Tag Archives: money

99 Problems (Minus 96 or So)

Generally speaking, my inability to make progress in life boils down to three chronic problems, all of which I have written about on this blog before:

Problem 1:  I spend money I don’t have. (See “Woe Is Money”, 11/3/16, and others.)  My current financial situation is dire because I was lazy all summer, and if I don’t put in the hours, I don’t make any money.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m always hounding Darian about making a budget and sticking to it, but clearly I need to follow my own advice.  Yes, I’m not an extravagant person, and I don’t usually go around willy-nilly buying unnecessary items I can’t afford, but I certainly don’t deny myself or my daughter anything.  I need to go on an austerity budget.  And while this problem is especially acute now, it is something I have struggled with all my life, even when I was making a healthy salary as a full-time (but thoroughly miserable) lawyer.

Problem 2:  Another lifelong problem of mine is that I eat what I should not eat, and way too much of it. (See “Weighty Management”, 3/1/17, among others).  The corollary to that problem is that I don’t move enough.  In recently months I have engaged in no substantive exercise whatsoever.  I take in too many calories and I don’t burn any, so I’m fat and staying that way.  It has health effects beyond just making me feel bloated and balloony.  The overeating and the lack of activity create a vicious cycle, because lethargy just feeds more lethargy.  Yes, there have been plenty of times in my life when I have been dedicated to movement – power-walking, yoga, even going to the gym when I had money and a gift certificate for six months of a personal trainer.  But the longer I go without exercise, the harder it is to get back on track.  Of course, even if I start exercising (and I will, I swear!  I honestly enjoy working up a sweat – when I can manage to get off my ass to do it!), I still need to make major changes in my eating habits.  I can’t help that I prefer sweet things like cookies and ice cream to, say, vegetables of any kind.  Thus it feels like I have to deprive myself of something I enjoy and force myself to endure something I find unpleasant.  Why does it have to be so difficult?  Why does taking care of my body feel like torture?  I have to boil it down to a pro-and-con situation:  Pro – I have a few moments of joy and deliciousness.  Con – I’m doing damage to my body, which needs to last a lifetime.

Problem 3:  My worst problem of all – the one that ties in to everything else – is my overwhelming tendency to procrastinate, in every sphere of my life, for big items and small. (See “Procrastination Station”, 10/14/15.)  I put off tasks and action items in the deluded hope that they will go away or miraculously resolve themselves.  But by procrastinating, I also potentially deprive myself of personal development, forward movement and perhaps even the chance to achieve something wonderful.  My procrastination has its roots in my utter lack of ambition, which (with few exceptions) has been a lifelong affliction.  No drive, no motivation, no PASSION.  This contributes to the procrastination in a major way because, if I could find something that I felt passionate about, I wouldn’t procrastinate.  Right?  For instance, I love hockey, so I never miss a hockey game.  If I must, I record it and watch it on delay but I will ALWAYS make time to watch it.  It’s the same with all my favorite shows.  I also make time for my pets (permanent and foster) and for volunteering at the shelter, even though every once in a while I just want to spend a lazy weekend holed up in my jammies and give the shelter a miss (but then I’d also miss out on spending quality cuddle time with my favorite “away” kitties).

Unfortunately, my procrastinating has gotten in the way of keeping up with my blog – hence, the lamentable three-week gap between posts – despite the fact that blogging is something I love to do.  I do blame work for some of that, because I’ve had to put in more billable hours in the past couple of months to make up for my “lazy grasshopper” summer.  If I didn’t have to worry so much about my next paycheck (which frankly is always already spent by the time it comes), I would write at great length every day, including more in-depth pieces for this blog rather than the quickie jobs I’ve been putting together just so I can keep up with my commitment (to myself) to post.

Where do I begin to fix this?  Well, for starters, I have to make a dent in the procrastination problem and “make it work”, like Tim Gunn says on Project Runway (which is one of my TV show passions that I never miss, especially this season with the adorable Brandon, who is destined to be a star; I only wish I’ll be able to afford his clothes when he becomes a famous designer).  I’ve just been to the doctor this week and, while she didn’t berate me for not losing any weight or bringing down my A1C, she easily could have.  I do enough berating for the both of us – often while I’m in the actual process of stuffing my face (“Nan, stop eating these candy corn!  Nan, don’t go back for another bowl of ice cream!  Nan, you will sorely regret eating this whole box of cookies as soon as the last one crosses your lips!”) – not that it does any good.  The doctor actually said something like “You’re not ready,” which is absolutely true, but also just another example of procrastination.  What am I waiting for??  A freakin’ heart attack?

On the money front, I should listen to my own advice and come up with a budget and then do my best to live within it.  I only have another six weeks or so to get my kid through college, and then she’ll come home and start earning her own money.  She is contemplating another field research program in Costa Rica for the summer and she has already been informed that, as much as the Board would like to support her higher education, the Bank of Mom is officially closed for business.  So that particular expense can be eliminated, although there will be a concomitant increase in the grocery and utility budgets now that she’ll be home full time.  I’m also going to have to increase my health insurance premiums because I’ll have to cover my kid as well as myself, and they’re discontinuing my current plan so I have to find a new (and inevitably more expensive) one in the limited 45-day window that the government has generously allotted for us to do so.  (I guess I should just be grateful that I still have the ability to buy insurance at all.)

I liken my cycle of self-destructive inactivity to the situation being experienced by the 2017-18 New York Rangers, ten games into the season.  They have been distinctly awful in spurts on defense and every mistake has cost them a goal.  On the offensive side of the puck, they do many good things but don’t get rewarded.  (Prime example:  Rick Nash alone has more shots on goal than almost everyone else in the league, with only one goal to show for it.)  So the frustration sets in and they try to do too much and end up doing themselves more harm than good.  It’s a vicious cycle that has resulted in a 2-6-2 record.  Eventually they will have to pull themselves out of this slump.  According to their coach, Alain Vigneault (who might be feeling a bit in the hot seat these days), the boys just have to take it one shift at a time, do the things they know they need to do, and trust that their efforts will pay off.  Then they can build on that.

That is certainly advice that I should take to heart.  One step in the right direction will lead to another, and so on and so on, and just keep on plowing forward till I get where I need to be.  Evidently, I get my best life counsel from Tim Gunn and AV:  Focus on doing the right things one shift at a time, and just make it work.  Ha!  That should be my actualization mantra!

P.S.  My permanent family has increased by one:  I have officially adopted Polly Wobbles as the newest member of the squad.  My foster kitten Gigi was adopted last weekend, and my other foster dog, the adorable Penny, blew up the Posh Pets website with applications for her adoption, so it is only a matter of time before we find the right fit for her.  After that, then maybe I’ll take a break from fostering – until the next one comes along, of course!

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The Curse of an Empty Head

Two weeks have passed since my last blog post and my head is utterly and completely empty.  Oh, don’t get me wrong – a lot has gone on, and there’s much that needs to be done.  But when it comes to blog ideas – or to any deep thoughts at all, frankly – I’m at a loss.

