Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On Becoming a Hypochondriac

I used to be a financial professional, teacher, secretary, retail sales clerk, and a couple of other occupations over the years. Now retired, I do not need a paying profession. I can move on to other interesting pursuits.

I discovered a thought-provoking endeavor.

Hypochondria. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hypochondria as, unusual or excessive concern about your health: a tendency to fear or imagine that you have illnesses that you do not actually have.

I have plenty of time to imagine illnesses and lots of time to extensively be concerned about my health.

My means of education is commercials. I am learning all about aches and pains and diseases from my TV. My attention span is short nowadays, so commercials are an ideal learning tool.

There was a time I did not listen to commercials. I checked email, emptied the dishwasher, tossed laundry from the washer into the dryer, peed. But my routine changed once I took on the task of becoming a hypochondriac.

In my previous 60+ years I doubt anyone labeled me a hypochondriac. Sometimes I ignored ailments to see if they disappeared, and at times they did.

No more. Now, with the help of TV commercials and ads in newspapers, magazines, online and other venues, I ponder what each ache, pain, and symptom might be.

Restless leg syndrome? Sometimes I get a weird feeling in my legs and get the urge to move my feet. 

Too many excess pounds? I have fought a weight problem since my teen years. Maybe I should try a pill.

Diabetes is turning into a worldwide epidemic. So far my numbers are good, but you never know. I may have pre-diabetes. 90% of people who have it do not know they are victims of the condition. That is what the no-nonsense woman on the commercial states. She wouldn’t lie - maybe stretch the truth, but not lie. I may need whatever drug is advertised. Better contact my doctor…

Problems falling asleep or waking too soon? I may need a pill to fall asleep sooner and sleep longer. Family and friends envy my ability to lay my head down and be in la-la land almost immediately, but maybe I can shave a few seconds off that time.

Allergies? Even at my advanced age people have been known to contract allergies. Sometimes my eyes water and I sneeze. I may need an allergy prescription.

Fibromyalgia? Never heard the word until recently. Sometimes I have muscle aches and pains, fatigue and memory loss. Another question for my doctor.

Depression? Another problem to contemplate. Sometimes I feel down, but I don’t think I have clinical depression, although I get more and more depressed watching drug commercials…

In addition to studying various ailments, I am learning the side effects of medications. Announcers rattle them off quickly and I barely catch them, but frequently include fatigue, drowsiness, swelling, constipation or diarrhea, skin rashes, nausea, and possibly death.


There could not be a more severe side effect than death.

Wow, I have a lot to worry about. All these ailments, a variety of symptoms I used to ignore, the side effects of drugs, and then there is the cost of drugs. After all, drug companies are not non-profits. They are in the business of making money. Lots of money.

The only sane solution is to stop watching commercials. Summer is coming, and there are a lot of alternative activities to take up my time.

Maybe it is time to put aside my hypochondriac studies and move on to something else.

Recently while wandering grocery store aisles I began reading ingredients on food packages. I have been told if I do not know what an ingredient is - usually a chemical additive - do not purchase the item.

All those chemicals swishing around my body, doing I don’t know what damage. Maybe I should figure it out…

Uh oh. I am a hypochondriac. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

On the Road and in the Air Again

I have been telling people hub and I are home for a while, no trips planned the next few months. I misspoke.

We are on the road and in the air once again, traveling to visit Florida family, our transportation of choice the long distance equivalent of a city bus - Spirit Air. We booked a mid-day flight, spending a day traveling but not getting out of the house in the pre-dawn hours. 

An email alert from Spirit announcing a flight delay officially signaled the beginning of our trip. The new departure time, less than an hour from the original scheduled time, posed no problem.

Hub requested a Lyft car via the company's computer app, securing a ride to the airport. Time: 9:30 a.m. We have used Uber and Lyft in the past, but never at home. We are not returning to our departure airport, so did not want to leave a car at the airport. And if we could forego the $10 a day parking fee, all the better.

Immediately following his Lyft cyber-conversation, hub placed his phone on the kitchen counter so we could easily view the screen. Once assigned a car, the license plate, driver's name and picture are sent to the customer and the car's progress can be tracked online. The wonders of modern technology...

Our driver started at the airport, apparently dropping off passengers. A notice from Lyft announced his arrival at our house in 18 minutes. The car left the airport, then stopped for a few minutes, we guessed at Wawa - a local convenience store - for a cup of coffee and maybe a detour to the men's room. Not a problem, we had plenty of time.

