Day 23 – Is this cabin fever I’m feeling?


I love it when experts come out with something that completely agrees with how I’m feeling – so I read this note in the Gazette (on line of course) and went – Right – I have Cabin Fever too!

As per the Gazette – “cabin fever” is not an actual psychological term. But all that irritability, sleepiness, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus we’re feeling is certainly valid, according to some experts.

“There’s a cluster of symptoms that we see when people are forced to being cooped up for extraordinarily long periods of time,” said registered psychologist Janine Hubbard.

We are creatures of habit, so it’s no surprise that some people are feeling restless, which can manifest in dangerous ways, including risky public behaviour, she added. People who are experiencing a lack of control and stimulation “need to activate some of those endorphins,” she explained, as a way to shake off the lack of energy or motivation.

The feelings of cabin fever are compounded by one key question about around self-isolation: when will it end?

In Canada in general, and Quebec in particularly – things aren’t looking rosy. The newest estimates are at least another month – perhaps 2. I have a friend who has decided that she isn’t going to listen to the negative news stuff – but I’m more of the – if it’s going to be that long – let’s get organized – mentality.

So – here are tips to help cope: (as cut and pasted from an article by Alexander Mae Jones, a writer for CTV News):

WHAT DO I DO IF I HAVE CABIN FEVER?

The good news is that there are a number of things that a person can do to fight the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Establish a routine

You don’t have to get up at 6:00 a.m. every day, but keeping yourself on a loose routine of some type — getting out of bed at a similar time, having regular mealtimes, attempting to keep to a shower schedule — will help to keep your spirits up as the weeks go on.

“Having regular ‘work time,’ whether that’s you working, whether that’s your kids doing some schoolwork, whether that’s you tackling a project, (or) building some exercise time (is important),” Hubbard said.

Change your clothes

When you get out of bed, put on something that you didn’t sleep in.

“Get dressed,” Hubbard suggested. “Even if it’s just into (more) comfy clothing.”

Putting on a full suit for a work from home shift might be energizing for some, but don’t worry, it’s not completely necessary — the important thing is just the act of getting dressed at all. Wearing pants in a pandemic is an achievement.

Try to see the sun

If at all possible, getting some time outside can have a huge impact on your mental health.

“It’s amazing how much that exposure to sunlight is going to help with some of your endorphins and your serotonin levels, which are all going to make you feel a whole lot better,” Hubbard said.

If going for a walk makes you feel more anxious because of worries about maintaining physical distancing, just standing on a balcony, in your backyard, or on your front steps for a few minutes could improve your mood.

Be social…

Checking in with others through technology or phone calls is important. We all need social support, and just hearing a human voice can remind us that the world outside of our home still exists.

“If you’re used to having a coffee with a coworker each morning … set up some virtual Zoom meetings or FaceTime where you’re going to have your little cup of coffee together and just be connected,” Hubbard said.

…but take breaks from social media and the news

Staying informed on developments within your country and across the world is important, but refreshing Twitter all day and overloading on horrifying headlines can leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Hubbard recommended limiting your news intake to “once or twice a day (from) a reputable news source where you know you’re getting accurate, up-to-date information.”

And when you talk to family and friends over FaceTime or the phone, “try to keep your conversations about things other than COVID. Talk to them about the silly things you’ve been reading or watching on TV.”

This doesn’t mean you should not talk to loved ones about your stresses and how you’re holding up during this crisis.

But if conversations turn into two people repeating every upsetting news article they’ve read in the past two weeks, it could just leave participants feeling worse afterwards, instead of feeling connected.

Try to engage in “active distraction,” not just Netflix

Having downtime where you don’t have to think is important, and watching TV or movies can be great for that.

“But try to include some active distraction,” Hubbard said. “So something that distracts you and relaxes you, but also engages your brain.” 

This could be pulling out a board game if you are quarantining with multiple people, or “doing a puzzle or pulling out an old craft project.

“Something where you’re feeling both relaxed and productive,” Hubbard explained. This can help to take away some of the helplessness people can experience in this time.

Don’t compare your quarantine to others

“It’s really important to remember that this experience looks different for everyone,” Hubbard said. “So yes, while you may have some people who are able to use this as a time for … around the house projects or doing some cleaning … or developing a new skill, there are some people who are just trying to get out of bed every morning and get their kids fed and clothed and trying not to crumble.”

For some, their largest immediate worry right now is boredom and how to fill the days in order to stave off anxiety. But others may have family members or loved ones battling COVID-19, or may be still working on the frontlines, or may have lost their jobs and be preoccupied with financial concerns.

These people “don’t have time for self-development projects,” Hubbard said.

