Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A few things I learned today

The etymology of "electrophoresis" is related to the etymology of "metaphor". Both contain the Greek root "pherein," meaning "to carry or bear." In science, electrophoresis is a technique where molecules are moved (where -phor = carried, borne) through a fluid by applying electric ("electro-")current. In literature, a metaphor is a short hand way of invoking the meaning of a simple thing to better understand a complex thing. For example if someone says, "life is a river" they don't mean that literally, but they are using a metaphor to "carry over" the meaning of what a river means to what life means. I never would have guessed! I really enjoy learning about words.

Insects have immune systems. http://www.sci.muni.cz/ksfz/imuno_hmyz_e.html
Insects also can heal some of their wounds and burns.

It's best to notarize your Advance Medical Directive even if your home state does not require it. This is because you could become incapacitated while traveling in another state with different laws, and you want your wishes to be enforceable no matter where you are.

My public radio station offers a nifty gizmo called a Radio Bookmark, which is a small, portable device that makes it simple to follow-up on the stories you don't want to forget. It "bookmarks" radio stories with the touch of a button. Later you plug it into your computer’s USB port and all your bookmarked stories appear. I have never heard of such a thing until today!

I am not the only one who wants to switch to Google Chrome, but can't do so until the Roboform application is made compatible.

Despite the debacles in recent years, election laws all over the country are still full of holes. I can't wait till next week when this moot court decision is announced: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95924817

Several studies have proven that memories can be biased by the questions asked at the time of the memory's retrieval. Those studies are fascinating to read. The effect is so powerful that it occurs even when the subject knows that the interrogator is trying to trick them!

Those are just the things I remembered learning today. Surely there's lots of other information that got into my mind without me being aware of its entry. How awe-inspiring to have a thing so wonderful as a brain!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update on my back injury

It has been about a month since I first hurt my back. Last week I thought I could return to work. Boy was I wrong. I worked half-days in the office, then returned home to work in the afternoons. I was not very productive, and I managed to undo much of the progress I had made in physical therapy (PT).

Lots of friends and colleagues thought I was nuts for trying to go back to work. Here's why I wanted to try: My goal is to be able to return to work full time. That's where my road to recovery is supposed to end. When I began down the road, I made gradual progress at home until I was finally able to move around and to sit awhile without pain. It seemed like I had made all the progress I was going to make on this part of the road. The next step towards that ultimate goal would be to head back to work, and gradually make progress on that new part of the road. It turns out that I was simply not ready. My first day back was not too bad. The next day was harder. By the 4th day I wished I could stay home. The last day I called my doctor and told him I couldn't do this anymore. I had expected to find each day a little easier than the one before, but when that didn't happen I knew it was a mistake.

So now I've returned to disability and my full time job is to get better. I have PT three times a week, and until I went back to work it had delivered vast improvements for me. If I continue making progress like that, I shouldn't need any aggressive treatments. No injections, no surgeries... that's what I'm hoping for. I'll always have to be careful with my spine to avoid re-injuring it, but I really hope this will be an acute injury that won't become a chronic pain issue.

In addition, my company has agreed to buy whatever office chair my therapist recommends. Our standard office chairs are perfectly comfortable for healthy people, but not for injuries like mine. My mom suggested a great comeback for the smart remarks that are sure to come from coworkers who are sure to envy my new groovy chair: "I'd gladly trade you my chair for your healthy spine." So there. Remind them that this is not a luxury item -- and that it's not what I would have chosen. I'm totally planning to use that line.

Right now, without causing pain, I can do light housework, or sit with regular posture for about a half an hour, or sit in a recliner for about 3 hours (in 45-minute chunks), or stand for about an hour. If I do more than that, I become very uncomfortable and I have to lie down and rest for several hours. If I'm somewhere that I can not lie down, like when I was at work or if I'm driving, I have to take a painkiller to sustain me until I CAN lie down. Most days I don't need painkillers. Which is good for many reasons, one of which is that alcoholic beverages are contraindicated. Heh.

Friday, September 12, 2008

One thing I learned from Discovery Channel

I was watching a show called Destroyed in Seconds on Discovery Channel, and they were discussing a fog-related pileup crash in California last year. I lived in California for eight years during my childhood. I knew that kind of weather - that thick fog that's thicker than any fog you've ever seen. But I was a kid, so it was fun in the fog; I didn't know how dangerous it was. By the time I was a driving teenager, we had moved out of California. So until I saw this TV show, my brain had never had the occasion to put my fog experience together with my driving experience. It was an odd experience to feel those memories touching each other during that TV show. How strange that many separate memories could put themselves together and produce anxiety in the present.

