Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Next Step in Medicare Sign-up - Part D

The government does make it RELATIVELY painless to sign up (well, other than that paying for it thing). You can go to the site by Googling:

Medicare part d signup

Or, just go to this site to find plan comparisons.

Once there, your access to plans is partly determined by your location, so the first step is to enter your zip code.

You will be asked a few questions (I Don't Know is an acceptable answer).

This takes you to a page where you can enter your on-going medications (if this isn't something you need, you can skip it, but if you take regular meds, it will make a difference to the cost of the plans).

You will want to enter your standard medications on the list (easy-peasy), then select one of the 3 options (the first one is for buying Part D separately from your Part B, which your person signing you up should have told you if you needed this). Check the first box and compare plans.

NOTE: pay attention not just to the monthly cost, but to the overall yearly cost - that last one will take into account the cost of your meds (which is why I suggest you enter all the meds you regularly take)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Organizing The Paper Clutter

This is one of the BIG things I have to do over the next 3 months or so. We have a ridiculous amount of loose paper around our house.

This paper onslaught comes from several sources:

  • Work papers
    • Paycheck stubs, communiques from our benefits department, receipts
  • Related to professional activities
    • PD (professional development)
    • Continuing coursework and CEUs
    • Mailing list items, catalogs, random CD/DVDs
    • PTRA - we provide workshops for teachers - this will continue even after retirement
  • Student work - this will be less of a problem, as I will no longer be generating these. But, Den still has responsibilities to maintain records and grade papers
  • Financial
    • Bills
    • Financial investments
    • Banking statements
    • Refunds in process, warranties
    • Taxes
  • Hobby/Church
    • Radio and electronics (me) - I recently built a workbench in the attic, and will be moving most, if not all, of my gear to that space
    • Magazines, mailing offers
    • Church bulletins, Catechist paperwork and materials, reference materials
  • Medical
    • This is getting to be more important over time
    • Medicare, health plans, explanations of bills
    • Medical records
  • Business-related
    • We run two businesses together (one with consumer products, the other providing legal services)
    • Writing (me) - I will be upping my involvement in this area, and need to organize this before it becomes too out of control
Wow! Until now, I hadn't realized just how fragmented and complicated our lives had become. And, that's just the paper.

Some good things I've already done.
  • Daily organization
    • I use a Franklin Planner, and it is getting a workout lately
    • I organize papers by a daily folder system - M-F. Each day's papers go into a colored plastic folder. Hopefully, each day, paper is either dealt with, or moved to another day's folder.
  • In-sight organization
    • I use wall-mounted plastic pockets to hold paper that is needed regularly or for a long term project.
    • Wall calendar - erasable, located in office for easy reference.
    • Bill sorter (I do have to clear this out and start again this week).
  • Organization of repeating tasks on a weekly basis.
  • Automation of bill-paying when possible. I'll be adding more in the future, such as setting up budget billing for utilities.
My goal is to have this under control by the end of June, at the latest. I'll post progress as I make it. I'll be taking pictures of the before and after (I WON'T be posting the before until I have an after - too depressing to immortalize the mess without being able to bask in the glory of having corrected it).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Untangling Medicare

I've been hip-deep in the morass that is our Government-Issued/Overseen Health Care for Seniors for the last few months. I did NOT put enough time into it to be sure that I am making good choices, but I plan to monitor the situation, and re-assess as I approach the Open Enrollment period, so I can decide whether to keep that assortment of plans, or change them.

I'm in uncharted waters here. I've only had access to work-connected health insurance, and my choices were limited to a few plans. At most companies, the Benefits department does a reasonably good job of explaining the pros and cons of different plans, making decision much easier.

Two parts of Medicaid were easy - Parts A and B. I signed up for A last year when I turned 65, but didn't add B until I retired. No sweat, there was no real choice to make for these. Same for everyone.

I spent some time wrestling with which of the alphabeted plans to select, and decided on Plan G - it has coverage for illnesses/accidents out of state and when traveling, which is important to me. As I said, I will be watching my medical expenses closely, and evaluating the situation yearly.

I've selected a Part D plan, which is relatively affordable. Unfortunately, one of my meds - Spiriva - is WAY out of my price league, on ANY plan, so I'm going to have to talk to my pulmonologist about making an alternative selection. I did load up on a 30-day supply while still covered by my current plan, so I'll have time to make that appointment and change meds.

This is NOT an easy process, if you don't have access to a subsidized health plan or retirees. Even if you do, you have to weigh cost/benefits very carefully. I'm not satisfied that my choices were the best, but, do to time constraints, I'm going to have to roll the dice with what I've got.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Almost Done!

I've moved out the big stuff (metal carts with equipment, for example, and my scanner/printer). I was able - with the assistance of my husband, who really didn't complain too much - to get my room clear of everything except what I can manage in my car on Tuesday.

