Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Predictions Scorecard

I have started thinking about New Year’s resolutions and predictions for 2012. Nothing is written down yet. Before composing a 2012 list I thought I should review my 2011 forecasts. My score for 2011 is not very good.

I got several things wrong…

Ed Rendell (ex-Governor of PA) did not become a member of President Obama’s cabinet.

Rush Limbaugh did not divorce his fourth wife (yet).

Bill Clinton continues a variety of humanitarian causes, plus public speaking engagements. Hilary Clinton is still Secretary of State. No new job for either Clinton in 2011.

Lady Gaga is not really pregnant, or at least of the date of this post I have not read anything about a baby Gaga. But she did appear pregnant in a Saturday Night Live sketch in May. And apparently she is moving to my old backyard – Lancaster PA.

 I do not believe Mike and Molly joined Weight Watchers.

Iceland and Greece have not become the latest ‘in’ tourist meccas.

Gas prices reached $4.00 plus a few cents at the end of March, 2011, and remained there until June.

I still have not unpacked all of the boxes of stuff in the garage nor reached my weight loss goal (but I did lose a few pounds).

 …and a few things right:

Arnold Schwarzenegger is apparently working on a film. What I did not foresee was the sensational story of 2011 – his infidelity, his out-of-wedlock son, and his subsequent divorce from Maria Shriver.

The summer of 2011 was one of record weather, including high temperatures and drought in some parts of the country.

 There were more tropical storms than normal and an average number of hurricanes, but three of the hurricanes were major ones.
 Lindsay Lohan was back in rehab again.

Iceberg lettuce, out of favor for years, is now promoted as a salad option on menus from the most casual to the chic-est restaurants.

 2012 predictions soon to be published…

Friday, December 23, 2011

Our December Family Tradition

Hub and I are flying home from our two-week vacation Christmas Day. Experience has taught us Christmas Day travel can be cheap, convenient, with no airport crowds or hassles. Just about everyone is where he or she wants to be on this one day.

We spent five days with the Denver crew and twelve days in California with Santa Cruz as our base. We took advantage of a house swapping opportunity.

Hub and I are part of a family with both Jews and Christians. For years we all got together on Christmas Day. It made sense. No one worked and there were not a lot of other things to do in our town. The only other option was a movie and Chinese food. December 25th is my sister-in-law’s birthday, so there was an additional reason for everyone to get together.

The tradition ended over a decade ago. My brother-in-law and his wife decided to start a new family tradition of their own. He was born and raised Jewish, moved on to the Jews for Jesus, and then morphed into a fundamentalist Christian. He decided he did not want his family to celebrate the Christmas holiday with unbelievers. That was initially the Jewish side of the family. More recently he has enlarged his uninvited list to those Christians who do not quite meet his standards.

Over time families and relationships change. From time to time circumstances draw family members together. At other times the fragile bonds holding people together tear. Occasionally they can be salvaged and repaired, and sometimes not. Families break apart, sometimes spectacularly and sometimes slowly over time. People move away – figuratively – from each other.

Hub and I were faced with a dilemma. The rest of the family felt bad they could not continue the traditional all-encompassing, all family get together.

We solved the problem by going out of town every year. We went to Florida, visiting family and friends scattered throughout the state – Melbourne, West Palm Beach, Miami, Naples, Tampa.  Sometimes we drove to Florida, one year getting stuck in traffic on I-95 for hours. We have also flown south for the holiday. We spent one year in Colorado, once again flying home Christmas Day.

The worst Christmas was 1999. Two days before the holiday my girlfriend’s son died suddenly. We flew to Michigan on Christmas Day to see her, comfort her and attend the funeral the day after Christmas.

Next week my son, his wife and baby will spend four days with us at the Jersey shore. Other family members will come from New York and Pennsylvania to see them. Our family is experiencing a baby boom. Three babies under eighteen months will add to the happy, hectic scene. My brother-in-law, his wife and two teenagers will not join us.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.

Happy Chanukah!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baby Boomer Memories -Do You Remember This Iconic 1960s Media Event?

There are certain events, personal and public, remembered forever. We can recall them immediately and, no matter how young or old we were at the time, the events become imprinted permanently on our brain. For better or worse they shaped who we are today.

One of those events was the assassination of President Kennedy. I bet there are few Americans, old enough to understand what was happening at the time, who do not know exactly where they were and what they were doing when they found out Kennedy had been shot.

Then there are the inconsequential events we recall. One event epitomized the outrageous culture of the 1960s. You may have actually witnessed the event on TV, read about it, heard about it, talked about it, and viewed pictures of this major media event in the newspapers and magazines.

On December 17, 1969, between 20 and 50 million Americans (the number depending on which account you read) witnessed the marriage of Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Thousands of tulips were imported from Holland for the occasion. Tiny Tim met his future bride at Wanamaker’s Department Store where Vicki patiently waited in line for Tiny’s autograph. Tiny Tim, born Herbert Khaury in New York City in 1932, became famous for his very high voice, his ukulele, and his recording of the song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”.   

I honestly cannot remember if I watched the event live on TV. I was probably at college, getting ready for winter break, and may have sat in front of a small black-and-white TV in the dorm watching the nuptials. I can see the couple, sitting on Carson’s couch, and standing together. Whether I saw it live or later, I do not know. But I was aware of the momentous happening when it occurred.

