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Saturday, August 7, 2021

Buying a house and Mortgage Tips

I had an ex co-worker who moved from Texas to Pennsylvania and is asking for tips on how to buy a house. 

I have been asked a few of those questions in the past so I thought I should start putting it here so next time someone asks me, I'll just point them here, lol

Disclaimer: I  am in no way an expert but I have learned a lot from my husband who is tax savvy and by observing friends and listening to friends house buying horror stories. Also most of this is in Pennsylvania which has fairly lower real estate taxes than say, New Jersey.

Here goes.

Oh, before I continue, if you're here for the mortgage tip, just scroll down to the bottom. It's after the meditation image.

Tips when buying a house/condo/townhome

1. Stay away from properties with HOA (home owners association fee), it piles up.

Usually, they are for swimming pool, for lawn mowing & snow shoveling or for anything that requires manpower to maintain whatever area that you and your neighbors share. If you think you can mow your own lawn and/or shovel your own front yard & you really don’t need a swimming pool, then HOA property is a no-no. 


bonus points if you know why i use the flamingos in my HOA post :D


Average HOA is $200 according to google but when I asked my friends, it is always $300-350 a month. Multiply that by 12 is $3,600 - $4,200. Some states or county are even higher. That is a lot of money. Wouldn't you rather spend that on your vehicle loan or yearly travel expenses to some place nice? Or, to the more frugal, for your S&P 500 index?

Besides, mowing the lawn is good exercise.

P.S. also developments with HOA are very strict. They even tell you what kind of curtains you can put on your window. 

2. Do not forget REAL ESTATE taxes.

Some people buy properties thinking they hit a jackpot because the house is cheap and their mortgage is low. Then comes the time to pay real estate taxes and that’s the only time they realize their mistake. 

Remember, real estate taxes are forever (for as long as you own the property, ofcourse), even after you pay off your mortgage.

Here's the rule, real estate taxes depends on which State and which County and how big your house is.  Let me repeat that, real estate taxes depends which state, county and size of your house. 

For example, real estate tax in Pennsylvania (PA) is lower than New Jersey (NJ). real estate tax in Montgomery, PA county is lower than Bucks, PA county even if they are just right next to each other.

Tip: (a) the closer you are to malls and other corporate offices, the smaller the real estate tax is, (b) the bigger your house, the bigger the real estate tax (c) if you see more corn fields or meadows than office buildings, the higher your real estate tax will be.

Why do you have to pay attention to this? 

You probably bought a house because you're tired of paying $1,300/month on your rent, right? How do you feel then that you are still paying 1,000 in real estate per month (although usually, you pay your real estate annually, but I am just breaking it down for better visualization). Worst, you also have HOA of $300/monthly on top of that, for a clubhouse swimming pool that you never use because it always look like someone's pet has taken a bath in it.


Those 2 are the most important ones, for me. The next list below are something to consider too. I call this the medium-level "watch outs". In no particular order:

1. Ask if the property uses gas or electric. Gas is cheaper. So opt for gas.
2. Corner lot might be tempting but you will be dealing with a lot of traffic since you will have at least
        2 streets wrapping around your house. I don't know with you, but I hate the sound of passing cars.
3. Cul de sac is the best location. Safer for the kids (not a lot of traffic). You might say, "but if we have
        a big yard, why would I let my kids play outside in the street". Well, that's a good point but in my
        case, my kids like to ride their bikes and scooters outside on a paved floor, so... 
4. If you do get lucky to get a property in a cul de sac, don't get the house at the dead end of the cul de
       sac. Why? Because you will have headlights shining at your  house the whole time. Well ok, not the whole time but when it starts to get dark until all your neighbors in your cul de sac are home.
5. Check the school district. Make sure the public school has good reputation. But if you're planning to
       enroll your kids to a private school, then you don't need to check this, but you might want to find a
       house closer to that private school. 





google image of cul de sac with kids biking


6. Think "resaleability". I know, I know, you're madly in love with that property and you don't see
       yourself selling it, like never in a million years! but hear me out. We don't know what the future
       may bring. You might win a lottery and decide to live somewhere in Italy or go back to your home
       country. Or the location you chose is suddenly infested with drug addicts, etc. Fine, I'm being
       paranoid but it won't hurt to plan ahead. So, here are some things that buyer looks for:
    a. Atleast 3 bedrooms
    b. Atleast 2 1/2 baths for a 3-4 bedroom house (you don't want 3 people lining up to take a shower 
            in 1 bathroom)
    c. Basement (finish or not..it's like a bonus room for buyers)
    d. Central air (for convenience plus if you want to do this later, you would need to tear down the
            house..so better if this is already in place) 
    e. 2-car garage (one for mommy and one for daddy, or if you only have 1 vehicle, 1 for the guest)
    f. Garage is attached (you don't want to be running in the rain with a bag of grocery from your
            garage to your house, I assume?
    g. Cul de sac (less traffic and you won't have cars speeding up and down in front of your house).
    h. Swimming pool might be tempting (think of all the pool parties!) but no, don't do it. Believe it or
            not, buyers don't like pools because it lowers the resale value of the property, it's a maintenance
            nightmare (we have a friend who has a pool and it's just headache after
            headache), expensive to maintain, and increases your home owner's insurance....still not
            convinced?    here : things that don't add value to your home.
    i. Pond/Lake  This one’s tricky. pond or lake might not be a good idea too because kids can drown and parents can sue you for that. Although if you really want a pond/lake just ask what your  responsibilities will be for that pond/lake. Also, ask your home insurance agent what your
     owner's home insurance will be if you have a pond/lake in your vicinity (aside from drowning
            accidents, there's also a question environment responsibility associated to it).
    j. Trees. Be mindful of the trees surrounding the house. What's wrong with trees? I love them too but
            see if any of the tree looks like it will fall anytime soon and worst, if the tree will fall directly on
            your roof. Also ask yourself, will you be willing to cut off trees, at your own expense, if the next
            buyer wanted you to lose them (cutting trees are 500-above depending on the size of the tree)?
   h. Backyard. There are so many holidays in the US that are barbeque worthy. Need I say more?
   i. Location-location-location! is it near a grocery store or school? Is it near a sewer plant (those
           sometimes stinks and make your basement get flooded)? Is it near a Firehouse (you don't want
           those siren waking you up in the middle of the night).



