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Archive for August, 2011

Day 3 - no power

August 30th, 2011 at 03:13 pm

Hi, friends.

Just a few MINUTES after my last post in the week hours of Sunday morning, I lost power.

Still out of power now and am at mom's house to check my email and do a few other things. Several trees and major limbs down in my yard, including a beautiful snowball hydrangea tree in full bloomo; it keeled over at its base. Also large tree of paradise limbs.

I've been hearing radio reports saying it may be a week before we get power back; at the peak, 700,000 people in Connecticut were without power; now i think it's down to about 450,000.

Sunday I spent the day bringing my refrigerator food to a neighbor's who still had power. Was going to bring the freezer food yesterday when she called to tell me she had also lost power. So I now have fridge and freezer food at 3 different locations. the food I had already brought to Helene's we gorged ourselves on yesterday so it wouldn't be wasted....some yogurt and cheese mainly.

Then today, Frank came over with his chainsaw to help me cut up the fallen tree limbs;as he was coming down my basement stairs, he grabbed something and cut his finger, which started bleeding profusely. We couldn't get it to stop bleeding so I drove him about 20 minutes to a neighboring town where there's a walk-in clinic. It was closed becus they have no power. We drove back to my house and after binding it up as best we could, he drove himself to the hospital. I had to bring my mom up to another town an hour away to do an art installation for an opening this weekend, but we ended up not going because from all accounts and what i heard on the radio, there are still a lot of road closings due to flooding.

I'm wondering if my $14 jug of real maple syrup will be no good to eat if not refrigerated?

I have a large tree limb that fell on my tool shed. It's still there, not sure if any damage.

It's been kind of stressful and aggravating. A lot of running around. Oh well. But I am fine.

2:58 a.m. We're getting a lashing from irene

August 28th, 2011 at 07:09 am

I've been up for about an hour.

I was comfortably entering that half sleep stage and remember that Waldo was getting himself ensconced around my head on the pillow, when a clap of thunder stopped his purring and he jumped off the bed.

The thunder signaled the official arrival of Hurricane Irene, although it had been raining steadily all of Saturday.

I had checked in earlier with my dad and his girlfriend, and K. had told me that Ocean Gate, NJ was now under a mandatory evacuation and luckily, my dad agreed to go to K.'s for the night. My dad is just a two-block walk from the Tom's River, near where the river feeds into the Atlantic. He's very exposed; it's completely flat where he lives.

So my dad and his cat made it the 8 miles over to K.'s house in the town of Tom's River, which is a bi further inland, is not on the water and has had no mandatory evacuation. There they will join K. and her three pets. They're expecting winds of 60 to 80 mph.

Here in Connecticut, they're forecasting 45 to 65 mph winds with gusts to 75. It's been raining very, very hard and I just keep hoping no trees will land on the house or the wires. Remember, I just got my nice new vinyl siding. An outage in this kind of storm would likely last for many days with so many others out of power. There's a lot of food in my fridge and freezer. So far, as you can see, we still have power.

The bad weather will continue into Sunday and I think lessen in late afternoon/evening. I'll be relieved when daylight comes. Things always seem worse in the dark.

Very little wiggle room in my revised budget

August 27th, 2011 at 04:52 pm

I decided to again revise my estimate of monthly expenses, monthly income and the shortfall I need to make up each month.

My unemployment benefits have changed recently, to the tune of about $19 less a week. And several of my monthly expenses have risen. I also know I left out a few things from my earlier estimate and want to make it as accurate as possible so I know what I'm dealing with.

There's very little wiggle room.

I decided to rank and separate my expenses by "tiers." My revised monthly bare bones expenses are $2,309.

My Tier 1 top 3 expenses... account for nearly 80% of my bare minimum monthly expenses. They include:

1. Mortgage and property taxes: $1152
2. COBRA health insurance: $469
3. Food: $225

That's pretty amazing that I can shave all my other expenses to make up for just 20% of total monthly expenses.

Tier 2 expenses are what I consider mid-range expenses and are largely utility bills and other costs I can't eliminate entirely, but can control through careful usage. The values here are based on actual averages from last year. For bills that occur only once or twice a year, I calculated the monthly cost. They include:

4. Electric:$66
5. Heating oil: $65
6. Sewer (usage and loan): $50
7. Homeowners insurance (already increased deducitble to $5k): $56
8. Phone and Internet: $47
9. Gas for car (based on ONE monthly fill-up): $45
10. Car insurance: $35

My remaining essential expenses are much lower, though together, they do add up. They include:

11. 2 dental cleanings: $25
(Am considering giving up my favorite dentist becus at $152 a cleaning, he's not at all cheap.)
12. Water: $15
13. Haircuts (1 a month): $15
(I think I can skip an occasional month, but certainly need a haircut prior to any job interview becus it really looks bad when it gets too long)
14. Borough taxes: $14
15. Car tax: $7
16. Dump sticker: $7
17. Neurologist co-pay: $4
(I have to see this doc 1x a year absent any problems, just to renew my meds. I don't know why my insurance didn't make me pay the full amount of his fee since I haven't paid my deductible.)
18. Car maintenance: $2.50
(This only allows for 1 oil change. Not driving the car much.)
19. Cable TV: 0
(Cancelled this entirely last month.)
20. Wellness-type healthcare: 0
New healthcare changes mean I can get the following paid for 100%, without even a co-pay: mammogram, routine gyno, colonscopy, annual physical, flu shot...thank you Obama)

Total monthly essential expenses: $2309
Monthly net unemployment: $1954
Monthly shortfall: $355

Goal: $150 a month from online surveys
I know if I really stay on top of it I can earn about $105 from Toluna and Pinecone; I just signed up for Global Test Market and plan to increase monthly survey income by $40.

That leaves $205 a month that I must make up through my freelance income, which can be very erratic and unpredictable, along with focus groups, academic studies, product testing or whatever I can find.

So, what haven't I included in the budget above?
1. Any healthcare beyond the free stuff listed above, like eyeglasses or coverage for the Lyme I recently treated.
2. Any additional car repairs
3. Home maintenance
4. Annual chimney or furnace cleanings (I had both done last year, so I hope and plan to skip it this winter.)
5. Mortgage prepayments
6. Retirement savings
7. Dining out
8. Entertainment
9. Netflix
10. Bird seed
11. Clothing

I do have plans to have lunch with a new friend next week, so already I am blowing my budget. That money will have to come from somewhere else.

See what I mean? Not much room for error.

I have a bit more gold/a diamond I can sell next week. There's the $200 I'm looking forward to from the Chase Freedom card reward. (Once I have that in hand, I'll cancel the card and open a Chase Sapphire card for $500 in retail gift cards at Wal-Mart.) I have about $270 now due me from freelance writing with another $333 worth of work to start in September. When I finish the nutrition study by year-end, that will be another $250 and I'll get a check in the mail for $40 this week from the product study I recently did. New freelance work is impossible to predict, that's why I really could use even a very p/t job for regular income. whatever tax refund I receive next spring, I will divide between my emergency fund and a mortgage prepayment.

I am reduced to thinking in very, very small terms.

Still with me?

Let's imagine a worst-case scenario. My unemployment benefits would run out in January 2012. It may go longer, but I can't get a straight answer from the Dept of Labor. Part of it depends on whether what the state considers "high" unemployment continues or not. Basically, if a lot of other CT residents share my misery, it works out better for me.

