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Our new ride

Well, instead of that “new car smell”, it has that “dealer detailed” smell which isn’t as good but still represents a level of clean that this car will probably never see again!

Here’s the update to my post about needing to get a new car before the hamster-driven Chevy Tracker finally gave up the ghost. I went into the dreaded car buying experience trying to make clear choices. I knew I wanted to stay with Toyota because, recent issues aside, they have a fantastic track record. I also like the local dealership and service department. I was hoping they would be willing to deal because I am already a Toyota owner (see my “eggmobile” Yaris in the photo) and because Toyota has offered great deals lately.

Even so, I did my research and found to no great surprise that Toyota’s SUV’s are top-rated vehicles both in safety and customer satisfaction. They’re larger than the Tracker, so Hubby will have no problem toting his gear from gig to gig. I also kept my eye out in the blogosphere for good car-buying tips, and wasn’t disappointed. WiseBread is a great resource.

We headed out to the dealer not sure if we were going to buy or just look, but I did bring our down payment and the Tracker’s title with me, just in case. We had already checked with our financial advisor who agreed that if we didn’t want to refi the house (we don’t, not yet), then taking $5000 out of our savings for a down payment would be a wise move.

After looking at a few different models including the Sienna (too big), we decided on the Rav 4. Of course our friendly salesperson (who latched onto us within 5 minutes of parking) thought we should drive the 2010 Limited version. Aaahhh… new car smell, plus it was loaded: bluetooth, seat warmers, cruise control, built-in Sirius radio, sunroof. It was sweet and the emotional pull of a brand-spankin’ new car was very strong. They also had a 2009 that was just turned in with only 10,000 miles on it. Lots of the same features as the 2010 and very clean, so we head inside to talk.

We discuss various discounts and financing available and have them run the numbers on both. The monthly payments were within $100 of each other, and totally out of the range I want to pay. Emotional pull or not, I had to be firm and let go of those butt-warmer seats. Now Mr. Owner comes by to see if he can help. We talk about how these two cars are too much, maybe we need a base model. Hmmm… he’s not sure he has anything on the lot. In the course of conversation he finds out that Hubby does work for the local minor league baseball team. Well his dealership is their major sponsor, doncha know, so they know the same people. Whoa! Well, now that’s another story! We’re all buddies now!  And wouldn’t you know it, there is a red Rav 4 parked just outside the window that he thinks will work for us!

It’s a 2007, 25,000 miles with some nice features and it drives well. A couple of  chips and a little wear inside; it’s listed for $19,500ish. Mr. Owner brings us to his office to finish the deal. Because we’re now pals and loyal Toyota owners, we get the price down to $17,900ish. Maybe a wheeler-dealer could do better, but I’m pretty satisfied with that.

As an aside, I find it hilarious all the things car salesmen happen to have in common with the people who buy their cars. In the course of the three hours it took to buy this car, topics of conversation included: Howard Stern/Artie Lange/Sirius satellite radio, the NY Mets/Yankees/Giants, baseball in general, football in general, hockey in general, Frank Sinatra, famous people we have met, New Jersey politics, the state of the US car industry, Toyota’s recent issues, living in Florida, working in Vegas, spouses, cell phones, dumb bank rules, the weather, kids, and how fascinating our jobs are (to them).

I try to push back on some of the things I don’t think we should have to pay for, such as that window-etching thing and extras like door trim, and I’m told that they’ll drop the charge (door trim) or it’s mandatory for this dealership (window etching – I probably should have pushed harder). We also got a huge push from Mr. Finance on the extended service contract which I turned down flat-out without even asking how much it cost. Apparently this surprised him. I’ll gamble that I won’t have a major repair issue within 5 years/75,000 miles, isn’t that why I’m buying a Toyota? Don’t you make really great cars? Plus, I think it’s a ripoff to tell me its a 7 year/100,000 mile warranty when that warranty started the day the very first owner drove it off the lot.

The bummer is with all the taxes, fees, and mandatory add-ons, we end up having to finance about $15,000. With my really good credit rating (thanks to our financial advisor!), I get good interest rates even for longer-term loans, so we go with 71 months at 5.99%. This gives me the smallest hit to my monthly budget knowing that we will work to get that paid off early, penalty-free.

I think we did well, and with both cars being 2007 models, I’m hoping we don’t have to do this again for a looong time!

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My meditation trees

I’ve seen many, many articles and stories about “How to Meditate” with different techniques for meditation. While they can be useful, you don’t really need any of them.

In fact, I’ll bet you money you’ve meditated many times in your life.

No? Have you ever been “in the zone”, so focused on what you were doing/reading/thinking that time flew by? Not daydreaming so much, but absorbed by what was in front of you? That is meditation. Totally focused concentration on an object. It’s not just hocus-pocus, either. Meditation has been studied by scientists for years. You can read two interesting articles about meditation and brainwaves here and here.