google image : swimming pool



The rest of the list below are just aesthetics and low priority.

1. If you're into feng shui, it says near a cemetery is bad luck.
2. Stay away from flat roof as they leak a lot.
3. 4 or more steps before reaching the front door. Sounds innocent right, but imagine yourself hauling
         groceries. Ok, you're fine with that, but how about if some big furniture needs to be delivered to
         your house? Not your problem? Ok. How about if there's a freezing snow while you were away,
         and ice is on your front steps? 
4. Know the movement of the sun around your property. Are you raising your eyebrow? No, this has nothing to do with paranormal or astral thingies. I'll give you 2 examples why this might be important.    

a.  If you're thinking of installing solar panels on your roof, you might want to know where the sun rises. Some people does not like seeing solar panels visible in front of the house, they prefer it installed at the back side of the house. But if there’s not enough sun at that part of the property then you have no choice. Anyway, if you're one of those people who likes a good curb appeal but also want a solar panel, then yeah, know your “sun”. 


 b. My husband wants to have the morning sun shinning through the kitchen, so he chose the house where the sun rises where he wants it to be. So if you like to drink your morning coffee while watching the sun rises or do meditation during sunset, then you might want to know your “sun”


c. some plants needs morning sun and dappled afternoon sun (like the big leaf hydrangea)… if you’re into gardening, you definitely want to know if your plants will have enough sunlight….


google image: sunrise meditation

There you go. I hope those tips helps.
Now, what's next? 
Read on.



How to pay off your mortgage quicker

Disclaimer: We did not invent this tip and it's been around for a long time it even has an official name, but sometimes, things that are too obvious are the ones hardest to spot until someone pointed it out. 

Once you have decided on a property and got approved for a bank loan (if you have paid it in full then you can skip this part), don’t forget to request for a copy of the Amortization Schedule sheet from your bank. This is a computation of how much interest and principal you pay every month (or paycheck) to finish your mortgage. See sample below.



sample of amortization schedule

This is the most important tool you need to help you pay off your mortgage sooner. 

The trick is simple. Every time you pay your monthly mortgage, you need to pay the current month's interest plus principal plus the next month's principal (see above photo for illustration, pay attention to the colored boxes). It's called "Double Principal Payments". It’s nothing new really. So basically you are doing 2 Principal and 1 Interest every payment schedule.

Like I mentioned above, doing this will help you pay off your house a little quicker but you need to do this early on while the Principal is still low. Otherwise, if it's later in the amortization schedule, the Principal amount will be too high that your budget might not allow you to do this trick anymore. 

The next thing you need to know for this trick to really work for you is that you should be able to do this for as long as your budget allows you. If you can do this for 5 years, you will be able to chop off up to 5 years off your mortgage (ex: from 30 years to 25). You will be able to rip through your amortization fast.

Case in point. My husband paid off his 30-year mortgage in 17 years by doing the "Double Principal Payments" for 13 years. He stopped after 13 years because the Principal is already too high that he can't afford it anymore (this is why it's important to do this trick from the very first payment). In spite of that though, he was still able to chop off almost half of his mortgage. I thought that was pretty good. 


Important:
You have to get a copy from the bank, and mark it diligently every time you pay your mortgage and keep all receipts. At some point the bank might get confused and this is when your documentation will come in handy.  

Don't even try to compute this on your own, you have to use the copy from your bank to make sure you are both in sync with the numbers and such. They might charge you $10 for a copy of the amortization schedule, but it's a $10 well spent.


Good to know: Home mortgage interests is deductible on a Schedule A, meaning you can write this off on your tax refund. This mortgage exception is only for home mortgage interests and not the principal. Other samples of Schedule A items are charitable contributions, state income tax, local income tax, real estate taxes. Note that there is a $10,000 limit. Meaning you can only write off until $10,000. So if the total of all your Schedule A items amounted to $12,000 you can only claim the exception for the 10,000.


Good luck.



Tuesday, July 20, 2021

A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets

 A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets.


Have you ever heard or have seen that line? I don't remember where I have seen it but it stuck to me.  It was my mantra while I was going thru college.


I remember, when I was in college, the bus I was riding on my way to school would pass by this small village filled with squatters with houses of tattered roof, toddlers running about with snotty noses and holes in their almost see-through sandos. Haggard looking mothers screaming at the top of their lungs and cursing left and right for their offsprings to go inside the house, to help. The scattered fresh laundry waving in the air filling the whole street as if posing like fiesta banners. It was a depressing sight and everytime I pass by that small village it makes me scared and paranoid. I don't want to end up in a place like that.


