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Archive for December, 2017

A dry run with the kerosene heater

December 31st, 2017 at 04:55 pm

Having a 3-day weekend is blissful.

Yesterday we got some unexpected snow so I just stayed home and rather enjoyed it.

This morning I ran out early to do my errands so I could clear my plate for the afternoon to try out (finally) my new kerosene heater.

Disappointing performance
I filled it (outside) with just a small mishap. As I pulled the plastic ring on the 5-gallon container of kerosene, which I got from Tractor Supply, the kerosene splattered up onto my hand. But using the hand pump siphon to transfer the fuel from the container to the heater was easy, otherwise.

Then when I pushed on the ignition starter, nothing happened. The heater comes with 2 batteries for the auto ignition start. I ran out to Walgreens for new batteries and with them installed, the heater started right up.

After letting it burn a few minutes outside and adjusting the flame/wick, I carefully carried the heater inside after lighting it, moving it from just outside the garage door to inside my basement, about 12 steps.

I had turned my oil-burning furnace off when I started the kerosene heater. I noted the time and temperature inside the house at that point. It was 60 degrees indoors at about 4:30 pm.

I called my cousin J. to discuss the heater operation and over the course of the next 45 minutes (still on the phone with J.) I noted with some excitement that the heater had increased the temperature upstairs from 60 to 62 degrees. But when I finally hung up from talking to J. I checked my thermostat again and was very disappointed to see, at about 5:30 pm, that the temperature had dropped back DOWN by 1 degree, to 61 degrees.

It appears the kerosene heater was operating near the limits of its heating capabilities. I should note that it's been exceptionally cold today, and that the temps outside were about 9 degrees when all this was taking place.

I gave it until 6 pm to see if there would be any improvement in temps, but got impatient (and rather chilly) by 6 pm, when I shut it off, removed the 2 batteries so they wouldn't be affected by the cold, waited 15 minutes for it to cool down, and then carried it back out to my garage.

Everyone was telling me i should be "toasty warm" with this little thing so yes, I'm disappointed. I plan to give it another go tomorrow during the daytime, but we're expecting a high of only 14 degrees, so I kind of doubt it will perform much better.

Hmmm. Not to say it still wouldn't do what I want it to do, keep the pipes from freezing during a power outage, but it may not be enough to keep me comfortably warm in the house during such an outage. I might consider getting a second heater to also position in the basement, but on the other side. It's not a big house: 1650 square feet, so maybe on exceptionally cold nights like this, it might require more BTUs.

I might also do another test drive when outdoor temps are say, 20 degrees, or about 10 degrees warmer, and/or maybe set the furnace to 65 and then see if the kerosene heater can at least hold indoor temps steady, or increase them a little.

Eye, eye, eye
Saw my ophthalmologist last Thursday. It was something I was impatient to do as I have very dry eyes and felt I was ready for a prescription. He gave me a bunch of over the counter samples as well as some samples for Xiidra, a new competitor to Restasis which is about as effective but works much more quickly than Restasis does.

However, I walked out of there not immediately realizing he'd failed to give me the written prescription for my vision, and when I went to the frame shop and then returned to doc office, he was with another patient, so since I'd already been there for 2.5 hours, I asked them to just mail it to me.

I can't wait to get new glasses as the ones I've had now for about 5 years I never liked, even from the start, they were not especially cheap (got at BJs) and now they're all scratched up and at work I get a neck ache from tilting my head up so I can read out of the very bottom portion of the progressive lenses.

The frame shop I visited after doc visit is having a "special" in January where you get the frames and lenses for $350, which is rather better than what I paid last time, but I do want to make sure I can get frames I like this time.

Feeling the Pressure
I've decided to sell a pressure cooker I've had for over 23 years which I rarely used. Mainly because it was taking up a lot of room in a kitchen cabinet. It's a shame, but I just never use the thing and the technology is such that I wouldn't feel safe using it without having to read the directions all over again, and I just want to keep things simple.

I posted the Manttra cooker with its many accessory dishes that nest inside the cooker for just $10 on Facebook and have several responses already, with one person who's supposed to show up here tomorrow morning. They'd be traveling some distance, so I'm a bit skeptical they'll show. It retails for about $60 new.

For security reasons, I'll have it and show it to them in the garage.

My new bank is offering me a $10 Amazon gift card if I use my ATM/debit card 5 times during the month of January. I never use it as a debit card because you don't have any of the protection you have against fraud that you do have with a credit card. But I'll do it for a gift card. I tried to use it twice today and it was declined both times, so I'll have to call the bank to see what I'm doing wrong.

2017 income and expenses in review

December 29th, 2017 at 05:50 am

It's that time of year when I take a micro look at the past year's income and expenses. I couldn't take this kind of close look if I didn't track my expenses (and income) all year long. This is when it really pays off, because I always come away with some surprises.

EXPENSES

Here we go with my Top 10 expenses, ranked highest to lowest:

Health insurance: $6,267. Health insurance accounted for a whopping 17.4% of my total budget. I paid for it via COBRA, which I felt was an "affordable" $520/month compared to much higher healthcare exchange rates (figured without the subsidy).

I would be much better off with an employer-paid
plan and that of course is still a goal, although it remains to be seen if I can find one.

This expense was much higher than last year's (41% higher) $3,711, only because I was laid off in July 2016 and thus only paid the higher COBRA costs for 5 months of the year, not 12.

Property taxes: $5,904. This is my 2nd highest expense, but it is pretty stable from one year to the next.

Central air $4,650. This represented 13% of total expenditures. I think it was worth it.New England summers can be sweltering.

