It's in the low 50s today. So I put on some light-colored clothing, work gloves and a baseball cap to start cutting up some tree branches that came down in the last snow storm.
I went straight for the biggest mess, a crabapple mostly taken down by a fallen locust tree branch. I will have to pay someone to do the big logs, but I'm "cleaning up" the many smaller branches with my loppers and bow saw. I worked til I was tired, 1.5 hours, slowly and methodically cutting whatever branches I could, then dragging them to the brushy area where I flung the branches as far in as I could.
There is much, much more work to do, but at least I got a start on it. There were many piles of deer turds around thee tree mess as they're drawn to sheltered areas. So I need to be careful not to brush up against stuff.
Oh, in my younger days I could work all day. I am really noticing the difference.
In fact, tomorrow, I'm thinking instead of paying $5 for an hour of yoga, why not actually put my exercise to practical use, and continue working in the yard?
I'll do the yardwork for another hour or so in the morning, rest, have lunch with dad and then visit my friend R., who just had his 4th chemo session this week. He has written his own, very irreverent obituary, which he has shared with me.
Last night was my 3rd and final class in the financial retirement strategies class I took. In my evaluation of his class, I wrote that the title of the class didn't really seem to accurately reflect the contents...meaning, most of the time was spent on defining very basic concepts, like what are stocks, what are bonds, what is life insurance, estate planning, etc., in very broad brushstrokes. So it wasn't much in the way of strategies, though we spent a small amount of time talking about how helpful Roth IRA conversions can be for early retirees, a topic I am newly fascinated by. I asked a lot of questions.
Probably the best part of the class is that we can each meet one on one with the instructor (a CFP) if we so wish, after having turned in very detailed forms revealing our assets, liabilities, income, etc. I expect to be hearing from him within a week. I guess for this complementary consultation alone, the $40 I spent was worth it, especially if he can give me personalized recommendations.
I cleaned the bathtub today and did a 35-minute walk. I re-registered with a focus group company since I now have more free time. Sure, if I wanted to make more $$, I'd could do better by working f/t, but it's all or nothing at my office and I'm good with the new schedule. I find doing one off things like the focus groups fun.
Archive for March, 2018
It's in the low 50s today. So I put on some light-colored clothing, work gloves and a baseball cap to start cutting up some tree branches that came down in the last snow storm.
My "weekend" starts today (hooray!), and as usual, I have no shortage of things to do.
I work just a half day today, so on the way home I can hit Trader Joe's (I'll be bringing some ice paks in a cooler since it'll be a 40-minute ride home); it's easier doing this than going to my usual Trader Joe's from home, a 20-minute ride out of the way.
There are always lots of products I want to try after seeing them on the Trader Joe's Facebook page I subscribe to, but I can never seem to find them.
I'll also be making a stop at the dump on the way in to work and bringing in some Easter candy for my coworkers.
So now that I am on the healthcare exchange as of March 1, I needed to find a new neurologist since my old one is not in network on my new plan.
Another neurologist I met at an MS lunch recommended a certain doctor, so I called his office to schedule an appointment. His staff wouldn't do that until I had my medical records transferred, so I dutifully did that, waited over a week, and then confirmed with my current doc's office that it was done.
I didn't know it at the time, but just reaching the new doc's office that one time was a fluke, because I have been unable to reach them again since that first phone call, regardless of what time of day I call!! I even tried pushing the extension intended for physicians's offices calling in, and still I got the recording!
They never called me back, and I don't have a lot of time to waste since I'll want to renew my meds prescription fairly soon. I just couldn't believe that no matter how many times I called and left messages, I got no callback. How can you respond to patients' needs if you don't answer the phone? What would happen if I had an exacerbation of my MS and needed prompt medical attention?
So I picked the only other neurologist who's in network and in my immediate area; I had passed him up initially because he's a solo practice. The woman answering the phone said he did have other MS patients, but I'm going to have to "interview" him when I see him as I want to make sure he's up to date on MS drugs, research, treatments, etc. Certain neurologists specialize in certain things, like migraines, for instance.