So then, again assuming worst case scenario, I run out unemployment and still don't have a job. I could live on my taxable, non-retirement savings (about $95K) for about 3.5 years.

By that time, I'd be around 56 years old, still far too young to think about collecting Social Security. However, I could tap into retirement funds with no penalty. Something I would NEVER do.

But also by that time, I should have my mortgage paid off!!!! That would greatly and significantly lower my monthly expenses. Just imagine the possibilities. Sigh.

Irene's coming

August 27th, 2011 at 01:44 am

I checked on my dad and his girlfriend on the Jersey shore, directly in the path of the hurricane. Of course I knew he wouldn't evacuate, and I was right. They called a mandatory evacuation in Cape May County, along with parts of Manhattan (down by Wall Street), Brooklyn, Staten Island and other low-lying areas.

I'm not especially looking forward to riding out this storm. Tomorrow I'll be putting chairs, benches, and maybe even the kayak in the garage, although that will be a feat since my car's in there too.

I made another chocolate zucchini quick bread tonight, along with a pitcher of homemade iced tea. Also cooked up and froze more tomatoes.

Went food shopping at Trader Joe's with my neighbor, though I didn't really need to go, but it was still good to get out of the house.

I mowed the lawn today and picked a ton of tomatoes, which was a good idea since when it rains hard, those tomatoes absorb all the extra moisture and end up cracking. So I'll have MORE tomatoes to cook up and freeze tomorrow. Also gave my neighbor a bunch of 'em.

I went with my neighbor to Ace Hardware because she wanted to buy a flashlight. She got the last one in the store, but had to spend $30 on it. I would've skipped it, but she bought it. Ya gotta wonder, don't people already have flashlights and various other supplies in the house? Like before a snowstorm, why is there always a run on snow shovels? It's not exactly something you use once and then throw away. It's a mystery to me.

The turkey that was in my yard yesterday left a calling card.

No More Ants

August 25th, 2011 at 11:30 pm

The boric acid I bought didn't seem to have much effect. I remembered that someone had suggested those Terro ant baits, but I delayed until I got an Ace $5 reward card in the mail.

The Terro seemed to work almost immediately! Certainly, by the very next day. It's been several days now, and no sign of the little buggers.

I saw a peacock in the yard today.He was rather nonchalantly preening but I think he caught sight of me at the front door.

Can you see his beady little head?

Yesterday, I saw a doe with her spotted fawn. They were ripping the leaves off a red-twigged dogwood out back. Amazing they haven't discovered the delectables growing outside the safety of the vegetable garden fence. The season is winding down so I'm not going to make a big effort to protect them.

Today was a no spend and no drive day.

A surprising way to save money on produce

August 24th, 2011 at 06:06 pm

Well, this is the first time I ever noticed this.

I was at my local Shop Rite and knew I wanted to buy some fruit. Usually prices drop fairly low (dare I say .99 a pound) in the dead of summer, but in recent weeks, prices seem to have climbed. I noticed nectarines and plums were a pricey $1.69 a pound.

Over in the small organic produce section, I noticed plums were $1.49 a pound. hmp. They were smaller, but so what? They were locally grown.

So, you wouldn't think organic prices could beat non-organic, but I think it pays to quickly check prices. I think we're all paying increased food costs partly due to rising fuel costs, so it makes sense that locally grown produce would be cheaper.

I know I had several coupons, but I was miffed, when double-checking the receipt at home, that the girl overlooked the two bags I brought into the store. I made a mental resolution to begin bringing 4 reusable bags inside the store with me and packing each one light so I can use all four. Up til now, I usually bring in one or two, but I want to recover the savings from the many times the cashier misses it.

I find check-out at the grocery store very challenging. There are so many things to watch and you want to make sure she rings up everything correctly without overcharging you. I often forget about checking the credit for the bags.

Do you sense a theme here? Luther's a boy who likes enclosed spaces. Desk drawers, inside cabinets, hampers, paper bags, you name it!

I don't usually do this sort of thing, but...

August 24th, 2011 at 11:06 am

I cancelled at the last minute my planned attendance at a focus group this morning.

Why? Mainly because it's a 50-minute drive one-way, something I wouldn't normally think twice about, but now I'm thinking I can't afford to put unnecessary wear and tear on my car, not to mention the gas, unless I have good reason. It's a 12-year-old car.

This focus group wouldn't be paying me cash; they give you their products, supposedly between $50 and $100 worth of stuff. When I answered the Craig's List ad, it sounded kind of fun. When a woman contacted me via email, I asked what the products were and she never responded. It wasn't until she sent the attendance confirmation that I saw that it was a company doing its own product focus group, not a professional focus group outlet. I checked out the company's website and saw that they're a small nutritional supplement company. They only have about a dozen products, which are tinctures, ie, small, 2-ounce bottles of concentrate. You use a dropper to put the liquid in either hot or cold water, and drink it. They have different tinctures for prostate health, urinary tract health, heart health and so on.

It's not something I would normally waste...umm, spend my money on, and the more I thought about it, the less interested I became in going to their focus group, where they are trying out some new flavors.

So I sent them an email early this a.m. telling them I wouldn't be able to make it. I felt a little bad doing it, but I'm sure it happens all the time, and I think I need to conserve my resources for things that matter.

I feel I have a lot of longish driving trips already in my future. I reconnected with an old friend I'd lost touch with 10 years ago and we have tentative plans to get together next month. She's just a half hour away. But I also have lunch plans next week with a woman I've never met but connected with through her Craig's List ad. She's a writer like me, about my age and also looking for work. I'll be meeting her at the halfway point between our towns, about a 45-minute drive.

I also still have a number of long drives associated with my UConn nutrition study research project, for which I am getting paid.

So I think meeting up with friends on occasion is worth it, as are paying jobs, but to get 2 or 3 little bottles of a questionable health supplement? I don't think so.

Instead of going there today, I will do the following:
1. Reseed the lawn where I dug up two large shrubs.
2. Walgreen's, to use my rewards points
3. Shop Rite
4. Apply for GE job
5. Put recycling out at the curb.
6. Post Office, to return 2 items for a $15 refund.
7. Turn in the press release I wrote.

Luther in the laundry basket.

Mixing Things Up

August 23rd, 2011 at 09:42 pm

"I want you so incredibly much I can barely stand it," said the cat to the oblivious squirrel who was licking bricks.

Living extremely frugally can be monotonous. So today I welcomed a little variety in my normal routine.

Met with The Author for iced tea. We easily killed nearly 3 hours talking! The Author continues to get freelance jobs doing interior decorating, which she's come to really dislike, mostly because of her demanding clients.

It turns out she's working for a husband and wife in town. The husband was my boss at a job I held a few years ago. He and I got laid off at the same time, and his wife, who always made extremely good money negotiating leasing deals for commercial tenants, still wears the pants in that family. My author friend was telling me about a bathroom renovation she's doing for them. The vanity alone cost $2,700. The wife wants the best of everything. Money is no object. At the same time, she told me how stressed and unhappy the wife seems to be. And the husband, too. Kind of made me sad, thinking about my former boss who was always so kind to me, often bringing me back my favorite slushies or iced teas from Starbucks. He was a very kind and soft-spoken man. She, on the other hand, just made me grit my teeth. She often acted like I reported to her, not her husband. Grrr.

She travels constantly for her job, and even when I worked for her husband, it was clear he was the more loving and available parent to their three children.