At the time of their marriage Tiny Tim was 37 years old. Miss Vicki was just 17 years of age.  Most of us have no idea what happened to the blissful couple after that very public ceremony. The marriage of Tiny Tim to Miss Vicki, aka Victoria Mae Budinger, lasted eight years. They had one daughter named Tulip.

Tiny Tim married again in 1984, to Miss Jan. Although the couple was legally married for ten years, they apparently never lived together.

Tiny Tim married a third and final time in 1995 to Miss Sue. They were married just 14 months before he died of a heart attack at the age of 64 in 1996.

Here is the interview with the newly married couple on The Tonight Show, immediately following the ceremony. 

And on a totally different subject -



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Air Travel Circa 2011

Modern air travel is supposed to be seamless. Real-life experiences can, unfortunately, prove otherwise. That about sums up my trip from Denver to California this week.

Following a fun long weekend with the grandkids, hub and I were off to California; Santa Cruz to be specific. We are involved in a house swap. We planned almost two weeks in the area, visiting local tourist spots, taking side trips down the coast to see cousins and spending two days in San Francisco, hub working while I enjoy the sites.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We had to get to Santa Cruz first.

We arrived early at the Denver Airport. Hub had a business call, so we decided to get to the airport, through security, take the tram to the terminal and find our gate. Hub could take his call and we would be ready to get on the plane when it was time for boarding.

We drove my son’s car to the airport and parked it so he would have it when he returned from a business trip later that day. The parking lots were almost full. By the time we found a parking spot, unloaded our luggage and entered the main terminal it was time for hub’s phone call. No time to go through security. We found a coffee stand outside of security and settled in.

 Hub turned on his computer; he needed some information during the call. A few minutes later he passes me the computer. He had just received an e-mail from the airlines. Our flight to San Jose was canceled because of mechanical problems, or so we were told. We were rescheduled - on a flight leaving the next morning.

Hub immediately ended his phone call and we made our way to the airline desk. We did not want to wait until the next morning. Fortunately the airport was not busy. There was only a minimal line, so it was only a few minutes before we faced a customer service agent.

Hub handled the negotiations, and that’s exactly what they were. Novice travelers getting stuck in a similar situation often have no idea how to work the system.

 Airline personnel proved helpful once hub persuasively made it clear we could not wait until the next day. There was nothing available to San Jose that day on any airline. We then asked if we could get a flight to San Francisco. After phone calls and paperwork, we were rebooked on a flight to San Francisco on another airline.

Ironically when we planned the trip we initially looked at flying in and out of San Francisco, but it was expensive. Seeking alternatives we ended up with the San Jose flights.

We contacted the car rental agency. We now needed to pick up a car in San Francisco. Luckily that proved easy enough, although it will cost $45 more; the price includes a drop off fee for pick up in one airport and drop off at another (we are still planning to fly home from San Jose).

Before leaving the airline desk, hub asked about lunch vouchers; after all, we now had to spend the entire afternoon at the airport. We received two $6 vouchers. Now that goes far for airport food.

We were lucky hub travels frequently and knows how to handle these situations. I would not have been forceful enough or sufficiently familiar with the system to get what we wanted.

The goal was to get to our destination, and that was achieved. Air travel used to be an exciting adventure. Nowadays it is barely tolerated to reach our endpoint.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Resort Vacation the Senior Living Way

I just returned from four days in Dallas, Texas, but did not see much of the city. I experienced a relaxing, restful resort vacation – sort of.

My Mom (86 years young) has a close friend (94 years young) - they are related by marriage and call each other cousins - currently living in a senior independent living residence in Dallas. My Mom had not seen Helene in a couple of years. She wanted to visit, but did not want to fly alone. I went along for the ride.

The independent senior living center is two years old and beautiful; you feel like you are in a four-star hotel. Entering through huge, heavy double doors (hit the automatic door opener for instant easy access), the high ceilinged lobby includes a sitting area with a large TV over the fireplace, comfortable chairs and sofas. A board lists the current day’s events and a concierge-type person is available to assist your every need. Floor to ceiling windows along the back wall look out onto a large courtyard with a fireplace and several tables and chairs. This is the outdoor dining patio.

The dining room was decorated for the holidays. Tables varied in size from small, intimate tables for two to large round tables for eight (or more if you squeezed together). There was pretty china tableware, large cloth napkins and food was served with attention to detail. Each plate looked like a mini work of art. The staff could not be more helpful. I believe you have to be a special person to work in a senior-type facility. Residents can be very demanding. I guess people get used to things a particular way and expect others’ to accommodate them.

The menu included a stable of offerings as well as daily specials. The DR was open for lunch and dinner daily. A smaller bistro opened every morning for made-to-order breakfasts and offered light fare and snacks throughout the day.

The complex has a library, game room, beauty salon, arts and crafts room, Wellness Center, computer center, heated outdoor pool and free Wi-Fi. There is a theater with enormous comfortable lounge chairs, a popcorn machine and huge screen. I envision everyone getting comfortable, leaning back in his or her chair, and the lights dim. The movie starts and most people nod off. An hour and a half later the lights go on, and one after another members of the audience must be tapped on the shoulder and awakened!

The Wellness Center offers a large room for exercise classes and a room equipped with state-of-the-art treadmills, stationary bikes, a stair climber, weight machines, and assorted apparatus including balls, free weights and mats.

