Time on My Hands to Save $$$$

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon I was bored. There didn’t seem to be anything interesting on TV, so while I was dinking around in my kitchen there was a show called Extreme Couponing playing on the adjacent family room TV. The show had several concurrent episodes playing. I was kind of half paying attention until I noticed some unbelievable amounts of money these people were savings due to their efforts of combining coupons with grocery store sales until they were getting most of their items for pennies on the dollar. In fact, even free. And in some cases even getting paid to take the stuff away. Imagine paying $5 for hundreds of dollars worth of stuff.  Never mind that these coupon superstars tend to buy tons of stuff that they don’t actually need right away and fill their garages and every spare inch of storage spaces within their homes with stuff they call their stock piles. One woman even borrowed space from her neighbors! Hoarding –only in neat little piles.

After filing our taxes a couple of months ago, I decided to take a look at our spending habits by analyzing our joint checking account and income for the past year and created a monthly budget based on what I found. Without a doubt our biggest monthly expenditure is groceries –even more than our housing, vehicle and utilities all together! We don’t eat out often and when we do, we eat at inexpensive venues and fast food places. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but prices have been on a steady climb, so it is only going to get worse.

No need to dumpster dive for coupons anymore!

No need to dumpster dive for coupons anymore!

Extreme couponing is not a new concept… and I’ve come to realize these shows were not so new either. While printed (and printable) coupons are still out there, this method of combining and “doubling” coupons isn’t so available anymore at places where I shop. The best you can hope to do where I shop is use a coupon on a sale item. Just the same –as I have done periodically throughout my adulthood– I’ve decided to give “couponing” a go once again. Only this time, deciding to get smarter about it. After all, even though I’m retired, I’ve decided the time I’m going to invest in this endeavor is of value. So I was inspired on that Saturday afternoon with the knowledge of my out-of-wack grocery bill, that it was high time I found a way to cut costs any way I can without sacrificing our lifestyle choices if possible –though we could definitely stand to eat a bit healthier. (By that I mean less.)

Coupons have a lot of rules. I try not to embarrass my self further at the checkout (while I'm holding up the  line) as the check goes through reading each and every one of them in the pile!

Coupons have a lot of rules. I try not to embarrass my self further at the checkout (while I’m holding up the line) as the checker goes through reading each and every one of them in the pile!

So how do you find out how to do it nowadays? Why the internet of course! While I now peruse the weekly flyers that fill my mailbox every Wednesday for coupons (both grocery and restaurant types), I’ve also discovered online sites where you can print manufacturer’s coupons. The best site by far is coupons.com where you virtually ‘clip’ manufacturer’s coupons from hundreds that are available. You have to download their printer app due to the bar codes that are printed on the coupons (fyi not working on Chrome). They print three to a sheet so I try to make my total print job in multiples of three so I don’t waste paper. –Need to take into consideration the cost of paper and ink. Then I use a cheap little paper cutter to manually clip my coupons at four sheets at a time. I then file my coupons (by expiration date) in a notebook with sleeves that are tabbed to reflect areas in a grocery store where like item types would be grouped so I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time rifling through all of my coupons to find them while I’m shopping.

Krazy Coupon Lady

Krazy Coupon Lady

That’s just the beginning and it reflects the ‘old fashioned way’ of coupon or discount grocery shopping. There’s more! Yes soooo much more to try and learn! Much of what I know now I’ve learned from a couple of gals that have a website called the Krazy Coupon Lady.com. Joannie and Heather became nationally known a little over a year ago on the now defunct Nate Berkus Show.  They have a lot of YouTube videos that tell you how to “save money in 2015” by utilizing the internet to not only “stack” coupons but get money back by rebating (with your smart phone!) from sites named Ibota, Jingit, Checkout 51, Shopmium and Slice. For the most part you use your phone to scan your receipts and match your purchases to the items on these sites and get coupon-similar refunds. You can also collect refundable points on some sites just for walking in the door! They also tell you how to shop certain stores like Costco, Walmart and Target that have apps to help save additionally. What’s more the Krazy Coupon Lady does a lot of the footwork and figuring out for you by sharing via email “deals” that combine coupons, store sales and rebate sites for maximum savings.

