Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Free Stuff !!

Occasionally everyone enjoys finding a bargain. Saving money is nice. Free is even better.

When my older cat died in March, I ventured to a nearby animal shelter in search of a rescue animal. The facility was remarkably nice, modern, clean with well-lit and large visiting rooms. As soon as I saw a young female cat with a certain look in her eye, I was a goner. Papers were completed and the kitty was brought out to be micro chipped. The girl behind the shelter asked for my ID and then announced the adoption was free.

"What?" I remarked dumbfounded.

"There is no charge for seniors to adopt."

"Not even the application fee?"


Needless to say, I was quite grateful and returned home a wonderful, affectionate addition to the family.

Bargains abound around us. Several years ago, I discovered the treasures to be found at local "resale" stores. Called everything from "resale" to "thrift" to "vintage" stores, these businesses feature gently used and even new items from clothing to furniture for everyone in the family. Once you begin scouting what is available at various locations, you will quickly discover which stores have the best selection. It is possible to find new items (even some with tags attached) that someone bought but had second thoughts about. Some must have been received as gifts but likely didn't fit or were the wrong color. These stores have some extremely nice merchandise.

Recently I received a message from a blog reader about a service called "Novel Seniors." This program offers free eBooks to readers. Go to http://www.novelseniors.com 
for more information. On the right of that website, you might want to sign up. You must have email in order to participate. The program provides apps for many types of electronic devices (computer, smart phone, iPod touch) even if you don't have a Kindle. Check it out.

This sent me scouring for other web information regarding "freebies" for seniors. (Seniors can include those aged 55 and upward. Check each source for specific qualifications.) I searched via Google with the phrase "senior discounts" and the results were overwhelming. If you have access to a computer, search the web for yourself. There is a HUGE amount of information about various programs around the country.

Discounts/coupons are available for nearly anything and everything including: pest control, car washes, groceries, auto repair, home remodeling, plumbing, travel, locksmith services, cell phones, appliances… the list goes on and on.

Also featured are various regional discounts (such as New Jersey Transit, electrical services in Atlanta) and ongoing weekly discounts (such as Kohl's which offers 15% off each Wednesday), both large, well-known programs and unknown gems.

Some of the websites I discovered are:





Check it out! Happy surfing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere…

Water is an interesting subject.

Water is an element that has controlled civilization for centuries as floods and droughts have arrived and left. Despite modern technology, water remains a constant requirement for the maintenance of life.

We drink it. We wash what we need to wash in water including ourselves, our cars and clothes. Water makes our plants, grass and crops grow. Swimming and boating in ponds, lakes and oceans provides exercise and recreation. Fishermen retrieve fish and other seafood from water for our consumption. Firemen use water to extinguish fires and save our homes and businesses from ruin. Hydrants stand on many corners in our country waiting for the next emergency to occur.

People have had a lengthy love/hate relationship with water. Over the decades, water allowed ships to settle various parts of the globe and brought newcomers to our shores. Water powered grist mills to grind corn before more sophisticated machinery was devised. Paddle wheel boats moved people and commerce up and down the Mississippi to help expand our country.

For something that is so vital to our survival, it appears as though little thought goes into preserving and protecting water.

During my childhood, I experienced first-hand just how much we depended on water. In 1952, the little portion of the world where my family lived experienced a terrible drought. Water was rationed. Even though I was quite young, the importance of the situation didn't escape my notice. Our local water source had been greatly depleted following an extremely low spring rainfall. The public swimming pool was closed all summer. Lawns were not watered and cars were not washed. My father would travel several miles to a nearby river and fill containers with water for our family's everyday use. I recall the city hired outside providers to "seed" the clouds with hope of encouraging rain. This venture was successful.

This rationing occurred while I lived in the Midwest, where farmers depended on water not only to make a living but to produce food for consumption. Farmers had more respect for the ebb and flow of the weather than most of the population and even they were hard-pressed to deal with the rationing situation. The growing season suffered greatly that year and food prices increased.

Beginning in 1960, I lived in Arizona where people co-existed in an unstable relationship with water -- and still do. Many single family homes feature a swimming pool. Once considered decadent and extravagant, swimming pools have come to be viewed as a necessity, a way to find solace while living in 110° -plus weather. Nearly everyone I knew either had a pool or access to one. Although pools are not often drained, evaporation due to the sun and significant heat waste a great deal of water annually.

As a result of the vast population growth in recent decades, water consumption has soared. The water table in the Arizona desert continues to fall. Despite conservation efforts, the growth of Phoenix and Las Vegas continue to deplete the area's water supplies including Lake Mead, which was formed with the construction of Hoover Dam at the Colorado River. Local builders throughout the region continue to include features such as fountains, scenic private lakes and water features of every description to entice homeowners.

