Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our year of living frugally.....

     2012 was a transitional year for our family.  We had notice that my wife's job of 10 plus years was ending, and she went the majority of the year without working. We experienced a drop in income of 30% and this is the story of how we not only weathered the storm, but thrived during it.

     My wife is a independent medical transcriptionist, or was, or is, or I don't even really know how to describe her anymore, I mean she still has that skill set, but no longer works in that field. She was fortunate enough, for years, to have enough work from a single client that paid her handsomely, and allowed her to work from home.  Her schedule was her own to make, she worked the hours she wanted each day and told them the days she was and wasn't available to work.  It wasn't a great business model, being an independent contractor with a single client, but truth be told, there was always work there, so why develop other clients?  It worked, right up to the end of 2011, when that client told her that they would be moving their work to a larger transcription company in mid January and terminated her contract.  She interviewed with the larger company, but it would have meant going back to the bottom rung of the work ladder, working some nights and weekends for less money, so we collectively rejected that idea, and prepared for a period of unemployment while she looked for a more appropriate job for this time in our lives.  With that industry going to more voice recognition software, overseas transcription, and electronic devices for capturing data it was a shrinking field, so we hunkered down and prepared for an indeterminate period of unemployment, but I don't think either of us suspected it would be almost an entire year.

What my wife used to do.
     We were in decent financial shape to start off with.  Contrary to what our current President would have us believe, we have always had money in savings.  While we weren't quite at the 3 months salary that is recommended, we had money in the bank, a company bonus pending, and some tax money coming back. As a saving strategy, we've always purposely overpaid our taxes each year and get a refund of $5,000 or so.  It comes to us right after Christmas, right when the 2nd semester college bills are due, and right before our annual vacation, so it's nice timing.  A sharp money man will warn you away from this savings mechanism, as you actually have to declare the refund as income on your next year's taxes, but it has worked for us for years in spite of the additional tax burden.  My bonus, though not guaranteed, is earned regularly, and we are smart enough to not pre-spend it, so that went into savings as well.  We had our pot of money, we only had to figure out next how long it would last us.  We spent some time recording where our money went for the last year and developed a proposed budget for the family.  It was pretty easy to do, you look at the bills that you pay each month and record them against your
net income and then see what you have left over.  On  the first go-round, we just recorded what we had previously spent and that budget put us in the hole about $2,000 each month.  Next we paid off some short term bills like a credit card and the final payments to an orthodontist.  We then attacked the rest of the monthly expenses to see what we could reduce or eliminate.  We slashed our entertainment and grocery budgets, we renegotiated our phone and internet, we reduced our fuel and electric expense, and we put off some home improvement and car upgrades that were planned for the year.  We weren't Draconian in our cuts on the first round and we didn't plan a balanced budget for our drop in income, we compromised on a -$800 shortfall each month and pledged to keep to it.  Throughout the process we included the kids, living at home or not, in our plans and asked them to share in the pain.  We had created a solid, reasoned, logical plan and the only thing left to do now was to implement it, which we did.

     I have had 2 periods of unemployment in my life and I was bound and determined to be as supportive of my spouse during her time off as she had been during mine.  She never doubted that I would find work and the right job, just not any job, and I had faith that she would do the same.  I also wanted her to enjoy her
At dinner in London Ontario
time off.  She had worked continually since she had been a teen, so I encouraged her to take this break and work on some long term projects and to enjoy some of the travel benefits that came with my work.  Our company policy is that spouses can travel along with you as long as the additional expenses aren't charged to the company.  That meant she could jump in the car on any driving trip and stay in my hotel room in that city, and only pay for her meals.  Her work schedule previously hadn't allowed her to take advantage of this benefit, but in 2012, she was able to on several occasions.  We went to 2 Canadian cities, NYC, Boston, and even extended a trip to Phoenix a few days to drive up to Sedona.  We used hotel and car rental points, and Group-ons for meals and when necessary dipped into our savings to supplement our travel.  I'd place us centrally in the city and work during the day and she would walk and explore the parks and museums and we'd get together at night and compare notes.  She would drive to the cities allowing me to work on my laptop in the car, so I actually improved my productivity during these trips.  It was a win-win and it gave her a break from all the job searching.  I've often said that the hardest job I ever had was looking for one, and I think Char found that to be the case too.  She would check the job websites and papers each
In Florida at my nephew's wedding
day, she'd network with people and go to job fairs and interviews, but the right opportunity never presented itself.  We were looking for the right fit, a part time, flexible position and one that would not require a lot of travel.  The interviews kept coming, even a few job offers, but not what we were looking for, so we kept to our plan and kept enjoying the time too.  We even were able to spend half a week in Florida as a family (sans Molly) and attend my nephew's destination wedding there.  The year was quickly coming to an end and we were on pace to finish with money in the bank and with smiles on our faces.  We were truly blessed to have been given this opportunity. 

