Friday, May 19, 2017

Jean's Awesome Personal Travel Tips - Chicago, Anywhere


Travel is like money, or beauty.  If you judge yourself based on others, you often fail.

Just when I am feeling like a hot shit for, say, driving New England on my own - or carrying out my arbitrary goal of “leaving the state once per month” -  I meet someone who has been to Dubai,  Reykjavik and/or Costa Rica….recently!  While it’s true, sticking to domestic destinations is a conscious choice right now for me, I admit to some “travel envy” and a feeling of competitiveness.  Muttering the proverbial “I’ll get there next year.”  In the meantime, I pick their brains for ideas.

It is in that context that I offer you, in no particular order, my top tips for comfortable travel.  Not sure they are revolutionary, but they are personally tried and true.  I hope you find something here that makes your next trip just a bit more comfortable.

   - Peppermint Oil.  While some inconvenience and discomfort are integral to travel, airplane odors sometimes get to me – even jet fuel smell is a bit nauseating.  Putting peppermint oil under your nose, behind your ears, etc can really help.  Don’t worry about the person next to you complaining.  It seems to be universally appealing, and does not hang in the air.  It is also excellent for keeping cool in hot climates.  Just apply liberally at the back of your neck before heading out for the day.   Here is a good quality one on Amazon:


    -Conditioner.  It’s not just for your hair.  Whether you pack yours, or use what the hotel gives, conditioner has lots of uses.  One of my favorite is in place of shaving cream.  Please stop buying that ridiculous metal dispenser full of fluffy cream.  Men’s beards and women’s leg/underarm hair can be softened with ordinary hair conditioner.  Then, after shower, many of them are formulated to not feel sticky or greasy when used on feet and hands as lotion.  Or banish static cling by rubbing a tiny bit on your hands and separating yourself from your garments.

     -Forgot your phone charger?  Most hotels have a huge lost and found box full of them.  Even if you are not near your own hotel, the nearest one will likely be happy to rummage through and find one that will work.  Take a break in the lobby, and juice up for the day.



   -Germ freaks unite!  Before leaving for the airport, I have adopted the custom of liberally coating my nasal passages with Vaseline or other heavy lotion.  The nose is a major pathway of entry for all of those mysterious coughs you hear.  The eyes too.  Consider leaving out your contacts and wearing glasses during transit as yet another buffer.  Yes, I am serious.



And now for some Chicago specific ideas…..



-Try the L Train from either airport.  Don’t make your friends and family have the distinct displeasure of circling the airport to pick you up – especially at heavy traffic times.  You could take a Lyft or Cab (I do recommend Lyft over Uber, by far), but the blue line from O’Hare, and the orange line from Midway straight into the loop works great.  Even if your destination is too far from the loop stop, a cab from there will be much cheaper.  Don’t believe the crime hype you read.  Use the trains. 



-Regarding site seeing, bigger isn’t always better.  Okay, this is purely opinion.  But the obvious places don’t always yield the best experience.  For example, everyone sees the Art Institute.  It is beautiful, world class, and right in the middle of everything.  But go a bit north, and see the Contemporary Art Museum instead.  Less exhausting, more intimate, and the gift shop has lots of unique items.






or this one in a gorgeous neighborhood historic mansion if you are into science….






I could go on and on.  But, that’s plenty from me.  Please feel free to comment with YOUR best travel tips.  Tell us what you’ve learned from experience. 



As always, wishing you safe journeys.



Xoxo



jean

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I Believe Facebook Has "Jumped the Shark"



Just as I was late to the party in joining Facebook, so is this tale of how I how find it loathsome.  I am not the first to figure out that for most of us, it should simply run its course and cycle out of our lives – sort of like the requisite bad relationships and dead end jobs that make up a full life.

I’ve been 100% Facebook free for well over a year now.  A fact I admit (with some discomfort) is partially responsible for my contented state.  I have passions, yes.  But they are not tied to the phony distractions of others.  It is my position that Facebook has given platform to the senseless, and made decorum and privacy a thing of the past. 

I see myself as a modern gal and free thinker.  As a writer, free speech is near and dear.  But the strange, disingenuous sociological changes that take place online cannot be denied – and I would contend can be the death of meaningful exchanges. 

