Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Pittsburgher in Paris - Escape from Charles DeGaulle

Getting to Paris was kind of like pregnancy- you had to suffer for a while before realizing the ultimate reward you were seeking.  

First of all, we had to fly to get there.  We didn’t seriously consider the alternative of of a week-long cruise ship journey across the Atlantic, so a 7-hour direct flight from Pittsburgh it was.

Things started off pretty well.  We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, got through security, found our gate and settled in to wait to board the plane. And wait we would as we were main cabin section 3 passengers.  We would be the last to board.

While we waited the flight attendants kept making regular announcements asking for volunteers to check their baggage because there would not be enough room in the overhead compartments. Our baggage was already checked so we couldn't help them out.  At the end of their announcement, they always added, rather ominously, “If we do not get enough volunteers we will be checking baggage of section 3 passengers.  So if you are in Section 3, be prepared to part with your luggage.”

So that was how it was going to be, huh?  I suddenly knew what those class 3 passengers on the Titanic felt like - stuck in steerage without the amenities of the higher class passengers.

When we finally boarded the plane we found our seats only to discover that the third person in our row had her 20-month-old daughter on her lap, and they were sitting on the aisle.  

“I apologize in advance,” said the young mother, sweetly.

It turns out that little Eva was a much more seasoned traveler than either of we were.  She’d been to and from France numerous times, including when she was in utero, her mother explained.  She was nonetheless one more extraordinarily well-behaved little body in our row.

I have to give the airline a lot of credit.  They provided a small pillow and blankets, eye masks, ear plugs, and earbuds for listening to free movies, TV shows or music that they provided, even to those of us in steerage, er, I mean section 3 main cabin seats.  They also provided 2 meals, a snack and lots of beverages.  This was fabulous. I couldn't remember being on a flight long enough to get more than one drink and a bag of peanuts.

All was copacetic until you tried to move.  There would be none of that.  By the time we were getting close to our destination, both of us were getting pretty tired of the close quarters.  

Shortly before we were ready to land, we heard some commotion coming from the seat behind us. The man sitting there started to buzz and yell for the flight attendants repeatedly.  We couldn’t see what was going on because we were immobile, but basically this man’s wife had some kind of condition that causes her to pass out when dealing with atmospheric changes.  She was semi-conscious.
The flight attendant then shouted, “Is there a doctor on the plane?”  And there was, and she was a rock star.  She knew exactly what to do.  The women had to lay across the row and elevate her feet above the rest of her body.  

I had questions.  If this woman had this condition, and she had experienced this difficulty on a few flights before that day, why didn’t they alert the airline ahead of time?  And even more importantly,  WHAT IF THERE WERE NO DOCTORS ON THE PLANE?

Thankfully, she recovered fully and walked off the plane under her own power, at least as well as I did after being in the same position for 7 ½ hours.  

We were pretty excited to be landing and heading into Paris. It won't be long now, we thought.

Oh, how naive we were!  In the end, it took us  FOUR hours to get out of Charles De Gaulle Airport. Most of that time was spent waiting in line to get our passport checked before we could even pick up our baggage.  

I applaud their vigilance, really I do, but maybe they could have had a few more clerks on duty.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Pittsburgher in Paris - Preparing for the Trip

This is the first of a series of blogs detailing my recent trip to Paris.  I got so much out of the trip, so I might as well get a few blogs out of it too!

So it finally happened - I made it out of the continental United States and Canada. Mr. Rip and I took our vacation in Paris this year.

Yes, I said Paris.  I couldn’t believe we were going there before we went, and I still am shocked to hear myself say it now, after spending a glorious week there.  

Was it wonderful?  Mais oui.  But first we had to get there. This was so much more complicated than the time we threw some stuff in the trunk and drove the two hours to vacation in Cleveland.
Getting ready was a study in crisis management - imagining the worst possible scenarios and preparing for them all.

First came the deciding to actually go through with it, despite the increased terrorist incidents throughout Europe.  Mr. Rip never wavered, but I did.  To humor me, he consulted with a friend who works for the State Department.  He reported back to me, “John says it’s okay!”

