Started off the day right, by taking a walk with The Author, in town, in a space that was both remote and open at the same time, where I had never been.
It's state-owned property, near the center of town.
The Author asked me if I wanted to go bike-riding sometime and look at all the old Victorian homes along the Connecticut coastline. Yes, count me in! She's leaving for NC next week, but she said when she comes back. We probably have one good month of decent bike-riding weather left.
I plan to re-start editing her book this weekend.
So far I'm pretty happy with some of my Aldi's purchases. Like the Italian waffle-like, wafer-thin chocolate cookies. Very good, not sugary sweet, and good with a cup of tea.
The bread seems decent, too. Whole wheat, no fructose corn syrup. It might be worth heading up there if I buy 4 or 5 loaves at a time, to freeze.
I mowed the back lawn today, so I get double exercise points.
Yesterday, and today for lunch, I made a delicious meal with farro, an ancient grain I never had before. It's very much like extra large barley. If you like the chewiness of barley, you'll like farro. I sauteed up some onions, broccoli and peas with a black bean sauce and toasted walnuts. Pretty simple, yet tasty.
For the 3rd consecutive month, my expenses exceed income. I'm not happy about that. This month, it was my $600 sewer bill that is largely to blame. Later this year, I know the same thing will happen with my $800+ homeowners insurance.
It was also not a great month for income, either. My unemployment benefits have shrunk. For some reason, I only made $46 from online surveys. And there were no focus groups, just $40 made from product testing. Only made $135 from freelance writing.
I did sign up for an October focus group on pasta, which will pay either $65 or $100, depending on whether I'm asked to stay.
Tomorrow I'm going to the Lutheran Church fair. And then maybe to watch the al fresco group yoga in the park. I remember loving to watch the t'chi in San Francisco's Chinatown years ago when I was there.
I enjoyed my free dinner at the money manager's dinner presentation on "the death of 'buy and hold.'" I was surprised that he left after giving his talk and left us to finish our meals (on him) on our own. There were only about 8 of us there. I had chicken piccata, string beans and mashed potatoes.
Archive for September, 2011
Started off the day right, by taking a walk with The Author, in town, in a space that was both remote and open at the same time, where I had never been.
OK, so friend and I headed out this morning to check out the new Aldi's about 25 minutes north of here. It was their Grand Opening celebration.
I have to say I was somewhat unimpressed after hearing so many good things about this store.
First, it was quite small for a grocery store. Most of their brands were their store brands. Don't know if they're all like this or not, but to my best recollection, they only have like 5 rows. So not a huge selection. And it was pretty crowded in those aisles.
But my main gripe is that by and large they had all packaged and processed foods. And they had no organics in the produce section.
They were giving out lots of free samples, a la Costco, but it was all sugary candy and such.
I did buy 2 loaves of whole wheat bread (1.5 lbs ea) for like $1.69. I also got what i thought were good deals on a 3-lb bag of sweet potatoes and some vodka pasta sauce. Costco still beats their milk prices, I think.
We weren't expecting the part about putting a quarter in the shopping cart, paying for bags, or having to pay cash (no credit).
I doubt I'll be going there much since it's really out of the way, but it was interesting to check it out, nonetheless.
A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I got an email from another SA blogger here. She told me she was going to a wedding in Massachusetts this weekend,and wondered if she could stop by for a visit on her way home, elsewhere in the Northeast.
Of course, I wanted to meet her. You get started blogging realizing that chances are, you won't ever meet the vast majority of people you meet online. It feels a little strange at times because you do form friendships with people.
So today was the day "Dido" and I met. She writes a blog here called Fiscal Fitness. I told her to meet me at the commuter parking lot just off the exit ramp in my hometown; I figured that would be easy for her to find. I gave her my number so she could call me when she was a few exits ahead of mine; that way, I could just jump in my car and meet her at the commuter parking lot in time.
