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Archive for January, 2019

Decluttering progress

January 31st, 2019 at 02:12 pm

I've been able to do the following decluttering since last fall:

1. Got rid of some books when I painted the family room floor:

2. File cabinets: getting rid of old medical bills and other unneeded or unwanted paper files. I'd hoped to winnow this down enough that i could get rid of a 2-drawer filing cabinet, but that didn't happen...yet.

3. Kitchen cabinets: Donated some old dishes and other stuff taking up room.

4. Four under-sink cabinets: Set aside some very old cleaning supplies and duplicate items for my town's next Household Hazardous Waste Day. I must have a 10-year supply of rug cleaner and scrubby sponges.

5. Various "junk drawers."

6. Went through a pile of tablecloths, dish towels and place mats kept in a cabinet in the dining room.

7. Random articles of clothing: I find this one of the harder categories to do as I can always justify holding onto something in case I lose weight, etc.

8. Two linen closets (towels and bedsheets) have been tidied up.

Each time I tidy up a storage space and make everything neat and tidy, I feel very satisfied. However, what I take out is somewhat modest, and I feel I could thin things out more aggressively. I'm always fighting my natural frugality and desire not to waste things that "could" be used.

I'm not sure what's next. There is still the issue of the many hundreds of my mother's slides of each piece of art she created. I need to convert all these into jpgs, and I did buy a little gadget to do that, but never really learned to use it well, and it was very time-consuming and tedious to use.

My basement could also use a look-see.

Now it's getting real, and silver linings

January 30th, 2019 at 03:02 pm

So, after 4 or 5 nights at the hospital following hip surgery, dad was transferred to a local rehab facility close to my sister's.

I saw dad there today for the first time since he was transferred, and I have to say, he was pretty cranky and unhappy. He had been in pretty good spirits at the hospital, what with 2 or 3 of his kids there every day.

Why was he cranky? First, someone walked into his room, woke him up and brought him breakfast, but he was supposed to be able to order what he wanted. The bed is not as comfortable.

Then, he was supposed to have 2 physical therapy sessions daily, and he didn't get the morning one.

I inquired about both these things at the nursing station, and for whatever reason, he did miss the morning session but then they did 2 back to back sessions in the afternoon, which he probably didn't realize. The PT people seemed pretty nice.

He complained that everyone seemed to be in a hurry, and that one aide moving him in his wheelchair bumped his leg, which could have been painful though it wasn't.

All relatively minor things, except that, for better or for worse, this is his life for now, and I can totally understand how jarring it must feel to be in a second new environment which is very institutional, and where they have a definite system for doing things.

I reminded him that you can get more flies with honey. I brought the evening paper and read him the headlines, and offered to read whatever stories he might be interested in, but I don't think he had a strong interest. He did have me look up the stock prices of a few companies. Smile

Earlier today I also ordered 3 new audio books for him, which come in the mail. This will also help occupy his time there, so I had to guess at topics he'd be interested in; I picked out a history of Jeff Bezos and Amazon, the history of the NJ Pine Barrens and another audio book about Oak Island, which he's been watching on TV. Unbeknownst to me, my sister also ordered 2 titles for him, too.

I stayed there a little longer than I intended, and when I left, the weather had noticeably deteriorated and it was snowing. I was glad to get home, up my slippery driveway and into my garage with the car for the night.

It will be down to zero overnight and I'll have water dripping from each faucet to help ensure nothing freezes.

The silver lining in my headline has to do with my sister. My dad's injury has forced us to talk to each other, something we've avoided doing for the 3 years since my mother's death. The subject, of course, is how to best meet dad's needs and the myriad little issues that are coming up. After snapping at me for something at the hospital earlier on, her mood has improved, and we are both striving to do what's best for dad. This is exactly the kind of cooperation and joint effort I hoped for when my mom was ill, and it does still make me incredibly sad to think of those times. My sister chose not to be involved. It's ancient history, but various things are happening now with dad that are bringing back memories, mostly not good ones, of how institutionalized care works.

