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Archive for January, 2011

Ice dams as a metaphor for life

January 30th, 2011 at 01:16 pm

I made good progress chipping away at the ice dams these past 4 or 5 days. Can't tell you how exhausted I am, every muscle in my back, shoulders and arms aches, but I feel a sense of satisfaction that after incredibly hard work, I got the entire back side of the house chipped free of the 6-inch high wall of ice, plus about 2 feet of snow above that on the roof. (The gutters themselves are still filled with ice and since they have screens on them, it could be hard to melt. Maybe sprinkling that calcium chloride in there would help, but i'd have to pour a ton there to declog the whole gutter. Otherwise, it will probably just freeze again as it will have nowhere to go. The important thing is that I was able to observe water dripping over the sides of the gutters, not down the side of the house. I have stopped the backup of water under shingles.)

I doubt that many women would have done what I did (especially one over 50 no less!)....drag a 17-foot-high aluminum ladder out in 3 feet of packed snow, positioning it multiple times, climbing to the very top (not feeling very at ease up there) and chip, chip, chipping away at the ice. Not having a lot of upper body strength, it was slow going, plus i was swinging the sheet rock hammer I bought in a raised position because the ladder is about 3 feet too short.

So it took me 5 days (maybe more, i lost count) to clear away all that ice. After hammering ice for so long, I came to recognize a hollow sound the hammer made when a block of ice was about ready to break away; more often than not, though, I chipped that ice in tiny fragments that went flying in my face, hair, etc. I actually had to close my eyes and turn my head away when I was swinging the hammer to avoid ice from flying in my eyes. (No goggles.) When my arm got tired, I switched hands and swung the hammer with my other arm. Over and over again. When my hands got icy cold, I went inside for a few hours, then went back out a second time in the afternoon.

I was driven by a desire to protect my investment, and seeing as how the mortgage company no longer owns much of it, I felt even more responsible to take care of it.

It occurred to me that chipping away so patiently at that ice was a metaphor for my approach to saving. (Make note of my blog name, Patient Saver!) Chipping away, slowly but steadily, and a great sense of satisfaction to see all the progress I made on the back of the house.

OK, that's enough philosophizing and my lame attempt to relate the Conquering of the Ice Dam to personal finance.

Tomorrow I will attempt at least a partial de-icing of the front of the house. I expect it will be harder, as the land slopes down, there's a mini roof over the front entry in the way and there are larger shrubs. We shall see.

What I Wouldn't Change...

January 30th, 2011 at 05:14 am

I see a lot of references to Cee Jay's blog; can't seem to find it (must've been a few days ago?) but I see that people are commenting on what they'd like to change in their life.

I'm in the process of reading Eckhart Tolle's best-seller, The Power of Now. It's very slow going, definitely not the kind of book you whiz through.

But anyway, his overriding theme in the book is that you cannot change the past and you cannot live in the future. All you have is NOW, the present moment. And only by teaching yourself to live in the moment can you ever expect to find true happiness.

I am sure i am more guilty about thinking about the past, and planning for the future at the expense of today, than many other people. So I feel the message of this book is so important for me to absorb.

While it is tempting to think about what I would change in my life (so many things), it's sort of like dreaming about what you'd do if you hit it big in the lottery.

And I think that true change will come more easily if you focus on one or two things you feel are most important, and come up with a plan of attack.

So, in the spirit of participation, I choose to focus on what I would NOT change in my life:

1. Having the home I've worked so hard for, and get a lot of enjoyment from

2. Having my 2 kitties here with me to keep me company.

3. Having been blessed with a real ability to write and use language to express myself, and earn a living these past 30 years.

4. My mother and my father.

5. The ability to wake up each morning refreshed and alive, wondering what the new day will bring.

Feeling glum, but friends lifted my spirits

January 26th, 2011 at 01:55 pm

These last few days i've really nosedived in terms of my mental outlook. It was a combination of my employment situation, exacerbated by the water damage caused by ice dams. I've been up on that ladder daily trying to chip away that ice, but it's hard, because the ladder's not tall enough and so i'm attempting to chip with a hatchett with my arm fully extended over my head. I can't even look directly at what i'm doing or i'll get ice chips flying in my eyes.

On top of that, still having trouble getting my health coverage thru COBRA "active" because they haven't processed the paperwork yet (even tho i informed the company twice in mid and late December that i would definitely be wanting COBRA come Jan. 1). I already had to reschedule a doctor's appointment so as to give the COBRA administrator and health insurance company time to process what they need to process; i called today and still not active. The doc appt is on Friday. I can't put it off much longer becus i need to renew a medication i'm on for the MS and doc won't renew it for another year unless i see him.

