A NEW STRATEGY FOR LIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

The strategy and rhythm of life are different between your working years and retirement.


Garry reminded me that he’s busy. By this he means he’s reading two books — one audio, the other print. He’s trying to keep up with his email and stuff on Serendipity and occasionally write a few things, too. Which made me think about busyness.

So I said to him, but also to myself: “How did we have enough time to work full-time and then some?”

Garry worked insanely long hours, often 14 to 16 hours. Just as he was finally about to get some sleep, the station would call him back in. This is why he so treasures sleep. For most of his life, he barely got any. On top of this, he worked strange hours, so his body was always on its own odd schedule.

He remembers better than I do about work, even though he has been retired longer than me. “It was the schedule we lived on. We got up, we went to work, we came home. Then we did it again.”

“I don’t think I could do it … for any amount of money,” I pointed out. “I went out on disability … and that was three major surgeries ago. I don’t think I’m healthier now than I was then.”

“That,” said my husband, “Is the other thing. It doesn’t matter how much money they offered me. I don’t think I could do it.”

That’s the definition of retirement — when not only do you no longer work, but you can’t do it, not for any amount of money. You’re finished. It’s hard to remember exactly what working full-time was like.

These days, I watch — and photograph — birds.

I know I did it. I got up, commuted, sometimes ridiculously long distances which is how I got hooked on audiobooks. Worked. Came home. Cooked. Cleaned. I even occasionally saw friends or family. Then, I got up and did it again. We both did. Together, we worked for about 100 years.

These days, I write a piece or two, read other blogs and maybe fix some pictures and listen to a book. Then, I make dinner and collapse into the sofa, I feel I’ve worked a full day.

It’s 12:15 am and I’m writing this. It’s the second post I’ve written today. I also processed about a dozen pictures. I made shrimp for dinner and Garry cleaned up. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a full day.

I am thoroughly and completely retired.

LOSING EVERYTHING – Marilyn Armstrong

A lot of people figure that everyone “retires” on their own terms in their proper time. That hasn’t been true in our world. Certainly not in Garry and my world. Garry lost his job because the company he worked for decided to move on without “the old guy.” I lost my job because my bosses son needed one.

Many of the people I know were “laid off” which feels exactly the same as getting fired, except there’s no legal reason for it. They just feel like doing it. In Garry’s case, it was clearly age-related. In mine, it was just smarmy.

I’ve known at least half a dozen people who got forced out of jobs they’d held for as long as 40 years. They had no preparations for retirement, no significant saving, and no plans. They all figured they’d work until they hit the official “date” … but it didn’t turn out like that. Not even close.


All the awards you want … but no pension you can live on.


Garry, after 31 years at channel 7, was shown the door in literally five minutes. When he came home, he looked like he’d been bludgeoned. I should mention that Owen lost his job during the same week. It was a hell of a week.

I hadn’t been at that job for very long, but the boss had me “showing the kid” how to do the job. Sneaky. I was in my 60s. There wasn’t another job waiting for me and I was ill.

For two years, we lived on what Garry got as his union payout. No medical insurance — and I kept getting sicker. He was miserable too. He was terribly depressed and demoralized — while I was wondering if I was going to die.

He went to rehab. I found a doctor who would treat me for free and actually invented a surgery to “fix” me because I was very broken. We had no money. To keep afloat for those two years before Garry got his pension and I got disability, we refinanced the house multiple times which bloated the mortgage payment to an impressive amount we couldn’t pay. There was the HARP Program — which Obama started. The problem? The bank didn’t have to let you into the program. Great program, but all you could do was beg. Weird, right?

I had been negotiating with them for months. When finally I got cancer in both breasts, I called and said, “Well, now I have cancer. Can we please get into the program?” I think I actually shamed a banker because a couple of months later, our mortgage payment dropped by $1000 a month. That was the beginning of survival.

I found a doctor who treated me for free. A hospital that never asked for payment. A bank program that cut our mortgage in half. Finally, Garry started getting Social Security and his (very small) pensions … and I finally got Social Security Disability. We went from having no money (blessings on food banks everywhere) to almost being able to make it through a month.

I remember the day when we no longer needed the food bank. It was a small, but meaningful triumph.

Garry stopped drinking. I didn’t die.

These days, when I hear how people are melting down over getting laid off from their jobs and basically losing everything. I’m sympathetic … but mostly, I figure they’ll get over it. Not immediately. Eventually.

You have to get over it. It’s a terrible time. We went for two years without any income. None. Zero. Nothing. Whatever little we had put away disappeared. Somehow, we survived and damned if I know how. I got any help I could from anyone who gave help. I don’t even know how I did it.  We are both alive — and we still have the house. At some point, Mass Health (our version of Medicaid) kicked in. It was the idea on which Obama built his medical plan.

It was designed by our Republican governor. That’s one of many reasons it baffles me that the GOP has been so against it. It was their program.

