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Archive for August, 2013

Garage sale results

August 31st, 2013 at 08:46 pm

The garage sale has concluded. The results? Drum roll, please. ... $101.

After deducting the cost of the ad, my net is $92.

It was an awful lot of work, and this reminds me of why I don't do this more often! As I recall, I made about the same amount last time I did one.

The sale was today, 9-4, but people began showing up last night, and as early as 7:30 am today, which, frankly, I think is really rude.

Then a police officer pulled up my drive, and I had a feeling he wasn't there to buy a pillow. Unbeknownst to me, he informed me there was a road race going on and that they were directing traffic to detour down my road. He told me that people visiting my tag sale had to park at least 50 feet from the curve. (My house is located right at a very sharp curve.)

I began running up and down the driveway whenever someone pulled up to ask them to please park in the driveway, in my neighbor's driveway (I was able to get permission from their teen son, as his parents were off on vacation) or up the road a piece. I was afraid that the police might give me a ticket if I didn't do anything about it, or worse, shut me down. Some people didn't want to get blocked in my drive so they drove on the lawn without asking.

Another cop came by 5 minutes later and repeated the advice about parking. They were very nice about it but I didn't want it to seem like I was ignoring the hazard I was inadvertently creating. The police actually stopped by THREE times during the road race, and I was doing my best to tell people to move their cars, which of course doesn't help with tag sale attendance; I also made up signs about where to park at the bottom of my drive.

Things eased up after the road race was over. The weather today is sticky hot, very uncomfortable humidity, but we had a steady stream of traffic up until mid day, and then it really died down.

People are ridiculous. My friend was asked how much something was, and she said "$2." The person put the item down and walked off. I mean, how cheap do they want it??

An Indian guy saw a large copper wash tub I had and snatched it up and kept walking around with it. When he went to pay me, he was under the impression it was .50 when it was actually priced at $50. He actually thought it was just .50!

Actually, I sold that wash tub to my friend's husband when he came to help my friend pack up at day's end. It was my biggest sale of the day!

I also sold an antique auger ($25) and rolling pin ($5), a hardcover book ($5), a charcoal grill ($5) I'd previously had trouble GIVING away, 3 large Tupperware containers for .50 each, thumb tacks (.50) a pair of wine glasses ($1) and a whole bunch of little stuff for exactly .50. Two old birdhouses sold for $1 a piece. Some plastic combs for .50. Two muffin trays for $3 and $4 each which I won't use anymore becus they're aluminum (same goes for the plastic Tupperware). A vinyl laptop bag went for $5 to a woman who seemed to want to use it as a handbag. Two old matted photos of sunflowers by my sister went for $3 each. There was nothing really special about them.

I met a few of my neighbors in town, which is always nice, and I met a few creepy groups of people who made me nervous. There was one family with kids and the wife asked me if her daughter could use my bathroom. I was very uncomfortable with that idea and as an excuse I said i had to be there with all the people walking around. As I glanced around the garage, all the people had left, but my friend was sitting there, and the woman saw that, hoping I would then relent. I still said no, feeling a little guilty, but later my friend said I'd done the right thing and she thought they were trying to scope out my house or something becus the husband had said 3 x that his daughter had to use the bathroom.

Another woman wanted to know if I'd take a check. Umm, I don't think so.

I'm satisfied. I wanted to make money, but my secondary goal was getting rid of stuff I really don't want.

My friend had mostly a lot of cutesy signs given to her during her teaching career, a bunch of old pillows, a whole lot of porcelain dishes and a rocking horse. She only made about $25.

She said she wants to have another sale end of September, so I might pack up the best of my leftovers and bring them there again. Other stuff I think I'll bring to the dump or recycle.

Friday update

August 30th, 2013 at 01:03 pm

Yet another post thoughtfully written last night completely disappeared into the nether. I can imagine how it would cause newcomers here to give up in disgust. Ah, well...

I had my interview with media giant yesterday. I think it went okay. Met with 3 people. I sent a very nice follow-up letter. It took me a while to truly understand what the job entailed. What they told me in person was actually somewhat different than what the posted ad described. Interestingly, if I got the job, it would be the first time since college that I had a non-writing job!

It's more about curating/organizing a high volume of photos and creating/building numerous photo galleries that would go on the news website. Also building and managing a team of freelance photographers who I'd assign to go out and shoot various cultural events in the paper's coverage area, like fairs, festivals, auctions, fundraisers, etc. I'd need to learn how to use their content management system and train the photogs how to tag photos, etc. Right now they have just 4 freelancers while she'd like to see around 20.

Sounds kind of like fun, huh?

One thing that would probably drive many applicants away is that becus so many events would happen on a weekend, the work week for this job is Wednesday thru Sunday. Which doesn't really bother me much.

Becus they pay the freelancers very little, I'd probably be called on fairly regularly to go out myself to get the pix. I did a lot of picture-taking when i was a news reporter years ago, but this is even easier becus i wouldn't have to stop and get the names of those i photographed. They just want a high volume of photos, like 75 to 100 per event.

Photo galleries apparently draw a huge number of clicks, and the idea is to help increase page views and get people onto the site. There is some creativity involved in coming up with thematic photo galleries that will have universal appeal; you know, like photos of little kids, people with their pets, etc.

I can't imagine the job would pay that much, but then again, I don't need to make a ton to get by. I just want to pay the bills and have something left over to add to retirement. $50 to $60K would be great. I know I can live on $50K, as I did that before, when I had a mortgage. Even $45K would probably be doable, although I don't think I'd want to go much lower than that. I figure a job like this should pay at least $40k, which is very low, but being mortgage-free now gives me more flexibility to consider jobs like this without having to make money the #1 consideration.