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE JUST GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My friend Michael called and managed to assure me the situation with the ice dam is not that bad and probably won't require knocking out walls, etc. and he doubts mold will be an issue. Not that he's an expert, but it made me feel better not to hear the doom and gloom I read about when researching all this online.

I also touched base with an acquaintance in town, a guy who's very "handy," whom i would trust to replace some sheetrock and do some repairs without ripping me off.

And there's a guy i haven't meet yet (a potential dating partner) who said he knows a guy in the mold remediation business, so i suppose if i wanted to get some testing done, i could turn to that guy as well.

All in all, i feel a little buoyed by all these people around me who each can lend a helping hand. I tend to worry a lot in general, and when you're sort of isolated, staying home due to bad weather and not wanting to spend any money, whatever thoughts and feelings you have tend to get more extreme.

So I feel a little better. My body is aching sore from using that hatchet for the last 4 days and snow shoveling each and every day for the past 2 weeks. It's just incredible. Today i was shoveling to clear the area next to the foundation of the house. Water dripping from the ice dams was freezing and was backed up against the house siding about 2.5 feet high. I was afraid that when that melted, the water would again find ways inside the house, so i had to break it all up with the hatchet and then shovel it away. Not done yet, but definitely made progress. On top of that was all the snow the guys who shoveled my roof off sent crashing down on all sides of the house.

The entryway to my driveway from the road was also getting narrower and narrower. My car just barely fit through the opening and actually scratched the sides of packed ice and snow now well over my head. It was just exhausting work to keep it open. Last night, some plow driver took pity on me and pushed the entire wall of snow and ice on one side of the driveway away. Perhaps it was one of the many people who drove by any number of times and saw a small woman shoveling, shoveling, shoveling.

We're getting another foot tonight. I can't take much more snow.

Amex year-end summary of my spending

January 23rd, 2011 at 06:09 am

Don't know if they've always done this, but i just noticed a nice, neat little summary of my Amex charges on my account there, online.

I charged a total of $7,065 in 2010 (paid off in full, of course) and they broke it down into the following categories:

$6026, merchandise and supplies, 85% of total spending
$757, transportation (that would be for gas), 11%
$112, business services, 2% (don't know what this is)
$106 , communications, 1%
$101, entertainment, 1%
0, restaurant and travel

My general goal is to charge as much as possible on this card since it's a cash back card.

On today's agenda:
1. go back to Ace and get a bag of calcium chloride
2. fill up some pantyhose with calcium chloride and lay it across an ice dam
3. meet Mike the ice dam/snow removal guy at 2 pm so he can give me a price
4. go to neighbor's for "tea" at 4 and collect some fresh eggs from them

I feel a little better about the whole mess with the ice and snow damage. While my one friend was somewhat alarmist about ripping out walls and stuff, another friend said that was maybe not necessary, that he'd had water infiltration from ice dams and all he did was repaint and he never had problems again. My neighbor behind me also had water damage and is pretty calm about it but he's able to do the repair himself, if need be.

Freaking Out over ice dam damage

January 22nd, 2011 at 03:21 pm

So, i posted a photo in my last post showing the blistered paint on the baseboard in my spare bedroom. There are 2 spots downstairs showing water damage as well, including a portion of wallpaper above the kitchen door. I think i have extra of that wallpaper in the attic.

I spoke to my friend Frank who is telling me it's going to likely be big bucks to repair all this and it'll mean tearing up the walls and getting rid of mold, etc. He has water damage, too and is filing an insurance claim.

I don't think I will since i just recently increased my deductible to $5,000.

I called a guy in town who advertises in the local paper that he removes snow and ice dams from roofs. His charge for a 2-story house is $600. I'm freaking out about the costs already.

He'll stop by tomorrow to look at the house; he said he charges less to just remove the ice dams and snow from the lowest portion of the roof.

If I pay him to do that, then maybe it would be possible for me to keep snow/ice from building up on the gutters for the rest of the winter with the roof rake I just bought today.

I haven't tried it out yet but plan to do so tomorrow. I'm not sure I can do anything with it since solid ice has formed over the gutters, and I'm not sure how far I'll be able to reach with the 17-foot roof rake.

I discovered a frozen stream of water down the INSIDE of the storm door on the kitchen entry. The water had streamed through some wood trim. I set up a small portable space heater to help melt the frozen stream, which had iced up into a small pool on my wood threshold, and i soaked it up with paper towels as it melted; I also had to chip away at it with a butter knife.

I also worked outside this afternoon, basically shoveling a pathway in knee-high snow to the area where I wanted to set up a ladder. I got the ladder set up and against my better judgment, went up and was able to knock off some icicles. I had a small hammer with me that i used to try to chip away at the ice, but it's such a solid block of ice my arm would wear out long before i was able to create a channel through the ice for melting water to flow.

