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Archive for November, 2016

I planned a family reunion

November 29th, 2016 at 03:20 pm

So exciting! It's all set for next week!

I spent the better part of the day working on it. Dad had talked to his cousin J. and told him I'd be calling him to set some dates, becus we're both worried that if we don't have our get-together soon, before the snow flies, we'll have to wait til spring to see everyone.

Dad and I will be doing the longest drive by far, at about 4 hours down, spending one night and then heading back the next morning. I can't stay longer becus Waldo needs his twice-a-day meds and traveling with him would be out of the question.

I wanted to find a place to stay, and a restaurant for dinner, that was sort of midway between where J. lives in the York, PA area and where K.& R. live north of Philly. I was also hoping that by settling on the Lancaster area, it would shave off about 40 minutes from our drive if J. was willing to travel that distance to meet us for dinner.

He was, but he mentioned his night vision wasn't great (everyone but me in this group is in their 70s or 80s!), so then I realized that one of the places I was looking at for accommodations would allow him to spend the night with us for just $15 more dollars.

Of the places to spend the night that I looked at, the low end was about $80 and was mostly motels that got mixed reviews about cleanliness, and on the higher end was 5 or 6 story new huge mega hotels going for about $130 and up.

Then I found a private family farm in Manheim (200 years old, with 70 acres) with a freestanding small guest house with 2 bedrooms upstairs for me and dad so we could have our privacy but still be near each other.

The cost of $135 is actually cheaper than what we'd pay for a low end motel. Downstairs is a living room and kitchen, and the living room has a sofa bed, so I suggested to J. that for just $15 he could spend the night with us so he wouldn't have to worry about driving home in the dark and there'd also be plenty more time for us all to catch up, relax, have a glass of wine, etc. He liked the idea and plans on doing that.

The 2nd cousin is coming with her husband; we have never met them. She was the daughter of my grandmother's sister who was given up for adoption in 1945 and no one ever knew about her until I found her on ancestry. So she and J. are half-siblings. He didn't have any others. Wow, wow, wow.

I'm not sure if they will plan on meeting us and then returning home or possibly might spend the night somewhere nearby as well, but I don't think there's room for them at our guest house.

This all just came together today. I sent out an email in the form of an invitation to the "1st Annual Family Reunion of xxxx/xxx/xxx with all the details.

I told everyone to bring their cameras, any old photos they might like to share, and their favorite drinks. I will try to think of some snacks to bring for us as well since we will have full use of the kitchen.

So it'll just be 5 of us, or possibly 7 if the 2nd cousin's daughter (who is also a cousin) and her husband wants to join us, but i think it doubtful since she works and won't likely want to have a late night out on a work night. Unless she took the next day off. She was the one i initially traded emails with on ancestry.com because she managed the account for her mother. I think she's in her 40s.

I have some trepidation about the 4-hour drive twice in 2 days, especially as I prefer to do the driving due to my dad's vision issues. So I know it will be tiring but it will be so worth it. If i get tired later into the evening, this set-up is good becus i can just go to bed upstairs and the others can continue chit chatting if they want to.

I've never done anything like this before and it should be very interesting. I don't know if this will be a one-time event, that either through later disinterest or perhaps someone's illness, this is the one and only time we'll get to do this. Or maybe our relationships will deepen and we'll continue to include each other in our lives moving forward. Life's a journey, and it's sometimes fun to take paths not knowing where they'll lead.

I already know J. has a sad story about much of his life. He was married for 30 years to a woman, he told dad, who was a drug and alcohol addict. She died about 5 years ago, and he had told my dad it was a good thing because things had gotten so bad he had actually begun to consider killing her, and then himself. He has daughters, so maybe that's the reason he didn't divorce her.

I felt such a need to forge new family connections after my mother died, and probably also because my only sibling, who I'd never been very close to, showed me I couldn't count on her when the going got tough, during my mother's illness.

My mother's death taught me that life is indeed short. My dad and I were mulling over how our little family lost touch with our extended family, like probably many families do, due to getting preoccupied with the day-to-day tasks of earning a living and raising families, or simply moving out of the area. Certainly, in our case, an early divorce didn't help.

We all have largely public lives where we rub shoulders with dozens and dozens of people every week, but aside from our own immediately families, all the people we meet are largely acquaintances or even strangers. To find a few new people whom you can say are actually "family" is a very special thing indeed.

Is there anything else you think I should bring?

Happy Thanksgiving

November 24th, 2016 at 06:54 am

I wanted to wish all my SA friends a Happy Thanksgiving, and if you are traveling, safe journey.

A huge family research breakthrough

November 22nd, 2016 at 06:06 pm

This is so incredibly exciting.

Last summer, I had my DNA, and dad's DNA analyzed via ancestry.com. Ancestry spit out results showing about 30 "matches" of people who could be related. Of those 30 people, roughly 4 or 5 were "extremely likely" matches.

I reached out to each of the 4 or 5, but there was only 1 that even responded. We traded a bunch of emails and I shared a great amount of detailed info about my grandmother's family.

Because as it turned out, the woman I reached out to has a 70-yr-old mother who was adopted, and her mother had been trying for the past 5 years to find her birth parents. She knew the birth mother's last name, which was my Irish grandmother's last name, and they both lived in the Germantown neighborhood in Philadelphia.

We wondered if one of my grandmother's sisters was the birth mother. But this woman searching for her birth mother knew she was born in NYC and my grandmother's family all lived in Philly. After talking to my dad, I learned the story of about my grandmother's sister K. became pregnant out of wedlock (in the 1920s) and lived for the duration of the pregnancy in a room above a deli that some friends of the family owned in NYC. My dad's understanding is that K. did this of her own volition, so as not to embarrass the family, particularly as dad remembers there was a Catholic priest who lived right next door.

