General Finances
  1. Continue to track all expenses in my spreadsheets. Yes, yes, yes.  I'm super on top of that, all the time.
  2. Report all expenses on the blog, daily (for accountability and a kick in the pants to perhaps spend less!). Hmm. I think I did OK but I didn't always report everything and also I didn't blog for long periods of time. But overall, I think I did well so I'll count that as a success.
  3. Keep to a $50 a week grocery budget (avoid stocking up on items until I have actually ran out of them). So I didn't do that but I did stay within my grocery budget for the year.
  4. Overall FOOD expenses budget to be $5,300 including ordering in. SO NOT EVEN CLOSE. We spent almost just as much on eating out/ordering in as we did on groceries. 
  5. Continue reporting on Food Waste every Friday. No excuses. NOPE, I kind of gave up on that and maybe I shouldn't have. It's not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination but when I was doing it it really helped me waste less food. However, in trying to be healthier in 2018, I'm not sure that eating all the leftovers is going to be a good thing. I probably should try to limit the amount of leftovers.
  6. Avoid ordering in during the week by making a menu after looking at what I have in the fridge.  No. I regularly took "Cook's Night Off", especially on the weekend. And then Greg likes going out to breakfast. So we ate out/ordered in probably at least twice a week and sometimes more. Which is why we spent so much.
  7. Continue to try to purchase as many items from the thrift store as possible. I don't know if I purchased "as much as possible" as we did purchase an awful lot of brand new stuff on Amazon, but I did buy quite a few things from the thrift stores and I keep an ongoing "wish list" on my phone so I consult it every time I enter a thrift store.
  8. Calculate our bare bone budget and see if we do have 12 months' worth. DONE
  9. Then separate it from our other savings, maybe put it in a CD that is FDIC insured. DONE, opened a savings account with Discover Bank with a much better APY than our regular bank's.
  10. Increase our emergency savings by $2,000. Failed, we spent too much in the first part of the year and I ended up having to transfer $3K back into checking from our Emergency funds to cover our cash flow. We also decided to focus on paying off the house early instead of increasing our EF.
  11. Calculate our Net Worth DONE
  12. Create spreadsheet to calculate our Personal Savings Rate in 2017 DONE
  13. Set up an automatic transfer of Greg's raise equivalent to Savings each time he gets paid DONE
  14. Keep the same extra mortgage payment to principal DONE. WE PAID OFF THE HOUSE THIS YEAR, 3 years before our self-imposed deadline!!!
  15. At the end of the first week of the following month, transfer leftover money from budget (if any) into savings. NOPE. But we cashflowed quite a few things this year that we hadn't budgeted for.
  16. Make a budget for trip to France and stick to it - We didn't go to France. I didn't budget for our Southern States Road Trip but it was less than a trip to France would have cost us :)
  17. Apply any bonus to our mortgage Sent the tax refund to it as well as most of Greg's yearly bonus.
  18. Schedule maintenance checks for all 3 vehicles DONE
  19. Get the shower leak fixed Under the wire and with much anxiety, but DONE!!! But it was Greg's accomplishment, not mine.
  20. Rebuild the front porch or tear it down Greg tore it down in March and replaced a pole as well as fixed the wall that was threatening to collapse in June.
  21. Identify faulty electrical outlets and call Duke Energy HomeWire to schedule someone to replace them NOPE
  22. Reduce Christmas expenses: NOPE, NOPE, NOPE. Well I didn't send gifts to Oldest Son or his GF but Greg sent more gifts to his grandkids and niece so we didn't save anything.
    1. gifts (give the kids advance notice) 
    2. food for buffet
  23. Repaint master bathroom's ceiling with mildew resistant paint  NOPE but I did clean the ceiling a few times
  24. Repaint kitchen cabinets NOPE
  25. Repaint master bedroom NOPE
  26. Remove Greg's line from our AT&T plan DONE
  27. Gardening: budget of $50 for the year and mostly to make new bins (reuse what we already have). I didn't garden at all this year!  I spent $4.04 in "gardening" supplies (for me that means vegetable gardening supplies), but we did spend $522 on "landscaping". So, a success in keeping the gardening supplies down, I guess? Landscaping kind of falls into a maintenance category, doesn't it?  You kind of have to do it, I guess.
  28. Car insurance: see if should drop collision on SUV and truck and the consequences of this (i.e. can we keep road assistance coverage?) Dropped collision on SUV in January
  29. Put money aside corresponding to our son's chore earnings since the last time I calculated his total (in his savings account) DONE, opened 529 Saving account for him in February
  30. Continue to earn "snowflakes" and track them all year DONE
  31. Budget a donation amount and research the charities Didn't budget a donation category, but I did research charities and we made some (small) donations to charities that wouldn't squander the money on overhead and executive salaries. I really think we should be more generous but Greg and I have different viewpoints in that regard and he's the one who's earning the money so...