I had also read online that you can cut up some old pantyhose and fill it with sodium chloride, tie the pantyhose at both ends, and then lay it horizontally across the ice dam and along the roof. This will eventually melt the ice and create an opening out where water can flow.

Talked to Frank about all this and he said he'll come over Monday with a hatchet, which might be better to chip away at ice at.

The most important thing i can do now is remove as much ice and snow from the roof as possible, since the snow higher on the roof is feeding and making those ice dams below larger each time it melts a little. If I remove it, I can at least limit the damage.

I read online that some companies use a thermal moisture detector that can tell if there's moisture inside walls before breaking into them. I had insulation blown in there years ago, so that would/could also get wet.

So we could be talking breaking down walls, ripping out insulation and sheetrock, retaping everything, etc. Maybe it'll exceed $5k anyway. I'm really freaking out. I've worked SO hard to minimize my expenses, and this just blows all of that.

Just got a phone call from my neighbors who live on the hill behind my house. He called to offer me eggs from their new chickens, who are laying like crazy. I poured out all my woes to him and he invited me up to their house tomorrow for tea. (He's British.) He said oh yeah, they had leaks, too, but he's not that concerned; he can do all the repairs himself.

Ice Dam Damage

January 22nd, 2011 at 06:31 am

Yesterday I noticed drip stains from where water had gotten inside the house due to gutters that are frozen solid with snow and ice. When the sun shone on it, it must've dripped back between window trim and siding somehow.

The drip stains extend down both sides of my back kitchen door and caused all the paint to come up on the piece of trim that goes over the door.

It was very upsetting to see that; now I'm wondering if i have to worry about mold issues and/or if i can just sand, scrape and repaint that wood without worrying about it.

Today, I saw more damage, this time in my upstairs spare bedroom, directly above where that kitchen door is on the 1st floor. A length of baseboard about 3 feet in length is water stained and all the paint is coming up. The wall above it, and below the window, has a ripple in what i guess is damp sheetrock.



The worst thing is, there's a whole lot of frozen snow and ice still up there. I sure don't want to see this damage popping up on other walls, especially those I've wallpapered!

I called Ace Hardware and they have snow rakes they're selling for $43. They are aluminum and extend 16 feet, which should reach the gutters on my house, although with hard-crusted snow above my knees out there, it wouldn't be easy to work.

I don't know if I should try to do it before Tuesday, as they're forecasting very cold weather, a high of 15 or so daytime, 0 or below at night. Starting Tuesday, it should be a bit warmer, but they're also forecasting snow from then through the end of the week!

I already plan to leave all my faucets dripping at night and leaving cabinet doors open under each sink to try to prevent frozen pipes.

How to shave expenses on an already spartan budget

January 20th, 2011 at 12:06 pm

As a cost-saving measure in 2010, I decided to cut my (basic) cable, which at that time was costing me $25 a month.

When I talked to the rep, he offered to cut my bill in half (!) and said that price would be good for a year. (Too bad I didn't know they'd do this for all these years I've been paying full price. Of course, I know now they only offer to do this when you announce your intent to cancel.)

So I agreed to keep the cable at the reduced price. Everything was fine for 3 months, but after that, the cable company (Charter) raised their rates and my monthly bill inched up again, from $13 to $18.

I called the cable company again when it happened, but ended up getting in an argument with the rep, who kept trying to explain that my promo rate was still intact, even though my overall bill increased. I, on the other hand, didn't feel that Charter had honored its agreement with me.

So in the face of continued job/money issues, I again decided today to just cancel the service entirely; there are so many alternatives available. I got interested in Roku initially, but decided against it since you need at least intermediate speed DSL to stream the video,and that added expense ($10 a month) would partially defeat the purpose. There's still Hulu.com and my local library. And I'm still prepared to just go cold turkey.

I called today and got a very professional rep on the phone who made everything so easy. He not only reinstated my $13 a month service but is giving me a credit for all the months I've been paying $18 a month. How cool is that? The revised pricing is only good for the length of my original involvement in their "discount program," in other words, June 2011. But then I'm to just call back in again and see if they have other promotions going on; if i again feel the need to cancel, I can do so at that time.

So I'm pleased to have cheaper cable again, although there's a part of me still wondering if I would have been better off saving $18 a month, given that I'm still not working and 1) my unemployment benefits have decreased slightly (by $9 a week), I'm not yet sure why and 2) my expenses have dramatically increased (by $268 a month), due to higher COBRA costs.