When this was taken, I weighed 93 pounds. An XXS was too big for me. I wore a size zero and it was loose. It was not an attractive look.

Most people don’t get to retire like in the movies, with or without the gold watch. We get ditched, usually around age 59, typically 6 months before pensions fully vest.

For all of you who got dumped because you got “too old,” yes it was illegal to let you go. It’s called ageism, but it’s done all the time. You can sue, but unless you’ve got money to live on while you sue, by the time you get paid off — and you will get paid off if you can hold out long enough — you’ll be up to your lips in debt.

Did we have mental meltdowns? Sure we did. That’s why Garry needed rehab. I would have been more melted down, but I was trying to save my life and it was sheer luck I bumped into a doctor who introduced me to another doctor who took me in. I was days from my demise by then.

I developed a sort of yellow-green complexion. Which was also not very attractive

If you have had a life calamity and everything gets taken away, it will take a couple of years before you pull yourself together. It’s not just your finances that take a hit. Your soul gets maimed. Your self-esteem goes down the tubes.

When anti-medical care legislators say “no one dies from lack of medical care,” that’s bullshit. Lots of people die without care. They don’t get written up because they aren’t in the hospital or seeing a doctor. They just die. Kids, old people, and all the others in the middle.

Why am I talking about this?

Because those of us who had this terrible disaster overwhelm them need to know we aren’t alone. It wasn’t just us. It’s lots and lots of people many of whom used to be solidly middle class before their world collapsed.

So try to remember one thing:


It gets better. Somehow, someway, it gets better.


I’M STILL UNDER DEVELOPMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

One of the many things I learned while working for a living was “never let them know how good you really are.”

It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. Moreover, I’ve always been more fond of family and friends than my work, except for the year I ran a newspaper in Israel. I totally loved running a newspaper. I was busy all the time, either editing, writing, looking for material, helping design the physical paper.  This was before they had software to design magazines and newspapers, so you had to literally cut and paste the pieces into place.

I wrote three regular columns under three names: the lead story as me, a cooking column, and an astrology column under various names. And if we were needed another article, I wrote that, too.


I got to interview the big guns in 1980s Israeli politics including Netanyahu who I think was Education Minister. Pretty sure. We did a very long interview about how important it was to stop using the money for “other stuff” (settlements, for example) and spend it on education. He certainly has changed a lot since the mid-80s.

Other than that, I did what I could with the skills that I had. There was only one English-language newspaper and everyone who wrote in English wanted to work there. On the other hand, there were dozens of advertisements for technical writers.

I wasn’t a technical writer, but if that was what they were hiring? I was one.

And so I got my first got a job as a technical writer working with the group at the Weizmann Institution who were designing DB-1, the predecessor to all DBs since. The first real, multi-lingual database. Except I didn’t know anything about databases. In fact, when I got the job, it was the first time I’d heard of one. I hung around the office for a few days, realized I was useless unless I got some training and ‘fessed up.

After six weeks of having database design force-fed into my brain, I could use the database and design something simple that worked. Sort of.

I learned system analysis rather than computer programming, so I never knew how to write programming though I could read it. I learned how software is designed and understood why and how it works. During my three years there — until they sold the product to IBM — I found my technical writing legs.

I was a bit of a pioneer. Breaking new ground was exciting and professionally risky. I was known, by the time I left Israel, as its best tech writer in the country. Israel was a very small market and when I went back to the States, I was a little twitchy about testing my skills in “the big time.” But it was fine. Maybe better than fine.

Except for one thing: I discovered the reward you got for being very good and very fast was more work. Not a raise or a promotion. Just work. Not even overtime.

In my first job in the U.S., I started as “the junior writer.” Eventually, the other 5 members of the department were let go or moved on until finally, there was only me. Doing the whole thing that had previously needed (?) six people.

I was handling the “work” four writers and an editor had done before me. I finally asked how come I didn’t at least get the title of “manager” and was told I was too good a writer to be promoted. Too good to be promoted? Okay, how about a raise?

I got 6%. I changed jobs and made more money. That was when I realized that I should never have let them know just how good — and fast — I was because there was nothing in it for me except more work.

I eventually got really good and ultimately got a good salary. This is exactly when the dot com market blew up. The company for which I was working went out of business between Monday (when we got the news that our backers had lost all their money and thus we had lost all of our) and Friday. A lot of small investment companies disappeared that year.

It was also the same time when big companies decided \they didn’t need tech support departments that knew enough to offer tech support. Simultaneously, they concluded no one needed a manual since customers could call Pakistan and ask questions … and get the wrong answers.

I was already getting sick and working was difficult. Garry had lost his job and Owen’s company blew up on 9/11. My income mattered. But the industry decided I and the work I did was obsolete. Ironically today, the tech writing business is resurging. It turns out that people who buy expensive stuff — like cameras — feel they are entitled to a manual. Sadly for me, I’m 20 years out of date, lack the ability to work a full-time job, and live in the middle of nowhere.