Food: $3,276. The very welcome news here is that this total is 24% LOWER than last year! I really tried to shop Aldi's as much as possible, and I think that paid off. I still buy quite a bit of organic produce but shopping at Aldi's more and at BJs less helped a lot. I am not renewing my BJs membership in February when it expires so I hope to see continued savings in 2018 in my 4th highest expense category.

I will buy a year's worth of cheap cat litter before I lose the membership.

Cats: $1,669. Both cats had very expensive dental work done in 2016 (teeth pulled) until I began to suspect the vet used this as an easy $$-maker. I switched to a more reasonably-priced vet, but still, Waldo had continuing challenges last year with his asthma and hyperthyroidism until his passing last summer.


I hope to contain costs in this category with just Luther now. Nonetheless, this expense is a 77% decrease from 2016.

Built-in bookshelves:$1,665. This is a good example of getting a lot of bang for the buck for a relatively small amount of money. I LOVE my dining room bookshelves and they're a great place to display my many family heirlooms, from my late mother's art to my grandfather's marquetry.


The bookshelves really enhance what used to be a plain Jane dining room, and it's one of the first things you see when you walk in the door. Love these, and am still considering getting more built-in shelving elsewhere in the house.

Household: $1,371. "Household" is my one catch-all category to assign certain purchases to when there's really nowhere else to put them. Mainly it includes purchases for the home that are not "used up" and which are under $500, since I have a category for big expenses over $500. This amount represents a 57% decrease from last year...nice!

CT taxes: $994. Most of this was taxes owed to the state from 2016, paid at tax time. The rest is estimated tax payments due to my freelance work. Calculating taxes from contract jobs that don't deduct taxes from your checks can be tricky. I do hope to get a refund for this year.

Phone/Internet: $941. This is about the same as 2016, or 3% higher, to be exact. I'm still with AT&T and I do keep a landline.

Clothing: Hmmm. I spent 34% more than I did in 2016. I tend to splurge and buy a lot of stuff just before starting a new contract job, and I recall doing that twice this year. Clothes are so expensive. I need to rein this in; ideally, if I lost weight, I'd fit into so much more.

Those are my Top 10 expenses for 2017. My remaining expenses, in order of amount, are:

Lawn and garden: $876.


This is mainly from paying a guy to mow my lawn, every other week, from about April thru November.

Electricity: $845. I continue to shop around for electric rates for the best offers available. Still, this represents just a 2% decrease from 2016.

Heating oil/cleanings: $784. This is 22% higher than 2016, I think because I simply ordered more oil before year's end than in 2016. In fact, I do remember topping off the tank earlier in the fall when prices were lower. So this is one expense that should be looked at on a seasonal basis rather than a calendar year basis.

Homeowners insurance: $682. This is an increase of 6%.

Gas: $661. This is 15.5% more than last year, but that's because I've been working and commuting since last September.

Car maintenance: $544. This is 21% higher than in 2016 on my 2013 Honda, mainly because I bought brand new, top line Michelin tires.

Out of pocket medical/dental expenses: $539. Off the top of my head, this would all be expenses associated with my annual physical and my twice-a-year dental cleanings, which I have to pay out of pocket.

Car insurance: $487. This is 82% lower than 2016, because I decided to drop my collision insurance. It's a calculated risk, but I have funds available should I need to repair or replace my car, and I've never had an accident save for a fender bender in a parking lot that was someone else's fault. So I'll take the savings here.

Entertainment: $473.

Car tax/miscellaneous fees: $381

Home maintenance: $338

Dining out: $259. Not that I don't eat out! When I wasn't working, I would frequently eat out for free at very nice restaurants at those MS dinner lectures. And dad treats me weekly on Saturdays. So this is mostly lunches out at work, which I hate to do because I consider it a waste of money but occasionally I don't have time to make my lunch.

Gifts: $235.

Water: $210

Borough taxes: $149

Dump sticker: $95

Haircuts: $57

Total 2017 Expenses: $35,994
Last year my expenses were $42,970, so I did great this year by reducing expenses by 19%!!

INCOME

Pharma contract job: $11,691. This represents net income from the last 3 months.

Unemployment benefits: $7,408 (net)

Marketing agency job: $6,824. This represents 6 weeks at my highest pay rate ever, $55/hr.

Freelance work: About $5,000.

Sale of my mother's art: $2,578

IRS tax refund: $1,279

Credit card rewards: $754

Miscellaneous sales on Facebook: $300

Cat sitting: $210

Rebates and class action lawsuits: $139

Focus group: $125

Total 2017 Income: $36,592

So even having worked f/t only about 5 or 6 months of the year, I was able to save $5,690. I'm pretty well satisfied.

Snow could put a kink in my Xmas plans

December 24th, 2017 at 07:39 am

Problematic snow
They're calling for 3-6 inches of the white stuff overnight tonight and ending tomorrow a.m. around 9 am. It could also be more snow (6-10"), or less (1-3").

One good thing is that it's due to end snowing around 9 am, so that will give me a chance to a) shovel my driveway and b) decide whether to drive the 1.5 hours to my cousin's house for Christmas. And back, same day.

I really would like to go: today I'm making my cranberry 3-nut pie (really good) and I wrapped all her presents last night.

However, I'm wondering if holiday traffic with the snow will make the roads a mess, lengthening my drive and fraying nerves. My friend R. is urging me not to go becus it's not worth the risks, he says.

I'm going to play it by ear and make a decision tomorrow morning.

