Sunday, March 1, 2015

Crossing a Threshold

     Sometimes in life we end up doing things we never expected we'd do. I never expected to get divorced. I never expected to lose my job. I never expected to be as old as my dad ... and yet I hear his voice coming out of my mouth all the time.

     The Midlife Crisis Queen never expected to move to a small town in the middle of Colorado. But that's just what she did a little less than a year ago. She and her husband are renting a place in the tiny town of Walsenburg, CO, with a population of 3,068, which still makes it the largest metropolitan area in Huerfano County. In her post Living in the Land of Relaxation she offers her impressions of small town living after years of residing in the city.

     But moving to this tiny town is not the half of it. The reason she's there is because she's building her own home even farther out into the wilderness, in the shadow of the Spanish Peaks. To see how it's going, journey over to her post Beautiful Snow and a Garage Door Too! I guarantee you'll be amazed at some of her photos.

     Meanwhile, Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting has crossed her own threshold in life. Get ready, because it's a big one!

     As much as she hates to admit it, she now eagerly drives into town in the late afternoon, heads to a restaurant and proceeds to patronize the ... early bird special! Check out her admission into this new phase of life in Confession of an Early Birder.

     Personally, I see nothing wrong in taking advantage of a cheap meal -- however you come by it -- but the real question is: Does she stuff those Sweet 'n Lo packets into her purse before she goes out the door to get home safely before dark?

     Now I move on from something we never expected we'd do, to something that I, at least, resolved never to do again. After struggling through several used cars in my early adulthood -- a Buick, a VW, a Saab -- I told myself I would never buy a used car again. So the years went by. I bought a brand new Ford Taurus, a Honda, another Saab (okay, everybody's allowed to repeat one mistake). And then, again, I needed a new car. But a new one seemed so expensive, and there was this great deal on a Volvo with less than 30,000 miles on it, and there was a one-year guarantee ... and (the salesman told me) it was only driven by a little old lady. On Sundays. To church.

     So I went ahead and bought a used 2004 Volvo. Then, within a few weeks, it was back at the dealer for a new transmission. Fortunately, it was covered by the warranty. Still, I spent a fortune on that car over the next several years -- until my daughter said she'd take it off my hands. She's now still driving that thing, closing in on 200,000 miles. And if what she tells me is true, she hasn't spent a dime on it in the last three years other than to change the oil. Go figure.

     Anyway, that's a long introduction to The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, where consumer journalist Rita R. Robison offers a parking lot full of the  Best Used Cars for Every Budget, according to Consumer Reports. The review also includes a list warning us off the worst used cars. So if you're in the market, drive over to see the list. And by the way, Volvo doesn't make either the best or the worst list. Which leads me to believe, maybe it's not the car, but the driver, who determines how the car performs over the long haul. 

     Finally, from Smart Living 365, we have some thoughts not about how cars perform, but how we ourselves perform in our own lives, and how much we create our own circumstances and our own futures.

     Says blogger Kathy Gottberg, "While I'll admit that it is empowering to think I influence my world, and easy to imagine that your reality can be very different from mine, obviously that doesn't mean I can fly just because I want to. So do we create our own reality? What does the statement even mean? Is it true? And if yes, how does that lead to a smart and happy life?" For some insights, if not the final answers, try going to The Truth Behind "You Create Your Own Reality." 

      That's all from the Baby Boomer bloggers, except to say that B and I will be watching Downton Abbey tonight. It's the Season 5 finale, so maybe we'll find out what happens with ... well, you can watch on your own and enjoy it yourself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Does Cold Weather Help You Live Longer?

     I'm always looking for the silver lining, so the other day when I was outside shoveling the walkway and freezing my butt off, the thought came to me that I'd read somewhere recently that people who live in cold climates live longer than people in warmer climates. So I began to wonder, is that really true, or is it just a tale northerners tell themselves? I decided to do some homework on the issue.

     Researchers from the University of Michigan, in a study published in the journal Cell, reported that worms exposed to cold temperatures demonstrate a genetic response that triggers longer life spans. The researchers went on to speculate that the phenomenon may translate to humans since similar genetic pathways are present in human beings.

     Also, according to an article in Prevention magazine, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that reducing the core body temperature in mice extends their lifespans by up to 20 percent. And another study discovered that mussels in balmy Spain live an average of only 29 years, but mussels in frigid Russia survive as long as 200 years!

     Well, that's fine. But what if you're not a worm or a mouse or a mussel? The evidence is not nearly so clear. One source who believes cold weather extends life suggested that things get rotten in warm places. So people living in northern climes are like perishables put in the refrigerator -- they last longer. Another speculates that many harmful bugs and bacteria are killed off during the cold northern winters, lessening the threat of deadly diseases to northerners. Still another says that southerners suffer more damage from overexposure to the sun, which ages the skin and causes skin cancers, thus shortening their lives compared to their northern counterparts.

