Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

July 22, 2018
by funny
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Budgetarium…

Naturally, even though I hit “save to DropBox” until I was blue in the face, the Time Machine Mac-reboot demolished my Excel budget sheet. Sooo…this morning I had the ineffable privilege of trying to reconstruct every penny-pinch I’ve indulged this month.

Is it, really, any wonder that most Americans have little to no control over their money? That most of us have little or no emergency savings, to say nothing of enough to live on through our dotage?

On the “fun” scale, budgeting ranks down about where “scouring the toilet” appears. Maybe slightly below that. Depressing, frustrating. and annoying. Especially when your damn computer deletes several hours’ worth of ditz.

Okayy…. So after spending most of the morning wrestling with this sh!t, I was unable to reconstruct all of the month’s record without having to spend even more hours poring over each entry in three weeks’ worth of receipts. So…had to make a few shortcuts. Those skimpy calculations notwithstanding, I did manage to ascertain the following:

The Costco cash card devoted to in-store purchases still holds $54.
The CC cash card for gasoline purchases still has its original $60(!!!).
I’ve managed to hold the AMEX bill to an amazing $277, an all-time low.
Despite a $237 power bill and a $200 water bill, I’m still $220 in the black (!!!!!).
I now have $681 in the emergency savings fund, up from last week’s $5.41.
The Mayo Clinic savings fund holds something over $500 in unclaimed funds, mysteriously: I may be able to afford to have the broken tooth fixed, after all.

Where the phantom $500 in medical savings came from, I do not know. I must have accidentally paid a bill or two out of cash flow. Typically, I charge Mayo bills on American Express as soon as the money comes in from Medicare and Medigap, deposit the incoming funds to a credit union account reserved to hold money for medical spending, and then use that to pay amounts charged on said AMEX bill. But because I hate loathe and despise the ditzy job of scanning and depositing those checks (or of traipsing 40 minutes across the city to deposit them in person), I may simply have spaced a few AMEX medical charges, paying them out of cash flow. WhatEVER…now I can use that to help get the teeth fixed.

Explanation: The Mayo Clinic declines to accept “Medicare assignment.” That does not mean, contrary to the impression many people have, that they refuse to accept patients who are on Medicare. It means only that they don’t accept direct deposit from Medicare or from Medigap insurers. Read: they do not want to pay an army of bookkeepers to deal with the endless blizzard of tiny little payments that Medicare and Medigap emit. If there’s one bill for a visit during which you had, say, nine minor tests and a doctor’s appointment, they don’t write one check; they write ten checks. The amount of paper these agencies vomit out simply defies belief. I have almost an entire file drawer full of the sh!t, and that’s just for one little old lady. One reasonably healthy little old lady.

So if you want to do business with…uhm, I mean, get care from the Mayo Clinic, you have to field All…That…Paper. And dig the checks out of the dunes of snail-mailed paperwork. (They’re easy to miss!). And then deposit them to your account. And then from your account, pay the amount due to the Mayo.

It’s a fuckin’ nuisance, and believe me, if there were any other hospital in the Phoenix area that consistently ranks good to excellent, I would take my healthcare business elsewhere. Alas, though, where medical care is concerned Arizona in general and Phoenix in specific are, shall we say, somewhat lacking in the “good to excellent” department. There are specific hospitals here — such as the one about a mile and a half from my house — that you do not want to go to. Hence, a drive that’s halfway to Payson whenever I need to see the doc, and unending hassles with paying the bills.

Truly. If my son didn’t live here, I would be living in Europe right now, today. This country has backslid so far into the Third World, one truly has to question the benefit of staying here.

See what I mean, about how annoying and depressing the whole budgeteering effort can be? If you even begin to think about the absurdity of it all…sheesh!

Where were we?

