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Done, done and done

February 26th, 2024 at 03:57 pm

I'm feeling pretty productive in 2024 since I've managed to do all the major home improvements I planned for the year in the first 2 months of the year. Usually I wait til fair weather, but replacement of my electric hot water heater with an energy-efficient heat pump water heater could have been done anytime. It seems to be working fine, and all the things another plumber had told me about, as he tried to talk me out of it, failed to materialize. Like a much colder basement (it's held steady at 55 F) and the noise (I barely notice it).

And the fringe benefit of the heat pump water heater is that it naturally dehumidifies the air, so I no longer need to use my dehumidifier unit, which did an inadequate job. Could save me some money, since the dehumidifer ran all the time in warmer months.

Then I had my mason over a few weeks ago to do a refacade of a second crumbling wall. He was also to close up the crack where I "thought" the milk snake had gotten through, but it wasn't really a crack at all, just a gap between a piece of lumber and the wall, so truth be told, I'm not certain "how" the snake got in. A bit unsettling. Maybe one of the same entry points where mice were getting in? Those were also sealed up, so cross fingers, no more critters in the basement. I had just ONE mouse caught inside this winter.

The sole purpose of that vertical plank of plywood was so that the laundry sink in that corner could be attached to the plywood attached to the wall. My mason removed it all and refastened it without it. Looks much better now.

Today, I have tree cutters here to do some much-needed pruning of a dogwood tree, a mulberry tree and a crabapple. They will be back to do a dying apple tree, which I'm not trying to save, so I told them to just leave a 10- or 12-foot snag for wildlife but otherwise cut down the tree.

In April, they will come back again to do the huge burning bush; I cut 3/4 of the branches but I don't have a chain saw, which will be needed to cut the roughly 20" diameter trunk, after which I'll have to paint herbicide so it doesn't resprout. They will also do soil injections for a giant hemlock with wooly adelgid issues. These guys have great prices compared to what I've paid in the past. Like less than half of what a much larger company was quoting me.

One of the guys here now was actually using a battery-powered chainsaw, which amazed me due to the diameter of some of the stuff they were cutting and it gave me more confidence about buying a "mini" battery-powered chainsaw which I've been thinking about for smaller limbs. I was looking at a 6" blade. I hate the noise and having to deal with gasoline and oil for the regular ones, but I could manage this.

Activity with the groups I volunteer for is heating up. The president of one of them unexpectedly resigned for personal reasons, so we're having an emergency meeting later this week.

At a recent meeting of my other group, I volunteered to write a grant application to Cornell that would allow us to do a big project we've been planning on. It was my first-ever grant proposal, but the chair seems very, very pleased with it. Due date is Mar. 1 so we just have some final touches to apply. Now she wants me to apply for another grant from NY Botanical Garden as a backup in case we don't get the first grant.



Taxes done; now I can relax

February 9th, 2024 at 03:39 pm

Ahh. Deep sigh of reief. Both federal and state taxes are done.

Yes, I do them myself; every time I hire a CPA (like the year before last), mistakes are found. I prefer the control of reading IRS instructions and doing them myself. Despite my trepidations, it actually wasn't that bad. Partly because I was a W-2 employee last year so that in itself eliminated two or three separate forms. 

I usually use last year's form as a guide, but I had a few new income sources this year for the first time, plus a federal energy credit for installing a heat pump water heater. It turned out to be not that difficult. Smile I'm getting sizable refunds from both state and federal. I know, perhaps not ideal, but my employment and income situation has been so changeable for the past few years that estimating income was not always easy.

If you've ever scoured your state's unclaimed property website, here's a tip: don't do it once and assume you're done. Check again in a few years. Things pop up. That's what happened to me. i have checked not just under my name, but also my father's, since he doesn't use a computer, and I found a significant item listed under his name. I'll be collecting the documents needed to process the claim next time I see him. I think he'll be pleasantly surprised.

All winter I've been taking advantage of warmish days (above freezing) to continue cutting down branches of a HUGE burning bush (really a tree) in my yard. I then have to drag the branches about 100 feet to the driveway, where I cut up the branches so they fit in my trunk.  Once the trunk is filled, I go to the transfer station to dump them. I've made good progress, but will need to hire a tree guy to cut the main trunk near the ground. As soon as he does that, I'll need to paint with an herbicide so it doesn't resprout. My idea is that I would lower the bill I'll be would hope. Plus, it gave me something physical to do over the winter. I'll be working on it today and tomorrow.

Here it is in winter, many years ago now...

I also went through my jewelry and have an appointment with a local jeweler to hopefully sell them some unwanted gold, silver and a small diamond. I did this before but somehow still found a few things I really don't need. I have plenty of costume jewelery that looks just as nice, and the real stuff just mostly sits there. Better to liquidate it and put it toward something more useful. I don't entirely trust jewelers though. Some of the gold is 14K, some 18K. I'm going to make sure I've identified which is which and to check current prices online so I have some idea of the going rate. Anyway, this is something I've been wanting to do for a while.

Am hoping my mason will be here Monday as we tentatively agreed to do some important basement work. Also anxious to have tree guys over to do some much needed pruning, and it needs to be done soon, before dormancy breaks. Finally, I found a single mouse in a trap this winter so mouse exclusion person is to come back looking for anything she may have missed, or a new hole.  Just one mouse is a huge improvement over past years, when I recall catching mice in the 20-something range, in the basement.

2024 will be my last year of comparative frugality. Next year I have the planned new vehicle purchase and will just generally loosen the spending reins a bit, to lower future RMDs and just enjoy my hard-earned retirement as well. I need to settle into a routine with IRA withdrawals which I really haven't started on a recurring basis.

Socially, I've met 3 women through a group I joined of them lives across the street from me (!) and for 20 years, she had never said hello! They all were quite nice; one even offered to give me an old tablet she wasn't using for my father, since you can enlarge the font on it and perhaps he could learn to use it.

So now that I've met each once (1 for lunch, 1 for brunch and 1 for afternoon tea), I feel I should reach out and suggest another get-together. One of them traveled abroad shortly after our visit, but she has since returned home. I really am just waiting for decent walking weather and also just a settling down of things to do around here, and getting the taxes out of the way was at the top of my list. Once I get my home improvement stuff at least scheduled, hopefully within the next 2 weeks, I'll feel free to schedule the fun stuff.

That's pretty  much all that's new in Patient Saver's world. I'm happy to report dad has taken a real liking to some borscht he had at a really nice restaurant we sometimes go to for lunch. No doubt we will be returning there soon.


Another unexpected fork in the road

January 22nd, 2024 at 09:57 pm

Well, it's official. I'm without a job, it seems. I suspected my job could be in jeopardy when the person I report to asked me to stop writing, "for the time being." 

That was back in mid-December, and I figured I'd give it til after the holidays to resolve, but when I still hadn't heard back from her, I sent her a note. I had already informed the agency that pays me but they seemed pretty lax in getting back to me and I'd been in limbo long enough. So yes, she was very nice about it, but I'm out of a job now.

Now I'm faced with a few choices: 1) Call it a day and retire now. 2) Look for another p/t job 3) Look for f/t work and file for unemployment benefits, which wouldn't be available to me if I only wanted to work p/t.

I think I'm going to call it a day. But it still feels SCARY!

I went ahead and changed my reinvested dividends and cap gains  on 2 remaining big funds to be diverted directly to my checking account. I called the brokerage and was told that since these are individual taxable accounts, they don't withdraw taxes when they do the transfer so I would have to pay taxes at tax time, but as Dido told me, I would only pay taxes on the gain.  Wondering if I would need to make quarterly tax payments to ensure I don't get a tax penalty for late payment.

So I now have several traditional IRA funds from 1 brokerage and 2 taxable funds from the other diverting dividends and cap gains to my checking account, which, based on a look at my 2023 cap gains/dividends, should yield me about $17,000. I vaguely remembered that when I set up the traditional IRA funds, I only had 10% withheld in taxes, when I really should have 12% withheld. I was on hold for over 40 minutes waiting to talk to a rep as i don't see the place where you can change the tax withholding amount. And, I probably also withheld only 10% from my annuity, which will be too low, so looking to increase that also.

My net annuity proceeds for the year should come to $11,184 and there's a family $5,000 Xmas gift in December, so my 2024 annual (mostly) net income should be about $33,000, so I'll plan on taking traditional IRA distributions amounting to about $15,000 to bring my annual income up to about $48,000 (taxable income, which is minus the $5,000 gift, will be about $43,000), still comfortably within the 12% tax bracket.

Some of those funds will be used to pay for various home improvements, like the recent replacement of my 10-year-old electric hot water heater with an uber-energy efficient heat pump hot water heater ($3,000+). Next up will be some masonry work on my basement walls, including repairing a large crack where a snake came through when we had massive rain here ($3,850).

When I take that $15K in traditional IRA distributions, I think I will try to time 1 or 2 large transfers on a good market day and put in either a brokerage money market account OR my  online money market savings account that's  currently earning 4.35%. From there, I could do perhaps monthly or quarterly transfers to my checking account (which earns 0% interest) as needed. Wondering if they can automate that for me.

In 2025, I'll allow myself higher income, maybe around $50 or $55k.

