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Fun news that has nothing to do with money

July 30th, 2023 at 12:09 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 01:22 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 07:59 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 02:18 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 08:44 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 03:07 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 vacations....to 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 02:18 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 02:36 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 $5K...eh, 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 10:14 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.

So.....my latest space-saving solution:

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

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

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

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

Fun With (Retirement) Numbers

February 8th, 2023 at 10:31 pm

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

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

Here's a projection of my future income situation:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Nice income! Of course, I have no debt.

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

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

 

Taxes are done!

February 4th, 2023 at 05:32 pm

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

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

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

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

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

 

A new year, a new job

January 31st, 2023 at 08:06 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tidying Up in the Kitchen

January 11th, 2023 at 01:01 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

2022 Net Worth

January 11th, 2023 at 12:09 am

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

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

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

Recap of 2022 Income & Expenses

January 10th, 2023 at 08:58 pm

Greetings, all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woe Is Me

July 31st, 2022 at 02:38 pm

July expenses and income do not look pretty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lost & Found

July 22nd, 2022 at 06:31 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds and ends

July 17th, 2022 at 08:26 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jobs...they come and they go

June 16th, 2022 at 10:05 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2021 Expenses and Income

December 28th, 2021 at 10:19 pm

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

Top 10 Ranked Expenses:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An IRS Mystery

September 1st, 2021 at 12:34 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

August 18th, 2021 at 12:24 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The recipe you asked for...

July 19th, 2021 at 06:53 pm

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

2 cups quick oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1.25 cups banana (about 3 lg bananas)

1 medium shredded zucchini (moisture squeezed out!)

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 large eggs

1/4 cup millk of choice

1/2 cup chocolate chips of choice

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

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

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

Saturday stuff

July 18th, 2021 at 12:09 am

Today, I...

1. Tidied up the bedroom.

2. Planted several liriope that someone gave me.

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

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

5. Picked wineberries.

6. Did my knee exercises.

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

8. Read the paper.

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

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

And the bull keeps on running...

June 29th, 2021 at 01:28 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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