My father is in the same boat...his plans were to drive down to NJ today, spend the night there with his brother-in-law and extended second family), and return tomorrow morning becus he says he doesn't want to "be in the way" during the kids' gift opening. It's just his preference. I hope if he goes (he's to call me today to let me know) he just stays there longer before heading back to CT so the roads are in better shape.

My crazy, mixed-up cousin
To complicate things even further, I got an unexpected call from my other cousin in PA, telling me he wanted to visit between Christmas and New Year's.

We talked at length. There's a lot going on with him. Basically, he's a 70-year-old man who's fallen in love with a 22-year-old stripper who's now in drug rehab. When he told me about it a few months ago, he said he knows exactly what he's doing and he knows what the risks are (that she'll use him for his money and manipulate him to get what she wants and then leave him... he's fairly wealthy).

But he doesn't believe he'll live for many more years becus of a variety of health issues, including prostate cancer, and after a very unhappy marriage for years to a woman with mental illness and multiple addictions, he I guess sees the possibility of having fun with someone young enough to be his granddaughter.

I pointed out the common threads between his father, his wife, and now the young woman, and I said trying to help this young woman could be a full-time job. Are you sure that's what you want to be doing at this point in your life? He said he had nothing to lose, and prior to meeting her, felt he already had one foot in the grave already and really had nothing to live for.

His own 2 daughters are very angry with him and are wondering if he's gone senile. His relationship with his daughters was not great to begin with, so I doubt spending Xmas with either of them was an option.

Christmas Day plans
I told him of my plans for Xmas and my dad's, and we agreed J. would come up the day AFTER Xmas and stay thru week's end. He said he had plans to spend Xmas eve and Xmas day with his friend's family.

He also thanked me for my advice given a few weeks ago about the young woman and said that after several attorneys he talked to reinforced my views he should just walk away (the lawyer said "these things never end well") he was going to do just that.

Yesterday, he called me back and totally changed these plans, telling me he was now going to come up Christmas day and was not going to spend any time with his friend/friend's family. He had already made the motel reservations.

When I reminded him neither me or dad would be around when he arrived, he said he'd forgotten I had told him that and said it was ok, he still wanted to come. It's a 7-hr trip for him from where he lives. I warned him about the snow; he drives a 4 wheel drive truck and says he's never gotten stuck and isn't concerned.

He said 2017 had been a very difficult year and just wanted to get away. (The way he met the young woman was thru his grand-son, also unemployed, no high school

These last-minute changes are kind of throwing me a little but I'm trying to accommodate as best we can.

He also told me he'd changed his mind about the woman and was going to see her in rehab. She just agreed to extend her stay in rehab for a full year (after being there a few months) and he feels, based on his experience with his late wife who he put in rehab about 10 times, were a complete waste of time, they essentially brainwash you and so on. He wants to try to talk her into coming to live with him, and he would help her get her driver's license, buy her a car, help her get a job and so on. Right now, her infant baby is being raised by her aunt and grandmother.

I tell my dad all this stuff and he just shakes his head.

I have to go back to work Wednesday, so I guess if J. does come tomorrow and I end up not driving to Jersey due to the snow, I'll see more of J. I'd really like to do both though. Both dad and I do like him, notwithstanding all the stuff going on with this young woman. He worked as a pharma sales rep for years and enjoyed success in his career, but his marriage, as I mentioned, was hellish. His wife died of a drug overdose and his daughter found her with an empty whiskey bottle in her hand, in bed. J.'s father was also an alcoholic schizophrenic and he's told me many stories about that.

When he was still working, he was a very private person, not wanting to reveal the troubled family situation.

So back to my Xmas plans. A lot is up in the air. I'm just glad the snow is forecast to end by 9 am so that gives me 1.5 hours before I leave to assess the condition of the roads and make a decision.

Oh no
Just got a call from my one remaining active freelance client; he's in the IT field, very senior level, and has been trying to find a new position for the past 6 months or so. He's a finalist at one role he interviewed for and needs my help to write some essays they requested, create a leave-behind and write a technology strategic vision plan.

His next interview is in 2 weeks' time. I will have to make time to help him starting today and until it's done. Sigh.

Coming up for air

December 22nd, 2017 at 04:50 am

The most beautiful sound in the world
You probably don't know this about me, but I listen to classical music almost exclusively.

A few days ago, driving in to work, I turned on my local public radio station. They've been playing some great music lately, Christmas carols from around the world from centuries ago.

At the moment I turned the radio on, I heard the most wonderful song. It was just so lovely. I cranked the radio as I sailed down the windy back roads filled with New England's scenic beauty: stately Colonial homes, open bodies of water filled with swans and geese, and towering pines.

This music brought me to tears, and at the end, I waited to hear the DJ identify this piece of music. After she did, I realized 2 things:

1. I had heard this music before. But somehow, its magic never enthralled me the way it did that day, and

2. I had what I'm not sure I can is a memory, because I'm not positive it really happened, but it reminded me of when I was a child standing in church and listening to the choir sing during Christmas Day services. My mother sang in the church choir, and in fact that is how she met her 2nd husband, who was the organist and choir director.

(And this is why I am hooked on classical music: my stepfather, who taught classical piano at NYU, would always play classical music and opera, which at the time, being a rock and roll-loving teenager coming of age in the 1970s, I hated.)

I believe this was one of the songs I heard my mother sing on Christmas Day so many years ago. Not an easy piece to sing but certainly a worthy choice.

The song is Unto Us a Child is Born, from Handel's Messiah. If you'd like to listen to it here, I found a You Tube video of it being sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choice.