Until I get a certain routine set up with withdrawal income streams, this is going to feel very wonky. My taxes this winter could be difficult for me to handle with all the changes, and next year, too. Just different line items to complete for annuity and ira distributions etc etc. but head is still swimming with newfound tax obssession. I really want to simplify things as much as possible.

I've pretty much decided to defer a new vehicle purchase to 2025.



A Look at My 2023 Income

January 2nd, 2024 at 09:37 pm

As I transition into retirement, my income sources are shifting away from reliance on work. While my p/t job still accounts for 31% of total income, so, too, do dividends (from just 3 funds) and a small, one-time IRA distribution. My annuity contributes another 23%; it will be a bit more next year as I did not start getting annuity payments until February 2023.

Credit card rewards are still nice to pursue as they earned me $532.

That's it in a nutshell; 2024 will bring even bigger changes as I'll retire fully in August and begin the Great Spend-down of traditional IRAs.


A Breakdown of My 2023 Expenses

January 2nd, 2024 at 08:46 pm

My total expenses for the year were $42,851, about $800 less than last year, so I count that as a win.

A closer look at my top expenses reveals, however, that in only one category, my cat, my expenses stayed roughly the same as last year;  7 other top expenses rose by as much as 94% (maintenance). Surprisingly, there was also one category, electricity, that dropped by 1% compared to last year. That must be attributable to my turning the lights off all the time since I'm still on the same 3-year contract I locked in 2 years ago at a very good rate. My spending on lawn and garden increased by 54% (mower raised his prices) and car upkeep (10-yr-old car) by 41%.

Top 11 expenses:

Property taxes: $6942
Kitchen upgrade: $5582 (cabinet paint job, new sink/faucet)
Food: $5203
Oil tank replacement: $4300
Lawn and garden: $2658
Maintenance: $2,644
Cat: $1897
Heating oil/cleaning: $1476
Household: $1401
Car upkeep: $1015
Electricity: $1008

I also have 8 "mid-tier" expenses, and the story there is prices rose in most categories, the most marked being the 62% increase in dining out. That's probably a result of both rising restaurant prices as well as the fact that I treated family a few times to some very nice meals out. Notably, the $690 I spent on gas for the car this year was a 15% drop from last year. My prices for car insurance ($645) and homeowners insurnce ($615) saw only modest increases from last year, which is again a surprise.

I have another 8 "low-tier" expenses that aren't really mentioning.

Looking ahead to 2024 and some confusing income and tax questions

December 23rd, 2023 at 05:31 pm

My friend and neighbor came over this morning to drop off a Christmas present and some cookies she baked. I gave her my present earlier, not knowing if I would see  her again before Christmas, but forgot to put the second half of my gift in the bag, so while she was here, she let me slip it in her pocket. Smile Wonder if she'll peek.

I have not done much Christmas decorating this year, but I did put out this over-the-top, festive tablecloth my Slovakian grandmother made in 1975. Nothing brings me back to Christmases past like this tablecloth. Many a Christmas dinner was enjoyed on it. How she kept it clean, I have no idea. It is not very durable and is made of felt, with lots of beads and sequins, yet somehow I've been able to keep it all these years.

This time of year always flies by after so many weeks of warmup. Before you know it, it will be New Year's, then tax time...ugh.

I am thankful I am not traveling...anywhere...for Christmas. It always seems like such chaos at the airports, and on the roads.

I'm eager to think about what 2024 holds in store for me. It's an important year, as I'll be picking out a Medicare plan next summer and quitting my p/t writing job so I will become fully! That's going to be a big change....meaning, spending down my traditional IRAs for living expenses between age 65 and 69. At 69 and a few months (determined to be the most opportune time to begin) I'll start getting Social Security.

It's another big milestone that will make spending down personal savings unnecessary, but I guess I'll continue to do so, converting the distributions into taxable savings that I'll reinvest, since at age 73 I'll need to start making Required Minimum Distributions as a percentage of my total IRAs.

One thing I haven't really figured out is how, exactly to structure my IRA withdrawals at 65. I recall my mother had her savings with T. Rowe Price, and they made it easy to do RMDs by taking proportionate amounts from all of her funds so that she she could preserve her asset allocation; the balances on each fund was reduced by a little instead of being sold off entirely.

But say I want an income of about $40,000, or $3,333 a month. It doesn't sound like much, but I still have about $1,000 gross coming in monthly from my annuity, so $51K a year is plenty. Should I just have Vanguard make monthly auto deposits to my checking account, proportionately, or is there a better way to do it?

Also, if I take $40,000 a year in traditional IRA income annually from age 65 to 69 (and maybe longer), then I'll have reduced my total traditional IRA monies by about $160,000 so that at 73, my RMDs will be lower, also possibly keeping me in a lower tax bracket.

I don't need that much income with my annuity, and in fact, the less I take from personal savings (taxable distributions) now, the more I get back in property tax credits in my town. I guess that's not as important as reducing RMDs, but it is a generous tax credit; you can make as much as $70,000 and still qualify for $920 off your property taxes. If you made under $45,000, you are eligible for $2,900 off your taxes, and there are a few tiers in between.

I always wanted to take advantage of this program (and a less generous state tax credit), but perhaps $2,900 a year is not all that important in the grand scheme of things.

One final question in my mind is how I should go about buying a new car/SUV. My Honda is 10 years old, at this point, with just 101,000 miles, so I could certainly hold onto it longer, but truth be told I knew within a year of buying it that it didn't really suit my needs. I'm ready to buy a  new vehicle as soon as this month (!), or I could wait another year or so.

What I'm wondering about is how to come up with the roughly $25,000 (after trade-in) for purchase. (I like to avoid car loans.) If I take it out of traditional IRAs, that's taxable income, and so in addition to my local property tax credit, higher taxable income also might affect my Obamacare premium amounts, which might be one reason to wait til age 65 when I'm on Medicare.

It looks like Toyota's current finance rate is 4.99%. I suppose I could withdraw from my Roth IRAs, which is not taxable income, but not sure if that's advisable since I had wanted to use Roth IRA monies to "top off" traditional IRA withdrawals to avoid bumping up into a higher tax bracket. It just would give me greater flexibility.


Prices down, prices up

December 4th, 2023 at 10:30 pm

I was surprised to discover that Netflix offers a very cheap option, if you're willing to deal with ads. I mean, it's actually cheaper than Hulu, which I had, so I decided to drop the Hulu, where it's difficult to find interesting shows, and reacquaint myself with Netflix.

I got a ton of recommendations for feel-good type TV/movies from one of my hygge groups so I think I'm set for a good 6 months, but if you have any shows you absolutely loved, please let me know. I started watching The Crown last night. And, actually, the interruption by ads was really minimal.

The level in my oil tank finally dropped to the halfway point, allowing me to order heating oil today, while prices are a bit better than they were since last I checked prices in mid-November. They'll only go higher from here when the cold weather really hits us, so now's the time. I couldn't order earlier because when I had a new oil tank installed this past summer, they had to dump the bottom part due to sludge so I lost one-quarter tank rather quickly but had to wait since most oil companies around here require a 100-gallon minimum order. Usually, I top off the tank in late summer, when prices are cheapest, and then don't have to order again til early February.

I am in the final hour of a 24-hour fast, and feel pretty good. I like to keep busy and active during a fast so I don't sit around with time to dwell on hunger, so I worked out at the gym this morning and spent over an hour cutting up burning bush branches I cut down a while ago so they'll fit in the trunk of my car for transport to the transfer station. I don't really feel extreme hunger, which is good.

Tomorrow is back to physical therapy with dad; after tomorrow, he has just 2 more sessions to go. I have 2 doctors' appointments of my own on Wednesday, then more PT for dad on Thursday.

With just one more month left in the year, I'm trying to be lean with the spending so I can whittle away some more at my year-end expenses, which right now are roughly $7,000 in the red. For the past few months my income exceeded expenses and would like to continue that streak for one more month (although I will be ordering roughly $400 worth of heating oil, which is an atypical expense).

Next week there will be a tree at the community center where seniors in need can hang their personal wish list for gifts. I have not done this before (didn't know about it) but would like to "adopt" a senior or two and buy them what they need. We also have a fund in town where you can do the same with whole families, but since I myself am a family of one, I feel more comfortable buying for another individual.


December Doings

December 1st, 2023 at 11:18 pm

It's official. I'm now an elected board member of a new statewide environmental group I got involved with last summer. We've had a few monthly zoom meetings since then, so I've really only met the founder of the group in person, at a beach cleanup, but we're planning an in-person holiday get-together at a restaurant owned by one of the board members.

I'm trying to decide if I should look to get involved in another group in town. There's another environmental group I was involved with for the past year to a fair degree, but they seem to be taking a hiatus for the winter and we haven't had any meetings. I'm thinking maybe of joining one of the garden clubs. There are 3 in town and I already belong to one of them but it's mostly online during winter; in summer there are garden tours of members' homes and guided walks for foraging and stuff like that.

Today, I finished writing a story assignment early, which  like to do just to get it out of the way, especially during this time of year. I have another one due Dec. 20 so I will want to get started researching that one the week after next.

