My last blog post from about a month ago seems to be gone. But that was another lifetime, concerned with normal things like my annual raise and saving for retirement.
We are in a new reality now, amazingly quickly.
Last Sunday, I went to brunch with my best friend in anticipation that it would soon not be advisable to do that. Last Sunday, PA had 6 presumptive or diagnosed cases and none in the local counties. Today, we have 63 cases, including the first case in my city announced today.
Restaurants, gyms, and shopping malls in my city are still open, but if you go 40 miles south towards Philly, those are all closed. I expect those restrictions to be here by later this week.
Last Sunday, the grocery stores were generally well-stocked, with only a couple of items such as Chlorox wipes being bought out. Now vast rows of shelves are empty, and the stores finally limited their hours to allow for restocking and started placing limits on the number of each item you could purchase at once.
Work was weird on a number of fronts last week, since a major renovation of our office began on Monday. Last Friday I had to move my desk to what is normally our front conference room, along with one other colleague. At least it's big enough that we can sit about 10' apart. The advisors began placing calls to all the clients to calm fears as they could and advise not to sell in this downswing. Since I work for a wealth management firm, most of the focus this week was on the market. We also instituted a rotation of people wiping down all the high-touch surfaces at least daily.
On Monday, the expectation was that everyone would come in unless feeling sick. By Friday, some possibility of working from home was allowed--particularly as fewer clients are wanting to come in for meetings. About half of last week's meetings were still face-to-face, while half moved to Zoom meeting or phone.
The two young mothers in our office will be working from home starting next week. At least as of Friday, there was an assumption that the four of us who don't have kids at home would come in. I'm kind of hoping we move quickly to more acceptance of working at home. There's still a sense of discordance between what they say on paper is ok and what is actually expected.
I'm a bit of a news junkie, which on the one hand has ramped up my anxiety and on the other allowed me to do a bunch of stocking up before the stores got so bad. Between what I have on hand now and what I've ordered during the past week, I probably have enough for at least a couple of months, though never having been through anything like this before, I'm a bit unsure.
My gym is videotaping one class a day for us to be able to stream on you-tube if we don't want to come in, and my congregation instituted online Zoom services as of this weekend.
I did stop by to visit with the retired couple I am close to on Friday evening, but that will probably be my last personal visit until this is over, except for any client meetings we have at work--and as I said, I am hoping we move those to Zoom.
Personally I am fighting a sense of panic since I believe my lungs have already been damaged by a few prior bouts of walking pneumonia as well as asthma. That suggests that, if I get the virus, I might be harder hit.
What is keeping me up at night is what I would do about my pets if I needed to be hospitalized. Both girls are seniors, ages 15 (on the 30th) and 15.5, and each has been diagnosed with her "probable life-limiting condition." They are thus not adoptable should something happen to me. but scarier is that, whereas if I went into the hospital in "normal" times< I would hire a pet-sitter and/or have them cared for by my retired neighbor at my house. But if I were infected, my house would be a contaminated zone, and thus dangerous to others--and I worry that the kitties would carry the virus to others too.
Praying that this nightmare passes soon, but I am not hopeful.
And even if "wave one" passes and the disease slows down as the weather warms, it's worth keeping in mind that the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 had 3 different waves--one in the spring from March until June, a second (which hit people far harder) from August until the beginning of November, and a third which started at the end of December into early 1919. Hopefully there will be some vaccination progress by then.
Viewing the 'Struggles' Category
My last blog post from about a month ago seems to be gone. But that was another lifetime, concerned with normal things like my annual raise and saving for retirement.
This past week will (knock on wood) rank as one of the two most aggravating weeks of the year--the other was back in May and that was all work-related.
This week was a mix..
