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A good old-fashioned Nor 'easter

March 14th, 2023 at 02:12 pm

We're having a good, old-fashioned Nor' easter now that won't wind up until tomorrow. It gives me the perfect excuse to hunker down indoors and be thankful I have heat. Wind, rain, snow, sleet.  It's really just getting started.....I was inspired to make some buckwheat pancakes for breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, I wanted to offer a counterpoint to my last post, where I told the story of the boutique shop owner who ripped me off....twice.

This past week I took a friend to a local coffee shop/cafe for breakfast.  I've been there a few times with my father, so the cafe owner greeted me by name and said goodbye when we left. Because it was the weeekend, his girlfriend was there helping out, and her father tagged along, too. The father was the talkative type and kept up a lively conversation with us as we waited for our meal.

I had the most amazing French toast. Smile

The cafe owner always finds a way to make you feel special, whether it's by surprising me with a chocolate-covered strawberry on Valentine's Day week or giving me a jumbo-sized meatball with sauce for my father when I picked up a non-meatball order to go.

My town has a Facebook page where diners post pix of meals they've had and generally rave about their favorite restaurants. This was one I often see others talk about. You see, Ralph, the owner, treats everyone like royalty as soon as they step in the door. It's really remarkable.

In other news, I'm almost done writing story #3 for the university.  Just waiting for the financial aid officer to get back to me for some quotes.

I had to reschedule my podiatrist appointment for another week from now on account of today's snowstorm.

I got the Conservation District's plant sale flyer in the mail yesterday and will treat myself to one or two shrubs. This is an annual fundraiser that's near and dear to my heart, since this was the first job I had when I moved to Connecticut in my 20s. I ran the tree seedling sale, which was a ton of work: ordering plants wholesale from the growers in upstate New York, recruiting boy scout troops and other volunteers to help package thousands of orders, managing incoming orders and fielding questions from the public, freezing my butt off with the volunteers on a Saturday in early April in a big, old unheated barn to fill the orders and then the mayhem of the day of the sale, when customers would pick up their orders. I was keenly aware that if anything went wrong on the day of the sale, I would be the held responsible. I reported to what we called a Board of Supervisors who all had their day jobs but met monthly to promote the work of the Conservation District. It was one of the best (but lowest paid) jobs I ever had. I also ran the trout fingerling sale later in the year. I won an award for my newsletter there.

Anyway, last year I got a buttonbush and a native honeysuckle. This year, I'm eying a Heritage river birch, northern bayberry, bottlebrush buckeye and arrowwood viburnum. I will only get 2 of them and I'm having a hard time deciding on which I'll get.




Annuity is all set, job is settling in, too

March 3rd, 2023 at 01:42 pm

I'm happy to report that my single-premium immediate annuity is now in place and I've received my first monthly direct deposit into my checking account. They are deducting taxes for me, so my net is a bit lower than $1,000, at $932, but I'll surely appreciate it at tax time.

I am treating this like any other "paycheck," even though I am paying myself! It certainly feels like a paycheck, and I have absolutely no regrets about deciding to go this route.

Hopefully I will live a very long life (if I die, the annuity dies with me and my heirs get nothing), beating the insurance company at their game and becoming a crotchety, but rich, little old lady who spends her days lunching with her equally rich, little old lady friends, tending to her gardens, immersing herself in her hometown book club and garden club, and driving around town in her shiny new hybrid SUV.

I feel this annuity is an important part of my new retirement income strategy, and I'm just so glad I followed through with it. There have been plenty of times I had the best of intentions to do something, but then I got busy with other things. I do feel that it will give me a certain sense of security that, no matter how much s*** hits the fan, economically speaking, or how horrible the next stock market correction is, that I can rest a bit easier knowing that this money, at least, will not be affected, and I don't have to worry about its future asset allocation or anything else.  And, even if I live to 125, I will never be destitute and never run out of money.

(I do hope I don't regret not opting for the COLA adjustment, which I decided to forgo as it would have further reduced my monthly payouts. No doubt inflation will make my monthly payments smaller as time passes, but I know about that now and will just deal with it.)

I am wondering, though, how I should reflect the value of the annuity when I periodially calculate my net worth. I purchased it with a $200K lump sum; should I just use $200K? Not sure, since $200K is not what's available to me and I would never be able to access that.

When I was shopping for the annuity, I approached 2 firms: New York Life and Guardian Life. Making the decision about which firm was really very simple to me: Since the only risk to my annuity is that the issuing firm itself goes bankrupt or something, the single most important consideration was picking an issuer with the highest Fitch, Moody's and S&P ratings. That's what led me to start first with NY Life and Guardiain Life, both of whom had the highest ratings.

The next most important thing in my mind was the amount of the monthly payout, which is fixed for your lifetime.  A good friend of mine works at NY Life, so I thought I would be partial to that firm, but as it turned out, Guardian Life offered a slightly higher monthly payout. It wasn't much on a monthly basis, but it would work out to an extra $10,000 over the next 20 years.

Also, I had a Zoom meeting with 2 agents from NY Life, and during the meeting, they gave me a brochure with lots of charts showing how much income you could expect, etc., but, umm, they gave me a brochure that prominently said in diagonal shadow type, "Not for use with clients."

When I worked in the business, the demarcation between client-approved materials and broker/dealer materials was very clear, and you could get in a lot of trouble if you showed b/d materials to a client. Why? Well, if fund performance was on the brochure, the b/d version would show higher performance because you weren't required to deduct all the various fees and expenses incurred by the client; those numbers were what we called "non-standardized performance." But you were absolutely required to deduct fees ("standardized performance")  from returns shown in client materials, so the numbers always looked less rosy.

Now with an immediate annuity there is no underlying stock market performance involved, so I'd  have to do a side-by-side comparison to see what the difference was between NY Life's b/d and client sales brochures. But I didn't like that they used the b/d version with me so openly, and I did mean to question them on that, just to see how they'd respond, but by that time I'd decided to get the ball rolling with Guardian, so I just cancelled the 2nd meeting with NY Life.

I've begun work on my 2nd story for the university on a tuition-related topic. Like riding a bicycle, I'm glad writing still comes naturally to me after a five-year hiatus in favor of editing. I put in 3 hours yesterday and I'd say it's 60% written, but have to wait til next week to interview 2 different people at the school that my manager asked me to talk to. They all work together. Quite honestly, that's the biggest hassle as they all seem so busy and kind of make our conversation a bigger deal than it is. I told her I just needed a few quotes from her about such-and-such, and now she's set up a zoom meeting and invited 2 other people from the school. Sigh. It's only a 1,000-word story, so I don't want to devote too much real estate to her perspective, just a nod and a mention.

I calculated how much time I spent on the first story, and figured I earned $91/hr based on the flat fee they paid me. Nice. After a while, I won't bother tracking my time spent, but I wanted to get an idea. I wasn't rushing anything, either, but I do have like 40 years of experience writing and interviewing people, so that background continues to serve me well.

Consider that, aside from my writing abilities, I don't have any specific talents and got a liberal arts education. Even by the time I graduated, I didn't have a job lined up and was still casting about for direction. My writing proclivities, which were apparent when my age was just a single digit, have served me well and gifted me with a pretty good living.

I had one job 15 years ago (which I still remember fondly) where I did the exact same thing that I'm doing  now except that the subject matter was different (personal finances) and I was the in-house writer assigning stories to a team of freelance writers; now, I am the freelance writer but otherwise, everything I'm doing feels very familiar: coming up with story topics, the word length, doing my own research and interviewing a few subject matter experts, sprinkling keywords in the story, even getting my byline, photo and bio, too, and of course online publication on the university's blog.

It was interesting to me how quickly the hundreds of stories and blog posts I'd written back then disappeared from any online searches. After my layoff, and the layoffs of many others there, the company went belly up and they took down the website itself, and for a while, if you did a search of my name, you'd come up with dozens and dozens of my stories that were circulated by news aggregation sites. But after a few years, they mostly disappeared; I guess more current news just displaced them?

So the annuity is all set, and the job will soon become a routine. What next? I think I should spend some time planning how to have some fun! In the near term, I'm going over to my friend's place (around the corner) for dinner tomorrow night. She's divorced and just got laid off from her job; she really doesn't want to work at all, but she's 4 years younger than me and still has a mortgage. Her options are limited due to her skill set.

Another friend and I have plans to visit the Bronx Botanical Gardens this spring, along with a trip to a rescue organization for horses in Litchfield County; since my friend is a retired vet and even has supplies he wants to donate, this is the perfect field trip for him. Smile

My kitchen renovations begin in late April and I will also be in need of an elecrician and plumber for various small jobs.

To all of you experiencing the horrible winter weather out west, stay safe and you have my sympathies.


