Category Archives: Topics

Is YOUR Town the Best Place to Thrive?

You know your town best – is it a great place for someone 50 and up to live a good life?  There are tons of reports on the Internet about the best places to live and retire.  Sites like Sperling, Money magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post, and so on use similar scoring techniques primarily based on health, economy, and access to cultural activities; but is that all we care about?

By the way, I’m not sure why these studies differentiate between LIVE and RETIRE as if once we RETIRE we don’t LIVE anymore.  Personally, I don’t want to survive … I want to thrive!

I think the most important aspect of a place to call home is that it supports our passion for living, our purpose.  I’m not talking about climbing mountains; I’m talking about the things that make us feel ALIVE – feel joy!  Maybe you love pottery; or perhaps your passion is refinishing furniture; or you just like to sit on the porch and read a good book while enjoying a cool summer breeze; or maybe you do like climbing mountains.  Whatever makes you feel ALIVE, the place you live needs to have the resources and geography to support your passion.

Is your hometown a great place to thrive?

Sperling’s America’s Best Cities
Money’s Best Places to Retire
The World’s 12 Best Places to Live or Retire in 2016
Retiring?  Don’t Use a ‘Best Places to Retire’ List to Pick Your New Home
The Best Places to Retire in 2016
America’s 10 Best Cities for Retirement
The Best Place to Retire Isn’t Florida

 

 

Where Are You From?

We are all from somewhere.  The sum of our birthplace, past residences, current home, even non-physical emotional “places” combine to inform our senses of self.

I am “from” Baltimore, more specifically Fell’s Point, more specifically what was once Baltimore’s most heavily Polish immigrant neighborhood.  Baltimore was second only to Ellis Island as a point of entry for the immigrant waves of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  After a typically arduous ocean crossing, many Baltimore-bound immigrants settled near where the ships docked at Locust Point or stopped after the short ride across the harbor to Fell’s Point.    

But even more precisely, I am from Ann Street, from the house my maternal grandparents built, a unique double row house that they constructed in 1930-31, first demolishing the two homes there and building upon the original 1855 foundations.   For grandfather Nikodem, or “Tata”, this was the culmination of his American dream, the reward for surviving the Russians, making the journey, learning a new trade.  In those adjoining spaces, he carved out his photography business, his family residence, a commercial rental, and a tiny residential rental.  With two additions, it maxed out at 5000 contiguous square feet of living space in all senses, with personality, breadth, and breath.

The studio closed in 1955, before I was born, so my siblings and I knew the house directly only as a family home.  We six and our parents occupied about half the total area in what had been the public space of the business and the residence of Tata’s (my mother’s) family.  Our maternal aunt and her husband lived in “the apartment” upstairs which was an amalgamation of the old reception room for customers waiting for their photography appointments, the former tiny rental apartment on the second floor of the second row house, and the “galleria” (gallery) –  the huge room that spanned the front part of the second floor of both row houses, with its two large skylights, street-facing double French windows fronted with ironwork, massive scenery backdrops, industrial lighting, and props for staging the formal portraits of the time.  

The first floor of the second row house had been rented as a tailor shop, then used for storage before my aunt and uncle fixed it up for entertaining.  There they put the “nice” furniture, including the brocade sofas and chairs that were worthy of placement in any local funeral parlor.  My sister, Claire, and I, who as very small girls were expressly forbidden from that space when it was storage, once got locked in the enclosed display window there until a woman knocked at my mother’s door telling her that there were two little girls in the window next door, crying, and did she know who they were?  Our adorable tear-stained faces gave us little leverage for having disobeyed Mom.

In the basement was Tata’s darkroom, its eeriness unrelieved by its tiny window, filled with the mysterious chemicals, tools, and accoutrements used to develop film.  The remainder of the basement – a cellar, really, partly concreted but with stretches of dirt crawlspaces and the clear aura of past energies randomly pulsing through it – was a work area for hanging photos to dry and storing negatives and equipment, plus the physical plant: boilers, water heater, pipes and such.  My father later used it as a place to write, having been forced from his study by the increasing number of his offspring.  How he managed to produce anything readable down there in the always slightly damp, always slightly uneasy environs remains a wonder to me. 

