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Archive for July, 2014

Conclusions I've Reached

July 27th, 2014 at 08:19 am

Much as I love supporting the local organic farm as a member of their CSA, I've decided I won't renew my membership next year.

Today is just the 4th Sunday I'll be collecting my half share of produce, but I've already found myself with certain veggies I either don't have time to cook up or don't care for all that much.

Part of the problem is that half share owners pick up on Sundays, not before 1 pm (Full share owners pick up on Saturdays.) I'm never quite sure what we will be getting until I pick it up, so I can't plan ahead with certain recipes picked out that make use of those vegetables. Sunday afternoons I don't like running around so if I'm missing an ingredient or two, that means I have to run to the store.

I also don't much care for Swiss Chard, and we've gotten that I think every single week so far. (It's easy to grow.) I've frozen a bunch for winter soups, which is fine, but I feel I have enough and don't want to totally take up space in my smallish freezer. I already gave some produce to my mother last week, but umm, I paid top dollar for all this organic produce and here I am giving it away or hoping I don't get ever more Swiss Chard or zucchini.

I'd probably do MUCH better cost-wise to simply shop at the farm on my own, to get exactly what I want and nothing more. I don't really see any advantage to having to take produce I don't necessarily want.

I was pretty productive this weekend. I tackled the stupid back wall of a hall closet again, using some special primer that's supposed to work well on problem surfaces and stop peeling. It didn't completely work on the back wall,which had been damaged 2 winters ago now by ice dam leakage from the roof. I already overpaid a contractor and all he did was compound over it several coats. When i tried painting regular primer on top of it, it began peeling in spots when it dried.

I'm so sick of this particular job. I decided to "give up." I painted over everything and it's just one smallish area near the bottom where you can't really see it where it's still peeling. It's just not worth my time or aggravation, and I'm tired of looking at the pile of sheets, blankets, pillows, etc. on the floor. So after it dried, everything went back in.

I also was able to install a new set of bamboo shades in my office. They look quite lovely. I had been making due with two panels from a single set of curtains in my office for YEARS. They were a navy/white plaid and didn't exactly match the wallpaper in here. Now that I've gotten rid of the curtain panels, I really like the minimalist and contemporary look of the bamboo shades which, being bamboo, also remind me of my hippie youth, for some reason.

These are now the 3rd set of bamboo shades I've purchased. The other sets are in the sun room and my bedroom. Each one's a different pattern. They do take more time to raise or lower each day as i have to wrap the cord around and around and around the little thing you mount on the side of the window trim.

My new Frigidaire dehumidifier is working like a CHAMP in the basement. It's taking a ton of water out of the air down there and has done an EXCELLENT job of drying out my concrete floor, which had been getting progressively wetter with all the humidity and after the breakdown of my older DeLonghii dehumidifier.

The DeLonghi is still at Jeff's Appliance. They are trying to determine if it's just a broke sensor or the "control board," which sounds a bit ominous. Maybe they are setting me up to pay more than the $60 or $80 they quoted me on the phone (admittedly sight unseen).

Found another hornet's nest

July 20th, 2014 at 06:59 pm

This one is in the ground. I was walking across the lawn, up the slope toward the house, and there it was, plain as day. A hole in the ground where hornets were coming and going. If I had approached it from any other angle, I likely wouldn't have seen it.

I banged a wood post in the ground about 3 feet from the nest to remind myself to mow around it. I'm not sure I can go the rest of the year without mowing there, but maybe I will.

My veggie garden is pretty haphazard this year, but the onions are bigger. Too bad I didn't plant them deep enough; some are flopping on their sides. The beets are also finally taking off. I may dig a few up this weekend to see how big the roots are; i can always eat the greens.

I've also got 5 tomato plants scattered around the property (not in the garden, due to blight disease problems), in areas close to the house and fenced off to deter deer. Oh, and 1 cucumber that has lots of flowers but no cukes yet.

Hornet nest is STAYING

July 18th, 2014 at 04:39 pm

Nearly every year I have my annual run-in with hornets and their nests. It's hardest to spot them when the nest is in the ground. Then I'll inadvertently run over it with the mower, and that's when I get stung, on the back of the leg, usually. My leg will swell up for a week. If you've been stung, you know what it feels like...like someone's taken a small knife and twisted it into your leg. OWWWW.

