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Archive for June, 2013

Interesting new credit card website

June 30th, 2013 at 04:58 am

Have you seen this? Check out rewardboost.com.

You can enter all the credit cards you own here (not your accounts, just the name of the card) and it will help you maximize how much you earn in credit card rewards each year.

I'm constantly participating in various credit card reward offers and it gets difficult to keep track of which one's the best to use for specific purchase categories, like gas, groceries or dining out.

This site organizes all that for you and makes it easy to compare and contract reward offers so you know exactly which card to use for any given purchase.

The bottom line is, no one card is going to best for every spending category. I found that for the 3rd quarter, Chase Freedom will be best for buying gas with its 5% reward, but Amex Blue Cash Everyday will be best for charging groceries (3% reward). Citi Forward is best for fast food at 5%.

I've accumulated about 10 cards now. I have cancelled a bunch, but there are 2 I never use but will always hang onto because I've had them for years, before I got started on the credit card rewards kick.

And I notice my credit hasn't suffered with this many cards (I PAY IN FULL EVERY MONTH), so having several to choose from will help me optimize the savings. Right now I'm still working on upfront credit card rewards on 2 cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Bankamericard Travel Rewards) so am charging everything to these 2 cards, but once I meet my spend goals in another month, I'll then be using rewardboost to help me maximize everyday purchases with all or any of my cards.

Weekend Doings

June 29th, 2013 at 05:14 am

Later this morning Iím picking up a friend and weíll be visiting 7 private homes as part of my townís annual home and garden tour. Itís really the gardens Iím interested in seeing, but I know the homes will be lovely, too. I imagine they wonít want people taking pictures inside, but perhaps I can sneak in a few outside to show you later. 

I havenít done this in about 15 years. The tickets were $25 each. My friend mentioned that she thought one of the houses was somewhat inaccessible and that it looked like a walk in the woods to the house and she hates insects, not her idea of a good time, yadda yadda yadda. I think sheís entirely mistaken about that house; what she may have thought was a driveway was, I believe, a road. It has been insufferably hot and humid for a week now but we will be in an air-conditioned car and Iím guessing most of these homes are also air-conditioned as well. So please, donít ruin this outing with complaints already. Letís think of it as an adventure. Geez. 

Otherwise, this was pretty much a normal weekend for me. I hit Trader Joeís Thursday, BJs Friday and will be at Caraluzziís after the home and garden tour. For some reason, I never wind up getting everything I need at a single grocery store, even though I always come with a list.

I am thinking next week I will look into getting someone to remove a non-functioning humidifier thatís attached to my oil furnace and replacing it with a new one. When I bought the house, I took the advice of a furnace guy to detach the existing humidifier because it would spew lots of unhealthy mold spores into the air or whatever. I have lived 18 years regretting that decision because in the winter, the air in here is exceedingly dry; I wake up with a sore throat daily and you generally feel a lot colder than you would if there was some humidity.

What made things worse is that the guys who were here at the time cut the plastic tube that carried the water, and at some point later, the water still trapped in that tube leaked out and totally rusted the unit as well as one side of my furnace. It didnít damage the furnace, but itís very unsightly. You just donít see it all unless you walk around behind the unit. Anyway, Iím hoping it can all be replaced and the rust somewhat cleaned up for no more than $500. Weíll see. It would be money well spent. Surely they make humidifiers now with a UV light or whatever that kills mold.

My neighbors behind me lowered the price on their house from $900-something to the high $800s after probably less than a month on the market. They have a gorgeous, 6 bedroom house with 7 acres, but it doesnít help, I would imagine, when the Zillow estimate that appeared on their Patch page with their open house listing valued the house at $580K or in that vicinity! It makes it appear they have grossly over-valued their home. I havenít had a chance to talk to them about that, but I would love to know why they think thereís such a discrepancy.

I bit the bullet and ordered 6 custom-made bamboo shades (with liner) for my sunroom, at a cost of about $316 with coupon. I really, really need these. My sunroom was done about 3 years ago and I have suffered through 3 summers without any kind of window coverings. From June through August, from noon on, it gets too hot in there to enjoy the space. The windows face south and west. And the heat spills over into the family room, warming it up as well. So Iím hoping these shades will really cut down on the heat in there. I canít wait to get them. I hope I can install them myself. Others said installation was easy. I need to borrow a drill.

My Retirement, Redefined

June 27th, 2013 at 01:18 pm

OK, so Iíve been working the new 3-day-a-week job for 3 weeks now, and Iíve gotten a few paychecks under my belt. Now that I know what kind of net income Iím dealing with, I thought I would go over my monthly income/expense scenario again, with an eye toward fine-tuning and tweaking, especially as it affects my retirement.

For a long time, my retirement goal has been, after using countless retirement calculators offered by the likes of T. Rowe Price, Kiplingerís and others, $1,250,000. That, I felt, was an accurate representation of what I would need to retire comfortably.

While knocking out the mortgage last summer was a big milestone, it certainly doesnít mean I can just relax and forget about retirement planning. Although my 3-day-a-week job may transition into 4 or 5 days a week at some point down the road, I really have no knowledge of whether or when that will occur, so Iím focusing my re-budgeting based on the 3-day-a-week scenario.

I decided that prior calculations about what kind of savings it would take to save even $1 million by age 60 would not, realistically, be something I can achieve with my current income. (Assuming a 5% interest rate, Iíd need to sock away $2,683 a month. Or $1,015 a month based on an 8% interest rate. Yeah, it would be less if I didnít have to stop working at 60, but I donít think I want to be locked into working f/t after that age.)