Others may be battling mental health issues strong enough that seeing people post on Instagram about how many new languages they’re learning may not be inspiring, but instead feel like social pressure to be doing better than a person is currently capable of.

If all you can do one day is get out of bed, put on sweatpants and reheat Kraft dinner, that’s still an accomplishment, Hubbard said.

“If that’s what you manage to accomplish, that’s fantastic. Tomorrow might look a little bit different. We’re all going to have our strong days and we’re all going to have our days where we’re not feeling so on top of it.”

Shower!

This one is from me personally. My friends and family are reporting that there is a lack of – well – showers happening. So make being clean part of your ‘cooped’ up routine.

Having already changed my clothes, bathed, and created a daily routine – I’m signing off to go for a walk!

The Soup Lady

Day 5 – Reach out and Talk to a Senior


Do you know a Senior who is trapped at home alone? Reach out to them right now!

As a senior I can tell you that the hardest thing about being stuck at home is the loneliness. Seniors organized their lives to keep busy. Volunteering, playing bridge, going shopping, visiting the bank – even just walking the mall – our lives are kept organized by our schedules.

And the effect of being ‘home bound’ is to lose our schedule. My BFF – the Intrepid Traveler – is an wonderful example of how a Senior organizes her life. She volunteers at a host of different places – including two museums as a docent (volunteer guide), and also does Meals on Wheels. Her normal schedule includes swims at the Y, walks to get groceries and the like, and of course time spent going to the theatre with me. She also takes classes at our local university and volunteers there.

Expect for Meals on Wheels – all of that has ground to a halt in Montreal. No Theatre, No Museums, No shopping except for essentials, No nothing.. Now my friend has alternative resources including her daughter and grand-kids and her husband – and she’s still doing Meals on Wheels which she tells me is taking amazing precautions.

A digression here – Meals on Wheels, for those who don’t know – is a program aimed at feeding the elderly who are shut in. They sign up to get 1 or 2 meals a week which are cooked and ‘plated’ in a community kitchen. Then a team of 2 – a driver and a delivery person – take the preprepared meals to their homes. Generally the delivery person uses the ‘drop off’ as an opportunity to make sure the elderly person is in good spirts. A quick visit does that trick.

But COVID-19 concerns have changed that. Now there are two delivery persons in the car – and keep in mind that most of these volunteers are well above 70 – one to open the doors with gloves, and one to carry the meal. And no more visiting. A knock on the door (gloved hand) – a through the door – are you ok – and off they go.

In the kitchen things have changed as well. Normally the space is shared with a day care, the occasional meeting, maybe a Yoga or Tai-Chi class – but now it’s just the two cooks – staying 6 feet away from each other for safety.

End of digression

As you can imagine – my friend’s life has drastically changed – and she is not without resources. Imagine other seniors who count on their schedules to keep their lives full – now reduced to reading books or playing bridge. I have another senior friend who is coping for now with solitary walks up the mountain if it’s sunny, and a lot of reading. Her computer skills are not up to using the new technology – and she’s alone. She let me know that her daughter is calling daily- which is a help – but her social interactions have completely dried up.

So – got a senior in mind? Reach out now – and set a schedule to contact them regularly – daily if possible, but at least every other day. Even a 5 minute ‘check-in’ will provide them with something to schedule their lives around – and right now – that’s going to be a life saver.

Be safe, Be healthy – keep social distance if you must go out – and wash your hands.

Signing off to call her friends…

The Soup Lady

Day 2 – and I’m already getting bored


Which is probably a good thing. Better bored than sick – Right?

London – and the UK in general – has finally started taking this thing seriously. Which is very good news. Countries like Iran – that didn’t take it seriously – are having someone die every 10 minutes – as per the latest from CNN

Everyone I know is either voluntarily self-isolating – or being mandated to do so by the government. I think this is likely a good thing, but it’s really really going to hurt small business. Actually, it may hurt any business that came into this period anything but flush with cash.

One of the CNN reports actually Refered to the Great Depression in terms of the impact this is having on the economy. But since we’re in this together, it would make sense to paddle together – so I’m thinking if you are in business – talk to your supply chain. Better to not pay them today, then for you to go bankrupt tomorrow – and so on down the line.

Canada in general, and Quebec in particularly have made downsizing the number a company must pay easier. They have removed the delay on getting Un-employment benefits – so employers can be frank with their staff. “We need to let you go – so go on Unemployment – as soon as we can, we’ll hire you back”. This works, at least in a country like Canada, in a good way. The company stands a much better chance of weathering the storm, and the employees are protected.