A few times, now, no doubt from the trauma of being stung, I've been alert enough to spot a ground nest before I mow over it. I can spot them sometimes by noticing a lot of insect activity, of flying objects coming and going in the same area. If you stop and peer at it more closely, sometimes it turns out to be hornets going to their nest.

Earlier this year I found a small hornets nest under the broad-leaved canopy of a huge viburnum. It provides excellent shelter from rain, no doubt. I had to spray the nest because it was kind of close to the driveway, where a deliveryman could brush up against it, and actually that's what I did myself when I was mowing. The nest actually fell on the mower, but even more surprising, the hornets didn't go after me. Still, I felt I'd better spray.

Yesterday, I found an even largest hornet nest, about the size of a cantaloupe, in a rhododendron that sits very close to the house, on the back wall.

Because I know that hornets, like bees and wasps, play a critical role as pollinators, I am happy to be able to leave this nest alone until the frost kills them later in the year. It's in an area where no one will go, and I have the perfect vantage point indoors to watch as the nest gets larger.

I plan to collect the nest after a hard frost and bring it indoors to put on a shelf. To be sure no hornets are left in it to hatch when I bring it inside (they shouldn't be, according to the hornet life cycle I've read up on), I'll put the nest in a clear plastic bag and seal it for a day or two indoors. Just to be doubly safe.

I would like to post a photo of the nest but as mentioned before, I'm having trouble now adding images.

I finished up my 1st week as a perm employee. Today I got my last check from the headhunter agency, and I'll have to wait 2 more weeks, til Aug. 1, to get my first check from the bank.

I've signed up for healthcare, my flex spending account, dental care and 401k. I'll be contributing 15% to start; I may sign up for the catch-up contribution later after I get a sense of my comfort level and how much discretionary money I have left over. Just have to wait to get my ID card.

As usual, i have a ton of stuff to do this weekend. Uppermost in my mind is driving 45 minutes to drop off my dehumidifier for repair. The new one's been running and working like a champ.

I picked up a pizza tonight on my way home from work. It was the 1st time in the 19 years i've lived in this town that I tried out this particular pizza place. I don't know why that is, but it is. The pizza was pretty good and cheaper than the pizza place i used to go to, where it was hard to justify their prices.

Work and play

July 15th, 2014 at 05:37 pm

Well, it's barely mid-week and I already made myself a long list of things to do this weekend. Sigh.

When I got home from work, I went out with a bowl to see if I could pick off some ripe wineberries. Looks like another banner year for them as they envelop my property from nearly all sides. I only picked enough to top my breakfast cereal in the morning. But I think more should ripen by the time the weekend comes. Smile I hope to pick as many as possible and freeze a bunch for winter.

My membership in the CSA this season is forcing me to cook things I don't usually cook. Like, I know beets are considered a "super food," but if I bought them in the past, they'd be pickled in a jar. Not bad, but not very fresh.

So last Sunday I got 4 good sized beets with my haul, but also the tops. I went online to my default recipe source, food.com, and tried out a simple recipe where you basically just cook raisins (plumped up with boiling water first), walnuts, garlic and scallions with the shredded beet greens, just long enough to wilt the beet greens. BOY, WERE THEY GOOD. The sweetness from the raisins took away the sometimes bitter taste of greens. I could have eaten a lot more of them, cus once you cook them down, what looks like a huge pile of leaves ends up being much smaller.

I may just email the recipe to the farmer's wife. And I've been toying with the idea of volunteering my time to help them write a newsletter going out to all CSA members, which I believe is over 100 families. I know they can't pay me, but I am so into the whole CSA thing, plus I love to cook and try new recipes. The person who did something like this before moved to Maine, so at the moment they are "newsletterless."

Plus, being a writer, this stuff comes easily to me. I was also wondering if they've ever done a survey at the end of the season to ask people, for instance, to name their top 5 vegetables they'd like to get in the CSA and what they thought of the program in general.

But, it is a commitment and I don't want to start something I can't stick with. I seem to always be going in a hundred different directions.

