The Pet Conundrum

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As far back in my childhood as I can remember, I’ve always had pets: a baby chicken at Easter one year when my dad would take it away from me because I was squeezing it too hard and then I’d cry when my older brother got to hold it (probably wasn’t the best idea regardless of our ages); a Dalmatian puppy picked up from a family in the “back woods” of Texas, a puppy that continually dug under the fence and ran free for days at a time, much to my chagrin; a couple of rabbits that, as you might suspect, gave us about a bazillion other little bunnies and the backyard resembled more poop pellets than green grass; an assortment of guinea pigs and parakeets; and over the past twenty years, pairs of cats so each would have a companion and playmate while I was at work.

Clearly I love animals. If I had property with a big yard, I’d probably have a small zoo on site. So here’s the problem. At what age must I decide I can’t get another animal? I’m torn in two directions. On the one hand, I read about what great companions animals are to seniors; on the other hand, I can’t bear to think of dying and leaving them for someone else to decide how they should live or even if it’s easier to place them individually even though they’ve only known each other for years.

Anyone who pays attention to their pets knows that animals bond with us, they understand far more than we give them credit for and they experience emotion. How selfish is it to want their unconditional love all the way to the end? Wouldn’t it be better to let someone else adopt them who can live a life span with them? But then, what if one of my cats dies and the other one is left behind to grieve? That’s happened to me before and it’s pitiful to watch an animal mourn when you can’t explain to him what’s happened and where his companion has gone. When I’m a little older, will I want to get a new companion for the one left behind? The problem with that scenario is that if I die and someone has to place them, they may decide to split them up.¬† And take them back to a shelter? Never.

My female, Pyewacket, adopted me so don’t try to tell me they don’t know where they are and yearn for someone to rescue them. I showed up at a local shelter, not realizing that hundreds of cats were allowed to roam around amongst several rooms. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how I would decide which two were perfect for me. I sat down on the floor, set my purse behind me and waited to see who would come over. Pyewacket was the very first one to come check me out. She climbed up in my lap and proceeded to purr and knead but quickly got pushed out of the way by other curious kitties. After checking out several dozen, I started looking for the sweet little female who’d made the first overture but I couldn’t find her. I finally turned around to see her curled up inside my open purse. In the almost ten years I’ve had her, she’s never once done that again. So, try to tell me she didn’t want to come home with me!

I guess when I lose one of the two I have now, I’ll have to do some serious thinking about this dilemma or, rather than choose another young one, opt for an older cat. They are often the hardest to place and the ones who could really use some love and attention. And being an older animal myself, I get it.

 

Abrupt Halt to Spending

There are many things to look forward to when contemplating retirement. Curbing my spending habits to adjust to a significantly lower bank account is not one of them. I’ve had two bankruptcies in my lifetime and know full well how painful it is to give up spending habits – Starbucks was my hardest indulgence to do away with. I remember the agent at the debt restructuring firm I approached saying he’d never seen anyone spend that much on Starbucks. At the time, I would stop every morning on my way to work and often would make a second trip after lunch. And yes, that adds up.

So here I am, on the cusp of retirement, looking forward to having free time all the time with no higher-up around to rein me in and, at the same time, dreading the adjustments that will come – primarily the money thing. What will I have to do to live comfortably without forgoing heat or having to ask for Meals on Wheels to get by? Scary.

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I made a list but I haven’t had the courage to put them in order yet from least offensive to part with to “I’ll never give that up” … and then having to do so. Here’s my list so far: Starbucks (yes, still a part of my life – just not every day), magazine subscriptions, fast food (well, truthfully, that one isn’t all bad), expensive things like meat (time to become a vegetarian?), using less electricity, trade my car down to something second-hand that I don’t have to make payments on, learn to cut my own hair, see if I can walk to more places rather than drive, cable television, dinners with the family once a month, buy generic brands at the store, and/or look for part-time work (sort of defeats the purpose of retirement but may be necessary). Who knows? Maybe I can even figure out a way to cut back enough in other areas that my Starbucks treats don’t have to suffer.