Because you see, I did not come from a well-to-do family. Sure, I graduated from a Catholic school instead of a Public school but that's because my father got lucky to land a job that pays good money for a blue collar job. He was working for a rich pharmaceutical laboratory. Unfortunately, he was laid off by the time I finished highschool because of some company merging that happened. He was offered hefty "buy-off" force retirement money though and we could have had lived very comfortably through out my college years. Unfortunately, my father had been a victim of the Ponzi scheme and he lost half of his money (he was planning to use that money to renovate our house). Thankfully, we survived that predicament, money-wise.


It wasn't just the money that helped me go through college though, it was that mantra. I was so scared that I would fall inlove and lose control, throw caution to the wind and get pregnant and end up in that "village". I was paranoid. It's a good thing though. It kept me in check everytime I meet a guy that I like. I had an "almost boyfriend" a few times but I never really had a real one until I was in my 3rd year college. Yeah, late bloomer. I don't see him too much though (I was a "sideline" I later found out), so I guess that helped too.


Where am I going with this? Recently, a family member is going through some health issues, serious health issues, and it's because of "throwing caution to the wind". A few moments of pleasure, with some bad friends (not all his friends are bad though), and lack of self-control, and voila! he's now in a very bad condition. A condition that can never be reversed. He might not be able to walk anymore in a year or two.


"A few moment's of pleasure a lifetime of regrets"


I am amazed how each one of us are wired differently. Some would say I am paranoid, but I will contest that and say, I'm being cautious, I'm being responsible. I try to make good choices ("try" as the operative word, because let's face it, we all have our weaknesses). Thankfully, I have the foresight to know what the consequences will be if I don't behave. It's not rocket science, really, it's common sense. Sometimes, it's listening advises from older family members. Sometimes, it's observing and learning from other people's mistakes. Unfortunately, some people just don't have that reward-consequence concept wired in their brain. They live in the moment. The only care about the now, the enjoyment of the now and just shrug off any nagging feeling of untoward catastrophe because of that bad decision they are currently acting on.

I call it being stubborn or doing something stupid to spite a family member. Sure, they got what they want. They got their family members annoyed at them and then what? Who is suffering the long term effect? It's not the family members, for sure, it's THEM.

I remember my father's friend. He is an alcoholic. I remember my mom reprimanding my dad for hanging out with this friend because everytime they are together my father will always come home drunk. One day, I was just in elementary that time, that friend of my father had a stroke. You probably know what that means, half your body is dead. That friend of my father has been cursing alcohol since that stroke. He regret how he took his health for granted and because of that he never went back to normal. Every afternoon I would see him walking down the street, with her right arm folded permanently to his chest, with the right hand flopping and lifeless while he takes a step and dragging his right leg while walking. He was trying to exercise by walking, unfortunately it's too late. He cannot walk like normal again.  It was such a pitiful sight. 

"A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets".


How many times have we seen or watch movies or even know someone who are teenage mothers? Didn't finish high school, at 22 has 6 kids. Living in that "village", with an alcoholic husband. Gone are the days where she thinks her husband was the cutest thing. She's despising now how she let him touch her. "But it was wonderful", she would say. She was never touched like that before. Unfortunately, that touch lead to having twins. She had to drop out of school because she's embarrassed and it just went downhill after that.


"A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets".


Now that I have kids on my own, I am hoping to instill to them the importance of making good choices. I don't know if having a foresight for consequences and rewards are genetic or instilled but I sure want them to learn the basic thing about cause and effect and the meaning of...


"A few moments of pleasure, a lifetime of regrets".


....and I really hope I would atleast succeed on that regards...

Monday, May 10, 2021

Punished by the Undeserving

I toiled.
I invested my time and energy.
Only in the end to be squandered by someone undeserving.

Are all responsible ones destined, cursed, to take care of the irresponsible ones?
Why? Where is justice in that? 

Will responsible ones always be marked as selfish if they want to take care of themselves first, using the fruits of their labor, mind you, before taking care of others?

Will this, taking care of the irresponsible ones, be a continuous cycle until the responsible humans' supplies run dry? But who then will take of the responsible race if their supplies did run dry?

Where do we draw the line in the sand and say "enough is enough".

It is not our fault that they became what they are. We tried to teach them "how to fish" but they declined, and now we, the responsible ones, need to feed them fish every time they are in need?

Why are we, responsible beings, being punished for being sensible and having the foresight to know the consequences of bad choices?

Ofcourse we will help. That's the thing, we can't help it, we just help. Even if we're already being taken advantage of. 

Ah, the injustice of it all.



Saturday, February 27, 2021

How do you find "the one"?

 

I’ve never bought into that “You Just Know” notion. Love is a tricky thing. Sometimes it feels like an undeniable force that hits between the eyes and doesn’t let up. Other times, it’s malleable, questionable. It’s truth hidden in and amongst external obstacles and internal circumstances that’ve formed who you are, what you expect in the world, and how you can accept love. Oh, to say the least, it’s complicated. And if a mind’s abuzz with pressure and deadlines and “What if this and that,” I imagine love’s truth would be a near-impossible thing to feel. I wonder if, when all’s quiet in your mind, you’ll find your answer." - From Anne with an E


So how do you know if that person is "the one"?
Do birds really just suddenly appear? Stars just fall out from the sky?
Is it when butterflies start fluttering in your stomach? Or when you feel the flush on your cheeks?

