Home > Archive: May, 2011

Archive for May, 2011

Garden gazin' on Memorial Day weekend

May 29th, 2011 at 12:15 am

It was a little late in the day for photos, but the sun had gone done and a nice breeze was blowin'....

This is blue milkweed in the foreground, and giant allium behind it.

Here's a closeup of the pretty, star-shaped blue milkweed flowers.

You've seen my doublefile viburnum before.

Mountain laurel quickly follows the bloom of rhododendrons.

My favorite rhododendron

Another shot.

More rhodies.

Still more!

This is wiegela,an old-fashioned shrub.

Wiegela closeup. Hummingbirds like the funnel-shaped flowers.

I spent most of today writing website copy for that chemical company, and guess what? It's done! So now I can enjoy the rest of my holiday weekend (not that I'm doing anything special).

I started mowing the front lawn and will continue it tomorrow, along with the back. A woman's work is never done.

The toxic chemical interview

May 28th, 2011 at 12:03 am

More from the Cat in a Basket series...

This morning I met the web developer whom I found on Craig's List in the parking lot of his client, the owner of a small chemical company whom I was to interview so I can write the website content.

It was a little weird, becus the web developer said he wanted me to pose as his employee, not a contractor. I know it makes him look good; I don't care as long as I get paid. (He gave me a $300 check for deposit.)

But anyway, it felt a little weird because I met him 5 minutes before we went in together to see the client. Web developer, a young guy in his 20s, let me use his laptop to take notes and then he emailed them to me later. He was not very friendly on the phone. Maybe it's just his cautious nature until he sees how I work out.

The interview went well, although the owner was not particularly articulate and i had to keep going back to questions that he hadn't really answered. I pretty much managed the interview and web guy mostly listened, though he started asking some of his own questions midway through. I think we worked fairly well together. Sometimes it can feel like pulling teeth to get good material from someone, but in this case i think i have enough.

I had a lot of really good questions and i even made some suggestions to the owner, not all of which had to do with the copy, that he liked, so i think i must've scored points with the web developer. Afterwards, we got a little tour of the factory; they're in the business of distributing chemicals to all sorts of businesses (automotive, electronics, aerospace) that need the chemicals for metal finishing purposes. The chemicals are applied to the surface of the "annode," or different metals, in order to make various parts corrosion resistant, or perform in a certain way.

I plan to write this up this weekend.

Yesterday at Trader Joe's, the woman in back was giving away the most delicious samples of a recipe. So on the way home from toxic chemical place, I stopped at Shop Rite and picked up the ingredients for this delicious summer salad, and oh so easy, too.

Take a bag of frozen edamame (soybeans) and put it in a bowl with half a bag of frozen corn. Let both dethaw. Add 1 can of rinsed black beans, chopped red onion and grape tomatoes sliced in half. Add Goddess dressing. Delicious!! This one's a keeper.

I've been making good progress tearing out the Virginia creeper growing under the big white pine. Every year, various weeds take over and it looks so unsightly. I'm also back to daily watering of my new grass area, lest it dry out in this hot weather. What I really would love to have is one of those old-fashioned sprinklers that you hook up to the hose. But I don't want to spend the money on it; maybe i can find one on freecycle.

A friend of mine, also long-term unemployed, is in worse shape than I am. He rents in a very ritzy town, paying the same amount monthly as I pay for mortgage and insurance. He's being sued by the attorney who got him his divorce a number of years ago; it cost him $20K and he still owes him $2K. He just doesn't have the money but has to show up in court this week.

Can't wait til i start my newspaper coupon experiment on Sunday. Those coupons better be good! Front lawn already ready for another mowing.

Waldo's miraculous recovery

May 26th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Waldo's had a problem since last winter. On and off. He's been congested, with some sneezing. The problem seemed to wax and wane; some days he was better, some days he seemed worse. Although he's come a LONG way since his feral days, he's still extremely skittish/timid. I am trying to work on getting him more used to me picking him up, but he scrambles and leaps and is so darn wiry I've only been able to pick him up maybe 3 times in the 2 years I've had him.

So twice i was able to get prescription antibiotics from the vet without seeing the vet because it was such a challenge to get the cat there. But I didn't see any improvement, and I was worrying that he had some sort of drug-resistant bacteria, or a virus.

I hoped that like a human with a bad cold, he could eventually shake it off. I turned the heat up in the house. I started dosing his food with extra Vitamin C and Vitamin E, plus some homeopathic stuff. Didn't really do anything.

I knew I needed to get him to the vet, but didn't know how. If I put food or treats in the cat carrier, he'd refuse to go in there, or, he would take his paw and dab at the food, then eat it off his paw.

The night before last, his breathing got really labored. I didn't sleep at all, because his loud breathing kept me awake. He was totally congested, and didn't seem to know to breathe through his mouth. I could hear him whenever he walked into a room the previous week because of his wheezy breathing.

So the day before yesterday, I went to capture him. I knew I had but a single chance to do it because if I tried but failed, he would not trust me and wouldn't let me near him again for days. I knew the best chance was mid-morning, when he usually lounges in bed for a morning nap. I called the vet, made an appointment, then had to reschedule it when Waldo was wandering around downstairs (because it was sunny and warm.) I had to break the 2nd appointment as well when Waldo didn't go upstairs. (Believe, me, i tried before to corral him in a single room and then catch him, and it is still impossible. And he gets so scared.)

