Saturday, August 17, 2019

Impressions of Scotland

Wildflowers brighten the Scottish landscape.
Two weeks immersed in the land, culture, cuisine, and literary legends of Scotland, and I returned home exhausted. It took a couple of days to adjust to the time change and recover – mostly from a seven-hour flight confined to an American Airlines middle seat. Years ago a younger, more flexible me would have bounced back the next day. Oh well...


I spent most of my time in the town of Dundee. Before boarding a bus in Edinburgh for the city, about 1½ hours north of the capital, local folks inquired Why Dundee? It is not a popular tourist destination. The city is attempting an economic rebound centered on education and tourism. A branch of the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum opened in January, 2019, and new hotels have opened.

I spent nine days in the city attending a writer’s conference sponsored by Murphy Writing of Stockton University (New Jersey) in cooperation with the University of Dundee. I attended workshops, wrote a great deal, walked miles, ate too much, and toured city and countryside.
Conference attendees stayed in University of Dundee dorm rooms.
This is the view from my room, the river Tay in the background.
The Cuisine...

A fun part of travel is sampling local fare. Fish and chips is a Scottish staple, available for a reasonable price at almost every pub in the country. Lightly breaded and fried, the fish usually haddock, with thick steak fries, also not immersed in grease, are delicious. Calories undetermined...

Baked beans are another local favorite, part of a typical breakfast and often found with dinner entrees as well. Peas, sometimes whole and other times mushy, are also a common meal accompaniment. 

The quintessential Scottish food and the national dish, however, is haggis

pudding (a boiled or steamed dish) composed of the liver, 
heart, and lungs of a sheep(or other animal), minced and 
mixed with beef or mutton suet and oatmeal and seasoned with onion, 
cayenne pepper and other spices
The mixture is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote a poem, An Address to the Haggis, immortalizing the dish. Here is the first stanza (there are 8 stanzas) of the poem in the original Scottish English, followed by a modern translation:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

I don’t want to give the wrong idea about the country’s culinary diversity. A wide range of eateries exist in Edinburgh and Dundee. We sampled French, Greek, Mediterranean, Italian, American (burgers of course), and Indian restaurants, along with local favorites. Cafes are everywhere and the coffee is wonderful.

A rainbow bagel discovered, and sampled, at a cafe in Dundee.
Local culture

Some cities dot the landscape with animals – like this one spotted in Edinburgh –

Dundee has its penquins, a nod to the city’s shipbuilding and navigaton history -

Dundee also is proud of its eight-foot statue of Desperate Dan – the strongest man in the world - a British comic character born in Dundee in 1937. 

Desperate Dan, the strongest man in the world!

The city also sports other comic characters – one example here:
A comic character, in front of the sailing vessel Discovery. The ship is anchored in
Dundee harbor and is open for tours.

Guidbye and see ye efter!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Edinburgh Scotland and the Fringe Festival

Three days exploring the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, before the reason for my Scottish trip began – a writer’s conference – and 1½ days after the conference, barely enough time to see the sites of the city and experience the Fringe Festival.
Ad for the Fringe Festival (paid for by Virgin Air!) on
the Royal Mile, a cobblestone pedestrian-only street
connecting the medieval Edinburgh Castle
to Holyrood Palace, the royal family's residence when in Scotland.
 I admit I had never heard of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before this trip. The Fringe? The Festival advertises itself as “the world’s greatest platform for creative freedom,” offering thousands of live performances - comedy and drama theater, variety shows, one person shows and full productions, music, dance, children's shows, circus -  over a three-week period every August. 

To get an idea of the extent of the festival here are some 2018 festival statistics:

* Over 400,000 visitors.
* 3,548 unique shows in venues throughout the city, including large theaters, pub, hotel and outdoor locations. Small hole-in-the-wall sites seat less than 100. 
* Over 56,000 performances: 697 free shows, 260 pay as you want shows, 1,937 premiers.

Hub and I saw four shows: one great (Showstoppers– improv musical), one very good (Fishbowl – no dialogue, three actors), one interesting (Trump Lear – a one man play), one blah. Most of the shows are one hour, so the blah one was bearable. The play’s premise (and title) seemed interesting – Too young to stay in, too old to go out, but the man who performed the one-man show did not do a spectacular job. 

We walked...and walked...our steps interspersed with the shows, stops at pubs and restaurants for a taste of local fare, cafes for coffee – the brew wonderful throughout the trip, visits to museums and historic sites. Edinburgh is a city of steps, steep hills, too many cobblestone streets, and during the Fringe Festival too many people. By the end of each day our swollen feet demanded downtime.