I need to go in that day, as I still have a few loose ends - inventory, checkout list, Medicare paperwork - to get tidied up.

But, that will be IT!

I was hot and sweaty after all that work - went straight home, and took a quick shower.

I know there are probably more important things to focus on - world peace, adequate food and medicine for kids, no more Kitty videos on Facebook - but, my deepest desire is that hot and cold running water should be a goal for everyone on Earth.

It is SUCH a pleasure to be cool and clean after hard work. So many people in the world do not have access to clean water, let alone running water. For them, I do hope that governments can stop putting less important things ahead of that simple, and profound, pleasure.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

One Week to Go

By this time on May 30, I will be preparing for my last day teaching.

Oh, it's possible that I might work as an adjunct, a substitute (particularly in a long-term job - 1-3 months, typically), or a tutor.

But, full-time employment may be permanently over.

Or, not.

Sometimes, plans change. Usually, there is a financial incentive. Some crisis hits, and the budget takes a hit. One or the other (or both) of the retirees needs to return to paid work, for a time.

Sometimes, there are other factors - boredom sometimes sets in, and paid employment is used to fill empty hours. I don't fault those who do so - I can imagine a time where, in an effort to re-connect after a spouse's death, one of us might choose a part-time job. It certainly beats withering away from loneliness.

I can't guarantee the future. But, as of now, this is the plan.

I'll post more over the next few months, as I adjust to the change in my routines - how I structure my days, ways I change my spending, the really FUN experience of dealing with Social Security, Medicare and other insurances, experiences with financial planners, etc.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Countdown Continues

6 more days with kids (the last two days, I have no students, which should make it easier to organize, clean, and complete all of the end of the year stuff). Right now, I'm exhausted.

The up side is the faculty meeting was canceled, so I'm able to leave in about 10 minutes - which, I plan to. I usually stay late, but not tonight.

Wednesday, 5/17/17 - I did stay later, to finish some activities, but, still left earlier than usual.

I have almost all of my students in 1st Block either taking the Final, or exempting. Only 1 non-senior, who will be taking the Final next week. So, I'll plan on off-loading him in another class on Thursday, to take advantage of that time to get some organizing and inventory done.

Later - 1:20 - I'm waiting for my students to arrive. Really, the Physics students have generally been delightful this year, although a little passive and low-key. They seldom get over-the-top excited about anything.

To be honest, almost all of my students are sweeties. Good, hardworking (OK, a few have taken laziness to a new low), and generally wonderful. I will miss the students when I leave.

I'm clearing the decks this week of paperwork/grading. Next week will be over quickly, and I don't want to leave any paperwork not dealt with.

Summer vacation will have a new poignancy this year - it will be an endless va-cay.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Off the Fence

It's official. I submitted my retirement letter today. Already heard back from Benefits.

I do feel relieved. Actually making a decision is less stressful than avoiding making one.

I'm going to spend the rest of this week catching up on grades, making notes about what to take and what to pitch, and planning for the transition.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trudge, Trudge...

...and, I'm nearly there!

I just completed the paperwork (oh, I do hope I did it right!) for transferring my NC Teacher's pension to SC. I'm crossing my fingers, but - in the back of my mind - won't be totally surprised if I have to re-do all, or part, of it.

D-Day is Thursday - that's Decision Day - I have to either sign my contract, or I'm automatically NOT renewed for the next year.

I'm about 80% sure that I won't sign. I don't need to babysit DJ (pity, I was kind of looking forward to it), but my dear SIL is apparently facing another bout with cancer, and my daughter may need me, at least occasionally, in the fall.

I have PLANS!

  1. Writing is # 1 - I have been chomping at the bit to get started. I've upped my blogging regularity, and have been keeping a journal, as well. I figure that it will take me a week or two to get fully in the swing of daily production, but - watch out, World!
  2. Cleaning and Organizing - both a good cleaning of the entire house, as well as a simultaneous Pitching and Organizing. I plan to use the apps/EBay/whatever to squeeze some money out of it all, if I can. Otherwise, donate or pitch.
  3. Ham Radio - I have several projects that have been waiting until I had the attic cleared out enough to set up my Ham Shack. That's likely the first thing on my list for #2. I really cannot wait for this.
  4. Visiting Family & Friends - at last, I will not have to dash madly back and forth, lest I miss that Crucial Work Time! I plan to take a trip about once a month for the next year - with or without Den.
That's the major things on my list. What will be on YOUR list when you retire?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Significance of May 7th

Today would have been my father's 95th birthday. Instead, he died just before his 76th.