Personal: I met with the endocrinologist. The thyroid biopsy results indicated no cancer yet but showed cells with abnormalities and a genetic assay indicated a 50% possibility of developing cancer. I need to research more. What I know at this point is that there are four types of thyroid cancer and that my risk is for the one that has the best prognosis. I will be meeting with the primary care physician I finally set up an appointment with and a surgeon and probably will look for another endocrinologist for a second opinion. My endocrinologist said that, if it were him, he'd want it out, but I'm not yet sure. There's a 50% chance they could take out half my thyroid and it would prove not to be cancerous at all. I really need to research more. That is what is frustrating about doctor's appointments--although my doctor says he left a message that I never received. I didn't ask all the questions that I should/could have at the appointment and will need to follow up. Haven't even really BEGUN to process this because of the other stuff this week. If I have surgery, it wouldn't be until January, so there's time.
Cats: Tuesday began with Buffy throwing up. She ate breakfast but threw it up and when I got home in the evening, she was throwing up again. Wednesday she just lay in bed and had no interest in food so on Thursday I brought her into the vet. The good news is that the bloodwork was good, just slightly elevated neutraphils indicating a possible infection. She also had an x-ray and that was ok, so the working hypothesis became a UTI. They couldn't get a urine sample so I brought her back on Friday so they could give her fluids and try again for the urine sample. So far the culture seems ok but they need 3 full days to fully assess. In the meantime, Bridget started with the same set of symptoms starting Thursday night. So now the hypothesis is either a GI virus or food. I think the virus is the more likely. After a few worrisome days, the cats finally seemed to have turned the corner this morning, with their usual appetites finally back (thanks in part to appetite stimulation meds).
The vet I've been using for the cats is located closer to where I lived 13 years ago before I bought my house. I got these cats from the vet, who had promised their previous owner that he would find them a good home when she died. He was their vet since they were kittens, and because I have had a 20-year relationship with the practice, I've kept going back. But the drive takes a minimum of 25 minutes, and when it is trafficky, as it was Friday evening when I picked Buffy up, it can take up to 50 minutes. In the interim, there has been a vet that opened a practice in my neighborhood. It's been about 5 years now and so far her online ratings are good. I learned this week that the original owner of the practice sold it, and while the vet who is there now is fine, they are down from 3 full-time vets to a full-time vet, a part-time vet, and rotating on-call vets while they try to find another full-timer, so I've decided from here on in to take the cats to the vet in my neighborhood. I went in yesterday and set an appointment for early next March for Buffy to have her annual senior wellness exam with the new vet. Anything else that goes on with this episode will be with the old vet, and hopefully there won't be anything else that requires vet help in the next couple of months until I get all the cats records and transfer them over to the new practice.
Then there was the car. The day before Thanksgiving, the windshield washer indicator came on on the dash. I thought that was funny since I had just put more fluid in the previous weekend. When I added more, I saw it flowing down the sidewalk as I poured. I had first an appointment for a diagnosis (since it could have just been a hose that detached or a lose washer), but the reservoir had a hole and needed to be replaced. An inspection revealed that it was time for new front brakes and rotors, new spark plugs, etc, so I left my car for the day to have everything done. Then on Thursday--while I was taking Buffy to the vet--the low pressure light came on on the dash. I have a history of letting air OUT of tires every time I try to add it, so I brought the car to a service station and had them add it (something I had done just 3 weeks earlier--with this car, I get a signal every year with the first cold snap). But unlike the last time, when the indicator light went off after driving the car about a mile, the indicator light didn't go off (which added to the stress of driving the cat to and from the vet). I brought it in to the dealer's "express service" on Saturday and they found a faulty indicator light and replaced it. (THey actually told me that, since the light was blinking on and off, that it was probably a faulty indicator and I didn't need to replace it, but I couldn't live with the extra layer of anxiety that having a blinking yellow light on my dashboard would entail).
The car repairs totaled about $1,400 and the vet visits another $825. My health insurance plan turned over December 1, so I'm back to paying my deductible (I have to check, I think it's $1,500 on my HDHP/HSA plan this year), so the recent and upcoming doctor's visits will come out of pocket until that is satisfied. Thankfully, I've got just about that amount left in my HSA.