The two friends participated in activities throughout the day, enjoying meals together, catching up and reminiscing. I joined them for some doings, but spent time utilizing the gym facilities. I rode the bicycle, climbed mountains (hills, actually) on the treadmill and used the weight machines. The locker room was spotless, decorated with brown-toned tiles and stone. All areas are open, spacious and handicapped accessible.

Most people walked unassisted, but there were some wheelchair and walker-aided residents. The majority are in their eighties; there are doubtless a couple of residents 100+.

My Mom and I stayed in one of the guest suites available for out of town visitors. It was roomy, spotless and larger than most expensive hotel rooms.

I devoured an authentic Tex Mex meal when we spent an afternoon out at a restaurant (I was the chauffeur), shopping at the dollar store and Tuesday Morning, and visiting a craft show where Helene’s granddaughter displayed her jewelry. We were on a timetable and had to return home before the next scheduled activity. There was Wii bowling, bridge, Texas Hold’em, Happy Hour (which lasted way longer than an hour), exercise class…

The days passed quickly and the two friends did not stop moving. Their energy and enthusiasm was contagious and an inspiration. I hope I am as active and with-it mentally and physically as these two great ladies are at their age.
Mom and Helene, December 2011. 

A note on affordability (or not)
It all sounds very expensive and decadent, but prices are surprisingly reasonable. This particular place was not the most expensive Helene visited when researching independent living choices. But I do not believe there is any such place at affordable prices in the New York area (where my Mom lives) or probably other high-cost-of-living metro areas. If I am wrong, please let me know and I will pass the information on to my Mom and her friends…

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" Anniversary

On December 1, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono released their "Happy Christmas" recording in the United States. Forty years ago.

On one hand it seems like a long time ago, but on the other hand it was not so very long ago.  Some things have changed, but unfortunately some things are the same. Our country is embroiled in another interminable war overseas. This more recent war has lasted longer than the Vietnam War. Hopefully our soldiers will be home soon and our country can begin healing.

The politician William Jennings Bryan is credited with the phrase "guns or butter," meaning government cannot adequately finance domestic economic requirements and war at the same time. For the past ten years the U.S. has funded war, whether officially in the budget or off-the-books spending. It has cost our country profoundly. It will take the economy years to recover. Hopefully the massive defense spending can soon be scaled back and attention paid to needs closer to home.

Here is a video of the Lennon/Ono anti-war song Happy Christmas (War is Over)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Putting Off Until Tomorrow...

There are lots of things I want to do around the house but never seem to get around to doing. I am a class-A procrastinator when it comes to home work. I am not sure why.

We moved into our new home (new to us; the house is about 60 years old) a year and a half ago and there are still boxes stacked in the garage to be unpacked.

There are boxes of pictures waiting to be sorted, placed in frames and hung on the wall or inserted and carefully arranged in albums, telling stories of kids, holidays, vacations and assorted other events. I admit these boxes predate the move. But then I was working full-time…

Silver pieces inherited from my grandmother and aunt sit in a box or stacked on a shelf begging for cleaning and a place of honor in their new abode.

My office is a jumble of large plastic storage boxes, assorted files and papers carefully arranged in piles on the bed. Whenever we have guests – as we did this past weekend – I swoop up the papers, place them in a bag and eventually reassemble the piles, once the holiday bedlam settles, on the bed once again.

Summer dishes – plastic ware used for backyard barbecues and by the grandkids indoors and out during their summer stay – remain stacked on a shelf. There is limited storage space in the house, and there are cookware items piled somewhere in a closet or garage waiting to return to their proper shelf and use. I think my crockpot is one of these items. Unused in summer, I have been thinking about making soup and other slow-cooking comfort foods as the weather begins to cool.

After only a year and a half my clothes closet needs a good cleaning and de-cluttering.

I am getting depressed thinking about all the things I should be doing NOW. But I am not doing any of them. I do not have the ambition.  Only the guilt. It is much more fun to write, blog, read, go to exercise class, travel and partake of other non-house-related activities.

Maybe I will do things when I am housebound in a snowstorm this winter.  Or home with a bad cold.

Or maybe most things will be placed at the bottom of my to-do list until some future time when staying home doing home-related endeavors has more appeal. I love my house, but I do not particularly like home beautifying, decorating and enhancement kind of activities. For now I will do the laundry and (some) cooking; the rest will have to wait.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Can Your Thanksgiving Top Ours??

Here are pictures of the wild Thanksgivings experienced by my family, year after year. I challenge anyone to top this...

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Friends and Family Day and Night

Last Tuesday a friend, currently living in Las Vegas, visited family in my old hometown. After comparing calendars, three old friends arranged for an afternoon and evening of food, fun and catching up. I planned to depart early enough to meet another friend for lunch before our rendezvous.

I left home not quite at dawn but soon after. That is not as bad as it sounds – dawn is late in November. I packed a small gym bag, planning to stay overnight and leave early the next morning.

The three-hour trip was uneventful except for some traffic through the city. First stop was lunch. Just as I pulled up to my friend’s house the cell phone rings. My niece, living in town, pregnant with her first and due November 20th, was at the hospital. They would keep me posted.

Immediately after hanging up, the phone rings again. Hub was on his way to the train station and had locked his keys – car and house keys – in the house. Luckily he had his briefcase with him. He could not reach the only other person in town with a house key. We had talked about putting a key somewhere around the outside of the house just in case this scenario played out, but had not gotten around to it.