I have a hard time doing formal sitting meditation. I’ve tried incorporating it at various times during my day, but either it’s too early/late and I get sleepy, or it’s the middle of the day and I’m constantly interrupted (or at work – it’s too weird trying to meditate in a fabric box with no door, and I’ve seriously freaked people out when they walk in on me). Someday I’d like to establish a sitting meditation practice, but until then I have fit meditation into my day wherever I can. For example, if I’m walking to the ladies’ room at work I will choose to use the one that is farther away, and use the time to walk mindfully, breathing deep breaths and noting the various smells/sights/sounds I meet along the way. When I’m home washing dishes, I try to pay attention to each dish, feeling the smoothness of it under my sponge with the warm water tumbling over my hands. When I do have time to sit, I try to just sit and let my thoughts enter and exit my mind without letting them lead me off into some stream of consciousness that is no longer “just sitting”. You can even meditate watching your kids play in the yard… just leave them alone, stop thinking about how you have to pick up milk, and enjoy watching them being kids.

With this approach, anything can be a meditation – a practice most often associated with Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese monk, Zen master, peace activist, and poet. He’s written many books, one of my favorites being The Miracle of Mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves”  ~Thich Naht Hahn

The act of meditation, when done consistently, will help you master that “monkey mind” we all suffer from. The mind that jumps from one stream of thoughts to another, distracting us and allowing us those knee-jerk reactions that do nothing to serve us. Meditation teaches us to control our mind, put the monkey on a leash. Not only is it good for your mental state and your peace, but the act of deep concentration can have physical benefits as well.

Can you think of a time when you’ve been so deep into something, you were almost woozy when you finally looked up from it, and shocked to realize the day flew by? Leave your stories in the comments.

Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore in Haiti

Judith Ellis posted this photo and a simple message about compassion at her blog, “The Being Brand“. I must say, I am touched by the photo and the beautiful, caring emotions on the faces of Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore. Demi’s embrace and Susan’s gentle touch speak volumes.

May we all have compassion for each other, and especially the children.

I’ve been without laptop for about a week, and boy am I missing it. Cobbling my online life together via Blackberry and other people’s computers, so I apologize for not posting lately. I’m vaguely ashamed at how attached I am to my computer; I’ve been appreciating the backyard a lot this week.

To hold you over ’till I can get my head around my next post, here’s a cut-n-paste from one of my favorite bloggers Leo Babuta at Zen Habits:

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” ~Zen proverb

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on twitter or identica.

In the chaos of the modern world, there is a beauty in simply doing.

We’re buffeted wildly by whatever emails, conversations, news, events, demands, that are going on around us. Our minds become a constant deluge of thoughts dwelling in the past, worries of the future, distractions pulling us in every direction.

But all of that melts away when we focus on just doing.

It doesn’t matter what the doing is: sitting, walking, writing, reading, eating, washing, talking, snuggling, playing. By focusing on the doing, we drop our worries and anxieties, jealousies and anger, grieving and distraction.

There is something profound in that simplicity. Something ultimately heart-rendingly breath-takingly gorgeous.

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” ~Zen proverb

You are in the middle of your day today, and you’re caught up in the sandstorm of thoughts, feelings, to-dos, meetings, readings, and communications of this day.

Pause. Breathe. Let all of that fade.

Now focus on doing one thing, right now. Just choose one thing, and clear away all other distractions. Seriously, clear it all away. Turn off your Internet. Stop reading this article (OK, read a couple more sentences, then close your browser!).

Let all thoughts about anything other than the doing also fade away. They’ll come up, but gently make note of them, and then let them go. And return to the doing.

If you’re washing a dish, do it slowly, and feel every sensation. If you’re eating a fruit, taste it, feel the textures, be mindful of your hunger or lack of it. If you’re writing something, pour your heart into that writing, become the writing, inhabit the words.

Just do.

The rest of the world becomes meaningless distraction. It’s just you, and your doing.

And you realize: this is all that matters. In this, there is everything.

“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

So I’ve officially been Jazzercizing for three months, averaging two times per week. I’ve only missed 4 classes: two due to work, and two were cancelled due to the freakish snowstorms we had this year.

At a session a few weeks ago, we’re actually down on our mats doing some crunches – every so often they break up the dancing stuff with some mat work. Now, there are some older women in the class with me and as I’m crunching away, I’m looking around the room to avoid thinking about how much I dislike exercise. The older women are doing their crunches on chairs. To modify a crunch into a chair exercise, you bend at the waist, trying to touch your elbow to the opposing knee (we were working obliques). If you can also pick your knee up, that’s a bonus. And these women couldn’t do it. I was surprised (maybe I shouldn’t have been?). I wouldn’t expect these women to be on the floor doing full crunches, but they can’t sit in a chair and bend at the waist? How do they tie their shoes?

In fact, as I look around the class during the dance parts, I’m noticing other women who are not much older than me, and their form stinks. I don’t know if they can’t do the proper form, or won’t, or just don’t. I’m exhausted by the end of class, but I do try hard to keep good form. If I’m going to pay and drag my tush there, I’m going to try to get as much out of it as I can and the best way is to do the exercises properly.

Both the ladies in the chairs, and the others on the dance floor inspire me to work harder. The way I look at it, exercising now is old age insurance. I want my limbs and joints to stay as limber as possible for as long as I live. When I’m 70 or 80 or 90 I want to be able to rock a modified chair crunch and show those youngsters how its done!