I got a weird feeling about my finances after updating my "Countdown to Retirement" goals at very bottom of my sidebar here, which I've copied here:
Annual Savings Goals:
End of year 1, Nov 2015: $723,469
Actual Savings: $686,593
End of year 2, Nov 2016: $805,974
End of year 3, Nov. 2017: $893,842
End of year 4, Nov. 2018: $987,421
End of year 5, Nov. 2019: $1,087,083
You'll notice that at the end of year 1, Nov. 2015, I failed to meet my 1st year savings goal of $723,469. These were goals I came up with in November 2014 after crunching numbers with several different online retirement calculators, to determine how much money I needed to finance the kind of retirement I want. But I missed the mark, by quite a lot.
Two months later, after calculating my January income and expense numbers, and with mom's help...and this is where I feel the weird part.... I have almost EXACTLY met my 1st year savings goal.
My savings as of January 31 is $723,451. The difference between that and my original 1st year savings goal is just $18.
Thanks, mom. I will use this money wisely to honor your memory.
On a related note...
I am so glad that when I planned my mother's funeral I decided to say in the obituary I wrote that in lieu of flowers, people could make a donation in my mother's memory to either the Alzheimer's Association or any animal welfare organization. Flowers' beauty is fleeting, and I knew I would derive more comfort from the people who came during calling hours than any flowers.
I am so glad I did this because I did not realize how enormously comforting it was to get a card in the mail from various animal groups (or AA) informing me that so-and-so made a donation in mom's name. Not a ton of people did this, but maybe 5 or so did, and each time I learned of it, it really made me feel good because I KNOW my mother would also feel quite touched by it. And appreciative.
Another poignant thought...it seems so many people who were a part of my mother's life have become a part of mine now. If at all I knew these people while mom was alive, I knew of them at a kind of peripheral level, someone I may have met once or twice but didn't know very well. Now that my mom's gone, I find that some of my my mother's neighbors or friends have become my friends. It is so comforting, I can't tell you how much.
My mother's neighbors of 15 years, a married couple in their 60s, have invited me, my dad and my sister to dinner out this spring.
I spent at least an hour with an art gallery owner who had exhibited my mother's work for many years. She listened so much to my troubles, trials and tribulations when my mother was in the nursing home. Yesterday, I tried to pay back some of her kindness while we talked about lost loved ones and how we took care of them. She told me a little about her favorite grandmother, something I can definitely relate to because my mother's mother was also someone I held very dear. The gallery owner is about my age. I will always hold her in high regard because I was with my mother the last time the two of them saw each other. It must have been in the first half of 2015, and I remember so well how the gallery owner, who I discovered had a subtle yet very playful sense of humor, made my mother laugh.
My friend Ron has suggested we take my dad out some day this spring too, in much the same way he suggested years ago that we do different things with my grandmother. Ron is very family-oriented; I do believe he taught me a lot about the value of family. I came from a very fragmented family with divorce and plenty of moves in my past, so I don't think I understood how to cultivate family ties. He did. Anyway, I have two destinations I think my dad might enjoy: 1 is rare breed conservancy that breeds endangered duck species (yes, ducks) and the other is horseofct.org, a group that rescues, rehabilitates and adopts out neglected or abused horses. I'd like to check them out at one of their open houses days and will probably donate to them once I get my employer to recognize them as a legitimate nonprofit (which they are). They just weren't on my employer's database for some reason, probably because they're small and one location.
Archive for January, 2016
I got a weird feeling about my finances after updating my "Countdown to Retirement" goals at very bottom of my sidebar here, which I've copied here:
My net worth now surpasses $1 million. This is a first for me. That includes the value of my home, so certainly I can't retire today but it still is very nice.
What pushed me over the one million mark is that I've already received about half my inheritance from my mother. This was the money she'd invested in mutual funds, which bypasses probate. It was amazing how quickly that money was deposited in my account. I mailed in T. Rowe's forms (it took 3 phone calls to make sure I was filling them out correctly), along with the original death certificate, and 5 days later I saw the money in my account. It was lightening fast and I'm sure in sharp contrast to what the probated process will be like.
I know how very carefully my mother managed that money, and out of respect for that, and remembering how incredibly frugal my mother lived, I do hope to do the same. No doubt some of it was what was left of money she'd inherited from her parents decades earlier. At the same time, I don't want to simply hoard my money, being so afraid of spending it that I don't really get to enjoy it. I think my mother, who grew up in the Depression, was a little guilty of that. She hoarded everything.
Still, if and when I do spend the money, I want to spend it on meaningful, not frivolous things. In my mind, when I do sell my house, a meaningful thing would be taking a portion of my inheritance to purchase a nicer condo that I would have otherwise been able to afford. I don't plan to move again, so this will be my "retirement" home and I've long held onto the idea that this home should be a bit more luxurious than my first home, because I've earned it.
I like my house very much, but it is circa 86 years old with not-quite-level floors, beat-up walls and woodwork and stuff like that. Mice in the basement in winters is an annual reality. I would really like a fully updated kitchen but have done nothing to mine except wallpapering in the 20 years I've lived here.
Frivolous spending would be spending on things like clothes, jewelry, and random do-dads for the house although major home improvements are another thing I would willingly spend on. Like getting my driveway redone this spring, hopefully. Travel would also be well worth it, IMO.
I remember encouraging mom to replace the ratty carpeting in her condo, which she so wanted to do because of her allergies, and getting a new ceramic floor in the kitchen to replace the beat-up linoleum. I know she wanted to do both but probably ran out of steam. It would be such a huge, multi-step project just to move furniture and stuff out of the rooms. I wish I had made the time to help her figure out how to approach it. It's a little bittersweet remembering the whole thing because I did end up replacing all the carpeting in there, but she didn't get to enjoy it -- I had moved her out and into an assisted living place by that time, and the new carpeting was needed to sell the place.
Also reflected in the numbers is the fact my home value has been going sideways for a while. I can't say the value has recovered since the market peak I 2007-2008. In June 2013 it was valued at $289,000 by Zillow and today, 1.5 years later, it's valued at $286,000.
I keep plowing large sums of money into my Roth 401k accounts at work. Eventually, I hope all that bears some fruit.
Shown here is a small blue vase, which represents my 16th thing to be grateful for. You may wonder, what the heck is so special about that little ceramic vase?
