Monday, January 15, 2018

Doing the debt-free SCREAM!

Last year, Dave and I kicked our debts to the curb. In heavy marker, I crossed off our last loan and wrote PAID OFF JANUARY 3, 2016! We were ready to do our debt free scream.

We had the usual debts: car payment, a couple of credit cards, medical bills. We were living like your average Americans with more debt than savings. 

We knew that at our age we shouldn't have had any debt. But it seemed we were on a treadmill in our efforts to become free of loan payments. We'd cross off one loan only to have another take its place.

We both had stable jobs and were never late on payments, so we didn't have the sense of urgency in getting out of debt as we should have had. Then Dave had shoulder surgery, the last in a long line of surgeries he had in a number of years. During his post-surgery followup appointment, the surgeon asked what Dave did for work. When Dave explained the physical nature of his job, the surgeon said he should think about retiring. Dave's body was falling apart.

When you're pushing 60, it isn't so easy to find another line of work. It was a sober realization that we weren't financially ready for him to retire. We were screwed. 

About this time, Amber and Paul were getting close to paying off their last school loan. They had been following Dave Ramsey's debt snowball plan and had been making astonishing progress.

When they were first married, Amber and Paul were hit with reality when their first college loan payments were due. Between them, their monthly payments equaled the amount of a mortgage payment. The thought of making payments for the next 10 years--if not more--made them sick.

They had heard about Dave Ramsey from several of their friends who were following his debt snowball plan. When Amber's cousin, Anna, shared that she and her husband had paid off her school loans following the plan, Amber and Paul jumped on the Dave Ramsey train as well.

They put themselves on a squeaky tight monthly budget, living on one small income and dedicating the other to attacking their school loans. They squeezed out every single dollar they could to throw at school debt. They furnished their apartment by going to garage and estate sales on the weekends. To save money, Amber even let Paul cut her hair instead of visiting a salon. They also became entrepreneurs, starting a side business making and selling tables. All profits were earmarked for paying off the school loans.

Within two years, they made their final payment. Their excitement was contagious. Paige and Matt soon were in. Within months they were free and clear of a car loan and school debt.

Ours isn't nearly as impressive as our kids' journey in getting out from under debt. It's a little embarrassing to admit that it was our kids who led the way to our becoming debt free. At our age, we should have had it together. 

It wasn't that we didn't know better. We had taken classes on money management when we were first married. We understood the concept of living within your means, having a savings, staying away from credit cards.

So when Amber lent me Dave Ramsey's book, I didn't think it would offer anything I didn't already know. Pretty common sense stuff. Live within your means. Save for emergencies. Stay away from credit cards. Yada, yada, yada. All the things we know we're supposed to do but somehow can't accomplish.

The Debt Snowball Plan

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year Resolutions

Another year passes--each one flying by a little faster than the year before.

Our New Year's day is usually spent just recovering from Christmas. Kind of like taking a day off after vacation to recover from vacation.

I do like making a few goals for the year. I don't call them New Year's resolutions though. That would mean I'd have to be resolute in keeping them. That I'm not.

I began making New Year's resolutions in high school.  My list consistently included a variation of the typical ones people make. 1) Lose weight (by so many pounds in so many months), 2) exercise more, and 3) read through the Bible in a year. 

My success rate wasn't high. On my weight, I gained an average of a pound each year, every decade adding 10 more pounds to my weigh loss goal. My goals to exercise were too lofty. The year I resolved to run a half marathon I ended up with killer plantar fasciitis, putting a halt to even thinking about walking around the block. 

I ditched my Bible reading plan around February when I was slogging my way through Deuteronomy.

I've gotten wiser and more realistic with age. My goals now are quite attainable. Like replace the torn lampshade in the living room. Or, vacuum out the Asian beetles from the light fixtures. 

Two years ago my goal was simply to watch more television. It was a worthy goal, I thought. Dave and I didn't spend enough quality time together. He watches television. I hole up with a book. When we switched to cable and bought a new comfy couch for the family room, I decided to turn over a new leaf and join him. Didn't take too long to become an HGTV junkie.

I'm not a complete slug though. Twice I've managed to read straight through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Both times it took me closer to two years, with the first year and a half spent in the Old Testament. I felt parched but overjoyed when I made it to Matthew.  

Now I read the Bible without a particular plan. The point is that I read it. Sometimes I spend weeks in one chapter. Other times I read a verse for the day. Currently, I'm memorizing the book of James with my friend, Millie, who lives in the nursing home. Maybe I'll finish by the end of the year. I'm not in a hurry. I'm refreshed just to be soaking in the Word and to spend time with Millie.

