Friday, March 22, 2019

Too Old to Be President?

     I admit to some age bias, at least when it comes to politicians. And in my defense, I'm not the only one. The American Constitution is written with an age bias. It says that someone has to be at least 35 years old to assume the office of the presidency or vice presidency.

     In my mind, you shouldn't be president if you're older than I am . . . and I know this because while I hate to say it, I realize that my friends and I at our age are simply no longer at the height of our powers. And even if we are still relatively energetic and competent now (with the help of Lipitor, Coumadin or who knows what else), what about in four or eight years?

     Most of us retire when we're 62 or 65 or 67. So doesn't it make sense that politicians in their 70s should be looking to retire, not looking for a new job? I don't think we should be electing anyone president who was born much before 1950 -- they're simply too old.

     On the other hand, if anyone was born after I graduated from college . . . oh, come on, how can they possibly be experienced enough, and seasoned enough, to take on the responsibilities of leading our country in these turbulent times? So for anyone born much after 1970, I'd say, go get some more experience, then come back and try in four or eight years.

     In other words, in my opinion the ideal candidate would be a younger baby boomer, or else perhaps an older post-boomer. (So far we've had four baby boomer presidents, with I admit mixed results). But whether you agree with me or not, as the presidential season gets underway I thought it might be fun to see who among our prominent politicians, and people running for president, is a baby boomer, and who is not. No comment on anyone's political leanings or personal qualifications.

     Baby Boomers
     Politician     State    Year born

     Bill Clinton (NY)   1946       
     George W. Bush (TX)  1946 
     Donald Trump (NY)  1946     
     Hillary Clinton (NY)  1947   
     Mitt Romney (NV)  1947       
     Elizabeth Warren (MA)  1949 
     Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY)  1950
     Gov. Jay Inslee (WA)   1951     
     John Hickenlooper (CO)  1952   
     John Kasich  (OH)   1952         
     Howard Schultz  (WA)  1953   
     Oprah Winfrey (IL)  1954       
     Mike Pence (IN)   1959           
     Sen. Amy Klobucher (MN)  1960
     Barack Obama  (IL)  1961     
     Michelle Obama (IL)  1964   
     Sen. Kamela Harris  (CA)  1964 

     Not a Baby Boomer
     Politician     State    Year born

     Too old . . .
     Nancy Pelosi  (CA)  1940   
     Bernie Sanders (VT)  1941 
     Joe Biden  (PA)   1942       
     Sen. Mitch McConnell  (KY)  1942
     Mike Bloomberg (NY)   1942

     Too young to be a boomer . . .
     Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (NY)  1966
     Sen. Cory Booker  (NJ)  1969 
     Sen. Marco Rubio  (FL)  1971 
     Nikki Haley   (SC)   1972 
     Beto O'Rourke  (TX)   1972
     Julian Castro (TX)   1974
     Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI)  1981
     Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN)  1982

     As a follow-on to this thought, I read recently that some Democratic presidential candidates, including Cory Booker, want to set term limits or age limits for Supreme Court justices. Do you agree with that? I could see how it might make sense, based on the reasoning above.

     Other candidates propose lowering the voting age to 16. This makes less sense to me, again, based on the reasoning above. Do you really think your grandchildren are mature enough to vote?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Can You Bear to Wait for Spring?

     March is a busy time of year. There's March 14, also known as pi day because the numerical value of pi is 3.14 etc. There's the Ides of March on March 15, the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated.

     Then of course, we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, whether we're Irish or not. And the first day of spring, when the sun crosses the equator from south to north, falls on March 20.

     My favorite March moment is the first day of spring (which this year happens to coincide with a full moon). We've waited for so long, and now the snow has finally melted. The birds have arrived, the daffodils have started to come out, and the trees have begun to bud. But I dunno. Do bears come out in the spring?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dreams of a Second Home

     B and I have been going to the same barrier island outside of Charleston, SC, for three years now. We've rented several different places -- one on the beach, one in town, one by the river. We especially liked the townhouse we rented this year, so as we left I contacted the rental agency to see if we could book it for next year. They said they'd contact the owner and get back to us.

     We've been going for the month of February, which is out of season, so we got a pretty good rate this year. Then we heard back from the rental agency. The owner would be glad to sign us up for next year . . . at a 10% increase. Now, granted, we got a mid-winter rate this year, which was probably a 10% discount from the regular rate. But February will be out of season again next year, too.

     So we declined the 10% offer, thinking we'll take our chances come next winter. But it also got us thinking, once again: maybe instead of renting, we should buy a place. Why not? A lot of retirees, if they haven't moved to the Sunbelt full time, have a second home in the sun that they can use when they want, and rent out when they're not using it.

Vacation home ... what's it worth?
     Indeed, for a lot of people having a second home is part of the retirement dream. You can stay in your hometown with friends and family, but also have a small bungalow at the beach or a condo on a golf course. And then if you own a property you no longer have to spend countless hours rooting through the hotel sites or the home-share sites searching for a place you can afford that's available for the time you want to go.

     The problem is that you kind of tie yourself down to one place. If we owned a place in South Carolina, then we're probably going to South Carolina for vacation, whether we want to or not. Unless you have very deep pockets, it's hard to justify -- much less afford -- an alternate vacation to Europe, Mexico or anywhere else.

     But we're not big travelers, and we have no ambition to go on a cruise (trapped on a boat with nothing to do but eat ... yuck!), or buy an RV (driving a big lumbering rig and living in cramped quarters ... ugh!) or go on a tour to see the sites of Europe (and being herded around like a bunch of tourists? Not for us!). Besides, with two grandchildren in Charleston, chances are we will be going there on a regular basis. And we like the idea of owning our own place, feeling that we belong there rather than just dropping by as occasional visitors. Also, as an owner, we could invite family and friends to join us, or even let them use it by themselves when we're not there.

     But one problem, for us, is that we'd still be responsible if something goes wrong, even when we're not there. Just like owning your own home, we'd be the ones who'd have to step up when a window gets broken, the roof springs a leak or the refrigerator gives up the ghost. Also, we may be held liable if someone gets hurt falling down the stairs or slipping in the shower.

     Even so, we might still be able to make some money renting out a second home. In February I played golf with a doctor from Chicago. He told me he'd bought a house on the beach about three years ago. According to him, he rents it out for ten weeks in the summer and that pays for the whole thing. Anything more than that is a profit. And meanwhile, he can use it when he wants; and his son who lives in Washington, DC, usually takes his family there once or twice a year ... for free.

