Apocalypto is Gibson’s often mesmerizing and beautiful fictional epic about the Mayan civilization. While the use of subtitles and unknown actor’s does not detract from the movie, the extreme and unrelenting violence does. In the opening scene we see the tribe hunting and sharing the organs of the dead animal among the tribe. The death of the animal is vividly depicted and made me wish for some of the subtlety and beauty of the hunt in the beginning of the Last of the Mohicans, instead. The unexpected arrival of another tribe asking for passage through the forest leave a cloud of uncertainty over Jaguar Paw (an impressive debut by Native American, Rudy Youngblood) and Flint Sky, (Birdyellowhead) his father and one of the village leaders, We are given a glimpse into daily life and an opportunity to connect with some of the tribe before they are attacked by a fierce tribe who take the survivors captives and leave the young children to fend for themselves. Jaguar Paw manages to hide his very pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and son in a deep pit before getting caught himself. He vows to return for them. The captives are shackled and forced on a grueling journey from their forest home to the Mayan city where slave-traders bargain for the women and the captives wonder about their fate. The women are sold as slaves and the men are painted blue before a high priest decapitates them and sends their heads rolling down the steps of a temple.(The removal of organs is reminiscent of Braveheart.) Later on we find out this is an offering to the god(s) to overcome problems with crop failure and disease. It is such a pity that the brutality and barbarity was our only glimpse of the once great Mayan culture and their accomplishments in astronomy, mathematics and architecture. Only a solar eclipse (strange how this mystifies a culture so knowledgeable in astronomy) saves him from the altar. The fate of the survivors is put into the hands of the warriors, who force them to run a gauntlet as they attempt to kill them with arrows and spears. Wounded, Jaguar Paw escapes only to be chased through the jungle by the warriors. They are relentless and the action sequences that follow are beautifully photographed and choreographed despite the implausibility of, among other things, a wounded Jaguar Paw outrunning a black panther. There is no doubt that Gibson knows how to make a movie and the actors did an impressive job but it could have been so much better. It’s a case of less would have been so much more. I found the ending anticlimactic since it didn’t really get to why the Mayans died out. There is just a suggestion of the Spanish conquest, but I’m not sure, which left me dissatisfied with the movie.

Rating: 2 Stars

Mountains of North Carolina

In our search for a retirement location we spent a week this past summer looking around Western North Carolina. Basing ourselves in Asheville, we drove in every direction on the compass. In Asheville, a very small city, we took the walking tour and completed it in about two hours. At no time did we feel unsafe, and the weather was great because the mountains have low humidity in the summer. The increase in humidity was very noticeable when we left the mountains and drove down into Tennessee. Asheville is a small city with a definite Artsy flavor. It is easy to imagine living here, or at least nearby. Even though it is classed as a city, it has a small town feel. It’s a feel that is almost a throw back to a former time, a very southern thing and very endearing.

In every direction is natural beauty; from the mountains to the lakes, every road is scenic if you like trees and mountains. It’s eye candy in every direction. I clearly remember how good I felt dining outside in this gorgeous weather right by Lake Lure. In the distance were the mountains featured in the closing scenes of the “Last of the Mohicans” movie. Earlier, in a breathless way, we had climbed all over those trails. There are mountain streams all over the area, with fly-fishing the primary pastime. There are golf courses here but there is a shortage of level ground, it’s the mountains of course.

To the west was Cherokee and some very charming small towns on the way. The Cherokee Indian Reservation has a casino and historical reenactment. From here you can enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I can only imagine what this area looks like in the fall. I expect it is fantastic. The Blue Ridge Parkway scenic highway lives up to its name. Locals tell me its spectacular in the fall although closed in the winter. Guess it’s a tourist thing. There is an abundance of winter ski locations so I expect there is a lot of snow here. That’s a downer but expected.
We white-water rafted through the Nantahala National Park. It was absolutely fabulous. What a scenic trip. The guy running the expedition spent his winters in Florida. That is somewhat in line with my thinking, except the Caribbean is more like it. Gotta dream a little.
Link to an Asheville blog

