Souvenirs: joy of travel in retrospect

Couch with souvenir cushions from 5 countries
Everyday reminders of travel: exotic cushion covers

Souvenirs of travel are never far away in my apartment. Maybe I won’t travel to any faraway places in future: my body doesn’t like it much.. However, I’ll never forget the places I’ve lived in or visited, because discreet reminders are close at hand. These cushion covers were collected at random. If only I’d brought one back from the Malvinas, or Chile, or Argentina, or the Tokelaus, or Tonga, or (for goodness’ sake!) Geneva, where I lived for four years… Anyway, I love my accidental decor, and I kid myself the cushions  go together.

I wonder, what souvenirs do you bring home from your travels?

KEY

  1. Christchurch, woven by my sister Prue
  2. Kyoto, cushion for our favourite doll, Kyoko
  3. A local shop
  4. Dhaka
  5. Ditto
  6. Marrakech
  7. Samoa

For any life strategy, ask a child

Row of Barbies ready to kill zombies with a sneer
Row of vintage Barbies preparing to kill zombies with a sneer.

Listen to the little children in your life! They may not have all the “facts”, as we adults understand them. Regardless, they manage to decode our strange world and generate workable rules of behaviour. When we really hear what they say, they astonish with their wisdom and practical advice.

The everyday struggle with everyday problems

When I agreed to mind Elsie after school on Wednesdays, I had no idea what lay ahead.

Like you, I have problems—life isn’t easy, is it? Like you, I struggle with everyday challenges such as career changes, emergency first aid, work-life balance, and zombies coming up the toilet. Even at my advanced age, such problems never go away.

Enter my life coach: Elsie aged five

Imagine my surprise when Elsie seemed to have all the answers! From the age of five, she could offer sound advice for virtually any problem. Obviously I had more experience of life. But when it came to strategy, Elsie was my guru. She was a thinker, a lateral blue skies analytical creative left-and-right-brain thinker who didn’t even know there was a square outside of which one ought to think. (Still is.)

She became my life coach. I jotted down all her tips as poems, for easier recall. After about three years I stopped, because she had already delivered a comprehensive manual for a healthy happy life. When you know how to act cool and how to vote, when you understand market forces and the principles of law and order, like Elsie you will have nothing left to learn.

One example of an Elsie strategy

Advanced self-defence

If a zombie comes up the toilet
you can whisk off and fight it,
because you know the steps.

Put some Barbie dolls in a row
because zombies hate Barbie dolls.
They’re afraid they’ll chomp them.

You can also shine a light at zombies.
It injects them
and they die.

See what I mean? How can you go wrong with advice like that?

All my problems are sorted now

Since then, I have internalised most of Elsie’s strategies. As a result, I have become quite competent at thinking, sleeping, remembering, breathing, and having a wee rest. Now that my life is perfect, I plan to share this manual with a wider human audience. (Elsie’s Book of Strategies will be published in late 2018.)

Elsie has fixed my life. But you also have a little child in your family or your circle of friends. In a crisis, make that child your first port of call. They love to help, you know…

Photo by RomitaGirl67 CC BY 2.0

Doctor, security patch, flight plan: analyse my dream

cartoon of woman flying, the key to security
My dream, your interpretation

OK, nothing so boring as someone else’s dream, ay? I’ll be brief. Here it is:

I’m looking at some HTML5 markup. I’ve been told I need to insert a password to fix a security breach, but where, how?

My ex-GP, retired after 4o years of doctoring me and others, steps up. She knows what to do. “I’ll show you,” she says.

And she spins in two quick dance moves, fast as skating, then soars in a flight, 7 metres or so, lands, does it again. “See?”

“I can do that,” I think.

Clues to help you in your analysis

  1. For years I did all my own HTML and CSS (no big deal)
  2. Recently I shucked off a stressful, thankless responsibility
  3. I had flying dreams for years, then stopped (in my 50s? why?)
  4. I have an unresolved security issue on my computer

Your turn: tell me what you think it means!

Just for fun, OK? Nobody has to be “right”. But trust me, I am extreeeemly interested to know what you think.

Old writing skills: new uses for real life problems

Notebooks, map, timer on a desk
Planning a writing course gets serious

Oh, help, my summer writing school is less than two weeks away! I’ve been preparing seriously for a couple of weeks. Now it gets super-serious, tick tock!

