How not to pack


What to wear? What to wear? I’ve been packing a suitcase for nearly a week, which makes me well qualified to speak on the topic of how not to pack for travel. Today marks my fourth round of taking everything out of one suitcase, hanging one or two items of clothing back in the closest, removing one or two new things from said closet and repacking. I should mention that while I’m still repeating this shuffle, it’s not with the same suitcase I started with.

Ah, I loved that first suitcase I packed, compact, easy to wheel around, seemingly roomy enough for everything, and best of all, purple. After four days tucking, squeezing, and flattening my clothing with my hands, followed by jumping up and down to close that purple beauty, I transferred everything to suitcase two.

Why is it so hard to decide what to put in a suitcase?  Our more recent trips have taken place in cool climates among cultures that value the outdoors life. These lend themselves to easy packing decisions: one pair of clean jeans per week, a few sweaters, a coat and an umbrella.

Our upcoming destinations start hot and dry and end cold and wet, which makes planning more difficult. But I can’t blame my indecision entirely on the change in climates. I hold up this blouse to these pants, these pants to those shoes and this tank top to that pair of shorts and ask myself, will I be pegged immediately as coming from the U.S.?  The answer is almost always yes. I remind myself that these days clothing may not distinguish one traveler from another throughout much of the world. Who doesn’t wear jeans?

Maybe what’s more worthy of examining than whether my fashion sense matches anyone else’s is what our other suitcase contents say about us, either when we’re leaving home or returning. For example, I’m taking a Spanish language book to Spain, where you’d think I might happen upon something to read in that language. Last year, my husband and I bought brown Norwegian goat cheese (gjetost) to bring home, only to find it in our local grocery store. What I should remember when I’m packing is that the world is smaller than we realize, and I am bound to blend in with at least a few of the 11 million tourists who visit Andalusia each year or the 17 million who go to Amsterdam. And, hey, if I’m too cold in Amsterdam, I’ll take a wild guess that they sell sweaters there.

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How to stop watching TV

shot from a PBS documentary

In my last post, I mentioned wanting to eliminate TV watching as a way to pare down habits that interfere with accomplishing… not sure what, but accomplishing something.  At least it would offer a way to keep me out of a mindless stupor a few more hours a day. We already read at night, but surely there’s something else we can do.

My husband and I watched TV as a way to relax after work. Now that we’re not working, do we need this particular form of relaxation?  One evening a week ago, we didn’t turn the Tube on. The next evening I went to a meeting and he stayed home, and, again, didn’t turn it on.

Two consecutive nights: it felt like a record that needed breaking. I was thankful that we had recorded the last episodes of two series we’d been watching, and since we had to find out how they ended…well, you know what happened.

I decided to seek friends who might have solutions to breaking the TV watching habit. My informal survey proved that my friends are not normal.  Two of them have no television sets. In response to my question about how they spent their evenings, one said she did housework. A third friend said he watched sports, our local Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel and news on three stations.

“That’s a lot of news,” I said “especially these days. Do you have to drink after the news is over?”
“No,” he said, “I begin drinking before I watch.”

Watching three news programs as an evening pastime ranks right up there with housework: not an option. His choice of PBS, however, is a good one.  It does offer programs that help keep the synapses firing and is often our second choice, if not the first. Maybe if we limited ourselves to one channel?

Since friends were no help, I turned to the internet for advice, which, by the way, is another habit worth breaking, especially when it adds up to more daily screen time. What I learned about how to kick the TV habit was to begin by recording how many minutes we watch every day and then cut back. No need to go cold turkey, but watch for fewer minutes, then fewer days. Next, we can limit the number of shows we see, which means stopping before watching any more reruns of M*A*S*H* or Raymond or the Big Bang Theory.

The fall TV season has begun. With each new season, television has gotten darker and darker, airing shows mostly about  satanic cults, serial killers, or alien takeovers of our planet, none of which inspire or work well as sleep aids. Not only can we save time, but also avoid nightmares by ignoring the new fall lineup altogether.

