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Home > Archive: September, 2011

Archive for September, 2011

Friday Doings

September 30th, 2011 at 05:08 pm

Started off the day right, by taking a walk with The Author, in town, in a space that was both remote and open at the same time, where I had never been.

It's state-owned property, near the center of town.

The Author asked me if I wanted to go bike-riding sometime and look at all the old Victorian homes along the Connecticut coastline. Yes, count me in! She's leaving for NC next week, but she said when she comes back. We probably have one good month of decent bike-riding weather left.

I plan to re-start editing her book this weekend.

So far I'm pretty happy with some of my Aldi's purchases. Like the Italian waffle-like, wafer-thin chocolate cookies. Very good, not sugary sweet, and good with a cup of tea.

The bread seems decent, too. Whole wheat, no fructose corn syrup. It might be worth heading up there if I buy 4 or 5 loaves at a time, to freeze.

I mowed the back lawn today, so I get double exercise points.

Yesterday, and today for lunch, I made a delicious meal with farro, an ancient grain I never had before. It's very much like extra large barley. If you like the chewiness of barley, you'll like farro. I sauteed up some onions, broccoli and peas with a black bean sauce and toasted walnuts. Pretty simple, yet tasty.

For the 3rd consecutive month, my expenses exceed income. I'm not happy about that. This month, it was my $600 sewer bill that is largely to blame. Later this year, I know the same thing will happen with my $800+ homeowners insurance.

It was also not a great month for income, either. My unemployment benefits have shrunk. For some reason, I only made $46 from online surveys. And there were no focus groups, just $40 made from product testing. Only made $135 from freelance writing.

I did sign up for an October focus group on pasta, which will pay either $65 or $100, depending on whether I'm asked to stay.

Tomorrow I'm going to the Lutheran Church fair. And then maybe to watch the al fresco group yoga in the park. I remember loving to watch the t'chi in San Francisco's Chinatown years ago when I was there.

I enjoyed my free dinner at the money manager's dinner presentation on "the death of 'buy and hold.'" I was surprised that he left after giving his talk and left us to finish our meals (on him) on our own. There were only about 8 of us there. I had chicken piccata, string beans and mashed potatoes.

Unimpressed by Aldi's

September 29th, 2011 at 07:00 pm

OK, so friend and I headed out this morning to check out the new Aldi's about 25 minutes north of here. It was their Grand Opening celebration.

I have to say I was somewhat unimpressed after hearing so many good things about this store.

First, it was quite small for a grocery store. Most of their brands were their store brands. Don't know if they're all like this or not, but to my best recollection, they only have like 5 rows. So not a huge selection. And it was pretty crowded in those aisles.

But my main gripe is that by and large they had all packaged and processed foods. And they had no organics in the produce section.

They were giving out lots of free samples, a la Costco, but it was all sugary candy and such.

I did buy 2 loaves of whole wheat bread (1.5 lbs ea) for like $1.69. I also got what i thought were good deals on a 3-lb bag of sweet potatoes and some vodka pasta sauce. Costco still beats their milk prices, I think.

We weren't expecting the part about putting a quarter in the shopping cart, paying for bags, or having to pay cash (no credit).

I doubt I'll be going there much since it's really out of the way, but it was interesting to check it out, nonetheless.

My meet-up with a fellow SA blogger

September 26th, 2011 at 02:01 pm

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I got an email from another SA blogger here. She told me she was going to a wedding in Massachusetts this weekend,and wondered if she could stop by for a visit on her way home, elsewhere in the Northeast.

Of course, I wanted to meet her. You get started blogging realizing that chances are, you won't ever meet the vast majority of people you meet online. It feels a little strange at times because you do form friendships with people.

So today was the day "Dido" and I met. She writes a blog here called Fiscal Fitness. I told her to meet me at the commuter parking lot just off the exit ramp in my hometown; I figured that would be easy for her to find. I gave her my number so she could call me when she was a few exits ahead of mine; that way, I could just jump in my car and meet her at the commuter parking lot in time.

So this morning, Dido called, right on schedule. I hopped in the car and drove down there, only to see that there was no commuter parking lot there! I must've been thinking of some other exit!

LUCKILY, I instantly spotted what I thought was Dido's car (she had told me the color and make) waiting at the traffic light just off the exit. I rolled down my window and waved as the car approached, but she kept on driving and I didn't get a look at the driver to see if it was, in fact, Dido. I did a quick u-turn and followed the car. There were maybe four cars between us. Luckily again, she must've seen my flashing my lights, because after a few miles, she turned in on a side street and pulled over.

It was Dido. Another close call that my lack of a cell phone could have easily avoided!

As it turned out, the street she turned in on was the street where I wanted to take her for a walk, to help her stretch her legs and break up the driving. So we continued down there and did about a 40-minute walk on a nice, paved trail that goes through woods and meadow.