Yes. Well, despite the crabbiness this endeavor generates, by the time I finished reconstructing the month’s budgetizing record, I felt a lot better about things. With $54 still free to spend at Costco, plus $60 on the gasoline card (I had to buy gas on the last day of June and still have about a third of a tank left — meaning I will have spent only $30 on gas by the end of this month), I should finish this cycle well within budget. Maybe I’ll even have enough to pay the barbecue repair guy next week without running into the red.

The piddling $220 on the AMEX card was a surprise. In a big way. Typically, AMEX runs between $900 and $1200 a month. Why did this happen?

My theory is this:

Dedicating a flat amount to spend in Costco and determining not to exceed it forced me to build shopping lists before each of two Costco junkets. This accomplished two things:

a) Because I did not want to have to go back to Impulse Buy Hell unnecessarily, I thought very carefully about the things I needed. And…
b) Determining to stay within the $300 budget worked successfully to block the impulse-buying habit.

A carefully planned Costco [or Sam’s Club or Aldi or Walmart…] shopping list means you buy most of your needs there. So, you have to buy relatively few last-minute or forgotten items in a grocery store or a hardware store or a home store. That limits another category of impulse buy, of course: the ohhh I must have that [bag of popcorn] [box of clothespins] [overpriced artichoke] [tube of purple lipstick] [can of WD-40]! purchase.

There are a few things I have to buy in a grocery store. Those fancy rolls of dog food I use to fill in when the gourmet home-made food runs out, for example: Costco doesn’t carry those things. Walmart and the uppity AJ’s both carry them — and each charges the same for the stuff. If most of a month’s supermarket and grocery store items are purchased at Costco, then all that’s left to buy elsewhere is the dog food and occasional fresh produce. Walmart’s produce stinks and half the time they’re out of the dog food, so to avoid wasted trips (and wasted gasoline) I buy both at AJ’s, the Jewel of Richistan. But even buying fresh produce and overpriced dog food at that upscale emporium does not run up the AMEX bill the way list-free shopping does.

If these speculations are true, then I should have relatively little trouble staying within what seemed like an impossibly tight budget (given what I have been spending, habitually). Frankly, after the astronomical power and water bills, I was very surprised not to find myself flat broke already.

Now is the most expensive time of year, when it comes to running the Funny Farm. I do not do time-of-day billing deals with the power company (like, yeah: I really want to spend my evenings running the laundry! And sure, I really want the Salt River Project telling me what I can do and when!). Nor do I average out my bills over the year: that would leave me with unaffordable bills all year round instead of just three or four months a year. The result is that during the winter, the power bills in this house are very low. I don’t mind being a little chilly for a few hours a day. Once the sun hits the roof, the house warms right up, even in the middle of January. There’s no reason to heat the entire building when a space heater will make the room where I spend most of my time plenty comfortable. Same is true with the water bills: in winter, the vegetation uses a quarter of the amount of water needed to keep it alive during the summer. As a result, water bills are correspondingly low. This leaves lots more money to spend on my indulgences during the cooler months.

Or to set aside in savings. 😉

July 21, 2018
by funny
2 Comments

Report from the Hubs of Hades

Five in the morning. It’s 90 degrees on the back porch. Windy. The sun is trying, unsuccessfully, to dawn through muddy yellow-orange haze. Off in the distance: dull thunder. Let the dogs out to do their thing. Decide against the usual a.m. doggy-walk.

Discover I’ve gained almost two pounds since the day before yesterday. Xergis is fattening?????? WTF.

The human and the dogs go back to bed. Actually, the human takes the laptop to the bed, perches there, and fiddles with social media. Dogs go back to sleep.

Cassie starts to hork.

Lift her off the bed before she succeeds in upchucking. Thank God for small mercies.

Clean up the mess. Let Cassie back out. It’s starting to sprinkle. Sort of. Hard to tell what it’s doing: it’s so hot, and the light wind is rustling the leaves, so the sound could be that rather than rain. If it is raining, it’s evaporating before it hits the ground. Cassie goes back in. Decide she’s probably done barfing. Lift her back on the bed. Climb back on behind her. Dogs conker out.

