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Archive for July, 2020

If it's not one thing...

July 27th, 2020 at 01:31 pm's another. Or so I was ruefully thinking yesterday afternoon when at some point I realized my central AC had stopped working.

I changed the batteries in the thermostat. Flipped the switch on the breaker panel. Nothing.

Reluctantly, I called my HVAC guy and this morning when he called me back, he mentioned that the last time he was here, it was a matter of a small $2 fuse at a shut-off switch near the bottom of my basement stairs. I guess it's an emergency feature whereby I could shut off the furnace in case of fire, from a relative distance.

As soon as he mentioned the switch, I thought, oh my god, I've done this before. Paid a lot of money for a "service call" when all they had to do was replace the fuse. I had remembered years ago when this first happened to always keep a box of spare fuses handy.

I replaced the fuse and like magic, the AC compressor kicked on after a few minutes' delay. Now if I could just remember to check that darn fuse when either my furnace or AC isn't working! Can't tell you how often I've wasted money to have someone come to the house, only to find it's such an easy fix. It happens so infrequently, like every other year or so, that I totally forget to check it. Sigh.

I may mail that guy a Starbucks gift card as a way to say thank you.

As far as my knee rehabilitation, I finished up my 6 weeks of physical therapy last week. While I have improved, I'm nowhere's near 100% fine. If it wasn't for today's heat wave, I would try walking a greater distance on it, which I haven't done in months. Walking around the house is fine, but I feel it when walking, say, from car to supermarket. The knee is still quite stiff when I try to bend it (I think it's the swelling), but I can now fully extend it about 95% straight.

Since the physical therapy ended, I felt like I lost my security blanket. The therapist suggested I return to see the orthopedic surgeon as to possible other options, but I wasn't crazy about the surgeon and I know he's going to be biased toward surgery, which is what he initially suggested to me after a 5-minute exam of my leg.

The therapist also indicated it would not be unreasonable to continue my at-home exercises for the knee and give it another month or two. Which is what I'm doing. I also decided to double the daily exercises, so instead of doing just one daily session, which takes about 20 minutes, I'm doing the exercises in the morning and again at end of day. They aren't that strenuous but focus on building back strength in knee.

On top of that, I am still doing my "regular" strength training workouts 3x a week, which I began last spring to combat osteopenia, and after the gym I joined closed due to the virus.

So I often feel that all I'm doing is exercise, exercise, exercise! I'm just not getting any cardio now, though, so I'd really like to venture out onto my street again and see how walking goes. I know I need very well padded shoes. I may only be able to go a few hundred feet. I'm not sure. I talked a lot to my therapist about how much exercise is right...he said not too much that you set yourself back, but doing too little is also a very bad idea because muscles atrophy quickly. If anything, I tend to overdo it.

I'm trying to be patient as I've been told the knee has very little blood circulation and that's why it takes so long to heal; the red blood cells can't get in there. Also why the swelling in my knee is still there; the fluid builds up when injured but has no way to exit once there. Only slowly, over time.

Garden news: I've been regularly picking zucchini, and to a lesser extent, eggplant, cucumber, kale and stringbeans. I have about 4 small butternut squashes developing (!), but the squash plant has escaped the confines of the raised bed and sprawled all over the fenced raised bed area, making it really hard to get in there with a hose to water, especially the downward slope and my injured knee. Plus I damage the squash plant's leaves trying to thread the hose in and around it.

Yet I must water daily as this heat has been horrible. Now the vines have gone through the fence and are crawling around my lawn. I'm surprised the deer or something else hasn't discovered them yet and chewed them all up.

I did plant some asparagus bean (also known as yardlong bean) in a pot to grow up a tent frame I have on the back patio. It got going kind of late because it won't germinate until it's really pretty warm. But it loves all this heat and it has begun to really look healthy and take off. But still no signs of flowers, so I am really hoping I get to experience the 18" long beans. Same goes for the louffa sponge plant I'm growing. It's still climbing, but no flowers yet. Only maybe 6 more weeks of reliably hot weather left in the season.

Of course, I'm still waiting for the Big Kahuna: ripened tomatoes!!!! That's what I'm living for. I love blanching and freezing my surplus for winter use in soups and stews. I'm so afraid a blight or fungus is going to wipe them out before that happens, because my huge tomato plants all flopped over, in their cages, and are somewhat resting on the top of the 6 foot high perimeter fence. I can't even access the plants anymore to really thoroughly water them, and if I tried straightening them out I know I'd damage the branches.

I'm working very few hours these days, averaging probably 5 hrs a week the past 2 months. Work has become more of an afterthought than something to shape the rest of my schedule around.