It’s just that my gray matter has been occupied by the usual nonsense, to wit:

(1)  Taking on more work so that I can earn money to pay bills.  One may think that, now that my house is effectively done and my daughter’s college is almost all paid for (thanks to a Parent Plus loan that will cover not only this summer’s courses but also a bulk of the Fall semester, which will thankfully be her last), I should be swimming in excess cash.  NOT SO.  There was my hospital stay that will need to be paid for somehow (given that my so-called health insurance carries a $6,750 deductible that has to come out of my pocket before they’ll pay for ANYTHING), not to mention the City MD bill (no reduced rate for a follow-up visit during which they basically just sent me to the hospital, evidently). And now my little Munchie needs not only bladder stone surgery (his second, which I expected) but also knee surgery (which I didn’t). There is no insurance (with or without a deductible) for THAT. Every time I think I’m out of the hole, something tosses me back in.

(2)  I wake up every day (usually later than I’d intended, reluctant to emerge from the safe cocoon of my bed, entertained by silly dreams rather than having to face the drudgery of my real life) wondering what new nonsense our ersatz president has gotten up to overnight. I never thought I could hate a public figure as much as I hate that man. I want him DISAPPEARED. I still ravenously read every critique I can; I follow Robert Reich and Keith Olbermann religiously (and Rachel Maddow, who’s been “under the weather” and absent from her namesake show for nearly two weeks and I’m going through withdrawal); and I hope against hope that someone with ability, power and good sense will take the reins of the government away from what Charles Pierce of Esquire has fabulously called the “vulgar talking yam” and MAKE AMERICA GOOD AGAIN.

(3)  I had barely recovered from the Gizmo finger biting infection when, lo and behold, at the Best Friends Adoption Event in NYC this past Saturday, a big jerk of a cat named Buster decided he’d had enough of my affection and bit the hell out of my right hand.  My poor right hand!  I’ve had to learn how to be more ambidextrous over the past month due to the fact that, before now, my left hand has been basically useless.  And I am so paranoid now about infection!  I have been washing and wrapping both bite spots on my hand obsessively, checking for the telltale red streaks up my arm (which have not appeared this time, thank goodness).  I’ve heard from various sources that cat bites are even worse than dog bites, but so far I seem to have dodged a bullet.  The oddest thing about it is, I’ve been bitten by shelter cats before and, for the first few months that he lived with us, Gizmo must have bitten my fingers and hands at least once a day, but there was never any infection.  Someone said it might be that my diabetes has compromised my body’s ability to fight infection, and that brings me to . . .

(4)  My health. Although I haven’t necessarily felt any specific physical effects, my “numbers” (sugars, A1C, thyroid-related hormones, cholesterol, lipids, etc.) have all been lousy over the past few months.  I believe this is directly attributable to the fact that I gained back the 30-plus pounds I lost a couple of years ago, primarily because I can’t seem to stop eating CRAP.  I also haven’t begun my walking regime.  My injured big toe has been to blame for that, although when the nail finally comes off – which the podiatrist said could be any day now – I’ll hopefully be able to begin in earnest.  I finally have a comfy pair of walking sneakers, so that’s no longer an excuse.  If I could just start walking regularly and cut back on my food intake – including a major reduction of CRAP – it would undoubtedly have a positive effect on my blood numbers and my general health and well-being.

But despite all of the above contributing to the empty-headedness that has plagued me for the past couple of weeks (actually, it’s been a lot longer than that, which is part of the reason why my blog has been biweekly lately), I have managed to enjoy some diversions, including going to a local music venue last Friday with my sister to see a few not-very-good bands, although the people-watching alone provided a couple of hours of amusement.  The evening was suggested by my cousin George (of the George and Tony Entertainment Show podcast), whose childhood friend was the drummer for one of the not-very-good bands (in their defense, it was in fact their first gig together), so he and his wife Connie had driven up from their home outside D.C. (eight long, torturous hours for a trip that should not normally take eight hours) for a reunion of old friends and family.  We ended up at a local diner after the show, where we could actually hear each other talk and had some laughs amidst good company and pancakes.  I didn’t get home till 2 a.m.!

Having my kid home has also been fun (if expensive). She’s been decorating her room and it really captures her personality.  It makes me feel like bit of a sluggard because I’ve barely done anything to decorate or even organize the rest of the house and I’ve been back home for over two months.  It is true, though, that in order to do so, I need to replenish the coffers, which hasn’t been easy (see #1 above).

I’m glad that the summer is finally here (although the weather has been anything but summerlike for the past couple of weeks now), most of all because, now that I have PARKING (!!), I can actually go out and have meals with friends, enjoy some live music under the stars (my friend Chris’ CSNY cover band Four-Way Street is playing right nearby in Island Park in July, which should be great, weather permitting) and generally engage in some semblance of a social life.  It’s so liberating not to have to worry about where I’ll be able to park when I get home, at any hour of the day or night.

Hopefully, a few solid days of rest and relaxation, not to mention some power walks, will clear my head enough to allow in some ideas of substance that I can explore in future blog posts.  I also need to broaden my exposure beyond Facebook and watching reality competitions on MTV.  I haven’t read a meaty, thought-provoking book in ages, although I just finished Call Me By Your Name  by André Aciman, a lovely gay coming-of-age novel whose main character I envisioned as my daughter’s former therapist (and mine before hers) and I’m finishing up The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, who I like a lot but whose memoir-light doesn’t provide much food for thought (with the possible exception of a powerful piece about an abusive ex-boyfriend that should be required reading for every young woman).  I also haven’t seen any quality films lately other than Mad Max: Fury Road, which was visually arresting but ultimately kind of bleak.

So I here and now commit, in virtual print, that I will devote this summer to filling up my empty head with beauty and art and deeper thoughts about humanity and the planet to share as they come.

Four Thoughts

Much to my chagrin, my writing lately has been suffering from a few blocks.  One of them is a seeming inability to hold on to a single train of thought for any extended period of time.  I don’t know what the cause is; it’s probably just an excuse that I’m making to myself to explain away my lack of writing.  But I WANT to write, I WANT to get back on the blogging track.  So this week I’m posting a prime example of what I’ve been suffering from:  four separate thought trains that have been running through my mind at various times, but none of which I’ve been able to develop into something larger (nor has something larger appeared in my brain to take over instead).