  1. Open the latest statements (put reminder on calendar to do this every quarter). So I didn't do that but I did track our Net Worth every month which included my checking on all our investments directly on the companies' websites. So... I think this was a success.
  2. Update the big picture matrix and share it with Greg. YES. We discussed it every month, albeit superficially because he's just not interested beyond hearing "we're worth a little more this month".
  3. Note which funds are underperforming and make changes if necessary, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I so suck at this.
  4. Rebalance investments so we don't have 100% stocks.  Didn't do shit. Ugh, I hate this stuff.
  5. Make sure to discuss with Greg the assignment of the money in our investment account that "is just sitting there" and follow up with him DONE
  6. Read Kiplinger Magazine Well, I read some issues in June when I caught up. And then I stopped reading it again because I read it digitally now but if the printed copy isn't right in front of me, I'll forget about it.
  7. Read The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing NOPE. But I read "The Simple Path to Wealth". And then didn't follow up on my plans to do what that guy advises to do :(
  8. Refer to my 2016 goals for my ideas if I run out of things to do! 
  1. Continue to contribute the maximum to Greg's Roth 401(k) DONE
  2. Make sure we contributed to IRAs for 2016 (see if we qualify first!) DONE in January
  3. Contribute to IRAs for 2017 (same thing) DONE in January
  4. Roll over Greg's old 401(k) NO, but it's doing OK now that Vanguard is managing it so we'll leave it where it is.
  5. Investigate my IRA's performance and see if I need and can change fund allocation. It did fine and I didn't change anything.
  6. Examine current 401(k) fund allocation and readjust if necessary. Didn't examine anything, maybe we should.
  7. Make note of when stock options are vesting in 2017 and put detailed alerts in the calendar DONE
  • Start gathering the 2016 tax paperwork in one folder (print them as they come in) DONE
  • Continue tracking Greg's paychecks in my 2017 spreadsheet every 2 weeks DONE
  • Continue tracking all FSA expenses separately to assess whether we should increase the fund the following year (this will be the 2nd year that we rolled over money so we might lose it if we roll over into 2018 again? Need to check) DONE. We spent it all, thanks to my dental work and maxed it out for 2018 since I'll be having a lot more work done.
Well, you know what?  It actually was fun to have detailed goals to recap at the end of the year. Shoot, I just decided to just have nebulous goals for 2018!

It was a mixed bag. I think that the fact that I put on weight instead of losing 50 lbs and my recent disappointment in how badly one main mutual funds had performed compared to how incredibly well the stock market performed in 2017 made me feel like I had failed at everything.

But I didn't. Certainly, with having so many goals, I was bound to fail at some of them. But a lot of them were attained too (we paid off the house, which wasn't even a goal for 2017!) or at least partly attained.  So maybe 2017 wasn't so bad after all.  I do need to buckle down on that weightloss issue, though. So many things derive from that...

On The Last Day of 2017... My Reflexes Didn't Improve!

It's finally here!  The last day of 2017!

I should be spending this day in reflexion and analysis and frantically trying to accomplish some 2017 goals (like doing my dishes?) but... well, I didn't sleep as long as I had planned on, it's kind of chilly, and, as usual, I'm not feeling too motivated.