I’m now feeling more confident that we can gain a few more hours a day by cutting back on television series.  I am taking a blood thinner that does not permit drinking, so more than one news program a day is not in the picture.




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Paring down

A sign of the times: a recent issue of “Cooking Light” magazine gives tips to improve readers’ ability to handle stress. These include 1) moving your focus away from undone tasks, 2) limiting your fretting to situations you can control, and 3) not aiming for perfection.

The article directs readers to several sources, which I checked out from my neighborhood library. The one I’ve skimmed is, “SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life.” As I opened the book I thought, here we go again. Another useless guide to cleaning out my closets, useless because I never do anything the experts prescribe for getting organized.

But reading about shedding turned out better than I expected. Yes, the clutter focus is here. Author Julie Morgenstern lists ten  example of “physical burdens,” two of which I know I’ll be able to shed. “Excessive memorabilia” is the first on my list of contenders for tossing, old recipes is the second. And this morning, after trying to find something in my kitchen “junk drawer,” I decided that will come next.

What’s more interesting, is that the book also speaks to shedding “time burdens” and “habit burdens.” Both made me stop and think. Under the former, I admit that more often than not, when asked to volunteer, I may mouth the word “no” but no real sound leaves my lips. My problem is worse than just saying yes. Recently, I finished a volunteer project for an organization I belong to and within minutes came up with ideas for two more.  Luckily, I didn’t share them with anyone, so I’m safe…for now.

The list is shorter for habit burdens — for which I’m thankful — but eliminating some of the behaviors on it will require serious work. I’ll start with “mindless escapes,” which includes “TV, email, internet.” I imagine “internet” applies to Facebook, Instagram, and checking news websites daily to learn what new perils our national leaders are dragging us into. My husband and I started talking about giving up on TV. I’m investigating that option by interviewing friends who have made the break, while I still keep up my nightly TV watching schedule. Meanwhile, I’ll work on the other stress reducers in the Cooking Light article.  I’ll start with avoiding attempts to do things perfectly.  That should be easy.

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Who is the real you? Ask someone else

just a pretty picture

Recently, a newcomer appeared at my monthly lunch with former work friends: a daughter-in-law who was visiting from another state. In other words, a younger person.

While aging is not a focus of our conversations, when we meet the topic is always under the surface, and as one member of the group put it, “We have to get our organ recital” — meaning a report of injuries, surgeries and ailments — “out of the way before we can move on to our normal conversation.”

As the meal was ending, said daughter-in-law asked a question. “Now that you are all of, shall I say, a certain age, what do you see yourselves wanting to accomplish or do over the next 10 or more years ?” Pure brilliance on her part to find a way to engage in our conversation and ask a question that called for reflection.

I said something I’d been sharing with others for months: I’d like to let go, stop volunteering, do less, wind down. I’m not sure what I had in mind when I said wind down. Lie on the couch for the rest of my life? Definitely not. Lack of mobility after my ankle fracture is what gave me the blood clot.

Later, I thought about my answer. How badly did I want to stop doing the things I’m accustomed to doing and mostly enjoy. Have I been kidding myself? Have I succumbed to the Buddhist notion of dukkha, that is, never feeling completely satisfied with…any number of things one can find unsatisfying in life, even if it’s just the bad dinner you paid good money for at a restaurant last night.

A recent experience added to my uncertainty about the assertion that I was going to change my life.  I’ve been getting physical therapy for my injured ankle. After seeing the therapist, he assigned me to a particular PT assistant I saw years before.  I assumed he wouldn’t remember me, but he surprised me by acting like we were old friends. On my second visit, he said, “I’m assuming you did the maximum number of sets for these exercises.”

“Why do you say that?” He was right, but I wanted to know if it was a lucky guess.

“Because I know you. You go for the max.”

This made me want to read his old notes about me, but it also told me that if I really wanted to slow down, it was going to take a lot of work. A complete personality change is not the metamorphosis I’d expect at this stage in life, as in defying nature and converting from a butterfly to a cocoon.

