Sitting here enjoying a hot cup of Assam tea. I was going to rake leaves today, but darn, it's cold.
Well, I finally saw the bear! Not in my own yard, but in the center of town where we have a nice paved walking trail that goes through woods and open meadow, and where our municipal center, senior center, community center and sports complex are, among other things, like a new brewery opening soon.
I got on the trail and ran into my neighbor with her beagle, and we walked together a while until we parted company. I wanted to go see the photo exhibit at municipal center and she continued on the trail.
A short time later, I had returned to my car and was talking on the phone with a friend when I caught something fairly large, black and fluffy running in my rear view mirror. I craned my head around to see what it was, and there it was: a small black bear romping across the mown ball fields.
I later learned my neighbor ran into some other dog walkers who already encountered the bears near the meadow. I am guessing the bear was somewhat spooked by the people and their dogs, because it was running at what I would describe as a slow gallop, looking unsure about where it was going and probably feeling a little ill at ease being so exposed and in an open area.
It ran past my car, then headed down the busy road, and without pausing for a second ran into the roadway; luckily it wasn't hit, and I watched it as it scooted under a metal guard rail fence and then behind the Parks & Rec building. The rear of the building looks to be mostly fenced in as there are several very large mounded hills of I-don't-know-what there, but if the bear made its way out of there, it would have found the state horse guard stables and, beyond that, the woods and Pootatuck River.
The last two weeks at work have been slow, and I only worked 10 hours each week.
I've begun thinking about Christmas shopping, and bought my animal-loving cousin a 2020 calendar featuring topless Australian firefighters posing with various Australian wildlife; it's a fundraiser, and I thought she would get a kick out of it.
I also spent an enjoyable hour or so browsing gourmet goodies at YummyBazaar.com, where I wound up ordering some interesting preserves: gooseberry, black currant and lingonberry, plus some fried herring for my father (can we say "Eew?")
I made my first app purchase for my iPhone recently: a year's subscription to Calm, which features a variety of meditation and destressing audio clips. I've gotten into the habit, believe it or not, of having someone read a bedtime story to me using this app. I always end up asleep before the end of the story, which is what you're aiming for. Last night I chose Gulliver's Travels, which I remember reading as a kid.
I've also been really enjoying the free audiobooks on the phone too, via Overdrive. I just finished "Educated," by Tara Westover, which was a riveting memoir of a homeschooled woman growing up in a survivalist family in the backwoods of Idaho.
This morning I made a great pumpkin pie with my own homemade crust (ground walnuts, tahini and maple syrup). I also made my own yogurt, which is now resting in my off oven with just the light bulb on, presumably so the probiotics I added will grow in the next 48 hours.
I've been enjoying the small ritual of brewing my Harney & Sons loose tea since making the trip with dad to their tea tasting place.
Last week I started trying to calculate what my RMDs would be at age 70.5 after deducting from my traditional IRAs the cost of 1) an immediate lifetime annuity I've been thinking of getting at age 65, just to cover "some" of my essential expenses. I like this idea because it would remove a portion of my assets, which are nearly all invested in mutual funds, out of the stock market and better manage my risks, especially in a recession and 2) after living on savings (traditional IRAs) between the ages of 65, when I plan to fully retire, and 70, when I plan to start collecting Social Security. I haven't finished the calculation and need to get back to it, but as usual, I am pulled in a hundred directions. Anyway, I have many years to figure this out. No rush!
Of course, if a Democrat gets elected president and delivers on some kind of radically different health insurance in this country that isn't tied to employment, I would definitely consider stopping work sooner. There is a certain comfort or security level that comes from still working and earning enough to cover just my ongoing expenses, but there are also things I'd like to do besides work, and I'm not getting any younger.
Sitting here enjoying a hot cup of Assam tea. I was going to rake leaves today, but darn, it's cold.
Every month I calculate what my monthly income/expenses were, and so I've known since May that my totals were in the red, and growing worse each month.
Year-to-date, my spending has exceeded income by $8,700.
By year-end, my expenses should still come in at around $40K, give or take; my only remaining big expense this year is the 2nd payment of property taxes at over $3,000.
No, what's really caused this problem is my income is lower than projected. On most weeks, I get in a little shy of the 20 hours minimum I wanted to get: usually 17, 18 or 19 hours. And that, over the year, is enough to make a difference.