     In the end she secured work, and being the over-achiever that she is, it's actually 2 jobs.  The first is a flexible transcription job, not in the medical field this time, and the second is an administrative assistant job, part time and walkable from our house.  Incidentally, both were gained from networking with friends (Thanks Lisa and Bruce).  The pay is fair for both and our budget is balanced again, but more importantly, they both allow the freedom and flexibility that we wanted.  Nolan has 5 years of school left, and we want to be actively involved in them.  Her mom works part time, and is aging, so she'll have some time to spend and enjoy with her, just as I was able to do with my mom, and it's time spent that she'll never regret.  So in 2012, we tightened our belts, we trimmed some fat and kept our eye on the prize, but we also made sure to enjoy the ride.  Not a bad year at all, even living frugally. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I'm off this week with naught to do....

I'm off this week, with naught to do,
If I ponder this long though, it's never quite true.
Yes, I've officially requested and been granted vacation,
but there are things to do here, I'll give a summation.
Too many times, blank schedules get written
Then free time is bombarded, like the battle of Britain.

There's a honey-do list on my counter that's growing,
I should check the snow blower (in case there's some snowing).
There's Scout paperwork that's a little behind,
There's a few Christmas presents, that I have yet to find.
 I can gather my papers for my taxes are pending,
I can catch up on Dexter, please don't spoil the ending.
I can visit some family, who've been on my mind,
I could do charity work, Now that would be kind.

I've got work to do on a coming reunion,
I could work on this blog, that I call "The Ongion"
I'll probably keep up on my daily e-mail,
lest I come back to an epic work-fail.
There's a golf tournament that I need to start planning, 

I've got bones in my limbs that they say need some scanning.
If I am being truthful, there's 2 doc's a-waiting,
to prod and poke me with no tests abating.
I've a Christmas Eve party that needs some attention,
and some tween the sheets fun that I probably shouldn't mention.

I've college bills owing for my two oldest prog'ny,
I should exercise more to improve my physiology.
I've got at least one computer that is likely infected,
with those diabolical viruses, that can loom undetected. 
My youngest son needs a ride to the mall,
There's work to be done in the Garaj-Mahal
My cute kitty-cat needs to go the vet,
and my list is still growing, it's still not done yet.
with last week's events I should spend some time praying,
for those innocent souls with their families dismaying.
It's never too late to do some soul searching,
and to fill one's heart with good deeds til it's bursting.

To finish it off, I've an office to clean,
to get set for success in two thousand- thirteen.  
and our family budget now needs some adjusting,
cuz my wife's back to work and with pride she's a-busting, 

Yes, I am off this week, with naught to do,
But if I ponder this long, it's never quite true.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'll miss the newspaper

     I'm a dinosaur, I truly am.  I hold on to things for sentimental reasons and am slower to change than the Catholic Church.  This week, however, I finally moved on from a one sided relationship that I have had for a while that I can only liken to being an abused spouse.  This week I broke it off with my local paper.

     It's been bad for years, but I've hung on hoping for it to get better.  I started reading my local paper at the age of 12 or 13 at the same time I accepted a job to deliver it.  I found great value and worth in the job.  It was good exercise, not only the walking but carrying the 100 or so papers in my shoulder bag, and I felt I was doing an important service, keeping the public informed with topical happenings, world-wide news and sprinkled throughout with human interest stories about my neighbors in Canandaigua.  People looked forward to seeing me come and waited anxiously to read the latest news, and they tipped me handsomely for delivering it properly.  A retired Methodist minister was known for putting full size candy bars in his paperbox as a treat for the carrier, and my last stop each day was in the kitchen of a retired veteran named Mr. Giles.  He would take a Boston Cream pie out of the freezer, cut two slices for us, and then we'd talk for a half an hour while waiting for it to thaw enough for us to eat it.  I shudder to think what a nice guy like Mr. Giles would be called today, the nerve of him, inviting young boys into his home and plying them with pie, but back in 77, that's how I ended my paper
route each day.  Is it any wonder that I have fond memories of the paper Since I have memories like this that connect me to it?  That's the problem with memories though, eventually you have to stick your head out of the sand and view the new reality and like I said, it's been going south for a while now.

