Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Getting Through Christmas on a Budget!

I haven’t been very thrifty lately. Like everyone else, I was just trying to get through the holidays. What I know that most of my readers already know, is that holiday spending is only partly about gifts. The rest is extra food for various occasions, cards and postage, extra gas to get here and there. It adds up, and I have always budgeted for these things, along with my gift giving budget.

In 2014 I did not have a Christmas Club. I stopped working the end of January and suspended the Christmas Club. Financially, these accounts make no sense. They pay no interest, and have no benefit. It is all psychological. You put away your chosen amount each month/two weeks/one week—whatever period of time you choose—and in October, you get your money. For me personally, this has been excellent. I have five birthdays from October 17 through November 10. My Christmas Club is also a Birthday Club.

I started my account back up in November so Christmas 2015 will not be so stressful. Here are some things I/we did to make things work this (and other) year.

If you are married, you must work as a team. If you are doing things behind the scenes, you end up with one kid getting more than the other and although we don’t count pennies around here, we try to keep things somewhat equal. My husband likes to surprise people. I don’t care HOW much he surprises me; but let me know what you are doing with the kids, buddy!

I gave up Christmas cards. I love them but I have arthritis in my right thumb and there is no way I can do them anymore. Since I began writing blogs; that seemed like a good place to “keep” them. Cards and postage for us was $100. If you haven’t seen the 2014 Christmas entry, it is right here!

I like having a few go-to recipes for occasions. You know what you need and you can find the ingredients on sale. This year my daughter-in-law did Christmas and I didn't have to do much! That was wonderful! She had some go-to things and I learn from her too.

I fill stockings. I don’t know how long I am going to do this for the adults, but I will for the kids. I like to pick up things during the year, but it goes against the whole concept of accumulating if I get little stuff. We like our candy (!) and I bought mine after Halloween. I prefer to get gift cards or some other item that will be consumed, not clutter up someone’s home.

My son and his wife built a new house this year and they are still in the accumulating phase as they buy things for their home. My daughter and her husband, and my husband and I are not in that place. We prefer things that do not take up much space or that will replace something worn—or a gift card for an experience.

We try to give each other ideas, but I wish I could surprise them more. My daughter needed clothes to rebuild her wardrobe after maternity clothes, and my DIL wanted boots. They send me links to Kohls and The Limited (or whatever). While I enjoy shopping from home, I still wish I could surprise them.

We all use Kohls cash or any other premium that we can. Even buying gift certificates sometimes gives you extra $$ on a small card or, in the case of Bob Evans, an apple pie! Works for me!

While we were on the cruise, we did buy some stuff that we would have bought anyway and that made nice little gifts. I got the little girls matching dresses in St. Marteen. My daughter has set boundaries for her children: only three gifts per child. They have so many relatives that it’s plenty! More than plenty! Now Grandma has been known to put two things in a box, and if it fits in a stocking it’s OK, but I suppose the three-gift rule is probably a good idea. The grandparents and aunts and uncles would go overboard.

Every Christmas is not the same. Last year we gave the kids some money; so I didn't shop much! That worked out excellently as I was “recovering” from radiation and I was tired.  This year we took a cruise so that was our present to each other. It will be something else next year.

However, we stayed within our limits and I have about a $50 credit card bill to pay in January. I consider that a success.

What kinds of things have you done to save money during the holidays?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Another Purge--The 40 Hanger Closet?

Ten months ago I wrote an entry entitled "How Many Clothes Do I Need?" At the time, I was recently retired and I could visually SEE that I did not need as much, but how much was enough. Here is that entry, so I won't rehash it. 

I was always fascinated by the blog entry “The 40 Hanger Closet.” The first time I read it, I counted my hangers. I did hang my t-shirts and many of my sweaters—I know there are different ways of looking at that—but including them, I probably had 120 hangars.

What would it take for me to purge to this level, and frankly, did I want to? I know that I don’t need the clothes that I used to need, but really, how much should I really truly keep vs. donating to someone else who could use it?

This year I have been “helped” by not losing the weight I was planning to, so the skirts and slacks (jeans) are right in line with what I want. I have a box of the size smaller in the basement so we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

So, I decided to fold all my “t-shirts” (I am defining this by nice shirts I wear with other pieces to actually create an outfit, not the residue of shirts that came from my son’s football or baseball career). I also folded sweaters—mostly cardigans—that I had been hanging up. In the back of the closet, I still have summer capris hanging, so we have to count those.

I counted again and I was down to 56. It's not as though it HAS to be 40, but I looked at the whole again. Because this does include some "novelty" outfits, like my Joey Votto shirt, I was comfortable with this.