I eagerly read John’s message, which started out with “Well, that’s a tough call…,”  went on to outline the myriad of threats to American travelers in France and other foreign countries, and then concluded with something along the lines of “I cannot in all good conscience tell you to go - only you can make that decision, but if we don’t travel, then the terrorists win.”  Not terribly encouraging, but far be it from me to let the terrorists win.  He also recommended that we register with the State Department, so they knew how to identify us and notify our loved ones back home in the event that we fell victim to a terrorist attack.

So we registered with the State Department, so that they could regularly send us friendly if terrifying updates that basically told us that we traveled to our Europe at our own risk.  We also notified banks, credit card companies, scheduled excursions ahead, got some euros, and made copies of our important papers and lists of medications.  

Next step was extensive research to prepare ourselves for traveling to Paris.  What would the weather be?  How to dress?  How to avoid confrontations with Parisians angry with Americans? Stuff like that.

Because I have more than one of every conceivable wardrobe item in black, lots of dark shirts and a handful of scarves in my closet, it seemed I was set for roaming the streets of Paris. It was scheduled to be cool and rainy when we were there (just like home!) so I bought a packable rain jacket for good measure.  I memorized a few stock French phrases to indicate my solidarity with the French people just in case it came up.

My research also showed that the most immediate threat to tourists in Paris came in the form of pickpockets.  Reportedly, they are everywhere but especially around places that tourists like to hang out, and they are particularly ruthless.  They will pick your pocket without you ever knowing, read your credit cards through your purse, and actually slash your purse and run away with the contents.  

Aha!  Now here’s where I have some experience.  I’ve been to Times Square on Black Friday.  The bad guys could shoot me or blow me up or run me over, but I would be damned if they were going to get my purse!  I bought a slash-proof, RFD-blocking, crossbody bag with locking zippers, and  a neck wallet, to complement my typical paranoid vigilance in holding my purse close to my body when in crowds or on city streets, and sometimes in remote rural areas.

As it turns out none of these things happened, but I do love that purse.

Next up:  “Escape from Charles DeGaulle”  - getting there.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Walk This Way

Last year I was forced to get a new car and a new computer, because the old models were obsolete and no longer functioning.  Little did I know that neither my new car nor my new computer, which are exceptional in every other way, came equipped with a CD player.  CD’s are also obsolete, the salesmen explained to me.

“But, but, I listen to music and audiobooks on CD’s in my car,” I explained, trembling a little.  “But, but I have all these CDs, and no way to save them on my computer, because it no longer has a CD drive either.”   They told me I just had to use Bluetooth to listen to music or books.

Here we go again, I thought.  I’ve lived through vinyl records, 8-tracks (a trend I missed completely before it was over), cassette tapes, CD’s and now I have to figure out how to use Bluetooth.

Mostly it’s been okay.  I have stumbled my way through downloading music and books, and even borrowed them from the library.  There have been some missteps.  “Missing” audio books I thought I had successfully borrowed, an entire U2 album that I “accidentally” downloaded that I can’t figure out how to delete. Hopefully I will master this before Bluetooth becomes obsolete.

Somehow, in spite of myself, I have managed to build a respectable library of music at little or no cost to me that I decided to put to use when I do my walking at the gym.  I set about putting together a Walk Tape, an eclectic mix of pop, classic and folk rock and Broadway showtunes.  It is a musical world where Bruce Springsteen and the good folks of Price and Sons live together in harmony.  Literally.

I had a few hours of music but really needed about 19 minutes so I created my Primo Walk Tape, 18.60 minutes of the best music I had for walking.  The songs?

“Born This Way” by Lady Gaga
“Firework” by Katy Perry
“Footloose” by Kenny Loggins
“Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson
“Shut Up and Dance with Me” by Walk the Moon

I was pretty pleased with myself that four of these five songs were released since 2010, with only “Footloose” being a retro choice from the 80’s.  And in addition to driving beats good for walking, these songs turned out to be positively inspirational, pumping daily aspirations directly into my head.