Joanie & Heather

Joanie & Heather

Another “new in 2015” idea is online grocery shopping. Krazy Coupon Lady tells you about these features available on Amazon. There’s a couple of ways to save: One is to ‘subscribe’ to certain items that you purchase in regular intervals. Subscription prices are slightly less than their regular price and can be combined with Amazon’s virtual coupons. The other way is to utilize Amazon Prime Pantry. You have to subscribe to Amazon Prime ($100/year) and pay shipping by the box.  The system shows you what percentage of the box is filled as you add items to your “shopping cart”. These items may have virtual coupons available to be applied. I placed my first order yesterday and it arrived in todays mail! The postman said he delivered three of them today. I was surprised others in my community knew about it as it’s a new thing (and we’re not! LOL). Amazon doesn’t sell perishables like fresh vegeys or meat and their prices aren’t usually cheaper than the same items at the local grocery store, but you don’t waste gas or have to find a place to park. Considering it got here so fast, I’m already feeling like I won at least a small battle as I order a lot of things from Amazon besides groceries. I’m still in the ‘trial’ period for Amazon Prime (which means I haven’t paid for a membership yet) and even though my first order shipped free, not sure it’s going to be worth it. I don’t have a Costco membership either for the same reason. On the fence on this one still and I’ve got a couple of weeks yet to decide.

So far it feels like I’m spending a lot of time on this coupon thing and it will take a lot more time to see a return. Partly because I’m enjoying a new hobby I suppose. Time will tell…

 

 

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When One Door Closes…

suesMany of you have been hearing me say for quite awhile now that I am retiring. In fact I retired a few years back from kitchen and bath design, only to re-emerge a year or two later with a new business emphasis in 3D illustration of interiors. While I enjoyed the notion and activity of creating beautiful renderings, it never developed into anything more than a hobby. I came to the conclusion that I was tired of clients (and potential clients) who wanted me to work on their projects on contingency (I don’t get paid unless they sell the job to their clients), or for less than minimum wage. One guy even wanted me to do a project (or two) for free just to prove to him I could do it even though I sent him ‘sample projects’ that he raved about. I politely declined. Others couldn’t be bothered with signing an agreement ~ Yet these same people wouldn’t lift a finger for their own clients without one. While I know that times have been tough on everybody in the design and construction business, I think it is only fair to ask for reasonable compensation for my work. Work that I did because they couldn’t.  Adios Bitchachos!

There have been tell-tell signs that I’ve been moving in this direction. I haven’t updated my website for some time and my software is now two versions behind. I didn’t renew my business license or inform the powers that be of my new address when I moved. My computer is becoming something of a dinosaur and I’m not going to replace it until it absolutely will not surf the net anymore. (I had to restart it once while in the process of writing this post because it gets stuck.)

So I did all of the things today that one does to “close shop”. I closed my business bank account, ditched the business phone and virtual fax machine. In the near future, my website, pamdesigns.net wil be coming down. I sent letters to recent clients informing them and thanking them for their business. Feels rather strange as there are no lights to turn off nor a door to lock for the last time. Sadly, it just is. Because my business has been online for the past several years, it is going away with a silent breath that probably only I will hear.

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I like being retired. Not a financially savvy move, but one that I am content with. I am not destitute nor am I wealthy (or ever will be) in either case. I am enjoying doing the things I would never be able to do if I were tied to a job and hope to be able to get back into creating art as I did many years ago. One thing you can count on, I and this blog are not going away. I may not be making a living at it, but I am and will always identify myself as a designer and an artist. Just passing a milestone in my life like many others that are life changing (like graduating from school, taking a first job, getting married or kicking the last birdy out of the nest).

