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Archive for February, 2012

Free electricty for 3 months!

February 28th, 2012 at 11:02 am

So I finally got my first bill that reflects a credit the power company is giving to those of us who endured a week or more with no power, TWICE (first in October after a freak snowstorm dumped a foot of snow on us) and then a 2nd time in December, I think it was. Both times, I went 7 days with no electricity.

That wasn't fun, but now that I see the credit on my bill, I'm happy. The exact amount of the credit was dependent on how many people signed up for it but was going to be somewhere between $100 and $200.

It turns out my credit is $140. Since I average about $55 in electricity charges each month, that's nearly 3 months of free electricity.

Yahoo!

I'm prepping now for a phone interview for contract writing in another hour.

I also am excited about another interview, an in person one, this Friday at a very local small publisher of trade magazines/websites in retail/wholesaler merchandise. It would be a great commute. Full-time, with benefits. Ahh, it sounds like a dream, at nearly any salary level. I'm guessing this one would be low 60s although I guess it could be lower.

Because of that interview, I've scheduled a haircut for today right after my phone interview. My hair is looking pretty shaggy. I'm trying to grow it out but it needs help.

Quantitative asset management and birthday parties

February 27th, 2012 at 05:09 pm

This morning I received word from an asset management company i was in touch with that they do indeed want to talk to me about possible contract writing for them tomorrow afternoon.

Which is great, except that I'd just made plans with The Author to have her over for some cake, and then a walk, to celebrate her birthday.

Luckily, I found out later today that she wanted to reschedule our get-together anyway because she's engrossed in tax paperwork. So we'll do our thing on Friday, not tomorrow, which means I now have more time to prepare for my phone call with the asset mgmt company.

(This is a subsidiary company of the big financial services company where I did a 3.5 month contract gig in Q4 2010. I was recommended by the woman who hired me at that time.) the company manages money for endowment and pension funds, ie, institutional money management.

They want someone to write/edit white papers. So I've spent a fair amount of time reading the white papers already posted on their site. It's extremely high level, intelligent writing involving interpretations of economic conditions/events and asset management concepts which, though I'm familiar with, I can't say I understand in totality or even truly understand. That's what's giving me a little ogida, feeling insecure about a certain lack of knowledge and wondering what level of expertise they're looking for.

They're probably going to say well, gee, I see from your resume you've done a lot of marketing writing, but what about white papers? I suddenly remembered tonight that I wrote a white paper of sorts last summer as a "test" assignment for a market intelligence firm. While I didn't get that job, what I wrote was a pretty decent example of research and writing, a 6-page overview of the energy needs and development plans of the nation of Bangladesh. The people i talk to tomorrow don't need to know it was only a test assignment or that I didn't get paid for it. So I'll be sure to mention that one and ask if they'd like to see it.

I went for a 6-month ultrasound today which followed discovery of a mass of some sort in my breast 6 months ago after a routine mammogram. They say again that it looks like a cyst (and that it's now half the size), but again they recommend a follow-up ultrasound in 6 months. While I guess that's good news, I could see this cycle of ultrasounds every 6 months just continuing indefinitely, possibly, becus I have what's called dense breast tissue. She told me, in fact, that their protocol is ultrasounds every 6 months for 2 years following any kind of breast abnormality. One wonders if you ever get any resolution, becus cysts don't necessarily go away.

I invited my neighbor to come over on Friday when I see The Author. She takes a painting class that The Author teaches. I will buy a small but delectable birthday cake at Caraluzzi's and I bought a cute little primrose at Shop Rite for $1. Now I need a card, and since I bought a very pretty little gift bag, I may end up giving her a miniature copper weather vane with gardening motif as the present.

Countdown: My mortgage balance is down to $8,374.

The final touches

February 26th, 2012 at 11:14 am

It has been an otherwise lazy Sunday, but I did get sufficient get-up-and-go to install both the curio cabinet and the towel holder in the downstairs bath...





You can see the curio cabinet in the mirror. I usually have seashells, bird's nests and wasp nests sitting there....I also have some sand dollars and sea urchins but they had gotten a little yellowed over time, so they're currently soaking in a bleach/water solution to whiten them again.

Too much stuff on the counter maybe? I've been experimenting with different decor. It feels like a whole new room.

After examining the towel rack I have, I realized there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, no scratches, nothing. So I decided to just keep what I have. And the white towel will do for now.

I'm very happy with it.

I have a ton of stress cracks around various doors and windows. I'd love to tackle them next, although it would mean painting over the whole wall, too. I saw online there's some tape you can buy at Home Depot which makes the job real easy. You basically just put the tape over the crack, then paint over it, and the crack just disappears. It's a little expensive from what I hear, but for someone who's not "handy" like me, it's worth it.

The bathtub could use both re-caulking between the tub and tiles, and also re-grouting between tiles, in the corner, where some cracks have appeared.

And 2 or 3 other indoor projects right off the top of my head.

Finally!! Bathroom wallpapered!

February 25th, 2012 at 02:16 pm

Finally! It's done.

What I'm referring to is the long overdue completion of my bathroom wallpapering job:



I actually started this job about 3 years ago (!!!) and suddenly lost my enthusiasm for the job about mid-way through. Let's face it...wallpapering is an awful job. You can't see it here, or even if you were really inside my bathroom, but there are many imperfections in this job. But at least it's done.

I WILL NEVER WALLPAPER ANYTHING AGAIN IN MY LIFE.

Since this was a 2nd, seldom-used bathroom, it was all too easy to just close the door and not think about it. The only way I was able to FORCE myself to tackle this project again was to:

1. Tell myself that all I had to do was hang ONE piece of paper on a given day...that way, no pressure to do the whole dang thing.

2. I also told myself that Spring is just around the corner, and as soon as it started getting a little warm, I'd be outside in the yard doing stuff, planting my veggie garden and once again would have little time or interest in finishing the wallpapering.

