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Archive for December, 2016

My 2016 Expenses: A Review

December 28th, 2016 at 09:45 pm

I decided to do this a few days early....

Total 2016 expenses: $42,970, a 4% increase over last year. Here they are, ranked in order of amount.

New driveway: $12,655, or 29% of total budget. I love the driveway, but this one expense dwarfed everything else. I could have saved money by paving with asphalt, but I do love the pavers. It's nice to know that not counting the cost of the new driveway, I was able to live on just $30,315 for the year.

Property taxes: $5,856, about the same as last year.

Food: $4,083, about the same as last year, surprisingly. But its' a lot for one person isn't it?

Health insurance: $3,711, or a 51% increase over last year, mainly because when I lost the job in July, my monthly premiums via COBRA shot up. I'm paying $520 a month starting with the January payment, which was only about $7 more than the 2016 rate. Still, it's a big chunk of change each month when you're not working f/t.

Cats: $2,955. This is about 5% more than last year and I really hope I can rein these costs in a bit next year. I did change vets; the prior vet said he had to pull one tooth and once he got the cat in, he pulled many more; he did that with both cats this year and I wonder if he milked the opportunity.

Household: $2,157. This is my only "catch all" category where I put expenses that don't seem to fit anywhere else. This was about the same amount as last year.

Lawn & garden: $997. This was 18% less than last year, mainly because, once I was laid off, I asked my mower to mow every other week instead of weekly, and it saved me a bit. I plan to continue alternate week mowing in 2017 for as long as I remain underemployed.

Out-of-pocket medical: $961, or 30% more than last year. This was due to physical therapy related to my pulled hamstring/numb toes, which it proved to be a waste of time, and also meds and supplements when I thought I had Lyme disease.

Phone/Internet: $915, or 23% more than last year. This included the minimum amount of cell phone minutes I had to buy ($100) and I plan to not buy any minutes in 2017.

Entertainment: $897, or 50% more than last year, mainly due to my Amazon Prime subscription, my subscription and DNA test.

Car insurance: $887, 17% more than last year but that's before counting whatever credit I will get from Safeco once I finish Right Track at the end of January, and right now I'm at 16% savings. I did increase coverage as well.

Electric: $863, about 5% more than last year.

Dining out: $755. Hard to believe I spent this since dad always pays, but during the first 7 months of the year when I was working, I would eat at the cafe a few times a week.

Homeowners insurance: $639, or 7% less than last year.

Heating oil & Cleaning: $610, or 48% less than last year, but that doesn't include an oil delivery I'm getting tomorrow.

Clothing: $583, a 47% increase over last year. Purchases made when I was working; I plan to cut this to nothing until I work full time again.

Gas: $558, or 28% less, due to less driving since I'm not commuting.

Car upkeep: $427, or 75% more than last year. This bothers me, since the car is just 3 years old. Mostly due to more expensive oil changes; since it's a newer model, it requires more expensive synthetic oil, or lat least that's what they tell me.

IRS: $364, paid at tax time.

Charitable donations: $360, while I was working.

Home maintenance: $346

Car tax/registration/license: $338.

Vacations: $231

Water: $204

Gifts: $189

Borough taxes: $151

Sewers: $100

Dump sticker $85

Haircuts: $45

So this gives me a pretty good idea of where my money went this year, but when I put the top 10 expenses in a pie chart form, it really reinforces things:

Namely, that the new driveway was a BIG expense!

How do my expenses compare to yours? Are there any that stand out for being very low or very high?

Today's doings

December 27th, 2016 at 11:42 pm

Oh, before I forget, here is my little tree. None of my decorations were any more elaborate than this:

A low-key day. Not that I'm complaining. Here's what I did.

- Eye doctor appointment
- Dropped off trash at landfill
- Returned an item at BB&B for a refund
- 50-minute walk
- Applied for a few freelance writing jobs
- Vacuumed out my car
- Swept up some leaves that collected in the driveway
- Removed a largish folding table and a few other things from my garage, from garage sale last summer, so I can drive the car in there before the next big snowstorm
- Mailed off my DNA sample (saliva) to an Alzheimer's registry so they can better match me to various upcoming studies

As usual, I wasted time online, particularly Facebook. I belong to about 20 groups, and each time someone posts, my speakers go "ding" and like a Pavlovian dog, I feel compelled to read the comment. I will have to start doing Facebook-free days soon.

It was 55 degrees out today.

Don't look down

December 26th, 2016 at 03:25 pm

Do you remember high school gym class, where they’d have those ropes you could shinny up and climb? On Christmas night I dreamt I was climbing a rope like that, way high up into the clouds. I was as high up as a jumbo jetliner, and at that height, looking down made me weak in the knees.

I was at the top of the rope, and any further passage upward was blocked by a broad ledge. The ledge was actually a picture window without the glass, like the cut-out between a dining room and kitchen, through which I could see some food on a counter and people walking around, going about their normal routines.

