Saturday, December 27, 2014

My New Year’s Prognostications

Hub and I spent a good part of Christmas Day driving. First we drove through the heart of Philadelphia to rendezvous with hub’s family for dinner. Then we drove to my Mom’s home on Long Island.

Covering over 200 miles through two major cities, we encountered no traffic jams, no construction-in-progress delays or detours, few trucks, no accidents, no bad weather – no delays whatsoever. We made excellent time both trips. It was a Christmas Day miracle!

And now it is time to look ahead and predict 2015 happenings.

So here goes, a few predictions, hopes and guesses for 2015, in no particular order:

Hub enters almost complete retirement mode January 1 and will spend more time at home. My prediction is that at times I get annoyed with him and we will bicker as he adjusts to his new status.

The number of upbeat news stories (except around Christmas) continues to decline, increasing geometrically my frustration with short news shows, long news programs, and 24/7 mind-numbing ‘news’ stations.

The political scene heats up again, and as much as we might want to avoid the hoopla, the media already expends too much time and energy on the 2016 elections. Jeb is in, probably, most likely, not definitely…Romney is out…well, maybe not…Look! Elizabeth Warren over there! Eyeing Hillary…(I predict) it is going to be a very long, politically-saturated year.

And while on the subject of saturated…I hope no major storms strike resulting in death, injury, property damage or other problems. Hopefully 2015 will be a boring year weather-wise.

I am clueless about pop culture, whether music, movies, TV shows, celebrities, fashion. I have no idea what will capture people’s imagination next year, but…I believe black will be in, as always, especially with the older crowd attempting to hide extra pounds and protrusions…I am not an Angelina Jolie fan, but predict her movie Unbroken will win awards…I am in mourning since learning Hot in Cleveland will be history, but predict Betty White will win an award or two this year…The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will rock the ratings (I must admit I watch late shows On Demand. I do not stay up late enough to watch live)… And Downton Abbey will be great fun to watch, as usual.

A cooling period is on the horizon for the stock market following record-breaking numbers. Interest rates finally begin to rise. And of course another financial scandal makes headlines.

Congress continues underperforming and increases its obstructive behavior, not so much a prediction as unfortunate certainty.

Gas prices rise, regrettably, topping $4/gallon again.

The mob plans to relocate headquarters from wherever they are in the U.S. to Havana.

American tourists, many via cruise ships, invade Cuban shores.

Pluto is once more upgraded to planet status (hub’s wishful prediction).

I will not win the lottery.

I will acquire a taste for kale and actually use it and eat it.

Puerto Rico requests statehood, and Texas secedes from the United States upon hearing the news (Ted Cruz elected Texas’ first President). We will not have to buy or design a new flag!

More exercise and weight loss are on the 2015 agenda for hub and me. (OK, stop laughing! I see that smirk on everyone’s face…).

I turn 65 in 2015, not a prediction, hope or guess, but an indisputable, incontrovertible fact. ‘Nuff said…

Wherever you are,
Before the Calendar turns
And Hibernation Season begins
a.k.a. January

Wishing everyone a
Very Happy and
Healthy New Year! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Blogging Boomers Talk About the Holidays

Take a look at what is under this week's Blogging Boomers Christmas Tree here (you may have already read my First Holiday Letter Ever, but there is lots more interesting stuff to check out.).
If you are looking for more to read today, go on over to The Green Study blog and view my response to the deep, philosophical question: What's on the B side of that 45? titled My Time is Now.

I hope everyone takes time to relax and enjoy the season.
Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2014

My First Ever Holiday Letter

 Greetings from Momma and Poppa Baer!

2014 was a wonderful one for the Baer family. Let me begin by stating that Steve and I are grateful to have survived this year's New Jersey bear hunting season. We laid low for a few weeks, not wanting local hunters to knock us off.

The year began with a trip to see the kids and grandkids in Florida. Why anyone wants to live in a state with interminable red lights and streets too wide to cross before the light changes is beyond me, but anyway…We had a wonderful visit, except for the minor car accident incurred (Meryl was driving) with our rental vehicle.  

There was another slight accident a few weeks later at home. Meryl, again in the driver’s seat, was sitting at a traffic light when the car in front of her backed up – the driver was too far into the intersection – bumping into her car. Only minor damage resulted.

We returned home from Florida to frigid weather and frozen water pipes. An unnamed relative (to protect the guilty) was supposed to check the house. She realized the house felt cold, but figured we set the heat very low because we are cheap. Not bothering to inspect the toilets, she did not notice the frozen water in the bowls and tanks.

Our friend Bill the plumber fixed the pipes, then he and his wife left for an extended Arizona vacation (immediately after we paid him). We stayed home the rest of the winter and set the temperature low, but not low enough to freeze the pipes again. Luckily our son works for the Pajamagram Company and sent us cozy Hoodie-Footies that helped us survive the winter.

We took a number of trips this year, visiting the grandkids as well as a couple of true vacations. Meryl landed in the emergency room on two of our outings. The doctors thought it might be appendicitis, or gall bladder, or too much chocolate consumption. It turned out to be none of these ailments. Both times the doctors prescribed a strong painkiller and antibiotic, and she was fine.

Meryl accompanied Steve on a business trip to New Orleans, and was lucky enough to spend a day meeting and mingling with locals while in a dentists’ chair. The dentist prescribed a painkiller and antibiotics (sound familiar!) and, upon returning home, she spent additional time at an endodontist and dentist enduring a root canal and capped tooth.

