Monthly Archives: January 2016

In a Slump


Notice the hunch?

Notice the hunch?

I started out writing this blog in order to explore how to do my fifties well—how become more like the sexy, feisty, fabulous older women I’d met and admired during my younger years. I certainly don’t want to be one of those tiresome old women who natter on and on about their illnesses and infirmities.  However…

Unfortunately, the past year or so has increased my familiarity with physical therapy. (See my entry from February 16, 2015, Wonder Woman v. the Sproing). In early December, my DH had a long-overdue total knee replacement; physical therapy appointments consumed much of his time during the following month. Kudos to the great physical therapy crew at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Tacoma who guided him, via lots of painful exercise, back to strength and flexibility.

My most recent adventure with physical therapy began with a fall down the stairs, my right arm trailing behind me as I grasped for purchase on the carpet. Alas, this led to a stubborn rotator-cuff injury that still hurts, eight weeks after the fall. According to my P.T., my shoulder problem is so stubborn because of my crappy posture.

Even as a skinny, active teenager, I tended to round my upper back and slump forward; I recall my sister calling out “stand up straight” several times a day. I also tend toward lordosis—over-arching my lower back, making my belly protrude forward. Various dance teachers have commented on my posture over the years, and I do my best to straighten up when I think about it—which, evidently, isn’t often enough.

Of course, spending hours a day in front of a computer doesn’t help. An ordinary office desk and chair do not exactly promote good posture. Right now my little laptop is perched atop a thick book (M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating) in order to better align the screen with my line of vision, and that’s still not high enough. I’ll probably have to buy/build a little platform. The arms on my computer chair are too high and aren’t adjustable, so I’m perched on a pillow on the front edge of my chair, trying to keep my chest up and my shoulder blades scrunched together. Not easy, nor comfortable.

I may not be able to retrain my posture without help. There’s a little electronic gizmo called the Lumo Lift, worn on the bra strap, that buzzes when you slump. Reviews say that it’s relentless and works well if you don’t throw it out the window in frustration. I’ve also found straps to wear around the arms and upper back, which remind me of trussing a chicken up for roasting. And there are cool alternatives to the standard office chair. I’m tempted to get an exercise ball and try balancing on that for a few hours of desk time each day. Some people with back problems swear by them.

I’ve always been resistant to the idea of buying exercise gadgets that clutter up my house. Since this injury, though, I’ve accumulated a tangle of Thera-bands and stretchy resistance rope thingies. Once a day, you’ll find me face-down on the floor, doing my best Superman imitation (Wonder Woman never adopted such a silly posture) as I squeeze my shoulder blades together again and again and again and…

One fun solution I’m trying is Spanish flamenco dance class. Our instructor is a tiny, bird-like woman in her late sixties who has perfect posture and dances with surprisingly fiery fierceness. Flamenco requires just the chest-up-and-out posture that I need to cultivate, and it’s so much more fun than simply muttering to myself, “shoulder blades tight, boobs out.” If I must stand at attention, let’s do it with a purpose. ¡Olé!


The Frugal Retiree v. the Webinar


One of the issues I’m learning to deal with in retirement is the switch from a monthly paycheck to a smaller pension. It’s a tradeoff I’m pleased with overall: less money for more time. We have enough savings to cover our needs, and even our wants, if we’re wise about our spending. But I now have to think more carefully about my purchases, rather than just mindlessly buying stuff because I can. If I were to blow a few hundred dollars on clothing I want but don’t need, for example, then I wouldn’t be able to afford a trip or a concert—which I really prefer to more clothing.

I think that this sort of prioritizing is good for me. Rather than just buying stuff willy-nilly in an effort to entertain myself and polish up my self-esteem, I’m forced to consider which things and experiences will give me the most satisfaction. This kind of self-knowledge makes me a happier person.

And I really think that “retail therapy” is bad—for the planet, for the closet, and for the spirit. I know that buying crap helps the economy, but perhaps an economy based on buying crap we don’t need is an economy that needs to change.

In retirement, I’m becoming a careful, mindful consumer. In fact, I don’t like being called a consumer. Is that my function: to buy stuff? I like to think I contribute more important things than spending. And, now that I have more time at my computer, I’m bugged more and more by the unrelenting wheedling of online marketers. Wasn’t the internet supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas?