The last time I called the Cat Whisperer, I left a message asking for her help but said if she didn't want to return (she'd helped me once before), I would understand. She didn't return my call.

Yesterday, I decided to try to capture him first, and worry about making the vet appointment later. If the vet who's seen him before couldn't squeeze him in, I'd find another vet; there are several in the area I've seen before, though not with Waldo. Although the vet who has seen him is incredibly expensive (he charged me $400 for Waldo's ear infection in 2010), he seemed to handle him well and well, he has that degree from Cornell, a top vet school, hanging in the waiting room.

So I put on a pair of jeans and a heavy shirt to protect myself from possible scratches. I waited til Waldo was grooming himself on the bed in the sun. We got friendly, we snuggled, and then I grabbed him quickly and got him in the carrier in about 5 seconds flat.

Waldo was astonished, extremely frightened and unhappy, but he was in the carrier. The first time I have been able to do that myself.

I called the vet and they said, can you be here in 45 minutes. Perfect.

We took the harrowing 15-minute ride there, Waldo wide-eyed and meowing mournfully and loudly.

In the waiting room, there was a monster shaggy dog about as big as a pony. His owner said it was a Russian dog, and I guess this beast would do well in Siberia.

Anyway, when it was our turn, I immediately warned the doc and his assistant about how timid Waldo was, and let's make sure we keep the doors to the exam room closed becus if he escapes, we'll never catch him. Waldo was super scared. The vet opened the door to let Waldo out and he jumped down off the exam table and started looking for a hiding place, ending up perched precariously on top of the plastic waste receptacle with a large hole in the center used to collect used syringes.

I was really rather upset with the doc for letting him out of the cage like that. He said he wanted him to calm down a little. I told him he wouldn't calm down til he was back home again. So anyway, after that extremely stressful start, i managed to keep him still as he perched on the syringe receptacle container while the doctor listened to his heartbeat with a stethoscope.

In just about a minute, the vet said it was allergies, gave him an allergy shot and said his breathing should be improved in a day, maybe two. We got him back in his carrier and after paying $99 (what relief), I headed home.

Waldo's response was IMMEDIATE. He has breathed quietly ever since. I am amazed at how quickly the doc diagnosed the problem. I had no idea it was allergies. Doc said he's seen 10 cats with allergy problems in the last 2 weeks. The pollen count has been off the charts here in Connecticut this spring, though Waldo's problems started last winter.

When I got Waldo home, I brought him in the carrier to the upstairs bedroom and let him out there. I figured he'd go for the security of under the bed. Instead, he ran out and headed down to the basement. He likes to sit under the stairs on a piece of carpet padding I have stored there, but in the past I'd shooed him out of there because it's too chilly in the basement and I thought it wouldn't be good for what I thought was his cold.

This time, i let him be and i was surprised that after just about 2 hours, he was already upstairs and poking his head in the sun room where Luther and I were. Not much longer after that, he allowed me to rub his head and I knew he wasn't holding a grudge against me. I had worried that it would take him a week to trust me again!

Doc said the shot will last at least 4 weeks, and maybe up to 3 months. If he needs another shot, he said we can just keep him in the carrier, and he can inject him thru the carrier so it wouldn't be as much of an ordeal.

Anyway, I am SO relieved. I've been worrying about Waldo for a long time. Allergies, of all things.

A new freelance gig?

May 22nd, 2011 at 01:50 pm

Last week I responded to another Craig's List job...a web developer looking for a freelance writer. I was thrilled when he contacted me after I told him my hourly rate was $40. If this first job goes ok, there would be more work on a hopefully regular basis. I checked out the guy's website and googled his name and he's done a lot of website work for a wide variety of clients, and I'm thinking, more regular work would be fantastic.

This first job would be for a small chemical company that wants a new website. I don't think it necessary I know much about the business, a distributor of chemical supplies to the metal finishing industry. The sections I'd be writing would be About Us, Why Us, Our Sales Team and the like.

He kept pressing me for a more exact estimate of what I'd charge and I gave a rather wide range because there are so many variables. (Does the client want us to basically start from scratch with content, or just revamp and improve existing copy? Does the home page require just a summary of copy found elsewhere? etc etc) He answered a bunch of my questions and again asked for a narrower estimate range. I gave that to him last night; we're supposed to talk on the phone tomorrow about the job.

I told him about 12 or 15 hours of work for this first job; I also would have to travel about an hour to interview the company owner. A lot also depends on how my interview with the owner goes. If he's fairly articulate and engaged in the process, I can do a lot with that, but if he's too busy and doesn't have a lot of time to talk to me, I can only do so much, even if i have brilliant questions and am perfectly prepared.

I plan to ask for mileage reimbursement and for an advance retainer of about $125. This is to protect myself in case I do all the work and he doesn't pay me. This way, if he pays me the retainer, he shares in the assumed "risk," since there's a risk I'll take the money and run. Until we know each other, I feel a little nervous about entering into a work contract with someone I only know from email/phone. By getting the retainer, I mitigate my risks somewhat.

If he flat out says no to that, I'm not sure what I'll do. I don't think it's an unreasonable request and I'm not sure I can proceed without it.

And since I would typically interview someone over the phone, I think it's fair to ask for the mileage reimbursement. I hope he goes for it. This job will pay in the $500 to $600 range.