One of the restaurants I DID NOT patronize.
We did have lunch one day at the
Lucky Pig, a vegetarian bistro.
This restaurant served great food at a reasonable price.
Following the first three days in Scotland we boarded a bus for Dundee. Dundee? Why are you going to Dundee? Locals inquired. Why would anyone spend time in Dundee? the overwhelming response from our new Scottish acquaintances.

The answer in my next blog post...
Love this sign found displayed above a pub door.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

High Flying Fear and Once Again a Globetrotter

The road well-traveled beckoned, and I am once again a traveler.

But not yet on the road. More accurately, in the air. No superhighways, or roads of any kind, yet link the east coast of the U.S. with any European land, so I was forced to board a jet plane. An American Airlines plane, my seat assignment far, far in the back of the plane. 

I don’t know how long the plane had been in the air before I was ready to disembark. Unfortunately there were too many hours before my feet landed on terra firma. I could not sleep, the seat too small, too uncomfortable, with not enough leg room. My body contorted into shapes my aging body should not have to experience. Sore bones, tight muscles, itchy skin. 

So why am I putting myself through this agony on an aircraft?

To reach a destination on the other side of the pond – Scotland. Land of whiskey, the Loch Ness monster, kilts, Celts, clans and bagpipes. None of which I am particularly interested in, but nevertheless...

First meal in Scotland at the Alexander Graham Bell pub, Edinburgh

Scottish seagulls. Same as east coast US seagulls. Only bigger. 

I will be attending a writer’s conference. 

But first I had to endure the trip overseas.

For a time rough weather threatened, or so my imagination made me believe. I thought I would have a shortened trip and forego participation in the conference. I feared the wind would whisk me and the plane off to the netherworld. 

But the weather moderated and my heart stopped pounding, and only mildly thumped. Loudly. Hands numb? Or just cold. I couldn’t tell.

“...once through the clouds, you will be able to see land...” the pilot’s voice broke through my imaginings.

I rolled up the window blind, ever so tentatively, and peered out. Between the clouds, white and billowy and so innocent-looking now, I sight terra firma.

I sighed, sat back, and smiled. My Scotland adventure was about to begin.
the North Sea

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Summer Day at the Beach

Summer, meaning the hot season of the year, made its presence known in the past few weeks in my neck of the woods. Or more accurately, my island by the sea. Characterized by hot weather, suffocatingly humid at times, hours of light, sunny days and some rain, accommodating busy beach days by arriving late afternoon and evening. The word got out about this year’s ideal beach weather and people rushed in. Tourists, family, second home owners, all converged. The result slow moving lines of cars along the two main streets in town, long lines at the ice cream parlor, packed restaurants. People everywhere. 

Family members graced our home this past week, and my granddaughter and I shot photos of a day at the beach. One day of fun and relaxation soaking up the sun, temporarily forgetting about the routine activities of everyday life waiting back at the house.
Soaking up the sun, sand, and sea.
Life guards and life boats prepared for an emergency.
The highlight of the day - the ice cream man and his cart of goodies!
Obligatory beach accessories. photo by Sami.
Our beach. photo by Sami.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Mad About Bait and Switch

Hamilton the show is coming to Philadelphia (yeah!). My niece secured four tickets, including two for hub and me. I found a YouTube video of the album with lyrics and have begun to listen to the fabulous soundtrack. I want to be prepared!

I thought it would be a good idea to stretch our Philadelphia visit and stay overnight, rather than take the train or drive home after the show. We could spend a couple of days visiting museums, restaurants, strolling city streets – as long as it is not 90+ degrees. Reasonably priced accommodations are the key to our mini-vacation.

I have used the website Travelzoo in the past to find hotel deals, sometimes successfully and at other times not so much.  Scanning the site a deal popped up for the Sheraton Society Hill. Perfect...

But things are not always as they seem.

Travelzoo directed me to the hotel website. I indicated the dates desired and keyed in the promo code. The following screen popped up:

I clicked on Select and this came up:

OK, I thought, problems occur. I tried again, same result. I closed the site. Temporarily. Hours later I tried again. Same message. The next day the error notice reappeared. 

Then I tried an experiment. I removed the promo code. Available rooms with prices showed up on the screen, but the prices displayed were very different than the Travelzoo numbers:

The quoted price was now twice as much as the Travelzoo advertised rate. I was curious whether or not I could follow through and book a room. Clicking on Select, the booking page immediately emerged. 

