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February 2016

Why is Our Bed So High?

Eighteen years ago, when we remodeled our kitchen, we made the counters a few inches higher than normal because of our height. And because I am still tall, although not as tall as I used to be, I’ve had a little trouble with my back from bending over the very low sink we have here in our rental condo in Florida. Not a huge problem, but noted.

So why is it that, when everything else here is so low, the mattress of our bed is so high? It took us days to figure out how to climb into it gracefully. In fact, we moved a little stool from the kitchen (where there are some high cabinets to go with the low sink) to help us.

One night, I dropped my bottle of eye drops on the floor when I was in bed and, when I reached down to get it, I lost my balance and was about to land on the floor head-first until I grabbed the night table and pulled myself up. No kidding, I thought I was a goner.

So I conducted a survey. Of the people I know here, all of the beds in their rented condos are so high that they are hard to climb into. And that’s in a place where most of the people are too old to climb into anything.

I don’t get it.

Time to Move to Canada?

About a month ago, the World Economic Forum released the results of a survey to determine the best countries to live in. The U.S. was #4 behind Germany (#1) Canada (a very close #2 ) and the United Kingdom (#3).

Canada is ranked first for overall quality of life. And Canadians seem to be more polite than the rest of the world. They say “sorry” (pronounced “sorey”), even when their behavior may not warrant it.

I’ve been wondering what happened to “niceness” in U.S. politics. Candidates from both political parties are rude and unwilling to hear each other out. During their debates, they don’t answer the questions they are asked.

The lack of civility our would-be leaders display is embarrassing. So when our Canadian friends came to dinner the other night, I asked them how Canadians are able to elect their leaders in a short period of time in a civilized way.

They told me that the most recent Canadian election lasted eleven weeks. That was five weeks longer than usual, yet it cost a tiny fraction of what we spend. Although the candidate they preferred didn’t win, they didn’t moan and groan about how it was the end of Canada as they know it. Doesn’t that sound nice?

And it seems that Canadians are happier too. Is it because there are fewer of them and they are more spread out across their gorgeous country? Is it their universal healthcare and fine public education? Their welcoming borders?

It’s beginning to look like global warming may force us to move north soon. Maybe we shouldn’t wait.

What Happened to Purpose?

We’ve been away from winter for more than six weeks. As I write this, the temperature at home is eight degrees above zero. If I were there, my fingertips and toes would be without feeling, white from the cold and Raynaud’s disease. I would turn the heat up higher, but sitting near the windows, I would still be cold. With each new snowfall, I would be concerned about slipping on the ice. Not a pretty picture.

Here, the sky is blue most of the days and is a palette of oranges, pinks and purples when the sun goes down (much later than it does at home). We walk the beach every day and watch the shorebirds and the pelicans, hawks and buzzards sweeping across the horizon. It’s breathtaking.

Our days are our own. We set no alarm clock. We go to the gym. We go to our movie class. We see old friends, and we make new friends. We go to theater, movies, ballet, opera and art galleries.

But something is missing--I think it’s “purpose.”

When I retired two-plus years ago, I mourned the loss of my place in the community I loved. It took a while for me to find the right mix of volunteering, learning, and working, but when I did, I found “purpose.”

For me, it’s an essential ingredient that has gone missing here in the Florida sun.


Red Tide

About ten days ago I started coughing. A lot.

It was strange because I only coughed when I was outdoors. I mentioned it to a friend who explained that I was reacting to the red tide. Heard of Karenia brevis? That’s the fancy name for the algae that live in the Gulf of Mexico whose toxic aerosols are blown ashore by the wind, turning our beach on the west coast of Florida into a cough-a-thon. It’s episodic and this, our visit here, is the first time we’ve experienced it.

Of course, I had heard the term red tide. But I never realized that it could irritate people’s lungs as well as harm fish. What I am finding out now is that it can make life pretty miserable for those of us escaping winter here. Right now, our swimming pool area sounds like a hospital ward for tuberculosis patients.

