Time and Money

Back when I first started blogging, I had a full time job, was in college studying for my degree, living with my patient and wonderful husband and three adult children which, and they will not argue this, was a crazy sometimes and hair raising others. Parenting never ends. Now I am retired and you would think I would have all the time in the world. Strangely, I find that my time is more limited than it was then.

My husband and I had dinner last week with dear friends who announced they were retiring in six months. The husband, however is fearing the day he wakes up without the structure of the job. I get it. The unknown is frightening, however I reminded him of how nice it is going to feel when next year the snow storm we had last Thursday where commutes were in the double digits will just mean he can sit by the fire longer with his glass of wine.

Aside from watching the morning news from my nice warm bed with reports on the daily accidents on Rte 80 with a 5 mile backup , I had to really think, just what do I do with my time. I go to the gym, play mahjong, and cook. Occasionally, I am a lady who lunches. While that sounds like my days are spent in fuzzy slippers and an oversized bathrobe, I truly do have a job albeit not a salaried one but I have the convenience of working from home.

I manage our fixed income budget to insure I can afford those clothes, shoes and most of all, our trips. Gone are the days where I must seek approval for additional funds from a penny pinching manager when a project went over-budget. Now I (and my husband) are the pinchers of pennies.

I am the technical support specialist for all our computers, iPhones and printer. Last week when installing an update on my Mac, the screen went black and would not restart. After a brief but very emotional hissy fit, I called Apple who told me to press “shift” and the power button and miraculously, the screen came to life. I have learned to fix these technological issues by the seat of my pants and some googling.

And I am the travel agent for our weekday getaways, long cruises and all other trips. It was nice having a travel agent both at work and personally who found the hotels, booked the flights and recommended tours. Now I open credit cards as often as I can with bonus points so I don’t have to pay for flights and hotels. Most recently, I booked a hotel stay in Paris and round trip flights to Greece all with points. There is a whole industry of people who work these credit cards with millions of points under their belt. Start with the Points Guy. It’s a good beginners site.

While there is no paycheck coming every week, I have made it my mission to look for ways of doing what I want within my budget. More savings, more trips, another dress. It’s my job, and I love it. Life is good.

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Autumn Hikes in NY State

Retirement has been good to me. I have found very little time to ponder any regrets or short comings even though they exist somewhere in the back of my mind. I do not have a bucket or a list for the bucket. My actions are somewhat calculated based on opportunities. It seems to work as I have trips planned through 2019 and two-day sprints planned for the coming months. You can do that when you don’t have to plan around your co-works or beg for an additional day to recover from jet lag.

So now I can finally enjoy each season doing whatever I want wherever I want or can afford. It is autumn, my favorite season. I voted it my favorite for these reasons: I don’t have to suck in my stomach in a bathing suit, I look best in fall colors, and I love cooking soups and stews. Plus, I live in upstate New York which is built for autumn with lots of hiking trails with beautiful scenery and, if I time it right, with pretty colored trees.

In the last months, I’ve experienced some great trails that have challenged my sure-footedness and given me back some great vistas. The first hike this season was called Undercliff/Overcliff. Don’t get scared by the photo in the link showing someone climbing up a rocky incline. That is not what you will do. The trail is easy with a straight run along the edge of the cliff. It’s about 5 miles of level ground.

Next is a trail my friend turned me on to within the Schunnemunk State Park. (Don’t you want to know Mr. Schunnemunk to find out who this guy with such a funny name.) Not far from Woodbury Common, it is a great trail with challenging sections that take you up a rocky slope. I have to admit, I chickened out on the last 10 feet before reaching the summit at the top and headed back down. I somewhat regret it but not like I regret turning down concert tickets to see George Harrison in the concert for Bangladash.

A few days later, I enjoyed a hike in Bergen County, NJ near where I use to live and work for many years yet never hiked it.  It helped that it was a sunny day, yet windy, which made the Ramapo Valley Reservation look picturesque and the cold wind made it challenging.

Tomorrow, Tony and I (by the way, he has been with me on all these hikes) are going up to Hunter Mountain. The quest is to conquer Kaaterskills Falls. There are two options: the lower trailhead is only two miles but two rocky miles. The upper trailhead is almost five miles. The falls are renown as a setting for Hudson Valley artists, however there are true dangers associated with this site. As reported as recently as August 2018 in the NY Times, at least 8 people have died at the falls because they disregarded the caution signs or went off trail.