Dad was born in New Martinsville, WV, May 7, 1922. His father, Emzley Martin Ruble (spelling of that first name varies considerably in official documents), died in 1929, when my Dad was 7. Within a few short years, my grandmother Delphia Delia had lost the money the insurance had provided, due to bad investments, and was forced to place my Dad with relatives, along with all but the youngest two children. Later, when the eldest two were grown and married, he lived with them.

His stories about his time on his grandfather Edgell's farm were few - he merely said that he did NOT like the farmer's life. One time, he mentioned that his grandfather was quite stern, even harsh, in his treatment of him and his grandmother. But, he mentioned it only that once. His other grandfather, Taylor Ruble, was a very kindly man, and he had good memories of him.

Grandma Ruble was a very quiet and sweet woman. She never married after her husband's death, but worked in the Viking Glass Factory for many years, until her early 80's. Each year, during the holidays and her summer vacation, she visited her two children in Cleveland, my father and Aunt Gladys.

My Dad was eager to leave New Martinsville, at the time, a poky little mill town. He quit school early (likely due to not fitting in - he had one dress pair of pants, and often had holes in his shoes, which he covered with cardboard). His teachers tried to talk him out of it, as he was considered quite a bright young man, but his mind was set on making some money. I expect that a desire to impress young women might have been at the bottom of that. He was always scrawny, and not very tall (5' 6"). He would not have been a standout in sports - I don't know that he ever played ball.

So, getting a hot girlfriend, a natural goal for most 15 year-olds, was just not gonna happen.

He was a crack shot, in part due to having a brother, Everett, who worked for an ammunitions manufacturer, and brought home boxes of it. I don't know why he didn't try out for a rifle team, as those were common at the time. It may have been due to the need to get back up the mountain for chores on the farm. Uncle Everett kept cows and chickens even into the 1960s, when he was well past middle age.

After kicking around town for a while, and seeing the bright lights of Steubenville, OH, Dad left WV for Cleveland, where there were more opportunities. From what he said during one trip together, he may have been leaving a dicey situation just a few steps ahead of the law. He was an ace at fast driving in the mountains (although a pokey driver in the city, he would whip through winding roads at 70 mph or more without a qualm). For a time, he drove untaxed alcohol to its destination for a sideline. The payoff was great, but seeing some of his buddies end up in jail literally scared him straight.

In Cleveland, energy and dogged determination to succeed landed my Dad a job quickly. He lived with his sister, and - knowing his penchant for free spending - he had himself a real good time. He did end up in court, having been picked up for public intoxication and tossed in the slammer for the weekend. The judge gained his respect by reading him the riot act, pointing out that, in the freezing conditions at the time of his arrest, he could have died of the cold. My Dad apologized, and afterwards, was much more circumspect about his drinking. He still enjoyed good times, but he did cut it back considerably.

In early 1941, Dad was drafted. He credited his survival during WWII to the extra time he had to train, as, during the war, inexperienced soldiers were much likelier to be killed. He served in the artillery, and as a consequence, his hearing was much damaged. He had probably lost more than 1/2 his hearing by middle age. He used to buy those amplifiers for the TV, which drove everyone else in the house crazy with the sound. He never spent the money for a real hearing aid, which was a shame. If he had, he would have been able to take advantage of those Seniors at College programs. He would have enjoyed the mental stimulation.

Dad never talked that much about his war years, except for the funny stories. He never joined the VFW, or American Legion. He just wasn't a joiner.

After the war, Dad returned to WV for a short time. He knocked around town, spending his accumulated money, and enjoying female companionship - he even dated his former 3rd grade teacher, who had married and left teaching, and was then divorced. His brother, Harold, had plans for the two of them to open a restaurant, and tried to get permits, but to no avail. Without other ties to WV, Dad once again went north to Cleveland.

Dad got hired by Ohio Bell (later, his younger brother, Earl, worked for Bell Labs after his return from Korea). He worked there until his retirement, after 35 years of employment, starting as a janitor, transferring to a skilled craftsman job, and eventually ending up in Engineering as an Audit Specialist. He enjoyed his time there, and had many friends, although, for him, work was work, and home was home. He seldom socialized with work buddies, except for the bowling league. He came home on time every day, and spent his evenings quietly with his family.

The major exception to that homey existence was poker. He played several times a week when I was young, tapering off to a weekly game by my teen years. As time went on, the frequency of the games diminished, and eventually stopped.

The only other time he left after dinner was for his bowling league. Like his brother, Harold, he was a good bowler - Harold was MUCH better, and had several 300 games over the years. Harold supplemented his salary at Viking Glass, where he was a floor manager, with evenings spent managing a bowling alley. I've no doubt that Harold and Dad would have had a successful restaurant, had the plans worked out, as Harold was as outgoing as Dad was introverted, and with tremendous people skills, as well.

