On a Trip, Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder and In the Strength of Your Shoulders

The rule in our house for travel has always been the same. Each person’s responsible for toting personal luggage. Unless I was eight months pregnant or in a full leg-cast with crutches, I knew my porter would be me.

This wasn’t a problem when we were young and usually schlepped backpacks. We traveled Europe with one each plus a tote bag. Even when we set off on cross-country car trips, we followed the rule. Small children were exempt, of course, but by about age eight, our kids quite competently managed their things.

However, a number of years ago I noticed the space for my clothes was contracting. I had to remove a pair of shoes here, an extra jacket there, first a swimsuit cover-up, then a fluffy bathrobe. What was happening? Was my luggage shrinking? Did my increased poundage result in enormous, space-eating outfits?

Then as I laid out the items I was packing in orderly heaps, I noticed an especially large mound. The load I mentally labeled “Health & Beauty,” ever since my time as a saleswoman at JC Penney’s decades before, surpassed all my clothing. What had happened? I knew I neither was using more makeup nor carrying additional beauty equipment.

More health items. More medicines. More paraphernalia to have on hand in case I threw a muscle out or strained a joint. Age had caught up with me. A short list:

  • Glucose for low blood sugar episodes.

  • Vitamins of all sorts

  • Prescriptions for me and my husband

  • Special washes and creams for skin conditions

  • Herbal and naturopathic supplement designed to reduce impact of viruses

  • A circular pillow that fit around my neck to ease naps while traveling

  • Elastic supports for knees

  • Several specially designed implements to keep decay and gum disease at bay

  • At least 9 pairs of glasses: reading, reading back-up, reading sun; same three for medium distance and far. Maybe some bifocals.

As I surveyed the piles, I realized I’d reached an age-stage. Just as babies need lots of extras, so do aging folks. One method to approximate someone’s age is to survey his luggage. If his health and beauty pile is larger than his clothing, he must be approaching 55 or 60. Ditto women even if their hair and lips appear like youngsters’.

I’m not alone in packing more items. My sister sometimes takes her sleep apnea equipment, which is at least the size of a shoe box. A woman I know can’t sleep unless she packs her special large pillows to cushion her body.

So what does this mean? Another example of age discrimination. Why can’t luggage limits be based on age and the amount of necessities? If the privilege of affordable housing can be given to those above a particular number of years, certainly airlines, trains and buses can waive the restrictions on baggage for us.

As for the practicalities of body strength, if we get tired of toting the extra weight, we can reduce the number of items we lug. To disguise the need for extra makeup we can wear concealing scarves, droopy hats, or extra-long bangs. To hide physical disabilities, opt for obscuring baggy clothing. Squint instead of packing extra glasses. Or just suffer discomfort without our extras.


Can Saving Money or Possessions Threaten Your Happiness and Comfort?

I get my penny-pinching ways from my father. He grew up in the Depression and never escaped his childhood habits. If bananas were cheaper at one store than another, that’s where he’d head. He saved rubber bands, string (pieces tied together and wound in big balls), children’s clothing passed down from one to another, magazines. He wasn’t a hoarder; his things were fairly well organized, and he didn’t purchase for the sake of the buy. He was a saver. Once he recycled an old lounge chair into a bed for my little brother’s overnight visits. He pinned the fraying, interlaced webbing to the frame when it began wearing out. Another time he used a rope as a belt. Fortunately, although I was humiliated in public, this wasn’t with a business suit but over the weekend.

Now I’m somewhat the same. I’ve washed, saved and re-used small plastic bags and dutifully accumulate the larger ones for groceries and trash. At restaurants I pack home the bread that accompanies meals and bits of leftover meat and vegetables destined for soup. I excuse myself by claiming to be a conscientious environmentalist, tender of the earth.

I can’t blame these habits simply on my environmentalism though. I often compare prices on menus to see if ordering à la carte is cheaper than ordering the dish as it’s listed. The other day I discovered if I asked for eggs, toast, and hash browns separately, I’d save almost two dollars! When I pointed this out to my patient granddaughter, she simply nodded and murmured “mmm-hmm.” My thrifty ways embarrass her. When my family was poverty level, I prided myself on cost-cutting. It was a game to see what I could save.

Now that I no longer am broke, I still pride myself on my parsimony. But I’m beginning to wonder why. What am I saving things, including money, for? Shouldn’t I allow myself to enjoy it? This idea occurred to me when I caught myself wanting to scold my husband for writing the items he wanted me to buy at the grocery store ON A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER, not on my original list! Didn’t he know he was wasting paper? Even I had to admit this was going a little far. After all, I make our scratch paper from sheets with one blank side rescued from the trash.

More importantly, I may be denying myself opportunities to delight in my life by focusing so much on saving. Let loose and have some fun, I tell myself. Buy a new coat since the old one is threadbare (I did). Donate the broken futon to someone who will repair it, and buy yourself another (I did that, too). Go out to dinner once a week. Pay someone else to paint the living room. Take that cruise now that I can afford it. After all, the value of money lies in freeing me to experience different things and to relieve me of the tedium of poverty. As long as my income is five dollars more than my expenses, I’m rich.

