February 1, 2017

When refrigerators go bad

Ice capades: our adventures in refrigeration

Standing in the kitchen polishing off a snack of pretzels dipped in peanut butter, I prodded PiC. Ready for Sherlock?

We had one last night to catch Episode 2 of the new BBC season, before PBS stopped streaming it, so I was looking forward to a little Saturday night treat.

That’s when I heard it.

The fan in the refrigerator spun up an alarming rumble, loud enough to be heard from the next room, and it rumbled the doom of our relaxation. An hour of Googling and Youtubing later, we settled in for a long night of DIY.

According to a dozen semi-reliable (meaning also semi-sketchy) sources, this particular brand is prone to icing up and they have to be taken apart and de-iced before the icing destroys the fan compressor. Awesome.

PiC wanted to get started right away, figuring it’d only take an hour and a half. The brat in me whined “but, Sherlock!” while the ever so slightly stronger, more responsible side, grumpily conceded even though it really preferred to go to sleep and get an early start.

As it turns out, we were both wrong. It definitely didn’t take only an hour and a half, and we would have regretted starting the next morning.

We spent the first hour prepping: unplugging the fridge, unpacking the fridge, packing perishables into the cooler, and hauling out all the shelves to inspect the work area. Only one person fit in the space available so I worked on cleaning all the shelves which were overdue for a wash, while PiC used the hairdryer to melt the ice around the fan cover.

Try as he might, though, that fan cover wasn’t budging like it should according to the DIY videos until we realized why. The icing problem wasn’t just around the fan cover, it was a solid block of ice behind it as well! No wonder he was getting nowhere prying it off. It was 11:30 and my hands were aching from the additional late night labor, so I proposed an overnight break. We’d leave the fridge unplugged, set up a mini space heater aimed toward the fridge three feet away on high so we didn’t melt anything, and let it (try to) melt overnight. If it all worked out, we’d be able to pick up in the morning.

I usually ration my energy for the day pretty strictly, based on prioritizing absolute musts against the nice to have chores. This was definitely nowhere on my list and I’d thought I was done for the night.

I can’t quite accurately describe the level of tired and dread that passed over me as we contemplated whether this would work or not.

Nothing for it but to try!

For extra cooling, the perishables went into coolers that were rolled out on the porch to take advantage of the rainstorm chill. I prepoured JuggerBaby’s milk into sippy cups to minimize how many times we’d need to open the coolers if the fridge wasn’t back in order the next day, and placed several other morning needs at the top. With that, off to bed.

Around 3 am, my brain couldn’t leave well enough alone and I had to go check. We’d left a towel under the unit to catch the water and it was soaked. Thank goodness! I replaced the towel and slumped off to bed.

By morning, the jury-rigging had done the job and with more than a little interference from JuggerBaby, PiC had the whole lot of shelving back in, plugged the unit in and it was humming back down to temp by the time I emerged from my hibernation.

These same sources say that this issue is going to keep happening. We could attempt to MacGyver a solution but since we’re not positive what the true problem is, I’m less motivated to monkey around with it.

If it does ice up again, at least we know what should work, but what a pain!

Pessimistically I’m assuming that this is something that will keep happening or we’ll have to replace the unit. What are the odds that we find a real solution?

(No really, what are the odds?)

:: Any handyfolk out there have some refrigeration expertise you’d like to share? Failing that, any favored fridge models we should save up for?

January 30, 2017

Slow goals are long term goals

With the whole house thing dropping down on my head like I’m the Wicked Witch of the West, plus the feeling that the world is coming apart at the seams, I need a reminder that slow and steady has brought us through some pretty tough times, and can still serve us well.

I’m reminding myself that not having a cool million in cash with which to buy a home in cash does not a massive failure of me make. (Sherry bought her half of their new home in cash and I’m STILL chuffed by that.)