The sales manager for whom I wrote the bio loved it and asked for my bill ($110), which I already sent. The other real estate client also loved my writeup for the breast cancer website ($95) and said she'd have 3 more little assignments for me next week. (They'll likely all be in the $100 range.)

If I get enough of these little assignments, it does add up, but this is all gross, and by the time you deduct regular income tax plus the self-employment tax, it really whittles it down. I take very modest deductions for a home office on my tax return.

It looks like for the month of May I will squeak by with income slightly exceeding expenses, and that includes my new washing machine. That's mainly because I got several more unemployment checks this month that were delayed in April and retroactive to then.

I'm torn about whether it would make sense to make another SEP-IRA contribution for the additional freelance work I've done YTD. It would be nice to do that because it lowers my taxable income, but typically, without a lot of freelance work, I run a monthly shortfall in income vs. expenses of about $300.

Everyone who's placed a wager in my Newspaper Coupon Experiment seems fairly optimistic about how quickly I'll pay for the $10 subscription fee. I don't often buy a lot of packaged food with preservatives, high salt or high sugar, dyes or hydrogenated fat, so that rules out a lot of coupon foods. However, double coupons might help. If I use just $1 worth of coupons a week, I guess I'd clear the subscription price by Week 10 or 11, as Baselle predicted. We shall see.

Yesterday was household hazardous waste drop-off day. I had just a few items, and I also picked up a few things from my neighbor, the one who is now home but still recuperating from knee surgery. I also mowed most of the front lawn and was glad i did so around noon because the rest of the afternoon ended up rather rainy, unexpectedly.

I plan to make more cereal for my breakfast. It's similar to granola, and will go really well with plain yogurt. I should also do a load of wash. And I need to decide whether to accompany my mother to pick up some art from the latest show. I don't have much to do today, but maybe i need to get out of the house.

Is anyone else having problems accessing Toluna website?

May 21st, 2011 at 01:55 pm

I haven't been able to get on the site for 3 days. Just wondering if it's me or maybe they're doing maintenance?

My experiment with newspaper coupons

May 20th, 2011 at 04:43 pm

I'm out of work and on a strict, self-imposed budget not to do any unnecessary spending.

However, today, while shopping at Stop & Shop, I decided to buy a newspaper subscription.

Here's the deal: 1 full year, Sunday only, for just $20, plus I got a $10 Stop & Shop gift card (which I used immediately). I figure I will make up the net cost of $10 by using the coupons that come in the paper. But I'm not sure.

Let's make this interesting! I decided to meticulously track all coupon savings (only those coupons that come from inserts in the paper) from when my subscription starts Sunday, May 29 and see how long into the following year it takes me to break even on the $10 subscription cost.

Keep in mind I generally like to eat healthy, but I do buy some sinful, packaged foods.

Care to wager in what week (week 1 through 52) it will take me to break even? I'll report in each week, in fact, I'll keep a running total posted on my sidebar here.

This could be fun!

Caught up....

May 19th, 2011 at 04:59 pm

I'm all caught up now with the 4 freelance jobs I got recently: two were press releases, and I was able to find and forward links to 5 published hits already, so client is happy. I finished writing a bio this morning.

Went to the MS program last night and enjoyed a chicken dinner but am proud to say I refrained from eating the chocolate cake for dessert. However, I still goofed and ate the fresh pineapple, watermelon and strawberries. I say goofed because I'm still staying away from fruit until I'm positive, absolutely sure the yeast infection is gonzo. (I am thinking more and more that it is, by the way, but will stick to the no sugars/dairy diet through Saturday of this week, to be sure.

At the conference I picked up a few freebies: 2 sticky note pads, 2 pens, 2 chap sticks and a tote bag (all emblazoned with the Copaxone logo). Teva Neuroscience also picked up my parking fee at the hotel. I left the meeting a little early so i could be back home in time to watch Idol and America's Next Top Model. I'm a reality TV junkie, sorry. Go Brittani!

After 5 consecutive days of heavy rain, there's a lull in the action, but weatherman said if you see sun peeking out by mid-day, there's a good chance we'll get severe thunderstorms this afternoon. The sky has brightened, but it's still overcast, so hoping no big, scary storms.

TNH Channel 8 is doing another $100 gas card giveaway all week; 5 winners each day. To enter, you have to watch the morning news, wait for that day's clue, then enter it online. I suppose there are many thousands who choose to do this, but I sure could use a gas card.

Trying to figure out what to do now. I need more work. Too wet to work in yard.

The new washing machine purrs

May 17th, 2011 at 07:32 pm

It was delivered this morning around 9 a.m. after I got one automated and one live phone call from Sears telling me the 2-hour window of time I could expect delivery.

I was feeling some trepidation, the memory 15 years ago of when my old washer was delivered still vivid in my mind. Rude and unprofessional guys swearing up and down when they saw they couldn't drive their truck up my driveway hill and had to carry the washer up it.

Anyway, these 2 young guys were nice and polite.

I ran a load of wash to try it out and even though it's considered a "basic" model, I could see it had several upgrades compared to my old Whirlpool. And it is indeed much quieter than you'd expect, though since it's in my basement, noise isn't really an issue. But they even include a special section in the manual explaining how their new technology makes it so quiet.

I was surprised to learn after reading the manual that becus it's considered "high efficiency," even though it's a top loader, I should be using high efficiency laundry detergent. I have at least 3 full gallons of regular, and i don't plan on throwing them away. Anyone know what the special detergent does? That was one thing the phone rep didn't mention.