Really Bad Days 2

Of Pinterest

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It’s seems surreal to me that I’ve been “pinning” for more than a couple of years now.  I tried looking into my profile on the site to see when I actually joined Pinterest and couldn’t find it. I know it’s been more than a year that I converted my account to a pro account as a means of exhibiting my portfolio of work (and perhaps drumming up some business).  I’m guessing that happened about the same time I changed my business emphasis to 3D computer rendering from kitchen design and drafting. What I do remember is all of the hoopla about the ethics of the program and concerns over copyright infringements.  I caught a lot of flack from some and even lost a few Facebook ‘friends’ in the process. Especially those in the art and design community who take real issue with the idea that I might be giving away my work for free (or worse) stealing theirs! I recall my comment at the time was something like: “If you don’t want people to share images on Pinterest, then don’t put it on the internet!”  Seemed rather simple to me.

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I was surprised to discover one of my original computer renderings on somebody’s website one day who obviously found it on the internet (probably on Pinterest or even possibly from my own website PamDesigns.net). They didn’t claim to have created it. Just borrowed the image for their site. It would have been nice to have been asked or at least given credit for it.  Just the same, I was flattered that of all the gazillion images out there in the electronic ether, they found mine and decided it was perfect for their purposes. Purposes that were pretty benign. So I didn’t raise a stink about it. Recalling my statement regarding putting stuff out there on the interwebs… I stood behind my comment. I put it out there and felt that in doing so relinquished any control or possible monetization I might have received otherwise. My theory –the (so far) free internet is cheap advertising and the best way I know of to get my work out there without leaving the comfort of my office chair.

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“How’s that workin’ out for ya?” chided the naysayers. My response: “Not so good.” I’ve not received much business over the internet, via my website, Pinterest boards or any other social networking activity I’ve been involved in over the past six or so years since I first opened my Twitter account. So I have to say LOUD AND CLEAR FOR ALL THE WORLD TO HEAR that social media is not a magic pill for marketing a business. The emperor is in fact naked as a J-bird. There is still no replacement for the tried and true reasons for most business success that has existed since long before social media, computers, cell phones or even TVs were ever invented. If you are successful in business, you know what those reasons are. I’m not going into that in this post.

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“So why do it?” you might ask. I continue my pinning obsession for the same reason I began it. Because it’s fun. For the most part, it’s electronic scrap booking. I now claim 252 boards which contain 83,000+ pins. Aside from just a few of those boards exhibiting my own work, my boards are divided up into my various areas of interest. I do this by ‘coding’ my board titles. Certain very large areas of interest such as recipes have the words A Recipe ~ at the beginning of each board’s title. This makes it easy for me to locate boards to file pins in. OK –I know this makes me sound a little OCD –perhaps if the shoe fits (and can be counted and organized)… 😉

9cb3a1c39ca3a5b77dba8aa031336905If an area of interest is somewhat small, I’ll give it a unique title. For example, one of my recent favorites is a board called “A Country Life” that has images of  life on the farm that remind me of growing up on my folk’s farm in Southern Oregon. I also have a board called “I LUV Oregon” because I lived there for a big part of my life and still visit once in awhile. One aspect of  social networking has been since it’s inception (probably due to the now defunct My Space and emphasized with Twitter) is the goal of gaining followers. I remember how flattered I felt when my Twitter following reached a few thousand. I never failed to post dozens of #FF (Follow Friday) mentions weekly and made it my mission to “Tweet” at least five times a day seven days a week. I remember the controversy over issues about “original tweets vs. re-tweets”, promoting business tweets vs. spam, and over tweeting…  In the past year or so, my Tweets have dwindled to just a couple a week and most of those are Pins.

2093c5859d3fe8f6cca11a548f632592Ironically, my Pinterest following is almost 30,000 at this point. I count but a few of my Pinterest followers as ‘friends’ because we’ve been sharing pins long enough that I recognize their names. Many were Facebook friends to begin with. It was never my intention to mass a following on Pinterest. As I’ve stated in the past, my interest in Pinterest started out as a self-serving obsession. It just so happens that there seem to be a lot of people out there who have the same interests as I do that are pretty commonplace  ~ like food, travel, gardening, art and interior decoration. I’ve a few boards that speak more about my personality like the “Whimsey” board or the “# Things_To_Know_Before_Dying” Board (written on purpose like a Twitter hash tag) where I relegate comments that I find funny or  political satire and issues. I even have a board where I pin this blog’s posts! I also have some unique board titles like “Mermaids and Seafaring Folk” and “Sueños del Estilo Español” .

