A Sad Point….

Serious content alert. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I weight my post with either cheery or poignant subjects. Today is not one of those days as during the past month there has been a series of unexpected medical issues with some of the older childless couples I know. In these cases, it isn’t only childless; it’s small families with no relatives geographically near. One of the realities of choosing to retire/relocate to somewhere like South Florida is distance. Yes, leaving the cold of the Northeast, Midwest, etc., does mean much better weather (setting aside the problem of hurricanes), but it is also a very long way from family that may not have moved. That tends not to seem important other than the price one often pays for holiday travel. And initially, it probably isn’t important. The issue comes when the cost is less the point than the physical difficulty or inability to travel. Even as we age, our active lives lures us into thinking it will always be this way. After all, we’ve seen people in their 90s on trips, haven’t we? Absolutely, and the very reason we remark is because it is the exception, not the norm. In the more likely scenario of a debilitating illness or injury, it is both the distance of a relative traveling and the life being interrupted. In a case of a temporary situation, it might be manageable. Far greater complications arise if the circumstances call into doubt the ability to remain living alone. With small families, it is also possible the remaining relatives may be equally elderly and/or have medical/financial issues that prevent them from being able to help.

These can be daunting problems and the very reason I wrote Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid. Waiting until the moment of a crisis is not the time to plan for such events. Learning what options are available in your area is strongly advised because there are actually three main factors; 1) available resources such as at-home care, transportation, etc. – not all places are created equal – ; 2) cost; 3) who will manage/advocate the assistance. Let’s use the example of affordable at-home care for help that includes transportation for trips to the grocery store and meal preparation. Someone still has to make the arrangements, manage payment and quite frankly, keep an eye out to make certain services are being provided as believed. If these things are researched before hand, getting them started is a matter of scheduling rather than having to scramble and perhaps not having time to properly vet the individual/company. In other cases, maybe external services aren’t available and instead, a network of friends/neighbors will pitch in. That’s quite possible, but again, these are conversations to develop before the need arises.

The solution of entering an independent or assisted living facility is a separate issue that I’m not going to get into in this post. In fact, there are two couples who have been stalwart volunteers within the community for decades. Both have made the decision to relocate before the year end to be closer to their adult children/younger relatives. As much as I hate to see them go, these are the types of choices we must consider for our later years.

About That Age Thing……

My maternal grandmother was one of those women who never wanted to admit her age. I never quite understood it and I think it may be less of an issue these days, although I’m not certain of that. The group of women friends I have my standing Happy Hour and other events with in general don’t mind telling their age and most of us accept the process philosophically. I think it probably has to do with us have worked in interesting jobs, traveled a fair amount, and enjoyed our youth in the day. We also understand that the 20/30-somethings who see us no doubt can’t imagine they will be like that someday. I haven’t had a “traumatic” birthday yet, but I am sometimes a bit startled in thinking of being 64. I’m obviously close to another “big” number and who knows, the moment could hit when I say, “Goodness, I’m not ready for this.” I think the whole being active for much longer is part of why we don’t view aging in the same way. Granted, I walk and don’t jog any longer, but that has far more to do with the fact I never liked jogging and only did it as a requirement of my Army life. I swapped back to my preferred walking as soon as I was able to.

I’ve also never wanted to bother with coloring my hair and that hasn’t changed. I’m fine with whomever wishes to deal with it, but what a lot of effort it takes! I may have mentioned in a previous post all the women on my mother’s side of the family have fine, straight hair and we “gray” early. I had my first silver hairs around 20. In my case, they were/are silver as opposed to white. My mother, unfortunately, had clusters of white instead of evenly streaked, so her decision to color made a bit more sense. As for wrinkles, again, it just seems too much of a bother to have some multi-part daily regimen to deal with. On the other hand, I have always been careful about moisturizer, especially with 30ish SPF sunscreen living here in South Florida.

Fiction and Non-fiction…..

I’ve posted before about the differences in writing fiction and non-fiction and with my latest book, To Play on Grass Fields, I’ve had several questions since I have a note in the book about how it was inspired by my experiences in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy (1995).

The reason it took me 20 years to actually write this book is because 1) the main theme is very complex, 2) I wanted to be cautious of the technological, economic, and social elements I included and that required a lot of research, and 3) I wasn’t certain of what approach I wanted to take. Ironically, one of the original angles I wanted to use for the climax of the book I decided to change because I didn’t think it would be credible, and yet, something similar is currently occurring with the resistance in Iran. Setting that aside for the moment, some of the more brutal aspects depicted are sadly based on events that have taken place in other continents. Third-word countries, and especially those considered virtually hopeless for any chance of development, face a very different reality than do those of emerging nations. Have I personally experienced it? No. Have I worked with/known people who have traveled in some of those places? Yes. If you watch movies such as, “Hotel Rawanda” or “The Last King of Scotland”, they are based on true stories.

The lengthy discussion in the one chapter about transforming the military of the fictional Malathos is quite valid. This is one of the areas that was discussed by the Task Force in Haiti and is being implemented in a few (too few) countries to try to lessen the possibility of future change of government by coup.

