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Archive for February, 2012

Free electricty for 3 months!

February 28th, 2012 at 11:02 am

So I finally got my first bill that reflects a credit the power company is giving to those of us who endured a week or more with no power, TWICE (first in October after a freak snowstorm dumped a foot of snow on us) and then a 2nd time in December, I think it was. Both times, I went 7 days with no electricity.

That wasn't fun, but now that I see the credit on my bill, I'm happy. The exact amount of the credit was dependent on how many people signed up for it but was going to be somewhere between $100 and $200.

It turns out my credit is $140. Since I average about $55 in electricity charges each month, that's nearly 3 months of free electricity.

Yahoo!

I'm prepping now for a phone interview for contract writing in another hour.

I also am excited about another interview, an in person one, this Friday at a very local small publisher of trade magazines/websites in retail/wholesaler merchandise. It would be a great commute. Full-time, with benefits. Ahh, it sounds like a dream, at nearly any salary level. I'm guessing this one would be low 60s although I guess it could be lower.

Because of that interview, I've scheduled a haircut for today right after my phone interview. My hair is looking pretty shaggy. I'm trying to grow it out but it needs help.

Quantitative asset management and birthday parties

February 27th, 2012 at 05:09 pm

This morning I received word from an asset management company i was in touch with that they do indeed want to talk to me about possible contract writing for them tomorrow afternoon.

Which is great, except that I'd just made plans with The Author to have her over for some cake, and then a walk, to celebrate her birthday.

Luckily, I found out later today that she wanted to reschedule our get-together anyway because she's engrossed in tax paperwork. So we'll do our thing on Friday, not tomorrow, which means I now have more time to prepare for my phone call with the asset mgmt company.

(This is a subsidiary company of the big financial services company where I did a 3.5 month contract gig in Q4 2010. I was recommended by the woman who hired me at that time.) the company manages money for endowment and pension funds, ie, institutional money management.

They want someone to write/edit white papers. So I've spent a fair amount of time reading the white papers already posted on their site. It's extremely high level, intelligent writing involving interpretations of economic conditions/events and asset management concepts which, though I'm familiar with, I can't say I understand in totality or even truly understand. That's what's giving me a little ogida, feeling insecure about a certain lack of knowledge and wondering what level of expertise they're looking for.

They're probably going to say well, gee, I see from your resume you've done a lot of marketing writing, but what about white papers? I suddenly remembered tonight that I wrote a white paper of sorts last summer as a "test" assignment for a market intelligence firm. While I didn't get that job, what I wrote was a pretty decent example of research and writing, a 6-page overview of the energy needs and development plans of the nation of Bangladesh. The people i talk to tomorrow don't need to know it was only a test assignment or that I didn't get paid for it. So I'll be sure to mention that one and ask if they'd like to see it.

I went for a 6-month ultrasound today which followed discovery of a mass of some sort in my breast 6 months ago after a routine mammogram. They say again that it looks like a cyst (and that it's now half the size), but again they recommend a follow-up ultrasound in 6 months. While I guess that's good news, I could see this cycle of ultrasounds every 6 months just continuing indefinitely, possibly, becus I have what's called dense breast tissue. She told me, in fact, that their protocol is ultrasounds every 6 months for 2 years following any kind of breast abnormality. One wonders if you ever get any resolution, becus cysts don't necessarily go away.

I invited my neighbor to come over on Friday when I see The Author. She takes a painting class that The Author teaches. I will buy a small but delectable birthday cake at Caraluzzi's and I bought a cute little primrose at Shop Rite for $1. Now I need a card, and since I bought a very pretty little gift bag, I may end up giving her a miniature copper weather vane with gardening motif as the present.

Countdown: My mortgage balance is down to $8,374.

The final touches

February 26th, 2012 at 11:14 am

It has been an otherwise lazy Sunday, but I did get sufficient get-up-and-go to install both the curio cabinet and the towel holder in the downstairs bath...





