Sunday, 22 December 2013

#364: Christmas Stress

Two days to go, and Christmas is in hand.   I am not freaking out. The tree is up, most of the presents have been wrapped, and I know what we are eating on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.  I have even managed to contract out a lot of the cooking to my clever son-in-law. 

I won’t say that the run-up to Christmas 2013 has been completely without stress, but the anxiety has certainly been manageable.  Perhaps my standards are slipping as I age.  Perhaps I simply have more time in retirement for Christmas prep.  Whatever it is, I like it.  I like it so much that I even envision a future, as I move into my 70's, in which the weight of Christmas responsibility is light as an angel's wing.  A true Christmas miracle. 

Then again...

As I entertained this sanguine fantasy, I made pre-Christmas visits to my female readers at the retirement home where I am volunteer librarian/book fairy.  That is when I realized that I would never, ever get off the Christmas treadmill.

For the last couple of weeks the ladies have asked me the same question:  Are you all ready for Christmas?  And I have assured them that I still had lots to do, but that I would be ready or at least done by December 25.  They nodded with understanding. They knew all about Christmas pressure.  So many cards to write!  (This was no fantasy – I could see addressed envelopes waiting to be mailed.)  I also admitted that the sweater I was making for my grandson was still unfinished.  Just one more sleeve to knit!  “Oh", sympathized Ethel, “I know.  I still have to knit the neck on my son’s pullover and I don’t think I have enough wool.  Don't bring me books until the New Year. I won't have much time to read!  ”

To Irene, I sheepishly confessed that at 69, I still “do” stockings for my daughters and their partners.  “Yes”, she agreed, ”and it gets harder to find nice little stocking presents when you can’t get out much.”  90-year old Irene, it seems, is still filling a stocking from Santa for her daughter Marilyn. (I've met this Marilyn and she is easily my age.  We've even discussed the challenges of retirement.) 

I guess it would be weird if I went out this January and bought 20 years' worth of stocking stuffers for 4 people and then squirreled the treats and trinkets away.  What do you think?  Totally weird?

Or completely brilliant!

Because now that I know my future, I am sorely tempted.

Friday, 22 November 2013

#363: Anniversaries: The Bitter and the Sweet

November 22.

Now there is a date to conjure with, especially for those of us who vividly recall the events of 50 years ago.

Such was power of the Kennedy mystique, that even out on the Canadian prairies we were shocked to learn of the news from Dallas.  It was a 9/11 moment for my generation. (And for the record, I was having lunch in a U of A classroom with my friend Alexis Dryburgh when another student burst through the door shouting “Kennedy’s been shot!"  It is a testimony to the significance of the pronouncement that I do not remember what I was wearing.)

But, powerful as this memory is, I would not likely have commented on the 50-year anniversary except that falls on a much happier occasion: my grandson Erik’s birthday.  Our busy little boy is one year old today.

We won’t be there to celebrate, nor do I think his parents are planning a birthday extravaganza.  The little guy had his big moment a few days ago when he and a group of year-old friends participated in an over-the-top shared 1st birthday experience—a cake smash. 

I had no idea what this entailed, but it is apparently the coming thing for 1st birthdays.  The ingredients are simple: one or more babies clad for cake combat (diapers and not much else) and an iced cake (nothing too special because this cake is destined for a bad end).  The instructions are equally basic: put the babies on the floor with the cake and let the smashing to begin. 

That is the way a cake smash is supposed to unfold.  But there is no accounting for baby behaviour; at Erik’s event most of the birthday celebrants were not terribly interested in the cake, and the mothers, chagrined at this turn of events, had to demonstrate technique.

Curious Erik, however, apparently needed no such urging.  He was covered in cake in short order, to my daughter’s dismay. (Jenny says she felt somewhat embarrassed by his enthusiasm.  She had been a bit iffy about the cake smash from the get-go.  She didn’t even take photos.)

I thought about this shared birthday party on Wednesday when I went out with my ladies’ hiking group.  One of the members had very much enjoyed a 75th birthday planned by her grandchildren.  “There were kid games and kid food!  It was a hoot”, she enthused.