So I worked on it maybe 4 more days, each time for no more than 2 hours. I BARELY had enough wallpaper, and after using up 2 full rolls for this tiny room, I was not about to plunk down another $50 for a third roll.

All I have to do now is hang a small curio cabinet on the wall with wall anchors (a little nervous about doing that) and a towel bar. It goes above the toilet, a white, cottage-look thing I like which I put seashells on. Am wondering if it might be nice to get a new towel bar; maybe I'll browse Home Depot.

In other news...

The check I got from deadbeat client CLEARED. At least, I think that happened. When I check my account online, initially, it will tell you a check is "in process," but now it just shows it's deposited, so I'm guessing that's good.

So can forget about this lowlife and focus on more productive stuff.

Man, I'm soooo happy about that bathroom. I think I'll be using it a lot more often. I guess you could say that room got a mini makeover, not just the wallpaper. The light fixture over the top of the mirror is new (from a few years ago) and replaced 2 small fixtures on either side of the mirror, which looked really, really odd becus there was no room for the light fixtures on the sides and it cast a glare in the mirror....so much better to have the larger fixture above the mirror.

The other thing I did was replace the old window in the room with a vinyl replacement window. the window looks out onto my sun room and allows added natural light to come into the small bathroom. But i had the lower half of the window frosted for privacy purposes. I think it worked out well.



When I was putting the room back together, I realized that a pair of stone goblets I got from a museum in Washington, DC would mimic the pattern on the walls. They were surprisingly affordable at the time. Luther broke the base of one of them, but I glued it back together....




More on the deadbeat client

February 24th, 2012 at 07:04 am

So since last Monday was a holiday, the post office didn't deliver the certified mail from deadbeat client until yesterday. I was at work, so there was a note in my door that I'd have to pick it up at PO.

I did that this morning, and found he'd sent me a check, not a money order. So he may try to stop payment on it once he found out/finds out i complained to his wife's sales manager about her nonpayment of debt. Or not. I really don't know this guy. I deposited it immediately this am after getting it but i guess will have to wait a few more days to see if the check clears. If it doesn't, then my bank will probably charge me $25 or so for the stop-payment order.

I had complained to the sales manager last Friday after getting a nasty note from them saying they were suing me for $1,000 for violating the fair debt collection act.

Not sure where that would get him if he stopped payment, since his bank would also charge him to do that, plus I'd still want my money. Surely it would be easier to just pay me the $50???

After all the drama, aggravation and threats of lawsuit over such a small debt, a part of me feels it would be very satisfying to haul this guy's ass into small claims court, just to teach him a lesson.

Credit card rewards tickle me

February 21st, 2012 at 06:25 am

I just transferred $150 in rewards from Discover card to my checking account after charging $1,000 in 2 months. Gotta love these little deals. I've already started on my next reward with Citi; they actually sent me a little reminder that i could earn their "signing bonus" by charging just $500 in 3 months. Thanks, Citi!

In other news, I spent a little time each day during the past 2 days doing....drum roll....bathroom wallpapering!!

you know, the project that's been half-done for the last three years????

That bathroom's been mostly unusable all this time because I couldn't bring myself to finish that job. But I forced myself to do it with the reasoning that spring is just around the corner, and once it warms up, I'll be out and about in my garden and the bathroom will once again be forgotten for yet another season.

So....I made myself work on it, probably 2 hours each day. By not pressuring myself to finish it, I've been able to make progress so I'm now three-quarters of the way done. And since I work tomorrow through Friday, my work requirement today will be hanging just one long piece on the back wall. (More if I can, but 1 piece minimum.) I am in danger of running out of wallpaper, which could be a problem since they often seem to discontinue patterns and I bought this several years ago. This is the 2nd roll, but you go through so much paper becus you're supposed to match/line up the pattern on each new sheet you hang, even though it's a very abstract marbled look that you'd think wouldn't require matching. But I've done it both ways on the walls and you can tell the difference if you study it.

It's FAR from perfect....many imperfections, but at least I'm making progress. There are actually places where I had to cut little "patches" because I'd wallpapered on 2 sides, to meet in the middle, and of course it didn't meet in the middle. Live and learn.

I'll show you pix when it's finally done. Not sure what i'll do if I run out and they don't carry this pattern anymore. I'm doing the most important parts of the room and leaving the part below and to the side of the toilet for last. Not that it would be any less noticeable....

Went to Trader Joe's with my neighbor yesterday. We also hit Target for a Lean Cuisine sale. Today, after wallpapering, i want to get some DVDs at the library, get milk ($1.88 a gallon) at Caraluzzi's and some black cohosh at CVS.

Terrible tragedy

February 18th, 2012 at 01:56 pm

I just posted a little while ago, mentioning that my friend and neighbor was due back here in CT from Florida, where she had been visiting her grand-daughter for a week.

I called her after posting that blog to see if she was home yet. She had just gotten in about an hour earlier and I asked her if she'd had a good time.

Not really.

She got there (I forget what town it was now, but on the west side) last Saturday, the same day they were expecting her son-in-law's parents to arrive. My neighbor was going to be sharing a rental house with them for the week she was visiting, something she'd done before a year or so ago.

The son-in-law's parents were from Queens, NY but were down in FL visiting a variety of friends and driving from Miami to see their son and daughter-in-law.

They never made it. The mother was driving and apparently had a heart attack and struck a tree head-on. This was in the Bradenton area, wherever that is. The mother died at the scene and the father is in critical condition. They don't think he'll make it. They were in their late 60s, early 70s. The car was filled with gifts for their grand kids.

So what my neighbor had been looking forward to as a nice vacation, warm weather and children's birthday parties ended up being a very somber, depressing time. Most of the time her granddaughter and son-in-law were at the hospital and she just hung around and looked after her great-grand kids.

The mother had been on heart medication and checked out fine just 10 days earlier. They think it might have been a massive, undetected blood clot.

Gosh. How awful.