Don't be too trusting: The Case of the Missing Camisole

February 28th, 2023 at 01:41 pm

I had a disconcerting experience with an area small business merchant.

Over the holidays, I was gifted a number of items from a very nice, upscale gift shop (you might call it a boutique) in my area. It's actually not the kind of place I would shop at, as the prices are kind of high and filled with things I wouldn't normally buy myself: pretty scented candles, a curated clothing collection, colorful change purses made in Nepal, handbags, scarves, miniature felted animals and the like. And it's really not local to me but was located in the hometown of the person who purchased the gifts for me.

I needed to return 4 items because none of them fit me. Even the mittens and hat seemed to be made for a child, plus there was a shirt and camisole top that might fit a teenager. (I wear petite-sized clothing, but still, these were too small.)

I went there in January to make the return. I had folded up and placed the 4 items in a shopping bag and off I headed.  The shop is located right on the green in the center of town, and the owner greeted me in a friendly manner when I entered the store. I explained to her  why I was there and she asked me for the bag of items, which she took with her behind a tall counter. I was looking around the shop at other things while she processed my return, but then she said, "So, just the 3 items, then?" I said, "No, there are 4 items in the bag."  She insisted there were only 3 items, and she showed me what she had, and what was missing was the camisole top. She said maybe it fell out. 

There wasn't much I could do about it.  I know I put it in there, and no, it didn't fall out somewhere between my home and her store. Something told me she did something with the camisole behind the counter when I wasn't paying attention, and was counting on the fact I wouldn't go back there to check myself.

I just let it go, partly because it wasn't my money at stake here (these were gifts) but I was feeling rather mistrusting about the whole thing. Now, after a 2nd visit, I know my instincts were right.

So on that first visit, I bought a few small items with the store credit, but couldn't find enough I really felt I wanted, so I asked her how long the credit was good for and then told her I would return again as she said her inventory changes every week. I still had a credit of $68.

I returned to the shop yesterday, making two loops around as I browsed. Back in the day, I used to love all sorts of little cutesy things, but these days, I only purchase what I feel I can use, and even though I was using a store credit, I still feel the same about "stuff."

So eventually I made my way up to the counter with 4 items: facial cleanser, two pretty dishtowels and some soap, all of which I thought I could use as gifts. I was tallying up the total in my head as I picked each item out because I did not want to exceed the $68 store credit by too much. So according to my mental calculations, all these items added up to $61, so I grabbed two lip balms, too ($6 ea), but held back on giving them to the owner until she could verify the total of the other stuff.

She tells me the total was $70, which didn't sound right, but I figured I must be wrong, so I paid her $2, took the receipt and left, still having a nagging feeling that something wasn't right as I was driving away.

I eventually did check the receipt once I got home, and while the prices she wrote down for each item was correct, her math was wrong. The total was $61, not $70.

I might have given her the benefit of the doubt, but given what happened with the mysteriously missing camisole, I feel she did this intentionally to cut her losses. The money doesn't matter to me, but no one likes feeling they were taken advantage of, least of all by an upstanding member of the business community.  By all appearances she had a successful business in a prominent location in an affluent town, but times are tough. Of course, that's no excuse for ripping off your customers.

So live and learn: regardless of the setting, the circumstances or the person you're dealing with, always be aware of the cost of goods you're buying, and that includes items you're returning for credit, too. And TRUST your instincts.

The only other time something like this has happened is with a local pizza place in my town. I sometimes order a pizza to go, and since I've accumulated a lot of loose change over the years, I used to check the price online when I ordered, and then calculate the sales tax so I knew wht I was paying. The guy at the pizza place would, more than once, overcharge me by a dollar or two. Nothing outrageous, but I guess it does add up over time in their favor. When I called him on it, he acknowledged the mistake and that was that. But it kept happening, nonetheless.



Things are falling nicely into place

February 24th, 2023 at 08:56 pm

Yesterday, I went to the state flower and garden show at the convention center with a friend of mine, M. It was nice to wander around there for a few hours on an especially dreary, gray, late winter day. Lots of stuff to see. My friend bought the admission tickets and treated me to lunch at a New York-style deli/restaurant. I have treated him to lunch a few times when going out with my father, so this was nice.

Updates on a few outstanding things going on in my life:

1. I was able to set up my immediate annuity account online and am expecting to receive my first monthly payment direct-deposited March 1 (next week). I've very happy how smoothly things went, although for a while there, I was beyond anxious, because Vanguard sent my money ($200K) in a check SNAIL MAIL to Guardian. I mean, really, in this day and age? What's wrong with electronic transmission? I started imagining that maybe my Guardian agent was going to abscond with the money until I reassured myself the check would be made out to Guardian, not my agent. This annuity is such a big move in my transition from "working" to "retired." It really marks a turning point.

2. I learned just a few days ago that the university I wrote my first story for does indeed want me to continue with them, so I'll be able to count on that income moving forward into 2023. She is assigning me another 6 stories to complete in the 2nd quarter, and I can do them at my own pace, so that is good. (Actually, she also asked me for some story ideas, which I sent to her.)

I got electronic notice of my 1st paystub for that first story, but have not yet received the actual paycheck, because they'd explained to me that the first check only would be snail-mailed; the rest will be electronically deposited, and I have already set that up with my info online. I'm so happy they are deducting taxes for me, so I'll get a W-2 (much preferred), not a 1099.

With these 2 income changes, I'll need (once again) to report a change of income to my state's Obamacare program. I'll do this on Mar 1. It's very important I do this so I don't end up having to repay the state money at year's end when I do my taxes. I anticipate needing to move to a different health insurance plan.

Next up: I've decided to move forward with bunion surgery. I've had one for years, and it's really beginning to bother me. I shied away from the thought of surgery years back because the recovery time was rather lengthy, but now they are doing minimally invasive bunion surgery which greatly shortens recovery time. I mentioned to M. I was thinking of waiting til the fall to do it, since I'm always so busy in the garden in the summer months, and he said, why wait til then? Why not do it now? And after mulling it over, I am thinking I'd rather get it done sooner rather than later. Recovery involves basically keeping your leg elevated most of the time (80% in the 1st week; 50% in the 2nd week) for the 1st 2 weeks, then gradually walking around more and more, as tolerated. This reduces swelling and allows time for healing. Crutches aren't necessary, but you do need to wear a post-op boot that prevents you from injuring your foot.

I figure I'd do some big grocery shops prior to the surgery and freeze a bunch of meals ahead of time. I usually go to the dump with trash once a week, but I guess I could put the trash in galvanized trash can that's used now for other things in the garage, and maybe even move it to the basement, where it would be easier to get to, if it didn't stink (?). It will include dirty cat litter, so I don't know.

So for 2 weeks, aside from feeding myself, using the bathroom and feeding the cat, I'd need to stay in bed with foot elevated. Still seems like a long time, but much better than what it used to be like. My friend M. said he'd help, which is great. I think the main thing I'd need to ask him to do is drive me to and from the surgery.

"M." is someone I met via online dating; we actually cooked Thanksgiving dinner together and had my dad over. We spent a few months doing fun things together, but it never really progressed from friends to "romantic" for a few reasons (on my part), and we fell out of touch in early December (on my part again) for various reasons until I renewed our friendship very recently.

The only other challenge with the surgery could be maintaining my new job or otherwise, letting my employer know what's going on, which I'd rather not do since I just started the job. She should be sending me 6 story assignments for 2nd quarter in a day or two. So let's assume I have the surgery scheduled for end of March (optimistic thinking). If I can get 3 of these stories done and submitted by end of March prior to the surgery, I can take that 2-week break and not have to worry about writing until around the 3rd week of April, when I'l need to start working on story #4. I might even try to get 4 stories done in March, giving me all of April to recover without worrying about it. It shouldn't be that difficult.

I'll be scheduling an appointment with the podiatrist as soon as I get the health insurance squared away.

PS Actually, there will be one more issue with the surgery, depending on when it might be scheduled. I am scheduled to have my kitchen cabinets refinished the last week of April, and will need to clean out most of the cabinets prior to that week. It's a 4-day job. If the surgery cannot be scheduled until April sometime, I would have to see if I could reschedule the cabinet refinishing, and we'll be entering into his very busy springtime, so I will really need to contact him the minute I have some idea of when the surgery could be to see if i could possibly reschedule for BEFORE  my surgery. This guy's already booking out well into the season, so rescheduling could be a problem unless, again, I ask a friend to be on hand in case they need me. Hmm. Have to think about this. Otherwise, if surgery took place AFTER the cabinet refinishing, we're already into May, which is a fairly busy time planting and all.


Offbeat kitchen storage ideas

February 17th, 2023 at 04:04 pm

I continue to make sure my small home offers maximum space-saving ideas, and here's a new one.

