Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas: Is It Really Just for Kids?

          Merry Christmas everyone! I wish for you a joyous day with family and friends, a day filled abundantly with fellowship, spiritual connection and a bounty of great food, drink and laughter.

          If you’ve been reading this blog the last few months you won’t be surprised to see me wax nostalgia on this day. It seems I’m taking a moment frequently to reflect on the past and look to the future. And Christmas is certainly a great time to do that.

          The first significant Christmas I remember as a child was when I was 9 and we were living in Japan. I surprisingly still believed in Santa. Thank goodness because I had a very long list of wants that year:  a big-girl bicycle, Madame Alexander doll and majorette boots WITH tassels were just a few of the items.

          Come Christmas morning I was not disappointed. My sister and I, still in our jammies, tried to restrain ourselves as requested by our parents as we walked down the hall to the living room. The lights from the tree gave off a brilliant glow that lighted our way even though all other lights in the house were off. In the distance I could hear the whir of the Super 8 camera my dad had just wound up in order to capture our every look and gasp of glee. The living room was nearly impassible to the front door due to the cabillion presents for my sister and me. It was truly magical.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Community Volunteering

          I live in Santa Rosa, California, which is the county seat of Sonoma County, a 1,768 square mile community just north of San Francisco. The total population is just under 500,000.

          As reported in the Press Democrat (September 22, 2010), Sonoma County houses one of the largest volunteer populations in California. Nearly two out of every five adults volunteered in the county. The 39% of Sonoma County residents who donated time in 2010 outpaced all other Northern California communities surveyed. In addition, volunteer rates for local residents significantly surpassed the national average (27%).

          I knew we were a volunteering community, but I was surprised to learn these impressive statistics that put us ahead of others. I wish I had a definite singular answer to the question, “Why?” Maybe because we house a large retired population or perhaps one affluent enough to have the time, money and inclination to give back.

          There is a huge need for volunteers and, with the economy being as it is, this need has never been bigger. In spite of all attempts to fill positions with paid staff, some organizations rely on volunteers more now then ever before. For instance, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has approximately 135 volunteers who staff the front desk, gift shop and emergency room. These dedicated individuals, who range in age from early 20’s to mid-90’s, greet and guide stressed and ill clients to the places they need to be in the quickest way possible. They also deal with visitors and staff from other institutions and, on occasion, law enforcement personnel. Without them, it can be a pretty frustrating trip to the hospital.  Often times we look right through these volunteers. People are distracted and sometimes not at their best when needing their services.

          The United Way and the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County operate the Schools of Hope program staffed entirely by volunteers for 1st and 2nd graders in many elementary schools in the County. It is the program’s goal to increase participation from its current level of approximately 400 volunteers to 800 volunteers serving approximately 700 students in 20 schools. As one of the new recruits to this program, I was interested to learn that many students who don’t have a firm grasp on reading by third grade never make it to graduation.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Complaints 101

          I abhor retired people who spend their golden years writing to manufacturers complaining about some inane thing that happened or didn’t happen with their product. These people don’t hesitate to dash off an annoying diatribe to any retailer if they had to wait in line or have encountered a less than cheerful salesperson or wait person. (Have YOU ever tried waiting tables for a living?) They complain it didn’t arrive in time, or arrived damaged, or didn’t live up to their expectations (or their design taste) when they got the item home.

          If you really hate people like that you should stop reading right now….because (gulp) I’m one of them. My own life isn’t entirely about composing clever barbs to companies when I’m upset about something, but I have been accused of pointing out a flaw or shortcoming of a retailer or manufacturer when a situation didn’t make my consumer genes hum with satisfaction.

          I come by this desire to set the producer straight or to share a less than rewarding experience honestly and … genetically. My mother was the queen complainer, which was all well and good expect she went overboard and complained about things that she shouldn’t have.

          For instance, once during her golden years, Mother deemed it a valiant task to count the number of squares on the toilet paper roll. Not surprisingly, the roll, which was touted as containing 400 squares, would sometimes have only 392 squares or, heaven forbid, only 380 squares. My mother, the English teacher, would spend days penning a complaint riddled with her disappointment and dismay about this shortcoming. The self-satisfaction she received by sending her letter outshone the milk-toast apologetic reply wherein the manufacturer would promise to right any wrong AND would include a coupon for free future purchases. Well, that free stuff got my attention and I began “educating” companies, too.