So today, I took another two bags to Goodwill (having done the same last month), and it was no coincidence that I did it on December 30.

My sleepwear, exercise wear and underwear is in drawers and always has been and will remain so. I am comfortable with this.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My End of Year Fitness Report

I really don’t even want to write this blog entry, but I think it’s important to take the good with the bad. Fitness-wise, it hasn't been the best year. Fortunately, and I will address this later, I now know some things about my health that I can actually do something about!

Looking at my regular journal, in which I always record my weight on January 1st, I have gained less than two pounds overall. It could be worse.

I retired the end of January and I was ill at the time and the first two weeks were spent hunkered in and getting well. By the time I got back to the gym, I was exercising five days a week. Usually that consisted of two or three classes, a “hard” day for myself and an easy day. While I am very sure that things were happening on the inside of my body, the scales, or the benchmarks, were not moving. My clothes were not getting looser to encourage me.

Around May, I started having some real problems with wanting to be sick—as in throw up—during exercise classes. I blamed it on the getting up and down because that seemed to be what was causing the issues. Sometime during early summer, I actually DID get sick in class. There were only four of us there that day and I was so thankful for that!

Routines changed at the gym and two ladies left the employ of the gym. During the summer, there were no classes and we ladies do like our classes! We like the comradery (we have a private Facebook group) and we really do support and pray for each other. I know that there are folks that have my back.

I did the best I could during the summer on my own, but I still didn't make much progress. I was feeling nauseous and crappy all the time.

By fall the gym brought back some classes and I am happy to say that beginning in January there will be five classes a week for me to choose from.

BUT—that’s not the big news! In December, I saw a gastroenterologist and we did an endoscopy. For those of you who think that is awful; it is about the easiest procedure that I have had in a very long time. Although I follow up with the doctor in three more weeks, what I do know is that I have a hiatal hernia, acid reflux and “possibly” celiac disease! For crying out loud! This wasn't about the cancer or anything else at all!

The doctor did start me on some medications that have helped; and I realize that I may have to make some major changes in eating in the future, but I feel like I can now DO something about it. I will do what I have to do. Period. And I will go to the gym as often as I can. I know there will be interruptions but there are classes four nights a week, and unless I am doing something else, I am going to be there. We have a DVR!

In summary, I did whatever I could do. It wasn't enough and I didn't make the progress I wanted to, but 2015 is going to be different!

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's That Time Again!

I feel that I need to respond to someone who said that I was the “heart and soul” of our class. More than one person has said this to me, and who knows how many others have had similar thoughts?

And BTW, I did take this picture!
Well, I want to nip this thought right in the bud!

I cannot stand on my feet for very long, but I can use a computer and I do it. I have a smart phone and use that also. Not only with the Class of 1971, but with all other relationships in my entire life; it is important to me to keep up with people.

There are other people who support me emotionally and physically during the entire process of planning a Reunion and the afterthought. There is SO MUCH WE CAN DO THESE DAYS, but alas, Denise only has 24 hours in a day, just as the rest of you do.

Cassie Handshoe is the ying to my yang. We have entirely different backgrounds and family situations, but we share the same core values and I believe that we “represent” the scope of people that we have in our class. What would be perfect is if we had that “military brat,” whose parents’ retired in Fairborn, and he or she has stayed in the area. That person could bring in the military thinking, which is different from those who grew up here. Paula Markus, I am not hinting or anything……

Next month we will have a meeting in my basement on Tuesday, January 20th at 7:00. No dinner, dessert maybe. At this point we need a meeting of minds as to what people want to do for the next Reunion. There are several things to consider as we begin thinking about this.

  • People who come into town want to come into town for SOMETHING. They want to make it worth their time and $$ and who can blame them?
  • Those of us putting on the Reunion are OLD and TIRED! I am simply too old for decorating anymore and the Sunday picnics are history. They are too much work for me. (Actually that is incorrect: they are not too much work for me, they are too much work for me after two nights of partying before.)
  • Other classes—and this is NOT a contest—have three to four day events. We simply MUST have Event Chairmen for each event. None of us can do it all, or even come close. Please see former blog here.

Maybe you are asking “What can I do from afar?” Well, let me throw out some suggestions, and we have not had any committee meeting; this is Denise only speaking. Do you have or can you buy table decorations? Memorabilia? Do we feel door prizes are important? Can you donate those (or the $$ to purchase them)? This is the tip of the iceberg, folks.

Ideas, ideas and ideas. We need them so we can see if there is a way to implement them!

By the way, attendance at this meeting does not commit you to anything. However, an idea must be able to be seen through. We need idea people, but we need worker bees too!

