home improvements

Terry and I have been very happy with the house we bought here in Hemet seven years ago. One thing that has not been great, however, is the way the house retains heat in the summer. We finally decided that it was time to do something about that.

Our contractor suggested that we install a whole-house fan. At first that seemed like a good idea. But when we consulted with his electrician who installs them we realized that would not solve our problem. The idea of a whole-house fan is that you turn it on when it is cooler outside than inside. So that wouldn’t help with the house retaining heat in the afternoon.

our great roomWhat we decided to do was to replace the insulation in the attic. At first I didn’t think it made any difference, but as the weather got warmer I realized the house was staying cooler later into the day. That is until the sun hit the northwest facing windows late in the afternoon. To solve that problem we ordered a set of patio blinds to help insulate the house that time of the day. They should be installed in a few weeks.

While we were at it we decided to have our air ducts cleaned. We hadn’t had them cleaned since we moved in, and who knows how long before that it had been since they were cleaned. That may or may not be helping with the efficiency of the air conditioner, but Terry and I are certainly sneezing less and we are using a lot fewer Kleenex. That is a Good Thing.

Now, just waiting for those patio blinds to be installed.

home office lighting

LED office lampTerry and I decided it would be a good idea to have a housecleaning service once again in advance of her upcoming knee replacement surgery. The company she selected has done a good job and we have been happy with their work.

One a recent cleaning day one of the team members went to Terry somewhat upset, holding the disintegrated remains of the lampshade from the floor lamp next to my computer desk. She was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing: dusting it off. That it fell apart in her hands was no surprise. I have had that lamp for a long time, more than ten years as best as I can estimate. The plastic shade was old and brittle.

The lamp had a long history. It originally used incandescent bulbs, which I replaced with CFLs, and finally with LED bulbs. In that lamp and throughout the house I have been quite happy with the light our LED bulbs have produced. In the bedroom I had to replace a floor lamp a while back, and I did so with a built-in LED floor lamp. It has worked out very well.

broken lamp shadeKnowing that there would be no way to find a replacement lamp shade, I went to Amazon looking for a new floor lamp. I focused on floor lamps with built-in LED lights, given our satisfaction with the bedroom lamp. I found one that I thought would be ideal, which you see pictured here. Assembly was simple and I plugged it in.

I have both floor lamps in my office connected to the plug operated by a wall switch. Since my new LED floor lamp uses a remote control, I wondered whether I would have to turn it on separately. I plugged it in and flipped on the wall switch. It came on with a delay of about four seconds, but without my having to touch the remote.

lamp remoteThe new lamp brings another improvement. Despite the pandemic winding down I’m still on Zoom regularly. My face is now no longer in shadow when I am on Zoom. With the old lamp I had to scoot way over to the left of my computer table to get out of the shadow. Now I can sit comfortably in my normal position and my image appears clearly.

One of the nice things about these new LED floor lamps is that you can adjust both the brightness and the color of the light to suit your preference. And the remote? It has a magnet, so I have it on the side of my file cabinet, completely out of the way.

That’s a really nice outcome resulting from a disintegrated lamp shade.

desk and lamp

upgrading our food containers

Food Storage 1Terry and I have long made use of plastic food containers. We put leftovers in the fridge or put them in the freezer so I can later seal them up in plastic with our FoodSaver vacuum sealer appliance. When we had our china cabinet built and installed six years ago, shortly after moving here, we allocated one of the lower drawers for our plastic containers. Our container collection has been growing ever since. We had a set of plastic containers that we bought at Costco ages ago. We’ve also been collecting takeout containers from our local restaurants since well before the start of the pandemic. So our plastic food container drawer became unruly and overgrown. We decided it was time to do something about it.

Food Storage 2Recently Terry and I were watching Pioneer Woman (as we do each week), and Ree was packing up food in containers that looked sleek and practical. Terry commented on them, saying how much she liked the appearance. I agreed with her.

I went online thinking they must be part of Pioneer Woman’s merchandising empire at Walmart. But there was nothing like that there (which was fine from my perspective, since I hate Walmart). I then went to my go-to source, Amazon (of course) and quickly found containers that exactly matched the ones we saw Ree using. I ordered a seven-piece set (the listing said fourteen-piece, but they were counting the lids). When they arrived Terry was delighted and I very much liked what I saw. However, there were only two of the medium-sized Food Storage 3container, the 3.2 cup size. I knew that wouldn’t be enough. We give that size container a lot of use. Not only do we use them frequently for leftovers, but when Terry fixes her make-ahead three-bean salad for her lunches she uses three containers that size. I went back to Amazon and discovered that they had a five pack of the 3.2 cup containers. Exactly what we needed. I ordered the set.

We now have a very neat and well-organized food container drawer with plenty of containers for our leftovers (and for Terry’s three-bean salad) that are freezer, dishwasher, and microwave safe.

