Monday, October 29, 2012

10,000 Pageviews!!!

I got my 10,000th pageview on my blog tonight!  I made gluten-free brownies to celebrate!

Back in February when I started, I was quite pleased if 4 or 5 people found my blog most days. By the beginning of October that number had risen to a daily average of about 75. I was delighted!

But the thing that I've been most interested in is the number of countries that my readers are from. That number hit 71 this week. I can't even imagine how these people are finding my blog.

Before I started actually writing, I spent over two months studying how to blog. There is an amazing amount of information out there on that topic. I read lots of blogs about writing blogs. I participated in Webinars on Search Engine Optimization. I read books about blogging. It seemed like I couldn't start blogging until I had learned everything there was to know about blogging, but the new information was coming out faster than I could take it in.

Then one day I realized that most of that information was really for people who wanted to make money from their blogs. Now, I like money just like everyone else, but money had little to do with my reasons for wanting to blog.

I wanted to blog because I had retired early, and I was on the leading edge of retiring baby boomers. Also, because I live in a retirement destination, I have lots of examples of retirees around me every day.

I see retirees with more money than good sense and retirees that don't have the good sense to realize that they don't have enough money to retire.

I know a few retirees that have set themselves the goal of better health and fitness in retirement, but I see many more who get most of their calories from alcohol, and most of their exercise comes from lifting that glass or bottle to their mouths.

I have friends who can't imagine leaving their children and grandchildren to travel or live in a foreign country, and I have other friends who move from one adventure to the next and can't imagine being tied down to one place.

I wanted to write this blog to give other retirees some ideas of what is possible in retirement. I wanted to show that you don't really need millions of dollars in savings and pensions to be able to retire in comfort. I hope to show people that we all have more control over our health than we've ever believed was possible, and also to convince them to take responsibility for keeping themselves healthy so they can continue to enjoy retirement for many more years.

I believe that many of us have at least a quarter of our lives left to live. We can't just sit around waiting to die or we will die of boredom --  or booze -- or atrophy of our bodies and brains.

I truly believe that retirement, especially when we are young and healthy is an amazing opportunity. There are so many interesting things out there for us to explore and experience -- a whole world of places to go and things to do -- and it would be such a shame to waste this gift that we have been handed.

That's why I write this blog. BUT...

On Friday night I realised that something unusual was happening. Suddenly I had a LOT of  Japanese people reading my post about Daitoku-ji. I had no idea why this was happening but I thought it was pretty cool.

By Saturday night, that post had 1204 pageviews. By Sunday morning, it was up to 1505. I had no idea what was happening, but I could see that they were linking to me from a website called Searchina. I followed the link back to the site, but it was all in Kanji.

This morning the total had climbed to 2155 for that one post, and my total pageviews was up to 9,783. And it kept climbing all day, even though it was the middle of the night in Japan.

I finally went back to that website and was able to get Google to translate enough to figure out that it is almost like Yahoo News - a combination of hard news and blogs they've found around the world - and lots of ads selling things. This version of it is directed toward a Japanese audience. I guess they found my blog and posted a link or something.

Who cares how they did it? It's been a fun few days, and it shows no sign of letting up. And, yes, some of them are reading some of my other posts.

So my best friend asked me if I'm going to jump on the opportunity and write a bunch of Japan-related posts. The temptation is great just to see what I can make happen. Right now I am averaging about 750 pageviews a day - ten times what it was last week.

But that was never my goal. I used to have a favorite blog - Zen Habits - that I read all the time. He's got over 250,000 readers. I don't know if that is really individual readers or total pageviews but it doesn't matter. What matters is that his blog has now turned into a constant commercial for the "classes" he is offering online. He got so commercial that I didn't even like the blog any more.

So no, I'm not going after the crowd of readers. I'm going to continue on exactly as I have been. I'll write more travel posts about Japan because I figured out a way to handle the photo problem and because it was a wonderful experience to spend six months of my life there. It would be nice if some of the Japanese readers decided to stay with me, but I plan to continue to write just as I have been. I hope you'll stick around,too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Travel Tales: Kyoto's Daitoku-ji

When I travel, I am usually looking for history and traditional culture. Ten years ago I was in Kyoto, Japan, and staying in a traditional home next door to Daitoku-ji, the home of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. I visited many temples and gardens during the six months I lived in Japan, but Daitoku-ji was different from the rest because I could wander the main roads at any time of the day or night. I could almost feel as if I were living there.