Do not worry about me. Please refer to paragraph 4 of this post where I refer to myself as a chicken. I am not an Instragram fanatic where I will tread into dangerous territory. I just want to hike and live for another.

 

Capturing Time

I recently watched a Netflix movie with Ed Harris called Kodachrome. A fictional father-son road trip story about an acclaimed photographer who is dying and his estranged son who take a road trip to Kansas to develop the father’s early Kodachrome film spools before the last factory that services this obsolete photo system shuts down. Towards the end of the movie, Ed Harris, who plays the father, speaks a line that sums up one’s obsession with photography. “In pictures you stop time; commit moments to eternity”. I may be paraphrasing but it is true. Within my travels I have stood before scenic landscapes attempting to capture the essence of what stands before me hoping to convey, in a smaller scale, what I saw and felt that made me want to remember this place or moment.

I am forever the amateur photographer. I will never be acclaimed but aspire to take the shot that makes it worthy of framing and placing on a wall reminding me of the beauty and enjoyment I felt when there. Adhering to my rule of “pack it just in case”, I overload my arms with my camera in its case, my three lens, its charger and the manual (again, just in case). When I am at a site I find impressive, I am conscious of trying not to make people wait while I take shot after shot using various settings to capture the perfect likeness. Sometimes I get it, other times I could have bought a postcard and got the same result in less time.

When it comes to people shots, everyone prefers the candid approach and so do I. Unfortunately, I am hard to miss with a Nikon D80 and a telephoto lens covering my face. If I stand back, I am missing the company of my companions. If I don’t, most often the subjects become self-conscious and the spontaneity is gone. It comes to deciding if I want to be the photographer or take part in the fun. A compromise I have yet to resolve.

I don’t think most realize how difficult photography is. I had a photographer friend, Gary who was an excellent wildlife and landscape photographer. On occasion, Gary and I would spend a day in the city and take photos. He was a great teacher instructing me on shutter speed and aperture settings. I took some great shots with him but I didn’t get enough time learning. He maintained his art and would go on these photography trips by himself to some obscure places and come back with closeups of wildlife on a lake that made me wonder how he got off the lake alive. He took some amazing pictures of nature and its inhabitants but in order to get it right, he would be in a canoe for at least 6 hours alone until the daylight ended. He loved his art but I don’t think he ever got paid enough for his efforts if he got paid at all.

So I am leaving for London in a few days and will pack my camera and all its associated paraphernalia. I hope I can get some great shots without annoying my husband or friends. Our last trip was a cruise around the Baltic with stunning landscapes and amazing times. Here is just a few of the 250 memories captured in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Experience

When I decided to retire, I had visions of working at something. What that something was changed from month to month or maybe even more often than that. It usually depended on who gave me some great idea or if I read an article in the NY Times about  some Wall Street executive who one day threw his briefcase in the nearest waterway and bought a pair of Durango boots and started herding cattle on a ranch.

So with my briefcase in the garbage, I entertained the thought of owning a bed and breakfast. Why not, I said. I was a facilities manager for many years so that certainly qualifies me to know how a house runs. I am a good cook and can make a good omelet and home fries. I actually enjoy running a house and making breakfasts.

I probably had this inspiration from remembering the Bob Newhart Show.  This was the show where he ran a B&B in Vermont with his wife and had wacky characters such as the next door neighbors, the Daryls (you know, “this here is my brother Daryl and this is my other brother Daryl” neither of whom spoke). All the characters made for a funny sitcom but in real life, it may not work so well when your maid doesn’t want to clean and the guys next door are scaring the guests. And wait, I have to be there every day! I don’t get a vacation. And all those B&Bs are old and need work!?! How long would it be before I started snarling at the unreasonable guests (as they all would be) and especially at my poor husband who warned me this was a foolhardy idea to begin with. No this luckily did not happen.

Every once in a while, I get a notification that someone I don’t know wants to connect with me on Linkedin. The poor soul thinks I still work and have some connection with the corporate world that can boost their own agenda. Little do they know my days are filled with mahjongg, gym classes and countless runs to the Shoprite as I can’t seem to even put a list together for a full week’s worth of groceries anymore. And I thought I could run a B&B – Ha!

What I have been doing is traveling. This year, for the first time, I cruised. I along with Tony and some good friends (and we are still friends) took the Viking Homeland Ocean Cruise to countries I never had on any list of “Got To See”. I loved it. It was a different experience from touring on land with its local involvement but being on the ship where everything is taken care of ain’t so bad either. A deviation from the norm turned out to be a good thing.