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=yset_ff_syc_widemail&p=unto+us+handel%27s+messiah#id=2&vid=cb8c255d614fb6a9cc7814d32dabaa6f&action=click

I just love this Baroque masterpiece. I had to go and find the lyrics as well. It sounds funny, coming from an atheist, but it even made me think about going to church this Sunday.

Christmas still feels so bittersweet to me, as the 2-year anniversary of my mother's death is coming up next week. My mother loved this kind of music, and now I have a new appreciation for it myself.

She had an extensive classical music CD collection, and I regret donating nearly all of it to my library for their annual sale. At the time I just felt completely overwhelmed by decisions on what to keep, or how to dispose of her stuff. The CDs were one thing I gave away because I rarely have time in my life to play a CD; I usually just turn the radio on.

The office Christmas party
Last night I experienced the office Christmas party where I work.

Every company is different and chooses to celebrate in a different way: Secret Santa gift exchanges, the giving of bonuses, big dinners, little dinners, with or without one's significant other.

This one was a really great dinner at an Italian restaurant in SoNo, a trendy neighborhood in a small Connecticut city known for its pubs, restaurants and night life.

They rented a small bus to take people there and back so they wouldn't have to drive. There were about 16 of us.A few of us, including myself, drove themselves because based on where they lived, it would be easier to just head directly home from the restaurant.

There were about 18 of us, including some people I hadn't met before because they work remotely. Including the one guy who made such a terrible first impression on me when he ranted and raved and was terribly upset during a conference call on speaker phone after I'd made extensive edits to his piece. He didn't think we'd have time to make all the edits and just carried on in the most unprofessional manner. I attempted to explain as diplomatically as possible that I was just trying to make the piece as polished and professional as possible, becus truth be told, although this guy's a PhD, his writing is pretty bad.

The people at the office all rolled their eyes and said that's XXX just being XXX, he can't handle stress, and also explained to me that when I met him (he took the train up to CT from Brooklyn), that I'd see he was the most introverted man around.

I was so surprised to find he was a fairly attractive man around my age and yes, he seemed a little ill at ease in the din of our conversations (like me).

I didn't get home from the party til about 11:30 pm, and I didn't go to bed until 1 am becus I was so wired. And because I was still thinking about Handel's Messiah.

The prankster
Earlier that day, back at the office, B., the 26-year-old, 6'4" "operations manager" (a fancy title for someone who runs to get us coffees and is at the owner's beck and call) went on and on about how each year at the Xmas party, he does a "roast," excoriating each employee one by one in great detail, and that he keeps notes all year long so he has good material to embarrass people with. He said J., my manager, didn't speak to him for 2 weeks after what B. said about him. He indicated he would have things to say about me and to J., who both share B.'s work space just outside the owner's office.

I was starting to feel nervous about what he'd come up with for me, in front of people I've only recently met. J. and I. actually tried to warn B. not to be too harsh and questioning the wisdom of making fools of people you work with when you want to become more of a close-knit team.

When we got to the dinner, I wondered when the roast would start. It never did. The entire story was just a yarn B. spun because he is a rather snarky Millennial with a wicked sense of humor.

J. and I agreed we must get back at him. I was thinking of calling B. when we return to work next Wednesday, feigning a flat tire and begging him to drive out to help me. When he did so, I would sneak to the office via another route and I would be nowhere to be found when he arrived, and then we'd have a good laugh at his expense when he returned to the office.

Today's a day for last minute shopping, wrapping of presents and buying ingredients for a pie I'll be making to take down with me to Jersey Xmas day.

Our trip to the abbey in Bethlehem

December 17th, 2017 at 02:59 pm

My dad, friend R.and I went to that abbey I mentioned earlier. It's in Bethlehem, Connecticut, a small and rural town where many people like to mail their Christmas cards from, so the postal stamp says "Bethlehem" on the envelope.

It was the last day of their Xmas sale, so they had already sold out of the things I was most interested in, breads, cheeses and jams.

Here are some pictures of the creche in an adjacent barn, along with a bit of history about it.










This is their chapel.

On the way home, we stopped at the Curtiss House, the oldest restaurant/inn in Connecticut, for some mulled hot cider and tea. the restaurant was built prior to the Revolutionary War, so that's pretty old. Dad and I decided we need to return for dinner sometime.

Other than this, I was running around like a crazy woman doing the usual catch-up chores, not even Xmas stuff.

I am going down to see my cousin for Xmas day, but just for a few hours, and I'll be back home here in CT by dark. Suddenly, I had to think about bringing a small gift for her, so I did order 3 pairs of cute cat socks for her, and I may give her one of my mother's many handwoven scarves she made for sale. She was friends with my mother, so that will be meaningful for her. She has animals and likes to feed the birds, as I do, so I'm tempted to maybe get some treats for both. As for the scarves, I have so many from my mother....probably about 40 of them, and I doubt I will ever get a chance to wear them all.

Since I now know I have off from Friday through Tuesday of next week, I can also do some local Xmas shopping; I have 3 shops in mind. Otherwise, I have scheduled for my electrician to come over on Tuesday to do some small jobs here. I also bought a new ceiling light on Amazon for the front entry which I really rather like. All of my ceiling light fixtures are icky old, tacky fake brass look and very dated. I'm ready for something much more modern.



It will arrive just before Xmas.

I'm a little nervous about it, and hope it will go in this place. I can't say you can discern any particular style here, although I really used to like a very "rustic" decor. I'm really drawn to modern now but after spending hours browsing on Amazon and Lights Plus, it was hard for me to find any other ceiling fixtures I liked. One challenge is that my ceilings are not that high, so the upstairs hallway lights, for instance, need to not be hanging, but close to the ceiling.