One other silver lining: I actually lost a few pounds during dad's earliest days at the hospital. That first day I saw him there, I stayed 9 hours with him, and didn't eat til I got home that night; the next day, a somewhat shorter stay, but again I skipped lunch. So the weight loss was nice. I'm now just 2 pounds shy of what I weighed 9 years ago.

I spoke to some people at the nursing station on my way out, and I was surprised to meet a nurse familiar with my last name; I didn't recognize her at first, but she was someone I regularly saw for my MS, for years. She was the one who finally prodded me to go one of the so-called disease-modifying drugs and that's when I started Copaxone, in 2000. Anyway, she now works for the hospital and was doing rounds at this rehab facility. While also doubles as a nursing home and is generally a depressing place to be.

I pushed dad in his wheelchair to help him get the lay of the land on his floor, and we explored a lounge area and a dining room before going down the other end of the long hallway; that other end seemed to be reserved for the nursing home patients, and when we both heard 2 elderly people randomly calling out, dad told me to "put it in high gear," meaning, let's get out of here...and we did.

My sister will see him tomorrow afternoon, I'll return Friday, if not tomorrow, and my brother will be there Saturday. I hope he settles into the routine of the place more and experiences no further difficulties with meals and scheduled PT.

I love my dad so much, and it pains me to see him have to stay at this place, and everything else. I hope his stay is relatively short-lived.

Getting ready for a rumble

January 26th, 2019 at 11:10 am

At this very early stage post-surgery, dad is doing well: he is fully cognizant of what's going on, had a good first try at sitting up and standing with a walker and is, God willing, going to heal well.

I'll be headed over there later this afternoon with a salad I made for him full of antioxidants: red bell pepper, beets, walnuts and wild Alaskan salmon, along with a green smoothie I made for him using kale, fresh pineapple, probiotic cashew yogurt and a ripe banana. And because pain meds cause constipation, a small container of prunes and some dried apricots.

But the "rumble" I was referring to relates to how he will live after a few weeks in rehab. Right now, and for probably about 4 years, he has been living in a separate apartment on my sister's property. However, the question of his safety is once again glaringly obvious. He has a double set of outside stairs leading to his apartment (on my sister's property) above a barn. That is not where he slipped and fell; that occurred, I believe, on a grassy, sloped area between his place and my sister's house. He was out there at night with a flashlight and slipped on ice.

When my dad moved in there 4 years ago, I told my sister he should have a chair lift for the stairs. I guess he was 81 at the time. She said they would "take it as it comes," which means doing absolutely nothing to ensure his safety.

My dad loves all 4 of his children, and he seems wedded to the idea of "helping K. out" by living there, since he pays her rent. I believe K. loves him too, but she never gives anything away for free, and always needs to get something in return.

So when I brought up my concern about the stairs yesterday, she said she would look into leasing or buying a chair lift. I'm pissed, to be honest, that it took her 4 years and a fractured hip to come around to that way of thinking.

I thought to myself that we'd need to have it installed when he's ready to come home, so I offered to help research how much it cost and who would do that locally. My focus is wholly on helping dad with what he needs, and I was trying to lift the burden for some of the things that will need doing from my sister. We're in this together. But she got angry with me and said, "It's my house; I'll take care of it." And then, inexplicably, she told me I make her feel like I'm shutting her out of decisions.

Meanwhile, my dad also has 2 sons, 1 of whom came up to see him yesterday and will be back tomorrow. All 4 of his kids are ready and prepared to have him live with them. It's clear that of the 4 choices of residence, my sister's place is probably the least safe in terms of the stairs and the walk she allowed him to do several nights a week to get to her house for dinner. And since she works full-time, he spends long periods of time on his own. I do things with him occasionally on Thursdays/Fridays, and then again on Saturdays.