After getting the washer delivered, I ran out for a trip to the landfill, to deposit some checks at the bank, to vote in my town's budget referendum, to return some DVDs to the library and to pick up some spinach for a barley/mushroom casserole I made for lunch.

I got a revision back on another press release I did and so was able to distribute it to the media. I scheduled a phone call with my other real estate client for 1 pm today, but she ended up being a no-show when I called her. At least I was able to clear my plate before getting involved in her bio.

I'm snacking on crackers and am bored silly with my diet. Someone suggested nuts and seeds, which I could do, though I would find them kinda dull, too, and dry. I have a nice nut and seed mix from Costco, but it contains dried cherries, so that would be a no-no.

I'm afraid I'll have to break my one-fill-up-a-month rule as tomorrow I'm headed to another free dinner and MS doctor lecture sponsored by the pharma company that makes the Copaxone I take. I only have a quarter tank of gas left and would feel better filling up before i go to that tomorrow evening.

I like to go to these dinners whenever i can, usually every other month, which i could never make when i was working f/t. I'm working so hard to not spend ANY unnecessary money, so these free dinners go a long way in making me feel a little pampered and indulged. I enjoy the social aspects of it and like seeing new doctors I don't know do the lectures. Although the one at tomorrow's lecture is my own doctor, whom i'm not really crazy about, but stick with becus the hospital he's affiliated with is closest to me and speed and convenience is important when you have a relapse and need treatment.

It may be difficult to meet my gas goal in June as well, becus my neighbor has already asked me if i would ferry her to some of her rehab therapy appointments once she goes back home. I really don't feel like doing it; i feel i've done so much for her already, and her daughter, who lives in neighboring town, is only now getting involved in caring for her own mother. I think i possibly embarrassed her last summer when her mother was telling her how much i helped her organize her tag sale. She and her daughter weren't really on speaking terms for several years, though thank god that's finally changing. I like to help when i can, but i think sometimes she assumes i'll be available to her simply because i live down the road less than a mile away.

A nearly do-nothing day

May 16th, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Rather chilly here given the time of year. In the 50s, I think, but I've had the heat turned off for many weeks now and have no intention of turning it back on!

It was rainy, cool, and overcast all day. As a result, I did practically nothing. I'm going to make myself feel better about that by listing what I DID do:

* Distributed a press release I wrote.
* Rebuilt my PR list of media contacts by creating a new email address using my business name and typing in all the contacts with email info there. It took several hours, but it then allowed me to remove all of these same contacts from my personal email account, which has been hacked into by spammers who hijacked all the emails in my contacts list and sent them spam under my name. It's happened twice now, and I think I am vulnerable because since I'm home all day now, I like to keep the computer running and my email open all day long.

I won't have a need to keep the new email address open since I will use that exclusively to distribute press releases for my freelance work.

* I did as many Toluna surveys as I could
* Prepared for a call from an old/new client who could be calling tomorrow to discuss a bio she wants me to write for her.
* Prepared for delivery of the new washing machine tomorrow by clearing a pathway in the garage and basement and moving my car from in front of the garage so they can pull right up.

Umm, that's about it! I am finished with my homeopathic treatment for the yeast infection. I wasn't convinced I was "cured" yet (itchy), so I got a quart of unsweetened Kefir and 2 quarts of plain, unsweetened yogurt and have been consuming liberal doses of the stuff 3 times a day with meals. It's not all that tasty when it's plain and unsweetened. I'm also liberally dosing my morning breakfast cereal and whenever I have toast with cinnamon, which is also supposed to help according to my Natural Pharmacy book.

And I finally got REAL serious about cutting out sugars, fruits/fruit juices and dairy from my diet for the rest of this week at a minimum, or if I still have this yeast thing after that.

I had "thought" i was more or less cutting out the dairy and sugars, even as I knew I was cheating here and there. I was thinking I wasn't doing that badly because I don't eat lots of cakes, cookies or ice cream. Well, I was still really cheating quite a bit. I never realized how many sweet things and dairy things I regularly consume.

Back on Mother's Day, I made cream of carrot soup that called for a cup of light cream. So I froze the leftover soup. With the leftover cream I made rice pudding. I decided to freeze that too rather than eat it (or throw it away). I use skim milk in my breakfast cereal. Froze it and bought 3 quarts of pricey rice milk as a substitute. Can't touch the Tropicana in the freezer, either, and there's a slice of Swiss cheese hanging out in back of the fridge. Can't touch the preserves/jams in the fridge; using the cinnamon instead. Thank god i can still have my two cups of tea each day with a little Truvia. I'm going to STARVE this yeast infection out of me. I feel ok today, so maybe it's working. Hate to go back to the doc becus it'll mean more $ spent than anything else I do.

So as a result, my diet feels incredibly BLAND and BORING. Really boring. All I can safely eat is meat, vegetables and whole grain bread/rice. I'm not a big meat-eater, so it's a bit different. I find myself wanting to snack on something, but what?? I'm not a huge salt addict, and only very occasionally buy a bag of potato chips. What I usually snack on is something sweet, like the aforementioned rice pudding, dried apricots, a piece of fruit or sometimes a Blue Bunny ice cream cone.