I doubt Travelzoo realizes what the hotel has done. Maybe the first one or two people who want a particular date are accommodated, but then the window closes. Initially excited to secure a hotel at a reasonable price for the date desired, my delight turned to frustration attempting to book a room and anger at the hotel.

Now I am back to a depressing exercise scanning websites for a Philly hotel. Deals are offered, but not for the night hub and I will be in town. But I keep trying...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Boomers Discuss Big Issues Like Moving...and Small Annoying Things

Boomers on the move...
Many boomers decide to enjoy retirement in a new community. Folks contemplate relocating for a variety of reasons, seeking a better (usually warmer) climate, reasonable housing costs, a lower tax burden, first-rate medical facilities, and the list goes on. Rebecca Olkowski with had a recent guest post on her blog that may be interesting to Baby Boomers who are considering moving away for retirement. RentCafĂ© analyzed Census data in 250 of the largest cities in the U.S. and found the most popular zip codes that Boomers were living in. You’ll never guess which one is number 1.  Read What are the Best Places in the U.S. for Baby Boomers to Retire?
Lots of us venture outdoors this time of year to enjoy summer pastimes. On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer and personal finance journalist, writes about how to remove ticks and how to prevent getting them, good information for summer activities in many areas.

Sometimes it is the small things in life that frustrate us...
This week Tom at Sighting Over Sixty vents his frustrations with some of the minor hurdles of modern appliances used every day. If you ever have trouble seeing the tiny buttons to set your clock, or manipulating the awkward switches to adjust your lights, or trying to figure out just how bright the new light bulb is, then you might want to check out Tom's post Why Do They Do it That Way? at Sightings Over Sixty. At least you'll know you're not the only one who sees the absurdity in modern life ... and not the only one to laugh about it.

In a related story...Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles writes about when her husband Randy did something so unexpected, so out of the blue, so sudden, so surprising, she gasped in sputtering disbelief. “Its for your own good,” he said, in her post, "The Shocking Day My Husband Intervened."  

Modern life is complicated, and ways to organize life proliferate. Jennifer of Unfold and Begin discusses a recent trend in this week’s post...Jennifer's current post is about planners and how we keep track of our time and daily activities.  Specifically, her post on Unfold and Begin is about the new trend for bullet journals.  In her post Is a Bullet Journal a Waste of Your Time, Jennifer looks at the new trend, shares how the trend started and discusses her version of daily planning that she calls the Un-Bullet Journal.

All of us experience pain during our lives, and nowadays it seems that chronic pain is everywhere, and it's one reason we have an opioid crisis in this country. But, as Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit points out at Should You Just Take A Pill?, there are safer ways to manage pain that can be just as effective, and she and her husband have both used them successfully. So have many others.

And close to home...
The warm weather finds my street alive with folks walking their dogs, children playing, cyclists riding past, and it seems almost everyone hangs out on their front porch enjoying the view - most homes on our block do not have back yards. An interesting incident this week brought to mind an event that happened centuries ago. Read and enjoy.

Have a great week...and spend a few minutes with our boomers. We love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Lady Godiva of Yesteryear and the Mischief-maker of Today

It was early evening following a short thunderstorm. Hub went outside to walk our houseguest, Oliver, both glad to breathe in cool fresh air, and Oliver eager to take a leak.

Hub walked a short distance before noticing an object in the street. Moving closer, he recognized the figure. One of our neighbors, a toddler, was sitting naked in a puddle in the middle of our street. 

Hub crossed the road and knocked on our neighbor’s door. Mom quickly answered, a moment earlier realizing her daughter had escaped the house.

At the same time a couple renting a house on the block– and not acquainted with the neighbors - walked outside and, seeing a little girl alone on the pavement, called the police.

Hub, the mother, her husband, the little girl and a couple of siblings congregated on the sidewalk. Suddenly two police cars pull up, park their car, and two patrolmen approach the group. As one policeman took notes, the embarrassed parents explained their daughter ran out of the house before they could catch her...

It is curious sometimes how our mind makes connections. The episode of the naked tot brought to my mind the story of Lady Godiva, the woman who supposedly rode au naturel through town.

Lady Godiva, born in 990, was a real person. She married a man named Leofric, a nobleman, Earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry. Lady Godiva was known as a kind and generous woman, especially to her church. She started a Benedictine monastery, and was one of only a small number of women landowners at the time.

Her husband was not as kind as his wife. He taxed his tenants harshly, so much so that his wife got angry and urged him to lower the taxes. He scoffed at her and said something like, “I’ll lower the taxes when you ride naked through the village.”

