Home > Archive: April, 2011

Archive for April, 2011

Found a way to save a bit on health-care, even after rise in premiums

April 30th, 2011 at 11:19 am

It seems that with the $25 monthly increase in my already expensive COBRA premiums, effective June 1, to about $468 a month, preventive care doctor's visits will now be truly 100% free, meaning, the patient doesn't even pay a co-pay. (I think this came about due to Obama's health-care reform.)

Right now, many of the same services are 100% paid for by the insurance company, AFTER the co-pay. That would explain why I haven't received any bills from my insurer, I think.

Once I confirmed the new rule, I promptly canceled next week's gyno visit and rescheduled it for July. That will save me $30.

Unfortunately, becus my primary care doc did an EKG during my physical, I still have to pay a $30 co-pay there. For whatever reason, ConnectiCare doesn't consider an EKG as part of a routine physical. Of course, the average patient wouldn't know that, would they?

However, they will cover a colonscopy, 100%, so I guess I'll have to put that on my list of things to do this year.

Yesterday I got a fair amount of stuff done outside. I planted lettuce in the veggie garden; I think I could plant warm weather crops in another week or two. That being said, there are 2 days this week when temps may get down to the upper 30s.

I also cut up and disposed of a large tree branch that came down in the northeast corner of yard. I planted two stone crops my sister gave me at Easter in a window box on the side of the garage that gets tons of sun. The annuals I usually plant in the window boxes dry out quickly because the overhang prevents rainwater from getting to them and in the heat of summer, you can't miss a single day of watering without wilting. I've always loved stonecrops and they would seem to be a good choice.

I watered the grass, which is finally growing, hallelujah.

This morning I'm going to an MS conference (free breakfast and lunch), then since I'm in that town, stopping at pet food store with coupon for free 2 cans of Halo. Then hitting Shop rite in same town, and on way home, visiting neighbor in rehab from knee surgery and watering the plants at her house.

It's too quiet on the job front. I learned from someone that my key contact at real estate firm's mother passed away; that would be why I hadn't heard from him to start a few freelance projects for him. I applied for a job at a large construction company that needs an editor for its publications. Haven't heard from agency rep about the health-care writing job.

The author who's book I was supposed to edit keeps going back and forth on what to do. She seems easily swayed by whatever "pro" she talks to most recently. I have a feeling this could go on indefinitely.

The robin is still nesting; I don't think anything has hatched yet. I think wrens may start nest-building in one of my bluebird boxes. Chickadees checked it out earlier, but apparently passed it up. It's probably too open for them. A hummingbird has returned to my sugar water feeder, its ancestral feeding home. He'll be at that feeder every 10 minutes until the cold weather returns in fall.

Pls delete the spam, wool-scarves entries...

April 30th, 2011 at 10:52 am

It's all spam.

Making progress...

April 27th, 2011 at 11:41 pm

You're probably getting bored by all my talk of vinyl siding, but anyway, I AM making progress. I had my fourth (and final!) contractor here to look at the house. If his price is right, and I think it will be, he'll be the one I go with.

But he's so busy he won't have the estimate to me sooner than a week,and if i give him the job, I won't likely get it done until late summer. That's how busy he is.

But in the meantime, I can look at a few houses he's done.

The other area of my life where I'm making progress is yard work. I've moved on to the next big task, taming my fenced in garden, the one place that always comes last and as a result becomes completely overgrown by mid-summer.

Last year I didn't touch it at all, and it shows. There are some valuable plants in there: 5 blueberry bushes, 3 dwarf cherry trees, gooseberry, a mulberry tree, a viburnum of some sort, an Alberta spruce, and shade loving perennials like astilbe, hosta, Jacob's ladder and so on. I spotted a lone asparagus spike popping up; I had thought the asparagus had died out at it's gotten very shaded from a large willow growing gangbusters over it.

Some god-awful, thorny brambles were spreading into the area from the north side of the yard. I spent considerable time yesterday and today digging up the brambles to stop the spread, wearing 2 pears of heavy duty gloves to protect my hands. I'm sure there are some roots I missed, but i got the bulk of them.

Next, I started pulling out the ever-creeping pachysandra, which had also begun an assault into the fenced garden. There's a huge patch of it just outside the fence, and far too much for me to ever rip out completely, but I can control it and at least keep it from taking over the fenced garden. So i was yanking it out at the fence line and in about 3 feet.

I finished about three-quarters of that but decided to wait until the nesting robin fledges its babies so I don't disturb her; she's incubating eggs right now.

Another thing to yank out of there will be the vinca, which now covers about a 4 x 12 foot space. That stuff is also hard to pull out. I tried using a metal rake but even that was quite difficult.

But since the robin is there, I may put that on hold and turn my attention to another chore that needs doing: planting the earliest crops in my veggie garden, namely, lettuce and snap peas.

Not much happening on the job front, except a recruiter took some writing samples of mine to send to their client, a well-known health insurance company. It's a contract job for an indefinite period of time, no benefits. But pretty good pay, also a long commute (one hour). I'll take it. Always wanted to get into health care writing...this would open a lot of doors for me. Not sure what my chances are of getting an interview, but we should know more by tomorrow.

Other than that, I DID get my parking garage reimbursements from my last employer. Which I really appreciate.

Tomorrow, I'll have to chase after another small amount, the $30 I mistakenly paid to my doctor's office when I had my physical. I was reading over my health plan and physicals are covered 100%, with NO co-pay. I seem to remember something like this happening before with the same doc office and that it took a long time to get the reimbursement. They're so quick to TAKE your money, like, pay us now before you even see the doctor. And I BET I wouldn't see that money if I didn't point it out to them.

My friend had her knee replacement surgery and seems to be doing well. She'll be moving from the hospital to nursing home for rehab tomorrow. I'll visit her there.

Tomorrow am going for a walk with Frank in the a.m. and my mom's coming over for dinner/soup in late afternoon since she'll be in town to pick up some of her art work at a show she was in.

I certainly am not at a loss for things to do. Another warm day in the 70s. Lovin' it.

