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Design-a-Budget

July 31st, 2011 at 01:31 pm

OK, everyone, let's play "Design-a-Budget."

In this game, Patient Saver gets a Job Offer and then begins to wonder how she'll divvy up her small pot of gold her employer gives her.

Below, she lists her monthly net income and monthly expenses. Note that her expenses are grouped according to whether they are ESSENTIAL or discretionary.

There's a small amount of discretionary money available at the end of each month, and the amount depends in part on what exact salary Patient Saver (PS) can negotiate, but it will likely only be a difference of \$4,000 at most.

If you can picture about 20 individual boxes, each labeled with one of my expenses, and consider my meager paycheck as Monopoly money, would you divvy it up about the same? How would you tweak where the money goes?

Remember, these are monthly expenses, so if I had an expense that happened once a year, like a \$150 furnace cleaning, I would divide that number by 12 to get the monthly cost.

Net Monthly Income
They told me the salary would be "low 40s," so I'm making my calculations here based on a low of \$40,000 and a high of \$44,000.

Using an online paycheck calculator, I came up with the following:
\$40K a year with 5% deducted for 401k contributions: my monthly net would be \$2492.

\$44K a year with 5% deducted for 401k contributions: my monthly net would be \$2717.

Monthly Expenses, Fixed and Essential:
(Note: All essential monthly expenses are based on recent historical data becus PS keeps meticulous records of how she spends, so these numbers are pretty accurate.)

Mortgage and property taxes: \$1146
COBRA: \$165 (this is estimated based on what HR told me the company pays for your health coverage)
Food: \$200
Electricity: \$66
Heating oil: \$65
Sewer (usage fee and loan): \$60
Homeowners insurance:\$56
Gas for car: \$45
Phone and Internet: \$44
Car insurance: \$35
Water: \$15
Borough taxes: \$14
Car tax: \$7
Dump sticker: \$7
Minimal car maintenance: \$3
Total: \$1928

Not essential, but still important expenses I want to budget for:
Healthcare out of pocket: \$37 (mostly routine co-pays but leaving a few hundred extra for something unforeseen)
Furnace cleaning: \$12.50
Chimney cleaning: \$12.50

Grand total so far: \$1990

With a \$40K salary, I'd have \$502 left over each month; with \$44K, I'd have \$727 left over each month.

Here's how I'd like to use a bit more of that money:

Put \$200 a month into mortgage prepayments.
Set aside \$30 a month for dining out/entertainment. This could allow me to eat lunch out twice a month with a friend, or perhaps one lunch out and several movies. Or any other combo adding up to \$30 a month.

That still leaves me with between \$272 and \$497 left over each month. At this point, I probably wouldn't try to budget any further. I suspect that I will go over my \$200 a month allocation for food, for instance, and there are always expenses that don't fit neatly into my categories. Like, I like to buy bird seed to feed the birds, especially in winter. From time to time I need to buy ink cartridges for my printer. A small amount of clothing, like undergarments. And stuff like that.

But I'm just curious, if you've followed me this far and you had limited funds to spend, would you make your allocations any differently? Would you, for instance, do away with the 401k contributions entirely? Or the mortgage prepayments? Or put money aside for some non-discretionary item I haven't listed?

July 31st, 2011 at 07:31 am

I've been thinking about what kinds of changes, if any, I would make if I were to get that job I interviewed for. I'm trying not to get too overly focused on this, because I may not get it.

But I think there's a decent chance I will. Why?

1. They didn't advertise it online, only in 2 local weekly papers, as far as I can tell.

2. Because for most people with my level of experience, they will walk away because of the low salary. They may have some younger people willing to grab the job, but they would have less experience and expertise.

3. So of the smaller pool of experienced people who, like me, would consider it due to extended unemployment, I think only those who lived nearby would be willing to go for it. Because if you're going to take a low-paying job, I think most people would say, low-paying jobs are more plentiful than high-paying jobs and thus should be easier to find, so if I'm going to take one, I might as well take one closer to home with less commute. Only better paying jobs make the longer commute worthwhile. So I'm hoping both the low salary and the commute factor will eliminate a lot of other otherwise experienced job candidates.

But anyway, if I were to get the job, I've already been thinking of little changes I'd be making to both my lifestyle and my finances. For instance, should I reintroduce Netflix or cable TV back into my life? It would be tempting, but since I've managed thus far, I might want to just keep going without. I absolutely hate the thought of reintroducing regularly recurring bills back into my life. It has a way of just creeping up on you. So I don't know about those those. I might still cave when the cold weather comes.

Then there's the question about how much, if anything, I would be able to save. For me, savings is really about 2 things, mainly. Saving for retirement and prepaying the mortgage. Also, I will need a new car in a few years, prefer to buy new and pay in cash and would rather not take the whole amount out of savings, which is really retirement savings, altho some of that is in taxable accounts.

I suppose that paying off that mortgage must come first. It's my only debt. When I was working in town here and making \$50K, I did manage to prepay the mortgage with an extra \$425 a month and max out my 401k. But with \$10,000 less, I would likely have to scale that back. Cus there wasn't much left over. I've been tentatively thinking I could continue prepayments, but to the tune of \$200 or \$250 a month, not \$425. And I would still aim to max out the 401k. They do have an employer match.

Beyond that, I have no particular plans. I'm really glad I'm getting the vinyl siding done on the house. I will be forever rid of the too frequent chore of painting every few years. The roof and the driveway are 2 other big ticket items coming down the pike at some point.

But just having a regular income coming in would be reassuring I wouldn't have to dig into principal for day to day living.

I just have to steel myself for the tiny little paycheck I'd be getting. Worst case scenario would be \$40K, which comes out to \$769 gross per week! God! Nothing! Best case scenario would be \$44K a year, coming out to \$846K gross.

I'll have to be super careful, because take a look at my total annual expenses the last 5 years (see, tracking my expenses does come in handy for references like this):

2010: \$34,712 (This is low only becus I was unemployed and forced to cut way back)

2009: \$40,500

2008: \$44,100

2007: \$43,000

2006: \$44,100

2005: \$44,900

Granted, these totals included lots of mortgage prepayments, which is not ESSENTIAL, plus usually 1 or 2 home improvements. The vinyl siding this year, 2 years ago it was my sun room conversion, sometimes it was house painting, a new refrigerator, etc.

While I don't plan to make any more major home improvements along the lines of the sun room conversion (\$5,000) or vinyl (\$12,000) there will ALWAYS be other things coming up. My hot water heater probably doesn't have much life in it. Maybe a well pump would go, or the garage door opener. Etc. Etc.

Just thinking of these things reminds me that taking such a low-paying job would really only be wise for someone like me who has fairly substantial personal savings, because I know I could still cover myself in the event of some unexpected expense. So living on a low salary doesn't seem like quite the risk it could be for someone already living close to the edge, financially.

That's enough for my 3:31 a.m. ramblings. I guess I won't be able to indulge my insomnia if I get that job. There will be consequences.

Check out the progress on my house...

July 30th, 2011 at 04:34 pm

Day 1: The house is stripped bare of those nasty asbestos shingles! These boards have not seen the light of day since "circa 1930."

This is the back of the house. To my relief, there weren't gaping holes in the sub-board, nor huge infestations of ants. Or dead bodies.

Here is the vapor barrier. On top of this is the 1/2 inch foam insulation (R2 value).

Day 2:
Beautiful! The first side (the front of house) of vinyl siding is on. I swear, it looks like a much newer house.

Day 3: They've now moved to the north side of the house.

I was able to make significant progress writing my test assignment from the job interview. Early, early this a.m. I knew these vinyl guys would be here early.