          My first such venture, when I was about 16, involved a Nestlé’s Crunch candy bar. I opened the package and found a hole in the bar with a white filmy cobweb…no insect, just the smashed home of one. This was a no-brainer. I sent the entire product back to Nestle and within a matter of weeks I received a 3 by 4 foot box containing one of every product Nestle made along with a profusely apologetic letter. Looking back, they’re probably just glad I didn’t sue their asses...lol.

          I wrote letters a few more times, hopefully, only for legitimate things and not because the fold on the granola bar packaging wasn’t centered on the product. Coats and Clark sent me 12 skeins of yarn when I discovered a skein that had several knots in it instead of a continuous piece of cotton.

          Most recently, I went to Whole Foods in Coddingtown instead of the store near my home on Yulupa and wanted to purchase, among other things, a half pint of pico de gallo. First, let me say their pico de gallo is delicious! I only buy the half pint size for $2.99 because I can’t consume more without it going bad. To make a long story short, the Whole Foods in Coddingtown didn’t stock, nor could they produce, a half pint, so I was going to be forced to purchase the pint for $6.00. Come on people, you can put it together. Well, they couldn’t find a product code, yada yada. I left the store empty-handed. When I got home I fired off a kind but pointed email and within two days, I’d heard from the store’s customer service department. They not only will be sure half pints of their tasty salsa are always available but, for my inconvenience, a gift certificate is waiting for me at the Customer Service desk at the store.

          In order to be successful in enlightening a company, your complaint needs, obviously, to be legit. I sure hope I’ve not inherited the hyper-vigilant complaining skills of my mother. In any letter or email, it is key to be polite and express disappointment or surprise at the lack of quality, or poor service, rather than anger or pointing out their stupidity.

          I look forward to hearing of any experiences that have or have not worked for you. In the meantime, I’m off to the Whole Foods in Coddingtown. I wonder what the gift certificate is for?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

          It’s officially THE shopping season. I probably don’t need to tell YOU that. Heck, half of my friends have already finished their shopping for the holidays.

          I’ve always admired people who can shop for the holidays all year long. This is the bunch that is super organized with a well thought out list of recipients and gift ideas. They keep their list handy and use any outing, be it a trip to the grocery story or a vacation to Italy, as an opportunity to mark another item off their list. I’ve been with friends who’ve gasped, “Oh, goody, Safeway has 50 year old Scotch on sale. Now I can get that bottle I want to give to Uncle Luke!”

          I’m not a great shopper. I don’t enjoy the experience that much. I never even enjoyed it when I was younger and could afford and fit into tiny leather skirts or suede coats with tastefully appointed fake fur collars. At one point, I did leasing for a local shopping center and my entire days were spent in stores and around merchandise. You might think I’d be more inclined to shop if I was getting paid for my time while doing it, but I didn’t.

          Having shown my shopping skills are minimal, it might surprise you to learn that I’m a good internet shopper. I’ll match the purchasing power of my fingers with the best of ‘em! At the same time, I’m in good company when I say I’ve had some bad experiences from buying things from online stores, but these have been mainly apparel items. As long as it’s not clothes or shoes, I think buying from the internet is the only way to go.

          They predict paying sales tax for online merchandise will soon be upon us. Until then, I say rev up those search engine skills, research the best deal identifier through-sites and begin to reward those merchandisers who pay for shipping with little or no minimum purchases. There are lots out there. And there’s always e-bay and Craigslist; fun places to shop even if you have to modify some of the specifications you’re requiring.

          Even though I’m not an enthusiastic consumer of clothing, I have enjoyed purchasing household items:  dishes, linens, knick knacks, kitchen gadgets, plants, etc. In recent years, however, I’ve had a somewhat depressing awakening that many of you may have also experienced.

          Since retiring, I’ve noticed there’s nothing I need to buy. OMG, this has been the most discouraging aspect of getting older that no one told me to expect. Obviously, I don’t need work clothes or comfortable shoes for traipsing through my day. I don’t need cute containers to carry lunch items to the office, nor do I need any electronic items for keeping a complicated schedule or task list. Man, it just hasn’t been fun to realize I don’t need yet another set of silverware or placemats, or panties, or umbrellas.

          I was in hog heaven a couple of years ago when I got my cat Kali from the Humane Society, not only for the obvious pet-loving reasons but also because it meant I could go out and buy, buy, and buy:  food bowls, pet beds, mats, snacks, grooming tools and toys, lots and lots of toys. I even had to buy another basket just to hold all the snacks, tools and toys. It was fun, but short-lived.

          These days one of my favorite stores is the bookstore at the Center for Spiritual Living. This is the home of my spiritual community, which was founded by Ernest Holmes. It has lots of books – soothing books, instruction books, history books and books to give as gifts. It also has cultural items from other countries, jewelry and crafts made by talented Center members, and a ton of Gods and Goddesses, Buddha’s, essential oils, and tapes for mediation or relaxation. If I need a gift for a friend, I’m most likely to start at this store.