I, on the other hand, am the only one who is not working full-time and thus would have more time to spend keeping an eye on him. My brother does have his mother in law living there (built-in babysitter), but she is older herself, and I'm not sure how good her English is since they are Chinese immigrants. Also, the activity and noise level with 2 little kids might be more than my dad would prefer.

My brother and I both agreed that we will need to observe dad's progress in the coming weeks before coming to any determination, and of course we'll talk to him to see what his preferences are. I am quite sure that NOT living where he is now with my sister is not something dad has yet considered, and I think he will be reluctant to leave there because again, he is "helping K. out" with rent/mortgage.

I have to be really careful how we proceed because my sister is easily angered and becomes defensive over the littlest things. My brother, on the other hand, is unaware of dad's commitment to help my sister financially, and how much she'll want to keep it that way. God forbid she suspects I'm colluding with my brother to move my dad out of there.

Dad in hospital

January 25th, 2019 at 06:20 am

Wednesday afternoon I called my dad to try to talk him out of going to NJ for his dentist appointment the next day. I already said I'd drive him (safer, with his vision problems) but they forecast heavy rain all day, and its 3 hours of driving.

As expected, he poo-pooed my concern, so I dropped it. Better I drive than he drive, and that's what he would do if I didn't want to go. He's so stubborn!

Later that night, dad went outside, slipped and fell on the ice.

He had a hairline fracture of the femur and was considering not doing the surgery, but he was in a lot of pain when he moved and in my mind, not doing surgery was just not an option. So with a little encouragement (done in a roundabout way so he thinks the idea was his), he chose the surgery option.

My sister and I were with him in his hospital room waiting for it, for 9 hours. Even the surgeon came in around 3 pm and said he wanted to get going, but they didn't have any room for us yet. Finally, they took him, so he only waited 24 hours since he was brought to the hospital. My research came up with a clinical study showing that the quicker you have hip fracture surgery, the greater the survival rate, and that surgeries delayed for more than 48 hours result in worse outcomes.

The hard part hasn't even started. The most important role I see dad's 4 kids playing is cheerleader, ensuring he doesn't become depressed, discouraged or give up with the physical therapy. Because springing back from surgery at 85 is not easy, and the stats aren't pretty.

My Top $ Savings Tips

January 21st, 2019 at 04:34 pm

Well, if you want to know the most important tips I've practiced, here they are:

1. Living beneath my means, including the home I live in and the car I drive

2. Savings: a) Diligence in saving, b) making it automatic, eg, automatic payroll deductions and c) always maxing out both IRA and 401k contributions whenever possible.

3. Prepaying my mortgage right from the start, which cut my total payoff time nearly in half.

4 Tracking all my expenses every month, every year, for probably going on 20 years now, has been enormously revealing as far as identifying my spending patterns and really seeing where the money goes. It really becomes an ingrained habit after a while and is not as big a deal as some think.

5. If I could add one more tip that I did NOT truly practice but which I think is enormously important for anyone, it would be to always make a big effort to get the biggest raise you can get, and along the same vein, work very hard to maximize your salary when negotiating a new job offer. I think I could have done much better in this regard. Some lessons take a long time to learn. I often accepted what was offered to me without really trying to kick it up a notch. Often, after a period of unemployment, I was just relieved to get an offer, let alone push for more money. Just a few thousand more a year could really become significant when invested.

Those just starting their careers will no doubt really be helped by the new law that went into effect at the start of the year making it illegal for employers to ask prospective employees how much they made in the past. I can't remember now if this is a state or federal law, but women, especially, who tend to get underpaid, should really be helped by this.

Not a very exciting list, and probably not much different than what others have said, but to me, these are the most important things I've done over my lifetime to assure my financial well-being.

Now if you asked me what were some of the most creative or unusual money saving tips I've used, well, that would be an entirely different list.

