Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Perfect Summer Drink

     I used to quaff my fair share of soft drinks. Mostly I went for the diet colas, telling myself:  They're diet. Zero calories. They can't hurt me.

     But somehow -- I don't know how -- those diet sodas set me up for padding on the pounds. So a few years ago, as part of a health kick and as part of an effort to lose some weight, I turned to bottled water. I don't know if I'm any healthier, but I did lose about 15 pounds.

     Since then, as I've mentioned before, I've managed to stay comfortably in the just-slightly-overweight category. I'd like to get down to normal, but that's probably not going to happen. At least I have no sign of diabetes, and now that the load on my aging knees has been lightened, I don't have to go back to the orthopedist for a cortisone shot or pay for physical therapy.

     So now I am an enthusiastic proponent of drinking water. I like bottled water, but B wants me to drink water out of the tap. It's just as good, she says, and then you don't fill up the landfills with all those plastic bottles. But I have to say, there's something satisfying about pulling open the refrigerator door, grabbing a cold clear bottle and cracking off the lid. And since I typically refill each bottle a couple of times from the refrigerator water dispenser, I'm not adding all that much to the landfills.

     But lately, I must confess, I've been doing something else -- I've been adding "mud" to that water, meaning I've been making iced coffee for myself. It's a good pick-me-up in the afternoon. And it tastes really good!

To your health!
     I put milk and sugar in the coffee, so it's nowhere close to zero calories. And yet, somehow I feel my iced coffee has less of the bad stuff than a soft drink -- it certainly has less sugar than a nondiet drink.

     I usually down a couple of cups of hot coffee in the morning. I mean, I have to wake up somehow. And I've read (and previously reported in What Do You Drink in the Morning?) that coffee is actually good for you.

     Okay, the research is not unequivocal, and there are come cautions about coffee (mostly in consuming large amounts of caffeinated coffee) -- it can cause stomach upset, migraines, heart arrhythmia, sleep disorders. But the medical consensus is that for most people the benefits of coffee far outweigh the risks. Coffee seems to delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease and decrease the risk of getting Parkinson's. It also lowers your risk of heart failure, of developing Type 2 diabetes, of getting prostate cancer and basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.

     Then yesterday I read that coffee offers yet another benefit. A report from Harvard Medical School -- as posted by the Huffington Post and elsewhere -- says that drinking two or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day may lower your risk of suicide by as much as 50 percent. The study follows other studies showing that drinking coffee also reduces the risk of depression.

     Now, while I've had my share of ups and downs over the years, I don't think I'm at any risk at all of suicide. But suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America today, and it has plagued America's senior population more than any other group. According to a CBS News report from a couple of years ago, Americans 65 and over account for about 13 percent of the population, but almost a fifth of all suicides. So it's nothing to take lightly.

     Anyway, I'm going to go brew up some more iced coffee. Don't worry, I'm not giving up water. And B is always making iced tea, which I like as well. But iced tea only appeals to me when it gets really hot, like over 85 degrees, which doesn't happen around here all that much.

     When it gets cold I also drink hot tea, and I believe tea is good for us as well, so I'll do a post on the benefits of tea -- just as soon as it gets hot enough, or cold enough. But meanwhile, at least for now, that iced cold muddy water is the perfect summer drink for me!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How You Know Vacation Is Over

     You turn into the driveway and immediately notice that the grass needs to be cut. That's the first sign you're home from vacation.

     In other words, you know your vacation is over not just because you get home, but because you drive back through the gates of reality. That's why B and I always go out to dinner the first night we return from vacation -- to postpone wading into our at-home routine, beginning with the cooking and the washing of dishes. (Although B usually likes to dive right into the pile of laundry ... I don't know why.)

     It also has to do with connecting back to the real world of money, bills, dealing with the difficult people in our lives ... and the news. We were away for eight days, and blissfully did not turn on the TV even once. Didn't listen to the radio either. We missed a lot of the Zimmerman trial. We missed most of the hype leading up to the birth of the royal baby. Don't know what else we missed, because we weren't paying attention. But in fact, we didn't miss any of it.