Think ahead. Plan for folks ordering on-line, wanting delivery to their doors with no touching, etc. I think there’s potential here for businesses to flex and change and stay in business. But being able to Flex? That’s tough.

Meanwhile – as a retired lady – stuck in the Caribbean, I’m entertaining myself by Skyping my family and friends, playing bridge on-line, and reading a book. Thank goodness the library was still open, although that might not be forever. Or even correct tomorrow!

Which would be easier if the Bridge sites weren’t finding the sheer quantity of folks trying to use them almost impossible for their servers to cope with. Which is actually kinda funny if you consider what this must mean in terms of ways to handle boredom.

Maybe my number of followers will go up?

Hope beats eternal here in St. Croix. Signing off to take a walk on the beach – and incredibly happy she’s able to do so – they are closing beaches in Pensacola… The Soup Lady

BHAG* Achieved!


Back when I started this blog – back when my husband suggested calling myself Montreal Madame… I set myself a BHAG.

In MBA terms – a BHAG is a *Big Hairy Assed Goal – and it represents something that you really would like to achieve – but think is well outside the realm of possibility.

So I decided getting 500 followers would be my BHAG – And I wanted to get it done by January 2020.

Well guess what – I made it MONTHS early! i actually have officially 504 followers – so the follower that put me over could be one of 4 champions – and I love them all!

So Thank you follower #1 – and #100 and #201 and #350 and #500 to #504… Thank you all in fact!

Couldn’t have done it without you.

For my next BHAG – I’m thinking 1000 Followers by January 2022. That’s a lot in a very short time considering how long it’s taken to make 500 – but I’ve got my fingers crossed and my ‘Muttering’ Boots on!

Signing off – Content for the moment – and celebrating in Japan with a glass of very lousy but I don’t care red wine… The Soup Lady

Loving Kyoto


Compared to Tokyo, Kyoto is civilized, friendly, and easy to navigate. Not that it is easy to navigate, just that its a whole lot easier than Tokyo.

And Kyoto is cheaper. We’ve been running under $10 for lunch, and under $20 for dinner – including either Saki or Wine. How are we doing this – ah ha! We cheat.

Lunch is often at a restaurant, where we’ll share one meal between us. It is just lunch after all. And our new lodgings have a lovely kitchen and dining area. Perfect for cooking in. And that’s what we’ve been doing. Putting together meals from a combination of ready to eat stuff from the grocery store, and stuff we have to microwave or the Intrepid Traveller works her magic and cooks.

Tonight we’re having Edamame for tea time, followed by a mixed Tempura Appetizer and then dinner will be Wine, Rice with a raw egg and a tempura shrimp and onion pie, and mixed cooked vegetables. We even decided on a lovely Caramel thing (we hope it’s Caramel – it’s smelled like Caramel) for dessert. Yum.

Kyoto has been an amazing city to visit. I had pre-organized trips to 3 of the restricted Imperial Palaces – only to discover that they aren’t that restricted – you just need to reserve. Good thing too because I blew it on the dates for 2 of the 3. But I digress. The 3 restricted places we are going are the Sento Imperial Palace, The Katsura Imperial Villa, and the Shugakuin Imperial Villas.

Back 25 years ago, all three of these were only available on guided tours, pre-reserved, by foreigners from outside of Japan. No Japanese was able to see them. Boy have things changed in 25 years. Today there is an office of the Imperial Household Agency located near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and all anyone, Japanese or Foreign must do is go to the desk and ask about available spaces. If there is space available – you are in!

Because I totally mucked up the dates, this proved to be a godsend. We first toured the Sento Palace and Gardens. This palace is still in use today by the Emperor and his family when they visit Kyoto. Our audio guides explained that the palace has been completely remodeled inside – this means carpets and western furniture. I’m wondering about toilets of course – but I suspect that’s understood to have been done.

Most of the tour consider of viewing the absolutely stunning garden. I want a garden like this. Even a little bit of garden like this. Of course there were 4 gardeners in one tree alone when we were there… so maybe the labor to maintain the garden would be well out of my price range, but still. It was magnificent. And right in downtown Kyoto. I do not understand why it’s not booked solid, but I think the whole – go to the Imperial Household Agency requirement puts people off. In any case – you are alone in the garden, you can pause to reflect and take pictures… it’s wonderful.

Our second tour was the Shugakuin Imperial Villas – and I think they were my favourites. Again – no lines, no crowds, no rushing you thru. And the tickets are free – my kind of price point.

There are actually 3 villas included on the tour – and to me the highlight was how close we could get to the villas. And all the shoji screens were open – so you could see thru to the magnificent views that they were created to showcase. Wandering paths, tinkling water falls, random bridges, glorious plantings, and magnificent moss gardens were there to be savoured. I loved it.

