Monday, March 25, 2013

Escape From the World Day 6

Today was chilly by 'Florida in March' standards.  Chilly and windy, but sunny.  Today was all about a brief beach walk and a bit of window shopping topped off by a dinner at an amazing steak house (where I ordered shrimp - LOL).  Tomorrow we head for home... probably just at the right time.

No matter how fantastical a vacation might be, I think it's a good sign that you are going home right when you are ready to go home.  Vacations with family are interesting and don't always end up like you might have wished.  Often they may be your only option if, in fact, you actually want to have a vacation.  In my case, Bill and I hadn't had one in two and a half years.  He was going to Florida with or without me, so ..........  I closed my eyes, held my breath and leaped.   Family vacations always seem to come with restrictions - restrictions that are not easily tolerated when you don't take vacations on a regular basis.  Personality traits that you find so endearing in your spouse might be less so in his other immediate family members.  And putting these people together under one roof for more than one day can really produce a big pot of crazy.

Do I feel rested?  Yes. Did I enjoy the weather and the beaches?  Absolutely.  My mother in law is re-upping the condo for next year.  It may or may not end up being be her final year down here.  And we are already talking about returning next March.  I don't know how I feel about that just yet.  I am hoping that I've retained the right to not lock myself in before I'm even on the plane home this year, but history tells me that I might not be so lucky.

This is what I know for sure.  I can't picture myself ever living in the Southeast unless I'm forced to in order to find employment.  Humidity and I just do not get along.  I can't picture myself making the annual trek to "________________"(fill in the blank) for vacation at any stage of my life.  The world, hell - our country - is a big place.  For the love of God, why would I want to return to the same place every stinking year for "vacation"?  I'd like to give myself a bit more credit for having some imagination and some spirit of adventure.

In the meantime.... goodbye Florida and Vive La France!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Escape From the World Day 5

Today, we visited my brother in Fort Myers.  After all these years, I finally saw his condo.  Even though I didn't know what to expect, I wasn't surprised by what I saw.  Dick and Sally are very theme-based in their decorating.  God only knows what they think of my mis-matched house.  This condo is all about Florida beach.  Distressed white wood, navy, yellow and white painted walls, beachy lighthouse pictures, etc...  I would say that it is very well put together yet comfortable - not an easy achievement, and the perfect balance for a vacation home.

Dick took us to Sanibel Island and we took a long walk on the beach before going to lunch, where I stuffed my face with...... what else?.... seafood.... at a kitschy little place called the "Island Cow".  After lunch, we went back over to Fort Myers Beach for another beach walk.

We did a lot of talking about dementia, something that all of us were experiencing or had recently experienced.  It seems that, even though Mom is in another world, she doesn't talk to Dick about the same things that she talks to me and Bill about.  That is fascinating to me.  On some subconscious level, she knows enough to match up what she wants to talk about to the people with whom she is talking.

I found out that Dick and Sally's original plan when they bought the condo was for Dick to spend January through March in Florida every year, with Sally spending the entire month of February there working from home.  This was supposed to have started happening two years ago, and I had a flash of what it would have been like dealing with my Mom by myself.  The plan stalled out when Sally's boss left the company and the replacement put the kibosh on everything.  I guess someones bad luck is someone else's gift from God. 

As I type this, my face, neck and chest are beet red with sunburn.  For me, sunburn has always been a "hurts so good" feeling.  Yes, I know I should be more concerned about skin cancer, but I can't help it.  I just love the way I look after I've been in the sun for a few hours.  Just think of it as a big dose of vitamin D.

Escape From the World Day 4

The ponytail holder is the only thing standing between me and my picture on the cover of National Geographic magazine.  There are no words for what this climate has done to my hair.  If I pierced both sides of my nose and inserted a bone through it, the picture would be clear.  Yesterday, the fog decided to roll in, and we made the mistake of leaving the door to the balcony slightly open for the breeze.  We returned from taking my niece to the airport to find everything in our bedroom damp.  Carpet, bedspread, all open surface and everything that was laying out in the open.  Thank God I take my phone with me everywhere!

Yesterday I get my first pedicure of the year.  I've made up my mind that I need to find a salon back home that gives a decent pedicure.  I wasn't jazzed with the pedicure from the place that does my nails, so I got one pedicure all summer last year.  Not a good idea for my caveman feet. 

