Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Turkish bath! Women are packing their bags and traveling

"Paris is always a good idea,"  --  Audrey Hepburn, British actress and humanitarian, 1929-1993.

Let me tell you about my Turkish bath.
This was a real Turkish bath (hamam) in Antalya, a city on the Mediterranean southeastern coast of Turkey where I found myself on a Rick Steves' "best of" 13-day tour of a country about which I knew next to nothing until going there.
The Turkish bath experience was among my favorites during a 30-day adventure that began and ended in Greece but included six days in Crete as well as a loop around Turkey that started in Istanbul and continued to Ankara, Cappadocia, Konya, Antalya and Kusadasi. My excellent traveling companion? My husband, Ken. But I could have made the trip on my own or with a friend. In fact, six of the 21 people in our Rick Steves' tour group were women traveling on their own. So back to the Turkish bath.
We were into the final five days of our tour when our well-informed guide gave us the bath opportunity in Antalya, a stop with free time options meant to be "a vacation from our vacation."
"It would be authentic," he said about the bath experience as he gave us enough detail to make sure we knew what we were getting into and that only the most adventurous would sign up. Bottom line: You need to be okay with being totally starkers in front of a lot of strangers (other women, of course) who don't necessarily speak English.
Four of us raised our hands.
In late afternoon, a taxi whisked us to our bath house, which didn't look like much from the outside; Just another two-story building in a city of chockablock two-story buildings on narrow meandering streets. A hostess signed us in and directed us to upstairs changing rooms where we exchanged all our clothes for a nice large, but thin, bath towel. From then on things became a bit blurry because there was so much to take in and because I wasn't wearing my glasses and because I had my eyes shut a good part of the time so as not to get caught staring or being stared at.
As we walked into the "real" bath area, we found all sorts of unclothed Turkish women in stages of steaming, washing, rinsing and massage.
That Roman connection
Right away, it occurred to me that this was likely the closest experience one could have to what the Romans enjoyed 2,000 years ago with their central baths. While only Roman men enjoyed the public baths of ancient times in modern Turkey both women and men have their separate public facilities. ( on Turkish baths, click here.)
Stage one meant being rinsed off with nice warm water while still wrapped in our towels. We then were guided into a large (and very hot) room where we were directed to spread our towels on a large circular marble slab (called a gobektasi) in the center of the space and lie face-down on the towels. Try imagining a synchronized swim team in a pinwheel formation, heads toward the center. You lie there enjoying the heat from the marble that soaks into your body but after a short while, you think you're being cooked.
Soon one of the attendants -- dressed in black panties and bra because of the heat -- asks you to return to your feet and directs you to marble benches on the room's perimeter where you sit, meditate and rinse using a small pan that you can fill from adjacent hot and cold faucets. The idea is to endure as much heat as possible while splashing cooler water on yourself to regulate your comfort level. Other women in the room were in various stages of washing and grooming.
Looking around, it turns out that we were a bit under-dressed. The Turkish women all were wearing thongs. Who knew? Our young male tour guide hadn't mentioned that particular detail. I'm thinking I could write a little (women-only) handout that would contain a few Turkish bath tips for the uninitiated. Ideally, I would have done some advance research on Turkish bath etiquette because there are certain procedures and courtesies. (For more, here's a first-person story written by Erlend Geerts for Witt Hotels magazine, click here.)
After about 20 minutes in the "very hot" room with the marble slab (gobektasi), we were led one by one to another room where we were laid out on tables for a thorough scrubbing -- front and back -- with sudsy water. Then there was the scrap-down with really rough scouring sponges (I think).
I say, "I think," because I had my eyes closed a lot of the time, so I don't know what these sturdily built bathhouse workers were using. It might have been sandpaper. At one point, my attendant tapped me on the arm to show me how much dead skin she was rubbing off of me. It looked like, well, dead skin...a lot of it. Who knew? Again the Roman thing. I was definitely getting cleaner and maybe a shade lighter.
Our guide who had arranged the bath opportunity had told us earlier in the tour that only men went to public baths in ancient Roman times where they exercised, bathed and talked politics. Roman women had their bath parties at home. No wonder the Romans built viaducts to supply water to their cities. It mostly went to the baths or to public fountains.
At our bathhouse, once we'd been scrubbed within an inch of our lives, we next enjoyed a few relaxing moments wrapped in towels while being served Turkish tea in glasses on saucers. This was while we waited for our massages with olive oil (or something akin). Oh, so Roman.
This was no la-te-da massage...these women meant business with every muscle they "attacked" crying for mercy. My back and shoulders were better for the pain.
Then it was over. We returned to our changing rooms, dressed and looked wide-eyed at each other as we paid our bill and left,  thanking and waving goodbye to our hosts. All this took about an hour and cost about US$50 to US$60 including tip. It seemed a bargain even for Turkey because this was not a tourist facility but catered to local women.
(By the way, I am hoping I have the sequence of the bath experience in order. My companions may have different recollections.  I claim being a bit overwhelmed by it all.) I do know that all of us thought the Turkish bath outing was not to be missed ---- an original experience for both its cultural and historical aspects. Truly unique.
Women traveling solo
Which gets me to my broader point. Two women in our group of 21 were traveling solo and paid extra to have rooms of their own. Four others were sharing rooms . All seemed to have a great time.
There's some debate about whether single women traveling with married couples is a good way to go. Those I spoke with about that issue on our tour found no problem with the interaction or compatibility.
The oldest among our independents was a woman (retired nurse) age 82 who was a joy to have along. Another was retired and married who said her husband's lack of interest in travel was not going to hold her down. There were many opportunities to get to know these women over dinner when we dined as a group or on nights when we could dine out for smaller encounters our own. On the tour bus we exchanged book recommendations and shared our personal stories. Most of us were retirement age or older, so that created some automatic sympatico. Meanwhile, more tour companies are catering to single female travelers. (For my blog post from 2011, "Women traveling solo? You're not alone," click here). According to 2013 data from Intrepid Travel, the global travel market now is 64 percent women. In the past 10 years, travel agents report an estimated increase of nearly 60 percent in female clients travelling by themselves.
Rick Steves devotes a page on his Web site to Tips on Traveling Solo. He is passionate about how travel allows us to meet people, hear their stories, find out what they think, how they live.
"You'll run across vaga-buddies every day," he writes. "If you stay in hostels, you'll have a built-in family (hostels are open to all ages). Or choose small pensions and B&Bs, where the owners have time to talk with you. If you're feeling shy, cameras are good icebreakers; offer to take someone's picture with his or her camera," he says.
He suggests playing with kids as a way to interact. He suggests connecting with other solo travelers through social media such as  Meetup, an app that links like-minded individuals. Or join a hospitality-exchange network such as Or of course, consider a Rick Steves tour or other similar tours that cater to the more adventurous by organizing smaller travel groups and off-the-beaten track itineraries. That way you get a built-in group and some structure around a travel plan where you can add days at the beginning or at the end.
Travel services that cater to women-only.
Try, operated by April Merenda, president and, which offers 30 women-only tour destinations..some in the U.S., some, which offers both women-only and co-ed tours of exotic places such as Cambodia, Burma or Bhutan, India. is a Web site offering travel resources for women -- tips, advice and ideas. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Exquisite Female Voice: My 100-year literary journey

