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Wild Blue Yonder
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Busy, busy busy

February 9th, 2020 at 12:55 am

Busy, busy, busy.

New computer
I decided to replace my "aging" Windows 7 Dell desktop since Microsoft no longer supports it, virus/security-wise. It was also getting incredibly SLOW, probably due to today's complex graphics.

I bought a new "all-in-one" Dell desktop (Windows 10) with a slightly bigger monitor of about 23" and NO tower, which I like a lot since too many wires makes it hard to vacuum. Everything is wireless.

I had considered a laptop, but I really like a large monitor, which doubles as a TV for me when watching movies on Kanopy. All you need is a participating public library (and library card) and you can watch some great free movies there.

I also bought a gadget to transfer all my files from my old computer to the new one; I made the mistake of having them put into the "cloud," so now all my photos are just dumped into the cloud by date and are no longer neatly organized by file. There were also tons of duplicate photos; I don't know why, but that's likely the reason why the system is already telling me I'm nearly full at the cloud and I would have to start paying a monthly fee for more storage there. So I'm slowly deleting the dupe photos.

I spent a while on the phone with tech support, because, to start with, I couldn't get the keyboard to work. who knew there is a tiny on/off switch on one side? Then there was an issue with the face recognition feature not working. Uh, duh, that's because I didn't push the little pop-up camera in the up position so it could actually see me. This is what happens when they give you no instruction manual. Sigh.

I spent most of Friday manually copying over all my bookmarks and reorganizing them by file names. I still need to connect to my printer and a few other things. Transitioning to a new computer is always somewhat traumatic for me.

Started taxes
I started doing my taxes last week but had to stop as I was missing one form, which I now have, so I hope to continue (complete) my federal taxes today??? I did another small backdoor Roth IRA conversion since my income these days is pretty low. I am kind of procrastinating by writing this post.

Gift cards...whoa!
I earned $200 in gift cards (it would be less if I opted for cash payment) from my latest Citi credit card, so I have gift cards for Macy's, Lowe's and Bed Bath & Beyond to use whenever I want. I don't really need anything right now, though I will surely find the gift cards useful at some point.

Moneywise, the computer was a big unexpected expense, but I'll just try to lay low on spending this month. If I spend on nothing but essentials, there's a chance I'll break even.

Bone health
Lately I've been thinking about bone health. My mother had osteoporosis. I have walked for exercise, for years, but I've read this doesn't necessarily help. So I bought a weighted vest after hearing good things about how they can help you actually build bone. You can put up to 10 lbs in half-pound increments in the vest; starting to wear weight very gradually.

I started with 2 lbs which I guess was too much because it gave me a mild backache. I eased off that and am now walking (when I think of it) with just 1 lb, evenly dispersed between front and back. I wear it under my coat and it's a little bulky, but I wouldn't be caught dead with it worn on the outside.

However, now I'm wondering if I should give up on the vest entirely. I remembered that last year, when I saw my neurologist for my annual visit, we had done an MRI; the great news is that nothing hadchanged since my last MRI 10 years ago. But there was mention in the report of spinal stenosis, and it mentioned a marked decrease in the cushioning between certain vertebrae. I brought it up to my neurologist, who didn't really discuss it with me. I feel he was only interested in the MRI for the MS.

Not sure if it's part of normal aging? Is wretched back pain a part of my future? I don't know. I have come across some exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles along the spinal column to perhaps alleviate the condition, although I feel no pain but am wondering if that's what's going to come. I have noticed a distinct clicking sound in my neck when I turn my head from left to right. I have a physical scheduled for next week so will talk to her about it then.

The funny thing with the physical, which I originally had scheduled for this past Thursday. I showed up for my 10:15 am appointment and while the door was UNLOCKED (it's in a commercial office building) no one was there. The computer at the reception desk was off. I called out "hello?" and no one answered. The hallways were dark. Very strange.