Note: The six months that I spent in Japan was by far the best trip I have ever taken - true "slow travel." I haven't written much about it because the 400+ photos that I took were pre-digital-camera. I know that I can have the photos scanned and then put them into my computer, but with Kodak going out of business, I don't have many options in the small Mexican town where I live. I've discovered that I can take digital photos of my regular photos, so that is what you are seeing here, reflections and all. It is better than nothing!

Daitoku-ji is a large temple complex located in the north of Kyoto. For some reason, there is a wedge of private property that juts into the temple grounds; on a map it looks like a piece of pie has been taken out of the south side. I don't know, but I imagine that this area housed the people who helped to take care of the temple and its monks at one time.

Tani House, the guest house that was my home for about four weeks, is located in this wedge. I wanted to stay in a traditional ryokan guest house, but the prices are far too steep for my budget, so I was very happy to find Tani House. It is very traditional, with tatami mats covering the floors, fusama sliding doors dividing the interior rooms, and sliding shoji screens to keep the mosquitos out. Mrs. Tani has a few private rooms but most people slept on futons spread on the tatami mats at night in 'dorm' rooms.

Tani House is very much like a hostel but at half the price of the official Japanese hostels. This is the kind of place I love to stay in. Most of the people staying there were traveling alone and were happy to get together at meal times to share their stories with the other travelers. I love the opportunity to talk to people from around the world, and in Tani House I met people from Australia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, the US and, of course, Japan.

The original temple at Daitoku-ji was built in the early 1300s. It later became the home of Sen No Rikyu and the center for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Emperors and Shoguns are buried on its grounds.

Much of the temple grounds are surrounded by huge thick walls built at a time when the political climate required protection. Within those walls is a complex of over twenty sub-temples, each with its own buildings and gardens. Many of these sub-temples are very well known.

Ryogen-in is one of the  most famous of the sub-temples. Exchanging my shoes for the slippers supplied at the entrance to the building, I stepped onto the wooden platform overlooking Ryogen-in's well-known garden.

The best thing about arriving early was that no one else was there; I never saw another person while I was in this temple. I was able to sit at the edge of the platform silently meditating, just like people have done for hundreds of years. The low overcast skies lent an almost eerie feeling, like I had somehow gone back in time.

The raked gravel symbolizes the universe, while the rocks on the moss island in the center represent a crane and a turtle, symbols for health and longevity. But, honestly, I don't think I knew that at the time. I just marvelled at the tranquility, interrupted only by the sounds of nature, in the midst of a city of 1.5 million people.

Inside Ryogen-in, I found the painted fusama (sliding doors) which are another of this temple's claims to fame. I've seen this painting of a dragon reproduced in many places but I don't think the t-shirts really do it justice.


I kept wondering how these important Zen Buddhist artifacts could be left unguarded. How could they trust that nothing would be stolen? Why does no one walk in the raked gravel or carve their name in the wooden platform? Most important, why can't we transport the respect that seems to protect them here to the special places all over the world?

My other favorite sub-temple inside of the Daitoku-ji complex is Koto-in. This temple is famous for the maple trees planted throughout its gardens. This photo was taken in mid-September, but when I returned in mid-November, this path passed through a tunnel of red leaves.

The path had been swept, but they carefully left behind small pieces of the leaves in the spaces between the paving stones. It was almost as if everything green in this photo had been magically transformed into red.

Often, when there weren't too many other people around and I could get off by myself, the Zen gardens did have an almost mystical atmosphere. I thought about how peaceful it would be to dedicate my days to simply caring for a garden like this. Well, maybe just a small corner of it; some of these gardens are huge.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to reproduce the ambiance of a Zen garden wherever I've lived. My biggest success was my garden in Boise, Idaho, which I worked on for ten years. I'm so happy that the man who bought that house has maintained the garden; I love going back every few years and peaking over the fence to see how it has matured.


