Monday, February 27, 2017

New Plan Progress #1

It may seem early for a progress report on a plan that I just posted about two weeks ago.  It definitely would be, but I had been working this plan while I was still in Costa Rica and I hit the ground running.  This is a short month, the shortest of all moths, which is good because I've started with reasonable goals.

Goal: Document every calorie I eat, and try to only eat out with friends.
Reality: I did document every single calorie.  I also cut out a lot of calories.  I expect to have lost about 8 pounds by the end of the month.  I'm very pleased, but this is the area I have the most experience in.  As far as making my own food goes, I really only cheated and ate out on my own three times so far.  I even made my own hummus from dried chick peas.

Goal: Document everything.
Reality: I did document every purchase.  I would probably be satisfied with how much I paid off my credit card this month if I couldn't see how much I wasted as well.  Some of it was one time expenses like a deposit on an apartment, and a couple of years worth of prepaid minutes for a cell phone for my mother.  I spend more on gifts than I thought.  But I definitely spent less on food, and am eager to do better next month with this new information.

Goal: Do some research.
Reality: I have made a concerted effort to speak more clearly while speaking to customers, and that has gone well.  I've learned that concentrating on enunciating does slow me down, and is easier than focusing on the speed.
I've also learned that strengthening your diaphragm is supposed to give you more voice control and range.  You can exercise these muscles by making a loud "shushing" sound.  My goal next moth will be to work on shushing daily, maybe a 30 times a day to start.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Word about Marriage

“ … take everything with a grain of it … “

I was going to share a story about a lost purse, have begun writing it, but saw this wedding toast in a Sunday bulletin and thought it worth reading. I hope you find it worth reading, as well.


It’s hard to keep a house without salt. It adds flavor and taste to just about every dish.

If you run out of toothpaste, you can brush with a mixture of soda and salt because of salt’s cleansing qualities.

If you develop a sore throat, you can gargle with salt because of its healing properties.

If you’re hungry, you can cure a ham or other meat with salt because of its preserving qualities.

You can use salt to melt the ice that builds up in the winter cold; salt can also be used to put out fires that flare up.

So if you’ll bring to the marriage the qualities found in salt – the cleansing quality, the healing quality, the preserving
quality –

If you use it to enhance the flavor of your life together; to melt the ice that will build up and put out the fires that will occasionally flare up between you; and, of course, if you take everything with a grain of it, you will have a long and happy life together.

As a man approaching thirty-five years of marriage, and thirty-five years of happy marriage, I can attest to the wisdom in this toast.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, February 20, 2017

Life Beyond Roads

I'm ready to say that the tentative new plan is to try to be a flight attendant.  Or is this just a refinement of my original plan?  This plan does bring me out of Minnesota, but on a much grander level, and a grand lifestyle change.

The pay would be low for at least the first year, but at the same time, many of the things I currently spend money on wouldn't be necessary.  They often feed you for example.  I'd also be out of town for at least half the week, so I could get a bed at a "crash pad" like a lot of other flight attendants.  And those two or three nights a week when I have layovers, the airline would put me up somewhere nice.  On my days off I could entertain myself by flying anywhere I want for free.

Then the pay gets better.  From what he tells me, I think I'd be good at picking up the shifts people don't want.  I'd also get some prime routes by working nights, holidays, and just by being the flexible person I've always been.  The median earnings of a flight attendant is slightly higher than what I'm currently earning, and that doesn't count all the perks.

I do need to make some changes, and they will take time.  I've also already committed to signing a one year lease on an apartment with a friend, so lets call that our time frame.  I'm giving myself fourteen months to prepare.

I need to put a major dent in my credit card debt.
I'm thinking of getting a second job with all the extra time I'm getting from the move.  But even if I didn't, I could have it mostly paid off by then just by being a responsible adult.  I am making more than I ever have, so I have no excuses.  I've started keeping close track of my spending using the Mint app.

I need to learn to eat cheaper, and more healthy.
This is to lose some weight, and also to prepare for a temporarily lower income.  I think I'm already on my way to that.  I've decided to stop eating out unless I'm with friends.  I've also started keeping close track on my food using the Myfitnesspal app.

I'd like to learn to communicate better.
That means learning to talk slower, and enunciating more clearly.  I do have some ideas for that.

I need to be hired.
I think I'm a great interviewee.  I think this one will be in the bag if I can accomplish my other goals.