But as per usual, i see the job was advertised online, so god only knows how many responses they got.

I was planning on putting up my tag sale signs tonight (for tomorrow's sale) but there is still a 30% chance of rain today and tomorrow. I'd hate to see these signs get rained on and possibly illegible. I suppose I could go out EARLY tomorrow to do it, though I'd rather not wait til then in case i get early birds.

Puttering kind of day

August 28th, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I did a little of this, a little of that.

Prepared for my job interview tomorrow; I do this by anticipating the kinds of questions I might receive, and also developing my own list of questions.

I ironed and laid out my clothes for tomorrow. In the a.m., I'll be putting in a half day proofing at the p/t job and then I'll head over to the interview just a few miles away. I'll bring an extra top I can change into to feel fresh and unwrinkled.

I starting putting price stickers on my garage sale items and made a list of everything I'm selling, with asking price in 1 column and a 2nd column for selling price. Everything is really dirt cheap, but is it cheap enough?

I purchased the ad in local paper ($9.50), placed a free ad on Craig's List and another free ad on our local Patch. I have a bunch of signs to put up Friday.

I also cleaned a number of items. Things are coming together, and the bulk of the stuff will fit in the garage, so in case it rains, it won't be a huge deal, although I plan to put an old rocker and a cabinet and a bed coverlet outside. They're saying 20% chance of rain. Worst case scenario, if I sell less than expected, I might consider having another sale sometime in September. God knows I'll certainly have the time now.

I also went to the dump and the bank where I got a bunch of singles and quarters. And I explained to 2 contractors why I could no longer get the work done that I wanted them to do. It really bothers me to have to pull the plug on that stuff considering how much time I spent looking for the right person to do it, and being so close to having it done after deferring it for so long.

Tomorrow when I get home I hope to mow the front lawn. Friday I'll devote again to the sale, if needed. A friend may be dropping some stuff off that night. My other friend should also be coming over to help price stuff, though at this point I've attached prices on most items. Didn't want to leave it for the last minute. The vast majority of stuff is less than $20. I may have her drive me around as i jump out and put up the signs. Easier with 2 people.

After I get the sale out of the way, I may plan an overnight trip to see my dad on the Jersey shore. Haven't been down there all year.

I've been picking sooooo many tomatoes and can't wait to share my final tally with you soon.

I'm still waiting to receive 2 new bonus credit cards in the mail, and by paying my car and homeowners insurance, both due in September, I'll be able to quickly meet the spend targets and earn myself $200. I was going to apply that money toward me tree take-down, but now it will go toward general living expenses.

My revised income/expense scenario

August 27th, 2013 at 01:52 pm

With yesterday's news that my three-day-a-week job had deteriorated into occasional freelance work, I've rejiggered my projected monthly expenses and income to see where I stand.

It ain't pretty.

Total minimum monthly expenses: $1845
This reflects somewhat higher car insurance since I bought the new car. It also includes (ranked from highest to lowest expenses on a pro-rated basis): health insurance ($589, will drop somewhat 1/1/14 with Obamacare), property taxes ($488), food ($240), heating oil ($101), gas for car ($60), electricity ($55), homeowners insurance ($40), cats (mostly food, $38), phone/internet ($38), car fees/taxes ($23), water ($16, this fee will rise soon), dentist ($16), out of pocket medical ($15), borough taxes ($14), furnace tune-up ($13), gardening supplies ($12), sewer fees ($11, I paid off the loan itself last year), annual dump sticker ($7), haircuts ($5), allowing 4 a year at $15 each), car maintenance ($5, for 2 annual oil changes at $30/ea), printer cartridges ($3, allowing 2 at $20 ea) and mortgage ($0, I paid it off last year).

My budget does NOT allow for: home maintenance, retirement savings, clothing, dining out, the vet, entertainment, birdseed and Xmas.

Anticipated, estimated monthly income: $1272
This includes projected unemployment benefits of $161 a week. I could be off a bit, but that's what I've come up with. I won't open a claim right away and may wait til October becus it appears I might get a little more if I do wait. (They based the payment on average of 2 highest quarters, not counting immediately preceding quarter, so Oct 1 is start of a new quarter and works in my favor.) It also includes guesstimate for freelance work as well as occasional work from my current employer.

So my monthly shortfall is -573 a month.

While I continue to look for a job, I'll attempt to lower this shortfall with credit card rewards (I just opened 2 new cards that will deliver $200 in rewards when I hit the spend targets) and possible product studies. If I get busy with freelance work again I can do even better.

It was almost 4 years ago to the week that I was laid off in September of 2009 at age 50 and finally, after all that time of scrambling for work, my back is up against the wall, meaning I may for the first time have to start living off my savings to address that $573 monthly shortfall.

I hope that doesn't happen, I hope I get that job I'm interviewing for later this week, I hope the cats stay healthy, I hope the tree I was going to have cut down won't fall on the house this winter in a storm.... I hope, I hope, I hope.

Job woes

August 26th, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Are you getting sick of hearing about my job woes? Go ahead, you can tell me. I know I am.

Today my boss at my 3-day-a-week job told me that because work has been unusually slow, she's going to have me continue on an "as needed" basis, probably through the end of the year. I can work on the occasional writing assignment at home, she said, but she wants me to come in to the office when doing the catalog proofing.

Which leaves me with next to no income.

They think I'm an "exceptional" writer, but that's not what they need long-term, so they'll be hiring a perm editor 1/1/14.

So even more is riding on the interview I have this Thursday for a f/t job with xxx. I don't go back to my regular employer now til Thursday, which is convenient becus since my interview is the same day in the same city, I can eliminate one day of driving down there, or two hours of my time and gas.

