Tuesday, March 30, 2021

One Year With A Car

People have remembered the one year “anniversary” of the pandemic and the start of things shutting down in many ways. Maybe by counting the number of days kids have been in (or out of) school. Perhaps by the last time you attended a live sporting event or concert. For me, there are two ways that I count the time. The first is my dad passing away. The second is getting a new car.

Back in 2017, I got in an accident, and the insurance company determined that it made more sense to send me a check rather than put money into repairing a 14 year old car. With a third child on the way, we decided to lease a Honda Odyssey. The car was what we needed, but we also didn’t want to spend the amount it would have cost to purchase the vehicle. Fast forward to March 2020. The lease was ending, and I definitely didn’t feel comfortable visiting multiple dealerships to search for a new car. Plus, not knowing what the future would hold, leasing again seemed like a good option for us. So after contacting dealerships online and by phone, we settled on another Honda Odyssey at a location near us. I did a quick test drive, filled out the paperwork (which was not as quick), exchanged the Hondas, and brought home a new car.

(This is a stock photo. Our car hasn't been close to an ocean.)

One year later, we have about 2,300 miles on it. As a comparison, my dad and I drove more than that in one week going from Pittsburgh to San Diego for my job after college. Several months ago, I calculated the amount of money we have paid for the car between the down payment and the monthly payments per mile driven. Even without including insurance payments and getting gas, this was not a fun exercise.

The silver lining to all of us this is there is little chance that we'll exceed the 36,000 miles on the three-year lease!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Search For Cat Food

Ziggy eats Meow Mix's Seafood Favorites wet food each morning and has had this since he was a kitten. I should probably mention that Meow Mix is not sponsoring this post or this blog. If the fine folks at Meow Mix would like to be a sponsor or send me free food or even coupons, hi! Anyway, I used to buy a 12-pack at Target, but they stopped selling it several years ago. If I only need to get a box or two, I buy Ziggy's food at Wegmans for $5.99, but Walmart sells it for less, so I've ordered online through them in the last few years. With Ziggy low on his food, I went to Walmart's website only to discover that it wasn't available for shipping. Instead, I could drive to the store about 30 minutes away to buy the only three boxes in stock. Pass.

I looked on Amazon, but the price was $7.99 a box. Hard pass. 

Thanks to an online search, I found that Kroger seemed like the best option. Sure, the nearest Kroger is hundreds of miles away, but they deliver. Who knew? I registered for an account and was all set to buy through them, but I could only buy a maximum of four boxes. Sure, four boxes is fine for Ziggy but not enough to qualify for free shipping. Goodbye Kroger. See you when I visit Columbus, Ohio in fall 2022.

Finally, I discovered and settled on Chewy. Did you know that Chewy's mission is to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere? Now you know. By the way, I cannot spell convenient without using spell check. While I should probably mention that Chewy is not sponsoring this post or this blog, if the fine folks at Chewy would like to be a sponsor or send me free food or even coupons, hi! Anyway, there is free shipping on orders over $49, so I bought 9 boxes at $5.76. Ziggy is going to be set for months! Oh, for all of the time I spent searching for food, I saved a whopping $2.07. And I got to write a blog post about this entire experience, so the savings and value are priceless!

It's blog posts like this one that make Damon Young, Gene Collier, Merecedes J. Williams, Natalie Bencivenga, and Tony Norman feel comfortable knowing that I have no chance and no reason to win Pittsburgh Magazine's Best of the 'Burgh!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Random Ramblings: March 2021

* While I'm happy that more and more people are getting vaccines, I'll admit that I'm getting a little jealous of seeing people my age and younger getting vaccinated. I realize that I'm in decent health without any underlying medical conditions, and I don't work in a medical profession or any other job that would qualify as an essential worker, but I'd still like to get vaccinated sooner rather than later. I'm hoping for May or June.

* With Passover coming up, a catering company offered all types of meals and side dishes. When I saw that they have a Kosher for Passover brisket meal serving 6 for $40, I jumped at it thinking it was an incredible deal. About a week after submitting the order, the catering company contacted me after noticing that I only ordered 1 meal when the minimum order was 6. That $40 was actually $40 per person, which makes complete sense now. After learning that I would need to spend $240 for this meal, with little chance that my kids would eat much of this (and the fact that it's $240!), I revised the order and went off the a la carte menu.

