YOUR ONLY RESOLUTION FOR 2017

If 2016 has taught you anything, it is to create a will.

2016 has been a tough year, especially for musicians and actors.  From David Bowie to Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher, they all passed away too soon.  The scary thing is that many of these notables who died were only in their 50s and 60s.  No one expects to die when you think there’s at least 30 or 40 years ahead of you.  The thing is, we all want to live to a ripe old age, preferably over 85.  But that’s not in the cards for everyone.

I don’t want to be Captain Obvious here but, WE ALL DIE.  Death is a natural part of Life.  We just don’t want to talk or think about our mortality.  We still feel it’s ghoulish and if you don’t talk or think about it, then it won’t happen. BUT IT DOES.  I’ve said this many times over, why is it that we plan for weddings, births and anniversaries, but pay no attention to our death?

Doesn’t it seem wrong to leave your funeral or memorial service to some grieving family members and friends to throw together in a few days?  Wouldn’t you feel better now, writing all of your wishes down so that others can have a sense of what you wanted?

Prince didn’t even have a will.  His net worth was over $300 Million.  $300 MILLION!  It’s irresponsible to his family and the fortune he amassed through hard work and creativity to not have had a will in place.  His estate is in probate and the State of Minnesota courts appoint a special administrator who will direct his business interests figuring out what Prince owned and value each property.  It will be the State which determines who receives those assets.  THE STATE WILL DETERMINE HIS WISHES!

We live in a society where people want to be in control of every aspect of their lives, yet no one seems to plan for their death.  According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 64% of American’s don’t have a will in place!  Do you really want the government to determine your wishes?  Even if you don’t have the means to hire an estate lawyer, you can log onto Legal Zoom and create a boilerplate will.  Have something in place!

This should be your #1 resolution for 2017. Stop putting it off…you’ll feel relief when you create your will.  You walk out of your estate lawyers office feeling a bit lighter and something you didn’t even think you were worrying about (which you were) is off your plate and done.  Why leave it to your loved ones to have to deal with?

So your only resolution for 2017 is to create a will.  Then add on for good measure how you would like to be remembered — whether it is describing your ideal memorial service or an ornate funeral, put it down in writing so people know.  Do you want to be cremated?  Do you want to be buried?  If so, where?  Did you buy a plot somewhere?  Put that down in writing so they know.  What are your favorite flowers, music, cocktails, poems, food…put it all in a document for your final celebration.

Take control of how your LIFE and DEATH should be remembered.  You are the only one that can control that, so get it together now!

A Happy, Healthy New Year to you all!

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Hunting the S-A-L-E

SALE is my favorite four letter word.  My parents were raised during the Great Depression and teenagers during World War 2 so I often heard about rationing and how people made due with what …

Source: Hunting the S-A-L-E

Hunting the S-A-L-E

 

SALE is my favorite four letter word.  My parents were raised during the Great Depression and teenagers during World War 2 so I often heard about rationing and how people made due with what they had.  They rarely bought something new, so my parents raised us with that mindset as well.  If it’s broken then you fix it…you don’t throw it away and buy a new one.  We were up-cycling before up-cycling became trendy!

I learned from a young age that yard sales, garage sales and estate sales were places to find incredible deals.  Antiques were the main objective for my mom, so I looked for things with markings like Made in Occupied Japan,  Limoges, 925 (the silver stamp), and other unusual symbols which could be worth more than the 25 cent sticker on them.  I remember my mom found a small table cart with sides that folded down.  It looked just like a mini version of our dining room table so mom bargained it down to $15.  When we got it home, I noticed a small drawer in the back of the cart and opened it to find 6 beautiful dipping bowls detailed with gold leaf and marked Made in Occupied Japan.  Jackpot!

My sister Caroline has been the most successful in finding amazing pieces.  She bought the most hideous $10 lamps I’ve ever seen, and found out later they were worth $150!  When I was moving into my first college apartment, Caroline gave me a box of glassware she picked up at a garage sale for $5 and a rug she found on the side of the road for free.  Later when I moved out of that apartment I sold the glassware for $15 and the free rug for $20.  A few years ago I bought an antique breakfront from a friend for $400.  When I moved and realized it was out of place in my new apartment I sold it on Craigslist for $600!

My friend Betsy likes to say that I’m thrifty, but I really hate that word.  It sounds like I’m cheap, which I’m not.  I just love finding a deal.  It’s like a game figuring out how much can be saved.  I learned early on that many things can be negotiated, and not just at yard sales.