You can see the curio cabinet in the mirror. I usually have seashells, bird's nests and wasp nests sitting there....I also have some sand dollars and sea urchins but they had gotten a little yellowed over time, so they're currently soaking in a bleach/water solution to whiten them again.

Too much stuff on the counter maybe? I've been experimenting with different decor. It feels like a whole new room.

After examining the towel rack I have, I realized there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, no scratches, nothing. So I decided to just keep what I have. And the white towel will do for now.

I'm very happy with it.

I have a ton of stress cracks around various doors and windows. I'd love to tackle them next, although it would mean painting over the whole wall, too. I saw online there's some tape you can buy at Home Depot which makes the job real easy. You basically just put the tape over the crack, then paint over it, and the crack just disappears. It's a little expensive from what I hear, but for someone who's not "handy" like me, it's worth it.

The bathtub could use both re-caulking between the tub and tiles, and also re-grouting between tiles, in the corner, where some cracks have appeared.

And 2 or 3 other indoor projects right off the top of my head.

Finally!! Bathroom wallpapered!

February 25th, 2012 at 02:16 pm

Finally! It's done.

What I'm referring to is the long overdue completion of my bathroom wallpapering job:



I actually started this job about 3 years ago (!!!) and suddenly lost my enthusiasm for the job about mid-way through. Let's face it...wallpapering is an awful job. You can't see it here, or even if you were really inside my bathroom, but there are many imperfections in this job. But at least it's done.

I WILL NEVER WALLPAPER ANYTHING AGAIN IN MY LIFE.

Since this was a 2nd, seldom-used bathroom, it was all too easy to just close the door and not think about it. The only way I was able to FORCE myself to tackle this project again was to:

1. Tell myself that all I had to do was hang ONE piece of paper on a given day...that way, no pressure to do the whole dang thing.

2. I also told myself that Spring is just around the corner, and as soon as it started getting a little warm, I'd be outside in the yard doing stuff, planting my veggie garden and once again would have little time or interest in finishing the wallpapering.

So I worked on it maybe 4 more days, each time for no more than 2 hours. I BARELY had enough wallpaper, and after using up 2 full rolls for this tiny room, I was not about to plunk down another $50 for a third roll.

All I have to do now is hang a small curio cabinet on the wall with wall anchors (a little nervous about doing that) and a towel bar. It goes above the toilet, a white, cottage-look thing I like which I put seashells on. Am wondering if it might be nice to get a new towel bar; maybe I'll browse Home Depot.

In other news...

The check I got from deadbeat client CLEARED. At least, I think that happened. When I check my account online, initially, it will tell you a check is "in process," but now it just shows it's deposited, so I'm guessing that's good.

So can forget about this lowlife and focus on more productive stuff.

Man, I'm soooo happy about that bathroom. I think I'll be using it a lot more often. I guess you could say that room got a mini makeover, not just the wallpaper. The light fixture over the top of the mirror is new (from a few years ago) and replaced 2 small fixtures on either side of the mirror, which looked really, really odd becus there was no room for the light fixtures on the sides and it cast a glare in the mirror....so much better to have the larger fixture above the mirror.

The other thing I did was replace the old window in the room with a vinyl replacement window. the window looks out onto my sun room and allows added natural light to come into the small bathroom. But i had the lower half of the window frosted for privacy purposes. I think it worked out well.



When I was putting the room back together, I realized that a pair of stone goblets I got from a museum in Washington, DC would mimic the pattern on the walls. They were surprisingly affordable at the time. Luther broke the base of one of them, but I glued it back together....




More on the deadbeat client

February 24th, 2012 at 07:04 am

So since last Monday was a holiday, the post office didn't deliver the certified mail from deadbeat client until yesterday. I was at work, so there was a note in my door that I'd have to pick it up at PO.

I did that this morning, and found he'd sent me a check, not a money order. So he may try to stop payment on it once he found out/finds out i complained to his wife's sales manager about her nonpayment of debt. Or not. I really don't know this guy. I deposited it immediately this am after getting it but i guess will have to wait a few more days to see if the check clears. If it doesn't, then my bank will probably charge me $25 or so for the stop-payment order.