I couldn't figure out why the door would be unlocked yet the place vacant. Living in a town where a mass shooting occurred, I started to wonder if the staff was being held hostage and maybe a gunman was in the office. I didn't stay there long. I left messages with the answering service, who knew nothing. Finally, a staff person showed up, very apologetic. They had a one-hour delayed opening due to weather (just a little rain), and they had tried to call me but umm, I haven't been there in 2 years and I got my new iPhone since then, so they couldn't reach me. Even though I had just talked to them 2 days prior due to the possibly bad weather, and if someone had thought about it, they should have been able to get my new number by looking at the past incoming phone calls.

Learning to love sardines
I am trying to learn to love sardines. They are supposed to be very good for you: low on the food chain so less heavy minerals than other fish, even salmon, and good for brain health. I'm still eating mostly plant-based, but do eat fish 1-2x a week. I was afraid I wouldn't like it. I bought several tins of sardines a few weeks ago and the one tin sat on my kitchen table for 2 weeks.

I worked my way up to trying out one of the recipes I got and opened the tin. Hmmm, these don't look like sardines. Turns out they weren't. They were smoked oysters. I didn't realize other things besides sardines would be packed in those little tins and sitting so close to the sardines, I made a mistake in picking them up. I ate them in my sandwich and they were ok.

Then, yesterday, I tried the sardines, using the same recipe of mayo, mustard, lemon juice, chopped red onion and celery with sprouts on whole grain toasted bread. (I used spelt.) I mashed the sardines up well in the dressing, and this helped to mask any strong odor. It was a little fishy, but I got it down. I was hoping to eat sardines once a week. Still not crazy about them but I want to give it another try. If anyone has a recipe that really masks the flavor/odor by combining it with other foods, I'd love to hear it.

Job status?
There's a chance I may lose my job in another month or so, which is worrisome. The short story is this: a former (disgruntled) coworker who used to share my job with me saw an ad for my job, and it said they were looking for someone f/t. He texted me and said, what's going on?

I spoke to my manager about it the very next day, and he immediately told me they were looking to replace the woman who currently shares my job with me as she doesn't like to work late into the evening and was in fact leaving the office at 3:30 pm each day as she has kids. Another coworker who is not a trained editor was picking up the slack after she left, but I'm guessing that wouldn't be a permanent solution. (But why did the ad say "full-time?"

My manager did ask me if I was sure I wouldn't want to work f/t, and I confirmed that. He seemed very straightforward with me, and I thought I had nothing to worry about until a day or so later, when the recruiter who got me this job called me to again ask, what's going on? After I finished telling him there was nothing to worry about, that my former coworker was only "stirring the pot" due to sour grapes, the recruiter, a personal friend of mine, told me my manager had talked to him over a month ago saying he needed a f/t person. Recruiter promised to talk to my manager and let me know what he said, and even said he might "recuse" himself from looking for my replacement because he felt loyal to me. I told him don't worry about it, that it was his job.

When recruiter called me back, he said my manager was "torn." That he thought the current work arrangement was working out well, but at the same time he also thought it would be better to go back to a f/t position. But that he wouldn't be doing anything right away as he had a vacation planned coming up.

My manager doesn't know I'm friends with the recruiter, so I don't think he knows I know what he told recruiter.

So I don't know what to think. I'd hate to lose this job. It's not perfect, but it would be hard to duplicate elsewhere in terms of the money or the work. I just can't see myself returning to full-time, but I also see there are very few quality p/t jobs out there. I'd really have to rely on recruiters again.

I do know my employer has gone through several different people when they decided to let my former coworker go. He was furious because they never told him why, and he is still a little obssessed about finding out the truth, but he's asking all of us, his former coworkers, as if we would know.