     Another suggestion: The mitochondria in human cells produce body heat by burning fats and oxygen, and in the process they swallow up the free radicals that contribute to aging. People in cold climates need more mitochondria to produce more heat. They therefore have more mitochondria, and the more mitochondria you have, the slower your aging process.

     On the other hand, some southerners point out that northerners don't get enough sunlight, and may bear the consequences in Vitamin D deficiencies. Some health experts estimate that 50 percent of adults have low levels of vitamin D, largely because they spend too much time indoors away from the sun. The long, dark northern winters may also bring on seasonal affective disorders and other forms of depression which can lead to premature death.

     Being stuck inside, northerners are also more exposed to communicable diseases such as influenza, and because the cold air dries out people's mucus membranes, they are more susceptible to infections, and more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma. They are also more likely to lead sedentary lives resulting in obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart problems.

     However, studies also show that cold weather may affect our body chemistry to reduce the impact of pain, and exposure to freezing temperatures can increase our energy output. Presumably, taking a two-mile walk in 20-degree weather is more exercise than taking a two-mile walk in 70-degree weather -- and we don't feel the aches and pains afterwards.

     So what does all this mean? According to an article in U. S. News, you are most likely to live to age 100 if you reside in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa or Nebraska. These states are indeed cold, but they also share another common denominator. They are all Midwestern states where people may have old-fashioned Midwestern values such as hard work and clean living.

     Meanwhile an article in WedMD tells us that the states with the longest living residents are Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota, Connecticut and Utah. The states with the shortest life expectancy are: Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

     You can see the obvious correlation between temperature and longevity (with the exception of Hawaii). But it's also pretty obvious that a lot of other issues are involved, including wealth, education and a host of other factors. But maybe we can take this away from the issue: If you live in the north get outdoors more, especially in the winter. If you live in the south, stay out of the sun, especially in the summer. But no matter where you live, try to get more exercise.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Not the Oscars

     Last night was Oscar night. B and I turned on the show at 8 p.m. (EST) -- we thought it started at 8, but it actually started at 8:30, so we saw a little of the Red Carpet preview. But honestly, we switched over to "Downton Abbey" at 9 p.m., then we walked the dog, then we went to bed.

     So that tells you how much of a movie expert I am. However, yesterday afternoon we went to a dance at our local American Legion. We sat at a table with a group of friends and acquaintances, all age 60 to early 70s. For some reason, between dances, the topic of movies came up. So here's a report on what people -- real people in our demographic -- think of these current movies, not what the so-called experts would have us believe.

     American Sniper -- Well, actually, nobody at our table had seen this controversial movie about Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in American history, directed by Clint Eastwood. A couple of people wanted to see it, but not B. She is pretty sure it would be too violent for her. She does not like violent movies.

     Boyhood -- B and I have been wanting to see this movie for months, but we haven't been able to find it in a theater. Maybe we're lucky. Three people at our table had seen it. One couple reported that it was so boring they both fell asleep. Our friend Julie offered that she thought it was really bad, and said she would have walked out if she hadn't been with a friend. Later, driving home, B turned to me. "I'm surprised no one liked Boyhood," she said. "Maybe we should go see it anyway, just to find out what they're talking about." Maybe we will ... if we can find a theater where it's playing.

    Fifty Shades of Grey -- I went over this in my last post. One other person at the table had read the book besides me. Curiously, two other women volunteered that they had started reading the book, but had put it down. They thought it was too lame, too vacuous, too whatever. Nobody had seen the movie; nobody wanted to see it. So to steal a phrase ... two thumbs down.

     The Grand Budapest Hotel -- One person at the table recommended this Wes Anderson caper movie that takes place in Europe between the wars. (Another person had it confused with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, about the British pensioners who retired in India. There's a sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, coming out later this year.) I don't know. I'm not a big Wes Anderson fan. But maybe we'll check it out.

     The Imitation Game -- I'd heard about this movie, and honestly, it didn't appeal to me. It's about a British code-breaker in post-World-War II England who's arrested for homosexuality. I figured it's got a complicated, hard-to-follow plot with a heavy dose of political correctness. But several people had seen it, and they recommended it enthusiastically. So I figure, I ought to give it a chance ... even though (I found out later) it only earned one Oscar (for adapted screenplay).

     The Theory of Everything -- One couple at the table had seen it, and they recommended it highly. "But isn't it depressing?" I wondered. "It's about Stephen Hawking coming down with a horrible disease." No, it's not depressing, they said, it's really an uplifting love story. And I found out later:  Eddie Redmayne (who I liked in the movie version of Les Miserables) won Best Actor for his performance. So, definitely, put this on your "go see" list.

