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goodbye Lincoln

Life isn’t always full of puppy dogs and rainbows. But when it is… it’s amazing.

And when that puppy dog goes chasing after the end of the rainbow way too early in life… well… it’s really hard to accept.

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family, geeky

how to save for college: six years down the road with our 529 plan

Now that it’s been SIX years since started Miss L‘s college savings fund, I thought I’d provide another update on the progress of her 529 Plan! [I’ve previously posted a 4-year update as well as when we started the fund.]


Just as a quick review, we decided to invest our money in the Utah Educational Savings Plan based on the information and availability of plans back in 2010. It had great ratings from Bankrate’s (comparison of all state plans), and stuck out as the best option for us. [It’s worth noting that California now has a 5-star plan of its own, Scholarshare, which actually gets slightly better ratings than Utah.]


Now, what does 6 years of consistent investing actually look like?


Currently, Miss L’s funds are valued at 128% of our net principal contribution. As you can see, we’ve invested the same amount every year (we have an automatic monthly withdrawal from our checking account), but thanks to favorable market conditions, Miss L’s money is growing pretty nicely.


Here’s the annual breakdown:

  • Year 1 = 108% of principal contributions
  • Year 2 = 103% of principal contributions
  • Year 3 = 119% of principal contributions
  • Year 4 = 138% of principal contributions
  • Year 5 = 135% of principal contributions
  • Year 6 = 128% of principal contributions

As for administrative costs, we’ve currently paid a total of 0.75% of our principal contributions over 6 years.


It’s really nice to know that we’ve started this school fund and have it growing for whenever it’s needed. And it truly is “out of sight out of mind” until those quarterly statements show up! If we got a tax break for doing it, we’d be even happier, but so far all efforts on that front have failed.

Will we hit the target expenses?

Well, right now, a college that is currently $25,000/year is expected to cost $169,968 by the time Miss L starts her freshman year. If we stay at our current contribution rate, we’ll have 75% of it covered! Not too shabby… but not there yet!


Some people have asked about how this helps/hurts for financial aid when a student goes to school. If a parent owns the fund, then up to 5.6% of the fund’s value can be counted toward FAFSA inclusion. Those are the rules now… who knows what they’ll be in 12 years!


So here we are…6 years down and only 12 more to go! Ooooh boy! If those first six years are any indication, then they are going to just FLY by!


Anyone else have any thoughts on a 529 plan or college savings?


Here are a few handy links if you’re looking to invest in a 529 plan:


how to earn a Junior Ranger badge at Yosemite National Park

One of our country’s pure treasures, the National Parks, celebrate their 100-year anniversary this week! We got out and celebrated the occasion a few weeks ago with a weekend trip to my favorite National Park, Yosemite National Park. Now we’ve been to the park before as a family, but now that Miss L turned six, she got to participate in a great program offered by the parks: the Junior Rangers!

What exactly does it take to become a Junior Ranger at Yosemite National Park? Just these 4 steps!

  1. Purchase a booklet published by the Yosemite Conservancy for $3.50 at any of the following stores:
    • Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
    • Nature Center at Happy Isles (May through September)
    • Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Centers (June through September)
    • Big Oak Flat Information Station (May through September)
  2. Complete the set number of activities in the book
  3. Collect a bag of trash
  4. Attend a guided program

We went on this weekend excursion with our friends, the great S Family, so we had two additional Junior Ranger-trainees in our camp: Miss M and Miss E! 

We stayed in the Lower Pines campground in Yosemite Valley for the three nights, which happens to be the location of the Lower Pines amphitheater and many guided programs. We attended two nighttime Ranger Programs: a Ranger talk on Friday and a “Who’s scat is that?” ranger talk on Sunday night. The girls loved both of them, and it was so nice having the whole experience just steps away from our campsite! (For a list of all the guided programs, check out the Yosemite Guide when you arrive)

Technically, the Ranger Talk on Friday night was our first step to becoming a Junior Ranger, but we didn’t know that just yet! The next day, we picked up three Junior Ranger booklets from the Nature Center at Happy Isles after our Saturday morning hike to see what the program was all about!