I’ve seen many recommendations lately to spend time thinking and meditating about who you are at the core. This advice is usually for younger people. At my age we’re supposed to know who we are. But if we’re not sure, maybe we should just ask the people who know us, not only long-time friends but those we only see for 30 minutes at a time for a few weeks or months.


Posted in aging, changes after retirement, intergenerational, personal reflections | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Happiness around the world

Happiness on warm day in Copenhagen

Lately, when I’m not in doctor’s offices or the emergency room, I’ve had a bit of time on my hands, some of which I’ve put to reading. (All these medical adventures relate to small fractures on my ankle and a blood clot resulting from them.) And some of my reading has been in Spanish.  I studied Spanish in school as a teenager, in Mexico as an adult, and years later had to re-learn it for my job.

Now, as my husband and I prepare for a future trip to Seville, Spain, I’m lucky to have met two Mexican friends on the job who can help. One is hauling books, DVD’s and magazines to our house weekly, only a few of which have we actually looked at. (As retirees, we don’t feel the same pressure to study as we did as students.)

I latched on to “National Geographic en Español,” November 2017, which fits my reading level and went directly to a piece on what Denmark, Costa Rica, and Singapore have to teach us about happiness.

What is happiness?  The article suggests that it can mean different things to different people and may have varied definitions depending on the culture.

Denmark always seems to land high on the lists of happiest countries.  When we visited there last summer, our Danish guide told us that all that happiness comes from its residents taking more antidepressants than those living in any other country.  We hoped it was a joke and from this article it seems that it was.

What the National Geographic tells us makes Danes happy is that they are well-cared for from cradle to grave in terms of health, education, work, and community.  They pay a large part of their income for this, but believe it’s worth it for what they receive in return. Apartment cooperatives are popular and most adults belong to a club. The last line was what brought me to a halt. Clubs?  But then I remembered that one criticism about people in the U.S. is that we stopped joining clubs, were too busy to socialize, and know our neighbors less.  (Bowling Alone)

Happiness in Costa Rica does not depend on financial wealth, but on a strong government healthcare system, a high level of literacy, a strong sense of community geared toward helping each other out, and great deal of socializing.

Singapore’s story is different.  Most people live in skyscraper apartments built by the government. Beyond that, it is a meritocracy where happiness and success come from studying hard in school, working hard, and living according to traditional — mostly Chinese — values.

In the U.S., about half the people say that money can buy happiness and the rest think it can’t.

From Money magazine: “Wealthier people are happier than poor people. Wealthier countries are happier than poor countries. As countries get ­richer, they get happier. The relationship between income and happiness is extremely strong.” I suppose a magazine with this title wouldn’t suggest otherwise.

Something I read in a newspaper a few weeks ago, that may have been based on research from 2010, said even if people are not earning a great deal of money, they’re happier if they know they are making more than someone else. In other words, if you don’t earn much, but your colleagues earn less, you will feel happier.  If you earn a billion and you hang out with people who earn $2 billion, you are less happy. Somehow we can’t get away from comparisons.

The National Geographic has a world map covered with smiling and frowning faces, based on how happy its citizens say they are.  I don’t want to live among the frowners (think some countries with names that end in ‘stan.’) Better to live in one of the happiest countries. But Denmark’s days are short and dark much of the year. Unlike Costa Ricans, I’m enough of an introvert to want quiet time alone, and from my putting off Spanish language lessons it’s clear I don’t want to study hard or work hard, which eliminates Singapore.  I guess I’ll just have to keep reading about happier countries for now.

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Not another lifestyle blog

Lifestyle tips for cat owners: cover all your furniture with towels and blankets

Lifestyle. A topic that’s been on my mind since I saw a piece from The Washington Post on “global lifestyle trends.”