I was 19 when Kennedy died so I have a significant birthday this coming January, and I can’t help but think Erik should be the party planner.  We would have a cake smash of course!  I can imagine the scene: Nancy and her age mates (I could invite my entire book group) attacking a supermarket sheet cake emblazoned with an appropriate message: 70 SUCKS!

Take that, symbolic representation of my aging mind and body!  SMASH! SMASH! SMASH!    

Aaaah, but could we do it?  Could we wantonly waste food and create a sticky mess that someone would have to clean up?  I don’t think so.  We are, after all, children of the 60’s.  We still hold on to Kennedy values.

What would Jackie do?

I rest my case.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

#362: Adios Espana


We are now home and up to our armpits in laundry, but I'm posting a few pictures and observations about our trip on my travel blog, The Reluctant Retiree Abroad. Here is the first entry.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

#361: Travel Time

Being retired has nothing to do with feeling ready for a trip. It just means that you have more time to worry about what you are forgetting.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

#360: Training for Spain

Being retired and all, I supposedly have a ton of time to prepare for our upcoming trip.  And I have been doing a bit, both mentally and physically.  I want to know something about our destination and I would like to have a few basic Spanish phrases at the ready.   I also need to be fit enough for the hiking part of the holiday -- 12 days and 90+ kilometres in the Picos de Europa. It would be so embarrassing to be carried off the trail on a stretcher.

Reading about must-see Madrid, Bilbao and Granada is easy enough, but language acquisition at my age is a hard slog. When faced with a list of Rick Steeve's essential Spanish phrases, it is all too easy to plead neuron overload.  Desperate for a break, I heed the siren call of clean towels heaped on our bed.  Fold me, fold me, fold me they plead, and suddenly that seems like an excellent idea.

But hiking -- that is a different sort of training altogether.  Hiking is a no-excuses activity.

Ten kilometres into today's walk on the Bruce Trail (the closest thing we have to picos in southern Ontario) we discovered that we had miscalculated the distance.  Oops. We still had 5 more kilometres to go, 5 more kilometres of rocky trail, heat and mosquitoes.  But stopping was not an option.  We could either spend the night under a tree or trudge on.  Because the only way to finish a hike is to just finish.  It is that simple. Today's hiking-inspired life lesson: if you want to reach your destination, you need to keep going. And that is what we did.

Now if only I could apply that philosophy to every aspect of my training for Spain.....

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

#359: ¿Habla Usted Espagnol?

So here I am with a hundred things to do before we leave for Spain. Make that ciento.  Where shall I begin?  Oh. I'll think I'll clean the bathroom. And the bedroom.  I can't stand a messy bedroom.

I feel like my 19-year-old self during exam week. Must clean my room. I simply can't study in an untidy space!

It appears that 50 years of growing-up haven't made a dent. Now I have all the time in the world but I still have a talent for procrastination.

At this rate I had better concentrate on one useful phrase: yo non hablo Espagnol.  I think I am going to need it.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

#358: Jubilation

In preparation for our upcoming trip, I have learned a new word in Spanish, and it is one I will not likely forget:  jubilado. 

I love it. It means retiree.  

In Spain, superannuates must have way more fun than ho-hum Canadiense pensioners.

We'll see.  I intend to enjoy testing this theory!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

#357: Mid-Summer Matters

In Canada the first Monday in August is a holiday, a day off with no other purpose than to provide the citizenry with a well-timed long weekend.  (It has different names in different cities and provinces. This year, I even heard it referred to as Holiday X, which seems entirely appropriate considering its pragmatic origins.)

Whatever we call it,  the August Long Weekend is summer's midpoint, the day on which we look wistfully back at summer gone, and hopefully forward to more simple summer pleasures which, in my case, include more outdoor rambles, more al fresco meals overlooking our back yard, and more ice cream consumed at the Boathouse by the lazy, ironically named Speed River.

I also need to spend August honouring the promise made in my last travel blog post: to do some real preparation for our September trip to Spain.  Learn a bit of Spanish, read about Bilbao, Madrid and Granada, and some do training hikes in readiness for village to village walking in the Picos de Europa.