I've always liked its shape, design and color. A lot. It's handmade, and the maker signed the bottom. But maybe part of the reason I like it is because I grew up with this vase. It was among my mother's possessions, and among the relatively few "trinkets" I held onto. Somehow, it was not dropped or broken all these many years. It could easily be 50 years old, which is really not that old when you think about the pyramids of Egypt, but when measured by a human's lifetime, it's practically an antique.
Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us live in an affluent society. If you see some small trinket that catches your fancy online or in a store window, you can buy it pretty easily, right?
I suppose that's a good thing, but there's something to be said for history and longevity. The world is changing all the time. I find comfort in surrounding myself with familiar possessions that hold special meaning for me because they've been a part of my family for so many years.
And so this little vase, which is worth so much than the sum of its parts, is what I'm thankful for on this 16th day of gratitude.
I am sure that anyone reading this post could think of special items they hold onto, not because they serve a certain purpose, necessarily, or because they hold great monetary value, but for reasons having to do with your family and where you came from. An anthropologist might even call this a talisman.
What are yours? 100 bonus points if you post a photo!
I think back to the many yarns and fibers I sold these past 6 months.
When the weather was still warm, I would photograph them outside to take advantage of the natural light and what I think was a handsome backdrop: my stone staircase.
Naturally I wanted to make the yarns I was selling as attractive as possible. It got to the point where I felt like I was marketing "yarn porn."
Take a look at these gorgeous shots and see if you don't agree. You don't have to be a weaver to appreciate them.
These glittery yarns, which I made a point to sell right before Christmas, were some of my best sellers. If I'd known how popular they would be, I would have priced them higher. Of course, that's what I said about a lot of things.
In addition to some very alluring photos, I also gave the colors some appealing names. This was butter yellow cotton. I would typically sell the cones for about $5 for small ones, $10 for medium-sized ones and $15 for large ones like this, which could weigh a pound or more. Depending on the fiber, they could retail for more than twice that amount.
I exhaustively researched prices for every yarn I sold. The goal was to determine the right price per ounce. Obviously I wanted to get as much as I could for them, but if they lingered on my shelving for weeks, well, I also need to get on with my life, too. I continuously adjusted my prices as needed to keep moving the merchandise!
I started out by checking retail yarn prices, then pricing mine at half that. But I found over time it was better to compare yarn prices on Etsy and then either meet those prices or slightly undercut them, because Etsy is where, I suspect, many buyers go to check prices before making an offer.
This was lipstick red cotton.
The afternoon sun created some interesting shadows with this Robin Hood green.
I called these the "fuzzy navels," because they are actually hairy. Most people don't know what to make of it. I still have a dozen of these things and I think I sold one. They are polyester, and most serious weavers are yarn snobs. They look down on synthetics. Who knew, right?
Here's another polyester that has gone unsold, despite my best efforts. I really kind of like the multi-color effect; it reminds me of the string they use to tie up your box of cake at the local bakery.
My gosh, I sold a lot of yarn cones. These are all gone, thankfully.
This roving (used by spinners) was also very hot, due to the unusual coloring. The people on these sites are very serious about their purchases, though, and they expect you to know the provenance of each yarn you sell, what breed lama/alpaca/goat, etc, its age, name and favorite snack. I'm exaggerating, of course, but only just a little.
I must say, this was a great shot in the late afternoon sun. This was "soft as a baby's bottom" roving, and it was easy to sell.
Some neutral wools...
This was the very first fiber I tried to sell, and I vastly underestimated how popular they would be. I went crazy trying to keep up with all the people saying they wanted this color or that color. I had about 50 of these cute little wool tubes from Frederick Fawcett of Boston, which has since gone out of business. I sold them for $5 a piece, a bargain, by all accounts.
This Tussah silk brought gasps of admiration, believe me. It is made by a certain type of caterpillar and I got a very good price for it.
This is not a natural fiber but I think it's a great color nonetheless. It finally sold, for a pittance.
I sure have learned a lot about fibers, not to mention, shipping via USPS and Paypal. Since most of what I sold did not have labels indicating quantity, I learned how to calculate "WPI," or "wraps per inch," which you can do easily with a pencil. Armed with that knowledge, I could then cite the yarn weight, wehether it was "fingerling," "worsted," "bulky" or "lace."
Most of these wool cones came from Plymouth Mills, one of the few mills that appears to still be in business. I know because I contacted them to try to determine if this fiber was in fact 100% wool. Thank God, for now I could make the claim it was wool and not have to worry about unhappy buyers. It really was important as far as trying to set a price on them. After I sent them an email, they confirmed they were indeed wool. I sold them 1, 2, 3 or more at a time, a very tedious process, until finally a few months back I met a woman online who wanted to buy all the wool cones I had remaining, about $400 worth. It was a lot of work to pack up 4 big boxes for her, but it helped me get through some of these yarn sales that much faster.
When I started, I had about 4 of these shelves filled with yarns, not to mention 2 folding tables and my dining room table. At this point I've sold probably 75% of my mother's stash so I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What I have left is the synthetic stuff, the acrylics, nylons and polyesters or the ones that have no labels. It's tough to sell something if you don't know what it is. There's a burn test you can do but it you have a blend, like a polyester/cotton mix, say, the results can be inconclusive so I don't rely on the burn test too much.
I've been selling yarns since I guess late May. Never really mentioned it here that much because you guys aren't fiber people, but this has taken up SO much of my spare time. I thought I'd share all these photos with you as it's been quite the journey. It kind of became a hobby for me and now I don't want to get rid of quite all my yarn photos. It will remind me of these upside down, emotional days.
I've also met a lot of very very nice middle-aged women who live locally and came to the house to buy. It's been a very interesting experience. I had no idea, starting out, these yarns were so valuable.
This is a basket of Thai jute, just one of a zillion fibers I sold on Facebook or to local weavers.
Heating oil prices now down to $1.39 a gallon. I could have pulled the trigger and ordered a fill-up of my tank, but I think it will continue to fall, so might as well wait. When I consider that I paid an average $3.22 a gallon in the 2010-2011 heating season....but the worst was in 2008, when I paid $4.24 a gallon to stay warm.
I called a few contractors today looking for estimates on two spring projects I'd like to tackle: 1) the repaving of my driveway and 2) installation of a hand rail for my newly redone front stairway (outside).