Hub took the bus to the train station, the train to the city and continued to his evening appointment. He then had two choices, two directions – take the train home and hope to meet our key-holder to get into the house, or continue on to the old hometown and see the newest addition to our expanding family of grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great nieces, etc.

My friend and I enjoyed a wonderful two-hour lunch, caught up with family, friends and work and parted ways.

I picked up my Vegas connection. Unable to contact the baby-waiting contingent, we made a quick detour to the hospital. Mother and father-to-be, grandparents, aunt and cousin were in various stages of anxiety awaiting the new baby. I said hello, goodbye and good luck and moved on.

Friends for decades make up for time apart quickly. We chatted about family, friends, new lives in retirement and semi-retirement and travel. We attempted to solve the country’s problems, the problems of education (both were teachers), and assorted other dilemmas. We enjoyed dinner with wine, shared courses, and finally, reluctantly, parted ways.

During dinner hub called. He was going to catch the last train from the city, see the baby – still unborn – in the morning and we would drive home together. I would pick him up at the train station at midnight (12:09 a.m. to be exact).

Meanwhile the news from the hospital was unsettling. After hours of labor the doctor had decided a C-section was in the baby’s best interest. I decided to return to the hospital. My sister-in-law, mother of the soon-to-be new Mom, was now a basket case. She had been fine until the doctor said C-section.

The baby was finally born at 10:30 p.m. Both mother and baby boy were fine. After an hour of anxious waiting, Mom and baby were moved to a room permitting visitors. A newborn baby is a beautiful sight.

Meanwhile hub was finally about to board the train. Two minutes before boarding the dreaded sign went up – delay.

We made alternative plans for him to get to our temporary lodging that evening, or rather early that morning. First he was to call our brother-in-law, still up and about in the middle of the night. If unavailable he would try a cab. If both alternatives failed, he would call me. I left my phone next to the bed, ready to jump up (not really, more like grudgingly move) and drive to the station.

That was unnecessary. Hub arrived 2:00 a.m., although I cannot necessarily vouch for that. I was sleeping and never stirred.

The following morning we went to the hospital. Mom and baby were doing well. After getting an opportunity to hold the newborn (yet to be named), we finally headed home.

Friends and family. A Hallmark card for the holidays. Only this was the real thing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Dude in the Pink Shirt

Hub attended a business meeting this past week out of town. The company sponsoring the seminar urged participants to wear a pink shirt for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

We had a few days to buy a pink shirt. There was not one pink item in hub’s closet – not a pink shirt, tie, t-shirt, or even one pair of underwear or socks a shade of pink from melding with red garments in the washing machine.

Shopping for a shirt was not a hardship. Hub could use an extra shirt or two and we are a couple of miles from an outlet complex. Last weekend we drove to the outlet and spent a couple of hours roaming the stores. It was a pleasant afternoon, we had nothing else on our agenda, and we were on a mission.

Few stores carried men’s pink shirts. I guess it is not an ‘in’ color this year. I was hoping to find a pinstripe; hub would be more amenable to wearing it again. Most of the stores carrying pink shirts were high end – or at least, more high end than our budget allowed.

We finally found a pink dress shirt at Van Heusen. The shirt did not necessarily have to be a dress shirt, but long-sleeved pink polos were hard to find; it was too cold for the short sleeve ones on clearance.

A couple of days later hub packs his meeting uniform – jeans, a grey vest and the pink shirt – and embarks on a flight to Chicago. The following morning he gets up early and attempts to get dressed, only to discover the store had forgotten to remove the nonremovable plastic whatever-it-is-called from the shirt to prevent stealing.

We had paid for the shirt, the cashier then placed it in a bag and we walked out of the store. Neither of us remembers the alarm going off as we exited.

Hub could not remove the nonremovable. There were a couple of hours before the meeting. He had two choices. He could wear the shirt he had worn the previous day (not pink and not necessarily clean) or buy another shirt. He chose the latter plan of action.

Dashing into a clothing store he purchased a bright pink pullover. He donned the jeans, pink pullover and grey vest and proceeded to the meeting.

Only a minority of the attendees followed the suggested dress guidelines. I guess they did not own a pink shirt and did not want to buy one, or did not care.

I now own a pink pullover; there is no way hub will wear the shirt again. It is a women’s shirt; he could not find a men’s pink garment in the store. But that is a secret…

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Life A.I. - After (the Creation of the) Internet

Can anyone remember life before the Internet? It really is not that far in the past, but I sometimes wonder how we survived and thrived. I realize it is a ridiculous notion, but my life currently seems to revolve around the computer, and I know it is the same for a lot of working and non-working adults of all ages.

My part-time income nowadays relies on the Internet. As a freelance writer my pieces are posted on websites. I owe a lot to the Internet; after leaving my financial career, I decided freelance writing would be my next profession. I had no portfolio or credentials. The Internet offered a navigable route that has allowed me to create a portfolio, establish credentials and experience and provided a part-time income.

The Internet is not only utilized for work. I have reconnected with friends not seen or heard from in decades via Facebook. I am not a true Facebook fan – I do not post stuff, but look at pictures of the grandkids and have sought out old friends from school and other connections.