A concrete yard, a small garden, and two walk out porches were our outdoor space, small to any suburbanite yet expansive compared to that of the typical Baltimore row house.   There was room to hang laundry, to play our favorite games like “Heidi” or “Polish Refugees” (What? You didn’t play “Polish Refugees”?), to dig mud holes and build towns from appliance boxes and sheets, and to bury dead birds and goldfish.

My grandmother, Jadwiga, had died in 1947 and when Tata died in 1964, his four children inherited the house.  My parents and resident aunt and uncle bought out their siblings’ shares so the home remained in the family.  Through another generation of inheritance, it has passed to Tata and Jadwiga’s grandchildren – my generation. 

We have been renovating the house for some years now as money allows, recovering it from years of benign neglect.  We’ve made a big dent in the infrastructure repairs and refits and we’ve made headway on some cosmetic fixes, but it progresses slowly as none of us live there full time.  

But our true inheritance, and the Ann Street upshot is this: no one who has lived in this house has ever fully left it.  They did not need to.  Purchase overtures have been made and rebuffed, therefore no new family, and certainly no drooling developer in the now “gentrified” formerly working class, immigrant waterfront neighborhood, have been welcome.  Whether family, friend, or passersby, Ann Street is steward of something from every resident.  Some exited Ann Street on foot and others feet first; but not a soul took it all when they departed.  Some, in fact, left it all.  

Once the home was built, my grandparents and aunt never lived elsewhere. My mother was born in the house and while she nearly escaped its orbit after nursing school, she returned after a scant few years, husband in tow, to bear us, raise us, and take care of Tata as he declined.  The aunt and uncle who moved out, left behind clothing, scrapbooks, letters, and furniture.  Only Jadwiga, realizing her imminent premature death, had taken pains to dispose of personal letters and belongings, yet even she didn’t get to everything.  And having been laid out at home, her casket flanked by the living room wall sconces where the sofa now sits, Jadwiga left much more than tangibles.   Even my mother’s friend, Harry, who roomed at the house for a few years, breathed his heart attack-induced last breath before the front stoop, leaving behind all of his earthly chattels.

We six continued the contributions, starting our adult lives unfettered by our childhood paraphernalia.  The house was large and accommodated the volume, if not stylishly, completely.

As our labor of love advances, we have found ourselves the unwitting archivists of extremes: Along with literally thousands of photographs by Tata and others including many of community historical significance, family letters from Poland, personal notes and cards, precious pre-WWII Polish folk art tchotchkes from Jadwiga’s little Polonia Gift Shop, and wonderful genealogical finds, we have sorted through years’ worth of National Enquirers and Cosmopolitans, hundreds of newspaper-clipped articles and recipes, and a boxes upon boxes of flotsam of no significance. 

Why not just chuck it all?  Because among the Enquirers and within the deteriorating leaves of acid-papered hardback books, we will inevitably find a few sheets of a family personal journal; a baptismal certificate in Polish; an irreplaceable notebook of Jadwiga’s efforts to learn English; Tata’s naturalization certificate.  We assume nothing.  We leaf through everything.  We are often rewarded and we dread to miss something.  Of money, we found just one $20 bill and dispatched it by ordering pizza.  No hidden millions in this house!

Now we are five sisters and we like each other’s company very well, especially when telling family lore and laughing until we cannot breathe (we lost our dear brother, our “muscle” and humorist, in 2014).  A box of letters and papers that some could sift through in a trice is a full evening’s entertainment for us.  Faced with generations of treasures mixed with oddments mixed with castoffs, from a large family that loved and loves to read, and that is rife with unorganized artists and packrat writers, we despair that we will finish in our lifetimes.  Yet as each person is remembered, discussed, laughed over, sometimes lamented, they join us, they light up the room, they fill the house until it is bursting with their semblance.  It can be done no other way.

