Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life in the Fast Lane

I needed to visit my dentist yesterday. My knee surgery and moving and other problems had kept me away, and anyway, I have always avoided dentists when I could.

Another reason to avoid my dentist is the difficulty of getting to his office. It's not that it's far away, but there is absolutely no parking anywhere nearby, and I no longer live within walking distance, at least for me.

Takin g a bus involves too much walking, too. Taking a cab is easy, but getting one on the way home is less so. Anyway, living at the Clare gives me another perk: complimentary transportation within a certain area, including my dentist's street. Keith drives a big Town Car, by appointment, free of charge. He is employed by the building.

We've had this service for some time, but I've never used it. After all, I'm within walking distance of most things, and I own a car, too. Having a car and driver to depend on is not only beyond my budget, but against my middle class sensibilities. Yesterday, I decided to try it anyway.

Now I'm beginning to appreciate the luxuries of the wealthy. What a convenience to climb into a waiting car, get to my destination quickly, and get picked up for the ride home! I could get used to such things.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Income Tax? It's Easier Than You May Think

Every year about this time, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I begin to dread the annual ritual of filing my income taxes, state and federal. The very thought is enough to make me find other things to do, or worse yet, to go on an eating binge. I avoided the latter this year, but the dread was still there.

Actually, I've discovered over the years that filling out tax forms is easy, thanks to the computer and Turbo Tax. This is not an advertisement for Turbo Tax; I'm sure other programs do just as well, but that's the one Ive used for some years. I really believe that any educated, computer-savvy person should be able to file his or her own taxes as long as they don't involve complicated transactions. Those with million-dollar portfolios can easily afford the best accountants, so I'm not talking about them.

I guess I made my decision to do my own taxes years ago, when one of my freshman English students wrote about getting a job at a popular tax service despite her lack of training and knowledge. Considering that student's modest reading and writing abilities, I could understand why she didn't last long in the job. More importantly, my fierce sense of independence kicked in. Surely I could do a better job than she did. I went ahead, with my husband's blessings. He always left accounting matters to me.

The very simple federal tax form can be completed for free online, but then there are usually charges for upgraded tax programs, state forms, and e-filing (which I've also done since it became available). As a repeat customer with a need for something just a bit more advanced, I just started filling in my information in Turbo Taxd Deluxe, paid the fees (just under $100, including sales tax), by credit card, and finished in a couple of hours. You can try the program without charge.

The good news is that for the first time in many years, I get a tax refund. Not much has changed; I just overpaid my estimated tax, but I appreciate any bit of good news. I'll pay less in estimated taxes this year. Not having bought or sold any individual stocks, I can't write off any losses, but my mutual funds may eventually recover.

So after a couple hours of work, I've finished my income taxes. Yes, I pay a lot (my pension income is mainly taxable by the feds, and my required minimum withdrawals from my tax-sheltered annuities are definitely taxed.) So far, the state of Illinois does not tax retirement income, but I fear that's about to change.

By this morning, I'd been notified by e-mail that both my federal and state tax forms had been accepted, and my refund will be in my bank account fairly soon. I felt relief; why had I spent so much time dreading all this? Thanks to computers, doing taxes is easy for many of us. Unless you're in a complicated tax situation, don't be afraid. Just pull out your tax information and sit down at the computer.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Confessions of an (Almost) Reformed Couch Potato

I've always been a couch potato: overweight, inactive, awkward, and lazy. I was never athletic; I never participated in any sports in high school or college. I've certainly been prodded by parents, doctors, and friends to get moving, but I've seldom done so. The inactivity brought on by my fairly recent knee replacement surgery only made things worse.

Now I find that this retirement paradise where I live is serious about fitness. Not that anyone forces anyone into any activity, but there's always a list of exercise classes and activities, from beginning to advanced, on the schedule.

Thanks to my visiting niece, who prodded me gently, I began to attend a beginning excercise class three times a week. Guess what? I've stayed with it. I also try to visit the fitness room to use the exercise bike, recumbent cross trainer, even the treadmill, twice a week or so. For the first time in my long life, I seem to be sticking to an exercise routine. Will wonders never cease?

I once owned a treadmill. Along with the recumbent exercise bike that replaced it, it served as a good rack for clothes and as a dustcatcher. I seldom bothered to use either. So what's the difference? For one thing, I have a "now or never" feeling. If I don't get into shape now, when will I? Time may be running out.

Then there's peer pressure. We have a skilled, kind leader who understands elders. It's comforting to see fellow residents obviously older and less fit than I (along with others more fit) exercising together. I'll never be the star of the class, but I can generally keep up. It's annoying and embarrassing to have one arm I can't raise over my head and legs that give out occasionally, but I'm used to those problems, and nobody comments.

The Clare is serious about all this. I had to give permission to contact my doctor (she'll be overjoyed to hear that I'm getting out of my recliner to exercise) and sign an agreement not to hold the staff responsible for injury or death. Actually, I'm more likely to die at the dinner table than on the exercise equipment, so signing was not a problem.