Some people who reside in the desert recognize that a problem exists regarding the future water supply. Meanwhile, they swim in their pools and irrigate their lawns and plan to worry sometime down the road.

Those of us with an affinity for the desert and its natural beauty recognize that water availability is a problem that will someday come home to roost. When developers and architects will join the crusade is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

School's Out

Summer is definitely here. Although the weather can still be erratic, alternating from hot and humid one day to cooler and breezy the next, our need for sandals and sunglasses has grown steadily. It's time to hydrate and relax a bit.

When you were a kid, do you remember how wonderful it was to become aware of arriving warm weather? The first few days of steady sunshine and blooming flowers set your neurons into motion and signaled that the school year would be over -- finally.

The first few days of each school year were always somewhat daunting, even for kids like me who enjoyed going to school. Numerous unknowns came into play and we were not sure what to expect for the following months. What was the teacher going to be like? Was he/she nice or very strict? Would you grasp the new subjects and lessons that awaited? Would you be able to sit close to your current best friend? Regardless of how good/bad the coming year might be, there was comfort in knowing it would eventually end. Like a brief jail sentence, that alone was reassuring. The arrival of spring with Easter and then Mother's Day confirmed that freedom was within grasp.

How wonderful to see the days marked off of the calendar, each disappearing date an enticement. The end of the school year began to take on a life of its own. Three more weekly spelling tests, then two, then one. The thrill of having the teacher collect those textbooks which were no longer needed. No more Science chapters! One more Geography test!

It was glorious when the last day arrived, usually just before or after Memorial Day. The local public swimming pool was open and life was sweet. We could breathe a little easier.

Our family didn't always take a long vacation. But my brother and I and our friends had plenty of fun anyway. There were bikes to ride, visits to local parks and the pool, adventures of all sorts, movies to watch, (non-video) games to play. I don't recall ever whining about being "bored." If I felt there was nothing to do, I FOUND something to do. Kids who got restless during the 1950s and 60s had no one to blame but themselves. There was plenty to do even before we became a nation of plugged-in zombies.

Personal safety was not an issue. We rode our bikes everywhere and never locked them.

We thought nothing of going alone to a friend's house or meeting someone downtown at the movies. Few people locked their doors. Parents today not only cannot imagine such an innocent era, probably believing the same dangers existed then but went recognized. Not so.

During the years when President Eisenhower occupied the White House, people of all ages used their imaginations. We read books, developed hobbies and spent time with friends. It was an upbeat time when people thought about such futuristic issues as space travel, enjoyed 3-D movies and the fledgling world of television.

People and life in general were quite different then. There have been many changes in our culture since those years. Many of us have come to realize that change is not always a good thing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Obsession

What would you call a routine that you perform over many years -- let's say 50 years -- and then cannot stand to cease? A really bad habit? An obsession?

Why not think of your occupation in that way? It just might shake you into reality enough to help your decision to retire.

A job, employment, a career -- there are many names for a ritual that you perform most of your waking hours for most of your life. When you factor in the time it takes to get ready for the work day, travel time to and from your workplace, thinking about the job including things that you failed to complete or upcoming tasks, etc., there are very few hours remaining each day. If you have inordinate responsibilities or other duties, the time in which you can do what you want to is diminished even further.

This is a rather daunting statistic. The years of your life spent doing what you want are miniscule until you are able to retire. With the exception of the very wealthy, that's a fact. And it's a rather imposing fact.

So when you are facing retirement, you suddenly have to figure out what to do with yourself for the foreseeable future. There are plenty of options out there to tempt you and now you have the time to follow your dreams.

Why then do people avoid retirement?

Several people I know are well past retirement age and yet continue to work full-time. One man I know worked until the age of 92 despite having a full pension from an earlier career. When I saw him last year (after approximately two years of retirement), he told me that retiring was the worst mistake he had ever made. Go figure.

There are some folks who are intimidated by the present economic downturn and want to work as long as possible. That's understandable. But the majority of folks I know who continue to work will admit the real reason is that they don't know what else to do with themselves.

Life lessons don't prepare us to think outside the box. We attend school, sit quietly in our seats until told what to do next. Behave, work hard and all goes well. Then we find a job that either pays well or interests us and again fall back into familiar behavior. Sit at your cubicle (or come to the worksite or the hospital -- whatever setting is appropriate) and do what you are told to do next.

We need to begin thinking what we would do if we had time and opportunity. Begin making a plan to open a boutique or restaurant, learn another skill, or become a volunteer. But think about it and DO SOMETHING.