“Born This Way” tells us to accept and celebrate ourselves just as we are, because “baby you were born this way.”  “Firework” tells us that we are not worthless, saying “You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine, Just own the night…”  Even though it’s been years since I’ve felt like a plastic bag blowing in the wind, I can still appreciate all this daily affirmation and self esteem boost.
“Footloose” of course is all about “cutting loose, footloose,” and expressing yourself and breaking through unreasonable societal restraints by, you know, throwing a dance.

“Shut Up and Dance” is about how an assertive lady takes charge of the situation when a guy is obviously interested but clearly overthinking it.   Honestly this guy would prattle on all night about how she was his destiny if she didn’t finally just tell him to “shut up and dance.”

And finally, there is “Uptown Funk.” So, how is Uptown Funk inspirational?  Well, I’ve given this a lot of thought.  The narrator is certainly a confident young man (“kiss myself, I’m so pretty) and encourages those around him to be confident as well (“if you’re sexy then flaunt it”)...oh, okay, I have absolutely no idea what this song is even about.  I actually looked it up and NO ONE knows what it is about. One author theorized that each section of the song taken separately has meaning, but as a whole it means absolutely nothing.

Oh, it doesn’t matter.  It has a good beat and I can walk to it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Old Folks at the Gym

When I made the decision to go back to the gym, I looked up the fitness club where I used to have a membership.  This was mostly to see if the price of a membership had changed since I was there, but for kicks I thought I would look at the reviews online just to see what they said.

I liked this gym very much when I went there.  Great, knowledgeable trainers and you can set up sessions with them as part of your membership at no additional cost.  Reasonable membership fees. Open 24 hours. Conveniently located. A variety of classes and a pool, for those so inclined.  My biggest complaint was that the people there were so friendly and nice that sometimes you would have to wait for a machine while they sat on one of them chatting with someone.  Not exactly a deal breaker.

To say the least, I was surprised when several of the younger reviewers took a few points off their otherwise stellar reviews because there were so many old people at the gym, especially in the mornings.  REALLY???  

I have to say that I never paid any attention to the demographics of my fellow gym members, and more to the point, why do these younger people care about the age of those sharing their precious gym space?  Moreover I figured they were talking about me.  Well I would be joining these young whippersnappers on weekday mornings whether they liked it or not!

So I started back to the gym, which was pretty much exactly as it was when I left it. I did find a number of mature folks there, so I fit right in.  Some of them were even older than I am, if you can imagine. Fit, strong people of a “certain age.”  I quickly lost count of the number of octogenarians who routinely pass me several times when I am walking as fast as I can to put in my mile around the track.  Many do so after completing strength training routines that I could never dream of attempting.  One day I passed a twenty-something on the track, and got pretty excited until I realized he was texting, which was obviously slowing him down.

I have three wishes for those ageist youngsters who cite old people at the gym as a negative:

  1. That workouts at the gym now will allow them to survive into old age

  1. That they are still healthy enough to be using the gym on a regular basis when they reach that age.

  1. That when they become the old folks at the gym, that the young people there treat them with the same respect they now show their elders at the gym.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Weighty Matter

In January at my routine 6 month doctor's appointment all my numbers were great!  My blood pressure and cholesterol were down, my “good” cholesterol was up, my triglycerides were enviably low and…I had gained 7 pounds.

I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I was going to weigh more than those ridiculous height and weight charts suggest that I should. Honestly, if I was down to skin and bones, the weight of my bones alone would still put me well into the overweight range. I also came to the conclusion that my weight had little to do with my overall health. 

It never came easily, but in the past I could and did lose weight when I made an effort to do so. Once when I had lost weight between 6 month visits, my family doctor at the time said, “I see you lost some weight, which means either you are making an effort, or you're terminally ill.”  I’d like to say he was joking but he wasn't given to fits of whimsy.

Everything became more complicated in 2013 after I was diagnosed with IBS and acid reflux.  I am not sure why but people don't like to talk about IBS, which stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and causes symptoms like bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea, triggered by certain foods and stress.  It took six months of every imaginable medical test to get a diagnosis while enduring a living hell of bloating that made my abdomen feel like a balloon about to burst just about any time I ate.  It took another year of experimenting to figure out my “trigger” foods (which are different for everyone) that brought on symptoms.

