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Tuesday Tales

April 9th, 2019 at 01:03 pm

I scheduled my annual advisory checkup with T. Rowe Price for next week. It's just a phone call where they do a little fact-finding about my goals, and then they follow up with nicely detailed recommendations for fine-tuning my portfolio and perhaps making little adjustments to my asset allocation.

I'm always curious to hear what they recommend. I've done this before and followed their advice. It doesn't mean you have to allocate to their funds, and there is no charge if you have a certain minimum invested (again, doesn't have to be with T. Rowe Price.)

Most of my assets are now with Vanguard, but I have left my 2 taxable accounts and a small SEP-IRA with T. Rowe as I didn't want to create a taxable event by trying to transfer those monies over to Vanguard.

The guy I was counting on to assess all the hard-to-access nooks and crannies in the foundation where mice could enter, and then do all the sealing, is so busy he can't get here right away, and I'm farther out than he needs to go for new customers. Apparently, he's quite busy in his own area. He didn't say no not at all, but he said it may take a while...which means this will hold up my insulation job, and actually, the garden window job too, because I'm reluctant to spend on other things til I know just what he would charge.

I suppose I could proceed with the new insulation since cellulose is treated with boride, which repels pests, but I'd much prefer to do the sealing first so I'd be assured mice would not foul the new insulation. I'm feeling committed to doing it this year, and want to keep my mental momentum going, but I will wait...for a time... for sealer guy.

In the meantime, I have another insulation company coming later this week. I'm feeling better informed about my options now and just want to see what they say.

I'm due for an emissions test on my car, which in CT only happens every few years. Will do this week. I should be receiving a check from the auction house soon for the old books I auctioned off. The guy who gave me those books in barter has decided he wants to grow elderberries so he can make elderberry wine. And he has promised to have me up when they drink the wine! I told him I'd be happy to get a bottle of elderberry wine included in our next barter.

My Amazon Prime expires today, and I'm not too worried. Once my .99/month Hulu expires in the 4th quarter, I will investigate Netflix vs Hulu vs Amazon Prime and likely go for the most economical route.

I'm going to the town's genealogy club meeting this week, as the focus will be on researching NJ relatives. Also on my schedule this week is catching the last showing of Green Book at our $3 theater, and walking with a friend after work at least once.

I was able to do a fair amount of yard work this weekend, which included raking up all the twigs and small tree branches under the old apple tree, which was cut down, in preparation for grass seeding, which I'll do later this week.

I cut up (by hand), about 8 feet of an old picket fence to take to transfer station, and cut back the old stems on a bunch of sedums around the front yard and driveway areas. I transplanted 2 small cedar tree seedlings growing in the wrong places. Still a ton more to do, but at least I'm making progress.

Expensive home improvement projects

April 7th, 2019 at 12:47 am

Did some raking today, which made me feel so out of shape. Now I'm enjoying a toasty 75 degrees inside because I've turned the heat off and am running my kerosene heater. We may not have too many cold nights left, so I'm trying to use up my emergency power outage kerosene stockpile.

I'm still very busy getting quotes from contractors for various projects. Attic insulation is #1 on my list. The 1st guy wanted to do the spray foam for $3900. The more I read about it, the more I didn't like it, from an environmental/health point of view. And it all boils down to the technician's expertise. They mix 2 chemicals together on site, and if they get the ratio wrong, the stuff won't cure right and you'll be breathing in the outgassing for months.

The 2nd guy wanted to do rigid board foam, which would be somewhat better because these are pre-manufacturered and less chance of something going wrong. But he wanted over $7,000!

I did more research and decided I wanted the old-fashioned blown-in cellulose, which is nontoxic, a recycled product and even repels rodents because it's treated with borax for its fire retardant properties.

I had trouble finding guys who still did the cellulose, because they can all charge much more to do the spray foam, and it is, legitimately the most energy-efficient product out there. But I'm willing to give up a few points in R value for a more eco-friendly product.

After sharing my thoughts with spray foam #1 guy, he came back to me with an estimate of about $1500 for the cellulose, which he kept trying to talk me out of when he was here, but I think he realized that instead of losing my business entirely, he may as well quote me a price on what I wanted from the start.

However, he said he'd just blow the cellulose in over my existing insulation. I know the fiber glass batts I have are filled with mouse droppings, and I don't like the idea of putting brand new insulation over mouse droppings.

