Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Little Whine for my Birthday. Or, Regaining Balance

This week is my birthday. I'll be 67 years old, and that is really starting to feel old, no matter how often I hear, "65 is the new 40." Truth is, my biggest problem is my health, not my age or my income. And compared to most people my age who I know, my health issues would be considered very minor. I acknowledge that... but I also know that I am very dissatisfied with my overweight condition and my lack of energy. Really, the lack of energy is more concerning to me than the extra pounds I'm carrying.

Energy is the fuel of life... without it, you don't do a lot. You certainly don't live well. Instead, you sit around and accomplish little. Is that what anyone wants for their retirement years? I want... no, need... to feel more energetic, to have more mental get-up-and go, as well as the physical strength to do it. I don't drive, so walking everywhere is what I do, along with taking the bus. And I noticed this week that gradually I've been going out less, shopping less. It's kind of crept up on me. I haven't been to the mall for months and months, for example. And this week, when I scheduled two tutoring appointments at the library, one in the morning and one in the early evening, I barely made it to the first, and ended up cancelling the second. It was the 20-minute walk to the library, not the tutoring itself, that I couldn't deal with. I was just exhausted after making the round trip twice each of the two previous days. Maybe it was my seasonal allergies, or fighting off the cold virus that is going around.

But I actually think this was partially mental, 'cause honestly, I'm becoming bored with doing for others all the time. I realize that nobody is really doing much of anything for me... it's all going the other way. Babysitting the grandkids - three nights last week- and hours of volunteer teaching and tutoring, a task that's been increasing in scope as new students keep showing up. My grandchildren are nice, and appreciative, as are my students. It's just that I sometimes start feeling like I'm putting out so much more than I'm getting back. And then I start feeling sorry for myself, and that in itself is not healthy and is energy-sapping.

I guess the solution is to take better care of myself, not just physically, but emotionally, too. Actually, a couple of the ladies in my knitting group said as much to me last month. They said they felt I needed to put more priority on the things I want to do. (I had been unable to participate in a couple of group events because of tutoring/teaching commitments.) That the students were damn lucky to have me available, but should understand that I need to take time off for the things I want to do. I kind of brushed off the comments. But now I think they were picking up on something I needed to address.

So here I am, taking stock. I don't intend to do an about-face and commence a self-centered life where I do only what directly benefits me. But I need to set closer limits on what I do for others, including family. Because, frankly, nobody's reciprocating to any extent, including my family. If I want to be taken care of, I had better learn to do it for myself.

And that's the key, I think. You should take very good care of yourself in every way, and not worry about having others do for you. Do so much good stuff for yourself that whatever others do for you is nice, but not necessary. Make your life so great, so satisfying and fun, that you don't really need a lot of help from family and friends. You're not emotionally dependent on calls, attention, gifts, etc. If they come... how nice! If not, so what? You have enough already.

Now, I'm not proposing being the proverbial island. We all need to be around others, to have friends and family around us. I'm just saying we need to give up any dependency. And I believe that for us who are older, especially when we live alone, it's all to easy to get into a dependency mindset. To become a little bit emotionally dependent on others, and to then be disappointed when we don't get what we need.

And here's something else I'm realizing. If we feel disappointed when those we do things for, whom we help in various ways, do not reciprocate significantly... or at all... then we are probably doing too much. How much is too much will differ for each of us. But I've discovered that I have reached and then exceeded my own capacity for "doing good." I need to step back, set new limits, and then concentrate on taking better care of myself and my own needs. Not just physical, but emotional, tool. I have a need for entertainment, fun, learning, exploration,.. even shopping... and these are not being fully met at this time. I'm not superwoman, and so part of the problem is that spending so much time doing things for others saps the energy I need to do things for myself. It also eats up a lot of my time.

So... this week my focus will be on starting to regain balance. I will continue my class and tutoring, but tutoring will be limited to two weekdays and the Saturday afternoon class. I need, too, to limit trips to the library, for said tutoring, to one per day. And, most importantly, I need to limit the number of students I teach and tutor. This may take some time, and I'll have to let normal attrition take care of reducing student numbers, but I'm going to do it.

I will inventory what I want to do and accomplish is the rest of my time, and make plans accordingly. Lunch with friends, starting that yoga class, shopping, gardening, entertaining, And catching up with friends I've let kind of drop away because I didn't seem to have the emotional energy to maintain ties. If I want to live well, I'm going to have to learn to recapture this balance.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I Became a Stealth Frugalista

First, “Stealth Frugality” is not quite the same thing as what most frugalists advocate, authors like Amy Dacyczyn of Tightwad Gazette fame, the still-reigning queen of frugality. And Stealth Frugality is definitely NOT about:

(1) Crafty, sometimes dishonest ways to make people think you are wealthier than you are. It’s a very different mindset from that.

