Verizon: Can You Hear Me Now? You are Fired!

Although we are in the fortunate position of not having to count pennies now that we’ve retired, my husband and I have been looking for ways to save money on our monthly bills. What we don’t send to the phone, internet, cable, water and other utility companies, goes into our savings and can be spent on better things like travel, dining out, and entertainment.

The first change we made was to install drought-tolerant landscaping. Not only is our yard more interesting visually, we no longer need to water a thirsty lawn.

Yard

We’ve also ditched our landline. It seemed wasteful to pay over $30 each month for a phone that remained silent much of the time, except when it became a conduit for telemarketers and political campaign workers to reach out and annoy us. Since we make and receive most of our calls using our cellphones, that was an easy decision to make.

When we made this switch, we still wanted the option to direct certain calls to a number other than our cellphones so we bought an Ooma internet-based phone system.  After the initial purchase price, we now pay only applicable taxes and fees, which has been less than $4 each month.

Now, we are getting ready to say goodbye to our cellphone service carrier, Verizon. We don’t use a lot of data (we currently share 2GB but never use even close to that), and our talking and texting is on the low-side, so our current monthly bill of $130 (plus taxes and fees) for two phones  seems high. When our 2-year contract recently expired, we visited a Verizon store to find out what our options were. We knew that the major service carriers were feeling pressure from the smaller start-ups so we hoped to get a better deal.

We were disappointed to learn that Verizon’s “deal” involved the mandatory purchase of new phones and then monthly charges to pay off those phones. Even though they claimed that we’d no longer be on a 2-year contract, the new phone would be paid off at the end of – surprise! – 24 months. After that, the monthly installments would be removed from the bill and we could either keep our now fully paid for phones, or purchase the latest wiz-bang phone and start all over again. Um, no thank you.

Thinking that we could do better, we went in search of a carrier that offered decent coverage, a no-contract option, and one where we could keep our current, perfectly good phones. We found that there are quite a few smaller carriers out there and they all offer slightly different plan options. When comparing plans, we found that it’s important to accurately estimate current and (as much as possible), future data and minutes usage, and understand the carriers’ cell coverage.

After some research, we settled on the carrier that Consumer Reports and PC Magazine have rated #1: Consumer Cellular. Based on our usage and because we can continue to use our existing phones, the new monthly bill will be about $60 for our two phones. If (when) in the future we decide to upgrade our phones, our option would be to purchase the phones outright or pay for them in monthly installments. But, for now, we are happy with what we have… and saving $70 every month.

Next on our agenda is to see how we can say goodbye to our satellite TV bill. We aren’t completely sure how streaming and/or accessing digital content works, but I’m confident that we can figure it out. In addition, we are exploring ways to lower our internet bill (how did it get to be more than $50 per month??).

59 Candles

I hate my birthday. Actually, it’s not so much my birthday – as a child, I loved the attention and getting presents – it’s the month that my birthday falls in that I dislike.

Growing up, I was always so envious of my friends who had birthdays in late spring and summer. They got to have beach parties, and pool parties, and parties in the park. Because my birthday is in January, my parties always had to be held indoors. It was cold outside and sometimes wet; not exactly party weather.

HB4Not only is my birthday in what is often the coldest month of the year, it is in early January… just days after the holidays. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard a version of this joyful birthday greeting: “Oh great, it’s your birthday. Jeez, we just had Christmas and now I have to think about your birthday?” Um, sorry?

 

Fortunately, my parents always made a big deal about my birthday, just as they did for my two brothers. I never had to open a combined Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday gift or was made to feel that the timing of my birthday was inconvenient (after all, it was kind of their fault, right?). In fact, it was the year they forgot my birthday that I knew something was terribly wrong and my brothers and I needed to step in and become their vigilant care givers.

In just a few days, I will enter the final year of my fifties. The year I turned 29, 39, and even 49, didn’t have much significance for me. Those 365 days ticking down to my next decade didn’t seem like they were leading to anything terribly transformative. For some reason, 59 feels different.

