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September outlook

September 2nd, 2019 at 05:40 am

The third quarter has been VERY expensive for me.

In August, Luther's dental bills came to $805, between the exam/rabies shot, pre-op bloodwork and the procedure itself.

Luther was shocked, but said he was worth it.

Later in August, a variety of unremarkable maintenance issues with my 2013 Honda came to $657 (front brake pads, tire rotation, oil change, brake fluid flush and 2 air filters), and that was after I used my 10% discount from AAA.

Speaking of AAA, rejoined recently and saw they offer a safe driving course that earns you a discount on your car insurance, which varies according to the insurer. I sat through the 4-hour class at the police station, got my certificate of completion, and sent it to my insurance agency. I earned $24 off my insurance for the next 3 years. Hey, every dollar counts and I'm a little wiser about driving, too.

And later this month, I'll be looking at combined auto and homeowners insurance of about $,1300. OMG.

Also later in September, I'll be getting my new Harvey garden/greenhouse window put in.

It will replace an existing double-hung window (most of my windows here are 24 years old), but because I have the space and the window will look better centered in the space, it will be 6 inches wider than the current window. The windows in front and on top are fixed, but there are cranks to open the windows on both sides with a screen in each, and it will come with one shelf, where some of my succulents will go. (My builder said he could probably put in a second shelf too.)

The plants should do really well there as the window, which extends out from the side of the house, will capture both south and west sun exposure.

My paddle plant

Of course, Luther will be sure to claim the window as his own (he loves sunny spots), so I have to be careful about what plants I put there. Since I close off the unheated sun room in winter, this will surely become Luther's new go-to space to soak in the sun. I hope he can share it without nibbling my houseplants.

The window's on order now. It's basically a custom window, so it's going to cost a lot, but for me, grower of all things, it's worth it, and I really can't wait to get it. Hopefully before I turn the heat on.

Nearly all of my big spending on the house over the years has been for maintenance of things that needed to be done (roof, siding, driveway, furnace, hot water heater, insulation, etc.) to replace something old or worn out. The greenhouse window is one of the few things done purely for my pleasure.

The final big bill of the year will come in December, when the second half of my property taxes will come due, about $3300.

I had one of my laddered CDs that matured in August, and I had been planning on reinvesting it, but I decided to just keep it in my checking account to pay the first 3 of these big upcoming bills. That's what money's for, I guess.

Still, I expect I will be in the red at year's end when I compare spending vs income.

In other news....

I had a few late nights last week at work as deadlines are approaching for a few big projects. On Monday, I didn't leave the office til 11:15 pm; the next night, I left around 9 pm and considered myself lucky.

All of that extra effort didn't buy me much, since today, normally a workday for me, I'm not working due to the holiday, so I'll lose a significant portion of my p/t pay this week and not be able to make it up (unless we have a few more late nights).

Sometimes they buy us dinner, sometimes they don't. If they don't, I start feeling cranky and lacking in concentration because I'm hungry, and then when I get home 40 minutes later, I can't eat a big meal so close to going to bed. So it throws everything off.

We had a beautiful two weather days here this weekend, and what did I end up doing for hours over the course of 2 days? Hauling down boxes of old paperwork... my mother's medical bills... from the attic and shredding much of it. I had to read things first before deciding whether to shred, dispose intact or keep, so the whole exercise brought up a lot of old, painful memories of 2015. It was very emotionally draining, but it needed to be done. Every time I came across it up there looking for something else, it depressed me, and in fact I avoided going toward that corner of the attic.

I kept just a small folder of what I felt were essential items, including the last tax return, my POA paperwork, the funeral certificate and some other key documents. I'm relieved that it's done.

After that, I was looking around the attic and identified 6 large plastic storage drawers/bins I really don't need (my mom's), which took up quite a bit of space, so I posted them for sale on Marketplace. I'm keeping one underbed bin for my own use, but really, my philosophy is that if I need to start using too many storage bins for clothing, I just have too much stuff. I've been working to thin out my clothing to just those items that really fit, aren't damaged and which I like to wear.

