Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kayaking Lake Willoughby’s Pristine Waters

You take the lake. I look and look at it.
I see it's a fair, pretty sheet of water…
so long and narrow,
Like a deep piece of some old running river
Cut short off at both ends. It lies five miles
Straight away through the mountain notch…
I see it's a fair, pretty sheet of water,
Our Willoughby!
-       From Servant to Servants by Robert Frost

Robert Frost wrote about Lake Willoughby on a camping trip with his family in 1909. The lake, carved from glaciers and over 320 feet deep, became a tourist destination during the late 19th century. Although far from a large city, folks heard about the clear waters, variety of fish and wildlife, surrounding mountains and lush greenery, and found the place perfect for a summer holiday.

Thirteen seniors and three guides entered the peaceful waters of Lake Willoughby one warm August morning 107 years after Frost wrote his poem. The kayakers headed across the lake, one rhythmic paddle after another increasing the distance between shore and lake waters. Soon the wind strengthened, helping drive the kayaks forward.

I imagined the lake little changed since Robert Frost eyed its waters. One room cabins and two and three room bungalows, some deteriorating and others well-maintained, line the shores. Occasionally a McMansion could be spotted amidst the trees, but the sizeable residences do not mar the natural landscape (yet).

The kayaks spread across the lake as seasoned kayakers and athletic individuals dashed forward. Slower paddlers (including me) took time to marvel at the stone cliffs, observe boats docked along the shore waiting to set sail as owners, individuals not as lucky as we were, worked in far flung cities. We waved and exchanged greetings at the few fishermen and boaters passing by.

It was a perfect last day of our Road Scholar kayak adventure.

Halfway across the lake the distant beach appeared, spurring tired paddlers on. Lunch beckoned, and sore muscles required rest. After wolfing down sandwiches, our dedicated leader wanted everyone back in the water to practice safety and recovery techniques. Unfortunately the unenthusiastic response from the group forced him to abandon the idea. Instead we loaded kayaks and equipment and headed for our next destination – an ice cream shack.

After our guide spent the time on the way detailing the shop's specialties, our appetites whetted and stomachs eager for a treat, we pulled into the store’s parking lot.

A hand-written sign on the window greeted us, ”Sorry. Closed. Opening tomorrow 11:30 a.m.”

Disappointed but not ready to give up on ice cream, our van stopped at a grocery store to stock up on Coaticook ice cream (a Quebec-made product) and cones. Everyone finally enjoyed the treat on the porch of our lodge.

No guilt. Following four days of kayaking, we deserved it! 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Straddling the Border Between Two Countries

We entered Canada from a New York State country road. The Canadian border patrol manned (or in our case womaned) a command post the size of a toll booth. We approached, handed the woman our passports, then answered a few questions.

Our Destination? Glen Sutton.
How long will you be staying? One week.
Any alcohol, drugs or firearms? No (and if there were, would we declare them?).
OK. She returned our passports and waved us along.

We entered Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada. The French presence in the country dates to the 1500s. The Catholic Church maintained French influence for centuries, and now secular forces, including the language police (no kidding), reinforce French Canadian culture.

Hub and I enjoyed a five day kayak adventure, a Road Scholar program. Plying the calm and not-so-calm waters of Quebec and northern Vermont (the American state), muscles rarely used woke up and screamed "Ouch!"  However the exercise did not compensate for the numerous calories consumed savoring homemade gourmet dinners and waist-expanding desserts. 

In the evenings we listened to a series of lectures on heart health, Quebec history, and climate change. If totally honest I must admit I tried very hard to listen, but did not always succeed. Exhausted following hours of exercise in the great outdoors, it was difficult staying awake. In a room furnished with comfortable upholstered chairs and couches, the first night I settled in a chair directly in front of the speaker. I could not help myself as my head fell and eyes closed. My head soon abruptly shot up and eyes opened, but only temporarily. The scenario repeated throughout the hour and a half program. The following evenings I did not repeat my mistake, sitting in a dark corner in the back of the room.

