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Archive for December, 2012

There's a new BJ's in town; will they fleece Costco?

December 31st, 2012 at 12:12 pm

A new BJs was just built nearby, and I got a coupon for a free, 60-day membership to try them out.

Today was the last day i could activate the coupon, so off I went.

Was curious to see how they compare to Costco. Anyone have an opinion on that? I don't think I'll spring for the $50 membership when my trial run expires Feb. 28, but I WILL stock up on any good deals I find.

I didn't scour the entire store today, but I did find some good buys. Among them:

Amy's organic canned soups usually go for $2.99 ea at Shop Rite, which I find has the best supermarket prices in my area; BJ's had them for $1.66 each!! (You have to buy a 6-pack though, so then of course you can't chooses the flavors.)

Shop Rite's best SALE price on a half gallon of organic, refrigerated soy milk is $3; BJ's had it for $2.43! (You have to buy 3, but I'm just freezing 2 of them.)

I also got a box of Amy's organic bean/cheese burritos and some other stuff. I sort of want to go back there tomorrow now! I was in a rush today as I had a ton of other errands to do, including using my $10 free BP gas card, a stop at Shop Rite for sale items, using up some gift cards at Home Depot, attempted return at Wal-Mart (no go), a bank deposit and a haircut.

I bumped into The Author and her husband at Home Depot. Would've walked right by her if she hadn't said something cus I'm usually preoccupied with my thoughts, I guess. Her husband is very nice...he said the proverbial, I've heard SO much about you, but he emphasized SO. She must be very entertaining to be married to, becus I know she reads her stories out loud to her husband, especially the steamy parts (Smile and is always scouting for ideas for her plots and characters.

I know she's gotten me something for Xmas and keeps saying we need to get together. I didn't get her anything this year and quite honestly don't want to spend the money, but I need to get her SOMETHING. It would be nice to get her a steamship or luxury cruiseliner, since it figures prominently in the book of hers I'm currently editing. Like a Xmas ornament, but doubt I'll find that now.

My 2012 Income and Expenses, the Big Picture

December 31st, 2012 at 12:01 pm

My 2012 total spending: $35,846
My 2012 total income: $35,970

When compared to last year, if you subtract the vinyl siding ($13,789) I got last summer, my total annual spending this year is roughly the same as last year. As much as I tried, I wasn't really able to reduce it further.

However, I did pay off the mortgage in July so next year, my #1 big expense will be HISTORY.

Here are my top 7 2012 expenses, ranked in order of size:

Mortgage/property taxes: $15,826.

Comment: This year, my mortgage/property taxes represent 44% of my total expenses. The reason that number's so high is because I'm underemployed and only working p/t. Next year, sans mortgage, the property taxes should drop to just 17% of total expenses, tying with health insurance for the #1 spot.

Health Insurance: $6,372.Up 6%.

Food: $2,859.

Comment:As much as I tried, I failed to lower my food costs; in fact, they rose by 9%.

Fuel Oil: $1,218. Up 8%.

Health co-payments: $1,178.

Comment: Up 29%, solely because I went to the doctor more.

Gas for car: $905

Comment: This figure is 37% higher (!) than last year, and I attribute it mainly to the driving job I had for about 4 months, when gas prices were rising.

IRS: $899
Comment:This represents quarterly estimated tax payments for my self-employment income.

Expenses #8-15:

Car repairs: $824.

Comment:I was doing very well all year until November, when I had a $600 repair bill to replace rusted out fuel and oil lines.

Car insurance: $438 since I switched policies.

Household: $$754.
Comment: This is my one "catch-all" category for things that don't neatly fit in another category.

Sewers: $738.
Comment:This includes both usage and loan repayment.

Phone/Internet: $549.
Comment: Amazing. A utility expense that actually dropped, by 9%. This year, I saw hefty increases in my top 8 biggest expenses.

Homeowner's Insurance: $484.
Comment: I switched to Safeco.

Electric: $462.

Comment: Another falling utility; it fell by 61%, partly because last year I believe I got a $200 refund for the extended power outage we had.

Cats:$460.

Maintenance:$252
State of CT: $208
Water:$199
Borough taxes: $165
Gardening: $141
Dump sticker: $85
Birds: $83
Car tax/reg/license: $79
Haircuts: $68
Gifts: $51
Clothing: $49
Dining Out $48
Subscriptions: $40
Entertainment: $19
Vacations: 16
Comment:This was all i spent on a trip lasting a few days down to see my dad on the Jersey shore. He paid for my gas and meals; all I paid for was the tolls.



Paying my respects

December 25th, 2012 at 02:17 pm

On the way home from celebrating Christmas with family, I stopped by our town hall, one of probably a dozen locations where memorials to the Sandy Hook shooting victims have spontaneously sprung up.

I thought you might like to see it.









What touched me most was personal, handwritten notes from people who live far away. Someone even left a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, I know because one of the little girls who died loved horses.

Something you only see once a year

December 25th, 2012 at 02:14 pm



...an empty Wal-Mart parking lot on Christmas Day.

My 2012 Income and Expenses, the Big Picture

December 24th, 2012 at 04:12 pm

My 2012 total spending: $35,846
My 2012 total income: $35,970

When compared to last year, if you subtract the vinyl siding ($13,789) I got last summer, my total annual spending this year is roughly the same as last year. As much as I tried, I wasn't really able to reduce it further.

However, I did pay off the mortgage in July so next year, my #1 big expense will be HISTORY.

Here are my top 7 2012 expenses, ranked in order of size:

Mortgage/property taxes: $15,826.

