Tuesday, 31 July 2012

#309: Senior Olympics

I’ve explained my strict Olympics diet to a few people.  “I have no access to regular television coverage”, I tell them.  “No Olympics for me.  If I want to weigh in on the 16-year old Chinese swimming phenome, I have to get all my information from the radio, newspaper or internet.”

My daughter tells me to head for a pub, park myself in front of the TV, and have a drink.

My retirement home friends think I should just come and watch Olympic events with them.  The big TVs in their lounges and many of the televisions in their rooms are permanently stuck on CTV for official Canadian Olympics coverage.

Residents and staff of the home are into the Olympics in a big way.  Country standings are posted in every public area (with Canada at the top).  Profiles of Canadian athletes are part of a gigantic display that includes an Olympic “flame” that will flutter and glow until London’s last Olympics’ hurrah.

The retirement home has had its own Olympic events, too. I noticed a pile of “nerf” archery equipment that I’m sure was part of some sort of competition.  There was cycling, for sure, and I’m so sorry to have missed “Nellie” (that’s her blog name) after her big (stationary) bicycle race.

Knowing she came to Canada from Holland in the 50’s I was pretty sure Nellie would remember Fanny Blankers-Koen the Dutch Housewife Who Cleaned Up in London in 1948.  She did, indeed.  Young Nellie was among those cheering as Fanny was paraded through the streets of Amsterdam.  I pointed out that elderly Brits still feel aggrieved, but Nellie just laughed. She had her own delighted memories of this national upset.

I think a retirement home is the best venue for Olympic viewing, hands down!

Or perhaps I should make that “hands up”:  check out the Senior Synchro Team at another spirited retirement home....

Monday, 30 July 2012

#308: Grumpy Old _________?

After a trip to a shop to purchase a t-shirt bearing a team logo (for our nephew), my husband Bruce declared that he could see no possible reason to be interested in a hockey team, and a failing hockey team at that!.  Then he added something to the effect that "an obsession with sports is a waste of time and talent that could be more usefully employed."  (BYW, guess who couldn’t give a fig that ours is a TV/Olympics-free zone for the next two weeks?)

I pointed out that this grumbly point of view, so strongly expressed, made him seem a bit cranky.  Cranky and old.

He countered that now he is 70, he feels as if he has permission to be cranky, and he is quite looking forward to it. 

Think again buddy, was my comeback.  I do not intend to live with a curmudgeon.  End of conversation.  No Grumpy Old Men in my bed, thank you very much.

Then I began to wonder if there is a stereotypical “grumpy old woman”.  I don’t think so.
“Sweet old lady” is the more typical cliché -- not that I want to be known as one of those.  But, in my experience,  aging women do not often delight in complaint and controversy.  Perhaps as girls we were all socialized to make others happy and keep the peace. If we now say something critical and controversial, it is because we have a point to make.  We are not just complaining because it feels good.  Or perhaps, compared to men,  we have made retirement work better for us so that we don’t walk around with a chip on our shoulder when we officially have “nothing to do”.

As for Bruce (who is a successful and happy retiree), his irritation quickly dissipated.  For now. What great good luck that he will not be taunted by displays of Olympic athleticism for the next two weeks.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

#307: Faster, Higher, Oops....

I am not one to glue myself to the television at any time, but I do like checking in on the drama that is the Olympics, and the fact that it is in London this year makes it all the more special.

Retired folks who like that sort of thing can enjoy the 24-hour spectacle wherever, whenever.  Perfect.

Unless, of course, you gave up your cable and installed an Apple TV box that works in conjunction with your computer and your wifi network.  Now you have lots of access to whatever iTunes has on offer but no actual television stations....no live CTV Olympic coverage, in other words.

Mind you, there is a solution.  It's called an antenna, and we were to have had one installed yesterday except that the antenna guy is ill and we have had to re-book a time two weeks from now.    

By then, the USA, China and Australia will have won their gazillion medals without any help from from us.  The closing ceremonies will be over and Brazil will have the Olympic flag all neatly packed in a suitcase for the trip to Rio.

And we will have seen none of it except if we make a point of watching highlights on our home computers . 


But don't let me spoil your fun.  Enjoy!   Please jump up and down and cheer for me when Clara Hughes hits the track.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

#306: The Thriftiest Retiree

If you have ever given any thought to how you are going to make ends meet in retirement, let me tell you about Heidimarie Schwermer.

This 70 year old German woman could very possibly be the thriftiest retiree ever because she gets by with no money at all.  After an experiment with bartering, she decided to see how little she actually needed to survive.  With her children no longer at home, she left her career as a psychotherapist, gave away most of her possessions, packed nothing but essentials into one suitcase and set out to see what would happen.

That was 16 years ago, and she is still committed to this unusual lifestyle. In fact, a recent film about her, Living without Money celebrates her philosophy. She maintains that unencumbered by worldly goods, she is better able to appreciate what is really important here and now.