Steve had an uneventful year healthwise. He passed - with flying colors - his regularly scheduled colonoscopy (stop by the house and we’ll show you the pictures), and enjoyed a trip to the hospital so the doctor could examine his heart, which turned out to be in great shape for a guy his age. No stent or other paraphernalia needed! Good job Steve!

Another milestone Steve experienced this year was acceptance into the Medicare health program. Way to go Steve!

We worked on improving our diet, joining a CSA farm and receiving a box of organic veggies each week - until the CSA encountered difficulties, missing a couple of deliveries. We savored pizza and other forbidden foods during the hiatus, but then got back on track. Unfortunately the CSA suffered a fire in late fall which destroyed its office and some equipment, but should be up and running by spring.

We hosted a lot of friends and family this year, all descending during the summer. No one wants to visit us at the shore during the rest of the year. Actually, before moving to the beach, family and friends did not want to visit us any time of the year.

A June storm downed wires and left us without electricity for a couple of days, but the weather cooperated and we did not need air conditioning. We bought ice from the local store before supplies ran out and saved our freezer and refrigerator foods.

A few additional notes before signing off –

Steve made new friends this year, befriending a couple of local policemen when they knocked on our door one day. Once the initial problem was straightened out, they had a nice visit.

Steve worked all year, except for days missed when his computer froze and his company’s IT guy, on vacation, was unavailable to debug the machine. He will enter almost total retirement mode next year, working three or four days a month or whenever weather forces him indoors.

Meryl enjoyed exercise classes and follow-up visits to the chiropractor to adjust bones displaced during class.

Enough about our family’s delightful, event-filled year. We hope everyone experiences a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2015.

Until next year,

The Baers 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Leaving Up and Coming for Down and Out

Did you ever get the feeling you are out of sync with the rest of the world?

That is how hub and I feel about leaving our hometown of four decades and moving to the Jersey shore.

We left behind a town - actually, a small city, but let’s not quibble over definitions – in the midst of a rich agricultural area dotted with smaller towns and farms. We relocated to a resort area bustling with activity during the summer months, calm during the spring and fall shoulder seasons, and nearly deserted in the darkest winter months of January and February.

Our usually peaceful, mostly residential new hometown butts up against the infamous gambling mecca Atlantic City, just over a mile walk along the Boardwalk from our home. AC received lots of publicity lately, almost all of it bad. From Ray Rice of elevator bashing fame to the closing of four hotel/casinos in one year, the town is in trouble. Hopeful expectations of a depressed city reviving and revitalizing, rising like a phoenix from crumbling buildings with the arrival of gambling, never materialized.

The flip side is our old hometown – located in the south central Pennsylvania county known as the place where the Amish live – is now a hip place. Downtown Lancaster is a hub of trendy restaurants and pubs, art galleries, boutiques, and cultural hot spots. When we first moved to the area the only city dining establishment (besides mediocre white-bread-sandwich-type places) was the worst Chinese restaurant in the Northeast, and possibly the entire country.

Lancaster County has also become a retirement magnet, attracting people from all along the Northeast corridor seeking a calmer lifestyle and lower cost of living than nearby metro areas.

Meanwhile, approaching life in retirement, hub and I relocated to one of the most expensive cost of living states in the country (the main reason being high taxes), a place never found on best places to retire lists and sometimes on a short list of worst places.

But right now we love it. Barring storm damage (Sandy) resulting in being displaced for several weeks, hours and sometimes days-long electrical outages (Irene and a couple of other unnamed storms), and municipal water issues resulting in an inability to use our city water system (temporarily), life is good.

I am sure everyone heard the saying: It is darkest before the dawn. I think that describes the current situation in Atlantic City. There are a lot of reasons AC is in the dumps, including years of government overspending, neglect, political corruption, shortsightedness in viewing gambling as the savior of the city…on and on.

But the city has hit bottom (only my opinion, of course), and bright minds with an interest in more than lining their own pockets are coming forward with a new vision. Maybe there is some light at the end of an interminably long dark tunnel, and we will see it soon.

We are in a great location. Philadelphia is an hour’s drive or a $9 round trip train ride (special senior citizen rate). Manhattan is a 2½ hour bus ride away, about $35 round trip. A long, sandy, beautiful beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean is a three-block walk.

Sometime soon we will return to Lancaster, spend a First Friday strolling downtown, enjoy one of the new restaurants, visit with old friends, and consider that maybe, when the shore becomes too expensive or ends up underwater (literally), we can move back.

Before then we are going to celebrate hub’s birthday with dinner and a comedy show at the Borgata, one of the AC resort casinos still open and apparently successful. We are not usually party people. In fact, we are rarely party folks. The biggest excitement this month (aside from the birthday night out) is eagerly awaiting hub’s first social security check. But I digress…

To summarize, we left up and coming for down and out.

Maybe crazy/unwise/foolish/reckless (choose one, all, or add one of your own descriptive adjectives), but we followed our heart.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cocooning in the Cold

I like bad weather. Occasionally. Specifically when I can cocoon indoors. Nasty weather presents opportunities to vegetate, to couch potato, to do nothing and not feel terribly guilty about the inactivity.

Before there was man or beast, there was weather. Beautiful sunny days. Cold, rainy, dark days. Snowy days. Windy days. Hot days. Frigid days. Animals, and later man, adapted. Early man huddled in caves for days during storms. Then people wised up and learned to pack their belongings and journey from cold weather regions to places offering more benign conditions during cold months (the original snowbirds).