I guess discounted cable is OK for now, when you consider I'm also shaving expenses by doing the following:

1. I intend to not renew minutes on my prepaid cell phone in March, saving me $100 for the year. I discovered that I can buy 700 minutes of call time with a Verizon card from Costco for just $20, which comes out to about 2.86 cents a minute, so I'll rely on calling cards (as I've done before) instead of the cell phone. (I also already dropped my ability to dial long-distance on my land line, thereby saving me $2 a month with AT&T.)

2. I also plan to drop my AAA membership, saving me $90 a year. Initially I didn't think i wanted to cancel it since my membership gets me 15% discounts on car repairs at the Honda dealer (In previous years, I spent about $1,000 or more on car maintenance, so the AAA discounts wound up paying for my membership, but last year, I only spent $165 on car maintenance.) I don't intend to get anything other than oil/filter changes done in 2011, knock on wood. Since I'm not driving far or commuting these days, the AAA membership seems superfluous.

3. As mentioned above, I'm limiting car repairs to routine oil/filter changes, about once every 5,000 miles, as well as tire rotations, since they are free at the place where i bought my tires.

4. As blogged about earlier, I'm cutting food expenses by 18% and limiting monthly grocery expenses to $180, instead of the $220 a month I averaged in 2010. I already know I didn't hit that target for January due to my bad math (!) and partly because I included a $40 Costco membership fee as a grocery expense.

I have already switched to a lower cost electricity supplier, increased the deductible on my homeowners a 2nd time (to $5,000) and dropped collision and comprehensive on my 12-year-old car. And of course it's a given that all discretionary expenses, like dining out, entertainment, clothing, Netflix, gifts and routine healthcare, are deferred. (I did recently have a mammogram and plan on seeing my neurologist next week, only so as to be able to renew a prescription I need for the MS.)

So my minimal necessary expenses, which are mostly the mortgage, health insurance, car/home insurance and utilities, comes to $2,212. My net unemployment comes to $1,868 a month, leaving me with a monthly shortfall of $344, which I will try to make up doing freelance writing, online surveys, selling stuff on Craig's List, doing focus groups and of course looking for f/t or contract work.

Looked at another way, if I somehow manage to stick to my spartan budget but do NOTHING to earn income above the unemployment benefits,I'd be out of pocket $4,128 for the year, which, in the grand scheme of things, is not the end of the world. And I'm really in much better shape than many others out there who are struggling to pay off big credit card debt, car loans, student loans, etc. I'll have my home paid off in a few years.

Of course, I plan to work as hard as possible not to dig into savings to make up that shortfall. Thus far in January I've gotten about $375 in freelance work, so I'm getting off to a good start.

Saving money on cat food

January 19th, 2011 at 09:54 am

I'm afraid the boys are going to have to do their share of belt-tightening during the current stage of joblessness.

I'd been feeding them Fancy Feast with a small amount of dry food for Luther because he relishes it. The cheapest Fancy Feast is at Wal-Mart, generally .50 a can, though sometimes .47 a can during rollbacks. They usually eat 5 cans a day (just 3 oz. each). Which amounts to $2.50 a day for the 2 of them.

Doesn't sound like much, but $2.50 a day x 30 days = $75 a month!

So I've started buying Friskies, which is, I believe, .50 a can, but at 5.5 oz, it's nearly double the size of Fancy Feast. So just a simple switch to Friskies canned comes to $1.50 a day, or $45 a month, a 40% savings.

I know I could save even more by feeding even more dry food, but I really feel it leads to health problems down the road, and besides, Waldo doesn't have many teeth left.

I will let Luther eat more dry food if he wishes, but it will never be more than half his daily intake.

In other news...
I'm bone tired, having chiseled hard-packed snow at the foot of my driveway and then carrying it away for 90 minutes. I think my car will now just barely fit through. The driveway resembles the luge you see in the Olympics. Now, it's snowing again.

A friendly neighborhood cop driving by while i was snow shoveling stopped to chat. (I recognized him becus i had knocked on his door during my census work last summer. He told me my neighbor's yellow barn at the corner of my street collapsed under the weight of all the snow and ice. Too bad....

I wanted to go to the landfill today, but i'm worried that while i can exit the driveway (down hill) i may not be able to get back up it. So maybe i'll wait til tomorrow.

I'm making a white bean and spinach soup for lunch. Still in the name of using up stuff sitting around instead of shopping more.

I am getting pretty close to cancelling my cable again. If they do what they did last time (lower the price), that will be great and i'll keep it, but i want to be prepared to follow through with cancelling if they don't offer to lower it again. After lowering it last time, that lower price lasted all of 3 months and then they had a rate increase and my monthly bill increased by $4 again.