When not on the water we engaged in conversation with locals. 

What do Canadians think of us?

My mind attempted to find a term explaining foreigners' views of American politics today, and finally discovered an appropriate term: meshuganah, a Yiddish word. Translation: a bit crazy, maybe more than a little bit crazy, but definitely meaning what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-people.

I hope Canada does not build a wall to keep Americans out. Canadians joke about the prospect but actually welcome immigrants. A few thousand Americans (minus their guns and Trump paraphernalia) would probably be granted asylum. Of course gun-toting Trump supporters wearing "Make America Great Again" hats are not the ones who might be heading north...

The American dollar is strong against the Canadian dollar, a $10 purchase in Canada costing Americans only $7. A bargain! If considering a trip north, go soon! No one can predict the value of future dollars. But beware, sales taxes are steep.

Travel musters thoughts of additional adventures, and as my muscles recover from kayaking I consider future trips. It is better than thinking about returning home and cooking and cleaning and doing all the laundry generated during the week... 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Best of Boomers Wander Down Memory Lane

As the end of summer nears we cram in as many activities as possible, realizing the weather soon turns cool and long hours of daylight diminish. Shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops are thrown aside for pants, long-sleeve shirts and shoes, our toes not enjoying sunlight again for months. Of course there are folks basking in warmth all year round, and admit I am a wee bit jealous. But I do look forward to seasonal changes.

Change is an ongoing part of life. Some changes we look forward to, others not so much. Summer's end conjures nostalgic thoughts for this week's boomers. I visited my old hometown, Lancaster PA, home for over 35 years, and marveled at the changes occurring since hub and I left town.

This week on the Sightings Over Sixty blog, Tom Sightings reflects back to the 1960s and '70s to remember ... well, see if you can figure out who he talking about, over at Remember Her? 

Laura Lee over at The Adventures of the NEW Old Farts decided to share her mother's story this week. Her Mom is a great example of what traditional womanhood looked like in the 1950's and 60s.

When the world gets to be too much, Carol Cassara says she goes into "nostalgia-mode." Over at Heart-Mind-Soul, she ponders the idea of a more innocent time.

And in a different post, she asks if nostalgia has a taste.

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, has fun writing about her garden with top zucchini recipes.
But, as often happens, even during the summer, interesting consumer stories crop up such as: Are you paying too much for your checking account and are you or your kids having trouble getting your student loan tied to your income?

Sometimes we repeat past experiences, not necessarily because we loved the experience but because circumstances demand it. This past week I found myself Once Again in the Back of a Spirit Airbus.

I am home now temporarily, hosting a houseful of relatives savoring their last fill of beach life. 

Soon the weather grows cold, the water temperature plunges, and the beach empties. I look forward to the quiet time. I might look back with nostalgia on the hectic summer time...but I doubt it.

Happy summer. Robison and others are sweating in the hot summer weather, an unusual occurrence in the Seattle area. 

I realize summer is not over astronomically speaking, but tradition tells us true summer ends Labor Day. Enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Once Again in the Back of A Spirit Airbus

Following a 2 1/2 day car drive south to deliver my son and daughter-in-law's car (don't ask), we enjoyed a rather raucous dinner with the family and uneventful flight home on Spirit airlines.

Checking in a day earlier we discovered assigned seats in the back of the plane, second to last row. We-hub and I-never pay extra for seats. I squeeze into the middle seat, hub settling into the window or (infrequently) the aisle seat.

I am not sure why we always get seats in the back of the plane. Surely we are not the only ones not paying extra for a seat of our choice.

I wonder if our positioning has anything to do with the fact that we are members of an older generation. Are our seats one more insult for the elderly? Does Spirit consider older consumers unworthy of attention because we may not be around long enough to impact the company's bottom line?

Spirit probably assigns better seats to younger passengers. After all, young folks will be around a long, long time. Perhaps the company hopes these customers, as they age and earn more money, will one day pay for seats and other optional add-ons.