August ramblings

August 18th, 2019 at 05:48 am

Wow, I really love using the new iPhone. It's amazing how quickly my cellphone use has gone from occasional/sporadic to every day, throughout the day. I just find so many ways to use it, and I still want to explore podcasts and music more. If anyone has any great (free) podcasts to recommend, I'm all ears. I did subscribe to The Moth radio hour.

Luther got through his dental procedure fine, though on one of the car rides home, he was so upset that he peed AND pooped in his carrier, and when we got home, I found the urine had spilled onto the fabric car seat.

Between the seat and Luther, it was quite a cleaning job, especially after Luther escaped from the bathroom where I'd temporarily put him and then tracked urine footprints all over the house.

I twisted my knee a week ago walking with a friend. We had gone off the paved trail onto a dirt trail and I slipped on a downward incline with some loose rocks. I used my left hand to break my fall and it is still pretty sore if I clench my fist or move it in certain ways.

What's probably more concerning is my right knee. I've resumed my walking routines, but the knee just goes out from under me without warning so I have to catch myself from falling. This is something that happened to me in the past, much more sporadically, which I think was due to a much older injury, and now the more recent fall seems to have aggravated that. I'm hoping that with time and continued building up of the muscles around the knee that this will resolve. I imagine it could have been much worse if I wasn't as much of a walker as I am.

2 giant tiger swallowtails on my dwarf Joe Pye Weed.

Dad and I had a nice visit with my cousin 2 weeks ago, out from PA. We mostly just went out for some good meals and talked a lot. On his way home, though, he was pulled over for speeding and then found after the cop left that he was stuck in a ditch and couldn't get out. Luckily the cop saw this, returned and waited with him until the tow truck arrived. He ended up paying about $1200 for damage to the undercarriage of the car. (Lucky for him, he got just a warning from the cop.)

On the money front, not much to report. I continue to track all my spending and then do monthly income/expense reports just to make sure I stay on track with a rough annual budgeted allowance of about $40,000. My investments are pretty much "set it and forget it," although I have some cash sitting in a money market I'd like to invest during one of the big dips we've been having.

I am thinking I would like to get a fixed immediate (not variable) annuity using about one-tenth of my portfolio, I guess when I turn 65 and plan to be fully retired. The stream of guaranteed income begins immediately. I like the idea of having all of my basic ongoing expenses covered by guaranteed income instruments: Social Security and/or the annuity. Without it, I'm so much more vulnerable to stock market gyrations, something I'd rather not have to deal with when I'm on a fixed income.

The last few weeks...

July 21st, 2019 at 10:26 am

There's so much going on in Fern's life these days.

Let's see....

I am loving my weekly CSA veggie pickup at the farm. Thankfully we are getting away from the Swiss chard (which I don't have much use for) and getting into the good stuff, like cucumbers, broccoli and soon, I hope, tomatoes. In the meantime, I've started picking some cherry tomatoes from my own potted plants.

I get so many yellow squash and zucchini from them that I'm having trouble keeping up. I have made these bland vegetables much more interesting by learning how to use my spiralizer gadget, which turns the veggies into long, spaghetti-like strands. I soften these up in just a few minutes over the stovetop, then grate some parmesan and mix that in. I ate 2 zucchini like that today! Yum.

Spiralized zucchini with parmesan

Hullless barley with kale and sweet potato

I also made a slammin' chocolate-cherry ice cream that tastes like the real thing, so creamy, not watery, but is actually totally vegan. I think it's the tablespoon of peanut butter that ensures that. It also involves frozen cherries, one ripe (frozen) banana, some unsweetened cocoa powder and that's about it. No added sugars, either.

So yesterday I set out to a certain road where we were supposed to have our monthly litter pickup. No one from the group, including the chairman who pressed me to do the litter pickup despite the heat, showed up. And later when reading the local paper I realized the paper hadn't published my little press release, so no members of the public showed up either.