But I did feel grateful that when I called his office, a woman answered promptly, she was very nice and didn't require the medical record transfer before I made an appointment. This will save me time, and the appointment is for next week. I had been expecting I'd have to book the appointment at least a month in advance. I do hope his availability is no reflection on his general expertise.
I'll bring my MS journal with me and I already mailed the form to old doc to have my official medical records transferred. And I do believe I have a CD with my last MRI images on it.
My main goal in seeing the new doc, as mentioned, is to switch to the new generic Copaxone, made by a different pharma company, and get a year's prescription. My new plan requires use of generics if they're available. When you're on a specialty drug, this all takes extra time to set up. (In fact today I also want to call Accredo and the pharma company.)
If it turns out I don't like the new doc, I have the option of going back to my current doc in a few months time. He is supposedly starting a new practice in a different city in May at a clinic that is under construction, and will be in network at that location. But there seems to be a lot of iffy things attached to this and it's very difficult to get information from office staff. (In fact, they knew nothing about it.) I don't want to take the risk of just waiting for him in case there are delays. Hence the runaround to find a new doc who may or may not be temporary.
Otherwise, things are going fine. My work hours have been a cause of some concern because we're entering my employer's slow season, so instead of putting in the 20 to 25 hours weekly I determined was needed to cover my ongoing expenses, my manager is letting me go an hour or so early each day, so thus far I've been working more like 17 hours a week.
But because I was still working full time for the 1st 2 months of this year, i don't think this unexpected further cutback in hours will affect my bottom line. It irks me that while I thought we agreed on my work hours, the "schedule" apparently only pertains to how LATE I'll work, but is not binding on how EARLY I may leave. I can't do anything else about it. My boss says he does feel some obligation to make sure me and other contractors get in a certain minimal amount of work time, but he also has been tasked by the company owner to not keep us there all day if there's nothing to do.
So this year my gross income should fall pretty much where I projected it would, but next year may be different. The slow season runs from roughly March through October but then gets busy again from November thru February. So hopefully the busy 4th quarter will make up for shorter work hours in spring/summer. I keep doing a lot of guessing but will just have to be patient and see how it plays out. I'm not too worried but I definitely monitor my YTD gross.
I was in a decluttering mood yesterday, maybe partly because it was a little too chilly to do much outside.
I decided to go through the messy pile of loose recipes I've torn out of magazines, gotten from friends or printed from online. The vast majority of these recipes, mind you, I have never gotten around to trying. And some of them are 6 to 8 years old!
So I threw out some that no longer interested me and started making category piles of the rest so I could more easily find them if I was looking for something.
I decided to try one recipe for a vegan "cheese" sauce that I was very happy with. It's easy to make: just blend together cooked potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic powder, paprika, those fortified yeast flakes and raw unsalted cashews. It looks very much like a creamy cheese sauce and it was great poured over broccoli. Would also go well with other veggies or pasta. It's a keeper.
Trying out more of my recipes is one of my goals in semi-retirement.
The other decluttering activity I started was cleaning up in the attic. I had been collecting empty cardboard boxes for years in anticipation of the day I would move, but I've sort of decided I'm staying put. So I carried out most of those boxes, which took up a lot of room, and put them in my car so I can drop them off for recycling later in the week.
I organized some other stuff, but really just scratched the surface. It needs a vacuuming of there too, and there are lots of dead insects. It's a finished attic, so it could look a lot tidier once I commit to spending some time, but at this point, I'm not ready to part with old love letters, cards from friends and family or the several filing cabinets full of writing samples from a 30+ year career as a writer. They're not really needed now but it's hard to let go....it's part of my identity.
I came across a note scribbled in pencil from a torn sheet of paper. It was from my mother, and upon reading it, I instantly realized she left this note for me when she was midway in painting a large wall mural in my home. That was in 2001. She was letting me know it would look different later when she had a chance to do some highlights and add some colors and so on. Couldn't throw that away, either. Imagine...if she had been Picasso talking about La Vie, that note would have been worth a million. Mom's note is priceless to me.