I'm depressed, discouraged, tired. I'll have to cancel two of the three home improvement projects that were very close to getting done. The third one, installing the furnace humidifier, will proceed, since I already mailed in a $200 deposit and I really do want to be comfortable this winter.

I did have a nice time yesterday with R. He wanted to go to the Harley Davidson open house with free cookout, etc. If he doesn't die of prostate cancer in 4 years, he said, he's going to buy a Harley. He's not going to do it before then, since it's a high risk thing and his dog and 95-year-old father are still alive. After that, I guess he figures, he's entitled.

When we got there, there was no lunch; it was the day before. And since he had his dog with him, and the dog couldn't go into the showroom, guess who got stuck sitting in the car with the dog while R. went in to browse? Moi. After that, R. ferried me to BJs where I picked up a few things. We dropped that off back home to my fridge, then we set off to make a surprise visit to my sister's in neighboring town. The surprise was on us cus she wasn't home; i left a note in the door.

After that we paid a visit to a childhood friend of R's, who lives in the same town. I hadn't seen him since I broke up with R. 30 years ago! He sure looked older, but then of course, I bet that's what he's thinking about me. I gave R. some tomatoes from my garden, one of the few healthy things he eats.

The weather forecast for Saturday looks good so I'm committed to doing my garage sale then. Will buy ads in 2 papers on Wednesday and advertise it on Craig's List, too. I'll have Friday to get ready for it. I have a s***load of crap to get rid of.

Credit card rewards, home improvement projects

August 22nd, 2013 at 05:46 pm

Once again I only worked the equivalent of two days this week. I went in yesterday (my 3rd day) and it was a continuation of having absolutely nothing to do. Since one was away on vacation, the other one who sits right across from me now knows he's the only one who would be giving me work to do; I have a feeling if I could somehow stick it out sitting at my computer, pretending to be busy and doing nothing that he would have let me finish out the day that way, but it was more or less unbearable to do that and incredibly boring, so around noon I suggested that unless he anticipated having some work for me that afternoon, that maybe I should leave. He agreed, and so I went.

I'm guessing they maybe feel that since they initially said 3 days a week (earlier had said full-time), that if they tell me to leave early too many times I might look elsewhere for steadier work and so perhaps want to retain me for the time being. I certainly need the money, but I had already spent most of Tuesday trying to "look busy," ie, having a few screens open on my monitor, which anyone could see as they walk past or behind me, and occasionally typing on a word document.

I have of course been looking elsewhere for work. No calls yet.

I finally decided to hire one firm to install the furnace humidifier mid-September. I also found an affordable ($35/hr) freelance carpenter to repair the water damage in back of hall closet. While others quoted me $600+ to re-sheetrock the whole closet, he suggested I could save money by letting him see if he could repair the damage first. Which I'm all for since I hope to sell this place soon and it is the back of a closet. He spent a lot of time here discussing and thinking about different aspects of the work. He's a friend of my friend's husband. He'll start it next Friday. It should save me quite a bit, depending on how long it takes him, and if all goes well, I can use him for a number of other must-do projects around here.

That leaves the humongus tree take-down. I have one more guy coming to price it; I may wind up giving it to another one for $1200. I am nervous as all get-out about getting it done safely as the tree is in between my wires and my neighbor's wires, plus my neighbor has a telephone pole with those wires very close to the tree, so the guy taking it down has to know what he's doing. I had another guy here today who priced it at $2400, which includes taking away all the wood and bringing in topsoil and repairing divots on neighbor's lawn, which I think is probably unnecessary, though I am nervous about a heavy bucket damaging my neighbor's lawn. They’ve already given me permission to have the truck access the tree from their side becus my side is way too overgrown/brushy, but I don't want any complaints or hard feelings from them should the tree guy mess it up.

Nothing else much new. I've really been focused on collecting bids for these 3 different jobs. It's hard to spend @ $2300, which is what I'm looking at, especially when I consider that eats up about 4 months of my "discretionary" monthly income from my p/t job. But it all really needs to be done. (In my "money" days, say around 1995 through 2001, I wouldn't have worried about it at all and certainly wouldn't have spent so much time collecting prices, but that was then and this is now. )

It'll be another $350 or so to fill up my oil tank for fall heating season.

I'm still prepping for my garage sale. Here's a peak at just some of the stuff collecting all around the house.

An old rotary style phone (how retro), record albums from the 60s, a few kewpie dolls, a mirror my neighbor retrieved from the dump and then gave to me and a million other items. I have piles all around the house....

This weekend I hope to scrounge around for some white foam core, to make a bunch of signs to put next week.

Also, since I have so many pressing expenses, and because I remembered that I'll be billed for both my homeowner's and car insurance next month, that it would be great to get some more credit card bonuses by charging the combined $1200 or so bill. So I applied for 2 new bonus credit cards at the same time (to avoid being turned down by one due to recent application for the other) and was approved for both which should net me $200 cash back. I'll charge the car insurance with one card which will earn me that $100 bonus with just that one charge, and charge the homeowners with the other card, which will require just a bit more spending to receive the 2nd $100 reward.

I was very perturbed/disappointed that Amex would not give me the $100 bonus I thought I'd be getting after meeting their charge requirements with the Blue Cash Everyday card, but they said I was ineligible for the bonus becus I already owned another reward card, an old green cash card. I won’t be doing Amex rewards again.

Still, I'm not doing bad with the credit card rewards. YTD, I've received over $900 cash back from cards plus another $75 in gift cards. So, about $1,000 for 2013, compared to just $371 in cash back last year, though I did also get quite a bit in gift least equal to the cash back amount... in 2012.