     After we got home, I did turn on the TV news for a bit. And I checked my facebook news page, where people post pictures of babies or put up vacation photos -- and where others insist on pushing their political views. I have a number of friends who post two or three political messages a day. I've employed the Facebook blocking feature to avoid these unsolicited opinions. But some things still get through, and the messages always seem to come either from rabid liberals or rabid conservatives.

     You can tell right away because they use tell-tale words. If you see the word "insane," it's probably a conservative referring to a liberal. If you see the word "idiot" -- sometimes expanded to "complete idiot" -- then it's likely a liberal referring to a conservative. If you see the word "liar" or "hate" or "racist" it's hard to tell, because both liberals and conservatives throw those words around indiscriminately.

      I myself am a Democrat. I vote Democratic most of the time -- not all the time, because I like to believe that I think for myself and don't just follow the party line. Plus, some of the things liberal Democrats believe in are almost as "crazy" as some of the things far-right Republicans believe in.

     I worry about the "loony fringe" taking over our political parties. At the moment, the Republican party seems more in danger of that than the Democrats (although the Dems certainly have had their moments). But I don't want either party to go too far off the tracks, because then it will lose any reasonable support. I'm a Democrat. But I think the Republicans are necessary. Otherwise, we'll have a one-party system. And we do not want a one party system. That's what they have in North Korea.

     I recall a survey, sometime last year, that showed roughly 25% of Americans supported the Tea Party, and about 30% supported Occupy Wall Street. If that's true, then it leaves 45% of us somewhere in the middle.

      So despite what the media tells you -- that the country is split in two, that there are Red States and Blue States and never the twain shall meet -- in fact, the moderates and independents are the largest political group, and while we don't have the lobbyists in Washington to buy off appeal to the politicians, like the doctors and the bankers and the teachers and all the other special interests do, we are the ones that the political parties need to appeal to if they're going to win an election.

     But how did I get off on that tangent? In my life, politics is nothing more than entertainment on TV. Our local politicians are much more reasonable -- perhaps because we actually know these people and so they can't get away with saying stupid, outrageous things. And as far as vacation goes, I didn't hear one person call anyone else "insane" or a "complete idiot" the whole time we were gone.

     Anyway, politics is not my reality. My reality is ... oh, darn, B picked up the mail yesterday, a box full of stuff that was held at the post office while we were away. The ads, the solicitations, the coupons, all trying to get us to spend more money. I'll ignore them, and just carry them out to recycling. But I can't ignore the bills. The bills are my reality. But wait ... first, I'll go mow the lawn.

     

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Maybe College Football Should Take a Hike

     In my town the high-school football team began its summer "workouts" last week. The early morning practices, starting at 6 a.m., will continue three times a week for the rest of the summer. The team plays its first game on Sept. 7.

     I don't live in a big football town -- nothing like what you find in Texas or Georgia. Most of the players on our high-school team will never play in college. The very best of them will play varsity football at low-level Division III schools like Muhlenberg, Kenyon or Middlebury.

     Yet football is ingrained into our culture. The game creates an enormous amount of school spirit. So what are we to make of the anti-football argument made by Malcolm Gladwell?

     On Sunday I saw the popular writer of such science books as The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, being interviewed on CNN by Fareed Zakaria. Gladwell is on a campaign to ban college football on the premise that the sport is too violent and too often leads to debilitating brain injuries in its young players. In a controversial New Yorker article from a few years ago he compared football to dog fighting.

     Gladwell cites research saying the head injuries football players routinely suffer during practices and games often lead to serious neurological disorders. There have been instances where the repeated head trauma has been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in former college and professional football players, as well as former boxers and hockey players.

     He cited the case of Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football player who committed suicide in 2010. His autopsy showed early stages of CTE -- just as autopsies showed CTE in former professional players like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau who also committed suicide.

     Gladwell did not address the issue of professional football. Perhaps a professional player, as an adult, can make the decision to take on the risk of CTE as the price that has to be paid for the job. After all, police and firefighters and truck drivers and construction workers also risk injury and even death in order to do their jobs.