So I adjusted my sights downward somewhat by deciding to concentrate on a goal of saving $750,000 by age 60. Based on a modest 5% interest rate, Iíd only have to save $247 a month to accomplish that. Remember that number; weíll return to it below.

I looked at my revised ďbare minimum monthly expensesĒ once again and made the following adjustments to it:

1. I set health insurance at $589 a month, though I am sort of in limbo right now and not yet accepted into the state plan. My applicationís being processed.

2. I was happily able to adjust my monthly allocation for property taxes down to $488 a month, thanks to our recent town-wide revaluation of real estate. Thatís a savings of $62 a month, or about $750 a year! Youíd think it would be more, given that the last reval was done at the peak of the market five years ago, but hey, Iím not complaining.

3. My insurance for the new car will only increase $100, mainly because I boosted the deductible to $2,000. Iíve never filed a claim on car or home in 18 years, so why pay more each year in insurance if I donít need to?

4. The big unknown at this point is how much my car tax will be. This is a hugely unpopular tax in Connecticut which legislators recently failed to do away with, but anyway, I called the town and she said it wouldnít be due til January, so Iíll wait til then to find out.

So with these various adjustments, my bare minimum monthly expenses are actually a bit lower than before, at $1,922. Psychologically, I really like having it stay under $2,000 a month.

My net income from working 3 days will be $2,564 a month, and Iím adding an additional $200 in net income each month from my freelance work. Iím just guessing at the taxes on $300 gross. So with $2,764 in total income each month after taxes, Iíll have $842 left over each month.

I will put aside $247 of this toward my $750K retirement goal on the 1st of each month, starting in July. It represents a 9% saving rate on my NET income, not bad on p/t income, but thatís what you can do when your mortgage is paid off. That still leaves me with $595 for discretionary spending which I predict will be spent on things like home maintenance and the occasional eating out, clothes, Christmas and, hopefully not anytime soon, the vetÖ.none of those expenses are included in my ďbare minimum monthly essential expenses.Ē

In summary, I think this is a doable budget for me that allows me to save a meaningful amount toward retirement, something that has LONG been on my back-burner due to under-employment.

Iím not saying I want to retire on $750K and Iím not sure I could. It would be a fairly spartan retirement, perhaps something like my mother has. I always envisioned something more comfortable that would allow me some travel abroad etc. So while $1.25 mm is still the ultimate goal, for now, I will set my sights a little lower just so the bigger numbers donít make me throw up my hands and give up. I am definitely a goal-oriented person and I do better when I have a goal Iím working toward, provide that itís reasonable and doable. I believe this one is.
It also allows some additional funds for who-knows-what. I know this old house sucks up money like nobodyís business. In the back of my head are big capital improvements coming down the road like: new roof @ $8,000, upgraded kitchen cabinets/counters @ I wonder how much and a variety of other assorted upgrades/repairs.

Pouting about pollen

June 23rd, 2013 at 04:49 am

I never paid much attention to pollen counts until I acquired Waldo and discovered he has severe allergies. Each spring it gets harder and harder for him to breathe. I brought him once or twice to the vet, who gave him a quick shot and presto! Allergies subdued in a majorly way, really quick. I noticed his improved breathing on the car ride home!

However, Iím reluctant to submit Waldo to the trauma of a trip to the vet unless absolutely necessary. Heck, Iím never really sure I can even catch him to put him in the carrier.

This spring, I noticed that weather.com will email you the daily pollen counts at the start of each day. They also break it down by trees, grasses or weeds and indicate the level of severity (low, moderate or high).

In early April, Waldo was already showing signs of having breathing issues, so I decided not to throw open the windows the way I do on warm days. I love the fresh air and breezes coming in the house, but it just wasnít worth it when Waldo was affected by it so much. So I kept the house shut up continuously right through June; the only fresh air getting in here was when I went in and out the doors.

The difference has been amazing. Waldo is breathing so much better.

Not only that, but I came to the conclusion that the pollen heís allergic to is tree pollen. Now that tree pollen season is over (according to my weather.com reports), itís down to the grass and weed pollens, and Waldo doesnít seem affected by that at all. Perhaps the tree problem is more of an issue because itís floating down through the air from a much higher starting point. I know that when I still had my screened porch, Iíd get a thin layer of green dust on everything in the porch and family room.

Iím really glad, as I knew I couldnít keep the windows closed forever, and that when it really heated up, Iíd be forced to open windows since I donít have central air.

So now Iím enjoying wide open windows (and so are the cats) without any repercussions.

Yesterday, I got a check for $113; itís the up-front bonus from my Chase Sapphire card. Still working on rewards for dual cards, something I donít usually do, but I wound up applying for 3 cards right before I bought my new car. So now Iím working on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Bankamericard Travel card. After that, I may take a little breather on the credit card rewards. I feel like you really have to stay on top of them when youíre working to earn those rewards within a given time span.

So far, year to date, Iíve earned $355 in credit card rewards and in another few months Iíll have earned another $615.

I also participated in an easy promotion where you just have to use your BankAmericard once to pay for a phone/cable/Internet bill through June 30 and you get a $15 gift card at Target and a few other stores.

Last night I made my first of the season pesto sauce over pasta. It didnít taste quite right, because I substituted dried garlic flakes for fresh garlic, and it tasted a little flat to me.

I finally got paid $110 from a Yale study I did in early May. Now that Iím working 3 full days, I will by necessity have to cut back on these kinds of studies, and market research focus group studies, as well, but I will still keep my eyes open for things that might take place on my days off (Thurs and Fri).

