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Archive for July, 2012

When you don't have money, pay in string beans

July 30th, 2012 at 06:39 pm

You may have read in my earlier posts that I discovered a largish hornets' nest hanging from a tree next to my driveway. It's in what I'd consider a fairly high traffic location, just three feet off the ground and next to grass I need to mow. If a passenger opened a car door into the shrub on that side, disaster would ensue.

I am leery of trying to spray the nest myself. For one thing, I don't know anyone who has goggles I could borrow and having already been stung twice in as many weeks, I just don't relish getting anywhere near that hive.

After a brief search online, I did go so far as to email contact a Connecticut man who apparently earns a living from collecting hornets/bees and other stingers from homeowners in distress. The best part about it is that he uses NO toxic chemicals AND, while the stingers do lose their lives, their venom is used by medical labs for research.

I received a callback this morning from the man's wife, who described what he would do and his fee, $200. I thanked her for taking the time to call me but explained that I could not afford that fee. She offered a discount that would bring it down to $150. I told her that was a generous discount but explained my employment situation. She then encouraged me to make an offer of a "tip" of $20 or $50 and, because he was going to be in my town tomorrow, perhaps he would be willing to do it. (He lives a good hour away.) I said I would be thrilled if he would do it for $25, and I also offered a surplus of green string beans from my garden to "sweeten the pot." Smile

She called me back later to confirm that he would do it tomorrow. I consider it a pretty good deal. (Doesn't help with my yellow jackets in the ground issue, but if I'm back from driving J. tomorrow when the bee man arrives, I will ask him about that.

My instructions are to 1. leave a white towel or rag where the nest is to help him locate it easily and 2. leave an extension cord plugged into my garage. (He uses some sort of vacuum device.)

I forgot to ask what happens with whatever hornets happen to be outside the nest when he vaccuums them up. Everything I've read about it is that you're supposed to kill the nest when all inhabitants are inside, at night.

Anyway, what this little scenario tells me is that times are tough these days for everyone. I imagine that doing away with rogue hornets and bees is not a big money-maker, but because he was willing to be flexible on price (in a really big way), we both benefit.

At first, when his wife said he was going to be in my town tomorrow, it sounded like the kind of thing someone tells you to pressure you into making a quick decision. I tested her by asking of the street address they were going to before me and she did give me the address, one which they wouldn't likely have known about had they not actually been going there. (It's called, "The Old Road.")

Maybe the guy is a beekeeper and enjoys working with these insects. At least by helping me out with my hive, he gets gas money to pay for the trip down here and then he can keep what he makes for the other customer free and clear.

Got stung

July 30th, 2012 at 12:23 am

A day after my Craig's List buyer got stung by paper wasps/hornets, I also got stung today.

However, the wasp nest is in the front yard, by the driveway. I got stung today in the backyard, as I was mowing the lawn. It was the same area where I got stung maybe 2 weeks ago.

Bothtimes I got stung, I carefullly, cautiously looked for a yellow jacket ground nest, but saw no insect activity and assumed it was just a "stray" yellow jacket (or whatever) that was grazing in the grass and which I must've run over.

But twice in the same area has me thinking there must be a nest in the ground that I just can't see. The only way you can spot it is to watch for any kind of flying insects in the grass and try to catch where they're coming from.

When I was stung today, I was so freaked out I yelled "Owwaargh!" and then I let go the mower and RAN, stumbling and falling into a wire fence I had just lifted off a birch tree seedling so I could mow around it. Luckily, I wasn't further hurt.

I took some Benadryl right away but it's still quite red and swollen, near my knee. It's amazing how hot it is to the touch.

I guess at the least I will have to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when I mow back there. I need to find the ground nest or I'll just keep going over it. Not sure I want to leave the whole area unmowed for the rest of the season.

I also wondered if the insects that have stung me twice could be from the hornet nest in the front yard. If there are as many hornets as they say there are (hundreds) living in a nest like that, I guess they could be combing my entire yard.

Anyway, I planted the three hypertufa pots that have cured and will do pix tomorrow.

Also picked an English cucumber, stringbeans and 2 zucchini, as well as some collard leaves which I blanched and froze.

I continued work pulling out pachysandra roots from the front of the house and have been sawing away at the stubs of the shrubs I cut, hoping they won't sprout leaves.

Craig's Lister stung by hornets in my driveway

July 28th, 2012 at 05:12 pm

Well, the good news is I sold an old teak cabinet for $50 today. I never had so much response to a Craig's listing before. Maybe 8 or 9 responses. Perhaps I underpriced it, but I really just wanted to get rid of it. It was the top half of a hutch I got after my grandmother passed away. (I'd given away the bottom half, which looked very dated, to a neighbor who wanted it for storage.) I had painted it because I disliked the dark wood, but it was really just too big for my small rooms here, and I'm in the midst of a declutter binge.

I was happy, and I think Grandma would be happy, to see it go to the young couple that showed up, recently married. He is from Sweden.

The bad news is, as they carried the cabinet down my front lawn to the driveway, they brushed into a large viburnum in the front lawn. Unbeknownst to me, there is a good-sized hornet nest hanging hidden in the leaves, and she got stung several times.

She said she isn't allergic. I offered her some benadryl but she turned it down and said she was ok. They didn't seem to think it a big deal and said it was their fault cus they really jostled the hive and they were swarming all over the place. I'm a little worried becus I know from experience that even one sting, at least for me, swells up for at least several days.

I sure hope I'm not "liable" for anything should she pursue medical treatment, or be urged to do so by others.

Now I have the dilemma of what to do about that hive. It's just slightly smaller than a football. I believe you're supposed to wait til nearly dark and all the hornets are in the hive, and then spray them after adequately suiting up for protection.

My preference would be to wait til a hard frost kills them in October, but that's 3 months from now, and I mow in that area. In fact, I just mowed through there yesterday! I could give them wider berth and perhaps I'd be ok. Nowt hat i know it's there, I'm really surprised (and grateful) that I didn't get stung when I mowed there. I got stung once this year already.

Sweet reward...

July 27th, 2012 at 02:02 pm

Drove J. to work this a.m. as per the routine and he's already paid me for my first week of driving him...$200 cash. Smile

I'm really appreciative of that since 2 other streams of income have dried up for much of July. That would be the loss of the publishing job, which is permanent, of course, and then temporary suspension of unemployment benefits.

It's possible I get the held up unemployment checks released before month's end, but I don't think it will amount to much anyway since I had to report some freelance income. I may or may not get the severance paycheck from the publishing job if the prez follows through and mails it out promptly. (He wrote back to me yesterday after I inquired about it and he apologized about simply forgetting to cut the check.) He put it in writing that he would do so, so I'm not too worried that I won't get it.

Last night we had, as they say in Boston, a "wicked bad" thunderstorm. It moved through quickly, though. Today is again just as muggy and uncomfortable as yesterday.

I find my energy and productivity level are directly tied to my personal (physical) comfort level, and that in turn is directly connected with the weather. It would be different if I had air conditioning here, but I do not, so when the weather gets super humid/hot, I don't get much done, indoors or out. I get like that in the winter, too. I keep the house so cool that I don't do much, and that kind of inactivity for half the year is not a good thing.

Summer is my personal "prime time" since I mow the lawn 2 or 3 times a week, do a great deal of other yeardwork, am busy harvesting and preserving food for winter use and doing a bunch of other things. But I need to keep my activity level up in winter so I don't get that seemingly inevitable weight gain.

For the month of July, I had higher than usual expenses, as I had to pay car insurance and borough insurance. I also spent an extra $800 or so due to paying off the mortgage, and the first of two annual installments on my property taxes, $3300, will be due in August. However, August will also be the first month when I won't have to make a mortgage payment.

Yesterday I picked a bunch of collard leaves, blanched them and then froze them. There is nothing so satisfying as being able to grow your food during the warm weather months of plenty and then preserving them for the cold days of winter. I also saved and froze the water I used to blanch the collards, since they are homegrown and I can use it as a soup base to capture those nutrients otherwise lost.

Like the proverbial ant, it makes me feel more secure after having filled up my oil tank (to get me through the first half of winter) and a freezer full of homegrown produce.

Me thinks I will blanch some string beans today. I keep checking the soybeans, but I don't think they are ready. It is possible I won't have a crop at all and that the reason they are so small is due to insufficient water.

I will be planting a fall crop of lettuce in early August.

What's your magic number?

July 26th, 2012 at 07:40 pm

A number of years ago, I determined that my retirement savings goal was $1.2 million. That's the amount I calculated I needed to live comfortably in retirement and enjoy my various retirement hobbies after using several different retirement calculators. (Actually, I never met a retirement calculator I didn't like! Whenever I come across a new one, I try it!)

I came across a good article about saving your way to a million dollars here:

I'd be curious to know:

1. Do you have a retirement savings goal?
2. If you do, how much is it?
3. How much of your retirement goal have you achieved, at (roughly) what age?

A little unscientific poll!

Low-Key Thursday

July 26th, 2012 at 05:20 pm

Not much going on with me today.

I'm still adjusting to my new routine of driving J. to work in the a.m., picking him up at 5 and then molding my own routine around that.

I am certainly getting to know a lot about him, his family, work background, even how much money he makes, what the jail experience was like. He is the talkative type, while I don't like to go into a lot about my personal life until i get to know someone better. I assume he doesn't mind that.

Tomorrow will be the eagerly awaited "payday" of $200 for this first week of driving.

I am now in the soaking stage with my various hyptertufa pots. After the 3-week curing process, during which time they need to dry, slowly, you then soak them in a container of water for 3 days, to leach out the alkilinity that could harm plants.

I will post photos once this is done and they are finally planted with succulents. It has been a trial and error process, to be sure. I did have 2 pots crumble as I handled them, something I'd read about could happen online.

Yesterday was a nice weather day so I got a lot done.

Did a load of laundry and hung it out to dry. Picked some collard greens, blanched them and then froze them for winter stews.

I worked more on my front foundation bed where I cut down 3 overgrown mountain laurels and an unknown shrub. There's also thickly grown pachysandra in there so that will take the most time to dig out all those roots. I'm wearing a mask now because I've found small pieces of the old asbestos shingles that were removed from my house last summer and I don't want to breathe any possible dust in that settled in the soil/pachysandra.

I think it will be too back-breaking to try to dig out the roots of the shrubs, so I will try cutting them down further to as close to ground level as I can and hope they slowly die. Maybe cover them with a black pastic bag to block sunlight so new shoots don't form.

Then I will have a go at the pachysandra roots with a shovel. I see some cracks where an ugly basement window well, made of concrete, has cracked where it meets the foundation. This should be repaired before I do any planting. I may try to do it myself.

I'm a little concerned becus i haven't received my 2 weeks of severance pay and the note i sent the payroll person on Tuesday has gone unanswered. I hope she wasn't unaware that the prez of company told me he'd pay me severance, but what was I to do? He'd said it was to be mailed, and I should have had it by Saturday since checks were cut last Thursday.

If I don't have it in today's mail, I will send an email to the president.

I also haven't heard back from BP. I sent an email to them about a $10 gift card I won from their forum that was not accepted at a local BP station.