Comment: This year, my mortgage/property taxes represent 44% of my total expenses. The reason that number's so high is because I'm underemployed and only working p/t. Next year, sans mortgage, the property taxes should drop to just 17% of total expenses, tying with health insurance for the #1 spot.

Health Insurance: $6,372.Up 6%.

Food: $2,859.

Comment:As much as I tried, I failed to lower my food costs; in fact, they rose by 9%.

Fuel Oil: $1,218. Up 8%.

Health co-payments: $1,178.

Comment: Up 29%, solely because I went to the doctor more.

Gas for car: $905

Comment: This figure is 37% higher (!) than last year, and I attribute it mainly to the driving job I had for about 4 months, when gas prices were rising.

IRS: $899
Comment:This represents quarterly estimated tax payments for my self-employment income.

Expenses #8-15:

Car repairs: $824.

Comment:I was doing very well all year until November, when I had a $600 repair bill to replace rusted out fuel and oil lines.

Car insurance: $438 since I switched policies.

Household: $$754.
Comment: This is my one "catch-all" category for things that don't neatly fit in another category.

Sewers: $738.
Comment:This includes both usage and loan repayment.

Phone/Internet: $549.
Comment: Amazing. A utility expense that actually dropped, by 9%. This year, I saw hefty increases in my top 8 biggest expenses.

Homeowner's Insurance: $484.
Comment: I switched to Safeco.

Electric: $462.

Comment: Another falling utility; it fell by 61%, partly because last year I believe I got a $200 refund for the extended power outage we had.

Cats:$460.

Maintenance:$252
State of CT: $208
Water:$199
Borough taxes: $165
Gardening: $141
Dump sticker: $85
Birds: $83
Car tax/reg/license: $79
Haircuts: $68
Gifts: $51
Clothing: $49
Dining Out $48
Subscriptions: $40
Entertainment: $19
Vacations: 16
Comment:This was all i spent on a trip lasting a few days down to see my dad on the Jersey shore. He paid for my gas and meals; all I paid for was the tolls.



A Christmas Pie

December 24th, 2012 at 12:12 pm

We...

that's me..

, Luther,

and my bud, Waldo...



wish you a Merry Christmas.

Mom baked this maple nut pie today.



It's made with real maple syrup and walnuts, pecans, hazlenuts and dried cranberries...oh so easy/yummy. Similar to a pecan pie.


My 2012 Miscellaneous Income: $2,460

December 24th, 2012 at 06:57 am

I've started tallying up my 2012 income and expenses. This is when all the meticulous tracking of expenditures pays off. I get to see the big picture and ascertain whether I truly "Save more, spend less."

While I have yet to figure my "regular" income from actual work, here's the breakdown of many of the miscellaneous things I've done during the past year to make money (or gift cards). For fun, I've also indicated what I spent those gift cards on.

Credit Card Gift Cards: $621. This includes $250 from Citi Thank You, $250 from Amex Premier Rewards and 1 year of free Netflix from Citi Forward (a $96 value).

Credit Card Cash Back: $371 (This came from Discover, Citi Dividend and Chase Freedom.) This money just went in my checking account, toward general living expenses.)

Online Surveys: $480. I decided doing these incredibly boring and repetitious online surveys was not worth my time, so except for Pinecone, I won't be doing these anymore.

Online Forums: $545. Unlike the online surveys, these aren't as lengthy or repetitious as those surveys mentioned above. I do 4 of these, each hosted by a specific company that wants to get inside consumers' minds. Once a week there is a discussion activity or survey that takes about 10 minutes to do and in exchange I usually get at least $40 in Amazon gift cards or the occasional gas card from a certain oil company.

Focus groups: $100.

Product testing: $203.

Craig's List: $140

So my total earned from all sources was $2,460; about half of this, or $1,230, was in gift cards. Much of it was Amazon gift cards but when I had a choice, I picked out gift cards for WalMart, Kohl's, Lowe's and Home Depot, Home Goods, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

As for how I redeemed the gift cards, i tried to find a balance between putting themn to practical use for things I know I'd need and allowing myself to indulge a bit. Here's how I spent the Amazon gift cards:

INDULGENCES

1. 12 books. I feel that books are among Amazon's best values, so while I wouldn't be buying these books otherwise, I indulged and felt it was money well spent when I used the gift cards. Cus there are many things that seem higher priced on Amazon than what you can find elsewhere.

2. Dark chocolate

3. 5 lbs of black licorice Scotties Admittedly, a waste of money but I had a craving and 5 lbs was the smallest amount you could buy on Amazon. I ended up using some of the licorice in Xmas goodie gift bags for 2 people at the office, so it did save me money there, at least.

4. BPA-free ice pop molds

5.Nylon concrete fibers to strengthen the hypertufa planters I began making last summer

MORE PRACTICAL PURCHASES

1. Dr. Bronner's soap.

2. Stainless steel brownie pan (Just as I'm getting away from using plastic for food storage, I'm also transitioning from no scratch or aluminum baking pans to stainless steel.)

3. Red and cream flannel duvet cover, which I LOVE and appreciate every night! Probably my favorite GC purchase.

4. Squirrel baffle for my bird feeder

5. Well-designed mouse traps

6. A recipe book stand to replace a plexiglass one I had that melted when i put it too close to the stove.

7. glass pitcher with lid I like this, but I later found I could have gotten the same or similar item much cheaper elsewhere.

8. Bamboo drawer organizer

9. Underwear

10. A set of 4 rubber floor mats for my car

11. 2 small fans that fit inside my 2 attic windows

12. a very nice nickel-plated hanging pendant lamp that i screwed into the recessed light above my kitchen sink.