I’m clinging to this rope, so high in the stratosphere with nowhere else to go, and I knew I had to get onto that ledge before my strength gave out and I lost my grasp of the rope.

But I didn’t have the strength in my arms to hoist myself up. I remained suspended, hugging the rope, unable to move up and afraid to look down. I wondered how long I could hang on. Then I found that by rocking gently back and forth, I could generate enough momentum so that on an upward swing, I could lift my right leg just over the ledge. Once I’d done that, I slowly, laboriously, pulled my body up and safely over the ledge, through the picture window instead of under it.

I rested there quietly on the edge hunched on all fours, not wanting to move away because I knew that eventually I would have to get back on that rope to return to safety down below, from whence I came. I was afraid I wouldn’t remember the sequence of where to put my hands and what to grasp, to get back on that rope. And looking down was making me very, very scared. I wondered how I would ever be able to get back onto that rope without losing my grip.

Later, a woman whom I did not know offered to help me get back on the rope. That, I knew, was the hardest part. Once I’d done that, I could slowly inch my way down. But the hardest part were those critical few moments when I would have to let go of that ledge and grab hold of the rope without tumbling headfirst to the ground. That was the hard part, and I gratefully accepted the woman’s offer.

Soon after, I woke up, and immediately the dream struck me as such a powerful metaphor for my life right now. I knew that Christmas would be tough this year because at this time a year ago, mom was in hospice and rapidly declining. She died three days after Christmas. My dream reminded me (as if I needed reminding) that getting over my mother’s death and moving on has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. That, and wondering how I will face my advanced years alone, something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately. The future, at times, looks incredibly frightening. Just like in the dream, where I wondered how, as I hung suspended up high in a silent world, clinging to a rope without a safety net, I would ever feel safe again.

The dream also reminded me that the help of others can do wonders. I look back over the year and remember the many small kindnesses of others, others who probably didn’t realize the significance of their actions to me. If we are judged at the end of our lives, I don’t think it will be for big things. “I saved a woman from being hit by a car” or “I dove into a lake to rescue a drowning swimmer.” No, the truly heroic actions of most ordinary people will be the smallest acts of kindness: rendering aid when one sees a need, doing something thoughtful when there’s no one around to notice, offering a helping hand to someone having a tough time. These are the actions never counted or recorded. They are often overlooked and soon forgotten, yet together they add up to a whole lot of goodness.

Just a few of my thoughts for the day, all triggered by a vivid dream.

My credit card rewards

December 23rd, 2016 at 09:12 pm

I earned $610 in credit card rewards this year. It wasn't really something I was focused on (or needed to focus on) while I was working, although now it would be more helpful to do so.

I've been eating a lot of arugula salads lately with lots of chopped raw onion, raw broccoli, nuts and seeds.

It's incredible how quickly the day goes and I don't get done what I wanted to do. I DID go grocery shopping, take a longish walk (50 min) and apply for a few freelance writing jobs. Yesterday I vacuumed and met dad for lunch. I'm starting to get sleepy again around 2 pm and sometimes I take a nap. Not good!

I feel like I'm wasting lots of time at the computer...Facebook especially, where there are a few groups I like to follow. I need to wean myself away from it. I love answering personal finance questions.

The education website I've been writing for pays very quickly. It's remote deposit into my checking account and the money's there within days of my turning in an assignment. Nice. I hope to have another one to do on Monday but I'm still looking for other freelance jobs to supplement this or possibly replace it if they pay better.

I applied for one job writing for a furniture company that sells on Amazon. I'd love to write for them! Writing for Amazon would look great on the resume.

Holiday details

December 20th, 2016 at 09:31 pm

So as we approach the final few days before Christmas, I'm not very overloaded with things to do, fortunately. Aside from small gifts for my cousin and the German pastor who helped me with family research, I only bought for my father, and even that will surely elicit protests.

My cousin, by the way, loved the key fob I had made out of my grandmother's old silverplate set.

I got a matching pair (1 for each of us). It also has special meaning becus we both loved my grandmother, and it was from her set.

The package of nuts and chocolates also reached Germany safely and he was very appreciative. The shipping greatly exceeded the cost of the purchase.

I'm planning a modest brunch for Christmas Day and have mapped out the game plan prior to then, as far as cleaning the downstairs and the food prep. I'm making a salmon corn chowder, a cranberry quick bread, some chocolate-dipped strawberries and some tapioca-chia pudding, but everything else will not be "homemade."

I'll have Trader Joe's crabcakes, veggie rolls, faccacia bread with a roasted onion/garlic spread and my one concession to my very picky, meat-eating friend, some of those mini hot dogs with mustard. So mostly finger foods.

I would love to display my grandmother's 1975 Christmas tablecloth, with its sequins and beads, but I don't dare use it on the table lest someone should spill something. I could only spot clean it. It's a family heirloom at this point but I never get a chance to enjoy it becus I don't even have a couch over which to put it. It's in remarkably good shape, considering its age (41 years) and numerous beads and such that could become loose or lost. I remember this fondly from many Christmases; it's so bright and garish and, well, a little over the top, but I loved it.