The mulberries are starting to ripen on the big mulberry tree outside my window. I only know that because I can hear a variety of fruit-loving birds fluttering around in the branches each morning, including cedar waxwings, cat birds and robins.

Lucky Robin, if youíre reading this, youíll be pleased to know I fed the boys canned rabbit for the first time ever this morning ($2 a can) and they loved it. I think you're on to something. Smile

Waldoís Health Scare

June 21st, 2013 at 05:52 am

Due to my abbreviated work schedule, my ďweekendĒ officially starts at 6:01 pm Wednesday night. So I was just into my weekend two nights ago when I arrived home from work. I didnít initially notice that Waldo didnít come into the kitchen at dinner time with his straight-up, happy tail with the crooked little curve at the tip. Which was odd, because Waldo is a healthy eater, and the cats had just gone a long stretchÖ10 hoursÖwithout eating since breakfast.

I found him huddled in a corner behind the French door in the family room. He was just sitting there, in an out-of-the-way spot. Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but the look on his face told me he was in pain. He didnít respond to me when I paid him attention, and this I found very disturbing as he is normally extremely affectionate with me.

The first thing that came to mind, frankly, is that maybe Luther rough-housed with him too roughly, as I feel he often does, and this time actually punctured his neck. Luther is a big boy and I am constantly breaking things up when he decides to ďplayĒ with Waldo. I had even considered segregating them when I go to work, because the rough-housing happens when Luther gets bored, and poor Waldo is missing most of his teeth and canít really defend himself. I ultimately decided against segregation because no matter where I put Luther, I know heíd be scratching and destroying whatever stood in his way. He can be very destructive.

I had also noticed 3 small pools of throw-up. I assumed it was Luther, who is frequently coughing up hairballs. These didnít look serious, just white foamy stuff that sat on top of the carpeting, so it appeared it had just happened.

I continued to keep an eye on Waldo, and I was sure something was very, very wrong. If it wasnít a bite from Luther, I worried that at Waldoís age, 13, it could be kidney failure. I called the new 24 hr emergency veterinary place in town to confirm I could bring the cat in, any time.

I hesitated, because Waldo is still extremely timid and I knew I would have a really hard time getting him in the carrier. It would be very traumatic for both of us. And I know that I basically had one chance to scoop him up, because if I failed the first time, heíd be extremely wary about letting me get near him after that.

I brought the carrier down from the attic and positioned it upstairs out of view, wondering if I could carry a squirrely cat in my arms even that far. You know how cats can squirm out of your arms if they want to. I couldnít let Waldo see it or heíd hide, even though itís been several years since I last took him to the vet for an allergy shot.

Before I knew it, it was already 9 pm. Waldo was still sitting very still. At one point, he meowed once or twice (again, I interpreted that as pain or discomfort) and another minute later, I realized why: his stomach contracted a few times and then he puked up another small pool of white foam. He must have been feeling nauseous, hence the meows. But I didnít know why he was throwing up. After that, he was quiet, but I was still very concerned for his welfare. Since taming him several years ago, he always loves to be petted, and this time, he didnít respond at all.

I decided I would spend the night with him on the family room floor and brought a pillow and blanket downstairs. I was pretty tired and settled in, though later, he got up and walked away to jump up to one of his favorite napping spots on an upholstered chair. At that point, I decided that if he didnít really want my company, I might as well get a good nightís sleep, so I went upstairs to bed.

Yesterday morning, I was up around 7 a.m., feeling a little guilty that I hadnít gotten up in the middle of the night to check on Waldo. When I walked downstairs, I found Waldo had just gone to his food bowl and was eating with some enthusiasm.

I couldnít believe it. His appetite had returned. I had been worried he might be dehydrated if he hadnít eaten anything. I let him eat his fill and then followed him back to the family room. He seemed like his old, affectionate, good-natured self in every way! I was really astonished; I had come so close to hauling him over to the vetís, which would have entailed all kinds of exams, blood work and stress for both of us.

Waldo has been perfectly fine since then. I really wonder what the heck happened. Iíve had cats all my life, and itís been my experience that cats rarely get sick in any way, but that once they do, itís often something terminal. Thatís why when I saw Waldoís condition Wednesday night, it wasnít hard to convince myself that this was the beginning of the end, that this was Waldoís time and I wouldnítí t have him for long. I thought that at his age there was a good chance he was in the early stages of kidney disease, since vomiting is one sign of that, as is loss of appetite.

I suppose that could still be possible, so I spent some time yesterday researching the best foods for cats with kidney disease, which means high protein, low fat and low carbs. It also means no grain products or the ďhealthyĒ vegetables that cat food makers often put in cat food to make it more palatable to humans. Cats are carnivores and donít need that stuff; in fact, their digestive systems werenít made to handle it.

Thereís a very good vet online (http://www.catinfo.org/?link=cannedfoods) who writes extensively about cat foods and whatís best to feed cats. I studied her writing, lists and charts for hours. Iím going out today to pick up some higher quality cat foods then what Iíve been feeding the boys. ďHigher qualityĒ does not mean, necessarily, the most expensive foods. Iams, for instance, seems to a very popular brand, but the very first ingredient in their food is corn. A huge red flag. Another huge no-no according to Dr. Pierson is NO DRY FOOD. Also very little or NO seafood flavors. At most, use them as a treat once or twice a week. (See her website for reasons why.)
I am just so glad to have my old Waldo back but am still flummoxed by what happened Wednesday night. Since he doesnít go outside and I control everything he eats (unlike Luther, he doesnít find little things on the floor like bugs to eat), it would seem unlikely to me that he had indigestion, because he ate the same thing that day that he eats any other day.


