A New Year

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OK…a new start.  New house, new town, new car. Still working on selling the old house and the old little red sports car. The family van was donated to a local charity who has been able to use it in their program.

So what’s next?

I know myself well enough to realize I need a regular place to go to work/volunteer.  I am not enough of a self-starter to just make things happen on my own. In my new town, I have already accepted positions on two volunteer boards – a local theater company, and the Homeowners association for my townhome community. I am a true believer that  “when the time is right, the position will appear.”

There is a rehabilitation center in town – a great organization that provides an excellent work-out space, exercise machines and classes.  I have completed a volunteer application there – the main reason being that everyone in town seems to rotate through there in some capacity at some time. The first day I worked out, I saw three people that I know already – and considering how short my list of acquaintances is here, that was impressive.

I have also started attending a church close to my house that fits my belief system very well, and I participate in the music program. Again, a way to reach out into the community in a gradual way.

But until the next regular work/volunteer opportunity arises, what shall I do?

This blog started as a cooperative effort with another widow. We will be getting together soon to write a curriculum for a community college course (non-college-transfer). There is a branch in my new town, so I am optimistic about that upcoming effort.

House Sale Price Incentive (Lower the Price)

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After having the house on the market for 12 weeks, it’s time to increase the buyer’s incentive by lowering the price.  I learned that if you change the price, the listing goes back up to the top of Multiple Listings – plus the potential buyers are encouraged by “bargain buying”.  We lowered the price from $350,000 to $339,900.  My Move Manager immediately noted that the decrease “looks bigger than it is”… a concept that would not have occurred to me, but is absolutely true.  By reducing it to $339,900 instead of $340,000, it gives the impression of a much lower price by putting it in the 330,000s group instead of the 340,000s group.  Now, at Christmas time, we are having our highest traffic level to date.  When I expressed my surprise, Mr. Manager stated that if large corporations are going to transfer families (by giving the employee a big job opportunity in another city), they will often give notice to the employee in October, so that they have time to travel to the new site over the Holidays with their families to scope out the possibilities.

As the weeks go by, my out-of-pocket costs related to the “empty” house on the market have stabilized, but are still at $1400 per month. Granted, this is all not real expense, because after living in the house for 25 years, most of the payments now go to capital rather than paying for interest.  I will get most of the money back when I sell the house. But, the cash out is still $1400, and I’m paying it out-of-pocket.  That was also a factor in “speeding up” the sale by reducing the price.

An interesting technology experience came from the real estate agent sending me an Agency Agreement Amendment through DocuSign. I was not able to make the signature function work on my Smart Phone (an Android). When I tried to add the signature, the next screen was blank, but it did fine through Gmail, and I was able to print it for my file after a little encouragement.

We will see how the latest “trick of the trade” affects the sale of my lovely old house.

The Kitty’s Gift

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Just now, while I was sitting at the computer, editing a blog post, my little cat just came and sat in my lap, quietly. Just sat, and purred. Of course, I stopped what I was doing, and rubbed the cat in long strokes. She responded by purring her very quiet rumbling purr. She stayed there for about three minutes, then moved on.

Now, my little black cat, Arya, is an interesting little girl (about eighteen months old). She is not a lap cat, but is always in the room with me.  If I am working  and move to another room, she follows within a few minutes.  She quietly sits on the highest point she can find, (or, in contrast, on a chair under a table, or just on the floor under a chair, under some “cover”), tucks her front feet under her chest, and snoozes. Very quiet, very subtle. Just there, just company.

Arya very rarely purrs, and her purr is so quiet you feel it if you pet her, rather than hear it.  My other cat, 14-year-old Mew, has the world’s loudest purr – and she purrs often.  It also is a gift…in the evening, she will crawl up in my lap, or beside me on the couch and purr, and then, often, go to sleep nearby, seeming to purr when she is asleep sometimes.

But little Arya’s gift of a lap minute and a little purr was rare, and special.

I am blessed with two lovely feline friends.

Health Insurance 2015

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It is that time again, when we start to play the health insurance game.

I am the Poster Child for the person who needs insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  Without Obama Care, I would not have insurance, or have to pay at least $1000 a month for it.  My husband had always been a state employee (instructor at a community college), so had excellent health insurance.  When I was working for an organization where health insurance was available to employees, of course I participated.  But there was always the state health plan option.