(1)  I’ve been awash in emails from politicians and organizations that want me to sign petitions or answer survey questions, all of which support the anti-Trump agenda, and I am in total agreement with them – with one exception: MONEY.  I do not have a dime of spare money right now to contribute to a candidate or a cause, and that’s always the last page in the survey or the petition request:  “Can you donate (a) $5 or (b) more?”  (I note there’s never an option for “(c) Sorry, can’t contribute at this time but I’m fully behind you in every OTHER way.”)  Which raises the question:  All that money that goes to support candidates and lobbying efforts – where does it actually go, and what exactly is it used for?  And how does a recipient of all that money account for spending it?  Knowing a little bit about how non-profit organizations work, I am aware that even the smallest grant requires reams of periodic reports to explain where every penny was spent (not to mention the detailed measurement metrics of outcomes and line-item budgets that go into a request for such sometimes measly funds).  Who keeps track of the campaign contributions and the hundreds of thousands of dollars poured by lobbying behemoths like Big Pharma, for instance, into an organization like the one in Arizona whose sole purpose was evidently to oppose the recreational marijuana initiative?  Or do those funds even need to be accounted for?  Is it like a blank check?  And what actions do these organizations undertake – with or without coffers full of Big Pharma money?  Ads, transportation, printing and copying, phone bills — what could possibly cost so much money?  I mean, clearly the denizens of Big Pharma have more money than they know what to do with but, of course, rather than lowering drug prices for the needy public, they’d prefer to spend huge sums to fight unnecessary political battles and create even more unnecessary and inane advertising campaigns.  Could the blank checks be nothing more than – dare I say it? – bribes to have political influence, to convince politicians and also the public that whatever Big Pharma wants, Big Pharma should get. But who cares about the public interest, really?  To Big Pharma, regular people are mostly idiots but are valuable for putting even more money into the pockets of the 1 percent (who don’t already have enough, right?).  I’ve always said that I hate money, and this is yet another reason why.

(2)  I know I am not alone in thinking that current U.S. administration and Russia were in collusion on the Syrian chemical attack as a way to deflect from the election intrusion / ongoing influence mess.  I also know it sounds like a cynical tinfoil hat conspiracy theory, and an unimaginably tragic way to do it, but I wouldn’t put it past them.  What’s the cost?  The horrific deaths of a couple dozen Syrian children?  We’re all just pawns in their global realpolitik game.  Those “beautiful babies” were probably going to die anyway in one way or another, whether as a casualty of the interminable war itself or by drowning in the Mediterranean trying to escape.

There was an email from the resistance watchdog group Countable the other day asking “us” (i.e., right-minded people) what advice we would give Trump.  They required you to make a video, which I’m not equipped to do, but I did have some advice for the ersatz president:

(a)          RESIGN.

(b)          Divest all of your business holdings or put them in a truly blind trust, run by someone who is not a friend or family member (and especially not your children).

(c)           Release your taxes if you’ve got nothing to hide.

(d)          RESIGN.

I still find it hard to believe that so many people in this country were conned by this bozo (and continue to be – a recent poll said something like 96% of the people who voted for him are still behind him, despite his daily display of idiocy).  He is in a position of unimaginable power (especially given his party’s dominance in Congress and now the Supreme Court), and yet he is mind-bogglingly ignorant, incapable of thinking about anything outside of his own self-interested perspective.  He is, literally, a danger to democracy and the health and safety of the American people.  I saw a powerful post the other day by a guy named John Pavlovitz called “Let the Record Show” [http://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/01/19/let-the-record-show/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=John+Pavlovitz] that exactly captured my sentiments about him.  He is horrible in every way and at least once a day I am sickened by something he or one of his cohort has done.

(3)  This has been a very weird hockey season for me. I have barely listened to the Marek v. Wyshynksi podcast and I don’t obsessively read every article I can find on the interwebs, even after a win.  The Rangers had moments of real brilliance during the regular season, but especially toward the end they were playing some pretty damn boring hockey.  Maybe it’s because they had sewn up their preferred playoff spot quite a while ago (even if not officially, it was a reasonably foregone conclusion), crossing over into the Atlantic Division to play the “weaker” competition.  Their malaise on home ice has been pretty embarrassing at times.  So now that the playoffs have begun, when I normally would be pumped to the gills and thinking about it every waking minute, it almost became an afterthought. (Well, not exactly, but Rangers hockey hadn’t been generating the enthusiasm in me it once did.)

But in the first round, against the Montreal Canadians, they managed to regroup to play some impressive hockey after a real stinker of a Game 3, their first game in the Garden, which scared all of us fans into thinking that maybe the MSG curse was real.  In fact, I would describe their last three games in the series – all wins – as “mature.”  It probably has something to do with the reams of playoff experience this team (led by their coach) has, so they know what to expect.  That is just one of what I believe are their four keys to their success, which have been ignored by seemingly every professional pundit (and even the amateurs), even considering that I’ve been reading and listening to less commentary than usual.  When I do read and listen, no one ever gives the Rangers credit for these things:

(a)          The aforementioned playoff experience – according to The Hockey News, in the past five years, New York has played in 13 playoff series, better than Pittsburgh (11) and Los Angeles (12) and tied with Chicago. [Ryan Kennedy, “Rangers Mix of Depth, Youth and Experience Makes Them A Playoff Darkhorse,” The Hockey News, 3/13/17, http://www.thehockeynews.com/news/article/rangers-mix-of-depth-youth-and-experience-makes-them-a-playoff-darkhorse%5D.

(b)          The fact that, all season long, their play has improved as the game has gone on.  Look at their scoring this season by period:  first period, 62 goals; second period, 85 goals; third period, 101 goals, which led the NHL pretty much all season, only overtaken at the end by Pittsburgh with 103.  And yes, you’d like to see a better start out of them, especially at home, but a solid second and third period will overcome a less-than-stellar first period almost every time.

(c)           They were the best road team in the NHL, at 27-12-2, which really helps when you have your struggles at home.

(d)           They have incredible scoring depth.  I admit that I have heard this from some folks lately, particularly since AV inserted the Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich into the lineup and now is able to roll four lines that can all generate offense.  They can match up against anyone, because if their first, second and third lines get nullified by the opposition, up comes the fourth line – with the two dependable Swedes, Oscar Lindbergh and Jasper Fast, and speedster and free-agent bargain Michael Grabner, who gets at least one breakaway a game – to chip in a goal or two.

So even though no one gave the Rangers much of a chance to be the ultimate champs this year, and while I am unabashedly biased, I think they’re in a great position to go all the way this year (finally!)  1994 was a long time ago, and King Henrik isn’t getting any younger.  It’s the last diamond he needs for his crown.

As a purist, I appreciate that the best hockey is made up of equal parts excitement and frustration in crazy momentum swings, but I also enjoy dominant performances, where a team is firing on all cylinders, making the opposition look like minor leaguers, in total control in every area of the ice.  During the playoffs, you don’t see too many of those types of games because the teams are so evenly matched – these are the best of the best, the last teams standing after a grueling 82-game season.  Of course the competition is going to be more fierce, the skill levels more balanced.  There’s also got to be some adversity at certain points in a playoff season, where you think your team is done but then they rise from the ashes, or the ultimate prize wouldn’t have such great value in the end.  It’s just one series of excellent hockey after another, four series in all, until you finally get to raise the Cup.  Man, I love playoff hockey!

(4)  I have recently been revisiting (in my mind) the “why” of this blog, now that my second anniversary has passed. It was a creative outlet, to be sure, and a promise to myself to “get my writing out into the world,” even if no one in the world (or very few people) actually read it.  Apart from a few posts of a link on Facebook, I’ve never really publicized it; in fact, I’m still a little afraid to, even though I think some of the stuff I’ve written in this blog over the past two years is decent enough.  But is it decent enough to actually convince someone to publish it more widely?  Is there anyone outside of my small circle of friends and family (and a few loyal WordPress compatriots) that would pay money to read it?  This is highly doubtful.  So there my aspirations lie (or die, as the case may be).