The car returned to the road, slowly inching its way towards us. Less than two miles from our house the car made a wrong turn. We watched, mesmerized by the moving dot on the screen, waiting for the driver's GPS to redirect him.

Minutes passed. The car meandered up and down city streets, wandering further away from our house. Hub attempted to contact the driver, but the call went directly to voice mail.  The driver never called us. 

Over an hour after contacting Lyft, we gave up on the little dot on the phone screen. We were getting nervous and did not want to miss our flight.

Hub canceled the Lyft car. Time: 10:35 a.m. We drove our car to the airport and will unhappily pay $10 a day for the privilege of parking in the airport lot.

Parking is free in our driveway.

WIth no luggage to check - only personal carry-ons - and our printed-at-home boarding passes in hand, we strode directly to the security line. Only a few people ahead of us, minutes later I sent my belongings through the conveyor belt and entered the scanning machine.

I do not know why, but my body sets off alarms. The computer screen showed yellow blobs where something suspect might be lurking, in this case around my hips and pelvic areas. I was not wearing a belt, metal on my clothes, or jewelry - lessons learned on previous trips - but something triggered the machine. 

Security agents motioned me aside and I received a total TSA pat down. Arms, chest, abdomen, hip and pelvic area, between my legs, top to bottom, then hands swept for explosive residue. Finally I passed inspection, grabbed my stuff and hub and I quickly found our departure gate. 

Time: 11:40 a.m.

Arriving at the gate, the monitor indicated the plane leaving on time. We made it with just a few minutes to spare.

But appearances deceived. The gate monitor had not been updated. The plane was delayed...

We finally took off. Time: 12:30 p.m. 

Squished into seats in a Spirit plane about 90% full, I settled in with a book and my iPad. If I gain any weight in the next four days I will not be able to sit in a seat with my iPad on the table in front of me - there will be not be enough room for both me and my iPad. Space is extremely precious on a Spirit plane.

But the tickets were cheap. $90 round trip, Atlantic City to Ft. Lauderdale and back to Baltimore (visiting more family). 

Such are the joys of 21st century travel on the cheap.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Technological Neophytes on the Road

Friends and family ask about our favorite experience from our recent road trip. It is difficult to narrow down. I enjoyed our sojourn in San Antonio, a city experience, immediately followed by five days in Big Bend National Park, about as off the beaten track as one can get in this country. Traveling around the country we savored local and international cuisines, enjoyed wandering through museums and old mansions, had great fun observing a Mardi Gras parade…and the list goes on.

The conversation then veers to problems encountered along the way. One issue arose throughout the trip, a theme repeated at almost every stop.

Most of our accommodations were Airbnb apartments or homes, and we had to figure out how to work the TV. 

Sounds ridiculous, but at home we have one remote and one TV provider. Turn the TV on, choose the channel, turn the TV off. Simple, no steep learning curve.

Most lodgings had at least two remotes situated next to the TV. Every time we entered a new place different challenges faced us, and we started a new learning curve. There was no standardization.

It became a challenge to, first, turn on the TV.

User-friendly the systems were not.

Once on, we tried to figure out how to surf channels and find the channel guide. Sometimes locating volume controls became a frustrating hunting exercise. A couple of places offered surround sound but we could not decode the speakers.

Diverse systems greeted us – Comcast, DISH, DirectTV, and streaming services like ROKU, Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, and Amazon.

I have no idea what I am talking about.

We learned to find the station or program desired on ROKU and ‘open it’ with our personal laptop computer.

Sometimes we found one or two programs but could not find others.

We did not spend a lot of time agonizing over TVs. But occasionally we came home from a day of sightseeing worn out. An hour or so couch potatoing (is sitting on your butt considered an active verb?) seemed appealing. We also like to watch morning news. And as the Presidential circus campaign intensified we wanted to view the debates. The heated dialogue served as a vibrating lullaby to fall asleep by (think crashing waves…)

I guess user-friendly has different meanings to various constituencies. Young folks easily maneuver sophisticated systems utilizing multiple remotes. Hub and I, members of an older generation, did not grow up with a variety of electronic devices at our disposal. One TV graced my childhood home, black and white until the mid-60s when a color set invaded our living room.

My grandkids live too far away to stop by when we face electronic glitches at home. And try getting a Comcast customer service rep to help before the show you so desperately want to watch is over. Of course it is not offered On Demand, or was and is no longer, or will be in the future – for a short time.

Helpful folks suggest we subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime, and one day we might…but when home we do not watch a lot of TV.

Maybe we would if we found movies and programs worth watch.