Warm and drizzly Easter

April 24th, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Incredibly warm today, in the 70s, but a bit drizzly. I really don't mind, it's the warmth that counts.

I opened up the sun room, even the windows for the kitties before leaving this a.m., then headed to my neighbor's. She's getting her knee replacement surgery tomorrow and wanted to give me the key to her place, as well as some food that will not last. After a few days at the hospital, she'll be spending several weeks at a local nursing home for rehab and therapy.

I hope she mends very well because we used to go for some really nice walking trips to various parks, and she procrastinated about the surgery until, for the past few weeks, she's been hobbling around.

I decided to zip back to my house after visiting with her so I could put the food in my fridge...a few eggs, almond milk, chicken broth and a bag of onions. I can make use of all of these, and free groceries are always welcome!

After that, I headed toward mom's for Easter lunch. I debated whether to get gas ($4.13), but decided not to. Went to Wal-Mart, which was open (!) so I could return some canned cat food flavors the boys dislike, and got some I know they DO like. Then hit Pet Choice just to use a Halo coupon good for 2 cans of premium cat food. I know they like the Halo. Then stopped at Stop & Shop to pick up some broccoli rabe for dinner which we ended up not having.

My mother had a good Trader Joe's ham (no nitrites) with a spelt stuffing and stringbeans, red wine; dessert was an apple crisp.

My sister as usual left early, i dozed up while my mother was cleaning up in the kitchen. Then we went for a walk around her condos and down the road where we met a HUGE black Newfoundland with its owner.

Came back home, had a cup of tea in the sunroom, did some caulking in the sunroom as ants keep finding their way in.

I had spoken to a DOL rep to reopen my unemployment claim last week. Somehow, we got into a fairly personal conversation about the difficulties she had when her father died. But she didn't do something right because when i tried reporting in this a.m., as you're supposed to do, the system didn't recognize my SSN. Which means I'll have to call again this week, always a pain due to the long wait on hold.

Tons of stuff I could do outside, if it's not too rainy tomorrow. There's a very narrow window of time for me to do a lot of stuff becus once all the foliage comes out, I don't like to go tromping around in the brush, where the ticks live.

Nesting robin could delay my vinyl siding project

April 23rd, 2011 at 03:59 pm

It seems the robin I spotted outside my 2nd floor office window is intent on brooding in the nest it built in the tall rhododendron. I thought it was scared off last week because I had to shoo away a black-capped chickadee that was pecking at a hole in the siding of the house just a few feet away from the robin's nest; I do believe the chickadee also wanted to build a nest, inside the asbestos shingles! I had to plug the hole, about an inch in diameter, with wadded up tinfoil until my carpenter/handyman can insert a replacement wood plug. (The hole had been drilled by someone to blow in cellulose insulation,and his original plug had come undone.)

But no, the robin is back and sitting on the nest. I've been worried that it could be permanently frightened off by the workmen who do my vinyl siding, but after doing some quick research online, I see that robins sit on the eggs for 12 to 14 days and then they fledge in just 9 to 16 days, for a total of 30 days from hatching to fledging. I doubt I could schedule the vinyl siding job any sooner than that anyway.

A Pretty Good Day

April 22nd, 2011 at 08:46 pm

I say that because I got a huge job done in my yard. I had ripped out a whole bunch of overgrown forsythia and today I finished raking smooth the ground, getting rid of rocks I unearthed, pulling out lots of roots, planting grass seed, then covering it with hay and watering it. A huge job.

Looks like a fair amount of rain in the coming week so hope that will minimize the amount of time I have to spend with the garden hose. It's a very large area, maybe 20 x 10'.

My carpenter was a no-show today, which is annoying.

Remember that contract job I had for 5 weeks that ended? Well, the guy paid me my final paycheck, but I had a hunch he would try to stiff me on the $36 in parking reimbursements he owed me, simply because he could. And I was right. Emails to him and his payroll guy have gone unanswered.

It says in the contract he had me sign that they would pay reasonable out of pocket expenses, provided I had prior written approval. Well, he told me verbally he would reimburse my parking garage fees. I never got written approval since it would seem quite odd for me to ask for that after he told me he would, as if i didn't trust him or something.

So I told an old friend of mine the situation and he said he would call him and pose as my lawyer. It's worth a shot. (My friend is very good at this sort of thing and i think he actually enjoys it.) Otherwise, $36 is too small an amount to haul the guy into small claims court for, and I'm sure that's what he's counting on. Plus the fact that i didn't have "prior written approval." But I sure would like to teach him a lesson. Perhaps I would win the case anyway based on my statements.

I have exchanged a few emails with one of the other writers still there, who says he will probably quit the job this weekend. It's his first job out of college, real nice kid. But anyway, this was my little act of revenge, telling the other writer, and encouraging him to share the info with the other writers there, about what happened with my termination and the parking reimbursement issue. He's been very sympathetic and told me that the owner did something else much worse to someone else but said he "didn't feel at liberty yet" to tell me the details. Well, of course, I'm pleading with him to tell me what it is.

I get less done on cloudy days

April 20th, 2011 at 07:50 pm

And today's overcast.

But still, not too bad a day.

I managed to rustle up another focus group for early May, AND get an unemployed friend to qualify too. It's $125 for 2 hours' time. it's a one-hour drive, but I have a Honda and plan not to speed.

Talked to my dad and we agreed to defer his trip up here til possibly later next week. He was going to help me bring a huge pile of brush/tree branches to the landfill with his truck on Friday, but turns out town offices/landfill are closed on Good Friday.

Speaking of the landfill, that was my one outing today. I'm being so careful, or trying to, anyway, not drive if I really don't have to. Gas is over $4 a gallon here now. Incredible, but I hope it turns a lot of SUV drivers into compact car drivers. Better for the environment.

My real estate client is supposed to call me to give me the info I need to write his blog and press release.