I have not blocked anyone from messaging me on Facebook (except some crackpots who DID NOT know me), most of you have my email and phone number, and there is a thread already started on our class web site under Classmates Chatter called Ideas for the 45th Reunion. Let your opinions be known.

My calling in life is as a human behaviorist, and I am about people connecting with other people. I do have more time right now and I can use it to “connect” if you will, but I would like some ideas at that January meeting! I don’t have the strength to do it all alone, nor would I want to.

Put on those thinking caps!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Story With the Affordable Care Act

It’s December 9th and Medicare Open Enrollment is closed, so I now feel I can address this subject. Remember, I always say with both of my blogs, “This is MY story” and that’s about all I can say. There are so many particulars that factor in to this issue that I cannot speak for anyone else and I will not. 

Every year, we have our “checkup” with our insurance agent, who does it all; insurance and our investments. Everything looks good, with one exception. They thought they could go out on the Exchange for a better price for me for health insurance. My husband is on Medicare and I am not. He has a Medicare Advantage plan subsidized by his retirement system. He’s in good shape and it’s most definitely “affordable” for us.

I, on the other hand, must pay 100% of my health insurance because I am not on any retirement plan except Social Security (eventually). By the way, we took joint retirement on his retirement so I will not be destitute in my old age.

We pay an amount for my health insurance that would equal a house payment that we have had for most of our lives. Fortunately for us, the house is paid off! It’s an exorbitant amount for one person, and it is the “basic” plan. It has a higher deductible, 80/20 for a certain amount and if one goes over that amount, it pays 100%. We got our money’s worth when I had cancer.

So, our insurance agent did some research. She was able to find policies that were slightly less than mine per month, but with a much higher deductible. The other idea was to get a “calamity” policy with a $6,000 deductible, for just a little bit less. With my history, I wouldn't even consider this option.

She tweaked some numbers, but we came up over the income limit for any real help. I might add, JUST over the line. Although our middle class is shrinking, I feel that we've been as close to middle class as there is in this day and age. Our needs have been met. If anything, we are on the lower end of middle class.

So, we are too rich for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but there is nothing “affordable” about the amount we have to pay for health insurance. We pay it, because the alternative would wipe us out if I have another bout with cancer or anything else of that nature. But as I said, it’s a house payment.

The Affordable Care Act is for the poor. I do not deny that they need health care. My $7,000.00 a year for health insurance is paying for it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Derges' Digest 2014

On the cruise
At the dawning of 2014, we could not have imagined the changes that would come. I knew before we sent out our 2013 letter that I was going to end my career at the Senior Center at the end of January; but since I had not told them, it would be inappropriate to announce it.

I knew I did the right thing. I became ill in mid-January which lasted four weeks, and I have not been ill since. I've had tired days, but I have not been sick. With the wicked winter we had, I was happy to just stay home and it was fine.

In the middle of February Jessica got a promotion to a Human Resource Generalist, and in the same week we found that Jessica and Brent were going to make us grandparents again, so that gave my life purpose beyond earning an income.

Jerry continues his volunteering at Springfield Regional Medical Center three days a week; but once last school year ended, he decided he liked Tuesdays and Thursdays free, so he got together with the STRS people and took his second retirement. We are both officially retired, but Jerry will continue his volunteer work at the hospital, which he thoroughly enjoys.

We took Jessica and Kyah to Atlanta for Easter, to visit my brother. It had been almost two years since I saw him and Kyah had never met him. We had a great time and celebrated Easter in fine fashion, church and a picnic with friends.

Joel and Lindsey
In June we helped Joel and Lindsey move into their new home. Lindsey has done a wonderful job of transforming a new house into a real home. The same week, we learned that son-in-law Brent passed the actuary test that makes him an ACAS (Associate of Casualty Actuarial Science).

In August, my long-time friend and I went on a road trip to Wisconsin to the wedding of another long-time friend. We had a wonderful weekend and decided we definitely want to do this again.

I have been doing some things that I have wanted to do for a long time. I am exercising regularly, doing Precept Bible study and did rejoin church choir. My high school classmates have had regular get-togethers. What I added was an interest in Sears Kit Homes, and meeting some other aficionados, who know A LOT more than I do! I have renewed my social work license, so took some education for that. I took an online course on the life and writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am singing with the Springfield Symphony Chorale for the 2014-2015 season. I am exploring my loves of history, architecture, and music. I continue to write my blogs for my creative outlet. I am able to visit my Mother one day a week. In short, I LOVE retirement! And the house is clean too! (I’m still not much into cooking.)