The ability to look up just about anything and have that knowledge at our fingertips still astounds me. And the information is usually up-to-date. The accuracy cannot, and should not necessarily be accepted unquestionably. I cringe when people without a second thought believe what they read because it must be so since it is written down – on the Internet…

Then there is Skype, that wonderful tool where I can video-visit the grandkids living hundreds and thousands of miles away. I can watch my grandson read Good Night, Moon to his youngest sister, and I can witness him and the middle child fight for camera-time. I can see my newest grandchild, just three months, sitting on her parent’s lap, eyes wide open, making baby sounds.

On cold winter days I do not have to leave my warm house, yet can visit with cyber friends, old acquaintances, and friends living next door, across the country or anywhere in the world. Then there are the more mundane activities such as paying bills, reading junk emails and catching up on the news.

I believe the Internet will be a boon to older retirees, their caretakers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Many older folks today are not computer and internet-savvy. But more and more are logging on everyday; my 86-year-old mother uses e-mail, makes plane reservations online, creates all her greeting cards on the computer and recently joined Facebook to see her great-grandchildren’s pictures.

We of the boomer generation will move into our elderly years with computer or other internet-connected device in hand. We will sit in big, comfortable chairs or wheelchairs and, although limited in movement within our immediate environment, remain connected to the outside world. That may be the greatest gift modern technology bestows upon us.

Friday, November 4, 2011

First Sightings, or How I Met My Mother-in-Law

I have written about my mother-in-law in previous posts. She is a unique personality, and there are a number of family anecdotes illustrating her approach to life. This is one of those stories...

It was spring 1970.  The beautiful budding greenery went unnoticed by my friends and me that year as most people over the age of (probably) 12 became embroiled in the current events of the time. The events awakened the political interest of some, inspired many, and touched everyone, young and old, in every corner of the country, including students at a quiet women’s college and a technical university in an old, decaying, sleepy city along the river in upstate New York.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd demonstrating against the Vietnam War at Kent State University. Four people were killed and nine wounded. Controversy still surrounds the exact sequence of events. What is not questioned is the impact that episode had on our country.

Opposition to the Vietnam War was not new, but opponents were getting more vocal and angrier. The political powers at the time did not understand the movement or know how to handle young hippie-looking, politically aware and concerned young citizens.

Most college students were busily completing papers, studying for finals and generally winding down as the spring semester came to an end. Students were politically conscious, but spring in the United States was much closer than the fighting halfway around the world. The beautiful weather beckoned students outdoors and away from studies, and we sometimes complied. Thoughts and deeds centered more on dating and studying than demonstrating.

My college town and the small school I attended hugged the river.  The town rose steeply almost straight up a long hill. At the top of the hill was another college, a technical university actually.  My girlfriends and I had some contact with the inhabitants on the hill, sometimes dating the students, attending concerts and sports games, and visiting a particular dorm where my girlfriend’s brother and his friends resided.

One warm spring afternoon a few days after Kent State semester-ending activities were taking place on the hill. The football field was taken over by ROTC for their end of year ceremony. ROTC – Reserve Officer Training Corps – had in recent years become a controversial group as anti-war sentiment spilled over onto college campuses.

The bucolic campus was not immune to the problems sweeping the country. Although a conservative enclave, there were demonstrators eager to make their position known.

My girlfriends and I were invited to watch the ROTC ceremony; my girlfriend’s brother’s roommate was leading the parade. We walked up the hill and decided to watch the events from a knoll overlooking the football stadium. Three of us settled down on a grassy area. Before we knew it anti-war demonstrators surrounded us. We did not mind. We were happy to let them do their thing while we sprawled and did our thing.

ROTC activities began on the field, band playing, people marching, speeches given. The protesters intensified their efforts, chanting anti-war slogans and waving placards. It was all very civilized, non-threatening yet dramatic.

Suddenly in the midst of the demonstration a slim woman, about five feet two or three inches tall appeared. Dressed in a sleeveless dress, white with large colored polka-dots, she grabbed a placard from one of the demonstrators and began beating him on the head with it, shouting things like, “if you don’t like things move to Canada” –or something like that. I do not remember exactly what was said. I doubt anybody does.

Everyone froze. The demonstrators, otherwise known as the conservative, clean-shaven, short-haired, neatly dressed kids next door, well-behaved and non-threatening (future engineers), stopped walking around, chanting, talking. They just stood still and stared.

The woman stopped after a few minutes and stalked off. Who was that crazy lady?

The events on the hill went unnoticed by the folks on the field. The ceremonies continued, we watched, the events concluded, and we walked over to the dorm to meet the guys and tell them about our bizarre experience.

The guys were congregating in one of the dorm rooms. We entered and began in great detail narrating the tale of the peculiar woman who disrupted the anti-war demonstration. In the middle of our rant, a party of parents and children walked into the room.

The woman who appeared before us was the now-infamous crazy lady of head-bashing fame. We – the three of us gesturing and expressively relaying events that had just occurred – froze – again. We stared, our mouths open, at the woman in the polka-dot dress.

A couple of years later, in an official ceremony presided over by a rabbi, witnessed by about 120 people, she became my mother-in-law.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Notable November Event in Women's History

I was not sure how to title this post; my title really does not speak to the topic very well. I discovered an interesting piece of trivia that probably falls into the category, “We’ve come a long way, baby,” but not really. Although it does not have anything to do with the history of women in the United States, it says a lot about the morals of the 1890's era in the U.S. and how customs and behaviors were changing.

