Sunday, September 6, 2015

Is the Internet Taking Over Our Lives?

I know at least one person who thinks so, and he believes it will be the downfall of us all. Of course, he is in his nineties and has never even used a computer, but he hears about sites being hacked and information stolen. The TV news stations don't seem to run stories about the good side of the Internet.

I suppose anything can be misused and get out of control, but, aside from the occasional glitch that has me cussing at the screen, I think the Internet is absolutely wonderful. I'm certainly not addicted to it, but I sure wouldn't want to find myself in a situation where I didn't have access anymore.

My computer is my newspaper. I sit down first thing each morning with a cup of tea to find out what is going on in the world. I get the vast majority of my news via Google News. Because the articles come from so many different sources, and I even have some choice in which version I read, I am not subjected to a continuously biased slant that distorts what I hear. And if I want to learn more about a topic in the news, I've got Google Search right there in front of me. This morning I spent an hour learning more about Syria and what has caused this current refugee crisis.

My computer is my contact with our local weather station. After I check whether it is supposed to rain today and what time, I can also find out the weather for all of Mexico, the US, and even the world. Are any storms threatening Terry's fishing on Mexico's Pacific coast? Or his brother's fishing on Florida's Gulf Coast? If I check again before my evening walk, I'm much less likely to be caught in an unexpected downpour. And I receive email warnings of any pending tsunami threats so I can warn Terry if necessary.

Facebook is my connection to locals and my family and friends back in the US. It allows me to live and travel in foreign lands without losing touch. I didn't make it to my 40th high school reunion, but many of us are now in regular contact via Facebook.

Blogger is my soapbox. It gives me a place to share my ideas and opinions. No one is put in the position of having to read if they don't want to or disagree. I actually have almost no idea who is reading what I write, but I know they are from all over the world. And there must be a lot of them, because I have over 93,000 pageviews since I started a couple of years ago. Whoever you are, thank you! I started writing because I had something to say; I never expected so many people would be interested in reading it. And all of you in Ukraine - how in the world did you find me?

Since I decided to move back to Portland, I've bookmarked the Portland Monthly magazine. Every once in a while, I go to their site to see what's going on in Portland. When I arrive, I'll be right on top of the latest happenings.

When I moved to Mexico over eleven years ago, one of the hardest things for me to give up was my weekly visits to the public library. I always had a stack of books waiting to be read. If fact, I picked this location in Mexico because a local organization has a library where members can check out books in English. After I decided that the membership cost was too steep for what they offered, I started stocking up on paperbacks on every trip north of the border. Then I visited every book exchange I could find (and we had a lot of them then) to trade those books for others. Then I got an MP3 player and a non-resident library card for the Queens, New York library. I could download books to my computer or audiobooks to the MP3 player. That was wonderful! Well worth the fifty dollars a year! And I could download hundreds of magazines through Zinio with my library card. Unfortunately, they don't have the best website and the employees don't seem to understand how the system works, so I haven't been able to renew again since my card expired a few months ago. So sad, but my MP3 player broke now, too, so I guess it's time to move on. Now I have an iPad with Kindle. With amazon, it is just amazing how simple it is to find the book I'm looking for, have a virtual look inside to verify that it's what I want, click a button, and it's mine. Yep, it's not the same as a real book with real pages, and it's not the free public library, but it will hold me over until I get there.

I've found that Pinterest actually does a pretty good job of replacing the magazines I used to read on the Zinio site. I can do a search in an interesting category, find a photo that grabs my attention, then go to the orginal site that shared the photo. There is usually an article or blog post attached. It's almost like a magazine without all the ads. I get vegan and vegetarian recipes, lots of decorating ideas (for my future tiny apartment in Portland), and see pages and pages of drawings and sketches like I am (supposedly) doing.

I have Skype, so my computer is also my telephone to call family and friends in the states. When the person I'm calling also has Skype, we can even make a video call.