     Some people rent out their place by themselves. All you need is an account on airbnb or homeaway. We probably wouldn't do that. We know the people at the real-estate company on the island. They offer a rental program that, yes, would cut into any profit we might make, but would also relieve us of a lot of the responsibility for renting and maintaining the place. One thing we know. We do not want to purchase a second home ... and find out that all we've done is buy ourselves a new job.

     Another plus is that you can decorate your vacation home the way you want it and keep it nice. You can also leave your stuff there, and spare yourself the trouble of jamming your car full of sports equipment, beach chairs and other paraphernalia every time you go on vacation. And we would never have to pay airline fees for extra baggage if we decided to fly instead.

     As you've probably figured out by now, B and I are going through the pros and cons of owning a second place versus renting. It's a complex decision that requires careful thought. So maybe B and I should sit down and decide, realistically, how often we would use it, and for how long. If we're going to use it for two weeks, it might be better to keep renting. If we're going to end up going there for two months a year, it would likely be cheaper and more comfortable to have our own place.

     It would certainly be more convenient if our island paradise was closer to home. As it is, it's either a two-day drive, or else one very long, grueling day. If something goes wrong that would require our presence, it would be a major inconvenience. Maybe our son would want to help take care of it. But he's got a job; he's going to school; and he's got two kids. The last thing he needs is another responsibility loaded on his back.

     It would also be hard to keep up on the local happenings that might affect our property. Is a big tax increase on the horizon? A road construction? A flood management system? And B worries about global warming. If we buy a vacation unit that's five feet above sea level, how long before it's five feet under sea level?

     As you can see, we have a lot of thinking to do. The bottom line for us, for anyone, is: How much are you willing to pay in order to get that free vacation?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Are Baby Boomers Just Lucky?

     I like to think that as we age we baby boomers are leaving the world a better place, at least compared to the way we found it half a century ago. The economy has grown; rights for women and minorities have expanded, new technology has brought many benefits, consciousness has been raised for all kinds of issues including peace, love and global warming.

     But then I occasionally get a comment on my blog -- maybe you get them too? -- excoriating me for being a smug, self-satisfied baby boomer. A recent one charged: "You baby boomers are literally the most evil generation ever to exist. You destroyed your own children's future, destroyed the economy, and then you sit back and smugly laugh about it." And then it went on to suggest that we baby boomers die off as fast as we can.

     The source of these kinds of comments is always anonymous, and usually angry, so it's easy to dismiss them as the rantings of some disaffected outcast. Still, I sometimes wonder, if I were in my 20s or 30s, what would I think of baby boomers?

     Would I believe that baby boomers are smug, self-satisfied people who just don't know how fortunate they are, enjoying a growing economy and good jobs for most of their lives, as well as lots of benefits like Social Security (which only started paying benefits in 1940) and Medicare (which only began in 1966), all at the expense of future generations?

     Meanwhile, according to the polls, some 60% of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, while less than 40% say it's on the right track. And a solid plurality has lost faith in prominent public institutions, and believes that both major political parties are an impediment to real progress. Or perhaps another way to put the question: Are baby boomers just lucky enough to be living in peak America?

     I happened to catch an interview with Jeffrey Gundlach, ceo of the investment firm Doubleline. I'm sure some of what he says is self-serving, but he is also a smart, well-educated financial expert, so I wouldn't dismiss his views quite as quickly as those of an anonymous blog commenter. Gundlach asks us to look at how much we spend on old people as opposed to how much we spend on young people. According to him, the ratio is seven to one -- how much of the U. S. government budget goes to paying for things for people over 65 compared to paying for things for those under age 18. Is it fair, he asks, for old people to gobble up government resources and leave their children and grandchildren with table scraps?

     "And if you're investing in dying people," he adds, "and not investing in the future, you don't have a very great future." He claims that baby boomers have all the money and the millennials don't . . . "I mean, they can't afford a house, they have student loan debt. They're starting to believe that they kind of got screwed by the system."

     So have we screwed our children, leaving them with huge student loans and massive government deficits, unable to buy a house or afford to have children? Have we screwed our children by leaving them with a dirtier, warmer world as we continue to drive our SUVs at gas-guzzling speeds and crank up our air conditioners to keep ourselves from ever breaking a sweat?

     Gundlach also thinks there is no way we can fulfill our promises to future retired people. The unfunded amount of state retirement funds runs into trillions of dollars (according to Reuters, Illinois alone has an unfunded pension liability of $133.5 billion), and he says the toll to pay for that would cause economic chaos. So some of these people will not get paid. Not us baby boomers. We'll get paid. But our children and grandchildren. The funds will either go broke, or else they will have to scale back payments by limiting the amount of payouts or else taxing payouts to get the money back.

     He also seems to think the same thing about Social Security, which is already paying out more than it collects in taxes, and will deplete its trust fund in about 15 years. If nothing is done, Social Security will be forced to cut benefits by about 25% to match the money it brings in. So Gundlach predicts something will have to change -- that the retirement age will have to be lifted, and that some people will be cut out, presumably more affluent people who perhaps don't "need" the money but who paid in their entire working lives with the promise that they would collect benefits, but who in the end will never collect anything as their share will go to poorer people.

     We're all familiar with the ways to "save" Social Security. The problem is that we can't agree on what should be done, and the politicians won't touch the issue for fear of losing their jobs.

    I don't mean to get into the politics of this. But I wonder: Are we stealing from our children's future by sucking up all the government benefits and leaving them with nothing but a mountain of debt? Or can we can get out of this by taxing the wealthy and issuing more and more debt? And in the final analysis -- as a final Baby Boomer report card, if you will -- are we truly bequeathing to our children a better and more affluent world, one that is more equal, more peaceful, more comfortable, and more fair?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Art of Self-Care

     Winter is drawing to a close, but is spring really in sight? It sounds to me as though people are worn out from the cold weather and lack of sunshine, and maybe even suffering from SAD. So this is the time of year when we need to turn to self-care . . . and maybe even self-preservation.

     As for me, just this morning I was appreciating the benefits of calidus hydrotherapy. Or, in English, a hot shower. If you're cold it warms you up. If you feel stiff it loosens you up. If you have sinus problems it clears you up. And if you're dirty and stinky, it cleans you up. In other words, calidus hydrotherapy cures almost everything.

