Home > Archive: March, 2017

Archive for March, 2017

Blah humbug

March 31st, 2017 at 05:50 pm

These hyacinths haven't bloomed yet; they are from another year.

It's another cold, dreary, rainy day here on the East Coast and it looks like a walk will be out of the question.

So many job opportunities come and gone. Waiting for my next freelance writing assignment. I turned in my last assignment on Monday and here it is 5 days later and I still don't have something new! Not good, but my goal is 4 a month, and we're not even into the month of April yet.

I spent the morning reviewing my grocery price list, which is incomplete at best, but there was enough data in it to make a new list indicating which foods that i buy regularity are best to buy at which stores.

So not surprisingly, Aldi's is the leader, with the cheapest:

Whole pineapple ($1.29)
Salad greens ($3.59 for a large clamshell)
Grapefruit (.69 ea)
sweet potatoes (.89 for a bag!)
Almond and soymilk ($2.19)
Organic jarred preserves ($2.19-$2.39)
Old-fashioned oats (42 oz, $2.39)
Steel cut oats (24 oz $2.29)
They also had frozen baby brussels sprouts which I really wanted to stock up on when i saw them for $1 a lb but they were sold out when i got there.

Shop Rite has the cheapest whole watermelons ($3.88, at certain times)/

BJs has cheap fresh organic strawberries ($2.99, 1 lb), frozen, nonorganic wild blueberries and walnuts ($3.33 a lb)

Trader Joe's has the cheapest Amy's roasted veggie pizza at $4.29 ($8 elsewhere!!)

And Amy's frozen bean burritos, which i like in a pinch, seem so far to be cheapest ($2.69 ea) at Stop & Shop, which I find hard to believe. Surely i can get them cheaper elsewhere.

Blah, humbug. I should plant the parsley seed i soaked overnight but don't feel like going in the chilly garage to get the topsoil and peat pots. Maybe tomorrow.

I watched a PBS show on the Bronte sisters last night. Very interesting.

Can't wait to go to the cacti and succulent show/sale tomorrow. I won't be coming home empty-handed, let's put it that way.

Yesterday I got my NEW CENTRAL AC installed! They have to come back around late April/May to test the system becus it's too cold to do so now, but I assume and expect it will be fine. He didn't tell me about that until he arrived, so I decided to withhold $250 in payment to make sure he comes back for the system test.

If I paid him in full, there's be no pressing reason for him to come back here when he gets really busy. He seems professional in every way, but still, i would feel better having this small $250 bit of leverage. Total cost was $4650 and that includes the cover for it and a new programmable thermostat much like the old one.

He cut down a small dead mountain laurel stump that was in the way. My only regret is that i didn't have them position the outdoor unit a foot or so further toward house corner, becus now if you sit in one of my 2 kitchen chairs at the small table i have in there, you see a large compressor, which looks even larger becus i asked them to put it extra high up on cinder blocks becus in past years with heavy spring rains there was a real torrent of water in that area. (My neighbor put in some drainage at no cost to me, since the water was coming from top of his driveway, so maybe it wouldn't happen again anyway, but better safe than sorry.)

It's a Lennox and has a one-year warranty on labor and 10 year on parts. Servicing it annually will cost $118 but I may skip the first few years since it's less likely to have issues when it's brand new. It will be interesting to see how well it cools the house.

One question mark is how comfortable my family room will be. It was an addition built after the original house, and it's the only house that doesn't have the oil furnace duct work providing heat; it has electric heat. I am hoping that my leaving my 2 French doors open in summer, which i do anyway, and having a large box fan blowing the air-conditioned air from my regular living room into it, will be enough. I also have a portable AC i can put in there if needed as well. Which I may have to do as the family room gets a tremendous amount of heat coming in from the adjacent sun room, which is all windows on 2 sides and facings south and west. Even when i close the doors to sun room and have the windows open or closed.

I know the cats are going to want to go into the sun room becus they love it in there. So I don't know if I'll let them in and out all day long and lose the cool air or enforce a No Sun Room policy during the dog days of summer in July/August when it's often unbearable during heat of the day.

The freelance lifestyle

March 22nd, 2017 at 10:37 pm

Not having a full-time income with job stinks.

