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Archive for July, 2010

Hunt and Go Seek

July 29th, 2010 at 04:06 am

It's now impossible to walk inside my fenced vegetable garden without treading on squash vines. My tomato plants are taller than I am. (I'm 5'4".)

Yesterday, I ventured inside to tie up a few tomato branches that were being pulled down by a squash vine.

I discovered a giant cucumber hidden under all those leaves, as well as two over-sized zucchini I hadn't seen before. It's kind of like a vegetarian version of the game Hide and Go Seek.

Well, you know what that means....zucchini bread! I also picked another medium-sized tomato and a few string beans.

Here's a rundown of what's growing:

Tomatoes: Lots of green tomatoes, but thus far, just a few mid-sized tomatoes that had ripened. I could have sworn that I bought cherry tomato plants, but it appears all 5 of my plants produce a mid-sized variety of tomato.

Zucchini: This has been my best year of the last 3 for zucchini. I made a special effort to hand pollinate this year and i'm getting a lot of zucchini.

Spaghetti Squash: I think these may be able to be picked soon. They went from a greenish-white color when formed to a pale yellow now. But I'll have to check online as I've never grown these before. But I have 4, maybe 5 loaf-sized squashes...HUGE. Can't wait to try them!

Acorn squash: I just spotted one large one yesterday, but that's all so far. Guess they take a while to grow.

String beans I usually grow bush beans and get plenty of beans, but this year i decided to try pole beans. I have 2 tripod structures made of 6 foot high branches and these have been absolutely covered by the beans, but so far, lots and lots of leaves (I haven't fertilized) and very few beans. Disappointing.

Potatoes: I had great fun with potatoes last year, so this year i planted both red and russets. They appear to be dying back already; this is supposed to happen by end of August, after which time you can dig up the potatoes. I expect to have a great crop.

Ornamental gourds I planted a row of these but only 2 plants came up, I think becus I was stepping in this area while weeding and forgot I'd planted something here along the fenceline. I only noticed one small gourd; let's hope more will come.

Cucumbers Last year I had maybe 4 plants and I was awash in cucumbers. I decided to pare it down to just 2 plants this year, and now it seems I don't have ENOUGH cucumbers. I've only gotten maybe 3 or 4 at this point.

Bell pepper I've never had huge successes with bell peppers. It seems to take so long for them to really take off. Haven't gotten any peppers yet, but the plants themselves finally seem healthier, with more foliage. Of course, they're being shaded out by the squash vines, which are hard to contain and control.

I also planted some sort of vining annual flower, just to add some color and attract pollinators, but while they also got off to a slow start, they have yet to flower. Just green....

I'm off to a focus group this a.m. about an hour's drive from here. I'll return mid-day with $125 cash in my pocket.

I want to lay my new soaker hose in the garden and also head over to friend's house to continue cleanup work in her garage/house and start getting ready for her garage sale. She's basically cleaning out a lifetime of accumulated stuff. I've already gotten 2 nice lunches out of it (a bison burger at the local diner, and a shrimp caesar salad and dessert at a good Italian place).

I also need to mow the lawn!

How I made a $520 profit from Census work mileage reimbursements

July 25th, 2010 at 06:54 am

Since the end of July is approaching, I wanted to tally up my year-to-date gross income. I anticipate remaining in the 15% tax bracket ($8,375 to $34,000) this year, and for that reason, I plan on doing a Roth IRA conversion from one of my traditional IRAs. I'll pay a lot less in taxes than if I did a conversion during a year of full employment. Given my normal salary range, I'd likely be in the 25% tax bracket.

So anyway, I can't complete the total gross for 2010 becus I have one more unemployment check coming in this week.

But I was able to tally up the total the Census Bureau reimbursed me for gas mileage from the time I started work in late April through end of July = $751. Because I always track my monthly expenses, I could see that what I actually spent on gas for my Honda during that time was just $231, and that included my usual running around doing errands and grocery shopping when not working, etc.

So I made a net PROFIT of $520 just on mileage reimbursements, on top of my Census wages! Cool!

Looks like my gross YTD income through end of July will be in the vicinity of $16,647 reportable income (with $1,490 of non-reportable income earned through surveys, focus groups and Craig's List sales).