The bad news about the Shugakuin, ignoring my mixup of the dates, is its distance from Kyoto. We had to take a subway and a bus – and then walk. Naturally we got lost on the walk, so a 15 minute walk took 30 minutes – but we did eventually arrive at the Villas. Totally worth it. And the way back to Kyoto proper was much much faster – one bus ride and we were downtown enjoying ‘Kid’s Day’ at one of the major parks.

What a hoot and a half that was. The theme of the ‘fair’ was kid safety – and they had police cars for kids to climb in, big construction equipment that they could push buttons on, a Virtual Reality game that taught you to stop before you hit pedestrians, and a series of the most adorable bike riding courses.

For older kids, there was a biking maze set out with safety cones and policeman signalling directions. For younger kids unable to actually ride a bike, they had those push bikes. Kids mounted them, then either went around in a circle collecting rings from organizers standing on the outside of the circle, or – this was the best part – on a signal they got off the bikes and used special gloves to pop bubbles that the organizers were creating in the zillions.

We loved it and so did the kids.

Today we tried for the Katsura Imperial Villa – but again a date mix-up happened and we discovered it was closed. But all was not lost – we ended up at the Kyoto Aquarium. This is a completely marvellous aquarium, complete with a dolphin show, a seal show that had the young trainers bringing the seals out among the crowd, and a Penguin show. The stunner of the place was right at the entrance. You walk across a virtual tide-pool that ripples under your feet – revealing Giant Japanese Salamanders. These are roughly the size of a 4 year old child – and they are meat eaters. And they are native to the Kamo river that runs thru Kyoto.

I’m so not swimming in that river.

These things are huge – with enormous teeth and extremely ugly. Yuk!

Another highlight was the jellyfish exhibit – all black light and glowing jellyfish floating around in huge tanks.

Speaking of huge tanks – there is a ‘Sea of Kyoto’ Tank that contains Manta Rays, Sharks, and a school of small fish that numbered in the several hundreds. I’m thinking these fish might be the dinner for the seals – but as a school, they created wonderful balls and funnels and odd shapes.

We watched as one of the organizers suited up and dove into the tank – and fed both the fish and the manta rays. I’ve never seen a manta ray eat before – so this was very cool. They have mouths on the bottom, and create a vacuum that sucks any food that passes by into their jaws. So the diver just released the tidbit, and the manta did the rest. It was very cool to watch.

On the way back home, we decided to visit one of Kyoto’s most famous Temples – the Golden Pavilion (also known as Kinkaku-Ji). We’d been warned that it was a mob scene – and figured that hitting the place in the late afternoon might have thinned out the crowds a bit. I think it did to be honest – we were able to get photographs of the Pavilion without having to wait our turn. But compared to the serenity of the other gardens – this place was decidedly unpleasant. I got hit a few times by other tourists trying to get past me in a hurry – one wonders what was the rush, and the number of souvenir stands made it feel tawdry. Worse – we had to pay for the privilege of going in.

Well – I suppose it’s one of the must do things here in Kyoto – but I’m basically glad we crossed it off our list.

We still have a lot more to see and do here in Kyoto – including seeing the Aoi Matsuri Parade, so I’ll be reporting on Kyoto again in a few days.

Meanwhile – I’m the Soup Lady – signing off to help the Intrepid Traveller prepare our dinner. (That means I pour the wine and set the table – she cleverly does the rest).

The road to Koyasan is long – but the Journey is worth it!


I first visited Koyasan (Mt. Koya) with my husband at least 20 years ago, and fell in love with it, so I dearly wanted to show it off to the Intrepid Traveler.

She kindly agreed – so I booked us a Monastery stay for 2 nights and off we went.

The trip from Tokyo to Koyasan is not an easy one – there are subways to take, trains to catch, more subways to use, more trains to catch, and finally a funicular, a bus, and a walk. But in this case, the destination is worth the travel headaches to get there.

Koyasan was established as a place of Buddhist teaching and worship back in 816. Yes – well over 1200 years ago. And it’s been going strong ever since. Everyone in Japan wants to be buried there – and if they can’t – to at least have a monument erected in their honour. It is a place of pilgrimage and for many – a place of power. Certainly it is difficult to describe how unique the feeling of being in Koyasan is – even to the totally uninitiated

Our Monastery – the Yochi-in – was probably the least expensive place to stay in Koyasan – mostly because there were no private toilets. All the washing and bathing areas are still shared, and this keeps the prices low. But that said, we absolutely loved it. The facility is huge, and only a small part of it is devoted to paying guests. We dined on special vegetarian meals in a communal dining area, and prayed together every morning at 6:30. There were sutra copying exercises on offer, and you could pay a bit more and have all the facilities of a proper ryokan – in-room massages, wine or saki with dinner, etc. Being budget travellers – we took the simplest options – but they were wonderful.

