Monthly Archives: January 2012

Only Child looks at possible changes to seniors’ pensions

Only Child contemplates possible changes to Canada's old age pension

Now that I have Canada Pension Payments all set up for pre-age 65 receipt, I have to worry about the Old Age Security Pension. So do other baby boomers rapidly moving into senior territory. Canada’s Prime Minister Harper is sending out word that he wants to change the focus and framework for the Old Age Security pension. Among other insinuations there is talk of upping the starting age to 67 and perhaps clawing back the payment amount excluded for tax deferral.

My late Mom and Dad would roll around in their graves. Probably their spirits are sputtering around, if spirits can sputter. Dad lived only a year and a half beyond age 65 and I don’t recall if he ever received OAS. Between 1965 and 1969 (Dad died in 1965), the eligibility age was transforming from 70 to 65. (Are we going to regress on this age thing now?) Mom died at 63, so she received no OAS. She did have Dad’s Canadian National Railway survivor pension and when she died I got the survivor benefit for a few years, from the age of 23. Now when I’m getting close to the so-called retirement age I could use that CN pension money. Too bad it couldn’t have been deferred until now. To paraphrase a friend, getting old isn’t for the faint at heart (and I add, “but all the money stress can kill your heart”). Another friend, an editor and writing instructor who has hit the 65 mark, said she probably won’t be able to retire until she’s 90. I’m looking at 70, to slow down in my writing, editing and writing instructing/speaking business. Not unusual for many of us freelance writers today. It’s a good thing it’s creative work and work which I love.

So, what is the Harper Federal government’s pension change idea? According to a National Post story (published Jan. 26, 2012 http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/26/major-changes-coming-to-canadas-pension-system-harper-says-in-davos-speech) and posted on The Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) website at http://www.carp.ca/category/news/carp-in-the-news/  Harper made this announcement late last week at The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This same story also includes some statistics about OAS costs estimated to rise to $48 billion in three years and to a possible $108 billion in 2030 because of the growing number of seniors. We seniors and seniors-to-be will increase our numbers from the current 4.7 million to 9.3 million in 2030. And Prime Minister Harper will be one of them. I know – he’ll get a good government pension, but possible changes to MP pensions are being considered. In the meantime, putting himself in our shoes might be a good idea.

Wasn’t there a science fiction book written years ago about killing off seniors once they reached age 60? That, of course, is not an option, and let’s be clear here, is not one suggested by Harper. But perhaps he forgets that we seniors and seniors-to-be are a force to be reckoned with. Many of us belong to CARP; we are baby boomers and it is in our blood to fight for our rights. We also have the capable and eloquent fighter for seniors’ rights, Susan Eng, leading CARP’s involvement in this. Check out links to videos of her interviews with Canadian media at http://www.carp.ca/category/news/carp-in-the-news/

Meantime, I’ll keep on writing, editing, teaching writing and speaking about writing…and using my CPP payments once they begin to arrive in a few months. Apparently there are no problems with funds for the CPP.

Comments anyone? Especially from countries besides Canada? What is your old age pension system like?

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Baby boomers, CARP, Old Age pensions, Only child, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Seniors, Susan Eng

Only Child views sleep deprivation and ethics

Only Child trying to catch up on zz's

I wish I could sleep like I used to as a child – as in sounder sleep and longer sleep time (usually). I remember my mom banging on my bedroom door and calling, “Sharon, time to get up.”  I wasn’t too happy about it if it was  a school day. Weekends were another matter.

These days, although it is an alarm clock, not my late mother waking me up, my wake-up mood remains the same on weekdays, grumpy and dazed, with one exception – spring and summer when it is actually daylight with the sun streaming in when I open my eyes. In my late teens and early 20s I used to burn the midnight oil reading a good mystery book. That remains the same, except it is more like way past the midnight hour. It seems after turning off the TV at 11.30 p.m. when I have my fill of the news and weather, instead of getting ready for bed I dive into housework. Stuff on my “to-do” list not yet done, even stuff not on today’s to-do list. My mantra seems to be “don’t leave to tomorrow what you can do tonight.”

So, if I get five to six hours of sleep on weeknights, I’m “lucky.” I try to make up for it on weekends by sleeping an hour later, something the sleep experts don’t recommend. The experts say you should go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each day. They obviously aren’t considering the “only person syndrome” lifestyle as I call it.

But not getting enough sleep each night definitely has its “side-effects” and not all of them are what you might expect, i.e., a little cranky, can’t remember someone’s name or where you put your  keys (try the door for the latter), and putting your immune system in peril. But a study has shown that if we don’t get enough sleep we might turn into mini-depraved monsters.

