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Archive for December, 2012

There's a new BJ's in town; will they fleece Costco?

December 31st, 2012 at 12:12 pm

A new BJs was just built nearby, and I got a coupon for a free, 60-day membership to try them out.

Today was the last day i could activate the coupon, so off I went.

Was curious to see how they compare to Costco. Anyone have an opinion on that? I don't think I'll spring for the $50 membership when my trial run expires Feb. 28, but I WILL stock up on any good deals I find.

I didn't scour the entire store today, but I did find some good buys. Among them:

Amy's organic canned soups usually go for $2.99 ea at Shop Rite, which I find has the best supermarket prices in my area; BJ's had them for $1.66 each!! (You have to buy a 6-pack though, so then of course you can't chooses the flavors.)

Shop Rite's best SALE price on a half gallon of organic, refrigerated soy milk is $3; BJ's had it for $2.43! (You have to buy 3, but I'm just freezing 2 of them.)

I also got a box of Amy's organic bean/cheese burritos and some other stuff. I sort of want to go back there tomorrow now! I was in a rush today as I had a ton of other errands to do, including using my $10 free BP gas card, a stop at Shop Rite for sale items, using up some gift cards at Home Depot, attempted return at Wal-Mart (no go), a bank deposit and a haircut.

I bumped into The Author and her husband at Home Depot. Would've walked right by her if she hadn't said something cus I'm usually preoccupied with my thoughts, I guess. Her husband is very nice...he said the proverbial, I've heard SO much about you, but he emphasized SO. She must be very entertaining to be married to, becus I know she reads her stories out loud to her husband, especially the steamy parts (Smile and is always scouting for ideas for her plots and characters.

I know she's gotten me something for Xmas and keeps saying we need to get together. I didn't get her anything this year and quite honestly don't want to spend the money, but I need to get her SOMETHING. It would be nice to get her a steamship or luxury cruiseliner, since it figures prominently in the book of hers I'm currently editing. Like a Xmas ornament, but doubt I'll find that now.

My 2012 Income and Expenses, the Big Picture

December 31st, 2012 at 12:01 pm

My 2012 total spending: $35,846
My 2012 total income: $35,970

When compared to last year, if you subtract the vinyl siding ($13,789) I got last summer, my total annual spending this year is roughly the same as last year. As much as I tried, I wasn't really able to reduce it further.

However, I did pay off the mortgage in July so next year, my #1 big expense will be HISTORY.

Here are my top 7 2012 expenses, ranked in order of size:

Mortgage/property taxes: $15,826.

Comment: This year, my mortgage/property taxes represent 44% of my total expenses. The reason that number's so high is because I'm underemployed and only working p/t. Next year, sans mortgage, the property taxes should drop to just 17% of total expenses, tying with health insurance for the #1 spot.

Health Insurance: $6,372.Up 6%.

Food: $2,859.

Comment:As much as I tried, I failed to lower my food costs; in fact, they rose by 9%.

Fuel Oil: $1,218. Up 8%.

Health co-payments: $1,178.

Comment: Up 29%, solely because I went to the doctor more.

Gas for car: $905

Comment: This figure is 37% higher (!) than last year, and I attribute it mainly to the driving job I had for about 4 months, when gas prices were rising.

IRS: $899
Comment:This represents quarterly estimated tax payments for my self-employment income.

Expenses #8-15:

Car repairs: $824.

Comment:I was doing very well all year until November, when I had a $600 repair bill to replace rusted out fuel and oil lines.

Car insurance: $438 since I switched policies.

Household: $$754.
Comment: This is my one "catch-all" category for things that don't neatly fit in another category.

Sewers: $738.
Comment:This includes both usage and loan repayment.

Phone/Internet: $549.
Comment: Amazing. A utility expense that actually dropped, by 9%. This year, I saw hefty increases in my top 8 biggest expenses.

Homeowner's Insurance: $484.
Comment: I switched to Safeco.

Electric: $462.