On the other hand I look ahead to years, maybe decades from now, sitting comfortably in my rocker watching all the movies and shows missed over the years.

 Something to look forward to… 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Ubiquitous 24/7 News and the Presidential Campaign

The word ubiquitous jumps into my head when turning on the TV and listening to news reports, debates, town hall meetings, commercials, journalist roundtables, candidate interviews, all focused on the Presidential campaign.

 The word ubiquitous means, as defined by, “existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time; omnipresent”.

The perfect definition of how we – Americans – are caught up in the 24/7 bombardment of the current Presidential campaign every day.

There is no escape.

Ignoring media hype is difficult. Campaign news and propaganda flashes across the TV screen all the time. Pick up the newspaper or a magazine and there is at least one article and probably more about the campaign, the candidates, their spouses, kids and/or pets, their humble, modest, poor, sacrificing parents, and their underprivileged origins (or with regards to Trump, privileged upbringing).

Turn on the radio and, no matter what you might be tuned to, election updates sneak in.

The candidates are all over the Internet, in the headlines, on social media, mentioned in blogs. They are everywhere.

Whether Trump, Sanders or someone else speaks in your backyard or across the country, the event makes news.

This week headlines blared the earth-shaking news that two of Trump’s children old enough to vote will not be voting in the New York primary. Unaware of the sign-up deadline, they missed it.

Of course that begs the question whether Ivanka or Erik voted in the past in any election (or are they currently registered Democrats?) but now I am getting too personal. After all Trump is running, not his kids. And of course voting in the past is irrelevant, since Dad did not run in previous elections. The only important election is the one Donald Trump is in (according to Trump). 

I want it all to be over. But the whining continues…

Trump does not like the way he is being treated in many states. He is not getting the number of delegates he believes he should. After all, he brings the masses out at rallies. Everyone loves him. And he is going to make America great again. Who can argue with that?

Since Trump believes he is being screwed, he declares the system corrupt.

Corrupt or not, the long, tedious road to each party’s convention is no secret. The process is open to everyone. If Trump or his staff took the time to read the Republican rulebook, he would know that. And he could have responded accordingly.

After all, Cruz did and is. He and his team researched the primary system, fashioning a winning strategy. If he does not become the Republican Presidential candidate, he is going to come close.

Paying attention to details is important.

Not, of course, for Trump, but for the rest of the world.

Paul Ryan made headlines announcing he is NOT a candidate for his party’s Presidential nomination, ending speculation he could be a candidate should convention balloting drag on.

I am tired of hearing constantly about the minutiae of the campaigns as candidates race to their party’s nominating convention.

I want to pull the covers over my head and not come out until Election Day. Maybe a couple of days before so I have time to consider the candidates and decide how to cast my vote.

I do not need months to analyze and evaluate the candidates. I am a quick learner.

I cannot imagine the oodles of money candidates and PACs spend. I suggest foregoing the long primary system, compressing the process into one or two quarters – three to six months – and donating the rest of the money to people and organizations that could put the cash to good use.

News organizations would not back my idea. They are in news heaven and do not want the craziness to end. Journalists follow the candidates, report on the candidates, analyze them, and poll the electorate. Also lengthy campaigns boost the economy. Lots of people earn a paycheck working for the candidates. Stores near caucuses and candidate appearances see a pop in business, motels house news media, candidates and their staff, restaurants feed them, and then there are the security guards at Trump rallies.

The rest of us roll our eyes and cannot wait for the whole circus to end.

I am all for creating jobs and boosting the economy, but there must be a better way.

It is cold outside (will spring ever arrive?). My blanket is warm and cozy. I am pulling it over my head.

See you in November… 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Crash on the Cross Bronx Expressway

Driving to Long Island to visit Mom involves tackling a major hurdle - getting through New York City. There are a number of options, none ideal. Most of the time we take the Outerbridge Crossing (named after Eugenius Outerbridge, Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) from New Jersey to Staten Island. The highway leading to the bridge consists of multiple lanes of traffic. Cars whiz by while vehicles criss-cross lanes, moving from the far left across six lanes of traffic within a few seconds to access the exit ramp, the driver too distracted by a phone conversation or whatever to notice the exit fast approaching. 

We drive across Staten Island, cross the Verrazano Bridge and then spend anywhere from 45 minutes to hours on the Belt Parkway meandering through Brooklyn.

On our way to the city we listen to local traffic broadcasts, helpfully updated every 10 minutes. If reports sound ominous due to massive traffic jams caused by construction and/or an accident, we opt for an alternate route.