Highlights

  • I weathered a year of unemployment during the Great Recession.
  • I started investing in 2012 in one stock, 7 whole shares worth $500 in total. We now hold 1100 shares of mostly dividend bearing stocks, worth $60,000 at our brokerage with Tradeking. I heartily recommend them. It was so easy to use when I first started out and continues to serve our needs.
  • We once had a large mortgage loan, a bit of retirement savings, and my cash. Now we’ve halved that mortgage and double my cash savings, doubled the value of our tax-advantaged accounts, and own an investment property.

We’re by no means wealthy, but we have done well. A dear friend pointed out my money management was nearly miraculous given the obstacles and commitments we’ve honored. While I think she might have been at least a little hyperbolic, I respect her opinion immensely, particularly with regard to money given her background in financial fields.

Health and Fitness

I’m uncommonly tickled about this discovery. I was aiming to establish an average of 2000 steps per day starting last June. It was a struggle to get out from behind the desk twice a day, but Seamus and I have hit a nearly 100% success rate in getting out the door for walks two, and even three, times a day, every week day, even when pain was so high I could barely feed myself.

We walked, dadgummit!

My average to date is about 3900 steps daily.

I haven’t been nearly as good at the yoga, so that’s a work in progress. There’s something much more compelling about telling yourself that it’s for the dog’s good, and having Seamus yodeling at me, that gets me off my duff faster and more consistently than telling myself to stretch because it’s good for me. Maybe I need to train Seamus to yodel at me until I stretch every night?

This month, I signed up for an account with Achievemint which pays you $10 per 10,000 points earned. I’m already pushing myself to walk consistently and a little more each day, why not get paid for it?

This took me three minutes.

1. Use my referral link to create an account. This nets both of us 250 points, so right away, you get points.
2. Choose an app to link to Achievemint. My choice was the existing Health app on the iPhone. You can choose from, among MANY others: Fitbit, Foursquare, MapMyRide, Microsoft Health, MyFitnessPal, even Twitter!
3. Download Achievemint to your phone if you’re linking to an app on your phone. Linking an app nets another 50 points.

I only started out with 50 points since I didn’t have a referral link (sadface) but you can (look up there!) leapfrog over with a lot more points. It doesn’t look like you’ll earn remarkably quickly but this is my one of my favorite things – getting paid for doing something I’m already doing.

The world

Like I said, the state of American politics and government in this very moment has me incredibly concerned for our democracy and Constitution. Is the American experiment over? Did it fail?

I was raised in the bosom of staunch Republican families, surrounded by serving men and women, but none of them recognize what the party has become today. I sure don’t. To see some conservatives still speaking out against what’s happening now does give me a little bit of heart, but I think we’re still deep in the muck and a whole lot of vulnerable people are going to be hurt before it’s over.

This weekend was Lunar New Year. The airports were filled with protests against the unconstitutional Muslim Ban, and Custom Border Patrol officers were refusing to enforce court orders. Lawyers were on the ground doing pro bono work to help those who were being illegally detained: green card holders, visa holders, citizens with dual citizenship.

It’s hardly been any time at all in the new administration and we’re already seeing civil rights being violated left and right. There is almost certainly an intent to fatigue citizens who can’t protest forever, while it’s quite easy for the administration to roll out EO after EO violating our rights. It can be overwhelming.

BUT.

PiC and I are going to stand up for ourselves and our neighbors, families and friends, all of whom are fully deserving of the rights that our Constitution affords us, regardless of age, race, sex, religious convictions, disability, sexual orientation and any other way we can be defined and divided up. I can’t physically march, but we can speak out, organize on a one-on-one basis, donate to those organizations and individuals doing tireless work to protect our civil liberties and reminding us that we were never perfect and that we can improve.

:: Can you share any financial or fitness goals you’ve achieved over time? What’s a great activity day for you? What’s your approach to defending our civil rights?

January 25, 2017

The day of unfortunate events 

The day the ATM stole my moneyPiC and I went to a doctor’s appointment together in the middle of the work day. The skies would not stop pouring down rain and a hint of ice. I really should have taken a hint and just gone straight home afterward.

