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Archive for March, 2018

Successful retirement strategies, part 2

March 22nd, 2018 at 05:50 pm

OK, so the 1st 2 classes of this 3-part program have been reviewing very basic concepts (dollar cost averaging, asset allocation, diversification, etc). Here and there are glimmers of things that interest me but he's got so much ground to cover we haven't lingered on any one thing too long.

Surprisingly, our instructor is not a big fan of annuities, immediate or variable (or insurance products in general), because you hand over control over a large chunk of money, on the insurer's terms, and they are, after all, in the business of making money. So I considered this a good sign.

He is, of course, emphasizing that tax-free money is the best kind of money, and so he likes Roth IRAs and muni bonds.

Our "homework" assignment in the 1st class was completing an extensive survey of our current assets/investments and when we plan to retire, etc. I turned it in today. He said each of us would get a free 1-hour consultation with him, so I will be very curious what recommendations he may have for me. I have no muni bonds in my portfolio.

I probably should investigate ETFs, which we talked about in passing.

I guess the final class will be most interesting.

Wherefore art thou, snow?

March 21st, 2018 at 12:17 pm

We're supposed to be in the grips of a nor'easter right now but nothing's come down out of the sky for several hours.

We were all told we could work from home today. I just finished up so I'm free until Monday. Smile

The oil delivery guy called and wants to deliver tomorrow instead of Friday, so more pressure on me to have the driveway shoveled.

Dad wants to come over tomorrow so we can place the order for his new adjustable bed together. He thought we'd have to drive back to the store (45 min). I don't think we need to; we can just pay by credit card over the phone and schedule the delivery. I'm happy he's buying it, and I hope it will result in a better night's sleep.

Also tomorrow, I am scheduled to have my tires rotated at BJs at noon, and tomorrow night I have part II of my retirement strategies class. I just hope the snow isn't so bad that I have trouble clearing the driveway for all these events.

A small herd of 6 deer passed through the backyard a little while ago: some does and older fawns. Can't imagine what they find to eat this time of year (besides my rhododendron bush).

I'm doing my 2nd load of laundry and am hang-drying it indoors.

I'm going to have a very small paycheck for last week; I only worked about 12 hours, and this week, 18.5 hours. I'm not too concerned; I'm still ahead of where I should be for March because I worked full-time for the 1st 2 months of the year. Things will no doubt even out by year's end. Like the story of the 3 bears, I need to earn "not too much" and "not too little." The sweet spot will be between $36K and $42K.

4th nor'easter in 3 weeks coming

March 20th, 2018 at 06:06 am

Yesterday they said there was a chance the storm would pass far enough south of us that we wouldn't see any snow. This morning they're telling us we'll get up to a foot.

I happened to notice recently that my hometown newspaper, which I love and read cover to cover, is looking for a copy editor.

I would have a good shot at the job if I wanted it. Since they cover only my town, they'd want someone who lives in town, and there are a limited number of qualified candidates.

It would be a less-than-5-minute commute and the job offers full benefits, which I presume includes private health insurance and a 401k, 2 things I'm lacking now.

While tempting, I decided I would be better off remaining where I am, even though it's a 40-minute commute and the hours are still irregular and unpredictable. The deciding factor is, I'm working 2.5 days a week now but at the new job I'd be working 5.

The newspaper job would pay very minimally, probably in the low 30s, so I'd be working much longer for a little less money, although I would have the security of private health insurance and wouldn't have to worry about what's going to happen to Obamacare availability or rates in future years.

On a related note, I did a bit of research and discovered that per the IRS, part-time employees CAN contribute to their employer's 401k plan, subject to any plan-specific minimum hours and/or time period worked, but these requirements cannot exceed 1,000 hours a year (that's just 19 hours a week) and/or up to a 1-year wait time before participation. But p/t employees cannot be excluded en masse from participation.

Death by yoga

March 17th, 2018 at 07:53 am

I made it to Saturday morning yoga class, the first time back in several years time.

I thought since I was walking an hour a day, 5 days a week, I was in pretty good shape. Wrong, very wrong. Yoga was exhausting...way too many downward facing dogs for my taste. It's basically a modified push-up.

Oh, my. I shall return. The stretching is badly needed. I Thought my balance was pretty good because I sometimes randomly stand on one leg for minutes at a time, but it just wasn't working at the class.

I ran into someone I used to work with; she was laid off a few months ago from where we both used to work. This was a p/t job I had before the bank job.

I felt like a nap when I got home, but the good thing is, the drive home was about one-third of a mile!

The electrician has arrived

When I got home, my electrician was already here and starting to do some rewiring for me in the garage, replacing some old fabric-type wiring that was in deteriorated condition and replacing a 2 outlet thing with 4 outlets, for my many electric or battery landscaping tools. It should be about $242, not exactly in this month's budget but a small enough amount that I can maybe eat out of the pantry most of this month and not notice the added expense.

