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Archive for March, 2011

Got another interview lined up

March 29th, 2011 at 06:12 pm

Guess what? I got another job interview set for this Friday!

This place is a mid-sized company of several hundred people in the business of environmental risk management assessment for consultants, real estate brokers, attorneys, etc. They need a marketing editor. They're about a 40-minute drive, according to MapQuest.

I never heard of them before. It's funny, you think you know most of the employers in your region after living in one place for 25 years, but I guess not!

After I got the phone call from them requesting the interview, I quickly ran out to Cost Cutters and got a $17 hair cut, the first since December. She did an ok job; it does look better than before.

I also sent off a quick email to D******, the big accounting firm I interviewed with about a week-and-a-half ago. The HR person wrote back to say they should come to a decision in a week or two. I felt good because it confirmed for me that they hadn't filled the job yet; however, if it takes too long, it may be a case of the company making an offer and negotiating with someone else; companies can move pretty quickly if they think they've found the right candidate. So the passage of time makes me a little nervous.

I'm excited that I'll have had 2 job interviews close enough together this month so I could, conceivably, have a choice if both places made me an offer....how often does that happen??

What a luxury working from home is.(Of course, I'll be giving that up when i find a perm job.) I was able to get a pork shoulder going in the slow cooker this morning around 7:30 am and by 6 pm it was done. I had a pulled pork sandwich with some steamed broccoli rabe for supper. Yum. At lunchtime, I realized I'd forgotten to get the rolls for the pulled pork, so since I've been trying to walk around mid-day anyway, I decided to walk to the supermarket and then treat myself to Chinese for lunch. So I squeezed in 45 minutes of walking.

My managing editor asked me to start work earlier tomorrow if i could as he has to leave at 5 pm and wants to get as many stories done as possible by that time. I don't think he realizes i usually start around 8 or 8:15 am when I'm home, but anyway, I told him I'd try to start earlier. I take a full hour, sometimes an hour-and-a-half for lunch, and then work til 5 or 6.

A little of this, a little of that

March 27th, 2011 at 06:26 am

Some time ago, I decided to downgrade the cats from the pricier Fancy Feast to Friskies. Not truly happy with either brand, mind you, in terms of healthful eating, but that's all my pocketbook can afford these days. So switching brands cut my monthly cat food bill nearly in half.

So I loaded up with quite a lot of Friskies at Wal-Mart last time I was there. But it turns out the cats distinctly dislike two flavors (both chicken). They seem to prefer the shredded flavors with gravy much better than the pate.

I couldn't find the receipt, but I figured I could return about 25 cans of those 2 flavors and was dismayed when Wal-Mart told me firmly they don't accept returns of food, even if it's cat food.

Fortunately, my brain was actually working properly yesterday and it occurred to me that Shop-Rite might take the returned cat food, and since I was headed over there anyway, it was worth a shot. (I honestly don't recall if the cat food in question was from there or Wal-Mart, but I do buy Friskies both both stores.)

I struck success at Shop-Rite and was able to get credit for the cat food, which I promptly spent on human food for me. And I jotted down the flavors the cats don't like, for future reference.

I also decided to sell a 300 mm camera lens for $10 to a guy who sells stuff on eBay. I had tried unsuccessfully to sell it at my friend's tag sale last year, and I knew it would be hard to do becus I don't have an interest in selling stuff on eBay and since the lens is only compatible with Minolta camera bodies, it would be tough to find a buyer. And, I knew i would never go back to using that kind of camera after becoming hooked on digital cameras years ago. So, $10 is $10. I think I spent about $300 on it 20 years ago when i was really into photography more. I'm really focused on decluttering my home and getting rid of stuff (for money, whenever possible) that is not being used or has no value to me.

I worked about 2.5 hours yesterday. I was thinking of working another few hours today, but I'm worried that if I don't take some break from it I will really burn out during the week. So much as I'd like to earn more $$, I think I will limit myself to putting in extra time any day but Sunday, my day of rest.

I'd been wanting to go to a movie today, but since girlfriend can't go, i decided not to go myself, becus, really what i need is more exercise. So I'll bundle up and go for a walk early afternoon, when it's warmest.

I was recently having problems with my Dell printer not working; Dell technical support wanted several hundred dollars to fix what they said was a Windows problem. I was able to fix it myself by uninstalling and then reinstalling the printer drivers, but that lasted for only a few days and then it wasn't printing again. So frustrating. I was prepared to reinstall the drivers again today, but when i turned it on and tried a test print, lo and behold, it worked.

So, not wanting to take any more chances with this thing not working when I need it to, I decided I'm just going to leave the printer on day and night. I think the added expense would be negligible. Provided there's no power outage, I could then always count on the thing working and I avoid Dell's rip-off fee.

Somewhere along the line I got out of the habit of preparing all my meals from scratch and have been eating more processed, pre-packaged foods than I like. So today I'm making one of my favorite cold summer salads, a wheat berry salad with chopped celery, dried cranberries, raisins, toasted walnuts and scallions tossed in a dressing of orange juice (and orange zest). Delicious and nutritious.

I'm watching the indicator on my oil tank very closely these last few weeks. The goal is to get through the rest of the heating season...realistically, through the month of April.... without having to refill the oil tank to the tune of about $3.50 a gallon.

Last I checked, it was a little more than a quarter of a tank. Naturally, we're going through a cold spell with temps off their normal averages by about 10 degrees. And nights continue to be below freezing.