When I was a young girl and didn't know any better, I have ideas of what "the one" is. I'm sure every person has their own preferences for a mate and while I don't necessarily agree with the "tall dark and handsome" criteria, I do like the idea of the "handsome" part. Problem is, I was a bit self-conscious about my physical appearance that "handsome" is somewhat way out of my league. Cute would suffice. Tall? Doesn't matter to me. I'm fine as long as he's not shorter than I am. Dark? Well, it's not that I have a colonial mentality and I'm not a racist, but I always get attracted to people with fairer complexion....well, and  also those who are slanted-eyed...


I will not enumerate the items in my loooong list of specifications but what I do want to mention is how that long list started shrinking as I get older.  You might say that's because I'm less choosy. Less choosy because I don't want to end up  "naiwan ng tren" (left by train aka spinster).  Maybe you're right and I'm just in denial but I really feel that is not the case.

Interestingly enough, at least for me, my preferences have evolved as I get older and after I have interacted with different kinds of people. While my list did get shorter, some of my preferences also got a little more intimidating (ie: from cute, he also needs to have a college degree). Ironically, my list also got a little less demanding (ie: from "he has to be rich" to "comfortable or middle class").  Mind you, I'm not settling, I just learned to be more realistic. Also, later on, as you meet more people from all walks of life, you also realize that physical appearance doesn't really matter at all. It's a nice-to-have but not the "be-all, end-all".  Again, I'm not 'settling', it's just how circumstances and experiences opened my eyes. Excuse the dramatics.

Case in point, have you ever met a couple where you would never think of them to be a good match just because the other one is too pretty (or too handsome) than the partner?  I have met a few of those couples. Let me tell you something tho, it’s only after you start talking to that person, who you think does not deserve the other (attractiveness-wise), will you realize what endearing characters this person have. As bright as day, you will know exactly what his/her partner saw in him/her. 

Personality. 

Most specifically, personality that matches or compliments yours. 


As my Emotional Quotient matures, atleast I’m hoping this is what’s happening, I realized how important it is for me to enjoy a person’s presence without feeling obliged to talk all the time. Someone I’ll be comfortable to sit with while I let my thoughts soar with the wind without the  need to rush it to come back to earth, meanwhile just enjoying that person’s presence or the touch of his hands on mine. I realized that someone who knows how to listen, and I mean really listen, and knows how to empathize is more important than someone with a washboard abs. I realized that someone who shares your passion, your love for travel or food or adventure or a book is better than someone with a perfectly chiseled face. I realized that someone who makes you laugh or shares your sense of humor and enjoys long walks with you is better than someone who showers you with gifts but is not really....there.
I know what you’re thinking. That those are hard to find. I agree. While it’s true that some had found their “the one” early in their life’s journeys (i met a few, and they are what we so fondly call childhood/highschool sweethearts), others will  take a while. Others will have to meet a few wrong people along the way first. 


I’m one of those “others” but I think there is still something to be thankful for about that. I sincerely believe that those who walked away from you may have left your heart crushed and may have made you feel that it’s better to wallow in self-pity and to stay under a cloak of despair and to never want to face the world again.  I will not sugar coat it, it will sometimes make you hate humanity and you will feel that your heart is broken into tiny little pieces like the sand scattered along the shore and that it would be hard to put it back together again. 


I know that feeling too well. I have been there more times than I wanted to. Inspite of it all, I’m still thankful because those who walked away from me also taught me a very valuable lesson about myself and about how important it is to find someone where both of you are looking at the same direction. How important it is to find someone that you know is in the same page as you. It is enough to convince you to slowly climb out of your somber and try again.


"What is done cannot be undone, but at least one can keep it from happening again" - Anne Frank

I’d like to think that if someone I love walked away from me, it is not because I’m at  fault. Well not “always”, at least. While it’s true that it takes 2 to tango there are still some situations where no one can ever point a finger at you. There are just people out there who were born to make you cry. Sometimes, it's not even that. Sometimes "you" are the one who needs to do the "walking away". It's a dreadful feeling but I try not to dwell on it for too long. Cry if you must. Seek solitude if you must. Then move on. At least that's how I deal with it.

I know, easier said than done. Each of us has our own level of tolerance about certain things, people, situations... but please do try. We learn from our mistakes. You might have heard that a thousand times, but don’t you think it’s true? 


Don’t you find yourself becoming more cautious after a certain mistake? I’d like to think that the more you learn from your mistakes, the better choices you make and the closer you get to the person born for you.


Ahm...

....maybe I should rephrase that. 


"Born for you”.

While it does sounds romantic, it also insinuates that we don’t have a say on the matter and that someone or some One (ie: God) had already decided for us because He thinks we are incapable of making decisions. I don't buy that. Do you? I'm sure you don’t too. So instead of "born for you" let's just say "the one you are looking for and is also looking for you". Right. I think that sounds better. I think. Less romantic sounding though but more, hmm, what’s the word, tangible. He/she is there, somewhere.


"Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
"



 

photo by yours truly

Post Script:

I want to tell you about my "the one".

We are, what you might call, an unlikely couple. We met under some extra ordinary circumstances and timing and if you are to try and dissect the timing and the hows of how we met, you would think that the universe conspired for us to be together.

He is handsome with an iridescence of a piercing blue eyes. Although this really wasn't part of my list, but it sure is a nice bonus but that’s not what attracted me to him. 


What I do like most about him is his big heart, how he takes care of the people who means to him, and how he takes care of  me. I never had anyone took care of me or have pour all his attention to me the way he did. 


