Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Great Apache Bank Crash of 2013—or is it more an epiphany

 

I have to face facts:  I can’t keep my money in the bank anymore.  I got my bank statement a couple days ago, saw the miniscule interest amount I’d earned last month (on my life savings) and nearly fainted. 

It was little more than a hundred bucks, and given the amount of green I’ve got socked away in there, at the current rate of inflation my nest egg is going to be worth about half of it’s current value when I’m ready to retire.

I know I know, things couild be a lot worse; I’m crying because I’ve got a big wad of dough not growing any bigger?  I can’t help but think back to 2004, the year my mom died.  Online savings accounts were all the rage, and with good reason, they were paying interest rates around 5%.  That was TEN TIMES MORE than what banks are offering now.  CDs & money market accounts?  Why bother, they’re just as pitiful.  For all the schemers out there who would like to get their hands on my savings, I would have to say that banks are certainly not one of ‘em.

And economists say that based on previous financial collapses, interest rates take around 14 years to bottom out before climbing again.  Given that wallop we took in 2008, it’s estimated we won’t see rates climb until 2022.  Good for borrowers, bad for us savers.

 So what’s a saver to do?  Earlier this week, I saw an eye-opening documentary on how much (or little) people are saving, both in the bank and their 401Ks.  It focused on two things, how the economy is preventing many from saving for retirement, and for the lucky ones who are, how their earnings are being eaten up by all the hidden fees involved in those mutual fund accounts managed by brokerage firms like JP Morgan, Schwaab, etc.  You can see the video here:

PBS Frontline:  The Retirement Gamble – Will your 401K ensure a safe retirement?

It made me realize how fortunate I am that the 401K funds offered by my employer are provided by Vanguard (known for their low costs as they deal primarily with index funds, not the actual stock market).   Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about here?  I hope not!  Anyway, my 401K is currently in a Vanguard ‘target fund’ aka ‘Retirement 2025’, where the ratio of stocks (risk) to bonds decreases the closer you get to your target date.  I look at it a couple times a week & while it hasn’t done cartwheels, there’s been a slow but steady growth over the past couple years.

So why aren’t I doing something similar with my personal savings?  Because I see that as ‘real dough’, money I’ve squirreled away that I don’t have to wait until I’m 59 years old to get my hands on (if I wanted to buy a powerboat, for instance).  And frankly, I’m afraid of the risk.  I still see myself as some small-town dreamer who’s more inclined to spend a hundred dollars on lottery tickets than invest in stocks & bonds.  But I no longer have a choice.

.          .          .

Well, I’m back!  I started this a couple days ago, and since then I’ve talked to the good folks at Vanguard.  They recommended (based on my age, my paranoia about playing the stock market) that I invest in one of their ‘Life Strategy Funds’, a selected mix of bonds and stocks.  I said I wasn’t ready to hand over the bulk of my savings just yet, and they said “no one says you have to, make the minimum investment, watch it for a couple months, and go from there.”   Okay.

When I was sixteen & worked at the Olde Southern Pancake & Steak House as a dishwasher, my mom would drive me into town every week to First Federal Bank.  I’d cash my check for $50.00 or so, deposit half of it into my passbook savings account & proudly show Mom the account balance.  I sure do miss those days!

bank passbook

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spring Fever—much ado about everything (so what else is new)

 

Every year, around this time or so, I begin having anxiety attacks.  I’m not sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the warmer weather approaching and not having enough good excuses to stay indoors and hide out from the rest of the world.  Such is the life of a borderline hermit. 

(I don’t dislike spring, far from it; but why do we seem to go from 25F to 85F in no time flat?  It wasn’t always this way… the older I get, spring is becoming less a season and more a rumor.)

Anyway, I’m sure my seasonal anxiety is a normal thing, like allergies.  We’ve all experienced those “I hope no one discovers how weird I really am” feelings, only to discover we’re not alone.  I can still remember sometime in my early twenties when my bladder froze up if I was in the bathroom and knew someone else was within earshot.  How or why did that start?   I was so relieved the first time I heard the term “bashful bladder syndrome” (but it was a greater relief when it went away on it’s own a few years ago).  Now I can turn on the waterworks without a second thought (probably because of my enlarged prostate) and yes I know, I share too much.  Is that a sign of old age?  I’m starting to feel anxious again.

Of course, I feel silly even sharing my anxious feelings right now given the recent tragedies in Boston and Texas (and lets not forget China and that godawful earthquake).  Some things, all you can do is watch the events unfold on your television or computer and shake your head in sorrow and disbelief.  I know my “spring attacks” don’t compare to the real loss so many others are contending with right now, at least I can make light of my own neuroses.

 

Last week my niece Sophia was in a bad bike accident, with some severe injuries to her arm, knee and head; I’ll feel a lot better when she stops being Evel Knievel or turns 90, whichever comes first!

 

Suffice it to say that everything is getting under my skin right now;  I think my irksome gay neighbors are winning the war for starters—so is the fat around my midsection.  I’m worried that my job is going to give me a heart attack but I don’t dare leave because I’m going to need those health benefits for that heart transplant (do you see the vicious cycle here?) & dammit I’m even fretting over the demise of the incandescent bulb, my last 75 watt bulb popped yesterday & they’re no longer being made!  If I’m going to sit here and sweat things out how can I do so without proper lighting?