No long-term care for me

I've known for a while that one big gap in my overall financial planning is the lack of any coverage for long term care. So yesterday I randomly called Mutual of Omaha after reading their premium rates online. They didn't seem that bad.

I learned I'm not eligible for long-term care insurance because of my MS. It doesn't matter that I've missed MAYBE 2 days of work over the course of nearly 30 years living with it. Nope, nada, no how.

It's a little unsettling, but I will have to self-fund.

I think the electrician will be done in the garage around noon, and once I pay him and see him off, I'll be able to head to dad's for lunch, to take a photo of his mattress label to send to mattress store and also to go to library to get them to sign a form so dad is eligible to borrow reading materials from the state library for the blind and physically handicapped.

Those are the sum total of my responsibilities for the rest of the weekend; after lunch, I'll return home and just try to recover from the yoga and enjoy the day close to home.

Other items on the weekend agenda:
1. Make split pea soup for the work week.
2. Run my kerosene heater to burn down more fuel as we approach the end of the heating season.

1st Successful Retirement Strategies Class

March 16th, 2018 at 10:14 am

Tonight was the first of 3 classes for the above-named program, which meets at our local high school. There were just 6 people in the class, which was good since we could feel free to get our questions answered. The instructor is a CFP.

I regretted paying $30 for the workbook, because like the class, it was very, very basic. I suspected it might be too basic for me, but I didn't realize I didn't have to purchase the workbook. I noticed another woman there also didn't want to buy it, but ended up doing so anyway.

Our homework assignment was filling out an extensive questionnaire which disclosed our assets, investments, planned retirement age and so on. I know very well they'll be pitching me on their advisory services (2.50%) but I am curious to see what recommendations they might make to me.

I'm hoping the 2nd class will get into discussions that will actually teach me something.

I was finally able to schedule an appointment to have my new tires rotated at BJs. For weeks I've been calling (you can't schedule maintenance online) and no one ever answers. I finally got Members Services to use the intercom to let them know the phone was ringing. I would think they should have someone at the customer service desk in tire center, but no, they all work in the garage on the cars.

I took my dad mattress shopping yesterday. He'd seen commercials on TV for a specific furniture store so we drove into New Haven. The store is enormous and gigantic. Dad was quite surprised, but the salesperson immediately led us to try out an adjustable bed that I have to admit we both liked quite a bit. I don't need one for myself and prefer the foam, but I told dad I thought this bed would be perfect for him, relieving pressure on his artificial hips, helping blood circulate in his legs better and even helping him get out of bed cus you can raise yourself to a sitting position. It has a 10-year warranty, and dad noted the bed will probably outlive him.

I have to go to dad's tomorrow and take a picture of the label on his current mattress, which he doesn't think is that old, and then email it to the salesperson to make sure his mattress is compatible with the adjustable bed. If the mattress is older than dad thinks, he may just end up buying both a new mattress and the adjustable bed, which together would be $1400 ($800 for the adjustable bed alone). It's a big expense, but dad can afford it and it really would be helpful to him.

The new proofreader sharing my job today emailed me to complain that he was told by T. not to come in 2 days in a row this week becus there was no work. The person he reports to (my manager) is traveling this week, so T., a longtime employee there, ends up as de facto person in charge, but I doubt she is aware the new proofreader was told by recruiter he'd have 20 to 25 hours a week.

So he is understandably upset, told me he and his wife need to buy 2 new cars and were counting on his income to do this, etc. This was the problem that always made me bonkers: I never knew what my work hours would be and it was hard to count on anything.

I wrote back and explained that it's a small agency and the work really fluctuates, that he just happened to start at a very slow time and that it will pick up again and it all evens out in the end. He just needs to be patient.

I realize the proofreader may speak to our manager when he returns, but i think it would be better if he didn't, because if this job-sharing thing becomes too much of a hassle, with people complaining about their hours worked, either too little or much, he might decide it's not worth it. Hopefully it's just a bump in the road. The problem I see is that my manager just doesn't clearly communicate things to T.

T. had also told me 1 day last week not to work when we had a snowstorm. This was upsetting to me because I've already cut my hours back to 20 to 25 hours weekly and don't want to cut more. She, on the other hand, is used to having contract workers at their beck and call, telling them to leave early in the day if there's no work or stay til 9 or 10 pm at night if that's what's needed. I don't know of many workers who would tolerate that, and I don't think it's fair to the worker.

I've been balking against this since day 1 and I did tell T. next day that my agreement with my manager is such and such. Which I had told her before. I also emailed my manager to let him know and correct me if I misunderstood something.

Whose payroll should I go on? The pros & cons

March 15th, 2018 at 02:46 am

3 Options
So I did mention, in passing, in an earlier post, that I've been given a chance to decide, or at least weigh in, on:

1. Moving from the payroll of Agency A to moving to the payroll of Agency B, OR
2. Moving to the payroll of my current employer
3. Or even doing nothing and staying with Agency A.

This question came up shortly after my manager and I worked out my new shortened work week schedule. My friend, J., the recruiter, approached me about how he'd like to have me move onto his payroll.