Sure, I get it—everyone’s got to make a living. If a local plumber wants to drop a flier in my mailbox, that’s fine. I may actually need his services someday. If that flier arrives in electronic form, that’s OK too. And I enjoy hearing about local events I might want to attend: concerts, festivals and the like. What makes me sad, and a bit nauseated, are the unrelenting online pitches I must climb over to get to the information I’m looking for. So often I click on what appears to be an interesting article or video, only to find a sleazy sales pitch for an overpriced webinar, conference call, newsletter, or some sort of “amazing, life-changing experience” that I can have for the low, low price of $299.

How could any two-hour video be worth $299? There are many fine self-help books out there, and if a favorite blogger or columnist takes the time to edit and organize her best work into a book, I’ll probably buy it.  I’ve bought indie-published books and e-books on fashion, healthy eating, writing advice (most not worth the money, alas), and organizing. What they all have in common is a reasonable value-to-price ratio. And the bloggers/authors offered plenty of free samples of their work before pitching their books—not just a long, tedious sales pitch promising to “revolutionize” my fitness/writing/health/closet…whatever.

But a conference call, video or audio recording for hundreds of dollars? Perhaps if Sue Grafton or J.A. Jance want to offer me an hour of their time to talk about my novel in progress. Otherwise, that seems ridiculously overpriced, and brazenly greedy.

An example: I enjoy weight training, and I’m interested in expert advice to help me get stronger and fitter without hurting myself. There’s not that much out there geared toward the needs of healthy older women who want to improve their fitness, but aren’t starting from zero. I tend to see the same basic advice over and over again, whether online or in print. Recently, I clicked on a website that looked promising, but what I got was a series of slickly-produced short videos and an ensuing barrage of emails, all designed to sell me an overpriced series of instructional videos. And you know—if she’d offered a book or a reasonably-priced video, I’d probably have bought it. But I can go to a bookshop or a sports shop and purchase those items for $30 or less, not the $300 she’s demanding.

Who buys these overpriced webinars and recorded “lessons”? As for me, I’ll take my cheap self to the library. If I really like your work, I may buy a copy of your book or video. But for $300, I expect something worth the effort it took me to earn that sum: say, a weekend at the beach, with live music and a few marvelous meals—so much more fulfilling than sitting at my computer, watching some “life-changing” video. Meh.


The Leftover Project: Greenie Fettuccine

In my quest to reduce food waste, I continue to look for ways to use up the odds and ends that lurk in the back of my fridge or pantry. We’ve been eating lighter since the holidays, and I’ve been making more vegetarian meals. Last night, as I pondered what to fix for dinner, I noticed that my veggie drawer was full of bits and pieces of green veggies. Here’s what I had:

The ingredients

  • a partial bag of baby spinach
  • a zucchini
  • some green onions
  • a partial head of broccoli
  • a partial jar of basil pesto

And, of course, I had a few staples on hand:

  • a box of fettuccine
  • a hunk of Parmesan cheese
  • fresh garlic
  • walnuts

Well, this reminded me of my childhood favorite, “green spaghetti.” Back then, the sauce came from a packet of dehydrated pesto mix, but it was so delicious—green and garlicky and cheesy. This dish was a great improvement, even if I didn’t make my own fresh pesto this time.

First, I toasted a handful of walnuts in the oven at 375 degrees for about ten minutes, until fragrant. Next, I chopped up the veggies rather small and sautéed them in my wok in a bit of olive oil. The broccoli went in first, since it takes the longest to cook, and then the diced zucchini and green onions, with a minced clove of garlic. The spinach went in last; I chopped it up a bit so as to avoid long strings of spinach stuck in our teeth. I seasoned all that with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper—does anyone use pre-ground pepper now that you can buy your pepper preloaded in those inexpensive grinders? There’s something so sharp, so pure about the fragrance of fresh veggies with just salt and pepper.

The veggies, cooked

I boiled up enough fettuccine for two and, when it was done, tossed it into the wok along with the jarred pesto, the walnuts, which I’d chopped up roughly, and a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Was it Anthony Bourdain who taught me this trick? Not in person, of course—wouldn’t that be fun? I mean that he mentioned in one of his books how adding a bit of the pasta’s starchy cooking water helps to bind all the ingredients into a sauce that clings to the pasta.

I stirred in some freshly-shredded Parmesan cheese. I love how my Microplane grater transforms a small hunk of cheese into a mountain of fluffy, cheesy snow. I should have photographed the results before dumping more cheese on top, but there you go.

Fettuccini with rosesfettuccine, close up

It was delicious, light, and very fresh. The veggies were still crisp-tender, and the toasted walnuts added protein and crunch. I look forward to trying this again with other green veggies: peas, chard, asparagus, fennel…

What’s your favorite quick pasta sauce?