(2) Stingy, white knuckled cheapness, where you never buy anything you don’t absolutely have to, and when you do have to buy something, it’s invariably either second-hand or the cheapest available at the bargain depot.

Both of those approaches enshrine money as the most important deciding factor in your life and decisions. You either try to manufacture illusions that you have more than you really do, or you base every decision almost completely on how little of this limited resource you can get away with letting go of. Either way, money becomes the paramount factor in how you run your life.

And that is simply wrong. Life is not about money and "stuff." The cliches are really true. The very best things in life are free, and money absolutely does not buy happiness.

The whole point of the "Stealth" part of my paradigm is to not annoy people, to not incite pity or a guilty feeling in others that they should "do something" for me, such as always pay for my lunches and cabs. Don't you know people who do that? Talk unendingly about how poor they are, seemingly hoping that someone will step in and pay for things for them, or at least feel sorry for them? That is sooooo boring!

I have a friend who is also a relative by marriage. She's been very wealthy, and now, in her 70s, she's progressively become very poor. Let's call her M. I've honestly never seen anyone make worse money decisions, and so she has made an unfortunate situation much worse than it needs to be. Some of this had to do with planning, and some with day-to-day spending decisions. But I never call to check on her, or take her to lunch, but that I'm regaled with a string of complaints about how poor she is, and how she can't pay her doctor, or this or that. It's really tedious, and no wonder nobody enjoys being around her.

Well, you might say, I AM poor, and there are a lot of things I cannot afford to pay for, either. Sure, but there are other, gentler ways of dealing with and communicating this. Honesty should be one of them, but you don't have to use a "poor me" way of conveying the fact that you can't afford everything your richer friends and relatives can. 

In fact, you probably COULD afford much of what you say you can't. But if your resources are limited, you just have to pick and choose. You need to make it about priorities. You COULD afford that BMW, for example, but to do so you might have to live in a refrigerator carton in the park and give up eating. Same thing with a lot of expensive "stuff." In fact, this whole process of prioritization can be kind of humorous, and when you occasionally have to explain why you've decided not to take that trip, or buy that new car, or whatever - a lighthearted remark about having other things you want more makes sense to even the most well-off folks, and if you do it right, it won't make them feel sorry for you. Even rich people have to prioritize, and they will understand this.

And to do this consistently, you need to have a totally different mindset from those hang-dogs who go around crying poverty. You need to be grateful and appreciative of what you have. You need to have a positive attitude, for sure, and that attitude will free your mind and creativity so that you can take full advantage of what you have and what is available to you. Life as a Stealth Frugalist is so much nicer, for you and everyone around you.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I mentioned the Farmers Almanac winter forecasts in my last post. Overall, they are predicting colder-than-normal temperatures except in the west and southeast, with plenty of snow in the north, wetter rather than whiter as you move south. It's been widely reported that they have predicted a blizzard on the weekend of the February 2 Superbowl Sunday in New Jersey, a game that is to be held outdoors.

This scenario would be a lot different from last year, when I don't think I used my snow shovel once. 2010 was a lot different, as we got hit by one snowfall after another. For this former Californian, it was kind of fun... for awhile.

Winter 2010 in My Neck of the Woods
The Farmers Almanac has provided long range weather forecasts since publication started in 1792. Their forecasts these days are based on regular ol' meteorology and weather cycles, plus sunspot activity. Some Almanac fans claim an 80% accuracy rate for these forecasts. However, Jeff Masters, meteorologist/blogger at Weather Underground, weighed in on this a few years ago. According to him, past Farmers Almanac long range forecasts have not been accurate at all... perhaps no better than random chance.

I was interested to see that the Almanac forecasters have also predicted a global cooling trend, to last several decades, a trend that supposedly already began in 2008. This prediction was based on sun spot activity. It's hard to reconcile this with all the attention being placed on global warming, isn't it? The Almanac isn't the only meteorological source predicting global cooling, rather than warming. (Google it if you don't believe me.) Confusing, particularly as political and economic interests seem to have gotten deeply involved in spinning this particular topic to the point that I don't really trust anybody.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What Happened to my Laptop

When Comcast reattached my internet cable the week before last, the results were interesting. Everything was fine with my phone (I use wi-fi when I'm at home, because in my area, Virgin Mobile's data is very, very slow most of the time.) And  all was well with my tablet, a Kindle Fire. My Samsung Chromebook did a couple of updates, almost invisibly, and was fine.

