Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fix and Forget Dinners and Other Retirement Musings

I am a non cooker who likes to eat. My saving grace, as they say, is my slow cooker. Soups (and many stews) are perfect for creative non cookers, I've found. They can be made with what's on hand, and once you have the basics down, creativity (or in my case the need to use-it up) can make a recipe different each time.  For the good. Minestrone is a regular in our house, and once the broth, some seasoning and some kind of bean is thrown in, everything else is as they say negotiable.  The last time my son threw in the last of our tomatoes (crushed up), the leftover green beans from a previous meal.. you get the idea.

Tonight's fix it and forget it meal is one of those "I can serve this one to guests" kind of dinner.  This particular soup is not the cheapest one in my repertoire. It's not the healthiest thing I'll eat all week (that cream). I am one of those who think eating healthy overall and exercising regularly allows a cookie here and a soup made with cream there.


Zuppa Toscana (with an unhealthy nod to the Olive Garden) begins with sliced Italian Sausage and a potato or two, peeled and cut up. On top of that I add seasonings (basil and garlic at a minimum, I cheat and use Italian seasoning. On top of that, I throw on a carton of low sodium chicken broth, turn on the slow cooker and leave. Oh, and speaking of substitutions, since I have no white wine, red will do today-a really good splash. Six hours later, I throw in frozen spinach (or kale), and cream and cook till the soup is hot again. Add whatever bread and salad we have and there you go!  The sausage came from my freezer, the spinach as well.  The potatoes from my pantry (I keep a few canned baby tomatoes so I can saute them up in butter and parsley for a last minute side dish. I could have substituted those).  It looks stunning, tastes great and takes literally no effort.  Oh, and I would brown that sausage first. Today I did not and I will probably have to skim out a few of those casing pieces.

And there you have it, no effort dinner.......Elsewhere......

  • Germany (at no surprise to me) has surpassed the US on almost every index to become the best country in the world.  This is based on 23 "attributes".  Having a strong leader, a winning and likable soccer, team, a healthy economy (yes, socialists have healthy economies), and and a really strong  record on global peace and security. I of course, could have told everyone that already. There was a reason, after all, that I was prepared to retire in such a place.

  • Using the library is part of a frugal retirement, even while owning a kindle/tablet for reading.  Just because I purchase fiction for my kindle does not mean I need to always do so-and the library is still the best source for non fiction books-at least until one has tried them! (fortunately more kindle books now have photographs, so it's not out of reach to purchase a cooking making or home improvement book with pictures, on occasion).
  • Remembering to return library books in a timely manner is also part of a frugal retirement, so that your fees don't amount to the equivalent of a purchased kindle book-enough said?
  •   I tend to never refuse free items (within storage limitations).  I find that free items can be used, re-purposed, donated or put aside for my homeless women.  Recently a friend brought a pile of yarn to our girls' get together. Although this raspberry yearn is not my color, once I got it home a certain family member fell in love . The yarn is was on it's way to becoming a shawl, but it was too bulky to show the lace pattern. It will become a scarf and possibly a hat instead.  
  • A friends has shown me that even I can learn no ways to do things for free. We have a lovely community theater in my town.  Tickets at this venue are not expensive and the entertainment is good.  To take it down a peg, a friend and her husband usher (he often handles the bar), on the opening night of each event. In exchange, their attendance is free.  This is something I'll attempt in the future, as it fits with my personality. The same friend volunteers at the Historical Castle nearby, receiving entrance to events such as chamber music concerts for doing nothing Kore than handing out programs. I also intend to jump into this one.
As always, I'm reminded that there is no one retirement lifestyle, but rather retirement is about choices, day by day and week b week.  And with that, I'm off to give that dinner a quick look.

    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    Some of These Are Not The Same-Leaving Our Comfort Zone In Retirment

     Last week, I attended a small election night party (which ended up being a commiseration, unfortunately).  This small event was held at the home of one of my knitting/book club/luncheon friends, and her husband.  Aside from myself, there were two other folks, male and female, both unattached. Previously I attended my church dinner group, at the home of a couple who are friends. Attendees included a single man, another single woman, another married couple and a gay married couple. Equally importantly, the age of those in attendance ranged from late twenties and thirties all the way to "working on seventy".