According to several dictionaries, “middle age” is considered to span between the ages of 40 and 60. Before turning 40, a person is considered to be a “young adult.” Once that person turns 60, according to the definition, he or she has now reached “old age.” OLD AGE?? I can’t speak for everyone in my age range, but I certainly don’t feel like I’m just one short year away from being of “old age.” I have a lot of friends who are several – some who are many – years older than I am and I don’t consider them to be of “old age” either.  Some are still working and some are retired. They travel, they volunteer, they are involved with their families, friends, and their community.

I wonder if we need to create another definition for the years after 60. I’m not in denial that, at some point in the future, “old” will be an apt description of my age, but it sure isn’t what I’d define myself as being now, or a year from now, or, I hope, for many years to come.

Over the next 365 days, I might put some thought into coining a new phrase to describe the years following my 60th birthday. Even better, I think I’ll just continue to be active, engaged, creative, and connected, and let my reality define my age.

A Backward Glance at 2014, Part 3

Rather than making New Year’s resolutions that I’d probably break before the end of January, I decided to look back on 2014, the first year of my retirement, to see how my vision corresponded with my reality. In Part 1 and Part 2, I explored six specific areas of focus. Here in Part 3, I look at three more.

Learn new things – C

When I envisioned my retirement years before I actually made the step, I knew they would include ongoing education. There are so many subjects I want to learn about and, fortunately in my city, there are many avenues I can take to pursue this knowledge.

Osher is an amazing resource for lifelong education
Osher is an amazing resource for lifelong education

I’ve already taken classes on Photoshop and social media (both free through the Continuing Education system) and there are so many other subjects I am interested in. We are fortunate to have several colleges in the area that offer courses through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute that I plan to take advantage of. If you haven’t heard about Osher, I encourage you to Google them and see if they offer classes where you live.

I’m giving myself a C because I sort of took the spring and summer off right after I left work. I expect to refocus in the new year and feed my brain on a regular basis.

Be creative – B-

I’ve always been a fairly creative person; in fact I was a graphic design major in college. For those of you who haven’t reached 50 yet, it’s probably difficult to picture a time when design was done without a computer, but that was my world. Soon after I graduated, I decided not to make a career out of art and get into something more stable and lucrative.

I’ve dabble in artistic pursuits on and off over the years, but I looked forward to the free time I’d have in retirement to reawaken my creative side. I’ve made some progress, mostly in photography, but I want to do much more.

Care for and nurture my marriage – B+

This is the biggie. I wasn’t sure how being together almost 24-hours-a-day would affect my relationship with my husband. As solid as our marriage is, I realized that we needed to be mindful of this huge change in our lives. Would each of us get enough “me time”? Would we still find joy in being together? Would we drive each other crazy?

Looking back on the past year, I think we’ve done a great job adjusting to our new reality. It takes a lot of work, flexibility, and good communication, but isn’t that true of any relationship? I consider my husband my best friend and I know we are each other’s biggest fan. We can always improve (hence the B+, not an A), but there is no one else I’d rather find joy with or drive crazy.

 

So, tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve and we plan to spend a wonderful evening with good friends. We may even stay up until midnight (or, not). 2014 turned out to be a very good year and I look forward to filling 2015 with great adventures, personal growth, fulfilling connections with others, healthy living, and much laughter and joy. I wish the same for you.

Photo101: Pop of Color

I found myself looking around all day for “pops of color” that I could take a picture of – and saw plenty! I love this particular challenge and look forward to applying the technique in the future.

I found this very calm crab sitting on a rock... it took me moment to realize that he wasn't alive!
I found this very calm crab sitting on a rock… it took me moment to realize that he wasn’t alive!
It was so nice that someone just happened to park their bright-red scooter against a gray wall!
It was so nice that someone just happened to park their bright-red scooter against a gray wall!