Prepping for garage sale

August 18th, 2013 at 12:13 am

There are very few times of the year when working in the attic is feasible. It's either blistering hot up there or freezing cold. Today, though, it was quite reasonable, so I wound up working all morning and then some up there scrounging for things I might like to get rid of in my garage sale and tidying up in the process.

I was VERY UPSET to discover something. About 5 years ago, I bought a beautiful new rug, about 8 x 10. Gorgeous. Shortly after that, I adopted Luther and Waldo, so rather than watch them slowly destroy the brand new rug, I decided to store it in the attic. It's not rolled up, but it is face down on the floor. The better to protect it, I thought. I discovered in cleaning that all around the edges it looks a little...not exactly frayed, but like something's been nibbling it! Has got to be a mouse/mice!!! I’m very upset. Don't know what the heck to do with it to protect it from further damage. I could bring it downstairs, but then the cats will be scratching at it. Gosh darn.

I do have a pile of stuff for the sale, but I have a feeling the bulk of it will go unsold, even if I price everything very reasonably. I will have to aggressively advertise it in at least 2 local papers, maybe a third as well to build traffic. Becus if I don't sell it all, much of it will be donated to Good Will, and all that prep work for nothing.

I brought most of my stash down from my upstairs spare bedroom, where I'd been accumulating stuff, downstairs by the front door. Up and down the stairs about 50 times. I figure, with still 2 weeks from planned date (unless we have another heat wave OR it rains), no use hauling it down to the garage becus things tend to get dirty in there just sitting around. So bulk of work still to mostly be done on the Thursday and Friday before the sale.

I was able to borrow a full-size folding table from friend R., and I remembered I do have 2 smallish (about 18" diameter) folding wood tables I can easily put out there. And I have one long counter in the garage, plus a makeshift job I made with bricks and wood.

It's so hard knowing how to price things. I have a friend who sells a lot of stuff on eBay who will be coming over to help me with that. There were a few things I thought might be worth more money that I researched online. An ironstone teapot made in England, 2 kewpie dolls I'm having a little trouble letting go since my grandmother gave them to me and she crocheted them both little gowns. But so much stuff just sitting around in storage. A rocker that is rather nice but needs new fabric seat, lots of kitchen stuff, just a lot of tsotchas, etc etc.

This weekend I also managed to do two loads of laundry, mow front and back and I got another estimate on rebuilding concrete sill on side garage door and taking down that tree of paradise ($1200). He wants too much. If I move, why spend all that $$ on having a tree taken down? For peace of mind. If we have another storm similar to Hurricane Sandy, this tree could drop more limbs, possibly on the house. They say we're going to have another "active" hurricane season.

The price of ripping out damaged sheetrock and putting in new sheetrock, and taping it, was $670, I think, from one company. A lot when you consider it's just sheet rock. It’s all about the labor. I have another guy coming sometime this coming week. He's supposed to be "reasonable" and was recommended by a friend.

After having finished up the antibiotics for the Lyme Disease I believe about 2 weeks ago, I had 2 days feeling very headachy all day. Pretty sure it's still the lyme. So doc gave me antibiotics for another 2 weeks, which she said sometimes helps. I don't like taking antibiotics all the time, but it's very troubling to be having these headaches, and there’s no other treatment available. So antibiotics it is.

I made a peach/wineberry crisp yesterday.

I like to count my produce (the stuff I grow), and so far I'm up to 457 cherry tomatoes and 59 beefsteak tomatoes, plus smaller quantities of other stuff. It's really hard to believe. I've given away a lot of tomatoes to my mother and frozen even more. Tomorrow I may try digging up some potatoes. Perhaps a bit early. If the voles got to them before me, it'll be a washout.

End-of-life clean-outs

August 11th, 2013 at 11:52 am

I was wryly amused to notice another deception in the prominent ad I'd seen from the tree guy. He said he had "27 years of experience."

Since I researched him by name online, I learned from Intellius and other data collection resources that he's 42, so with 27 years of experience, he'd have had to start tree cutting work at age 15. Not wholly outside the realm of possibility, except that I also learned from my online research that he used to drive a truck before he got into the tree cutting business.

The funny thing is, he came across as unusually friendly, reassuring and polite when I spoke to him. The last person you'd think might be lying to your face.

...last night I spent a few hours helping longtime friend R. clean out his dad's assisted living apartment since his dad (age 95) has been moved to the nursing home on the same property.

I worked in the kitchen, packing up dishes and other stuff for Goodwill, and occasionally asking R. if he thought his sister might like this or that. R. also let me take a number of things I know I can use, like half-used rolls of tinfoil, and a few items he said I could try to sell in my upcoming garage sale. Like, there was a nice set of 3 largish pots with lids, the dark blue metal with speckles in it? I forget what that's called.

The clean-out was one of those necessary things, but it was a little sad at the same time. As R. commented, it was hard to believe that a person's lifetime could be reduced down to three small rooms of stuff. I reminded him later that it's life experiences and relationships that are most important, not "stuff," and in that sense, his father had lived a rich and full life. I mean, he was still golfing with R. up to age 94!

Like my mother, R's father was a child of the Great Depression, and so it wasn't surprising to find untold quantities of metal soda tab pulls, plastic containers, the plastic caps from dish detergent bottles and other stuff that most people would throw away, all stuffed inside the kitchen drawers. There were also pieces of dried up orange rind thrown inside the cabinets as a means of non-chemical insect control. (I wonder if it worked...I never saw any signs of bugs.)