Tule Fog (photo credit: Flickr) I also learned for the first time that this fog is so unique that it has a name: tule fog. Pronounced "TOOL-lee." Most of the photos I found, although they claimed to be tule fog photos, seemed like they were just regular fog photos. The photo here is more like what I remember. We always called it Merced fog, because Merced is the town we lived in.

One night in particular sticks out in my memory. Mom was driving, and my little brother and I were about 6 and 9 years old. We had all been visiting a friend's house that evening, about two miles from our house, and it was time to leave around 8:30 or 9:00. The roads were very familiar, very residential, and never very busy. During the day we were frequently allowed to ride our bikes to this friend's house. That drive took about a half an hour because we had to drive so slowly, and because we couldn't see any landmarks or street signs. At one point along the way, we stopped because my mom couldn't even see her hood ornament! The best part was when my brother had to climb up a street sign to find out whether this was our street. My mom couldn't see that sign from the ground, even though she got out of the car and walked over to the signpost. So she asked my brother to climb the pole and read it. It was unbelievable.

I remember having fog days from time to time. Schools would have delayed openings to wait for the fog to burn off. One of those mornings I asked my mom about it, because I didn't understand the danger. I could see enough to walk to the bus stop, what's the problem? She explained that cars wouldn't always see a little girl walking in fog like this. I had thought that as long as I could see them, I would know when it was safe to cross. Mercifully, she didn't dent my implicit trust of the bus driver's abilities by explaining that the drive itself was dangerous.

Fast-forward to the day I saw this Discovery Channel show. Again since the idea of driving in Merced fog was so new to me, I asked Mom what I should do in a situation like that. First, she said, DON'T DRIVE. If you're already driving, slow WAY down, but don't do it suddenly because the drivers behind won't detect the change in speed until it's too late.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Heavy Lifting

A couple of weeks ago we had a septic backup into the basement. It was disgusting, and probably worthy of an entire blog post all its own. It was suddenly very important to get stuff out of the basement - stuff that is already wet and stuff that will soon get wet if it's not moved NOW. When boxes are soaked with yucky water, you tend to hold them away from your body. As everyone knows, this is not proper lifting technique. But it's exactly how I lifted those boxes.

I only carried a few things, because I hadn't been feeling very well that day. I had had breakfast and went back to sleep for half the day (I even missed the meeting), I woke up to help organize a few visits from the septic repair people, then ate dinner, then slept soundly all night again. The next morning was Monday, and without a working septic system, nobody got showers so we all stayed home from work. As soon as the repairman got it working again, I raced upstairs to bathe because I still felt filthy from the previous day's cleanup efforts. I sat on the shower floor to shave my legs, but that small stretch was the straw that broke the camel's back, though it was my back that stopped working.

I stayed in bed all day Monday, in pain but not emergency-room-level pain. The next morning the pain was equally bad, so I went to the doctor's. The problem was that I was home alone on Tuesday. I wouldn't leave my bedroom because it's the only place in the house that allows stair-free access to the toilet. In this condition I would need a ride to the doctor's office. I got in touch with someone from my congregation and the help swooped in quickly. Not only did I get a ride to the doctor in the middle of a weekday afternoon, but I got eight other visitors besides.

The doctor prescribed muscle relaxers and narcotic painkillers, and instructed me to take LOTS of Advil. Four times more than the labeled dosage instructions. The next day I got an x-ray, and an MRI a few days later. Results: two herniated discs in my lower back. Ugh. L4L5 and L5S1 will never be the same.

I have applied for short-term disability benefits (80% of my salary, wow!) and physical therapy has started. The therapy is exhausting. It doesn't hurt exactly, it just wipes my energy. In fact at this point, almost three weeks since the injury, I am free from pain most of the time. In order to return to work, I need to strengthen my muscles to permit longer periods of sitting. Right now I start feeling uncomfortable after sitting for 45 minutes. And "sitting" is a relative term these days. Really what I mean is leaning on a whole bunch of pillows with my feet on a stool. It's recliner-like sitting.