Preparing to spend the next month exploring Greece and Turkey, I have put a variety of reading material on my Kindle including Mary Renault’s “The Bull from the Sea.”  As a young reader I was fascinated by the Ancient Mediterranean, the Minoans and the Greeks.  Renault’s fictionalized histories (there were eight of them) satisfied my craving. I’m going to again read her work for the fun of rediscovering that enchantment.
It crossed my mind that I’ve read many wonderful women writers over the past 50 years, starting with Renault and fantasy-science fiction writer, Andre Norton who I discovered on a dusty junior high book shelf. Norton’s “Beast Master,” sent me down an obsessive fantasy-sci-fi trail that lasted through high school.
Some historian (a woman no doubt) ultimately will summarize the 20th Century as an amazing moment when the female mind was unleashed to think and to write.
Let’s call it “When Women Found a Voice," or "The Exquisite Female Voice of the 20th Century," or "The Female Writer: American women take up the pen and build a literary legacy."
This fabulous female intellectual effort continues. Only in the past year did I finally read the enthralling true story, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot about a poor black woman’s unknowing contribution to modern medical research. Friends had been raving about “Henrietta” since it was first published in 2010. Skloot’s work over many years in sleuthing out the story impressed me for its doggedness and completeness as well as for the storytelling.
Soon after, I plunged into a marathon read of Donna Tartt's novel, "The Goldfinch," a modern masterpiece with twists and turns that had me crying for mercy. I’m convinced that Tartt will one day win the Nobel Prize for literature. She’s that good.
The two books are only the latest in my lifetime of reading female writers. Not that I had a plan for doing so. Reading female writers was more an accident. I didn’t think in terms of male or female but of good reads. I caught the reading bug early thanks to my fourth grade teacher who read aloud the Nancy Drew mystery stories by Mildred Benson.
By the seventh grade I was using a flashlight to read at night under the covers when my parents thought I was sleeping. I read in class instead of paying attention to teachers. It was so easy to lean the text book up on my desk to conceal my book of delicious fiction behind it. Reading became a way of keeping the world at bay while at the same time, learning about it. I could lose myself in the imaginary of fiction and take on the drama played out on the page.
Only later did I learn that Andre Norton was a woman, born in 1912 in Cleveland Ohio. That was something of a revelation for me as a girl growing up in a male-oriented world where being a tomboy was the closest that I could get to what I found interesting.
Maybe Norton’s stories resonated because they were tales of “alienated outsiders” on a personal journey of salvation.  Critics describe her characters as resourceful and capable…loners on a mission to overcome situations. That was just what I needed.
Oh I read plenty of books for written by men from Heinlein to Ian Fleming, from Hemingway to Author Conan Doyle.
I always had a book at hand as a defense against boredom, against depression or in case my mother got “lost” shopping.
Looking back I’d say that some of my greatest pleasure came from reading women writers. Those authors have fallen into several now obvious categories, the most important being history and fictionalized history.
Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August,” along with her other huge works, “Proud Tower: Portrait of a World before the War,” “March of Folly,” and “A Distant Mirror” rocked my world for their readability and thorough treatment.
I was curious this week to read James Warren’s glowing reminder of how great Tuchman was in his article, “Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The Guns of August’ Is Still WWI’s Peerless Chronicle.”
Antonia Fraser can claim a separate but equal place on my bookshelf for her “Mary, Queen of Scots” and  “The Weaker Vessel,” which delves into the lives of 17th Century English women deemed unworthy of educating or teaching to read. Fraser followed up with “The Warrior Queens,” and “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” I loved them all.
She wrote a series of detective novels with Jemima Shore as her main character.
I’ve just complete Joan Connelly’s “The Parthenon Enigma: A new understanding of the West’s most iconic building and the people who made it.” So well researched with annotations filling pages and pages at the back of the book.
