Living Simply

0124131228What do we really need?  Shelter, food, water, and air.  Everything else is superfluous, right?

Personally, the other things I really need are an excellent shower and an excellent bed.  The last bed I purchased was very expensive but worth every penny.  Ten years ago, I got a Simmons Columbia model and I’ve not regretted it.  I get a good night’s sleep every night.  It’s even a no-flip.  Every once in awhile, I change the way I sleep on it, but that’s it.  I’ve protected it with a pillow-slip type cover, topped with a cushy mattress pad.  Both of the additions are washable.  I buy the best sheets I can afford, high thread count Egyptian cotton, which I still think is the best.  It softens and silkens as it washes and wears, doesn’t pill, and is a delight to sleep on.  I finally ripped the last top sheet I had, so I’m saving up to buy a new one.  In the meantime, I’m summer sleeping under a light cotton quilted comforter only.  I think if you buy the best you can afford, it pays off in the long run.  I’ve had cheap sheets when I was a young bride, and they pilled.  I felt like the character in The Princess and the Pea.  I felt every single pea on those sheets and it drove me nuts.  Before I retired and got poor, I purchased a lightweight down blanket (also a Simmons product) and I’ve had it for over ten years.  It’s great in all seasons, though I store it for the summer.  Also years ago I bought a down pillow from Wyndham at Home after sleeping on one of these dreamy pillows while on a business trip.  I’ve had it a very long time too.  I take it to the dry cleaners and they add down to it every year for a very reasonable price when it’s on its cleaning hiatus from my bed.  It’s a Joseph Abboud, actually by Pacific Down.  For the cost-conscious, I understand that Pacific Down has an outlet store if you’re ever in Seattle!

The one bed accessory I cannot live without is my dog, Maddie.  She is the best bedwarmer – ever!  Her little black body keeps me warm on cold winter nights as she snuggles up to my back and butt-hugs me.  Her presence makes me feel safe.  She has an entire side of the queen-sized bed to herself, yet I feel sorry for her every night.  Maddie plops in her special spot and does not move all night long.  I, on the other hand, flip and thrash and get up several times to go to the bathroom.  She stays where she is and does not complain.  I wonder how she does it.  If I were her, I’d be complaining bitterly about my annoying bed partner, yet every morning she licks my face at daybreak with what I believe to be a little doggie smile, asking for a simple trip to the backdoor.

The shower is a little easier to obtain as there are many reasonably priced shower heads available at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s.  I like the ones that spit out the water like rain, but I’m sure this is a matter of personal preference.  Nobody wants to fight with a bad showerhead.  Even in a rental, you can change the shower head yourself and replace it with the bad one when/if you move.   Nice towels are another investment that pays off.  I’d rather have one really nice towel than five cheap ones that pill and shed all the softness in the first wash!  Again, Egyptian cotton is my choice.  Those really big ones are useless unless you plan to wrap up in a wet towel.  Otherwise, the standard size are perfect for drying and hanging.  My splurge occasionally is nice French milled soap, but that’s a real luxury and not a necessity.  My shower head is connected to a hose and attaches to the wall above my head.  The hose allows me to use the shower to give the dog a bath and saves money on a groomer.  Speaking of the groomer, I just can’t afford to go there.   I purchased a mid-priced clipper and shave her down twice a year.  Okay, I admit, for the first week she definitely looks like “her mother cut her hair,” but it grows fast and looks fine after that!  Maddie is a shih-tsu/poodle mix (yes, that’s a shihts-pu) and she has this weird coat that is neither of her ancestors.  It’s very long and massively curly, but not tight curls.  The hair mats very easily after about the first inch and I just cannot comb the mats out after awhile, necessitating this shave-down.  Learning to do this was not difficult and the savings are worth learning.

My mom used to tell me that “cleanliness is next to godliness.”  That, and she’d tell me that poor as we might be, we could always afford soap.  I enjoy that daily shower, mom, and I really enjoy sleeping in now that I’m retired!

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Be a Star!

Tomorrow I’m going to be working on Starz’s “Shameless.”  Nope, I’m not a big star.  I’m an extra.  Or “background” as it’s called in the biz.  It’s one way I make a couple extra bucks when I can. Here’s the thing, though:  I have spent my life feeling I’m rather < (less than or equal to) ordinary.  I don’t like having my picture taken, nor do I think I look that good.  Being even background is really out of my personal box, but now that I’m older, I’m trying to do as many things as I can that are out of my comfort zone.