It gave us a chance to talk and get to know each other. Neither of us has been working steadily for quite some time, so I had asked Dido earlier if she wanted to eat lunch out somewhere or maybe just grab sandwiches somewhere and eat at the park, to save money. She left it up to me, so I just decided to have her over my place. I made a chickpea salad with feta cheese, homegrown cherry tomatoes and chopped cucumbers (with a little red onion, too) for our lunch. We munched on sliced carrots and hummus and I gave her a brief tour of my downstairs.

After eating, I took her on a little guided tour around town and showed her a few highlights, including the town hall movie theater ($2 a movie) with its colorful murals of town buildings painted by a local artist in the stairwells.

I also pointed out the famous flagpole in the middle of the road and our historic Main Street.

Along with the little brick historic building where I used to work.

And two little parks in the center of town:

And another historic building I used to work at, when i was senior editor at a small publishing company. The building was once a factory used to make fabric fire hoses but has since been renovated into offices for small businesses. It's really quite lovely, and there's a nearby dam and river.

Dido treated me to a pumpkin cheesecake ice cream cream at the dairy farm ice cream stand, where they make ice cream from their cows on the premises!

So I must say it was fun to meet a fellow blogger face to face, and certainly a nice break from my usual weekday routine. She is, as I write, headed home.

Coming soon: News of an SA blogger get-together!

September 24th, 2011 at 04:25 pm

I think I'll wait til after it happens to tell you much more, but I'm getting together very soon with another blogger from this site. We're meeting for the first time!

What fun!

Old-Fashioned Fun

September 24th, 2011 at 11:42 am

I joined N. and H. this morning before heading over to our town's annual Health Fair. Lots of dentists, chiropractors and other health care professionals have booths with lots of free giveaways and screenings. I got my cholesterol checked (Total: 187) and had a quick mole check done, too.

After that, we went down to the senior housing complex where they were having a tag sale in the community/rec room:

I was interested to see the beautiful mural painted by a local artist. I didn't notice until I looked at these photos on my computer how pleased that woman on the left seems to be that I'm taking that photo.

Here's a detail of the mural, which depicts the old town hall and the famous flagpole on Main Street. Yes, it is smack dab in the middle of the road, and since it's been there since the late 1880s, most people want it to stay. Although it causes lots of car accidents.

I can walk to the flagpole from my house.

Our next destination was a country harvest fair at the Congregational Church. There was quite a lot to see.

I admired these whimsical felted hats.

For lunch I had some stone soup, which was basically a chicken soup with a dozen different vegetables. They cooked it outside in a couldron.

On the way home, I got this shot:

The homeowner is/was a bond trader in NYC who lost a lot of friends in 9/11. There was a special town tribute to mark the 10th anniversary earlier this month.

We also stopped in at this shop, which specializes in early American decor. I used to like this style, not so much now. I like to mix a few antiques with much more contemporary stuff.

Good time had by all. All I spent was $3, on that soup.

Chuggin along, but am I really moving?

September 22nd, 2011 at 05:52 am

This month marks a milestone I'd rather not think about, but it's sort of like the elephant in the room: September marks the two-year anniversary since I was laid off from my job. The job, a salaried position with full benefits, seems quaint to me now, and I wonder seriously if I'll ever find another job like that again.

(Meanwhile, the president of Bank of America, I recently learned, earns $10 million a year. I could easily live, for the rest of my life, on one-tenth of what he makes in a year. Ironically, we do share something in common: we've both gotten handouts from the government...me, in the form of unemployment benefits and him, in the form of TARP money.)

These days, I have more luck finding contract or freelance work, short-term, project-based stints that can help me squeak by, but hardly puts a dent on my ongoing anxiety about finding the next gig.

I actually feel like roadkill these days.

On a more positive front, yesterday I interviewed the money manager in my hometown for an article that I already wrote that will appear as an insert in a local daily newspaper. I think it came out very well and (hopefully) he should be pleased. I also did some simple design and layout, which I don't normally do, and it looks good.

I won't earn much from this project and I think I under-bid it ($200) compared to what he says he spends to put on a dinner seminar ($3,000), but I'm hoping it will lead to more work. (He'll also have to spend $600 to the newspaper for printing the insert itself, but still, I'm obviously the cheapest part of his marketing equation at this point.)

Tomorrow is my interview for that p/t copy editor position. The pay is so little that it amounts to just $173 more a month than unemployment is paying me. But unemployment will end eventually. This will get me out of the house and no doubt improve my mental outlook. It could lead to a better position at this company down the road. There's no commute involved, maybe 1 mile.

I have to keep reminding myself of the pluses, modest as they be, because after crunching numbers and looking at it every which way, I think I'll still be living as uber-frugal as I am now...an extra $173 a month won't do much to change that. I will still absolutely need to generate at least $200 a month in other ways (freelance writing, focus groups, product testing, online surveys, etc) to break even, and that's barring unforeseen expenses like car repairs, healthcare or something related to the house. That shouldn't be too hard. It's basically what I'm doing now except that now I'm relying on unemployment benefits to form the bulk of my income instead of this p/t job.