Why am I writing all this? Because Garry and I were talking last night. He said he had a burning need to succeed. Virtually nothing else mattered to him. How did I feel about work?

I said no one has a burning need to succeed as a technical writer. It’s just not that kind of job. So what DID I have? I was an incredibly good writer and insanely fast. I was a better writer than anyone else I had worked with and at least twice as fast. They got paid more, but they were men.

If I’d had the drive and business sense to move out into the big wide world and build my own company? Could I have “made it big”? I don’t know, but I didn’t do it so I’ll never know. I never liked the business side of the business world.

But damn, I was good.

BRING ON THE ANGRY MOBS! – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m mad at life. This is not what I planned. In fact, it’s not even close to what I had in mind. I was planning to go gently into my elder years, able to do whatever I always did, but perhaps a bit more slowly. Gray hairs which turned out to be white — about the only thing that worked out the way I planned.

But all the other stuff? Poverty and ill-health? The endless crumbling of the house? It’s just not fair!

I do not feel insightful, but I could probably incite a riot. I feel very non-insightful. Mostly, I’m pissed.

I want is to win a ton of money so I can not only fix the house, but improve it so that it’s comfortable for both of us. I want our lives for the first time ever to become easier.

My childhood was rough. Adulthood has been, to say the least, bumpy. Somehow, I thought as I wandered into Older Age, life would get easier. Those things we’ve always needed to do would slow and maybe even give up. We could relax, surrounded by our nurturing family who would take care of our needs and maybe even provide a few small luxuries.

That has not been exactly been how it has worked.

Meanwhile, I’m just pissed about the whole “getting old” thing. Why doesn’t someone else cook dinner? Why are we both still scrubbing and vacuuming and cleaning? Why does the house persist in requiring maintenance and repair even though we’ve already fixed it more than once? Isn’t there an “end” point when you don’t need to fix it anymore? What’s wrong with this picture?

I say let’s round up the angry mob and attack age. Who’s with me? If we can’t evade age, maybe we beat the crap out of it.

WHEN YOU GET TOO OLD TO BE COST-EFFECTIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

DISCOVERING I’M PART OF THE EMERGING DEMOCRATIC RESISTANCE (ALSO LEFTWING, SOCIALIST, AND NO DOUBT COMMUNIST)


If you have asthma or any kind of chronic medical problem that requires continuing care and medication, that’s the message you are getting. We have had a brief interruption during which almost everyone had access to at least basic medical resources. You could go to the doctor, get some medicine. Have your cancer removed, your broken leg treated. Now … well … who knows what lies ahead.

If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’ve been getting for a while already. Several years. They’ve been chipping away at the benefits. Fewer dollars for medication. Fewer covered medications. Deeper deductibles for tests. The out-of-pocket costs for an MRI or CAT-scan are ridiculous. Garry hasn’t had any major medical issues, but I’ve had enough for both of us.

Yet, I turned down a cancer CAT-scan last year because I didn’t have the $450 co-pay … and I’ve had cancer twice, so it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

medicare__estelle_carol___bob_simpsonMedicare doesn’t cover eyeglasses, dentures, dental care of any kind, CATscans, MRIs, or asthma inhalers. In the 1990s, when my asthma finally got bad enough to require treatment, a daily inhaler cost (without insurance) about $75. Which wasn’t cheap, but I could manage it, especially if I didn’t use it every day (no matter what the label advised).

One day, two or three years ago, the same Advair inhaler shot up to more than $500 a month. Medicare will only pay for about $12 of that price. Although they are not paying for it, they will charge the entire price of the medication against my annual drug benefit.

Let me repeat that because you probably think it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. If a drug costs $535 per month and Medicare contributes $12, they charge all $535 against my annual drug benefit. The amount of the benefit has been dropping each year while medication prices have soared. This makes sense only if the real goal is to kill off the older generation.

In another bizarre but real piece of anti-intuitive reasoning, if you are prescribed a medication, towards the cost of which Medicare pays not a penny, and you pay for it out-of-pocket, Medicare still charges the entire price of the prescription against your benefit. “What?” you cry. Nonsensical, but true.

It’s a lose-lose. If you don’t get any medication, you will have trouble breathing. If you do get the medication, it’ll break the bank and burn through your benefits, even though Medicare isn’t contributing anything towards the cost.

It’s absurd and true.

medicare confusion

From the government’s point of view, I am not cost-effective. I am sure my compassionate government would prefer I cast off my mortal coil. Save them a few bucks.

Never mind that over a lifetime of work, Garry and I paid enough taxes to fund a small country. Our contribution vastly exceeded any amount we will get back. Even now, we aren’t exactly free-loaders. We pay income taxes, excise taxes, and some hefty property taxes. And Medicare, while not expensive (compared to no medical care), is not free.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been downhill.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped by MassHealth (Medicaid). I hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I’d been on disability for years which was why I was entitled to MassHealth.