The backstory, or why J. wants "revenge"

He found this job for me, when he worked for recruiter A. Recruiter A firm later laid him off. He found a new job at recruiter B. firm, and that's where he'd like to move me to. He admitted feeling a little like he'd like to get revenge on recruiter A, and he also felt they shouldn't continue to benefit from his having placed me and a designer in the jobs we hold now.

So initially when J. broached the subject to me, I didn't think it would matter one way or the other whose payroll I'd be on since my rate of pay wouldn't change during the switch-over. I told him I'd be happy to try and help him out (financially) because he's been helpful in helping me get jobs (2 contract jobs, including this one).

J. is very, very eager to have this done becus it would be quite a coup for him and I don't know exactly how he's compensated, but it would help him and his new firm quite a bit.

I don't think J. anticipated that my manager, would give me a chance to choose, or at least weigh in on the subject. I told my manager 2 weeks ago it probably didn't make much difference to me but that I'd rather be with J.'s new firm than J.'s old firm becus I have the relationship with J., not his old firm.

My manager said there were various things he had to consider:
1. He offered me the option of going on my company's payroll directly, entirely cutting out both recruiter firms.

2. He'd have to check his contract with recruiter firm A to see if there's a buy-out clause that would require him to pay a lump sum of cash to recruiter firm A. to hire me on directly.

3. He said if i worked for my company directly, he might be able to give me a raise (which I totally didn't ask for), with the money saved from what he pays recruiter firm A, which he said is 25% of my pay (so $8 an hour goes to recruiter for every hour I work). Interestingly, my manager said he didn't know what my current rate of pay was through recruiter firm A.

4. If he moved me to recruiter firm B's payroll, he'd want to move the other worker at the same time, for ease of administration and to keep things simple.

My manager said let's talk about it again when he gets back from his travels. That will be this Monday.

Long-term considerations

The more I think about it, the more I realize there ARE major ramifications depending on whose payroll I go on. For instance, I think if I was on my company's payroll, they would be far more generous with me when it came time for a performance review and annual raise than any agency would. Because they know and like me. My friend J. the recruiter does not control the purse strings at his place, after all, and nobody else knows me at recruiter firm B, so it could be totally impersonal over there and I'm sure they'd want to minimize any raises to absolute minimal. And now that I'm working p/t, I'm even less important to them. I am just one of many different contract workers they employ.

For my employer, I sense the overall perspective of my employment is very different. My manager is extremely busy, and I think he values consistency and reliability of employees over time, and knowing the job's going to get done. I think he likes me, and, important to my manager, I get along well with my coworkers and "fit" with the company and its general culture.

The company is also doing quite well, as far as I can tell, and money has never appeared to be an issue to them. They are willing to pay a proofreader pretty well, who throughout the day has frequent downtime with nothing to do, just to ensure that nothing leaves the building that has not been examined carefully for human errors.

If I tell my manager next week I've had more time to think about our talk and do have concerns about moving to J's firm, I do run the risk of totally pissing off J.

A pretty nice day

March 14th, 2018 at 06:25 pm

Lovin' the new work schedule

I worked a half-day today at the office, as per my new schedule. I met the new proofreader who is sharing my job. He seemed pretty nice and I sense he knows what he's doing. I talked to him about the many different style guides we use, and a few of my firm's idiosyncrasies.

So I'm having a conversation with another co-worker as I'm packing up my things to leave. After she left and I have my coat on, someone else who sits near me said oh, PatientSaver, I just sent you 2 PowerPoints to proof.

This is typical, getting work when you're ready to leave. This time, though, I explained that I could not do it, based on my new FIXED work hours (which I previously told him about). I suggested he give the work to the new guy...that's what he's there for. Old habits are hard to break. Sigh.

After work, I decided to stop at a Trader Joe's in the town where I work...very convenient, more so than if I went to the TJs I usually go to, a 20-minute drive from home. This one's more or less on my way home. I think I will make this a habit.

Planning a trip to the land of your ancestors

Tonight I went to an interesting genealogy club meeting (not possible under my former f/t schedule) with a speaker talking about a genealogy tour she went on with extended family of 20 cousins to their ancestors' birthplace in Poland. Apparently, you can hire a genealogist, give them all the relevant research you've done, she will travel to the destination ahead of you and plan the whole itinerary, have you meet any family there, go to key sites, burial grounds, churches, etc., and then travel WITH you to serve as interpreter and accompany you on the tour.

She paid $2,000 to the genealogist, who spoke fluent Polish and acted as translator on the whole 10-day trip, and another $1400 for the trip itself. I think she said airfare was $975 and I guess that must've been separate, so the $1400 covered food, lodging, tours and everything else. She said the $2,000 was SOOOO worth it because her family in Poland supplied a lot of missing names and other info on the family tree, they got a hundred backup documents from the genealogist they hired, etc. etc.

I would love to do something like this, can you tell?