Feeling nervous, bought a washing machine

May 15th, 2011 at 01:08 pm

For weeks now, my 15-year-old Whirlpool washing machine has been leaking. Last week I went out and paid $14 for 2 new water intake hoses. I replaced the cold water hose and kept the other for future use. I was pretty sure I'd fixed the problem.

Yesterday, I did another load and gosh darn it, there's still a puddle of water on the floor. Now, it's clear it's not coming from where I screwed on the hose, it's coming from underneath the machine.

I think I mistakenly thought one of the hoses was leaking because I had to use a wrench to loosen one up, and I think before I got it off, I loosened it maybe one-quarter turn, just enough so that when I ran the water, it leaked.

I went online and found a good article on how, after replacing the washers on the hoses, if you still have a leak you can remove the back panel off the washer and look at 3 different common leak areas. OK, but now we're getting into possibly replacing a pump or other parts.

It's certainly not worth it paying someone to come out and do the repair; I looked at the back of the panel and saw I'd have to remove all the screws plus the water outtake hose and, I don't know, I have a history of attempting things like this and then getting stuck because I basically don't know what I'm doing.

So I caved. Time for a new machine. I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon researching washing machines online. I was thinking I'd go with the latest technology, aka, high efficiency, front-loading washing machines. I was looking at machines priced in the $800 to $1,000 range. But I was quite surprised to see that customer reviews were really mediocre.

You would think that if you're shelling out that kind of money, you're going to get a rock star machine. But so many of them seem to be extremely prone to breaking down. The more bells and whistles and technology built into them, the more the chance of them breaking down, I guess. Even the high-end brands, like Whirlpool.

There also seemed to be a lot of complaints about mold issues. Water collects on the inside of the door, and if you don't wipe it down after every use, mold starts to grow and your clothes start to smell. You're supposed to keep the door open when not in use, for that reason, so it can dry out, Sears told me.

There were many extremely frustrated buyers who dealt with unresolved repair issues for weeks and months, along with manufacturers who didn't offer much help. Many people seemed really disgusted.

So I went back to researching top-loaders, and overall, I found much higher ratings and more satisfied customers.

I've always bought Whirlpools, in fact, all my kitchen appliances are also Whirlpool, solely because when I did the research, they always ranked high.

But this time, I settled on a GE top loader for $500. I like it because it's Energy Star-rated, and I'm very committed to buying Energy Star products whenever possible. This particular model also got lots of praise for being quiet. It is a basic, no-frills model, but even then, it has a delicate cycle that my current machine doesn't have!

My strategy in reading the customer reviews was to look for the highest number of stars (out of a maximum of 5) and the highest number of reviews for any given machine. The GE I picked out had 11 reviews, and all 11 of these customers gave the machine 5 stars. By comparison, NONE of the high efficiency washing machines earned a 5-star average rating; at best, they had 3 stars. I checked ratings at my favorite site,, and individual store websites like Sears and Lowes.

I bought it from Sears (Lowes had the same price) and they will deliver it on Monday! The setup is included in the price and for an extra $10, they take away the old machine. (As I recall, the small appliance store nearby where I've bought from before charges $50 for taking the old one away.) And by using my Sears credit card, which I just recently got, I get 5%, or $25, off. I also earned some rewards on the purchase through Sears' rewards program.

I never saw the machine in person, but for me, that's not really necessary. I want a dependable, basic machine that will do the job like a workhorse for years to come.

Freelance Work, People in Need

May 14th, 2011 at 01:03 pm

I've noticed an uptick in my freelance work.

Last week, I got 2 press release assignments (already written, but not yet distributed), along with a personal project from my client's admin assistant.

She wanted me to interview her best friend, who has stage 4 breast cancer, and write content for a website she wants to create to help raise funds to pay her friend's medical expenses. I interviewed the woman yesterday and she already signed off on the copy. She was very nice. She has two young sons.

I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how I would approach the interview and prepping for it. I usually do more business writing, and this required a sensitive approach. I ended up with 10 questions, none of which really focused on the details of the woman's cancer or treatment. Instead, I decided to focus on getting to know who the woman was as a person. What are her interests, how does she like to spend her time, what does she consider her life's greatest achievements? I wanted to portray a person who is not defined by her illness. I also asked her how her cancer had changed her priorities and the biggest ways it has changed her life.

It was a surprisingly uplifting conversation. Her two young boys are the center of her life. She talked about the circle of friends and loved ones who have supported her in many different ways. The biggest way her illness has affected her, she said, had to do with time. Doctor's visits and various treatments like chemo eat up much of her time, and when she's not at the doctor's, she's focused on getting enough rest and battling fatigue, so she has less time to dedicate to her family.

I wish I could do this job pro bono, but I really need the income. The subject of price never came up (she sees what I charge her boss, since I copy her on my invoices to him) so I guess she can't be that concerned with it, but I decided to build in a 25% discount anyway.

Then, yesterday, out of the blue, I got an email from an office sales manager at another big real estate company I used to do tons of work for. She really kept me busy, but then I got a perm job and had to tell her I couldn't do it anymore.

Anyway, she wants me to update her bio, and I'm really hoping that after several years' hiatus, more assignments from her will follow.

So 4 assignments this month so far, plus that focus group I did. It will add up to about $590; that's the kind of income I'd like to generate every month. (Did I tell you my COBRA premiums rose another $25 a month, to $468 now?)

The forecast calls for possible rain for part of each day during the coming week. I'm actually looking forward to it because it means I get a break from my twice daily watering of the grass seed I planted.