Medical marijuanaNo problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me, eliminating my disabled status. Poof — I’m just old and not disabled.

They switched me to standard Social Security, so I get the same monthly check but without the extra medical protection conferred by disability or the other discounts on electricity and heating oil. They also lowered the poverty guideline so we no longer qualify for any extra help on anything — not fuel, medication, electricity and are not entitled to senior housing. In short, we get nothing. Because apparently when you turn 65, your costs go down. You don’t need money when you get old. Nice.

We’ve outlived our usefulness, so how come we aren’t dead? Why do we stubbornly cling to life? If we cared about our fellow humans, we’d get out of the way.

My doctor found some free samples of asthma medication so if I’m lucky, it will keep me breathing for another 6 months. Used cautiously and only when I’m really desperate.

As of today, we have a president — if you want to dignify him with that title — dedicated to making the lives of everyone whose life is already difficult, worse. Compassion, common decency, basic fairness? What? Huh?

medicine wheel 8

Today was the first time, I realized being a Democrat is not just being part of a political party, but makes me part of “the emerging Democratic resistance.”

I have to admit, being part of an emerging Democratic resistance sounds more romantic than just being old, sick, poor and not Republican. Maybe they’ll write books about us. Sing ballads. Talk about how brave we were right up until the moment when they put us up against the wall and shot us.

THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.

TIME OFF AND RETIREMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Time Off

Periodically, we go to retirement parties. Well, not so much now because most of our similar-age friends are already retired. For a long time, it was all retirement parties all the time. Except for the funerals, usually held for people who didn’t make it to retirement.

At some point during the party, someone — usually the wife of or the actual retiree — would say: “Now I (or we) will have plenty of time to visit and hang out.”

This causes the rest of us who are already retired, to laugh hysterically. I’m not sure how or why it works this way, but it always works this way. One day, you are working 40 or 50 hours a week. The next week, you are retired and vaguely worried about what you are going to do.

A month later, you are wondering how you found time to work because you barely have time to get anything done. The more retired you are, the busier you become. Bloggers blame blogging. Artists blame their art. Grandparents blame babysitting. People with money complain they seem to always be packing or unpacking, though I find it difficult to sympathize with those who simply can’t stop vacationing.

Please don’t complain how hard it is to manage your summer-house in the mountains and your extra house in New Mexico. Or at least only do it with friends who also have spare houses.

If you aren’t blogging or on a permanent vacation, you are probably writing, painting, teaching, volunteering, or discovering half the children you thought had moved out are now moving  back– with or without the rest of their family.

Dogs and cats multiply. Houses need repair pretty much all the time and as soon as you finish one task, another — like magic — appears.

Time off?

What’s that?

What happened to all the time you were going to have to visit friends and just hang out? The only thing which changes is you can finally get enough sleep. Among my husband and his sleep-deprived colleagues, sleep is the number one activity on their life chart. They are serious sleepers. This is apparently what happens when you’ve been sleep-deprived for 50 or 60 years. You can’t seem to catch up.

Many of us discover while we used to be casual about cleaning, we now seem to feel a more persistent need to keep the house clean. And doing that is harder than it was. I used to be able to do a pretty good clean-up of a 9-room house in about four hours, as long as Credence Clearwater Revival was playing in the background. Now, I can’t even reach half the things that need cleaning. I’ve grown much shorter during the past 10 years.

The one thing you can count on is that you will not have lots of leftover time. It’s like the magic closet which, no matter how much you remove from it, remains full.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Life is permanently full unless you are uninterested in anything. Most of us have always had hobbies and other activities we have wanted to spend more time doing but we were busy earning a living or raising kids. Now, as retirees, we slide into our “hobbies” with the same gusto we had professionally. Except we don’t get paid.

Oh well. You can’t have everything, right?

CRANKY AND CANTANKEROUS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Cantankerous

Cantankerous is what we all are when we are tired of smiling when we want to scream.

Cantankerous is what set off the #metoo movement. Women stopped wanting to smile and pretend. They got cantankerous. I always wanted to carry a small hammer and whack any man who laid hands on me without my permission. Nothing personal, mind you. After all — he wasn’t personal about it. I was just a female person whose name he probably didn’t know. Just a body.

Old people — or at least the over-70 crowd — tend to get cranky and cantankerous. We are tired of being pushed out of the way of some 40-something who is in a mad hurry to finish shopping lest his car’s engine cools off in the parking lot.

These days, I look at everyone’s hurriedness. I was in a hurry when I had to get to work, but so many people are permanently in a hurry. They aren’t going anywhere. They hurry through their leisure with the same fury they give to their work. I wonder if they realize there’s supposed to be a difference?

It’s particularly baffling when they are on vacation and they are pushing you out of the way at the museum so they can get on to the next part of their vacation agenda.