Thwarted by the cold/ethical question

December 13th, 2017 at 04:41 am

Exercise getting harder with the cold weather
Just as I was getting into a nice little routine, walking a 1/2 hour each morning (which combined with my lunchtime walk, resulted in a full hour of near daily exercise), the cold weather arrived.

I find about 30 degrees is the point at which I don't really enjoy being outside. I do plan on wearing my silk long johns to work today though.

The line in the sand has faded...
Setting boundaries at work continues to be a somewhat pointless, illusory task. I had told him a week or so ago that moving forward, i would be leaving at 7:30 pm at the latest.

Yesterday, something needed to be proofed so they could use it for an 11 am meeting today. He told me i could either stay late to do it last night or come in earlier tomorrow.

I treasure my mornings these days. (I don't have to leave for work til 9:45 am.) So I decided to stay late again last night to just get it done. Sigh.

My boss is a nice guy
At least he gave me a choice. He is really pretty nice about it and in fact, it would be so easy for most people in his role to just lay down the law to me. But he's so darn nice; that's actually what makes it hard for me to stick to my guns. That, and a reluctance to lose the job if I flat out refuse to work at some critical moment. It's the unpredictability of it all that bothers me most. It's hard to plan anything these days.

How I could reduce my health insurance costs to $0
I do wonder if my less than 100% enthusiasm will cost me after we enter the new year, around the time he said he would put together a job offer for me. He may not want to do so without ensuring I understand the job offer comes with some attachments, like a time commitment.

I still plan to propose a 30-hour week for myself at reduced salary. We have to submit time sheets each week accounting for time spent, and he told me when I started that, after padding time spent on legit projects for various clients if I still had unaccounted for time (when I have nothing to do) to count that time as "Research."

Well, I've been keeping track of my "research" time, which probably averages out to 3 hours or more a day. That's a lot of wasted money they're paying me to do nothing. They don't seem to mind, honestly. I'd love for them to agree that yes, we'd like to save ourselves some money by cutting your hours to 30 a week because you've shown us you can get the work done in that time, and we'll pay half your ACA health premiums (previously offered as a possibility).

The strategy I'd love to use
If I worked a 30-hour week and they cut my salary proportionately and I became an employee eligible to contribute to their 401k, I would contribute the maximum, $24,500 (including the catch-up provision for those age 50+), thus removing this amount from my taxable income, which in turn would most likely make me eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

I'm not the first person to consider asking her employer to cut her salary in order to qualify for ACA subsidies. I've got an interesting article about doing so, if anyone is interested.

The ethical question
Here's the ethical question. Right now, the cost of an ACA plan to me without subsidies would be about $775 a month, last time I checked. That's what I told him, and so he said what they've done for others is pay half their health insurance cost, or in my case, about $3500 a year. (The company is too small to have its own plan.)

I don't see how it's any of their business how I would plan to contribute to the 401k, or that I intended to plow as much as possible into it so I could qualify for the subsidies, which would lower my health insurance costs considerably.

Anyway, I'm sure others here will disagree, but really, if they're already prepared to pay me $3500 a year toward my ACA costs, then I don't think I owe an additional explanation just because I've learned to (legally) use the system to my advantage.

Office Xmas party
I've learned there's going to be a Christmas event at the office Dec. 21. They asked the longtimers there (not us newer contract workers) what they wanted to do. Either go out to a fancy dinner in SoNo (who knows how long we'd have to work that night before being able to leave) OR, have a nice lunch in office and be let out of work at 5 pm.

I would love to do the latter instead of having to schlep down to SoNo with traffic/crowds, and then drive home late at night.

Of the 3 people they asked, 1 said she wants the dinner. The other lives in the town where the restaurant is and so he said don't count my vote since I live right here and I'm biased. The 3rd person hasn't voiced an opinion yet but no doubt will cave to what everyone else wants.

The woman who said she wants the dinner is like a slave to this company. She's been there since its inception, around 2009, and has the longest commute: about 1.5 hours one-way.

She is always there. I guess family life doesn't matter to her because her husband has left for work by the time she comes home late at night. I don't think she has kids.

I was told that last Christmas, she arrived late to the Xmas party dinner because she was working, and that after the dinner, she actually went back to the office! I'm sorry, there is something abnormal about that. I don't admire that at all.

A chance encounter, and a chance to help

December 12th, 2017 at 03:01 am

A few weeks ago, me and dad went to lunch at a restaurant in town. We were surprised to see a waitress we knew from another local restaurant there. Turns out she works at both places. She's always very friendly, so when she seated us and asked us how are you, or maybe she even said so what's new (even though we don't really know her) I must've mentioned my new job.

It could have ended there, but instead she asked me to tell her about it, so I briefly did. When I mentioned it was "pharma," she said she had a friend who was looking for work and had a pharma background.

Again, it could have ended there, but I gave her my email address and told her to have her friend send me her resume and I would pass it on to my manager, not really knowing this woman's background or whether my company could use someone like her.

So I've been trading emails with the woman who is job searching. She lives in my hometown. I guess I could relate to her situation. She is feeling kind of desperate, is single and fears she will lose her house. Her dog just got diagnosed with cancer. I think she is in her 40s. She certainly has a sold work history.

So I gave my manager her resume a few weeks ago; he seemed interested, but I never heard anything else from him, and the woman, "V.," would have told me if he'd contacted her.