I keep feeling like I'm trying to crawl out of a hole on all fours. It would just be too easy if I were given another $75K salaried job with health benefits. No, the universe has said I must crawl, and crawl I will.

Where are you, Joel?

September 20th, 2011 at 05:23 am

I mentioned in my last post that I had not heard back from the ad agency looking for a freelance writer. I had completed and returned a test editing assignment to them, and I assumed the ensuing silence meant I didn't get the job.

Yesterday I sent a brief follow-up email anyway, and was delighted this morning to find a response from the agency owner, who said my work was "fine" and that he was now looking for a paid assignment for me and would arrange it "at the first opportunity."

Yahooey! Of course, we haven't discussed money at all. Now the only thing I have to worry about is that he doesn't offer me a ridiculously low payment.

But that's 2 for 2, this job and the money manager guy. It's up to me to do my best and ensure neither of these are one-time scenarios.

Aside from thinking I hadn't gotten this freelance job, there was another reason, I think, why I was feeling so glum yesterday (and still am today, to a certain extent).

I got to thinking about two people from my distant past of over 30 years ago...a step-brother and step-sister I had when my mother was married to their father. I was never close to either of them, a boy and a girl, but I did live in their home my first summer after my first year in college, a time I was very lonely and homesick and feeling rather lost.

They lived in a beautiful old Victorian home in a very tony town in Bergen County, New Jersey. When I moved in there for the summer, I remember being given a choice of two locations for my bedroom; one of those choices was a small room in the attic under the eaves, with just a single, round window for light. That's the room I picked, because it was so private.

I was never very close to them, didn't really have the chance. The boy, the elder of the two, was as I remember, a year or two younger than me. He was very smart, and a little shy. But we discovered a mutual love of badminton that summer, and we spent some fun times batting away at the birdie with vengeance in our hearts.

His sister had the same outgoing personality and cheerful demeanor that her father had. It was a little hard to take sometimes. All I remember of her, really, is that she absolutely loved the theater and would often see shows on Broadway with her high school friends.

Their own mother lived in the Seattle area, on an island. Possibly Whidbey Island. Are there other islands in that area?

Anyway, I have wondered from time to time whatever happened to them. My mother and their father were married for about 10 years before my mother divorced him. She said he was an alcoholic. I know he drank, but I never saw him being abusive. I wasn't there enough to know for sure, and like a lot of drinkers, he was probably able to hold his liquor pretty well.

I had mixed feelings about him at the time, as I did for my first step-father. Mixed feelings, because I was loyal to my own dad, even though for much of my 20s, I didn't have much of a relationship with my dad. But my step-dad always had a kind word and a cheerful smile for me. The kindest thing he ever did for me was to encourage me as much as he did to go to the best college I could, and he always was eager to hear my stories about my college experiences. It was something my mother could never really do, as she hadn't gone to college.

He was a former Presbyterian minister. When my mother married him, he was a federal government employee, working at a Housing and Urban Development office in the city.

So I spent some time online trying to find information on the two children, now grown. I knew that my step-father had died years earlier, after my mother and he divorced.

I figured I should be able to find some information, as I had both their names and knew where they grew up. I also knew that my step-brother had attended school at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio.

I just couldn't find any info. And I assumed my step-sister could have married, making it more difficult for me to track her down. I vaguely remember my mother telling je years ago that she became a missionary in Africa somewhere. I did find someone with her name, and a married name, on Classmates.com, but without more information, I couldn't confirm that was her. So I sent that person a brief note, saying I wasn't sure she was the person I was looking for, but did she have a brother named J.? But she won't be able to read that note unless she has a paid account with them.

Later, I came upon an issue of the Case Western Reserve alumnae magazine that had J.'s name in it. The issue was available online. I went through all 60 pages of it, scanning many lists of alumnae donor names. Then, toward the end, I came upon J.'s name. It was on a page headed In Memoriam, for those who had died. It indicated that someone with J.'s name, of Redmond, West Virginia, Class of '82, had died, exact date unknown. The issue's date was 2010, just last year.

I was really shocked. I could never have imagined this. I sought to do more research to verify this was my step-brother, getting nowhere. I looked up Redmond on a Map Quest map to see what larger cities it was near so I could look for an obituary in the local paper. Couldn't find it in the archives, or they charged for the information.

I think the terrible thing is that he is dead, because what are the odds that someone with the same first and last name went to the same school at roughly the same time?

I kept trying different search terms, using what info I had. Then I came up with someone who said something to the effect that their fraternity brother had unexpectedly died in the prime of their life. The link led to the same issue of the Case Western alumnae magazine.

I went through the whole magazine again to find out who said that, because if I knew their name, I could possibly get in touch with them to confirm the news. But still, I couldn't find it in the magazine. I mean, it would have to be in there somewhere, right, if it shows up in Google results?

It's really a distraction, wondering, but not knowing, if he is alive. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much, i mean, 30+ years have gone by. But I guess I always assumed they were alive and well, leading their lives somewhere.