Maybe they think hurrying is the same as living longer? If you hurry through everything, you get more done before you croak?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

And then there are the pushers. The younger people who feel that old people who walk slowly are a serious aggravation. “Am I walking too slow for you Sonny?” Whack over the head with my cane. “Feel better now?” You wonder if the idiots will live long enough to need to walk slower.

I always thought a cane could have useful side effects — I mean other than helping me stay upright. Use the hook on the end to pull down all the stuff on the top shelves that apparently only the very tall and agile are allowed to reach. Pull the card closer. Hook that guy who won’t stop talking around the neck. I’ve always wanted to give someone “the hook.”

Mostly, I think we older folks are just tired of pretending to agree with a lot of stuff we detest. You don’t get a lot of benefits with age, but one of them is a certain “right” to speak your mind and get away with it. They can always put it down to senility.

It isn’t senility. It’s what we USED to call … (are you ready?) …


HONESTY!


ANOTHER YEAR ON A FIXED INCOME- Marilyn Armstrong

We got our taxes done.

This used to be a big deal because we got so much money back at the end of the year. Then Reagan changed everything and we got back less than half we’d gotten in the past. Now, on a fixed income, we get pretty much the same thing every year.

This year we got a little more Federal, a little less State, but the result was essentially the same as last year.

Not a big deal, but it beats out nothing. It’s the only “lump” of money we get all year and I’m hoping it’ll be enough to get the chimney fixed.

I’m still a little punchy with the upcoming fix up to the bathroom and trying to snip whatever payments I can downward so that maybe we can get through this alive. Getting out of AT&T and into US Mobile brought $40/month back into our account. I’ve got a few almost finished accounts and when they are done, we’ll have another $100 maybe?

It’s the fixed income thing.

Prices go up, but income never goes up. We haven’t had crazy inflation, yet the price of food has been slowly rising. Heating oil has risen. Trash went down a little, but taxes went up too. And somehow, our “low-end” cable package keep crawling upward. A dollar here, two dollars there, another five in that corner.

We dumped cable and got “YouTubeTV” and haven’t looked back. Of course, we still have to keep paying Charter for Wi-Fi and somehow, the price of Wi-Fi is now more than our original cable bill was. Funny how that works.

We don’t get “big hits” of income change, either positive or negative — but over time, since we’ve been on a fixed income, it has eroded by 15%, give or take maybe another 5%. That’s with low inflation, mind you. If inflation rises faster, we will be in trouble.

There is nothing to be done about it … other than winning Mega Millions of course. I suppose we should buy a ticket. Just in case.

THE DAY WE WON IT ALL … WELL, NOT EXACTLY – Marilyn Armstrong

THE FISCAL DREAM

I just won $1,000,000,000 — that’s one billion dollars — from the lottery. It is a bit mystifying since I don’t remember buying the ticket, but I’m not going to argue the point.  

What’s next?


So there we were watching the news. Trump. Mueller. Some moron fell into the Grand Canyon trying to take a selfie. And then there’s this guy who just won the Lottery. Again. He won $10 million ten years ago and he just won ANOTHER million yesterday.

You don’t believe in luck? Really? AND he bought each ticket in a different location. I want some of his ‘not luck’ because whatever it is, I want a piece.

Winning the lottery is a major fantasy here on the Kachingerosa. I don’t know about you, but I can lull myself into a pleasant sleep imagining what I’d do if a huge amount of money — so much that I don’t even have to count how much I’m spending — were to come my way.

The only time I inherited money was when my father died. It turned out to be exactly enough to fix our dying septic system — and a new camera. It had to have been just about nine years ago because that’s when I had cancer.

The money and cancer arrived simultaneously. Everything has a price, it would seem.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It was the defining moment of my unfortunate relationship with my father. He was much too dead for me to thank him, but it was the single nicest thing he ever did for me. No longer being alive, he could not, this once, ruin it with a lot of snarky not-funny jokes at my expense.

Home

After the executors finally coughed up a check, we had the septic system repaired. This meant we wouldn’t have to abandon the house and live in the car. We should have had the well done at the same time, but who knew it was going to pack it in? Anyway, it wasn’t enough money.

falling-money

With no windfall or backup money, we’ve been paying things off.

But with a billion dollars … well, that would turn the tide. I could pay everything off, knock this house down and build a new one suitable for we aging folks.

A flat house. No stairs. Insulated windows. New heating and cooling systems built in. New bathrooms with great showers.

Two new cars. The non-winter vehicle will be something entertaining and sporty. When bad weather comes, our little sports coupé goes into the garage. The second car will be our winter truck, an all-wheeler that can plow through snow drifts and laugh.

Oh and an extra-large garage. Enough room for the cars we use and at least one we might want to use. Sometimes. AND room for the other “stuff” like snowblowers and lawnmowers and rakes and brooms and weed-whackers. A powerful generator so we can stop being terrified of wind and snowstorms.

Huge closets. Huge. Someone to come in and clean — and a cook!

How about a garden tractor? We’ll have a guy tend the gardens, clear away the leaves in the autumn. Run heavy errands which involve hauling and lifting — groceries for example.