I just liked the looks of this onion.

My first acorn squash growing on the vine.

How the job interview went!!

July 29th, 2011 at 05:34 pm

I had my job interview, as scheduled, this morning. I met briefly with the HR person alone, and then with a senior analyst who's been with the company for several decades.

I was a little surprised when, after a very rapid description of their publication process, the HR person launched into specifics of benefits. Not that I minded at all, it's just that usually they don't get into details unless an offer is made. She told me about vacation, and from what i can remember, it starts low, like 1 week, plus 6 personal days, but then doubles each year for the first few years anyway. They have a medical plan that covers 65% of premiums (is that better than average?) if you're single, like I am, plus a dental plan and you can purchase short and long-term disability. And they have a 401k plan with a match.

Work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm with an hour for lunch and no cars are left in the parking lot after 4:30 pm. There's no overtime, and no evening or weekend work. I asked how this all came about, was it the philosophy of the CEO, and she said yes, he thinks work/life balance is important.

So the benefits seem decent, what you'd want to see, and i especially liked the work hours, which are essentially a 7-hour day/35-hour week. Most companies these days, if they give you an hour for lunch, require you to work an extra hour in the afternoon to make up for it. Like my last perm job, we got an hour for lunch, but your hours were 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm, not 4:30 pm. So this is quite nice.

It's casual dress only on Fridays.

So after telling me all this, she called in the senior analyst and he asked me a few specific questions I hadn't been expecting. I really didn't know much about the type of writing, after all. He asked me if I'd done much travel, or if I ever lived abroad. Because they report on countries and economies all over the world, and I think having more than a US-centric perspective helps in this job.

He also asked me what news publications I read, and I wish I had been able to mention a few more non-US ones.

So the company has 53 employees, quite small. Alternative energies would be a new division and there would be several writers working together on one of their reports, each doing a separate section. He said it's definitely the kind of job you grow into, that there are certain things I'd get pretty quickly,and other things that would take quite long to understand.

Still, I think they liked me. They've emailed me a writing test I have a week to do. It consists of a 60-page report which I have to scan and summarize; additional research on my part may be needed. He's already told me that 90% of what's in the report is irrelevant. They want to see if I can pick out the important parts and write about it intelligently. It's a Bangladesh budget speech.

This is all rather exciting to me. I love the idea of immersing myself in a given subject matter and then becoming an expert in it. I've done that before in several jobs, having come into it with no prior background.

I was feeling comfortable enough to ask them why they weren't looking for someone with a PhD in solar or something. In other words, there are many people far more qualified than me to do this job, and that's what I couldn't figure out.

They basically said they do have some people like that applying for the job, but they live elsewhere, don't want to move, and being at the forefront of the industry, don't have much time. I was wondering if that was the full story; maybe they just can't afford to pay the higher salaries these people would command. (Cus they already told me low 40s)

The foreman on my vinyl siding job informed me they're planning on working Saturday, so no break from the noise yet. I hope maybe they take a break on Sunday. I'd like some quiet time to delve into the Bangladesh report.

All hell breaking loose

July 28th, 2011 at 09:37 pm

Today the vinyl siding project on my house began.

I was a little perturbed because after 3 guys and a van showed up to unload a s***load of ladders/scaffolding, 2 left and there was just 1 guy left working all by himself for most of the morning.

At this rate, I thought, it's going to take forever to get done. However, the others returned around noon, and they've been on a tear ever since. After a full day of work, they're now on the last and final side of the house, the front.

And the banging is LOUD. They're banging so hard, taking off the asbestos shingles, that I had 2 small shelves in the kitchen fall to the floor. They were holding 2 little teapots. Luckily, the ceramic one that I liked fell onto a cushioned chair. What luck that it was perfectly positioned to catch it. The other tea kettle was tin, so no biggy there. I also had a mini shade come out of the bracket and fall in the upstairs bathroom.

As a precaution, I took down ALL my framed pictures, a large clock, small shelves and other items hanging on the outer walls.

The cats have mostly stayed in the basement although both cats were upstairs for a while. Even Waldo ventured up for a bit, which surprised me, becus he usually runs to the basement when someone even knocks on the door. He's very timid.

I think they are also putting up the Dow wrap and the 3/4 inch foam insulation as they go. Or at least they started to. The vinyl will come tomorrow. The contractor assured me they would have the walls covered before they left tonight, as it might rain.

I'm very excited to see this job done. It's going to look like a new house when they're done. I hope my plants survive. I hope they do a good job with cleanup.

However, the timing could have been better. I'm preparing for my job interview tomorrow, pulling my portfolio together, etc. and it's very difficult to think with all this racket.

I also ended up going to the doctor's because of that tick bite I had. I've been a little headachey, so don't want to take any chances just to save a few bucks. I'll start on 3 weeks of antibiotics tonight and I also ordered \$80 worth of special herbs online as a follow-up. It was herbs that cured my Lyme last time after antibiotics failed to completely do the trick.

Job Interview!! Happy Dance!!

July 27th, 2011 at 04:24 pm

Yee haw! Got a job interview set for this Friday morning.

Once again, it pays to prowl the local newspaper help wanted section. There seem to be a number of businesses that prefer to avoid the onslaught of applicants that an online help wanted ad would generate.

This wasn't even a daily newspaper...it was my local hometown newspaper. The company that advertised is based right here!!! Wouldn't it be great to once again have no commute??

The job is a research and writing job, though the title is Analyst.

It's a small, but well-respected market intelligence provider that does research in certain industries and sells that information. It started out serving mainly the defense and aeronautics industry but looks to be expanding into energy/power and airlines.

What do I know about those industries? Absolutely nothing. But the ads also said nothing about being an expert in those fields.

Since it was so local, I hand-delivered my resume with some writing samples they hadn't asked for directly to the company this past Monday. I had taken a lot of care to write a tailored cover letter seeking to compensate for my lack of specific industry knowledge by talking about how good I am at writing about complex subject matter, like certain financial investments. I had also years back done website copy for one alternative energy company, so that was one of the writing samples I left with them.

Now I had applied for a writing job with this company years ago, like maybe 10 years ago. At the time, I remember this same woman had called me and told me their salary range, which was so low at the time i couldn't consider it.

So I was prepared when she brought up salary again. She asked me what my range was and i hemmed and hawed and she said well if i told you our range was in the low 40s would you still be interested?

I said yes, definitely, and told her I was very close to paying off my mortgage, and that doing so would really free me up to look at jobs that truly interested me, and that quality of life issues, like an easy commute, were important to me.

So she said well let's continue this conversation, but in person. So we're set for Friday. I may be meeting one other person but she's not sure.

I'm psyched. Low 40s is exactly HALF of what I could expect to make at many jobs in lower Fairfield County. However, I have passed many job postings up becus they were just too far away. I just don't want to schlep an hour to work every day, and back. I feel like it's giving up too much of my time, and I'm at a point in my life where I want to slow things down a little and not return to such a frenetic lifestyle.

Now I know I can survive, more or less, on unemployment, though I've deferred a lot of expenses, and that comes to about \$28,000 a year. And I know when I worked at another local job, I made it work on \$50,000 a year, starting out, and even then I insisted on contributing the max to my 401(k). (Although with such a small salary my 15% contributions didn't add up to so much.) AND I was still prepaying my mortgage an extra \$400 a month!

All I really need is a job that will pay my current bills. Based on various retirement calculators, my \$500K nestegg should grow to a million by the time I'm 65. Of course, I will still contribute as much as i can, that's just the way i am, but it seems large enough at this point that i could partly put it on auto-pilot.

I'm psyched.