“Wolf Hall,” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” by Hilary Mantel tell the fictionalized story of the rise and times of Thomas Cromwell, the man behind Henry VIII. She’s won the Booker Prize twice for this work. Her third installment is out next year.
I’ve read biographies of women written by women:
How about Stacy Schiff's, "Cleopatra: A Life."
“Marie Curie,” by Susan Quinn tells the story of a brilliant scientist who was discounted by male colleagues but won worldwide recognition for her work with x-rays. Never mind the personal tragedy of her husband’s untimely death or the public embarrassment for an affair. Nancy Matthews wrote a great biography of the American painter and printmaker, “Mary Cassatt,” who lived and worked in Paris in much the same time frame as Curie. Both are stories of women overcoming the obstacles of gender.
The biographies of interesting women writers come to mind: Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker. Among my favorite fiction writers and essayists:
Anne Tyler, who has written 19 novels focused on the American family…marriage, relationships, children and their attachments and conflicts. My favorite, “Breathing Lessons.” Tony Morrison’s, “Song of Solomon,” is among the many works that won her the Nobel Prize in 1993. Brilliant.
Annie Dillard’s “An American Childhood,” resonated with me as did “The Writing Life,” and “For the Time Being.”
In case you think that I’m sharing these authors and their work because I want to brag about what a great reader I’ve been, think again. I read for a living, I read for pleasure. I’m sure there are many people who read more constantly and with greater speed than I do. But I’ve loved reading books over my lifetime. This is just a moment of sharing. Books are like children to me….I loved reading them love seeing them on my book shelves to remind me how much I loved reading them. Who knows when I or someone else will have to take my beloved books off the shelves, box them up and hand them over to Powell’s Book Store for recycling.
There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when I found comfort in witty American women’s fiction: “Fear of Flying,” by Erica Jong, “Cracker Factory” by Joyce Rebeta-Burditt. and “Heartburn,” by Nora Ephron. (Never betray a woman who can write).
There was “A Map of the World,” by Jane Hamilton, “Charing Cross Road,” by Helene Hanff and “Final Payments, by Mary Gordon. What about Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club?”
I read Jean Plaidy’s historical novels about English royal families.
There was Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I wish she hadn’t made quite so much money from dumping her poor boring husband but I did like her journey of self actualization.
I loved “The Shipping News,” by Annie Proulx.  Catherine Marshall’s “Beyond Our Selves: A woman’s pilgrimage in faith,” resonated. So did Gail Sheehy’s “Passages,” written in 1976 when working women began to ask a lot of questions about life, marriage and longevity. And thank you, Oprah, for creating your Book List that has brought attention to so many good writers who happen to be women.
Miscellaneous good reads:
Didn’t we love, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves,” by Lynne Truss? How about Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies?” I personally benefitted from “The Journey from Abandonment to Healing, by Susan Anderson (no relation).  I far as I can tell she is the only person to expertly and clinically look into what abandonment can do to us as a terrible “gift” that keeps on giving.
Someone has got to notice what women writers have accomplished in the past 100 years starting with Rebecca West with her “Return of the Soldier,” “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)” and “The Fountain Overflows” and Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth.” (1931). There was Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead” (1943) and “Atlas Shrugged.” (1957).
Isak Dinesen wrote “Out of Africa,” in 1937.
There’s a list of 100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by women at Who am I to argue with this list.
I haven’t read every woman writer. I haven’t read Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf or Dumaurier or Marilyn French or Katherine Ann Porter or Susan Sontag.
I’m not particularly interested in “feminist” writers as much as I’m interested in real lives, real stories told through a woman’s eyes and life experiences and through women’s interests. This is a remarkable age. May it continue.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Help!! I've fallen out of the Middle Class and can't get up.