Nowadays the 24/7 news media continually warn of impending doom-worthy storms approaching the Northeast, the Great Lakes region (think Buffalo), the endless plains and Western mountains. Following a milk and bread alert and quick run to the nearest convenience store or supermarket, residents are warned to stay inside and off the roads. 

I am happy to remain indoors and watch, through the double-paned window, my small car slowly but steadily transform into a white-encased mound.

I do not remember snow days – no school! - as a kid, but there must have been a couple over the years. I do remember my kids’ snow days, and not nostalgically. I recall long days dressing the boys in layers of clothing and sending them out to play. Depending on the temperature, they remained outdoors a couple of hours or a couple of minutes.

But they always came back inside. I peeled clothes off their cold, shivering bodies, threw the wet garments in the dryer, and made hot chocolate and a snack. By the time the boys finished eating, resting, and fighting, the clothes were dry enough to wear again.

The scene repeated again. And again, until it mercifully grew cold and dark. 

Fast-forward a few decades and cold, snowy days and rainy, squally ones entail a totally different experience.

Time indoors on these days should not be misused accomplishing useful things. They are occasions for laid-back activities like beginning that novel sitting on the shelf for weeks and making a pot of soup that, while simmering, pervades the entire house with a wonderful smell and tastes delicious as it is leisurely savored at whatever time of day one decides to indulge.

As the wind wails outside and the rain or snow falls, I make myself comfortable on the family room couch, surrounded by the tools needed for a day of comfort, relaxation, and guiltless squandered time. A steaming cup of coffee or hot chocolate. A pile of newspapers and magazines, and some books. My cell phone and laptop. The TV remote. A blanket to snuggle in.

TV watching is, admittedly, a waste of time, but during a day tolerating – more than that, sanctioning - wasted time, old TV shows and movies with casts of famous actors and actresses, most long gone, are a delightful indulgence.

The only time forced to leave my comfy corner is when nature calls.

Eventually the world returns to its frantic tempo. Re-energized, I resume normal activities, secretly awaiting the next weather-related retreat day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Unsubscribe Me – Please

Warning: Today I rant.

At the moment I am fuming about a problem endemic in our connected society. At least I have found it an ongoing, annoying issue. I do not know if others are faced with the same dilemma. Although it is not a dangerous or costly concern, it is irritating, at times maddening, and definitely frustrating.

So here goes:

Why is it so easy to subscribe to various websites and receive a constant barrage of ads, news alerts, solicitations or whatever – and so difficult to unsubscribe?

Theoretically by scrolling down to the bottom of an email – first of course locating a magnifying glass so the fine print can be discovered and studied - there is a link to unsubscribe, or maybe it says:

If you no longer want to receive emails
from this company, click here.

Clicking produces a screen saying something like:

Verify that you no longer wish to receive
our valuable emails by checking the box below.

Sometimes a follow-up screen wants to know why I no longer wish to receive this particular company’s correspondence, or wonders if perhaps I would like to receive their valuable materials less often (once a week? once a month? exclusive promotions only? holiday products? sales announcements? midnight madness extravaganza offers? cyber Monday markdowns? new product news? Try NEVER).

So I click through, check off the boxes, and wait for my slew of emails to be reduced by at least one.

Unfortunately too often nothing happens. The steady barrage of emails from the company continues unabated.

What could I have done wrong that the company rejects my request?

Sometimes my user name and password are requested. A lot of times I do not remember the information because I used the site to buy an item once – probably months or even years ago. I have a lengthy password file, but occasionally forget to add a new one. I use the same password for lots of websites – a no-no, according to Internet security gurus – but at my age I forget too much to fool around changing (and remembering) passwords all the time.

Occasionally I mark an email as junk and hope future emails are immediately relegated to the junk or spam folder. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

So what is the secret to getting rid of unwanted on-going emails?

I am more careful nowadays about giving retailers my email address, not wanting to be bombarded with ads and tired of scrolling through the junk before arriving at one I actually want to read.

Then there are the totally unsolicited emails that magically appear in my inbox. They arrive and I wonder – where the h*** did that company get my information? Probably purchased from another retailer, or some company that now collects and sells the information. Once again I waste my time attempting to get rid of the unwanted messages.

I guess I should feel good that so many companies want my business. I am wanted. I am solicited. I am sought out, petitioned, implored to read the correspondence and ACT NOW! I am supposed to drop whatever I plan on doing, grab my credit card (or PayPal information) and CLICK THIS BUTTON IMMEDIATELY!

I am afraid it is a losing battle.

So here is my plan. I am going to set up a new email account and begin giving it to retailers and those annoying websites demanding that YOU CANNOT PROCEED FURTHER WITHOUT GIVING US YOUR EMAIL NOW.

I will never have to actually scan through the emails. I will know, even if it says there are 25 - 50 - 100 or more emails, that every single one of them belongs in the round – a.k.a. discard - file.

There is another possible solution. I can give my email address and, by mistake, key one or two incorrect characters. Of course that is not an honest thing to do, so I will open that other email account…

Soon – maybe a month, a year, a decade from now – my ‘real’ email account will be devoid of advertisements and solicitations.

But then I wonder – will I get any emails at all?

Will anyone out there not wanting me to buy something want to correspond with me? 

Time will tell. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Best of Boomers on Travel, Mind Play, Holiday Shopping and Charitable Giving

This week on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes about how she and baby boomers love to travel. Boomers plan to take four to five trips next year, with more than half traveling within the United States and four in 10 traveling both domestically and internationally, according to an AARP survey.