I debated for quite some time about including the final segment “Excerpt of Lecture by Dr. Byrne”. There were, however, points I wanted to make I could not and keep the dialog/pace moving as I wished and that’s why I created the final segment as I did.

Star Wars Update…..

Our son is a big time Star Wars fan – it was one of the first non-animated movies he watched at home (and watched many times) and “Return of the Jedi” was the first movie he saw in a theater. He’s read many (if not all) of the books and when they were here last week, we kept granddaughter while they went to see “The Last Jedi”. Hubby had been wanting to see it so we did a matinee on Wed. It is a long movie of almost three hours and definitely has some dark tones. We do not in general go to the theater and make exceptions for the “big screen” pictures. All the special effects in these movies puts them into that category and you do get an eyeful as well as “earful” with swooping crafts and lots of explosions.

I won’t do a spoiler in case someone reading this hasn’t seen the movie yet and plans to. It is interesting though to see the characters who were so very young in the original as they have aged. Naturally they’ve added new young actors in different roles to keep a balance. I don’t have the faintest notion of how many more of these there are supposed to be, but there is one about Hans Solo scheduled for the summer. I’m not sure of the concept and will no doubt hear more about it from my friends and family who are fans.

 

Another New Year….

What will 2018 bring? It’s difficult to know and as I have mentioned, I gave up making resolutions quite some time ago. The short visit with the kids and granddaughter was a bit hectic, but fun of course. Two-and-a-half is on the cusp of so much. The ability to express in words advances, but not yet to the point of being able to explain all those outbursts of frustration. The wanting of a cupcake for breakfast is pretty easy to understand – the sobbing over some other issue once all the usual questions are asked not so much so. On the other hand, it does provide the opportunity for grandparents to say, “Yep, you were like that, too, and this phase will pass”.

I hadn’t actually calculated it before, however, 2018 will be both our 30th wedding anniversary and the kids’ 10th – theirs in August and ours in November. Special trips could be in the planning, although there are personal events which could also occur to impact plans and it might be best to not make any arrangements too far in advance.

Our schedules aren’t likely to slow down a bit and therefore, it would be rather a waste to act as if that’s going to change. At the top of the list though is me doing everything I can to stick with my intention of getting out to dive once a month. Yes, the water will be chilly for a few months, but I have a thicker wetsuit and still more natural insulation that I care for. That generally helps keep me warmer. As for writing news, I’ll talk about that in future posts.

For those who do still make resolutions, think through what you’re considering and be gentle with yourself in the process.

Lapse In Posting…..

Ah, those disruptions to schedules. It was Christmas of course, but a couple of unexpected tasks popped up as I was trying to also prepare for the kids’ arrival and party we have New Year’s Eve. I was absolutely determined to get one more day of diving in before the end of the year and that pretty well takes most of a day. The conditions were decent with only a little bounce (waves) and visibility underwater of about 40 feet. For those of us who often get 70, that’s “marginal”. For those who dive in places that rarely get even 20 feet, it’s terrific. This is genuinely a relative measure. Hubby was finishing up a class with a guy who is the fiance of a young lady who dives, as does her father. They were along and it’s always nice to see two generations diving together. I did find them a stingray, and did see a nurse shark, although I couldn’t get to the rest of the group in time to show them. I love the spotted trunk fish like in the photo and I got all my angel fish – queen, gray, French, and rock beauty. Other divers saw an eel and turtle, so between the two groups, it was a nice array of the more “fun” stuff. The “biggie” for our group was a juvenile Goliath Grouper. It was no more than about forty pounds, but still impressive. Adults grow to 200-300+ pounds.

The kids’ flight on the 28th was slightly delayed and traffic was still pretty heavy at that hour. School not being in helps, although a lot of people who took off for Christmas are back at work. I had a couple of friends over for dinner that evening who can’t make the New Year’s Eve party so the timing got a little tricky. All went well, however, and Hubby had gotten the child’s seat correctly installed in the car. Those were not required when son was that age, therefore, neither of us have experience with the things. When you have a part “left over”, it tends to be a matter of concern. I had the part and the instructions with me and it turned out the piece in question was if you had a younger child. Ah, good.

Depending on how today unfolds, the kids will go off to see “The Last Jedi”. Hubby has to finish up a course for a couple and Gram and granddaughter will be baking cookies.

All That Technology….

There is nothing wrong with still liking a flip phone, and actually, there are still a few models that precede those. When I say “nothing wrong” I mean in having a preference. The issue, as often happens, becomes the problem of maintaining older technology no matter what the item is. Try finding someone to repair an eight-track tape player these days.