A new school year brought football to Joel at Tippecanoe High School and he moved to the Offensive Coordinator this year. Tipp had a good team that made it two games into the playoffs. Their final record was 9-3. They had several players getting league and all-district recognition. It was a satisfying year.

My two precious girls!

Our precious granddaughter, Norah Kinsley, made her arrival on Tuesday, October 7th.  She is a petite little thing at 7lb. 5oz. and 19 inches long. Kyah is a very happy big sister; and the rest of us like her too!

In November, Jerry and I took a cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. We decided to drive and stop one night in the Smokies before going to visit my brother in Atlanta. From there we went to Savannah, and took a tour of that city. We headed down the coast to Fort Lauderdale, where we set out for the Bahamas and St. Thomas and St. Maarten. We sailed on one of the largest vessels, Royal Caribbean’s “Oasis of the Seas.” It’s enormous and you just have to google it to imagine it. We spent 7 days on the cruise, and left Fort Lauderdale and stayed a night in Valdosta, GA before heading to Atlanta again.

We spent Thanksgiving Day alone, which was fine after two weeks of being on the go. We were able to join Brent’s family on Sunday for their meal, and we enjoyed that as we always do. I had my Class of 1971 Christmas party in early December.

So as we complete another year, we reflect on the many blessings that we have, and sincerely look forward to another year in 2015. The biggest blessing of all: God Came Down—Emmanuel! It’s not just a holiday! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Celebrating Our Anniversary With a Cruise

I’ve been off the radar for a while, literally and figuratively. I had no real inspiration, there is nothing new on the Cancer Journey and should not be, and I tread water in My Fitness Journey. I have had some issues with medicines fighting each other and I have let the fitness go a little; but I know it’s time to get back. NOW! Not waiting until the New Year!

Earlier we decided to go on an Eastern Caribbean Cruise after the birth of our second grandchild, so we planned on mid-November. It would be nice to enjoy summer weather for one last hurray before winter sets in. We did literally leave the Midwest in one season and returned in another. ~sigh~

We decided that we would drive down to Fort Lauderdale, giving us the opportunity to visit with my brother in Atlanta, and an opportunity to drive over to Savannah, GA, which I have always wanted to do. It was beautiful to drive through Kentucky and Tennessee and still see so much color in the trees. We had three beautiful days of color. We also had some quality time with my brother, and we got to see a city I had always wanted to see.

After touring Savannah, we headed down Interstate 95 and eventually ended up on St. Augustine Beach for the night.  The next day we had a leisurely drive to Fort Lauderdale, down the east coast. We stayed at a motel that gave you a full breakfast, let you keep your car there for the week, AND shuttled you to and from the Port. It was worth every penny!

We boarded the ship, Royal Caribbean’s “Oasis of the Seas” on early Saturday afternoon. We had plenty of time to unpack and explore, before we set off. It is one of the largest passenger sailing vessels in use. One of the new features of this series of cruise ships is a “Promenade,” where shopping and some restaurants are provided for passengers. Another is a “Boardwalk” which is open air, and has a carousel, more shops and at the back of the ship, an Aqua Theatre where they have diving and swimming shows. The pinnacle of design is the open air “Central Park,” where they have an actual park in the middle of the ship, with trees and other plants growing. There are staterooms with balconies looking over Central Park.

The Oasis of the Seas is on the left.
Otherwise, the ship is designed much as other ships are, with the formal dining room at one end and theater at the other. For me, most of what I wanted to do is “dress for dinner” and then go to a show. Neither of us is interested in the casino, and I didn't make it into the Kate Spade store.

It seemed enormous, and when you consider 6,300 passengers and 2,400 crew to serve them, that is just shy of 9,000 people! What sized town do YOU life in?

The first two nights, they were confused in our dining reservations. This problem probably originated with the telephone CSR, but was escalated on the ship. By Monday, we had OUR place, and two waiters that were fabulous. They learned what we liked and brought it to us before we asked.

Sunday was a port day in the Bahamas and we took a bus tour. I had much to learn about that country and its history, we had a delightful driver and a small group as we ended up on the “handicapped” van. We drove over to Paradise Island and it is indeed adeptly named. However, I got a terrible blister on my foot, which made life uncomfortable.  Monday was “at sea” so I was able to rest it, but by Tuesday’s shore visit to St. Thomas and St. John, I needed to visit the medical facility in the evening. Buy the insurance. In theory, it’s supposed to take care of the doctor and meds. I’ll believe that it’s going to happen. Well, at least I had an antibiotic in me to avoid any infection. It’s hard to keep one’s feet sterile in this environment.

The Tuesday visit to St. Thomas and St. John was an interesting day. They are part of the U.S. Virgin Islands and I was able to check my email—mostly ads. We took a boat ride to St. John and spent most of our day there. This is the island with the glorious beaches. We had lunch, but I didn't walk much.