When my husband’s employment ended, so did the State Health Plan for me.  At the meeting with the Human Recourses Department at the community college soon after my husband’s death, I was offered one month of COBRA (for my daughter and myself) for $1000. This was the end of March, 2014, and near the end of the initial enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Luckily, I had been meeting with a group of professional women during the last year, one of whom was working with ACA enrollment.  I immediately called her, and within a few days had the insurance that my daughter and I needed, at a very reasonable cost, because I had no income at that time – and really didn’t know what it was going to be in the future.  I had ended employment as Interim Manager of a local Thrift Shop a week prior to my husband’s death. It was a small nonprofit  organization, so, of course, it did not offer insurance to its employees.

So, now, here I am again in December, 2014. Time for a new enrollment.  I still am not employed, but work through the issues resulting from my husband’s death (selling a house, buying a house, moving, writing the blog, developing a widow’s financial management curriculum).  In the interim, I have qualified to receive my husband’s State Retirement, in addition to Social Security.  Between the two, I am able to live comfortably, pay college tuition for my daughter, and wait for the “big” house to sell (sooner rather than later would be nice, however!) .

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Insurance is my life preserver. My agent contacted me about a week ago and reminded me that it was time to start looking at options for next year.  With my current income, my ACA premium will be about $500 a month for me and my daughter. Thank goodness it is still available.

But – now I live in a new town, (very small), so I talked to my sister who lives here about physician options.  There is one doctor who attends the same church that I am, and has a great reputation.  My Agent suggested that one of my selection criteria should be “which provider pays your doctor’s invoices most promptly”.  So…I went to the office (3 employees, including the Doc) and asked the question:  “Which insurance company pays your bills most promptly?”  After her puzzled expression, I explained that her answer would be a major criteria in selecting my insurer under the ACA.

The lovely lady just laughed, and told me that Blue Cross Blue Shield had been doing a good job of reimbursing their costs.

So – Blue Cross, Blue Shield it is.

Seven Weeks After the Move

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Now it is about seven weeks since I moved my home from Big City to Small Town – from a 2800 sq. ft. house with full attic storage to a 1500 sq. ft. town home  (with a 2-car garage). We lived in the house for over twenty years, and rarely threw anything away. I take full responsibility for that issue, and would do it differently had I to do it again (and am determined to pare down going forward).

But I also moved quickly because a large town home in a group I had been eyeing for several years (for a mountain get-away) miraculously became available. I knew that it would not remain on the market long, so quickly made an offer, which was accepted.

Another positive synchronicity was that the market value of the “old” house was up 30% over the prior year.  I had known for some time that we needed to down-size, but market-values had been soft, so I delayed selling – the investment in the house represented a good portion of our retirement “nest-egg.”  Then, this Spring, the value went up by almost 40% from the prior year. Obviously, the time was right to sell.

BUT…then there was no time for the slow winnowing through a family’s 30 years of life together.  My sister, when she decided to move to Small Town, had the luxury of taking three years for the clearing process I had to complete in three months.

Of course, the result was that a lot of things were moved that should not have been.  Now there are boxes, and boxes, and boxes…Actually, from a high of about 350, I am down to 75 or so…fifteen of them are Christmas paraphernalia of various types – Christmas China, ornaments, lights, clothes, wreathes – you get the idea.  As I write this, it is December 3.  Tonight I have no desire to winnow through Christmas boxes.  It’s just not going to happen.

The closets are hard…the wedding gown that my sister and I both wore (but is just not my daughter’s style), dresses from recitals, family weddings, t-shirts from vacations and graduation gowns… the ones that are still beautiful, but just out of style, or too small. There are still many of those in my closet that really must be purged – sometime soon.

But no easier are items from the kitchen – platters, bowls, glasses (how many sizes of wine glass do you need, and how many of each??) crock pot, punch bowl, salad bowl, soup tureen- all those lovely large pieces that I intellectually know I will not use again (or can borrow from one of my sisters who live here Small Town).  Truly difficult is acknowledging that all those family moments will happen much less frequently, and last a shorter time…intellectually I know those things, but it does not make the paring down process any easier.

The symbol of it all is the “good china”  that we all registered as young brides-to-be, and collected as friends and family built our “trousseau.”  It filled our china cabinets for years, looking beautiful, and (at least in my case), was used, at most, five times over 42 years of marriage. Now, it is (again) taking up space in a china cabinet (silly me) at least for now. I think I will know that I have gotten over this mountainous bump in my road when I give up the “good china”.

