Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An Ulterior Motive to Travel

There is an important reason I must travel. The reason is not because of work.

I love to see new places. I love strolling through city neighborhoods, sauntering into small storefronts, observing the people around me. I like to spend time meandering through museums. I enjoy viewing different landscapes.

I am not particularly fond of air travel nowadays, but consider it a necessary evil, the means of reaching far flung places around the globe.

There is another motivation for leaving home regularly.

I have to clean the house.                                                   

I am not a very good housekeeper. In fact I am a terrible one. And a reluctant one. I have an innate ability to put off…and off...and off as long as possible what should be regular cleaning tasks.

So everything piles up and one day I wake up, walk into the kitchen and family room and say to myself, “D**n, I have to go on a trip. The house is a disaster.”

If nothing is on the calendar, I schedule an outing.

And then I clean.

Because worse than cleaning is coming home to a messy house.

So I straighten up, vacuum, make sure the kitchen counters are visible, and depart.

And when I return I can walk into my house and smile. The house is not too bad. It is fairly neat and clean.

All the traveling gets expensive. Especially when we have company, and particularly when the grandkids descend. The house gets messier and more disheveled than ever.

When I begin cleaning, another unusual event happens.

Hub disappears.

I am not a nice person when doing housework. He learned a long time ago to give me plenty of space when on a cleaning binge.

On the other hand I am in a good mood when done.

As I get older and travel becomes more of a burden than a blessing, there are alternatives to consider.

We can move and start over.

We have done that before. It works – for a while.

Someone else can clean my house. That would mean paying someone – because no one is going to touch my house for free – but it actually may be cheaper than traveling.

I can ignore the mess.

That only works temporarily.

We can eat out. Minimizes kitchen mess and clutter.

Actually, we do that a lot now anyway.

I can stop wearing glasses in the house. Then I will not see all the dust and mounds of stuff accumulating around me.

But I would probably hurt myself stumbling around.

I could try to be neater all the time.

Yeah, right. Who am I kidding?

Personally I like the idea of moving. We keep downsizing, so there is less stuff to transport each time.

One day we will find ourselves in a tiny studio apartment with no furniture, no kitchen, and using the bathroom down the hall.

At least there will be nothing to clean. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Not Lost But Not Yet Found

The Second in a Series:
Aging Not Quite Gracefully

How often do we put something in a safe place, a place we know we will remember, and then when retrieving the item forget where we left it?

We know it is in a safe place.

We know we did not lose the item.

We just cannot find it.

Maybe I misspeak when using the all-encompassing “we”. Maybe this sign of aging does not affect most people. Maybe it is not even a sign of aging, but something more sinister.

I hope not. I believe it is just one more indication my mind is so full of other stuff – important stuff – that a minor detail, like where something is hiding, gets lost.

This absent-mindedness, amnesia, blankness – whatever you want to call it - happens to me. Not all the time, but occasionally.

It happened the other day. I was on my way out of the house when I went to get an item – a Mah Jongg card.

I carefully placed the card in a safe place after my last game. I knew I would not need it before the next time I played.

Now I needed the card immediately.

I looked in the place I thought I put it a couple of weeks earlier.

The card was not there.

And so the search began.

While I dashed around the house, rummaging through drawers, overturning books and newspapers, carefully scanning shelves and looking behind furniture, hub berated me for waiting until the last minute.

But there was no reason to retrieve the card earlier because I knew exactly where it was.

Or I thought I knew where it was.

OK, I did not know where the card was and could not find it quickly.

But eventually I did find the card. It took only 10 minutes of frantic searching before it suddenly dawned on me where my perfect hiding place was.

I am not sure what I was thinking when originally putting the card away. Maybe I was tired. Or in a hurry. Or not thinking. The place was not an easily remembered place.

This chain of events does not happen often, but it does occur occasionally.

The hunt begins. I have a small house. It should not take long to find something temporarily lost or misplaced. The search should take a few minutes or a couple of hours at most.

Unfortunately sometimes the hunt continues for days. I pull my hair out (metaphorically speaking – not really) trying to remember what I thought would be the perfect location, a place I would be able to recall immediately when ready to reclaim the item, no matter how far into the future that time may be.