In a previous post, Amy Blitchok at Modern Senior took a look at the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing the AARP RealPad for your loved one this season. While the RealPad may not be the best choice for a tablet, Amy is back this week with recommendations for tablets that offer higher performance capabilities at a better price point.  Her 2014 Holiday Gift Guide for Seniors also contains other great ideas that will help you finish your holiday shopping.

As we get older we sometimes forget things. Sometimes our minds can veer off track and fool us into thinking something happened when it really didn't. And we run the risk, to put it bluntly, of losing our minds. Tom Sightings at Sightings Over Sixty experienced a couple of unusual and unsettling adventures last night, which led him to wake up this morning and ask: Is my imagination just overactive these days, or Am I Going Crazy?

Laura Lee aka the Midlife Crisis Queen wrote a post this week supporting the efforts of animal shelters for #PetShelterLove. Please adopt, and help out a homeless animal this holiday. And speaking of HOME, Laura's new home in the southern Colorado foothills is finally taking shape!

Visiting her mother-in-law in an assisted living facility, Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting cannot help wondering: Will Mom be me a couple of decades or more from now? The statistics are not reassuring, but she is going to do all she can to, if not avoid a home permanently, minimize time spent. Read her musings in Home Sweet Assisted Living Home.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Home Sweet Assisted Living Home

Always be nice to your children because they are the ones 
who will choose your rest home.
                                              - Phyllis Diller

I think about that quote often nowadays as I frequently visit my mother-in-law in her assisted living home. We – my husband, my sister-in-law and I – chose the place. Mom had a stroke and the consensus among the family was that she could not return to her apartment and continue living alone.

While Mom rehabbed, we visited assisted living facilities, eventually selecting a very nice place six miles from our home.

That was three and a half years ago. Mom has had her ups and downs since then, as a slow, steady decline in mental and physical abilities continue.

A couple of months ago she transferred to a more secure section of the home. Her long-term memory still works remarkably well, but short-term functionality has been compromised. In addition she lost hearing in one ear as a result of the second stroke, and has difficulty catching and processing conversation. Phone calls are a string of, “What?” and, “we must have a poor connection.”

Yet, in a strange sort of way, she is doing better than before her transfer. She receives more attention and hands-on care, and as a result is thriving.

But because she is thriving she is restless and displeased with her situation, but participates in more activities than previously. She is less likely to sleep her days away.

A newly hired Activities Director enthusiastically supports and encourages the residents. Learning each one’s likes, dislikes, and history, she develops activities tailored to their interests and abilities, including family events promoting family and resident interaction.

So will Mom be me a couple of decades or more from now?

There is a strong movement to age in place – in one’s own home – but that is not always possible or desirable. Physical and/or mental requirements sometimes force an individual into an environment offering more intensive, hands-on treatment than spouses and family members can provide.

Not that there is anything wrong with Mom’s assisted living facility.

Except of course that is not what Mom will tell you. She berates the fact that her son put her in ‘this place’. She wants her car, which she cannot drive. She wants freedom to do what she wants when she wants, but is too frail to help herself do much of anything anymore.

Down the road I hope my health, both physical and mental, holds up enough so I can live my life the way I want and make my own decisions.

So how much longer might I expect to enjoy my favorite foods, world travel, reading (it will take several years to finish my current must-read list, and it continues growing), mind-numbing TV shows…and survive zumba class so I can enjoy my favorite foods?

Life expectancy at my age (I will turn 65 in 2015) is another 20.5 years. For men of the same age life expectancy is 17.9 years. 

If I must, I hope to pick my own ‘rest home’. At least then the only one I can blame for not liking the place will be me. It may be a difficult mission. A Health and Human Services Department study forecasts a shortage of housing for seniors as boomers age, predicting about 70% of the population reaching age 65 will need some form of long-term care during their lifetime.

In this particular case, I hope I will be a member of the minority population.

Meanwhile I will…

Eat a lot of chocolate. Recent studies indicate flavonoids, found in cocoa, may help stem age-related memory loss.

Get exhausted – but lots of exercise - every few weeks attempting to keep up with the grandkids.

Think about cleaning the house, occasionally actually doing so.

Make an effort to lose weight, a battle never won.

Dye my hair, although I am not sure for how much longer. At some point I will succumb to its natural color, whatever that might be.

Endure exercise classes, realizing achieving amazing results and morphing into a slim, trim figure will never happen.

Enjoy friends, family, and new relationships.

Try some new pursuits, learn a new skill or two or three. Easy ones!

Continue writing, traveling, complaining, and participating in all the other activities honed over six decades of living. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Final Note on Election 2014

And 2016 Presidential Election Update #11

Politics is the best show in America.
I love animals and I love politicians,
and I like to watch both of 'em at play,
 either back home in their native state,
or after they've been captured and sent to a zoo,
or to Washington."
-Will Rogers 

Conservative Republicans won Washington.

Progressive ideas won the grassroots ballot questions.

We are a divided country.

It seems that following each election cycle Washington becomes more and more a separate entity, alienated from the people the governing body is supposed to represent.

The new group of ruling Republicans, guided by dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, held their celebratory press conference the day after the elections in front of a sign stating, “Stop Obama. Fire Reid.” And Limbaugh continued ranting about blocking Obama on everything and anything the President attempts to do.

But all that is history now. On with the 2016 show!

What makes pre-election hoopla interesting is the unexpected, usually in the form of scandals, about sex, money, bribery, nepotism, plagiarism, embellishment (such as education and resumes), or just plain stupidity.

As the Presidential battles begin, I long to see who falls first.

Of course we do not yet know who is definitely running. Rumors abound, politicians hint, and the media speculates. The committed will begin throwing their hats in the ring soon after the first of the New Year.