My new neighbors

July 26th, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I was excited to see a mama raccoon and her three youngsters passing through the yard. I had been weeding here and there, but had been forced indoors by a sudden rain shower. There was a doe snorting impatiently at me while I was out there; I knew she wanted me to leave so she could do the daily feed on the fallen green apples from the tree. I see her there every single day, since the apples began falling. Even in summer, she is still quite lean, and you can see her ribs.

Relaxing in the sun room, Luther spotted them first. He growled. They nonchalantly climbed the Stairway to Heaven (aka, the stairs to my backyard) and disappeared into a row of forsythia.

You've seen the Stairway to Heaven before, but somehow it seems fitting to show it again in winter.

Anyway, they were awfully cute. I see practically everything here but for some reason, no raccoons in 15 years. Until this year. I knew they'd already ransacked a bag of cracked corn I had in the garage. My own carelessness, since I have a bad habit of leaving the garage door open.

In other news, I have an extremely sore backside. It feels exactly as if I bumped into something hard and caused a bruise, except that I didn't bump into anything that I remember. It's a bone near the top of my butt, to the right of my spine. It's very, very sore. Strange.

I met a friend at an MS luncheon at the Courtyard Marriott today. I like to go to these; it's a chance to talk with other MSers, meet new doctors and get a nice (free) meal. This one was a refresher course on proper injection techniques. Not the most uplifting topic, but still important as you can do a number of your skin if you keep injecting into the same spot day after day.

The really big news is that the guy I hired to do my vinyl siding is ready to start this week, probably Thursday or Friday. I'm not looking forward to the 1-2 weeks of inconvenience, mess and lack of privacy, nor the bill, but I definitely want to have it done.

I had originally hoped it would be done in June, but the bad weather and a tornado that damaged the builder's house set him back by a month or so.

I started hauling my many potted annuals and herbs into the garage, where they will safely remain for the duration of the project. Since they'll be tearing asbestos shingles off the house, I don't want any dust floating onto my basil.

I also pulled up a few solar walkway lights and some low border fencing so they don't trip over it. I'm most worried about my in-ground perennials being trampled and crushed. They all look so healthy, but it would be impossible to, say, put boxes over each to protect them becus there are just too many all around the house.

Tomorrow night I'm going to an author's presentation on getting your book published. I'm going out of personal interest, but also I'll be with the author whose book I'm editing. There will be a bunch of writers there. My author told me to bring my business cards; maybe I can drum up some business there.

Gross, Found a tick on me....

July 22nd, 2011 at 01:47 pm

I think I was getting a little too complacent after having had my yard perimeter sprayed with either an insecticide or water. It's part of a Yale tick study; I was thinking positively that it was the spray because I've noticed an obvious lack of carpenter ants this year and I read that the insecticide that kills ticks also kills ants.

But anyway, I've been berry picking in the backyard on pretty much a daily basis. I think I got too careless, even while sweating my butt off wearing the hip boots at times (!) because this early a.m. I was still in bed and noticed a very itchy spot on my finger. I figured a spider or mosquito had bitten me. When I got up and looked, there was a tiny, tiny black speck in between my 2 fingers. I scraped it with my fingernail and watched it. It moved. I freaked.

I put it in the toilet bowl and flushed.

I've had Lyme disease twice in the last 5 years. Luckily no lasting effects, just 3 weeks on antibiotics and avoiding the sun. I know they have to be attached to you for at least 24 hours before they can transmit Lyme, assuming they are positive for carrying the virus (at least half of them are).

I don't want to pay a \$30 copay + the cost of meds if I don't need to. So I will watch for symptoms but not run to the doctor unless I notice any symptoms, which for me has always been persistent headaches.

I also have some leftover herbs (Andrographis is one) from last time I had Lyme and the antibiotics didn't seem to work. I had read a book about treating it with various herbs, and about 4 weeks on them after 2 rounds of antibiotics, 3 weeks apiece, in fact did the trick.

Don't assume that just because they're herbs, they aren't heavy-duty. I had taken too much of the Andrographus last time (you're supposed to ramp up gradually) and I broke out in horrible hives/rash. So it is potent stuff. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial. And according to the book author, who I corresponded with, the herbs can also be used as a preventative, not just after the fact.

Isn't this a pretty pot of marigolds? I did not plant flowers, nor seeds. They all sprang up in different pots I had last year where the dried up flower blooms had reseeded themselves. I carefully transplanted them all to this one pot and they've done wonderfully. They're so cheerful!

Here's a window box on the side of my garage. It gets the full brunt of the southward-facing sun, and most annuals fry in this location. You just can't water enough to keep them looking healthy. So I decided to try succulents,and they've exceeded my expectations. You can see here a large hen and chick along with some creeping red sedums. (There's also a few pots of strawberries below, on the driveway.)

In the center there's a round rock, one of about a dozen I took as a "souvenir" from a beach somewhere in northeastern Canada. I remember that a Border Patrol agent yelled at me when he inspected our trunk as we returned to the States, but he didn't take them from me. I still use those exceedingly round rocks in various Asian style rock formations around my yard. I really like them.

So a few weeks ago the Honda dealer replaced the rear right wheel drum because it was rusting and bits of metal that had flaked off were getting inside the wheel and making a noise when I drove. I had to bring it back a 2nd time becus afterwards, it made a funny noise when I applied the brake. They had to file down the wheel becus it's possible it was warped, he said.

Then I had to bring it back a 3rd time and it seemed fine. But then I look at the drum yesterday, which you can easily see thru my rims, and the drum is all rusty. Just got it a few days ago. I'm guessing it rusted while sitting around a warehouse for who knows how long, but I'm not sure I should be paying \$160 for a rusty drum. Called the dealer, he confirmed it was a new part, and said i could bring it by and he'd take a look. Which I will do this afternoon, after I meet with grad student to get supplies for the nutrition study.

So for those of you who followed by heat challenge yesterday, I ended up turning off the AC around 9 pm although it was still 80 degrees outside. I took a cold shower and slept in my upstairs bedroom where it is most comfortable. It was 88 degrees all night long and by the time I woke at 4:45 a.m., the downstairs was a muggy 80 while the outdoor temp was now down to about 75. So I flung open every window in the house, but had the AC going again around 7 a.m. It's that hot.

So the downstairs, set at 80, is comfortable, but not much to do down there! My kitchen is there and i can listen to the radio. But my upstairs office is still hot. Oh well.

I noticed mold growing on both my toilet bowls.

For anyone who is still reading at this point, I mentioned earlier a noticeable absence of those disgusting carpenter ants this year. I really think that spray is the reason why. But now I'm battling the tiny sugar ants. They're small in size but not in number. I actually had one rather large population attempt to colonize my living space as I discovered a trail, coming in from the corner of the front storm door, continuing along the front wall of the living room, then down the length of an Indian area rug, down along the fringe of a small Moroccan rug, along to the kitchen, past the cat food bowls, up the cabinets and along the bottom of the counter where they finally ended up on the counter where I'd been killing them and not knowing where they were coming from.

I deccimated that group, but i was still getting ants in the kitchen near the sink area. AFter doing some caulking of cracks, I FINALLY figured out they were coming in from behind 2 different wall outlet switches! I sealed them both up with extra wide packaging tape and thought I had licked the problem, but i'm still getting ants and STILL don't know where they're coming from. Unless you're staring directly at possible openings/crevices/cracks, you can't tell for sure because they just seem to wander aimlessley. It's very frustrating.

I have some ant bait and will have to sprinkle that outside around the house but i'm not sure they go for it as much as carpenter ants do. I need to get some pure boric acid, but not sure where to get it.