We won’t forget our friends and family. We’ll make sure everyone we care about has what they need. Maybe we’ll have a compound so we can live in close proximity. Visit without driving long distances.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Beyond this? Security for whatever years we have.

Life won’t have to be so hard. We can grow old and enjoy ourselves without wondering what weird laws the government will pass or which strange new rules will make it impossible to get medication. It won’t buy us more time on earth — money doesn’t matter when your number is up — but it could make the time we’ve got more fun.

More fun for us and for our friends and family. Maybe for you, too.

E PLURIBUS UNUM: I’M HELPING SAVE DEMOCRACY $1 AT A TIME – REBLOG – The Shinbone Star

E PLURIBUS UNUM: I’M HELPING SAVE DEMOCRACY $1 AT A TIME

WRITTEN BY GLENN REDUS, MARCH 6, 2019

One thing you notice pretty quickly once you go from neutral observer to bonafide political warrior is that you’ll get e-mail, tons of it, and all with a common theme: Send money!

Don’t get me wrong, I love helping out and love being on a first-name basis with Democratic stalwarts like Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis (hereafter referred to simply as Nancy and John), but c’mon, guys, I’ve got my own bills to pay!

Shouldn’t I get credit for having written more than 90 anti-Trump posts for The Shinbone Star? No bonus points for culling every last Trump-loving friend or family member from my Facebook feed?

I’ve got to hand it to bigwigs down at the DNC because once they sink their teeth into you they act like a dog on a bone. It doesn’t matter if that bone is already bleached whiter than the skeleton of a dead mule in Death Valley. Retiree on a fixed income? Forget about it! If you’ve still got a dollar to your name, send it in!

It’s true, they’re not necessarily asking for much. Hey, if you can’t send $25, then $1 will do. But they want you to keep sending it all the damned time! Remember that inscription on U.S. currency, “E Pluribus Unum?” It means “Out of Many, One,” but to hear the Democrats spin it, that’s gonna be many, many, many ones for the rest of your natural life.

It’s not that I ever had that much money to begin with. Working in the newspaper business for three decades sure won’t make you rich, but it will teach you a thing or two about deadlines. But I’m here to testify, I’ve never seen an outfit with more deadlines than these Democrats. They’ve got monthly deadlines, quarterly deadlines, and special super-duper deadlines. Even their deadlines have deadlines, and by god, every one is critical!

Whether I’m on my phone or on my computer, the e-mail notifications just keep coming.

Ding . . .

Oh, this is for the “special one-term president fund,” and you’re saying that if I don’t pony up right now, Trump might win again in 2020???? Gaaaaa, anything but that! To hell with the heating oil bill, I don’t care if I freeze my ass off, I’m writing a check to the DNC right now!

Sometimes, however, a simple call to duty doesn’t work, so my new DNC friends have adopted other tactics, like fear.

Ding . . .

Holy shit in the foothills! “EARTH-SHATTERING news!”

Please believe me, I’m well aware that Nancy, Deb, and Adam already e-mailed me, but I had to eat! But now, only 24 hours are left before the next deadline and someone at headquarters noticed that my excitement about the brand new Democratic majority wasn’t up to snuff. I guess maybe I wasn’t that hungry. I guess I could have sent them $1. I’m so ashamed!

They know when you’ve been sleeping. They know when you’re awake.

Ding . . .

I swear Nancy’s stalking my ass! She wants her $1 and by god, she’s not taking “no” for an answer. How the hell did she even know that I had deleted her first message before sending another the same day? Shitfire, they’re watching me!

But even guilt won’t work on some people. Sometimes all it takes is a straightforward plea from a true hero of the republic.

Ding . . .

Dang it, John, that just hurts. How can I deny a man like you who has given his blood for the civil rights movement? And all you’re asking for is one measly dollar? OK, man, you win. I’m sending it in right now, but just tell your pals to back off a little, OK? So what if the phone bill is due, I’ll . . .

Ding . . .

Oh crap, here comes Nancy again!

Wait a minute, you’re saying we have to top the GOP’s $44 million war chest and you can’t do it unless I chip in my last dollar? But for chrissakes, I just gave a dollar to John! Can’t I please just write another Shinbone article or maybe piss off another Trumpist relative instead?

Look, I’m not stupid, I know it takes money to run a campaign, but you guys really gotta know when to back off . . .

Ding . . .

Sheeeit! Nancy must have given my e-mail address to Adam!

But holy crap, man, I have been standing up! Haven’t you seen? Don’t you read The Shinbone Star? What more do I have to do??? I know, I know, just send in one more simoleon . . .

Ding . . .

Oh crap, Adam handed off to James, and he’s saying that even after all the money I’ve sent, we’re still SCREWED! And not only that, he’s snarky, pissy and demanding to boot: (Earth to Glen)

Seriously, James, you’re asking did I miss you? Was I concerned you would forget about me?

