Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Art Of Sloth; Or, How I've Learned To Adore Retirement

I wrote in early February about my angst in making the transition from productive business owner to retiree -- wondering whether I would make peace with a life without structure, without daily have-to's, without goals -- and without money. HAH! I've more than made peace with it -- I've learned to relish every minute of it!

There is just something so delicious about waking up knowing that the day holds no obligations other than doing exactly what I want to do -- for the very first time in my life -- and knowing that this isn't just a temporary state of being. The next couple of hours (spent with my iPad and iCoffee or iTea, while the iDog takes an after-breakfast nap on his iPillow next to me) ensure my minimum daily requirement of vitamin Internet and vitamin caffeine. The bad news is that nearly all of the stuff found on the internet is vitamin crap. The internet "news aggregator" app I use -- ZITE -- is a subsidiary of CNN and garners its offerings from many websites, including a kazillion blogs. While this guarantees mild daily entertainment (and many articles I can't resist sending to annoy a few lucky friends), the actual value of these writings is pretty low on the worth-reading scale, other than to exercise one's eyeballs.

ZITE sends me internet news and articles on geology (according to the preferences I set up), and even in this supposed scientific arena the amount of crap is staggering. Firstly, every article is written in the same Nova/Discovery Channel format of "it's not interesting unless there's a doomsday ending." Secondly, there is an unforgivable amount of "breaking news" stories that are actually recycled old postings from years (even millenia) ago. Thirdly, nearly every article is written using every qualifying adverb and adjective known to Mr. Webster. For example, "such and such event MAY/MIGHT/COULD/POSSIBLY/AT SOME FUTURE POINT/ occur, causing the world or entire universe to explode." This dishonest writing applies to every science discipline I read about, which is most of them. What this really says to me is that no scientist, nowhere, no how, knows anything about anything, or else is too chicken to state any fact for certain. Everything in science is in flux, all the time... which is why the "facts" we read or hear in actual news stories change polarity from week to week. Talk about taking news stories with a grain of NaCl.

But please don't think my iPad takes up my entire day. I've worked through almost four college-level lecture courses from The Teaching Company (A History Of European Painting, Dutch Masters: The Age Of Rembrandt, From Monet To Van Gogh: A History Of Impressionism, and The World's Greatest Paintings), with many more to go. These excellent courses have replanted a little seed in my little brain about returning to Europe, possibly next year, now that I at last know what to look for in great art. I've even finished my own masterpiece (below), although no museum has yet called about buying it.



Oh, and the rest of my day? I garden (see below) and work a few hours weekly at the local Food Bank, but having just had a distressingly significant birthday, I can no longer remember the other 15 hours. According to my Amazon and iTunes accounts, I buy a lot of books and music, and I think I walk Louis the dog and sleep, but I'm not sure. Whatever I'm doing, though, I'm certain I'm really happy doing it. Thank you, decades spent working, for having brought me this time of my life!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day To All (Redux)

I'm re-posting a blog entry from a few years ago as my valentine to my Gentle Readers.  Don't stub your mental toes on the overused adjectives -- I was still young and foolish when I wrote this.

(The final paragraph is, sadly, not true this year as our snowfall has been far below normal -- whatever "normal" may be in these days of climatological mystery -- but spring is definitely on our California horizon.  Why does anyone live anywhere else, one wonders....)

Wishing everyone liberal doses of love and laughter foreverafter....xoxoxox

Clicky HERE.....




.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Breaking News: Living Causes Death!

Well, the food "experts"  issued another warning this week -- we Americans consume vastly more salt than we should.  Last week sugar was the demon, and in the last few months we've been warned about e. coli in spinach and packaged lettuce (again), about villainous soup cans and plastic containers conspiring to kill us, fresh eggs and chicken ready to wipe out entire families, farmed fish (bad), ocean fish (badder), shellfish (baddest), alcohol (good/bad/good/bad), and white bread and all prepared food (THE WORST THINGS ON EARTH!).

Their message is clear -- eat anything and you die. 

