Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sitting and standing

I've read that sitting at computer monitors for hours a day is a health hazard - that human beings were built to stand and to move. So I'm looking for the best workstation addition. Last week I ordered a TaskMate; it's a motorized desktop device that moves my monitor and keyboard up and down.

I've got a problem with it because I'm shorter than average, and when I've got the keyboard the way I want it, the monitor is several inches too high in both the sitting and standing positions. So the company rep suggested an articulating arm to give me a more moveable monitor, but that seems kind of complicated. So I did more exploring yesterday and have now ordered a Kangaroo desktop device, where the monitor and the keyboard can be adjusted separately.

Even with the discomfort of a too-high monitor, I've noticed that when I spend most of my computer time standing up, my back feels better. Initially I resisted the idea of spending money on an "after-market" ergonomic product. But then I thought about how much we travel, and how we like to walk and explore places, and how much I'm paying my chiropractor these days to help with my back when it's troubling me. And I thought in the long run the expense will probably save me money in the long run, as well as allowing me to pursue my personal goals.

The sun has come out, at least partly, for the afternoon. Pretty soon I'll be going outside to cut branches for Art to feed into the chipper. Before I do that I'll stretch - something I didn't use to do.

As a follow-up item, I changed out my blood pressure medication two weeks ago, and the cough and postnasal drip issues I've been dealing with for two years have just about disappeared. Amazing I didn't consider they might be side effects - but I'd been taking lisinopril for three monthe before the symptoms showed up, so I didn't make the connection. So far, the replacement bp med the doc prescribed hasn't kicked in, so I'm tiptoeing around thinking lower-blood-pressure thoughts. I'm very grateful that so far in my late middle age (!) the only prescription I have to take is for blood pressure.

I worked on the annual budget today. This is the first year we'll be living only on Art's retirement income. I can see we're okay for travel this year, but we won't be able to go whole hog like we did last year when I had six paychecks. That will just have to be okay.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A little bit of sun

I took to heart the sympathetic responses to my last, whiny post. I got some exercise - on my pilates ball, on the floor stretching, at the gym balancing, and yesterday, in the yard hauling branches for my husband to feed into the chipper. When the sun came out, I went outside. All these things have made a difference. Thanks to those of you who commented on the post.

Oddly, what also helps is my dawn simulator and my GoLite - both of which devices I've discussed here before. I know these things work for me. I wonder why, in midwinter, I tend to dismiss them. Might be the same kind of thinking as when I'm watching my calories but think two squares of chocolate, instead of the one I usually allow myself, won't do any harm today.

When I stopped working I had travel as one thing I wanted to do more of. I had no idea it would become a near obsession with me. After nine trips since late June, we're now scheduled for five days on the Washington coast next month (timeshare), ten days in Santa Fe in March (home exchange), and three weeks in the midwest in May (road trip, genealogy, shareholders meeting, Elderhostel class). For next January we've now confirmed a three-week home exchange to Ecuador.

We're budget travelers, usually, except for an occasional splurge like our trip to Italy last October. Fortunately. We're living on retirement income, after all. But I am so grateful for the freedom of time we've been given now that we're not working.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cranky in January

So I'm not upbeat this week. In fact, I'm cranky. But I have excuses.

1. It's January. I was in Mexico two weeks ago, in warm sun, and although there wasn't a lot to do, I was in warm sun. Today I'm in the Pacific Northwest. It has been raining off and on for a week. It's dark when I wake up. I know the days are getting longer but I can't see any improvement yet. January is always like this for me. I would gladly trade places this week with people experiencing cold and snow. Maybe I should have stayed longer in boring Mexico.

2. I've gone off the blood pressure medication that had coughing as a side effect. I was coughing. Now I'm not coughing. That is good. However, my blood pressure has gone up. I was hopeful that it would remain in a healthy range since I intend to exercise more. For the last week, I have been. But it's high enough that today I have to pick up a new prescription. I understand it won't make me cough, but it might make my ankles swell. I have thick ankles anyway so that probably won't matter, unless the swelling is really bad. Also, it may make me lightheaded. I have new side effects to look forward to. Maybe I should have stayed thinner and more fit.