Well, Earth to James, I sure as hell wish you would forget about me because this much is clear: John, Nancy, Adam, Deb, Beto, Kamala, Barack, Hillary, Alexandria, Kirsten, Elizabeth, Tom, Mikie and a host of others sure as hell won’t forget about me until they have my last thin dime.

Ding . . . 

Final notice??? But I’m already a card-carrying Democrat! Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Nope, not falling for it this time!

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Read this original post and many other great ones
at The Shinbone Star!

SHINING AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

I just read a really interesting post on Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo called: SHINEIn her final paragraphs she said:


Don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted for who we are in our entirety? Yet we hide the good, even from ourselves, behind a socially acceptable modesty while brandishing our flaws and frailties as if they alone define who we are. They do not. We define who we are. As much by how we choose to see ourselves as by anything else. If we see ourselves whole, perhaps others may too. They cannot until we do, as we project outward only a fragment of who we are. The saying ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ comes to mind. Maybe if we love our whole selves we can love others wholly too.

We are told that the very physical fabric of everything we know, including our own bodies, is made of the matter from which the stars were formed. Our physical forms exist because somewhere, aeons ago, a star died. If that is so, why should we not simply shine?


I realize the answer is really simple. We don’t shine because we need to work. We have to have a resume. We need to be “people-people.” No one wants to hire someone who shines. They want to hire people who fit in, people who won’t jolt the company “culture.”

I never figured out what company culture was, actually. Most of the places who exalted their company culture have long since gone bankrupt. Usually what company culture really meant is “we don’t want to work any harder than we absolutely have to.” These are places where mentioning deadlines were enough to get you out the door.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

They hired many more people than they needed to do the work because the people they hired couldn’t really do the work. More to the point, they didn’t do the work. They intentionally worked so slowly I found it hard to believe anyone could write that slowly. They thought THREE PAGES A DAY of technical material was plenty. I used to write between 20 and 50 and on a really good day, I could write half the book. Sure I’d have to go back and edit, add graphics, double check information, and test the document against the product.

But I got the work done. I got the basic draft put together quickly which left me time for serious rewrites and corrections once I’d Beta-tested the product.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I worked at Intel for a year. It was a good job. Good pay. Also, not far from home and I didn’t have to drive into Boston. I had to work a 10  hour day every day, but I only had about 45 minutes of work to do. I was so bored I thought it would kill me. Ten hours of sitting in front of a computer — with NOTHING to do.

Shine? I could barely keep my eyes open.

And then, I got sick, stopped working, and got old. I don’t have a resume anymore. I’m not working for anyone who pays me, so I don’t have to lie to anyone, fake anything, pretend anything I don’t feel. With all the physical problems I have, I can’t begin to tell you how deeply I enjoy being me all the time. I’m not sure how the rest of the world feels about it, but I’m happy.


Shining is best done by the rich and the retired. Shining is not an option for most of us who have to show up to work and smile.

NowI CAN shine.

FREE AT LAST – Marilyn Armstrong

Retirement is better than childhood.

You don’t work as a child, but they make you go to school — which can be as bad and sometimes, worse than work. Moreover, childhood is prepping for the work of your future and as such, is a worrying environment.

Other people set your schedule and tell you what to eat, drink, and wear.

Now, in retirement? No school, unless you feel like it. No one sets your schedule or tells you what to wear. You can hang around in your PJs or underwear. And some of us do exactly that.

In your working years, you grow increasingly tired until one day, you look in a mirror.

“Self,” you say. “I can’t do this anymore.”

“I could retire,” you point out to yourself. “I could pack it in, take the money.” As you think this, a little bell goes ding-a-ling deep in your brain, It’s a bell labeled “What money?” Have you sat with HR to find out what kind of money you have in your retirement fund?

Do you have a retirement fund? How about a 401 K?

“And anyway,” you continue, “There is Social Security, right? I’ve worked hard my entire life. Surely there’s enough there to sustain life?”

So begins the intricate dance by which you detach yourself from the working world and figure out from where all future paychecks will come. It isn’t easy, but you work something out because there always comes a point when you really don’t have a choice. You are finished with work … and work is finished with you, too.

You slide into a place where many long-deferred pleasures await you. Hobbies are now your primary activity. You have free time that is truly free. Pity about the lack of a paycheck, but most of us feel that the freedom of retirement is a pretty good trade-off, though there are good days and not-so-good ones.

Marilyn with Cows – Photo: Garry Armstrong

You get up when you like. Go to bed when you want. You sleep late as often as possible. You can read until the sun come up and watch old movies until sleep pulls you into darkness.

You can blog, read, and write your memoirs. Travel, if money and your physical condition allow. Most of us, after some initial confusion, settle down and discover retirement is good. Even considering all the restrictions, physical issues, and losses … it’s very good. For many of us, this is the first real freedom we’ve ever known.