There wouldn’t be a post, though, if I did, so onward we went, though the weather be foul. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

We went to exchange my discounted gift card that I’d bought for a clean one that didn’t have marker scribbled all over it.  Nope, they can’t use a gift card to “buy” a gift card, and can’t transfer the balance, so I was stuck with the ugly card to gift. Classy.

Having trudged out in the rain, I figured we’d make the most of having to be at the mall. We stopped in at Target to find a pair of boots because daycare requires them. Nope. Nothing on the shelves anywhere.

Fine. I had $1000 burning a hole in my pocket. It’d been withdrawn for the appointment but it turned out that we didn’t need it after all. We went to the bank to deposit a huge wad of cash, and like a fool I told PiC it was fine to just hit the ATM. THE ATM ATE MY MONEY.

In 16 years of banking primarily through the ATM this has never happened. So of course it’d happen on this day. Me and my big mouth. “I always use the ATM, it’s fine.” “No, of course we don’t have to go to the teller.”

Idjit.

7 minutes later, I had a claim number from the Citi rep, and an assurance that when the ATM’s take was reconciled, they’d match the overage to my claim and all would be well. “Give it 1-2 business days,” she said. Mmhmm.

Four business days, and a lot of semi-panicked grumbling later, the rep I spoke to found the claim after 30 minutes of searching. “Odd, it was archived, so I couldn’t find it. But I found it! You just have to call the disputes department directly to have them complete the process though, they’re open from 9 am to 1 pm EST.” That’s great.

Another 2 business days later, because of course this would happen when I was traveling and didn’t have time to sit down and deal with it, I remembered that another phone call was due and reached for the slip of information … that wasn’t in my wallet. Many bag searches later, I had to conclude that JuggerBaby had stolen and eaten it. !!!!!

Almost exhausted, I just gave up and called the branch to appeal to them for help locating any of the claim information that would help me duke it out with the disputes department. The almost jolly young man on the other line put me on hold to go a-huntin’ and returned 8 minutes later having opened a new claim, credited my account with a provisional credit, and an assurance that that money would stay put and they’d match up the new claim to their general ledger and confirm that the money was really returned to me. I thanked him profusely, he apologized for the inane contortions they’d made me go through, and I have my money back.

It’s an ante-Christmas miracle.

:: Do you have strong feelings about ATMs or a preference for going to the teller (is it worth having to talk to people)?

January 23, 2017

Fundamental irreconcilable(?) differences on money

Married Money: the fundamental differences in how PiC and I deal with moneyIt might surprise you, with the not-exaggerated idyllic (for us) descriptions of our marriage, but PiC and I truly struggle to internalize each other’s perspectives on certain aspects of money.

When we talk about planning for the future, he rightly pointed out that I plan for the future as if I were an island, as if no one would be there to help.

Friends, I laughed and cried at the same time. Well, yeah!

My family had nothing. They were almost the personifications of the rags to riches trope, arriving at the Los Angeles embassy with just the clothes on their backs, striking out on the entrepreneurial road, and managing to earn enough of a living to get by for long enough we even thought we’d buy a house someday. They paid our bills and helped their siblings who didn’t strike out on their own. Unfortunately, in the course of doing business, and helping family, they also amassed quite a lot of debt.

The biggest lesson I learned from that point on was never rely on anyone. When the chips were down, I was mostly alone. Not entirely – relatives who cared didn’t have money, but they would help out by spotting the occasional bargain on groceries and bringing us some extra produce. Sage friends mentored me so I could build my career and blogging friends pitched in to tide me over a particularly rough spot in the year I spent job-hunting during the Great Recession.

Otherwise… My sibling was a hopeless case. My parents were reeling with the loss of their business and their health issues, and my entire extended family that had benefited so long from my parents’ labor had no use for us if we were no longer useful to them. Once we didn’t have money (to give them), they made sure we knew we weren’t welcome to drop in for a cup of tea, or a visit over a meal. Not that I had time to eat but it makes quite an impression to have my grandmother, who my parents had supported for longer than I’d been alive, sneer in my face about the family’s misfortunes, deciding that made me a worthless human. (I never spoke to her again after that day.)  ((Yes, I hold grudges.))