     What Gladwell questions is why our institutions of higher learning, which are dedicated to developing and improving the minds of our young people, are sponsoring a game that is shown to produce exactly the opposite results. How can a leading university like Penn teach its students advanced science and literature courses in the morning, then send those same kids out to suffer brain injury in the afternoon?

     Of course, anyone who plays any sport takes on a risk of injury. But track or tennis, or swimming or soccer or baseball, are not violent contact sports that involve repeated trauma to the head. They may result in a torn ligament or stress injury -- or there can always be a terrible accident -- but they don't require the constant violent contact that predictably brings on a debilitating and perhaps fatal brain disease.

     Like I said, I don't know what to make of Gladwell's argument. I don't know if Division III football carries the same risk of injury that goes along with football in the Big Ten or the Pac 12. And as far as the big state schools go, can you imagine Penn State or Notre Dame or Florida or Oklahoma giving up its football program? The alumni would go crazy!

     Big-time college football serves as a minor league for professional football. It brings in big money to the big schools. Some would argue that football scholarships give underprivileged kids an educational opportunity they otherwise would never have. But is the college football team really a part of the academic program of a state university, or are these football players essentially hired guns who major in physical education, rarely show up in class, and have nothing to do with the rest of the student body?

     I don't pretend to know the answers. I do know that there are a number of top schools that manage without a football team:  Boston University, New York University, George Washington University, as well as small colleges like Swarthmore and Haverford.

     Anyway, as the college football season soon swings into action, perhaps we should ask ourselves the obvious questions: Should universities really be in the business of producing football players? And are those bulked-up 300-pound kids being given an opportunity, or are they being exploited?

    

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Where Are We?

     B and I have been away for the past week. Someone told me at home the temperature reached 100 degrees. I can't verify that. But I did see a photo of a digital thermometer posted on Facebook by a friend of mine. It read 99 degrees.

     It's been hot where we are, too, but nowhere near 100. It's a little cooler not because we're in the mountains (as guessed last week by DJan), but because we're at the seashore. We've had to deal with the humidity, with no air conditioning, but we've enjoyed a constant sea breeze, and we've made daily trips to the sandy beach, where the water is 70 degrees, or else pedaled four miles along the bike trail to the lake, where the water is 75 degrees.

     So how long will it take you to figure out where we are?


Here's the quaint village home we rented


We didn't dine at The Port (too expensive) or the Oyster Bar (too oystery)

   
We didn't go to the Sea Grille either (way too expensive)


But we did get our share of Bonatt's famous "meltaway" sticky buns


B wanted jewelry and frozen yogurt (there, that's a hint -- cranberry)


But I wanted candy and a beach toy

   

We were in the bluest of the Blue states. But they are very patriotic


Flags everywhere. This person is far from home ... that's a California bear on the flag on the left



But not everyone here is rich


By now you must know we're in Red Sox Nation

A place with lots of art galleries -- see my my self-portrait in the window?




You can't see it, but down the coast of Nantucket Sound is the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport



     So we have been happy in our little town on Cape Cod, Harwichport, Mass., where we've been enjoying the sand and the water and the sea breezes. But, alas, now it's back to the 100-degree weather that awaits us in the real world.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Best of Summer Blogs

     What's going on at some of the best Boomer blogs this week? 

photo: J. Star
     In a recent post on The Generation Above Me, Karen Austin reminds us that as our parents age, they are at greater risk for falls, especially falls in the bathroom. She summarizes the results of a study about emergency room visits due to bathroom falls, and provides a list of home improvements for reducing risks. 

    Meanwhile, I can tell you from my own first-hand experience -- as recounted in my post Two Thumbs Up -- that falling in the bathroom doesn't just affect our aged parents. It can happen to anyone -- even me.

     Meanwhile, did you ever wonder why your inkjet printer's cartridges aren't lasting as long? On the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita R. Robinson, consumer journalist, writes about the Consumer Reports tests that show many inkjet printers use more than $100 of ink a year just for their maintenance cycles. Consumer Reports offers several simple suggestions on how to save ink by doing some obvious things like printing in draft mode for less critical jobs, as well as some counterintuitive things like leaving the power on for the printer.