With all the gadgets that will be unwrapped tomorrow, those who know how to use them will probably squeal/smile with pleasure. In some cases, the recipient will politely respond, not certain of what on earth they are going to do with “this thing”. For older people, there is a range of, “I’ll give it a try”, to “I really don’t want to mess with this.” That kind of reaction is genuinely nothing personal, but it is something to keep in mind when looking for technology that will make an older person’s life easier. That can very well be true or it can be a source of frustration. The point is that first, the individual has to want whatever the result is supposed to be. Let’s take the e-book reader as an example. The features of being able to increase the size of the font at a press of a button, order something within a matter of minutes, and not need more bookshelf space are great. But if an individual is not comfortable with ordering on line and can’t quite figure out how to use the functions without someone there to help, that’s not such a good deal. And yes, the phrase, “If I can do it, anyone can,” is simply not always correct. Each person has their own way of learning, and more importantly, retaining new information. Spiffy technology might be just the thing, but you do have to be prepared that it also might not be the answer.

Why Amazon Reviews Are Important….

It’s been a while since I posted about this topic, but a recent discussion brought it to mind. Independent authors are very much like out-of-the-way restaurants. You know the kind – they can’t afford to be in a prime location, the food critics aren’t likely to know about them, and they aren’t going to have a robust advertising budget to blanket their target market. Yes, social media is a tool, but if you’ve never tried to actually use social media for promotion, you will find that what marketers will happily point to as successful campaigns usually equally ignore those that fall flat. The simple fact is word-of-mouth combined with actual quality are still the best ways for any “unknown” to become known

Book reviews, even if they are only a few words, on Amazon, Good Reads, or whatever you’re preferred on-line book seller is continues to be especially important to little-known authors. People can find a lesser-known author through various means, but when they do, their question is  – “Why should I take a chance on this?”. As most of us know, the description of a book only gets you so far. When they see positive reviews though, that can make a difference in taking a chance on an unfamiliar author. You hope the outcome is a new fan who then helps spread the word.

The downside of course is people can and certainly do post negative reviews; some of which can be painful. It’s part of the life of an author to accept this risk and read those reviews to see if there is a valid point. There is a saying, although I don’t know who to attribute it to, of something like, “No two people ever read a book in the same way.” I  have been quite surprised over the years when speaking to groups to have characters or scenes interpreted in different ways than I intended. It too, is something you learn as an author.

 

Ah, Nutcracker….

In costume for Trepek with one of the other guest performers

There was a time when I barely gave the ballet, “Nutcracker”, little if any thought. I mean, I appreciated it as a holiday tradition and I remember the year my nephew was old enough to attend. They were in Houston so of course it was a highly professional performance and my sister still fondly recalls the event. It is indeed a great way to introduce a child to ballet with the wonderful array of characters and the variety of dance. Since son has been in the dance world I have come to more appreciate the other value of Nutcracker.

It is the money-maker for a lot of studios, but set that aside for the moment.What I’ve learned is that as a private studio grows, it’s expansion can be related to the quality of the Nutcracker performances. Can it be held in some sort of theater? Can they bring in one or more professional dancers to ply thea key roles? If so, these two points can be used in advertising their ballet programs.

The performing company our son dances with ends their fall season early enough in November to allow the dancers to take on guest roles for those studios who can bring in professionals. Since he does the Russian Dance so well, that has been a staple for him although he’s done many of the other parts, too. His first real contract was to perform the Russian Dance with the Delta Festival Ballet in New Orleans. Several years ago I put together a family trip to see him and it may be  time to do so again. They almost always schedule their Nutcracker for the weekend before Christmas which means like this year, he will be flying home Christmas Eve. It will be his third performance of the season (one Christmas Carol and two Nutcrackers) and this is why we don’t bring them for Christmas. Since rehearsals and sometimes an extra performance begins right after Thanksgiving, they are generally exhausted by the time the last one is over. The couple of days of rest before we fly them in gives them all a chance to catch their breath.

Tricky Leftovers….

With social gatherings in full swing, my husband has given up trying to get me to properly calculate the amount of food required for guests. I am a little better than I used to be, but it is marginal, shall we say. I totally believe in the “better too much than too little”. That of course pretty much always results in leftovers; some of which can be passed along to guests and others not. I have also done posts in the past about the creative use of leftovers. However, the culinary reality is not all leftovers do work well with reheating and transformation of them can be tricky. One of the most difficult to deal with is a pastry wrapped item or anything with a “crisped” topping. If you reheat in a microwave as most of us do, the topping will be soggy. If you re-heat in the oven, you may be able to preserve the topping by carefully using the broiler, but whatever is underneath might not be warm enough.

In general, I go with a two-step process. I start by taking whatever it is out of the fridge and let  it come to room temperature. Yes, I know the Food Police say don’t do that, but so far, illness has not resulted. If it something like a casserole, I gently remove the topping and set it aside. (By the way, this process is likely to detract from aesthetics.) I have the oven at 350, cover the casserole tightly with foil and try a 20-minute reheat. It might take longer depending on the density. Oh, I also spread it out as thinly as possible in the dish to help with reheating time. Then I remove the foil, replace the topping and either lightly dot with butter or sprinkle in Parmesan cheese if it is compatible with the dish. Four to seven minutes under the broiler will usually work, but you do have to watch it because the timing isn’t exact. Re-crisping is good – burned not so much.

Although this process isn’t good for everything, I have had a lot of success with it.