Right now, the plan is to visit the doctor tomorrow, regale him with tales of my astounding progress, and return to work on Monday. Let's see how it goes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My favorite B&B

Every year, the Maine Lobster Festival runs from Wednesday to Sunday to include the first Sunday in August. Well, that's how I *think* it goes every year, based on the two years I've known about it.

Last year we decided to go on the spur of the moment, and we couldn't find a nearby place to stay. I finally found a room at a bed-and-breakfast located forty minutes from the festival grounds. We loved that B&B so much that we booked it again for the 2008 Festival season.

Last year we went to the Festival on a Saturday, and this year we went on a Wednesday. Next year I'm hoping to go on BOTH Wednesday and Saturday. I think those days are the best days of the Festival because Wednesday is the first day of the Festival and they allow everyone in for free. All the other days you have to pay like $8 or $10 per person to get in; that's in addition to the money you spend on lobster and other stuff inside the Festival. And then Saturday is a pretty good day because they have lots of musical performances all day long. There's some music on each day really, but Saturday it runs non-stop and you can go from stage to stage and see all kinds of different musical stuff.

The Festival isn't a huge one. It doesn't feel too crowded to me. We find that in four leisurely hours there, we eat lots of perfectly-cooked lobster (only $38 for a triple lobster dinner!), eat a few other "festival food" items (like fried candy bars!), visit all the exhibits twice, buy a couple things, watch a performance or two, and by then we're ready to grab a beverage and go home. But despite its modest size, I love it.

I also love the unique experience of staying at a B&B. My discovery of the Festival last year was also my discovery of this type of lodging. I thought all B&B's were as awesome as Maple Hill Farm. On this year's trip however, I found out that some B&B's are "just okay." We stayed at a B&B near Bar Harbor, Maine for the second half of our vacation. It was a perfectly nice place, not particularly bad. But it was lacking some of the thoughtful touches that we love about Maple Hill Farm. We thought that these touches were unique to the B&B style; we didn't realize they were unique to Maple Hill Farm!

Here is a list of things that make Maple Hill Farm special to me:
- Huge 200+ acres to explore
- Green energy: solar panels and a wind turbine and accompanying gauges that we can gawk at right onsite
- Other green decisions too, like how most food scraps get fed to the chickens, and how shower supplies are served up in bulk pumps instead of little travel-size bottles
- Large inviting common areas
- Interesting and personable innkeepers Scott & Vince
- Working farm with funny llamas
- Delicious (and consistent) breakfast choices
- Free from light pollution makes for awesome stargazing
- Full bar service
- Separate kitchen facilities for B&B guests to refrigerate things, and supplied with travel mugs, silverware, barware, cookies, and always a surprise treat to eat
- Gourmet coffee flowing hot and fresh and free all day long
- Located in Hallowell and next to the state capital Augusta: towns that are small enough to feel small, but not so small that they're boring. Perfecly sized for our tastes.

The Bar Harbor B&B didn't have any of those things above. Not one! Since I'm such a picky eater, it was tough for me to accept a surprise "innkeeper's cooking experiment" greeting me each morning. This B&B did have its good points, I'll admit, but it's hard to remember those when I'm comparing the two places.

I'm sure every B&B owner would tell me that it's not entirely fair to compare one B&B to another. Each one has its own feel and flavor, with its own unique features. I agree with that completely, but I think that every B&B, regardless of its individuality, should have an abundance of "thoughtful touches." Things that give guests a genuine home-like feeling. Otherwise it just feels like a really nice hostel!

We've already booked our 2009 dates at the Maple Hill Farm.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Great and the Good -- how I tell the difference

They say the best way to find a good auto mechanic is by asking your friends for a recommendation. That's the method I used to find my mechanic Rich. He always tried to save me money, explaining when I could repair just one part of a system instead of replacing the whole system. And fixing just what I asked him to fix. So he's not one of those mechanics who will take the car in for a tire rotation and send you away with a $400 repair bill because of "finding" all kinds of additional problems. Rich takes it as a personal offense if he discovers that I've brought my car somewhere else for service. And he is located near my place of work, so he would drive me to and from work on the days that I brought my car into his shop for service.