     John Agno offers some words of wisdom regarding what aging men need -- regardless of what they might want. If you journey over to So Baby Boomer, you'll also find out where the word mentor comes from -- and discover that you no longer have to travel alone.

     Finally, Laura Lee wanted to know some of the major differences between Boomers and their parents. She researched the question and came up with some pretty interesting answers regarding health, shopping, stress, and personal appearance. Go take a look. Then go have fun in the sun . . . but don't forget the suntan lotion!

 



Friday, July 12, 2013

How Safe Can You Be?


     A new report says that not all men should get the PSA test for prostate cancer, because it often produces false positives and leads to treatments that are both risky and expensive.

     I've had many PSA tests over the years -- I take any test that's free and doesn't hurt! -- and I once had a somewhat-elevated number. The doctor simply called me back in; the lab redid the test; and the number was normal. Presumably it was a false positive. I'm not sure what extra risk I was taking.

     So I think I'll continue to take the test, if my doctor will let me, because even though for most older men developing slow-growing prostate cancer is somewhat normal and not life threatening, I do have a family history of cancer and I try to be vigilant.

     According to the experts, however, I'm just a hypochondriac. I'm wasting medical resources and posing a danger to myself. Maybe at my next checkup my doctor will simply tell me I don't need it -- and I do tend to do what my doctor tells me to do. That would solve the problem.

     But I do wonder how many men insist on the PSA test, even though they don't need it.

     (I, on the other hand, don't push for heart tests, because my family has a history of strong, healthy hearts. So I figure any extra cost ot the system I create with my worries about cancer, I save with my complacency about heart disease.)

     So anyway, B and I are going on vacation next week. I also wonder how many of you lock your doors when you go away on vacation. Maybe I shouldn't reveal this, in case some nefarious internet criminal gets his or her hands on my home address (are you watching NSA?), but we hardly ever lock our doors. In fact, I do not even carry a key to my house.

     I do lock up and close the first-floor windows when we go to bed at night. I don't want to be in the house if and when a burglar decides to break in. Not that I want someone to break in when I'm away from home, either, but we really don't have much in the house that's irreplaceable or even very valuable. Except maybe some old photos ... and who's going to steal old photos?

     I guess we'll lock the house when we go away. Both of my kids are supposed to stop by while we're gone. But B gave my daughter a key; and my son has a key to the car we'll leave behind, and then he can use the garage-door opener.

     Also, we have someone taking care of our dog. So there will be a lot of people coming and going while we're not here. I just don't worry about it.

     Finally, it was three weeks ago that I started my microwave experiment. As you can see, both plants are doing just fine. Since the young woman on Facebook claimed the microwaved water killed her plant in nine days, I think I'm within scientific bounds to proclaim that I could not replicate her experiment. (And while I'm away, probably both plants will die, so the experiment will be over anyway.) I am therefore drawing my conclusion now:  microwaved water is safe to drink, or at least safe to water your plants with.

     If you want more rumination about how safe we reasonably can be, check out Facts About the Safety of Diet Coke, which I found via Facebook courtesy of friends Susan Rice and Sharon Greenthal.

     On Monday I'm slated to post the Best of Boomer Blogs, which I will do. But otherwise, next week I hope I'll be outdoors enjoying summer activities, not indoors posting blog entries on my laptop.

     Last time I was away, I asked people to guess where I was. Most people correctly placed me in Savannah, Ga. Obviously, I made it too easy.

     So next week I'll make it harder. Can you guess where I'll be? All I'll tell you right now is according to weather.com it's supposed to be sunny, in the low 80s, every day. I hope they're right!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I Apply for Medicare, Part II

     The other day I received an envelope in the mail from the Social Security Administration. I opened it up. I got my Medicare card!

     I feel like I've been accepted into an exclusive club. Better than AAA; better than AARP; better than my America the Beautiful senior pass to the National Parks.

     Now, if I only knew what Medicare covers. And what other medical coverage I should get.

