Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Costco Virgin No More

I ignored Black Friday this year, as I do every year. The idea of driving in traffic, through and around traffic, and contributing to traffic to spend time jostling people to shop offers absolutely no appeal. But a few days before Black Friday hub and I ventured inside a Costco store. Not Black Friday, but close enough to qualify as a holiday shopping outing.

Hub had never set foot in a Costco store in his life. Sixty plus years old, he was a Costco virgin.

We belonged to BJ’s years ago, purchasing bulk food, household supplies and gas. At the time we occupied a house with plenty of storage space, including a basement and garage. Our current house, cottage, bungalow, however described, is small. Designed as a summer vacation cottage, there is minimal storage space. I have to be creative and shop often to keep adequate supplies in stock and not run out of necessities such as toilet paper. No Costco or similar store is nearby, but if one were next door we would not shop there. For the record, the closest Costco is 40 miles away.

We – hub and I – spent a few days with the kids in Vermont before Thanksgiving, often in the way but sometimes helping out. One of our tasks involved taking their car to the Costco Tire Store to have snow tires installed. The process involved an hour and a half wait, time not spent in the house underfoot!

The appointment was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. We arrived about 20 minutes early, unsure how long it would take from the house and leaving time to get lost and found again. We signed in the car, turned over the key, received a buzzer to alert us when the job was done, and walked over to the store entrance. We would spend the time wandering around and buying a short list of supplies requested by my daughter-in-law. 
Hub first in line to enter Costco!
No one else was around, but that did not last long. Shoppers filtered in, and by the time the store opened at 9:30 the line was out the door and around the corner.

Shoppers anxiously waiting to enter Costco. Shopping
carts were all in use when we exited the store.
Costco stores overwhelm. The warehouse layout, the mounds of merchandise, the large packages of foodstuffs like mayonnaise, ketchup, fresh pizzas and more awed hub. We slowly meandered up and down aisles. The space quickly filled with shoppers loading wagons with huge containers of everything.

I would not go so far as to say a Costco visit was on hub’s bucket list, but we can cross off another life experience, a trip not soon repeated. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Best of Boomers on Current Events and Boomer Activities

We - hub and I - traveled to Vermont this week to meet our new granddaughter, Lila. Chaos, confusion and crises assault us 24/7, the bad news difficult to avoid. It is nice to focus on other things, like welcoming a new member to the family. Life continues, and new life brings joy, smiles, and the hope of a more secure world for our kids and grandkids. 

Events in Paris upset and rattled everyone this week. Our world is not a warm fuzzy place, and although intellectually we know that, we do not like to be reminded in such a tragic way.  With all of the fear around us this week it may feel like fear rules.  This is the alternative Laura Lee Carter would like to offer you.

Whatever is going on around the world, we continue our daily activities. For numerous boomers, some of our time is reserved for our favorite non-profit organizations. Volunteering is alive and well, thanks in part to retirees. This week Tom Sightings reports on the Purpose Prize for American volunteers over age 60. And some of the results of his research make him wonder Who Really Benefits from Charity? 

Spending time with younger generations, whether our kids and grandkids or people that became part of our lives through family, work, friends or any other way, is a treasured and enjoyable part of our lives. Linda Myers spent a week in Santa Cruz, California. While there, she reflected on the sspecial things about nine-year-old boys.  

This week our consumer journalist, Rita Robison, writes on her blog, The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of genetically engineered salmon. It is the first genetically engineered food animal approved for sale in the United States. Unfortunately, the FDA is not requiring that the GMO salmon be labeled. Check out the article here.

This week I hope everyone enjoys a non-engineered turkey, tofurkey, or whatever your tradition places on your holiday table.

 And thank you for taking the time to visit our bloggers. 

We wish everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful
Thanksgiving Holiday

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

500 And Counting

This is my 500th blog post.

In 2010 hub and I relocated to the shore, leaving the town where we lived for decades, raised our kids, made lifelong friends, and worked. The area was close enough to hub’s work base in Philadelphia yet offered a different environment and lifestyle. I turned 60 in 2010, and began blogging.

I have not looked back.