I went to bed last night at about 11 p.m. because I had 2 kittens on top of me, on top of the lap blanket, and I was feeling a little cramped and hot, lol!  So I grabbed my library book (and my box of Queen Anne chocolate cherries... whaaaaat?  There were only 10 of them in there!) and went to do some reading in my bedroom. Before I went up, Greg and I agreed that we'd turn the heat on since the temperature was dipping to the mid 40's overnight. We set it up for 66F/18.38C so as not to get a heat headache but I still had a slight one this morning.

Anyhoo, by the time I went to sleep it was close to 2 p.m. and then Explorer came crying behind the door at the top of the stairs at 7:10 a.m.  I should just get him a little bell, don't you think?  "Oh, human!  Come fetch my breakfast!".  So once again I gave my husband and son a break and got up to feed the cats. I had intended to go back to sleep but sleep was elusive by the time I was back in bed, so I just stayed in bed but read emails, news and Reddit on my phone for an hour. Maybe that's why I got a headache.  I finally got up at about 8:30 a.m.

I had just finished reading a comment from Theresa F. about it being minus 26 celsius in her neck of the woods this morning (she was out at 6 a.m. in that cold!) when I realized that my paper had been delivered, so I put on my winter parka to go get it at the bottom of the driveway. Only... it's Florida so it really wasn't that cold so I felt like a doofus, lol.  But no one was around anyway. It's sunny and there's not a cloud in the sky, hooray! I checked the mail  and I had received the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's DVD and CD combo that I had ordered from PBS. Yay!

So while I drank my coffee, I ripped the CD to my laptop (and then had to convert the audio files to mp3 files) and then Greg got up, all groggy.  I made him a pot of his unflavored  coffee and an egg and cheese sandwich too, and managed to wash 6 glasses while the egg was cooking. Go me!

Tabby Kitten came to tap me on the knee to tell me he was ready to play.

Here he is. I wonder if he's trying to tell me something...
 So I got his favorite toy out again and played with the kittens for a while.

Something Greg said prompted me to quote Robin Williams talking to Walter Cronkite in the old pre-show movie of the Animation attraction at the old Disney-MGM Studios, my "alma mater", so I found the movie on YouTube and you know what?  I was laid off from the Animation Studios over there back in 2004 but I can still quote 99.9% of the movie :)

After this fun trip down memory lane, I set about replying to blog comments, uploading digital coupons, checking the new CVS ad for good deals, etc.  No coupons in the paper today again, but that means less work for me.

CVS has a digital manufacturer coupon for $3.99 off a tube of Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant toothpaste... which is on sale for $3.99 this week so I'll only have to pay the tax on it, if they still have it in stock when I go there.

Even though I had calculated our Net Worth on 12/15, I decided to recalculate it today so I have a clear picture of our financial assets at the end of the year.  Greg's employer stock dipped a little (crap) but that bucket of mutual funds that hadn't performed nearly as well as the others?  It rallied a little these past couple of weeks so the YTD on those is now a little over 5%, which is better than 2% (but still very crappy for 2017!).

It's now noon and I'm still in my PJs.  I'm not sure if we're going to walk today or not. We had talked about going later on in the afternoon so we'll see how Greg feels about that. His hips hurt after our walk yesterday. He's like never sore (when I'm sore all the time!) so that was surprising.

The library sent an email that the February issue of Kiplinger Magazine is available for me to read for free online.  February?!  It's still 2017!  Also, I'm probably at least 6 months behind reading Kiplinger. Something else at which I failed in 2017. Maybe I'll catch up tomorrow. Yeah.

I entered our walk from yesterday in Walgreen's Balance Rewards for Healthy Choices page and earned 100 BR points.

I earned the daily Microsoft Rewards credits when I first got up, and a couple of Swagbucks.