The event: The November 1896 issue of National Geographic Magazine included a photograph of a woman with bared breasts. This was the first picture of a woman's breasts to appear in a major publication. It was not a picture of an American or a white woman. It was a black African woman.

The Victorian sentiment of the era implied that obviously revealing (public) pictures of men or women were quite unacceptable. The photo caused a stir and was pretty sensational at the time. The magazine’s black and white picture of a Zulu bride and groom from South Africa was a milestone (colored pictures did not appear in the magazine until the early 20th century). Pictures of indigenous people untouched – showing their native dress (or lack thereof) – became the acceptable norm.

Here is the famous photograph:


An updated piece of information about the same subject matter: A recent research study (released in 2011) conducted in Germany 'discovered' that men who stare at women's breasts regularly have, "lower blood pressure, a lower resting heart rate and fewer cardiovascular incidences". The activity can prolong a man's life by as much as five years. All it takes is about 10 minutes a day of boob-staring activity.

So, readers, how many women out there are going to start their guys on a regular exercise regimen?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Few Worthless but Interesting Facts About Halloween

Halloween seems to become a bigger holiday every year. When I was a kid we trick or treated around the neighborhood, collecting goodies that took weeks to finish eating (I am sure my parents threw out a lot of stuff surreptitously), and that was it.

Nowadays people decorate their homes inside and out. Adults celebrate, throw parties and dress in costumes. Children's costumes have become worthy of Academy Awards for their originality, intricacy, design and cost. Halloween is a commercial success, ranking number two in holiday sales; Christmas is number one.

Our house is Halloween-deprived by choice. I do not decorate inside or out. I do not bake cupcakes with orange and black frosting or prepare any other calorie-laden sweets. I would love to use the holiday as an excuse to eat Entenmann's doughnuts, Hershey kisses and other chocolate favorites, but I do not. I will buy some candy for any small neighborhood creatures that happen to knock on our door Monday evening. Any candy remaining Tuesday morning will be donated to a needy neighbor.

I am celebrating the holiday with some meaningless trivia. Enjoy!

Here are a few Halloween fun facts:

* Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange represents the fall harvest and black signifies darkness and death.

* Halloween is celebrated on the last day of the Celtic calendar - October 31st.

* Pumpkins are native to Central America and for the indigenous population pumpkins were a source of food. Most of us are familiar only with orange pumpkins; there are also green, yellow, red, white and blue pumpkins.

* No one is sure where trick or treating began, but legend claims the custom originated in Ireland. People went house to house visiting neighbors, asking for food contributions for a town feast being prepared in celebration of All Hallow's Eve.

* Tootsie Rolls were the first wrapped penny candy in America.

* The first city-wide Halloween celebration took place in Anoka, Minnesota in 1921.

* The most popular Halloween candy (in the U.S.) is chocolate candy bars followed close behind by Snickers bars.

* Halloween is the number one candy-selling holiday; candy sales average $2 billion annually.

* 90% of adults with trick-or-treating children admit to sneaking candy from their kids' goodie bag.

* Not everyone is enthralled with Halloween. Some individuals have an acute fear of the holiday. This phobia is called Samhainophobia. The phobia takes its name from Samhain, a pagan festival. It was believed the dead walked the earth one day each year on Samhain. The pagan holiday morphed into Halloween over the course of centuries.

Check out the following links for Halloween trivia, quizzes and other holiday legends and traditions:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life Takes Too Much Time Away From Work!

I want to write. I am striving to earn a modest second income in our family. This does not sound too difficult. Get up, have breakfast, fire up my computer and get to work.

I wish it were that easy. I try to establish priorities, set and maintain a schedule, create lists and check items off as they are completed.

I usually start my morning routine viewing email. I have learned if the mail is not handled quickly, messages sit in cyberspace, overlooked and may eventually come back to haunt me (note the seasonal reference). Often one or two emails require research or a quick discussion with hub before responding. The email review, research and response takes anywhere from 10 to about 45 minutes.

I devote time while eating breakfast reading the morning paper (a real paper delivered to our front door), the Wall Street Journal (on line) and a couple of email news updates. Although this might seem an indulgent time waster, the Journal and news updates are business and investment related, providing information and ideas for my investment blog. Another half hour to 45 minutes passes.

Then it is time to get to work for what will hopefully be an extended period of time.

But too often it does not work out quite that way.

Life seems to get in the way.

Just one example...A couple of days ago I checked my Comcast email account and was shocked to find that most of my email had disappeared. It was evening and I knew calling Comcast customer service would be useless. I spent a few minutes locating the Comcast online chat customer service and figured, what do I have to lose?

Half an hour later I had changed a couple of settings in my computer but my email was still missing. The tech support person gave me a phone number to call the next day; possibly another Comcast technical assistant (more advanced personnel up the tech training chain, I guess) could help. The next morning I dialed the 888 number and went through the motions of listening to a slow monotone male voice walk me through a series of press 1, press 5, listen to the menu, etc. A few minutes later I was at a dead end - no real person to talk to and none of the options fit my problem. I called back a couple of times trying different options and finally got a real person on the line. I did not care who I spoke with - I just wanted someone who could direct me to the right place. And it worked.

I am happy to report that my emails are retrieved. I have a new computer, a Mac, and the Comcast mail was hijacked by Mac mail.

The entire procedure took almost an hour.

Technical problems and glitches eat up valuable time. I am a non-techie at heart, the learning curve is often long and steep, and although the result may be worthwhile, time lost from other endeavors (like writing) is frustrating.