Over the fifteen years during which my parents lost their livelihoods, their savings, and their health, after I buried a grandparent, my mom, and destroyed my health taking care of my family, I thought about what they could have done to help. It’s not that I expected them to support us until we got back on our feet, or even to lend us money, or put us up if we couldn’t make rent. It’s that I expected them not to spit in our faces while we struggled but that was too much to ask.

Naturally, I learned to rely on no one, for anything.

It was a great triumph of hope and human spirit that I decided to learn to trust PiC and I’ve never regretted that decision.

But. It’s as hard for me to imagine believing that if I need it, someone will help, as it is for him to imagine living with the knowledge that no one will be there to lend a hand if we fall down.

Maybe it’s a difference in perspective.

Maybe he thinks of “needing help” as a single bill that’s just too heavy to shift on our own. In that case, he’s right. One-off expenses tend to generate sympathy or empathy and it’s relatively easy for people to find a few dollars to help out.

But in my view, if anything went so wrong as to need help, it’s not going to be a single bill that we can’t quite manage whether it’s $1,000 or $10,000. Leave aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ask for help with a single bill, the deeper issue is this: If we can’t absorb that bill, by dipping into savings or doing without luxuries for a while, it means that something catastrophic has happened to our financial system or is about to happen. We couldn’t cash flow a $250,000 medical bill for example. If something that bad has happened, I’m dropping my towel and I’m panicking. Why? One, we’re much older. I’m 40% as capable as I once was at 18 years and we’re both nearing the peaks of our earning ability. If we’re talking about a full system meltdown that our salaries and/or savings can’t cover, we are not at the point in our lives where we can double our hours and earn overtime to cover it, even assuming that both of us are still fully capable of working our normal jobs and they exist. Two, if our entire financial system has gone down the drain, which presupposes that we’ve already gone to bare bones on our necessary expenses and also that our savings and assets are gone, who on earth can give us the help we need to recover from that? There aren’t grants for People Who Worked Really Hard and Tried Really Hard but OUCH Life Happened. I would like to fund such grants, but they do not exist. In which case, it’s utterly beyond my comprehension to believe that “someone would help” if we suddenly became poor.

Also I cannot bear the thought of being poor again. But that’s a topic for another day.

I’m not trying to prove either one of us right or wrong here, obviously, I feel right and he feels right. In the long run, as the financial planner, I’m much more comfortable planning my way – assuming that we are on our own except for infrastructure issues which should mostly be covered by our taxes – so I will. It’s just such a fundamental difference in thinking that neither of us are yet able to find a spot in the middle to meet. It would really help if we could.

Belatedly, I should say that this isn’t a cause for strife, it’s just a Really Big Something we have to take into consideration when we’re not seeing eye to eye on how we expect to accomplish our desired goals.

:: Do you sympathize with one or the other perspective more? Do you have similar, seriously different, perspectives with your family members?

January 16, 2017

The cost of safety: filing for a restraining order in California

Some of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen some bits about this already, but I thought I’d share the unpleasant experience that derailed my last week. You know the horrible neighbor who escalated to making threats? He came back. Yes, that’s AFTER the police told him that we hadn’t done anything wrong and that he needed to stay away from us.

Utterly exasperated by his increasingly aggressive behavior, I called the police again, and on that visit they strongly recommended that I visit the superior court to file for a civil harassment restraining order. They told me that they would again advise him to leave us alone. If we file that order and he harasses us again, he’s subject to arrest.

I tried searching online but the only information that I could find on the process was the Clerk’s office hours, so I packed my bags and headed out, much to Seamus’s concern and dismay. He doesn’t like it when I abandon him immediately after his breakfast, it disrupts our whole routine. I don’t like it either, pup! So here’s how the day went…

Step one:  Get the paperwork

My first visit to the Hall of Justice took an hour and all I was able to do was pick up a quarter-inch thick stack of paperwork. The very bored clerk instructed me to fill out 15 pages, then return at 2 pm to see the judge. Totally inefficient! I could have just downloaded this paperwork online and saved myself a trip! But that would mean someone would have had to organize the documents with instructions, and put in updates for the judge’s court house. Somehow I doubt anyone’s inspired to make life easier that way.