Wrapped up my week

February 18th, 2012 at 12:59 pm

As I think will become my custom, I wrapped up my "work week" this afternoon. Wednesdays and Thursdays are full days at the office and Friday is at home, but there seem to have been a variety of other things happening on my Fridays which prevents me from putting in a full day of work. So I wrap up with a few extra hours on Saturday. (But then I have Monday and Tuesday "off" if I have no freelance work.)

I'm happy to report a small Craig's List sale of $20, and I decided to meet my buyer where I do my grocery shopping, to make it easier for him. He bought my indoor bicycle stand. It basically converts a regular outdoor bike into an indoor stationery bike. It goes for about $80 online, but I'm happy with the sale because I myself bought it used, for about the same price, two summers ago at a church silent auction.

I was so hepped up about getting one of them that when i saw it in the silent auction, I signed up and then stalked the table to make sure I could counter-bid if someone signed up for it. No one did.

But I quickly grew tired of the thing for two reasons: the main problem is that there's no resistance when you pedal. So you'd probably have to pedal for half hour just to tire yourself out. I suppose this might work ok for someone who's totally out of shape and couldn't handle an incline anyway, but I found it virtually pointless to use it. The other thing was, it's fairly noisy, even with padding under the stand.

I feel a little bad about selling it to the buyer without pointing out its shortcomings. Of course, no one pointed them out to me.

So i brought home my groceries and when i was unpacking them, i forgot to put away (in the fridge) a pound of cottage cheese and a pound of Kozy Shack pudding. Umm, they sat on the kitchen table for about 4 hours. I shall eat them anyway.

So one thing i am learning from my new job is that there's an incredible array of high quality, charming children's magazines out there. That's what I'm doing, updating our listings for our 2013 edition of our publication, which summarizes everything a freelance writer of children's stories would need to know if they wanted to browse and see which magazines they might like to write for.

I don't know if all of these were around when I was growing up, but I really feel I missed out. There was one I remember that is still around, called Highlights. But there are so many more that are beautifully illustrated with charming stories for all age ranges.

I also never knew how many Christian/religious magazines for children there are out there. Halleluiah! There are quite a few in the heartland.

After all the brou-ha-ha with my non-paying client, I decided to take down that post temporarily, until I see payment. No need to possibly muddy up the waters further if he, for whatever reason, might google the exact verbiage of his nasty notes to me, he would find them here on my blog and then know a whole lot more about me than I prefer.

So I'm sort of sitting on pins and needles this weekend becus what happens next depends a lot on how soon i get that check and can cash it (yes, I will run to the bank with it), and how soon wifey decides to drop in the office.

I'm guessing that when her manager talks to her about our conversation, she'll be one pissed off lady and I anticipate their trying to stop payment on the check (assuming they mailed it today as promised). Becus once they know I already spoke to her sales manager, they may figure the damage is done and there's no longer any need to pay me, becus her boss already knows all about it. So I'll be wanting to deposit it ASAP.

I have spoken to 2 male friends about the whole thing and both said they'd have no grounds for a lawsuit and that they're sleazeballs trying to pervert the rule of law. All to avoid a $50 bill.

In other news...

It's a rather dreary, cloudy day here, on the chilly side. Not conducive to doing much outdoors.

I bought some tilapia at $3.99 a pound and will have it tonight with a mushroom risotto and steamed broccoli. Tomorrow's dinner is already dethawing in the fridge. Frozen tomatoes from my garden and frozen black beans for a pumpkin black bean soup.

My neighbor returns from Florida today. Maybe i'll give her a call and see if she's back yet. She told me that the cost of the limo (not a real limo) to pick her up at her house and bring her to the NY airport actually cost more than her airplane tickets, which i think were about $300. I know she hated spending the money, but it was her choice to go. She asked me again if I'd be interested in driving her and that she'd pay me, but driving to a NY airport is NOT my cup of tea. Frequent traffic backups, aggressive drivers and I'd probably get lost and then be on my own on the way back. Nooo, I don't think so. I've done her lots of favors in the past and I think she assumed I would do so, but thank God I got my mojo going and said no. It would be about an hour and a half one way.

Got paid today...nice feeling

February 16th, 2012 at 06:07 pm

This first paycheck was a bit bigger than the rest of 'em will be, only because of the day I happened to start work and where that day was in their bi-weekly pay cycle.

So it was net $449 for 4 days of work. Yippee.

Tomorrow's my work at home day. Today at the office I worked straight through without breaking for lunch, so i got in a solid 8 hours of work.

This past week has been pretty intense. Everything is just new, every process, every procedure, and the brain can only take in and absorb so much at one time. Quark is still new to me, and so is FileMaker. Remembering what it's like to work on a Mac... and since having two computers with monitors side by side is conducive to doing this job, I've using one mac and one PC.

The PC is a pain to use. The keyboard is so old some of the letters have worn off the keyboard. The mouse is not working properly and causes things to bounce up and down when you try to use the center scroll bar. I'm not sure they want to buy a new one. The monitor is so small that you can't bump up the font size, which i like to do cus i can't read mousetype anymore, or else you lose the edges of the website andhave teo keep scrolling back and forth to read it.

The internet/DSL is super slow. Everything at this company is old, and acts like it.

Then there's learning a thousand new procedures, having to keep 2 time sheets (1 for paycheck purposes and 1 to track how much time you're spending on different things, research vs. database, etc.), plus remembering to punch in and out of the digital time clock each day/lunch.

The place is so dingy; I still haven't gotten used to it. There's a tacky, dusty old fake pot of flowers on my desk, but I don't want to start dragging a lot of stuff in there, like a nice houseplant, cus I really hope i don't stay there that long and want to be able to leave quickly and easily when I find a real job.

Half the wallpaper is torn off the bathroom walls, as if someone had started to re-wallpaper but then thought better of it. The floors are not level and the carpet is saggy and wrinkled in places.

The editor seems like a very uptight, edgy person. You can hear it immediately in her voice and the way she speaks, in clipped, terse tones talking 100 miles per hour all the time. That's how it was when I first walked in the door this morning, she and another person. It kind of stresses me out. Luckily, we both like classical music, so we had both tuned in our computers to the local classical music station to soothe the soul. There are just 5 of us in editorial.

