"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Short Vacation

     In my last post I wrote about working in retirement, and I don't know if it's karma or coincidence or what, but a day later I got a call about a relatively major assignment. The job will take me just about a month.

     I also have to go to a wedding (the daughter of a friend), and make a four-day trip to Washington, DC -- nothing to do with the job, the job will mostly keep me sitting behind my computer. I'm meeting my daughter in Washington, and the family is using the opportunity to get together for a little holiday celebration.

     If my daughter is not too exhausted. She has taken part in the Ride for World Health, a two-month bicycle trip starting in San Diego and arriving in Washington, DC, over this coming weekend of June 2-3. The annual event is designed to increase health awareness and also raise funds for various nonprofit health organizations.

     So anyway, I'll be taking a brief blog vacation. For the month of June.

Ride for World Health route, April - June 2012
     I've noticed that others have taken "blogcations" now and then. I wonder:  Has your time off re-energized your blogging batteries and given you lots of new ideas?

     I'll post one "Blogging Boomers Carnival" in the middle of the month, because I'm on the schedule. Then I'll be back for real in July. I figure the blogging conversation will go on just fine without my little scribblings while I'm away.

     In the meantime, if you're so inclined, you can peruse back through the 197 blog posts that I've made since starting this exercise at the end of 2010. Or if you haven't taken one of my quizzes, scroll down to the Pages tab on the right and find out:  "Are You a Baby Boomer?" or see if you know:  "Are These Baby Boomer Icons Dead or Alive?"

     See you on July 1!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Can You Be Retired, and Still Working?

     Some of the most fortunate people in the world never retire. For example, Elizabeth Windsor, at age 85, is still going strong as Queen of England. Warren Buffett, 81, remains chairman and ceo of Berkshire Hathaway.

     Not all of us have the option to keep our jobs for as long as we want. I think of myself as belonging to a different, but equally exclusive club --  people who were forced to retire at a fairly young age. For example, Jimmy Carter who retired at age 56 in January 1981. Bill Clinton, who retired at age 54 in January 2001. And George W. Bush, who retired in January 2009 at age 62.

Carter builds houses
     But even though these people officially retired, they did not stop working or contributing to society. Jimmy Carter went on to write books, found the Carter Center and win the Nobel Peace Prize. Bill Clinton wrote his autobiography and started the Clinton Foundation. George Bush has been building his presidential library and working with Clinton to raise money to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

      Of course, I'm in a much different league than any of these people -- they're in the Majors, I'm in Little League -- but nevertheless, I figure if none of these people felt too good to retire, then who am I to sit back and do nothing? If they kept active into their 60s and 70s and 80s, then so should I.

     Besides, I need the money.

Clinton fights global poverty
     Some might think . . . well, it's easy for them to keep working, they have interesting jobs that do not require physical labor, and they enjoy a nice income and plenty of perks.

     That's true, but if you're really sick and tired of your job -- as I was in my last years at work -- then there's nothing to say you can't do something entirely different. A roofer can climb down from the ladder and go teach a course at the local vocational center. A burned-out executive can get outdoors and work on a golf course. A retired teacher can take a summer job as a camp counselor. A bored office administrator can work in retail at the mall. The corporate sales manager can become a real-estate agent.
     If you don't need the money, you can volunteer to fold clothes at the church rummage sale or serve food for Meals on Wheels, or pick up litter during community clean-up day.

Bush bikes with wounded vets
     (These are all things that various friends of mine have done at one time or another.)

     I was forced to retire in my 50s. So, like the former presidents, I too have kept working.

     I don't get the notoriety or the perks. But I also don't have to keep regular hours; I don't have to commute;  I don't have to play office politics; and I don't have to deal with the eternal dissatisfaction of ambition. I just poke around with my old contacts and try to come up with a job now and then, and when I do get an assignment, it gives me something to do, offers structure for my week, and not incidentally helps me stretch my retirement funds.

