Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weathering the Storm That Wasn't

Q Storm and Chris Botti

As of this morning, the "Q" Storm that was to have dropped up to 12" of snow in my city fell short with only three inches accumulation. As a newly retired person, it was still reassuring to know that I would not have to travel the slick and icy roads to get to a job. I could stay safely indoors, checking weather updates on various local news apps and occasionally tuning in to The Weather Channel which was broadcasting from 10th and "Q" Streets in Lincoln.

I had to make a decision about whether or not I would attend the Chris Botti concert at the Lied Center Thursday evening. I originally saw him perform in Sting's band in Des Moines nine years ago and met him at intermission. Yeah, I was smitten and have bought all of his CDs. In 2006, I missed his winter concert in Omaha due to bad weather conditions. Chalk up another one to that list. While I may have been able to negotiate the snow covered streets to get to the venue, I had less confidence in my ability to not slip and fall on the street. Friends will confirm that I sometimes have difficulty remaining upright even on a dry sidewalk! This is apparently a gene I inherited from my maternal grandmother, whom I've been told used to say, "Wait! I'm going to fall down!"

The snowfall resumed about 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon and that confirmed my decision. I would miss Chris Botti yet another time due to weather conditions. I read online that he and his essential bandmates were traveling to Lincoln from Des Moines via bus and the smaller show could perform. The remainder of his band was flying in to Omaha and would then get to Lincoln via the Interstate. Apparently, the entourage arrived and in true show business fashion, the show went on. Instead, I still spent the evening with Chris Botti, listening to several of his CDs. From what I read in the newspaper, the concert venue was only half full, with other patrons making the same option I did and playing it safe. I've missed many concerts over the years and have never second guessed or regretted the decision.

Medicine, Medicare and Mayhem

Last year, my father's company decided to eliminate the health care benefits it had previously provided for retirees and we had the daunting task of choosing his Medicare supplement and drug insurance. In the eight years that I've been his caregiver, I've looked at dealing with his insurance and health care issues as a dress rehearsal for what I may face once I turn 65. So this is my schooling in Medicare and insurance for seniors.

After not receiving six of his prescriptions via mail order 10 days after his doctor placed the order, I started making phone calls. At least each person I spoke with seemed knowledgeable and was cordial. Unfortunately, they had to keep transferring me to a different department as the hierarchy of our issues started to get more complex. At least after a half an hour of calls, it was confirmed that his order was being processed.

Thursday evening, a representative of the pharmacy called to confirm the order and get a credit card number. He informed me that the copay was well over $1,000. As I put down the phone to talk with Dad, the rep heard me exclaim quite loudly, "Holy Shit! Your copay is over $1,000!"

By the time I picked up the other telephone extension, I heard the clicking of computer keys on the other line. The representative said, "I heard your reaction, so I'm double checking your order. The price I gave you was full retail, they haven't billed it to insurance yet." Whew. The total started to decrease until it was less than $300. That's still a hefty sum and that isn't even the full array of his medications. The same fellow called again the next morning to confirm shipment. I wrote down his name so in case I need to visit with someone who can get things done, I have the name of someone who is very helpful.

Dad and I both wonder how other elderly people manage all of the medical bureaucracy. He says that he could no longer deal with it by himself. I view myself as fairly intelligent and I have trouble untangling and understanding it all. And I'm concerned about my own ability to deal with these issues for myself twenty years down the line. I do have a health care power of attorney, but she's only 13 years younger than I am. I'm hoping she'll outlive me and will be there if I need her. It's something that every senior needs to plan for.


Much of my time as a retiree focuses on genealogy - researching my own family history, volunteering for the Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society (LLCGS) and teaching classes and giving lectures on genealogy. This was another whirlwind week, with two more speaking engagements added to my calendar, a society board meeting and keeping the LLCGS Facebook and Twitter feeds active.