My daughter emailed me that she'd been trying to call me and wanted to know if my phone was broken. I checked my phone and didn't have any record of any incoming call... I did notice that I only seemed to have 1 bar when I usually have 2 or 3. So I asked Greg to call me and the call went straight to voicemail. I tried calling my daughter but the phone wouldn't dial out. I rebooted my phone and suddenly I had 3 bars again and was able to make calls.  I really need to purge some pictures from my phone because I don't have something like 400 MB left of memory, which I think is causing the trouble.  Arrgh. Anyhoo, she said she had been invited to a New Year's Eve party at her BFF's, who lives just a couple of blocks away from our house so she wanted to know if we could come spend the night afterward because she planned on driving back to Gainesville tomorrow.  So I probably won't see her much at all (she'll come in after midnight when we're already in bed and she'll be anxious to leave tomorrow) but I'll get to see her on the 1st day of 2018, which means 2018 is going to be awesome :) Yes, it is. It also means that I won't be able to do the dishes first thing in the morning tomorrow since her room is right above the kitchen and she can hear all the noises I make in there.  Well, what a disappointment. Not.

Greg and I had lunch... we each had different leftovers from the Christmas Buffet and I think we might have finally finished them!  I had the last 2 taquitos and the rest of the sweet potato casserole.

After a quick break to allow me to digest, I went to get dressed and then we left. As usual, Youngest Son declined to come along.  Today we decided to go walking at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont.

We took the back roads to the back entrance of the park, off Lake Nellie Road and used our Florida State Park pass for admission. Incidentally, I just looked at my tally of State Park visits since we got our pass this year and we used the pass on at least 20 occasions (I think I missed several times when Greg used it to go fishing on his own at Lake Louisa State Park).  We paid $90 with Greg's military veteran's discount but if we hadn't had the pass, we would have paid at least $109 in separate admissions. Plus the ranger who sold it to us was super nice and made it good through February 2018, when in fact we bought it on January 15, 2017 :) We're definitely renewing the pass this coming year.

We usually hike a couple of hours earlier in the day, at least, and today we found the park busier than usual, as far as hikers are concerned. We couldn't escape people!  We had decided to walk a different loop, but then realized that it would have meant a lot more mileage than we were prepared to walk today, Greg with his achy hips and me with my achy feet, so we turned around after 1.63 miles, with much regret from my part since we hadn't seen anything interesting. Well, Greg said he said a pileated woodpecker but I missed it.

So instead of walking back to the truck the same way, alongside the road, we crossed the road and looked for the equestrian trail and boy, are we glad we did!  Right off the bat Greg pointed out a hawk that we were able to observe for a while (and a bunch of crows but they were much more skittish than the hawk) and further down, I pointed down an animal that had just crossed the trail ahead of us and was waiting, looking at us, from the shade of the trees. Greg shrugged and said "it's a dog!" at the same time as I said "it's... a panther!  or a lynx! but it's not a dog, it's some kind of a big cat!" and then Greg looked again and said "Oh, shit, you're right!" (yeah, we're sophisticated like that!) and then I lifted my camera to try to take a picture but then I heard a big noise in a palmetto thicket just behind us and I turned around just in time to see a big doe running away with his white tail high up in the air and then the panther or lynx or bobcat or whatever it was ran after it and both disappeared from view... and left us delightfully surprised but... without any pictures of the whole encounter!  How infuriating!!!  We're still not sure of what we saw but we're both thinking it was a Florida panther, which is endangered, and mostly found in South Florida, although human encroachment have pushed them as north as Central Florida in recent years.  One was killed by a truck in Brooksville, just about an hour west of here, back in September.  Florida panthers do hunt white tailed deer while the bobcats, which are sometimes sighted in that state park, hunt primarily at night and much smaller prey such as chicken and rats.  We ran into a park ranger a few minutes later and told him what we'd seen but he discounted our theory that it was a Florida panther.  But we're still pretty sure that's what we saw :) And, dang it, I really wish I had thought to just aim the camera and kept pressing that shutter button. I just need to wear YS's Go Pro whenever we go hiking, darn it.

So here are a few pictures that I took today, for my friends who are right now experiencing deep freezes and snow.  I really wish I had a picture of a Florida panther chasing a deer to show you, though!

The boardwalk leading from the "back parking lot" to Lake Louisa.

The beach.  The water level is sooooo much higher than it's years!

Facing the beach

We elected to walk along the access road for a while in order to reach the point on the trail where we wanted to start our loop.  It was hot in the sun (no clouds!) and there was nothing to see, so Greg suggested we rejoin the trail in the woods to our left. It was a little longer but at least there was some shade.