She even stitched her name and the date on it.

I downloaded my new Roots Magic program but have to figure out how to easily export my Ancestry data to it; having to do it all manually would suck up a huge amount of time.

If you're not getting too tired of hearing about my family research, I have found 4 new cousins and learned that my great uncle (grandma's brother) is alive and well at 89. It was very exciting; we thought maybe he died. He's the last of my grandmother's many siblings...she was the oldest, and he was the second youngest.

I've been corresponding with a daughter of his. We want to visit him/them in Philly, but now that it's cold and maybe snowy, we may wait til spring. Will have to consult with dad. It would be a 3-hour drive.

income streams and family ties

December 17th, 2016 at 03:28 pm

I recently purchased a book on Amazon called You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think. It was meant for me, but then I remembered a conversation I'd had with my cousin M. on Thanksgiving Day. When I shared my hope that I could still retire in 3 years, despite my layoff, she longingly said she would love to retire too (she's 64) but that she had withdrawn a lot of money from her 401(k) to pay the bills when her husband was ill (Parkinson's) and she wanted to keep working until she had replenished $100,000 to the account. (I hope that's not all she has, but I really don't know. She'll probably have a pension from her employer as she's been there over 20 years.)

Anyway, I decided she might like to read this book, especially since I had already suggested that she might want to leverage the value of her home in a very expensive part of NJ and move to a lower cost area when she retires.

Her husband is gone now and her one son lives in Florida and spends the holidays, as far as I can see, with his in-laws. She has a much older brother who lives in AZ. So there are really no family ties left for her in NJ, and truth be told, I'd love to have her closer to me.

I even sent her an MLS listing of a comparably sized home in CT that cost $100,000 less than her current home value, has half the property taxes and 2 fenced-in acres for her dogs compared to probably a quarter acre she has now.

So I was going to buy a second copy of the book and send it to her for Christmas, but becus I am so frugal, I decided to quickly read the book for my own benefit and then mail that copy to her as a gift. That's what I did, being careful not to open it too wide because I didn't want it to look "used," or thumbed through.

As it was, the book only cost me $5 becus I took advantage of an Amazon holiday promo where if you bought $20 worth of books you got $10 back, so I'd gotten 2 books, and this was one of them.

There were 2 thoughts that interested me the most in the book. One, he emphasized the importance of having multiple income streams in retirement, something I've heard before but never really had anyone talk to me about in detail.

During their careers, most people have just a single income stream, their paycheck. But it's desirable to have at least 3 income streams in retirement so in case something happens to one of them, you're not left hanging. Many people have just 1, and many others have 2, but 3 or more is ideal.

Your retirement income streams could include any combo of the following:

1. Your Social Security check

2. Interest and dividends from your savings and investments. (The Vanguard CFP I spoke to recently suggested opening a designated account that would receive all the dividends from my stock mutual funds. I thought this was a good idea so I could clearly see just how many dividends my funds are spinning off and know what I had to spend each month, or each year; I've reinvested them for so many years I have no idea, really.)

3. Income from p/t or f/t work.

4. Rental income.

5. Freelance writing (I added this one myself since to me this is at-home, one-off computer work compared to finding a local, ongoing p/t job somewhere)

Can you think of any more income streams? I guess you could add things like focus groups and market research studies, although they are not ongoing.

Now I have no interest in being a landlord, but do hope to have #1, 2, 3 & 5 when I retire. So I think I will keep this idea more in mind as I prepare for retirement.

The 2nd thing the author talked about was the importance of having at least 3 "core pursuits," things to do that you're really passionate about. It has to be something more than a mere hobby, meaning it's something you find yourself thinking about at odd times and you get real excited doing.

It also CANNOT be reading, which his research shows is something more unhappy retirees do than happy retirees. He emphasizes the social aspects of any possible core pursuits.

At this point, my core pursuits include:
1. Genealogy research: Granted, this is a solitary pursuit much of the time, but I do excitedly share my findings with dad and others, and I hope to attend more genealogy meetings here in town. It's definitely something that gets me very excited and I think about it a lot in my spare time.

I now have 206 people in my family tree!! Remarkable!
Now granted, with some of these people, all I have is their name and nothing more. Others, I have their name, birth date and death date, where they lived and where they worked, who and when they married, were baptized, when they came to America and even, in some cases, a physical description, which you can get from a WWII draft registration card.

I have a detailed description, for instance, of how my great grandfather died, gleaned from what I found on his death certificate. He was hit by a truck in an intersection near where he lived in Philly. My cousin said he was drunk at the time. He was 75 and was admitted to the hospital with a broken arm. He died 10 days later of pneumonia, no doubt a result of laying prone all that time and further proof to me that hospitals are not a good place to be if you can avoid it! And kind of a shame, because he shouldn't have died of a broken arm. He was a larger than life character in the family, a drunkard and widely feared.