3. I've been told I need to move around more rather than sitting at my computer for hours each day. So I invested in a TaskMate. It's a motorized stand for my monitor and keyboard that raises and lowers, so I can work either standing or sitting. It works fine, but if I have my Kinesis keyboard at the right elevation, the monitor is about three inches higher than ideal and I get a stiff neck and a headache. If the monitor is right, the keyboard is so low that my shoulders get pulled while I'm typing. Either way, this new gadget is not right yet. My husband Art will experiment with padding, and we are keeping the packaging in case the device needs to be returned. So now last week's back issue has been resolved but I have a stiff neck, a headache and sore shoulders. Maybe I should have avoided getting involved with email, Facebook, blogging, writing, and taking online ESL classes.

4. We're becoming surrounded by clutter. I need to spend some time each day getting rid of what we don't need that lives on our dining room table, the sidebar, and my desk. It will only be my stuff that goes, though. Art is usually unable to part with anything. Maybe I should have been a monk.

Those are my excuses, and I'm sticking to them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Bag Lady speaks

This is a reprint of my first blog - just a year ago. What a difference a year makes!

January 20, 2010

I’m afraid of heights - and of being a bag lady.

I’m quitting my job on June 25 of this year, after 20 years with this company and another 10 or so before that working other places. The world of work is familiar – my way of being useful and of bringing home the money for my life.But my work mantra today – and for most days for the past year – is, “I’m done.”

I am so ready for the no-alarm awakenings and open days, for the exploration of new interests. Everyone I know who’s already retired says I’ll love it.

But I am also scared. What if I get bored? Usually, by the end of a two-week vacation, I’m ready to get back to work, to my scheduled days and crammed to-do list. Time on my hands sometimes leads to ponderings about the meaning of life and mortality and a vague wish I’d taken some other road on my life’s journey – without the slightest idea of what that road might have been, and without any significant disenchantment with the path I actually traveled. What if that happens and I have no reassuring morning destination to muffle my mental quests?

It’s like I’m on the precipice of the next part of my life journey. And, as I said, I’m afraid of heights.

This bag lady business is weird. My friends say it’s impossible I could ever become a bag lady. I’ve got too much energy, they say – too many interests, too much enthusiasm. Besides, they remind me, I’ve planned the finances of quitting work so completely - witness innumerable spreadsheet scenarios all attesting to a reasonable degree of financial security. You don’t have to worry about being a bag lady, my friends assure me, chuckling.

Still, I’m afraid of heights. And of being bag lady.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ecuador next January?

I started out this year with the motivational word "release", which includes letting go of old fears and hesitations and being willing to take some risk.

I was telling a friend yesterday about our recent trip to Puerto Vallarta. I mentioned that I loved the warmth and the sun but not the relative lack of activity. He suggested I check out Ecuador as a possible winter destination, saying it's got a similar low cost of living but isn't so crowded and touristy.

So today, I did just that. Art and I belong to a home exchange club, and I looked up the Ecuador listings. There were half a dozen, but several of them allowed smoking or had pets. I sent an email of interest to two offerings. And within an hour I had a "yes" from one of them!

The couple are American retirees who moved to Ecuador a few years ago and have a second home there, in a rural area. They rent out the house but also have it available for an exchange.

Here's the website:

As it happens, the couple have two children who live in the Seattle area, and they'd like to visit here in the fall of 2012. So, if we want to go to Ecuador for two to four weeks next January, we have a nice place to stay. I told them I'd get back to them in a couple of weeks with a decision.

Now I have a bit of traveler's remorse. Why on earth is that? After all my travels, am I afraid to go anywhere off the beaten path without a tour guide?

I have to look at this risk thing. I think, well, maybe by next year my back will be bad enough that I won't be able to travel. Or maybe we'll get hopelessly lost in the wilds of a jungle somewhere. Or I'll get bitten by a snake or a mysterious insect. I wonder if they have malaria there. I took malaria pills before we went to Vietnam, but that was different because we were traveling with a group and had a native guide.

On the other hand, I said I didn't want to be bored on vacation.

This risk business is scary. I've played it safe most of my life and so far I'm okay. But when I was evaluating my year on January 1, I felt regret for the things I might have passed up because they were risky.

Maybe risk is a personal thing. In 1986, after my divorce, I moved from small-town Oregon to a Seattle suburb, with my two young sons, to take a job. I didn't know a soul in Washington. Looking back, that was crazy risky. But it worked out.