I've got news for all these experts and for the news organizations that lead with their ridiculous pronouncements:  Life causes death.  Period.  It's the one constant of all life on earth, except for maybe bristlecone pine and redwood trees.

I'm SO tired of hearing this alarmist advice which is immediately challenged by food manufacturers (vested interests) and other "food experts," and often reversed in the weeks following the breaking news. I've fought my own battles with food and I'm no longer listening to "the experts."

I wrote here about my lifelong experiences with dieting, and I'm here to tell you that it only gets worse the older one becomes (if, of course, one survives all the nutritional pitfalls out there).

In 2003 I lost (mumble mumble) pounds and (harrumph!) dress sizes -- until my body went into absolute starvation mode and refused to accommodate any continuing efforts.  It may have been the longest "dieting plateau" on record, and I'll stick to my story that I stuck to my diet and exercise program over the next nine years with NO appreciable results.  Well, except that I gained back 20 of those mumble mumble pounds...the traitors.

I redoubled my efforts in January, tracked every single input calorie of food and every single output calorie of exercise with this dandy little free program, scavenged my Wendi Friesen hypnosis CD's from the depths of my closet and VIOLA!  I've lost ten pounds.  Hips, hips, see ya, hooray! 

I guess my metabolism -- the body's conductor of the weight maintenance symphony -- decided nine years was long enough to be on strike.  Seriously -- I'm doing NOTHING different than what I've done for the past nine years, so I'm befuddled at this recent success.  According to those same infamous "experts," roller coaster dieting can cause this kind of reaction and God knows I've been riding that roller coaster since I was a child.  Thanks, Mom, for those delicious pies, sugar sandwiches and your pork chops with country gravy.  Thanks, Dad, for your Lithuanian/Polish genes that made these thighs giant silos, eager to store every stray calorie. 

The bad news is -- at my mumble mumble years, losing even one pound results in the Catastrophic Aging Syndrome where one pound lost equals one year added to one's face.  Alert the media -- this is my own new algorithm, affirmed with every depressing glance into my mirror:  ten pounds exactly equal ten extra years tacked onto my already "mature" face.  Where before I had minimal and charming laugh lines, I now have ruffles of excess skin, and where I had actual wrinkles, I have chasms that rival the You-Know-What Canyon.  Dammit!  As this continues, I'm going to be known as the Anti-Olay Woman of the universe.  Those VERY expensive anti-wrinkle creams are not meant for someone my mumble mumble age -- they're meant for chickies approaching 30 who sport a tiny flaw on their perfect porcelain skin. 

What we need (are you listening, cosmetic manufacturers?) is thick, creamy spackle...true skin stucco, caulk or joint compound.  Just lather it on with a putty knife, cover with makeup and there ya go -- nearly human again.  It could be a whole new outcall service, similar to those makeup and hair artists for the richy rich.  I mean, we already have mani-pedis -- why not spackies?

Or, for extreme serial dieters,  maybe we could have little "eyes" inserted, like sexy piercings, into the skin at our temples, then insert hooks on the ends of elastic bands and pull the whole facial skin upwards and clip with a diamond-studded hair ornament.  No one would ever know.   (I suspect some of those aging movie stars do exactly this -- why, oh why, isn't this technology available to us ordinary wrinkly wimmin?)

I knew when I turned 50 that any further dieting would result in a choice between my fanny and face -- I just didn't know that the choice would be so devastating. I'm way beyond the age where anyone is checking out my fanny but, no matter how high I hold my head and tilt it just right, my face is out there for all to see.

OK -- no more whining.  I'm happy that the weight-loss factory is again working under full steam.  Maybe there are shorts in my future this summer ....(hahahahahahaha...uncontrollable giggles).... and maybe next year I'll apply to The Bachelor -- with a brown bag over my head.  In the meantime, I intend to add a little salt to canned soup, eat fresh spinach, and even buy an occasional loaf of sourdough bread.  Not being a redwood tree (well, except for the thighs) I have to die of something. 