Didn't think I could do it, but I did,and it feels SOO much better

July 21st, 2011 at 06:47 pm

OK, I caved.

Meaning, my 1 small AC window unit is in my downstairs dining room window and blasting relief. Together with just 2 box fans, I've cooled off the downstairs core of the house (about 725 sf) to 78 degrees and it feels tolerable. I did close off the family room and sunroom, which get very hot.

I have one of the box fans in the basement at the foot of the stairs, blowing the much cooler air of the basement right up the stairwell into the kitchen. It's working pretty well, I must say.

I'm rather surprised that 1 small unit I have (an Energy Star unit, thankfully), which I bought years ago at Costco for \$99, is doing the downstairs pretty well. As you ascend to near the top of the stairs to the 2nd floor, it gets noticeably hotter and more humid. Wonder how I'll sleep tonight. Well for now, my cooling "system" is working.

I didn't want to put any more holes in the window sills to hold that AC unit in place. It's quite heavy. But I put it in the window with no screws, closed the window on top of it, and on the outside, I put a metal folding chair with a 2 x something to prop up the AC unit on its back end.

I got the idea from my author, who I met for iced tea this a.m. in a very warm coffee shop. We chit-chatted for 2 hours, mostly about her various books. But there are some funny coincidences here.

After living in town for 15 years, I still know just a handful of people in my adopted hometown. Cus normally when I work f/t, it's somewhere else and I don't have much free time to get around here.

But I was referred to D. by my neighbor who was taking D.'s painting class at the senior center. Then a while back I discovered that D. and I both use the same handyman. Then today, I learned that the guy she had mentioned whose bathroom she was redesigning, and who had said he'd help her publicize the book via radio/TV when she's ready, well, I discovered that man was my old boss when I worked at a TV/radio PR agency 2004-2007! She couldn't have picked a better person to do it. He really knows his stuff and all the right people. We both got laid off at the same time and from what she tells me, he's still doing the same kind of work but for himself this time. It's just so funny that we know the same people, considering that I know so few here!

Still haven't used the AC yet

July 21st, 2011 at 12:56 am

Like most of the country, it seems, it's been really hot and humid for the past few days, and it appears more heat from the Midwest will be rolling in tomorrow and Friday.

So far, I've managed to do without the AC (!!) but I suppose if I were going to cave, it would happen during the next two days. As it is, all I have is a small AC I usually put in the bedroom for sleeping.

I wouldn't mind trying it in another room, like my office, where I spend a lot of time, but I don't want to start putting holes in more window sills.

Would you happen to know if there are AC units out there that don't require you to drill a hole in the sill to hold it? Guess that's a dumb question, but I was just wondering.

I had plans to see Thor at the \$2 movie theater in town but my friend cancelled out. It was just as well, I suppose, as I had been mowing and collecting berries and was pretty hot and sweaty by the time 6 pm rolled around.

Still, I haven't been to the movies in ages. Maybe we'll make it later this week.

Tomorrow morning I'm meeting the author at the coffee shop. I'm not sure the purpose of the meeting, altho she did say she wanted my feedback on the book. Well, she's getting all my edits, so not sure what else she's looking for, but maybe this is an overture toward friendship, so I will go. She's a very nice person.

She seems to love my edits. I was afraid maybe I'd overdone it. She especially liked one of my comments, which was "Show, don't tell." In other words, don't keep explaining what all your characters are thinking, just communicate that through their words and behavior. She tends to explain everything, which I think makes it less interesting because there are fewer surprises.

I wrote up another press release yesterday and haven't heard back from the sales director of the townhouses I wrote about, which is a little unusual. I find myself falling in love with many of the new complexes I write about, including this one.

The big selling point here is, where else can you get NEW construction, 2- and 3-bedroom townhomes across the street from a public beach for \$250,000 to \$350,000 in New Haven County? S/S appliances, granite counters, natural gas heat, central air, hardwood and tile floors, Colonial style. This particular neighborhood is undergoing a kind of renaissance; they're trying to make it an artist community and in fact there are now 2 galleries and the first level of these townhomes, which is retail, will include artist loft space.

Otherwise, not much else new. I've been picking wineberries nearly every day, though to get a real haul, I need to don my hip boots so I can wade into the thicket without worrying too much about deer ticks.

I'm still eating lettuce from the garden. Altho it has bolted, it tastes fine to me.

Well, with the elimination of cable TV, there is absolutely no further expense I can cut. Which means I either have to focus on reducing utilities, like electric and water, which of course I've been doing all along, or focusing solely on ways to make more money, which always seems harder to me than cutting expenses.

Which is one reason I haven't dragged the AC down from the attic yet.

A Woman & Her Lists

July 19th, 2011 at 06:25 pm

Joan observantly pointed out that in times of worry or fear about the future, making lists can be a good way to take control of one's circumstances and ease those feelings of helplessness that sometimes envelop us.

(And as an aside, in relation to my 4 a.m. post, I know I will get by, more or less, for the rest of 2011. It's what happens AFTER that that has me getting fearful. Cus my unemployment runs out for good in January 2012.

Of course, I will hope for the best, hope I find another job, etc., but here's a quote I love, which perfectly explains my phiilosophy:

"Hope is not a strategy."

In other words, you've got to grab life by the horns and take control of the situation.

But back to my lists. I've been a lifelong list-maker. There's something in me, perhaps because I'm a writer, that I feel a need to record, track and monitor. Everything.

Not only do I have many and various lists related to my income, net worth and monthly expenses, down to the dollar, but I also kept "lists" of a sort when I was actively dating men online. I would make a grid and rank them on various attributes important to me, including their geographic desirability, shared interests and age and so on.

If I rummage around in my desk, I could come up with a list I made years ago of all the things that make me happy. I refer to it sometimes as a pick-me-up. It contains things like enjoying a cup of tea to travel to playing with my cats.

I have a list of my anticipated monthly and annual expenses in my semi-retirement (age 60-67) as well as in full retirement (age 67 on).

I have a list somewhere of major anticipated expenses for the next 5 years. This includes stuff like a new car, a new roof and a new driveway.

Every single day, of course, I create a little list of things to do and a day when I can scratch off everything on my list is a day well lived!

When I was dating different men who shared my interest in hiking or kayaking, I created a journal that included photos and text describing each trip we made, the date, the distance and location.

I have a list of all the foreign movies I've seen, becus a few times I'd rent one that I only later realized I'd already seen.

I have a list of all the perennials, shrubs and trees I've planted on my property over the years, and where they are.

I have another list recording all the different animal and bird species I've seen on the property, and I'm still adding to it with recent additions like the gray fox.

I have in the past considered writing my own obituary. Not that I have a death wish or anything, but who else could write it better?

I'm probably a little neurotic, but what about you? What kinds of lists do you keep?

It's 4:08 a.m.

July 19th, 2011 at 08:22 am

For the most part, I'm pretty good at putting on my smilely face. But every once in a while, the fear and dread rises up in me like acid reflux refusing to be quelled. This is one of those times....

OhMyGodOhMyGodWhatAmiIGoingTtoDo?INeedaF******JobAmIGoingToBeEekingOutAnImpoverishedExistenceInMyOldAge?AfterAllMyHardWork.Downthetubes.

The first early risers are merrily chirping in the darkness outside.

I got out of bed because I was worried about not having access to my local news and weather reports after going cable-less. So I added an RSS weather feed to my Yahoo home page, where I frequently visit, as well as a subscription to NOAA severe weather alerts in my email inbox. Hopefully that will cover me as far as weather calamities. But what I really need is protection from financial calamities.

I watched an episode of So You Think You Can Dance on Hulu last night. It seemed to go well.