Ducks on a golden day in November

Barring ill-health — and don’t we all wish we could bar ill-health — is far better than working no matter what your income. Finally, you don’t have a boss telling you what to do. You are no longer a slave to the whims of your spoiled darlings who hopefully, have flown the coop and nest elsewhere, but remember to call and visit. With luck, they won’t fly back, bringing a birdie spouse and the fledglings.

Would I work anyway if I had the option?

Return to an office?

Face deadlines?

Doing what I’m told or face the consequences?

Schedules every day of every week for year after year, on the job and off? Endless commutes? Taking ten minutes to get a sandwich, then wolfing it down while seated at the computer to the accompaniment of acid reflux?

No. I think not.

THE LONG ROAD

Recovery, by Rich Paschall

Bill was to report to County Hospital at 10 AM so he had to hustle through his morning routine, if you could call it that.  He slept until the sun woke him up, so he barely had an hour to wash his face, shave, get dressed, make coffee and leave the house.  In his usual haphazard fashion, Bill accomplished his tasks on time.

From the kitchen window he spied clouds that might roll in from the west, but nothing could erase the shine from this day. A goal had been met and Bill would have the honor of walking the winner across the finish line.  But despite his bright attitude, Bill grabbed for the large golf umbrella on the way out the door.  No, Bill did not play golf.  He just never knew when there might be a need for such a large umbrella.

Clouds rolling in

Everyone seemed to know Bill when he arrived at the hospital.  He had been making regular visits there for months, and chatting up the nurses and interns along the way.  Now he only had time to smile and wave as he made his way to the fifth floor.

In room 502 a nurse was assisting the patient in getting ready to leave the rehabilitation floor to head home.  Slowly he dressed, needing some help from others as he went.  When he was all set, the nurse helped him to stand, and after a minute on his feet, to sit in the wheelchair.  His personal items were stuffed into two plastic bags marked “Patient Belongings” and a small plastic tub, which was used a few times for washing up, was filled with a small half used tube of toothpaste, a cheap toothbrush, a small unopened shampoo bottle, a half bottle of mouthwash and some hand lotion.

The patient, a retired Industrial Planner from the Midwest, had arrived rather unceremoniously  three months earlier.  Paramedics brought him in after collecting him from the floor of his screened in patio.  A neighbor had spotted him and another neighbor arrived with his first name.  A medical investigator actually discovered his last name by visiting the home where he was found and looking on the mailbox.

Now the entire staff on the fifth floor of County Hospital knew Harold.  Although he said very little due to his condition, nurses and therapists liked to stop in to have a little chat.  For the first month, Harold could say nothing in return.  As time progressed, he began to react more to the comments with a nod, a smile, or even a word or two.

He had spent the first week at County down stairs in ICU.  For the second week he did little but lay in bed in 502.  Sometimes someone would turn on the television, but it was doubtful Harold was aware of it most of the time.  After that, the plan was put in motion.  It was not the plan of the supreme Planner, but one on which the rest of his life depended.

It took many helpers to carry out the plan for Harold.  A physical therapist was brought in to get Harold back into motion.  He worked his arms and legs and soon began to prompt the patient on which action to make.  When he was quite ready, the therapist would take him to the activity room where Harold would sit and roll a large ball across the room to the therapist who would roll it back.  After that there was standing and walking.  By the third month, Harold moved to the stairs.  It was a narrow set of three with railings on both sides to grab.  He went up to the top, then down the other side.

As movement improved, Harold was taken to a room set up like a kitchen.  There he would practice opening jars and bottles and sometimes even cans.  It was a struggle.  In the third month he would prepare his own lunch.  It was soft foods which he sometimes could not eat.

From week three a therapist came to teach swallowing.  Weeks of exercises lead to attempt at swallowing thick liquids.  Water and coffee were no good unless thickener was added.  Harold looked at the therapist with a bit of disdain every time she poured thickener into a good cup of coffee.  In truth, he could barely swallow the liquids when his time at County was up.

Another therapist worked on speech.  Harold found it strange that someone must teach him how to shape his mouth and exercise his throat for sounds in order to say words again.  It was not perfect after three months, but at least he could speak and be understood.

The long road home

Bill arrived in 502 with all of the enthusiasm of a relative welcoming someone back from the dead.  His smile was even larger than the patient’s, who still was working on his facial muscles and reactions.

“Ready to break out of here?” Bill said with a laugh.

Harold nodded slowly.  He actually was not sure he was ready, but he was certainly glad to be going home.

“OK then, I guess we will just roll you out of here, since they will not allow you to race through the halls,” Bill blurted out, amused with himself.

A member of the hospital staff rolled the patient to the front door and Bill pulled his car right up to the front.  They both had to help Harold get into the car, as his range of motion was limited.

The hospital worker handed into Harold a cane, the kind with four feet on the bottom.  “I guess you will be needing this for a while.”  With that, the two retirees drove away.

Leaving the hospital was not the end of the journey for Harold.  It only took him part way down the long road.