Last weekend was nearly all "chores" and not much "fun" stuff, save for an early Sunday evening walk on my favorite paved walking trail here in town. I've done that walk a zillion times before but I enjoyed it so much nonetheless. I had the place mostly to myself. The meadows reminded me of famous Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina.

So, back to my produce. I still have a bunch of kale and 5 zucchini/yellow squash to do something with. The problem is, during the week i'm usually too tired to do any fancy cooking but yet i hate to leave farm fresh produce linger in my fridge all week. I wish I could get my produce earlier than Sunday afternoon, cus by that time, well, I'm running out of weekend time to do some cooking.

Due to the extreme high humidity, i haven't walked on my lunch hour all week; instead, I've gone to sit, or recline, actually in my car with the radio on.

Last weekend I spent some time researching the cost of cable TV with either Charter, AT&T or Fios. They all offer even the cheapest TV at a far higher price than I want to pay. When I gave up cable in 2010 (post-layoff), I was paying just $18 a month for it! Now, even if you get it as part of the threesome package with phone and Internet, you're still paying $30 a month and usually just for a year or two and then you have to renegotiate the whole thing again. I absolutely HATE having to do that, as is the case now with AT&T for my phone and internet. I'm quite sure they're counting on your not bothering to do that or not having time or being lazy or whatever so you wind up paying the higher price after the promo rate is over.

For now, I guess I'll stick with plain old, limited Hulu. The only shows I watch regularly are:
* House Hunters
* The Bachelor/The Bachelorette
* So You Think You Can Dance
* American Pickers

What I miss the most is:
* My local news stations
* American Idol
* HSN, I'm embarrassed to admit. As a marketing writer, I'm fascinated by their sales pitches and how they pull you so that before you know it, you've just got to have the latest whatever it is they're selling.
* Channel 13

Little by little I am doing the things I'm required to do as a new employee. Working for such a big company, it's frankly ridiculous to have such a complicated mountain of stuff to read and do, but of course it's all mostly necessary. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to set up my direct deposit. Then on Thursday I should be able to do some other things, like health insurance (won't be able to switch til Sept 1) and my 401k elections. Then of course I'll have to get through a pile of Group Learning Modules, which are self-directed online courses you have to take each quarter. I've been doing them all along; even as a contractor you're required to take them. Kind of a pain. There was one I flunked and so I have to retake it until i Pass. Yikes.

Oh. Last night, I found my new Frigidaire dehumidifer sitting on my front doorstep, delivered via Amazon.

I managed to get it out of the box and into the basement. Plugged it in, turned the power on and it started right up. There was next to nothing I had to do, which is the way I like it. Thus far I am using the container you have to empty once it fills up cus I only have one laundry sink down there and I have decided that yes, I will also get the DeLonghii dehumidifer repaired....another chore this weekend to drive it 50 minutes to New Haven where the authorized repair guy is.

The basement floor is STARTING to dry out; I'll have to remember to empty that bin in the a.m. before I go to work so it doesn't stop working all day when I'm away.

When I get the DeLonghii repaired, I may run both down there but I may also need to get an electrician over here to put in another electrical outlet in the corner of the basement where I want to put the Frigidiaire. I have to search down there first to see if there's one I haven't noticed before. Would be nice if there was one. You're not supposed to use an extension cord and since I do worry about things like fires, I won't do that....

Here's some not very good pix of the ailanthus tree that was taken down last weekend.

http://www.savingadvice.com/blogs/image.php?blog=3743&id=12651

http://www.savingadvice.com/blogs/image.php?blog=3743&id=12650

Photos used to be so easy to do here and now I'm having trouble. Something has changed.

Tree down

July 13th, 2014 at 06:13 pm

Saturday a crew of 4 burly guys came to take down a 65-foot-tall ailanthus tree near by house.

They had a bucket truck and a small payloader (?) to carry large trunk chunks to the truck to cart away But what really impressed me was the surgeon-like precision with which they lowered chunks of the tree down a pulley system that avoided hitting either of two sets of power lines on either side, or nearby trees. It was very impressive. Glad that's done.