Talk Is Cheap and We Get What We Pay For

Like the weather or football, when health’s the topic, we always have something to talk about. Especially as we mature. One stereotype of aging is that people talk more and more about their health, and not in a good or positive way. Apparently, we drone on to the point of boring our listeners. Why? Two possibilities: health preoccupies our time and our thoughts to a greater degree, or because we have fewer other interests.

Decades ago, after suffering through regular rounds of extreme boredom at family gatherings during which senior relatives delivered lectures about symptoms and treatments, I and my friends took oaths decades never to prattle on and on about our ills. In our smug superiority, this was our promise, yet our practice nowadays is to rush into a room with a litany of languishes. This doesn’t improve our conditions, it certainly fails the test of conversational interests, yet each of us can’t wait for the other to yield the floor so we can launch into our personal spiel. I know one woman who complains frequently about older friends that discuss health to exclusion of nearly every subject. When done with this, she promptly indulges in a recitation of every ache and each therapy she’s undergone in the past several months.

Why do we do this? None of us are doctors, so we can’t diagnose or relieve or provide a service, although we’re never prevented from expressing our opinions. In fact, we usually wind up trotting out every particle of information or opinion we’ve stumbled over related to a health condition. These may be contradictory, erroneous, or pea-brained. Makes no difference. Still fascinating. To us if not you.

Perhaps in this manner we enhance our friendships. Or air our secret fears. Or simply pass the time in a more appealing fashion than discussing the climate. However there should be limits. When someone complains of indigestion, surely no more than five or ten theories as to cause and effect are reasonable to explore in casual conversation. Apparently not. Gluten, wheat sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, appendicitis, acid reflux, lack of probiotics, food poisoning, various cancers, autoimmunity offer some of the possibilities. Every person we know has experienced one of these at some point. Even if not currently suffering from some ill, the equally interesting aspect of what we’ve done that’s led to our status.

Many suggestions (dare I say too many?) about what to do, what’s good, what’s a cure-all eat up as much chatter as complaints themselves. I’ve known supporters for a particular diet, say macrobiotic trot out an entire grocery list and menu plan, then threaten me with disaster if I don’t comply with their belief. Because health connects to all aspects of life, debates quickly expand to incorporate economics, government, art, and psychology, even death, because everyone dies from something.

My primary quarrel with heath as a topic of conversation lies in its tedium. People simply won’t turn off their repetitive, monotonous, self-centered spiels. I want to yell, “Someone turn on Wheel of Fortune!” I’m nearly ready to plead for politics as a replacement. Equally boring, but at least people get angry, hot under the collar, so the energy flows, and we just might be exposed to a new idea.


ANNOUNCING MY NEW BOOK, NEVER RETREAT, TO BE PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2018, BY Imajin Books.  A feisty single mom clashes with an ex-military, macho corporate star at a business retreat in the wild Colorado mountains, where only one can win a huge prize. But when a massive flood imperils their love and survival, they learn the meaning of true partnership.

I’ll be organizing some give-aways as well as the opportunity to receive a e-copy for those interested in preparing reader reviews for online sites. Contact me at Bonnie@BonnieMcCune.com if you’re interested.

Rocky Mountain High at an Advanced Age: a short and successful journey to pot use

I’ve been an anti-drug advocate for eons. It’s probably because I feel my grip on reality is so tenuous, if I started using, I’d be dependent. I also have seen the impact of drug abuse on friends and relatives, even worse the tangled, chaotic, destructive pain they dump on their supposed loved-ones.

Yet count me in the ones who advocate de-criminalizing the stuff. It’s proven we’ve lost the War Against Drugs, and these efforts don’t make a dent in drug use.  Their impact—ruining lots of lives with long prison sentences, raising taxes, splitting families.

This stance opened the door and my eyes to the use of marijuana. As campaigns to legalize the stuff spread, I began to learn about people who have been helped by their use—health concerns such as arthritis, epilepsy, cancer treatments.. I heard the scare tactics from decades ago, which created my intense paranoia about negative impacts, were very much blown out of proportion. Then my home state legalized use several years ago.

In what might be considered serendipity, I was suffering from an autoimmune condition  that affected my legs. Discomfort, itchiness, restlessness kept me awake at night. My search for relief brought me to seven or nine kinds of skin creams and lotions, various over-the-counter pills, and sleep techniques, none of which really helped. During lunch with a friend, she mentioned she suffered from arthritis in her knees. Since she’s an avid hiker, she’d also been chasing a treatment that would enable her to continue her exercise. Turned out to be a marijuana cream and patches.

She accompanied me to a marijuana dispensary and helped me through my first meeting with a salesman. In a candid interchange, she told me what helped her and what I might consider. I walked out with a salve which turned out to relieve my aches and pains. Every person is different, and some aren’t helped. The treatment doesn’t cure me, isn’t uniformly effective, but does more than anything else has.

After my little sampling of this psychoactive drug, I’m most pleased to find that I’m capable of changing my mind. Many people, me included, feel the older you get, the more rigid you are. How you are at about 30 pretty much sets the pattern for the rest of your life, except you get more inflexible in your opinions. Not a good position to be in, for we all should be able to face new situations, learn new information, and adapt for our own benefit.

This is one old dog who’s learned a new trick.