Another shot of my office building, from the back side.


I discovered this marina just a 5-minute walk from my office!


The marina is behind the Starwood Hotel, which you can see here. Unfortunately, the nice little walkway between the hotel and the marina doesn't extend too far along the water, and it ends where the Starwood Hotel property ends. Too bad. The hotel does have a nice outdoor patio for dining though.

In other newsÖ
Iím trying to work out a savings plan with my new 3-day-a-week income. I think I want to transfer $650 a month to my online money market account from checking. (My monthly net will be about $2,535.) $550 of this is to be set aside for my property taxes, which I pay twice a year. So Iím really only saving $100 a month, or 3.9% of net income, which is kind of shabby. But since I know my ďbare minimumĒ monthly expenses are about $2,000, if I save $100 a month, that leaves me with $435 a month left over, which I can either save or spend.

Itíll probably be a combination of the two.

Sometimes, itís just the little things that give pleasure. Like Wednesday night, which was like my Friday night, on my long commute home, I decided I would treat myself to takeout at Boston Market. I ate in my car. I used to do that all the time, but hadnít in about three years. It was quite enjoyable, and a nice way to break up my drive.

One bit of promising news: my recruiter friend told me that his HR contact at the company where I work asked him last week for the ďDirect Hire fee agreement.Ē (This is what the company has to pay the recruiter if they hire me on a perm basis.) Now I donít want to read too much into this, but I think itís a good sign that HR wants to review this document, possibly as prep for negotiating a perm position.

If not, Iím okay with that too, and would happily continue the three days a week work schedule, on a contract basis, all summer.

But it also points out how tenuous my work situation still is. If for some reason they decided I wasnít a good fit, I could easily become unemployed again in very short order, scrambling to figure out what happens next. Itís actually good for me to keep reminding myself of this, because after an initial spending spree rooted in several years of self-enforced frugality (clothing, shoes, a ďstatement pieceĒ chair, new car, rubber cargo mat for new car, and a few lunches out with girlfriend), I think Iím ready to really buckle down and do what I said I would do once I got a decent job: save as much as I possibly can, for my retirement, for the next unforeseen rainy day, in case I lose my job again and to try to get my investments back into positive growth territory without having to rely on a bull stock market. I have always had ďmoney insecurity,Ē partly, I think, because I am single and have to rely on myself. I think having money insecurity is a good thing because youíre more likely to shore up your savings than if you were more carefree.

Yesterday I ghost-wrote a magazine article for a real estate exec, in about 5 hoursí time, so it boosted by my hour rate to about $57/hr. Itís important to me to maintain my freelance business while still holding down the other job, as backup security should something happen to my other new job. I also got another builder bio assignment and am trying to schedule an interview time with the guy today.

Sunday I am doing something funÖ.a tour of an old historic cemetery here in town, led by our town historian, a retired history professor. Heís very knowledgeable but Iíve only heard his talks a few times, so this should be fun. My friend A. will be joining me. I hope itís not too big a crowd.

A day in the life.....

June 17th, 2013 at 05:44 pm


This is the building where I work. I can't show you the front side cus it has the name of the company in big letters.


Here's the view of downtown from our parking lot.


It was a pretty good weekend although I didnít really do anything social aside from a brief visit from my mother and a phone conversation with my dad and my friend R.

I wrote a builder bio on Saturday and he liked it very much.

I mowed the lawn. Seems like is becoming harder and harder pushing that thing.

I made a cranberry-grape relish as well as a crabmeat/red pepper/pea/pasta salad for my work week lunches. I also tried a recipe thatís basically hard boiled eggs chopped up with mayo, sour cream and artichoke hearts, used as a spread on crusty bread or celery sticks. It was okay, but thatís because I just like egg salad; I donít think I liked the calorie-ridden addition of the other stuff and the whole affair was rather bland, even with liberal use of curry powder.

I also made a turkey chili, so that will serve as this weekís dinners if I donít get too sick of it. I was wanting to use up my frozen tomatoes from last summer, and after this have just one bag of it left. So, tons of food in the house; I may have to freeze some of that chili.

I swept up portions of my large driveway, as many shrubs hang over it. I got out my land bow saw and attempted to cut down to truly ground level the stubs of some shrubs I had cut back last fall. Without doing that, I still have to mow around the stubby stems. Iíd like to be able to mow over the stems to keep them all from sprouting again. I made some progress, but itís actually kind of hard to saw things like that so close to the ground. Iím sure if a neighbor saw me theyíd wonder what the heck I was doing.

My friend R. has another court appearance Tuesday. He is in the midst of a contentious divorce; for him, after she walked out on him twice, it is a gloves-off scenario and he is representing himself and fighting to depose several members of her family and friends as a means of pressuring her to settle out of court. She has hired a high-priced lawyer becus she was/is apparently under the belief that he had gotten tons of cash from two lawsuits he won against a former employer and his health insurance company, but he didnít get that much.

The whole thing is pretty sad; my friend is far from the perfect guy and, having dated and lived with him 25 years ago, I know that he would drive me nuts if I saw him regularly. However, at heart heís a good guy, very family oriented and a responsible guy. How two people who twice said ďI doĒ can be so mean to each other is something I have a hard time understanding.

Monday
Made it through another day at work. I only put it that way because itís such an odyssey to get there. Iíve been feeling guilty my cats are on their own for such a long day, so tonight after heating up my chili in the microwave, I played with the string with them and then, for a special treat, I poured some catnip on the family room carpet and inside a long, rectangular box that is tunnel-like and great for cats. Luther, of course, took to it immediately, but I have yet to see Waldo go completely inside.