But regardless of  how I spend the rest of the summer, it will be hard to top the pleasures of July when we had a wonderful visit with our Canadian family. My Toronto daughter Keri and her husband Ben frequently joined up with the folks from Saskatoon (Jenny, Patrick, 8 month old Erik, and Patrick's niece Lennea) who were with us for two sunny, fun-filled weeks.

Don't get me wrong -- it was fantastic to have the whole gang together.  My adult children and their partners are fabulous company; 17-year old Lennea is a delight.  They are all welcome to return at any time, and they don't even need to bring the baby.  Honest.

But I would be lying if I didn't confess that during this recent visit, it was Erik who was the star of the show.  At the risk of sounding like a gushing grandma, it really was enormous fun getting to know this little person. We were captivated by his repertoire of baby-behaviours.  

Besides, he is completely, adorably cute.  

Not for the first time, it occurred to me that all that cuteness is an evolutionary strategy designed to ensure that babies survive infancy.  When they protest at bath time with howls and tears that can only mean YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER YOU ARE DOING THIS ALL WRONG I'LL NEVER FORGET THIS TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE EVEN WHEN I AM AN OLD MAN we think twice about throwing them out the bathroom window. They are so very sweet.

Erik's adorableness also saved him from falling down the stairs, getting stuck under a chair, and scalding his little hands with a cup of hot coffee.  He is so delightful that we just couldn't tear our eyes away. Look at him!  What will he do next?  Will he head for the little brown teddy (a "heritage" toy unearthed from the basement), or crawl over to Keri's handbag with all its zippers and clasps. (No contest.  Erik loves anything with moving parts.)  Bruce and I experienced one AAAAAAW moment after another as we played with him, feasting on his adorableness all the while directing his attention away from interesting wires, knobs and pointy corners.

Now it August, and they have all gone home. It grieved me to put away the brown teddy and other toys, and to return the borrowed high chair.  Teaching myself Spanish for Travellers will not be nearly as much fun as showing Erik how to place the coloured rings on a Rock-a-Stack.

It's OK.  I will enjoy the last of the summer.  But I need a new knitting project, another Erik-sized garment that I can work on while committing useful Spanish to memory.  Gotta keep that baby-buzz going.          

Sunday, 14 July 2013

#356: Proof

It's done! Ready to wear!

.  Now all we need is the baby.

We won't have long to wait either.  Erik and parents arrive this week from Saskatoon.  But it is hot and humid in Ontario right now, so I 'll let him save the sweater and pants (an end of season bargain) for fall.
When I've not been piecing the pullover together, and baby-proofing the house, I've been slowly working on the visit-to-London travel blog.  This is the latest addition: London: Must-See Museums (and Galleries).

Friday, 5 July 2013

#355: Retirees at Play

Aaaaagh!  For all the world knows, I am permanently stranded in a stairwell in London because it has taken so long to complete my account of our UK trip!  And it is not as if I am trying to compose a travelogue or download a million pictures.  

It is just that things get in the way.  Volunteering makes demands.  The garden wants attention.   And we occasionally give in to a spontaneous impulse and attend a play in Stratford. 

We were not alone either.  On Wednesday when Bruce and I took in a wonderful matinee performance of Fiddler on the Roof, we had plenty of retired company.  It was a full house with an all-ages audience, but there were loads of grey-haired attendees.  (I concluded that some of these older and younger folks were together: grandma and gramps giving the kids and grandkids a cultural outing.  Perhaps I suspect this because it is what I can imagine us doing in a few years.)     

The seniors-love-Stratford thing was also evident when we had dinner afterwards at a favourite restaurant, The Parlour.  Carpeted floors, comfortable seating, and wasn't that Faure's Pavane tinkling in the background?  How very grown -up! And how appealing to the older folk we noted among our fellow diners.  We were really at The Parlour for their pavlova, but it was still a relief that there was no assertive hip vibe (the attitude, not the body-part) to remind us of our essential un-hipness. 

Yup.  Stratford knows its audience.  Even as we drove into town we had been greeted by an age-- appropriate message on one of those "thought for the day" displays outside a local Inn:
  Time is a great healer but a lousy beautician.  