I am of this house, this family, this history.  I am “from” it and it holds me willingly, loosely, yet tenaciously.    Still, we are not its completely original inhabitants, and those keep their place here as well, typically secreted in the confines of the foundations, drifting up from time to time to remind us we aren’t alone, we aren’t first. I have traced prior ownership of the two properties back to 1876 and with a bit more sleuthing, I’m sure I’ll get to when they were just lots being developed in the burgeoning Baltimore waterfront of the period.   I hope I can ferret out details to supplement our sensibilities and guesses since while we don’t know many of the prior residents by actual name, we do know some by the names we’ve given their shades.  

But that story is for another time.

 

 

 

 

The Road to Prosperity is Paved in Clichés

Don’t you just love clichés?  Last evening, I was watching Dead Like Me on Amazon prime, and I took special note of episode 9, because the dad’s lecture struck a chord with me.  He said, “When you are suffering, truly suffering, it is the clichés that heal you … They are the things that have stuck to the wall.”  So, I thought back at the first cliché I recall, the one that ‘stuck’ for me, and it is a rhyme.  I continued to recall others, and I realized this would be the topic of today’s blog, beginning with,

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me.
     – Old English Rhyme, mid 1800s

Many of us remember this rhyme from childhood.  As children, my sisters and I would wield this rhyme like armor against those who’d hurl shame and slander upon our good names!  And we got our fair share of the same back, but bravado didn’t lessen the pain.

Where the rhyme is meant to keep us calm in the face of childish assault, the reality is words hurt more than physical pain.  Where action is concrete and observable, we often don’t know the true intent behind words without action, especially when they don’t match; they are incongruous.  Enter the proverb,

Actions speak louder than words
     – Attributed to Abraham Lincoln, 1856 and
Anecdotally to Mark Twain (unconfirmed), 1834-1910

I remember hearing this little ditty for the first time in my high school English class.  It made sense to me, because we may say we’ll do something, but often do not.  Further, we can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ action, it is knowable.  Words, on the other hand, can easily be changed and avoided, often twisting them to hide intent.  And as many of us know, 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
     – Attributed to Samuel Johnson, 1790, who

referenced St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s earlier
sermon, ‘hell is full of good wishes or desires’, 1150

I can only surmise St. Bernard’s meaning given the context as a sermon, that people can say something that sounds good, but their true intent is evil. We see this often enough in our government and political platforms.  Many pundits and politicians will say anything to get our attention and win elections without any concern for voters.  After they are elected, they forget their promises or succumb to the political machine.  Talk about a road to hell … one can only hope

Where intent goes, action follows.
     – Sanskrit religious concept, Karma

As you can tell, clichés are truly embedded in our culture and our subconscious.  Though professional writers tell us to avoid these overused and ‘trite’ phrases, they persist.  We use them to express ourselves, knowing we will be understood in any context.  Unlike good intentions, clichés leave no doubt about their meaning.

Good deeds speak louder than good intentions;
And a good cliché will never die.
     – BJ, Women’s Guild, 2016

You heard it here first, folks!

Dedicated to my sisters.

Don’t Give Up on the Ones You Love

Every day is a challenge for me, good and bad; this is who I am.  I constantly challenge myself to be a better person, yet it is sometimes difficult to tell if I’ve met my goal.  Some days I’m a good person; others I’d like to forget.

The constant goal in my life is to live up to my expectations, which some say are too high.  One in particular, is to protect those I love.  This includes my pets, of course, but I cannot protect them from life – from the uncontrollable events and choices they make.  Not only must I have the courage to live with my choices and consequences, but the fortitude to live with theirs as well.  And this does take great courage when you love someone.

So today I give myself a bit of advice; don’t give up on those you love.  This includes myself.

Believe in yourself, and thanks for ‘listening’.

Roll Call for your Representative

I’m really liking this service, GovTrack.us.  It tracks not only your representative’s voting activity, but all votes, details, and summaries of the legislation as it moves through the Legislature.  The details regarding the bills is phenomenal.   Give this a try if you are interested in tracking representatives’ votes and current legislation.

I’d recommend you take the 3-step approach, but you can get what you need in just 1 step.  You will need to sign up for Roll Call to get started.