Friday doings

June 14th, 2013 at 11:05 am

I got my ďcargo linerĒ for the trunk of my new car today. Iím pretty happy with it. Only if you inspect it closely would you see that it doesnít exactly fit the space; along the sides, where thereís a curve, thereís a bit of an overlap, a good half inch on at least one side. However, you can hardly notice it.


To think that the dealer wanted $300 for this.

Iím making good progress on the credit card rewards. For the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Iíve already charged $1927 in this the first month, so hitting the required $3,000 to earn the $400 back in cash rebate should not be a problem. I also started in on a new Bank Americard Travel credit card, and have charged just $47 on that toward the target $500 in 3 months (to earn $100 back). I already finished with the Blue Cash Everyday card from Amex, and am waiting for my points to show up online (redeemable for $100 back).
Just finished interviewing a builder over the phone; now I can either write his bio now or do it tonight.

My British neighbor/toy designer stopped by for a chat on my front stoop. Since being laid off, he gets lonely staying in the house all day while his wife is at work. The house has been on the market for only a few weeks and theyíve dropped the price by $50K becus they donít feel theyíve gotten enough interest, and they need to be out of there by December. The house was priced in the $900K range to start.

The Stairway to Heaven looks especially lovely with all the flower petals from the rhododendrons fallen on the driveway.



Iím debating if I should go out now and run my errands or write the bio. Hmmm.


3rd work week in the bag

June 13th, 2013 at 10:48 am

I wrapped up my third week at the new job. I am liking things better as I get meatier assignments, such as writing a bio of a Slovenian designer, which will appear on the website, as well as 2 promo letters related to a home makeover contest ($10,000 prize!) and some other website stuff.

I learned yesterday from the recruiter that they are "particularly pleased" with my work. He predicts an early perm offer, but again, I try not to count on that too much and just chalk it up to recruiter's optimistic/hopeful disposition.

I am not particularly happy with my seating location, though. I am surrounded by a bunch of guys (web developers) in their 20s; I'd rather be sitting with other women, or ideally, the two other people who are writers, which would be my two managers.

They are planning a reconfiguration of the workspace as they have space issues and we should all be sitting somewhere new by end of summer. The nice thing about these offices is that, though there are no cubicles and everything is an open floor plan, they do have these gigantic windows that afford great views of the city.

I told the recruiter/my friend that their payroll person calculated my state income tax according to the maximum rate charged to people making $250,000+. I don't make close to that and asked to be charged the lower rate or I'll have vastly overpaid state income taxes by year's end.

For some reason, instead of approaching their payroll person, he chose to consult some accountant he knows and the accountant said I was correct, so now the recruiter said he would have it taken care of. Just thought it was odd he didn't just ask payroll directly about it but maybe he didn't want to bother her unnecessarily.

So recruiter is asking me to keep him informed of everything I'm doing for the employer as he says it will help "us" negotiate the best pay rate. I assumed I'd be negotiating for myself, but i guess the agency must get some kind of payment if and when i'm hired on a perm basis. He said realistically, i should be able to get about $80K with benefits. Of course, if i got what i wanted, a 4-day work week, my pay would be reduced proportionately, to about $64,000, if I'm not mistaken. I could live quite nicely on $64,000 without a mortgage and with much more reasonable health insurance expenses.

Anyway, trying not to focus too much on that and just taking it a week at a time. And waiting for the better pay to start having an effect on my pocketbook. That won't really happen til next month, as i went on a bit of a spending spree, what with my new car purchase ($19,700), new clothes ($580), a cargo mat for the trunk and yes, a Maharaja chair from Ballard's Design for $187 that I had my eye on for several years now.

As for the commute, I'm finding that the right mental adjustment goes a long way in making the drive more palatable. Meaning, an attitude of quiet acceptance/resignation is far better than impatience/stress and banging on the steering wheel! They are doing some major reconstruction at one exit which should improve things by February 2015. (!!)

I spend about 25 minutes each way on Interstate 95 and I would say my average speed is about 20 mph. That's how congested it is. And that's not to say it moves steadily at 20 mph; it's more like periods of stop and go the entire distance I must go, which is 8 exits. I gave up (for now) exploring back roads or the Merritt Parkway; the congestion is everywhere; there's no escaping it. I do feel I should know those alternate routes though, for when there is a huge backup caused by an accident or something.

So my average commute is between an hour and an hour and 20 minutes. Sigh.

I have some stops to make today or tomorrow: Wal-Mart, Macy's, the gas station and BJs, but it's been raining all day and haven't felt very motivated.
We're supposed to have a nice weekend.

The Author had told me earlier she might want to put her 3rd book on hold for various reasons, which disappointed me, but then she asked me for a price on it anyway. I charged her the same rate I edited the other 2 books for, which is very, very low compared to what others would charge; i'm pretty sure the going rate is .01 or .02 per word, while i've been charging her just .0056 per word. Just becus I was determined to wrestle that first book editing job away from someone else she was going to hire, so when she told me the other person quoted her between $1,000 and $1200, i quickly said i'd do it for $1,000 and after doing a complimentary edit of a few pages, i got the job.

So when book #2 came along, i felt i needed to charge pretty much the same rate as the first one. Also, she's usually broke as she doesn't work much and her husband (wisely) doesn't pay for all her novel-writing activities out of his pay.

So anyway, I quoted her this a.m. $810. It would be nice to do it since it's a little side job i could do in my free time.

