Day 134, planning the unit

Monday, 4/15/2019

Started with a run, very comfortable. On return, showered and dressed, I spent time on the phone with Via Benefits. For the third month in a row they had ignored my information on direct deposit and had sent me a check. The phone rep said she would send me a paper form that I could return to request direct deposit. Hopefully that will be more effective than repeatedly putting the  bank numbers into their web site and clicking “submit”; that hasn’t achieved anything.

Then spent an hour doing stuff–triage of the “shop”, the enclosed room in the garage building. That’s where the brown steel cabinets are that I emptied over the last two weeks. Now I worked on the cabinets up the right side, primarily paint and related chemicals (paint stripper, thinner…) and plant pots. Lots of plant pots. Those I left for the sale manager to price.

I spent some time with decorative pebbles. Back last summer, with Marian in the hospital, I tidied the three big “porch pots” of bedding plants by pulling the dying plants and, rather than replant, I put in rounds of green netting and covered them with the shiny decorative pebbles Marian used to discourage squirrels. In the winter, I moved the pots to the garage.

Now, cleaning out the shop cabinet, I found a half-bag of shiny pebbles and remembered the others, so I gathered all the pebbles together, and then noticed they were dirty and had leaves mixed in, so put them in a plastic tub and washed them.

Well, such fussing brought me to noon and shortly Amy the Decorator appeared right on time. We walked around the house and I pointed out the few bits of furniture I meant to take, or that we could take. She took pictures and noted dimension on her iPad.

Then we went to Channing House for a scheduled meeting with Angela the Upgrade Manager. She and Amy got along great and we all spent nearly two hours in unit 621. Much of the time was spent choosing materials from Angela’s stock of carpet and counter-top samples, paint chips, and photos of cabinetry and sinks.

One problem emerged: Angela just lost her in-house cabinet maker, and is not sure whether the bathroom cabinetry that I want can be done in the next few weeks. Possibly it will have to be delayed until the 6th-floor upgrade late this year. To be determined.

Amy dropped me off at home. After she left, I drove up to Bol Park where the tree planting for Marian is to happen Saturday. On the map it had looked unfamiliar, but in person it was “Doh! of course!”. I had ridden my bike along the edge of this park many many times; it’s the bike-path from Oregon Expressway over to Arastradero.

It was easy to identify the place for the tree planting; I could see the clear signs of Canopy having prepared the ground for one of their community plantings. It’s just in front of the pen where for years a donkey lived that everyone treated as a Palo Alto mascot.

From there I drove less than a mile to Hobee’s, where I am thinking people can have brunch after the planting. Unfortunately they close early on Mondays so I couldn’t get in. I’ll have supper there tomorrow and make a reservation if I can.


Day 120, day of doing stuff

Monday, 4/1/2019

Monday tends to be a “day of doin’ stuff” because I think of things I need or want to do over the weekend, and write them down on a list on the kitchen windowsill to tackle on Monday. I think I will just describe all those things.

First up, a run. That went and felt well, which was good news. The slight arrhythmias that I’d noticed, and were the reason for wearing a Zio-patch last week, were more noticeable over the weekend. As usual, I don’t feel them at all when exercising, and in fact didn’t notice them anytime today. But it is a relief that a heart symptom is not exercise-related.

Next, started


the towel and bed linen. It’s been two weeks (which I know because tomorrow is the day for the cleaning lady) so it’s time for that. With the bed stripped, decided to rotate the mattress. Funny story here. When Sheri the estate sale lady was here, she and I and Chuck were talking about estate sales, and she mentioned that you could sell a bed, but by law you can’t sell a used mattress. “So you strip the bed and leave your McCroskey mattress on it and say, well, you can have that with the bed if you want it.”

I goggled at her and said, “How did you know?” Chuck was puzzled; he’d never heard of McCroskey mattresses. Sheri laughed and said she hadn’t known, it was just the kind of expensive mattress people in Palo Alto often had. Guilty as charged, I guess.

Anyway, that conversation reminded me that you are supposed to turn your McCroskey every three months, which Marian had marked on the calendar and insisted on. I’d skipped the last turn, which came up in December, on the general principal of ISMISEP. But if it was a sales asset, I might as well take care of it, so I heaved the heavy thing around 180 degrees. This might have been the turn interval at which you are supposed to flip it over, but that’s way too much work.