This week I found out the hard way that Rich has retired, and he sold his business to a new guy who calls himself Sab. I brought my car into Sab anyway, since I may as well give him a chance to prove himself worthy in my eyes. I brought the car on Friday morning, reporting that the transmission seemed to be racing. Also it needed an oil change and a brake bulb replaced. I had bought the bulb already and gave it to him. An employee drove me to my work from the repair shop, just as Rich had always done. Nice! They called me after a while, said the transmission had no problems, and since they had completed the rest of the work, I could pick up my car now. "But wait," I said, "the transmission has been slipping every day for three years." If you're telling me there are "no problems" with it, then I KNOW you didn't test drive it. "Please test drive it and call me back. Maybe the problem isn't the transmission, but SOMETHING is wrong with my car. I know it's not running right -- find it and fix it."

A little while longer, they called back and said I could come pick it up. The shop sent a person to pick me up at work and bring me to the repair shop (again, nice!). My bill was $30 for the oil change and $10 for the bulb installation. Right THEN I knew I would not be coming back. Because you've already failed to find my car's most noticeable problem (the slipping transmission) and you've NOT identified the mystery problem that brought me here in the first place, and on top of all that, you're CHARGING me to install a bulb that I've supplied you with? Rich would never have charged for that! Not when I was already there as a paying customer! But I just kept it inside, quietly and privately deciding that this shop was nothing special. Cuz it's not like they've cheated me or anything -- they're not a BAD business. They're just not especially great. I paid the $40 total and drove back to finish my workday.

At work, they called again and said the mechanic had left a pair of pliers in my trunk, and asked if I could please bring the tool back. It didn't matter when, just any convenient time today; they were very apologetic. My decision to avoid this repair shop was confirmed again now on two counts: First, a great mechanic doesn't lose his tools, and Second, a great guy like Rich would have driven to ME in a situation like this; he wouldn't have asked me to come to HIM. So again, I kept these opinions to myself and just politely dropped off the pliers at the end of my day.

From the time I first picked up the car, exactly ten miles elapsed on my odometer when -- lo and behold -- the exhaust fell off my car and onto the street. Egads! I KNEW there had been something wrong! I had been driving around for three days with the exhaust pipes just barely holding on. And I had mistaken that sputtering sound for a transmission problem. But still, even with such an advanced state of deterioration, Sab's shop couldn't detect the problem at all. Wow.

I called for a tow, and got a Punjabi driver to come get me. He was a really fun guy to talk to, and he said he considered me as part of his family since I had the same last name as his. We drove about a half an hour to the shop near my house that fixed my exhaust LAST year. Sigh. It's broken again now, and I'm back to square one, in need of a great recommendation. They'd better fix it under warranty.
Time to start asking around.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chicken Kitchen Mustard-n-Curry Sauce

Recipe Adjustment Factor is 20 Times Original Amounts (Original Amounts in parentheses.)

Kitty’s Copycat Chicken Kitchen Mustard-n-Curry Sauce

4 cups mayonnaise(10 tsp)
1/2 cup yellow mustard(1 1/4 tsp)
3 Tbs + 1 tsp curry powder(1/2 tsp)
3/4 cup water(2 tsp)

Stir vigorously. Add water slowly, stirring until well mixed into the mayo-mustard-curry mix. Add more or less water, depending on how "runny" you want the sauce to be. Curry is to taste!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The most complex thing

What is the most complex thing I can think of? "The human heart," I
thought wistfully. But no, I think the heart can be understood. It's
difficult of course, because the heart is desperate. And because a
relationship -- a connecting of two hearts -- doubles the
uncertainties. But some experts, even some laypeople, would argue that
they think they understand at least their own hearts - their motives,
dreams, and thoughts. So is that the MOST complex thing there is?

Maybe global problems are near the top of the list. Like natural
disasters, poverty, war, climate change, and such. Those problems,
individually and collectively, can not be solved without changing
hearts and minds, combined with extraordinary technological advances
that would also be needed. So, I guess, that's the same as saying the
complexity of every heart on earth would have to be added to the
complexity of the earth itself in order to measure the complexity of
these problems.

Maybe though, the most complex thing is one that we haven't even begun
to contemplate. Take the Universe as an example -- it's something
about which which human knowledge has huge gaps in understanding.
Gaps so huge that nobody can say even how huge. Now imagine a time
when all of those gaps are filled, and we come to find out everything
there is to know about the universe. ... It's impossible to imagine,
isn't it? Well for me it is. Maybe the most complex thing is

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Dream Vacation (well, really just my "Not-Nightmare" Vacation)

I just had a great travel experience, which is rarer and rarer to hear about these days.  And my trip could have gone wrong so many times, but I'd like to think it's my travel savvy-ness that protected me from a ruined trip.