     On a more more cerebral level, Kathy Gottberg of Smart Living 365 tells us she recently suffered a nasty cold. No sooner had she started to get better than she also started to beat herself up for lying around for over a week, and for her lack of productivity. "Rather than practice what I now understand to be self-compassion," she writes, "I jumped into criticizing myself for taking too many naps, watching too much television, and doing not one bit of exercise. I even berated myself for getting sick in the first place." But in Productivity, Worthiness and Thoughts on Self-Compassion she finds a way to let go of her critical self and accept that she doesn't have to "do" things to justify her inherent value and find self-compassion.

     In the same vein, Laura Lee Carter visits the issue of "cognitive reframing" this week. In How We Steal the Bright Side from Ourselves . . .  she recognizes that choosing a different perspective is not always what people do naturally, and she offers a way to turn negative interpretations of life into positive ones.

     Jennifer Kolsak wonders if you know how to say no. This week in Unfold and Begin she shares the importance of saying no when other people are trying to burden you with projects that really hold little interest. In Disappoint Others by Learning How to Say No she reminds us that the secret is to learn how to take the time to differentiate between the things you want to do and the things you really don't.

     Meanwhile, Carol Cassara points out that as we age the losses tend to mount up. Things we took for granted when we were young are now almost privileges. And of course, eventually we must all keep company with grief. We know that "stuffing" those feelings only prolongs them, but maybe we just can't talk about them. At A Healing Spirit she offers some suggestions on how to cope with loss in her post The Power of Expression in Times of Grief.

     Rita Robison, for her part, is focusing on more practical aspects of self-preservation. Every time a data breach occurs consumer groups recommend that people put a freeze on their accounts at the three credit bureaus so identity thieves and scammers can't open new credit cards or get illicit loans. Now in Consider Putting a Freeze on Your Credit Bureau Accounts Robison goes through the process herself and walks us through the steps of safeguarding our credit accounts.

     And finally, to circle back to Kathy Gottberg's issue about caring for yourself, without feeling the guilt, Meryl Baer talks about one of her favorite activities. She does this activity without self-criticism, self-recrimination or feeling any guilt. In fact, in Sleep Soundly Long and Often she veritably brags about her natural talents and abilities to accomplish this daily task.

     As she points out, her guilt-free approach to what I'll call somnus therapy has many health benefits . . . including, it seems, keeping a sense of humor about the vicissitudes of life as we slog through these last gasps of winter.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Mixed Feelings

     We're going home tomorrow, after spending a month and a half in the South with relatively warm weather and mostly sunny skies.

     On the one hand, it will be nice to get back to our regular life. Real life, as B says, not the vacation life of our time away. We'll see our friends. Go to a couple of doctor appointments. Get our hair cut at our regular places. B will get back to her church. We'll start classes at our local Center for Learning in Retirement.

This morning in SC
     On the other hand, we're headed into an abyss. There's a storm coming to the Northeast later this weekend. Depending on the track of the storm, it could be rain, it could be mixed precipitation, or it could bring six to eight inches of snow. Isn't it fun to travel when the weather threatens to upend your plans?

     Many Snowbirds stay in the Sunbelt a lot longer than we do. The typical trajectory seems to be: leave after New Year's, come home sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May. On the other end of the spectrum, we know one couple that lives in Florida from October to June. They come north for just a few summer months.

     B and I have considered buying a place in the Sunbelt, and spending more time here -- splitting our lives between the north and south. Right now, looking at the weather report, I'm certainly envious of my friends who are staying here another month or two.

Tomorrow in PA?
     But when all is said and done (and cost aside) we don't like the idea of dividing our lives in two. We like having one home; and then taking a vacation. That way we're centered, and we're around long enough in one place to take advantage of all the activities and opportunities that home has to offer. 

     If we stayed five or six months in one place, and five or six months in another, and then took a vacation or two when we were in neither place, would we really feel part of a community? We couldn't take our classes, wouldn't get to know our neighbors. Would we stay close to our friends? Who would be our primary care physician? And leaving a house or even a condo empty for all that time . . . I think we'd worry about it.

     Or, am I just trying to make myself feel better about returning to the cold and the bad weather? I can't believe that today I went to the beach. Tomorrow, I may be shoveling snow.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sightings of Charleston

     We've been snowbirding in Charleston, SC, for the month of February. It's not exactly tropical here. Many trees are bare; yet some of the bushes are budding, and a few flowers are poking out of the ground. Today is blustery and in the mid-50s. But it's supposed to get up to 70 for the next couple of days.

     We've decided that February in Charleston is kind of like April at home in southeastern Pennsylvania, and kind of like May in upstate New York and New England. In other words . . . it's nice!

     One thing that is very different from home is that we are at the beach, and so it tends to be windy, and we are very aware of the tides. Here's is the view outside the back on our rented townhouse yesterday at low tide.

     And this is what surprised us this morning, when the tide was high. Quite a difference, right!

     Charleston is definitely a city on the water, bounded by three rivers -- the Cooper, Ashley and Wando -- that drain into a large harbor and then the Atlantic ocean. So I thought I'd show you how the city looks from the water, as we took a ferry out to Fort Sumter. Here is the city's signature Ravenel bridge leading from downtown to Mount Pleasant and points to the northeast, up to Myrtle Beach and eventually North Carolina.

     The South Carolina aquarium, opened in 2000, sticks out into the harbor, and boasts the deepest tank (at 42 feet) in North America. We visited one day last week and saw river otters, loggerhead turtles, alligators, sharks and plenty of other aquatic life.

     Charleston is also a port. These two transports carry BMWs which are manufactured outside of Greenville, SC, then brought by train to Charleston for shipment around the Western Hemisphere.

     Charleston is also home to the Yorktown aircraft carrier, which was built during World War II and saw service in the Pacific. It was later used during the Vietnam war, and served as a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 space mission. It was decommissioned in 1970 and has been a museum in Charleston since 1975.

     So we took the cruise boat out to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. We first passed Castle Pinckney, a fort built in the early 1800s that briefly held Union prisoners of war during the Civil War. It is now owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and that's a Confederate flag that flies over the fort . . . but efforts to restore the fort by both the state and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have been resisted by the currents and the tides of Charleston harbor.

     I must confess that I did not get a decent photo of Fort Sumter. Suffice it to say that it looks kind of like Castle Pinckey -- only bigger. Sumter was occupied by Federal troops in December 1860, taken over by the Confederates in April 1861 and then was bombarded mostly to ruins by Federal canons for two years. This is one if the canons that helped the Confederates withstand the attacks, and keep Charleston harbor open to the South for most of the Civil War.