I like that.

new things around the house

We have some new items to make things simpler and easier around home.

Swedish Sponge ClothsI first saw these Swedish cellulose sponge cloths in Bon Appétit magazine. They looked as if they made a lot of sense, and Amazon had them in a variety of packaging configurations. The best way to describe them is to say that they are large, flat sponges. They work really well and can be thrown in the washing machine and reused. The best thing about them is that they have allowed us to cut back drastically on our paper towel usage. That is a Good Thing.

Compost BucketThen there’s our new compost bucket. A few years ago our trash and recycling company allowed us to include food waste in our yard waste Toter when they opened a new state-of-the-art facility that turned all of that stuff into natural gas and fertilizer. (Another Good Thing.) At the time they provided food waste buckets for the kitchen counter. Ours worked serviceably but was always somewhat awkward and unwieldy.  It finally reached the point where the lid would not stay upright as we were scraping food into it. I found this composting bucket on Amazon and bought it along with a roll of one hundred compostable liner bags. Simpler, cleaner, and easier.

LED Floor LampFinally, there was that floor lamp in the bedroom. It had two circular fluorescent tubes which were a pain to replace, and it was not always easy to find the replacement tubes. When one burned out recently Terry suggested we replace the lamp. There was no argument from me. I found this LED floor lamp on Amazon which has a remote control and allows me to control both the brightness and the warmth of the light. It produces a brighter, cleaner light than the old fluorescent unit. I really love it.

A few little things that make domestic life easier and a little more pleasant here at home.

not what we had planned

Terry and I were perfectly happy with our over-the-range microwave. It worked well and did everything we needed it to do. The vent cover was broken and held together with tape, so Terry went online to the Whirlpool parts store and ordered a replacement. Before it even showed up, however, our microwave experienced a sudden and unexpected death.

I was minding my own business on Sunday morning, fixing breakfast before it was time for online Zoom morning prayer with my friends at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. I put my bacon in the microwave and set it for one minute. The microwave started, the turntable turned, the light came on, and the timer beeped. My bacon was uncooked. I tried it again with the same result. Oh, and there was the distinct smell of burned electrical components in the air.

new microwaveOn Monday, therefore, Terry and I ventured out, wearing our face masks, to our locally owned Appliance Showroom. Owner Larry Soares is, one might say, politically incorrect and perhaps something of a redneck, but his staff is loyal and he sees that his customers are well taken care of, as we have experienced first-hand more than once. This is far from the first appliance purchase for which we have visited his store. I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a countertop microwave to use until we were past COVID-19, but our counter space is so limited as it is (we still miss that remodeled kitchen in Gilroy) that we decided to do the right thing and replace the over-the-range unit.

There were three models of the over-the-range type available in white. We selected the middle-style mama bear option (think burgers at A&W drive-ins). The woman who helped us was able to squeeze in our installation for Tuesday, as our old microwave was completely nonfunctional. We appreciated that as the next proper open slot was Thursday.

The two installers showed up around 2:00 p.m. yesterday properly wearing masks and social distancing. They set about the task while we took the late lunch that we had just begun out to the patio, Tasha accompanying us. They made quick work of the job and departed with the old microwave and all the packaging and packing materials from our new one.

We’re pleased. It looks better than the old one and has a larger capacity. It has all the capabilities we need.

We have now replaced three of the four major kitchen appliances that came with the house (where we arrived five years ago today, by the way). In those five years we have replaced the refrigerator (twice), the stove, and now the microwave. The dishwasher is still going strong, knock on wood. We hope it keeps going for a while.

we finally gave in 

GiadaTerry and I finally gave in.

On Sunday while our real estate agent was working the open house we went to Best Buy and bought a flat screen television.

Since we haven’t shopped for televisions since the CRT days we had a lot to learn. We learned that all TVs are now LED, and that plasma is so yesterday. We learned that the differences are in screen size, the brightness and sharpness of the picture, and how smart the smart TV really is.

Oh, and sound. Flat screens have terrible sound. Which means buying a sound bar. At two-thirds the cost of the television. I suppose if you buy a set with a bigger screen and more features it’s a smaller percentage. But still. What’s with that?

It’s not like we really wanted to spend the money, but our TV was old, and when our cable box died after a storm and power outage, we were fortunate that the replacement cable box had an S-Video output, as there was no coax output. We have no expectation that our set-top box when we get Verizon Fios in Hemet will be compatible with our very old TV. We therefore thought it was a rather silly idea to lug that big, old cathode-ray tube unit with us. We know our new flat screen television will be happy with the HDMI connection in the equipment that the Fios service will certainly provide.

