Tuesday, 14 August 2012

#316: 100 Books

You know how, when you are working, you have to cover all the bases before you go on holidays so that your job doesn’t fall apart in your absence?  Even if it means putting in extra time and effort? It is the price you pay for the privilege of being able to take time off.

It turns out that library volunteering at the retirement home presents the same challenges. Who knew?

Bruce and I are soon leaving on a cross-country road trip to see friends and family, but no other volunteer has stepped up to take over the library “job” in my absence.  So I am having to cram 5 weeks of library visits into the next couple of days.

About 100 books have been placed on hold, and I will label them all with September due dates that identify them clearly as public library books brought by yours truly.  Then I have to deliver the books to my readers in the hope that the choices I have made for them will keep them happy while I am away.  

I anticipate that I will spend the first couple of days of our trip wondering what I failed to look after – just like I used to when I was gainfully employed. Are there loose ends I forgot to tie up?  Gaaaah!

But it’s OK.  Deep down, I know that if I have left a few stones unturned no-one is going to grumble and complain. I will not be fired. I suspect that my clients are (unhappily) prepared to have no books at all while I am away, so the delivery of some reading material will be greeted with delight, which is, after all, what librarians are in the business of providing. 

I also anticipate that along with thanks, they will offer advice for the journey: “Drive carefully,  Have fun! Take pictures!"   I will promise to do all that and more. 

It’s hard to blog and drive, but I’ll post updates from time to time on an occasional travel blog,  Reluctant Retiree on the Road.  Who knows what I will find while travelling from Guelph to Vancouver, and then to Seattle, San Francisco and back again.  (That’s a lot of driving, in case you are wondering.  It takes 3 days just to get out of Ontario!) There will be many retired friends en route and a few retired relatives as well.  We’ll be comparing notes, for sure!   

Sunday, 12 August 2012

#315: Neighbourhood Watch

Going on holidays?

If you are leaving your house and garden unoccupied for a few days, I hope you have lots of retired neighbours.  The safety of your property will be guaranteed because many eyes, older eyes, will be watching.

Retired people, especially the active ones, can’t help being vigilant.  They are always out and about; they pay attention to changes in their environment and share their observations. Sometimes this intelligence is gleaned from actual interrogation, but often it is just the result of careful surveillance.  I recently tapped into the informal, retiree neighbourhood-watch and have learned that:
  • The owners have moved back into the house on the corner (Good. We all like owner-occupied properties.)
  • The new folks across the street seem to have young children. Bikes have been spotted in the driveway.  (Yeah!  Young families keep neighbourhoods alive.)
  • The Globe & Mail guy is delivering at 4 am now.  (I’m not sure I care, but it is good to know that our 75 year-old insomniac neighbour has the night-time covered.)
Sometimes, though, the observations hit really close to home. John, who lives two doors down, is an active retiree, always working in his yard or jogging around the neighbourhood, and he notices everything.  He knows when you need to cut your grass (and tells you so). He wonders aloud (in a joking manner) if you are ever going to spread the mulch piled up in the driveway.  He’ll say “I think you’ve got a skunk under your barn, now.  He’s been digging in my lawn”.  But I don’t mind that John is so keen-eyed and so pointed in his remarks.  He would know immediately if anything were amiss with our place, and would know what to do about it.

In fact, we intend to have John keep an eye on our house when we are on an upcoming cross-country road trip.  We couldn’t ask for anyone better.  No plants will die on his watch.  He will take house-sitting seriously.  And we are happy to reciprocate.

Now that we are around a bit more during the day, John has been getting us to look after his place when he is at the cottage. It is not much – we do a walk-through, take in the mail and water the garden--and I think we have done a good job, almost up to his standard.  Except for the skunk.  I know John would like us to trap and relocate it (we do possess a live trap). But our good-neighbourliness has its limits.  

Friday, 10 August 2012

#314: A Shaggy NEST Story

We are the owners of a new NEST thermostat.  In case you think this is nothing to blog about, let me point out that this bit of innovation is considered cutting edge.  The tech review site Mashable calls it the “world’s coolest thermostat”.  It will learn our habits and reward us when we make good heating/cooling choices. It also looks very elegant (but then it was designed by the fellow from Apple who oversaw the design of the iPod.)