The driveway is in pretty rough shape. I dislike the look of an all-asphalt driveway, especially as I have a pretty big area at the top which opens up. So the one guy I could reach on the phone was the one who rebuilt my stone staircase outside and did a very nice job with the paver landing at the top, right in front of my front door.
He doesn't do asphalt drives, but he does do paver drives. If the price was right, I might consider hiring him to the top half of the driveway in pavers and hire another company to do asphalt on the hill.
Pavers at the top of the drive, surrounded by my stone walls, would really make it look like a courtyard.
The hand rail will be a small job and in fact I hope I don't have trouble getting someone to even bid o it since it's not much money involved. I'd like to see them bolt the hand railing into one side of the stone wall rather than have vertical posts bolted to the bluestone stairs themselves. These would get in the way of potted plants I like to keep on the stairs. Heck, maybe I can get my handyman to do this. I just don't want mishaps drilling a hole into the stone and possibly weakening/dislodging/damaging it.
Going to see 13 hours this weekend with my dad.
I decided to donate $100 to Bat Conservation International today. I used to be a member in years past. What's great is that now I register with my employer to have them match my donation. There's another group, a local horse rescue group that rehabs neglected or abused horses and puts them up for adoption, that was not on my employer's database of nonprofits but I submitted an app to register that group so my donation to them could also be matched.
This guy looks so darn huggable, doesn't he?
I've gotten what I believe is the last statement from Medicare, which indicates I may have to pay over $4,000 in numerous bills to the local hospital doctors, etc. The number of items listed is dizzying. I will wait for the actual bill(s) to arrive themselves. They mostly seem within reason and were covered by Medicare, with various co-pays needing payment by me, except for one big bill for $800-odd dollars, that was no covered by Medicare because, I assume, it was a duplicate. So hopefully that's not going to be an issue to dispute.
I heard back, finally, from Masonicare about whether or not they are going to reimburse me for the comforter that disappeared after it was laundered. They will. They will issue a check for $38 and change. Small victories. The letter of grievances will still be written about much more important matters. I need to do it while memories are still fresh, but I know I am procrastinating about it because to write it means I have to relive it again.
I'm so enjoying the final season of Downton Abby. It's like a feast for the eyes to look upon the inside of that castle and the clothing everyone wears. Just love it.
I am way behind on my Days of Gratitude but it is hard when you mostly stay cooped up indoors.
I don't think I mentioned, but on Sunday, the day after the big snowstorm, after I shoveled out my driveway and ran some errands, I decided to swing by the cemetery to see if they installed the stone or not. I parked outside the gate and walked up the hill, which hadn't been cleared. I trudged through the snow and already the tears began to fall. I kept looking up toward where I thought the stone would be, and there it was. He did a very good job of it. But I couldn't tell if they'd been able to dig the footing or not, due to the snow, and later I learned they had not been able to cus the ground was too frozen. If they have to wait til spring to do it, I may not want to wait because I am anxious, as executor, to pay off all final bills as expediently as possible. Though if I pay him now, as I sort of plan to, it could give him a reason to possibly put off doing the footing, I don't know.
Waking back down the hill, there was such a great view of some boys playing ice hockey on the frozen pond. So Norman Rockwellian. Wish I'd had my camera with me.
I woke up this morning at 6:52 a.m., about the time I naturally awaken, but as so happens with me, my brain had crystalized someting very important even before I was fully conscious.
It was well before my mother died that I began privately maintaining a laundry list of grievances with the nursing home. I wanted to write a long and detailed letter, addressed to the chairman of the board of directors, and possibly cc a few people at the state agencies that oversee nursing homes.
At so many levels, in ways small and large, Masonicare could have done so much better for my mom, and I believe if they had, my mother still might be here today.
First and foremost, the quality of their rehab. One hour of physical therapy a day following hip fracture surgery is simply not enough for an elderly person to recover! Can't stress this enough. I brought this up all along the way, at the so-called Family Meetings I had with an array of healthcare providers at Masonicare, to the nurses and aides on staff, etc.
I didn't realize I have a choice. My cousins mentioned that some places are better than others, and that some may provide 2 hours of rehab a day. Too late to look into that now, but if I had known then what I know now, I never would have settled for 1 hour of therapy daily, even if the nursing home was located much further from my home and work.
The crappy state of their diet plan is #2 on my list. I've gone into it before, but it is founded on the standard American diet filled with sugar, sugar and more sugar, processed food, salt, etc. The ONLY fresh fruit I EVER saw there was watermelon. The dietician was noticeably defensive when I tried to tactfully raise this subject, and even when I was able to make some simple modifications to my mom's diet, they WERE NOT implemented because the stupid food servers consistently ignored the written orders due to laziness on their part.
Loss of personal items is a minor point but one I will still make. In fact, it was Masonicare's refusal to reimburse me a measly $40 for the disappearance of my mother's comforter (after I donated a $1400 scoot chair paid for out of pocket..a whole other fiasco) that I decided to press forward with my letter. They said they couldn't reimburse, after searching for it unsuccessfully, because I had not labeled it, like I did the clothes. They have a blanket statement in all the paperwork you receive saying they're not responsible for personal possessions but I'm sorry, there needs to be accountability somewhere. You can't just make a blanket statement and consider it a given.
And yes, I will certainly bring up the scoot chair. I thought it was the answer to my prayers and the only thing that seemed to prevent my mother from getting up by herself and falling again. She was falling repeatedly, starting when she was still at assisted living and continuing after the surgery in rehab, even with a nurse right in the same room. They seemed powerless to prevent it. This special chair, which sits low to the ground and which was usually on back order at the Canadian company where it is made, was highly recommended by a social worker at Masonicare, Wallingford, ok'd by the director of admissions at Masonicare Newtown, only to be taken away at the direction of the head of rehab who said the angle my mother was sitting in the chair was not good for her post- hip surgery. Fine, but why was I permitted and cleared to buy this chair in the first place then if he had the ability to naysay it?
This may provide me with some closure on these topics. Maybe they will throw it away and avoid dealing with it and give me some token response. But maybe they will take it to heart and do something about it. I owe it to my mother to try this.
The tiger inside me is growling.
I am grateful for my education.
I have so many fond memories of Wheaton's lovely old campus with its ivy-covered brick buildings, how my mind was opened up by reading and learning, and the little pond with all its geese. I took one anthropology course with just one other student! They didn't cancel the course! We met at the professor's house on the edge of campus. So wonderful.
