Seeking ideas for reading

I don’t think there are a lot of readers of my blog, but I’m hoping to get some input anyway. I’m hoping for some economical ideas for getting reading material that doesn’t involve borrowing through the library.

My challenge is that the visual acuity in my right eye is not so great for reading right now, and it may never be. As I’ve written previously, I’m dealing with a disease (I.C.E. Syndrome) in my right eye that causes swelling of the cornea and distortion of my vision. My current prescription in my progressive lens eyeglasses isn’t working for me anymore, and since the vision in my eye isn’t stable enough right now, it doesn’t make sense to get a new prescription yet. Even with a new prescription, it’s questionable how long it will be helpful to me, since this is a progressive disease.

Thankfully, the challenges I’ve faced with screen work have been addressed with the addition of a large smart TV used as a monitor, and/or using the built in app options for zooming or re-sizing items on the laptop screen. But I’m continuing to struggle when it comes to reading books.

My brain has had to go through a bit of re-training for reading, and it has become less exhausting and stressful than it used to be even just a couple months ago. However, it’s still more challenging for me to read a regular book than an ebook. With ebooks, I can blow up the text and adjust the backlighting as needed. Standard print books are things I can only read in very good lighting.

The local library is great, but the selection of ebooks is limited. I’ve asked at the local library about large print books, and they are available if I am patient about waiting for them to be located within the lending system. With large print books, I have two issues to reconcile, though: additional delay, and the bulk factor. Books in general are bulky, and large print ones tend to be even bulkier. For just sitting at home and reading, this could be OK, but I like to read on the go. I take public transit as much as possible, and reading is a great way to pass the time.

For my purposes, ebooks are really the best option. I can read them on my phone, which has a large screen (it’s an iPhone 6+), plus the benefit of resizable text in whatever reading app the ebook format requires. I always have my phone with me, so there’s no extra bulk to deal with (and that’s a bonus right now when I’m limited by how much I can lift and carry.)

There are some ebook subscription services, but the reviews and news raise a lot of doubts.

This Kindle Unlimited review notes that many best sellers are missing from their catalog. I do read some bestselling authors, and I’d like to have access to their books.

Oyster shut down.

Scribd made some big changes to its catalog last year (limiting romance books and audio book access) raising questions about the sustainability of its business model, and speculation about how much longer it will be around.

Are there other options? Maybe someone out there has an idea for me that allows me to supplement the limited supply of ebooks available through my local library and not spend more than my current book budget of $10 a month.

Easy spending cuts: TV

When trying to increase savings, cutting spending is the easier part of the equation. Increasing income is the more difficult one, and it takes some thoughtful planning.

I started with the easiest part of my budget to decrease: TV. Back in Chicago, I could use the roof antenna on my house or even just a set of “rabbit ears” to watch free digital television. As soon as I got the TV set up here in Napa, I found that the low-tech antenna didn’t work at all. I was able to tune in exactly one channel that evening, and that was it. The next day I wasn’t able to get that channel up on the TV at all.

Since I was already getting AT&T Uverse internet set up, I just amended the order to get TV set up, too. I really dislike paying for TV, but I’m also not willing to get by without any local stations. And so I started down the rabbit-hole of pay TV, which seems to quickly escalate into more and more expensive packages.

I chose to splurge a bit by paying for a TV package that included more than just the basic channels. I was interested in a program on Starz (Outlander) and the only way to get Starz was to purchase a package tier that included a bunch of other channels that I never planned to watch. I thought I’d cancel the package after I met the minimum timeframe (one year) and could just absorb the cost until then.

A month later I found myself upgrading to the next tier up that included HBO and Showtime. It was offered to me as a promotion which was going to add only a tad more to the monthly bill. The addition of these premium channels is tempting when there are programs in which you want to indulge. People have raved about Game of Thrones for years, but I hadn’t been able to watch it. With the addition of those premium channels, I could watch all the past episodes of Game of Thrones AND Penny Dreadful (another guilty pleasure only available on Showtime) using their apps on the Roku.

