Friday, May 30, 2008

"Freebies" from Nature Made



Tin-tin was the one who introduced me to the Nature Made's "Wellness Rewards". (Nature Made is a brand of multi-vitamins and other health supplements. We take multi-vitamin tablets everyday to supplement the food we are taking in. We don't really put too much attention to them although some would argue that some multi-vitamins are better than others.)

Anyway, this Nature Made multi-vitamins have codes in their containers. These codes are inputted into an account in the Nature Made website - of course, you need to create an account first. Each code has an equivalent number of points and they accumulate.

There's a couple of rewards - "high value coupons, DVDs and more". The choices for "DVDs and more" are actually very limited.

As for the "high value coupons" to discount Nature Made multi-vitamins...
- You can't use them in Costco stores where the unit price is lowest.
- You can use them in costco.com but you'll have to pay for shipping.
- You can also use them in Walmart and other stores accepting manufacturer's coupon.

The best deal still for buying Nature Made muti-vitamins is from Costco stores when they are on sale - that even brings the unit price even lower.

Anyway, after 3 containers of Nature Made multi-vitamins, I now had more than 500 points! I used it to redeem 2 items:

- Classical Sampler CD (The only artist I knew among them was Sarah Chang, violin prodigy.) It is now our newest driving music.

- Denise Austin's Wellness Zone Workout DVD (This is actually a simple 30 minute workout with not much accessories needed. Simple is good! The workout is divided into 3 10-minute parts from beginner to maintenance to challenging workouts.) I did the Beginner workout today which consists of stretches only. Even if the exercises are low-impact, it was successful in raising my pulse. I like the lady's encouraging style too - not like the overly excited or drill sergeant-like tones of other exercise videos.

Not too bad for freebies, huh?

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Austin vs Boise Taxes


When we were looking at houses in Austin last year, we liked the much lower prices of the houses - ~$100/sqft for Austin vs ~$142/sqft for Boise. What shocked us though was that the Austin property taxes were much higher at 2-3% of appraised value versus Boise property taxes of 1.205 (2006 rate).

However, we needed to consider that Texas has no state income tax. So we were curious how the higher Austin property taxes would compare to the lower Boise property taxes PLUS Idaho state income tax of 1%-7.8%.

Here's a comparison:
Boise Property Taxes and State Income Tax
a. Assumed House Appraised Value = 300000 (300000 - 89000 (2007 exemption)) * 1.205%
Property Taxes = 2500
Assumed Income = 100000
State Income Tax = 7800
TOTAL Taxes = 10300

b. House Appraised Value = 400000
Property Taxes = 3700
Assumed Income = 100000
State Income Tax = 7800
TOTAL Taxes = 11500

Austin Property Taxes assuming worse case at 3%
a. Assumed House Appraised Value = 300000
Property Taxes = 9000

b. Assumed House Appraised Value = 400000
Property Taxes = 12000

CONCLUSIONS:
- For a 300K house, Austin taxes is lower by about 1000.
- For a 400K house, Austin taxes is higher by about 500.
- The higher the appraised value of the house, the higher the Austin taxes. However, at the 300K-400K house price range, the difference is not significant (but of course, I did not apply any statistics to it!)
- The higher the income, the higher the total Boise taxes. Since the ID state income tax rate is a large multiplier, this would have a significant effect to the total taxes in Boise.

Also, this is not an apple-to-apple comparison because a 300K house in Boise would be about 2100 sqft while it would be a 3000 sqft house in Austin. (I've got to say though that the finishing workmanship of the Boise houses are definitely better than over here.)

All in all, I think we did okay on the Austin house since the total tax did not change significantly and we also have more room! Moreover, there is also a possibility that the Austin property taxes in the Hays county would be decreasing on a yearly basis until it "stabilizes" at the 2% level. I look forward to those days!

Meanwhile, I hope this gives you an idea on what to look out for when considering out-of-state relocation!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Picnic at Founders' Park


Gateway Hill Country Church received about 20 visitors from one of its sending church last Sunday - Immanuel Baptist Church from Temple, TX. It was a great opportunity to know them more! And to celebrate the visit, we had a picnic in Dripping Springs' Founders Park after the service.