We walked on the beach very early - 5:30AM.  It was a different world.  There are these little black birds who run all over the beach in the dark, and they look like mice or something when they run.  We could feel the humidity in the air already - LOL - guess we should have known!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Escape From the World Day 3

Sand.  White.  Clean.  Pristine.  Dazzling.  A stream of consciousness that flows like the ocean as I viewed Clearwater Beach for the first time.  Mass transit.  The miracle of modern humanity used by tourist destinations to allow visitors to wander freely and cheaply.  What do these two independent thoughts have in common?  Easy - they are things to which folks from Western New York react as if someone had just invented fire. 

Today, Bill and I meandered between Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg Beach on a bus called the "Suncoast Trolley" with unlimited use for the entire day for a mere $4.50.  Remarkable.  There was a similar bus in Clearwater named "Jolly Trolley"... or some such name.  We stopped in between at John's Pass.  A miraculous jumble of shops and restaurants on an inlet.  I had a crab cake sandwich for lunch and shrimp primavera for dinner.  I wonder if it is possible to eat too much seafood..... 

Beaches are just fabulous, and I can't seem to get enough of them.  From early morning walks in solitude to watching the joy of children cavorting.  The wind that carries the hint of ocean to my nose.  The seabirds in all of their shapes and sizes.  It is no wonder that beach resorts so often have the word "Paradise" in their names. 

And so another day ends, and the beach  will await me tomorrow morning, with the waves crashing on the sand, calling to me - sometimes softly, sometimes insistently, always happily.  Good night.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Escape From the World Day 2

Until today, the last time I spent a day at an amusement park was...... I can't remember!  Busch Gardens Tampa - part zoo, part amusement park, totally a blast!  I feel like I might never eat again, though.  Bill found an online deal where purchasing the admission tickets online instead of at the gate got us a free "all you can eat or drink" pass.   I wouldn't categorize the food as haute cuisine, but as park food goes, it was better than most.

My crowning achievement of the day was that I rode all five roller coasters with my niece.  Our favorite coaster was "Sheikra" , a coaster of the dangling legs variety in which the riders ascend the first hill at a totally vertical angle only to stop abruptly at the top dangling beyond vertical in the descending direction for a second prior to plunging down the first hill.  Complete, awesome, adrenaline rush.  Our final coaster ride of the day was "Cheetah Hunt", a ride designed to emulate a cheetah chasing its prey.   Right out of the gate, the cars accelerate from "zero to cheetah" in about 3 seconds flat, before climbing the first hill.  The rest of the ride features a combination of corkscrews, loops, side-to-side dips and more "zero to cheetah" accelerations.  Very, very cool.

The animals were fabulous.  Lorakeets landing on our heads, an interactive kangaroo exhibit, and a whole new angle on hippos.  Just for starters.

I haven't been this tired since I almost fell asleep on the ground on the terrace at the Kennedy Center.  Over and out!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Escape from the World Day 1

Florida beckoned bright and early at 3:00AM.  The cheapest direct flight to Tampa departed from Buffalo at 6:00AM.  I guess this is one of those times when it pays to be an early riser.  I was fairly unfazed, but from the looks of most of my fellow travelers, I was in the minority.  The early hour did not deter Bill from chatting non-stop with the third passenger in our row on the plane, however.  It's good to know that there are some things in life that remain constant no matter the hour of the day or the day of the week.  <Le Sigh>.

It was overcast and 68 degrees in Tampa and felt like paradise.  The beach was fabulous, with many intriguing shells laying here and there.  I was told that I needed to get down to the beach "at the crack of dawn to beat all the old ladies to the really good shells."   Hmmm.... ok. 

Day 1 has been low-key. Walks on the beach, delicious dinner, cocktail hour with condo friends.  The early start has caught up with me.  At 9:30PM, I am showered and in my pajamas, looking forward to a good night's sleep with the sound of the ocean surf in my ears.  Life is is good.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Keep Your Ignorance to Yourself

So, let's see.  I spend 40+ hours a week administering retirement plans sponsored by a wide variety of employers - manufacturing companies, nonprofit organizations, media companies, school districts, hospitals, etc, etc, etc.   In my line of work, we are constantly being challenged to improve our technology, our reporting, our services offered to both employer and employee alike, etc, etc, etc.    We find ourselves at the mercy of the government, with the latest and most disturbing trend being Congress's use of the 401(k) industry as some sort of pawn or potential cash cow in budget negotiations.  Many times those of us in the industry feel manipulated and/or unduly pressured by layers of government regulations.  Likewise, retirement professionals are human beings who function at varying levels of education and experience.   Last year, we had to devote countless hours of overtime to implement new fee disclosure requirements at both the employer and employee level.  While we complained amongst ourselves about the painstakingly detailed level of disclosure being required and the aggressive timeline imposed by the government, there was not one of us who could argue against the idea of full disclosure of the fees being deducted from employee 401(k) accounts.