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Aside for the inception of the “pro” format developed by Pinterest that has a slightly different formatting that the original format (and I can’t really remember what that was), Pinterest has evolved and features have been added. One significant feature is that you are alerted now when you try to pin an image that you previously pinned. They even tell you which board you pinned it to. It works about 80 percent of the time. I still troll my boards for duplicates. However, there have been times that I will purposely pin an image to more than one board.

03655326dd6f4771a8519783169a2f88There are rules. You are not supposed to pin an image without consent from the owner or creator of  it.  That is a loosely enforced rule. Actually, Pinterest doesn’t remove images unless the copyright owner requests it to be. At least weekly I get a notice that one or more of my pins has been removed. They are always sure to tell me it’s not a reflection on me because I unwittingly got it from somebody else. Thanks Pinterest!

38856d4410e324ecd09b0629d06d25b9Most of the ‘rules’ I’ve run into have been contrived by other users. One such ‘rule’ came from a woman who decided to proclaim in her profile that anybody pinning more than 10 pins from any of her numerous boards would be blocked from further pinning of her boards stating that doing so was ‘bad Pinterest etiquette’. So… she blocked me and sent me a pin to let me (and all the world) know what bad pin thief I was. Well I otta!!!!! and I did. I blocked her back. Bitch.

I have rules (self imposed really).

  1. I don’t belong to group boards because they become insufferably long and often end up off topic.
  2. I wish there was a board size limit of 1000 pins. (I limit mine to that amount.) It just makes it easier to find stuff.
  3. I make sure the ‘cover pin’ for each board is still a pin on that board. It drives me crazy when I go to somebody’s board because I was inspired by the cover pin just to find out after scrolling through 3000 pins that it’s no longer there!
  4. I don’t allow other people to pin to my boards. (see rule #1) I have only one board from my son that we share –it’s of his dog Mila Wolfavich.
  5. I don’t pin anything to do with clothing fashion, makeup or little kid’s room interiors or parenting. I did my stint. I’m over it.

A newer feature on Pinterest is the ability to make hidden boards. These come in handy for pro designers, architects and such who want to make boards specifically for their customers. I haven’t tried it but I think it’s a great feature. If I wasn’t retired, I’d probably use it.

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Some things I wish they would fix:  Dragging and dropping pins from one board to another would be nice. Currently you can drag and drop boards from one location in your collection of boards, but you cannot rearrange or change the sequence of pins within a board. You have to change the pin details in order to move a pin from one board to another. This gets pretty time consuming when creating a new board because the existing one is too full. I do this frequently (probably evidentiary of my burgeoning OCD).

b9d2f058a6255780cbad8e98c5ef4ddbOther pet peeves:

  1. Pinning an image of a recipe and discovering that it does not link directly to a recipe.
  2. Trying to move a pin from one board to another and being told I can’t because the pin has been reported as a link to spam “by somebody” unknown. Yet it’s allowed to remain on the board I put it in. Doesn’t make sense to me.
  3. People who think I know what the brand and color name is of the paint on the wall in the room.  How the Hell should I know? Is it too hard to click through to the origin of the pin to ask the manufacturer or original pinner? Jeesh! It’s amazing how many people assume that I am the original pinner of anything except my original work. Duh!
  4. Nonsensical comments on my pins. Glad you think it’s “beautiful” but I’d rather have a conversation beyond that if you are going to go to the trouble of commenting on one of my pins.

I don’t spend as much time as I used to on Pinterest. Usually an hour or so when I first get up in the morning with a cup of coffee after I’ve gone through the email. I spend more time going through my existing pin boards as it seems I don’t see as much new stuff anymore. Don’t get me wrong. Pinterest has enriched my life in ways I could not have anticipated. It’s been the source of inspiration for much of my creativity since I’ve found it as is displayed throughout my home and my work. I just think my participation has leveled out so that I don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time at it.