I think I have a leak from my dishwasher somewhere. I rarely use it, but the past month or so I have been running it every other day, and I'd begun to smell a mildewy smell. For now, I've just stopped using it, and the odor has disappeared, but I suppose at some point I'll have to call a plumber? I hate calling them as they are so freaking expensive. Maybe I could try an appliance repair person.

Today I ran down to Aldi's for a few things. I am always impressed with how much I can get for a relatively small amount, like $40. At the more mainstream supermarkets, I am shocked by how expensive everything has gotten. I shop pretty much everywhere as there are certain things I can only find at certain stores, etc.

I'm pretty much done with my Christmas shopping.  I already had my cousin's gift shipped directly to him, and I gave my other cousin her gifts when I saw her Thanksgiving. I have a gift for a friend, and my father yells at me every year when i bring up the subject as he doesn't want me to spend any money on him. I may just put together a basket of good food items as he can't browse a supermarket anymore and get what he wants, and relies on my sister to do his grocery shopping. Unfortunately, much of what he craves is not good for his health, and my sister's careful protocol has greatly reduced his sugar and fat intake, to the point where he is now pre-diabetic, not diabetic.

I've done a little decorating around the house, but have not yet dragged down the big tree from the attic, and may not as it's a pain to do, plus hanging all the ornaments. If my cousin ends up visiting right after the holiday, I may be inspired to decorate more.

My father has just 3 more physical therapy visits. I don't mind driving him, though at the same time it sucks up a lot of my free time and I'm looking forward to recapturing some of that. Of course, right after physical therapy ends, we have a return trip to his endodontist and a return to the low vision clinic. Hopefully we'll wrap up all of it before the snow flies.

I had some time the other day to explore the site and spent several hours reading about my options and the many different plans. I already knew I wanted to go with traditional Medicare and a Medigap policy. The Advantage plans are enticing due to their low cost and all the extras thrown in, but from everything I've read, they work well until you really need them, like with a surgery or major illness. Also from what I understand, if you went with a cheap Advantage plan early on but later wanted to switch to traditional Medicare, they would look at your medical history, pre-existing conditions and all that, and maybe charge you accordingly. And maybe decline to accept you. So I went ahead and even picked out my Medigap plan (Plan G, with Cigna) and my drug plan (Wellcare), and at least for this year, my monthly cost would be $395, which feels doable, although prices will rise each year.

I still have another 8 months, but it's nice to feel prepared. When we get closer to my 65th birthday, I'll check in with an insurance agent just to ensure my choices make sense for me.



A productive day

November 17th, 2023 at 10:25 pm

It was a very productive day here. It was also the likely last day it hit 61 degrees for quite some time, so I decided in advance to get as much outdoor work done as possible. I wound up:

* Mowing front and back, not completely, but the parts where the grass has gotten long since my mower's last mowing, which I guess was in October. In the process, I chopped up a bunch of leaves with my mulching blade.

* I also blew clean all the leaves on the driveway; they tend to get trapped at the top, which is surrounded by stone walls on 3 sides. No doubt I'll accumulate more later.

* I cleaned up leaves off the back patio, just so it's tidy moving into winter.

* I spoke to my neighbor about his missing indoor cat. I heard meows yesterday afternoon while doing yard work and told  him where I thought it might be. They didn't find it, but walked around my yard just in case. I sure hope they find Ninja. It will turn much colder tomorrow, by about 20 degrees.

* This past summer I hired a very nice young woman to exclude mice from my basement; she checked the whole exterior foundation and then plugged up 13 pretty small holes. Amazingly, I have not had any mice this year, and I checked my records from last year, which indicate I caught my first one last Oct. 16, so I think I would have caught some by now, especially since I've had the heat on.

I vowed to send her flowers if she succeeded in excluding mice, so today, instead of flowers, I decided to send a gift basket of wine, cheese and crackers. Hope she likes it. Cost a small fortune, but I do believe her work is worth its weight in gold. When I think that Fox Pest Control wanted something like $1200 for a season's worth of bait and poison, um, no thanks. Much prefer the permanent solution that doesn't rely on poison. She knows something is coming as I knew it's a small business and there's no one sitting around answering phones, so I needed her personal address to send the basket to. Smile

Today I also had an electrician over to replace the old and very basic ceiling fan that's been in my kitchen. It's been working fine for many years, but I decided to replace it because, since the fan has no lights (I thought they were ugly at the time I shopped ceiling fans 20 years ago), my kitchen has been on the dark side, most especially in winter.

I was amazed at the new styles, and like the much smaller footprint. I'm very happy with it; i picked out this one as it matches my bamboo shades.

I also squeezed in my 3rd workout at the gym for the week. All told, today's activities have me closing in on 13,000 steps, per FitBit. Smile

I decided to get my RSV vaccine (first time). I don't recall hearing much about RSV in the past, or the vaccine, but decided to move forward with it, so I have it scheduled for tomorrow at Walgreens, where I got my 100% painless COVID shot. Next year, I'll be "eligible" to receive my first ever pneumonia shot.

While I'm out that way, I'm also going to fill up the gas tank at BJs for my Thanksgiving travel. I'll be picking up Dad and traveling about an hour to meet my cousin at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse that's equidistant from where she lives also. Neither of us likes driving at night, so it's going to be a very early Thanksgiving dinner, more like lunch, but hey. I definitely miss home cooking and the leftovers, but our group is too small for that and we both have animals at home that preclude an overnight visit.

On the way home from filling up the gas tank tomorrow, I'll stop at the VNA consignment shop and see what they've got, just for hoo-hahs. I also need to wrap my cousin's Christmas presents this weekend so I can give to her when I see her at Thanksgiving and save a fortune on shipping.

We're about halfway through my father's 15 physical therapy sessions. (I'm driving him twice a week.) I'm not sure he's noticed any improvements yet, except he commented the other day that he's sleeping much better, and I'm quite sure it's because he's spending less time watching TV in bed. I try to encourage him as much as possible to keep up the exercises on his own in between sessions with the physical therapist.

Next week, due to the holiday, I chose to schedule just one PT session, and on the same day, it's back to to endodonist to do part 1 of 2 for his second crown/root canal after he had 2 cracked teeth in quick succession. I'll be really glad when all these medical appointments are done, although the PT is okay twice a week. I'm getting into the groove of it now.


Random thoughts

November 1st, 2023 at 12:13 am

The tadpole rescue continues.

Several dozen appeared in my father's rain barrel earlier in the summer. I have sunk a bucket in there to capture a few at a time....the tricky little things dive to the bottom when they see the shadow looming....and carry them 200 feet to a small brook that feeds into a pond on my sister's property. They don't seem to have increased in size at all, and I feel we are running out of time as they have nothing to eat in the rain barrel and we've had a few frosts already. I don't know for sure how they'll do where I'm releasing them, but it's got to be better than the rain barrel. It's quite muddy, a very shallow brook with a small current, so i would think they could bury themselves in mud? I don't know if tadpoles overwinter that way.

Yesterday I saw an interesting meal delivery service on my Facebook feed and decided to give it a try. What intrigued me, plant-based eater that I am, is that all their recipes are based on Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen foods you should be eating. They had reasonable prices; most dishes were $9 each. The food does not arrive's actually freeze-dried, and you rehydrate it with a cup of water, wait 10 minutes and then it's done.

I WANT to love it, but of course it will come down to how good does it taste. It's a monthly subscription you can cancel any time.

My BJs membership expired today, and while I like shopping there, i dislike the $55 membership fee. So during the past month, I stocked up on a few items I use a lot of , so I may not even notice the lack of BJs in my life for several months. If I rejoin later, like 3 months from now, that would reduce my annual membership costs by 25%. Also, if I wait long enough, I may be able to be treated as a "new" member and use one of those half-price membership offers I always see.

I caught up with Dido last weekend at our rendevous in PA, a roughly equidistant drive for both of us. We got our bearings at the coffee shop, then wandered through downtown and some outlying residential streets, and then had a nice lunch on the porch of an old inn. (Not the one shown below!)


Just a pretty little inn....

Comfort food at its best! Meatballs and ricotta. Smile

We both tried the tomato soup.

A local business getting in the spirit....

Autumnal street scene

The coffee shop where we met.

The busy life of Patient Saver

October 22nd, 2023 at 10:18 pm

(Above, winterberry)

I've been extremely busy as of late, one big reason being escorting dad to all of his doc and dentist appointments. It's like a little mini job on the side. This week I'll be with him 3 days as he has started physical therapy, plus he has a dentist appointment for another cracked tooth. He has a lot of muscle atrophy as all he does is watch TV. He's become very frail, and the goal of PT is to help him gain more balance (to ward off falls), strength and flexibility, and even ease back pain. I'm not sure how much to expect from 15 sessions for a 90-year-old, but we shall see.

This has been made possible by the VA, which dad could have enrolled in decades ago, but only recently decided he wanted to. I was dreading all the paperwork, but it wasn't that big a deal. 