Photo101 Blogging U Challenge

I am very excited to participate in the WordPress Blogging U Photography 101 photo challenge. During the month of November (beginning tomorrow, November 3) I will be posting a photo every day on my blog; the image to be inspired by a different theme provided each day and will be tagged “Photo101.”

This dovetails nicely with my desire to work on becoming a better photographer. With focused practice and learning tips and tricks from other participants, my fingers are crossed for good results.

If you want to follow the challenge on WordPress, you can see all the participants’ submissions by tagging “Photo101” in your reader.

Greetings From the Top of the World

Mauna Kea, one of the five volcanos that form the island of Hawaii, stands 13,796 feet above sea level. From its base, which in 17,000 feet below sea level, to its peak, Mauna Kea rises over 30,000 feet – more than twice the height of Mount Everest.

The volcano’s last eruption occurred over 4600 years ago. It is currently dormant but scientists expect there is another eruption in its future. Although all of us will be long gone when this happens (it could be tens of thousands of years from now) it should be quite a show!

Because of Mauna Kea’s high altitude, dry climate, and stable airflow, its summit is home to over a dozen telescopes. It is considered one of the best locations in the world for astronomical observation.

Other than from an airplane, we don’t usually get to observe clouds from above. The view from the summit of Mauna Kea is incredible – the vista, the clouds, the sunset, and then the amazing night sky filled with stars – and I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to see it for myself.

IMG_0838-0.JPG

IMG_0839.JPG

IMG_0821.JPG

IMG_0806.JPG

Gratitude: Bloggers and Their Blogs

One of the items on my retirement “To-Do” list is to become a better photographer. I purchased a nice DSLR that I hope will help me take my photos to a level beyond the images I get from my point-and-shoot camera or my cell phone.

Despite—or, maybe because of—all the bells and whistles available to me on my new camera, I still find myself reaching for my cell phone when I want to take a picture. It is so easy to grab it and shoot. I don’t need to think about the correct aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. The results, while not great, are usually at least acceptable. When I pick up my DSLR camera, I feel overwhelmed with all of the possible setting combinations. If I take a photo and I’m unhappy with the result, I have no idea what went wrong. If it comes out well, I am equally perplexed as to how to recreate it.

Me and Camera

Because of some upcoming trips, I feel that I can no longer ignore my “grown up” camera. I really need to learn about its features and capabilities, and what all the mysterious dials and buttons do. I must finally wrap my head around the concept that a larger f-stop number indicates a smaller aperture opening. That a bigger aperture shortens the depth of field, while a smaller aperture will bring the background and foreground equally in focus. That the shutter speed and aperture settings work together to stop or blur motion, or allow photos to be taken in very low light or in extremely bright settings. Yikes!

Where do I go to educate myself? Blogs, of course.

Just as I have favorite blogs with cooking and entertaining information, travel tips, book reviews, opinions on politics and world events, and ones that make me laugh, make me think, or just make me feel as if I’m reading a letter from a friend, I am now reading blogs to help me learn more about my camera and how to take better pictures.

I continue to be amazed at the level of information available in the blogosphere. I am in awe of the generous souls who are passionate about what they do and have worked hard to become proficient, who now take the time to share their wisdom and talent with an unseen universe of strangers. Even if they have been able to monetize their blog, or hope to do so in the future, the information is still free and available to anyone who searches for it. Granted, the content on some blogs is questionable or just plain wrong, but I have found plenty of blogs that are well-written, beautifully designed, and full of information and inspiration.

I don’t know what it is that makes someone want to share so much of their knowledge with others, but I’m very grateful that they do. Because they blog, I have become a better cook and entertainer, I have read books that otherwise I might have missed, I have learned about different parts of the world, and I have had my mind opened to various points of view. I have also “met” quite a few interesting people that I wouldn’t have if not for their blogs.

I know that whether or not I become a better photographer is up to me but I am thankful to those who have helped me gain the tools I need to improve. I consider each post a gift and I am grateful that they placed it on their blog for me to open.