A Roku? Oh, yeah, I also purchased a Roku so I could watch streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime. I had a wealth of entertainment options at that point: an abundance of TV channels, plus two streaming services. I binge watched Outlander with Starz On Demand through UVerse, and did the same with Game of Thrones using Roku’s HBO app and Penny Dreadful using Roku’s Showtime app, so I was ready for the new season releases.

Yes, cutting my TV-watching costs was definitely an easy way to cut my monthly expenditures. I had completed the contract and was free to make changes. I decided to give free TV another chance by purchasing two highly-rated in-house HD antennas. Neither one worked (not even one channel came through!) so I returned the antennas and gave AT&T a call. By changing to the least expensive UVerse TV package, I’ve reduced my bill by $100 a month. (Sadly, there will be no Starz available with this lowest tier package.)

While I’m missing the seemingly endless smorgasbord of viewing options, this was an easy cut to make. The rest will be take a bit more diligence on my behalf.

Getting the budget back on track

One positive effect of my house hunger was that I took a very close look at my spending and savings during 2015, and did a reality check on my budget. I wasn’t pleased with my findings.

Since moving to the Bay area from Chicago, I haven’t increased my discretionary savings at all. I continued to max out my 401(k) through payroll deduction, and I did add a sizable chunk of money to my variable annuity, but the latter funds came out of the money I received when I sold my house in Chicago. (Most of the money in my savings accounts is actually there because of the house sale, in fact.)

Other than that annuity contribution, I’ve managed to not dip into my savings significantly, but that’s a small consolation. If I want to ever be able to buy a house in this area or take a destination vacation, I need to save more money.

One thing working against me is that I moved here without getting any cost of living adjustment. Although I’m grateful my company allows the flexibility to move from one office to another (and that my superiors supported my request to do so), since my move was voluntary, it was made clear to me that I wouldn’t be getting a salary increase. According to a friend who made a move from Chicago to Silicon Valley, the cost of living adjustment alone would have been a 30% salary bump.

As part of my spreadsheet wrangling, I also roughly estimated my taxes for the year. Since I had no mortgage or property taxes to pay in 2015, I have no reason to take anything other than the standard deduction. If my estimates are correct, I’ll owe just over $1,000 to the federal government this year. That means I’ll actually have to dip into savings — those same savings that I’ve not really contributed to this year — to pay my taxes.

Now, it’s true that I had some extra expenses this year due to setting up a new household. Furniture, bedding, cleaning supplies, and pantry restocking all adds up, even if it is spread out over several months and some items are purchased at consignment or thrift stores.

I also spent much more on my dog this year than I have previously for training (totally worth the expense), boarding, and veterinary bills. My dog has entered her senior years, and while she’s still quite healthy I know that going forward, she’ll cost me more than she has in the past. (Also, out here it’s absolutely essential to keep the dog on heartworm and flea/tick preventatives year ’round, unlike in Chicago where it was possible to skip them in the very coldest months.)

Last summer I added one more expense to my monthly budget: sister and I are splitting the cost of senior day care programming for my mother. Mom loves going to the daycare program twice a week, and it has helped her stay on target with her meds. The cost is between $250 and $300 a month, depending on the number of days in the month, whether there is an extra day thrown in here and there, or whether she is sick and unable to attend.

However, even if I look at these additions to my monthly budget and “exceptions” in spending (I add quotes there because over time one becomes aware that there are always “exceptions” in spending from month to month or year to year), one thing that is clear to me is that I must find ways to decrease my spending and increase my income if I want to save any money at all.

I’ve already made some changes in my monthly expenses and had some thoughts about the other side of the equation (income), too. I’ll hold those for additional posts since I feel that this one is long enough, though. 😉

House hunger

When I moved here in December 2014 I was looking forward to being a renter for the foreseeable future. I’d been a homeowner for over 15 years and was glad to let go of the responsibility of maintaining a property.