Today's achievements

January 21st, 2019 at 04:22 pm

I worked from home today due to weather, but there wasn't a whole lot of work to do, so I:

1. Decluttered in the kitchen: I realized I was now ready to part with an old set of dishes that was put aside over a year ago; in truth, I've been using the dishes under houseplants. The set of 4 big plates, dessert plates and 4 tea cups I will pack up for Goodwill as soon as I can get a box.

I can also easily part with a ceramic casserole dish which I think I earned through some kind of points system decades ago. Smile

2. I wrote the summary of my neighbor's book, which he'll use to show publishers what the book is about. I had been procrastinating about this for a while. So glad it's behind me now.

He has another book for me to edit, but he hasn't finished doing the yardwork chores I've asked him to do as a barter. I'll wait for him to catch up before I do anything else, just to make sure it gets done.

3. I scheduled a service call for my furnace humidifier, which hasn't been working. I've been running my little portable humidifier in the bedroom, but it's not enough. Will have to bite the bullet to pay $110+ whatever they decide the problem is.

And generally I just "hung out," enjoying an unusually toasty warm interior of 68 degrees (that's warm for me), just in case I lost power...at least it would be a little warmer and cool down more slowly. But the good news is, I haven't lost power, a great relief...just a ton of tree cleanup to do.

4. I scheduled a guy to come and price out the cleanup for me later this week, just in case my neighbor remembers he has a bad back and says he can't do it, as he said he would.

Tiring day

January 20th, 2019 at 03:46 pm

The storm that started on the West Coast arrived here last night, and while it only left an inch or so of very heavy slush, a brisk wind has developed and temperatures are expected to reach -3 tonight, with a high of 11 tomorrow.

I shoveled the whole driveway, which wasn't easy, but I wanted to get as much off the driveway as possible so there's not a thick coating of ice. There will be ice for sure, but maybe more patchy, less like a skating rink.

I also shoveled my front stairs.

There was major damage to my large white pine in the front yard. Limbs were dropping all day, preceded by the ominous cracking of tearing wood. I see there's also a large branch of my sugar maple that came down in back, knocking off both shutters on the shed.

The cleanup will be quite a job, buy my neighbor S. told me he would take care of it. Probably because he wants me to edit his 2nd book. I'm not sure how he'll do it since he has a bad back, and he hadn't seen the scope of the damage before he said he'd take care of it.






Everything is encased in ice.






Northeast view.

I'm feeling a little leery about going to work tomorrow because they're calling for wind gusts over 40 tomorrow and my lights have been flickering on and off all day today even before the winds.

If I do lose power, I want to be home so I can fire up my kerosene heater; otherwise, I could wind up coming home to a very cold house that's impossible to warm up again, and I don't want frozen pipes.

I may email my boss tomorrow, but I risk losing a day's pay if they don't want to send me work from home. It depends on the project sometimes.

Fun afternoon

January 17th, 2019 at 04:55 pm

My neighbor, who is on disability after the school bus he was driving was t-boned, invited me to check out a Habitat for Humanity store in a nearby town. While we didn't see anything interesting there, we also hit an estate sale I heard about. Everything was way overpriced, but when I asked the price on this unmarked wreath, he said I could have it for $6.



I just liked it for some reason..because I like birds, and there are 7 of them here on what's made to look like barbed wire and bittersweet vine.

After that my neighbor treated me to lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. I know he's very bored sitting home. Both he and his wife are both very extroverted people who like to be around other folks, and they're both very interesting to be around.

Much of our lunch conversation centered around what we would do if we won the Lotto. (He bought us each a ticket when he filled up for gas.)

When I heard last Tuesday they were going to blow up the old Tappan Zee Bridge that morning, I quickly called my father as I remembered he was headed across that bridge for a doctor's appointment. They were closing all ramps leading to the bridge in both directions, and there would be major traffic delays. I got him on the phone but he sounded noncommittal. I know when he gears up to do something, he doesn't like to change plans. Luckily, though, he cancelled the trip and rescheduled for one of my days off so I can drive him there in a few weeks.