Comment: Another falling utility; it fell by 61%, partly because last year I believe I got a $200 refund for the extended power outage we had.

Cats:$460.

Maintenance:$252
State of CT: $208
Water:$199
Borough taxes: $165
Gardening: $141
Dump sticker: $85
Birds: $83
Car tax/reg/license: $79
Haircuts: $68
Gifts: $51
Clothing: $49
Dining Out $48
Subscriptions: $40
Entertainment: $19
Vacations: 16
Comment:This was all i spent on a trip lasting a few days down to see my dad on the Jersey shore. He paid for my gas and meals; all I paid for was the tolls.



Paying my respects

December 25th, 2012 at 02:17 pm

On the way home from celebrating Christmas with family, I stopped by our town hall, one of probably a dozen locations where memorials to the Sandy Hook shooting victims have spontaneously sprung up.

I thought you might like to see it.









What touched me most was personal, handwritten notes from people who live far away. Someone even left a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, I know because one of the little girls who died loved horses.

Something you only see once a year

December 25th, 2012 at 02:14 pm



...an empty Wal-Mart parking lot on Christmas Day.

My 2012 Income and Expenses, the Big Picture

December 24th, 2012 at 04:12 pm

My 2012 total spending: $35,846
My 2012 total income: $35,970

When compared to last year, if you subtract the vinyl siding ($13,789) I got last summer, my total annual spending this year is roughly the same as last year. As much as I tried, I wasn't really able to reduce it further.

However, I did pay off the mortgage in July so next year, my #1 big expense will be HISTORY.

Here are my top 7 2012 expenses, ranked in order of size:

Mortgage/property taxes: $15,826.

Comment: This year, my mortgage/property taxes represent 44% of my total expenses. The reason that number's so high is because I'm underemployed and only working p/t. Next year, sans mortgage, the property taxes should drop to just 17% of total expenses, tying with health insurance for the #1 spot.

Health Insurance: $6,372.Up 6%.

Food: $2,859.

Comment:As much as I tried, I failed to lower my food costs; in fact, they rose by 9%.

Fuel Oil: $1,218. Up 8%.

Health co-payments: $1,178.

Comment: Up 29%, solely because I went to the doctor more.

Gas for car: $905

Comment: This figure is 37% higher (!) than last year, and I attribute it mainly to the driving job I had for about 4 months, when gas prices were rising.

IRS: $899
Comment:This represents quarterly estimated tax payments for my self-employment income.

Expenses #8-15:

Car repairs: $824.

Comment:I was doing very well all year until November, when I had a $600 repair bill to replace rusted out fuel and oil lines.

Car insurance: $438 since I switched policies.

Household: $$754.
Comment: This is my one "catch-all" category for things that don't neatly fit in another category.

Sewers: $738.
Comment:This includes both usage and loan repayment.

Phone/Internet: $549.
Comment: Amazing. A utility expense that actually dropped, by 9%. This year, I saw hefty increases in my top 8 biggest expenses.

Homeowner's Insurance: $484.
Comment: I switched to Safeco.

Electric: $462.

Comment: Another falling utility; it fell by 61%, partly because last year I believe I got a $200 refund for the extended power outage we had.

Cats:$460.

Maintenance:$252
State of CT: $208
Water:$199
Borough taxes: $165
Gardening: $141
Dump sticker: $85
Birds: $83
Car tax/reg/license: $79
Haircuts: $68
Gifts: $51
Clothing: $49
Dining Out $48
Subscriptions: $40
Entertainment: $19
Vacations: 16
Comment:This was all i spent on a trip lasting a few days down to see my dad on the Jersey shore. He paid for my gas and meals; all I paid for was the tolls.



A Christmas Pie

December 24th, 2012 at 12:12 pm

We...

that's me..

, Luther,

and my bud, Waldo...



wish you a Merry Christmas.

Mom baked this maple nut pie today.