The most fulfilling activity of the week started when I saw a post come through on Facebook from KMTV in Omaha. It was about a group from the Bellevue Cemetery Committee who is trying to locate living relatives of seven Civil War veterans so tombstones can be placed on their graves at Bellevue Cemetery. I shared the link on Facebook and a lengthy conversation ensued - with my other Facebook friends (I know them in "real life" too!) wanting to help move the project along.

To get the Bellevue group included in our discussion, we moved our project to the Nebraska Genea-Peeps Facebook group, an online community that I created a year or so ago. Things took off like crazy as a core group of genealogy volunteers started searching our various subscription sites, census records,, FindAGrave - you name it. We posted our findings, shared documents we located online, put our heads together for problem solving. By the end of the day, solid leads were found on living relatives for several of the veterans.

The woman who was interviewed on KMTV commented that we did in two hours what had taken her two months. A representative from the Sarpy County Museum is also participating in our quest and helping fill in a few details. Of course, the soldier who I "adopted" is being quite elusive! But on Thursday afternoon, I discovered 14 pages of his Civil War service records. His enlistment record showed the location of his birth which led me to find him in the 1850 census. There are some new clues to follow and I will keep on looking for his family.

Now that we have made so much progress in only a few days, we are all looking forward to being present for the ceremony when the headstones are placed on the graves in a few months. It is so exciting to me that we can have such a purpose-driven online collaboration that produces results in a short amount of time. And it's helping to honor these Civil War veterans who have had no tombstone to mark their graves. This type of collaboration is what I love about the internet and what I love about genealogists!

I'm now three weeks into my retirement life and still loving every minute!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Taking Time for Guilt Free Reading

Before I retired, I told myself that my first two weeks of retirement life would be low-key, guilt-free time just to get used to not getting up and going to a job every day. Those two weeks have passed very quickly and I've kept my commitment to myself.

The first two weeks have been a time to relax, something that I haven't done in many, many years. It's been nice to spend time listening to a couple audio books without thinking that I should be doing something else. After all, isn't retirement the gift to myself to read (or listen to) the many books I've been saving up? One thing that's nice about e-books - they don't take up the space that hard cover books do! So my obsession with accumulating books isn't so apparent to the outside world when hundreds of books in my e-collection are tucked away nicely on my Kindle and iPad.

I tend to prefer nonfiction to fiction, but I've discovered so many free e-books for the Kindle, that I never hesitate to download any free novel that sounds remotely interesting. One that I started several months ago was about Elvis - who isn't really dead but who is alive and working as a private detective. That one was pretty weird - maybe I should go back and finish reading it now.

I enjoyed reading the early Scarpetta mysteries by Patricia Cornwell. A few months ago, I started reading one of the more recent books in the series. Since I had missed a few of the books, I found that I couldn't proceed because there were references to different things that had happened to the recurring characters and their relationship with Kay Scarpetta, that I could no longer continue. One of my presents to myself last fall was to buy the entire series of Scarpetta novels for my Kindle. And I've started reading them from the beginning. It's nice to get reacquainted with the characters I first met well over 15 years ago. It's nice to have guilt-free time to read fiction.

Since I no longer have 45 minutes drive-time every day, I've had to create some time to listen to my audio books. I love biographies - especially when narrated by the author. I've just finished listening to the autobiography of singer-songwriter Carole King, which I enjoyed tremendously. I've now started A. E. Hotchner's biography of his life long friend, Paul Newman. I tell myself that I can now substitute walking on the treadmill for the 45 minute commuting time so that I can listen to my audio books. That worked one day so far - and only for 15 minutes. That's a commitment that I still need to work on. Combine something I love (books) with something I don't love (walking on the treadmill). It will be much better as Spring approaches and I can walk outdoors. Yes, I'm a fair weather walker.