I am capable of more than one act of summer spontaneity. I should take another look at that Stratford playbill....

Thursday, 13 June 2013

#354: Back to the Blog (and into the Fog)

Hmmm.  What do we have here?
Possibly the best thing about retirement is the freedom to travel, and that is what we were doing the last two weeks in May. 

Can you tell where we went?

I'll post a few more pictures and a bit of commentary into my travel blog, The Reluctant Retiree Abroad.  Off to London...

Friday, 10 May 2013

#353: Live Longer: Volunteer

In Canada, National Volunteer Month is observed in April, but this year instead of planning a bang-up appreciation party for volunteers, I got to attend one. 

In truth, I could have gone to three events at the retirement home where I am the "visiting librarian" because volunteer coordinator Kim had planned a week's worth of activities: a Saturday morning breakfast, a Thursday games night, and a garden tea on Tuesday, the day I am always on the job.  That clinched it --teatime would be my time.

Volunteers of all ages help out at the home so it made sense to me that working folk might choose the weekend breakfast, and younger volunteers would turn up in the evening to play A Minute to Win It.  But on a weekday afternoon?  I should not have been surprised to find that a heap of other retirees were there to have a drink, eat cookies, and plant a red maple (because "volunteers grow community".)

What I didn't expect were volunteer guests who were, in fact, residents of the retirement home.  I sat with Gladys who runs the canteen every Tuesday afternoon, and Evelyn whom I last saw arranging numerous table decorations for Easter dinner.  Mary and Joy were there, too.  I first met them while they were serving eggnog and gingerbread in the foyer at Christmas time.  Having seen the promotional posters for this seasonal gathering,  I was sure that the staff had specifically enlisted these hosts just for the fun of proclaiming Celebrate Christmas with Mary and Joy!  But on Valentine's Day, the two ladies were back with lemonade and sugar cookies, and I figured it out:  Mary and Joy had a regular volunteer commitment just like I did.  And who's to say you can't have a little Valentine's merriment (and joy)?

The thing is, the average age of the "garden party" guests was well over 85. So perhaps there is some truth to the news items I kept seeing all April: Volunteering Promotes Longevity.   Researchers have noted that those who volunteer outlive those who don't, providing that the volunteer activity is genuinely satisfying and enjoyable.  Jumping onto the Meals on Wheels bandwagon just to experience the promised "volunteer high" would not be the best choice, for example, if one gags at the prospect of driving through traffic with a back seat full of insul-packed dinners. (All the fun of pizza delivery, as far as I am concerned, but without the tips.)  I recently extricated myself from a volunteer activity that was entirely conducted by email.  The social rewards of volunteering are important to me, and I already have a close personal relationship with my computer.  I did not need to enhance it.

I'd like to believe this longevity research, especially since I do find my visiting library volunteering socially and intellectually satisfying.  But I would be interested to know how a commitment to volunteering compares to a commitment to work, or to friends and family.  I am willing to bet that older non-volunteers who are still employed, or helping with grandkids or aged relatives, also experience feelings of happiness and fulfillment because they know that what they are doing is important, enjoyable, and appreciated.  Perhaps the real secret to longevity is to feel useful, whether choosing audio-books for a woman recovering from surgery or looking after the grand children every Wednesday.

On my library rounds that week I broached this topic with "Libby", a library client who uses a walker and receives extended (nursing) care.  "I still volunteer", she tells me.  "I take the lady across the hall downstairs to Hymn Sing every Sunday.  Otherwise she forgets to go"  Libby pauses and then adds, "The hymns are terrible, just terrible-- so childish!  But my neighbour loves to attend, and taking her down there doesn't do me any harm."

Libby is 94.  She is optimistic, bright, a prodigious letter writer and a voracious reader.  She particularly enjoys Anne Perry mysteries but keeps her reading in check with a timer which she usually sets for one hour.  "Otherwise, she explains, "I would never get anything else done!"

She also recently passed a "fitness assessment" with flying colours.  When I ask what was required, she explains and demonstrates:  walking, getting out of a chair, picking something off the floor, putting on socks, and raising her arms over her head.  (I can't help it.  I test myself on these tasks in the stairwell as I leave Assisted Care.)