The book author is changing gears and has decided to shelf the book I was going to edit. She wants to work on another book and have me edit the 1st 25 pages to entice an agent to take her on, I think. It's a little disappointing. She wants to meet me for coffee and talk about it. Ordinarily I probably wouldn't have the time, but I'm not really all that busy. I met her just one time and have been trading emails with her.

I'm glad she's making progress and all, but I feel totally preoccupied with my own need to find paying work and support myself. Her "journey," as she puts it, is so involved and I don't feel I have the mental energy to get too absorbed by it. But I think I need to make an effort.

I spent a LOT of time yesterday on the vinyl siding issue. Had 2 more siding guys come over. I have a price from 2 guys, am waiting for the 3rd and 4th hasn't been over but we had a real good talk about my siding issues on the phone. So Guy #1 wants to cover over it for $17k. Guy #2 I'm ruling out, he spent very little time here and hardly asked questions. Doesn't seem like he does a lot of it. Guy #3 wants to remove the existing asbestos shingles. Guy #4 also would prefer to remove it, but after being swayed to go along with that, I find myself really wanting to just cover it with the vinyl. It would be a lot cheaper and it's what the state recommends to minimize health risks.

However, the siding guys say it won't look as good if they lay vinyl over it cus it won't be a completely flat surface, plus I wonder if potential buyers of this house down the road wouldn't like the idea of still having the asbestos underneath the vinyl. Or wouldn't they focus on that if they see nice vinyl siding and all the other charms of this house? I don't know. I've posed the question to a realtor I know. I might ask 1 or 2 more realtors the same question to get some good feedback.

My handyman finished the 3 jobs I asked him to do yesterday. He charges $25 an hour, or $200 a day. When I asked him if he thought he could get all 3 jobs done in a day, he said he was pretty sure it wouldn't take him a full day. So he got here at 9:15 am and finished up around 4 pm. That's 6.75 hours in my book. When I asked him what I owed him, i started calculating his 7 hours of time here and he said, no, I'm charging you my day rate, so that's $200 plus materials. I felt like he was ripping me off by charging for a full day's worth of work. I didn't say anything, just paid him. I felt funny about it. I've known him for years, and he's done a lot of work for me. He said he's charging me less than his standard rate. I know he's hurting for money, but he also knows i'm pretty much in the same boat as far as not working full-time. I also had a feeling when he finished up this job as well as when he finished up the other job that he went out into my garage, had a smoke and was just killing time so he could get paid for more time. I don't mind that too much, cus everyone deserves a few work breaks, but the other part about his day rate did bother me. It's my own fault for not questioning that, and i can't really say why I didn't. I guess i've always trusted him to be honest and was just feeling very startled that he was pulling what he did. An example of his honesty: most guys who do work for you will include in their price to you the cost of materials. I assume they estimate it in their head and then pad it quite a bit. Billy doesn't do that. He charges his hourly rate and then goes and buys the materials he needs and GIVES you the receipt so you can reimburse him the exact cost, with no mark-up. I think that's unheard of among most contractors.

So, bottom line, he charged me $25 more than i think i should have paid. I think this is just a good reminder to me not to become too casual or trusting with him and ALWAYS be careful to have him clearly spell out what something will cost, and whether I'm paying him hourly or by the day!

Pls get rid of the spam entries written by resid123

April 20th, 2011 at 11:34 am


Home improvement dilemmas and possible solutions, freelance work updates

April 19th, 2011 at 04:05 pm

It seems like there's a lot going on.

I have my handyman guy Billy here all day and I hope he can finish the 3 or 4 little jobs I've given him. He's still working on the 1st one.

I finally shook loose the laziness and started thinking more seriously again about doing vinyl siding after several weeks of just thinking I'd go the cheap route and have the house painted again.

The problem with painting is that with asbestos shingles, you're not supposed to sand or even scrape them, or do anything that would create dust. So of course, if you do a lousy prep job before painting, the paint won't adhere well. And that's exactly where I stand today. The last paint job I got started peeling in year 2.

But i also still didn't have a certain comfort level with the one vinyl place I met with, or their high price ($17k). While I know that "encapsulation" is an acceptable way to deal with asbestos, I wasn't convinced that they wouldn't end up shattering all the shingles once they tried to nail the Styrofoam insulation onto it. Then the broken tiles would all drop to the bottom, and even though he said they install flashing at the bottom to prevent broken tiles from falling to the ground, another guy told me the piles of broken tiles would create bumps in the vinyl at the bottom and not look right. Not to mention the idea of having a bunch of broken asbestos tiles still around isn't too appealing to me.

I called 2 references, got thru to 1, but he said they had the asbestos removed.

This a.m. i had a brief conversation with another guy who's coming over this afternoon. He quickly boosted my confidence level in him right away because he said he always removes asbestos shingles first, for the exact same reasons that i have concerns about covering them up, that they will shatter when nailed bunch up at the bottom and make the vinyl look weird, etc.

He is certified to do it and said that removal is not as expensive as i might think. So that got me excited because i had gotten a price years ago from an outfit that just did removal, and it seemed like a pretty pricey proposition.

The guy i talked to today said they don't do the whole surround the house in plastic thing when they do the tile removal, they just wear special face masks, lay tarps and of course dispose of it in a special hazardous waste landfill. Still, i wouldn't want him to do the work on a windy day, cus then I'd have to worry that dust particles could be blown down into my veggie garden, which is a good 75 feet from the house.

Sp here are my reasons for wanting to go with vinyl instead of painting:

1. Much easier to sell the house without asbestos shingles. (Though it didn't bother me since I'd grown up in a house with asbestos shingles and didn't foresee or anticipate the extra hassles painting would entail.)

2. No more short-lasting paint jobs due to inability to really sand down peeling paint well.

3. I have at least 2 windows that periodically develop leaks between the outside window trim and side of house. The caulk just doesn't seem to hold for more than a year or two. I'm pretty sure that covering window trim and walls with vinyl will eliminate this problem.

4. Slightly better insulation since they use something like 1/2" foam insulation and possibly some noise insulating value??

5. i have seasonal problems with carpenter ants getting in the house; maybe redoing siding more snugly could help?