Living alone, I seldom use the dishwasher because it would take several days to collect a full load of dishes, and dirty dishes sitting around would attract ants. So I handwash everything except if I am entertaining company. latest space-saving solution:

I already use my rarely used big oven for storage of infrequently used pots/pans. Most of my cooking is done using the microwave, my countertop toaster/convection oven or the stovetop.

I decided to part ways with the company I hoped would replace my old kitchen countertop, sink and faucet. I'll still have the other guy refinish the cabinets, but the counter people actually suggested I sign their contract without reading it, and once I did read it, it was full of onerous terms, 4 waivers of responsibility (like if they damaged my backsplash when removing the counter) and not disclosing the extra $250 for the countertop removal in their original quote.  It was so clearly written in their best interests, and I'm sorry, I think they SHOULD be responsible if they cause damage.

It's a bit more inconvenient/time-consuming for me to treat that as a separate project, but that's what I will do. The guy got a little angry/defensive on the phone with me, which I didn't care for either.

Currently, I'm shopping these incredibly attractive vinyl vintage floor mats to match the new gray cabinets. I think I'm really growing to try to remove my shoes routinely upon entering my home to try to limit tracking in grit, dirt, etc.

Fun With (Retirement) Numbers

February 8th, 2023 at 10:31 pm

I received the overnight package from Guardian Life for my single payment income annuity, signed everywhere I needed to and fed'exed it back this afternoon.

If all goes smoothly, my first annuity payment will come in March. I will have them deduct federal and state income taxes so no big tax bill at year-end. I will have to tweak my asset allocation afterwards at Vanguard to make sure I'm at about the same place as I am now, but not a biggie since this is all IRA money and can be moved around with no tax consequences.

Here's a projection of my future income situation:

From ages 63 (now) to 65:
Annual income will come from 4 sources:
Annuity: $ 13,700 (net of taxes this will be more like $1,000/mth)
Investment income (dividends, interest, cap gains) $5,500. I will change my current reinvestment of these and redirect these into my checking account as soon as I get the annuity all squared away.
My new p/t job (still not set in stone but will know in a few weeks): $18,000
This is my hoped-for income from 2 stories a month. If she doesn't like the other writer's work, she will ask me to do 4 stories a month, which I really don't want to do, so I'm hoping she likes us both and will keep us both on, which she explained is a possibility.
Dad's Xmas gift: $5,000
Total income: $ 42,200

From ages 65-69:
Annual income will come from 3 sources only since I plan to retire completely at age 65.
Annuity: $ 13,700
Investment income: $5,500
Dad's Xmas gift: $5,000
Total: $24,200
Obviously not enough to live on so will start taking withdrawals of about $17,800 annually from a combination of traditional IRA/taxable mutual funds and Roth monies.

Municipal property tax credit: $2,900 (Right now I pay $6,600/yr, so that's a 44% reduction)
State property tax credit: ??
My town offers property tax credits based on a sliding income scale for low-and moderate-income seniors age 65+. You have to reapply every year, but I think it's well worth the effort.

From age 69+2 mths - 73 (69+2 mths is the best age for me to begin SS)
Annual Income:
Annuity $13,700
Inv income: Let's say $3,000 due to withdrawals the previous 4 years
Social Security: $ 39,108 ($3,259 a mth) (It will be a bit higher when they factor in 2 more years of work by me that's higher than a string of really low earning years when I was in college and in my 20s), if all goes well, but just using this number for now.)
Total: $ 55,808

Municipal property tax credit: $1,500.
State property tax credit: ???

From age 73 - for the rest of my life
Annual income:
Annuity: $13,700
Inv income: $2,500?
Social Security: $39,108
RMDs: Around $34,000??
Total: $89,308?
(Actually, Dido calculated my total income at $100k so need to go back and study her numbers. There are so many moving parts.)

I guess at this point...age 73...I will no longer qualify for a municipal property tax credit, which phases out after an income of $70,000.

Nice income! Of course, I have no debt.

But taxes will rise, too, at age 73 with RMDs. I hope to continue strategically withdrawing each year from traditional IRA or taxable mutual fund money (fully taxable) up to the 2nd lowest tax bracket  (well, right now that's just 12% for earners up to $41,775 but that will surely change), and then "topping off" as needed using Roth (tax-free) money.

After what seems like a lifetime of planning (at least 30 years!), everything is beginning to fall in place. It's kind of exciting.


Taxes are done!

February 4th, 2023 at 05:32 pm

Needless to say, I'm thrilled to have finished my taxes, state and federal, today. I overpaid both by quite a bit, but the truth is, it can be very difficult to estimate income when you're self-employed, you get laid off from one job mid-year and the next job you get fizzles out after about 4 months. My "total expected income" was indeed a moving target.

So I am expecting a federal tax refund of $1,306 and a state refund of $1,282, for a total of $2,588 deposited to my checking....sweet.

I'm glad I was able to once again do my own taxes; last year, I paid someone, and she made a number of mistakes, including overlooking a traditional IRA contribution I made and indicating I paid out 1099s to someone as part of my self-employment when I am solo.

I'm relieved to have this behind me so I can now more fully focus on the first writing assignment I've been given by my new employer. I have a little less than 2 weeks to do it, which is plenty of time.

It's mighty chilly here in New England; temps were about -3 this morning when I woke up and with the wind chill, about -15 or -20. But temps will moderate quickly and tomorrow will be warmish again (for winter) in the 40s.


A new year, a new job

January 31st, 2023 at 08:06 pm

Well, we've only just begun 2023 and already I feel lots of big changes happening in my life.

For one, I will earn a living as a writer again after a roughly five-year hiatus during which time I was copy editing p/t. I've been hired as a W2 writer for a university not in the Northeast, and I'm expecting my first assignment this Friday.

I'm excited because it's really just the kind of job I was hoping to find: one with pretty p/t hours so as not to interfere with my semi-retirement (!), one that contained minimal exposure to the usual office meetings, politics, etc. and one that paid pretty well.

I was not expecting it would be a W2 job, but having the employer (the recruiter agency) deduct taxes in each check makes my life soooo much easier come tax time. And they pay every week, as opposed to the nightmare that was waiting a full month to be paid (and often it would not be on time) from my former employer, the India-based tech company.

The other big change I've set in motion is something I knew I wanted to do for a few years now, but recently I realized there was no need, really, to wait til age 65 to do it. It will faciitate my transition from working stiff to retiree. Meaning, I'm removing a chunk of assets from stock market exposure and putting it into a Single Payment Income Annuity. Dido from this site has been enormously helpful in providing various insights as to taxation and such.

Since the bulk of my savings are in the stock market (mutual funds), I will feel better taking some of that risk away, because once in full retirement, I won't enjoy that risk and want to sleep pretty well at night. The SPIA will deliver monthly guaranteed lifetime income, very much like a pension. It won't cover all my day-to-day expenses, but it will pay out at about $1,100 a month.

One thing I need to learn more about is the optional cost-of-living adjustment. I want to know how that will affect my monthly payouts.

I will have a firmer feel of things after I speak with the New York Life agent later this week. They are highly rated, but I may also schedule a meeting with Guardian Life, which has equally high ratings and about the same monthly payout.

I'm also getting started on my first big home renovation in late April. I'm hiring a guy to refinish my kitchen cabinets. There's nothing wrong with the cabinets themselves, other than the paint is worn or chipped in places and looks a bit shoddy. I'll be moving from white cabinets to a nice gray. Still up in the air is whether to replace the laminate countertop with quartz. He has to come measure so he can firm up cost of that. I did visit the showroom to pick out the paint color and the quartz, as well as to just check out their operation and hear a lot about the process.

I'm inclined to do it all once, especially now that I have a job again, but I was prepared to defer the counter until next year just to spread out the cost. Also with this job I would be replacing my old ceramic sink, which does not sit flush with the counter, with a stainless steel undermount sink, and I also need to replace a long-leaking faucet.

I'll save thousands by refinishing the cabinets instead of replacing them, and with the color change and new counter, it'll seem like I have an entirely new kitchen.


Tidying Up in the Kitchen

January 11th, 2023 at 01:01 am

It's that time of year when my thoughts turn to tidying up, decluttering and eking out more spaciousness and serenity in my home. Living in a relatively small house, I have been feeling cramped, most especially since 2015, when I inherited lots of STUFF. I firmly believe that IF EVERYTHING HAS ITS PLACE, my life will be so much better. Smile

Anyway, I spent some time at the home of a man I was dating, and I admired how attractive and tidy he kept it. Without realizing it, I internalized a few things from his home that I either copied or which inspired me to carve out more space.

Just a few changes in my kitchen have made me much happier and feeling so much more organized, for relatively little expenditure.