While in the attic I came across a beautiful pen stand my grandfather made for me 35 years ago. It was meant to be a gift upon my graduation from law school, but I dropped out after finishing one year.
I remember my grandfather as a very taciturn, grumpy old man and I can't remember a single time when we even had a real conversation. At the time I announced I was headed to law school in Boston, he didn't really say much at all. I think he said, "Really?" in a surprised kind of way.
There were multiple reasons why I didn't continue with law school, but one problem is I really didn't have my family's support.
On the day I announced I had dropped out of law school, my grandfather asked why, I responded, and that was that. It was never really discussed. My grandfather still gave me this beautiful desk set done in marquetry; he was a master craftsman.
It was only in hindsight, many years later and with the benefit of further reflection, that I realized that my grandfather was disappointed I didn't continue in school.
If he could have just said a few words of encouragement, it would have made a big difference, but he was not a talkative man. My father was not in my life at the time. I have a few old photos (2, to be precise) of grandpa and grandma together and smiling. I don't know if he wasn't happy in the marriage or what, but during my entire childhood he was a cross old man who spent most of his retired life in the basement, creating his marquetry.
My grandmother tried to shield us as children against his irritability by shushing him and saying "not in front of the children." A shy kid, I was always a little afraid of him.
I believe he was a good man (despite my genealogy work revealing he spent time in state prison in the 1930s and was basically a gangster in his younger days), but he just didn't know how to express his feelings.
This is why decluttering can be such a painful process for me; it stirs up old memories that have no resolution.
I've now run the kerosene heater for 19 hours, and am pretty sure I'll get 24 hours out of it when the can is empty. Still, power outages around here can extend far longer than that, which means if the kerosene heater is really to serve its purpose, then I'd be having to run around to find kerosene (which could be iffy in a widespread outage) just to keep the thing going for longer than a day. So it's still an imperfect solution.
Hmm, what else? I've identified a velvet pillow in need of a hand wash. The bath tub still needs a good scrub.
I joined the March for Our Lives today, not in New York City, Washington, D.C. or any other large American city, but in bucolic Roxbury, Connecticut (pop. 2,136). I think it says a lot that even in a sleepy rural community, known mostly for its annual pickin' and fiddlin' contest, a lot of people have had it with the death and violence caused by paramilitary firearms.
We sang, we chanted and we created a traffic jam. A snow plow truck drove by with the Easter Bunny giving us the thumbs up. I saw many marchers in their 60s and 70s. I spoke with an 80-year-old woman who spoke passionately about lax gun control laws. We may not make the evening news, but maybe we'll make a difference.
In other news...
1. I cleaned the windows in my sunroom and wiped down the window sills (the space between the window and the screen), which always gets so dirty over the winter. I decided I will do a fresh coat of floor paint in there before I move all the furniture back in because I dinged up the floor with my lounge chair.
2. Washed the salt off my car.
3. Went to lunch with dad at the Chinese place after discovering our intended destination, the German restaurant, has closed. Bummer!
4. I vacuumed the whole house.
5. I walked on the walking trail.
6. I did my food shopping at Aldi's and filled up the gas tank. I am sort of waffling about my expired BJs membership. I MAY renew it because there are certain items I buy there all the time and they really have the best prices on those items, but I'm not sure my walnuts/organic frozen fruit/cat litter/macadamian nuts/Bai/unsweetened cocoa/Vermont Farm applesauce alone is worth the $50 membership fee.
I kick myself because I discovered a half-price special deal on their memberships which expired March 7. I hope to find another similar deal in the next month or so.
OK, so the 1st 2 classes of this 3-part program have been reviewing very basic concepts (dollar cost averaging, asset allocation, diversification, etc). Here and there are glimmers of things that interest me but he's got so much ground to cover we haven't lingered on any one thing too long.
Surprisingly, our instructor is not a big fan of annuities, immediate or variable (or insurance products in general), because you hand over control over a large chunk of money, on the insurer's terms, and they are, after all, in the business of making money. So I considered this a good sign.