The heat was pretty bad, even at 8:30 am, but I walked the trails, there and back, for about 40 minutes. I was close to my car, sweaty and tired, when I realized my driver's license was not in the front pocket of my shorts. I had pulled it out of my purse at home so I wouldn't have to carry the purse. Oh no. Where was it? I worried that it somehow fell out of my pocket on the trail, so yep, back on the trail I went to retrace my steps, so I essentially doubled my walk time in the god-awful heat. No driver's license found, and a number of people passed me coming and going.

I searched the car inside and out, as well as my house. I mean, gosh, where did it go? I swear this kind of thing happens to me constantly. I remember putting it in my shorts pocket.

So I've downloaded and filled out a DMV form for a replacement license you can get through the mail with a $30 payment. I'll mail it tomorrow, but who know how long that will take, and of course I'm taking a risk driving without a driver's license now.

The other thing, oddly, I also discovered was missing was a very handy little litter pick-up stick I got for free at another litter pickup day in a different town earlier in the spring. I loved using it. I used it at our June litter pickup and had been storing it in the back seat of my car or the trunk, but it's not there or in the garage. GRRRRRRR. These things literally walk away from me.

I am hoping to drop off 3 of my mother's pieces at the public library this week; they are tentatively planning on putting one of them right by the front door, which is a great spot. I will be happy to get some wall space back here.

I got an early birthday present from my cousin, a very generous one. An iPhone 10 with the monthly services paid for, for as long as he lives!

This cousin has a knack for getting me gifts of things I didn't think I needed or wanted, but then once I start using them, it's like oh my gosh where have you been all my life? It was like that with a set of 3 knives he got me, which I now use every day. And I've been playing with the iPhone for the past few days, syncing it with my email, entering all my phone contacts and video chatting with him. What fun!! It's kind of like driving a Honda and thinking it was fine and did the job, but then someone gives you a BMW and then you see what a difference there is in your ride. That's kind of how I feel with the iPhone.

I love taking photos with my phone. It has really totally supplanted the little Canon PowerShot I had used for years. But my old phone had next to no storage, and even with a disk card in there, I could not take more than 25 photos or so and then I'd have to delete some to make room for more. It was very limiting. And of course, taking a video was just not possible. So I'm looking forward to putting the iPhone through its paces.

My cousin is tentatively planning on coming for 3 or 4 days next week. It's going to be more challenging this time because my dad is no longer driving at all, and cousin doesn't feel comfortable driving local roads unfamiliar to him. (My sister actually would not let him have his car keys, which, knowing her, must've been exceedingly difficult to do to stand up to dad.)

But it will be fun as it will be my birthday week; i have a favorite outdoor restaurant I want to take cousin to, and maybe the local theater.

Favorite restaurant

After feeling a funny, pea-sized lump on Luther's chest last week, I brought him to the vet. They insisted on giving him a rabies shot, even though he's an indoor cat, which I understand, for their protection. Turns out it was just, umm, some matted hair, but during the exam he looked at his teeth and said most all of them, except his 4 canines, should come out. He showed me one tooth that was cracked and the gum had grown over it.

Luther shows no signs of being in pain, but I am biting the bullet and having it done this week, before my cousin comes up. I have to bring him in the day before for bloodwork to make sure it's safe to do surgery/anesthesia on him. Then bring him back the next day, drop him off and pick up toward day's end. Poor Luther. I'm feeling a little anxious about it. The bill will be about $700. Luther says he's worth it.

This is the final day of the heat wave. It's a shame it occurred on a weekend as I can't get anything done I would normally do in the yard except copiously water all my potted plants, which barely get through the day even after being watered the previous night.

I signed up for a AAA safe driver test after deciding to join AAA. It's being held at the local police station. I hope that by the time I go the class, I have my new driver's license, just in case they ask to see your license or something to show your ID.

For the month of July, I started a 30-day challenge to see if I could walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Last year I made a little money by entering a clinical trial tracking sleep patterns, and I also got to keep the FitBit they gave me. So I know what it takes to walk 10,000 steps; basically, just walk a half-hour in the neighborhood in the morning before work, and then walk another 40 minutes or so on my lunch break. The rest of the steps (usually less than a thousand) are made up in the office and at home.