     I went through one round of trying to figure out how Medicare works, apart from Parts A and B, as I recounted in I Apply for Medicare, Part I. I did learn some information; but not enough to make me think I could find an appropriate backup plan.

     So I phoned my sister. She's older than I am and has been on Medicare for a couple of years -- and I know she's used the system, so I thought I could ask her how it works.

     "You haven't gotten any information in the mail?" she said, incredulously. "I think I got several mailings. But to tell you the truth, I wasn't paying attention." She knew she was going on her husband's medical plan to supplement Medicare. It's a good plan and, as she said, "It's almost free," and so she didn't research other options. Some people are lucky. And she was happy getting whatever she would get.

     My ex-wife had mentioned that she'd gone to an insurance agent specializing in Medicare plans. The agent had assessed her situation, come up with several options for her and explained the details of both coverage and cost. I googled Medicare insurance agents in my town. The nearest one is a 40-minute drive. Maybe I'd go see him, I said to myself, but let me try to figure this out on my own. I really didn't want to have to drive that far, on speculation that the agent would know what he was talking about, and know what would be best for me.

     Of course, I'd neglected to ask my ex-wife what plan she'd decided on. So I called her back. She told me she's using a United Health Care plan she got through AARP. That was the one recommended to her by her agent; and so far it was working just fine.

     Meanwhile, I'd received two thick envelopes from my own insurance company. I opened them up; and the contents were both intimidating, and discouraging. Oh man, I really didn't want to read all that mumbo jumbo!

     Nevertheless, I gamely opened up the package and started to read through the material. There were several HMO plans. But I want to reserve the option to go to a doctor outside my network, in case I ever need a certain specialist. So I turned to the PPO plans.

     I tried to compare PPO I and PPO II and PPO III and PPO "High Option." I focused on PPO II and PPO III, figuring I didn't want either the cheapest or the most expensive plan. But it looked to me, as I inspected the columns of benefits, that PPO III is more expensive but offers fewer benefits. That couldn't possibly be right. So I threw up my hands and gave up. For the moment, anyway. I knew I'd have to go back to it.

     Then I thought, I should contact AARP. If it was good enough for my ex-wife, it would probably be good enough for me,

     I went to the AARP website. After searching through the site (the insurance plans are hard to find) I found a reference to several AARP Supplemental plans. And I also found a recommendation for Medicare Advantage plan. What's the difference between Medicare Supplement, and Medicare Advantage? I didn't know. I'd also seen reference to Medicare Gap plans. What are they?

     I decided to call the 800 number. I then spent about 45 minutes on the phone with a woman who explained all about the AARP Medicare Advantage plan that was available in my area. There are several advantages, she explained. It takes the place of Medicare Part C. It includes the Part D drug plan and some dental insurance and some other ancillary benefits.

     Then she finally allowed as how the Medicare Advantage plan is an HMO plan. "Oh," I said. "That means I have to stay in a network?"

     "Yes, that's right. But we have a lot of doctors in the network."

     "Wait a second," I said, as it finally dawned on me. "Are all Medicare Advantage plans HMO plans?"

     "Yes, that's right."

     "So how can I tell if my medical group accepts this AARP Medical Advantage plan?"

     "Oh, I can look it up for you."

     So she put me on hold for a minute. She came back on the line. It turns out my medical group accepts several other United Health Care options. But not this United Health Care Medical Advantage plan. So unless I changed to another doctor in their network, every time I went to the doctor it would be out of network, costing me a fortune.

     Were there any other options available to me? I wondered. What about that AARP Supplemental plan I saw on another page of the website?

     "Oh, I don't handle those plans," said the woman. "They're administered through someone else."

     So . . . 45 minutes down the drain. But at least I learned that a Medical Advantage plan is an HMO plan, requiring you to go to doctors in their network.

     I was drained. No more research today. I quit . . . knowing no more than I knew before -- which is that it is easy to sign up for Medicare, but hard to find out exactly what you're signing up for. But I will figure it out, for sure, for my third and final installment of how I applied for Medicare, coming up (hopefully) next week.

    

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Do We Spoil Our Kids?