I'm used to doing the “taking care” bit. The showering someone with affection. Let’s just say he showered me with the same language of love that my love tank used to be full of. It’s just hard not to fall in love with a wonderful person like him and I thank my stars for him.


We have our "moments" of course, as all couples do. No, I am not being defensive, but hear me out. 


Couples are two different people, with different experiences, culture, upbringing, etcetera and fighting is an opportunity to learn about each others differences, feelings and thoughts and an opportunity to compromise and work as team. 


I must say, it is hard to think of it that way when your blood is boiling, you have reached your tolerance level and currently swimming with anger,  but fighting, err, communication is important. It just, you know, have varying levels of "communication intensity", if you know what I mean *lol*. 

How about you. What's your story?

Friday, January 1, 2021

Proposal Anniversary

My husband proposed to me in 2011.

In New Year's eve.

In Paris.

Some might say it's romantic. After all, being proposed in the City of Light is a big deal, right?

I really have not dreamed of being proposed at in Paris because I never thought I will be able to see Paris. My dream proposal was very attainable. During sunrise or sunset by the beach and just "us". Whoever the "us" is at that moment.


my twitter is in EST 



Wait. I am not complaining. I'm just stating the fact that I am practical.

Anyway, when my husband (boyfriend at that time) proposed to me on New Year's eve, in front of the Eiffel Tower, of course I thought that was impressive. In all sense of the word.


2nd visit to Paris after the church wedding

Why?

1. I was cranky during the whole of our European tour (yes, I have my courses at that time, ergo the crankiness) but in spite of that, he still wants to spend the rest of his life with me.
2. It's Paris! Need I say more? 

So yes. I think this day is worth celebrating.

10th year wedding proposal anniversary.
The day when I found someone who fought to be with me.
The day I found out that there is someone for everybody.
The day I found out that good things does comes to those who patiently waits.

Thank you, B.
Thank you for letting me know that I'm worthy.
Thank you.

you can view more about the proposal story at our wedding blogsite: http://2sqrtof3.blogspot.com/p/our-story.html

below is my side of the vow:



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What a year, huh?

How have you been?

I hope everyone in your family is doing OK, including you. 

As for me, I'm thankful to still be alive. Happy that I have celebrated yet another birthday. Still paranoid about getting sick and dying, though, but happy to be alive. Pwera usog.


...i bought my fave cake, and sent a note to myself, lol...
that's how happy i am that i'm still alive :D

this is not the cake i bought...this one's from hubby...

We had our share of bumps (COVID 19 had struck my loved ones some time in July but they're OK now - Thank you, God!) but in spite of it all, we soldier on. After all, we're still together and at the end of the day that really is all that matters. We are still not out of the woods but, with God's grace, we would surpass this too. 


Some COVID-wentos:

My county had shutdown late March because of this pandemic, but I have started working from home a few weeks prior that because I don't want to risk my health (I have Asthma, and therefore one of those high-risk). We also have pulled out our kids from daycare a few weeks prior the shutdown. 


It was tough working from home (WFH) with 2 toddlers screaming and getting into all sorts of mischief but we managed.

The county re-opened late May. It was called "yellow phase", and more and more establishments have  opened (with restrictions), including my kids daycare. We didn't take them back right away, though. We waited a couple of weeks until the daycare had perfected and iron out some of the details of the "new" normal. My husband and I, on the other hand continued working from home.

We missed our friends dearly but we're thankful for their thoughtfulness, prayers and words of encouragement.  We have postponed all plans of travelling by plane but we were able to sneak in some beach time when most of the states were in the yellow phase.  The birthdays in my family were all anti-social themed, lol. Meaning, it was just us and some "face time-ing" with relatives. We were still able to make it interesting though so the kids will still enjoy it. We had a Frozen theme birthday party for my daughter and Ghostbusters theme for my son. I made their cakes (and cupcakes).



Fast forward to late October, I got a new job. It's the same industry as my previous one but pays better. I've been with the previous company for 8 years and have acquired a new skill set during the last 3 years of my tenure there. This new skill set is what paved way to this new job and much better salary to boot. The only thing is that it's a double-edged sword. It can either be a blessing or a curse. A blessing because a lot of  that particular industry needs that certain skill set but not a lot of Software Engineers with Java background has that. You know how it is; more demand + less supply = inflated price.  A curse because, while there is still some Java programming, it's just "some" Java programming. So hopefully my decision won't bite me in the end. Although, I think I will be alright. I have 17 years Java experience and I am Java certified. Old as that maybe, but I think I am at a point where I don't need to be too self conscious about my Java years of experience. It's like riding a bike. You never forget it. Atleast for me that's the case. I hope.

So far so good. I like my new team mates. I am WFH full time. Yes, full time remote. My team had been working from home full time even prior the pandemic.That's because they are scattered around the US so there's really no need to go to the office. 

What else.

I have a new series addiction called The Outlander. It started with my imX Pilates instructor (Reformer pilates, not the mat one) talking about it and eventually I got curious enough to try and watch it. I have binged watch the series and now reading the books. I'm in book 7 currently. It's about time travel with some bits of history and romance. Main character is a Scottish highlander called Jamie Fraser and a Sassenach named Claire Randall. Try it, you might enjoy it.

the most number of books i have read in a span of a year!

I have a semi-big project back in the Philippines that will start  in "session" by first week of January. The planning and analysis was done this year (Aug-Dec 2020) and with God's grace, I'm hoping it to be "functional" before year 2021 ends. Will you include me in your prayers, please? I am much obliged.