Being Background can be a lot of fun.  There’s the opportunity to gawk at the real stars, if that’s your thing (it’s not mine; I’ve never been “star struck” at all).  Better yet is the opportunity to meet new friends, spend some time learning how TV and movies are made, and seeing how many gazillion different job descriptions it takes to make the thirty seconds that actually gets shown.  It is, however, a LOT of  waiting around.  Reading or chatting with your peers in the holding area or off-camera on set can pass the time easily.

Several background casting agencies are here in Chicago and they are always looking for “new faces.”  To register, go to the various websites and enter your information.  “Casting calls” are posted on Facebook, so if you don’t have a Facebook account, you should definitely get one and “like” the casting agency pages. They look for people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, etc.  Don’t hesitate to register because you think you can’t be Background; you definitely can.    Because I’m older, gray, and overweight, I might not get as many calls as some others, but I get enough!  When you answer a call (via an email address given in the post), you will usually include at least your name and phone number and some personal statistics.  If you fit the character they’re looking for, you’ll receive a return email (or a phone call, confirmed with a follow-up email), informing you that you have been scheduled and asking you to confirm.  Do this ASAP.  Just prior to the workday, you will receive information with the who/what/where/why/how.  You will need to respond to this email as well to confirm.  You will be required, in most cases, to provide your own wardrobe and will be asked to bring several changes for the costume department to approve.  Hair and make-up are usually on your own as well, though I’ve had the luxury of having both done for me — what a treat!  I’ve also been re-costumed so to speak and that’s been fun too.

In alphabetical order, here are the background casting agencies I’ve worked with in Chicago:  4 Star Casting, Atmosphere Casting, Darling Series (aka Joan Philo Casting and Chicago Fire background casting), and Tail Sticks Casting.  With these companies, I’ve worked on NBC’s Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, Starz’s Shameless and Boss, and Sense8 (a new sci fi show that hasn’t premiered yet), and the Onion.  Others background actors I know have done movies and commercials.  My eleven-year-old granddaughter has worked on Chicago Fire.  There is one other agency, with whom I haven’t yet worked, and that’s Extraordinary Casting.  The companies with whom I have worked are upstanding, ethical, honest, and fun.  I’ve never had a problem with any of them and, of course, do not hesitate to continue to answer calls.

It is important to remember when you sign up, that it is a JOB.  If you commit, you must show up.  The production is counting on you.  You will be paid in a week or two by check from a payroll company, not from the casting company.  When you arrive to a work day on the set, it’s important to bring a driver’s license or ID and know your social security number.  You will be required to complete your “voucher,” your payroll paperwork, including an I9.  It’s simple:  If you don’t complete the paperwork, you won’t get paid — well, actually they’ll send you home; you won’t work.  You’ll spend a great part of the day in the “holding area” w-a-i-t-i-n-g.  This is where you’ll meditate, practice patience, and meet some great new friends if you want to.  When and if you’re called to the set, you will do the “take” over and over again until the director is satisfied.  This is not a bad thing.  When you watch yourself back on TV, you will see why.  Sometimes you’ll even wish they’d done it again, just one more time!  If you’re working around mealtime, you will generally be rewarded as well.  The food I’ve had has been excellent!  We’ve had beautiful dishes created by excellent chefs.  Think prime rib and crabcakes on occasion.  Cheesecake.  Smoothies.  Background eats LAST.  This is probably the only time you’ll feel like a second-class citizen, but I’ve heard that it’s in the union contracts of the cast and crew that they eat first.  This is also common sense since these hard-working folks work longer, much harder days than we do and, even if it weren’t in the contract, it would simply be courteous to them to wait.

Children have a different set of rules.  If under 16, they MUST have a work permit, and the permit must have the name of the casting agency (or the kid’s agent if applicable).  To obtain a work permit, you will get the “Letter of Intent to Hire” from the casting agency’s website.  Here in Wheaton, Illinois here’s how I did it, and I imagine it’s pretty much the same anywhere else:  You will need a doctor’s okay.  I used the recently completed school physical.  Take the Letter of Intent and the doctor’s okay to the local high school where you will complete yet another form. That has to be taken to the principal in the child’s school for approval.   I then had to take the completed paperwork to the School District Office where the actual permit was issued.  In our case, we had to get two different permits as we registered with two casting agencies.  Sounds like a lot of running around and it did take up half a day, but I thought the experience for my child was invaluable.  She learned, in particular, about many of the jobs that people have in film (or television) and how difficult it is to get a show to air.  Children do not work a full eight hour day.  There is a maximum amount of time they can be on set.  There is a “teacher” available to them on set.  I haven’t really seen one “teach” anything, but they cater to the kids, making sure they get to the bathroom, have plenty of water and snacks, and have things to do during the downtime (games, art projects, etc).  I enjoy watching a bunch of kids huddled together on set playing together.  They are for the most part unusually well-behaved children.