But my HP laptop! Aaarg... not so fine. It wasn't the hardware, it was the Windows operating system... and the Norton security suite, provided free by Comcast. Now, I keep trying to set Windows update to not do anything without my permission. And somehow it always seems to revert. So as soon as the computer went back online, it immediately started updating, Presumably my cloud storage apps began updating simultaneously, as did every other piece of software installed on the computer.

The result was a computer that would barely run, taking many loooong minutes just to open a small file. I tried the System Restore function, twice before it worked correctly. But then I discovered that many programs, including browsers, could not connect to the internet. I could no longer sign in to Skype, my primary phone service. And nothing changed when I disabled the Windows firewall. I uninstalled my anti-malware program and tried to do the same with the Norton security suite that Comcast helpfully provides to its subscribers. But Norton would not uninstall!

By uninstalling and then re-installing the Chrome and Firefox browsers I'd gotten back some limited internet connectivity. When I Googled for clues as to how to rid myself of Norton, I discovered that Symantic, Norton's parent firm, has a downloadable tool on their site specifically for removing Norton security software! So this must not be a rare problem. From there, it was short work to download and use the removal tool. And voila, I could sign in on Skype, connectivity had been restored to all programs, and everything was running at normal speed. Whew!

The moral of this story, I suppose, is mainly not to use Norton (nor McAfee, as I've had similar problems with it in the past) for internet security. I've installed AVG Free now, and reactivated the Windows firewall. Security is important, but AVG is a highly-rated product and much less likely to cause problems on your computer.

I'm glad to be back online, and now without problems. I was encouraged at how well my Chromebook handled being offline. It doesn't even need to run anti-virus software, because it doesn't install much in the way of software, instead taking advantage of the wi-fi connection and all the cloud-based software. Without wi-fi, it doesn't do much.

I guess a secondary moral would be that if you need or prefer to use Windows as an operating system, and many of us do, keep it and all your software updated by connecting regularly to the internet.

As an aside, we're having spectacular early fall weather here in Delaware. This is absolutely my favorite time of the year, with days still warm but nights cooling off. We need to enjoy it while we can. I hear the Farmer's Almanac is predicting a bitterly cold winter.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Back from an Internet "Fast"

It isn't the season of the year for fasting, but I did it nevertheless. What happened? Somehow Comcast's overhead cable to my house was pulled down and broken. I'd always thought it was very low, crossing the street with a decided sag as it did. But one day in late May, I was sitting at my desk and heard a loud "thunk" right outside the window. When I went out to have a look, I found a long length of black cable lying on the lawn, and a section of rain gutter was loose, where I presume the line had been attached. And, of course, I had no internet service.

I practically had an anxiety attack - "Oh, no... no internet! What ever will I do!" - and I realized that my dependence on this mode of communication and information retrieval had become... excessive. So, instead of calling Comcast for immediate repairs... I let it stay broken. It was weird at first, but not unpleasant. I could still use my Blackberry for e-mail, Facebook, and some other limited internet access, such as weather updates and internet purchases. I took my Chromebook to the local McDonald's and library a few times, both of which have free wi-fi. I upgraded my phone plan from 300 minutes/month to the 1,200 minutes/month plan, at an extra $10.00, since I could no longer use Skype on my computer.

But I read a lot more. And listened to the radio, discovering in the process that, happily, I can now get good reception from WHYY, our local NPR (National Public Radio) station, with its excellent and varied programming. I really didn't miss video much, and cancelled my Hulu and Netflix subscriptions. I don't think I'll go back to these, either. Amazon Prime has so much free video available that I won't run out of things to watch any time in the next decade, and they seem to be increasing their holdings in the BBC and ETV (Educational TV) categories.

Last week I finally decided it was time, and summoned Comcast to reattach my cable line. Which a very nice technician did late one afternoon. So what did I do first? Honestly, I cannot remember! It's easier now to check my e-mail and to watch videos. It's far speedier to use my cloud-stored "stuff", such as the spreadsheets that keep track of my finances and my tutoring student attendance hours. I have ordered a quilt on sale from Sears that I couldn't have accessed without a good internet connection - still waiting for it to arrive at my local Sears store so I can pick it up with no shipping fees.

All in all, I think it was a good experiment. I feel quite confident now that I could do just fine without my home internet service. It's a wonderful convenience, don't get me wrong, but I've discovered that it is not really essential.

Next post... what happened to my Windows laptop when it went online after being offline for three months. Not pretty.  And what I learned.