December 31, 2006

Happy Groundhog's Day?

Whoops, wrong celebration. Appropriate, though, for the amount of attention I feel the change in dates deserves. You have to be young and energetic to like New Year's Eve. For the rest of us, it just means the television listings are screwed up and you can't go out for a decent meal. Everyone I know is staying home, exhausted from Christmas.

Even in my teens and 20s, New Year's always felt like the night everyone was desperate to have a good time, damn it. It was a night for -- still is -- for tourists. Your hard-core party people were out every other night of the year. New Year's is amateur hour.

For the record, I had two Christmas celebrations during my holiday in New England, which began a few days before Christmas proper and ended yesterday.

First up, Christmas in Maine with the cousins -- where no room was left decoration-free, and most of the hall-decking took place in record time on Christmas Eve.

It's not a holiday if every ornament my Presbyterian cousin owns isn't festooned upon a tree and the appropriate candles "lit" in the windows. We all went to church -- usually my blood relation, my first cousin, and I skip all things religious, seeing that we are, in our fashion, Jewish, while his wife and kids go off to services.

This year, one of their children was in one of the numerous choirs held at the service, so off we all went. The children's Christmas service reminded me of a talent show where no child was left behind. Next year, I may skip that part of the proceedings.

Every year, Santa visits with more and more presents, and I am stunned by the expense. My cousin and his wife were up wrapping presents until 6 a.m. One of the children's gifts retailed for close to $400. I can't help thinking toys were much simpler when I was the 12-year-old's age. I think the most expensive gift my parents gave me was a ticket to Europe, back in the days when travel agents gave gift certificates.

Farther south, outside of Boston, I had a second, more low key, holiday with one of my closest friends and her extended family, some of whom I had met last summer in Gloucester. (Their upbringing gives mine competition in the what-were-they-thinking sweepstakes. That's a long story, but my sojourn at her family's country house is one of the few not detailed in this year's blog. I did spend some time in Wonderland this year, but logged considerable mileage and hospitality elsewhere.)

My friend is not exactly a minimalist, but all her kids' presents fit in the trunk of one car. Her attitude is, please, don't bring any more crap into my house. We've got more stuff than we have storage as it is. Their house, built in 1860 or so, has been completely restored -- she and her husband did a gut renovation -- but closets were lacking in the average 1860s home, and did not gain much footing in the renovation. The only presents I brought were edible.

At her family gathering, I got to wish her grandmother a happy 99th birthday -- the only time in my life I've known someone to reach that milestone with all faculties intact. Her other grandmother made it to 98. The longevity of the women in her family is a bit overwhelming, from our 40-something perspectives, as is the longevity of the women in mine.

She and I are financial planners, and we know how much it costs to retire. Given the female longevity profiles in our histories, it does not look like we will be leaving the work place any time soon. Pity, for retirement strikes both of us as a fine idea. We could keep ourselves happily occupied without ever having to work for a client again. Meanwhile, we soldier on, stunned by the numbers we crunch, horrified that we are each at the top percentage of people in the U.S. who have retirement savings.

I suppose this begs the could-be-construed-as-new-year's-pondering: how much is enough? I could get all philosophical and spout the Tao te Ching, or hard-assed practical, and quote numbers, but instead, I will just go to sleep.

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December 14, 2006

Buenos dias, Puerto Vallerta

Once again, I have left the country. It is what I do when all else fails, particularly when the days in New York are ever briefer, and I am in need of more sunlight than I can find at that latitude.

This post finds me in Mexico, where the sun sets two hours later in the day than it does at home. My traveling companions are my next-door neighbor, with whom I travel well, and a friend of hers, a 68-year-old boy-crazy retired singing judge, whose retirement was, I believe, not of her own accord.

Between the two of them, it seems I am not making use of my most visible assets, namely my figure, which has been critiqued and praised from head to toe. It has also been suggested that I don't leave the apartment without my mascara on.

The consensus is, I should wear tighter, V-necked dresses that show off my cleavage, higher heels, and bikini swim suits to accentuate my figure. I don't need tips on how to do anything approximating the Sluts R Us wardrobe of my youth. I know I still have the body; these days, I prefer to dress for comfort. And not necessarily for a man's eyes.

I especially am not on the prowl for a week-long fling, which I presume would be mine if I showed the slightest interest. I went to college in the 1970s; I know how to dress to get laid, and I have long been convinced that if that's my goal, it doesn't matter what I am wearing. Sex isn't about clothes -- it's about a mood, and that mood is not one I find intriguing at the moment.

Once again, I am at a time share, complete with non-stop activities for the entertainment challenged. Personally, I can sit at the beach all day and read a book, shifting positions with the sun. I do not need water aerobics, bingo, dance lessons, water volleyball, cable TV, and an all-you-can-eat theme buffet dinner.