Health-wise, I think I'm OK. I'm starting to feel aches and pains here and there but nothing that a dose of advil won't cure, lol. I try not to take meds for every aches and pains though. I love my liver. 

As usual, I am just yapping about.


How about you? How are you? Anything good that came out from this pandemic. I know, I know, an oxymoron, but you know what they say, if life gives you lemons, get a tequila and salt. LOL. Are you a plantita/tito now too? Any new hobbies? New routine that you think is worth continuing? 


Oh, I forgot, I am learning 2 new instruments. A ukelele and a banjo. Hubby got me a banjo for my birthday. The ukelele, I bought on impulse (agh! i need to stop doing that). Ukelele, is easy (well, so far). It's like a guitar but I'm just worried it will mess me up with my guitar chords memory bank and have them all mixed up. The banjo though, that I need a formal lesson. I'm just waiting for when it's safer to go out and do lessons in person. I probably can wing it using youtube (like what i did with the  ukelele) but I need someone to correct my "form" and my strumming/plucking. Can't wait to start playing some of Keith Urban's songs (my main reason why I want one).


Alright I'm done.

but before I end my post.....

May we all have a healthy new year.
May God bless us all and keep us from harm.
May we all find something to put a smile on our lips no matter what circumstances may befall us.
May we always find something to be thankful for.
Know always that someone loves you.
Happy New Year!




Sunday, September 20, 2020

Dreaming of the old

I keep dreaming about this person I know from my past. 

Like a thief in the night, when I least expect it, there that person is.

I can't for the life of me know why. I read somewhere (or maybe someone told me) that if you dream of someone, that means you're thinking of that person. But I am not thinking of that person (but after the dream, that's a different story ofcourse). 

Someone told me (or maybe I read it) that the person might be dying or is dead and trying to tell me something. As far as I know, that person is very much alive and healthy.

I read (now this time I'm sure, because I googled it), that the person represents my anxiety or something that I need that I don't have currently. For example, if you dreamt of a highschool classmate that you have no attachment whatsoever but all you know is that person is the most shy person you have ever known, then dreaming of that person might mean, I am shy about something and I need to do something about it. Something like that. But I don't know what that person I dreamt represents. That person is doing OK in life, I'm doing OK in life. That person is smart, I'm not bad myself (how else did I ever got here and survived if I'm mediocre, modesty aside). I'm happy and content (pwera usog), that person is happy and content (I hope, I don't know much about that person anymore). What could it be then? 

I really don't know.

And it bothers me that because I dreamt of this person, I start to think about that person. I don't have issues about thinking of that person, mind you. He/she is a good person. I was fond of that person but I want to remember the good times and not the bad, and when I start thinking of that person I remember everything. The good, the bad, the ugly, the in-betweens, the overs, the unders, the left, the right. 

Everything.

I don't want to remember everything. Just the good ones.  

Just the good ones.

Please. I don't want to dream of that person again.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

1..2..3..4...5-2-9!

I got my degree of Bachelor of Science in Information and Computer Science in St. Paul College Manila (it's currently renamed to St. Paul University). It's a 4 1/2 years course. The 1/2 is because of the additional courses/OJT we need to take during summer and some Saturdays (Paulthenics anyone?). 

My husband got his Bachelor's degree (major in Physics and minor in Economics) in New York University.



With this background information, it's sort of a given that we want our kids to go to college as well (if they want to, hopefully they do) and that's when this story about 529 comes in.

We started saving money, every payday (which is 2x a month) for Keith's college fund when he was still in my tummy. The husband and I agreed on a certain amount that we set aside every payday and put it in a Savings Account. When I was pregnant with Priya, we did the same thing. We also started saving for her college fund while she's still in my tummy. That means the money we need to set aside for college fund doubled because we now have 2 kids to save for (we set aside the same amount, every payday, for both kids).

image from google


Then, last year, 2018, we decided we have saved enough to open a 529 (thru Vanguard).

So what is 529?  It's a college savings fund. It’s a tax-advantaged investment account that works like a Roth IRA, offering tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals (also see: 5 Reasons to Start a 529 Plan). Want an example? Here's an excerpt from how-much-to-save-for-your-childs-college/ :|
"If you have a 4-year-old child targeting a private university, your monthly savings goal might be $700/month using a savings account versus $400/month with a 529 college savings plan. That’s a big difference!"

image from montco.today



Saturday, December 1, 2018

3 years of citizenship

American citizenship, that is.

3 years ago..

november 30, 2015.

i just recovered from giving birth to our first..

and hubby had to take care of our newborn.

and because he’s a premie and he doesnt have his shots yet, and it’s flu season, we decided not to take him anywhere outside the house...


so here i was doing the oath taking alone.... 3 years ago...

#pathToCitizenship


============

Timeline 

(as of Nov 2018)

20 years ago i got my 1st US working visa and was supposedly bound to NYC (did not materialize)


13 years ago (after 7 years after the first H1b-US working visa), i set foot in the US soil for the first time (my company in the Philippines sent me in north carolina in 2005 & 2006 for an off shore project)


11 years & 9 months ago (after 1 year & 3 months of travelling to US for work), i moved to the US permanently (found an employer-a consulting firm, who sponsored my new US working visa)


11 years ago (9 months after moving to US permanently) , i switched employers (i found a better employer, a software company..