Well guess what, Spirit, it is not going to happen.

Once those thrifty young folks have a few extra bucks they will flee to a real airline, one offering a decent seat without an upcharge, one carry-on suitcase without an extra charge, and at least a glass of water at no extra charge.

So, if wishing to stay in business, you (Spirit) should reconsider and be nice-much nicer-to us old folks.

Become the airline of choice for budget travelers of a certain age: cheap seniors.

I could be your poster woman. Backpack secured, drink of choice in hand, wandering around the airport eager for another travel adventure. It might be a visit to the grandkids or a trip to explore a Central American country. I, along with many, many, many boomers and older seniors, retirees with time and flexible schedules, fly more often than younger folks, unless flying on business. And I strongly doubt Spirit is the airline of choice for most business travelers.

I would be more comfortable if I took up less space, but let's face it, I am never going to be any smaller width-wise than I am now. I think Spirit should either sell the planes designed to comfortably seat short American 10-year-olds to a country populated by petite people, or design interiors for American bodies, with wider seats and additional leg room.

The cynical might wonder why put myself through such punishment? Here are the reasons -

Flights are cheap (if willing to fly off peak days and hours).

Spirit flies from the closest airport to our home, a small airport with short security lines, an easy walk or tram ride from the parking lot, no line at the snack bar, and only 20 minutes from the house.

Flights are cheap.

The next closest airport offers more airline choices, but is an hour and a half away, parking is more expensive, and other transportation to the airport time-consuming and costly.

Flights are cheap.

I am thinking I should drug myself when flying Spirit, falling asleep when wedging into a seat and not waking until the plane lands and I slowly uncurl my stiff body into a semblance of a standing position and trudge, zombie-like, off the plane.

The back of the plane offers some entertainment as people walk back and forth to the restrooms. The line lengthens as the flight progresses. People introduce themselves, chat, coo to babies on board, and commiserate about their Spirit experiences. We are all in the same plane, coping but waiting eagerly to be once again on solid ground.

So although hub and I find ourselves once more in the back of a Spirit plane, the flight was cheap.

And we will do it again...too soon. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A City in the Midst of a 21st Century Renaissance

I walked out the front door and as I turned to lock it, my glasses fogged up so much I could not see the lock. I fumbled, wiped my glasses on my shirt, tried again and succeeded. Already sweating although only 7:30 in the morning, I was glad my day would be spent in air conditioned comfort.

Summers in Lancaster County PA, my hometown for over 35 years. I remember the crushing humidity not too fondly.

I walked along the brick sidewalk to my destination: the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, a complex symbolizing the changes rocking this once sleepy backwater undergoing a 21st century renaissance. Dinner the evening before with friends revealed details about changes occurring in the city.   Attracted by reasonable housing and commercial rental costs, young folks have been moving into the city and opening boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, and art galleries. Activity, enthusiasm, youthful vibrancy energize the city. 

On the other hand tensions are beginning to occur between long-term residents, small businesspeople and the artsy crowd, and the most recent residents - folks swooping in from the New York metropolitan area and other nearby cities. Many newcomers populating downtown are retirees seeking city life at an affordable price - the definition of affordable varying widely!

Developers snatch up old, decaying factory buildings, many vacant for years, redevelop the properties and sell condo apartments for big bucks. 

Curious about prices I wandered over to zillow.com (virtually, of course). One building undergoing development advertised condos from a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,890 square foot apartment for $659,900 to a 1 bedroom, 1 bath, 950 square feet apartment for $239,800.

Locals fear being priced out of the market and worry the people responsible for revitalizing the city will no longer be able to live and work downtown.

Hub's comment on learning the newest trend, "Why Lancaster?" 

I am not sure of the answer, but outsiders have been visiting the area for years. An Amish population as well as other Old Order religious groups, many foregoing modern amenities like electricity, initially attracted tourists. 