With the laundry in process I watered the plants. That takes only a few minutes; so I turned to the first real task, working out the IBM

SHAP issue.

One problem is the number of agencies involved. My pension is paid out of Via Benefits, who administer the IBM benefits program. But the SHAP is administered and paid out of Acclaris, who apparently manage that particular piece of IBM’s benefits. But I needed first to know if I was in fact eligible. I called Via customer support; the very pleasant rep put me on hold for several minutes while she consulted, and finally said I had to call IBM directly, and gave me that number.

So I called IBM and that customer service rep looked up my and Marian’s accounts and said yes, as a survivor I was eligible for SHAP. But she couldn’t advise on how to fill out the SHAP form, which I some questions about. So now I called the Acclaris help line and that person (again, very sympathetic and helpful) talked me through it. I must say that the phone reps for all three agencies came across very well.

Now I filled out the SHAP form, and made a copy of the completed form to use for reference next year, assuming this one is accepted (we’ve had them bounced before for some minor omission), and put it in an envelope with stamp and address. Phew.

By now the bed linen was dry so I made the bed, then turned to two more items,

two “nudges”.

I sent a short, polite email to Kim at C.H. asking how the process was going. She replied a couple of hours later that she should have an update “in a couple of days”. I sent a ditto to Howard at the financial advisors. They had advised a meeting with the attorney who prepared our Trust documents, and had sent an email to said attorney on March 20th, and I’d heard nothing since. Howard replied later suggesting that I contact her directly, so I sent an email to the attorney.

Now it was early afternoon and everything on the to-do list had a line through it, so I drove down to FOPAL and spent an hour culling and pricing books for the Computer section. Came home and made some supper and sat down to watch

Stanford playing Notre Dame

in the Elite Eight game.

Very much against my expectations, Stanford started well, stifling the Irish offense and holding a small lead in the first half. Alas, Notre Dame found how to break through the Stanford defense in the third quarter and went on a run to take a ten-point lead that Stanford couldn’t close. So Alanna Smith’s college career ends (as does Shannon Coffee’s). Next year’s SWBB team will be quite different but likely even more exciting with a great recruiting class.

It pleases me that I remain interested in the team. Following SWBB turns out not to be one of the things, like TV cooking shows, that I enjoyed primarily because Marian liked them and I enjoyed sharing her enjoyment. My emotional involvement in the Cardinal is not as deep as hers, but I do still like watching them.


Day 118, museum, basketball

Saturday, 3/30/2019

Started an easy Saturday morning by writing the blog post for yesterday, during which I worked out the long (long) list of things that are pending some action by C.H. and the unknowns around them. Helps to have the known unknowns, spelled out.

Then after a shower and shave, did some desk work, paying a couple of bills. I do love the bill pay system that Marian built on the Credit Union’s bill-pay site. All the usual recipients are in there. All I have to do is click on one, enter the amount to be paid, click on a calendar to say when the money should be delivered, click OK a couple more times, done.

Then I spent a fraught half hour trying to work out this annoying bit of IBM retirement red tape called a SHAP (Special Health Assistance Provision). Once a year Marian would submit a form and get back up to $900 reimbursement for Medicare Part B payments that were not otherwise covered in her IBM pension. Am I eligible for SHAP? How much am I paying for Medicare Part B? To the second question I got an answer at; indeed I am, and over $200/month. As to the first, I’m not at all sure; and if I am, there are several ambiguous fields on the form that might want Marian’s info as the eligible retiree, or mine as the survivor. It’s tempting to say “fuck this” and forget the $900, but, well. On Monday I will call the IBM benefits line and try to clarify.

At 1pm I drove to the museum and led a tour, about 15 people, went OK. Back home just in time for the start of Stanford Women’s sweet-sixteen game. They won but it was agony watching. The same shooting slump that affected the game against BYU last Monday continued. They hit one of twenty three-point shots. They stayed slightly ahead thanks to superior defense and rebounding, but allowed Mississippi State to hang around, even get to within five points in the last two minutes, before closing the game. On Monday they play Notre Dame who just had a very high-scoring game against a good opponent. If they play as in the last two games they will get slaughtered.