I had complained to the sales manager last Friday after getting a nasty note from them saying they were suing me for $1,000 for violating the fair debt collection act.

Not sure where that would get him if he stopped payment, since his bank would also charge him to do that, plus I'd still want my money. Surely it would be easier to just pay me the $50???

After all the drama, aggravation and threats of lawsuit over such a small debt, a part of me feels it would be very satisfying to haul this guy's ass into small claims court, just to teach him a lesson.

Credit card rewards tickle me

February 21st, 2012 at 06:25 am

I just transferred $150 in rewards from Discover card to my checking account after charging $1,000 in 2 months. Gotta love these little deals. I've already started on my next reward with Citi; they actually sent me a little reminder that i could earn their "signing bonus" by charging just $500 in 3 months. Thanks, Citi!

In other news, I spent a little time each day during the past 2 days doing....drum roll....bathroom wallpapering!!

you know, the project that's been half-done for the last three years????

That bathroom's been mostly unusable all this time because I couldn't bring myself to finish that job. But I forced myself to do it with the reasoning that spring is just around the corner, and once it warms up, I'll be out and about in my garden and the bathroom will once again be forgotten for yet another season.

So....I made myself work on it, probably 2 hours each day. By not pressuring myself to finish it, I've been able to make progress so I'm now three-quarters of the way done. And since I work tomorrow through Friday, my work requirement today will be hanging just one long piece on the back wall. (More if I can, but 1 piece minimum.) I am in danger of running out of wallpaper, which could be a problem since they often seem to discontinue patterns and I bought this several years ago. This is the 2nd roll, but you go through so much paper becus you're supposed to match/line up the pattern on each new sheet you hang, even though it's a very abstract marbled look that you'd think wouldn't require matching. But I've done it both ways on the walls and you can tell the difference if you study it.

It's FAR from perfect....many imperfections, but at least I'm making progress. There are actually places where I had to cut little "patches" because I'd wallpapered on 2 sides, to meet in the middle, and of course it didn't meet in the middle. Live and learn.

I'll show you pix when it's finally done. Not sure what i'll do if I run out and they don't carry this pattern anymore. I'm doing the most important parts of the room and leaving the part below and to the side of the toilet for last. Not that it would be any less noticeable....

Went to Trader Joe's with my neighbor yesterday. We also hit Target for a Lean Cuisine sale. Today, after wallpapering, i want to get some DVDs at the library, get milk ($1.88 a gallon) at Caraluzzi's and some black cohosh at CVS.

Terrible tragedy

February 18th, 2012 at 01:56 pm

I just posted a little while ago, mentioning that my friend and neighbor was due back here in CT from Florida, where she had been visiting her grand-daughter for a week.

I called her after posting that blog to see if she was home yet. She had just gotten in about an hour earlier and I asked her if she'd had a good time.

Not really.

She got there (I forget what town it was now, but on the west side) last Saturday, the same day they were expecting her son-in-law's parents to arrive. My neighbor was going to be sharing a rental house with them for the week she was visiting, something she'd done before a year or so ago.

The son-in-law's parents were from Queens, NY but were down in FL visiting a variety of friends and driving from Miami to see their son and daughter-in-law.

They never made it. The mother was driving and apparently had a heart attack and struck a tree head-on. This was in the Bradenton area, wherever that is. The mother died at the scene and the father is in critical condition. They don't think he'll make it. They were in their late 60s, early 70s. The car was filled with gifts for their grand kids.

So what my neighbor had been looking forward to as a nice vacation, warm weather and children's birthday parties ended up being a very somber, depressing time. Most of the time her granddaughter and son-in-law were at the hospital and she just hung around and looked after her great-grand kids.

The mother had been on heart medication and checked out fine just 10 days earlier. They think it might have been a massive, undetected blood clot.

Gosh. How awful.

Wrapped up my week

February 18th, 2012 at 12:59 pm

As I think will become my custom, I wrapped up my "work week" this afternoon. Wednesdays and Thursdays are full days at the office and Friday is at home, but there seem to have been a variety of other things happening on my Fridays which prevents me from putting in a full day of work. So I wrap up with a few extra hours on Saturday. (But then I have Monday and Tuesday "off" if I have no freelance work.)