So....I'm trying to get a different guy out here who would do a whole home assessment to determine points of entry and then give me a price on completely sealing the home. He's not cheap. I tried to get him out here last year, and although he didn't, he said his cheapest price is $3,000. He got great reviews on Angie's List. He's not an exterminator, and appeared to be the only guy who did what I was looking for: someone to prevent entry, not simply kill them with baits or poison, which I could do myself. He crawls around the foundation, basement, roof and it's the kind of very messy, dirty, filthy job I suppose a homeowner could try to do themselves, but I sure don't.

So, although it's hard to swallow so much $$ for an "invisible" home improvement, I'm thinking I should bite the bullet, and the thousands I would have otherwise spent on pricey spray foam insulation could be applied to the house sealing instead.

I've decided to drop out of the "Mastering Aging" program. I've been to 3 classes and really haven't learned anything new. It's all very basic stuff. This past week the topic was nutrition, and the dietitian speaker said a number of things challenged by a few people in the audience. I didn't think she was very well-informed.

Tomorrow I'll be attending a meeting on building a pollinator pathway here through town. Similar to a wildlife corridor that provides shelter and safe passage for critters, the pollinator pathway is a continuous swath of native nectar sources for endangered butterflies, like the Monarch.

Beautiful Saturday

March 30th, 2019 at 06:14 pm

After a VERY busy Thursday/Friday,I set myself a few early spring yard work chores for today and finished one of them: deadheading all my sedum Autumn Joys. May not sound like much but it took 3 trips with the wheelbarrow to dump all the clippings at yard edge down at the far corner of the yard.

Now just relaxing with a cup of green tea and dark chocolate. I hope to make a transition from drinking black tea and sometimes green and white, to green and white entirely, due to the health benefits of the latter. I love my teas!

I had a contractor over this morning to look at a double-hung window I'd like to replace with a garden window, aka greenhouse window. It's in a short hallway on the first floor in kind of a dead space, with a bathroom door to the left and a closet door to the right. A garden window in this spot would receive both southern and western light and my cacti/succulents would love it (not to mention Luther), and it would free up my bathroom, which is where most of my plants spend the winter.

He's also going to give me a price on installing a pergola. Found one on Amazon (12 x 12') that was the same model as one I saw at Lowes, but $600 cheaper. It's maintenance-free white vinyl. My biggest concern is how it would stand up to the occasional high wind hurricane.

I also got prices from my mason for several different jobs, but his prices are so high, so I want to shop around, and truth be told, I'm not even sure what my priorities should be this year.

For instance, I should really beef up my attic insulation. I had an energy audit done 8 years ago and was told i had about R-22 insulation when I should have R-49. I just never got around to it.

I'll probably make that the first priority and maybe do one other thing, either the garden window or the pergola.

Took my car for an oil change at dealer, and replaced the battery.

Saw my dad yesterday and baked him a lemon pistachio quick bread at his place, which came out super dry and not very good. I've never used his oven before, plus I made several substitutions, so I'm not surprised.

Is anyone else having problems once again posting photos? I can't seem to get it to work. I get the image code but I don't see the image itself anymore.

Two fun developments

March 23rd, 2019 at 10:16 pm

So, as mentioned earlier, I applied for a volunteer editor job with Kiva.org, an organization I greatly admire and a group through which I regularly make micro-loans.

First I was asked to do one test, then another. I had a perfect score. Now I've been accepted and have begun editing profiles! I'm still in a 2-week training period, and there are a lot of things to learn with their particular editing platform, along with various things to look out for and style preferences, but all in all, I think it will be enjoyable.

The 2nd "fun development" is that about a week ago, the auction house that will hopefully be selling 2 old books of mine (which I received as part of a barter arrangement with my neighbor) has posted the full contents of its next auction (next week) online. My books are among the offerings.

So if someone wants to bid early, ahead of the live auction, they are free to do so. Bidders can come from anywhere in the world. I've been checking the auction site every other day to see if anyone may have placed an early bid on my books, but there were no takers, until today!

Someone has placed a bid of $200 on them. The auction guy said their value is more, but since I acquired these books without paying for them, I'll be happy with whatever I get for them. Although I admire their "look" and great age (1500s), I think I'd appreciate the cash more.

My mason has come back to me with higher-than-expected estimates for 2 of the jobs that I might end up doing this year, so anything extra to defray that cost would be good.