Work: It was one of the extra-busy, 6 meeting weeks (normal is 2-4). Fortunately at year-end, we are focused on tax planning, and that is my strength, so it wasn’t as stressful as it could have been. I am the only CPA in our PA office, so I also help out with other planner’s projections, plus I worked with a CPA in our VA office to do a training session for the firm on how to use the software.
Then I had my annual evaluation, which was just a tiny bit anxiety-provoking leading up to it. I wasn’t very worried, but the very first job I had, for 7 years, had super-stressful annual evaluations and consequently even when I think I’m doing well, the process is worrisome. Thankfully it went as well as I expected, not perfect but with an improvement from last year. The evaluation comes from my supervisors but information about any raise, personal bonus, or firm-wide profit-sharing bonus comes from our COO the last week of the year.
So that is some good news, at least.
It looks like next week will be stressful again, since I just checked my email and learned that one of the clients I work with passed away. I’m sad because I liked him, and mentally adding my work to what needs to get done this week--and weekend. I’d had his latest estate documents and tax return sitting on my desk, planning to review them during the quieter last two weeks of the year, but I guess I will go in and start working on that today.
I do have an afternoon yoga class coming up, so at least that will buffer the stress.
I haven't been here since my birthday this summer, so I thought I'd check in before the year-end updates.
Health: I might be back later this week depending on what I learn at my doctor's appointment on Thursday. I had a biopsy done on my thyroid and will learn the results. (I learned I had a nodule earlier this year, had one biopsy shortly thereafter that gave indeterminate results, so had a second biopsy, so praying it checks out as benign). I guess, having said this much, I'll make sure to post something in either case, either the bad news or the good. In the meantime, I've been trying not to think about it, but this does mean I need to put a lot more focus on my physical health as a goal for 2019. For one thing, I don't have a primary care physician. I had one whom I liked who I had been with for over a decade, and she died the same week that I started my current job, which is now over 2 years ago. I've gone to my ob-gyn annually, and she connected me with the endocrinologist, so I've had basic bloodwork and such. But it's high time to have a physician I trust whom I can turn to to coordinate results from any specialists I might see.
Plus I need to get back on the exercise bandwagon. That's been another thing that I became very inconsistent with after starting my current job. At my last job, I earned about 20% more and had about 20% less work, which gave me the money and the time to belong to a nice gym. Right now I can't afford that, but I do have home equipment and need to get more consistent with using that--plus there's a $25/month gym nearby that isn't too bad, for use of the cardio and weight equipment for some variety. I'll probably see what kind of new year's special they have and join that gym then. In the meantime, I had my neighbor install some wall mounts for resistance bands and am starting to do some exercises using those (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drXN_xIbv8Q). Actually, my home equipment would be enough if I just had the discipline and motivation to use it consistently! I need to find a new walking buddy, but will wait until the weather warms up again and then post an ad on the Next Door app to see if I can find someone.
I was good at intermittent fasting from 5/24 to 11/3 and I lost about 12 pounds, but feel off the bandwagon during a business trip and have had a hard time getting back to it with the colder weather. I gained about 4 pounds back during November and now that it's a new month, I will try again. Breakfast is so much more appealing in cold weather than it is the rest of the year!
Kitties: I am very happy at the moment. My older kitty, Bridget, now 14, started having some problems in the middle of her 13th year, losing weight and hair and having chronic loose stools. She is incredibly terrified of the vet (it takes multiple people to handle her and she screams), but I did manage to get bloodwork done for her in March and it looked good. We tried a different diet and that helped a little but not much, and she is soooo stressed out by the vet that I didn't want to put her through more vet work. But recently, I found a food online that is a more natural food (smalls for smalls). They had a trial offer for one week of food for half price. I tried it and even using just 50% the old vet prescription food and 50% the new diet, I could start to see improvements, so I've been transitioning both cats on to it. Bridget's stools have firmed up a lot and I'm hopeful that with a diet that agrees with her more, she'll gain back a little weight and hair too. Buffy likes this food better than her own prescription food (which is just a weight loss food--she needs grain-free for her diabetes but as long as the food is grain-free, her diabetes is controlled), and I can feed both cats the same thing, which is great. For the past year, I was trying to monitor two cats with two different prescriptions who each preferred the OTHER cat's food. Each cat ended up eating some of the diet that was prescribed for her and some of the diet that wasn't, and it was stressful trying to monitor them constantly. This food costs a bit more, but since they were on prescription food anyways, it's not massively more costly, and better health for two senior kitties is worth it, since the girls are now at the ages (14 & 13.5) where I lost my two previous cats (who were both on dry food for most of their lives and who both died of kidney disease, probably as a result of that diet). So the current kitties eat canned food but do get dried treats. I would love it if the girls lived into their later teens.