     Some people counter, if you're still working, how can you say you're retired? I guess I look on it as kind of like a summer job when you're in school. You're still on vacation; you don't have any papers to write or exams to study for; and you're not getting graded. Boy, I can tell you, one great thing about working in retirement is that you don't have to suffer the absurdities, and the indignities, of the dreaded "performance appraisal."

     In the end, the reasons to work in retirement are the reasons why you work at any other time in your life. For the money, yes. But also to have some structure in your life. To make some friends. To feel like you're doing something useful. To belong to a group that's bigger than yourself. To actually make a difference in the world -- even if, as in my case, it's a pretty small difference.

     All that being said, I must admit I am "underemployed." So if anyone has suggestions for getting decent work in retirement, or simply wants to share any of their own experiences, I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sugar Makes You Stoopid

     Recently, Newsweek featured a cover story on obesity (in conjunction with an HBO special on overweight Americans) in which author Gary Taubes challenged the conventional wisdom that we get fat because we eat too much and don't get enough exercise. Taubes instead claims that certain foods, particularly refined sugars and grains, are the primary culprits in spreading the epidemic of obesity in America.

     I greeted this story with no joy. I, myself, am not a big meat eater. But I love cereal, bread, pasta. And at my local 7-Eleven there's a daily special. One donut costs 69 cents, but you get two for a dollar. So, you know ... just in the interest of fiscal responsibility, I usually buy two.

     Taubes acknowledges that fats and meats may cause other problems, such as higher cholesterol, but they don't make us gain weight. In fact, per capita red-meat consumption peaked in this country in the mid-1970s, before the obesity epidemic even got off the ground. Since then, consumption of red meat has steadily declined, while the consumption of carbohydrates has increased -- along with our weight.

     The problem is that carbohydrates carry the cheapest calories, and as Taubes says (and I have personally confirmed), "They can be plenty tasty without a lot of preparation and preservation." But the biology suggests that they make us fat, while other foods (fats, proteins, and green leafy vegetables) do not.

     Sugars, refined grains and starches affect the hormone insulin, which regulates fat accumulation. Both sucrose (the white, granulated stuff we sprinkle on cereal) and high-fructose corn syrup produce elevated levels of insulin, which in turn brings about a deleterious effect on metabolism and promotes the steady accumulation of fat in our tissue. (High and unstable levels of insulin are also a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.)

     Now comes along a new study from UCLA reporting that eating sugar not only makes us fat, but also makes us stupid. Researchers gave a fructose solution to rats and observed that they had more difficulty figuring out how to get through a maze than rats on a regular diet. When the brains of the sugar-fueled rats were examined, researchers found that their insulin was less effective in controlling blood sugar and regulating synapse function in the brain.

     Researchers found one partial antidote. Rats who had their sugar-coated diet supplemented with flaxseed oil and fish oils, both of which are sources of omega-3 fatty acids, were able to work their way through the maze faster than the rats who'd been given just the sugar solution.
Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla of UCLA

     Says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor in physiological science at UCLA, "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage."

     So what should we eat? The latest clinical trials suggest that all of us would benefit from fewer sugars and fewer refined grains (bread, pasta) and starchy vegetables (potatoes). Meanwhile, evidence suggests that diets that are severely restricted in fattening carbohydrates and rich in animal products—meat, eggs, cheese—and green leafy vegetables are arguably the best approach to controlling your weight, if not the healthiest diet to eat overall. Not only does weight go down when people eat like this, but heart disease and diabetes risk factors are reduced.

     So, on my next trip to 7-Eleven, I guess I'd better double-check my arithmetic. Or, I could pick up some broccoli on the way home.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Who Gives Money to Their Grownup Kids?

     B's son came home from school the other day; he had been to a birthday party at the apartment of one of his friends. The friend is going to college and working as a salesperson in an Apple store. She has an apartment in a luxury building in the city, which she shares with a classmate. It's a new building, with a view and a doorman and a rooftop garden (where they had the party). And guess who's paying for this luxury apartment? The two girls' parents.