So I'm pondering this Ecuador thing. And wondering why on earth it's scary.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mexico - reflection

Our last days in Puerto Vallarta were a mix of fun and, well, boredom. One day we took a bus to Guayabitos, a little town about an hour and a half north of PV. My friend Betsy moved there after her retirement last year, and she and her husband are building a house and a B&B. Guayabitos is a bridge away from La Penita, a lively little Mexican town. Betsy and her husband Greg have the healthy look of people who love the sun and spend a lot of time in it. The four of us walked a mile or so down the beach to a wonderful little restaurant where Art and I shared a plate of 16 coconut shrimp. My goodness!

In Mexico, if you've lived there for a year, you can apply for health coverage. Betsy says it costs about $300 a year. Add that benefit to a considerably lower cost of living than here and it's easy to understand why many people choose to retire south of the border.

Other than the bus ride with its attendant language and logistic challenges, our remaining time in Mexico was spent at our resort, lying in the sun reading or sitting in our room reading. I allowed myself to go without sunscreen for brief periods and now have some color, which will undoubtedly have faded by next week.

We returned home to dark and rain. Three days later, it's still dark and rain and I am thinking about where to go next January. I like the weather in Mexico, but I prefer a place with more to do. Exploring our options will be a good activity for next week, when I'm caught up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The middle days in Puerto Vallarta

Yesterday we took a boat tour to a bird sanctuary that´s a National Heritage preserve. On the way out we saw multiple whales and dolphins, manta rays leaping from the water, and seabirds galore. Once at the island, we had the option to snorkel and to sea kayak. I did both. I´ve snorkeled three times before. I love how you just slide into the water, tilt your face in, and join the fish and other marine creatures in their native habitat. It feels like I´m all alone as I´m floating there. Then I lift my head and there are life jackets and flippers all around me. The best snorkeling we ever did was the first time, on the Big Island, when there were hundreds of fish and I felt like I was swimming in their aquarium. You never know, though, what will be there. Art has decided he´s not as fond of snorkeling as me because he´s not confident in the water. But he brought a book and read in the shake. The sea kayaking was easy, like canoeing. Fun!

Today we took the city bus to Old Town and walked a couple of miles along the boardwalk. Artists were building sand sculptures, which I´ve seen in photographs but never in person. Most interesting to me was watching the pelicans watching for fish in the surf. They fly parallel to the water, then seemingly fall, head over feathers, into the water to jab at fish. One of those things I could watch for hours.

A friendly taxi driver directed us to a restaurant up the hill from the Sheraton. Called the Friendly Lobster (la langosta feliz, or something like that). It was pricy, but possibly one of the three finest meals we´ve ever eaten. Appetizer was avocado stuffed with shrimp and octopus, main course was an enormous medley of lobster, shrimp, crawfish, and red snapper, all in the shell or with fins still attached. It wasn´t until we walked back down the hill, through the non-tourist part of the city, that I started to feel the heat for the first time on this trip. I was glad to get back to the resort to our cool room.

A few more words about timeshares. They´re one way to spend vacations in a place where you can cook if you want, and we´ve always had a clean place and a comfortable bed. I agree about the high pressure sales pitch. But they are a depreciating asset, and you can buy one quite inexpensively in the aftermarket from people who want to sell theirs. Three years ago we bought a week at a great place in Sedona called Arroyo Roble Resort - it´s right on Oak Creek, with two bedrooms, good size and great staff. We bought it on from the agent of the previous owner for less than half of the original price. I know the resale prices have fallen even further in the last couple of years. These days you can find timeshare weeks on for a dollar. There´s still the annual maintenance fee, but it´s a very good deal. Our timeshares are in Whistler, Arizona and this company which has nice resorts all over the country including Hawaii besides here in Mexido. You can also trade your timeshare through several clearinghouses. We´ve done that to go to Maine, Williamsburg and, last month, Idaho. I wouldn´t pay retail, but aftermarket can be an excellent bargain.

We also travel with home exchanges. When we were in Maine in September, we spent a week on Peaks Island, off Portland, while that family was at our house. And in March we`ve got another exchange, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a couple who has grandkids in our area. Since we have grandkids in Santa Fe, it will be a good trade. We´re also exchanging cars in the deal, so all we`ll need to pay for is our plane tickets and our groceries.