Social Life: I've continued, generally, to attend rehearsals of the orchestra I joined in August, and I've been in 3 concerts so far (usually at senior living facilities). The last 6 weeks are the busiest time of the year at work, so I've skipped the last two rehearsals (next concert is in mid-January), but I do plan to be back regularly after the new year. I've kept up with my friends, but I've seen them a bit less than I used to since I started this job, but still fairly regularly.
Work: Work is busy but generally good. I have my annual evaluation meeting this coming Tuesday, and hopefully, their assessment of me is as positive as my own. I know places I can make improvements but also places where I am particularly an asset, and I enjoy my co-workers and being part of a team.
CFP exam: I've not made progress since July on studying for the CFP exam. But I did complete two courses, Insurance and Estate Planning, back in the first half of the year, and both courses have been very helpful. I have 3 more courses to go and I have 10 months left to complete them, so I know I should be able to complete the courses and I have some incentive to do so. This probably means that I won't take the CFP exam until March 2020, however. As long as I complete the coursework in 2019!
Although this time of the year is overall busy, my personal schedule was not booked up with meetings for the last two weeks of the year (it's mostly the last week of November and the first two weeks of December that are overloaded), so I'm taking a week off at year end and hopefully will make some progress on other goals during that time (maybe get 20% of the Retirement & Employee Benefits class done and do a little decluttering and make calls to find a primary care doctor)
Finances: Well, after my last post in August saying that my retirement accounts had broken the half-million mark, the market had a correction. So I'm going to have to build up to that mark again. Right now my retirement accounts are pretty much where they were at year-end 2017, and with depreciation on the car and a little bit of a decline on Zillow's home value estimate, my total assets are 3K down from the beginning of the year. My debts, however, are down about 6k--which includes my mortgage now being more than half paid off from its original starting value. I will be restructuring some of my debt in the new year after I see whether I get a bonus and if so, how big it is, and I feel like I have a good shot at getting the total debt down to at least 80K, with 70% of that being the mortgage. As long as we don't have more market losses in December, that will put my debt at less than 15% of my net worth.
I'm finally admitting to myself that, given the exigencies of life, it will probably take me longer to get rid of the non-mortgage debt than I would like (for example, I have about $1,300 of car repairs that I've been advised to make, and I need to replace my oven and will replace my refrigerator at the same time, early next year, so that's about another $1,200), but my mortgage paydown acceleration is on track (just 56K left as of today!), so if it takes me a couple more years to get the debt paid off than I'd planned, that's fine, as long as I am working! I still feel that I am on target to have the debt paid off by retirement, just so long as I can work until my mid-60s.
I'll check back in next weekend and report back on the thyroid biopsy results, and other than that, I'll be back the last week of the year to wrap up the year and set up some goals for 2019.
Well, I've been making good progress this year on decreasing debt, but I'm going to backslide a bit in the service of preserving my health.
I've been struggling with a growing fatigue problem for about 4 years. The last time I remember being my "old self" who woke up early and easily full of energy was about 5 years ago. I remember going out and taking lots of long walks early mornings during the times I was out in Los Angeles helping out with my mom during her final year; I remember having a job that required me to be at the office across town at 8:30 am and not struggling with it. Then I remember starting to work at a manufacturing plant in April 2012 and having my asthma get massively worse within 3 weeks, which interfered with my ability to exercise, and gradually I began to struggle to be able to get in to work at 9 a.m.--not because I would wake up late, but because I would wake up at 6:30 and just zone out over a few cups of coffee until making myself get into the shower. The asthma eventually came under control two years ago after I was put on Flovent, but my energy never returned.