Until I read the article and researched the number of blogs devoted to this topic — 1.4 million and counting — I was oblivious to the lifestyle experts who were spreading their diffuse knowledge of fashion, home decor, health, travel and living into the hearts and minds of, well…just about everyone.

I googled “most inane lifestyle blogs” and got one described as “a blog and catalog both for and by people who have never had to know or care how much things cost.”  Here are descriptions  of blogs I found on my own. I should warn you that every one of them is “awesome.” First, is one that “shares awesome content around realness, lifestyle and recipes.” The second offers a “ton of practical advice to enhance your life,” and the third, “highly informational content around style, lifestyle and beauty.”

But we have sources other than blogs for ways to improve our lifestyles, namely books. Take the current Scandinavian invasion of lifestyle trend setters, who much like their Viking ancestors are out to conquer Europe, the Americas and Asia with their ideas for health, happiness and comfort.

Here’s a quick rundown of Nordic lifestyle choices that are unpronounceable for English-speaking mouths. I took these from a July 1, advertising section stuffed into the “Seattle Timesnewspaper.

Hygge:  (Hooga) Think warm and cozy, settling in by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate, a blanket and a good book. But I can’t think that, not today anyway, when it’s 90 degrees outside. I regret that I don’t know what advice the Danes have for us in summer, but winter will be here before we know it.
Lagom: ( LAH-gum) The Swedish version of Hygge. My on-line dictionary translates lagom as “moderate.” One writer called it the new hygge, which shows how out of step with the times I am, talking about hygge when it’s already been overtaken by lagom. (I’m laughing at the new IKEA catalog, which, within in its 286 immoderate pages of attractive Swedish stuff to enhance our lives, cites research that having too much stuff is a cause of stress.)
Frilufgsliv: (Free-loofts-live) The Norwegians have their own lifestyle trend, which is to get outside, exercise and enjoy nature. I’ve read that they are avid cross-country skiers and from what I’ve seen of the country, there’s plenty of nature there to enjoy, albeit very cold nature.
Kalsarikannit (Cal-sar-y-cuhn-eet).  Also known as “Pants-drunk.” One writer describes it as drinking alcohol in your underwear while staying home. It’s a Finnish writer’s humorous response to the lifestyle trends of the other Nordic countries. Pants-drunk sounds cheaper than the other lifestyles described above, is easy to pronounce, and doesn’t require new clothing or perhaps any clothing. I suspect it’s done alone so you wouldn’t even need to clean your house to enjoy this lifestyle.

I have no lifestyle advice and do not plan to become a lifestyle blogger.  We older folks just need advice on how to stay alive.

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What’s wrong with sloth?

When I was a kid, my favorite activity — which resembled inactivity — was lying on the couch and reading.

My parents weren’t as thrilled as I was about a physical output that consisted of moving my eyes across a page and using one hand to turn it. “Don’t you think you should go outside for a while? You can’t keep your nose in a book all day.” Hah!

In those days, the main reason girls went outside was to get fresh air and a little exercise. You could list the names of girls’ sports on the back of a matchbook cover and have room leftover. My physical achievements included tether ball, trampoline, baton twirling (and marching), swimming and tennis. The one reason I didn’t become a complete layabout was that when I needed to go somewhere, school for example, I had to walk.

But fitness?  What was that? In contrast, these days you must abide by a rigorous exercise routine to avoid being shunned. I never heard the word fitness when I was growing up, except — wait! it just came back to me — except when twice a year all elementary school children had to take the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, a dreaded experience of mortification via timed sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, races and other tortures. While boys had one test designed just for them, which I can’t remember, girls had to walk the balance beam, the only test I didn’t completely fail. Gym teachers making scores public added to the humiliation, and then there were the few winners who got to show off their special badges and show them off they did. As soon as the first round of these exercises from hell had passed no one spoke of fitness again until time came for the next tests.

In adulthood I have periods of sloth and high activity. Lately I have been in the moderate physical activity mode taking a course three times a week at my local Y… until I missed the last step of my staircase, landed on my heel and turned one foot into the size and shape of a hoagie sandwich.

