We have finally realized that we need to do our part and slow down the selfish jag we’ve been on of paying down debt. We are doing our part to help the American economy by upgrading some of the technology around here.

Upgrade #1: Snow be gone

Snow removal is always of concern here as we go from one imperfect solution to another to keep our quarter-mile of driveway cleared. We’ve hired it done (the good snow plow guy is no longer in business, he’s in charge of the town’s highways), tried to plow with a truck ourselves (long abandoned, we can’t afford to keep a reliable truck going), a big snowblower (a good solution except for the first snowfall of the season), a smaller snowblower (didn’t hold up), and a garden tractor with a plow (passable).

Snowblowing has an advantage over plowing: the snow doesn’t build up at the sides of the driveway. A year with steady snow and few thaws results in a driveway that gets narrower and narrower when we rely on plowing. The edges tend to get soft as well, decreasing the margin for error and increasing the probability that I am going to screw up and get the car stuck.

We’ve invested in the biggest snow blower we could find this year: a 45” Troy-Bilt with dual wheels in the rear. No snow yet, so it hasn’t been taken for a test drive. Here’s hoping that this purchase truly is an upgrade over the garden tractor. A bonus - it was made in the USA.

Upgrade #2: New to us car

Oh, how I love our new car, which is officially the car that I drive to work. Being as cars are not good for the planet, I’m afraid that I love it too much and am going to accumulate some bad karma.

We loved our old car, too, a 2002 Saturn SL. That car traveled over 245,000 miles without needing a major repair and while getting 35-40 miles per gallon. Hands down, this was the best car we ever owned - reliable and cheap to operate. The catalytic converter was failing, however, and small repairs were starting to cost more than they should due to worn parts. For example, its water pump failed very recently, and we had to pay $350 for a repair that should have been $200 tops. We had already decided to replace it before we encountered the dreaded one-repair-too-many syndrome, but we had to make that one-repair-too-many to have a car with a running engine that could take us to its replacement.

Car shopping has been greatly improved by the Internet. We were able to research and define which cars we were interested in, and find out what all of the dealers within a reasonable distance from us had on their lots. We found this particular car and put a deposit on it sight unseen.

We got a white 2008 Honda Civic EX with only 30,000 miles on it. The Saturn was a stripped down car. The Civic is loaded - moonroof, great stereo that we can plug an iPod into, cruise control, remote entry - it’s a very comfortable ride. It also has manual transmission, which we strongly prefer and which is getting hard to find. It’s getting a respectable 35 miles per gallon. You can program the stereo to flash a welcome message when you first turn the car on, and our car now says “scifiknitter”. Yes, it’s a marker to claim territory.

That bad karma from too much car love is lurking, however. First of all, someone keyed it in the dealer’s lot a day or two before we showed up to drive it away, and we have to get that fixed. Second, it’s already been hit a couple of times by stones set aflight by passing vehicles. One of the stones is still sitting in the windshield wiper well. Third, through a mixup it only has one license plate when NY law requires two, and I’m going to have to go to the DMV and spend more money for new plates. Fourth, a large bird flew into its side as I was driving home at dusk on a country road. I stopped, and found no damage to the car. The bird was a sprawled shape in the middle of the road, and as I walked over to look at it, the bird gathered itself together and flew up into a treetop. I drove off hoping that the bird, like the car, had not suffered any lasting damage. I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but it was big, with long wings.

Upgrade #3: An iPhone 4

R. gave me an iPhone 3G nearly two years ago, to mark my completion of my Masters. He upgraded me to an iPhone 4 for my birthday. It’s a great phone, with many improvements from the 3G.

The 3G has already moved to a new owner - our daughter’s boyfriend. He’s in Canada where cell phone options are more diverse than in the U.S., and he can get a very reasonable plan for it that will give him some phone minutes and unlimited texting without a data plan. As a college student who is paying his own cell phone bill, that is a very good thing.

Ironically, the evening I got the new phone, the old phone froze and would no longer turn on. I had an Applecare plan on it, though, so Apple took it back and shipped me a factory refurb. So M. is getting an upgrade, too. The 3G is, in essence, a new phone - shiny screen, shiny case, and, best of all, a new battery.

No more upgrades for us for a while - it’s time to get back to paying the bills, and paying down debt. We have a car payment again, but we should be back to knocking down college debt by the end of the month.


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