Feeling unexercised I walked the mile to California Avenue and fed myself a small pizza and a beer for supper; and back to burn off some of the accumulated TV.

Day 68, a damn good day’s work

Couldn’t exercise this morning because the car-detailing crew showed up promptly at 8 to start on the Prius. So I settled in to gettin’ shit done in the APR. First up, a few financial details. Brokerage statements are in for the various accounts, so I could update the portfolio spreadsheet that I had created, following Marian’s design on Day 31. The news is good; the total is about 7% up from year-end 2018.

Next I tackled a heap of my personal memorabilia that had accumulated in a binder and a big plastic envelope for years. I really didn’t know what I would find. There were a few keepers.

IBM History

One was a letter I had written to my mother from San Francisco at the end of 1966. At the time I was working for the phone company, and I detailed how in the new year I was to start a “ten-week course” to become a full-fledged “inside wireman”. What I hadn’t known then was that the ten-week course would be the most boring, leaden, plodding thing imaginable, taught by a crusty old guy who was marking time to his retirement and who had no real insight into the complicated systems he was supposed to teach. Before two weeks had passed I was looking for new work, and stumbled hopefully into the local IBM branch office. Because IBM was just in transition from older systems to the new 360 line, they needed people, and hired me.

The sent me to Rochester, Minnesota to be trained on the older electro-mechanical systems. Another keeper was a hand-written letter by me to my sister, dated April 24, 1967. (Of course in the present era, this would have been an email and probably lost forever.) In it I wrote in part,

We took a quiz on the 514-519 machines today after closing up the local night club the night before. (Shame on us.) I got a 90, top grade in the class. Also showed expertise in lab sessions, so should get a B. … Tomorrow begins 6 days instruction on another machine (085) followed by an 18-day course in tab machines…

When I give tours at the CHM, I point out those machines, the 085 sorter and the 403 “tabulator”, as historic, and try to explain how they were the essence of “business data processing” for fifty years.

Niece stuff

Most of the rest of the pile I discarded. However, I gave each letter a cursory glance, and noticed in several of them between 1961 and 1963, my mother mentioned my niece Laurel. She was living with my parents, her grandparents, during that time. Some of the mentions touched on things that were probably significant to her. So I set those letters aside, and put them in an envelope to mail on to her. I figure I can trash things about me that I don’t care to remember, but I didn’t want to make that call on her behalf. Not sure it’s really doing her any favor, as some of the topics may be painful memories. Hope it was the right thing to do.

Anyway at the end I had reduced a large pile to a wispy handful which I distributed into the pages of a family album, and there: done. All the Cortesi family history reduced to one smallish box.

I was on such a roll I tried to tie up more loose ends. I emailed my sister-in-law suggesting we meet to go over the pile of Lacrampe family history that I hope she’ll take over from me.

I called IBM benefits, the ones who wouldn’t talk to me about Marian’s account, even to say if it was closed, until I proved I was her executor. This time the phone rep didn’t have anything to say about that; either she didn’t know that rule or else the account had been marked for me as executor. Anyway, all is well there. That was the last loose end of red tape needing to be tied up. Marian is quits with the world.

Finally I followed up on that painting I discussed on Day 46. On Day 54 I mentioned my impatience with the one gallery who wouldn’t return my calls or emails, and said I would contact another. Well, two emails to them had gone unanswered now. So this time I emailed the artist himself, reminding him of the painting, how he had toured Yosemite valley with us before making it, and asking if he had any idea how I should go about consigning one of his works. Hopefully he will be able to light a fire under one gallery or the other.


The detail guys didn’t finish until 12:30. I decided that, since I didn’t have any boxes, and since it was just before the biweekly sale so FOPAL would be jammed with stuff, I wouldn’t take any books down this time. I’ll take 3 boxes next week, maybe. Anyway so I will go to FOPAL on foot, a 40 minute walk, then take a Lyft home.


Which I did. Sorted. Appropriated a couple of New York Times crossword puzzle books that came in. Had an early supper, then out again at 7:15 to a play at the Bus Barn in Los Altos. Review tomorrow.