I sometimes daydream about, if I could magically know all the people in my family tree, which ones would I like the most, and which might I not like as much? (I'm sure there were some bad apples in there.)

When I was a news reporter, one of my weekly assignments was the "man on the street" interview, where I had to snag some unsuspecting passerby, ask them a number of personal questions about their life and take their photo for publication in the paper. I never liked doing it because there'd always be a bunch of people who didn't want to do it, or they agreed to do it until I whipped out my camera and then all my work interviewing them was for naught. I had to look for the extroverts.

My local newspaper here in CT has the same sort of feature. One of the questions they ask is, if you could spend time with anyone in the world, past or future, who would you spend it with?

A lot of people name their parents or some other long gone relative. Others name a famous person or the US President.

I always had a hard time pondering who I would spend time with, until I got into my genealogy. Well, I still don't know if I could narrow it down to one person, but I definitely would love to meet any one of my ancestors whom I've researched as living in the 1700s, 1800s or around the turn of the century. How interesting that would be!

Even though they are all dead, and have been for many, many years, I have such warm and loving feelings toward all of them. It's hard to describe. I still think that part of it is a result of my mother's passing, that the need for strong family bonds is still there and seeking a port in a storm.

2. OK, back to my list of core pursuits in retirement. My 2nd one would have to be walking, my primary form of exercise.

I'm pretty widely read on health and wellness topics, especially diet/nutrition, and for me regular exercise is a way of fending off a litany of problems including Alzheimers, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression, to name a few. (I also practice balancing on one leg for a minute or more, when I think about it.) My goal these days is to try to walk 5 days a week, at least 30 minutes each day, or fewer days, but for longer periods, as long as the total reaches 150 minutes at least.

I've been a walker all my life.

3. My 3rd core pursuit....hmmm....not sure if there's a 3rd that really stands out in my mind, although I do like reading, quality time with my cats, and, when I can push myself out of the house, attending meetings of the historical society, book club, or garden club. I did love kayaking, but I haven't used it in years because it's too much for me to manage by myself and I haven't found the right person to kayak with. (Yes, I know there are clubs, but I'm an introvert, remember?) I do also enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, although I haven't really felt I've had the time lately.

TRAVEL would be a huge core pursuit but again not something I've done much at all since my 30s/early 40s becus I have 2 cats at home and always feel bad about leaving them, plus Waldo needs his twice daily meds now. But he is 14, and Luther 7 or 8, so I am biding my time...someday, I really hope to spring loose and visit friends (one of them Dido in PA, from here on Saving Advice, and another also in PA near Lake Erie).

And now I have some cousins in PA, one near Harrisburg and the others north of Philly. Honestly, I've long thought of PA as a good place to retire for its low cost of living compared to CT, NY, NJ, but I wouldn't want to make that kind of move alone.

Who knows, I could talk my cousin M. into retiring with me in PA near the Philly area and be back to where one arm of the tree started their lives when they traveled across continents from Eire. Everything that goes around, comes around.

So....can you come up with other types of income streams during retirement? What are your core pursuits?

Thursday Things

December 15th, 2016 at 10:00 pm

I've already earned my $100 bonus on the new Bank of American/Nature Conservancy card. Yay for me. This is much needed income for me.

I ran a bunch of errands this morning, including stops at BJs, BJs gas (.05 promotion if you shop at the store first), the bank, WalMart, and Staples.

I used a $10 off coupon there on a case of paper towels and a Burt's Bee's product, so my net cost was about $3). I love these coupons. I think I'll get more since once I used the first one, I got another one fairly soon after. I'm determined not to spend more than a few dollars over $10 becus I really don't need anything from Staples except printer ink cartridges, and these coupons can't be used with those. But I figured paper towels are something I can always use.

I've updated my resume to show the 2 websites I'm now writing for (one freelance, the other volunteer). The freelance one, which attracts prospective college students interested in getting an online degree, pays very poorly. I'm not done with my current assignment yet, but it consists of 7 college profiles at 150 words each.

By the time you subtract the many keywords they want you to use, you've got just 120 words to write something "interesting and informative." The keywords are overdone and clog everything up, and that's so 2010. Keyword stuffing, as it's called, is not supposed to be very effective.

Total pay will be $105. I figure with time spent on this I'll earn somewhere between $15 and $22 an hour if I'm really cramming these out.

At least by putting these 2 sites on the resume it will answer the question by prospective employers, so what have you been doing with your time since you left the bank?

I got another letter from the German pastor chock full of more birth, baptism, marriage and death details of my ancestors, mostly in the 1800s. Such a thrill to know who they were. All but one woman, who died in the US in 1906 (not too long before my grandfather and his sisters and their husbands came over, around 1923), stayed put in the same town and most were also employed in the same industry, "cloth making" and weaving. I think they had massive mills like they did here during the Industrial Revolution.

