Monday, 31 December 2012

#331: Twelve Days of Sickness

Between us, Bruce and I had our Christmas holiday sabotaged by 12 days of sickness.

It started for me on December 19 and ended December 24.  Bruce became ill with the same 6-day tummy-bug-plus-extreme-fatigue on Christmas Day.

Adjustments were made. The tree went up on December 24.  Santa was less generous, having fewer opportunities to find perfect presents.  The larder bulged with tins of chicken and rice soup, saltines, and ginger ale.  Thank goodness we had made reservations for Christmas dinner at the fancy local Inn, but Bruce stayed home with his crackers and pop.  We forfeited our Boxing Day dinner and movie (Les Mis) in Toronto. 

It could have been worse.

Had we been working, we would have had to take off at least five days each -- this was no minor virus.  And we would have ruined a 5-day Christmas break which could not be redeemed. You don't get do-overs for ruined holidays.

But it doesn't matter so much now that we are retired. We can pick and choose "breaks" as required.  We are going to Les Mis tomorrow.  And we'll have a another chance for a celebratory meal when my birthday rolls around, mid-January.

So I can deal --- this time.  But let's not make 12 days of down-time a tradition.  No repeat performances in 2013, please!


Monday, 24 December 2012

#330: Merry (Stressless) Christmas

I appear to be a retiree who has retired from the business of Christmas -- or at least from the business of Christmas cooking.

I have contracted out the baking to my eager husband, the guy who makes piles of brownies, chocolate chip banana bread and oatmeal-cranberry cookies, and then complains in a dismayed tone that "baking" makes him gain weight. 

And then there is the actual Christmas dinner.  I no longer prepare it, or even supervise the preparation.  For the last three years, we have had our festive meal at a very nice nearby Inn.  I am not exactly sure how this came about --it is not as if our previous dinners had been inedible.  It may, however, have related to the fact that we are a very small family, and the effort of preparing a holiday meal for only four people seemed unnecessarily stressful.  Less stress:  that was the selling feature, as I recall.  No-one commented on my gravy-making ability.

As a Christmas dinner dropout, I feel slightly guilty, but less so after reading today's Facts and Argument's essay in The Globe and Mail.   After 47 years of overseeing holiday meals, the author dreams of escape to the very Inn we have been frequenting. But it won't happen this year; she cancelled her reservations when her distraught family begged for another Christmas dinner at her place. (I'll post this item when it becomes available -- the online G&M must be taking a seasonal vacay),

And for us?  We'll be livin' the life-without-lumpy-gravy-and-left-overs tomorrow again. We are off to the Inn. And it will be lovely, and perfect for a retired couple and a grown daughter and her husband.  But this is not necessarily a permanent arrangement. I look forward to having everyone (plus grandchild!) together at home for occasional future Christmases.  (Honestly, in our family, nothing really says I Love You like lumpy gravy.)

Monday, 17 December 2012

#329: Rhea and Danny and Nancy and Bruce

I've been out west for a couple of weeks, so Bruce is glad to have me home again.  I know this for a fact, in spite of a conversation in which he noted (ruefully, it must be admitted) some of my recent housekeeping irregularities: 

He:  You know the salt and pepper never put them back on the shelf the same way. I always put the salt on the left.
Me (thinking):  Huh?

He:  And the free weights in the basket upstairs?   Now they are all mixed up.  I had them organized by size.
Me:  OK... that sort of makes sense...I guess

He:  You do weird things with the broom, too.  It has a beveled edge, but you put it in the closet backwards so that it falls out when the door is opened. 
Me:  The broom?  The BROOM? 

This whole conversation strikes me as hilarious, although I'm sure that my lack of consistency might actually drive some husbands nuts.  Bruce, bless him,  just finds my behaviour puzzling. But I have known forever that he has a greater need for order than I do, so I listened to his inventory and I nodded.  I should be more rational, but I'm making no promises.  Because I know that for a few weeks I'll behave as logically as I can, and then I'll revert to type: random, scattered, a bit messy.

I recalled a recent afternoon of shared yard work. Bruce and I had been raking leaves together and I could see that 46 years living with a Master Raker had not improved my technique a whole lot.  My side of the lawn was filled with many little leafy piles; Bruce's leaves were in nice straight rows.