It's made with real maple syrup and walnuts, pecans, hazlenuts and dried cranberries...oh so easy/yummy. Similar to a pecan pie.


My 2012 Miscellaneous Income: $2,460

December 24th, 2012 at 06:57 am

I've started tallying up my 2012 income and expenses. This is when all the meticulous tracking of expenditures pays off. I get to see the big picture and ascertain whether I truly "Save more, spend less."

While I have yet to figure my "regular" income from actual work, here's the breakdown of many of the miscellaneous things I've done during the past year to make money (or gift cards). For fun, I've also indicated what I spent those gift cards on.

Credit Card Gift Cards: $621. This includes $250 from Citi Thank You, $250 from Amex Premier Rewards and 1 year of free Netflix from Citi Forward (a $96 value).

Credit Card Cash Back: $371 (This came from Discover, Citi Dividend and Chase Freedom.) This money just went in my checking account, toward general living expenses.)

Online Surveys: $480. I decided doing these incredibly boring and repetitious online surveys was not worth my time, so except for Pinecone, I won't be doing these anymore.

Online Forums: $545. Unlike the online surveys, these aren't as lengthy or repetitious as those surveys mentioned above. I do 4 of these, each hosted by a specific company that wants to get inside consumers' minds. Once a week there is a discussion activity or survey that takes about 10 minutes to do and in exchange I usually get at least $40 in Amazon gift cards or the occasional gas card from a certain oil company.

Focus groups: $100.

Product testing: $203.

Craig's List: $140

So my total earned from all sources was $2,460; about half of this, or $1,230, was in gift cards. Much of it was Amazon gift cards but when I had a choice, I picked out gift cards for WalMart, Kohl's, Lowe's and Home Depot, Home Goods, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

As for how I redeemed the gift cards, i tried to find a balance between putting themn to practical use for things I know I'd need and allowing myself to indulge a bit. Here's how I spent the Amazon gift cards:

INDULGENCES

1. 12 books. I feel that books are among Amazon's best values, so while I wouldn't be buying these books otherwise, I indulged and felt it was money well spent when I used the gift cards. Cus there are many things that seem higher priced on Amazon than what you can find elsewhere.

2. Dark chocolate

3. 5 lbs of black licorice Scotties Admittedly, a waste of money but I had a craving and 5 lbs was the smallest amount you could buy on Amazon. I ended up using some of the licorice in Xmas goodie gift bags for 2 people at the office, so it did save me money there, at least.

4. BPA-free ice pop molds

5.Nylon concrete fibers to strengthen the hypertufa planters I began making last summer

MORE PRACTICAL PURCHASES

1. Dr. Bronner's soap.

2. Stainless steel brownie pan (Just as I'm getting away from using plastic for food storage, I'm also transitioning from no scratch or aluminum baking pans to stainless steel.)

3. Red and cream flannel duvet cover, which I LOVE and appreciate every night! Probably my favorite GC purchase.

4. Squirrel baffle for my bird feeder

5. Well-designed mouse traps

6. A recipe book stand to replace a plexiglass one I had that melted when i put it too close to the stove.

7. glass pitcher with lid I like this, but I later found I could have gotten the same or similar item much cheaper elsewhere.

8. Bamboo drawer organizer

9. Underwear

10. A set of 4 rubber floor mats for my car

11. 2 small fans that fit inside my 2 attic windows

12. a very nice nickel-plated hanging pendant lamp that i screwed into the recessed light above my kitchen sink.

As far as the other gift cards I got, I am giving a $25 GC for Bed Bath & Beyond to my mother as a Xmas present. I redeemed another $25 Home Goods GC for an Asian looking pagoda that stands in my garden. Also 2 pairs of pants, 3 bras, a sweater, bedroom curtains.

I collected points when buying Lean Cuisine meals to redeem them for subscriptions to Kiplinger's, Country Living, Money magazine and Better Home & Garden.