Ironically, these mills were a big thing in Garfield, NJ area where my grandparents landed when they got here. So I wonder if they felt life was better here when employment opportunities seemed to be pretty similar, at least to start with.

My German grandfather never worked in a mill to my knowledge, but owned several different gas stations and worked as an auto mechanic. He identified his occupation as "locksmith" on the ship passenger list when he sailed to America. My dad said he never knew him to do that kind of work but perhaps he just felt that was a good job to cite, I don't know.

While at BJs, I got a bunch of items I think will work well at my little brunch. So basically, I'm not really doing any home cooking to speak of, just having finger food type stuff like crabcakes, stuffed mushrooms, and that sort of thing.

I purchased 2 small motion-activated LED outdoor lights from HSN recently and I'll be curious to see if they perform well. I only put one up, facing south, but given it's on the side of the garage, it may not catch the morning sun. They don't tell you til you buy it in the directions that you need to put them somewhere where they get 9 hours of sun daily, kind of a tall order.

Upward bound

December 14th, 2016 at 01:11 am

My latest Right Track car insurance savings inched up to 16% and I'm at the halfway point. One-and-a-half more months to go. All I have to do is continue avoiding hard brakes and I hope to see my premium savings climb into 20% territory.

It seems the more free time I have, the less I get done. And it isn't getting any better. Sigh. Today, I did manage to:

1. Edit one story for the website where I volunteer. It's harder than writing my own stories. I'm finding the quality of the other writers' work is lacking. They read one or two videos and write up their summaries based on that instead of scanning most of the videos, which is usually about a dozen. It results in a summary that isn't really focusing on the subject, just one narrow slice. Another writer used keywords as she was supposed to, but none are from the list of keywords supplied on the topic page. Another one lifted an entire paragraph verbatim from the video transcript, which is a no no.

I could put so much more into this, they clearly need the help, and I see so much room for improvement, but I'm not getting paid and so I feel I should limit my time spent lest I leave other things unattended to, like the job search.

2. Pick up more meds for Waldo from vet.
3. Mail off a Christmas present to my cousin.
4. Take a half hour walk.

The rest of my time was spent sitting in front of the computer, browsing for jobs and wasting time. I assign myself things to do every day, but fail to get most of them done.

Mulling over worst case "what-ifs"

December 11th, 2016 at 07:30 pm

I met with a Vanguard CFP last week. I gave them all my numbers and current assets. It was a free consultation so I wanted to take advantage of it for another "check-up."

My main question for him was, in the worst case scenario, could I survive on the money I have now if I could never again find full-time work and had to settle for p/t work grossing just $2,000 a month, or $24,000 a year, starting now and continuing for another 7 years? (The 7 years is an arbitrary figure on my part. I would start collecting SS in the 8th year.)

Like T. Rowe Price, they have proprietary software that lets them run thousands of different possible scenarios involving stock market performance.

He said I would be "a little off course" and have a 78% chance of living on current assets through 2059, or to age 100. (So they're basing their analysis on 43 years in retirement, not the 33 I would assume.)

Depending on how the stock market played out, I would most likely end up at age 100 with as little as $1.2 million or as much as $5.2 million.

Interestingly, if I reined in my annual living expenses just a bit I could dramatically increase the likelihood of not running out of money at age 100.

I told him I know my annual living expenses are between $40 and $45,000. He based his analysis on $45,000, to be conservative, but I know my expenses are closer to $43,000 a year. His program showed that if I could live on $40,000 a year, just a few thousand less, the likelihood of not running out of money in my lifetime jumps to 90%.

The analysis does factor in my collecting Social Security at age 66.

So I think that's some reassurance that in a worst case scenario where I can't find another well paying f/t job in my field, I could squeak by and make it work for the long haul. (Especially since I'm not counting on living to 100.)

$25K in earned gross income each year doesn't sound like much, in my field, but if I only wanted to work 20 hours a week for the next 7 years, then I'd need to find something that paid $23K an hour, and I'm not sure I could do that in a p/t job; either that or work for a lower rate of pay for more hours.

In other news...
Yesterday I was enjoying a very leisurely day tidying up the place and decorating for Christmas since I've now decided on having Christmas brunch for 3 people.

Then my dad called around 2 pm and told me he couldn't make our planned dinner out last night becus he had to drive down to Jersey (1.5 hrs each way) to meet a plumber (at my half-brother's house) who requires a deposit before he can replace a boiler at the house my dad is renting out.

He couldn't charge the deposit to his one credit card because the card expired and when he got the new card in the mail a month ago, with his vision issues he didn't realize it was a replacement and he threw it away. I offered to charge it on my card and he could pay me back, but he said no. Dad ALWAYS ends up doing things the hard way.

The renter is a loser waitress who likes to drink and is now 3 months behind on the rent and most likely knew she couldn't afford the house when she moved in, but dad being old school didn't do a credit check. Again, dad follows his own counsel, doesn't listen to others' advice and ends up getting burned. His lawyer has sent her a letter saying she must vacate by Dec 31 but we all know she won't, and eviction will drag things out.