“Write into life” brings a brand new emphasis to my work. I’ve taught writing skills to thousands of people — for poetry, fiction, plain language, digital writing, corp comms, editing, and so on and so forth. We’re talking experience and authority here, oh ho ho, yes we are, I’m not a newbie.

Except… I’ve stepped into foreign territory where the words write and life have equal weight. These workshops lock writing to life, in a very positive and deliberate way.

Writing is a multi-purpose tool for life skills

As bloggers, you already know just how powerful writing is, and the many ways it helps the writer. (I’m not talking about money or fame.)

A few examples: when we write, we discover, clarify, develop, review, analyse, and prioritise our own thoughts. We confess, confront, explore, examine, purge, revise, and modify our feelings. We — oh stop, I could go on all day, and you could instantly give me another 50 ways that writing helps us in our lives. (I’d like to hear them!)

Writing skills for particular life issues

Anyway, I’m preparing three completely new workshops within this Write into life framework. I need to make sure that participants really do gain new writing skills; and that those skills are useful not only for them as writers, but also for them as people. I need to deliver for writers with a life.

Each day has a topic, and the three topics are:

  • write over your troubles
  • a writers’ group that works for you
  • write into the bonus years.

As I get each day’s programme clear, I’ll let you know more. Meanwhile, I’m very interested in what you think about all this. As you see, I’m starting from scratch— I could do with some tips!

Here’s an outline of the 2018 summer school.

A gym class for older exercisers

Mature people stretch after physical training. Photo U.S. Air Force
Mature people stretch after physical training. Photo U.S. Air Force

My personal trainer (oh that sounds pretentious) is soon to start a class for the over-60s. I must admit I have hassled her over this, with pep talks about growing the business, extending her client base, and the splendid loyalty of older people once we find a regular activity that suits our needs. Truth is, the strength classes that I had enjoyed had been cancelled, and I was longing for an appropriate class. I can’t wait.

While attending normal Crossfit classes, I began to analyse just how my needs differed from the other patrons. I’d guess the majority are in their 20s–40s, with one or two 50+. But I didn’t spot anyone else in their 70s at the time.

My friends over 60 were also unwitting case studies. My dance group friends all have their own programmes, because they are active, kinetic people. I see them swimming or aqua-jogging, or out walking, or off to Pilates or yoga or another dance event. I’ve been thinking about their needs and likes, as well as my own.

What I notice about older people exercising

  1. A wide range of abilities: they vary far more than do those of younger people.
  2. We need to work on balance to prevent falls. Tai Chi (for me), yoga for my friends.
  3. Stretching is crucial — and potentially painful— for people with arthritis.
  4. Getting up from sitting is a timed test of fitness for older people and a big problem with low soft chairs.
  5. My friend Jan runs an exercise group and every week they practice getting up from lying on the floor: this is a potential life-saver when old people fall. (The Feldenkrais corkscrew method is a cunning trick, but everyone is different.)
  6. It’s probably better to use hand weights than bars.
  7. It’s not essential to keep increasing weights. Lowering weights slowly can have even greater impact with older people (AUT research).
  8. Some (I) get dizzy from low blood pressure: so please, no exercises that require tipping the head or sudden head movements, no fast spurts of running, skipping, and OMG no burpees!
  9. Some (I) get dizzy from low oxygen intake: that’s different, and better breathing helps. I hope this will reduce as I get fitter 🙂
  10. Stress incontinence is common: so beware of making us skip and jump.
  11. Some older people need the option of doing exercises sitting down.
  12. Music: not loud (we hate that) — take it easy but no golden oldies from the 1940s please.
  13. KISS: keep instructions super-simple. None of that 2 x 200 @ 50%, 1 x 200 @ 75% 3 x 400 @ 90% business. Our short-term memory may be short but we have other qualities.
  14. I want to be pushed but not hurried!

Recent research on the impact of exercise on older brains and bodies

We older people get VERRRRRRY worried about Alzheimers and other cognitive decline so any research about how exercise reduces that risk is really encouraging. HIIT is all the rage at present, but of course we need a variety of forms. Bernard Levine’s programme sort of fits with what I aim to do. He sounds very sensible.

Do you like to exercise in a class?

Most older gym members seem to exercise independently, or with a group of friends, rather than attend classes. But I’m assuming, rightly or wrongly, that at least some people over 60 would would like to include an appropriate weekly class or two at the gym in their personal exercise regime.