One of my new missions (should I be so blessed), is to teach my grandchildren how to keep those things that they love, and let the rest go. I can count the items I have from my mother on one hand, each highly valued. I will be writing about the process I develop for retention (and release) of all the “excesses” over the next year as I teach myself to “winnow”.  I hope you will all join me and share stories and ideas and resources as I explore this path.

The New Life

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That sounds really dramatic – a new life.

But EVERYTHING is different in the new town, the new house, new car, new Vet, new theater, new friends.
I still stay connected to a few of my old friends, but I was never a social butterfly, and as I look at possibilities for the upcoming years, there seems to be nothing but questions about my immersion into a new community.
Two nonprofit boards have approached me to join, and I have accepted. I just cannot come into a community and not expect to contribute to the organizations that make it work. The two that I have agreed to join are the homeowners association for my little group of town homes, and a regional theater company. I have not decided whether to work for compensation yet. My memory has never been great, but all the challenges of the year have left my cognitive abilities at a woefully inadequate level. I would love to teach piano and college level courses again, but both require more development. The last time I taught a full studio of 30 students it took about three years to build.
A fellow widow that has been providing friendly support since my husband died has been proofing my blog entries, sharing her own experiences, and talking about a continuing education curriculum for widows which will probably be the next challenge to complete. There is a local community college here, and the curriculum continues to take shape. Hopefully, after the holidays, I can find an appropriate group and venue for offering the curriculum. Last week a group of us chatted over dinner, especially about the challenges of widowhood: the feeling of isolation, the lack of a road map for how to deal with the reinventing of a life. They encouraged me, again, to work on the “class”.
But it is hard. Reading (of course) could infinitely defer/delay/derail the process. It is so tempting to just pick up a book and leave your life for a few hours. But then when I close the cover, I am back exactly where I was before.
I need to move forward.

As, a CPA, I am compelled to do it in an ordered, substantive manner. So – there needs to be some type of method of measuring progress. There must be a measurement tool, and a definition of items to measure, with a weighted evaluation scale. Ah, now I think I have my next project. Look out for the Widows Measurement Tool for Social Reintegration (maybe I can find a little more euphemistically acceptable name). That will do for a working title (WMTSR).

Let me know if you have a more creative title or experiences you would like to share!

Small Towns and Cable Challenges

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I have now been living in Small Town, USA for two weeks.

One of the first things I did on arrival (two weeks ago) was call the local cable company and ask them to install cable in my townhome. I had consulted several people about the various available options. There was already a dish hanging off the back balcony, but I really wasn’t interested in that choice.  There was also a manly movie option that offered no local programming, and one group offering cable but no phone and no internet. I really need all three, and really don’t want to work with three different vendors for those services.

I was spoiled, as are most people living in large metropolitan areas, by the availability of one major vendor who provided phone, internet and cable.  With VERY rare interruption, we enjoyed the world at our fingertips, including internet that was always there, cable channels that offered sports from around the world 24/7, a choice of 20 movies (most of the time) and LOTS of network options. My favorite relaxers were crime dramas – “Castle,” “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” “Cold Case.” I was also a fan of the old movies.  Not long before I moved, one evening I ran across the old John Wayne film The High and the Mighty – a great tale of a plane full of passengers with engine trouble on the long flight between Hawaii and California. Those shows were my usual “downers” – a great old movie, a kitty or two for company, and a mug of warm tea. I know I could have rented the movie, ordered it from Net Flix, or found it several other ways, but there was always the joy of finding something that you would never have ordered right there on your screen, the perfect relaxer after a stressful day.

I also spent some time each day developing and coordinating the up and coming world of widow friends, through meetings, classes, web posts, and working on a curriculum for that group. Much of the new ideas came from surfing the net, finding little gems, sharing them with others, refining the course.

Now, all of that is pretty much dead in the water.  I called the cable company after a week and was told that they would get to me as soon as possible.  I called after two weeks, and was told that there was a long line of installations, and they would get to me before Christmas (it is now early November).

My sister lives in the same town (15 minutes away), but they already offer much support (unloading boxes, clearing the garage, introducing me at church) that I am working on alternative internet sources. There are several places in town, including the local coffee shop (an upstairs room with tables and great coffee), and the Big Grocery Store with a Starbucks (where I am now).

And so it goes for now (until Christmas??)

You will all hear the celebratory whoop when the cable man comes to my door, and the cats and I can surf the cable options for those lovely old movies and travel shows.