However, as I continue freelancing while I search for a real job, I do enjoy the freelance lifestyle. This is what I imagine my early retirement will feel like, absent the nagging worry about income and expenses.

To me, the freelance lifestyle means every day is refreshingly different.

This morning I eked out 1 of the 4 write-ups I assigned myself for today in my current writing gig before heading out for a 10:20 am gyno appointment. This particular assignment has 25 schools to write about, so i divide up the summaries among the 6 days I have to complete the assignment.

The exam was painful! My old gyno retired and already I miss her. She was much more gentle. As a result, I may not stay with this new one.

My dad came over for lunch...and one of my new experimental vegan recipes..... and we had a green salad with a turmeric-ginger peanut butter chickpea stew over rice-quinoa blend. I think I had the heat on too high and the peanut butter-spice blend was a little dry.

Dessert was easy and very good. I just threw the following into the blender: frozen cherries, a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa, a few pitted dates and some soy milk. It tasted like a chocolate cherry ice cream. If I'd added more soy milk, it would be more like a smoothie.

After dad left, I wrote the remaining 3 school summaries I needed to write.

Tonight I decided to go alone to a movie dad wasn't interested in going to see becus it has sub-titles. It's a movie called "Kedi" about stray cats in Istanbul and the people who love them. I have a feeling it's going to be good.

Tomorrow I'll be writing another 4 school summaries but in between that I'll be traveling a short distance to meet someone who is buying a piece of my mother's art. So happy to have another sale, especially when it's commission-free!

On Friday I have a mid-afternoon MS lecture program to attend and will continue working on my freelance project every day, through the weekend and then wrap up on Monday.

I am feeling more upbeat about this work, which I've complained about in the past due to the low rate of pay of $15 to $20/hr. I'm feeling better about it for a number of reasons:
1. I'm settling into a certain rhythm writing these where it all flows easier, even though some still likely take me a full hour to write due to my own thorough research habits.
2. After realizing I couldn't prod my contact to send me new assignments immediately after I turn in a prior one (she typically takes a day or two to send me the next assignment), I decided to take a different tack and ask for lengthier writing assignments, which result in more money. And I now like the 1 or 2 day break in between assignments becus I can then squeeze in my grocery shopping and other errands so they don't interfere with my writing later.

My gross income for March will be much better than my February gross, and with the increased word counts, I think my total monthly income will be within shooting range of the minimum needed to cover ongoing expenses: $2,000 a month. I'm thinking I should be able to do $1600 monthly. Shooting range.

3. I think I also under-estimated the value of having regular, ongoing work, even if it is low paying. In the past, when I've had to freelance between jobs, I mostly relied on my real estate contacts and a few other random clients for work, but the work flow was never within my control. I had to wait for someone to give me a project.

The website I'm working for has about 30 other writers besides me, telling me they have plenty of work on an ongoing basis. And I already see the results of that in my March income.

I'm saving both time and money I might otherwise use getting to a local part-time job, and there's no place I'd rather be (home) in the middle of a snowstorm.

And my gross income will be so low this year (so far, anyway), that I'll be in the lowest tax bracket, whatever that is.

Blizzard status report

March 14th, 2017 at 08:03 pm

It was snowing when I woke up around 7 am and it's been snowing ever since. Technically it's a blizzard with fairly strong winds.

So far, I still have power and I think it will be okay in that regard.

My Snow Shoveling Strategy was to bundle up and go outside around 10 a.m. to shovel, my thinking being to try to lighten my load when the snow finally stops. I had also heard of a possible changeover to partial rain/sleet later in the day which would make shoveling very heavy.

There was already about 10 inches on the ground, so good thing I did that. I cleared the front stairs and the paver/upper level of driveway but didn't touch the lower half. Spent about 45 minutes doing that til my arms ached.

Curiously, Waldo's allergies have not really abated at all, even with a blizzard going on. He's on his twice a day meds and was doing okay, but about a week ago his allergies got much worse, almost as if he wasn't on the meds at all. Apparently pollen had already started, but i mean with a blizzard and a foot on the ground, there can't be pollen around right now.