He is, of course, emphasizing that tax-free money is the best kind of money, and so he likes Roth IRAs and muni bonds.
Our "homework" assignment in the 1st class was completing an extensive survey of our current assets/investments and when we plan to retire, etc. I turned it in today. He said each of us would get a free 1-hour consultation with him, so I will be very curious what recommendations he may have for me. I have no muni bonds in my portfolio.
I probably should investigate ETFs, which we talked about in passing.
I guess the final class will be most interesting.
We're supposed to be in the grips of a nor'easter right now but nothing's come down out of the sky for several hours.
We were all told we could work from home today. I just finished up so I'm free until Monday.
The oil delivery guy called and wants to deliver tomorrow instead of Friday, so more pressure on me to have the driveway shoveled.
Dad wants to come over tomorrow so we can place the order for his new adjustable bed together. He thought we'd have to drive back to the store (45 min). I don't think we need to; we can just pay by credit card over the phone and schedule the delivery. I'm happy he's buying it, and I hope it will result in a better night's sleep.
Also tomorrow, I am scheduled to have my tires rotated at BJs at noon, and tomorrow night I have part II of my retirement strategies class. I just hope the snow isn't so bad that I have trouble clearing the driveway for all these events.
A small herd of 6 deer passed through the backyard a little while ago: some does and older fawns. Can't imagine what they find to eat this time of year (besides my rhododendron bush).
I'm doing my 2nd load of laundry and am hang-drying it indoors.
I'm going to have a very small paycheck for last week; I only worked about 12 hours, and this week, 18.5 hours. I'm not too concerned; I'm still ahead of where I should be for March because I worked full-time for the 1st 2 months of the year. Things will no doubt even out by year's end. Like the story of the 3 bears, I need to earn "not too much" and "not too little." The sweet spot will be between $36K and $42K.
Yesterday they said there was a chance the storm would pass far enough south of us that we wouldn't see any snow. This morning they're telling us we'll get up to a foot.
I happened to notice recently that my hometown newspaper, which I love and read cover to cover, is looking for a copy editor.
I would have a good shot at the job if I wanted it. Since they cover only my town, they'd want someone who lives in town, and there are a limited number of qualified candidates.
It would be a less-than-5-minute commute and the job offers full benefits, which I presume includes private health insurance and a 401k, 2 things I'm lacking now.
While tempting, I decided I would be better off remaining where I am, even though it's a 40-minute commute and the hours are still irregular and unpredictable. The deciding factor is, I'm working 2.5 days a week now but at the new job I'd be working 5.
The newspaper job would pay very minimally, probably in the low 30s, so I'd be working much longer for a little less money, although I would have the security of private health insurance and wouldn't have to worry about what's going to happen to Obamacare availability or rates in future years.
On a related note, I did a bit of research and discovered that per the IRS, part-time employees CAN contribute to their employer's 401k plan, subject to any plan-specific minimum hours and/or time period worked, but these requirements cannot exceed 1,000 hours a year (that's just 19 hours a week) and/or up to a 1-year wait time before participation. But p/t employees cannot be excluded en masse from participation.
I made it to Saturday morning yoga class, the first time back in several years time.
I thought since I was walking an hour a day, 5 days a week, I was in pretty good shape. Wrong, very wrong. Yoga was exhausting...way too many downward facing dogs for my taste. It's basically a modified push-up.
Oh, my. I shall return. The stretching is badly needed. I Thought my balance was pretty good because I sometimes randomly stand on one leg for minutes at a time, but it just wasn't working at the class.
I ran into someone I used to work with; she was laid off a few months ago from where we both used to work. This was a p/t job I had before the bank job.
I felt like a nap when I got home, but the good thing is, the drive home was about one-third of a mile!
The electrician has arrived
When I got home, my electrician was already here and starting to do some rewiring for me in the garage, replacing some old fabric-type wiring that was in deteriorated condition and replacing a 2 outlet thing with 4 outlets, for my many electric or battery landscaping tools. It should be about $242, not exactly in this month's budget but a small enough amount that I can maybe eat out of the pantry most of this month and not notice the added expense.