During the injury recovery period, I have returned to my earlier habit of lying on the couch and reading a book, except that these days I’ve added a nap to that regime. I’m surprised that although my foot hardly hurts, within a few days I’ve moved directly into hibernation mode. I’m behaving more and more like my cat, who might paraphrase the feline in a recent “New Yorker” cartoon summing up his end-of-life regrets: I wish I had napped more.


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Giving crutches the boot

my current modes of transportation

Today’s horoscope sealed my commitment to return to blogging after another long hiatus.  It said, “Maintain reassuring physical health and fitness routines. Steadily build energy and strength.” If only…

For the past month, I’d been doing exactly what the horoscope writer was recommending today: walking, lifting weights, working on balance and more. Then I got stupid.

I was returning from a walk when a neighbor who is moving invited me in to look at a few items she hadn’t yet found a home for.  I came away with a pot and a collage, which motivated me to redecorate the entrance to my house. I moved the entry rug upstairs to swap it out for another rug.  Coming down the stairs and holding the new rug in front of me I got to the bottom step and decided I had reached the ground floor.  I was only one step off, but sticking out my foot and unexpectedly landing six inches below where I intended to land caused quite a jolt.

In terms of damage, it could have been much worse. I chipped two small bones in my foot and twisted my ankle. The cure so far is to keep weight off the foot, no walking or driving for four to six weeks.  The other part of the cure is to navigate on crutches.

What sick person invented crutches?

An internet search lead me to “5 reasons why crutches are the worst.”  Only one of the writer’s five reasons is worth mentioning, namely, stairs.  I have no idea how to use crutches to get up stairs.  Arriving home from the hospital I stared and stared at my stairs (yes, that’s one problem with English spelling) and then sat down and pulled myself up each step, bottom first.

In another on-line diatribe on crutches, stairs made the top of the list.  The only other issue I could relate to was, “Giving up on physical hobbies…hello daytime TV and your couch.” My couch has been extraordinarily active the past few days while I have not. I don’t watch daytime TV, but I’ll soon empty at least one row of books on my bookshelf. By the end of four weeks at my current reading speed I’ll not remember a single title I read, but my bookcase will look a lot tidier.

The big issue that none of these writers is willing to bring out in the open is that crutches cause weight gain. After not moving for say, an hour or two, and with no appointments, dates with friends and exercise classes on my calendar, I require a snack.  The first one of the day — midmorning — is the healthy one: fruit, nonfat yogurt, raw carrots. It’s the only healthy one. Later in the day the edible item closest to the couch is fair game, tortilla chips, chocolate, graham crackers. Already my waistbands are tighter. On the other hand, the leg that lives in the boot that gets no exercise will soon resemble Hansel and Gretel’s fingers, though that wasn’t the body part I was most interested in slimming down.

After a day on crutches, I was lucky to borrow a scooter from a friend. It solves some problems, but won’t help with the weight.

I’m fortunate to have a husband who has taken over every household responsibility including cooking, and brings me whatever I ask for.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t need crutches in the next few weeks, though if neither of us cooked, the waistlines should diminish.

A return to blogging won’t help the weight either, but while I’m daydreaming on the couch, new topics might come to mind, thus forcing me to move to the computer, which is in a different direction from the refrigerator.


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Happy that some trends are passing me by

I’ve reached the stage in life where the thought that some trends are passing me by brings great relief. When I was younger and heard elders talk like I’m talking now I felt disappointment. How could they not want to move with the times? Now I see it as a case of knowing the times will be eventually be over and wanting to continue to do certain familiar things with the time left.

It’s easy to identify trends I’ll never really have to consider. Take binging on bitcoin. I’m happy never to understand or get involved with bitcoin. I have learned that it is possible to use bitcoin to pay for a house, and that some consider it a Ponzi scheme, because it is also possible to lose your shirt on it. All I need to know.