We’re keeping close to home during the summer months as I still love going to the Jersey shore. When we lived in Jersey, our family vacations took us further down the Parkway to Wildwood Crest and Cape May. Now, its Ocean Grove, Spring Lake and Asbury and I’m finding more new experiences that I love.

Ocean Grove

 

 

Facebook and Me

Before there was Facebook, I was somewhat a technologically-challenged everyday person with some creative writing skills. Facebookers were colleges and university students practicing free speech within their dorms.  I longed for a means of communicating with those outside my immediate circle so, I developed my own forum in order to keep in touch with my cousins who lived in various parts of the world. I use the term cousins loosely as it is an Armenian trait where close friends become relatives, hence I have more cousins than my family produced . So my true cousins Adel and Sue in Greece followed my life through my blog and other true cousins Michael and Julia would read of my travels to Italy and California and would comment – not just like, but comment. And of course, my adopted “cousin” Diane and “cousin” Jennifer would now be in the loop too.

A writer friend (and adopted cousin) introduced me to her blog about her new life as a mother and suburban housewife. She inspired me to write my thoughts and fullfill my creative desires to anyone that would listen.  So in 2007, I started my first blog – “In The Heart of a Former Hippie”. I faithfully posted and even acquired followers that I communicated with through their blog postings.

But then, the horizons opened up and I became a Facebook addict . Somewhere around 2011, for better or worse, I discovered Facebook and it me. So did most of my cousins. They saw my activity, they would post theirs and we had dialogue or at least like each other’s posts with a thumbs up. Within social circles, I would meet one of the mothers on my son’s football team and the next thing I knew,  I got a friend invite. And then another. And so it grew.

Except for my daughter, my two sons did not friend me for several years. Then one day, I was invited. What made them change their minds, I still don’t know. I think it might have been out of pity during when I was going to college in my later years surrounded by kids their age that they thought I earned their FB friending.

It was in my Public Speaking class that I had to put a presentation together where the topic was selling a product. I came up with the idea of selling a fatuous software called “Facemask”. Facemask, I claimed, was an app that would allow you to hide your Facebook posts from those you selected not to see the truth about your online life. As part of my powerpoint, I played this video with the tag line, “Don’t let this happen to you. Be incognito with Facemask”

I got an A in the class and my sons have not de-friended me.

As Long As I Can

Finally its done. The Holidays of 2017 are history with all its great times and some stress. Like other years, its highs and lows rolls up into a memory. Some years blend into the other and inevitably,  I don’t recall what year a vacation occurred. Luckily, I still remember the vacation; just not sure exactly when.

With Christmas decorations put away, the house looked stark and different. I wondered why I picked yellow for the color of the walls in the guest bedroom and basement family room. Two years ago, it must have been the trend. This week it looked wrong and washed out. So with color palette in hand, I decided to change the color of both rooms and, in order to make it easier on the checkbook, paint it myself.

Truthfully, I’m not a good painter. I usually don’t use a drop cloth (just some newspaper strewn on the floor) or cover the furniture. I just hope for the best and usually get more paint in my hair and clothes than anywhere else. Another technique that would send a professional painter cringing is rather than move the furniture, I stand on it as a ladder, inching my way along the wall until I run out of furniture and hopefully the wall. As I do this, I think to myself, “you are getting older. Better not change the color again or I will wind up in serious trouble on the floor”.

Last summer, I fell off a bike, twice. Twice I landed on my left elbow. Luckily, it healed well and I didn’t suffer too much in the aftermath. As a matter of fact, it hardly stopped me. Now I am raising my arm to paint. But one day, I won’t be able to. My concern is will I know when that time comes before I attempt another bike ride or to move a piece of furniture.

Last week, the NY Times had an article entitled “How To Prevent Falls“. As I read the article, a paragraph hit close to home.  In essence it said after standing on the edge of a bathtub in slippers to clean the top tiles,  the author was reminded that a little dirt never hurt anyone but a fall on a tile floor could. That should have made me call the contractor to finish the job but I didn’t. Anyway, it is done and happily no different, except for maybe a little achier,  than before I started.

I’m not out to prove anything. I just like my life with its all its activities and I like my house with its new color walls. The key here is sensibility and calculated risks. I am aging and even if I can’t do what I use to do, I still want to enjoy the rest of what I can do. Sometimes I think living in the northeast with its cold, and ice and snow isn’t right for an aging couple. On the other hand, its too beautiful here to give it up. I’ll just be careful.