I think i can catch all my favorite shows on hulu. I was also reading good things about Roku, but i wish i had some help setting it up. Roku lets you stream all sorts of video on your TV, but you need more than the basic speed DSL in order for it to work, and, ideally, a Netflix subscription. Roku lets you do away with waiting for discs to arrive in the mail and you simply browse the netflix offerings on your TV and watch whenever you want.

i want to check and see how much intermediate speed DSL would cost me becus my priority is really saving money first, and then finding a cable TV alternative.

some freelance work....yeah!

January 17th, 2011 at 04:05 pm

I have 2 blog posts to write today....hooray!

This started in 2010 and was/is supposed to be a monthly post, but i noticed in 2010 i only wrote 7 posts. At one point, the company fell behind in posting these things and they didn't need quite as many as monthly.

But this perked up my spirits, in any event. Gave me something productive to do and it's worth $300 to me. I already wrote the one, will do the other tomorrow.

More crappy weather expected tomorrow...snoice. That's snow and ice combined Smile

I already BLEW my $180 monthly grocery challenge! All because my math is so bad even with a calculator (!) that i was already OVER my $180 limit, not $20 under as I thought. So a girlfriend said she was going to Target and Trader Joe's and did I want to go and, stir crazy, I said "hell, yeah," and I spent a little under $20 on food and busted my budget.

It actually bothers me A LOT becus I knew I could've done the challenge.

Upward and onward.

Getting through January without spending any more on food

January 17th, 2011 at 06:45 am

If you caught my earlier post, you'll know I'm just $20 shy of my self-imposed $180 monthly grocery bill limit. You see, I'm trying to lower my #2 expense, and I can see from my records that I averaged $220 a month for food (not including eating out) in 2010. Seems like a lot for a single person.

Spending just $180 a month would represent an 18% decrease in my food bill, so that's what I aim to do. Problem is, I've nearly reached that point now, so I figured I would take stock of what's on hand to see if I can stretch it through month's end. Like a lot of you, I always have stuff that just sits there, takes up space and never seems to get used. So this is a good opportunity to try to use up stuff, especially since I've been known to consume food on the verge of going bad because I hate to waste food.

I like to make cheap meals based around things like eggs (hard-boiled in a salad, fried, etc.) or chicken liver (divine with sauteed onion, mushroom and tomatoes). But here's what I've got in the house:

1. Frozen package of imitation crab meat (pollock), which is yum-e-licious sauteed with onion and carrot over linguine.

2. Frozen 1/2 bag of breaded tilapia (getting sick of this, but i can eat it)

3. half a package of nitrite-free hot dogs (also kind of boring)


4. my neighbor is saving a frozen container of lentil soup for me; in turn, I'm giving her about 15 gourmet herbal teas i don't drink

5. plenty of pasta

6. plenty of rice, dried beans (I can make a white bean soup with the frozen spinach and leftover beef broth i have)

7. A portion of a frozen bag of vegetarian Chinese dumplings.

8. Lots of frozen tomatoes and zucchini from last year's garden taking up way too much rooom in the freezer. I want to give the zucchini to my mother as the it just doesn't appeal to me.

9. I bought an orange so i could make bran/raisin muffins today with orange zest.

10. i think i have some frozen peanut chicken i made. I often have a craving for peanutty anything, just like i do for pesto sauce,but i can only eat so much of it and then I'm really sick of it; that's why i froze it.

So it would seem i have plenty to get by on without any more grocery store stops. What happens is i hit the store for 1 or 2 things i need for something I'm planning on making, and i end up spending $35. The only thing I really plan on getting for the rest of the month is milk, which is really the only thing i drink besides tea and water. I do really like Tropicana now and then but i think I'm giving it up because it's so high in sugars and I'm trying to lose weight.

Sunday stuff

January 16th, 2011 at 09:51 am

Lazin' around the house.

Still contemplating walking to the library (30 minutes, there and back) to return some DVDs and then to nearby grocery store to get the Sunday paper.

Did 2 loads of laundry, which included bed sheets and quilts the cat puked on. Also made some rice pudding with some leftover coconut milk I wanted to use up. I decided to fold in some chopped dried apricots after I took it off the burner; they're cooling now, in some cute French dessert cups I inherited from my grandmother.



Watched Catch Me If You Can last night; not a bad movie.

An old friend of mine (actually, an old boyfriend) works at a big life insurance company. It's about an hour's drive away. He told me there's a temporary writing job open becus someone's going on maternity leave for 3 to 6 months. They also have some perm jobs open, but not sure I'm up for the mad commute. So I gave my friend my resume and said i was interested in the contract job right now. Maybe it'll open up some other opportunities, or maybe i'll find i can live with the commute. He already told me this company's not big on work at home arrangements.