All I knew from my dad is that K. married her husband, Joey, at some point AFTER the birth. But things still didn't quite add up, because my dad had told me Kathleen had given birth to a son, and he was named Joey after his father.

ANYWAY, I got a phone call tonight from the woman searching for her birth parents. They found my phone number online and called me after talking to Joey Jr. and yes we are related and Joey is her half brother!
So apparently, Kathleen was pregnant with this woman and only got pregnant with Joey afterwards. I haven't gotten all the details quite right as I was so excited while this woman was talking to me on the phone and I was trying to jot down notes.

The birth father of the woman I spoke to on the phone had died, and Joey remembers seeing the obituary in the paper, and also remembered K., his mother, telling him he had a sibling.

This is all big news to us. The woman and her daughter are indeed first cousins to me and my dad. And you can imagine how meaningful this news is to the woman who called me, because she never knew who her birth parents were, or anything about their family, and after spending a lot of money on a detective unsuccessfully, had almost given up on ever learning the truth.

She must have known that her parents would be dead, given that she is 70, but now she has found two cousins, me and my dad, as well s a half brother, Joey! They are interested in getting together at some point. Dad wants to get Joey's phone number so he can call him and see if another sibling of my grandmother's, Peter, might still be alive. (The woman who was searching for her birth mother and her husband had called and spoken to Peter about 4 years ago, at a time when he was living in a nursing home; they weren't sure if he was related at the time.) So we don't know if he's still alive; it would be a very long shot, but possible.

Confession: I've been unfaithful

November 22nd, 2016 at 03:58 pm

Yes, my Saving Advice friends, I've been cheating on you with another personal finance website that reminds me a lot of Saving Advice....except that they have over 20,000 followers!

I had mixed feelings about mentioning it here because I don't mean to create any kind of mass exodus, but I have noticed for some time here that I'll look at posts on this site in the morning, and then come back to it in the evening, and there may be only 3 new posts during that time.

It worries me that this site may at some time be taken down without any advance warning. If that happens, consider joining me at Your Money and Your Life, on Facebook. With a larger body of people contributing questions or comments, it just makes for a more enriching conversation.

How I spent the day:
1. Decided upon a 3rd dish I'll be bringing for Thanksgiving.

2. Made a delicious tomato-peanut butter sauce (with garlic, onion, ginger, cumin and coriander) over spaghetti sauce for lunch and dinner. The sauce actually came from a recipe that included serving it over sweet potato, which was great, but the sauce was so wonderful I realized it would be good with the spaghetti squash or even any kind of grain like quinoa, rice or farro.

3. Did one load of laundry.

4. Wrote up 2 more "topic summaries" for NutritionFacts.org. This leaves me with just one more to write this week; my goal is to write 3 of these things each week, which to me is enough to feel like a contribution, week in and week out, without it becoming like a chore.

5. I took a half hour walk around the neighborhood. It was cold. I wore gloves.

6. I finished putting together my family research album so I can bring it to Jersey with me and show it to my cousin.

Tomorrow, I'm picking up just a few grocery items for my Tgiving recipes. I'll spend the day making my 3 dishes, doing another load of laundry and packing an overnight bag.

My cousin mentioned there MIGHT be a third guest at dinner, the former CFO of her company, an engineering firm, who is divorced. Could be interesting.

Planning for the big holiday

November 20th, 2016 at 04:52 pm

So I spoke to my cousin in New Jersey and it's settled: I'll be coming down there for Thanksgiving and will spend the night.

I'm making my red grape/dried cranberry relish, my dark chocolate-walnut-dried cranberry clusters and an as-yet-undetermined side dish. Which I have to figure out soon. She MAY have another guest, a CFO she used to work with who is divorced.

I'll wait til Wednesday morning to buy a few ingredients I need for my dishes, so the grapes are super fresh, and then I'll make them later that day and will transport them in my car in a small cooler with some ice packs.

I'm also bringing a few matted & enlarged but unframed photographs my mother took that my cousin might like. One of them is a duplicate of a framed photo I have.

Finally, I am also bringing a large scrapbook I'm just starting to assemble today of all my family tree research. I have had 2 large leather binders that I've used for years to showcase writing samples when I go on job interviews. I emptied out one and am using that for the genealogy stuff. Trouble is, I've nearly filled it up and haven't even covered 2 of the 4 grandparents' families. I've done so much work on it.

Anyway, my cousin is into this family stuff too and I'll know she'll be interested.

Who knows what the traffic will be like but normally it's an hour and a half drive. I'm fretting about the impact on my car tracking device but I am actually taking I-287 for most of the way, so I can just stay in the slow lane and try not to brake much.

If it ends up my discount is not as much as I hoped for, I will simply drop my collision next year and save myself $249, no muss, no fuss. It's a 2013 Honda.

When I return from Jersey, I'll need to bring the 13 pieces for the December art show featuring mom's work at area gallery. I have at least determined which pieces I want to include, drew up the inventory/agreement so we both know what I'm dropping off, with prices I'm satisfied with, and I also wrote a press release for the show, which the gallery owner can use in her local paper and on her Facebook page, and I'll distribute it to other local papers.

I still have to carefully clean and package the pieces, and load them in the car. It's a lot of work but if I sell ONE piece I will be happy. What's discouraging is when nothing sells and you have to take it all back again.

Let's see, what else? Oh, I think I have a buyer for a clamp and saw miter box that was my mother's. Asked $20 for it on Craig's List and buyer expressed interest in meeting me; I'm just waiting for his confirmation of tomorrow morning.

