Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
I'm looking forward to my favorite meal of the year.
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.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
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.
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?