Many stores markup items three or many more times from their wholesale prices.  So when you see a sale item, the store is still making a huge margin.  Did you know that mattresses are marked up almost 45% (Tempurpedic is the highest with a 60-70% markup!).  And furniture generally has an 80% markup?!  Seriously negotiate when buying these things!

My cable TV, telephone, internet and home security system are all bundled together.  A few months ago the bill had creeped up to $270 a month!  So I called the cable company and asked for their RETENTION DEPARTMENT — they are the people who want to keep their customers, and keep them happy.  I told the nice lady that I received an offer from one of their competitors for about $100 less a month (I really wasn’t planning on switching since it’s such a pain in the ass).  Within a few minutes of negotiating and looking into what I no longer needed, my bill had dropped to $212.  A few weeks later the cable company had merged to become another company, I contacted them again and found out my new pricing was now $187!  They’re still making money since cable TV programming is marked up about 600%.

The great thing about the internet is the transparency it provides in finding all of this stuff out.  Here are just a few items I found and their astronomical mark ups:

  • Airline Tickets 388%
  • Designer Jeans 260%
  • College Textbooks 200%
  • Eyeglass Frames 500-1000%
  • Restaurant Wine 400%
  • Text Messages 6000% (yes, six thousand percent!)
  • Printer Ink 300%
  • Movie Popcorn 900%
  • Bottled Water 2000%

They even get you when you’re dead.  Caskets are marked up a whopping 350% which could make anyone flatline!

I understand the need to markup items — rent, labor, utilities and other costs must be paid in order to cover your expenses.  But 6000% for text messages is truly fleecing the consumer.

Now when I shop, I truly see the high costs in everything.  This is why I LOVE shopping at The Dollar Tree and 99 Cent Only stores.  Yeah, I know, you’re thinking ‘oh it’s just leftover crap’…but it’s not.  Here’s what I buy at these stores:

  • Gift Bags — in a card store or Target they run from $3 and up. Sometimes the Dollar Tree Store even has 3 for $1 packaged together.  Great for the holidays!  And you can get a package of tissue paper for $1 to stuff into the bags. A package…not 2 sheets!
  • Paper Toweling – just bought a 6 pack for $2.99, that’s 50 cents a roll and it works just like the more expensive brands, cause it’s made of the same thing — uh, paper.
  • Holiday Decorations — seriously so cheap…and you’re using them only once a year…
  • Batteries — they’re not the best brands, but hey they work!
  • Baking goods — baking soda (usually 2 for $1), baking powder, graham cracker crust, etc…
  • Spices and Herbs — how many times have you gone out to buy an ingredient for a special meal you were cooking only to find that one spice cost $6 at the grocery store and you only used it once?
  • Envelopes — mailing and even padded ones…yeah $1…
  • Cards — not the greatest, but when you need a sympathy or get well card this is your store.
  • Cleaning Products — it may not be called Windex, but the Glassex works exactly the same and it’s made of water, alcohol and a few other chemicals that I can’t spell…

Finding bargains, sales and deals isn’t difficult, you just have to look for them.  When I was a kid my mom would say to look for the big S-A-L-E sign as soon as you walk into a store.  I do this everywhere I go…and it has saved me tons of money.  Once you do it enough, it becomes a habit.  You become the hunter and no longer are the prey.

 

The Great Time Suck

 

I was flipping through 200 channels with nothing to interest me when I decided to watch 30 ROCK on Netflix, mainly because it was the last smart and funny comedy on television.  After an episode or five, I started noticing old things like flip phones, tube TV’s and VHS tapes.  It was odd because I thought this was a recent show, then I checked the credits and was shocked to see 30 ROCK began in 2006.

WHERE DID THE LAST TEN YEARS GO?!

Over the past few months I’ve been feeling like time has been moving at warp speed.  Think Indy 500 fast.  I’m gobsmacked that we’re half way through October when New Years Eve feels like it was just a few weeks ago, and not approaching in just a few weeks!  I also feel good that I utilized the word gobsmacked…it’s terribly underused.  Back to the fleeting passage of time…

I never thought I would get to the age where I would say “time flies” but I am truly beginning to think that we’re on some interplanetary cocaine rocket.  When I was a kid, my mom told me that life was like an hourglass — at the beginning the sand slowly trickles down, but then somewhere in the middle the sand starts to zip through the glass.  I AM NOW AT THE HOUR WHERE THE SAND IS SPEEDING DOWN AND IT’S FREAKING ME OUT!

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the reason for this hasty movement and I keep coming back to one thing.  Technology.