See if you recognize any of these people on your “friend” list.

-The person you know is going through a lot of difficulty in real life, but all of her multiple posts show a smiley, fulfilled person. 

-The superficially confident friend who constantly posts photos that are “accidentally” sexy and flattering – thereby soliciting a running feedback of “omg you look great!!”

-The person who passive aggressively seems butthurt by the fact that you don’t “like” all their posts, no matter how inane.

-The person you find out is functionally illiterate, or has uninformed or polarized viewpoints that are offensive to you – all of which you learned due to Facebook, but were blissfully unaware of before.

I’m sure I could come up with more caricatures of our shared experience, but you get the idea.

So how did all of this equate to unhappiness for me?  I found it was a thing to navigate – a stressor without merit.  The more time you put into a thing, the more you feel you should get out of it, right?  Wrong.  It was a vicious cycle of effort + expectation + time suck = frustration.  I discovered some unflattering things about myself, too.  I can be very mercurial online in a way I would never be in person.   Even if you claim you are not bothered by the intermittent remarks, opinions, and boring life details that are put out there, I urge you to have another look.   I had roughly 100 friends when I left Facebook.  I know perhaps 3 of them now.  And guess what?  We have time to have dinner together. 

It is here that I will acknowledge that some people use Facebook in a healthy way.  Having frequent shares with friends or family across the miles can maintain and even deepen relationships that today’s busy lifestyles wouldn’t permit.  A wild guess on my part would say that about ten percent of the FB population are enjoying only this.   

On the other hand, there can be a loss of patience and respect from the “oversharing” that goes on.  I lost one close girlfriend and a cousin to this.  It IS a double-edged sword, so be careful out there.

It’s also probably no mistake that newer sites like Instagram (which is photo driven) and Twitter (which allows for only 140 characters per post) are getting bigger.  I recommend either of these over Facebook for all of the fun, without the pain in the ass.  I also have never had that “cyber tracked” feeling on Twitter, or been solicited by a crowd funder for Save the Pandas. 

Do what you do.  Love what you love.  Let me know your thoughts.  In the meantime,

Xo

jean

Friday, August 19, 2016

Euthanasia Is Not A Dirty Word


 
 
Arthur at 3 months old
 
 
We recently said goodbye to our long time dog family member, Arthur.  It was the first dog any of us had had – including my husband and myself.  He didn’t grow up with pets, and my family always seemed to have a cat or two around.  Back then, people didn’t pamper their animals the way we do now.  Cats spent time outdoors and came inside when it behooved them.  It was more of a roommate situation.

What led up to his death was not so much a sequence of events, but what I would call a climate change.  Our family had been managing his slow decline for what I admit was nearly 2 years.  His sight was not great, he had Cushing’s disease (which we chose not to treat because the side effects of the medicines sounded worse than the illness) which caused constant hunger and thirst.  When he had free access to water, accidents were commonplace. 

About 6 months ago, these symptoms worsened.  He began to follow me from room to room, which I eventually had to acknowledge was because he was nearly blind, deaf, and uncomfortable alone.  The walks in the evening stopped.  There was no interest in toys, car rides, or our other dog, Dora.

Since it was my credo from day one that no pet of mine would suffer, we began to talk about euthanasia.  At first, it seemed more of a concept than a reality.  After all, he was not in any acute pain (that we knew of), so there was no hurry.  It is not my custom to “poll the audience”, but this was such new territory, I began to ask friends who were also dog lovers/owners.  Turns out, fully MOST people had been in this position before.  Our family was experiencing a rite of passage, and there was an unexpectedly supportive atmosphere around us.

I phoned the emergency veterinary clinic near us for information, and was met with a warm, professional voice.  She described the procedure and added “the timing is your decision, and we respect that”.  I cannot tell you the comfort that statement gave me.

There were another two weeks of goodbyes and getting our heads around it.  It was decided that my younger daughter and I would be the ones to actually take him.  In the end, it was a Monday at nearly midnight when we both were available and had the guts.  I phoned them before we left, as they had recommended, so they could be prepared for us.  After spending ten minutes in their parking lot not sure we could go through with it, the inevitability settled in.