If I had to do it over again, I don't know if I would have bothered to go to a university at 40. Why, when the information is all out there just for the asking? I hear in-depth discussions of current events by listening to NPR on my iPad. I watch interesting lectures on endless topics with Ted Talks. I have discovered many free sites to get me started in studying various foreign languages. The I can go on and learn more with Rosetta Stone. And Wikipedia may not be perfect, but the amount of information available there is fantastic.

I am my own travel agent with the Internet. I can buy plane or train tickets, rent a car, and arrange to stay in a private home in Tuscany or Provence or Portland. And I do all that with much more information than I ever had working through a travel agent.

I am downloading my CDs to my iPod Touch so I won't have to move them and the stereo back to the states. I don't have Netflix yet, like nearly all of my friends do, but I can definitely see it in my not-too-distant future. Shoot, even my exercise is online since I got a Fitbit and walk at least 4 miles a day!

So, I spend a lot of time on my computer, but is the Internet taking over my life? Or am I learning to use the Internet to make my life easier and more interesting and to stay connected with family and friends? I think the important point is that I am in control. I'm not online all day. I don't feel the need to check my email when I'm hanging out with friends. I know many people seem to compete to have as many Facebook friends as possible, and they read the posts in order of popularity. Why would I care what other people liked to read? I want to see what my friends, and only my real friends, have to say. And why would I care how many people are following my pins on Pinterest? I pin things that I find interesting and want to be able to find again. If someone else likes the same thing, fine, they can pin it, too, but what has that got to do with me? Maybe mine is an introvert's form of social media.

What do you think? Do I waste my time online? How do you use the Internet?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Who am I? What do I want?

Do you really even know?

My mention of a "self-examined life" yesterday has sent my brain spinning in so many different directions. Preparing to begin a new chapter in my life means that the possibilities are almost endless. Whether a new life chapter starts by chance or by choice, time should be taken to evaluate exactly what we want and what steps we need to take to get there. Otherwise, we can just roll along on the current of life, letting it take us wherever it wants to go, until we wake up one day and wonder how we got so far off track.

I used to have a quote that I kept around for years and years, but, of course, now that I want it, I can't find it. I don't think I ever found out who said it, but it was something about how we go through life with a plan in mind, but one little thing happens that gets us sidetracked a bit, then another thing comes along and sends us off another way, and after a while, life just takes over and we don't even remember where we were going in the first place. I always thought it was a very pessimistic way of looking at life, but it could certainly happen that way if we don't stay on top of things.

Another reason for occasional re-evaluation of our goals is that things change, but we can be so stuck in the old plan that we don't even notice that something has gone wrong. I had a huge epiphany in the middle of the night last night, so I'm going to share it here as an example of what I mean.

I'm a quilt artist. For almost twenty years I lived for quilting. I started a quilt shop 21 years ago so a real job wouldn't distract me from my passion. I woke early in the morning so I could work on quilts before I went to the shop, and I stayed up late at night to get in a few more blocks or a few more stitches before bed. After a time, running the business was interfering too much with my quilting time, so I retired from the shop and did custom machine quilting from home, sold quilts through an art gallery, and taught quilting classes in many different places. In order to keep my passion fed, I had kept a piece of almost every fabric that I carried in my shop, and I eventually moved that fabric to Mexico. Once here, I got together with a couple other women to start a quilt guild, and I kept on quilting. But there's no market for quilts down here. Mexican artisans accept such small pay for their work that few art buyers are willing to pay a fair price for a handmade quilt. Eventually, I've slowed down my quilting, but I haven't quit completely. I entered and won Judge's Choice at a national quilt show just last year. But it is hard to keep the flame of passion burning when the results of my work are just piling up higher and higher.

In preparation for my move, and to help pay for it, I've been going through my fabric, deciding what I can part with, measuring it and marking it with prices. I've gone through all of it, and so far, half of it is in the 'sell' pile. But that still leaves an awful lot in the 'take' pile. So here's my conundrum...