This 'N That, Mostly Work-Related, My Carpenter's Run-In With the Law

March 26th, 2011 at 06:06 am

Well, I guess I've settled into my new temporary job. It's very fast-paced and while I work at home most days, there's not much time, make that, there's NO time to goof off or do anything else.

The new managing editor calls me all day long with questions and frankly drives me nuts with his really minor questions he could figure out for himself. It really disrupts my work; when I compared notes yesterday (the 1 day i drive into the city to work) with the other 3 guys who are writing, they agreed. I may have to say something at some point; I doubt the others will becus all of them are super-inexperienced and probably afraid to...this is their very first job after college.

However, having no commute saves me lots of time driving. While it's still too cold out now to do much outdoors, I imagine that once it warms up, I'll want to head outside to work in the yard or mow the lawn as soon as I wrap up work.

I'm usually up by 7 a.m. (no alarm clock) and am ready to sit down at the computer between 8 and 8:30 am. I enjoy taking a leisurely hour-long lunch break, at which time I walk around the block for a stretch. So I'm through by 5 or 5:30 pm, which is nice.

And this weekend, just like last weekend, I plan to work another 4 or so hours. Again, once the weather breaks, I doubt I'll want to be doing that on my time off, and what i really need to do in my free time is exercise and move around, not spend more time in front of the computer. But it's still not truly spring around here; in fact, temps are a little below normal.

I calculated, though, that IF i DID work an extra 4 hours each Saturday all year long (or just spread 4 hours during the work week), I'd earn an extra $5,000! Which is a nice chunk of change.

They mailed our paychecks Thursday and so am REALLY hoping I get it today. My first check for 2 weeks = $2112. I've already prepaid April mortgage and transferred $300 to savings and once i get that paycheck in my hot little hands, will also make a transfer to my SEP-IRA.

Haven't heard from Deloitte so decided to send a quick note to the HR person asking when they expect to make a decision. My interview was March 16. I'd just rather know if they already hired someone rather than wait and wonder indefinitely. Still really hoping they make me an offer.

The guy who redid my closets got messed up in something not very good. He came here late one morning and was explaining that he hadn't slept well. He started explaining why. The job he was doing before he started mine was one involving installation of kitchen cabinets in someone's house. My guy had to hire an electrician to do aspects of the work.

At the end of the job, the homeowner was unhappy with the quality of the work and decided to withhold about $1800 in pay to the 2 of them. (Personally, I think that was definitely the wrong thing to do. This guy knew they weren't professional installers and made the choice to hire them, i'm sure becus they were cheaper. So he can't unilaterally decide he doesn't want to pay after agreeing to do so.)

But anyway, the electrician was real ticked off. A day or 2 later, my carpenter guy had to go talk to the police, and so did the electrician, becus the homeowner's house had been broken into and the kitchen cabinets were vandalized!! Now of course (!) the electrician did it but he denied it and police have no proof. What a stupid thing to do. And I think this guy is a little mentally unbalanced.

Before this happened, my carpenter guy had been telling me about the electrician and said that he was so ticked off that he said to the carpenter, well, so and so (the homeowner) has a daughter. In other words, he was actually suggesting that something bad could happen to her. I told my carpenter at the time that this other guy was nuts and i would steer clear of him. He agreed and said the guy was a pain to work with anyway.

I asked my carpenter if he relayed that part of the conversation, about the daughter) to the police. He said no. Personally, I would have; the electrician already cost him this customer, who my carpenter had worked for in the past and who had indicated there was future work coming too. I mean, it could have gotten the carpenter in trouble, too, and apparently the electrician didn't care when he broke into the guy's house.

I had given my carpenter a few more small jobs to do after he finished my closets, as soon as he gave me a price, and i haven't heard from him since last week. Now I'm wondering why.

I treated myself to a Subway sandwich last night on the way home from work. Now that i'm working f/t again, I'm feeling the itch to spend money on any one of so many deferred things. I really shouldn't, as for one thing, I still haven't gotten the bills for the UTi I had, and I'll have to pay 100% of costs due to my high deductible. That and my neurologist visit earlier this year will easily run into the $400+ range.

Then there's the quandary about what to do about my exterior siding. I need to get more siding estimates. But there's a great little upholstered recliner I have my eye on for the sun room. $300 from Lamps Plus. I was also thinking of some nice shelving for my office. I never seem to have enough tabletop/display space.

How I make every spending opportunity a decision-making process

March 20th, 2011 at 10:42 am

When I was surviving on unemployment (not too long ago), I only allowed myself to spend money on five essential things:

1. My mortgage
2. Utilities (heat, electric, water, sewer, phone/Internet
3. Taxes (property, homeowners, car)
4. Food
5. Gas

Now that I am working full-time again (albeit, at about 25% less salary than I'm used to and without affordable employer-paid health insurance), I've decided I can "loosen the purse strings" to add a few key items to my list of allowable expenses:

6. Health care for me, even though having a high deductible means I'll be paying 100% of costs for all health care. If I remain a contract worker and on COBRA for most of the year, the saving grace will be that I'll be able to deduct my medical expenses.

I've already scheduled routine gynecological and a physical; I already saw my neurologist and plan to get an eye exam as the co-pay is just $10 and it's not subject to the deductible.

7. Selected home improvements (I had 2 closets redone and still have to decide what to do about my exterior siding: paint again or vinyl? Vinyl would be a huge cost, 1 quote so far at $17K.

