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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Getting Older but Not Smarter



When I was a kid, a common piece of advice from adults was, “Just wait until you’re older and smarter, then you’ll understand.”

Well, I got the first part down…it’s the “smarter” part I’m not sure of.

For example:  Last Saturday morning I woke up a bit earlier than I usually do, about 5AM, made my morning trip to the bathroom, and then walked into the living room…with the lights out.  I’ve been living in this apartment for more than two years.  I should know where everything is located, shouldn’t I?

Well, apparently not.  As I crossed the living room, my foot caught the edge of the base of my coffee table…my big heavy wooden coffee table with the glass top.  With no light to see anything in the room, and now not sure exactly where I was in the room, I lost my balance and fell down – my left knee landing squarely in the center of the glass top.

I was able to regain my balance, now that I was on all fours in the dark, and I pulled myself to my feet.  THEN, I turned on the light.  I saw papers that I had left on top of my coffee table the night before scattered across the living room floor, intermixed with shards of smoked glass.  I also felt something running down my leg.

Yes, I succeeded in cutting my left knee fairly seriously…at least if you looked at the blood running onto my carpet, it looked fairly serious.  I moved quickly to the bathroom, grabbed a role of paper towels and tried to use pressure to stop the blood.  It wasn’t “squirting”, so I knew I hadn’t cut a large artery and, therefore, was not in some life-threatening situation.  I also noticed smaller flows of blood from my arms and legs.

I grabbed my first aid materials from my bathroom cabinet and put Band-Aids on the smaller cuts.  I put a 2” gauze pad on my knee, but that quickly filled up with blood.  I used a big wad of paper towels to put pressure on my knee, but my leg had plans of its own…it was going to keep on bleeding.

I should step aside here for a moment and mention that I am on Coumadin, an anticoagulant, for AFIB. That medication did its job just fine, keeping the blood coming from my knee from coagulating…just like advertised.

After 30 minutes or so of playing EMT on myself, I decided I was going to need professional help for this one.  Fortunately, I only live about 10 minutes from the local hospital, so, with a fresh wad of paper towels, I limped to my car and drove myself to the local ER.

I need to insert another aside here about the ER at Ephrata Community Hospital.  This is my second visit there and they are really awesome.  Walk in, tell them your name, address, birthday, and emergency contact and you’re on a gurney.  No ID, no insurance card, no page after page of paperwork (you sign just one paper giving them permission to treat you).  Oh, they will come back after you’ve seen a doctor and catch up on all of that.  But getting you in front of medical professionals is their first priority.  I love these people.  (Of course, the fact that I was dribbling blood all over their entry area very likely helped my cause).

So, an ER nurse cleaned off my wounds (which encompassed a fair portion of both legs) and the doctor on duty came in, confirmed that I wasn’t allergic to anything (fortunately, I’m not), and numbed up my left knee with a local anesthetic.   Okay, I’m not going to lie…the first one or two jabs of the needle did hurt a bit, but then the anesthesia started doing its work and I didn’t feel the other numerous jabs of the needle into my knee.

All of this, of course, was accomplished while the nurse kept dabbing away at the blood that kept gushing (ok, maybe not gushing…let’s say flowing heavily) out of my leg.  Then the doctor stitched me up, putting seven stitches into my knee, and the nurse finished up by redressing all the various wounds on my leg, putting a large gauze pad and lots of adhesive tape around my knee. 

Then, with instructions to rest it for a few days, take the antibiotic prescribed for me, and stop walking around my apartment in the dark, I left the ER and returned home to sit around for a while.

Oh my, no gym this week….I am SO disappointed!

But in the end, everything looks fine, which I can see quite clearly...with the lights on.




Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Time to Retire



So, I promised you an update on the status of my life.  All is well in WayneLand (“The Laziest Place on Earth!”).  I was planning to teach for two more years.  However, the State of Pennsylvania has been cutting funding for public schools each year for the past 3 years, forcing school districts all over the state to cut back on their own budgets.  It finally caught up to me.