How does she do it?

She barters.
She is given things.
She stays with people she knows
She trusts that her needs will be provided, and miraculously, they are.
Could you live like this?  The bartering seems almost do-able. But I can’t imagine friends and acquaintances enabling my thrifty lifestyle (and my philosophy) week after week, year after year -- willingly opening their closets, refrigerators and homes. They would quickly tire of my experiment even if I could muster the energy and the desire to keep it going. 

This leads me to speculate that what makes thrifty Heidi different from the rest of us (from me, at any rate) is her charisma.  I think people are moved by her sincere message and want to to help her out.  But if she weren’t a dynamic, attractive, interesting person, mere acquaintances would not be falling all over themselves to offer aid.  Otherwise, the homeless shelters would be empty and every drifter would have a bed for the night with a stranger. 

Another thought:  I wonder if Heidimarie has ever wanted out of her parsimonious prison and didn’t know how to make the break.  And now that she is a famous for living without money, how can she change her mind?  She is destined to live forever at the whim of other people’s kindness. That film about her?  It has the makings of a horror flick, as far as I can see.


Friday, 27 July 2012

#305: One Year Check Up

While I working today at a library where I occasionally fill in, I encountered a former colleague who retired just a few weeks before I did.

She was at the library to volunteer.  (We obviously loved our jobs and still can't bear to cut the cord.)

"How's retirement?" we asked one another.  "Good", we each replied.

We both seem to be finding things to do that we enjoy.  She is a keen gardener, and she has also been putting her house, quite literally, in order. "It's an endless job", she observed, "and I don't seem to have as much time to read as I thought it would."

"Tell me about it.....but what are we going to give up so we can do more reading?"  Neither of us had an immediate answer. We both felt a bit guilty.  We are book-women who are letting down the side.

"It doesn't matter", she decided.  "We are busy, we like what we are doing, and winter's coming.  We'll read more then." 

Good answer. Then --because we do love to read-- we proceeded to recommend authors of historical mysteries; she had not read anything by Ariana Franklin, and C. J. Sansom was new to me.

Perhaps before we work together in a couple of weeks we will have found a way to carve out a bit more book-time.  At the very least, I will be able to report that her excellent suggestions are now on hold ---for one of my retirement home readers.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

#304: Performance Appraisal

Librarians who work with the public are often profusely thanked for the simplest of services -- finding the perfect book on origami,  showing someone how to use a database or recommending a mystery exciting enough for an 8-hour flight. Pleased patrons always let you know.

That is one of the things I thought I would miss about my job, but my retirement home clients are grateful too, and never fail to let me know.  Most of my residential readers just say "thank you", but some take it to the next level. One lady blows kisses and another has declared that she thinks of me as a friend as well as her personal librarian.  My favourite compliment, though, came from 93 year old Elizabeth who recently told me "You are a light in my life!"


Isn't that a lovely thought worth sharing?  So feel free to use it.  I definitely will.  I know Elizabeth won't mind a bit if I quote her.  I could, in fact, say this to most of the people I visit as I go about my library volunteering.  Back at you, Elizabeth!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

#303: Toe Job

If you are under 65, don’t even bother to read this. Stop now. You just won’t get it.  You won’t believe it when I tell you that there will come a day when the simple act of applying polish to your toenails will seem like an Olympic event.

Like, what’s the big deal?  You take the nail polish and slap it on.

Nope.  First you need to see your feet.  And it’s better if you can make out individual toes. Those bifocal/trifocals will be of no help either, so forget about glasses.

Reaching your feet?  Also required. You need to make contact with your toes so you can do what needs to be done. Knees and back come into play.  If bending over causes discomfort, you will be out of the pedicure business before you even get started.  Bending your knees at an odd angle may help --  providing your knees actually are bendable.

It takes me about 15 minutes to contort my body so that I can eventually attempt to replicate a $60 salon pedicure with all its soaking, filing, buffing and many coats of carefully applied polish.  If only I didn’t love the look of an expensive pedi and the fact that, well done, it lasts for several weeks.  If only my toes looked pretty without polish. But they are hiking toes -- bruised, discoloured, ugly. I need toenail polish.

But I think I can give myself a passable pedicure if the conditions are optimal--if my body is cooperating and if certain other requirements are met.  I must have really bright light (the sunny deck is a good spot for pedicuring).  And it is essential to have time --a lot of time. Time to flex my joints between “procedures”.  Time to wield nail polish remover in case my hand-eye coordination lets me down.

Damn.  Hand-eye coordination—I’d forgotten about that.           

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

#302: Play-ing Around

Retirees who appreciate culture do well in a town like Guelph where one of our best assets is our proximity to other towns.  It is not that there is so little happening locally.  It is just that some world-class events, ( musical and otherwise) regularly take place down the road.  In Toronto, for example.  Or Niagara on the Lake (where Bruce and I recently spent a weekend). 