So if my year-end income (mostly unemployment benefits) comes out to about $26,167, and factoring in about $1,900 in investment income (on a par with last year), that means I can do a Roth conversion of just $6,000 if I want to be taxed at 15% on it. I guess if I did a greater amount, that portion that runs over the 15% tax bracket, $34,000, would be taxed at the 25% tax rate. Is that right?

An Afternoon of Savings

July 24th, 2010 at 02:43 pm

I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon running errands, mainly becus it seemed I was saving money left and right.

I had planned to hunker down at home to wait out the awful hot/humid weather today, but after reading the local paper at the library and browsing for some DVDs, I was still feeling restless, so I headed out again to run some errands.

1. Stopped at mom's to deliver about 12 oz. of fresh wineberries, picked this a.m., with strict instructions to consume immediately or freeze.

2. Filled up the gas tank at the cheapie gas station ($2.75/gallon), since it's down in the area.

3. Headed to the pricey health food store where I never shop to return a box of hair color purchased about 3 years ago! There was no expiration date, and of course i didn't have the receipt, so i was nervous that they wouldn't accept it. The guy at the register said, gee, this looks old. The only thing I can think is that the label, which had the store's name and phone number on it, was old. I cringed, afraid they wouldn't take it. He picked up the phone, as if to check with his manager, and at the same time, he said, is a store credit ok? Yes, I said quickly, and he put down the phone. Crisis averted! Score 1 for the consumer! So I got over $11 to spend on some dried papaya, dried apples and, a favorite treat, some Panda black licorice.

4. Next stop, Xpect Discounts, where I wanted to use two $1 coupons on Sunbelt granola. I was able to print out SEVEN of these coupons from online, and I already used 2 last week. I have 3 more left, and they expire end of the month, but I was afraid if I tried to use 3 or 4 at a time of the same coupon, they'd question it.

So I got the granola, plus I saw a really nice outdoor chair, the kind I've been wanting for my front door area. I usually sit on the front stoop, but it's hard and there's no back support, plus ants can walk up your leg.


It's nice to relax at day's end and survey my kingdom. Smile

The chairs were marked $14.99. As I drove home, I said, why did the guy only charge me $8 for my total purchase?? I realized he must've read the $14.99 as $4.99. Score 2 for the consumer!!!! I saved $10!

5. Next stop, Home Depot, where I wanted to replace the 50-foot soaker hose I use in the veggie garden that sprung a big hole. (I tried first for the $5 gadget repair of the hose, but it didn't work and to try to do that repair, you have to slice the hose in half, so after bravely doing that, I now had no hose at all.)

I didn't have to pay anything for the new soaker hose, which I noted cost the same as Ace Hardware's 25-foot hose, because I used the Home Depot gift card I got when I returned the clothesline that had sat unused and unopened in my basement for several years. Score 3 for the consumer!!

I noticed, too, that the soaker hose I bought had a 7-year warranty, which made me feel good that the old hose I had was purchased about 25 years ago.

And this morning, I sold for $5 a plastic toolbox to a Craig's List guy who drove 45 minutes to get what would have cost him $11.50 new. I figure the cost of his gas pretty much negated any savings for him. Don't people think of these things???

Salmon filet vs. garage floor

July 24th, 2010 at 08:54 am

I bought a nice piece of salmon yesterday and planned to have it for lunch today. Problem was, it's just too darn hot to heat up the kitchen.

I had me a brilliant idea. Carry my little convection oven (not much bigger than a toaster oven) downstairs and into the garage and cook it in there.

Hey, people grill outdoors all the time, so what's wrong with a few mouse traps, paint cans and dirty stuff all around the oven?

I laid out some tinfoil and lined the tray with it, then placed the yummy salmon filet on top, sprinkling some rosesmary on it. I placed it inside the oven and carried it down into the basement that way. As I stepped through the doorway from the basement to the garage, I somehow lost my balance, the oven door flew open and that darned salmon filet went flying, landing on my FILTHY DIRTY garage floor.

Well, we're not going to waste a perfectly good $7 piece of salmon. I brought it back upstairs to the kitchen, where I rinsed off the dust and grit.

Back into the oven it went, where it's broiling now.

Store returns, years later

July 23rd, 2010 at 02:15 pm

I'm really pretty careful about how I spend my money. Still, there are occasions when I end up buying something and never using it. I may have intentions of returning it, but maybe at the time I figure it's a small purchase and not worth a special trip.