Love will find a way

December 22nd, 2012 at 09:10 am

One week after the horrific shootings in Sandy Hook, I am overcome by the outpouring of love and support. Our weekly newspaper, which covers just our town, was filled with evidence of the compassion of people everywhere.

A man from Mississippi anonymously bought lunch one day this past week for every person ordering a sandwich at the General Store. Amazingly, 2 others did similar things on 2 other days.

There have been so many teddy bears and stuffed animals donated, that today the town is having a toy distribution and has invited residents to stop by the town hall to pick one out. Our local paper is doing the same thing.

Local businesses are finding ways to give to the community as it grieves. The local sports center opened its doors to children and arranged for all sorts of children's activities to give kids and their parents a break from all the goings on here. Over 2,000 attended.

The Parks & Rec Dept is raising funds for a memorial to those slain. Close to $2 million has already been raised toward scholarship funds. A local chiropractor is giving away free adjustments to locals who need it. Therapy dogs from all over the country have arrived here.

A woman from Iowa, a teacher, drove all the way to New Jersey, where she had friends, baked 240 pies, and then gave them away to passers-by in front of our old town hall. A church in Hartford, CT made up hundreds of doggie bags filled with peanut butter dog biscuits, which are now being made available to dog owners in town. It's really quite amazing.

The newspaper's letters to the editor column was filled with letters of support from as far away as Scotland, England and Australia. There were also many full page ads from out of state individuals, organization and companies I'd never heard of expressing their support.

The vigils in neighboring towns continue and the makeshift memorials have multiplied on every major intersection of the town, filled with candles, toys and flowers. The one surrounding our famous flagpole, which stands in the center of Main Street, had to be moved elsewhere because the pile was becoming a traffic hazard.

I truly hope these children did not die in vain, and that the momentum inspired by the tragedy will lead to meaningful new legislation concerning gun control. You don't need a Glock to go hunting. Private citizens don't need military style weapons, period. Or ammo clips with 30 rounds in them.

Ludicrously, I heard an NRA representative on an NPR talk show suggest that teachers be allowed to carry firearms inside the schools. How many more lives would be lost in the panic and confusion of another school shooting?

More recently, I heard the NRA has suggested that a police officer should be on the premises of every school in America.I am quite sure they have only suggested this because they've heard the outcry against firearms in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings and they realize that if they remain silent, they may lose the ability to carry certain firearms.

So they are trying to shift the conversation from making it harder for deranged individuals or high-powered weapons fanatics to obtain them to simply beefing up police presence in an elementary school.

Feeling like a part of something

December 21st, 2012 at 03:47 pm

Today was a pretty nice day.

My boss, my boss's boss and a co-worker at the new job gave me those little gift bags full of goodies...mostly sweets that I don't need or especially like, but it was nice just the same. (Actually, one of the items was a large bar of designer soap, something I can use.) There was extra food in the kitchen this morning and in the afternoon we had a Secret Santa exchange.

I picked out what turned out to be a kid's toy that looks like a karaoke microphone with a built-in recorder, really the last thing that I'd want, but the woman next to me said her kids would love that kind of thing and said she'd trade me her gift, a nice glass carafe, made in Poland, with a very contemporary shape to it. I was happy to trade.

I was also surprised I even got a small bonus in my paycheck. Just $25, but you have to remember I've been there about one month now, and for at least half that time, I haven't actually worked due to my illness.

My fifth trip to the doctor was Tuesday night. Told her I'm still sick, runny nose, coughing, very tired, still the plugged up left ear. She drew blood, gave me a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia and looked into Lyme again. Everything came back normal except my "sed rate," which stands for sedimentation rate, is sort of high (35 instead of the normal range of 0-20). It indicates there's an infection somewhere in my body but that's all it tells you. The only thing she's still waiting for, and which I'll have to wait til Monday for, is the results from the Quest Lab that drew yet more blood to see if something...a culture...would go in it. If nothing does, I guess that's pretty much definitive proof that I DON'T have a bacterial infection, which my PCP had said I had very early on. It would explain why antibiotics haven't really done anything. Yet if it's viral, this has gone on very, very long. Normal duration for viral is 7 to 10 days; I've been sick a month.