As far as the other gift cards I got, I am giving a $25 GC for Bed Bath & Beyond to my mother as a Xmas present. I redeemed another $25 Home Goods GC for an Asian looking pagoda that stands in my garden. Also 2 pairs of pants, 3 bras, a sweater, bedroom curtains.

I collected points when buying Lean Cuisine meals to redeem them for subscriptions to Kiplinger's, Country Living, Money magazine and Better Home & Garden.

Love will find a way

December 22nd, 2012 at 09:10 am

One week after the horrific shootings in Sandy Hook, I am overcome by the outpouring of love and support. Our weekly newspaper, which covers just our town, was filled with evidence of the compassion of people everywhere.

A man from Mississippi anonymously bought lunch one day this past week for every person ordering a sandwich at the General Store. Amazingly, 2 others did similar things on 2 other days.

There have been so many teddy bears and stuffed animals donated, that today the town is having a toy distribution and has invited residents to stop by the town hall to pick one out. Our local paper is doing the same thing.

Local businesses are finding ways to give to the community as it grieves. The local sports center opened its doors to children and arranged for all sorts of children's activities to give kids and their parents a break from all the goings on here. Over 2,000 attended.

The Parks & Rec Dept is raising funds for a memorial to those slain. Close to $2 million has already been raised toward scholarship funds. A local chiropractor is giving away free adjustments to locals who need it. Therapy dogs from all over the country have arrived here.

A woman from Iowa, a teacher, drove all the way to New Jersey, where she had friends, baked 240 pies, and then gave them away to passers-by in front of our old town hall. A church in Hartford, CT made up hundreds of doggie bags filled with peanut butter dog biscuits, which are now being made available to dog owners in town. It's really quite amazing.

The newspaper's letters to the editor column was filled with letters of support from as far away as Scotland, England and Australia. There were also many full page ads from out of state individuals, organization and companies I'd never heard of expressing their support.

The vigils in neighboring towns continue and the makeshift memorials have multiplied on every major intersection of the town, filled with candles, toys and flowers. The one surrounding our famous flagpole, which stands in the center of Main Street, had to be moved elsewhere because the pile was becoming a traffic hazard.

I truly hope these children did not die in vain, and that the momentum inspired by the tragedy will lead to meaningful new legislation concerning gun control. You don't need a Glock to go hunting. Private citizens don't need military style weapons, period. Or ammo clips with 30 rounds in them.

Ludicrously, I heard an NRA representative on an NPR talk show suggest that teachers be allowed to carry firearms inside the schools. How many more lives would be lost in the panic and confusion of another school shooting?

More recently, I heard the NRA has suggested that a police officer should be on the premises of every school in America.I am quite sure they have only suggested this because they've heard the outcry against firearms in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings and they realize that if they remain silent, they may lose the ability to carry certain firearms.

So they are trying to shift the conversation from making it harder for deranged individuals or high-powered weapons fanatics to obtain them to simply beefing up police presence in an elementary school.

Feeling like a part of something

December 21st, 2012 at 03:47 pm

Today was a pretty nice day.

My boss, my boss's boss and a co-worker at the new job gave me those little gift bags full of goodies...mostly sweets that I don't need or especially like, but it was nice just the same. (Actually, one of the items was a large bar of designer soap, something I can use.) There was extra food in the kitchen this morning and in the afternoon we had a Secret Santa exchange.

I picked out what turned out to be a kid's toy that looks like a karaoke microphone with a built-in recorder, really the last thing that I'd want, but the woman next to me said her kids would love that kind of thing and said she'd trade me her gift, a nice glass carafe, made in Poland, with a very contemporary shape to it. I was happy to trade.

I was also surprised I even got a small bonus in my paycheck. Just $25, but you have to remember I've been there about one month now, and for at least half that time, I haven't actually worked due to my illness.

My fifth trip to the doctor was Tuesday night. Told her I'm still sick, runny nose, coughing, very tired, still the plugged up left ear. She drew blood, gave me a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia and looked into Lyme again. Everything came back normal except my "sed rate," which stands for sedimentation rate, is sort of high (35 instead of the normal range of 0-20). It indicates there's an infection somewhere in my body but that's all it tells you. The only thing she's still waiting for, and which I'll have to wait til Monday for, is the results from the Quest Lab that drew yet more blood to see if something...a culture...would go in it. If nothing does, I guess that's pretty much definitive proof that I DON'T have a bacterial infection, which my PCP had said I had very early on. It would explain why antibiotics haven't really done anything. Yet if it's viral, this has gone on very, very long. Normal duration for viral is 7 to 10 days; I've been sick a month.

So now I have yet more doctor's bill and lab bills to pay in the coming weeks, yet I'm not sure we're anywhere closer to finding out what my problem is.I sense my PCP is running out of ideas, altho she suggested that even tho I feel no pressure in my sinuses that she could do a CAT scan of them to see if that's the problem. I think I may pass on that.

Perhaps my body will somehow rally now and recover on its own. I am still taking raw garlic cloves multiple times a day and today i also picked up some elderberry extract and, for my ear, a mullein/garlic mix; you just put a few drops in your ear several times a day. We'll see how that works. At this point, I'm desperate.

I still have to wrap a few presents and tomorrow I start dethawing the turkey (a freebie from Thanksgiving, gift from employer) but aside from that I guess I'm ready for the holiday.

I applied back in late November for a contract, p/t real estate writer job and only heard from the hiring employer yesterday. He got a ton of responses and "narrowed it down" to 12 people, including myself. I had to fill out a detailed online questionnaire about why I'm best for the job. It only pays $20 an hour, but I'd grab it in a heartbeat as it's better than the $12 I'm making at my other p/t job plus it's work at home. So I actually would LOVE to get that job.