New health insurer = new doc + new meds
So I need to do something about my MS meds. Good thing I have a stockpile, but since going on my new health plan effective March 1, I knew I'd need to find a new neurologist since my current longstanding one isn't in network on the new plan.

Last week I went to an MS lunch and after the talk, I approached the doctor who spoke and asked her for a recommendation, explaining the issue. She said oh, your Dr. so and so will actually begin practice in W city in May, and it will be covered by your health plan.

I wasn't sure at the time I definitely would want to stay with him as he usually is so low key about things and I want more of a definitive opinion, you know, like he cares. So at the time I was talking to this other doctor, I thought this might be a good time to find a doc I like more.

She did also recommend another neurologist, but when I called his office, they said they require a referral and I of course have to have all my records transferred. Kind of a pain.

I thought it might save time not to deal with that and just stick with my existing doctor for now, except that when I called both my health insurer and my current doc's office, they both said my current doc was NOT in network and seemed to know nothing about something "happening in May."

I spent a lot of time making phone calls, including a 2nd one back to the doc who said it was happening in May but it was clear from what the assistant told me in that 2nd call that the doc didn't want to be bothered by this particular matter anymore.

Then I suddenly recalled that my current doc has an online "portal" you can communicate through, so I sent a note to him today asking him to clarify whether or not he's doing something in May that would make it possible for me to keep seeing him as I have for the past 20 years.

He replied to tell me he would be working at a new MS center at a certain hospital, and to "watch" for news on that.

I googled it and sure enough, the new center is now under construction, but I'm not sure I have the luxury of just waiting for 2 months on the hope they'll open it on time. I only have so many months' worth of meds in my fridge.

And to be honest, I was a little disappointed in my doc's ho hum response, like he really didn't care that much whether a longtime patient stuck with him or not.

So I think I will just cut the cord. I have the form filled out which i have to mail to current doc's office to transfer my records over to the new doc. Hopefully the online reviews of new doc's office aren't accurate, as a few people specifically complained about the office staff taking their time on doing stuff and not really doing their job.

So I'll mail the form, wait a week or so before calling, and hope 1st doc mails my records to 2nd doc in a timely fashion, and then I can make an appointment, just to be able to renew my meds, or rather, switch over to the generic version of my drug, since that's what insurer requires.

The whole thing is such a hassle, but what are you gonna do? So glad I'm not in danger of running out of meds; that would be very stressful and no one else would really care.

Another day, another snowstorm

March 13th, 2018 at 06:01 am

It's been snowing since around 4 am and we're expecting 10 inches by the time it ends tonight. Boston, where I used to work, and the Cape, where I used to live, will be getting much more.

Hopefully no one at work will blame me for staying home today.

No doubt my shrubs and small trees will be bowed down again by the snow. I hope no more white pine branches come down, and I hope I keep my power on.

2018 Home improvement project: The patio

My mason agreed to return to remeasure the back patio redo. He suggested I call him when I was headed home from work, which I did at 6:45 pm. It was dark, but with a flashlight we did the remeasurement.

While the patio is about 650 square feet compared to the 1,000-foot paver driveway he did for me 2 years ago, he explained his various reasons why the price he gave me for the patio was not correspondingly less: a somewhat less accessible worksite (the backyard), the need to pull up the old bricks and dispose of them, etc. I'm not sure I fully bought that as a reason for the price, but I sensed he had pretty much given me all the discounts he was going to give me, and I know he does a great job.

He did come down a bit more on his original price of $8900, to $8400, and I've agreed to move forward with it. I felt it had to be done at some point, and probably better now than later. It will clean up an eyesore (disintegrating bricks with profusion of weeds growing in between them) and save me countless hours of weeding this summer and beyond.

The price includes a new paver patio that extends from one edge of the house (in backyard) to the other, with a wide walkway that then connects to a set of stone stairs leading up from my driveway to the backyard, as well as a circular path around my cement well cap. It also includes redoing and enlarging the stoop outside the kitchen door with bluestone, to match the stoop outside my sun room door, and they agreed to dig up 2 shrubs and a small half-dead evergreen. Plus they'll do a little surround thing where I have a basement window, and the entire patio will have a slight tilt away from the house so rain doesn't flow toward the house.

I am eliminating multiple largish perennial beds, so that means I need to find a home for the plants now there. I have a lot of ground phlox in there, plus sedums, a ton of coral bells, lungwort and a few other things.

Since I'm wanting to reduce areas I need to mulch (to control weeds) and/or weed, it doesn't make sense to create new beds for them somewhere else, so I'll have to either sell some plants on FaceBook or squeeze them in existing beds. Probably a combination of both.

He won't be here til late April or early May.

I need to find ways to fit this in my budget. I think it's important to abide by the new budget in this, the first year of being semi-retired.

I had allowed $5,000 for major home improvements this year, so this obviously exceeds that. But I did get a $1300 tax refund this year and I set aside $1,000 for vacations which I know I won't use. So that could pay for $7,300 of the patio, but I'm still short $1,100.

Well, I am determined not to buy any clothes this year, or any stuff PERIOD that I don't really need.