So there we have it: living proof.  Volunteer.  It can't do us any harm.      


Saturday, 27 April 2013

#352: The Last Giraffe: a Knitted Tale/Tail

The horrible truth about intarsia knitting was revealed when Bruce and I went on our cross-country, friends-and-family road trip last summer. I had packed wool in four colours, needles, and the giraffe pullover pattern.  A pumped-up, grandma-in-waiting, I was pretty sure that if I knitted in the evenings (in motels) and in the car (as a passenger) during the daytime, I would be returning to Guelph after five weeks with an adorable finished garment, all ready for the new baby.

Or perhaps not.

Dorothy, my mother-in-law (and Goddess of Intarsia), must have been appalled as she looked down from her heavenly rocking chair at Nancy the naive knitter.  She would have recognized that I was lacking in so many skills that would have made pattern-knitting easier. I was unable to finesse the many strands of wool necessary to create the pattern.  I got lost trying to follow the instructions.  I couldn't count the stitches accurately. And I was far too distractable.  Did I really think I could simultaneously count Nevada roadside prisons and the correct number of stitches for a good-looking little yellow tail?

In fact, I briefly toyed with the idea of re-defining "correct".  Bruce, who watched me knit and rip and curse, and re-knit legs and spots and tail from Canada to California and back, actually encouraged me to fudge a little.   "What is the correct appearance for a tail?"  he argued.  "Why can't a spot be fatter or thinner?"  And I did briefly try to incorporate my mistakes into the body of the giraffe.  But it didn't look right.  And it didn't feel right either. I didn't want to pretend that my errors were deliberate. And I knew it wouldn't work, anyway: I would know. I recalled that my mother (a knitting dabbler, unlike Dorothy) once attempted one of those intarsia-knitted cutsie-sweaters for me.  The pattern showed two large, white geese on a navy background.  When she had completed the sweater, she passed it to me, looked at it, and then took it back.  "I can't give this to you", she said.  "I've forgotten a goose."

I returned from our trip last September with a completed sweater-back, the first few rows of the front, and many, many ragged little skeins of wool that had been knitted, torn out, and re-knitted in my 20-or-so attempts at the giraffe.  I needed a break, and the giraffe must have been exhausted too;  I put us both out of our misery and stuffed my unsuccessful effort into my workbasket.  I knitted a tiny, pattern-free sweater for my grandchild-to-be.  I forgot about the impossible pullover.

Gaaaagh.  The back side of a patterned sweater is scary.

Then, months later, I got an email from my friend Sandra.  There she was, gamely knitting an entire patterned baby blanket (and fixing her mistakes) with her arthritic fingers wrapped in paper tape.  Her grandson was yet unborn, but she already loved him that much.  

I thought of Baby Erik.  At five months he is so sweet, and he would look adorable wearing the giraffe sweater. So I got it out for the 21st time, and I resolved to pay attention and knit like Dorothy. I obsessively counted rows and recorded them.  I turned off the TV when I was knitting the tricky tail. Soon I had a giraffe-shape that looked passably like the pattern, and even though the sweater front is not quite complete, I am confidently near the finish line.  I am quite certain that this really is the last giraffe.
I can see it! A giraffe!

And on my way to rudimentary intarsia competence, I have learned a thing or two:  knitting is not just about technique.  It is, like so many things, about learning, and re-doing, going back, and trying to get it right eventually.  It is about doing your best, even if you fall short.

And when a grandmother knits, it is certainly about love.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

#351: Grandmothers Knit

Thanks to!
While I disagree with many of the "granny" stereotypes, the one about knitting holds true.  A lot of retired women knit.  Some have been knitters their entire lives, others take up knitting as a late-life hobby and some (like me) rediscover this relaxing, creative activity after a long non-knitting hiatus.   

OK.  I made up the "relaxing, creative" part.

When I knit I am somewhat creative, but never relaxed, because something always goes wrong.  I am forever fixing mistakes, and I am not the only one.  My friend Sandra recently admitted that she was not very far along with the baby blanket intended for her new grandchild, when a major pattern error was detected. It took her three hours to work back to the offending row and re-knit it.  She had to un-knit (reverse) over 800 complicated stitches, one by one by one by one by get the idea.