I guess I will wait until tomorrow to bill my real estate client for the brochure I wrote. Had sent it last Friday, didn't hear from them til i inquired yesterday, and she just said it'd been crazy since J. returned from vacation, so they hadn't really looked at it yet. My bill really needs to be $462. I hope that doesn't surprise them, as it's a bit higher than my typical PR or magazine article, but i spent quite a bit of time on it....but i would feel better if they let me know they love it before i send them the bill!

Still working on charging up my Amex Premier card, to earn the $250 in gift card rewards. I haven't gotten the first month's statement yet, but I've charged up over $380. Need to get to $2,000 charged in 3 months time. I still have left over grocery gift cards from a prior rewards card, but have been charging grocery purchases so I can apply it to this card. The older gift cards can be spent later.

Haven't heard about the PR job I interviewed twice for. Making me nervous and discouraged. I applied for another few jobs this a.m. but decided yesterday to turn down another one-time job, doing a voice recording for an Indian guy who wrote a sixth grade science book for his daughter and wanted someone with an American accent to record it like a book on tape. And I thought the Japanese were crazy focused on education. I had expressed interest in this a few weeks ago when i saw the ad, but it was just a one-time thing for $60 and he lives about an hour a way. I'd have to meet with him to get the book and some special software he had that would allow me to record my voice. It sounded a little complicated for just $60, especially with all the driving i'm doing now, i'd like to conserve my car if I can. But I suggested to him that he try posting a flyer in the local library. He had said he wanted to find someone local and I was the most local who responded to his ad. the libary would ensure that, plus anyone there you could assume was a reader.

Hot as Hades Again

July 24th, 2012 at 07:32 pm

Another blistering hot day, but it's bearable because it will be only for today, and then back again to more seasonable 80s and lower humidity.

I've begun driving J. to and from work, as described in earlier posts. I have not yet made my mind up about him. He may be one of those people who knows how to ingratiate himself to others, for various reasons.

Invariably, when you're driving with someone, you do get to talking, and I imagine if I continue driving him I will get to know him pretty well. (I remember how well I got to know my neighbor Stephen a few years back when we decided to carpool together one summer.)

Yesterday he started talking about how he was trying to get his kids to eat healthy and so on and this impressed me, because while he's well-spoken, he does have a bit of a blue collar edge to him. Maybe it's the many colorful tattoos up and down his arms. But it was only much later that I realized he must've seen the sticker on my passenger side window that says "The Future is Organic." So he already knew this was something that was important to me. So I wondered if he was just...manipulating my impressions of him.

He also broached another conversation, after learning that I have 2 cats, by saying that vets can be so expensive. Oh, yes, I said, that's for sure. Then he said, even for euthanasia. I said, yes, I know, it is. Well, I didn't know what he was leading up to, a disclosure that when the family's last cat got sick, he never took it to the vet. They let it suffer and ultimately die at home, albeit, after letting the kids say their goodbyes. Then he buried it in the backyard.

I'm sorry, but this strikes me as cruel and inhumane. If you adopt an animal, you also take on the responsiblity to care for its wellbeing its entire life. He decided he didn't want to spend the money.

I withheld my opinion because this was, after all, the first day of this "job" and I certainly need the money.

so now he's talking and saying he wants to get a new kitten, but the shelters he's applied to turned him down because he said it would be an outdoor cat and shelters feel (and rightly so) the out of doors are largely unsafe for cats due to traffic, stray dogs, coyotes, etc.

So he said if you know anyone who's giving away free kittens, let me know. Yeah, right. On top of that, he lives in an apartment above a real estate office on an extremely busy secondary highway. His entry door is literally 6 feet away from the edge of this highway. All stores, gas stations and asphalt. Hardly the place for a small cat or kitten. I pointed this out to him and he oh yeah, the cat would have to be an indoor cat for quite a while. I'm not sure if that meant he would eventually let it outside or if he might move or something.

The heat has prevented me from doing further work on my front of house landscaping but I did manage to haul away everything I cut and drag them down to woodsy peiphery of property where I commonly dump tree branches.

This morning, after dropping J. off at work, I returned home to wait for a scheduled phone call/hearing with Dept of Labor about my being fired from the publishing job. It seemed to go okay and I'm pretty sure there won't be a problem continuing to get my remaining unemployment benefits although it could still be another week or so before they resume.

After that, I ran to the library so I could use their fax to send a form to the unemployment office. I had to pay $1.50 to send one page on the fax!! DOL says they don't accept email due to virus concerns. Well, how about entering the 21st century and getting some anti-virus software. I mean, aren't fax machines largely obsolete anyway?

After that, I went to the landfill and from there on to Unilver to drop off the final questionnaire for a shampoo/conditioner product study for which I'll eventually receive $60.

After that I hit Shop Rite, which was having a sale on California grapes, plums and broccoli, all for .99/pound. Also got some postage stamps there, which saved me a trip to a post office on the way home.

This afternoon after I drop off J. at home, i'll hit Walgreen's on my way home where I can get a $3 gallon of milk. I'm trying to reduce my driving still further now that I'm driving him to what amounts to 2 hours a day, which seems like so much. Just hope my old car can stand up to it.

it's all local driving, but it does add up. He lives and works right off the same road, and I live between where he lives, and where he works. But if you include my driving to his place (15 minutes east), then to his work (25 minutes west) and then back to my home (10 minutes east) that comes to about 50 minutes of actual driving, 2x a day. Timewise, it's more like 60 minutes of time 2x a day due to my needing to arrive at least 5 minutes early for each pickup.

At my next oil change, I'll have the mechanic also check all fluids, the air filter, battery, brakes, belts, air pressure and anything else he thinks could "go."

This past month I made four separate batches of hypertufa planters in various shapes and sizes. All have been curing in the garage, and when I think of it, I spritz them with water to facilitate a "slow" cure, which results on strong, more durable pots. So my first batch is about done curing after 3 weeks time. It's now time to put them outside and keep them filled with fresh water for at least 3 days, to leach out lime that could harm plants. After that, they will be ready to plant! can't wait to see what they look like.

Much accomplished

July 23rd, 2012 at 03:54 pm

I certainly got a lot accomplished yesterday, yardwork-wise. I'm by no means done, in fact, I'm never "done" with yardwork.

What possessed me to start an entirely new project that will mean even more work? Not sure, but I had a moment of inspiration mixed with bravado after drinking a bottle of Otter Creek ale on the front stoop. That COULD have something to do with it!

I was sitting out there, looking around and thinking that overall, despite several consecutive years of winter pruning of my mountain laurel foundation plants, that passers by would probably still be inclined to say many of the shrubs around the house are overgrown.

Well, that's true, The foundation plants are mostly mountain laurel and rhododendron; both are 2 stories high and got to be that way partly becus deer will browse them.

In the front, they are not 2 stories, but still high enough to partially obscure the 2 front first floor windows.

Also, I've been thinking about selling the place in a few years and I know i've had a longstanding problem with a high water table. The basement never gets wet per se, but the concrete floor does get damp spots. I've noticed in the past week or so that, despite no rain, the entire front part of the floor extending in from the front wall is damp, about 3 feet inward.

On the other side of that wall, outside, is a thick bed of pachysandra and the aforementioned mountain laurel. It would be my hope that by cutting the shrubs WAY back and removing the pachysandra, that area could possibly dry out enough that the dampness doesn't creep in along the basement floor.

This is an issue. I think that regrading would help on the east, north and west sides, however, that would be a major expense and major damage to existing shrubbery. It also wouldn't be possible on at least the left half of the front of house since this is where I have a stone staircase and retaining wall, where these plants are.

I have pulled out the pachysandra on the north and west sides, and along the driveway becus in tick country, they say it holds in the moisture and makes for prime tick habitat.

So....I got my handsaw and cut down to just a few inches above ground, 3 mountain laurel shrubs on the left side of house front. This was hard to do. It's a gorgeous plant when in bloom, and the state plant of Connecticut, no less! But they were overgrown, and while I cut them down somewhat last winter, they grow back very slowly and honestly look very ungainly after a pruning.

There is also one more giant shrub to their left, forget what it is, but it takes a hard pruning well. However, it's so big, and since this little plot is where my stone stairs are, i have to prune it from a step ladder in the driveway and i can never get the very top of it.

So I want to really prune that down to TINY as well, If it dies, I won't be heartbroken, but I think it's very hardy.

Here you can see the stumps of 3 mountain laurel I cut; they were the same height as the large shrub in the background, which will also come out or be pruned way down. You can see how you enter my front door by walking from the driveway up the stone stairs. The picture was taken from my front door.

After cutting down the 3 mountain laurel (don't know if they will live or die at this point), I started pulling out very crowded pachysandra. The roots are all over the place, very thickly matted.

Here's a large pile of pulled pachysandra from just this small area!

Here are the mountain laurels I cut down. Notice the size.

What I envision here in their place are at least 2 autumn joy sedums, which grow in a nice round cluster and don't generally try to take over the place. It gets morning sun...wondering if that's enough.

I have other autumn joy sedum very nearby, but they are a bit further from the house and so remain in sun longer, before the house shades them in the afternoon.

I'm going for neat and tidy here. I don't want huge and towering, which is the feeling you get currently as you climb the stairs to the front door.

It will take a while before I'm able to plant anything, cus i want to make sure I get all visible pachy roots, or it will regrow. Which it has done in other places, but I can easily spot the little rebels and will often pull or dig them out with a hand trowel.

This morning was my first day of driving the guy who lost his driver's license. We dropped off his kids too. He showed me a back way to go to the school, and get to his apt., that avoided a very busy intersection literally at his front door.

More interesting condo conundrums

July 22nd, 2012 at 08:28 pm

Another thing I noticed is that there are a small number of two-story units in the condo complex I'm looking at. The rest, probably 90% or better, are one-story.

As you can imagine, in a 55+ community, the vast majority of people are going to want to live in a one-story unit.

So I've noticed that there's a sizeable price discount on the two-story units, which seem to be pretty consistently $10,000 cheaper.

Now yeah, i really liked the idea of one-story living, particularly with my pre-existing condition; who knows how I'll be 10 years from now.

But buying a unit that's $10,000 cheaper on average, well, that's a sizeable discount. That $10,000 could pay for 4 or 5 vacations abroad, for instance.

It's also a nice compromise between having to choose between the "Crest" complex with no organized clubs/acitvities to speak of, with lower common charges but higher purchase price, OR the cheaper priced Village with its higher common charges but built-in social life.

Getting the $10K discount if I bought a 2-story unit in the Village would make up for the higher common charges for the first 3 or 4 years, anyway, and i wouldn't have to sacrifice the built-in social life aspect.(As I recall, Crest common charges were around $225/mth, 2-bedrooms at the Village, $512.

I will have to analyze things more closely. it's been a while since i looked at Crest prices. I also think they had more privacy, but I should look again if an open house at one of those units presents itself. I have plenty of time. It's just 20 minutes from home, plus the Shop Rite I go to is in that town, so i could arrange with the relator i like to check out some other units when i do my grocery shopping.

The things that are most important to me are:

1. I want a very updated unit with newer kitchen and baths, carpeting, wood floors, or as much of that as possible. After living in an 85 year old house, I'm thinking new, new new. I've more than willing to downsize in terms of square footage, but I want to "upsize" in terms of condition and amenities.