Since my first two weeks have drawn to a close, now it's time to tackle some of those items on the "to do" list - the organizing, decluttering, shredding - all of the things I've procrastinated about as I was "saving them for retirement." Reality is now here. But I don't think I'll even try to do it all at once. After all, there's always tomorrow.

copyright 2013 Susan M Petersen

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Search of the Ultimate Philly

Retirement life means taking a little bit more time for meal preparation. And for me, probably learning a few more dishes to add to my cooking repertoire. 

For many years, I've been searching for the Ultimate Philly Sandwich in Nebraska. Any time I visit a new restaurant, that's usually what I try first. But I have to make one adjustment: no green peppers. Sorry, they just don't set well with me. Red peppers are fine, thank you very much.

Folks from Back East will be the first to point out that what we Midwesterners consider a Philly sandwich is not a true Philly. Technically, I suppose ours would be called Cheesesteak Sandwiches. Whatever. To me, it's a Philly.

Sooz's Nebraska Cheesesteak Sandwich
Not Just Another Philly
There are a few local restaurants where I can recommend the Philly. The Nebraska based chain, Pepperjax Grill, makes a good one. I recommend ordering the seasoning "light" as it's a bit too salty otherwise. Lansky's in Omaha produces another excellent sandwich, as does Brewsky's. Jimmy C's Homestyle Restaurant in Omaha also makes a good Philly.

As good as these are, some are missing the extra zing I'm looking for. In recent years, I've been working on perfecting my own version of the Philly and my latest creation tops any Philly that I've had in a restaurant.

The key is butter. Not margarine. Real butter. Here's how I do it:

Melt about 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in saucepan.

When melted, add 1/2 onion, thinly sliced. Sautee until onions are soft.

Add 4 oz. canned mushrooms, drained. Continue sauteeing with the onions. The next time I make these, this is the step where I will add 1/4 of a red pepper, thinly sliced.

Move all ingredients to one side of the saucepan. On the empty side of the saucepan, add one patty of frozen Farmland shredded beef. I suppose you could try Pepperjax's new Grill At Home meat, now available in grocery stores. Chop and separate beef until it is fully cooked. Sprinkle some of Famous Dave's Steak Burger Seasoning over all ingredients. Not too much.

Mix all ingredients together, lining everything up lengthwise in the middle of the pan.

On the top of the ingredients, place three slices of provolone cheese. Allow to melt, partially.

Slice a hoagie bun from top to bottom (not sideways like a hot dog bun). Spread open. Place over the ingredients in the saucepan.

With a spatula, place all of the ingredients onto the bun. Pictured is a 4 oz. whole wheat bun. It's a bit much, so you can probably use a smaller hoagie bun. As shown, this is huge, so cut it in half and share with a friend.

Voila! You have Sooz's Nebraska Cheesesteak Sandwich (not just another Philly).


Saturday, February 9, 2013

On Weekday Shopping, Senior Discount and Dodge Em Cars

The first full week of my retirement life is now behind me. One thing I've learned is that the days slip by so much faster than when I was working!

The first few days of retirement were quite busy since I had scheduled a presentation for my local genealogy society last Sunday. So I spent the first days of retirement finishing up the slides and handout. We had a great turnout and as a result, I learned how to use the Slideshare web site to upload slide shows and documents.

Monday was my first weekday grocery shopping experience as a retiree. My goodness, I got a parking space right by the entrance. THAT never happens! The store was nearly barren of customers, which was definitely to my liking. A couple guys were stocking the frozen processed meats cooler and I happened to spot chicken fried steak (Dad's favorite), which I had never been able to find in this store before. So I asked them where I could usually find this product. One of the men explained that this was the location where it's always stocked, but that sometimes customers move things around, so you need to look behind some of the other products to find it. And he kept on chatting. Employees NEVER chatted when I went there on weekends or after work.

As I roamed through the store, the manager and other employees I encountered all spoke and asked me if I was finding what I needed. This NEVER happened when I went there on weekends or after work. Maybe shopping for groceries is no longer going to be a task that I loathe!

