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Archive for March, 2021

To replace or not to replace?

March 23rd, 2021 at 02:36 pm

Vacuums, I recently discovered, are no longer a relatively inexpensive home appliance. After having some problems with my current one, I was thinking of springing for a new one, but this is not an easy decision when many vacuums I looked at cost many hundreds of dollars.

I've had my Eureka canister vacuum for 11 years, judging by its label.  I like it because it's lightweight, doesn't use disposable bags and does a relatively decent job in vacuuming.  Now I seem to have lost about 50% suction. I spent quite some time looking for a clog, but didn't find any. This included dropping coins through the disconnected hose to see if the clog was there (nope), and I even unscrewed the machine itself, looking for a clog. Nothing worked. Most online sources say to use a broom handle to poke through the hose, but a broom handle is not long enough to go all the way through the hose.

I have had this vacuum repaired before, for not too much money. I plan to call that repair shop this morning to get a price, but at the same time, the retractable cord on my Eureka has recently begun slipping, so it doesn't stay pulled out, so you lose a lot of cord length as you vacuum. A real nuisance.

The other issue is that I recently broke off a hinge on the cap that you can open/close to empty the contents. It still snaps back on with a clasp on the other side of the cap, but you have to be more careful when emptying the contents.

So basically, 3 issues here: 1. Lost suction, 2. Broken hinge on cap, 3. Retractable cord doesn't stay retracted.

I also have another, even older Eureka canister. I think this one could be over 25 years old. It works fine, except that the on/off switch doesn't work, so to turn it on, you have to plug it into the outlet.  It also uses disposable bags, which can be hard to find since it's such an old model. I've had that on/off switch repaired and it only stayed fixed for a time. I've kept this one in the garage, mainly to vacuum my car, and now I'm using it until I decide what to do about my other Eureka.

To get another canister with the same features i have now and like with my newer Eureka (retractable cord, HEPA filter) but with bags, and going by Consumer Report, which says the highest performing brands are Miele and Kenmore, I'd have to spend about $220 on a Kenmore that is not bagless. (The only Miele on Consumer Report's recommended list that was a canister and bagless cost $900.)

Update: I called the vacuum repair shop and the deal is that you have to drop it off, wait an estimated 2-3 weeks (!) for them to look at it (they're evidently in demand), and then they call and give you an estimate. They're located in a part of downtown where it's always hard to find parking, and the further away you park, of course you have to lug the vacuum with you.

At this point, I'm inclined to get a new vacuum. Both my vacuums, I'm pretty sure, I didn't spend more than $100 each on.


Second Chances

March 15th, 2021 at 10:48 pm

So, as I alluded to in a post several weeks ago, I did in fact receive a great deal of art I'd donated 4 years ago to a local non-profit. As mentioned,  I had mixed feelings about receiving it all: I was glad to get some of it which I regretted gifting a little too generously, but also felt a bit burdened by what to do with all this art, knowing I don't have the space for it.

I reached out to a specific department at Univerity of Connecticut to see if they'd have an interest in a certain portion of the art that, because of its subject matter, seemed fitting for possible donation to this department, and happily, I received an affirmative response today from the director.

We're scheduling a meeting to discuss it further. Really, the only caveat on my end is that I want to ensure they have some sort of public spaces where the art could be displayed and viewed by faculty and students; if it ended up being hung in staff offices, that would not be what I'd want.  This time around, it will just be a dozen pieces going to this particular entity. I will be more careful about which ones I let go.

If all goes as planned, I envision myself delivering the art to Hartford (about an hour's drive) after I receive both my vaccines, which should be late April. (I'm scheduled for my first shot this weekend.) I'll probably take my father with me as he's always looking for somewhere to go.

We had some beautiful spring-like weather here and I got some yardwork in, but already have my first case of poison ivy for the season, on my hand.

Oh, and for the first time ever, I was able to remotely deposit my paycheck from home instead of having to make a special trip to the bank to deposit it. It was so cool! Welcome to the 21st century!

Getting back on the bonus credit card bandwagon

March 4th, 2021 at 03:26 pm

Warning: I'm in a chatty mood, and this is a lengthy post. I've created sub-heads to help organize the content if you feel like skimming.

Credit card bonsues

So, I used to enjoy applying for credit cards with a nice upfront bonus of $100 or $200 after spending x amount of money in the first 3 months of owning the card. It was such an easy way to make some extra cash, and often I'd try to time my application for the card right before a big bill, like my car and homeowners insurance, was due. That way, I could earn the reward in a single transaction.

Problem is, I'm not very good at cancelling cards once I earn the reward, and then I realized all these extra cards were actually helping to boost my credit score, which stands at about 823 now I believe. It was improving my ratio of available credit to how much I actually charge at any given time.  Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but the credit reporting bureaus love to see someone with tons of available credit but who doesn't use it. This I remember from my years of writing about credit and credit cards (and all things debt/credit-related) at probably one of my favorite all-time jobs for an internet marketing company.

Anyway, with 13 open credit cards (not including my 2 store cards), this helps keep my score high, especially given that the bureas nick me a bit in my score due to the fact I paid off my mortgage years ago and so have no installment credit.

