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Archive for June, 2011

Ahh, June was a great money month

June 29th, 2011 at 01:52 pm

I added up my June income a day early. It was a great money month. Great, considering I don't have a full-time job, or even a regular part-time one. Here's how I grossed $3,790 this month.

Net unemployment: $2,178.
Yeah, this was still the lion's share, and it was also basically a five-week month.
Freelance writing: $1,218. Wow. I never make close to this but this includes the chemical distributor website copy, an advance on my book editing, and two real estate copywriting assignments.
Marketing focus group: $100. The subject was household cleaning products, but they always overbook to ensure they have enough people and they ended up not calling my name. They still paid me and I'm free to do another one real soon.
Product testing: $120. This was the one where I sat around in a small room with a bunch of middle-aged women testing a new moisturizer on our legs/arms and enjoying complimentary lunch. There are worse ways to make money.
Online surveys: $115. It requires a month long effort to earn this kind of money doing those online surveys, usually at least an hour a day.
Medical study at Yale: $48 net. This was a computer-based study on emotions.
Other: Got credit for some stuff at the grocery store: $11

My expenses this month were mostly very reasonable. Groceries were out of control, though, at $285 for just me! The only other non-regular expense was $80 for my annual landfill sticker and $165 in borough taxes.

I'm going to do my darnedest to produce a repeat performance in July!

Oh, and I'll be getting a free color and haircut at local hair salon just for being a secret shopper. I picked up the gift certificate today from the owner.

And there's a complimentary dinner at local Italian restaurant hosted by an asset management company looking for new clients. I had cancelled my attendance when i learned my neighbor couldn't go with me. I'm still mulling over whether I should call them back and go alone.

Meanwhile, "real" salaried jobs with benefits that I am qualified to apply for seem to be in very short supply.

Today I started Day 1 of a nutrition study at UConn that will continue through year's end. It's a long commitment! I have to keep a very detailed food diary and exercise diary, wear an exercise monitor around my waist except when in the shower or asleep, collect ALL my pee for certain 24-hour periods and make a few trips to the UConn campus. I'll get my first payment of about $100 at my first appointment there a week from today. Total payment will be $500 at completion.

Yesterday I met the grad student research assistant at a local diner in town as she was returning to Connecticut with her boyfriend from New Jersey and passing right by my town, so her willingness to meet me there, to give me all my instructions/supplies, saved me (and her) extra driving trips.

Enjoyed a delicious "Taco Night" dinner at my friend Frank's last night. We're supposed to walk with his dog tomorrow morning.

Surprise, surprise

June 26th, 2011 at 07:19 pm

As I wrote on my nature/gardening blog, you never know what's going to show up in my yard. This morning, I was up quite early, around 5:30 am. A short time later, as I ate my morning breakfast cereal, I caught sight of movement just outside the kitchen window.

It hurried on by over the blue stone footpath that runs along the north side of the house, just 5 feet or so from my home.

A gray fox! I've only seen fox a handful of times here in the past 15 years, and they've always been red foxes at that. So this was quite a special sighting. He was gone in a flash.

In other news, I began editing the novelist's book. I can see it's going to take me several weeks to do. There's quite a bit of editing. She doesn't always use complete sentences. I suppose that might be all right if you chalked it up to one's own unique "style," here and there, but I don't think it should be so prevalent throughout the entire story.

So it's just stuff like that. The picture I am getting is that while she says the stories just flow out of her effortlessly, she's more of a story teller than a writer, because when it comes to the nitty gritty of working with the English language, she doesn't seem that interested in getting it right. I think she's more interested in telling the story.

Although I'm getting paid a flat rate, I'm keeping track of time spent on it anyway because I want to see what it would work out to based on actual time spent. It could come out to very little!

Mowed the grass today and came upon the smallish toad I saw hopping about the other day, so I gave him wide berth.

Did some grocery shopping this morning. That was my Sunday.

Living in the Free World

June 24th, 2011 at 02:32 pm

Yesterday morning I washed up with the free bar of Dial I was given to prep my legs for product testing lotion with Unilever. Then I brushed my teeth, using the free tube of Tom's of Maine I was given to use prior to answering a Pinecone survey.

Yesterday i sat around for 5 hours doing the lotion product testing ($120). It was a smallish room with about 15 women in it. They fed us a nice freelunch (chicken parmesan). I met 2 nice women there my age, and exchanged contact info with one of them. We seemed to have some things in common.

This morning I met with the author I last saw over the winter and she gave me an advance of the first third ($333) of my payment for editing her first book. She has already written the 2nd book AND is well into the third. She says the stories just pour out of her. We met at a local coffee shop and talked for an hour or so about her books, her characters, menopause, veterinary prices, contractors, etc., then I headed for Costco, where I forgot to buy half the stuff I went there for.