I've also pretty much decided not to repeat the organic cedar oil sprayings in my yard for ticks this year. Last year, I think I did 3 or 4 sprayings at $110 a pop. Most times I found a tick in my yard shortly after the spraying, and they did return for a repeat spraying as advertised, but I still have to wonder if any amount of sprayings actually decreased the population.

Equally important to me is not inadvertently killing other insects. Given the state of the environment at a global level, I don't want to make it worse in my neck of the woods. But ticks are also a serious problem here, so it was a tough decision to do it. And now I've changed my mind about it. So although it was "organic," I won't spray again.

I successfully grew 2 young milkweed seedlings last year from seed I collected, and I am hoping they survived the winter. They're planted in a large brushy area where my 3 white pines were taken down, and I hope to plant more perennials attractive to pollinators there this year.

I still have 3 black swallowtail butterfly chrysalises I overwintered in the back of my garage. I don't want them to emerge too early in the relative warmth of the garage, so a week or so ago I put them outside in a shaded area of my driveway that stays cool.

My neighbor and his chain saw guy came by last weekend to do the cleanup of many big white pine branches that came down in an ice storm from another white pine I have. I pitched in. My neighbor himself can't do that kind of work anymore because he hurt his back. I was glad to get the cleanup done, but I am still left with some raking to do of much smaller debris, which I'm hoping to do tomorrow as it should be up to 60 degrees!!!

At some point, a winter storm brought down another branch in the backyard that nicked the side of my tool shed and knocked 2 small shutters off the shed window. I am hoping that with a ladder I can put them back up, also tomorrow.

I'm actually really looking forward to some early spring chores. There is so much to do. Get a metal rake and pull out all the old compacted leaves clogging a storm sewer on the road right by my driveway. Cut down a sapling in the wrong place by the mailbox. Cut back all the sedum heads from last year.

In my 2nd "Mastering Aging" class, they had some representatives of Union Bank there talking about a variety of finance topics. I've been a little bored so far as I'm not really learning anything new, but I'll hang in there and hope that changes soon. The 1st class was really just an orientation of what was to come.

I've gotten in the habit of picking up groceries for my dad before heading over there, and then bringing something for lunch too. He is getting physical therapy only twice a week for 2 weeks, and then they want him to go the facility, where I think they can do more for him. His apartment doesn't really have much space for him to practice walking, and I'm afraid that when no one is there, he tends to sit around. At the same time, I would be very worried if he started venturing outside without anyone there to make sure he's safe. He's still using a walker and moving very slowly.

I also vacuumed for him, watered a bunch of plants on high shelves (you actually need a ladder to get to them), and generally tidied up. My natural impulse is to do as much for him as possible, but I think I need to hold back just a little and let him do things that are in fact doable, because he needs to move around more and regain his muscle tone.

His therapist arrived while I was there the other day and I thought he made a lot of good observations, correcting various things he saw my dad doing as he put him through his paces (shuffling more than walking, and relying on his arm strength too much when he leaned on the walker to rise from a seated position, instead of putting his full weight on the leg that had the surgery).

I have to say I am loving my p/t work schedule (this is my 2nd year doing that). Each day is different and filled with interesting activities. I am always on the lookout for new and interesting things to do. And I am so thankful I can make extra time for my dad, who never complains and maintains his good spirits.

Today I made a dairy-free coleslaw as well as a sun-dried tomato hummus. I'd include a photo, but once again the photos don't seem postable.

A meeting of the minds

March 21st, 2019 at 01:16 pm

Yesterday I had an appointment with my neurologist. I mentioned earlier how his staff insisted I needed to see the doctor (new to me) every 3 months, even though I said I was feeling fine and not having any problems. It was "protocol," they said.

He peppered me with a lot of questions while reading my charts simultaneously, and followed that up with a brief exam, after which he declared, I'll see you again in a year. I guess his staff was a little overzealous. This caused me to go off my meds, because they wouldn't refill the prescription until I saw him again; all I could do was move my appointment up by a few weeks and cut into work time to see him. savethelastdance4rosie@yahoo.com

As I was checking out, he rummaged around and gave me a 2-week supply of the meds to tide me over until the prescription can be filled. This is not unusual for many drugs, but the one I take is exceedingly expensive. It can take a week to get the mail order prescription going again. He pointed out the prescription expiration date was December but said it was probably still good. I agreed. Hey...a 2-week's supply at retail would cost me about $1,500.