By extension, NEST possession makes us feel awfully cool.  And we are probably even cooler than that because I suspect we have the only NEST thermostat in Canada.  Let me explain:

When we received the NEST, we were assured that we didn’t have to worry about installation.  The device came with “concierge” service. (I imagined some liveried guy who looked like a bell captain turning up at our door and somberly announcing “Good Day, Madam.  I am the man from NEST.)

But first, we needed to make an appointment for said concierge, and that became Bruce’s job.  He began by dialing the concierge set-up number and reached a guy with a southern drawl who was probably (it was later speculated) from Texas. Mr Drawl had no record of our NEST and he knew nothing about a concierge.  He did transfer Bruce to colleagues in Utah.

The guy in Utah was geography challenged.  First he was sure we must be in Calgary (closer to Utah than Guelphwhereverthatis, I suppose) and although he also had no record of our NEST, he was finally keen to hook us up with a nearby service company called Kitchener ON.  I listened as Bruce twice explained that Kitchener was a city, and ON was a province.  (I keep waiting for him to say “You know.  Like Chicago is the city and ILL is the state”, but my husband is more polite than I am).

Finally, by some miracle, Bruce got to talk to a woman in Cambridge (24 km down the road from Guelph) and she arranged a visit from the “concierge” for the following day.  This individual would call ahead, and we should expect them between 2 and 4. 

They didn’t call, and they didn’t come.

Sooooooo.  On the third day, Bruce tried again and found himself telling his story to someone in Pennsylvania, and then in London (ON).  The London people wanted the concierge person to come from Oakville, so there was another geography lesson while Bruce told them about Cambridge.  No dice.  It was Oakville or nothing.  But Oakville rejected us because “We don’t service Guelph”.


This torture continued for a few more phone calls and finally, finally a service person from Cambridge agreed to come.  And he did.  He arrived at the door the following day (in street clothes), took a look at the NEST box and announced “I’ve never installed one of these before.”

The NEST is now in place.  It looks great.  It works well.  And we are happy to have it.  But as Bruce observed in the middle of his 3-day, cross-country, international telephone marathon: “How would a working person do this? The only reason I’m able to spend half my life on this problem is because I’m retired!”

Thursday, 9 August 2012

#313: Road Trip Rehash: The Good Stuff

A few (very few) aspects of our trip were less than wonderful.  All in all, we had a great time because:

The Bowen boys, Sam and Ed, were at home for the summer so we had a nice visit.  At 19 and 15, they are so good-looking and grown-up!

There was an elegant surprise birthday party/dinner for my 50 year old sister-in-law Barb.  (We had been told it was a surprise and then we promptly forgot, so it was a surprise for us, too!)  Many of the 40-or-so well-wishers were neighbours. That they all seem very fond of my gregarious brother and his lovely wife was not a surprise.

I really loved getting to know the family pets -- Bear, the huge, drooly Newfoundland, and Shep, the ultra-friendly black lab.  So much ebullient dogginess has slacked my dog lust for awhile.

The big TV was always tuned to Olympics coverage.  It was American coverage, of course, but I did get to watch international superstars like Usain Bolt.

On Saturday, George and Barb took us to the Philadelphia Museum of Art  to see Visions of Arcadia, a really wonderful exhibit, perfect for summer viewing.  

As we travelled, we listened to a complete audiobook,  Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. This story, first published in 2001, has had superb reviews, and the audio version was exactly the right length for two 10-hour days on the road.  And besides, listening to this harrowing tale of life in a 1666 plague village made the less-than-perfect aspects of our trip pale in comparison.  We completed our trip without a single boil or giant pustule.  Hurrah!

The “trip” part of the road trip was fun!  We shared the driving, did not shout at one another (not too often, anyway) and could still walk upright, albeit stiffly, at the end of long days trapped in the little Mazda 3.
Because we have the freedom to come and go as we wish, we would love to make another trip to Philly in the fall.  The benefits: fewer tourists, cooler weather, and if we plan the visit a bit more carefully next time, we will be able to get into all those amazing galleries.  Barnes, beware!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

#312: Road Trip Rehash: The Annoying Bits

The five day road trip to Philly is over.  Some bits were great – others not so much.  Here's the not-so-great list:

Border Crossing  #1:  We had a looooong wait time at the US border on Friday morning!  How long? Two and a half hours! (And how is it that we always pick the slowest slow line?  I so wanted to get out of the car and walk around, but there were very clear warnings that this is a big no-no. I guess I’m not the first twitchy person who wanted to stretch her legs. I wonder what they would have done if I had bolted?)