Larry Wiggins, the cable supervisor ;) and a well-known local barbeque expert who is part of GHCC, did the brisquets - yummy!

We brought about a hundred Lumpiang Shanghai and it was gone fast! Am amazed also that half of the 10 cup rice that we brought was consumed. Looks like this Texans like rice, too!

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Austin Town Lake Bike and Hike Trail


Finally used my "new" bike at the Austin Town Lake Bike and Hike Trail last Saturday. Al and I met up with Joey there. We covered about 4 miles only but it was a good exercise both for the body and the "soul". It felt great being outdoors biking, with the wind on my face while enjoying the view.

The Town Lake trail is a beautiful place - lots of canopied trees, with clear views of and access to the waters, with the city skyline in the background. Reminds me of the Boise River and greenbelt where June and I trained (partly) for the Robie Creek Marathon in 2006 - without the skyline view. The trees are different too - most of the trees in Boise were cottonwood. I do not exactly know what the trees are in the Austin Town Lake trails but I suspect, there are a lot of live oaks (I think!).

Check out our route through the Town Lake trails!

View Larger Map

There were plenty of people on the trails and an eclectic bunch at that! From babies to grandparents, from the midriff/chest-baring buffs to the modestly-dressed folks, from different races as well. I was surveying (in my head) what the most common activities were at the Town Lake trail and they are in this order - walking (briskly), running, strolling, biking, kids playing on the sides, and there was even one man sitting atop a retaining wall, playing the guitar, singing and greeting passers-by!

One common thing though seems to be that everyone came out to enjoy the nice weather - warm, overcast, comfortable! Even the turtles!!! Check them out in the slideshow below :)


On the Austin Town Lake waters, it was exciting to see vigorous rowers and relaxed kayakers at different places. Rowing looks hard but I would like to do both in the future!

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Horton Hears a Who!




I'm breaking my topic in the past few posts to write about the Hortons. No, this is neither about Dr Seuss' story book nor the film.

Ben and Sarah Horton are ABWE missionaries to the Philippines. They have 5 children - Sarita, Jesse, Walker, Josh, Micah. We met them back in 2005 when they did a pre-field visit to Columbia Heights Baptist Church in Boise, ID to talk about their ministry. They have been in the Philippines since June 2007 and have been going through language school to learn the "Filipino" language.

Their STIR-Asia ministry will include evangelism, discipleship training and development of platforms for Filipino medical professionals to serve as bi-vocational missionaries in countries throughout Asia. To learn more about them, their mission and even about the Philippines (!), go to the Ben and Sarah Horton's blogsite

Some personal glimpses ... Ben Horton spent a significant time in the Philippines during his formative years and one could detect some of the effects of that. He grew up calling the bathroom/restroom a "C.R." (short for comfort room) just like most of us Filipinos. And today, Ben and Sarah Horton's children also use the term "C.R.". :)

Sarah Horton once mentioned that at first she could not understand why they just have to have Silver Swan soy sauce instead of any soy sauce from the local groceries. Is there any doubt where that mindset could come from? Only from the Philippines!

Anyway, today Ben and Sarah Horton and their children have needs that they have shared with us who are in their prayer team. With the dollar devaluation (and peso appreciation), their financial support is lower than the standard of living for 7 persons. Please pray earnestly for their urgent request for support. If the Lord burdens your heart for them, would you consider becoming a STIR-Asia ministry supporter ?

I am reminded of a song by Daniel L. Schutte, SJ which lifted verses from Isaiah 6:8

Whom Shall I Send?"
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.

I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

The Ben and Sarah Horton heard the "Who" and they responded.

How about you? Just like Isaiah, are you also hearing "Whom shall I send?" What are you sent for?