I haven't applied for a new card in ages, though, because a few years back I decided to put a credit freeze at all three credit bureaus, making it that much more difficult for some yahoo to commit fraud in my name.

However, I do already have a credit card with US Bank, and since I'm an existing customer, they sent me an offer for their new Signature credit card. It has no annual fee and comes with a $200 bonus once you charge $1,000 in the 1st 3 months.

So of course I sprang for it, but unfortunately, I forgot to temporarily lift the credit freeze I had in place. Totally forgot I had that. Lifting the freeze is much easier these days than it used to be, whether you do it by phone or online, but when you don't remember the credit limit available to you on an unnamed credit card you opend 11 years ago (this was actually one of the security questions posed by an Equifax agent on the  phone when I couldn't log in), it gets a bit frustrating.

Anyway, I finally lifted the freeze and told US Bank, who resubmitted my application. I wasn't expecting much. I've actually been turned down for a credit card once or twice in the past, and I wasn't really sure why.

Lo and behold, I've been approved. Yay! I'm back on the credit card bonus bandwagon. What's incredible is that the credit limit they're giving me is $18,700. Who needs that much credit. Once, I added up all the available credit I have through credit cards and it was over $100,000.

Eking out some savings in heating oil

In other news, I'm keeping an eye on heating oil prices. Prices drop lockstep as temperatures rise, and that welcome process has already begun. It was $2.40 a gallon on Feb. 24 and yesterday it was $2.23.  I still have a bit more than a quarter tank left, so I'll wait another week before reordering.

The way I see it, heating oil is like electricty: the quality of the product you get is exactly the same no matter how much you pay, so you may as well pay the lowest price you can find!

Early spring chores

Yesterday was fairly warm (45 degrees) so while it was a workday for me (I'm on call, essentially, throughout the day), I snuck out around 2 pm to try to clear a path through the brush to get to a small dogwood I noticed was getting choked by bittersweet vines. It's in an overgrown area along the road, and I noticed it while driving by. I remember doing this once before, but can't recall how long it's been. A year? Two years? In any event, if you don't cut back or dig out the vines, they will kill anything.

This is the best time to do the work, before the foliage and ticks are out. I did actually clear a path and get to the dogwood, but just as I was getting into it, my coworker texted me and said I have a job for you. So I had to hustle the 200 feet or so back to the house, do the work, then I went out again to continue trimming, and darned if she didn't text me again about 10 minutes later. There are many times when I can go hours in the afternoon with no work at all. Today is chilly again, in the 30s, so I'll have to wait til next week to continue and finish the job.

But it feels good to have begun some early spring jobs I've given myself. I'm looking forward to being able to tackle so much more because I'm working from home now, and have lots of down time.

New York High Line trip still up in the air

Seems like a long time ago that my friend and I signed up for a bus trip to New York ($100)  to spend an afternoon walking/shopping the new High Line, a 1.45-mile-long elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan in New York City. I rarely go into the city, but it seemed like a fun thing to do, and my friend was game.

Then COVID struck, and the bus trip was rescheduled to this May. We both agreed we wouldn't feel comfortable sitting in the close quarters of a long bus ride unless we'd had our vaccines. It may be a close call whethr or not that happens by May. My 1st shot is scheduled for Mar 21, which means the 2nd one will be around April 21, if all goes well. My friend hasn't been able to schedule yet. Even then, with more contagious variants circulating, I'll still be wearing a mask.

Lunch 'n Learns

I am technically a senior now (not in spirit), so sometime ago I  signed up. It's just $20 a year, and there are lots of good reasons for doing so. Now I've begun taking my father to their "Lunch 'n Learns," a creative way to keep seniors connected/engaged but still COVID safe. Once you register, you can drive up to the main entrance at the senior center and they hand you a bagged lunch through the window. You park in the parking lot and tune in to a certain radio station where you can hear their speaker present a program on various topics while enjoying your "drive-in" lunch, which sometimes was a hot(ish) meal of salmon or chicken, not just a sandwich.

My father enjoyed it very much. Maybe because the lunch is free, but also because it's somewhere to go. We have one tomorrow. My town takes very good care of its seniors. They allow people from other towns to join for just $5 more a year, so dad was able to do so.

Physical fitness, fasting and weight loss

I keep hearing about how many people have gotten out of shape during the pandemic because they're home more and presumably eating all the time? For me, it's been just the opposite. I"m actually lighter than I've weighed in 11 years, and at 127, I weigh now what I weighted in my 20s. I'm able to walk on most days before my work day starts. Granted, the 10,000-step goal is rarely achieved, but I do walk at least a half-hour when I walk.

The real reason I've lost over 20 pounds, and kept it off, is because every Sunday, I do a 24-hour fast. I have an early dinner Saturday night and the fast begins after that, so I don't eat again til the following evening. Everyone says oh, I couldn't do that, but it's really not too hard. The magic of starting the fast right after dinner is that you go to bed feeling fairly satiated, and by the time you wake up, you're already 60% through the fast.