    While I did not think that either of these events were particularly remarkable, another friend noted that I seemed to have avoided the "Golden Girl" phenomena (single women socializing and living together), and that my social live was extremely diverse, especially when it came to age differentials. 

    This was just one woman's perspective, and I don't believe in generalizations.  That said, I do think there are groups of retirees (and people in general) who try to surround them with people like them, especially when it comes to age, ethnicity,  and marital status. Married people want to socialize with married people, single with singles, retirees with retirees. While I understand the temptation, and the attraction of being in the comfort zone, for me, this one has never worked.

    Recently, I've had the opportunity to read some new (and one older) books on retirement and retirement lifestyles. I intend a post soon on my thinking on those books.  However, one author suggests that the happiest retirees are those who search out younger friends as they lose older friends, as well as regularly reaching outside their comfort zone in terms of income, ethnicity and life style.

    While I don't necessarily search that out, I've put myself in a position to have that happen (admittedly sometimes this is simply happenstance).  As many readers know, my lifelong learning has been through regular college classes instead of taking free or almost free senior courses.  In my college classes I'm often the eldest person in the room by far, and I like it that way. The challenge of learning with people of all ages is unique and I am constantly surprised what I can learn from a twenty year old college student.  College classes are often messy, noisy, and difficult-and that's great. To cite another example, searching for a church is always difficult in a new community. Because I choose to be involved in a church with many outreach and political activities, the nature of the church is that almost every activity is  extremely generational. I've discussed the feeding of the homeless women here, and the group that I work with range from a twenty something nurse to myself.  

    While the above paragraph has mainly to do with age, the same thing is true in my life when it comes to marital status and socialization.  I expect this has much to do with the fact that much of my socialization is done around the things I am passionate about and the hobbies I enjoy. My social life tends to center around my church (which is extremely generational), my family, neighbors, and volunteer and recreational activities.  In all the cases, events, parties and dinners and the like tend to be a mix of heterosexual spouses, gay spouses and singles of all ages and persuasions.

    This is certainly not to say that I don't do that "Golden Girl" thing on occasion. My Wednesday knitting and happy hour group consists entirely of retired boomers whose spouses and friends know they'll come home six hours later just a little tipsy.  For years in my previous church in Dallas, single women of a certain age went out to breakfast after the last service-it was a regular event.

    I've just learned that for me, I feel better and more challenged when I am surrounded by all ages of people, from all backgrounds on a regular basis.  This means the house across the street where a bunch of college kids live, the empty nest working neighbors, and the twenty something couple with kids. It means the noisy college students (yes, one has even come to school in pj bottoms), a two year old on occasion at my church dinner group, and yes, the dinner belles, a once a month single woman's night out.

    All and all, it works for me.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    A little Frugality Here-Big Rewards later

    Being frugal in retirement has it advantages, no matter your income. We all want to get a fair amount of bang for our buck, which is why I never really worry about, or complain about being frugal. Sometimes, that frugality requires some serious effort and energy, both mental and physical. Most of the time though, it has to do with simply developing certain frugal habits, and looking ahead. In my case those habits include spending a small part of most days taking advantages of frugal deals now, that might not get used until much later. I also sometimes spend an hour earning money here and there passively. A little incidental time, saving money or making money here and there make life much easier later on:

    Because I regularly check Groupons and take advantage of those that I can use and take care of gifts, I am prepared for a farewell luncheon next week.  A friend is moving and we are having a lunch for here-at a place for which I purchased a Groupon for two that was half priced. 

    Because I am email subscribed to almost every place that I use regularly, each week I receive a discount of some kind from my local Regal Theater-be it a small coke or something else.  Since I go to the movies weekly, this cuts costs.  Because I also subscribe to their reward card, every six weeks or so I receive a free movie ticket. That plus the fact that I attend a weekly move during the day at half priced fees, makes movie going a frugal activity for me.

    Because I am also subscribed to a company called my Publisher, I received an offer for a free 20 page photo book, as well as another offer to get a copy of a book when I purchased one. This means that I received two free photo books for simply spending the time to sign up for my emails and then read them daily.  One will be for a gift for one of my kids and the other matched set will be a family cookbook for both kids-a gift which will only cost me shipping.