Today's haul from the farm CSA includes: 2heads of garlic, a bunch of kale, 4 beets with green tops, a bunch of Swiss chard, three zucchini and 2 yellow squash.

I blanched and froze the Swiss chard. I plan to roast the beets and use the greens for dinner tomorrow. I would have done it today but it's just too hot and humid to be using the oven.

I ate the last of the kale from last week. I also used 2 cups of shredded zucchini to make a very good chocolate cake.

I took a very enjoyable walk on one of our town's paved walking trails. I even snoozed and took a longish nap, due to the heat.

I went to the supermarket and got some stuff, then made a quinoa cranberry salad for the next few days' lunches.

Tomorrow I get my new 70-pint dehumidifier delivered, and it's badly needed. The basement floor is all damp/wet due to the humid air. It's much worse than usual since my regular humidifier broke down.

Yesterday I installed some new bamboo shades I bought for my bedroom. The dark brown really looks good with my cherry bedroom furniture. I already ordered another set (my 3rd) for my office.

My neighbors aren't moving

July 11th, 2014 at 03:37 am

I got a call last night from the neighbors behind me. The happy news is that they AREN'T moving!

You may recall earlier posts of mine about their plans to move to Tennessee (land of cheap real estate) because they over-improved their house and then he lost his high-paying job. They could no longer afford to pay their property taxes, which amounted to yes, $18,000.

They originally listed the house in the $900s. After lowering the price several times, down to $699K, with nary an offer, they decided to create an illegal apartment and a room for rent.

They will be living there too, of course, so I'm not too concerned about it. She feels that the income from the renters, plus income from her husband's future job, will be enough to pay the bills.

Right now, the husband, who worked as a toy designer, is trying to get his own puzzle business off the ground. While things still look very promising, he can't draw a salary for at least a year.

But she wants him to get a f/t job and continue the toy business thing on the side. Any job, she said, any job. He's a very talented guy, but not in a conventional way.

He has long wanted his own mini farm. They tried chickens, once, but when they became infested with some kind of parasite, he had to kill them all because the fleas or whatever they were infested everything in the barn and he was bringing them in the house on his legs, etc.

She would rather not have the mini farm because she feels it's too much work and as they get older (they are my age now) they won't want the responsibly or expense.

But now they've bought a miniature cow and they are also on the lookout for a sheep. I tried to convince her that these are herd animals that do much better in at least a small group, but she feels the sheep and cow will consider each other as their "herd." They also got another 20 chickens.

They want the cow for milk, the chickens for eggs, of course, and the sheep for, well, eventually they will eat it.

It does sound like a lot of work. The cow will need to be milked twice a day, every day. All the animals will need to be safely put away in the barn each night so the local coyotes don't bother them. (Good luck with that.)

They also started a vegetable garden.

I am glad they intend to stay now, for they have been super nice neighbors and have helped me out from time to time. I hope they get good tenants

I got fingerprinted on Wednesday for my job and it looks like i should be official on July 21.

How I've spent my furlough week

July 4th, 2014 at 03:36 pm

So this past week has been my mandatory furlough from the bank.

I have to say that Monday and Tuesday, spent visiting family on the Jersey shore, were the best part of the week thus far.

Back home on Wednesday and Thursday here featured awful humidity and heat and I didn't feel like doing much of anything. I did somehow manage to mow part of the front lawn last night. Oh yeah, and yesterday I went to Idea in New Haven (a once a year event, partly because it's a 50-minute drive) and got 3 really nice baskets, some lingonberry jam and 2 plants, which I re-potted when I got home. I also enjoyed a Swedish meatball lunch in their cafeteria. Can't shop on an empty stomach!

I also made a few calls to see if repairing my DeLonghi dehumidifer would be worth it. One of the sensors is not working and I was getting an error message on the digital display. Because I may need a 2nd dehumidifier in the basement, I may buy the new Frigidaire I have my eye on first, then, if the 70-pint Frigidiaire can't handle it alone, I will cart the 50-pint DeLonghii back to New Haven to the authorized dealer/repairer, which will probably cost about $100, not including gas and inconvenience of getting there. I bought the DeLonghii dehumidifer in 2003, so would rather not spend $100 on an 11-year-old appliance that's smaller than needed unless the Frigidaire needs help down there. However, I will delay ordering the Frigidaire on Amazon until mid-next week until I earn about $30 in Amazon dollars from my participation in some forums I belong to.