People have been fleeing high-tax, high cost of living places like New York, New Jersey, and the New England states for years, until recently Florida and the Southwest the most popular destinations. Other areas now draw retirees, and Lancaster city appears to be one of these new 'in' places, attracting retirees eager to participate in the city's cultural life and restaurant scene.

Lancaster city declined during the latter part of the 20th century, like so many cities across the country. Suburban sprawl flourished while cities crumpled. Central Farmers Market drew believers in fresh, homegrown produce (like me), but many suburbanites refused to venture downtown. Hospital stays and visits, and possibly a show at the Fulton Theater often the only exceptions.
I passed a French bakery and bistro, open about a year and a half and one of many delightful additions to the city, and could not resist wandering inside. The word beautiful hardly begins to describe the treats artfully displayed.
I love the fact old cities and towns are coming back to life. Although a daughter of suburbia, I am not a fan of suburban sprawl. I will occasionally return to check on Lancaster's metamorphosis. 

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ten Reasons I Love My Walkable Community

As baby boomers retire, articles appear listing best places to live one’s golden years. Hub and I enjoy our current hometown and may stay, but may not.

One of the major reasons we like living in our coastal New Jersey island is its walkability, and close proximity to amenities. Within walking distance are a Rite Aid, three pizza places, hardware store, a cleaners, small grocery store with a fabulous meat and deli department, a take-out Chinese joint, five sit-down restaurants, two breakfast and lunch cafes, the municipal building, library and community center, plus several other retail stores and businesses. And the jewel of our town – the boardwalk and beach.

We love walking (and riding bikes)
around our community because We –

* Get fresh air and exercise.

* Meet and greet neighbors and visitors (a summer resort, visitors swarm all over during the season).

* Feel less guilty eating, especially high-calorie foods. We walked today! (or rode bikes!) We used up calories! We got exercise! Let’s eat!

* Help save the environment.

* Save money on gas and less frequent car repairs.

* Walk or ride bikes to the doctor, dentist, bank, post office, a coffee shop, an ice cream parlor…

* Enjoy our library and community center – about a four-block walk - offering a variety of programs year-round, including movies, music performances, discussion groups, and art and exercise classes.

* Boast one of the best bagel stores anywhere. Actually this is not necessarily a positive, my waistline attesting to that fact.

* (Almost) effortlessly walk or ride around town because the terrain is flat and senior-friendly.

* Are able to travel to ‘the big city’ (Philadelphia or New York) on public transportation at a reasonable cost. We can also drive if we choose to experience the hassle of traffic, tolls, and parking fees.

Of course there are negatives to living in our town – the number one by far (local surveys attest to this fact) high property taxes.

No place is perfect. We love living here now, but are open to future possibilities. Any ideas? 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Blueberries and Eggplants and More, Oh My!

Three years ago my grandson and I planted a blueberry bush in my yard. It survived each season, barely hanging on. No blueberries, however, until this year. Check out the picture below, our total 2016 blueberry harvest. I can only hope this is a precursor of things to come. Next year blueberry muffins and blueberry pancakes for everyone!

I plant seeds and seedlings in a tiny triangle of a vegetable patch in our backyard. This year cherry tomatoes are prolific, larger varieties sparse. 

Here is my first ripe large tomato, 
although large in this case is a relative term.

When my younger son was home our garden thrived. Zucchini always proved prolific. Eggplant never succeeded, one meager eggplant sprouting, only one or two plants producing anything in a given year.

My son left home, I was otherwise engaged, hub had no interest in gardening. We abandoned the vegetable garden.

Then we moved. A small barren patch in our yard tempted. A couple of years ago I once again donned garden gloves and picked up a spade.

Fast forward to this year.

Eggplant and healthy green leaves!
My eggplant seedlings, for the first time ever, flourished. 
Ironically I am not an eggplant fan, but grilled eggplant is a diet staple this summer.

The biggest harvest is yet to come, timed perfectly for the week hub and I are out of town. No doubt we will return home to overripe, rotting tomatoes, eggplant, and green peppers (only one small one picked so far).