Then there are trends in the “not likely I’ll adopt, but you never know” category. “Alexa is now at home in new subdivisions,” was a recent headline in the Seattle Times. New homeowners can use Amazon’s voice-activated software “to toggle lights and door locks and play music.”  Wow!

I’m in no rush for 5G (fifth generation wireless networking), which promises “to change our world” through much faster transmission of images and video. I hope not to see the Star Wars series on my phone, or watch the epic historical film, Lawrence of Arabia on that device. There’s nothing appealing about seeing vast expanses of space and desert on a 5.8- inch screen.

Creepier trends include the one reported by the Associated Press, “Boston Dynamics’ scary robot videos: Are they for real?” about “experimental robots resembling animal predators” that will soon be introduced to the world as security guards. The company’s CEO “played down popular fears that his company’s robots could one day be used to kill.” Not that I ever had plans to buy a commercial robot, but I think I’d be happier not knowing about these particular machines.

Writer Tad Friend speculates about much darker trends in “Superior Intelligence.” (The New Yorker, May 14, 2018) “Autocratic regimes could readily exploit the ways in which A.I.’s (artificial intelligence) are beginning to jar our sense of reality.” Apparently they’re good at creating fake video and audio that “could hasten the advent of a full-time surveillance/full-on-paranoia state.”

Yesterday, I was sad to meet the newest trend in grocery shopping. Our local store is now pushing scanners and training on how to use them so shoppers can do everything for themselves. No need to bother with those expendable checkers or the people who know not to pack the eggs on the bottom of our bags and even offer to carry them to our cars. We can weigh and scan our fruits and vegetables and everything else as we shop, then check ourselves out. No more customer service, only self-service. I regret that this is one trend I will have to adapt to and probably soon.

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A poem for everyone

Seems like I’ve been away from this blog forever.  I’ve been busy reading other people’s writing, as in grant applications, as part of my volunteer role on a local committee. My head is into programs for those who are homeless, hungry, and in need of a job, a dentist or a psychologist, and not topics related to life after retirement.

However, a recent email from a friend living abroad inspired me to take a short break from the problems of my community. My friend, who majored in English, signed up for a short on-line poetry class to keep her brain active. Unfortunately, she’s not a great fan of poetry. Like all of us who’ve been out of school for a long time, beginning a university level course of any length is intimidating. Overwhelmed with the long lectures and the homework, she thought about quitting.

I wanted to encourage her to stick with it. I don’t understand much about poetry either, but decided to send her a few of my favorite poems, ones that are more accessible to us non-English majors. After sending poems the past two days, my goal of interesting my friend in poetry began to have an influence on me.  From my overcrowded bookshelves I dug out poetry collections, a book on how to write poetry, books of essays that contained poetry in them.

My husband asked why I was typing the poems in my emails instead of scanning them and sending the copies.  “This way is better,” I said.  “It’s making me pay attention to the poems.  I have to read them several times, make sure the punctuation is correct and that I haven’t left out any words. Each reading helps me understand the poems better.”

In the poems I’ve seen, I’m in awe of the writers use of punchy verbs, beautiful imagery, and their ability to forge a personal connection with the reader over the most mundane topics. In the case of the two poems I’ve sent, the subjects were tomatoes and pears, respectively, though like all poems, the meaning went deeper.

There’s also a sadness associated with the poems I’m looking at.  When a friend died, a group of us put together a booklet for her memorial service that contained her favorite poems.  I am working through the poems in that booklet one by one. The friend who assembled the booklet has also died.  She wrote haiku.  Below are three by Marilyn Sandall.

At the start of the war in Iraq:
bruise the camellia
news of war

On seeing her dying father in the hospital:
bones beneath
hospital sheets —
my father smaller

For Christmas:
bright crested
flashy new neighbor
tidings of joy!

The moral of the story: Even short poems can convey a world of meaning. And there are enough poems out there that all of us can find at least one  that makes us laugh, better appreciate the natural world, or remind us of someone who’s no longer with us, someone we wish were still here.









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