I went to see my neighbor yesterday who is still in rehab recovering from knee replacement surgery. Her biggest complaint is the bland food. She is diabetic, but I brought her three organic pears. She should be back home next week.

On the drive over to see her, I saw another neighbor walking his dog down our street, and I stopped to talk with him. He had told me a week earlier that his daughter had been killed in a car accident late last year. He is having a tough time dealing with it, but at least he is talking about it. Each time I've talked to him, he gets choked up pretty quickly. He said he was ready for the good Lord to take him, because he will never get over it.

I find it difficult to know what to say in these situations because i don't have children and i don't believe in God. Whatever I say will be inadequate, given what he's going through. I try to be a good listener. I suggested that maybe talking to a counselor might help him find new ways to cope with his grief. I also said that maybe just keeping busy and not allowing himself to get lost in his thoughts might be a good thing. He's a really nice guy. His daughter, in her early 20s, had been enjoying her first apartment on her own in Massachusetts.

A lot of people are hurting. Despite my messed up family background, I count my blessings. Both my parents are still alive and are an important part of my life. Aside from my MS, which is mostly manageable, I am very healthy. Perhaps a bit overweight, at 148 pounds. It costs nothing to offer a few words of encouragement or support to those who need it. Many have done this for me over the years, and I consider it an obligation and an honor to repay those kind acts.

Lackadaisical Wednesday

May 11th, 2011 at 09:52 pm

Yesterday I drove an hour south to do a focus group on kitchen remodeling. It was 2 hours long and I walked out with $125. Nice. On the way home, I hit a Petco and got 2 free cans of Halo cat food. Then I went straight to my sister's house to pick up a 6-pack of broccoli seedlings she had offered me. A day full of freebies and money!

Today was a very leisurely day; I had trouble getting going, again, because it was cloudy and cool outside. I had a phone meeting with the assistant of my oldest freelance real estate client; she gave me 3 new jobs to do, 2 press releases and the third assignment is a personal request from the assistant to interview and write a story about her best friend, who has stage 4 breast cancer. The copy will go on a website to help raise funds for her medical expenses. I did my prep work today and will call her in a day or two. If I were working, I would like to do it for free, but I really need the money; she didn't ask for my price, but I will try to build in a smaller discount.

I planted my broccoli and gave the veggie garden a good watering. The lettuce is just starting to come up. So everything is planted now. This year's garden includes: tomatoes (cherry and beefsteak), bell peppers, yellow wax beans, green beans, swiss chard, cucumbers, acorn squash, spinach, broccoli, parsley and basil. Each year, i like to try something different. What's different this year is the Swiss chard.

I made some rice pudding. Instead of using 3 cups of milk as the recipe directs, I wanted to use up some leftover light cream I had used for a Mother's Day recipe (cream of carrot soup) and a pint of hazelnut creamer which is just milk and sugar, basically. (I don't drink coffee but I had a free coupon so I decided to get it and use it for a purpose it probably wasn't intended for.)

The recruiter called me and said that Anthem BC/BS job went to someone else. She said the other person had less experience than I have but got the job because she had a health care background. See what I mean? It's easy enough to say change fields if you can't work in your own field, but actually convincing employers you can do that is nigh impossible.

Spring at Patient Saver's House

May 10th, 2011 at 02:15 pm

It's so beautiful this time of year.

I always forget the name of this perennial, but here's a detail of the interesting leaves, after the rain.

One of 3 crabapple trees on the property.

I put hosta and lungwort together in a planter last year, and I'm really happy with how they look.

Luther has gotten too big to fit in this basket like last year, but he squeezed himself in anyway.

Waldo prefers the chaise lounge.

Another job interview and recruiter tactics

May 6th, 2011 at 12:28 am

An agency set up a phone interview for me with a big health insurance company this morning. I was pleased and surprised, because I don't have a health care background; most of my writing's been in financial services and real estate.

It seemed to go fairly well; the guy said there are 3 or 4 other candidates they'll be talking to. It's a contract job for 6 or 9 months with a possible extension. He mentioned there's some law that says that a contract job can't last more than a year (umm, i guess that's to protect employees from becoming forever contract workers with no benefits), so he said if it goes a year, they'd have to wait a month, during which time I couldn't work, and then rehire me.

So this is how successful companies today manage their human resources. Can you imagine the devastation to families if every company tried to get away with not having any permanent employees? There are very few protections for contract pay for holidays not worked, no paid vacation days, no paid sick days and health insurance, of course, is your problem.

Trust me, if I get the job, I will continue looking for something with benefits.

I think I mentioned before how the recruiter immediately latched on to the low end of the hourly wage I cited when she asked me how much I wanted. There was no special reason that I could see that she included the rate, $35 an hour, in the email she sent me which contained contact information for the interview with the employer. I think it was her way of trying to establish the "official" rate at the low end of the range I gave.

When she had asked me earlier what I wanted, my answer was, "Around $40 an hour...maybe $35." Her response was that this was perfectly within their range. So her immediately assigning the job a value of $35 an hour ticked me off.

I mean, the rule of thumb I always understood was that if you're working without benefits, the hourly rate should be higher than if you're working with benefits. This rate of pay is not higher than what I could expect to get in my field, with my experience, with benefits.