Now the kids are nearly grown and getting into college. The youngest, a girl, has chosen to do missionary work in Africa. Talk about a statement!!! If that isn't a clear rejection of her parents' values and lifestyle, I don't know what is. I understand the wife is very upset about it. Much of Africa can be very unsafe, even for aid workers.

This afternoon I went down to do an easy product study that will result in a $40 check in the mail. On the way there, cognizant of gas prices, I stopped at the landfill since it was on the way. On the way home, I stopped at an Agway and got a haybale to so I can successfully reseed an area of my lawn where I dug up two large shrubs. Hopefully tomorrow afternoon. I also stopped at Stop & Shop for some sugar for the hummingbirds and milk for my breakfast cereal.

Tomorrow is some sort of taste test study. I wasn't positive I wanted to do it becus it's a 50-minute drive (1-way) and they don't pay cash, they give you product samples supposedly worth $5o to $100. I checked out their website. They are a nutritional supplement company that makes about a dozen different tinctures. It would be nice if they let us pick which ones we want, but I guess not. I'm curious to try this once, and if I don't like the gift bag, I just won't go back to this particular company.

A Pretty Nice Monday

August 22nd, 2011 at 11:43 pm

I cant' believe the deer haven't been nibbling at the acorn squash, cucumber and tomato plants that have been creeping out of the fenced in garden. That's it behind the bird bath. You can see a bunch of stuff growing up a six-foot-high fence. Not that I'm complaining, it's just a rare day that deer don't traverse this land.

Today's weather was so nice....on the cool side (70s) for late summer, and NO humidity. It was beautiful.

I worked outside this afternoon again and finished digging up the 2nd of two spireas I wanted to get rid of. See the bench in the photo above? Behind it is a butterfly bush, and behind that are the 2 spireas that are coming out. I need to buy a bale of hay somewhere so I can plant grass seed. I hate to spend the money, but otherwise, I think the birds around here will just gobble up that seed.

I spoke to the APRN tonight about my Lyme/Not Lyme. I told her I was having intermittent hip pain and was wondering if it was Lyme, even though my blood test came back negative. She said that in her experience, Lyme most often affects the knees, not the hip, and that they are visibly red, hot and swollen. I can't say that's the case with my hip, so maybe it's just plain old arthritis, altho i don't usually have this kind of pain.

She suggested I try taking Alleve and Tylenol for the next few days and seeing if that helps, which I'll do. We'll touch base again on Friday.

I was actually surprised that she called me, and this is the office I was complaining about recently that delivers 9 to 5 patient care. I like this woman on a personal level, it's just the way the office is run that I don't like. I remember she seemed to take an interest when I was dating the neurologist a few years back. She kept asking about him years after I'd broken things off with him. And she asked this time if I'd gotten that job I was all excited about. So she is nice, and means well.

I boiled down two more big pots of homegrown tomatoes, then froze them for winter use.

I wrote a press release on a new 55+ community and interviewed three happy homeowners for some quotes to put in the release. If I don't hear back from any of the others I called by tomorrow, I think I'm still good to go. Cha ching.

I did absolutely nothing on the job front today. Not good.

Tomorrow and Wednesday will be busy with product testing and getting together with the Author.

Today's accomplishments

August 21st, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Yesterday's Pickings

Can't say I did a whole lot was another low-level energy day.

1. I continued working on digging up a fairly large shrub in my front yard, and was able to finish digging it out. I have a second one, another spirea, nearby that I also plan to dig out.Then it's pile the brush into the wheelbarrow for several trips to dump, then seed and water the area.

2. Made a nice summer salad of edamame, corn, black beans, red onion, fresh cherry tomatoes and salad dressing for dinner.

3. Read the Sunday paper, lounged around, drifted off for a bit. Smile

Gosh, is that ALL I did???

Upcoming events this week:

My author is back from her vacation (North Carolina) and wants to get together this week. She's so fun to spend time with. We'll either walk or meet at the coffee shop.

May have to ferry my mother around tomorrow due to her car issues.

I have a press release to write tomorrow; it involves calling a few people. I could have done it over the weekend, but I just didn't feel like it! Bad me.

I have some product testing on Tuesday. Something that requires 20/20 vision and pays $40. I have no idea what the product is.

I have a taste testing of some new drink flavors on Wednesday. This will be at a new place I haven't been to. They don't pay you but supposedly give you "between $50 and $100 worth" of food items. We'll see. May not be worth it but I won't know til I try it once.

I am out of milk and need to hit Costco, as well as Walgreen to spend some reward dollars.

I have a lot of ravenous hummingbirds this year and am nearly out of sugar for their sugar water.

Yesterday's pickings with my boots. Smile

Got my shiny blue Chase Freedom card today

August 21st, 2011 at 12:16 am

Yes, it sure is pretty. I promptly used it to purchase another prepaid phone card, $20 for 700 minutes at Costco.

I found some phone cards that were even cheaper online, but I had never heard of the company (Nobel, I think it was) and when I asked the rep with an accent where he was from, he told me "Romania." Well, it immediately reminded me of that TV commercial for some phone service where the customer service reps are from...Romania. So I felt nervous and later found Costco did still carry the Verizon calling cards I've used before, but you just have to buy them online.

Now I will religiously carry this baby with me wherever I go. The rep on the phone said I only needed to spend $500 in 3 months to earn $200 back, not the $3,000 it indicates online. What's up with that? I guess I'll find out once I earn the points.

Once I earn my $200 bonus, I may just keep the card, not cancel it. Although you only earn the 5% on their designated categories, which change each quarter, AND you have to remember to "enroll" each quarter to get the 5%. Seems like a pain. And this quarter, it looks like they're pushing vacation charges cus their categories are gas, hotels and airlines. I can use it for gas, but that's about it. I'll only get 1% on all other charges. I guess it's ok, cus i really only got the card for the bonus.

I'm feeling motivated by people here like Lucky Robin who is so on top of her bills and money flow. So I hereby pledge to use my $200 bonus in this way:
1. $100 toward my depleted money market
2. $100 toward a mortgage prepayment

I think I'd like to treat my tax refund next year in the same manner.

So my current credit score is 778. It was updated about a week ago on Credit Karma. I'll keep checking there to wait and see how acquisition of this new card has or hasn't affected my score. I'm curious it it will do nothing at all, or perhaps bump it up a bit, because I've always been just a little credit light. In other words, not as many cards as the average person.

Today was the rare day when I didn't create a list of things to do. Still, I got some stuff done. I made good progress scraping off a 12" wide wall border in my spare bedroom. It was placed at about eye level, or a little higher, and now that it's off, the room seems so much more spacious. I think that wall border really served to stop your eye at that height and broke up the room, making it seem smaller. Once I'm finished with the wall border, I'll continue with the painting, using my totally free paint.

I also began the process of cutting back a large spirea before I dig it out. I divided another spirea and planted two more plants about 6 years ago, and now I regret it. One, because they are a pain to mow around, 2. Because they only look nice in spring in bloom and 3. Because black locust and trumpet vine was growing inside it and it was impossible for me to cut or dig them out, so I'm getting ride of all of it and will just plant grass there.

I'll continue working on it tomorrow. They're each about four feet wide and three feet high. With lots of branches.

I started watching a cable TV show on Hulu called I Survived. Ever catch it? I had to stop watching it after about 3 episodes and delete it from my queue because it was just too upsetting. It's about people who survived awful, life-threatening things, like an airplane crash, rape and bear attack. Told by the people themselves. Just too upsetting.