I have to admit, however, the absence of political ads is a blessing.

On the other hand, replacement ads encouraging, urging, exhorting us to shop are not much better.

So let the political games begin! Sometime in 2015…

Disliking pre-election hype, I am considering signing on for a long outer space ride that will take me far away from the electioneering. I want to leave before January 2016, when things really heat up, and return the day after Election Day.

I would (thankfully) miss the constant bombardment of political propaganda, making it difficult to decipher truth from falsehoods, reality from fiction.

But I guess politics has almost nothing to do with reality.

I still plan on voting, my information received via coded messages from my grandkids, who will be as well-versed in campaign trivia – or not – as most adults. Or maybe I will stock up on reading materials before leaving. Most candidates have written at least one book. I will cast an absentee ballot, assuming between now and November 2016 my state does NOT pass ID laws limiting my participation. I have no idea on what grounds my vote would be unwelcome, but politicians, if nothing else, can be creative at times. But I digress…

Unfortunately I cannot afford a space voyage, but am considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund my trip.

Or maybe I will find a place right here on Earth – a nice, quiet, safe, inexpensive place - without TV, cell phone service, cable, or any other communications with the outside world. A location with no access to liberal media, conservative bombasts, or daily news announcing the latest survey results.

If anyone knows of such a place, let me know. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

December Bedlam Begins

The days from Thanksgiving through December can be a difficult, trying, stressful time. Or an enjoyable, family-centered, busy in a fun way time. For most people, it turns out to be a combination of both.

My time began on a disappointing, or more accurately a frustrating, note. 

I did not set the alarm Thanksgiving night. The following morning I woke early, and although no alarm jolted me out of a deep sleep (sleeping is one of my greatest skills), the clock read 6:20. I rolled over, then immediately thought about my 7:00 a.m. Zumba class.

I knew I could use some spirited exercise after two days of cooking and eating.

I climbed out of bed, threw on gym clothes, and crept silently out of the house, leaving hub and houseguests sleeping peacefully in the warm, cozy house.

My car thermometer registered 32 degrees.

Approaching the gym I noticed no cars parked along the street. Well, I figured, it was the day after a holiday and everyone was sleeping in or out of town. On the other hand there are always a few hearty souls around. I had a sinking feeling I would not be exercising.

Walking toward the building entrance, it appeared dark and deserted. My intuition proved right. A note taped to the door indicated the gym would open 8:00 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving.

I know, it was my fault. Should have checked the website or Facebook.

Sometimes I am not social media savvy enough for today’s world. Perhaps because I did not grow up using Internet tools, electronic devices are not always the first place accessed for information. Or I make presumptions and assumptions and do not check them out before acting.

I turned around, got back in the car, and drove home, stopping momentarily to stock up on bagels for breakfast. The salesgirl asked if I was out early for a shopping spree, and answered, “No way!” She said her family passed Best Buy on the way home from dinner the night before – Thanksgiving night - and the parking lot was packed. Four policemen directed people – not traffic - rushing to get pre-Black Friday Best Buy bargains.

The outlets in our town opened 6:00 a.m. Black Friday morning.

I strongly disagree with our consumer-oriented world’s push to open as early as possible Black Friday, Thanksgiving night, or Thanksgiving Day.

I feel badly for employees who have to cut short their holiday and work because people cannot wait to participate in what has become an all-American pastime. Shopping may be today’s number one American leisure time activity and sport. Not a sport exactly, more like a form of exercise, consisting of running into stores as the doors open, yelling at kids, sales clerks, and other shoppers reaching for the last item on the shelf, simultaneously lunging for merchandise, walking long distances through malls, and building muscles carrying packages.

I fail to see the fun in such exercise.

Marketers love hype. We view the evening news and watch people running into stores and walking around with baskets full of merchandise. Continuously inundated with TV ads, catalogs and mailers, advertisers hope we will jump in our cars and drive to the nearest big box store, mall or outlet center, credit cards firmly in hand.

Most of us will do some shopping in the coming month – for gifts, for more food than usual as we entertain and enjoy friends and family gathering at home, purchase holiday decorations and possibly winter paraphernalia should the weather turn ugly. 
I am a fan of Small Business Saturday. Actually I am a fan of shopping locally throughout the year.

So I am throwing my hat in the small business ring. Patronize local independent stores.

Shop Main Street, not Chain Street.  

And may your December be happy, healthy, and stress free. Perhaps most important, do not forget to allow plenty of time for fun. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Reunion Reveling in Retirement

Friends move in and out of our lives. Maybe we move away. Sometimes they move away. We fight and fail to reconcile. Lives and interests diverge, and we no longer have much in common. If lucky a few special friends remain in our lives over the years. We may not communicate for weeks or months or years, but eventually reconnect once more. Thanks to social media it is easier nowadays to stay connected.

Four couples initially bonded decades ago when our kids were infants. The babies are now in their thirties. These four couples will experience a major life event in 2015 - six members will retire. The other two already enjoy retirement.

We are an unusual group of married duos statistically speaking - each couple remains together since getting married decades ago. 

We are thinking about a joint retirement celebration, but have yet to work out the details.

The celebration would go something like this:

We will meet in a convenient central location; we live spread over 600 miles. Summer is the ideal time. Long hours of daylight are conducive to driving lengthy distances. Retirement allows for leisurely travel, with ample time for pee stops, refilling coffee mugs, breaks to stretch legs and backs, and any other intermissions necessitated by aging but still moving bodies.