But if knitting is so much work, why do older women do it?   They knit for people they love, of course, but it is clear to me that they also knit because they have the time. They have the time to un-knit, unravel, and start all over again. They have the time to learn,   And this is especially true for older, novice knitters,  We know that knitting even a simple washcloth or a scarf presents wooly challenges with every stitch.  The struggle to "get it right" is nothing if not time-consuming.

So last summer, when I went shopping at All Strung Out, why did I think I could quickly whip up a pullover sweater for my first grandchild, expected in November?  A patterned pullover, no less.  A giraffe pattern. I must have been pumped up by grandmotherly endorphins, the same rush of affection that no doubt prompted Sandra to say yes to that baby blanket in spite of her severely arthritic fingers. We both must have been thrilled at the prospect of the new babies. That is the only way I can explain my confidence.  "Of course I can knit a patterned sweater with four little legs, a tail, spots and ears.  No problem!"  I told myself as I chose cheerful giraffe colours. That I had no experience knitting even the simplest picture-pattern did not feature in my decision at all.   

Soon I was watching YouTube as a skilled knitter demonstrated how to knit a red heart into the middle of white square.  I learned the word "intarsia".  And I began to suspect that my giraffe project would be the knitting equivalent of hiking up Kilimanjaro.  

When considered the possible difficulties, I began asking my knitting friends about this technique of creating an inlaid pattern in woolDo this: ask the knitters you know.  They will be impressed by your vocabulary, and you will discover, as I did, that workbaskets the world over hold unfinished intarsia projects.  Ducks.  Boats.  A Merry Go Round! (Now there was a confident knitter.  She told me that the pattern drove her crazy. She ripped it out twice, gave up, and made a striped sweater instead.)

But how hard could it be?  Really?  Once upon a time, patterned sweaters were all the rage, and plenty of them were hand-knitted.  Remember Bill Cosby and his TV wardrobe of colourful sweaters created by New Zealanders?  Or Mary Maxim sweaters, with their iconic masculine designs?  County-cute sweaters featuring apple trees, barns and farm animals?  If we were lucky, a grandmother knit up one of these beauties for us or our children.  Back in 1988, it never crossed my mind that my mother-in-law Dorothy might have found it difficult to knit a "country house" sweater for me, or a "frolicking sheep" sweater for one of my daughters.  Oh, Dorothy, please forgive me.  I had no idea. 

My struggle to learn intarsia has, indeed, been so monumental that I missed the November deadline and finally put the giraffe out to pasture.  Just for a bit. The sweater is for a year-old baby, after all, so in theory I still have time to finish it.  If I choose to accept the challenge once more, I will have 7 months to figure it out, pattern and all.

Sigh. Let the knitting begin. Again.

Now that I am committed once more to the patterned pullover, I am filled with admiration for my mother-in-law and the sheep sweater.  I recently examined it, and marveled at its complicated design.  It is a beautiful sweater with an intricate, bobbled, sheep-surface.  That pattern could have come with a warning: Experienced Knitters Only.  But the sweater is not perfect.  When I look at the sleeves, I can see that they are not identical: there is a missing row of decorative triangles. *Gasp*  Did Dorothy know? I don't think so. Had she noticed that little mistake, she would have felt compelled to rip out the entire arm and begin again--a knitter's nightmare.
Dorothy's beautiful, imperfect sweater

As I prepare to wrestle with my giraffe, I am glad to consider Dorothy's sleeve.  It is a reminder of how much time, and work and love is expended on a small thing like a child's sweater.  It makes me feel connected to her, and a whole host of optimistic, knitting grandmothers. 

I picture my sweet grand baby.  I mentally dress him in the cosy green, yellow and brown pullover. I can knit this. I have the time.  I'll just channel Dorothy, and start all over again with the four little legs.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

#350: To e or Not To e

Now that we have decided grandmothers (and all older people) are perfectly capable of using e-readers, I'm wondering why more of us don't own them.  Their many advantages make them perfect for older book-lovers. 