It all started months ago when my father-in-law asked for my help to find a good price and to book him a hotel room.  His stay went great, but that's not my story.  I was attracted to the sales pitch given by the Ramada agent during that transaction.  I ended up laying out $150 for a 3-day, 2-night vacation, which money would be refunded after I attended a 90-minute "vacation club" (=timeshare) presentation, along with the promise of hundreds of dollars in vouchers and rebates.  I picked Ft Lauderdale as our destination since we love that area, and it would be a great way to escape the Northeast during the winter.

So yeah, I got a little bit suckered in, and many people tell me that timeshare companies readily give out more goodies than that... so I could have gotten a better deal maybe but it was painless in my case because I read the fine print.  Turns out the package had a 9-month expiration date on it, so I had to use it before June 30th.  Things were busy, projects at work kept us tied down at home all winter, and I didn't get to use it for an escape as I had hoped to do.  But I knew I had to use it before the expiration date, so I reserved the room (but only after confirming that affordable flights were available for those dates -- more on that process below) and we set out on our trip with a couple of weeks before expiration.  Oh, and when I reserved it, I declined their initial request for "only $49" per night to stay at the featured resort.  I asked for a stay at the hotel that wasn't going to cost any extra.  And then I checked that the hotel had a good reputation in the travel community, and that it wasn't a fleabag place in a dangerous neighborhood.

I pre-paid for our rental car on Priceline, which is my favorite travel site.  But the best way to avoid disappointment with a service like theirs is to understand fully how their system works.  I love www.betterbidding.com for the great Priceline guidance they give there, including an introductory post that gives advance warning of the common problems people have when they use Priceline without understanding it completely.  Like the No Refund policy, etched in stone almost -- that one can really bite you if you're not expecting it!

I got a good price on Southwest for our flights, again a provider that works best when you understand what to expect. I researched my fare options for about an hour, selecting flight times that were realistic for our family (we don't do 7 AM traveling).  I picked flights that had low-low-fare seats still available, because of being off-peak travel times for that route.  Who besides a leisure traveler would be flying at 11:30 AM on a Tuesday from Ft Lauderdale?  I refused to take anything but a non-stop flight to reduce the headaches caused by delays.  We were fortunate that our flights both departed on time and landed early, but I was mentally, emotionally, and logistically prepared for delays.  For example I purposely avoided taking the last flight of the day, which is a strategy recommended by many many travel advice columnists.

I read the Southwest website carefully to understand their boarding procedure, I printed my boarding pass early to get a good spot in the A boarding group, and I arrived at the airport early enough to eat a sit-down meal in the airport and didn't have to fly hungry.  I brought my noise-canceling headphones.  I divided our clothes between two checked bags so that the loss of one bag wouldn't leave one person with nothing; for the same reason I didn't check both bags under the same name.  One was checked under his name and the other was under my name.  I know the rules for getting through security at the airport, so I was able to comply without any difficulty.  I had my eyes open for posted signs to inform me of any new or changed rules too.  The TSA is still learning, I think, how to do what they do.  They run pilot programs at select airports and you have to stay alert to detect whether YOUR trip through security is going to be a little different than it was the last time.

When we picked up the rental car, I declined their initial request for "only $7" extra per day for the great car that had been reserved "for me."  No thank you, I want the car that I don't have to pay any extra money to rent.  I paid what I've paid and I'm not going to pay any more.  We also brought our portable GPS unit from home so that it wasn't at all tempting to pay $10 per day to rent one from the car company.  Also decline the optional insurance -- it would cost me the same if I crash their car as if I had crashed my own car at home.  Many personal auto policies cover rental cars the same as your own car.  (Yeah, if you crash, the car company will charge other fees not covered by car insurance, but those fees could easily equal what the insurance coverage will cost.)  And I always decline the fuel option.  But I make that choice with my eyes open, knowing what I'll need to do to avoid any fuel fees.  I've had to dispute fuel fees before, sometimes they're automatic and you can only get them removed by questioning them.  To challenge the fee successfully, you're best off knowing what they will want to see: a full fuel gauge isn't enough - you'll do best if you have a receipt showing that you bought gas within the last hour and within 10 miles of the airport.