Panama – Part III

Boquete

Keep in mind that this little Panamanian adventure was taken when I was 63 years old, traveling alone and in search of a retirement location that would be more affordable when living off nothing but social security. The goal was to cash out my 401K, use it to purchase a small cottage with a backyard suited for establishing a lush garden to revel in on a daily basis and yet still be close to decent medical care.

So I drove from David, Panama to Boquete, where the instructions were to turn left just past the bank¬† and before the town square as I was descending into the valley. Now really, how could that go wrong? However, as you can see from the photo above, you can’t miss the fact that you’re traveling down into a valley. And here was the town square:

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I quickly found my host’s house and settled into the one-room casita in the backyard – right next to a babbling brook that attracted all sorts of birds throughout my stay. It was an idyllic setting: perfect temperatures in the day – t-shirts, sweat pants and sneakers – but cold enough at night to sleep with the window open and a blanket pulled up under my chin. The morning bird calls would wake me and I’d make a cup of coffee and sit outside the front door and watch the resident creatures come to life and dip in and out of the backyard.

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The first thing I noticed was that the town seemed to be more expats than locals and that most of them made little or no effort to talk to the locals (at least that I could see). I didn’t like that. My stay overlapped a three-day celebration on the founding on Boquete and there were “parades” daily. I use that term loosely because the first one was a constant stream of men on horseback, interspersed by pickup trucks with women freely pouring booze into plastic cups for anyone who walked up to them as they passed by. I watched one horse, made to lift his knees and prance down the street, foaming at the mouth and no none seemed to mind a bit. These same horses paraded around in a giant square for the better part of 5 hours. I sort of wished we’d made the rider prance around like that for hours with no water and see how much he liked it. And then there was the public drunkenness. When I returned to my casita, the owner asked about my day and when I told her the public drunkenness concerned me, she responded, “Well, there is that.” Hmmm. How safe would a lone foreigner be in the city with drunken men routinely tottering around the streets?

I took a tour of a coffee plantation, enjoyed that and booked a tour that only had three of us and a guide, walking uphill in the forest in a light drizzle for the better part of two hours. They may have seen this tour as “an easy uphill walk” but as a senior, there were times when I thought that if we didn’t stop for breath, I wouldn’t have any left.

I used my time in Boquete to walk some of the back streets to see what the houses looked like and how the locals lived. The houses were dilapidated but the locals were friendly. I also asked my host lots of questions. I thought maybe I could make herbal and essential oil products from my company, Scentsibility, and sell them but her response was, “Who’s going to buy them?” When I said “hopefully the locals,” she responded, “They grow herbs in their backyards and wouldn’t have the money to buy products.” She suggested I check out the weekly open market to check out the competition and so I did.

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I was mostly struck by the fact that this was the height of entertainment for the locals. There were no department stores, no big grocery stores, no library that I could see, and television programs in Spanish. I started to realize that although this would be wonderful for about a month, then what? I found the local doctor’s office and decided I’d need to head to David or even back to Panama City for health care and that would certainly not be convenient.

I talked about buying a small house and my host discouraged it. She (as well as all the expats I talked to) said I should definitely rent for six months to a year before settling there. That would mean I’d be depleting my funds for a purchase. She added further fuel to my thoughts by asking me who would buy my little cottage if I decided after a year or so to leave? The locals couldn’t afford it and the expats tended to band together in gated communities on the outskirts of town so they wouldn’t buy it.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Boquete, I realized that I probably would not want to settle there. So I flew back to Panama City for my last night’s stay in the country and was picked up by my trusty driver, Sinar (see Part I).

So it appears I’m back to square one – where to go and how to live on social security.