But dad is being very careful not to delay fixing the heat since tenant rights rules are very strict in NJ and she has her rights, even tho she's delinquent on the rent.

We just had a long driving trip on Thursday, coming back 4 hours from the PA family reunion, so I turned him down when he asked me if i wanted to come along for the ride. After hanging up, i thought about it and realized it would be dark when he would be driving back and I could never live with myself should something happen on the road. He shouldn't be driving AT ALL at night but he does so all the time.

So I called him back and asked him if he'd passed my exit yet, and he said no, so i told him to pick me up. He wouldn't budge out of the car seat when he arrived, so he drove us down through some very congested areas but at least I drove us home in the dark (Bright headlights disorient him).

We stopped at our favorite German restaurant on the way home for dinner, and dad told me that when he called me and asked if I wanted to come, he just offered that invitation in case I wanted to go, but now that we were back home, he said he was glad I came (because the driving on NJ roads, like CT, is full of aggressive drivers and blinding lights). It made me feel good to hear him acknowledge that, but I also know he will continue to drive at night when he needs to. I try to minimize those times, but I can't control his behavior 100%.

So, it wasn't how I planned to spend my afternoon, but the countless conversations we have in the truck/car are priceless to me. I've never had as much time with my father as I do these days. There are often references to his younger days, and I always pay close attention to these as well.

...Talking on the phone with newfound cousin Joey the other night. He has sent me some sort of Christmas present in the mail. I have no idea what it is. I know he is doing this becus I surprised both of my cousins with small edible gifts (nuts for him as he'd said he liked them) and at our reunion he said i didn't bring you any gifts but if you like you can have the 2 bottles of wine i brought (which no one drank as we were all so excited) and so i took him up on that and figured we were "even."

So I'm curious what in the world it could be.

My dad told me the other day he has a lot of empathy for Joey, and that's exactly how I feel. It doesn't appear he's had a lot of "fun" in his life (alcoholic, schizophrenic father and alcoholic and drug addict wife, plus numerous surgeries and health issues of his own). I hope we can change that a bit as our newfound relationships continue. Joey's expressed interest in coming to CT in the spring, and dad mentioned he could have him sleep in his little apartment.

I would really look forward to his visit, as Joey, who had a long career as a pharma salesman, is pretty intelligent and interesting to talk to.

I've also heard back from my other cousin's husband, who, after showing me how Roots Magic works on his laptop at our reunion, went ahead and ordered me the Roots Magic CD set so I can use the program to organize all my family tree research. He said I didn't need to reimburse him and that they appreciated all the work i did in researching the tree and organizing the family reunion. So I am very grateful and appreciative for that.

Awesome family reunion

December 8th, 2016 at 09:37 pm

I've returned from an awesome family reunion. It was great.

Dad & I headed out around 9:30 am and hit bumper to bumper traffic as soon as we got on the highway in my hometown. Urgggh. That sucked up 45 minutes, but after we got through that and one more less serious traffic later on, the ride was uneventful. We stopped for lunch shortly after crossing into Pennyslvania and arrived at the guest house around 3 pm.

The guest house was very nice and actually cheaper than if I'd booked 2 rooms for me and dad in a low end motel.

The owner's home is on the right and the guest house is on the left. Both homes were built in the 1700s, before the Revolutionary war. Inside are the kitchen and living room downstairs and 2 bedrooms plus the bath upstairs.

There are many original details, including the plank flooring, this massive, walk-in fireplace and built-in dressers in one of the bedrooms.

It was perfectly suited to our needs.

This Texas Longhorn was pretty friendly, aka hungry.

Look at this gorgeous Scottish Highland cow

So we had about an hour before cousin Joey was to arrive. Dad promptly fell asleep on his bed but came down when Joey came. They were so busy talking that we were running late, so I called Ray, married to cousin Kathy, to let them know we were running a tad behind and he told me they were already at the restaurant.

We got to the mall but couldn't find the restaurant driving around it, so we parked and walked into the food court but discovered it was a rather lengthy walk to get to it, and I'm with 2 old guys, both with canes. I called Ray again to let him know we were (slowly) headed toward them.

There were lots of hugs and smiles when we met, and I know Kathy was especially excited to meet her half-brother for the first time, and her cousins (me and dad). We had a great meal and the two of them announced they were treating us all.

Joe had mentioned his night vision was not good (that was why I invited him to spend the night at the guest house with us..he lives about an hour away) and so I offered to drive his massive Queen Mary truck back to the guest house so he wouldn't have to, and to my surprise, he agreed.

Ray drove me to the truck and then we circled back to pick up our passengers waiting at the restaurant.

Everyone had brought a bottle of wine to drink that evening, and I made some chocolate desserts, but no one touched anything becus we were all too excited and busy talking to take notice! So I wound up coming home with 3 bottles of wine. Smile

Everyone had brought old family photos to share and Ray kindly copied a bunch of Joe's photos for me using a hand-held scanner he brought. He also spent a of tine showing me how helpful Roots Magic is for organizing all the info I'm collecting/discovering via Ancestry.