So when I got to work that day, I watched on live TV all the viewing parties going on, on either side of the Hudson River, people drinking Bloody Marys at 10 am and making it "an event." Then when it imploded, it was over in about 9 seconds.

I had my heating oil tank filled up today at a pretty good price, $2.44/gallon. Many places have a minimum 150-gallon fill-up, and now that I was down to a half tank, I wanted to fill up while prices were still reasonable. Bad weather and subzero temps this weekend will surely raise prices as early as next week, so this was a good time to buy; this fill-up should last me through end of February, possibly longer.

We're expecting some really nasty weather here Saturday night into Sunday. Lots of snow and/or freezing rain which will make driving treacherous. So I'll be spending a good part of the weekend hunkered down, cooking, cleaning and shoveling. And hoping I keep my power on.

I may need to work at home on Monday.

For those of you looking for ways to earn a little extra cash, check out SaverLife.org. I enrolled last year and earned $40. This year they have a different "Scratch and Save" program where I should be able to save something just by ensuring that I save more than I spend in my checking account from one week to the next.

In line with my resolution to eat a more varied variety of foods in 2019, I found a big bunch of dandelion greens in the salad section at my local Big Y a few weeks ago. I was curious to try it in a salad, and it wasn't bad. I want to get some more tomorrow, as I've read very good things about dandelion greens.

I also bought a large fresh papaya at Trader Joe's, but it's still mostly green; hopefully it will ripen soon.



Catching up

January 14th, 2019 at 05:47 am

Not much new in Patient Saver's world, but I've always appreciated routine and structure.

The crazy hours at work seem to have abated last week, and this past weekend was the first one in a while where I didn't have to work. I'm not sure we're completely in the clear now as I heard some people had to work on Saturday, but I guess I'll find out more when I go in today.

I am anxious to get all my paperwork together to do my taxes, as I may end up doing them twice....with and without the new standard deduction...just to understand how that might affect my bottom line. I'd love to just make it easy and take the standard deduction, but I want to make sure I'm not needlessly leaving money on the table.

I have already noticed longer daylight hours. Have you? There's still a little light left in the sky at 5 pm, and that's an improvement from the darkest days of December. We haven't even had any major snow yet, and I'm already pining for spring! Wouldn't it be grand to get through the winter with NO snow? Alas, weatherman this morning said some kind of significant snowfall may be coming this weekend. Thankfully, it won't happen on my scheduled workdays.

My local library has begun a yearlong Reading Challenge; each month, you need to read a book in a given genre; they have a recommended list if you don't have anything in mind. Once you read the book, you get your form stamped at the library and are rewarded with a small gift.

The January gift is a library tote bag, so I'm going for it! I checked out a book called Wave, written by a woman who entire family perished in the tsunami wave that hit southeast Asia in 2004. My first choice had been Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, but surprisingly, my local library didn't have such an important book. I will have to save that read for a time when I can wait a week or so to have that book sent here from another area library.

I am SOOO interested in decluttering and have been taking baby steps in doing so. A few articles of clothing here, or some paperwork in my desk drawer there. Really small stuff. I admit to having an overflow of office supplies, but these I can and do use, so I'm not disposing of them. Clothing, too, I hate to throw out, even if it doesn't fit me now, because I DID lose 10 pounds last year and believe it's doable to lose a few more, which would mean some very nice clothes I have may fit.

My weekly pay is fairly variable, and it makes it hard to estimate a year's worth of income in advance. I was surprised when I put down an annual income number when doing the online application for ACA healthcare that my monthly premium rose by about $20, and I realized later, after determining my gross for this year, that I greatly overestimated my income for next year.

So once I get my paycheck this Thursday, which happens to be for exactly 20 hours of work time, I will take the occasion to modify my account at ACA, with the paycheck as backup documentation, if necessary, and this will likely lower my monthly premiums.