Other recent time-thwarters...There are follow-up phone calls resulting from my fender-bender a couple of weeks ago. The insurance companies - mine and the other driver's - call, send letters and emails, and generally have wasted a lot of my time recently.

The fall of the year is when I get my annual health stuff done. Scheduling phone calls and follow-ups, usually concerning insurance matters, take valuable time away from the day's work.

There are days spent traveling and visiting the grandkids.
The above sentence was a good excuse to add a picture
of my new granddaughter.
Is she cute or what?!!
I think that, OK, one problem or situation taken care of and now I can get some work done. I can maintain a regular schedule. But there always seems to be something coming up...

The weather is so beautiful, I think I will take a walk down to the beach…I can't miss my exercise class…I have to go to the cleaners and stop by the butcher or we won't have anything for dinner…The bank. It closes by 5:00 p.m. I have to walk over NOW...I have to go over and see my mother-in-law. She is usually in bed before 7:00 p.m. The best time to visit is before her 5:00 p.m. dinner…

The wonderful thing about Ieaving a regular-hours, off-premises job is that I can be flexible, but I still need TIME. I can work at night, but was never a night person and am often too tired to do more than check emails and complete some mindless administrative stuff. I try to get an early start, and that helps.

The problem is not just the calls or short interruptions. It means having to stop what I am doing and then, following the interruption, get back to work. It takes a few minutes to re-concentrate and focus.

But I love what I am doing and just need to be more disciplined. Which means now I must work on a freelance article. Time to move on…

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Holiday Shopper Alert - The Catalog of Catalogs is Here!

Years ago I was a big holiday shopper. A lot of things have changed over the years. The pleasure of leisurely shopping (or frantically shopping, depending on your holiday persona) has been replaced with concern over dwindling monetary resources and rising prices.

One free experience we can all still enjoy is discovering what this year's special 'in' gifts might be. It cost nothing but time and the mind-set to not be deliriously jealous. It is interesting and sometimes enlightening perusing the pages of a particular catalog for a look at how, as they used to say - the other half lives. I will update the saying for twenty-first century readers. Those of us comprising 99% of the economic pool can take a peek into the lives of the few, the minority, the wealthy scattered throughout our vast nation - the one percent of the population privileged enough to pay minimal taxes while reaping the rewards of capitalism.

I do not know any one percenters, or at least I do not think I do. (Who knows, maybe some school acquaintance from decades ago clawed their way into the realm of one percenters; if so, I am happy for them but do not expect to hear from them soon). I readily admit I know a lot of people who are quite happy with their lives - including me - even as they spend their lives working, playing and living with the other 99 percenters. 

Once a year everyone can enjoy the guiltless pleasure of peeking into the lives of the one percent. Many of them, those who have already 'made it' and those still clawing their way up the percentage ladder, are splashed all over the pages of People and other celebrity magazines. Those are not the ones I am interested in. I want a glimpse into the lives of the ones rarely seen by us 99 percenters; the one percenters ensconced on their yachts, behind gated homes, in expensive wood-paneled offices, at private schools, inside country clubs, seated in first class travel accommodations or private jets, vacationing in five star (translation: expensive) hotels and dining at exclusive restaurants. 

Each of them must answer this crucial question every year: What do I get my spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, mistress or paramour and the rest of my family for the holidays? Money is no object, so the choices are limitless. One percenters have everything, so what can be purchased that is special, unique, unforgettable (or at least not immediately forgettable)?

The one percenters' can find the answer to this question in the annual Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog.

Neiman Marcus catered to the elite since the first store opened in Dallas, Texas in 1907. Oil-rich Texans were the store's initial focus, but its reputation grew and eventually customers came from throughout the country and Europe. Moderate priced clothes were introduced during the Depression and war years of the 1930s and 1940s, but the store remained focused on serving the upper class. 

One of the most brilliant marketing schemes of all time was unveiled by the company in its 1960 Christmas Catalog - His and Her outrageously expensive fantasy gifts. His and her cars, airplanes, submarines and robots are examples of the featured items over the years. 

We wait impatiently for the release of each year's catalog, eager to find out the latest his and her gifts and browse through the pages, gawking at the gadgets and other merchandise the one percenters will spend their holiday dollars on this year.

We need wait no longer for the 85th edition of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. You, too, can slowly examine each page at your leisure. All you need is a comfortable seat, computer and your lifeline to the web.

Just in case you do not have time right now, let me fill you in on some of the highlights. This year's His and Hers fantasy gift is called Dancing Fountains from WET, the company that brought us the fountains at the Las Vegas Bellagio Hotel. I won't go into details, but if you are interested check out the catalog and write a check for one million dollars.

How about a Ferrari sportscar for $395,000 for your significant other? Unfortunately your loved one will not find it under the tree this year. Delivery cannot be made until spring 2012.

I loved the luxury yurt for $75,000. For those not familiar with Mongol (the people who live in the country of Mongolia) lifestyles, they live in yurts, which are round tents. They have been living in yurts for thousands of years. The Neiman Marcus yurt is American made. I imagine it will appeal to the one percenters in Mongolia as well as those closer to home. The yurt is 12 1/2 feet high and 18 feet in diameter. The luxury model has linen wall coverings, a crystal chandelier and one-of-a-kind hand-embroidered down pillows. And - I know this will make the sale for you readers - there is no extra charge for shipping and installation on the estate of your choice.