No long-term care for me
I've known for a while that one big gap in my overall financial planning is the lack of any coverage for long term care. So yesterday I randomly called Mutual of Omaha after reading their premium rates online. They didn't seem that bad.
I learned I'm not eligible for long-term care insurance because of my MS. It doesn't matter that I've missed MAYBE 2 days of work over the course of nearly 30 years living with it. Nope, nada, no how.
It's a little unsettling, but I will have to self-fund.
I think the electrician will be done in the garage around noon, and once I pay him and see him off, I'll be able to head to dad's for lunch, to take a photo of his mattress label to send to mattress store and also to go to library to get them to sign a form so dad is eligible to borrow reading materials from the state library for the blind and physically handicapped.
Those are the sum total of my responsibilities for the rest of the weekend; after lunch, I'll return home and just try to recover from the yoga and enjoy the day close to home.
Other items on the weekend agenda:
1. Make split pea soup for the work week.
2. Run my kerosene heater to burn down more fuel as we approach the end of the heating season.
Tonight was the first of 3 classes for the above-named program, which meets at our local high school. There were just 6 people in the class, which was good since we could feel free to get our questions answered. The instructor is a CFP.
I regretted paying $30 for the workbook, because like the class, it was very, very basic. I suspected it might be too basic for me, but I didn't realize I didn't have to purchase the workbook. I noticed another woman there also didn't want to buy it, but ended up doing so anyway.
Our homework assignment was filling out an extensive questionnaire which disclosed our assets, investments, planned retirement age and so on. I know very well they'll be pitching me on their advisory services (2.50%) but I am curious to see what recommendations they might make to me.
I'm hoping the 2nd class will get into discussions that will actually teach me something.
I was finally able to schedule an appointment to have my new tires rotated at BJs. For weeks I've been calling (you can't schedule maintenance online) and no one ever answers. I finally got Members Services to use the intercom to let them know the phone was ringing. I would think they should have someone at the customer service desk in tire center, but no, they all work in the garage on the cars.
I took my dad mattress shopping yesterday. He'd seen commercials on TV for a specific furniture store so we drove into New Haven. The store is enormous and gigantic. Dad was quite surprised, but the salesperson immediately led us to try out an adjustable bed that I have to admit we both liked quite a bit. I don't need one for myself and prefer the foam, but I told dad I thought this bed would be perfect for him, relieving pressure on his artificial hips, helping blood circulate in his legs better and even helping him get out of bed cus you can raise yourself to a sitting position. It has a 10-year warranty, and dad noted the bed will probably outlive him.
I have to go to dad's tomorrow and take a picture of the label on his current mattress, which he doesn't think is that old, and then email it to the salesperson to make sure his mattress is compatible with the adjustable bed. If the mattress is older than dad thinks, he may just end up buying both a new mattress and the adjustable bed, which together would be $1400 ($800 for the adjustable bed alone). It's a big expense, but dad can afford it and it really would be helpful to him.
The new proofreader sharing my job today emailed me to complain that he was told by T. not to come in 2 days in a row this week becus there was no work. The person he reports to (my manager) is traveling this week, so T., a longtime employee there, ends up as de facto person in charge, but I doubt she is aware the new proofreader was told by recruiter he'd have 20 to 25 hours a week.
So he is understandably upset, told me he and his wife need to buy 2 new cars and were counting on his income to do this, etc. This was the problem that always made me bonkers: I never knew what my work hours would be and it was hard to count on anything.
I wrote back and explained that it's a small agency and the work really fluctuates, that he just happened to start at a very slow time and that it will pick up again and it all evens out in the end. He just needs to be patient.
I realize the proofreader may speak to our manager when he returns, but i think it would be better if he didn't, because if this job-sharing thing becomes too much of a hassle, with people complaining about their hours worked, either too little or much, he might decide it's not worth it. Hopefully it's just a bump in the road. The problem I see is that my manager just doesn't clearly communicate things to T.