Another course on German literature had just 3 of us students. It was so great to get such undivided attention and to have your thoughts and feelings heard.
Work was fairly uneventful today though I did have 4 meetings, which for me is a lot. I had my performance review which went fine, but won't find out about a raise for the coming year until February, I think. They historically have been very stingy with raises but anything more than what I'm making now would be appreciated.
I stopped at Stop & Shop on the ride home to pick up some food to make sure I could make do for a few days indoors if need be.
Now my car is parked in the garage (1st time this winter). I had hoped to get out tomorrow morning early to run errands but it's possible snow could be falling by daybreak, so just to be safe, I parked in the garage.
I got a postcard in the mail about a class action settlement pertaining to Whirlpool dishwashers (and a few other brands) which I'm very excited about because while I didn't experience sparks, I knew there was some sort of electrical short because the darn thing would start operating when the door was NOT closed. It would just spontaneously turn on, which was kind of scary. I already replaced it, so assuming I meet all their qualifications, I could get $300 back from them, which would be GREAT. I hadn't bothered to call Whirlpool because I think when it happened I was already beyond the warranty period and I thought it was somehow my fault because I rarely used the thing.
I walked to the PO on my lunch break in the bitter cold so I could mail two small boxes of yarns to some buyers, and a third package I left on my doorstep for USPS pickup. So yesterday was a productive day in terms of yarn sales.
I must've sold yarns to at least 50 people by now and I'm lucky that with all those sales, I only had one complaint by a woman who said my yarn was "messy," meaning, it had unraveled a bit. She actually got the Facebook site administrator online with me to make her complaint. I mean, if she wants perfection, I guess she should spend triple the price retail somewhere. Geez.
Today I had a look at the quarterly statement I got for my 401k. Some interesting tidbits:
Since beginning contributions August 1, 2014, my rate of return has been a measly 2.03%, or 0.53% for this quarter. However, because I'm contributing 22% of my checks, I've accumulated $36,000 in about a year-and-a-half. The company match for this quarter, which is 100% vested, was $842. Not bad at all!
Only 1 of my 3 Vanguard funds beat its respective index, and only by a tiny amount.
A large storm is coming our way and is expected to last all weekend, dumping about a foot of snow in this, our very first serious snowstorm of the season.
I don't feel ready for it but I did buy a new shovel. I'm going to call my dad tomorrow and remind him NOT to try to clear his stairs or even go out there.
Working at home tomorrow. I have a physical scheduled for 1st thing in the morning. It's something I always look forward to becus I like the APRN I've been seeing there for the past 20 years. Also, I have a great interest in interpreting and seeing the results of my blood work, which is generally very good. This time I'll be requesting two additional tests to check my homocysteine level and C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker. The 1st is important to ensure I don't have a B vitamin deficiency (as a vegan, I must supplement).
Friday I have my end of year performance review with my old boss. I don't expect any unpleasant surprises. It would be nice to get more than the usual 2% raise but I'm not counting on it. I did today receive a certain award from a fellow employee I work with for some things I'd done with her. Definitely all in a day's work and I was so surprised when she sent the award. The award is simply an email message, but the nice thing is that my new boss was copied, so she can see the value I bring, which is important as she doesn't really know me yet (we don't work in the same location). If you get this same award from a VP, then it comes with a gift card and you could be nominated for the chairman's award, yadda yadda.
I am feeling anxious about new boss because at a recent meeting the new boss's boss made mention that when we do our personal development goals for 2016, it can't just be a seminar somewhere; it needs to include "oral presentations." Now, as a writer, I have no need to be making presentations, the skills I use daily are not the kind that could be laid out simply in this kind of presentation and I'm the only writer anyway, so no one would understand/relate to what I was saying. More importantly than any of this, I am DEATHLY afraid of public speaking. Oh, I guess I could manage with a very small group of say 4, but that's about it.
I have no interest in toastmasters or "developing" this part of me. If I'd wanted to be Donald Trump, I would have done it a long time ago. I know that if I was forced to do some public speaking in front of a large group, I would be so petrified that it would be humiliating to have this seen by others and the fear would totally consume me in the weeks leading up to it. Just not worth it.
I anticipate they will try to get me to do this anyway and I will have to refuse. In fact, I am prepared to lose my job over it. Oh, I don't think it would happen directly, but perhaps down the road if layoffs were ever in the works, they might target me becus I'd already demonstrated an unwillingness to do as requested. And as you may recall, I already put my foot down about making the 6-hour drive up there every few weeks. Just didn't want to do it, especially when my work for them was only supposed to be at most 20% of my work time. So they may begin to perceive me as unambitious or uncooperative or whatever. Hence the need to demonstrate my value in other ways, like when a fellow employee shoots off an email xx award.
For such a brief time, my job had seemed, well, too good to be true. I'd gotten the ability to work at home 2 days a week and the customer communications copywriting I was doing for old boss was not that difficult. The volume of work was very reasonable, especially when I compare it to some hellish work environments of the past.
Now, stupidly, my old boss's boss's boss, whom I've never even met, decided it made more sense for me to report to Creative Services instead of Customer Communications, even though I still do the customer comm workload PLUS new creative services stuff plus more marketing stuff for student lending and business banking that I've been doing also (and which I enjoy). But somehow the new boss zeroed right in on two things I find extremely distasteful: regular business travel and public speaking. Sigh.
Old dogs can't learn new tricks. Old dogs have no interest in learning new tricks. It's just the way it is. I know myself too well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and these are mine. They can't expect everyone to conform to their preconceived model of what the model employee looks like. This is how extroverts make an introvert feel bad, when really, introverts bring several valuable skills that extroverts lack. But you never hear about that.
This will likely cost me future promotions, but since I've only planned to work f/t for 4 more years all along, it doesn't really matter.
The company recently made a change to its pay scale, meaning that the different job grades will no longer come with a minimum salary requirement. I know they're doing that to save themselves money becus it will be easier to get away with paying people less if there's no mandatory minimum. I think that sucks, and this is what I hate about corporate America. The little guy doesn't stand much chance to get a fair shake.
I am thankful for...great recipes, like this one for ranch salad dressing from plantpoweredkitchen.com...