The study, conducted by Michael Christian of the Kenan-Flagler Business School (University of North Carolina) and Aleksander Ellis of Eller College of Management (University of Arizona) discovered this from something not commonly done in a sleep lab. A group of nurses and students deliberately pulled all nighters. The next day they were more prone not only to be rude but to steal money. (Reported in the Washington Post, May 13, 2011. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-leadership/post/why-sleep-deprivation-can-makeyou-unethical/2011/04/01/AFIIxT2G_blog.html).

The problem is glucose just doesn’t metabolize as it should when we don’t get enough zz’s. Most of us know that glucose gives our brain energy but did you know that it also helps the brain to function ethically? All this occurs (or not) in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. This area manages tasks such as keeping our emotions and behaviour in check. And like the rest of our bodies, this part of the brain needs its beauty sleep to work properly.

That can bring out wacko behaviour in our personal and professional lives, such as yelling at clients, having a hissy fit in a bank or store check-out line-up, and the one we have all sent or received – the nasty email. And we should not use sleep deprivation as the go ahead to bill a client way above our normal rates. Wait until you get enough sleep to go for a fee increase and let the client know first.

You are not alone in lack of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation states that between 1999 and 2009, the number of Americans getting under six hours of zz’s a night has skyrocketed from 13 percent to 20 percent. I’m guessing it is still climbing, given our 24/7work culture and pre-occupation with technology.

So, the new mantra could be: lose your sleep time, lose your ethics.

Now where did I put my keys? They aren’t in my door. Maybe check another section of my purse. Heck, maybe some other sleep-deprived person swiped them. Wait a minute, unless a ghost got into my place…

Comments?

Happy zz’s

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

Leave a comment

Filed under brain, Ethics, glucose, Only child, prefrontal cortex, Sharon Crawford, Sleep deprivation, Stealing, to do list

Only Child tries to tame time

One of Only Child's teddy bears sits on time to tame it

My late father’s obsession with time has passed down to me. Unlike Dad, I don’t obsess about taking my watch in to the jeweller’s to get it regulated. Like him, I keep looking at my watch and the many clocks in my house (four in my office if you include the two on the computers and the one on my wrist. I refused to put the battery in for the digital clock on the stereo). Lately, this obsession has me trying to tame time, or rather tame what I am doing in my business and personal life.

Right now I’m reading Peter Bregman’s 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. (http://peterbregman.com/). The first part is about finding your vision, including what you don’t like doing. Been there, done that. However, when he gets down to the nitty-gritty of time management on page 100 about Creating Your Annual Focus, he has me hooked. Without a focus you can’t plan your day. He suggests dividing your year’s focus into five (more or less) categories and use that as your daily planning guidelines. If it doesn’t fit in, don’t do it. I have four categories: Self, Family and Friends, House and Property and Career. I have to watch I don’t overload any one of them for any day.  Bregman has another category which I just love and started to include: an Ignore list. That list gives you so much power and makes you feel justified for example, refusing to waste time chatting with friends (phone, email, Twitter, in person) during business time. And because last month I obsessed and spent so much time dealing with administrative snafus caused by others in both business and personal, my ignore list has that on it – with one exception – the one administrative snafu I may decide to deal with that day.

So, from what I’ve read in Bregman’s book and elsewhere, from personal experience, here are some suggestions for taming your time.

  1. Have an annual focus and divide it into four, five, six categories.
  2. Use those categories to plan each day – your “to do” list (the night before – that 18 minutes works fine) for business and personal. Bregman says not to worry if one or two categories are much shorter. If one item on one list conflicts in time with an item on another list, Bregman, says to choose. He gives the example of two family birthday celebrations conflicting with the time when he was asked to speak about his work. He chose the family celebration.
  3. Have a daily ignore list and list what you will not do that day.
  4. Follow your “to do” list and your “ignore” list. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything done on your “to do” list.
  5. Set regular times to check and answer email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, phone messages and stick to it. Turn your Blackberry or iPhone off and put it in a desk drawer. Do a voice mail message letting everyone know when you are available (be positive, rather than negative here). Check your messages – two or three times a day maximum, not every five minutes.
  6. Use the four D’s (I’ve changed the categories slightly) – Delete, Dump, Delay, Don’t Do. Delete email but Dump things you do that you don’t want to do or that don’t fit in with your annual focus. Delay some tasks that do fit in but you can’t get to right now. And my favourite – Don’t Do. Don’t join that committee if you don’t have time for meetings, etc.
  7. Make the word “NO” a big part of your vocabulary and use it.
  8. Spend time with your family and friends – but don’t let them monitor your time. For example, don’t let a whiney friend take over your work time or family time or your personal time to complain about his or her latest problem.
  9. Don’t forget yourself. You need to be in the category list. Your health is important. Alone time where you can just read, meditate, etc. is important.
  10. And try not to feel guilty about doing the other nine suggestions. Focus on the sense of mastery, achievement, connecting more with your family and self, and just plain not letting other people and things take over your time. And take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief.