And you know what else? The left and right sides of the picture are no longer cut off. Wow! What a concept.

doing taxes

Terry and I have had our taxes done by a CPA since 1995. I don’t recall exactly what triggered that, but I think at least part of it was being a bit gun-shy as both of us were guilty of under-withholding before we got married. As we started having company stock options and mortgage interest deductions, going that route became even more justified.

The CPA we used I knew personally since we had both previously attended the same church. That was nice. When he sold his practice as we were entering the new millennium we stayed with the fellow who bought it. It was a bit expensive, but it provided a level of emotional security.

Of course when one is laid off, one scrutinizes every expense. Given that last year’s return cost us $595, even though it was very straightforward with nothing out of the ordinary, I couldn’t justify the expense this year.

I looked at the tax software options that were available. Obviously, one first thinks of TurboTax. But they gave themselves a black eye. I’m not talking about the fraudulent state tax returns filed using the TurboTax online service. Rather I’m talking about the fact that from the 2013 to the 2014 tax year they removed a number of forms that were available in the Deluxe CD and download version and made them available only in the more expensive Premium version. In the end the outrage was so great that they had to make a full retreat. But that did not leave me with a good feeling. And in any case, I was never a big fan of Intuit, the publisher of TurboTax. I always thought that their Quicken personal financial management software was too annoying and cumbersome to use, with too many unnecessary bells and whistles. I thought they should have been provided a simplified and streamlined version.

Based on the comments on Amazon, as well as a conversation in the online alumni group from my former company, I went with the H&R Block Deluxe version. It had some very good reviews and it was considerably cheaper than TurboTax.

I downloaded the software from Amazon on President’s Day, a Monday, of course, and my traditional day for doing taxes. I spent the afternoon entering data, which was no more work than entering the information in the paper organizer for my CPA. I had Terry check my work on Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon I started the e-file process. I began working on that just as Terry was leaving to see the dentist. Before Terry got back from the dentist I had completed the process and received confirmation that my return had been accepted by both the IRS and the state.

I paid $29.99 for the software which included the state software as well and free e-file with the IRS. I paid $19.99 for my state e-file. That’s $49.98. Quite a difference from $595, hu?

Next year will be even easier since I have entered all of our data into the system and the software will import it for next year’s return.

How cool is that?

movin’ on

Movin’ On was a television show from the 1970’s about a pair of truckers shot on location at various spots around the country. Terry and I caught a couple of episodes on the cable system in Cambria when we spent some leisure time there.

It’s time for us to move on, and it’s both exciting and scary.

My focus changes.

Since July my primary mission has been of finding a new job. That has not worked out, in spite of sending out over one hundred resumes.

So we’re getting ready to list our house, and my job changes from trying to find employment to getting the house ready to sell. And that is a big job.

It’s a big change. It’s not our first choice. But it’s what we need to do.

So we move on.

implementing Plan B

Terry and I have crossed our Rubicon.

planbimplementedOn Monday I called a realtor. Yesterday he came over and we signed the papers for him to represent us. Today he and his wife, the design expert, came over along with the stagers. If you’ve never dealt with stagers in a real estate content, let me tell you that it can be a scary experience. Think of the scene in Sex and the City where the plastic surgeon dispassionately marks up Samantha’s torso.

In the end it wasn’t all that bad. It just felt that way at first. They are very nice people and their whole purpose is to help us get the highest dollar value for the house by implementing a neutral look and feel, creating an environment where potential buyers can visualize themselves living here. That’s a Good Thing.

The sale of this house should allow us to buy a house in Southern California, closer to my family and to Terry’s sister, where we can 1) experience considerably lower monthly expenses, and 2) with luck, find work.

This is not optimal. It is not our first choice. But it is the most practical and prudent approach.

Plan B

The phrase “Plan B” makes sense to anyone familiar with idiomatic American English. Anne Lamott used it in a book title and it has become the common name for a contraceptive pharmaceutical.

Terry and I are thinking about implementing our own Plan B.

On Friday the Department of Labor announced that the economy added 257,000 jobs in January. The unemployment rate ticked up to 5.7% from 5.6%, but they claim that was due to people who had given up looking for work returning to the job market. A headline segment on Morning Edition on NPR included a sound bite from an economist who noted that data point and said that those people would all find jobs soon.

Oh, yeah? I’ve been busily, actively looking since July. So has my colleague and friend Maribeth in New England. We both have solid experience and marketable skills. We both have come up planbempty so far, in spite of our concerted, daily, focused efforts. It is frustrating (to say the very least) to have promising opportunities for positions that are a near perfect match for my skills and experience evaporate. My final unemployment payment is due next Thursday. Meanwhile, despite all of her efforts, Terry has been unable to generate a decent commission check for many months.

It may well be time for Plan B. Time for a significant change in strategy and lifestyle.

I’m not yet prepared to share what that might look like, but I will before long. Terry and I have been discussing this actively and doing some investigation.

We’ll need to make a decision soon.