I'm happy to report a small Craig's List sale of $20, and I decided to meet my buyer where I do my grocery shopping, to make it easier for him. He bought my indoor bicycle stand. It basically converts a regular outdoor bike into an indoor stationery bike. It goes for about $80 online, but I'm happy with the sale because I myself bought it used, for about the same price, two summers ago at a church silent auction.

I was so hepped up about getting one of them that when i saw it in the silent auction, I signed up and then stalked the table to make sure I could counter-bid if someone signed up for it. No one did.

But I quickly grew tired of the thing for two reasons: the main problem is that there's no resistance when you pedal. So you'd probably have to pedal for half hour just to tire yourself out. I suppose this might work ok for someone who's totally out of shape and couldn't handle an incline anyway, but I found it virtually pointless to use it. The other thing was, it's fairly noisy, even with padding under the stand.

I feel a little bad about selling it to the buyer without pointing out its shortcomings. Of course, no one pointed them out to me.

So i brought home my groceries and when i was unpacking them, i forgot to put away (in the fridge) a pound of cottage cheese and a pound of Kozy Shack pudding. Umm, they sat on the kitchen table for about 4 hours. I shall eat them anyway.

So one thing i am learning from my new job is that there's an incredible array of high quality, charming children's magazines out there. That's what I'm doing, updating our listings for our 2013 edition of our publication, which summarizes everything a freelance writer of children's stories would need to know if they wanted to browse and see which magazines they might like to write for.

I don't know if all of these were around when I was growing up, but I really feel I missed out. There was one I remember that is still around, called Highlights. But there are so many more that are beautifully illustrated with charming stories for all age ranges.

I also never knew how many Christian/religious magazines for children there are out there. Halleluiah! There are quite a few in the heartland.

After all the brou-ha-ha with my non-paying client, I decided to take down that post temporarily, until I see payment. No need to possibly muddy up the waters further if he, for whatever reason, might google the exact verbiage of his nasty notes to me, he would find them here on my blog and then know a whole lot more about me than I prefer.

So I'm sort of sitting on pins and needles this weekend becus what happens next depends a lot on how soon i get that check and can cash it (yes, I will run to the bank with it), and how soon wifey decides to drop in the office.

I'm guessing that when her manager talks to her about our conversation, she'll be one pissed off lady and I anticipate their trying to stop payment on the check (assuming they mailed it today as promised). Becus once they know I already spoke to her sales manager, they may figure the damage is done and there's no longer any need to pay me, becus her boss already knows all about it. So I'll be wanting to deposit it ASAP.

I have spoken to 2 male friends about the whole thing and both said they'd have no grounds for a lawsuit and that they're sleazeballs trying to pervert the rule of law. All to avoid a $50 bill.

In other news...

It's a rather dreary, cloudy day here, on the chilly side. Not conducive to doing much outdoors.

I bought some tilapia at $3.99 a pound and will have it tonight with a mushroom risotto and steamed broccoli. Tomorrow's dinner is already dethawing in the fridge. Frozen tomatoes from my garden and frozen black beans for a pumpkin black bean soup.

My neighbor returns from Florida today. Maybe i'll give her a call and see if she's back yet. She told me that the cost of the limo (not a real limo) to pick her up at her house and bring her to the NY airport actually cost more than her airplane tickets, which i think were about $300. I know she hated spending the money, but it was her choice to go. She asked me again if I'd be interested in driving her and that she'd pay me, but driving to a NY airport is NOT my cup of tea. Frequent traffic backups, aggressive drivers and I'd probably get lost and then be on my own on the way back. Nooo, I don't think so. I've done her lots of favors in the past and I think she assumed I would do so, but thank God I got my mojo going and said no. It would be about an hour and a half one way.