A Senior’s View of Sexual Harassment

I grew up in an interesting era – one in which young women were just beginning to realize they had power of their own and started burning bras and openly discussing sex before marriage. But I also had a mother who sent mixed messages. She told me I was smart and could be anything I wanted to be but then turned around and insisted I take cooking and sewing in high school because I would need them when I got married. I was taught that you never ask for more money in your career because you should just be thankful you have a job. I guess that’s the old “respect authority figures” message from the Baby Boomer generation. So parts of me maintain the old “keep in line” attitude and parts of me vehemently support the “stand up and speak your mind” attitude. That said, as a 65-year-old, card-carrying AARP member with roots in the Southern 1950s, I’m nervous to stand up and speak my mind to strangers on such a personal, sensitive subject as sexual harassment and yet pissed off at the comment I heard last week from a Meet the Press female panelist. The subject was about the Harvey Weinstein debacle and she commented that she didn’t think it was OK for famous actresses to pitch in their two cents about sexual harassment decades after an incident by using the hashtag “MeToo.”

So I’m going to speak my mind. Any time you’re in a subordinate position to someone who has the ability to squash all your dreams and career ambitions when you’re at the bottom of the food chain and they’re at the top, it’s very difficult to speak up. Shame on her for not being savvy enough to realize that. It’s easy for people to say, “Well just get another job” but getting another job is never a simple process and may end up setting you back professionally and financially. Maybe you can forget about it; maybe you can pretend it never happened; maybe you can pretend it doesn’t matter. You worry that your voice will be dismissed because: 1) he’s got far more clout than you; 2) his title confers more weight (because, really, doesn’t a big title mean you’re smarter and more powerful?); 3) he’s got a wife so why would he risk that; 4) if his boss is a man, you haven’t got a chance (boys will be boys and all); 4) lots of people’s careers depend on supporting his every whim so they’re not likely to support you even if they believe you; or 5) it’s your word against his, etc. Any one of those is enough to have you rationalizing that it was just one little incident so maybe you should write it off and try to stay out of his way, a small price to pay to keep your job and not have to go searching for a new one with an accusation of sexual harassment in your file.

Too many men equate physical strength with mental superiority and, afraid of being shown up, they constantly attempt to force “the weaker sex” into smaller, safer roles. I’ll bet an anonymous survey would reveal a high percentage of men who still believe the “little woman” should be happy to be supported and that her “place” in life is cooking and cleaning. I’m just eternally grateful that this country’s history managed to sidestep keep-the-woman-in-her-place practices like “honor killings” and “clitoral circumcision.” I feel pretty safe in saying it wasn’t a woman who came up with those. I’ve tried to imagine what it must be like to live with dreams and ambitions and never be able to pursue them and I’m pretty sure that if I’d been born into those cultures, I wouldn’t be alive today.

I recall an old boyfriend who once told me I should change the sheets on the bed more often. When asked why he couldn’t change the sheets if he didn’t like it, he responded, “Because that a woman’s chore.” Oops. Picked the wrong woman!

And back to surveys – I would find a second one interesting: How many women who are seniors get sexually harassed? I know. You probably think it only happens when you’re young, svelte and gorgeous. Oddly enough, in the years that I was a professional dancer in Las Vegas, I would get the occasional inappropriate comment from strangers in the casinos, but I didn’t work with them and they had no say-so over my career so they were easy to dismiss. So once I retired, got into a totally different field, put a couple of decades behind my dancing, lost all my muscle tone, and gained 40+ pounds, I was surprised to find myself verbally harassed by a man with more status in the organization. Having spent years in backstage dressing rooms, I was not unaccustomed to salty language or even explicit comments but none of them had ever been aimed at me. But this time, here I was in my 50s, thinking “What’s the matter with all those women who get harassed? Why the hell don’t they speak up?” and then this man called me over in the hallway (I’m sure he thought a public place would make it appear less like harassment because there were people around who could witness the fact that he didn’t touch me) and told me he dreamed that I F’d him (I’ll let you fill in the letters) with a giant dildo but it didn’t hurt. I found myself taken utterly aback. You’d think I’d have run right over to HR to report him, right? Nope. It took me another couple of weeks and I was losing sleep over it, wondering who else he was harassing and if his behavior stopped at verbal comments. This is why I understand how difficult it can be to speak up, even for women who appear to have reached the pinnacle of their careers and have everything going for them, like the ones involved in the Harvey Weinstein mess. I think the female panelist who made the comments on Meet the Press has probably never been harassed and did an injustice to every woman who has.

