Friday, December 19, 2014

This Is Your Brain On Knitting (Or Woodworking, or Electronics or....)

Last year, I took up knitting. I had never knitted before, and I figured it would be good for me to learn a new thing.  I also figured that it was an opportunity for me to engage socially, in a new area.  After I had been in the group a couple of weeks, I arrived home with the beginnings of a new project (needles, yarn and a pattern of sorts).  When that happened, my son saw me and joked to the effect that I needed to take up a new hobby every few months. Actually, what he said was,  “Do you really NEED another hobby???”

The short answer to that question is yes. The truth is that while he was joking, there are advantages to crafting type activities in general-on many levels. In this context, I am not just talking about artsy type craft.  I‘m referring to what my daughter the occupational therapist would all a “cognitively demanding activity”.  These might include knitting and quilting-or learning computer skills, intensive home repair skills, photography or any one of a host of activities.  The important thing about these kinds of activities is that they are mentally engaging (often to the exclusion of anything else). while at the same time generally requiring physical skill, concentration, and for lack of a better word, manual dexterity (using all those large and small muscle groups the child development experts always used to talk about).

We all know about the advantages of puzzles or brain games, but these kinds of activities in retirement can affect us in many more ways for a variety of reasons.  As hobbyists, we generally are both looking to take on a different project that requires different and sometimes more difficult skills, or new skills in different areas.  In other words, we are always raising the bar. If we become bored with a specific hobby, we generally feel the need to search out a new one-which increases the level all over again. I love to read, and I do both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times Sunday puzzle each week. But at this point I generally read at the same level (unless I am involved in a difficult college course), and while some weekends I want to turn the newspaper into confetti, the general difficulty of that puzzle remains the same. 

It can be easy to “lose oneself” in a hobby. When that happens, the rest of the brain is at rest. People can forget pain, stress and worries simply from the intense concentration on the single activity. My previously mentioned family member says that the current phraseology is “flow”, where some of us might perhaps refer to that state as the “Zen”.  I remember thinking when I first began to knit that probably would do that exclusively at my social group, but could not imagine knitting alone. Not only do I now knit alone, but I knit without television or music and am never bored. The concentration and effort allow me to lose myself, and in effect clear my brain.

The final advantage of hands on hobbies has to do with anti-aging and cognition. A 2011 study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry showed a direct correlation between crafting and improved cognitive function-even among those who were already experiencing mild impairment. The study showed these kinds of activities had an very large effect, while other activities (socialization, travel, even music) often had no noticeable effect. This is not to say those other life activities don’t have value, and are not desirable, just that they had less effect as “brain food” for lack of a better description.

A more recent, 2014 study is more specific. This group showed that engaging in and learning new skills that activated working memory, episodic memory, and reasoning over a period of 3 months would enhance cognitive function in older adults. The specific participants in this study did learned quilting and digital photography (or both).

Many of us enter retirement with a single hobby or passion, or with our minds on a specific hobby.  The truth is the more hobbies you try, the happier you will probably be (and your brain will be).  Remember, this research is not about the end result, it’s about the doing, engaging, and enjoying. So if you’re interested in learning how to cook (sculpt, play an instrument, build a model rocket), as the ad says, just do it.  Don’t stop because you’re less than perfect or will never be an expert.  Stop if you are bored-and then move on to the next thing.

As for me, I’ve made a commitment to myself to try a new hands-on skill every three months.   So far my list includes metalworking, digital photography (I’m amazed by the photos some bloggers take and aspire to those heights), bread making, and beginning woodworking.  I’ll let you know how it goes! 
Now go forth and play!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Embracing Christmas Disparity-All Does Not Have to Be Equal

On the Monday before Christmas, I will be heading to Dallas.  While there, I'll celebrate Christmas morning with my daughter and her boyfriend, and spend the afternoon at a large family dinner. I'll also hopefully get a chance to visit the gals in my previous women's support group, and go to Midnight Mass at my old church. It looks as though I will be spending many Christmases as alternating holidays. One Christmas I will go to Dallas, and the second Christmas my daughter will spend with her boyfriend's family.