My (identified) trigger foods for IBS are salads, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, artificial sweeteners, carbonated beverages, dairy products, processed foods (especially meat), very rich food, very fatty food, and eating a large quantity of food in one sitting. 

To keep my acid reflux under control I need to avoid tomatoes, citrus fruit and things like peppermint. I should restrict salty foods for my high blood pressure, and carbohydrates in general (sugar, bread, pasta and fruit) to keep my borderline sugar numbers, well, borderline.

What's left you ask?  Good question. Basically I can eat all the boneless chicken breast and grilled shrimp that I want.

While this was all happening I was concerned with eating what I could without feeling violently ill. Weight was the last thing on my mind, although it is remarkable that I could gain weight on a steady diet of probiotics, shrimp and chicken. When things were under control I went to a nutritionist, followed her instructions exactly and continued to gain weight. She gave up on me after six visits.

Even though my health was generally very good and my IBS was somewhat managed, the fact that I continued to gain weight despite a generally healthy diet gave me pause.  I also have two arthritic knees and the extra weight did not help that condition.  I couldn't just keep gaining weight indefinitely.

So I re-joined the fitness club I used to frequent and started going there most mornings before work.  I do a combination of upper and lower body strength training exercises and walk a 15 to 19 minute mile up to four times a week. I continued to eat the way the nutritionist had taught me. For good measure, I stopped eating all the goodies that people bring into work.

I still did not lose weight until one Monday six weeks after I began back to the gym, when I got on the scale and saw a ONE pound weight loss!  I set out to the gym with renewed enthusiasm and resolve and what do I find when I get there?  A big huge sheet cake already cut and plated sitting in the lobby to celebrate the club's 26th anniversary.  Saboteurs, I thought!  I did not eat the cake.

However I thought this was funny so I shared the incident on Facebook.  Ah, the response I received from my sweet Friends! Words of encouragement and words of praise and wonderful  suppositions that I was just replacing fat with muscle came pouring in. 

But they need not have fretted.  A few days later I was babysitting my infant grandson whose arrival has brightened the world of our entire family beyond all measure. I was holding him while sitting on a low couch and when I stood up I could do so without using my hands to brace myself – my arms remained tightly around him.

That's why I'm going to the gym my Friends.  To have arms and legs and a heart strong enough to hold that precious little guy close and tight.  That's what matters.

That said, I was still pretty happy when I went back to the doctor's yesterday and found that I had lost those 7 pounds I gained the last time I was there!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Not Ready for My Close Up Mr. DeMille

I was interviewed on the local news recently, to alert the public about something going on at work. 

This was not the first time I’d ever been on TV representing my organization.  I have been interviewed on Comcast Newsmakers a few times. 

On those occasions, there was a lot of preparation before my appearance.
  I knew for weeks ahead of time that I would be doing it.  I carefully chose what I wanted to talk about, what I planned to wear, and meticulously fixed my hair and makeup ahead of time.  Just in case I messed this up, Comcast provides a woman who fixes your makeup and hair before the taping.  You talk to the host to determine how the interview will be structured and are assured that if you screw it up they will just tape it again.

However, this time was different.  The reporter called me at 6:30 p.m. and after a brief conversation asked when and where she could interview me in person.  I had a choir rehearsal at 7 p.m. and so we decided that we would meet at the church about 6:50 p.m.  I had about 15 minutes to gather my stuff for rehearsal and make it to church on time for this interview. 

It is fair to say that Mr. Rip and I have never collectively moved so fast, and truly it was a blur.  I think I checked my hair and brushed my teeth before we left and I freshened my lipstick in the dark in the car on our way. Other than that, nothing.  No eye makeup, no freshened day-old make up, no real preparation.  Luckily I was still dressed in what I wore to work that day.

The interview happened, and that night Mr. Rip insisted that we watch the news to see me.  The story began and there it was – my face filling the screen.  I was horrified.  The camerawoman didn’t seem to be standing THAT close to me. Mr. Rip and I reacted simultaneously and very differently to this unanticipated close-up:

Me (thinking in dismay):  “Oh good grief!  My face fills up the whole screen.”

