Thursday, November 30, 2017

10 Things to Do While Home With a Sick Spouse

Or significant other, relative, friend, or anyone else

Hub came down with pneumonia a couple of weeks ago. We thought it was a cold but the nasty cough lingered. He spent days with the TV on and eyes closed. 

What does a caregiver do for days home when the sickee (as opposed to sicko, which hub decidedly is not) does not require 24/7 constant care?

Here are ten suggestions (in no particular order) for anyone facing this predicament:

1. Spend money...lounge in your favorite chair, laptop in hand, multitasking - watch TV, listen to music, observe your significant other sleep. Buy anything. Doesn’t matter. Keeps you busy and stimulates the economy.

2. Cook. Jewish penicillin, a.k.a. chicken soup, is a must-have in a home inhabited by sick folks.

3. Watch TV. Don’t feel guilty. Be a couch potato. It’s part of a caregiver’s job and somebody’s got to do it. I reviewed a list of the 100 best movies of the 20th century. We watched All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity…oldies but goodies.

4. Clean the house. You can do it. I thought about doing it. A lot. But didn’t get further than feeling guilty that I wasn’t cleaning but should be.

5. Read. Magazines, newspapers, that book on the top of a pile waiting for attention…

6. Clean out your computer. Delete old emails, documents, pictures, anything and everything.

7. Create photo albums online, or better yet use real photos printed on real paper. Place them in real albums. If you are like me, there are boxes of old photos sitting in a closet patiently waiting for you to reach in, drag out the boxes, organize pictures and create photo albums.

8. Plan a trip or two. Not going anywhere is a good time to research where you want to go. Plan a getaway or two, maybe a day trip into the city to visit a museum or see a play or spend a day with friends, or a longer trip farther afield.

9. Catch up with family/friends/business associates/other humans. Call folks or send an email that is like an actual letter, with sentences and paragraphs.

10. If at a loss for something to do and starting to go stir crazy, there is the best modern time waster of all – social media.

To maintain sanity, there is one thing you absolutely should NOT do:

Do NOT under ANY circumstances listen to a 24/7 news channel. You will become anxious and fearful, the result a desire to take out your anxiety and nervousness on the nearest human – the poor sick guy or gal under your care.

And remember – this too shall pass. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

On the Move Again

We left the house about 9:30 Thanksgiving morning. First stop the local coffee shop for a coffee and muffin for the road. The shop was surprisingly busy for a holiday morning – especially a day when everyone looked forward to a huge meal a few hours later – but the place is famous for its baked goods. Most people walked away with a bag full of pre-ordered goodies for the dessert table - and a cup of coffee.

Hub and I headed off on a three-hour drive (assuming minimal traffic) to my sister’s for Thanksgiving dinner. The big question was how long it would take to get through Philadelphia. We needed to drive the Schuylkill Expressway – an ironic name for a road often jam-packed with vehicles progressing at a crawl.

The drive proceeded smoothly. No traffic. I think most people traveling distances were where they wanted to be. Local traffic trekking an hour or so to reach their dinner destination had not yet clogged roads.

Almost at our destination, we encountered the first motorized vehicle usually ubiquitous on the roads – a truck.

I realized one key reason the drive had been a pleasant one. No trucks. The more trucks on the road, the more drivers (or at least this particular driver) become stressed. The larger the trucks, the more tension. Trucks run from big, to bigger, to the double whammy, all of which dwarf our small (but cute and gas efficient) Mazda. Sandwiched between monster trucks is a powerful stimulus to rising blood pressure, anxiety and a far from enjoyable trip.

We drove home Friday afternoon, detouring to meet friends at an airport hotel for dinner. Our friends spent the holiday with family in Philly and were flying home the following morning, staying at the hotel Friday night to decompress (it is exhausting spending a week with grandkids 24/7). The four of us sat at the hotel bar drinking (not me – I was the designated driver) and eating – again.

Not our Thanksgiving turkey.
 Did I mention we enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast? My vegan sister prepared traditional fare – soup (squash or corn chowder), then the main course - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (white), sweet potatoes (with marshmallows on top), Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce (choice of canned and homemade)…etc. Then dessert of course….