 On those alternating years, my family here will have a small new Year's celebration to share gifts, which of course is what we did the years I lived in Dallas.  Other years I could be on a cruise, in the mountains, or (more likely), in Germany spending time with my fellow retirees and friends I left behind.

Just like lots of other families, we have different gifting traditions, Here in Denver, we exchange gifts with everyone. In Dallas, the "small family groups" (such as my daughter, son, her boyfriend, myself and five dogs) will share gifts in the morning. Later, at the large gathering, there will be a drawn names gift exchange. Also like many families, we have a wide variety of incomes within the family group.  Fortunately, most members of the group have a embraced a basic tenet-that all gifts to not have to be equal.

My Texas family is a perfect example , with my own core family being even a smaller microcosm of society. My thirty something daughter and her boyfriend both make more than me, and more than many retirees claim each month. On the other hand, my son is basically unemployed. This  means that in our family the tradition of parents gifting the adult children, does not fit the mold. It also means that all gifting will, of course, not be equal-and that's okay.  My son could end up giving his sister ten dollar cookie racks, and get a sixty dollar game in return. Some gifts will be homemade, some will not-and that is also okay. As long as the gifts are loved, wanted or needed.

The same is true further afield.  One brother in law and his wife have been upper level professional types for over thirty years, with no kids or other financial responsibilities.  With anther couple, the husband is a disabled vet who cannot work with a wife who no longer can work-true fixed income types. In between, there are all levels. For this gathering, everyone draws a name, looks at that person's wish list and then gifts as he or she is able.  Officially, the gift exchange has a seventy dollar limit.  The truth, of course, is that my unemployed son will not have seventy dollars to spend-he will probably buy one  thing, and make his other gifts, and again, that's okay.

Too often we measure gifting (as well as many other things) on a tit for tat basis. I think we do much better when we give and receive with grace, rather than comparing. I mean this for both the giver and the recipient.  While it's important to acknowledge the gift of someone who has given you less than you gifted, it is also important to accept large gifts with the grace that they are usually given. 

Occasionally I see people running back to the store, because they bought  a perfect gift, and got something much larger/more expensive.  While on occasion this may be appropriate, mostly I think it leads to craziness, and a lack of contentment.  The same is true on the the other end-Frannie just gave me a card, so I'm going to return this gift I bought. Not only that, but wait till it's HER birthday.  Christmas giving is about, well, giving.  This year, I;m going to embrace to joy and get on with it.

That said, as one who always waits until the last minute, there is a half finished scarf, a shawl, many cloth napkins, and about ten more things to be sewn. In the kitchen there are cookies to bake, conserves to make, flavored butters to roll.

It's time for me to get on the stick, don't you think?

And The Blog-It is A-Changing!

Folks, I know it’s been awhile and I apologize. I have not disappeared off  the earth or left blogging.

What I have done is spent some serious time contemplating the direction of this blog. Awhile back I mentioned that I planned to move in a slightly new direction. I am a retiree, and a frugal retiree, but that is not all I am. In fact, that is not even MAINLY what and who I am.  I'm a person who just happens to be retired(partially) on a limited income.

More importantly, I am a traveler, quilter, cook, writer, explorer, artist, mom, picture taker, student, and more other things things than I can count. To that end, this blog will move to the direction of sharing all of those things, within some kind of retirement and frugality framework.

What does that look like? I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I believe we will all be finding out soon. I do know that it involves more pictures, more personal experiences and more stories. While I'm not in love with the phrase lifestyle blog as such, this blog will become about a lifestyle-mine. One which just happens to have retirement and fixed income living as a backdrop. It will not be a “retirement blog”as such. Hopefully old readers will come along, and new friends will join.

For the moment at least, Living Richly In Retirement is still an appropriate header, and Frugal Texas Gal is who I am, I suppose, even in beautiful Colorado. 

I may be removing some old content, but I will keep the most highly visible posts as well as those that are relevant. I also may add a Facebook page to the mix - what do you think (I'll probably be removing the quilting page that I have not updated in awhile)?