I must say we are both very impressed with the VA. They are very prompt in calling us/me for appointments and followup and it's all entirely free for dad as he is legally blind. We spent over 3 hours at their low vision clinic abuot an hour away from here and he's going to get new closeup glasses, new sunglasses and new distance glasses as well as a rechargeable LED table lamp that he can move around to different locations as needed and then just return to its charging base. There's someone coming this week to do an in-home assessment. Dad served in the navy as a diver doing rescue/recovery operations. I also have had several conversations with my VA liaison there whose job it is to facilitate delivery of services and just generally smooth the way should I encounter any hiccups. It's just, overall, a great service, far more than he has gotten from Medicare.

In the meantime, I made sure we both got our covid shots and flu shots, and he had a root canal done. (I was a little nervous about the vaccines as dad is not crazy about them and I was afraid he would give me a hard time, but he didn't say a peep....I think becus he knows I might hesitate to take him out to lunch and other outings this winter if he wasn't vaccinated.)

Went to a flea market this morning with my neighbor and though I wanted to spend $20 on a cute set of 6 vintage juice glasses from I guess the 40s, in a carton-type container with a pretty matching dish towel, I resisted. The price was right but I have plenty of dishware/glassware and have very limited room. My neighbor, on the other hand, sprung for $85 for an old round window he wanted to put in his bathroom.

(Above is a sweet birch on my property.)

This Friday I'm meeting up with Dido at a midway meeting point, about 1.50 hr drive for both of us, in a cutesy little town where I'm sure we'll do lunch, the museum if it's open and just have fun catching up. On Saturday I'll be spending the night with Archie, my other neighbor's dog, while she travels to Vermont to see family. Should be interesting. She was desperate to go, so I agreed.

Everything else is on autopilot. I continue my very p/t writing job for the university. I dropped a single large weaving made by my mother for an upcoming art show at local gallery. I priced it to sell, but who knows....

It's going to be a great weather week, so in between driving my father all around, I hope to squeeze in some time yard work time as I have a chore list.

I've been getting hooked on gree chai tea. I've long been on a quest to switch from drinking both black and green tea to green tea exclusively. I can do this in summer when I drink ice tea, but the green tea is too bland for me to drink hot; the green chai is great, though, so maybe once I drink down my current inventory of Harney & Sons, I can drink only green (for the health benefits, plus the much lower caffeine levels mean I can drink late in the day, which I can't do with the black or it will keep me up at night).

Mums below....the petals are pinkish when still closed up, but look just like daisies once opened.

The harvest

September 26th, 2023 at 05:58 pm

I like to track my harvested produce from my 3 small raised beds each year. I can't find last year's tally so as to compare this year to then, but oh well: I know in general my harvest was down this year, for whatever reason(s).

Cucumber: I started out with 2 cucumber plants. One died due to lack of water 1 day too long: mia culpa. Still, I got 7 cucumbers from the remaining plant for a total of 78 ounces.

Tomatoes: I had mostly cherry tomatoes as the chipmunks are less inclined to go after them. I think I had 4 plants. I had a total of 360 cherry tomatoes and 7 larger tomatoes totalling 43.6 oz.

Zucchini: I had one plant bearing just 5 zucchini, or 47 oz.

Asparagus bean: i grew them, but didn't always eat them. Guess I don't really like them.

Delicata squash: First year growing these, and I prefer them to other squash since you don't have to peel them and they're easier to cut up. I had I think 2 plants and got 16 squashes out of them, or 11.6 lbs' worth.

Eggplant: Just 1 plant overtaken by morning glories: 2 eggplants totally 1.5 lbs.

Stringbeans. 27.6 ounces

Snow peas: I have a fall crop going but from spring I harvested nearly 3 lbs.

That's all she wrote.

I've been super busy managing my father's many doc and dentist appointments. Tomorrow he has part 2 of a root canal started a month ago; then the day after that, we're headed to the VA for his first visit. Next week, we head for a different VA location for their 3-hour low vision clinic. Oh happy joy. They offered me this spot after I initially booked a visit a few days before Christmas. I figured this was better.

Next up, will try to schedule flu and covid shots for both of us. So far, CVS does not seem to have much supply available. I did at least  order my new supply of free covid test kits.

I wrapped up my latest story this morning, which means the paycheck will follow in about a week. Only about 23 more stories to do over the coming year and then I retire for good. In the meantime, I enjoy the paycheck, but doing the writing just feels like a chore, with deadlines.


September 17th, 2023 at 12:33 am

Last week my father and I met a cousin and her husband who were out this way visiting from Ohio. It's the first time we've ever met! We had a  nice dinner, my treat. My father said he would pay me back, that I shouldn't pay, but they are not really his relatives; she is the grand-daughter of my maternal grandfather's brother. I figured they had enough expenses to deal with related to the trip out here.

Today I was SUPPOSED to do a litter pickup as part of the Ocean Conservancy's annual effort each fall to clean up beaches. There are actually other groups getting involved, too.

But there was a small accident. Meaning, on Friday afternoon, I was taking advantage of the cooler weather to do some much needed yardwork. I decided to cut down a small tree. (I planted a ton of things when I first moved here, and now they all matured and are pretty large, crowding my yard. It was a scraggly looking nannyberry.)

There were about 5 fairly thin trunks about 3/4" in diameter, but they were tall, maybe 10 feet high. I was almost done with the job with just 2 trunks left to cut when a branch I was cutting with my very sharp pruning saw fell straight down, which I wasn't anticipating, and it fell on top of the saw, pushing it right into the wrist of my free hand.

I had to stop what I was doing as it was bleeding a fair amount and initially wouldn't stop bleeding. I rinsed the 4 puncture wounds out, doused with peroxoide and bandaged up. At first I figured i could still do the litter pickup today, but soon my hand began swelling and became exceedingly tender. The slightest movement became very painful.

I was just a tad worried about the deepest of the 4 punctures. Who knows, maybe it could take a few stitches. I made an appointment at the local urgent care place and was there at noon today, where a nice PA took care of me. He was confident it would heal up within a week, which is a good thing as I started thinking of all the things coming up on my schedule where a second hand would be useful.

Today, I think there has already been some improvement, just based on the painfullness of certain motions yesterday compared to today. I will have to thank my new PCP, who brought up getting a tetanus booster at my physical 2 weeks ago, and promptly had a nurse administer that. I hadn't had that shot since I was a child.

So while I chose not to join the litter pickup, I did wind up doing a few things here at home, like vacuuming out my car, some watering of my gardens and also some laundry.

I've discovered a new food product at BJs that I absolutely love. OK, it's a processed snack food. I'm an ultra-healthy eater but do indulge every now and then becus I figure with the piles of fruits/veggies/nuts/legumes/whole grains/seeds etc I consume, an occasional treat is ok.

Do you remember eating cheesedoodles as a child? I do. They were not one of my favorites, compared to chocolate candy bars, but just ok. Well, there's a reincarnation of cheesedoodles called Annie's Organic Cheddar Smiles, and they are soooooo delicious. I still eat them in moderation lest I exceed my daily sodium intake, but the 1.3 oz I enjoyed tonight fills up a small bowl. Smile

I have a story to write for my job but I've been procrastinating about it. In fact, this post is part of that procrastination. I really have to attend to this tomorrow.

I am traveling to NJ on Monday for a simple medical procedure; wish it were closer but oh well. I hope to visit the NY state organc farm stand this week, an hour's drive north, becus they have had the most delicious apples in past years.

There's quite a bit of things still flowering in my yard.

Asters in front of giant hemlock:


The blue mistflower is quite lovely, the jack in the pulpit is sporting bright red berries and the autumn joy sedum is on full display. Also plenty of bright orange cosmos, which will last til frost.



Small victories

September 4th, 2023 at 08:23 pm

Hope everyone had a nice Labor Day weekend.

I started off the long weekend by unexpectedly deciding to tackle a long-neglected home project: finishing the paint job on my tool shed. I painted 3 sides about 3 years ago now, but the fourth side is very difficult to do because there's a slope and a large shrub I don't want to cut.

I decided that with summer coming to a close soon and the beautiful low-humidity day we were having that I should try to do this now. I wasn't even sure if I had any paint left, but I checked in the basement, and I had plenty.

It was a ton of work just wrestling with ladders where the multi-stemmed clethra grows, but I threaded long sections of rope along the top and bottom of a large tarp, which I then threw behind the shrub, then tied in front to pull it away from the shed enough where I could get in there to paint. It was a real pain in the bazooka.

Thank god I don't have to gaze upon the unpainted last section of the shed anymore. It was a real eyesore! After doing the unpainted section, I slapped on a 2nd coat on just that one side, since I knew it needed it.

That's about the most remarkable event of my holiday weekend.

The heat and humidity have returned for the next 4 days or so. I had my annual physical last week with a new doctor who seemed ok. All my blood work was good except my cholesterol was a bit high at 206; I knew what caused that and am pretty sure I can correct it. I mistakenly bought some full fat plain yogurt and didn't have time to return it so I consumed it, gradually.

I'm doing a beach litter cleanup with a friend next weekend. Can't think of a better reason to go to the beach, especially since summer crowds will have thinned out.


Late summer activities

August 25th, 2023 at 01:31 am

Each day, each week, is a bit different than the that! Variety is the spice of life and all that.

Today I totally procrastinated about getting started on my next story assignment.

Earlier this summer, I acquired a pair of old garden urns from my Buy Nothing group.