But I think the worst is over in terms of the learning curve.

Had a couple of quickie emails to edit for the IT guy when I came home. the United Health Care job evaporated into thin air. Got an email from the recruiter saying the company had decided to put it on hold for now. So I basically have no active leads going on right now, which is so discouraging. The jobs come and they go.

I'm sure I must be becoming awfully boring, like a one-trick pony, cus all i can talk about is work and job prospects. Sorry, folks.

Boycott Valentine's Day

February 14th, 2012 at 08:13 am

http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/family-money/should-you-boycott-valentines-day-1329174458509/

It's worth a thought.

Cauliflower & Cheddar Soup - yum

February 12th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Here's the yummy soup I made today, cauliflower and cheddar soup.



It's really easy, and super yum.

Cook a whole cauliflower head, broken up into flowerets, or 2 16 oz. frozen packages of cauliflower, in 1 cup water til soft. Reserve 1 cup of the cooked flowerets and put the remaining cauliflower with its liquid in the blender to puree. Set aside.

Saute a chopped up onion in one-quarter cup of butter til soft, then gradually add a half-cup of flour and stir. Then add 1 cup of chicken broth, 2 cups of 2% milk, the pureed cauliflower, the cauliflower florettes and 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese with 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.

Heat but do no boil. Garnish with green onion.

More teeth-gnashing job-related decisions

February 12th, 2012 at 08:40 am

Today, after mulling it over all weekend, I decided not to pursue 2 jobs I had interviews set up for Monday and Tuesday.

You may think I'm being awfully fussy for someone who's been out of work so long. But I ended up bowing out of both jobs for 2 very different sets of reasons, which I think are valid.

1. The crossword puzzle editing job.
When I applied, I thought the lowest this job could pay would be in the $40K range, but I was wrong on that. When I learned the pay was just $29K, it didn't sound like it would be enough to even cover my expenses. But I like to keep my options for as long as possible, til I'm ready to make a decision, so I didn't reveal any hesitation to the editor when i spoke to her on the phone last Friday.

My net monthly pay after taxes would be $1928 (based on $29K a year gross)

My MINIMUM monthly expenses are $2400.

That's a monthly short-fall of nearly $500. And this is a full-time job!

Add in likely monthly savings of $250 a month for cheaper health insurance with them, but deduct $143 a month for gas, and I would net just $2035, still short of my minimum monthly expenses.

I would have little time or energy to do freelance to make up for the shortfall.

Next spring when my mortgage is paid off, it will be different. My monthly minimum expenses would fall to $1800. So, ok, I'd have an extra $235 a month in my pocket. Just not enough.

When I figure my minimum monthly expenses, I DON'T include things like: car repairs, retirement/IRA savings, clothing, home maintenance, Netflix or occasional lunch out. Nothing like that. I'm getting tired of living like this. What's the point of a long commute and full-time work if it doesn't even alleviate some of these budget shortfalls?

I just don't want to get back into that kind of daily grind/commute if I'm getting so little back for it. Quality of life is a really big deal to me. If I'm earning so little, it should at least be a local job to compensate for that.

The only reason the editor called me for this job is becus a very good friend of mine put in a call to the wife of a very good friend of his, and the wife happens to be #2 in the company. While the editor I spoke to on the phone seemed super nice, she did question my wanting to drive all that distance, and at that time i just tried to allay her concerns.

2. The senior writer job at large IT research firm.
This job would be over an hour drive, so in this sense, the long commute would be a similar issue, though more so. But there are other issues: it appears a regular part of this job would be traveling to conferences and interviewing analysts attending them so I could write up white papers which are later sold to their clients. I don't much care for business travel, would have issues getting someone to take care of the cats and it's just not something I enjoy. The other thing is, while I apparently met all their requirements (like being someone who worked at a large firm and agency before in financial services or some other heavily regulated field), I don't have a lick of background (or interest) in IT stuff, and that's what this company is all about. So I'm passing on this one too, although the money for this perm job would be quite good.

So what's left? I'm still very much interested in the United Health Care contract job and will call the recruiter for that one to see if he's gotten feedback from the company on my resume yet.

What really miffed me is this guy insisted on knowing how much money I wanted (on an hourly basis). I tried to sidestep that and just bluntly said if he could tell me their range, it would probably expedite things. He ignored that. So I ended up telling him $30s, meaning somewhere between $30 an hour and $39 an hour.

I guess that was really much lower than I needed to go, becus I saw that the company has also retained not one, but TWO other headhunters to find someone for the job, and one of these other headhunter agencies posted the job as paying $48 to $53 an hour!!

So, I decided to apply for the same job with these 2 other agencies. If all these submissions result in an interview with one of the other 2 agencies rather than the first, then I will of courses, up my salary requirements. As it is, if something comes thru with the first guy, I will insist on $39 an hour. Becus I'm quite sure that they and United Health Care have already worked out what UHC will pay them. A portion of that payment will go to me and the rest the agency keeps. So obviously, the less I earn the more the agency gets and I'm sure they like it that way. But if the company talks to me and decides I'm the one they want, I don't see how the agency could refuse to pay me at the top end of my scale if I insist. They'd be forced to give me what I wanted becus if not, then they don't get paid either.

The other job I'm now very interested is a 100% remote job with unknown company doing marketing writing. Unclear whether it's p/t or f/t but it is contract work through a recruiter. This looks like a highly desirable job to me. The only thing is the job posting was old, 23 days old. I checked the recruiter website and it seems like it's still an active posting. I somehow hadn't seen it earlier.

In the meantime, I still have the 3 day a week publishing job. With the weekly quotas they've set for us for the number of listings they want us to complete, it's not an easy job and a bit of a grind. I barely met that quota at the end of my 3 day workweek, and the quota will only rise over time. I'm hoping I'll be gone before it rises in early summer, but who knows? Like just about every other place I know, they're trying to squeeze the maximum amount of work out of you for the least amount of pay.