We are home now. No travel, a return to careful eating, and a weekend sans appointments, meetings, nothing on the calendar!

Will we bore ourselves to oblivion? Will we survive?

We are looking forward to a couple of days with no pressure to accomplish anything or go anyplace, an uneventful, pleasant interlude, possible as long as we don’t listen to any 24/7 news channel, the American 21st century equivalent of mental pain and suffering. We will read. We will watch old movies, non-political, non-violent ones with easy to follow story lines. The good old days… 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Day in the Big Apple

I live about three hours from New York City, the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple, the concrete jungle, the center of a metropolitan area that sprawls across three states. Home to millions of people.

I do not often venture into the city, and rarely drive. Driving can be a nightmare. Traffic ranges from bad to worse to impossibly jammed up with no one going anywhere anytime soon. Add the cost of gas, tolls, and parking and the ka-ching, ka-ching becomes daunting.

Yet the city entices. So Wednesday (matinee day) I boarded a Greyhound bus at 7:40 a.m.
for the Big Apple, the goal rendezvousing with two girlfriends for lunch and a show.

The bus rolled north along the Garden State Parkway. Trees line both sides of the road, and some still boast fall colors. As we neared the city the landscape transformed into an ugly panorama of warehouses, commercial structures and power plants spewing smoke and I don’t want to know what else. Traffic intensified. I was thrilled NOT to be behind the wheel of a car crawling through the congestion, dwarfed between BFT’s (big f**king trucks) and buses.

The bus pulled into the basement of Manhattan’s Port Authority terminal, I grabbed my things and headed out into a clear, cold sunny day.

The mass of humanity assailed me immediately, wide sidewalks packed with people, everyone in a hurry. People congregated at street corners waiting anxiously for the walk icon on the traffic light. A few folks dodged vehicles and walked across the street while a red hand indicated do not walk!

New Yorkers are renown for impatience.  And bravado.

I walked over to Broadway and strolled through Times Square. Sesame Street and Super hero characters solicited people for pictures, expecting a gratuity. If out-of-town visitors are clueless to this custom, signs explain costumed creatures expect a tip when posing for photos. Other individuals hand out fliers advertising shows and restaurants. Groups of tourists walk around, stopping to snap pictures and stare at the high-rises and huge signs dominating the Times Square area.


Cheap is in my genes. City prices can shock those venturing in from the burbs and hinterlands. But as infrequently as I hob nob with the theater crowd I can splurge. The food was good although not memorable. Our waitress seemed disengaged and annoyed when we asked for anything – water, an extra plate, coffee.

My friends and I enjoyed the Broadway play Waitress, a musical about a woman in an unhappy marriage who finds herself (surprisingly) pregnant. She has an affair with her gynecologist, her two friends/coworkers indulge their own love interests, and of course all ends well. The band remains on stage throughout the show. Waitress happened to be our third choice (the first two shows closed before our trip).

On the walk back to the bus terminal I detoured into Dean & Deluca, an upscale chain offering, according to the store’s website, the world’s best epicurean treats for cooking, eating and entertaining. I purchased a pastry for hub – to assuage a bit of guilt over leaving him home – and an iced coffee for the road, or rather the bus.

When arrangements were made for the trip my calendar was empty, but during the ensuing weeks events requiring my presence arose. I was not going to cancel my travel plans, so instead sent a substitute.

Hub, and he did a fine job!

The bus home half-empty, I stretched across two seats. Finally home, I entered the house tired but glad for the opportunity to reunite with old friends, relax and catch up over a leisurely lunch, take in a Broadway play, experience the vitality and ambience of a great city, and breathe New York’s foul air. I am not sure how contaminated the city’s air actually is, but the aromas were closer to unpleasant than pleasing.

My New York experience summarized:

Savored good but not great pricey food served by curt waitresses who want to be somewhere else doing anything but serving the theater crowd.

Saw a Broadway show with superbly talented actors at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, a magnificent playhouse built in 1926.

Inhaled the smells of the city – food from street vendors, coffee shops and restaurants…the nastier odors of car and bus exhausts…a variety of aromas from the multitudes surrounding me.

Heard the sounds of audience laughter and applause, car horns, hawkers advertising their wares, sirens, whistles, shouting.