But it got me thinking about why people do things in life, and I’ve come to the conclusion that people do things for two reasons:  (a) they enjoy it or (b) it’s a means to an end, which is usually enjoyment.  I certainly have enjoyed writing my blog, although sometimes I feel self-imposed pressure to PRODUCE SOMETHING WEEKLY.  On the one hand, it’s good for me to push myself; on the other, there are no rules here!  This is a safe place, a free and easy space, meant to be enjoyable – and it truly IS.  I love to write my blog posts.  Sometimes they flow like water; sometimes they’re more work, especially if I don’t have a particular topic in mind (all the more reason to have a “stockpile” of blog posts that don’t necessarily need to be topical or timely).

I also started my blog because I presume that some of the things that I have to say are important.  I believe I have a positive, progressive world view that I hope/wish more people on this planet would share.  In other words, if more people thought like me, the world would be a much better place for more people.  And if I could change one mind, get one mind to think differently about something important (or even not so important, but at least important to that one mind), then I would feel as if I had accomplished something good on the karmic scale.  It’s a little frustrating knowing that I’m always preaching to the choir, but maybe, someday, someone will read something I’ve written and, as Urge Overkill once famously sang in “Sister Havana”, “come around to my way of thinking.”

The State of the Brain Address

So much for re-dedicating myself to my writing.  I’ve really fallen down on the blog job.  Weeks go by with nary a word being written in my blog (nor in my journal – I’m lucky if I can scribble a sentence at the end of the day saying how mad I am at myself for not writing).  My sense of discombobulation has lessened little (if at all) now that I am back in my house.  I look around me and all I see are boxes to be unpacked and windows to wash and papers to organize and I feel so overwhelmed that I’m incapable of doing much of anything.

On the financial side of life, the major money-suck of the house elevation project has thankfully ended and recovery has begun.  It helps that the management company was able to rent my apartment right away, so I’m no longer on the hook for rent through the end of May and I will even get my full security deposit back.  I finally received my overdue mortgage assistance payments for January and February (on the last day of March) and, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be getting one more payment – although who knows when (but then it can be a pleasant surprise!).  New York Rising reduced the last installment of my grant money because the reality of my house didn’t match my architect’s plans, so that means I won’t have as much of a surplus after paying off the contractor – that is, if my contractor ever actually finishes my house.

20170308_133331

That’s another source of frustration, and I think it’s universal (it’s certainly happened to me with each of my prior construction projects):  When a contractor only has a few things left to do to finish a job, he suddenly disappears and stops taking your calls, or if he does respond to your pleas, he only answers a select few of your questions.  It would take, literally, a DAY to finish what needs doing in the house, but for some reason they can’t spare a crew for a DAY to do it.  I’m trying to be understanding and patient, but I’ve been in the house for three weeks now and I’m still waiting for a shower enclosure in the master bathroom and some patching and cleaning in the entry foyer (what I’ve taken to calling my “lobby”), so I can get the painter in and be DONE.  Darian will be back from school for the summer in a couple of weeks and I’m pretty sure she’s going to want to take a shower at some point.

As always, my job is a source of great stress for me.  I am grateful that they sort of left me alone during the week I was moving, because dealing with the irrelevant nonsense that comprises my job responsibilities was the last thing I wanted to think about.  But in actuality I was only hurting myself by not bringing in any dollars.  And believe me, dollars are NECESSARY.  I am so deep in debt that the bank where I have all my accounts and a mortgage won’t give me a home equity line of credit until I literally pay off ALL of it, which would mean there was little left over for actual home improvements (i.e., doing the “cosmetic” stuff on the front of the house – right now, it’s just plain gray concrete), which sort of defeats the purpose of getting a home equity line of credit in the first place.  It essentially becomes a consolidation loan.  I was certainly intending to use the HELOC to pay down a big chunk of my high-interest debt (paying off debt at 5% interest rather than 20% is a no brainer, even for someone as brain-challenged as I am at the moment), but I didn’t plan on paying ALL of it as a condition to receiving less than two-thirds of the loan amount I had originally asked for.  AAAGH.  I hate money so much.

Other things occupying my brain at the moment include my new foster baby.  He came with the name of Acro (like “acrophobia” – fear of heights – because according to the geniuses who surrendered him and his brothers and sister to Posh Pets, he used to jump off furniture and demonstrated NO fear of heights), but I didn’t like that name, and he didn’t seem to respond to it anyway, so I’ve started calling him Marco.  (I considered calling him Fabio, because he’s got these flowing golden locks and a dopey look on his face, but I figured Marco sounds a bit like “Acro” so he wouldn’t have to make that big of an adjustment to get used to a new name.)  He is a doll, a cuddlebug , a sweet-natured boy.  But he is clueless.  He was never leash-walked and wants no part of it, even though he watches longingly as Munchie and Gizmo get taken out for walkies a few times a day.  He is reasonably well paper-trained, but that hasn’t stopped him from peeing all over the house.  That’s basically because Gizmo lifts his leg on furniture and boxes and plastic bags – basically wherever he thinks a spritz of piss might be needed – despite my best efforts to keep him from doing it in the new house.  I even got to the point of putting a male diaper on him, but it irritated this little hernia ball he has on his belly so I’ve stopped using it.  I’m going to have to resume, though, hernia ball or no, because Marco has to pee everywhere Gizmo has peed, and vice versa.  I’m in a constant state of frustration, with my paper towels and trigger-spray bottle of Nature’s Miracle Hard Wood Cleaner and No More Marking (which frankly does not work).  I have to find some kind of magic formula that I can mix up and spray in all the problem locations that would prevent the boys from peeing in that spot once and for all.  I fortunately found a great, earth-friendly rug cleaner, and I’ve taken to actually closing my bedroom door, which Munchie (who likes to hide under the bed) and Raven (who enjoys luxuriating on top) are not terribly happy about, but it’s an easy enough solution to keep the door closed.  I’ve also blocked off Darian’s room so the cats can get in there but the dogs can’t, but now the cats are leaving their own “marks” in the form of hairballs and little bits of chewed-up plastic bag drawstrings.  I had originally thought I would put the litter boxes in the utility room, which you access by walking through the master bedroom and master bathroom, but (a) there’s a fire door on the utility room that doesn’t stay open on its own so I would have to get a heavy-duty door stop and (b) Darian said she really doesn’t want to have to keep her door open all the time, which she would have to do if the cats’ litter boxes were in the utility room.  She wants me to keep the litter boxes down in the “lobby”, but then guests would be greeted by litter box smell as soon as they walk in.  As it stands now, the litter boxes are in the kitchen, along with all the wee-wee pads.  With the exception of Munchie, who is ALWAYS on target with his squirting, Gizmo and Marco will inevitably miss the pad, so even though they ostensibly wee on the wee-wee pads, I’m still always forced to clean up the perimeter with my ever-present paper towels (I should buy stock in Bounty!) and the Swiffer.  Who said a kitchen was for food?  In my house, it’s the pet toilet.   So there’s that.