Please come along and visit often, as I will post three times a week, with a variety of themes. Coming next, my Christmas fails and successes on the handmade and baking front, and a reader question, as well as my possible future in metal work and woodworking.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep looking!!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thoughts on Living in a Foreign Country-Why Some Choose It

Folks, I apologize in advance. My cursor is jumping from place to place mid word. I believe I have edited properly, but should you see a few letters that obviously don't belong there, please bear with me as I work on this issue!!

In a previous post, I mentioned why I almost chose to retire in Europe. In fact the only reason I am not there is because with my husband no longer living my cost  of travel increased, and I have two children in the American West. I received quite a few emails and one or two comments wondering how I could consider, or even mention such a thing.  That, along with Tom's post this morning, led me to a blog post about why I would have chosen to retire in Europe.

Please note that this is not a treatise on why someone should retire overseas, or in Germany. This post is not about that.  What it is about is the observation that ALL countries have pluses and minuses, including the US, and that blinders are bad. I live in Colorado and I love it and will stay here for some time. However, I also love Germany and see that as a viable alternative for retirement. If my friend who is an opera singer in Germany traveled here to sing for the Central City Opera, I would have a list of pluses and minuses about living here as well. This is one person's anecdotal observation of her life and choices, based on living in Germany then, traveling to Germany on occasion now, and many, many expat and German friends who keep me up to date in between. 

I love America. I love living here. It is my home and I have no desire to change nationalities.  For me however, based on quality of life and lifestyle factors, Germany is also a wonderful place to live, and at this time in my life could in fact be the best place to live-at least for a few years. I am the girl who hangs her flag on every holiday, has Americana quilts on her table, and served her kids red white and blue food for years on American holidays.  However, I also appreciate the value of the experiences and advantages of other places, and wish that as a country, we would be willing to pick and choose some of the best parts of other countries as we move forward......... 

First, I should probably talk about what my previous life in Germany was like, to dispel a few myths. I rented a four story home with a small yard.  I had four modern bathrooms with huge tubs-one on each floor. I had modern tile floors.  My home was heated with modern, state of the art radiators (clean, cheap and always warm). I lived in a typical modern suburban home, with typical suburban neighbors. I shopped at modern groceries that usually had more choices than many groceries here in the US, thanks to the EU. This included American like TP.  We ate out regularly at good inexpensive restaurants. We had access, with a very few exceptions to quality items that were as good, and often better, than things I find in the US. My neighbors still live this lifestyle. The restaurant on the corner is still great, and the rent on the house has gone up less than fifty dollars. Our weekends were spent, in addition to traveling, much the way they are anywhere.  Skiing, kid activities, sporting events, shopping, and going to festivals, going to church.

Many things were different than living in the US. However, different does not mean worse, lesser, or not as good. Different simply means different. Americans (as well as other nationalities on occasion) have this philosophy that everything we have, or do, is better than other places.  That, put simply is bunk. It's nothing to do with patriotism, it's acknowledging that maybe some countries have some things that we could learn from, and that we are not the absolute best at every single thing, as a country or a people.  That belief has nothing to do with my flag hanging, military supporting, patriotic quilting self.

Secondly I will say that travel to a place is rarely like living in a place. So, when you traveled and had a bad experience in the Paris train  station, that really has nothing to do with living in France.  European and Asian tourists often have ugly American experiences in this country. Grand Central Station, JFK, and budget hotel experiences are not like LIVING and making a home in the US.  We would not say that would be what living in the US would be like. Europe today is not what it was like in 1970, nor what your father experienced during the Army of occupation, any more than this country is like what it was in 1969. By the same token, the fact that you LOVED Bali and cannot wait to go back does not mean that you should live there. One of my favorite places to visit is North Africa, with Malta being second. I could never live in either place. Nor, frankly, could I live in Jackson Hole, although I could certainly spend a week or so there every year.

Whenever we talk about Europe, the S word and democracy come up. Socialism is an economic state, one which many Americans  seem to have an automatic disdain of-even when it works well, which it often does, believe it or not. My experience is that socialism is about community and that is one area where we seem to be lacking in this country overall. Many of the reasons for loving Europe I give below are due to economic socialism-what many of my fellow bloggers would call the nanny state. My experience is that it, and the attendant taxes make what I might call the European lifestyle sometimes a superior one.  All European countries have representative democracy, and when monarchs exist, they are not rulers.  I often actually wonder if the European style of electioneering could not teach us something. Elect the party and let the party choose it's leader afterwards-but that again is not what this particularly long missive is about.