I am hoping to write up 3 more topic summaries for nutritionfacts.org before I leave on Thanksgiving. I want to keep the momentum going. I don't think it'll be too long before they go live online. Smile

I was supposed to drive to another MS luncheon with someone I met at the last one, but she is now unable to go. She has MS and her walking has deteriorated and her doctor wants her to try a new drug (it's a chemo drug and he's using it off label) and so her appointment for that ended up being the day we were going to go to the lunch together. I just met this woman. I tried to be supportive. It would surely have to be bad if she's willing to take a chemo drug, possibly monthly.

I had a really nice dinner with dad last night. We went to an Italian place here in town and it was great. I read dad the latest letter I got from the German pastor.

I have conclusively determined that I can find old copies of The Bergen Record from 1930 and 1945 on microfilm at the public library in Hackensack, NJ, so one of these times my dad heads down to Rutherford to see his son/my half-brother, he'll drop me off in Hackensack where I can research for a few hours and hopefully find two newsworthy family events from those years. Maybe we can do it first week of December.

So, a lot going on. Job search is dead.

7 hard braking incidents in 2 trips?

November 18th, 2016 at 01:28 pm

OK, Right Track is on the wrong track, as far as I'm concerned. I went from saving 22% on my car insurance to now saving just 13%, due to having had 7 "hard braking incidents" in the past 2 driving trips.

All of a sudden the Right Track gadget seems extremely sensitive. Yes, I was driving in heavy but moving traffic on the highway and had to hit the brake a number of times but I would certainly not call these "hard braking" incidents. I didn't jam on the brake.

Now I'm getting really concerned about my ability to keep my discount up if they record even softer taps on the brake pedal.

Geez. I mean, in order to have a perfectly clean record, aside from not driving anywhere in the 90-day period, I'd have to gradually coast to a stop nearly everywhere I went. I noticed the last "hard brake" was when I had to slow to turn onto my street last two nights ago. You don't want to slow more gradually or drivers behind you will get very impatient.


Does your doc have your best interests in mind?

November 17th, 2016 at 07:05 am

Joan of Arch recently asked me in another post how was the MS dinner lecture I attended last night.

I thought I might talk about it in a separate post here since 1. I think it's enlightening and 2. Many of you wouldn't know about it unless you had a certain chronic disease where this practice I'm going to discuss is prevalent.

When I had my first MS symptoms, the only treatment was prednisone, a steroid that totally dampens your immune system. MS is a disease where your body's immune system works in overdrive, attacking the protective covering (myelin) that surrounds the nerve cells.

But that was 30 years ago, and today there are probably a dozen different MS drugs to choose from. Some target specific symptoms and so they would be used only if you exhibit those symptoms, while others are used for different types of MS in general terms and have been shown to reduce the number of brain lesions that show up on an MRI or the number of relapses. This is important since with each relapse there's a chance your symptoms may not completely go away or may only partially resolve. So the fewer relapses, the better.

So I'm aware of 5 or 6 different MS drug companies (Avonex, Betaseron, Copaxone, Rebif, Tysabri, Gilenya, Amphra, Aubagio, Tecidera, etc) who have a place on their website where you can search for different lunch or dinner lectures (in addition to webinars) in or around your zipcode area. In other words, there are many of these talks going on all around the country at any given time. They are held at different restaurants or sometimes a hotel restaurant, like the Marriott I went to last night.

It's easy to register for a course online. (And when you show up they rarely ask you to sign in anywhere so theoretically you could just walk in off the street and enjoy a nice meal.)

There are usually about 30 people present. The pharma companies are pretty generous and allow each MS person attending to bring a few family members with them. You can also be an MS caregiver, or know someone with MS. I've noticed a lot of people who go to these talks take advantage of this and bring as many as 5 family members, and I think as a result some of the drug companies now limit "guests" to 2 additional people.

The lecture is a carefully vetted talk with slide show by an area neurologist about how the drug made by the pharma co sponsoring the event works, how effective it is, adverse effects (required) and how it stacks up to the competition (sometimes). The doctor can't veer far from the script becus it all must be FDA reviewed and approved ahead of time.

(Similar to how, when I worked for mutual fund companies, I had to make sure all the sales literature I wrote was reviewed by the NASD (now known as FINRA).

The doctor is paid by the pharma co. to talk. I only ever remember one doctor saying this out loud. The rest don't mention it. I don't know how much, but it must be enough to make it worth their while. I'm guessing in the neighborhood of $1,000.

I recognize many of the same neurologists talking at different MS drug lectures: they want to make extra money. This is not unique to neurologists; doctors in many specialties do this, and of course, this is a huge conflict of interest. How can you be sure that when the doc recommends one particular drug to you, that he's not just thinking about how much more that drug company paid him to talk than the others and he feels a degree of loyalty to them as a result? But this is our great American healthcare system.

There is usually some time given to review MS in general, or like last night, the topic was MRIs, but the Q&A from audience is usually more interesting because it's not scripted. Sometimes the drug company will also have an MS "ambassador," someone who has MS and travels to these lectures (probably also paid by the drug company) to describe their own experience with MS and of course, to talk up how great the pharma co's drug is.

Why do I go? Well, usually when I'm working, I don't have time or energy, but now I have plenty of time on my hands and I consider it a form of entertainment. I get to chit chat with other MS people and share experiences, I get a really nice meal at no cost, I get to hear other neurologists from the area speak (I'm not 100% satisfied with my current neurologist) and I can keep up-to-date on what other MS drugs are out there.

Last night was the first time I ever made plans to do something with other MSers I met at one of these meetings outside the meeting, but the 3 of us just seemed to hit it off.

I know they don't do this sort of lecture for every disease that exists, but they do it for MS because many of the MS drugs are given by self injection or IV infusion and/or they have some serious side effects, including death (Tysabri). Naturally, a lot of people will end up stopping the meds so the drug companies do these dinner lectures as part of their effort to keep people on the drug.