So I don't know what to do about that. I'm very reluctant to increase his meds dosage becus vet had told me it could over time, cause him to have diabetes, and that basically, would be the end of the road becus I don't think either one of us could handle injections.

I filled the 2 teeny bird feeders outside the front door when I was outside, and also put more suet out.

One of my freelance clients called me unexpectedly. He got a 2nd interview for a job he wanted. I had helped with his resume and cover letter when he applied, and I also helped him with more writing when he got the 1st interview. Today I helped him write a mission statement.

I hope he gets the job. He had once said to me that if he were in a position to do so, he would definitely hire me. I doubt an IT director could justify hiring a writer, but maybe for contract work, who knows.

Here comes the big one

March 13th, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Blizzard, that is...we're expecting 2 feet tomorrow and heavy winds. I just pray I keep my power on.

I was scheduled for a heating oil tank fill-up today. I usually tell the woman on the phone to tell the driver not to drive up the driveway on my new pavers. I forgot, but had jotted down in my daily Things to Do list that I should move my car to block that portion of the upper driveway.

Except that the tanker truck arrived at 7:15 am, shortly after I got up.

He was already backing in as I rushed to throw on some clothes. I got him to move the truck and luckily no damage was done to the pavers. It was the mason who suggested I keep heavy trucks off it.

Now I see I'm running low on cat meds, with about 6 days left. I should really go down there today to pick up another 1.5 month supply.

Sunday thoughts, in no particular order

March 12th, 2017 at 08:27 pm

Today's accomplishments (so far):

1. Finished up current freelance assignment a full 2.5 days early. I wrote about the 25 best online master's degrees in instructional technology.

I have to keep pushing her to give me longer (aka higher paying) assignments, as I still managed to get this one done with time to spare.

2. Waldo's allergies have taken a turn for the worse, inexplicably, even tho he's on the same meds he's been on for a while now. Could pollen be in the air already, with snow still on the ground?

So I vacuumed the upstairs and have the air purifier running on medium in the bedroom, where he spends most of his time. I'm so glad that when I bought it, I bought a highly energy-efficient model.

3. I made another batch of my yummy oil-free salad dressing (blended walnuts, garlic, vinegar, thyme and raisins). I eat salads daily and use a fair amount of dressing, so it makes sense to do this.


I picked up my dad for dinner last night and went to our usual haunt. I brought home half the massive lasagna and had that with my salad today for lunch after picking off the mozzarella.

Last week....

I got a great buy at Aldi's. It is a "miniature greenhouse" that i easily assembled with no tools. It consists of 4 metal shelves about 2.5 feet wide and it stands about 65" high. It's lightweight and easy to move. It has a plastic cover that snugly fits around the shelves to form the "greenhouse." It has 2 zippers in front so you can access what's inside and leave it open if you want. Each shelf can take up to 21 pounds of weight.

And get this: it only cost me $19.99.

It would be perfect for someone who's big into starting veggie plants from seed, which I don't do much, but I do plan to try using it for regular container veggies in my driveway.

The directions say to remove the plastic cover once temps get to 60 degrees, I think, or it could melt! But once I have that off, I could easily use my plastic fencing to wrap around the bottom of shelves to keep marauding critters off it.

That was my problem last summer. I gave up a regular veggie garden due to voles, and while I did ok with container veggies in the sun-baked driveway, a raccoon or something went on a rampage with my string beans just days before I was going to pick them. I had the plastic fencing around pots but the critter just clambered over it and ate the plant from the top. I think wrapping the fencing around something with a sturdy metal frame would work better.

The space between shelves is maybe a foot-and-a-half, so the shelves wouldn't work for certain plants that grow tall, but I suppose I could use it for unlimited numbers of smaller pots of herbs, like the parsley I want to grow to attract more black swallowtail butterfly worms. Or for basil for pesto and mint. Or for lettuce.

A viney veggie plant would work well, like a cucumber, becus I could keep the vines off the ground better that way, which is again desirable due to critters.

I also bought a bag of purple potatoes at WalMart for planting. I've decided to try growing them in a small galvanized garbage can which now has a small amount of birdseed in it.

I've wanted to try this for a while and i might even try planting some carrots in with the potatoes since they'd both be protected from voles in the can, in the driveway. I would just need to drill some drainage holes in the bottom.