Once inside, “shit got real” as they say.  Signed some papers, and we were in the room.  The vet did not rush us, she explained each step, we did not feel awkward weeping shamelessly in front of her.  Veronica commented how the place was empty, and that was good.  We held hands, told a few anecdotes about him, and that was that.

When it was over, the doctor said we did the right thing.  Another kindness I will not forgot.  Within a week, we had sympathy cards from that office and our regular vet (they notified him).

While sad – epically so – I didn’t see it as a negative experience.  I learned that my daughter is a strong, loving young women who can do selfless things.  I met a doctor who has set me free with her pragmatism and decency.  I remained true to my promise to Arthur of no suffering, which I made 12 years ago when we brought home the little 4 lb runt.

Ingrained in our culture is a kneejerk need to see every ending as something ugly.  Maybe it’s time to try to turn that on its ear.  Painful goodbyes are the price of love.  But love is the good stuff, and the alternative is unthinkable.
 
 
 

 

Xoxo

Jean

 

 

 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Secret Life of Hugs - A Valentine's Day Contemplation

                  http://www.amazon.com/Lets-Shirt-Funny-Vintage-Shirts/dp/B0064POI3U



In the discussion of tactile greetings in our culture, it would remiss not to start with the most common - the handshake.  As social animals, these are chock full of information.  We may only make vague note of our first impressions and judgments based on a handshake, but they are there.

For example, we’ve all received the “dead fish” – the one where it just feels like a limp appendage comes to rest briefly in your palm.  Or how about what I have dubbed “The Lobster Claw?”  A lunging reach, culminating in a mildly painful pincer grasp.  What do you perceive about each of these people?  Is it different if it’s a man or woman delivering it?

 I should confess here that I often view handshakes as an awkward, antiquated greeting – and one of the best ways to spread illness.  So, it’s pretty tough to win with me on that front.  In my experience, less than half of the time do people land what I would consider the perfect hand to hand contact.  Let’s call it “The Classic.”  It is marked by a warm, unrushed, confident touch, coupled with simultaneous eye contact and a few kind words. 

Hugs are a completely different story.   Good, solid ones may well be the antidote for our touch deprived culture.  They seem to be regaining popularity, even in a casual business setting.  At least, it seemed like I received more of them at events this holiday season.  I tell myself that is because I’m getting more huggable with age.  Or more likely, with age, there is less risk of it being received as flirty.  Boooo.

Regardless, it set me to wondering.  Is there a cultural shift happening?  I really hope so.  While still giving rise to a silent opinion, they are virtually impossible to screw up because at any given time we all secretly could use a hug.

I decided a very informal text poll of some contacts was in order.  It turns out, the responses were surprisingly specific and heartfelt.  Here are some direct answers, though some partial, to “Tell me an observation you’ve made about hugs.”

 “Bigger people equal bigger, warmer hugs.”  VS

“If they give a quick one, it is just out of obligation.  If they hold on and squeeze for a bit, that tells me they are sincere.  This is true whether from a man or woman.”  -Pat R

Sarah states: “I’d just like to take boobs out of the hugging equation.”  I don’t care how they are perceived.  I just don’t want to be pushing my boobs onto people.”                                                           (it should be noted here that Sarah has magnificent boobs)

“Hugs with backpacks are awkward because you can’t get your arms all the way around.”  -VS

Beth says, “It’s the only way left to physically show affection to my kids.  Can’t kiss them anymore, but hugs are great!”

“A good hug feels like letting the air out of an overinflated tire – a stress reliever.”  -Jim

“Usually I notice what kind of clothes they’re wearing because I am short, so my face is on their chest.  Also, I’ll notice what they smell like and how warm they are and if they hug you tightly.”  - JP

“The verdict is still out on whether or not they are better than drugs.” –KK

 What’s it all mean?   I can’t answer for everyone.  But as my New Year’s Resolution, I plan to hug to the verge of being against social convention.  In that moment of hesitation, I hope you decide to embrace with abandon.  Turns out it’s what we are all craving…and it’s FREE!


xoxo

Jean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rock What You've Got - Recalibrating Feminism


 

The online dictionary defines feminism as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of woman as equal to those of men.”  I feel monumentally lucky to live in a time and country where, in a legal sense, this is true.  Things we and our daughters take for granted today, were once unheard of.