Aside from that, I managed to do nothing the rest of the day except make a pitcher of iced tea and read the weekly paper. I'm telling you, if it's lousy weather, my energy level is the same.

One of the things I was supposed to do, but didn't, was run over to a local high-end salon in town and pick up a (free) gift certificate to get a cut and color, in exchange for answering a survey about their services. they advertised for secret shoppers on Craig's List. (Amazing what you can find on CL.). I called and he explained how it works to me, although it still sounds a little too good to be true. It's basically first come, first serve, and they do it for 2 months each year, he said. They must be hurting for business, and maybe this is a way to try to get back people who could become regular customers, and at the same time really find out why others are no longer customers. (A lot of people might not say if they weren't happy with the cut.) So anyway, I plan to go 1st thing tomorrow or I may lose out.

On Monday night, the research assistant I'll be working with on the nutrition study will be driving back to CT from visiting her boyfriend in NJ, so she said she could meet me in my town at a diner off the highway, since it's on her way home. It will save me one driving trip of the 14 total I'll be expected to make during the next 6 months. So that is great, it cuts down on my gas bill which will eat into my reimbursement for the study. I sure hope she sees her boyfriend often!

Mom's coming over tomorrow a.m. for some lettuce from the garden.

There was a craig's list ad for a job i could tell i wasn't quite qualified to do, but what attracted my interest was that it was right in my hometown, and my hometown is hardly the jobs mecca. So I decided to email the guy after viewing his YouTube ad where he talks about what kind of job candidate he wanted. It's an Internet start-up. He emphasized they are a small (10) group of young people, some of it is family, and no one is over 35, so you should be young or not mind working with young people. He also said the first interview would be done via Skype and that if you don't have Skype, you're probably not the kind of person they want. I found it all a bit offensive, especially the age thing, but i decided to email him saying if you ever need a writer for those websites, I'm just over the hill from you on the other side of so and so farm, and included my resume.

He actually responded and said they DID need a web writer and he was going to post that job but didn't get a chance to. But that it was for a different website and would i be interested and let's talk. I wrote back and said yes, i was interested but didn't have skype, how about next week, and i haven't heard from him since. Wierd. I guess I'm not too broken up about it. Even among 20-somethings, I don't think Skype is something a ton of people have.

But anyway, looking forward to getting started book editing on Monday. It will add some real depth to my resume. The work keeps coming my way, but not the permanent kind.

More on my money-making ventures

June 21st, 2011 at 06:05 pm

Today I turned in the press release I was working on yesterday after getting sign offs from 3 people I quoted (the sales director for this particular community and 2 happy new homeowners who bought there).

Exchanged a few more emails with the grad student coordinating the nutrition study that I plan to participate in. It took repeated questions to get her to answer plainly how many trips to UConn would be required, but I finally got it out of her. It's a 6-month study and during that time it would be 4 trips up there and another 10 where we could meet somewhere halfway, for her to give me various supplies.

So that's a lot of driving, 14 trips in all. UConn is 1.5 hours away from me and the meet-you-halfway trip will be half that, obviously. So, knowing I average 38 miles per gallon in my car and that today I can buy gas for $3.99 a gallon, I used MapQuest to calculate mileage and I determined that my total gas cost for participating in this study would be $138. They'll pay me $500, and they pay it in increments as you go along, so if for some reason you had to drop out of the study, you'd still receive partial payment. So I'll net $362. I guess it's worth it, altho it's added wear and tear on my car, of course.

This a.m. I dropped off the consent form at my primary care doc's office. I put it in a sealed envelope along with a brief note telling him about the study and asking him to sign it for me. I brought it to the office, gave it to the nurse and verbally explained what it was. I was annoyed becus she proceeded to open it up when it wasn't addressed to her, but i guess she was used to doing that with their mail.

I had hoped I could return later today to pick it up with his signature, but she said, no, you should be able to get it on Thursday. Actually, she initially said i might need to make an appointment with him just to have him sign it! And what, make me pay for it? I was about ready to have a meltdown. I've only been going there for 15 years. Anyway, she called tonight and said it was ready for pickup tomorrow.

I also stopped in at the library to pick up a book to read when I spend 5 hours hanging around doing product testing with lotion on my arms and legs tomorrow in a different study testing a new moisturizer. They don't allow you to leave, and no laptops, so it's either read or talk. They do feed you, though.

I returned the phone call of someone who called me after I answered a very vague Craig's List job ad, something to do with helping people budget and handle their money. They were looking for teachers, but since I've written about this stuff for a living and have a strong personal interest in it, I thought I'd look into it. Turns out it was Primerica Financial Services. She wanted to schedule an interview with me, but I told her I'd get back to her. For some reason, I had a hunch, or maybe in the back of my mind I recalled something sketchy I'd heard about the company, and sure enough, an easy Google search revealed all sorts of bad commentary on their business model, it being a pyramid scheme that depends on constantly recruiting people (like me), etc. I don't plan to call her back.