As I continue to become more of a vegan purist (and also because I've noticed I'm not really losing much weight), I decided I want to try to eliminate olive oil (and all oils) from my diet. At over 100 calories per tablespoon, I suspect this is one of the bigger reasons I haven't shed the weight. I absolutely love the taste of olive oil, but because it is processed, many vegans won't use it. The accent is supposed to be on whole plant foods, not processed.
So I joined a few vegan facebook sites and asked for oil-free salad dressing recipes. I got quite a handful so I tried one tonight, and it was quite good. I was tickled to use my immersion blender, a handy little thing I just love to use, but usually use only for soups. Cleanup is so easy.
So this salad dressing is made up of unsalted cashews, fresh parsley leaves, tahini, Dijon mustard, chives (oops, somehow I came from the grocery store with scallions instead, but still good), agave nectar, wine vinegar and a few spices.
I had a mid-day visit from another weaver, who spent about $55 on yarns. The art curator finally made it here to return 3 of mom's art.
Aside from that, it was an uneventful day. I enjoyed the relative calm of the day. Then at 5, I wanted to run to the bank to deposit a check I received from another yarn buyer. I'm always a little nervous about accepting check payments (she doesn't have a paypal account) because if it bounces, I'm pretty sure I'll have a hefty fee to pay and no means of making the would-be buyer pick up the tab for that. But I will make sure to wait for it to clear before I mail the yarn.
Anyway, at the local ATM machine, I waited behind a man already using it. He looked familiar and it took me a minute to remember he was the shuttle van driver at the assisted living/skilled nursing place where my mother used to live. I said hello and we had a very nice conversation. I told him about my mother and he gave me a hug.
I have to say again, Amazon's return and exchange policy is really exceptional. After doing all my research on the lead contamination of many teas from China, and even ceramic mugs made in China, I decided to purchase a set of 4 glass mugs on Amazon.
Less than a week after I bought them, one of the mugs developed a prominent crack all the way up one side and halfway through the bottom of the mug.
I did not slam the mug down, but I do routinely heat the water, not to boiling, in the microwave with the water and teabag in it. I typically heat it for 1 minute and 40 seconds.
I left feedback for the seller at Amazon but got no response. I was prompted to do a return for a refund, but I didn't want to return all 4 mugs, just the 1 that cracked, and get a replacement.
So this morning I called Amazon and explained the situation. She issued me a refund and said I didn't have to return anything.
That is what I consider stellar service. I can see how some people might try to take advantage of their liberal policies, and I hope that doesn't happen too much.
Earlier I posted about how easy it was to get a refund on a cell phone car charger that stopped working after a few months, to Amazon.
So as you can tell, I'm a big fan of Amazon. I love being able to order from home and they have an enormous selection, and I routinely review other buyers' comments on even the simplest of items. (Although both the items I just received a refund on were highly rated by other buyers).
Compare that to Sears, where I just wasted $50 on a garage door opener transmitter I bought November 1 that also stopped working shortly after purchase, but because of my mother's illness, I wasn't able to try to return the thing more promptly than I did. I'll be buying another transmitter online at Amazon soon.
My 2013 Honda is due for its 30,000 mile checkup. It's impossible to overlook this since there's a message programmed to appear on the car's LCD display. I can get rid of the message with a click of a button, but everytime I start the car up, there's that message again.
So I called the dealer to find out what the 30,000 mile checkup involves. They mentioned things like rotate the tires, change oil and filter, check transmission fluids, battery, change wiper blades, brake alignment..nothing big. The cost? Over $400!!
I went to my mother's old mechanic instead. I'd already had him change the oil for me a few weeks back, and I went elsewhere to get the tires rotated. So there wasn't much left for him to do and it cost me just $90 for him to do it. Wow, what a savings.
The only drawback going to this mechanic is that it's hugely inconvenient for me. For one thing, he's basically a one man shop and he's closed on Saturdays, one of the few times I can get over there. So I went today as I had MLK Day off, but even so, he's got just a regular garage, not the upholstered chairs, TV, free beverages the dealer has. Luckily, he got it done in less than an hour.
Today (and yesterday, for that matter) has been sort of a weird day for me. Meaning, I've been uncharacteristically not very productive. I think I'm a little depressed and I've had to push myself to go out and run a few errands, and I don't really feel like doing much indoors except read, watch TV or go on the computer.
There is just a ton of stuff I could be doing, but eh.
Tomorrow a somewhat local woman is coming to hopefully buy some yarns. I'm also working at home tomorrow so I can ease back into the work week.
Today I did make a batch of black bean, corn and fresh tomato salad with fresh Italian parsley and some leftover pesto sauce I used as the dressing.
I also made some candied nuts the other day which are pretty good and which I feel like eating now.
I have a physical scheduled for Thursday. Eating mostly vegan, all the bloodwork should look pretty good.
Still waiting for probate court to approve me as executor; they were waiting for my sister to sign a form waiving the hearing for that purpose, which is supposed to speed things up. In the meantime, the money from my mother's brokerage accounts, which bypasses probate, has now been distributed evenly between me and my sister. Most of mine is already sitting in new mutual fund accounts and I don't really intend to use that money for anything right now. I probably could have taken more time to think about the tax implications of how I would take that money, and I knew I should have, but there was too much else going on. So I had them deduct 25% in taxes for some of the money and the rest of it, well, it will become taxable money in my accounts anyway. It all accounts for an extra $50,000 in my accounts, and when the other money is probated, it should come to close to another $50,000, so $100K all told that I really didn't think I'd see. I am very appreciative for this unexpected windfall inheritance.
I would like to move forward with my plan to sell this old house and buy a small 2 bedroom, 1 level condo, preferably in this town I've lived in for 20 years, but I feel "stuck" with all my mother's many possessions, her art, her yarns and everything else. I've been whittling away at it but am still tripping over things here. I just don't have the space. Problem is, I don't really have a game plan for how to dispose of certain things. I had hoped to sell some art on Etsy but they have a rule that the art sold must be by the person who opens the Etsy account. I don't feel like having to learn eBay.
All together, I sold 2 pieces to coworkers, decided to give 2 pieces (as yet undelivered) to my cousin in New Jersey, I sold one small piece through a gallery I discovered and I hope to sell something to the doctor at my mother's nursing home, who expressed an interest in something "big." All good, but that's about it as far as leads or anything.