Also...my favorite ZITE program brought me a link to this blog, which I'm sure many of you will find interesting -- I surely did.  It chronicles a man who has vowed to perform 366 acts of random kindness throughout this entire year -- pretty impressive so far.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Art Of Retirement


I've been semi-officially retired now for two months, and, in internet time (like dog years) that makes me an expert on the subject.  I wrote here about waning client work foreshadowing retirement, but the reality of actually being retired is very different than I imagined.

Since almost 100% of my adult life was structured around employment, I experience a mental "whoa!" each dawn as I realize the day ahead is free of all work obligations and worry -- in fact, free of any expectations whatever.  It's a little like those brief breaths when the Roadrunner charges off the cliff but still treads air -- reality takes a moment to catch up before he plows into the ground with a thud.  I still feel as though I should be doing something productive -- that all this leisure time is somehow slothful and I'm going to have to pay for it sooner or later -- that I'm treading air and facing the big thud.

I don't for a second regret my decision to chuck it in and retire, but I'm not too sure exactly how to do retirement, and I've been unsuccessful in finding any relevant answers online.

As I wrote in the above blog posting from last March:  
"The "advice" columns are so basic and contain such obvious and banal ideas that "duh!" is the only possible response.  "Learn how to budget your reduced income."  "Volunteer your time."  "Garden."  "Exercise."  "Spend time with grandchildren."  "Read."  "Start a hobby."  "Take a class."  "Travel."

DUH!  Thanks, anyway -- I was looking for something a little meatier -- like, how not to be seduced by trashy daytime TV, or how to make the kitchen literally disappear except at regular mealtimes, or what do you do with all these empty hours if you hate to shop, or how to avoid the constant temptation to add to your Kindle collection, or how not to go blind reading blogs all day, or how do you squeeze another trip to France from a non-existent vacation fund?  You know, the really important retirement issues." 
My house is packed with materials from various artsy hobbies I've explored over the years and those fill time;  my new iPad keeps my brain ticking and that fills time;  deciding whether or not to publish  my children's books fills time, especially with the seductive new digital opportunities;  domestic duties and doggy attention fill time -- but the question still nags me -- shouldn't this last, best part of life be more than just "filling time?"

Maybe I'm just too task- and goal-oriented to know how to live without working.  Maybe I've confused "working" with "life" and now that one's gone, the other doesn't yet know how to stand on its own little feet.  Or maybe there's a natural timeline necessary for adjustment from one state to another and, as usual, I'm rushing the process -- one more example of an Aries so eager to reach the destination that I miss the journey -- although this particular destination comes with a headstone.

All the articles I see on retirees (except those referencing the poor eating their cat's food) show toothy, silver-haired couples relaxing with a cocktail on a veranda that overlooks a lush golf course or enticing spa, or taking sappy photos of one another in front of an ancient monument, with their cruise ship in the background. They must represent the few couples who managed to safeguard their investments from the last two stock market crashes and somehow retain the value of their property.  I suspect, however, these depict simply the cannabis-induced dreams of a copywriter/illustrator living in the glorious past that included a richy-rich retirement.  Today's financial reality for the "99%" doesn't approach that luscious lifestyle.

I've believed for a very long time that we create our own reality and future through our thoughts, wishes,  dreams and persistence, which philosophy has proven true time after time in my life.  It's exactly this truth that I find a little scary, a little alarming.  What will my future look like if I can't define my dreams and thus have nothing left to achieve?  Treading air, even if it's very comfortable and secure air, isn't my idea of how to spend the next 25 years.

(Or maybe I just want to return to France for another extended visit and can't right now.  Hmmm...)

If any of you, my dear intrepid readers, have any thoughts, I'd be thrilled to read them in the comments.

.





Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hello Again, (again and again)

This poor orphaned blog has had more starts and restarts than the last two minutes of an NFC game -- but here we go again.  I read this morning that February is NaBloPoMo (or, National Blog Posting Month on a particular blog-hosting site), and that byte of information gave me just the motivation I needed to re-re-re-re-restart Cynwrites.  The fact that EVERY month is NaBloPoMo didn't discourage me, either -- it simply cautioned me once again to read below the headline.