I imagined I might not get around to rejuvenating them til next spring, but somehow I found some spare time and wound up having a great experience repainting them using some very inexpensive acrylic paint from Michael's craft store. The paint had little smell, went on smoothly without dripping, cleaned up easily with water and was just all around easy to work with. It only came in 5 colors, and I took a chance and chose the blue, not sure if it was just a bit too strong, but I'm really happy with how well it contrasts with the red flowers. I think it would also pair well with lime green or yellow. The color makes me think of the Mediterranean.

I was less enthralled  with the clear top coat spray I used to seal it and give it a nice, high gloss finish. It stunk to high heaven, and I imagine it killed billions of my brain cells, despite my wearing a mask (not a KN95 but a real mask with filters). I chose to take a deep breath and not breathe while I quickly sprayed one side of the urn inside a large cardboard box, then sprayed upside down for a few seconds more so as not to clog the nozzle. Then I'd run out, gulp some air, and wait 30 minutes for it to dry so I could rotate the urn and do the next side.

I just have to finish the top coat on the 2nd urn now, and I have so much leftover paint (I bought a quart), I'm looking for other things to paint. Smile

Talking about procrastination, I finally stopped doing that and mailed off an application for VA benefits for my father. Now he could have done this 30 years ago but only now feels like he must do this. Anyway, that's done.

I have plans to meet a new-to-me cousin and her husband, along with my father, for dinner in about two-and-a-half weeks, in the town my father lives in. They are traveling east from Ohio to meet us, and also an old high school friend of hers whose son just happens to live quite close to where my father lives. I only discovered the existence of this cousin sometime in the last 8 years, when I was doing ancestry research. She's the granddaughter of my grandfather's brother. It will be quite exciting to explore common memories despite the years that have passed. I only met her father once that I remember, but even as a kid he struck me as very funny and upbeat. He was a taxi driver in the Bronx and collected piles of foreign coins from his cab fares, which he doled out to my mother, sister and I. It's not worth anything, but it's interesting to look at from time to time. I may have given them to another cousin for her grandkids, I'm really not sure at this point.

My father has a large rain barrel near the stair sleading to his apartment, and we discovered many tadpoles in there, at least 35. No idea how they got there, but someone told me a tree frog could climb the barrel. After lunch a few days ago, we stopped at the pet store and I bought some goldfish flakes; don't think there's much else to eat in there.


Stuff going on....

August 10th, 2023 at 08:00 pm

I got a lot accomplished today and still have a good part of the day left. This morning, I:

1. Worked out at the gym.
2. Stopped at the dollar store for 2 items which I refuse to overpay for at Big Y.
3. Went to Home Depot and purchased a window well cover for a basement window (found a toad stuck in there once already) and a small bag of grass seed.
4. Stopped at Big Y for just a few groceries.
5. Filled up the gas tank at BJs.
6. When I got home, since I'd spent several days digging out an ugly, overgrown and invasive shrub (spirea), I decided I wanted to plant it now with grass seed, because we have rain in the forecast every other day for the next 5 days or so, and the area, an oval shape about 15' across, is too far from the house for my garden hose to reach.

The shrub had become an eyesore because there was invasive trumpet vine growing up the middle of it. Trumpet vine is all over my front yard; the only way to control is to mow over it, and I'll never be able to dig it up because it has these thick underground roots going all over the place.

I not only seeded it, but threw hay on top to keep the birds from eating all of it, then fenced it with temporary plastic fencing to keep the deer from walking around on it and also let the lawnmower guy know not to ride over it. I wanted to get it all done before the rain began, and as I was returning to the garage with my assorted tools, it began to sprinkle. Perfect timing!!

All in all, I'm feeling pooped.

I am halfway through with my current story for the university. It's due early next week. I mentioned to my contact there that I noticed that only 3 or 4 stories of the 10 I've written so far  have been published on the site, and that I hoped there was nothing I was doing to prolong the review process unnecessarily. She told me no, the review process is truly arduous and that I'm doing "beautifully," so not to worry. She's very easy to work with. But anyway, this is my next priority for later today or tomorrow.

The native plant garden I started last year is doing very well. The only plants I spent money on were the native dwarf honeysuckle and the buttonbush. A friend of mine gave me a bunch of hyssop (bee magnets), a snakeroot (?), mountain mint and some black eyed susies while someone else gave me pussy willow. I had cosmos seeds and others, so threw them in there, too. I also planted Joe Pye Weed, so now I have 3 stands of it in the yard. I garden whenever the weather cooperates, and I let it go for many weeks during our hot weather spell. Everything needs attention.

I had a really  nice time of 4 consecutive days celebrating my birthday with family and friends. Breakfast at my favorite local spot, lunch at another in-town spot, dinner at a friend's and a special birthday cake I took home and had another friend over my place for lunch. My cousin's birthday present for me was guess what? Plants! A dwarf butterfly bush (ok, not native) and 2 nodding onions with very pretty pale pink round blooms.

Shown above is Joe Pye Weed, hyssop and purple coneflower.

In the veggie garden, the star this year would have to be my squashes, particularly the delicata squash which is growing gangbusters. The tomatoes, while producing, have been a disappointment due to a mildew disease and just aren't producting that much compared to prior years. I had some snow peas and lettuce early on (a lot, actually), as well as stringbeans. The kale was kind of a bust and my 2 cuke plants died. The asparagus bean (aka, yardlong bean) is also doing QUITE well and growing over my arbor. The beans do indeed approach a yard long, believe it or not. This is my 3rd time growing it but the prior 2 years got next to nothing (or nothing) because they require a very early start indoors using a heat mat or they won't germinate.


Fun news that has nothing to do with money

July 30th, 2023 at 01:09 am

Just as I type, the strong rain has begun after building for some time. After that passes, we'll have truly "seasonal" weather conditions in the low 80s and low humidity, which I'm really looking forward to. Need to catch up on the yard work and pull as much mile-a-minute vine as I can before it starts to flower, form berries and then multiply some more.

I have not been active with genealogy work for several years now, only because Ancestry subscriptions are not cheap and I feel that when I do sign up, I need to devote as much time as possible to it to "get my money's worth."

So there are 2 cousins I discovered on Ancestry prior to COVID whom I conversed with. One of them, in Ohio, texted me tonight and proposed we (she and her husband, me and my father) get together with them in September when they are planning a trip east to visit a childhood friend of hers from Florida who will be visiting her son in a town pretty close to mine. Serendipity.

I'm doing a local garden tour tomorrow with a friend.  And her husband and daughter.

I invited another, more distant friend over for lunch next week, knowing the weather will be good and it's one of the alternate weeks when I don't have to work. We have talked about it a few times. It's an opportunity to deepen a friendship.

Next week is my birthday, so my friend and neighbor S. is 1) taking me out to breakfast at 8 am at a cafe I've kept suggesting to him, and 2) he's going to give me 2 hours of his time to do anything I want that morning, as a birthday present. I often ask him for help with things around here, usually involving his chainsaw to cut down a tree, or running to dump brush at the landfill with his pickup, and stuff like that. So for me, this is like the perfect gift. I'm going to think carefully about what I'd like but I'm pretty sure it will involve trees.

I did very recently get quotes from 2 tree companies for pruning some smaller fruit trees around here, and becus the prices were so high, I decided to spend $100 on a new pole pruner so I could probably handle the smaller ones and heck, I'd pay for the cost of the pruner doing just a few of the trees myself.

I would have tried it out already, but you need to unbolt the bolt so you can pull the blade at the end of the pole into the upright position, then reattach the bolt and tighten. Problem is, I can't get it off. It's on really tight. So that's the 1st thing S. can do. Smile

I will still have the pros do the pruning, though not til this winter, on the apple, crabapple, mulberry and dogwood. I'm going to tackle an overgrown rhododendron growing over some stairs (so it's not possible to reach the dead stuff using a ladder), along with an inkberry holly that blocks my view of the front yard (too close to the front entry).

Spend, spend, spend. No shortage of ways for me to spend my money. Still waiting for Ms. Mouse to return to exclude them after doing an "inspection."

Since next week I'll be just ONE YEAR away from Medicare, I'm thinking of other biggish life events that will coincide with that birthday. Namely, that is the time I plan to completely stop working.

(I've tossed it around a few times. In some ways, I'd like to keep my hand in it, doing some kind of freelance writing, but ultimately decided I really didn't want any more holds on my time. I can always return to it if I have a change of heart.) I've been downsizing my job now for the past 6 years, starting when I went p/t when i was doing editing at the pharma agency before COVID.

(Yes, my time references all seem to relate to either "before COVID" or "after COVID.")

Come to think of it, next summer would also be a good time to restart my Ancestry membership with my newfound time.



It's always something....

July 25th, 2023 at 02:22 pm

Just when I thought I could take a breather from the work projects around the house.....I ran out of water last night. A very small volume of water coming out the tap and then, nothing. I tried the other faucets, same thing. No water, no pressure.

I went into the basement to look at the water pipe coming into the basement. I see a small wet spot directly under the meter. Something's leaking, which I guess messed up the water pressure?

I had a sink full of dirty dishes. Great. About 15 minutes later, I tried the kitchen faucet again, just to see, and this time I had water, spitting and spluttering. But it was enough to do the dishes.