I did apply for one job, which WAS f/t, but it was a one-of-a-kind job, working as copy editor for my local weekly newspaper. Having started out in journalism and having very fond memories of it, that would be almost a dream job, and I was willing to take a huge cut in salary just to work right here in town, fo the newspaper. But I never heard from them. I applied after seeing the posting for weeks, and then I stopped seeing their ad, so I suspect they found someone else. Sigh.

Fasting for health
On the health front. I have also begun doing 16:8 intermittent fasting, which means you fast for 16 hours and eat only during an 8-hour window. So, for instance, you eat your final meal/food at around 7 or 7:30 pm, sleep the night, and then don't eat again til close to noon.

There are a host of health benefits, although most people do it for weight loss. You're essentially eating 2 meals a day, and nothing in the evening. I have found it relatively easy to do, but have only been doing it a few times a week.

My 2019 Breakdown of Income and Expenses

December 27th, 2019 at 07:37 pm

It's that time of year when Patient Saver likes to analyze her total spending for the year, which of course couldn't be possible without her careful expense tracking all year long!

The big picture: My total spending for the year was $39,530. Of my 30 or so expense categories, expenses increased from last year in 12 categories, including my top 3 biggest expenses, unfortunately. Expenses stayed about even with last year in another 6 categories, and expenses actually decreased in 9 categories.

Here are my ranked expenses, from greatest to least, along with a little commentary thrown in.

Property taxes: $6,738. My #1 biggest expense, representing 17% of my total expenses. Not much I can do about this until I turn age 65, when I can take advantage of a pretty generous town senior tax credit and a less generous state tax credit for seniors with more stringent criteria I may or may not meet.

Food: A whopping $4,982, or 22% MORE than I spent last year. Much of this increase is due to my decision to buy a half-share at the organic farm, which cost me $585 for the season. I won't do that again, but will continue to shop there more selectively.

This category vexes me more than any other; try as I have in the past, I have yet to contain my costs, and in some ways, I don't try to since I believe that eating healthy, organic produce is conducive to good health. For much of the year, I would hit Aldi's first for the basics and then supplement as needed by going elsewhere for things Aldi's didn't have. This obviously didn't have much impact.

Health insurance: I'm on the healthcare exchange and premiums cost me $4,330 this year. I feel grateful to have seen just a 5% increase from last year. (I treat out of pocket copays and other medical bills separately below.)

Greenhouse window, $3,000: I budget for up to $10,000 in home improvement expenses each year, or vacations. In other words, I have $10K I can spend on either category, or both, up to a max of $10k. I didn't vacation this year so I spent about $8,250 on various home improvements.

I wanted the greenhouse window to brighten up a dark corner at the end of a short hallway, a place where I could bathe some of my cacti and succulents in more winter sunlight. They seem to like it, although I have noticed the temperature in that corner is now 5 degrees cooler than the rest of the house. The window juts out from the side of the house and while there is insulation underneath and around it, I guess it's not enough. I may consider calling the builder back in spring to see if he can beef it up somehow.

Another home improvement, beefing up and essentially redoing my attic insulation, was my #5 expense this year, at $2,674. I'm glad I did it. I think it's more airtight up there. It's hard to say for sure since how much I spend on heating oil has more to do with oil prices than insulation.

I know that the blown-in cellulose seals things up better than fiberglass batts, which is what I had, plus they used a lot of sealers and added insulating foam sheets on all the knee-wall doors and the main door.

Next on my list was the cost of taking down a massive locust tree and a somewhat smaller, but dead, ash tree, another victim of ash borer. The takedown of these 2 trees cost $2,576.

My #7 expense comes under the general "Household" expenses, my only real catch-all for certain expenses I can't put elsewhere. This came to $1,668.

My #8 expense was my cat, at $1,442, and this was up 71% from last year, due to some dental work he needed.

My #9 expense was "Lawn & garden," at $1,261, which was actually 18% lower than last year because I tried to do a few mowings myself early in the spring and toward the end of the season, to save money. As it is, I only have the mower guy come every other week.