Storm continues to move in. Thunder surrounds us, rumbling in from all directions. Still have power, though. And 70% battery power remains on the Macbook — meaning the thing will run about another 30 minutes.

The pool will be a mess to clean up, with that much dust hanging in the air. The water is bathtub warm. Even though the mustard algae has almost disappeared, these conditions will invite it back.

Arranged to have the pool resurfaced in October. Earlier, if a miracle happens and the water gets too cool to swim sometime in September. I doubt this will happen: global warming is real, folks…and we’ve had it here for some time now.

Decided against the white PebbleSheen. The guy — a genuine charmer, definitely born about 30 years too late, dammit — brought some samples. We put them in the water, because the stuff changes color as it gets really wet. Chose a kind of medium-light blue with little stones engineered to show. I think it will be very pretty.

They’re going to try to save the tile. But if they can’t — it’s been through two replasterings that we know of, and there is a limit, after all — he left a brochure showing a local pool tile company’s offerings. Now I’m thinking I should just spring for the cost of installing new tile. Mine is pretty out of date…think this pool was installed shortly after the first buyers moved in, and the house was built in 19-and-ought-71. It has that 1970s look to it.

At any rate, the stuff is going to look amazingly pretty.

Looking at it in the water, I was reminded of Lebanon.

When I was a little girl, my father would occasionally take his short leave in Beirut. (Aramco gave employees two “leaves”: a two-week short leave midway through a two-year contract, and a three-month long leave between contracts. Sometimes we would go to Beirut; sometimes to Bahrain.)

Lebanon had been largely dominated by the French, following the demise of the Ottoman Empire. Before the civil war (followed, a few years later, by attacks from the Israelis)  reduced the city to rubble, Beirut hosted rows of beautiful, French-operated hotels that served up luxury accommodations and French food on the shore of the Mediterranean. It was a gorgeous place.

So we stayed in this hotel on the most amazing beach. It wasn’t sand, like the hot white sand where we lived, on the Persian Gulf. It was tiny, colorful, surf-polished pebbles. Each little stone was maybe an eighth of an inch in diameter and  they came in every color you can imagine. When I first saw them, I thought they were gemstones. A whole beach covered with jewelry!

When they were wet, they did look like highly polished gemstones. Let them dry out: not so much. But underwater, they were a spectacular thing to see.

Well, this PebbleSheen stuff is like that. Its little stones are about the size of the beach gemstones of Beirut. And underwater, they shine like they were polished.

So I’m pretty excited about doing this project. I think it’s going to make the backyard look really gorgeous.

The cat’s claw, which was suffering from the near demise of the irrigation system along the back wall, is reviving in response to being watered from the top with drip hosing. That stuff won’t last long — if you ever want soaker hose, do not buy the Miracle-Gro brand, which is true junk. But for the nonce, the scheme is working well. The idea of hooking the double hose bib on that back faucet was definitely one of those why didn’t i think of it before??? things. Now instead of having to climb under the shrubbery to hook up the soakers to the hose, all that’s needed is a flip of a switch and a turn of a faucet handle. It’s starting to blossom and will soon be covered with bright yellow trumpet flowers.

Ugh. I cannot stand to read the news these days. When is that orange-haired buffoon going to resign or be impeached?

Dollars to donuts, he won’t make it to the end of this term. But that may not be a good thing. Because then we will get Pence, who is an effective politician, and who hides his viciousness under a smoothly polished veneer of pious respectability. Frankly, a “Christian” who wouldn’t recognize Christ if the Spirit Himself came up and bit him on the tuchus may be worse than a clown whose corruption is obvious.

This country is in deep, deep trouble. As in End-Times trouble, at least for our democratic republic. Hellish hot rain, I suppose, is to be expected.

Update: Rainshowers barrel through to the south. By 8:00 a.m.: 80 degrees on the back porch, under a gentle sprinkle. Arizona is weird.