8. Eating lunch out with friend once a month. I view this as a kind of release valve; you do need to enjoy life once in a while, after all.

9. Savings and Mortgage prepayments: I should be earning enough money to return to saving modestly as well as resuming prepayments on the mortgage, both of which are very high priorities for me. I plan to save and/or mortgage prepay at least $1,000 a month, possibly more, but will have to see what's left over after making quarterly tax payments.

So that's it. I'm still allowing NO spending on the following:

* Eating out (more than once a month)
* Clothes-shopping
* Netflix
* Jewelery (a weakness)
* Subscriptions
* Entertainment (I still have free kayaking, bike-riding and walking, and there are the library DVDs)
* Anything else not considered essential!

The good thing is, every spending opportunity is a conscious decision-making process. For instance, yesterday I decided I would renew my $88 annual AAA membership, mainly because:

1. My car is 13 years old.
2. I gave up my cell phone last week.
3. Having AAA gives me a 10% discount on all car repairs at my dealer.

However, I did give up my prepaid cell phone, mainly because:

1. I have never had good reception at my house, and I'm not sure whether it's a dead zone or just this carrier. The sound quality was bad enough that people remarked on it and and I had to sit in the bathroom to make a call, or go outside, and i didn't much care to go outside this winter.

2. I may try another brand phone, prepaid again, but probably not right away as I'm still extremely cost-conscious. Besides, I'm only driving in to work 1 day a week, so less chance of a breakdown somewhere.


Closet Project: Done!

March 19th, 2011 at 03:44 pm

Happy to report that the first phase of dealing with damage wrought by one helluva winter is done. That is, I had 2 closets paneled, which considerably improved the appearance of both closets and covered up the mess that remained after I peeled off dampened, old wallpaper that had started coming up.

Here's what the outer wall of my spare bedroom closet looked like after I peeled off 2 layers of old wallpaper, covered by paint:


What a mess, huh? This is the wall on the west-facing exterior wall of the house which was damaged by ice dam water infiltration.

Here's what it looked like after my carpenter got done with it today:




Bigimprovement, no? And here's the opposite end of this small closet, where I have some shelving:



This closet cost me $287 and my downstairs hall closet, a little bigger, cost me $356, materials included.

I want to paint the ceiling and trim before loading everything back in there. (It's amazing how much stuff a closet holds.)But I guess I won't paint the shelves since I've found that latex paint on doors or shelves is kind of tacky and things stick to it, and i don't like the cleanup involved with oil paint.

Next job for this guy is actually an assortment of 4 smaller job involving:
1. Replacing a piece of formerly wet sheetrock with pine, above my kitchen door.
2. Cutting a circular piece of pine to fit and cover a hole cut in my downstairs closet door where the dryer hose used to go. The washer/dryer are in the basement now and i don't want the cold air coming up through that vent anymore.
3. Fixing a deadbolt lock on my basement/garage door that doesn't close properly becus the house settled.
4. Cementing in an area of wall between garage and basement that apparently someone drove into and bricked over very unevenly and not very well. It's hard not to notice as it's right by the door and I don't want questions raised by potential buyers when I sell this place.

The big job is to have him do real wood paneling on the north walls of my living room and dining room. That would hide a lot of wall imperfections and also look quite nice.

Since I had to hang around while this guy was doing my closet, I decided to put in a few extra hours of work for my mostly-remote job writing for this news website. I put in 5 hours, for an extra $125. Too cold to do anything out in the yard yet, anyway. I'll be busy with outdoor stuff soon enough.

The Saga of the UTI/YI

March 17th, 2011 at 05:02 pm

About a week-and-a-half ago:

Started coming down with what felt like a yeast infection. (Squeamish alert) Thought I'd save myself some money and picked up an over-the-counter generic Monastat-type thing. Used it for 3 days as directed.

Result? None.

Called doc's office, by this time wanting to make sure I wouldn't have this thing, and be squirming in my seat, at my interview this past Wednesday. As you may know, I'm trying to avoid medical bills at all costs since my annual deductible with The Crappy Health Plan is $1500. She said, oh, you may have to come in to see the doctor, you haven't been here for over a year. I basically twisted her arm ("But I've been seeing Dr. so and so for 20 years!") and she called in a prescription without forcing me to see the doc.

Took the prescription for YI for 3 days.

Result? Nothing.

By this time, the supposed YI started feeling more like a UTI (instead of itchy/sore it was becoming more like "pressure.") I called the doctor's office again and made an appt. to see another doc as mine wasn't available. She took a urine sample, which came back negative for infection. Huh??? She said everything looked ok. She said maybe the infection was on the verge of clearing up. I had mentioned that one of my symptoms was itchiness, so she ends up giving me a prescription cream for that and said we'll call you if the culture comes back testing positive on anything.

I dropped off the prescription at CVS, planning to pick it up at lunch time. By lunchtime, I was feeling rather asymptomatic and I thought to myself, i really didn't want a cream for itchiness, that was just a secondary symptom and I can tough that out. I wanted to save myself the $$ for that, so I called CVS to see if i could cancel that med and they said ok.

But the next day, my symptoms were back in force; in fact, i had trouble sleeping and it was feeling more and more like a UTI now. I suddenly realized i happened to have some Uristat pills in the bathroom. I popped 2 and slept like a baby.