          I think the future of my shopping will be mostly for others, particularly kids and grand-kids. I’ll never have to worry about running out of things to buy for others. Also, doesn’t giving money count for something still? I think it can be pretty impersonal, but do you really want ME to guess what an 11-year-old boy might truly want? Here’s some money; buy exactly what you’d like and know that I give it to you with heartfelt love and a true desire to celebrate your birthday, graduation, Christmas, etc.

          Oh, and if you’re buying for me, well, like I said, I don’t need anything, so better make it experiential. Let’s have a dinner together, or go to a play, or a casino!




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lighting the Way

          “Pitch black” in my house doesn’t exist anymore. I can see nearly all aspects of the inside of my house after it’s dark, really dark outside. I can clearly see my completely black cat stealthily traverse my bedroom when it’s 2 a.m., or where the tiny play balls are scattered about the carpet in the living room. Even the outdoor patios are somewhat lighted with the outside lamps on the streets. I’m not sure if this lack of darkness should comfort me or piss me off.

          Have you noticed there are no completely dark rooms late at night when nature’s call (yet again) draws you out of the comfort of your warm and cozy bed? Have you ever noticed all the electronics lighting the way through our night’s life? It used to be that we could easily break our necks by running into a door left ajar or a slipper kicked out of its normal location. Or, without as much light, we could more effectively scare an unsuspecting partner…hehehe.

           Even when the power goes out, there are enough battery operated electronic devices, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, alarm clocks and cell phones to illuminate the entire area below my loft. I only need candles during a power outage because I can’t read by the red glow from the battery-operated digital clock next to my bed.

           There are 25 indicator lights that radiate 24/7 in my home. I’m still not sure if this fact comforts me or if, when I venture into my infrequently called upon environmentalist attitude, I consider this a waste of earth resources.               

           Why are all these tiny indicator lights on and do we really need them?  Sure, they don’t do any harm, and perhaps I’m the only one out there who even thinks about their presence. I wonder how much I’d save in electricity if these lights weren’t on all the time. Perhaps not much. I guess it’s good to know that the smoke detector is operational should a fire occur. How did this increase in brightening occur?

           This "lightening" of our nighttime hours has been gradual. First, I guess, were the phones with their small red indicator lights and, of course, the time displays on the stove. But as I look around in my home, these lights are in the company of a dozen others I’m paying to keep burning. Probably not a big deal, but an illumination that while I’ve grown used to I still wonder where we’ll be led next in the “day timing” of our nighttime.

           How many lights are on all the time in your house and does this bother or comfort you? Perhaps you could, dare I say it, shed a little light on this subject? (groan).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Friends: What kind of a friend are you?

          I don’t think I’m a fabulous friend, but I’m a better friend than I used to be. Do you agree that being a friend – the kind of friend people want to have around – takes work? That doesn’t seem right, but I know it’s true for me. Some people make friendship seem so effortless. It doesn’t come natural for me. I have to review and perfect my friendship skills constantly.

           I’ve never had any formal friendship training, which is the stuff you’re taught as  a child…turn the other cheek, respect and put others first, do unto others…yada yada. Instead I was taught to be competitive with others, including my sister and my playmates. The message in our household was, “Don’t let them get ahead of you, or get the best of you and always watch your back.”  As a result, I was convinced others were out to take advantage of me or make me look bad. I always had to be on my guard which makes building long-lasting friendships a difficult task, at best.

           Throughout my childhood I had two unequivocal friends that I never questioned. The first was my cocker spaniel, Sparky, and the second was my relationship with books. Neither of these ‘friends’ would criticize, one up, or judge me. I spent lots more time with them than the flesh and blood varieties of “friends.” Because my dad was in the military and the family moved every one to three years it was easy to perfect a façade of friendship without doing the substantive work to develop true alliances.

           Another roadblock in my friendship journey was being taught ways of being in the world with men but not about how to be friends with other women. I was nearly 21 before I realized that the other half of the population was worth befriending. I’ll never forget the first time I could say I loved a woman friend. Being a confirmed heterosexual, I was surprised to acquire the depth of feelings for a woman co-worker who I visualized as a role model in exposing me to the rewards of female friends.

           Christine was nurturing and kind, and had no ulterior motive in getting close to me. She inspired me to look differently at the people in my life. Through her, I learned to acquire and entertain women friends. For the first time in my life, I felt alive and worthy and not so suspicious of women around me. There must have been other women who lacked early friendship development like I did because I’ve run into them throughout my life and we’ve compared notes about being guarded around other women and unsure of their sincerity.