2. Outdoor privacy very important. I'd like to be able to sit out on my patio preferably without seeing or hearing neighbors or work in my garden area without anyone having the ability to watch me.

3. Ability to do some gardening. Both the Village and Crest allow you to do that. I know that at the Village, you have to just submit an application and tell them what you plan to do. Once you start putting in trees and/or shrubs or whatever, it becomes your responsiblity to maintain it. (Fine with me.) If something dies and you don't get rid of it, though, the Assn will do so for you and then bill you! Also, i'd definitely bring my hummingbird feeder along, and the regular bird feeder, though I can see how neighbors might complain about the regular bird feeder becus of the mess they can make.

Decluttering and...a future without cats?

July 22nd, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Well, my Open House forays over to my favorite condo complex these last 2 weeks have inspired me to do some decluttering around here in preparation for the day when I move into a smaller living space. (Probably in 2 years time at the earliest since I would need to be 55 to live there.)

There is an adjacent, much smaller complex that's very similar to the one I like, and there is no age restriction there, but the people living at this second complex also can't take part in the many social outlets the first one offers.

While the pricing for the age-restricted one is much lower asking price, substantially higher common charges, around $500 a month for a 2-bedroom, the prices for the 2nd complex are substantially HIGHER but the common charges are much LOWER. So not sure where you'd save money in the long run. Also the garages at the non-age-restricted place are attached while garages are a short walk from your unit in the age-restricted ones.)

So back to decluttering. I have the following for sale on Craig's List:

1. Large teak cabinet with glass doors. $50. This has garnered the most response, but only 1 person has actually come to see it and though she said she would return to buy it in an hour with 2 strong men yesterday, she failed to show up or even bother to let me know she'd changed her mind. And she's on her Smartphone while she's talking to me. Hate that!

2. Old rocking chair, $25. Seat will need to be reupholstered. One woman expressed strong interest, traded emails back and forth, then she said she had a funeral to go and would be in touch. Hmm.

3. Set of 12 acrylic summer drinking glasses, $12

4. Antique cherry pitter, $25

5. Kill-a-Watt Meter, still in the box, $17

6. Set of 3 grilling utensils, s/s and wood, brand new, $10.

I'm also giving away 2 small plastic cat carriers, and supposedly have a taker coming this morning. That one's free, posted on Freecycle.

It's a little annoying dealing with people and their bad manners. Just tell me straight out if you changed your mind. You can even do it over email and I'd be fine with that.

Ah, well. I saw another 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit at the condo place. Just as nice as the first, though this one was priced higher at $200K.

i even liked the realtor too, due to his straight talk to me about how many of the units there have those popcorn ceilings with asbestos, and then explaining a little about the management's policy regarding them. If they start flaking or whatever, they will pay expenses and remove and replace it, but of course you'd have to vacate while they do that. Otherwise, it's painted and remains in place.

The unit had a gorgeous kitchen and nice baths. To me, those are the most important things, along with a new or recently replaced ac/heat system, which, this realtor said, could cost $10K to replace.

All the other stuff would be much easier to fix, like replacing/updating those old ugly closet doors and hardware and lighting fixtures. (The complex was built in the 1960s.)

The only thing that occurred to me with these condos is that there's no good place to put a cat litter box! Here at home, they're in the basement, the perfect spot since the cats scratch and regularly make a mess with the litter. But these condos have no basement, and everything is either wood floor, ceramic tile or carpeting. I'd probably have to dedicate the 2nd bathroom to their stinky litter and be sure to clean it daily. But I really can't stand the smell in the main living area of the house.

Although I love my cats dearly, I do believe that after they pass, I will try my hardest not to have cats anymore. Their hair gets all over the place, and they do sometimes track the litter, not to mention the stinky boxes in the basement. They would definitely scratch up and ruin the new carpets in these condos over time. Luther even likes to scratch the walls (!!) and I have wallpaper here! (Silent scream) I can't have nice drapes on the windows, or linens on the bed, because they scratch them. Right now I have hand towels draped over the arms of my leather armchair becus Luther's nails dug into the leather and left holes there. I spent $1200 on the archair/ottoman set 8 years ago and it kills me to see these things damaged, especially when i no longer have the money to replace them.

I have lived with animals all my life, and I am always so upset when they die that I say "Never again, can't stand the pain." But when Sitka died a few years ago, I was in so much misery that the only thing I knew would help me forget her was...getting 2 new cats. And so it goes.

There is one other concern that another visitor to the open house brought up with me: Would we as relatively young buyers in their 50s feel funny living in a senior complex? She said, Is it going to make me feel old faster to live with a bunch of seniors? I had the same question in my mind, though i figured that eventually, I'd fit right in and that perhaps when i was younger, i might prefer not to take part in as many of the social activities due to a greater age difference.

Update: here is a list of all their clubs!

Adventures in Ideas

Alcoholics Anon.

Ambulance Assoc.

American Legion

American Legion Aux.

Ancient Mariners


Ben Robin Golf Exchange

Bible Talk



Board Games


Bowling, Ten Pins

Bowling,Duck & Drakes

Bridge, Duplicate

Bridge, Wed. Night

Brush & Pencil

Camera Club
Canoe & Kayak

Celtic Connections

Chess Club

Civic Association

Clay Club

Computer Club

Current Events, AM

Concerned Residents Club

Current Events, PM

Dancing, Intíl Folk

Dancing, Tap

Democratic Club

Ethan Allan Library

Garden Plots-Flowers

Garden Plots-Vegetables


German Convers.

Golf, HV Menís Club

Great Decisions


Hadassah Book Disc.

Hiking Club

HV Ladies 9 Hole

Ice Skating

Italian Language

Italian Renaissance

Jewish Culture Club

Joy of Singing

Ladies Who Lunch

Low Vision Support

Macintosh Computer Club

Menís Club


Morning Musicale

New Villagers

Overeaters Anon.

PAC/Concert Society



Pomp. Ladies 9 Hole

Quilt Club


Reading Club

Recorder Group

Republican Club

River Garden Club
Sat. Night Social

Scandinavian Conversation

Senior Advocacy Club

Singers Workshop

Singers, Heritage

Singles Group

Sociable Dinners

Stained Glass Club

Stitch & Chat

Studio II Dark Room

Tai Chi

Stamp and Coin

Tennis Round Robin

Theatre Guild


Wall Street, Heritage

Water Aerobics

Womenís Club

Woodworking & Metal

Writersí Group

Yiddish Reading Circle


Welcome rain on a sleepy sort of Friday

July 20th, 2012 at 01:28 pm

Well, we needed the rain, and now we're getting it. It's supposed to rain all day. It's the kind of soft, gentle and steady rain I love, sans thunder and lightening. It will give me a break from daily watering duty of potted plants and frequent watering of the veggie garden.

Two or three mornings ago, I woke up with the worst pain toward the back of my right side. I often sleep in wierd positions, and I think that's what this is from. I was hoping it would work itself out by now, although I woke up again this morning and it's still extremely sore. I do hope it's not that my foam mattress, now about 5 or 6 years old, is losing its shape or anything. I always sleep on the same side; I should probably rotate it.

Today's the day I wanted to turn in a big sales brochure i wrote for real estate client. I pretty much finished it a while ago, but I wanted to take a step back from it and then revisit it for fine-tuning. So that's what I will do this morning, as soon as the cup of tea I just brewed kicks in and puts me in gear on this sleepy Friday.

After all the extreme heat we've had, it's actually CHILLY, just 68 inside the house. I had to put on a long-sleeved shirt and longer pants as my feet and arms were cold. Crazy.

I found another Open House scheduled for this Saturday for one of the nicer condos I looked at in the complex I've pretty much decided I want to live at. I guess I feel a sense of urgency becus I've been looking at some gorgeous units online that I know will be sold by the time I was ready to buy. There's really no rush as I still think I want to wait for housing prices to recover and since the condo complex is a 55+ community, technically, I'm too young now anyway to move there. I figure I'll want to move sometime within the next 7 years, though I also feel the sooner I move, the sooner, I achieve substantial savings in living expenses and also, it will be easier to pack up and sell the house while I still have the...some energy.

Here's the unit I'll see tomorrow...i really like the kitchen, the lighting fixtures and the gorgeous bathroom sink...

Being a frugal person who's into a simple lifestyle, I actually look forward to significantly downsizing my home from 1650 sf to probably 1400 sf. It doesn't sound like a huge reduction, but i would also be losing all the space in my full attic and basement, as well as a 3rd bedroom, a 2nd living room in my current home and a sun room.

It would require me to get rid of a lot of stuff, something that again, i look forward to doing. Too many possessions feels like a burden that ties me down. Although I've never been much of a pack rat, stuff still does accumulate over time.

Yesterday, I started cleaning out a filing cabinet of paperwork in the hopes of consolidating my current 4 2-drawer filing cabinets into 2 cabinets. While I did weed out a bunch of paperwork that will be shredded, I still need to do more. Half of the cabints are filled with writing samples from my 30 years of work. I'd thinned these out before, too, but still probably have many more copies than I'll ever need.

I also posted a few more things on Craig's List yesterday that I've tried to sell before. Don't know if the woman who expressed interest in the rocking chair will actually come through; she said she had a funeral to go to, so i don't know, she could just be making excuses.

I'm really happy I checked the weather report last night and decided around 7 pm that i should mow the front lawn before all the rain. Though I felt tired and sleepy, I managed to do so.

The 2nd interview

July 19th, 2012 at 06:54 pm

I had my 2nd interview at the PR agency this morning. I think it went very well. Meaning, it was one of the more unusual interviews in that she let me know they liked me and made encouraging comments. She was very personable and friendly. Normally, I seem to get the kind that are a complete closed book, ask a lot of "trick" questions out of a textbook they read somewhere and give you no idea how you are doing.

By using a net pay online calculator, I determined that this job, which would start at just 2 days a week, would net me enough money to cover all my essential monthly expenses! Unless she hired me at the very low end of the pay scale she quoted ($30-$45 an hour). (And again, very unusual for the employer to tell you their payscale, for which I am supremeley grateful becus it will help me position myself if and when the time comes to negotiate.)

But back to my original statement: Working just 16 hours a week will cover my basic expenses.

Don't forget, i just paid off my mortgage, and only by having done so is it now possible for me to do this. For anyone out there who is not sure that prepaying a mortgage is a good idea, well, I think this is as good a reason as any.

It is completely liberating to, for example, have the freedom to bypass a high paying but highly stressful job, or one with a long commute or other disadvantages, for more modest pay and a better quality of life. This is what I have wanted to do for my entire life, it seems. Work somewhere because I want to, not because I HAVE to, to pay the bills.

If she winds up making me an offer, I don't have to get the very top end of their pay scale, but I do plan to push for $40 an hour, which I think is reasonable, given my years of experience.

In the not-so-distant past, I might have just accepted whatever they offered, especially if I was coming into it from a period of unemployment, but I have learned the hard way that you are really hurting yourself, in a really substantial way, for as long as you hold that job.

I mean, you can struggle and cut expenses to the bare bone, but if you just gather up the gumption to at least TRY to negotiate your pay, you could eliminate make your life so much easier. Successfully saving is not just about cutting expenses and depriving yourself of various comforts. It also means maximizing income. I have always been very, very good at the self-deprivation part but lousy at negotiating pay. And it's only been in the last few years that I have realized this.