Feeling generally anxious just because my basic safety net is not yet in place. Still waiting on unemployment check from 1st week of the month, the first one since I worked the 3.5 month gig. It was delayed becus the COBRA administrator the temp agency sent it too didn't mail me the paperwork to sign til last week (I informed the agency I would be wanting COBRA back in mid-December), so i didn't get it til Friday and i only learned my health coverage was NOT intact when i called the insurer to doublecheck that my neurologist, who i need to see in order to renew my meds, is in their network. She informed me i was not covered, period.

They will "reinstate" me once they receive my signed paperwork. I don't know why it took them so long since i informed the employment agency in mid-December that i would be wanting the COBRA.

I'm also wondering why the amount of the check os about $10 less than it was before. If anything, it should be a little more becus of the payroll tax suspension Obama got passed. I was able to check it by calling the DOL recorded line. I'll have to follow up with them later in the week to find out why. May not seem like much, but believe me,every dollar counts when you're working.

The temp agency also insisted i didn't need any form from them indicating my last day of employment, which i wanted for the Dept. of Labor. Sure enough, that 1st check from 1st week of January was delayed pending DOL's verification of my last day of employment. Sigh. People just do things by rote; they're not really interested in making your life any easier.

I also see that i need to get "pre-authorization" for this particular med i take for the MS from the insurer before ordering it. Not sure what that involves, though i vaguely remember having to do that once before.

But i can't do that til the health insurance gets reinstated, hopefully before my doctor's appointment which is now scheduled for the last week of January. I don't really want or need to go at all since this crappy health plan has a $1500 deductible, so i'll have to pay out of pocket anyway. And the doctor's visit will be a $45 co-pay plus $225 for the office visit.Great. At least I won't have to pay any co-pays for the medication itself; the pharma company picks that up for me vis a vis certain patient discount programs it's worked out with various insurers, and I was able to verify that the new insurer does have such a plan, just like my old one, luckily. So that saves me $240 a year in co-pays.

Today at the mid-month mark I've already spent $160 on food,just $20 shy of my new monthly limit. I am still confident I can stay within budget as I have plenty of food in the house. The $180 monthly limit on food represents a roughly 15% decrease from what I actually spent, on average, in 2010.

27 inches

January 12th, 2011 at 11:22 am

That's the official word, but still seems like 3 feet to me.



I'm standing in the driveway looking at the stairs that lead to my front door. It may not be passable for a while, cus I still have the driveway to shovel.



The snow is about 4 inches above my knees.

Unbelievable Snowfall

January 12th, 2011 at 05:18 am

The meteorologist said there's 2 feet of snow on the ground (and it's still falling), but I can tell you in my town, it's waist-high. Some of that was snow still left from the last storm, but any way you look at it, that's a lot of snow!


I haven't ventured outside yet, but this photo from my kitchen shows a suet feeder hanging from a dogwood tree branch. Notice how close the snow is to the bottom of the feeder. This feeder normally hangs 5 feet from the ground.


See how the snow is packed up against the bedroom window.

When I woke up to this this morning, it was actually a little scary.

I'm glad I don't have to drive in this; anyone who tried to go to work today is nuts, IMO. Well, I wanted some exercise, and I guess I'll get it shoveling.

Didn't get that job...

January 11th, 2011 at 05:02 am

Remember that 2nd job I applied for at the company where I temped for 3 months? I just got a form letter emailed to me saying they found someone better qualified. I had been fairly confident after my phone interview that they'd call me in for an in-person interview. Wow. Proven wrong again. I'm very disappointed, and there's a part of me that can't believe I find myself in this same situation again. The situation called U-n-e-m-p-l-o-y-e-d. I'm highly educated, smart and very good at what I do. It's really not sustainable.



Kinda feel like a lost lamb.

Searching for asphalt through the snow/more mortgage, income & expense analysis

January 8th, 2011 at 07:51 am

Driveway at 9:31 a.m....


Driveway at 10:40 a.m...


Hey, I see asphalt!

Actually, the driveway's not completely done. You can't see the bottom where the driveway meets the road. The snow is really packed in there, knee-high, by snow plows. I'll save the back-breaking stuff for later today. Phew. We got about 9 or 10 inches.

I could've used my electric snow thrower, but I didn't. I like to reserve that for when i need to get to work and don't have time to shovel. But shoveling is good exercise and I saved on my electric bill by doing so.

I posed my favorite question on another forum at www.early-retirement.org. I like to ask it at least once a year (!) to see if changes in my situation might warrant different answers. The question is, should I pay off the balance on my 30-year, 6% fixed rate mortgage ($32,000) with money I have in taxable savings accounts.

Being unemployed, I can't refinance the loan, and I don't think it makes sense to pay closing costs on such a small balance. I have ample savings, but they're locked up in mutual funds which I'd be selling at a loss or small gain if I sold now. The only other liquid assets, in money markets, is money i need to supplement unemployment benefits and whatever freelance work i can muster, to live on til i find the next (and hopefully last) perm job of my career.