The only other thing I came up with was info from one of those data mining companies, could have been Intellius, that indicated the the woman with the same maiden name as my step-sister, with the married name I mentioned earlier, was RELATED to the man with the same name as my step-brother. While the alumnae magazine indicated only a middle initial, the Intellius listing indicated the full middle name, and it started with the same letter as that indicated in the alumnae magazine. But they charge you for more information.

It just makes me feel very sad, especially knowing that if I'd gotten serious about finding them just a year or two earlier, I could have possibly found him...alive.

Boring day/new Aldi's

September 19th, 2011 at 02:05 pm

Ech, what a boring day. Actually, I am boring myself. We've had a string of gorgeous fall days, and you'd think I'd want to do something more aspirational somehow, like take a bike ride or take the kayak out.

I don't have quite the energy for that. Instead, I did wash about 4 windows. They really needed it. the guys who did my vinyl siding really created a lot of dust. I will eventually clean some more windows, but not today.

Let's see, how else did I kill this day? I watered the grass and my potted plants. I crawled out on the roof to clear part of a gutter and replace a screen that came off. I picked another pint of cherry tomatoes from the garden.


A client was supposed to call this morning at 9 and he blew me off. I knew he would, and no hard feelings there, he's just extremely busy and a bit of a procrastinator.

I applied for a few more p/t jobs. Feeling negative. Haven't heard back from that ad agency for which I went to the trouble of doing a writing assignment and turned it in last Thursday. So I sent him a follow-up email just now. I suppose I'll get the silent treatment, which translates into, "leave us alone, we no longer want to talk to you."

Oh, I also vacuumed and cleaned out my car.

Last Friday I went for a breast ultrasound after my mammogram. Becus i have dense breasts, just routine. Well, they called today and said there's a small nodule/cyst on my right breast and they want me to do another ultrasound in 6 months. They think it will probably go away, nothing to get a biopsy for, but just to be sure. I feel a little uneasy about that, but oh well. I guess I'll be paying for that one.

I went to a new ultrasound place and really liked it. They made it seem like a spa, with soft pendulum lighting, a wicker basket instead of ugly plastic bins for used johnnies, and a soothing water fountain. Some very simple touches that made such a big difference in ambiance.

There's an Aldi's opening up near me this Thursday, and I plan to go on opening day. Any advice on where their best prices are? Well, it's not really near enough that i could make a regular thing of it. It's about a half hour away. Once I check out prices, I'll decide whether it's worth or to go on a monthly basis...or not.

I've got a time set up to do my first assignment with the money manager in town, this Wednesday. I'll be writing an article about him and his investment style, for an insert in the local daily paper. If nothing else, it will look good on my resume. But I hope it will lead to future assignments. It could just be a one-time thing, but I hope to do a good job with it and you can be sure I'll be keeping in touch with him to encourage that to happen.

International Coastal Cleanup Day

September 17th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I rose not quite as bright and early as I intended, and I felt myself rushing about in the morning to pull together a simple salad for my new friend and I to enjoy at an area Audubon Sanctuary on Long Island Sound.

I was so short on time I didn't get a chance to quickly check my email, something I like to do before heading out for any period of time. It was a little after 8 am when I left the house.

I got a little lost, but eventually found the Sanctuary at the very tip of a point lined with summer cottages. I was there for the beach cleanup, an annual, late summer ritual that's done up and down the coastline in New York and Connecticut as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day. There's always plenty of trash that's either left by beach-goers or boaters, or is otherwise washed ashore after drifting at sea for who knows how long.

As happened the last time I did this a few years ago, the turnout was not all that good. There were three of us, to be exact. I decided to hook up with the other two women there and we fanned out on the beach. It was a GORGEOUS day, quite bright and sunny, though cool. We spent three hours picking up trash, including everything from spent shotgun shells (illegal) to a car tire to bottle caps and straws. Probably 80% of what we picked up was soft or hard plastic. According to Audubon literature, it takes 450 years for plastic to disintegrate.

Here are some pics:

I love the warm, golden colors of the beach grasses.

Audubon has several observation decks with beautiful views of the marshes.

I don't know if these purple martin houses were occupied this summer.

I am wondering if Hurricane Irene dumped more shells than usual on the beaches.

I waited for my friend to meet me at the Audubon Coastal Center at noon, but she didn't show. I spent the time chatting with an employee at the center and her husband. I waited and waited, wondering what to do. As a cost-saving measure, I'd given up my cell phone over a year ago, so that simple option wasn't available to me.

I don't know my new friend that well. I've just met her once, so it was hard to imagine what might have gone wrong. I figured it was either one of two things: either she had gotten lost (I remembered she said she often does get lost, and that she has ADHD) or that her daughter, who was close to full term with her pregnancy, had given birth and my friend had maybe a last minute change of plans due to that event.

I suppose I could have waited longer than 45 minutes, but I'd been out in the sea breeze all morning and was feeling tired, so I finally decided to head home.