I'm getting heating oil delivered tomorrow at a pretty good price of $1.90 a gallon. That'll see me through next December.

So last week I went to a total of THREE MS programs, 2 lunches and 1 dinner, all at very good restaurants. The choice of entrees at the one place was wild salmon or filet mignon. Smile

This was a record, 3 in one week. There's another one next week and another one later in March. I must admit to taking advantage of these for free meals, but I'm certainly not alone in doing so. I see all the same faces at most of these events. I once questioned one of the organizers at one of these when a whole bunch of people didn't show up (as evidenced by empty place settings). I asked her if her company had to pay for each plate whether or not someone showed up, and she said yes. She was very nonchalant about it, saying they had a budget for it and no big deal. This is a pharma company, so I guess that explains it.

So you might call this a fringe benefit of having a serious disease. One of the regulars I've been seeing is the only MS guy who has a dog with him, like you see with visually impaired people. I asked him how the dog helps with his MS and he told me that he also has type 1 diabetes and recently diagnosed lung cancer in addition to the MS.

But the dog is really there for the diabetes and is trained to "alert" when it senses his blood sugar is too low. He does this by thoroughly licking him on his hands or face, and will do this in the middle of the night when he is asleep and unaware of the danger.

The dog will also go to the refrigerator, open it, and grab orange juice, which is high sugar and thus a preferred food choice to normalize blood sugar.

I got to experience the dog's licking abilities myself and what a soft tongue! I'm used to cats' sandpaper-like tongues, I guess.

Nothing financial here...sorry.

Pending possibilities

March 10th, 2017 at 02:43 pm

I've made an effort to apply to more jobs, not just those I feel I'm very well qualified for. And it seems to have borne fruit.

Everyone's been telling me to lower my compensation expectations, but I'm really not finding I need to.

Spoke to a recruiter yesterday about a contract job at a well-known health insurer up in the Hartford area. It's a hike, but it's a short-term contract position with the possibility of sporadic ongoing work if they like me. It pays $50/hr.

I would grab it, for numerous reasons, one being that getting that healthcare experience under my belt could make it easier to get into healthcare copywriting in the future. (They usually want someone with experience in that field.)

Today I got a call from a recruiter in India (I wonder what time it was over there when he called) about an IBM 14-month contract job. It would start in a town 15 minutes away from me, but just for one month, after which I'd have to work out of a different location about 50 minutes from me. This one is a bit of a stretch as it's more technical writing than marketing, but nothing I couldn't handle. It pays $45/hour.

My preference is a full-time perm job with benefits, but after that the next best thing would be a contract job found through a recruiter. That's becus most big headhunter agencies now offer full benefits including health insurance and a 401(k). Some don't offer the health plan unless the contract is for at least 6 months, so it can still be a challenge to get on a health plan if you have a shorter term contract.

That's what happened with the recruiter who found me the bank job in 2013. The recruiter had a 6-month wait before you could get on their health plan, but luckily for me, the contract with the bank was for 8 months, so I got on the recruiter plan at month 6 becus it would lock in my ability to stay on that plan for 18 months (albeit at a much higher price) when the contract ended 2 months later. As it turned out, the bank then hired me as a perm employee.

If I were to get one of the 2 contract jobs mentioned above, my strategy would be to MAX out my 401k contributions in just a few months (or for as long as my contract was for) so my monthly net would be quite small, likely under $1,000. I have plenty of taxable money in a money market I could draw on if I needed it to pay the bills, but if I knew my contract job was finite, I would plow a huge amount into tax-deferred status while I could.

Why would I do this? Because aside from the fairly limited amount you can put into an IRA each year, there's no other ways to put your money in tax-deferred status, which is so valuable for growing assets. I don't make enough as a freelancer to put much $$ into a SIMPLE IRA.

There are huge advantages to having more money in Roth and/or traditional IRAs (ideally, you want some of both for greater flexibility when withdrawing in retirement so you can minimize your taxes) than in taxable accounts. Right now I have roughly $166,000 in taxable accounts, which hurts me at tax time. The more I can shift into tax-deferred status, the better off I am.