Next a.m., I called the doc office back again and told her of my evolving symptoms and how well i felt after taking the Uristat, which is used to treat symptoms of UTIs (but not cure them). And on the other hand, I'd been gulping probiotics and eating yogurt when i thought it was a YI and hadn't noticed any improvement. So all things pointing to a UTI now.

She said ok, i can call in a prescription for UTI, but you need to drop off another urine sample at Quest, that maybe i had just caught it too early when i did the first urine culture and that's why it didn't register. I did that today, and picked up my 3rd prescription. Popped a pill, and about an hour later, I see the inside of my lower arm breaking out in hives. Great. Allergic reaction!

Back on the phone with nurse, who said, bummer.I'll call in another med and you'd better stop taking that other one. Got the 4th med tonight and will start it tonight. God willing, it will work.

This will go down in history as the most expensive UTI I've ever had, costing me 4 prescriptions, 1 doctor's office visit and 2 lab tests, plus I'll be paying 100% for everything with my high deductible not yet being met.

My job interview with D******* yesterday went pretty well, I think. Met with 2 people, both technical editors, and one of them being the person I'd report to. Plus i did another hour-long editing test. They seemed nice. She basically told me that regardless of what any of the job candidates say to her, the job will go to whoever does the best job on the editing test. Makes perfect sense, yet i wonder how i did compared to the other candidates? I have a fair amount of confidence as I'm very good at what I do, yet I still wonder...

I want the job, though when i asked the guy what he thought was the most challenging part of the job, he was pretty honest when he said, i guess just doing the same thing over and over again. He was a classics major in college and ended up as a technical editor. Two polar opposites, I'd say. He's been there for 8 years.

The woman said she thought the pay was pretty reasonable; i forget how that came up, but i certainly didn't ask her about pay.

I am aware that this job, unlike many I've had, won't be "creative" and could become fairly tedious or dull over time. Perhaps a little too one-dimensional, even, though being an introvert, I've always preferred pure writing jobs. This will definitely be a pure writing job.

But the pay and benefits will be very good, and the commute reasonable (35 minutes) and I figure, if I'm going to work, i may as well work for more pay rather than less pay. I feel that the number of years i have left to work full-time is finite, now, and that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. That has a way of making a job that could be a bit dull seem doable.

I am very clear and very focused on my financial goals, near term and long-term, and that's what's driving my decision-making process.

Wish me luck!

1st Closet Done! Home improvements going on

March 15th, 2011 at 02:15 pm

My carpenter finished paneling the first of two closets that had damage from ice dams. The one he finished (about a day and-a-half) is a downstairs coat closet and was in the WORST shape....a few holes in the walls, evidence of mice infiltration, plumbing and heat ducts going through it, and just generally really banged up.

I picked out some nice paneling sheets, much nicer and lighter than that hideous dark brown stuff you saw in rec rooms in the 70s.

The only thing i'm not crazy about is that i told him to go ahead and panel the ceiling, only because there is a piece of plumbing that extends down from above the closet ceiling and so after repairing a leak, the plumber quickly created a botched box around it and it looked terrible. I wanted the ceiling to be flush and level with no box, so the only way to do that was to lower the ceiling by an inch or so. I guess the carpenter could have sheet rocked a new ceiling and then taped it, but that would require multiple coatings and return visits and more $ so i told him to just cover it with paneling. It does look a little funny, but it's just a closet. I can live with it. Labor and materials for just that one closet cost me $365, which is quite reasonable.

He also created a false wall to hide hot and cold water pipes for a washer/dryer that i guess used to be in this closet. he used removable screws so that if a future homeowner wanted to put the washer/dryer here, they could easily access the plumbing behind the panel.

He'll start a smaller closet in the upstairs spare bedroom on Thursday and hopefully finish on Saturday.

This guy was really hurting financially this winter. He doesn't really advertise. I'd like him to give me a price for doing wood paneling beneath the chair rails on the two front-facing walls of my living and dining rooms. Just one wall in each room, as an accent, and maybe paneling on the 2 sides of my staircase, a small space. I'd like to cover up the walls becus they have bumps in them around where bigger older windows were replaced and the subsequent taping around the larger opening was poorly done. There's also old wallpaper that I painted over without knowing about the wallpaper, and it's a real mess when you try to take it off. (No one used wallpaper primer like I do.) Plus I love the look of wood paneling. perhaps an expensive solution to the wall issue, but I just want to see how much it would be. It's just the lower part of 2 walls, how much could it be? He he.

I hate the distraction of having him working there, and banging on the walls and stuff but at least i'm able to work at home. The cats get scared too and don't move all day. Don't like workmen in the house when i'm not here.

I'm also going to "bundle" a bunch of little jobs he can do and give me a single price on. He's so reasonably priced, I really should do it.

Tomorrow is my job interview with the accounting firm. I'll be glad when that's behind me.

Thursday I work at home and Friday I'm headed to New Haven. I should get my first paycheck from this job then!/!!!

I passed a former co-worker/writer's resume onto my boss at the new job and was thinking how nice it would be to work with someone I'm familiar with, although it would really just be that one day a week I have to go into the office. Given where she lives, she'd pass right by me; we could carpool in and save some gas!

Avoided Dell's ridiculous charge

March 13th, 2011 at 06:39 am

I bought a Dell computer last August. It came with a 3-year warranty which I recently learned was just for the hardware; the pre-loaded Windows 7 software came with just a 3-month warranty.