Sadly, the sacker still put leaf lettuce and eggs in the bottom of the grocery bag, with much heavier items on top. I've ranted about this on another blog, so I won't repeat myself here. There's a couple checkers and sackers who I know will do a better job than others and I will usually wait in a longer line if they are working. But I wasn't that fortunate on Monday.

Even so, it was VERY nice to navigate the store without it being crammed full of other customers. I'm pretty sure I can get used to that.

Wednesday was Senior Discount Day at ShopKo. I've been shopping on Senior Discount Day ever since I was eligible at age 55. But going to the store mid-morning was an entirely different experience than it had ever been when I stopped in after work. The ONLY shoppers in the store were Seniors! And it seemed like they all knew one another. This clearly appeared to be an event that my fellow Seniors embrace every month.

Unfortunately, the 15% discount offered on Senior Day does not apply to the two departments I shop in most: household supplies and electronics. Even so, I picked up the paper supplies needed and tossed a few more items in my cart. When I reached the checkout, I remembered that I had forgotten my $10 off $50 purchase coupon. The checker told me that I couldn't have used it with my Senior Discount anyway. She then proceeded to go into great detail about how I COULD use the coupon, buy more items, bring in today's receipt showing the items that weren't eligible for Senior Discount, go to customer service and if my purchases hit the $50 mark, I'd get the $10 off. Never, in all the years that I've shopped at this store, has a checker taken so much time to talk and explain something. And there were several more people behind me in line. I complimented her on being "very informative."

The parking lot, however, was like driving in the old Dodge Em cars at the State Fair when I was a kid. The Senior drivers weren't really paying a lot of attention which direction they were driving and seemed to ignore whatever was in their way. Not that I'm stereotyping older drivers, mind you! Well, perhaps.

When I returned to my car, the driver who parked to the left of my car had left only about five inches between our vehicles, so there was no way I could enter from the driver's side. I went to the passenger side, lifted up the arm rest, moved my other stuff around and did my best to scoot over to the driver's side. Thank goodness I don't have a floor shift! Note to self: next time, remember to park even farther away from other vehicles in the parking lot.

Thursday was lunch with a friend. Clearly, I'm already losing brain cells as I didn't turn on the street where I should have and I hesitated a little too long at a green light before moving on. I don't recall ever being so unfocused! I must have caught something at ShopKo the day before. Is Senioritis a viral infection? Or maybe it was because I hadn't gotten to sleep until 4 a.m. thanks to the Starbucks frappucino I had at 8 p.m. the previous night. I told my friend it was perfectly fine for her to be a backseat driver that day. Note to self: no caffeine drinks after 12 noon.

Clearly, I haven't quite found the "new normal" yet. But I think I'm going to enjoy looking.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Goodbye Girl

My last week of work was a week of goodbyes. It was rather bittersweet, because even though we say "stay in touch," I know that this week was probably the last time I will see many of the people from my work life. On the other hand, there is a solid core group of friends who I know will still be a part of my life forever.

Is it possible that the very last day of my working life was the best day of my working life? It sure seemed like it. Some of you may remember the old television show hosted by Ralph Edwards called This is Your Life. That's pretty much how my day went.

I had already taken charge of the plans for retirement festivities at work - because I wanted to have the kind of day that I wanted it to be - not someone else's idea of what it should be. There would be no speeches, no formal presentations. I just wanted some time to say goodbye and for colleagues to stop in and chat a few minutes about our shared memories.

For the last two or three weeks, I had gathered up old photographs of people I'd worked with, traveled with and partied with over the past 40 years. I had to borrow a few more photos from coworkers to fill in a few blanks for the retrospective slide show. There were literally hundreds of photographs. This was no surprise to me because most of the group of friends I have socialized with over the years have been people I've met through my job. So, in addition to "water cooler photos" taken at the office, there were photos of us on weekend outings, golf outings, holiday celebrations, road trips, weddings - you name it. Sadly, far too many of the people have passed on and I marked their photos with "RIP." Two of them passed during the time I was working on the slide show.