For the same reason, most of these MS drugs today cost $0 to the patient, provided they have PRIVATE insurance. The pharma co still makes money selling the drug even if the patient herself doesn't pay a dime.

I'm really not sure how or if Medicare covers these drugs; I imagine given their high cost, you would hit the "donut hole" pretty quickly and then have all costs picked up by Medicare after that. Something I will need to research eventually, but between now and then a lot could change, so I'm not going to worry myself about it too much now.

You might be surprised that any doctor would feel the need to earn extra $$ on the side doing this sort of thing since they are so highly compensated to begin with.

I can tell you from my experience dating a doctor 7 years ago who happened to be a neurologist, that this is not necessarily the case. Sure, he made a lot of money, but as a solo practitioner by choice, he made a lot less than he could have. Running your own office is expensive. He made $200K as I recall, but since he went thru a divorce with his ex who was a stay-at-home and raised their 2 kids, the court required him to not only pay her alimony but pick up all her health costs/health insurance until she turned 65. Not cheap. And being the sole breadwinner in the family, he also had to fully fund his two kids' college expenses with no scholarships. He would often talk about his financial challenges and was just counting the days when his kids were done with school and his ex turned 65! That's when, he said, he could finally fully focus on growing his own retirement savings.

Of course, he still leased a nice shiny BMW but when I was dating him he was living in what had been the family's small summer lake house. It was very modest and not updated.

Although he didn't do any dinner lectures similar to what I've just described, he did answer various online surveys for money. I can't remember who they were from but they paid pretty well.

Busy afternoon...

November 16th, 2016 at 05:51 pm

I'm trying to consolidate all driving trips again so my Right Track score remains good.

So I loaded up the car around 2:30 pm with trash, recyclables, organics and a Good Will donation and dropped all at the transfer station.

Then I headed down to a camera shop 40 minutes southeast where I wanted to finally sell my mother's used cameras/lenses to. (I had called them months earlier.) I had a heck of a time finding the store, even though I had directions. It was 1 camera and 2 lenses. He took some time inspecting the camera and seeing that everything worked properly, then went to check with his boss but came and said his boss didn't want it or the lenses. Frown I was very disappointed. I'm glad I didn't make a special trip just for this.

After that I searched around for a Walmart and found it so I could pick up some cat food. After that, I wanted to head north about 15 minutes to attend an MS dinner/lecture at a local Marriott, but once again, got all mixed up with the directions and it took me quite a bit longer to get there, but I wasn't late.

I sat with two other single women who were very nice (both also have MS), and we exchanged contact info for a possible lunch/get-together. They live near enough to make that doable. I also decided to go to another MS lunch lecture further out with one of them next week after she told me she was going, and she offered to drive me if I met her in her town, which is easier. The lunch happens to be at a very nice restaurant and it's a daytime thing, which I now have plenty of time for, so how could i pass up a free meal at a great restaurant with a new friend? I try to grab new socializing opportunities when I see them.

I'm thinking of going to Whole Foods tomorrow, and then Trader Joe's as I want to stock up on dried organic apple rings and vegan mac n cheese and maybe some fresh fruit at Whole Foods.

A foodie's day

November 15th, 2016 at 01:26 pm

I've now written my first 3 "topic summaries" for NutritionFacts.org which I'm told were very good, on cherries, Brussels sprouts and hibiscus tea. Smile

I've assigned myself 3 more topics for next week on sweet potatoes, pecans and onions. Sounds like a Thanksgiving menu! I will eventually branch out into diseases, health conditions and phytonutrients, but I figured writing about the health benefits of individuals foods would be easiest to start with.

A dreary, rainy day. We really need it. Sunny and fairly warm for November the rest of the week.

Cats caught a mouse around 5 am so I didn't get enough sleep last night. There were large drops of blood on my wood floors that I had to clean up.

Spent most of the day at the computer. It was a No Drive Day. Lunch was mushrooms, onions and carrots sauteed in a veggie stock over farro. Organic apple cider for mid-morning beverage and 2 cups black tea with Stevia.

Exercise, TV choices and German drivers

November 14th, 2016 at 01:20 pm

I thought I would tally up time spent exercising since I've been tracking it using the USDA Super Tracker https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/physicalactivitytracker.aspx

I decided at the start that my goal would be at least 180 minutes of weekly exercise. That usually means walking, but I also count yardwork or mowing my lawn.

When I walk, it would work out to 6 days of walking a half hour each time, or, for example, 3 days of walking an hour each time. It really doesn't matter what the combination of time spent and how many days, as long as I get the walking in each week.

On a monthly basis, my weekly goal of 180 minutes of exercise works out to 780 minutes, or 13 hours of exercise each month.

Here's how I did since I started using this plan in May.

May 13.7 hours.
June 12.1 hours.
July 18.7 hours.
Aug 17.6 hours.
Sept 11.8 hours.
Oct 13.4 hours

As you can see, I exceeded my target in every month except June and September, arguably some of the nicest months to walk. I wanted to make my goal somewhat challenging to achieve but not so easy that it wouldn't mean anything. I do find that I have to make a concerted effort and plan ways to fit in the exercise every week. I tend to go for a lot of long walks on Saturdays becus it's the end of the week and it's my last chance to meet that week's target!

Ironically, I had higher counts in July and August, when I was still working, than in September and October, when I haven't been working and presumably have much more time. Hmmm. Bad me.

I know that inevitably, my walk times will drop quite a bit more, because when it gets below freezing I don't like going out so much; I don't like cold ears. Frown

I reviewed some orientation materials for writing at NutritionFacts.org (my new volunteer position) and had a brief phone conversation with the person who manages the site's volunteers, just to be sure I understood what they wanted. Then I wrote my first summary, on cherries. Smile

I really just want to build up a body of work there that I can point to as writing samples, I have TONS of writing samples but not as many healthcare-oriented, and I would like to hope this could open the door to that kind of writing down the road. A long time I got pigeonholed as a financial writer, which is ok, but limiting.