One of the best destinations for theatre goers is actually the closest. Picturesque Stratford, Ontario, with its annual festival of Shakespearean drama (and other wonderful performances), is just an hour away. The theatre season begins in April and runs until the fall, and attracts an international crowd.  But for us locals, summer is the best time to visit.  We do it often.  We pack a picnic lunch to eat in the park by the river, take in a play, and are home before dark.

Half the ladies at my Monday Qi Gong class have been to Stratford recently, and they were all raving about the same show: 42nd Street.  Most of them had seen an afternoon performance, and although I went to the same delightful musical on a Saturday evening, I appreciate the appeal of a less expensive matinee—especially if you don’t have to take the afternoon off!

And for those of us with flexible schedules, there are all sorts of other ways to save, too.  Personally, I love the rush tickets available two hours before a performance -- perfect for retirees who spontaneously decide on an afternoon at the theatre. 

But I don’t think my Qigong friends cared much about saving money.  They were just loving the experience of having watched an up-beat production with great acting, costumes, music, and .....tap dancing.  The Qi gong ladies were very enthusiastic about the dancing, especially the big numbers with male dancers:  They were no spring chickens, but weren’t they great?  It sorta makes you want to take up tap-dancing, doesn’t it?

Well, no, actually.  But it does make me want to see what else I can get tickets for. The Pirates of PenzanceMuch Ado about Nothing? You're Good Man Charlie Brown? For retirees, the choice is unlimited.            

Monday, 23 July 2012

#301: Calendar Girls

It has taken 3 weeks for Joyce, Janet and me to arrange a lunch date.  "Let me check my calendar" we have begged one another as we looked for a two hour window when everyone was free.

Finally we have pinned down a time tomorrow that will accommodate a get-together and all the other things we have to do.

Our retirement lives are simply too busy!

Isn't it great?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

#300: Mechanical Advantage

I just read, with equal parts admiration and envy, about an 87 year old man who is still employed by American Airlines as a mechanic.  Al Blackman works every day in the aircraft maintenance hanger at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Knowing this, I can't help but be curious about a few things because I know a bit about what mechanics do.   Is Mr. Blackman still scrooching under the fuselage to see that everything is in working order?  Does he have to crawl inside those jet engines to tighten a few screws?  Is he up on ladders checking on the wings?

I want to know these things because I need to know how he does it. I could use some advice.

When I occasionally fill in at one of our branch libraries I am very aware of ways in which my body is gradually letting me down. Those books on the bottom shelf that I have to find?  I take a deep breath and squat as far as I can, biting my tongue so as not reveal my discomfort.  Then I am required to actually identify the call number on the spine. Gah. I swear those numbers are smaller and more faded than they were last year.  I need to be nose-to-book for a decent reading, but it's getting hard to look professional while lying on the floor.  My job requires some fine motor skills, too, just as I imagine Al's does.  Arthritic fingers, alas, do not "keyboard" with reliable accuracy. And I don't think I'm as strong as I once was, either.  Of course, the doors at the branch libraries might be much, much heavier than the ones in the building where I once worked.

So what does Al do at JFK all day?  Whatever it is, I hope he is really good at it and that he is in better shape than I am.  His employers seem to think so or they wouldn't be celebrating 70 years on the job. Right?  I will hold that thought the next time I fly American Airlines. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

#299: Senior Sex: A Fifty Shades' Footnote

As I considered the possible appeal of E. L. James Fifty Shades of Grey for older readers (post #297)  I was reminded of a provocative book about sex where the major players actually are several shades of grey.   A Round Heeled Woman, by Jane Juska, catalogues the true, late-life sexual adventures of a cultured, semi-retired, single teacher.  It created quite a stir when it was first published in 2003.

A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance
Check your local library or purchase from Amazon.  Available in large print! 

Juska's memoir about a final sexual fling begins when she places an ad in her favourite paper, The New York Review of Books: Before I turn 67—next March—I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me

As it turns out, she has sex with several men (some older, some younger) and writes about them all. The result is an entertaining, thought-provoking account of her adventures.  It had taken her years to reach the point where she could embrace her sexuality, and you cannot help but be curious, fascinated, and amazed as she writes about her brave experiment and the life that lead her, finally, to pursue passion with a vengeance.

Bonus:  Juska writes really well.   I don't recall that she ever rolls her eyes or bites her lip.    

Friday, 20 July 2012

#298: On the Mend

I suppose it is a good thing that:

a) I know how do mending. 
b) I have the time to do mending.

I would be even better if:

c) I wanted to do mending,

But 2 out of 3 ain't bad.  

Thursday, 19 July 2012

#297: Fifty Shades' Fuss

Consider this a public service blog post.

I’m going to tell you all you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey, the book still riding the wave on the New York Times' bestseller list after almost a year.  I have finally finished the story, so now we can consider if this is a book that might interest older readers.