* Although I have not worked as a soccer referee since November 2019, I continue to receive constant emails looking for refs to work games. I'm planning on taking the spring season off (see the not vaccinated thing above), so it might be nearly two years between working games. I think that I'm a pretty good ref, but I'm definitely going to need to brush up on the laws of the game when I return. Starting with some lower-level kids games might be a good way to start too rather than working adult games. 

* My 4th grader and 1st grader recently returned to school two days a week. With only my 3 year old at home on these days, I thought that I might be able to get a lot more work done. That has not happened. Apparently, he likes the one-on-one attention that he's rarely had over the last year.

* Once again, I'm happy that I didn't put any money on the NCAA Tournament. I fill out brackets for fun, but learned years ago that I'm just throwing away money in any pay polls. While I completed several brackets, I had Illinois getting to the championship or winning in most of them and also had Ohio State going far. I chose poorly.

* Finally, thanks to my family and friends for nominating me for Pittsburgh Magazine's 2021 Best of The 'Burgh in the local writer category. I'm a finalist up against these accomplished individuals: 

Damon Young, author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (which is a finalist for the Thurber House for American Humor) and co-founder and editor in chief of VerySmartBrothas.

Gene Collier - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist who I read growing up. He's also received a few Pulitzer Prize nominations.

Merecedes J. Williams - She's the owner and operator of Movie Scene Queen and writes for the New Pittsburgh Courier 

Natalie Bencivenga - Syndicated advice columnist who is also a Public Relations Strategist for Savvy Pittsburgh

Tony Norman - Award-winning columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

You're certainly welcome to vote for me, but this is truly a case where it's an honor being nominated. While I enjoy writing this blog, I'm clearly a distant sixth in this group.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hooray For The Stimulus

We received our stimulus payment yesterday. It was a St. Patrick's Day miracle! While we haven't figured out what to do with all of the money yet, I'm leaning towards flying to Vegas, hitting the clubs, and getting bottle service. Either that or paying off debt and putting money into the kids' college funds. It's a close call. 

I'm not an economist, but I'm going to try to play one on the internet today. The front page of Sunday's Washington Post featured this article titled "What used cars tell us about the risk of too much inflation hitting the economy." The authors Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam describe the demand for used cars and how prices increased significantly last year. Of course, the article is about more than used cars. This is the third paragraph of the story:

What's happened at places like Deal Depot and other dealers shows why some top economists and Wall Street investors are concerned that the $1.9 trillion stimulus President Biden signed into law last week could spur a risky cycle of rising prices across the whole economy.

I'm not old enough to remember the high inflation that occurred in the US during the late 1970s, but for some people 50 and over, this is a real concern. However, let's take a step back. The last year has been really difficult for a lot of people. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics information, the unemployment rate is 6.2%. While this seems pretty good, especially since this rate was more than double nearly 12 months ago, in February 2021, 13.3 million people reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic. In addition, food insecurity is still impacting way too many people. Just doing a quick news search, I found articles published in the last week about food insecurity up 38% in Monroe County, NY (where Rochester is located), the Maryland Food Bank distributing 61 million pounds of food over the last year compared to 32 million pounds the year before, and the Missoula, Montana food bank serving 20% more individuals than the previous year. So let's hold your horses on the inflation talk. (Yes, I wrote hold your horses!) 

Many people receiving this stimulus really need it for things like food, rent, and clothing. And yes, some people may use the stimulus money on used cars because they don't have reliable transportation or don't want to put the money into repairs for their current vehicles. I'm guessing that a lot of people who purchase used cars will utilize them to get to and from work.  

I'm curious what these top economists and Wall Street investors cited in the paragraph quoted above thought about the tax cuts during the Trump administration. Were they concerned about rising prices? Or did they think that trickle-down economics would help those who need the stimulus money the most now (even though it never does)?

Overall, I'm not worried about inflation. Yes, gas prices are going up, but it seems to me that this has a lot to do with increased demand as people are driving more and Texas being out of commission for part of February. Besides, my stimulus money will more than pay for the cost of a few more fill-ups at the gas station. Plus, I feel even better about the stimulus thanks to Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. He celebrated its passage by tweeting "Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief. This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll." I mean, sure he voted against it, but even he sees it as a good thing. 