    Because I purchase loss leaders and items on sale, I am able to be at home today. This is not necessarily a financial issue but it has it's own values. After looking in my fridge and freezer, I can stay home again for many days should I choose.  And also because of my shopping method, I was able to bring snacks at almost free prices to my pinochle game yesterday.

    Because I took advantage of those free crab apples and grapes, my incidental DIY effort means that I had a hostess gift for an election party yesterday evening with little or no effort on my part. 

    And finally, because I occasionally do passive income tasks and little online jobs here and there for money (generally while I watch television in the evening in the winter), my Amazon gift card amount is now very hefty-allowing me to take advantage of Amazon's many lightning sales and special deals as they come about. This has meant ratchet sets for five dollars, real wool handmade socks for ten and more.

    The bottom line?  Spending a little time and effort here and there, when I have the time, means much less money spent and a more rewarding, relaxing retirement overall.  And so it goes for me,

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Challenging Myself in Retirement-Keepng the "Mental Computer" In HIgh Gear

    If  I never learned anything new, I would not have a boring retirement. I have a variety of hobbies, an active church life, social friends, and family that is close to me.  All this results in my having the schedule that works for me-half a day at home and half a day of doing "something" most days.

    Even with a variety of hobbies, including doing crossword puzzles and reading, I think it's both fun and imperative that I continue to try new things and stay involved in lifelong learning. Studies have shown that physical health and mental engagement are important to long term mental health.  More importantly, some of those same studies have shown that simple "book learning" is not as effective as learning hands on skills. We actively learn by doing, whether it is cooking skills, photography, playing the piano, wood working, knitting or crafting. We challenge our brains on a completely different level than, say, when we attend a lecture.

    Folks who have been reading this blog for awhile know that just a few years ago I was a real full time student, attending classes 12 hours a week with college kids 20 years old-and mainly loving it.  After my move, my time constraints changed (along with becoming an out of state student) and i put that on hold.

    Lately however, I have been missing that "school like" level of challenge and have been looking to add a few new activities to my retirement schedule.  Some are more challenging than others, some of them more active than others. Since I like to try new things and challenges these things fit into my day (and night) and keep me on my toes, at least for now

    For example, once I week I am taking a college class on The Hebrew Bible in it's Cultural and Historical Context (at heart somewhere, yes, I am a geek).  This is a once per week three hour class that is participatory and requires up to six hours some weeks of homework. This is actually part of a four year course on religion and culturalism.

    I'm taking an online class in how to draw with colored pencils.  While this is not participatory in the true sense, it is very participator  on my end as I attempt expand my limited drawing skills anyway I can.

    As mentioned elsewhere, I've joined a "drawing from the right side of the brain" class once a month, with each month being a different activity. This month we are supposed to bring our favorite poem, and we will be writing our own poem as well.

    And finally, I've been talking about joining a book group for awhile-if only so I would force myself to read something other than police procedurals and I finally found one.

    Trying new things is always good, in my opinion. Most of these new activities are free.  Added to my Living Richly in Retirement book, my other hobbies and life in general they will, I hope, continue to keep me challenged and ready to learn more.

    And now, to do the reading for my bible course................

    Friday, October 24, 2014

    Little Frugalities This Week in Retirement..

    This first day of my non schedule life has been very sedentary-by choice. I got up this morning, grabbed my morning beverage and went back to bed with my laptop. I got up and had breakfast and then sat down with my laptop and tablet. Fear not, this lazy day was planned. My goal was to set up a couple passive income streams to earn a great many more gift cards before the holiday and explore a couple of online money making sites-making my day a success.  I'll talk about these passive streams more later. The point is, the day has gone the way I planned.

    I was happy to see that one young women has left the hospital and the other is completely free of Ebola.  No one that contacted them has shown symptoms, and life goes on. Common sense prevails amid our search for a long term plan.  I remain more worried about a spider bite or the shingles at this point in time. And my daughter, who lives in Dallas, is much more worried about her very serious sinus infection than a communicable disease.

    It is eighty four degrees outside as we speak, and while many if not most of our trees are golden, the warm weather has prevented a full fall. The front yard however, is filled with leaves from the crab apple tree, which has turned. Were it left to me, I would probably leave them on the ground until the trees were cleared. Other people will, most likely, have other ideas!