I called the water company this morning and they are sending someone out this morning. Thank goodness that no water is considered an emergency situation. The woman on the phone agreed that it sounded like the meter needs replacing and said they usually contact the customer once it becomes 14 years old. I hooked up to the water company water line in 2013, so that's 10 years already.

Mysteriously, I have seemingly normal water this morning, and when i went downstairs to look at the water meter, there was NO water in the bucket I'd put under the meter and the small wet spot under the bucket had completely dried. Maybe it has some sort of early warning system, like a hot water heater that starts out with a slow leak when it begins to go??

My father will be disappointed as we had plans to see an Oppenheimer matinee today, but we can reschedule for Thursday.

In other news, my neighbor friend and I traveled about an hour-and-a-half to South Deerfield, Massachusetts, to check out the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. They have some rooms with lots of terrariums filled with giant cockroaches, insects and reptiles to enthrall the kids, plus a gift shop where you can buy milkweed seeds and all things butterfly-related. The conservatory itself is a fairly small, enclosed space but is chock full of lush, tropical plants and plenty of butterflies flitting about so it was no problem getting close up views.

On the way back, we stopped at a greasy diner, seemingly the only place to eat within a few miles, and an antique/collectible place run by a pleasant elderly couple who no doubt were trying to supplement their Social Security income.

The next day, we did another road trip to the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. I've been there probably 4 times in the past 30 years, but I always wanted to try their vegetarian lunch, which we did. It was a bargain at $7: white rice and mixed veggies, bean curd. I think it was all you can eat. Their claim to fame is they purportedly have the largest indoor Buddha in the Northern Hemisphere.

Update: Water company guy showed up here in under an hour. Took him 5 minutes to replace the meter, so hopefully I'm all set for another 14 years.

I always like to chat with contractors who come here to try to learn something. He asked me if I'd heard any fire sirens last night, and I said no. He said a fire in town could actually pull enough water from the hydrant to cause me to lose pressure. He agreed it seemed wierd that I lost water last night, but have it this morning. And he said I hadn't needed to wait til this morning to call them, that I can call them 24/7.

We're off to see the 1st Oppenheimer matinee. Smile


Projects Punch List

July 20th, 2023 at 08:59 pm

I'm continuing to take care of stuff that needs doing, stuff that' s been deferred for a while now.

It feels good to be knocking some of these things off.

These are completed projects since starting on them last spring, beginning with the most recent:

1. Leaking heating oil tank replacement

2. Repair (rotting wood trim, mouse chewed screen) of basement window.

3. New footers for the listing tool shed

4. Repair of side garage window where water collected, leading to rotting wood trim.

5. Kitchen cabinet refinishing

6. New kitchen faucet and stainless steel sink

7. Repair of back patio leaky faucet

8. Replacement of washing machine hose shut-off valve.

Today the woman who specializes in exclusion of rodents (not just poison or traps) came and marked 13 individual holes where they could (or have?) gotten in. She said that wasn't too bad for a house as old as mine. I had to pay for today's inspection, and then she'll return next week to plug all the holes. It was her father's business. I hope it actually works. I would be thrilled as I've been dealing with mice in the basement for many years. I won't really know until October when it gets cold. I showed her the one area where I know they were coming in as the cats would sit there for hours, waiting.

She's not cheap, but she's actually a lot less expensive than the one other company I'd found a number of years back who made a speciality of exclusion, and he was VERY expensive but I was willing to throw money at this problem. In the end, he was so busy in his town and didn't want to drive as far as my town, a distance of about an hour.

Also next week will be first treatment of my giant hemlock tree for wooly adelgid. This tree has somehow survived for 28 years with wooly adelgid, much longer than it's supposed to from what I've read. I did pay to have dormant oil spray twice, I think, soon after I bought the house, but after that, I stopped, becus the tree is so large I didn't think they'd be able to cover it from all sides.

And I'm not sure they had this trunk spray treatment, which the arborist said is very effective, available 30 years ago. He said my tree is only about 25% dead, whereas I'd estimated 50% or more. I had actually been anticipating having to pay to have it taken down, which would be much more expensive than the cost of doing the trunk spray.

Once the insects are under control, the tree will slowly grow back new needles in the bare spots. But they want you to treat every year, actually twice a year. I need to read more about it to be sure. He had urged me to also spend hundreds of extra dollars on fertilizer for the hemlock, and I have since come across advice NOT to fertilize an infested tree. I feel like you have to be so careful to vet everything you're told so you don't spend money needlessley.

Next Year

Next year, I already know I want to focus on:

1. Replacement of new front door with a pretty fiberglass door (the most energy-efficient) and maybe back door as well.


My cousin is coming out for a vist in a few weeks from PA. I asked him to go car shopping with me at the dealer. I highly doubt I would actually make a purchase at this time, but I wouldn't mind taking my vehicle of choice out for a test drive.

Tomorrow a friend and i are traveling to southwestern massachusetts to visit a butterfly conservatory I've always to check out.

Oh, no! It's leaking.

July 1st, 2023 at 03:18 pm

Of course, it always happens at the worst possible time: a Friday night going into a long holiday weekend. My heating oil tank is leaking and needs to be replaced.

Maybe 2 days ago I noticed a funny chemical smell when I opened the garage door. Couldn't say exactly what it was. I thought maybe it was an herbicide that spilled? Nope. Only later did it occur to me it could be the rusty heating oil tank situated at the back of my garage (which I had WANTED to replace like 10 years ago, but the serviceman who said he would have the office call me about that never followed through, and then I dropped the ball).

But yeah, I looked under the tank, and yup, I saw a wet spot that smelled like oil.

I posted on my town's FB page asking for recommendations and in the meanwhile, I went online searching for the right contractor. I wound up on the Roth website, one of the leading oil tank suppliers, and when I clicked on Dealers Near You, up popped the plumber who had just been here (twice) for my sink/faucet and washing machine valve.  I didn't realize he could replace an oil tank, too. Cost: $4,500. Sticker shock!

I decided to go with him, even though another company gave me a price over the phone that was $500 less. I had never done business with them before, whereas the plumber I just used did a good job, although he is top dollar. (My current plumber is repeatedly highly recommended in my local FB group, so I felt he was practically a celebrity.) 

When I called him 6 pm on Friday night (yesterday) and said my tank appears to be leaking, he was here in a half-hour, put down some absorbency pads where the wet spot was under the tank and told me to get a tinfoil pan, the kind you cook a turkey in, and put it under the tank as well with more of the absorbency pads that he left me.

He specced out the whole job right then and there, gave me a firm price the next morning and said the tank would be delivered Monday and they would do the install Wednesday. He said to call him if the leak (what he called "seeping," at this point) suddenly got worse. I'll get the same size tank, but this one's a double-sided wall Roth tank with a 30-year warranty. That will pretty much cover the rest of  my life. He said he's never seen one fail.

I just feel greater peace of mind going with this plumber, who is in my hometown, not 2 towns away like the other one.

They are going to put the new tank in the back of the garage, but to the right (not left), so I have to clear all the junk out of there. I guess it will make the rack where I hang garden tools inaccessible. They want to put it side by side with the current tank so they can more easily drain the full tank of oil I just had delivered into the new tank, except for the bottom 6 inches, which will be full of over 28 years' worth of sludge. He'll also be replacing some old, corroded tubing that goes thru the basement to the furnace.

I just wish I'd been aware of the what the average lifespan of an oil tank is. This one came with the house, so I know it's over 28 years old; the average lifespan is just 10 to 15 years old! After watching a few YouTube videos, I learned that the simple act of filling up the tank just the other day with 275 gallons of oil is a lot of added weight and probably contributed to the start of the oil "seeping" out! Also wish I hadn't forgotten about tank replacement 10 years ago after observing how rusty mine was getting, but since it was still working at the time, there seemed to be no sense of urgency.

Hate to say this, but while he's here, once he's done with the oil tank replacement, I want to ask him about replacing my electric hot water heater. I checked a few years back on when I purchased it, and it is near the end of its average life span. I hate dealing with stuff like this on an emergency basis, like when it's begun to leak, so I'd like to proactively replace it and possibly go for a heat pump hot water heater, which is much more energy-efficient.

My last plumber didn't think it would be a good idea, said his customers weren't happy with it, etc, as I recall, because it was somewhat noisy and made the basement very cold. But would be good to get another plumber's opinion. If not, would just go with a ceramic-walled hot water heater with the longest warranty I can find. They are more expensive, but you don't have to go thru the whole replacement ordeal as often, and I think you save in the long run as you're not having to pay plumber labor costs as often.


Mid-Year Expense Overload

June 30th, 2023 at 09:44 pm

Exactly mid-year is always a time of big expenses for me.

- Homeowners insurance
- Car insurance
- Half of my annual property taxes

And I filled up the oil tank for the coming winter season a bit earlier than usual since I read that Saudi Arabia is cutting production effective July 1. I didn't want to wait and see if prices spiked. As it is, they are lower than this time last year by a significant margin.

Even though I got 3 paychecks this month instead of the usual 2, I only managed to break even for June on income vs. expenses.