But paging through the documents, I could see there was information that would be easier to provide from the comfort of home, so off I headed to get a few hours of work done and complete the packet.

There was a lot of repetition as I filled out the confidential information with my personal information, and the restrained person’s information that I knew, then transferred much of that to the three documents that would go to the court, one of which would go to the restrained person informing him that he was under a temporary restraining order. They asked for an extraordinary amount of information: his height, weight, hair color, eye color, date of birth, full name, phone number, email address, place of business, hours of work, type of car, license plates. I understand why they want to be as detailed as possible to be sure they’re identifying the right person but who asks their harasser for their birth date? I don’t even give that out to colleagues I like.

They asked about the latest incident, then for the history of the incidents. This is where my experience as a manager, or watching way too many episodes of Bones, NCIS, and courtroom dramas, came into play. As much as I wanted to shred all physical evidence of his attacks on us, feeling like they were a contaminant in our home, I filed them away. The ones that I did discard were documented in emails, so we had dated documentation, as well as physical evidence of his escalations, and I didn’t involve the police until a clear threat was made. That made it easy to carefully, and as dispassionately as possible, describe the incidents for the filing, taking extra pages as allowed, to clearly establish the pattern.

The keys the judge needed to file in our favor was a clear or compelling threat of violence or harm, or a history of harassment, both of which I was able to provide with my records at my fingertips. The threat of harm was also the reason that both the filing and the service of the restraining order by the sheriff were free.

Step two: See the judge

Back I went to court for the 2 pm courtroom hearing. I didn’t know what to expect so I’d come prepared with the filing, my written proof, a battery pack for my phone, and a book. The judge stayed in chambers the entire time, and a lawyer would present each case to her for a decision. It was a relatively efficient way to process the dozen cases presented in the 90 minutes allotted for “ex parte” cases. Mine was dead last so I waited for an hour and 20 minutes before the attorney came to ask some clarification questions.

I had to explain our neighborhood geography and the timing of the threatening note, but otherwise the judge was satisfied to grant a temporary restraining order good until we have a formal hearing at the end of the month. I can’t tell you what a huge sigh of relief that was, at least for a few weeks, to know that we have *some* recourse if he comes to harass us again.

Step three: File the paperwork

With the signed paperwork in hand, I had three more destinations. If only I’d known, I might have worn my running shoes!

  1. Clerk’s office for filing. Quick pause for me to drop off the papers and run out into the cold, pay the meter, and run back in and go back through security for the third time that day. The clerk took 20 minutes to process my paperwork
  2. Then off to the Sheriff’s office for another 40 minutes of paperwork and filing so that they’ll actually serve the orders.
  3. You’d think I’d be done, having hit every floor of the courthouse, but no, I had to then drive to our local PD and give them the paperwork to file as well.

Temporary restraining orders are only effective after the restrained person has been served so you have three choices: pay a process server ($20-100) to serve them, have the sheriff serve them (free if there’s threat of violence), or ask any adult over the age of 18 to serve them. That last was a new one on me – as long as the adult isn’t a named protected person in the paperwork, and are willing to fill out the proof of service form which you also have to schlep to the police department, you can just ask a friend to do it.

Alas, I have no friends in the area that I would be willing to ask to serve in this capacity and I wasn’t about to involve either set of coworkers’ in our home issues, so I had to leave it up to the sheriff.

The frustrating thing about that is that the sheriff’s office prefers to wait 1-2 weeks to even try to serve the papers so the neighbor still doesn’t know he’s subject to a restraining order right now. Thankfully, the police department informed me that should he harass us again, they will serve the papers while they respond to the call. They won’t take the initiative to serve the papers since that’s rightfully the county sheriff’s job, but they have a copy of the paperwork in case they have to respond to a call in the meantime.