So this morning, Dido called, right on schedule. I hopped in the car and drove down there, only to see that there was no commuter parking lot there! I must've been thinking of some other exit!
LUCKILY, I instantly spotted what I thought was Dido's car (she had told me the color and make) waiting at the traffic light just off the exit. I rolled down my window and waved as the car approached, but she kept on driving and I didn't get a look at the driver to see if it was, in fact, Dido. I did a quick u-turn and followed the car. There were maybe four cars between us. Luckily again, she must've seen my flashing my lights, because after a few miles, she turned in on a side street and pulled over.
It was Dido. Another close call that my lack of a cell phone could have easily avoided!
As it turned out, the street she turned in on was the street where I wanted to take her for a walk, to help her stretch her legs and break up the driving. So we continued down there and did about a 40-minute walk on a nice, paved trail that goes through woods and meadow.
It gave us a chance to talk and get to know each other. Neither of us has been working steadily for quite some time, so I had asked Dido earlier if she wanted to eat lunch out somewhere or maybe just grab sandwiches somewhere and eat at the park, to save money. She left it up to me, so I just decided to have her over my place. I made a chickpea salad with feta cheese, homegrown cherry tomatoes and chopped cucumbers (with a little red onion, too) for our lunch. We munched on sliced carrots and hummus and I gave her a brief tour of my downstairs.
After eating, I took her on a little guided tour around town and showed her a few highlights, including the town hall movie theater ($2 a movie) with its colorful murals of town buildings painted by a local artist in the stairwells.
I also pointed out the famous flagpole in the middle of the road and our historic Main Street.
Along with the little brick historic building where I used to work.
And two little parks in the center of town:
And another historic building I used to work at, when i was senior editor at a small publishing company. The building was once a factory used to make fabric fire hoses but has since been renovated into offices for small businesses. It's really quite lovely, and there's a nearby dam and river.
Dido treated me to a pumpkin cheesecake ice cream cream at the dairy farm ice cream stand, where they make ice cream from their cows on the premises!
So I must say it was fun to meet a fellow blogger face to face, and certainly a nice break from my usual weekday routine. She is, as I write, headed home.
I think I'll wait til after it happens to tell you much more, but I'm getting together very soon with another blogger from this site. We're meeting for the first time!
I joined N. and H. this morning before heading over to our town's annual Health Fair. Lots of dentists, chiropractors and other health care professionals have booths with lots of free giveaways and screenings. I got my cholesterol checked (Total: 187) and had a quick mole check done, too.
After that, we went down to the senior housing complex where they were having a tag sale in the community/rec room:
I was interested to see the beautiful mural painted by a local artist. I didn't notice until I looked at these photos on my computer how pleased that woman on the left seems to be that I'm taking that photo.
Here's a detail of the mural, which depicts the old town hall and the famous flagpole on Main Street. Yes, it is smack dab in the middle of the road, and since it's been there since the late 1880s, most people want it to stay. Although it causes lots of car accidents.
I can walk to the flagpole from my house.
Our next destination was a country harvest fair at the Congregational Church. There was quite a lot to see.
I admired these whimsical felted hats.
For lunch I had some stone soup, which was basically a chicken soup with a dozen different vegetables. They cooked it outside in a couldron.
On the way home, I got this shot:
The homeowner is/was a bond trader in NYC who lost a lot of friends in 9/11. There was a special town tribute to mark the 10th anniversary earlier this month.
We also stopped in at this shop, which specializes in early American decor. I used to like this style, not so much now. I like to mix a few antiques with much more contemporary stuff.
Good time had by all. All I spent was $3, on that soup.
This month marks a milestone I'd rather not think about, but it's sort of like the elephant in the room: September marks the two-year anniversary since I was laid off from my job. The job, a salaried position with full benefits, seems quaint to me now, and I wonder seriously if I'll ever find another job like that again.