We recycled a bunch of stuff. There were a lot of old mugs with "World's Best Dad" and similar sentiments written on them, but they were too dirty to just box up as is. R. said don't bother washing them, just throw them away. (R. can be very sentimental, about some things, but old mugs aren't one of them.) I got about 3/4 of the kitchen dishware wrapped and boxed up and told R. I could come back to help him on Thursday, my next day off.

Afterwards, we stopped in at the nursing home to visit his dad, who looked smaller and more frail than last time I saw him when he and Ron. came to my house maybe 6 months ago. He took my hand as he often has and said I still look like I was 14. It's nice to know that, at least to a 95-year-old, I look like a teenager. Smile

He was a little confused. He said a few things that didn't make sense. He mentioned he'd just had his breakfast, when actually, it was dinner.

Meanwhile, I spotted lobster at $3.79/lb at Caraluzzi's, alerted my mother and now we're supposed to enjoy lobster dinner together later in the week. She's very excited.

I don't have anything specific lined up for today, although I did buy some organic peaches with the thought in mind that if they're ripe enough to use today, I might make a peach/wineberry crisp. I also need to think about workday lunches for the upcoming week.

I haven't taken a walk for a very long time, and this seems to be the day to do it.

I am getting more and more push back from the recruiter about having to keep paying me that extra $1/hr difference each week for my job. He keeps saying he's going to try to "get you more money" on an hourly basis, though I'm thinking, why would they agree to pay more for someone who's already working there? He's going to make a case that I've been underpaid to start with, but since the agency accepted the employer's lowering of my pay rate to start with, I don't see why the employer would now say yes, you're right, we need to pay her more. Even if I'm worth it, and it's the right thing to do. Because employers just don't do that. Employees are not their most important constituency; shareholders are.

I foresee that extra $1/hr going by the wayside soon; of course, the job may not last long either.

Bad Apple Doing Tree Work? Home Improvement Harangue

August 10th, 2013 at 12:49 am

Man, can you trust anybody in this world today to be what they say they are?

As mentioned yesterday, I had 5 contractors over my house yesterday to give me estimates for three different projects. One of them being the takedown of a huge ailanthus (tree of paradise) tree that is too close to my house (maybe 20 feet) and has already dropped a large limb in the last big storm.

One guy who was highly recommended passed on it, saying it was a little too big for him and I'd need someone with a bucket truck.

The next guy climbed trees and didn't use a bucket truck. He quoted me a price of $930 which would include mulching the smaller branches, cutting and then stacking the rest of the tree. Unfortunately, I don't have a fireplace so don't have much use for the wood.

I called my next door neighbors (an elderly couple) to see if the tree guy and his crew of 4 could drive a truck over their lawn with the mulcher. I figured they'd be fine with it because this tree threatens not only my power lines on one side, but theirs as well, on the other side and all of us, I think, are getting tired of big trees dropping in storms.

Sure enough, they were okay with it and so I called and told the tree guy he had the job. He was going to do it tomorrow morning.

It was around 4 pm today when I suddenly remembered I hadn't called the contact number tree guy gave me when I asked about his insurance. Tree work is inherently risky and dangerous work, and if someone got injured on my property, I could be sued. So I called and checked out the insurance; they said he had general liability insurance but not worker's comp.

I decided to do some quick due diligence online to check out the guy's background; this is something I do with most contractors I do business with. I noticed like so many others, he didn't put an actual address on his estimate paperwork and I learned years ago when I wanted to sue someone in small claims that you can’t serve someone if you don’t have their address.

While I didn't dig up his address, I did learn that he had only recently (a year ago) arrived in CT from PA. A man by the same name as him and going by the same business name had a long list of complaints filed against him by customers who said he completed part of the work, asked for more money and then never returned to finish the work. There were 16 complaints of that ilk. BBB of PA gave him an "F." Others also said he treated his workers very poorly, yelling and cursing at them. He was arrested for drug possession. There was even a local television station in PA that did an expose-type story on his business practices!! Amazing what you can find online when you dig a little.

So, I decided to back out and left a message for him. I was actually a little nervous about telling him the truth about what I found, lest he get angry with me and blow a fuse, so I lied and told him my husband lost his job today. Sorry, but you can't be too careful.

I'm just frustrated that I have to start from scratch again, and I'm pretty sure future estimates will be higher. His $930 I thought was fairly reasonable, given the size of this tree. I don't know if it even makes sense to spend money taking the tree down when there are so many other home improvements I need to make before selling my house, something I keep saying I want to do. It's just that after last winter, I truly am fearful of going through other storms like the 2 or 3 bad ones we've had, including Sandy.

Certainly, there are probably a half dozen other trees that could, theoretically, hit the house, but this one was the one I worried about the most.

One of the furnace humidifier guys got back to me with an emailed quote of $985 to install an Aprilaire humidifier, which I thinks is ridiculous. I hadn't realized what a top notch company this was, and they do a lot of business, he was telling me, with all the mega-mansions in Greenwich and southern parts of Fairfield County. They charge $130/hr for labor for cripes' sakes. I want to get the price from the other HVAC guy and then make a decision. This, too, is a project that is debatable as to usefulness if I sell the house in a year or two. Could I make do with the single room humidifier I use now, but perhaps more consistently, in just the bedroom? It gets incredibly dry in this house with forced hot air. I don't know; don’t really want to have to deal with that anymore. It's a $600 question.