Best Wedding Gifts

The best wedding gifts you’ll ever get aren’t the ones wrapped in pretty paper. When I got married I expected to be married for a lifetime and didn’t think there would be anything unique or in the least bit exceptional about being married to the same man for 40 years. The truth is that life has changed dramatically since we first meet. Men and women no longer have such clearly defined roles, many women work and both partners often take a hand in the cooking, cleaning and child care. I would think that this would be liberating and offer an opportunity for a more fulfilling partnership. However, half of all the couples marrying today will end in divorce. So what makes a successful marriage? Life changes but the fundamentals stay true and these could be the best wedding gifts of all.
Initial Attraction ……..
Most love stories begin with an initial attraction. It’s an intangible and something that continues to attract you to that person long after the wedding vows, long after the children have come and gone. It’s hard to describe but you know it’s there when they walk into the room. It makes your heart sing and sometimes it takes your breath away. It will be important in your life together.
………………………………and deeper attraction.
You also need to like the person you marry. Sounds silly but you need to know what type of person they are. Are they caring and thoughtful or selfish and self centered, don’t expect the person to change just because you married them. You need to like this person inside and out. Remember that you are going to find lots of things that you disagree on so make sure that you feel the same way about the big issues in life. Liking and respecting this person is essential. Do you enjoy spending time together?
Making Your Partner Your Best Friend
At the end of the day you need to know that there is someone you can count on, someone you can share your hopes and fears with, someone who cares for you, someone you can rely on; in short a best friend. Build togetherness and a bond that is so strong that you never doubt it. There is nothing like being able to share the highs and the lows in life with someone you love. The old adage “A problem shared is a problem halved” still holds true.
Money Cannot Buy Happiness.
For the first few years of our married life we were extremely hard up. It was stressful and worrying at times but I was never unhappy. It showed me what really mattered in life, and I knew that happiness wasn’t about a house or car. My family was the thing that mattered and they made me happy. Everything else is icing on the cake!
Lots of Give and Receive
Life and marriage are full of compromises and without it daily life can be a battle. Know that the small things in life are really that and as they say “don’t sweat the small stuff” Learn to give and receive. Make sure that you are grateful when you are receiving and that you know how to give equally as well as to receive. Don’t keep count but do your fair share of both.
Keep the Romance Alive
When we were young and couldn’t afford babysitters or nights out we would have a romantic evening at home. Sometimes I’d cook a favorite meal and we would dress up for each other. We’d build a big fire and drink cheap wine and hope that the kids didn’t wake up! We had some great, romantic times and continue to find ways to bring romance to our marriage.
Don’t Wait For That Special Occasion.
It sounds easy but so often we forget to thank each other or show our appreciation. Don’t wait for special occasions to say those all important things to each other. Don’t let Hallmark dictate when your special moments are. Sometimes the best time to say “I love you” is the most unexpected time…I guarantee it will be remembered.
Talk To Each Other.
All couples encounter areas of disagreement in their lives together; in fact, having some difference of opinions can make life more interesting. Money is one area that can cause major problems though. There is no quick answer but if the goals and attitudes toward money are shared, the mechanics of how the money is managed are less important. Talk over your differences. Dont let things fester. I have always believed that you shouldn’t go to sleep while being angry at each other.
Keep A Sense of Humor.
Humor helps to keep things in perspective and can make difficult situations easier.
Love Can Move Mountains.
The truth is if you love someone you really can move mountains but you need to have a commitment and make it your priority. A successful marriage is a joy. Having a partner to share your life with is priceless. These are the true gifts.

Wireless Home

My home has been very traditional (aka old fashioned). A couple of landline phones, a den with a desktop computer, a television with antenna. But the wireless revolution has arrived at my home. It started with us switching to cellular phones and removing our landline. The event that enabled this for me was legislation allowing me to transfer my home phone number to my cell phone. That one thing made the transition seamless. I haven’t regretted it for one minute. All I had to do was tell my cell phone operator to do it. Within a couple of days it was complete and about a month later I received a rebate check from my local phone company. It couldn’t have been easier. Now I’m always available and I didn’t even have to memorize a new phone number and neither did anyone else.

At the same time I have been rethinking our computer strategy because our needs have changed. We need two computers in the house and they must be networked for peripheral and folder sharing. I wanted to be able to communicate easily with family overseas so I have added a HP media center notebook computer with built in wireless and web cam. I bought this for my wife’s Christmas gift. By using a Linksys Router I could remove my firewalls and enable inside the home sharing. My intention is to replace the desktop with a second notebook computer. The new 17” wide-screen notebooks make this an easy decision. The space saving and mobility are huge pluses and adding a wireless, optical mouse didn’t hurt either.

The next step is to start adding wireless peripheral nodes. The obvious nodes are printer, scanner etc. Less obvious is a wireless digital picture frame, wireless I-pod docking and programming station, wireless music centers etc. Wireless isn’t just freeing up the location of equipment but the location of me.