Yes, since the patent expired, the price has actually been going up, not down. There are some generic versions now available for about one-third less money, but my doctor recommended I stick with the brand drug since the generics don't legally have to be identical. Same ingredients, different amounts.

I very carefully chose an insurance plan this year that would ensure my med would be covered. Although I now have a $250 drug deductible to pay, and my cost to see any kind of specialist is going to be $115 per visit instead of the $50 I paid last year, it is still worth it to me to pay this for as long as I continue to be on this particular medication.

I continue to believe that the best health plan involves paying attention to diet and exercise to improve your chances of not having to see a doctor in the first place.

This morning is the 2nd "Mastering Aging" class I'll be attending, and then I'll be returning to the same library with a friend for the "Best Public Gardens in the Northeast" program. She wasn't feeling well yesterday, so I dropped off some herbal remedies for her and will check in with her later today.

This afternoon I'll be back home and putting in an extra 4 hours of work time, from home. Yesterday I learned the person who shares my job was going to be out the rest of this week and there seemed to be some miscommunication and no one seemed to know about it. So I volunteered to pick up the workload today, and possibly tomorrow, if I can squeeze it in around some other things I need to do.

I want to spend some time with my dad, who is still convalescing at home now. He is in good spirits, at least when I am there, but he did express a longing to "be a productive member of society, if not for others, at least for myself." Which was his way of saying he didn't want to end up just vegging out at home and requiring others to look after him.

I tried to assure him as best I could on that account, explaining that it can take many months to completely recover from surgery. With my own surgery from 10 years ago, they told me wait at least 6 weeks before returning to work, which I thought was nuts. I returned to work after 3 weeks but found that by noon I was really lagging and just plain running out of energy. Fortunately my employer was very understanding and let me work half days for a period of time until I regained my strength. And of course, I was half my dad's age.

I wrote earlier about doing the little test Kiva.org sent me after I volunteered for an editorial position there. I admire the work they do and thought it would be interesting to volunteer edit a few hours a week. So I did the test, which took about an hour. I found out recently that I aced the test, scoring 100. Now they want me to do another, different kind of test. It's due tomorrow, so I need to make time to do that today also.

The little clump of snowdrops given to me by a friend, which I planted around the base of a large white pine, are now in bloom and slowly spreading.

My daffodils and tulips are also a few inches above ground. So great to see!

Thursday things

March 13th, 2019 at 09:13 pm

I made another Kiva microloan today to Nino, who lives in Georgia, in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, so she can finance her second semester toward earning a bachelor's degree.

When the loan is eventually repaid, I can reloan the money to another deserving student or entrepreneur seeking to improve their life.

Women in other countries just don't have the same opportunities as we do. Helping someone complete their education is probably one of the best uses for my charitable dollars.

I greatly admire the Kiva organization. A year or so ago, I applied for a volunteer editor position there. Lo and behold, I got a note from them recently asking me to take a little test measuring my ability to read and review some sample portfolios. If I am offered a position and then undergo their training, I'd be expected to work at least 2 hours a week for them for at least 6 months.

Tomorrow I begin a free 10-week course at a local public library on "Mastering Aging." It covers the whole gamut, from Social Security and retirement saving to issues surrounding housing and social aspects for people approaching retirement age. I'm looking forward to learning more and am hoping it's not too basic and that it holds my interest.

I also volunteered to write an article for the local newspaper as part of an Earth Day series of stories; my article will focus on sustainable shopping. This Saturday is the group's first litter cleanup of the season. I'm happy to be getting busy with this group, although I still, for the most part, won't likely be able to attend many of their meetings since I usually work late on the nights they meet.

This Friday I may also attend a youth climate march in Westchester County. I think it important to demonstrate, with numbers of bodies on the streets, support for stronger action in the area of climate change.

I have a relatively new neurologist I'm seeing; last year, I had to leave another doc I'd been seeing for about 20 years because they were no longer in network with my insurance. But I discovered today that my new doctor expects me to see him every 3 months, even if I'm not having any problems. My old doc, in comparison, only required me to come in once a year, and then he would renew my meds for an additional 12 months.

On the face of it, it would seem the new doc is just trying to generate extra income for himself, but for me, the additional 3 annual visits would mean paying $200 in copays each year instead of $50.

What's more, his staff would not renew my meds, which need to be refilled, until I go there to see the doc. They don't know I have a small stockpile of meds to cover me in just these kinds of situations, but it really bothers me that they think this is OK. The appointment is scheduled for next week, but they still won't renew the meds, so they're basically holding me hostage until I see him.