The cure: stay away from the shore or inside with air-conditioning if you can.

And hope that the wind changes.

Adieu Frugal Traveler

For the past five-and-a-half years, we have been reading with pride our son Seth’s Frugal Travel column in The New York Times. His cover story on Ecuador in the Sunday Travel Section on February 7th, was his last.

During those years, he rarely slept in the same bed for more than a couple of nights. He traveled by bike, bus, boat, car, train, plane and by foot, usually alone, occasionally with friends, and five times with his very lucky parents.

He lugged his computer, his photography equipment and God knows what else with him. He lost at least one cell phone (crossing a river). He produced serious videos. He often found himself without Internet access when he needed to file a story. He ate street food everywhere. He relied on the kindness of strangers who often became his friends.

The times he was in danger were unknown to us, at least until they were over.

It will be strange to read the stories by his successor, but it was a tough job and it was enough.

We could not be prouder.

Movie Class

I love movies. Always have. But I am a lazy movie-goer, and I let movies wash over me without serious thinking. However, we have recently joined an already-in-progress movie class and the knowledgeable instructor doesn’t allow that. Our first class was about “The Big Short,” a film I didn’t adore. I had very little to say because it had been quite a while since I saw it. But I found the comments of the class members quite insightful.

Our second class assignment was “The Danish Girl.” This time, although we had seen it a month ago, we prepared for class by seeing it a second time. I was astonished by what I had “missed”--words, exquisite photography, deeper meanings-- all resulting in even more admiration for a movie that I loved the first time.

This time, we participated fully in class.

My watching of movies has changed forever.

Sibling Time

I hadn’t seen my brother Don since Peter and I attended the wedding of his daughter in North Carolina almost four years ago. We tried to get together a few times that didn’t work out, so we were delighted when he and his wife Nancy agreed to visit us in Florida, especially since it would be just the four of us with no kids or grandkids.

Don and I are not particularly close. But when you have shared your childhood and parents, there is an unavoidable closeness, with memories that no one else alive has experienced. We pretty much agreed on lots of things in our past. But there were some things he remembered about our high school teachers, our grandfather, our life before we moved to Pittsburgh, our parents and more that I had completely forgotten. And there were things I remembered that he didn’t recall.

I’m sure that Peter and Nancy didn’t enjoy hearing that that Miss Skarinsky, our typing teacher loved Don enough to bring him chocolate cake on his birthday, or that my aged French teacher, Edna Todd, was a strange bird. Or that Mr. Roller, my homeroom teacher never forgave me for taking French because he was the Spanish teacher. Or the names of our favorite horses or how many riflery medals we won at camp.

When we got to politics, where Don and I have very different views, we managed to find a thing or two that we agreed on.

Let’s face it. There’s no accounting for how two siblings raised in the same home with the same loving parents can turn out to have such different values and lives. But what we share outweighs that and we promised we wouldn’t wait four years to get together again.

Old Friend, New Friend

I lost touch with my friend Joanna when she moved to western Massachusetts several years ago. This year, by chance, she and her husband are renting a condo in the same building that we are on Longboat Key in Florida.

Once we found each other, Joanna and I caught up during a long walk along the beach. We reminisced about Brown Junior High School’s wacky 1983 production of “Anything Goes”, costarring her daughter Jennifer and our son Seth. We laughed about our Sunday school carpool. The only people who hated getting up early for it more than we did were our children. We talked at length about our current lives and some of the challenges we face. There is nothing like old friends chatting to make a long walk short.

Later that day, Peter and I had a glass of wine with a new friend that we had met at our condo complex’s Trivia night. She lives in the same town as our son Jeremy and his family. We barely scratched the surface of our histories, but we know that this is a new friendship that we will value.

Having an active social life is good for us as we age. Old friends, new friends. All friends.