In this economy, there is little that can be taken for granted. Workers who lose jobs often have to struggle to find another and then fall back into the same pattern.

I enjoy hearing stories about unemployed people who follow their inner voice and turn their energy toward something they wish to pursue, even if that thing is a little uncertain and may not sound logical to their friends. These adventurers are people after my own heart, who are willing to try something new. Often they are not only happy with the bend in their path, but want to encourage others to follow suit.

For those who are still punching the time clock for a 40-hour week and are past 65, you need to stop and smell the roses. Begin thinking about what you would do if you become unemployed (it does happen) or retire.

Life goes on and so should you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Sounds that Abound

Our world today is filled with a wide variety of sounds.

Cell phones ring and conversations erupt unexpectedly in public places. You might be standing near the deli section of the grocery when you overhear someone's loud cell phone conversation. Rarely does someone inside speak quietly on their cell. Instinctively, they say, "How's that? Can you hear me?" to confirm that the caller -- as well as everyone else -- knows what is going on. There is also the chance that the conversation involves an extremely personal matter such as a wayward spouse or someone's approaching incontinence. At such moments, I often want to approach the person who is talking and say, "Excuse me, but I really don't want to know all the details of your daughter's life."

I don't take such action, but the thought does occur to me.

Remember the old phrase "peace and quiet"? That was a condition that people used to seek out as a way of relaxing or to collect their thoughts. It was once possible to find such locations where little of the outside world had intruded. Unfortunately, those spots are nearly extinct now.

Once when I was on a camping trip with a boyfriend, we were cooking on the Coleman when I became aware of an unusual noise.

"Listen," I said quietly, holding up a hand to signal that I was trying to hear something. "Do you hear that? What is it?"

My friend laughed. "I don't hear anything but the creek washing by. There's nothing out here for miles."

"No. There is something coming. It sounds like a swarm of bees."

Just then three children on ATVs sped around the corner of our tent, startling both of us.

"See?" My friend said. "Nothing to be afraid of."

He was wrong. There was plenty to be afraid of. That was one of the last times I recall thinking that I had successfully escaped noise pollution. Even there in the forest miles from the nearest town there was noise breaking my tranquility.

Life in the city today is a cacophony of noise. Traffic. Car horns. Screeching tires. Horrible music played so loudly that it is audible at several car lengths -- through closed windows. Other modes of transportation -- buses, trains, motorcycles, semis. Road construction, jack hammers, road equipment. Sirens, vehicle alarms. Riding on public transportation is never quiet, with announced stops, conversations, the inevitable music and cell phone conversations. Once arriving at the city, the sidewalks are deafening walls of sound from people, horns honking, feet stomping on pavement, music and vendors.

Life in suburbia or even small towns is only marginally better. Try sitting outside at a restaurant in any town in America. If you can carry on a conversation with another person, you are lucky. In addition to a portion of the noise heard in the city, there are shouted greetings from someone you may or may not recognize as they drive by and wave. In more rural settings you encounter other equipment -- tree trimmers and chippers, fire trucks and emergency vehicles, school buses and delivery trucks, even farm equipment.

If you venture to a campground today, you will likely encounter someone with an RV who brought along a TV. How could he miss his favorite show or the play-offs? Camping used to be simpler with tents and few possessions. Today campers bring along all sorts of beeping and ringing devices. The kiddies want to watch a DVD because mom and dad don't want them to be bored.

People seem to think they have to be plugged in to some device in order to maintain their "peace and quiet." Doesn't that seem a little odd?

But that's just me.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Humor plays an important role in helping us cope with life.

That does not mean that we all have to perform stand up comedy, amusing our friends with clever patter. But humor is indispensable for dealing with many of the unpleasant episodes we are likely to confront including divorce, financial set-backs and caring for elderly parents. It is humor that allows us to face such situations head on and maintain a healthy balance. If people can't find humor in their everyday lives, they are to be pitied.

Two personal instances come to mind regarding humor -- or the lack thereof -- and oddly enough both occurred while I worked with lawyers.

The first occurred many years ago at a small firm where people worked extremely hard and sincerely enjoyed being around each other. The firm's personnel was an excellent mix of dedicated, intelligent, pleasant people -- except for the managing partner who was a rather ill-tempered and insecure individual. He was the fly in the ointment.

Employees would arrive each morning, retrieve a cup of coffee and return to their offices to begin the day. Sometimes co-workers would greet each other and chat in the coffee room. The managing partner issued an edict that he disapproved of such friendliness and forbade talking among co-workers. Hearing this announcement, we assumed it was some type of joke, a prank to make us chuckle. But soon it became clear that we were no longer allowed to be friendly with each other. The result was extensive "underground" humor about the matter. And we soon began mingling at local eateries over lunch to laugh about the situation, often at the expense of the very man who had prohibited our friendly chit-chat.