Although knowing her husband was taunting her, Lady Godiva rose to the challenge. Her long hair covering part of her naked body, she prepared to ride horseback through town. Before starting she sent word that the villagers should stay inside their homes and not look out the window. All of them complied – except one man named Tom. He peeked.

Thus the term ‘peeping Tom’ entered our vocabulary.

The legend concludes with Leofric holding up his end of the bargain and reducing taxes on his tenants.

A good story, but mostly untrue. Lady Godiva was a real person. The story of her riding naked through the streets and the anecdote about peeping Tom, most likely a myth popularized in a poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1840, “Godiva.”

The story of Lady Godiva gave us a poem, a song by Peter & Gordon, and delicious chocolates. Joseph Draps sought a name for his chocolates that spoke of "timeless values and modern boldness"  - and Lady Godiva tempts us today.

Maybe one day someone will write a song about the toddler mischief-maker of my neighborhood, or name a delicious delicacy after her.

Until then enjoy ‘Lady Godiva’ by Peter & Gordon

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Celebrating Independence Day

The word that best describes my Fourth of July celebration is low-key.  Hub, me and our
houseguest, Oliver, a cavalier/King Charles 13-year-old canine, enjoyed the holiday at home. The equivalent of 91, Oliver, like most nonagenarians, has medical issues - trouble walking, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and takes pills morning and night. But like hub and me he is happy to spend hot July days basking in central air and napping.

But the Fourth of July is a holiday and demands something special to commemorate the day. And what is more American than consuming? As in buying stuff. Which is what we did yesterday (I’ll dub it Independence Day-eve).

NOT our new car.
We bought a car. 

Our new car is not red, white, or blue, but silver, signifying glamour, grace, sophistication, elegance, and – like gold – riches and wealth. Which, after buying the car, we do not possess. We do not boast the other attributes either, but maybe behind the wheel we will exude a false sense of these qualities. 

I might tie red, white and blue streamers to the vehicle when we drive it home tomorrow.

We shopped for a shiny new machine months ago but the sales schticks and follow-up calls drove hub nuts. So we dropped our pursuit of new wheels. But time passed and our trusty seven-year-old car’s odometer registered additional miles, its body acquired new dents (mysteriously appearing after an afternoon in a valet-parked garage), repairs depleted our pocketbook, and the interior and exterior amassed fresh layers of grime. 

We fulfilled our patriotic duty and spent money. 

The Fourth dawned sunny and sultry. We rode bikes to the farmer’s market and by the time we returned home the heat propelled us indoors. We lounged under a ceiling fan and AC until evening. As the sun receded, we ventured outdoors for burgers on the grill, followed by a stroll for dessert at our favorite ice cream shop and a walk to the beach, settling in the sand to watch fireworks. A low-key Fourth of July celebration. Perfect!

Happy Independence Day Everyone!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Democrats debate, discuss and dream: Countdown to the Presidential Election

Installment #8

494 Days (as of June 28, 2019) to the Presidential Election
Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A useless guide to the first Democratic debates.

Two nights. Ten candidates a night, 20 different politicians and wanna-be politicians. 
Each candidate, handsomely attired, stands behind a podium. The backdrop red, white and blue patriotic images. Moderators eager to engage lead the charge...The men and women, some youngish – Mayor Pete, 37, the youngest, as well as the more mature – the oldest Bernie Sanders, 77, stand before a live audience. Millions of additional viewers ensconced in homes and bars throughout the nation await the show. 

The goal: to persuade voters they look, act and speak Presidential. 

Who are these brave men and women eager to unseat a sitting President? Some are well-known, others unknown to most viewers. The run-down:

Representatives in Congress:
Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Tim Ryan of Ohio, Eric Swalwell of California, former Maryland Rep John Delaney, former Texas Rep Beto O’Rourke.

Michael Bennett, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. 

Bill De Blasio of NYC and Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. 

Jay Inslee of Washington state and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.

And others:
former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Human Development Julian Castro, 
former Vice President Joe Biden, 
ex-tech executive Andrew Yang, 
author Marianne Williamson.

The candidates sparred on a variety of topics over the two nights: healthcare, education, immigration, Medicare, Roe v Wade, gun control, the Supreme Court, climate change, Iran, China, Mitch McConnell, and of course Donald Trump...but lots of interesting questions were not broached by the moderators, including:

Can a woman win the 2020 election?
Will people NOT vote because the candidate is a woman? Will some vote BECAUSE the candidate is a woman? Will these votes cancel each other out? Is it too soon for another woman after Hillary’s defeat? Did Hillary open the door to the possibility of a successful woman contender? Must the candidate wear designer clothes or definitely NOT wear designer clothes? Can she wear sleeveless tops? Does she color, highlight, tint or paint her hair (only her hairdresser knows for sure)? 

