What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

State of the cat address: Penelope in early 2016

Penelope_softedgesIt’s me again, Penelope. I haven’t posted anything for months because, well…everything was fine. Not much to complain about (although I whine and caterwaul anyway as a matter of principle).

But something strange has been going on since the beginning of the year. My mom is home every day. Don’t misunderstand. I like to have at least one of my folks home at all times, but I’d gotten used to her traipsing out of the house before 8 three days a week and not returning until nearly 5. It was predictable, every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. (It’s a common misconception that cats don’t know what day it is.)

I am now adapting to this new pattern, but I have one complaint (I know you’re not surprised). Now that she’s not leaving me during the week, I expect her undivided attention, all day…and part of the night. After all, she no longer has to get up early, so the least she can do is play a few more rounds of chase-the-mousie or pull-the-string with me. At 11:00 p.m. Or anytime.

Even worse? Now I sometimes have to entertain her! Since it’s winter, or so I gather as I see snow on the patio…you know I’m am indoor cat, right? What was I saying? Oh, winter. There are days when she stays home watching TV and playing Boggle until she’s bored, and I have to provide the amusement. I got tired of the Qtip game (that I invented, don’t forget), so I feel obligated to find new ways to keep her occupied. It’s exhausting.

Also, since my mom’s the one who scoops my poop (I just love that phrase!), I expect her to tend to my litter box just after I use it each time. She’s home, isn’t she?

I can’t get too comfortable with this new schedule though. Recently, I caught her filling next month’s calendar with lunch dates, appointments, and tasks that take her out of the house. One day, I observed her looking through a catalog of courses…which means even more non-Penelope activities.

I would have one of my hissy fits (her name for my wild running and bouncing off walls…no hissing involved), but I calm myself by remembering that I have two parents. And my dad gives the best belly rubs.

 

 

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Internal donut wars

This morning, at 10:30 a.m.:

I’m sitting in the waiting room at Bredemann Toyota, where I’ll spend the next hour-and-a-half. My RAV4 is in for its 50,000-mile oil change, tire rotation, and all that other stuff ($$).

It’s a comfortable room, with a TV currently showing The View, a machine that lets you choose from a variety of coffees, and…this is key…a tempting tray of donuts. In the past 7 years I’ve been bringing the RAV4 here for service, I’ve avoided even glancing at that tray to keep my sweet tooth from itching. But today, as I walked into the room, scanning it for a good spot to settle in, I saw it. And right smack in the middle of the tray was my favorite, a cake donut with chocolate frosting. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to resist it.

But I sat down and began writing this post to keep my mind focused on something (anything) else. Just before starting this sentence, another customer got up and walked over to the tray. After a few seconds of contemplation, he chose one and took it back to his seat. It was my chocolate-covered donut! Now I’m wondering: Is there another one on the tray? And…and most important…should I be happy or unhappy if the answer is yes?

A little applicable background: I’m now in that iffy zone of Weight Watcher’s Life Timer status that can be dangerous. After losing weight on the plan and keeping it off for more than a year, I’ve started to gain again. My pants still fit, but they’re snug. Those are the roomier ones. As women everywhere know, our clothing sizes are not consistent. So you can buy a size 10 of different brands, or even the same brand, and the fit will vary from not being able to pull them up past your hips to an easy zip, button, snap, with an inch or two to spare.

I’m trying to nip the gain of a few pounds (okay, five) in the bud. See? Now I’ve managed to distract myself for over a paragraph and haven’t given the donut tray a thought.

But suddenly, that’s all I’m thinking about.

The last time I was here (5,000 miles ago), I weakened in the second hour and walked up to the tray. By that time, it was empty. I figured it was meant to be. Maybe today I can hold out long enough to have the same outcome.

I’m tired of writing now, and I’m going to read a book about wrting by Elizabeth Berg.

Follow up: I read and read…and read. Then I put the book down, stood up, walked over to the donut tray, and took one of the other chocolate-c0vered cake donuts. It was delicious.

 

 

The R word again. It’s reality.

After promising and/or threatening to retire for the past 8 years, I finally did it! It’s official tomorrow, December 31…the end of 2015 and the beginning of my new life in 2016.

I’m showing up at the office to finish up the purge: a multi-year collection of papers, file folders, extra shoes, dried-out pens, now unneeded business cards, conference giveaways, and much more junk. It probably wasn’t junk when I stashed it away into various drawers and cabinets, but it’s useless to me now.