What appeals to me the most are the narrow paths that control your path through a Zen garden; you never know what will be around the next corner.


Kyoto has always been considered a holy city, home to the emperor, who was thought to be descended from gods, for much of its history. Many of the most famous people from Japanese history are buried somewhere in Kyoto, on the grounds of one of its 1600 Buddhist temples. I was sad to learn that people can't be buried in Kyoto any more, even if they have lived there all their lives. I guess the cemeteries are full. Kyoto is a place where I wouldn't mind spending eternity.


Thank you, once again, for taking the time to read my blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Self-Learners Rejoice!

There is an education revolution going on, and we are right in the middle of it! Do you realize how lucky we are that this is happening right now? We still have all our faculties (Well, I hope you still do!), we have curious minds that still want to know, plus we have all this free time in retirement to take advantage of the situation.

I wrote a post back in February - one of my first - about Life-Long Learning right after I discovered Open Culture. I was very excited about all of the opportunities this website offers to anyone who wants to learn any of a huge variety of topics. It turns out that that was just the tip of the iceberg.  Wait until you see what else I've discovered!

OpenCourseWare

Last week I saw a reference to free classes offered by MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley. That seemed pretty cool, so I checked it out. It turns out that they, along with quite a few more Universities, have been teeming up to offer free classes to anyone who wants to learn. Their goal is to provide free, searchable access to course materials for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.

Generally, what they are giving us is the class syllabus, the reading list with links to the books, videos of lectures, sometimes lecture notes, and all kinds of additional information about the topic. We don't get access to the professors. And no degrees at this bargain price, but what would we want that for, anyway?

MIT OpenCourseWare offers lots of different classes under headings like: Architecture, Engineering, Health Science, Humanities, Art, Social Science, Management, and Science. I immediately started one in Rhetoric, which threatened to get me sidetracked with Ethics and then Philosophy.

Tufts OpenCourseWare gives assignments, lecture notes, and supplementary materials. They've got hundreds of classes, divided into schools such as Dental Medicine, Medical, Nutrition, Veterinary, and others. I might have to check out Nutrition here.

Utah State University has many classes from, among others, a variety of Schools of Engineering. Plus their website has links to lots of other universities that offer OpenCourseWare classes, including Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, and Paris Tech.

Learning Space

The Open University is a bit more confusing to me. They offer over 600 free classes, but some things have fees based on income (maybe just in the UK?) They say they were founded to open higher education to all, and offer introductory to post-graduate-level classes in a wide variety of topics. The website has a link to Open Research Online via YouTube.

Open Learning Initiative

Carnegie Mellon University offers something a little bit different. They have online courses for anyone who wants to learn or teach. The classes are free to all independent learners. But these classes are interactive. I think students actually turn in assignments and take tests. Learning Science Researchers then gather the data turned in and use it to figure out how to make the classes better.

edX

edX is similar to the idea going on at Carnegie Mellon. They offer interactive study via the web and then researchers study how students learn and how technology can transform learning. Students learn at the same pace as the ones on campus, take the same quizzes and tests, and earn certificates of mastery. The classes, offered by MIT, Harvard, University of Texas, and UC Berkeley seem to lean toward artificial intelligence and software engineering.

iTunes U

Just about the same time that I found Stanford University on iTunes  I got an iMessage from my best friend telling me that she had just discovered Apple also offers free classes available to us on her iPad and my iPod Touch. I called her last night to find out more.

Within just a few minutes, I had downloaded iTunes U and was scrolling through the huge list of schools that are participating. Just to give you an idea, there are 30 colleges and universities starting with the letter A, 23 starting with B, and 56 starting with C. This is going to require some serious study! There are so many choices that I don't know where to start! But if you happen to be into music, Cal State (CSU) Long Beach has tons of music classes.

Khan Academy

As usually happens in conversations with Patty, we had soon jumped to other wonderful learning opportunities including the Khan Academy. They say they offer a "free world-class education for anyone, anywhere". It all started when the founder made some YouTube videos to help his niece understand her math class. When he saw how many people were watching those videos, he realized that he had stumbled into his new career. Then Bill Gates found out what he was doing and donated money to build the program. Google has jumped on the bandwagon, too. 