"It isn't what you earn but how you spend it that fixes your class," - Sinclair Lewis, American novelist. (1885-1951).

Belonging to the American middle class was never doubted when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. My parents both knew where they had come from -- hard-scrabble farm life and running a boarding house -- and certainly knew where they were going --- straight into the post-World War II middle class.
By the time I came into the picture, they were leading a relatively secure, if not comfortable middle class life with a new car purchased with cash every three years and an ambitious remodel of their farm house that gave them the amenities of  suburban living -- living room with an open brick fireplace, big picture windows, redwood paneling and a wall-mounted GE refrigerator in the tidy kitchen.
By the 1960s, there was enough money to send both me and my sister to college over an eight-year period without taking out student loans. My parents traveled, enjoyed their friends who were mostly in the same socio-economic class. My mother did not work outside the home but was always on the look-out for bargains at local clothing stores and in the grocery aisles. There was that frenzy of collecting Green Stamps and turning them in for "rewards" out of a catalog.
Mother made our prom dresses more for fun than to save money. She canned peaches, made grape juice and froze green beans. She had a garden. She bought corporate stocks a few shares at a time. Exxon and IBM were her favorites.
Growing up, it never occurred to me that we were anything but middle class although I did go through my own little rebellion after reading "Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis. His was a brutal attack on the "petty backstabbers and hypocrites of small town America" in the early 20th Century. I bought into some of that but never really walked away from my roots.
Yes, my parents were careful with money, avoided debt and spent within their means. There was tension in their relationship but what they had built together meant more than any other issues.
Up until lately, I too felt solidly anchored in the middle class. No longer.
In fact I'm pretty sure I've slipped totally out of the middle class. My kids certainly have. Here's how I know:
- I no longer even think about buying a new car every three years or even every six years. Come to think of it, I never buy a new car at least not since 1971.
- Tickets to Broadway road shows that come through my city are out of my reach. $100, $200, no way!
- Taking my grandson to a Mariners baseball game in Seattle is nearly out of my reach. Going to an NFL professional football game...forget it.
- After more than 25 years, the Nordstrom store that anchored my hometown mall is closing. That tells me that I'm not alone in no longer fitting the Nordstrom customer profile in a smaller market. Nordstrom has moved into the luxury retail category and left me behind.
Hey, I've been a card-carrying Nordstrom's customer since 1973 when I lived in Seattle. But my shopping there has declined as store prices even with deep discounts have became unreasonable.
My kids have never owned homes. I bought my first home at age 25. My mortgage payment on the house I own now is half what they aree paying in apartment rent.
They aren't saving money or investing. They can't. Their income and household expenses don't allow it.
It seems like our kids have either made the leap into upper class six-figure incomes or they've slid into just getting by.
I ask myself who IS buying the new cars? Who IS shopping at Nordstrom?
Who can afford those Broadway show tickets that seem to sell out? Hey, I know the super rich have gotten richer. I know that wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Certainly not mine.
With more baby boomers retiring by the day, I can't help but think more of them are reconsidering their status and putting extraordinary spending on hold. That's got to be having an impact on the U.S. economy. I am no longer a consumer and we know that consumers drive the economy, right?
I'm not buying a new car.
I'm not buying a house.
I don't subscribe to cable television.
I'm spending less on clothes, gasoline and even food since I stopped working full-time.
Heck, I'm spending less on shampoo and cosmetics. Working from home does have advantages. No, I have not given up my hair stylist or a good bottle of wine, although that bottle is less expensive than what I was drinking eight years ago.
Of course I'm not the first to notice this erosion of middle class buying power or economic security. Many have measured and commented on the trend.
("Middle-class squeeze: Costs rise 32 percent while wages stagnate" - Seattle Times, click here.)
Joel Kotkin, writing at the DailyBeast,.com sees the economic "yeoman" that Thomas Jefferson recognized as the backbone of his democracy in decline.
"While middle class incomes have fallen relative to the upper income groups, house prices and health insurance, utilities and college tuition costs have soared," he notes. "By margins of more than two to one, more Americans believe they enjoy fewer economic opportunities than their parents, and will experience far less job security and disposable income. This pessimism is particularly intense among white working class voters, and large sections of the middle class."
I am not completely without hope that younger Americans will find their footing and re-invent the middle class.
The other day while shopping at a second-hand sporting goods store in downtown Portland, the young man helping me told me that he and his wife had recently bought a house. It was located in a lower-income suburb and sold for several hundred thousand dollars less than what they would have paid if it had been closer to the trendy Portland urban core. He was proud of the investment and confident of the future.
Maybe the new urbanites are not a permanent generation of renters. Maybe the middle class will, after all, experience a revival. My guess is that the new middle class will look a lot different than I do.
The new middle class will buy soccer tickets instead of NFL game tickets.
The new middle class go to less expensive clubs rather than spend money on mega-concerts at arenas.
The new middle class may ride a bicycle rather than own a car.
The new middle class may be able to build wealth through homeownership but that home is going to look different than mine --- smaller, more energy-efficient.
Those Broadway tickets? We will leave those to the rich people.
Popcorn, anyone?. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Six Steps to a 'phased-in' retirement. Start negotiating now.

"Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren't going to get rid of me that way." - Betty White American actress, comedian, singer and author (1922 -   ).

