Plans Are Only Good Intentions

There is saying that "Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work." Well I guess I've had a lot of good intentions. For years I told myself that I would get back into playing the piano, but just didn't have time because I was in school, then I was working, then I was, uh, I ran out of excuses. So in February I started taking piano lessons again. At first I almost cried at how much I had lost with being 6 years out of practice. Now, my sight reading is back and I am working my way through Bach's Inventions again. I'm nowhere near where I used to be, but its a good first step. With the plan of moving to law school in the coming year I don't want to invest in a couple of hundred pounds of household goods by buying a piano, but borrowing my brother-in-laws 3/4 sized keyboard just isn't cutting it. I grew up playing a 5'-6" baby grand Boston piano and the keyboard has no action and not all of the keys. I'm debating finding a used piano to buy or just spending the money on a nice keyboard. As much as I want a brand new piano, its not the best financial decision as they don't retain their value. I was so tempted when I found out that I could get a below retail piano from a local dealer who is retired. He sells piano's at below retail because he no longer has the overhead of a store or employees and merely uses a catalog out of his house. For people who know what they want it is a great option. I don't need to sit down at a piano and try it out, I just need to pick a size and brand that meets by ability and needs. Plus, this month Kawai is having factory rebates which would be on top of the killer price.

I am really trying to make savvy financial decisions and save every penny. My friends think we're nuts, living on a student budget with two engineer incomes coming in. In reality, I'm just making it so that I have less debt when I go back to school. I'm changing my need for loans by saving up the money for law school in advance rather than spending the money on new furniture, new cars, new pianos and all the other nice things that we can technically afford but don't need. Don't even get me started on buying a house. We had our taxes done this year and for the first time ever had to pay money rather than get some back. My first thought was, oh, wouldn't it be nice to have mortgage interest to be able to deduct? However, our rent free situation living somewhere where we pay only utilities and taxes saves us way more money than the amount we would save on our taxes. Having my own home is more of a gut desire than an actual need. In the meantime its nice to watch our little egg grow larger. It will be a real kick in the gut when I have enough money for school and look at in the bank and say, hmmm...do I want a house paid for in cash or do I want to spend this all over the next three years on a degree? I really hope my plan to go to law school doesn't become a good intention after faced with the financial reality. In the meantime I'll continue to be as frugal as possible. It's a good habit to get into.


Las Vegas Trip

We started out our trip in Las Vegas by paying $80.00 for a limo to take us two miles from the airport to the Hyatt Place hotel where my meeting was being held. Why $80? Well, at 1 am the hotel shuttle wasn't running and the line for cabs on a Friday night was over an hour long. I didn't want to wait so we took the limo. Thank goodness I was on expenses.

Getting up for a 8 am meeting after getting to sleep around 2am was definitely no fun. Hubby went for a walk while I debated the intricacies of publishing a technical magazine with fellow engineers. Around noon we hooked up and went to the Hard Rock for lunch. The lunch was a working lunch so it lasted well over an hour. I was totally unimpressed with the Hyatt Place which amounted to a stripped down Hyatt, business hotel that barely qualified for each of its 3 stars. On top of this was the fact that the hotel has been recently renovated. The carpet tiles may be easy to replace should one of them become stained, but they also use carpet glue in their installation. I was apparently allergic to the glue and spent most of my 5 hours of rest scratching my arms to death. The next morning I had hubby check us out and we went to Priceline.com to see what cheap rooms were still available elsewhere. Turns out that for the same rate as we were paying at the Hyatt we could be staying at the Venetian. Deal! Sign me up! So after lunch we cabbed it from the Hyatt to the Venetian.

After checking into our suite at the Venetian I was sorry that we would have to switch over to Treasure Island the next day. I'd show you a photo, but they all have one or the other of us in them, because of all of the mirrors in the suite. The room was gorgeous and I don't say this lightly. I stay in a lot of hotels, but this one still surprised me. I got $15 worth of casino credit which we quickly doubled to $30 in the slots, apparently I'm quite lucky. We were so bushed that we just wanted to sit down, sip our drinks and blow money in the penny slots. I won as much as he lost so we came out even. For dinner we hooked up with some of my friends from my meeting and went to a local place. I try to find a good Greek restaurant whenever we travel together as it is both of our favorite food. Also, eating on the strip can be ridiculously overprices if you don't want to eat horrid/questionably sanitary buffet food. Paymon's Mediterranean Cafe is a local joint full of people who actually call Nevada home. The food is excellent, tasty, and downright cheap. Five of us who drank, had appetizers, dinner and dessert all for less than $120.00, which I consider insanely cheap.