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Not to mention all the nonsense on the news about Russia and Syria and this horrible, horrible Trumpian episode in our nation’s history.  I’ve been trying to limit my Facebook scrolling, and I just delete all the emails from members of congress and progressive organizations trying to get me to donate (I cannot – see above re financial constraints), but I did invest in a subscription to the Washington Post (gotta support the legitimate print and digital media!) and I do follow my Organize, Plan, Act Facebook page on a regular basis.  It’s all just so disheartening.  These people – not just Trump and his minions, but McConnell, Sessions, Pruitt, Ryan, just to name a few – are just so mean-spirited and regressive.  So much time and effort wasted in dialing back the progress made on so many fronts during the Obama years just because it was Obama who did it.  They never ask if it really NEEDS to be done, or if it’s any good for the country, including the constituents who were conned by Trump into voting for him.  Consider, for instance, removing the requirements that car manufacturers have to meet certain MPG standards.  Why change this?  Who is it benefitting?  Car companies were ALREADY complying with the standards, and the outcomes have been nothing but positive:  better fuel efficiency, more value for the money and no discernible negative impact on their profits.  Are they supposed to now abandon all the scientific advances they have made on this front?  IT MAKES NO DAMN SENSE.  None of it does.  Why in heaven’s name would Sessions re-engage in a war against marijuana when it’s quite clear that, not only is that against the will of the people, an increasing number of whom are even voting to permit recreational use, let alone medical use with proven benefits, but it will undoubtedly result in an increase of activity deemed criminal and more people of color in prison.  THIS IS NOT PROGRESS – IT’S JUST DUMB.  Why roll back EPA-mandated protections?  Will former polluters now, like some kind of real-life Snidely Whiplashes, twirl their greased mustachios and snigger because they can poison more children while lining their pockets?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?  And don’t even get me started on the wealthy not paying their way (although I must confess that I benefited from a “rich man’s law” when I had to pay taxes on the capital gains of the investments I sold last year to pay for the improvements to my home that weren’t covered by the NYS grant, but as I kept reminding myself, that law was not really meant for ME.  And I still have to come up with $2,000 that I don’t have to pay my 2016 taxes.)

Despite my daily “to do” lists (on which I do actually manage to cross things off now and again although never fully) and being pretty much busy from the time I wake up (usually later than I want to) till the time I go back to bed (also usually later than I want to), I feel like I have nothing to show for whatever it is that I’ve been doing all damn day.  I’ve clearly lost steam on my blog, which provided a valuable creative outlet, basically because I’ve had nothing of substance to write about.  I feel like my creative juices have dried up, or maybe they’ve just gone under the surface while my brain is overflowed with all of the aforementioned nonsense.

Incredibly, I’ve even lost interest in hockey, perhaps because the Rangers have been playing like crap for the past few weeks – maybe even months – because they’ve been solidly entrenched in the first wild card spot for the playoffs, which enables them to cross over into the “weaker” division (i.e., they won’t have to face Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus, arguably three of the five best teams in the league all season long, until the Eastern Conference final).  I’m just hopeful that they’ll be able to flip a switch and suddenly be the best possible Rangers they can be.  There have been periods during this season when they were scoring like gangbusters, and others when they were squeaking out 1-0 and 2-1 games playing masterful defense.  It’s true that they’ve been good on the road all season (the league’s best road team, in fact), and they’ll have to be in the playoffs, too.  But for the sake of Cup-hungry Ranger fans and King Henrik’s waning career, they had better press the “Good Rangers” button starting tomorrow night and keep it going into June.

On that note, I will quit my bitchin’ and get on with my disjointed life, try to gain some focus and find a little more joy.  Sun and blue skies will certainly help!  Happy Spring to All!

Commitments

Commitment:  n. (1) the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.; (2) an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.  (So sayeth the Google.)

Back in March of 2015, I made a commitment to myself to start posting a blog on a weekly basis.  It was a big step for me, exposing myself to the so-called “public” (even though no one was reading my blog except me and a few loyal friends).  The commitment I made to myself meets the first definition – “being dedicated to a cause or activity”.  In this case, the activity is WRITING PERSONAL ESSAYS – the realization of my true persona, my calling, my wished-for career.  And I was happy to dedicate myself to it, even though I didn’t plan particularly well or stockpile blog posts for those weeks when it was difficult to devote a few hours to writing (despite how much I might have wanted to because, truth be told, I’d rather write than do almost anything else).  But I wrote anyway, and I managed to stay true to my commitment, with only a few delayed postings, until Thanksgiving of this year, when I took my first “hiatus”.  Less than a month later, and I took ANOTHER holiday hiatus.  This is entering the danger zone.

The problem, of course, is the OTHER definition of “commitment” – “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action”.  For a year and a half, I was able to come up with SOMETHING every week, even if it was merely a “top ten” list or an apology for not having anything good to write about.  But 2016 was a year unlike any other, and the past few months have been particularly difficult – not just politically, which, if you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I was personally devastated by the outcome of the election and am still somewhat in a state of denial (more on that later in the post).  But the biggest bugaboo for me these past 12 months has been MONEY.  (This is another one of my frequent blog topics:  I HATE MONEY.)  For the past 10 months I’ve been in the process of elevating my house, and I received a generous grant from New York State to do so (if not, I might not have done it, property values and increased flood insurance premiums be damned).  But there’s a big gap between the money I was awarded and the money I need, exacerbated in no small way by the fact that I’ve only received 75% of the grant amount and I won’t get the last 25% till everything is done and dusted, and in order to get done and dusted, I need to pay the contractors with SOMETHING.  Fortunately, my contractor, ANS Contracting (of Island Park and Long Beach – highly recommended!), has been patient and generous and hasn’t been chasing me for the next installment check.  Multiple issues arose during the process that ended up costing me about $50,000-75,000 more than I was anticipating, and more than I was getting in the grant.  Believe me, $75,000 is not floating around freely in my bank accounts.  Like many other adult Americans who have been making a decent salary for the past decade, I have retirement accounts and credit cards, and I’ve managed to dig a hole in one and build a mountain of debt on the other.  My security net is effectively ripped wide open.

The only possible mitigation was by working my ass off, because the more I work, the more I earn, and the situation called for some big-time earning.  I actually had almost as many billable hours in the month of December as I did in June, July and August combined.  So, bottom line:  I blame despised WORK and MONEY commitments for taking me away from my beloved WRITING commitment.

I consider myself a highly dependable person, but I frankly don’t relish the pressure of being relied upon.  One might think I would take a certain pride in it, but I don’t.  It just brings me anguish because I don’t like to let anyone down.  I make many outright commitments, which I do my absolute best to fulfill.  But it’s the unspoken commitments that eat me up inside, like when people have EXPECTATIONS.  Living up to people’s unstated expectations vexes me worst of all.  It kind of killed my marriage, and it’s why, until these past 14 years of what sometimes felt like indentured servitude at the law firm, I’ve always had a hard time staying with a job (and the only reason I’ve stayed at the firm is because where else can I make the money I make here?  NOWHERE ELSE, that’s where). It’s especially true when I work with one particular partner, because her too-high expectations of me are always being disappointed, although in a way it’s even more distressing when I disappoint the other partner I work with, who I like very much.  For a man who I rarely see angry in any way, believe me, you FEEL it when he’s mad at you.