How do you manage your time?

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

Leave a comment

Filed under Balance, Delete, Life demands, Only child, Peter Bregman, Time management, Vision

Only Child on grabbing happiness in winter

Only Child age 8 but obvsiously not on the skating rink.

If I go back to when I was 8 years old, I see a time when I embraced winter – snow, cold and especially ice. After Mom taught me how to skate on the backyard rink Dad created, she turned me loose in Dieppe Park. I write in my memoir:

I clutch the skate guards, one in each hand, and stagger slowly. I look around and see people – old, young, even some wielding hockey sticks – they’re supposed to be in the hockey rinks. I take a cautious step onto the ice and almost lose my footing; when I point one skate guard out, I find my balance. I put one foot in front of the other, hold both skate guards out and I’m off.

It is exhilarating and scary but I am skating around the rectangular rink. No one can call me stupid now. I am gliding and… One of those hockey-wielding teenage boys nearly crashes into me as he takes the corner too fast. I clutch the skate guards and skate on the spot. Then I get my momentum. I can skate.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

Not anymore. I gave away my skates 20 years ago and just the thoughts of snow, cold and ice are enough to make me wish I could afford to spend winter in a warm climate…almost.

You see, I may regard the beginning of each winter day without much joy – getting up as daylight tries to poke its way out (sunrise 7.51 a.m. – it expands about a minute a week) is not my idea of bright joy. Too cold to go out into the garden and if the sun doesn’t actually show up then, having to turn on a light to see the coffee pot on-switch is pathetic. But once I get a few cups of coffee in me and get dressed, usually I see things in a brighter light. And if the sun actually comes out (as it did just now), my whole atmosphere changes drastically to big smiles.

The health experts and studies show that this lack of light in winter can cause some people to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Because I snap back fast usually (unless one of my eight health problems is acting up or I have too much administrative consumer stuff to deal with) and retain my joy and passion in most of what I do, I don’t believe I have SAD. If you want to read more about SAD, go to Pub Med’s article on Seasonal Affective Disorder at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002499/ You will be surprised as it is not all lack of light.

So, if like me, you sometimes get a smidgeon of winter blahs and your budget won’t let you visit warmer climates, what can you do to get some happiness? First I suggest you do some reading on what exactly happiness is. There are many books and Internet postings on the subject and everyone has his or her own idea. Just Google it. You might want to check out an Ipsos study done on Canadians’ happiness last year. It has some startling, yet not-so-surprising results. According to this study, 18% of Canadians are extremely happy, 43 moderately happy and 39 are what the study calls “downright testy.” The study showed three main factors that tipped the happiness scale: living debt-free, living in a romantic relationship, and having some sort of spirituality. High on the list also was having a passion for something you are doing in your life. (See http://www.creditcards.ca/credit-card-news/author-qa-debt-and-the-happiness-equation-1278.php)

According to that study, I fall somewhere between testy and moderately happy. I have some sort of spirituality (wacky, some people might call it) and I am doing what I have a passion for – writing, teaching writing and editing, gardening (in the summer, although I try with indoor plants in winter), reading, walking, etc. This study has shown me that happiness is a combination of outside factors and inside factors. A psychiatrist once told me that it might not be happiness per se you seek but some form of contentment. The bottom line to me is you have to work with what you’ve got to lift yourself out of the blahs and make some happiness in your life. For each of us that may differ.

Here’s my personal list to start on the road to happiness.

Do something you feel passionate about – daily.

Express your gratitude for what you have – daily.

Go for a walk or get some exercise – what you like, not what others say you “should” do – daily.

Listen to soothing music.

Read a book.

Watch a movie, TV programs you like (but not more than three hours max. a day).

Meditate and take deep breaths.

Solve your problems – one at a time.