6. Years back i had a guy blow in wall insulation from the outside. He had to drill 1" diameter holes every 6 feet all around the house and didn't care at all about asbestos issues. After blowing in the insulation, he had these wood corks he used to plug the holes with glue around each cork. Now, 1 or 2 of them has worked loose, and now i have to deal with plugging them back up to prevent water and insect and draft infiltration in what was previously a lot more airtight without those holes. So I deeply regret that move, but it can be difficult to anticipate every possible problem. I was just trying to better insulate an old house. So now I plan to have my handyman replug those holes before i have the vinyl installed.

So are those enough reasons to go vinyl?

On the freelance work front:

I'm supposed to be editing a book for a local author, but things keep changing on her end. She may delay that project in favor of another book, which would require more work on her part before I could edit it. She's juggling several different projects all at once. I just want to start a job to earn some money.

Another pending job is a press release and a blog post for my real estate client who's excited by a big uptick in attendees at 4 recent community open houses. He thinks it's indicative of a returning housing market.

Another possibility is a woman who revamps and improves websites for a living who needs writers. I was put in touch with her by another writer i used to work with. The good thing there is she has a wide variety of websites she deals with, from environmental to financial. I'm hoping something comes of it.

Someone made fraudulent calls on my phone

April 17th, 2011 at 01:40 pm

I'm talking about my landline with AT&T. I got my bill and saw 4 phone calls, all out of state,that I never made. In fact, well over a year ago, I canceled my ability to even make long-distance phone calls on my landline. The AT&T rep told me it would save me $2 a month, and I've been using prepaid calling cards ever since. So I tried to make a long distance call on my land line and it worked. So I don't know what's going on.

The calls totaled about $22 and I sure don't want to pay it. I'm going to call AT&T first thing Monday.

Has this happened to anyone here before?

Strangers in the driveway

April 16th, 2011 at 02:40 pm

I wonder what they wanted.

A little while ago, a van pulled up into my driveway. I could see people in it but I couldn't see who it was. First, even though i didn't recognize the van, I thought it was my dad because we'd talked about his coming up next week.

They sat there for about 5 minutes. I caught sight of a 3rd person getting back into the van. Couldn't see their faces. No one knocked at the door, and when I went outside, I saw no flyers or any leave-behinds.

I watched them back out and head down the street, then they turned into my neighbor's driveway. So they must be Jehovah's Witnesses or something. Although it's a little weird they didn't leave anything. I even checked inside my car, which was unlocked and sitting in the driveway.

I last spoke with my doc's office Thursday morning. At that, time symptoms of UTI were really bad. I had dropped off my 4th urine sample that morning; she said they wouldn't have the results until Friday. Friday came and went; she never called me, which was annoying since as I think she knew, I've been pretty uncomfortable and am getting anxious about not having been able to get rid of this thing.

But anyway, by Friday the UTI symptoms had given way to fairly pronounced yeast infection symptoms. I popped the 2nd prescription pill I had for it. It's better, but I can tell it's still with me.

I stopped drinking caffeine tea (started getting those headaches) and switched to decaf tea using Truvia, which is sweet but not like sugar. Gulping lots of acidophiles pills which seem to have no effect, which makes me wonder if the cultures are actually alive. Also eating lots of yogurt, though it's sweetened. Also bought and am consuming cranberry pills 3x a day. Drinking more water.

Doing all this seems to have eased the UTI symptoms but not the yeast infection. The symptoms seem to keep changing and it's a little difficult figuring out what my problem is. Now that it seems to be more a yeast problem, I ordered a product online called Yeast Arrest, which contains boric acid which my natural health book says works very well. Also ordered mannose when my symptoms were more along UTI lines. I haven't even gotten it yet, but oh well. Good to have in the house i guess, or in case it comes back.

I can't imagine how difficult it would be dealing with this if I were working full-time, between running to the doctor's, the pharmacy and dropping off urine samples. I've now given them 4 urine samples for god's sakes!

I did some research online and got scared when i saw that drug-resistant yeast infections or UTIs are very common, at least based on all the women online talking about their troubles with it. And of course, it's killing me to keep shelling out $ here and there for prescriptions or the natural remedies, but I've got to get healthy again.

Neither of the 2 employers I interviewed with called me this past week, so i think my chances of getting an offer or 2nd interview are pretty slim now. That's a huge disappointment.

It seems like the demands on my money are coming from every single quarter, from my local town, which wants to increase property taxes by over 3% (surrounding towns find a way to have a 0 increase in their budgets), to the state, which is making cutbacks, we all know how bad the federal deficit is, local food and gas prices, etc. The only way to find my way out of this horrid mess, if only to stay even, is to find a job.

I got in the mail the 1st of 2 $20 Target gift cards because I'm participating in a Lyme Disease tick study and use of an herbicide spray on perimeter of my yard. Given the money pressure I'm feeling, I guess I'll have to use that money on food items and nothing else. And despite extreme reluctance, I've gone back to doing those incredibly tiresome online surveys, becus doing them steadily (daily, throughout the day), I was able to average in the past $80 a month. Much needed money.

Swtiching gears

April 13th, 2011 at 02:44 pm

It's really annoying seeing all these spam articles on Savings Advice. I hope Jeffrey deletes them.

But getting back to the topic of my post...switching gears. After working at a furious pace for that last job I had, it's taking me a bit of time to switch gears back into Scramble for Work mode. Meaning, it's taking me some time to focus my thoughts and consider what to do next.

I did get the go-ahead to write a blog post for my real estate client on the topic of Energy Star homes. In fact, I wrote it this morning. I charge them $150 for each post, which is actually more than I charge for a press release with distribution, but that's because the blog often requires a bit of research. I hope to get more work from him.

I also reached out to a realtor I did some copywriting for a few months back, to see how she's doing, purportedly, but of course I'm really trolling for work.

Another unemployed friend of mine called to tell me the focus group place is paying $200 for people who take prescription ibuprofen or motrin, but that's not me.