The operative topic for this posting is contained in the first four words of the second sentence above:  "I read this morning..." as that activity has turned into the best part of my little retirement day -- well, second to going back to sleep at night.

The Retirement Fairy brought me an iPad2 (tablet computer) as a combo Christmas/retirement celebration gift, and, so far, Zite has been the best part of that gift.  Zite is a free app (program) for the iPad and iPhone which compiles a personalized "magazine" of internet articles based on one's preferences of categories, including special personal interests.  Zite serves my magazine up fresh each time I access it and, remarkably, it "learns" by what I actually read and focuses more articles on those subjects.

While it's also easy to follow specific blogs and websites through an RSS feed/reader, Zite brings me articles from hither, thither and yonder over all the internet, unlimited by individual RSS subscriptions.  With my little dog and a cup or two of French press coffee by my side, I read and learn all kinds of interesting things those first two hours of the morning -- not, of course, that my demented memory will retain any of it -- but the reading part is fun.

"Fun" seems to me to be the primary purpose of the iPad -- an expensive little toy to kill use all these available leisure hours.  As long as it's up and running, I get instant email alerts for my many email names.  I can send and receive text messages (since I NEVER turn on my cell phone), although so far my son is the only person who has texted me.  The whole internet is, of course, at my fingertips, although the Safari browser the iPad uses is far more limited than Mozilla's Firefox that I use on my other computers.  And, most important to anyone under 30 (which I'm not - HA) are the kazillion games that can be played solo or with your internet friends.  I have 340 games of Scrabble under my belt (with an 81% win rate) -- but another obnoxious word game (Word Seek) labels and libels me as damn near illiterate. 

Fotopedia brought me glorious photo albums of Above France, Paris, US National Parks and World Heritage Sites -- all free apps, except Paris, which cost $1.99.  (Of course Paris wasn't free!)  I can read all of my Kindle books on the iPad -- and all other ebooks through various readers.  If you also had an iPad, we could use it to talk face-to-face, although certainly NOT at 7 a.m. my time.  Video rentals and video streaming are available, all the music you could ever listen to is available, as are audio books.  There's no way you're going to be bored with this device, although you may end up with a sore neck

This blog post sounds like a commercial for the iPad, doesn't it?  This is my very first hands-on experience with any Apple product and I have to admit I'm impressed.  I don't have an iPhone with the app technology,  so you have to forgive my typical Aries enthusiasm for anything new to me.

I've found only three limitations thus far -- the only keyboard interface it comes with is on-screen, which is really, really inconvenient (you have to go to three screens to produce one little asterisk), although you can add a real wireless keyboard to the system.  The second annoyance is a serious handicap, in my opinion -- you can only access one application at a time.  Although some programs do link through to others quite nicely,  there is no real "windowing" that we are all so used to, with multiple programs open concurrently.  Since I'm not using this thing for work, it's not a big, big deal for me now -- but I think it would be a definite handicap were I trying to actually work on it.  And forget writing on it, unless I do add that keyboard at some point.  Printing, even over an existing wireless network, is difficult-to-impossible without more Apple stuff (special printers, special software), so I can't even print those enticing coupons Staples and Safeway keep sending, unless I use another computer.

No one promised that the iPad would eliminate the need for a "real" computer, although that probably isn't too far off.  Until then, I'm happy with Zite, Scrabble, France photos and handy email.  If you're looking for a new techie toy, you'd probably like the iPad...gauging by Apple's recent financial performance, a lot of people do.

So -- that's today's offering for NaBloPoMo.  As with every other resolution I've ever made, this will probably not last a whole Mo, but you never Kno.  Stick around and find out?