Joe's mother Kathleen, who I had never met or even seen before, looks very much like my grandmother did. In fact, they could pass as twins, IMO. I now have some beautiful wedding day photos of her and her husband, Joe's father.

We said our goodbyes to Ray and Kathy around 11:30 pm and I gave them some of my homemade confections plus a fruit and nut tower. They were staying the night at a nearby B&B so they wouldn't have to drive home so late (2 hours).

Joe slept on the couch and next morning, I discovered a stocked refrigerator so I made Joe and I some eggs and sausage for breakfast, and then did the same when dad came down.

It was just a really great trip and very gratifying to see how happy everyone was meeting each other. Only my dad and Joe had known each other before, when they were growing up, but it had been 12 years, at the funeral of one of my father's uncles, that he had last seen Joe.

Everyone was talking about their coming to CT next year.

Everything went very smoothly and according to plan. The only thing I would have changed is if we could have spent 2 nights at the guest house instead of one, because it was a lot of driving (about 4 hours one way). An extra day and night would have broken up all the driving and even allowed us to explore the immediate area. I do regret passing my one sign that said "Crafts & Quilts."

Quick update: Here's a photo of the pair of key fobs I purchased on Etsy; I will use one and the other is for my other cousin (not one of the above). It will be special to her, not only becus we both are happy to have connected with each other, but also because the silverware used actually is from an old set of my grandmother's, and she was very close to my grandparents. She'll be surprised. Smile

I got a promotion in my volunteer job

December 6th, 2016 at 09:56 pm

It's ironic, isn't it? What I could really use is a paycheck, but I'm happy to have been "promoted" from a writer to an editor at the health website where I've been volunteering for just a few weeks now.

They are a little overwhelmed with work and are having trouble keeping up with editing/reviewing the work of the volunteer writers, so she asked me if I'd be interested in editing others work while still occasionally doing my own writing.

I was actually thinking of suggesting this to them down the road as I noticed when taking a peek at other writers' work that improvements could be made. Smile

Actually, I have a bunch of suggestions for various improvements, but I don't want to flood them with ideas being so new to the team. One step at a time. My secret hope is that I'll prove so helpful to them that they'll offer me a paid position. One can dream, anyway...

Closed 2 credit card accts today

December 6th, 2016 at 06:19 pm

The ones I closed, quite honestly, were ones I opened simply to earn the reward bonus. I'm trying to keep the number of cards in my wallet to a manageable amount, but before closing these, I counted over 10, and that's too much!

Amx Blue Cash Everyday: will keep this one always as it's one of the 2 oldest cards I have and helps keep my credit score healthy.

USAA VIsa: Ditto the of my oldest cards; it doesn't even have any rewards program so i just use it once every other month, just to keep it active.

Discover: I can get 5% back on Amazon or Walmart online.

Bank of America: I think I'm down to 4 BOA cards now after cancelling one. Two of these benefit environmental charities, which I like. Another is just a very good all round rewards card and the other one, for get....

AARP Visa: I decided to keep this one becus they gave me a ridiculous $15,000 credit line, so this again would help with my spend-to-credit ratio compared to, say, a $5,000 credit card.

Capital One: As soon as I get my rewards check in the mail, I'll cancel this one, though I am very fond of the personalized design, a peacock feather. Frown

TD Bank: Plan to cancel this one soon but I do have a small rewards balance on it, so maybe I'll wait...

I'm hoping closing 2 cards at once won't affect my credit score much. I drag my feet cancelling them, party because I feel "guilty" for doing so and partly because I hate having to deal with customer service, especially when I know "Retention" is going to ask why I'm cancelling, and I get impatient (me bad).

Still using the tracking device on my car, and so far, I've earned a 15% reduction in car insurance premium. It started out at around 22% savings, and I would very much like to get back to that range. I hope that as I continue driving with no further "hard braking" incidents that the savings will increase.

I'm thinking of having Christmas breakfast at my place. It will give me a reason to decorate, which I plan to do this Friday.

Maybe oatmeal in the slow cooker, to keep it warm, with lots of fruit, nut and seed toppings plus agave or maple syrup, and maybe a home-baked quick bread. I have so many good recipes, like lemon-pumpernickel, for one.

Not sure what else, but NO eggs or bacon, dad, and no pancakes/waffles, either. Any suggestions?

More spending & saving

December 5th, 2016 at 10:58 pm

I finally got to use my AARP membership to obtain $100 off the 1-year subscription to which is normally $300. I paid $209. I am having withdrawal pains since my subscription lapsed but I didn't want to pay full price on the renewal.

A few years ago, I somehow got a 10-year membership to AARP. I honestly don't know how this happened...maybe AARP does that to get people started with them? This is probably the first time I was able to use my AARP membership to obtain a discount on something, so I'm pleased.