I have felt so out of it for so long. Someone at my job today mentioned I was so soft-spoken, but I didn't have a chance to tell her that I'm soft-spoken because I can't properly hear how loud my voice is with my ear plugged up, and so I guess it sounds like I'm whispering or something.

Thankfully, I've started doing a few other things at my job so there's at least a bit of variety in what I've previously described as "stupefyingly boring." It's all very detail-oriented. And she asked me to write a blog as she knows I can write, and I did that. At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to as I charge 7 times more for doing so as a freelancer. However, I decided I should do it because it will raise my profile in the company and perhaps the prez or others will take notice that i have greater abilities than as a proofreader and could possibly be offered more to do or maybe get a promotion or f/t job offer someday. So, I swallowed my pride and just did it, writing about how college students can build a credit history.

The media circus in Sandy Hook Center

December 15th, 2012 at 02:00 pm

UPDATE: Saturday afternoon I saw 5 large helicopters in the sky near my house. At first I thought they were news helicopters but I quickly saw they weren't normal helicopters; they were those hotdog-shaped helicopters used by the military (or Airforce One). They seemed to be traveling west directly above Rt. 25 and then veered to the north (toward Sandy Hook) at the flagpole.

We didn't learn that President Obama would be visiting my town until last night, but my friend said what I saw was a security detail meant to scope out the route in advance. However, news reports have indicated the President will arrive at Bradley International Airport in Hartford. I guess if he is then driven to My town (a good hour-long drive from the airport), then the security issues still need to be worked out.

It was an impressive sight.

I have also heard that the superintendent of schools has hinted that Sandy Hook School may never reopen. This, after I received a robo call last night from our town's first selectman saying that all schools in my town will be closed Monday and then all except Sandy Hook School will reopen on Tuesday.

If I were a parent, I would want that school razed to the ground. How could any parent feel good about sending their children back there? Although budget votes are always contentious battles here that pit seniors and frugal-minded folks against school supports, I suspect that if the subject of building a new elementary school comes up to a vote this spring, it will pass, easily.

Original Post:
The national news media has descended on our little town. As you approach Sandy Hook Center, which resembles a small hamlet, it's bumper to bumper traffic, and cars with lots of out of state plates are lined up parked on both sides of the road.

Satellite trucks are everywhere, TV crews and reporters are interviewing people on the streets, cops still have the road leading to the school blocked off to traffic, but they're allowing people to go to the firehouse (not sure about the school) on foot.

It's a very small and picturesque little Center. Historic 18th century homes line Church Hill Road as it descends down a hill toward the traffic light. There's a liquor store, Figs Restaurant, a Subway, a diner, St. John's Episcopal Church, the Demitassee coffee shop and a few other stores. There's the Pootatuck River that meanders through the Center, behind all the stores, and you can enjoy a lovely view if you sit on the back deck of the coffee shop. The sidewalks are brick, and the merchants have been working for years to revitalize the area.

People are out walking with bouquets of flowers and impromptu memorials filled with votive candles are all over town. Someone bought 20 Christmas trees, 1 for each child, and set them up. Saturday mass at St. Rose is packed right now.

A man was standing just off the interstate exit holding a sign that indicated he was from some town in NJ and that they support us. Other signs just said "Say a prayer." You can tell who the press is becus for some reason they all seem to dress in all black. It's all very sad.

I heard a few reports that the shooter was some sort of troubled genius, which makes me very angry. They shouldn't be turning him into any kind of figure that others would emulate or we'll have copy cat killers who harbor sick fantasies about becoming famous before they go out. Obviously this was a sick individual. No one in their right mind would hurt an innocent child.

I am sure that most people who live near the Center are hunkering down this weekend because you cannot venture out without getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. We saw a few familiar news faces out there.

Now that it is dark, I'm sure the disparity of festive Christmas lights and greenery on all the shops and homes down there is going to feel so unsettling against the backdrop of what happened.

It's hard to go about my normal routine. Although I don't personally know anyone with children in that school, I feel so distracted by the enormity of what happened, and I know that Christmas will never be the same for so many people.

Shock and dismay for my hometown

December 14th, 2012 at 02:37 pm

Today, my hometown made national headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

A local elementary school here was the scene of the latest lone gunman gone berserk. Twenty-seven people died this morning, most of them little kids.

I worked all day at the p/t job I've been at for less than a month. I absolutely could not believe this happened here.

I was concerned about trouble getting home from work tonight, as i heard someone saying earlier in the day the police were doing car by car searches, but that was really in a different part of town and didn't affect me at all.

I am sure I will be hearing much more about this as the days go on. You probably know as much as I do at this point. A 20-year-old man is the suspect, and he shot and killed his mother, a teacher who worked at the school, as well as a bunch of other people, before he died.

As someone here was already quoted, "we thought this was the safest place in America."

UPDATES: A friend of mine told me this is going to hurt my property values, because people will forever link "Mytown" as the town where that awful massacre took place.

I don't know many people here with kids this age, although The Author has a young niece who worked as a teacher at that school. She had the day off yesterday but went in anyway and was there when everything happened. Luckily she is safe.

My friend R. is coming up this afternoon. He wants to see what is going on in town now and is stopping by to pick me up. There is national news media all over town, doing interviews at iconic landmarks around town. There was a prayer vigil at a church last night, and another one at the high school tomorrow.