Now,  I could not possibly list all of my reasons for happily living in another country. Also, my reasons would be different than another person-and there are an awful lot of American Expats as well as Brit retirees living in Germany.  It's the number one non US location for US military folks to retire, for good reasons.

Since this is a retirement blog, many of my explanations are from a retirement perspective. Most reasons are anecdotal, and some are specific. No country is perfect, and there are certainly a list of cons that I will have to list in another post. With little ado, here are some of the positive reasons I would happily return to Europe to live-at least for awhile.
  • Health Care. Health care. Health care.  This is not a "well yea, but.." It's not a "sure, everyone should have access to minimal care" issue. I could have been paid with a weak dollar, spent Euros, and come out ahead. Way ahead, financially.  With health care good enough that the Mayo Clinic could not find anything better to do for my husband. This is not just about coverage for all, it's about cost, efficiency and alternatives. I cry out for German health care daily, and I have GOOD American insurance. It's about good quality, and reasonable cost for everyone not just the folks who have good health or good jobs. This bullet should appear five or ten times. American health care sucks, it's bloated, costly and in and of itself force some people to look elsewhere.  Hard truths, but there it is.
  • Proximity and travel costs. When I lived in Frankfurt, I could fly to Majorca in less than two and a half hours for a few bucks, with Stockholm the same flying distance in a different direction. I could jump in the car and be in Champagne for lunch or dinner, depending.  Retirement (or non retirement) travel and/or vacations are cheap, varied and close, no matter your interest.  Once there, I could have stayed in a nice pension (read bed and breakfast, sort of) with continental breakfast for a few Euros. I could experience a vastly different culture, or climate, in just a long weekend.