Retirement fact: Six out of 10 older Americans want a phased-in retirement while only 13 percent of employers have a program to allow that to happen.
If I could have had it all my way, I would have gradually moved from full-time employment into that something else place that we call retirement.
Instead, my work mates hosted an office farewell party with cake and lots of well wishes as I went cold-turkey out the door with an “early buyout” in hand. It was a deal that many in my newsroom over the age of 60 had already accepted.
In hindsight, I should have negotiated a gradual glide path to the end of the job I’d held for more than 25 years. But my employer had no plan for that so I took the buyout and left.
It was scary. Giving up a regular paycheck with a 401(k) match took my breath away but I'm  risk taker and it seemed like the right move. Four years later, it still does. The fact is that I didn’t retire. I work from home as a professional journalist with a bunch of clients. I balance time at my desk with family, travel and work on my 20-acre property. Yes, my income is half what it was before I left the job but I'm doing nicely, thank you. Get the idea?
However, it would have been financially better for me if I could have waited at least until my "full retirement age" at 66 (as determined by Social Security) before I started tapping monthly retirement benefits to bolster my income. It would have been better if I’d not had to draw money out of my long-term savings account to help my Rollover IRA get where it needed to be. But that's what I did and I'm OK with it.
(Ironically for many, the five years from age 60 to age 65 when Medicare kicks in or 66 when Social Security says you're at full retirement age can be tricky. I often wished that I were older.)
Now, plenty of older American women are hoping to phase into retirement just as I wished that I had. Something like six out of 10 want that gradual adjustment with fewer work hours, continued health insurance coverage and more time to build up the nest egg before starting Social Security or tapping into savings.
The bad news, according to a Society of Human Resource Management report, is that few employers (only 13 percent) offer workers such a phased-in retirement opportunity.
There’s hope that things are changing as the economy continues to recover and employers gain more flexibility in how they let go of valued (higher-paid) long-time employees. A recent change in federal employment regulations may help.
New rules (starting in November 2014) allow workers to move to a 20- hour work week, receive half their pay but also start receiving half their retirement annuity. In other words, their take-home income doesn't change even though their work hours are cut in half.
It may be a bit more complicated in private industry but it seems to me that there are incentives for employers to set up such programs. This year, the last of the baby boomers are turning 50. A work place brain drain could gain momentum.
With a phased retirement program, employers can gradually allow long-time employees to hand off their knowledge and expertise to younger workers and at the same time reduce their payroll costs.
At, writers analyze five factors that can affect your phased retirement planning: Pensions distributions, health insurance coverage restrictions, scheduling flexibility, profit-sharing incentives and Social Security issues.
A survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 65 percent of baby boomers plan to work past age 65 (or do not plan to retire) and just 21 percent expect to immediately stop working when they retire.
Negotiating your retirement
If you are an older worker looking ahead to retirement, it likely will be up to you negotiate a plan. Here’ are tips from the retirement studies center:
No. 1 Plan to do your homework. What will a part-time employment plan look like for you? Can you avoid taking Social Security benefits? Are your household expenses in line with a reduction in household income? Can you let your 401(k) nest egg grow a few more years? A one-time visit to a fee-for-service financial planner might help.
No. 2 Network. What’s going on in your industry? What are your employment opportunities beyond your current job? Are you meeting new people who might have a need for your skills?
No. 3 Keep your skills up. This may mean taking a class on social media or staying up to speed in your area of professional expertise or acquiring new skills. Do you know how to use Twitter, Instagram?
No. 4 Preserve your health. As we age, it is important to manage our health by staying fit, seeing your physician and staying on top of any chronic problems.
No. 5 Have a back up plan. Set up an emergency fund in case you are forced into retirement sooner than expected for reasons of ill health, job loss, family obligations. Do not assume your employer will go along with your phased-in plan or that health problems might interfere. Plan for the unplanned.
No. 6 Talk confidentially to your HR department. A phased retirement plan may mean negotiating with your employer. While baby boomers have intentions of transitioning from full- to part-time work, their employer may not have a program to accommodate such a change. Be the first to talk about it. Make sure your job-performance ratings are top notch and that you are in a good position to negotiate a workable plan.
“Baby boomers who are envisioning a transition into retirement that involves working should do a reality check whether their current employer will support them,” says Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “The best intentions to continue working and fully retire at an older age can be easily derailed with a lack of planning.” Collinson said. Job No. 1 is to be proactive.
As for my own semi-retirement, I now work at my own pace, sometimes in my bathrobe. I have fewer work-related expenses --- gasoline, clothes, lunches out, networking. I have more time for family and for travel. I go to a lot fewer meetings. I write about stuff that is interesting to me. Life is good.
For more online resources:, click here., click here., click here, click here., click here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lauren Bacall's 'By Myself," still resonates