Otherwise, I did start mowing the front lawn but didn't do any other yard work as it was uncomfortably warm today.

I picked more lettuce for another large salad (my 5th using homegrown greens) and had that for dinner with toasted walnuts and tomatoes, plus a pork chop, and to top it off, a Trader Joe's cannoli, which I'm hooked on now. (They're in the freezer section.)For something that tastes so good, they're a relatively healthy dessert, given that the cream is actually cheese and it's very low in sugar. And no artificial sweeteners, of course. They're a fairly small serving, so it's instant portion control, too.

Accolades for me

June 20th, 2011 at 04:48 am

Purely by accident, I learned yesterday that a sales brochure I'd written had won an award in 2010 by my state's Home Builders Association!

I was perusing an issue of the group's online magazine and spotted mention of it there. My real estate client neglected to tell me this!

This is going on my resume and Linked In profile. It shows that I can produce stellar copy, even when I'm working freelance.

In other news, I had a nice talk with Dad yesterday and he reminded me that it's blueberry-picking time in New Jersey and that we could go kayaking. I could definitely use a "holiday," so I'm watching the weather forecast and looking for a 2-day period during the week free of rain, humidity or thunderstorms. Looks like this ain't gonna happen anytime this week or next. We seem to have a long string of days with frequent thunderstorms.

July is wine berry picking time here in my backyard (!) so my trip may overlap somewhat, but it'll just be 2 days.

Not much else going on. Yesterday I continued pulling out rampantly growing Virginia creeper that's making a mess of my pachysandra beds. I'm not a fan of either, but the pachysandra looks much tidier when the Virginia creeper isn't in there.

The veggie garden is coming along quite nicely, although the cucumbers, snap peas, string beans and Swiss chard are probably a bit behind where they should be for this time. The Swiss chard in particular took an awfully long time to come up and is still quite small. Tomato plants are growing gangbusters and have a few small, yellow blossoms, the broccoli is looking surprisingly good with little bug damage, something that deterred me from trying broccoli in the past and of course the lettuce is in its prime. I'm out there every day, and with a nice blanket of grass clippings, weeds are under control.

I'm calling University of Connecticut today about a nutrition study I may qualify for. It's a long drive up there so i don't think I'd do it if the pay was less than $75. I already calculated my gas costs based on the distance. $18.04 for 1 round trip, and I see it's a 6-month long study.

June shaping up to be a great $$$ month

June 17th, 2011 at 11:59 am

I can already tell that my June income will be very nice. Well, "very nice" is a relative term....certainly not what full-time income should be, but considering my lack of a regular job, not too bad.

I was paid $885 for freelance work (4 jobs), I made $71 thus far in June on online surveys, $100 from a market research focus group and $50 from a Yale study on emotions. Add that to my unemployment and I will have more than covered my monthly expenses. Phew.

What's nice is that when i showed up for the market research focus group, they didn't call my name. (They always recruit extras, in case there are no-shows.) So they still paid me, but I didn't have to stay for the 2-hour focus group, PLUS I'm able to participate in another focus group right away, instead of waiting 5-6 months.

Today I finished ghost-writing a story for CT Builder Magazine, for my client, on what's going on in the housing market, at the state and national levels. It was fairly difficult to do because there was so much to cover: foreclosures, distressed sales, the jobs situation, etc., but my client wanted me to put a "positive spin" on it, which I was able to do with background info he provided. (Average prices for single family homes in my county actually increased by 15%, though number of units sold was down statewide.)

This morning I traveled to qualify for a different kind of study, this one doing product testing on a new skin lotion. Today they looked at the skin on my arms and legs and then i go back next week for 1 more visit where i have to sit in their room (they feed you breakfast and lunch) for 5 hours with lotion on my arms and legs. Then I collect $120. But you can't talk on a phone or use a laptop in this room, which you can't leave except to use the bathroom, so all you can really do to pass the time is read or talk to people there.

I'm not positive I'll be able to do the study. She said my skin didn't look that dry, and that's what they're looking for. She said, well, it's raining, so I'll pre-qualify you again when you come back. If I don't qualify next week, then I guess i only get $25. My gas for going there and back 1 time is roughly 20 miles, so I figure that's about $5 worth of gas. I get about 36-38 mpg. Hmm, maybe I'll put some retin A on my arms and legs.

Got another email from the local book author who sounds like she's ready to have me start editing her first book. I'm meeting her at a local coffee shop next week to get the thumb drive, and my advance retainer.Cool!