But I do not want to ruin the experience for you. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or perhaps something more potent and click here for a look at the 2011 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

In all fairness to Neiman Marcus I will mention the fact that the catalog offers items 99 percenters may be able to afford; there are gifts for a couple of hundred dollars and less. I have not yet reviewed every catalog page for specifics. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Big Banks Were Never Our Friends

Reading about the Occupy Wall Street movement I was amazed to see that one of their demands - or requests - is that people should give up their accounts at the big banks and move to smaller banks. This, to me, has always been a no-brainer. Big banks were never the friends of the small guy (the less than rich or well-to-do).

I realize it is almost impossible to avoid the big banks totally. I wrote a post on my other blog way back in July, 2010, Large Financial Institutions are Not Our Friends. What confounds me is the naivete of the kids attempting to change our world (I realize the Wall Street protesters are not really kids, and many of them are older, but a lot of them seem like kids to this aging boomer). 

Financial institutions are in business to make money. There are lots of ways to make money (legally). Some companies actually make things they sell to other people. A lot of companies provide services people need and are willing to pay for. And some companies ensconce bright young graduate degree twenty-somethings in offices in major financial centers like New York, paying them big bucks to devise ways to get their greedy hands on everyone else's money.

These companies most recently decided to charge customers a fee, $3 or $5 depending on the bank, for the privilege of using their debit cards to buy stuff. (Banks are not charging, apparently, to get cash from their ATM machines). This is just one more example of ways the big guys strive to nickel and dime us to death, or at least into genteel poverty.

The big guys do want some of our business and grudgingly accept it to help pay the bills. But they really want the business of the 1% of the population everyone is now talking about. The checking accounts, savings accounts and financial transactions of the majority produce minimal fees. The big bucks come with servicing the wealthy minority.

Most of these banks do not care if middle-class Americans invest their paltry sum of investment dollars with them. They are not really interested unless there is a pot of at least one million dollars - and even that is a meager sum to many firms. They may take your money, but then you get to talk to someone in a call center in Texas or who knows where. Every time you call you probably talk to someone else. These guys (and gals) are eager to work their way out of the boondocks, into the big time and deal with the big money customers.

The Wall Street occupiers and an entire younger generation are disillusioned, frustrated and want change now. I think I can say that, no matter an individual's age or political persuasion, just about everyone is weary of inaction and wants change. We are all dissatisfied and dismayed that the powers who can change things either are not listening, are actually powerless, do not care or do not know how to change things. Or maybe they like the status quo and do not want things to change. Whatever the reason, I  understand the feelings of discouragement and powerlessness of the Wall Street protesters, although doubt if their methods will bring real change soon. But any reaction and response is better than nothing right now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Traveling Together or Is it Potty Break Time Yet?

One of the more unfortunate personal changes occurring in my body, and my hub's, as we age is our kidney capacity, or more accurately lack of our kidneys' capacity to hold quantities of liquid.  The loss of kidney fortitude over the years has affected our travel by car. Years ago, actually decades ago, the time span between pit stops could be hours. Stops were dictated by the need for gas. That has changed.

One reason things have changed is that cars get better gas mileage today and therefore the drive time between fill-ups is longer. That may be true, but is not the primary reason we stop. Someone has to pee, and in our family it is usually hub who needs to pull over first.

Last week we faced a ten hour trip home after visiting our son. We wanted to make the trip in one day and get home well before midnight.  Before leaving I suggested we drive at least two hours before the first stop.

We drove about an hour when hub had to pee. He couldn't wait another hour. At this rate we would get home sometime in the middle of the night. But once it got dark neither one of us would be able to sustain hours of driving; this too changes with age (at least with us). As summer turns into autumn, then winter, we lament the seasonal coming of shorter days; it gets dark by 5:00 p.m. and before 8:00 p.m. the last thing we want to do is drive and drive and drive…

If I ever write a book it is going to be an informational one about where and how to locate places to pee while traveling. Decades ago gas stations were the number one choice, but they became less than satisfactory. In recent years the rise of gas/convenience stores with usually fairly clean rest rooms has been a boon to travelers. Overseas travelers would be warned to exercise their thigh muscles; meager and at times no facilities may require squatting for essential functions. 

But back to the United States, the decline of kidneys and rise of rest stops. Hub often decides to get a cup of coffee or other drink before taking off again. That is fine, except it decreases driving time between stops. 

I remember an infamous car trip when our boys were about 6 and 8 years old. My sister-in-law, six months pregnant at the time, joined us. Our adventure began in San Francisco and ended at a relative's house in Los Angeles. It was a long trip, and we were hoping to complete it in one long, long day of driving - we were much younger then! We would stop and emphasize - anybody have to go? We're stopping now. Not everyone would take advantage of the opportunity. We would all pile back into the car with drinks and snacks. Sometimes less than ten minutes later a small, sheepish  voice - usually one of the boys or the pregnant mom -  would pipe up: I have to pee NOW. I thought those days were over.

I was wrong. As we age the time between pee stops decreases and the length of our car trips increase. In a few years we will either have to take a portable potty along with us or plan on spending more time on the road. That will mean motel stops because we will not have the energy, perseverance or bodies to endure long driving days while maneuvering in and out of a car. 

And so our aging journey of maturing cheerfully, although not necessarily comfortably or easily continues.