Lately I've been struggling at the other end of the day as well--if I want to be out after 7 pm, I am often too exhausted to do so. Not that I am falling asleep that early--just being nonproductive browsing social media because I don't have the energy to go out more than one or two nights a week.
I had my doctor run tests and she ran the standard panels, but my tests all come back normal.
Then 3 years ago, during the 6 months I was unemployed, I went to hear a chiropractor talk on thyroid issues, since I suspect this may be part of the problem. My mother was on Synthroid, and my sister has been on it since age 19, so clearly it runs in the family. That chiropractor ran a test for thyroid antibodies--a test that my doctor did not run because it is not part of the standard thyroid test panel. That test showed that my antibodies were out of range, indicating that my body is in essence attacking my own thyroid (a condition known as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis). The doctor recommended going on a gluten free diet (so I switched from being vegan to going gluten free, not that the two are incompatable but I just couldn't manage too many dietary restrictions at one time) and paid out of pocket for periodic thyroid antibody tests. When I brought the topic up to my doctor, she gave me the standard allopathic medicine doctor response of "there's really nothing to do but wait until your thyroid levels go out of range and then use Synthroid.") The chiropractor also had another program of treatment he recommended--but it was mostly out of pocket except for the lab testing, and I couldn't afford it at the time.
By going gluten free, I had seen my antibody levels gradually go down. But this winter I felt the fatigue increase, and when I had another test done in March, it showed an increase in my levels again. They're still significantly lower than the first time I was tested (which to me is evidence for the autoimmune nature and the role of gluten in the disease), but this was the first time i 3 years that my levels rose rather than fell.
Then 3 weeks ago I was on facebook and I saw a talk by another chiropractor being given on Saturday. I went to that talk and signed up for a consult with him. I also knew of a third chiropractor who treats Hashimoto's who is actually on the list of recommended practitioners listed by Isabella Wentz, author of "The Hashimoto's Protocol" and I made an appointment to see him as well.
So after all of this, I've decided that now is the time to get my energy back, because that is what enables my ability to accomplish every other goal in my life. Having met twice now with each of the three doctors, I've decided to go to the one who is on Wentz's list of recommended practioners. Yes, it will involve a big out of pocket cost, since again, only the lab tests are covered by insurance. But I'm not making progress on the other goals in my life in the way that I want because of my lack of energy. I'll be going for a more extensive panel of tests next week--and if there is anything more serious going on that would require an internist, that should be shown by the tests as well (in which case I need to hurry up to find a new internist as my last one died in November).
I brought along my last few sets of bloodwork results to the exams, and the doctor who I have chosen noted a recurring anomaly in another marker that no doctor had ever commented on before, and told me what it indicated, which fits with some other information I have from "genetic genie" interpretations of my 23andme results (basically a methylation anomaly). That, plus his answer to another "test" question I gave to my doctors to understand more about their perspective, gave me some confidence that this doctor will help get me on the path to restoring my energy--since right now, as the song goes, "my 'get up and go' has got up and went." And that, frankly would be worth incurring another 2.5K expense (especially in the least invasive way. I've done a lot of reading about functional medicine in the past few years, and have come to believe that while allopathic (traditional) medicine is the best route to treating acute conditions, for autoimmune and many chronic conditions, you are best off starting with a functional medicine approach which may entail lifestyle changes to forestall further problems rather than waiting until the problem becomes bad and then sticking you on drugs.
A sweet New Year to those who celebrate (and those who celebrate alongside us).
A quick update here on my life:
My debt load is down to about 96K, 10K down from last December and close to where it was when it took a spike up with the HELOC last October. I keep on running projections for myself and am still optimistic that I can wipe out the non-mortgage debt by the time I am 60 (4 more years) and the mortgage by age 65. I don’t think I’ll ever again earn as much as I earned in my last position, but as long as I earn enough to repay my debts and cover my current living expenses, I’ll be ok.