So unlike large portions of my jobless past, the work seems to be rolling in fairly steadily. I hate having too much to do at once, so I like to have one thing to work on at a time, and then look for the next project, and that's exactly the way work has been falling into my lap.

A recruiter called me about 2 jobs. One was a contract job (4-5 mths) for an RFP writer for a financial services firm. I have no experience doing RFPs (Request for Proposals), so I'm pretty sure that will go nowhere.

The other job was working as a web content writer for an insurance firm about an hour's drive from here. I initially didn't consider it becus of the low pay ($20-something an hour) but then changed my mind because it's certainly better than nothing, but by the time I called her next day, the window of opportunity had already closed.

Went kayaking today...

June 13th, 2011 at 01:29 pm

You can see my pix and story here:
http://owlhollownews.blogspot.com/2011/06/paddling-housatonic-and-naugatuck.html

My arms and shoulders are so tired. I was paddling for two-and-a-half hours!

Friday's Accomplishments

June 10th, 2011 at 05:06 pm

1. Vacuumed the downstairs
2. Mowed the back lawn
3. Put the 1st coat of clear shellac on the wood threshold by my kitchen door.
4. Scraped, sanded and caulked above kitchen door, in preparation for painting. This was damage caused by winter ice dams in the gutters.
5. Made some cereal.
6. Sent invoices to 2 clients, including the web developer guy, based on your input! (Got a check for $95 from a client in the mail today.)

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading my local paper tonight. It covers exactly one town (mine!) and has 3 sections and is extra wide. I'm convinced this is the winning model in an industry that is seeing newspapers go out of business left and right. It's the model used by Patch online, micro-coverage of single towns.

I picked some lettuce from the garden and enjoyed a salad, also made another salad with chick peas, chopped cucumber, feta cheese and cherry tomatoes with a salad dressing poured over it.

I also ran out to a local garden nursery/gift shop that's sadly going out of business. They had a 75% off everything sale but it was extremely picked over. I bought nothing. On the way home, I used a coupon at Dunkin Donuts good for a free frozen hot chocolate.

Tonight I'll be watching Slumdog Millionaire on DVD.

That's all, folks!

Is this guy trying to rip me off?

June 9th, 2011 at 07:38 am

A while back, I found a web developer on Craig's List who was looking for a writer he could work with, on an ongoing, periodic basis, to write content for websites he was hired to build for different clients.

We discussed his current need, a website he was building for a small chemical distributorship. We went back and forth over my price, and eventually he said he wanted to work with me.

So on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I met "J" for the first time in the parking lot of the client's location. We went in together and I interviewed the client about his business for about an hour, using J's laptop to type my notes. He then emailed my notes to me, and I told him I'd start work that evening, a holiday weekend, and likely have it to him in a few days.

When we met, he gave me an advance deposit in the amount of $300, a check which hasn't bounced. The agreement was that I would bill him for the balance, which would probably be another $250 to $300, when the job was done. I presumed this to include any possible changes the client might want to make.

So I sent J. my copy 3 days later, on the following Monday (still during the holiday weekend!) and he said he would drop my copy into the site he had built and then said he'd send it to the client for review; this would take a day or two, he estimated.

I waited a week, then emailed him June 3, asking if he'd gotten any feedback from the client. To my surprise, he said he hadn't done the work yet or sent it to the client, but expected to do so in the next day or two.

This morning, 6 days later, I again checked in with J., asking if he'd gotten feedback/review from the client. He again said he was still working on it, but should be able to do finish in a day or two, without any further explanation.

I'm beginning to feel anxious that this guy could be using this as a tactic to brush me off and avoid paying me the balance of what he owes me. Or maybe I shouldn't assume that other people share my work ethic, but it's been not quite 2 full weeks since we met with the client. My feeling is that it's always best to do the work as quickly as possible in case the client changes their mind about something, and simply because the sooner you finish, the sooner you get paid.

I've saved most of the emails I've exchanged with J. which indicate we agreed to move forward and the estimated time I said it would take, so I think I'm covered if I had to pursue this guy in small claims court.

I just don't understand why this guy could be taking so long. A little hard to believe he's so busy with other projects that he hasn't had time to do what i would have to think is the easy part, after building a website from scratch, of just dropping in text and sending off to the client.

Since he again said he'd do the work in a day or two, I'm thinking I may wait until Wednesday of next week, and then send him my invoice for the balance of what he owes me, with a note saying that if the client subsequently has changes he wants to make to the copy, I will do that, but that I am sending him my bill for work completed.

Am I jumping the gun? Should I wait longer? I mean, I made an effort to do my part very quickly, on a holiday weekend, and here this guy has still failed to do his end of it after almost 2 weeks time.

Temptations resisted

June 9th, 2011 at 02:55 am

We're talking small potatoes here, folks, but when you're underemployed, every dollar counts.