Network security is a huge issue. The problem has moved from having a firewall block a single point of entry, my Internet connection, to somehow blocking the airwaves where my internal wireless signal is. Since there is no way to block it I have encrypted it. There are choices about that when you install the network and the only way to go is WPA2. I’m referring you to an excellent article on this at GoPaulTech.com and yes; I will be having PaulTech test my system using Kismet. Results of the testing will follow later.

Hybrid, Gastric By-Pass Surgery, and Attention Deficit Disorder

Here is my list of Top Gripes for 2006; some saddened me, some made me angry, some made me cry ”oh no” and some did all three.

Violence on Our Doorsteps
We are all saddened and enraged at the daily accounts about the death of troops in Iraq but we have become numb and desensitizes to the appalling violence in our own cities. It is a sad truth that in my own city of Cincinnati we had 86 homicides in 2006.This was the largest total in more than 55 years of record-keeping. While it doesnt come close to the staggering number of 579 in New York, it is a sad reflection on what has become a normal occurrence. It is estimated that 90% of these are drug related and approximately 65% of the homicide victims did not finish high school. Shame on us!
Stomach Surgery
It’s frightening to realize how many people are opting for surgery as a remedy for obesity. Any type of bariatric surgery (gastric bypass, adjustable gastric banding, ect) has risks associated with it and ironically requires a strict diet for the rest of their lives. In truth, we should be changing our lifestyle to include the tried and true methods of exercise and a balanced diet. These things work without any of the risks associated with the surgery and with all the added advantages that a healthier lifestyle offer. Our need for a quick fix has clouded our judgment. Let’s try the old fashioned way before slicing and dicing.
Plastic Surgery- Plastic lives
I want a return to growing old gracefully. We hardly recognize some of the pulled and stretch faces we see on TV anymore. We complement someone on how young they look after surgery while ignoring the real signs . Having a youthful outlook on life, being interested in the world around you , staying motivated and looking forward to each new day are the real values we should applaud , not how well a surgeon has done his job. I say let the un-augmented breasts fall where they may!
Politicians Saying “the people want”
I am the people and I don’t want what you just said I wanted…so there!
Hybrid or Hummer?
I’m tired of hearing the complaints about the soaring cost of gas. We have known for many years that gas prices would continue to rise and yet we have done very little to force change and free ourselves from our dependence on gas. We have not embraced hybrid or alternative fuel cars or even insisted on fuel efficient vehicles .We have got what we deserve. It’s true that the government have dragged their feet too but we are literally in the drivers seat on this one. What crisis do you expect to encounter while doing the grocery shopping in your Hummer that a Hybrid couldn’t cope with at a much lower cost? Companies go with supply and demand. We should demand more or pay the price!
People In Positions of Respect, Letting us Down
People in positions of power and trust have a responsibility to be beyond reproach. This year our most trusted people have continued to disappoint us. I expect our clergy to care for and protect our young children, our policemen to uphold the letter of the law, our politicians to be honest and to tell the truth and our company executives to have the best interests of the company, and it’s employees at heart. I m tired of being disappointed. Let’s raise the bar again and let’s have zero tolerance on those who disgrace their positions. That way we can learn to respect people in places of trust again.
Attention Deficit Disorder
I have just heard a local news report that says that children with Attention Deficit Disorder can be helped by taking Taekwondo classes. Could it be that we have been medicating our children for years when, in fact, common sense would have done the job?. Growing up, I never once heard of anyone with ADD. All the children I knew, including my own, were full of boundless energy and needed adequate outlets and releases for all that energy. I believe our children are over- scheduled today and would benefit far more from having some unstructured play time outside. Come on mom and dad get the kids outside for a walk or literally get the ball rolling and play some soccer …I’ll be goalie!