I came back from my trip free of the rut I've been in.  I'm mentally prepared to make some real changes.  I think I can do this.  And if I change my mind later, these are very positive changes I'm making.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

It’s the internet speed, stupid

“I don’t want to do business with an outfit that does business like that.”

I answered the doorbell; two young men were there, wanting to talk about ( Company Name )’s upgraded internet service. I was intrigued. Ellie and I have 12 Mbps DSL service and I am happy with our provider. But I am a techie and know that my internet speed is not very speedy. I let them talk, and became interested.

Long story short: ( Company Name ) had recently upgraded its network in my neighborhood, it was offering promotions and I could have what I have now ( internet plus phone ) except with the internet at 40 Mbps for about what we’re now paying ( $ X ). For months Ellie and I had spoken about getting rid of our land phone line. Here was a great opportunity: if I wanted just internet, and didn’t wish to rent the modem, the monthly cost would be less than $ X/2. To aid decision-making, they assured me I could change the order’s specifics up until installation. “Where do I sign up?”

They called Customer Service and placed the order for internet plus phone. I spoke with CS as well. Returning the phone, I understood that I would talk to CS one more time. During the last portion of the call, however, the salesman took notes and hung up. He gave me several papers, including one with a printed phone number which he crossed out and replaced with another, which he called to my attention saying, “This’ll get you to Customer Service a lot quicker.” I thanked them; they departed.

It was only then that I noticed there was no cost information on anything they had left. 

I had a very unproductive call with Customer Service the next day. Before that, however, I had to get around the dead number my salesman wrote on the form he left. ( “The promotion for the number you are calling is no longer valid; please call … .” ) I successfully contacted Customer Service by calling the pre-printed number the salesman had crossed out.

“Hello, I’m calling to get the cost of service I ordered yesterday.”

The agent was familiar with traveling salespeople, but could not understand why I had not gotten the email with cost information. After investigating, he told me it was because the movement of my phone number had not begun.

He continued, “There really will be no actual cost information in the email, though. It will have the non-promotion costs for everything, plus the name of the promotion being applied to those costs.”

Huh?” “So … the only way I know what to expect on my bill is because of what you’re about to tell me in this phone call?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

I was stunned; “That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard of.” I added something unintelligible.

The phone call continued its downward trajectory. The CS agent told me the cost of the service I had ordered is approximately what I expected
( $ X ), but “ … that doesn’t include the monthly ten dollar modem rental.” Also, “Because we’re offering TV in your area, there is no promotion for internet-only; the retail cost of internet-only is $ X.”

Dazed, I pondered the result of our neighborhood salesmen’s visit: no documentation of cost, a worthless telephone number, an incorrect quote for the cost of my order, and an incorrect quote for the cost of what I was most interested in. I conveyed my annoyance to the agent with whom I was speaking. He got it. Nothing to be done.

Ellie and I were of like minds: we did not feel good about doing business with ( Company Name ). The travelling salesmen were either liars or incompetent; neither was a pleasant explanation. The inability to get a written statement of the cost of service was, we thought, beyond ridiculous. “Let’s not do this,” we said, virtually simultaneously.

Knowing which number to call, I dialed CS again; “Hi. I would like to cancel the service I ordered the day before yesterday ... ”

The CS agent was more than courteous; “I can help you. Do you have a reason?”

I told her the story, ending with, “I don’t want to do business with an outfit that does business like that.” We had a nice conversation, she cancelled the order, and I’ve happily returned to my 12 Mbps internet.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, February 13, 2017

The New Plan?

Meandering around the countryside with my cousin gave us time to talk.  We're very different in a lot of ways; he is a very confident man, for example.  But we have a lot in common as well.  We got to talking about his job as a flight attendant and I couldn't get enough.  He's done this for 20 years, and always made it sound like a job I'd want, but not one I can have.  I'm not a very attractive man or good with people, right?

For starters, they do hire based on grooming and presentation, but not based on physical beauty.  Surprisingly, I'm only on the borderline of high for the weight they accept, but I meet all of their other physical requirements, and I was planning to lose some weight already.  I even have a pretty white smile thanks to my trip to Thailand.