Photo by Tony Tran.

Monday, March 15, 2021

My Life in Pictures: March 2021

My first grader (Pedro Tulo) returned to in-person school for the first time in exactly a year last week. Half the class goes to school two days a week while the other half are on the computer, and then they switch for the other two days. Teachers deserve so much credit for teaching kids in person and online at the same time. The Moose goes back to fourth grade for two days this week. Meanwhile, I'm still juggling being home with the kids, including the continued attempt to get Luigi potty trained, and working from home. With everything going on, I thought I would share some pictures from the last few weeks.

If you're looking for a DJ for a special event after the pandemic ends, Ziggy is available!

With some warmer weather, we returned to our hiking spot that we discovered last summer. A tree on the ground just looks cool.

My wife bought a water bottle to help track how much water she drinks each day. It's supposed to be motivating, but I'm just annoyed and appalled by the grammar. Were instead of we're! Your instead of you're! Vamonos is spelled wrong too. Did no one check this?

C'mon person in my neighborhood. I'm glad that you cleaned up after your dog, but it's poor form to leave the bag on the ground.

I have read exactly zero books (I'm not including books I read to my kids) since the pandemic started last March. I decided that this had to change. Two authors that I like published new books, so I bought them from an independent bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. Feel free to start singing "Uptown Funk." Anyway, I started "The Big Door Prize," and even though it's taken me 3-4 weeks to read 70 pages, it's nice to read for myself again.

Finally, Luigi has discovered that he can take pictures with my phone. Here are some highlights:

Monday, March 01, 2021

Potty Training

I feel like I'm spending much of my time in the bathroom these days. No, I'm not bringing back any TMI Thursday posts about bathroom stories from my younger days. This is about potty training three year old Luigi. I searched through my archives to see if I wrote about potty training my older boys. This blog is over 16 years old now, so of course I did! In December 2014, I shared my frustration that The Moose (then 3 and a half) continued to have accidents many days. It looked like we started earlier with Pedro Tulo who was still two when we went into full potty training mode with him (though he had some setbacks after Luigi was born).

What helped during potty training for them was that we and they had the support and encouragement of their preschool teachers. There may have even been some peer pressure from their classmates. Nearly as important is that we weren't the ones reminding the boys to use the bathroom (or cleaning up the accidents) from about 7:30-4:30 each weekday. 

So here's the story of Luigi. He's nearly three and a half and has been home with us for almost a year now. He's had no interest in using the toilet, but we haven't pushed him on it either, primarily since we don't (or didn't) have time to take him. During the week, I try to make sure that The Moose and Pedro Tulo are doing what they need to do for school all while making sure that Luigi is content and attempting to do my own job. There are certainly times when I just hand Luigi the iPad and let him watch Peppa Pig or whatever else he finds on YouTube. However, over Presidents Day weekend, which was only two weeks ago, but seems like months ago, we decided that it was time. We put Luigi in Sesame Street underwear and took him to the bathroom every 15-20 minutes or so. Initially, there were mixed results where some days went fine and others did not. There were definitely some accidents especially in the #2 variety. 

Just over two weeks later, I can share that he's doing pretty well. I don't think he's had an accident in 4 or 5 days now. Yes, I know that I'm totally jinxing things, and he'll have an accident immediately after this post is published. The problem is that he doesn't tell us when he needs to go. We just place him on the toilet and either he goes or doesn't. This repeats every 20-60 minutes or so. (We've learned that we need to take him more depending on how much he drinks. I know that this sounds obvious, but there's definitely a science to this.)

What's amazing is that I've completely blocked out potty training The Moose and Pedro Tulo. I have little recollection of this process with them at all! Meanwhile, I find that either Luigi is incapable of taking his pants off and going on the toilet himself or (more likely) he just lets us take care of this. This kid is so spoiled. He's also getting rewarded nicely, especially during the first few days, with M&Ms, Skittles, and even stuffed animals for successfully using the bathroom. 

Even though I've been with Luigi nearly 24/7 over the last 12 months, this has been additional bonding time and seemingly rare 1-on-1 time. He's really a really funny kid. For example, he'll intentionally press the wrong button on Busy Noisy School, probably his favorite book while sitting on the toilet, just for laughs.

With that written, I really hope that he can just walk to the bathroom and take care of business on his own soon.