I got distracted by the way this plant had come out all folded up like an origami and missed the big pileated woodpecker that
Greg was trying to point out to me. Poop! 

There is still a lot to be done in this park to restore the trails to their former state, after Hurricane Irma.  This big tree had fallen across the trail we took so we had to walk around it. Later on, there were many branches and debris that we had to walk over, too.

The creek was pretty in the sun and my picture doesn't reflect that at all!  A little bit further, we found ourselves following an older gentleman who was walking with 2 dogs and carrying some kind of a grocery bag and I was groaning inside because he was headed on the same loop that we were heading and I really like to own with just Greg, not strangers.  But then we checked my RunMeter app and saw that we'd walked 1.62 miles, so we should really turn around unless we wanted to have to walk a good 6 or 7 miles and we didn't feel up to it today. So we crossed the road and took a part of the Equestrian Trail that we hadn't taken before.

Greg spotted this hawk right away. It was hard to photograph at first because it was between 2 trees and had its back turned to us, but then it obligingly moved to the tp of a dead pine tree right in front of us so I only had to zoom in as much as I could.

This is why I typically don't enjoy hiking on the Equestrian Trail, though, because this might as well be quick sand.  It's hard to walk in soft sand like this and really kicks your butt if you're not a horse!

Thankfully, it wasn't all just sand. This picture was taken a couple of  minutes before we saw the panther.
Back home I zoomed in on it to see if many I had caught the deer or panther without even knowing but no, nothing :(

We actually discovered a new fishing spot for Greg as the trail meets us with a small access road to a lake with a boat launch. This is where the ranger met us and we chatted about the panther sighting.  He told us that there used to be a floating dock here but that it had to be moved to another lake. They're supposed to put another one in here again but there's no money in the budget for it in 2018.

It's not a big lake but that appeals to Greg because he likes to kayak around when he fishes and Lake Louisa is way too big and power boats go too fast.

The colors of Christmas... in Florida :)

The last part of the trail... in the sand, uphill (although you can't see it that it's uphill, but it is) and it's my least favorite part of the trail, LOL.

The coral beans are always in the same spot. I think it's the 3rd year I've photographed them there although today's harsh sunlight didn't make them look as dramatic as in the past. They're really poisonous.
So that concluded our walk today. My feet are sore!  We had talked about walking tomorrow as well since it's Greg's last vacation day, but now he's thinking we should just stay home.

For dinner I'm cooked that marinated pork tenderloin that I was supposed to cook last night and some pasta because I was too tired to peel potatoes.  I also served the leftover broccoli so now it's all gone, yay!

I ended up doing most of the dishes while dinner was cooking. A local radio station was playing "The Great 80's songs countdown" and I love 80's music so that made it easier since I was singing along and enjoying myself. And then, after we ate dinner, I finished the dishes and did the dinner dishes too!  So I'm ended the year on a good note.  Phew. Maybe that'll buy me karma when I look at all my failures for 2017.

We're not planning on doing anything special for New Year's tonight. I think all three of us will be in bed when the ball drops!

I wish you all a very merry New Year's Eve, and a great new year. May all your wishes for 2018 come true and may we all lose weight effortlessly, attain and keep good health, and see an increase in our assets:)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

On December 30 We Finally Went for a Walk

I stayed up late last night, reading blogs and looking at funny pictures and videos on Reddit while drinking 2 cups of black tea with bergamot (made with just 1 tea bag, frugality FTW!), which, in retrospect, was a mistake, because I was wide awake at 12:30 a.m. 

My daughter texted me 2 Coke product codes that she collected from somewhere, yay!

Greg went to bed so I headed to bed too, but I brought my John Sandford library book along. It was chilly upstairs but I turned the pedestal fan on anyway because I really need the white noise and I sleep better the colder it is.  I turn it away from the bed, facing my closet, so the cold air blast doesn't hit me directly. I put on PJs, another pair of fuzzy socks and slept with only my Kohl's Not-So-Big blanket on because I find it very warm.  Greg is aghast that I sleep this way. He said he slept with his PJs and socks, 3 blankets (including one comforter!) and he still couldn't warm up.  See what we like sleeping in separate bedrooms?!