I mostly dislike mowing in the heat and humidity of July and August. It sure is nice to have someone else do it, but it really is a big expense, so I will try again to do some mowings myself (while I still can).

My #10 expense was car upkeep ($981), up 68% from last year due to the need for front brakes (the 1st time needed for my 2013 Honda) and some other stuff. This is another of those categories it would be hard to lower unless I wanted to unwisely ignore needed maintenance. I go to the dealer, but the private places around here are just as expensive, honestly.

Electricity: $960,up 5% from last year.

Gasoline for car: $881, down 14% from last year, not because I'm driving any less but due to lower gas prices.

Heating oil/furnace cleaning: $809, down 35% from last year for the same reason as gas for my car was down: Texan crude prices were just down generally.

Maintenance: $764, down 41% from last year. This includes general repairs, the servicing of my furnace humidifier, AC and stuff like that.

Homeowners insurance: $699, which was about the same last year.

State of CT: I owed them $658 last year and i guess I'm under-withholding on my pay. I need to adjust this on a W-4.

Car insurance: $655, which was up 10% from last year. I take advantage of every conceivable discount available and still it goes up each year, which is hugely irritating to me as I've never filed any kind of claim for home or auto in 25 years.

Internet/phone: $633, down 30% from last year, mainly because my dear cousin gifted me an iPhone and included the monthly service as part of the gift. I still maintain a landline, but the cost ($45) is nominal as it's Magic Jack. I hate AT&T, which hiked the cost of my Internet service after I dropped landline service with them, so now I pay them $10 more a month for the Internet. If I could switch Internet service for a lower price, I would.

Out of pocket medical/dental: $589, down 66% from last year, mainly because I had a less-than-ideal plan and made a concerted effort to avoid going to the doctor, although I did see my neurologist and ophthalmologist along with my dentist, who is kind of pricey since I have no dental insurance.

Entertainment: $527, which is about what I spent last year. In this category I include things like my Hulu subscription, my Ancestry subscription in the past, the occasional movie out and so on.

Coworker's car scratch: $500. I hugely regret scratching my coworker's car, especially since this guy is an absolute car nut and treats his Audi better than anything else in his world. I scratched the black paint on it backing out of a dark parking lot when he was unexpectedly parked behind me. I knew I couldn't file a claim with my car insurance because I long ago hiked my deductible to $5k to save money on the premiums. So I had to pay it out of pocket.

The rest of my categories are, in descending order, gifts, dining out, clothing, car taxes/registration/license fees, my umbrella policy, water, borough taxes, sewage, dump sticker and haircuts.

So total expenses came to $39,530. My total NET income came to $35,158, so I had a smallish shortfall of $4,300. Put another way, I was able to pay 89% of my expenses in 2019 with my little part-time job.

My income came primarily from my part-time copy editing job, but for the 2nd year in a row, dad gave each of his 4 children a very nice $5,000 Christmas check. I made another $850 in Facebook sales selling stuff I don't need, I earned another $600 from some random freelance work, $426 from credit card rewards, and that's about it.

What's missing from this list is housing expenses. As you may know, I paid off my mortgage early, in 2012.

Until next year!


Christmas happenings

December 26th, 2019 at 11:00 pm

I hope everyone had a nice holiday. I did, but truth be told, I always look forward to the start of a new year and new beginnings.

I was invited to join my friend's Christmas dinner with her family, which I did. There were about 10 adults. I enjoyed it, but after coffee and dessert and just before they were going to start opening presents, I chose to leave; the gift giving is such a family-oriented thing and I didn't want to get in the way of that.

Today we walked friend's dog off-leash in the wood and meadow, which he always relishes. He is a timid dog, but comes alive when he's off the leash, running.

Tomorrow, my cousin will arrive from PA and will stay through Sunday mid-day.

I had a couple of really nice conversations with another cousin in NJ. I saw her for Thanksgiving. It's nice to build ties with family over time.