Well, I recently started noticing that all those little unused purchases were popping up around my house, and so I recently began returning things to stores for a refund or credit. All these purchases were made over a year ago (!) and I didn't have the receipt, but most retailers these days will process the return.

Here are a few examples:

1. Retractable clothesline. I had one I loved and used often, but it broke. I went to Lowe's for a replacement, but they were out. I found one at Home Depot a few weeks later, and snatched it up, even though I had already switched over to collapsible folding racks in the driveway. Still, I was so attached to this particular product that I held onto it, "in case I needed it." Well, I finally realized I really didn't need it, several years later. I was able to return it to Home Depot with no receipt for $17! Cool.

2. Bow saw. My trusty old bow saw got stuck in a tree limb I was trying to cut up. The weight of the branch slowly separating as I cut it locked up the saw and would not let go. There was nothing to do but buy a new bow saw to free the old one. I figured the blade on the old one was dull anyway. I bought a new one at Wal-Mart for $5. Well, that new blade was so thin it actually wobbled as I used it, resulting in a curved cut. Very cheap product. After freeing my first bow saw, I threw the new one in the garage, disgusted, but later realized I could probably return it and get my money back. And I did.

3. A gallon of ammonia. A friend of mine promised to help me seal off my basement to mice. He gave me a laundry list of supplies to buy before his arrival. One of those supplies was a gallon of ammonia, which in hindsight would appear to be a useless/pointless mice deterrent. It irked me that my friend completely failed to show up, and I had that gallon of ammonia sitting on the laundry shelf for over a year. Luckily, it was the Shop Rite generic brand, so I marched over there and got $2 and change.

4. Hair color.I purchased a special brand of hair color at a health food store years ago when I wanted to get away from using peroxide on my hair. But after reading the directions, I realized it wasn't going to work for me. That product sat in my linen closet for years. Luckily, the price tag has the store name on it so a return should not be a problem.

In other money news, I've also return to selling stuff on Craig's List after a few months' hiatus.

I reposted 7 or 8 things that haven't yet sold. One was a plastic Stanley toolbox an old boyfriend gave me. One Xmas he got 2 of them, so he'd given the spare one to me. But I have no need for a toolbox, so I checked the price of a new one at the Stanley website and included a link showing the $11 price in the Craig's List posting where I am just asking $5 for a quick sale. I got a taker, and he's coming over tomorrow for it.

I also got a taker, hopefully, on an old 300 mm camera lens I bought 25 years ago. It cost a lot of money but I hardly ever used it. I'm asking just $90 for something I spent several hundred on, but I will be thrilled to have converted this particular item to cash as I hadn't thought anyone would still want it. I've gone totally digital.

I hope to meet that buyer next week when I'm down in his area for a focus group that will pay me $125 (tax-free) cash for 2.5 hours of my opinions on groceries.

I'm still working for the Census. I'm in week 12 of what was originally said to be a 6 or 8 week assignment.

The Census work has been a godsend for me. Normally, after a layoff, I would fall back on my freelance real estate copywriting. But of course, the current real estate slump means very little work has come my way. I lucked out in that i happened to be laid off in the once-every-10th year they do a census, so all my census work has really made up for the loss of income from the freelance writing. I've grossed $5,200 from it so far.

I got called for Jury Duty, something that's never happened to me while I was unemployed. Surprisingly, they continue to pay unemployment benefits, but only for the first 5 days of jury duty. After that, if you're so unlucky as to be selected, they reduce your benefits to 75% of your normal amount. Note to self: make sure I get disqualified for Jury Duty.

Getting tired of having no money/Dead woodchuck

July 16th, 2010 at 07:06 am

Same old, same old.

Still living with minimal spending.

Today, though, will be a treat. After my morning census meeting (God, i hate them, they drag on for over an hour while you sit there waiting for them to review your completed surveys....), my friend and neighbor is taking me out to lunch at a favorite Italian restaurant in town.

It's the 2nd lunch and "thank you" for my help in clearing out her garage, which is still far from done. I think I've been there 5 times now, usually 2 or 3 hours at a time, hauling books to donate to the library (probably about 12 boxes), loading and then unloading trash at the landfill, and lots of heavy lifting since she's way out of shape.

I don't mind it too much, though this weather sucks. Strangely, I do get a great deal of satisfaction out of decluttering, even if it's someone else's stuff!. (Perhaps a new career direction for me?)