Having said all that, let me just add that I may not be young and gorgeous and famous, but I’m adding my name to “#MeToo” because, as a senior, I’m proof that it can happen to anyone.

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David, Panama

Panama – Part II. I flew from Panama City to David and rented a car. The plan was that I could then go where I wanted, when I wanted and not have to get off and on a bus when a tour guide told me to. Also, I might see more of the authentic Panama. Well, good plan anyway. And, of course, I had a Panamanian woman sitting next to me on the plane who wanted to practice her English (thank God) and told me I definitely didn’t want to retire in David – too hot and humid, she said. Boy was she right. I could tell that from the moment I stepped off the plane. Mind you, I’m from Nevada so I’m accustomed to 115 degree heat but humidity? Nope, can’t handle that along with heat. One or the other, thank you – not both.

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I picked up my rental car and since I had installed Waze on my phone, the directions to the Gran Nacional Hotel were very good. I was not, however, overwhelmed by the look of the city. Low, squat buildings and scaffolding and cranes surrounding every view. I didn’t know if that was a sign of prosperity and the city was growing or a sign of decay and everything needed propping up. I kept seeing lovely pictures online of manicured parks with modern sculptures and fountains. Damned if I saw any of that anywhere near the Gran Nacional.

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I arrived at the hotel, lowered the air conditioning in my room to a comfortable non-sweating-sitting-still temperature and strolled back downstairs to the front desk. I told the girl on duty there that I was interested in a tour of the city. She asked me what I wanted to see. I told her I wanted to get a feel for the city as a possible retirement location and to see the sights. Her response? “Oh there’s nothing much to see here.” Terrific. I had arranged my flight to arrive early so I would have a full day to explore the city. It was suffocatingly hot outside and, driving in, I hadn’t seen anything within walking distance that warranted a second look so I decided I’d get directions to my next stop, Boquete, and make sure I could find the main road the next morning. Surely that would also afford me the opportunity to see some of the city.

I found a young woman in a travel agency on the main floor who spoke English. “Easy” she told me and drew me a map, explaining that I would drive about 12 blocks and turn right onto the road and then just drive straight. “What’s the name of this main street?” I asked. She didn’t know and wasn’t even sure it had a name. Wasn’t this looking promising?

I decided to give it a go and see what happened. The problem was that the directions to my rented casita in Boquete were that I would turn left just past the main bank near the main park once I started downhill into the valley where the city is located. Now how could I possibly miss that? Here’s the problem. Waze wants a better description of the destination when calculating the trip. For some odd reason, it likes street names and house numbers. I tried several ways of finding directions from 1 Calle Central Avenue in David to either a bank in Boquete or a central park in Boquete. Waze gave me two separate sets of directions going in totally different directions.

I drove 12 blocks (many with no name at all that I could find) and ended up at a T intersection. Well, this must be it, I reckoned. I turned right and as I drove out of town and began to climb to a higher altitude, I hoped I was headed in the right direction. I passed very few signposts and of the ones I saw, none mentioned Boquete. After an hour of driving and having reached a point where there was nothing but land and an occasional cow grazing in a field, I decided I must not have found the road and turned around.