By tomorrow afternoon, I’ll have emptied the drawers, surrendered my laptop to IT, turned in my corporate Amex card to Accounting, and relinquished my ID badge.

It’ll be weird. It’s been an almost 40-year experience. And even though I’ve been semi-retired for 8 years, and thus have had Mondays and Thursdays free for those 8 years, it’s not the same as having Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays free, along with Saturdays and Sundays. Every week. Every month. Every year. It’ll definitely be weird.

Those of you who’ve already made this change tell me, almost in unison, “You’ll love it!” I’ll take your word for it.

 

 

 

 

Too old to open toilet paper?

This aging thing is starting to bug me (even more than usual). It seems that each year there are more everyday tasks that I can’t do anymore. Just this past weekend, I injured myself trying to open a package of toilet paper! To paint the picture for you, it was one of those colossal multi-package packages you get from Costco. That may not have any bearing on my problem getting it open—unless you consider the fact that such a large bundle needs extra strong plastic to encase it.

When we got it home, I stood the package up and attempted to pull apart the plastic wrapping so I could distribute the packs of rolls inside to our various bathrooms. I positioned my two hands on two ends of the wrap and tried to tug them apart. Nothing happened. I tugged harder. No progress. Then I mustered what I felt was the power of a person half my age to give it a final valiant yank. The toilet paper package didn’t pull open…but I managed to pull a muscle in my neck. It’s three days later and it blog_art_2still aches.

Just when I was about to give up and get a scissors (that would be the thinking person’s first method of choice), my heroic husband came forward: “Let me do it.” And he opened it. Just like that. Without pulling any neck muscles. After all, he’s three-and-a-half years younger than I am.

So now when I’m leaning a little to the side and wincing as a twinge of pain takes over, if anyone asks, “What happened?” do I make something up or be truthful? “I pulled some muscles opening toilet paper.” How do you keep your dignity after that?

20 Questions, the modern way

While browsing a web site, I was delighted to see that key company employees displayed profiles that included more than just name, title, and photo. Each had answered questions under a typical heading of “20 Things You Don’t Know About Me.” I’m not an employee of that company, but that didn’t stop me from opening a fresh Word document and answering the questions for myself. I shared this with nobody. Until now. I’m publishing them here to give you some insight into the way my mind works (although most of these answers won’t surprise anyone who knows me well) and to encourage you to try this yourself:

20 Things You May (or May Not) Know About Me:

  1. I love watching ....The Good Wife, The Big Bang Theory, 60 Minutes, Forensic Files, and Dr. Phil (Yes, I still like Dr. Phil’s show…)
  2. The most important thing I learned from my mother was … don’t go out without makeup or people will think you’re depressed
  3. The most important thing I learned from my father was … accept and work well with people of all races and religions
  4. My favorite holiday is … Mother’s Day. I usually host it, but I have no qualms about not cooking and ordering in all the food.
  5. My favorite software application … PowerPoint. I don’t give talks anymore, but I use it to create graphic images and make changes in photos that might be too complicated in Photoshop
  6. Web site I spend the most time on … Vibrant Nation, Facebook, Wikipedia—I couldn’t pick just one. And I shouldn’t leave out Amazon.
  7. The famous person(s) who inspires me the most … Meryl Streep, Jodi Picoult, Oprah,
  8. I would like to be the world’s best at… writing fiction (Of course, I’ll never be the best at it because I don’t do it; that’s a subject for another blog post I may never write.)
  9. In the mornings … I look forward to pushing buttons on the Keurig and getting my big mug of coffee in less than a minute.
  10. I love to take vacations … but I don’t like getting there. In the future, maybe we can close our eyes, click our heels together, and be zapped to places.
  11. I make the best …individual potato kugels in muffin tins…only because my grandmother is no longer alive and nobody else I know makes them.
  12. My favorite athlete is … I’m not a sports fan, so I can’t pick anyone special—although I’ve noticed that Joakim Noah is kind of cute.
  13. I used to play the … guitar, although not very well. I also learned piano, but not very well. I tried the recorder, but I didn’t get very far. There’s a pattern here. No musical instruments!
  14. My first real job was … as a stock room clerk and all-around helper at the Marianne shop (women’s clothing) on Devon Avenue when I was a teenager
  15. Something that really annoys me …drivers who think traffic laws don’t apply to them.
  16. My favorite colors are … teal blue and lime green
  17. I like to read … captivating novels. I just finished Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. It’s dark. I had a hard time falling asleep each night I read the final chapters.
  18. I wish I had more …. athletic ability…or any athletic ability
  19. The music I like to listen to … is an eclectic mix: classical, musical theater, some pop/rock, ethnic (like Klezmer), and Emmy Lou Harris
  20. I love to …answer questions like these

Do you have another question for me? If you conclude that reading this blog post was 5 minutes you’ll never get back, I assume you won’t be asking me anything.