July 19, 2018
by funny
0 comments

Things You Can Learn From International Business

Embarking on an international business endeavor can be an exciting new adventure. Whether you are an independent investor or joining colleagues for an international trip, there are a number of things you will likely learn from the experience, and it is sure to be both professionally and personally enriching. You can get the most out of it if you make it your mission to learn. Rather than simply focusing on your business prospects, consider what knowledge can be gained from your time spent abroad. This can make the trip an even more meaningful experience

The following are six examples of what you can learn when you go abroad on business. You might be surprised by just how much there is to take in, and when you shift your focus beyond the professional, you are likely to see things differently. Focus on these potential sources of knowledge when you are conducting business internationally.

A New Language

Depending on how long you will be in another country, it is unlikely that you will achieve fluency in the span of your trip. It is very likely, however, that you will be able to pick up certain aspects of a new language when you are abroad. Being multilingual—or even just bilingual—can be an invaluable asset to any businessperson looking to boost their profile. Take an interest in the language being spoken, and make every effort to learn as much as you can. You will rarely have the opportunity to be so immersed in another language

Cultural Knowledge

In addition to the potential of learning a new language, you should focus on learning as much as possible about the culture of the country you are visiting. This is not just for your own personal enrichment—it is a responsible move for any entrepreneur who wants to avoid cultural faux-pas when they are abroad. Understanding the culture you are doing business in is an absolute must for any responsible businessperson. Entrepreneurs such as Timur Tillyaev can confirm this. Do a little bit of research before you touch down, and continue paying attention to customs once you have arrived.

Interpersonal Skills

Doing business abroad can do wonders for your interpersonal skills. Whether you are a social butterfly or feel awkward in crowds, you can learn some fantastic new social skills simply by going abroad with your business. International business gives you the opportunity to talk to new people, experience new things and learn in new settings. All of this makes it a great experience for people looking to improve their interpersonal skills. In addition to boosting your confidence in your own interpersonal skills, international business trips can help you learn interpersonal skills that are intercultural, and this is a true asset

Laws and Customs

You might not think that going abroad for business would help you learn about laws and customs, but in many cases, this is a valuable set of knowledge that comes with the territory. If you are doing business that involves any kind of retail or trading, you are likely to learn all about the laws governing such transactions. This is valuable knowledge for any entrepreneur who is interested in doing business abroad consistently. Timur Tillyaev, for example, found success in international business after years of traveling and investing. This experience can build the knowledge you need to eventually branch out.

Economic Knowledge

In addition to understanding the laws and customs that govern the country you are doing business in, you should make efforts to learn about the local economy, too. Understand the international economy is essential for any entrepreneur who aspires to succeed in global business. Make note of what kind of businesses succeed, who their target demographic is, how they attract clients and what portion of the market they dominate. All of these factors can provide meaningful information and help you understand the economy on a global scale. Going abroad is the most effective way to understand these factors.

Global Perspectives

One of the greatest things you can take away from an international business trip is the ability to think on a global scale. Too often, we get stuck thinking about everything in our immediate surroundings, and it is difficult to realize that there is a bigger world surrounding us. Going abroad makes it impossible to forget this, though, and make the context of the world much more real. Take the time to build your perspective as you are abroad and learn about everything new around you. This is important both for your personal betterment and your professional enrichment.

Doing business abroad should never just be a transaction. It should be an experience, a lesson and an opportunity to broaden your horizons. Take these tips if you want to get the most out of your trip and learn while you are abroad. You will likely enjoy the trip more when you focus on learning.

Today’s banner image:
Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Samarkand. April 2013
By Bobyrr – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35322840

July 18, 2018
by funny
6 Comments

Poor Li’l Dog

So I’m on my way over to meet my friends, to join them for a Costco junket. It’s almost 9:30 a.m. Hotter than the Hubs of Hades, cruising up Main Feeder Street EW.

And what should come trotting up the road but a beautiful young dog, all black, overheated looking. I stopped. He jumped in my car: a smallish lab mix. My guess would be part pit bull, part lab. I thought he was a pup.