In April, the Superintendent of the school district called me to her office.  She told me that the proposed budget, which would be voted on by the school board the last week of May, included cutting my position to half-time…with half pay, half benefits, and so on.  She was telling me early so that I could determine if I felt the need to make changes in my employment.  While the news wasn’t a good thing, it was nice of her to give me an early heads-up on this problem.  She didn’t have to do that.

So, I started running the numbers.  While the state would pick up about half my loss in pay under the unemployment system, they would also deduct half the money I make on my part-time computer programming business, thus cutting their “contribution” to about a quarter of my loss in pay.

Fortunately, I turned 66 this summer.  I was eligible for “full” social security payment.   I also was eligible for a partial pension based on my 10 years of teaching service in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania is pretty helpful to its “senior citizens”, a demographic of which I am now a member.  There is no state income tax charged for Social Security payments, pension payments, or any withdrawals from IRA’s or 401K’s.  In addition, I wouldn’t have to pay unemployment tax, FICA tax, or local income tax if I was retired.  I also only have to pay federal income tax on half my Social Security income, as long as my other income remains under a certain amount.  And, not working means no daily commuting costs, no clothes and shoes replacement, no union dues, no pension payments, and so forth. 

In fact, when I looked at all the tax savings, commuting gas, and work costs for a year, it represented over 25% of my full-time gross income.  (It costs a LOT to work!) My Social Security and pension payments added up to a little over 75% of my full-time gross income.   Yes, that’s right…by retiring and staying home, I would have more “take-home” pay at the end of the month than if I went to work.  And that didn’t even account for the fact that I’d only be working half-time.  Hey, I’m a math teacher…I figured it out.  Sayonara, teaching career.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’ll miss my coworkers.  I really loved them (some of them, REALLY…lol).  And many of my students, too.  But the truth is, I’m better off financially retiring this year, rather than two years from now. 

So, the big change in my life:  I AM NOW RETIRED.  Yes, I have updated my profile.  Oh, there’s a new picture, too.  The old one was getting more than a little outdated.  I’m a lot cuter now…lol.

I used my last couple of teaching paychecks to pay off my car and my credit card, so I entered retirement debt-free.  This way, I’ll be responsible for what I spend in retirement and not pay for previous financial commitments.  I feel this was a good idea.

But some other good things happened in the meantime.  I’ve mentioned before that I play in a rock band named Bloated Roadkill (www.bloated-roadkill.com).  Well we started working on our second album (“Decomposing”) in April and finished recording it the second week of August.  It took up a lot of time and kept me busy over the summer, especially since I wrote five of the original songs on the album.    It will be officially released on September 21st, 2013.  We are also playing a scholarship benefit concert that day, so that concert has become our Album Release Party.   You can listen to our music on our website (listed above) or on Facebook, at the “Bloated Roadkill” page.  The new album and the individual songs will be on iTunes, Amazon, and other music and streaming sites by October, if you like what you hear.

But a few other things fell into place, too.  I mentioned before that a couple of years ago, I was an extra in an indie movie (“Mount Joy”) filmed in my hometown area.  Well, one of the women I met when I worked on that movie called me in January and asked if I’d help out by being an extra in a pilot for a family-oriented sitcom being filmed (well, actually, recorded, not filmed) in Lancaster.  I spent a Saturday afternoon playing a member of a church congregation, sitting in the pews and taking communion (over and over and over…lol) for the show.

A month later they showed us the result in a preview at a local theater.  I thought it was funny and wished them luck on their production.  Well, the Catholic TV cable network liked it too and gave them a season starting this September.  They started shooting in June for the upcoming season.

In late July, the director-producer of this show, called “Ordinary”, contacted me and asked if I’d like to play a small part in the show.  So, next month I start shooting an episode of “Ordinary”.  I think my part (I haven’t seen a script yet) is something like the president of the Parsonage Council for the Catholic church in the show.  I don’t think it’s been determined yet if this is a one-time part or a recurring part.  It probably depends on how well I play the part.