Now she may think she's got that taken care of, since I haven't said anything, but if it turns out the employer chooses me for the job, at that time I will tell the recruiter that I expect $40 an hour, given my background and expertise, and given the parameters of the job. How could she argue with me then, since she already responded that $35 to $40/hour was within their range? And how offensive that she would so quickly try to pin me down to the low end, possibly guessing I want/need the job too much to object.

Is this just a little bit slimy?

Well, the difference between $35 an hour and $40 an hour is substantial to me...over $10,000 annually. I figure that if the employer says he wants me, she has no choice and can't then tell me, screw you, we'll find someone else. She may have had the power to do that prior to my interview, but I don't think she can do much once I'm chosen by the employer, and especially since she already assented to the range.

I mean, her company still makes money if I'm hired at $40 an hour, but possibly they make no money if I'm not. I'm not sure if any of the other candidates the employer mentioned were put forth by the same agency that found me. And I would think it would be embarrassing and unprofessional looking if, after the employer said they want me, if the recruiter tried to steer him toward someone else becus they didn't want to pay me the $40 an hour.

Anyone have experience with this sort of thing?

Can you trust anyone these days?

May 4th, 2011 at 11:54 am

A lot of you have heard reports of bank robberies and a rise in petty crime during this recession. But small-time criminals aren't the only ones seeking to enrich themselves at someone else's expense. Sad but true.

Three recent examples:

1. Many, many people, myself included, seem to have a blind faith in the trustfulness of their doctors. But really, people who happen to be physicians surely face the same temptations to increase their income in less than honest ways, if given the opportunity.

My father saw a dermatologist who told him he had a melanoma on his ear. He asked the doctor, is it going to kill me? She said no, so he said, just let it be. The doctor made careful notations in my father's file regarding the location and size of the melanoma.

My father went to another dermatologist and asked that one to look at his ear. They said there was no evidence of any melanoma there.

My father's convinced the first doctor was simply trying to pad her income with an unnecessary surgery.

2. I went to my dentist 6 months ago. The hygienist cleaned my teeth, as per usual, and then the dentist came in to take a look. He noted that I had 2 small cavities in 2 opposing wisdom teeth that would need to be filled. I was upset about that, because I'm not working and don't need another expense.

After he left the room, the hygienist, who I've seen for years, said why don't you spend a little extra time brushing in the area of those 2 cavities and maybe you can get rid of them. Now, look, I always figured a cavity is a cavity, you either have one or you don't. I didn't think that extra brushing after the fact would make any difference, but it is true that all the dentist did was poke around my teeth with that pointed metal instrument, and when they find a sticky spot, it seems they pronounce there's a cavity.

So I took my hygienist's advice and remembered her words every day when I was brushing. Last week, I went back for my next 6-month cleaning and and was anxious to learn whether or not I still had my "cavities." My hygienist say, hey, let's not say anything about the cavities to Dr. so-and-so, let's just see if he notices them again, or not. So after my cleaning, the dentist came in and asked me if i was having any problems, and I said no. Then he looked at my mouth and pronounced that everything was fine. No mention of any cavities!!! What the (*&^^>>>>??????

Either a. The dentist is not very thorough and simply missed something he saw 6 months ago, or b. I never had 2 cavities to begin with! Which do you think it is?

3. The other day i got a call from a recruiter about a possible contract job. As we talked on the phone about it, she asked me how much money I wanted. I said around $40 an hour, and after a delay, I added, maybe $35 an hour. (I didn't want to price myself out of the job.) The recruiter started responding as I finished saying $40 an hour and she said good, that's right in our range, you realize you can't really negotiate the wages since the employer pretty much tells us what they're prepared to pay, etc. This particular recruiter, I must say, comes off very cold and unfriendly on the phone. Ugh.

Remember, the recruiter started to talk after I'd said around $40 an hour, I added "maybe $35 an hour" after a small pause. So in the paperwork, the recruiter put down the pay was $35 an hour...of course....

I'm pretty sure that yes, the employer says what they want to pay, but it's still up to the recruiter how to divvy up that pay between themselves and the employee. So the less they can pay the employee, the more is left for the recruiter. I realize this is business and they need to earn money, but I just got the strong impression throughout this little scenario that the recruiter could care less about me and that they're just trying to maximize their take.

No matter what you're doing in life, it just seems harder and harder to find truly honest people who aren't driven by a willingness to rip off others for their own gain. I mean, it is possible to earn income in an ethical manner, though if you do, you'll never get to the head of the pack, apparently.

The bottom line: Never trust ANYONE to look out for your best interests. That's your responsibility.

Locked myself out of the house

May 2nd, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Nothing like a little adventure to add spice to your life. That's what I did about an hour ago when I accidentally locked myself out of the house.

I had all the doors on the main floor open during the day since the cats like to look outside. It was about 5:30 pm and the sun was sinking, so I went around and closed all the doors. (My heat's turned off for the season!)

I started making a simple dinner which included putting a piece of fish in my toaster oven. Then I remembered I had the garage door open. I went down the basement and exited through the door to the garage and pushed the auto garage door opener button to close the big door, then walked over to a side door and closed that too. I returned to the door leading to the basement, and lo, it was locked.

Jiggle, jiggle.Nothing. How could it be locked? The door doesn't lock unless you turn the little thing vertical from the horizontal position. I've locked myself out of the house twice before, but this time I had that toaster oven going and didn't want to start a small fire. I knew everything was locked up tight, and unlike a previous lockout, when I allowed a police officer to break through a screen and BREAK a WINDOW, one I knew I was going to replace very soon, there was no way to break in without causing rather major damage.

