Monday, September 29, 2008

New car

We got a new car on Friday afternoon! :) It is a 2006 Ford Focus ZX4 SE sedan. It has 42000 miles on it and was only $9988. It had pretty much all the options we were looking for, but most importantly it was the right price and right time. Even without putting any money down (and adding some extra coverage and a security system) the monthly payments work out to be $10 cheaper per month than the Cavalier which we just paid off. What a blessing!

We picked up the car on Friday afternoon at our credit union. Jason, the Auto Expert, was waiting with the new car which we were able to look over and inside of to check out all the features. Then we went inside to sign all the paperwork and get the keys. It is neat and also a little overwhelming to realize that this time the car is all in my name...what a blessing that I've been able to accrue such good credit over the past 6 years that there were no problems or issues.

After leaving, we were headed to the DMV to change the title on the Cavalier to remove the lienholder as it is now paid off, and to change it to mine & Josh's names. I got lost on the way as I wasn't aware that the Moreno Valley DMV had moved, but after a bit of crying and extra driving I arrived and it really didn't take too long. $15 later it was in our names only and we had a new plan for Josh's old car, the 1993 Toyota Corolla.

As it had been a gift to us several years ago when we really needed a second car, and because we were blessed with a significant insurance settlement from the car accident, and because the new Focus didn't end up being as expensive as we had feared - we decided we wanted to use Josh's car as a blessing to someone else. A family in our church has a daughter who recently graduated and was in need of a car. Though the Toyota isn't brand new, and is a little rusty, it is still in really good condition and we were able to let them know at church yesterday that we wanted to give it to their daughter. They were blessed...and we were blessed...and we are grateful that we had the opportunity to be used by God in this way...and that He provided so perfectly for us.

Though just a week ago I was feeling frustrated and unable to see when and if things would work out, I am so full of joy to see how God has provided for us once again and in so many more ways than I even imagined. What a great God we serve! And by the way...I love my new car. It is so cute, especially with my new seat covers, steering wheel cover and soon to be administered decal stickers. And one super cool thing I love is that the stereo gets louder as you accelerate...and lowers as you slow down. So cool! Thanks God!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

To buy a car, or not to buy a car...that is the question

So, a few weeks ago Josh was in a car accident. Thankfully he was not injured, and though his car was he is still able to drive it. He was not at fault, the woman in front of him decided to back up and didn't think to look in her rearview mirror first and crashed into him. The car was declared a total loss as the cost to repair it was much higher than the worth of the car. So we received a nice settlement check last week. Thank you God!

We recently finished paying off the 5 year loan on my car and were for the first time without a car payment just days after this accident. So, knowing that God is in control and has great timing, we decided to look for a new car. Instead of going to a dealership and being pressured, we decided to use a service that our credit union offers called Auto Expert. Basically, you call them and tell them exactly what you want, what price range, what bells and whistles, etc. and they do all the hard work of searching, haggling and finding you what you want. It is a free service and something my parents and sister had used successfully in the past.

I called the Auto Expert (Jason) and explained that I wanted a Pontiac G6 sedan - automatic, a/c, CD player, silver color, power locks and windows, cruise control, no older than 2005, less than 50,000 miles and around $10,000 in price. He began to look and I had nothing more to do other than answer his phone calls. He found one fairly quickly, but it was too much out of my price range. Then on a Thursday he found what seemed to be perfect...exactly what I wanted, plus a few cushy extras, only 18,800 miles, 2007 and $12,998. Within my monthly price range if we put about $2000 down (which is an option based on the insurance payment we got for Josh's accident), so I said yes. He said I could pick it up the next day...we had pictures and we were so excited.

Then Friday rolled around and Jason called me back. The dealer wanted to back out of the deal as he decided the price was too low and he wanted more money. This was unexpected and upsetting and though Jason did his best the dealer would not back down. Though disappointed I decided to focus on the fact that God is still in control and He knew this would happen. Something better must be out there and we can be patient.