  • In the same vein, a mild four season climate and the wherewithal to leave it as needed. My cleaning woman and her husband could afford to spend two weeks in Italy every January. While  Germany gets cold, it does not have the winters that the Midwest or the Northeast have experienced in this country. I did not own a snow shovel.
  • Since I mentioned it above, the ability for the average Joe or Jonette to afford a cleaning person.  For five years I paid a woman to come and clean my house for four hours twice a week, for forty dollars a day, plus tips and Christmas gifts.  My cleaning person did this for pocket money, and could afford to do so because of the health care situation above (are we seeing a trend here?)
  • Cheap living overall. Low cost entertainment and culture. Quality goods at reasonable prices-not imports, German goods. Really good non chain restaurants really cheap. Money goes far when the health care elephant is out of the room. The same is true for many retirees in this country, only we still have the elephant.
  • Friendliness.  The guy in the produce department asks you how you are today.  When you go into a restaurant, you say hello or good evening and smile at the people around you  You make eye contact when you are walking down the street.  Everyone always says, good morning, good day, eve to the casual person.
  • Environmentalism.  Germany protects the environment in a pristine way. Car washing is done in a way that captures the water and you cannot just wash the car in your yard, when a tree is cut down another is planted. This is not a political statement, just an observation of how it affects the living experience. Homes are mainly heated with modern up to date steam radiators, not oil or gas.  If I were to build a house it would have radiant steam heat.  It gets very warm, there  is no mess and there is never any danger.  Bike paths everywhere, even in the forest, and public transpiration everywhere, even out to the boonies, to quote my son.  A clean and  always healthy place to live, and environmentally perfect (except the Autobahn, and it's speed limit, of course).
  • European football (also known to some as soccer). I live for the world cup, and lived in a town with a minor league soccer team and stadium. I also love American football, for what it is worth.
  • Fussgangerzones. In other words, every city center has a walking only zone that usually encompasses the primary shopping area. Germany has almost no traditional malls. They don't need to because they have they have these (picture on the bottom) areas.
  • Festival culture. On the first of advent, every town opens up it's own Christmas market-with music, hot wine, various booths and tents.  This is just one example. There are raspberry festivals, spargel (white asparagus) festivals, and mushroom festivals. Every town has it's own Easter market the weeks before the holiday. There are fried fish festivals and wine festivals. I could go to a festival every week and it would not be boring or repetitive.   
  • No gun or cowboy culture, and low gang culture, which is one of the many reasons we chose to raise our son overseas. Not a debate on the second amendment, just an observation on the safety of living in that particular place.  I often took public transportation, even at night, alone, and my son was riding the rails in middle school with confidence.
  • Quiet Sundays.  Stores are closed (restaurants and gas stations open). No mowing and hammering on Sunday.  Every couple of years they hold a referendum on this, and every time the populace votes to keep it this way, by choice.  There are no words to express the joy of sitting in the back yard on Sunday and hearing no yelling, no home improvement and no leaf blowing.  Yes, German couples all work as well, and some how they manage without shopping on Sunday. I miss this every single week.
  • No checks. period. Everything is paid via bank to bank transfer. I receive a bill in the mail (or online) from my doctor (insurance, mobile phone bill..).  At the bottom of that bill is a unique bank and account number alone with my personal reference number.  Either online, or in person, I send that bill directly to the bank. I can also do direct bank to bank transfers for ordering online, or just sending a friend some money
  • Culture as part of every day life, should you choose to make it so.  Almost every town has it's own opera company, an art school, historical buildings and more. This could be expanded on tenfold, but I think most readers understand what I mean-like when you are at the farmers market and realize that the statue in the middle is the Bremen town musicians.
  • Reasonably priced, good quality food.  Reasonably priced because of the Euro zone-no such thing as out of season produce, and except for veal all meats are reasonably priced and healthy. Germans do not have meat with  hormones, and almost all areas are GMO free zones . I don't need to purchase organic to eat healthily and safely. German prices are so good, that Walmart was a failure and had to withdraw from the country. They manage to reasonably priced goods that are good quality.  This is the country of Aldi, after all, folks.For those who wondered if this is still true, I just looked at the 2014 food costs online..yep!
  • Superior technology, in some cases.This is one of those things that has changed since I left. When I purchased my SUV in 2006, there was not an American car in the top ten of reliability or safety. Still I believe there is a superior quality of goods overall and a lack of throwaway products and fashion.  In 2001, I had a cell phone that did more than my current smart phone does-with the ability to take a Sim card and put it in any other phone I purchased-no contracts, no deals, no nothing.  The TVs, stereos and computerized sewing machines I purchased fourteen years ago are still going strong. I still have clothing I purchased in 2001-2003, they are items I wear regularly and are still in good condition.  I'm about to wear out a handmade tunic jacket and I'm crying inside because I know I will not be able to replace this item. Limited fast fashion and throw away products. While Germany imports some technology, unlike in the US, most of what is on the shelves and on the road is German made. Pffaff, Volkswagon, BMW, Audi, Addidas, Bosch, Braun and Henkle-buy them at German prices and ship em home in your household goods.
  • Education (this will be on the con list, as well).  Not the superior number of mathematicians part, the part where they acknowledge that not everyone is meant for a university education. The part where what we would consider blue collar jobs are considered professions.  Being a waiter is an honorable career with great pay and benefits, not a job until something else comes along.  My mechanic did two years of school and two years of internship before he could work on a car alone.  If my son had wanted to join the construction trade he would have had to take professional training and then do a long internship.
  • The nanny state and it's accompanying taxes. Again, this is not a political statement, this is an observation as to how this affects the lifestyle of a resident.  I never met a pothole in Germany.  I traipsed across Europe using cheap but high quality government owned public transport. Everyone in Germany has both health care and long term health care. Every citizen is automatically assumed to be eligible for (and therefore receive), food, good housing (not homeless shelters), training and education and health care. Is there homelessness? Yes, some, but the structure is there to deal with it, paid for by the state and not reliant on churches or other volunteer organizations. No one has ever (and this is recent) tried to wash my car window, stood on the corner with a sign, or slept by the underpass or on a grate so I had to walk around them.  
  • The Autobahn.  To those bloggers who bemoan those of us who drive over the speed limit, I say, sorry folks.  I managed to drive eighty miles an hour on high speed roads for ten years.   While I am a defensive driver, the fact that you want to drive 65 doesn't mean I have to, or should.
  • Kid's cannot drive until they are eighteen, and the driving test makes ours look like kindergarten. You have to be able to stop on a hill with a stick shift, and restart without using the parking brake, and go up without falling back. You have to be able to enter a traffic circle without stopping, and a first drinking and driving charge loses you a license while the second lands you in jail.  On the other hand, as my twenty five year old reminds me, you can drink beer at fourteen, and take the train to Amsterdam and back in a day (if I have to explain it..)
  • Summer Light.  Germany is north, meaning it has long summers and short winter days. While the winters will certainly follow in the con list, there is something wonderful to be said about being able to play golf at ten to eleven in the evening, or sit out on the patio for a late dinner.
  • Outdoor dining. Everywhere. This is not a German phenomenon by any means, but rather a European one. Be it McDonald's or a five star restaurant, in clement weather you will have the option to eat outside, under umbrellas and with heaters if necessary. While eating schnitzel and drinking good wine and wheat beer, and German Chocolate cake and Spargel (white asparagus with Hollandaise)
  • Chocolate-really good German chocolate for less than the price of M and Ms. German chocolate filled with liqueur. German chocolate filled with whiskey. German Chocolate filled with cream. 
  • No chain restaurants. No Red Lobsters. No Outback. No Olive Garden. That's right folks, with a few fast food exceptions, no chain restaurants. My local steak place was individually owned, as was the Italian place downtown. I'm sure some of my readers would consider this a minus, but for me-so much an advantage.
No place is perfect. I certainly love where I am living now. Every place has advantages and disadvantages and things that they do well and ways that they could improve. That includes the US, lord knows. It also includes other countries, such as Germany.  I could, and will in the next few days, list the cons of living in Europe. I may follow with the same kind of post on Colorado and the US.  I could also list many more pros.  