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It’s seems to be my stopping point for my search for time-wasting endeavors I’ve taken into the world of ‘social networking’. Perhaps because it’s less about social networking (for me) and more about scrap booking and collecting ideas. The images in this post are taken from my board titled “Of Pinterest”. If you want to find the sources for any of them, you’ll have to go to the Pinterest site to my board. If you click on the image, it will hopefully direct you to the source link. If not, please accept my apology and lack of due diligence –it just may be an image without a URL attached.

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BS Health Insurance Boondoggle

This is a continuation regarding yesterday’s post if this one seems odd or unclear.

I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and not rely on the crazies to resolve my lost payment issue. I do not want my bank to reimburse me (yes they were actually willing to do that!) and have me double-pay the BS (Blue Shield) insurance company. So I’m having the bank fax proof of the payment to them. Hopefully this will resolve it. I don’t care if my measly payment amount is insignificant enough to the insurance company or my bank that they would allow that. I want it done right. Is that too much to ask?

Could not log onto either the bank’s website or the BS insurance company’s. Thought maybe it was my computer. So I restarted it and cleaned out my cache. Still no luck. So when I called BS insurance company, the customer service guy said (and I quote), “Don’t bother. It’s unreliable.” banghead

Yippee– I Have Health Insurance!

That’s the only good thing I can think of that has resulted from the Affordable Care Act. I can actually get insurance. A couple of years ago due to my age and physical condition I was denied any type of health insurance. So one would think I would be jumping for joy because the law states now that I cannot be denied.

However, taking on Covered California’s system to get insurance through the ‘Exchange’ is like working with a robot with short circuit issues. I’m inclined to feel the whole operation is run by severely brain damaged individuals from the asylum we call our state capitol. They have a Facebook page where they answer questions from frustrated citizens trying to get help –or even basic information from Covered California:  https://www.facebook.com/CoveredCA .  Reading the questions and complaints from others who have tried to use the system gives me a headache! One such repeated comment is the long hold times when you try to call –just to discover you may get cut off after an hour or two. CoveredCA’s response… “We get thousands of calls every hour.”  Well why do you suppose that is? Could it be the system is so screwed up and confusing that people are calling for help who shouldn’t have to? If the system was as great as they claim, this would not be happening and actually, CoveredCA shouldn’t even need a Facebook page.

First of all I’d like to talk about the Exchange where one is given to believe there would be choices of insurance companies. Where I live we have the following choices:  Blue Cross or Blue Cross (Blue Shield or Anthem respectively). Some choice. There are four plan options available says CoveredCA: “You can choose to pay a higher monthly premium for a Platinum or Gold plan so that when you need medical coverage you pay less. Or you can choose to pay a lower monthly premium for a Silver or Bronze plan, but when you need medical coverage, you pay more. It’s up to you.” Well is it really up to me?  My income is limited, so like most of the athletes from the US that metaled in the recent Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I should probably settle for Bronze if I could.  However, after comparing plans and knowing that I have to see a physician and have tests rather frequently, it didn’t make sense to have a plan with a ridiculously a high deductible and co-pay amounts, that covered very little, just to say I’d met the letter of the new law that says I have to purchase insurance. So, I chose the ‘recommended’ choice: Silver. Because of my age the monthly premium is a whopping $600+ per month. Because of our household income, we qualify for a subsidy that reduces our monthly payment to a $256 per month or roughly about the same as a car payment would be for moderately priced car. Makes me wonder if anybody in my age and income brackets actually chooses Gold or Platinum… Really why do they even offer such an incredibly expensive option. Oh that’s right —so they can say there are actually options available in the Exchange.  I’d love to see a break down after a year or so to see what people actually chose… Don’t think that’ll happen.

I would like to note that CoveredCA sent me a letter after I enrolled stating I did not qualify for the “enhanced” Silver plan due to our income. First of all, I have no idea what the difference is between the enhanced version of the plan I got other than it is apparently better than what I got and I can’t have it. Gee thanks for the heads up. Does me a world of good to know that!