As for the customer service portion, haven't I been doing that for years?  I wasn't hired for tech support based on my winning personality, but I think I'm pretty friendly on the phone and it certainly is a factor.  Before that I was a leasing agent for years, and did great at sales by the end.  I keep thinking of myself as the socially awkward person I was when I was 20, but I've grown a lot since then.

I don't have any local financial or family commitments.  I was tentatively planning on moving anyways.  I also don't experience jet lag or ear pressure issues.  I have a lot of patience.  And in addition to serving, they do make sure the safety rules are followed.  I can definitely be a stickler for detail.

The more I talked to him, the more I realized I can do this.  By the time we said our goodbyes I had a clear picture in my head.  It's a different path than I saw for myself just a couple of weeks ago, but I think I like what I see.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Let's Get on With It

As you know, if you’ve been paying attention, the election of Donald Trump as POTUS has shaken me. The noise around how to handle his nominees … give them a fair hearing or scuttle from the get-go as much as possible … left me unclear about even what I wanted to happen. Just recently I signed a No Labels petition to immediately give Donald Trump’s SCOTUS nominee a hearing.

( No Labels is an independent political group whose interest is in getting work done, getting members of the various political parties together to agree on issues to be resolved and then working to resolve them. I had heard from them well before the election and both their agenda and their tone engaged me. E-mails just before Thanksgiving included, for example, hints about how to talk to that ornery uncle/brother/cousin/sister who voted for the other guy. It said, in part ( my emphases ),

“No Labels has been fighting an uphill battle to make our political discourse more civil, more grounded in the facts and more constructive.

This effort starts with you. It starts with leading by example, not just abstractly wishing for our political leaders to be better.

So if you are talking politics this year, here is the No Labels key word: empathy. Try to really understand where the person across the table is coming from. Listen instead of just loading up the next attack while the other person is talking.

Try to understand where your aunt, uncle, dad or brother is coming from, which means never starting a sentence with the following phrase: "How could you possibly vote for...!?!" That's only going to put the person you ask on the defensive.”

Not rocket science, for sure, but good reminders about communication skills and an excellent reminder that divisiveness can start and end with me. )

Their petition letter said, among other things and paraphrasing, “this is not the time for political retribution.” The overall no-nonsense attitude I have gotten from No Labels in the past put me in touch with their good intentions and put me over the edge about what to do and even how to think regarding the nomination.

I’d seen and read other items, most of which said something like, “The Democrats need to develop some spine,” some of which said, “the court needs a 9th justice, get on with the consideration of this nominee.” My own knee-jerk reaction was with those wanting the Democrats to get a spine, but I also knew that my knee-jerk reaction was neither my best self nor a basis on which to decide. I was, and remain, concerned that giving a fair hearing will only embolden the Republicans to more dirty – though entirely lawful – tricks. My perception is they are completely shameless. I know that fear is not a good reason to decide much of anything, and the urging of No Labels put me over the top.

So … I am now squarely behind vetting Judge Gorsuch. I doubt that I want him confirmed, though I do like his notion that the role of the judiciary is other than creating new law, only interpreting the law that is in front of it.

My fervent hope, regardless of who the ultimate justice is, is that there is enough written law and Constitutional limits on Presidential power that our current President is unable to govern as he seems to have been trying to do since the inauguration. And that the judges who hear the cases are independent enough to make the appropriate decisions and have tools adequate to the task of enforcing them.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, February 6, 2017

So How was Costa Rica?

I had a lot of fun.  I could go on and on, so I'll break it down a bit.

The Good

All of nature.  The weather was comfortable, and an amazing escape from a Minnesota winter.  From the cloud forests to the beaches, to the breathtaking views resting casually in the background everywhere you looked, the land is beautiful.  Even a few hot humid days were a welcome escape for me.  We also saw some amazing local wild life, like anteaters, armadillos, sloths, and owls.  I even saw a humming bird, and a couple of blue morpho butterflies.

The people were friendly and helpful in general.  The women were gorgeous, and often wore clothing that showed off their curves.  The nice weather helped with that too.

Fresh fruit and vegetables were everywhere we went.  A lot of local dishes had a black bean hummus I liked.  Fried plantains were popular as well.  I'll probably work both into my diet, along with agua dulce, which I'll go into more detail on in another post.

The Bad

There were definitely some smells.  Their sewage system isn't as developed as we're used to, and toilet paper goes in the trash.  This was a minor issue for someone with a minor sense of smell like me.