On top of that, I've been thinking, once again, of getting a new vehicle. My 10-year-old Honda is running perfectly fine and has just 97,000 miles on it. But I'm thinking of splurging (for me, anyway) on a new Toyota Corolla Cross SUV Hybrid with AWD. Retail is about $32,000, quite a bit more than I've ever paid for a vehicle since I've mostly driven boring compact sedans, but I knew shortly after I purchased my 2013 Honda that it was no longer the right car for me. After owning I think 4 Hondas in a row.

Why? Well, mileage sucks, at least for a Honda. I do mostly in-town driving, not highway, where this car does excel, so now i'm getting just 32 mpg. The Toyota mentioned above gets 45/38. Plus, the storage capacity on my car is absymal, and I always seem to be hauling stuff, or wanting to haul stuff, that simply doesn't fit in the tiny trunk, made tinier with the 2013 model when they shrunk the size of the opening between the trunk and the back seat, so while in theory you could put some long things in through there, it mostly is worthless. It also meant I could no longer fit my bike in the trunk after taking off the front tire....what??

I also want an AWD so I can have more confidence driving in bad weather. Safety is a big thing with me. My dad says I don't need it because I'm pretty cautious as it is and if the weather's bad, I just won't go out. But there is always the chance of some little emergency when you MUST go out.

So, my 3 priorities are 1. gas mileage 2. an SUV where you sit up high (no blinding headlights in your eyes, better visuals in general and it would be much easier for my elderly father to get in and out of the vehicle) and better storage with a hatchback type opening, and 3. AWD.

This model was actually the only one I found that had all 3. I thought the Kia Sportage Hybrid LX fit the bill except its mileage is just 38 city/highway with the AWD; it's 42/44 without the AWD. I also was thinking seriously about the Toyota Prius, but it doesn't sit up high and I think that's what I want.

All the other bells and whistles, while nice to have, are just icing on the cake for me.

I need someone to accompany me to the dealer. No rush at all, but would like to do this sumer. Would like to do a test drive as I'm not used to driving big hulks. I'm thinking of bringing my cousin with me when he comes for a visit for a few days sometime in July from PA.

Finally, just looking ahead in the  not-too-distant future, I see myself taking a series of road trips of some distance, all coincidentally to the great state of Pennyslvania (to visit Dido, for instance, a friend in the Erie area and my cousin south of Harrisburg), and I'd feel better driving a newer car than a 10+ year old car. Just sayin'.

With the onset of these humid, hot days, all my productive yard work days have abruptly stopped. I keep thinking of all the things I want to do, but really find it hard to do them, especially also since the ticks are real bad this year. The big ones, sure, you can spot pretty easily, but I found 2 tiny, tiny nymph ticks (about the size of a sesame seed), and one was on its way to becoming attached in my bicep. Thank god it itched and i saw it and pulled it out. That was a close call. I've gone back to soaking in the tub after yard work as an added precaution to suiting up head to toe in white.


The Best Thing About Retirement

June 23rd, 2023 at 04:07 pm

The best thing about retirement, IMO,  is that each day is different.

I have no fixed schedule, although I do have a few things I do every week, like working out at the gym (2x a week), walking (nearly every day), seeing my father for lunch and my Kiva volunteer work. But my days are so much more flexible now than they were when I worked full time. I love that!

I think the thing I hated the most when I worked was the rigidness of the 9 to 5 regimen, the idea that you were "locked" onto the workplace premises (this is before COVID) and could only "escape" for a half-hour or hour-long lunch break. I don't know why, but I always chafed against that.  It's not that I didn't like my work...I did...but after a few hours of writing, I would become restless and feel like I needed to change my surroundings. And with my usually long commutes, I often spent time trying to figure out how I was going to do all the things I needed to do at home. Perhaps it would have been different had I been married....

Although there is no shortage of things to do around here, I find I have more time to do these things right instead of just trying to squeeeze them in as time allows. For instance, I just spent about 30 minutes researching home heating oil price trends this summer and through year's end in order to determine whether I should fill up my tank now, or wait. (I knew that Saudi Arabia voted to limit production, efffective July 1, and I was worried prices might rise later in the summer, so I decided to spring for a fill-up now.) Heating oil can be very pricy.

I do like a certain degree of structure in my weekly routine, but dislike having everything pinned down for every single hour. Pretty much how I feel about me, the ideal vacation is loosely scheduled, like these 2 nights we're staying here, but affords ample opportunity to just let things happen and if you absolutely fall in love with some area, you could spend an extra night, no big deal.


Welcome to the 21st century

June 21st, 2023 at 03:18 pm

How many times have you spent good money on some appliance for the home, only to have it crap out in a few weeks' time, or simply not perform as advertised?

Well, that's happened plenty of times to me, but recently I've had some very good experiences with upgrades: one in lawn and garden equipment, and the other in the kitchen.

Years ago I bought a Black & Decker weed trimmer from WalMart. It lasted quite a while, but this year I noticed that it didn't have enough power to trim anything, even when fully charged. It was an older model where you needed to cradle to entire trimmer in a bracket thing that was supposed to be mounted on the wall as it charged for easy storage when not in use.

I don't really have room in my garage to hang it as I have a long workbench on one wall and 3 shelving units on the other. So it was a nuisance to lean it up against my workbench cradled on the charger. It was sometimes knocked down.

I decided to get a new B&D trimmer and the new one has some really nice upgrades that I really do appreciate. First, you can easily adjust the height of the trimmer as you desire. Second, it's much LIGHTER than my old trimmer...a big plus! Third, the charger uses the same small charger I use with my other B&D appliances (a mower, a hedge trimmer and a blower) and that can rest easily on the counter top. So much better! Then I can store the trimmer itself elsewhere where it's not in the way. The new model has a built in molded plastic wedge on it that makes grasping hold of the trimmer with your 2nd hand much easier.

I haven't tried the built-in edger yet but hope to soon.

Next up: I finally got my new stainless steel sink and new Moen faucet in. LOVE them both! The sink is a drop-in sink, not the kind I originally wanted where the sink is undermounted and there is no seam on the counter top, so cleanup is a matter of just sweeping the sponge toward and off that sink. I couldn't get that kind of sink since I decided to keep my laminate counter. (I decided that for $5,000, the cost of a quartz counter, I could live with the laminate, though I have to be very careful about stains. Blueberry juice, for instance.) 

This new sink has such a minimal edge, especially compared to the big fat lip of my old cast iron/enamel sink, that I am fine with that. The new sink drain is noticeably deeper than my old drain, maybe 3 inches deep. Why is that important? Because if you have a lot of gunk/food bits you want to rinse into the drain, it all won't wash out and swirl around if too much water is  coming out the faucet. It actually does settle in the sink and stay there.

The only bit of a downside with the stainless steel sink is discovering, after reading the fine print, that to protect the sink finish, I should avoid using steel wool to clean it, avoid anything abrasive to clean it, avoid bleach to clean it and even buff dry with a chamois cloth once in a while. And avoid letting anything, even dish soap, dry on the surface as additives may damage it. So it requires a bit of babying. It did come with a nice grill that sits a half-inch from the bottom; this protects the sink from scratches as your dirty dishes don't sit on the sink itself.

What I really love is the pull-down faucet. Wow, what an improvement over what I had. I can easily pull it down and use either the stream or wonderful spray function to spray anywhere I want in the sink; again, very helpful for cleaning purposes. I like the liquid soap dispenser, too, which eliminates the need for one ugly bottle near the sink.

This design has been around for a while, I know, but Patient Saver only upgrades stuff when needed, so it's been a while. At least 10 years?

I paid the plumber more for his labor in installing the above than the cost of the sink and faucet.  And unfortunately, the outdoor patio faucet DOES have a leak; it didn't leak when he was here, so now I don't want to call him back just for the faucet since he charges $165/hr, and they charge by the full hour. Sigh.

A few years ago now I bought a cordless stick vacuum off Amazon. Orfeld, made in China. I like it cus it's cordless and lightweight, and it's good enough to pick up stuff off bare floors (though NOT on carpet). I really liked the light it had becus it was very helpful to see where there was dust or whatever in dark corners. But now that light is not working; it comes on momentarily when I turn it on, but goes off a few seconds later. I finally found the user manual but it says absolutely nothing about the light. Very disappointing. I may try to write them and see if they have a fix.

Otherwise, life goes on...I feel like I am 90% retired, though this little job I have covers my expenses to a degree that's disproportionate to what time I devote to it. Most of my time is spent, ranked in order of the most time spent first, on: gardening and yard work, volunteer work (I joined a new committee that fights knotweed and I'm now in my 4th year as a volunteer editor at kiva, the global micro-loan nonprofit), socializing (with garden club members and personal friends), home improvement/maintenance catch-up and freelance writing comes in dead last, time-wise. Still see my 90-year-old father each week for lunch, etc. and am working out at the gym twice a week and walking in the neighborhood at least a half-hour on most days. I feel like I have a full schedule.