So now I have yet more doctor's bill and lab bills to pay in the coming weeks, yet I'm not sure we're anywhere closer to finding out what my problem is.I sense my PCP is running out of ideas, altho she suggested that even tho I feel no pressure in my sinuses that she could do a CAT scan of them to see if that's the problem. I think I may pass on that.

Perhaps my body will somehow rally now and recover on its own. I am still taking raw garlic cloves multiple times a day and today i also picked up some elderberry extract and, for my ear, a mullein/garlic mix; you just put a few drops in your ear several times a day. We'll see how that works. At this point, I'm desperate.

I still have to wrap a few presents and tomorrow I start dethawing the turkey (a freebie from Thanksgiving, gift from employer) but aside from that I guess I'm ready for the holiday.

I applied back in late November for a contract, p/t real estate writer job and only heard from the hiring employer yesterday. He got a ton of responses and "narrowed it down" to 12 people, including myself. I had to fill out a detailed online questionnaire about why I'm best for the job. It only pays $20 an hour, but I'd grab it in a heartbeat as it's better than the $12 I'm making at my other p/t job plus it's work at home. So I actually would LOVE to get that job.

I have felt so out of it for so long. Someone at my job today mentioned I was so soft-spoken, but I didn't have a chance to tell her that I'm soft-spoken because I can't properly hear how loud my voice is with my ear plugged up, and so I guess it sounds like I'm whispering or something.

Thankfully, I've started doing a few other things at my job so there's at least a bit of variety in what I've previously described as "stupefyingly boring." It's all very detail-oriented. And she asked me to write a blog as she knows I can write, and I did that. At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to as I charge 7 times more for doing so as a freelancer. However, I decided I should do it because it will raise my profile in the company and perhaps the prez or others will take notice that i have greater abilities than as a proofreader and could possibly be offered more to do or maybe get a promotion or f/t job offer someday. So, I swallowed my pride and just did it, writing about how college students can build a credit history.

The media circus in Sandy Hook Center

December 15th, 2012 at 02:00 pm

UPDATE: Saturday afternoon I saw 5 large helicopters in the sky near my house. At first I thought they were news helicopters but I quickly saw they weren't normal helicopters; they were those hotdog-shaped helicopters used by the military (or Airforce One). They seemed to be traveling west directly above Rt. 25 and then veered to the north (toward Sandy Hook) at the flagpole.

We didn't learn that President Obama would be visiting my town until last night, but my friend said what I saw was a security detail meant to scope out the route in advance. However, news reports have indicated the President will arrive at Bradley International Airport in Hartford. I guess if he is then driven to My town (a good hour-long drive from the airport), then the security issues still need to be worked out.

It was an impressive sight.

I have also heard that the superintendent of schools has hinted that Sandy Hook School may never reopen. This, after I received a robo call last night from our town's first selectman saying that all schools in my town will be closed Monday and then all except Sandy Hook School will reopen on Tuesday.

If I were a parent, I would want that school razed to the ground. How could any parent feel good about sending their children back there? Although budget votes are always contentious battles here that pit seniors and frugal-minded folks against school supports, I suspect that if the subject of building a new elementary school comes up to a vote this spring, it will pass, easily.

Original Post:
The national news media has descended on our little town. As you approach Sandy Hook Center, which resembles a small hamlet, it's bumper to bumper traffic, and cars with lots of out of state plates are lined up parked on both sides of the road.

Satellite trucks are everywhere, TV crews and reporters are interviewing people on the streets, cops still have the road leading to the school blocked off to traffic, but they're allowing people to go to the firehouse (not sure about the school) on foot.