I left my life in the financial world and, looking for another area of interest, began writing. Initially sticking to my professional background by writing about financial topics, I quickly moved on to fun stuff – me, my life, my family, food, travel, and anything I want to write about!

Now I look to the future. I love writing. I have attended writing conferences, taken non-credit writing classes and joined a writing group. I blog, publish occasionally on other websites, and participate in the Best of Boomers weekly blog review.

On the other hand I do not write full time, life interfering – usually a good thing. I travel, hub and I travel, we host travelers. Occasionally laundry demands attention when it builds up so high I cannot maneuver around my bedroom and have no clean clothes to wear. Dirt collects, although as my eyesight dims I do not see dust balls until tripping over them.

I enjoy cooking and we also employ any excuse to eat out, experts now at discovering restaurant deals (OK, I admit it, we patronize early bird specials). There are exercise classes (a necessity after eating), some enjoyable, others not as much, but my body needs to move, unless it is cold and wet and rainy and that particular morning I turn off my alarm, roll over and go back to sleep.

The joys of retirement!

The flexibility, the diversity, the choices....on the one hand –

And on the other hand medical issues crop up unexpectedly, sidelining hub or me temporarily. We pay attention to finances to ensure we do not end up bag people or a burden to our kids, who if that were the case would probably move and not leave a forwarding address…

But I digress.

My 500th blog post, and looking forward to a lot more. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Welcome New Baby Baer

Hub and I became grandparents one more time. Grandbaby number 5, born Monday, November 9th, is a beautiful, healthy little girl named Lila Doris. Mom, Dad, big sister and baby are all doing well.

Big sister Sydney is four years old. Her world is about to change dramatically, although she is still blissfully ignorant of the chaos, confusion, and aggravation her little sister will eventually cause her--and her parents. Learning to share toys and so many other things, including (particularly) parents, will prove to be a tough learning curve.

The sleepless, or at least disrupted nights have only just begun. This will end, maybe later rather than sooner, hopefully sooner rather than later, but eventually. The cute baby will morph into an energetic toddler, then preschooler. She will go to school to learn about the world, then venture out into the world to pursue her dreams...Oy (the universal lament of a Grandma), I am getting way ahead of greeting a new baby.

Lila’s two grandmas and grandpas, assorted cousins, aunts, uncles and great-grandmas cannot wait to hold, cuddle and coo over the new addition to their families.

Welcome to the world Lila Doris!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Granddog Charlie Remembered

Hub and I watched our Florida grandkids the last week of September. The kids were fine but Charlie, our 14-year-old granddog, not so much. Suffering from a host of age-related maladies, he had difficulty getting up, walking, and refused to eat most of the time. He survived our visit, but finally passed into dog heaven Saturday.

Although not living with us full time, we spent many happy occasions with Charlie. He loved our shore home, barely waiting for the car to stop before jumping out and bounding up the flight of stairs to our apartment door. His favorite activity was a nightly walk around the corner to the walk-up ice cream stand and devouring his own cup of vanilla ice cream.

When the kids moved to Colorado they did not want Charlie traveling in the cargo hold or wherever dogs sojourn during flight, so hub and I drove Charlie cross country. It was summer, a long July Fourth weekend. Before leaving home I researched dog-friendly places to stay and found quite a few. Unfortunately most were not friendly to 70 pound golden retrievers.

We had never driven west of the Mississippi and viewed the drive as an adventure. Because of the heat we could not leave Charlie in the car during pit stops. We bought food along the way and picnicked, seeking shaded tables so Charlie could enjoy meals with us and stretch his legs, although he did not do much stretching. Too hot.

The state of Kansas proved challenging.  It was Sunday and extremely hot. We drove across the northern part of the state, a stark landscape dotted with, well, not much. And nothing was open. No restaurants, no gas stations, no convenience stores. We encountered few towns along the road, all shut tight on a hot summer Sunday holiday weekend, no one in sight. It was eerie. We thought we were driving through ghost towns.