So I asked my manager about it yesterday to see if I could get any idea if she was even someone he would consider/have a need for, and it sounds like a possibility, actually. He just wants to wait til after the holidays because it has been so busy, but he said he could see her doing his job when he is stuck in daylong conference calls. What he does is make sure the work flow continues and doesn't get bogged down. He is always trying to make sure I have work to do, for instance. The work really comes and goes in spurts and there are plenty of times throughout the day when I have nothing to do, sometimes for as long as an hour or more at a time. Not very efficient but I can see how sometimes that can't be avoided.

Anyway, V. is immensely grateful to me already, although I told her I don't feel I did very much. The opportunity to help presented itself to me, and I was happy to try to help someone, especially another single woman living in my hometown in circumstances similar to what I've gone through.

It would be kind of funny to end up working with this woman. I havn't met her yet. She wants to take me out to lunch; I suggested coffee since I know she's got money problems and really, lunch isn't necessary. I will tell her what I an about the company.

Tis the Season, PS Style

December 11th, 2017 at 04:58 am



Next weekend I hope to bring my dad (and invited friend R. to come along) to a Benedictine abbey in nearby Bethlehem, CT, that has a Christmas sale each year, largely of items handmade/grown by the sisters, including beeswax candles, jams and jellies, soaps, cheeses, breads, even wooden pens made from an old choir stall.

On the premises they also have an incredible 18th-century Neapolitan Crèche, a rare and lavish display of a traditional Nativity scene which is thought to have been created as a gift to Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia, on the occasion of his coronation in 1720.

The creche recently went thru a 4-year renovation by experts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

If the weather's decent, we'll go.

First snowfall

December 9th, 2017 at 09:00 am

We're getting our first snow of the season. About 4 inches are expected.

I ran out this morning to try to squeeze in as many errands as I could.

1. Fill up the gas tank. Done.

2. Pick up my vacuum from the repair place. She charged me $20 to fix it. Don't know how she can earn a living charging so little, but I am grateful. Done.

3. Lowes: Recycled more CFL bulbs and bought a 5-gallon kerosene container for MY NEW kerosene heater. Also bought a siphon that makes it easier to pour into the heater without spillage.

4. Walmart: I wanted to buy a 2nd Hanes sweatshirt since I like the gray one so much. Found a maroon one in my size for $10. Done.

I was tempted to squeeze in a quick stop at Aldi's as I have nothing to eat here, but the snow by that time was starting to stick to the roads, so I headed home, a 20-minute ride, and I'm glad I did as it was looking pretty serious on the back roads. My driveway slope was slippery but I got the car in the garage.

I'll do my grocery shopping tomorrow after I meet dad for lunch. I also want to get the kerosene from a station in neighboring city, much cheaper than my local hardware store, which charges $4.99 a gallon.

So the kerosene heater I ordered has already arrived! I believe there will be some simple assembly required, mainly to put the metal cage around the unit to protect against burns, as this thing gets hot. I'll try to do that this weekend.

The guy at Lowes suggested I go to Mitchell Fuels for my kerosene as it was much cheaper than what Lowes charged. I may also do that tomorrow with dad.

I'll also write out my Christmas cards, dust, vacuum, etc.

An about-face: no generator

December 8th, 2017 at 06:23 am

I decided not to get the $7,000 generator for my home.

Why I'm not getting the generator
It wasn't the upfront cost...I more or less expected that price range. Believe it or not, it was the $475 charge quoted me for annual maintenance.

Sure, I could probably "afford it," but I didn't get to where I am today without being frugal and carefully weighing big ticket purchases like this one.

The light bulb went off in my had after my cousin mentioned, at the tail end of our "should I or shouldn't I" conversation, that he had used a kerosene heater for years before transitioning to a portable generator, and later, a whole house generator like the one I'd been considering.

I decided to more thoroughly research kerosene heaters, and I liked what I read. A nearly 100% efficient fuel source, unlike my top-line oil furnace which is just 83% efficient. Very quiet. A compact, 22-lb DuraHeat kerosene heater could warm my entire house quite quickly! I was somewhat amazed.

Vague fears of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning had caused me to avoid even considering using one, but after reading Amazon product reviews in great detail, I ordered one online, along with a carbon monoxide monitor for the basement (i already have 2 detectors upstairs).

Since any kind of burning fuel will consume oxygen, you just need to crack a window to ensure good air flow (and no carbon monoxide poisoning). If you have a drafty house, you might not need to crack a window. My basement is fairly drafty under the door to garage, but I will set up the monitor anyway, so instead of merely sounding an alarm if there's a problem, I can see at any time what the carbon monoxide levels are on the LCD display. I also have a small window I will crack open near where I will put the heater, which will sit on a concrete floor.

It has an auto off feature if it's accidentally knocked over.

The only hassle will be filling up the tank, which they recommend you do outside because upon start-up, there may be a minute or so of stinky smell. So I'd have to carry the roughly 22-pound heater from basement into attached garage, where I'd start just outside the garage door, let it run a minute or so, then carefully carry it indoors again.

And since I would only plan on using it during a power outage, I could be trying to fill up the heater in the dark, or with a flashlight, which could be a bit tricky.

Unfortunately, I do have a step down from the basement to garage, but otherwise, it could be done. I do routinely haul 44-lb boxes of cat litter home from BJs. That's about the most I'd want to lift.

My cousin suggested filling the heater only about one-quarter full outside so it's not too much heavier when I bring it back in the basement, at which time I would fill it completely.