Just trying to do the best I can. It ain't easy.

How to deal with a deadbeat client

February 11th, 2012 at 05:12 am

I have another possible deadbeat client on my hands, the husband/wife Century 21 team from a low-rent type city about an hour away from me. I wrote a blog for them. I can't believe they'd actually try to stiff me out of a measly $50 (I discounted my rate for them) and it pisses me off to no end.

I have a complete paper trail with them accepting those terms of payment but of course not worthwhile to pursue in small claims.

I made a point to verbally ask him on the phone before i started to pay in 2 weeks time. He agreed. I sent invoice. When they didn't pay, i emailed him and he said oh sorry, i will have it out in tonight's mail. That was last Monday. By Friday (yesterday), when i still didn't have it, i emailed again and this time got no response at all from him.

They may actually think i don't know how to find them becus i answered their Craig's list ad and they never provided contact info. (Not even a phone, I don't think. When we agreed to discuss the project on the phone, he said he would call me. I figured it didn't matter becus I had already researched who they were online.I found the wife realtor on the website of Century 21, complete with office address and phone.

So if i still don't get the check by say Wednesday next week, i can email them and say oh, i have reason to be up in Your Town next week, so if i don't get the check from you, i can drop by your office on Name of Street. That may scare them becus they may not now know that I know where they work, and they might not want a disgruntled me showing up at their office and possibly embarrassing them.

What do you think?

I don't have any intention of actually schlepping up there but i do want my money.

Any ideas of other ways I could make sure they pay their bill without going to a lot of trouble (driving up there) or expense?

sure, I can write it off, but in my current state of underemployment, every dollar really counts.

Movin' right along...

February 10th, 2012 at 02:31 pm

Worked all day at home, first on writing up some bios for freelance, and then back to the p/t publishing job.

Hey, guess what?

The annual directory that I edited/updated on a contract basis last Nov/Dec.? It's the 2012 edition and it's published now and I just discovered that my name appears in the book as a Contributing Writer. If I ever go for any other publishing jobs, it will be very impressive.

There's a slew of job opportunities lately, although from past experience, these spring forth like delicate seedlings from the earth and many shrivel up just as quickly.

#1 on my list: An agency in Minnesota contacted me about a United Health Care contract position near where I live. Pay is in the $30s, meaning $30 something an hour. He's submitted my resume to the firm. Would love to work there and would quit my p/t job to do so, even though it's just a 4 to 6 month gig.

I have an interview lined up with the crossword puzzle book publisher Tuesday, but it's a 50-minute drive and they told me the pay is $29K. But it's full-time with benefits. So I don't know. I may still decide to cancel the interview. It's the drive that really bothers me.

Then I have a phone interview with HR at a big research firm for senior writer. That job would also be quite a haul, but it would pay much better.

Still have heard nothing about the contract job with Prudential; it may die away.

I've got over $1,000 in projects I've either already invoiced or will bill out soon, all with the same client. I may have to do quarterly estimated tax payments this year.

Looking forward to some time to myself this weekend, though I don't know what to do with myself.

The 2nd job is better...

February 8th, 2012 at 05:20 pm

I started the 2nd p/t job today at the publisher's. There's quite a bit to learn. It was a lot to take in but I think it will come over time.

The company can't be doing that well. I learned they are no longer making free tea and coffee available in the kitchen and remaining supplies are dwindling down. Hmmm.

It's not that interesting, but it'll have to do.

It'll be 2 days there, 1 day at home to start, and then as soon as I feel I've got the hang of Quark and FileMaker and everything else, I can make it 2 days a week at home, 1 day there. I figure after 2 weeks I should be working at home for 2 of the 3 days.

FileMaker resides on their server and can't be taken home like Quark can, so that's why I have to spend 1 day a week there, to transfer the Quark listing updates to FM.

I decided not to wait til Friday to give notice at the job I started yesterday, so tonight I sent a note to the owner and the gal who trained me, nicely worded, but to the point.

They both wrote back and said they understood. They will mail me a check for the day worked, so no biggie. All the owner said was that 1 day was not enough to judge how much $$ you could make, and that he said i could make $15 when he interviewed me, but I know he said to me $17 or $18/hr. becus I immediately mentally compared that rate to what I knew I'd be making at the publishing job.

I feel like I made the right decision. The publishing job requires a great deal of attention and focus so i feel like I have my hands full with that anyway, and this way, I'll still have time to pursue my freelance jobs as they come, and pursue full-time work opportunities.

the cats don't like being home alone all day after having me around for so long. Well, Waldo is probably ok cus he sleeps quite a bit anyway, but Luther, I am sure, is climbing walls.

I'm quitting.

February 7th, 2012 at 05:40 pm

Today was my first day at the transcription job. I worked in a room with a total of six work stations/computers which they hope to have all filled; they are still hiring and interviewing.

The other gals were very nice and the woman who served as manager did what she could, I think, to make the work environment enjoyable and friendly.

But it was a long and tiring day. The chairs are cheap ones, not very comfortable. Everyone brings in pillows for their backs. There were at times 4 of us in the room.

When one person started randomly talking to another, well, I started having difficulty hearing what was being said in my earphones on the tape I was transcribing. We're all in the same room, and people weren't talking in hushed tones. So you basically had to wait until they were finished talking to get back to work. When someone walked into the room to talk to the manager, it was the same thing. I didn't think it was my place to say anything, it being my first day on the job.

When i interviewed a few weeks back with one of the owners, he told me if you typed at least 60 words per minute, "you should be able to make $17 or $18 an hour." Well, I type north of 80 words per minute and that's not what I made today. Um, yeah, you might make that per hour if you were simply typing.. But they want the text to be pretty much perfect, and I do make little typos here and there, so i was fixing those typos as I went. And then when I was done, I ran spell check, which took some time. Plus I took a few short breaks, plus a half hour lunch, just to stretch. But they aren't paying me for any of that time. They just pay by the total number of words I typed, x a half a penny per word.