1. For YEARS, I have disliked having a trash can sitting in the kitchen. It's a small kitchen, so there it sat near the door the basement. I had upgraded to a stainless steel with the step-on lever to raise the lid when I acquired it through Buy Nothing, but I still dislike it even being visible, and of course the odor of uneaten cat food, even contained in separate little baggies, was so unpleasant. I never thought I had any extra cabinet space for a trash can until I remembered I have a handy pull-out drawer in the small, portable kitchen island I got years ago. Which would be idea if I could find a home for the pots and pans that currently resided there. After decluttering unused dishware elsewhere, I managed to find other spaces for them, and the trash now fits the pull-out island drawer very nicely.

I borrowed a hack I'd read about online by affixing 2 felt pads on the inside top of the can, the kind of pads used on the bottom of chair legs or tables to keep them from scratching the floor. Then I put a few drops of essential ois on each, and now I get a nice waft of ecalyptus scent each time the lid opens, not icky cat food!

2. I also realized that there is no need to separate the newspaper/cardboard recycling I collect from the plastic/metal food containers, since they are all dumped in the same container at the transfer station. It's been this way for quite some time, but I guess I thought it was easier to continue collecting my recycling separately. But this meant multiple paper bags hanging at the top of my basement stairs and you kind of had to duck your head whenever going downstairs. Now I have another large trash can in my hall coat closet, which I repurposed a few years ago to double as a food pantry. So now ALL recyclables except for plastic bags and compost go in this one's just easier.

3. Next up: For the past 27 years, I've had a dish drainer reside to the right of the sink. It's a black metal Victorian-style thing that I found more attractive than the usual tacky plastic, but still this dish drainer hogs a whole lot of countertop space, whether it's full of dishes or not.

So I got rid of the dish drainer and bought one of those roll-up mats that you lay over your sink to drip-dry dishes. I had never tried one of these before becus I have a ceramic sink with a lip that's not flush with the counter, so I didn't think a roll-up mat would be secure, but it is. I also don't have double sinks, but found that by laying the mat over  just half the sink, I can still wash dishes and then use the mat. It doesn't have space for a ton of washed dishes given that it's over just half the sink, but I'm content for now to just do dishes a bit at a time and I absolutely love the newfound counter space as it looks very minimalist.

4. I also bought a thing you buy which plugs right onto a 2-outlet outlet, but offers 3 outlets plus 2 USB outlets for recharging phones (see above). I always recharge my phone in the kitchen, so now I will always have plenty of plugs for various other items when needed. I love this little gadget, it looks so techie. Smile

5. I bought 2 fairly small woven baskets made to hang from a hook. The company was from the UK but these were shipped from China and took forever to arrive, but I like them a lot. I hung them from the 2 hooks on the basement door for fresh fruit so i don't need to keep a bowl on the table for this anymore.

5. Lastly, I hate seeing electrical cords, and I just decided to rearrange things on my counter top to minimize the appearance of microwave and tea-maker cords. I decided to put away my food processor as I really don't use it every day, or even every week. Everything looks so neat and tidy now. I like the kitchen to have not just function, but beauty.




I already splurged on a new, very modern-looking desk lamp for my office, to replace a more traditional-looking one I got on Buy Nothing, and which I'll regift on Buy Nothing. Again, visiting my friend's home, I saw that he reallyy liked more modern furnishings, and I have to say his place looked so hip and fresh, and I started looking at some of my furniture and things I've had for DECADES and never updated. The desk lamp will make a big difference in the feel of my office, I think, and I love that it, too, offers a USB port for charging.

If I can find another home for the all papers now in my old wood desk, I'd love to replace that too. I have found a modern desk I really like, but it's a bit more than I wanted to spend and I really do need my old desk's storage space while the new one has NO storage at all.

I feel like I'm on a roll. What next?

2022 Net Worth

January 11th, 2023 at 12:09 am

My total net worth bounced back nicely in the past 2 months, gaining over $50,000 since November.

Total net worth is $1,146,410 + home value of $405,100 = $1,551,510. It's still not back to its pre-recession peak in September 2021 of $1,272,391, net of house.

If I have a  New Year's resolution, it will be to find a new p/t job to stem further incursions into my assets.

Recap of 2022 Income & Expenses

January 10th, 2023 at 08:58 pm

Greetings, all.

Here's my annual rundown of the prior year's income and expenses.

Overall, I spent $43,687 in 2022. I earned just $29,689, so I'm in the hole for about $14,000. It's not what I planned, nor wanted, but after a June layoff from my p/t job, a new p/t job failed to deliver the hours I was counting on. In fact, I haven't worked since before Thanksgiving.

I have been half-heartedly looking for a new position, but I really need to get more serious about it. I think I'll be fine if I wind up starting full retirement 2 years early, but I would rather stick to my plan to work a p/t job until I'm 65.

Here are my top 10 expenses, which combined, account for 61% of total expenses. (Note: Among my top 10 expenses are IRS and state income tax payments. I've chosen not to include their breakdown here.)

1. Property taxes: $6,788. No surprise here. The amount hasn't changed much since last year, but they just did a 5-year revaluation, and my home appreciated in value by $75,000. The mil rate will be changing too, so I haven't figured out how big of a tax increase I'm looking at for 2023.

2. Food: $4,731. This increased by $368 compared to last year. It's always in the top quartile of my expenses; looking at my pie chart of top 8 expenses, it's shocking what a huge amount of my budget it consumes.

3. Out of pocket medical/dental: $2,101. This is still a big expense, despite it being so much lower, by $4,100, than last year, because last year I had my knee surgery. I did have some cosmetic things done this year that weren't covered at all by my plan.

4. Cat, $1,815. This was about $156 more than last year. He's eating premium, mail-order cat food these days and is on meds, but this does seem high.

5. Lawn & garden, mowings, $1,217. This is about the same as last year, but my mower did slightly increase his fee at the tail end of this year, so I'll see the full impact in 2023.

6. Heating oil/cleaning, $1,173. This represents a big jump, $578 more than last year due to rising energy costs.

7. Electric, $1,104. This was a bit more than last year, by $122. The 2 standard offer suppliers in my state have really caused an outcry after raising rates, but I am luckily locked into an alternative supplier at a much better rate until December 2024.

8. Clothing, $1,029. This was about the same as I spent in 2021.

Taking a look at what categories saw an increase OR decrease OR stayed about the same, I can see:

Categories with increased costs = $2,420 across 11 categories
(Food, cat, heating oil, electricity, gasoline, entertainment, car insurance, car maintenance, homeowners insurance, dining out and my umbrella policy)

Categories where my spending stayed about the same as last year: 8 categories (property taxes, lawn & garden/mowings, internet, water, borough taxes, dump sticker, haircuts).

Categories where my spending fell = $6,932 across 9 categories
(Out of pocket medical/dental, clothing, "household" (my one catch-all category where I tend to dump expenses that don't fit somewhere else, usually stuff for the home), health insurance, gifts, home maintenance, landline)

Woe Is Me

July 31st, 2022 at 02:38 pm

July expenses and income do not look pretty.

I'm in the hole for the month for $9,400. Partly because a) I had no earned income this month; my first paycheck with the new employer will be delayed as they pay once monthly (!) and you have to wait up to a month after submitting your bill for the first month's work. and b) July is traditionally the most expensive month of the year for me because that's when I pay my car insurance, homeowner's insurance, semi-annual property taxes and, oh, yeah, estimated quarterly taxes were paid a week late.

Today, for the first time in probably decades, I had to redeem $2,000 from my Vanguard money market account (a taxable event for which I had to pay withholding), just to make sure I can cover the 2nd/final payment of $3,600 to my contractor for the board and batten work he's doing in my downstairs, and (together with what's left in my checking account) to cover me until September, when I have an $11K CD coming due. I shouldn't have to rely on that CD money since by then I should have started getting paid by my new employer, but just in case, I will have it.

Hopefully, this redemption (something I'm just not used to) will be a one-time thing until I retire 100% in 2 years' time. I guess things would be ok now if I continued doing this, but mentally, I'm just not ready to start any kind of drawdown in my retirement savings.

As far as liquidity goes, I do also have about $60K in the Vanguard MM. I had greatly added to my balance in that account a number of months ago, knowing that as a young senior it would be good to have that cash available to avoid withdrawals from other Vanguard accounts with true market exposure during a market downturn. So I'm glad now to have done that. I still have to pay taxes on those redemptions, as if they were income, but I'm not shooting myself in the foot by cashing out a stock mutual fund, for example, when its value is depressed.

As far as my downstairs renovation, my guy is coming on Monday for what I hope will be his final day; the painter he works with is also coming to start work prepping the walls for painting. If all goes well, the whole job will be done by week's end, or  maybe a day sooner, which would be a good thing given the forecast of record high heat in the high 90s again.