At the time, the Dell salesman didn't bother to tell me that the new computer would not be compatible with the Dell printer I'd been using and that I'd have eto buy a new Dell printer as well; I found that out when I tried to get them working together. When I complained, they let me have a new Dell printer for free. It normally retailed for about $50.

Pretty much from the start, that printer frequently experienced paper jams. And sometimes it would not print. Numerous phone calls to Tech Support. A few weeks ago, based solely on the paper jam issue, he said he's send me a new replacement. He actually said that the best way to deal with paper jams is to drop the computer on the ground. Yes, drop it, not from standing height, mind you, but a few inches.

Anyway, I couldn't get the new printer to print at all. More time with Tech Support, who after 2 hours concluded that it wasn't a hardware problem, it was a software (Windows) problem.

When I had time in my schedule to call back Dell software people, he urged me to spend $200 and something on a 2-year software warranty. I've been barely getting by for a while now, and spending that was certainly not in the cards.

But I was feeling anxious to get the printer working again becus now i have a job interview this week and need to print out a few writing samples to bring with me.

He said just getting this problem fixed would cost me $130. (He had mentioned beforehand that it appeared 2 drivers had not installed properly and the problem might be fixed by reinstalling the printer drivers.) Maybe he thought i was a dumb idiot or maybe he didn't care, but as I'm trying to get him to budge on the $130 charge, I decided I should first try to reload those drivers. So I told him I'd think about it.

I uninstalled, then reinstalled the drivers and BINGO, printer works. But now the ink is not making full contact with the page and it looks very, very faint. Back on the phone with Dell hardware support. he helped me thru the process of cleaning my ink cartridges, which apparently clog up after not being used in as little as a week. The more you use the printer, the better it will work, he told me. (Yeah, and the quicker I'll run thru those $30 cartridges, too.)

So I'm pleased as punch to have avoided the $130 rip-off. I'm sure these charges are quite a money-maker for Dell. Without having heard the Dell guy conjecture as to the problem, I probably wouldn't have bothered trying to reload the printer drivers. Phew.

Love my weekends

March 12th, 2011 at 04:14 am

Now that I'm working full-time again, weekends recaptured their "special" feeling for me. Quite honestly, Saturdays and Sundays seemed very much like any other day when I wasn't working, except that I'd avoid doing any shopping errands then because it was so much easier getting around on the weekdays in terms of traffic and lines.

But now I'm glad the weekend has arrived. I decided to treat myself to lunch out with a friend tomorrow, something I haven't done in many, many months. Perhaps I did it once in the 4th Q of 2010, but if I did, I don't remember.

Aside from lunch, I'll just be running errands: Costco, Shop Rite, Petco (to use a $5 off coupon) and getting a DVD at the library for tonight.

The priority, however, is to get on the phone with Dell and get my printer working again. I guess since I'm working, having to pay some sort of fee to have them fix the problem (even tho i'm under the 3-yr warranty) is not as upsetting as when i wasn't employed. I will still argue the case, though, because it seems patently unfair.

The other important thing to do is prepare my portfolio of writing samples for my interview next week. Normally, I have TONS of samples from which to choose, and I tailor which I use based on the job I'm going for. This time there'll be less to choose from as i haven't worked for an accounting firm before. But there are 2 jobs I had where I can pull samples from: an alternative energy company, Nathaniel Energy, which I think has since been sold to someone else. I wrote all their website content in a freelance project. While it's not on the site anymore, I do have the original text I wrote, and that was pretty technical, so good to show with Technical Writing job I'm interviewing for. I may also show work from Prudential Financial, where I worked Q42010. I wrote about some pretty complex subject matter while there. E.g., trusts, advanced Social Security strategies for the retired to maxmimize income, and stuff like that.

It would be tempting to work in the yard a little this weekend as it'll be in the low 50s and much of the snow is gone. Just picking up fallen tree branches and pruning my butterfly bushes....but i know it's quite soggy out there and walking around on it won't do it any favors. So I won't.

My prepaid cell phone minutes expire this Sunday. I don't plan to renew the plan by paying another $100 for minutes, which is more than enough air time I need for the year. I planned to do it as a cost-saving measure, but also becus I happen to live in an area with lousy reception, and people complain they can't hear me well if I call from inside my home. I have to go outside, and i noticed my neighbors across the street often do the same thing.

I don't know if there's another plan (mine was Verizon, later turned into AT&T) that would be better, since this one said they covered my area when I checked on their website. I really plan to just go back to using prepaid calling cards with my land line. The cards are pretty cheap at Costco and they don't expire.

It's been a long time since I really rubbed shoulders with many young people, but the company where I work employs about a dozen people, and all of them seem pretty young. Two other writers are guys fresh out of college or grad school...this is their first job! The one guy announced to me that he was a playwright, though as it turns out, he's never had one of his plays on stage, except in college, and that's when I learned he was just out of school. It's funny how self-assured young people can be but you can forget how inexperienced they really are. He had been working overtime, probably about 20 extra hours all told, and not sought payment for it because he thought working overtime was expected of you. Well, yes, in a salaried job, but this is an HOURLY job. In other words, he was not putting in for the extra hours becus he didn't think he could be reimbursed for them,but after talking with us, he said he would ask if he could, retrovactively.

I was personally aghast at the thought of working for nothing, as I think employers already have the upper hand when it comes to employer/employee relastions. Just think about what happened in Wisconsin with union bargaining rights. They're setting us back 50 years and think they can get away with it becus we're in a recession and everyone's on the side of business these days.

