Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Travel Rounds One and Two: On the Road and in the Air

Baer’s Grandsitting Service enjoyed a winter hiatus. The arrival of sunny spring days meant leisurely days at home exchanged for a faster-paced existence. We looked forward to a few weeks of travel and family.

Round One: Grandsitting.

Vermont is a special place, blessed with beautiful scenery, lush greenery, quaint, picturesque towns, distinctive businesses, young people everywhere - a wonderful place for individuals favoring an outdoor lifestyle and the perseverance to endure long, cold winters. And the home of two of our grandchildren.

Vermont-bound, we prepared for a chaotic time with one kindergartener, an18-month-old and a six-month-old, 40 pound puppy. The dog proved the most challenging.

I am not used to chasing after a toddler, and that is an understatement. My slightly (humor me) overweight body got a workout following the 18-month-old around the house, the yard, the neighborhood and a farm. Her attention span is nonexistent. Maybe that is an exaggeration, it might be somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds. She looks at baby goats, waddles over to the sheep, then back to the goats. Over to the cow, into the chicken coop, back to the goats.

I ran through the house picking up toys and other things scattered around. The puppy grabbed anything on the floor and low surfaces and chewed it. I attempted extracting the forbidden items from his mouth, not always successfully. Usually the well-chewed piece landed in a corner, discarded when Leo decided it did not taste good.

Not the pup,
but how I felt
 The best time of day was nap time/rest time.  Hub napped, the toddler napped, the dog napped. Syd and I watched movies, Grandma ecstatic to sit in one place for more than five minutes.

We do not have Netflix at home, and an advantage of visiting the kids is that they do. After putting the youngsters to bed, hub and I crashed on the couch with our coffee and binge watched Season 3 of Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. If unfamiliar with the show take a look, but begin with Season 1, episode 1, or you will not understand the relationship between characters. The show, funny and serious, highlights issues of people of a certain age. And the acting is great.

Meals out, meals in, snacks, clean up, dressing and undressing (the kids, not the grown ups), baths, bedtime, soccer, diaper changes, playground, little friends visiting, all a busy jumble. The days passed quickly and we were home bound, but not before experiencing construction and traffic delays.

Round One of our spring and summer travels over, we relished a day of rest before beginning…

Round Two: Three grandkids, three year-end school events and the joys of 21st century budget travel on Spirit Air.

The alarm rang 4:45 a.m. Tuesday morning. Bleary-eyed, hub and I threw on clothes and drove to the airport for a 7:00 a.m. flight. No hassles, quick security check-in, on-time departure, and arrival a day early for middle child’s acting debut in The Lion King.

Our Lion King star!
A well-planned itinerary.

Or so we thought. But the play was not the following day. Rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon, the
same day as our flight, we landed in time for the elementary school performance.

Wednesday evening we attended the middle school band concert. Oldest grandchild is in the Jazz Band and Symphonic Band, performances that bookended the 6th grade band and concert band. 

One day with no special events filled with shopping and a trip to Barnes and Noble. Middle child received B&N gift cards for her birthday she could not wait to spend.

There is no such thing as spending a short time in a B&N store.

Our Friday flight home departed 3:00 pm, allowing enough time to attend youngest child’s kindergarten graduation. The students sang songs and we viewed a video of the class's yearlong activities, the kids becoming increasingly active as the video played on. And on…the teacher sprinkled each class member with special dust, anointing them first graders, and presented awards.

Hub and I are the proud grandparents of the recipient of the Silly Award.

Four days passed quickly, and once again I sit in the middle seat of a Spirit Air flight. The airport-especially the women's rest room-was bustling, but the plane loaded on time, then sat at the gate. Finally the pilot announced a broken piece of equipment delayed takeoff; mechanics were on the way with a machine borrowed from Jet Blue.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the engines cranked on. The plane started and proceeded to the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

An hour after the scheduled departure time we were in the air.

Now in flight babies cry, teenagers chat loudly, and people walk up and down the aisle while little ones run up and down. Food smells permeate the air. Unable to survive the two-hour flight without eating, a lot of people purchased food in the airport. I can't blame them. Snacks keep kids of all ages occupied. Drinks and snacks can be bought onboard, but are pricey and not sold until the plane is airborne. With a delayed takeoff and no other entertainment, eating consumes the time.