A cooking kind of Sunday

March 12th, 2018 at 04:53 am

I tried a new recipe for workweek lunches yesterday: a chickpea tahini casserole. It was pretty good, though I think I'll add peas next time I make it.

I also made a chocolate chia seed pudding. It's so easy since it requires no cooking, only mixing, and it has the same velvety smooth texture as a tapioca pudding.

Back to work today, after 4.5 days off, feels like I'm returning after a long vacation.

And tomorrow we are bracing for yet another nor'easter. Spring, wherefore art thou? My bulbs are emerging and well on their way!

I walked on the trails yesterday but much of them were slushy/snowy as the town doesn't plow them. There were still a lot of people, particularly dog walkers, out. I love seeing people with their dogs. They often resemble each other.

My newfound free time

March 10th, 2018 at 09:31 am

Today I'm wrapping up my 1st week with the new work schedule, and I'm luvin' my newfound time, even if I am not 100% productive all of the time.

The snowstorm on Wednesday and the dig-out the following day sort of messed up some shopping plans.

Trader Joe's, foiled again
I had a leisurely morning at home on Friday, then went to the lunch at Italian place. I had moved my planned visit to Trader Joe's from Wednesday, then to Thursday, and finally to Friday after the lunch, looking forward to shopping when it wasn't mobbed (Sat/Sun), but I unexpectedly got a call from a gallery asking me to pick up some art that hadn't sold.

So I went to do that first, and then decided to visit a certain gold/jewelry buyer right next door, about something I wanted to sell. He gave me a very low price on it, and so I left not selling anything.

By the time I was done with that, it was 3 pm, and I knew if i headed to Trader Joe's I'd be hitting rush hour traffic coming home. So I just headed home and figured I could wait another week for the Trader Joe's trip.

Subscription longings
I've been toying with getting a weekend-only subscription to the New York Times. I used to love lounging around reading the Sunday Times in my 20s and 30s (before I had the responsibilities of my house), but I'm still wondering if I'll have the time to read it all. Plus I don't like adding a regularly recurring expense to my budget, although it's not that much. Sure, I could buy it at the newsstand, but then I never do.

At some point I would also like to restart my Ancestry subscription.

Yoga no-go
I've been wanting to get back to Saturday morning yoga for weeks now, but more urgent chores always got in the way. I had every intention of going today. It took some time to finally figure out that they moved the location of the classes from the old town hall, about a half mile from my house, to a church...on my street!

Now I have no excuses. Except that, after getting dressed and being ready to go, I decided to do a quick check of the church's website to make sure it was going on, and I saw that they also moved the TIME of the classes up, from 9 am to 8:30 am. So the class was already halfway over when I read that. (I thought 9 am was early enough.)

Sigh. Will shoot for this next Saturday. No excuses! The classes are a bargain, at just $5 each, and proceeds go to benefit a non-profit health center for low-income families.

This could be shocking!
My electrician's coming by for a check today, in advance of finishing up some work he started in my garage. Namely, removing an old, rusty fluorescent bulb lamp over the workbench there, along with some old fabric wiring. It was an eyesore, I don't think the old wiring was safe and I'm not crazy about having fluorescent lighting with mercury in the home.

So he's getting rid of it (there's a huge window in the garage so I won't replace the lamp), and he's putting in a new outlet/switch as I have a lot of power tools and battery chargers (lawn mower, electric trimmer, weed whacker, blower, snow blower).

This wasn't on my list, but I wound up spending time shredding old bills and other paperwork. I just got tired of opening a file drawer and having it be so jam packed, so making the time to thin it out was time well spent. Decluttering in any way I can is something I want to continue doing, but I have a hard time getting rid of things.

Picking up dad for dinner later.

Tomorrow is a historical society program at the library.

I spent an hour freeing up branches of shrubs weighed down by the snow to ground level. The sooner I do that, the better, and less chance the shrubs will be permanently misshapen; I noticed it took a full day for the birch branches to pop back up. My rhodie branches are protected by the snow from deer browsing, but again, I don't want the shrubs to be ruined by the now encrusted snow pack.

Plus, the plastic fencing I put around some shrubs favored by the deer was also flattened by the snow, so I pulled all those up again.

I'm psyched that daylight savings time is tomorrow. It means I may be able to drive home in partial daylight even on my 2 long workdays, Monday and Tuesday.

After the storm

March 8th, 2018 at 07:01 am

We got about a foot of wet, heavy but beautiful snow.

I shoveled the driveway in two stages, knowing there would be a lot. Last night I shoveled about 5 inches, and this morning I shoveled another 7 inches.

As I shoveled, I watched as some very large white pine branches tumbled down from the tree in my yard.

The white birch near the foot of my driveway was completely bowed over by the weight of the snow, blocking my path.

I'd rather not cut down the tree if I don't have to, so for now I just trimmed the branches that would otherwise scrape the top of the car.