For years, I subscribed to Better Home & Garden, a mag I've always liked. I let it go a few years ago. I received a subscription offer that was hard to pass up, the kind of thing I wouldn't think twice about doing were I working full-time: a full year for $5.99.

I let it sit on my desk while I mulled it over, but in the end, I trashed it.

After that, I got the AAA newspaper that reminded me I can get 20% off Payless shoes. It's a brand I'm embarrassed to admit even considering. It's mostly all plastic and fake leather from China. I thought I'd just go and browse, since it's in the same plaza as the bank. I found a cute pair of slip on, laceless sneakers, something I've wanted for a while but can't seem to find. They were just $12.99, for gosh sakes, and of course they have the buy 1, get the 2nd at 1/2 price off. I came very close to buying just the one pair of shoes, but then I realized the 20% AAA discount wouldn't apply to a sale item, so I walked out the store before the very encouraging sales manager saw me leave.

Spending averted!

Retrospective on a friendship

June 7th, 2011 at 03:36 am

My old friend informs me he will now live to be 80. That's a big improvement, since for the last few years, ever since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he's been telling me he's going to die an early death, probably within the next 5 years.

We got together yesterday to walk on a new riverwalk in a blue collar town in between him and me. (I was passing through the area driving back home from a medical study at Yale, so it was convenient.)

I woke up this morning ruminating about our visit, and I realized that something was different about this time. Meaning, it was a pleasant visit, through and through.

My friend has always been an extremely argumentative kind of person, the kind of person who would have been president of your high school's debating team. He's combative, loves to drag you into arguments over politics and often seems to relish challenging people.

There were any number of times, after a get-together with my friend over the years, that I kind of grit my teeth, shook my head and profusely thanked myself for having the good sense not to marry this guy many years ago when I fell in love with him.

It's one of the reasons I broke up with him over 25 years ago when we were dating. We just got into too many arguments.

Even getting together as friends, he has this way of controlling situations, making me very aware that he is controlling the conversation by steering it toward certain topics and watching the clock so that our visit ends at a certain time. Nothing is left to chance! It certainly never helped that he's a Republican and I'm a Democrat; he would often bait me with inflammatory comments, which I've long ago learned to ignore.

But, like most people, he's got many sides. People are not black and white, they are many shades of gray. Despite the impression you may have gotten from what I've written just now, he's a very good person. I was initially attracted to him because aside from his extremely handsome good looks when he was younger, he was also very, very smart and had a great sense of humor. Although he has no children, he was always very devoted to family and especially to his 2 nieces, who lacked a father figure in their life. He's a great piano/organ player, and would love to wow strangers in a hotel lobby or some other public place by sitting down at the keyboard and launching into some tune. He also was fluent in several languages, which proved very helpful when we traveled to Europe together at least 3 times. He's also extremely outgoing and can quickly put people he's never met at ease with a quick joke.

I remember one time at the end of a long vacation abroad and disembarking from a European flight in New York, my friend broke out singing "My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty..." as we walked with the rest of the passengers from the plane to the airport terminal. He somehow captured the sentiment most of the other passengers were feeling, that glad-to-be-home feeling. People turned around to look at him and laughed. He loved that kind of attention.

So we've remained friends for all these years. But his sunny disposition changed for the worse in more recent years after his wife left him, not once, but twice (meaning, she left him, she insisted they divorce, which they did, then they reconciled, eventually remarried, and then she left him again). Left him with no warning, becus she apparently couldn't stand his controlling behavior either. There was lots of therapy involved, and anti-depressants for him, and all-around very trying times.

Then he got prostate cancer, and she had a life-threatening medical issue that's left her now on permanent disability and with chronic health problems. He stuck with her; I'd say she's extremely lucky to have him. He goes to BJs and buys her groceries, takes her to her doctor's appointments, and is whisking her off for a few days in Newport Rhode Island next week, although they live completely apart, she in her condo and he in hers. Those are her wishes, not his.

My friend had some cutting-edge laser surgery for his cancer. He sued his insurer (representing himself) to get coverage for the procedure, and won. But the surgery didn't work, and now he's on a medication to keep the cancer in check. His doc said it will eventually start losing its effectiveness in about 3 years, and after that they'll have to turn to another medication, but there aren't many other medications right now they can use. So he needs to hope that something new will come down the pike.

But anyway, according to my friend's new calculations, he will now live to be 80. This, despite the fact that his father, age 94, is still alive and kicking; they regularly play golf together.

So I'm relieved to see that my friend is sounding a little less morbid when we get together. He had earlier told me in great detail how he was disposing of his assets in his estate when he dies. I kept warning him that he shouldn't give away too much money while he's still alive because he may surprise himself and live longer. (See, there is a money thread here.) He has a niece he dotes on, and has given a lot of money to.