First, though, I must point out that the book  has nothing to do with mood swings,  paint chips or hair colouring.  (My 38 year-old daughter told me she thought it was about geriatric sex.  She was right about the sex.  There is a lot of sex.)

In fact, you could look upon this work of fiction as a beginner's guide to kinky sex, and read it the way you would gastro-porn.  You probably have no intention of ever cooking with insects, but you might read Creepy Crawly Cuisine in fascinated horror, just to see how it's done.

At bottom, though, E. L James’ blockbuster is nothing more than a standard, erotic romance novel with a side of consensual S&M.  And for sure, women of all ages are finding it interesting in spite of the fact that the protagonist Anastasia, is a youngster, a naive 21 year old with a degree in English and a job in a hardware store.  When she meets wealthy 27 year old, handsome-beyond-words, bossy Christian Grey,  the attraction is immediate and reciprocal.  She is an eager virgin, and he is more than willing to show her (literally) the ropes. 

Does Ana demean herself by entering into this unusual relationship?  I don’t think so.  She is  compliant, but complicit and (in spite of her "sub" status) always in control.  Besides, James has simply tapped into a very familiar literary archetype: the innocent maiden attracted to the powerful, mysterious, charismatic man.  (Think Jane and Mr. Rochester or even Bella and Edward.  Loads of older women were captivated by Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, about an ordinary teen and the hunky vampire who desires her and only her.)  The appeal of these (and similar books) is powerful, perhaps because they speak to some primal, fairy-tale desire to be consumed by passion.  Women of all ages seem to love these stories.  I still fondly recall the elderly lady who read every book in the library that featured sexy pirates and pretty captives.

Be warned, however: you will not be reading 50 Shades for its literary style. (One would think English major Ana could do better than “Holy crap!” when expressing amazement, as she does so regularly.  And that's just for starters.  Ana and Christian's mannerisms are so limited and predictable --endless combinations of lip-biting, eye-rolling, stern expressions and steely gazes-- as to be laugh-out-loud funny.)  But for a primer on basic bondage and (painful) ecstasy, this story is probably as informative as Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns, a book I once purchased for our non-fiction collection -- and much more entertaining.  I was sure I would give up on Ana’s adventures in S&M Land after the first few chapters but I was intrigued and curious about the eventual resolution.  Even a badly written book can be fun to read.

If you decide to join the all-ages parade to see what the 50 Shades fuss is about, I’m happy to tell you that the book is now available in...... *drum roll*....... Large Print!  As for the rest of the paraphernalia, I recently went to volunteer at the retirement home and noticed a big sign in front of the nearbye Love Shop:  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY:  WE HAVE BOOKS AND ACCESSORIES!  Talk about convenience.  Nevertheless, I probably won't be picking up the book (or anything else) for my older readers -- not unless they request it, of course.   

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

#296: Beat the Heat Like a Retiree

Remember the summer holidays when you were a kid and it so HOT outside that keeping cool was a  job unto itself?

Living in Calgary in the 50's I had no leafy parks to visit and there were no nearby beaches.  We cycled to the swimming pool, walked to the store for popsicles, played in the basement, ran through the sprinkler and hung out at the library (no AC, but cooler than my little stucco house). I had no agenda -- I was pretty much left to my own devices, and no one complained if I listened to the radio for the entire afternoon in the cool of my bedroom, or if I propped myself up on the shady side of the house and read my book for hours on end. 

That's what the summer is like for retirees.  If it is super hot (like it is in Ontario right now), you can watch DVDs in the air conditioned family room for the whole day and wear nothing more than your skivvies. Who cares?  Just remember to get dressed before you answer the door.

The problem is that workaholic retirees (that would be me) need to feel they are accomplishing something regardless of the weather.  I go to the cool basement, but I clean it.  I don't run through the sprinkler, I move it around the yard (on the days we are permitted water our parched gardens).  And as for library visits.... in the middle of the day, I go to the retirement home library and label books and move collections.

But I'm cool....


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

#295: Dress Up and Shoot Muskets

Royal Newfoundland Regiment -- reenactors, all.  Their regiment, from Simcoe, was involved in the (mock) defense of the beach at Niagara -on-the-Lake.   
While we were in Niagara on the Lake we stayed in  the The Old Bank House, a very swish historic B and B overlooking the water.  It was the perfect spot from which to see one of the events commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, a naval battle with 5 tall(ish) ships, 20 longboats and 200 reenactors.

When we made this booking, we had no idea there would be a mock battle across the street, so it was certainly a bonus to sit on the shady veranda in 35 degree heat and see the action complete with guns, cannons, and fife and drum music.

Surveying the these committed volunteers, I was impressed with the number of older participants.  Surely the actual army would not have included so many grizzled faces and paunchy bodies.  These guys were clearly retired -- hobby historians with a penchant for dressing up.  There were older costumed onlookers, too -- "military" men and their well-dressed wives along with ordinary citizens circa 1812 -- all contributing to our feeling of having accidentally stumbled into the past.