My one remaining freelance client did send more work my way...from his wife, who works in the entertainment industry. I hope it becomes a more regular thing.

I continue to give and get things from my local Buy Nothing group. This morning I picked up someone's old bowling ball, which I thought I could spray paint in a metallic silver or gold and hopefully balance on an old birdbath pedestal I have (the basin broke years ago).

I also picked up a small plastic folding outdoor table and was offered a wood bunkbed ladder, which I thought I could repurpose as a trellis for pole beans next year, but I'd have to find a way to support it somehow.

I recently gave away a cross-body bag, many rolls of tape and several career books.

Pondering the Pandemic

July 14th, 2020 at 09:33 am

I'm going to have to cut my own hair.

Someone else here mentioned they scheduled some haircuts, but I'm not ready to venture there yet. It's long overdue and my hair is longer than I like it, but gosh, the haircutter has to stand so close to you, breathing down on you as you sit there....I just can't go there yet. I'd sooner hack at my own hair and if it's crooked, so be it. It will grow out again.

I used Instacart for the first time yesterday. (See my separate post on that.) I loved how it worked, but I think it has limitations Frozen/refrigerated foods would probably melt by the time I got them, and while it would be great in a pinch, I would rule it out for any kind of routine use due solely to cost.

At a social level, being a single person who lives alone, I'm about at my breaking point. I've been working remotely (extremely p/t) since mid-March, and the only people I have seen since then, sporadically, have been my father and 2 neighbors I am friends with. My one neighbor has been trying to cajole me into doing things with him, but even when wearing a mask, I find it a little hard to justify doing so when the risk remains.

He tells me he wishes I were a risk-taker, and I tell him there's a difference between taking risks and being prudent.

One outlet for me has been the Buy Nothing Facebook group in my hometown. I joined a few months ago and it's become a form of entertainment. I've given away tons of stuff on that site, but also gotten some very nice things in return, and these are not junky items. Many people generously give away brand new, never used items of all kinds.

I urged my 2 neighbors to join but now the group has gotten too big and is closed to new members. I do love that it's just people who live here; it feels a lot less anonymous than making a Goodwill donation, and I love driving the many backroads of my town, down streets I've rarely traveled, to pick up my finds. Sometimes I chat a bit, at a distance, with the giver if they're around, but more often than not, the item is simply left in a designated place for pickup.

The biggest frustration, as someone who is giving something away, is that many people who say they will be there on such and such a day to pick up don't show up. So then a storm comes and you have to run out and bring the item(s) inside so it won't get ruined. People take their time picking stuff up, which I think is disrespectful to the person making the gift. I always state "Prompt pickup appreciated" in my posts, but that doesn't seem to have much impact.

Among my favorite items that I've gotten: a set of 6 brand new vintage linen dishtowels. A round glass tabletop I paired with a rattan luggage rack I have to make a funky table. A vintage lamp that would look at home in the Adirondacks with its handpainted shade of geese flying across a mountain backdrop. And a nearly full, 25-pound bag of organic hulled barley (!) that someone had bought to feed their dogs, but it didn't agree with them. I filled up every glass food storage container I had in the house with it and shared the rest with my sister and friends. It won't go to waste!

In turn, I have given away a very well-made rocking chair with my college insignia on truth, it seems quant and old-fashioned, and my style runs more to modern. I've had it for 40 years and it was time to let it go. Kind of took up a lot of space I don't have here.

I also gifted several 35 mm cameras and some very expensive (in their time) long angle and micro lenses. There was a time I loved using these, but once I got my digital camera, and later, my iPhone, well, the quality is great and I don't see myself every going back to 35 mm. Another popular item I gave away was a full-sized extension ladder I didn't think I'd use anymore. The catch was, it was jammed in my small toolshed. I had somehow wedged it in there and remembered difficulty trying to get it out since. No worries, there. The guy who wanted it happily came over and managed to get it out of the tool shed.

Around the same time I joined the Buy Nothing group, I joined a local Facebook gardening group. It's a much smaller group, just a few hundred members. While that site isn't solely dedicated to giving and getting stuff, a bunch of us were doing so earlier in the spring, and I got a ton of vegetable and flower seedlings, as well as seeds, through that site. In fact, I only bought 1 cucumber seedlings and 2 eggplant seedlings from our local farm; everything else I have in the raised beds was gifted.

I've gotten to know a few of the other members, and several of us have been talking about the possibility of doing garden tours or even just a BYOB event at someone's patio once the pandemic settles down.

Actually, my state of Connecticut is doing very well now as far as that goes. Earlier on, of course, we were one of the hardest hit, along with New York, but since then, people have largely been taking it seriously and taking all the right precautions.