When I was in high school, a UHF TV channel, 43, started up. They showed old classic movies at 11:30 on Fridays. Dad got into the habit of taking a nap after dinner, then rising to watch the Late Show. Sometimes, I joined him. I quickly got hooked on the old films - Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, et al. It was our major connection at a time when I was not meshing with the family.
Dad wasn't always easy to live with. He was probably what we would now call chronically depressed. He was generally an introvert, but one that had developed some social skills. Many people knew him as a genial companion at lunch and on the job.
At home, he would often withdraw for hours at a time, busying himself with electronics projects, reading, or other solitary pursuits. Most of his children favored his temperament - we are all introverted, and crave solitary time after prolonged periods of social activity. Most of us have reasonable social skills - both my sister and myself married people more outgoing than we are.
His influence extends beyond his lifetime - good math/analytical skills, tendency to nerdiness, lousy hearing, and a preference for alone time - all of these were likely passed onto his children, and their descendants. Genetics is funny - you see it crop up, again and again, for generations.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

One Reason to Write

This post sparked mine today.

I've been writing (slowly, one anecdote at a time) my memories of my youth, and the stories that I remember being passed down from parents, grandparents, and other long-lived people.

I was fortunate - in my mother's family, old age was the default - my grandparents were born in the 19th century, and passed on stories of their youth. My father's family was equally long-lived, but not as talkative (WV vs. Irish-descent). Still, I have an aunt by marriage whose passion is genealogy, and who had compiled a bookshelf of clippings, copies of newspaper stories, and charts of the family, back to pre-Colonial times.

If you aren't on (and, I don't blame you - the price has risen shockingly!), you might want to use a word processing program or app - Google Docs is easy to use, and can be shared with others easily - to write down your memories - personal, or what has been told to you.

If you'd rather, set up a videocam, and record that process orally. Links to some ideas about what to write down/talk about below.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Caring for Senior Hair

It's tough.

Senior hair, consisting of mostly grey hairs, is usually quite fragile. Unless you take great care to condition, treat it, and handle it gently, you may have straw-like hair that breaks easily, and is hard to style.

So, totally unsolicited or compensated, here are my Rules for Caring for Senior Hair.

  1. At a maximum, only ONE process - coloring, straightening/curling - you have to make a choice, or your hair's health will suffer. Grey hair is more fragile than hair with more pigment. Two or more processes will stress it more than it can take.
  2. If you are more than 50% grey, stop coloring your hair. It's less aging to go natural than to have the hair not match the face's age. We need to re-claim our natural hair's beauty. 
  3. Here are some tips for the transition. For more advice, and some photos to inspire you, go here. FWIW, Helen Mirren is my hero - I have hair very like hers - fine and moderately wavy, but relatively thin. I usually take a picture of her into the stylist's, and I've always walked out happy.
  4. Baby Boomers need to hear this - you really don't need to wash every day. If the roots get oily, you can either use a dry shampoo, or just use a gentle shampoo on the oily parts. Here is some advice on picking the right dry shampoo for you.
  5. You can reduce the cost of shampoo, and lessen the damage to your hair if you dilute your shampoo about 1/2 and 1/2. Most of use over-apply the suds.
  6. Follow up with conditioner - don't apply it to the entire head (if your hair is fine, it will flatten it), just the oldest hair. Don't use much - about the size of a quarter - and work it into your palms before massaging the damaged parts. The most important thing to do is to leave it on long enough - up to five minutes. If you're concerned about using too much water, turn off the shower during that time, and turn it on again for the rinse. While you're waiting, massage the scalp and use your fingers to gently detangle the hair.
  7. If possible, air dry. If not, use the dryer until about 2/3 dry, then let air-dry.
  8. NEVER use hot rollers - the heat will be highest at the ends, the most damaged part. There are alternatives - foam rollers, plastic mesh rollers, putting in mouse/gel and scrunching the curls. Hair straighteners are also hard on hair, so don't use them everyday.
  9. If you have to use rollers, put them in after your hair is mostly dry. You can use your hair dryer on cool or low to finish. Leave the rollers in until the hair is completely cool, then style.
  10. Condition at least once a week with a deep conditioner. Leave in overnight.
  11. Get a trim regularly - it gets rid of the split ends, and makes it easier to brush. If your hair is very long, you will have to baby it to keep it in good shape.
  12. Use hats in sunny climates. Not only can you sunburn the scalp, but it's damaging to hair.
  13. If you swim, BEFORE you get into the pool, wet hair thoroughly. It will 'seal' the hair shaft, and keep the chlorine from being absorbed. Use a cap, if you can stand it. I don't, because I don't like the feel of them.

Should You Be Freaking Out About Your Investments?

Short answer - probably not. By retirement age, your investment portfolio should be more conservative, less speculative. Yes, the market i...