The nice thing is that I can assign myself topics by choosing from a lengthy list, so I can choose things I have a personal interest in. I'd like to wait a day or two to get some feedback from them before proceeding with the next two, just to make sure they like it.

I called my mower guy and told him I was good for the season, as at this point the grass is not really growing much and it's just certain areas of the yard that will need mulch mowing of fallen leaves (much easier than raking). I did some mowing yesterday and boy, did I feel it today.

I wanted to mow some leaves on the north side today, but unfortunately I hadn't replugged my battery mower in when I was done yesterday so the mower wasn't charged when i brought it out. It was a nice warmish day to mow, too. Tomorrow it will rain.

But anyway, by doing the last few mowings myself, I'll save myself some money by not having to pay him, give myself some exercise and save on gas I"d otherwise use to drive somewhere to walk, which I'm trying to avoid since I have the car insurance gadget on my car right now and total mileage counts.

I heard from my German penpal today, the pastor. He told me a little bit of his visits to the US in 2009, and about the time when he got pulled over somewhere in Nebraska, I think, for speeding becus he was doing 100 mph. I guess he's used to the autobahn. He said he was very nervous becus he'd heard a lot about American police, but the guy was very nice and let him go after learning he was a man of the cloth. I got a chuckle out of that story.

I have started watching a new-to-me series, Blue Bloods, with Tom Selleck. I've watched just the pilot. It was highly ranked by viewers though I'm not sold yet. Tom Selleck to me was never a really great actor; he's been around a long time but he never really stood out to me, and the rest of the cast isn't that strong. So will have to see if it improves.

The other show I started watching is Boardwalk Empires, with one of my favorite actors, Steve Buscemi. HBO programming has a certain stamp to me, basically, a lot of nudity and sex scenes, and this one's certainly in that mold.

Right Track nailed me for hard braking, oops

November 12th, 2016 at 01:57 pm

I'm still not even midway through my 3 month period using Safe Track to potentially lower my car insurance, but they HAVE nailed me for my first instance of "hard braking, low severity."

I can see not only the exact time of this incident but the location on a Google map when I log in and look at my Safe Track dashboard. I think I was on my way to BJs that morning. I vaguely remember another driver turning across my lane in front of me, but I didn't think it was that bad.

I really don't remember any hard braking then, though there was a squirrel that caused me to hard brake in another location, which I hope doesn't register, because the incident reduced my so-far savings from 23% to 20%.

At least I still have plenty of time left to make up for this, and to be more careful moving forward.

When there's a Republican in the family

November 12th, 2016 at 12:01 pm

My dad is about as staunch a Republican as they come. He considers himself an Independent, not tied to any party, but the truth is there was only one time when he voted for a Democratic; it was for Clinton, not sure which time.

I also have a lifelong friend who is a fervent Republican; he enjoys needling me and drawing me into a contentious argument, which I really dislike. I've asked him several times to let's just avoid talking politics since niether one of us is going to change the other's mind, so what's the point?

He still likes to get his little digs in so i've actually been avoiding his phone calls since election day.

I brought my dad to the eye doctor. He has macular degeneration and now has to get injections in his one good eye roughly every month, for life.

The doctor said that up until just about 12 years ago, there wasn't really much in the way of treatments for macular degeneration, and people would slowly go blind. Now they have drugs, this being one of them, that can be used for the "wet" phase of MD. (It starts out as "dry.") Wet refers to leakage of blood vessels that later causes scarring that blocks vision, so the idea of the drug is to arrest further leakage, although vision loss is still a possibility. The drug helps i think he said 70% of people and some even show slight improvement in vision. Dad has pretty much lost all vision in his left eye but his right eye is close to 20/20. For that reason, the doc said any improvement dad might experience would likely be to a much smaller degree than someone with worse vision.

Anyway, they kept us there about 2.5 hours and as we sat in the waiting room, we unfortunately got into a political debate. He insists that Hilary was given the questions to at least one debate prior to its start. He was surprised I hadn't heard about this. I went home and googled it and only came up with a bunch of obviously Republican or pro-Trump sites that spoke of this. Only 2 legit news organizations that included Fox News and USA Today.

Anyway, note to self, AVOID talking politics with dad. It's a lost cause and we really do have such a nice relationship and I don't want to muck it up.

It would be soooo tempting to mention how Trump is trying to get his court date pushed back to after he becomes president. You know, where he's being sued in a class action lawsuit related to Trump University ripping off a bunch of people. Our President.

Trump on the Environment

November 10th, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Q: Would you cut departments?

Trump: Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations.

Q: Who's going to protect the environment?

Trump: We'll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses.

Source: Fox News Sunday 2015 Coverage of 2016 presidential hopefuls , Oct 18, 2015

A new volunteer job

November 9th, 2016 at 01:52 pm

Still looking for f/t employment, but in the meantime, I did land a meaningful volunteer job today.

There's a website called nutritionfacts.org. The site is run by Dr. Greger and the focus of the articles and videos there is healthy eating and an emphasis on the health benefits of eating a plant-based (aka vegan) diet. The site rounds up all the latest research and clinical trials.

They needed a writer. It's an unpaid position but this is a site I read daily and really follow pretty closely. I read the doctor's book, How Not to Die, a New York Times best seller, and it's one of a handful that has informed the vegan diet I try to follow today.

So I would be honored to write for this site. All they ask for is 5 hours a week minimum and of course I work from home. So I could continue doing this even should I find a f/t job.