     I just read an article Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost? an essay about how we as parents are not asking enough of our children -- we don't require them to do chores; we buy them too many things; we keep enabling their dependence until they're well into their 20s and beyond.

     I might have dismissed the piece as a typical rant from a crotchety conservative complaining about how our kids have it too easy and the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

     Except the reason I saw the article was because a young friend of mine posted it on his Facebook page. He's no conservative. He's in his mid-30s, and happens to be the principal of a high school in New Jersey.

     Plus, the article was published in the liberal magazine The New Yorker, authored by a liberal woman known mostly for reporting on the evils of carbon emissions and their effects on global warming, and who has taken President Obama to task for being too easy on regulating coal-burning electric companies and SUV-producing automobile companies.

     The writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, contrasts a family living in the Peruvian Amazon with middle-class families living in Los Angeles. The kids in Peru help cook, help clean up, and in general make themselves useful to everyday family endeavors. Even six-year-olds are beginning to learn adult responsibilities.

     In L.A. the parents beg their children to do simple chores or take basic hygiene measures, and the kids either refuse to do the job, or just ignore the parents -- and the end result is that the parents end up waiting on the kids.

     Kolbert concludes, "With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world."

     Why is it, she asks, that Peruvian children help their families more than American children do? And why do American parents help their children at home more than the Peruvian parents do?

      And why is it that so many American kids, after four years of college and a couple of years either working or going to graduate school, end up moving back home, then sleeping late, eating mom's cooking, and making only feeble attempts to find a new job?

     Some of the blame can be laid on a poor economy and the difficulty in finding a job . . . and the pressure on younger children not to help out the family, but to do their homework, engage in extracurricular activities and get into a good college . . . so they can get a good job and don't end up back in their parents basement when they're in their 20s.

     But I wonder how much the world that Elizabeth Kolbert describes squares with your view of your own children, and maybe your grandchildren.

     I look at my own daughter (college class of 2005) and her friends, and I can't think of one of them who moved back home. They are all working, getting married, carrying on with their lives. I look at my son (college class of 2008) or B's son (college class of 2009), and I see many more instances of kids having difficulties landing a job, finding an apartment, and in general launching their lives. This, no doubt, is a result of the Great Recession and its aftereffects.

    But as for Kolbert's description of kids who act entitled to every latest toy, who will not help at home, who will not even help themselves ... it seems to me she's presenting a cartoonish version of the real day-to-day ebb and flow of teaching kids about adult responsibilities and relationships. Sure, kids are reluctant helpers. But they do learn, eventually, don't they?

     But then I wonder:  my friend the high-school principal. How come he found the article so relevant he posted it on his Facebook page?

    

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Remember Her?

     There is a dormitory named after her at Purdue University. In 2007, the U. S. Navy named a cargo ship for her. There's a dam named after her on the Mystic River in Massachusetts, and a bridge that crosses the Mississippi at Atchison, Kansas.

     Several schools in California are named in her honor. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver inducted her into the California Hall of Fame in 2006. And several movies have been made of her life and times.

Bridge across the Mississippi
     Who is she? She wrote several bestselling books; worked for a time at Cosmopolitan magazine; and was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

     She came from a wealthy but troubled family. As a young girl she lived at her maternal grandparents' house in Atchison. Her grandfather was a judge, then became president of a savings bank. Her father was a lawyer.

     She was her parents' second child -- the first one died in childbirth -- and when she was two years old she was joined by a younger sister. She and her sister, nicknamed Pidge, were both tomboys. The two girls were home-schooled first by their mother, then by a governess.

     When she was ten years old, her father took a new job with a railroad. Her parents moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and left the two girls behind at their grandparents' house. Two years later, the girls joined their parents in Des Moines, and for the first time they attended a regular public school.

     The father was eventually discovered to be an alcoholic. He lost his job, underwent some treatment and eventually found work in St. Paul, Minn. This time the parents took their girls with them. But the parents soon separated, and the girls moved to Chicago with their mother.

     The older sister graduated from Hyde Park High School and went to a junior college in Pennsylvania. During Christmas vacation she visited a relative in Toronto, where she saw soldiers returning from war. She decided to train as a nurse and began working in a Toronto military hospital.