This afternoon an art curator is returning 3 pieces of my mom's art she had in her home for private showings. One of those pieces I plan to photograph, with a few other ones, for the doctor and then email them to a nurse who will in turn forward them on to the doctor. It would be great to sell something that way because I don't have to pay a commission (typically 40%!) to a gallery or a curator like the one who is returning some art today.
But I have like over a hundred pieces of different sizes, shapes, mediums, styles here in my home. More than I could ever hope to display. Some I know I can part with.
I have some art on display at just two galleries now.
So I have things to do, in an ongoing way. I've already donated tons of stuff that held little value, like old furniture and clothing and household items I had no use for. I also gave a few things away to my handyman after he helped me multiple times last summer. But I kept most of the what I think is the more valuable stuff that I'd like to try to sell.
I have hundreds upon hundreds of slides I'd like to manually convert to digital, I still have weaving yarns to sell as well as artists equipment, cameras, special lighting stuff. It's all so time-consuming. I have to research the value of each thing I try to sell.
And I still have to get thru the probate process, which I wouldn't be surprised will go to mid-year. When that is done, I would like to update my own will.
I'm sort of putting stuff aside for a possible spring tag sale. I suppose I could put much of the stuff in that, but I still need to do the legwork to figure out the value of so much of this stuff cus I have no idea.
The monument guy said the stone should be done this week, so I'd like to pay him and get that particular bill out of the way. There are still a few more I expect to see, hopefully soon, to pay off all creditors.
I am grateful for the wild turkeys that sometimes pass through here. Like the frogs, they are fun to watch. In past years, I'd get groups of several dozen, although these days, perhaps because of my neighbors' dogs, I only see one or two at a time. One year, I noticed a particular turkey that did not rapidly walk away when I was in the yard. Perhaps because I seemed turkey-like myself, as I bent over to pull weeds in the garden and not unduly interested in the turkey, it kept a safe distance but did not depart.
So I began to keep a handful of seeds in my pocket when I worked in the garden. The next time I saw that turkey, a female I named Claudia, I scattered black oil sunflower seed behind me and slowly retreated. It wasn't long at all that, as I walked away, sprinkling my magic seeds, I sensed a presence behind me, and looking over my shoulder, I spied Claudia greedily catching up with me to catch the fallen seed.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I kept luring Claudia to come closer as I sat or squatted very still. It was a real thrill to have this turkey peck seed from out of my outstretched hand, or to peck, with pinpoint precision, the seeds at my feet.
I fed Claudia as often as I saw her. One day, I saw two turkeys together. I think one of them was Claudia because she seemed torn between coming toward me and sticking with the other turkey. I watched as she hesitated and ultimately she wandered off with the other turkey. I was glad to see her do her thing and so very grateful for the special bond we shared.
(The turkey in this photo is not Claudia, whose pictures I still have but aren't on this computer.)
I'm am amateur naturalist and love natural history. So today I am grateful for frogs (and other amphibians). I think they're cool and interesting to watch. This is a leopard frog, the kind I might see around my yard. Although they're one of the most common frogs in North America (and the species you dissected in high school biology class), they are now, in fact, listed as Threatened.
There are large portions of my yard left unmowed and untended. I would like to think it provides some habitat for small creatures like this who might like to burrow in the damp leaf litter and find a grub or two.
Oh, dear, I've fallen behind on my Days of Gratitude.
Today I'm grateful for Amazon, especially for their great customer service.
On OCTOBER 4, for gosh sakes, I purchased a very cheap cell phone car charger for I believe $6.99. It got an average 4 star review from over 900 buyers. I would plug it in on my drive to the office, about 40 minutes, and then I'd have it handy to check occasionally at the office.
It took me a while to realize it wasn't working. I would plug it in on the drive in, bring it inside and then find it had 2% battery life remaining. Strange.
Although the purchase was over 2 months ago, they have given me a return shipping label, which they will pay for, and will credit my card once they receive it. I mean, this is the best customer service.
Compare that to Sears, where I purchased a $50 remote garage door opener, also for the car. I carefully made sure the little buttons on both the transmitter and the base unit on the garage ceiling aligned. It worked for a few days. Then it didn't.
I changed the batteries a few times. I also see that I can still open the door using the door opener mounted on the inside of the garage. So it appears something else is wrong with the transmitter, and because I bought it November 1, Sears will not take it back and Craftsman warranty does not cover it because I bought it at a Sears store.
$50 out the window ticks me off. I'm still hoping I could figure out what the problem is, but I really don't know what else to do.
So yes, dear Amazon, I will happily reward your excellent customer service by renewing my $100 Prime membership.
If you recall from my Day 2 of Gratitude post, I was getting worried about high lead and aluminum levels in many teas, Chinese-grown tea, specifically. My research on the subject lead me to discover that there are a small number of American tea growers doing their thing.
Chinese smog levels 20 times safety limits, caused by coal-burning power plants, is nothing new, but not everyone connects the dots between dirty air and agricultural soils contaminated with heavy metals.
There's an excellent story here on the subject: http://e360.yale.edu/…/chinas_dirty_pollution_secret_t…/2782
I reached out to Steve Lorch, co-owner of Table Rock Tea Company with his wife, Jennifer, in South Carolina. While their Uniquely American Tea won't be ready for market til 2018, he did offer to send me some imported tea samples if I were willing to give my unbiased feedfback.
On Friday I received this package in the mail which looked a little like drug contraband upon opening. Also included was the bandana, which, if I take a photo of myself doing something fun with it, will get me into future contests and giveaways.
So I can now happily sample the Jacked Black tea (Steve advised me to use no more than a 1/2 teaspoon as this stuff packs a wallop), along with a winter green tea, baked green tea and roasted Yaupon. All minimally processed, as Steve's handwritten note explained. Sipping it now as I type, but I will withhold my opinions until I've sampled each tea several times.
Which leads me to Day 10 of my 365 Days of Gratitude. I appreciate American entrepreneurs with a vision of doing something a better way, and I also appreciate the personal touch where a customer can interact directly with the merchant from which they're buying.
I am grateful for...
...the beauty of an orchid.
For me, orchids represent the classiest of houseplants. Actually, the word "houseplant" seems like far too mundane of a word to describe such an elegant and delicate plant.
If I didn't have cats, I'd make sure to always have a few orchids in the house. This one was given to me by my coworkers; it was sitting on my desk with a condolence card when I returned to work this past Wednesday.
I am grateful today for this...