Now, I hope I can keep this up. It's easy to make excuses when I feel tired or sore, but in reality, exercise usually peps me up. Now if I can stop using food to cure depression, my body may have a chance. I guess it's better late than never to give up my couch potato status, but it may be a struggle.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Amortality? Not For Me

In this age of Botox and cryonic preservation of bodies, it's no wonder that someone (Catherine Mayer, in #5 of "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now," Time, March 23, 2009) has coined a new term: "Amortality." "It's more than just the ripple effect of baby boomers' resisting the onset of age. Amortality is a stranger, stronger alchemy, created by the intersection of that trend with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion--all viewed through the blue haze of Viagra."

"Amortal" is Mayer's term for those who seem to "live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death." One example is singer Madonna. The idea is apparantly a quest never to get old or slow down, no matter what.

As a woman well beyond baby boomer age, I have had some years to learn to deal with the aging process, and I neither expect or want to live forever. I have slowed down in many ways, and I have no desire to be a human dynamo--or an amortal. Being old has its perks. Those of us fortunate enough to have planned for our "golden years" ("amortals rarely make adequate provision for their final years") enjoy the luxury of not working. I, for one, try to keep active, but I have no desire to be "on the go" all the time, like a few of my contemporaries.

I wonder if the typical amortal knows the joys of reclining with a good book and a view of Lake Michigan on a sunny day? How about the occasional half-day spent at the computer in an old robe and without makeup, bloogging about whatever comes to mind?

I'm all for happy, healthy aging, but it seems to me that some retirees try too hard. The idea of being booked with constant activities, whether bridge, golf, shuffleboard, or even cultural events, to name just a few possibilities, makes me tired. I admit to being a loner with reclusive tendencies, but I do make sure to get out from time to time.

To the baby boomers and my fellow elders, my advice is to relax. Don't slow down too much, but listen to your mind and your body. Do you really want to play bridge again? Are three concerts in a week too many? Are you always tired? I, for one, am mortal, and I'll do my best to prolong and enjoy the aging process. Trying to be an amortal is not for me.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Comforting Return to Routine

Yesterday I returned to my old volunteer post at the Chicago Cultural Center for the first time in more than five months. My old Thursday morning shifts at the Washington Street information desk were parts of my routine for about two years, and I enjoyed them.

My knee operations kept me away for a long while. Of course someone else took over my regular shift, and I considered not returning. Still, I found that I need the certainty of a familiar place to go. Yesterday, the Washington Street security guard greeted me enthusiastically and brought me his newspapers to read during quiet times. Things were back to normal. Unfortunately, many of the other people I knew at the Cultural Center, including the Director of Volunteers, were victims of Chicago's budget cuts while I was away.

My volunteer job is a no-brainer; I mainly give directions to different events and exhibits, and to the washrooms, the Senior Center, the gift shop, and the Chicago Visitors' Center. I've been told, however, that seeing a welcoming, smiling face is important to tourists who may wander into the building in bewilderment. The building is beautiful, and many of the exhibits are fascinating. I hope to attend more concerts and other activities there in the future.

So I'm overcoming my intertia back at the information desk. Boring? Occasionally, but it's a routine that seems to suit me. I hope I get my Thursday morning schedule back, but if not, I'll fill in when needed. Next up: next Friday afternoon.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Good Financial News for a Change

Aren't the news reports dreary these days? No wonder I was depressed by the idea of a nearly half-million dollar promissory note coming due. It all depended on the sale of my condo, and there were no takers.

I'm happy to say that the condo has been sold, my note has been paid, and the pressure is off. Worrying about money is a new experience for me, but I hope my worries are over. Now if the state of Illinois can only keep its pension systems going!

Each day, I talk to other Clare residents also waiting for buyers for their houses and condos. I guess I was lucky, relatively speaking. No wonder some of us old folks ask, "What's the world coming to?" No one at The Clare is likely to starve or become homeless, but we feel compassion for those elders less fortunate than we are.

Now I hope that the news reports get better. It's hard for us seniors to recover what we've lost.

Plumbers and Hot Water: They Just Take Time

A week or so ago, my shower spouted one temperature of water: luke-warm. I complained, and a plumber came in to fix it. I asssumed that all was well, but the next day, I discovered that no water came from that shower at all. I have another shower stall, but that one was filled with pictures awaiting hanging on my walls.

Soon my niece came to visit, so fortunately she did the heavy lifting and we cleaned out the guest shower stall. I'd never tried that shower, but we discovered that it worked fine.

Fast-forward a week: today, three plumbers arrived at my door. After a lot of effort and two visits, they got my shower working again, or at least I hope so. Actually, one shower is enough for me, but I prefer the more convenient one. Besides, I may have a guest again in the future.

I'm beginning to appreciate the complications of getting a large high-rise building up and running.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Few Senior Living Notes

My niece, Cindy, left yesterday after a short visit. She managed to hang many of the pictures and other artifacts that had been cluttering my bathtub and one of the shower stalls. A few bigger works still await hanging, but the place looks much better. It was great to have her here.

My real estate closing is over, and I'm relieved. I now have enough money to pay the rest of my considerable fee here.

I attended my first exercise class yesterday, at the urging of Cindy. I am in sad physical shape, but exercising among other elders certainly beats trying to work out with young, toned Yuppies elsewhere.

Our white tablecloth dining room's charm was enhanced this morning by small vases on the tables, each containing two or three brilliantly-colored flowers. I don't know where they were grown, but those flowers seem to foretell the eventual coming of spring.