     Wild -- I was the only one who'd seen it. I'd read the book, and I liked it. I couldn't visualize how they would make much of a film out of it, so I wanted to see what they did. I thought Reese Witherspoon carried off the role very well; but it seemed to me that a lot was left out of the story. I'd say, if you've read the book, then don't bother with the movie. But if you haven't read the book, it's worth a trip to the theater.

     Sorry, but Still Alice, the movie about Alzheimer's, didn't come up in our conversation. Julianne Moore won Best Actress for her performance. (For a complete list of Oscar winners go to Variety.) But this one has got to be depressing, don't you think?

     Finally, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), didn't come up in our conversation either. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, so I figure it's probably worth going to see. Anyway, I guess that shows you how much I know. But then, as I admitted right up front, we turned to "Downton Abbey" instead.

Friday, February 20, 2015

50 Shades of Gray

     It's an epic story filled with romance and disappointment; hope and fear. And at the very end, there is a dramatic scene that usually takes place in the bedroom.

     Often it starts out with so much promise, only to be tripped up on the shoals of experience, until we realize we can attain a more rewarding and satisfying relationship with ourselves and our loved ones through patience, tolerance, experience, and a commitment to family and friends, as well as the resolve to be true to ourselves.

     There is young passion, maturing into a deeper, more textured love. But the story is not without violence, and sometimes even death, along with the general ravages of time. I am talking about the experience of real life itself, in all its colors and textures, with all its rewards and disappointments -- and the result, for most of us, is 50 shades of gray.

    Wait! If you thought this post was about the new movie, based on last year's hottest book 50 Shades of Grey, you are sorely mistaken. The Grey in that story is a narcissistic, self-serving misogynist named Christian Grey, who lures the young and curious literature student Anastasia Steele into his lair of sexual restraint.

     I read the book and, believe me, it is much more an old-fashioned romance novel than any kind of modern, sexually explicit literary spellbinder. I am not likely to see the movie, because I suspect it is all tease and titillation, but does not deliver a true sense of resolution or completion, much less any real emotional impact.

     I read the book last year because my friend's wife said she'd read it and actually liked it. B tried to read the book and gave up -- not because it offended her delicate sense of sexual propriety (which she does have), but because she thought the book was repetitive and shallow. She couldn't get engaged with the story; and she put it down because she felt it just wasn't going anywhere.

     Anyway, B and I watched a truly romantic movie on Valentine's Day. On TV we caught Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, a classic that B (amazingly!) had never seen before.

     Casablanca is one great film that still holds up, more than 70 years later. And for those of you who were attracted to this post by the titillation in the title, to paraphrase Captain Louis Renault from the movie:  I am shocked ... shocked to find that you think there is some kind of pornography going on in here!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Snow Is Me

     I watch the snow. More than I want. More than I can tolerate. I am sick of the snow.

     And I can't even complain about it, because I spent 2 1/2 weeks in Florida, while many of my friends have been here all winter, shaking and shoveling and shivering. B never took a break from the cold; she's been here the entire time. Her brother lives in Massachusetts, and he's gotten it even worse. There's my daughter in Buffalo. Brrrffalo.

     I see the students down at the college, standing out in the cold, waiting for the bus, huddled under their coats and hats and scarves. They don't complain. Of all the people I know at the college, only one person other than me was able to get away -- she went to Miami with her boyfriend for one week. And I had 2 1/2 weeks. So I can't complain. But those weeks seem so long ago.

     I no longer have any resistance to the cold. It seems that every week I need to put on another layer before I can feel comfortable around the house. B and I sat watching TV last night. I had a blanket around my shoulders; B had one draped over her knees. Like a couple of old people.

     It's mid-February. It was 14 degrees this morning. I keep looking on the five-day forecast to see if it will start to get warmer. Then the ten-day forecast. So far, no sign of it. 

     My friend Mike had the foresight to buy a condominium in Florida at the bottom of the real-estate market a few years ago. Now he goes down there for three months. So he's warm and happy. And I'm green with envy. But nothing is green around here. Only white. I am icy with envy. Someone else I know left for Guatemala. I don't know what he's doing there, but I know he's not shoveling snow.

     And then I get this lovely email from my sister who lives in Phoenix: "Tom: Are you getting all of this snow that we hear about over in our 78 degree weather? (Ha!)"

     I give a forced laugh. I know she means well, means to be funny. But I only think to myself, I will write her in July, asking about the baking, searing, enervating 100+ degree heat.

     But that gives me cold comfort. And I wonder: Is hell hot, or cold?