I was doing pretty well with the challenge but the heat wave means that today, for instance, I will fail miserably to meet my goal. Oh well.

I've returned

July 5th, 2019 at 07:19 pm

Yes, it's me....Patient Saver, also known in a past life as Wild Blue Yonder.

I deleted my blog somewhat impulsively, annoyed by a few nasty commenters and with the realization that my penchant for sharing all could make me a target.

But aw, heck, I miss this place. So here I am, ready to update you on my goings on, and thanks for all the kind words following my absence. I was going to just begin fresh, but my email is linked to this older blog, so the path of least resistance is just to continue on with this account.


I am into Week 2 of the farm CSA program I joined. I've picked up a big bushel each week of (so far) garlic scapes, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, basil, zucchini and arugula, and since the farmer's wife has been emailing us with the coming week's goodies, I've been trying to get out in front of all this perishable produce by getting my recipes lined up...especially since we can help ourselves to whatever fresh herbs we want. If I don't know what recipes I'll be using, I can't really avail myself of the herbs. So I need to be uber-organized.

I went so far as to ask my manager if, on Wednesdays only and just until end of October, I could arrive and leave the office an hour early. That's because the bushels of food are placed outside at the farm; there is no refrigeration! So you can imagine in this heat how quickly things begin to wilt. It's in the shade, but on hot days, that doesn't make much difference. I've paid too much to get wilted food. We can pick up any time after 2 pm, but normally i would not get out of work til 2:30 pm, and by the time I drive home, it's about 3:15 pm.

So I got the okay to leave work at 1:30 pm on a "let's see how it goes" basis. The whole reason I was coming in to work later is because they don't always have work for me to do earlier in the morning, based on the work flow and what others have to do before I get the work passed on to me. So I'll be gently prodding the woman who gives me most of my work to have something for me to do first thing when I arrive.

I am blessed with an abundance of garter snakes this year. On just one day, I saw 3 snakes in totally different locations (one a baby) so I don't think it's the same snake unless it's incredibly mobile.

In other wildlife news, one of the does who visits daily to eat the fallen apples from my sole remaining apple tree (there were 6 when I moved here), brought 2 small fawns with her. They're cute, to be sure.

I've been busy working on a small (roughly 10 x 4') wildflower garden abutting my new back patio. I returned this morning with another 5 small butterfly weed plants, purchased from a woman in town who sells plants from her home at greatly discounted prices. I paid $15 for 5 plants.

Actually, it started out as wildflower "meadow," but after observing how aggressively the grass takes over, I'm wanting to weed out the undesirables and mulch like any other perennial bed. It will still attract the pollinators, which is my goal.

Saw my dad yesterday, and my brother and I took him out to lunch. Since his surgery in February, he is getting around, but still uses a walker; he used to use a cane. He has also given up driving, which is a big relief to me. There was no grand announcement or conversation about it, but he's not going anywhere unless one of his kids drives. This does present greater challenges for us since we need to bring him to various doctors' visits, do the grocery shopping and so on, but at least there are two of us sharing some of these necessary trips.

The weather this past week has been mostly awful...very hot and very humid. I'm so grateful for my air conditioning on days like this, and now a storm is rolling in.

In the past month, I've had 4 trees taken down. The two small ones (a Japanese black pine I planted the year I moved in 24 years ago and a cedar tree with a rust gall disease) were taken down by a local landscaper who I knew would do it fairly cheaply: $300 for the two, which included disposal on my property).

The third tree was a dead ash, another victim of the ash borer insect, which was on the property line but could conceivably hit the sun room. I got my elderly neighbor's okay to have them drive their bucket truck on her side, which is just lawn and more accessible than mine. The 4th tree, a dead black locust, was quite large, maybe 90 feet tall, and was close to my neighbors' on the other side. If that one came down, it would take down the neighbors' power lines and generally not cause any good will, so that one was done too. Overall, they did a very neat job except for 7 or 8 holes in the ground caused by the impact of falling limbs, and they did sacrifice a very nice Japanese maple growing under the locust, but oh well. I get a lot of Japanese maple volunteers here. The 2 large trees cost me I think $2600, so it wasn't cheap, but that's the going rate around here and actually I was fairly happy with the price.