Frankly, I think deep down I’m afraid of commitments.  It might be one reason why I’ve never been in a committed romantic relationship save for one, with my ex-husband, who I am basically STILL committed to, and not just because he’s the father of my child – he’s also my really good friend.  Somehow my commitments to my friends get back into the first category of “commitment”:  being “dedicated to a cause” – in this case, helping a good friend through a tough time.  Being committed to my friends is a very good thing, and it’s something I’m happy to continue.

So, here and now, I declare:  Today, January 1, 2017, is as good a time as any to re-dedicate myself to my blog, my friends, and all those positive commitments I’ve made in my life:  my daughter’s well-being as she advances into adulthood, volunteering at the shelter and fostering as many fur babies as I can, and now a NEW commitment – working with like-minded individuals to combat the horror show that is the looming Trump presidency.  A few of my Facebook friends have set up a group called “Organize, Plan, Act”, where we post useful things (such as petitions, mobilizations, letter-writing campaigns, and the like) that we can do, collectively and individually, to make sure the voices of the opposition are heard loudly and often.  We’re having an actual in-person meeting in a couple of weeks, which I’m looking forward to, but one of the activities we were encouraged to do recently was respond en masse to a Facebook post by our (Republican, blowhard) U.S. congressman, Peter King (although I certainly never voted for him), in which he implored all of his constituents to get behind the Trump and work together for a better America, and other blablabla nonsense.  I think I was able to get my two cents in before he started blocking dissenters from his page. My response:

“Mr. King, your statement is hypocrisy of the highest order, and Donald Trump is an embarrassment that I refuse to support in any way. Thank goodness I live in a country where the law of the land, our glorious Constitution, allows me to say these things and express my dissatisfaction with our government as much and for as long as I want, right up front in the First Amendment! Although from what I hear, apparently you would rather stifle dissent amongst your constituents rather than listen to and respect it.”

Step one in the revolt.  I am committed.

Woe Is Money

My money situation is killing me.

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve earned no less than $100,000 a year – not small potatoes, I admit.  I support only myself and my kid (and multiple furry children).  I don’t want for things, but I get what I want when I want it (more to the point, I get what my DAUGHTER wants).  We’ve taken a few expensive vacations since 2002, which has been by far my biggest outlay but also our greatest enjoyment, not to mention that I could only afford to travel every other year.  I live in a small house and I drive a small car.  I don’t own or wear jewelry.  (In fact, I don’t really GET jewelry – to me, it’s just an ostentatious show of wealth and a target for thieves.  I’m talking to YOU, Kim Kardashian.)  I wear clothes and shoes until they’re stained and falling apart (especially if they’re comfortable).  And yet I am deep in debt and hacking away at my middling retirement investments (left to me by my mother – more on that in a moment) and there’s no relief in sight short of winning the lottery.

Growing up, my parents always ensured that we lived comfortably (that’s how we got accustomed to it, of course).  And yet they still managed to have enough income to put two daughters through four years of college and pay off a 30,000 mortgage (in 1968, for a four-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house; contrast that with a two-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in Long Beach in 2004 with a mortgage of $300,000; I get that beach access comes at a premium, but still – literally ten times the mortgage for half the house?  Something doesn’t seem right.).  My father went through multiple cutting-edge (at that time) heart surgeries, and yet health care expenses didn’t cripple us.  In fact, there was enough left over in their savings (and my father’s life insurance) for my mother to live comfortably (still) into her early 70s until her own health issues overcame her, and STILL leave my sister and me over half a million in inheritance money (which we have both nearly wiped out, I’m ashamed to admit).

Of course, most of the money I’m taking from my inheritance is for my house, which has undergone three full renovations in less than ten years, only one of which was planned.  The others, of course, were courtesy of Superstorm Sandy.  And while I did get assistance with flood insurance and state grant money, I’ve still been forced to dig deep into my own already paltry retirement fund.   I have actually heard rumors of NY Rising suddenly changing procedures and withholding money or cancelling payments altogether, right when people are close to the end.  In fact, I was forced to pay my rent by credit card this month because I didn’t receive my Interim Mortgage Assistance payment in a timely manner, plus I had to pay an additional service charge of $52.95 to do so (which is outrageous in and of itself).  Thanks, NY Rising.  And they’re going to screw me out of my last payment somehow, too, I just know it.

I’ve whined about my money situation before in this blog (see, e.g., “Tax-Inspired Stream of Consciousness (and Another Top Ten List)”, 2/24/16) – it’s a constant source of agita for me – but thinking about this has led me to recall how things were when we were growing up, and even back when I first started working at a “real” job, in the early 1980s.  It was such a perk to get a position with “full benefits”.  I mean, TOTALLY FREE.  You didn’t have to pay for any of it – your employer paid for it, whether you were a single person or a family of ten.  Sure, medical advances to cure diseases and improve treatment methods, which have extended our life spans exponentially, all cost money, but SUCH an increase?  And if it all went to R&D, that would be one thing.  But what it’s really about is lining the pockets of the already wealthy.  I’m so sick of it.  All the angry middle-class and out-of-work Americans are backing the wrong horse (and the wrong horse’s party) in this election because Republicans and the wealthiest Americans (like Trump believes himself to be) are the ones who PUT the working poor and middle class in this position.  Find me a Republican who isn’t “Me First” (or, at best, “Us First”) and I might consider voting for that Republican (or at least listening to and working with that Republican).

I saw a couple of graphics on Facebook the other day (I think they both came from Bernie Sanders’ website, although I can no longer find the CEO pictograph).  One showed the disparities between the prices of the same drugs in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.  The same exact drugs!!  It was obscene.  [https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsenatorsanders%2Fposts%2F10155280240672908%3A0&]  The other showed the compensation for the CEOs of the major insurance companies, which were all well in excess of $20 million (with one outlier around $10 million).    Hmm, I wonder where all that money is going?  Then there’s all that inane advertising.  It’s a mystery to me why Big Pharma wastes so many millions of dollars on these fake-ass ads, with actors portraying ordinary humans living their (completely unrealistic) ordinary lives.  It’s not the CONSUMERS who decide what medication they need; it’s the doctors and, ultimately, the insurance companies.  Case in point:  My endocrinologist (who, by the way, does not take my insurance so I pay him out of pocket and try to limit my visits to twice a year) prescribed a new diabetes drug for me, but my insurance didn’t cover it.  So he suggested trying a different brand of the same drug, which my insurance supposedly covers.  I called the mail-order prescription filler that my insurance company insists upon for my regular medications and the woman there told me that I will have to pay NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a three-month supply because I still haven’t met my deductible (I will NEVER understand how that works).  “Well, I can’t pay that,” I told the woman.  It turns out that this particular pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) offers a program whereby I can get a free trial month and then heavily discounted doses for the next three months, and by that time, I will have hopefully lost enough weight so that I no longer require the medication.  So, in fact, THAT is what has determined what medication I take – not some stupid commercial with fake families kayaking in a lake at sunset or pushing their fake grandchildren on swings (or the absolute WORST commercials, those for Cialis or Viagra that show fake horny older couples doing all these flirty-touchy things.  Those make my skin crawl!).