           Okay, so this doesn’t mean that now that I’m all grown up I’m this expert friend and people – both men and women – are clambering to have Antonia for a friend. As a matter of fact, judging from recent events, I’ve got a long way to go in perfecting my technique.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Baseball 2012

          Quick! Before it gets all winter soggy on the West Coast (as soggy as it ever gets in the sun-drenched state), let me close the book on baseball for 2012.

          I am a fair weather fan, but MY TEAM WON the World Series! The GIANTS won and it was so much fun to watch their journey, which started in April. Yeah, no, I didn’t watch any games way back in April or even in May, June or July because (see above) I’m a fair weather fan. What does that mean exactly?

          That means about mid-August, when I’d log onto my computer in the morning with my wake-me-up, one and only cup of coffee, I might swing by the sports page on MSN and see 1) where the Giants were in the standings and 2) where the Dodgers were in the standings. All Giants fans hate the Dodgers and, even if we’re not doing well, there is some comfort in having the Dodgers not do well, too. You don’t need to be a fair weather fan to know this. I’m sure states that have more than one national team have a similar situation with rival teams.

          Anyway, it was back in August when I started to get familiar with the stand-out players:  Posey, Sandoval, Cain. I became interested in their personal information as well as their baseball prowess. Sandoval has a weight problem so I was hooked on him immediately. Posey was a star from the 2010 Series that they won, but he had hurt himself severely in 2011 and was fighting his way back courageously in the current season.

           As the Giants continued to pull ahead of the pack (including the Dodgers), they made some critical player purchases and got some great people: Pence and Scutaro to name two. In addition, there was plenty of drama.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to be Wealthy

I'll bet you're thinking I'm going to present some lengthy and detailed diatribe about a manner of garnering, investing and saving money. After all isn't money tantamount to society acknowledging our true wealth? And isn't wealth the 'true measure of a man'? If that's what you're thinking you might as well stop reading right now.

Money is only one measure of wealth. Sometimes people don't feel wealthy enough with our US currency but feel the need to buy currencies from other countries to round out their portfolios and stave off any economic shifts that threaten their well being. Don't get me wrong, dollars in whatever form: cash, stocks, IOUs, foreign currencies, etc., are good things, and I personally feel the more the merrier. BUT, I also believe you can be an extremely wealthy person without a lot of mullah.

I think my mother measured her wealth in terms of vodka and slippers as we found 6 gallons of vodka and 30 pairs of unworn slippers in her house when she passed away. And she wasn't even a hoarder... in the traditional sense anyway! If things like her stashes are what exhibits true wealth then it'll be mayonnaise for me....I've got several jars in the pantry and can get a little twitchy when I'm down to just one or two. And this spoken like the mostly vegan that I am. Ha! There are other things too: I have to admit I feel more satisfied when I've got 8-10 rolls of paper towels stockpiled. I can take on the world!

I love and collect paper, particularly expensive Asian paper. While I can scream and beat my chest and rant and rave when the bill for my car registration comes, I've got reams of paper that cost me a fortune and that I will probably never do anything with except look at. It's what you value that makes you feel wealthy, no?

Continuing the paper theme for me, I have lots of books - real paper books, not electronic versions, and they make me feel wealthy. I have an entire wall in my office lined with shelves filled with books. I have sold a ton of used books too, and the $3.50 I've gotten for 10+ boxes of books is real mad money for me. Obviously, I'm not talking dollars and cents kind of logic here.

Okay, I've covered the 'stuff' of wealth. Now let's look at a less tangible commodity.

In my opinion, the value of friendship is an excellent and altruistic way of measuring wealth and showing how to be wealthy. At parties where I'm being feted - yes, there have been a couple of those occasions - I look around and feel wealthy... I am thrilled by the wealth of having these people stand by me, and I envision that now infamous Academy award speech of Sally Field, "They like me. They really like me." Nothing exemplifies the bounty of a life, to me, more than the number and character of friends one can count on to be there for you. Granted, this group would be greatly reduced if I was having trouble and needed help moving, for instance, instead of providing food and drink. Seriously though, I've always felt friendly people are an unquantifiable measure of one's wealth.

Dollars and cents come and go; it's good to measure wealth in other ways. It's also a good thing to look at different options available around wealth so we don't feel so stuck in this crappy economy. I know how to be wealthy, and it doesn't involve saving or hoarding.