This menu of events, I am finding, is the way of all tourists American in this century, at least in every tropical locale I have visited of late. I suspect my choice of companions has something to do with it, although my next-door neighbor and I agree that the Caribbean island we visit later in the winter, one that sees a dozen tourists a week, max, is more our speed.

But it is December, and this is the invitation that has come my way. Far be it from me to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. However, the next one that comes accompanied by a thrice-married singer who is trying to decide if sleeping with her septuagenarian boyfriend will bring her the kind of ready cash to be her companion and fellow traveler, may be one that I sacrifice.

I don't think she's on an estrogen-fueled sexual mission -- she is too calculating, has such large dollar signs in her eyes that, I find her distressing and disturbing. From an oh-so-slightly different perspective, it appears to me that her interest is in the world's oldest profession, and I cannot understand how a woman who became a lawyer in the 1960s has the mind of a 1950s teenager trying to figure out what she has to give of herself to get her boyfriend to go "steady."

Meanwhile, out in the sunshine, my tan is progressing and I'm swimming a mile a day. So the finer things in my life are winning out. Pass me the SPF #30 and another iced tea.

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December 05, 2006


In case you were wondering, that's my state of being. I haven't felt like talking to anyone of late. I suspect it's called depression. No, I know it is. The symptoms are all too familiar: not eating, barely washing my hair much less getting dressed, leaving the house only under duress, sleeping oddly, crying out of the blue -- I've been here before, and will probably return to this state again, no matter what psychoactive cocktail the shrink can devise.

Problem with the cocktails is, it's all a matter of guesswork. I am a perpetual guinea pig. If one drug doesn't work, we try another. And another. Then another. But we don't make changes very quickly: first, we'll try one for three weeks, and not until it's had a chance to take effect (or not) will we move on to the next.

At the moment, the drug added to my previous cocktail helps me feel, if not better, than simply less. Less is better than sad. Less means there is a stronger film between me and the world, so I don't take in anymore than I can process. This does not leave me with much to say; hence, my lack of posting. Less circumvents my cognitive abilities.

Less doesn't seem like a great loss, not now, in the middle of the holiday trifecta. Train of thought? Derailed quite a ways back, stranded without a cell phone. In my mind, the pony express is more than a fast enough way for my synapses to travel.

This week was the saga of the tea-soaked keyboard: when typing while hands are splinted, it is probably wise not to leave a large mug of tea nearby. Once sweet tea hits the keyboard, the keyboard is doomed. Since this is only the second keyboard I've assassinated in 21 years, I don't think my record is that bad. Many have killed far more electronics than I.

I killed my first modem, but that was 300 baud, very much pre-cell phone, pre-Web, pre-ubiquitous email, and the software that accompanied it suitable only for the technologically inclined, which I was and am not. No one has mentioned baud rates since the early 1990s.

The first keyboard I killed was in an office: that time, I spilled coffee, with cream and sugar. I called the tech support department, and was amazed at how grateful they were that I inquired about a new keyboard. What difference did it make to me? It wasn't my keyboard; it belonged to the company.

The fact that the tech people had to cannibalize another machine, instead of having a spare keyboard or two on hand, astounded me. It should also give you a good idea of why I don't work in publishing any longer. If I had asked for pen and paper, I the office supplies department probably would have had to run across the street to the five and dime to procure them for me.

Sugar in hot liquid remains the keyboard's nemesis; it makes the keys stick in one position, refusing to rise to type another letter. While waiting for a new keyboard (and the folks at Dell, who keep track of your purchasing history, try to sell you on a whole new machine when all you want is a $50 means of communicating with the machine you have), I pulled out a former keyboard, only to discover that the letter "d" likes to go on strike.

It annoys the hell out of me when my electronics have a mind of their own, one that is not in accord with mine. I don't like it when they pull tricks out of the ether that I have no way of comprehending. It makes me feel stupid. Woman vs. machine: why can't the woman win more often? Just curious.

The first holiday of the trifecta is down: Thanksgiving at my house, where my mother came to help and managed to take over the entire cooking process, not to mention critique my ability to arrange fruit in a bowl. I also was not the hostess she thought I should be. My conclusion? Next year I won't invite such a critical guest.

My brother's wife -- dare I saw sister-in-law? -- is counting down the weeks until she is officially a mother and I, an aunt. Pregnancy in the eighth month is apparently dull as dishwater, and it is all she can do not to jump up and down and shake my niece-to-be out of the womb.

I am trying to work up the energy for Christmas, preparations for which are helped greatly by the vast arena of on-line shopping venues and my part-time assistant, who has been with me for the past six weeks.

Essentially, I am renting her hands, to write since I can't hold a pen, enter data for which I have no patience, wrap and ship presents, shred papers, write checks, send out correspondence, balance checkbooks, file paperwork, and, when I am tired of all that, follow my instructions to bake brownies.

This week we're making a double batch, with chocolate chips.

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