In the meantime, a young man from Philadelphia who I met on the “Mount Joy” movie set called me and asked if I wanted to play a part in a horror movie being shot in the Philadelphia area.  Of course, I said, “Yes”.  There have been some delays in the starting of this movie shoot, but next weekend I should be in some woods north of Philadelphia playing the father of a young man who goes camping with some friends for the weekend.  Oh, and I have an especially gruesome death scene (guess I won’t be in the sequel…lol).  That movie’s called “Campout Nightmare”.

There is some talk of some other small, independent movies being shot in the area that may need someone like me (I assume the phrase “like me” means “old fat guy with ponytail”).  None of these pay anything, but the work is fun, I meet new people, stay in touch with young people, and, if all goes well, will have my own IMDB page by the end of the year…lol.

And, this past week, I finally attended a meeting of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association-International (NSAI).  I’ve been a member of NSAI for about 4 years, but had yet to make it to a meeting.  They always meet during the week and I just couldn’t attend when I had to get up the next morning to go to school and teach.

But now, I don’t have to go teach every morning, so I attended my first meeting.  There are some really good songwriters in our group and I’ll be learning a lot from them.  I hope to start attending these meetings on a more regular basis.  Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to have some of my songs played by another singer (more talented than me) or used in a commercial, TV show, or movie.  You just never know.

So, my retirement has already started forming its own place in my life.  And my RV?  Well, that’s probably still about 2 years away.  I’ll do some substitute teaching this school year and next and save that money towards my RV.  If things go well, I’ll still have my RV in a little less than 2 years from now.

Wish me well!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Entertainment Plans



Have had some serious changes in my life lately, but that’s for the next time.  But now that I’ve gotten around to writing this again, I wanted to continue from where I left off in March.  I talked about some of the kitchen items I purchased in advance of buying my RV….things that I can use now but that will be useful (I hope) when I start fulltime living in my RV.

I ended that last entry by noting that one can’t live on eating alone…ya gotta watch TV, too.  Now I can’t deny that I love movies.  However, with the price of movie tickets being what they are and the fact that so many people talk, yell, and otherwise disrupt the movie watching experience, I very seldom go to a theater, except on a date.  But with HDTV’s and surround sound systems, you can now have an awesome movie experience at home.

I currently have a 40 inch Sony Bravo LCD TV, a Sony BDP S-570 Blu-Ray Player, and a Pioneer 7.1 surround sound system.  Both my TV and my surround sound system are several years old.  The Blu-Ray player is just a couple of years old.  It has wireless internet connectivity and the software/firmware has been upgraded.  When I move into my RV, I plan to keep the Blu-Ray Player.  It’s a good one and has all the features that newer models have, including 3-D (although I don’t think much of the home 3-D available).  It handles all standard DVD’s and most formats of CD’s, too.
Sony S570 Blu-Ray Disc Player

My Blu-Ray player also has several other features I can use in an RV.  It has both wireless (“N”) and wired (100 bps) network connectivity.  I can access most of the on-line movie services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, CinemaNow, Crackle, PopcornFlix, and Amazon VOD.  I currently subscribe to Amazon.  Other on-line video services are also available, such as YouTube and DailyMotion, and I can stream music or videos from my PC to the Player using the DLNA network format.  It also has a USB port for an external hard disk that can be accessed from the player.  I plan to “rip” most of my CD’s to an external drive so I don’t have to carry all my CD’s with me. I’m thinking of using a solid state drive (SSD) for this purpose. While the system can handle videos in the same manner, most of the DVD/Blu-Ray encryption systems make ripping nearly impossible.  Using the UltraViolet system may be a solution for this, but I still need to research this process.

By the time I get an RV, I plan to replace my TV.  I like a large screen, so maybe I’ll go to a 36-38 inch screen for the smaller space in an RV.  I would like to get one of the more efficient LED/LCD screens.  Many of these use significantly less power and would be more usable operating off the batteries when boondocking.  Of course, depending on my finances at the time, I may have to just move my current TV to the RV until I can afford a newer one.