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New Year’s Resolutions (aka Lessons Learned)

Gratefully, I, along with my husband, close friends and family, are looking forward to the beginnings of another year. I have never felt that going from December 31 to January 1 resulted in a magical transition from one year to the other recollecting the year’s good times with fond memories while the unpleasant events are relegated to the category of lessons learned, not to do again. So rather than create a list of resolutions for 2018 which may result in failed attempts to reconcile my unpleasant reflections, I am creating a list of things I will never do again or intent to do differently:

  • I will never again go to a mass appeal concert that opens with a start up band that I couldn’t care less about particularly if it is outdoors. One would think that having gone to the 1969 Woodstock, I would have learned then and there that the hype was bigger than the event. As icon as that concert was, it was a weekend of pouring rain, very cold (even in August) nights and no showers (I can’t swim so skinny dipping was out).

In October, my husband and I went to the Formula 1 Race in Austin. After the Saturday race, Justin Timberlake was scheduled to appear. Everyone who attended the race was admitted to the concert however it was all standing room. We paid extra to stand close to the stage. And I do mean stand.

After being on our feet for 3 1/2 hours, shoulder to shoulder in a mass of people in the heat I realized that no one was worth this amount of discomfort. Just before the infamous JT made his appearance, a poor heat struck girl standing behind us passed out and when the medics came to remove her, we followed.

  • As Frank sang, “Regrets, I have a few”. Like throwing out things that are in good condition and expensive to replace thinking “I’ll never use this again”. It is understandable that after spending weeks packing to our new downsized home, it just seemed easier and sensible to toss items out with the thought that I would never use them again (i.e. skis, small items of furniture and tableware I would use for large parties thinking I won’t be entertaining like that again – wrong). Temptation, or just being lazy, got the better of me and now I am spending too much time and money on their replacements.
  • Taking an exercise class where I was the only student with an instructor who was much younger and more agile and let me know it. I hobbled out of the class and cancelled my membership.
  • Buying my husband a blood pressure monitor as a stocking stuffer. He didn’t find it amusing or in good taste. As a matter of fact, he said, “I don’t want it” and compared it to getting me a vacuum as a gift. Next time, I’ll just get him the car part he hinted at wanting.

So the Holidays are over and I am happy to say, it is never to late to learn how life can be improved and how things that seemed like a good idea at one point be not necessarily smart after all. Lessons learned.

Happy New Year to all!

 

City of Two Sides

There is nothing that says the Holidays like New York City especially at night. The glitter of Christmas sparkles in the department store windows turning every adult into a kid again. The white lights wrapped around bare tree branches all over town complement the colored lights of the Rock Center tree. No city speaks Christmas as New York does and it is worth spending a couple of nights to take full advantage of what can be.

After years of “going-to-work-getting-on-the-bus-coming-home”, retirement has afforded us the time to venture to unknown boroughs to see more of the beauty of Christmas outside Rock Center. This year, I found something off the beaten track and dragged everyone to Dyker Heights in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. It is an residential neighborhood where each house is decorated in over-the-top Christmas lights that make you wonder who lives there and how much their electric bill is. I am taking a wild guess that the inhabitants are Italian and maybe connected (wink, wink). Traveling in a crowded D train plagued with delays and redirections was an effort yet worth it. This square mile of lighted homes all seeming to try to outdo each other was spectacular. I’m grateful to these people for thinking so much of Christmas to do this and for being part of New York.

This was the first time we stayed in a hotel on the upper west side but it offered an opportunity to explore areas around Central Park. Wollman Rink who I have to credit “The Donald” who in 1986 stepped in to lead the renovation of the dilapidated rink allowing it to join the icons of New York tourism.

Yet there was a time when the city was unsafe as when we looked at the vestibule of the Dakota apartment building where on December 8, 1980, John Lennon was assassinated. There were pockets of unsafe places where high rise luxury apartments now exist. It was a time where it was considered foolhardy to walk through any of the green spaces especially at night and ones nicknamed Needle Park. 42nd Street was dictated by drug dealers, hookers and porno shops. And the subways were spray painted with bizarre graffiti and inhabited by homeless. With all that, we mourned the passing of our beloved Beatle and moved on.

The city recovered and it improved. Strawberry Fields was built, the parks and subways were cleaned up and 42nd Street became safe. Last week, Fifth Avenue was glittered up with the Swarovski crystal star hanging near Tiffany’s and the windows of Saks displayed a stunning re-enactment of the Snow White story compete with animated dwarfs.