The booklets have a range of activities for younger and older kids to complete, but parents may need to provide some writing assistance to the 6-7 year olds. The girls had fun with the activities and filled out their books that afternoon and the following morning.

Then it was time to pick up some trash!

We packed the trash bags (and gloves that they give you!) and started off on a hike to Mirror Lake on Sunday morning. Who knew this would turn out to be the greatest decision ever! You’ll never have a bored hiker as long as you have a trash collector in your group!

The girls truly took pride and did an amazing job cleaning up the 1-mile trail in both directions, and each had a full trash bag to show for it!

Once their bags were properly disposed of, we hopped on the shuttle bus and went over to the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center to turn in their books.

The Visitors Center is usually quite crowded, so we decided to go around the lunch hour and hope to miss the crowds. The girls presented their books and the Ranger quizzed them on what they learned during their guided program, and other questions from the activities in the book. This definitely wasn’t a participation patch that everyone just gets for $3.50 and the rangers took it quite seriously!

After the quiz, the girls raised their arms and were administered the Junior Ranger oath!

They were each given their patch, and we walked away from the Visitors Center with three extremely happy and proud Junior Rangers!

As you can see, the program is quite easy to complete, but more importantly, it really does pass on the lessons of being a good National Park steward to children. I know that we’ll always keep trash bags and gloves with our hiking gear from now on, and hopefully this is just one of many patches that Miss L, Miss E and Miss M will be gathering in their Junior Ranger lifetime!

family, travel

Spring break 2016: dc (part two)

[Catch up on the other Spring Break 2016 posts:  Palmetto Bluff, SC; Williamsburg; DC (Part One)]

On Thursday morning, we woke up bright and early (and grabbed some Dunkin’ Donuts of course!) and headed to Congress!

We had gone through the process of requesting tours with our local Congresswoman, Doris Matsui (CA-6), back in January. We had requested tours of the White House, United States Capitol and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Since we only gave about 2 months notice, we didn’t luck out with an appointment with the White House or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during the very busy Spring Break week… BUT we did have a personal tour set up waiting with our Congresswoman’s office!


We didn’t have too much trouble finding her office location in Rayburn Building and met Andrew, the Congressional office manager and our tour for the day.


We left all of our bags in the Congresswoman’s office and then proceeded through security and over to the visitor’s center. It was PACKED with people waiting for their tours to begin, and it even took Andrew an incredibly long time to get our passes from the special “Congressional tour” line.


Once we had our official stickers, we could begin the tour through the Capitol!


Miss L was an eager tour participant, and was often leading the group through the halls so she could hear everything that was being said by our guide…


One of my favorite spots in the Capitol was the old Supreme Court chambers… it reminded me of what we saw in Williamsburg and having all of the branches of government in one large state house… and what the good/bad of that would be. (In other words… a spot for a political science geek like me to geek out)


When we came to the National Statuary Hall, there was a statue that Miss L recognized by name and face… Rosa Parks! She had recently read “I Am Rosa Parks” and when we saw this statue she just lit up and started telling us all about her.


After touring all of the main attractions of the Capitol, we got to the highlight of our visit that day: walking the floor of the House of Representatives. I had been on the floor once before back in 1997 at JSA Summer School, so visiting 19 years later was a treat! And just like back then… there were still no cameras allowed inside!

While we sat there trying to reconcile the smallness of the room with the enormity of it on TV, Miss L discovered the voting buttons and wanted to know how it all worked. I figured it was the perfect time for a small civics lesson, so I explained how bills and laws were passed and how the debate and voting worked in as simple of a manner as I could.