Still not sure how my insurance coverage for the rest of the year is going to pan out. My application to get on the state plan is on hold as they want proof of my previous Cobra coverage. I called the Cobra people and they should be able to mail it out in a few days, and then Iíll have to mail or fax that to the state plan. I SHOULD have enough time.

Normally, the state plan doesnít cover just anyone; they want you to have gone with no insurance coverage for at least 6 months before they pick you up, but there are exceptions to that rule, and one of them is if your Cobra coverage expires, as mine will June 30. It's just that I stopped paying for the Cobra after the May payment. It was the Cobra rep's idea. As long as I could avoid incurring any healthcare expenses in June, I could save myself the $770 premium for that final month of June since I planned to get on the state plan July 1 and would be set. I just hope the state plan doesnít hassle me about dropping my cobra coverage a month before I had to.

Anyway, hopefully all will work out all right with that.

There are 2 does and a fawn spending a lot of time in my yard at dusk and dawn, and i see a doe here now. Once the apples and mulberries begin to fall, they will REALLY hang around. So yes, they are dropping their Lyme-infested ticks everywhere. She is not huge...about the size of a Great Dane.

Productive yet enjoyable Sunday

June 9th, 2013 at 05:47 pm

Canít say I ďrelaxedĒ today but I got a lot done and didnít go anywhere.

It was such a lovely day, in the 70s and sunny. I did yardwork from about 1:30 pm to 6 pm and I am pooped. I finished mowing the lawn. Then I decided to remove fencing from around 3 different shrubs, all viburnums. Theyíre to keep the deer from browsing too heavily, but Iím thinking they mostly leave them alone (?) in summer, when thereís more to eat elsewhere. Aside from having to look at ugly fencing (a combo of plastic and wire), itís a pain when you mow and also use the trimmer and the grass tends to get high and overgrown-looking.

So weíll see how that goes. I used the trimmer and things look much better. Also did some weeding here, there and everywhere and potted up some more sedums in one of my homemade hypertufa pots. I trimmed back another shrub that tends to grow into the driveway and scrape the side of the car if you're not careful.....Geez. Now I canít remember what else I did out there that took 4.5 hours, but I was mostly working.

I also made an edamame/corn/black bean/tomato cold salad for my lunches this week, along with a great fruit salad with mango, kiwi, organic peaches and organic strawberries. Those organic peaches are very hard to find, but they were at BJs. Peaches are one of the most heavily sprayed fruits, along with strawberries, so I figure itís money well spent.

Darned if I think I may have poison ivy again. Those tiny, tell-tale little bumps on my itchy left pinkie finger. I mostly wear gloves and in fact today washed myself with tecnu poison ivy soap like 4 times.


OK, STOP. No more clothes spending.

June 8th, 2013 at 06:23 pm

See, I am not all that perfectly disciplined. Give me a little extra money, and I find the temptations to spend it very powerful.

I bought a pair of shorts at Kohlís yesterday and today it was a pair of laceless plaid sneakers at PayLess (embarrassed to say I stopped in there).

OK, enough with the spending, Patient Saver.

I did get my first paycheck from the new job in todayís mail. It was quite small since I worked just two days that first week. I wanted to see how close the actual net paycheck was to what Iíd calculated online using a calculator at paycheckcity.com. It was off by a good $30-odd dollars, and that was because the agencyís payroll calculated my CT income tax at the very highest rate possible. CT has about 6 tiers, based on income, and the one she used was for people earning $250,000 and up. Maybe they use that for everyone just to make it easier for themselves, I donít know.

I emailed J. the recruiter about it. If itís off that much on just one small check, it will mean Iíll have a fairly large state tax refund at yearís end; Iíd really rather just get whatís owed me throughout the year.

SoÖ.AFTER I did all that clothes shopping, I thought I should try to go through my closet and dresser drawers and see what clothes still fit and which can be worn at the new job. My 3 closets are quite full of clothes that range from a size 6 through size 12, although the vast majority of clothes are sizes 8 and 10. Iím now fitting into the size 8 pants pretty well.

The closets are stuffed because I have quite a few pieces of clothing hanging there that donít fit, but just take up space because I havenít been able to part with them for sentimental reasons, believe it or not. Thereís the t-shirt from the Adirondack Nature Museum I got over 18 years ago when I was vacationing with R. It never did fit but I always liked the graphic image on it. There was another tie-dyed shirt I got around the same time period at the Clearwater Festival in New York and a few really cute t-shirts I just liked too much to part with.

Anyway, I did manage to throw away a bag of old clothing that no one will want, and I filled another bag for Good Will. I put aside some clothes I thought my mother would like (sheís a little smaller than me), and she stopped by today to get them and to admire my car.

I organized things a bit better. I donít want to get rid of everything that doesnít fit because if I lose maybe 5 to 7 more pounds, I think that will make a huge difference, so I dedicated one bottom dresser drawer to too-tight clothes: jeans (3 or 4 pairs) capris (2 pairs) and shorts (2 pairs). I seem to have a gazillion shorts (that DO fit), so I donít know why I felt I needed to buy another pair at Kohlís. Oh, and also at Kohlís, on a different day, I bought 2 more pairs of slacks. One was gray, to go with my new gray/black leopard print slide-on sandals which are oh-so-sexy cute.

But as for the shorts, if I had just dug through my drawers, I would have realized I have plenty.
Shopping can be addictive. I have enough now.

Iíve had to start calling the contact for a Yale study I participated in back in early May. They were supposed to mail a check for $100 but never did. She called back and left a message. I believe it will be coming eventually.