     I don't think I was asking for too much, and in fact I didn't want the paper to change at all, I would have been happy in the relationship, if it had just stayed the same, but it didn't.  Each and every aspect of it that I had loved, changed for the worse.  The comic page that used to be 3-4 pages with big print with the most current strips, shrunk to half it's size, left the worst strips in and let the best ones go, added huge ads for closeout stores onto it and shrunk the print to the point that I couldn't read it, even with my glasses.  Why?  The front page that used to have hard hitting journalism, that was meticulously edited, became a repeat of the mornings news peppered throughout with misspellings, sometimes even in the headlines.  Sad when they let themselves go like that.  Then it was the missing pieces where a story would start on page 1 and tease you to page 6 to find
out the rest of the story, but sometimes I go there, and they would have forgotten to put in the end of the article.  It was like buying a garage sale book and finding the last page torn out, except that I wasn't buying the paper at a garage sale, I was paying a premium price to have it delivered, almost daily.  I say almost daily, not because they didn't publish on Saturday, that I expected, it was the occasional, "oops I forgot to bring you a paper today" thing  that became more of a regular occurrence than it should have.  I'd walk to the end of the driveway to come back empty handed, and that was the beginning of the end, because some days I didn't miss it.   It would come the next day, and it would go right to the recycling bin, too late, you can't take this guy for granted.  I have more self respect, but I'll admit, I did hang on a little longer, it was just never the right time to separate. 

     The paper kept getting more and more expensive and my budget was shrinking last year.  I already had a wife and 3 kids to support, and this mistress of mine was costing me over $230 a year and that was without tipping my sometimes errant route driver.  The paper kept shrinking in size and the adspace kept increasing.  They started putting in information from surrounding counties just to fill it.  I guess it's all right to review restaurants in Fairport or Perinton, but geez, could you toss a few in from Geneva or Canandaigua sometimes? They started a section where they asked local people to send in their photo's, and then printed them.  If I wanted to see the local people's photos, I'd go sit on their couches and watch the slideshows of their vacations like normal people.  They weren't fooling me,  they just didn't want to pay photographers anymore. I kept putting off the decision to terminate but a few weeks ago, the decision got easier to make.  First it was the article about the Culinary Center in Cdga that was half of a page of words, but truly told nothing of the exciting changes at the facility.  Ironically the article that followed a few days later in the Rochester paper did do a great job and went in depth to describe the new direction and plans for the center, but I had to go elsewhere to get satisfied with this information.  It made me fell dirty and cheap, but my needs were not being met with my home paper relationship  (I know it sounds like I'm justifying it....)  The second thing was the "Best of Ontario County" poll that they sponsored.  It was so lacking in information that it would have been tough to vote for most of the categories.  Waitresses were nominated, but no mention of the restaurant where they worked?  Why?  I was fortunate enough to get nominated as best blogger but they didn't research or tell people how to get to any of the nominee's blogs, including mine.  I did cancel my subscription prior to the results being posted and incidentally I didn't win.  I hope it doesn't sound like sour grapes, but the business that did win for best blogger and liquor store had a full page ad in the same paper where it was announced.  Call me cynical,  but if you'll selectively leak the results of a poll to sell ad space is it too much a stretch to think the poll may have been less than unbiased?   I don't know, but clearly it wasn't about educating the public about the winners, no pictures or bio's or any information was given about the winners.  Would it have killed them to send a photographer out to take some pics of the winners?  It clearly wasn't about them, it was about selling more ad space.

    So I'm out now and will soon receive my last paper. I'll miss it at first, but I'll replace it with something better, less expensive, and something worthy of the time that I choose to spend with it.  It will be a relationship not based on disconnected  memories of how it used to be, but one of equal value where I find new things to love about the practice each day and one that fulfills all my needs as a reader.  Hmm, I wonder if there is a decent blog somewhere out there that will do this?  I'll have to look.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

They bulldozed my memories this week......

          I'm not one to live in the past...much.  This week, however, even knowing the inevitable outcome of an impending event, it still struck me a little deeper than expected.  This blog is about my history with a place that met it's end this week.