Finally, close to the Colorado border, a lone store open for business appeared on the horizon. Hungry and tired, we purchased provisions and used the restrooms. Traveling for hours across the entire state without finding open restrooms, I was desperate. Charlie and hub utilized the great, open outdoors to relieve themselves, but I did not. Stubby Kansas bushes did not provide enough cover…

Eight years later the family moved back East. Once again we drove Charlie cross country, this time with an additional passenger, our nine-year-old grandson. We stopped along the way to visit a county fair, tour an aeronautical museum, stuff ourselves at a barbecue and food festival, and enjoy the cuisine at the highlight of our trip - an ice cream festival. Humans devoured ice cream sundaes while Charlie finished off a tub of vanilla ice cream.

When the family left the Jersey shore, their summer interlude, for their new home in Florida, we once again drove Charlie to his new residence. This time our six-year-old granddaughter accompanied us. Along the way Charlie enjoyed a ferry ride, visiting friends, the beach and a blueberry festival (more ice cream), but remained in the hotel room while the rest of us played at an adventure park.

Charlie always trotted to the door in greeting, wagging his tail, glad to see us. He was a member of the family.

Charlie, we will miss you. 
Charlie Dressed for Success.
Actually...draped following surgery (a few years ago).

Friday, November 6, 2015

Visiting Venice Italy

Along the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco.
Four days is not enough time to spend in the magical city Venice, only whetting the appetite for more. More time to wander narrow alleys, ride water taxis and the public transportation system of barges and motorboats, and visit museums, islands, the countryside, restaurants and even the shops.

All this in spite of myriads of tourists encountered everywhere. They arrive by plane, train, bus, and cruise ship. Sitting at breakfast each morning staring at the panorama along the Grand Canal, at least one cruise ship plied the waters, anchored and disgorged a thousand plus tourists eager to spend a day in the floating city.

My next visit will be off-season.

Venice is a city of 118 islands. Canals snake through extremely narrow byways while other waterways span sizeable open waters.

This first-time visitor, exiting the train station, was overwhelmed. Water taxis lining the docks – motorboats large enough for a dozen people or half that number plus luggage – and a row of gondolas waited to whisk vacationers to their lodging. 

Initial impression: What are all the motorboats doing here? Pictures of the city I remember show only gondolas gliding along the canals…The channel is full of boats leaving with passengers, loading passengers, and waiting to dock to pick up newly arrived travelers. There is barely enough space to walk across the sidewalk from the train station to the quay. Pedestrians jostle each other as some walk briskly towards their destination while others gaze around, awed by the view and with no idea where to go.

Surveying the scene as our water taxi maneuvers through the canals, it takes a few minutes to realize what is missing from the bustling landscape – cars, buses, trucks, trolleys, motorcycles, and bicycles.

Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Changes to building exteriors must be approved, preserving the city’s architectural legacy. The first inhabitants, fleeing barbarian invaders, settled the islands as early as the fifth century. The city became a maritime power in the 10th century, and for centuries after a major cultural center. Masterpieces by some of the greatest Medieval and Renaissance painters adorn what were originally public buildings, private residences and houses of worship, today museums, hotels, churches and synagogues, and other tourist venues.

You can see water on the sidewalk,
a common occurrence during high tide.
The most famous go-to place is Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Square, bordered by magnificent medieval architecture, many featuring shops and restaurants. The Doge Palace, traditional home of the government, lined with columns originally tall and majestic, are not so tall and majestic today. The building, columns and all, is sinking, along with the entire city, at a rate of .03 to .39 inches per year.

The square also accommodates the Clock Tower, Correr Museum, and the Byzantine-style Church of St. Mark. The Church, decorated with gold-laced paintings and d├ęcor, dazzles.

One day we toured three islands, boats our means of transportation, Murano, the glassmaking center of the city, Burano, famous for lace, and Torcello, the first island settled. We encountered clear blue skies, sunny 60s weather and fewer visitors. We walked around the islands until our legs screamed “enough!”, observing glass masters and lace makers at work, wandering through a vineyard decorated with sculptures, along village streets and alleys, meandering through shops, and relishing lunch in the back room of a trattoria serving fresh homemade pasta and seafood, resting aching feet.

Wandering the narrow alleys of the old Jewish Ghetto.
Our last day in Venice our group split. One person toured the Biennale, an international art exhibition, while the rest of us explored Europe’s oldest Jewish ghetto, a Venetian word referring to a foundry, originally occupying the site.