I called the carpenter who paneled my 2 closets, assuming that the reason I hadn't heard back from him was because he wasn't really interested in the small jobs I offered him, but he said no, that wasn't it at all, he was really just busy. So he can start on the jobs on Monday, will come over Saturday to spec it out again. They're just little things that would need to be done when I sell this place: replacing a small piece of sheetrock over the kitchen door that got wet from ice dam leaks, covering a hole in the wood floor of my closet where the clothes dryer hose used to go (w/d is in the basement now), doing some cement work on a basement wall and hopefully helping me put back the shelving in one of the closets he paneled. His discounted day rate is $200 ($25 an hour) and he thinks he can get all that done in a day. Cross my fingers cus after this i can't spend any home improvement money except getting my house painted.

Turns out, he knows the book author/interior designer whose book I'll be editing. He said she's responsible for probably 70% of the work he's gotten lately through referrals.

A neighbor is taking me out to lunch tomorrow; I protested, cus she can't afford it, and I don't want to spend the $ now that I'm out of work, either, but she said it would be in exchange for me checking in on her house for the few weeks she'll be in rehab after getting knee surgery later this month. I'll probably also be ferrying her to the hospital, so I figure it's a fair exchange.

When Bill paneled my upstairs closet, i disassembled the shelf above; nothing was nailed together, just a dozen or so pieces of wood perfectly stacked on top of each other. For the life of me, i can't figure out how to reassemble it, so when i started putting stuff back in the closet, sans shelf, i decided i didn't need a handful of yarns that was part of some embroidery kit i had. I draped the colorful strands, about a foot long in size, out on my viburnum bush for birds to use for nest-building.

I was tickled this morning to see a robin using one of those long strands to build a nest in the 2-story high rhododendron bush outside my office window. It's possible my passing in front of the window, or the cat excitedly watching, will deter the robin from continuing, but i hope not.

A few years ago, robins had tried building a nest in that same rhododendron, but a crow had been attracted by all its comings and goings and even though i frightened the crow away by rapping on the window, the robins never returned. The nest was completely built, but fortunately, there were no eggs.

I'm thinking of writing another story for, a NYC arts and entertainment site. They don't pay at all, and so it seems they're fairly flexible with what you want to write about.

I'm thinking of doing a story(ies) that would benefit my job search. United Health Care is nearby but was apparently not interested in the resume I sent for a marketing editor job, I'm sure becus i don't have any health care experience, except for a blog I have focusing on health and wellness topics. But writing for someone else's website could offer better credibility. So I'm thinking of pitching a story to Womanaroundtown on diabetes risk/prevention for women. I'd like to find some new research to use as a segue into the story. But i think it's the kind of thing United Healthcare might cover in their policyholder newsletter, so that's why i want to write about it.

I have some indoor painting I need to do but it's so dreary/rainy out, it doesn't seem like the light is good enough to paint by, so I'll put that off again.

I'm still not convinced the UTI/yeast infection is completely gone. I'm done with both meds now but i picked up some cranberry extract pills so i could get their benefit for the UTI without all the added sugar exacerbating the yeast infection. If I have either one. I think I still have something but not sure what. I also bought a case of yogurt at Costco and was DISGUSTED to find the Dannon light yogurt i bought has both food dyes and Aspartame. It would be such a pain to have to return it so I guess I'll just consume it this one time.

The cats had a ball last night with a live, but terminally injured mouse they carried up from the basement. Timid Waldo was such an animal, tossing it up in the air again and again, and then when I tried to approach, quickly picking it up in his mouth and running down the basement with it. He's a little possessive. I was able to use a broom to sweep the mouse into a box and then dumped it outside.

More thoughts on the changing nature of the job scene...

April 12th, 2011 at 06:39 am

Just wanted to thank you again for all your kind and encouraging words. Believe it or not, shortly after hearing I'd lost the job, I mentally said to myself that I needed to let everyone know on Savings Advice. Smile

So here I sit, at 2:05 a.m., thinking about my next moves.

As I said in a comment to my own blog post (!), a few someones here had mentioned before that I'm a "survivor." I never really thought of myself in that way before, but I guess I'm kind of like velcro. I try to attach myself to whatever job I can find and then it's hard to get rid of me!

Seriously, though, the jobs landscape has changed so much. Working in marketing as i have for nearly 30 years, you were never really thought of as indispensable (no one is, I know), but that was a field that tended to be put on the chopping block fairly early on when times got tough. Still, in the 4 or 5 layoffs I've experienced over my career, I've never had the experience til now of these kind of on again, off again career moves, the temporary, contract jobs that end up going nowhere. In the past, I'd always get another full-time perm job. Sometimes it would take somewhat longer than other times, but it was never like this.

Further words of wisdom I do not have. Just the observation that the US jobs market has undergone a radical transformation, and I hope it's not a permanent one.

I have a friend who's been pretty much in the same boat as me, although he lost his job in IT even earlier than I did. He's 4 or 5 years older than me and always sounds anxious and a nervous wreck when we check in with each other.

He's doing much worse than me financially and emotionally. He's divorced with 2 college-age kids and rents a house for the same amount, $1200 a month, as my mortgage with property taxes. He's in a very exclusive town.

He'd gotten by (or not) by driving an airport limo car for several years, but that work has largely dried up and he really couldn't stand dealing with the guys who run those companies. He had jobs with Macy's and Weight Watchers that didn't work out. He got way behind on his bills, something I only learned when he let it be known that creditors were hounding him.

I've encouraged him to move to a cheaper place but I doubt he will. He had the opportunity to live for free by moving in temporarily at his dad's house in Queens, but he and his sister don't get along. He told me he could store all his stuff there and then get a cheap room with kitchenette somewhere and stay here in Connecticut, but even then, he said, Flushing has the highest crime rate in the city and he didn't feel comfortable even storing his things at the house.

So I guess I count my blessings. I have great credit, live in a nice home in a nice town and have a relatively small mortgage. (I am quite sure that if I hadn't been so conservative when I bought this house 15 years ago and not put 45% down in cash, which you could do back then, although it was still a heck of a lot of money at about $95,000, I would have already lost the house. I was always risk-averse.)