The lot last week
     I remember it first as Caruso's Restaurant.  I had a telephone sitting job at the home of the local funeral director (that could be a blog in itself), and he and his wife were regulars there.  Frequently I'd see the name and number on the chalkboard and wonder what the place was like. A few years later, I have a vague recollection of helping my brother Aquaman direct cars into their lot for an annual event near Kershaw Park.  Aquaman worked at the Colonial Inn down the street and if the restaurants didn't have shared ownership, they must have occasionally shared staff.  Truth be told, I'd spend more time at the Colonial Inn drinking beers on "Nickel Night" than ever eating at Caruso's, because around that time,they moved away from being a restaurant to strictly a party house.  They did that as well as they did the restaurant and that didn't stop me from dancing the night away there just a few years after that, with a girl who still had that "New Wife" smell.

     Caruso's opened in 1930 and moved later to what we now call Lakeshore Drive. Then it was simply called Lake Street.  Caruso's was named for Enrico Caruso, an Italian tenor, and it was just as classy as he
was back in the day.  What might be considered gaudy now, the place was gilded in gold with heavy curtains, a drop tiled ceiling and a long serpentine bar built into the west end of the restaurant.  In its prime it was difficult to get a reservation there on a Saturday night and the bar was 3 deep with people most weekends.  Classic cocktails, once common then, and never served now, flowed across it's length like water cascading over Niagara Falls. I'm told it had the distinction of being the longest bar in the State for a number of years.  Not a bad accomplishment, being able to fill the longest bar in the State, 3 people deep, is it?  It spoke to both the success of the restaurant and the need for such a place at that time in Canandaigua's history.  The Cusimano family that opened the place had the best reputation for homemade Italian food, served at Depression era prices, by loving family members in a beautiful lakefront setting. That's more than the trifecta of things that you have to get right to operate a great restaurant, and it's no wonder it's remembered so fondly by so many, even after all this time. 

     In searching for information on it, I came across the minutes of the Cdga Rotary Club from last year, and one of their long standing members mentioned how great it was in his recollections to the group.  Another
blogger from Rochester (In pursuit of Quietness) reminisces about her trip there in 1958 on Mother's Day and how her father made it a special occasion place for them.  She remembers it as being "fancy".  I suspect that if you polled the senior citizen's of Cananadaigua, the ones that grew up locally, every one, would have fond memories of both the place and the food.  I know I do, and I really remember it best as a party house.  The Fargo family would convert it to The Lakeshore House, Cdga's premier party house in the 80's and for the next 25 years hosted more events there than any other Cdga venue.  I attended lunches there when I was a Kiwanis member and countless members of my class had their wedding receptions there, my own included.  A classmate, Robin, tells me that I attended our 10th class reunion there too, but you couldn't prove it by me.  She says we sang "American Pie" together, but frankly that doesn't narrow down the location, crowd, or decade for me.  I'll just have to trust that she is correct.  She's not the only woman in my life who corrects me either, the one I took to our wedding reception at the Lakeshore House does that too. 

     We were married at St. Mary's Church, but we celebrated that day at the Lakeshore House.  The Rolls Royce pulled into the covered portico that ran along the east side of the party house and we disembarked to
I got the better deal, just look at her.
greet the 150 family and friends that attended.  No reception runs completely smoothly and this was the first time our two big families really met, but we avoided a brawl, in spite of my sister Hummingbird's constant inadvertent kicking of my new Father in Law's shins during dinner.  The Lakeshore House was known for many dishes including pasta and chicken, but I remember the Seafood Newburg the most. One of their long time chefs later opened up Pepper's Restaurant in Cdga and most recently Timmy G's in Penn Yan and I've never had a bad meal in either of those places either.  It speaks to the calibre of employee that the Lakeshore House had too.  Since we had picked the attendees, the music, the formal wear and the date, it was kind of tough not to enjoy the reception, and enjoy it I did.  My wife likes to tell the story of me singing at the top of my lungs as she drove all the way to Niagara on the Lake where we honeymooned.  I like to tell the story of what I did when I got there, but this blog needs to keep it's PG rating, so I'll tell that one in person.  Back on point, that day will always remain with me as the best day of my life and I couldn't have created a better place to have celebrated it than the Lakeshore House. 

     I'll finish, maybe not as expected, but with hope for that parcel.  I think we can share wonderful memories of a location, but allow for the fact that time does march on.  Business models from then don't necessarily work today, but that's not to say you can't create a place that will be equally as memorable for the coming generations.   That's up to the developers, and I wish them well.  Make it good enough and you'll have my business again, you see, I have a history with that place.