Except I never completely got into the role of renter. Maybe it’s a case of just not being able to let go of that homeowner mindset, but I’ve been looking at properties for sale in the my neighborhood pretty much since Day One. It’s easy to keep an eye on sales listings since I walk the dog around the neighborhood nearly every day.

Getting used to the price of real estate in the Bay Area is something I still haven’t mastered, but it’s getting easier for me to imagine ponying up half a million dollars for a small house. And in the immediate neighborhood where I’m living houses are generally small. If a house has more than two bedrooms it’s an anomaly; if the house has more than a single bathroom, that’s nearly a miracle.

The small rooms are the downside of older, vintage housing stock, but there are many other advantages to this neighborhood. It’s extremely walkable. I can (and do) walk to the public library, the post office, the little hardware store, and the restaurants and drinking establishments in downtown Napa. There’s a big park about a block away with lots of green space, picnic groves, and big trees. I also have gotten to know the neighbors here already, and have made some good friends.

Just last weekend I visited an Open House on a property that was along my walking route to the library. This tiny house had a 625 square feet floor plan, including two bedrooms and one bathroom. I paced out the larger bedroom and noted that it wouldn’t hold my queen-sized bed.

However, there is a house for sale on my block that I’m seriously coveting. Yes, it only has two bedrooms and one bathroom, but it has a lovely floor plan. Both bedrooms are larger than average (meaning the larger room could easily hold a queen-sized bed, plus a dresser or two), and they are in the back of the house where there is practically no street noise. (Another pet peeve of mine is that most of these vintage floor plans have the larger bedroom in the front of the house where there is more noise from chatty pedestrians, cars, and trucks.) The house also has a large living room, dining room, and a small breakfast nook. It’s a rare property, and I’m sure someone with a lot of cash in hand will snatch it right up so they can enjoy it as a vacation home they’ll visit about once or twice a year. *sigh*

Still, I have to take a crack at it, so I’m putting in my paltry offer. If by some slim, slim chance I even get a chance at the house I’ll basically become a house slave with the majority of my income going to pay the mortgage and taxes. I’ll also be required (really, truly REQUIRED) to get a housemate so I can afford that monthly mortgage and tax payment, but…well…what the hell. I still feel like I need to pursue this silly dream. Too bad my lottery tickets were useless last week.

Post op update

It’s been two weeks since my surgery and recovery is continuing to go well. This is the first time I’ve had a major surgery, so I don’t know if my experience is typical or not, but I’ve been surprised at how energetic I’ve been feeling.

The first four or five days after the surgery were the ones where I was most incapacitated. My ability to sit up from a reclining position, get in and out of bed, and up from a seated position on the couch were uncomfortable and best done with help. Despite having only small incisions, they were nonetheless incisions, and my abdominal muscles weren’t up for any challenge. Walking is best done slowly, but I’ve continued to go for walks every day.

My advice for anyone who lives alone and is going through something similar is to get a friend or family member to stay with you for the first week. Getting help as I changed positions and to bring me items I needed (such as water refills, tea, medicines, etc.) so I didn’t have to get up and down so much was a true blessing. All of this help was provided by my boyfriend M, and he also did housework I requested, too. 🙂

The slight respiratory irritation that I thought was a cold went away after a few days. It was suggested to me that it was likely due to the anesthetic. I’ll add not getting a cold to my list of things for which I’m grateful.

I was discharged with prescriptions for Tramadol and hydrocodone for pain, and told I could take them both within a few hours of each other, if needed. While I did fill the Tramadol, I didn’t end up taking any as the dose I took before leaving the hospital seemed to make me itchy. It’s possible the itchiness appeared because I mixed the Tramadol with hydrocodone (the drive home with the stop at the pharmacy left me feeling so uncomfortable that I took a hydrocodone after I arrived home), but either way I didn’t want to risk the allergic reaction getting worse and discontinued using it.