The bottom line is that European retirement living can be as good and as full as living in Colorado or Florida, if we open our minds just a bit. For now, I've made a happy retirement life here on the front range.  Other countries call though, so I leave, as always, my options open.  Your options may be different.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holiday Traditions ...........Are What You Make of Them!

For a great many years, my husband and children and I lived in Washington DC.  My parent's were living overseas, and my husband's entire family lived in Texas. This meant regular family holiday dinners were not as often as we might like-especially since my husband spent the first part of his career in the private club industry.  

Thanksgiving was a working day, and as such we spend that day eating at the club, so that dad could spend time with us aside from his managerial duties.  New Year's Eve was the second busiest day of the year, which meant Christmas trips were short and sweet when they happened.  When they didn't happen, our small family tradition was either to have steak and lobster on Christmas day, or else let the gourmand prepare diner. I can count the holiday meals I have cooked on less than two hands. Between the brunch and the presents, for almost 15 years my daughter and went o the movies, leaving the boys to have together time and I watch football.  We then returned to the traditional dinner above.

Eventually we moved to Germany, where we were really, really far from family (and only taking home leave every three years).  Add to that the fact that Thanksgiving is a uniquely American (and Canadian) tradition pretty much and culturally things were different. My church was equally divided amongst American and British Expats and local German Anglicans.  Each year the Friday prior to Thanksgiving, the Americans put on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner - made more interesting by the fact that turkey is on of the four or five food items impossible to find in Germany  (along with American style cereal, maple syrup, chocolate chips, and liquid vanilla-they use powdered).  This of course was when those few Americans who had commissary privileges made a quick run. Most of my American friends were not government related, working in banking, business, or music and opera. 

The actual day itself was spent taking a four day weekend trip, completely eliminating the traditional Thursday and football meal. My daughter was experiencing her own overseas traditions while living in the Cayman islands.

Christmases in Europe were similar to those in the US in terms of the day itself-after you add warm German wine, a Christmas Market every day for a month and a few other things.  We were now three, with the day spent at home relaxing, followed by whatever sounded good to do that day. 

Fast forward to our return to the states. Living near relatives for the first time, meant large holidays-at both end.  My mother in law hosted fourteen people, we bought gift for fourteen people and a full day of celebration and food were had by all. One the one hand, this was a wonderful time for my adult (and almost adult kids) to experience the large family experience, and on the other hand, I was completely exhausted (and happy) at the end of the day.  Two days later we would head north to Denver to spend time with my family-a Christmas celebrated on New Year's Eve in full force.