Searching for Ancestors in the Aftermath of Culloden

My new years resolution for 2007 is to track my father’s ancestral line back to 1745. That is a very significant date in Scottish history and my personal ancestry. It is the year when Bonnie Prince Charley (Charles Stuart) and his Jacobite rebellion took on the English King’s army led by the Duke of Cumberland. The Prince was intent on placing himself on the throne of England after languishing in France for many years. He amassed a Scottish army that came oh-so-close to conquering England. In fact, he was turned back, not by the King’s army, but by an English spy who mislead him. The spy told him there was a massive English army between him and London. This piece of misinformation caused the Scots to turn and march back to Scotland. Little did they know there was no army defending London. In fact, London was wide open to them. Eventually, a real English army chased the Scots until they caught up at a place called Culloden Moor in Scotland. A collection of Scottish Clans were involved in this very famous battle in Scottish history. My ancestor’s clan fought under the banner of Clan Chattan. The historical significance of this battle is that it was the beginning of the end of the Clan system as the Scots new it. It is remembered as a moment when Scottish fighters were butchered as they lay on the ground. Officers were executed along with anyone even remotely connected to the battle, real or imagined. No longer protected by their clan leaders, Scots were turned out of their homes at will. Still remembered in Scotland to this day, it became known as “The Clearances”. Land was confiscated and homes burned. Many Scots dispersed during this time. Some left for Canada, others to Ireland and many to the coastal regions. The English took or destroyed whatever they wanted. This was a very brutal time and retribution was relentless. The bagpipes were among many symbols of Scotland that were banned. The personal significance of this battle was the destruction of my ancestral Clan and the dissipation of clan members. Either directly or indirectly, my ancestors were involved in this so it gives me a momentous moment in history to aim for. This is an extraordinarily difficult goal to achieve because of the massive movement of people from their roots.

Retirement Planning – House Plan

At some point in the decision of where to live when you retire you should ask yourself what do you want in your retirement home. It’s best to start with an open slate and make it your “dream house”. The easiest way to approach it is by assessing your new life style and planning accordingly. Begin by compiling a list which includes the style of house ,number of rooms, their size and their functions, plus any essential features along with garden and surround. Picture the rooms in your mind and how you plan to use them. Take the kitchen for instance; do you like to cook? Will you be cooking for mainly two or will you be entertaining a lot? Circumstances might dictate that you make changes along the way but you have a much clearer idea about what you are trying to achieve. This will help avoid making mistakes that you will regret later on. I am in the process of getting my retirement home clear in my mind and these are some of my thoughts to date

  • Style of House: The house should be one storey. Although stairs are good exercise it makes better sense to have everything on one level particularly as you get older. I know that we can do a lot of the upkeep and repairs that we wouldn’t be able to do on a two storey house It will be a whole lot easier painting trim and making roof repairs on a ranch. We also don’t need as much square footage as we have now but I want lots of windows and great views.
  • Number of Rooms: This need some careful thought because we have a large family and we love to have everyone over. On the other hand, we don’t want a house that is too big for our everyday needs. We can eliminate some rooms that get limited use now like the living room and the formal dining room The family room would be replaced with a modern, fully equipped media room that could handle large and small groups. The house would essentially be open plan and would include kitchen/breakfast area, media room with office space, master bedroom, spare bedroom, exercise room, utility room and double garage
  • Double Garage. It should have ample room for two vehicles and “stuff’ and should be easy to get in and out of.
  • Kids Room:. I want to be able to have the whole family stay whenever possible so I need to be able to sleep lots of grandchildren. I’m still wrestling with this one but I got a couple of ideas which I’ll share at a later date
  • Garden and surround. A large porch and patio area would be a great place to celebrate all those family get together and takes away the need for a lot of square footage inside the house. I’ll have a couple of large farm style tables to seat everyone and these will be great for pots and flowers for the rest of the time I will be checking out the latest in built in grills and outside fires. I love to garden but will avoid the temptation of having a large expanse of grass and keep it smaller with more tiles for pots and containers
  • Swimming pool: I would love to be able to start the day with a dip in the water. It would be great when the grandchildren come over too!
  • Essential features: Hunt out the latest energy savers for the construction ( solar panel tiles on the roof) and latest technology for luxury details like heated tile floor and bath towel bars in the bathroom

This is ,of course, just a tentative list and it’s just my list Ill need to include my spouse’s thoughts and ideas and the final house might look very different. It will be interesting to see what his thoughts are!

Retirement Planning – Where to Live

In a previous post I discussed a high level guide for deciding where to retire. It’s purpose was to narrow the search down to an area probably a few counties in size. You can read the major issues here. They are: proximity to your children, the weather, affordability, environment and medical amenities. Following is the process I am following to determine some of the livability issues such as; crime rate, will I like living there and what is the weather really like:

1. Take a vacation and tour the region. Find out if you love it? If the answer is “yes” then go to step 2.

2. If you love it then you really need to find out about it. Step 2 is setting up your PC to compare it with your current place of residence. Comparing with something you know is the only way to get a good feel for it. Following are the three things I did.

a. Set up a Google weather feed to display both your current location and your retirement location side-by-side. Google and Yahoo both provide that kind of feed. By looking at it everyday for a year or two you will get a very good feel for the weather compared to where you live now, and you will have it for all 4 seasons, day and night. You can’t get that on vacation or by reading a book. It’s the next best thing to living there.

b. City comparisons are available on the Internet that cover relative cost of living, house prices, crime rates etc. The best I have found is here.

c. Register on-line with a local real estate agent or two and monitor house prices. They will e-mail updates on a regular basis.