It's a very small and picturesque little Center. Historic 18th century homes line Church Hill Road as it descends down a hill toward the traffic light. There's a liquor store, Figs Restaurant, a Subway, a diner, St. John's Episcopal Church, the Demitassee coffee shop and a few other stores. There's the Pootatuck River that meanders through the Center, behind all the stores, and you can enjoy a lovely view if you sit on the back deck of the coffee shop. The sidewalks are brick, and the merchants have been working for years to revitalize the area.

People are out walking with bouquets of flowers and impromptu memorials filled with votive candles are all over town. Someone bought 20 Christmas trees, 1 for each child, and set them up. Saturday mass at St. Rose is packed right now.

A man was standing just off the interstate exit holding a sign that indicated he was from some town in NJ and that they support us. Other signs just said "Say a prayer." You can tell who the press is becus for some reason they all seem to dress in all black. It's all very sad.

I heard a few reports that the shooter was some sort of troubled genius, which makes me very angry. They shouldn't be turning him into any kind of figure that others would emulate or we'll have copy cat killers who harbor sick fantasies about becoming famous before they go out. Obviously this was a sick individual. No one in their right mind would hurt an innocent child.

I am sure that most people who live near the Center are hunkering down this weekend because you cannot venture out without getting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. We saw a few familiar news faces out there.

Now that it is dark, I'm sure the disparity of festive Christmas lights and greenery on all the shops and homes down there is going to feel so unsettling against the backdrop of what happened.

It's hard to go about my normal routine. Although I don't personally know anyone with children in that school, I feel so distracted by the enormity of what happened, and I know that Christmas will never be the same for so many people.

Shock and dismay for my hometown

December 14th, 2012 at 02:37 pm

Today, my hometown made national headlines, for all the wrong reasons.

A local elementary school here was the scene of the latest lone gunman gone berserk. Twenty-seven people died this morning, most of them little kids.

I worked all day at the p/t job I've been at for less than a month. I absolutely could not believe this happened here.

I was concerned about trouble getting home from work tonight, as i heard someone saying earlier in the day the police were doing car by car searches, but that was really in a different part of town and didn't affect me at all.

I am sure I will be hearing much more about this as the days go on. You probably know as much as I do at this point. A 20-year-old man is the suspect, and he shot and killed his mother, a teacher who worked at the school, as well as a bunch of other people, before he died.

As someone here was already quoted, "we thought this was the safest place in America."

UPDATES: A friend of mine told me this is going to hurt my property values, because people will forever link "Mytown" as the town where that awful massacre took place.

I don't know many people here with kids this age, although The Author has a young niece who worked as a teacher at that school. She had the day off yesterday but went in anyway and was there when everything happened. Luckily she is safe.

My friend R. is coming up this afternoon. He wants to see what is going on in town now and is stopping by to pick me up. There is national news media all over town, doing interviews at iconic landmarks around town. There was a prayer vigil at a church last night, and another one at the high school tomorrow.

Saturday update: The national news media has descended on our little town. As you approach Sandy Hook Center, which resembles a small hamlet, it's bumper to bumper traffic, and cars with lots of out of state plates are lined up parked on both sides of the road. Satellite trucks are everywhere, TV crews and reporters are interviewing people on the streets, cops still have the road leading to the school blocked off to traffic, but they're allowing people to go to the firehouse (not sure about the school) on foot. People are out walking with bouquets of flowers and impromptu memorials filled with votive candles are all over town. Someone bought 20 Christmas trees, 1 for each child, and set them up. Saturday mass at St. Rose is packed right now. A man was standing just off the interstate exit holding a sign that indicated he was from some town in NJ and that they support us. Other signs just said "Say a prayer." You can tell who the press is becus for some reason they all seem to dress in all black. It's all very sad.

I heard a few reports that the shooter was some sort of troubled genius, which makes me very angry. They shouldn't be turning him into any kind of figure that others would emulate or we'll have copy cat killers who harbor sick fantasies about becoming famous before they go out. Obviously this was a sick individual. No one in their right mind would hurt an innocent child.

December 14th, 2012 at 02:32 pm