These are my friend's Christmas cookies:





Today's thoughts

December 19th, 2019 at 01:33 pm

For an entire year, I've been using and enjoying the set of ceramic knives my cousin got me for Christmas last year. They're sharp as heck and I use them nearly every day. Each time I do, I hear my mother's voice inside my head: "I don't like the way you're holding that knife."

Well, the other morning I was deveining large kale leaves to make a salad. I was nearly done when I cut the middle finger of my right hand rather deeply.

Ouch.

Because I take fish oil pills (which thin the blood), it just wouldn't stop bleeding. Until finally, it did.

So I won't be shaking any hands tonight at our office Christmas dinner. Our boss takes us out to a very nice restaurant in SoNo. Since the dinner is on my day off, I decided to just drive down to the office and join the others on a shuttle van that will take them to and from the restaurant, which is probably about 20 minutes from the office. It will save me the trouble of navigating my way there in a sort of unfamiliar city in the dark, plus dealing with the parking.

By this month's end, I will have attended 5 different holiday parties! One of them my own. First was a Fillipino party my friend invited me to with her husband. She is Chinese but grew up in the Phillipines.

Last weekend I went to my neighbors' party, which was lots of fun. This is the neighbor-husband whose children's book I edited a year ago. Things are taking off and there is talk about creating a deck of cards for each character in his book (I would write the copy for the cards), along with toys. (My neighbor is a former toy designer so he knows the business.) He has an agent who was just in China, and an investor who is ready to roll. My neighbor wants me to work for him a few days a week and he told me to name my price and don't sell myself short.

I need to learn more. I'd consider quitting my current job and working for my neighbor, but I need to find out out long-term a thing this could be; if it only lasts a year, or doesn't pan out, then I would be out of work sooner than I'd like to be. I might consider doing it while keeping my current job, but I value my free time and don't really want to work 5 days a week.

I just finished writing the promo copy that will appear on Kindle/Amazon page for the book. Will be meeting him this morning so will talk more.

I'll be spending Christmas with another friend/neighbor. I've been tasked with bringing crudites and dip. Her sister is bringing someone from work along, so I feel better knowing I am not the only "stray" they've picked up. Smile

Then, 2 days after Xmas, I'm hosting my cousin who will be up for the weekend from PA. I've been meal-planning for his visit but it's hard to do since my dad, who will join us, doesn't drive, and my cousin, who is older, doesn't like to drive once he's up here. It's hard to plan a meal if you have to run out to pick people up, so I may ask cousin to do it just once so I can focus on the meal.

My holiday gift shopping is mostly done.

Work has been very light for the last month or so. This is good and bad. Bad, obviously, because it's less income, but good in that it may open up an opportunity to do another Roth IRA conversion without raising my income that much.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 28th, 2019 at 10:46 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

I'm looking forward to my favorite meal of the year. Smile

In money news, I was accepted for a new bonus credit card, the Citi Rewards + card, which will earn me a $200 bonus after I spend $1,500 in the 1st 3 months.

I remembered that I had to temporarily lift the freezes I have at the 3 credit bureaus or I'd be automatically rejected by the card issuer.

It's been a while since I've been accepted for a new credit card. Even though my credit score is sterling, I have no mortgage debt, so I think some issuers have trouble judging my creditworthiness with no installment payments to track, and just the revolving debt of my existing credit cards.

I took advantage of my primary bank's promo where, if you use their debit card 10 times in a 1-month period, you earn a $25 Amazon gift card. Easy peasy.

I also earned another $10 by paying a BOA credit card bill using my phone. I don't plan to be paying bills using my smartphone or my debit card on a regular basis.

As is his wont, my boss gave me a $100 bottle of wine this week. I will save it for when my cousin comes up for a visit between Christmas and New Year's.

Goings on

November 16th, 2019 at 07:51 pm

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.

Going on a starvation diet til year-end

October 31st, 2019 at 07:58 pm

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).