Thursday, February 25, 2016

Day laborers

     I thought I'd talk a little bit about what it was like to hire day laborers. There was very little on the Internet, so I had trouble figuring out where to find people and how much to pay, so I was a bit nervous.
     Here's the answer: it's pretty straightforward. A lot of places, including Maryland, have day laborer centers, where workers can wait in a comfortable place, and where the center can supervise the agreement made between the workers and the employer. USE THESE. They are safer for you, but more importantly, they are safer for the workers. A lot of my friends were worried about me having strange men working in my house, but the truth is that (for the majority of the time) the employees are far more likely to be taken advantage of. Employers hire workers, and then simply refuse to pay them. This happens even to legal workers, and while not paying people is illegal, it is hard to get it enforced all the time.
     That also brings me to another point - many of the workers can legally work in the US. It depends on your location, but people choose day labor for a variety of reasons, even if they can work other places. When you go through a day laborer center, the center has verified the identity of the employer and workers, and if the employer acts unethically or the worker doesn't do the work agreed to, the center won't work with them again.
     Lastly, as far as I understand it, verifying a person's employability is not your job. You're not supposed to hire someone you know is working illegally, but that's it. This made more sense to me when I recalled that no one verified my working status when they hired me to babysit as a teenager; it's the same thing.
     The center and some internet sleuthing helped with the rest of the questions. How much to pay? The center had a minimum hourly wage for painting. How to communicate? I took a Spanish-speaking friend when I went to the center, but after that we made do with my pidgin Spanish and their slightly-better English. Lunch? It's mostly expected that the employer will provide that, so we had pizza and pot roast. Apparently I make a mean pot roast.
     All in all, it was a great experience. I got to meet two interesting people, my house has much less fake wood paneling visible, and the painting job was (I'm sad to admit) better than I could do myself.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

More painting

     As I've mentioned before, I took my mother nine days to paint one of my bedrooms. You might see this as evidence that my mother is a perfectionist, perfectly placing every stroke, but that is not the case. In that bedroom, she had to paint the walls, the ceilings, the doors, the closets, the windows, even the heating grates. Four times. Because everything was deep blue, and needed two coats of primer and two coats of paint.
     The previous owners were detail oriented. I will end up replacing almost every electrical outlet (and not just the face plate, but the part you plug into as well), because they've all been painted. Faced with this level of repainting work, and noting that I will not be any faster than my mother, I realized that I was going to be painting until next November if I didn't figure out a better way.
So I planned for this three-day weekend to be a painting bonanza. I spent a week prepping, and two guys and I are painting for a total of 24 hours this weekend. At the end, I'll still have two rooms left to paint, but we will likely have completed the kitchen, the upstairs hall, and the upstairs bedroom. all the walls that we are painting have fake wood paneling, so the work isn't as straightforward as drywall- there's sometimes prep sanding, and you have to work to get paint into those little fake wood grooves.
     I'm already a bit exhausted from all the prep work, which was more extensive than I realized. I drove all over town, borrowing supplies and ladders from everyone I knew. I researched how to hire day laborers. (This will probably be a whole separate post, because I've learned so much.) I worried about my lack of Spanish skills. One evening, I spent a whole hour sitting on my stairs, talking to my friend N while we brainstormed ladder/scaffolding solutions that would let me paint the stairwell. I planned hot lunches, based on meat (!) because providing lunch for the workers is typical here.
     This morning, one day in, I'm stiff from climbing up and down the scaffold and scrubbing walls, but I'm super excited to see less blue fake wood paneling in my life. I'll be sure to post pictures when we're all done.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Phi the cat

My cat is seventeen years old this year. As cat lives go, this is a lengthy one. When I got Phi from the Ohio Humane Society, she was two years old and went by the name of Sweetums. I thought this was an awful name. Cats never come when called anyway and I thought she wouldn't care what her name was,  so I rebaptized her her Phi, after the Greek letter, which we used extensively in intro physics.
Andrew had never had a cat until he met me, but he loved Phi. She was allowed to sleep in the center of his pillow, whereas I had banned her from the bedroom up to that point.
For the past few years, I've been expecting her to die. She's healthy, and still demands attention from all guests, but she definitely sleeps more than she used to, and plays less. I'd be grateful to get a year or two more with her, but either way she's had a great life. 

Sunday, February 07, 2016


This afternoon, the cat and dog and I went to get some vaccinations for them. The vet would not give them rabies shots without a full checkup, with an estimated cost of $200. I had pushed back, because both animals had already had checkups this year, but he was adamant. Now, some of you may have noticed that I tend toward the frugal side. I was unwilling to pay for superfluous checkups; I knew they were healthy, and the Humane Society in Miami, where we used to go, would give vaccinations without checkups.

The alternative was to utilize the low cost vaccination clinic run by the SPCA, open once a month for two hours on the first Sunday on my month. I put the date on my calendar, packed up the animals, and drove 30 minutes. We all patiently stood in line in a cold parking lot for with a hundred other people with dogs for 90 minutes to get the shots. It was a total cost of $30. (I should note that some of us were more patient than others. Phi the cat is 17 years old, she firmly believes that she is too old for this nonsense, and she let me know.) Once we got home, all of us laid down in the living room for an hour to recover.

I had time during those 90 minutes to think about how easy money makes life. I'm lucky - I have the money to pay for lots of things, so with something like this, I know that I have a choice. If I decided I didn't want to wait for almost two hours in the cold, I could just pay. Most of the people there probably didn't have the means to pay for a regular vet.

I lead a privileged life, even compared to many Americans. I have emergency funds to draw on. I have a family that would help me out if I needed it. I have an education that allows me to earn a good salary (something that many widows historically didn't have). I could go on listing all the privileges my society gives to me, but I'll just stop and say I'm grateful that I have security.

As an aside, I am also happy they make a three-year rabies vaccine and we don't have to do that again until 2019.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Water, not in pipes

If you consume any media at all, you know that we had a big snowstorm a few weeks ago. The animals and I spent five days mainly indoors, and I discovered that I have awesome neighbors who helped me shovel out. A lot of snow has stuck around, though, and yesterday when we got a lot of rain, the melted snow plus rain meant flooding in a few places, including my basement. I'm of the camp that believes that every basement floods eventually, though, so I didn't panic. My basement isn't a finished living space (and will remain like that) and I've tried to store things off the ground. Twenty-four hours with a fan aimed at the worst of it and it's mainly dry again.

A friend who came to dinner last night remarked that she had been a bit envious of my house, but touring the basement with me, I'm guessing that feeling was gone...