My cousin, who is VERY long-winded, was actually extremely helpful because his habit of explaining things in great, excruciating detail, which normally makes me impatient, was very informative for someone who has had little exposure to things like alternative fuels and how they work.

I feel a lot more comfortable now after our conversation, which confirmed much of what I'd read in customer reviews of the heater I just bought. He even said he ran the heater overnight while he slept, and when he went off to work, 2 things I would not do.

the only other caveat to remember is that kerosene fuel does not store well long-term, so I would plan to buy fresh fuel around October, before late fall storms roll around, and then in April, when I felt the coast was clear as far as future storms, I would just burn up the rest of any remaining fuel i had. It actually would be more efficient and cost less than my heating oil.

So yeah, using a kerosene heater would not be a PERFECT solution to the power outage problem, in that the house would still be dark at night and the fridge could not be opened, etc, but it would ensure my pipes would stay toasty warm, as would the rest of the house.

And I started thinking about how many other ways I could use that $7,000 investment. Finally, just knowing I'm not at the complete mercy of the electric provider (Eversource) as to when power is restored is a truly empowering feeling (pun intended).

So when you consider the kerosene heater is a FRACTION of the cost of the generator, it's a slam dunk for me. My total outlay for the kerosene heater, 2 fuel cans, a siphon, and the carbon monoxide detector, is less than $200 vs $7,000+. Of course, there's the cost of the fuel itself, but it's nothing inordinately expensive and you can purchase it many places, apparently, including gas stations. I never really noticed before.

Now that I've totally bored you with the minutiae of my decision-making process, I'll move on to other things.

The one thing I like about my job...
Since I don't have to be at work til 10:30 am, I get up at my normal time (at this time of year, 6 or 6:30 am) and make good use of my limited free time.

I've gotten into the habit of doing a 1/2 hour walk around the block here during this time. This is an excellent thing since I also ALWAYS go for a 1/2 hour walk during my lunch break at work. I consider this essential for my sanity and it's also a really good idea to stretch my legs.

So I've basically DOUBLED my daily walking routine to 1 hour a day. I track my exercise using supertracker.usda.gov and I'm hoping it could help me with some weight loss.

However, I really don't like walking much when it gets below 30 degrees, like it is this morning, but overall, having the extra time in the morning is really extremely helpful.

I've used this little bit of extra time in other ways, including my Wednesday morning trips to the landfill (which lets me avoid having to go there on crowded Saturdays), vacuuming the house and heck, not feeling like I have to spring out of bed at the crack of dawn if I stayed up a little late the night before.

The weekend
I am really hoping they don't ask me to work tomorrow (Saturday). I have much I'd like to do, and it can't all be done Sunday.

I got another debit card ($10) from an electric company I had problems with. Contacting the state regulatory agency promptly fixed the problem, but I am not doing business with them, so sending me gift cards after the fact, to someone who will not be returning to you as a customer, is sort of dumb. It's a shame they couldn't process a new, discounted rate they advertised on the state's website. That's all it was all about. But I will apply the gift card toward groceries.

I need to make a decision, but having 2nd thoughts

December 5th, 2017 at 06:29 pm

So the bids are all in for the install of the stand-by generator I was interested in getting for the house. The generator and propane tank would be installed on the north side exterior of the house, which is a pretty good spot for it since you couldn't see the stuff unless you walked around that way. My central air unit is also on that side.

Electrician #1 wanted $5,000 for the job and the 2 propane companies who came over both quoted me prices of about $2,000 to install and connect a tank, which would hold the fuel needed to power the generator. So we're talking $7,000 total, a pretty hefty sum that made me start to have second thoughts.

We do get power outages here regularly, usually starting with late fall hurricanes and through the winter. Sometimes they're for a few hours, a day or a week. The last one I had about a month ago here was for 16 hours.

It's an inconvenience with some discomfort if it happens in the fall; you don't want to open the refrigerator and of course you can't operate any lights at night, etc. But if you have an extended outage in the winter, your pipes could freeze. This is really what's prompted me to consider a generator in the first place.

So after I got those prices, I decided to have a 2nd electrician out since that part of the work accounts for the biggest cost. He was over this morning before I left for work and he just sent me his estimate, which is about $750 less than the 1st electrician. One advantage to working with him is that he would handle all the work, sub-contracting the propane tank install to someone he regularly works with, so having to deal with one company would be easier than dealing with two.

So the generator would be a Generac, which is a top line brand, and 7.5 kilowatts (probably the smallest unit you can buy), which would be plenty to power the following things should I lose power in a storm:

1. furnace
2. refrigerator/freezer
3. Computer
4. TV
5. One kitchen outlet, which powers my microwave
6. A light in my bathroom and bedroom

I noticed that all the guys here tried to tell me i needed at least a 9 kilowatt generator or that they don't usually sell any smaller than that, etc, but once i informed them how i added up the energy use of each of the appliances i wanted powered and that i knew they added up to well under 5 kilowatts, they backed off and quoted me a price for what i said i wanted.

I also have an Angie's List coupon for 5% I could use with the 2nd electrician, although he asked me twice how I found him and I just said "online." I didn't want to say Angie's List because they he would probably jack up his price a little to account for the coupon. I hope he doesn't give me a hard time about not telling him I have his coupon until after he bid on the job, but I can just plead forgetfulness. The coupon would save me over $300.

However, CT sales tax is 6.38%. His quote said the total price for everything except the permit was such and such a price; i would have to assume he included sales tax since he didn't itemize it.

I'm still feeling a little hesitant about doing it. Partly because when I asked him what he charges for the annual maintenance on this thing, he said $475! That was quite a bit more than the other guys, who i think said something like $275.