Hub and I, on the other hand, opted to wait until landing to fill our stomachs. I sit here thinking about what I want to buy, bring home and consume....

Round Two of our summer journeys soon ends. Round Three begins tomorrow. On the road again... 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Physical and mental wellness and by the way, has life really changed much over the decades?

A perplexing question gripped hub and I this past weekend as we traveled almost 600 miles - 300 miles in each direction - to a wedding in the mountains of Virginia.

Why are AAA and other travel maps so difficult to open in the car? And once opened, why are the maps tricky to refold correctly? Or is it just us? Nowadays most people probably use modern technology-a GPS, either a gadget on or in their car or an app on their smartphone-to reach their destination. Sometimes, however, like this past weekend when we wanted to avoid highways around Baltimore and Washington, a map showing a large area with major highways as well as side roads indicated, comes in handy. We found an alternative route thanks to an old-fashioned paper map.

The driving situation brings up an interesting question discussed by Tom Sightings in his post this week.

Tom revisits an issue that has plagued him for some time, which is ... has technology really improved our lives all that much? See if you can sympathize with his plight by calling up Is There An App for That?l

"Living everyday with passion and purpose," is one of many quotes pondered by Laura Lee over at Adventures of the New Old Farts. Living hectic lives consumed by modern life, including jobs and careers, family and other relationships, there is little time for pondering one’s situation and asking: Is this really what I want? Why am I living this life? Retirement often brings a more flexible, laid-back lifestyle with time to think. Laura Lee reflects on these questions in this week’s post, Purpose is Highly Overrated.

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes about a report that shows that drinking one glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day increases breast cancer risk. However the report, which analyzed 119 studies, including data on 12 million women and 260,000 cases of breast cancer, overlooks the link between exposure to chemicals and breast cancer, Robison said. It gives the impression, wrongly, that women are totally responsible themselves for getting breast cancer through their lifestyle choices. Read Robison’s article to see what steps you can take to reduce the exposure to toxic chemicals in your life.

Carol Cassara discusses the fact that the mind/body connection cannot be ignored if you are healing from any disease, especially cancer. 

Carol closes this week’s boomer blog with some well-chosen words about life from a man of few words, the poet Robert Frost. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

No inflation? My Pocketbook Knows Better

Whoever says inflation is nonexistent must be a politician because the rest of us find rising prices everywhere. Higher costs cannot be avoided by staying home. A rate increase notice arrives with monthly utility bills. Internet services bombard us with special deals. Take the deal, and at expiration the bill soars. Don't take a deal and eventually service options decrease. And don't get me started on taxes. Federal taxes may (temporarily) remain the same or fall (if you are in a top income bracket) but state and local taxes continue to rise.

New Jersey instituted a 23 cents per gallon gasoline tax increase this year. The revenue is supposed to fund transportation infrastructure. The state desperately needs new roads and rail service while existing roads and bridges deteriorate, forcing closures. Crews begin fixing bridges and roads and discover additional problems, forcing long-term detours and traffic jams while local businesses suffer.

So the 23-cent price increase goes into effect and today the cost of gas is 45 cents a gallon higher than before the tax was implemented. Oil companies took advantage of the increase, I guess, to sock it to consumers.

And inflation doesn't exist?

I am not wedded to particular food brands, buying what is on sale, what looks good, what I might be in the mood for. When an item gets too high I seek alternatives. I gave up red meat a couple of years ago for health reasons. Prices climbed and recently there has been a lot of publicity about the ill effects of products produced on factory farms, the source of most of America's beef.

There is an excellent grocery store a few blocks from my house renown for in-store prepared foods, offering everything from several kinds of potato salad and cole slaw to a variety of meat, fish, chicken, and vegetable concoctions. But convenience comes at a price. I buy when an item is on sale. Packaged uncooked chicken is also expensive at this particular store, whether brand name, organic, hormone-free, whole or parts. Rotisserie chickens are actually cheaper. I guess prepared ones are loss leaders. Don't want to cook? Buy one of our cooked chickens. And don't forget sides along with it - which, as previously mentioned, are pricey. High margins, I suspect, means more profit...