Our room was huge, and lovely – yes our beds were futons on the floor, but we had a private balcony with western chairs and a small table overlooking a lovely garden. Quite a change from our lodging in Tokyo. And we loved meeting all the other guests at dinner and breakfast. There were folks from Italy, Holland, Australia, Spain, and France, along with Japanese pilgrims as well.

We had all come for the same reasons – to walk the absolutely stunning graveyard, to pay our respects at the Temple where the founder of Koyasan, the Buddhist Monk Kodo Dashi, is lying in eternal meditation, and to feel the power of what is a completely marvellous place.

In addition to the main highlights, the Intrepid Traveler and I found time to tour the World Headquarters of Shingon Buddhism. This is home to the largest Rock Garden in Japan, and a set of sliding doors used to separate the various rooms from each other that were painted by a master in and around 1000 years ago. They are stunning – and worth contemplating for hours – which of course is what they were designed for.

One of our highlights however was a very small temple off the Main Street that told the story of a man and his son who spent 40 years as monks in this very temple, without the father ever letting the son know of their relationship. He did this to demonstrate his belief in Buddhism – in the denial of self. The story – one of infidelity and the results of that action – was told in a series of wood carvings. Our favourite was the one that shows the wife and the mistress playing an innocent board game while their long black hair has become fighting snakes. Naturally the husband is looking on – and decides it would be best for all if he left to become a Monk.

Eventually, his son by the mistress comes looking for him, but at that point, he’s been a Buddhist for so long, he refuses to identify with his former self, and tells the child that his father had died. When the son returns to Koyasan having discovered his mother has also died and he is now an orphan, it’s too late to undo the white lie, and thus father and son spend 40 years together, without the son ever knowing that his mentor is his actual father.

I know – weird story. But very Japanese I think. And the wood carvings were magnificent.

We loved this visit to Koyasan as much as I loved my last visit – and I will try to return once more. It is a very special kind of place.

Signing off on their way to Kyoto – and a much less relaxed pace – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Addictive Behaviour and Travel Musings


I’m forcibly reminded, yet again, that human behaviour is hard to predict. When we challenge someone – it’s easy to imagine how they might react. Probably negatively of course. But sometimes even positive behaviour can result in someone behaving negatively, and that I find hard to explain.

All of this to say – I’m once again traveling. This time it’s not anywhere hugely exciting. Just to Park City Utah for some much needed relaxing time skiing, which is probably an oxymoron if every there was one. And of course a bit of Sundance for me, and a lot of Sundance for my husband and our friends. Nestled in amongst the skiing and the movies is even a bit of competitive bridge playing – so all in all, I’m hoping for exciting times.

But how is this related to addictive behaviour? Ah – as always, I do have a point. When I travel, particularly long airplane trips which define boring, I entertain myself by watching movies or playing games on my iPad. Right now – I’m actually writing this blog en-route between Montreal and New York City, but that’s not the norm. The norm is to play video games.

And I’m finding that video games are getting more and more addictive. I refuse to pay money by the way – so I only play free to download games, and I blissfully ignore all their attempts to get me to spend money. But don’t tell the designers. If they figure out how many of us make rather hard use of their offerings with out contributing even a penny to their coffers – I’m sure they will come up with some underhanded slight of hand method to make us cough up some dough.

But right now – all my favourite games are free. Well, free if you don’t mind blanking out for 30 seconds or so every few minutes while they show you a mindless commercial for yet another addictive computer game.

I will admit, and I suspect the same can be said of most of my readers, I have actually done the dirty deed of downloading an app that was shown to me first in another app. Twice actually. I felt bad about doing it – but I guess that generated some money movement somewhere in the great mystery that is the internet, as one app developer paid another app developer.

So – what apps do I find addictive I hear you wonder. Here is my current favourites – roughly in order of time spent playing them (and watching their commercials).

#1 Most Addictive – Criminal Case. I’ve been playing this game for almost 3 years. No joke. It’s been a long long time. I played it when we were just criss-crossing the US, and now I’m traveling the World. Currently I’m in Indonesia solving a murder that involves a young woman and a subversive group called ‘Sombra’. This is a search and find game with the occasional other type of puzzle. Nothing particularly hard to solve, but I think the graphics are very cool – and I’m enjoying the evolving story line. Best of all – it can be played off line. Which means that you don’t need Internet. This is a huge advantage over others of it’s type.