Why are employees expected to give 2 weeks notice when they leave, while employers can fire you on the spot, no notice at all? Do I not have a life that could be disrupted by a poorly timed layoff? Why do employers almost always ask you, indeed, insist on you're filling this out on their form, about how much money you made in your previous jobs? How does disclosing my earning power work in MY best interests??? Doesn't sound like a very level playing field.

More Great News on the Job Front

March 10th, 2011 at 04:25 pm

As you may know, I started working just this week for the new website. But while it's f/t, they don't offer benefits, and I have to have health insurance with my MS.

When I got home today, there was a message on my machine from that the big accounting company (hint: starts with a "D") where I applied for a technical writing job.

Mind you, I've never worked as a technical writer; I've always been in marketing, but apparently, i did well enough on their hours-long editing test to earn an interview spot!

And this is one place where my highly analytical nature would NOT be a hindrance to getting the job! I remember one job i lost out on simply becus the personality test i took showed i ranked much higher on the analytical end than creative, which is ironic since I've built my career in marketing and have had a lot of chances to really get creative.

I'll go there next week; she said to allow 2 hours for yet another editing assignment. (I guess they want to make sure that someone else didn't do the at-home test for you.)

This is exactly what I'd hoped for. Much as I truly appreciate the news website job for making sure I survive, financially, the work there is, well, not very challenging and is paying about 3/4 of what I should be earning in my field. And there's the thing about the lack of health insurance as well.

If I worked at D*******, I could no longer worker at home, I'm sure, but the commute is a doable 35 minutes. Monkey Mama says they underpay, but i guess i'll have to see...considering what i'm making now and what I've made elsewhere, i doubt whatever salary offer they might make would deter me from taking the job, especially if it included the all-important benefits. Long-term unemployment for the past 17 months has a way of crystallizing your priorities.

In other news, I gave a quick call to my dad after getting a message from my sister who got a call from my dad's significant other that today was the day of my dad's surgery to remove melanoma from his nose. He will need some plastic surgery on the nose, and he won't hear til they get the biopsy results next week if they got all of it. I sure hope they did.

How the new job's going

March 8th, 2011 at 04:34 pm

I guess I'd have to say it's kind of like a writer's version of a sweatshop. Meaning, I have to work very quickly because volume is at least as important as quality. And of course it's easy to measure how much I've done by the number of write-ups I complete.

However, I figure if I managed to do tedious online surveys for months just to earn a little cash, I can do this.

Given how simple what I'm doing is, the pay ($25/hr) is really pretty good. To put it in perspective, it's twice as much as I was getting from unemployment but half as much as I was making at my last contract job at the big insurance company where I dearly wanted to stay.

The other great thing about this job is that I'm home 4 days out of 5. Even before the spike in the cost of gas, I'd consider this a godsend, but now it's even better.

He originally told me to expect to come into the city 2 or 3 days a week for the first 2 weeks until I get the job under my belt and after that I could work at home all but 1 day a week. Well, i guess i picked it up so quickly that after my first day ended, he said i could work from home and just come back in for the once weekly writers' meeting on Thursday. Very nice indeed.

I doubled my output at home today compared to the work i did yesterday, my first day, in the office.

There is absolutely no time for goofing off, you really have to commit to cranking these things out. However, I started at 8:30 am, took a 1/2 hour for lunch and called it a day at 5.

I created simple spreadsheets to help me track my tax deductible expenses, including 100% of my COBRA premiums and any out of pocket medical I may incur. Sweet.

There are still 2 perm jobs I'm very much hoping to hear from. Who knows how long I'll be working at this place, a month or a year? There's a place for me at the place I'm at if I want to stay (and of course i will until i find that perm job) because on my first day a gal there was showing me how to post stories online using their software, and i asked her who was editing my work. She said, well, so and so is doing it now, but we're hoping it will be you! Meaning, if things work out, there's a bigger role they want me to play.

It's fine with me; it won't mean more money, and the work will be pretty much the same except I'll be reviewing other writers' work. I think I'll be meeting the other 3 or 4 writers at the Thursday meeting.

On my drive into work yesterday, I saw the aftermath of extremely heavy rains here the day before. We got 3.5 inches overnight. My route parallels a a river that had overflowed its banks, and i saw a number of houses (summer cottages?) that were completely surrounded by water. I mean, it looked like the houses were in the middle of a lake! Surreal! Various wood docks had come loose from their moorings and were floating in the middle of the river, along with some canoes and, from what i heard on the news, even a few cars. I had a little seepage in the basement, but nothing to worry about.

Oh, I was also able to figure out why I got an extra $800 in my tax refund check. The IRS (surprising to me) gave me further details when I went online and clicked the "Where's my Refund?" link. I forgot to fill out one of the worksheets having to do with taxation of qualified money. BIG mistake on my part....sure am glad the IRS found it!!!!!!

With a New Job Come New Goals

March 6th, 2011 at 10:33 am

I've already started analyzing how I'm going to handle the money I earn from the new job I start tomorrow. Many things will be different since it's a contract job with no taxes deducted.

I remember earning about this much at a job in 2005, though that job had benefits. I was contributing 15%, or about $300 to $350 each 2-week pay period to my 401(k). AND I was prepaying the mortgage, sometimes $100 a month, sometimes as much as $400 a month.