And at the rental car counter I also read all the signs they had posted.  One of those signs explained how the automatic toll-paying transponder worked.  If you go through the SunPass lane in your rental car, the transponder charges the toll to your account at the rental car company.  But they charge $1.50 per day that you use it.  That's the important bit of info that I got from the sign, because it's NOT on the window decal inside the car, the one that informs you (if you didn't know already) that the car is equipped with a SunPass device.  In our case, it wasn't worth $1.50 to automate the payment of $3.00 in tolls.  We just went through the cash lane instead, no big deal.

I read the rules for the timeshare-sponsored vacation, so I knew that we had to stop at a "Welcome Center" before proceeding to our hotel.  Any questions I had for the reservations agent I asked for written confirmation by asking where these policies were already spelled out in writing on their site or in my paperwork.  So I didn't have to endure any confusion about the reservation.  I had researched this Vacation Club before attending their presentation, giving me the second of the two reasons I planned to use to evade the high-pressure sales team.  My first reason to get out of ANY sales pitch is always that we have a family policy that  purchase decisions like this are NEVER made in a single day.  I didn't even have to pull out reason number two, which was that this specific company had a bad record with www.bbb.org -- over 300 unresolved complaints against them in the past year.

What would I have done differently?  I would have confirmed the hotel arrangements by phone before traveling.  I didn't have any problems THIS trip, but it's only a matter of time before a glitch in the system wreaks havoc on your plans.  Especially when you're using a system as complex as the one I was using -- where the reservation is transferred between the timeshare company and the local hotel, payment is made through little voucher things, all kinds of things could go wrong.  A phone call would usually uncover such problems while I still have a little time to fix them.  And before we get wiped out from the traveling, grouchy from the hunger, tired from the delays, desperate to take whatever bed they'll offer...

Also I would have ignored some of the timeshare salesman's questions.  I think the whole thing would have been over sooner if I answered "explain why you won't even test out the product with this no-obligation trial period" by ignoring the actual question and giving instead one of those two reasons I had already formulated.  And keep using those reasons over and over to answer every question.  Maybe that would have eased our exit a little better.

We did really like the concept of pre-paid vacations that they presented.  Who knows, maybe one day we will buy a timeshare if it's as good as it seemed.  But I'll first seek out advice from Timeshare Users Group at www.tug2.net and make sure I understand what I'm getting.  Just like my experiences with this vacation, most things work better when your expectations are equal to or below what they'll actually be delivering.

My husband is, let's just say, "less savvy" than I am with these kinds of things.  He appreciates that I take care of vacation arrangements in a way that saves money and still delivers a comfortable travel experience.  He thinks I'm a genius, which is a nice ego boost but really I'm not.  It's just that I read a few good travel blogs that keep me informed of the "gotchas" that are so prevalent in the travel industry.  My favorite is www.elliott.org and I'll tell you why -- it's because he always ends the tale by explaining how the problem could have been avoided.  So the only savvy I can rightly claim is that I learned lessons from the mistakes of others, instead of falling on to the hard lessons myself.  If you ask me, that's a pretty good habit for enjoying life in general.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grilling Accident

Since yesterday was a public holiday with beautiful weather, we were puttering around the yard all morning till we were really hungry.  Drove to the store and bought some meat, lit the grill, and it went BOOM!  My husband clearly made some basic grilling safety errors, because the fireball made the grill jump back about 6 inches, he jumped about four feet back, and he got minor burns on his face and neck.  His eyebrows, eyelashes, and forearm hair were singed too.

He was spared a lot of grief because he was wearing his eyeglasses and a baseball cap.  Without the hat, his whole head could have caught fire.  And if he'd been wearing contact lenses, they'd have burned too and there probably would have been a hospital visit.  Thankfully the burns really were quite minor -- more annoying than dangerous.  We took quick action which probably helped too -- he stood under the garden hose till the pain stopped and then he dried off and sprayed that blue gel aloe stuff on the burns.  I advised him to spend the rest of the day out of the sun, since the heat would surely hurt like heck.

He refused to re-light the mean scary grill so he stood back while I got it going.  He was giving me instructions the whole time too, demonstrating that he fully understands the theory of grilling safety.  Just failed to put it into practice I suppose.  The meat, however, tasted fabulous.  Thanks mostly to the new remote grill thermometer we got for a cool $15 at BJ's.