Except it does not work out that way. The perfect place turns out to be not so perfect.

I forget my ideal hiding place.

I guess the moral of this tale is never to wait until the last minute to get your act together. Collect everything in advance before heading out the door.

And maybe make a note of that perfect place.

Just remember where you wrote it down.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Our Shore Cycle of the Seasons

Winter was long and cold and dreary. Spring arrived late. Snow in April, bitter cold…blah, blah, blah.

I finally witnessed the arrival of a livelier season over the weekend.

Maybe because it was a holiday weekend and people were supposed to feel and act like spring was here, they obliged.

Maybe because the sun shone in a clear blue sky and the air was brisk and cool but not cold. Early spring blossoms brightened a dying gray landscape.

It was as if people woke from a long, hibernating sleep.

Friday afternoon I thought I heard someone knocking on the front door. Could it possibly be?

No one knocks on our door. No one comes to our house during the winter. Who wants to visit the shore in winter? We live on a quiet street where for months the only individuals seen are neighbors occasionally scurrying from their house to their car, and later rushing from their warm car, a couple of bags in tow, into their cozy house.

Half the homes on our block are vacation homes, dark and dormant during winter.

I peeked out the front door and, sure enough, an unknown person stood on my porch.

I opened the doors – the screen door not installed yet – and the woman apologized for bothering me, stating she was delivering flowers to the house across the street and no one was home. Would I hold the flowers and deliver them when the woman returned?

Of course.

Monica is 90 years old and lives alone in the house her father built early in the 20th century. The house came right out of a catalog – literally. It is an original mail order Sears and Roebuck catalog home. Monica grew up in town, married and moved away. She and her husband raised seven children. Eventually, children grown and retirement approaching, Monica and her husband returned to her hometown and her inherited family home. She has lived in the house 30 years.

Monica does not abandon her home, escaping to warmer climes in winter. Not quite a prisoner in her own home, there are days at a time she does not leave, avoiding treacherous wet, icy, snowy streets, fearful of falling.

I spent a few minutes conversing with Monica. She wondered when my grandkids would descend on our quiet street.

Everyone eagerly awaits hearing voices outside, especially children’s shrill, high-pitched racket. We cannot wait to smell burgers cooking on the grill, watch neighbors toil in their gardens, and observe the comings and goings of people on the street walking, often with their dogs, riding bikes, jogging, pushing strollers.

About those dogs suddenly appearing with warm weather. I think in winter some people open the door and let their dog out for a few minutes. No one is around for the dog to run after and no one is around to complain about unleashed canines.

Saturday morning hub and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk.

Lots of people joined us.

They did not exactly join hub and me, but were also taking advantage of the weather to get outdoors and check out the scenery.

We detoured to a coffee shop where a couple of tables might be occupied on a bleak winter day.

The place was packed.

Signs of life after a long winter slumber.

We will relish the activity, confusion and crowds for a while, and by fall impatiently await the return of laid-back, quiet days.

And so goes our shore cycle of the seasons. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Travel Ends (temporarily) and Life Continues After the EBWW

My initial plan this morning was to hit the gym before beginning the day’s activities. I feel guilty and lazy after a travel week without exercise.

But I could not find a bra. All were in the laundry, and I cannot leave the house without wearing one. It is a city ordinance.

Home after being on the road over a week, the weariness of car travel, conferences, and family get-togethers took its toll. Today I plan on unpacking, doing laundry, catching up on snail mail, paying bills, and unwinding.

I am still decompressing from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop (EBWW).

We drove home to New Jersey from Dayton, Ohio, the long way - via Boston.

Our home to Dayton is 600 miles. Dayton to our suburban Boston destination was 830 miles. Only 230 miles out of the way, plus another 350 miles to our house, detouring through Long Island to enjoy a late lunch and visit with my Mom, sister, and brother-in-law, before heading home and a final stop for groceries.

The extended drive brought us to Boston in time for an intimate, somewhat chaotic but entertaining holiday dinner with 34 relatives and friends.

But I was not cleaning, shopping, cooking, nor hosting!