Now it’s your turn, if you accept this mission. What don’t I know about you? Choose a few of the questions here or come up with your own. The trick is to answer quickly, without worrying if you’re choosing a suitable (for whom?) response.

The Q-tip caper

I may go broke over Q-tips. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But something my clever, conniving cat is doing is certainly costing me a little more.

Everyone thinks his or her pet is the smartest, cutest, fastest, most loyal…you name it. But I know our cat, if not the smartest, is in the top ten. Penelope invented a game to keep herself occupied. It’s usually played while I’m in the bathroom, getting ready in the morning or preparing to go to bed in the evening. She’s developed the habit of sitting on the counter watching me wash my face, brush my teeth, and put on makeup. What really fascinates her is the sink. When I turn on the water, she comes very close. Once the water drains, she’ll even put her paws in the wet bowl. But that soon loses its power of engagement. Then the game begins.

Penelope loves Q-tips. I’m not sure why except that they’re sticks (she likes sticks) and have cute little white fluffy globs on each end. I use these swabs to fix eyeliner that’s traveled to the corner of my eyes or mascara that’s smeared on my lid because I’m not getting any younger and my eyesight is waning. If I leave a Q-tip on the counter, she spots it right away. Then she’ll creep over to it and either knock it on the floor or take it in her mouth. In both cases she jumps off the counter and begins to play.

She’s discovered that it’s fun to push the Q-tip under the bath rug and then burrow under the rug to retrieve it. At first, when I saw her trying to get the Q-tip out, I thought she’d accidentally pushed it under the rug, so I helped her by bringing it out. That wasn’t what she wanted. Later, I watched the procedure from the beginning. She was actually pushing it under only to attack the rug to get it out.

This game involves more than one Q-tip. She’s a Q-tip hoarder. One morning, I was about to take a shower and I wanted to straighten out the bath mat. I lifted it and shouted, “Oh, my goodness” at what I saw. I must have shouted a little too exuberantly, because my half-awake spouse called out from the bedroom, “What happened?”

“Nothing important; go back to sleep,” I replied. “But I found 6 Q-tips under the bath mat.”

Penelope's game, step by step.I was running low on Q-tips, and I needed to nip this in the bud (pardon the pun). So the next time I needed one, I used one side of it and then hid it among the cords leading to my lighted magnifying mirror and my Water-Pik. (Getting older requires additional appliances as well as numerous lotions and creams.) Penelope appeared on the counter, as if by magic, mimicking the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. And just like that, she nosed through the cords and uncovered the Q-tip. I needed a better plan.

I decided to hide the half-used tip in the box that holds my daily makeup and skin care needs, which I take out from under the sink when I need it.  I jammed the Q-tip in among the brown, gray, black, and even purple eyeliner pencils—many of which I never use. This worked well for a couple of days. But yesterday morning I stepped out of the bathroom for a few seconds. When I returned, the pencils were in their usual formation, but the Q-tip was gone. Then I saw it on the rug, Penelope standing guard and looking wide-eyed and innocent. “Mrrrow” was all she could say in her defense. “Tell it to the judge,” I told her, and then took a new Q-tip out of the package.

Disclaimer: No cotton swabs were harmed during these incidents. Or maybe just a few. Also, in case Unilever’s attorneys come knocking on my door, I am actually using the Q-tip® brand cotton swabs. They’re the best!

My baggage has baggage

This updated rerun (originally published in April 2010) is in honor of a dear friend who’s taking her first trip to Europe later this month. I’ve given her packing advice over the last few weeks, and, as the post below will prove, I have no business passing on my bad habits to the innocent.

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I’m a pack rat. But not the hoarding kind that seems to be—inexplicably—popular on reality TV. My inability to stop adding things to my stash takes over only when I go on a trip. I’m not a novice traveler. Through my job (earlier, when I was full-time), I’ve gone to conferences in Europe, Asia, and South America—even as far as Perth, Australia. I’m sure most people think I have the packing thing all wrapped up, so to speak.

I still struggle with it every time I travel anywhere.