#2 Most Addictive – Harry Potters Hogwarts Mystery. The biggest downside to this game is the WIFI required aspect. So if you don’t have a strong WIFI connection – no game. The idea is simple, you are a student at Hogwarts, several years before Harry Potter will arrive. There’s slightly younger versions of the popular teachers like Snape, Dumbledore and Flitwick, plus a new teacher who you meet in the 4th year and who teaches Care of Magical Creatures. You can adopt pets (I have a Cat, an Owl, a Toad, a Dog and a Rat), you can adopt Magical Creatures – (I’ve adopted a Niffler and a Fairy), and you can explore the school. Like Criminal Case, I love the graphics, I think going to the classes is a hoot – and I’m continuing to play because I’d love to adopt a flying horse! This game is a demanding time waster though. Energy is recharged a one point per 4 minutes, so it takes about 2 hours to get back to full ‘strength’. You can get extra energy by spending real money (nope – not doing that), picking up bits of energy here and there around the school (I like clicking the stick and watching a young Fang run out to chase it), and by spending gems. But the easiest thing is just to wait. Again, not a difficult game, and probably a snore-fest if you aren’t a Harry Potter Fan, but I am, and I love it.

#3 – Woody Puzzle – This is a new game on my iPad – and it’s a version of Tetris that doesn’t allow for rotations. It’s un-timed, and not limited. You don’t use up energy that needs to be topped up by failing, you just start again. The only down side is that every start again requires watching a short commercial – but that’s not a huge price to play for a game that is really quite strategic in it’s way. No WIFI required – so you can play whenever you feel up for it.

#4 – Garden of Words – This game, and Woody Puzzle, were downloaded because of marketing on my other games. Again this one has no energy to rebuild, you keep working on the puzzles until you solve them, or give up and ask for a hint. The concept is actually kinda fun. There’s a ‘plate’ of 5 or 6 letters – and a cross-word format to fill in by picking letter after letter. A bit like scrabble, if scrabble was really easy to play and very forgiving. There are apparently over 2000 word puzzles to solve – if one believes the marketing. Again – no WIFI needed – so you can play any time you want. This game is apparently available in other languages – even though I play my games only in English, I’ve been seeing ‘commercials’ for this game in French. I think it knows I’m in Quebec.

So – those are the games that I’m playing while I travel today. If you have a moment – I do recommend them, at least do the free download and give them a spin. You have nothing to lose except time… And maybe that’s what’s really wrong with these games – they steal time!

Signing off because the plane is landing and they are definitely going to expect me to get up and get out!

The Soup Lady

The Toilets of Portugal


I’m fascinated by toilets. It’s true. I seem to spend hours in them – so I’m very aware of the good, the bad – and the oh I’m so sorry I needed this one – ones.

Here in Portugal, we haven’t seen any that compete with the hole in the floor, pig underneath one in China, but we have been treated to some pretty odd experiences.

First off – bidets are alive and well, and living in Portugal. The first time I saw one – I thought, well – no one has renovated for a while. But now I’ve seen them several times, so it’s clearly considered a plus. Not a useful plus of course – but something to have. Personally, I’m a fan of the Japanese version – one piece seat that washes and drys you by pushing buttons – but if the bathroom is large enough for a separate porcelain bowl, who am I to argue.

Lights in bathrooms however seem to be optional. I’ve not had as many disasters on this issue as my husband, who reports having to leave the door to the toilet ajar at least 3 times in order to be sure he’s using the toilet – and not the bidet! I’m guessing burnt out bulbs are the cause, I mean they didn’t deliberately not put in a light, right? But I have noted that motion sensitive lights are popular. Maybe men move less than ladies?

Drying your hands is, it appears, optional. Some bathrooms provide a towel – which after a few dozen guests gets looking pretty gross. Some bathrooms go the US and Canadian root of having blow dryers, and my favourite bathrooms offer both a blow dryer and paper towels. Once so far this trip I used a bathroom with folded hand towels – it was that up scale. This particular toilet was in a restaurant called “Roi dos Leitos” – King of Pork, and it was easily the nicest one we’ve seen so far. I loved the lighted buttons for flushing – so upscale…

Toilets in Portugal are consistently short. Seriously – what happened to comfort height, huh? Falling down to those low toilets is hard enough – getting back up requires serious leg muscles – and a lot of umph.

But here’s my biggest complaint about the toilets of Portugal. Several times now I’ve gone into a public toilet to discover that the toilet seat is missing. Where do they take them? And why would they take them? How odd is that. Is it done for hygiene? Is it that dangerous to sit on a toilet seat? I don’t know – but I can tell you that sitting on a porcelain rim is definitely hard on the bum.