Before moving on beyond Erma, here are -

A few highlights of the EBWW

Phil Donohue, past talk show host and gentleman extraordinaire, was the keynote speaker the first night. During the 1950s and early 60s he lived across the street from Erma and her family, and Erma appeared on his show several times over the years. He delighted the audience with anecdotes about their days in Dayton and happenings on and off camera.

     FYI – Phil is married to Marlo Thomas, who has a new book out, which I have not yet read but through the grapevine understand is wonderful, It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over – Reinventing Your Life – And Your Dreams – Anytime, At Any Age. I intend to read it soon. But I digress…
Phil Donohue and his posse. I am second from the left.
A workshop entitled Chick Wit: Writing the Humorous Memoir, was led by the mother-daughter duo Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. She writes mystery novels, often with women protagonists, a humor newspaper column Chick Wit, and co-wrote four entertaining books about mother-daughter relationships with her daughter. Her Mom, Mother Mary, features prominently in her columns and mother-daughter books. Following the morning workshop and lunch presentation, the two speakers immediately flew home, where Mother Mary was under hospice care. Lisa told several poignant and funny stories about her Mom, who passed away three days later (April 13). But once again I digress…

Eighteen brave attendees performed 5-minute comedy skits at the final evening event. Coached by a professional comedian and participating in a Stand-up Comedy Boot Camp, they were daring and funny performers (I am sure the wine and other drinks consumed beforehand helped warm up the audience!).

A workshop entitled Women Writing Their Lives – Truth telling Wisdom and Laughter – featured moderator Patricia Wynn Brown (“The Hairdo Monologues”), the first editor of Ms. Magazine Suzanne Braun Levine, humorist and English lit professor Gina Barreca, and writer Ilene Beckerman, whose first book, published when she was 60 – Love, Loss and What I Wore – morphed into a Broadway play produced by Nora Ephron. Ilene is now 78. The panel proved compelling, inspiring, very funny, yet at the same time heartbreaking. I believe much of the audience was emotionally exhausted by the end of the discussion.

I could go on, but reality beckons. The dryer buzzer just started whining…bills to be paid on the 15th of the month stare at me (wasn’t the 15th a couple of days ago?)…small bags of stuff strewn all over remain unpacked…dust balls peek out from under the furniture…and I have to figure out what to prepare for dinner.

Life marches on.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Top 10 Reasons I Loved the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop

Immersed in writing for 2 1/2 days is a writer's dream, and I was lucky enough to live the dream last week at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop (EBWW). Although humor-focused - Erma being the First Mistress of humor writing - writers of all genres would learn and enjoy the experience.

My next post details the goings on, the speakers, workshops, and what I learned. This post is a list - in no particular order - of the top 10 reasons I loved the workshop and hope to return in two years (EBWW is a biannual event).

The Top 10 Reasons I Loved the EBWW

* The workshop officially began Thursday afternoon. A large number of attendees arrived earlier and met in the hotel restaurant for lunch. Sitting at long tables, most of us meeting each other for the first time, enjoying the company of other writers, I noticed a phenomenon not common in my everyday life nowadays. The women ordered real food - club sandwiches, french fries, pasta. It was wonderful!

           A note of explanation - the overwhelming majority of attendees were women of various ages.               Rumor was the workshop, limited to 350, comprised 345 women. Men were scarce.

* I did not have the biggest boobs in the room! Or butt.

* Attendees did not don cute exercise outfits - or any kind of exercise clothes for that matter - and bounce out of the hotel at the crack of dawn to jog around the University of Dayton campus or perform yoga on the lawn or do any other kind of crazy exercise routine.

* People actually ate desserts - cake (brownies, lemon, carrot, chocolate, and I cannot remember dessert #5) - for lunch and dinner, placed in front of us by harried but attentive waitresses. I did not have to set or clear tables, wash dishes, or make any food-related decisions. The food, although actually mediocre, tasted wonderful because I was hungry and not shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after the meal.

* The uniform of the conference ranged from very casual to business casual to downright quirky. I loved the bunny slippers, tiaras, hats, and generally independent, fashion-agnostic but comfortable outfits worn by most attendees.

* These were my kind of women! Not counting calories, not exercise consumed, and not fashion focused - at least for the duration of the conference. They were friendly, funny, relaxed, and great company.