As the website says, "We are on a mission to help  you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace." They offer online discussions and students can ask questions and do exercises. They also take quizzes and the site keeps track of where they are and offers recommendations of what to study next.

This is turning public education upside down. Apparently, in some schools, the students are actually learning at home in the evenings via Khan Academy and then doing their homework in class the next day with the help of their regular teacher. Maybe this is the answer for our public education woes.

What's Next?

How can we possibly know? This is almost too much to keep up with. And I was ecstatic with Wikipedia and all the things I could learn there.

I keep thinking about how wonderful this would have been 25 years ago when I was homeschooling my three children. They all thrived academically during those years; I can't even imagine what they would have done with these resources!

As I've said before, the best thing I learned at university 20 years ago was an absolutely insatiable love of learning. This is going to keep me so busy that I won't ever have time to grow old and die. But if I should suddenly quit blogging, you'll have a pretty good idea of where to look for me.

But until then, I hope you'll save some time to keep reading.





Thursday, October 11, 2012

What to do about Mom and Dad

I was 50 when my youngest kid moved out. I retired immediately and headed off to Japan. I had married at eighteen and had my first child at nineteen. This was the very first time in my life that I would be on my own - responsible for no one but myself. What a wonderful experience!

Less than a year later, I realized that something was going on with my 69 year old mom. At first, it seemed that she was diabetic and couldn't figure out how she needed to eat to control her blood sugar level. My father had died six years earlier; my brother and sister lived far away and both worked. I packed up my stuff and moved back to the US. It looked like my new-found freedom was over in less than a year.

Mom had always told me that she didn't want to be a burden to any of her kids; she wanted to go to a nursing home or whatever. But when it came right down to it, I couldn't do that and she didn't really want it. Six months later, right after we'd bought a home together, we found out that it was really pancreatic cancer. In three more months, she would be gone.

The whole family came to visit - to spend time with Mom/Grandma/Great-Grandma one more time - while she could still enjoy it. She and I spent a lot of time going over paperwork, finances, and who got what. I took care of her, but she didn't really require much care until the last few days. Her doctor made sure she felt no pain, and then one morning, she just didn't wake up. Hospice asked why I hadn't called them for more help. The truth was, we didn't need them. Although it was a sad time for us, it wasn't horrible. It seemed like this was how it was supposed to happen - a natural part of life.

The Baby-Boomer (aka "Sandwich" Generation) Dilemma

Last year, the first of 77 million baby boomers began turning 65. Thanks to lack of planning and the economy, many people in our generation will never be able to really retire completely. But even those of us who scrimped and saved for retirement may still be in financial trouble if we had our savings invested in the stock market. Will quitting day ever really come?

And what is going on with "kids" these days? I'm talking about the ones that we sent off to college only to see them come back home after graduation. Why is it that so many of our grown children somehow can't seem to figure out how to make it on their own?  It is pretty hard to retire when your kids are a constant drain on your savings.

And just when it seems like you might be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you realize that Mom and Dad are suddenly seeming to age really quickly. You notice some memory problems. Or maybe it's an illness, or perhaps a car wreck. When you really think about it, you realize that this is something that has been going on for a while, but now it's at the point that something must be done.

Having "the Talk"

No, not the one about the birds and the bees. I mean the one about what's best for our parents. And I don't mean getting together with your siblings to make a decision. That would be very unfair to the people who spent twenty years of their lives taking care of you (assuming that you actually moved out when you should have.)

There are many different things that need to be discussed and many possible options to explore, though, so it would be best if you went into this conversation armed with some information about options.

Here are some things to think about:
  • Where will Mom and/or Dad live?
  • How will they pay for it?
  • What kind of insurance do they have? What will it cover?
  • Should Mom or Dad still be driving? For how long?
  • What medications are they taking? Do all of their doctors have the list?
  • Do they have a will or a trust? Where is it? Who is their lawyer?
Listen to what they say! What do they want? Don't dictate, ask! And never forget that you will be in their place in twenty years or so.

Independence is a Huge Issue!