I purchase chicken at another market. Cheaper, fresher than brand names, and regional.

Uh oh. I am beginning to sound like a cranky old person, complaining about things changing-and not for the better.

I realize prices rise, but sometimes the increase jolts me into a kind of financial anxiety. Hub and I are retired and cannot complain about our financial situation. On the other hand our resources are finite. Assuming we live to enjoy a long retirement, our funds must stretch over many years. Not a problem as long as the gas tax doesn't keep jumping wildly and taxes do not surge precipitously every year and prescriptions do not spiral steeply...

Medical costs. The bane of retirees. We have insurance, but that does not guarantee financial peace of mind in the long run. Increases may not make a difference in everyday expenses but over the years add up. A lot. And how about medical items not covered by insurance? Glasses...hearing aids...

And what about our electronic gadgets? They are made NOT to last forever by becoming technologically obsolete.

Sometimes I hear my mother-in-law in my head. The woman was unaware in her later years of the cost of living and, once a financial maven, handed her financial affairs over to younger family members. Maybe that is the answer - ignorance can sometimes be bliss.

No worry. Be happy. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Was Driving Ever Fun?

Cocooning at home avoids lots of the hassles of modern life - crowds and traffic high on the list. Hub and I spent the past few weeks cocooning, but now begin another travel adventure. And it starts with car travel. Driving. 

Driving almost anywhere anytime nowadays can be anything but a pleasant experience.

Decades ago a Sunday drive was a family adventure, a time to explore nature, enjoy a picnic, visit friends and relatives. Enjoyable, bucolic, fun...but was it really?

Looking back I realize it was not, at least for my family, all fun. My sister and I fought a lot in the car, and I am sure we drove my parents crazy. Luxury cars, or at least comfortable cruising vehicles, were not in my family's budget. Our cars were purchased for the lowest price, travel amenities not a priority. 

Too many people discovered the joys of escaping home. Roads clogged with eager vacationers anxious to reach their destination. Cities and states could not keep up with the demand for roads and sometimes new ones were jam-packed immediately upon opening.

Fast forward to the 21st century. The driving situation in many parts of the country has not improved. 

Hub and I took a short road trip a couple of days ago. Our saga of road obstruction is a sad one:

Ten minutes from home and before getting on the highway we were rerouted because of road construction. Creeping forward between orange triangles and flags, we lost time before finally entering the highway miles away at a different entrance.

Approaching the bridge into the city, moving trafffic slowed to a crawl. On the bridge I said to hub, "It's weird. I don't see any cars going in the other direction."

"Maybe nobody wants to go to Jersey today," was his response.

"Wait, I see a couple of cars..." and then spied the problem - an accident. Cars on our side of the bridge slowed to ogle the scene. Once past the accident, we were up to speed once again.

Stop and go traffic through the city is to be expected. Finally a sign appeared, 'Lancaster County,' and we breathed a sigh of relief. Almost at our destination. No more traffic.

I was wrong.  Like much of the country, Lancaster County PA is growing. More houses, more people, more cars, more commercial development, more retail stores, but no more roads. Suddenly an orange sign in the middle of the road announces: Incident Ahead. Then another sign: Detour Ahead. Road closed.

What the...?

Two accidents on a beautiful sunny day. No rain, no wet roads.

We inched our way through the countryside, although we could not see much because of the BFTs (trucks) in front of us. So much for pristine countryside.

And so our travels begin. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

About Diners

Sitting in a window booth facing a friend, perusing a menu, I marveled at the variety of dishes available. The menu continued for pages – breakfast, lunch and dinner, senior specials, kid specials, daily specials, desserts, drinks. Whatever your pleasure if you searched hard enough you would probably find it on the menu.

How do they do it?

I have no idea and cannot begin to speculate.

I simply sit back, unwind, order and enjoy the atmosphere. Diner food is very good, sometimes good, rarely bad-but it does happen. A lot of offerings are old-fashioned, home-style food, although entrée-size salads and healthy options are now common. Prices are (usually) reasonable, even inexpensive, important to budget-conscious seniors. Actually, important to budget-conscious folks of all ages.