About halfway back, I noticed what looked like a huge cloud of yellowish smoke across the road ahead and began to smell smoke in the car. Should I stop? Was this a wildfire? The car in front of me had Panama plates and they weren’t hesitating so I decided to follow their lead. Someone had set a brush fire and it was right by the side of the road. Remember my Panama City driver, Sinar? When I finally got back to Panama City at the end of my visit, I told him about the fire and pulled up the photo I took from the car while approaching the cloud of smoke. He was laughing until he saw the picture and then he became very serious and said, “Oh no, no.” Too late. I had plowed through like the idiots in front of me and was lucky the fire hadn’t decided to jump the road and take me with it in the process.

The next morning, I was trying to get the wait staff in the little dining room to determine which set of directions on my phone would get me to Boquete when two gentlemen, who spoke English and overheard the conversation, said, “We’re going to Boquete if you’d like to follow us.” Why, yes, I would, thank you very much.

My right turn, as it turns out, was not 12 blocks up but the next block up from the hotel at the first stop sign. From there, it really did go straight to Boquete and the entire drive took a half hour. It was lush and green and I got to see how locals lived and the care they took with their tiny but colorful flower gardens. I was encouraged. But then, I hadn’t met the expats in Boquete yet. That’s Part III of my Panama adventure, coming up next post.

The Dreaded Senior Pap Exam

Pap exams are something every woman hates. Actually, I think I might use the word “detest.” Just choosing a subtle but accurate photo to go with this post was somehow embarrassing because, although we women can discuss it with each other, I don’t know anyone (at least in my age group) who wants a visual of the whole experience. Personally, and I’d never have admitted this years ago, I have to squash the feelings of embarrassment and degradation that popped up every time I made that appointment to get this test done. I can’t help but feel horribly vulnerable and, regardless of whether I have a male or female doctor, it’s embarrassing to expose your most private parts to a stranger. It’s also silly, I know, but I often wonder if they come away from the exam comparing me to other women. Why should I care? I can’t answer that but it does add to that feeling of dread beforehand. Seriously now, doesn’t this picture make you uncomfortable?

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I even found myself making the picture smaller – maybe trying to minimize the whole thing.

Six years ago, having gone through menopause, I found myself in the position of having to choose a new gynecologist and ended up with a very friendly, try-to-make-you-comfortable-with-lots-of-conversation female doctors who used a speculum that I later found out might have been perfect for a young woman with, shall we say “plumper” tissues, but hurt this senior with drier, shriveled (my word) innards and caused me to bleed. The comment at the conclusion of the exam was that I should tell anyone I saw in the future to use the smallest speculum they had. Ya think?

But the result of this exam was that I put it off for the next six years. As I’ve pointed out, this whole blog is about senior retirement issues and this is one of them. Hoping to be able to retire in the next few years, and not having a clue how my Medicare insurance may stack up as far as my costs are concerned, or even if I can afford a non-emergency doctor visit living off social security, I decided I needed to do as many recommended health exams before I retire as I possibly could. That was the sole incentive for screwing up my courage and scheduling a pap exam.

Fortunately, I ended up with a Nurse Practitioner who was sensitive and gentle and made the whole experience as comfortable as possible for such a personal exam. And it’s funny the things I realized had played into the decision to wait for six years. It wasn’t just the discomfort of the previous exam. It was also about the fact that I weigh probably 30 pounds more than I did last time I went for an exam, and who wants someone, especially a young woman who hasn’t had to experience dimpled thighs and saggy skin with liver spots, to see those things? Measuring up. That’s something that never quite goes away, no matter the age.

Mind you, I don’t give off these insecurities outwardly, but they’re there right under the surface. Perhaps they’re a by-product of the years I spent as a professional dancer with a svelte body, smooth skin and a slightly unrealistic view of how a woman should maintain her physical appearance (based on a nightly comparison to dozens of other women’s faces and bodies in this highly competitive field). Nevertheless, it’s an odd dichotomy for me: I’m pretty comfortable aging – don’t pursue any wrinkle-free beauty routines, own my facial wrinkles and laugh lines, and don’t bother with coloring my gray – but that doesn’t keep me from subconsciously worrying about how the younger generation perceives me based on my appearance. In the end (no pun intended) I suppose some of the discomfort is not wanting to reveal my older body’s secrets. Surface is fine; underneath is private.