My local public library graciously accepted a gift of two of my mother's paintings. I'm just waiting to sign some paperwork and then I'll deliver it to them. I purposefully chose 2 fairly large pieces as I desperately need the space here.

I rejoined Ancestry.com as they were offering memberships at half-price, but I'm wondering if I'll really have the time to spend on it.

I went to the Bronx Zoo a few weeks ago with my NJ cousin and her two grand-kids. It was a lot of fun, but everything was so expensive, from the parking to lunch on premises, to the camel rides for the boys.

I am making more serious attempts to get plastic out of my life, and I found that using dampened tea towels which I already had on hand work very well to keep all kinds of fresh produce fresh in the refrigerator. Plastic bags don't always do the job and actually, the tea towels seem to work better with lettuce and other soft greens! I just wet the towels, then ring them out, then gently roll up the produce and store in the drawer.

I also have a large collection of those plastic produce bags you get in the produce department, plus I've purchased some reusable mesh bags too. I plan to keep using the plastic ones until they develop a hole or something, then will transition to the mesh bags.

This is all a result, I think, of my continued work with the environmental group in town I belong to. I can't often make their meetings due to work, but since they put me in charge of monthly litter pickups, I still have a chance to get to know certain other members who come out for that.

I'm also still volunteering at Kiva.org, which reminds me, I've got to do some editing for them this weekend.

I'm still working at decluttering as much as possible, and have had great luck selling all sorts of things on Facebook, from a portable AC to a vintage photo to a single pair of wood shutters.

In short, semi-retirement is full of all sorts of interesting activities; my part-time work is really like a little something that gets in the way of my activities, instead of the other way around.

Calculating the Savings in Growing Your Own Food

October 1st, 2011 at 08:03 am

Most will agree, a garden is not complete without tomatoes.

We all know that growing our own food offers multiple benefitsófor our health, our taste buds, and our pocketbook. But how many of us know how much weíre actually saving?

For the past few summers, Iíve conducted a little experiment to see just how much I would save by growing veggies myself versus buying their supermarket counterparts. You may be surprised at the results!

Why Grow Your Own?

Before getting to the numbers, letís review the many benefits of growing your own food. They include:

Personal satisfaction: When it comes to self-sufficiency, there is nothing more elemental than being able to feed oneself. I love the early-evening ritual of wandering down to the vegetable garden, colander in hand, to pick whatever has ripened and prepare it for my dinner that same evening.

Lessening your environmental footprint: By reducing your reliance on foods grown far away and trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to your local grocery store, your food consumption contributes less to smog and global warming. By growing your vegetables, youíre also doing your part to reverse the globalization of the food supply.

Superior taste and freshness: Homegrown fruits and vegetables simply taste better than produce thatís been allowed to ripen in trucks during transport and sit on store shelves before youíre ready to eat it. Even if youíre not a verifiable foodie, the taste, flavor, and freshness of homegrown produce is reason enough for many gardeners to devote a portion of their yard, patio, or terrace to growing vegetables.

Better nutritional value: Because less time elapses between harvest and consumption (say, about an hour when I harvest my own produce compared to days or weeks when I buy it in the supermarket), homegrown vegetables deliver higher nutritional value. And if you choose to grow your produce pesticide-free like I do, youíll get the added health benefits of consuming organic produce at little-to-no extra cost.

Early September harvest

But for the budget-minded among us, a fifth important benefit of growing your own food isÖ

The ability to reduce your grocery expenses: In todayís challenging economy, nearly every consumer is looking to save a few dollars wherever they can. Growing your own vegetables can substantially reduce your grocery bill throughout the summer. If you freeze or can your surplus, you can extend your savings into the winter months.

The Economics of Homegrown

This was the third season I tracked my gardenís output, not only by the pound, but by its monetary value.