Since this job doesn't have a retirement plan, I decided I'll divvy up the money I'd otherwise invest in a 401(k) (and toward the mortgage) in the following way each month:

$350 will go to replenish an emergency fund; this is important, since I'll need that money to live on if for some reason i become unemployed again.

$300 will go to mortgage prepayments...I'm really obsessed with paying off the darn thing.

$350 will go to my SEP IRA. I created that account 2 years ago but it only has about $500 in it now because my freelance copywriting has only amounted to a few thousand each year. However, my full-time job will now all be "freelance," and i recall i can contribute as much as 20% of income (around $10,000).

So if you consider mortgage prepayments as "savings," my new savings rate will be $1,000 a month. Not bad, considering my modest income.

I also plan to create some spreadsheets to help me track my expenses since they will all now be tax-deductible. The ones I will track include:

* My $443/month COBRA premiums; by year's end they will have exceeded the minimum 7.5% of total income needed to claim this deduction.

* Mileage driving to the city, since my primary work location 4 days a week will be home, and after the initial week or two, I'll just be driving in 1 day a week for meetings.

* Phone calls to the office

* Office supplies such as copy paper and ink cartridges

I don't anticipate claiming deductions for my computer or office since I won't be using them exclusively for work.

I also need to mark my calendar with due dates for IRA quarterly tax payments.

I reviewed the agreement he wants me to sign. It's mostly non-disclosure stuff, but it looks like he only wants to pay me once a month, which seems to me a long time to wait to get paid when this will be my only source of income. I will have to talk to him about that tomorrow. Really not crazy about that at all.

I'm going to revise my goals that appear here on my blog, too.

Talking myself out of a job before I even start?

March 5th, 2011 at 07:38 am

That's what you're going to think when I tell you what I did this morning.

I woke up, wide awake, at 3 a.m., worrying that the quota/target my soon-to-be boss lined out for me was unrealistic and undoable.

When we talked on the phone yesterday, he said he was looking for 3 to 4 news briefs written each hour. It's a start-up and he can't afford to pay much now. They are just getting ready to launch. He originally offered me $20 an hour but agreed to $25 an hour but said the higher rate would hinge on my ability to write closer to 4 briefs an hour, not 3.

Well, we didnt' spend too much time on that, but after I hung up, I started thinking of how difficult it would be to write a news brief, following the very specific format he described, in 15 minutes, every hour of every day.

I might be able to churn out 4 an hour on occasion, but to do so consistently is unlikely. Part of writing each brief involves reading breaking news stories online, and just reading and absorbing their key messages would take 10 minutes easily, let alone writing intelligently and persusasively on a particular angle and posting it online using their software.

I want to position myself for success, not failure, and I take my commitments seriously. So rather than stress about this the rest of the weekend, I decided to write him a longish email saying just what I've said here (and more). I realized I was taking a big risk in possibly pissing him off and jeopardizing the job offer I just got yesterday. Or maybe making him think I was difficult to work with.

I got a reply back in maybe 5 minutes. He must've been checking for messges when I sent it. He wrote back briefly, saying don't worry, get some sleep, things will work out just fine, let's take it a day at a time.

I felt so relieved. He seems like a really understanding guy and I am feeling more confident that he will be someone I respect and enjoy working with.

In the meantime, I am halfway through the at-home editing test given to me my big accounting firm seeking a technical writer. The first half had maybe 5 pages of extremely dense copy riddled with all sorts of grammar, punctuation and organizational problems. It took me over 3 hours just to get through that!!

Why is my tax refund so big???

March 5th, 2011 at 06:09 am

Umm, this is wierd.

I did my own taxes this year, as usual. I calculated a $1100 federal tax refund and filed it electronically. I think the program would have caugt it if i made some sort of mathematical error.

Much to my surprise, I found it had been deposited to my checking account in the amount of $1,900, about $800 more than I thought it would be.

I hope the IRS will send me something in the mail to clarify what this is about??

In other news,I'm having my mother and sister over today for lunch, in honor of mom's birthday. I wanted to keep it simple, real simple, so here's the menu:

Fresh greens with grilled salmon chunks. (My sister's bringing the salad.)

TJ's red pepper soup with a bit of chicken stock added to stretch it to feed 3 people (it's a quart) and grilled shrimp and scallions mixed in. (Should I grill the scallions or use them fresh as a garnish?)

For dessert, a chocolate mousse cake from Trader Joe's.

I got a job!

March 4th, 2011 at 09:37 am

I got the job, I got the job, I got the job!

It's not a permanent solution to my employment issues, but it's certainly better than unemployment and it could lead to something better if it works out.

Here are the details:

It's a startup news website which uses a very different model for reporting on breaking news of the day. I'm going to honor the non-disclosure agreement I have yet to sign by not going into further detail about that.

The good things about it:

1. It's full-time but also flexible if from time to time I need to take time off to do other frelance gigs. he understands that becus he can't pay me the kind of money to keep people there 100% full-time that people may from time to time want to do some other things. That's exactly my situation: i've already agreed to edit an author's book, and I know i'll want to coninue my normal, though widely sporadic freelance real estate copywriting.

2. He's asked me to drive into their small city (about a 50-minute drive 1-way) for 2-3 days next week, and maybe 2 or 3 days the following week, until I get the lay of the land and familiarize myself with how they work and what I'll be doing. But after that, I can work REMOTELY and only drive into the city once a week for the writers' meetings. This is ideal for me; if it weren't for the need for health insurance coverage, this is very much my ideal type of job.