(Meanwhile, the president of Bank of America, I recently learned, earns $10 million a year. I could easily live, for the rest of my life, on one-tenth of what he makes in a year. Ironically, we do share something in common: we've both gotten handouts from the government...me, in the form of unemployment benefits and him, in the form of TARP money.)
These days, I have more luck finding contract or freelance work, short-term, project-based stints that can help me squeak by, but hardly puts a dent on my ongoing anxiety about finding the next gig.
I actually feel like roadkill these days.
On a more positive front, yesterday I interviewed the money manager in my hometown for an article that I already wrote that will appear as an insert in a local daily newspaper. I think it came out very well and (hopefully) he should be pleased. I also did some simple design and layout, which I don't normally do, and it looks good.
I won't earn much from this project and I think I under-bid it ($200) compared to what he says he spends to put on a dinner seminar ($3,000), but I'm hoping it will lead to more work. (He'll also have to spend $600 to the newspaper for printing the insert itself, but still, I'm obviously the cheapest part of his marketing equation at this point.)
Tomorrow is my interview for that p/t copy editor position. The pay is so little that it amounts to just $173 more a month than unemployment is paying me. But unemployment will end eventually. This will get me out of the house and no doubt improve my mental outlook. It could lead to a better position at this company down the road. There's no commute involved, maybe 1 mile.
I have to keep reminding myself of the pluses, modest as they be, because after crunching numbers and looking at it every which way, I think I'll still be living as uber-frugal as I am now...an extra $173 a month won't do much to change that. I will still absolutely need to generate at least $200 a month in other ways (freelance writing, focus groups, product testing, online surveys, etc) to break even, and that's barring unforeseen expenses like car repairs, healthcare or something related to the house. That shouldn't be too hard. It's basically what I'm doing now except that now I'm relying on unemployment benefits to form the bulk of my income instead of this p/t job.
I keep feeling like I'm trying to crawl out of a hole on all fours. It would just be too easy if I were given another $75K salaried job with health benefits. No, the universe has said I must crawl, and crawl I will.
I mentioned in my last post that I had not heard back from the ad agency looking for a freelance writer. I had completed and returned a test editing assignment to them, and I assumed the ensuing silence meant I didn't get the job.
Yesterday I sent a brief follow-up email anyway, and was delighted this morning to find a response from the agency owner, who said my work was "fine" and that he was now looking for a paid assignment for me and would arrange it "at the first opportunity."
Yahooey! Of course, we haven't discussed money at all. Now the only thing I have to worry about is that he doesn't offer me a ridiculously low payment.
But that's 2 for 2, this job and the money manager guy. It's up to me to do my best and ensure neither of these are one-time scenarios.
Aside from thinking I hadn't gotten this freelance job, there was another reason, I think, why I was feeling so glum yesterday (and still am today, to a certain extent).
I got to thinking about two people from my distant past of over 30 years ago...a step-brother and step-sister I had when my mother was married to their father. I was never close to either of them, a boy and a girl, but I did live in their home my first summer after my first year in college, a time I was very lonely and homesick and feeling rather lost.
They lived in a beautiful old Victorian home in a very tony town in Bergen County, New Jersey. When I moved in there for the summer, I remember being given a choice of two locations for my bedroom; one of those choices was a small room in the attic under the eaves, with just a single, round window for light. That's the room I picked, because it was so private.
I was never very close to them, didn't really have the chance. The boy, the elder of the two, was as I remember, a year or two younger than me. He was very smart, and a little shy. But we discovered a mutual love of badminton that summer, and we spent some fun times batting away at the birdie with vengeance in our hearts.
His sister had the same outgoing personality and cheerful demeanor that her father had. It was a little hard to take sometimes. All I remember of her, really, is that she absolutely loved the theater and would often see shows on Broadway with her high school friends.
Their own mother lived in the Seattle area, on an island. Possibly Whidbey Island. Are there other islands in that area?
Anyway, I have wondered from time to time whatever happened to them. My mother and their father were married for about 10 years before my mother divorced him. She said he was an alcoholic. I know he drank, but I never saw him being abusive. I wasn't there enough to know for sure, and like a lot of drinkers, he was probably able to hold his liquor pretty well.