But anyway, getting back to what struck me this morning, I realized that in yesterday's visit, it was a kinder, gentler R. He wasn't argumentative, combative or controlling the way he's always been.

I wonder now if it's this drug he's taking for the prostate cancer. It contains female hormones that make him put on weight, but it could also be mellowing him out. Or maybe, given his new, self-proclaimed life expectancy calculations, he's relaxed a little because he realizes he's got another 15+ years. Or maybe he's relaxing a bit simply due to the passage of time, something I observed in other older males like my own father.....all the fire and brimstone of their earlier years gives way to a more sensitive, less testosterone-driven person. Or maybe because he's finally come to terms with the new reality of his 2nd marriage to the same woman, although they live apart and maintain a platonic-style relationship that centers on time spent sharing their dog and occasional getaways to places like Newport or Maine.

Whatever the reason, I really like it.

The Newspaper Coupon Contest is Over (I think)

June 6th, 2011 at 03:34 pm

OK, this past Sunday marked Week 2 of my Newspaper Coupon Contest. I think it's over, and if so, that means JustErica was right!

But I'm not sure I'm doing it right. In the Sunday circulars, I clipped a coupon for a bottle of fish oil, on sale for $10, plus you get $10 in Reward points.

Being out of work, i wouldn't normally be buying fish oil (it's not on the "permitted" list), but i bought it today since I'd get $10 in "cash" to spend at Walgreens. So it would appear I already paid for the newspaper subscription ($10 for the year) by getting the $10 in Walgreen's "cash."

But wait. I'm reading the coupon and it says, "Save $10 off your next in-store purchase over the value of coupon." So umm, does that mean I have to first spend $10 and then I get to apply the coupon for the next $10? For example, buy a $20 item and get it for $10?

Or does it just mean that I can buy a $10 item for free? I'm confused! (doesn't take much) Could someone who knows how Walgreen's rewards work please explain?

If it means I have to spend an extra $10 just to be able to use the $10 in savings, I don't consider that much of a deal at all, because it's making me spend in order to "save."

Today was a longish day. Left the house at 9:45 am and got to Yale for a 2-hour series of mostly computer exercises on my emotions and how I handle them. Walked out with $50 traveler's check (I guess they don't like to keep cash there), so net of gas to get there and feeding the meter, I netted about $40.

Stopped at Big Lots on way home but didn't buy anything cus I didn't think the prices were anything special and they didn't have Pepperidge Farm bread there. "Treated" myself at McDonald's cus i was starving. Passed a gas station with gas at $3.95 a gallon and I SHOULD HAVE STOPPED TO FILL UP, BUT DIDN'T. Dumb. Prices back home are about $4.16 a gallon.

Arrived at new riverwalk and killed an hour in oven-like car waiting for my friend Ron to show at appointed time, getting way more sun than I am used to getting. We did a shortish walk on a nice enough, paved urban-style river trail (aka "gritty"), but i did learn where a boat ramp is where I could put my kayak in. It's in a little bit of a down at the heels town, but he thinks it's safe enough in the daytime.

We drove around a little where he showed me various things, since this is near where he lives, then I headed home a different way and hit 2 different Walgreen's I passed by.

A very special visitor....the legless kind

June 3rd, 2011 at 04:51 pm

Yes, I am talking about that critter that makes many people squirm....a s-n-a-k-e.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen a snake in my 15 years here, but this morning, as I trudged up the side yard with my wheelbarrow, I caught sight of a rather large (large for a garter snake) snake catching the morning rays near my stone wall. It didn't move, and I kept moving.

About an hour later, I decided to check on it and possibly take its picture for you folks, but I was disappointed to find it gone.

I figured it had moved on, but later this afternoon, I caught sight of it again, just a foot or two from where I originally saw it. I went to the house for my 1. camera and 2. binoculars.

I watched incredulous as a really dumb chipmunk approached it on top of the stone wall. He seemed unsure whether the snake was real. The snake was frozen still but it had its head raised. I wondered if a snake of this size could kill and eat a chipmunk, which is considerably larger than, say, the many mice around here.

The chipmunk froze, then had the good sense to jump down off the stone wall; it ran into a crevice in the wall; I think he lives in there somewhere as I often see it in the vicinity.

I continued watching the snake through the binoculars (from the safety of inside my garage, looking through the window), but the snake didn't move at all, so after a time, I lost interest and went on with doing doing something else. About a half hour later I again went to look at the snake, and again, the disappearing act. Darn.

I'm very happy to have a snake in the yard; to me, it's an indicator i have a healthy environment here.

Still, I admit I'm feeling a little squeamish about doing any gardening in that area. I sure don't want to reach into any tall weeds with my hand and uncover a snake. And now I'm worried about possibly running over it with the lawnmower.