E-readers and tablets are:
Lightweight.  I've just finished the hard-bound copy of Stephen King's 11/22/63, and at almost 900 pages this tome gave new meaning to the phrase "heavy reading". I could have also read the equally massive London by Edward Rutherfurd (preparation for my up-coming trip) as a "real" book but have opted for the Kindle edition.

London:  all the words, but none of the weight.
London:  900 pages

Compact.  Every e-reader or tablet is different, but most are the size of a very skinny hardcover. Or perhaps the cover without the book. Nine hundred pages of London will slip into my purse or suitcase with ease. 

Dark adaptedSome e-readers and all tablets have lighted screens--great for airplanes and half-lit bedrooms.

Font-friendly.  Regular print is usually fine for me.  But my 83 year-old client Hetty is using a Kobo from the library, and she is happy to ramp up the print size. Reading a large-print story on an e-reader doesn't make you look vision-impaired -- just cool.

CapaciousI have a suitcase full of books, including London, on my Kindle and that is enough for me. But if I get desperate, I have room for at least 2,000 more.

And, in addition, the e-contents-- the books-- are:
Inexpensive.  Overdrive downloads from the public library are free, and may other sites such as Project Gutenberg offer free older titles.  If you buy an e-book, the price varies: some are as much as $20,  but most are comparable to a paperback.  (My London e-book was $10.00.) 

Forever.  Overdrive books disappear from your e-reader or tablet after 3 weeks.  (No fines, no book!)  But books that you buy are yours until you choose to delete them.  This is great for slow readers -- like me.

Disposable.  For many people, throwing out hard-backed books is just slightly less traumatic than euthanizing a pet. But no-one will be calling the public library to have a hand-wringing conversation with a librarian about the resting place of deleted e-books. Easy-come, easy-go. 

Still not convinced?  I think I know why. If you have an abiding love for real books, it feels a bit cheap and sordid to fool around with a flashy substitute.  And the genuine article has much to love:  I especially appreciate their:

Physicality. It's that tactile thing.  I am seduced by the feel and heft and smell of a bound book. (Although I no longer need to hold a new book in order to breathe in its scent.  I can just cuddle my e-reader and spritz the air with a little Eau de Paperback)

Appearance. Printed books are good-looking.  They have pretty covers and end papers.  They are like a present waiting to be unwrapped.

Shareable-ness.  You can be generous with a real book. You can loan it to a friend and talk about it later.

Permanence. It is hard to love an ephemeral bit of softwear, but a real book has presence.  You can write on the flyleaf or in the margins; you can turn down the corners to mark your place or tuck in the special bookmark a friend gave you.  No-one will ever press flowers between the pages of an e-book. A real book--the Bible, poetry, a cookbook--is a piece of family history.

Power.  I am currently reading a hard-back copy of  The End of Your Life Book Club, a remarkably uplifting homage to reading, family and loss.  The author Will Schwalbe is a book lover, and he makes another point about the physicality of bound books which he expresses beautifully.  He notes that when we encounter books in the spot where we left (and perhaps forgot) them, they demand our attention once again.  He explains:  I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me.  They make me feel, but I cannot feel them.  They are all soul, with no flesh, no texture and no weight.  They can get in your head, but cannot whack you upside it.



Saturday, 6 April 2013

#349: Anti-Ageism

At the e-reader workshop for the techno-curious, I just happened to sit beside Paula, an expressive, enthusiastic woman who was one of my favourite volunteers when I was the library volunteer coordinator.

As we did a quick catch-up, she revealed with great enthusiasm that having just turned 70, she was going back to university to finish a degree. "But it's strange, the reaction I get", she told me. "I met some people from my program last Monday, and they were all so surprised. Completely mystified!  It was like they had never met a really mature student before. They kept saying Why are you doing this at your age?  You are going to school, and you aren't even going to get a job!" 

Still stewing about Overdrive's ageist put-down (#348: Techno-Grannies), I assured Paula that she was doing everyone a favour by returning to university.  She would get her degree, and her fellow students would learn that intellectual curiosity has no age limit.