But now that all of this is in place, what are we doing with it?  On an interpersonal level, are you supporting the truths that those before us suffered to establish?  Just because we have all of the choices available, are we keeping ourselves from making them freely?

We all do it - call ourselves evolved, and then harbor a confused resentment toward those who go against our personal tenets.  If we are to truly support a group, we must allow for ALL choices, with only ONE judgment – that they are socially responsible, non-abusive and allow for the completely natural variations in human beings.

In the animal kingdom, we see plenty of it.  Some species mate for life, while others mate with multitudes every day.  Often, the females are the early nurturers.  But sometimes, it is the male who sits on the egg, or keeps the babies warm while Mom hunts.

So, if we are to support feminism, the same logic applies.  These completely natural, inborn differences are not to be tolerated, nor celebrated.  Just observe and accept them from your own place of comfort for how you live.  A true supporter of women’s rights would not take issue with a little girl who is dying to dress up as a princess for Halloween, or who dreams of growing up to be a mother.   More importantly, look at how she prepares for it.  It’s like the old saying – “Whatever you are, be a good one”

Have the Courage of Your Convictions

On the other end of the spectrum, much of the feminist rhetoric revolves around the traditional business world.  My husband had a booth for his business at a trade show recently.  We spent four days rubbing elbows with brush manufacturers from around the globe.  Scintillating for him, and my younger daughter and I got some serious people watching done.  I observed at least three women speaking, almost apologetically, about leaving their children at home.  Guess how many men were talking about that?   I kept thinking, “you can only be where you are.  You’ve chosen to be here, so why not just BE here?”  The way I see it, the power for women in these realms is one of refusal to spend time on emotional waste.  If you can separate yourself where appropriate (dare I say, the way many men do) from the weight of conjecture of others’ thoughts, feelings and motivations, you will transcend those that see you as a “girl” rather than colleague.  

Let me add….

In doing so, you must not deny your femininity.  Breasts and hips are not a handicap.  They are a strong, integral part of your identity.  If you have doubts, try asking any woman who’s had a mastectomy.

What Are We Modeling?

The above mentioned daughter was the impetus for this blogspot.  She is extremely interested in the disparity of social convention and the unique talents that may be wasted by following them.  At the tender age of 17, she has inspired me to explore my own judgments of women and their choices.  If your drives lean toward the stereotypically female, then the rejection of them would also be misogynistic, no?  And yes, I believe women can be very misogynistic. 

I am not encouraging you to be a cheerleader (or linebacker) for women’s issues. Just take silent note of those who choose differently.  It is my contention that most of the distaste we have for the “other side” comes from our own lament of the path we did not take.   Voltaire said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

And every time I see one of those “Live, Love, Laugh” signs I want to amend it to something like this:

“Live Unapologetically, Love Fearlessly, Laugh Louder than anyone else in the room.” … Admittedly not as aesthetically pleasing.

As always, I welcome your comments posted to the site, or privately at swashblogger@gmail.com.

Xoxo

jean

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

For The Calendar Tells Me So


“Time marches on.  And sooner or later you realize, it’s marching right across your face”
– Dolly Parton

My father has been dead 15 years, as of yesterday.  He was a wonderful man, and for years I kept him “in the loop” of our lives emotionally and in thought.  I remember for a long while I focused on the bad things he’d avoided by dying.  For example, he missed the tragedy of 9/11, and the subsequent changes that caused in the world.  In death, he remained innocent to it.

On the ten year anniversary of his death, I got a tattoo (admittedly after 3 martinis), to honor him.  A large, colorful US Navy anchor on my left upper arm.  After about a two month identity crisis directly afterward, I have grown to love it as part of me. 

At the 15 year mark, the pertinent dates of his life still make my consciousness.  My parents’ wedding anniversary (January 15th), his birthday (in May), and, his death.  Admittedly, I have a strange “thing” for dates.  I still recall the birthdates of lots of past friends, and the exact date I lost my virginity.  This has always surprised me, as I am quite unsentimental about most things.  Maybe storing dates is my way of relegating memories to their proper place and amount of energy.