By Wednesday, we docked in St. Maarten and I was feeling better. It’s so interesting to see this island which is split up between the Dutch and the French. We drove around the island and enjoyed the sights. I had time to shop, so I picked up a few things.

I needed Thursday and Friday to rest up, and that was good. What I love about cruises is that on “at sea days,” you can sleep in, have breakfast when and where you want, spend time at the pool if you want (after I had an open wound on my foot, I felt it was irresponsible to go to a public pool) and Jerry did, while I did other things. Usually we took a late afternoon nap, then went to dinner and a show.

We saw five completely different shows. The first was the Broadway show “Cats.” We saw a diving show in the Aqua Theater, an ice show on the onboard ice rink, a comedy and music show aimed at people of our age which was fabulous, and another show called “Come Fly with Me” that featured people flying around the theater, all kinds of special effects. Sometimes after the shows, we went to lounges to see other shows. No, I did not do Karaoke.

As I mentioned, “Oasis of the Seas” is one of the largest cruise vessels in operation. Currently, you may be seeing advertisements for “Quantum of the Seas,” which is even larger, to begin cruising in April 2015. I have mixed reviews about large verses smaller. These larger ships, by sheer size, have even more issues for the folks who are older and slower, which is many of the cruisers. The ships have more to do for families.

On the other hand, the smaller ships are more intimate. You are more likely to see someone you don’t know more than once and engage in conversation. For me, where dinner, entertainment and the pools are the most important thing to me, I’d just as soon stay small.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and had the opportunity to reconnect over all the things we were learning and doing. The phones were shut off, the stateroom TV didn't have network programming although it did have one ESPN channel, and we mainly used the TV to order tickets to shows and check our account. I love the balcony view, but it makes Hubby a little queasy, so he just doesn't look that way. I also love the movement of the ship under NORMAL conditions (our last day at sea was a bit rough.) I can’t tell if I've had too much wine, or it’s the ship. Haha! By the way, the wine was as good as the food.

One night, we had lobster. It was fabulous. Our waiter asked us if we liked it and we said yes and HE BROUGHT US BOTH ANOTHER PLATE! We finished that meal off with baked Alaska and could barely move. The following evening we had Key Lime Pie for dessert (which is my favorite), and he brought me a second piece! He got a good tip.

Our stateroom attendant was great too. She kept me in ice for my foot for three days. She would call “Miss Denise, how are you?” from six rooms away! She got a great tip too.

This is the Farewell Party on the Promenade.
I may or may not have been dancing.
We chose an “express departure” off the ship which began at 6:30 AM. With 6,300 passengers, we thought it was a good idea! We were right. By 7:30 we were in a van on the way to the motel and then we were on our way home, eating when we got hungry. The two days of driving to Atlanta were rainy and was the worst weather on the trip. We visited Valdosta, GA and spent the night there. The following night was at my brother’s. We spent a day with him and then headed home the following day.

After thirty seven years, we don't look too bad!

It was a great trip! It is my hope that, in retirement, we can have more of these opportunities, and also be able to take advantage of great last-minute deals. Whether a cruise or not, it’s time to learn new things and share with my spouse and the people we meet along the way. I love this time of life.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cyber Monday

I would be remiss if I did not admit to my cyber habits in general, but especially on Cyber Monday. With all due respect and a tip of my hat to those who do Black Friday, I cannot do that. No amount of savings is worth my anxiety in being in an environment that I have no control over.

My daughter-in-law and her mother are pros at Black Friday. DIL spends as much time creating her "game plan," as her husband, The Coach spends on a game plan for his team any given week. I salute her! She gets a massive amount of work done in little time.

Cyber Monday also takes some strategy and planning. I was getting my shopping carts ready last night, but they would NOT let me ad my premiums until midnight, by which, of COURSE, I was asleep. This was the first year Swagbucks became part of my payment option. I choose to convert the Swagbucks into Amazon gift cards and my Amazon bill was reduced substantially. Next year, I will work harder at that and it will pay for more.

I ordered a couple of items for myself that had premiums for the future. My husband says, "Go for it. Act surprised!"

I've used Kohls on more than one occasion to provide for my family. They do keep you coming back with their Kohls cash, and at holiday time it's easy to do. This is where I must maintain my discipline.

Don't we love shopping in our jammies? I do! Especially while the house-cleaner is here. THAT is my one Christmas gift to me!

P.S. K-Mart is going out of business in our area. I must hit that store up later in the week! Those are true discounts, especially toward the end. Of course, selection is less. We know that going into it.