In garden news, I smelled a bad smell in an area of my yard north of the house. I've smelled that smell before...dead animal smell. It didn't take long for me to discover one big, and yes, quite dead, woodchuck, probably 8 feet from one of the three woodchuck burrows on my property.

It was gross. Flies were buzzing around it. I couldn't tell how it died becus i didn't really want to examine it closely. But I'm wondering, since I saw that coyote puppy in the same area just a week ago, if coyotes and the woodchuck crossed paths.

The thing stinks. I don't even feel like going near it to toss dirt on it. Gross.

Part of me feels a little sorry for its short-lived life, but another part of me is glad becus that darn woodchuck kept munching my black-eyed susies, my astilbes and my autumn joy sedums, which I'd planted becus they were impervious to deer.

So...I'm hoping that's the only area woodchuck and that I could even be woodchuck-free for the rest of this season. Could I be so lucky?

I'm wrapping up my 10th week of Census work. I'm maybe averaging 4 hours a day, but with the mileage reimbursement, it does add up so that I gross about $100 or so a day. But I'm with my fourth crew now and these 2 crew leaders really take forever. The Census meetings occur daily, and you're forced to sit through an inquisition-like process where they study each survey you're handing in and question you closely, sometimes handing it back to you for further investigating if they don't think it will pass muster with higher-ups. It gets very, very frustrating. Why should it take over an hour for them to review 4 surveys?

With this crazy heat and frequent thunderstorms, it's been tougher finding time to go out. I typically don't head out until about 4 p.m. or even 5 pm becus i know i'll catch more people home. But if it's hot, i don't feel like going out at all.

Thinking about all the Lovin' Spoonfuls to Come

July 13th, 2010 at 05:17 pm







Current garden pickings include zucchini and wineberries, which grow in abundance in the back of my property. How much I pick is limited only by my energy level on a given day.

I've picked about 12 cups of wineberries so far, rinsing, air drying and then freezing most of them for winter use on my breakfast cereal. The season is brief, lasting only a few weeks.

I believe I'm up to about 8 or 9 zucchinis picked, with many given away.

There are 4 or 5 spaghetti squash like the first image above forming like fat loaves of bread on the hay. They can't be picked until they mature in the fall and turn yellow. Right now, they're a virginal shade of white.

I'm waiting (not so patiently) for tomatoes, string beans, acorn squash, cucumbers and potatoes.

Like last year, I'm tracking everything I harvest so that I can ultimately estimate with a fair degree of accuracy the retail value of my organic produce, based on what Shop Rite would charge for the equivalent in the store.

Thank god for today's rain; it was so needed. My soaker hose, which allows water to trickle into the ground slowly instead of splashing the leaves, inviting disease, burst a small pinhole into a much bigger hole. I bought a repair kit but haven't gotten around to using it yet. I also had a plumber over here today to fix a leaky fitting on my water tank, which supplies the well water for my outdoor water use. (It doesn't supply drinking water anymore as it's a shallow well and i have since hooked up to municipal water supply.) The bill was $192. Ouch. But now I can water my garden again without that well pump cycling on and off every 2 minutes.

You're Beautiful, Now I'm Going to Eat You

July 8th, 2010 at 06:21 am

The season's first zucchini.



Plenty more where that came from. (I picked 2 more this morning.)



And these are spaghetti squashes forming.



This afternoon I start training (1 day) for the next round of Census work, which I understand largely consists of "reworking" residences previously enumerated as "vacant" or uninhabitable."

Dealing With the Heat

Haven't done a whole heck of a lot these last 5 days, due to the heat wave. It was 98 yesterday and very high humidity each day. I dragged a chaise lounge down to the dank basement and sat there reading and talking to my cats. Then I studied the long workbench I have, painted a dark green many years ago. I also observed the many cans of half used paint sitting on the workbench.

I grabbed a paint can dated 1/96 and painted the workbench white. Much better, though it could use a second coat.

Yesterday morning at 8 a.m. I helped my neighbor clean out her garage, 2nd day of doing so. She went through about 5 boxes of boxes which she agreed to donate to the library. I carried them in for her, and then we disposed of other stuff at the dump. It feels so good to de-clutter, even when it's not my stuff!