In fact, I think that Paula has hit upon the best response to ageist slights of all kinds. Positive behaviours that defy expectations about old people are far more productive than grousing and griping about the way others see us.  Take Moses Znaimer's complaint in this month's Zoomer magazine about ageist synonyms for people his age (70): senior/old person/aging boomer/ and most especially, Dear.  He concludes they are all demeaning, although in the process he comes close to declaring himself a "grumpy old man".

The only way to rehabilitate "old" is by expanding the notion of what "older adults" (Moses, that's the best I can do) are capable of.  I can't help but fondly recall my Aunt Anne who took up belly dancing when she was over 80; she liked to perform in tights and leotard at the local retirement home where she (apparently) cheered up a number of grumpy old guys.  I'm not much of a dancer, and I'm through with university, but I'm thinking I should learn to use BitTorrent so I can pirate copies of Game of Thrones, Season 3.  Then I could tweet about it.

Try as we might, however, I'm not sure that ageism will ever, in spite of our best efforts, become as unacceptable as sexism and racism.  It is hard to admit, but while I can unequivocally declare that women and men of all ethnicities are equal in most things, older people really are often slower, and less adept at many tasks. They ask to have things repeated, they can't open those damned pill bottles, and they don't like driving at night.  And as we age, that list of challenges gets longer.

So we can work hard to combat ageism--- and we must--but if we are dissatisfied with the results, we need to get over it and let natural consequences unfold.   Because old folks all know a secret that makes ageist observations about the elderly just a tiny bit easier to tolerate. And here it is: although men will never walk a mile in ladies' stilettos, and white folks are unlikely to wake up some morning in a skin darker than their own, with time--and if they are lucky--everyone gets old.   

Take that, young whippersnappers!

Friday, 29 March 2013

#348: Techno-Grannies

We have just acquired a Google tablet, a Nexus 7.   Like iPads and other similar devices, it is able to serve as an e-reader for books purchased online, or downloaded for free from the public library through Overdrive.  

Overdrive is the Big Daddy of library e-book providers all over the world (even in New Zealand, as I discovered this time last year), so it was Big News when they recently announced an even easier way for tablet owners (me, me!) to access e-books and read them in their browser without any additional software. This new option is called Overdrive Read, and according to the Overdrive bloggers who are promoting this new service it is simple enough for your grandmother to understand 

Sheesh.  How is it that by virtue of being over 65 and having a grandchild,  I seem to have stepped into an alternate universe where I am suddenly considered stupid? 

Indignant as I am, I do admit that old people are not the first to embrace the latest techno-craze.  They are not tweeters and they rarely text.  In a movie theatre, they do not have to rummage for their cell-phones; the phone is already OFF.  

But if older folk seem reluctant to embrace some aspects of a digital lifestyle it is not necessarily because of perceived difficulties.  It is because some techno-behaviours just seem pointless.  Why would anyone bother with something if it just seems silly?  I know 90-year-olds who understand tweeting, but cannot, for the life of them, imagine what they would share in 140 characters.  If they really wanted to tell someone Did seated exercises, but elbow acting up.  Lunch so-so. Soup too salty.  Watched birds at feeder.  Played euchre with Doris, they would pick up the land line.
In 20 years of trying to encourage older library users to make friends with computer technology, I have heard many reasons for techno-avoidance:

I don't have the money for all those gadgets
I don't need to follow every fad
I have better things to do with my time and energy
I'd rather have real [not Facebook] friends
I'd rather read real books [not e-books]
These excuses are still out there, but I hear them less and less.  That was then.  Now, most of my young-elderly (65-75 year old) friends own desktops and laptops. Many also have tablets and e-readers.   They have email accounts and they Google like crazy. Some even text their kids and grand kids, and a few are on Facebook where they enjoy the jokes, games and pictures. But they are selective: Skype, yes.  Tweeting, no.  If the "app" fits, they wear it.  Otherwise, why bother?

"Appy" Holidays:  4 old people, 8 devices.
Last week, I attended a Tech Talk at the library for those interested in downloading e-books and audiobooks to dedicated e-readers and tablets.  Over 20 people were in attendance, and they were all over 65.  There were 3 guys, and the rest were women. probably grandmothers,  They seemed to be understanding everything perfectly well.

Overdrive, are you paying attention?