    Meanwhile, a frugal retirement (even an extreme frugal retirement) is more about the little choices and steps we take while going about our fulfilling lives rather than gigantic labor intensive steps, much of the time. I've managed to include frugality, money making, and time and energy saving techniques into my day without affecting my quality of life in any real way.
    • I paid twenty dollars to join the Newcomers Club of Littleton. In truth, this is more a social club (of mainly retirees) than a newcomers club.  I've joined a book group, a single women's dinner group, and a "creating from the right side of the brain" group so far. This small annual fee has opened up a variety of activities.
    • I have needed new glasses for awhile (my prescription is almost six months old). I've been stymied for two reasons, one having no relationship to frugality. The first reason is that my prescription is drastically different and I know that adjustments will be needed.  The second reason was cost, and the fact that I LOVE my frames. I replaced them less than a year ago with duplicates due to a break. New frames are expensive and even in the online market I was looking at at least five hundred dollars for two pairs (sunglasses and progressives). My lenses are severely chipped and scratched however, so I did some exploring. I may be slow on the ball, but my town is the headquarters of a replacement lens company, and the quoted cost for putting lenses into these glasses I love was less than ninety dollars.  I'll take that deal-and start looking for sunglasses deals.
    • I continue to walk outside mainly and do silver sneakers weights a once or twice a week. Silver sneakers is not free for me, but more importantly, I want to take advantage of this beautiful weather for as long as we have it!
    • We continue to eat made from scratch, healthy food at a fairly low cost. My version of made from scratch generally consists of a slow cooker or casserole dish, so I do not spend a lot of time to have cheap but tasty meals.  In fact, my hostess dish for our rotating dinner group will consist of Italian style beef stew with loads of seasoning, wine, and more.
    • Two of my "crafty" groups had a materials exchange this week. This was a perfect example of frugal yet high entertainment.  Everyone brought a dish, the hostess provided the beverages.  We traded unwanted yarn, fabric, bead, wood and watercolors-and had a few discussions about items contributed to the pot whose purposes were questionablee. After a full afternoon of socializing and some wine imbibing, we also divvied up the leftover food and headed for home. Almost all of my socialization groups are free or almost free. We take turns bringing food to my three hour college class (which is a small group so this works), and my knitting class ends in happy hour.
    • I've set up my smart phone to play videos constantly, in order to maximize my gift card grabs cards from Swagbucks and Perk. This would not make financial sense if the only reason for my smart phone was earning gift cards.  Since I have unlimited data in my plan and I have a phone anyway, this is a smart move for me. My next post after the weekend will probably be on the perks gained from my various apps. For those who wonder, I receive approximately seventy dollars in gift cards each month for my time.
    • I made my brother a from scratch layer cake for his birthday-devils food with butter cream frosting. A cake like this would have cost at least twelve dollars at the grocery store, and perhaps fifteen. This took very little time, and was worth the effort.  My gift for him was a good pair of wool socks.  I've recently deciding that my gifting while be for things people need and use, or for things that I know they like and will not purchase themselves. Handmade gifts still fit into this template (as I sit knitting scarves and throws). My simple 100 percent wool socks were a gift my brother (who rarely says what he wants) really loves and something I KNOW he will use constantly.  Our birthday celebration consisted of watching the Broncos win (as always), cake, ice cream and family.
    • As always, when I check my email, various things show up in my feed.  Since I have a few frugal bogs as well as discount sites, this is always an adventurous time.  Today I discovered 33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Denver, Free Tickets to see "Before I Go to Sleep" (some readers may have read the book), Notification of Albertsons 25 cent and fifty cent sale on Tuesday; Adidas shirts on sale for less than ten dollars, and a ten dollar off 25 dollar JC Penney coupon (my son only wears the JC Penney tall guy long and short Tshirts) All of this and more done while drinking my cup of morning tea, along with a list of free kindle books and craft classes
    • I just sent my son to wash my bathroom rugs as well as some heavy blankets. This does cost some money, but eliminates the wear, tear and mess on my older washer. On occasion spending a little bit of money saves you more in the long run, and this is one of those towns.
    • I have been DVRing EVERYTHING. I have decided that the ability to eliminate commercials is healthy for both my pocketbook and my brain. This is especially true at this time of year. People who do not live in a swing state have no idea. Here in Colorado there is, literally, nothing but political advertisements on. Nasty, mean, name calling you name it.  I never thought I would be carping on the advantages of living in a mainly solid state, but there you have it. Maybe not a frugal choice, but a smart one for me.
    • And finally, my news feed also showed me that my social security will increase by twenty dollars or so in the new year. I'm unsure whether my government pension will get the similar treatment. On one level, twenty bucks is not a lot On the other hand an extra couple hundred bucks a year is never to be frowned on, no matter how it's used. Rather than compare that money to an inflation rate, I prefer to consider it "found money" and treat it as such.
    And there you have it, frugality as it happens. Small choices and activities that have fit into my lifestyle this week, without causing deprivation or taking large chunks of time away from my retirement priorities.