I read part of the Sunday paper that I get today and picked many more tomatoes today. I have enough to freeze a second batch for winter soups. Smile Will do that tomorrow too.


August 20th, 2011 at 01:03 pm

Not much to report, just chugging along.

Yesterday I cooked up and froze a bunch of tomatoes from the garden, the first such batch this season. Seems kind of behind schedule, but the big tomatoes are just now starting to ripen. It's very satisfying to put up food I've grown myself for winter use. It feeds a strong self-sufficient drive in me.

Today I feel like taking a mental health day and doing something, but what? Was thinking possible bike ride, although I'm having pain in my pelvis area, where my right leg attaches to my torso. I don't know if it's related to my possible Lyme. Doc said I tested negative (after finding a tick attached to me) but she said I could still have Lyme and they just took the blood sample before the virus had taken hold. So I don't know, cus I don't usually get pain in that area. Seems odd.

I finished up the 3 weeks on antibiotics this past Thursday and as she told me, I called her to discuss. Office informed me she was on vacation and would be back Monday. They didn't bother to say, oh, so and so is taking over her patients, or do you want to talk to someone else. I could see if it was a cold or sore throat or something. This is the kind of thing that has me feeling very dissatisfied with my primary care doctor's office. They've done other things like this that just leaves the impression that they treat the practice of medicine in a rather casual way, like 9 to 5, which are their hours. No weekends, no evenings.

There was a time once before when I had Lyme and the doctor called me on a Friday afternoon; I wasn't home and he left a message saying, call me Monday. Well, he already knew I had Lyme. You'd think he might say I'll call your prescription in to your pharmacy so you can get started right away. Nope. I later spoke to him about it and he actually apologized.

But they still practice medicine over there like they're on auto-pilot. And if you want to just talk or ask a question regarding your issue, they tell you to schedule an appointment to come in (and spend another $30).

I've GOT to find another PCP. Been saying that for a while. The reason I've stayed so long is because they're literally 1 mile from home and I feel very comfortable with the 3 different practitioners there and I've been going there a long time.

So, I don't know about that bike ride.

On two occasions in the last week, I took advantage of recent stock market lows to buy more large cap stock funds. I had about $23K sitting in an IRA money market and wanted to move it into something that might possibly earn a decent return by the year 2100. I've been too afraid of checking my balances, though, and actually, I don't usually except at the end of each month to do my monthly investment report to self. Let's hope the Dow is somewhat recovered by then.

Why I hate AT&T

August 18th, 2011 at 06:32 pm

I've got to be one of the few remaining residents of the state of Connecticut to rely solely on my landline. I do this because, being out of work and trying to shave expenses, I gave up my prepaid cell phone last year.

So I was perturbed and frankly pissed to receive two new charges on the phone bill I received today:

1.Minimum Usage Charge: $2
2. Carrier Cost Recovery Fee: $2

The AT&T rep explained that because I made no long distance calls last month, I'm being charged $2. Say what???

AT&T is determined to make more money after losing customers left and right who prefer their cellphones. So someone in marketing came up with the idea of creating a new charge for a service people don't use. Brilliant! Give that person a raise!

The rep told me that the only way to avoid that charge (aside from making phone calls) is to sign up for a long distance plan which carries no monthly fee, but bills any long distance calls you make at .41 a minute, which is rather steep.

However, I remembered that I always use a prepaid calling card to make long distance calls from my landline (using a toll-free number to access it) so that's how I'll get around their stupid $2 minimum charge. I switched to the .41/minute plan.

The other charge is a federal fee they say they have no control over. Funny, I never paid it before.

Speaking of prepaid calling cards, I was very excited a few months back to find a very good card at a good price at Costco: It was a Verizon card for 700 minutes and the cost came out to 2.9 a minute. Now, Costco no longer carries the card.

UPDATE: I called Verizon, and he told me that yes, Costco carries their cards in every state except Alaska.

So then I called costco. While they don't carry them in the store anymore, I can still buy them online.

There's a 15% surcharge if you simply refill your existing card, so it's definitely better to buy a new card; shipping is free.

Why I hate AT&T

August 18th, 2011 at 06:24 pm

I'm probably one of the few remaining residents of Connecticut who still has a land line. That's the case because, being out of work and trying to shave expenses wherever I can, I gave up my prepaid cell phone and rely exclusively on my landline.

My usual bill for combined landline and DSL services is $44 a month. Today's bill was $49. Yeah, just a few dollars, but seems like everywhere I look, it's a few dollars more here, a few dollars more there. Meanwhile, I'm making quite a few dollars less, so yes, it does matter.

A side-by-side comparison of the new phone bill with last month's phone bill revealed two new line items I never paid before:
1. Minimum Usage Charge: $2
2. Carrier cost recovery fee $2

I talked to an AT&T rep who informed me that I have to pay the $2 minimum usage charge because I haven't made any long distance phone calls this month. Say what? You've created a new charge to make me pay for something I don't use?

The only way to get around it, he said, is for me to switch over to their long distance call plan. There is no monthly fee for the plan, but if I do make long distance calls, I'll be billed .41 a minute, which is pretty high. I gave up my cellphone, so initially I figured this wasn't a good option, but then I remembered how I always use prepaid calling cards to make my long distance calls. So I switched to the plan and shouldn't get charged .41/minute because I'll just use the calling cards I buy.

The other charge, the carrier cost recovery fee, is a federal fee they have no control over. This despite I never paid for this before.

I'm just pissed. AT&T is just determined to make money off people because it's rapidly losing money to cellphone carriers left and right. So they've come up with a creative plan to charge people for a service they don't use. Brilliant! Whoever thought of that should get a raise.

question for Monkey mama and ceejay

August 18th, 2011 at 05:21 pm

When you apply for various rewards credit cards, do you wait a certain interval between credit card applications? Will applying for too many cards too frequently affect your chances of getting approved?

Cucumber Lime Slushy

August 17th, 2011 at 08:08 pm

Thanks, Joan of the Arch, for the cucumber-lime slushy recipe. I used the juice and pulp of two whole limes, probably way more than I needed, and just a teaspoon of Truvia, but it was way too tart, so had to add quite a bit of sugar, but yum, it certainly was very refreshing.

This morning I needed some kind of mental break, so I took a trip to a nearby garden I went to two summers ago. If you'd like to see the pix, visit my other blog

Text is here. and Link is

On the way home, I stopped at Trader Joe's and then at a local garden nursery I enjoyed just as much as the gardens. They are really good at doing planters filled with succulents (a favorite for me).

See how great they are...

The colander they've used here as a planter has built-in drainage. Just add sphagnum moss. Clever!

A tricycle planter.

I've always wanted one of these, but they're expensive.

One of the many greenhouses.

A gorgeous succulent planter.

And you should see their gift shop. OMG, it just makes me drool.

Kindred Spirit

August 16th, 2011 at 01:20 pm

These days, I pay close attention to Craig's List help wanted ads, and in fact, I have six or seven categories for writer/editors in three different counties RSS-feeding onto My Yahoo home page.

From time to time, I see another job-seeker who has posted an ad touting their abilities/services in the help wanted section. Not a bad idea. I saw one the other day written by someone who described themselves as a journalist looking for work.

I decided to send them a quick note, partly because I was curious what another unemployed writer's experience has been in the job market.

She wrote back in a friendly way, then I wrote back, telling her about a job posting I saw at the start-up news site where I worked about five weeks last spring. It's in her home city.

