Washboard Situation

We live on a dirt road. It might also be called a gravel road, or an unpaved road. I am not a fan of referring to it as “unpaved” since that implies that the norm is paved, when there are more miles of gravel roads in the world than paved roads. In Vermont, there are 1,500 more miles of dirt roads than paved roads.

A gravel road has its charms. Generally fewer people drive on them. Paved roads are faster and usually more direct, so they take the bulk of traffic. People tend to drive more slowly on dirt roads. And they look better, if you ask me, since they feel like they are cut from the earth, even they are often solidly engineered. Nature could take them back, if we let it, or so it seems. A paved road just seems laid on top of the landscape–foreign and immovable.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Our road is open, so it bakes in the sun. Many dirt roads turn to mud in the spring, but ours dries out pretty quickly. Mud season is short on our road. But that sun drying things out? That means dust. When summer comes and we haven’t had rain for several days, passing cars raise clouds of dust. And the wind blows it our way. Our porch can get covered in dust. When we eat outside at the porch table, we need to wipe that thing down or expect grit in our teeth.

We are in the season of dust right now, but it isn’t too bad lately. That is because of another problem–washboarding. We have the worst washboarding we have seen on our road since we have lived in this house. The phenomenon gets its name because it looks like an old fashioned washboard. Wheels bouncing on the road cause ripples to form in the dirt surface, and these get enlarged with more traffic. This means a really bumpy drive. It shakes the dash and rattles the windows. Not good for your car.

However, this washboard situation means that everyone driving past drives a little more slowly. With slower driving comes less dust. So when we leave the house and drive down the road, I am none too happy about it, but when other people drive down our road I am pleased that they kick up less dust.

The town grades our road a few times each year, and they have not done it in a while now, so we are due. I am surprised they have not graded it yet, given just how bad the road has gotten, but I know there are plenty of other projects in town. Grading our road is a priority for me. It may not be for the town as a whole.

One possible delay is the installation this summer of fiber optic cable along our road. It has been buried, like the power cables, rather than strung, so they have been digging. That digging ended a month ago, but maybe they have more to do? It may not make sense to grade the road if more digging is going to happen. Really, I have no idea.

It will be great to have high speed internet, finally. But I sure would like a smoother drive and to prevent some car damage. In this case, I will take some dust. It is easier to wipe down the table than to replace auto parts. Costs less, too.

No Television

Recently we got a new television. We hadn’t gotten a new television in over a decade, so we were a little behind on the technology situation. The one we got, from a store right nearby, has Blue Ray built right in and is internet ready. We plugged it in and could watch Netflix movies streamed wirelessly right on our television. With the setup we have now, we can also rent movies online and watch them without ever leaving the house. And we can so some internet browsing as well. We can, of course, also watch video from a DVD or Blue Ray disc. But we can’t watch regular old television.

We have no antenna hooked up, although we did for our old television. We can’t get cable (too far out there) and I refuse to pay $30-$50 per month for satellite television service so I can have 150 channels I don’t want. We can watch a lot of stuff as it is and, when it comes to television programs, we are happy to wait until the season is long over to watch it. What I want is an a la carte satellite television service–I pick what I want and pay for only that. I would also take a service that offers pay as you go television–the more I watch the more I pay. I don’t need all those channels, some of which are in languages I don’t understand, to see programs I don’t need to see. That just seems like a waste. An all you can eat buffet is a great deal if you eat a lot all the time. I just don’t eat a lot.

So we have no television, really. This is a bummer at certain times. The Super Bowl is coming up. I would like to watch that. It would be fun. But I’m not sure that is an option here at home, unless I can find a way to stream it via the internet. And not having the option to watch the Olympics (don’t even get me started on how poor the standard television coverage is) feels like we are just missing out. Since the free over-the-air television reception just isn’t great where we are, we have to pay to make it work well. But I’m not paying for that crap.

Despite this, I feel like we are on the cusp of getting what we need. How long can it be before someone figures out how to stream television? I would pay for that if the offer were reasonable, if I could pick my meals as it were.  We can watch some things, just not everything, and most things not live. But the shift has to happen soon. When it does we will be ready. After all, we won’t be getting another television for a while. Until then, we can make do somehow. Those Glee episodes will just have to get a little old before they come to our house.

Scrapping Paper

Here is what I can’t figure out: why does my bank allow me to make electronic payments for free? I have all my account information with them and I can just log on, enter amount for the account I want to pay, and BOOM, done.  I don’t have to write checks and payments both get there and get processed sooner.  It saves me time, saves me money, and is way easier and faster.  I just made two payments this afternoon. It took me all of two minutes.