No need to shoot a cannon!  Be a townsperson!  This couple looks so cute.  I can totally imagine Bruce in this get-up.  

What a great pastime, especially for a retired couple. I briefly imagined Bruce and myself strolling around in full regalia, but I know that there will be no reenactment events in our future.  It is an expensive hobby ($500 or more for a man's authentic costume which should include shoes and felt hat), but that is not why we would not be participating.  Bruce so rabidly anti-costume that he would likely pay 500 bucks not to wear a bowler.

So that leaves me on my own, a single female reenactor.  I would likely wind up a camp follower -- a lower class, simply dressed woman (the costume is inexpensive and easily sewn) who accompanies the troops and performed "domestic duties" for them.  At best, this could be interpreted as doing laundry and cooking over an open fire

Hmmm. This is becoming a singularly unappealing.  I recall that our daughter Jenny worked for a year as a costumed interpreter.  In midsummer she had to wear a scratchy, voluminous dress while stoking fires in order to prepare (largely inedible) scones.   She hated it.  She pointed out that 19th century countrywomen died as often from cooking mishaps (ie immolation) as from childbirth.

The rocking chair on the porch at the Banks House beckons.  Historic reenactments are nothing without an audience and I think that is where my true talent lies.  Bruce will be so relieved.         

Monday, 16 July 2012

#294: Happy Anniversary!!

We've just returned from a weekend getaway to Niagara on the Lake, one of the prettiest little towns in Ontario.

A highlight of our visit was an anniversary dinner at the Charles Inn restaurant which has a reputation for fine dining and great atmosphere.  No riff-raff allowed.  In spite of the sweltering heat, Bruce (and all the other male diners) wore closed-toe shoes and long pants to conform with the dress regulations.

We were waiting for drinks at our table overlooking the garden when we heard two other groups being seated.  I peeked at our companions: a middle-aged couple (also nicely attired) directly behind us, and two women around the corner.

Then I heard our waitress Jasmine chatting to the couple. "Welcome to the Charles Inn!  Where are you from?"  Toronto.   "Is this a special occasion?"  Yes, it's our 26th anniversary.  We were planning on going to Italy, but our daughter went instead.  So this is our anniversary treat.  Jasmine disappeared, and our beverages arrived along with two flutes of champagne that were delivered with a flourish ....to the anniversary table behind us.

AHEM! If one can shout a thought, that's what I was doing, arms mentally waving over head. Anniversary table over here by the window!!  46 years!  Pretty Special!

Then we could hear Jasmine addressing the two women diners, and I heard them explain that they were celebrating a birthday.  Yikes.  I wonder if they got fancy cupcakes with little candles at the end of their meal.

What were we? No one had asked where we were from or if we were out for a celebratory dinner!    

I was feeling just a wee bit annoyed.  Then I figured it out.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is always awash in older folk -- retired people who can afford to stay in a charming B & B, go to a play and a have a nice meal or two.  They do it all the time simply because they can.  We would not appear to be that unusual.

I forgave Jasmine.  We didn't really need the champagne anyway.  We would be seeing Come Back Little Sheba after our dinner and we needed to stay awake.  You know how these old people get when they've had too much to drink....

Friday, 13 July 2012

#293: Poppit? Stop it!

If I do want to indulge my need for nostalgia, there is no better place in which to spend an hour or two than an antique shop or better yet, one of the huge antique “malls” that are an Ontario specialty.

But I’m rarely there to buy anything.  Occasionally I will see something unique –perhaps a bit of china or beautiful, decorative household linen-- and I will purchase it for someone else.  Otherwise, I am just poking through other people’s memorabilia and reminding myself of my own past.

I'm sure no-one has more fun in an antique store than a retiree with time to browse and a personal history that can invest the weirdest things with significance.   Like these poppit beads, for instance. (How did they not get vacuumed up by some long-ago 50’s mom? Every girl I knew wore them --mine were white-- so there must have been plenty to go around. But I can’t imagine who would want them now.)

Poppit beads--tiny plastic beads that could be attached to one another.  They seemed like a good idea the time.
It could be that the huge antique emporiums I frequent have too much choice or the wrong selection, so that it is easy to “just look”.  A retired friend recently described an antique/re-sale shop (The Stone Orchidin Tobermory that was so seductive she couldn’t go in without making a purchase.  She proceeded to list all the furnishings and decorative items that she had acquired there.  Our Tobermory B and B host, Ina, had told us exactly the same story.  In fact, Ina claimed that she could no longer let herself stop just to look, because there was always something she craved. 

Toni, Bruce and I saw that store.  I had no idea it exerted such power over its customers.  It is just as well we drove by because I don’t know what I would do if I were seduced by -- let us say-- a gorgeous embroidered cushion.  I don't need a cushion, but I would be sorely tempted. 