Anyway, we've begun a nice dialogue back and forth. She had in fact applied to that job but heard nothing. I wrote her back with the personal emails of the owner and managing editor there. Nothing to lose in writing them directly, and there's a chance they just didn't see her resume amidst all the others they likely received.

So we're getting to know each other. We seem to have a lot in common. She has a strong journalism background; I dabbled in journalism for a few years out of college. We're about the same age, tho she's a little older. We both are frustrated with the job search, wish we could retire and want to do some travel. I'm flying solo, she's divorced, I think, and has two grown kids. She suggested meeting sometime.

This week, I exhausted my "regular" unemployment benefits. Here in CT, you then go into EB, or Emergency Benefits, for another 20 weeks. Thank God for that. I guess the total comes to 99 weeks. My 99-week mark would have normally been up now (mid-September is the 2-year anniversary of my layoff), but also thank god I've worked here and there, thereby extending my benefits quite a bit longer.

I worked at the Census Bureau from late April to early August, 2009 (3.5 months), probably averaging about 25 or 30 hours a week.

I worked another 3.5 months f/t at Prudential in Q4, 2010.

I worked 5 weeks f/t at the startup news website. And then there's been my freelance real estate writing all along.

I felt very bummed out that today I had to transfer $1500 from a taxable mutual fund to my checking account to cover expenses. It represents the very first time in nearly 2 years that I've had to do that. It's not that my normal expenses got out of hand; I only had to do it because I had a major capital improvement, the $13K vinyl siding job on my house. I had planned originally to take that entire amount out of taxable mutual funds, otherwise earmarked for retirement, but then thought it would be preferable not to have to sell mutual funds during such a volatile time if I didn't absolutely have to, so I paid for the bulk of the vinyl siding with about $12K I took from my checking account and my now completely depleted emergency fund, an online money market account I have with Dollar Savings Direct (an offshoot of Emigrant).

So I did greatly mitigate the damage and avoid the tax consequences, I think, that would come from selling mutual funds at a possible loss. I would love to replenish that emergency fund, of course, but that will be extremely slow going, given that I'm just barely paying for living expenses off of unemployment benefits and freelance work.

Absent a job, I can only look forward to next year's tax refund to put into the money market account.

I'm still hoping there's an outside chance I may still hear from that energy analyst job I interviewed for, but I will definitely (albeit, sadly) write it off completely if I don't hear anything by week's end.

I'm embarrassed to say I was turned down for that $11/hr transcriptionist editing job. I really felt it was beneath me and the pay about as low as i would go, but i would have done it because it would be somewhat regular work which could be a godsend since all my bills are "regular" as well. It's nice to earn $135 in 2 hours as I do for writing a press release, but it's not as great as it sounds if you only get those assignments on occasion.

Well, I can only hope there's something better for me waiting in the wings.

Wait a minute....Hope is not a strategy! One of my favorite sayings these days. It so perfectly reflects my take-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude toward the job search. Lately, it seems it's the bull that has the upper hand.

For Monkey Mama

August 14th, 2011 at 02:37 pm

Here's how someone else does it.....



August 14th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I woke to the sound of a soft but steady rain, the kind of morning you'd just love to sleep in on. But nooooo, kitties must be fed, or before you know it, they're bounding on the bed, walking on my stomach, mewing plaintively and generally making themselves heard.

Here's a nice shot I took of how the house looks with its new siding, through the branches of some butterfly bush:

I've taken a gazillion shots of my house (sort of like a proud mom) but I especially like this one, as seen through the delicate foliage that enhances, but does not obscure.

Don't know if you've noticed the trend here, but just to give myself something new to think about, I'm going to try using only one-word headlines for my blog posts for a while. Just one word to sum everything up. So I'll have to choose wisely!

Here's what's "growing on" in my yard.

If you're wondering what this could be, you'll have to check out my other blog,

Text is The News at Owl Hollow. and Link is
The News at Owl Hollow.


August 13th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Not to be Debbie Downer here, but I am feeling really discouraged.

The main reason for this is that this was the week I expected to hear from that company where I interviewed for the energy analyst position. I had turned in the writing assignment the Thursday before, and I figured sometime this week they'd have reviewed candidates' writing and decided who to call back (or make an offer to).

I thought I had a pretty good shot at that job, and I allowed myself to visualize how things would work out with that job. I hate the waiting game, so on Wednesday I sent a brief and friendly email asking about the status of the job and whether I'm still a candidate.

The fact that I didn't get an answer is troubling to me. I'm guessing that they have either made an offer to someone else and are waiting for it to be finalized before notifying others they interviewed, or they are about ready to do a 2nd interview/make an offer and don't want to tell anyone anything until it's finalized.

It's just so discouraging. My life these days revolves around finding ways to make money. The jobs I've applied for include both full-time perm job I could live on as well as part-time or periodic gigs that will just help me get by until I find that f/t job.

A while back I applied to a tutoring company and only heard back from them yesterday, via email. Although I have no tutoring experience, they apparently have so far accepted my application, I'm guessing, based on lifetime experience as a writer/editor. So they would then contact me when a tutoring position in my area, in my field, opened up. Who knows when that might be. I'm curious to know how it would all work out since I have no tutoring experience and wouldn't know where to start. Do they supply materials? They haven't given me any idea. The ad says it's 7th grade through college and they require at least 1 year of teaching/tutoring experience, which I lack. You have to pass a background check and be willing to work some evenings/weekends. It pays decent, $24 to $27 an hour.

As for the p/t job editing transcriptions others have written from meetings, interviews or focus groups, they seemed happy with the first test they gave me. Then they asked me to do a second one, this time with a one-day deadline. It would have gotten my suspicions up, but this time they said they'd pay me. I turned that in and my contact said "so and so would be in touch with me." I guess/hope that means they want me for the job. It's a throwaway job to me ($11/hr) but until something better comes along, I'll do it.

I also haven't heard back from the online publishing company in the self-publish market. I spent a lot of time on their writing assignments and thought I did pretty well, although I found the Chicago Manual of Style book I borrowed from the library confusing when it came to citations/footnotes.

As it turns out, I think I've adapted fairly easily to giving up cable TV. I do enjoy watching episodes of a few of my favorite shows on Hulu,and it's just as good as watching them on TV. The advantages are that I can watch when I feel like it, and there are fewer commercials.

I finished painting one wall in the spare bedroom with the free paint samples I got from Glidden. I was quite surprised to see that "Tropicana Surf" is actually extremely close in color to the blue I chose for my office, to go with some wallpaper. The office is kind of an icy, cool blue while the blue in the bedroom is a paler shade of that. I have 2 more quarts, so I can continue painting, but first I have to scrape and soak off the rest of the foot-wide wall border I have in the bedroom, and to get it off just the one wall was very time-consuming. But it's got to come off because the colors don't really match the new blue paint.

I don't really know what I'm doing this weekend. I have nothing planned. I'd be tempted to do a bike ride, but I have to try to stay out of the sun while I'm still taking these antibiotics for Lyme. I think I have about 4 more days to go, but I doubt the low humidity of the past 2 days will last much longer.

I have like a gazillion cucumbers and am looking for someone to give them to.

My dad was up for a second surprise visit; this time, he was spending the night at my sister's. We hung out and chit-chatted, and he admired my new siding. Then he went to my sister's, and later I joined them for dinner at a local diner. First they wanted to go to a new, very nice restaurant in my town and I got all excited as I've never eaten there, but they were, once again, so crowded, they just wanted to go to the diner,which was quick and easy, cus my sister had to get back to her home before dark to put the chickens in the coop. The diner food wasn't very good....dried out chicken, carrots that I think came out of a can, an iceberg lettuce salad.... I'm so much happier when I can cook my own food!