(The contractor has been in and out, in and out of my house all day long for weeks now as he cuts the boards outside in my driveway. I'm working upstairs, so have to have the central air on, and was surprised my electric bill was not higher than the $126 it was.)

In my last post I wrote about losing both my driver's license and my prescription sunglasses not once, but twice. Well, guess what? I've found both, the 2nd time around, and I'm embarrassed to say where they were. Both were in my purse. I had checked my purse more than once for both, and somehow, I think, the sunglasses in their hard case were not felt or seen and maybe slipped into the bottom recess of the purse. The driver's license just mysteriously showed up, again, in my purse. This happened after I spent $30 for the replacement license and another $65 for replacement sunglasses. But , oh well. Now with 2 of each, there'll be less chance of losing both.

This is what I get for continuously removing the driver's license from my wallet and sticking it into a back pocket so I don't have to worry about a purse being stolen from either my car or the gym locker when I work out; I also do this sometimes when I head to the store and just don't feel like carrying a purse.

As for the sunglasses, I'd read that you shouldn't leave them in a hot car as the heat can damage the tint on the lenses...which means I am continually bringing them inside, bringing them out with me, and it's that much easier to lose track of them.

Everything else is pretty much business as usual. I feel like I've passed up a LOT of social events this year, either over Covid concerns or it was just too darn hot...a memorial get-together for the late  husband of someone in my gardening group; my friend's party, my cousin's pool party, even a group walk...There was even someone from online whom I was about to meet for lunch until I asked if he'd been vaccinated. Apparently, he didn't like the question (because he wasn't vaccinated) and he called it off, saying he no longer felt we were "compatible." Good riddance. Since when are vaccines political?

But yesterday, I did accept an invite from another gardening group friend, this time for late August. I also have tickets to a garden tour with another friend the same day; hopefully we can go in the morning.

My big accomplishment this month was a colonscopy; I was overdue, but what was holding me up was having a designated driver. One of my friends is now fully retired, and could take me there. Everything was fine.

I've been harvesting lots of kale, zucchini, cucumbers and now, tomatoes. Also picked some small eggplant yesterday. Wineberry season has come and gone. The baby bunny born in my raised bed is now often seen grazing on my lawn with its mother.


Lost & Found

July 22nd, 2022 at 06:31 pm

Several months ago I lost my driver's license and could not find it. Finally, I spent $30 for a replacement license. Today I was doing laundry and guess what was plastered up against the glass door? My driver's license.

It was a load of towels with one pair of pants that I wear exclusively to do yard work. They are white and I wear them so I could easily spot a tick if one were to crawl on me. I never wear those pants anywhere, except.....i vaguely remember needing to pick something up from my Buy Nothing group and deciding to go since no one would see me anyway, so I didn't bother changing from my work clothes but did grab my driver's license and slip it in the back pocket.

Sigh. Now if I could just find my missing pair of prescription sunglasses. It's the 2nd time I've lost them this season. Looked high and low, finally caved and ordered a replacement pair today from ($65 for progressive, no line lenses...will never go back to brick and mortar opticians).

We're in the middle of a prolonged heat wave here in New England. Things are expected to moderate by Monday. In the meantime, I am hunkering down indoors, only venturing out after 6 pm to pick wineberries in the yard and do walks in the neighborhood. I may tackle painting my basement walls white tomorrow, seemingly a good task to undertake in the cooler basement. I've painted it before, but not completely.

I had to move a bunch of my potted nasturtiums to another, more shaded spot as they most unhappy, and extra watering did not seem to help. Had to remove the solar bubblers from my bird baths becus the water was evaporating so fast, the little motor in those things was running without water, which wears them out faster.

I' ve scheduled a colonoscopy for myself for next week. Have to do a covid test 2 days prior. When my friend did this recently, the one who's driving me to mine, she tested positive and had to reschedule, although she never had any symptoms. She thought it might have been a false positive. Sure hope that doesn't happen to me. I'm doing a bunch of pills instead of liquids this time around. Wish me luck.

Yesterday I concluded Progressive's "Snapshot" program where you can save on your car  insurance with safe driving/tracking. It went on for an entire year (!) and in the end, I only saved $100, which was disappointing. I had an ongoing score of an "A" for quite a while, and ruined it all (down to a B+) in a single driving trip, when I had driven my friend to HER colonscopy, was hungry waiting and decided to go to nearby Burger King for impossible burger, just 5 minutes away but i got horribly disoriented and had failed to make note of her medical center's address, so got a bit frazzled cus they called while i was trying to find my way back and said she was ready, and anyway, i stepped on the brakes too hard a bunch of times turning this way or that way. As it was, my premium still increased (tho I have never filed a claim in my life) as they do every year, just a little less with the driving incentive savings. Next year, I'll likely need to shop around again becus they only offer good rate when they're trying to lure you from a different insurer.

Decided to renew my job search as I'm still unhappy with the current new job. It's entirely unpredictable when I'll get work, and it's considerably less than the hours they promised at the onset. I also greatly dislike the once month paycheck, which I didn't learn about til after accepting the position. Only found 1 job to apply to so far; this may take a while.


Odds and ends

July 17th, 2022 at 08:26 pm

The India job is going so so. I'm not crazy about it, let's put it that way. The work itself is very tedious and repetitive. When I've asked specific questions about the job, since I'm still new, they take days to reply, if at all.  I'm still not clear on basics like when I can expect to get work, and just learned my hours are NOT 6-10 pm as I was told, but that I could actually do the work as soon as i get it, as long as i turn it in the next day. That's good, cus i was afraid i'd get sleepy working much past 9 pm.

The time zone difference makes it more challenging to get a prompt answer, but anyway, I'll feel better once I get paid. I don't like having to wait a month for a paycheck, and there's also a one-month lag time from the time I bill them and the time i get the money direct-deposited, so i actually have to wait 2 months for my first check!

Meanwhile, my colleague from my old job has been in touch with me, and like the owner, when he laid me off asked, wanted to know if i'd be interested in returning should work pick up again. I would, but 1) i'd need some kind of assurance i wouldn't be laid off again in 3 months or 6 months; a 1-year contract would be pretty nice, and 2), I'd like a big fat raise becus the rise in the cost of living is just crazy and I am overdue for a raise anyway. But who knows if any of that will come to anything. I'm still settling into the India job, so we'll see.

Wineberry season is in full force here so I've been picking....Garden-wise, I'm also picking (and blanching/freezing) kale, string beans, round zucchini squash and cucumbers. I have tons of green cherry tomatoes.

I also had a nest of bunnies in the raised beds, the one with the tomatoes! Not sure how many there were, possibly just two of them. I only discovered this when I returned from the Cape and found a dead chipmunk under the tomato plants and nearby, an injured baby rabbit, eyes still closed. I was able to bring it to a rehabber; bunny was still alive 2 days later when i called to check on it. There was at least 1 other bunny, which popped up out of the dirt when i tried, carefully, to water my tomato plants. It has since left the nest and I see it sometimes now with mama as they help themselves to a diverse menu of greens here. I enjoy having them here, but worry about their safety. They don't seem too smart, letting me get within 5 feet of them before they take off; if I was a predator, they'd never make it.

I've been seeing a doe with her fawn here pretty much daily, as she likes to browse in the pachysanra for the little apples that fall from my last surviving apple tree. I'm afraid the tree is not in great shape, so she may run out of apples soon.

I have a lunch date with a gentleman I met online this week at one of my favorite restaurants here in town. Don't know what I think about him yet but he was pleasant enough to talk to on the phone. He has a full beard. He makes wine and grows his own grapes on his property. He lives within a half-hour drive from me...amazing. He's retired, used to own his own business. We'll see. I'm surprised he suggested lunch; most men these days want to meet for coffee first, and I can't say I blame them given how astronomical restaurant prices have become, and then if it doesn't lead to a 2nd date, it's kind of a waste. He's vegetarian, like me.

I'm getting some work done in my house, and most of my downstairs has been in total disarray for 5 weeks now. He should finish this week, but then his painter comes (not immediately) to paint everything, and that itself (prime + 2 coats) should take at least 4 days. Sigh. It should look great when it's done but I've crammed most of the furniture in the family room so they could work and I'm tired of living this way.

The walls in this old house were in very bad shape, and in the downstairs, there were 2 layers of old wallpaper UNDER paint, which I didn't realize til I started noticing how my fresh paint job never lasted that long and started cracking. Since there's probably lead paint under there, I decided it would be best to cover everything up rather than ripping everything out. Less mess, less dust. The contractor is doing his interpretation of board and batten.  He did the living room, a little back hallway, my dining room and now, the last part, my stairwell going upstairs, should be done this week. It will really dress up otherwise plain walls and solve a problem at the same time. I even thought it would be great if i could have him back next year to continue the board and batten look in my upstairs hallway, which is really like 2 very small rooms.