Now I live in Denver with a daughter still living in Dallas.  She has started her own traditions and that is as it should be. One year she and her boyfriend spend in Dallas with her dad's family and i travel the alternating year she travels o her boyfriend's family.  This is as it should be. Some traditions stay, some end and some change.  Someday, i can see myself taking a cruise on Christmas or settling in on the gulf coast beach, or spending the holidays in Germany, or even being the guest of my children. It's all good.

 One of my close knitting pals is celebration "the new tradition" as she calls it. She is hosting Thanksgiving, and the "other" parents are hosting Christmas this year-the children do not travel to multiple houses, and next year the positions will be reversed.  Rather than looking sadly on this, she and her husband are spending a week on the beach in Hawaii-experiencing a completely new tradition and looking  forward to it.

However you are spending your Thanksgiving or Christmas, whatever you are doing, as long as it works for you, that's okay.  Whether you are spending the holiday skiing (I forgot about the year we did that), allowing your adult children to take over holding the holiday, spending it as alone as a couple, or any other alternative-embrace it. Keep some old traditions, embrace a few new once and remember that life is as they say, an adventure.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fix and Forget Dinners and Other Retirement Musings

I am a non cooker who likes to eat. My saving grace, as they say, is my slow cooker. Soups (and many stews) are perfect for creative non cookers, I've found. They can be made with what's on hand, and once you have the basics down, creativity (or in my case the need to use-it up) can make a recipe different each time.  For the good. Minestrone is a regular in our house, and once the broth, some seasoning and some kind of bean is thrown in, everything else is as they say negotiable.  The last time my son threw in the last of our tomatoes (crushed up), the leftover green beans from a previous meal.. you get the idea.

Tonight's fix it and forget it meal is one of those "I can serve this one to guests" kind of dinner.  This particular soup is not the cheapest one in my repertoire. It's not the healthiest thing I'll eat all week (that cream). I am one of those who think eating healthy overall and exercising regularly allows a cookie here and a soup made with cream there.


Zuppa Toscana (with an unhealthy nod to the Olive Garden) begins with sliced Italian Sausage and a potato or two, peeled and cut up. On top of that I add seasonings (basil and garlic at a minimum, I cheat and use Italian seasoning. On top of that, I throw on a carton of low sodium chicken broth, turn on the slow cooker and leave. Oh, and speaking of substitutions, since I have no white wine, red will do today-a really good splash. Six hours later, I throw in frozen spinach (or kale), and cream and cook till the soup is hot again. Add whatever bread and salad we have and there you go!  The sausage came from my freezer, the spinach as well.  The potatoes from my pantry (I keep a few canned baby tomatoes so I can saute them up in butter and parsley for a last minute side dish. I could have substituted those).  It looks stunning, tastes great and takes literally no effort.  Oh, and I would brown that sausage first. Today I did not and I will probably have to skim out a few of those casing pieces.

And there you have it, no effort dinner.......Elsewhere......

  • Germany (at no surprise to me) has surpassed the US on almost every index to become the best country in the world.  This is based on 23 "attributes".  Having a strong leader, a winning and likable soccer, team, a healthy economy (yes, socialists have healthy economies), and and a really strong  record on global peace and security. I of course, could have told everyone that already. There was a reason, after all, that I was prepared to retire in such a place.