One alternative is through Manhattan, but we only attempt this journey on a Sunday morning. The streets of Manhattan present interesting people, sites and spectacles, but traffic could keep us on the road for hours.

Another alternative entails continuing north on the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway to the George Washington Bridge, crossing northern Manhattan and the Bronx (always the Bronx, never Bronx, no idea why) on the Cross Bronx Expressway, one of the worst roadways in the world. Take my word for it. Avoid anytime of the day, any day of the year. Don't believe me? Read The Bonfire of the Vanities. But I digress...

Drivers must pay for the privilege of entering the city on all routes. The George Washington Bridge toll is $15. It is a one-way toll, but we also pay an $8 toll on the Throgs Neck Bridge linking the Bronx and Queens.

FYI: If unfamiliar with New York City, it is composed of five boroughs: Staten Island, Manhattan (also an island), the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. Queens and Brooklyn are on Long Island. The Bronx is not an island but part of the land mass north of Manhattan commonly known as the rest of New York State. A borough is an administrative unit, like a county, but traditionally a walled municipality. I wonder if that is where Trump, a NYC native, got the idea for his wall?...

Please take me back to the toll-less, uncrowded, uncomplicated, open roads out West.

There must be a country song there somewhere...

Friday afternoon hub was driving, and as the driver enjoyed the privilege of deciding which route to take across the city. He selected the George Washington Bridge.

The George Washington contains two roadways, an upper and lower level. Since 9/11 trucks are banned on the lower level. Approaching the bridge huge signs over the highway warned of heavy traffic on the upper level. Taking the hint, we drove onto the lower level. 

Everything went well until high above the Hudson River, halfway across the bridge. We could see the red lights of cars ahead as vehicles slowed to a crawl and stopped. 

Bumper to bumper traffic greeted our entry into the Big Apple.

We decelerated from 40 or 50 miles per hour down to 10 and 5 miles per hour. Gas mileage on our Mazda plummeted. The car inched along. At the end of the bridge the road diverged onto two thoroughfares. Taking the right fork known as I-95 and locally the Cross Bronx Expressway, hub maneuvered his way across merging lanes, still creeping along at 5-10 mph.

Suddenly I hear a loud CRUNCH - BAM - SCRUNCH.

"Oh...(expletives deleted)...Did you hit another car?" I sat up straight in my seat and turned to hub.

"No. A truck hit us." He stopped the car in the middle of the highway and got out.

Turning around in my seat I see part of a BFT (big f**king truck), the bumper and front panel kissing our car's back window. 

It was 3:15 p.m.

I remained in the car. Hub stuck his head in the window and said, "Call 911."

Hub and the truck driver steered the vehicles to the side of the road. Carefully examining our car, hub reported damage involved the bumper, back left light and body misalignment. Not serious, but there is no such thing as low-cost auto body work.

I explained what happened to the 911 dispatcher. The truck driver also called 911.

Hub and the driver exchanged information.

Because no one was hurt and both vehicles drivable, the police told us to get the vehicles off the road ASAP. A policeman would be (might be, could be) along in a couple of hours.

Hub and the truck driver decided not to wait for a possibly phantom policeman to maybe arrive. 

We drove off.

After my 9-1-1 conversation I called our insurance company. A lengthy discussion followed, the insurance adjuster asking lots of questions and filing a detailed report.

We have an appointment Monday with a body shop near our home for an estimate on car repairs. 

Hub bought a roll of tape and covered the broken light. It is supposed to rain and snow during our New York visit. He does not want the electrical system to get wet and short out.

We drove the rest of the way in slow but moving traffic and met Mom at a local deli, breathing a sigh of relief and settling into a relaxing dinner, glad the afternoon's episode over.

During dinner my cell phone rang, but I did not answer. The display read, "No caller ID." I ignored it. When it rang again a couple of minutes later hub grabbed the phone. A minute later he hung up.

"So who was it?" I innocently asked.

"9-1-1. They wanted to know what happened to us."

"Oh." I guess I should have answered the phone.

Soon I will write a check to cover our insurance deductible. Ouch!

Oh well. We are fine, and that is what is important.

The other relevant fact to note is that I was not driving. Just sayin...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Top Ten Reasons Retirement Travel is Terrific

Home for a few weeks but contemplating our next trip, I think how lucky we – hub and I – are now, able to wander far from home. When young my parents’ financial resources did not stretch to include family travel. We journeyed as far as Grandma and Grandpa’s bungalow in the mountains. When first married traveling with the kids meant camping, first with a tent, later in a pop-up camper.