Men, it seems, more naturally negotiate pay while women tend to be more passive about it. With my extensive copywriting experience, which the person who interviewed me complimented me on at the very start of our meeting, I could easily make a case to come in at the higher end of her pay scale.

When I say the job would cover my "essential monthly expenses," I'm NOT including any unusual home maintenance, the vet, retirement savings, eating out or clothing. So I'm talking very bare minimum.

If I get hired, at the pay rate I'm shooting for, then I would have an additional $421 left over each month. It's been a LONG time since I had that happen.

And I'd still have 3 days a week to do my freelance work, not that i get that much of it, but whatever I could make from it would be icing on the cake. Perhaps I could even contribute something to my SEP IRA again.

I also don't know if the unemployment office, when calculating reduced benefits for someone who works part-time, goes by amount of weekly income or number of hours worked. If they go by hours worked, I might still receive something additional for unemployment benefits, which again would be very helpful.

Once again, though, we are not in Nirvana, because in June 2013, my COBRA ends. If I don't have a full-time job with benefits then, I will have to pay who knows what for health insurance, and maybe it wouldn't cover my pre-existing condition, I don't know. I'd almost be tempted to self-insure, but it seems like a huge risk and not having any idea how long I might have to go without that salaried job with benefits.

The woman I met today said that everyone the owner has ever hired has always started out p/t. The owner had told me start at 2 days a week, with the idea of going to 3. Today's interviewer said that even if I went to full-time, though, there are NO benefits. They are a very small company, maybe 10 people, so they are exempt from laws requiring employer provision of health insurance. Most of the women who work there are on their husband's plan. (I wish I had a husband.)

She was unusually candid, which i really appreciated. She said the owner can be hard to work for becus when there's a project that's especially important to her, she can micro-manage and keep changing your writing a lot, so if take that kind of thing personally, she said, you probably wouldn't work well here.

She mentioned that because their clients are all government agencies, they don't have the kind of crazy deadlines or insane hours that many PR firms have. Of course, being a part-timer, I would just leave at 5, regardless. Although I mentioned I'd welcome more hours if she was willing to pay me.

It's a 45-minute drive. I hope to get an offer next week. Not a done deal, as I have no idea who the other candidates might be, but I think I have a pretty good shot at it.

They just don't learn

July 18th, 2012 at 07:49 pm

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In its first public enforcement action, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced it is fining Capital One Bank for pressuring and misleading two million customers into buying additional products when they opened their credit card accounts.

The bank will refund roughly $140 million to customers and pay an additional $25 million penalty to the CFPB for using deceptive marketing tactics, the government's consumer watchdog said Wednesday.

This is the new bureau Obama created, the one fought so vociferously by the banks, who claimed they could "police ourselves."

No, i don't think so

July 17th, 2012 at 05:48 pm

Had the job interview today for the freelance "editor" job today at translation services company and based on new info received, not sure it's the best choice for me.

I guess I misunderstood the woman from the agency when she called. I THOUGHT she had said it was work at home, but that was actually a different job she called me about which was later put on hold by the employer.

So I was proceeding on the assumption it was work at home, when actually, they would want me there on the premises.

The work sounds even more tedious and dull than that transcribing job I did for exactly 1 day about 6 months ago. It's not editing, or even proofreading, by a long shot. While they don't want any glaring typos, they seem more concerned that the person who fills this job work fast. I'd need do a side by side comparison of the Japanese document and the translated-into-English document, checking that no entire paragraphs were dropped in the translation. How can I do this if I don't read Japanese? I would look for things that would carry over into the English verbatim, like people's names, numbers, dates and so on.

Not sure I could stand doing that for more than an hour or so, and with a 45-mintue drive, it wouldn't be worth doing for anything less than a full day.

So that's where we left it. I'm not sure he'd want to bother accommodating me in that regard (making sure he had a full day's work for me) becus it could prove more of a nuisance to him.

I'm not too shook up, though i am disappointed as i thought it was work from home. I start the driving job this Monday anyway, so in the back of my mind as I'm talking to the interviewer, I'm realizing there's no way I could do both jobs and I'm quickly trying to analyze which would be the better choice.

They both pay the same gross, $20 an hour, but the translation job would have taxes deducted, the driving job would not. The main difference is that while the driving job would be a mazimum 10 hours a week and i could do other freelance work for the rest of my day (if i had it), the translation job would probably be more than that most of the time. I think. Like full-time when they had the work. They are very busy right now with a lawsuit involving US Dept of justice suing Japanese carmakers for price fixing. they've been working on this one case for a year now.

I'm feeling very schmucky about maybe having to tell the guy i'm driving, soon after I start, that i can't do it after all. If I had known some other job prospects would pop up so quickly, i wouldn't have told him I'd do it, but who knew?

the best thing for me would be if i get the PR agency job where i'm going for a 2nd interview on Thursday. That would be just 2 days a week at much better pay. I would plan on telling them that due to a prior obligation, I would need to arrive at 9:15 am and leave at 4 pm on the 2 days a week i work there, just for the 1st 2 weeks. This would give the guy i'm driving time to find someone else. He will probably be very upset with me but hopefully would appreciate that i'm giving him 2 weeks notice. I could STILL continue driving him for the 3 days a week i wouldn't be working at the PR agency, but i don't know if he'd want to bother with that.

I would think that having 2 people driving you would make it easier to handle things should 1 of the drivers have an occasional something comes up. It should also make it easier for him to find someone to drive just 2 days a week. It does sort of tie you down. but again, he may be so pissed at me for begging out almost as soon as I start that he may not want to have anything to do with me. Oh well.

Well, since losing the publishing job, i guess it's to be expected that my work schedule/scenario goes thru a bit of an unsettled period. But I hope the ultimate outcome is an improved financial situation where I'm making more than i made at the publishing job.

That's a pretty low bar to jump, so hope it works out that way.

2 interviews lined up for this week

July 16th, 2012 at 09:07 pm

I hope you're not getting tired of hearing about the job search. It just goes on and on and on and on and well, you get the idea.

First interview is tomorrow morning for the freelance, work-at-home editing job for a company that specializes in translation services for law firms. Who knew there'd be that much work? I guess I'll learn more when I talk to them. It's mostly Japanese, although that part of it is irrelevant to me since I would be editing the English translations. I was told by recruiter that it would be full-time until a given project was finished, and then there might be a lull between jobs. She wasn't really sure how much work there might be.

I'm very interested in this job becus while it pays just $20 an hour, it is work at home and hopefully would be ongoing, on a project or as-needed basis.

My next interview is the 2nd visit to the PR agency in New York state. (Can we say 3rd tax return?) I would be meeting with one of the project managers that works for the owner, who i interviewed with first. This job would pay much better, between $30 and $45 an hour. It would be 2 full days a week, at their office, which is about a 45-minute commute.

I could conceivably do both jobs, depending on how tight the deadlines were at the legal editing job. If I needed to work weekends, that would be no problem.

I asked the guardian ad litem I've done legal editing for whether she'd be willing to serve as a reference. She seems to like my work and it's pretty similar to what i'd be doing at the new job as far as editing legal briefs and such. Even if she says no, I will still bring a sample brief of hers i edited, with all my editing marks, to show the interviewer.

The weather is just awful. It "only" got up to about 88 today, but the humidity level is at 79%, which is really unbearable. Tomorrow will be hotter, up to 95, HOWEVER the humidity is supposed to be down to 49%, so it should be much more comfortable.

Translating pickles into rocking chairs?

July 16th, 2012 at 03:41 pm

The agency called and said the translation services company wants to see me for a quick interview this afternoon. I asked if we could do it tomorrow. It's a 40-minute drive and I'm hot, sweaty and tired. Hopefully tomorrow will be a go.

A woman wants to come see the rocking chair I'm selling. Possibly this afternoon. She is apparently willing to drive an hour, coming up all the way from Greenwich.

This morning I got some rice pudding going in the slow cooker, double batch. I added a variety of dried fruits my sister grew and gave to pears and pumpkin. It also calls for coconut flakes and agave so it will be plenty sweet. I may skip the agave.

I also made my refrigerated pickles, but couldn't find the recipe I was set on using, so had to do a whole new search for a recipe I liked. They're pretty simple to make anyway. I did mine with just white vinegar, chopped white onion, sugar and salt.

Despite all the rain we got yesterday, it's hot as heck again today, and will be same tomorrow. Brutally hot. Still 100% no AC here in Connecticut.

As long as you dont' really need to SEE anyone, you can just walk around in your shorts and tank top and sweat a little. The challenge will be looking presentable for the interview without wilting.

Popsicles and pickles

July 16th, 2012 at 12:24 am

I often buy Edy's fruit popsicles or other high-priced dessert on a stick in favor of ice cream. Although I adore ice cream on a stick, too. A holdover from my grandmother spoiling me.

But when they're priced at close to $5 a box, it begins to get irksome.

So I used some Amazon gift cards to buy a setof 6 BPA-free popiscle molds. then I had some fun browsing recipes for popsicles using yogurt, juices, coconut water and fruit, of course. At least now I can control the sugar content and be sure I'm not eating crappola.

I should get the package tomorrow, along with some "reinforcing fibers" which will allow me to make a larger hypertufa trough that won't crack and can be left out all winter.

My friend R. came over this afternoon with his dog, to catch up. we were going to sit outside with a couple of beers in the shade but he arrived just in time for a massive thunderstorm, so i moved everything into the shelter of the garage and we watched the thunder and lightening show from there.

He visited a chihuahua at the shelter and was thinking of getting him as a companion for his other dog.

I went to a condo open house today to check out a unit at the large, village-like complex i like. It's the only one i can picture myself living at. Well, that one and the associated one which has the same name but which is actually an independent complex. The unit i saw today was totally new inside,with new kitchen, baths, carpeting, paint.

Just 4 rooms: kitchen, big enough for a DR table, a super large living room with fireplace (one part could be a formal dining room), 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. Pull-down storage. Detached garage. Slate patio.

The ktichen had dark wood cabinets with stainless frigidare appliances, nice hardware and bathroom cabinetry matched. Everything new, tastefully done.

Nothing was wrong with it at all except the outdoor patio was not so private and i know this complex has tons of units with much more privacy, which is very important to me. It was fun to look though. $184,900.

They are so affordable now. You could easily find an updated 2 bedroom, 1,400 sf unit for $150 to $180,000, which I could pay cash for if I sold my house.

Taxes in the $3,000 range and common charges high: $500 a month for a 2-bedroom. That's becus the complex has 1,000 acres. Like a little village, plus they have a state of the art new fitness center, garden plots, about a hundred different clubs, library, crafts center, 4 pools, tennis, golf course, lots of large ponds with fountains, etc.

The thought of getting the house ready for sale and moving is just so completely enervating. But I've been looking around thinking about what i would sell or give away and i'm trying to declutter a little at a time.

Like, i have 4 2-drawer file cabinets. 2 of them are stuffed with writing samples of my work over the years; i have tons of extras so i can leave them with a job prospect/interviewer,but they don't often need to keep them. I also have 2 files for personal stuff, but i'm sure i could condense and get rid of 2 file cabinets.