All this past week I hadn't heard anything from Jason, so I decided to give him a call yesterday. He apologized for not keeping in touch, but he had continued to search for me but with unfortunately no luck so far. After talking to my dad and searching for comparable cars online I decided to call him back to add two other car options to the mix. I found that I really liked the look of the Ford Focus ZX4 sedan as well as the Kia Spectra sedan. I let him know to be on the lookout for these as well as the Pontiac G6 with the same details. Hopefully next week he'll be able to let me know some possibilities and we may just find the car for us soon.

It's a learning experience trying to buy a car and assume that financial responsibility again. But God provided...we didn't need a new car until the old one was paid off....Josh's car still runs, so we most likely will not be without two cars during this time...the insurance provided a sizable chunk which allows us to have a little more wiggle room on the new car price. What a blessing and I know God is in control and He will provide exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. Thank you God!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dining in Vegas

We went to Las Vegas this past weekend with Kelly & David to celebrate my birthday with some yummy food, relaxation, and fun playing board games. We initially had reservations to stay at the Sahara hotel, but upon checking in we discovered our rooms to be quite shabby, fairly stained and not clean. While it may have been that we were just in the non-refurbished tower we decided to see if anything else on the Strip was available. After calling around we were able to book two rooms at the Excalibur hotel for not too much more than the Sahara was costing. The rooms at the Excalibur were much nicer, cleaner and ultimately we just felt better about the experience staying there. We decided to try using the Las Vegas monorail to get to our dinner at Margaritaville at the Flamingo Hilton hotel. $20 later and with very sore feet after walking through the MGM Grand, New York and Flamingo hotels - we arrived and checked in for dinner.

Dinner at Margaritaville is much more about the experience and atmosphere, though the food is decent but not fabulous. David had the shrimp pasta, Kelly & I had fajitas and Josh had the BBQ ribs. All were tasty but not the best we'd ever had of each meal. Josh enjoyed getting a bumper sticker at the gift shop which reads "The weather is here - wish you were beautiful".

That night after almost deciding to visit the Shark Reef experience at the Mandalay Bay hotel, we decided to instead go back to the rooms and play the game Hollywood Blockbuster before bed. The next morning we had a light breakfast and dressed up for our first fine dining meal of the weekend. This time we drove the car and headed out to the Venetian hotel for our 11:30 reservations at Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse. We had the first reservation of the day and were able to have the restuarant to ourselves for the first half hour or so of our meal.

We decided to share appetizers so Kelly & I split the heirloom tomato, red onion and buffalo mozzarella salad which was served with watercress and a balsamic vinegar dressing. David & Josh split the lobster bisque which was served with a toast covered in lobster mousse. Both were delicious and enjoyed immensely. For our main courses we all went with steak - Kelly & I had the ribeye, Josh had the rib steak bone in, and David had the bone in NY strip. All were served with herb butter and house-made worchestershire sauce, steak sauce and bernaise sauce. We also got one twice baked potato which included cheddar and bacon for the table. We all agreed that these were the very best steaks we had ever eaten. A birthday serving of chocolate sorbet was brought out for me while we waited for our desserts. It was delicious sorbet, but even better things were coming. David enjoyed Emeril's banana cream pie, Josh had the chocolate peanut butter torte with warm blackberry caramel, and I adored my individual pecan pie with oatmeal shortbread crust, caramel and homemade vanilla bean ice cream. Kelly decided to try something savory instead and chose the cheese assortment. It included 5 different cheeses, with accompanying items as well as some sliced baguette. First was a goat cheese served with champagne grapes, then a camembert served with cherry preserves (her favorite), cheddar served with blanched and glazed almonds, next was a brie served with honeycomb and finally a blue cheese served with green apple. She kept referring to her cheese plate as "heaven in my mouth". All in all it was a very expensive, very delicious, and very delightful experience and I would highly recommend it.

That afternoon we decided to spend more time relaxing in our rooms and trying out a new game - Bohnanza. We knew we needed at least an hour's time to get from our hotel to Caesar's Palace where we had dinner reservations at Rao's. After changing into our fancy clothes, we headed out and this time were able to valet park at the hotel.