Someone just told me that this week there is snow in all of the Canadian provinces and 48 out of 50 states. Here in Puerto Vallarta it´s about 76 and sunny. I love snow, but I can live with sun in January!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The first 24 hours in Puerto Vallarta

Nice resort here at Plaza Pelicanos, with friendly staff, but not as well organized as I'd expected. We've got a strong smell of ozone or paint or something in our condo, and after 24 hours and three requests, the problem hasn't been fixed. Also, we're missing spoons and bowls, which we checked off on the inventory sheet, and they haven't been resolved either. However, the weather is lovely, the sunsets beautiful, and the sound of the waves relaxing.

You've heard of high pressure timeshare salesmen? We waded through a throng of them at the airport on the way to our taxi. And last night, while shopping for groceries at the supermercado, we were approached by two inside the store! One sat near the ATM machine, and the other helped us find peanut butter. We told both of them we already had an appointment for today with the company we already have points with. Neither was happy.

Today we upgraded our points for new benefits that will allow us to stay longer at the places we love as well as being more generous to kids and friends who might want to travel. These sessions are always tiring. We'd agreed to say no, but Art was impressed with the increased flexibility we'll have now, so he says I should say he talked me into it! One of the incentives was a gift of the all inclusive feature, optional at this resort, which we now have for the rest of our stay.

Tomorrow we'll take a bus to the main part of town and then walk. On Thursday we plan to take a regional bus to a town an hour north of here to visit a friend of mine who, since her retirement last year, has moved here with her husband for eight months of the year. We're still considering parasailing and zip lining, but less so as I think about the heights involved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taking stock

Six months after my last day of work, I'm taking stock. Here's what I know today:

1. My body is no longer 30. It's no longer even 60. The aches and pains I used to hear about from older people are part of my own life now. Some things are just a natural part of aging. But some can be changed. It's up to me to get the exercise, the strength training and the conditioning I need to maintain my body - even in the winter - so that I can do the other things I have in mind to do. I could choose to be sedentary. That's easier in the short term, much harder over the long haul. So I've recommitted to exercise. And also to being watchful of what I eat. Every extra pound is a stressor on my achy back.

2. I used to be quite competitive. I still am when playing Boggle with friends, but not so much in other areas. This is a good thing. I might not even be a Type-A personality any more. I might not even be a Myers-Briggs Extrovert-Sensing-Thinking-Judging any more. I'm not even going to take the test again to find out. It doesn't matter.

3. I can make goals, but they don't have to be cast in stone. No one is going to give me a performance evaluation on how I spend my time these days. How wonderful!

4. Dark winter is not a good time for me. If I have gloomy thoughts, I need to turn on my light box and remain aware that the gloomy thoughts go with the winter territory. And I am responsible for getting away from the darkness. Lots of places have bright light - either snowy places like Idaho, where we were two weeks ago, or sunny places like Puerto Vallarta, where we're going on Saturday. I am not a victim of the climate unless I choose to be.

5. If someone seems very cranky to me, I need to listen or give them space, and consider that I may be doing something to aggravate their crankiness - like trying to manage or organize them. Sometimes the best thing to say - or do - is nothing at all. For me, that's much easier said than done.

6. I love having grandchildren, and I'm a good grandma. But I'm fine seeing them only from time to time, rather than all the time. I haven't got as much energy as I did when I was raising my own kids. They are tiring little bunch - especially since my preference is to have them visit without their parents.

7. There may be such a thing as too much travel, but new trip ideas come up constantly for me. I should probably be more realistic. Not quite yet, though.

8. I am a little weirded out by our retirement budget. This year we'll have no income from work. The spreadsheets say we're okay, but you never know. The Bag Lady within me is alive and well this week. She may be posting a few of my blogs this month.

9. I get most of my news online. I've decided for this year I'm not going to read the comments people type in under the news stories. They're just too hateful and negative.

10. I see fellow bloggers writing on matters of substance. I'm going to consider being more substantive myself from time to time.

I've been reading about "one word" describing intentions for this new year. Mine, I decided yesterday, is "release". As in releasing expectations, releasing habits, releasing opinions. I've been risk averse most of my life. That means playing it very, very safe. I think I'd like to loosen that up a bit this year. I probably won't skydive, but maybe I'll take a road trip where I don't have every motel booked before we start off. That would be a beginning, at least.