And I haven't dug into savings to live on. In fact, since Sept 2009 when I was laid off, my net worth not including the house has increased by $84,000. That's largely due to stock market gains.

If I can just hang on for a few more years I should have the mortgage paid off, and then I'll be that much more...well, I won't say immune to the financial impact of future job layoffs, no, of course not, but they will be easier to handle without that biggest of all bills coming due each month.

On the plus side, I had my follow-up visit with doc for my physical today. Aside from the UTI/yeast infection, which yes, I am STILL BATTLING, everything looks good: no diabetes despite my 15-pound weight gain, triglycerides, LDL and HDL ratio looks very good, although my total cholesterol at 195 is a bit higher than it usually is, and my thyroid is normal, as is glucose/blood sugar.

She said the 4 worst foods from a diabetes/weight point of view are: white starches like rice and white bread, pasta, alcohol and...oh shoot, i forgot the 4th. The only one I have a problem with is the pasta. I have a huge bowl every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week if you include macaroni and cheese or some other form, like a favorite of mine, pollock and sauteed carrot/onion in olive oil over linguine. A traditional bowl of pasta is cheap and easy to make when you don't know what else to make. I have to really try not to rely on it so much. I tried whole wheat and rice pastas, and ewwww.

One thing I did yesterday afternoon is send a quick email to my oldest freelance client, someone I also used to work with when I had a perm job at the real estate company he's been with his entire career. (Strange how different, but he's a Senior VP.)I had inquired in the email did he want me to start working on the next blog post and how about such and such a project he'd mentioned to me months ago? (Basically, I was trying to drum up business for myself.)

He knows my work situation has not been steady since my layoff, and I guess he could read through the real meaning of the email. He wrote back and said, Are you working full-time? Because just a week ago, his assistant had tried giving me a pile of work which I had to turn down since I was working full-time and then some for the news website. It killed me to have to say no and generally i try to avoid doing that with this client becus i wouldn't want to start giving them the general impression that sometimes i'm available and sometimes I'm not and that they can't rely on someone like that.

Anyway, we have something of a history together, and he's someone with whom I want to keep in contact with.

Just blathering on. It's 2:38 am and I feel like, writing, but I will bid you adieu now.

Lost the damn job..can you believe it?

April 11th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

In what has truly become a continuing saga of short-term spurts of employment punctuated by scrambling for ways to earn a buck, I'm sad to report i lost the full-time job writing for the start-up news website that I started in early March.

It took me totally by surprise. Got a call from the newly hired managing editor who simply said they "restructured" and that it had nothing to do with my work.

I'll tell you what I think it is. Of the 4 of us writers, I'm the only one who's not fresh out of college and making $10 an hour. For the other 3, this is their very first job out of college. During casual conversation while 3 of us were working together on-site, one of them made a comment, "Yeah, it's not like we're getting paid a lot around here" and the other one responded, "Yeah, $10 an hour." I didn't say anything, becus i was making $25 an hour. When I successfully negotiated the owner of the company up from the $20 an hour he offered me, I don't think he sat down to figure out how much more that came to when you're talking full-time work.

And so I think he had to ask himself, why am I paying Patient Saver so much more when the others are doing basically the same job?

Now this thought occurred to me weeks ago, so i was very careful to always try to produce somewhat more than the others, in terms of story briefs done per day. The others did anywhere from 13 to 20, tops. I did 24 to 27 a day. But perhaps that didn't justify more than double their wages.

So, I sent the owner an email with my final time sheet for 2 days this week and told him I'd be mailing him 4 parking garage receipts ($36) he had told me he'd reimburse. He owes me about $1,500 to settle up. I sure hope he doesn't try to stiff me on the parking receipts.

Back to the scramble I've come to know as employment.

I'm really kind of pissed because after 5 weeks at this job, I was just starting to settle in, financially. Caught up on some deferred routine health care, got some home improvements done (the 2 closets that got ice dam damage) and even prepaid my mortgage and put some $$ in savings and my SEP. It was feeling close to "normal," even as i still considered this my "interim" job due to the lack of benefits. But i was extremely grateful for it as it was what would help me survive til i found the next perm job.

It's all blown out of the water now.

If there's one thing I've learned from this incredibly frustrating struggle to find and keep work since my layoff back in September 2009, it's this:

Next week I can reopen my existing unemployment claim. Believe it or not, I think I still have about 4 months of benefit checks left, mainly becus I've worked sporadically, which helped stretch things out.

There's still a possiblity of hearing back from either of the 2 places I interviewed at, though since the Deloitte interview took place back on March 16, it's looking less likely. the other interview took place more recently, on April 1, had said they'd be conducting interviews all last week and then would call back a select few for 2nd interviews this week. So if I'm to get a call from them, it would be within the next 4 days.

The author in my hometown is now ready for me to start editing her book, so she wants me to come over her house on Saturday and collect my first check. (I had asked for 3 equal installments prior to starting the work, midway and the final payment due at the end.) But that's just a $1,000 job stretched out for several weeks, I estimate.

So, yeah....I guess I'm glad I didn't buy those dishes.

Please talk me out of buying this...

April 10th, 2011 at 05:16 pm

Uh oh.

It's happening again. Anytime I start making regular income, I find myself wanting something nice, even if I don't really need it.

I think it happens because I've gone for long periods of time on an extreme frugal diet after my September 2009 layoff.

So I was leafing through a magazine and found myself admiring these dishes.

They may not do much for you, but I like the scalloped design; reviewers on the site say they're more of an antique ivory, not bright white. Servings for four for $39. Free shipping.

Do I need new dishes? No. I have 2 sets of 4 already. The older set is a very pretty green and white leaf motif from Macy's, discontinued pattern. The second set i got i guess 3 or 4 years ago, it's a solid blue.

I'm wanting these dishes. I guess it's not much money, but it bothers me that I get these strong spending urges. Since starting my f/t job in March, I already dropped $300 on a chaise for my sun room.