In 2010 I successfully lost the 40 pounds I had gained over 40 years. I simply resolved to eat real food, just less of it, and break a sweat each day. I didn't have a timeline. I was in it for a lifestyle change. The strategy worked. I kept most of it off for the first seven years. Recently though, I've been on the upswing. Something needs to be done.

I am setting a weight goal. From every year hereon in, my goal is to weigh my age plus 100. This year that's 155. 

I came up with the idea after watching a segment on 60 Minutes on research done on the lifestyles of those who lived to 90 and beyond.

They found that those who remained active lived longer and had less chance of developing dementia--not surprising. Taking vitamins didn't make much difference. Surprisingly, those who had a few drinks a day tended to live longer than those who didn't drink alcohol.

The real kicker, and what I found encouraging, is that at a certain age weight gain can be a good thing. Those who were average weight or moderately overweight outlived those who were underweight. Bottom line, it's not good to be skinny when you're old. 

I jumped on this idea. I decided that if I weigh my age plus 100, I can gain a pound every year and remain in exceptional health. Next year, it's 156. At 75 years of age, I hope to be at 175. If I'm still living at a 100 and weigh 200, that's fantastic. It's a beautiful plan. Of course, for all this to work out I'll first need to get back down to 155.

So there you have it. Older, wiser, and keeping it simple. 

Have a wonderful new year, my friends. May it be one that is joyful, peaceful, and surrounded by those you love.


P.S. On one very happy note, last year on January 3 we finally crossed off a goal we had on our list for years. We did THE DEBT FREE SCREAM! Finally, we were able to kick our debts to the curb. I'll have to do a blog post on that one. Next time.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Grandma's a sicky

Today, I think I may be joining the land of the living. I've been sick all week with a really nasty bug. I don't know if it was the flu or a mega cold virus. Either way I felt like a run-over squirrel squished up alongside the curb.

I hadn't been sick since becoming a grandma three years ago. I figured grandmas are old enough to have killer immunity against the thousand or more strains of viruses out there.  

But my lucky streak ended Monday when I woke up feeling like someone had taken a sledge hammer to me. I wobbled through the cleaning job I had that morning, came home, popped a couple of Advil and went to bed. The next two days I stayed home from work, alternating taking Advil and Tylenol every four to six hours.

On Thursday and Friday I went back to work. I tried the best I could not to infect my coworkers, coughing into my arm pit, liberally using hand sanitizer and wiping down my phone and keyboard with saniwipes.  To get through the day, I continued with the Ibuprofin.  

At the end of the day on Friday, I made a stop at the mall and grocery store. By the time I dragged my sorry self home, hauled in the Christmas gifts, $148 worth of groceries, and two bags of water softener salt, I was done.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling worse than I did all week. My body ached. I had a fever and was sweating and shivering simultaneously. My tonsils felt like they had been raked over with a chisel plow.  I wondered if I had strep. I dreaded the idea of waiting at Urgent Care for hours to get a strep test.

I did an online express appointment instead. You fill out a questionnaire about your symptoms and then a nurse responds within an hour. According to my symptoms, the nurse replied, I was at a low risk of having strep. The advice was to treat the symptoms, including taking Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the fever and sore throat. I spent the rest of the day immobile on the couch watching the History Channel's marathon on the Navy Seals. Impressive what the Navy Seals do.

Today I feel better. Not 100 percent, but well enough to throw in a load of laundry and change my sheets. I wondered why it took me so long to beat whatever my body had been fighting. Every time the effects of the Ibuprofen wore off, I felt significantly worse.

I did a little research on how to get over a virus sooner. Turns out that by trying to get rid of my symptoms with Ibuprofen I was most likely sabotaging my body's defense against the virus.

The symptoms of a cold--coughing, congestion, fever, body aches and sore throat--work to stop the virus from replicating. Even fatigue is a good thing. It's the body's way of getting you to lay low so your body can fight the good fight. (Meaning that my shopping frenzy probably didn't help the cause.)  

The immune system is like the Navy Seals being sent in to battle. Better to let the special forces do their job without interference, even if it means putting up with feeling cruddy for awhile.

I'll skip the Advil next time I'm sick and see what happens. Oh, right.  I'm a grandma. Grandmas don't get sick.  Ha!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Hitting 55

Sharing birthdays with Evie
Yesterday I celebrated my birthday with our first grandchild. Evie was due on my birthday and came on my birthday. Pretty special. Evie turned three. I've hit the speed limit.