Maybe when all the snow melts, it will bounce back up. I have 2 other birch trees; one is fine and the other is also bowed down to the ground. I walked around the one to shake off as much snow as possible and it popped up a little, but not totally. I did the same to the branches of a large nannyberry (viburnum). If they remain misshapen, I will have to cut them back.

There was severe damage done to a large, old crabapple in the front yard.

This was bound to happen; there was a very large branch growing at an odd horizontal angle, and that's the one that came down. When the snow melts, I will try to handle cleanup of this tree myself. We'll see.

This is a view of the backyard, from my upstairs bathroom. In the lower left is a really pretty rhododendron which is absolutely covered with blossoms in May. Unfortunately, it suffered some major damage in yesterday's storm. It may take a year or more for it to recover; there are some broken branches.

Here's an old bluebird box in back.

Here's another shot of the driveway (to the right) before I shoveled.

This is another showing the driveway shoveled.

Between last night and this morning, I shoveled for about 2.5 hours.

The view to the north, where a giant hemlock stands. It lost its crown several years ago in another storm. I thought it might die, but so far it's hanging in there. It's a favorite spot for the deer to hang out.

Home sweet home.

Wednesday ruminations

March 7th, 2018 at 06:47 am

Snow day
We all got the go-ahead to work from home today on account of the snow. We're expecting a possible foot of snow.

I only need to work a 4 or 5-hour day today, anyway. After that, I'll attempt to shovel out my driveway, although the snow won't stop til late tonight.

More time for reading...at the office!
I'm in a situation many people would love to be in....Reading is a big part of my workday at the office since there are frequent downtime periods when I have no work. There are 4 or 5 people who feed work to me, and it can often get busy, but not til later in the day, around 5 or 6 pm. So yesterday, for instance, I began at my usual later start time of 10:30 am but then didn't leave the office until 9:15 pm.

So they pay me pretty well (and let me do things like read a book), just to have me on hand when something needs to be proofed on a very tight deadline. So I'm free to catch up on my reading, and while I always surf the web and check the DJIA daily (and recently began playing free Luminosity games), I also like to have some "light" reading in the form of a real book on hand as well.

As mentioned on someone's blog post here, I recently finished a sweet book called Merle's Door by outdoor writer Ted Kerasote. Merle was a homeless golden retriever who adopted Ted when he was on a rafting trip in Colorado. Unlike most pet owners who dominate their animals with a life full of rules, the author was big on letting the dog make his own decisions, and it leads to some entertaining and interesting reading about canine intelligence and emotion.

I don't want to start spending money again on brand new books, so I'm glad I picked up a used $4 book at a local book sale last weekend. That will be the next thing I read, and I will try to make book sales more of a regular habit to feed my workday habit. I may even do something I haven't done for years: browse my local library.

I had a hard time selecting something to read, because all of what they had was fiction and I tend to go for non-fiction, and I'm never really sure what will sustain my interest in terms of a story. I don't like sad stories filled with heartache or dysfunctional families. I'd go for something more uplifting.

I enjoy biographies of people I admire, certain self-improvement books, and of course, anything related to personal finance and retirement planning. (If you have anything you'd recommend, let me know.)

Deciding on whose payroll I should be on
Earlier this week my boss talked to me about whose payroll I might like to be on, moving forward. J., my friend and the recruiter who found me this job when he was working for a different recruitment firm that laid him off, was urging me to talk to my boss about moving me from the previous recruiting firm's payroll to his new firm, because he would make some money that way.

My boss asked me if I had any thoughts/preferences about either going on my company's payroll, going on my friend's new recruiting company payroll, or staying on the payroll of the original recruiting firm.

I don't see any clear advantages for me either way, as long as taxes are deducted from my check by whoever. I already have the health insurance and the plans offered by both recruiting firms are really sub-par.

Some agencies also offer a 401k to longtime workers, but I highly doubt I'll have anything left over to contribute on my new part-time hours. Unless I started withdrawing money I might need for living expenses from my taxable accounts, in order to have earned income withdrawn from my paychecks and directed to a tax-deferred 401k.

Hmmm. Would that be worth doing?

Did you say a raise??
My boss said if I went on my friend's payroll, he's have to pay 25% of my earnings to the recruiter. If I worked for my company directly, he said he could even give me a raise because he wouldn't be paying that extra 25%! He said he had to check my contract with the original firm to see if there was a buyout clause where he would have to pay a hefty, but gradually lowered sum, to hire me directly.

When he mentioned a possible raise, of course my ears perked up (I've only been there 5 months), but at the same time, it could put me in a very strange position of having to turn it down. Unless the raise was a really big one, a few extra thousand dollars could cause more problems for me in terms of continued eligibility for lower cost health insurance, and might not be worth it.

Without the subsidies, I'd pay an extra $5,500 a year, or $458 more a month. Based on my current work hours, I'd have to get a raise of more than $18.32 an hour just to equal what I'm saving on healthcare. So I don't think it would be worth it, and I doubt any raise he might have in mind would approach $18.32.