The rows are Bruce's; the heaps are mine

As I surveyed the yard, I got to thinking about Rhea Perlman (64) and Danny Di Vito (69) who had separated that week after 40+ years together.  (I wish celebrities wouldn't do that.  It makes the rest of us old-marrieds nervous.)  And I wondered what could make them split after all that time?  They seem like such a nice, regular couple.  Were they just bored?  Was it a single, silly event (an affair?) or one of many petty annoyances (she never did learn to rake properly!)?   

Today I learned that Rhea and Danny are trying to "work things out".  This may be hard. It seems that the problem, Danny's dalliance with a starlet, is the latest of many not-so-petty annoyances.  He is apparently a serial flirt, and Rhea has had enough, and I don't blame her.  But old habits are hard to break, even when you love someone. So I wish them luck. It would be so much easier if Danny just had to remember to put the broom into the closet the right way around. That's what I intend to do.....for a little while, anyway.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

#328: Return Ticket

I had an "open" ticket to Saskatoon.  I might have stayed one week, I might have stayed four. Being retired, I was completely free set my own timetable.  I could leave for home when it felt right.  You usually don't get to do that when you are working.  Lucky me.

But, while I would happily hang out with Baby Erik indefintely, I really should let his new mum and dad get on with the task of caring for their dear wee boy.

So I'm homeward bound tomorrow on a flight that will have me back in Guelph at 1:00 a.m. although  my body will think it is just bedtime -- midnight, Saskatoon time.   I will think of two weary parents trying to coax one restless little nightowl to sleep.  Sssssssssssh.  Sssssssssssh.


I have had a lovely visit,  but I comfort myself with the knowledge that there will be many more. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

#327: S'no Fun

Lots of Shoveling
Somewhere dark and early in Saskatoon (via The Weather Network)
Last night when I talked to Bruce, he observed that my conversations are becoming predictable.  First I talk about the baby, and then I talk about the weather.  It has been like this for two weeks, and I am voluable on both topics.

But I just can't believe how cold it it feels!.  This afternoon, for example, it is -20 C (-4 F) but the windchill is -26 C (-14 F).  Saskatoon is, in fact, the second coldest city in Canada.  (Winnipeg is the winter winner.)

These frosty facts translate into a lot of necessary, adaptive behavours.  Let's face it:  Winter is work.

Do you want to drive somewhere?  If you park your car on the street, you will first have to clear it of snow, unplug it (cars left outdoors in winter are "plugged in" so the engine block is heated), and then warm it up for 10 minutes so that the interior is no longer freezing. If the plough has come by, add "digging out the car" to the list before you even hit the road.  Make that the icey road.  It is too cold here for road salt,  so "sand" must suffice-- pinkish potash tailings which seem minimally effective. Drivers quickly learn that they will be skidding into every intersection for the next five months.  That's right: winter sets up camp sometime in November, and doesn't move on until April.  The good folk of Saskatoon are in it for the long haul.

Driving or walking, at least everyone knows to "dress for the cold".  (You wouldn't want to be caught in your stalled vehicle without proper apparel!) So we all suit up with parkas, boots-that-mean-business, heavy mitts, and hats.  Hats are a must, and if you look dorky in a hat, too bad. At least you will have a lot of company.  Personally, my outdoor ensemble also requires passably heavy pants.    I cannot imagine wearing a skirt and tights in this weather, but I am sure it happens -- perhaps on younger women who seem a bit more impervious to the cold than I am.

And that starts me thinking:  why would retirees endure this punishing winter climate? Because surely very few older people are delighted at the prospect of girding themselves against Extreme Weather every time they leave the house. I am convinced that older residents must surely sell up and move to the Okanagan in droves. There must be fewer people over 65 living in Saskatoon than in a comparable city (Kitchener, for example) in southern Ontario.

But I am wrong.

In 2011, Stats Canada shows both cities at about 220, 000, and both have, proportionally, about the same number of residents aged 65 and above.   You can check this out for yourself: 2011 Canadian Census

I am beginning to feel very sorry for the snow - bound retirees of Saskatoon and mention this to some locals.  But they point out that older Saskatchewanians are typical Canadian snowbirds;  if they can afford it, they fly south in the winter and thaw out in California, Arizona, and Florida.  Some go to Mexico or Hawaii even if just for a couple of weeks.