So it seems like a big, new, ongoing added expense for me, which I don't like, and of course, I would need to keep an eye on the propane level and have it filled up after I used it up.

I guess I feel like it's yet another responsibility I'll have to take on, in addition to others involved in maintaining this home, and I do like things simple. If I had a husband, i wouldn't care since I'd know he could take care of it.

On the other hand, I can picture myself in the next storm, and the next, inevitable outage, and feeling anxious as I have in the past when it happens at the wrong time, when it's very cold out, and I worry about frozen pipes.

One has to wonder if the cost of repairing frozen pipes and dealing with possible flood damage is more or less than the cost of a $6,000 generator. Flood damage can be serious, especially if you're not home when it happens, but I don't think it would add up to $6,000. My basement is unfinished and there's not too much down there that could be damaged by water aside from my bike and miscellaneous stuff. But even absent that kind of scenario, extended power outages are not fun to deal with.

So I guess I'll go ahead with it, but I don't know. There are a lot of other things I could do with $6,000, and I would probably get more enjoyment out of those other things.

But this particular improvement is not really about "enjoyment"' it's more about protecting my investment, and keeping myself safe in bad weather. As I get older, I'm less inclined to tough things out in a cold, unheated house, and from what I'm hearing about global warming, storms of the future will be more damaging and more powerful.

So please tell me this makes sense. Or not.

Today's accomplishments

December 3rd, 2017 at 02:02 pm

1. Spent a fairly enjoyable hour raking leaves outside. I haven't had time to do this for at least a few years. I used a large tarp to rake the leaves onto and emptied 3 loads of leaves into the woods.

2. Dad came over and I brought him to "UK Gourmet" so he could find some "real" marmalade, you know, the kind that has actual orange rinds in it. He got a lime variety that looked pretty good.

After that, we stopped at Lowes where I ran in to recycle some CFL light bulbs and get some LEDs for my dining room chandelier. The only remaining CFL bulbs now are the globe lights above my bathroom mirror.

I filled up the gas tank, and then we had lunch at the Chinese restaurant.

3. Put my jammies on around 3 pm, sat in bed and read my hometown newspaper with a cup of hot tea! Delightful!

Edging closer to a big milestone

December 2nd, 2017 at 05:12 pm

Just got home from work; it's around 8 pm and I REALLY need a break from the office. But at least I'll get some overtime pay for this week.

They were actually discussing whether we'd need to go in to work on Sunday (tomorrow). I would have refused if it came to that, and luckily, it didn't.

Tomorrow will definitely be as close to a "do nothing" day as possible, but I do want to get to Lowes for light bulbs. I will do lunch with dad and fill up the gas tank but the rest of the day: HOME.

Lifetime Milestone
It's hard to believe I've reached the point of even being able to talk about this without LMAO, but I'm just $39,000 away from becoming a millionaire.

I track both my expenses and investments monthly, and as of December 1, my investments (excluding the house) came to $961,000.

Will the bull market last long enough to carry me over the finish line? It has been a long time coming.

I know there are many who read this site who are trying to pay down significant debt or just get by paying the bills. I've been there, believe me.

After graduating college in the early 1980s, and throughout my 20s and even into my early 30s, I was pretty broke. In fact, the one and only loan I ever took out, excluding my home mortgage, was to buy a used truck. I was concerned about taking on debt even then, and I think the loan was for less than $5,000. I remember the bank had a certain minimum loan amount so I actually borrowed more than I needed, reluctantly.

I was working as a journalist back then, not making much money. I remember needing to find an apartment in southern Vermont when I relocated to take a news job there, and while there was one apartment I liked very much, the rent just felt too high for me, so I took a rather dumpy, much smaller apartment elsewhere.

I had student debt when I graduated, but it was nowhere the amount of student debt kids deal with today. I can't remember exactly how much it was, but I'm thinking maybe $10K.

I moved from Vermont back to Connecticut to be closer to family when I had what would turn out to be my first symptoms of MS. I lived in my sister's basement for several years, saving my money so I could get a place of my own.

It wasn't until 1992, when I took my first job as a financial services copywriter, that I began making what I considered good money. At that time, "good" money was anything over $50,000.

I stayed at that job for 7 years, and it was during that time I felt I could buy a house. Pretty much from the get go, I began prepaying the mortgage; sometimes it was just $100 a month, but other times it was $500. There were periods I couldn't make prepayments because I'd been laid off, but whenever I was working, I made those prepayments. That was one of my smarter moves.

Another really smart move, but one that most people wouldn't do? Tracking my income and expenses on a monthly basis. Income is fairly easy since most of the time, I had just one job, but after many years of tracking expenses, I don't feel this is a big deal at all. I'm just in the habit of making sure I have receipts or otherwise can record an expense on my own home-made monthly expense sheet.

The reason I think doing this is such a good idea because it forces me to see, right there in front of me, how the money has been flowing out each month, and on what. It's too easy to overlook things like eating out or spending on frivolous stuff, but if you track every expense, it's impossible not to notice. And then you can make adjustments accordingly.

Anyway, I'm grateful for the sense of security the $$ gives me, along with a feeling that I have "options" and won't be backed into a corner due to financial considerations.

And just for hoo-hahs, if you want to know what my net worth was in 2009, the start date for this blog, it was just $315,226. So I tripled my net worth in 8 years. This long-running bull market gave me a headwind that helped things along a lot. But I also have been able to save piles of $ after paying off my mortgage in 2012. That helped a lot too.