So today, i felt I had achieved something, having typed 13,962 words in 7 hours. When i ran that on my calculator at home, it came out to just $69.81, or $9.97 per hour. Which was quite disappointing, given how tired I am.

Paying by the word is cheap and tight-fisted, IMO. And with that pay structure, it's like a disincentive to be very careful because the more care you take with the text, the less you make. But if I try typing any faster, I'll likely just make more errors, which would again require more time to fix. So I don't see how I could really improve much on my speed, or my pay.

If it paid at least what they said it did, or at least $15/hr, which is what I'll be making at the 2nd p/t job, it might be worth it, but given the long drive, the nature of the work and low pay, ....i just think my remaining 2 days a week would be better spent doing my freelance, which pays so much better and continuing the job search.

The freelance won't be enough, even with the other p/t job. And by giving up so soon on this one, i run the risk of again falling short come spring when my benefits finally peter out. (I guess they'll last a little longer, maybe til June, now that I'll be working 3 days a week at the other job.)

The transcription job initially seemed appealing becus, right now at least, there is unlimited work available, and i saw myself going up there weekends, too. But gosh, I'm not a work machine. I question whether I could do it now. I'm not 20. It was very tiring.

Having come to these conclusions, I'm thinking it would be better for me to quit right away, before I go back, rather than wait a few weeks and stick it out. Because I haven't even given them all their paperwork for taxes and stuff. I took it all home with me tonight and had planned on filling it out and bringing it back when i next went back there, which was to be Monday. They don't even have my SSN yet.

I think I should quit right away because if I wait and then quit, I'll have to explain the whole situation to the unemployment office and there's a possibility they might withhold the rest of my benefits becus i quit the job. If I quit now after working just one day, chances are the company won't want to bother processing all my paperwork for a p/t employee (W4, etc) and they'll just want to cut a check and be done with me. I can then just report the income to DOL as a one-time contract job and leave it at that.

So my plan at this point is to wait til Friday, which is my work at home day with the other new job. Then i could call the woman at the transcription job and just be candid with her. I'm sure she'll be disappointed and try to talk me out of it. I will ask to be paid for the one day I worked, and I hope I can get them to agree with me it's not worth it having me fill out all the W4s and other paperwork for a p/t employee just for that 1 day of work. This way, I don't risk complications with DOL.

I'm bummed out, but also feeling what i KNOW will be a short-term feeling of relief. Short-term because the pressure will be right back on to find something better.

My friend did this kind of thing when he took a $9/hr job at Home Depot. I encouraged him to as well. But what in theory sounds like a good idea often is not when you actually try to do it.

In other news, I wrote an email to the IT director whose emails I've been editing, explaining that with these 2 p/t jobs i'd be working full time and would be unable to continue doing his emails, unless i could do them nights or weekends.

he wrote back and said, I don't want to lose you. I'll pay you more! (The 4 words every man, woman and child in America wants to hear, right?). And he asked me to tell him what times I'd be available again and let's try to work it out. So that was nice.

Now I'll probably be able to tell him I quit the one job and can still do his emails most of the time. he should be happy at that.

A first for me: starting 2 new jobs on 2 consecutive days

February 6th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Well, I got the transcription job. And i start tomorrow, 1 day before I start my other new job. This should be interesting, and i hope not too tiring. But between the 2 jobs,I'll be working 40 hours, 5 days a week. Which hopefully should be enough to pay my bills and stay alive when my unemployment benefits finally trickle out this spring. So, despite the low pay, both these jobs came none too soon.

I can work them both until June 2013 if need be, but I will be constantly looking for a f/t job because I need the all-important health benefits. June 2013 is when my ability to continue with COBRA runs out. So it's imperative to find a salaried job with health insurance before that day, about a year-and-a-half from now.

Here's what the transcription job is all about. Before a network airs a season's worth of a TV show, they tape hundreds of hours, much of which they end up not using or editing down to just so many episodes per season.

The tapes I'll be transcribing are Q&A sessions between a TV producer and a contestant on a top chef reality show on the Food Network. This would be my baby for the next several months. Each time someone new starts talking, I have to hit the time stamp; this helps the producers find the right spots on the tape when they decide where to winnow it down and do their editing. You can at times hear the producer coaching the contestant about what to focus on when he answers their questions. So much for reality.

I'll have to sign a confidentiality agreement becus I'll know how a show ends before it airs, essentially. So this will be the last time I'll be able to talk about it.

It was a little tricky to start off because I had to get the hang of using a foot pedal to stop and start the tape as needed, if they were talking too fast, or to rewind, or if something that was said sounded garbled. There were also a lot of false starts, meaning, someone would start a sentence and then shift into saying something else.

As a natural editor, I have a strong tendency to edit as I type, but they don't want the tape edited, they want it verbatim, although they DO want you to fix grammar, punctuation and spelling. So I'm going to have to watch that becus they said someone else who kept doing that didn't work out.

I gave up trying to figure out my hourly rate. I'll just have to see how it goes. They pay a half penny per word, so i guess if I typed 1 page, about 250 words, I'd earn $12.50. It's really hard to tell how much I could do in an hour. I figure if it's only for 2 days a week it won't kill me.

Detailed income analysis of 2 jobs that only the nerdy will want to read

February 4th, 2012 at 08:41 am

It may not even come down to this, but I'd like to know in advance which of the 2 p/t jobs I should choose should it end up being an either/or scenario.

I've already concluded that working both jobs would be best if I could swing it, due to various benefits and advantages of both, but I don't know if it would work out that way.

So here again are the basics.

Job #1, Updating an annual directory for a publisher's.
Pros:
Much closer to home (20 minutes).
Flexibility to work part of the time at home.
They would deduct 1/2 the FICA taxes out of my paycheck.
As a p/t employee, I'd be earning unemployment "credits" which could ensure some small benefit should I again find myself without a job sometime in the future.
Cons: Lower rate of pay at $15/hr.
Hours fixed at 25 a week.