  • Using the library is part of a frugal retirement, even while owning a kindle/tablet for reading.  Just because I purchase fiction for my kindle does not mean I need to always do so-and the library is still the best source for non fiction books-at least until one has tried them! (fortunately more kindle books now have photographs, so it's not out of reach to purchase a cooking making or home improvement book with pictures, on occasion).
  • Remembering to return library books in a timely manner is also part of a frugal retirement, so that your fees don't amount to the equivalent of a purchased kindle book-enough said?
  •   I tend to never refuse free items (within storage limitations).  I find that free items can be used, re-purposed, donated or put aside for my homeless women.  Recently a friend brought a pile of yarn to our girls' get together. Although this raspberry yearn is not my color, once I got it home a certain family member fell in love . The yarn is was on it's way to becoming a shawl, but it was too bulky to show the lace pattern. It will become a scarf and possibly a hat instead.  
  • A friends has shown me that even I can learn no ways to do things for free. We have a lovely community theater in my town.  Tickets at this venue are not expensive and the entertainment is good.  To take it down a peg, a friend and her husband usher (he often handles the bar), on the opening night of each event. In exchange, their attendance is free.  This is something I'll attempt in the future, as it fits with my personality. The same friend volunteers at the Historical Castle nearby, receiving entrance to events such as chamber music concerts for doing nothing Kore than handing out programs. I also intend to jump into this one.
As always, I'm reminded that there is no one retirement lifestyle, but rather retirement is about choices, day by day and week b week.  And with that, I'm off to give that dinner a quick look.

    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    Some of These Are Not The Same-Leaving Our Comfort Zone In Retirment

     Last week, I attended a small election night party (which ended up being a commiseration, unfortunately).  This small event was held at the home of one of my knitting/book club/luncheon friends, and her husband.  Aside from myself, there were two other folks, male and female, both unattached. Previously I attended my church dinner group, at the home of a couple who are friends. Attendees included a single man, another single woman, another married couple and a gay married couple. Equally importantly, the age of those in attendance ranged from late twenties and thirties all the way to "working on seventy".

    While I did not think that either of these events were particularly remarkable, another friend noted that I seemed to have avoided the "Golden Girl" phenomena (single women socializing and living together), and that my social live was extremely diverse, especially when it came to age differentials. 

    This was just one woman's perspective, and I don't believe in generalizations.  That said, I do think there are groups of retirees (and people in general) who try to surround them with people like them, especially when it comes to age, ethnicity,  and marital status. Married people want to socialize with married people, single with singles, retirees with retirees. While I understand the temptation, and the attraction of being in the comfort zone, for me, this one has never worked.

    Recently, I've had the opportunity to read some new (and one older) books on retirement and retirement lifestyles. I intend a post soon on my thinking on those books.  However, one author suggests that the happiest retirees are those who search out younger friends as they lose older friends, as well as regularly reaching outside their comfort zone in terms of income, ethnicity and life style.

    While I don't necessarily search that out, I've put myself in a position to have that happen (admittedly sometimes this is simply happenstance).  As many readers know, my lifelong learning has been through regular college classes instead of taking free or almost free senior courses.  In my college classes I'm often the eldest person in the room by far, and I like it that way. The challenge of learning with people of all ages is unique and I am constantly surprised what I can learn from a twenty year old college student.  College classes are often messy, noisy, and difficult-and that's great. To cite another example, searching for a church is always difficult in a new community. Because I choose to be involved in a church with many outreach and political activities, the nature of the church is that almost every activity is  extremely generational. I've discussed the feeding of the homeless women here, and the group that I work with range from a twenty something nurse to myself.  

    While the above paragraph has mainly to do with age, the same thing is true in my life when it comes to marital status and socialization.  I expect this has much to do with the fact that much of my socialization is done around the things I am passionate about and the hobbies I enjoy. My social life tends to center around my church (which is extremely generational), my family, neighbors, and volunteer and recreational activities.  In all the cases, events, parties and dinners and the like tend to be a mix of heterosexual spouses, gay spouses and singles of all ages and persuasions.

    This is certainly not to say that I don't do that "Golden Girl" thing on occasion. My Wednesday knitting and happy hour group consists entirely of retired boomers whose spouses and friends know they'll come home six hours later just a little tipsy.  For years in my previous church in Dallas, single women of a certain age went out to breakfast after the last service-it was a regular event.

    I've just learned that for me, I feel better and more challenged when I am surrounded by all ages of people, from all backgrounds on a regular basis.  This means the house across the street where a bunch of college kids live, the empty nest working neighbors, and the twenty something couple with kids. It means the noisy college students (yes, one has even come to school in pj bottoms), a two year old on occasion at my church dinner group, and yes, the dinner belles, a once a month single woman's night out.

    All and all, it works for me.