In such circumstances, "temporary ownership" is a useful ploy.  I carry the item around for about 20 minutes, possess it, assess it, and finally make a decision.  Does it stay or go?  The illusion of ownership is often sufficient, and I can leave the store satisfied.  Sometimes I’m empty handed, sometimes I have treasure in tow.  Either way, I’ve had my fun.

And the poppit beads?  Let someone else pretend to own them.           

I may get to practise the temporary ownership trick this weekend.  I'm off to Niagara on the Lake to celebrate an anniversary!  No computer and no blogging til next week.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

#292: Stuff I Miss

When I was doing my “Innovations I love” list, it did occur to me that in spite of my attachment to some new technologies, I am actually rather fond of some of their non-digital, low tech precursors.  For example:

Sharing pictures in a photograph album is an altogether cosier experience than directing someone to pictures in Picasa, Flickr, or even Facebook. (Perhaps I will feel differently if we ever become an iPad family.)

I miss letters and notes on nice stationery.  No one will ever be able to tie up emails and text messages with a ribbon and save them in a chocolate box.

Long play stereo records sounded amazing and looked great.  We owned this album and may have bought simply because of the ultra cool cover.  (What would all those graphic artists be doing today, I wonder?    Probably working for the video game industry.)
I loved this cover, but was disappointed to learn that she is covered with shaving cream.

I can’t believe that I’ve only come up with three things.  What else should I be pining for?

Maybe I’m more adaptable than I imagine.  Just as well since growing older seems be all about adapting in one way or the other.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

#301: Best Advice for Retirees

I have two excellent bits of advice for new retirees.

First, get a back yard bird feeder.  There is a very good chance you’ll be spending more time outside now that you are retired, so you might as well make it as much fun as possible.  Position the feeder so that you can see it from a window, and you are guaranteed year-round entertainment.

Even my husband who is more bird-ignorer than bird-watcher finds the feeder interesting.  And who wouldn't?  This spring, we cleaned and re-hung it, and our yard was immediately filled with drama.  Gangs of grackles and starlings lost no time asserting Mafia-like control.  They cleaned us out of expensive mixed seed and then swarmed the peanut wreath that was intended to attract blue jays.

Peanuts?  Did you say peanuts?  Soon every squirrel within a three block radius was swinging from the wreath.  It was starlings versus squirrels until the peanuts vanished and it was time for an intervention!  We substituted nyger seed for nuts, added a squirrel baffle, and finessed the feeder so that heavier birds were out of luck.  Now we can sit on the deck in the sunshine, sip a drink, and watch well behaved finches, chickadees and cardinals as they flit from tree to tree before swooping down for a snack.

What we didn’t anticipate, however, was the action under the feeder.  The scavenger squirrels are on the ground now, and they have brought their stripey chipmunk cousins with them. I’m sure baby rabbits are not interested in fallen seeds, but perhaps they hope that with all the scrabbling about we won’t notice them eating the coneflower buds.  On a particularly busy evening, the groundhog will wander by.  It all looks like something out of a Disney movie.

But wait...

In a dark corner of a dark garage, another creature—black and sleek—has ignored the animal antics in the sunny garden.  No trifling crumbs dropped from on high for this bandit. He is  seeking the mother lode.  Why scrounge for leftovers when you can walk into the pantry and help yourself?

And here is my second piece of advice:  do not leave the bag of birdseed in an open bucket where any old entrepreneurial rodent can wander in and help himself.  Store the seed in a metal bin with a lid.   I need to do that myself.  And I will  -- just as soon as I am convinced that it is once again safe to enter the garage.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

#300: Sad News

Whenever I see an email with the subject line "sad news", I steel myself for the worst. Invariably someone has died and often it is someone I have known quite well.  But at least I have been alerted to the contents and can read the message when I feel up to it.

It makes me wish the retirement home had a way of alerting visitors, in a general way,  to recent deaths.  Perhaps a notice on the door (Sad News for Nancy) would prepare us before we read the specifics posted on a notice board:  We are saddened by the loss of of our friend xxxxxxxxx

Yesterday I came suddenly upon two such announcements.  Two in one day, and I knew both men.  The first was my kids' pediatrician, a sweet man who looked after both my girls when they were toddlers.  In the retirement home, I had been taking him murder mysteries and when we first visited, I filled him in on our shared history and told him how important he was to our family. 

The second fellow was married to one of my retirement home readers and lived in a room nearby.  He had not been well for some time, so his death was not unexpected and was in many respects a blessing for him and his family. Nevertheless I feel very sad for his wife, a lovely intelligent woman whom I have gotten to know through my volunteering.  I had a little visit with her yesterday, and she was philosopical about her loss.  She gave a what-can-you-expect-shrug and pointed out that on their floor "someone dies every day".