This complicates my life, so I called my old doc and learned that he now has office hours at a certain center one day a week, and that med center, at an area hospital, accepts all insurance, including mine.

However, that location is less convenient, and since i work on the one day he's there, I'd have to take off from work, which I don't like to do because I can't easily make it up.

For the time being, I'm planning on keeping the appt with the new doc for next week. If he insists I see him quarterly, as his staff did, I may try proposing twice a year, instead of once a year, as a compromise. But 4x a year when I'm doing fine seems a little excessive to me, and I'm not sure my insurance would even cover 3 so-called "follow-up" visits? If he insists, I will probably stay mum, to make sure he doesn't renege on refilling my prescription, but then not return to him and go to my older doc instead, next time around.

I would probably just make a point to always schedule an appointment with the old doc 1st thing in the am to minimize time lost from the job. I start work later than most people, so this is mostly doable, although I'd be driving in 2 totally different directions...not ideal, but quarterly visits kind of irk me. There is also the risk that the old doc, who is now working at this MS center, might have to follow certain protocols of that center, and maybe he would no longer let me slide with once annual visits. I guess I may just have to find that out.

Sunshiney day

February 28th, 2019 at 03:20 pm

The end of the road, during one of my workweek lunch break walks.

I did my investment report a day early, and I like what I see....my investments have continued to rebound nicely. In fact, my net worth is the highest it's been since Feb 2018 (which was my all-time high).

The macro look at the month of February shows that year-to-date, I've spent about as much as I've earned. I was ahead last month, but in February I had 2 big expenses that wiped out the January surplus: a $650 state tax bill and $448 to pay for this season's CSA organic farm market share.

I happened to get out of work early last Tuesday, which gave me the opportunity to attend the meeting of a local environmental action group in town. It's something I wanted to do for a long time but I rarely get out of work in winter early enough to make their meetings, but now work is easing up a bit (as it usually does for the summer).

I was promptly tapped to manage the group's litter pickup days, which they do monthly all season long. So today I'll be driving around to the town's parks, schools and other public places to do a trash inventory so I can organize the next cleanup. I'll also write a press release for the paper and Patch to invite public participation.

I've also decided, on a personal level, to no longer purchase single serving beverages. Not that I buy water, soda or other sugary drinks, but I did on occasion like to buy a case of Bai, which is sweetened with Stevia. I wrote them a letter but otherwise will just stop buying it.

Seems like a nice group. Two of their other big issues have to do with eliminating plastic grocery store bags and the pollinator crisis. I think they're also talking to local restaurants about plastic takeout stuff.

Thursday things

February 16th, 2019 at 12:52 am

I was inspired by a recent story in The Economist (about the connection between rising education of women in undeveloped countries and falling global fertility) to more narrowly focus my future Kiva loans to women seeking money for their education.

I've made a few "seed" donations which, when repaid to me, I reloan out, so the money is continuously being repaid and then reloaned. But I get impatient waiting for the repayments! There are so many deserving young women on the Kiva website.

I finally got my taxes filed today. So glad to be done with that for another year. I wound up with a small $18 refund on my federal taxes but owed about $650 on my state taxes. I think it's mostly due to having done a backdoor Roth IRA conversion. So I'm not going to fiddle with my CT withholding yet.

It's late winter now...time to call my favorite mason. I scheduled time to meet with him next week on this year's projects. I have 3 in mind that I'd like to do, but will only do 1 this year. I'm also thinking about bulking up my attic insulation and replacing the garage door.

We've had a few good weather days for walking, so I'm trying to take full advantage. I usually get some sort of walking in, but it's harder to squeeze in 10,000 steps.

I recently decided not to renew my Amazon Prime account since the cost rose from $99 to $120. I buy from Amazon very frequently, partly because I earn $20 a month in Amazon gift cards by participating in a credit card forum that doesn't take much time. But without too much trouble I can still time my purchases to qualify for free shipping.

I used to also rely on Prime a lot for my TV viewing, but now that I have .99 a month Hulu through November, it seems like unnecessary overlap and I'm watching just as much stuff on Hulu as I am Prime. So between now and April, when the Prime membership expires, I'll try to catch up and view any "must see" movies on Prime.

I think it's better not to get too attached to any one subscription, or a discretionary spend gradually becomes a necessary one in a way you might not even notice.