Job #2, transcription of taped TV shows.
Pros:
Would be full-time work at times.
Likely pays a bit better, from $2-3 more dollars per hour, but I don't know that for sure until I do it. That higher rate of $17-18/hr is based on what the owner said, and he could be sugar-coating it.
Cons:
Likely won't pay my FICA taxes.
Likely considered contract worker, so I wouldn't build up unemployment "credits." Which means if I were laid off down the road from this job, i might find myself in a situation where I could collect NO unemployment benefits, unless I also worked somewhere else as a regular employee. So this is actually fairly important, becus it's a crucial safety net should another layoff occur.
Could possibly drop to under the 25 hours a week I'm guaranteed at the first job.
Longer commute (40 minutes)
No option to work at home for probably 1st year.

Let's look at the key differences and see how many more hours a week I'd need to work at the transcription job in order to make that the better choice from a strictly financial point of view.

1. Gas expenses. I calculate it would cost me $2 per round trip to the publisher's but $7 per RT to the transcription job, so the transcription job would need to be at least 26 hours a week (at $16/hr) in order for it to pay more than publisher's.

2. FICA taxes. Half of FICA taxes is 12.4%, so this means the publisher's job would put an extra $23.25 in my pocket each week.

So in order for the transcription job to be the better choice in terms of the FICA taxes AND longer commute, I would need to be assured of averaging over 27 hours a week there (at $16 an hour).

The final key difference between the 2 jobs is one I don't really know how to quantify. It's the added potential benefit of working at publisher's as a p/t employee (not contract worker) resulting in my ability to earn unemployment "credit" as I go.

For now I guess I'll disregard it since it would only be a benefit if I got laid off from the publisher's job and that seems a bit unlikely since I sense the directories I'd be working on are a mainstay of what they do and an important revenue source. (If I got fired, of course, I wouldn't collect unemployment anyway.)

So when I go see the transcription people again on Monday, I need to find out if on average it's more than 27 hours a week.
I guess that job would still be better, even if it was over 27 hours a week for just half the year, right? I think they will only offer vague assurances and not really be able to specify exact hours, which is a little troubling. if I could work both jobs, that would be great, but I'd hate to give up the other one for this one, only to find myself working 15 or 20 hours a week.

Working a single job is so much simpler but since these are low-paying jobs with no benefits, I can't afford to just wing it and possibly make the wrong choice, if that kind of choice ("either/or") is given to me. I'm inclined to think the transcription job would be better, as long as I can assure myself it is, in fact, a year-round job and not more temporary in nature.

If i could convince them to accept my working for them 16-20 hours, including part of Saturday, then I could also do the publisher job and at least be earning full-time income, albeit at a low rate. That's the best case scenario.

Random accomplishments, pros & cons of different job scenarios

February 4th, 2012 at 07:23 am

January was the best month I ever had in terms of doing online surveys. I earned $146!

I filed my federal tax return online and with the combination of modest deductions on the home office form (thanks to Dido for all her help) and the medical expense reimbursement, the most I could get back in a refund was $425. (I had a lot of untaxed freelance income.) But then I owed $205 on the state form (largely due to the fact they decreased the maximum deduction for mortgage interest and property taxes paid to $300,down from $500), so my net will only be about $220 this year. How sad.

I think I spent about 23 hours on taxes, which is close to the average of 20 hours. I feel like I learned a lot by doing them myself again this year, particularly with the home office deduction. I will try to keep better records this year.

I got a final sign-off on the latest press release I did and can release it today. Then I can bill them. Smile

I decided to slightly raise my freelance rates this year. Not across the board, but some things seem a little out of kilter. So I'm raising my fee on press release writing and distribution from $135 to $141.75, a modest 5% hike. These take a little more time than I think I'd allowed for, plus I often send my client links to places where I see the PR published, which I've never included or charged for becus I can't always access certain online publications which charge an access fee, and stuff like that. Plus I just don't have the time to monitor publication hits. But I do it enough for my one client so I figure, the rate increase is justifiable, especially since I haven't raised my rates since 2007-2008.

I may keep the rates on everything else the same, for now. Press releases probably represent about 50% of my freelance work, so the rate increase should be noticeable in my bottom line.

Besides distribution of the press release, the other big thing I want to accomplish this weekend is ghost-writing another article for the real estate exec. It will be the third such article I'll write under his name and which will appear in CT Builder Magazine. I like doing these becus I can charge a little more.

I didn't hear back yesterday afternoon from the woman at investment management subsidiary whose name/email I got from the woman who hired me Q4 2010. I sent my resume and a writing sample, one of the stories I wrote analyzing state housing trends for CT Builder Magazine (see above). I hope she doesn't look at my heavy marketing background and decide I'm not well-suited for writing white papers. That's why I sent that particular writing sample, to counter that possible impression.

Now the woman who hired me last time talked to me on the phone and then I was hired; there was no in-person interview. It would be nice if this worked out that way as well; if it's off-site work, it makes it even less necessary to meet me in person. I have no way of knowing how tenuous a thing this referral is, so I'm trying not to count on it.

In the meantime, I have a Monday appt. to go to the potential transcription job and do a typing test using their special transcription equipment. I'm a little irked, becus in their email they said it was a full-time job, but on the phone she said full-time now, but it could slow down and become part-time later. I really need to pin them down on just what the average hours might be, because I might have to decide between the transcription job and the 25-hour-a-week publisher's job, where I start on Wednesday. The transcription job reportedly pays $2 or $3 more an hour, but that's an estimate and it's all based on word count; it's not an hourly rate, so I have no way of knowing for sure til I do it. If the transcription job ends up average just 25 or 30 hours a week, it might not be worth it to take it even though it could pay slightly more, due to the longer commute...about 40 minutes vs. 20 minutes to the publisher's.

So it's a bit of a toss-up between those 2 jobs, unless I can pin them down and learn that the transcription job is likely to be at least 30 hours a week, on average. One thing against it is that I have to drive to the transcription job to do that work, while I will be able to work at home some of the time to start, maybe more later on, at the publishing job.