And on THAT note, I would like to share one optimistic thing; I may be a worry-wart right now, but there are others out there worse than me.  Thursday night after work, I got on my downtown bus to go home (with a couple ladies also at my stop).  One of them pointed down at one seat & said “omigod, look at that!”  It was a jar of peanut butter sitting in the center of a seat.  The other woman said “it’s probably a bomb” and the first one said “or full of ricin” and they hurried past it on their way to the back.  I picked it up and put it in my workbag and sat down.

When I got home I twisted off the lid to see if it’d been tampered with, and it still had its inner seal.  Giant Eagle PB isn’t exactly my favorite brand, but when it’s a 2 pound jar & free, it’s good enough for me! 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sweet Garlic Chicken: Is it too good to be true? (I’m about to find out)

 

This past Friday, my buddy Jeff (from Chicago, I have 3 friends named Jeff y’know) posted this picture on Facebook.

The caption underneath read “so easy and addicting! Make it while you can, they’ll outlaw this as a controlled substance soon.”

He asked his wife Corinne if this looked like a good dinner idea, she said it did (and I threw in my 2 cents & said it sure did to me too).  I then vowed to make it this weekend… and today’s the day.  Will mine look as good as the one here from the internet test kitchen?   I’m about to find out.

ApacheDug’s Own Sweet Garlic Chicken

100_2049

 

  • Two skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons Minced Garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • Salt & pepper to taste

 

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. I used DRIED Minced Garlic, so before doing anything else I put two teaspoons of dried minced garlic in a bowl with two teaspoons of water for 2-3 minutes. 

3.  Saute the softened garlic in a small skillet with one tablespoon olive oil for a couple minutes, enough to heat the two together.  (Be careful not to scorch it.)  Turn off the heat & stir in two tablespoons dark brown sugar.

4.  Here’s my two chicken breasts in a foil-lined baking dish, a light coating of oil on the foil & seasoned lighly with salt & pepper.

5. Pour the pan mixture over the chicken breasts.  (I don’t recommend smelling it, it’s going to make your eyes burn—this stuff’s pretty pungent!)

6.  Place the dish, uncovered, in your preheated oven and cook 20-30 minutes.  (FYI, my chicken breasts were thin-cut and I still let them cook for a good 25 minutes; I take no chances with undercooked chicken!)

Okay, mine may not have been as pretty as that one at the top, but I bet it was just as delicious!  I was worried that that the garlic would overpower the chicken but it didn’t, it cooked ‘sweet’ and made a very flavorful topping. 

(Oh yeah, I threw in a baked potato a half hour or so before the chicken; I figured as long as I had the oven on at that high a temp…) 

Thanks for the idea, Jeff!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Is there a doctor in the house? Not yet—but maybe if I wait long enough…

 

One of my favorite things about the tv series ‘Star Trek Voyager’ was ‘The Doctor’, played by the wonderful Robert Picardo.  He wasn’t a real person, he was a hologram.  When the USS Voyager was thrown into the Delta Quadrant (75,000 light years from home), the ship sustained heavy casualties, including the chief medical officer.  So when someone needed some doctorin’, off they went to Sickbay and said “Computer, activate the EMH.”    

The EMH (Emergency Medical Hologram)would materialize and say “State the nature of the medical emergency.”  He was none too pleased when informed he’d be working full-time as the ship’s doctor—“I’m only an emergency medical  program!”—but over seven seasons this bald-headed hologram became one of the crew, sang opera, questioned his own existence and even fell in love with a Borg.   What a terrific character.

Anyway, wouldn’t it be awesome if every home had an EMH?  Of course it would, especially for borderline agoraphobes like me.  I know it sounds far-fetched now, but did people in the 1970s consider the possibility that computers in the home would be as common as televisions within their lifetime?  (Okay maybe some did, but I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted everything we’d be doing with ‘em.)  So who’s to say we won’t have access to our very own holographic doctor someday?  I’m not asking for a heart surgeon, just a general practitioner.  With no waiting rooms.      

“Laptop, activate the EMH--hey Doc, my knee is acting up again, can you help a brother out?  I gotta get up for work in a couple hours…”

Unfortunately, no holographic doctors exist yet so it looks like I’ll be paying a visit to a real one soon, if I can find out who my PCP is, and where they practice. 

I haven’t seen a doctor in several years, close to a decade in fact.  I know that’s not something to be proud of, but my motto has always been ‘if you go looking for trouble, you’re bound to find it.’   Besides, my last doctor didn’t exactly make a good impression on me.  Back in 2004, I was experiencing some funny feelings in my chest.  I called my PCP’s office, they said “we can see you right away if you come right in” and I did, and waited for 3 1/2 hours.  (I know doctors offices are known for this, but c’mon.)  When the doc finally saw me, his exact words were “What’s wrong now, Dougie?”   I said “Excuse me?”  He just looked at me and I said “Doctor, this is my first visit here.”  He said “So?”  I said “Then why do you sound like I was just here a week ago?”  He said “Ok, explain the problem.”   I did, he ran an EKG and delighted in telling me my heart worries were all in my head, not in my chest.

Anyway, I know his practice moved several years ago and I was assigned someone else & then they moved on too.  But between this current issue with a knee which likes to swell up and down for no reason at all (oh how it hates climbing stairs) and my tennis elbow (the two take turns jabbing me) and this recent burning sensation when I… well, I don’t think I’m going to get off scot-free in my fifties like I did in my thirties and forties. 

All I know for sure is that the next time a doctor says ‘What’s wrong now Dougie’ on my first visit, I’m going to punch him in the nose.   Unless he’s a hologram!

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