When I got home, there was a message from S. telling me she got VERY lost, asked 4 people for directions and still had trouble, but had finally made it to the Sanctuary and was wondering where I was. I called her back immediately and we exchanged notes.

There was also an email here for me which I would have seen if I'd checked my mail before leaving. It was sent by S. around 5:30 a.m. saying since she was up so early, she thought she'd like to do the beach cleanup with me after all. Oh well.

I felt a little guilty for maybe not waiting a little longer. It sounded like she got there maybe 5 minutes (!) after I left! She enjoyed the scenery and environment there as much as I did, and we both regretted not having been able to connect. We had both brought lunch to share. Fortunately, she didn't' sound TOO frazzled and agreed we should try again to do something, so I will keep my eye out.

The next installment of

September 16th, 2011 at 05:49 pm

Remember the energy analyst position I interviewed for a few months back but didn't get?

I see the same company is now advertising for a p/t copy editor job.

I applied.

They were paying VERY low for the analyst position, so I can only guess that this job will be no different.(I'm guessing less than $20 an hour, maybe $10 or $15 would be more like it.) Still, it's in my hometown. If it's less than 30 hours a week, I think I could still collect partial unemployment, and it would greatly extend my remaining benefits as well.

What's more, if they deduct taxes from my paycheck, it would help boost my employment "credits" should I continue to be unemployed moving forward. When they calculate your benefits amount, they take the highest average of the previous five quarters, or something like that. So generally, the more you make in any quarter, the better off you are. Except that they only count work where the employer deducts taxes from your paycheck; they DON't count freelance work at all. So in this context, W2 jobs are good, but 1099 jobs, where you pay your own taxes, are bad, becus you could work forever in a 1099 job and it won't matter one iota to the unemployment office. Why this distinction, I don't really know.

And of course, if i could get them to put me on their health plan, even though not a full-timer, that would be the ideal situation and would save me probably over $300 a month, depending on their premium. But it wold get me off COBRA, and the clock is ticking. I can't stay on COBRA forever, and it's expensive besides.

Well, all this is wild conjecture. I only just applied today.

But I spent quite a bit of time structuring my carefully-worded cover letter. It was a bit unconventional, but I have nothing to lose.

I even included a quote from The Economist magazine. Say what, you ask??

When I interviewed for the analyst job, the senior analyst who interviewed me asked me where I read my news and specifically asked if I read The Economist. He apparently holds it in high regard.

Now he may not be the person reviewing candidates for the copy editor job, but in a small company like this, senior level people often handle functions beyond their immediate job responsibilities. If he is, it might resonate with him.

To find that quote, I spent some time reading several stories in the magazine related to the Euro debt crisis. I included the quote when referencing the fact that I'm a news junkie and like to keep up on current events like the Arab Spring and Euro debt crisis, which a recent article in The Economist recently described as ......

That's about how I phrased it. It was a relatively small point in the larger context of my cover letter, but since they said in the ad that having an interest in world affairs would be helpful, I figured this would demonstrate it.

And once again, I saw the ad, not online, but in my local weekly paper. Cuts down on the competition.

Tomorrow will be busy but fun. Have to get an early start. I'm doing my part for International Ocean Conservancy Day by volunteering to pick up beach/ocean litter for a few hours at an Audubon beach preserve. Then I'm meeting my new friend, the out of work journalist, there for a picnic lunch on the beach. How cool is that? I'll take pictures!

Job Scraps, Bits & Pieces

September 15th, 2011 at 10:45 am

I met this morning with the CFP/investment manager. While I was hoping that by this time, after 2 phone conversations and a detailed memo i sent him, that I could now reel him in and discuss a p/t position with him, it didn't really go that far. Yet, anyway. I did, however, succeed in securing a small first job from him involving my interviewing him and writing an article that will appear as an insert in a local newspaper.

We'll probably do the interview sometime next week. So it's a job, one that could to more if he gets any kind of positive response from it.

I sense he's being very cautious about spending money. Can't say I blame him. But I've spent quite a bit of time brainstorming with him how to get clients in the door already.

I'm hoping to hear from the local ad agency about the editing assignment I turned in to them yesterday. It would be great to have either one of these jobs work out to something regular, because are, as I said, very local. The $ manager's office is 5 minutes away and the ad agency is a 15-minute drive. I hate long commutes.

$127 to change a screw

September 13th, 2011 at 07:06 pm

I had yet another unexpected home repair bill that I couldn't avoid. Two days ago, I noticed that the jet pump in my basement, which is hooked up to my outdoor-only water supply, had developed a slow leak.

I use the outdoor water quite a bit to water my veggie garden and potted plants. It draws water from my shallow well, unlike my drinking water, which is hooked up to a utility company and for which I pay a quarterly charge of about $36.

So anyway, I like the idea of having a free supply of water. So I called the plumber I've used before. They don't give free estimates, and their minimum service call is $116 for the first hour and $100 an hour after that. Whoa.

I decided to take a chance on someone new, a guy who specializes in well water pumps. I was a little guarded about doing so becus i noticed his website didn't show either his name or any address. To me, these are red flags that someone would prefer not to be found if there's a problem.