"I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that." - Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)
Lauren Bacall wrote her original autobiography, "By Myself," in 1978. I read it soon after at a time in my own life when I was in transition and was much more interested in Hollywood than I am now.
Her recent death at age 89 prompted me to search out the book, which I've hauled around with me since. I remembered liking "By Myself" 30 years ago. In rereading it, I still do because it's a real story, honest, if not brutally honest about her life from the time she met and married Humphrey Bogart in 1945, her life with him, her children and the ultimate crushing loss when he died of cancer in 1957. Her story just gets started. Widowed in her early 30s, Bacall must find her way as a single mother of two young children and keep some kind of a career going (code for earn a living). She turned to her friends for support, some married, some not. Some reached out and included her, others couldn't handle her singlehood. Frank Sinatra had been a close friend of Bogie and became her close friend. But the relationship was on and then off.
Bacall describes what grief did to her early on. The desperate pain of loss, the slow realization that life alone was all about conversations with yourself, by yourself.
She writes, "People always ask what you'd change if you had your life to live over again. I wouldn't change a lot of the unhappy times because then I would miss something wonderful. But I would change like a flash--me during it -- how I behaved with Stephan and Leslie (her kids), either short-tempered or over-affectionate --avoiding everything I could that had to do with Bogie, with my past life -- my insane desire to get out of my house. As if that could erase anything."
This was the 1960s before modern support groups, online counseling and social media. Before
It was Bacall talking to her mother late at night, talking with her friends over dinner. Trying to find her way. It was tough. But this is no tear-jerker.
Bacall writes in a self-critical way that draws you in as a fellow traveler. She looks back on her grief, her transition out of Hollywood back to New York, her recovery. She brings you along on a journey that's interesting for her candor about mistakes, about friends who dropped her and about men.
She marries again in 1961. This time to Jason Robards, among the most talented American stage actors of his time. Robards also was an alcoholic, which eventually destroyed the relationship and resulted in divorce in 1969. From that marriage, Bacall bore another child. She accepted the end of her marriage to Robards as inevitable because of his drinking.
Bacall describes herself as a "risk taker" and went to Broadway first in "Cactus Flower" in 1965, "Applause" in 1970 and "Woman of the Year" in 1981. She won Tonys for Applause and Woman of the Year. In 1976, she co-starred with John Wayne in his last movie, The Shootist."
About personal lessons learned?
"The lesson of Bogie I had finally put into practice: In the face of inevitable, terrible happenings, how much better to hold on to one's character and hurt others as little as possible. The straight road," she said.
On who she was: "I've finally discovered," she said, "that you really don't learn from past mistakes. You do logically, reasonably, but emotionally, not for a second. I didn't mean to waste one more minute. Patience was still not my strong suit."
On losing someone you love: "The knowledge of death being part of life's cycle helps not at all. There is no way to prepare for the darkness of that pit of despair, that gaping hole that remains empty and gnaws constantly like an open nerve."
On working: "Work is essential to me -- really using myself, really functioning, body and mind at their best -- but it only heightens my emotional needs, it doesn't lessen them."
Bacall went on to write again. "Now," in 1994 and "By Myself and Then Some," in 2005. I've not read either but will have to track them down.
On widowhood: "I had to get out from under being "Bogart's widow." That was not a profession, after all -- and there would be no hope of a new beginning unless I fought for one."
On being a single woman: "A woman along can't win with wives. It's a problem I've had all my single life, and there's no way to fight it."
In the flurry of news about Lauren Bacall's death, there was little coverage beyond her Hollywood celebrity days, her marriage to Humphrey Bogart. The comments were about her beauty, her chiseled looks and smoky eyes. Nothing was said about her books, about her Broadway work. One minute summaries don't allow for much. I remembered liking Bacall's "By Myself," for her storytelling, her candor and the rough patches and how she managed them. Still do.
She finished her book this way: "I don't like everything I know about myself, and I'll never be satisfied, but nobody's perfect. I'm not sure where the next years will take me---what they will hold-- but I'm open to suggestions."
Thank you, Lauren Bacall for putting a voice to what many women experience in the circle of life.
For comment on her life by Betsy Sharkey in the LA Times, "Appreciation: Lauren Bacall's Voice resonated with Women," click here.

Other personal writing by talented women:
"Knock Wood," by Candice Bergen about growing up with her vantriloquist father Edgar Bergen.
"The Year of Magical Thinking," by Joan Didion after the death of her husband.
"Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.," by Anne Lamott.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Social Security: What you need to know, now

"I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair."
         - Erma Bombeck, American humorist (1927-1996)

5 Social Security Tips
1. Set up a secure personal account at
2. Know your numbers. You may want to “wait to take” benefits.
3. Look into spousal and survivor benefits if you are divorced or widowed.
4. Social Security eligibility applies to same-sex couples, if they live in states that recognize the union.
5. Before making a decision about Social Security, consider your health, income and tax issues to maximize lifetime benefits for you and your spouse.