I thought his price was pretty reasonable. He's SUPER neat and relatively quiet, but since he works solo, progress is very slow. He's a local guy and I trust him, but at the same time, would rather  not leave him alone here for hours at a time; i've done it a few times but would rather not, so while the work is being done, it really kind of ties me down here.

I was hoping he'd done before the heat waves here in the Northeast begin, since he's in and out like 20 times an hour to cut boards and so on, but yeah, our first big heat wave is this week. I'm working upstairs, always a good 5 degrees warmer, and so I've been putting the AC on, not super high, though, at about 78 degrees. It's enough to at least dry the air out.

I drove a friend to her colonscopy a few weeks ago; I'll be asking her to do the same for me once I have it scheduled. The consult is this week. I'm overdue for one but never had anyone to drive me. Now D.'s retired so she has the time.


Jobs...they come and they go

June 16th, 2022 at 10:05 pm

So, nearly five years ago I began working a contract job of unknown duration. I expected it to last a few months, but nearly five years later, I was still there. Until June 1, when I was laid off, along with a few others, due to a work slowdown.

This was not at all expected. I had come to consider this my "cruise to retirement" job and believed it just could be the last job I ever held. My goal was to continue working there as an editor/proofreader until I hit 65, in just a few more years, and could get on Medicare.

So yeah, I was working for affordable health insurance. I met my retiement savings goal a while back, so i really just needed to make enough money to pay my ongoing bills. No need to save further for retirement, the mortgage was paid off back in 2012 and so I did not want to work full-time, just enough to pay the bills.

That job worked out perfectly: I found the work easy, and working from home since the pandemic meant I could do plenty of other things while being "on call" 3 days a week. Then I would have those nice, 4-day weekends.

I thought it would be hard to replicate that kind of work scenario, meaning pretty decent pay for not a lot of work or responsiblity. I busted my butt for many, many years, and now I'm downshifting into a less demanding lifestyle that lets me pursue other interests.

I applied for a slew of jobs online in that 1st week of unemployment (last week). Most of the jobs were remote; wow, what a sea change in the work world. I only wish it happened 20 years ago.  But most of the jobs were full-time. I admit to being a little anxious about weathering a high inflation recession like what we're experiencing now, the exact last thing you'd want to happen right as you were about to retire!

I've had 3 interviews this week, with 1 more tomorrow and another 1 on Monday, but today I verbally accepted a job offer from one of the few p/t jobs I applied for with an India-based company that provides custom continuing education training for employees in the IT space. It's very similar to the job I just had except that my old job trained pharmaceutical sales reps. Again, my goal was to find remote p/t work that allowed me to maintain my current, quasi-retired lifestyle, pay ongoing expenses, and enable affordable health insurance, not make maximum money.

They asked me to do a test assignment after the job interview; they said to complete it ASAP, definitely same day, so not really knowing how quickly they expected it, I did kind of rush through it (it had tons of changes needed) and finished it in 2 hours. The hiring manager had emphasized to me that they had very tight deadlines so i didn't want to dawdle. I do also know from the Linked In job posting that they had over 200 applicants for this job (!) so I'm kind of amazed I got the offer.

Because of the time difference, the hours are a little wonky: 4 hours from 6 to 10 pm Mon-Thurs and then 4 hours Saturday morning. At first I wasn't sure I was crazy about those hours, but they actually would allow me to have every day free to do my own thing until early evening. Being single, working a half-day on Saturday doesn't really bother me as I prefer to run errands, etc on a weekday, when the stores are less crowded. 10 pm IS a bit late for me; i just hope I won't get sleepy.  I start on Monday.

I guess I will need to have an accountant do my taxes this year (?) Not sure how to handle foreign earned income. They will treat me as a W-2 with direct deposit of pay.

In other news, I have been active on dating websites and have had some interesting encounters. In a few weeks I will return to one of my favorite places from my youth, the Cape, to meet a man I met online with whom I've been talking to nightly for a while now. I haven't been back to the Cape in probably 20 years. I lived there in my 20s.

I can't stay long as my elderly cat is on meds.

He worked on the railroad for many years, and his schedule there allowed him to pursue another career at the same time, so he also built houses on the Cape.  He did very well. He's been talking about buying an electric van and the 2 of us traveling throughout New England in it. Sounds good to me!

He did 2 tours of duty in Vietnam and did have PTSD issues in the past, but as a result, he cannot tolerate screaming kids, noisy restaurants and the like.

Patient Saver has always been a little late to the party, so when other people my age were getting married and raising families, I was still flying solo, focusing on my career as a journalist and marketing writer, but having fun along the way. But now I feel ready to settle down; maybe not marriage so much, but perhaps living together with the right person. It would be a huge, late life change for a perennial bachelorette.

I'm not sure how exactly that all would work with this new job if we hit it off, plus he has extreme cat allergies, so he couldn't visit here right now. Luther is 16 though.

In home improvement news, I'm currently having a contractor install board and batten on my interior walls downstairs. The walls in this old house have always been in very poor shape, mainly due to people painting over old layers of wallpaper from the 40s or 50s. No wonder the paint kept coming up! He expects the job to be mostly done by last week of June, but the painter will then take another 4 days or so. And in the meantime, the downstairs is a total mess as I had to move most of the living room furniture into the family room, and the dining room is next. The contractor is exceptionally neat, though, works solo and very methodically, not fast.  He's also quiet and so far hasn't damaged anything. He lives right here in town.

My 2021 Expenses and Income

December 28th, 2021 at 10:19 pm

Total expenses for the year were $45,092. That's up a bit from last year's $41,000.

Top 10 Ranked Expenses:

1. Property taxes $6,792, about the same as last year.

2. Out of pocket medical: $6,253, which represented a huge increase from last year due to my menscus tear knee surgery and subsequent physical therapy.

3. Tree work: $6,223. I had one huge silver maple cabled and another huge white pine taken down, both for safety purposes.

4. Food: $4,363. This is notable as it is about $400 LESS than last year. (Each year, food just keeps on increasing, and this is the 1st time I've managed to spend less.)

5. IRS: $3,654, a new category this year since I'm self-employed now (still working for the same agency though) and so now I make quarterly estimated tax payments.

6. Washer/dryer: $2,282. This felt like a splurge but it really wasn't as I used an unexpected IRS refund. (Thank you, Joe B.) The purchase included cutting edge heat pump technology in the dryer, plus service warranties on both. I figured if either needed a repair it would be pricy.

7. Household: $1,916, a bit of a catch-all for stuff for the house.

8. Cat: $1,659. It adds up, between expensive cat food and vet visits.

9. State taxes: $1,230 (also due to my estimated tax payments throughout the year)

10. Lawn & garden: $1,193. This includes bi-weekly mowings.

Here's what my Top 10 look like in pie chart form:

What's perhaps more notable about my Top 10 list is what did NOT make it to the Top 10 this year: Health insurance, which last year cost me $3,524, substantially more than this year. (Again, thank you, Joe B.)  Also of note is the fact that my property taxes and most utilities stayed the same: electricity, water and sewers. I did go a little crazy with clothing shopping, spending $721 more than last year. I spent $490 less on heating oil and $235 less on homeowners insurance (plus $237 less on my umbrella policy) after changing carriers. Another big drop was seen in my car upkeep: $700 less compared to last year.

Income-wise, I earned just a bit over what I spent, so I ended up with a net savings of $587 this year. This is fine as I stopped contributing to savings and retirement a number of years ago after I met my retirement savings goal. My strategy is to pay my living expenses with my part-time work until I completely retire in 3 years' time. So with my paycheck, combined with an Xmas check from dad and the IRS stimulus, I was able to cover 100% of my 2021 expenses. I even managed to earn $582 in credit card rewards and $446 in freelance work from my one remaining freelance client.


An IRS Mystery

September 1st, 2021 at 12:34 am

I was reviewing my month-end expenses and investments today when I noticed an unexpected deposit of $2,900 in my checking account from the IRS. Umm, I have no idea what this is. I got my tax refund of about $300 back in March, and there aren't any stimulus checks lately.

I'll call the bank tomorrow; maybe they can shed some light on this. Just hope it's not a mistake of some sort (!) but I really can't imagine what this is!!

So, my cousin has departed after spending 4 days with me, with the main purpose being to accompany me to the surgeon's office. I got all good answers from the surgeon, so I have scheduled my knee surgery for later this month. It's artheroscopic surgery done on an out-patient basis at the surgeon's surgical center, not the hospital. For all these reasons, it's cheaper. It's also done using only local anesthesia, which greatly lessens any risks associated with general anesthesia.

I sure hope this will fix my knee injury and allow me to walk normally again. Cost-wise, I have gotten various medical codes needed so my insurer can give me an estimate as to cost tomorrow, but my deductible is $4300, which I haven't met, so I guess that would be the max out of pocket.  I also confirmed that the anesthesiologist is in-network.