OK… So my husband (who gets insurance through his employer that is super crappy but free) and I bit the bullet and took on the monthly expense of my insurance because I am the one with the health issues, I’m older… and well it’s the law. We diligently paid the premium monthly since January. Moving smoothly along… until I get a notice in the mail from Blue Cross Blue Shield stating my policy is being cancelled for nonpayment of premium. WTF!  It turns out that I paid the premium through my online bill payment system  through my bank (like I do all my other bills) and BCBS (emphasis on BS) does not like this. What company in the world does not like to get payments directly from a bank?! Anyway, they said they received it on time when it was due but returned it to my bank on the 4th. (That was 20 days ago mind you and the next payment is due in only a few days.) They prefer that I pay my bill using their online system on their website, send a personal check via snail mail or agree to automatic deductions from my bank account (that is going to happen not EVER).

I looked on my bank account statement online and could find no evidence that the funds were returned to me. I verified this with both my bank representative and one from the bill pay system. I called BCBS back –their hold times are at least as long as CoveredCA’s. The representative who I finally talked to after another 45 minutes on hold told me he couldn’t find any evidence that I’d paid. I told him it showed on my statement that I did and the last BCBS rep I talked to verified it and told me it was returned to my bank. He hung up.

So, my bank is going to send me a form to sign that will get me reimbursed for my loss. The catch(es): 1/ it will take two weeks to process, and 2/I will never be able to pay BCBS through the bank again. I asked the bank rep if this meant just the bill pay system or did it also apply to writing a check or using my debit card on their site. He didn’t know. Jeesh…

I feel like every place I’ve turned regarding this new health insurance policy I have has lead me to nothing but incompetent crazies! Very tempting to just let the damned thing get cancelled and pay the tax fine.

Laundry Day

Everyday is laundry day at my house.  There are four adults (me, my husband, my son and his significant other).  We process at least two loads a day in my large capacity HE laundry set.  The laundry room at left is not mine.  (Though I wouldn’t mind it if it were.) My laundry room doubles as my home office and sewing room.  It’s never quite as tidy.  It was one of the rooms that was part of our recent remodel that included turning an extra bedroom into a hobby/laundry room.

“For those of us who like to roll out pastry while watching the spin cycle…hehe..” rosesandrustblogger.blogspot.com

Someday when my son and his girlfriend move out, the home office will move into their old room.

My laundry room isn’t this big… but if it was! (bobvila.com)

Until then, the laundry room is our multi-purpose room.

Laundry is not one of my favorite chores.  I don’t ‘enjoy’ ironing  or folding as some people claim to.  Though I’m grateful that I live in an age where technology really does most of the work.  I’m lucky to have a Whirlpool Duet Steam washer and dryer set that I purchased when we moved into our house.  The steam really does make a difference in the washer for making the clothes cleaner and getting out stains.  Even my daughter noticed when she was down visiting this summer.  HE as they may be (highly efficient), they are not cheap to run -especially if you use the steam functions.  What used to be a load that ran for 45 minutes to an hour now runs for an hour and a half to two hours.  While the machine gauges how much water to save, it still uses electricity that whole time.  That with the unbelievably high cost of sundries such as laundry soap, softener and the like, laundry has become expensive! 

I have recently been making my own laundry detergent http://whynotsew.blogspot.com/2010/08/how-to-make-homemade-laundry-detergent.html .  It’s incredibly inexpensive and easy to make.  You get 576 loads (at 1/2 cup of the stuff per load) out of one batch that costs less than the price of a 50 ounce good quality HE liquid detergent bottle (that claims to do 32 loads).  I like that I know what chemicals I’m using and can make it as allergen free as the bar soap I use.   My first batch came out the consistency of jello, so I’ve had to cut back the bar soap to about a quarter of a bar.  (Actually thinking of switching to a liquid hand soap to avoid the jelling problem.)

If I had a laundry tub in my laundry room, it would look like this one.