But not everone needs to escape, apparently.  I was also told of a guy who retired to BC and then moved back to Saskatoon because he missed the winter sun--the sun that rose at 9:04 today, and went down at 4:54. 

I guess they just breed tougher retirees in Saskatchwan. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

#326: Look Younger!

Today's "Look Younger" tip is courtesy of the friendly Korean woman who works at The Rice Bowl, a restaurant near my daughter's house in Saskatoon.

I dropped in there today to get some bi bim bap to go, and as I went to a table and turned my back to gather up the take-out dinner, the waitress who spoke very little English, rushed over from where she had been sitting with a friend. The two women must have been discussing me, because the friend gave me a big grin as my waitress declared "You looking so younger!"  I obviously didn't get it so she made a swooping gesture that took in all of my rear view -- hat, parka, jeans, the works.  Now I understood.  "Well, that's because I wasn't turned around" I replied, pointing out that face on, I definitely look my age.  And the three of us--all older women--had a rueful laugh.

Hmmmm.  I suppose we do all have a younger side and that is a cheerful thought.  I just wish I could think of some practical application -- one that didn't involve walking backwards.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

#325: Life is Grand

So...what day is it?

I'm not really sure, but I think it is Saturday.  In the little house in Saskatoon where my sweet, new grandson lives with his new mum and dad, time is measured in successful feedings, wet diapers, and sleeps for both baby and parents.  (So far we are having a bit of trouble with the latter, but it is early days yet.  Right?)

Alas, sleep deprivation does not make novice parents feel any more competent, and even when a new mother is not recovering from a c-section, caring for a tiny infant can be an anxious time.  Never mind that the child is wonderful, amazing, adorable and all those other superlatives.

If only our darling boy would figure out that nighttime is naptime!

So I cheerlead, and say things like  "You are doing a great job!  It will be so much easier when he is a bit older".

What I do not say is "Cherish this precious time."  As far as I am concerned, parenting a newborn is only precious in retrospect.  (Besides, I know that my sleep-walking daughter does not cherish the memory of yesterday's bare-and-naked Poo and PeeFest.)

Since I have very little practical advice to impart, I have tried to make myself useful in other ways. I do a bit of cooking, cleaning, and a whole lot of cuddling.

I wonder if I enjoyed rocking my own firstborn this much?  I don't think so. Like every other new parent, I knew that it was Amatuer Hour in the Nursery.  I hadn't a clue.  I was terrified that we wouldn't get it right.  But, somehow, we did.  Our girls are just fine thank you, and this little guy will grow up to be amazing, too.  Perhaps this is what other grandparents mean when they say "It is different with your grandchildren."   Grandparents can see the big picture and they know it will all work out.

My cuddles now are without concern; they are confident and full of hope for this dear, wee soul.  Finally I can really cherish this precious time.

All will be well.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

#324: Someone New

My retirement is about to change up.  Become quite grand, in fact.

Tomorrow I am off to Saskatoon to meet Jenny and Patrick's baby, our 4-day old grandson Erik Bruce Gibson.

I can hardly wait!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

#323: "Stuff" Happens.

Confession time:  my basement is still waiting for its moment in the sunlight of my retirement.

Over a year ago I promised that it would get my immediate attention but, alas, the goods and chattels that reside there (aka "stuff") remain untouched.  (I suppose that is not quite true.  I have moved a few things around while rummaging for Christmas decorations or luggage, and I have even managed to offload a few items on one of my kids.  But, somehow, magically, my below-stairs-storage seems to hold a collective mass that remains constant.)  Then, there is above-stairs.  That is full of "stuff" too.

And I am not alone.

This is such a familiar state for most retirees, that I should not have been surprised to have my ladies' walking group toss around this problem for over an hour while we had a post-hike cuppa at Shirley's house.  I blame it on the tea.  As we sat in her comfortable living room partaking of her hospitality, someone admired the chinaware and soon every woman had an observation about the contents of Shirley's china cabinet --- and their own.  This pleasant but trivial topic hummed along until someone confessed to owning three complete sets of dishes, and someone else added "Me too.  I wonder what I'll eventually do with them? I know the kids aren't interested."