Our governor, I think, has done a very good job of steering the course, although I think I will disagree with him for the first time on 2 issues: 1. His idea to request a voluntary 2-week self-quarantine of anyone who arrives here from something like 17 different states deemed to have a high number of virus cases. My thought is that people won't voluntarily self-quarantine and we'll end up seeing a resurgence of the virus here as a result.

2) Governor has decided schools will reopen in the fall. I know this is vitally important, yet I don't see kids, especially the little ones, complying with face mask requirement and social distancing. This is really problematic, and I think a lot of parents agree with me on this.

Shopping Strategies During a Pandemic: Instacart Review

July 14th, 2020 at 08:29 am

On a whim, I decided to try using Instacart for the first time yesterday to save a trip to the grocery store.

I've avoided one of my favorite stores, Aldi's, since mid-March because I didn't like the idea of brushing past other shoppers in their narrow aisles. So when I saw they made home deliveries by partnering with Instacart, I jumped on it.

I have to say, the Instacart interface worked flawlessly, was a breeze to use and offered way more flexibility than I'd anticipated.

I downloaded the free Instacart app on my phone, which provided some conveniences I'll describe later, but I placed my order on my desktop computer.

I took my time browsing Aldi's products on the Instacart platform, which were organized by type (bakery, frozen, fresh produce and so on). I decided not to buy any frozen or refrigerated items because I was worried about how long it would take to get the delivery, and we've been having temperatures in the 90s here. So I settled on about a dozen items, mostly fresh fruit and a few other items.

My total, Instacart told me, came to $34.66.I was able to choose a day and one-hour window for delivery. I chose 7-8 pm on the same day I ordered because I knew I would be home and I was hankering for some watermelon.

After placing my order, Instacart let me know I still had time to amend my order with either additional items or to delete anything I wanted. That's when I deleted my refrigerated hummus, and Instacart instantly deducted that from my total bill.

Since I had loaded the Instacart app and given permission for them to text me updates, I got my first update about an hour before expected delivery, informing me that "Courtney" would be my shopper. I had already indicated when placing my order whether I would accept a substitute for an item should it not be available, or whether I'd prefer a refund, and I could watch in real time as Courtney made her way through my list and then made one or two substitutions of items, as well as one refund.

Courtney sent me two brief texts, the first one saying she couldn't find the golden kiwis and the last one indicating she was stopping for gas and then would be headed my way. I could actually track her progress with GPS and watch as she traveled rom Aldi's to my home (!) so I knew exactly where she was and when she'd be here. Amazing.

She arrived here on time and was so pleasant that I sent her off with two zucchini from my garden. As it turned out, she lives in my hometown, had been planning on running to Aldi's for her own family and decided to do an Instacart run while she was there. I'm pretty sure Instacart part-timers get paid a flat fee for each customer order they fill.

Courtney did make one small mistake: I had ordered a box of green kiwis ($4.09) and a 2nd box of golden kiwis ($3.29). While she was shopping, she indicated via the phone app that she couldn't find the golden kiwis and refunded me for that item. When she got here, she told me she DID find the golden kiwi, and I saw after she left that I was missing the green kiwis. But the refund I got was for the golden kiwis. (Note to self: Keep it simple.)

I loved the entire customer experience. Everything worked really well. But there was the matter of the price. I've shopped Aldi's for several years, and when I scanned the Instacart itemized list of what I'd bought, the prices seemed higher than expected. I kept wondering if Aldi's had increased its prices since the last time I had been there.

Courtney left the Aldi's receipt with the food. (Instacart later confirmed this fact with an actual photo Courtney had taken of my front steps with the food sitting there), and it was then that I realized Instacart pads the price of each and every individual item you purchase. I'd assumed they'd charge me a delivery fee (they didn't, I think because this was my first time) and a service fee for the driver (they did), but I didn't consider they'd inflate the price of my food.

So I could see that Aldi's charged me a total of $24.02; my Instacart total, as mentioned above, was $34.66. A difference of $10.64 may not seem like much, but that's actually a 44% increase! It kind of defeats the purpose of shopping at a cheap grocery store like Aldi's.

Aldi's had NOT increased their prices. But, for example, Instacart had charged me $5.49 for a whole watermelon that Aldi's wanted only $3.29 for.

If I planned to avoid grocery stores entirely during the pandemic, well, this just wouldn't be feasible, and would have inflated the nearly $5,000 I spent on groceries last year to $7,200! (Yep, I spent a lot of money on food, and I don't even eat meat.)

I could see the value of using Instacart in certain unusual situations, like if you were home recovering from surgery and couldn't get around. Otherwise, it seems like a very pricey, but seductive, convenience.