I would like to rent a tiny studio apartment when I get to Portland. If I can keep the price down, I won't have to get a job to supplement my Social Security to pay the rent. If I take the fabric, I may be able to make and sell quilts up there because the market is much better. However, if I take the fabric, I will have to have at least one bedroom to use as a studio, and that will make the rent $100-200 higher. If everything fell into place just perfectly, I would be able to make and sell a quilt a month and that would more than cover the extra rent.

So this is where my epiphany came in last night. I awoke from an apparently sound sleep to the realization that I don't want to quilt any more. I'm absolutely sick to death of the tedius cutting and piecing of tiny little pieces of fabric, the monotonous machine stitching and pressing of all those pieces, and then the endless hours to quilt the layers together.

I still like quilts. I still want to snuggle under a quilt. I want to decorate my home with quilts, but I don't want to make any more. I have plenty unfinished projects that I still love and still want to finish, but that's enough already!

So I woke up this morning with determination to get back into my studio and start to work on getting that 'take' pile down to only my most special favorites. I can't even begin to explain the relief I feel after making this decision. A whole huge burden has been lifted off my back. The thing is, it doesn't mean I can never quilt again; it just means I might have to buy some new fabric IF I ever make that decision. But I know it will never become a life-consuming passion like it was before. And I'm good with that.

For the moral of my story, I have to go back to blogger Joshua Becker:

     "We can never fully know how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them."

What burdens are you carrying around that you aren't even aware of? What are you allowing to stand between you and your perfect life?

Monday, August 31, 2015


How much is enough? Enough of just about anything: food, exercise, clothing, toys, stuff? And when does it become too much of a good thing?

Take food. When do we stop eating? When the plate is empty? When the package is empty? When the TV show is over? When we are so full we need to go take a nap? Or do we just nibble on snacks all day long? What ever happened to sitting down at the table and eating just enough to end our hunger and then stopping, knowing that there will be more where that came from in just a few short hours? Of course, I'm not referring to those unfortunate people among us for whom this is not the case. But to the rest of us, do you even remember what it feels like to be hungry? Come on, be honest with yourself. It's no wonder there is an obesity crisis.

And what about exercise? So many of us sit at a desk and sit in a car and sit in front of the TV for the majority of our day. Then one day we realize that we are becoming overweight and out of shape, so we decide that we need to get some exercise. We lace up our tennies and head to the gym or the track or plug in the exercise video. It feels so good to finally get out there and move our bodies that we end up overdoing it. The next thing we know, we've pulled a muscle, tripped on a curb, or have some other problem come up that prevents us from continuing with that new exercise. Then we are back to sitting, waiting for our injuries to heal. But if we had just taken it slow and easy, done just enough to work into the new activity, we'd be able to keep going.

In late June I bought a Fitbit. I love it! It is right there on my waist reminding me how far I've walked today and challenging me to walk better, faster, farther. I'm not a competitive person (against other people) but I'm a real sucker for a good self-challenge. My daughter walks insane (to me) distances all over Portland, and our Fitbits conspire to rub it in my face by keeping me informed of her progress. I quickly got to the point that 10,000 steps a day is nothing. (Remember, I don't own a car.) My natural inclination is to bump it up to 12,500 and to keep adding more and more, just because I can. And I was. But a few weeks ago, I realized that I wasn't doing my yoga anymore because I just didn't have enough time. Then I wasn't getting around to watering the garden as often as my plants would like. But I was sure getting a lot of steps on my Fitbit - until I realized what was going on and decided that 10,000 steps is enough.

Take clothes. Look in your closet or drawers or wherever you keep your clothes. How many shirts or blouses do you have? Pairs of pants? Shoes? How many of them do you actually wear and how many are there "in case"? In case you lose that extra weight, or put those pounds back on? In case you ever find something that goes with that shirt you bought of sale 6 or 7 years ago? We have so many excuses for having bulging closets and overflowing drawers. Oprah shared a good idea a while back. Turn all the hangers in your closet backward. As you wear an item and return it to the closet, turn the hanger back around to the normal position. At the end of the season, or year, or whatever time period you choose, get rid of anything that is still on a backward hanger. Obviously, you've gotten by on just what you've worn, so those clothes must be enough.