*bonus: this is where i met my husband)


8 years ago (3 years after changing employer), i got my green card (permanent residency, sponsored by that better employer)


3 years ago (as in nov 30, 2015, 5 years after getting the greencard), i did my oath taking as a US citizen (had to apply to be Filipino again-dual citizenship, after that)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Everything is Half Chance

everything is half chance.

sometimes all it takes is just one decision and it could alter the course of your life.


it's a new year, and what perfect time to look back and be thankful for everything that have led you to this day. what a perfect time to reflect on the things you said yes or no to that led you to where you are right now.

this is a story of  a series of yeses and nos that led me here, right now, in this chair, typing on this computer.  this is a story of owning up to your decisions, good or bad. this is a story of my journey on getting what i have always dreamed of. hopefully, it would inspire some who are in the crossroads of their life and afraid to take that next step.

--------------------------------------------------------------

while i was still in college my first goal was to apply as an immigrant in New Zealand but i didn't have the money to pay for the processing fee that time. fortunately, an opportunity to work in the U.S. came and the New Zealand goal was put on the back burner.


first, second & third U.S. job opportunity

once upon a time there were these 5 friends who just recently graduated from college. they found out about this scholarship in  Ateneo but they have to pay the exam fee and they also need to pass the entrance exam. If they pass they will also have an opportunity to get hired by a U.S. based company if they find them to be a good candidate. they thought it's worth trying, except for one. one of the 5 friends thinks the fee is too high, and that she'd rather buy a nice blouse with that money. the other 4, however, proceed with their plan. only 3 of them passed.

i was one of the 3.

my first opportunity to work in the U.S. was year 1998, during the Y2K scare. i was fortunate to be offered a job while doing the scholarship training in Ateneo. it's a COBOL programming job based in Manhattan, New York. for someone who is fresh off from college, that was something to be proud of. unfortunately, that didn't materialize but i did get my first U.S. working visa, called H1B.

first US working visa issued on sept 1998....

it was stamped "cancelled without prejudice" the

day i got my 2nd US working visa in 2006


second opportunity came 3 years later but

that didn't materialized either because of the September 11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in New York.

i have jumped from one employer to another in the philippines after the failed US job opportunities but in 2005 i was fortunate to be sent  to an offshore project in raleigh, north carolina. yes, U.S.A.!! i stayed there for a few months and was sent back again in 2006, where i, again, stayed for a few months.

with my pinoy co-workers who were, like me, sent to raleigh-north carolina

 for a temporary US work assignment
my raleigh cubicle.

4th US job opportunity - permanent (1st U.S. employer)

i started looking for a job in the U.S. online (dice.com) hoping someone would hire me and process a U.S. working visa for me (H1B), again. my first U.S. working visa  have long expired and even if it didn't, i cannot just switch employers. the succeeding employer should be willing to invest the time and money to transfer the H1B to them first before i could work for them, that is the process. H1B is for 1 employer only. also, H1B is only good for 3 years but can be extended for another 3 years. so it only has 6 years maximum validity in total.

2005 was when i started my US job hunt and eventually my persistence paid off and got, not just one,  but 2 US job offers from 2 different US consulting firms. both companies applied for H1Bs for me and both got approved but i only went for the U.S. embassy interview for just one of them. this was in 2006. then on feb 14, 2007, i left the philippines and moved to the U.S.

2nd US working visa

and the one i used when i moved to US for good


reality sets in

i'm a software engineer by profession. java is my forte. i started out as a COBOL programmer but when my first company (the one who gave me my 1st H1B) offered a formal training in java, i jumped on that opportunity, i didn't have to think twice. i'm glad i did because that paved way to other job opportunities including  the temporary U.S. work assignments i just mentioned and eventually landing a permanent job here in the U.S.


i have always wanted to work and live outside the country. for me that means adventure. independence, a breath of fresh air.being in the U.S. is just icing on the cake. i'm actually OK even if it's close by, like, Singapore (well, sort of..i dilly-dally on all my Singapore offers).

living outside your comfort zone is not always fine and dandy though. i'll be lying if i say i enjoyed every bit of  my independent life as a professional in the U.S. i didn't have friends when i came to the U.S. and the only Filipinos i know that time are 3 of my male co-workers (whom i only see during lunch time) and a few classmates from Ateneo   (whom i very very seldom see).

i go home to an empty apartment everyday. literally empty. i didn't have furnitures. i didn't even have a proper bed (i had an air mattress). i'm not a tv person so even though someone donated a tv to me, i really didn't use it.

first solo apartment : this is what my room looks like...
that's an air mattress that messed up my back


here's what my living room looks like.empty.
tv is courtesy of a coworker


homesickness is real. 

you learn to survive on your own. you learn to make dishes or make your own filipino bread that you never thought you'll learn to make just because you were craving for it so bad and a filipino resto/store/bakery is a 2-hour drive away.

living outside the country is not for the weak of heart. it can be a very lonely and challenging experience specially if you're just starting and not used to living on your own. i was getting depressed that i almost threw in the towel. i was ready to go back to the Philippines.

but decided not to.

that's because i found out that the one main reason i want to go back to the Philippines is beyond my reach anymore. i admit, i did attempt to get that main reason back but after much thought and deliberation i decided it's best for all parties if i just let go. it was a difficult decision but i can't be selfish.

it still has a happy ending though. things just started falling into place after that. not right away, but eventually it did. it's like the stars have finally aligned for me. indeed, good things come to those who patiently wait.


story of the 2nd U.S. employer

i had to change employer because i didn't feel my US employer was treating me well. i was lucky that the second employer was very willing to transfer my H1B from my 1st employer to them, which means, paper work, legal stuff and money. i guess they like me enough that they are willing to go thru that painful process just to have me on board.