How we feel about loss is dependent on so many variables of the people and situations.  There is no right or wrong way or timing – only that, like all things, it changes over time.  I can tell you from my process, I learned the following:

-You can continue to have a relationship with someone long after they are gone.  Even now, I sometimes consider how my dad might have reacted to a person or event – taking his “advice” posthumously. 

It happens less and less as the years go by, but it’s there, and I am so grateful. 

Here is a poem I wrote on the subject at about the 10 year mark.

Jabberwocky

The charismatic sheriff left town.

He was the only one who believed I’d be the people’s poet.

Words are, after all, the perfect veil for the encomiast.


He was dead tired.

Then,

dead man walking.

I watched him fold up like a gate leg table,

speaking in tongues of undulating stares.

Still unable to get yoked up to the jesuswagon.

Dead silence.

Oh, how the preacher tried!

Just plain dead.


So now I brush and love his white horse.

The one he rode at forty.

And the silvered leather tack gets polished

every time I speak of him.

(you see, this poem is earning its keep)


In town, the street again filled with daily dust,

and the saloon door swings one direction.

Unladylike for a gal to drink alone.

But land sakes,

I’d give my spurs for one more sunset.

 

Thank you for listening.  I bid you peace, and welcome your comments or contact in confidence at swashblogger@gmail.com.

Xoxo

Jean

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gallbladders, Healthcare, and Hospitals - Surveying the Situation


Hello Again.

I have not posted in a long while.  I could blame poor health (more on that in a bit), a busy life, writer’s block, and on and on.  Instead, I will admit to an intellectual laziness brought on by wondering if anyone is really out there.

But, when I began writing a facebook post this morning (let’s be honest – the epitome of intellectual laziness) it became so impassioned, I had to write it here instead.

Ten days ago, I had a cholecystectomy or gallbladder removal surgery.  This came after literally 20 years of stomach issues off and on.  In the 6 weeks leading up to it when the troubles peaked, I had a rather dramatic weight loss and some even more dramatic evenings spent playing “Is It Worthy of the ER?” with concerned family members.

I will spare you the more boring details, because the point I want to make is not about this particular extremely common procedure.   It’s actually about the recent changes being made to healthcare delivery in this country, and how we have more control and responsibility than ever.

Forget that I probably spent decades with unnecessary discomfort.  I am taking responsibility for that because I didn’t push doctors hard enough, articulate my symptoms well enough, or take MYSELF seriously enough to see that I got answers.  So many avoidable things can occur because of our cultural need to “not be a pain in the ass”.

Doctors work for YOU - so treat each malady as though you are the supervisor.  But, as with all power, there is great responsibility, Grasshopper.

For starters, please read (or reread) my earlier post about your role in your communicating your health.  It rings more true to me than ever – even though I myself fell short!


Another VERY important point is about the new accountability factor for healthcare workers.  Medicine is one of the only industries I can think of where employees (everyone from the desk clerk to the surgeon), are not paid according to their performance as perceived by patients.  We have now been offered a chance to weigh in on our experiences as a patient, which will have a DIRECT effect on how much insurers pay those doctors and their staff.

I just took in the mail, and in it was a Same Day Surgery Survey from Hinsdale Hospital where I had my operation 10 days ago.  It would be easy enough to throw it away, but that would be akin to not voting, and then bitching about who became President (and we all know THOSE people.  Ahem)

Look.  Hospitals are a business.  Let’s help them be successful by doing our part in the process.  It matters and here are the major points to the individual as I see them.

-The future of insurance payments appears to also be dependent to some degree on how well you have taken care of yourself.  Obesity and smoking, for example, are going to affect how much of your portion is paid for.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

-Tell your doctor everything.  Provide information to the best of your ability, always. 

-In turn, expect a responsive, caring and tenacious effort to answer your concerns.

-Fill out ALL feedback surveys you receive.  This newly implemented step, over time, will greatly influence which doctors, nurses and other workers remain successfully in medicine.

Let me close by saying, as surgeries go, I had a pleasant as possible experience with an excellent outcome.  My team is getting two thumbs up.  But if it had gone another way, believe me they’d have heard about it.

As always, I am open to your comments and any experiences you might like to share.

Stay well.

Xoxoxox

jean