Another criteria diners are known for are large portions. Customers leaving with plastic containers of food are a frequent sight.

The first diner (shortened from train dining cars) is attributed to a horse-drawn food wagon operated by Walter Scott in Providence, Rhode Island. A few years later (1887) Thomas Buckley began mass-producing lunch wagons, and the wagons soon morphed into permanent structures.

Train-designed diners gained popularity after World War I. Production halted, however, in 1942 when the country geared up for World War II.

As the economy thrived during the 1950s, diners became a viable small business opportunity, and the eateries flourished in the burgeoning suburbs surrounding the country’s cities.

By the 1970s fast food and casual restaurants hurt diners, and many closed. But in certain parts of the country – predominantly New England and the Mid-Atlantic states – diners prospered.

Old style diners with long counters, booths and minimal decor have been superseded by establishments with large dining rooms furnished with tables as well as booths, chandeliers, decorative ceilings and wallpaper, carpeting, and bars. Diners in major population areas typically remain open 24 hours a day.

Growing up on Long Island I remember diners owned by Greek-Americans, and today menu items such as Greek salads, souvlaki, gyros and moussaka attest to that history. Depending on an area’s population diner owners are often immigrants, whether Italian, Jewish, Eastern European, and more recently Latino.

It took several minutes to decide what to order. Too many selections can make decision-making more difficult than choosing among limited options. Were we in the mood for breakfast or lunch foods? A diet special or should we splurge? An item from the main menu or senior special selections? How about a daily special?

I like to try something different, or something not eaten often, when dining out. Not wildly different – what if I do not like the dish? I would still have to pay for it. I opted for a Portobello Benedict – Portobello mushroom, eggs, hollandaise sauce, with a side of sliced tomatoes (instead of potatoes, a nod to my sort-of diet and healthy eating regimen. NO SARCASTIC COMMENTS about diet and the hollandaise sauce please!)

My friend and I enjoyed brunch, relaxing and savoring our meal, and getting some work done (the excuse for dining out – a working meal!). In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit my criteria for a wonderful meal is not high, especially when I am not the one cooking. I like to cook, but not all the time.

On our arrival mid-morning the diner was not busy and the waitress attentive, but by the time we left the lunch crowd began populating tables and the wait staff hustled.

Time to get home and think about preparing dinner. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Not Unhappy to be Uncool, Unhip and Definitely Untrendy

Most of the time I am happy to be myself, a regular person on the boring side of the bell curve, not chic or stylish or cool in any way. I do not keep up with the latest fashion styles. I have never heard of most celebrities under 30, a very few between 30 and 50, and a handful over 50 but not yet Medicare eligible. Never into cars and not impressed by brand names and glitzy ads with skinny women wearing almost nothing, I barely remember the make of my own car. I rarely see the plays, TV shows or movies my friends discuss soon after release, eventually viewing weeks or months later. The same with food fads, hot vacation spots, kitchen gadgets, video games, and the list goes on…

This lack of up-to-date information on cultural trivia usually does not bother me. When I visit the grandkids, however, I feel as if I live in a time warp. I exist in the 20th century or maybe the early years of the 21st, moving ahead like the tortoise while the kids are hares, proceeding speedily into the 21st century. The gap widens. Often we do not meet on common ground. We are apples and oranges, a generational divide the equivalent of Venus and Mars.

Why am I thinking about this now? Because in a couple of weeks hub and I begin several weeks visiting, babysitting, and traveling with the kids. Rather than browse travel brochures, scour maps and research tourist attractions, I probably should read People and/or Us magazines, watch Entertainment Tonight, download video games on my phone, find out about the latest teen idols and listen to their music, and the list goes on…

But of course I will not. I cannot concentrate on that stuff. It is as if my brain aged and no longer tolerates the rap, rock, electronic or whatever music that blares in my sensitive ears, the vapid celebrity gossip (unless it’s about politicians), most junk food and the continuous flashing lights and whine of video games. Oh, wait, the kids whine. The games ping or ring or clatter.