Also, most contract jobs deduct your taxes for you and issue a W2, which is advantageous when it comes to becoming eligible for future unemployment benefits. I can't recall specifics now, but working at least 3 months f/t would, I believe, make me eligible for a new round of unemployment, giving me more breathing room until I found a perm position.

If I was able to hop onto a health plan offered by the recruiter, then I would dump the COBRA plan I'm on now becus when the contract ended, I would then get on COBRA again, but the 18-month clock would be reset at the beginning, giving me another 18 months of at least some kind of health coverage, instead of the 8 or 9 months I have left now.

Now I'm "overqualified"

March 8th, 2017 at 07:57 pm

I heard from a recruiter about a contract proofreading job that would last for the month of March, mostly f/t and paid very well for proofreading at $30 to 33/hr.

I told her I'd be very happy to do it but she just heard back from the recruiter that I'm "overqualified" for the position and for that reason alone, they don't want me.

Can you feel my F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N?

I just accepted another assignment from higher education gig so that will keep my busy for 4 or 5 days but just $375 pay for this assignment.

Last night was another excellent lunch program in Derby and the food was surprisingly good and such huge portions I took half home as leftovers. I am meeting some very nice people at these MS talks which I never used to in all the prior years I've attended these periodic sessions, on and off over the years.

Tonight there's a dinner I will probably go to. It'll be the 3rd such program I've attended this week, which is certainly a record.

Job outlook ruminations

March 4th, 2017 at 01:28 pm

o I've been thinking a lot about my job prospects.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm at the end of the road and will never succeed in getting another quality full-time perm job with benefits. I've said this before, and then I got the bank job, but each year, I get a little older.

Will I end up stumbling toward retirement for the next 8 years (til Medicare eligibility and Social Security) with low-paying, erratic work and the stress that goes with that, never really feeling free to actually "enjoy" these years because I can't tell if I'm actually retired or not?

Contrast that with earlier plans to "sprint" to an early retirement (from f/t work, anyway) in just a few years?

What I've noticed more and more on the job boards is that employers are combining two jobs into one, trying to find a writer, for instance, who also does web development work, knows HTML coding or can deftly maneuver through Photoshop.

I have to admit that I am not the perfect job candidate. All I've ever wanted to do was write, kind of like in my mother's case, all she ever wanted to do was create art. It may sound admirable to know your career goals, but in truth it's a little narrow-minded.

I've worked for over 30 years now and I've always earned a living as a writer. I tell employers it's what I do best and enjoy the most. And employers seem to respect that single-minded focus. But during all that time, I haven't expanded my repertoire or sought to improve my skill set much.

What I DID do was this: When I was working in financial services, I did study for and obtain my Series 6 Limited Investment Securities license and my Series 63 Uniform Securities Agent license. Not to sell mutual funds but just for the knowledge. I did it because my manager was prodding me to do so, plus for each exam I took, the company paid me $500.

When I worked as a real estate copywriter, I took Real Estate Principles and Practice, Connecticut real estate salesperson’s exam, and scored highest in class. I got a 99! I think I did this one of my own accord.

I still remember being surprised when the instructor decided to announce to the whole class who scored the highest. I was sitting in the back of the room and there were two women who were constantly talking and goofing around. When the teacher announced the high score, they just turned around and looked at me without smiling.

My certificate is up in the attic somewhere. Again, I never paid for the license as I didn't intend to sell real estate; it was just meant to help me do my job better.

Right now, I am enrolled in a free online grammar refresher course, with with University of Queensland. If you're not familiar with them, you should check it out. These are real, college-level courses put on by professors at hundreds of leading schools. You can take the course for free but you have to pay $50 or $100 if you want a certificate.

But aside from those 3 things, and my stint in law school aborted after one year, I haven't done much to improve my career prospects. I started thinking about what I could do.

One thing I am often conscious of is that my familiarity with technology is somewhat limited. As a writer, all you need to know is MS Word. I have also used Powerpoint and Excel, and occasionally edited PDFs with Adobe Acrobat.

In a previous job I used a content management system called Vignette daily, as well as WordPress. Many years ago I also used PageMaker to create a newsletter for my employer. But that's about it. Partly due to laziness, partly to disinterest. Most of the time, I learned software because I was already in a job and I had to.