Yes, I am grateful for all the yummy foods at Trader Joe's.
For those of you unfortunate enough to not live near Trader Joe's, it's a regional supermarket that stocks a lot of healthy foods and interesting brands at affordable prices.
My mother and I have gone there many years.
Sometimes I get so bored when I go food shopping because I tend to buy the same products over and over again. I'm always looking to try something new, but it has to meet so many of my personal criteria: it must be healthy (not necessarily organic, but no hydrogenated oils, tons of sugar or salt or unpronunceable ingredients), delicious and not sky high in price. Well, I do often overspend on certain food items, but if it's not absolutely a stellar product, I won't be a repeat buyer.
For instance, there is a cracker I discovered a year or so ago. They are insanely expensive but they also are the best cracker I've ever had. Mary's Gone Crackers...really good. Occasionally they will go on sale.
Anyway, I like Trader Joe's because in addition to their own store brand, they carry brands not often carried in the big chain supermarkets.
The one thing I hate about Trader Joe's is that there are so many other people who feel like I do that it's crazy busy to shop there on the weekends. Bumper-to-bumper shopping carts. You have to take a deep breath and paste a smile on your face if you want to make it through alive.
OK, it's not the neatest fridge you've ever seen...
In a time when thousands go hungry or don't have enough to eat, I am thankful for having the means to buy all the food I need to eat.
You can probably spot my almond milk and the 2 glass canisters of my homemade granola on the bottom shelf, and the hemp seed and peanut butter on top. There are nuts in there too.
I really do believe that my body is a temple, and to me that means not consuming crappy, unhealthy foods. I'm not perfect and I'm tempted by a McD's double cheeseburger and a Diet Coke like anyone else, but for the most part I'm doing well in my continuing effort to eat healthy. It's probably the single most important impact my mother had on me.
Not surprising, I'm sure, but I am grateful for all my mother's beautiful artwork.
Here's one I'm not selling:
I forget the name...it might be Winter Grove.
Today was my first day back in the office since December 21. It was at times hard to concentrate, but getting back in my usual routine I think was very good.
My friends at work got me a lovely orchid and a card that everyone signed, so that was very nice. I had a long talk with my boss about what happened. And on this, my first day back, my other out-of-state boss (I have 2 now) asked me if I could start driving up there for meetings every 2 weeks, or at least every month.
Right now I go up there for quarterly meetings, and that's plenty. It's 6 hours of driving in a single day plus a full day of work. It's exhausting. And I can't stay overnight because, well, they're not offering to pay for a hotel and I also have a hyperactive thyroid cat who needs his meds twice daily.
I consulted with my original boss and she gave me her feedback on the email I'd composed to boss #2 explaining why I can't do this. She said a lot of the people in that office never travel down here and so don't realize how long a trip it really is. She agreed with me that no matter how many meetings I traveled to attend up there, it would never be the same as if I lived and worked up there with the rest of the people in my department. But I don't need camaraderie to write stuff.
This is not the job I applied for in 2013, but I wasn't consulted when they chose to have me report to a new team and expand my responsibilities (with no pay increase). If I knew it would involve frequent travel, I wouldn't have applied for the job and in fact I have chosen to not consider many jobs for that reason.
Perhaps if this was 20 years ago and I wanted to climb a ladder or two, but at this point in my life, pretty close to retirement, I'm really not interested in promotions, and my boss #1 agreed there really isn't much room for advancement for a writer at the bank anyway, not unless they greatly increased the number of writers there. But management has never interested me; that's why I'm still a writer after 30 years, because that's what I like to do.
So anyway, I'm sure she will be unhappy but she won't be able to do much. I doubt I can be terminated since I am still very much needed by boss #1.
I am grateful for my small collection of succulents.
Normally, they reside in the sunroom but since it's unheated, I have to bring them elsewhere in the winter months. The sunniest room in my house is the upstairs bathroom, which has both west and south-facing windows.
I would love to add some cacti to the mix but right now with the kitties I wouldn't want to risk it.
I like the plant with the large, round and waxy leaves, which grows so easily, and same goes for the jades of course. I am grateful to have living, growing things here, especially in winter.
Distributing my mother's assets will require 3 different sets of paperwork. About half of it will have to go through probate (the proceeds from the sale of her condo), while the other half will bypass probate because my sister and I are named as beneficiaries on my mother's mutual fund accounts.
Because I have to return to work on Wednesday and I know the Probate Court is typically closed on Saturdays, I thought I'd better get the process started today. Probate court requires you to submit the paperwork within 30 days of the date of death.
I spent all morning preparing the paperwork for 1. probate and 2.mutual funds that include both taxable accounts and traditional IRA accounts.
I went to the bank to get the necessary medallion signature on the mutual fund forms and then to the PO to mail it, certified, to T. Rowe Price. It required 3 phone calls to them to ensure I was filling out their forms correctly. I hand delivered the other paperwork to probate court as I had a few questions.
I emailed my sister a detailed letter with all the required forms attached, telling her how to complete her own T. Rowe Price forms. I also mailed her a copy of the probate court paperwork, which is required, and asked her to sign to waive the hearing requirement to appoint me as executor, which would delay the whole probate process. (I already was named executor by my mother, but all beneficiaries have a right to contest the appointment by the judge if there's an issue.)
I have to wait for my sister's waiver, and then for the judge to okay me as executor, before I can proceed. However, in the meantime, I will be watching for 3 final bills in the mail I want to pay before the next step in the probate process, which is a statement of assets to the court (and my sister). The final Masonicare bill will be about $11,000 and there's a teeny final bill for her prescriptions by the pharmacy. The last bill I expect to receive in another 2 weeks is the balance due on my mom's tombstone, $1,000.
After reviewing a roughly 19-page guide to CT probate court, I can see there are a series of checks and balances to ensure that the executor does everything above board and fully transparent. Namely, I have to send my sister a copy of the initial submission to begin probate, which I did today (where she can contest me as executor), then later, I send her a copy of the inventory of assets I file with the court, then later, I file a final financial report after the accountant files an estate tax return, and still later, I send a copy to my sister of my final affidavit of closing and distribution of assets.
