Sunday, November 12, 2017

Your Dream Haven


Most of us are appalled by shows like Hoarders.   People pile up household items, even useless things, until they can barely move in their home.   Mice and other undesirables move in.    Some people even spend money purchasing more stuff they don't need to further wall themselves into their homes.

We now know that psychological issues are at the root of hoarding.   All the detritus forms a shield against grief, depression, bad feelings, unhappy memories.   A frozen state of immobility ensues.   Getting rid of anything allows pain to get in.

Clutter is a milder form of hoarding and brings its own set of negative feelings.   We can feel uneasy, even stressed,  looking around at multitude of unfinished projects, things we own.    Large, almost empty spaces, by contrast, are more restful.   There are fewer things to focus on and what's there seems more important.   Think of art galleries and museums.    They are restful, calming places.  No doubt the gallery or museum has a place where supplies, stationery, staff lunches, restoration and display tools reside but it is out of sight.

A toaster may be used once a day, or not even that yet often it sits on a kitchen counter, removing space that could be empty.   The same can be said of the blender that makes smoothies from time to time or the pan that sautés.  Do you need to look at them every time you glance at the kitchen?   You might have noticed that homes that are staged for an Open House are remarkably uncluttered.

Try an experiment.   Clear every surface in a designated room, placing everything in an out of sight box.   Nothing on counters, tables or shelves.    Now place one decorative item that has some significance to you on one table.      A vase you purchased in that little village in Greece on that long ago vacation. Place a piece of greenery from your garden on it.    Maybe one more item or several books on a shelf.   That's it.

Sit back and feel the calm envelop you.  Go out for a few hours and then come back.   It's pleasant now, isn't it, to not feel stressed at the mess of undone tasks.   Your home is truly a haven.

Sunday, November 5, 2017



For those people who haven't heard the expression 'sandwich generation' before here is a definition:

The Sandwich Generation is a generation of people (usually in their 30s or 40s) who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.

This term was only added to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006.   Why?   I am going to hypothesize it is because this life situation occurred infrequently a generation ago.   Children were anxious to leave the family home.   I know I was, moving out at age twenty.   (But I married at twenty-one, so it wasn't a long independent sojourn;  something like six months). It wasn't that I wasn't happy at home;  my parents almost doted on me.   But the siren call of independence and freedom was keenly felt.   And the deciding factor?   It was financially affordable.   Housing was inexpensive and good paying jobs were plentiful.   Today, there is a large wage gap, present in many large cities, wherein housing prices have quintupled and salaries maybe doubled.   That gap is part of what keeps young people at home.

Living at home makes life much easier financially, particularly if parents charge little or nothing for room and board.   Entertainment, tech devices, continuing education all become manageable.   Homes are much larger nowadays for many families.  From the small 1200 square foot rancher of the past, often with only one bathroom, today's homes have four or more bedrooms.   Many of these are ensuite or in separate wings.   Having children at home is not a one sided equation either.   If there is a good relationship, young adults at home can help with household chores, look after pets when parents vacation, and be company for a single parent or also a couple.   They provide a level of home security for parents who travel to warmer climes in the winter.    Sounds like a win-win, doesn't it?   

It does tend to lead to prolonged continuing education and student loan debt as the stimulating student life can be enjoyable for some, more enjoyable that the sometimes harsh work world.     Some of the economic doldrums in society today have been attributed to millenials  late family formation habit.   They stay single and don't buy the starter home that enables the next level of home owner to move up.   They don't purchase the accoutrements of house set-up--appliances and furniture--and they don't buy baby gear.   Those $1000 plus iPhones take the place of more mundane products.  Sometimes (I think it's something like forty percent) the young people divorce and come home for the short term or longer term, sometimes with children in tow.

But the other  piece of bread, to continue with the sandwich analogy, may not be enjoying life quite so much.   Older parents may need to downsize, except there are no grateful grandchild recipients  for cherished heirlooms.   Parents may still be helping out the son or daughter financially at a time when grandparents have left the workforce.   Their income is in a decline.   In some countries, like the United States, healthcare costs may seriously impede lifestyle.   Health issues arise in one or both grandparents and they just aren't able to cope as well independently.   A period of contraction, from family home to condo to some sort of supported care situation ensues over the years.   One or more family members, often daughters, become unpaid caregivers, grocery shoppers, doctor visit drivers, and tech adviser to aging parents.    The support is often also financial.