We are constantly looking at our smart phones, tablets and computers waiting for the next email, text, blog post (yeah, I know it’s been a while), and cute cat video.  We keep looking forward and never stop to take in the moment we’re experiencing now.  Technology is the biggest time suck of our lives.  Though wasn’t it supposed to free time up for us?

Surely we can put down our phones, especially when we’re dining.  Nothing bothers me more than seeing a table full of people looking at their phones and not speaking with each other.  Let’s take a selfie of us having an awesome time then give me a few minutes while I post it on all of my social media platforms and ignore you.  What has happened to us as a society?  We’ve become glazed over anti-social imbeciles.

I went out for a walk today and saw several people staring at their phones.  So when I got home I Googled “how many people die while walking and texting.”  Here’s what it said in a recent USA TODAY article:  A 10-percent spike in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of last year – the largest year-to-year increase in such deaths in four decades – may well be fueled by America’s increasing distraction with mobile devices.

Technology kills.  Stop and smell the roses before someone has to place them on top of your casket because you JUST HAD to read that emoji filled text while crossing 47th St!

Time is fleeting.  You especially realize this when someone you love has died.  You wish for more moments with them. If you’re lucky you can hold onto a lot of wonderful memories but even then you wonder why you couldn’t have had more.  Instead you were rushing from one place to another trying to cram as much in as possible to say I did this or did that on Facebook today.

Then there’s the time between now and Nov 8…Election Day.  Why does that time move at a glacial pace?  I can’t wait until it’s over.  It can’t come soon enough!  But I’ll save that rant for another time in a future blog post…

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Baggage, Labels and the Waste of a Small Personal Item

I realize as I exit the taxi that my large spinner bag has a flat.  I’m bummed that it’s come to the end of the road for the Samsonite but know that it’s been a tough friend to me as it travelled several times around the globe.  I drag it through Nassau International Airport and manage to get it to the check-in counter.  Now it’s someone else’s problem until I reach LA.

Sitting by the gate I peer out the window to see the conveyer belt take the bag up into the underbelly of the plane.  It gets on first, I assume because it needs some special assistance.  Poor baby…at least it’s being treated well and went on vacation before it is sent to the luggage dump.

This blue bag had seen Paris, Bali, New York, London and Hawaii along with many other destinations.  I named him Spin, because he was obviously a spinner.  Now, he is officially Curt, for his short bursts of stop and go, well, curtness.  He was purchased where I get all of my bags…Tuesday Morning, but it was actually a Wednesday afternoon on my lunch hour when I first spotted him.  He was just the right size and a nice shade of dark blue.  Not black like all of the other bags, yet not that obnoxious royal blue that you see wheeling around the airport craving attention.

I once bought a 5 piece Samsonite set at Macy’s.  Apparently it was a deal for $600.  I booked a flight and checked the large piece through to JFK.  Waiting at the gate, I was hoping for an upgrade so when my name was called I excitedly made my way up to the desk smiling. A stern agent greeted me with a statement “your checked bag was found with a bullet inside it.”  Dumfounded I asked if it had been shot.

“No, it had a bullet in one of the zippered compartments.”  Then she rattled on about how firearms and ammunition are not allowed on planes.  I know, I protested as I said it wasn’t mine and I don’t own any weapons or ammunition of any kind.  My face flushed.  She looked at me as though I was Annie Oakley and there was nothing more for me to refute.  There was no upgrade for me and I had to slink back to row 33 unable to comprehend how a bullet made it’s way into my bag.  Was there someone walking around Macy’s thinking, ‘oh let me fuck up someone’s trip by placing a bullet inside their luggage’?

I only have one piece left from that set and Mable is starting to show her age.  She’s a carry-on roller bag with a ton of space.  I get stopped periodically asking where I got it, but they don’t make Mable anymore.  She’s covered more ground than any of my bags and she plays defense really well.  Outside of the US, especially in Europe I find that people like to stand very close to one another to the point of breathing on me.  I hate it.  They invade my personal space and they seem unaware they’re even doing it.  I like my American wide open space so Mable helps me immeasurably.  As I stand in line (or is it On line? or the Queue?), I get about two feet from the person in front of me and stop, meanwhile Mable is stretched out at least three feet behind me.  She is protecting my personal space.  A few people have kicked her (accidentally of course) or almost tripped because they see me so FAR, FAR away from them.  Mable is my bodyguard and I hope she can roll along for a few more years.