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

More on Waiver of Escrow



A couple of considerations before you decide to waive escrow:

1. Escrow Waiver Fee -
There will or will not be a fee associated with the waiver of escrow - depending on your contract. In our case, there was supposedly an escrow waiver fee of $800. However looking at our Settlement Statement, there was no item pertaining or even remotely related to the escrow waiver fee.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that this was our first time to learn about being able to do a waiver of escrow that we were so excited about the possibilities. Thus, we did not have the present-mindedness to see if we can negotiate waiving (redundant?) the escrow waiver fee. The good thing is that it seems that we were not charged an escrow waiver fee at all!

2. Your Responsibilities (if you do a waiver of escrow)-
Obviously, aside from paying the non-escrowed items directly and in a timely manner, the lender may require you to provide them with:
- evidence of your payment of the non-escrowed items
- evidence that your insurance is still in force and at the required coverage levels

3. Escrow Reestablishment by Lender -
The lender could re-establish an escrow if these happens:
- you do not pay any of the non-escrowed items in a timely manner
- you do not provide evidences of payment of the non-escrowed items.
- you are in default under the terms of your loan document
Again, depending on your lender's contract, there could be more stipulations on when they can re-establish an escrow account for you.

I am curious though if it is myself who gets tired of managing the non-escrowed items - if and how I can ask the lender to reestablish an escrow account for us? How much would they charge to reestablish an escrow account?

Something that I could dig on more later. But if you know the answer, let us know!

Meanwhile, do the above considerations frighten you against managing the non-escrowed items on your own? Or do they confirm your decision not to manage them yourself? Share your thoughts!

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Friday, May 23, 2008

You Don't Have to Escrow your Property Taxes

One lesson I learned from our recent house purchase is that you have the option to do a waiver of escrow for property taxes and insurance items. By doing this, you are avoiding the opportunity cost associated with those monthly escrow payments and instead use the equivalent non-escrow amounts to grow it to your advantage (instead of the lender enjoying the interest on it.)

You see, your monthly house payment is typically composed of:
- mortgage (and private mortgage insurance if loan is >80%)
- real estate/property taxes
- hazard/homeowner's insurance premiums
- flood/wind insurance premiums

The last 3 are escrow items and if you did have them escrowed, you will be including the estimated amounts for these escrow items in the payments you send to the lender on a monthly basis. However, these escrow items are only due (to the state or the insurance companies) once a year. Property taxes are due in October in Texas (other states may have different schedules but it is still due annually or biannually). Insurance is due a year after you purchase the house. See my point? Escrow payments are collected monthly from you, while actual payments are done annually by the lender to the "service provider".

What that means is that the lender is earning interest from your monthly escrow payments. That gain is on top of the loan interest that you are paying within the mortgage payment. Depending on how much your escrow payments are, the additional escrow interest could be significant.

You can do a waiver of escrow on these and manage them yourself. So instead of the lender taking advantage of this, you are actually the one gaining interest on the equivalent non-escrow amounts.

Why should you take on the headache of managing the equivalent non-escrow amounts yourself? Again, it boils down to what you think your time is worth vs the amount you will be earning for yourself.

Of course, this method does not have its RISKS:
1. You can use the equivalent non-escrow amount for something else.
You really have to be disciplined about saving and growing the amount that was supposed to be escrowed. The good thing is that there are many ways to do this.

One of the most common being - Open a high interest account (money market account or CD or some other more aggressive investments) and do a direct deposit to it on a regular basis. This way, it becomes self-managing and you don't have to spend time transferring from one account to another or from avoiding spending the amount (if you did not create a separate account). (I'll share some more details on how we do it in a future post. Be on the look-out for that!)

2. You can miss the payments to the "service providers".
You will have to manage the payments yourself - know when it is due, send the payment on time, etc. For these payments that come once a year, the state and the insurance companies are pretty good on sending your the estimates and bills. That should be a good reminder for these once a year payments.

And... you should not have to worry about not having the $ to pay for them if you were doing the disciplined saving that we mentioned previously, right???

So do you think it's worth your time to manage the equivalent non-escrow amounts on your own? Do the math! If it shows something significant enough for you, ask yourself - "Do I have the disciple, time and inclination to do manage the equivalent escrow amounts?" If the answer is yes, then go on, do the waiver of escrow and do it yourself! You can do it, too!