.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Four Things I'm Not

I'm not a sociologist....
But I'm fascinated with the phenomenon of  the expanding compulsion to stay in near-constant electronic communication with something -- and that something not always human.  Did pod people land somewhere and assume our psyches so we're evolving into a quasi-human hive?  Is this the noosphere -- the universal Mind come to fruition, as described by the philosophy of Teilhard de Chardin?  Or are we simply so afraid to be alone, to face ourselves in solitude, that we somehow need to remain "connected" at all times?  Are our intrapersonal relationships so devoid of intimacy that we're replacing them with pixels and bytes?  Click here for one listing of the top 100 people followed on Twitter.   Except for President Obama and a few news and information services, most of these listed are some sort of pop celebrity -- with over ten million people following rock star Lady Gaga... which gagas my mind.  I'm assuming that the under-25 crowd accounts for this slavish attention to entertainment personalities -- but what does it say about our kids' allegiance to the overindulgent lifestyles of these overpaid and over-valued, under-talented, amoral, hypersexed, inane sleazeballs?  (No offense.)

I'm not a political pundit....
But I choked on my microwave popcorn the other night when NBC correspondent Miguel Almaguer reported on The (former) Governator's current pickle.  His wrap-up sentence bemoaned that Arnie had broken trust with his family and "the people of California."  Huh?  I'm one of the people of California and I don't feel that The Gov broke any trust with me by fathering -- AND acknowledging AND financially supporting -- a child by his housekeeper.  What the hell business is it of mine -- or yours -- or anyone's but the people involved?  It took the media less than 24 hours to find the hapless housekeeper's name, address, relatives and pictures of the child, and you can bet your last buffalo nickel that we've only heard the beginning of this sad saga... which isn't so different from all the other politicos who have done the same thing. 

I have to admit I long for the days of secret trysts, like Ike's, FDR's, JFK's -- and everyone else's -- before the media consumed our world and forced these undesired details down our collective throat.  In the week since he announced his candidacy for President, we've heard more about Fig Newt's love life and Tiffany bill than we have about his political ideals and agenda.  I can understand disclosing facts that would be pertinent to a candidate's character, but the slimy details that thrive in the underbelly of the media could be skipped. 


I'm not a theologian or psychic...
But I don't need to be either to see the writing on the Vatican wall if the Catholic Church doesn't get its act together soon and seriously (SERIOUSLY) address all the crises that are brewing among its billion-plus members (68,000,000 in the US alone, the largest Christian group).  I play daily brain ping-pong by following both a rigidly-conservative online forum (catholic.com) and a wildly liberal daily news source, National Catholic Reporter (www.ncronline.org).  (Membership is required on both of those sites to post, but you can read for free.  Slip on your Kevlar vest before clicking.)

The conservative wing has gained a bit of momentum recently as the backlash to the changes of Vatican II Council continues, with the Pope leading with gusto the charge back to the 12th century.  There are still Catholics around who long for the days of strict black-and-white rules that are never questioned, for fish on Friday and Latin masses with nary a guitar in sight, for never having to make a personal decision without the iron-fisted "guidance" of Holy Mother Church -- for everything that was safely in place from 33 A.D. until 1962.  I've seen many postings on the conservative forum stating much of the sex abuse scandal has been exaggerated and perpetuated by "the media,"  by those who are only after money, and by the great world-wide conspiracy to destroy the Church.  I've seen reluctance -- actually, a complete inability -- to find any flaw in anything the Church does, has ever done (except Vat. II) or will ever do. They appear to me to be more closely aligned with the Church than with its Founder...which I find ludicrous and alarming.

In postings from the lefty side (yes, my side), I see complete frustration along with virulent calls for immediate action against blind and arrogant Bishops -- including the Bishop of Rome -- for the abuse crisis that is still not solved or resolved, though progress has been made.  We lefties dream of the implementation of our liberal agenda, which includes women's equality, including priestly ordination, birth control decisions left to couples, priestly celibacy becoming an option, loving acceptance of gays, intellectual freedom for theologians without censure, and probably most important, decision-making power by lay people.  Currently, ALL decisions in the Roman Catholic Church are made by the ordained, which immediately excludes half of the human race -- my half.