An Unintended Consequence of the Cash for Clunkers Program

I got my car tax bill for about $85. One of the small rewards of driving an older car is tht each year you keep it, your car tax is smaller. The car tax is based on 70% of the car's retail value, derived from nada.com website, multiplied by the mill rate. But I noticed the car tax this year was actually HIGHER than what I paid last year, by about $5. That can't be right, I thought. If anything, it should be less.

The tax assessor gave me an interesting explanation for that. The federal Cash for Clunkers program resulted in thousands of older gas guzzlers being taken off the road when they would have otherwise been sold to other people. This resulted in the value of other older cars, like mine, increasing! Damn.

Hot Enough For You Yet?

July 5th, 2010 at 11:51 am

Keeping cool has been uppermost on my mind the last few days, and will continue to be top of mind for all of this week, judging by the forecast.

Right now, at 2:30 pm, it's 92 outside in the shade, 76 downstairs in my house and about 80 upstairs. Being central AC-less, I have an assortment of towels, sheets and small blankets covering my windows. The house has a cave-like quality to it now.

Had lunch with mom yesterday. She made a yummy sockeye salmon salad over lettuce with an absolutely, knock-down delicious potato and beet salad. You might not think beets go with potatoes, but they do. One key was serving it at room temperature. It had so much more flavor.

I was going to hit Shop-Rite after lunch with her, but after that wall of heat hit me when I left her place, I wilted and headed home.

I next planned to get groceries early this a.m., around 8 a.m., before the heat got too bad. This, too, failed to get me out of the house.

Now, I have a haircut scheduled for 5 pm today, down by the mall, so I can surely hit Shop-Rite on my way home.

I was worried about Waldo, who was throwing up last night. He had a hairball, but I wondered if heat stroke might also be part of it, as he was lying on the floor of my upstairs closet and panting. He didn't eat or drink until this a.m. He has eaten very little, but at least he's rehydrated himself.



So I caved in and dragged down the small window AC from the attic and put in in my upstairs bedroom, the hottest room in the house, not counting the upstairs bathroom. I can't run it during the day becus the sun beats down on it, but I've closed the door to that room off so the cats can't go in there to sleep. They're creatures of habit, but as I said, it's the hottest room of the house. It's much cooler downstairs in the center of the house. I also closed doors to all my upstairs rooms except office, and also the sun room and the family room downstairs. Those rooms heat up quickly becus they have so many windows. I also got my thermal floor length curtain out and put them up on the family room French doors. I usually use them during winter, but I figure this will also insulate heat exchange through the glass doors.

I've been hand pollinating my squashes and am thrilled to pieces to see several cute zucchini and several spaghetti squash forming on the plants. The first zucchini will be ready to be picked in another day or two. Lots of green tomatoes. Many flowers, but no fruit forming on the cucumber plants and i see no acorn squash forming, either. Pole beans are just now getting their flower buds.

Did I tell you the Census Bureau has called, inquiring whether I wanted to work in "the next phase of the operation." The caller couldn't tell me what the work would entail; I'm hoping it's not more door-to-door chasing after residents, but regardless, of course I said yes. It requires one more day of training, which is this Thursday.

Fun stuff

July 3rd, 2010 at 07:05 pm

I spent an enjoyable day and overnight at my dad's in New Jersey during the week, with plenty of time to get back home before any holiday traffic.

I had read an article in the New York Times about public gardens in New Jersey, and they highlighted one in the NJ Pine Barrens that sounded interesting. It's on the campus of Georgian Court University, which purchased the property and grounds from the heirs of a millionaire RR tycoon, Charles Gould.

Since I am a fan of Japanese gardens, it seemed intriguing, so after my arrival at dad's and lunch at a local cafe, we headed for Lakewood NJ.

There were lots of statuary of Greek gods, ornate benches and urns used as planters and many fountains, but they were all drained. They only turn the water on for special occasions, I guess as a water conservation measure. That was too bad. The grass was the color of straw and parched dry.

If you'd like to see some pix of my visit, you can check out my other blog at: http://owlhollownews.blogspot.com/2010/07/visit-tot-he-arboretum-at-georgian.html

But here's a sampling of the Japanese garden:



This am i spent a few hours helping a friend clean out her garage, which has been packed with her mother's stuff for 5 years. She took me to lunch afterwards as a thank you, so that was fun.

Didn't do much else today except take an evening walk and sweep the driveway.