I had mixed feelings about him at the time, as I did for my first step-father. Mixed feelings, because I was loyal to my own dad, even though for much of my 20s, I didn't have much of a relationship with my dad. But my step-dad always had a kind word and a cheerful smile for me. The kindest thing he ever did for me was to encourage me as much as he did to go to the best college I could, and he always was eager to hear my stories about my college experiences. It was something my mother could never really do, as she hadn't gone to college.
He was a former Presbyterian minister. When my mother married him, he was a federal government employee, working at a Housing and Urban Development office in the city.
So I spent some time online trying to find information on the two children, now grown. I knew that my step-father had died years earlier, after my mother and he divorced.
I figured I should be able to find some information, as I had both their names and knew where they grew up. I also knew that my step-brother had attended school at Case Western Reserve University, in Ohio.
I just couldn't find any info. And I assumed my step-sister could have married, making it more difficult for me to track her down. I vaguely remember my mother telling je years ago that she became a missionary in Africa somewhere. I did find someone with her name, and a married name, on Classmates.com, but without more information, I couldn't confirm that was her. So I sent that person a brief note, saying I wasn't sure she was the person I was looking for, but did she have a brother named J.? But she won't be able to read that note unless she has a paid account with them.
Later, I came upon an issue of the Case Western Reserve alumnae magazine that had J.'s name in it. The issue was available online. I went through all 60 pages of it, scanning many lists of alumnae donor names. Then, toward the end, I came upon J.'s name. It was on a page headed In Memoriam, for those who had died. It indicated that someone with J.'s name, of Redmond, West Virginia, Class of '82, had died, exact date unknown. The issue's date was 2010, just last year.
I was really shocked. I could never have imagined this. I sought to do more research to verify this was my step-brother, getting nowhere. I looked up Redmond on a Map Quest map to see what larger cities it was near so I could look for an obituary in the local paper. Couldn't find it in the archives, or they charged for the information.
I think the terrible thing is that he is dead, because what are the odds that someone with the same first and last name went to the same school at roughly the same time?
I kept trying different search terms, using what info I had. Then I came up with someone who said something to the effect that their fraternity brother had unexpectedly died in the prime of their life. The link led to the same issue of the Case Western alumnae magazine.
I went through the whole magazine again to find out who said that, because if I knew their name, I could possibly get in touch with them to confirm the news. But still, I couldn't find it in the magazine. I mean, it would have to be in there somewhere, right, if it shows up in Google results?
It's really a distraction, wondering, but not knowing, if he is alive. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much, i mean, 30+ years have gone by. But I guess I always assumed they were alive and well, leading their lives somewhere.
The only other thing I came up with was info from one of those data mining companies, could have been Intellius, that indicated the the woman with the same maiden name as my step-sister, with the married name I mentioned earlier, was RELATED to the man with the same name as my step-brother. While the alumnae magazine indicated only a middle initial, the Intellius listing indicated the full middle name, and it started with the same letter as that indicated in the alumnae magazine. But they charge you for more information.
It just makes me feel very sad, especially knowing that if I'd gotten serious about finding them just a year or two earlier, I could have possibly found him...alive.
Ech, what a boring day. Actually, I am boring myself. We've had a string of gorgeous fall days, and you'd think I'd want to do something more aspirational somehow, like take a bike ride or take the kayak out.
I don't have quite the energy for that. Instead, I did wash about 4 windows. They really needed it. the guys who did my vinyl siding really created a lot of dust. I will eventually clean some more windows, but not today.
Let's see, how else did I kill this day? I watered the grass and my potted plants. I crawled out on the roof to clear part of a gutter and replace a screen that came off. I picked another pint of cherry tomatoes from the garden.
A client was supposed to call this morning at 9 and he blew me off. I knew he would, and no hard feelings there, he's just extremely busy and a bit of a procrastinator.