I would like to increase time spent on volunteer work and expand my friend network and maybe spend less time in the yard, but this is growing season and I have lots of invasives. Plus, we'll have a bit of a heat wave, rain and higher humidity for a good week starting tomorrow, so once it starts raining I'll have to abandon the yard work. A good incentive for me to get out there today to continue a project I started yesterday, cutting back bittersweet and Virginia creeper from overtaking a trio of mountain laurel near my driveway. Happens every year but it's so densely vegetative in there I can't actually remove/dig out the bittersweet vines. I may dab the cut stem with roundup and see what that does. The whole area is in a huge, mature pachysandra bed, so even with my boots, the pachysandra comes almost to the top of the boot, which makes me worry about ticks.

I'm enjoying a bumper crop of snow peas and lettuce. Gave some to a friend. I expect the lettuce may bolt and shut down production on the snow peas with the heat this weekend.


Catching Up

June 10th, 2023 at 03:36 pm

Thought I'd check in with you on how my new semi-retirement arrangement is working out. As you may remember, I sprung for a single premium immediate annuity  back in March, and I also took Dido's advice to redirect dividends to my checking account instead of reinvesting as I've always done. And then I'm still writing 2 stories a month for the university.

These 3 things produce the following monthly income, net of taxes:

Annuity: $933

Dividends: $708 (from 3 funds)

Job: $1,220

Total: $2,861

This covers a good portion of my typical expenses, although lately I've been trying to knock off a variety of deferred home improvements and maintenance. 

What I still haven't managed to do yet is assure myself all will be fine (financially speaking) in retirement. I still feel like I'm overspending when I look at monthly income vs expenses, and in fact, from that perspective, my spending has already exceeded income by $10,000 and we're only into June!

I'd just as soon stop working entirely, but I hope to keep it up for another year and 2 months, when I turn 65 and pick up Medicare. Continuing to work helps slow the money drain from all the home maintenance projects and I'm always delighted to see the direct deposit in my account, but I do have to push myself to focus on the next story.

Actually, writing the story is not a big deal, and they pay me well for it, but she often wants me to quote someone from the university, and that' s where the delays/hassle occur because their spokespeople are slow to respond, prefer to respond via email rather than a real conversation and give me boring, generic quotes to work with.

The above-mentioned home improvements include:

- Instead of a new lightening rod, which I was told is kind of obsolete, my electrician recommended a (very affordable) whole house surge protector, which I got.

- The kitchen cabinets were refinished and look much better. I've got a drop-in, stainless steel sink ordered and appointment scheduled for plumber to install that and the new faucet I already purchased. My original plan was to replace the laminate counter-top, too, but knowing now just a quartz counter would cost $, it's not that important to me. The laminate is in almost perfect shape. My main complaint is the challenge in keeping it clean, since it's white and shows every speck. If I planned to move, i'd be more motivated to do it but since i plan to stay put, it's personally a little less compelling.

The sink/faucet replacement, on the other hand, is something I'm really looking forward to. I've grown to hate the cast iron sink, which has a very thick lip on it where dirt collects and it just looks gross. Very hard to clean. The faucet is corroding and has a drip so that's overdue.

- The plumber was already here and did replace the shut-off valve on my washing machine in the basement. I'd discovered the old valve just didn't work, and water poured through it even when shut off. I'm in the habit of shutting off that valve whenever I'm not using the washing machine (memories of my sister's basement flood), so I want to make sure it's in working order.

- The plumber told me of an easy fix to my outdoor patio faucet dilemma. The old faucet back there sits maybe 2 inches above the patio (patio was raised when redone) and it's hard to attach a hose to it. Instead of the very expensive idea of having him attach a pipe to it and then install a shut-off valve in the basement so the pipe didn't freeze in winter, he gave me a link for what's called a 90 degree elbow pipe, so i could attach the hose from the spigot pointing sideways instead of straight down. It's a $10 item and he said I could do it myself. (We'll see.) I already ordered it. Since he's coming here to do the sink and faucet, I can have him do the pipe if I encounter any problems with it.

- My other guy was here this week to make some general repairs to a basement window looking out on the back patio. He removed all the rotted wood and replaced with pressure-treated, repaired the screen mice had chewed with stainless steel screen, and redid some mortar, etc. He just needs to caulk and then at summer's end, after the mortar has cured, I can prime and paint the wood frame.

- Earlier, he made some repairs to my side garage window, which has a sill where rain water would collect, rotting the wood. He replaced the rotting wood and using trim fixed the angle of the sill so rain would drain off.

- His next job is replacing the 2 Leaning Tower of Pisa concrete footers supporting the lower half of my tool shed, built by my father 28 years ago. The whole tool shed is listing forward and in danger of sliding off those pillars. He's dropping off a bunch of cinder blocks today.

- A month or so ago the electrician replaced two upstairs ceiling fixtures and installed a digital thermostat in my family room. I had an old rotary knob thing in there before which did not supply an exact temperature in the room.

Each of these jobs seems small, but I'm paying quite a bit for them. The cost of labor is not cheap.

Still to come, I'd like to do something about 2 different doors on the house. That may well be it for the year because my bigger projects, like fence replacement, are way more expensive.

I joined some friends of mine last night for what sounded like a fun softball game about 50 minutes away. The deal included a free hot dog, chips, drink and t-shirt.  This is a couple I met through the MS dinner lectures, and she has often made overtures of friendship to me. I drove down to their house and we then drove up together, hitting on and off thunderstorms (and a rainbow) of more than one kind on the way. A married couple, they bickered constantly. It was really too much. Not relaxing. I have to fault her for being constantly on his case and telling him what to do or questioning what he was doing every step of the way.

When we arrived, we learned they cancelled the game, which was a big disappointment. We hadn't even left the stadium when she was asking me to stay and watch a movie with them once we got back, or take a walk. We did the latter, but I was relieved to be on my way and leave the pettiness behind.

I have a garden party coming up with my Facebook garden group, and after volunteering a few times doing litter pickups, the Lions Club tried to recruit me as a member, but ultimately I decided against it. I agreed to meet the membership guy for coffee, but the impression I got was that they really want a strong commitment to their activities, and I would be concerned about taking on more than I could handle with my limited free time. They want members to join more than one committee, sell as many tickets for their 2 major fundraiser events as possible (I hate doing that sort of thing as I don't like being pressured to buy anything) and attend their twice monthly ($30 a meal) dinners each month to socialize at the country club. (If you don't go, you're charged $8 per missed dinner). The membership fee is $92 a year.

I already agreed to serve on a new committee elsewhere seeking to combat the growing infestation of knotweed in town, and on their agenda is trying to get the town to set aside funds to spray certain targeted areas. This is the one invasive plant that really doesn't respond to any other measure. Our first meeting is Monday and I have some reading up to do beforehand.

I have read a few other blogs here and understand others are going through some tough times here. I do hope things improve for you all; please know you are in my thoughts.



Feeling productive

May 4th, 2023 at 11:14 pm

I've been feeling pretty productive the last few days.

Today, I had an electrician come by to do 3 small jobs (switch out 2 upstairs hall ceiling light fixtures and fix an exterior light and put on a new fixture for it) and he'll be returning to do 2 more things: install a new digital thermostat for the family room (to replace the old rotary dial thingie) and install a whole house surge protector, which is really not that expensive. He was very affordable, and even informed me his bill today would be less than he quoted because it went more quickly. Smile

Yesterday I had a new desk delivered, and I amazed myself at putting it together relatively easily. Today I set about emptying my old wood desk; it sure had a lot of storage space, but I mean, I've had paperwork in there for years that I don't touch. I'm REALLY trying to lighten my load, so I went through all the paperwork as I emptied each drawer, cus the new desk has NO drawers! That's one reason I like it. It's a very modern looking glasstop desk, to replace the old wood desk I've had literally since I was a teenager. It was pretty beat up, so much so that I got no takers on Buy Nothing, but then after mentioning it to my neighbor, he said he'd like to take it to repurpose as a potting station in his greenhouse. So be it!

Two days ago I had another workman here who recently finished some work with a side garage window where the water would collect and was ruining the wood. After he told me I would owe him $150 less than he originally said, I asked him back to look at 2 other "small" jobs: a basement window with rotted trim where I think mice were getting in, and my "Leaning Tower of Pisa:" a concrete footer supporting my toolshed that is wierdly tilting to a noticeable degree, so much so I'm afraid the whole shed could collapse. He said he could do both. My father built me the shed 28 years ago.

That same day I saw my podiatrist, and um, we're getting there; hope to return in a few weeks to get fitted for orthotics.

I've begun bringing my father to the local senior center for different hour-long programs. He was feeling too isolated and needs more social interaction. So I drop him off and to kill time, so far i've just gone food shopping at nearby Shop Rite; once the weather warms, I could also do a walk. They don't get great attendance at these events, but there are at least a few others, so I'm hoping he'll enjoy it more as time goes on. After I get him we go to lunch somewhere and catch up.

I planted a tree seedling I received for attending a weekend meeting about the "Hometown National Parks" movement. It's a shadblow serviceberry, a small tree that I'm excited to see grow, just like the river birch and arrowwood viburnum I recently planted.

About the only thing I haven't done much about this past week was yard work and gardening, as the weather has been very rainy and chilly. That will all change this weekend and beyond. I do plan to plant my veggie seedlings, which have been indoors and chomping at the bit to go out, meaning, roots are coming out the bottom of their little peat pots. It is time.

I have tons of other gardening-related chores to do. Hope to get a haircut tomorrow.


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.

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