T. had also told me 1 day last week not to work when we had a snowstorm. This was upsetting to me because I've already cut my hours back to 20 to 25 hours weekly and don't want to cut more. She, on the other hand, is used to having contract workers at their beck and call, telling them to leave early in the day if there's no work or stay til 9 or 10 pm at night if that's what's needed. I don't know of many workers who would tolerate that, and I don't think it's fair to the worker.
I've been balking against this since day 1 and I did tell T. next day that my agreement with my manager is such and such. Which I had told her before. I also emailed my manager to let him know and correct me if I misunderstood something.
So I did mention, in passing, in an earlier post, that I've been given a chance to decide, or at least weigh in, on:
1. Moving from the payroll of Agency A to moving to the payroll of Agency B, OR
2. Moving to the payroll of my current employer
3. Or even doing nothing and staying with Agency A.
This question came up shortly after my manager and I worked out my new shortened work week schedule. My friend, J., the recruiter, approached me about how he'd like to have me move onto his payroll.
The backstory, or why J. wants "revenge"
He found this job for me, when he worked for recruiter A. Recruiter A firm later laid him off. He found a new job at recruiter B. firm, and that's where he'd like to move me to. He admitted feeling a little like he'd like to get revenge on recruiter A, and he also felt they shouldn't continue to benefit from his having placed me and a designer in the jobs we hold now.
So initially when J. broached the subject to me, I didn't think it would matter one way or the other whose payroll I'd be on since my rate of pay wouldn't change during the switch-over. I told him I'd be happy to try and help him out (financially) because he's been helpful in helping me get jobs (2 contract jobs, including this one).
J. is very, very eager to have this done becus it would be quite a coup for him and I don't know exactly how he's compensated, but it would help him and his new firm quite a bit.
I don't think J. anticipated that my manager, would give me a chance to choose, or at least weigh in on the subject. I told my manager 2 weeks ago it probably didn't make much difference to me but that I'd rather be with J.'s new firm than J.'s old firm becus I have the relationship with J., not his old firm.
My manager said there were various things he had to consider:
1. He offered me the option of going on my company's payroll directly, entirely cutting out both recruiter firms.
2. He'd have to check his contract with recruiter firm A to see if there's a buy-out clause that would require him to pay a lump sum of cash to recruiter firm A. to hire me on directly.
3. He said if i worked for my company directly, he might be able to give me a raise (which I totally didn't ask for), with the money saved from what he pays recruiter firm A, which he said is 25% of my pay (so $8 an hour goes to recruiter for every hour I work). Interestingly, my manager said he didn't know what my current rate of pay was through recruiter firm A.
4. If he moved me to recruiter firm B's payroll, he'd want to move the other worker at the same time, for ease of administration and to keep things simple.
My manager said let's talk about it again when he gets back from his travels. That will be this Monday.
The more I think about it, the more I realize there ARE major ramifications depending on whose payroll I go on. For instance, I think if I was on my company's payroll, they would be far more generous with me when it came time for a performance review and annual raise than any agency would. Because they know and like me. My friend J. the recruiter does not control the purse strings at his place, after all, and nobody else knows me at recruiter firm B, so it could be totally impersonal over there and I'm sure they'd want to minimize any raises to absolute minimal. And now that I'm working p/t, I'm even less important to them. I am just one of many different contract workers they employ.
For my employer, I sense the overall perspective of my employment is very different. My manager is extremely busy, and I think he values consistency and reliability of employees over time, and knowing the job's going to get done. I think he likes me, and, important to my manager, I get along well with my coworkers and "fit" with the company and its general culture.
The company is also doing quite well, as far as I can tell, and money has never appeared to be an issue to them. They are willing to pay a proofreader pretty well, who throughout the day has frequent downtime with nothing to do, just to ensure that nothing leaves the building that has not been examined carefully for human errors.
If I tell my manager next week I've had more time to think about our talk and do have concerns about moving to J's firm, I do run the risk of totally pissing off J.