Sometimes long-term unemployment can seem like a bad dream I still haven't woken up from. Inexplicably, it sometimes hits me like a ton of bricks, as if I'm just discovering my predicament.

The wee hours of the early morning are when I have the greatest clarity.

Sultry Hot

July 18th, 2011 at 05:13 pm

It's one of those stifling warm and muggy days herein Connecticut, the kind of day where I won't venture outside except to get the mail around 2:30 pm.

I did go out and pick about a cup-and-a-half of wineberries, and made mental note of where more ripe berries were, so I can go back after donning my hip boots (for protection against ticks).

I'm feeling a little more upbeat today because I got a new (small) assignment to work on, after sending a "just touching base" email to a client. It's a press release for a new townhome community right across from the beach. Two- and three-bedroom units for \$249,900 to \$399,900. I'll call the sales director in a little while for a few more details.

Otherwise, not much happening. Am disappointed that the slew of p/t writing jobs I applied for before leaving for my dad's yielded no phone calls from prospective phone calls.

So today I applied for a legal secretary and doctor's assistant job. I found both in the local paper. I figured it was worth doing because I'm guessing the vast majority of job-seekers wouldn't bother looking in the local newspaper anymore for jobs, so it will cut down drastically, I hope, on my competition.

It's sort of an experiment. I wrote two highly personalized letters making a case for why i'd be good at the job. I did finish a year of law school, way back when, and I do have a health-related blog that focuses on preventative medicine.

If I could find a job that was local, paid modestly (\$45 to \$50K) AND provided healthcare benefits, I'd be more than happy. I'd be THRILLED.

I see I have 3 more small zucchini forming in the veggie garden. And I have enough yellow wax beans now that I think I'll make a three-bean cold salad tomorrow. I've got the chickpeas (cooked from dried and formerly frozen) and will soak the dried kidney beans tonight.

The lettuce is bolting, and yeah, it's gotten a bit bitter tasting, but ya know what? A lot of salad greens can be very bitter, so it doesn't really bother me.

I have no reason to leave the house this week except for Friday, when I have to meet the research assistant at a midway point at a diner for her to give me supplies for that nutrition study I'm doing with UConn.

I don't know that I'll be able to, but i really need to mow the front lawn today. They're calling for "severe" thunderstorms and a possible tornado (great...) this afternoon. But you never know.

I don't know, maybe I can muster the energy to mow now.

I have an addiction, and I'm going through withdrawal now

July 17th, 2011 at 01:15 am

You often don't realize how attached you are to something until you yank it away.

Like cable TV.

I cancelled my basic service a week ago. It was about the only discretionary regular expense left that I hadn't already cut due to my work situation. I would be remiss to keep it, given my financial situation. So I cut it after they said the best they could do was \$18 a month. (I was paying \$13, a special promo deal, but that expired.)

So I went cold turkey, but each day I turned the TV on, it was, well, still on, and I continued to devour all my favorite shows and even some others. All along thinking, I made a big mistake.

The Bachelorette, The Office, So You Think You Can Dance, Parks & Recreation...I overdosed on the reality TV stuff and then some, knowing this was my last fix. I squeezed in some daytime TV too, loading up on Judge Judy, Judge Pirro and Judge Alex.

I finally called the cable company to complain, yes complain, that I still had cable. Because I didn't want to be charged for it. They assured me I wouldn't be, but explained that a guy has to come out and disconnect me at the box that's on my house, and he couldn't do that. Until yesterday.

Nice young man. He asked me if i was getting a dish. I explained that no, I was out of work and needed to save money. Did you consider cutting back to basic, he asked. This WAS basic, I said.

We proceeded to have a nice conversation about the job market. He was sympathetic, as he had been out of work for 6 months after being laid off. Just 6 months? Oh, that's the minor leagues.

Anyway, I'm finding it difficult to adjust. I hoped in vain that I might perhaps get a single New Haven or Hartford channel so I could still get the local morning news, but alas, everything is a solid wall of gray static.

I could return to www.antennaweb.com and take a chance buying an antenna, but I know you have the best chance with a full sized antenna you can mount on the roof of the house, and I don't want to mess with that. It's unsightly and attracts lightening.

I registered at Hulu.com and made a list of Favorite shows and now they'll email me when a new episode becomes available. How cool.

And I will hit the library tomorrow for some DVDs.

I took the small TV I kept in the kitchen and moved it elsewhere, freeing up counter space. I moved a small Sony radio to the same spot and have begun turning on the radio instead of the TV when I'm in the kitchen cooking or eating. I'll have to reacquaint myself with public radio. Caught Prairie Home Companion tonight, which was sort of poignant, since I have memories of tuning in to the same show 25 years ago when I was a young and lonely single living in the boonies of Vermont.

I'll keep the second TV in my upstairs bedroom so I can watch DVD movies on occasion. But staring at that lifeless screen sure gives me the shivers. I'm breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.

Much relished R&R

July 16th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I just returned from a short getaway to the Jersey shore, visiting family.

I loaded the kayak up on the roof of my car the day before, feeling a little trepidation about the 3-hour drive ahead. I've driven around with it before, but I had my Merchant Marine boyfriend with me in the past when we did any kind of long distance travel with the kayaks, and so he was always there to make sure everything was tied securely.

But I resolved not to do more than 65 on the Garden State Parkway and for the most part I stayed in the far right lane. It stayed put and I was rather proud of my knots and fastenings. It's not too bad a ride except for the 7 or so toll booths along the way. And of course the Tappan Zee Bridge toll is now up to \$5.

We did some canoeing and blueberry picking, had a great seafood meal out as well as Chinese buffet lunch and a blueberry pancake breakfast at a funky joint called Shut Up and Eat.

I met K.'s new cat and of course her two dachshunds were overjoyed to see me. But I'm left feeling sad. It's hard to see your parents grow old. There was my mother's 4-day stint at the hospital just before I left, and I can see after this visit that my father's macular degeneration is getting worse. Well, actually, he is still driving, and I know he's having a tough time thinking about giving up his independence. he's extremely stubborn and also more than a little fatalistic. He doesn't usually wear sunscreen, for example, even though he had a melanoma removed from his nose. So I was pleased when he agreed to let me drive his SUV a few times during our visit.

We talked about it a little and I tried to put as positive a spin on it as I could. I told him I would love to give up my car (if I lived in an area where you could get around without one, which I don't), and he doesn't either. I said it would be good if he had some neighbors or friends he could go to the grocery store with. I was trying to just get him thinking of the different ways he could get around. He did say they have a local transit service that stops at all the shopping centers, and he mentioned a friend of his that would probably help him out also.

Losing your sight has to be incredibly depressing, but he is not one for self pity or complaining. He uses a magnifying glass now to read anything and has to sit 3 feet from the TV to see what's going on. I left him some info I printed out from a website for Centrasight, which is about a transplantable tiny camera they put in your eye, for certain people with late stage macular degeneration.

It was also upsetting when me and my dad were carrying his canoe from a little gravel path on the side of his house to the car. He lost his footing and fell back on his butt. He said he was ok, but it still left me feeling upset. Lifting and carrying that canoe, which weighs about as much as my kayak, he said gee, I guess I'm not as strong as I used to be, because it was a little tough for the 2 of us to get it on top of the SUV. No doubt he has lost a lot of strength.

I've seen it in my sedentary neighbor, who's in her late 60s. She put off knee replacement surgery for 3 years, until she was hobbling around with a walker and cane (totally unnecessary), and as a result, post-surgery, she can still hardly walk, not because of the knee now, but because she allowed herself to become even more out of shape than she was. She lost muscle strength while trying to keep off her bad knee. If you don't use it regularly, you most certainly lose it.