The room fell silent as we all did a mental inventory of our houses and apartments, all filled with things our children will have no use for.   But there was no enthusiasm for downsizing, de-cluttering, or pruning.  Whatever we called it, we agreed that getting rid of  "stuff" was hard, though not impossible -- if only we could rouse ourselves to the required decision-making.

The practical women in the group knew what to do (even if they hadn't yet done it themselves).  If you don't love something, pitch it.  Toss. Sell. Recycle. Re-gift. Donate.  

But none of us were half so sure about items of real and/or sentimental value.  Our stash of stuff, in this case, had nothing to do with procrastination, bad housekeeping, or borderline hoarding.  These were the possessions that contributed to our identities as sports-women, scholars, artists, friends, employees, mothers, daughters, or wives.  Carole looked so stricken at the prospect of parting with her 42 year old wedding dress that professional help was suggested.   Perhaps an organizer-- part therapist, part efficiency expert -- could talk her through the grieving process, make a photograph of the beloved object, and then post it on eBay.

But some things, we just knew, were beyond the power of a down-sizing consultant, and were destined to wind up in the will.  "This is family history!" exclaimed Sylvia.  "Do our children really not want our heirlooms?  Tough!"  We all recalled relatives who had identified and labelled various bits and pieces for specific recipients.  (I still own a gilded candy dish that came to me from Bruce's grandmother 50 years ago.   Note to daughters:  Before you throw it out,  check the bottom.)

Theorizing that providing the provenance would make a bit of old junk seem more appealing,  I suggested a card attached to each family treasure explaining its significance. (Librarians love to catalogue.)  How about:  Cloak brush. Beauly,  Scotland, Circa 1773. Note: Rodent damage to wooden handle and bristles.

Anne thought this might be worth trying, but she envisioned another note, one she intends to pin to the red satin dressing gown that belonged to her mother.  It will read: I loved this robe and I just couldn't throw it out.  But it is yours now, so do whatever you want.  I'll never know.  XXOO, Mom 

We all smiled. Now there was a suggestion we could use.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

#322: Dear, Dear

Oh, dear.  The only good thing to be said for my behaviour today is that I spoke my mind.

As I was shopping, an unctuous young bookstore sales girl came up to me and asked "Are you finished with the computer, Dear?"

I bristled.   

My husband is allowed to call me Dear.  My 93-year-old friend Kathleen is allowed to call me Dear. Anyone from Newfoundland is allowed to call me Dear. (It somehow doesn't sound so demeaning when said with an accent.)  But otherwise just call me Ma'am or nothing at all.

And that is pretty much what I told the astonished sales associate.

I don't think she really understood what I meant and she probably thinks I am nuts. Perhaps I am.

But I hope she goes home tonight and complains to her grandmother that some mad old bird snapped at her when she was only trying to be nice.  Perhaps she will get some advice about dealing with older customers.  As in:  "You are not a Newfoundlander, Dear. Just smile next time. It's safer and more respectful." 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

#321: Never Say Never: Another Fifty Shades' Footnote

A few months ago, I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades' Fuss ) and declared that I wouldn't be choosing it for any of my retirement home readers, in spite of the fact that it is available in Large Print, unless someone requested it.

Sure enough, today when I dropped in to see what my clients would like, someone did.

"My daughter says that I should read this", said "Hetty" taking out the bit of paper on which she had written the title.  "Have you heard of this book?" 

I hooted with delight, but I should not have been surprised.  "Hetty" is my 84 year old Hunger Games enthusiast.   I assured her that I knew the book and asked if she was prepared for a lot of adult content. She coyly replied,  "Of course! I am an adult."

I've just checked the library catalogue.  There is a large print copy on the Bookmobile that I can pick up for her tomorrow. 

I can hardly wait to hear what she thinks of it.

And I wonder if she knows about the forthcoming movie... 

Monday, 12 November 2012

#320: Dressing Down

Throughout October, I was an "emergency librarian" at a few locations where employees were raising money for The United Way by "dressing down".  In other words, they paid $5.00 a day for a label that proclaimed I'm dressed like this for the United Way, and (hooray!) wore jeans to work.