Saturday update: The national news media has descended on our little town. As you approach Sandy Hook Center, which resembles a small hamlet, it's bumper to bumper traffic, and cars with lots of out of state plates are lined up parked on both sides of the road. Satellite trucks are everywhere, TV crews and reporters are interviewing people on the streets, cops still have the road leading to the school blocked off to traffic, but they're allowing people to go to the firehouse (not sure about the school) on foot. People are out walking with bouquets of flowers and impromptu memorials filled with votive candles are all over town. Someone bought 20 Christmas trees, 1 for each child, and set them up. Saturday mass at St. Rose is packed right now. A man was standing just off the interstate exit holding a sign that indicated he was from some town in NJ and that they support us. Other signs just said "Say a prayer." You can tell who the press is becus for some reason they all seem to dress in all black. It's all very sad.

I heard a few reports that the shooter was some sort of troubled genius, which makes me very angry. They shouldn't be turning him into any kind of figure that others would emulate or we'll have copy cat killers who harbor sick fantasies about becoming famous before they go out. Obviously this was a sick individual. No one in their right mind would hurt an innocent child.

December 14th, 2012 at 02:32 pm

$91 "convenience fee" for paying property taxes with a credit card

December 11th, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Got my new Capitol One credit card in the mail today. I planned on using it to pay my property taxes. My property tax bill indicated there would be a convenience fee but I figured paying $3 or so would still be worth it, since I'd be earning $100 cash back from Capitol One.

I went to the website of "Official Payments" to do so and after entering my data, I learned there would be a $91 convenience fee to do so using my credit card. (A debit card is charged just $3; too bad I don't have a debit card.)

$91???? You've got to be kidding me!

I called my town clerk's office to complain about this. Perhaps they were unaware Official Payments charges such usurious fees. The town clerk was nonplussed. Why would anyone pay such an outrageous fee, I asked. Well, maybe some people have no other way to pay their property taxes than with a credit card, she said. I'm surprised the town of NXXXX would do business with a company like that, I said. Oh, a lot of the towns do business with them, she said.

Geez. I just can't believe government entities would condone this kind of charge. I have half a mind to complain to someone at the state level.

A weight loss wonder

December 11th, 2012 at 06:42 am

I'm really amazed.

While I was sick, I lost 7 pounds (!!) but I was quite sure I put it all back on when I started on the Prednisone, which is known to increase one's appetite. I distinctly remember one period where I ate pasta four meals in a row! That's how hungry I was.

So after putting off a weigh-in, I stepped on the scale this morning, and was amazed to see I'm holding steady at 140 pounds, just 5 lbs. shy of my Dating Dr. Bob weight 5 years ago.

While I was sick, I read William Davis's best-seller, Wheat Belly. And while I'd like to give a wheat-free diet a shot, I don't anticipate giving up wheat products entirely, at least not to the degree he advocates. But anyways, I haven't really purged wheat from my diet.

So what accounts for the weight loss, even despite the Prednisone?

It wasn't hard to figure out. Sugar.

Since I'd been on antibiotics for weeks, and since I've had problems with intractable yeast infections in the past, I was rather obsessively preoccupied with ensuring I wouldn't come down with another yeast infection. So I eliminated the many foods and ingredients that feed a yeast imbalance: cheese, bread and yes, SUGAR.

I drastically cut back on sugar in my diet these last 3 weeks. Although I always felt I ate a healthy diet, sugar is hidden in everything, and you won't know it unless you look for it.

I always read ingredient labels when food shopping, but truth be told, I would usually be looking at saturated fats, sodium and unhealthy preservatives. Sugar was not something I really paid attention to.

Years back I got hooked on Kozy Shack rice pudding. I figured it was a healthier alternative to cookies or ice cream. That may be true, but it's still loaded with sugar.

The kefir yogurt drink that tastes so good. LOADED with sugar! As is most commercially made yogurt, even my favorite, the "healthy" alternative, Stonyfield Farms. I can no longer justify eating their yogurt, organic or not, because of the high sugar content. 25 grams of sugar in a 6 oz. container!

Even the vanilla version of coconut/almond/soy milk is also quite high in sugar. You have to read EVERYTHING.

Of course, those coconut macaroons I recently found, are also filled with sugar. Oh, they tasted good.

About the only sugar I'm allowing myself now is that found in fresh fruit. The fruits higher in natural sugars include bananas, pineapple and mango. I happen to love those fruits, so jury's still out whether I'll ban those from the diet. In fact, I know I won't.

I also still like Trader Joe's reduced sugar jams: apricot, blueberry and raspberry all come in at a reasonable 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

So anyway, it had to be the sugar. It's funny, with all the diets out there, I never hear anyone talking about sugar. Sugar converts into glucose, which in turn converts into stored fat, so it makes sense to monitor sugar intake as well as be conscious of the glucose levels of different foods.

For that reason, I don't think it would be too hard to switch over from whole wheat bread (which shockingly has a glucose level nearly equal to white bread), to pumpernickel, which has a significantly lower glucose level.

I don't know how long I can sustain the radically low-sugar diet, but I'm going to try, monitoring my weight as I go. I'm not going to go crazy and try to eliminate condiments like ketchup from my diet, and I don't have the time to make my own, so there will have to be some compromises. But excess sugar brings with it a lot of problems like accelerated aging
and inflammation in the body, not to mention diabetes/obesity.

So this shall be my first resolution for 2013. Closely watch sugar intake!

Big bills looming large

December 8th, 2012 at 10:21 am

A couple of hefty expenses coming due in December/January:

1. Property taxes (twice annually): $3300
2. Quarterly estimated federal taxes: $600
3. Oil for heat: Estimated $600+

I got my amazon delivery two days early, so I dug in last night and started reading Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Adventure.