Most of the time I just took ibuprofen for the pain/discomfort, probably once or twice a day. But after about five or six days of recovery I started feeling some occasional sharp pains near the incisions and took a hydrocodone before bed those nights. I’m seeing the doctor this coming Friday and will ask about those pains. I’m thinking they’re just a normal part of the healing process since they weren’t severe and prolonged, nor did I have any other symptoms like bleeding or swelling.

The most uncomfortable part of the recovery has actually been having my bladder and bowels heal, quite frankly. The doctor said it could take up to six weeks for my bowels to get back to normal, and considering how messed up they were I’m thinking that may be the case. I’m taking stool softener so everything moves through without any strain and that’s been helping quite a bit.

Being on short term disability for the weeks immediately after surgery is a necessity. Even though I work in a sedentary job, the extra sleep and lack of work stress is something I need to fully heal. My sister was surprised that I qualify for six weeks of short term disability and she thought it sounded excessive. As I reflect on my work history, I haven’t been off work for this long *ever* and I’ve worked since I was 15. That’s quite a long time to work without taking more than two weeks off at a time, and I’m determined to use this break exactly as intended: to heal and get stronger for the coming year ahead.

All is well

I woke up in the surgical recovery area to the phrase “No cancer!” repeated several times. I had to say it a few times, too, just to make it real to me. Although I had been told the risk was low, there was still doubt and it helped to have that cleared up right away.

I spent only one night in hospital and was sent home on December 30. I haven’t felt up to writing here, but anyone who follows my Twitter feed heard the good news the same day I did. 🙂

Recovery is going well. My surgery was laparoscopic and the doctor used one of those surgical robots, too. I got to see the robot before I went completely under in the OR.

I have five small incisions on my lower abdomen. The nurses had me up and walking about an hour after I was taken to my room, and I’ve continued taking walks every day. I seem to have developed a slight upper respiratory infection over the past two days, so I’m continuing to not push myself much, though.

The day I was discharged the doctor came to see me in the morning and show me photos of my insides before and after. What a mess I was inside! The right ovary and uterus were looking normal, but the left ovary was a freak show. There was extra tissue draping from the ovary (perhaps from previous cysts?). The big cyst had a rope of intestine around it, and had pushed my colon up against my abdominal wall. The doctor had to excise through adhesions so my colon could lay in its normal position again. It’s no wonder I had been having recurring infections in my gut with my digestive organs being misplaced in such an unnatural way.

Before I went into surgery I had the opportunity to tell the surgeon how much I wanted to be removed. I could have just the left ovary and fallopian tube removed, both ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, or get everything (including the uterus and cervix) taken out. The latter two options would plunge me immediately into full menopause, but I’ve been dealing with menopausal symptoms like hot flashes on and off for nearly a year already.

I decided to get everything taken out. It just gives me more peace of mind and removes the possibility that I could have my right ovary go wonky on me and develop any issues in my uterus, too. Both mom and sister have had uterine fibroids, and mom had a hysterectomy nearly 20 years ago because of them. I thought I could be at risk of developing the same problems, and now I don’t need to worry about it at all.

Menopause symptoms are at bay now because I was started on an estrogen patch the day after surgery. It seems to working just fine.

The outpouring of support I’ve received is overwhelming to me. I let my new friends and most of the acquaintances I’ve made since moving here know that I’ll be laying low for a while. Everyone has responded with offers of help and supplies. In a text conversation with one friend I said that I was amazed at how much help and support I’m being offered. He responded “That’s because you’re more loved than you know. :-)” It’s getting messages like this that make me more teary-eyed than the initial diagnosis.

Throughout this entire ordeal, though, there are two people who have really been my biggest support: my neighbor/friend S, and my boyfriend, M. Between the two of them I was transported to and from the hospital (which is an hour away from me), kept fed and hydrated, and helped with household chores.

I haven’t written much about M here, and that’s partly because our relationship is so new. But considering how new it is (only a little over two months of dating) he has been outstanding. If it weren’t for him staying with me for these days immediately after surgery, I’d be much more drained and tired.

It looks like 2016 is going to be a spectacular year for me. 🙂