3. The pay is, well, I expected that it wouldn't be a ton of money for a startup. They launch online on Monday, and the weeks immediately following will say a lot about what kind of success they'll see. I'm getting in on the ground floor now; if, in the worst case scenario, they don't do well and the business folds in 6 months, I'll have collected a paycheck as much as possible. If they do well and grow, there's a real chance of getting better pay, more responsiblity and so on.

So he offered me an hourly rate of $20 an hour. I was able to talk him into $25 an hour, but he also said if he pays that, this is the kind of output he'd expect, x number of news briefs written in an hour, or x number per day. They will also reimburse me for the parking garage, which would otherwise cost me $12 a day to keep my car there. (So i guess having me work from home also saves him money, ie, $60 a week.)

I have to say I spent considerably more time writing up the 5 news brief for him in a test assignment he gave me, but hopefully I'll gain a much better idea of exactly the kind of stories they want to focus on and be able to write them up much more quickly. This is a news site and so they need a high volume of new news story briefs every day. Not sure how many other writers there are....

So if I worked f/t, i guess that comes out to $52K a year, sans benefits. I am still seeking a full-time perm job with benefits, becus i must have health insurance, and those jobs would typically pay in the 80s.

So I'd be working for a lot less for him, but given that I'd mostly be working from home, given that I'm a news junkie and that this pays better than unemployment and that this would serve to elongate the time my remaining unemployment funds would last, it certainly seems worthwhile.

It will enable me to more easily pay my current bills and take care of several home improvement projects I have already committed to (paneling 2 closets damaged by leaking water from this winter's ice dams in gutters done by a carpenter i've used before will cost a very reasonable $550) or are considering (vinyl siding estimate from company #1 came in at $17,000).

The only thing it doesn't do is stop the clock from ticking on the remaining time I have to obtain health coverage thru COBRA. I'm good til year's end or maybe a bit longer, not sure.

It also doesn't fix my current dilemma of having health coverage, but not being able to use it, at least, if I don't want to pay 100% of costs. This is due to the fact that my health plan has a $1500 deductible. I've avoided all routine healtcare except for dental and a trip to the neurologist I had to make to renew my meds to avoid having to pay everything out of pocket.

But I would dearly love to get a physical and see my gynecologist and maybe my optometrist and get a colonscopy.

So maybe I'll work here for 3 months, then leave when I find another job with benefits. Or maybe I'll end up staying there for 3 years.....who really knows?

Catching up

March 3rd, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I've been so super busy these last few days.

Yesterday I drove into a small city about an hour's drive from here for a job interview with the news website I think I mentioned previously. Had to pay $6 for the parking garage. Spent an hour yakkin' with the guy. He asked me to do a writing assignment and said if I could turn it around the very next day, then we'd talk $ and he'd have me come in today since every Thursday is their writers' meeting.

So I spent several hours doing the writing assignment and sent it back. Haven't heard from him since. So much for that. I'm not too upset about that one as I wasn't sure it was a good fit or if i could see myself working there. It was full-time, but contract job, meaning, no benefits. And I do need benefits.

This a.m. I drove south to do a focus group on probiotics. There were about 10 of us middle-aged women. Got paid $85, thank you very much.

Yesterday, I also got an email from well-known big accounting firm. I had applied for a job as technical editor, which isn't exactly my background, but i thought i could do it plus D***** would be a great place to work and just about 35 minutes from home.

So I was pleased when they emailed me (and probably a bunch others?) and asked me to do edit a document they sent. I plan to maybe start it tomorrow, but i took a quick peek at it and it is quite boring looking with lots of technical data and abbreviations and so on. Could I do a better job than other experienced technical writers? I'm not sure but I sure as hell am going to try.

In about 20 minutes the viny siding rep is supposed to come by and present his estimate. I hope I don't have to sit through another hour-long sales pitch.

My Dell printer stopped working a few days ago and after spending a solid 2 hours with Dell technical support (I have 3 yrs of free support with them) he informed he that it was Windows that wasn't operaitng properly and that I had 2 choices: talk to another Dell rep who would troubleshoot the problem and then tell mehow much it would cost (they would charge me becus it wasn't a Dell problem) or I could reload Windows. Well, they know I can't reload Windows becus the computer was delivered to me new with Windows pre-installed. They said no, it wasn't pre-installed that I, the customer installed it. That's a bunch of baloney. What they did was mail me, under separate cover, a product code key which "unlocked" the software and gave me access to it. But I didn't load it and i definitely do not have any disks to re-load Windows anyway, so if they try to charge me, i'm going to give them a hard time becus it just aint' my fault and if they're going to install it, they should take reseponsibility. Especially when one of the reasons i bought this computer was becus they offered 3 years of technical support.

I got an unexpected check for $66 from the agency that hired me to work at Prudential. (oops, there i identified them...doesn't really matter....) Seems they over-withhold $ from my last check. I whacked myself in the head for not catching that myself. But am happy to have that check now.

In the month of February I made $106 from online surveys. (Patting myself on the back.) All in all, income exceeded expenses. Being unemployed, this has become my new measure of fiscal fitness.

I'm also happy to report that my total investments surpassed the half million mark. First time ever. It may have since dropped after all the unrest in Libya, but anyway, that's a new watermark. So I'm rich in savings, broke in terms of current income. Strange.