But getting back to my dad. I was in fact hesitant to do the kayaking/canoeing with him when he suggested it a few months back. And I think this will be the last time we do that. Cedar Creek is a meandering river with a slow current that feeds into Barnegat Bay, but it has many hairpin twists and turns. Navigating those turns with a 14-foot canoe was difficult. We ended up multiple times slamming into the bank of the river and getting caught up in the brush. We also went under many fallen logs that were suspended just 3 or 4 feet over the water's surface, so if you didn't duck your head in time as the boat cruised under them, ramming into one of them would have knocked you out.

I wanted to take lots of photos, as I remembered from the last time we did this river with K. and my boyfriend about 4 years ago, that there were 3 or 4 picturesque bridges the river flows under, but I didn't dare take my hands of the paddle! It was a 2-hour trip without much break and some very strenuous paddling. I wasn't worried about me, but more so for my dad, who's not used to that kind of exercise.

Thankfully, when we disembarked at a little park with a sandy beach and picnic area, a man saw my father getting up stiffly out of the canoe and came over to help us get it on top of the car. It just really hit me that my dad's too old for this, even if he says he can do it. I have a feeling that he realizes it himself now. For so many years, dad was the boss, and everyone deferred to him. Now I can sense that things are shifting; like it or not, Dad's going to have to bend a little and acknowledge there are some things he can no longer do. Giving up driving is going to be one of those things.

K. now lives apart from my dad in a nearby town. So after dinner, dad and I went back to his house and were talking and watching TV. As I pet Louie, his cat, he mentioned that K. thought the cat was going blind. He's quite old and overweight. For all i know, if the cat is losing its vision, it could be diabetes-related. The irony wasn't lost on me, since I think my dad's macular degeneration may also be diabetes related. Earlier on, my dad ignored the diagnosis and didn't check his insulin and didn't change his eating habits. I think he pays more attention to it now (to a point), but he also generally has a fatalistic attitude. He's outlived his own father by many years, and I know he doesn't want to live longer if he's bedridden or disabled.

So between the 3 of us, we picked 12 pounds of blueberries. I took home 6 pounds and spent all day yesterday rinsing them, drying them outside in the sun and then freezing them in zip lock bags for winter use when blueberries cost a premium (if you can even find them).

On the return trip home I happened to turn on the radio and WCBS was reporting a 5-car accident at Exit 136. One car had gone airborne and was now completely submerged in a pond of some sort to the side of the parkway. If I knew the area, I would certainly turn off and get back on later, but this was a part of Jersey I didn't know, so I had no choice but to head straight into what they were describing as a 2-mile backup.

By the time I got through it, it had become a 7-mile backup, and I could see a small crowd of people standing on an overpass looking down at the nearby accident.

Yesterday it was quickly back to "business as usual" here. I had a doctor's appointment in the early afternoon and was able to get an appointment at the Honda dealer for them to take another look at the wheel drum they replaced for me the week before I left on my trip. There was a new rubbing noise whenever I applied the brakes that wasn't there before. Luckily my trip was uneventful in that regard.

So I had to wait 2 hours at the dealer while they took it all apart; he said they think some of the rust from the old drum hadn't been cleaned out well enough and had slipped inside, creating that noise. It appears now that the sound is gone, but it seems i feel a vibration now on the brake pedal. Good gosh almighty.

I started picking wineberries in the backyard yesterday but they've just started ripening, I think, becus there's not a ton of ripe ones out there yet.

Yesterday I also continued work stripping the old wallpaper lining out of the inside of an old antique wood trunk I have. It always had a musty smell when you opened it up, and that's one reason i never stored anything but Xmas ornaments in it. But I noticed recently a bit of that musty smell when I walked by it, so i decided that, given this spectacular dry, sunny weather we've been having, it would be a good time to put it in the sun and start removing that wallpaper lining.

I've been using a sponge soaked in vinegar to soften the paper as I've heard that kills the musty smell. The musty smell is caused by bacteria eating the paper; the same thing is what causes old books to smell. I got most of the wallpaper off, and now the wallpaper backing is left. I'll probably haul the trunk outside again work on it.

That's a picture of me and the trunk, taken about 4 years ago. (Behind it is a wall mural my mother painted on my living room wall.)

Today I'm thinking about using up about a half gallon of wood preservative on my stockade fence. There won't be enough to paint the whole 40 feet or so of fence, but I could do just the tops where the water tends to collect and could lead to rot. I figure I already bought the stuff and it's not doing anything sitting in the basement, so I might as well use it up. I painted it when the fence was installed, but that was a good 8 or 9 years ago. This is the best weather to work in, sunny but DRY.

The visitor returns...

July 13th, 2011 at 10:32 am

Was up early again and around 6:15 a.m. I spotted the gray fox I'd seen a few weeks earlier. This time, he/she was trotting briskly through the front yard. I was surprised it turned down the driveway and into the road. From there, I lost sight of it and couldn't see where it went. I wonder if it's a young male scouting for a new territory.

It's still pretty exciting and amazing to me that even after 15 years of living here I can still be surprised by the wildlife I see here.

I live just 3/4 of a mile from the historic center of town but it's still a pretty woodsy area behind me. There have been fairly regular sightings of black bear and bobcats in town, too (photos in the local newspaper), but I have yet to see those!

I'm pooped, upcoming trip

July 11th, 2011 at 01:12 am

As is my habit in summer, I stay busy indoors during peak sun/UV hours, around 11 am to 4 pmish. But after that I went outside and got a ton of stuff done. I'm so exhausted.

Here's what I did from 4 pm on:

1. Finished mowing the front lawn.
2. Used the trimmer on front lawn.
3. Crammed as many cut branches from my tree and shrub pruning into my Civic trunk as would fit. They didn't all fit, will have to make a second trip.
4. Swept up more leaves from shrub pruning in the driveway.
5. Tidied up the garage, including more sweeping. It gets messy in there so quickly, mostly becus I don't put things away.
6. Dragged outside an antique trunk I have that has always had a musty smell. I used a scouring tool you use with wallpaper to scour the paper lining inside, which I'm fairly sure is causing the musty odor. (The fungus is actually eating the paper, just like in old books.) Then I wiped down the lining with vinegar and started scraping it off. Still not done, but will continue tomorrow.
7. Put a coat of paint in the area of the kitchen door, part of my repair work from last winter's ice dam. Also used joint compound on some trim nail holes. I do believe one more coat should do it.
8. I transplanted a small shrub that was too close to a patio walkway in the back to a more spacious spot on the south side, in an area where I pulled out a bunch of pachysandra.

My mother's in the hospital. She will stay one more night. She had extreme pain in neck, shoulder, hip, hand. She assumed it was arthritis. They did all sorts of tests on her and everything came back normal. They think what she has is polymyalgia rheumatica, an inflammatory disorder that is mostly treated with steroids. Not a good option, though, when you have osteoporosis.

Confirmed with my dad that we are on for Wed/Thurs. I'll be loading up the kayak Tues. night so I'll be all set to go come morning.

Talked to K., my dad's girlfriend, who wants to rearrange her work schedule so she can go blueberry picking with us on Thursday. She works p/t as a school nurse substitute, although she's basically retired now.

K. and my dad used to live together, I think for 5 years, but she got her own place about a year ago. They were always arguing when they lived together, mostly becus my dad is low-key guy who doesn't like a lot of drama and K. is very much in your face and "I need to talk" kind of gal. She's a good person, but spending more than a certain amount of time in her company can be very draining. It's a little hard to explain.