Suddenly, she stands up and says, “Resolved, that kids have to do all the work and grownups get to play all day.” Then, her finger forcefully lands on the “Nay” button and she pushes it down with quite a bit of emotion. “So that’s how it would work?”  Yep, kiddo… that’s EXACTLY how it would work. (And the tears welled up a little in my eyes too!)

And with that…  our long tour day at the Capitol was complete!


We walked outside to admire the cherry blossoms that were blooming all around DC… then grabbed a cab to head on up to lunch at Momofuku CCDC.


Mr. M and I couldn’t resist ordering the same thing: Beef Noodle Soup.


And Miss L opted for the Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder. (Which was yet another place where they questioned if she would eat the food that she ordered. So I’m thinking that DC kiddos aren’t really eating out too much? And seriously… NEVER underestimate Miss L’s consumption of delicious PIG and pickles!)


For dessert… we of course indulged in crack pie. Because, let’s be honest, who knows if I’ve been making it properly at all these past years!


Miss L got Cereal ice cream… and she didn’t like it. Seriously. She put away that entire bowl of food, and was like “eh… this doesn’t taste good” about cornflake ice cream. So we ate it… and were very pleased!


We headed back to the hotel, but around 6pm we all started to get the munchies again. Miss L and I decided to walk down the street to Corner Bakery to grab a light dinner to bring back to the room, but we took a little detour to see the White House.

Then we all crashed hard after watching Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall and got ready for our final day in DC!


So what does one do on their last day in DC?  Why… let’s start out by visiting the National Archives! The weather had turned cold and rainy that Friday, so we figured a day around the museums was just perfect.

Mr. M had never visited the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, so we figured it was a must stop for the last day. Somehow staring at old pieces of parchment and faded ink really just gets your emotions going for the day… even Miss L couldn’t muster up many words inside the exhibit. There were many Hamilton fans in the Rotunda that day… seeking him out in the various paintings in the room. I think that was one of the best parts: realizing that being there and seeing our founding documents was “super cool” to hipsters from Brooklyn.

From the National Archives, we wandered down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Museum of American History. Sadly, we did not have an umbrella, and we underestimated the popularity of the museum that morning… which means we ended up SOAKED outside.

Once inside (and now the proud owners of a pretty Smithsonian umbrella), we once again indulged Miss L in her George Washington fandom.


A lot of the exhibits were closed due to some big ones coming in 2017/2018… but we did get to stop in my favorite First Lady’s display!


Miss L, ever the foodie, decided that we needed to have a fancier plate to eat our oysters on, like this one from Lucy Hayes. (I looked up the prices on eBay… so yeah… she can wait to register for that for her wedding!)

My favorite exhibit was the Star Spangled Banner exhibit… probably because when we walked into the dark room and saw the illuminated flag, Miss L put her hand over her heart and started quietly singing the national anthem to herself. (again, the tears… seriously…)

After a quick lunch at the museum, we hopped on the metro and decided to spend the early afternoon visiting Georgetown University.


I was the most useless tour guide, as my memory of the university from my summer there two decades ago was quite far gone outside of the general landmarks! Oh well… we at least made it to the bookstore where Miss L got a Hoyas baseball cap and Mr. M got some tennis shirts.


Instead of waiting in an insanely crazy line for Georgetown Cupcakes (really? aren’t we so over and done with cupcakes???), we went and got macarons instead at Olivia Macaron. And we didn’t regret that one tiny bit!

For dinner, we went to Burger Tap & Shake in Foggy Bottom… where Mr. M had the best bacon burger of his life, and I had a crazy boozy Oreo Speedwagon milkshake. That’s the way one should truly end all vacations!

When we hopped on the metro, Mr. M asked if we could make one more visit to the rock shop at the Museum of Natural History. And really… how could I say no at this point?

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So… we took one last museum photo… bought more rocks…


…walked back to the hotel amid the cherry blossoms…


… and said goodbye to DC early the next morning.


We definitely made the most of Miss L’s first official Spring Break… and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us in 2017!