I am good with being fifty-five. For me, the sevens have always been the hard birthdays. Twenty-seven. Thirty-seven. Forty-seven. All gave me a certain kind of dread. I don't know why exactly.  Maybe because I was closer to the next decade than I was to the last.  

Forty-seven though was the worst. My plumbing was unpredictable. I was becoming increasingly forgetful.  I also weighed more than I did when I was nine-months pregnant with my last child. At my physical that year, my doctor said I had all the signs of perimenopause, the precursor to the last hurrah. Yay. Well, at least there was a reason I was going haywire mentally and physically.  

I asked her about the weight gain.  She said, oh yeah, that's part of it.  Once a woman turns 50 and hits menopause, the default is to continue to gain weight.  A woman would need to both exercise an hour more a day and decrease calories just to maintain her weight, never mind lose weight. Well, if all I could hope for after 50 was just to maintain my weight, I decided I would go into it the skinniest I possibly could.

For the next months I cut calories and worked out like a fiend. After 40 pounds lost, I recognized my face again. It felt good. I tossed out all my old clothes and bought new ones in sizes I hadn't seen since high school.

And, then, I promptly went into a full-blown midlife crisis. This was the best it was going to get before I got truly old. I grew depressed thinking of the day I'd be wearing comfortable orthopedic shoes and plucking hairs off my chin.

It took me until I turned 50 to get over the midlife crisis. Since then I've come to realize there are advantages of growing older.

For one, I have greater perspective. When my kids call to share their hardships, I tell them that things are going to turn out okay. And, I know they will. I've seen it in my own life. Sometimes it takes time--a long time, years even--but God can turn crummy things into blessings.

Yes, my memory is shot.  But there's an upside to losing your memory.  I can now read a book twice. I'm into the third chapter before the story line seems even vaguely familiar and I realize that I've probably read it before.  Doesn't matter. I don't remember how it ends, so I keep reading.

I've become more comfortable in saying what I mean and meaning what I say.  I certainly try to be gracious, but I don't have the energy or time to beat around the bush. I guess that's what it means to lose your filter. 

I'm okay with the way I look. I look my age, I think. It's silly to try to be some kind of hot grandma.  I'm just going for well groomed.

I think intercession is a special gifting that God gives to older people. After our last child left for college, I was sobered by the thought that the time of influence with our children was over. Had we done it right? We made so many mistakes as parents. Our sphere of influence is now in our prayers.  Dave and I have an urgency to pray for young people like never before. Daily we pray for the young people in our lives, each of them by name. Our adult children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and the children and grandchildren of our friends.  

The relationship with your children changes as you and they grow older. You become more of a mentor and cheerleader as they move into their adult lives and become parents themselves. You are honored when they come to you seeking wisdom. (That I have any wisdom to give is always a surprise to me.)

But the creme de la creme is getting grandbabies out of the deal. In the last three years, Dave and I have been blessed with three beautiful granddaughters, Evie, Hazel, and Ashton. My birthson also has two little guys: Moser and Daniel. Someone once told me that having grandchildren is like falling in love. It's true. When you think of your grandchildren, you get this soft, warm expansive feeling. You can't get enough of them and can't wait for the next time you see them. Pure joy.

But here's something else.  The older I get, the less of a hold I have on this life. This life is full of joys and blessings but more than enough heartache and sorrow to go around too. We live in a broken world. All you need to do is turn on the television and listen to the news. But this life is just a dot on the line of eternity. The older I get, I think of heaven more. I long to be in the Lord's presence forever. 

But until that day comes, I'm going to live my life gratefully.

Life at 55 is good.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Laughing Gas

For the last couple of days I've had a zinger of a toothache.  After a long night counting my pulse through the number of times my tooth throbbed, I called to get into the dentist right away in the morning. A few X-rays and a shot of cold air to tooth #15 and Dr. Julee confirmed I needed a root canal. Gravely, she told me the tooth was dying.

So far this year we've paid the dentist the equivalent of what we could have spent buying a small-sized sedan.  I asked how much for the root canal.  $1,500.  I asked how much to have it pulled. $200 to $300, depending.  "Pull it." 

Dr. Julee looked pained. As a dentist she said she always tries to save teeth. The tooth was still good. It already had a crown on it. I could understand this. Saving teeth is her job. Probably feels a little bit like a cat lady who can't rescue every creature and has to let one go. 

I asked if I could get along without the tooth, and she admitted that if there was any tooth you could live without it would be a back top tooth. I said I was ready to say goodbye to the problem child. I had spent enough money on this tooth over the years.