The place chosen for our celebration will provide comfortable accommodations with private bathrooms. Everything will be close and convenient and lighted by night-lights. Otherwise, up in the middle of the night, we might forget where we are. Who knows what accidents might occur...

Tired from sitting in a car for hours, we will rendezvous for an early dinner, then adjourn to the hotel bar for a nightcap. At least one of us will turn in by 9:00 p.m., the rest lasting a lot longer - maybe until 10:00 p.m.

Talk will revolve around the following topics of conversation endlessly discussed among members of our generation:

Aches and pains, crossing over into Medicare territory, and the frustration of dealing with insurance companies,
Kids, grandkids, weddings and funerals,
Where we live, where we used to live, where we want to live, and
Recent trips, imminent travel plans, and where we want to travel.

The second day's activities begin with breakfast, a choice of palette-pleasing dishes along with an assortment of pills downed for a variety of ailments.

We linger over coffee. Conversation concludes with a discussion of a morning walk and appropriate footgear, considering members' bunions, flat feet, broken toe, weak knees, and bad back. Who can far each one of us can or wants to walk...

We stroll outside, but only if relatively flat and the weather perfect - sunny, not too cold, not too hot. Some of us will walk a few yards, others continue for a mile or longer, and the heartiest will complete five or six miles.

We meet again for lunch. Then sightseeing may be on the agenda, whether a local market, craft fair, museum, shopping, or simply wandering around town.

We return and decide on evening plans. We are not a late-night crowd, so clubbing (the music kind, not the caveman hitting each other kind) is out.

Dancing might be fun, but only to the oldies.

Oldie music for oldie minds and bodies, enjoyed with old friends.

An oldies reunion.

A good friend is a connection to life
a tie to the past, a road to the future,
the key to insanity in a totally insane world.
- Lois Wyse 

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Thanksgiving Story for Adults

Warning -
This is not an X-rated article. Sorry, folks.

As kids we colored pictures of Pilgrims in black and white outfits and half-naked Indians feasting happily together, and savored dishes lovingly prepared by our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and more recently, restaurants.

The real story of the holiday is quite different from childhood versions.

The myths and realities of Thanksgiving –

The Pilgrims sailed across the sea in 1620, intent on settling in Northern Virginia - present day New York State. Perilous seas prevented the Mayflower from anchoring in the chosen land. Heading North, the ship landed on the tip of Cape Cod in what is today Provincetown, renowned as an art colony and vacation destination for the LGBT crowd.

The Pilgrims moved on and settled in a deserted Indian village they named Plimoth. There were lots of deserted Indian villages at the time. A few years earlier European traders arrived in the area seeking riches. They left behind beads, trinkets and bacteria, and as a result two-thirds of the Wampanoag Indian tribe perished.

Upon docking, the Pilgrims did not set foot on Plymouth (Plimoth) Rock. The legend is a myth. No contemporary accounts mention a rock.

The rock initially appears as the place the Pilgrims disembarked 120 years after their arrival. A 95-year-old man, Thomas Faunae, told the tale in 1741, supposedly recounting what he heard from Mayflower survivors. The story was accepted at face value, and the rock became a treasured national memorial.

Back to the Pilgrim story...

In the fall of 1621 the Pilgrims celebrated their arrival and survival in their new homeland with a three day harvest festival, replicating a yearly English tradition. The Pilgrims and their neighbors, the Indians, were not too friendly, although the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, beans, and squash. But the Pilgrims were wary of their neighbors and looted their homes.

During the harvest celebration the colonists shot off guns and cannon, and the Indians came to see what all the ruckus was about. Whether invited to dine or crashing the party, we do not know for sure. What we do know is that 52 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians feasted on local produce, game and fish.

The celebration did not become an annual event.

A couple of years later a drought made life difficult for the colonists. Governor Bradford declared a day of thanksgiving, prayer and fasting. No feasting in 1623.

Moving ahead to 1637, an incident created a series of events leading to the first of what became annual thanksgiving celebrations.

A Pilgrim was found, in his boat, murdered. The settlers blamed the Indians, and, enraged by the crime, massacred the tribe. It is estimated over 700 Indians died. Survivors, mainly women and children, were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Governor William Newell declared a day of thanksgiving in honor of the battle victory, and a day of remembrance every year going forward.

A small number of the Indian tribe - the Pequots, living in what is today Connecticut and Massachusetts, survived and, centuries later, thrive. The tribe owns the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, advertised as the largest resort casino in North America.

Historians know the stereotypical black and white Pilgrim outfits are inaccurate. Black was worn only for church meetings. Buckles did not decorate their clothing - they were not invented yet, and the black shoes and black steeple hats often pictured are not authentic either. As for the Indians, by fall they would be wearing more than loincloths.

Wild turkey – a much slimmer, tougher predecessor to today’s fat, round, chemically-enhanced birds - may or may not have been on the menu. Wild fowl – most likely geese, ducks, and venison were consumed, along with seafood, Indian corn prepared in dishes similar to porridge and pancakes, a variety of vegetables including parsnips, carrots, turnips, spinach, cabbage, onions and beans, and herbs such as thyme, marjoram, sage and parsley.

Foods not available included sugar, pumpkin pie, cranberries, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top (a favorite in my family), apples, pears, and quite a few other goodies common on modern dinner tables.

150 years later the Continental Congress suggested an annual day of thanksgiving. New York adopted the custom in 1817, and other states followed. President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a day of Thanksgiving, and President Franklin Roosevelt specified the fourth Thursday of the month.