The boys grew up, left the nest, and hub and I found a few extra dollars in our bank account. We began roaming further afield, sometimes combining business with vacation trips, but travel remained constrained by one or two week vacations, family and other obligations.

Finally retirement arrived and with it two wonderful gifts – the time and flexibility to indulge our wish list, nowadays labeled a bucket list, travel high on our agenda.

Here are my Top Ten Reasons Why Retirement Travel is Terrific:

1. We can travel anytime for as long as we want, although, truthfully, travel for as long as our pocketbook allows.

2. We plan  visits to popular sites during the week, avoiding weekend and holiday crowds. Sometimes, however, school groups invade, creating havoc in a peaceful atmosphere. Kids are young, animated and energetic, but hog the scene!

     3. Age occasionally has advantages, senior discounts one bonus. An example: we broke even on a $10 National Park Service Senior Pass on the first use, and utilized it a few times on our cross-country trip. The pass offers free or reduced admission to National Park Service parks and museums throughout the country for the life of the passholder(s).

     4. Sightseeing at our own pace (when not with a tour group), we may linger in the morning over coffee, sleep late, and maybe enjoy a leisurely lunch, feeling no compulsion to scurry on to the next attraction. 

          5.  I no longer consider it necessary to visit all of the top sights in an area, instead choosing what to see and where to go. No pressure to schedule every minute of every day.

     6. We take advantage of reduced rates on air travel, lodgings, and admissions by traveling off-season, off-peak, and whenever lower prices are advertised.

     7. Shopping off-peak offers bargains at end of season and off-season sales.

    8. Employees are nice and helpful when not hassled by shoving crowds and aggressive customers. Employees take time to talk, answer questions and chat.

     9. We are able to benefit from last minute travel deals.

     10. Tour groups create more travel options for the 50+ crowd all the time, available in a wide price range. Sometimes it is nice to let others do the planning, scheduling, and organizing. Participants just show up and enjoy the experience.

The main problem faced is deciding where to go. Numerous choices create difficulty reducing the list to the next destination.

We have a budget and cannot – financially - go crazy. On the other hand we worked for decades and now plan on enjoying ourselves. Unfortunately medical or other issues will probably curtail our wanderings before completing our wish list. Meanwhile, bon voyage!

Monday, April 4, 2016

This Week’s Boomers Consider Life’s Unpredictability, Cure a Cold and Enjoy Spring

The end of March is said to go out like a lamb, but one particular March I experienced a very different scenario. The nightmare began Wednesday, March 28, 1979. Not a significant date for most people, but folks living in eastern Pennsylvania remember when the Unit 2 nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island partially melted. TMI is etched in our minds. On this year's anniversary of the catastrophe I wrote about my recollections of TMI.

It is not only major events locally or domestically that catch our attention. Nowadays incidents in every part of the world can impact our lives. Although Carol Cassara wrote Why we booked a trip to France in January with the awful attacks in Paris in mind, it is relevant today as so many people are concerned with travel to Europe.  

And along those same lines, Carol offers a meditation to help us handle the terrible abundant anxieties in our 21st century world.  

No matter what is going on around us, sometimes we must deal with ordinary, everyday troubles. Tom Sightings tells us that he came down with a cold this past week. His suffering has not been in vain, because as he reports in this week's post, he was able to crawl out of bed and find A Cure for the Common Cold.

Most of us dream of getting away from a hectic lifestyle, relocating to a quieter place and living a simpler life. Few of us do it. Laura Lee Carter of Adventures of the New Old Farts did. She moved to the Colorado countryside and continues to attempt to find a way to describe to city folks how living in a rural area changes you. This week she presents her take on: Morning in "Be-Here-Now" Land.

Rita R. Robison, blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, paused in her hectic schedule to enjoy spring flowers. She took a trip up north to see her sister in Bellingham, Washington. On the way, she and her sister stopped to enjoy the beautiful tulip fields in Skagit County. See one of her photos in her article, “Happy April Fools’ Day.” Although she was traveling most of the week, Robison also wrote about two fake cancer charities closing down, and the best and worst things to buy in April – sign up for a cruise, but don’t buy grills and patio furniture, for example.

Enjoy the onset on spring, at least in some parts of the country. Here in south Jersey it is cold and windy, the temperatures not supposed to rise above the 50s (30s at night) until next week. 

And please take a few minutes from your busy schedule to stop by the boomers and say ‘hi!’.