The receptionist set me up with an oral surgeon in the afternoon. She broke down the price and asked if I wanted to have nitrous oxide--laughing gas. It was an extra $86. 

I'd never had the particular pleasure of receiving laughing gas, but I heard it was a blast. I'd always just braved it out with Novocain, even when I had my wisdom teeth removed years ago. 

Our dentist in California was a man from India named Dr. Belur. I had assumed when I went to Dr. Belur to get my wisdom teeth pulled, I'd be put under or be offered laughing gas. I was wrong. When I asked when I was going to be put to sleep, Dr. Belur said in his genteel Indian accent, "Oh, no, in New Delhi I take out 300 teeth a day. Not even Novocain. I just pull." He said I should have gone to an oral surgeon if I had wanted to be put under sedation.

I felt a sense of alarm, but he said no worries. He'd use Novocain with me. He gave me my first shot, and there was no turning back. 

What came next was akin to two hours of labor and delivery with forceps. Dr. Belur was pulling so hard to get my first impacted tooth out that my butt kept lifting up off the chair. As my body dangled from the single grip of a pair of dental pliers, Dr. Belur told me I should have gone to an oral surgeon and gotten put under. 

He had managed to cut two of the teeth out by the time his office closed at five o'clock. I was sent home with two tea bags to put in my injured mouth and told to return in the morning to have the other two removed. I came back the next morning for more of the same, and finally the deed was done.

So with the memory of my experience with Dr. Belur in mind, I readily said yes please when the oral surgeon offered a little bit of the N20.

The laughing gas wasn't quite the hoot I expected, but it did make the whole experience of getting a tooth yanked out of your jaw an almost pleasant one. After the dental assistant strapped the mask over my nose, I had a moment of claustrophobia. I asked if I could get it removed if I started to panic.  The assistant said just to breathe through my mouth if I got uncomfortable.

They started up the mist. I waited. Nothing. Took a few deep breaths.  Still nothing.  But then my hands started to tingle and my lips felt like they were getting shot up with Botox. Not that I have ever gotten Botox. Finally, I started to feel a mildly pleasant sensation. The creative juices began to flow.  Man, this would make for a good blog. I tried to hang onto the pleasant thoughts drifting in my brain. 

I thought of my oldest daughter who had delivered our latest granddaughter at a birthing center. The midwives used laughing gas for pain relief. God bless Amber, I thought. She went through childbirth just with laughing gas. Gosh, I love that girl. Then I thought of our other two children. And our grandbabies. Well, just bless them all.

I heard the crunch of the tooth as it cracked, sort of like what you hear when you break apart the bones of the chicken.

Seemed like less than a minute and they were done. I remained in the chair as I was given instructions for after care. 

As I made my way to my car, I rehearsed the happy thoughts I had while I was under the stream of laughing gas. I was going to write the blog as soon as I got home.

First though I needed to get ice cream. Ice cream was supposed to be good for recovery. I pulled up at the drive through at Flapdoodles and ordered a pint of vanilla and a pint of white chocolate raspberry. 

At home, I replaced the gauze, took two Advil and started on the blog.  That was over four hours ago. I still haven't been able to recover the breezy thoughts I had while I was in laughing gas la-la land.

Oh, well. Getting the tooth pulled was a piece of cake. And I'm eating Flapdoodles ice cream.  All in all, a good day. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Minimizing. The 30-Day Challenge

My daughter and son-in-law are embracing minimalism.  Vaguely, I remembered hearing about the concept. It's a quest to live with less and not go down the path of major consumerism. The Minimalist web site defines minimalism as a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

I know it can be taken to the extreme--like owning and living with 100 items or less. Good for those who do that, but that sounds like a mere survivalist existence. Not a lifestyle I wish to embrace. I don't want to choose between owning a camp stove or wearing makeup.  

For Matt and Paige, though, it's just about simplifying their lives. Having a two-bedroom home and two small children, they were feeling overwhelmed with the amount of stuff they had.  I completely understand. Until our oldest was in her teens, we raised our three children in a small one- and a half-story. Keeping a small house clean with kids is like shoveling while it's still snowing. I kept a relatively tidy house when my kids were growing up (except for the girls' room for which they were responsible and I avoided entering). It wasn't easy keeping the house from getting trashed. I was crabby much of the time as I was constantly picking up or telling my kids to put their toys away.  