My mason called me before 8 am today saying he could be here in about 40 minutes, at the start of a major nor'easter, but I told him not to come and it could wait. So maybe next week then, he said.

Timing IRA contributions
I like to make my IRA contributions early in the year, as they have more impact that way, but given th fact my income could be just under or just over the income limit for healthcare subsidies, I'm going to play it safe and wait til late in the year to decide what kind of IRA contribution I can make. Most likely, I'll be making traditional IRA contributions which will lower my taxable income.

Which means my hope of doing at least some Roth IRA conversions will have to wait until, I guess, I'm not on the healthcare exchange, assuming it still exists, since a Roth conversion is a taxable event.

If I actually keep this part-time job til age 65, get on Medicare and then quit this job entirely, then maybe that would be the best time to do some Roth conversions in what I anticipate could be fairly low income years.

This is suddenly of heightened interest to me after Dido spoke about how the relatively low tax years of early retirement eventually become high tax years for many seniors after age 70.5, when required minimum distributions begin. If all your $$ is in traditional IRAs, you have less flexibility to manage withdrawals in such a way as to minimize taxes. Combined withdrawals from both traditional and Roth IRAS, or traditional and taxable monies, offer the best low-tax approach.

Big snowstorm tomorrow

March 6th, 2018 at 06:40 am

The online forecast for my town says 3 to 6" while my local TV weather report is for up to 14". Tomorrow is my half day; I think I will work from home.

I got 2 class action settlement checks recently that were fairly significant. One was for a Kombucha drink I tried and the check was for $20; the other was for a supplement and was for $62.

This week I want to hit Trader Joe's on Thursday. (Was going to do it Wednesday, but the snow will make that impossible.) It's always mobbed on a weekend and it's definitely the kind of store you want to linger in the aisles and check out their many different food items. There's always something interesting to "discover."

I also have tentative plans to take my father shopping for a new mattress Thursday, but it's all dependent on how much digging out we have to do. The snow won't end til about 1 am Thursday morning.

On Friday I'll enjoy a complimentary lunch with my MS friends, hosted by Teva Neuroscience. It's at a nice Italian restaurant right here in town.

Now that a generic Copaxone is available, Teva is really losing customers and the company is taking a big hit. I have no sympathy since they hiked the price to an insane degree in earlier years.

In an all too common practice with high-priced drugs, the company made the med available to patients with private health insurance at a $0 copay, but the health insurance companies still get stuck paying their very high prices.

Medicare and govt health plans do not allow such discount programs, so when I turn 65 and need the meds, I guess I'll have to pay through that donut hole.

And with the generic now available, Teva will lose even more customers because health insurers like mine are now saying if there's a generic available, you have to take it, if you want coverage.

In the meantime, my mason wants to come back to remeasure my back patio, possibly Wednesday morning while the snow is still "light." I would like to redo the patio in new pavers; it's not just a cosmetic thing, as every year, all summer long, weeds sprout in between the old red bricks there now, which are disintegrating and in poor shape. It's a huge maintenance issue, especially after it rains, and I no longer want to spend time weeding my large perennial beds in back, either. So I'd have the pavers come right up to the house and out about 14 feet in a large rectangle.

I had originally thought that a ground level Trex deck would be cheaper than masonry, but actually it's not.

The masonry price was a little less than what he charged me to do the driveway/courtyard, but after I paced my driveway, I roughly calculated the driveway was 25% bigger than the patio, so the patio price should be 25% less than what I paid for the driveway. It wasn't. I was surprised the mason said he'd like to come back and remeasure. I had assumed he was just padding the estimate. We'll see.

This is the most expensive home improvement project currently on my radar, and it would be nice to get it out of the way now rather than later, when I am perhaps feeling squeezed with my p/t income and more reluctant to do it.

That's my thinking, anyway.

I came across a Dr. Mark Hyman on PBS espousing yet another diet plan. It was similar in many ways to my vegan diet a la Dr. Greger, but it did differ in some important respects.

Both diets emphasized vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts as 75 to 80% of the diet, mostly organic, emphasis on whole foods, and recommend avoiding sugars, refined vegetable oils (Dr. Hyman says olive oil is fine, but Dr. Greger doesn't), all flours, including wheat flour, and dairy.

However, Dr. Hyman's diet supports eating whole eggs and grass-fed meat and butter and says to eat beans only as a side dish (compared to vegans who rely on beans to a greater extent as a protein source).

I am currently following a modified version of Dr. Greger's diet. The main modification is that I am eating wild sockeye salmon one or two times a week. Partly because omega 3s are so important for brain health and for those with MS.

I am tempted to eat organic eggs again. My neighbors behind me raise chickens, so there's a ready source of eggs if I wanted them. I would rather give up bread than eggs, to be honest. Dr. Greger's diet does not include eggs because of their high choline content.

From his website: "Maybe that’s why meat, milk, and eggs have all been associated, at one time or another, with advanced prostate cancer—because of the choline. In fact, choline is so concentrated in cancer cells, if you follow choline uptake, you can track the spread of cancer through the body. "

"Remember, dietary choline is converted in the gut into trimethylamine. And so, the Harvard researchers speculated that the TMAO “from the high dietary choline [intake] may increase inflammation, and this may promote progression of prostate cancer to lethal disease.”