Now, this issue is one that is pretty darned relevant in my life. Of course, I can't afford to buy clothes and then casually just get rid of them like Oprah can. And my clothes don't cost what hers do. My downfall is thrift and consignment stores. Yes, I buy used clothes - almost exclusively. I  take advantage of the fact that so many people buy too many clothes and then barely use them and donate them to a charity. But this can lead to a huge problem, too. Shopping at thrift stores isn't like regular shopping. I can't just decide I need a new shirt to go with a certain pair of pants and walk into a thrift store and find one. I have to be constantly on the lookout for the good deal - something I like, that fits me well, and is priced right. Where the problem comes in is that I find too many good deals. I end up buying things because the deal is too good to pass up. Eventually, I have to round up a bunch of clothes and take them back to the consignment shop to try to get at least some of my money back.

Are your closets and cupboards bulging with stuff? Can you actually park your car in your garage, or is it also overflowing with stuff? Or have you uncluttered your house and your garage by renting a storage unit or two? It is amazing that all this stuff just keeps sneaking into our homes and lives every time we turn our backs and let our defenses down! Where in the world does it all come from? When I moved to Mexico eleven years ago, I got rid of at least 80% of everything I owned. Over these past eleven years I have been living on a fairly strict budget so I could save money for traveling. And yet, here I am again, going through cupboards and drawers and closets, and finding that the vast majority of what I own is not something that I need, or even necessarily want. And the really scarey part of this, to me, is that I don't watch TV so I'm not exposed to the constant advertizing. I've never clicked on an internet ad. I keep a running "US Want List" but since I only go to the states once or twice a year, I usually have realized that I don't need the item before I get there to buy it. Yet I still manage to accumulate stuff.

So that brings me to my final item - time. This is something we often think we don't have enough of. At least that is the excuse we use for not doing what we should be doing. I don't have enough time to cook and eat a healthy meal. I don't have enough time to exercise like I should. I don't have enough time to _____. You fill in the blank. But we all have exactly the same amount of time in each day. It has to be enough because it is all you will ever get. So you have to figure out how to use that limited amount of time.

Socrates apparently said that an unexamined life is not worth living. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is only through examining our lives that we can figure out what is most important to us and devote our time, money and other resources to only those things. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, and these are some truths I've realized in my life:

  • My kids may be grown up but they are still my kids and I miss them. It is time to move back to the US so I can spend more time with them.
  • I don't necessarily want to live to an extreme age, but I do want the years I live to be as healthy as possible. Because of this, I try to stick to a healthy diet with lots and lots of fruits and veggies and make sure that I get a healthy amount of exercise each day. 
  • I've gone through my closet and removed all but my favorites. The rest are at the consignment store, ready to go live with someone who wants or needs them more than I do. I'm sure I'll get rid of more by the time I actually move.
  • I am going through every drawer and cupboard and closet in my house. I'm keeping only the things I really need or are very special to me. I agree with Joshua Becker, who blogs at Becoming Minimalist when he says that the best way to enjoy your favorite things is to only own your favorite things. The rest will be sold at yard sales, through consignment shops, or given to charities.  
  • I quit buying things a couple of months ago. I decided that I will buy nothing but healthy food and necessary medicines at least until I move to Portland (in a year or so.) It actually makes my life easier. With a hard and fast rule, I don't have to think about it. I just don't put myself in temptation's way.
And our shortage of time... This is where Socrates' advice becomes most valuable. If you don't have enough time in your day to do the things you want to do or should do, you need to sit down and figure out what's wrong. Take control of your life. I'm big on making lists. Write down the things that are most important in your life. Is it possible that you really don't care enough about your health to do whatever you can to maintain it? Aren't YOU worth the effort? We have spoiled ourselves to the point that limiting our spending/buying/indulging can be difficult. But maybe it wouldn't be so hard if you look at what you gain instead of what you lose. Less stuff means less time spent shopping, less clutter to clean up, less things to be cleaned. It also means more money is left over to do something special. Probably lots more money.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Preparing for the Next Chapter in My Life

I hinted in my last post that some changes were coming, and now I am sure enough to share them.