I posted an old rocking chair on craig's list for $25.

It's still raining here. We really needed the rain. It was very dry. the garden will be thankful, although i've already gotten that white powdery mildew on the squashes.

I need to mow but it's been so blasted hot. I work up a sweat just picking a few vegetables.

Oh, yes. The pickles. I'm going to try my hand at turning some excess cucumbers into pickles tomorrow. I have a recipe. It looks pretty easy.

Luther in Motion

July 13th, 2012 at 09:11 pm

I'm proud to say that I HAVE NOT ONCE caved in to the heat yet and dragged the AC down from the attic. It's a hassle getting it down here, and I guess that works to discourage me from turning it on.

I've tried to trim Luther's long fur as best I could, but he considers every snip a personal affront to his right to wear his fur as long as he wants.

Sometimes, I try to distract him with a string as I cut his fur:

"Nasty, no-good string..."

"How totally annoying..."

"Was that a bird I saw out of the corner of my eye?"

"Take that, you fiendish string!"

"Whoa. I just had a thought..."

"I'll swallow you whole if you just hold still."

I am saving all of the cats' fur in a large plastic bag so that I can redistribute it with an ironic twist to the birds who look for nesting material in the spring. My sense of humor is such that I derive great amusesment from seeing Luther's familiar orange fur well-packed into a soft-as-a-pillow nest for baby bluebirds.

I've had a difficult time concentrating lately, but I finally waas able to focus back in on a sales brochure I started for a real estate client.

I've now logged 9.25 hours on it, so that's $452.50. Smile It's 95% done. I want to read it over one more time.

She said there's more work coming in the pipeline. Smile

Is this not the most perfect yellow squash you ever saw?

It was eaten promptly, baked in the oven and drizzled with olive oil.

On the job front, I was EXCITED to hear back from the woman who interviewed me for the PR agency job. It ain't dead yet. She said she had to handle 2 crises and wanted me to come in for a 2nd interview with another manager there, probably next week. Hooray.

It was Amoco

July 12th, 2012 at 02:03 pm

I mentioned in my last post the fond memories I had spending time in my grandfather's gas station. I guess it just goes to show that you don't need to spend big bucks on music lessons or summer camp to provide your children with happy memories.

The place always seemed to have a layer of black grease on everything and there was that smell of gasoline and oil. My good-natured grandfather would always be wearing filthy overalls covered with black smudges. But it was his friendly presence and kidding ways that stay with me always.

I couldn't remember the brand of gas he sold so I HAD to look it up. I have a priceless black-and-white photo of him standing with his foot on the running board of his pick-up in the 1960s. The gas station sign is behind him.

I remember he had a sandwich sign out by the road that advertised the price of gas. It was .29 a gallon!!

My grandmother did not work at that point, but every day at noon she would bring him his lunch in a brown paper bag and sit with him while he ate his sandwich. Sometimes, if he was underneath a car, she would go out and pump gas for customers. New Jersey is one of the few states where by law, customers cannot pump their own gas.

I don't think of my grandmother as a feminist, but in those days it seemed unusual for a woman to pump gas.

My (paternal) grandfather's first service station was in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, which is where my mother's parents lived also. Then he bought a station out "in the country" on Rt. 202 in Wayne. They bought a brick ranch house in Lincoln Park at the end of a dirt dead-end road with woods surounding the house on two sides. It was a very long, steep hill down to Rt. 202 and I do remember sledding on it. Across the street is where one of the Little Rascals grew up; his parents always remained there. I don't recall which one of the Rascals because I never watched the show.

These towns are hardly rural anymore but I will always think of them this way. At one time, my parents kept a sheep named "Lambchops" at their house, which was down the hill from my dad's parents.

The other really intriguing thing about this photo is the other sign in the background that says "Brogan." I'm not sure when this photo was taken. It could have been before I was born. But, highly coincidentally for me, "Brogan" is Brogan Cadillac, a car dealership in Ridgewood, NJ. It just so happens that my very best friend's father was a salesman at Brogan Cadillac. He worked there many years, even after his legs were paralyzed following a bad car accident.

My friend and I would sometimes take the train from our home in Mahwah (I lived with her family for one year as a teenager) to Ridgewood for some shopping, and we would drop in on her father.

Ahh, one memory leads to another. Here is another cherished photo I have of all 4 of my grandparents and my parents at a Frank Sinatra concert:

My paternal grandfather, the mechanic and a German immigrant, is on the left. He was a very good man. He was the first of my grandparents to die (stroke) when I was 16 years old. Next to him is my Irish grandmother.

Next to her, in the back, is my maternal grandfather (Polish). He worked all his life in a US Rubber factory making rubber fire hoses, but his real talent was woodworking and marquetry. He was the only grandparent that I am sad to say I was not close to. He was a very crotchety old man and was always cross and gruff with my grandmother. While he always gave my mother, sister and I money when he won the lottery big a few times, he never gave his love.

On the right, in the back, is my beloved grandmother (Polish). She was the one I loved the most.

Next to her, on the right, are my mother and father. They all strike me as so handsome, especially Fred, my German grandfather.

In the 1940s, the FBI came a knocking at my grandparents home. They were there to question my grandfather, solely because he was of German ancestry. The war was on, and I guess the country was pretty paranoid.

My version of a miracle: cauliflower baby

July 12th, 2012 at 12:16 pm

They say cauliflower's hard to grow. I carelessley planted a few seeds last May, not expecting much. And then I discovered that one of my leafy, bowl-shaped plants was hiding this!

It's only about two inches wide, but suddenly, I was VERY interested in growing this little thing. Did some quick online research. You're supposed to time the planting so that they DON'T come to maturity in the heat of summer. Oops. Mine looks like it's doing great despite 2 weeks of very high and humid temperatures. I "blanched" the head, meaning that i loosely folded over some of the leaves to cover the top and protect it from strong sunlight, which can alter the taste and make it turn green.

So exciting!
And then there's this:

I also blanched these. (The definition of "blanched" here is different, meaning to parboil in boiling water for just 3-4 minutes.) Then I froze them. I have more than I can eat at the present moment.

Yesterday I pulled up the little row of spent snow peas and some of the bolting lettuce. I had to plant something that would mature quickly, seeing as how we're already into mid-July. I planted more beans and more cauliflower, which should do even better because it will be coming into its own as temperatures decline, and cauliflower is a cool-season crop.

I've still only had one ripe cherry tomato; the rest are all still green. This is how it always goes. It seems to take forever for green tomatoes to ripen, but once they start,you can barely keep up with picking them daily.

I'm also impatient to see what happens with the soybeans. They are much slower than the other beans,although they're the same size now. They've gotten as far as small flowers. No pods yet. But I should be picking when I pick tomatoes,which means lots of edamame, tomato, corn salads to come.

I need to go vote today on the town budget. The voters have already spoken four times and they have said: We don't want higher taxes.

I want to ride my bike there, just as I rode my bike to the mortgage bank yesterday, but I am feeling so sluggish. I felt like the ride, in this heat, took a lot out of me yesterday. But I still want to do it, because I know I can and it tickles me to get around without the car.

Aside from that, I need to get back to work on the sales brochure project. I need lots of focus to do that. Maybe I will hear from either one of the 2 contract jobs I spoke with recruiters about yesterday. One was editing for a translation company for $20 an hour, the other was a long-term contract writing job for a well-known NY-based life insurance company, paying $47/hr. Huge range in pay, huh?

Next week I want to get my oil changed and have the mechanic at least eyeball stuff like possible frayed belts and air filters, in prep for the start of my driving job July 23. I started using the less expensive Portuguese mechanic my mother uses, rather than the dealer, but he likes to have you drop the car off and then pick it up later, which is really inconvenient as he's not in my town. He lacks the large, air conditioned customer waiting area with free coffee and tea and theater-style seating. Being in his garage brings back fond memories of my grandfather's gas station, where I used to spend time as a child while my grandmother manned the pumps.

Oh, This is a First!

July 11th, 2012 at 06:10 pm

All 5 of the "Most Talked About" Entries are Mine! Oh, it just changed....Frown

It's official: mortgage paid off

July 11th, 2012 at 01:44 pm

I see the deposit into my checking account cleared, so today was the day I intended to pay off the mortgage.

It's another warm July day but I headed out early on my bicycle to pedal to the mortgage bank. I was there at 8:30 am and the first customer to arrive.

When I announced I wanted to pay off my mortgage and should we alert the media, the teller looked at me with a tired look on her face, no doubt wondering what she'd done to deserve a wise-***, non-routine customer first thing in the morning.

It took her so long to verify everything with the main office and give me a written confirmation that I was able to tell her a good part of my life story these past few years.

I can tell you it's been much more interesting since I haven't been locked into a soul-scorching office routine 9 to 5, 40 hours a week. I've met more interesting people, have time to savor my everyday stuff, like biking to the bank, and I'm in physically better shape.

The teller was very envious, as she had to extend what was once a 15-year mortgage to a 40-year term. Working full-time as a teller, she confided, doesn't provide enough to live on.

So it will be more of a private celebration, sans press conference. It's a little bittersweet, as my thoughts of this day in the past included the assumption that I would be on "Easy Street" with no mortgage to pay and a full-time salary coming in. Savings into the old retirement account would accelerate and I would reach my $1 million mark in a few years.

Screeeech. Stop Reality check. It's not quite like that, but there's still a chance it could be, with just about any full-time job. I don't need to be making the big bucks. $50K a year would do just fine now.

In other news, everything in the garden seems to have gone into high gear with all this oppressive heat. String beans need picking, A baby cauliflower is forming! Squashes and zucchini growing, collards big, broccoli sending up mini heads good in a stir fry, tomatoes still green, but more of them. Basil threatening to go to seed. Snap peas and lettuce needs to be pulled out to make way for, dare I say it? More beans! Soybeans.... Picking wineberries daily now; froze one baggie, want to freeze more for winter months. Will do the same with the stringbeans.

I love it. My vegetable bin in the fridge is stuffed, and I haven't gone food shopping. Life is good. Things like this make me happy.

I have a paid off house, a thriving vegetable garden, two lovable kitties, a new p/t job. I have a lot to be thankful for.

I got the driving job!

July 11th, 2012 at 12:35 am

This morning I was able to begin work on a new sales brochure. It's a big project and very important to the client. I don't usually write sales brochures for them and am wondering what I'll charge. I'm keeping track of my time spent, of course, and will see what the total is. We've worked together long enough that they don't usually ask my fee anymore. When I do press releases, blogs or magazine articles, it usually comes out to $50 an hour. This is already going to take longer than usual but I don't want to shock them with the tab, either.

This afternoon I headed out to pick up shampoo/conditioner for a 3-week product test with Unilever. I answer some questions and return 2 more times; get paid $60.

To consolidate driving trips, after picking up the product, I headed out to a family-owned garden nursery that had a plant sale I couldn't resist: all perennials $1.50 in quart-sized containers. It was about 45 mintues from home, but since I was headed out for the product study stuff, i figured what the heck. Having nice succulents in the hypertufa pots I'm making could help them sell, and I would easily recoup the low cost of the plants.

After that, I headed back home in time to meet the guy who needed a driver.