Viewed the sights – skyscrapers, billboards, shop and theater signs, window displays of food, clothes, souvenirs. The unceasing street scene swirling by – cars, buses, taxis, carriages, bicycles. People everywhere. And lines - lines for the theater, lines for the ladies room, lines to the cashier, lines for the bus. I hate lines.

I look forward to my next New York City experience.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Stock Market, Our Savings and Congress’ Meddling

In a previous life I worked for a financial firm. The TV next to my desk broadcast a business channel, muted most of the time. A stock ticker rolled across the bottom of the screen. I researched stocks, bonds and mutual funds and helped clients invest for their future, the goal being a poverty-free retirement and fulfillment of their bucket list.

I worked through the buoyant economic environment of the 1990s and the Great Recession and financial crisis of the 21st century. I saw clients panic and take their money out of the market while others perceived opportunity and jumped in. Most investors stayed the course, hoping the market recovered and moved forward, which it eventually did.

Market history is a series of ups and downs, crashes and bull runs. Maddening to most people, especially investors following the market regularly. Perspective is necessary to avoid heart attacks on a dreadful down day and uncontrolled euphoria on an exceptionally elevated day.

Investors in for the long haul usually are rewarded. Those shifting in and out are often disappointed.

A market milestone occurred November 14,1972, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) closed above 1,000 (1,003.16) for the first time. The market plunged soon after, losing almost 40% of its value. But it recovered, dropped additional times, recouped, and the cycle continues…

Forty-five years later the DJIA hovers around 23,500.

Mighty impressive!

Anyone investing a small amount in 1972 and adding to it over the years would own a sizable nest egg today.

Recently out of college and newlyweds in November 1972, hub and I were lucky to have enough extra money for a pizza on the weekend. But life moved quickly. Hub’s discharge from the military followed by a good job meant more money, which immediately got eaten away by runaway inflation.

The economy settled down, but kids assumed the job of depleting our income.

Finally we started investing for our future. IRAs and 401(k)s, introduced into federal law in the 1970s, were promoted and adopted by individuals and corporations during the 1980s.

Statistics tell us most Americans do not invest for the future and upon retirement have limited financial resources. Meanwhile Congress is doing all it can to cut the amount folks can contribute to 401(k)s. Few people save the maximum, but those who can should be allowed that privilege, while the rest of us save as much as possible. The limit on IRAs is much lower than 401(k)s and should be increased. It won’t happen – not in the current Congress.

The government needs as much money as it can muster for the federal budget. One way to get more income (American taxpayers’ hard earned cash) is to redirect IRA/401(k) contributions into Roth IRAs. Roth dollars are taxed immediately while IRA/401(k) dollars are not subject to the greedy hands of Uncle Sam until withdrawn, often decades after the initial investment.

Congress aims to cut Social Security and Medicare, so the least our elected officials can do for senior citizens of the future is to encourage folks to save. America’s seniors will need the money for ordinary expenses like food and medical care.

The proposed tax bill is not finalized. Everyone is fighting for his or her piece of the pie. Tax reform is an excellent idea, but playing with people’s lives is not. Congress should be upfront about the pros and cons of the bill, which apparently throws a few bones to the middle class now but costs them dearly down the road.

I wait anxiously to see what convoluted concoction Congress cooks up next. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Countdown to the 2020 Presidential Election - Installment #3

1090 Days (as of 11/9/17) Until the Next Presidential Election
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Mark Your Calendars!

Election Day 2017 came and went, generating more interest than most off-year elections because of the current POTUS and the deep political divide seizing the country. Election night results indicated anti-Trumpers had much to celebrate while pro-POTUS-ites had lots to think about.

Before the election I told hub I was not going to vote for any Republicans. Our local ballot had a lot on the table – a governor’s race, state assembly reps (2) and senator, county freeholders and sheriff. Hub’s point of view was that local politics should not interfere with national politics. A good local Republican candidate should receive our vote despite the party’s national leadership and agenda.

I disagreed. My feeling is that a Republican vote is a vote in favor of the party, locally, statewide and nationally. I could not in good conscience pull a Republican lever.

In my corner of the world most Democratic candidates won. The Republican running for state senator won a seat.

But the biggest surprise came after the polls closed.