Anyhoo, I read my book until about 1:30 a.m.  I slept so well!  I did hear Tabby Kitten meow for breakfast at the top of the stairs, and still Greg had gotten up to feed the cats several times this week already, I trekked downstairs to feed them all (it was 7:15 a.m.), and then went right back to bed until I heard him get up and realized that it was 10:30 a.m. so I'd better get up before half the day was over already.

We made coffee.  He only drinks his unflavored, the philistine, and thankfully the huge John Wayne mug that I gave him for Christmas a couple of years ago is the perfect size, as the contents of the small coffee pot fit just right.  So then I brewed myself a pot of chocolate raspberry coffee.  We weren't sure what to have for breakfast but knew we had to finish the leftovers so we each took a big sigh and he had a piece of Peanut Butter Pie and I had several Christmas cookies.!  LOL.

Greg was full of energy for some reason and declared that we should go for a walk today and another tomorrow because we're off-track and we need to exercise. I wasn't enthused because a) the weather was all gloomy again and b) I have a good book that I want to keep reading and c) walking two days in a row?! I'll be spending all of next week nursing my heel!  So he said we would walk only an hour each day. I still wasn't convinced and, besides, I hadn't even drank my coffee, checked my emails or the news, earned my Microsoft Rewards.  There is an order for me to start my day and it's not to go walking before I even finish my morning coffee!

So he got on his Kindle and I got on my laptop and did all those things. And then I lit my "Crisp Morning Air" candle and put on the Bee Gees' "Love Songs" album compilation to honor the fact that Barry Gibbs was finally knighted by the Queen of England. Finally!  Good grief. I lurve the Bee Gees.

And the clouds parted and the sun came out!  So I told Greg, at 11:45 a.m., that we should go walk right now. But by then he was engrossed in his book and comfy on his chair and didn't want to go.  So we playfully bickered about it but I'm gonna win and we're gonna go, I just know it.  We'll probably head out to the General Van Fleet Trail as it's been a while since we've walked there.

I checked on Youngest Son a few minutes ago because he still hadn't emerged from his bedroom despite going to bed early last night, and he's fine, just laying in bed listening to music on his headphones. It's a good thing that he knows his parents will take over his chores and feed the cats if he doesn't wake up :) He's a really good kid so we give him a pass on the mornings that he can sleep in.

Tabby Kitten has been distraught by the fact that we no longer have the bucket and the washcloth in the shower. Those were his favorite "toys" to play with. He's now obsessed with the shower and the haircatcher so he's constantly in there, pulling it out (long story), as well as the other components of the very unsatisfactory plumbing located underneath.  That's all we need now!  So I've had to keep the door to the bathroom closed at all times now, and he cries and cries for us to let him in.  That rascal.

For dinner tonight I'm going to cook a marinated pork tenderloin that I had bought before Christmas and probably make mashed potatoes because I know that we have some gold potatoes that are starting to sprout.  We have steamed broccoli leftovers so I'll serve that too. I love that I made my menu for this week a couple of weeks ago, it's made it super easy to go back to cooking dinner without whining (too much!) about having to cook.  I need to make a menu for next week now.

I'm going to be late posting my various expense reports for 2017 as well as my 2017 goals review and my 2018 goals because I'm spending my time reading my book and the internet instead of working on those posts. Oops, but that's OK.  There's no rule saying that I should post them by midnight on 12/31, is there?  Nope.

Chores-wise, I unloaded the dishwasher last night and one of those will do the dishes today. Maybe. We picked up cat barf on a couple of occasions this morning and we each swept the litter around the litterboxes so I won't feel too bad sitting on the futon for the rest of the day once we come back from our walk :)

Princess has found a new favorite spot and discarded her padded envelope. She has made herself a nest atop my cardigan since I left it on the back of the futon in case I got cold.  She looks so comfy!