One toilet I went into had the seat up. When I went to lower it – it fell off and landed on the floor. How embarrassing! I had to pick it up, clean it off – and then put it back in place. It was still broken of course – but at least it was in the right location.

What we have not run into are the truly fancy toilets I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe, particularly in France. Toilets in Portugal, even in nice hotels, tend to the practical. Toilets in BnB’s can be better or worse than average – and we’ve seen both.

In one BnB the bathroom was so tiny that you could not sit on the toilet and have your legs in front of you. There was simply not enough room. You had to sit on the toilet sidewise.

Worst Toilet so far? In a crummy mall in Lisbon. Dirty, no toilet paper, no toilet seat, and no way to dry your hands. I’m being picky though – there’s no toilet here that compares to the some of the ones I saw in Asia – but still. This is Europe. Surely toilets are a basic necessity- is it so hard to keep them clean. And where did they put those missing toilet seats?

But enough Toilet experiences – I’m signing off to think of something else to write about… The Soup Lady

Coco, Marjorie Prime, Robot & Frank – Memory is a curious thing!


I’m beginning to see a pattern here – In the last little while I’ve watched 3 movie/theatre events that addressed Memory Loss among the aging – and trust me, this is a very nervous subject.

As an aging senior – and my 70th birthday is fast approaching – I’m getting more and more concerned about what I can personally do to keep my memory intact. But I’m clearly not alone on this – clear evidence being Marjorie Prime, Robot & Frank, and surprisingly the kid oriented Coco. I’ve seen all 3 in the last month, and trust me – they have more in common that one can imagine.

First a quick summary of what I find ring similar about these three theatre pieces.

First Marjorie Prime. I’ve seen it both as a movie, and as a play. Of the two, the play is actually superior in so many ways. In fact, the movie just skims the surface of the play’s content. In the play, there are a series of ‘Prime’s’, not just the one in the movie. This makes an enormous difference in how one sees the Prime’s. For those who haven’t seen the movie or play, ‘Prime’s’ are Robots who recreate the key people in the lives of aging seniors – who thru the aging process are losing their memories, and whose ‘care-givers’ have decided to help them out by acquiring the ‘Primes’. So you are looking at the problem thru 3 lenses – the view point of the aging senior, the view point of the caregiver (generally a child of the aging senior), and the view point of the ‘Prime’.

Second is Robot & Frank. This I’ve only seen as the movie – and again you have the three lenses – the view point of the senior (Frank), the view point of the caregivers (his wife and kids), and the view point of the Robot.

Third is Coco. This animated movie is primarily told by the young great grandson of the aging Coco, but the focus of the story is the interaction of the Dead (who live thru the memories of those who knew them) and the living. As Coco’s memory fails her, her father who ‘lives’ in the land of the dead only because she remembers him, is increasingly alarmed that when she finally dies, he will no longer ‘live’. As the young great grandson learns who the father of Coco really is – he makes the decision to remember him.

So memory plays a key role in all three. Who do we remember, what do we remember, how do we remember them are really important questions. Will my kids remember me? Will their kids? Will their kids kids? I never knew my great grand parents, nor of course their parents – and there is nothing in our society that helps us know to know them. Compare that to my daughter’s in-laws. Her mother-in-law has made an effort to trace back her and her husband’s family back as far as she can – and has gotten back to at least 1100 AD.

But worrying about being remembered is only a small part of concern. What will I end up forgetting? And once it’s forgotten – it’s only if my kids remember that things are going to be remembered. Will my kids think I’ll need a ‘Prime’ or a ‘Robot’ to help me remember. Will the technology be there to support me? I’m not so sure, and so I worry.

As the optimist that I am, I’m ending this blog with ideas of how to keep your mental health as you age. These come from googling “Improving your memory” on the internet.

1) Play Games, Do puzzles, Do mental exercises. I like bridge and silly games like Criminal Case. But Chess, Backgammon, Tai-Chi, even Ballroom dancing are all ways to stay alert.

2) Be social. I’ve read this many times in many places. Folks who make an effort to be social are generally healthier – and age ‘happier’.

3) Exercise. Hey – very few of us really get enough exercise as we age. So get up and do something. Dance, Walk – and my sister’s favourite – Tai-Chi. Believe in the Nike Slogan – Just do it! I’m a fan of an app called “7 Minute Workout”. You can find it in the App Store, and it gets me up and moving every morning. Makes my heart beat faster too!