This is the first time I'm learning what the probate process is. What's disturbing to me is that about 10 years ago (or more) when my father's mother died, she named my sister as her executor. The money was evenly split between my dad's 4 children. My sister did not share any paperwork or documentation with any of the 4 children; she simply handed out checks to each of us when we all got together for dinner one night. At the time I privately wondered how we would know what the total value of the estate was and now I wonder how she could have possibly avoided all the reporting aspects unless she simply lied on the court paperwork where you're required to certify that copies were mailed to each beneficiary. I do remember her talking about how she had to wait for the ad in the newspaper alerting any possible creditors they have a limited time to submit a bill.
I haven't had a chance to research how NJ law works, since that's where my grandmother lived, and it's not really something I want to resurrect, but it's yet another reason for me why there's no love lost between my sister and myself. I don't feel I can trust her.
The amount I estimate my sister and I will both receive is a significant amount, but it's not enough to, say, retire today. For the time being it will be invested.
I am grateful to my mother for leaving us both this gift. Twice during the course of the journey with Alzheimers, I had plans laid in place which she interrupted.
First, after I moved her into assisted living, I had every intent to keep her going there for as long as possible becus that's where the best quality of life for her was. I planned to sell her art and all her yarns and throw it all in her checking account to pay for her exorbitant rent there. I was fully preparing to spend all of her assets on assisted living. As you remember, I had calculated I could keep her there 3.5 or 4 years before the money ran out. I thought a few times how sad it was that all these many years, she fully believed she'd be leaving my sister and I all her assets and what a shame it was that assisted living would take it all.
But all my plans were undone in September when my mom broke her hip. Ultimately, they wouldn't let her live in assisted living anymore because she needed round the clock care in the skilled nursing home. So that was the first turn of events which took matters out of my hands.
When I had to move her to the nursing home, I then assumed I would keep her going there until her money ran out and then I would file the paperwork for Medicaid to pick up the tab. I was resigned to seeing her entire estate sucked up by the even more exorbitant costs of nursing home care. Once again, mom took that decision out of my hands, by dying last week. I hadn't even considered that scenario. I (and a lot of other people) were shocked at her swift decline.
So mom, whether she knew it or not, found a way to ensure her daughters would receive an inheritance. This is what I was alluding to in an earlier post where I said, sometimes even the best laid plans won't necessarily unfold the way you expect them.
Grief, and/or depression, is very tiring. After I did all the paperwork and delivered stuff to probate, I had other errands I wanted to run but suddenly felt like I just wanted to go home and get under the bed covers at 3 in the afternoon, which is just what I did.
Today we buried my mother.
It was a long day. Friends of mine, friends of my sister's and friends and neighbors of my mother's showed up to pay their respects. I spoke to every one of them. My friend Ron gave a little eulogy and I was so surprised when he started tearing up, for he was remembering his own father who died about a year ago. My old flame R. also came by, which meant a lot to me. He lost his mother to Alzheimer's earlier in the year. We had that in common, plus his father was a pretty well respected artist, a painter of horses, and so, like me, he had a lot of art to dispose of.
My good neighbor, L. who lives behind me, also came by; her husband has pneumonia and so couldn't make it. I introduced everyone to my dad and sister, and I was gratified to introduce a lot of people to my dad who have been such an important part of my life. There were a chunk of years when I didn't see much of my dad, after he remarried and began raising a second family.
We got a dinner invitation from my mother's neighbors (me, my dad and sister) from the neighbors of my mothers who have faithfully visited my mother from the beginning of her journey with Alzheimer's right through to the end.
And my friend Ron said he would like to spend some time with my dad and me, just the way he liked to spend time with my mother, and before her, years ago, with my grandmother. Ron and I would surely be divorced if we had married, but one of his sterling qualities is that he recognizes the importance of family.
Everything went pretty much seamlessly. My sister, her significant other and my dad were the first to arrive (I got there early to set up the art and bulletin boards). I broke the ice and gave my sister a hug but there is no love there. Then I hugged Sandy, thanked him for coming and then broke down in my dad's arms. It was hard to hold back the tears from then on, but somehow we got through it.
My sister arrived wearing a plaid flannel shirt and work pants. She looked like she was ready to go work in the fields. She and her SO sat behind me and almost immediately began what I would describe as shop talk. Just an everyday conversation that had nothing to do with my mom. It's like she felt nothing at all while it was all I could do to rein in the tears. It was so disrespectful I nearly said something. I really just don't understand her at all, nor do I want to. After I give her the money, I want nothing to do with her...ever.
The pastor led us through a service and then we all went to the cemetery. Afterwards, I paid the bill for the funeral, packed up the art I had arranged on the easels there and my friend Ron and I went to a nearby restaurant, my favorite in town, that is closing in a week.
My friendship with Ron has been tested any number of times, but still, when the going gets tough, he's there by my side.
I was just so gratified that so many people came out to share their memories of my mother or tell me how they met or simply to give me a hug.
And that is why I haven't taken a photo for my 3rd day of gratitude. Instead, I've included a photo of something that says compassion to me... compassion and kindness from others who know you need a helping hand (or paw) through the tough times in life. And that is what I'm thankful for today.
A steaming mug of hot tea...a respite amid one's busy day. I've been drinking two cups of tea daily, usually Tetley British tea, which is a blend of Kenyan and Assam (Indian) tea.
I recently read that Chinese tea contains high amounts of lead due to the unchecked air pollution and smog in a country that burns coal like crazy. If you're a healthy adult you're getting too much lead after drinking 3 cups daily, but if you're pregnant or have health issues you should avoid it completely. The tea being organic has no effect on the amount of lead absorbed by the tea plant.
These are just a few of my mother's handmade ornaments. I am grateful for many little treasures like these.
In other news, Patient Saver is tired. It is a huge effort to do most things. I think I'm doing fairly well and then I break down in tears. Like, inexplicably, when I was cleaning the cat litter box. Or when I was getting ready to get in the shower. I cannot help all the thoughts of so many different things swirling around in my head.
Yesterday was a nicer day. I called my dad to confirm he was coming to the funeral and he wanted to meet me for lunch. As it turned out, I was planning on going into his town anyway to run an errand so we agreed to meet in front of the bandstand. I always feel better after spending time with him and so I felt better. But I still have not gone a day without crying for, I don't know, at least 4 weeks now.
We'll get through it. Sunday will be the hardest day of all, but eventually, things will ease up. I don't know how I'll function when I'm back at work next Wednesday, but crossing that bridge when I come to it.
I'll close with a beautiful quote from Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet.
"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul, there is no separation."