      Changing Things Up In Retirement-Kicking Schedules to the Curb

      Much of the time, it's the little things that we do, or the changes that we make that increase the quality of our retirement by leaps and bounds.  And while travel, adventure, hobbies and lifelong learning are all important to to a healthy retirement, I continue to believe that the biggest contributor to retirement happiness is freedom and control of time. 

      Some of you may have noticed that I've done little writing on this blog the past few weeks.  This is not because I don't have things to share, or important things to say.  However, I've been feeling out of sorts and I was not sure why. In the past few days, I realized that I had become a slave to my day planner, and that simply was not working for me. To that end, I have, literally, thrown out the schedule. And I have no plants to start a new one.

      This is not to say that I have kicked my activities to the curb, or eliminated social engagements.  I continue to keep a calendar (although I try to move that to my phone) and I carry a small notebook in my purse in which I journal and jot things down. This jotting has more to do with a rough list of goals and to dos rather than a daily or even weekly challenge.

      I still do all of the things I did before, and have even added some new activities. I quilt, draw, and knit. I write. I play pinochle once a month, belong to a book group and a knitting group, a craft group and a "right side of the brain exploration" group.  I walk half an hour most days and occasionally take silver sneakers. I go to school one night a week and take a fun online class at home. I keep my house halfway picked up (more or less). I go to the movies and hit a day trip every so often just for the fun of it. I've started (I think) a weekday women's bible study group.  You get the idea. 

      For some this sounds like chaos, I am sure. And if I were the person who was bothered by the thought of "what will I do now", it might be for me as well.  As a person who generally has many more things she wants to do than she has time for however, I don't see this as a real problem.  There are a few things that remain in terms of structure-most of those are affected by body clock issues, mealtime needs or the knowledge that I need to walk and clear my head. 

      The end result, at least for me is a blank canvas each day, to use as I am inspired.  This means that rather than a day divided into sections, I have days that flow-mostly depending on how I felt when I got up this morning, or what mood has struck. I may, as happened today, get up and simply decide I'm not ready yet and head back to bed with my coffee.  I may (and have) pick a book and up spending the day reading. I may spend the day puttering, or making a quilt from start to finish. Today, I spent much of my day working (literally) on some passive income streams online as well as journaling about articles and my book, that I really need to finish.

      Syd talked a week or so about letting go of the list. I confess that I still have the list, and update it every so often.  Like her, I'm willing to simply remove some things from the list, knowing that I can always change my mind and add it if things change.  Going one step further, and throwing the daily schedule, plan, whatever your word is takes that freedom to another level

      This is what works for me, and some people are completely uncomfortable without a daily plan or list. For me, at this time in retirement, I'm going to let the day plan itself, and we'll see how that turns out.

      It's working for me, for now.

      Thursday, October 16, 2014

      Volunteering Up Close and Personal, the End of the World is Not Yet Here, and other Thurday Thoughts

      For many retirees, volunteering of some sort is a regular part of their retirement lifestyle.  This is unsurprising, since statistic after statistic has shown that volunteering can improve quality of life, and even extend longevity.  It often takes us multiple tries to find the volunteer gig that works for us as individuals.  In your search, it's worth noting that one other thing is true-the happiest volunteers are those who interact on a personal level with their volunteer subjects.  Whether it's reading to children, teaching English to immigrants, any number of other volunteer activities, the reward is in the interaction.  This is not to say that other types of volunteer work (volunteering, cutting and pasting and cooking for example) are not needed in large ways. Just that in order to get the deepest reward, people also need to interact, on some level.