I often see jobs posted where they want you to know specific programs, like Adobe Photoshop, or HTML stuff, or Google Analytics, or something else. They don't want to pay for someone to take a course or wait til they gear up; they want an employee who can hit the ground running.

I got a free, 7-day trial of Photoshop thinking, how hard could it be? But I can see now I would definitely need a class to be able to use it. It's fairly sophisticated.

I would consider taking a course so I could put it on my resume and say that I "know" it, but there isn't any one course that employers mention, there's probably seven or eight. I think I know some of the basics of HTML coding, just stuff I picked up when I was loading stories I'd written onto a website using a CMS. But obviously there's still more to learn. Maybe that's what I should think about.

Maybe I should ditch the volunteer job editing for and spend that time instead on an online HTML class?

I started today building a list of all the software programs writer job postings contain. Already, the list includes the following: Excel, Viso, Sprinklr CRM, Instagram, WordPress, Adobe Creative Suite, Sketchr, Flash, Squarespace, Hubspot, Adobe InDesign, Dreamweaver and Publisher.

Right now, my only source of income is the higher education website. I had hoped I could gross $1,000 a month from them, but my best month to date (last month) was just $540.

Aside from that, I still have a client I picked up about 4 or 5 years ago from Craigslist, believe it or not. He's an IT director who wanted someone to edit his emails in as close to real time as possible.

That's morphed into other things. Now he's job hunting and he landed an interview with a cover letter and resume I helped him write. Today, unexpectedly, he called and wants me to help him write out Q&As he's using to prep for the interview this weekend. Which is exactly what I do for every interview.

So I'm glad I cleared my plate yesterday with my last higher education assignment so I have time to do this.

Blah Friday

March 3rd, 2017 at 08:48 pm

I wish I could sound more upbeat, but I doubt I will.

Today was my mother's birthday...she would have been 83 today. I brought some flowers to her grave and afterwards took a brief, 30-minute walk in the frigid air.

I finished my current writing assignment this morning. My goal was to try to finish these things up faster becus she often lets 2 or 3 days go by before giving me another assignment, and I want/NEED to make more money.

However, my effort this time won't make a difference since she is off today...sigh.

I quit the 2nd writing gig after doing just the 2 stories for them. There were too many issues, including very poor communication generally, poor instructions so I had to keep asking for basic details, and having to wait 45 days to get paid for a freelancer is ridiculous. (My main client direct deposits to my checking account within a week.) Plus I didn't feel the pay was worth it.

Ironically, when I brought this up, they managed to pay me for both stories that day; the CFO who paid me via Paypal sympathized with me, saying that the behavior I described in an email to them was "unacceptable." They were super disorganized. I hope I didn't make a mistake doing that, but so be it. I'm not destitute.

Got a phone call for another gig writing a couple of blogs weekly for doctor/dentist blogs. It all sounded great until she told me the pay: $15 per 400-word blog. Not worth my time.

I backed out of what I'd discussed with my neighbor about letting him graze his sheep on my land. I hadn't realized he intended to cut down trees and plant vegetation on what I consider a too-steep slope. I don't want erosion issues. And I wondered if sheep bleating would start to bother me when they were in my own backyard. If it did, it would be hard to undo my neighbor's efforts and could cause hard feelings if I asked him to undo the fence.

He was okay with it. He called me becus the document I wrote describing his nonprofit farm foundation got about 20 responses from various groups and now he needs help, I guess, responding. But I declined there too. He can't afford to pay me anything as they're just getting by. And I can't afford to keep spending my time on projects that don't pay.

The local perm writing job for which I had a pre-screening interview for and for which i was led to believe would lead to a real interview, hasn't come about. I checked with recruiter twice. I feel glum.

So I guess it feels like a lot of things unraveling, or just not getting off the ground the way I'd like.

I went to an interesting (free) program at the library about what childhood was like in Colonial America. Suffice it to say, it was not fun, especially if you were a slave child. The cure for hiccups was to have the kid urinate on a gravestone of an ancestor. A pregnant slave got no time off and worked right up til the time she gave birth.

I bought some more tapioca so I can make more of my tapioca/chia seed fruit puddings. There's tomatoes thawing so I can make a chili tonight.