3. If you still love the look of this place then you need to go live like the locals. Spend time in a Bed & Breakfast. The purpose is to walk the streets and live with the locals. Check out amenities such as hospitals, health clubs etc.; check out whatever you plan to do with your time. Do this in more than one town until you find what you are looking for. You can’t rush this.

4. Last but not least, move there by renting for a few months. Make certain you will be happy before selling the old family home.

Happy hunting!

Weight Loss

Top of the list for New Year Resolutions this year, and every year, is to exercise more and to lose weight. I am sure that this applies to baby boomers just as much as any other age group. We all know that carrying extra weight can lead to many health problems Unfortunately, seniors have a greater challenge because our metabolism slows down naturally. As you grow older you burn less calories than you did when you were younger. We tend to become more sedentary and less active which compounds the problem. Keeping those resolutions makes more sense than ever but there are lots of pitfalls that keep us from success.

Weight Loss

Successful weight loss is dependent on more than just dieting. It involves a permanent lifestyle change which includes finding out about foods, nutritional values and appropriate portion size. You need to know the how many calories you should consume a day for your particular lifestyle and what foods and meals work best within that framework for you. Knowledge is key here. Success lies with the ability to live with the changes once you have lost the desired weight so that the weight stays off. The benefits are huge and a five to ten percent decrease in body weight can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels significantly.

The single most beneficial thing you can do for your overall health is to exercise regularly. The great thing is that you will start to see health benefits even with small amounts of regular exercise. The key here is to find something that you enjoy doing and to start slowly. If you find something you enjoy doing then it doesn’t feel like exercise and you are much more likely to continue doing it. My first attempts at jogging were comical but I knew it was going to be something I really enjoyed doing once my body got over the initial shock! Encourage your partner to join you. My husband and I walk after work and it’s a great time to catch up on the day and walking is a great way to start exercising if you haven’t done much in the past. Setting goals for yourself can be a great way of getting more out of the work out. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep in mind that there are gyms and clubs everywhere that offer a variety of ways to exercise .
The benefits of keeping this years resolutions could be tremendous and could add years of healthy living to your life. Weight lose and exercise not only keep you healthy but make you look and feel better. In 2007 just do it!

Where to Retire

We have been wrestling with the question of where to retire for a while now. Even though we are five years away from retirement, we must get prepared. This decision is probably one of the most difficult decisions we will ever make, primarily because it doesn’t just affect us. At the same time it can be truly liberating. There are a few questions you must answer, the toughest one being “how far from your children will you live?” This question has special meaning to me because my parent’s kids are spread all around the globe. I’m in the USA, my oldest sister is in New Zealand and my youngest sister lives on the south coast of England and will be leaving for Australia soon. The world has become smaller. For the first time in my life we will not have our location defined by proximity to work. Everything is open, within the limits we set for ourselves. That is a very liberating thought. “Live where we really want to”. How exciting is that. It sure does take some getting used to though. I don’t know why, but it almost feels selfish to live where I want to”. There are surprisingly few questions that need to be answered to start the search:

  • Proximity to children

Once upon a time, people stayed in the same village they grew up in. The whole family was there, forever. Today, they move around in the pursuit of careers. This is the age of cut-rate airlines, vans with DVD players and instant communications to anywhere. Distances have shrunk and people’s willingness to travel has increased. Children spread their wings and may end up anywhere in the world and so can you. So where do you really want to live?

  • Weather

This is a big factor and the reason for so many retiring to Florida. Truth is that the older we get the more problematic winter becomes. The concept of exchanging cold, snowy winters for extreme summer heat and humidity is not for me. Every one will have a different answer on this one.

  • Affordability

The majority of people retire in their family homes. This is the single most affordable place to live, especially if you own your own home. The cost of living on the U.S. coasts is very high in comparison to the heartland so affordability will prove to be a major limiting factor.

  • Environment

Do you like desert or mountains? Small towns or cities? The open plains or forests? Proximity to the amenities and environment you love will be high on your list. Remember that vacation you loved? Do you want to live there? Intriguing opportunities are ahead if you let them.

  • Medical Amenities

The life you take for granted will not be the same in the future. Even now, your physical condition is not what it once was. You do not get younger so available medical facilities are important whether you like it or not.

Once you can answer the “where” question down to an area of the country then details become important. What kind of house will you live in? Which town exactly? But that’s the next step in this journey.