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Archive for August, 2011

Day 3 - no power

August 30th, 2011 at 04:13 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 08:09 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 05:52 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 02:44 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 26th, 2011 at 12:30 am

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 07:06 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 12:06 pm

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 10:42 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 23rd, 2011 at 12:43 am

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.