Do not become an extra to become friends with celebrities.  Do not become an extra hoping to be discovered by Spielberg.  It isn’t going to happen.  Background is like wallpaper.  That’s all.  It’s against the laws of this game to chat up the actors or ask for autographs, photos, or in any other way act like a jerk.  This is a work environment and everyone is expected to behave professionally, including the wallpaper.  It is expensive wallpaper from a production standpoint.  Anyone who doesn’t follow the rules risks being at the least admonished in front of EVERYONE, to being sent home, to being blacklisted.  (I would, however, LOVE to be Blacklisted as regards being able to work on that show.)  Respect for one another should be inherent in this context, not learned.  For me, this has never been a problem as I could care less if I had my picture taken by myself, much less with a more attractive human being.  I have, however, seen major actors run across the street to take photos with fans or take a few minutes to speak with them.  I do remember each and every actor who has done this and count these among the times in my life that I have enjoyed watching the delight of others.

The photo accompanying this post was taken by the Production Assistant on NBC’s Chicago Fire.  My dog, Madeleine, was also on the show and enjoyed the prime rib gifted to her by the stand-ins.  It was, indeed, a great day for us both.  I did my own hair and make-up here, but can thank the costume department for the duster and sweat pants.  Thanks to Joan Philo for the work and for allowing me to have fun!


Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Welcome to Beans from a Tin Can!

Welcome to the first edition of Beans from a Tin Can.  Little bits of good stuff from an ol’ tin can of a personality.  Here you will find updates on religion, politics, my opinions, and my etsy shop.  I will gladly welcome and answer life questions from the perspective of one who has lived life to the fullest and is working on completing a personal bucket list.  You are welcome to comment.  Have fun!  Agree, disagree, or agree to disagree.

Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 1:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Retiring Poor

 It’s not easy to retire without money.  I’ve figured out a few ways to help survive that might help readers too!  One of the things I learned is that if a senior is low income, that senior can apply for Medicaid as a supplement to Medicare.  Many seniors are retiring without the insurance safety net previously provided by former employers.  Here is a link to the guidelines for Medicaid in Illinois: for 2014.  See also for help paying Medicare costs. Roughly, the top income approximates the social security benefit received ($1100-$1300 for an individual).  Most seniors in this “income” bracket certainly cannot afford a Medicare supplement, so I’d encourage anyone to apply for Medicaid.  If you qualify for Medicaid, you will be able to choose a prescription assistance program  (Medicare Part D) as well; the one I was assigned and with which (so far) I am satisfied is the one with United Healthcare through AARP.  I had Medicaid prior to retiring and find it interesting that I paid zero for prescription coverage through Medicaid, but now I pay a small copayment through my Medicare supplement plan.  Get poorer…get poorer.  Go figure.  

Once someone who applies for social security starts receiving Medicare, $100 will be deducted each month from social security payments; there is help available for this in the form of a QMB (Qualified Medical Beneficiary program).  I applied for this program in April and am still waiting to be approved.  I’ve been told at the local DHS office that I qualify but that with the new Obamacare, the offices are overloaded and it will take up to six months to see the money back in my social security.  Considering that’s just a little less than ten percent of my benefit, it’s really quite a hit!  When I’m approved, I’ll update as to whether or not I received any funds retroactively.

Another program to assist low-income seniors is the Illlinois Tollway’s I-Pass assistance program.  There are a few places to apply and obtain this, but none of them is very convenient and it is necessary to go in person and bring along the necessary documentation.  The website for information about this program is  If you quality for Medicaid, you qualify for iPass assist.  I-PASS Assist is $20, which includes a $10 deposit and $10 in prepaid tolls, compared to the regular price of $50 payment for automatic balance replenishment accounts or $60 payment. ($20 refundable deposit/$40 prepaid tolls) for manual replenish accounts.  It is only necessary to replenish this account in increments of $20 which is also nice as many seniors don’t use the tollways as often as the still-working do.

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting grandchildren in Colorado, I visited Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado, one of my favorite places in the entire world!  I was able to purchase an America the Beautiful pass for the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands for a one-time lifetime fee of $10!  This is also good for discounts on many things such as camping, boat launch, etc. (like a whopping 50%!).  The pass will admit the pass-holder and the others in the car!  The pass can only be purchased in person at the park and is worth every penny!  

I will share whatever secrets I uncover with other seniors of low income.  Try to live a full, rewarding life on the basics, my friend!IMG_0133IMG_0130


Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 1:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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