The other garters I've seen in my yard have been small, about a foot long and the diameter of a pencil, to give you an idea. I couldn't tell how long this one was, but its diameter was considerably larger, like maybe 3 pencils together.

I'm at a bit of a lull in the freelance work. True to his nature, the client who had said he would call me yesterday to discuss some work he wants me to do never called, and he didn't call today, either.

I checked in with the web developer to see if he'd gotten feedback from the chemical company client about the website copy I'd written, and I was surprised to learn from the web developer that he hadn't even finished dropping the copy into the website he'd designed, so he hadn't sent it to the client yet! When I talked to him Monday, he said he would do so in a day or two. Apparently, he's either busy with other stuff or a bit of a procrastinator.

And neither the real estate agent or the builder for whom i wrote a bio for a sales brochure got back to me with any feedback.

So for all those reasons, I turned to doing yardwork all morning; it was a glorious weather day, a bit breezy, sunny and a high of 72 or so.

I did manage to book a 2-hour study at Yale for this Monday. Just answering questions on emotions or something. It pays $50. Since I know my car gets about 36 mpg,the trip to Yale is about 27 miles and gas is going for something over $4 now, I calculate my gas there and back will cost about $8, or 2 gallons of gas, plus I'll have to feed the meter. Can't remember how much, but I'm guessing maybe $2 for 2 hours, so my net will be just $40. Hey, I'm not working, so it helps.

Since I'll be out that way, I can stop at the Big Lots on the way home, and possibly meet a friend for a walk who lives out that way, too. Big Lots has cheap Pepperidge Farm bread that I can freeze.

I also committed to doing another focus group, this one on cleaning products, the week after next. It's about a 40-minute ride and pays $100 for 2 hours.

In response to someone's comment on an earlier post about focus groups, yeah, there are a handful of focus group companies here. They tend to be around urban areas, and probably not something you'd find much in a rural area. I live in Fairfield County, a pretty affluent area, and so there is one I'm aware of in the Hartford area, another one in Fairfield and one in Westchester County, and they're all doing focus groups on an ongoing basis. You're not usually permitted to do them more frequently than 1 every 6 months, so it's nice to have several to rotate among. And yes, Yale does a lot of studies. These are all just things I've discovered in my quest to earn a little money. I also recently discovered a place close by that does clinical trials. They're doing one for menopausal hot flashes, but after talking to her I decided I was not comfortable taking a drug that I won't know anything about. I would have been more comfortable in the study they did on aspirin, but that study's done now. I'll have to keep an eye on their website and see what else comes along.

There were a couple of better paying studies I didn't qualify for: one was an all day focus group talking about social issues that would have paid $250, but they had filled all the spots in my age group. Yale was doing a study that paid $1400 (!!) but it required 4 overnight stays in a month's time plus frequent visits, and it's too far away for me to consider doing that. For the overnight stays, you'd have to be there at 7 a.m. and couldn't leave til 10 a.m. the following day. You had to stay on premises, and,not having a laptop, I can't imagine what i would do to keep busy that length of time.

I got $23 in checks in the mail today from Toluna and Pinecone.

I got some poison ivy on both forearms; it's not the worst case I've had, but it's itchy. I rely on a product called Tecnu. If you think you've been exposed to poison ivy and wash the affected skin with this lotion and COLD water as soon as possible, it can prevent your getting the rash, or at least reduce the severity, becus it washes away the oil that causes the rash. I washed my left arm cus i saw when i accidentally brushed my arm with some of the stuff i pulled up, but even so, i ended up with poison ivy on both arms.

I figured the house wrens in my 2 bluebird boxes had fledged their young and thought i would clean out the old nest so another pair could nest again this season. I took a gardening spade to lift out the nest. Imagine my surprise as I pulled the nest out and peered in to find a fairly large bird sitting there. I assume it was a baby not yet fledged, although it was big enough that I would think it should any day now. I tried to return the nest to the box, but I had pulled it out so far that it did not fit neatly back inside, and I sort of had to jam it back in. I was afraid of hurting the wren sitting inside, so I didn't jam it in too hard, but becus of that, I couldn't close the door fully. So the hinged door is partly open at the bottom maybe an inch. I don't think it really makes much difference and I believe the bird is still safe inside, but i do hope it fledges very soon. It's supposed to rain all next week and I suppose it might get a bit more wet than it would have otherwise, but I don't think that will hurt it either. I feel guilty for having interfered with it before the nest was vacant. I hadn't seen much activity near the box so i figured the coast was clear. Have to be more careful next time!

The young 'uns are coming along

June 2nd, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I'm talking about my vegetable garden, of course.
That's it, the fence-in area in the background.