There was another project I called a guy over for...the north side of my house with a large picket fenced-in area, all totally overgrown and beyond my control. (It would scream "high maintenance" to any prospective buyer.) He was here for quite a while talking to me about my options, which included his using a rototiller-type machine or something else I forget the name, to dig up the pachysandra and invasive brambles but we both agreed he wouldn't be able to get every last bit of pachysandra and the stuff would grow back. He wanted more money for doing that anyway. So he suggested that he had his 2 sons simply rake up all the debris and growth in there, take it away, trim it real short and dismantle the picket fence which is falling apart and rotting. For that he wanted $1200, again a ridiculous price. The idea of just cutting it all down low would be that I could then stay on top of it with my lawnmower.

When I didn't call him back in a day or two, he called me and left a message saying hey, I'm working in your town next week and I can save you some money by doing your job same day and hauling your stuff away same day, thereby only having to pay dump fee once and he brought the price down to $950. Somehow I suspect he's just trying to get my business and isn't necessarily working in my town. Anyway, that's way too much money. I might as well just wait til spring and again attempt to stay on top of the growth in that area with a mower/trimmer.

I keep feeling like I'm getting nowhere. Probably the biggest thing I’d want to try to fix with the house before selling it would be my damp basement issues. In the past with very heavy rains in spring I've had water coming through the cinder block walls. I have used Thoro-Seal and believe that's mostly plugged up. But I still have damp areas of the concrete floor in there during times of high humidity or in spring when there's a high water table. It's not wet, per se, and not standing water, just damp areas along the perimeter of the walls.

In years past I had not one but two separate underground drainage systems installed and spent probably $10K+; still I have these problems and I dread tackling this problem again. But I feel this would need to be addressed becus, unlike when I bought the place, state laws now require that any house seller disclose certain key problems (like wet basement, termites, etc) on a special form that's given to the buyer.

I've poured so much money into this place, installing a top of line furnace, new roof, hook-up to city water, hook-up to town sewers, all new Whirlpool kitchen appliances w/ s/s fridge and dishwasher, new washer/dryer, sun room conversion, new attic windows, French doors, new I-beam in basement, rebuilt front stoop, rebuilt brick patio, replaced all faucets, attic insulation, blown-in wall insulation, vinyl siding...

Other shortcomings of this house are...the driveway is in bad shape, but that's another expensive fix I wasn't planning on doing. And while I replaced the roof 18 years ago, it should probably be redone soon because the plywood boards underneath it are soft and no good. And the final big problem is the walls in the dining room and living's paint over wallpaper and, you guessed it, the paint is cracking and coming up because the underlying wallpaper is starting to come up. I tried with one small area of the wall to scrape the whole thing down and it's a mess, with several layers of old wallpaper from I'm guessing the 50s. It would probably be easier to just replace the beaverboard with new sheetrock and then tape it, but that again is an expensive and time-consuming project. I also thought it might be easier to have my handyman guy just install vertical wood paneling over it, but then you have baseboards and moldings to worry about, and things like electrical outlets won't be flush.

If I had the $ I could just wave my hand and say, make it so, but now, every dollar is precious and I have to be careful of how I spend it. If I had a handy husband, that would be enormously helpful right about now.

Trees, closet and furnace humidifiers

August 8th, 2013 at 07:20 pm

So, a while back I had an HVAC guy here to give me a price on installing a new humidifier. The price I got with labor was about $500 or $600, depending on how long it took, and his estimate of time (3 to 4 hours) seemed a little high to me, especially at $95/hr. He wasn't familiar with the Desert Spring humidifier I extensively researched, but said he could install it.

Today I had another guy come out. He said it usually takes a little over an hour to do but mine might take 2 hours max becus I was asking them to replace some sheet metal that rusted out after the old humidifier leaked. I'm eager to hear his price.

I was pretty much set on the Desert Spring furnace humidifier, but with the Aprilaire 400 seems like there won't be mold issues, it won't use excessive water and maintenance is just replacing the panels twice a season. I guess I'm concerned that neither of the 2 guys who were here had ever head of the Desert Spring brand but they were both very familiar with the Aprilaire. So may end up going with that in case I have issues down the road.

Getting this humidifier installed is my #1 spending priority this year. I think it will make a huge difference in my comfort level during the winter months.

Also had a guy, highly recommended, come out to look at an ailanthus tree I want taken down. It's a humongus tree of paradise, too close to house for my liking. One limb already came off during Hurricane Sandy and it dropped maybe 15 feet from the sun room. It towers over everything.

He said the tree was a little too big for him to handle, plus it is rather close to my power lines and my neighbor's. He said he'd have a friend with a bucket truck give me a call. I also have another tree guy come over later for another estimate and I have one more humidifier guy coming, too.

Aside from the tree issue and the humidifier, I unexpectedly discovered some old water damage from ice dams last winter in the back of an upstairs hall closet I was cleaning out. It looks terrible; the sheetrock will either need to be repaired or replaced. I called one guy who didn't call back; my neighbors love him, but I suspect he's not interested in small, low-paying jobs like this. I suppose I could call Handyman Connection but I know they'll be higher priced. There's my other handyman guy but I sometimes question his skills. Meanwhile, I'm a little reluctant to put anything back in the closet so it's strewn all over the hall floor.

I agreed to help my friend R. clean out his father's apartment on Saturday. His dad is 95 and is having enough health issues that he's going to have to go into the nursing home he was moved to from his assisted living apartment. He said he'd pay me $10/hr for maybe 3 or 4 hours. I'd help him anyway; we've been friends a very long time.

I have a bit of work from my p/t job...writing some very brief bios for some architects.

I was able to get the payroll person at the agency confirm they are now in receipt of my time sheets from the last 2 weeks and that I'll be receiving 2 paychecks tomorrow....thank God.