Day 62, “Yosemite”, Insurance

Thursday, 1/30/2019

I spent the bulk of the day at “Yosemite”, the CHM’s big storage space on Yosemite avenue in Milpitas. With six other regular volunteers I worked on “palletizing” a number of machines. These are smaller units that were stored at floor level. Aurora, the curator, wants to move them to one of the higher racks with the fork-lift. To do that, each unit has to be gotten onto a pallet and strapped down with “cordlash”, a high-strength fabric strap.

Allen, Steve, and Dave Bennet move a piece of a PDP-11/70 onto a pallet

Palletizing is heavy work, especially when you consider the volunteers are as old or older than the historic  machines they’re moving.

Vacuuming degraded foam

One persistent problem is plastic foam. Designers liked to incorporate foam into these machines for sound deadening or air filtration. Unfortunately after 40+ years, the foam degrades to a crispy, dusty texture that fragments at a touch into a sticky snow that coats the inside of the machine and encourages corrosion. Foul stuff! I spotted black snow in one machine and traced it to air filters that had not been removed when the machine was initially archived several years earlier.

At lunch I mentioned having visited the Hiller aviation museum and it turned out four of the eight people at the table had been there, some several times.


Back home there was one piece of mail on the doormat: an envelope from The Prudential. Thinking it would be an ad, I almost tossed it, but when I opened it found a check for $5000 — the payment for Marian’s IBM life insurance. I’m not sure how it came about that she had this policy. Maybe it was a perk they offered in the years before I was hired; or maybe it was an optional payroll deduction thing. I certainly wasn’t offered life insurance, that I recall.

At any rate, this check is one of the last pieces of bureaucracy related to her death. The books aren’t quite closed; I had an email from the financial advisors, saying they are preparing the paperwork to merge her IRA accounts into mine, and would get it to me soon.

This was a bit of a surprise. I had assumed that on her death, her IRA would have to be closed and the long-deferred federal tax on it paid. If I understand the email, though (and I’ve asked for a clarification) it looks as if her IRA will simply be merged with mine, and the money will continue to be tax-deferred. That’ll be a nice perk for a widower! Possibly with more net value than the old life insurance.


Stanford women played at Cal. I lost track of the time and didn’t start the audio stream of the game until just into the fourth quarter, when the score was tied 69-all. (Which reminds me of the old joke about the couple who arrive late at a baseball game, to find the score 0-0 in the ninth. “Oh good,” says the wife, “we didn’t miss anything!”)

In the next few minutes Stanford got down by 5, then came back to lead by 1 point. With seven seconds left, Cal’s Aja Jones drove the lane and made a layup on the buzzer; Cal wins by one point. The announcer on the Stanford audio stream was going nuts, talking about the best basketball game he’d seen all season. Cal plays at Stanford Saturday afternoon; I’m looking forward to attending that game.

Day 56, busy busy

Friday 1/25/2019

Started the day with a short run, only 25 minutes. Then after shower shave dress in my docent outfit (proper slacks and my official red Museum shirt) I sat down to clean up some deferred desk work.

One job was to get the form 1099R for Marian’s 2018 pension into PDF form. All the other 1099’s (of which there are 8 total) arrive as PDFs, or are downloadable from the provider, Schwab or whoever. But this one arrived in the mail as paper, and I need it as a PDF with the others to submit to our tax accountant. Well, not a big deal. That’s why we have an “all in one” printer that copies and scans. But I’ve never actually scanned off this printer. Just on instinct I opened the Mac Preview app, which is Apple’s swiss army knife for documents, looked under the File menu, and there it was: “import from scan” with a submenu listing the attached printer. Two minutes later, badda-boom badda-bing, PDF.

Next job was to call VIA Benefits, the IBM health agency. I want to know that Marian’s account is properly closed. I called them first on Day 13 when they couldn’t talk to me because they needed proof I was Marian’s executor. I’d sent a packet of proof then. So I called again today. The pleasant phone rep “Candy” told me she couldn’t talk to me because blah blah, I said, but I sent blah blah, she says, oh I see on the file a note here, the legal department said the document was “missing page three” so it wasn’t complete.

Rubbish, I did not say to Candy. I just had her verify the address to send, hung up, and prepared a new packet of copies of Marian’s will, death certificate, etc etc, making sure that every page was copied. Had it all addressed and sealed when I realized, her will names “my spouse” as executor. So I opened the package and added a copy of our marriage certificate just to prove that I was the “spouse” in question.