I wasn't planning on asking him why he needed a driver since I already know from googling his name, but I give him a lot of credit because, after introducing me to his 2 kids, he sat me down at his kitchen table and told me in a very straightforward way about his 2 DUIs. (Yeah I ordinarily wouldn't meet a stranger in their home, but doing so avoided the need to make a separate trip plus i knew his kids would be there plus he does appear to need a driver and this would all be quite an elaborate effort if he had other intentions.)

He told me he also spent 30 days in jail. With the 2nd DUI, he would have had his license back in August, but he was out driving when it was still suspended and as luck would have it, he ran out of gas and the first car that came along was a cop. Driving with a suspended license is an automatic 1 year license revoke. So I guess he figures he can't fool around anymore.

For the past month or so, he's had a friend of his girlfriend drive him to work but she's sort of doing it as a favor and as a result not taking it as seriously as he'd like. For instance, she decided to go to a concert and asked him on the day of the concert if he could take the day off from work. And having junk in the back seat so his kids couldn't sit there. So he said he wanted someone older and more responsible, like me.

So I start July 23, 2 weeks from now. I hope nothing happens to change that; you never know with people. He said the first time he tried doing this last year, no one responded. This time, about a dozen people did. He said he told his employer all about it and they were very supportive, allowing him to string together all his vacation days, sick days and personal days so he wouldn't lose pay, or his job, while serving his 30 days; he also goes to AA 2-3x a week. His drinking problems started after his divorce a few years ago.

So I'm happy I got it, but at the same time, I have some trepidation about how this will all work otu over time. He needs a driver til May 2013; that's 10 months. I had 2 calls from recruiters about contract jobs on my machine when I got home. I'd have to quit driving for him if I got one becus even a contract job would be huge for me, financially. I will feel s***** for doing that but I will give him 2 weeks notice.

I also wonder, even without my getting a job, if driving him will become a hassle/chore on bad weather days this winter. I'll have to be out the door 5 days a week at 7:20 am, and then be at his work at 5 pm.

Plus, with 2 hours of daily driving, albeit locally, it is putting wear and tear on my aging car and replacing it is,,, well LETS NOT GO THERE. So I've known this all the while, it's not just dawning on me now, but I feel I really shouldn't pass this up. It will net me after gas expenses $682 a month for just 10 hours of work a week. That would cover my property taxes with $135 to spare each month. And I don't yet know the status of my remaining unemployment benefits.

That $682 a month is based on gas at $3.75 a gallon. It's about $3.62 around here now and has risen recently. But even if gas goes back up to $4 a gallon, I'd still net $674 a month. With my Honda, I calculate I'd use 7.87 gallons of gas a week, so a .50 difference in price won't make that much difference.

I do hope he's as trustworthy as he comes across and that he pays me what he said he would. I intentionally did not ask WHEN he would pay me when I met him; instead, I wrote him a brief note saying it was nice to meet you and by the way, i forgot to ask you, would you be able to pay me each Friday. This way, when he confirms, i will have his offer in writing/email, just in case I have any trouble. (I do also have the original Craig's List ad.) Dealing with strangers online and having freelanced so long, you really have to be this way.

Upward and onward

July 9th, 2012 at 07:48 pm

It's been a busy couple of days.

At noon today I had a conference call with my #1 client to discuss a big and important project they've given me: a sales brochure that will help them win and expand new construction business in the greater Boston area.

I also found a possible new source of long-term income after seeing on Craig's List a guy who needed someone to drive him to work each morning, and bring him home at night, 5 days a week. It just so happens that I live in between him and his work.

After a flurry of emails, we are set to meet face to face tomorrow. I hope I pass muster. The pay seems pretty good, probably only made possible by my Honda's great mileage. He's paying $200 a week, and I carefully calculated my gas expenses and time spent...about 10 hours a discover that I'd be making MORE driving him around than what i made at the publishing job from which I only recently got fired...about $19 an hour! How ironic.

I would be driving him through May 2013. He didn't say why, but it was pretty easy to figure out, as my friend's husband was recently arrested for DUI and they suspended his license for 6 months, during which time my friend had to ferry him to and from work, a royal pain in the butt, according to her. She spent many an hour with her laptop, writing, in Starbucks all across Connecticut.

The guy who advertised revealed his last name in the last message, allowing me to google him and discover that yes, he was arrested not once, but twice for DUI in my town and his town. Well, hmm. Guess I won't be going to happy hour with him.

Anyway, $200 cash a week or $800 a month, is nothing to sneeze at. I told him i was a freelance writer working at home, which is true, but i did not tell him I was still looking for f/t work. I mean, i've been looking for f/t work since 2009, so it has ceased to have much meaning. If I did get a job that prevented me from continuing to drive him, I would try to give him 2 weeks notice to give him time to find someone else.

The other parameter of the job would be to also pick up and drop off his kids (when I was driving him) to and from daycare 3 times a week. He has joint custody. I added that to my gas expenses, and it had a minimal effect.

I really, really hope I get that job. Not sure what else to aim for when I meet him other than being friendly and agreeable. I already told him I am fully insured, have a clean driving record and am reliable.

Two days ago I was mowing the lawn and got stung by a hornet skimming the grass. I half ran, half walked down the Stairway to Heaven when I realized the hornet was following me. I dove into the garage and closed the door. I immediately took an antihistamine and after 3 days, the swelling and redness have subsided somewhat.

Today I deposited some checks at the bank and returned some DVDs at the library...after riding my bike there! No gas burned! I love being able to do that. About a half hour of riding, but that includes a major hill, so I got some high intensity heart-thumping in, too.

I've applied for a few other jobs. Another I really want is editing a variety of online stuff for a start-up website that can't afford to pay much. Not sure what that means, but volume and ongoing work could make up for that.

I am feeling upset once again that I haven't heard anything from the PR agency I interviewed with 2 weeks ago. She had said she was interviewing all last week and would likely administer a writing test. I havent heard a word from her.

I got $35 in Amazon gift cards from my online forum participation, plus a $10 BP gas card. Love the gas card.

I did laundry today and it's hanging out to dry outside.

I've begun picking stringbeans and wax beans in earnest now, and will don my hip boots momentarily in search of wineberries, which are also ripening.

I made a yummy three-bean salad with the beans and canned kidney beans and chick peas, plus diced onion, oil/vinegar.

I saved over $45,065

July 9th, 2012 at 02:05 pm

I checked my checking account online and see that the $6,000 I transferred from a mutual fund account is there and "in process."

So I called my mortgage bank and asked them for the exact payoff amount. Since that figure will vary depending on which day i pay off, I decided to wait until this Wednesday to walk into my local branch.

I had a balance of $6,122 but will only need to pay the bank $2,246 as I had $3,865 in escrow and will save myself $1,969 by paying it all off on Wednesday.

Once I do the payoff, the bank will mail me some paperwork. I will have to pay my town $53, they say, for release of the mortgage and let them know to send the next property tax bill, which is due end of July, to me directly, and from now on. That amount is $3,287 and the bill comes twice a year.

I asked the mortgage bank the total amount of money I've paid in interest in the 17 years I've had my home. I prepaid something the majority of time.

The amount I paid in interest since inception of the loan in December 1995: $82,354.

Then I asked him how much I WOULD have paid if I had made no prepayments and just did the usual fixed monthly payment for the entire 30 years of the life of the loan. This number is something of an estimate and doesn't include the first 2 years prior to a refinance I did. But his figures was $127,419.

That means I saved more than $45,000 on interest payments by religiously prepaying the mortgage, anywheres from an extra $100 to $400 a month, except for periods of unemployment.

Nice, huh?

I'm excited and anxious to get this behind me on Wednesday.

Starting over

July 6th, 2012 at 09:07 pm

Since being fired, I've been able to get some much appreciated moral support from you, my online friends, as well as a few friends closer to home. I was advised by two people to drink heavily. Not really my style, but I did enjoy a bottle of Beck's.

After the heat of the day was over yesterday evening, I did get out to clean up the garage some, as well as the basement, two cool places to be.

Next step? I will wait and watch to see when the $6,000 of my International Equity Fund which I sold yesterday is deposited into my checking account. When it is, I'll call the bank to get the exact amount it will take to pay off the mortgage. I may even take a ride down there and do it in person, alert the media and make a public announcement.

At the least, as a feel good measure, I will get from the bank the total amount of mortgage interest I actually paid these last 17 years and how much I WOULD have paid if I had just made normal payments over 30 years. Then I may frame it. My big milestone achievement.

I applied for a few Craig's List jobs this morning. Nothing too exciting but money is money.

During the past week, I've been reading a lot about hypertufa and educating myself on technique. While my first batch was a waste because i used the wrong kind of cement, the 2nd batch was much improved. My 3rd batch was just 2 pots: I broke an experimental one poured into a basekt when i sset about removing the mold/basket, but the other one is the best one yet; it has some very nice vertical lines on it because that's what the plastic pot had that I poured it in.

I'm thinking that if I could sell perennials this spring, I could probably sell some hypertufa pots too, both with and without succulents in them. I found a nursery, also on Craig's List, not too nearby but worth the trip, that has a sale on perennials now for $1 each. For prospective buyers without much imagination, sticking a $1 succulent in the pot would really enhance the pot's beauty, and I could mark up the price a little bit.

I don't think the peak of summer is a good time to sell any more perennials, but I'd like to post them for sale again in late August, with the hypertufa pots. By that time I should have a nice little collection of various shapes and sizes.

So the garage will become Hypertufa Central. Curing takes a good 3 weeks, with another week needed for de-liming the pots. So it's a process.

Today i bought a $1 children's ball, the plastic kind about the size of a bowling ball, which I intend to use as a mold for a cement garden sphere, the kind you might see scattered aboutg an old English garden. I saw a write-up about making these online. You cut a roughly 2-inch diameter hole in the ball at the spot where the inflatable opening is. You then pour in the concrete mix, let it dry, and then peel away the plastic ball when ready to de-mold.

the only thing I'm wondering is how hard it will be to fill the ball with cement once you cut itm open and deflate itm.

After all that happened, I needed to take a break from my thoughts and get out of the house today. I've had all the windows and doors closed tight and shades drawn for a week now, due to the awful heat. I come and go through the basement/garage now, so as not to let in all that hot air through the front door.

I left around mid-day to see if Great Clips was still having a $6.99 haircut special. it would be a nice treat and pick-me-up. They weren't. I left.

I filled up the gas tank at $3.61 a gallon, pretty much the lowest price you'll find around here, then I headed for Lowe's where I picked up more peat moss and perlite, spending $0 cus i had a gift card. These are needed supplies for the hypertufa.

Then on impulse I hit Good Will, remembering I had to throw away an old pair of jeans a few weeks ago after they developed holes in the crotch. I didn't absolutely have to buy these, but I did spend $6 on a replacement pair that was pretty comfortable.

I also browsed Xpect Discounts to see if they had any other interesting cheap plastic things I could use as molds. I saw one or two bowls that would work well, but didn't want to spend $2.99! How cheap am i?. I think I have enough to play with at home. more development on the job situation. I got another email from the owner of the company. He said we're giving you 2 weeks of severance pay. Wow. I hadn't expected anything from a p/t job I'd only had for 6 months. I thought that was pretty generous, but i know that the main reason they are offering that is becus they are also sending me paperwork they want me to sign, not to reveal trade secrets, etc.