In thinking about how our economic situation today is so much worse than our parents’ was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the nausea-inducing income inequality that exists in this country (a statistic that really burns me is that the top 1 percent of wealth holders in this country are richer than the bottom 95 percent) [http://inequality.org/99to1/facts-figures/], I’ve been considering how to counter possible criticism of my (and others’, notable Hillary Clinton’s) desire to make the rich pay their fair share toward maintaining our country’s infrastructure and the planet as a whole, as well as contributing to the common good of humankind.  Apart from the rich folks (who can AFFORD it – that’s the whole point:  if a multimillionaire were to give away HALF his or her money, he or she would STILL be a multimillionaire), who would suffer?  Law firms, for one, if corporations no longer needed to engage legal counsel to set up convoluted tax-minimizing structures for their deals and just sucked it up and paid what they should instead of siphoning off from the company’s profits to funnel the big bucks upstairs, ultimately at the expense of the employees.  The “luxury” industry might suffer, like, say, jewelers.  I was wondering if, as in the game of Monopoly, there was such a thing as a “luxury tax” that rich people have to pay when they buy things like diamonds and fancy cars, over and above plain old sales tax like the peons have to pay.  If there isn’t one, there should be.

All I know is, if I ever had a couple of million dollars, I wouldn’t be buying boats and diamond rings or gold-plated toilet seats.  I’d be paying it forward, giving money to rescue organizations and friends and family and worthy Kickstarter and Go-Fund-Me campaigns.  (My one indulgence if I were suddenly wealthy?  I would stop working, if I could manage it.)  [For more on this topic, see “An Excess of Excess”, 6/24/15]  But in the meantime, it would be ideal if the wealthy were on the (inescapable) hook to pay more taxes than they have been paying for the past few decades as the result of misguided economic policies like “trickle-down economics”.  The only way the money has been trickling is back into the pockets of the wealthy.

* * *

One more word on this cringe-worthy election and hopefully in next week’s blog post I can express my extreme relief that America has dodged a stupidity bullet and we’ll never have to see Donald Trump’s sickening orange face on our televisions again (as long as you don’t watch Trump TV, which I decidedly WILL NOT).  I can’t believe how many stupid people there are in this country – nearly half, according to “polls”.

It’s been expressed much more eloquently in many recent articles:  see, for example, Matthew Yglesias, “Clinton’s critics know she’s guilty, they’re just trying to decide what she’s guilty of”, Vox, 10/31/16, http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/10/31/13474116/clinton-prime-directive:  “But what if all previous investigations have shown no wrongdoing because there was no wrongdoing? And what if the client-side copies of emails on Weiner’s computer are just client-side copies of emails, just like the emails in the inbox of everyone else who downloads email to a computer? What if Benghazi was just a tragedy and an example of how bad things happen in war zones? What if Whitewater was just a land deal on which some people lost money because real estate speculation is risky? What if Clinton has been getting away with it for all these years because she hasn’t done anything wrong?”; and  Conor Friedersdorf, “There’s Simply No Comparison Between Clinton’s Flaws and Trump’s”, The Atlantic, 11/1/16, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/perspective-on-the-flaws-of-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump/506042):   “The trouble with calling both candidates bad and leaving it at that isn’t just that it doesn’t capture how much worse he is, though it doesn’t, or that it is unfair to Clinton. I don’t actually care about her. I do care about us–about Americans who have to live in this country going forward, who will suffer if we elect a man as unfit for the presidency as any major party candidate for that office in generations.  His inexperience matters, his indiscipline matters, his ignorance matters, and so do his character flaws, which render him a greater danger to others the more power he is given.”,

But if I may, some final thoughts from me about this long national nightmare, for what it’s worth:  It shocks me (although maybe it shouldn’t, given the widespread willful ignorance of an educated-but-not-really American public) to see that there are so many people in this country who prefer Trump – a shady huckster who has jobbed the system at every opportunity, a pig and a racist and a wanna-be dictator, who is wholly unqualified to be president of arguably the most wealthy, powerful and influential nation in the world – over Hillary Clinton, a lifelong public servant who has experience at every level of government, who has stood up to those who vilify and criticize her because she realizes that there is an extremely important job that needs to be done – a job she has been waiting her whole life to do.  It’s just common sense, people.

If Hillary’s lying bothers Trump supporters so much, how hypocritical is it for them to support Trump, who lies far more than he tells the truth and whose pronouncements are almost entirely without basis in fact?  Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, speaking on “Meet the Press” on October 9 (http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/schmidt-trump-has-exposed-intellectual-rot-of-republican-party-782256707624), had it exactly right:  He said, in no uncertain terms, of the Trump campaign that “the magnitude of its disgrace . . . is difficult to articulate” and that “it has exposed the intellectual rot within the Republican Party”.

I just want it to be over.  Instead of rejoicing in this historical moment for women and knowing that the goals of political progressives are finally within reach, we’re being driven to distraction by a lot of hoohah over EMAILS.  GAH.  Enough already!

Little Ball of Stress

I wake up pretty much every morning so weighed down by stress and worry and dread, it’s no wonder I have trouble getting out of bed.

Lately, the conglomeration of things in my life that cause me tension include my worries about the upcoming elevation of my home and trying to come up with alternative living arrangements.  The greatest stumbling block has been finding a nearby apartment in my price range that will accept my menagerie.  My realtor – a very nice woman named Bonnie who was recommended to me by my contractor – told me about three high-rise buildings managed by her office right on the beach block in the East End of Long Beach, reasonably priced, plain vanilla, and pets are just fine.

I felt a little like Goldilocks when she took me to see the available units:  There was a 2-bedroom, which was too big, and then a studio, which was too small.  She promised to tell me as soon as a 1-bedroom came on the market, and sure enough we were able to see one the very next day.  It ticked all the boxes – roomy, plenty of storage, price was right, primo location – although it wasn’t the most attractive of places.  I handed in all my application paperwork and the fee, and waited for the call to come in and sign the lease and pick up the keys.  But, according to Bonnie, evidently there was a “conundrum” with the apartment and I would have to wait for the next one.  That was over a week ago and I’m starting to get nervous.  In actuality, any deadline I have is self-imposed, so there is really very little need for the anxiety I impose on myself.  It was just that I had told the contractor that we could get started in April, so I worried that if I had to delay until May, I might get bumped off the calendar and would have to wait even longer to begin the whole agonizing process.