Today was our first snowfall, just about an inch that melted by noon.

I also received my new bonus BOA credit card where I'll earn $100 by charging $500. I charged the Ancestry membership to the card so now have less than $300 to go.

I picked up a few things for our get-together with the cousins: a bottle of wine and gift nuts and chocolates for both cousins. I'll be bringing a Christmasy tablecloth, Santa napkins and red paper plates to make our little post-dinner social time more festive.

I also made a double batch of my chocolate walnut dried cranberry balls, which everyone seems to love, and they're so easy to make.

Wheelin' and dealin'

December 3rd, 2016 at 12:51 am

There do seem to be a lot of fun shopping promotions going on since Black Friday.

Today I saw two items consecutively aired on HSN that I went ahead and purchased on impulse. Two in a row!

The first was called the "Car Cane" and is a gadget with a sturdy handle that you stick inside the hole in the frame of an open car door so you have something to hold onto as you get out of a car.

When I saw them using this on air, I instantly thought of how much trouble my dad has getting out of my car. He says he doesn't have strength in his legs. I'm hoping that grabbing hold of this gadget with his hand (rather than just grabbing the side of the door frame) will make it easier for him to lift himself up. It may or may not, but it was relatively inexpensive since I got a $10 off coupon in the mail that I applied to this purchase. The gadget also has a flashlight on it and tools you can use to cut a seatbelt in an emergency or break a car window.

The 2nd thing i bought was a set of 2 outdoor motion-activated LED lights with an adhesive backing, so you can put them anywhere, provided the spot gets a lot of light.

My front stairs are really dark at night and I don't always remember to leave the outdoor lights on if I go out at night. These would be great right on the stone walls surrounding the stairs, but I don't think that area would get enough sunshine. So I'm going to try one on the left side of my garage wall where I park my car. It faces south so should work fine.

The 2nd I'm not yet sure where I'll locate as my front entry faces east and they suggest you put it on south-facing locations. I do have a south-facing stone wall at front of my entry stairs, but it's not at all a flat surface so probably wouldn't adhere well.

Anyway, when I got the 2 email confirmations for the HSN purchases, i noticed a $5 off coupon in the emails, so I called HSN back and got the $5 off applied to my 2nd purchase. Hooray for me.

I got a new snow thrower I ordered from Amazon delivered about a week ago. It's sitting in a big box in my garage and I would really like to assemble it soon to make sure it's in working order. I don't want to wait til I have to use it and it's freezing out to do so.

Today on Amazon I also ordered a gift box of assorted nuts for my cousin Joey after learning he liked nuts. I'm getting little food gifts for both cousins and wrapping them up for Xmas to give to them when dad and I see them next week.

I also took advantage of another "deal" I couldn't resist, where one of my favorite retailers (Amazon) offered what I think was $10 back on a $20 purchase of books.

The other day I applied for yet another bonus credit card, a Bank of America card where you can earn an easy $100 bonus after spending $500. I saw it advertised in the Nature Conservancy magazine, and that group gets a small portion of every purchase you make with the card. When I applied, I was surprised not to receive an automatic "You're approved" online. I assumed they turned me down becus I already have 4 other BOA cards, believe it or not. I got a letter in the mail today telling me I'm approved for the card, but to do so, they lowered my credit limit on some of the other cards to a level they feel is sufficient for my range of spending. Which is perfectly fine for me; I'm just interested in getting the $100 bonus.

So another hip hip hooray for me.

In other news....

Back in early November, there was an educational website looking for freelance writers; I did one test writing assignment, then another one they said they would pay me for, and then never heard back from them about whether I got the job or not.

Truth be told, I forgot about them entirely, and the fact they were supposed to pay me $25, til I came across something on my desk which prompted me to email the woman. She wrote back saying she sent me an email Nov. 8 telling me i had the job (!) but since she never heard back from me, she assumed I didn't want it. She sent the email to my google account, which i never use; i used it to complete their writing assignment only because they requested it. So that was 5 weeks ago.

Anyway, she said I'll have to do another test assignment becus so much time has passed (presumably one that pays) and then I should be able to start working for them for real. And they did in fact deposit the $25 for the test assignment last month in my bank account and I didn't catch that since it didn't show up on my paper statement yet.

I will be relieved to have some sort of ongoing writing going on because I've done practically nothing to speak of, work-wise, and unemployment runs out end of January. While I look for f/t work i need to at least cobble together a few freelance things for p/t income.

I haven't really focused on this as I should have because I've been so distracted by genealogy stuff. I think that's going to change because I let my subscription lapse because I didn't want to pay $200 for another year, and they didn't have any special "deals" going on at the time. Based on what customer service told me, I'm confident I can pay less than that for another year if I'm patient and wait another week or two before calling them to check on ongoing deals. Apparently they change all the time.

I have been keeping up with my volunteer writing for although I don't see any of my write-ups published yet.

I went for a longish (70-minute) walk today and it felt good to do so after 2 straight days of much-needed rain.