I’ve also discovered a recipe for homemade fabric softener that uses inexpensive hair conditioner as the softening agent.       http://www.food.com/recipe/homemade-fabric-softener-355877  So far so good ~ clothes are getting just as soft and clean as they did with the expensive storebought stuff.  Though I think the steam feature of the washing machine has a lot to do with it.

My grandmother and my mom both had outdoor clotheslines.  Just think of the money and electricity we’d save if we dried our laundry that way.

My friend Glenna had her husband put up a line in the backyard.  She likes the fresh smell of the sun-dried, wind-blown linens.  She’s a collector of vintage glassware and tends to like  stuff from the Depression Era.  Her degree in sociology has not gone to waste since her retirement as a family counselor.  She now studies the culture of women and their crafts of the last century.  She’s enjoying her retirement as she quilts, sews and crochets beautiful pieces.  (Some of which I’m lucky to have.)  We’ve been friends for almost 30 years and have shared many trials and tribulations.  I think she’d appreciate this use of her clothesline (if need be… lol)

The Human Condition & What Can Be Done About It

I guess it depends on what condition (as there are many).  Some things are fixable.  And others? –Well not so much.  Pretty much the only conditions that I can count on affecting much of a change in are the ones that involve me directly.  Were it not so, I’d be spending my time trying to “fix” everybody else’s problems too.  I can donate to the victims of the Haitian quake, cancer research or the the local animal shelter and will probably never know if my funds really helped anyone (except me when I go to write off the charitable donation on my taxes.)

I’ve learned some things in life (related to this issue):  1/ If I wait long enough, things have a way of resolving themselves, either to my liking…  or not (aka successful procrastination); 2/ Money (or the lack there of) can fix a whole lot of things that are caused by money (or a lack there of); 3/ There are some problems that can’t be fixed with money no matter how much I throw at it; 4/ There’s a very thin line between “helping” and “controlling;” 5/ Karma is cyclical.  What goes around really does come around –eventually (maybe not in my lifetime).  This is the extent of my faith in the cosmos; and last but not least:  6/ I can plan all I want, talk to all the experts, write lists, business plans, whatever –until my head explodes.  But try as I might, I can never predict the future.  Only one mortal was ever documented as having that ability (Nostradamus) and that is open to debate.

One of my favorite self-help books is What You Think Of Me Is None Of My Business by Terry Cole-Whittaker.  This book is based on the premise that our thoughts are private.  We never really know what others are thinking, and basically, people aren’t thinking about us (or the issues we hold dear) near as much as our egos drive us to think they are.  Mother Teresa lived to a ripe old age because she realized that in order to help others, she had to be healthy enough to do so and did what she needed to do to take care of herself.  Ever notice when you get on a plane and they’re giving you the instructions regarding what to do if the oxygen masks drop down, that they’ll tell you to put yours on first before attempting to help somebody else with theirs?  It is supposed this is a tough call for parents to do who are traveling with small children.  They have to be told… Or do they? If I suddenly found myself unable to breath, I’d really expect the “fight or flight” response would kick in.  I am certainly no Mother Teresa, but I think she would have put her mask on first too.  I guess it’s assumed that when the masks drop, there is still enough oxygen in the air for us not to panic and to make a sound decision –yeah right!

There are psychopaths and sociopaths out there.  I don’t think most people fall into those categories and truly do care about the welfare of others.  However, most people think about themselves way more than they’ll admit and are interested in self-preservation mostly.  That is not a condemnation as I believe there are more “good” people than “bad” people.  The bad ones just get more press.  It is human nature to subconsciously project our values on others.  We live what we learn.  Those who believe themselves to be thoughtful and well intentioned (and that would be most of us), tend to trust that others they encounter will be the same because (most of the time) they have been treated in kind. 