The Middle East is not the only area where desire for freedom churns.  The Protestant Reformation of the 16th-17th centuries did not occur in a void but partially from desire to rectify what was seen then as corruption in the Church.  I'm a Catholic woman (which means an official nobody),  but I'm convinced 21st century Rome is about to get rocked by a new revolution if it doesn't recognize and reform the culture of triumphalism, clericalism, sexism and traditionalism that has constipated it since the counter-reformation of the last three centuries.  I just hope that Barack doesn't hear of these particular winds of change or he'll send in the troops to support this quest for freedom, also.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Grumpy Bits And Pieces

"Peace" April 25, 2011
I used to follow a blog (which name I can't remember) that consisted of several short, pithy sentences posted during the day -- something akin to today's omnipresent 140-character tweets.  These are my "tweets" for today.  Obviously, I've yet to master the art of brevity.

I followed, probably along with you, the blanket coverage of the Japan disaster.  Maybe it was my selection of news channels to follow and online sources to read, but I didn't see/hear/read ONE WORD comparing the earthquake/tsunami to the destruction caused by the United States' use of The Bomb in 1945 -- even when radiation complicated the whole mess.  I think it would have provided an interesting and ironic parallel to the nonstop commentary, particularly the segments praising the Japanese people's "extraordinary resilience" and ability to recover quickly.  I have to wonder..... hmmm.... why was this not discussed?  Even weirder was NBC's fairly extensive coverage of the anniversary of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo -- smack in the middle of the current misery in Japan. 

I've never been a big fan of a certain talk show host who happens to be winding down her 25-year reign in May, although I've admittedly watched her occasionally over some of those years, including this final season.  She's recapping her favorite shows with her favorite guests, favorite surprises, favorite topics -- and the most favorite person of all -- herself.  With that kind of longevity in a medium not known for an attention span longer than a commercial, she's obviously given her public what they've wanted for 25 years -- surely a remarkable feat.  I just find it so completely ironic when this celebrity, with a net worth well over a billion bucks, tells her audience how the quest for wealth is not important and can only lead to a personal spiritual vacuum. The irony grows when she praises "simple living" yet relishes feeding the greedy with her flamboyant giveaway shows.  I also find irony when she, who has never raised a child, gives parenting advice; when she, with no credentials in the field, provides psychological counseling; when her "spiritual journey" (flavor of the month) becomes something we should all follow to achieve "clarity and enlightenment".  I find it distasteful when she tells her look-alike, dress-alike, think-alike cloned audience that humility is desirable, yet stands in an Australian arena drinking up the crowd's adulation like a plant sucking up Miracle-Gro and sunshine.  And don't even get me started on her diet advice.  While she's exercised admirable (and publicized) philanthropy over the years...the nasty, mean side of me wonders...how much more could she have done and still live comfortably in her seven homes? 

I'm such a dyed-in-the-wool little peacenik that war, police actions, uprisings and skirmishes that lead to war just make no sense to me.  None.  Zero.  I may be able to understand defending one's country against an actual attack or credible threat, but anything less is simple proof of old-fashioned barbarism to me.  Sorry, Republican friends...I really don't get it.  Which means, I've never paid much attention to our involvement in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya -- or all the other places we've sent young men and women to die.  Nor have I followed other countries' similar actions.  Maybe someone can explain to me why Washington is threatening entitlement programs that are critical to the very life and health of various segments of our population yet ensuring our continued involvement in three military actions.  (And don't give me that BS about Libya not being our fight...of course it is, per our President.)

I've been trying for at least 125 hours to produce a "query" to submit to publishers and/or agents to sell my medieval-themed children's book.  The reason for the ridiculous amount of time spent?  The quirky format that "oh-so-busy" screeners require -- which varies from person to person, with no actual rules or conventions...AND...the need to condense a 41,000 word novel into a 250-word pithy, intriguing tease, similar to the brief blurb you find on the back cover of a book.  I've never in my life said, "I don't think I can write this..." but I'm coming to that point.  I may self-publish the damn thing.  At least I'd be certain that the screener (me) would be satisfied.  HA!

Yeah, I'm pretty grumpy today -- it's raining, and we really haven't had any true spring weather yet, although it's only a week away from May.  My roses are blooming like crazy, but they all think they've been moved to Seattle or, worse yet, back to Salinas.  Happy Easter anyway -- Alleluia!

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