And I could at least put it on my resume. Not every employer cares about volunteer work, but some do, and it's been a while since I've done anything. I notice they use only first name author bylines, which seems a little silly. Most writers would value getting a full name byline.

I'm fairly excited about it. And honestly, I read their content site all the time and often find grammatical stuff that looks a little sloppy and not as professional as it could be. I would like to fix that for them.

Another trip to the vet

November 9th, 2016 at 10:02 am

Waldo had a rough night last night and this morning was no better. He could not breathe and was wheezing and his nose was all plugged up.

As a result, because he could not smell his food, he did not eat.

I decided to bring him to a new-to-me highly recommended new vet.

The vet's initial reaction was that Waldo had an infection, possibly due to a tooth, not asthma, so he wanted to do an x-ray, which I did. The x-ray confirmed he has asthma, and he has some sort of upper respiratory infection or pneumonia. The total bill was $302.

He did get a shot for the infection (long-lasting for 2 weeks) and then I have pills to give him for the asthma twice a day, for about 10 days; he said giving him the pill form of prednasone (has a somewhat different name) is safer for the cat than the one-time injection. After the 10 day span, he may need to stay on these pills indefinitely, depending on his symptoms. We'll have to see how he does.

Right now, he's still totally wheezy and stuffed up; they gave him a pill at the vet's so am hoping he'll see some improvement soon.

Since I was laid off, I've spent $1200 on meds and vet visits for the 2 cats. I suppose it could be worse.

The new vet is a little closer than the first, and the office is set back from the road, unlike the first one on a very busy highway. Also, the new vet has a separate entry and waiting area for cats only, so it's a little less stressful for them. Cost-wise, it's a little hard to compare since this vet did different things than my other vet, but the exam was $15 cheaper. Not sure about procedures yet.

The only thing is that the vet, who is Polish, has a pretty good accent and it is hard to understand everything he's saying. But I think I will probably stick with him. His staff also seems nicer, too.

I fell asleep last night around 11:30 pm feeling uneasy and worried about the election returns. I was so shocked this morning to hear the news. Probably the worst thing Trump will do is til the Supreme Court ultra-conservative for the next 30 or 40 years. There is even talk of repel of Roe v Wade decision.

And what will happen to my health insurance if my COBRA runs out and I'm still not working?

This is the worst case scenario, IMO and I will never utter the word "president" before saying his name.

Don't forget to vote...

November 8th, 2016 at 05:37 am

Happy Election Day!

I say "happy" because I for one am really tired of all the political propaganda and the nonstop coverage on the news.

The last 2 days were NDDs, meaning "No Drive Days." The less I drive overall, the more money I'll save on my car insurance with RightTrack. As of today, I'm going to save 23% on my car insurance.

I must admit to sometimes creating reasons to drive here or drive there as a kind of entertainment or just to get out of the house, I guess. It's usually to buy groceries, get gas or something like that.

I made use of one of those postcards you get in the mail from Staples with a ridiculously good offer. Save $10 on a purchase of at least $10 (or more). So if you bought a $10 item, you could get it for free. I love this kind of offer and remember last year the coupon expired before I got to use it. So I did make a stop at Staples and cruised the whole store. In the end, I bought a large 2017 desktop calendar (I've used one for years) and the smallest notepad I could find. Most things were overpriced, but both these items together cost $11 and I wound up paying $1.

I've run into yet another "unsolved mystery" in my family tree research. I found a World War II draft registration card for my great grandfather that indicates his birthplace as "Kormasz Czecho-Slovakia."

I could not find Kormasz listed as a village, town or region anywhere in that country. Yet federal censuses confirm that my grandmother's parents were born in Czechoslovakia. I even reached out to several people who might know, including an American photographer living in Czech Republic and the Czech tourism bureau. Several people have told me the name sounds more Polish, Slovenian or Hungarian than Czech, yet still, a Google search brings up hardly anything. I found a young woman on Facebook with the same last name; she's from Poland. I messaged her this morning in the hopes she'll know.

My research into the Irish line in my family went relatively more smoothly because they all seemed to stay put in one place, both the village and the country! My grandmother's family was from a hamlet so small, it didn't even have roads. It was just a cluster of 90 families living at a certain intersection. Yes, the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses contain some great info, including the exact number of families living in Derrytrasna, Northern Ireland. I did learn what materials the dwelling was made of, how many windows it had and how many outbuildings there were on the property. My great great grandfather had a "cowshed" and stable with a 2-room dwelling (for 5 people) and 2 windows.

Today, Derrytrasna is a semi-rural village within a larger town. There is just a single road called Derrytrasna Lane which probably indicates where the original settlement was. I found someone on You Tube who lives there and has a drone and filmed the whole area, which is very close to the shores of Lough Neagh, a huge lake. The whole area is all residential with a few more densely populated developments but mostly large open fields and attractive homes. No signs of the 2-room homes or even any idea of where they stood. I would probably have to find some historical maps to determine the layout of the original hamlet. It's all fascinating to me.

I got word yesterday that the bloodwork came back and showed I tested "negative" for Lyme disease and the other tick-borne illnesses. Which leads me to wonder why the near-daily headaches. Sure, I am a little anxious about getting a job, but I don't think I am stressed to the level of getting headaches over it.

I'm still waiting to hear whether I got the freelance writing position at the educational website. I saw another remote freelance position writing resumes and cover letters, but the pay was very low.

Which health plan would you choose?

November 7th, 2016 at 06:09 am

I was nervously waiting to receive the details of next year's health insurance rates from my former employer's Cigna plan thru COBRA.

Right now, I'm paying $513/mth with a $500 deductible.

Next year, the same plan is just $520 a month with same deductible. I breathed a sigh of relief at that as I've been hearing so much about how high Affordable Care Act rates are rising.