* I met blog friends and made new friends. Fellow writers congregating in Dayton Ohio from all over the country were unpretentious and outgoing - often a difficult endeavor for work-at-home, solo introverts like me.

* There was a lot of gray hair and wrinkles. No one cared. Also a lot of very young faces. The youngest attendee I met was 24; the oldest 85.

* Renowned speakers regaled the audience at the three dinners and two lunches. All of them enthralled listeners with their personal history, stories, and anecdotes. Before and after formal presentations they mingled with the commoners (aka attendees), talking with us and graciously spending time answering questions and posing for selfies and group pictures.

* Seminar presenters were talented, interesting, creative individuals with a wide range of writing experience. Various workshops, six each session, some offered twice over the two day period, were chock full of information for writer wannabes, writers with lots of questions, and professionals with years of experience. Deciding which workshops to attend was the most difficult part of the entire conference.

I could go on, but I need to catch up on my sleep.

More on EBWW in my next post.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mingling With Writers

Greetings from the tourist mecca of Dayton, Ohio.

That is right. No typo. I am spending several days in this small city on the western border of Ohio.

I am attending the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop.

I will write more details about this wonderful event next week when I get home, catch up on my rest, and have time to write.

Meanwhile I am attending a round of workshops and seminars by a variety of speakers and writers. I am meeting people who work full time as writers, some as columnists and reporters, bloggers and book writers, others in marketing and related positions with various companies. Others are part-time writers, many splitting time raising families and attempting to squeeze in as much writing time as possible. Others are wannabe writers. There are young women and older ones - one speaker and writer is 78 - and a very small number of brave men.

Attendees walk around with name tags around their neck listing their name and hometown. The question most often posed to me the last couple of days has been:

"So what do you think about Christie?"

I should have subsidized my conference fee by being a paid rep for the governor, boosting his reputation - which, as we all know, could use a lot of boosting.

And for the record, I am a Democrat. But as far as Republicans go, Christie ain't bad.

More about Dayton, Erma Bombeck, the conference, and the long, long, long car drive from home to Dayton and back home again next week.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Aging Not Quite Gracefully

 first in a series

Part 1: A Mental Malady of Aging

Aging is a process, a progression from one stage to the next. In our formative years the process usually means improvement. We acquire basic skills and expand mental and physical abilities, learning to throw a ball or swim or dance, then expanding skills, throwing the ball faster or further, swimming a longer distance, attempting more intricate dance moves.

Somewhere along the way, at first imperceptibly, the rate of improvement slows and the learning curve lengthens. It takes longer to master new dance routines or computer programs or words to a song.

As the decades roll by we succumb, slowly but surely, to a mental malady of aging called CRS - can’t remember shit, sometimes labeled CRAFT – can’t remember a f***** thing.

I have CRS.

I have not forgotten forever information stored in brain cells for days, months, years, and decades.

Most of the time I eventually remember whatever information I am trying to recall. I just do not remember immediately.

I would be the worst Jeopardy contestant ever. Watching the show from the comfort of my couch, I know the answer to lots of questions. But on stage I could not transfer the information from my brain’s file cabinet to the front of my brain, then notify my hand and press the button before my opponents. I would be a miserable failure earning $000.

Sometimes I run into a person I know I know, but my mind goes blank. Do I know the person from work? The gym? A neighbor? Former student? Repairman?...the name escapes me.

I was never great at remembering names. But I have gotten worse.

So I pass a few words of greeting with the individual, move on, and then – Bingo! A few minutes later remember the name. But it is too late…

My Dad had a habit, when addressing one of the women in his family, of saying, “Elyss Harriet Janice Meryl…” Naming his wife, sister, daughters, and maybe another woman or two of his acquaintance before identifying the individual he wanted to speak to.

It is much easier for kids to remember quickly. Decades of data are not stored in layers of files scattered throughout their brains. It is effortless locating information when facts and figures are neatly stockpiled in carefully labeled brain bins. Musty, dusty files are haphazardly strewn everywhere in the brains of older folks. New data intermingles with old records.

I should be happy with a rich storehouse of information at my fingertips, or more accurately my brain cells, compiled over years of living. On the other hand a lot of it is superfluous, taking up space and making it more difficult and time consuming to find important stuff when needed.