Your parents have likely taken care of themselves for a very long time and probably have no desire to be shuffled off to a place where someone is telling them what to do and when to do it. AARP says that the current trend is for the elderly to age at home, and there is a really good chance that Mom or Dad want to stay right where they are. But what should you do if you believe they need some help, whether it's with cleaning, cooking, driving, or medications?

A good option here is to have someone visit your parents in their own home and supply whatever support they may need. Terry's dad is 90 and has macular degeneration to the point where he is almost blind. He knows his home well and the blindness has come on slowly. With daily phone calls and regular visits from family, and one day a week with his granddaughter to take him shopping and to doctor appointments, he is getting by just fine at home, right where he wants to be.

I know another lady in her 90s who moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. She doesn't really need much help but can't drive and shouldn't cook. The set-up of their house gives both Mom and my friends a lot of privacy, but they eat dinner together and someone is there if she needs help or just wants some company.

Even if there is no family nearby, Home Health Care can offer many options that may work for your parents. Mom or Dad can hire someone to come in during the day, once a week or even daily, to help with housework, cooking, or shopping. Need more help than that? Live-in help is another option. A companion can do wonders for the problem of loneliness. As needs increase, Skilled Medical Care can be added, and Mom and Dad can still stay in the home that they know and love.

Assisted Living is one step up the ladder. It will require your parents to move, but they may still be able to live in their own apartment or condo or even a single-family home. The residents still have lots of independence, but they have easy access to minor medical or custodial care, such as bathing, laundry, transportation and security.

For rehabilitation after illness or surgery, or even mental incapacity, Skilled Nursing may be the way to go. A nursing home is almost like hospital care, but designed to continue for a longer time.

A Continuing Care Retirement Community appears to have it all: independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care all at the same place. Mom or Dad don't have to move when care-needs increase  with illness or age. This is what my grandmother did when she was 95. She had her own apartment with her own furniture. They served meals in a dining room that got her out to socialize. As her needs changed, the level of her care did too.

Once diagnosed with a terminal illness, Hospice is available for end-of-life care. This help can take place in one's own home or in Hospice House. The goal of Hospice is to make sure that a person with a terminal illness is able to live out their final days with the best quality of life possible. A team made up of a physician, a nurse, a home health aide, a social worker, a chaplain, and a volunteer offer physical, emotional, social, and spiritual help. They can explain medication side effects, help make funeral arrangements, and even offer the regular care-giver an afternoon away from the house.

So Many Possibilities Out There

My parents retired in their mid-fifties. I was shocked when they decided to move into a retirement community! They were still young. Why in the world did they want to live with a bunch of old people? But that's what they wanted.

My best friend's mother lives at The Villages in Florida and she's having a good old time. She's 86, has a new boyfriend and they are planning a trip to Australia so she can meet his family. My friend talks about moving there someday herself, but that idea would give me nightmares! Maybe some day I'll feel like I'm old and ready to live with a bunch of old people, but that day is certainly a long way off.

If I had to go back to the states, I think I'd rather move back to Portland and rent an apartment right downtown - right in the midst of things. Stores and restaurants, the farmers' market and classes at the college, Saturday Market, and free public transportation. And all kinds of people, young and old, rich and poor, normal and weird!



 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Travel Tales: Lake Chapala

 
I live in the largest community of American citizens outside of the United States. This "community" comprises Americans living in Guadalajara, about 30 minutes north of the lake, and in any of the many small communities on the shores of Lake Chapala, the largest natural lake in Mexico. I guess I'm cheating to call this a Travel Tale, but it would be travel to almost all of my readers, so I'm going to go ahead and cheat.
 
 
 

What Draws Us Here?

The weather is probably the number one attraction. While coastal Mexico can be miserably hot and humid in the summer, our 5,000+ foot elevation protects us from that. Our daily average highs are in the mid-70s to mid-80s, while the lows tend to be in the mid-50s to the mid-60s. It is coldest around the end of January, and we all think we are freezing when it gets down into those 50-60 degree days. The hottest month is May when highs average around 87, although it does very occasionally top 100. But we always have a breeze blowing off the lake, so it is almost always very comfortable in the shade.
 