But anyway, he came over and fairly quickly found that the leak was coming from an old screw that had become so rusted it popped out, and that's where the water was leaking. But part of it was still inside, and he wasn't sure he could get it out. Well, he did in short order and replaced it with a new screw. Leak solved.

He said if this pump was used for my primary drinking water, he would recommend I get a new pump, becus while it's a great pump (a Gould) it's still quite old and probably won't last long. (It's already at least 16 years old. Average lifespan is probably half that.) But since it doesn't get a lot of use since it's just for outside water (never used all winter) he said just let it go. Here's hoping it'll last a few more years.

So the good news is, I saved myself a possible replacement of the pump, which would be in the $800 range. But the bad news is, i just paid someone $127 to change a screw.

In other news, I met my new friend yesterday at an Ikea near where she lives. We ended up going there cus they have cheap lunches. Well, she actually wasn't hungry, and it was such a nice day out, so we ended up talking and walking around the Ikea parking lot. For 3 hours! She suggested walking down to Long Wharf, but i didn't have my sneakers with me. I think we both liked each other and had a lot to talk about.

So we made plans to get together for a picnic (to save money on lunch out) at a mid-way town at an Audubon Center on the coast. It's a place I've been wanting to explore anyway. It's International Coastal Cleanup Week and this weekend they have planned beach cleanups up and down the coastline, including at this location. She didn't want to do a cleanup, but I have done them before and like to do so, so I'll get there early and spend an hour or so doing that and then meet her there afterwards. I've also suggested she bring her bike so we can bike around after lunch. We'll see. Not sure if she has a bike.

The $ manager who i was supposed to have a 2nd phone conversation with, who i mentioned in an earlier post was a no-show, well, i heard from him and he said he had a funeral to attend and could we talk tomorrow, so that's what we're doing. I've already sent him my 4-page memo with my thoughts/ideas on marketing his business, so the fact he wants to talk to me again is a good sign. Maybe I'll get some work out of this.

Got 3 more small assignments from my real estate client. 1 PR is done and will distribute tomorrow, but have to wait to talk with someone Monday to get started on the other 2 jobs: updating a bio and ghost-writing a second article, to be published in my state's home builder magazine.

This a.m. I spent several hours with my friend F. getting rid of the pile of brush and tree limbs in my driveway, the damage from Hurricane Irene. We made 4 trips to the landfill. He was a huge help. I gave him a hug and paid him in the form of two cucumbers from my garden, plus a $5 bill wedged in between them, to cover his gas. It's the best I could do.

Leaking well pump

September 12th, 2011 at 04:32 am

I discovered the day before yesterday that the pump to my well (in the basement) has developed a slow leak. There was a wet spot on the concrete floor about three feet in diameter.

Oh no. I've heard that replacing a well pump is very expensive. I'm hoping it's just a repair, but who knows? While I'm hooked up to a private company's well water for inside the house, I do have my two outdoor faucets still hooked up to my own well. Which was one of the best moves I ever made.

I hooked up to a regional water company a number of years ago as my very shallow well (only 27 feet deep!) kept getting coliform issues. But I asked the contractor who did the plumbing to keep the well hooked up to the outdoor faucets, and I do use plenty of outdoor water for watering my garden and plants.

Plumbers are so enormously expensive. I found a place online in my area that specializes in well pumps, but i always feel suspicious when a business website doesn't provide its address. Or, if they provide an address, it's a PO box number. If you see that, you've got to be careful, because if problems should arise with the contractor, you would be unable to bring them to small claims court since you have to serve papers. The court won't deliver summons to a PO box number.

So I called this outfit, but will ask for their location first. I like to know who I'm doing business with. Without the address, I might as well be doing business with a door to door salesperson. Here one day, gone tomorrow.

I want to set up an appointment today for someone to look at the well pump.

This morning i have TWO job phone interviews, although I'm not expecting much from either one of them. Then I've got a screening for a Yale study on yoga/stress, then I'm meeting a new friend at Ikea. It will be a long day, and I'll likely be driving home in rush hour traffic. On the way to Yale, I'll stop at the landfill. (Trying to consolidate driving trips.)

I was naughty for $15

September 10th, 2011 at 05:08 pm

I have plant lust.

There's a place on Main Street, close to home, that was having a plant sale this weekend. Every plant, $5. It's a private home and they have a lovely garden. They usually have a plant sale twice a year with much higher prices, but Hurricane Irene blew down their greenhouse and since they can't overwinter many of their extra plants, they were having this sale.

So I went to "look."

I ended up buying:

1. A sedge grass, which looks similar to a spider plant without the spiders.

2. A smoke bush. I've always wanted one of these. It has dark burgundy foliage and I can't wait to see what the blooms look like.