Am I overly worried? No, I have plenty of cushion. It's just that I am disciplined and don't like to see things slip. So, for the remainder of the year, I'll be going on a self-imposed spending diet to try to reduce that $8,700 in the red to something not quite as alarming. If I could cut that number in half, I'd feel considerably better.
After the fun trip to the tea company last week, someone told me about a tea company very close...like 15 minutes...to where I live! It might be worth a visit, although they do tea tastings only on Saturdays, and I dislike crowds.
There have been more bear sightings in my neighborhood. My next-door-neighbor, in fact, sent a photo in to the local paper of a bear across the street. So, umm, yeah, one of these days I expect I'll see a bear with a combination of fascination, awe and alarm.
I have continued to sell small things on Facebook Marketplace; it's almost like a hobby. And unlike most people, because I sell stuff primarily to "declutter," not to make money (although of course I do make some), I tend to prices things lower than most sellers, and consequently, they sell pretty quickly. People seem to be most grateful.
Along with selling unwanted possessions, I've also been trading flower seeds with friends, family, at a seed swap at the library, and through the mail with people in my Facebook groups. I am now well stocked!!
It's been a rainy, dark day all day long. I'm afraid the kiddies won't see any improvements by nightfall as the winds now are already picking up and we'll see gusts north of 40 mph. A scary Halloween indeed.
Yesterday at work the boss treated us to a free lunch at a nearby bodega. I took half of it home and had it today. Last night I enjoyed a great free dinner at an MS lecture and enjoyed meeting a few new people.
This weekend I'll be making my own yogurt for the first time, seeing my father (as usual), going to a crafts show and definitely mowing leaves with the mower once things dry out. I told my mower guy a few weeks ago he could quit for the season since I don't mind mowing in the cooler weather and it certainly saves me a small bundle if I can finish out the mowing for the season, although it does take time with my battery-powered mower (run time: 35-40 minutes).
There have been a growing number of bear sightings in my immediate neighborhood. They have been in town for years now, but most often they seem to be on the other side of town, in an area abutting a state park.
I walk around the block often in the morning, and a neighbor driving by slowed down to warn me to "be careful" as he'd just seen a bear in his yard that morning.
I've also talked to a woman I often see walking her beagle and she has seen the bear also as she walked home, her neighbors on their enclosed back porch suddenly shouted "Bear, bear! Go away! Go away!" She did, and as soon as the neighbors began yelling, the bear took off.
So now I need to avoid walking too early in the morning. They will be hibernating soon. And I think I want to buy a mini fog horn thingy.
My father and I had a really nice day today. It was a beautiful warm day in the 60s here and all the leaves are already past peak, I think. We took a drive northwest to a small town just over the New York state line to Harney & Sons tea company.
They have a cute little tea tasting room where, like a fine wine, you can taste a variety of teas. We tried 4 of them and I decided to buy an organic sencha Japanese tea called Bancha and an Indian assam tea, also organic.
The young man shown here was very knowledgeable about teas.
Here's what I bought. I couldn't resist this cute little mug.
Down the road we stopped at a very large organic farm and had a great lunch in their little cafe. Dad bought some of their purple sweet potatoes and a cluster of mushrooms from another local farm.
Another new-to-me cousin contacted me on Ancestry. Our DNA says we're cousins but we haven't yet figured out how, except that it's likely on my paternal grandmother's side. This person grew up in London but has lived the past 30 years in Germany, making her the first living ancestor I've discovered outside the US!
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.
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?
Summers in the Northeast can be brutal with temps in the 80s to 90s and high humidity.
Since I'm not working and am home for large portions of the day, keeping my home cool during these warm weather months has been front and center in my mind lately.
I live in a two-story Connecticut home with no central air conditioning. For 15 years, I've gotten by with just one small in-window air conditioner that goes in an upstairs bedroom. Still, the thing is incredibly heavy and a real pain to drag down from the attic. For that reason, I only use it when the heat makes sleeping impossible; it's also noisy and the way it cycles on and off is disruptive to sleep, anyway. Plus, with two cats who like to come and go as they please, it's difficult to keep the door closed, so all that cold air often ends up drifting out into the hallway.