Get together/talk to and email friends and family – but watch they don’t take over your time.*

Get enough sleep.*

In the next couple of postings I’ll be blogging about time issues and sleep issues and how they get in the way of our happiness. Meantime, read The Happiness Plan by Sarah Treleaven and
Astrid Van Den Broek http://www.chatelaine.com/en/blog/happiness_plan and books about happiness, such as The Happiness Equation: The Human Nature of Happy People by John Hallward (Price-Patterson, 2011) and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Craft Rubin (HarperCollins Canada, 2009).
How do you deal with the winter blahs?
Cheers.
Sharon Crawford
Only Child Writes

Leave a comment

Filed under Happiness, Ice Skating, Only child memoir, Passion, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Winter blahs

Only Child deciphers New Year’s resolutions

Only Child and Mom before the arthritis took its toll on Mom

I learned a couple of startling things when compiling my New  Year’s resolutions on Sunday. Over the last few years I’ve developed an interest in weather forecasts and in the last month of 2011, in consumer advocacy and problem solving. The other revelation, which also occurred when emailing a friend, was the bond between money and health.

Oh! Oh! Does that mean I have to add these two interests into an already full plan? I can’t see me as a meteorologist (maybe in another incarnation) but the consumer advocacy one bears considering. So does the bond between money and health because this connection has followed me for more years than I care to remember…maybe even back to my growing-up days when my late mom who was such a super budget-financial caretaker, also had health concerns – first my dad’s several bouts with cancer (plus an ulcer and a minor heart attack), then, her own arthritis after Dad died. By that time, Mom had returned to work as a typist for an insurance company, then had to switch to proof-reader when her arthritic fingers got in her job’s way. She was off for a few weeks because the arthritis had spread to a foot and an ankle. I remember coming home from my business school class and finding two of her employers (former colleagues years before I came along) and the conversation was disturbing. As I write in my memoir:

She [Mom] is on a mini-leave of absence, when one day I walk into the house and find two strange men with her in the living room. They’re both sitting on the chesterfield, one on either side of its designed split. Mom is in the pink chair by the bookcase as if the World Books standing guard behind can lift her up beyond the swollen foot propped on a footstool. The conversation stops and the two men stare at me with blank smiles on their faces.

“This is Peter McLaren* and this is John Vardis* from Surety Insurance*.” My Mom points to each. “This is my daughter, Sharon.”

“Hello,” I say as I sit down in the chair under the window.

The men say, “Hello,” and nod, and then McLaren continues the conversation.

“Julia,” he says. “I know you are a valuable employee but we need to know if you are coming back to work.”

“I don’t like to say it, but I have to,” Vardis says. “It might be better if you retired now.” He addresses the mantle.

“Let’s not be hasty, John,” McLaren says, and then looks Mom right in the eye. “Julia, do you think you will be able to come back?”

“I don’t know.” Mom’s voice is wispy and little girlish.

I just sit, grinning and gripping the arms of the chair. I don’t even have the courage to wish one of the men would shuffle around in the chesterfield so it would move at the split. That might jolt them, although into what I don’t know.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

*Names changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Perhaps the “jolt” today for me and everyone else is to consider what is most important in our life and what we can do about it this year. If I don’t want to continue the “family curse” on Mom’s side of the family, I need to consider my health. And like my Mom, money is so connected with my health. Without good health I cannot work; without money I cannot do all I need to do for my health. Anyone who thinks government health insurance will look after all health issues, think again. Anyone who signs up for private health insurance and thinks that will solve the issue, think again. Most of these private health insurance plans cover no more than 80 percent and have a payout cap. Options are a la carte, making monthly premiums high. Is it better to pay the piper in premiums or pay the piper up front for each health treatment, supplement, etc.? If you have a partner with a health plan from his or her employment (usually partially funded by the employer), you might be better off with the private health plan…for now. If you are an only person like me, especially self-employed, maybe not.

You decide.

For the money end, I’m looking into several options, once considered controversial, but becoming more common as we aging boomers near retirement and find out it’s not all Florida, Mexico, Arizona and easy-living. Depending on your age, you might want to consider applying for Canada Pension Plan payments before you turn 65 (in Canada. Starting this year, you can still work and apply and receive CPP, as well as continue to pay into the plan). You might also want to consider cashing in some of your RRSPs (if you have any), downsizing your residence, etc.

My point is, consider these issues (rather than the usual lose weight and exercise ones, although they are also worthy). We aren’t getting any younger and sometimes thinking outside the box can work.

Comments anyone?

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

1 Comment

Filed under Arthritis, Canada Pension Plan, Goals, Health, Health Insurance, Money, New year's resolutions, Only child memoir, RRSPs, Sharon Crawford