A baseline rule of thumb for retirement income is to have at least 8 to 10 times your annual income in retirement accounts; this provides for a withdrawal rate of 3 to 5%. Now I don’t have 8 times my recent high level salary in my retirement accounts, but I do have 8 times my expected future salary in there, so as long as I don’t have to draw too much down before retirement, I’ll be fine. (Why would I draw money before retirement? Because part of this money is in inherited IRAs, which come with Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Ideally, pre-retirement, one takes the RMD, pays the taxes at one’s ordinary income rate, then rolls the money into a Roth IRA (so that you don’t have to pay taxes on it again). But these difficult years, I have been using the money to pay down debt at the beginning of the year. When I can also save for retirement through pre-tax deductions at work, these two amounts pretty much even out, but there have been years where it all ends up just being a paydown of debt without sufficient corresponding contributions.)
Bottom line: as long as I earn enough to cover my current expenses, I am fine. Being able to earn enough to save more for retirement would be ideal--I'd love to be able to retire with 12-15 times income in my retirement accounts (and will probably have to work until age 70 to do this)--but as long as I don't have a net withdrawal from the retirement accounts until actual retirement (as long as I am able to save at least the amount I take in mandatory RMDs) I have enough to survive retirement barring any black swan events (and I do have a long-term care insurance policy to cover the most likely black swan).
The biggest question mark in here is health insurance coverage. The COBRA plan offered to me was $762 a month so I instead went on the Health Care Marketplace and got myself a Bronze plan for the rest of the year at $524 a month. I may well go for a Silver plan next year if I don't have a job that provides any insurance, but hopefully I will. The idea of 8 to 10K out of pocket a year for premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance is daunting. Having once owed additional tax for getting a subsidy and then in the end not being eligible for it, I will from now on avoid opting for the subsidy paid in advance (the Premium Tax Credit) and instead take it when I file my tax return after all is said and done.
In terms of my projected debt reduction, I have so far reduced my debt load about 8K this year. It had reached a recent peak last November at 108K and is down to about 96k (roughly 66K mortgage and 30K non-mortgage debt; by January, it should be down to 94K. Then I am hoping to reduce it by 12K a year thereafter. Once the non-mortgage debt is gone, I’ll be able to increase retirement contributions, and I’ll be able to up them even more once the house is paid off.
Presuming of course that I am back at work.
I am feeling hopeful about that at the moment. Things have really picked up the past couple of weeks, and I’m onto second conversations for planning jobs—these would be with insurance rather than investing oriented firms, but I’m actually eager to learn that side of the business. Then there’s a position that would involve being a rotating consultant working out of a staffing firm—I’d be an employee of the staffing firm with benefits, and they would try to keep me working on short-term assignments typically of a few months. They would keep me on the payroll for up to a month after each short-term assignment ended and try to find me another assignment (hopefully going seamlessly from one assignment to the next); if they weren’t able to find me another position within that time frame, it would be back to unemployment. But at least I would be eligible for unemployment and even if the pay would be less working for a staffing firm than it would be working directly as an employee of the client company, someone else is doing the heavy lifting in terms of getting me interviews. And often enough, the client company decides they want to keep you and makes you a more lucrative offer. In addition, I’m interviewing for a part-time holiday season job at a local department store two miles from my house.
Also, I had lunch with one of my former colleagues and learned that they are NOT seeking to replace me, but instead have streamlined and eliminated part of what I was doing and are outsourcing the rest of it, so I can honestly say that my job was restructured out of existence, rather than that I was let go for making mistakes (which is what my boss said to me when he let me go). As I am prone to shame and self-blame, learning this has been very helpful to my state of mind.
On that note, currently reading Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong” about dealing with failures in a resilient fashion and finding it helpful.
Well, I need to get some documents prepared for tomorrow and try to make an Eruv Rosh Hashanah dinner (I’m skipping the service, alas), so—Happy New Year to you !