After the $600 Samsonite bullet set I learned never to buy expensive baggage.  When you travel thousands of miles each year, pretty luggage is going to become ugly very quickly.  I have a cute carry-on set — Longchamps in powder blue with a brown leather trim.  It was a gift and it has a 21” carry-on with a small bag that slips around the handle on top.  It’s so super cute that flight attendants compliment me on the set!  Or at least it was super cute.  I once got on a small plane where the larger piece had to be checked at the gate.  I landed in Phoenix and waited in the jetway for the elegant Ava to be brought up from the bowls of the plane.  When she was placed in front of me I could hardly recognize her, I thought she’d gone on a bender.  She was scuffed and stained.  Her glamour had faded.  She was now Charlize Theron in Monster.

I learned a long time ago never to buy branded bags.  You know the ones — TUMI, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc…There was a saying I heard when I was a kid, “handsome is as handsome does.”  Well the named, pretty luggage rarely does much except cause trouble.  A woman I once knew had a large TUMI bag that she took on a 4 day trip to Cabo San Lucas.  This bag came up to my waist and could accommodate at least two large American sized children.  She was going away for FOUR DAYS, not FOURTEEN! So she emptied her closet inside Barbie, including jewelry (yes, jewelry…that’s another story, I just can’t) and checked it to Mexico.  Barbie was never seen or heard from again.  No ransom, nothing.  All the woman got was $400 from the airline and a few neon t-shirts from Cabo.

The label thing really irks me.  Companies pay millions of dollars each year advertising their brand on billboards, TV, radio, the web and in magazines and newspapers, yet someone will spend an exorbitant amount of money on an item emblazoned with LVLVLVLVLVLVLV all over it.  YOU ARE ADVERTISING FOR A BRAND, YET YOU ARE PAYING FOR IT!!!!  Shouldn’t they be paying you???  This drives me bonkers.  I sat on my connecting flight in Miami and watched as Calvin Klein, T-Mobile and Nike all walked past me.  Did the guy wearing the T-Mobile shirt really have nothing else to wear?  He couldn’t find a nice button down in his closet?  Or is he heading home and that’s what he actually packed for the trip?  I admit to having a promotional item or two, but I can’t wear a t-shirt or carry bags advertising in such a garish way.

My black backpack has a small Spider-Man head on it.  It’s understated, not overpowering and it’s a utilitarian piece I have come to rely on with its deep zippered compartments and a padded gut for my laptop.  When my friend and former colleague Ann-Elizabeth, who has impeccable taste, had chosen it for a promo item, I knew I had to have Spidey.  Periodically a true geek will come up to me grinning with white spit around the corners of his mouth to tell me he likes my bag.  At least he had the courage to speak to a girl I think to myself as I thank him.

I also noticed on this trip, where I was on four different planes and in three airports that there are an awful lot of people walking through the terminals with their pillows.  Not the travel neck pillow, but the actual pillow from their beds.  I won’t even get into the disgust factor of placing your pillow on a plane and the God awful germs that will goose step into the stuffing.  My skin crawls thinking about it as it is placed on the conveyor belt in the security check.  No, for me it’s the absolute WASTE of bringing something on board with you.  Remember, you get one small bag and one “personal” item to carry-on.  Why on earth would you choose a pillow?!  Especially one that you should never use again!!!

With Spidey on my back and Mable protecting me, I’ve got everything I need, including a neck pillow.  Computer, iPad, phone, Kindle, sweatshirt, make-up, pens, papers, passport, protein bar, magazines, glasses (reading and sun), you name it, I got it.  I can’ t imagine giving Spidey up for a germ ridden pillow!

The baggage we carry around says a lot about us.  Sometimes we hold onto it for too long, even when it doesn’t serve us well.  It’s label becomes meaningless when the wheels no longer work.  More or less, less is more.  Sturdy, strong and simple is all you need in this life.

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Broken Sidewalks

It’s been a year since I began volunteering for Culver Palms Meals on Wheels (CPMOW) in Culver City, CA (http://www.mealsonwheelsculverpalms.org). The mission of CPMOW is to enable our clients to stay in their own home and remain independent through the delivery of well balanced, nutritious meals to their door.

After the layoff, I knew I wanted to give some of my time volunteering for a good cause. My parents had volunteered for Meals on Wheels in their town, delivering hot meals to many people younger than themselves. I checked around and found the closest chapter here in Southern California.

Meals on Wheels originated in the UK during the Blitz of WW2. According to Wikipedia, volunteers prepared food and delivered it to homebound people in old prams to transport the meals. The service took off during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the UK, Australia, the US and Canada. Today in America, 1 in 9 seniors — an astonishing 5 million people — is at risk of hunger. Here on the Westside of Los Angeles, there are hundreds of people unable to shop, cook or prepare meals due to illness or age.