     The report made me shake my head. At what point do parents stop spoiling their kids?

     Then I thought, well, I have two 20-something children. They are both now out of college, they're both still single, and they both have fulltime jobs -- not a small feat for young adults in this economy. But neither one makes much money -- about enough to pay their rent with a little left over for incidentals, so it doesn't bother me to help them out a little bit.

     I do not pay their monthly rent in a luxury building. But I do pay my son's cellphone bill (it's cheaper to have him on my account than for him to pay separately) and I pay for his fitness club (because I want him to be healthy); and I pay to fix up my daughter's car (because I want her to be safe) and a few other sundry items.

     Can I afford to help them out? Yes, I can. Does it mean that I have to cut back on a few expenses of my own? Yes, it does.

     (And does it sound like I'm making excuses?) But I don't really mind.

     I was taken by the words of George Clooney in his recent movie The Descendants. He said he feels that it's good if you can give your kids enough money so they can afford to do what they want, but not give them so much that they can afford to do nothing.

     Of course, in the movie George Clooney plays the descendant of Hawaiian royalty and the trustee of an extended family that holds millions of dollars worth of prime Hawaiian property, while I'm the descendant of some European castoffs and hold a tract house in the far reaches of a Northeastern suburb. Nevertheless, I get what he means.

     According to a recent survey by Ameriprise Financial, an investment firm headquartered in Minneapolis, I am not alone in offering some financial support to my kids. "Nearly all Boomers surveyed (93%) say they have provided some form of financial support to their adult children. A majority have helped them pay for college tuition or loans (71%), allowed them to move home and live rent-free (55%) or helped them buy a car (53%). Many are also helping their kids pay for car and health insurance, as well as cover basic expenses like rent, utility and car payments."

     The survey showed that a lot of Baby Boomers are also helping out their parents, which puts them in double financial jeopardy. The result? Many Boomers have stopped saving for their own retirement. Ameriprise reports that now in 2012 only one-third of Boomers say they are trying to grow their savings, a significant decline from an earlier 2007 study showing that 44% were adding to their savings.

     One key difference, however, is that only 10% of Boomers say helping their parents has slowed down their retirement savings. But 34% feel the same about the support they’ve provided their adult children.

     I'd be interested to know how some others have handled this situation or feel about the issue. But for me, I'm thinking you shouldn't let pressure from your kids, or your impulse for generosity, hurt your own retirement plans. So we need to open up a discussion with our adult children about how they can manage their own finances more effectively. And we need to talk to them about the limits of our financial support. Sometimes, as parents, we think we can do everything. But we must recognize that there's also a time to let go.

     So, as for those parents paying for their daughter's luxury apartment, I'd advise them to listen to George Clooney's character in The Descendants. As for the rest of us, by all means help out your kids, if you can afford it, but not at the expense of robbing your own retirement nest egg.

Blogging Boomers Carnival

     The current edition of the Blogging Boomers Carnival is brought to you by Laura Lee Carter, who shakes out some of the interests of her fellow Baby Boomers -- from astronomy to writing; from food to finance; from travel to dogs.

     So if any of these topics smell good to you, go fetch the links at Midlife Crisis Queen, where you can sniff them out, chew them over and lap them up. Because as Groucho Marx was reputed to have said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

Friday, May 18, 2012

You Knew I Never Had a Chance

     I admit, it was a long shot right from the get go. So, now, gracefully I cede my ground and deliver the dinosaur bookcase to someone who . . . who will appreciate it.

     But not before I tell you, when I delivered the bookcase, Leslie, the Goodwill store manager, walked out the front door -- she must have seen me coming -- and she was clapping her hands and wore a huge smile on her face. "Oh, I love it!" she enthused.

     I pointed out some of its merits but conceded that not everyone liked the bookcase.

The dinosaur arrives
     "Oh, I don't like it," she replied. "I love it. I'm not even sure if I'm going to sell it; I'll bring it to the back of the store and put my children's books on it."