Retirement planning is only one of several reasons why women should create an online account at and find out more about what benefits could come their way from the federal Social Security Administration.
My friend Alan Edwards, Social Security public affairs specialist in Portland, Ore. emphasizes that "Social Security is so much more than just a retirement plan. As you pay your FICA taxes on earnings during you working life you are preparing for retirement. But you also are buying life insurance and disability insurance,” he says.
There may be variables related to your age, your marital status, other personal circumstances and your physical health that could affect how and when you may receive benefits. For example:
   - If you are widowed and disabled, you may be eligible for survivor benefits on your deceased husband’s work record as early as age 50.
   - If you are divorced but were married to someone for 10 years or more, you may be eligible for a benefit on your ex-spouse’s work record. That’s if you are 62 or older and have not remarried. If they have died, you may be eligible for survivor benefits.
   - As a married couple, you may be able to maximize your Social Security benefits by having one of you claim on the other’s work record while your spouse files but suspends benefits until age 70.
Avoiding Social Security surprises
“The No. 1 and most important thing for people to know about Social Security is their ‘numbers,’” Edwards said. “It’s essential that people know what benefits they are eligible for and how they are calculated. Women are often surprised that their work record may not qualify them for benefits or that their benefits are lower than expected.
The minimum work requirement for Social Security is 10 years but it’s your lifetime of work -- the highest 35 years of earnings -- that Social Security looks at to determine your benefit
To figure all this out, Social Security offers an online calculator that tells you what your monthly benefit will be depending on when you start taking a payout. Again, this is worth checking out because the longer you wait, the more your benefit will increase up to age 70.
For example: If you monthly full retirement benefit at age at 66 is $1,021, it is reduced by 25 percent to $766 month, if you start benefits at age 62. Benefits jump to $1,669 if you wait to age 70 (or an 8 percent a year increase for each year you wait beyond your full retirement age). It’s important to know your numbers, Edwards said.
Benefits based on marriage
Calculating benefits based on marriage is among the more complex areas of Social Security planning. Depending on whether your ex-spouse is alive and has filed for benefits or is deceased and whether you are single or remarried are factors in what benefits you might claim on an ex-spouse’s work record.
“Depending on your own work record and earnings as well as your age, you may be eligible for up to half of the benefit of an ex-spouse,” Edwards said. “If your ex-spouse is deceased, there’s a survivor’s benefit.”
Edwards agrees that figuring out benefits related to a divorced ex-spouse is confusing but it’s worth sorting out. If you are disabled or if the ex-spouse dies, for instance, you may qualify for certain benefits on his or her work record.
“We encourage people to check back in with us if something in their life changes,” he said. “It’s important to screen for all types of benefits. We look at the situation and then evaluate what’s out there.”
Online tools
The biggest change about Social Security in the past few years is that everything has moved to the Internet. The agency no longer mails out annual benefits estimates but instead asks Americans to create their own secure online account where they can get up-to-date information on their estimated retirement benefits and work record.
Even though retirement may be a long way off, it’s a good idea to check the account to make sure no one is committing fraud by using your Social Security number to collect benefits or to work using your number, Edwards said.
“You can easily see estimates for each benefit category and at the same time you get a lot of good information about programs in a simplified format without hunting all over the place,” he said. “If you’re already receiving benefits but still working part-time, it’s important to make sure those earnings are posted correctly. If it looks like someone is using your Social Security number, contact us immediately.”
Low-income people can use their Social Security account to verify benefits for purposes of applying for subsidized housing, for energy assistance or veteran’s services. Through the online account, you can print out your personal verification of benefits letter to help qualify for these services.
Same sex couples benefits
With the federal U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year on same-sex marriages, there is no federal ban on Social Security paying benefits to same-sex couples, Edwards said.
“We may not be able to process applications in some states because of state law but there’s no ban on benefits,” Edwards said. “It depends on where they were married and where they now reside. We defer to the state on marriage and divorce action so same-sex marriage legality is still state by state.”
Meanwhile, those turning 65 must sign up for Medicare through the Social Security Web site at Even if your full-retirement age for receiving benefits is 66 or 67, Medicare eligibility sign-up is required at 65.
“Your really don’t want to get caught without it since there are penalties,” Edwards said.
Meanwhile, knowing how much your Social Security benefit will be is an important part of the retirement planning puzzle.
And don’t rely on friends or even financial planners and investment advisers to have all the Social Security ins and outs, Edwards said. Each situation is different and what might work for your cousin may not be the correct formula or the right strategy for you. Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire but it certainly is a key factor in your planning.
With Baby Boomers celebrating their 65th birthdays and attending their 50th high school class reunions, it’s no surprise that the Social Security Administration is processing 10,000 retirement applications a day.
For more:
Helpful Web for benefits, planning information.  Social Security calculator. for retirement planning for women. click on SSAnalyze. Strategies to boost your Social Security. Social Security tips for couples.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Antiques and collectible trends: No one wants my brown furniture

“I call it guerilla TV.”   - Marsha Bemko Producer of Antiques Roadshow
"My mom decorated with lots of antiques. I never liked it when I was a little girl - I wanted to live in a modern house. But now I love it." - Paris Hilton