There are solutions but some of the choices are difficult.   Set boundaries for financial support both in dollars and length of time.   Easier said than done.   Elderly parent care is more manageable if they live with you.   Cue the mother-in-law comments.   All the family dynamics become more intense when everyone lives in the same home, even if it is larger now.   National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation humorously demonstrated the issues with relatives who only visited for a short time.   Imagine if they all moved in permanently.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Can You Afford to Retire?

This article, The New Reality of Old Age in America, in The Washington Post sets out a gloomy future for upcoming would-be retirees.   The take-away message?  Retirement will not be the anticipated golden years, a just reward for years of hard work and sacrifice.    Instead, many, if not the majority will live out the remainder of their years in penny pinching frugality interspersed with low wage jobs, all in aid of balancing the domestic budget.

(I must confess that when I read that, my first thought was, if that's the case, why save and sacrifice when you are young if it gets you nowhere.   Enjoy your youth, spend your money on the proverbial wine, women (men) and song and at least you'll have your memories.)  

Upcoming retirees may hope and desire anticipated post-retirement travel and leisure activities like golf and theatre.  These may be few and far between and largely consist of visits to stay with children and grandchildren.   You travel  the country in your camper on a convoluted route seeking out temporary jobs maintaining campgrounds, boxing up packages for Amazon during the holiday season, and running cruise ship excursions to and from lobster feasts in Maine.

For 33% of American, the article states, Social Security is their only source of income.  They raised a family, the husband was always in work or had a business and the wife often worked part-time.   Somehow there was never enough spare money to save for retirement.   It's hard to know if they could have done better.   Health issues in the United States seem to be a large factor in financial health and the insurance is a large bill every month.

Sometimes, saving a little just seems to put you in a higher tax bracket.  You're not 'poor' enough to qualify for various benefits, but you're certainly not rich enough to live with any kind of extravagance.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Employment Bait and Switch

Barbara Ehrenreich is a well known award winning author, journalist, political activist and self-described myth buster.   Check out her biography here.   Her book Bait and Switch seeks to complement her prior book, Nickel and Dimed in which she went undercover as an employee in low wage occupations.  In Bait and Switch Ehrenreich's goal was to enter the middle management job market and discover the intrigue, unfairness and misery.

Traditionally, white collar employees are college educated. One woman described in thus:  They believe they have done all the right things in life--generally described as not getting pregnant, not being a drug user and having a college education and a corporate wardrobe.   The enormous student loan debt should entitle them to a reasonably well paying position.

Ms. Ehrenreich creates a new past using her maiden name and launches herself into the employment seeking masses looking for an executive position that utilizes her skills.   Something in public relations, she thinks.     She hires a resume coach, full of enthusiasm.

The emergence of a 'support' industry supposedly to assist job seekers reminds me of the emergence of  sectors tailored to help the author in their reach for fame, fortune and massive sales.   There are the copy editors, the line editors, the cover artists, the marketing gurus, audio and video producers and book fair organizers.

Job coaching and employment-finding bootcamps are not inexpensive but most comes down to victim blaming and ad hoc advice blending various pop psychology insights.   By Page 150 Ehrenreich still hasn't found a position and her plan to write an exposé of the white collar executive world seems doomed to wither away.

Next, she undergoes a fashion and make-up analysis.   Her appearance is determined to be unacceptable but a sliver of hope is proffered, provided she invests various beauty products.  After many months and application to over two hundred advertised and posted positions Ehrenreich is experiencing what is reality for many.  No one wants her.   The soft job skills at which she excels do not require licensing or certification which might exclude some job seekers.   Anyone can claim to be an  Event Organizer or Public Relations Representative.   

It is not a question of being rejected.  Mostly there is no response at all, just soul sucking silence.  Near the end of the book, she is offered a commission sales job selling health insurance.   The position provides her with no office, no benefits, no salary  and requires her to purchase a laptop,  use her 'home' office and take a course to be licensed (which requires purchasing several expensive textbooks).   All at her own expense. 

After six months and $6000 expense Erlenreich is forced to concede defeat.   But meanwhile, she still has a book to complete.   She interviews some fellow job seekers that she has met.   There are sad stories of abandoned hopes, leading to minimum wage jobs or temporary positions designed to keep financial insolvency at bay.    It's a scary world out there for those entering or re-entering the job market.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chained to your Cell Phone


Do you know someone, maybe quite a few someones, that always seem to have their cell phones close at hand?   Like a Wild West gun slinger, it perches at their hip, in their pocket or even as far away as a purse.  Always accessible, the owner is vigilant for a chirp or whistle, musical notes or a vibration that signals that someone, somewhere has thought of them.    