Handyman Connection guy came and went; estimate tomorrow. It's just the back wall that's damaged by ice dam melting, but the other 2 walls are paint over wallpaper, so since he'll be disassembling the shelving in there to get to the back wall, I asked him to give me a 2nd estimate based on putting in new sheetrock all the way around.

Just got car my car tax bill today; it was apparently mis-delivered as someone hand-wrote on the envelope "deliver to correct address." Thanks to the mailman, it's already past due and I have to pay a few extra dollars in interest.

Oh, now my neighbor just dropped by to show me his latest puzzle designs. (He knows I'm home on Thursdays and Fridays.) We sat around the dining room table and talked for about an hour. I showed him the closet with the water damage and told him I was getting estimates but couldn't get a hold of the guy he recommended. He kept telling me I could do it myself and told me exactly what to do, but it's really not something I'd feel comfortable doing. He finally wound up saying he would do it for me for $200 and will come next Thursday.

Garden stuff

August 5th, 2013 at 01:11 am

I've been enjoying plenty of tomatoes, lots of cherry tomatoes and small beefsteak tomatoes, from my dad's plants that he grew from seed. The plants are five feet high. I'm also getting a few yellow squash, which surprised me since I have such a terrible infestation of cucumber beetles. Also a few cucumbers and green bell peppers.

I had something really spectacular growing in great profusion with little white flowers, but forgot what I had planted. It was in the general area where I planted my sister's parsnip seeds, so I figured that was it.

But when I mentioned it to her, she said, no, parsnip wouldn't be in bloom now. She suggested I dig one up to check for a tuber. I did, and got absolutely nothing. So I've apparently been giving free rein to some sort of weed that looked like something important. I ripped it all out this afternoon.

Finally, I have several celery plants which I bought on impulse and stuck in the ground. They're doing quite well and appear to be insect-free. I am really looking forward to starting to cut off a stalk or two as needed.

I made a new drink today….a pitcher of cold water with a handful of mint leaves from one of my plants and the juice from two limes, with some stevia thrown in for sweetener. Will let brew overnight in fridge, and will be curious how minty it will be. The limes were 10 for $1 at Shop Rite, so I figured what the heck.

I also made my lunches for the coming work week: a cold salad of equal parts black beans, corn and edamame. You don't cook anything, just let the edamame and corn dethaw. You also add some red onion, chopped red tomatoes and your favorite salad dressing, and oila! Yummy healthy salad.

Today I checked out an open house with a friend in town. I've been looking for the most part at condos, but this was a small house about 1200 square feet. A little too small for me, I think, with very small rooms. A cape built in 1947 but totally updated with 3 small bedrooms and 2 baths. New siding, new plumbing, new electrical, vinyl windows, nice patio out back. Central air and instant hot water. On a dead end street and a half mile from Sandy Hook Center. About a third of an acre, but still seemed like more grass to mow than I care for. Short sale situation.

It was cute, but a little claustrobic on second floor and steep stairs leading to a bedroom/bath due to the slanted walls that really made it necessary to watch where you were walking lest you hit your head. It also lacked a garage. They dropped the price to $249K.
After looking at the house we stopped in at the coffee shop for an iced tea and sat outside on the deck overlooking the Pootatuck River. It was such a nice day. A. is going to help me with my garage sale.

After that I went grocery shopping and rushed out to mow the back yard when it began raining. I was able to finish it and then do the trimming. Then it stopped raining and the skies cleared, so I trimmed a very large viburnum which keeps growing into my driveway. I picked some more tomatoes from my garden. Also potted up some groundcovers I hope to sell in my garage sale. I figure I'll pot them up now (4 varieties) and get them all good and healthy looking, though don't know how much interest there'll be in perennials in late August/September.

More fun and paycheck

August 2nd, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Inexplicably, the agency did not issue me a paycheck today. It wasn't in my checking account (direct deposit) and I confirmed on their website the check wasn't cut. I sent an email to the woman who does payroll, only to get an auto reply saying she was out til Monday. I then called my recruiter contact John at his office and I get a fast busy signal. (I'm getting a wee bit nervous now.) I called again and this time someone answered and said, "No one by [that name] works here." I finally get my contact John on his cell. He said everything was fine at his agency but they were having phone problems. And that he'd look into the paycheck issue.

Despite my having emailed my timesheet to payroll with a copy to John, they claim they didn't get it. And no, they can't cut a check for me until next Friday's payday.

This happened this morning and I'm still feeling ticked off. Partly because the payroll people over there apologized very nicely to John and never bothered to get back to me. Listen, people, I'M the one who didn't get the paycheck, not John. You’d think as a courtesy they would make a simple apology, but no.

Can you tell I hate dealing with this agency? How much effort is it to send a quick email?

Today I did 2 loads of laundry and was totally annoyed to find the "Start" button the GE dryer I just bought 2 years ago is not working properly. That is, the dryer won't stay on unless you keep holding the button down. I got it to work by applying duct tape over the button. (It's an auto shut-off.) I don't think it's under warranty.

I started mowing the lawn but then it started raining so I had to give up. It only lasted 5 minutes, but it was enough to make everything wet, so I decided to bag it until tomorrow.

I vacuumed both floors.

I made good progress on my weeding schedule. Everything here got real overgrown during all that heat we had, so this is catch-up time now in the garden.

I got a phone call this a.m. from my #1 freelance client. I was very surprised to learn (and so was he) that his right hand woman (she was at director level), quit the job to pursue her personal passion: thoroughbred horse rescue. She was very capable. He told me he wound up hiring 2 different people to cover everything she did. This past month had been very quiet and I'd been wondering why…now I know. After I got off the phone with him, I was thinking hmmm, maybe this is a good time to suggest we restructure our own work relationship. That is, instead of my continuing to freelance for him, I could work for him as a p/t employee 1 or 2 days a week, on-site. The advantage to him would be to not have to always worry about my availability and having me there on a regular basis would only improve the quality of my work since I'd have easier access to him when I needed info. The advantage to me, of course, would be more consistent income.