The traditional turkey dinner was popularized during the late 1800s.

Today millions of Americans celebrate the 3 F’s on the Fourth Thursday in November – Feasting, Football, and Family (not necessarily in that order).

Whether dining on a traditional turkey dinner, a vegetarian or vegan variation, or totally different meal -

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What I Learned From My Grandchildren

A few weeks passed since my trip to the grandkids Halloween weekend. Visits sometimes take on the aura of an exhausting hands-on, educational experience requiring rehab time afterward. As I rested and rejuvenated, I thought about the insights gleaned over that weekend.

 A question about the kids nagged at my brain. 

I realized the youngest generation has no identifying tag. Or at least I did not know what the generation has been nicknamed by observers.

My contemporaries comprise the baby boomers. Our parents belonged to the Silent Generation, also known as the Greatest Generation. Behind boomers are Generation X and the Millennials (also labeled Generation Y or the Echo Boomers).

I researched the question, an easy task nowadays with the Internet at our fingertips. I discovered that kids born from 2000 to the present are called Generation Z or the New Silent Generation. I am not sure why. I can attest that my grandchildren, members of the New Silent Generation, are anything but silent (except when sleeping).

During my Halloween visit the 4, 7, and 10-year-old opened my mind and filled my brain with the following tidbits -

Boys when they get older lose their hair and go bald, or turn gray. Or both. Girls, on the other hand, maintain their full mane and the same beautiful color forever - blonde or black or brown...Which made me wonder why I spend so much money at the hairdresser, but this wonderment was not shared with the 7-year-old.

Spending $25 on a new water bottle is a good investment. For my granddaughter. If I buy it. This was one investment I did not make, despite the whining and begging and insistence on needing the item. I know there is an entire cabinet in her house full of water bottles, perhaps not as pretty as the new one, but definitely as useful. Score one for Grandma.

Butterfingers are given out in large quantities on Halloween, but no one in our family likes them. Unwanted Halloween candy is carefully stored away, waiting for next Halloween to be handed out to a group of unsuspecting kids who probably also do not like Butterfingers...if anyone remembers where the stash is hidden months from now. Actually, the uneaten sweets will probably end up in the garbage long before next Halloween.

I finally got Elsa and Anna straight (from the movie Frozen, for those unfamiliar with Disney princesses) and learned most of the words of the song Let It Go (also from the movie). The four-year-old was supposed to be Elsa for Halloween, but at the last moment decided a pirate princess better suited her personality and wardrobe. She wore a black wig and super girl cape along with angel wings and a princess dress. It is, of course, a woman's - and girl's - prerogative to change her mind. The Elsa dress can be worn next year, but probably will not fit. And the kid will want to be someone else, anyway. But the dress will get a lot of wear around the house.

I also wore a costume on Halloween, a mask and two boas draped around my body. I thought I would be a trashy diva (after the name of a chain of shops in New Orleans), but my daughter-in-law insisted I be G-rated. I became Fancy Nancy's Grandma. Fancy Nancy is a series of books about a young girl who loves dressing up very fancy and throwing around French words.

Like au revoir!
The Trashy Diva
a.k.a. Fancy Nancy's Grandma

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Retiree’s Life

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.
-       George Burns

It is early evening. It feels much later because it has been dark a long time. Nightfall arrives by 5:00 p.m., and even on warm days as darkness descends the bleakness chills.

I am watching TV and working on my computer, multi-tasking. On a small table next to me rests a fresh cup of coffee and my dinner – a piece of chocolate mousse cake.

Decadent. Delicious. Calorie-laden. Loaded with non-nutritious no-no’s.
A picture...just in case some of my diet-conscious,
strong will-powered friends forgot what a great dining experience looks like!
The backstory…

Hub and I went out to lunch today. It is Restaurant Week in a nearby town. The meal cost $11.07 (plus tax). The three-course spread included soup or salad, entrée, and dessert.

I started with salad, a generous mix of greens, onions, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. My entrée followed, two crab cakes with rice pilaf and mixed vegetables.

The food was delicious and proportions ample. Often restaurant lunches comprise smaller portions of dinner plates. There was no skimping on our lunch, with more food than we could consume.

Dessert would have to wait. Since it was paid for, I felt obligated to accept it. The waitress prepared my slice of cake for take out.

Fast-forward a few hours. I was still full with no appetite for dinner, but that piece of chocolate mousse cake hanging out in the refrigerator was calling my name.

I could not resist.

I have little willpower.

I blame retirement for my dilemma. This gastronomic catastrophe would not have happened while working, when there was little time for an extended, decadent lunch.

Life changes…

There are few pressing deadlines in my life since crossing over to the flexible lifestyle of the retiree. I participate in work (part time, flex time, my time nowadays!), volunteer and other activities because I want to, listening to my body and heeding the fact that my energy level is finite.

If I miss an exercise class, I attend another scheduled throughout the day. I can be at the gym one morning for a 7:00 a.m. class, and another morning sleep late. 

On the other hand there are no good excuses for not exercising…

I can stay up late and watch a movie or read a book and not feel the ill effects the next day, dragging myself through a workday. I simply sleep a bit longer the following morning.

I can patronize stores, restaurants, museums and theaters during the week, avoiding holiday and weekend crowds.

I can take vacation whenever the travel bug hits, avoiding crowds and traffic and taking advantage of off-season and other special rates. 

Of course there are disadvantages…

Age creeps up, insidious, suddenly screaming “Gotcha!” and as a result we end up at a doctor’s office.