     She caught pneumonia and sinusitis, a condition that plagued her for the rest of her life -- especially when, a few years later, she started a new career. She spent about a year convalescing, part of the time with her sister in Massachusetts, then moved to New York City to further her medical career. But she didn't last long in New York, and soon moved to California, where her parents had reunited and were now living.

     The turning point in her life occurred in December 1920, when her father took her to a local airfield and she took her first ride in an airplane. "By the time I had gotten two or three hundred feet off the ground," she later reflected, "I knew I had to fly."

     She took her first flying lesson in January 1921 at Kinner Field near Long Beach. In order to reach the field she had to ride the bus to the end of the line, then walk four miles to the airfield. She cropped her hair short, in the style of other pioneer female fliers. And six months later she bought a used Kinner Airster biplane. On Oct. 22, 1922 she piloted the plane up to 14,000 feet -- then a record for any female pilot.

     Are you getting a sense of who she was? In 1924, after her parents finally got a divorce, she flew with her mother from California to Boston. She settled down in the Boston area, flying out of Quincy, Mass., working as a sales representative for Kinner aircraft and writing newspaper columns (and later for Cosmo) promoting flying.

     After Charles Lindbergh flew to Europe in 1927, a group of aviation enthusiasts became interested in sending a woman across the Atlantic. They called Amelia Earhart.

     The project coordinators, including George P. Putnam, a wealthy publisher and promoter, recruited a crew of three people to make the trip. The trio departed on June 17, 1928 and landed in England a little over 20 hours later. Amelia Earhart did not pilot the plane. When asked about her role in the cockpit, she scoffed, "I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes." Then she added, "Maybe someday I'll try it alone."

     After she returned home, she became a celebrity, thanks largely to the efforts of George Putnam, who she married in 1931. And in 1932 she fulfilled her ambition -- she became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.

     Amelia Earhart went on to set several speed and distance flying records -- she was the first person to fly solo from Honolulu to California, to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and from Mexico City to New York.

     Then in 1937 she set out to circumnavigate the globe. In March she took off from Oakland, Calif., and flew to Honolulu. But there was an accident on take-off from Honolulu. The plane was damaged, and the trip was cancelled.

     Her second attempt came less than three months later, but this time, because of a change in wind patterns, she headed east, from Oakland to Miami, accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan.

     The duo departed Miami on June 1. They stopped in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, arriving at Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937. They had flown about 22,000 miles, with 7,000 to go.

     What happened after they took off from Lae, on July 2, bound for Howland Island in the Pacific, has forever been a mystery. They got about 800 miles into the flight; they were low on fuel; radio contact sputtered, then they lost contact.

     Search efforts began only an hour after the last radio transmissions were received. Ships and airplanes crisscrossed the area for more than two weeks, but no physical evidence of Earhart, Noonan or their airplane was found. Subsequently, husband George Putnam launched a private search effort, to no avail. Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939.

     Of course we all know that wasn't the end of it, as theories abounded about what happened to the famous female flier, and people are still fascinated even today, 76 years later. The most logical explanation is that the plane ran out of fuel, crashed, and sank without a trace, killing the two fliers. But some researchers believe the duo made it to uninhabited Gardiner Island (now Nikumaroro Island), where they landed safely and survived for some unspecified period of time -- lost to the world like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

     Still others believe that Earhart, who was a friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and knew the president, was spying on war-mongering Japan. They hypothesize that she was captured by the Japanese and met her demise on Saipan Island. An early movie starring Rosalind Russell followed this storyline back in 1943. The latest to advance the theory is Mike Campbell, who published Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last in 2012.

     There was no paucity of other rumors as well. She supposedly took a turn as Tokyo Rose, broadcasting propaganda messages during World War II. She somehow made it home and lived out her life undercover, as a banker in New Jersey.

     Your guess is as good as mine . . . unless you have some inside information? But we sure do remember her, and probably will for as long as it takes to find a definitive, conclusive answer to the 20th century's most enduring mystery.