However, what bothered me is that he said, while your offer to "go home now" could be construed as a resignation, we are often generous in situations like this and are giving you the severance, etc.

So the editor in chief told him that I offered to leave. I wrote back and told him I would never leave voluntarily becus i need the job too much, that my only other source of income is my freelance writing. (I didn't mention my unemployment benefits; that's private and nothing he needs to know.)

However, when he said my remark could be taken as a resignation, that alarmed me becus Dept of Labor would nix my remaining benefits if they thought i had quit. I never offered to "go home now" as the editor in chief apparently told him, but in the context of her continuing to attack my character and performance, it was like, what else can i do, what do you want from me? And so what I said was, do you want me to leave?

She said no, but then 5 minutes later, she said "You can"

I had a brief conversation with a DOL rep today who informed me that I have to have a hearing with them which won't take place til July 24, and until that hearing my current benefits will be suspended, pending resolution. I think that's really unfair since my current benefits are related to work I did prior to this job and has nothing to do with it. However, they don't see it that way and she said that yes, depending on the outcome, it could jeopardize my remaining benefits.

So, worst case scenario could be even worse than I thought. I could possibly lose not only the p/t job, but my remaining unemployment benefits, which, while reduced a while back quite a bit, would still last me a good while.

I think I have a pretty strong case now with several mitigating factors to cite, including 1) the fact that i don't think employers usually give severance to anyone they fire; it's usually something given when you're laid off. 2) Employers also don't usually offer to give a positive reference for someone their subordinates fire. 3) I told the editor in chief before I was hired that I didn't know quark or filemaker, the 2 software programs we used daily in this job. I even asked if there was a user manual or guide i could take home and study up on prior to starting the job so i could be better prepared, but she said no. 4) I can also cite the high turnover for this position, and I have no doubt it's due to the EIC's difficult personality. 5) Finally, we've been working all along with obsolete software and hardware, and even with a recent computer upgrade (they bought secondhand computers), they are still several generations behind the current versions of everything. So I really feel the equipment handicapped our ability to do the job. They were constantly gerry-rigging things to try to get it to do what they wanted it to do.

The three-legged stool has broken

July 5th, 2012 at 06:06 pm

When I was writing about retirement planning for a living, one of our favorite metaphors was the three-legged stool: Each leg of the stool represented one facet of your retirement savings plan: personal savings, Social Security and investment earnings.

So in my head I likened my attempt to build steady income to my own version of a very wobbly three-legged stool, which in my mind consisted of:

1. My freelance work, erratic and impossible to predict

2. Dwindling unemployment benefits

3. My part-time, low-paying job with a publisher that's barely getting by and has the building up for sale

Well, a leg broke off the stool today. I was fired.

It all started with an air conditioner. I went into work as usual, arriving at 8:30 am. and was unable to sign in on the time clock that resides on another employee's computer because it was asking for a password which I don't have. There are 5 of us who work in an open office environment in a very large room. No one was there besides me except the editor in chief (EIC) at the other end of the room. I walked halfway down toward her and called out that I wasn't able to sign in. She said what? I can't hear you. The room is cooled by a very loud, in the wall AC.

I repeated what I had just said in a louder voice. She came down and entered the password, then returned to her desk without saying anything, but looking angry.

I went to my desk and started opening various programs up to get started for the day. The EIC came over to ask me about a file I'd been having problems with the day before and directed me drag it over to the master file.

I use a Mac at work which is a little different than a PC. When i tried to drag it, it didn't appear it was working right, and rather than take a chance and lose any data, I decided to ask her for help.

I walked over to her desk and politely waited for her to acknowledge my presence before speaking, which she didn't do. I waited, then started speaking and she said I startled her. She looked angry. I asked my question about what I was doing and she came over, visibly annoyed, and showed me what to do.

As she got up from my desk, she said she had really had it up to here with me, that she didn't like my attitude and that i was very rude. !!! Then she started walking back to her desk! I mean, you don't just say something like that to someone and then just walk away. I said S., would you like to talk about this?

She didn't answer. I don't know how anyone could just sit there and not address it. As you know from earlier posts, I've been having my own issues with her and I thought this might be a good time to try to talk it out. So I got up and went over to her again. She was now sitting at her desk.

I said again, S, would you like to talk about this? She started going into how i was slow to pick up on things, that I was stubborn, rude and that i had an attitude. None of which is true! All of which came as a complete surprise to me. And I have never been rude or taken an attitude with her.

I asked her how I had been rude. She said, like just now, with the AC. I said S., that was a case of your not being able to hear me over the air conditioner. How was that rude? She said angrily, how could you not know that I couldn't hear you? How many times have I run the air conditioner?

I just really was not getting her. It just seemed like she was so angry that she pulled that out of thin air. I mean, you think that was rude??? I said S., I don't think that was a very big deal. I think you're over-reacting. Maybe the wrong thing to say??

It seemed that no matter what i said or how i responded, she just got angrier. At one point, I asked her, would you like me to leave. She said no, I want you to learn things better so I don't have to keep telling you things, etc. She said I should know after working here how many months how to do what I'd asked her for help with this morning. Then there was more back and forth.

She was still sitting at her desk and getting more and more agitated as we spoke. I was really taken aback by how quickly things escalated. At one point i said, S., please, you need to calm down. It was at that point that she stood up quickly, standing very close to me. I honestly thought she was going to hit me. She said, "You can leave now."

And so i did.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't upset. Yes, I wanted to leave, but hadn't planned to until I found another job.

But wait, there's more.

When I got home, I decided to send a brief note to S.'s boss, the owner of the company. I do care about my reputation, and I was afraid that S. was going to say all sorts of nasty things about me. so I told him my version of the story, briefly, and also told him I felt that S. was condescending, disrespectful (due to her earlier comments about me being either "lazy" or a "plagarist") and a poor manager.

I wasn't expecting to get a reply, but I did. He told me he "understood the challenges" and offered to write a positive reference for me if I wanted.

I was a little flabbergasted. He obviously knows what she's like. But he's depending on her to get the job done and the books published. So unlikely he would do anything about the firing except maybe talk to her about it.

I accepted his invitation for a reference. I've never said more than a "Good morning" or "hello" to him if our paths crossed in the kitchen. But I imagine he was kept up to date on my progress and that of my counterpart, and as I've mentioned before, the EIC was very happy we were as far ahead as we were for this time of year.

Anyway, i thought it would be great if the company owner could post his reference on my Linked In profile, where S. could quite possibly see it. Wouldn't that be satisfying? Smile I mean, what kind of statement does that make if you fire someone and your own boss gives the person you fired a recommendation?

Aside from that short-lived satisfaction, I am now most definitely in a situation I call, My Back Against the Wall, financially.

You keep waiting for things to get better and instead I'm going backwards. I haven't heard back from the PR agency woman as she had said she'd be interviewing all this week. It would be great to get that job, but I have learned not to count on anything.

Last week I also turned down an opportunity to interview for another p/t research job because it only paid $12/hr. I regret that now.


July 4th, 2012 at 02:17 am

Oh, how I loved this movie.

If you haven't seen it, it's a Masterpiece Theatre type mini series made in 1979. I'm glad I rented these because I was able to watch all the episodes very quickly and not have to wait. It's addictive!

I had a sense that someone was going to get killed, one of the two brothers that fell in love with Christina. It was the one she married. And then I jumped ahead and wondered if Christina was going to end up marrying Mark, the other brother, but she ended up (surprise!) with Dick. But Mark married Christina's best friend, Dorothy, so it all turned out well in the end. Smile

The heat wave continues and I have yet to turn on the AC. For years, I've run around closing shutters, drapes and blinds on the east side and then doing the same to the south and west as the sun rose in the sky, but it never really made a huge difference. I've also been running fans, including 2 fans in the attic.

But today I discovered quite by accident that the house stayed remarkably cool (75 degrees) if I shut up all the windows and closed off the doors to both the sun room and the family room. The house was really quite cool today when i got home from work. Usually it would be stifling. I think I underestimated how much the heat from the family room filters into the rest of the house. Even though I often would close off the sun room, I think the family room would heat up in its own right because all that hot air would be in the garage and just rise up above, to the family room.

I finished mowing the front lawn tonight in the sweltering heat. We're supposed to get rain by sunrise.

Thus far, I've had one ripe cherry tomato. The snow peas are pretty well spent in this heat, and the same goes for the lettuce, though I am still eating the greens; I don't mind a bit of bitterness. Tiny stringbeans have formed. Soybeans growing more slowly and haven't flowered yet.

I found an unwanted visitor in the garden: woodchuck! There were 2 burrows I filled in last year; dumping used cat litter really works well. I shall have to repeat the treatment first thing tomorrow. The dastardly fellow has already shorn my autumn joy sedum.

I made some hypertufa pots 2 days ago and they're taking a while to dry in the garage. It will be 3 weeks to cure so by the time I plant, we'll be halfway through the season. But I've wanted to try making them for a long time and it's very easy. I had a false start using the wrong kind of cement mix. Can't wait to remove the mold; maybe in the morning they will be hard enough to do so.

I'm hoping I can make extras and sell them along with the perennials. I remember one woman selling them and she was charging $50 and up for them! Outrageous when the ingredients to make them are so cheap.

Trouble at work (rant alert)

July 1st, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I continue to work part-time at the small publisher. I've been there since January, working 2 days in the office and 1 day at home.

The editor in chief is becoming more of a problem. While we seem to have pleasant enough conversations when we're talking about her dogs, her family cabin in the Catskills or her Irish heritage, she takes on a very disrespectful and condescending tone when it comes to the work I'm doing.

It's hard to describe the nature of the work I'm doing, which requires online research of hundreds of different magazines half the time, while the other half the time I'm making updates to Quark and FileMaker listings which contain information about these magazines.

I don't think there's been a week I've been there where there hasn't been some change in the hardware, software, or procedures we're asked to follow. The work, while not rocket science, requires the utmost concentration because there are hundreds of places where, if you click the wrong box in filemaker or fail to mark something a certain way, it messes things up.

On top of that, there was just one day of "group" training of me and my counterpart (I'll call her Delia), who started the job when I did. After that, the editor in chief and another long-time woman, I'll call her Sally, would respond to specific questions, problems or issues that arose as they occurred with either of us. The problem was that when they worked with Delia on some situation, I wasn't always listening in on the conversation and so i didn't get the benefit of what they were telling her. And vice versa.

So yeah, the editor in chief, who has made it well known that she's been there for 25 years, is generally impatient, tense and snippy. There are tons of little rules and procedures involved in this job and it can be hard to remember the "right" way to do everything. So on any number of occasions, when she has to tell me how to do something more than once, she will ALWAYS take the opportunity to tell me how many times previously she told me the very same thing. As if doing so is going to improve my retention. On the contrary, it makes it harder, becus her obvious annoyance is a distraction.

The first time this happened, I just looked at her and didn't say anything, startled that she was so rude. I felt like she were addressing a 10-year-old.

The icing on the cake occurred last week. I was reviewing notes she had made on some new magazine listings I had written. She actually suggested that I was either "lazy" or "plagarizing" descriptions of the magazines.

Here's what happened.