My garden plot is modest in size, about 120 square feet. It was not intended to feed a large family, although the inevitable surplus is freely given to friends and neighbors. In its current form, itís L-shaped (to detour around a small juneberry tree) and located in my front yard, to take maximum advantage of sunlight.

Die-hard gardeners can spend lots of time experimenting with heirloom varieties, growing plants from seed, and researching the best soil amendments, fertilizers, compost, and mulch covers. Yet you can fumble along, make mistakes, and still wind up with a respectable harvest, provided thereís ample sunlight and adequate watering.

Due to my own laissez-faire attitude about plant diseases, my garden is succumbing a few weeks early to blight and powdery mildew. With the harvest about 95 percent in, Iíve tallied up my pickings for the season.

To determine their monetary value, I checked the prices of comparable produce at Shop Rite, my grocery store of choice. Whenever possible, I used prices of Shop Riteís organic produce. But for about half of what I harvested, I couldnít find organic equivalents and was forced to use the non-organic price in my comparison. Because produce prices fluctuate regularly, I used an average of Shop Rite prices I found throughout July and August, at the height of my gardenís production.

Hereís what I grew and harvested this year, ranked by its dollar value:

2011 total monetary value: $330.08
2011 total expenses: $21.78
Net savings: $308.30

How do these numbers compare to previous years? In 2009, I grossed $148 in produce from a somewhat smaller-sized garden, but ended up with -$222 after factoring in my Ďstart-upí expenses which included a pricey, six-foot-high roll of wire fencing and metal posts (essential to exclude deer).

In 2010, I enlarged the garden (since I had leftover fencing) and harvested more, growing $515 worth of food ($429 after expenses). I attribute some of the increase to a more concerted effort to harvest wineberries daily during the month of July, as they ripened. The wineberries, which grow naturally in my backyard, are an invasive Asian bramble that produces berries that look similar to a raspberry. Since youíll never find them in a store, Iíve used raspberry prices for comparison when calculating their monetary value. (And you know how expensive raspberries are in the store!)

Acorn squash on the vine

Last summer, I hand-picked 39 cups of wineberries, which really boosted my Ďgardení productivity. I planned to do the same this summer, but lost my enthusiasm after finding a tiny tick embedded in the skin between my fingers. I don hip boots sprayed with DEET for wading into the brambles as protection against ticks (Iíve had Lyme disease twice) but hadnít counted on picking one up on my hand. So I settled for about nine cups of berries picked from the relative safety of the periphery of the thickets.

This yearís garden is pretty much spent, but I take comfort knowing Iíll be enjoying my tomatoes, wineberries, kale, basil, and zucchini (in the form of soups, stews and quick breads, and on my breakfast cereal) in the cold winter months to come. I canít wait until next spring, when Iíll be planting soybeans for the first time.

8 Brave Souls...

September 21st, 2010 at 09:50 am

...have entered this year's No Heat Contest.

They are:

1. Ima Saver
2. dmontngrey
3. HouseHopeful
4. Toyguy1963
5. CB in the City
6. My English Castle
7. PatientSaver
8 MonkeyMama

It's not too late to join! (See earlier post for the details.)

Announcing the 3rd Annual No Heat Contest

September 20th, 2010 at 06:03 am

The days are growing shorter and there's a nip in the air come evening. You know what that means...it's time for the 3rd annual No Heat Contest!

The rules are simple. The winner of the contest is the person who can hold off turning on the heat longer than anyone else.

I'll leave it to your conscience to decide if using your wood fireplace, stove or space heater is "cheating," but I do think that would provide an unfair advantage. Remember, the idea of the contest is to encourage each other to forestall, for as long as possible, the long winter of oil, natural gas, propane or electric bills to heat our homes.

Here are a few ideas for doing that:

* Throw on an extra sweater.
* Weatherstrip your doors and windows.
* Indulge your Inner Chef to create some fabulous home-cooked meals, and keep that oven door open afterwards (make sure it's turned OFF) to warm your kitchen.
* Let your pets sleep with you.
* Get out the hot cocoa.
* Throw an extra comforter on the bed.
* If all else fails and you can't seem to warm up, visit a friend or your local library!

So who's in?