Gym classes are not the whole picture. (I also love to dance and walk and swim, and sometimes I even embark on a feeble jog nowadays.) But a great gym class is a natty combination of supervision, structure, and socialising. Am I alone in this view?

Dining in the dark: not exactly fun

Logo of Dining in the Dark on a black background

Dining without being able to see the food? Dining in the Dark sounds extraordinary: a unique experience for all the senses. Moreover, it’s promoted as the best or second best restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. So naturally my friend and I made a booking.

And it was indeed fascinating. The blacker than black air filling the room (I presume it was a room). Entry step by cautious step (sans phone or any device that can emit light) holding the shoulders of a blind or partially sighted waiter. Being seated at a small table, hands guided towards the implements. Then the first course placed in front of us, ready for our teeth.

Here are my honest impressions. Lovely people, lovely idea, and thousands will continue to visit (once) and sing the praises of this restaurant, so one ambivalent review will not hurt their business. I’m glad of that.

The simplest foods impressed

Four appetisers were placed before us separately but simultaneously. The second one I tasted was a piece of steamed squash (?) with a splash of sweet chilli sauce(?). The sauce was a distractor—probably out of a bottle. But I did intensely relish the fresh, natural flavour of the squash as never before. Such a humble vegetable, served with no fancyfication, no crumbing or battering or whipping or combining with other ingredients. No confusion, either. I felt as if I had never appreciated squash until that moment.

And for me, that was the highlight of the evening. That experience was surely the very purpose of dining in the dark: to heighten your sense of taste.

My other favourites were equally spartan. One of two soups and one of four desserts hit me in a similar way.

Too many, too much, too messed up

I hated having three main course plates served together: too much food and just plain annoying. One plate with pasta, one a casserole perhaps—I don’t know. Later, we were shown the menu and discovered that we had eaten beef, chicken and duck. Yet astonishingly, neither of us had identified the meats. We couldn’t distinguish beef from chicken, imagine that, or spot the style of cuisine. The texture and taste seemed identical. Now that’s weird, right? And honestly, the food was not great.

Socially and psychologically a fail

I wanted to like it. I kidded myself I liked it. All through the meal we both exclaimed about how interesting this was. After all, it was a unique experience, and an education, and a worthy cause. But afterwards, we both confessed that this was far from a top night out. We’d had more fun eating a simple pasta dish the night before.

Besides the problems I’ve mentioned above, I did not like our conversation over the meal. Imagine two old friends who typically talk and talk and talk, whose conversation goes deep and high and wide and big and small, who wear each other out with their talking. Now imagine us sitting across from each other over a meal, talking about one thing only, over and over: what food am I eating?

Not only boring, but anxiety-inducing, as if every ingredient of every dish was a test. Was I right? Did I pass? Turned out we both failed pretty much all the time, although we often agreed on a wrong answer. But failing wasn’t the point. This was like spending time in a horrible classroom with a patronising teacher testing us over and over and over again. I’m not talking about the staff: they couldn’t have been more considerate. The teacher was in our heads, I know, but so what?

How to improve this interesting restaurant

Based on a case study of two customers, I have learned the following:

  • We got the most pleasure, and the strongest taste sensation, from eating simple fresh foods that we recognised. In the dark, even these were challenge enough.
  • If food is too plentiful and too varied, in the dark, tastes become a blur.
  • If the food isn’t excellent, and your customers focus exclusively on the food, that’s a fail.
  • If you focus exclusively on the food in the dark, the arteries of conversation shrink and harden.
  • It’s tempting to exaggerate your enjoyment of an adventure.

The case of the missing blog posts

I am darned if I’ll write more than a couple of lines… because my last few blog posts have been kidnapped. This is just a test. Will this link do as instructed or lead you to Badlands 404?

Update on the missing blog posts

Problem solved, for now. Everything back in place. It was the pixies.

Of most concern were some drafts and scheduled posts: not yet published but almost ready to go. Along with the last few blog posts they had apparently vanished from my blog. My friends and followers were receiving the usual automated emails alerting them to a new post. Then they’d click on the link provided and land on a 404 (bad link,no-such-page) page.

No likes, no comments for about a week. Funny, I thought. What I had done to offend you nice people? Because it had to be my fault, right?

Then the phantom posts all reappeared again, and we’re kind of back to normal, I think.

I  haven’t copied or saved anything. I’m going to trust in the mighty community of WordPress developers to carry on doing their magic.