Mr. Rip (out loud in delighted excitement): “Look, honey!  Your face fills up the whole screen!

There are two lessons here:

First, everything is a matter of perspective.  I am sure that if that was Mr. Rip's face  up on the TV screen I would have been as excited as he was to see mine.

Secondly, when looking for a partner we should all be looking for and so fortunate to find that person who loves us so much that even after nearly 15 years they are excited and happy to see our face whether in person or close up on television.

All I know is that Mr. Rip puts a smile on this old face of mine every single day.

Monday, February 20, 2017

You Can Call Me Ma'am

For years I have been listening to women express dismay and even OUTRAGE when some person who crosses their path refers to them as “ma’am.” Usually this is because they feel that they are much too young to be called “ma’am” no matter how old they actually are. 
Face it, women over the age of 18, you may occasionally, if you are lucky, be respectfully addressed as “Ma’am.”  Get over it.  What would you like the cashier at the supermarket to call you?  “Hey, You?” “Lady?” “You b*#ch?”
I never gave it a moment’s thought when someone called me “ma’am,” even before I became eligible for an AARP card.  However, some recent forays into the murky waters of social media comments sections has made me appreciate this polite and respectful address even more.

You see, I dared to express my respectful, positive support for my preferred candidate during the Presidential primaries on a public Facebook page or two that supported that candidate.  I did not mention her opponent at all.  I was bombarded with insulting, antagonistic, hostile, and downright vicious responses attacking me personally for having the audacity to openly support my candidate.

They called me every name in the book. I was called more derogatory names in one day than I had  in the rest of my long, long life.  I was called “pissy,” misinformed, a witch, a bitch, evil, ignorant and stupid, to name a few. I was called “condescending” because I suggested that they stop attacking me and my candidate and tell me why I should support theirs.  I was schooled that they would not stoop to defend their candidate, only to attack mine.  I got a couple of personal, hateful messages.

Then there were the threats.  I was told that if I did not come over to their side and vote for their candidate, that I would “face adversity the likes of which [I] had never seen before.”  This person had no idea the trouble I’ve seen.  I was told that if I voted for my candidate, that we would lose a whole generation of young people to the Democratic process.  I doubted that, but if so, good riddance, because at the end of the day I had the right and in fact the responsibility to vote for the person I thought would make the best president of the United States.  I was told that God hates me, that I was going to hell, and that I should just leave the country now.

Well.  That all seemed a little harsh to me especially coming primarily from people calling themselves liberals.  I blocked 22 of these people, including anyone who presumed to contact me personally.  But then, one of the commenters said something that really caught my attention. 
“You’re all the same,” he asserted, “Everyone who supports her are old bitter white boomers.” I was insulted.  I was NOT bitter! That came later. I decided to engage this person in a conversation.  I told him that he was sounding a bit ageist, and that my opinion and decision was based on years of following my candidate and her record as a public servant. 

He told me that I had lived my life so I didn’t have to worry about the future but he had years ahead of him.  No, seriously, he really said that.
I explained that I was a working person who would be in the workforce at the very least another 10 years (but probably longer) and that based upon my parents’ longevity, I might be on this earth for another 20 or 30 years, and that I very much cared about the future of the world that my children and grandchildren would live in.
He said that I and all people of my generation and supporters of my candidate were self-centered, had no social conscience, and were just interested in making money.  When I was done laughing, I informed him that those of us who have spent our entire adult lives working in non-profit social service and arts organizations could not reasonably be accused of any of this. 

He told me that he knew he was “being an a*#hole but it was necessary to be an a#*hole to affect change.”  I told him that no, it was not, and that campaigning in a positive way for his candidate and continuing to engage in efforts to improve the lives of people was the real way to affect change.
And this was all in the primaries over two candidates who were similar ideologically.  However the name calling continued, between and among the candidates and their supporters all the way through the election. It isn’t constructive or productive, it distracts from the issues, and it tends to alienate and divide those who disagree.

If you just can’t help yourself and must disagree with me in the comments section of this blog try to refrain from name calling, unless you call me “Ma’am.”