Still, $520/mth is not great when you're not working. I do have an option of going with the other plan my former employer offers, a high deductible HSA plan where you pay $460/mth but have a $1500 deductible.

I think I've decided against the high deductible plan becus i'd rather not have that large upfront deductible facing me every time I think I should see a doctor about something. The savings difference if I went with that plan instead of sticking with my current plan would be about $720. But another reason not to go with that plan is because I believe the company contributes something to your health savings account, but as an ex-employee, I wouldn't get that.

I also looked at my options on my state's healthcare exchange. The choices have narrowed. For next year, there are only 7 silver plans to choose from and they are all with ONE insurer, Connecticare, a company that gets only a 2 star rating from the state and my neurologist is not in their network. Also, the deductibles associated with these 7 plans range from $1,000 to $5300 altho the monthly premiums range from $325 to $425.

As a reminder, if I found a f/t job next year that paid anything remotely decent, I'd have to pay back whatever subsidies I had received up to that point (they estimate subsidies to be $532/mth!!), making these plans not so affordable should I find steady work.

Finally, I need to carefully look at prescription costs, as my one ongoing prescription is considered a "specialty" drug. Although the pharma company will pick up 100% of my copay cost regardless of what health plan I'm on, they do have an annual cap on what they pay. I can't remember what it is but if I look at the one ACA silver plan I'd consider, one with a $1,000 deductible, I see that plan pays 50% of specialty drugs and requires I pay "no less than $65 or greater than than $500 per prescription."

I get this med mail order and becus of its high price, i guess, you can only get 1 month at a time. So that means I'd be charged $500/mth just for this one prescription. Again, the pharma company picks up the copay but I could bump up against their annual maximum. Compare that to my current Cigna plan where the max I would be charged is $250 per prescription.

I doublechecked with cigna and as an ex-employee I won't qualify for the wellness incentive program, where you can earn up to $250 a year in gift cards just for getting a physical or a mammogram, for instance. Frown

So by sticking with my current plan, at least I can count on the same coverage I've been getting with a pretty low $500 annual deductible. I'll also know my med co-pays are still 100% covered. My doctors are part of the network.

With the lower monthly premium ACA plans, yeah, I could save $720 over the course of the year, but if I find any kind of steady job, chances are I'll have to pay back the subsidies, which as noted above, aren't cheap. If you factor in this payback, these plans are definitely not affordable.

Of course, I can only stay on COBRA through the end of next year; at which time i'd have to go on an ACA plan or the plan of some future employer.

Great magazine subscription rates

November 5th, 2016 at 05:47 am

If you like reading magazines, there's a special discount offer on a bunch of magazines only until Nov. 7.

The prices are dirt cheap. I just subscribed to Money for less than $10.


Saving $$$ on my car insurance!

November 4th, 2016 at 07:22 am

As mentioned here earlier, when my auto insurance renewed last month, I signed up for "Right Track," a special program Safeco (Liberty Mutual) offers where you install a little gadget on your car and it tracks your driving habits for 3 months. You're guaranteed to earn a 5% discount just for participating in the program, and you can earn up to a maximum 30% discount off your "base coverage."

That potential discount is for as long as you keep the policy, not just for the year, and not just for a single vehicle, so you could get a new car and still benefit from the program, all of which I think is very generous. It does NOT track where you're going, so there should be no privacy concerns.

I've only just started the 3-month program, but I checked online and it indicates that, so far, I've earned a 22% discount! The online program updates its data every 100 miles driven, so provided I continue to avoid any hard braking or fast accelerating (rep defined that as speeding up more than 7 miles an hour per second) and avoid driving between midnight and 4 a.m. and overall don't drive a lot of miles, as that is also a factor, I should see a pretty hefty discount.

I renewed the policy for $810 and I don't see any "enhancements" to the policy (like towing), so 30% of $810 would be $243, bringing the policy premium down to $567. That would be wonderful, especially since I just increased coverage on the car upon the advice of my agent (and decreased it on the homeowners coverage)
Also, this is a great time to do this program since I'm not commuting anywhere.

So, umm, I think when I pick up dad for dinner and bring him to eye doc next week if he doesn't mind, I'll ask if I could drive his truck. It'll help keep my mileage down. I don't think he'll mind.

In other news...
Stopped in at Aldi's yesterday after not having been there for several years. I was happy to learn they now accept credit cards! I carefully cruised the store. I'm pretty particular about what I buy and I favor non-processed vegan foods, preferably organic. There was a lot I had to pass by but i did fine good prices for old-fashioned oats, organic preserves, some organic soup and organic canned beans as well as bananas. The organic arugula also i think was a good buy. I will return.

Wow, people have been so nice to me...

November 2nd, 2016 at 05:03 pm

Three people in the past week have given me a break on the cost of something, like this:

1. I went to the dentist today and told the receptionist that becus I lost my job, I no longer had dental insurance and would be paying out of pocket. I asked her how much would the charge be and she said $180 for the cleaning and dentist exam.

I asked how much without the dentist's exam and she said $120. So I thought a minute and said, i think I'd like to get just the cleaning.

Well, the dentist came in after hearing the news and said he would do the exam at no charge. He was ready to also offer free x-rays, but then he remembered (or else read in my chart) that I don't like x-rays and anyway, had them taken fairly recently. He looked at my teeth and said everything was fine. Both he and the hygienist asked how my mother was doing and I had to tell them the bad news. Then the dentist said gee, between that and your job loss, you haven't really had a great year, have you? And I said, no, that's true, it wasn't great.

So I thought what he did was pretty nice. If you're a cynic, you might think he offered the free exam becus if there was something wrong, he would make money on any subsequent dental work. But I tend to think he was just being a nice guy.