Today, unexpectedly, was much lower humidity and temps, and even downright cool! It's also been raining on and off all day.

So to take advantage of that, I spent some time in the kitchen making orange-date muffins, a cold pea soup and an apricot berry salsa that I'll mix in with yogurt.

I also hit BJs to return a $30 item, stopped at Shop Rite and Trader Joe's in the past few days. And I was at Macy's today and picked up a few summer tops. Spent $90. I picked up 6 DVDs from the library (it's getting harder and harder to find foreign films I haven't seen) and I've been watching one each night.

I stopped in at town hall yesterday and determined that my property taxes would not be lowered much if I sold or gave away the easement land my neighbor's driveway occupies. In fact, because we're in a one-acre zoned neighborhood, I could only sell up to a half acre, and the assessor calculated that selling that half acre wouldn't do much to lower my taxes because it's not part of the building lot, which holds the most value. That 1/2 acre is considered "excess land," and so my taxes would only fall by $110 a year! What a surprise. I had no idea that land would be valued differently by the town.

Today I also vacuumed, refreshed the hummingbird water and made some iced tea.

I stopped in at Lowe's and was thinking of re-staining my stockade fence, but when I was told I'd need to wash off the mildew first (I guess I did that last time), suddenly it seemed like so much work, especially since the fence is completely overgrown. I may just skip it for now. I don't feel like doing battle with the jungle out there.

So here it is Friday, and I haven't done ANY of the home maintenance projects I set out to do. Mostly painting stuff. There's still the weekend.

My new salary!

July 2nd, 2014 at 03:54 pm

I spoke to HR about the salary and benefits of my new perm job at the bank, where I've been doing contract writing for the past 9 months.

I'll be making $80,000 with benefits. Smile I'm not eligible for a bonus. Frown

I'm very happy. As a contractor, I had been making the hourly equivalent of $73,000 and my contractor friend repeatedly warned me that the bank makes contractorss take a paycut when and if they go perm. I not only didn't have to take a pay cut, I got a $7,000 bump up.

I haven't earned anything approaching this since 2009, five years ago.

I nudged a little to see if I could go higher, but the HR person said the job originally was set at $78,000 but that my boss really pushed for more, so they increased it by $2,000 but that that was as far as they could go.

I was completely prepared to push hard and had all my arguments lined up and my research on what other banks pay their writers, but I had been expecting them to offer something in the 70s. Honestly, I am quite happy with this salary and it will feel like even more since I have paid off my mortgage. I'll also be saving roughly $2,000 a year on the cheaper but very good Cigna health plan the bank offers, compared to what I'm paying now for an Aetna plan offered by the agency.

Tomorrow I will get an email where I need to electronically accept the job offer and then they will run a background check on me and send me a phone number I'll need to call to schedule a fingerprinting. Sometimes they let you provide the fingerprints electronically, which makes the process go faster. So I will be perm, she said, at the latest by July 21st or so.

The benefits include 22 PTO days that I can use for whatever I want. They'll be pro-rated this year, which I think means I earn them as I go, so if I am perm as of Aug. 1, for instance, then I would be able to get 9 days off for the rest of 2014? Can someone confirm that? Then when I started in 2015, I would get the full 22 days, but am wondering if I have to rack up the time before I can use them.

I have so many plans for the extra money. I need to create a new monthly savings plan, for retirement, of course, but I also want to ramp up some deferred home improvement/maintenance stuff. I'm thinking generator and new kitchen. And maybe restarting my Netflix.

At the same time, I want to rein in what I see as wasteful spending. It is just too easy to go down to the cafe at lobby level for an easy lunch, and I've gotten a little too used to Chinese takeout on Friday nights, so my dining out expenses have approached $100 monthly. Well, that included a $30 lunch when I took my boss out to lunch for her birthday. Money well spent, I'd say! But otherwise, I really need to tone down the eating out; it makes me go off my vegan diet and put on weight.

I'm so happy to have gotten this news during my furlough week off. NOw I can really enjoy it!!!