3. A dwarf magnolia, (Magnolia x Ann). Also always wanted a magnolia tree, and for $5, c'mon! Couldn't pass up. I read up on this variety when I got home. While I'm happy it's a dwarf (still gets about 10 feet high and as wide), it also apparently has a more shrubby habit, not tree-like. It's also apparently somewhat deer-resistant.

After some mental debate, I decided to plant it in the back yard tomorrow, in the area where I pulled out a huge amount of forsythia. It will have room to spread out there;in front, I'm trying to be careful and avoid planting anything that could shade out my vegetable garden.

I already planted the smoke bush out in front....hope it will get enough light where it is. And the sedge is in the ground as well, by the bird bath.

I really enjoyed browsing. There were any number of unusual and interesting native plants that I was sorely tempted to get, but $15 was enough to spend. Viburnum Barkwoodi, a ninebark, some fluorescent green sedum....geez, i may have to go back tomorrow...no, you can't...i just want to look....you better not, you know what'll happen....but i want to... (This is my mental dialogue with myself.)

I feel like I'm running out of space to plant things as it is. But I can always squeeze in one more thing. Smile

Monday is shaping up to be a very busy day, starting with an 8:30 a.m. call from the CFP I spoke to last week. I guess I'll have to sell myself and provide intelligent commentary on his marketing collateral.

Then at 10 am I have to call an ad agency guy who responded via email to the resume I sent. He's looking for a PR writer who's strong in politics and government. Not sure how that's going to go. While it's not a specific strength, I can certainly handle it. He has a pretty impressive Linked In writeup and has worked for various state politicians, even a senator.

Later in the morning I have to head out to small city about a 50-minute drive to be screened for a new Yale study. They want to see if the regular practice of yoga reduces stress. So it's a 3-month commitment, yoga classes twice a week, and 2 blood tests, i think, for which they pay you $340. There is that long drive, but we'll see.

After that, I'll head to Ikea in same city to meet a new friend who I met through Craig's List. This will be our first meeting. I'll have a few hours to kill before she can meet me so I hope I don't get too bored.

So if we enjoy each other's company, the nice thing is that I could end up being in this city twice a week for those yoga classes, and this is where new friend lives. So it would be very conducive for us spending time together. (She's out of work, too. I just learned from her that she's NOT getting unemployment benefits...she quit the job, and she said she's living on her savings.)

That would freak me out. I'd like to learn more about that when I meet her. I'm wondering if she has some kind of game plan in mind. I know she has a grown daughter in RI; maybe she could live with her if she had to. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing she rents if she lives in the city.

Pop! It happened again!

September 6th, 2011 at 04:10 pm

I woke around 5 this morning to the sound of steady rain. A little while later, as I lay in bed, I heard a sudden popping sound outside. The transformer on the pole. I rolled over to look at the digital display on my radio, and it was dark.

I'd lost power again.

I called it in to the power company and spent the rest of the early a.m. formulating a plan should this outage last longer than a few hours. I found it too much of a pain to bring my food to multiple other locations, some not so close to home, and then have to retrieve it all later.

I had learned that just a single bag of ice could keep necessities cool enough for 24 hours when poured into the 2 refrigerator drawers. Plus in my cooler. That would be a heck of a lot easier than racing around town to friends' houses. Although the offer was made again to me.

Luckily, the neighborhood got power back in 2 hours.

I spent most of the morning at the computer. At 1 pm, it happened again. Pop! There goes the power! What' in tarnation is going on?

Power was restored a second time in about an hour. Gee whiz.

Nothing else terribly exciting to report, except that it's been raining steadily most of the day, and it's mighty cool. Chilly enough that I'm wearing my old blue sweatpants and a flannel shirt. Feels like fall!

Of course, now that I've formulated a plan to sell a chunk of mutual funds when they once more top the 12,000 mark, the Dow is refusing to cooperate. Another big plunge for the third consecutive day. Patience, Patient Saver. Your time will come.

It's been a quiet weekend...

September 5th, 2011 at 03:00 pm

I ate some more bruschetta for lunch.

Mmmm. I even like the word, "bruschetta." I think I'll name my next cat Bruschetta if it's a female. "Bruce" if it's a male. Smile

I spent some time cutting up more of the debris left in my yard by Irene. Sawing with my little hand saw. Definitely fatiguing.

Here's a snapshot of yesterday's harvest.

I got a lot, but things are definitely winding down quickly. All will succumb to blight and powdery mildew, I'm afraid.

I spent several hours writing a detailed blog post about my garden harvest for a website that is all about anti-consumerism and sustainable lifestyles. It's basically all written except I want to wait another week or so to include the very last produce to come out of the garden. There are still a few more cucumbers and tomatoes and an acorn squash.

Ever get the urge for a particular food?

September 4th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

No, it wasn't ice cream or pickles I was thinking of, but I came across another blog suggesting you make a bruschetta to use up your homegrown tomatoes. Duh, why didn't I think of that? I always use them fresh in a salad, or freeze them for winter stews. Not very imaginative.

So I went to Shop Rite and found a rustic whole wheat loaf with a crusty exterior.