But anyway, she and her 2 dachshunds now live in a nearby town and my dad still has the cat. It's better this way becus i think the dogs, while he loved them, could really stress him out. There was always so much commotion and chaos in the house. Actually, those dogs clearly demonstrate the difference in temperament between my dad and K. My dad basically treats a dog like a dog, but K. felt it very important that both dogs go to obedience school and learn all the commands. She's constantly reprimanding them if they pull on the lease or that sort of thing, whereas my dad is more laid back about it and doesn't really care if they "heel." K. also put the dogs through therapy school so now both are certified to visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

Got off easy (?) with car repair

July 8th, 2011 at 09:26 pm

So I brought my car into the dealer this a.m. after hearing a funny rattling around noise coming from the rear right tire. They said the drum was rusting, and that bits of dust and dirt were getting inside the wheel and that there's no way to clean it, just replace it. The left tire was also showing signs of rust but isn't as bad, so I opted to just get the new drum for the right tire. Since Honda drums of the right size were out of stock, he said they had a generic type drum, same quality, etc but cheaper, so even better as far as I'm concerned. It came to \$158, which is relatively cheap when it comes to car repairs.

I still had to sit around there for 2 hours though. BORING. I took a walk around the Honda dealership lot and ended up talking to a Hyundai salesperson at the dealership next door about the Elantra, which, at 40 mpg, could be my next car.

After I got the car fixed, I went to Wal-Mart. I could really use a pair of shorts and a summer top that actually fit. I now take a size 10 short (used to be 8) and i won't tell you what size top, but anyway, I ended up spending \$43 on 2 shorts and 2 tops, something I wouldn't have thought twice about if I were working, but something that now makes me feel a little guilty. But it sure will be nice to wear something presentable. When I knew I was going to be home all day, I'd wear any old thing, and often that was something I wouldn't be caught dead in in public. As for what to wear in public, I had, it seemed, just 2 or 3 items I felt looked decent.

So now this purchase will get me through the rest of the summer. I'm saving it now for my trip to see my dad next week.

He called me back today and next Wed./Thurs. looks good for him, so I'm going. The weather and especially humidity look very nice those 2 days becus neither of us feels like doing much when its muggy out and i am really hoping we do both the kayaking and the blueberry picking.

On my tight budget, I am considering this my "vacation." My dad always treats ) (go dad) so my only expense will be the gas to get down there. It used to cost me about \$30, but gas prices are higher now so let's figure \$40. I usually try to go down there with no more than a half tank of gas becus NJ gas prices are much cheaper than CT since they don't have the high gas taxes we have here. So I'll fill up down there, right before I come back to CT.

I'm sitting here typing with a cup of tea at 5:20 pm. There's a thunderstorm going on and the rain's coming down. It's so funny how Waldo is really very sensitive to thunder and once it starts, he heads for the basement. Luther, on the other hand, is wholly unperturbed by it and is lounging on some furniture near my desk. Go figure.

I got a surprise drop-off from my gardener sister the other day in my driveway: a whole mess of plants which I'm guessing were leftovers or unwanteds from her job gardening on a private estate. There were maybe 2 dozen annuals, 4 different varieties, not even sure what they are, but they're all very attractive. I potted them all up and it brings a lot of joy to my entry way. I hadn't wanted to spend money on annuals.

But the heat's been so bad i really need to water daily, and am wondering how they'll fare when i'm away for 2 days next week. I think I'll move everything to a shady corner and hope the slugs don't molest them. And of course water them thoroughly just before I go.

I really need to mow the lawn. Tomorrow, an absolute must.

Halfway through summer with no A/C, cancelled cable!!

July 8th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

We've had a few uncomfortable days, but so far, I haven't felt like dragging a very heavy AC down the narrow attic stairs.

I've made use of 3 ceiling fans and 2 large floor fans but on some days, it's just like blowing hot air around.

I've tried putting a pot of ice in front of the blowing fan but haven't noticed any difference.

I'm in the next phase of the nutrition study. This week and next, the only thing I have to do is make sure I eat 54 grams of protein daily. To do that, I still find I need to write down the protein content of each meal, but it's easier than recording everything I eat, period.

So I have a 2-week period relatively free. Still not done editing that book, but it's sounding more and more like she needs to earn money to pay me, so while she didn't say "stop," or "I can't pay you right away," that's sort of what it sounds like. So no use rushing through that. I'm not quite at the two-thirds mark in the book,and I don't intend to send her the second 100 pages edited until she makes the next payment.

So, it looks like I may head down to Jersey shore to visit with my dad next Wed/Thurs. The temps will be in the 80s with little chance of rain and tolerable humidity (considering it's summer).

I've been trying to get a hold of him but with his vision problems, he doesn't see the digital message indicator on his phone, so I need to try to catch him when he's home.

My mother's having some serious pain problems with what she thinks is arthritis in neck, shoulder, hip. She says it's extremely painful getting in and out of bed. It all got a lot worse after she saw a chiropractor that a friend highly recommended. The pain meds she got aren't working at all, and the 2 docs she trusts are fully booked til September, so she's waiting to hear back from a nurse with one of them. It sounds like a pretty intolerable situation and I'm a little worried about heading down to Jersey for even the 2 days I'm planning if she's still in bad shape. Not that there's much I can do.

Recently I've been noticing a funny rattling noise coming from a rear tire of my car. Don't know if it's a shock or something else, but I'm pretty sure it's not the brakes. I'm bringing it in to the Honda dealer later this morning. (I can use my AAA membership to get a 10% discount on repairs there.) I hope it's not a humongous expense, but with lots of 1.5 hour trips to UConn coming up, I have to make sure it's safe and in working order.

Oh, yeah, I sort of inadvertently cancelled my cable but I'm not undoing it, at least right away! I got a bill from them for \$30. Up til now, I was paying \$13, a promo price they gave me last time I called to cancel. (I've found that if you calmly tell them you'd like to cancel and once you let them know it's due to cost, they'll usually come up with a better price for you.) So after some investigation, she said she could give me a rate of \$20, but not the \$13 I'd been enjoying for the past 6 months or so. Just on impulse, I dug in my heels and said no, I'll only keep it if you can give me the \$13 rate. Well, they couldn't, so I just let them cancel it.

That was on Tuesday, and I still have TV. Hmmm, what's going on? Each day I turn it on and wonder how much longer I'll have it. I'm a little fearful as I will DEFINITELY miss being able to watch the news, both over morning breakfast and in the evening, plus I'm a big reality TV fan (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Next Top Model, The Bachelorette are my regular must-sees).

But it's hard to justify even cheap cable when you've been mostly unemployed for 1.75 years. So I'm gonna try doing without. It will be hard, but there's Hulu, and I guess I'll just have to get back in the habit of listening to public radio again.

Not much else new. Yesterday I spent some time pruning out dead wood in assorted mountain laurel, dogwood and viburnum on my property. Now I have another pile of brush I'll have to squeeze into the Honda for the landfill. I hate to just throw the larger branches out in back or on the sides of the property because they take forever to break down.

I see my Bibb lettuce is starting to bolt, but I'm still eating it; it's not bitter yet. Also started harvesting some yellow wax beans. There are a fair amount of small green tomatoes on the vine, but I also see the dreaded fungus thing tomato plants often get. That's because I allowed lower branches of the plant to touch the ground, and when it rains, it allows these fungal spores to splash up on the leaves, and that's how it starts. I was remiss in not putting hay down around the plants much sooner. Now all I can do is cut away those yellowed branches with mottled spots. It will eventually kill the plant. There was that one spring 2 or 3 years ago when that disease took off really early in the spring due to wet cool weather, and no one had tomatoes that year in the Northeast.