It's pretty interesting, and an awful lot of time is spent describing the nature of the ice and how it heaves and pounds against the stranded ship. I was a little dismayed early on my reading to learn they had about 60 sled dogs on the ship. I say dismayed because I really try to avoid exposing myself to any descriptions of animal cruelty or hardship. I'm just a huge animal lover. And I suppose the men on the ship will end up eating the dogs to survive, or else the dogs will die. Oh well.

I also watched a Netflix movie last night, Of Gods and Men. It was about 7 French Trappist monks who care for the poor in Algeria. These are extremely pious men who spend their days praying, chopping firewood and selling their honey to the villagers. They are not young men.

The highlight of the movie for me was when one of them, as a special Christmas eve treat, plays a tape of The Nutcracker during their simple dinner. They are rapturously uplifted by the music. The camera lingers on each face lifted in joy and wonder at such beauty. It was really well done.

Then Islamic extremists kill some Croatians in the village. The monks are urged...begged... to leave by the French embassy and others. A young girl has her throat slashed becus she didn't wear a veil. The extremists even break into the monastery one night demanding medicine for wounded comrades.

Still, the monks decide not to go. They discuss it over and over again. Some say they didn't come there to become martyrs. In the end, they all agree to stay, and shortly after, they're kidnapped and held captive by Islamic extremists. Two of the 7 hid and were not found. Later, the kidnapped monks are killed. The 2 that remained lived on, one for another 10 years and the other died maybe 5 years ago. It was a true story.

No magic bullets

December 7th, 2012 at 11:52 am

I saw the ENT (ear nose & throat) specialist today about my plugged up ears.

There will be no magic bullets. The preferred course of action is to simply wait for my ears to drain. It could take two to three months.

The other alternatives include perforating the eardrum to allow the fluid to drain, but there's no guarantee the ear won't close up again in a few days. Or, they could make an incision and put a tube in there, but that is not without possible complications and requires monitoring. His preference...and mine...is to take the wait and see approach.

He had me make an appointment in two months time. That's mid-February. If my ears clear up before then, I can feel free to cancel the appointment. If they don't, then intervention will be needed.

Some people, he said, can't stand not being able to hear and want to do the procedure right away. I'd prefer a less invasive (and less costly) approach.

He didn't think the antibiotics I'm still on are doing that much, and that after 3 weeks, I've probably been on them long enough. He did think I should continue with the nasal spray my APRN gave me; luckily, she gave me two free samples, so I didn't require a new prescription.

On the way home from the doctor's, I stopped at the library and picked up 5 DVDs to watch. Not having cable TV, and only getting Netflix about 4 times a month, things have gotten very boring around here. So I'm glad I got the DVDs.

I was also able to return some overpriced groceries my mother bought me 3 weeks ago when I first got sick. $4 for a can of Amy's organic soup is just too much, and $4 for a quart of soy milk.

The Author stopped by and paid me with a $100 bill, the latest installment on her book editing. She now owes me a balance of just $275.

Itching to continue my life again

December 6th, 2012 at 06:25 am

Ah, let's see. This must be day 23 of being sick, if you count from the first day i started feeling I was coming down with something. Ridiculous, right?

Tomorrow I see the ear, nose and throat specialist. Just getting a "timely" appointment was a feat in itself. At first they said "no openings this week" with any of the 4 doctors. Then they found me a space. It's not the doctor my APRN wanted me to see and whom I've heard many good things about, but the one I am seeing did train at the Mayo Clinic.

Last night I watched This Is It, Michael Jackson's DVD. Aside from my feeling rather sad throughout the whole thing, knowing he never got to perform at the 50 sold-out London concerts he was preparing for, I was most fascinated by one of the "extra features" on the video, which featured an interview with the designer of Michael's over-the-top outfits. They all featured those built-up shoulders and tons of Svarovski crystals. The lengths they went to, not just with his attire but with every aspect of his performances, was really interesting.

I am hopeful to achieve one goal today: to bring a growing pile of trash to the landfill. I have been putting it off, day after day.

Tomorrow, since I have the doctor's appointment, I was also hopeful of doing grocery shopping afterwards, as my stockpile of food is getting rather low.

I am SO eager to get back to my normal routine, and I've been keeping a growing list of Things to Do for when I get better. If I could knock some of those off here and there, so much the better, but I don't want to start running around and then see a return of my cold symptoms, as that happened last weekend.

I have an Amazon delivery set for this Monday and have been wishing I had it sooner so I'd have something to read. Using free Amazon gift cards I earned through my assorted forum participation, I ordered a stainless steel brownie pan and two books, one of which will interest frugalites. It's called How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life. The other was a best-seller, I believe, on Shackleton's Incredible Voyage; it's about the Antarctica explorer who got stranded on the ice, and survived. I always like reading survival-type stories. I read both of Jon Krakauer's books, On Thin Ice and Into the Wild.

So last weekend, after I had a kind of relapse, I emailed the woman I report to at the p/t proofing job and explained my situation in great detail. I told her I didn't want to jeopardize my job there due to excessive absences, but that my first priority has to be to get better. I asked for one more week off. She acknowledged the note, but i really don't know if my job will be waiting for me when/if I return to work on my next scheduled days, Wed/Thurs/Fri of next week.

If I don't, I'm rather up the creek as to income. I already gave up the driving job, and I don't regret that decision. But the loss of the proofing job leaves me with just my highly sporadic freelance income. I had a very good November, income-wise, but December could prove to be much worse. The weeks before Christmas are typically slow for many things, including getting new freelance assignments, job interviews and the like.