The dark is not a friend of the aging. Once darkness descends – outdoors or indoors, day or night - it is difficult to remain conscious for any length of time. My eyes grow heavy, my body slumps, concentration declines. I attended an art appreciation class last year, scheduled in early afternoon. Each session involved a series of slides with commentary. As hard as I tried, I found my head drooping and eyes closing. I forced myself to pop my head up and stay awake. I gave up and did not sign up for the class this year.

Night driving can be difficult on aging eyes…hearing often deteriorates…and hearing deficiency can lead to brain shrinkageour ability to smell and discern between smells weakenstaste and/or eating problems may occur due to illness or dental problems…medical issues and appointments can dictate our lives…

Enough of the negative.

I am going to concentrate on the positive aspects of life at a mature age.

It is time to live in the moment and enjoy my dinner, coffee and a slice of decadent, delicious, calorie-laden, loaded with non-nutritious no-no’s, chocolate mousse cake.

And not feel guilty.

Life is good…

Age is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.
-       Betty Friedan 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Downton Abbey and Our American Aristocracy

 Few will experience the lifestyle of the very rich and beautiful presented on the British TV series Downton Abbey. Real people – the upstairs lucky handful (the 1%) in this patrician world (diligently attended by downstairs servants) populated manor houses on vast estates and spent their time doing…I am not sure what.

Winterthur, an estate at one time encompassing over 2,500 acres, was the American equivalent, carefully crafted by Henry du Pont. He filled the mansion with collections of Americana, including furniture, textiles, china and silver, and works of art.

I entered this world via a display of Downton Abbey costumes at Winterthur, spending the day with my mom, sister, and niece, touring a small part of the family residence, viewing the costumes, and lingering over afternoon tea, savoring a sampling of hors d’oeuvres-type foods and desserts.

After a day immersed in this aristocratic world, then returning to my humble abode, my mind turned to today’s mega-rich moguls.

What will their museums be like? What do they collect? What do their homes look like?

My imagination began fashioning a fanciful preview of museums of today’s super rich scattered around the country and open to the public…

I thought about Rush Limbaugh, an enigma wrapped in a radio show. People line up to tour his Palm Beach, Florida, gated compound and visit two impressive dwellings, Limbaugh’s and the house occupied by his serial wives (one at a time, of course). Their memoirs, Living Next Door to Rush, by Wife I, II, III, IV, and V (I am guessing at the total number) are sold in the compound gift shop. The tell-alls were unavailable previously because of a gag order issued as part of divorce settlements.

Rush’s collections are displayed in his man cave - the movies and memorabilia of John Wayne, Charlton Hesston and Ronald Reagan, his gun collection, sports cars, cigars, and pillboxes. There is a room devoted to the testimonials of those who gained from one of Rush’s most ardent causes – lowering taxes on the wealthy so these moneyed capitalists could provide jobs for the less fortunate.

Unfortunately the room remains empty.

Warren Buffett’s homestead offers a contrasting, understated experience. The fourth richest man in the world (according to Fortune magazine) lived in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska, for decades. The home is billed as a peek into life during the post-war 1950s. The furniture is similar to that found in millions of homes across suburban America in the mid-20th century. The dining room table, informally set for a family dinner, displays a typical steak and potatoes meal. The house, purchased in 1958 for $31,000 ($255,327 in 2014 dollars), expanded over the years to 6,000 square feet, larger than most people’s homes, but a cottage compared to residences of America’s rich and famous elite. Buffett eventually purchased a multi-million dollar home in California, but a modest dwelling compared to the mansions of his mega-wealthy cronies.

One of the New York City apartments inhabited by the celebrity-driven businessman Donald Trump opened to the public by appointment only. The penthouse, encased in floor to ceiling windows towering over Manhattan, attest to the man’s flamboyant public persona. Gold-plated furniture reminiscent of Louis XV rococo style fills the public rooms. The bed in the master bedroom is draped in a heavy silk canopy with mirrors and a TV on the canopy dome. His boudoir displays numerous toupees worn over the years. A theater room continually plays his Apprentice TV series and excerpts from news conferences and other public appearances.

The David and Charles Koch (brothers, not a gay couple) bus tour around Wichita (a.k.a. Kochville), Kansas, and home of Koch Industries – the second largest private company in the country – views sights where the family left their mark. The bus passes Koch office and industry buildings, and stops briefly so tourists can get off the bus and walk around Koch Community Plaza, plastered with pictures of politicians supported and those the brothers spent billions opposing, as well as declarations by teachers, union representatives, college graduates, and immigrants on the difficulty of earning a living in America following the Koch brothers success in lowering wages and minimizing worker benefits. Plaques honor the oligarchy of wealth championed by the brothers.

Arkansas boasts two major tourist destinations – the Walton Family Museum, homage to the wealth acquired on the backs of low-paid retail workers, and the William and Hillary Clinton Library and Museum, a bastion of moderate/liberal Democratic ideas in the midst of conservative Republicanism.

Chicago celebrated the opening of the Obamamax, a state-of-the-art theater featuring highlights of the President’s life and political career. Old Tea Party contemporaries of the President boycotted the event…Football Hall of Fame memorabilia in Canton, Ohio was relocated to the new Museum of Historical Sports…Every year the Gates Gala attracts the rich, famous, and wannabee rich and famous to their annual high tech online virtual event…

Suddenly the dryer buzzer rouses me from my reverie. Real life interrupts and, working as my own maid, the downstairs life of laundry, cooking and cleaning beckons.

Here is an interesting chart with the names of the wealthiest American in each state. Many, I must admit, I never heard of.