I wonder if staff ever become accustomed to these deaths.  I suppose they must.  I am reminded of the friend who gave my 4-year old a goldfish and bowl as a birthday present.  When I protested that it would only die, she nodded sagely and told me that it was never too early to learn about loss.

Or too old, it would seem.  Yesterday's experience reminds me that my education will be continuing even though I am only the volunteer librarian.  Just as well that I am prepared...   


Sunday, 8 July 2012

#299: What Did You Say?

3 Guys on Beach (1 card/1 envelope) - Birthday Card - FRONT: It's windy today! No, it's Thursday! So am I! Let's have a beer!  INSIDE: This birthday, surround yourself with friends who really understand you!  Happy Birthday!

This birthday card from Bruce's friend Marshall really made us laugh.

Bruce and I have had similar exchanges where variations on the same sounds (email, pail, sail)  caused all sorts of  confusion.

As a result, in the Ryan household there are some new conversational rules in play: 

  • don't talk while running water
  • don't talk while facing the other direction
  • don't assume that you will be heard from upstairs when your listener is in the kitchen
  • don't get annoyed if you have to explain or repeat something

And as the card points out in its interior message:  things always go better if you surround yourself with friends who really understand you.

#298: Plenty of Cake (But No Candles)

We are not the sort of family to make a big deal over birthdays.  We don't totally ignore them, but we are less Birthday Bash and more "eat-out-and-come-home-for-dessert-and-open-your-presents". (And one of the presents is pretty much guaranteed to be a shirt.)

So the Week-That-Bruce-Turned-70 was uncharacteristically celebratory.  Last weekend, while Toni was here, we had a family birthday dinner followed by a family birthday brunch followed by presents that were a cut above the usual: a fancy thermostat that learns your habits and reinforces you for good environmental choices, and at the other end of the technology spectrum, a sundial.  There was also a shirt cunningly hidden among 70 individual (and unique) bottles of beer, each labelled with an individual and unique message to the effect that Bruce deserves a bottle of beer because ......he does all the ironing.....he patiently listens to his kids' woes....he makes us laugh.....etc, etc 67 more times. The beer was Toni's inspired idea and we had fun pulling it off -- hiding and labelling and packing all those clinking bottles!

A week ago our friend John (in New Zealand) emailed with birthday wishes and advice. He admonished us to have a party with cake and candles because 70 is worth celebrating, and so is every subsequent birthday. He says he has a party every year, now.

He is right.  There is only have one opportunity to rejoice in 70 years, well-lived.  Every year is a gift, and the older you are, the more you realize it. 

And the candles?  The family dinner did have a cake with candles -- wax letters spelling "Happy Birthday" that puddled into the cake almost before we got it to the table.  Not a good look -- but at least we have whole year to consider some other cake-top concepts before the next big birthday party.

Friday, 6 July 2012

#297: Rest in Peace

How are you sleeping lately?  Are you getting 7 or 8 hours of shut-eye? 

 If so, you on your way to a healthy old age.  This is one of the implications in a recent American survey of 100 healthy 100 year olds and a comparison group of boomers. 

Investigators found that in many respects, healthy boomers and centenarians share some of the same good habits-- exercising regularly and keeping socially active. But the younger participants were not sleeping as well.  Only 38 percent managed eight or more hours or more of sleep per night compared to 71 percent of the elderly. 

I assume that the boomers surveyed are probably working – getting up early and going to bed late so that they can fit in all that socializing and exercise.  No wonder they are falling short in the sleep department.

I remember those days.  While working, I was often sleep deprived.  But contemplating these statistics about healthy aging, I realize that retirement has been very good for my sleep habits. I am still a bit of a night owl (I am often a midnight blogger), but I now fall asleep without anxiously reviewing the next days’ tasks, I often sleep through the night, and if I do wake at 4:30 I don’t toss and turn until morning.

And if perchance I don’t sleep well, everyone knows that one of the perks of retirement is permission to nap.  I have yet to exercise this option, but I sleep easier knowing that it is there.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

#296: Car Free Retiree?

One of our vehicles is otherwise occupied this week, so I thought what a good opportunity to practice being a one-car couple!

And the one-car-thing hasn't been a huge challenge, so far. Minor negotiations have sorted out potential problems.

MeI'm going to need the car this afternoon.
HeFine.  I'll have it home on time.

HeI'll need the car for Tai Chi tonight.
MeOK.  I'll have it back by 5:30.

So I've had to come up with some imaginary conversations:

Me:  I'm having lunch in Cambridge this afternoon.
He:  What?  I have a meeting at the Y at 1:30.  That's too far to walk.

HeSo you know that I have the car in Toronto all day tomorrow...
MeNo!  I'm volunteering at the retirement home all afternoon and I have books to carry. I wish the bus were more convenient.  We need two cars!

There we are:  a balanced look at the problem.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

#295: Happy Birthday!