The second experience was at a large law firm in a prominent east coast city. I was newly transplanted from the west, still sporting a smile and a tan. I had several years of experience under my belt and was comfortable in my new surroundings. While not brash in any way, I was friendly to others, often greeting them in the hall with "Good morning." One day it was brought to my attention that people had "noticed" that I smiled too much and suggested that I "tone it down" a bit. I obviously had stepped through the looking glass.

I cherish my sense of humor, although it is sometimes hard to find someone who shares my interest. I find this rather pitiful and hope the humor pendulum will eventually swing the other way.

In the meantime, I will share some of my favorite sayings about humor:

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road. (Henry Ward Beecher)

A sense of humor is the ability to understand a joke - and that the joke is oneself. (Clifton Fadiman)

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it. (E.B. White)

Humor is a serious thing. I like to think of it as one of our greatest earliest natural resources, which must be preserved at all cost. (James Thurber)

Humor is just another defense against the universe. (Mel Brooks)

If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor. (Jennifer Jones)

Next time you find the humor in a situation or event, make the most of it. Laugh to yourself and share that experience with at least one other person. Just don't laugh too loudly!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Today's Workplace

Life in the workplace today is fairly bleak. The situation has greatly deteriorated since many Baby Boomers entered the job market in the mid 1960s.

Both of my grandfathers were railroad engineers during the early part of the 20th century. With very few exceptions, men in those days worked and women stayed home. Men generally stayed with the same employer until retirement. Large organizations such as railroads paid a good living wage and provided many benefits. Many organized social events like Christmas parties for workers and their families and made efforts to keep them happy. Retirees received a pension and a gold watch or other symbol of appreciation. Employees had value.

By the end of World War II, things were hopping for American workers. It was a time of great economic boom. President Eisenhower oversaw construction of the Interstate Highway System, a network of paved roads to link formerly remote portions of the country. Prosperity brought secure jobs with good benefits, much appreciated during the so-called post-war Baby Boom. Returning GIs bought houses on the GI Bill, schools burst at the seam and consumerism ran wild. Factories churned out goods from light bulbs to refrigerators and automobiles. Those working in factories were assured their hard work would be rewarded with security and pride in the products they made.

It's difficult to watch dramatic depictions of the 1960s and 70s because for the most part, they are accurate. The workplace in those days was indeed filled with bloat. Expense accounts and client-paid meals were commonplace. Although that era may look exaggerated and over dramatized in television or film, many working situations were exactly as shown -- fat cats making plenty of money, joining country clubs and living large.

By the late 1980s, the American economy had begun to slow and jobs were drying up. Harder times meant fewer families needed appliances and new cars. Production slowed and many companies began to turn to overseas production among other cost-saving measures. Manufacturing job which remained were few and far between. The tide had begun to turn.

Our economic structure has undergone change over the years, but I cannot recall any period as dismal as the present. Today's high unemployment was nearly unimaginable a few years ago. I sympathize with any 2012 college graduate who hopes to find a job, let alone one allowing him/her to paying off college loans.

For this current graduate group -- whose future was once so full of possibility -- the immediate future is now frightening. A huge percentage of college grads will remain living with their parents in order to survive on their astonishingly pitiful wages. Many will not even be offered benefits by their employers, many of who are merely trying to stay afloat. They will have no insurance or retirement contributions, at least for the present.

It must be hard to talk to college graduates and offer them any hope. Not only have they spent most of their teen-aged lives working to get into and then out of college, they have amassed large debts which they will be years paying off, if they are lucky.

Perhaps I am wrong about the economic predictions. But the current instability has continued for so long that many have forgotten about the golden years of Christmas bonuses and month-long vacations. Such stories are not fantasy. They really existed and are partially at fault for the bubble which was bound to burst. It seems unlikely that those days of soft living will ever return.

It's too bad that no glimmer of hope remains to soothe today's work force. Workers don't necessarily aspire to move into the corner office. They just aspire to hold a job and be able to pay the bills.

Friday, May 4, 2012

It's the Economy

By now we all realize that the national economy has tanked.

There are any number of theories as to the cause. The Wall Street debacle and the investment house fall out. The costly and protracted wars in the Middle East. The housing market bubble that finally burst.

As we watched our pension plans and retirement accounts plummet, one thing was for certain. Many -- if not all -- of us are in this mess together. The past five years or so have been eye-opening, especially for those of us entering into retirement. This experience has not been something I would want to repeat.