     Wandering around the grounds of Fort Sumter, I looked up and saw a container ship coming right at us!

     Fortunately, it turned and kept to the channel, and we boarded our boat and returned safely to downtown Charleston. When we rounded the Yorktown we got a closeup view of its bow.

     And then I saw the container ship headed safely to its docking. So today, at least, all is right with the world.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Let Them Eat Dirt

     B grew up living rough. Well, not exactly. She grew up in a suburb in Long Island, NY. But she spent summers on her grandmother's Pennsylvania farm, with no hot water and an outdoor toilet. She spent a lot of time playing in the grass, rummaging around dusty barns, running barefoot in the fields.

     Now, as an adult, she firmly believes that children should play outside and eat a little dirt. It's good for them, she says. It helps their immune system, protects them against allergies and asthma.

     I ate a little dirt when I was a kid. And I never experienced any allergies . . . until a little over three years ago I became allergic to shrimp. I'd been eating shrimp all my life. But over Christmas 2015 we went to a party, and while B was chatting with a friend I was scarfing up the shrimp cocktail. Suddenly I broke out in a rash and felt hot all over.

     I ducked into the bathroom, pulled off my shirt and saw huge red blotches all over my chest. Fortunately, there was a nurse at the party, and she recognized that I had developed an allergic reaction to the shrimp. The host had some Benadryl, which I took, and I was better about ten minutes later.

     I tried shrimp once again, about a year later, and the same thing happened. Diagnosis confirmed: I am allergic to shrimp.

     I do not know what caused my sudden allergy to shrimp, but I have heard that as people get older they can develop allergies they've never had before. But according to Rob Dunn in his book Never Home Alone, allergies are becoming a lot more common -- allergies to peanuts, dust mites, animal dander, shellfish, and a lot of other things. And he attributes our greater susceptibility to allergies to our ever-increasing indoor, air conditioned, antiseptic living. In other words, he agrees with B.

     We are not exposed to the wide range of biodiversity that our parents and grandparents were, and therefore we have not developed immunity to a lot of irritants. Furthermore, Dunn blames the increase in autoimmune diseases, such as asthma, Parkinson's, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease and more to the same issue -- not having enough biodiversity in our lives.

     What's happened is that we have moved indoors, sealed off the windows and turned on the heat in winter and the air conditioning in summer. We've created an indoor atmosphere perfectly suited to many indoor bugs. And then we use disinfectants that kill off 90% of the bugs, including the good ones, leaving only the very strongest ones -- which are often the most aggressive and most problematic -- to populate our basements, beds and kitchen counters.

     Another problem is that many bugs have evolved to outsmart our disinfectants. For example, the German cockroach used to be killed with roach bait consisting of glucose to attract the cockroach and a pesticide to kill it. But a few roaches just didn't like the glucose so they avoided the bait. Those were the ones who survived, producing more roaches that were not attracted to the bait. After a few generations -- meaning a few weeks -- the German cockroaches evolved to lose their taste for glucose. The result: the traps didn't work.

     Other pests have evolved their own survival techniques, and so resistance to pesticides and other deterrents has evolved among many of the nastier bugs, including head lice, bed bugs, flies and mosquitoes. And some deadly diseases like tuberculosis have started to become resistant to antibiotics.

     So what does Dunn recommend for us on a practical basis? Leave the windows open more often, and avoid turning on the heat and a/c for as long as we can. Wash the dishes by hand instead of the using the dishwasher which typically harbors fungus. If water gets in the house, get it out as soon as possible because it breeds mold and mildew. Plant a garden. Buy more fresh food from local farmers. Bake bread.

     If you have children, or grandchildren, get a cat. A dog is even better . . . unless there are siblings around in which case they bring in enough of their own dirt from outside. Don't use bug sprays or disinfectants. But wash your hands -- washing hands gets rid of the bad dirt you just picked up in the bathroom or from the dirty doorknob at the doctor's office, but it does not wash off the good bacteria that is a part of your natural ecosystem. If you have spiders or silverfish in the garage or basement, leave them alone -- they will kill off the bad bugs and most likely will not bite you or cause any harm.

      As for me, I'm guessing my problem is that I didn't spend enough time at the beach when I was a kid -- so I didn't pick up enough exposure to all the sea life that would protect me from becoming allergic to shrimp. Perhaps it's too late. But I'm willing to give it a try. I will spend more time relaxing at the beach now that I'm retired. You know, doctor's orders.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Will This Diet Save Your MIND?

     We went to the Charleston Crab House for dinner last night with some friends. I had a side salad (more on that later) and a dish with scallops and mahi mahi. B had grilled shrimp. There's something about being on the beach that makes you want to eat seafood.

     Honestly, my initial exposure to seafood was not a good one. I grew up Catholic, and back then Catholics were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays. My mother was never particularly interested in cooking, so in our family we had fishsticks or some other kind of breaded fish from the freezer.

     My father was not Catholic, so while he usually ate fish on Fridays along with the rest of the family, sometimes my mother served him a hamburger instead. When we kids complained about that, he'd tell us that fish was good for us. It was brain food. And he wanted us to grow up to be smart and successful.

     How smart we all became is up for debate. But whatever intellectual failings we suffered, it wasn’t for lack of fish. And now, despite my troubled introduction to seafood, I like fish . . . especially when I'm at the beach.

     Besides, I read recently in the Tufts University "Health & Nutrition Letter" that my dad was right. At least in certain circumstances, seafood is indeed brain food. Researchers from Tufts University, in a nine-year study of close to 500 older adults, found that those consuming the most fish – three servings a week – were at significantly lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

     Another researcher, Martha Clare Morris of the Rush University Memory and Aging Project, concluded that people who “consumed fish once a week or more had a 60 percent less risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with those who rarely or never ate fish.”

     One concern about fish is the levels of mercury in seafood. Researchers did find that those who consumed a lot of fish had higher levels of mercury in their brains. But there was no evidence that higher mercury levels had any negative effects on older people.

     Morris has now come up with a full anti-Alzheimer's diet, called the MIND Diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. (As if that's not enough of a mouthful, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.)

     The MIND Diet is designed to reduce the risk of dementia, as well as heart disease and diabetes. The diet recommends consuming lots of fish and poultry. It also says (here's where the side salad comes in) that we should eat leafy green vegetables like salads, and other vegetables, as well as whole grains, berries, beans, and an occasional glass of wine. Meanwhile, it cautions us to avoid butter, cheese, red meat, fried foods and sweets. The claim is that this diet can lower our risk of Alzheimer's by 50 percent if we follow it strictly, and by a third even if we only follow it (ahem) half-heartedly.

     Pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children are still advised to limit their consumption of fish high in mercury – especially tilefish, shark, swordfish, mackerel and white (albacore) tuna. But for older adults the benefits of seafood far outweigh the risks from mercury. And as the MIND Diet suggests, the benefits are not limited to the brain. The American Heart Association advises consuming at least two meals a week with seafood.

     However, it seems that supplements of fish oil or omega-3s do not necessarily offer the same benefits. One five-year trial of more than 3000 participants reported no benefits from omega-3 supplements. Apparently the process of how fish benefits our brains and our bodies is more complicated than just delivering a dose of omega-3s.

     So eat up your fish, with some vegetables and maybe a glass of wine. I don't recommend the fishsticks. But the scallops and mahi mahi are fine.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Sightings from the Beach

     I admit to being a Snowbird -- two weeks in Florida and a month in South Carolina. Why? Because it's cold up north. And we have children and grandchildren here. The other day I got up to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean, at 7:09 a.m.

     A few other people were out and about as well.

     Here's the view from our airbnb, overlooking the wetlands, when I got back home and had breakfast on the deck.

     We are staying in a beach town outside of Charleston. Pretty much every day it's chilly in the morning, but the temperatures typically hit 70 degrees by mid-afternoon, and the snows are far away. It's a funky little place where beach-side bungalows . . .

     . . . sit next to million-dollar mansions.

         We stopped for lunch at a local fish place.

     Later, the wind started to kick up, and we went out to the pier.

     But the breeze didn't seem to bother this beach-dweller.

     Later in the afternoon we started back home . . .

     We stopped off at the west end of our barrier island to witness the end of the day . . .

     I marked the time of sunset at 5:58 p.m. A nice day at the beach. Tomorrow we'll do it again..


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Saving Money in Retirement

     I was visiting my sister in Jacksonville, FL, who is a self-proclaimed cheapskate. Maybe for that reason the topic of saving money came up . . .

     . . . because for many people, retired or not, the prospect of life without a paycheck is scary. Then the financial experts stoke our anxiety by saying we need a lot of money, as much as $1 million, or 20 times our old annual salary, saved up to provide a comfortable retirement.

     The financial experts are right, in principle. We do need a lot of money to retire -- in the form of Social Security, plus pensions and 401K plans and IRA balances, as well the value of the help we get from family and friends. But my sister and I decided maybe we don't need quite as much as the experts would have us believe.

     Why? Because after we retire, our expenses go down. And there are plenty of pain-free ways to push them even lower. Here are some that we came up with, maybe you have others.

     Clothes. This is the first idea my sister offered. You don't need any more expensive business suits, or uniforms that you have to pay for yourself; no more need to buy and inventory a closet full of shoes for every occasion. (My sister does have closets full of clothes, but hardly anything that she's bought since she retired seven or eight years ago.)

     Commuting costs. We no longer have to buy a commutation ticket for the train, or pay bus fare or parking fees. If you drive 20 miles to work every day, you'll save almost 10,000 miles a year, which at the IRS mileage allowance of 54.5 cents a mile, equals more than $5,000 a year!

     Lose a car. If you're no longer commuting, maybe you can sell off one of your two or three cars, because you don't really need it anymore. In my sister's case, she and her husband still have two cars; but her husband sold his motorcycle when they retired.

     Move. My sister is retired in Jacksonville, where the cost of living is already low. But you don't have to relocate to Florida or Arizona to save money. I moved from New York to Pennsylvania, some 120 miles away, and now save almost $10,000 a year on my real-estate tax alone. Sometimes moving 20 miles farther out from your business hub can save a huge amount of money in housing and other living costs.

     No more kids. My sister doesn't have any kids, but I have two of them and I know that you spend a lot less after your kids have finished school and  moved out on their own. No more college tuition; no more sports equipment and sports club fees. Now they buy their own clothes . . . and you can't believe how much you save on your grocery bill!

     Entertainment. I assume everyone asks about senior discounts wherever they go. In our case, on Wednesday when it was too cold to be outside, we went out to lunch, instead of going out to dinner, and got pretty much the same meal for half the price. Then we hit the movies for the afternoon matinee . . . for $8 a piece instead of the usual $11. (We saw If Beale Street Could Talk -- I liked it, she didn't.)

     Travel. Of course, you can always spend boat loads of money if you go first class to all the hot spots. But the beauty of retirement is that you can travel mid-week, when air fares are cheaper; you can go during the shoulder season, when rates are lower. And . . . you can go visit your sister who will put you up for free!

     Save on saving. We're retired, so we no longer have to save for retirement. In my case, the kids are through college so I don't have to save for their college tuition. Since we no longer get a paycheck, we're no longer subject to the payroll tax. Instead, we are now, finally, on the receiving end of Social Security and Medicare!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What's in a Name?

     I'm on day eight of my ten-day trip to Florida. The weather has been "iffy" at best, and cold and rainy at worst.

View from the back of my airbnb
     I really hate it when my friends tell me, as my golfing buddy who winters in Florida did the other day: "Tom, this is the first day it's rained since we got here at the beginning of January."

     And then my sister who lives here said on the phone, "Oh, you should have been here last week; it was sunny and in the 70s every day." My sister is the one who, whenever the weather is bad in Florida, accuses me of bringing the snow and the rain down from the Northeast. (Maybe she has a point: it's 23 degrees today back home in Pennsylvania.)

     I played golf with a friend from home on Friday. It was chilly in the morning -- long underwear chilly -- got warmer during the day, and clouded up before we finished. Then Saturday I met up with an old friend from New York, and it started drizzling on the first tee. We nevertheless trundled down the fairway, hoping for the best. It cleared for a little while, then started to rain again. Afterward, with wet feet, we stopped and had a drink at the clubhouse. When we came out it was pouring. So . . . I guess we were lucky.

The windswept beach
     On Sunday it rained all day, temperature 55 degrees. So I did the wash and cleaned up my room while watching the Australian Open on TV. As I told my sister . . . exactly what I'd be doing if I was home.

     Still, although the weather hasn't been great, I got to play two rounds of golf so far. And I also went the Bonita Springs Rec Center and played a couple of hours of table tennis -- and the good news is that both my arthritic knee and my arthritic ankle survived the session.