On the other hand I cannot wait. I will pack sweaters for Vermont, return home and choose shorts for Florida, but probably need the shorts in Vermont and a raincoat in Florida. I have a knack of not packing what is needed as weather-wise it turns out to be colder than normal, an unusual hot spell, more humid than ever before, wet in a dry season, or find accommodations with no working air conditioning in a heat wave or no heat during an ice storm.

This past weekend I travelled out of town for a bridal shower. I checked the weather report while packing, but made the mistake of believing the report.

I dressed Sunday morning in a spring outfit and sandals and walked out the door. The weather was cloudy and cold for a May spring day, in the 40s warming to the 50s.

I had a shawl for warmth, but my feet felt ice cold within minutes. The only other shoes I had with me were sneakers. Luckily a shopping center was close by. I drove to Target and bought a pair of socks and flats, both on sale. Not my first choice, but I was in a hurry, it was Sunday morning, a lot of stores were closed, and the price was right.

Comfort before style.

I remain unhip, uncool and definitely not trendy. But before beginning my travels I think I will stop by my hair salon and browse through a copy of People magazine. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Toilet Paper Predicament

Articles in newspapers, online, and TV news and commentary nowadays overflow with political content. I am interested in current events – to an extent. At this time, however, my mind is overburdened with politinonsense (my made up word for the syndrome).  So it is with relief when stories about other topics, besides sports and weather, catch my eye.

One particular story made me smile. Summarizing the article:

Who: Patrons of public rest room facilities
Bureaucrats responsible for maintaining services within budget.

What: Toilet paper (TP)

Where: China, specifically a public park in Beijing.

When: Recently

Why: Two reasons: People used too much TP, and toilet paper burglars were stealing more than 30 rolls of TP every day.
Something had to be done!

How (the solution): Facial recognition software was installed and is now used to allocate specific quantities of TP (a certain number of sheets) to each patron.

A rather unique solution to a worldwide problem facing modern industrialized countries. I doubt places where the toilet paper is scratchy and rough face this dilemma. As modern technology catches up with consumer demands and TP becomes softer, smoother and kinder to the skin, this issue turns into a major problem costing individuals, companies, and countries millions, if not billions and eventually trillions of dollars.

Using more than needed in rest rooms is probably common, although I have not yet taken a survey to validate my conclusion. I can say without a doubt that countless children use a lot more than necessary, finding amusement in streaming TP rolls all over rest room stalls.

Introducing machines that electronically dispense a certain amount of TP is an interesting concept. The Chinese devices are programmed so that it is not easy eliciting more TP if necessary or desired. The machines will not issue additional TP to the same person for nine minutes after the first distribution. In case of emergency extra TP may be requested from park personnel.

The machines have received mixed reviews. Not enough TP is issued to satisfy many users. Currently one-ply tissue is used; the park plans on upgrading to two-ply, which may satisfy most consumers. Critics worry the machines may be used for more ominous purposes, such as detecting dissidents, illegal aliens, students playing hooky from school, employees ducking out of work, and uncovering other deviants.

I am not advocating utilizing similar machines in public rest rooms throughout the United States, but there are advantages: domestic manufacturers would hire lots of workers to make the machines, additional workers would be employed to install, restock and maintain the devices, and staff would be needed to dispense additional TP when necessary. A new job-creating industry demanded by consumers!

Another advantage embraces environmental benefits. All those trees saved!

A service used by every man, woman, and child regardless of age, height, weight, gender, political persuasion or any other classification. A concern everyone everywhere can rally behind.

The one tissue issue which might, finally, unite our nation.

Of course there is the question of cost – who will pay for the machines and where will the money for maintenance come from? If places providing rest room amenities such as companies, recreational areas, government facilities, retail stores and restaurants, schools, etc. install machines, the companies and organizations paying for the TP today would save lots of money. The savings could cover the cost of the machines and on-going maintenance expenses.

I might consider installing a machine in my home. Before the summer. Before the grandkids arrive…

A final note on the subject from the cast of Seinfeld in this YouTube clip Can you Spare a Square?