It's a good thing I haven't really spent much on home improvements/maintenance stuff this year. This will be a "self-improvement"! I gave physical therapy exercises, done at home on a daily basis, a year-and-a-half, but it's only improved the knee "to a degree."  I also spent some time seeing a physical therapist in 2020, but all but the first visit was virtual with $0 copays. Then this year I tried another round of therapy with a different group, so that did cost a few hundred dollars.

The surgeon said I had done a good job increasing my range of motion with the knee, but it's still super tight and very sore if I walk for any length of time. He said the ACL tear I had in my 20s (for which I don't even remember seeking any treatment) led to the menescus tears, but that I lucked out in that I was able to get by for 40 years without a problem, which is true. But I had thought I must have caused the menescus tears during an at-home workout.

I was able to procure a free set of crutches from someone on my Buy Nothing group.

My cousin will come out again to drive me to and from the hospital, and stay with me a few days until I get on my feet. Doc said I only need to use the crutches for the day of surgery and the day after...that's it....and no special physical therapy is required, and that I can do exercises at home.

Aside from the doctor's visit, my cousin, my dad and I went out to some very nice lunches and dinners each day, and breakfast on one day. On one day, when cousin spent the day with my father, I went off with a friend to 2 garden conservancy open houses about an hour's drive north of here. They were great, and the ride up there, all via back roads, was really enjoyable. I kept passing farm stands (and a sign for fresh bread!) that I really wanted to stop for, but I was supposed to meet my friend there so didn't want to be late. She was going elsewhere after the garden tours, so I needed to drive myself. On the way from one garden to the next,  we saw a black bear in a cornfield.



A show-and-tell of Patient Saver's week in review

August 18th, 2021 at 12:24 am

I had some major tree work done earier this week, spending more on "trimming" and cabling a very large silver maple than I have on any tree takedowns in the past 25 years.  I'm glad to have it behind me. It's very hard to even see the cables, but they are there, four of them to help support the massive limbs of this 200-year-old tree.

There were 2 guys in the tree (look for the orange) and 2 on the ground, chipping.

My garden is still producing well. Picked 49 cherry tomatoes today, the only kind I'm growing since the chipmunks like to gnaw the big ones. I can no longer keep up with them by eating them, so now I can cook some down on the stovetop and then freeze them for soup.

Today was a work-at-home day with Luther on my lap, as always.

Finally, after waiting all summer, the black swallowtail butterflies have arrived, laying their eggs on the parsley plants I grow just for them.  I have caterpillars in various stages of instars on my 4 parsley plants. One plant has a dozen caterpillars while another has just 4 while one has none that I can see. They are just the cutest little buggers. There are 2 of the larger ones here in this photo. They are nearly full grown and will leave the plant soon to find a suitable spot to form their crysallises.

And finally, in the interest of show and tell, here's a gigantic elephant ear plant.

This week I'll be driving up to UConn to drop off a bunch of my mother's art that I'm donating. The hard part is cleaning each and every piece and then carefully packing it up for the trip. It will take a lot of time to do, so I'm starting it tomorrow so I don't have to rush.


This is a woven painting, one of a series she was inspired to do after traveling to Morocco.


The recipe you asked for...

July 19th, 2021 at 06:53 pm

A few of you expressed interest in the flourless, sugarless chocolate zucchini bread I recently made. Here it is.

2 cups quick oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1.25 cups banana (about 3 lg bananas)

1 medium shredded zucchini (moisture squeezed out!)

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 large eggs

1/4 cup millk of choice

1/2 cup chocolate chips of choice

Combine all but the chocolate chips in high speed blender or food processor. Blend well, until a very smooth batter remains. Fold in the chips.

Transfer batter to a lined pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Let cool completely before slicing. Stores in fridge for at least a wek. Can also be sliced and frozen in a ziplock bag.

Saturday stuff

July 18th, 2021 at 12:09 am

Today, I...

1. Tidied up the bedroom.

2. Planted several liriope that someone gave me.

3. Rode my bike around the block twice to help rehab my knee.

4. Made chocolate zucchini bread with zucchini from my garden. It's a no-flour, no sugar recipe.

5. Picked wineberries.

6. Did my knee exercises.

7. Remotely deposited my paycheck and the refund from my former home/auto insurer...sure got it fast.

8. Read the paper.

9. Made dinner, which was spiralized zucchini, chickpeas, peas and some vodka sauce over soba noodles. Dessert was a mango and some cut up cantaloupe.

That's really about it. I went nowhere. Very leisurely.

And the bull keeps on running...

June 29th, 2021 at 01:28 pm

I hadn't checked by investments lately but once again, now that I have, I'm so pleased at my portfolio performance. My assets (not including home or other possessions) stand at $1.24 million, up about $20,000 since May.

My Vanguard personal performance is a modest (?) 8% since inception, which for me is 2011; at T.  Rowe Price, where I still have 3 funds, my personal performance is about the same, 8.04%.

 I am very conservatively invested these days as I feel I have more to lose and less time to recoup any losses, so I'm about 50/50 stocks/bonds and cash. It's hard to believe that upon my birthday, which is coming up soon, I am eligible to begin collecting Social Security!! Which I won't do, of course. But still, something to think about.

This month my monthly health care premiums through Obamacare fell to just $56!! Thank you, Joe Biden.

I have no special plans for the holiday weekend other than a friend from my gardening group coming over to view the gardens.. and maybe have a glass of iced tea, although I think the current heat wave will be over. With this heat (and today is the worst of it), I can do little or nothing outside, and so much needs to be done. Poison ivy is out of control this year and I now have a dedicated shovel I use to knock the vines down out of the trees and cut the vines, too. In theor, rinsing the impervious surface of the shovel off with the hose should wash off the urishol, but I don't take any chances and am careful how I otherwise use that shovel.

Most of the yard work around here involves either 1. Weeding, 2. Hacking back the overgrowth and 3. Watering not-quite-established perennials planted earlier in the year. I planted a new large perennial bed in the back 40, but my hose doesn't reach it, so any watering I do there is done with the bucket brigade.

My neighbor adjacent to me is, for the 2nd day, chainsawing tall trees on their property. I listened to the whine of those  chain saws all day. (Their son is in the business.) It's a shame, because there's a small brook that runs through there and all kinds of animals, including bobcat and coyotes, follow that stream, shaded and cooled by those trees.

I have this lovely wildflower, which I identified as ragged robin, growing in my lawn. It's native to Britain and Ireland, but while it's attractive to bees and butterflies, it's considered invasive here. I had giving away seeds to people in my gardening group but then had to tell them it's invasive. I, personally, will still encourage these in my lawn as I just love it. The wispy flowers are borne aloft on leafless stems, giving the appearance of them floating in air.

June, what a spendy month

June 28th, 2021 at 09:37 pm

I feel like lately I have been spending money left and right. I just tallied expenses up and it's not quite as bad as it felt, but still it's $3,464 for the month of June, which is $750 more than I earned! Fortunately, I have a surplus year-to-date in income vs expenses of $3,000. The important thing is to cover the majority of my day-to-day living expenses over the course of the year, so hopefully it will all even out.

June's non-routine expenses included: Q2 IRS and state estimated taxes of $1,066; $505 in out of pocket medical copays related to physical therapy for my knee, eyeglasses and doc visits for dermatology and vertigo. Also very high was the $433 I spent on food, although this does also include toiletries and things like vitamins, dental floss, sunscreen and eyedrops. Finally, I went overboard treating my friend to lunch for her birthday; with tip, the bill came to $74! But it was a very nice lunch. Smile

I've been very active the past year or so with a local FB gardening group for our town only.  Someone decided to have a party so we could all get together and meet for the first time. It was fun; about 25 people showed up, and it was outside. I can't say I didn't think about COVID, as no one wore a mask, but there aren't many Trumpers in my state and our positivity rate is about 0.44%. Some people brought food or drink, while others brought plants to share!

A little bit of pampering

June 3rd, 2021 at 03:25 pm

After the long, self-imposed self-isolation, I decided to "treat" myself to something that wasn't really a necessity...I saw a dermatologist about removing 2 things from my face.

Our face, after all, is the first thing most people see.

I had a small, discolored patch on my right cheek which I already knew was not cancerous, but unsightly to me. She froze that off but since it was entirely cosmetic, I had to pay $100 (in addition to the $60 copay for the office visit).

The 2nd item was on the same side, something I thought was a mole but was kind of "in the way," along the jaw line. She said it was actually a wart (!!) so she cut that out, too, and I am to keep vaseline and a small band-aid on it to keep it moist for 4 or 5 days. This, she said, she could process through my health insurance; I'm not sure, but I may end up paying full freight on this, too, since I haven't met my deductible.