I called my mother in neighboring town, who usually has a spare key. She came right over and we got in. I went down to the basement later to check out the lock, and I saw that it was in the UNLOCKED position but I still could not open the door from the inside either!

Obviously something is wrong with it and I'll have to replace the whole knob becus I don't want to risk this sort of thing again. It's not that old, maybe 5 or 6 years. (I will find a good hiding place outside for a spare key, something I used to do, but then retrieved from an overly cautious sense, I guess.)

I'll go to Ace tomorrow and get a knob/lock set and either have my friend Frank or my dad, who is coming tomorrow, install it for me, I hope.

Phew. My fish was very well done, but actually edible. (Hate to waste food.)

Season's first mowing, mystery water leak somewhere?

May 2nd, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Having charged the lawnmower the night before, I commenced with the season's first lawn mowing yesterday. When it's allowed to grow without a shave, my lawn resembles a colorful spring meadow, with wild violets in bloom, teeny white flowers and patches of taller white flowers that will bloom if given the chance. So I mowed around the largest patches of wildflowers so I could enjoy the show.

My lawn's too big to do all at once, so I'll hopefully finish up the mowing today.

Yesterday, I also planted some Swiss chard, which I like to use in soups. I also planted several pots of basil. (A girl can never have too much basil, especially a girl who loves her homemade pesto sauce.)

It's so easy to forget all the great things about summer in the depth of winter. But then again, would we appreciate them so much if we enjoyed them year-round?

I also laid the soaker hose in the vegetable garden and cut back the overgrown basket willow and giant hemlock that were shading out my blueberry bushes. I dragged the cut branches down to the ever-growing pile in the driveway, now taller than me. It awaits my father's arrival to help me bring them to the landfill in his pick-up truck. Hopefully some time this week.

I changed the hummer water, watered the newly sprouted grass where the forsythia stand was and weeded more garlic mustard, which is growing just about everywhere.

I discovered a small water leak that discolored a large wall mural my mother painted in my living room in 2001 and wondered if that leak was the source of the musty smell I've been smelling for the past month in my upstairs bedroom. If so, perhaps the leak came from the attic window, traveled down the 2nd floor bedroom wall and down to the first floor? (I see no evidence of a leak in the 2nd floor bedroom, just a smell.)

So i hauled my extension ladder out, used it to climb to the shallow pitched roof of the family room, and then hoisted it up to use it again to reach the attic window. There was a good-sized gap between the top of the window casing where it meets the wall of the house, so I caulked it up pretty well; while i was up there, I also caulked the top of the upstairs bathroom window. It will all be covered with vinyl siding this season, but still a good idea to seal up any openings.

I'd also more or less pinpointed where ants were coming in the sunroom at a corner at the ceiling. Looking at it from the outside, I could see some cracks where ants could crawl through, so I did more caulking there, too. I hope it finally does the trick.

I'm still concerned about the musty smell in my bedroom, which was never there before. I don't think it's from this past winter's ice dams, because the water infiltration was all on the back (south) wall of the house, and the bedroom abuts the north wall. You'd think if there was a mold issue, I would have smelled it sooner. Besides, it would have dried out by now and then the mold would die.

There is no plumbing in my upstairs bedroom, so don't think it's a leaky pipe. Although, I remember years ago I kept smelling a musty water smell on the first floor, near the front door, and I traced it to a sink in my basement which didn't have a proper trap on the drain pipe, allowing those bad odors to rise up to the first floor. Recalling that incident, I examined the plumbing in the basement, but see no leaks.

I want to go back into the attic again with my flashlight and look behind the knee walls, and then do it again when it's raining so I could more easily spot an active leak.

So for now, the source of that musty smell remains a mystery.I would like to think that my caulking of the attic window fixed the problem and the residual mustiness will dissipate with time, but I'm not sure that's it, partly because if the bad odor was coming up from the basement, you would assume you'd also smell it on the first floor, which I don't. I smell it on the 2nd floor, in my bedroom, which leads me to think it more likely to be a leak from above, somewhere in the attic, if it's coming from somewhere other than the attic window crack which I already caulked.

One more possibility: I recently discovered I have some sort of leak from my washing machine, which is in the basement more or less directly underneath the 2nd floor bedroom where I'm smelling the musty smell. (If that's the source, why aren't I smelling the musty smell on the first floor?) The leak appears to be coming from either underneath or behind the washing machine, will have to do a load and watch carefully as the water fills. The wet spot on the cement floor spread about 5 feet.

So what to do about the washer? It's 15 years old; it's a Whirlpool. Had it repaired once before, something to do with the water not draining away. I was happy with the repair job, though i recall it being about $75 (?) or so. Considering I'm not working, should I go for a repair again or consider a new washer?

I hope that once I have the vinyl siding installed, this sort of thing will happen no more; everything will be sealed up. But I'd feel better if I were able to identify the source of the mustiness and deal with it prior to vinyl installation because once it's on, it could make it harder to deal with any leak issue later.

I seem to have recurring issues with leaky windows. I don't think this is normal. Is it something about how my window casings are constructed? Because there's always that weak spot, along the top of the window casing, which is basically a piece of wood trim that butts up against the side of the house. This joint is supposed to be kept sealed/caulked, but no caulk lasts forever.