We headed back to the hotel that night blissfully content and full of warm Baklava. Our show was playing in the Venetian hotel so we didn't have far to walk. We got tickets for Phantom before we left and it was quite spectacular. I've always loved the Phantom of the Opera. Hubby saw the broadway show in San Francisco a long time ago before we met. He has always promised me that he would take me one day so this was really special . Phantom in Vegas is a slightly abrieviated version, but spectacular none the less. I remember there was an article a few years back when they were planning the show on how they got the chandelier to fall. Trust me it is well done, women were screaming. If I hadn't known what was coming I would have been totally blown away. The engineering behind that stunt was amazing.

The next day we packed our rolly-bag up and headed downstairs to breakfast. We found a little cafe along the banks of the Venetian. Apparently there are very few people who wake up for breakfast in Vegas so it took us almost 30 minutes to find one that was open. Afterwards we walked across to the Wynn, walking through the Venetian shops along the canal on the way. Then we crossed the street and walked past Treasure Island, down through the Mirage. The Mirage was smokey and dark. After we walked what seemed like forever to get through the casino we found out that to view the lions you have to pay like $14.00 a person. It totally wasn't worth it, so we trucked all the way back out through the front. Vegas hotels are not set up so you can walk through one, out the side and out to the next one. You have to walk in then back out through the front always passing through the casino on your way anywhere.

After the Mirage we went to Ceasar's Palace and walked through the shopping mall. My feet were tired so we sat at the slots for awhile. There really isn't anywhere to sit in Vegas without spending money. You are either gambling, paying to watch a show or sitting in a restaurant. I bought cute leather gloves with cashmere linings at Coach. My one major and non-expensible purchase of the entire trip. Ceasar's Palace has some really great architecture. It looks a lot less fake than many of the other hotels.

Next after Ceasar's was the Bellagio. After the Venetian I was expecting more. It still was quite over the top with a beautiful Chinese garden and a spectacular set of glass flowers inlaid in the ceiling. This was definitely one of the nicer hotels on the strip, although probably not worth 200 more a night than the Venetian for the extra 1/2 a star. We had friends who asked to see our suite at the Venetian out of curiosity and they said that it was better than the Bellagio rooms. I can't vouch for it myself, but I bet they were right. The Bellagio has the Cirque d'Soleil show "O" which is their water show. We didn't see it on this trip, but if we go back I'll definitely put it on my list.

By this point my feet were very tired. I had only packed work shoes which was a bad idea. One should never attempt to casino tour in heels. We crossed the street to the Paris. We had lunch at the Paris. They have an Eiffel Tour restuarant which overlooks the Bellagio fountains. A bit too pricey to justify on an expense report so we settled for the Mon Ami Gabi which is on the main floor right off of the casino. It was very good and reasonably priced. The casino had a younger vibe and was not oppresively smokey or generic like most of the others we had walked through. It looked like a fun place to stay and I'd definitely go back and spend more time looking around some other time.

From the Paris we headed back in the direction of the Venetian, my feet still killing me. We walked through the Flamingo and walked along the strip to the Ghirardelli chocolate store in between Harrah's and the Venetian. We stopped by the front desk of the Venetian and picked up our bags to check into Treasure Island. After all this walking it was about 4pm and my legs were dead beat. I flopped in my King bed and didn't move for an hour. We watched a history channel special on the history of Vegas and then called the front desk for a dinner reservation. Our one criteria is the restaurant had to be in the hotel. Little did we know that would give us so many options. We briefly considered going downstairs for the ship battle performance. Those who are staying as guests at Treasure Island have a special viewing area, but it was cold and I was not happy to walk anywhere. Instead we enjoyed a pleasant dinner at Francesco's. The service was excellent and the food was great. I had gnocci with hazelnut cream sauce. We both had way more food than we could eat and regretfully passed on dessert.

