Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days…

It started with waking up to a day off on Friday, and ended with a visit to see the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening.

Ah, a day off. Those are coming a little more often than they used to; I’ve been trying to be a little more deliberate about regularly taking vacation days this year so that they don’t all get bunched up at the end of the year. (I guess those talks about dollar cost averaging in the company 401(k) plan have a few ideas that can be applied elsewhere.)

So I spent the first part of my day off doing what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: saving money. Michelle and I signed the loan papers on our mortgage loan refinance and dropped our monthly payment by nearly $75 – not to mention the interest savings, ultimately. This brings the house payment down to about the level we thought we could afford when we moved in three years ago.

After that was done, and we got a little bit of lunch into the girls, we packed up and headed south. Oil, that is. Texas Tea… hmm, wait, I seem to have gotten my scripts mixed up. Wauwatosa, actually. The Mayfair Mall, home of Wisconsin’s only Apple Store, in fact. Though the real and stated purpose of the trip was to get a planner refill from the nearest Franklin Covey store, it is an hour and a half drive, so we always make a mini-vacation out of it.

This time we played it smart and got all of the “mom and dad” stores out of the way first. For Michelle we stopped at a couple of jewelers. For me, well, see above… I really wanted to check out prices on camcorders, since they have a current discount for .Mac members. Of course, they were out of our price range, even with the discount. However, I saw an iPod Mini, too. In spite of the relatively small capacity it really grows on you when you have one in your hand. They’re so small and so intuitive to use that it’s hard to put it down. I suppose it’s a good thing they’re tethered.

The regular stop for the girls, of course, is Club Libby Lu. It’s a girl thing! Really, any little girl about 5 or 6 years old (or even a little younger, and certainly older) is likely to just go nuts at this store. It’s a lot of fun that starts the moment you walk in and get a bit of fairy dust sprinkled on your head. (Dads, you will roll your eyes, but think of your little princess(es).)

We splurged a little on the way back. Since we’ve been saving up to do this little trip, I looked up Tumbleweed to see if we could eat dinner on the way back home from the Mayfair. One of the eight restaurant locations in the state is in fact just up the road towards home, very easy to get to – unless you believe MapQuest – and as it turns out, quite a big place. We discovered we had no reason to be concerned based on the fact that there were vehicles parked out on the road. It was a little difficult with the kids in tow but all in all the staff made sure that we had the best dinner we could have under the circumstances… they even replaced Michelle’s overcooked steak with apologies and a better cut than what she had ordered.

This morning started off with Son Harbor Band rehearsal (if you don’t know what that is, it’s an entry for another time), then a trip to the mall. Since Michelle had picked out a ring at one of the jewelers in the Mayfair, and we do have a bit of cash coming back from the government, we decided to see if the Appleton store had the same unadvertised sale hinted at yesterday. Sure enough they did, and after a bit of thought, we walked out with an aquamarine ring. She deserved it after all her hard work this last year trying to find creative ways to save money.

Got the kids home, fed them lunch and got the little one down for a nap, got ready to go, and promptly realized that roller skating isn’t nearly as much fun if you don’t have your skates. I found my box of wheels, tools, and various parts, but couldn’t find the skates. They were of course in the last box I could have looked in out in the garage, still there from moving into our house over three years ago.

The skating party was a lot of fun. I think the girls had more fun than me, but that’s not to say that I didn’t. Mercedes’ second time and Regan’s first, and they were both awesome considering their experience. Maybe it’s in the genes, I don’t know. I certainly took all of about 10 seconds to get my legs under me again. Nothing really fancy, but it wasn’t any problem getting around, forward or backward.

Chuck and I left the rink to go directly to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center to see a performance of Holst’s “The Planets” by the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra. They did a fantastic job with Smetana’s “Overture to the Bartered Bride” to start off the night. While I wasn’t as impressed with the piece were were there to see, it wasn’t the orchestra’s fault, as far as I could tell. There are some parts of the arrangement that seem odd, or in some cases they just felt lost. It was good, just not great, really. Sandwiched between these two and before the intermission they did Russell Peck’s “The Glory and the Grandeur,” a piece that showcased FVS percussion (and percussionists). How does someone think up something like this? It was a little bewildering, rather moody – both lively and, at times, a little brooding, I think – but ultimately very intriguing. The performance was intricate and at one point even featured the three percussionists playing the same instrument at the same time.

Next week, arrival of an iPod Mini, and Michelle’s trip to see the Green Bay Gamblers. For now it’s time to get some sleep.

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