     "Well, I'm glad you like it," I demurred.

     "I don't like it, I love it," she repeated as she signaled to her assistant to carry it inside. I followed her in, took a last look at my bookcase as though it was an endangered species, and said goodbye.

My bookcase finds a new home

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No Accounting for Taste

     B and I are having a bit of a contretemps. She's being very unreasonable, in my opinion, so I thought I'd reach out to my friends in the blogosphere for some support. Because as you'll soon see, my position is obviously right, and B is just being ... impossible!

     It all started a few weeks ago when B and I were helping out at the used book sale at our local library. We were setting up, when what should come through the door as a donation but the coolest, neatest, bossest bookcase you've ever seen. It's custom made. It's homemade. By a master handyman, lovingly crafted for his child.

     Before the sale started, the ladies in charge of the book sale decided on a $50 price tag for the bookcase. But before the doors opened, they decided $50 was perhaps a bit too ambitious. They put a $40 sticker on it as the book sale began. They placed this piece of furniture in the back of the room, hoping it would draw people through the rows of books -- kind of like the way the supermarket places milk at the back of the store.

     Okay, the bookcase didn't sell for $40, so we moved it up next to the checkout counter and brought the price down to $30. Surely someone would grab it now.

     At 2 p.m. we dropped the price to $10, as a couple of the women started worrying about what we would do with this bookcase if it didn't sell at all. At 4 p.m. we marked the price at $5, but still it didn't sell, and the bookcase went into storage in the coat closet with the leftover boxes of books.

     We gave away the books -- some to the senior citizens home in town, and some to the prison up the highway. Our last disbursement occurred this past weekend when we went over to the library to help a woman load the last of the boxes into her SUV -- she is going to use the books in her literacy program and ESL classes.

     After all the boxes were gone, I spied the bookcase standing up against the back wall of the closet. "So I'll take the bookcase if no one else wants it," I ventured.

     The woman in charge of the book sale gave me a puzzled look. "Really?" she replied. "Well, go ahead, take it. We need to get rid of it."

     "Get rid of it?" I said. "It's a really cool bookcase. I can put it in my bedroom."

     That's when B came around the corner. "What's going on?" she challenged.
     "The bookcase," I explained. "I'm taking the bookcase."

My new bookcase, temporarily relegated to the basement.
     "No, you're not," she said, looking slightly panicked.

     "Yeah, we can put it in the corner of our bedroom."

     "No, we can't."

     "Well, alright, we can talk about that, but surely we can find someplace for it," I countered.

      "You're not serious."

     "Don't worry," I said, "it'll look good." I wedged the bookcase onto the dolly and carted it out the door. I wheeled it out to her minivan and slipped it into the back. B trailed after me, "You're really taking that?" she kept asking.

     And so, long story short, the bookcase is currently residing in our basement. I want to bring it upstairs to the bedroom. She wants me to bring it out to the curb for trash collection.

     Now, tell me the truth, don't you think it's pretty cool? One of a kind. Admit it . . .  wouldn't you like to have something like this in your bedroom? We're lucky to get it. So, come on, don't you agree it merits a special place?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Enough Money? Who Cares!

     It seems almost every day you see something on the Internet about how retired people are afraid they will outlive their money. About how we all live so long these days, and about how we will need a lot more money than we think to carry us through to the end of our days. Nobody is saving enough for retirement. Social Security is running out of money. Medicare is running out of money even faster.

     There's all kinds of advice about how to make your nest egg last for as long as you live. Buy an annuity. Invest in stocks. Cut your expenses. Watch out for inflation.

     I had a little health scare last week, and after that, when I read this money advice, it suddenly seemed so trivial. And I realized your priority should not be to save and scrimp and make sure you have money for your old age, but to take care of yourself and do the things you need to do to live long enough to get to old age.