We rendezvoused for a final dinner and drink in the hotel bar, saying bittersweet goodbyes.

The next day, following a nine-hour flight, we arrived home to hubs, homes, kids and grandkids, and our everyday lives.

Arrivederci Italy, Ciao home. 
Venice waterways

Monday, November 2, 2015

Flushing Around Florence

There are things we take for granted. We in this case refers to Americans. We enter a bathroom and do not think about the toilet or flushing mechanism. Occasionally an unusual method presents itself, and we spend a few seconds surveying the space and figuring out what to do. Clean facilities should be a given but unfortunately standards vary widely everywhere. It is an extremely important issue to men and women,  involving factors affecting health and education, but as far as I know neither Republican or Democratic Presidential candidates have discussed the subject, most likely because there are no easy answers.

During my trip to Italy I experienced  a variety of toilets, flushing mechanisms, and degrees of cleanliness. Sometimes a picture illustrates a point better than a thousand or more words ever could. Below are some of the places our group of four women got the chance to sit down for a few minutes and rest our weary bones while answering nature's call.

This looks like a normal display wall in a grocery store. It is, and it is not...

Open the wall - actually a well-hidden door disguised as a wall - and voila!
A bathroom awaits use by a few selective, in-the-know customers.

Many places offer facilities for customers only, concealed and unmarked behind doors not immediately obvious. 
The restaurant in our hotel in Venice offered well-appointed WCs (water closets) behind the bar's paneled wall. The casual observer would not notice the entrance, and seekers of a place to relieve themselves must look carefully to find the entrance. 

Along with toilets come cleansing facilities. Not all the time, but usually. We know how to turn on a faucet, but occasionally encounter an unusual system, such as the floor pump pictured here.

Fancier floor pumps - red for hot water and blue for cold.

Sometimes you get what you pay for. And sometimes you pay for the privilege of using clean, modern facilities.
The cost to use this one: 1.5 euros (about $1.65 US dollars).

Need instructions? 
Here they are in pictures, Italian, and English. The 'sanitizing vapour' is strong!

Below is a picture of the sinks in a restaurant WC. The mirror illustrates what is on the opposite side of the room - 
a glass door leading to an enclosed outdoor patio wth a fountain, viewed in the second photo.

Since the name of this post is Flushing Around Florence, I included a picture of the most common flushing mechanism found in Italy.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Italy Slightly Off the Tourist Track

Sightseeing in Europe comprises a variety of experiences touring churches, old buildings large and small, churches, castles and palaces, churches, museums, churches, viewing picturesque landscapes, churches, and gift shops.

Every place has a gift shop situated at the end of the tour. You must pass by and usually through the shop to exit.

We spent hours walking and saw additional sites not normally pointed out by tour guides. A few of the hidden gems discovered are pictured below.

Electricity is very expensive. Hanging wash out to dry is one way to save money and conserve resources.

This glass blower works in a factory on the Venetian island of Murano. It is hard to see from my picture, but he is fashioning a horse. Murano has been a center of glassmaking for centuries. Another interesting comment about this photo is it illustrates that not all Italians are slim (only most of them).

Artwork is everywhere. These pieces are part of a display in the middle of a vineyard.

Laundry and brightly colored houses. many old homes - old as in hundreds of years old - are not painted, but some towns excel in brightening their environment. These houses are on the Venetian island of Burano, originally a fishing village. legend goes that the men would return drunk after weeks at sea and often enter the wrong house - and wrong bed. The women got fed up with their wandering spouses and came up with the idea of painting their houses different colors so the men could recognize their own home. Truth? Fiction? Who knows...

An almost universal sight - rain, traffic, and too many trucks. 
We are in a van on our way to Verona. We were supposed to see the picturesque, scenic, beautiful (so we were told) Lake Garda, but rain and fog forced a change of itinerary to Plan B. We drove through wine country and up a windy road (in the rain and fog) to a restaurant on top of a mountain and enjoyed a gourmet feast. Luckily we were oblivious to the dangers of driving down the mountain on wet roads, thanks to the wine.