Conversely, I just read a disturbing Facebook post by a middle school English teacher.   She quotes the following passage from the eight grade ELA exam sample:

From the Narrative of Frederick Douglass: "In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not wrong, but dangerously so."

This teacher then proceeded to not only rail against the unfairness of expecting eighth graders to read and interpret "college-level" passages but then actually admitted to the Facebook world at large that she had "never seen the word 'chattel' before."  Hmmm....... while I refrained from thanking her for reinforcing my decision to send my daughter to Catholic school, I did feel compelled to comment by siting a study I had read that stated that most of today's educated adults could not pass a nineteenth-century sixth grade certification exam.  I'll live to regret that, I'm sure.  I will admit that this particular teacher enjoys railing against the unfairness of it all and this is nothing new for her, but there are always the sycophant colleagues chiming in with total agreement, and the endless gripe-fest inevitably ensues.

Does it not occur to any of these people to question why an eighth grade student in 2013 is incapable of comprehending this passage?  This woman dug her grave further by stating that this test was purposely made more difficult so that kids would fail.  Presumably, the test will be easier next year, thereby demonstrating "growth".  Huh?   Here's a novel thought:  increase actual classroom standards (meaning that 13 year olds are actually expected to read and comprehend this level of literature by the end of their eighth grade year), fund and staff accordingly, and how about parents actually raising responsible citizens instead of spoiled hellions who can't function in society but nonetheless, have wonderful "self-esteem."  I guess this theory probably makes me a wacky combination of William Bennett and Rachel Maddow.  So be it.  There are merits to both sides of every argument.

What sort of reaction would I receive if I posted this on Facebook.

"We have to disclose administrative  fees, trading fees, activity fees and advisory fees that are deducted directly from peoples' 401(k) accounts.  We have to give this information in painstaking detail to the employers, and we have to spell all of the deductions out in detail on quarterly participant statements.  This is a ridiculous waste of time, because no matter how many extra hours we spend on this (in addition to everything else we have to do) only a tiny minority of employers and employees will even take the time to read these disclosures, let alone understand them."  

Obviously we recognize that we need to do a better job of educating employers and employees instead of just throwing a bunch of new disclosures at them.  I'm not sure how we will go about doing that, but at least we are willing to not only recognize the problem but to also take some sort of ownership of it. Wouldn't it be swell if all parties in this country associated with the education of our children (teachers, parents and government) could get together and do the same?  And for God's sake, set a better example for your students than airing your ignorance on Facebook.  Students don't seem to recognize social media as being a public forum.  We should at least expect more from their educators.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

All Talk is Not Necessarily Cheap

This is me whining again.  Poor me.

There.  Now that I've established the general tone of this blog entry, I feel liberated enough to vent freely.

I can't tell if I've never been a good conversationalist or if I've simply lost any ability I might have ever had to command anyone's attention.    Or maybe I don't exude any sense of urgency  .... ever ..... causing the entire world to feel free to interrupt my conversations - sometimes as I am in a sentence mid-stream.  I'm obviously doing something wrong.  What.......?  I don't know.

Lately I seem to also be incapable of even getting to the point where I'm even having the desired discussion in the first place.  So, in a weird sort of way, that might be a good thing.  The world at large can't disrupt an interchange that never even got started in the first place.  A good example would be Amanda who was home for 7 days.  I figured out that I had her undivided attention for less than one hour the entire time she was home.  Her boyfriend came to town with her.  Don't get me wrong - he is a great kid and I guess I should be happy that they've been together for over a year and still talk each other's ear off.    And he likes to talk as much as she does.  It is a long time - more than 2 months - before I will see her again.   I need to focus on the fact that we managed to show our guest a good time during the last week in February in Buffalo.  Not a small accomplishment.

And then today after Mass, I said to Bill "can we just go to Tim Horton's for coffee and sit and talk?".   He was very agreeable, but I guess he thought I meant "I can sit quietly and listen to him talk to people from our church.".   Sigh......    I guess even though my husband and I are similar in our lack of the ability to call attention to ourselves, he tries to compensate by being overly chatty with anyone and everyone.   Not I.   I sometimes think I get why people with mental conditions might start talking to themselves a lot.    You have a ready audience at your beck and call and you always have the listener's undivided attention.   The feedback isn't very useful, though.   Everything has a drawback.  Guess I'll have to do something about that!