     But I am staying in an airbnb one block off the beach ... and it's only today that I went to see the Gulf. The weather report predicts that tomorrow, when I head up to Jacksonville, FL, the temperature will be in the 30s. Too cold for me to go out on the frost-bitten fairways (although some intrepid souls, some older than I am, will go out and actually claim to enjoy it).

Nobody's sitting outside today
     So my snowbird effort has not been perfect, so far. However, I did play golf; I did spend time with some friends; I will see my sister and her husband. I played table tennis, and may possibly make a comeback in my Ping Pong career -- with ankle braces, Advil and a nightly icepack.

     And then it's on to the historic city of Charleston, SC, where I will meet up with my more immediate family -- my wife and her son and his wife and their son, our grandson.

     He's our first grandson and just starting to talk. My wife wants to be called Grandma B. They want to call me Grandpa, but I'm a bit uncomfortable with that. I'm not really the boy's Grandpa; I'm Grandma B's new husband. And also . . . I just don't feel old enough to be a Grandpa. Maybe Uncle Tom will suffice -- whaddaya think?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Counting on Social Security?

     The recent government partial shutdown made me wonder -- suppose the government stopped paying Social Security. How long could I go before I got into real financial trouble? How long before I found myself looking for supper at the food bank, and petitioning town hall for relief on my real-estate taxes? The answer is: a little while, but not for long.

     It so happened that my friend Jeremy Kisner, an investment adviser with Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ, recently posted a piece on Social Security. He was primarily addressing younger people who are jumping to take Social Security benefits as soon as they can, at age 62, not so much because they need the money, but because they're afraid the money will run out if they wait much longer. But his analysis is also relevant to my question: Will Social Security be around for as long as I am?

     So here, with Kisner's permission, is his perspective on the matter:

I was teaching a class on Taxes in Retirement and the discussion shifted to how to decide when to collect Social Security. I explained the conditions in which it makes the most sense to defer Social Security until age 70. Then one attendee asked how he should factor in the possibility of Social Security benefits getting cut if the system goes bankrupt.

Just to be clear, our Social Security System will not go bankrupt. However, if no changes are made to the current system, the Social Security "trust fund," which was built up by collecting more payroll takes than paid out, will be depleted. Benefits would then need to be reduced to match the payroll taxes being collected.

That will happen sometime around 2034, if we do nothing. Once the trust fund is gone, benefits would be cut to approximately 75% of their current level to keep the system solvent. The reality is this "do nothing" approach is unlikely as there is growing pressure to "fix" the system.

The options to fix Social Security are:

Increase payroll taxes. This is the simplest and most effective. The current payroll tax collects 6.2% from employees and another 6.2% from employers. This would need to be increased to 7.6% to keep Social Security fully paid. This approach would take some cash out of workers' pockets, which is never popular, and will hurt economic growth. Imagine that . . . if we put more away for the future, we have less to spend today.

Eliminate the cap on taxable earnings. The cap currently limits the 6.2% payroll tax to only the first $132,900 of earnings (as of 2019). We could close 71% of the Social Security funding gap if the cap was eliminated entirely. This would affect 4 - 5% of the workforce -- those who have wages above $132,900. These people may be a bit perturbed because they already have the worst return on their Social Security contributions.

Raise the retirement age. This seems logical since today people live so much longer than they did in 1935 when Social Security began. Unfortunately, this solution is surprisingly ineffective. A three-year increase in the full retirement age from 67 to age 70 for people born after 1960 would only cut the funding gap by 25%.

Means-testing for beneficiaries. This would mean that high-income retirees would have their benefits reduced or eliminated since presumably they don't need the benefit. Polls find this option to be unpopular with voters who simply think it is unfair.

The likely scenario is some combination of these options. While Congress is figuring out all of this, I encourage you to save as much as you can. After all, the maximum Social Security you can collect at full retirement age in 2019 is $2,861 per month. It is 32% higher ($3,770) if you wait until age 70. I'm guessing most people want to spend more than this.

How do you plan Social Security claiming decisions with this uncertainty.

So back to the original question. How do I factor in a potential cut to Social Security benefits when deciding whether to collect early (62), at full retirement age (66-67), or wait until 70? This is just like trying to make decisions based on what future tax rates might be. Nobody knows. Remember, most experts thought future tax rates would be increased, due to deficits, right up until they were cut in 2017.

Personally, I assume that rules and rates will continue at current levels until I have real information to the contrary. The likely scenario is that Social Security will be preserved and benefits will not be cut. I would plan on that. However, if you believe Social Security is going to be cut in the future, then the logical decision is to collect early, instead of deferring to age 70.

I wish I could provide more clarity, but for that we are -- yikes! -- dependent on the U. S. Congress.

     If you want more of Kisner's wisdom you can catch up on his latest at Meanwhile, if we can believe Kisner's conclusions, we don't have to worry about Social Security. We'll get our benefits. But . . . I'm guessing our kids are still a little worried.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Boomers Are Older, but Are They Wiser?

     Baby Boomers are older or wiser. Baby Boomers are older and wiser. If I remember my college logic course correctly, then the first of those statements must be true, since only one of the conditions has to be true, and we at least know that Baby Boomers are getting older. But for the second statement to be true, both conditions must be valid. And, just possibly, that's open to personal opinion (see Baby Boomers Are the Most Selfish . . .).

     So Rebecca Olkowski leads off the week telling us that Baby Boomers are getting older, and they are having more medical tests. That's a logically true statement, don't you think? On her blog BabyBoomster she relates how she had a pelvic ultrasound as a precaution after feeling that something might be wrong. It turned out all is well. But in How I Averted a Tsunami-Like Flood she admits . . . well, read it and see what she admits, and what her advice is for women over 50.

     Meanwhile, as we get older, shouldn't we be wise enough to overcome our fears and our stumbling blocks? If you're not, and you still have fears about asking other people for help (I know I do), then work up the courage to look at Laura Lee Carter's post on How We Learn to Let in Positive Support to see her thoughts on vulnerability and empowerment.

Baer's Sunset in Costa Rica
     If you have another kind of block, check out Jennifer at Untold and Begin who focuses on ways we can improve our creativity. She reveals a fascinating exercise, originally used in the art/sculpture world, that can be adapted for any creative activity. Go see How to Work Around a Creative Block to appreciate how it's not about "achieving something, it's about letting go of something."