He parked himself in the driver’s seat well, seated conveniently on the gas pedal and the brake pedal. And refused to budge.

Rousted one of the gay guys from the corner house. He’s kind of an old fella and pretty gimpy. Asked if he thought he could help me get the dog into a more practical place inside the car. By the time we got back to the car, the dog had climbed over to the front passenger seat well…which was good, because when the old guy saw the pooch, he said there was no way he could’ve helped to personhandle it.

Brought the hound back here so I could call the folks and put them off.

Get him into the backyard with a bowl of water, which he inhales. But once he gets back into the garage that dog is NOT goin’ back out.

I try to slip into the house around him, but Ruby dodges out.

Forthwith they get into it. Ruby, the little twit, will try to dominate any dog…even if it weighs 30 pounds more than she does. Even if it’s likely part pit bull. Which evidently it is….

Had a time rescuing her. Finally the stray shot into the house, allowing me to fish the now cowering corgi out from behind the car’s exhaust pipe.

That distraction delayed the phone call long enough that the folks were outside waiting for me to show up and didn’t get the call, so I had to drive to their place to tell them what was going on.

Catch them as they’re about to leave for my house. Explain what’s going on. They agree that leaving the dog in the house is impossible and outside in the heat is unwise.

Return to the Funny Farm, by which time I’ve decided to take the dog to the Humane Society.

Unfortunately it’s a kill shelter.

Dog is somebody’s pet. It’s very well cared for, well fed, shiny coat, clean teeth, more or less heels on a leash, sits on command, shakes paws.

I would like to steal him. Probably would, if I thought I could get away with it. Which I don’t.

Often you can find the owner on NextDoor, but I didn’t feel I could risk keeping him even for a few days, since there’s no sane way to keep them separated. Obviously, I can’t keep a dog that’s going to fight with Ruby, even for a short time

Got the dog up to the Humane Society. Yes, he had a chip, but the idiot owner hadn’t registered him! They had no way of finding out who he belonged to. And their shelter was full. They wanted me to drive him down to the county pound, WAY down in South Phoenix — half a tank of gasoline’s worth of driving. And that place is a zoo.

They ended up taking him in and saying the pound would come pick him up from their facility, within 24 hours.

Felt extremely guilty.

Got home to find Ruby in a frenzy. She was SO upset. She ran around and around the backyard and the house baying (did you know a corgi can actually bay?) and barking at the top of her little doggy lungs.

Still felt guilty, but was forced to acknowledge that my first instinct was right: NO WAY could I keep that dog while searching for its owner…or permanently.

I thought, briefly, about seeing if M’jito like to have this dog foisted on him. But in the first place, he’s not a golden retriever (the preferred beast). In the second, he’s very active. And in the third, somebody is no doubt searching for him…or will be, whenever they get home from work.

Mercifully, Ruby doesn’t seem to have gotten hurt. Thank god. Just what I needed: another vet bill!

She’s still batsh!t, though.

Boss dog and recumbent underling

July 17, 2018
by funny
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She breathes…she moves…she…writes?

A day late and a whole lotta dollars short…finally got around to typing up and posting this week’s chapter of Ella’s Story.

The other two books I’ve been giving away as * FREE READS * at Plain & Simple Press — If You’d Asked Me and The Complete Writer — were finished long before I dreamed up this idea. But Ella’s Story was a work in progress. A lot of progress: quite a few chapters were in hand at the time I started this project.

But a few weeks ago the completed chapters ran out, leaving me to keep up with the publishing schedule by writing a new chapter a week. Talk about draftig!

So now we know how if felt to be Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fyodor Dostoyevski and Alexandre Dumas and Herman Melville Henry James and Gustave Flaubert and Harriet Beecher Stowe and … if only we were one of them! 😀

The blog format, it seems to me, naturally lends itself to serializing novels. But…

How exactly you would make any money on it escapes me. I suppose you could sell advertising around such a thing. Or ask people to pay to subscribe. Or donate to your cause.