Came home and added the chopped up tomatoes to some homegrown basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and raw garlic. Slathered this on the toasted bread and topped with grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, broiled in the oven until melted. Voila! A yummy lunch. I ate 3 slices!

I also bought a piece of salmon, which I'll have for dinner tonight along with a homegrown acorn squash. You can see food is on my mind right now.

Someone left a note on an earlier blog I did on my revised budget, again asking something many others have commented on, namely, have you ever thought about using your taxable savings to pay off your mortgage. I'd considered doing that before, but wondered about the tax bill, and wondered about depleting my available nest egg should I ever need it for something while still out of work.

But it makes perfect sense, with a 6% interest rate. I can't refinance since I'm not working, plus the balance is smaller than most banks want to bother with.

So I decided recently to throw another chunk of money at it. My taxable savings are in two funds, one a large cap domestic fund and the other an international stock fund. I won't touch the international fund becaus it's way, way down. However, I'm showing a modest profit of a few hundred dollars now on the domestic fund (although given the many years I've had that fund, I'm not sure what that return works out to on an annual basis). But anyway.

When I see the Dow is over 12,000 again, I'll make my move, selling the $17K fund and putting that toward the mortgage. That will bring the balance down to $12k, which I should be able to pay off in a little over a year?

So that's the plan. It's exciting to me to be getting so close to paying the whole thing off. My main motivation is to create some breathing room in my monthly expenses. Eventually paying off the mortgage will lower my monthly expenses by about $600. Not a huge sum, but something. And after paying this year's tax bill, it should also lower future tax bills since that money won't be earning capital gains/dividends moving forward.

Day 6: Got POWER Back!

September 2nd, 2011 at 05:28 pm

It's a beautiful day...

Because tonight at 7 pm I got my power back! (The treetops above are the view from my front door, and it was in this row of white pines where a weeping willow trunk struck and damaged a transformer on a pole along the road.

It was an interesting experience. Round about day 4 I settled into a routine of making daily trips to the middle school where they were giving out free bottled water and ice.

I poured the ice into the the 2 drawers inside my fridge as well as a small cooler. It really came in handy to keep sodas and drinks cool, along with a small number of single serve items that need refrigeration.

But I was eating very simply. Although I could go grocery shopping, my choices, without refrigeration, were quite limited to things I could consume in one sitting, and I certainly didn't want to incur bigger expenses by eating out.

So one night I had cold, canned soup for dinner. For lunch today I had peanut butter on bread. I ate a lot of salads using the cucumbers and tomatoes from my garden.

I lost a few eggs, butter spread and cheese, but that's about it. All my freezer food is at 2 locations now at a friend's and my mothers, and I'll retrieve it in the next few days.

While I have drinking water, my electric hot water heater was out, and so taking a cold shower was not something I attempted. I can't wait to take a shower, but now I have to wait a few hours (?) for the heater to warm the water up.

So the repair crew arrived on my street at 4 pm. I know because with my windows open, I'd been keeping an ear out for any loud trucks; each time I'd run to the window these past 6 days to see if it was a electric utility truck. This time it was.

Once power was restored, I could hear my well water pump, which feeds my outdoor faucets, refilling the tank, so I went outside to water two areas where I'd just planted grass seed right before Hurricane Irene. With no water since Sunday, the new grass was looking very dry.

So I yelled a few "thank-yous" to the crew working on the other side of the woods in front of my house. I talked to one of the guys; they came all the way from Colorado. Since they had to use their trucks of course, they drove and it took them 2.5 days just to get here!

I'm now also able to close my garage door. Although I live in a pretty safe town, it was a bit of a security issue to have to leave the door open, 24/7, including when I left the house. During the storm, I'd intentionally left the door open because it's wood and moisture has already found its way inside the panels and warped them. So it was stuck in the open position since my auto garage door opener uses electricity and while I should have been able to manually close the door, I couldn't.

I have a battery-powered short wave radio, so that was my entertainment at night once it got dark. There were a few local stations where the talk show hosts got together and had callers call in talking about storm-related stuff, although everyone here is focused on getting their power back. Some people still wont' get it for a few more days.

I was also getting daily Code Red Alerts from our town's selectmwoman, which was helpful in informing us where we could recharge cell phones, get a shower or pick up ice/water.

My job search was pretty much put on hold these past 6 days, so am anxious to get back to my usual routine, though it has been quite dead, in line with today's unemployment report which shows zero job growth for the month of August.

Here's some pix of tree damage in my yard:

I was very upset to discover my snowball hydrangea tree, in full bloom, had toppled over in the storm. It was right outside my sunroom, providing nice shade, and it's where I always hung my hummingbird feeder. Amazingly, I found the hummer feeder, undamaged and hung it up again from the fallen tree to make sure the hummers didn't go hungry.

Another view of the same tree.

Here are some large branches from a Tree of Paradise that fell rather close, about 15 feet away, from my sunroom.

Note the large tree limb that fell on my tool shed.

Here's another view:

Well, glad to be getting back to normal now.