I have wound up doing nothing at all with the Christmas gift of money I got from my father. It is nice just having that extra cushion available, and it makes me a little less worried about spending a little more on quality food, for instance. Yet I still feel myself procrastinating about calling the HVAC company that installed my whole house humidifier just a few years ago, because I realized it has not been working this season. It's very, very dry in my house (around 37 on the barometer), which is not great for my dry eye syndrome.

I think my inherent frugality is borderline cheap, sometimes, when I frown on paying $150 or more on a service call to fix something like the humidifier. I guess I will cave, eventually, but first I want to take a closer look at it and make sure it's not something real simple, like maybe the tube that carries the water is connected. The water valve is open and the switch at the control is on, so I don't know.

So my neighbor friend is working more hours at her p/t job, and she took me up on a casual offer I made to OCCASIONALLY walk her dog on Thursdays when she's at work; it was something I said after she told me she was worried about the dog being left alone for 3 long days in a row. (She also asked me if I'd be willing to walk the dog Saturday as she had plans to go into the city with her niece, and I agreed to that.)

As far as the walk during the week, she asked if i could let her know the day before if i could walk him so she could in turn let her sister know she wouldn't have to come to let him out in the yard. I was a little leery of doing that because I wasn't ready to commit to walking him EVERY Thursday, just on occasion when the weather was decent and I had time to do it. I think she wanted to give her sister a break from coming over, too.

I didn't want her to totally depend on me because I doubt I would want to do it every single Thursday; I don't like to walk in very cold weather, I might have more important things to do or I might just not feel like it. I wanted to do it, on occasion, just as a favor to her.

So I suggested she just have her sister keep coming , and if i was able to walk the dog on any given week, to just consider it a bonus for the dog. She reluctantly agreed.

Has anyone been able to update their sidebar?

January 1st, 2019 at 09:01 am

I haven't been able to do it for a while. If I make changes to it, I click Save but it doesn't take.

Assessing the (stock market) damage

January 1st, 2019 at 08:20 am

Happy New Year to all at SA, and may your financial resolutions come true!

It being January 1, I took a peek at my investment portfolio to assess the damage.

It actually wasn't TOO bad since my portfolio mix has been 45% stocks/45% bonds/10% cash for a while (an asset allocation I wouldn't recommend for most people under 50.)

Most recently, in October, I moved another $8,000 of stock shares to 'safe harbor' at the persistent recommendation of my late friend, R. I will surely miss the many frank conversations we had about money. He was very supportive and full of praise when it came to that, and he provided many positive affirmations about what a great job I've done managing my money. He knew, more than anyone, what it took to accumulate those savings!

Getting back to my portfolio: I'm down $22,000 compared to a month ago (ouch) and down 3% compared to 1 year ago. However, I'm still up 9% compared to 2 years ago. It's really just a matter of how you want to look at it, from a short- or long-term perspective.

To be honest, the milestone that is more important to me is one I haven't reached yet: millionaire status. I came closest to that goal in February 2018, when my investments stood at $993,984. I thought hitting the $1 million mark in a month or more would be easy, but that's when the market started going sideways, and today I'm even further from that goal at $935,741.

Counting the value of my home, my net worth stands at about $1.2 million.

My only financial resolution for 2019 is to stay on the path I've mapped out for myself for the next 6 years: pay as close to 100% of my ongoing expenses with the income from my p/t job. Last year, as mentioned in my previous post, I covered 96% of all expenses with earnings; theoretically, covering all expenses this year should be easier to accomplish because I got a raise to $34.50/hr.

To further ensure I can do this, I plan to more closely watch money spent on capital improvements to my home; I'm thinking $5-$6,000 at most. Looking at my Home Improvement Wish List on my sidebar, I think I can easily tackle at least 2 items on the list; which ones exactly, I'm not sure yet.

In other news...

New Year's Eve was just another quiet night at home. I had to work yesterday and didn't get home til about 7 pm. My friend had invited me over to watch a movie, but I know I'd be getting sleepy in just a few hours, so instead we'll be doing the Inaugural 1st Walk of 2019 this afternoon. Smile