I’m using H.R. 699 as an example.  The Email Privacy Act is a popular bill which impacts our privacy.  This bill would require government agencies to seek warrants to gain access to communications older than 180 days.  This is a big change as previously they could access this information with only a subpoena.  You can read the latest text version of H.R. 699 on the GovTrack site.

Step 1, Link to the voting record and summary of the legislation – select title of bill in email

Step 2, Check out the history of the legislation from introduction to current status – select legislation – Example:  H.R. 699

Step 3, Read the actual text of the legislation and compare it to changes made as it works through the process

Joshua Tauberer, the creator and self-proclaimed ‘civic hacker’, established GovTrack.us as a legislative tracking tool in 2004.  It may have started out as a hobby, but it has become a rallying point for the open government data movement.  He’s also written a book about it, which can be accessed online at Open Government Data (The Book).

About GovTrack.us

GovTrack.us in the Press

Civic Impulse, LLC

Zen of Soaking

One of the things I loved about living overseas was the soaking tub.  There isn’t anything like it, unless it’s a hot spring!

In the U.S., most people are apt to purchase large, balky hot tubs that require regular maintenance and large electric bills.  For me, I’d opt for the luxury of a soaking tub instead.  It requires cleaning and maintenance too, but at a fraction of the cost of a hot tub.  I really like the idea it is clean every time I use it.

Hot tubs have their purpose, especially when entertaining or used for exercise, but a soaking tub is an opportunity to truly experience relaxation.  Young or old, the warmth and comfort of a good soak provides a sense of well-being that is ephemeral.  Aches and pains are soaked away, blood pressure lowers, and your soul is rejuvenated.  With a soaking tub readily available in your own ensuite, this can be enjoyed much more often than a hot tub, making it much more cost effective and beneficial than a hot tub.

By the way, I’m not talking about a tub that just happens to be a couple of inches deeper than a regular tub, so it covers up to your navel instead of your knees.  I’m talking about the Japanese style soaking tub, a.k.a. afuro, that is 22 or more inches deep.  This depth allows you to totally immerse your body up to your chin while sitting.

Unfortunately, a good soaking tub costs a small fortune right now, but I’m hoping as they become more popular, the cost will come down accordingly.  Either way, it is so worth the benefits.

Believe in yourself and thanks for ‘listening’.

Apartment Therapy – Soaking Tubs

Cabuchon Soaking Tub

Dwell – About Japanese Soaking Tubs

Skill Upgrades That Pay You Back

Recently, I read the typical spring article on home upgrades that add value to our homes.  As I read the article, I realized, it depends on the location and the amount of money we spend on the upgrade.  For example, a below ground pool may not be the best add-on for a home in Iowa, but it is a great idea for Florida.  More insulation may be a perfect upgrade for Maine, but not for Southern Alabama.  Same goes for jobs.

The closer we get to retirement, investments in skillsets requires careful consideration.   Not only can training and education be costly compared to the return, they can be extravagant.  Extravagance is not something we can afford in an economy that does not value seasoned employees.  There are a few skills that everyone can use, regardless of age or impending retirement, but where will we get the most value?

My rule of thumb regarding skills is to revisit old skills first.  Keeping up-to-date on skills that serve us well is more important, in my mind.  We need to stay current in our areas of expertise, or get left behind.  Think of it in terms of home repair and must-have upgrades.  If we want to sell ourselves, we need the current upgrades.  It doesn’t mean we have to undergo a complete redesign, just a refresh.

Other skill sets are important, for example communication, but if training budgets are limited, go with your areas of expertise.  We cannot be everything to everybody, and if we try, we will fail to be what we are needed to be most at critical times.  You’d also be a better resale value.  This is not to say avoid training and education in other areas, but consider more cost-friendly options for additional skill sets.

Many public libraries, colleges and universities subscribe to online learning sites like Lynda.com and Khanacademy.org, and they are free with your membership.  You don’t have to attend a public institution to get a library card in most places.

Believe in yourself, and thanks for ‘listening’.