I've been at meetings where the cell phone is placed on the conference table; face down apparently is deemed more courteous.   During a lull in the discussion or if everyone's gaze is fixed on a flow chart on the wall, the cell phone is surreptitiously flipped over, scanned and entries are thumbed through.  The phone may then be dropped into the lap for some discreet texting.

Many jurisdictions have passed laws against texting and driving or talking on your cell phone while driving.   I'm not sure having a blue tooth phone in your ear helps with the distraction factor because the person you are talking to doesn't realize why you are pausing in your dialogue.   I have been engaged in interesting conversations while driving with the person in the passenger seat but when I pause, it is apparent that I am trying to make a left turn in a busy intersection or that something else on the road needs my total attention.   I can easily say, 'just a sec,' without feeling I need to explain.   This just isn't the same when your conversational partner is absent.

Some people feel the need to always have their cell phone within arm's reach.  They lay it on the bedside table at night and beside them when eating dinner.   If it is silent for too long, it seems necessary to check if something has been missed or isn't working.   This article in   U.S.A. Today informs us how many times a day people check and/or use their cell phone.   Guess.    Apple advises that their cell phone users unlock them eighty times a day.

But why?   The article states that frequent phone users, addicted phone users, get a little thrill, a little hit of dopamine, the happy brain hormone, every time their phone gives a little beep or shake.   And like any addiction it's not a positive thing.     No one would call it as harmful as cocaine or heroin.   It's a little closer to what propels a slot machine user to keep pushing the button when their wiser self knows they should stop.

It is probably also difficult for employees, some of whom are expected to be on call 24/7.  You used to have the excuse that you were on the road or visiting friends but no more.    Cell phone companies have no difficulties in increasing rates monthly and the cost of the cell phones themselves seems beyond what is reasonable.   It seems for many people it is one of life's necessities.  Maybe if it still looked like this:

or even this:

things would be different.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Negativity, drama or real life?

Upon a recommendation I started watching a British police program, Line of Duty.    There have been a lot of cop shows over the years.  Dragnet  and  Barney Miller were surely well wide of the mark in terms of realism although many found them entertaining.     I can only hope the recent addition is unrealistic as well, although in a different way.    The characters were deceptive, even corrupt and generally unpleasant people, and those weren't the criminals.

The opening scene had a British version of a SWAT team of at least a dozen heavily armed officers storm an apartment and shoot and kill  the man inside who was holding a baby while his wife looked on in horror.    It wasn't long before it was discovered that apartment 56, the target location,  was a few doors down.   The apartment they had entered was Number 59, but the second digit on the door was missing a nail and had swung down, therefore appearing to be a 6.

This was all bad enough  but before the van containing the police team had left the scene the officer in charge gave them all the version of events that they were to swear to at the upcoming inquest.   As long as they all stuck to that they would be exonerated.   They would swear under oath that the father was holding an incendiary device, not his baby, and threatened them with it.   It was rationalized that since apartment inhabitants were illegal immigrants there would be no one to say otherwise and the wife wouldn't be believed.

The plot line continued on with more examples of infidelity, deception, and just plain nastiness.  At some point I started to feel that my mood, my perception of the world, my hope for the future,  a good night's sleep  . . . would not be improved by continuing to view this program.     Also, I can't bring myself to believe that modern police forces operate this way and are populated by people like the characters in the show.   Maybe I'm naive but since there is nothing I can do about it, or most of the major world events, perhaps my state of mind would be improved by avoidance.    Maybe the Think globally, Act locally  mantra should be amended.   Just do your best in your own world and act with thoughtfulness and kindness not to mention foresight.   

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Are Studies Preferable to Action?


If you follow a particular issue that has meaning to you, do you get the feeling that a never-ending stream of studies is the preferred route of action?   Yet another report by university researcher, Nigel Raine, on the risk of extinction of bees is once again putting the blame on the pesticide class known as neonicotinoids.    One unfortunate result is that Bumblebee queens are 26% less likely to lay eggs.  

We need bees.   They do not exist to sting you but as this article in the National Post points out:

Bees are crucial to agriculture. Published reports suggest about a third of the crops eaten by humans depend on insect pollination, with bees responsible for about 80 per cent of that figure.

How many studies are necessary for the tipping point to ensure and actual action is taken?    Those who have other concerns and causes of interest, likely find similar patterns.  Why? 

BBC News

No blog post next week;   I'll be on vacation.