My broccoli and kale are hanging in there, perhaps better than I thought, but they're also getting eat up pretty bad by something. I made an onion/dish detergent spray in the blender yesterday and let it sit for 24 hours, so as soon as this rainy weather is over today, I will be out there spraying those plants in an attempt to save them from further bug damage.

The snap peas are growing, but I planted them much too late (like June) and they don't do well in hot, humid weather, so don't know if I'll get anything out of them. I haven't even seen a blossom on them yet.

I DID see flowers on what is either zucchini or acorn squash the other day, but they open in morning and are spent by day's end. So I was out there early yesterday morning with my q-tip becus I saw that both a male and female flower were open. (They look distinctly different.) So I hand-pollinated to make sure I get a fruit forming there. In the years I didn't think to hand pollinate, I can't tell you how many blossoms came and went and still no veggie becus insects weren't sufficiently pollinating.

The cucumbers are doing well, but are also a little behind schedule. They're just reaching outward and getting ready to climb.

It occurred to me that I could have planted soybeans this spring, but I had never really eaten them much and didn't know how much I'd like them until I tried a free handout at Trader Joe's using edamame beans with black beans, corn and tomato with Goddess dressing. Absolutely loved it and and have made the recipe several times since. Well, those edamame beans are not cheap. I don't know why, since soybeans are a staple of American agriculture.

Did some quick online research yesterday and soybeans look pretty easy to grow in Zone 6 here in CT. But it's borderline too late to plant. They need at least 65 days to harvest. They like hot temps.

I will definitely make room for them in next year's garden.

I was able to enjoy an impromptu handful of blueberries from a bush that's doing very well. Usually, the 4 or 5 bushes I have don't produce much and what berries there are are usually devoured by birds. But this year the birds have been totally preoccupied by the 3-year-old mulberry tree that's already 20 feet high. Catbirds, robins and even a Baltimore oriole have been in there going nuts. The outer branches aren't strong enough to support such (relatively) heavy birds, so you can see the birds fluttering around flying from one branch to the next. I love watching.

Was annoyed to see that my 6-month bill from car insurance company (MetLife) once again reflected a premium increase (this time, 10%) for no reason at all. I have a stellar driving record, a 12-year-old car that's not used for regular commuting. Their explanation was that my town apparently had more car accidents, resulting in a higher risk rating. Well, when have i EVER seen a rate DECREASE? Never. One would think it would work both ways, that if rates increase due to higher risk, they should at least some time also decrease when risk falls. I noticed the rep didn't have an answer for that.

Overall, it's cheap insurance (about \$450 a year) but as I said, old car, not driven much, minimal coverage.

Also have been monitoring heating oil rates and trying to figure out best time to pull the trigger and fill the tank. It has come down in recent weeks, but the question is, will it drop lower? Right now it's still very high compared to previous years, to the tune of \$3.21 a gallon.

Happy 4th!

July 4th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

I hope you've all found a nice way to enjoy the long holiday weekend and celebrate our nation's founding.

I read an interesting story about how there's a movement afoot to make America the Beautiful the national anthem because The Star Spangled Banner is incredibly hard to sing, and most people forget the words. Plus it celebrates some obscure battle during the War of 1812 while America the Beautiful has some beautiful imagery.

From memeory...
Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain
For purple mountains' majesty, above the fruited plain
America, America, God sheds his grace on thee
And crowns thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

I still remember when I was in grade school and the teacher asked if anyone in the class could recite The Star Spangled Anthem. There was silence in the room, and then I raised my hand. I recited the following, from memory then also:

Oh say can you see
by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Through the perilous night
GAve proof through the night
That our flag was still there
Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'ver the land of the free and the home of the brave.

OK, this time, I don't think I have it just right. There's a line or two missing,....something about ramparts. Or perhaps that's another verse.

I used to know these lines cold as a kid because one of the ways I used to entertain myself was to sing all the patriotic sounds out loud. Yes, I was an annoying little kid.

I went to my mother's for lunch where I can always count on a healthy meal. We had a shrimp salad with celery, black rice with coconut oil and a small bowl of bean/tomato soup. I had a biscotti for dessert with my herbal tea.

I'm home now and preparing a favorite cold summer salad, which consists of:

whole wheat berries
chickpeas
goat cheese
golden raisins
scallions
chopped pistachio nuts,
all on a bed of baby spinach and topped with a dressing that's equal parts balsamic vinaigrette and honey.

However, in an effort to save some money on some of the pricier ingredients, I'm substituting Egyptian walking onions from my garden for the scallions, skipping the pistachio nuts entirely and using lettuce from my garden instead of the baby spinach. I'm also out of honey so will try some real maple syrup instead.

I much prefer using dried chickpeas to canned. I promise you, once you taste the ones cooked from dried, you'll never go back to canned, which taste like mush to me now. Plus, dried is healthier since you're not eating canned food, and nearly all canned food these days is lined with, you guessed it, BPA.

I'm on page 169 of my book editing.

After lunch with mom, I made a deposit at the bank, returned a library book, filled up the gas tank and picked up a few things at Shop Rite, including some yummy fruit popsicles and mmm, rice pudding.

More on my guinea pig work, and book editing

July 2nd, 2011 at 10:53 pm

All week long I've been editing the book for that author I told you about. It's 300 pages, and I'm at about page 121. It's easy reading, but it gets a little tedious because she keeps making the same kinds of mistakes, lots of misspellings, lack of commas and a strange fondness for using lots and use of adjectives (often the same ones), like 3 or 4 before a noun.

I assumed I'd be working on the book more or less full time, since the sooner I get it done the sooner I get paid. But I have yet to work more than 5 hours on it in a single day. My back starts bothering me and I feel like I need a break after an hour or so.

I'm also into Day 4 of the UConn nutrition study. Which means that I'm wearing my "belt" all day long. It records my movements and senses intensity as well, sending back all sorts of data to their computer. It kind of makes me feel like I'm being tracked, but they really don't know what I'm doing.

I've also been carefully recording everything I eat and drink with careful measurements as to time and quantity. Gee, when you write it all down, it sure makes you feel like you're pigging out!

I also have to record any "exercise" I do.

So I do all this for a full week. Then I get to drink an isotype and collect my urine overnight, then collect it all for a full 24 hours, storing it in the fridge! EEwww. But it must be kept cold, including when I transport it.

Then the next day I bring my urine, food and exercise logs and me to the UConn campus for my baseline strength testing and some other stuff. I'll get my first payment of \$150, too.

When I go to UConn on Wednesday, I'm leaving very early, 6:30 am. I'm supposed to roll out of bed and head over there without eating and without doing any kind of exercise, to the point where they will come and carry in your urine for you and open the doors, cus my doing this will somehow mess up their testing. The whole study has to do with how the body metabolizes protein, which I think has a bearing on weight loss/obesity.

I won't have to do the exercise and food logs during the entire 6 months, just 1 week out of each month. Same, I think, for the urine stuff.

Earlier this afternoon I got out the electric trimmer and a wood ladder to trim 2 shrubs in front of the house, and 4 in back. Then I had to sweep up all the trimmings and dump one wheelbarrow full of the stuff behind the tool shed.

The guy who's supposed to do my vinyl siding, sometime in June, he'd said, now tells me he'll know end of July when he can do it. We had some bad storms here a few weeks ago and although I heard no mention of tornados in this area, he said one touched down where he lives and the walls of his house collapsed, so he is trying to take care of that and keep up with his customers' jobs.

I'm tempted to just drive by his house, just to make sure he's not feeding me a line. No reason really to think so, but I don't want to be bumped by some other customer, and I want to get this done this season.