So anyway, the consensus was, don't pay it off now, wait til you're working again, with a small subset of people saying it won't make much difference now anyhow since we're talking saving $5K in mortgage loan interest if i paid it off now vs. in 4 more years.

I guess I'll take the middle road and plan to just double up my monthly mortgage payments when i get a perm job. This way, i won't have to take a possible loss on liquidated mutual funds. A big reason why I was revisiting this issue yet again was becus now, with monthly COBRA payments of $443 looming ahead, I'll experience a monthly shortfall of roughly $300 in income vs. expenses. That's assuming no income from freelance so maybe what i really need to focus on is hustling up more work. I've already examined every square inch of expenses and cut what could be cut.

New England Snowstorm, in Photos

January 7th, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Having spent the better part of the last few days cooped up indoors, I've been getting a little stir crazy. This morning, it began to snow. They're calling for about 5 or 6 inches this time. It looks so lovely I decided to venture outdoors to capture my yard coated in white.

Come join me....


Many generations of bluebirds and house wrens have raised their families here. I have 2 in the yard. Sometimes I get two nestings in a single season.


Here's another rustic birdhouse. It's only shortcoming is that it's nailed together and there's no easy way to clean it out at the end of a season. Still, I noticed wrens nesting in it this past summer;they must've done the house-cleaning themselves.


This is a burning bush, I'm afraid, a species that's considered invasive here in the northeast, but it's so picturesque it's allowed to stay. I drastically cut it back last spring so I could view the 4 conifers behind it, but you'd hardly know it.


I see a fence repair in the spring. Truth be told, I'm not sure at this point what to do about it. Should I replace it with maintenance-free vinyl fencing?


I love the twisted growth pattern of this Japanese black pine. I planted it when it was just a wee two-foot seedling 15 years ago; now it's 15 feet high. I didn't think it would ever amount to much, if it even survived heavy deer browsing, but I'm quite happy it did.


This is the view looking up the Japanese black pine.


Well, this is not a view of much, just the fenceline out in back. I'm standing under a giant hemlock tree; the big trunk on the left is a huge sugar maple.

I've shared a lot of other views of my yard in the past, and didn't want to repeat what would be essentially the same images, so I'm tromping to the far corners of the yard in search of something new!


The solar lamps don little white snowcaps.


This large rhododendron has a wind-swept look, doesn't it? I love that look, but it's not caused by winds, rather by deer browsing. You can count on most anything planted that deer like to eat will not have any foliage up the three feet off the ground.

It's very pretty out there. When it stops snowing, I'll be out there with a shovel.

Thursday Doings: mostly foodie stuff

January 6th, 2011 at 09:59 am

I'm sitting here enjoying my favorite beverage: strong black tea with agave as a sweetener. I've trying out another recipe in the slow cooker, too...peanut chicken, which should be ready about 3:30 pm today.

I hit Costco this a.m. as I was out of milk, so I bought 2 gallons and put one in the freezer. There's plenty of food in the house!

Otherwise, not much new. Had dinner at Frank's Tuesday night and had his delicious lamb shanks and lentils, which he cooked in beef broth with carrots, shallots and mushrooms.

Also on Tuesday, I had that phone interview for the other job I applied for while I was still temping at the same company. It went well, though it seemed very much just a "prelim" interview intended to screen applicants and make sure they meet all the basic qualifications. So I'm hoping to get a call-back for an in-person interview in the next few weeks.

I rented 3 free DVDs at the library yesterday and watched one last night. I wanted to get The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, but someone else has it out.

I've also been walking more this week, though each time less than an hour, when I really need to do more.

I guess I could start my taxes and just use the online form and directions, but I don't see the point since none of my banks (3) or brokerages (2) have sent me my various statements, plus I should get paperwork from my 2 employers for the year, the Census Bureau and the temp job that just ended.

I'm still trying to reopen my unemployment claim, but when you dial in and go thru the automated system, it says "due to the high volume of calls there will be an extended wait time and we ask you to call back again later." Well, I got that message Monday, Tuesday,Wednesday and today. When exactly will they take my call?

I'm really trying to watch grocery expenses, as cutting my annual grocery bill is a goal this year. So i settled for dried cilantro for this peanut chicken recipe instead of fresh. Hope it doesn't make much difference.

I did need cinnamon sticks for my curried beef recipe earlier in the week, and I hated spending like $5.89 for a small jar of cinnamon sticks. At Costco for about the same price you got a HUGE canister of cinnamon sticks! Damn! I'm going to have to remember that Costco is the place to go for cheap spices, though they only seem to have the basics.