Is bald the replacement for carrot-top in this election cycle? 
Corey Booker would be the ideal candidate if baldness reigns.

Can a minority candidate win?
There is Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris and Corey Booker. I bet one of these (or another one of the women) will be the VP candidate, if not at the top of the ticket.

Another New Yorker?
No. NYC Mayor De Blasio is the tallest, and that’s a plus, great for photo ops and standing next to DJT in future debates. But another major East coast city candidate? How is the one now in the White House working out? 

Is steady and a tad boring the way to go? Are people tired of a barrage of constant breaking news from the White House?
How about a low-key, quiet guy or gal interested in doing the job and not hogging the headlines. No surprises, scandals, secrets exposed, hearings and reports would be a relief after four years of hyper-political activity. Less-than-dynamic possibilities include Bennett, Delaney, Inslee, Ryan. 

The young versus the old...
Mayor Pete, 37, and Salwell, 38, are the youngest candidates. Biden, 76, and Sanders, 77, are the oldest. Warren is 70. Still in their 60s: Inslee, Hickenlooper, Williamson. Candidates in their 40 and 50s: Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar (just makes the cut at 59), O’Rourke, Ryan, Yang.

What about a Presidential candidate with some eye candy and intelligence, a contrast to DJT?
A number of candidates qualify. Who is your favorite?

Favorites? I want to see a young, articulate, moderate candidate, a sharp contrast to the barely intelligible senior citizen currently residing in the White House. I like Beto O’Rourke (low-key, thoughtful), Julian Castro (good ideas), Mayor Pete (down-to-earth, honest, realistic), Kamala Harris (well-spoken and knowledgeable), although this is NOT an exclusive list.

By the 9:35 commercial break during the second debate (aired from 9:00-11:00 PM Eastern time), I was tired. I fought the urge to doze off. Candidates’ voices and views merged in my mind. Next time I should probably take an afternoon nap to remain awake and alert late into the night.

And in case anyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs eagerly awaiting the next round of Democratic debates, the dates are July 30 and 31. Mark your calendars!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Pay Today and Hear Tomorrow

I succumbed to a malady common to old folks – hearing loss – and purchased an expensive, overly-priced pair of hearing aids (HAs). I didn’t want to do it (sorry Patsy Cline)...The alternative scenario of missing some of what goes on around me, now, hopefully, in the past. Another reason to buy HAs: recent studies indicate hearing loss may cause (or be a cause of) dementia.

So I wrote a check. My hand shook. I frowned, handed over the check, caressed my new accessories and went home.

Intuition tells me the high cost of hearing aids is a scam. Small, computerized electronic gadgets tuned to each individual’s hearing issues, HAs are supposed to be expensive. Or so professional pundits tell me. And Medicare (or my insurance) does not chip in anything – not one penny - for the devices.

I always suspected that, with competition and the right incentives, HAs could be a lot cheaper. 

And soon events will prove me right.

The Food and Drug Administration classify HAs as medical devices. Therefore HAs must be distributed by a licensed hearing professional. There are devices called personal sound amplification products that cannot be marketed for hearing loss, but are advertised as ‘hearing enhancement’ tools, available in stores and online without a prescription or hearing evaluation. 

Additional types of hearing-improvement items will soon be sold, thanks to a recent law, at your local CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Costco...or wherever.  

A 2017 law requires that by 2020 over-the-counter hearing aids (OTC HAs) for people with mild to moderate hearing loss be available at retail stores - no prescription necessary, no licensed professional need be consulted. The devices will be cheaper than current HAs, although the cost has not yet been publicized.

Not everyone can wear drug store glasses, and not everyone will be able to wear drug store hearing aids. Nowadays many people with hearing loss delay or never buy aids because of the exorbitant cost. A lot of people will benefit from the new legislation.

The average life of hearing aids is three to seven years. The reasons? 
·     A person’s hearing often changes and a new aid may be necessary. 
·     People lose the tiny items. 
·     Moisture damages HAs. 
·     Technology improves.

Maybe somedayI will purchase hearing aids at my local CVS, tweak them so they work well, and not notice a huge hole in my finances. But today a financial investment that might fund trips (definitely more than one), college for a grandchild (almost), an entire wardrobe for both hub and me plus furniture for all the clothes and sunk in tiny medical devices. 

Meanwhile I am adjusting to my new ear accessories.