Got paid today...nice feeling

February 16th, 2012 at 06:07 pm

This first paycheck was a bit bigger than the rest of 'em will be, only because of the day I happened to start work and where that day was in their bi-weekly pay cycle.

So it was net $449 for 4 days of work. Yippee.

Tomorrow's my work at home day. Today at the office I worked straight through without breaking for lunch, so i got in a solid 8 hours of work.

This past week has been pretty intense. Everything is just new, every process, every procedure, and the brain can only take in and absorb so much at one time. Quark is still new to me, and so is FileMaker. Remembering what it's like to work on a Mac... and since having two computers with monitors side by side is conducive to doing this job, I've using one mac and one PC.

The PC is a pain to use. The keyboard is so old some of the letters have worn off the keyboard. The mouse is not working properly and causes things to bounce up and down when you try to use the center scroll bar. I'm not sure they want to buy a new one. The monitor is so small that you can't bump up the font size, which i like to do cus i can't read mousetype anymore, or else you lose the edges of the website andhave teo keep scrolling back and forth to read it.

The internet/DSL is super slow. Everything at this company is old, and acts like it.

Then there's learning a thousand new procedures, having to keep 2 time sheets (1 for paycheck purposes and 1 to track how much time you're spending on different things, research vs. database, etc.), plus remembering to punch in and out of the digital time clock each day/lunch.

The place is so dingy; I still haven't gotten used to it. There's a tacky, dusty old fake pot of flowers on my desk, but I don't want to start dragging a lot of stuff in there, like a nice houseplant, cus I really hope i don't stay there that long and want to be able to leave quickly and easily when I find a real job.

Half the wallpaper is torn off the bathroom walls, as if someone had started to re-wallpaper but then thought better of it. The floors are not level and the carpet is saggy and wrinkled in places.

The editor seems like a very uptight, edgy person. You can hear it immediately in her voice and the way she speaks, in clipped, terse tones talking 100 miles per hour all the time. That's how it was when I first walked in the door this morning, she and another person. It kind of stresses me out. Luckily, we both like classical music, so we had both tuned in our computers to the local classical music station to soothe the soul. There are just 5 of us in editorial.

But I think the worst is over in terms of the learning curve.

Had a couple of quickie emails to edit for the IT guy when I came home. the United Health Care job evaporated into thin air. Got an email from the recruiter saying the company had decided to put it on hold for now. So I basically have no active leads going on right now, which is so discouraging. The jobs come and they go.

I'm sure I must be becoming awfully boring, like a one-trick pony, cus all i can talk about is work and job prospects. Sorry, folks.

Boycott Valentine's Day

February 14th, 2012 at 08:13 am

http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/family-money/should-you-boycott-valentines-day-1329174458509/

It's worth a thought.

Cauliflower & Cheddar Soup - yum

February 12th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Here's the yummy soup I made today, cauliflower and cheddar soup.



It's really easy, and super yum.

Cook a whole cauliflower head, broken up into flowerets, or 2 16 oz. frozen packages of cauliflower, in 1 cup water til soft. Reserve 1 cup of the cooked flowerets and put the remaining cauliflower with its liquid in the blender to puree. Set aside.

Saute a chopped up onion in one-quarter cup of butter til soft, then gradually add a half-cup of flour and stir. Then add 1 cup of chicken broth, 2 cups of 2% milk, the pureed cauliflower, the cauliflower florettes and 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese with 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.

Heat but do no boil. Garnish with green onion.

More teeth-gnashing job-related decisions

February 12th, 2012 at 08:40 am

Today, after mulling it over all weekend, I decided not to pursue 2 jobs I had interviews set up for Monday and Tuesday.

You may think I'm being awfully fussy for someone who's been out of work so long. But I ended up bowing out of both jobs for 2 very different sets of reasons, which I think are valid.

1. The crossword puzzle editing job.
When I applied, I thought the lowest this job could pay would be in the $40K range, but I was wrong on that. When I learned the pay was just $29K, it didn't sound like it would be enough to even cover my expenses. But I like to keep my options for as long as possible, til I'm ready to make a decision, so I didn't reveal any hesitation to the editor when i spoke to her on the phone last Friday.