"n 2009, Harvard researchers found that a single egg a day or more was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in men and women, and that finding has since also been confirmed in other populations—Asia in 2011, and Europe in 2012."

"As I noted last year, the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that the daily consumption of the amount of cholesterol found in just a single egg appeared to cut a woman’s life short as much as smoking 25,000 cigarettes—five cigarettes a day, for fifteen years. Following up on that research, a study in the journal Atherosclerosis found that just three eggs or more a week was associated with a significant increase in artery-clogging plaque buildup in people’s carotid arteries, going to their brain—a strong predictor of stroke, heart attack, and death."

"In fact, they found a similar exponential increase in arterial plaque buildup for smokers and egg-eaters. Those that ate the most eggs had as much as two-thirds the risk of those that smoked the most—the equivalent of a pack-a-day habit for 40 years or more.

"This did not go over easy with the egg industry. As revealed in a series of internal memos about this group of researchers, retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act, the American Egg Board discussed the “wisdom of making industry responses when the public knows there is a vested interest….”

Relaxing weekend

March 4th, 2018 at 02:36 pm

It's toasty warm here as I'm running my kerosene heater in the kitchen. I decided that as we approach the end of the heating season, I could begin to "run down" my 5-gallon supply of kerosene, since it can't be stored from one season to the next.

It's just the 2nd time I've used it. I cracked open a window for ventilation.

I turned the furnace off when it was 68 and I see that in about an hour, the kerosene heater has raised it to 70 degrees.

The woman at the company said don't expect it to heat your entire house if the heater is in the basement and you have insulation in the ceiling. (I do.) So I filled it to nearly full outside and was able to carry it up my outdoor stairs where I lit it (there can be a small amount of smoking when it's first lit), and from there I carried it into my kitchen.

It's about 37 degrees outside; I'll be interested to see how well the heater maintains indoor temps as the temps fall outside.

I went to an interesting program at the town hall on our regional recycling program. It's actually rather complicated what you can and can't recycle. When it comes to plastic bags, I was recycling the bags you buy frozen produce in, and these actually cannot be recycled; you can only recycle soft plastics like bread bags, supermarket produce bags and the like. I also learned that small items like metal bottle caps or other small items cannot be recycled either because they fall through the whole assembly line all the trash is sorted through.

All of my state's trash goes to an incinerator that produces electricity from the burning and supposedly filters out harmful emissions, particulates and mercury, although high asthma rates are reported in the city where the incinerator is located. All of our state's landfills were closed 25 years ago.

They place a lot of emphasis on recycling, particularly organic (kitchen) waste which takes up 25% of overall household waste.

I made a wheat berry salad with chopped green and red apple, celery, golden raisins and currants, walnuts and a bit of orange juice.

Tomorrow's my first 10-hour day at work under my new schedule. I usually take my lunchtime walk between 2 and 3 pm; maybe I'll move it to 4 or 5 pm to break up the day better.

A windy, rainy day...

March 2nd, 2018 at 04:30 am

All day, that is. With a little snow/sleet and power outages thrown in, perhaps.

I decided to drive to work today and am hoping I don't run into any major problems. I'll have to skip my 2 walks today, darn.

The co-owner wife and I had a nice talk about our parents yesterday at the office. I had asked if I could bring in some artwork to hang on the walls. I'll wait til Monday to do that as I don't want it to get wet today.

After my manager and I agreed on my new 3-day work schedule, I realized the Tax-Free Retirement Income Strategies class I signed up for won't work, since it's on a night when I'll be working late. I called and was able to cancel my registration and apply the fee ($26, which included a 10% discount for registering early) to a different class that takes place on a free night for me. The new class meets 3 times and is $39 for the class and another $30 for materials, but the woman on the phone gave me a $10 break on the class cost itself, for no particular reason. Maybe to save herself some paperwork, I don't know.

The new class is on Financial Strategies for Successful Retirement. I was more specifically interested in the tax-free income strategies class, but this one should still be interesting too. It starts this month.

And in the meantime, I found the website of the planner who is instructor for the 1st workshop, and it looks like they regularly do the tax-free program in different towns, so while there's nothing in March set up right now, I should be able to eventually take that class too.

I have gradually been unsubscribing to the many different job/career website auto alerts I've been signed up for, virtually uninterrupted for years. If I didn't have a job, I was looking for one, if I had a job, I was always looking for a better one. How wonderful it will be to declutter my email inbox of irrelevant jobs spit out by not-so-good search engines. (Like, because I often search for "writer," I always get jobs for insurance underwriters.)

So today is the final day of my final week on my full-time work schedule (and full-time pay). I'm excited to begin a new chapter in my life. Next week, on my 1st day off in the new schedule, I'll be driving dad to a certain store where he wants to shop for adjustable mattresses.