I made a yummy cold lentil salad the other day. I don't really care for lentils much, but I know they are good for you. This was pretty tasty: lentils, chopped red onion, feta cheese, chopped green bell pepper and tomato and oil and vinegar.

I have so much produce from the garden that I'm on a race to eat and use them up every single day before they go bad. So far, nothing's gone bad, but some of those cucumbers might. I can only eat one whole cucumber a day. I considered putting a sign out on my mailbox, which is by the road, that says, "Free Cucumbers, Organic & Homegrown. Help yourself. See inside mailbox."

The mailbox is perfectly shaped to hold a bunch of cucumbers, although I'd have to wait until after the mail is delivered, around 2:30 pm.

Tapped out in August

August 11th, 2011 at 09:27 pm

That $13,000+ vinyl siding job pretty much emptied my emergency money market fund.

Not sure if I'll be able to squeak through August without having to cash out a few thousand from a mutual fund to pay bills. It's how I planned to pay for the vinyl siding to start with, but I found that I had just enough in my money market to cover it, combined with a few thousand from my checking account, and it seemed preferable to take it from there before selling part of a mutual fund, which has tax consequences.

I also decided the day after America's credit downgrading was a good time to buy heating oil, though at $3.29 a gallon, it still set me back $600.

My dad stopped by for another surprise visit, and he said my (half) brother might have some editing work for me. My brother and his new Chinese wife just had a baby. I'm not very close to them, although I would like to be. My brother is a biologist and has worked for various drug companies, and he's got something he needs to submit to the FDA which needs to read well. I don't have the science background, but depending on how technical it is, I could likely still clean it up.

So when my dad goes home tomorrow (spending the night at my sister's up here), he'll call with my brother's phone #. They just moved into a new house. Work often comes from places where you least expect it. I don't know, would it be wrong to charge my brother? I know he's making good money, and he knows I'm unemployed, so maybe not! Besides, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be coming out of his pocket.

I started scraping off the wall border on one wall of my spare bedroom, in preparation for painting. I need to repaint there due to some water damage from last winter's ice dams. I'm using paint I got for free, from a promotion Glidden was having. I picked out the color online and i tried to match the curtain I have in there. The color is called Tropicana Blue. I wasn't sure how good a match it would be; if it wasn't, I might also have to repaint the window trim, which is a darker teal.

I opened up the paint today and saw that it was in fact a very nice pale blue,nothing too bright. It's possible I could just get by repainting the one wall and not have to repaint the whole room. The walls are currently a pale yellow and could certainly use a redo. We'll see how ambitious I feel manana.

Today was a really nice weather day, but i sort of wasted it and didn't do too much. i was kind of distracted by things related to my job search and some other stuff

I turned in that editing of a transcription test to the company I told you about yesterday. She said I did great, and could I do another one, this time on a 1 day turnaround, and they would pay this time. So I said sure. I took a lot of time on the first one to make sure it looked decent, but i was wondering how long I should be spending on it, so i asked her how long something like that should take, and she said 30 to 45 minutes, but it should go faster as I do it more. I know I spent over an hour on it. Hmmm. $11 an hour. Better than nothing. She hasn't asked me for my Social Security # yet, and that would be a plus if they didn't issue a 1099. They seem to be a legit company, I checked them out online.

My author is on vacation in South Carolina starting today, so I may just miss the several times daily emails I get from her! I'll start up on the final third of the book editing in mid-September, if all goes according to schedule.

I have a product testing gig lined up in a few weeks, just an hour or so of time. The qualifying criteria was that you had to have 20/20 corrected vision and in generally good health. I have no idea what the product is!

Just dodged a big ($) bullet

August 8th, 2011 at 07:42 pm

Lawnmower troubles....

I've been using a cordless battery-powered mower for the past 5 years and am happy not to mess with gas, oil and stuff like that.

Two years ago, my friend "helped" me change the battery when the old one died. He had a lot of trouble getting the cover back on, but the thing did start up, so I thought I was ok. So I've been mowing with it for 2 summers, until a few days ago when I started having trouble starting it up.

Frank offered to help and said he used to do small engine repairs and what not. I said ok, that'd be great, but he couldn't come over til today. So in the meantime, the grass is growing tall, and I decided to try to fix it myself. I managed to get the cover off and just by jiggling things around, I got it started up again! I felt so proud of myself. I mowed for about 10 minutes but then it died in tall grass and wouldn't start again.

I again tried to get the cover off, though this time there was one screw I couldn't get out, and no amount of jiggling would get it started again.

So Frank came over this a.m. and starts pulling things apart. I tried to explain to him that I didn't think it was anything too complicated, that I thought it had to do with the way the battery was seated in the chassis. Because before each time I mowed, I'd turn the mower over on its side so I could clean the grass chute. I suspected that turning it over repeatedly like that caused something inside to shift and the plastic key you insert to start it wasn't going in properly.

I don't think he was really paying attention to me. He took off the cover, checked various connections, then attacked and took apart the starter, which I really wish he hadn't done. He thought there was a broken cable, but the cable was fine. By this time I didn't want him messing with it and he didn't really seem to know what to do anyway, and i was also annoyed that he couldn't put back together the starter lever that he'd taken apart.

I said I was going to look around for a local place that could repair it. I asked if he wanted to stick around, he said no, he had to walk the dog and go grocery shopping, and he seemed to want to skedaddle pretty quick. Maybe becus I was getting stressed.

I spent quite a bit of time online and on the phone trying to figure out what to do. The nearest authorized Black & Decker dealer is 1 hour away, where I bought this, and I was hoping to find somewhere more local that could fix it, but no one wanted to touch a cordless mower.

I even briefly looked at brand new mowers, since the B&D dealer I'd mentioned said the repair could cost a maximum of $185 (or as low as $25), and geez, you can get a brand new mower for close to that.

But in the end, I decided to drop my plans for the day and head up to the authorized dealer. It's actually a very good thing I did, for 2 reasons:

1. If I hadn't gone up there, I might never have learned that 2 years ago, Frank had INCORRECTLY installed the battery, and that's why the cover didn't close properly, and not only that, it was a fire hazard, could have started a fire and could have shorted out the battery, requiring me to get a new $125 battery. GRRR.

2. I also would never have learned that Black & Decker had issued a RECALL on this mower becus it possibly didn't shut off automatically when you let go of the handle. (They supposedly mailed out letters, but I never got one.)

Long story short, I got a brand hew handle mechanism, starter, charger and cover, at NO cost. It actually looks like a new mower.

The only thing I couldn't do was get my blade sharpened as he said the blade i had (never sharpened) was too chewed up to sharpen and I'd need a new one ($25) which wasn't in stock. But I should be able to get thru the summer with what i have; i never actually noticed any deficiency in cutting.

But i'm kind of annoyed with Frank, who, as i get to know him, seems to be the kind of guy who brags about different things fairly often, which I don't find to be an attractive quality. I think it comes from insecurity. If he didn't know much about battery mowers, I sure wish he would've just fessed up to that and not tried to fumble his way through, becus it could have caused me an injury, cost me money or both.