My net monthly pay after taxes would be $1928 (based on $29K a year gross)

My MINIMUM monthly expenses are $2400.

That's a monthly short-fall of nearly $500. And this is a full-time job!

Add in likely monthly savings of $250 a month for cheaper health insurance with them, but deduct $143 a month for gas, and I would net just $2035, still short of my minimum monthly expenses.

I would have little time or energy to do freelance to make up for the shortfall.

Next spring when my mortgage is paid off, it will be different. My monthly minimum expenses would fall to $1800. So, ok, I'd have an extra $235 a month in my pocket. Just not enough.

When I figure my minimum monthly expenses, I DON'T include things like: car repairs, retirement/IRA savings, clothing, home maintenance, Netflix or occasional lunch out. Nothing like that. I'm getting tired of living like this. What's the point of a long commute and full-time work if it doesn't even alleviate some of these budget shortfalls?

I just don't want to get back into that kind of daily grind/commute if I'm getting so little back for it. Quality of life is a really big deal to me. If I'm earning so little, it should at least be a local job to compensate for that.

The only reason the editor called me for this job is becus a very good friend of mine put in a call to the wife of a very good friend of his, and the wife happens to be #2 in the company. While the editor I spoke to on the phone seemed super nice, she did question my wanting to drive all that distance, and at that time i just tried to allay her concerns.

2. The senior writer job at large IT research firm.
This job would be over an hour drive, so in this sense, the long commute would be a similar issue, though more so. But there are other issues: it appears a regular part of this job would be traveling to conferences and interviewing analysts attending them so I could write up white papers which are later sold to their clients. I don't much care for business travel, would have issues getting someone to take care of the cats and it's just not something I enjoy. The other thing is, while I apparently met all their requirements (like being someone who worked at a large firm and agency before in financial services or some other heavily regulated field), I don't have a lick of background (or interest) in IT stuff, and that's what this company is all about. So I'm passing on this one too, although the money for this perm job would be quite good.

So what's left? I'm still very much interested in the United Health Care contract job and will call the recruiter for that one to see if he's gotten feedback from the company on my resume yet.

What really miffed me is this guy insisted on knowing how much money I wanted (on an hourly basis). I tried to sidestep that and just bluntly said if he could tell me their range, it would probably expedite things. He ignored that. So I ended up telling him $30s, meaning somewhere between $30 an hour and $39 an hour.

I guess that was really much lower than I needed to go, becus I saw that the company has also retained not one, but TWO other headhunters to find someone for the job, and one of these other headhunter agencies posted the job as paying $48 to $53 an hour!!

So, I decided to apply for the same job with these 2 other agencies. If all these submissions result in an interview with one of the other 2 agencies rather than the first, then I will of courses, up my salary requirements. As it is, if something comes thru with the first guy, I will insist on $39 an hour. Becus I'm quite sure that they and United Health Care have already worked out what UHC will pay them. A portion of that payment will go to me and the rest the agency keeps. So obviously, the less I earn the more the agency gets and I'm sure they like it that way. But if the company talks to me and decides I'm the one they want, I don't see how the agency could refuse to pay me at the top end of my scale if I insist. They'd be forced to give me what I wanted becus if not, then they don't get paid either.

The other job I'm now very interested is a 100% remote job with unknown company doing marketing writing. Unclear whether it's p/t or f/t but it is contract work through a recruiter. This looks like a highly desirable job to me. The only thing is the job posting was old, 23 days old. I checked the recruiter website and it seems like it's still an active posting. I somehow hadn't seen it earlier.

In the meantime, I still have the 3 day a week publishing job. With the weekly quotas they've set for us for the number of listings they want us to complete, it's not an easy job and a bit of a grind. I barely met that quota at the end of my 3 day workweek, and the quota will only rise over time. I'm hoping I'll be gone before it rises in early summer, but who knows? Like just about every other place I know, they're trying to squeeze the maximum amount of work out of you for the least amount of pay.

Just trying to do the best I can. It ain't easy.