Several days ahead, I start loading my carry-on bag, and here’s where I get a little obsessive. It’s important to note that I don’t like to fly. It gives me comfort to have my must-have items with me while I’m squeezed into an airplane seat. I’m comforted by packing my just-in-case items (small plastic bags just in case I want to save my airline-issued pretzels, extra underwear and maybe a sweater just in case the airline loses my luggage, two books just in case take-off is delayed and I finish the first one, an extra pair of prescription glasses just in case my good ones break. There are nonperishable snacks just in case I don’t like what the airline is serving, if anything. I could go on but I’d embarrass myself.

Two periods before leaving are especially stressful. One is when I’m trying to fill my travel toiletries kit with everything I’ll need. I have to make sure I pack my good eyelash curler just after using it that morning lest I forget and have to rely on the not-very-good one that’s always in my kit and risk pinching my eyelids. One might ask: Why do you keep the nasty one in the kit? The answer is that, if I forget to pack the good one, even a pinching eyelash curler is better than none. I also fill up my regulation quart bag with little bottles and tubes—not to exceed 3 ounces each—of stuff I would want with me if my luggage got lost. I make sure I have the right small containers for any cream or liquid without which I wouldn’t want to step out in public.

The second stressful period is just before actually putting stuff into the suitcase: making that final decision about what clothing goes and what stays. I try to coordinate my wardrobe, but I always have one or two tops or bottoms I’m dying to take but that don’t go with more than one bottom or top, and that’s not practical. And I’m constantly checking the weather report for my destination city to make sure I’m packing the right jacket and shoes.

Here I am traveling. I regret not packing extra-strength conditioner!

Here I am traveling. I regret not packing extra-strength conditioner!

Did I mention the plastic cleaner bags I put all my clothing in? Or the extra hangers (besides the ones holding the clothing) I bring just in case the hotel room doesn’t have enough? Or any at all, as evidenced by a trip to a rustic cabin this year?

But no matter where I go and how much time I’ve spent in preparation, I’ll always think of something I wish I had packed but didn’t and/or something I did take that has no hope of being worn during the trip.

For me, it doesn’t get easier with age. There are additional considerations: more prescriptions, more over-the-counter meds (you never know), shoes I can actually walk in besides the ones that are pretty, a magnifying mirror so I can see what I’m putting on or taking off my face in the hotel bathroom, and all those anti-wrinkle, anti-brown spot creams and potions I didn’t need when I was younger.

I shouldn’t be surprised at my need to take everything I might need with me when I’m away from home. You should see my purse!

Pulling the plug on work

I’m on the precipice of retirement. (It’s fun to say that three-syllable word. Precipice, precipice, precipice…) But I digress—and it’s only the first paragraph.

Seriously, I really am going to retire at the end of this year. I’ve toyed with the idea of calling it quits for a long time, but I always concluded that I wasn’t ready. The big three reasons were: my coworkers, my work, and MONEY. I still enjoy being around my coworkers, and I still enjoy earning money. But the work? Not as much any more. I do like some of what I do. After all, it involves writing and editing, my favorites. But there are other parts of the job that make me want to lie down and take a nap instead. Activities I used to enjoy (working on and attending conferences, for one) aren’t interesting to me any more. So it’s time.

In the fall of 2006, I experienced burnout in my full-time position and, with the approval of my then-boss, switched to part-time hours. I felt that I had come full circle because I began working at the company as a part-timer in 1976. I went full-time in 1980. I’ll do the math for you: I’ve been at the same company for over 39 years! I worked in different departments and had increasing responsibilities, but still…nearly 40 years.

When I switched back to part-time in 2006 (earning considerably more than the $3 an hour that I earned in 1976), I announced that I would probably do this for about a year and then fully retire. My one year lasted eight, but I must not have been ready. Now I am.

When I tell people about my decision, the first reaction is, “Congratulations!” Then comes the question: “What are you going to do?” If I hem and haw, I get the friendly lecture on making sure I have activities lined up before I retire. Now I no longer hem and haw. I have some ideas:

  • Volunteering
  • Taking exercise classes
  • Attending lectures and workshops
  • Scheduling additional lunches out with friends
  • Writing more regularly in this blog

Here’s one thing I won’t do (I hope): Spend even more time playing Boggle, Word Solitaire, and Word Warp on my iPad. Several minutes of this usually lead to my falling asleep, whether I’m propped up in bed or sitting on the sofa. When I awake, I’m groggy for the next hour. It’s a time waster, no matter how much the word games exercise my brain. And we’ve all

Here's hoping I'll look (and be) this relaxed next year.