I will tell you why I am so motivated to continue doing this, probably for the rest of my life: I have a family history (2 generations) of dementia, and research into fasting shows that it induces something called autophagy, which is a process by which the brain is essentially cleaning itself up, getting rid of damaged cells and so on. There's still not enough research, but what they already know suggests it could delay or prevent dementia. Even without this, fasting offers a ton of benefits, although most people do it for weight loss.

For me, the weight loss was a secondary, but still welcome side benefit. What's amazing to me is that I've still lost weight even though, when I eat dinner following the Sunday fast, I consume ALL the calories I would have eaten throughout the day in a single sitting. I don't have to, and sometimes I'm more than full, but I want to be sure to get, for instance, a day's worth of calcium. Because your body can't absorb more than about 500 mg of calcium in one sitting, I do break up my post-fast dinner into 2 meals, with the 2nd meal, which includes a small amount of fat, like in nuts, and a calcium supplement, taking place 4 hours after dinner.

Balancing losing weight with preserving bone health

It would be very tempting to allow myself to lose a few more pounds, to get down to about 123-125 lbs (clothes would fit GREAT), but I dare not do so because a year ago I learned I have osteopenia. Losing weight after menopause is a very bad idea UNLESS you are building muscle at the same time. Am I building muscle? I sure hope so. Since learning about the osteopenia, I've been weight lifting at home with an hour-long workout routine (3x a week) I devised myself, using exercises gleaned from various online resources, especially those geared toward the over 50 crowd and those who are concerned, like me, about bone health.

I won't know for another full year whether all my hard work has had an effect on my bones, since that's the earliest I can retake the DEXA scan.

So it's ironic...I finally discovered the surefire key to losing weight, something I sought to do all my life, and now I have to temper or balance that with not getting too small because it could have an adverse effect on bone health. The amount of weight you carry around is an issue. If you're over 5'4" and are on the heavy side, you likely won't have to worry about osteoporosis.

Here again, family history is a warning to me to do everything I can to avoid my mother's scenario, of first being diagnosed with osteopenia, then, years later, with osteoporosis, and years after that, of multiple falls that lead to her hip fracture that led to her less-than-full surgical recovery that led to, I believe, a premature death at 81.

Osteopenia/osteoporosis is so endemic among older people, yet I believe physicians really don't counsel their patients on what they can do about it.  My mother never really exercised, although she claimed she got plenty of exercise, but she didn't understand how profoundly important exercise is. Walking alone is not impactful enough to spur bone-building. Bike riding does nothing. You need to be lifting weights or regulary hopping/jumping, as I do, on one foot. Or jumping rope. Or running. A lot of things most older people are afraid to do.

Look at me. I always considered myself pretty active, and on weekends I would often be found going on long hikes in the woods, riding my bike or kayaking. Yet I still have osteopenia. Why? I believe because, if I'm honest with myself, I've spent my entire adult career in sedentary desk jobs, with sedentary longish commutes, so even with all the weekend warrior stuff, the fact is, I was still sitting around for a good portion of my waking time.

This is one reason I plan to return to mowing my own lawn this spring. Because pushing that mower around an acre of lawn is great resistance exercise...I've never heard it mentioned in a medical journal, but it's got to be good for bone health.

Let's talk groceries

March 2nd, 2021 at 03:28 pm

So it's been a while since I last compared grocery prices. A tedious process, to be sure, and prices certainly change from one season to the next. I knew in a general sense that I was paying more at Stop & Shop for most of 2020, but the ease and convenience of getting groceries delivered to your trunk, with the added security of knowing I wasn't exposing myself to the virus, was just great. (And I'm still doing it.)

I save all my receipts, so I spent just a bit of time comparing Stop & Shop prices to BJs. Pre-COVID, I would also shop Trader Joe's, Shop Rite, Aldi's, Whole Foods and Caraluzzi's and even Big Y (I'm an equal opportunity shopper), but my grocery world shrunk to just the 2 grocery stores last year. I like the wide aisles at BJs and I always go between 8 and 9 am, but trunk deliveries are even better.

Of the dozen or so food items I regularly purchase and for which I have data on from both stores, EVERY SINGLE ITEM was cheaper at BJs than Stop & Shop. In most cases, not by a ton, and so you'd have to shop there consistently to really see a difference. There is also the $3 delivery fee for each Stop & Shop curbside pickup trip you make, plus I started tipping the young girls who brought my groceries out to me. I figure they deserve it given what they make.

I was able to schedule my 1st vaccine on Feb. 28, and it's scheduled for March 21. Yay for me!

It's the Moderna shot, the one my father got. But I have to go to a different location that I suspect may not be as hassle-free. It's an outdoor drive-through clinic in the parking lot of the mall. They only started there yesterday, so they'll have 3 weeks to iron out the kinks, hopefully.

I'll give myself one week for the first vaccine to kick in and do its thing, and then I plan to say bye-bye to Stop & Shop and hello to Aldi's, Trader Joes and BJs.

I spend serious amounts of cash on food. Last year, if you're curious, I spent $4,754 on groceries. And that was a decrease from the year prior. It was my #3 expense.