Monday, March 30, 2009

I Love DVR

I'm not sure whether we watch more tv or just enjoy it more since we've had DVR (digital video recording) service, but I'm really happy with it.

DuckyBoy loves being able to call up the show he wants to watch at any give time -- it's hard to believe I give him "when I was a kid" stories involving not being able to see things like the Charlie Brown Christmas special but once a year.

Husband and I also like being able to space out the shows we like throughout the week, though sometimes we "gorge" on a few in a night and then have a span with nothing (which is when those Netflix DVDs that are lying around come in handy).

Speaking of Netflix, we use the service a lot less now that we can DVR everything.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Family Fun Night at Cheeburger Cheeburger

We had so much fun last night at Cheeburger Cheeburger's "Family Fun Night." We like Cheeburger anyway but this put it over the top.

We rarely go out for dinner on weeknights but since I have so much more fun AWAY from home than AT home lately, and we had a great outing last week for St Patrick's Day dinner, we thought we'd give it a try.

Brilliant idea and well executed: The restaurant gave up just 1 table for a balloon guy and a face painter, and the place was packed with families. (And, smartly, the table they were at was next to the front windows so walk-by traffic could see the goings-on.) We ran into friends and the mom said her daughter (a first grader like DuckyBoy) had informed her at school pickup time that "You promised to take me to Cheeburger!"

And even though the place was amok with little kids it wasn't bedlam, just a happy loudness, and the staff was very tolerant of every kid moving around. Which is good for us because DB has a hard time sitting still!

The balloon guy was good, too, making complicated stuff like umbrellas, helicopters (ours has lost one propeller to deflation this morning, but who cares how long they last after the night is over, right?), and a yellow character that looked a lot like SpongeBob. (I give him credit for refusing to say the name, so he didn't run into any licensing issues!)

Oh, you want to know about the food? Does it matter, when my kids is happy? But yeah, the food is good too. Burgers of all sizes, chicken fingers that DB will actually eat most of, and decent fries, onion rings. Everything is rich. But I still managed to eat/drink ALL of my chocolate-peanut butter-banana shake! For $31 (tip extra) I thought it was a good deal.

Oh, and the kids meal comes in a cardboard CAR, a plus for us, and the walls are covered with funny signs that I'm counting toward DB's reading time for the day.

Cheeburger Cheeburger
108-50 Queens Blvd.
Forest Hills, NY

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Discovering a Discover Card Tool

This is a paid review from BlogHer and Discover.

I have been really happy with my Discover Card, from the American-flag card design I switched to after 9/11 to the way they handled it when someone stole my card number online a couple of years ago. And even recently, when I called to dispute a charge, it was handled quickly and just the way I'd expect. In these days of outsourcing to the lowest bidder, I'm happy to deal with a company that I feel has customer service that's holding up under the pressure.

My Dad turned me on to Discover Card years ago when it was still the "replacement for a Sears card" -- I think he liked the no-fee and also the cashback bonus. Which I like too, especially since we have no income yet DuckyBoy insists on growing out of his clothes on a regular basis. In fact, I just bought him some sorely needed new socks and sweats with my latest cashback bonus.

So when BlogHer asked for reviewers for Discover’s new online spending analysis tool, the "Spend Analyzer," I was happy to throw my hat into the ring.

I use my Discover primarily for my online purchases, which I always think are purely educational stuff for DuckyBoy, so I was interested to check out how the reality stacks up.

My first and overall reaction is, What a neat tool!

When your information loads, you get a colorful pie chart with your purchases for the current month broken down into various categories, such as Travel/Entertainment, Services, Merchandise/Retail, Supermarkets, and so on. Then you can look at spending by 1,3, or 6 months, year-to-date, or by 1 or 2 years. You can click on a category, and even a vendor you shopped with, to see further details of what you spent when and where.

So for example, in the "Merchandise/Retail" cetegory, all my Netflix payments were already added together and shown in a pretty blue, next to the 2nd biggest recipient of my "Merchandise/Retail" dollars, which was, shown in green.

I'd never even given a thought to how much those 2 bouquets cost -- who knew they were almost as much as a year's worth of movies? Very helpful for putting those movies we don't even always watch into perspective of how much we spend for them. (Does anyone else find the maintenance of the family Netflix queue a constant source of contention? "Why'd you pick THAT?" "Well, if you'd just log in once in a while you could pick something you haven't seen!")

I love graphs and charts anyway, so this is right up my alley. And it saves me from doing all the math and putting everything into categories. It worked really quickly in IE and with our wireless Internet access.

Turns out I spent $1,000 last year, mostly on stuff I can't remember. I paid parking tickets, and bought a few gifts and goodies in addition to the stuff for the smart boy I live with. Hmm. Build-a-Bear Workshop? That's not very educational. (OK, but that was in December, so it was for Christmas.)

I only shopped at 4 educational-sounding companies, including Amazon and Scholastic. And the biggest payment to Scholastic was for the rest of a Care Bears book-and-toy installment series they had the audacity to cancel halfway through. (Didn't they know I was using it as an incentive for DB to sleep through the night? Didn't they care how addicted to sets of things he is? But that's a post for another day.)

I like clicking on a single vendor to get the specific amount of each transaction with them. (Netflix makes the prettiest pie chart since it's the same amount every month! See, I warned you I like charts.) And within that vendor-specific chart, I can click on the timeframe tabs to see how much I spent at that company or story in a certain time frame. Cool.

To the right of the pie chart is a section called "Spending History" which averages out my spending for the previous 2 years in bar chart and number format. Mousing over the month-by-month chart for the past 8 months brings up total spending, biggest expense amount and category, and average transaction amount for each month. If I was really trying to budget and/or track where my money was going, that would be really helpful. Though it was hard to tear my eyes away from the colorful pie chart on the left! Oooo, pretty wedges... (My Dad would approve, by the way. His favorite dessert is pie.)

Makes me wish I had a kid at college ... Believe me, I'm in no hurry for DuckyBoy to be college-age, I just could totally see using this to see how he was spending my money.

I may switch my business card to a Discover just so I can use this ... though then I'd want the categories to be the ones the IRS uses. (Yes, I want it all done for me! I hate doing my business taxes!) On the existing tool, it would be nice if the nonprofit donations I made with my card were separated out from the "Services" category... but I've never seen that done, so maybe the way online donations get processed just doesn't flag nonprofits as such.

Actually, the only way I could imagine this tool being any better is if it told me what I bought ... but really, in the long run I don't want that much information stored anywhere anyway.

All in all, I'm looking forward to using this tool again. You can check it out at

To read more BlogHer reviews of it, click here.