I had fun assembling the slide show and it gave me an opportunity to learn the Keynote slide show app on the iPad. I knew that the slide show had to be portable and this worked out great. The slide show was definitely NOT an ego-based tribute to me. Heavens no! It was a tribute to the many good people who weaved in and out of my life over the past 40 years - some staying a little longer than others. And it provided a memory of the good times we had shared.

For the old timers, it was a trip down memory lane. The new people in the office got to see why some of us have a close bond from our shared experiences. And they got to see us when we were thinner or fatter, blonde or brunette, athletic or frumpy. We've been through it all.

Once the cake arrived and the punch was mixed, people showed up with cameras. I posed with my cake, my flowers (thank you, Lisa!), and my plaque. Then I posed with our original group of four who have been together for 27 years. Then I posed with the Finance department, then with those from our current staff who were available. There were so many photos being taken, I quipped that I felt like I was Lindsay Lohan!

Once the cake was cut, I made sure I had some set aside to bring home to share with my 86 year old Dad. I've been his caregiver for the past eight and a half years and he is as pleased as punch that he'll have some company during the day now.

After the initial serving of the cake, I retreated to my office and friends and colleagues from around the agency dropped by to chat a few minutes and to say goodbye. Even one of my genealogy friends who works across the street stopped in for a while.

Forget trying to wrap up those last few emails and last bits of correspondence. That wouldn't come until later in the afternoon.

During the day, the song playing in my head was Shania Twain's Today is Your Day. If you've ever listened to the lyrics, you'll understand why I think this will be the theme song for my retirement years. Already, I had moved on from Johnny Paycheck's Take This Job and Shove It!

I slipped off for a nice lunch with Lisa and Jane at El Potrero. This was another bittersweet moment - my last lunch break with good friends. But - it's knowing that we all know we will continue to be in touch with one another. There are still a lot more lunches for us to share together.

As the afternoon waned, I wrapped up the last few bits of bureaucratic paperwork. As the time drew near, I checked the countdown app on my iPhone, watching it go from 10 seconds to 1 second to Zero. It was definitely a much more exciting countdown than watching the Times Square ball drop on New Year's Eve. It was a good thing that I had already removed my few personal belongings because I still had a lot to carry with the beautiful yellow roses and cards. I was headed out the door when Jane noticed I hadn't taken the big heavy sweater I kept around for the days when the offices were cold.

Then, officially retired, I moved on to my "real" retirement celebration - a gathering of friends and colleagues from over the years who met me at our traditional watering hole - Tico's. Many an evening had been spent there, hashing out our frustrations from work, complaining about our bad bosses and difficult coworkers and just having fun. It was our version of Cheers, so it was an appropriate place to say goodbye.

Several of the folks who I hadn't seen during the day joined me at Tico's, as did a couple clients I'd become friends with over the years. We pretty much filled the entire bar. A special treat was a visit from my friend, Curt, who I've known since the late 1970s. We had worked on a documentary film together and still laugh about the business trip we made to Columbus, Ohio right before Christmas one year. We traveled all that way for a training seminar that was conducted by someone we knew from Lincoln! Curt and his partner made the two-hour drive from Grand Island for the party, so it really meant a lot to me that they were there to help me celebrate.

More photographs were taken, many of which I haven't even seen yet. As people drifted off and left the festivities, there were the strongest and longest bear hugs I think I've ever given or received. These really were "my" people. Many of us made promises to stay in touch, have lunch and email addresses were exchanged. And I really think that I'll be seeing some of these folks again. I hope so.

You got what it takes, you can win.
Today is your day to begin.
Don't give up, don't you quit.
The moment is now, this is it.

Today is your day and nothing can stand in your way.
Today is your day and everything's going your way.

-- Shania Twain

copyright 2013 Susan M Petersen
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