Read more...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yes! David Cook is the American Idol Winner!!!

Back in March when Leanne was visiting, she asked me who my favorite American Idol contestant was. My favorites were Michael, David Cook, Syesha and to some degree, Brooke. I never thought that one of them is going to be come the American Idol winner.

The common thing about all of them is that they seem to "feel" their songs and thus are able to "own it" and interpret them "from the heart". Thus, they and their songs speak to me. To me, that is the most important factor for one to be an American Idol winner.

David Archuleta is cute and has a better voice, I agree. So I thought he would be the next American Idol winner. But I just don't connect with him. To me, it's like Lea Salonga singing Sharon Cuneta's "Sana'y Wala Ng Wakas" in a concert right after her West-end stint with Ms Saigon. Lea has a a very beautiful, pristine voice but she did not have the street cred yet to sing the song. (Don't get me wrong, I really like Lea. She is now more mature and she is even a more awesome performer! My point is that, there are songs that fit the person/personality.)

David Cook, I like despite what I think is eyeliner under his eyes! He looks scruffy but at the same time "simpatico". He sings with gusto and even if most of the time, I do not know the song he is singing - that in itself shows that he had the makings of becoming the American Idol winner. I like the energy David Cook exudes and he is not very self-conscious when performing.

Frankly, I did not watch lot of the American Idol shows but kept tab of them in the news. So when Michael, Brooke and Syesha were eliminated, David Cook was the only contestant left for me to root for. I had hoped David Cook would become the new American Idol winner.

Truth betold, I thought David Archuleta will be the American Idol winner because of the seemingly high publicity he has from the media. So, I actually jumped happily and pumped my arm when Ryan Seacrest announced that David Cook is the new American Idol winner. And to think that I am not even a voter so David Cook has nothing to thank me for. :)

There you go, folks. David Cook, 2008 American Idol winner. Yes!!! Am excited to see what songs he will be recording. Will David Cook follow the path of Daugherty?

So which David was your bet to become the American Idol winner? Which among the other American Idol contestants were your favorites?

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Subscription to Al and Rela's Blogsite

Thanks to those of you who have subscribed to our blog!

For those who did email subscription, please be aware that the Sender/From name will be "An Ordinary Life" (instead of our names or email addresses). Also, it will contain the new posts's Title to notify you that Al or I have a new posting. You can click on the Title (within the email body) and that will bring you automatically to our blogsite, specifically to the post whose title you clicked.

I plan to write more often, so I hope to see your thoughts and reactions - just click on the "Comments" link after each posting. It will be fun!

Meanwhile, feel free to forward our blogsite with this URL http://al-and-rela.blogspot.com OR to forward specific posting by clicking on the envelope icon (with an arrow) beside the "Comments" link after each posting.

God is good all the time!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

What's New With Al and Rela?

We'd like to make it easier (for you and for us!) to keep you posted so here are ways to do just that:

1. For those who'd like to see them on their email inboxes, click on the "Subscribe to Email" link on the upper right. Or enter your email address on the form box just below that. You will receive our post as an email message in your inbox.

2. For those who have readers or your own personalized portals (iGoogle and My Yahoo!), click on their respective widgets on the upper right. Your reader or portals will be updated every time we post on our blog.

3. Or you can just simply place our blogsite in your browser's bookmark (Firefox) or favorites (IE).

Happy reading!

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Potential Savings of $600 in Property Taxes

Just got our "2008 Notice of Appraised Value" from the Hays Central Appraisal District stating that our Total Estimated Taxes (property taxes) is $11,634 based on an appraised value of $407,250 and total tax rate of 2.91%.