So....tell me to buy it or talk me out of it!

Today's Accomplishments

April 9th, 2011 at 10:46 pm

It was a somewhat productive day; wish I'd done just a little more...

1. Vacuumed the upstairs.

2. Caulked around my kitchen cabinets; it's a point of entry for carpenter ants. Why didn't I do this before? Instead, I jammed dryer sheets up there. For good measure, I caulked the underside of my 1st floor stairs, by getting at them from my basement stairs...did that just to block cold air from the basement from coming up to first floor...i could see daylight thru some cracks. Also caulked in my sunroom, where some carpenter ants had come in attracted by the warm afternoon sun. I can't figure out exactly how they're getting in, but I figured I'd caulk what gaps I could see..

3. Confirmed that I have matching leftover paint in the basement with which I want to do some painting of both downstairs hall (over the water stain plumber said wasn't a leaky pipe, probably just from my upstairs bathtub) and upstairs hall (carpenter accidentally put some nails through a wall when he was paneling a closet). So I have the paint, but needed a new roller, so ran to Ace and got two. Too bad I didn't start this job, but will try tomorrow.

4. Also deposited some checks at the bank.

5. Was able to gouge out and then use sandpaper to make my deadbolt lock work again. This was something I was going to pay the carpenter to do, so I'm glad I could do it myself, I had to just slightly reposition the metal plate, The deadbolt doesn't go in perfectly smoothly, but it does work now whereas before it wouldn't close at all.

6. Did my estimated quarterly taxes. Boy, this was a pain. I spent a lot of time doing it the way the IRS wants you to do it and then decided it didn't make sense for me. They want you to estimate your income for the whole year, but since I plan and hope to get a perm job sometime in 2011, I have no way of estimating or knowing how long I'll be earning an hourly, independent contractor wage. And I don't know how much overtime I'll actually end up working. I'm aiming for an extra 10 hours a week, but who knows if I'll be able to do that consistently? So I decided to recalculate it my way.

I took my actual YTD income from freelance writing and my full-time hourly job; I didn't start the f/t job until March, so the gross was only $3,795. I multiplied by 25% tax rate and got $948 and to that I added $536 for self-employment tax (I have next to no home office deductions). That came to $1484 but then I deducted half of the self-employment tax and my SEP-IRA contribution of $350. So I figured I owed them $866 and that's what I paid today. I have no idea how far off I actually am.

One thing I never got was why do they have you calculate the self-employment tax and then deduct half of it?

Other than that, the cats and I enjoyed sitting out on the sun room this afternoon with a cup of tea. I vacuumed it and put out my bamboo mat and the new chaise lounge I bought for it. Looks great. It's such a peaceful spot.

On tomorrow's agenda:
1. Grocery shopping
2. Continue digging out overgrown forsythia.
3. Paint the 2 hallways walls.
4. Possibly go to the cacti and succulent show with friend.
5. Put in 5 hours of work.

Sound doable? Sounds like not enough time! I hope to get #1 and #3 done first thing in the a.m.#5 is also a priority. But #2 needs to be done fairly soon because once the forsythia leafs out, it gets too overgrown to work in there. And after I do that i need to rake smooth the whole area and plant grass seed so it doesn't get all weedy, AND dispose of all the forsythia branch clippings.

I've signed up for a Yale/Centers for Disease Control study whereby I allow them to spray a pesticide for Lyme ticks. Lyme disease is rampant here, and i've had it twice. I hate using pesticides, but i decided to try it. Once I sign all the paperwork, I make an appt. for the Orkin guys to come and spray. I won't know if they're spraying the pesticide or just water placebo. Then I answer a bunch of online surveys through October about ticks I've run into. For my trouble, they give me $40 worth of Target gift cards. I researched the pesticide online and it is apparently safe enough that you can use it near a veggie garden, but of course I wouldn't do that. But it was comforting to know it's not too toxic. And it also kills carpenter ants, so that would be as valuable to me as killing ticks. They don't spray the whole yard, just the brushy perimeters, which is where the ticks hang out.

The schedule

April 7th, 2011 at 11:59 pm

I worked 9 hours every weekday this week and put in 3 hours on Sunday. So I'll be earning $250 more this week at this hourly job I've got.

I was already working at my computer at 7:15 a.m. By 12:30 pm, I took an hour-and-a-half break for lunch (!) which included a half hour walk, which felt SOOO good and invigorating after sitting all morning. You couldn't do that sort of thing at a normal job, and i really appreciate the ability to work out my own schedule while working from home.

Then I was back at work in the afternoon and wrapped up around 4 pm. I worked outside in the yard, had dinner, and then put in 1 final hour on the job, finally finishing around 7:30 pm.

It's a very stretched out schedule and it extends well beyond the normal 9 to 5, but what's more important to me is feeling like i have a flexible schedule that allows for decent breaks. I hate that "trapped" feeling I get at most jobs where you can't "escape" until a designated hour, and it forces you to conform to someone else's idea of a schedule.

Hate that!

On Wednesday, I asked my boss what day this week was the on-site meeting day. It's usually a Thursday or Friday. He told me he didn't know and would let me know when he found out. Well, he still hasn't told me so I DON'T plan to drive in tomorrow. This would make the second week in a row we've gone without an on-site meeting. Very find by me but I hope he's not expecting me there cus I won't be! Perhaps my boss' boss, the guy who hired me, has noticed how much more productive the writers are when we work at home! the place is not at all set up well as a work space there; it's incredibly dark and poorly lit and 4 or 5 of us all have to sit around a kitchen table-sized table with desktops or laptops. It's distracting when others are talking, and there's certainly no privacy.

Looking forward to getting my next paycheck! I hope they mailed it already!

Plumbers Make Me Sweat

April 5th, 2011 at 09:26 pm

So, a long time ago, I noticed what appeared to be a damp spot about 3 inches in diameter about 4 foot high on a hallway interior wall.

That was several years ago, and I nervously wondered if I had a leaking pipe behind the wall. then I got laid off, and expensive plumbing adventures weren't in my future.