I recently did some legal editing for a client. I did a 15-page report for her before she realized sheíd sent me the wrong version, so then I had to do the whole thing over again with version 2. I explained that I would need to charge her for time spent on the first version, but I did feel bad for her, so I just charged her half price and I told her I valued her continued good will more than a few extra dollars and I figured we could split the cost of the first version edited down the middle. That was my reasoning, anyway. So I was very surprised today when I received her payment and she paid in full for both versions. I sent her a thank-you note. I do believe that how someone deals with money tells you a lot about what kind of person they are. I do recall having the hardest time collecting all of $50 from the nastiest realtors in the world about a year ago.
I mowed the lawn this afternoon and will finish that tomorrow. Otherwise, just tidied up around here, had a brief visit with mom, dropped off the Good Will stuff and some trash at the landfill, deposited some checks at the bank and thatís about it.

Tomorrow not going anywhere. Will finish mowing and make an edamame/corn/black bean salad for the coming weekís lunches.

Next weekend getting together with a girlfriend to check out some Connecticut gardens and then probably do lunch afterwards. Iíve already done a breakfast and a lunch out with her which is more than Iíve done in ages, although she did treat for the lunch and I got the tip.

This is a new friendÖthe woman who shared my old p/t job proofreading. Sheís older than I am and lives here in town but she has a very colorful past. She has 4 degrees, including a PhD. In psychology. She used to be a sex therapist (!) and also co-founded a singles dating service with another woman. She recently retired from many years of teaching in the public schools. Sheís very social, smart and nice to spend time with. Sheís married to a very blue collar guy who works on cars for a living. Itís nice that although I no longer work at that job (she still does) I still got a nice friendship out of it. Sheís also had some trauma in her past which I wonít go into but it was very upsetting to hear about. She is incredibly well-adjusted, given everything sheís experienced. Sheís a survivor, as they say.

Where's my paycheck??

June 7th, 2013 at 07:04 am

J. told me his recruiting firm pays every Friday. What he neglected to tell me, apparently, is that the first paycheck is always mailed and thereafter it's direct deposit.

Thanks for letting me know. Grr. Makes me feel nervous until i see that 1st paycheck, what with all the other weird things I've experienced with this agency.

Already at the halfway point on Chase Sapphire Preferred spending target

June 6th, 2013 at 01:29 pm

Iím halfway to meeting my $3,000 spend target for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Iíve only had the card about two weeks! (And to think I was worried I couldnít hit it.)

I did spend a fair amount ok, a lotÖ about $500 or $600Öon clothes (capris, summer tops and shorts) and 2 pairs of sandals, but Patient Saver hasnít purchased any clothing, save for bras and panties, since 2009. Iím working with a bunch of 20-somethings and need to look at least remotely presentable/stylish. Otherwise, they might think I wandered in off the streets. Seriously.

Today, I purchased a rubber cargo mat/liner online thatís supposed to fit perfectly in the trunk of my new Honda. (You indicate the make and model of your car and they cut the mat for a custom fit.) It was $80, much better than the $300 the dealer wanted! It even has a one-inch high lip around the edges to contain any spills. I nearly told the dealer to go ahead and order it as I had no idea they sell these custom fit to your car, online, much cheaper than dealer, of course. I'm glad I did a quick check.

The trunk on my old Honda got TONS of use to haul wood, tree branches and other messy stuff to the landfill. A liner would have been great to protect the cloth-like covering. The liner is easily removed so you can hose it down if needed. Just this am I was bringing trash to the dump and worried that my kitchen trash bag might leak in the new car. (It didnít.)

I figure now is the time to buy a liner, while itís all still clean. If the trunk liner fits well, I may also spring for custom-fit rubber liners for the 2 front seats. I go through many cloth mats with my cars and they get so grungy and difficult to clean that rubber liners, once again, sound like a great idea. I know you can buy rubber mats at the store, but itís one size fits all and they donít completely fit the floor area, so you inevitably track mud or dirt on the floor of your car.

I did a few other things on my To Do list already. I cleared the family room gutter after noticing it was clogged again last time it rained hard. It doesn't take much at all. I also started mowing the front lawn, but still have about 15 minutes of mowing left on the charge, which I need to do since they're forecasting rain tomorrow and part of Saturday.

I went to Kohl's and bought some shorts and am still debating whether or not to return 1 or 2 more items I bought at Macy's. I tend to buy when I need to, not when there's a sale going on, and that was the case again this time. I feel I overpaid on a few things.

Everything looked like a great fit in the dressing room but now I wonder if it just looks like some of the tops I bought are swimming on me like a tent. I don't like tight-fitting tops and so I tend to buy them with plenty of extra room. (I see so many overweight people out there wearing clothes that are way too tight, which I believe makes them look so much worse than they have to.)

Tonight I'll be watching a Netflix movie I've been saving as I don't seem to have enough time on work nights. The commute with the new job is more like between an hour and an hour, 25 minutes, which gets me home around 7:15 or even later, and by the time I'm thru with dinner, it's after 8 pm.


New property taxes

June 6th, 2013 at 06:38 am

On the third vote, taxpayers finally approved the school budget here. Looks like Iíll see a nice little decrease in my taxes, even though you would expect to see a much higher drop since the last revaluation 5 years ago was when real estate values peaked.

There's a PDF on the town website where you can look up your street address and know exactly what you'll pay. I have a 3-bedroom, 1.5 bath Colonial, built circa 1930 on a 1.5 acre lot near the center of town. Market value right now is around $298,000.

Last revaluation: $269,760
My current taxes: $6,619.91

The new revaluation: $175,770
My new taxes: $5,856.66

So thatís a reduction of $763.25. Iíll take what I can get.