      In my own retirement I am finding that to be true in spades, as they say. I do number of volunteer activities, many of which are even done at home.  Quilts and blankets for preemies or Habitat for Humanity subjects is a perfect example. However, my most rewarding activity is working with residential homeless women. I may have mentioned that as part of this volunteer gig we interact with the women. In other words, we bring a meal, and an activity.  We sit and eat WITH these women, and dance, craft or game WITH them, rather than to or for them. Other folks from my church walk with the women twice a week, some lead with a prayer group-our days are full.  

      The advantages of this type of volunteering are numerous.  First, we get to relate to this fairly small group of women (25) on a regular basis. Second, we are enabled to see what THEY want and need, rather than what we believe that they want and need, or think they should want. There is a huge difference between the first one and the later two.  Since these our women who are chronically homeless and now  learning how to live in a structured environment and be on their own, it's very important that they can express, and we can understand what is required to move forward.

      So while I volunteer in any other ways, my primary volunteering will continue to be getting as close to one on one as I am able.  Meanwhile, in other thoughts on this Thursday:

      •  This is not the End of The World As We Know it. In this country, you have a higher possibility of getting shingles, the fly, pneumonia, or dying from alcohol or cigarette related illness.  Is Ebola a concern and do we have t find better ways to deal with it? Yes. Does the CDC need to get their act together and take a lead?  Absolutely. Do I think further steps should be taken? Of course.  Do I believe in stocking water, food and medicines for emergencies? Yes, but as much for being stuck at home during the flu or a blizzard as for a pandemic. Preparation is just good sense.  Although I watch and read Fox TV rarely, I encourage everyone to read the rant here.  As the man says, the fear mongering around us is "counterproductive"  Some day there may be a pandemic.  I've watched Contagion. If that time comes, you need to relax, be prepared and do what you are told. Meanwhile, everyone should take a breath-a big one-and think about what would have if they had to stay in their homes for a month because of a pandemic.
      • Syd has a wonderful blog post today about letting go. When I read this, I wanted to say "Yes!! This!!".  The best part of retirement (in my opinion) is freedom-freedom of time primarily. Like Syd, I have long lists of what I WANT to do and what I SHOULD do. While I have not eliminated things from that list, as she has, I have no compunction about ignoring something on this list, and if it doesn't get done one day, I don't necessarily feel the need to add it onto the next day.  As long as I do a certain amount of healthy and challenging things, other things can fall by the side without guilt. Retirement should, I feel, be done at it's own pace. Now, if you sleep till noon for a full week or find yourself sitting in front of the TV twelve hours, or your yard has taken over the house, then it MAY be time to consider a to do list.  Meanwhile, to paraphrase the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the list is just really a guide, after all. 
      • Soups are one of the most frugal things about fall. Here in Colorado we are as they say in the between.  The weather is  as well. Yesterday the high was mid eighties, today the high will be 72. However the nights have gone to the high thirties meaning the heat comes on in the morning until the house settles at 70.  Outside this means that my crab apple tree is still green, but the leaf vines that cover my house are red and gold. As the weather cools we eat a lot of soups. Soups are easy, you can substitute as need and with bread and salad they make a whole meal with ease. So far we have had homemade minestrone, a copycat Olive Garden creamy Tuscan soup, and broccoli cheese soup. I'll try and share a few of these recipes in my next frugal food post.
      • Studies have shown that learning new things is an important way to keep our brain sharp. This is especially true when we learn new hands on type skills, not just "book learning". I was not aware until recently just how many ways there are to learn hands on skills on the web.  While it's nice to have group classroom instruction for some things, learning online lets you go at your own pace. In my case my current projects have to do with drawing with colored pencils and learning to use my camera phone well.  Between utube, free online classes and tutorials, I'm definitely learning as I go.
       And now, it's time for me to ignore that list of mine and go sit by the window with my newest kindle download for awhile.  Retirement, anyone?