 Oh well. Hub is a Bronx boy, more comfortable with concrete than compost. My thumb is a very light green at best, so coaxing copious amounts of vegetables from our piece of earth is not part of my skill set.
 But I find working in the garden, planting, pruning, weeding, harvesting, fertilizing (organic fertilizer only) therapeutic:

It is quiet – as long as the neighbors’ landscapers are not mowing and pruning with earsplitting equipment, another neighbor is not blaring music, and kids are not playing a noisy ball game in the street.

I get fresh air and exercise and sometimes lots of bug bites.

Plants thrive as long as our resident squirrel keeps his distance.

It is encouraging watching seedlings flourish and mature assuming plants and produce do not wilt from an extended hot, dry period.

On the other hand it is discouraging when –
plants shrivel and die for no reason,
carefully tended plants never produce vegetables,
one morning chopped off plants greet you, the offender a sneaky animal,
heavy rains decimate young plants and vegetables,  
plants struggle to survive under a searing sun.

I enjoy watching my garden progress from an empty piece of soil to a lush patch of foliage, and then reluctantly watch plants wither as their lifespan ends.

But as I pull dead plants and level the soil I smile, knowing the cycle will repeat the following year. Maybe the harvest will be better, maybe not. Time will tell. Life is like that. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Decoding Private Equity Enterprises

During a past life (not really, but it seems that way) I worked in the financial arena. Nowadays I rarely write about my former life. My years at a small firm provided a peek into the world of Wall Street and the financial dealings of ‘the big guys’.

Sometimes – and this is nothing but my opinion – companies (banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and other financial institutions) purposely create documents, ideas and concepts difficult for non-financial professionals to understand. Businesses do this for a number of reasons:

·           *  The legal department requires a lot of detailed mumbo jumbo.

·            * The company wants people to feel nervous about making their own financial decisions, fostering an atmosphere spurring individuals to rely on someone else - a financial representative – to tell the person what to do.

·            * The font on documents is so small we (seniors and other vision-impaired folks) cannot clearly read them.

·           * Documents are frequently crammed with unneeded and unnecessary information only distantly related to the transaction in progress. Most people never read the fine print.

·           * Financial papers are boring and put readers to sleep, or minimally in a stupor…

Sometimes an item rises above the cloudy haze and explains a concept in a simple, understandable way.

I came across one such article recently, the subject matter private equity companies.

I can imagine readers rolling their eyes and assuming the topic has nothing to do with them. Why do I need to know about private equity? People are thinking. I do not have gobs of money to invest. So how do private equity companies impact my life and me?

Initial thought might be – not at all.

But that would be a mistake.

in an easy to read, simple to navigate, painless power-point-type presentation illustrated with cute graphics, four business correspondents answer the question:

Why should I care about private equity companies?

The free financial dictionary defines private equity companies as firms that buy out publicly-traded companies, making them privately held.

Here are just a few ways these companies touch our lives.

Private equity firms:

·      Own companies we patronize (California Pizza Kitchen is owned by Golden Gate Capital; Domino’s Pizza by Bain Capital).

·      Maintain and operate infrastructure and government services (the Bayonne NJ water system).

·      Buy and sell companies (Simmons Bedding was bought and sold 5+ times over the years by private equity firms before declaring bankruptcy. But don’t worry – the equity firms made money even though lots of employees lost their jobs and shareholders lost money).

·      Build buildings and roads (Indiana Toll Road, California toll lanes, unsuccessful ventures for the states and drivers. Once the firms took over, tolls increased).

·      Invest in private schools and educational products.

·      Invest in media and communications.

·      Manage real estate holdings (The Blackstone Group advertises itself as the largest real estate equity firm in the world. Holdings include Motel 6 and Hilton Worldwide).

·      Etc…Ironman (sports games) is owned by Providence Equity.

You can wow your friends by explaining how our lives are controlled by companies most of us never heard of.

Perhaps not exciting, but a different topic of conversation and a pleasant change from politics!