     Most of us would agree it's true that retirement and traveling go together. Certainly they do for Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting. She spent the holidays with family touring the Central American jungles of Costa Rica. Along the way she met a number of ex-pats who now call the country home. Why Costa Rica? She answers that question in Costa Rica: The Allure of an Ex-Pat Paradise.

     Retirement and emergency savings fund go together as well -- or they should. Rita Robison on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide was thinking about this issue due to the hardships federal employees are facing because they've been furloughed or are working without pay during the partial government shutdown. So How Much Do You Need for an Emergency Fund -- one month of expenses, six months, a year? Robison gives us some guidelines whether we're a federal employee, a retiree, or anyone else.

     Here's another question for you, posed by Carol Cassara of A Healing Spirit. She saw a documentary about Katherine Hepburn and was surprised to hear the actress mention her family's motto. Carol will tell you what the Hepburn motto is. So . . . what's yours?

     Or if you don't have a motto, you could do what Kathy Gottberg has done this year. She's chosen a word for herself to provide a focus for 2019. You can look up her word on SmartLiving365 . . . and maybe that will inspire you come up with a word of your own. Because here's another truism about Baby Boomers. We may be retired. But we're not done yet!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

With Compliments to Marie Kondo ...

     The Netflix show "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" has become a phenomenon. B's been binge watching it. I know others have, too.

     Kondo has been around for a while. Her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out in 2014 and climbed the bestseller lists. She followed that book with Spark Joy, which tells us, according to the New York Times, that "you can own as much or as little as you like, as long as every possession brings you true joy."

     Honestly, I have not read her books, nor have I seen her show. I don't have to. B and I have lived decluttering, first when we each sold our houses in 2007 and merged our furniture, clothes, memorabilia and other possessions into one house. Then we did it again in 2016-17 when we sold our big house, and moved to a smaller house in Pennsylvania.

     Still, maybe those of you who have read or seen Marie Kondo can give me a few of her tips. I can always use more -- for one thing I've realized is that decluttering is not a one-time event, it's an ongoing process.

     It's not rocket science. We're retired now. The kids are gone. We no longer need all that stuff filling up the basement and spilling out of our closets. Yet it can be a big job. I read one rule of thumb that says to budget one eight-hour day of decluttering for each year you've lived in your house. But unless you want a bad back and sore knees, you probably shouldn't try to do it all at once.

     Anyway, here are some steps I've taken to declutter ... with a nod to Marie Kondo for making cleaning up cool.

1. Warn your children. Invite them to range through your house and take what they want. Then insist that they remove any and all of their own materials – the boxes of old school items, the stuffed animals, trophies from soccer tournaments, souvenirs from spring break in Florida.

          2. Have a heart-to-heart with your spouse. Most relationships, it seems, consist of one hoarder and one simplifier. To avoid working at cross purposes, we need to sit down and talk things out -- so one person isn't throwing something away while the other is retrieving things out of the trash. The hoarder has to realize that many things -- VHS tapes, a record player, old sports equipment -- are outdated or can be easily replaced. The simplifier has to admit that some things have sentimental value and can't be replaced. So let's not be like the dysfunctional politicians. We have to realize that there can be emotional issues involved in the process ... and be ready to compromise.

3. Sort one space at a time. It’s easy to get bogged down if you do a little of this, and a little of that. So start small. Clean out a closet. Then a bathroom. Then one of the kid’s bedrooms. The hardest jobs will be your own bedroom, the basement, and the kitchen – unless you’re moving into an assisted living facility where all your meals are provided, in which case the kitchen clean-up should be easy . . . all of it goes!

            4. Touch something once, make a decision. As you go through your old clothes, old books, or old furniture, decide whether you need to keep it, or need to get rid of it. But the key to making progress is to make the decision. If you need one suit, then decide which one to keep and get rid of the others. Try not to hem and haw, change your mind, or postpone the decision – or that one day per year could turn out to be two or three days per year. Or, the decluttering may never get done.
5. Make five piles. Keep. Sell. Gift. Recycle. Trash. Decide what you want to keep and put that in one pile. The rest goes into one of the other four piles. But try to decide right away – you can give it to someone; you can sell it, recycle it or throw it away. But don’t waste too much time deciding – just choose a pile. If you make a “mistake” and throw away something that maybe you could sell or give to Goodwill – be realistic, you probably wouldn’t have sold it for much money anyway, and Goodwill wouldn't have either.
            6. Take pictures. The hardest decision are the emotional ones. But if you can’t bear to get rid of something you need to get rid of, then take a picture. The special dress? Put it on, take a picture, then give it away. The old license plates, the shelf of trophies, the wonderful old oriental rug that will never fit into your new place – take a picture and keep it with you always.  Then make sure to send copies of those photos to your kids.

            7. Books. Marie Kondo has caught some flak for suggesting we keep no more than 30 books in our homes. My own opinion is that books are like albums and CDs, or tapes and DVDs. Keep them around, if they bring you "joy." But it's not the books themselves that are important. It's what's inside -- the information, the characters, the stories. And those are all readily available from the library or the internet.

            8. Hire a professional. For most people, decluttering is a do-it-yourself project – and they would have it no other way – perhaps with some help from kids or a best friend. But sometimes the job might just be too big; or you’re too overwhelmed by the prospect. There are professionals who will help you, for a fee, ranging from $35 to $100 a hour. If you don't have a personal referral, try contacting the National Association of Senior Move Managers for a list of local professionals.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Naming the Grandchildren

     We have some grandchildren coming along in our family. One of them is a girl, expected by my niece, and so when I was talking to my sister, I couldn't help myself, I mentioned a few lighthearted possibilities for naming the child. My sister offered some strained laughter. But I could tell, my suggestions were not appreciated.

     After I got off the phone, I saw B standing at the door of my office. "What are you doing?" she challenged.

     "Oh, just having some fun, suggesting some names for my niece's baby."

     B rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh, signaling just how stupid she thinks I am. Then she warned me that you never try to suggest names for someone else's baby. The parents don't need our advice, don't want our advice, and will just resent anything we might offer. And for heaven's sake, I should keep my mouth shut when it comes to our own kids.

     Okay, okay, maybe she has a point. I dunno. Have you ever had the temerity to suggest a name for your grandchild?

     I remember when my wife and I were having our first child. We knew it was going to be a girl. My dad suggested we name her Penelope. Needless to say, we didn't name her Penelope.