Here’s hoping I’ll look (and be) this relaxed next year.

learned recently that sitting too much can kill you. I’m guessing lying down too much is also a death sentence.

Many friends and relatives who’ve retired tell me that they’re so busy, they don’t know how they ever went to work. I wouldn’t mind a portion of that. If you or someone you know has retired and found some fascinating activity that makes them (and others) happy, please let me know. (This offer excludes Mah-Jongg, Canasta, Bunco, and Kaluki.)

Click on “Leave a Comment” on the top left side of the screen. I’d love to hear from you.

Cat-to-human dialogue, and vice versa

I think we have the smartest cat that ever existed. I say that having done no research and having had only three cats in my life. Penelope is a chatty cat. No, “chatty” is not the right word. Mostly she kvetches. We hear variations on a theme of whine throughout the day, and sometimes late into the night.

We try to interpret her vocalizations, and there are books available on that topic, but there’s never been a cat who read the book and agreed with the interpretations or loudly proclaimed, “This is poppycock!” (in feline-ese, of course).

I talk to her many times throughout the day. Sometimes she just stops what she’s doing and stares at me. It’s disconcerting because she can out-stare me by several minutes. But most of the time, her reaction is  “Mew. Mew. Mew. MEW!” (Translation: “Why are you talking to me instead of playing with me?”)

When Penelope is grousing, and it’s at—or past—her feeding time, I’ll say, “Do you want some FOOD?” Her response is a very loud “MEOW!” I’m sure she knows what I’m asking her. But, being a cat, she’ll often walk up to the food I’ve put before her and touch it with her nose, then step back, looking at it as if it’s a dish of poison. After making several attempts to bury it (if you’re a cat owner, you know the gesture), she usually goes back and laps it up. I’m convinced this is a ritual designed to let us know who’s the alpha creature in the house.

Penelope’s most common sounds are “mrrrows” rather than “meows,” although she throws in one of those occasionally. And if her immediate need isn’t met, the mrrrows get louder and tinged with anguish. I can’t stand to hear babies and cats cry, so I’m quick to call out to her, “What do you want?” in the hope that she’ll understand and answer in a way I can interpret. She doesn’t and I can’t. But we’ve learned that if we ignore the plaintive cries, she’ll eventually get bored with her own caterwauling and settle down for a snooze.

A kitty kiss in action

A kitty kiss in action

Penelope can also ask questions. Her “Mrow?” comes after we’re doing something that puzzles her, like ending a play session and walking away. My interpretation is, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” I could be wrong though. Maybe she’s more humble than we think. Maybe what she’s really saying is, “Why did you stop? Was it something I did?” Yeah, right. I have to remember this is a cat, not a dog.

But my favorite Penelope expression is not vocal at all. When I give her a slow blink (the equivalent of a kiss to a cat), she now slowly blinks back. It’s a gesture that makes it easy to forget all her whines of the day. It’s like a young child saying “I love you, Mommy,” right after you caught her scribbling on the coffee table. Who can resist? I can’t. I love that furry little kvetch!

One more sad story

I want to write something funny—in keeping with the name of this blog—but I can’t do that today. Maybe next week. Another good friend passed away on Saturday. It wasn’t a death anyone was prepared for, as prepared as you can be anyway. He fell and hit his head on a concrete driveway three weeks before and never regained full consciousness. We don’t know what caused the fall and never will, but the result is a tragic loss for his wife, who’s been my friend for over 45 years, their two grown kids, and their four grandchildren. And all of us, a large group that gathered together on many occasions during the year.

In this case, it was an accident that caused the death, but I would be naive to think that our group won’t be going through this more and more as we age. When this same group of friends (women only this time) were celebrating one of our birthday lunches long ago—we do this for each woman every year—our section of the restaurant was empty except for our table of eight and two elderly women sitting in a booth nearby. Rather than being annoyed by our raucous laughter and loud voices, they seemed charmed. When we began to talk with them, we told them how our group gets together regularly for these birthday lunches. One of the women said, “Most of our friends have died.”

It was a startling comment, but it made us think for a moment about the future. Being in our 50s, we expressed the proper sympathy to the women and went back to our conversations about our kids, our husbands, our jobs.

I think about that conversation now. Though we’re not as old now as those women were then, we’re getting closer. But these are neither good nor productive thoughts. The good thoughts to replace them include being grateful every day for who is still in our lives: spouses, children, grandchildren, and, of course, loving friends.

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