I applied for a few more p/t jobs. Feeling negative. Haven't heard back from that ad agency for which I went to the trouble of doing a writing assignment and turned it in last Thursday. So I sent him a follow-up email just now. I suppose I'll get the silent treatment, which translates into, "leave us alone, we no longer want to talk to you."
Oh, I also vacuumed and cleaned out my car.
Last Friday I went for a breast ultrasound after my mammogram. Becus i have dense breasts, just routine. Well, they called today and said there's a small nodule/cyst on my right breast and they want me to do another ultrasound in 6 months. They think it will probably go away, nothing to get a biopsy for, but just to be sure. I feel a little uneasy about that, but oh well. I guess I'll be paying for that one.
I went to a new ultrasound place and really liked it. They made it seem like a spa, with soft pendulum lighting, a wicker basket instead of ugly plastic bins for used johnnies, and a soothing water fountain. Some very simple touches that made such a big difference in ambiance.
There's an Aldi's opening up near me this Thursday, and I plan to go on opening day. Any advice on where their best prices are? Well, it's not really near enough that i could make a regular thing of it. It's about a half hour away. Once I check out prices, I'll decide whether it's worth or to go on a monthly basis...or not.
I've got a time set up to do my first assignment with the money manager in town, this Wednesday. I'll be writing an article about him and his investment style, for an insert in the local daily paper. If nothing else, it will look good on my resume. But I hope it will lead to future assignments. It could just be a one-time thing, but I hope to do a good job with it and you can be sure I'll be keeping in touch with him to encourage that to happen.
I rose not quite as bright and early as I intended, and I felt myself rushing about in the morning to pull together a simple salad for my new friend and I to enjoy at an area Audubon Sanctuary on Long Island Sound.
I was so short on time I didn't get a chance to quickly check my email, something I like to do before heading out for any period of time. It was a little after 8 am when I left the house.
I got a little lost, but eventually found the Sanctuary at the very tip of a point lined with summer cottages. I was there for the beach cleanup, an annual, late summer ritual that's done up and down the coastline in New York and Connecticut as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day. There's always plenty of trash that's either left by beach-goers or boaters, or is otherwise washed ashore after drifting at sea for who knows how long.
As happened the last time I did this a few years ago, the turnout was not all that good. There were three of us, to be exact. I decided to hook up with the other two women there and we fanned out on the beach. It was a GORGEOUS day, quite bright and sunny, though cool. We spent three hours picking up trash, including everything from spent shotgun shells (illegal) to a car tire to bottle caps and straws. Probably 80% of what we picked up was soft or hard plastic. According to Audubon literature, it takes 450 years for plastic to disintegrate.
Here are some pics:
I love the warm, golden colors of the beach grasses.
Audubon has several observation decks with beautiful views of the marshes.
I don't know if these purple martin houses were occupied this summer.
I am wondering if Hurricane Irene dumped more shells than usual on the beaches.
I waited for my friend to meet me at the Audubon Coastal Center at noon, but she didn't show. I spent the time chatting with an employee at the center and her husband. I waited and waited, wondering what to do. As a cost-saving measure, I'd given up my cell phone over a year ago, so that simple option wasn't available to me.
I don't know my new friend that well. I've just met her once, so it was hard to imagine what might have gone wrong. I figured it was either one of two things: either she had gotten lost (I remembered she said she often does get lost, and that she has ADHD) or that her daughter, who was close to full term with her pregnancy, had given birth and my friend had maybe a last minute change of plans due to that event.
I suppose I could have waited longer than 45 minutes, but I'd been out in the sea breeze all morning and was feeling tired, so I finally decided to head home.
When I got home, there was a message from S. telling me she got VERY lost, asked 4 people for directions and still had trouble, but had finally made it to the Sanctuary and was wondering where I was. I called her back immediately and we exchanged notes.