I learned from one of my favorite blogs (of a local Austin realtor) that "If the appraised value is higher than the amount you’ve recently paid to purchase the home, bring your Settlement Statement showing what you actually paid, and they’ll lower the value to the price you paid without a fuss." The Crossland Team

Takeaways here for ordinary people like me (non-realtors):
1. The Settlement Statement being referred to here is one of the documents you signed during closing. So dig it up from wherever you stuffed it!
2. Key operative term here is "recently purchased"... since the tax year starts on January 1 (2008), then I am guessing that the previous month or quarter does qualify for being "recently purchased". The good thing for is that we bought the house on December 17, 2007 (by the way, buying the house at this timeframe has its advantages too, but I'll reserve that for a future story".

So, since what we paid for the house versus the Appraised Value is lower, we could potentially save about $600 from property taxes. Yoohoo!!! Hays Central Appraisal District - here I come!

How about you? Have you checked your 2008 Appraised Value already?

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Motherhood Must Be Valued

Yesterday, I was in the Pre-K Sunday School, so I was not able to hear Pastor Jeff's message. Thanks to Ate Emhey, I got my "dose" as she sent me a response to my Mother's Day greetings.

"True, yesterday the world celebrated Mothers' Day but according to our preacher, Pastor Jose Francis Martinez, still it is the Lord's Day. In order not to rob God of His day and still remember the mothers, he preached about the high calling of motherhood. He said that motherhood must be valuated highly because:

1. It is a necessary calling. This is God's ordained means to perpetuate human race.

2. It is a very challenging calling. It required much sacrifice, self denying love, skill, wisdom, and competence.

3. It is a very noble calling. The kind of nurture we give to our children results to the society we want to have.

4. It is a very fulfilling calling. Giving ourselves to it, finds fullest joy in the Lord.

5. It is a very rewarding calling. The radical feminists are always asking for respect, honor, praise, recognition and care because they feel they are being denied of it, which actually the mothers are fully enjoying it (Proverbs 31:28).

6. It is a God assigned and God approved calling. Titus 2:3-5

Conclusion: We thank God for making us mothers. But for the spinster: Thanks God for sparing us from being mothers. :-)"

Thanks, Ate Emhey for sharing this message!

So think about it, gals... Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Happy Mother's Day!

To all the mommies...got this from an e-card and just wanted to share this with you!

TREASURES FOR A MOTHER’S HEART
A Collection of Thoughts on Motherhood

A mother’s building blocks
Are caring eyes, a listening ear,
An understanding smile,
And hugs that warm the inside.

The love a mother wraps
Around her children
The joys she fills their hearts with,
And the blessings
She pours upon their heads
Are all homemade.

A mother is like
Homemade bread -
Always “kneaded”!

Nobody know of the works it makes
To keep the home together:
Nobody knows of the steps it takes,
Nobody knows - but mother.
Nobody kneels at the throne above
To thank the Heavenly Father
For the sweetest gift - a mother’s love,
Nobody can - but mother.

H.C. Dodge

Take care and God bless you!

Mommy of 2 (in heaven),
Rela

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Black on Yella (Pictures)



WARNING!!! The sn*ke pictures were banished to this post - separate from the earlier post. So if you are getting this in the email or Google Reader (or Bloglines, My Yahoo, etc), then do NOT go to this post if you don't like to see them again! (Even if I have a new picture of poor Daddy Ely's poor snake's here!)

Blog friend Julie from My Journey to Family confirmed what I was thinking all along - the sn*ke pictures were a bad idea. At least for us ladies who are squirmy about them.

Well, if you did click on the email or the reader... Yes, you've come to the right place. This is the companion post to the 9/5/2008 post. This is where the sn*ke photos are.

Are you sure you want to see these???

Well, brave fella, here you go...

This is supposed to be poisonous - "Black on yella, Kill a fella.". This is a rattlesnake. (Or at least part of it)


This is supposed to be non-poisonous - "Yella on black, Venom lack.". This is a gartersnake.


This is poor Daddy Ely's poor snake, which we think is also a gartersnake.


Anyway, do you think the mnemonic is useful? Can you guess whether this is poisonous or not?


Okey, for the last time then...
"Black on yella, Kill a fella.
Yella on black, Venom lack."

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A Few of My Favorite Songs


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