Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Admit, I'm Selfish

When I watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address this week, I listened with a somewhat biased mind – biased toward the protection of my happy, healthy, financially-secure life. I often describe my political leanings as “Financially Conservative and Socially Liberal”. I am wary of government waste and free-spending that drive taxes higher without long-term benefit for the majority of U.S. residents. And, honestly, after working since the age of 15 (sometimes 7 days a week at 2 jobs), paying off my student loans, working a high-stress corporate job that infringed on my personal life for years, paying taxes at a pretty high rate, and never once having to file for unemployment – I strongly believe I have earned the right to protect the life I have built!

There were two statements from the SOTU Address that spoke directly to me:

“What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition. “

Now that we are no longer covered by a corporate-subsidized health insurance program, Ron and I pay for our own individual health insurance. Although I consider myself to be pretty healthy now, my history as a colon cancer-survivor, among other minor managed conditions (like high cholesterol), are problematic. My application for individual coverage was denied, and I was only able to obtain coverage because Illinois has a government-subsidized program for “high risk” candidates. I pay $700 a month for insurance, and have a $2500 annual deductable. Arizona has no such program (until ObamaCare kicks in fully in 2014), so I don’t know what we will do for my health insurance when we move in 2012. We may only be able to obtain Catastrophic coverage. It’s a crap shoot, and it makes me angry.

“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”

Ron and I have planned meticulously for many years in regard to the funding of our retirement. We had to make some conservative assumptions about Social Security, earnings on investments, taxes, and inflation. If there are any really major changes that invalidate our assumptions, our future will be at risk. We weathered the recession pretty well, and are always willing to modify our plans; but I don’t want the government pulling the rug out from under us financially.

Although I was admittedly self-focused about some of the content - I did listen to the entire address, and have interest in and opinions about most of what Obama put on the table. For example, I would love to see high speed rail throughout the country. I believe that we should take better care of the soldiers that serve our country, along with their families. Personally, I thought the Sputnik reference was kind of off the mark. Overall, I was gratified to hear Obama show evidence of a more centrist position; a position I believe better reflects the policies of the majority of his constituency across the country.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Eyeful

My mother and my younger sister, Althea, are visiting us in Prescott this week. Since neither have been to Sedona (and especially because Althea is a photographer), we decided to drive to Sedona yesterday for some sightseeing.

The “direct” route to Sedona takes us through some plains, up on a winding pass over Mingus Mountain and through the tiny former mining town of Jerome. Jerome is now a town of artists and free spirits; a unique and historic place that draws tourists and hikers. We visited a few galleries and enjoyed the view of the valley from the east side of the mountain.

Once through Jerome, you can see hints of the splendor of Red Rock country 30 miles away. From a distance, haze dilutes the intensity of the natural colors in the desert rocks. The closer you get, the more the glow of the rock formations fills your eyes, draws you in, and stirs the blood.

Photo by Althea Haropulos
In the late afternoon the rocks both absorb and reflect the golden sunlight, creating a stunning red- orange and purple glow. The surrounding foliage- green, gray, and brown, provides a frame to anchor the unearthly beauty of the Red Rocks. Fragrant sage adds another element to enjoyment of the view.

We weren’t able to spend time hiking, but did get out of the car at several points to take photos. With a camera, one can only capture representative frames of specific scenes. Even the eye and brain can be overwhelmed as a result of trying to take in and “process” the entire vista.

Photo by Althea Haropulos
If you haven’t been to Sedona, put it on your Travel “Must See” list and prepare for an eyeful! We have so many sights to see and appreciate in these United States.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Time to Take Care

The New Year has brought me a renewed commitment to eating right and exercising regularly. We are thankful that our life of leisure allows us to spend the time required to do both properly without feeling frenetic.

Seven years ago (the year after recovering from my bout with colon cancer), there was a period when I was getting up at 5:30am to get to the gym by 6. I’d work out for an hour, then hurry home to get ready to leave for work. Work days were long…often lasting until 6 or 7pm. Exhausted and really hungry, I got into a bad habit of eating whatever I wanted and making it worse by eating late in the evening. Somehow I felt like I “deserved” it…for being good about my workout regimen, and giving so much to my job. Phooey and Hogwash!

Now retired, it’s a pleasure to take the time to take care of ourselves. I can do an extensive workout, taking about an hour and a half. Usually I do 45 minutes to an hour of cardio (elliptical or treadmill, and stationary bike), 100 to 150 abdominal crunches, and a short circuit with weights for some strength and toning. Here at Talking Rock Ranch, we have a first-class fitness center. The cardio equipment has TV’s and headphones, which keep me from staring at the clock. (“All I need to do is watch another HGTV show, and I’m done!”) No excuses in Chicago either, as Ron’s Man Cave has a TV, an elliptical, free weights, and a mat for floor exercises and stretching. Since I’m getting into the routine in Prescott, I can continue my goal to workout 5 days a week when we get back to the city. Ideally, I would like to drop another 20 pounds.

As far as eating goes… We know how to do this right. I have to count my carbs, to keep Type II Diabetes at bay. Low Carbs = No Meds for Laurel. Lots of protein, plenty of fiber, some dairy, and the right veggies and fruits are the ticket. We stay away from most processed/packaged foods. Those we do buy, we check labels carefully. Read the nutritional information! Many so-called “healthy” products are loaded with unhealthy carbs, silly levels of sodium, and other chemicals you don’t need.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Actually, I was giving myself a pep talk. Onward to a better body!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What "Moves" Me

I’ve read several stories about people relocating in retirement to their dream location – only to move back “home” within a year or two. What some find is that starting over in a new town is challenging. They miss their friends and their comfortable routines…favorite restaurants, stores they recognize, the place they built over time in the familiar community.

Many of us have dreams about where we would live if it weren’t for the constraints of jobs, family, or money. Dreams are great; in fact I believe they are important to creating a happy life. But introspection and planning are important too. And we should always leave a little room for serendipity.

I’m one of those odd birds who like change. I grew up in Maryland and went to college and started my career in the Chicago area. Over the years, Hilton moved me to Dallas (where Ron and I met), to Las Vegas, and then to Memphis. When we retired in 2008, we moved to Chicago. In the spring of 2010 we bought a house in Prescott, AZ. One of our friends recently referred to us as “rolling stones”. We’ve loved the adventures moving has brought to our lives. In each location, we reveled in exploring, meeting people, establishing our routines, and making a place to live into a home.

When we have moved in the past, the most difficult changes to face were dismantling our home, and leaving friends behind. That’s when you feel keenly what is really important. But the reality is that we have confidence that we can make a home wherever we choose. Our families are spread around the country, and so are our friends. Reunions are sweet, special events.

What moves me these days is the continued joy we get in becoming intimate with our adopted city of Chicago, the awe of exploring the natural wonders that the Prescott area has to offer, and interacting with all of the people close to us.

It was particularly moving and joyful to ring in the New Year at Talking Rock Ranch with our friends in Prescott. What a pleasure to look around the room and see all the happy faces, to accept greetings, hugs and kisses, and to wriggle around the dance floor in a celebration of life. Hello 2011! I think YOU ROCK!