All the worry is counter-productive, since it all means nothing if I'm still not better. Doing what I can to get better! Still on the antibiotics. This a.m. was the last prednisone pill. Seeing ENT doc tomorrow. I'm dosing myself heavily with acidophiles, to make sure I don't get a secondary yeast infection from all the antibiotics. Also taking calcium and Vit. D. due to the prednisone. And also consuming 3 to 5 cloves of raw garlic daily, since it's an anti-bacterial agent. Along the same lines, I'm using cinnamon whenever possible and shying away from foods that contribute to yeast, like milk, cheese, bread and sugar. And just trying not to over-exert myself or tire myself out. At least until I'm sure the underlying infection has been vanquished.

I had been positively thrilled to have lost a good 6 lbs from being sick, but then i started taking the steroids, which really increase your appetite, and I knew I was eating rather heartily. So I've been afraid to step on the scale becus my fear is i gained back all the weight. Aargh.

The only other thing I feel up to doing here and there is continuing to edit The Author's second book. I have over 100 pages to go, and it's very slow going because her writing requires a LOT of edits. I also take my time with it because she still owes me $375 on it and she's always scraping for money. She mentioned dropping another partial payment in my mailbox the other day, but half the time when she says something like that, she doesn't. I could use the extra cash right now.

What i do when i can't sleep: retirement calculations (all is not lost)

December 4th, 2012 at 01:44 am

One would think that after three years of underemployment, my retirement savings plan has gone deep underground, hibernating until an unknown time when my savings can "spring" forth.

Although my retirement savings goal, refined by repeatedly plugging in the numbers in retirement calculators and other detailed analysis (Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price), had been $1,250,000 for quite some time, and despite the market meltdown that was 2007, and despite continued underemployment with no end in sight, I don't feel that all is lost.

I could not sleep tonight with my infection, so I got up and was playing around with Kiplinger's nifty calculator (http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/recoup_your_savings_calculator/index.html)

This one was designed to help investors determine how many years it would take to recoup money lost in the market meltdown of 2007. You just plug in the total investments you had just prior to the meltdown. If all you want to do is see how long it will take to reach a certain balance, based on a given interest rate and level of annual contributions, it can do that for you.

So instead of using it to see how long it would take me to recoup money lost in the market meltdown (my balances show I already did that, by about $50K), I plugged in $750,000 as my new goal and the $515K I have now. I also indicated I wanted to reach $750K in 7 years, by the time I'm 60, and I assumed a very modest 5% interest rate. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I would only need to save $2,964 a year (or $247 a month) to reach that goal.

(If I plug in 6%, 7% or 8% interest rates to reach $750K in 6.5 years, I keep getting negative numbers for the monthly savings rate required, which tells me I would have to save a really minimal amount of money yearly.) This is all along the lines of what Dido told me a while back, that I could almost reach my savings goal simply by staying the course and earning a reasonable rate of return.

I could make retirement work with $750K in savings.

Just for fun, I plugged in my target number as $1,000,000, again giving myself 6.5 years, to age 60, to save it. (I don't want to work full-time for long.) Earning just 5% on investments, it would be an uphill climb. I'd have to sock away $32,207 a year, or $2683 a month.

However, if I assume a more reasonable long-term interest rate of 8% (stocks did about 15% this year), then I'd only have to save $12,180 a year, or $1,015 a month.

IF I get a job,that is doable.

Since we are approaching year's end, I decided (for fun) to do a preliminary look at my 2012 expenses. While it's not all nailed down yet, it looks like my total expenses were in the neighborhood of $32,600. At first, that number looked much higher than I expected, since I have repeatedly crunched my "bare minimum monthly expenses" at $1800. So $1800 x 12 months = $21,600 about $11,000 less.

But then I forgot my bare minimum does not include paying the mortgage since I paid that off this past August/September. So my 2012 expenses included about $4200 in mortgage principal payments; without them, my 2012 spending would be about $28,400, although that's still a good $6800 more than what I've calculated my minimum expenses to be. I should be able to dig into why my expenses were that high once I have final December numbers. At this point, nothing else besides the mortgage payments jumps out.

At any rate, my total 2012 expenses at $32,000 were lower than in any previous year since I've owned this house. More typically,when I was working full-time, my total annual expenses ranged from about $40,000 to $43,000.

Things are moving backwards

December 3rd, 2012 at 02:49 pm

So my last day on the antibiotics was last Saturday. I am still on the steroids,meant to reduc ethe swelling in my eustachian tubes that is keeping my ears plugged up.

Yesterday (Sunday), I felt I had a little more energy, enough to finally start picking up the mess around here after 2 weeks of being sick. I even did 2 loads of laundry. My ears had improved, though the left was still more clogged. However, I noticed I sneezed 3 times during the day, and I still had the sense that the infection was still in my system, though all but one of the symptoms (my muffled hearing) had receded.

Last night everything reversed. I was up most of the night coughing. Stuffy nose, blowing nose. Today that's continued, and no more energy leaps.

I read on the long warning list for the steroids, in big bold letters, that steroid use reduces your body's ability to fight infection. Great.

I understand why she put me on the steroids, to reduce the swelling in my ears. I TOLD her that while my other symptoms had gone away, my sense was that the infection was not completely cleared up. She put me on the steroids anyway.

Now the steroids are dampening my immune system and the cold/infection is coming back. My ears are as clogged as ever and the ringing in them is back too.

Waiting for a callback from doctor.

Will I ever get better? Will I lose my p/t proofreading job due to being out so much, possibly/likely again this week, if I ever want to get rid of this thing? Will I lose my remaining few weeks of unemployment benefits due to losing the job due to being out sick too much? Will I be sick for Christmas, after missing out for thanksgiving?