Our Congressional representative, Frank LoBiondo, is a Republican, a moderate leaning toward conservative. The general consensus is that he has served his district well. In 2018 he will have represented south Jersey for 22 years.

LoBiondo announced he would not seek reelection in 2018. His decision, stated in his official announcement, had nothing to do with his health or personal life. In his words:
…as some of my closest colleagues have also come to realize, those of us who came to Congress to change Washington for the better through good governance are now the outliers. In legislating, we previously fought against allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Today a vocal and obstinate minority within both parties has hijacked good legislation in pursuit of no legislation.

LoBiondo is not the only outlier announcing retirement. A fundamental change is sweeping the Republican Party. The 2017 election and the number of Republicans announcing they will not seek reelection portends positive things for anti-Trumpers. Despite Trump’s media publicity, his tweets and the PR received by right-wing bigots he cajoled out of their holes, the majority of the country opposes Trump, his policies, morality and ethics, as well as the characters he has chosen to populate the swamp (today swampier and slimier than ever).

It is a long way to the 2020 election, but 2017 election results provide the opposition with hope and the administration with much to think about. Not that they will do that. Trump will, as always, resort to blaming everyone but himself for Republican losses.

As far as the opposition candidates go, who knows? I predict a long shot will appear, someone not on anyone’s radar today or low on the list of possibilities. Following the 2018 election things will heat up. Meanwhile the 2018 mid-term election takes precedence. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Organized Chaos

Organized Chaos defined: My life.

A well-ordered personal environment helps an individual lead an organized life. Or so I have read. A disorganized environment, on the other hand, leads to chaos at home and in life.

This is probably true, but as hard as I try, an ordered lifestyle eludes me.

My brain’s awash with to-dos, all a jumble. I note appointments on my calendar, but on days I forget to check I miss something – an appointment, an exercise class, a to-do with a time constraint, missing a deadline.

This is my life.

My house will neither appear on the cover nor on the inside pages of a house beautiful magazine. No one will interview me about my quirky yet imaginative decorating ideas. No one would ever pay to see my home on a house tour. I, alternatively, might consider paying people to avoid my house. Or at least my bedroom. Should an individual disappear amidst the piles of clothes, bedding and other paraphernalia scattered around the room or in the dark recesses of my closet, they are forewarned.

I knew a man who moved from one house to another a few miles away. He took the junk drawer from his old house, drove over to his new home and dumped the contents into a newly designated junk drawer, then returned the empty drawer to his old house.

Not to give the wrong impression, I do laundry (when necessary), put away clothes (usually), make my bed (most of the time) – yet the mess resurfaces, rising again like the phoenix. Piles propagate, appearing higher and wider every time I enter the room. This past weekend I spent time decluttering, filling bags for the local thrift shop, feeling good about cleaning the room AND donating clothes previously worn but in great condition.

Getting rid of items not torn, stained, too small (must have shrunk in the wash) or otherwise unwearable is not in my genes. It is hard for me to sort through stuff and decide what to keep and what to give away. I have done this before. Hub and I downsized – twice - but it is still difficult. A friend goes through her closet yearly, and anything not worn in the past year is tossed. I am not that cold blooded.

Then there are papers. And books, magazines, newspapers. I have files and shelves and toss newspapers and magazines, but after I read them. Problem is I don’t get around to reading them every day. So the material piles up.

I think about going to the Container Store and buying a carload of organizers, but there is no room in my house for all the containers. And I probably would never get around to filling the containers in an orderly manner. I consider calling 1-800-closet organizers, but am unwilling to spend the money.

On the other hand should I need a particular book or document I can locate it in a surprisingly short period of time. I am orderly in my own peculiar, disorganized fashion.

Organized chaos. That’s my lifestyle.

Perhaps a gene warped in utero, forever condemning me to a lifetime of unneatness (it is a word – I looked it up). Or maybe I inherited a disheveled gene from a well meaning but also untidy forefather or mother.

There may be special programs for people like me, but at my advanced age I doubt the treatment would be effective. I am fated to be me, chaotic but content.

After years feeling guilty living and working amidst chaos, kidding myself that I will straighten up the clutter one day, someday, I no longer feel guilty. This is me and I’m going with it.