I was thinking how good it would be to have a steady p/t job with them now. For as long as my other job lasts, it would mean I'd be working 5 days a week. And if and when I lose the other job sometime later this year, most likely, I'd then have the other job to rely on.

He hasn't responded yet so don't know if there's any interest there. I know he likes my work and we have a very long work relationship, 20 years, in fact. I have worked as a staff writer there in the past, as well as part-time and now freelance. The question would be do they have room in their budget for this? I'm pretty sure they could keep me busy with all the work they have. I charge them $50/hr now; if I get that same rate working on-site for 15 hours a week. I'd gross $39K and I'd be golden.

I mean, I recently learned my HVAC guy charges $95/hr, for gosh sake's, and I'm pretty sure he has only a high school diploma.

The Job Merry-Go-Round, Net Worth Changes & Garage Sale in my Future

August 1st, 2013 at 01:44 pm

I had a long overdue talk with my boss today at the p/t job I started after Memorial Day weekend. They're happy with my writing, love my fast turnaround and my great attitude, but she thinks that, like her (her words) she thinks I'm a stronger writer than editor, and she's unsure what the right "balance" is between writing and editing skills for the perm position.

(Note that the job was originally advertised as a writing job, so to hear her say this was complete news to me. It also is a painful reminder of what happened at Prudential; I started working a contract job there as a writer and then mid-way through that assignment, which I was hoping would go perm, they decided to rejigger the job description so it ultimately included certain skill sets I didn't have. All along they said they were quite happy with my work but my background, they felt, was no longer a great fit for their future needs.)

She said she will know from HR if she will have funding for the perm position (to start 1/1/14) this fall, but wants to start whoever it is working beforehand to see how they work out. She didn't rule me out as a candidate either. She was pretty candid about it and about as nice as could be, so I can't really fault her for that.

While I've worn dual hats at many smaller companies I've worked at as both writer and editor, out of necessity, I think she's probably right about my strengths. There are many companies out there who are less concerned with the exact correct placement of a semi-colon and more interested in getting a high volume of work done. I think it comes down to priorities and is the company doing well enough to afford to be so picky.

So I'm thinking I should be able to work through August no problem, but then after that, who knows how long I'll have? If she learns in September she has funding for the perm position and decides to advertise the position and they get the right person, I could be out the door fairly soon. Or I could still be there in December...don't really know.

I did inquire when we talked whether she'd be open to my working a 4-day week, if they wound up picking me for the position. She was not at all open to that becus she felt the workload was such that my being absent one day each week would burden other employees.

So the job for me would be all or nothing. I told her I was still interested. I have to be careful how I handle this and can't reject a f/t offer even though I'm very reluctant to take it, if offered, due to the lengthy commute. But if I declined any offer they might make to me, I would not be eligible for unemployment benefits, and I really have no backup plan for income other than that if I don't get this job. So I will have to accept it if offered.

I already told recruiter about the conversation and asked him to keep an eye out for other opportunities for me, and of course, I'm looking too, as I have been since before I even took this job.

In other news...
July was an expensive month, to the tune of $5200, but that's because I had to pay my semi-annual property taxes of $2928. Moving forward, I'm going to insert the monthly cost of $488 into each month's expense report. I haven't done that in the past; I would simply record the expense when I paid it. But doing that distorts my expense picture and makes it appear I'm doing better, expense-wise each month than I really am because I'm only paying the property taxes twice a year, and then it's a big wallop.

Other big expenses this month were my sun room blinds ($317), medical treatment for my Lyme without having health insurance coverage ($249, should have been more like $50), Luther's vet bill ($141) and a variety of one-time annual expenses that all hit at the same time, like my borough taxes ($156), car registration ($90) and dump sticker ($85). Groceries were also higher than I budget for, at $248. Sigh.

It's gratifying to see that my net worth increased by $19,456 (!!) since last month, but it's not because I saved it. (My cash on hand has decreased by about $2,000 since I started this new job).

No, the big increase in my net worth is purely due to the bull stock market we've enjoyed of late. In fact, my net worth August 1 is $70,286 more than it was a year ago at this time. Pretty amazing if you consider I have not worked full time during that year! Plus I spent $20,000 of savings to buy a new car. Compared to 4 years ago (2009), my net worth is $147,724 higher. My net worth is now at a lifetime high. But what will happen if the stock market takes a corrective turn?

Today, we start with a clean slate on August 1. I need to immediately revert back to my "survivalist" lifestyle with minimal expenses. Since starting this new job, I'd indulged a bit with just a few fast food splurges along with some discretionary spending on clothing, those sun room shades and my maharaja chair.

To help offset some of that, I've decided on having a garage sale September 15. I've enlisted a friend to help on the day of the sale and suggested she try to sell some of her own stuff, too. I figure the weather should be decent by then (not too hot) and it gives me plenty of time for further organizing.

My real problem is the lack of tabletop space. What I need is a few folding card tables but it doesn't make sense to buy anything since I never make much money at a sale. I might scrounge around at good will but not sure I'll be able to find anything. I have one long workbench in the garage that I could clear off to put items on, but it would be nice to have enough stuff that people can walk all around the garage.

I plan on having some furniture, mostly chairs, as well as the usual housewares, kitchenware, old records, books and so on. Also some hypertufa and perennial groundcovers though most people aren't thinking gardening in September.