I knew writing a chapter a week would be a challenge. When you study late 19th- and early 20th-century lit, you occasionally come across some writer’s complaint about what a struggle it was to crank out fiction, week in and week out, for serial publication. Alas, though…I’ve never anything but overconfident.

July 17, 2018
by funny
0 comments

Things That Go Bump in the Night…

Well. Not “bump” so much as “rustle rustle rustle” or “munch munch munch.” It’s three in the morning — what most of us would call the middle of the freaking night — the hour that my internal alarm clock has, of late, designated as the dawn of a bright new day. The dogs are conkered out, they being vulnerable to no such metabolic failings. I’m laying there thinking about my best friend in junior high school, Sandy.

Sandy. What an eccentric! We were perfectly matched.

Sandy loved horse racing. Every Saturday morning we would meet at my house to watch the races on TV. Yes. In those days, Saturday morning television (at least in San Francisco) went not to the cartoons but to the races. We loved to watch the races.

Sandy’s hero was not Elvis but Eddie Arcaro, probably the greatest thoroughbred jockey who ever mounted a horse. So I’m laying there thinking — what else? — whatever happened to Eddie Arcaro? Naturally, I have to roll out of the sack (why waste time at three in the morning, eh?) and look him up. Now I’m sitting here, reading up on Eddie, when…comes from the roof (attic???) this weird little sound. At first I think it’s a light rain: could be tapping on the skylights. A sprinkle hitting the glassoid?

But it’s not quite like rain. It doesn’t sound like Ratty dancing across the attic beams. Quite. WTF? Scritch scritch scritch scritch… Something digging in the leaves that have blown onto the roof in the summer’s winds? Something gnawing on the drywall?

The skylights appear to be dry, but it’s hard to tell, because of course it’s mighty dark outside.

I get up and go look out the back door. The motion-sensitive lights have not come on. I can’t see a thing out there.

Open the door and hear rassle rassle rassle! The sound of something running away? I don’t hear anything more. I don’t see anything. And I sure as hell ain’t goin’ out there.

Probably Ratty, I figure. Though it could be a racoon. But I doubt if a raccoon would bother with climbing on the roof. Ratty can scamper up a block wall as easily as she can stroll across a field of grass. Yeah: almost certainly Ratty…

Or was it?

A couple hours pass. The dogs arise and demand a doggy walk. Along about 6:15 we get back, and eventually we wander out to police the backyard. Having performed the morning pool inspection, I amble back and find…

Ruby TRANSFIXED!

Did you know that a corgi can go on point?

Who’d’ve thunk it? That dog was pointing like a fine little vizsla…into the rocks filling a drainage ditch off the patio.

WTF?

So I approach cautiously (rattlesnake? wh-a-a?). She doesn’t budge. Literally: she does not wriggle, so fixed is she on whatever the target is.

From beneath the stones, we can hear the same sound: Scritch scritch scritch scritch….

What the heck? Whatever it is, it ain’t a raccoon and it ain’t Ratty!

I call Cassie, who’s smarter than either of us. She’s not the slightest bit interested.

I try lifting some of the stones, never having heard of a rattlesnake that could go scritch scritch scritch scritch.

This isn’t exactly a ditch: it’s actually a French well. So it’s several feet deep, and it holds a LOT of river rock. Under the first layer of rock, I find…nothing. Eventually the scritching stops.

Was the 3 a.m. scritcher inside the house? I doubt it. But…how could it scritch loudly enough to be heard through the roofing, through the attic insulation, through attic flooring, through the ceiling’s drywall? In both cases, the sound was rather soft. The volume seemed about the same. And in the wee hours, it distinctly sounded like it was on the roof or on a skylight.

The mystery has yet to be solved.

Hmh. Wonder if I could train this little dog to hunt Mearn’s quail? It appears they have, on occasion, been used as bird dogs. Innaresting.

Today’s header image: Preakness Stakes. By Maryland GovPics – Flickr: 139th Preakness Stakes, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32879764