Lately PBS’s Antiques Roadshow has been doing what it calls “vintage” episodes where appraisals made on the show 10 or 15 years ago are revalued in the current post-Recessionary resale market. Often times the values have declined.
No surprise.
It turns out that our children and certainly our grandchildren are absolutely not interested in grandmother’s mahogany bureau with the cute pull-down writing table, interior slots for envelopes and stationery and storage drawers. For them, a piece of dark brown desk furniture makes no sense in a world of IKEA, laptops and Facebook.
Never mind that Paris Hilton has had a change of heart.
Unfortunately, that mahogany bureau has sentimental value for me. I picture my grandmother sitting next to it in her small living room while doing her latest embroidery project. My house is full of that kind of stuff – furniture, table clothes, cut crystal and a few of my grandmother’s quilts and needle work. There's a lot of emotional baggage tied up in this stuff. I wonder a lot about what I’m going to do with it all. In conversations with friends, we ask each other the same question. Then we laugh and shrug. What ARE we going to do with our stuff when we downsize?
Following the trends
In July, Portland, Ore. hosts one of the biggest, if not the biggest antique and collectible show in the U.S. The event at the city’s EXPO Center attracts 1,400 vendors and 16,000 visitors over two days. Everything is on display from antique woodworking tools to wind-up clocks, vintage jewelry to movie posters and neon lights. Christine Palmer of Portland-based Palmer & Associates has been part of show for the past 30 years and now owns the show promotion and production business. Here’s what she told me.
Collectibles and antiques evoke a childhood memory of something we experienced or something we wish we had owned. For me those memory-triggers include Western art, cowboy lamps, pictures of horses and for some reason that I don’t understand, tin toy motorcycles and cobalt blue glassware. I’ve collected them for years.
But like everything else, the antique-collectible business is changing as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement. The last of us turn 50 this year. With all the downsizing yet to come that prized family heirloom may have turned into (I hate to say it) junk. Sorry, baby boomers.
What's not in demand
According to Palmer and others, glassware -- those crystal goblets your mother or grandmother so lovingly placed on their Thanksgiving dinner tables – is less collectible and less valuable. No one is buying formal glassware because no one is hosting a formal Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. No one even wants the formal dining room table.
Upholstered sofas, china hutches, formal dining sets, wood-finished dressers, even pianos have become almost impossible to sell or even give away.
Talk to people like Palmer or read the Wall Street Journal Lifestyle section, which regularly runs articles with headlines like this: “Why the Market for Heirloom and Secondhand Furniture Has Disappeared.”
No one wants "Brown Furniture" reports Alina Dizik in the Wall Street story. Antique oak tables and bedroom sets, Victorian-style mahogany – if it’s brown, forget it.
Who are they buyers?
Palmer said the antique business is alive, but the buyer profile is changing and what they want to buy is evolving. Buyers are 40-year-olds (and younger) who are furnishing their first or second home. They are looking for what the industry calls “mid- 20th Century Casual.” By that we are talking about 1950s dishes in bright colors, '50s and 60s table clothes and other textiles. Younger buyers like decorative outdoor garden items -- the smallish wrought iron table with glass top and two matching chairs. Again, it’s casual not formal or fussy.
In Portland, (near where I live), vintage clothing is popular. By vintage, we’re talking 1930s to the 1970s. That category includes hats, shoes, dresses, jackets and eyewear.
Vintage toys.... G.I. Joe and Star Wars action figures, lunch boxes from the 1980s -- are selling. A generation or two earlier, it was Gene Autry and the Lone Ranger.
In my early years of marriage, I gladly accepted most hand-me-downs from my parents and grandparents…furniture, dishware, sterling silver. It was a way to get started. There was no IKEA or Target or imports from China.
Families ate around a real dinner table separate from the kitchen. Now it’s one big happy free-for-all bar-style meal. Boy, do I sound old-fashioned.
The Age of Consumption is over
The reality is that the collectible business is changing all the time. The big demographic shift under way now has baby boomers downsizing after 50 years of post-World War II consumption. The bad news is that the resale market is glutted with household goods.
Items in the general antique category have lost 50 percent or more of their value since the late 1990s, say some reports. Young families that once bought second-hand furniture or took hand-me-downs, now want new but cheap and sleek imports.
Palmer is confident that Portland’s EXPO Center will continue to host a big show. The antique business, she said, is not dead but in flux. The Internet has certainly been a part of the change; it’s so easy to sell items like dolls, or paper or other small items online. Did you know that some people collect vintage swim suits and make them into wall displays? Vintage office supplies (ala Mad Men) is a fresh collectible this year, according to CountryLiving magazine.

Knowing what to expect
Selling antiques and collectibles can be a fun part-time business in retirement but you’ve got to be prepared to sell online, to sell at shows and to maintain a niche sales display in an “antique mall.” The three-way combination can pay off in revenue with little expense. Meanwhile, the old line antique store is gone.
If you are a baby boomer getting ready to downsize:
- Find out what your kids really want. Don’t be hurt, if they’re not interested in the “priceless” Spode china.
- Network with those in the business. What’s selling, what’s not?  Ask about trends.
- Look at eBayCraigslist and other online sales Web sites to get real about values and prices.
- Go to a few garage sales, estate sales and antique shows. Look at the prices.
- If you decide to have an estate sale, do your homework. I wrote about how to hire an estate sale business in a previous post, click here. Be sure to interview several estate sale business owners before narrowing it down.
- Get real about values of your priceless items. It won’t hurt so badly later when you try to sell it or give them away. Your stuff, especially your brown furniture, may be worth a lot less than you think. Sorry.
For more:
Consumer Reports, click here.
Estate sales, click here.
How to hold a garage sale, click here.
What antiques to collect, click here.