There is no pill or medical fix to CRS. I can do lots of crossword and Sudoku puzzles, eat brain-enriching foods, exercise my body, but the inevitable sooner or later occurs.

It might be the name of a person known for years, or the name of an author, a book, a song, a favorite band, or a particular word. The name is on the tip of the tongue, but I do not quite have it…I know it…wait…it’s here…I know I know it…the name is…and sometimes retrieve it in a few minutes. Other times, hours later or the next day or week, the information suddenly materializes.

I guess it is better found eventually than never.

My CRS will only get worse over time.

I make lists so I do not forget to buy milk and whatever else is needed at the store, pick up the dry cleaning, and buy a birthday gift.

Of course I misplace the list, forget about the dry cleaning, and buy the birthday gift on the way to the party.

But I bought the milk and groceries.

And when I cannot remember the name of that band or old TV show, I search Google.

I guess the Internet came along just in time, an effective and valuable tool comprising the new look of geezerhood in the 21st century.

Thank you, Al Gore.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Consumerism R Us

The reason we have such a high standard of living is because advertising has created an American frame of mind that makes people want more things, better things, and newer things.
-       Robert Sarnoff, President of National Broadcasting Company, 1956

Yesterday hub’s e-reader was officially declared obsolete. The company stopped manufacturing and supporting the device. Remember Betamax? Same company.

The e-reader was a gift from our two boys, purchased a few years ago when the e-reader was a new, cutting-edge, hi-tech device. Hub used it a lot – his work entails lots of travels and the e-reader, lighter and taking up less space than books, journeyed around the world, or at least throughout the US, Europe, and Asia.

The reader still works – for now. Tech support is no longer available, and not all books are offered for the old machine. Our local library does not support the reader format.

It is time to think about a replacement.

Which is what we Americans have been drilled to do. Replace things. We have grown accustomed to throwing out the old and buying new. Changing things, upgrading, swapping, and exchanging the old for a newer model.

Spending more money.

There is not a lot we own that still works after years of use.

We could get items such as appliances fixed. Except parts are often unavailable for older models. For those of us not skilled enough to fix our own stuff, costs of service visits, parts (if available), plus labor can cost almost as much as a replacement. And there is no guarantee the repaired machine will work.

Manufacturers and advertisers have spent gobs of money training us – like Pavlov’s dogs - that the latest gadget is a must-have. We salivate when hearing about the latest device, or an upgraded model of a currently owned one, and how it is going to change our life.

Most of us are well taught, although hub and I have somewhat resisted. We do not get excited about buying the latest fad items. People laughed at my outdated cell phone before forced to replace it when it finally died. We drive our cars until monthly repair costs exceed monthly car payments. I still use the Farberware pots and pans received when we married. Dishes, however, have been replaced a few times, not because I got tired of them (although I did), but because they broke or, in the case of the almost-indestructible Corelle used when my kids were young, disappeared over time.

We bought a new TV when moving four years ago, although I have to admit hub is seriously thinking about replacing it. He thinks it is too small for our family room.

My grown kids may laugh at our outdated, out-moded belongings, but somehow we manage to get along just fine.

So what is so great about teaching people, exhorting people, tempting people to want more things, better things, new things?

Our society invented planned obsolescence, the term coined for manufacturers’ purposeful plan to create products that do not last a long time. Consumers have to buy another product to replace the one broken, worn out, unfashionable, or whatever. Supporters initially touted the concept as a positive one because it required people to spend money, thus stimulating the economy. The fact that companies would make a ton of money was not mentioned.

And so was born the modern American supermarket, superstore, supersized society. More is considered better, with more choices of everything from laundry soap to cars. New and improved became the mantra to buy again. And again. And again…

But we – consumers - do not have bottomless pocketbooks. And all of us are not obsessed with the idea of keeping up with the Joneses.

Of course everything need not last forever. My kids usually outgrew clothes and shoes before the items disintegrated. Yet I wanted to be sure the item did not fall apart before necessitating replacement.

So where am I going with my rant? I have no idea.

I just hope hub’s new e-reader, not a cheap item, lasts many carefree years.

Father’s Day is approaching. Boys, are you listening reading!?...