There was also an email here for me which I would have seen if I'd checked my mail before leaving. It was sent by S. around 5:30 a.m. saying since she was up so early, she thought she'd like to do the beach cleanup with me after all. Oh well.
I felt a little guilty for maybe not waiting a little longer. It sounded like she got there maybe 5 minutes (!) after I left! She enjoyed the scenery and environment there as much as I did, and we both regretted not having been able to connect. We had both brought lunch to share. Fortunately, she didn't' sound TOO frazzled and agreed we should try again to do something, so I will keep my eye out.
Remember the energy analyst position I interviewed for a few months back but didn't get?
I see the same company is now advertising for a p/t copy editor job.
They were paying VERY low for the analyst position, so I can only guess that this job will be no different.(I'm guessing less than $20 an hour, maybe $10 or $15 would be more like it.) Still, it's in my hometown. If it's less than 30 hours a week, I think I could still collect partial unemployment, and it would greatly extend my remaining benefits as well.
What's more, if they deduct taxes from my paycheck, it would help boost my employment "credits" should I continue to be unemployed moving forward. When they calculate your benefits amount, they take the highest average of the previous five quarters, or something like that. So generally, the more you make in any quarter, the better off you are. Except that they only count work where the employer deducts taxes from your paycheck; they DON't count freelance work at all. So in this context, W2 jobs are good, but 1099 jobs, where you pay your own taxes, are bad, becus you could work forever in a 1099 job and it won't matter one iota to the unemployment office. Why this distinction, I don't really know.
And of course, if i could get them to put me on their health plan, even though not a full-timer, that would be the ideal situation and would save me probably over $300 a month, depending on their premium. But it wold get me off COBRA, and the clock is ticking. I can't stay on COBRA forever, and it's expensive besides.
Well, all this is wild conjecture. I only just applied today.
But I spent quite a bit of time structuring my carefully-worded cover letter. It was a bit unconventional, but I have nothing to lose.
I even included a quote from The Economist magazine. Say what, you ask??
When I interviewed for the analyst job, the senior analyst who interviewed me asked me where I read my news and specifically asked if I read The Economist. He apparently holds it in high regard.
Now he may not be the person reviewing candidates for the copy editor job, but in a small company like this, senior level people often handle functions beyond their immediate job responsibilities. If he is, it might resonate with him.
To find that quote, I spent some time reading several stories in the magazine related to the Euro debt crisis. I included the quote when referencing the fact that I'm a news junkie and like to keep up on current events like the Arab Spring and Euro debt crisis, which a recent article in The Economist recently described as ......
That's about how I phrased it. It was a relatively small point in the larger context of my cover letter, but since they said in the ad that having an interest in world affairs would be helpful, I figured this would demonstrate it.
And once again, I saw the ad, not online, but in my local weekly paper. Cuts down on the competition.
Tomorrow will be busy but fun. Have to get an early start. I'm doing my part for International Ocean Conservancy Day by volunteering to pick up beach/ocean litter for a few hours at an Audubon beach preserve. Then I'm meeting my new friend, the out of work journalist, there for a picnic lunch on the beach. How cool is that? I'll take pictures!
I met this morning with the CFP/investment manager. While I was hoping that by this time, after 2 phone conversations and a detailed memo i sent him, that I could now reel him in and discuss a p/t position with him, it didn't really go that far. Yet, anyway. I did, however, succeed in securing a small first job from him involving my interviewing him and writing an article that will appear as an insert in a local newspaper.
We'll probably do the interview sometime next week. So it's a job, one that could to more if he gets any kind of positive response from it.
I sense he's being very cautious about spending money. Can't say I blame him. But I've spent quite a bit of time brainstorming with him how to get clients in the door already.
I'm hoping to hear from the local ad agency about the editing assignment I turned in to them yesterday. It would be great to have either one of these jobs work out to something regular, because are, as I said, very local. The $ manager's office is 5 minutes away and the ad agency is a 15-minute drive. I hate long commutes.