"How dare you take my picture?!"
Tabby Kitten really wanted me to play with him, he kept on crying to bring me to the closet where I keep his favorite toy, so I got it out and had all three kittens jumping and chasing and burning off some energy.  I took a video but it didn't turn out any good :(

Finally, Greg and I went walking at about 1:30 p.m. or so. I wore a light jacket and the weather was perfect!  I wasn't too hot and I wasn't too cold.  The Van Fleet Trail was quiet, although we were passed by several bicyclists and the park ranger on his pick-up truck. But we were the only walkers. It was a great walk!  We didn't see any gators but we saw so many other things. It was, we decided the first time we saw such a variety of wildlife on that trail.  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to take pictures of everything that we saw :(

On the way to the trail on the back country roads. For some reason I love seeing bales of hay in fields. It makes me happy.

The ditches on each side of the trail are still full of water and boy, life was teaming today. We didn't see any gators and Greg only spotted one turtle, which I missed, but there were lots of water birds, something that we rarely see on this trail. Once again, I wasn't able to take many pictures because of vegetation being in the way or they flew off as soon as we approached, but I did manage to get this shot of an anhinga almost as soon as we started on the trail.

Not a cloud in the sky!  There were a lot of birds chirping everywhere and we spotted so many of them, although most of them were too quick for me to photograph. I don't have good reflexes!

It's amazing that those ditches, that were so dry for so long, now have aquatic plants growing in them!

Greg spotted this little guy in a tree just a few feet away, happily munching on a pinecone. I took a lot of pictures of it, but this was the best shot. Greg had never seen a squirrel munch on a pinecone before so he was mesmerized.

The most flowers we saw today were  salvia-looking flowers. I can't remember their name and I have two cats pinning my lap blanket to the futon right now so I can't go get my Audubon or Florida Wildflowers Guide to try to identify them.  I'll
have to come back to this post at some other time to correct this!

We saw lots of cattle and lots of egrets and I was hoping to end the year with another picture of an egret on a cow as a wink to my friend Pixel who is on a quest to take such a picture herself, but those egrets just weren't cooperating today.

We didn't spot any gators at all, which is unusual but perhaps they're hibernating since it was a tad cool?  We did spot this trail in the algae though and I'm thinking it was an alligator trail. Or it could be an otter, I guess. We did see tracks that could have been otter tracks in the sand at another spot.

White fungus growing on a fallen tree limb in the water.

Florida tasselflowers, a nice touch of red today!

This poor tree...

We heard angry squirrel noises coming off from our right and when we turned to try to see the squirrel, Greg spotted this owl camouflaged under the dark canopy, against the sun!  It was taking a mid-day nap, lol and didn't give us any sign that he had seen us. He was just a few feet away from us.

He did turn his head and just presented us with his puffed up profile the rest of the time we stood there, admiring it.  The squirrel was still screaming and it didn't seem to interest the owl at all so I'm thinking it probably had just finished his lunch and was digesting... maybe a squirrel?

And then!  Greg grabbed my arm and pointed and I swear I didn't think my camera had taken the picture in time, but this doe or fawn sauntered across the trail in the distance (to the left, you can barely see it in his picture), so I was happy to see that I
did have a picture of it when I got home.  I told him "the last time we saw a fawn crossing a trail ahead of us, there was another one that came right after it and then the doe came too so maybe we'll see more!" and so we started walking very slowly and just kept whispering. This fawn/doe disappeared down the embankment...

And then another one came out! Woohoo!

We stopped right in our tracks and it stopped right in his and looked at us for a long time while we looked at it.

He kept checking everywhere around it. They had come out of the part of the forest that's a wildlife management area where hunters were shooting a little earlier so I'm glad they had escaped the hunters!

It looked at us again for a while and then followed the other doe/fawn down the embankment.  We continued walking.

Close to little bridge where they were standing looking at us, I spotted this orange tree with fruit that bore bite marks, as well as the remnant of an orange that had been bitten off the branch. I'm thinking this is a regular spot for them!

As we crossed the bridge, we couldn't figure out where the deer had gone since it's a big ditch filled with water and then there was a pretty high barbed wire fence, but I guess they jumped over both.  I joked that maybe they were hiding under the bridge, waiting for us to pass, so Greg went down the embankment to take a look under the bridge, lol. Nope, no deer or gators there and, thankfully, no snakes either.