OK, I do get why they make it free. It saves them time and money as well. I worked at an organization that processed payments and we encouraged people to take advantage of electronic billing and payments.  Handling a paper bill and a paper check once it arrived too way more time and effort than having it enter the system on its own. Still, I keep waiting for the catch. Heck, we used to pay the day care center electronically through the bank. Since the center did not accept electronic payments, the bank mailed a check. I guess that worked better for the bank. It certainly worked better for me.

I do get a few statements in the mail still. The bill for one credit card we hardly use comes in the mail, for example. And I still make charitable contributions mostly by paper check. I buy many fewer checks these days. I am always surprised when I run out. I order those online.

In fact, I get most things by ordering online–clothes, Christmas gifts, bandages, seeds, flavored syrups, books, music, whatever. A while back I subscribed to a service called YourMusic, which sent CD’s once each month for 7 bucks each. Add CD’s to your queue and they get sent automatically. It is a good deal, except I had to get those CD’s in the mail. Now I just use iTunes. I rarely read a paper newspaper, either. I read it online.

I have been reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Pie Society. It consists of a collection of letters. I am fully engaged in the story. I want to be reading it right now, in fact. I have not yet given up paper books altogether (although I have enjoyed a few on my iPod Touch). I have realized by reading this book, however, that I never write letters anymore. I used to write scads of them. It used to be the thing to do when I was in my teens and twenties. Now text messaging has become the norm. Letters, however, have a tangible and emotional substance to them. They can be held. They last. I have stopped writing them, as have most people in the 21st century. This has its convenience and certainly saves resources. We do miss something by giving them up, however.

I don’t feel that way about bills. Send me an email notice and let me look it up through the magic of the internet. I get far more unsolicited crap in the mail these days than anything of use or worth. Thanks for your good work, I want to tell all these organizations looking for donations. I would love to help but I give to others and you don’t make the cut, so stop sending me mail. I tell them that often–I either send an email or just stuff the contents back in the return envelope with a note. Still, I’d rather they did not send me something I did not ask to receive. They would save a lot of money by not mailing me all that junk. They should talk to my bank.

I have plenty of paper files hanging in file folders, but I am trying to cut down. Do I really need those bank statements from the past seven years? I doubt it. Tax returns I’ll save, although it is unlikely I will need those either. One of my summer projects is to clean out the closet. I will pull out the recycling bin and drop it next to the closet and transfer contents from one to the other. And when I  am done I will leave the dust on my journal and get online right here to tell about that exciting adventure. As if that is a good idea.

Dude at the Post Office

I had a package to mail this morning and I stopped at a post office in South Burlington where I rarely go.  I had been there once before and it was a standard transaction.  I figured today would be the same, but it colored my day in a way I had not anticipated.  It wasn’t a big thing, just something that made me think, pretty much all day.

I had to wait in line for a bit.  An older couple were in line ahead of me with two packages, one that was in a box that must have held several pounds of Splenda, the other in an old slide carousel box–the kind that had once housed a round tray for photographic slides.  The woman was looking through all the literature she cold fine there and it turns out she was seeking a change of address form.  She couldn’t find one and her husband kept pointing to a large bin, insisting that they were right there.

“No,” she said. “That is just instructions for doing it online.”

His response:  “For-GET it!”

I thought that exchange was interesting in itself, and it made me think about technology and how we adapt or don’t, how we sometimes stick to ways that seem to work for us and then one day find that those ways don’t work so well anymore.  Those were the kinds of ideas zipping about my little cranium while I waited in line.

When it was my turn, I greeted the man at the counter and placed my package on it.  I have mailed things many times and I always feel bad for the mail clerk who has to ask the same questions every time a customer comes to the counter.  “Is there anything fragile, liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous…” and all that, with the added requests for my additional postal needs.  That would pretty much drive me batty if I had to ask those same questions in the same way every time.  So I tried to be helpful.  I wanted to save time for many people who were now in line behind me and save the effort for my helpful postal worker.  He was not, however, pleased.

I tried to offer that there was nothing fragile, liquid, perish…but he cut me off.  “I have to ask so let me do my job.  It’s like a cop stopping you.  You let them do the talking.”  He was curt.  He was grumpy.  I noted that I was just trying to be helpful but he merely returned to his list of questions, all of which I could have answered before he asked them.

I left feeling upset.  Why would someone get so upset when someone else was trying to be helpful?  It was uncalled for.  If he had merely told me that he was required to ask the questions, even if I offered the answers first, I would have been informed enough to accept those questions.  He was rude, however.  As I drove off, I recognized that his emotions had transferred right to me.  Now I was upset.  Because I recognized that, however, I stopped. Take a lesson, I told myself:  People feel like they do and I can’t necessarily understand why and I certainly can’t change it, so accept that and remember to try not to react like he did.

I felt as though I was not treated with respect.  Note to self:  try hard to be aware so that you treat others as we all would like to be treated.  Thinking that made me feel better.  My day was still off, and I thought about that interaction more than a few times, but I now thought about it in a more positive way.