Relieving oneself turned out to be an adventure at times.
More on this subject in my next post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Old Friends and New Ones Together in Florence

It is exciting to be in the middle of one of the iconic places on earth, a city studied in school, read about in history books, seen in pictures and movies.
Florence, Italy is one of those magical places characterized by huge old buildings, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, a river and numerous stone bridges, narrow alleyways, and lots of people. The city is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home of artists and artworks for centuries.

But traveling is more than architecture and landscape. It is also about people.  Meet some of my new acquaintances and traveling companions.

Meet Pinocchio, the puppet who became a real boy. The author of this well known children's story, Carlos Collodi, was born in Florence.

My three traveling companions performing a favorite activity of most travelers. Street vendors sell selfie sticks on every corner.

Visiting museums and viewing art is an essential part of the Florence experience. Everyone sees the front view of statues in person or pictures, but many statues offer a 360 experience. One of my favorite views...

We met Leonardo on the street. He did not say much.

Street musicians enhance the travel experience in Florence and surrounding towns.

This meerkat was spotted in Siena, about 40 miles from Florence. These animals are found throughout the city. Eventually they will be rounded up and recycled.

What exhausted travelers do at the end of a long day sightseeing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Arrivederci USA, Ciao Italy!

On the road again, this time across the pond all the way to Italy. Traveling with three girlfriends, leaving four hubs home, we rendezvoused at a wine bar in the international terminal at Philadelphia airport. Sipping wine and enjoying a hearty lunch in anticipation of a lousy airline dinner (we were not disappointed), our Eatily adventure officially began.

our plane almost ready to go at the airport.

Over eight hours is a long time to sit in one place, but the good news is we did not fly Spirit Air, renowned for tight seat configurations and seats that do not recline. I tried sleeping, managing only a few minutes between bouts of restlessness, standing to stretch my legs, checking the monitor to see how much flight time remained, and squirming around in a futile attempt to get comfortable.

The plane ride mercifully ended. Shielding tired eyes from the bright morning sun, we boarded a bus to the terminal and a few minutes later meandered through zigzagging lanes towards the customs window, officers more interested in conversation amongst themselves than reviewing our documents. 

We collected our luggage following a quick detour to the ladies room. I should have taken a picture. Large and pristine clean, each sink contained a shelf with three built in dispensers - one for soap, one for water, and the third air to dry our hands.

We boarded a van on our way to Florence. Passing the entrance to the train station I spied a worker diligently shampooing the concrete floor with a high-powered machine. When has anyone seen a human clean the floor of an American train station?

Following a quick stop for espresso, much needed to keep sleep-deprived travelers awake, the van sped on to Orvieto, a picturesque medieval village perched atop a mountain, nowadays a tourist town. Walking ancient cobblestone streets, hard on the feet, passing restored buildings accommodating restaurants, cafes, and numerous gift shops, we finally arrived at the location for our first Italian meal. Devouring a shared cheese and meat tray, salad, fresh bread, potatoes, two kinds of pasta, wine, espresso, and aperitif, it was a good thing we were not driving.

Espresso, a couple of swallows. After my first cup decided to order lattes. You get a full cup.

Revived, on to Florence. Dinner, almost a repeat of lunch, including high quality food and reasonable prices, included wine, sparkling water, caprese salad, bread, two kinds of pasta, and dessert. The waitress carefully explained in detail the ingredients in every dish, how it was prepared and cooked. We stumbled, exhausted, back to our hotel and fell into bed, getting ready for another busy day eating, touring, and eating.

I cannot keep eating this way. I will balloon and by the end of the trip will not fit into my jeans.

A four hour walking tour highlighted our first full day in Italy. We ate lunch at a trattoria recommended by our guide, ordering the prix fix menu for 15 euros (one euro = $1.101 on 9/23/15) which included a first course of pasta with pesto sauce and main course of chicken with tomatoes and olives. Exhausted by evening, we decided on an informal dinner, purchasing cheese, bread, cold cuts, tomatoes, artichokes, peppers stuffed with tuna, and cheese at market and feasting on our hotel's rooftop terrace overlooking the city, sparkling with the white lights of homes and illuminated buildings.

Our market fresh dinner.

Eatily so far, a wonderful sensory, calorie-laden, adventurous experience.

And my next post will be about more than the food!