I remember those days.  The occasional opportunity to break with convention in a very formal work environment and dress casually, was cherished.  Along with my buttoned-up colleagues I was beyond happy to ditch business attire in favour of a weekend look.

But not any more. Now that every day is a dress-down day, I look forward to dressing -up.  An afternoon on the job? Oh good.  I will need to look smart and well-put together.  Where's that pretty jacket, the one that looks best with a skirt?  

I would even pay the $5.00 and accessorize with a sticky fund-raising label: I'm dressed like this for the United Way! 

Friday, 9 November 2012

#319: Emergency!!

I intended to be back to the blog earlier this week, but I lost most of last Monday.  I spent the better part of that day in the ER (or at "Emerg", as we say in Canada) with my husband.

Here is the story:
At 7:30, as I was waking up, Bruce stood by the bed fully clothed and announced, "I don't feel very well. My arm hurts, my back hurts and my chest is sore.  I might be having a heart attack."

That got my attention.

By 8:00 we were at the hospital, and by 8:30 he was on a bed in one of those little ER cubicles, hooked up to various machines. As I perched on the one chair behind the green curtain with him, it occurred to me that I did not have to phone anyone to explain my absence.  I could be where I needed to be.  Missing Monday morning Qi gong was not a big deal.

Through the morning and part of the afternoon, Bruce had blood tests, an x-ray, an ECG and a stress test. He seemed to be permanently attached to a blood pressure cuff.  Finally, at 3:30 they sent him home, suggesting that he eventually see a cardiologist, although as far as the Emerg doc and hospital specialist were concerned the pain was very likely due to an episode of gastric reflux (which Bruce later attributed to the broccoli that I had inflicted on him the previous evening.)

He will see a cardiologist, just to make sure, but we are not too concerned.

And in the meantime,  I am able to pass along advice to others who may have the misfortune to spend a day hanging out in their local hospital Emergency Department.

1.  Go early.  There was only one other person there when we arrived.  By noon the place was packed.  (And don't forget your Health Card*.)

2.  Unless the patient is in dire shape, use the car and don't call for paramedics.  You will arrive sooner.  (This advice came from a doctor friend several years ago.)

3.  You will be in Emerg longer, much longer, than you imagine.  If you have time (and don't feel as anxious as I did) grab coffee/ breakfast/reading material/ you gallop out the door.  At the Guelph General Hospital, there is nothing to read in the back blocks at Emerg, and it is a major trek to find the public cafeteria.  Don't count on anyone offering food to the patient.  Bruce's neighbours got hospital meals, but he made do with a Tim Horton's muffin.

4.  Suck it up and park in the expensive parking lot when you first arrive.  That short term spot on the street is short term.  Your visit to the hospital is not.  Bring money. $8:00 buys a whole day of parking in the GGH hospital lot, and that is what we eventually required.

5. When you are tucked behind the green curtain, remember that it is just a piece of cloth. Your voices will be be heard by all your hidden cubicle-mates who will hang your every word because they are also bored,  tired of waiting, and have nothing to read.  Too bad no-one gave this advice to our noisy next-door neighbours who shared details about smoking, drinking and rehab while chewing out staff and one another. Of course, we both found this intensely interesting.

*Health care is free in Canada.  Hospital parking and snacks are not.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

#318: The Retirees' Report

On our recent road trip, Bruce and I stayed primarily with friends and family, and in doing so, we managed to connect with 16 of our favourite people, folks we have known for a very long time. We didn't stay with all of them, but we we did visit with every one, and caught up on one another's lives. As a newish retiree, I was very keen to see how they were all managing to be happy and fulfilled while dealing with the challenges of aging.

But first, here is some background on this relatively homogeneous group:

Who they are:
Our 16 friends/family are all well educated, 70-ish, and a mix of couples and singles equally divided between men and women.  This is a reasonably healthy bunch, too.  There were a couple of major complaints and the expected minor ones (knees and hips topped this list) but by and large, there was no whining.  So far, the afflicted have adapted well.  Can't kneel in the dirt to plant the garden?  Raised beds are the answer. 