Yet another complicating factor just occurred to me. I'm due to start at publisher's on Wednesday. If in the near future I'm offered the transcription job, I may have to quit publisher job,and that may be problematic as to my remaining unemployment benefits. I have a remaining balance of about $7,000 now. Because if I work anything less than 35 hours a week, I may still receive a small mount of unemployment for any particular week.

Maybe I'll call DOL. If I explain I quit one job for a better paying job or more hours, that shouldn't penalize me. It's important for me to know, becus with either job, I'm likely to still rely on unemployment benefits in those weeks I work less than 35 hours.

Oh, the complications.

Yesterday was a blur, but today I'm feeling light-headed

February 3rd, 2012 at 08:56 am

I didn't plan on it, but yesterday I ended up spending about 12 hours on my taxes. And it ain't done yet.

I did the whole 1040 plus Schedules A, B, C, D and Forms 8829 and 8949 and SE. For the first time, I took the home office deduction. Ended up with just a $355 refund on the federal because I didn't pay a lot of taxes on all my freelance and contract work. I did get a nice deduction also for my health insurance and other healthcare expenses since they exceeded 7.5% of AGI.

So I've done my taxes twice already, first as usual and then with the home office deduction. Now I'm going over it a third time to double-check every number.

Then I'll file electronically and move on to the state tax.

The other big news is on the job front:

This am out of the blue i got an email from the woman who hired me for the great contract job i had in Q4 2010 for the well-known financial services firm. You know, the one that paid $50/hr ($2,000 a week!) She had a colleague who worked in the marketing area of an investment management subsidiary of theirs who was looking for a contract writer for white papers and some other work.

I don't know if it's f/t or p/t right now, whether it's onsite or offsite, or anything else about it, but would jump to work there again and make the big bucks.

Here's the dilemma: I start at the p/t publisher's job next Wednesday.

If possible, I would try to work the white paper job AND the p/t job at the publisher's, which starts next Wednesday. I don't know if that would be possible.

But if the white paper job is f/t, even if it lasts only 3 months, I would still take it and turn down the publisher's job, which is 25 hrs a week at $15/hr. They would hate me for leaving them at the last minute, or possibly shortly after I started, but that's the way it goes.

Then I just got ANOTHER email from a company where I had interviewed a month ago for a transcriptionist job. I guess I didn't get that slot, but they emailed me today to say they have a f/t position and am I interested. I called and she wants me to come in there Monday to test out the transcription equipment and see how well I do with it. They clocked me at 90 words a minute last time i was there, but that was just a typing test without the transcription equipment.

There are no benefits and while it's f/t now, the hours could be reduced somewhat later; it all depends on how much work comes in. They pay by the word and as I recall, he said I should be able to average around $17 or $18/hr, so somewhat better than the job at the publisher's. However, the publisher's is an easy 20-minute drive away and I could work at least 1 day a week at home (2 days in-office), while the transcription job is 40 minutes away and I'd have to work there.

So I am very excited about the possibilities.

The other important factor is which jobs would deduct taxes from my paycheck and treat me like a regular, albeit p/t employee, vs, those who would treat me like a 1099 contract worker.

I'm assuming fin. services job would treat me like a contract worker. I noticed the timing of their reaching out to me today was exactly 1 year after I finished working for them; I had to sign a no compete clause with the agency that found me for them saying I wouldn't work for this company again for a year. That term expired Jan. 1 2012, so perhaps no coincidence the company called me, since it would save them many thousands of dollars if they didn't have to pay an agency to find me.

The publisher's would deduct FICA taxes from my check. Not sure about the transcription job.

The treatment of me as an employee or contract worker is also important in terms of unemployment "credits." i would "earn" these credits, as far as the unemployment office is concerned, if I found work as an employee, but not contract work. These credits are what determines how much you would receive in unemployment compensation should I again lose a job in the future. So this is very important, too.

A good month in the stock market

February 1st, 2012 at 03:02 pm

It caught me by surprise as I don't follow it daily, but January was a pretty good month in the stock market. My total portfolio increased by over $17,000 in just one month.

I made decent progress today on a capabilities writeup for a freelance client. I spent quite a bit of time on it although it's just a page and a quarter long. There is more work still to be done on it but I sent it to one exec for feedback.

I am anxious to begin billing for some freelance work again since January got off to a very slow start and I've gotten no freelance income YTD.

Today was exceptionally warm outside for early February, in the 50s. I rolled a few more heavy logs down from my backyard into the driveway. As a shortcut, I tried rolling one log down my bluestone stairs, but the log was so heavy it chipped off a piece of bluestone. Not good. I think I can repair it with cement in the spring.

With still about a quarter tank of heating oil in the tank, I caved and ordered 100 gallons at the exorbitant price of $3.52 a gallon. I have been calling the 2 lowest priced heating oil suppliers I know in the area for the past few weeks to get their daily prices, and their prices today actually increased about .05 a gallon since last week. Usually, prices fall during warm weather, so that's why I waited until today to call. But there are so many other variables, it seems impossible these days to time it right.

I decided to only get 100 gallons instead of filling up my 175-gallon tank partly becus it's more affordable, but also in the hope that if I can't get through the rest of the winter season, I can at least buy it again in March at a lower price, becus there again, prices seem to drop toward the end of the season when demand weakens. In theory, anyway. I have never paid so much for heating oil as I have this year. It will be delivered Friday.

After doing a few hours of research a few weeks ago, I like the idea of a pellet stove, but that idea will be shelved indefinitely, until I get a f/t job.

I am about ready to start my taxes. I am still waiting for one 1099, but I really don't need it to get started as I know how much I earned from this employer.

I'd love to get the taxes done before I start work at the publisher's next week. I assumed I'd be starting on Monday, but they decided the two in-office days would be Wednesday and Thursday, so I'll be starting on Wednesday. So finishing those taxes is a possibility. It'll feel good just to start. Maybe tomorrow.