Step four: Go home and collapse

The entire ordeal, from the morning visit to the last visit to the police department, involved 75 miles of driving and 7 hours of my day.

The courthouse is only open between Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Between the business hours, and all time required to pass each hurdle, the process of getting even sketchy legal protection is incredible. When I worked the night shift, I would have been hard-pressed to be able to manage this. I was able to take the time to deal with it but I paid a huge physical toll the following several days, in exhaustion and pain, which I’m still reeling from. Hiring a lawyer to deal with all of this was an option, according to the paperwork, that just emphasizes how money buys you privilege.

Step five: Go to the actual hearing (pending)

This happens in three weeks.

This is where the judge decides whether to keep the restraining order and for how long it stands. I don’t know how this part will go, I’m unhappy at the prospect that he’s going to show up to the hearing and I’ll have to deal with him there. The filing states he’s not allowed to communicate to me there, and I’m not precisely afraid of him but I’m highly concerned because we’re fully cognizant that he is not operating within the bounds of civility and has been happy to defy authority to continue to harass us. He may  escalate as a result of the hearing or after the hearing. Fat lot of comfort it’ll be that he can be arrested if he manages to hurt one of us or damage our property.

It makes me wonder how people who are subjected to less clear-cut harassment manage to get any protection. And so far, our harasser has not been the brightest bulb in the lot. Most harassers are smarter than to be writing up their intentions and literally handing them to their targets, and most are smarter than to admit to the police that they ARE doing the harassment they’re accused of. He actually tried to justify it!

It seemed more prudent to wait until this was all over, or at least the hearing is, before posting about it but I really could use all the good positive thoughts because the fact that this isn’t going to be over for a long time keeps repeating in my head.

The judge could rule to discontinue the restraining order, and he would feel emboldened to escalate further. The judge could rule to keep it in place, and he could choose to violate it. Whatever happens, the headache continues.

We’re thinking about security systems but this mess honestly made me go look at homes online again and debate whether it’s worth spending the kind of money we’d have to spend to put miles between us and this guy.

The fact that nothing guarantees our next neighbors won’t be just as bad is holding me back, along with the horror of a new mortgage, but it’s coming down to a matter of safety.

Update to add step six: realize that a restraining order isn’t protection 

Four days after he was told to leave us alone and that a restraining order was forthcoming, he left another threatening note hinting that the officers have to go on vacation “anytime now.” He’s so fixated on his revenge and bullying – as if we live in Mayberry and we only have one sheriff and deputy, and boy howdy when they go on vacation the rest of us citizens should quake in our boots because he’s coming after us! There ARE other police officers.

He’s been served with the order as a result of that note. The next time he approaches us, or attempts to contact us, he’ll be arrested.

Nevertheless, I don’t take any confidence from that because a) I doubt he’s going to be prosecuted unless he does something egregious that we can prove was him. We’re working on that, but b) he’s clearly flung all common sense to the winds and I’m not about to become a statistic.

It utterly upends our saving and retirement planning but our family’s safety is most important so we’re moving up our timeline on moving. If it were for any other reason, we’d tough it out, but it’s now about the safety of our family. How many times have you heard people say, “I knew he was mad but I didn’t think he’d go that far”?

Folks, I believe he would go every bit as far as you can imagine if he can find a way. He’s got all hours of the day free to plot, and he’s obviously using them to do so, so we’re marshaling our resources and making plans.

I hate this utter derailment of our financial plans.

My next few months: security and finding a home we can afford.

Naturally, it’s taking a very long time for my latest severe fibro flare to calm down, it’s being fed by several forms of stress. I haven’t taken time off since 2014 and I’ve had to take several days off just to recover. Seamus senses my feelings but thinks that all I need is a 100 lb dog on my lap. Thanks, dog.

:: Have you ever used a home surveillance system with cameras and recorded footage?  Something like Ring? Recommendations are welcome.  Positive wishes for both a good result at the hearing and our decamping safely are also greatly appreciated.

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