Then on Monday, a pipe bomb went off at the Port Authority sending scores of people into a panic. Fortunately, the idiot who set it off was the only one hurt. The next day or maybe within hours, it was business as usual. Speeches by the mayor and governor boasted the resilience of New Yorkers claiming these citizens will not be deterred from their daily lives. That is true and has been tested time and time again.

I had a plan to meet my cousin in the meatpacking district where she lives for dinner on Saturday. Once again, I am moving on.

 

Thanksgiving As I Know It

I love Thanksgiving. Yes, it is for all the obvious reasons. The day is filled with wonderful food, it is the beginning of the Christmas Season, and lots of TV viewing that starts with the parade, and ends with a string of NFL games. For better or worse, it is the holiday family and friends gather for all of the above with the expectation of a serene day of peaceful coexistence giving thanks for all the good in your life. I am blessed.  I have the usual cast of characters to be thankful for – my husband who I love waking up to every morning, my kids who continue to want me to be part of their life, and to  the memory of my mother whose strong personality put up with more than she deserved. But there were those that have entered my life that made its impact on me and I am grateful.

Except for a bout with breast cancer fourteen years ago, and some surgeries that have rebuilt my spine and my right shoulder, I have not suffered physically. I have overcome my ailments and at the age of 66, I can say that I am relatively healthy while others much younger than I have not. Some have survived their battles while others I remember for their valiant but futile attempt to overcome their illness. I am thankful to have been one of those who survived and continue to make my life worthwhile but remember that life can change in an instant.

Living in a wonderful community with good friends and and a comfortable lifestyle makes one forget that there are others outside your walls that are less fortunate and maybe always were less entitled. I think of those who were plagued with natural disaster such as the hurricanes that hit this year in Houston and Puerto Rico. Some had the same lifestyle I had before disaster struck and others were never that better off to begin with. Why I am fortunate to be where I am is a mystery to me. Did I do something right or did I just get lucky.

When the Thanksgiving parade is over, and the ballad of “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie is played and the last of the Thanksgiving dinner is done, I look forward to the Christmas Season. I am thankful for that but think it is time for me to do more to help those who are less fortunate. Not sure what that means yet but will figure it out.

 

 

My Halloween Escape

Tis the Halloween Season and every year I look forward to it. I use to enjoy it more when the kids were younger.  I had total control as to how to dress them up and would go with them running wild on the Halloween friendly-block in the neighborhood where the witch would open the door and the spooky decor would excite them. It was fun for them and for me, but there was one Halloween where I went to a party my office threw which made memories of a scare I am relieved to be able to tell with relief and humor. Here’s how it goes:

It was 17 years ago, at the height of the dot-com era and I was working for a digital marketing firm. The profile of the firm consisted of 20 – 30 somethings, mostly single, who would come to work after 10 AM. They interpreted dress down Fridays as being able to come to work wearing what they went to bed in. In other words, they were not at all like me nor I like them.

I took the job thinking the casual atmosphere would make for an understanding union between creative thinkers and a mother with three kids who came in before 8 but had to leave at 5. That theory was as wrong as wrong could get. Yet, I did have some sympathetic 40 something friends and we stuck together.

Being who this company was, instead of having an office Christmas party, the firm decided it would be more in line with their culture to have a Halloween party at Webster Hall. My friends and I decided to dress so that maybe the rest of the kids would think we weren’t as square as we usually were and could be a fun outside the office. So we pulled together whatever we could and became these “galactic hookers”.

The image was not hard to create; teased up hair, lots of makeup, a red leather jacket, short black skirt, fishnet stockings and red high heels. I have to admit, we were not lonely that night.

The problem was, when the evening ended my friends left for their homes in Manhattan and I failed to make provisions to make it back to Jersey. I got a cab without problem (remember my outfit) to the Port Authority but didn’t realize that it was after midnight and my bus stopped running!!

I am now in the Port Authority it is after midnight and in this building, I am not dressed like a galactic hooker. I am a hooker!! Realizing I am in big trouble, I went to the only restaurant that was open, some hamburger joint, and with fear in my eyes, pleaded to some bewildered server to let me sit somewhere safe so I could call a car service. In a voice of hysterical panic, I implored with the dispatcher to get me out of here as quickly as he could. He did, sending a car within minutes and I was saved.

When I arrived safely home, my husband had no clue the peril I had gotten myself into. Of course, my first mistake was thinking I could get on a bus with that outfit on. We can laugh about my stupidity now but I still wonder how I got out of the city in one piece and can tell the story with humor.

Halloween