     Still, I am dying to suggest some names for these babies. And B is too, she just won't admit it. Let's face it, we know more about pretty much everything than our children and our nieces and nephews do, including the naming of babies, so they could use some help. But, reluctantly, I have to agree that it would only cause trouble, so instead of offering names to our children, I will suggest a few here ... kind of like writing secrets in your diary.

     The names we are familiar with are now out of fashion. In the 1950s the most popular names for baby boys were: John, James, Robert, Michael. And for girls they were: Mary, Linda, Deborah, Patricia.

     We can't suggest any of those. We're not that square.

     Today the most popular boy names are Jackson, Liam, Noah, Aiden. And for girls: Sophie, Olivia, Emma, Ava. We can't suggest any of those. The kids will have already seen the lists. We don't want to be that predictable. And besides, Sophie is the name of our dog.

     So we have a nephew who is very hip and cool. He and his wife named their kid August. If August is cool, why not Septima for a girl, or Septimus for a boy. Or if we're going classical, how about Octavia or Octavius. These names are unique, yet there's precedence. Septima Clark was a famous civil-rights leader. Octavia Spencer is a famous movie actress.

     Or, if they don't like August, Septima or Octavia, how about another month of the year? April, May and June are all legitimate names, even if they're a little old-fashioned. How about January? As in January Jones, the actress from Mad Men.

     But a lot of people these days want a name that's unique. So if naming the kid after a month of the year is not unique enough, maybe Joaquin or Dexter, or Axel or Orion, for a boy. Or Paige or Piper, or Colette or Catalina, for a girl.

     But my nephew chose August, not Augustus or Augusta, because it's gender neutral. So how about a gender-neutral name like Blake or Chris or Dana or Leslie? Or some people name their kid after a hometown or favorite place. Brooklyn Decker is a famous model. I had a friend named Dallas when I was a kid. In college I had a girlfriend (briefly) named Cleveland. So maybe we'll end up with grandchildren named Phoenix or Portland, or Newark or Nashville. These work for either a boy or a girl.

     If you remember the TV show "Seinfeld" George wanted to name his (non-existent) kid Seven. "It's a beautiful name, for a boy or a girl ... especially a girl, or a boy."

     I don't know. This is a tricky business. I guess we'll just have to tell the kids . . . go with Penelope.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

10 Things That Are Good for Us

     As I said in my previous post, we hear so many confusing reports about activities, foods, supplements and other things that are supposed to be good for us ... or maybe the latest research says they are actually bad for us.

     So I've done a little research, and can now give a rundown of 10 things that really are good for us, even though we may have heard differently. I've provided a link for each entry, in case you want to know more.

     The caveat: Everyone is different and many people have their own issues. So if your doctor has you on a particular regimen, ignore this general information and pay attention to your doctor.

     1. Breakfast. According to one study, over 30 million Americans skip breakfast every day. Yet a nutritious breakfast gives you energy and helps you resist unhealthy high-calorie snacks later in the morning. Eating breakfast is therefore associated with maintaining a healthy weight, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, better concentration and better memory. What's good for breakfast? Eggs, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables.

     2. Saunas and hot tubs. I always thought the benefit of a sauna or hot tub was that it made you feel good. But apparently there are some actual health benefits as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, sauna bathing can improve cardiovascular function and lower blood pressure, and can also help relieve symptoms of arthritis, headache and flu. But watch out for bacteria. Don't drink the water, and shower both before and after.

     3. Organic foods. I've been skeptical of organic foods ever since I mistakenly bought a bunch of organic grapes. I only noticed they were organic when I got to the checkout counter and found they cost over $9, instead of the usual $4. Then the grapes made me sick to my stomach! But ... my experience notwithstanding, the science says that organic foods, although more expensive, are in fact better for you because they have more nutrients, less toxic metal and fewer pesticides. However, organics (as I found out) do not have fewer bacteria, so you're still supposed to thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables.

Now these are organic
     4. A skeptical attitude. Not cynicism. A cynic distrusts everything. A skeptic looks at the facts and weighs the evidence before believing in something. So skeptics are less likely to fall for the latest panacea, fad diet, trendy cure-all or quick-fix. They are also less likely to just believe that, somehow, everything will work out fine, and so they take measures to improve their outlook for the future -- they exercise, eat right, drive safely and avoid other health risks.

     5. Snuggling. Being physically close, holding hands, giving backrubs all tend to reduce physical pain. One study from Colorado looked at 22 heterosexual couples. The women were subjected to mild pain, first when their male partner was holding their hand, then when they were sitting together but not touching. The women reported significantly less pain when they were holding hands -- but not when they were just sitting there. It seems we can share each others' pain, and when we do, it actually makes us feel better.

     6. Herbs and spices. They are full of healthy compounds that reduce inflammation, and since they offer interesting flavors they lead us to use less salt, sugar and fat in our foods. The list is a long one. Cinnamon may help reduce inflammation. Cumin can play a role in weight loss. Garlic may reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Ginger helps an upset stomach. Turmeric may improve memory and help ease pain.

     7. Coffee ... and tea. Coffee perks you up, and tea helps you relax, according to WebMD. Coffee may help stave off Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, diabetes and liver disease, and the recurrence of colon cancer. Tea boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol; and studies have suggested that tea drinkers have lower than average risk of skin, breast and prostate cancer.

     8. Cannabidiol, or CBD. Well, I'm still skeptical about this one. Nevertheless, as reports come in they seem to be more and more positive about the substance. CBD is the non-psychoactive element in marijuana. There is increasing scientific evidence that it helps relieve pain, lower anxiety, and possibly reduce high blood pressure. I don't know. I haven't ingested any CBD since the 1970s. How about you?

     9. Housework. The AARP cites a worldwide study on physical activity that found "doing household chores can be just as effective as running or working out when it comes to cutting your risk of heart disease and extending your life." The crux of the issue is that any type of physical activity is better than sitting and reading or watching TV, and it doesn't matter much whether you're walking on a treadmill or pushing around a vacuum, using the stairmaster or bending and stooping in the garden.

     10. Religion. Taking part in prayers and rituals on a regular basis has been shown to prevent isolation, decrease risk of depression, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. The benefits of religion, or spirituality, are not associated with any particular religion, and may in large part come from social support and perhaps having a sense of purpose in life. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that people who attend church regularly are healthier; they lead longer lives, have more robust immune systems and experience better recovery times from surgery.

     P. S. on pets. As I mentioned in my last post, it is possible to catch a disease from your pet. Still and all, according to the CDC, "The bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress and bring happiness to their owners." How can you argue with that?