this 2nd employer is also the one responsible for taking care of processing my greencard (aka permanent residency), that i got shortly after 2+ years of working for them. i made sure that they will process my greencard and was one of the bargaining deals i had with them before i signed their job offer.


the thing about greencard

greencard processing usually takes 10+ years but i insisted that i want to go the EB-2 route, which is a shorter wait but a more risky and tedious process. but i was confident that i fall in that category so i insisted on it. my other option, which is less risky, and easier process, was the usual route (EB-1). but  that would throw me back for 10+ years because it has a huge backlog (not sure if that changed now).

because i took the EB-2 route, i got my green card May of 2010 (after 2+ years only). i remember my boss, going to my cubicle and telling me: "marlin, don't you dare quit.. you put us in too much pain processing your greencard, that you are forbidden to quit"..in a joking manner of course, but i'm pretty sure  that joke was half meant :P.

new zealand in my mind

i have another plan brewing in my mind, though. after all that greencard hoopla, and whether or not i get my greencard, i still plan to pursue my New Zealand application. i still visit my New Zealand online application from time to time and every time i thought i was ready to hit the "submit" button (and pay the fee), there's always something that's stopping me. i just can't make myself click that button.

me at work in 2010..yes, CRT monitors lol

(you can skip this part and scroll down to "where am i going with this...")

wishes do come true

i met my husband from my 2nd U.S. employer. he's also a software engineer like me. he does C++, i use java. he does PC-based programming while i do web applications (i do back-end stuff so don't ask me about javascript and html, that's front-end).

we didn't click right away but he was very persistent and eventually i realized he's starting to grow on me. we then started going out in 2010 and he proposed one new year's eve (1.1.2011).

was i scared? yes. i wasn't sure if i'll make a good wife, or if i'm ready to be someone's wife. but i was also excited. it's like embarking on a whole new adventure. plus i know R will make a very good husband (and i wasn't wrong, he is a blessing).

we got married a year and a half later after the proposal. it could have been sooner but i just renewed my apartment lease a month before he proposed (i moved and changed apartment when i change jobs so it'll be an easier commute)  and if i cancel my apartment renewal, i still have to pay the whole year of rent. we have to save for our wedding anyway, so waiting another year isn't as bad.

second solo apartment that i have lived for 4  years

prior to getting married

we got married civilly in spring time of 2012.  initial plan was to get married in the philippines but we need to get married civilly first to make the requirements less complicated. it was supposed to be just a simple wedding but one thing led to another and we ended up having an intimate beach wedding. we managed to keep our guest list small & we just invited my husband's relatives (because they can't all go to the philippines) and a handful of my friends.

civil wedding in Cape May

then on jan 2013 was when we got married in the philippines...i was ready to give that up because it was too stressful and expensive but it was the hubby who convinced me to push through with it as a tribute to my parents. specially since they were not able to attend our first (and what we consider official) wedding - the civil wedding.


let's recap:

Nov 2007 - i changed employer (who transferred my H1b and took care of my greencard)
May 2010 - i got my greencard
Jan 2011 - i got engaged and started the church wedding plans right away
May 2012 - i got married (civilly)
Jan 2013 - i got married in church (in the Philipines)

path to U.S. citizenship 

next step for me is citizenship and i have 2 options.

option 1: apply for citizenship via marriage to a U.S. citizen.

        the rule is we have to be married for 3 years before i can use that option. which means i will qualify to use option 1 on May 2015.

option 2:  apply for citizenship via my employer.

        the rule for this is, i have to be a greencard holder for atleast 5 years to use this option. which means i will qualify to use option 2, guess what, also on May 2015. remember, i got my greencard May 2010, plus 5 years is May 2015.

yes, either option will work for me but i chose option 2. why? it's good for my ego (no one can tell me i just married my husband for citizenship :P) also because option 2 has less requirements. here's the list of citizenship requirements  if you're curious (see Step 3 -> document check list). depending on how much backlog your state has, and if you have all your paperwork in order and you didn't miss your citizenship interview, you should be able to get your U.S. citizenship in less than a year.


that's it.

that has been my journey, so far,  and some of you may already know that i am still happily married and that i am now a mom of 2 charming babies - a boy and a girl.


so, where am i going with this, you say...


the what-ifs

what do you think will happen if i didn't apply for that scholarship program in Ateneo?



what do you think will happen if i didn't take that opportunity to learn java?



what do you think will happen if i gave up after 2 failed attempts to work in the U.S.?



what do you think will happen if i  chose to stay in the philippines and not pursue my life long dream of working and living outside the country?



what do you think will happen if i continued my application to migrate in New Zealand?



what do you think will happen if i said no to the wedding proposal?

honestly, i don't know the answers either, but i can guess.

what i do know is, so far, i like the outcomes of my decisions and if i can go back in time, i won't change any of it (except maybe buy a lot of amazon stocks, lol).

so yeah. everything is half chance. be careful what you say yes or no to. if  it turned out to be a bad decision, own up to it, dust the dirt off your butt and try again. i agree, it's scary but don't let the fear of what could happen make NOTHING happen. just like what my favorite quote from Mark Twain said:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines.Sail away from the safe harbor.Catch the trade winds in your sails.Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain



this new year we are presented with a new clean slate. let's fill those pages with wonderful stories again. here's to more yeses and nos! happy 2018!


note: highlighted texts are clickable.