Dinner at Rao's began well. The restaurant is dark and cozy and our waiter Shaun was very good even though he was quite busy with many other tables. We began our meal by splitting two appetizers - Bruschetta al Pomodoro e Carciofo (Bruschetta with tomatoes and artichokes) and Mozzarella in Carrozza (breaded and fried mozzarella served with sauce). Both were very delicious and in my opinion the best part of the meal. For our meals, David had the Gnocchi alla Bolognese, Kelly had Risotto ai Gamberi (risotto with shrimp), Josh had Scaloppine alla Romana (veal with artichoke, proscuitto and sage) and I had Uncle Vincent's Famous Lemon Chicken. For my taste I did not love any of them though they were all good. The lemon sauce was a little tangy for me, but Kelly and Josh both loved it and finished off the chicken I couldn't eat. Josh ended up liking Kelly's risotto better, so they switched meals midway through. David enjoyed his gnocchi but was unable to finish as they were so filling. For dessert Josh, David and I shared the profiteroles as there were three in the serving, and Kelly had the cannoli which was quite delicious. All in all it was not my favorite meal, though Italian food is also not my favorite. Kelly seemed to enjoy our dinner the most as she loved everything we ordered, but of course Italian food is her favorite. It was nice to try something new.

That evening we enjoyed finishing our game of Bohnanza and then Josh & I went back to our room and watched the movie Baby Mama which surprisingly more clean, touching and sweet than I had orgininally expected and we both enjoyed it. The next morning we got up earlier, packed and checked out of our room by 9:30am and headed back to the Venetian hotel to have brunch at Bouchon. They do not take reservations for brunch, but thankfully we only had a 20 minute wait for a table. We had two great waiters helping us and the restaurant and atmosphere were really nice. A bit fancy, but not too fancy that we ever felt uncomfortable.

The restaurant is located in the Venezia tower on the 15th floor, so you have to take an elevator near the check-in desk in the lobby to get there.

It was quite beautiful inside and they also had outdoor seating available as well.

The daily specials were listed on the chalkboard, but our server also went over them for us. He really seemed to want us to order the Crispy Pork Belly appetizer which was served with roasted beet salad, but we really did not feel like having that for breakfast...or ever. :)

They quickly brought out some yummy butter and homemade respberry preserves and eventually some delicious warm bread came out as well.

I decided to go with an all pastry breakfast so I ordered freshly made spiced beignets covered in cinnamon sugar and served with preserves and Nutella. They were delicious by themselves, but truly outstanding with the Nutella. Yum!

I also ordered the pastry assortment basket which came with a warm fresh blueberry muffin, banana muffin, pecan sticky bun and fresh croissant. I let David and Kelly split the blueberry muffin as I don't really like them, but they said it was delicious. The banana muffin had a crumb topping and was quite tasty and moist. The pecan sticky bun was absolutely yummy with a sugary glaze and cream center. The croissant was the very best one I've ever had - amazingly flaky on the outside and warm and buttery soft on the inside and was so delicious with butter and raspberry preserves. I also had a mocha to go along with my meal...but eventually all the sweetness got to me so I had to take some of it home. :)

Josh got one of the daily specials - Steak & Eggs. While he was not as impressed with the steak the meal was filling and the potatoes served with it were divine! :)

Kelly got another special - Quiche Lorraine which was served with a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing which she said was delicious and just right to cut the creaminess of the quiche.

David tried the Croque Madame served with pomme frites. I had wanted to try this, but was unsure about how a fried egg would taste on the top of the sandwich. It was delicious though...and the pomme frites were all deliciously crispy and yummy.

For dessert, Kelly & I decided to share the cheese plate. We chose a Camembert, cheddar, and a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese. They came served with apple, honeycomb and toasted bread. All three cheeses were delicious - the camembert was especially good on the bread with some of the raspberry preserves and the sheep's milk cheese was delicious with the apple.

All in all I would highly recommend Bouchon and would love to eat there again for brunch, and perhaps someday for dinner as well. Our weekend in Vegas was full of delicious food and many new experiences. I'm glad we all had the opportunity to go and that we had quick drives there and well as fairly good weather considering it was August in the desert. I would love to go again...specifically to Delmonico and Bouchon.