Stay tuned to As the World Sinks.

In other news, I managed to make a quite delicious, ad hoc soup using what was on hand. I usually don't like to make a soup without a recipe becus it usually comes out too watery, or flat tasting or something else. But this one was a winner.

I was trying to avoid having to go out to buy groceries, so I threw together the following:

1/2 carton Swanson's organic chicken broth
About 2 cups of my own homegrown tomatoes, thawed from frozen
1/2 cup of wheat berries, cooked
1/2 cup Trader Joe's chopped organic spinach
1 can TJ's organic chickpeas, drained/rinsed
1 can TJ's organic kidney beans, drained/rinsed
1 small can tomato paste
4 leftover TJ's veggie wontons, cooked
garlic powder, parsley

It was very tasty. The wheat berries added a nice chewy texture to it all and the paste thickened it up nicely.

I've been in touch with my neighbor who lives behind me; she offered to drop off some homemade chicken soup with motzah balls tonight after work. Much appreciated, Laura.

When I get better, I have decided to spend $70 to get MagicJack Plus; it comes with free local/long distance calls for a full year, and if you don't like it, you can return for a refund within 30 days. It plugs right into your computer USB port.

Anyone use it? From what I could tell, it works with the slowest AT&T DSL of 3 mbps.

Catching up

December 1st, 2012 at 05:31 am

I am still not feeling great, but I have more energy, anyway. Today is the last day for the Zpack (antibiotics) and I'm continuing on the Prednisone thru Thursday. I have to remember to keep dosing myself with acidopholus to stave off the dreaded yeast infection that often comes with antibiotics.

I can hear pretty well out of my right ear, but it's the left that's still clogged pretty bad. I hope it continues to improve.

So I'm TRYING to catch up on so many things I let slide in the last 3 weeks.

Yesterday I managed to put in about 5 hours of work at the proofing job, then stopped to deposit some cash and checks at the bank. I also changed my flannel bedsheets and did my November expense and investment statement.

Year to date, I'm doing well. Even with my paltry income, after paying all bills and expenses, I've managed to save roughly $3,000, with a month left to go. And I was thrilled to get an early payment of a big freelance job I did, that came to about $1,034.

I did get a nice surprise at the proofreading job yesterday. Because of my extended illness, the holidays and their not having any work for me on one scheduled work day, this week was technically only the 2nd week I've worked there. (And I really, really hate the job, although the people are very nice.)

I saw from emails when I returned that they had given out a free turkey to each employee the week I was out. I figured I missed out, but I was surprised when I was leaving when the receptionist stopped me and brought me to the freezer, where a 12-pound turkey was with my name on it.

It actually will come in handy because I had just suggested to my mother that we recreate Thanksgiving in late January or February, and because I was sick, I hadn't been able to spend the $300 needed to get a free one at Shop Right last month. So this will make up for that nicely and save us all a few bucks.

Last night I spent quite a bit of time trying to find the most lucrative credit card reward to go after with my upcoming property tax payment. I was disconcerted to find there's nothing better out there for me than a $100 Capital One card.

Some of the better offers I've already taken advantage of. Some have an annual fee, which I won't do. Others are travel rewards cards, and I don't see any travel in my near future, and even when you read all the details on the card, they don't always say whether or not you can choose to redeem your points for gift cards. (Didn't feel like talking to a rep on the phone.)

Then I tried going after a PenFed credit union card ($150 reward). I realize you have to be eligible to join, and that's not too much of a hoop to jump through, even if you have to pony up the $15 to do so. But then they want you to open up a share account with at least $5. OK, did that. But THEN they require you to fax or email your last 2 years tax returns (!), and that I refuse to do. (Course doing so would also trigger rejection of my application since I'm not working full-time.) But even so, I don't think I would do it..it's just too personally invasive.

I mean, they can see from my credit report that I have an excellent history, paid off my mortgage and never had a late payment on anything. Oh well. There will be many more big property tax payments to come, so I can just keep looking for some new offer. There was a time $100 cash back seemed like such a big deal, and now compared to a few $250 rewards I got, it seems puny!

J., the guy I've been driving to work since July, told me he MIGHT have someone else who can drive him starting next week, after I told him I didn't want to do it anymore. He said it seems a bit "sketchy" as this guy doesn't live especially close, and even though the guy needs to drop off his kids close to where J.'s kids get dropped off in the morning, the rest of the drive taking J. to work is a royal pain, especially now that they're doing major road work on the main road. And the guy drives a non fuel-efficient truck, so even though he's out of work, I can't see how he'd think it'd be worth it for $20 a drive.

J. is going to let me know this weekend if the guy takes the job. I dearly hope he will so I don't have to continue driving J. this coming week. I'm really sick of it and it interferes with other things I want to do and certain other money-making opportunities.

Today I'm still not up for running errands, but I hope to do so, maybe as late as Monday/Tuesday since those are free days for me (aside from driving J.). Today I'll be content to do my laundry and try to clean up around here. The place is dying for a vaccum cleaning although that's a bit strenuous. I also need to make some soup as I'm dethawing some of my garden tomatoes.

On my errands list:
1. Return overpriced items my mother bought me when I was sick to 2 different grocery stores.
2. Grocery shopping
3. Bring trash to landfill, pick up mulch for my garlic (better late than never) and maybe drop off a few more chainsawed tree trunks from the storm.
4. Haircut badly needed
5. Bring trimmer and lawnmower into basement from garage.
6. Refill birdfeeder
7. Tell computer guy who charged me $100 to add more memory that my computer's still freezing up.