Then it was time to go to the museum to lead a tour, stopping at a post office on the way to mail that packet. It was a light day at the museum and my tour group numbered only four. I asked, they were not in a hurry, so I deliberately took it slow, made a couple of extra stops. Ran over the allotted hour by 20 minutes, but they stuck with me.

Did this post, and now I’m going to run up to Belmont and get a quote on a dash-cam. Later… Yes, I have booked installation of a nice dash cam for February 5th. I mean to get the car waxed soon, too.

I’m going to close out this blog post. Tonight at 6, I and another Stanford WBB fan are going to drive to San Jose, to Mitty HS, to see a highly-touted Stanford recruit play. I’ll tell about that tomorrow.

Day 37, mo’ bidness

Monday 1/7/2019

My run was not as easy as last week. Some days, including twice last week, I can go the whole 35-40 minutes without stopping except for a traffic light. Some days, like this one, there are “internal headwinds” — as I used to say when a bike ride got too long — and I end up pausing to breathe. No pattern to this that I can tell. Oh well.

Back home it was time to tackle the IBM Benefits package. I re-read the instructions for claiming the $5000 life-insurance benefit and carefully filled out the beneficiary form. Put it in the postage-paid envelope with the death certificate and sealed it — and noticed I’d left out the second page. Sigh. Tore open the postage paid envelope and made up a new one with stamps, and sealed it.

Then turned my attention to that peculiar $5/month settlement. I called the benefits office and spoke to a helpful gentleman. He said, well, it was a settlement for a lawsuit, and IBM had to pay some retirees extra. That was all he knew. Could I get it merged with my existing pension payment? Probably, but that would be up to the Pension group, and first I had to claim it. So, there was nothing for it but to return the necessary forms relating to that.

Which meant that, after I carefully filled out the form for direct payment to my bank account, and the state and federal withholding forms saying, no, I don’t want taxes withheld from this $4.89 payment each month, I had to tear open my stamped envelope and add several more sheets. Now it was beyond the capacity of a normal envelope but fortunately I had bought 9×12 envelopes (on Day 14). So for the third time I inventoried the sheets I was mailing, sealed and stamped them and later mailed the package.

Later I filled out a contact form with a senior housing referral service, and in the afternoon got a reply. I’m scheduling a meeting with “Alan” and we’ll see what kind of advice he has to offer.


Day 35, quiet Saturday

The Stanford Cardinal edged out the USC Trojans. The game was close with SC sometimes ahead until the fourth quarter, when Stanford took a decisive lead and held it.

Saturday 1/5/2019

Quiet start to the day, with a grief-spasm. Scott had urged me to contact Craig, another ex-IBMer who lives in one of the retirement communities I’m considering. So I did email him, and since he wouldn’t have known, I included the link to Marian’s obituary from the PostHope website, the one I wrote back on Day 1. Which meant re-reading it, which led to quite a bit of emotion for a while.

Went to the museum to lead the 12:00 tour. Talking to my dashboard on the way, to get myself settled down and ready to meet a group of people who know nothing (and want to know nothing) about my personal life, just want to have fun learning about computer history. Had a large crowd, more than 40, which is awkwardly big, but I managed to keep at least 30 of them with me to the end and got a nice round of applause.

Back home, in the mail I received the package I’ve been waiting for from

IBM Benefits

They say Marian had a life insurance policy with me as beneficiary in the amount of $5000. I have to return a form and a death certificate to claim it. Also it contained this rather peculiar note,

Marian was receiving a Settlement Benefit from IBM and designated you as his [sic] Joint Annuitant. Therefore, you will receive $4.58 monthly starting January 01, 2019 and continuing for your lifetime.

Huh? I don’t know what this “Settlement Benefit” could have been. Anyway, $4.58? Why bother? Doesn’t it cost at least as much just to process it?

I am going to call the representative whose name is on the letter and find out if I can possibly, (a) get a lump-sum settlement (it comes to $55/year; gimme $500 and I’ll call it quits), or (b) get it paid annually so I won’t see $4.58 showing up in my bank statement every month, or (c), can you combine this with the $300/month pension I get from IBM, or (d) you just want to forget about it, I promise not to sue.

Anyway that’s some paperwork I will handle on Monday.