4) Master a new skill. Seriously – that sounds harder and harder to do as we age, but it’s a really good way to improve your mental health. I have friends who at 70-80 are taking on new degrees at university, or like me – have opted to get serious about bridge. You are never too old to try something new, and your kids will be amazed.

5) From Harvard Health (health.harvard.edu) we get the following recommendations: follow a healthy diet (fruits and veggies people – eat those fruits and veggies), don’t smoke (you will smell better too), and keep those key medical indicators under control – that’s blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. They also suggest getting a pet, because caring for a pet gives us something to do – and definitely correlates with metal health. If getting a pet seems too challenging – then caring for a grand-child (or someone else’s kid) is also good for your mental health.

6) Make life style changes. If you are overweight, have high blood pressure, smoke, don’t exercise, eat poorly – you know who you are. Stop. Re-think what you are doing, and make those life style changes. All of these negative things have been correlated with decreasing brain function – ie: memory loss.

7) Here’s one that apparently cuts both ways – Multi-tasking. One source suggested stopping multi-tasking as a way to help your memory, but the Harvard Health site suggests that busy people who do lots of different things have less memory loss. I’m thinking that Harvard is more likely to have it right.

8) Stop taking certain over-the-counter medications. There are clear indications (generally written right on the boxes) that these can negatively impact your mental health. I’m not going to quote the lengthy article on the subject – but here’s the link (Click here). The drugs to avoid deliberately impact the parts of your system that helps the brain and nerve cells process information.

I know that none of this is really new information – all of us have heard from our mothers that it was important to eat right and exercise. But if avoiding or delaying memory loss is as important to you as it is to me – clearly taking this advice to heart is important.

Signing off to go do some more physical exercise.. and play some more bridge … and do some traveling..

The Soup Lady

Downsizing – Step 1


Make a Plan. Seriously – start thinking now about how you are going to get on with the rest of your life when you don’t have an unlimited amount of space to store things.

Why is this even a topic for me? Well – I have made the first of what will be a series of major steps – I’ve bought a condo. And I’m going to have to sell my home of 38 years.

For me, this is going to be a traumatic experience. My house has been my home for so long, it’s actually hard to remember what it was like to live elsewhere. And I love my home. I love my bedroom, I love my bathroom, I love my garden, I’m happy with my kitchen – and I occasionally visit the other parts of my house.

And there-in lies the problem. The house is too big. I raised 3 kids here – and we filled every nook and cranny. Sometimes we overflowed in fact. But today my kids are grown. There are rooms in my house that I walk in to dust. There are drawers I haven’t opened in years. There are boxes behind boxes in the basement. I have a library with over 500 books (maybe closer to 1000 books) that just catches dust. My home office is little more than piles of boxes.

I am even storing the grade school homework of kids who are now over 33 years old. And I just found my husband’s kindergarten diploma. We have too much stuff.

My house is too large. And it’s too far from the things I love to do – like go to the theatre, attend lectures, take courses, eat out in restaurants, even grocery shop. Anywhere I want to go, I must go in a car – or take the bus. The only shopping within walking distance is at a gas station.

And all my friends and family have left. The neighbours I knew when my kids were young have all sold their homes and moved on. My friends all live closer to the city, and I’m thinking that I’d like to be closer to the city as well.

And then there is the question of stairs. Big houses have staircases. Our house is no exception – and my husband is complaining more and more about going up and down the stairs. I must agree – I tend to live on one floor or the other, timing my need to go up or down to keep this to a minimum. Which is completely silly of course since I do exercise every morning. Stair climbing is just exercise. But I’ve read too often about older folks falling down stairs and seriously getting hurt. And I am more and more concerned that this is an adventure I would rather not have.

So – Step 1 – Plan ahead. Where would I like to go if I leave my home. Well, obviously I would like to be downtown – or at least on a metro line to make travel to downtown easier. And I’d like to be in a condo. I’m not keen on the idea of condo fees – having carrying costs is a reason to avoid making this change, but the pros of living in a building with amenities – a pool, a gym, underground parking – seem right now to be worth the money.

And I found such a place. I love the floor plan – every bedroom has it’s own bathroom, there are two balconies to catch sun and air, and the building is extremely well located near metro and bus routes. It’s in an up and coming area of the city – filled right now with relatively inexpensive restaurants and packed with young students who attend two of Montreal’s English language Universities – conveniently nearby. There’s easy access to one of the major outdoor markets of the city, and two large grocery stories in easy walking distance. It’s not built yet – so I have until 2021 to get my house de-cluttered and eventually sold.

So – we bought a condo there. I’ve done Step 1. Let’s see how the next steps go.

Signing off to think about Step 2 –

The Soup Lady