Surround sound…or any sound system…creates another concern.  I like to watch movies late at night and I sure don’t want to bother my neighbors.  I have the same problem in the small apartment I currently live in.   If I run my surround sound at night, it would drive my neighbors crazy and I’d soon be living in the street.  The subwoofer is the biggest problem, but the overall volume of surround sound is too much for an apartment building.

So, I started searching for an alternative.  I decided on a digital “home theater” wireless headphone system.  There are several models out there and they all have their pros and cons.  I finally settled on the Sony MDR DS-6500 model.  This unit accepts either a TOSCAM fiber optic audio cable or the standard stereo “RCA plugs” audio cable and uses 7.1 surround sound technology.  Since my TV and my Blu-Ray player both have TOSCAM audio out jacks, I like that I can use this fiber optic digital audio system.  Most Satellite TV receivers also have fiber optic audio output jacks.

The MDR DS-6500 has decoders for all the common surround sound encoding formats, so I get excellent sound on all my movies and TV shows.  The headset is wireless and rechargeable, so I don’t have to constantly buy batteries.  The specs say the headset will operate for 20 hours before they need recharging.  There is a volume control on the headset.  The headphones themselves are the “enclosed” type of headphones, so little if any sound escapes outside the headphones.  Thus, silence for my neighbors while I hear an awesome surround soundtrack.  I have been completely satisfied with my system.
Sony MDR-DS6500 Digital Surround Headphones

There are a couple of other features I like.  The “Digital Surround Processor” (the base unit) holds the headset on top and automatically recharges it.  The base unit runs off of 6 volts DC and so could easily be run from a 12 volt battery system with a power converter or via a power inverter.  The low power draw of 2 watts is substantially less than the 100-800 watt requirements of a surround sound speaker system.  Thirty minutes after the audio input stops, the base unit stops sending the RF signal to the headset, and 5 minutes after the RF signal stops, the headset will turn off.  This means that if I’m watching a movie late at night and fall asleep (a common event for me), the “sleep timer” on my TV can control the whole system; when the TV shuts off, the sound system will follow…again saving power from my batteries.

While this unit only allows for one headset, if I wanted to invite a guest to watch my movie, I can run a second unit at the same time.  I confirmed this with a user on Amazon who has run two units simultaneously without problems.  Of course, if several people are over to “watch the game”, I’ll just use the sound system on the TV.  If the TV’s speaker system does not provide decent sound, I can always add a sound bar, but I’m not sure that will be a serious concern in an RV.

That’s my current plan for TV and movies.  I also enjoy reading and I have a Kindle.  I have the Version 3 Kindle Reader.  It is not the newer Kindle HD and has keys/buttons for navigation, not a touch screen, but I do love reading it.  I can have books delivered to my Kindle either via the “WhisperNet” service that Amazon uses, or I can load it from my wireless network via the Internet.  
Kindle Reader

I know that many people like the “feel” of holding a paper book in their hands and I can’t argue with someone about their preferences, but, I bought a leather cover for my Kindle, which still gives me a unit that opens and holds much like a paperback book.  It is not backlit, so it is much easier on the eyes than a computer screen.  You do need ambient light to read from a Kindle Reader, but my cover has a built-in LED light that runs off the rechargeable battery in the reader.  I have used this in total darkness and it is more than adequate for reading.  In addition, as with all electronic readers, I can adjust the size of the type size so I can read without using reading glasses.  The newer Kindle Readers with the “Paper White” screen are even nicer to read and they now have a touch screen, rather than the tiny keyboard on my system.   If you haven’t tried an electronic reader, I highly recommend the Kindle Readers.

So, that’s how I plan to spend my “quiet time” while living in my RV.  It’s really not a change from what I do now.  Between my TV, perhaps a Satellite TV system, my Blu-Ray player, Surround Sound Headphones, Kindle Reader, and my laptop PC, I believe I can keep myself “off the streets” while traveling in my RV.  I already use these systems, so my lifestyle won’t change a lot…at least in these areas.

Next time I’ll update you in all the changes that have occurred in my life…it’s all good.

Disclaimer:  I am not associated with the companies that manufacture, sell, or distribute any of the products that I write about.  However, some of them, including Amazon.com may advertise on my blog.