All that introspection aside, I survived the exam and the best news was that, after 65, women my age don’t have to do this screening any more. I’m glad I went back for one after six years, but I’m equally glad that I don’t have to go through it again.

The Panama Adventure – Part I

In typical senior fashion, I’m unable to transfer any of my Panama photos from my phone and downloading photos from Google Images is resulting in gibberish codes and no pictures. I seem to only be able to add this one “featured” image. This, however, appears to be almost the exact view I had of the river and the nursery on the right when I walked across the bridge dividing the main town from the local Tuesday market on the far side of the river. In any case, here’s my tale of the Panama adventure and what I learned about retiring in a foreign county from this little jaunt. I’ve divided it into three parts because I spent time in three different cities and had challenges everywhere I went. Please note: when reading these adventures, you should keep in mind that I was a 63-year-old woman travelling alone.

The first thing I did when I arrived was promptly lose my passport. I arrived at night, it was dark in the taxi and I think when he asked me for the address of my hotel, I must have dropped it on the seat and not in the bag with my other documents as I was retrieving the piece of paper with my hotel’s address on it. Imagine the panic at walking up to a hotel’s front desk, realizing your passport is missing, the taxi has disappeared and you don’t know a single human being in this country. Fortunately, the desk clerk was very helpful in telling me how I would need to proceed.

I spent the next morning at the embassy getting a new one (which you pay for again, by the way). I walked out of the embassy to discover nary a single taxi waiting for customers and the only people around me spoke Spanish (I don’t) and didn’t want to be very helpful. The driver who had taken me had given me a business card, ostensibly from the hotel, with his “personal number” on it. However, when I called it, a woman answered who didn’t have a clue what I wanted. I then tried the hotel number on the card and, in the meantime, found an English speaker who told them to send a taxi. What a great relief to have an English speaking driver show up who not only took me downtown to the police station where I needed to file a report about my passport, but came in with me, played interpreter and then helped me fill out the form. Getting back into his taxi, he casually asked if I planned to call taxis the whole time I was in Panama or if I’d like for him to be my driver. I followed my gut instinct about him and hired him. It was probably the best thing I did on the whole trip to make things feel more comfortable and manageable. So, if he ever happens to read this, I need to stop and say, “Thank you Sinar!”

Once back at the hotel, I had just enough time to book an afternoon bus tour that stopped at numerous tourist spots where you could get off any time you liked and jump back on another bus an hour later. I would have time for one stop and the concierge suggested I choose the market in the old town. I bet that would be great if I were younger and travelling with friends but when we pulled up to a warren of dilapidated stalls meandering up dark alleyways, I opted to sit it out on the bus. I reckoned I would have made a perfectly delicious target.

So – dinner time. I thought I might pick a local restaurant outside the hotel to get a bit more of the flavor of the city until I was told I probably didn’t want to choose the one across the street from the hotel (a Marriott, by the way) because the second floor was a brothel. Just driving through the heart of the city, it seemed there were modern, clean office buildings side by side with Neolithic-looking stores and houses. Figuring that might also mean a varying level of trustworthy people wandering the sidewalks, I opted for the hotel dining room.

The next morning, Sinar picked me up and drove me to the airport. I flew to David, planning to try and get a feel for this recommended city as a possible retirement site. I had already marked Panama City off the list. I was not encouraged to have both Sinar and the Panamanian woman sitting next to me on the plane tell me I definitely wouldn’t want to settle in David. Well, I guessed I was about to find out for myself but too bad I didn’t have their advice before spending one of my few days in a city that even the locals wouldn’t recommend.

I’ll tackle David in Part II.