Our planning paid off and our show of the night was in our hotel of the night. Mystere is a Cirque show which plays at Treasure Island. Honored eight times as "Best Production Show" by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Mystère has an international cast of 72 performers featuring dancers, singers, musicians and champion-caliber acrobats. The physical prowess of these performers was amazing. I was jaw droppingly spell bound for an hour and half. I swore the next day I would buy their cd as inspirational workout music. Throughout the performance two vocalists sing in a made up language while performers enact a nightly performance which send chills down the through the audience. This was definitely a family friendly show. Kind of unfortunate in some ways as I had to sit next to a couple kids which wouldn't stay in just their chairs, but I'm glad their parents got to do something fun and didn't have to leave their kids behind. However, those kids all probably left with the equivalent of a cigarettes worth of smoking damage done to their lungs just from walking to their hotel rooms at night.

It was more worthwhile to get a good night's rest rather than walk the rest of the strip the next morning so we stayed in the vicinity of Treasure Island. We walked next door to find lunch and were bitterly disappointed with our options. Unless you want mall food court food, finding lunch in Vegas proves as difficult as finding breakfast before noon. We ended up at the Neiman Marcus restaurant, I had no idea that they had a restaurant. Excellent sandwhiches, fresh bread and lots of iced tea kept us happy. Then it was off to the airport for a quick 12 hour flight home. Just a quick trip to Vegas. Having never been I can say that there is definitely a lot to see in Vegas, not so much things to do. They mostly try to funnel you into shopping and gambling. There are also shows which are some of the most unique in the world. All the smoking, unhealthy food choices and fake looking architecture and neon left a little bit of a hollow feeling in my stomach rather than one of cultural immersion. I would still go again, but I wouldn't go without a plan. I would actually want to know what I wanted to do in Vegas.

Oh yeah, as far as the gambling went, neither of us is good at it. I made up for his losses by playing video blackjack and we came out even. The whole trip actually cost us less than $300.00 which was totally worth it just to spend relaxing time together discoving a new place.
Venetian Canal shops

Treasure Island has a nightly show where the sexy sirens fight the bad boys

The view from our room in Treasure Island

Ceasar's Palace


Bellagio lobby with the glass flowers

Bellagio's Asian Garden


Patent Bar Review Course for 10% Off

I'm passing this on to my fellow engineers and technology professionals with an interest in the legal field. IEEE, the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology has an agreement with The Practising Law Institute (PLI), a non-profit, continuing legal education organization, to offer members a 10 percent discount on PLI’s Patent Bar Review course. This type of discount is often available to students when in law school, but who has time to take the patent bar while in law school. Far better to student for the test and take it before law school. That is what I am planning to do. Study over this coming summer for 3-4 months and then take the test in the fall.

The PLI Patent Bar Review course is one of the top preparations course in the country for the Patent Registration Exam and is available live or via home-study. Anyone with an undergraduate degree in engineering or science or the equivalent is invited to take the Patent Bar Exam to become a patent agent. (Visit http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/examregist.htm for eligibility details). IEEE members should reference IEEE and their member number when registering to receive the member discount.

For more information on the Practising Law Institute or the Patent Bar Review course, visit http://www.pli.edu/barreview/patentbar/ieee.asp, or call toll free at (888-296-5973). To learn about other IEEE Education Partners programs visit http://www.ieee.org/partners.

No, this isn't a pay-per-post. I'm just trying to pass on a great deal. Also, for those science or engineer folks who aren't IEEE members yet, you should know that student membership is $30 for a full year or $15 if don't join until after March. The IEEE name was originally an acronym for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. Today, the organization's scope of interest has expanded into so many related fields, that it is simply referred to by the letters I-E-E-E (pronounced Eye-triple-E). It is a great professional society to belong to and comes with many member benefits like the offer above, publications, conferences, etc. I would highly recommend becoming a member if you are in an IEEE field. Maybe I should pass this tip onto the Frugal Law Student.

And they wonder why OUR voter turnout is low

It was -50F last night and currently around -40F. MMM...and they wonder why we had such low turnout for the primary last night. We were all trying to keep warm! I did vote though. I was very happy to finally be able to put my constant political analysis to some practical use by making an informed choice. It was actually quite crazy and filled with people so our voter turnout was higher than normal although lower than expected. I guilted hubby into registering as a Republican in order to vote in the primary. He thinks it takes too much effort to caucus with the Dems, but wanted a say. They registered him at the door and I welcomed him to the party. He'll probably switch back to independent ASAP. It will be a tough decision if it comes down to Obama v. McCain. I never thought I'd vote for a democrat, but I like what he has to say.