Prices are as high as they are in the US in a lot of cases.  They have carefully crafted an economy with a low cost of living for the poorer locals while keeping prices up for the tourists.  Essentially everything a non-tourist wouldn't want costs more, and then some of the things in the gray area have no prices listed so they can charge locals one price, and tourists another.  I hoped to get a massage everyday of my trip, but it was hard to find good ones, and then they were often as expensive as there are back home.

The Ugly

We did have the SUV broken into.  That meant we had to spend $15 a night parking the new SUV in secured parking.  Then there was the police officer who wanted a bribe to get out of the ticket.  To be fair, my cousin did deserve it, and the bribe wasn't more than I'd expect a ticket to be.  All in all, there are safety concerns in this country.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

If You Have Knee Pain

“I am going to call there.”

The year 2016 was a hard year for Ellie and me and we are both looking forward to a better 2017. However, one element of the year has been an undeniable blessing, a God-send.

( This is not an advertisement; I am merely relating our experience with what I shall fictionally call the Universal Pain Clinic ( UPC ) staffed by fictitiously named people. )

Twenty-sixteen’s trouble included our having to re-learn to live with one another after Ellie lived at Loretta’s for a year, taking care of Loretta and taking care of her estate after Loretta died; her sister-in-law’s sudden death from a blood infection; her brother’s quick descent into the ravages of Alzheimer’s; her recovery from exhaustion; the sleep-deprivation / arthritic-pain cycle that kept her tired and not feeling like ever wanting to do very much. The arthritis problem included almost constant, though not uniformly intense, knee pain.

Do you have knee pain that your doctor doesn’t seem to know how to treat?” 

This TV commercial grabbed our attention. 

“If so, call the UPC, 800-800-8008 for a free consultation.” 

The text on the TV said, “Now accepting new patients.”

Ellie and I saw this many evenings in a row as we watched the news. “I am going to call there,” she said one night.

“A fine idea,” I replied. “I certainly support it. What can we lose with a free consult?”

“My knees are better,” she said the next morning. “I don’t think I need the help the UPC has to offer.”

Days later, her knees were ( again ) not better, and she again considered calling the UPC. “Do it,” I said. “I support that, for sure.”

Shortening a long story, this is what Dr B and the UPC did:

Knees: Far and away, the thing that bothered Ellie most was her knee pain. X-Rays showed her knees to be in good shape; not a candidate for surgery, no bone-on-bone issues, “just” some thinning of the cartilage. And cartilage dehydration, Dr B speculated, which comes about naturally with aging as our body produces less of a chemical that keeps the cartilage lubricated and working well. ( “WD-40, you might say,” he said. ) Over five weeks, UPC staff gave Ellie five injections in each knee and workout instructions to take to the physical therapist she was already seeing. While her knee pain is not a thing of the past, its level of discomfort has dramatically decreased.

Legs: Ellie has had varicose veins since high-school. Her mother had her own veins stripped many years ago and we considered having Ellie’s stripped a while back. Her memory of her mother’s discomfort, the difficult recovery process and the unclear pay-off for her caused us to postpone the procedure until ‘later.’ This even though her legs ached almost always and were a constant source of at least a little annoyance. UPC’s procedure is two revisions newer than the ( "barbaric," they called it ) vein-stripping we considered. After the procedure, done on each leg one week apart, she put her pants back on and we walked to the car to go home. “My right leg feels so much lighter than my other one,” Ellie said between procedures. “Wow.” Her generalized leg pain and aching are gone.

Generalized foot joint pain: UPC has a chiropractic clinic associated with it; Dr B suggested Ellie talk to the folks there about soft orthotics. She did, got measured and obtained a pair of soft orthotics made specifically for her feet. “Those hard orthotics,” the tech said, “keep your foot in good alignment, but, because they are hard, don’t allow the foot to move as it normally does when in motion. This results in other issues in various of the joints in your feet and body.” Ellie could relate; she’d had more than one set of hard ones, made specifically for her, but her foot problems and generalized joint pain remained. Her new soft orthotics are helping her enormously, and she's ordered a second pair - for her dress shoes.

Before UPC, Ellie’s joint pain and leg discomfort kept her inactive and inside very much of the time. She is now up and about, feeling and sleeping better. She's clearly turned a corner in her recovering from caring for Loretta. UPC has positively impacted her life. And mine.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to