My wife later pointed out that perhaps he assumed I was making fun of him.  “People make fun of postal workers all the time,” she noted.  “Why would you be any different.”  She had a point.  He perhaps made an assumption about me, regardless of my true intentions.  While I was trying to do something that most people don’t do, he may have assumed that I was doing something that too many people do.  It is too bad.  I hope he was feeling less than stellar just today.  I wish him more happiness in his work tomorrow.  And every other day, while we’re at it.


I finally created a Facebook page today.  I had been holding off on doing so because A, I didn’t need yet another thing to clutter up my spare time and B, I don’t need anything else in my life that might lead to unnecessary junk mail, e or otherwise.  However, I connected with a friend through Skype (an underutilized source of free awesomeness if there ever was one) who encouraged me to sign up.  Her key words were “You should definitely join Facebook; I think you would enjoy it.”

Another friend was visiting recently who uses Facebook a lot.  She, too, encouraged me to sign up.  So while she was here I went on in and tried to do that.  My name was apparently not worthy of instant approval.  Or maybe they recognized my name and thought “What?  That guy?  Could it really be him?”  And so they vetted me to be sure that I was the real deal.  This afternoon I finally got an email that said my account was activated.

Unfortunately, I only had a few minutes to sign in before I had to head out for an evening presentation.  I signed in to find another friend of mine had already requested me as a Facebook friend.  He beat me to my own account.  I checked to see where my security settings were and off I went.  I am curious now to check this thing out that is such a phenomenon.  I have wanted to see pages on Facebook (such as the one for Postsecret) but have been unable to do so.  I suppose now I have a ticket to see the show.

When I get the chance I will mess around with things.  I can hardly wait to see how much time gets sucked away while I try to learn where my high school friends ended up.  But then again, maybe they will find me first.

Bouncing Interest Rates

We have been thinking about refinancing lately.  You know, get a lower interest rate and save tens of thousands of dollars over the next way too many years, not to mention pay less every month.  We are one of the lucky few to be eligible for the best rates so we have been on the lookout.  It hasn’t worked out quite yet.

Our current interest rate is 6.125%.  That isn’t bad.  We were certainly happy with it when we got that big old loan to begin with.  But then rates dropped.  The first time I really looked, about a week ago, the best rate for our loan holder was 4.75%, according to the web site.  That was less.  I got on the phone to talk to someone about what all this means and what it might cost and while I was on the phone the rate rose to 5.125%.  Of course, I had to wait about 20 minutes on hold, but I didn’t think it would change that much while I was listening to the muzak version of Journey’s greatest hits.

I asked about this, of course, not being one to simply accept that things are the way they are.  The customer service rep told me that interest rates get posted four times each day, and so might change four times on any given day, or not.  She suggested I sign up to get an email when rates drop to the lower interest rate.  I thought that might not be a bad idea.

Interest rates did go down.  I never got the emails telling me this because they got sent to my spam folder.  So the email I most wanted to receive and had asked to get were being junked, while the ones from Melissa Jane Mastel promoting events in upstate New York keep getting through even though I have labeled them as junk scores of times.  I guess I need to accept things are the way they are more often.

Anyway, rates dropped, then dropped again.  They went down to 4.625%, which meant we would save 1.5% off our current rate.  Sign me up.  I called last night to nake it happen and got a message saying the wait would be an hour and a half.  That was bad timing, given the need to get the children to bed and then eat a large bowl of chocolate ice cream.  So I waited.  By the time I was ready to call them back  it was 8:01 PM.  They closed at 8:00 PM.

So I looked again this morning.  Rates were up to 4.75%.  I called and got a wait time of 20 minutes.  After 40 minutes, I had to go, so I hung up.  Then rates rose to 4.875% and ended the day at 5.125%.  What’s up super ball?  Stop bouncing around so much.  So we are right back where we were when we started looking.  Do we do what we can to take this rate now?  Or do we wait to see if rates go down again?  What if they go up?

I know they won’t change until Tuesday, since the markets will be closed, so we have some time to think about it.  We don’t want to change our lender.  They seem to have the best deal, and they certainly have the best customer service (aside from the long wait times).  I guess we wait and see.  We missed out on a way low rate and I won’t let that happen again.  Now that I have been paying attention for a couple of weeks, I understand things a little better.

I just hope that rates keep dropping.  The national average dropped to its lowest ever yesterday, so I am hopeful.  But whatever.  It’s only tens of thousands of dollars we’re talking about.  It’s not like I plan to retire.  Ever.  Or send my kids to college.  I’m thinking that maybe I can harness the power of the cold to make some extra cash for those things.  It was -20 this morning so if I can do that, maybe the kids can avoid the low-paying job after all.