In other news, in October I was going over my bookshelves with an eye to throwing stuff out or selling it, and found my collection of books by and about Arthur Ransome, the British author of children’s classics such as Swallows and Amazons. I thought I had all his books in Penguin/Puffin paperback editions I’d bought while in England in the 1970s. I also have books about him and about the locations he used for his stories (the Lake District, the Norfolk Broads). Looking over the collection I was surprised to find I was missing Swallowdale, the second book of the series. I’m sure I owned it at some time, but now it was just not there. Which rather squelched the idea I had at the time, to sell the collection on eBay.

So on this quiet Saturday it crossed my mind to find out what it would cost to get that edition of Swallowdale. I opened, clicky clicky, boom: price $1 plus $5 shipping. Hey, one month of IBM Settlement money covers it! On that basis I ordered it. When it comes, I’ll try selling the collection; if it doesn’t move, I am sure the FOPAL children’s sale will appreciate it.



Day 13, mo’ paperwork

Friday 12/14/2018

Went for a run first thing. On return, began the process of informing IBM benefits of Marian’s death. Tara, customer service rep, put me on hold for several minutes while she “typed a notification to survivor services.” Took my phone number and email, and promised that in no more than 3 weeks, I’d receive a packet with information on what benefits there are and how to claim them. Marian’s pension should stop, but if a January payment appears (unlikely) it will have to be returned.

Tara also suggested I call Via Benefits, the administrator for the IBM Retiree health benefits (as contrasted to pension and insurance). So I did, and eventually was connected to customer rep Colton, who thanked me for the information and asked if I had any questions. My main question was, what benefits exactly had Marian been getting, aside from the “SHAP”, an annual payment to assist in purchasing supplementary coverage. Well, Colton was sorry, but he was unable to talk to me in any detail. You see, he had to be assured that I was in fact Marian’s executor. (Probably a HIPA thing.) He sent me an email listing the documents they would need to see. Unfortunately the email was a generic form letter that didn’t actually address post-mortem executor proof.

So, I dug out and made copies of a her notarized “Nomination of Conservatorship of Body and Estate” naming me, and her will, naming me as executor, and added a copy (but not an original) of the death certificate, and made a cover letter. But I don’t have an 8×11 envelope so I’ll go buy one and mail that wad tomorrow. All to find out what exactly Via is, or rather was, doing for her and us.

Then I spent an hour re-sanding that little table and re-coating it with varnish. Hopefully getting a better result.

Started on the process of clearing out the “back file drawer”. For a long time we’ve had a large tub-file drawer full of pendaflexes in the custom wall unit in my office area. It has been the repository of folders of “stuff not to throw away.” Earlier this week I cleaned out  most of the smaller file drawer in (what I think of as) Marian’s desk. Now I’m going to winnow out all that old stuff, with all due appreciation of family history etc. but if it hasn’t been useful in the last five years, say, it better be really significant or it goes. What survives will move to the desk drawer.

First up, after chucking a couple of obviously out of date things, was the folder of maintenance records for the car. Amazingly little maintenance required by a Prius. One or two trips a year to the dealer for a routine service. One change of tires. The folder includes the original purchase records and window sticker; I kept them for nostalgia.

Had a phone chat with Dennis about our plan to see a movie together on Sunday. It’s not going to work; he’s got a relative coming in and we couldn’t get times to jibe. So try to reschedule for next weekend, assuming the movie we were going to see, The Green Book, is still playing… OK, I decided I’d treat myself to a solo movie on Sunday afternoon instead. On a whim, Ralph Breaks the Internet. But oh, noes! I never saw the original Wreck-it Ralph, so I won’t know the back-story! Can’t go to a movie without being up on the canon! No problemo, it is downloading from DirecTV On Demand as I write. An expense of $3.99; but on the other hand, if I really hate it, I’ve saved the price of a real movie ticket.

Eduardo, Mister Highest-Rated-on-Yelp Gutter-Cleaner-Outer, finally got back with a date, which to my surprise is next Tuesday. Yay. Be glad to have that done.

Signed up for every Thursday in January to work on collections for CHM. So: Wednesdays at FOPAL sorting books, Thursdays documenting and storing objects for CHM. Tomorrow I’ll sign up for some Docent tours as well. My calendar is filling up nicely.