I remember my first day packing food and learning the ropes. The hot and cold bags for the 9 delivery routes are laid out on tables. Each route has a book with the names of our clients on separate pages showing their age, special food needs, and directions to their home. As I flipped through the book, their birthdates jumped off the pages of history…one man, born in 1915 during WW1, several during the Roaring 20s and many during the Great Depression. They are of the Greatest Generation (1901-1924) and the Silent Generation (1925-1945). They’ve lived through so much and helped build our country into what it is today.

Volunteers deliver one hot meal and one cold snack to an average of 90 clients a day, Monday through Friday — that’s about 20,000 meals a year. There are so many wonderful people who volunteer and work there. Pam, the Executive Director, always has a smile on her face and has so much energy and excitement for her job and the organization. She’d make millions if she could bottle and sell that enthusiasm!

I took on Route #7 early on and look out for my clients to make sure they are doing okay. Every Monday, I pack and deliver food for 8-10 people. I usually thumb through the book first to check for any new clients. Many homes I drive through in the Venice, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey neighborhoods have become gentrified over the last 15 years. Generally when there is a new client and I turn down their street, it’s not difficult to find their home.

Between the new builds and renovated homes you’ll find the house with the broken sidewalks, overgrown grass, and old paint chipping from the shutters and walls. Mark, a client I’ve never actually met, lives in one of those homes. He lives on a pretty tree lined street on a hill in Mar Vista. Across from him is a newly built McMansion that looks like it belongs on Nantucket Island. His home is surrounded by pretty homes with manicured lawns. When I first drove up to his house, the grass was knee high with an old garden hose stuck in the dirt. I’ve never met Mark because he is bedridden. I usually leave the food hanging from the doorknob or once in a while hand it to a nurse.

I often wonder if the neighbors are upset at the eye sore, yet don’t know Mark’s name or even his situation. Wouldn’t it be great if the neighborhood got together and cleaned up his yard? We live in a self absorbed world rarely looking up from our devices to see our community around us. Our social networking has made us anti-social human beings.

Margie, 91, lives alone in the house she bought with her friend back in the 1960s. Her friend died 15 years ago. The outside of the house is kept up by a gardner and the pool (she doesn’t use) is also maintained. Inside though, it’s a different story. While she’s not a hoarder, there are papers piled up on every surface. She is depressed and feels overwhelmed. Every time I visit, I try to be upbeat, but many times Margie is down in the dumps. She doesn’t have any family except for an 85 year old cousin who lives over an hour away and doesn’t drive. Last week she mentioned that she hadn’t paid her taxes in over 3 years. I said I’d try to find someone for her. It’s not easy to find a tax volunteer who makes house calls. For many people, the volunteers are the only interaction they have with another human being for an entire day. And that interaction may only be for 5 minutes.

Once, when I delivered food to Margie, she said she was so happy for Mondays and having food delivered. I told her that she could order extra food to be delivered on Thursday’s and Friday’s so that she would have food for the weekend. It was added to her delivery schedule that week. I wondered how long she had been going without food on the weekends.

Joe, a man in his late 60s, lives down the street from me in a small studio apartment. He began Meals on Wheels a few weeks ago. When I dropped his food off for the first time he met me outside and said he was just trying to keep food down — his cancer treatments were making it hard for him to eat. Joe stayed on the program for about a month. Happily I saw him recently riding his bicycle with two small bags of groceries hanging from the handlebars.

Most of our clients were born before TV was invented…most do not know how to use a computer or even own one. Their technology consists of cable TV and a landline. They are isolated from a world which has everything at its fingertips. Think about how easy it is for us when we need something: you need anything you order it from Amazon, you want food delivered you click online read the menu and order, need to go somewhere you Uber. Think about living without a smartphone, tablet or laptop (I know, a nightmare for most!) and then throw in the fact you can’t drive any longer. You’re trapped.

Today is World Food Day. Take a moment to look up from whatever device you’re reading this on and think about your neighborhood. Where are the broken sidewalks? Which house is overgrown and where you rarely, if ever, see the owner? Is there a newspaper lying at the end of their driveway or garbage cans that haven’t been put away? Ask who lives there and find out if they need help. The folks in the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation rarely ask for help. They are stoic, quiet and proud.

Culver Palms Meals on Wheels is a non-profit, non-sectarian, volunteer community based 501(c)3 organization that has been serving the homebound in Culver City and surrounding communities since 1974. It relies on donations and grants to keep up its good work. If you can, please help CPMOW by making a donation at: http://www.mealsonwheelsculverpalms.org or find an organization in your community.