Our average rainfall is 39 inches, and almost all of that falls in the rainy season between June 15 and the end of September. Even during the rainy season, most of the day is perfect. The majority of the rain comes in the form of hard and furious thunderstorms, usually at night. It is rarely a surprise because we can watch the storms moving across the lake during the day. Nighttime storms entertain us with house-shaking thunder and brilliant flashes of lightning.
 

The Villages on the North Shore of Lake Chapala

Chapala is the largest town and also the municipality (county) seat of the primary area where the gringos have settled. The city has a population of about 22,000; the municipality has about 45,000. Heading west on the only road around the lake, you drive through San Antonio Tlayacapan (about 5,000 pop.) and Ajijic (around 10,000). The next county includes San Juan Cosala (about 5,000) and Jocotepec (10,000?).  All of these communities have fairly large populations of Americans and Canadians, but the vast majority is still Mexicans. There are also smaller villages in between and on the south shore of the lake.
 
Each village has its own personality. For instance, Ajijic, 5 km west of Chapala, seems to me as if it is all art galleries, restaurants, and real estate offices. It also has the highest property prices. I started out living there. I still think it is fun to visit, but it is not where I chose to live.
San Juan Cosala is more 'pueblo Mexico' with many less-educated indigenous families and lots of children. Most of the gringos living there are in a hillside subdivision outside of the village.
 
Chapala is probably the closest to a small town in the US, although still very different. It has more stores - the majority mom and pop-type; more roads paved with asphalt or brick rather than rocks (quaintly referred to as cobblestones); and a large city park. We also have the largest American Legion post in Mexico.
 
But no matter how many Americans and Canadians live here, there is never any doubt that this is Mexico. Many of the businesses have someone who speaks english, but the majority of the locals speak only Spanish, or Spanish and some indigenous language. It is not unusual to see Huichol or Purepecha Indians in traditional dress making and selling their traditional crafts. Cars and trucks with huge loudspeakers drive by daily selling various necessary products or offering to buy junk that can be hard to dispose of. (That is annoying at first, but you soon learn to tune it out.)
 

What Do We Do All Day?

The main thing that made me choose this area of Mexico is the library at the Lake Chapala Society (LCS) in Ajijic. I have been an avid reader since 1st grade; I can't imagine a life without books. Actually, I can, but it is not a life I would want to live.
 
When I moved here eight years ago, LCS had the only library in town. It is still the largest. LCS is a great place to meet people. They have a wonderful garden to hang out in and offer classes from art to Spanish to yoga. They have thousands of members, but they tend to be the older of us immigrants.
 
These days, we can find books all over the place. The American Legion has a library, many restaurants have book exchanges (the one pictured here is by far the best), and thrift stores sell donated books. And, of course, Kindles and Nooks are very popular down here.
 
When I first moved here, I got a few quilters together and we formed the Ajijic Quilt Guild. But there are other groups for people with just about any interest that you can think of: theather - acting, costumes, set-building; teaching English to local Mexicans; fraternal organizations - Masons, Shriners, etc.; and orphanages and various charities.
 

Calories In and Calories Out

For those who choose to hang onto American eating habits, we have a few stores that carry lots of imports, sometimes at hefty prices. Or you can drive to Costco in Guadalajara. Or you can use a service that orders from Costco and then delivers right to your house. Even Walmart, right here at the lake, carries more and more imported items every day.
 
We can buy fresh produce, dairy items, seafood, and breads at the tianguis - street markets that set up once a week in every town. Chapala also has a great mercado on the plaza that sells all that and more every day.
 
We have an amazing variety of restaurants, mostly in Ajijic, in addition to the usual Mexican offerings: Argentinian, burgers and fries, Chinese, German, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Pizza, Seafood, Spanish, Taco stands, Tapas,  Tex-Mex and Thai. And lots of ice cream stores - even some gelato places owned by a family from Verona.
 
As easy as it is to take in the calories, it's important that we find fun ways to work them back off. The park near my house has beach (well, sand) volleyball five mornings a week and tennis and basketball available daily. They also have a large swimming pool and are building a second soccer field.
 
There are gyms in most of the towns and two golf courses. There are groups that hike in the mountains behind the towns. San Juan Cosala has a "park" of hot springs and pools. And many of the bars offer dance classes to learn salsa or western dance.
 