As everyone pretty much knows, bad things happen to good people and situations sometimes cause basically good people to make mistakes that ultimately hurt others.  In this economy there are businesses falling apart all around us.   Where “business as usual” meant that doing right by others was just the way business was done (without thinking too much about it) because it was easy.  Suddenly, in mid transaction, the business entities involved collapsed leaving many “holding the bag.”  People are out of work, losing their homes, have lost their life savings and are struggling just to survive.  Share holders and investors suddenly find their shares and investments are now worth less than the paper they were written on.  The very foundation of the belief systems of many are on shaky ground and pointing fingers fly!  Could it have been avoided?  Did anybody see it coming and just not say anything?  At least as far as the housing and remodeling industries are concerned, we had plenty of warning.  At the very least, we were certainly aware that nothing could last for ever.  But nobody wanted to believe it would collapse so suddenly or so devastatingly.    (See #6 above.)

There are still psychopaths and sociopaths out there.  Though they may be more difficult to differentiate from those who are just reacting and lashing out because of their losses.  Many creative solutions have evolved in the business world as a result where otherwise highly moral and well intentioned people are doing things they would never have thought of in better times.  I know of a number of individuals who have simply closed the doors of their bankrupted businesses only to reopen a new one down the street with a different name doing exactly the same thing.  Many are taking on projects that are “iffy” and clients are asking things of them that they wouldn’t normally ask knowing they’d be laughed out of the building if times were better.  I don’t even want to think about how employers are treating employees these days.  Healthcare reform? Well, so far the only thing I’ve seen reform in that respect are the premiums –they went up!

I was once lured away from a job (with pretty good pay and benefits) to work for someone who I would classify as a sociopath.  When I think of the mind games and how (I can now see) he wove this elaborate plan and seduced me into following him.  I like to think that I’m no “shmuck” but this guy was very clever.  He learned what my hot buttons were.  He even went so far as to manipulate my relationship with my employers.  He became socially involved with my family as well. 

He was very slick.  I quit my job to work in his new showroom “that was just about finished” only to discover the showroom that he was building wasn’t really his and never would be.  My business relationship with him continued as I didn’t feel I had a whole lot of options at that time.  The money was good and he eluded to an eventual partnership.  He was very charming.  Eventually he did find an office space and built a scaled-down version of the showroom he originally proposed.  As we began working together side by side, I began to see glimpses of his personality that frankly scared me.  A potential client once borrowed some sample doors and failed to return them promptly which earned him a dozen very loud and profane phone calls on a single Sunday afternoon.  Another time a client called to complain about shoddy workmanship by a drunken tile setter.  The conversation escalated to a loud crescendo and a plastic file tray went whizzing by my head, bouncing off my desk and narrowly missing my computer screen.  He didn’t even apologize but did make excuses for his behavior.  It didn’t take too much convincing from clients and others to get away from that situation as quickly as I could.  I even felt kind of sneaky when I moved my operation to my home office when I moved to another town stating that the commute to the showroom was too far to commit to more than a couple of days a week. Once I got my stuff home, I never went back.  As far as I know, he’s still in business.

I’ve chalked it up to experience.  I’ve learned to trust my gut more.  I refuse to have a victim mentality though I’m not as trusting as I once was and know things are not always what they seem.  I still have a lot of faith in people and believe that the human condition is what it is.  Neither good nor bad –it just is.

Yes, there are psychopaths and sociopaths out there.  They operate on the premise that they must “do unto others before it’s done unto them.”  Their interactions with others are game-like.  Only the playing field is always bent to their advantage –or they don’t play.  They have absolutely no concern about how anything they do or say effects anyone but themselves.  Often very intelligent, they project a false persona of interest, compassion and indulgence.  But it is only a means to an end that suits them and only them.  You might be able to discover them if you really want to, but you probably won’t because they are seductive.  (Think Dexter.) When times are good, it’s easy to be taken in by them because they are very good at their game.  They are control freaks.  When times are bad and they’ve lost control of a situation, that’s when their “normal” guise starts to fall away.  Hopefully, it won’t be too late for you to escape their web of deceit and become their next victim.

Do they mean to cause harm?  Sometimes.  They have inflated egos and creative imaginations.  They think the world is their oyster and is better off for their actions.  Most of the time, they could care less.  That is what separates us from them –we give a damn.  I count myself fortunate to know many more that wear the white hats than the “Black Barts” that don’t.  You know who you are. 

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