Now that I'm working again (not at top pay, but working full-time, nonetheless), I decided I really need to address that spot on the wall. It is not damp, but it never went away, either.

I bit the bullet and called a plumber, who came over this afternoon. He looked at it and it was his opinion that it wasn't a leaky pipe, because leaking water would turn the sheetrock soft enough that you could poke a hole in it with your finger.

I pointed out that the bathtub upstairs was directly overhead, and there had been times someone taking the shower didn't close the curtain well enough and water got onto the bathroom floor in that corner. In fact, enough water got on the floor to bring up one tile. He thought that was the likely culprit, something I'd hoped, actually, but didn't believe to be the case since the water mark never went away. He said water would leave a mark, and he was reluctant to cut into my wall and I certainly didn't disagree with that.

So I decided it would be a good idea, confirmed by the plumber, to repaint that wall and then watch it to see if any kind of water mark reappears.

Now what's making me nervous is that the plumber's secretary warned me that if they find out it's nothing, they still "need to charge me" for the service call. The plumber left without saying anything about a bill. I've used this plumber before and he just gave me the bill and I paid him while he was there. Could it be possible that he's cutting me a break???? If so, I'm sure I'd be saving $100 or so. I really, really, really hope so; I have so many expenses right now.

So I've added "painting the wall" to my list of weekend chores. I've got to get started on them because so many little ones are piling up.

I put in 8 hours of work today and after taking this delightful break with the SA universe, I plan to put in 1 more hour of work. If I can do this each weekday, plus do 5 extra hours on a weekend, that's an extra $1,000 a month, or $12,000 a year!!!! Money I could really, really, really use.

I had my physical yesterday and go back in a week to go over the results. She got me started on a new round of antibiotics for my urinary tract infection.

Oobla di, oobla da.... life goes on

April 3rd, 2011 at 04:58 pm

One of those days I don't know what to do with myself.

I went outside thinking I might start pulling up more rampant forsythia today, but it's still somewhat breezy/cool. I pulled up one plant and then retreated inside.

Made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Why do I always feel I have nothing to eat in the house?? Even after spending $260 for food this month???

Worked 3 hours this a.m. on the news job. Japan, Libya, Syria and healthcare costs in retirement.

Wandered around taking photos...

One of my favorite mugs, purchased three years ago in Bar Harbor, Maine.

There's tons of stuff I could be doing, but I don't feel like: wallpapering the bathroom, sanding and repairing baseboard from water damage or vacuuming.

I did buy a pretty nice upholstered chaise.

This isn't the best photo of it, but for now it's sitting in the closed off family room until it warms up enough to put in the sun room.

It's a micro-velvet in neutral beige color that should look really good in my new sun room. I was hoping with that lighter color, it won't fade from the sun, which can get pretty intense in that room. It's a fairly compact size but very, very comfortable; I recognized it immediately when I saw it in a catalog as being the same chaise I enjoyed sinking into at my last perm job; they bought these to go in little conference rooms you could go into to make a phone call, just big enough for one person.

I liked these so much (couldn't find them anywhere) that I asked the HR people at the company about them after I was laid off. They never responded; they must've thought i was a little nuts to be asking about that after a layoff, but i really did like these chaises.

Tomorrow's my physical; I can't wait to get more meds for this STUPID UTI, hopefully with a minimum of fuss. It's been about 2.5 weeks now and really want to be rid of it.

I have nothing to do! I am so unmotivated! Does that ever happen to you??

Comparing Notes With Others in the Same Boat

April 2nd, 2011 at 06:53 pm

Today I got together with two other women about my age, also writers, at the food court at the mall (convenient location given where we all live). We all used to work together until our employer laid off the 2 of them in December 2008; I was laid off 9 months later, in September 2009.

It was interesting to see how similar our employment stories have been these past months. Like me, they've managed to cobble together periodic temporary gigs for 3 months here, 6 months here. Only one of the 3 of us is working a f/t job now with benefits, but her husband is still out of work after being laid off from a job a year ago that he had for 25 years.

We shared our war stories.

I caught them up to date on my search for work:

Mid-September 2009: Laid off from a job I loved that paid about $76,000.
Mid-September 2009 - April 2010: This was the worst time..NO jobs out there! Surviving on unemployment, mostly, plus a little freelance, focus groups, medical research guinea pig, online surveys, Craig's List sales and whatever else I could piece together. Even sold some firewood from fallen tree branches on my property!
Late April - early August 2010: Workin' for the Census Bureau at $19.75/hr. Made a profit from their gas reimbursement because I drive a Honda. Two people called the cops on me becus they didn't like strangers on their property, especially federal gov't employees!
August - mid-September 2010: Back to unemployment.
Mid-September - Dec. 31 2010: A full-time but temporary job at Prudential that I liked very much! Hooray for well-paying jobs! ($50 an hour). Was very sorry to see it end.
Jan-mid-March 2011: Nothing going on except my freelance work.
Mid-March to present: Landed a full-time job with no benefits at $25/hour. I work at a sweatshop pace but 4 days a week I work at home. I expect to keep this job until I find my next permanent job with benefits.

I had that job interview yesterday for the mid-sized company in the business of environmental risk assessments. About 200 employees, so not a small company. They sell information and data concerning the history of any given commercial property that a lender is considering making a loan to a customer for. Was there a dry cleaners or a gas station there? If so, uh oh. Given the millions in clean-up remediation at stake, it would seem to be a growth industry.

Sounds like it could be interesting. I just met with the HR person, and hope they call me back to meet the marketing director, who would be my boss. I think the job could pay fairly well and the commute was just 30 minutes (maybe count on 35 in traffic?)

I still have that dang urinary tract infection. After finishing up just 3 days on antibiotics about a week ago, I wasn't sure it was completely gone and sure enough, it's not. Luckily, I have a physical scheduled for Monday morning, so hopefully they can prescribe the same thing the gyno's office would have prescribed. I sure hope this is not some sort of super antibiotic-resistant bacteria.