Recruiting is a dirty, underhanded businessÖcase in point

June 5th, 2013 at 05:56 pm

So, I wrapped up my 2nd week at the new job. I worked 2 days last week and 3 days this week. I got the job, if youíve followed by blog, through a recruiting company and the recruiter happened to be someone I know, a former writer I worked with at my last job who, after his layoff and being unable to find work, switched careers and got into the recruiting business. His name is ďJ.Ē

The agency is headquartered in Manhattan. I had never heard of them before. Most of the jobs he places are on Long Island or in the city, but this one was in Fairfield County, and he called me because he knows Iím a great writer.

He originally described the job as paying $35/hr. After I interviewed with the employer and they told the recruiter they wanted me, my friend J., the recruiter, said Iím afraid Iím going to have to reduce the pay to $33 an hour. He was evasive, I felt, when I asked who was lowering the pay, his firm or the employer. He later more or less admitted it was his employer, the recruiting agency. This was all communicated via email.

So heís trying to wheedle me into accepting the job but I dug in my heels, pissed that he lowered the rate of pay. I wanted to try ďnegotiating.Ē It was a Thursday night, I think, and I knew he was going away for the weekend and probably wanted to wrap up the whole thing before he left. He kept saying, can I tell the employerís HR person youíve accepted? When can you start? You can make up the difference in pay when they hire you on a permanent basis. (This is a contract jobÖthereís certainly no guarantee theyíd hire me on a perm basis.)

I resisted. His anxiety to make it a done deal showed through in his emails, so I felt I had the upper hand. J., youíre not cut out for this business, I was thinking, because I could almost see him sweating it. Finally, I said letís split the difference, Iíll accept $34/hr. He was relieved and said heíd ďmake it work,Ē whatever that meant, I wondered.

So today I get an email from J. saying he ďforgot to give me some paperworkĒ and can he meet me right after work in front of my office. I said, well, sure, though if itís easier you can just drop it in the mail. I was a little curious about why he was meeting me as itís a pain to get around the city with traffic and all at rush hour.

So we met tonight. He didnít have any paperwork to give me. He explained that his employer, the recruiting agency, was again lowering the price they were paying me to $33/hr! And he had come to meet me in person to give me the difference in cash! Since I only worked a total of 38 hours, he handed over $38 and when I asked him if this was coming out of his pocket, he said yes!

What kind of outfit is this??? Surely he canít keep this up indefinitely. He told me it was a dirty business and that because I was his friend, he wasnít going to let this happen to me. Now I wish I could have said no, keep your money, but I really need every cent after being out of work for so long and yes, I felt indignant that this sheister agency would try to pull this on me.

In fact, if it wasnít my friend I was dealing with, Iíd threaten the recruiter to tell the employerís HR and my immediate manager what they were doing. Surely they wouldnít want that kind of bad PR. However, Iím not sure what would happen with that since itís the recruiter that actually cuts me a check and pays me each week. (They are getting paid by the employer.) I donít think the recruiter could ďfireĒ me since Iíve already started working for the employer.

My friend confirmed that the employer is paying his firm a tidy sum, so this is one incentive the employer has to take me on a perm basis. My friend added that they (the employer) had also been looking for a long time for a writer but hadnít found anyone they liked. (ĎTil now, hopefully.)

I donít know the business very well and I suspect thereís more going on at his end than I know. Heís kept urging me to work more hours, or that I suggest to my boss that I can work more than the 3 days a week Iím doing now. And heís acknowledged that as far as his employer is concerned, the longer I work as a temp, the more money they make. But Iíve been complaining about the commute all along and said 4 days a week might be the most Iíd want to work, unless I could work at home 1 or 2 days a week and that seems somewhat unlikely since my new boss told me at my interview that she wanted someone on site 5 days a week.

J. asked if I could see myself staying here a while. He also said that if I found another job, to please give him as much advance notice as possible. I havenít really been looking as hard as I usually have since I started this job, but I have been keeping an eye on postings just in case something much closer to home came up that was also a good match for my background. So he keeps asking all these questions and thereís a lot I really donít have answers to. Like, I donít know whatís driving my managerís decision to have me start at 3 days a week, nor how long she might envision me working at that rate before increasing my hours.

One thing I do know: I want to earn $34/hr. Thatís what was offered to me, and thatís what I accepted. But now knowing that itís coming out of J.ís own pocket makes me feel pressured to not accept more of his money, because heís a personal friend and it makes me feel like a schmuck.

In hindsight, Iím suddenly realizing that I donít even have a copy of the paperweight indicating they would pay me $34/hr. This deal went down so fast, I met J. at a Starbucks late one night where he had me sign a slew of papers for taxes, auto deposits and everything else. I signed something that indicated the rate of pay, but I never got a copy from him. All I have as proof of that agreement is the emails we exchanged.

Sultry Saturday

June 1st, 2013 at 05:08 pm

It was another sweltering day. I met a friend at a local used furniture warehouse in town and browsed their goods.

Worked several hours editing a 17-page legal report for one of my freelance clients. Otherwise, tried to stay cool, mostly in vain.

Went out this evening to mow some lawn and take some snapshots.

Here's the new set of wheels:





I know all the plants in my yard so well. I planted many of them myself. Although they bloom so reliably, year after year, I never lose the "wow" reaction when they start in with the fireworks.


This is a perennial called false indigo, I believe.


Another view


Striking red clematis




I often like to leave portions of the lawn unmowed to see what comes up. Here we have a delicate little wildflower called Red Robin.


Spectacular mountain laurel near bloom with rhododendron.


The Stairway to Heaven. You can see a bit of another huge rhododendron in the back yard.