But I don't regret having done it, and I did, in fact, schedule a free consultation with their esthetician to learn about their various "light" procedures that could improve your skin. I had a microdermabrasion done years ago, and I thought it was an improvement, and now I am 20 years older and the sun has taken its toll, so any little thing like that could help!

Containing the growing things
I've been spending most of my available time working in the yard. All the recent rain we've had has turbocharged every living thing here, and suddenly, I feel "behind schedule." I keep a running list of yard chores, and try to knock them off, one by one. Last night, the chore was pulling Virginia creeper vines off my mountain laurel. It'll be good for an other month or so, and then I'll have to do it again. Frown

All hands on deck
I've started a new kind of physical therapy for my knee injury (menescus tears) and have seen her twice so far; 3rd visit is today. She's what is called a "manual" physical therapist, meaning, she does mostly hands-on work rather than solely focusing on exercises.

They also have me using a homeopathic topical cream, used widely in Europe, directly on the knee, which is said to be antiinflammatory. I'm highly skeptical about its efficiacy, especially after reading an article discrediting the cream, but since I spent $30 on it, I will certainly keep using it. It's called Traumeel.

In the worst case scenario, if I end up having to do knee surgery (which itself is no guarantee of good results), I will definitely need physical therapy after that, so it just occurred to me I should "bank" some of my permitted physical therapy for this calendar year. My insurer covers the bulk of up to 40 sessions per calendar year, though I still have to pay a $30 copay. I may want to limit my current physical therapy to 10 sessions. I am booked for 4 more sessions, so 6 total at this point.

No pergola
My British neighbor had told me he would build my pergola for me this summer, but now he can't because he said his mother in England is being abused by her caretaker and he's flying out there next week and doesn't know when he'll return, but when he does, he'll be bringing her with him.



Dealing with mom's old tax returns

May 29th, 2021 at 04:48 pm

It being an uncharacteristically chilly and rainy Memorial Day weekend, I decided to tackle the unenviable and rather thankless task of shredding my mother's old tax returns.

I've just taken a break from shreding 1984-1986, which fills up one kitchen trash bag. In those days, they plastered your Social Security Number on every page of every document, and my mother being a meticulous recordkeeper, I have quite a few staples to remove before shredding all these pages.

Friends, if you want to mak it easy on your heirs, or whoever wraps up your estate after you're gone, please do them a favor and don't staple papers together. Paperclips are much easier.

I'm going to retain the last few years' of returns, "just in case."

While my mother was still alive, there was a time I helped her shred a few years' worth of old brokerage statements. That was just the tip of the iceberg, and I knew that either way (shred now or shred later), all these old documents would fall to me to deal with.

Playing medical catchup from 2020

May 28th, 2021 at 12:50 am

Today was a long day.

It was the day I had scheduled a long overdue dentist appointment for my elderly father. He already knew he had a cracked tooth, and I suspected there might be more problems, which there were. In fact, his dentist declined to schedule the cleaning and instead referred us to a periodondist due to dad's excessive plaque buildup.

But first, dad wanted to see the local barber, so I dropped him off there to lose his Santa Claus beard while I did some grocery shopping. Picked him up, then we stopped for lunch and afterward that, I brought him back to his apartment so he could brush his teeth, then went to the periodontist, who wound up not cleaning his teeth because they said he badly needed scaling.

Medicare doesn't cover dental work, and this won't be cheap. The x-rays alone were about $300, and by the time we're done with the 2 2-hour visits for the scaling, it'll be about $1700. I think scaling is where they clean the teeth below the gumline, and I vaguely remember my mother had to have this done, and she said it was extremely painful. I'm not going to tell my dad that, obviously, and I do really hope he tolerates it better than my mother.

Dad has the money, but he's a real tightwad. Luckily, he didn't balk at the price, maybe because they told him he'd already suffered significant bone loss.

So I have the 2 appointments scheduled for dad in the coming weeks, but  unfortunately, we have to travel further to their other office. I've also scheduled about 6 visits for my own physical therapy since my knee is still not better. Suffice it to say, there's a lot of doc visits in our future and I'm completely inundated with medical forms of every stripe.

I have not been able to get any of my hoped for home improvements going this year. My mason is not following through with his estimate despite my repeated requests for it. He is slammed. My electrician's father passed and so he is dealing with estate matters. He's referred me to his cousin, but I really prefer to wait for him. Super nice guy. I haven't even attempted the bathroom vanity replacement because I'm assuming there are shortages, delays and higher prices.

I'm recovered from my 2nd case of poison ivy this season. There's a lot of it growing around my yard, and the industrial strength vinegar weed killer I'm using doesn't work as well as one would hope.

I got a beautiful patio set (2 rockers and a stationery couch) from my Buy Nothing group. It's wrought iron, and there was some old rust on it. I wanted to repaint, and my neighbor suggested some paint made for painting directly over rust (assuming it's not peeling), no sanding needed. It worked really well. Took me about 5 rounds of touch up but it looks like a brand new set now. I also found some plastic plugs for the ends of the rockers, which are hollow, so they would catch some water inside them every time they rained.

I had already aquired a bunch of cushions from Buy Nothing in anticipation of eventually finding a patio set, and am short just 2 cushions. Stopped at Christmas Tree Shop last week but they were out of the pattern I wanted.

I also shopped at Whole Foods and Aldi's. It was great to get out and do that. The positivity rate in CT has been under 1% for a while now. I'm not sure how it is in the rest of the country. A friend of mine was to get her first Moderna shot a few weeks after me, and I just recently learned she felt so bad after the shot that she never go the 2nd one, which I think is a big mistake. She said she felt tired, and out of it, for 6 weeks, but she has thyroid issues, too.


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.

Five Years Later, a Chance for a Poignant Do-Over

February 24th, 2021 at 12:31 am

Following my mother's death 5 years ago, I was faced with the challenge of gifting and/or selling a good portion of the vast art collection I'd inherited.  I donated a ton of art to a local not-for-profit group that ran a public health clinic for people with no health insurance. I thought it was a good choice, since many people would be passing through their doors, and my mother was a compassionate person.

Last year, I began to feel anxious about all the art I'd gifted this organization after seeing accounts in the local paper saying that the group had changed its focus, moved its offices outside of town and would no longer be running a health clinic. I wondered what would happen to the art and even considered contacting them, but decided against it because the gift was made, no strings attached (although I had made it clear my chief aim in gifting them the art was to ensure that others could continue to enjoy and appreciate the work).

Imagine my surprise today to find a letter in my mailbox from this group, saying they could no longer display my mother's work and asking my what my wishes might be for it. I will call them first thing tomorrow and schedule a time to retrieve it all.

God knows I have nowhere to put it, except a small spare bedroom that is already pretty full of art. But although I still need to dispose of art, even before the prospect of retrieving this particular trove came along, I am feeling a sense of elation and relief. For, truth be told, I had regretted gifting them as much as I had, and wishing I had held onto certain beautiful tapestries and woven paintings. At the time, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art I had. It was clear I just couldn't hold onto it all, yet it is a slow and difficult process to sell it.  Currently, I only have some of her other work in a single gallery, and even that one, I'm sure, has been closed or barely operating for much of 2020.  To do a better job of marketing it, I would need to devote a great deal more of my time to researching, and then approaching, appropriate galleries that specialize in this particular kind of art. And after a time, I just needed a break from doing that, so I moved onto other things.

Who would have thought, 5 years later, that I would get a chance for a "do-over," a chance to reclaim some cherished possessions I didn't think I'd ever see again? Hopefully, this time I will be able to have a more level-headed approach in figuring out what to do with each piece. If I could just set myself a goal of finding ONE new gallery to exhibit at in 2021, I would feel I'd made some progress.

In other news, I attended yet another webinar last night, this one sponsored by our library and featuring a woman who had just published a book about 19th century female serial killers in New England. How's that for a niche? At the end of her talk, she said she wanted to gift one copy of the book to one of us, and I won the book! She even signed it for me. I hope to receive it in a few days and I expect that after I read it, I will gift it to someone in my Buy Nothing group.

I'm bringing my dad for his 2nd vaccine this Thursday; our governor has decided to depart from CDC guidelines and starting Monday, they will be offering the vaccine to those in my age group, and will go strictly by age groups (oldest, then younger) moving forward. (This, after most first responders and those age 75+ have received their vaccines.) YAY.

Our state continues to have a very low COVID rate below 3%, so I went ahead and scheduled 3 doctors' appointments that are long overdue. Surprisingly, though, when I asked each scheduler if the doc and all their staff had been vaccinated, one said "most" had, but the other 2 said no, not necessarily. I'd assumed that people working in the health care field would be better informed about vaccine safety, but I guess my assumptions were incorrect.

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