Entertainment

We have two movie theaters that together show about 6-8 movies at a time, about half of them in English. The movies often open here about the same time as in the US.
 
Many of the restaurants having bands and dancing.
 
Each town has its own malecon, or lakeside park where everyone goes to hang out, especially on the weekends. Most of them even have free wi-fi. Chapala's malecon can get pretty crazy on weekends because of all the people who drive out from Guadalajara. Extended families gather for picnics and to play in the water. Mariachi bands wander around playing for tips. Open-air waterfront restaurants often employ bands that can be enjoyed by customers inside and anyone else outside. Panga boats line up to take people for rides along the shore or out to Scorpion Island.
 
Ajijic has lots of art galleries for those who want to spend money. Or we can drive in to Guadalajara to the big malls or to the neighboring towns of Tonala and Tlacquepacque for traditional crafts.
 

It's Home to Me

I've lived here for a little more than eight years now. It is home to me. Trips back to the US cause a bit of culture shock. I have fun shopping and visiting friends and relatives, but I don't feel like I belong there anymore.
 
I live in a quiet neighborhood and most of my neighbors are Mexican. My Spanish is pretty good so I have no trouble fitting in. I love that I can walk out my front gate and walk two blocks to the malecon or the park. The plaza and its mercado is four blocks in the other direction. I walk there almost daily for my fresh produce. If I feel the need for a dose of America, I can go next door to the American Legion, but that doesn't really happen very often.
 
Most evenings, I walk along the malecon to enjoy the sunset and the end of the day. Most of the people are packing up to head home. A few mariachis are still playing, hoping for one last tip. If I time it right, I can stop for a gelato on my way home. If I am alone, I'm sure to be back home before dark, just as I would if I were out walking in the states.
 
Thanks for reading!
 
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Simplify: Your Time by Limiting Media Consumption

How much of your precious time is spent or wasted on media consumption? That includes: reading books, magazines, and newspapers; watching TV and movies; listening to radio; and computer and internet time, whether spent playing games, following friends on Facebook, or checking out the latest sports scores. 

To be honest, as I write this, I am sitting at my desk with two computers, one for writing only that never goes online, and the other that is almost always online. I also have my cell phone handy, even though I don't use it much, because Terry can call me if he has problems while out in the boat. My digital camera is sittiing here because I've been using it to put photos on the quilt gallery blog I am preparing to start. I also have my mp3 player nearby - not for music but for the 40+ audiobooks I have on it. And finally, I have my iPod Touch for everything else: music; calendar, notes and reminders; Facetiming, Messaging, and Skypeing with family and friends; travel books for vacations I am planning; TED and Open Culture lectures. I don't use my Nook much anymore, because I found out that I could replace it with my Touch and now have my whole Barnes and Noble library available in both places.

How do You Compare?

According to Jupiter Research, the average American aged 55 and up spends twenty hours a week watching TV, fourteen hours on the internet, three hours listening to the radio, another hour listening to recorded music, three hours reading newspapers, one hour reading magazines, and one hour on the cellphone.

Actually, I watch no TV and don't listen to the radio. I rarely use my cellphone. But I spend a huge amount of time online. I work online, read my news online, communicate with friends and family online. I read and listen to my books offline, but I buy them online and download them to my devices, I guess I'm not one of our generation who is hesitant to use electronics, although I am often frustrated by what I do not know in that area.

Television

Terry pays over $100 per month for Shaw Direct satellite, because it's the only one we can legally get down here in Mexico. I can't even imagine how many channels we have, but I somehow still cannot find anything worth watching. I don't even try anymore. Every once in a while, he'll tell me about a show I might like. As often as not, if I sit down with him to watch, it is more to spend the time together than for the show itself.

Okay, so I know that there are some interesting and educational shows on TV, but how many of us are watching them? I would guess that the steep rise in the number of fake "reality" shows demonstrates what people are spending their time watching. If that was all I had to look forward to, I'd be ready to end it all today.

Studies have shown that people who feel socially isolated tend to form faux relationships with the characters of their favorite TV shows. It helps to deflect feelings of loneliness. Watching TV can become an escape from life. A 2008 study from the University of Maryland showed that people who are unsatisfied with their lives tend to watch 30% more TV than people who are satisfied with their lives.