This is actually my front yard, which is much bigger than the back yard. I chose to put the garden in here because it gets much more sun.


Tomato plants (there are 8 of them....cherry, beefsteak and roma seedless) look pretty good. They're staked and hooped and I'm just waiting for the little yellow flowers.


Lettuce: I planted more lettuce (3 rows) than I ever have before, mainly because I had the seed, I guess. It's looking good, but pretty small, not ready for picking. Some of the seed was left over from last year, so the germination rate, as you can see, was ot 100%.


Broccoli: Umm, some plants look better than others, which are riddled with insect bites already.

Bell peppers and string beans: These look worst of all! I mean, how easy are string beans? But both have been attacked by insects quite a bit. I planted another row of string beans just to ensure myself of harvesting something should the first planting not make it.

Today I planted snow peas, somewhat late, I know, but they grow quickly.


After chalking it up as a "miss," I see my Swiss chard, some of it anyway, is actually coming up. Very, very tiny.

There's one potato plant coming up and looking healthy, from a potato tuber in the ground that I missed last year, apparently.


I squeezed in some zucchini and acorn squash; the seedlings look very healthy at this point, though it's just the first two leaves.


Cucumber seedlings are up also, and i planted a few more seeds after seeing that 2 of the 3 hills only had 1 seedling up.


Egyptian walking onions are thriving; I actually pulled up one plant cus they were "walking" a bit too far! I tried slicing up one of the stalks just the other day and it added the expected oniony flavor to some coleslaw I made. They don't have much of a bulb, but you can east the flowers and stalks, which are quite a bit thicker, with a hollow inside, than a chive.

I have chives, too, but use them infrequently in cooking.


I love to make my own pesto in summer, so I planted four pots with basil. They're coming up, but they're very tiny.

That's about all I could fit in the fenced garden. I love growing my own food. Maybe there's still time to plant some corn??

Elsewhere in the garden, the peonies are in bloom.



This boxwood is three years old. I was sitting in the little Contemplation Park at the Episcopal church and snipped off a one-inch piece of boxwood from an established shrub there. i dipped it in rooting hormone and planted it. Voila! It's barely a foot tall now and I can't bring myself to start shearing it to shape it. Pretty soon, little friend. I only regret not planting a dozen more cuttings at the same time.


This is the area under the canopy of a large white pine in the yard that I recently cleared out. It always looks so messy and unkempt due to the variety of weeds that grow there. There's always been some poison ivy there, lots of wild garlic mustard and this spring I pulled out tons of Virginia creeper. Eventually i hope to have those ferns encircle the whole area under the pine.

A woman's work is never done.

My posts here have become so one-sided these days...

June 1st, 2011 at 05:10 pm

Sorry, but more discussion on my work life.

The freelance work continues to dribble in more steadily than before. Which is nice, as I've done absolutely nada to promote myself.

Here's a status update of what's cooking:

I wrapped up the website copy for the chemical distributorship and sent it in on Monday; hoping to get some client feedback this week from the web developer who hired me. Hopefully it will be favorable and will require zero edits.

Today I wrote two pieces that will form part of a sales brochure for a new condo in a certain shoreline town in Connecticut. It was interesting to do because the renovated building was built in the 1800s as a private school, made of the same granite that was used to form the base of the Statue of Liberty. So it has some historical interest, plus the units are absolutely posh. Too bad they weren't more in my price range at over $700K.

Briefly spoke to my VP client at same real estate company; he wants me to do some promotional work for him, though he wasn't too clear and will call me back tomorrow as he was driving. It could mean updating his bio and doing a press release on something.

Also tomorrow I'm going to try contacting the builder of the condos at the stone schoolhouse and interview him so i can write up the builder bio, which will go in the same brochure.

Today I responded to 3 Craig's List ads posted by Yale University for people to participate in various studies. I don't always qualify, but I did a few last year. The pay varies, depending on how much trouble or how invasive the study is. One of the studies I applied for today requires 4 separate overnight stays and a full day (ie, 7 a.m. to 10 am the next day) at Yale in a single month; but they pay $1400. Not sure yet what's involved, but it's not a medical study. There was also something involving a Hartford area focus group (an all-day thing) that paid $250, so i applied for that as well.

Otherwise, it's stifling hot and muggy here. Connecticut apparently narrowly missed being hit by tornados, while 2 caused a lot of damage just north of the border in the Springfield, MA area. The next few days are supposed to be super nice.

I've been trying to trim Luther's long fur to help him keep cool, but he gets annoyed when I try to cut his hair. I do a little at a time, and then he runs off. Just like last year, I'm collecting his fur in a plastic bag, just to keep track of how much I'm cutting off. It's more or less like trying to shear a sheep, one that bites. His fur is incredibly thick.