I've lived in Mexico for over eleven years now, and for eleven years I thought that I would live here for the rest of my life. Then one day I realized that the thrill is gone and it's time to move on. Friends have asked me why, but I find it hard to explain the reasons. There are really many...

Reason number one is definitely my children. One lives in Portland, Oregon, and the other two live near Boise, Idaho. I've only seen them for about a week every two years for a long time. That's not enough.

I lived just outside of Portland before I moved to Mexico and I've always said that if I went back, that's where I would go. I've always loved Portland... all the libraries, the great public transportation, so many things to do, the rivers, the nearness of the coast, the mountains, the greenness, and even the rain. My time there before was a temporary stop and wasn't nearly long enough, so I'm going back.

I'm tired of the hassles of being a home owner. Tired of the maintenance and upkeep. Tired of fighting bugs and weeds and squirrels and possums in my garden. I'm looking forward to renting a small apartment - one bedroom, or maybe just a studio - and furnishing it simply and living simply. If there is a problem, I'll call the landlord to handle it!

Suddenly, I find that the crazy uneven cobbled roads and broken sidewalks and constant dust in the air are not as quaint as they seemed for the past eleven years. I'm a barefoot person, but I'm tired of mopping my floors daily and still having filthy feet a few hours later.

A huge reason is that I had to pay my first bribe and it was totally unfair and I hate it. I bought a small property (next door to my house) almost ten years ago. The "nice" little old lady who sold it to me and her daughter double crossed me and tried to take the property back. I didn't even realize there was a problem until I had already put more into fixing it up than I paid for it. I paid a lawyer 20% of the property's initial cost to fight it in court for five years. I won, but the lawyer forgot to ask the judge to put the title in my name. And then she refused to help me any more. I had to hire another lawyer and go back to court. We pretty much started all over.  After four and half additional years, the second lawyer finally told me that they were ready to hand down the decision, but it had been suggested to him that it might not go my way unless I came up with a bribe for the court clerk. I hated it but I did it and the court finally decided that the property is mine, but I still have to wait for the judge to get back from vacation to declare that the title be changed to my name. I am very uncomfortable about the fact the I am right back to where I was almost five years ago. I've had possession of the property all this time and I've been paying the taxes all these years. I just don't have the title in my name.

I think that was the straw that finally broke the camel's back!

Anyway, it's not all that easy to undo a life that I've spent so many years putting together, and it will take a while to get everything done. I've got a house at the coast to sell, and I've just begun figuring out what I have to do to get my Chapala house ready to put on the market. There's no big rush, though. My goal is to move at the beginning of 2017 - when I'm old enough for Medicare.

Making a big move like this is definitely part of early retirement, so it seems that I do have a lot more to say in this blog. Stick around and I'll share the challenges and the excitement of starting over once again.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Winds of Change

You got your life planned carefully
But you left out one detail
The hidden hand deals just one round
And the winds of change prevail

Walk softly through the desert sand
Old dreams lead the way
Nothing new in the sands of time
Just changes every day

                                                                             - Jefferson Starship, 1982

Six months ago I told everyone that I was done with this blog because I had run out of things to say here. It is still true that I have been devoting my writing time to sketching, and I really do love that, but it seems that I haven't run out of things to say here after all...

One of the great things about being retired is that life offers us so many possibilities, especially for the baby boomer generation. They really are endless. Some of us want to spend as much time as possible with our grandchildren. Others decide to devote themselves to becoming the artist that has always been hiding inside of them. One person's dream may be to throw off as many responsibilities as possible and spend all of their time fishing. Some enjoy working so much that they never want to retire. The only limitations I can think of would be money and health. I hope all my readers are doing whatever is possible in these areas.

I know that some people hate change. They want their lives to continue exactly as they have been. But I agree with Helen Keller: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." I think change is what keeps life exciting, and I always try to stay alert for the next possible adventure. I'm feeling some changes coming on, so be sure to come back to see what I decide to do next.