I was thrilled to be able to create an online account with the bank where i hold my mortgage, so now i can check my mortgage balance any time without having to call and talk to a live person. It's just much easier this way, and now i can update my mortgage balance here on my profile every month, to the dollar.

I'm still waiting to get paid by a new freelance client I did work for in December. I usually give them a full month before I send a late payment notice, but this one had indicated in an email last week that she was mailing the check out that day. So I watched the mail each day and it never came. Annoying. So I emailed her and said oh sorry, i forgot. It will go out today.

As much as i love new clients, it always produces a degree of anxiety until i get paid, becus you don't really know who you're dealing with or whether they might try to stiff you. With my regular clients, becus it's companies, not individuals i'm dealing with, it typically takes 6 weeks to get paid, but i KNOW they will pay me so it's not a big deal.

Like most clients, she was very anxious to have get the job done asap, but her payment? Not so much. I've never had a client who didn't pay, however, I've had several that were very late, like several months, in paying, and not without me communicating with them on the subject several times. You would think that they would be more considerate when working with a one-man show like me....

Even if it were just a $100 invoice, i would be prepared, just as a matter of principle, to take someone to small claims court (filing fee: $35) to collect that money. I'm basically at their mercy, and it's just too cumbersome and outside common business practices to require an upfront deposit for the kind of quick turnover work i do.

Miscellany

January 3rd, 2011 at 05:01 pm



Here's what I managed to do, despite a lingering lethargic mood:

Did some badly needed grocery shopping, walked around the block and back (20 min), worked on a flyer to advertise my freelance writing services and in the slow cooker made a delicious curried beef casserole with wilted spinach and chickpeas.Seasoned with a cinnamon stick and fresh ginger. Very yum. Topped that off with my sister's delicious peaches in gingered syrup. Double yum.

Also picked up stamps at the post office, but they had no tax forms. I'll have to check the library. Also hit the bank to make a deposit and get some cash, which now lasts a long time now that I'm charging everything, even groceries, so I get more credit at year's end from Amex.

Got invited to Frank's place for dinner tomorrow night. Lamb shanks. Another yum. I'm giving him a 2011 hummingbird calendar which I know he'll like, since I turned him on to feeding hummingbirds last summer. He's hooked. He also wants to go look at the bald eagles by the dam sometime this winter. They congregate there becus the fishing's good.

Tomorrow a.m. will be devoted to preparing for my phone job interview.

Sort of a slow moving Monday.

Where has my energy gone?

January 1st, 2011 at 01:20 pm

Well, I didn't exactly start off 2011 with a bang...more like a whisper....

Just didn't feel like doing anything today. I kept telling myself, it's warm out today (50 degrees), get your butt outside and WALK....EXERCISE....

I've always been self-motivated when it comes to exercise, but for the past year, I've just felt lazy. Especially now, with the cold weather, I just don't feel like going out in the cold. I am very conscious of the fact that I'm getting older and I put on weight last year. I'm worried I won't be able to take it off becus I'm getting to the point where I can't work out in the yard all day like a workhorse, which I used to do. And, as I pointed out, I'm getting lazy.

So while I didn't ever get to that walk, and here it is turning dark already, I did manage to wash the salt off my car, do a load of laundry and I also spent a good 2 hours cutting back the multiflora rose and bittersweet vines (both invasives)that grew last year up my stockade fence and got into a prized row of 4 evergreens.

It's the kind of thing that if you let it go just one year, it could easily get so impenetrable that you don't want to go in there. Winter's a good time to do becus the foliage is off the vines and ticks are less of a problem. However, it's very difficult to pull or dig out these vines, which are actually on the other side of the fence; cutting them back does weaken the plant, and control it, to a point, so that's what I did.

The vines also capture moisture on the fence, and in the long run will lead to rot and shorten the life of the fence, so all the more reason to do as much as I could.

I could see that the fence really needs another coat of whatever it was I used to preserve the wood. It's a watery white paint. I hope I saved the leftover from the gallon I bought probably 7 years ago now and didn't bring it to the hazardous waste collection last year. Hmmm.

The pines were stunted for many years due to heavy deer browsing. About a year ago, they finally took off and GREW. Now they're all over 10 feet high and finally looking like nice specimens.

The only other thing I did today was check the hyperlinks embedded in my resume, just to make sure they're still working. I did find one bad one and fixed it with a new Url So it works. I also added a new link to a corporate newsletter I wrote at my last f/t job; I found it on the website of the designer I worked with at the time.

I really hope and plan on walking tomorrow. There's nothing else on my agenda. No excuses. I would also like to vacuum my car while it's still warm out. And do a second load of laundry.

I keep losing track of whether today's Friday or Saturday. Wierd.