Border Crossing  #2:  We even waited one hour at the Canadian border on Tuesday evening.   Surely everything should have been rolling along?  Wrong line again.

Air conditioning malfunction:  The wait at the border iced up our air conditioning so that we briefly rode along buffeted by hot winds until the problem resolved itself.  We recalled those pre-AC cross-country road trips with the kids when we would all stagger red-faced and scraggly into road side service centres for 20 minutes respite.  Auto AC is a miracle.

Getting lost:  This happened so regularly that it is hardly worth elaborating.  Thank goodness for Samantha, the voice of our GPS.  Most of the time we disagree with her choices for us, but when we are really lost, we don’t question her. 

Closed galleries: Monday is often museum and art gallery down time, so why did we think it would be different in Philadelphia?  The Barnes was closed, although we did admire the fabulous new building. We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Saturday and would have returned on Monday if it had been open .  The Franklin Institute with its Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit?  Closed. The Rodin Museum?  Closed.  We considered wider options -- The African American Museum in Philadelphia, The National Museum of American Jewish History, or the Philadelphia History Museum.  But no, no, and no.  The National Constitution Center was open, and we might have stood in line to see the Liberty Bell, but by then we were feeling hot, grumpy and defeated.  

Instead, we walked around, saw the heritage buildings in Ben Franklin’s old neighbourhood, admired many outdoor sculptures including Rocky, went into the good old Free Public Library of Philadelphia, had lunch at a sidewalk cafe and eventually walked back to the train station.  It was All Good, but not exactly what we had planned. 

No Rodin....just Rocky Balboa.

Perhaps a return visit, a midweek visit, is indicated?       

Thursday, 2 August 2012

#311: Fashionably Retired

Karen, the fashionable retiree, is once again featured in You Look Fab, Seattle stylist Angie Cox's online newsletter.  This time we get four summer outfits that all look amazing but are not so over-the-top that most of us couldn't pull off similar, smart ensembles.   That's the good news.

The bad news is that Karen, like many older women, has coverage preferences.  With her, it's arms; she likes longer-sleeved tops and jackets.  Me too. Jackets are an older woman's best friend.  But not today, or any time soon.  We are in the midst of a heat wave here in Southern Ontario. It is going to be one of those steamy feels-like-37-degrees days, so adorable jackets will have to look adorable in my closet until it cools down a bit. 

My immediate fashion quandary is deciding what to pack for a few days away visiting my brother in Philadelphia where the weather promises to "feel like" 40 degrees (or, if you like, 104 degrees Fahrenheit).   I suppose that underwear and not much else would be an Angie no-no.  I wonder what Karen would wear?

No blogging until I am back in Guelph (doing laundry) next week!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

#310: Body vs Brain ?

No matter how I grouse and grumble about creaking joints and failing eyesight, I keep quiet when I am visiting my retirement home readers.

How can I complain when “Catherine” is in a wheel chair and struggling to read large print books?  She has every right to be frustrated by her aging body.  The other day she confessed with a sigh that she sometimes envies the other people on her floor who are mobile but whose minds are blunted by age. “They seem so happy.  It doesn’t bother them to have staff do everything for them. They just don’t notice.”

Catherine, of course, is smart as a whip. Her brain can jump hurdles over the competition, so I was a bit distressed to hear her speculating about which would be preferable-- a cognoscente mind or a healthy body.  (It is a different conversation when a really old person is weighing the choices.)

Coincidentally, I had recently been discussing physical decline (aka falling apart) with Sandra, a friend who reads my blog.  She recalled telling an older lady that she looked wonderful, and the woman replied “Well, I used to look much better!”  I whipped this story out for Catherine’s benefit, and we laughed together.  We all used to look much better, we agreed. And wasn’t it a shame that we hadn’t appreciated it more at the time?

Knowing Catherine would soon be leaving for a “seated exercise” class, I offered one more bon mot from Sandra, a yoga devotee.  She says that in spite of health problems, her aim is to be the very best version of herself that is possible under the circumstances.  “Well”, Catherine replied, after I quoted my friend. “I guess I'll go and try to be my best 93-year-old self, then.”  And she propelled herself down the hall.

You go, girl!