People of all ages are struggling right now. Hunger has become more than a word. Families have lost their homes and their incomes. But it is important that we struggle to hang in there. President Roosevelt famously said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Those words seem just as relevant now as during the 1940s. Whether conditions are about to swing upward or whether that will take a little longer, we can't despair.

Forecasts daily indicate that the jobless rate will raise or lower, that interests rates will increase or decrease or there will/will not be a double-dip recession. Who really knows?

Seemingly self-important experts are paid to give their opinions on television while they hype their latest book. It would appear that these experts have an agenda, a reason to make news and see their names in print. Unfortunately, they have no real idea of what is going to be. They are merely reading tea leaves and then trying to blind us with their wisdom.

This economy glitch is world-wide and reaches countries from Greece and Ireland to the U.S. and beyond. In this global economy, many countries are linked together through importing/exporting. If one of the group develops a cold, everyone sneezes. It's a big problem and will take big answers to resolve. Everyone of us has a stake in the outcome. We all just want to enjoy life and not have to worry about every expense.

When I was changing careers many years ago, I was in a financial pinch (which is much smaller than a glitch) and watched every penny. It was hard and not too much fun. But it taught me to be wary of things like long-term expenses that might eventually seem prohibitive. I learned to buy a more conservative vehicle, one without all the bells and whistles. I learned to have a hamburger without the cheese (and saved 25 cents in the process). I learned to simplify, to shop less and take a sack lunch. These were hard lessons in a strong economy when many of my friends had morphed into shopaholics. But it didn't hurt me to keep the big picture in mind and trim back when I could. In times like these, such lessons can come in handy.

During my financial difficulties, it appeared to me that everyone else had money to spend on frivolous things. I know that wasn't true -- it just seemed that way. Circumstances changed and my pay increased. All was not lost.

Currently, millions of people are seriously concerned. Many people would be thrilled to have a hamburger, let alone one with cheese. People are going hungry and doing without vital items like prescription medication. For those in dire situations, there is help available. Ask a friend, a clergyman, or browse the phone book for agencies who can point you in the right direction. Unlike the Depression of the 1930s, this time there are social support groups to provide assistance and guidance.

Let's not despair. Things will get better. And we all hope it's sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Try Listening

Watched an interesting film recently. The story centered on a rather naïve young man who enjoyed helping others by knowing what bothers them. At one point he is asked how he knows what people are thinking. He replies that the trick is knowing how to listen. Rather than thinking about what he will say next during a conversation, he listens carefully to the speaker and can tell what the other person will likely say next.

This movie struck home with me. People always seem so focused on the next point they are about to make that they cease listening and are merely waiting their turn. For some time I have implored others to help save the art of verbal communication.

Listening skills are important and should be nurtured.

Since I was a teen-ager, others have labeled me a "good listener." People I have worked with or spent time with have said that is one of my strong traits -- the ability to listen to others. I'm unsure how this characteristic developed. Perhaps when I was younger, I didn't have anything too insightful to add to the conversation. Or maybe I was a bit shy.

Why is conversation dying? How did this happen? Many factors are at play.

Part of the blame stems from trying to have a conversation in a room where a television is blasting. People seem to talk only during the commercials or station breaks. When there is a break in programming, we rush to express ourselves so as not to interrupt the show/news/movie. It's the result of trying to be polite and save time, I suppose.

Part of the blame must go to "reality television," a subject that is a real thorn in my side. For those who don't get it, reality television is scripted. It is a method to convince the viewers they are overhearing personal arguments, conversation and displays of temper, a sort of strange eavesdropping. In fact, "reality" television is a cheap way of filling air time without bothering with a structured plot, high-priced talent or elaborate sets. The result is a rather vicarious means of letting the viewer overhear what is being said. It's all phony and silly. It is this one-way conversation of sharing details and drivel that makes viewers believe their own details and drivel are fascinating to others.

People think I'm a good listener because of my ability to tune out about 99% of what I hear. If my lunch partner thinks that I'm absorbed by how often she changes her grandson's diaper, then she needs to pay attention to my glazed-over eyes. I can smile and nod through the agonizing details about some uninteresting trip she has just taken and appear to be listening.

All the while my mind is screaming, "WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?" My smile is set and I'm planning to bolt for the door at any moment. I guess that makes me a good listener.

A conversation should involve two parties interacting with each other. It doesn't happen very often any more. This fact used to cause me great concern. I would concoct ways to inject good old chatting back into society. However, I have given up completely. Rather than attempt to resuscitate something that no longer has life, let's focus on appearing to listen without dozing off. That way everyone believes they are participating in the conversation and no one gets offended.

Just try not to snore.