Where they live:
Only one person has downsized dramatically:  Alexis, retired and single, wanted a smaller space temporarily, but now she thinks it makes permanent sense.

Bruce's cousin Jim and his wife have moved, though their new residence in an "adult lifestyle" community is probably the same size as our detached house.   Their attached bungalow is a good choice, however, because it allows them lock-up-and-go flexibility when they set off on another travel adventure.

BTW, no-one had pulled up stakes and moved to a new "retirement town".  (Around here, moving away is not uncommon and usually begins with the following declaration:  "Guelph is getting so big that we are moving to Wiarton/Fergus/Bracebridge....."  This makes no sense to me.  Especially because the speakers invariably keep their Guelph physician, dentist, hairdresser and lawyer.) 

And here is where it gets interesting-- how they spend their time:
Once we got How are you? and How are the kids? out of the way, we moved on to What are you up to? 

We discovered that none of our friends and family is whiling away every afternoon in front of the TV.  Better yet, men as well as women are equally busy with yoga, tai chi, reading, volunteering, knitting, playing and writing music, flower arranging, scrapbooking, watercolour painting, language learning....... their activities are as diverse as they are.

There are very likely 7 volunteers in this group, 6 hobbyists, and about 12 are really committed to some sort of fitness. (Numbers are approximate.  We were just chatting.  I didn't have my clipboard.) Three people are continuing to work several hours a week!   And if there was a house, a garden, a pool, a pet -- I knew how these people spent their time.  Throw in illness, a few grandchildren and an aged parent (amazing genes in these families!), and that is a very full life.  Hobbies, lunches with friends or cultural outings are squeezed in if possible.  But regardless of what else was going on, everyone was able to travel.  We were delighted to discover that every one of our friends made at least one trip last year.  Not everyone went to Burma like Dale and Elizabeth who have a son living there, but they had all been tripping.  The top destination?  Ottawa, to visit friends and family.

Conclusions about a balanced retirement?
As a retiree who has trouble achieving the right busyness balance, I was interested to hear what other people had to say about the amount they do, and how they might change it.  What feels right, it would appear, is a mix of useful, satisfying, stimulating, and social pursuits.  Elizabeth (Seattle), who has a large house, a garden, 2 nearby grand kids and an elderly mother, feels a bit over-committed.  As a painter, she sighs over a half finished canvas down in her studio.  She'd like to do yoga more often, but what can she give up?   John (Edmonton). with a house, a garden and a dog, recognizes that he needs at least one more outlet, and has plans to do some volunteering this fall.  Sandra (Dauphin) teaches music but she is a big-time reader, helps with her grand kids, and goes to yoga.  She just knows that one more commitment would be waaay one-too-many.

I heard this story often enough to wonder about an unwritten retirees' "rule of 4".  That is, most of this youngish, relatively healthy and motivated group, regardless of what they do specifically, have the energy at this time of life for about 4 different commitments.  For example: House + trip + volunteering + grand parenting = A Full Plate.  The combination is different with every person, but on average (give or take health problems)  4 seems to be the optimum total.  Italian lessons + volunteering + elderly mother + dog = Enough Already.  The same for trip + trip+ trip+ trip.

What I learned:
The lesson for new retirees?  Start slow.  Do not commit to every darn thing that comes your way. If you are already busy with the usual house and garden responsibilities, you may not have as much discretionary time as you think.  Be warned: if you take on too much,  you will not have much fun.  You will be stressed and anxious and you will wonder why the basement is still as messy as ever.   

The lesson for me?  More Arithmetic practice is indicted. Nancy knows how to count, and she is very proficient at addition!   But she needs to work on subtraction. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

#317: Back to the Blog

You know how when you go on a trip to "get away from it all", it is all still waiting for you when you get back?

Still...... the advantage of taking a break is that one can tackle assorted tasks with renewed energy.  At least that is the theory.  Retirees, in particular, have no excuse.  That is what I am telling myself.

And in addition, I have a bunch of travel pictures and observations to deal with.  So for the next week or so, I'm going to tackle the road-trip blog.   Before they are crowded out by my other commitments, I want to capture those memories of a really wonderful journey.  See you at Reluctant Retiree on the Road....

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!

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 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 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.