See this pine cone?  If you squint, you can see a little bit of the fur of the squirrel carrying it up the tree trunk.  I told Greg it probably was the pinecone fairy that makes sure there are pine cones hanging in the pine trees :)

Oh man, I missed so many pictures of so many birds today!  We saw a blue heron, a white egret, a hawk that landed just feet away from us in a tree, many small birds of various species and a pileated woodpecker that I identified by its call (so proud of myself!) before we saw it fly between cypress trees before it disappeared.  It really was astounding because we're walked on this trail many times without spotting even just one squirrel!  So, as we were leaving, we saw this anhinga perched right across the ditch from us, making throaty sounds and looking agitated. I got a feeling that it was about to go fishing...

And I was right!

It dove into the water.  We kept waiting for it to surface again and I was excited because I thought I'd be able to take a picture of it and its prey, but it never came up. We thought "Oh no! Because it actually had a heart attack and dropped dead in the water right in front of us as I was taking pictures!" but it did surface several feet away to our left and perched itself on another branch but didn't seem to have caught anything. Well, poop. We waited a while but it didn't look like it wanted to fish again so we left.
We walked for 3.16 miles, quite slowly, and stopped a lot so it took us an hour.   On the way home, I spotted first an empty 12-pack box for Cherry Coke cans on the side of the country road but Greg refused to stop for me to collect the code. That jerk!  And then about a mile later, it was an empty 12-pack box of Sprite and he again refused to stop!  Last year I said I was going to start calling him "Greg the Thwarter" and now I'm thinking about getting him a bumper sticker with that moniker.

We saw tons of sandhill cranes on the way home. So many sandhill cranes!  Since we were driving, I didn't even try to take a picture.

My feet actually didn't hurt barely at all, but I still used the heated massager back home, and it performed as well as I had expected, which is... not well. It's heating up fine but the massage function is just a faint vibration and not even anywhere near where I might need some massaging. Oh well. At least it kept my feet warm. It was 65F in the living room but it felt colder and we used sweaters and blankets to keep ourselves warm.

Explorer is my cat who thinks he's a dog. He was so excited that we were home that he went to fetch one of the fuzzy balls that I gave them for Christmas and brought it to me on the couch...

He's like "will you put the camera down and throw the ball already?!"

I like to tease him with it and then I noticed that the other two kittens looked pretty interested as well...

When Tabby Kitty is in the game, Explorer backs off because Tabby Kitty is kind of a bully.  But Tabby Kitty doesn't know to bring me the ball back so I can throw it again so it just stays there on the carpet and it's the end of the game :(

I was cold so I grabbed my lap blanket and soon noticed that I seemed to have a tail...

Explorer had crawled under the blanket and had settled himself against my hip to take his afternoon nap.  We were so comfy and warm! Princess had made herself comfy at my feet, still under the blanket. I felt like a mother hen with her chicks all tucked in under her feathers :)
We had a late lunch.  Greg made himself a plate of leftovers and I made 2 tacos out of the leftover taco meat from dinner last night, had some sweet potato casserole left over from Christmas Eve's buffet, and some blueberries/strawberries and clementines pieces, also left over from the buffet.

Then I read my library book the rest of the afternoon while cuddling with my cats!  I love John Sandford's writing style but I have to admit that story wasn't very interesting.

Since we'd had lunch so late, I had told Greg I probably wouldn't be cooking dinner and he agreed.  When it came time for dinner, he cooked eggs and bacon for himself and Youngest Son and I just had one of my stale homemade buns (heated up in the microwave) with a little bit of brie. 

Greg and YS had a date at 8 p.m.: they met in YS's "lair" (a.k.a. my daughter's bedroom, where YS now keeps his military miniatures) to play Axis and Allies: D-Day, a military strategy board game that we gave YS for Christmas. 

I'll probably start reading the Lee Child's book from the library after I'm done with this post. I should really be doing the dishes because they still haven't been done and are piling up but... nah, I'll do them tomorrow morning.  Yeah. If I get up :)