Here are 10 low-tech ways I keep my home cool without noisy, electricity-gobbling air conditioners:
1. Use a sunblock. I'm a big advocate of using sun-blocking drapes and curtains. As soon as I get up in the morning, which these days is around 6 a.m., I lower the blinds and close the curtains on my east- and south-facing windows. Around noon, I'll close the south-facing windows as well. Sometime in mid-afternoon, I'll open curtains on those east-facing windows which will then be in shade. By 5 p.m., I'll fling open all the windows and curtains so I don't feel like I'm living in a cave.
2. Blow, baby, blow. Next in my arsenal of home-cooling techniques are my assortment of fans. On hot days like this, my three ceiling fans are whirring round and round, two box fans are blasting and a small tabletop fan is doing its part, too. Warm, humid air feels much more bearable on the skin when it's moving.
3. The evening cool-down. Once outdoor night-time temperatures have dropped below indoor temperatures, it's time to encourage the exchange of warm air for cool. (There are parts of the country where this never really happens, and if you live in one of these areas, you have my sympathy.) However, if you live in a two-story house or condo, you can accelerate the air exchange by strategically using box fans. You'll need at least two. Put one box fan on the lower level blowing into the room, as you normally would. Put the other box fan in a upstairs window blowing out. (If you have more box fans, by all means, put additional units on both levels in the same manner as the first two were placed. If you have an accessible attic and can leave the attic door open, place a box fan in an attic window.) The inward and outward-facing fans will create an invisible air flow that will rid your home of warm air more quickly than you would by simply blowing all that hot air around inside.
4. Just chillin'. I have heard it suggested that you can speed up the cooling process by placing a large pot of ice cubes in front of a blowing fan. I have not tried this enough to form an opinion about it, though I do know my cats appreciate the extra water bowl.
5. Think shade trees. While this may not help much this year, think about planting some shade trees as a long-term investment you'll come to appreciate in future years. Remember, plant deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves in fall) on the south and west sides of your home so they block the sun in summer but not in winter. While you're at it, plant evergreens on the north side of the house to block the harshest winter winds.
If you don't have room for trees, or a green thumb, you might want to consider a retractable awning installed on the windows of those rooms that receive the most sun.
6. Take a cold shower. If, like me, you have trouble sleeping on extremely warm summer nights, I find that taking a cold shower right before bedtime helps considerably.
7. Don't forget your pet's comfort. A handful of ice cubes in the water bowl will be much appreciated. And while you could always give your doggie a cool water bath, your cats won't likely appreciate that. I've been steadily clipping the long hair of my Maine Coon, another thing he also doesn't appreciate it, but it is something he'll tolerate if I clip his fur while he eats his favorite food. He is looking quite bedraggled, bit hopefully a bit cooler. I'm saving his fur and would like to donate it to the Gulf cleanup efforts. Be careful with the scissors, though!
8. Keep cooking to a minimum. Being a household of one, I rarely use the big oven anymore, but on hot days like this, I don't even like to use my little convection toaster/oven. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating, any hot air generated by kitchen appliances has to go somewhere, so don't release it into the house.
9. Tread gently on the earth. This is the time of year when I really appreciate my bamboo floor mats. I replaced many of my rugs years ago because I found my cats had little interest in scratching bamboo rugs. I have bamboo rugs in various shapes and sizes in my bathroom, office, spare bedroom, sun room and dining room. There's just one room now that has wall-to-wall carpeting. The bamboo rugs feel cool underfoot and vacuuming then is not nearly as labor-intensive as it is with conventional rugs.
10. Last winter, I got in the habit of entering and exiting my home through a garage and basement door rather than the front door. This prevented a lot of warm air from escaping the house. I even asked visitors (family and friends) to enter through the garage.
Now that it's so warm out, I plan to do the same thing, but this time, I hope to keep the cooler air in the home inside. When you open my east-facing front door in morning, you can immediately feel the blast of hot air, so it would seem a good idea to just not open that door. Sometimes, it's the simplest ideas that work the best.
11. Go down below. When all else fails, head for the basement, where it will be noticeably cooler. Hey, you might use your basement as an emergency shelter during a hurricane or tornado. Maybe you already have it stocked with water and food reserves, or if you're really lucky, you've got a finished basement that is already quite comfy. Or maybe, like me, you've got to find your way through spiderwebs and dust. No matter. Think of it as a camping trip, sans campfire. Hang out down below during the worst of the summer's heat waves.
What tips can you share for low-tech ways to keep your home cool this summer?