What is your true wealth? What makes you feel 'full' and able to stand strong in harsh economic and emotional times?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You Know You're Getting Old When ....

If you're a senior citizen like me, you know what's coming when you hear or see the phrase `You know you're getting old when....' How many times have you read or heard funny endings to that statement?

  • You know you're getting old when you're the only one who knows how to use a rotary phone.
  • You know you're getting old when happy hour is a nap.
  • You know you're getting old when you feel like the morning after but you haven't been anywhere.

Then there are the real, less funny responses. You know you're getting old when you wake up in the morning with aches and pains in most joints or when you have to pee a dozen times during the night. I've certainly felt old when I've forgotten where I've placed something...something basic like car or house keys, purse, library book, etc.

Do you find yourself joking about having a 'senior moment'? We may chuckle to mask the tiny sense of terror the lost object, forgotten name, or brain fart wreaks havoc on our psyche. But I think we all freeze in that moment realizing we're not as agile, physically or mentally, as we once were.

One of the last places I expected to feel old was at a recent 49ers game. My friend and I had traveled to San Francisco on a tour bus. We didn't have to deal with traffic or parking - a true luxury in my

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gratitude: Your most valuable ally

It's legal, low calorie and laudable. It costs nothing. It remains quiet when ignored but blossoms when revealed. It can be your most powerful weapon and your best friend. Plain and simple, it's gratitude, the state of being grateful or thankful.

Millions of words are written daily about the practice of incorporating gratitude into your life. The sheer nature of its accessibility and ease of use makes it, to some, not as worthy as a gadget that costs a lot to obtain and maintain. Sometimes, because it's not tangible, it's easy to forget.

I could tell you about the found money, services provided suddenly for free, a windfall trip to Paris, unexpected gifts and other `stuff I've received from practicing gratitude (all of which I have indeed received recently), but that's not it's true value.

Gratitude is my most valuable ally because it provides the greatest amount of joy and peace. I've found nothing I can buy or whip up in the kitchen that brings me the solitude, clarity and overall well being of being grateful. I can always count on gratitude to bring me joy and a sense of well-being. It is always available for my use. Like meditation, the more I use it the more I get out of it.

Practicing gratitude is easy, and my usage has increased over the years. There are several methods that enhance the results of incorporating gratitude into your daily life.

My first and foremost method to tapping into gratitude is to be open. A few years ago I broke my wrist while training dogs for the Humane Society. It was a bad break and I was in the hospital for three days. I was volunteering for the Society because I'd recently retired from a rewarding and high-powered job. In addition, my sister, who was only three years older than me, had died just weeks before I fell.

Obviously, I was miserable. I wondered `Why me?' When I got home from the hospital I was virtually helpless. I couldn't drive or cook with one hand or do much work on the computer. I even needed help showering and getting ready for the day. It was to remain that way for seven weeks. At the end of my first week home, in the morning after my spouse went to work, it finally dawned on me. There was not a thing I could do but be open to this whole experience. I closed my eyes, opened my arms and standing in a brilliant ray of streaming sunshine in my living room I spoke, "Okay, God, I'm open and receptive to whatever I'm supposed to get out of this experience." I became instantly grateful at having this event occur so I could quiet things down and take time to reevaluate my next steps in life. Things in my life definitely shifted to the better from that point forward.

From that traumatic experience I learned the value of starting and ending each day with an homage to gratitude. Some people have a gratitude journal. That works best for them to reinforce the routine, and they like looking back from year to year to see how their gratefulness may have changed. My daily routine around gratitude is somewhat less formal, but it works for me. When I wake in the morning, I swing my feet over the edge of the bed but, before they touch the floor, I raise my arms overhead and say a simple `Thank you." This is all my cat Kali will allow as she nervously jumps up and down on the bed encouraging me to head to her empty food bowl.

My evening acknowledgement signals my body and mind to the end of the day. I give thanks for the richness of my life and specific praise for any standouts I experienced. Many times I only have the energy to groan a delicious "I love my bed" as I slide between the sheets. There are no rules; whatever works for you is just the perfect way.

With more breadth of life experience, seniors such as me have the best vantage point to use and benefit from gratitude. My perspective on life is broader and less hectic. I have more time to reflect on what works and what doesn't to make my life more satisfying. Been there, done that on acquiring things; now it's about acknowledging those practices that have consistently brightened my life, lightened my load, and made me more at one with the universe.

I feel the weight of a powerful tool in gratitude, and I'm so appreciative that I am able to share it with you. Give it a try, and let me know how you make it work.

Read more Antonia's Senior moments at...

Baseball 2012

How To Be Wealthy