2. I had my carpenter/handyman over yesterday to patch some holes behind my kitchen stove, which I posted about yesterday. A lot of cold, drafty air was coming in through there. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said $25 for the 1 hour he was here, plus the cost of materials ($15), but said that since I wasn't working and he actually was doing pretty well, $20 for his time would be fine. He said he likes to pay it forward. I was short on cash but fished around for loose change in my purse and came up with $20 plus a "gold" coin that gives you a discount at the local Big Y supermarket, where I know he shops becus I've bumped into him there. He seemed fine with it.

3. The guy who mowed my lawn this summer sent me his bill for October, when he happened to mow only one time. It was $40 plus tax, and after I wrote out the check, I said hmm, I could have sworn I was paying him $45 per mowing. So I looked up the old bills and I was right. Either he gave me a $5 discount or he just messed up. I'm fairly sure it was the former because the last time he was here, I happened to come home while he was mowing and i guess he was just in the mood to talk becus when he saw me he turned off his mower and started talking to me about all sorts of things, maybe just to get to know me. We talked for about an hour! He's actually very attractive, but he's married. Frown

So during that conversation he did learn I was laid off. And he was telling me that he just mowed lawns for "something to do" and didn't really have to work becus he was a co-inventor of some kind of road salt blend, which is now being sold by Home Depot and some other stores. So maybe he thought he'd give me a little discount?

Anyway, it really is a nice feeling when you know people are trying to help you out. Most of the time, the feeling I get is just the opposite...that people are just in it for the money and really don't care about you or your situation.

After the dentist, I had to go back to doctor's office becus I'm still getting daily headaches after taking antibiotics for Lyme for 3 weeks. We agreed to repeat the blood test and also test for the other 2 tick-borne illnesses, but she also gave me another 3 weeks of antibiotics to start right away if I wanted to, and I have started, though i don't like taking them. I'll have to go back to buying Kefir to replenish all the killed good bacteria and avoid an infection, and I'll have to watch my sun exposure.

The main thing, of course, is to get rid of the daily headaches. The last time I had a positive Lyme test was in 2012 and she said it was possible the original infection is resurfacing. In either case, the treatment is the same. I just hope it works.

I was also taking 4 different herbs along with the antibiotics. Two of them are listed as having headaches as a possible side effect, and I believe they at least contributed to my headaches in 2012, but at a much higher dose than I was taking this time around. But maybe I'm now more sensitive to the herbs? Not sure, but I agreed to cut out those 2 herbs completely. It's just a little scary becus the antibiotics don't always work, and that's why I was doing the herbs at the same time.

They're based on a well-known herbalist's research and you can find his website which is devoted to Lyme treatment by searching for Stephen Buhner.

One little thing fixed

November 1st, 2016 at 03:43 pm

As the days are getting increasingly colder, I remembered a gaping hole in the drywall behind my kitchen stove and decided I needed to do something about it.

I only discovered the hole when I replaced my stove many years ago, but I couldn't do much about it at the time since the guy was here to install the new one. So I stuffed some leftover insulation in the hole and that was that.

All these years, I get a very cold and constant draft coming up from behind the stove; I've stuffed old washcloths and dishtowels in the crevices but it doesn't really work.

So I called my handyman 2 days ago and he came here this afternoon to deal with it. There were actually 3 holes, the biggest one about 5 x 4 inches. He put in a new piece of drywall and then taped and compounded it. No one will ever see it, so we agreed the one coat of compound was enough.

We plugged the stove back in and pushed it about 6 inches from being flush with the wall, so the compound would have a chance to dry. I should be able to push it back tomorrow or the next day after it's completely dried.

He charged me $15 for materials and $20 for labor. He was here just 1 hour. I mean, how many guys would charge you so little? How many do you know who would even show up for a small job like that? He always gives me the receipt for materials so I know he's being honest. He knew I wasn't working and he said he was paying it forward.

I've been using him for at least 15 years. He struggled for work for a long time because he didn't want to pay the state for a license and so he never advertised. For the past 2 years, he found someone who owns a few apartment houses and keeps him busy nearly all the time.

I'm glad for him. He had reached a point where he couldn't pay his property taxes and the interest and penalties accumulated to about $35K; with the steady work he's doing, he's got that debt down to about $12K. I'm happy for him. He's a decent guy, the same person who I hired to help me clean out my mother's condo last year. He refused payment a few times, so I gave him a few things, including my mother's very nice stereo system and speakers, a boom box and some shelving.

And I'm so happy I eliminated a noticeable draft.

Whenever I see him I try to be supportive and be a good listener, becus he comes from a dysfunctional family. He's doing better these days.

I decided not to work on Election Day after all. They pay you $175, but it's an extremely long and tiring day that starts at 5:30 a.m. and goes til 9 p.m. So it comes out to about $9.50 an hour, which is not going to make or break me, either way.

What makes the day even tougher is that once you're there, in the gym, you can't leave til the polls close. So you have to bring whatever food you'll want to eat with you, becus you can't go out for lunch. But they don't have a microwave, stove or even a fridge, so whatever you have, it must store well in a cooler with ice paks. Sitting on cold metal chairs...as I get older, I'm less willing to do the things I've done in the past to make a dollar.

They usually get senior citizens helping out, and for the life of me, I don't know why they don't split the day into two shifts to make it more reasonable for older folks. They probably don't want to do the extra scheduling and paperwork that would be required.

I'm looking forward to watching the election returns come in live on TV.

We're in the middle of a pretty bad drought here. Talked to my neighbor last night, who told me they've had the pool water tanker truck there every other month. Each time it comes, it costs them $500; the truck can't make it all the way up their driveway, which is long and steep, so he has to run a hose, and apparently they charge extra for that.

But they don't have a choice becus they have 3 tenants that pay rent, plus 3 thirsty cows.