More about the accident that happened by my house

August 8th, 2011 at 01:11 am

I wrote an earlier post about hearing a crash near my house, and then hearing a man calling for help in the darkness. It happened at a very sharp curve in the road where a high underground water table has pushed up all the asphalt, breaking up the road. I didn't call immediately when I heard the cries, and I initially questioned myself about whether I really heard someone yelling "Help me." Luckily, the man called out again, and this time, I called 911 and a small battalion of police and EMT workers arrived in a few minutes. It appeared to be a motorcycle accident.

In yesterday's local paper, there was a small write-up about it. It was a 49-year-old man who lived elsewhere in town riding a brand-new scooter. No helmet. So putting 2 and 2 together, i imagined that the driver was not used to riding scooters. In the paper it said he applied the brakes at a sharp curve in the road and the bike actually overturned.

Today, I decided to try to reach out to the driver and see if he was ok. The newspaper provided his name and address, so I found the number in the phone book and called. I got a machine and left a message explaining that I was the one who called 911 and I was just calling to see if he was ok.

I got a call back a short time later from the guy's wife, who thanked me for my help. She said he's still in the hospital (the accident occurred last Tuesday) and that the surgeon said he was lucky to be alive. All his ribs on one side were cracked and he had a punctured lung, among other things. The bike, which had barely been driven, had just a few scratches.

The wife said her husband had really wanted to get the scooter a year or two ago and she had been trying to talk him out of it because she didn't think they were safe.

Now, maybe, he'll finally agree that your wife is always right!

But on a serious note, I told the wife I hoped he would get well soon. It's gotta be incredibly upsetting to go through all that.

Ironically, when I went outside at the time of the accident, I ran into my neighbor across the way, and I commented that there must be 10 police and EMT vehicles out there assisting the guy. Yeah, she said, and you wonder why our taxes are so high. Personally, if i had an accident, I'd hope as many showed up to help me!

Besides, EMT and fire dept is wholly volunteer in my town; only the police are paid. It actually made me feel proud to see such a strong emergency response by people who are getting nothing out of helping their fellow citizens except the satisfaction of helping someone in crisis. Especially in this day and age, when everything's about money, and old-fashioned community cooperation, like the Amish barn raisings have become a real rarity.

Yet another writing test for a job prospect

August 6th, 2011 at 02:42 am

On Wednesday I turned in my Bangladesh writing assignment for the energy analyst job I interviewed for. Shortly after that, I applied for a freelance copy editor job with an online publisher in the self-publishing industry.

I was able to say in my cover letter that I'm currently editing a first novel for a woman who's chosen to go the self-publish route.

They emailed me back and asked me to do two editing tests, 1 fiction and 1 non-fiction. Each is 6 pages long, but I can tell you I spent HOURS on the fiction test. There was quite a lot of fixin' to be done with it, and each time I looked at it I found more things. And it was exceedingly helpful to copy and paste my edited version, which was edited using Track Changes, and then read over the same version with all edits incorporated. I caught quite a few extra spaces between words doing that, something that's hard to spot when you use MS Word's Track Changes function.

So I'll start the non-fiction assignment tomorrow. I don't really mind doing tests like this because I think it quickly separates the average candidates from the very good ones, and I'm confident in my abilities. Although I have never worked as a book editor, this is a chance to see if I'm really up to snuff as I think I am. I never actually majored in English, so if you ask me what a hanging participle dependent clause is, I'd have no idea. But one thing I did was read widely as a young child, and I have always felt doing so makes one a good writer. I think I was around 10 when I read War and Peace.

Tonight I went to dinner at a friend's place. It was just spaghetti and meatballs, but he makes everything from scratch, which I don't bother doing with meatballs, or sauce, for that matter, unless I'm putting up tomatoes from the garden. The sauce was quite good, and my compliments got me some leftovers to take home. I brought him two cucumbers from my garden which he seemed to appreciate.

Otherwise, not much going on, but somehow, I'm always busy in a contented sort of way. My birthday came and went this week and I barely noticed! I was too preoccupied at the time with completing my first writing assignment. I did take myself to the $2 movie house and I saw most of Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. It was cute for a while, but I left before it was over. I was very fond of the Harriett the Spy book series as a child and I think this movie reminded me of her.

Mysterious (Very Exciting) Animal Sighting

August 4th, 2011 at 06:26 pm

OK, folks, hang onto your hats. I have quite a story to tell you.

Just a day ago, the workers finished installing vinyl siding on the house. It looks great, but for five days, there was quite a bit of racket here, especially sitting inside the house, which I did for the bulk of the time they were here. It was out of deference to my two cats. I mean, they were banging so hard on the walls that I had two small shelves in the kitchen fall off the wall, as well as some mini blinds in the bathroom. My one cat stayed holed up in the basement for most of the time, while Luther, the braver of the two, endured the noise with me in the office, but I could tell he was stressed.

But back to my story. Around mid-day today, I had just put a loaf of chocolate zucchini bread in the oven. I was comfortably ensconced in the sun room on my lounge and probably could have drifted off to sleep. My gaze was in the general direction of a large rhododendron shrub in the backyard about 20 feet from the sun room. All of a sudden, I see an animal face appear. It was crouched on a small branch of the rhododendron that was growing parallel to the ground, about 3 inches high off the ground.

There are a number of my neighbor's cats that wander through here regularly, but this cat was different. It was solid tan. While most of its body was obscured by the shrub, I could tell it was quite a bit larger than your garden variety house cat. It had a long, curved tail and a distinctly feline-looking face.

It was acting nervously, as if it might bolt at any minute. Again, its behavior was different than the cats I see around here, who prowl around and are obviously hunting, exploring, wandering. Then my cat, Luther, started meowing elsewhere in the house. He does that sometimes when he doesn't know where I am. Normally, I would call to him, but I was afraid any movement on my part would scare off this animal. I had the windows to the sun room wide open.

I think it was Luther's meowing that spooked the animal, and it bolted off the rhododendron branch and disappeared into the brambles and woods behind my house. There's a fairly large expanse of woods behind my house, up on the hill, and on the other side is a dairy farm. There's a coyote den somewhere in there; my neighbors and I see or hear them periodically, and in fact, they killed my neighbor's Golden Retriever.

I'm really mystified about what I saw. A coyote would not crouch on a tree branch like that. There have been bobcat sightings in my town, but bobcats have short, cropped tails and are usually spotted.

I called a state wildlife biologist and told him what I saw. He said the mountain lion killed on the highway in Greenwich was the first and only mountain lion sighting in Connecticut, so it would be an exceedingly rare thing if what I saw was a mountain lion. I did not really see the animal's full size because it was crouching, and then I saw it from behind only when it ran back into the brush. But I don't think it was larger than, say, a German Shepherd. Paul said you would be impressed by the size of a mountain lion, and that while sizes vary, they generally are larger than a big dog.

He asked me how large the branch was that the animal crouched on, and whether it would likely support the weight of an actual mountain lion. At that point, I really started doubting myself. I knew the branch was not that big, and I also know that people often see things that turn out to be different than what they actually think they saw.

I went out afterwards to check that branch. It only looked to be about an inch-and-a-half in diameter, growing parallel to the ground and about 3 inches off the ground. However, I was startled to see a good-sized crack in the branch. I put my hand on the spot where I saw the animal crouch and as I pressed down, the weight of my hand caused tension on the branch in the very spot where the crack was. The only reason it hadn't cracked further, I think, is because the branch touched the ground. So it supported the idea that the weight of the animal was great enough to bend the branch down far enough to crack it.