Bruce celebrated his 70th birthday on July 2.  That was a family occasion so we thought it would be fun to keep the festivities going with a dinner party for some former colleagues this weekend.  There will be 14 in attendance, which is a lot for me. Fortunately, Bruce is going to bake his own cake, but I am signed up for everything else.

Had I been working I would have had to take time off to get ready. But no, I'm retired so I have oodles of  opportunity to make a couple of fancy casseroles, some salads and one other dessert.  And clean the house.  And spiff up the garden.

It appears that my capacity to over-estimate my ability remains unaffected by retirement.  I wonder if I can talk the birthday boy into doing some vacuuming?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

#294: Look Good at Any Age

Have you ever been lured by a magazine headline that promises “Look Good at Any Age” only to discover that “any age” has a very narrow definition?  Seventy-plus rarely makes the cut, even in magazines like More which are pitched at mature women.   And if an older model is included in an all ages spread, often as not she is wearing impractical designer outfits that regular retirees (like me) could not afford.

That is why I love Seattle fashion consultant Angie Cox’s monthly online fashion blog, You Look Fab.  Angie often writes about her own clients including older women who are real people, wearing real clothes.  And they do look fabulous.

Check out 71 year old Karen, a retired social worker who looks well-put together and just-edgy- enough in an outfit that did not break the bank.  Even I might be able to shop in my closet and pull off a similar look now that I am inspired!           

Monday, 2 July 2012

#293: My Later-Life Life-Changers (Part III)


Look at this miserable list of current innovations.  No variety at all, unless I were to include "Clothing with a touch of  Spandex" or the "Miracle bra".

Now it is all technology all the time, and it is all getting more challenging.  Say goodbye to gizmos that have one off/on switch.  If it can't be explained with a 40 page booklet, what good can it be?    Still, this is the future, it is not going away, so we might as well grit our teeth and shake hands with our inner techie.

I'm still on a learning curve with some of the following.  But I readily admit that they have enhanced my later life in many ways.
    The techo-tsunami begins with the purchase of a Kaypro "portable" (so called because it wasn't bolted to the table). 
  1. Email -- I was giving this a whirl back in 1984 when we bought our first computer, a Kaypro.   It all felt so cutting edge.   
  2. Word processing -- I quickly learned to love writing/correcting/blocking and copying/spell checking, etc.  Oooh, Spell Check!  *Swoon*
  3. The Internet -- Give me Google!  Our venerable dictionary and desk encyclopedia were quickly retired; now we check everything on an iTouch and we are plotting the purchase of an iPad.  Our brains are probably scrambled by wifi, but we don't care.
  4. Digital Camera --light weight, easy to use, easy to upload.  Now I actually use a camera!
  5. Cell Phone -- I admit to a love-hate relationship with my cell phone because I don't use half its features.  I don't text.  I don't take pictures. I have to look up my own CP number.  But when I do need it, I am so glad it's there.  
  6. GPS-- I am the reason we own a Garmin GPS.  It saves pulling into service stations all the time to ask directions.   
  7. Kindle e-reader. -- How could I not love packing as many-books-as-my-heart-desires into one little tablet?   And--major advantage-- I can adjust the print size.

That's as good as it gets.  If if claimed to love three more digital do-dads, I'd be lying, The computer revolution has run me over and now I'm lying here exhausted, waiting for the next wave. 

Don't get me wrong.  I am committed, but I'm also older.  I need to save my strength for the next big techno-thingamajig, because it will arrive any day, and there will be another damned manual waiting for my attention.

Off/On.  Open/Shut.  So simple.  PEZ was onto a good thing.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

#292: Life Changing Innovations (Part II)

No more PEZ-like preferences.

My serious, grown-up self just had to have:
  1. Ball point pens -- I learned to write using a straight pen (with a nib!) and bottled ink. The ball point was almost too good to be true.
  2. Birth control pills --  No brainer.
  3. Disposable diapers --  We couldn't buy them when we lived in NZ,  but that that didn't mean I didn't want them.
  4. "Umbroller" stroller -- This was the Smart Car stroller as compared to the SUV strollers that today's young moms are lumbered with.
  5. Wheeled luggage -- Brilliant
  6. Hand-held hair dryers -- Hair care expedited! (My search for hair heaven could fuel a list all by itself.)
  7. White-out -- Pre--Spell Check, but a godsend when I needed it.
  8. Paper towels -- I know there was life before paper towels, but it was so much yuckier.
  9. Portable tape recorders -- Entertainment mainstay for kids, especially.  There are songs I only associate with a tape deck.
  10. Dishwasher -- I never wanted a dishwasher until I had the use of one for a year.  Wow!  So that's what all the fuss was about!
Sherlock Holmes would deduce that the person with this list was clearly a young mother who occasionally tidied up so she could perhaps work on a course or do something job-related.  And he would be right.

My family argued a bit about this list with me.  Colour TV!  Polaroid Cameras! You are missing out the good stuff!   But it was my mid-life, and it's my list.