Today he's doing well, but decided to work from home because it's difficult to wear a collared shirt and a tie when your collarbone and neck are burned.  One thing that's really funny is that he now knows what a sunburn feels like.  He has brown Indian skin that has protected him from UV his whole life, and he has never had a sunburn before!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Taxes are done

I downloaded TaxAct today, intending to submit an extension of time to
file. If you've ever filed for an extension before, you know that you
still have to submit your estimated tax liability with your extension,
and for those of us with moderately simple taxes, it means you end up
really doing the whole thing in order to arrive at an estimate.

Plus you also have to check that you don't owe any taxes, since there
is no extension available for payment -- only for filing. A couple
years ago I got bit by that important distinction on my state taxes.
New Jersey doesn't require filing of a state extension, since the
federal extension is accepted by the state as the only paperwork
needed. I didn't owe any federal taxes so I didn't need to file an
extension for my federal return, even though I was filing late -- a
little-known rule, but it's true. Following so far? No federal
extension needed, so none filed.

When I did calculate my return, it turns out that we DID owe state
taxes! So we got a federal refund and were not penalized for filing
late (I told you that little rule was true). But the state wanted
$400+ and they wanted their late fees. What a waste of money.

So now I NEVER skip the extension paperwork even when I'm "sure" no
taxes are owed.

As a result of filing my taxes today, I found the first piece of
evidence that hints at a need for professional tax planning:
disallowed deductions. To avoid that situation next year, and to flee
from the Alternative Minimum Tax that's creeping up on us, I need more
guidance than software can give.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No excuses

Wow, I'm an irregular blogger, aren't I? I have no excuse for the lapse, except for the thumb (you'll see - keep reading).

Here are a few highlights from my past 3 months:

- We adopted another dog: 6-yr-old Daisy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, she's 15 pounds, retired from a breeder who surrendered her to a rescue group. She snores disruptively loudly, but otherwise is well adapted to life in our house.
- My husband got in a low-speed crash on an icy sideroad, and hit a utility pole. No injuries, and no damage except to his car. Took five weeks (!) for his car to get repaired. Total repair + car rental bill was about $10,000, thank goodness all was covered by insurance.
- Got tendinitis in my right thumb, was crippled for two weeks but all better now. What a stupid thing I did; maybe I'll tell you about it someday.
- I've selected a Subaru Tribeca for my next car -- it has exceptional reliability and the highest crashworthiness ratings (as specified in this earlier post). It's not tops in the SUV fuel-efficiency department, but is beat only by Subaru Forester which is just too station-wagon-ugly.
- Thanks to spring cleaning day at church, I got help assembling and learning how to use the pressure-washer I bought last year. Now we'll get to wash the green off our siding this spring.
- I love spring, and have been markedly more joyful since our daffodils bloomed.
- Work has been extremely busy but satisfying.
- My parents have been snowbirding in Florida.
- The wallpaper we don't want is still on all our room walls, but half-torn off because we got ambitious before we knew we'd need additional equipment. I've heard it's easy to remove but is just tedious and messy... I think I'll call a wallpaper party and bring over some people who have done it before.
- We discovered the world's best sushi and it's been hard to stay away, excepting the $80 bill for two of us.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I'm Shopping for a Car

My car is a 1998 Honda Civic with 110,000 miles on it. The transmission has been slipping since July 2005, but I drive it gently and have kept it from deteriorating further.

My husband's car is a 2004 Lexus ES330 that he loves. It will be paid off in late 2008, so that's when I plan to buy my next car. This way we avoid making two car payments at any given time. Smart, huh?

I think I have the best method for selecting a car. I start at www.iihs.org (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) to find their "Top Safety Award Winners." My search will be limited to these vehicles -- if it's not among the safest cars on the road, I'm not interested. Incidentally, their list is dominated by small- and medium-sized SUV's, so it looks like this will be the style I'm most likely to end up with.

Then I go to the library to review Consumer Reports reliability ratings for these models. If it doesn't have exceptional reliability according to Consumer Reports, then it gets cut off my list.

The cars that remain are the safest, most reliable cars made in 2006-2008. From there I will use fuel efficiency as a tiebreaker. I'll report back here with my final results.