We are working with ancient equipment and software. The company doesn't have any money to spend. I am using a small, 12-inch diameter monitor and need to have no less than 6 windows open at any time on the monitor: this includes the master quark file, the filemaker file, the website, the editor follow up form and the category page. Toggling back and forth and minimmizing screens is time-consuming. So what I had done to cause her nasty remarks was copy descriptions of a magazine directly from their website to my quark file, where I found it easy to rewrite the description when I could just look at what they wrote right in front of me. Unfortunately, there were two listings where I thought that I had already rewritten the description, when in fact i had not. A very unfortunate mistake, but certainly not laziness or plagarisim, either. Hence her comments.

I've worked as a writer for nearly 30 years, and I am neither. But i was so pissed when i read her notes that once again, i chose to completely ignore them and not say anything, even to defend myself.

Since then, I have fantasized about getting even. I happened to have another job interview on Friday, a place where I would love to work and which pays substantially better than the $15 an hour I'm making now. The woman I interviewed with actually told me the range she usually pays writers, from $30 to $45 an hour. It was really refreshing to talk to a prospective employer who was candid about pay instead of playing the game of trying to force me to name a price so they can determine how little they can pay me.

So my fantasy was that i get the job i interviewed for and then I can email the editor in chief, saying largely what I've said here, and announcing my departure, effective immediately. I would copy the people the editor in chief reports to. It would be a huge embarrassment to her.

From conversations I've had, she's like this to others. I mentioned here before that Delia, my counterpart in this job, who i like very much, told me she nearly quit herself last summer but was talked out of it by another woman who had our job previously (and left herself after 6 months on the job). In her case, the editor in chief was getting on her case...a lot..because she was working too slow and needed to work faster and complete more listings.

I know, I know, don't burn your bridges and all that, but i don't intend to make a name for myself in publishing and I don't think she could hurt me. What's frustrating is that I've built a career and enjoyed success, awards, kudos, etc. over the years. So when an editor who hardly knows me immediately accuses me of being either lazy or a plagarizer, it REALLY ticks me off.

The woman is so arrogant that when we email editors at the publications we are researching, in search of certain information that we can't find on their websites, she wouldn't even allow us to use our own name as the signature. She made us use HER name and title immediately below our name. Her reasoning was, being that she's been in the business for so long, some editors "might" recognize her name and there'd therefore be a better chance that they respond to us. Needless to say, using her signature with my name on an email I sent caused a lot of confusion, which was evident when various people would email me back, often addressing me by her name and so on. And here she's telling us she wants us to try to build "relationships" with various magazine editors when they don't know who they're talking to.

There have been any number of times when I've overheard her remark to Sally about how well we're doing in terms of progress, and listings written by me and Delia, especially when compared to where they were in previous years at this time. (They establishede weekly quotas we are supposed to meet as to the number of listings we complete.) Apparently there was always a lot of hair-pulling and last minute scrambles to get the books done. Not once, however, has the editor thought to address me and Delia directly to say hey, guys, you're doing a good job. Thanks.

My version of surviving loss of income

July 1st, 2012 at 11:37 am

In my last entry, I posted a simple line chart showing the ups and downs of my net worth over the past 17 years.

Ceejay remarked that it was "astounding" that I'd managed to maintain my net worth through what will be 3 years of underemployment this September.

I thought I'd analyze how I've been able to do that.

First, I'll define "underemployment." 2.5 years is a long time to go without steady full-time job, especially when you have a mortgage and all the bills that go with that.

Here's a rough synopsis of my employment history since 2009.

Mid-September 2009: I'm laid off. I was home sick with a bad cold and my boss, accompanied by an HR person, called to deliver the bad news. It took me completely by surprise that day, although the company had gone through two previous rounds of major, sweeping layoffs.

From there on, I focus on both finding another job as well as developing my freelance income. Truth be told, I have just a few regular clients, and the work is highly sporadic. I only average about $5,ooo to $6,000 a year in freelance writing.

March 2010: i get a f/t contract job with a start-up website. It pays $25/hr. It lasted 6 weeks before they let me go and later they pulled the site down to restructure, regroup and retry. (It's still not up.)

April 2010: I lucked out and after taking an exam to be a US Census Bureau worker, I got the job, which was probably 25 or 30 hours a week on average, paid $19.75 an hour + gas reimbursements, on which I actually MADE money becus i drive a Civic, and lasted through early August. It was an interesting experience.

September 2010: This time, I really lucked out and got a writing job thru a headhunter with a big, well-known financial services company. It was full-time but a contract job. It paid more than I've ever made before, $50 an hour. Or, on an annual basis, $104,000. Oddly, I have worked much harder on jobs that paid much less, and I found the job not that difficult, once again demonstrating that you don't have to work harder to make more money, only smarter.

Throughout all of this, of course, I'm continuously looking for work of all kinds (freelance, contract or salaried) and submitting my resume. I spent about 2 years doing online surveys, averaging as much as $100 a month, before I decided it just wasn't worth the time invested. I've also regularly done market research focus groups, product testing and even medical research studies involving blood draws or other stuff. I've been a poll worker in my town's local elections.

To generate money, I have also sold personal possessions on Craig's List, including firewood from my land and even perennials that I dug up and divided. I sold what little gold jewelery I had. I didn't consider this a hardship and am perfectly happy to wear my Technibond (sterling silver overlaid in 14K gold) which looks like the real thing.

After the well-paying contract job ending December 31, 2010, I went through another long period of nothing coming up, and i relied on my freelance and unemployment to get by.

November 2011: I get some contract work with a small publisher for 2 months paying $15 an hour. It's better than nothing.

January 2012: The same publisher where I did the contract work invited me to work for them on a more permanent basis, still at $15/hr, but it would be 25 hours a week of steady work as a p-t employee, which means they pay a portion of payroll taxes, leaving me with a little more left in my pocket. The company is just barely getting by, not making much of a profit and the building they occupy is up for sale. No one is sure if the company will survive if and when the building sells.

So that's been the employment picture these past 2.5 years and it's pretty much where I stand today.

The fact that I've been able to maintain my net worth during this time is something i attribute to a bunch of things:

1. When i bought the house in 1995, i was lucky that the market was not over-priced the way it was in 2007. Of course, if it had been, I probably wouldn't have been buying.

2. Being risk-averse, I bought "less house" than my realtor said i could and i also put down a huge down payment of 45%. I did this becus as a single person, i didn't want to get in trouble with huge monthly payments if something should happen to my income. And "something," (a layoff), happened fully 5 TIMES since 1995. That's 4 layoffs and 1 company closure. So my monthly payments of currently $1,150, which includes the property taxes, is doable, and a lot less, i think, than what other homeowners pay.

3. Aside from a well-timed home purchase, I was not afraid to cut way back in my lifestyle when i lost my job. My basic cutbacks (a long time ago now) were eliminating cable TV, the cell phone, Netflix, all paid magazine subscriptions, all vacations, all paid forms of entertainment except the very occasional $2 movie theater, all eating out except an occasional fast food fix, always off the $1 menu and very little spent on gifts. (My family understands.)

There are times I feel a bit deprived, but largely i don't. I have created different release valve mechanisms to ensure those kinds of self-defeating feelings don't build up.

for instance, I got into credit card rewards in a big way. While I started off systematically applying for cards with the biggest ($200) cash rewards last year, this year I branched out into cards that say, gave you $250 in gift cards after you spent $2,000 in 3 months. I've used those gift cards in a variety of ways, probably an equal mix of stuff I actually need, like food or gas, as well as discretionary spending like some clothes and other items for the house.

The online surveys functioned in the same way; they ensured I wouldn't go on a spending binge due to pent-up frustrations. While I don't do the online surveys anymore except for Pinecone, I do still particpate in 4 online forums. In two of them, you're just asked to participate in brief surveys once a week and you're rewarded with $15 in gift cards. So that's $30 a month in amazon gift cards right there. In the BP forum, i recently got a $25 BP gas card, which thrilled me.

It's been easy for me to adjust to no spending on entertainment because i've always liked to do things like hiking/walking, kayaking, and bike riding. If I get together with a friend these days, it's usually limited to a cup of tea (or iced tea,these days). Many of my friends are either naturally frugal like I am or required to be that way due to their own circumstances. So I am not often pressured by other people in my life who want to go out and eat at a fancy restaurant.

I sometimes watch a few favorite TV shows free on Hulu. And I rent A LOT OF free DVDs from the library. It's getting hard now to find something I haven't seen!

I also spend a lot of time working and maintaining my yard and a large vegetable garden and giving my 2 cats a lot of TLC. I hope to picking wineberries soon and freezing them for winter use, along with tomatoes and homemade pesto using my basil plants.

So there you have it. What's been killing me all along is the crrently $562 I'm paying each month for COBRA. Having benign MS, I don't have many other choices, because the pre-existing condition would not likely be covered if I switched plans. My best hope would be to find another salaried position that included medical as a benefit, but salaried positions, folks, seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird. I suspect they won't return en masse until the jobs market fixes itself and the pool of job-seekers shrinks.

I had toyed with the idea of dropping the COBRA (or waiting for it to run out, in June 2013), taking a great risk by going uninsured for 6 months so that the state plan would pick me up. Except that while it used to be "somewhat" more affordable, it now is, well, not so much. the monthly premiums are $442, or about $100 less than what I'm paying now each month.

I do have one medication,the Copaxone, which I take for the MS. It's extremely expensive (an injectable) and not something I could purchase without health insurance, although my neurologist said the pharma company would probably give me the meds for free becus i've been on it for so long (since 2000) and they want to keep me as a customer i presume so that when i do return to work, i stay on the copaxone.

Big picture bright spots: 1. I'm about 8 months away from paying off the mortgage.

2. At some point in my future, when the housing market recovers, I will likely sell my high maintenance house and buy a small condo. I would pay 100$ cash for the condo so no mortgage and I would probably be able to pocket an additional $50K profit.

3. I'm fortunate to have a skill (copywriting) that lends itself to working at home and is something i can do all my life, even, presumably, if my MS ever worsens.

Big picture challenges:
1. I have a chronic illness that requires a very expensive drug and future prognosis is always uncertain.

2. I am in my early 50s and become more unemployable with each passing year as employers naturally favor young 'uns. I often wonder if I'll EVER find another salaried position.

3. I do worry about taking care of aging parents, particuarly my mother. I have a sister, but she's so uninterested in playing an active role in the family I pretty much feel like an only child when it comes to stepping up to tthe plate and doing what needs to be done.

4. I think most of my dating days are behind me. I wish I weren't looking at my future as a single person, but it's just the way it worked out. Let's face it. I don't look at all like I did when I was 30, although people say I look young for my age and I'm not hugely fat.

5. Getting back to money talk, one of the worst things about being unemployed, as far as I'm concerned, is that I've been unable to contribute a dime to a 401(k) or my SEP/IRA for my freelance work and while I have taxable savings that could be transferred to my roth IRA account, I'm reluctant to do so when I have only so much money left. so I'm behind in my retirement savings goals by 2.5 years. It's really unclear if I'll ever achieve my original goal of $1 million, or the comfy lifestyle with travel that I had envisioned.

Now, the goal has morphed more into a question of, can i get by and pay my bills until I'm of retirement age and can get onto Social Security at age 67? That's a big shift in thinking.