It turned out that was a needless concern.  I spoke to the contractor and he assured me I could get on the house-lifting calendar for May.  Now if my realtor can just come through with an apartment in the next week or so, I’ll have enough time to put my seemingly endless ducks in a row before the anticipated May start date.  If not, well – to quote Alfred E. Neuman, “What, me worry?“

Rest assured (or not, as the case may be), there is no shortage of other sources of stress in my life these days.  My daughter is having some real estate issues of her own.  She wants to leave her 2-bedroom apartment (which – long story short – has been a source of disappointment ever since she arrived last August because her roommate was a disaster and ended up skipping out halfway through the year, leaving her with a full electric bill) but she unknowingly obligated herself to stay in the place for another year in order to lock in a big $5 discount on her next year’s rent.  So now Mom has to put on her lawyer hat and see if I can get her out of the situation by the letter of the lease or, if not, to plead the case that she was an unsophisticated renter who didn’t know what she was doing and it’s unreasonable and unfair to make her stay there and/or force her to sublet half an apartment on her own.

There’s the daily work annoyances, of course, but the overarching stressor is money – or, more accurately, the lack thereof – and my endless expenses, which I have no idea how I’m going to meet given my limited income:  another year of college tuition, my semi-annual car insurance payment, getting a tooth pulled with no dental insurance, Darian’s summer internship in South Africa, security deposits for two separate apartments, and possibly having to pay three rents AND a mortgage installment for the month of May, combined with a less-busy-than-usual month of billable hours – it ain’t pretty.  A small tax refund will help but, in layman’s parlance, I’m financially screwed.  Only the lottery can save me now.

So how do I manage to combat the stress?  Not very well, I must admit, but there are a few things that help.  I saw a great quote the other day from famed scientist and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer:  “There are two means of refuge from the misery of life:  music and cats.”  (And to that I would add a chicken souvlaki platter with Israeli salad from Abe’s Pitaria.)

Music – most assuredly, yes.  I asked Darian today what the first thing is that comes to mind when she thinks of growing up with me as her mother, and she said:  “Traveling, and music.  Oh, and hockey.”  Except when the TV is on, there is always music playing:  music in the car, music on my headphones on the train, music in the background during the day while I’m sitting at the computer, music blasting while I’m feeding or playing with the animals or cleaning the house.  I’m also a collector of music, in vinyl, CD and MP3 form (I used to have cassette tapes, too, but lost them in the flood).  I have thousands of individual songs, hundreds of CDs.  As far as I am concerned, I will never have too much music.  My latest favorite is the new Cage the Elephant album, Tell Me I’m Pretty.  I’ve liked other songs of theirs, but this is the first time I’ve wanted to purchase an entire album of their music, and I’m extremely glad I did.  It’s been a while since I’ve found a record where I like every song, start to finish.  With the same Amazon gift card (earned as a credit card “reward” – I can’t afford to actually spend money on music), I also bought Badfinger’s Timeless . . . The Musical Legacy.  Now I finally own two of my favorite songs of all time, “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue” – classic nuggets of pop perfection.

And cats?  Also a big yes.  I love spending time in the cat rooms at the shelter on the weekends, making my way from cat to cat, chucking them under their chins and rubbing their cheeks, head butting and ear scruffling and slowly letting the layers of stress fall away.  I find scooping litter boxes to be a very zen activity, like working on a little sand and stone garden with the miniature rake.  I get the same relaxing feeling at home, sitting on the couch with Mimi on my right and Savannah on my left, two chubby lady cats luxuriating in being stroked by the chubby cat lady.  They’re so soft and sleek to the touch, like velvet and mink.  And they both purr so loudly I can literally feel the purring as well as hear it.  (Not to overlook the pooches:  While they are generally less affectionate, sometimes it’s Gizmo parked up on my left thigh, soaking in the mutually beneficial massage of his silky soft coat and his fat little body.)  Nothing gives me more joy and calms my soul more than those moments on the couch with my creatures.

And what about the thing that occupies the bulk of my evening hours from October to May (and hopefully into June), New York Rangers hockey?  Does watching hockey give me relief from my daily vexations?  Seriously??  Their performance of late, combined with the success of the surging and obnoxious Penguins (coached since mid-season by former Ranger assistant coach Mike Sullivan), has proven to be an addition to my sources of stress rather than a respite from them.  After a decent February, March’s alternating wins and losses are threatening to not only deprive them of home ice advantage after they were pretty solidly in second place (behind the juggernaut that is the 2015-16 Washington Capitals) all season long, but they might even get bumped out of the playoffs entirely.  With eight teams vying for seven spots, one squad is getting left in the dust.  Judging by the way the pundits poop on the Rangers (especially poor old Dan Girardi), I’m sure many of them think the Rangers will be the team to fall out, and certainly none of them holds out much hope about their chances in the post-season.  [An aside:  I think back to 2014 when the Rangers basically had to choose between keeping Ryan “Captain Cally“ Callahan or defenseman Dan Girardi.  The two were up for contract renewal at the same time and, given the limited salary cap space, one of them would have to go.  Cally ended up being traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for Martin St. Louis (now since retired), and Girardi got a hefty new contract (which many said at the time was a little TOO hefty).  Girardi had been a dependable stalwart for years, coming in undrafted but establishing himself as the bedrock of the Rangers’ top shut-down pair for a number of years.  But that kind of devotion takes its toll on a body.  Now that he is 31, all those hours defending hard-fought ice and blocking shots have clearly had a detrimental effect.  An already slow-ish skater, he’s become practically glacial, and his mental acumen isn’t what it used to be, either.  It’s unclear how the two tie together; maybe because things are physically more difficult for him, he has to think about them more, and getting too into his own head is preventing him from making the instinctive plays he’s made for years, so he overthinks and overpasses (which, truth be told, is a malady ALL of the Rangers suffer from) instead of just bulling his way out of the corner with the puck or shoving an opponent’s big body away from in front of Henrik Lundqvist.  Yes, Dan, it sucks to get old.]

I very clearly see their problems, watching from the eye in the sky while sitting on my living room couch.  This is what’s wrong with the Rangers:  They have all the pieces but they lack the urgency and intensity – that drive, that fortitude, whatever you want to call it; that extra SOMETHING that all champions seem to possess  – to take advantage of their opportunities, to capitalize on the other team’s mistakes.  They need to have a single-mindedness of purpose to FINISH.  They get plenty of opportunities, but they consistently waste them, to my great frustration and consternation.  My daughter and I frequently text during Ranger games, and I can’t tell you how many times I use the words “BLOWN CHANCE!!”.  It’s no longer even mildly amusing; it’s beginning to be pathetic.  They also need to be QUICKER – quicker with their decisions and puck movement, especially in the offensive zone and especially at this stage of the season, when they’ve had a whole year to sharpen up their timing and familiarity with one another (with some leeway for Eric Staal, who just came into the mix, and Rick Nash, who has just returned to the lineup after missing 20 games).

Who knows?  I keep hoping that the team, having made it as far as the Conference Finals twice and the Stanley Cup Finals once in the past three years, is saving their best for the post-season, now that they know what it takes.  Only time will tell.

Mats Zuccarello was telling everyone on the bench before last night’s game against the Florida Panthers (which, much to my relief, they won) to “Have fun out there”, and it’s so true:  When the boys are playing well, it’s way more enjoyable for them, and the same goes for the fans.  A good Rangers win, savored from my couch surrounded by purring kitties, is the best remedy by far for a stressful day.