Paul was a little stymied about what else this animal could be. Could it be an immature mountain lion, I asked. He said yes, anything's possible, but the question is, how likely is it? While I can't be absolutely sure about the size, what I am sure about is that this was in the feline family. Its face was very cat-like and it had a long, curved tail. It also ran into the woods like a cat, not trotting like a dog. I don't think it was a housecat because not only was the body larger than a cat, but the head was larger than a normal-sized cat.

I guess it's unlikely I will ever see this thing again, and so I guess I may never know exactly what I saw.

Why I called 911

August 3rd, 2011 at 01:44 am

So it's 9:30 pm and I'm sitting in my office, trying to finish up on my Bangladesh energy assignment I'm turning in tomorrow to the company where I interviewed for a job.

I have the windows open, although I'm guessing most of my neighbors have their homes shut up tight for air conditioning.

I'm writing about Bangladesh's extreme energy needs, when I thought I heard a crash outside. Not a big one, just a small one that didn't quite get my attention. There's a very sharp bend in the road just a little ways up from my house, and a high underground water table has caused the road to buckle in that bend. If you're not familiar with the road and drive down it faster than 25, it can be a very bumpy ride. Bumpy enough that I always hear cars and trucks rattle and bounce, with their drivers no doubt cursing, as they go over those bumps. You don't really see them until you're on them.

So then I hear a man's voice yelling. I thought it was a neighbor. But it sounded like he was yelling help. Help me. Was this my imagination? I remembered the crash-like sound I heard. I went to my front window and stuck my head out. Nothing. Then I heard it again, more distinctly this time in the darkness. Help. Help me.

I immediately called 911 and told the cop I thought I heard a small crash, and I thought I was hearing someone yell help, but it was pitch black out there.

Within a few minutes there was an army of police, EMT out there, looked to be about 8 vehicles. It was a motorcycle rider who had indeed lost his balance on those bumps.

The neighbor's kid said there was blood on the road. I didn't go close enough to see, although I did have a nice conversation with my neighbor across the street. The only other time I talked to her was when i complained about her barking dog. She is divorced now, is a new blonde and happy. She told me she had cancer and her husband left her.

(I actually knew she was divorced already because when i did my census work last summer, her house was one of my assignments, and while I left my nameand phone number in her door when she wasn't home, and she called me to do the survey over the phone, I don't think she put two and two together and realized it was me she was talking to.)

Anyway, I sure am glad I was sitting in my office,not the bedroom, becus i might not have heard it in any other room but my office. Come to think of it, I'm really glad that guy was not knocked unconscious, becus if he hadn't yelled, there was no one around to call police. Who knows how long he would have lain there.

They are still cleaning up from the accident. As far as I'm concerned, any motorcycle accident is a serious one. And Connecticut does not have a helmet law, so if he wasn't wearing one, he's probably in worse shape because of it.

I would think the town could be liable becus it's a known hazard, been like that for years, and they haven't fixed it.

Feeling drained (of money)

August 2nd, 2011 at 08:38 pm

Well, there's nothing like handing over the final payment on a $12k home improvement to make you feel drained....of cash.

I have just about $400 left in my checking/savings account. If I need more, I'll have to sell some taxable mutual funds and wire it to my checking account.

The house looks great. They did chew up the shingles on the roof over the garage becus they had to use a ladder to access one end of the 2nd floor.

I've more or less finalized my if-I-get-the-job budget, this time setting aside a small amount of money for entertainment/dining out, and a bit more, $220 a month, not $200, for groceries. Seeing what I've actually spent, I think this is more realistic.

I also set aside money for routine maintenance like like chimney cleaning and furnace cleanings, that I'd deferred. For the time being, I'm not planning on getting back into cable TV or Netflix.

I'm glad I have my life back now that the workers are gone. For 5 days, I felt like I had no privacy was stressed by the noise and couldn't get much done. I had to keep the curtains and shade drawn all day long. The owner's got to come back tomorrow to take the rest of his leftover supplies, plus the cover tou an outdoor electrical outlet was missing. I also see his workers put back some of my downspouts not quite the way they were before, but I guess I can fiddle with that stuff myself.

I picked 2 overgrown zucchini from the garden and now have to figure out how to deal with them. Yesterday I cooked up a pile of string beans in a fried onion casserole with cream of broccoli. very tasty.

I am feeling so tired today. I guess it's the heat.

Monday doings

August 1st, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Today I did 3 hours of driving, up and back from UConn for a nutrition study-related meeting of just about an hour. The good news for me is that the research assistant got permission to have me recharge the actograph I've been wearing at home, from my computer, so I don't have to rendezvous with the assistant, saving me one 40-minute trip. This will be the 3rd such trip I was supposed to make, but was able to avoid becus research assistants were driving past my hometown on the Interstate en route to somewhere else, and stopping by my exit saves them an extra trip too.

So I was paid $100, my 2nd payment of the $500 total I'll get. If I end up getting the energy analyst job, I may not be able to finish the study, which goes til year's end. Most of it I could do (wearing the actograph and doing food and exercise logs), but 24-hour urine collection would be tough if I were at work, especially since you have to refrigerate the urine. Can you imagine the reaction if i stored my pee in the office refrigerator???

Only way we could still do it is if I did the urine collection on a Saturday and met with the study team on a Sunday.

The vinyl siding is almost done, and it's only day 4!! They're still here, working, but I'm pretty sure they're on the tail end of the vinyl. then they just have to reinstall 5 exterior lights they took off (without having me turn the power off)), and on my way home from UConn, I stopped at a Home Depot and bought 2 new lights for the front entry, relatively inexpensive ($35 each) so the entry will look just spiffy with the new siding. They also have to put back all the gutters and downspouts and do the aluminum on all the door trim. And shutters on the last window, and 2 window mantels with keystones, a final, classy touch. I'm only getting shutters on the 5 front-facing windows, becus at $85 a pair, they're rather pricy and I have a lot of windows on the house.

My mother's going to the organic farmer's market in my town tomorrow, so i told her to stop by. She has no idea i got the vinyl siding done, and i'm sure she'll be quite surprised when she drives up!

Tomorrow I have a phone meeting with a potential new freelance client, to write stories for him on the mortgage industry. I also have a meeting at the library on what to look for when buying a laptop. I won't be in the market anytime soon, but I have been thinking of how nice it would be to work on my computer in, say, my sunroom and not be tied to my office all the time.

I've worked a little each day on my Bangladesh energy report/writing assignment from that job interview. I think it's pretty close to done, but I'd like to do some basic fact-checking as a final review. There were so many stats and data in the speech which I totally reorganized, it would be easy to make a mistake. It's not due til Thursday.

Wed. I will treat myself to a $2 movie to see Judy Moody and the Not So Bummer Summer. It sounds fun, altho I know it's for teens. Anyone see it?

Also on the way home from UConn I stopped at Staples to get an ink cartridge and Shop Rite for groceries. I felt good that I consolidated 3 extra trips into that drive to UConn, so less running around in the car. Still trying to limit myself to 1 fill-up per month, which shouldn't be impossible while I'm still not working.

My author has bill issues, so she's asked me to temporarily stop editing the book for a while. She said she'll send me the check ($333) for the 2nd part that I've just completed, though. Hope to see that in the mail tomorrow or Wednesday.

I'm still doing meds for Lyme. Amazingly, after just a day or two on them, the mysterious sore back and very painful right knee nearly instantly disappeared. Maybe they were related to the Lyme after all.