It has been shown that there is an association between obesity and the number of hours watching TV. More than 70% of American children have a TV in their bedroom. Two-thirds of households have a TV on during meals. Hmmmmm... I wonder how all these facts might be related.

And if that hasn't convinced you of anything - studies have also shown that people who have a TV in the bedroom have less sex than those who don't!

Junk Food News

While I was researching this post, I ran across an interesting article about a guy named Carl Jensen and his organization, Project Censored. They realized that we are getting less and less news on our TV news shows and did an analysis of what is now passed off as news.

Jensen's group says what we are watching is "sensationalized, personalized, and homogenized inconsequential trivia" that is replacing serious investigational journalism." What we are fed as news is really celebrity gossip, sex news, statistics that change daily, such as stock market quotes and box office takes, show business news, stories about fads, anniversaries of celebrity deaths or major events, and sports scores and rumors.

The Good Side of Media Consumption

As I said before, I actually work via the internet. What a wonderful development that is! I can sit in my home in Mexico - or anywhere in the world that has internet - and earn a living or augment a pension.
 
I recently had a student submit a paper in which he argued that technology is ruining us because we are forgetting how to do things on our own. Of course, he had no idea that he was submitting that paper to a tutor who would answer from another country far away from his little community college in New England. I wanted to argue with him - present the other side. I wanted to remind him of all the wonderful advantages of technology. But that's not my job. So I just gave him some advice for improving his paper and magically sent it back to him through the internet.

I cannot imagine leaving the country of my birth and all of my friends and family to settle in another place so far away without the internet. Letters and occasional phone calls could never replace almost-free Skype calls, Flicker photos, emails, and messaging. Without this wonderful technology, I would have surely moved back to Oregon by now to be near my kids.

I had to wait until I was almost 40 before I finally had an opportunity to go to college. I learned many wonderful things and loved every minute of it. But the most important thing I learned was a insatiable love of learning. I considered being a librarian so I could have a library of information at my fingertips, but the internet gives me all that and more. 

Is Your Media Taking Over Your Life?

The biggest problem with all this media is that it tends to take over our lives. Friends get together and then spend their time texting other friends on their cell phones. My younger daughter spends every minute of free time playing games online. I know lots of people who are wasting their retirements watching TV all day long. I've had to "unfollow" other writers on Twitter because they send out a non-stop string of tweets that bury the few I really want to receive.

I have to be careful that I don't get lost in the internet. I might be learning lots of wonderful new stuff, but when it starts to take over my writing time, I realize that I've lost control.

Taking Back the Control

And control is the key, so I've set some rules for myself:
  • Exercise first. I do yoga as soon as I get up so it doesn't get postponed.
  • I read the news first thing when I get online. No more news until the next morning.
  • I check and respond to emails right after the news and again at night before I get off the computer.
  • I start my "official" (paycheck-earning) work immediately after breakfast.
  • When the "official" work is done, I walk away from the computer. I take a walk to the market, work in my garden, cook some soup or bake some bread. Anything to get away from the computer.
  • Afternoons are writing time. I either work on this blog or some other writing project I've got going.
  • In the evening, I take a walk. I get out and see how the world is doing. I also listen to the book I am currently "reading" on my mp3. The better the book, the longer I walk.
TV, radio, or video games don't tempt me at all, but this is the way I keep from losing myself in the internet. I believe that most of my internet usage is healthy and good, but it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

Whatever your media vice, make an honest assessment. Is it taking over your life? Is it interfering with family time? Is it getting in the way of your health? Preventing exercise? Encouraging over-eating?

Try timing yourself. How much time do you really spend in front of the TV, or playing video games? How many hours are you sitting around reading books or magazines? Are you constantly checking for emails or text messages?

Try taking a break from whatever vice is interfering with living a healthy, happy life. Have a TV-free day once a week. Try it for a week-end. How about a whole week?

Spend Sunday morning breakfast time actually talking with your family rather than buried in the newspaper.

Instead of escaping to the internet, consider getting out and enjoying nature. Go for a walk or even a hike. Pack a picnic lunch and go to the park. Invite some friends to come along