A solution is to simply have less stuff. Paige and Matt are making great progress in purging their house of anything that, as Matt says, "doesn't bring them joy." Daily they send me a photo of something else they are tossing overboard.

They gave me the 30-Day Minimalism challenge to do with them. The challenge is to get rid of excess stuff for a month. The first day you get rid of one thing.  The second day, two things. Three items on the third and so on. By the end of 30 days, you'll have gotten rid of something like 930 items. You can donate, sell, or trash, but each possession has to be out of the house and your life by midnight. 

At first, I didn't think I needed to do the challenge.  Except for my buying high-end lattes (a habit I have been recently curbing), I don't feel like I'm into mass consumerism. If you walk into my house, it's usually fairly uncluttered.  I don't have many clothes, other than my work scrubs or what I get free at Gap with my reward points. I'm pretty good about making regular trips to Savers or throwing things we no longer use.

But then I realized there was a lot I could purge.  It's the junk that's been traveling with me every move I've made since college and after Dave and I were first married. Basically, stuff that is out of sight and out of mind, but feels somehow sacrilegious to get rid of. Semi-sentimental stuff I haven't wanted to tackle. Photos Dave took when he was doing weddings years ago. College textbooks. Music CDs and VHS tapes which we no longer have a way of playing. Binders of material from retreats and conferences we've attended. Duplicate photos of the kids. The pair of pants I wore in 1988 and said I'd keep until the day I could fit into them again. 

Recently Mom and Warren moved to an apartment in Lake City. I and my siblings helped her box up the things for the move. We had three piles. Toss, give away, or keep. When Mom was distracted, we stealthily put things in the toss pile. Much of it, she and Warren spied and pulled out and put in the keep pile. Their new apartment and small storage area are crammed full. 

I thought of what it will be like for our kids one day when they move us to assisted living. I joined the challenge.

June 1, I tossed the entire contents of the top left drawer of my dresser. I considered the drawer as one thing. It was full of mostly slips, negligees, and camis given to me at my bridal shower 31 years ago. Somehow, it seemed wrong to throw them. Why, I don't know. I haven't fit into them since our second year of marriage. And, good grief, does any one even wear slips anymore? 

Yesterday, I got rid of an old TV that doesn't get sound and a coffee thermos cup that leaks.

It might take me towards the end of the challenge before I hit the Rubbermaid tub holding the pants I haven't worn since 1988. Pretty sure I won't be able to get them up beyond my knees.

Join us if you like.  Let me know how it goes. The 30-Day Minimalist Challenge 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Cup of Joe

Sigh.  I'm only on Day One of titrating down on caffeine and my head is feeling soggy.

I love coffee. I really, truly love coffee. The problem is it's become all or nothing for me.  I've gone beyond drinking coffee in moderation to becoming all out dependent.  At home I drink three to four seizure-inducing cups every day.  With how thick I make my brew, this probably translates to seven cups to the average coffee-drinking Joe.

I could live with just being addicted to coffee.  It's not the worst vice, and it makes me happy.  But it's how much money I'm spending on finely crafted lattes outside of home that's the problem.

Dave and I do the Everydollar budget (it's simple, it's free, and it's gotten us out of debt--yay, Dave Ramsey!).  Every month I blow my coffee budget, usually within the first week.  I'm not going to tell you how much I spend.  It's embarrassing. Suffice it to say, if I quit buying Starbucks, I could get a new outfit every month.  Pretty sad, because my monthly budget for clothing is zero.  I could use a new pair of jeans.

At work, I get Starbucks.  Every morning I tell myself I'm not going to spend money on a cup of coffee that costs more than a gallon of milk. But then I always find a reason that I need a coffee treat.  (I'm feeling blue. I didn't sleep well last night. It's only Tuesday. It's Friday and time to celebrate. And on and on and on.)

I've tried finding cheaper alternatives.  But lesser substitutes won't do. Our work's break room has a Keurig.  To me K-Cup coffee tastes like not very good instant coffee. I've also tried bringing in freshly ground coffee and filling the reusable kind of cups.  The result is a not so awesome cup of slightly gritty swill.

I've brought coffee in a thermos. Tastes metallic. I've made iced coffee, which at home is pretty good, but halfway through the day is an anemic watery drink.

So, if I can't be satisfied unless I'm spending my future retirement on foo-foo drinks, it might be I just need to quit.  Or, at least stop until coffee once again becomes the occasional treat and not the life-or-death-gotta-have-it addiction that it is now.

I'm bracing myself for ice-pick headaches. My strategy is to regularly dose with Ibuprofin.  So far, my head just feels soggy.