     I don't know if I'll live to be 90 or 100. I think I'd like to -- although I know a lot of people who don't. They believe life in old old age will be a miserable experience, full of pain and loneliness, and they think they'll be happy to die at age 80 or 85. (I'll make sure to ask them if they still feel the same way once they get to be 80.) But, surely, nobody wants to die at 65 or 68 -- if for no other reason than you want to get back all that money you paid into Social Security!

     So I've spent the last week not thinking about how much money I'll need in case I live to 100, but how to give myself the best chances to get to 100 -- or at least live a reasonably disease and pain free life for the next 30 years, until I get into my 90s, and maybe to 100.

     My parents died at ages 89 and 91. Many of my relatives lived well into their 90s. I had one uncle who died in his 60s but he'd had polio as a child and suffered from diabetes his whole life. And one of my grandfathers died in his 60s, before I was born, but he picked up some disease from working in a factory for 30-odd years. I don't have to worry about diseases from a factory -- I just suffer from the maladies you get from sitting behind a desk for 30-odd years, things like carpal tunnel syndrome and a bad back.

     So I'm hoping I have the genes to keep me around long enough to allow me to collect plenty of Social Security checks.

     But I used to smoke. And I know I don't get enough exercise. And I eat too much sugar and not enough fruits and vegetables. And I have to work on my attitude, too. Happy people live longer than people who are depressed. I'm not depressed, but sometimes I get a little too moody, or disgruntled, or too critical of the world.

     In the fall of 2009, I lost about 15 pounds, partly to improve my health and to take some weight off my sometimes-painful knees and ankles. I've put back on about 6 or 8 of those pounds. I've got to shed those recidivist pounds.

     I lost that weight in part by giving up sodas and sugary drinks. But the truth is I've been backsliding on that, and I know that soda and anything else with high-fructose corn syrup is not just fattening but is bad for you in other ways as well. And so is sugar. And so are too many carbohydrates.

     So I've recently gone back to drinking water. I also need to eat more veggies. B always serves a vegetable with dinner. But I have to make a point of eating some veggies during the day as well -- raw carrots or a tomato or a green salad. This is a good time to resolve to eat more vegetables because they're just starting to come into season, and fresh ones are so much better than the frozen or canned variety.

     I have to fill up on more fruit as well. I can have raisins with my morning cereal. An apple or a banana during the day. If I could only be satisfied with a piece of fruit for dessert at night, instead of lobbying for cake or cookies, or falling to the siren song of ice cream. (I'd love to hear: what is your dietary nemesis? Mine is definitely ice cream.)

     I do belong to a fitness club, but my attendance lately has been very sporadic. I resolve to go more often -- at least twice a week, maybe three times. And do more walking as well. Or at least play golf.

     B and I like to go dancing. That's not only good exercise, but it helps your social life as well. And all the research says the more friends you have, the more connected you are to a community, the better your health will be.

     Dancing is also something B and I like to do together; it helps to keep our relationship strong, and we all know a good intimate relationship will help you live longer -- or if by chance it doesn't, it sure makes your time here a lot happier.

     As of right now, I'm not worried about having enough money to support me until I reach a hundred. Instead, I invite you share with me a much more important goal -- to make the adjustments in our lives that will ensure we get there at all, hopefully pain free and in good health.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Little Health Scare

     It started as a small, barely perceptible pain on the right side of my chest. It occurred a few weeks ago, after I'd been doing some work over the weekend. It didn't concern me. I thought maybe I'd pulled a little muscle.

     After a couple of days, the pain -- it wasn't even really a pain, just a "feeling" -- seemed to migrate to the center of my chest. Maybe I hadn't pulled a muscle. Maybe I'd breathed in dust or mildew and it was causing some congestion. Regardless, I thought, it would clear up in a few days.

     But it didn't go away. I developed a little cough, and it felt like there was something caught in my throat. The pain wasn't there all the time, but as soon as I thought it was gone I'd lie down to go to sleep at night ... and there it was. Especially when I lay on my back. If I slept on my side, I didn't get the feeling. But if I woke up in the night to go to the bathroom, when I crawled back into bed, there it was. A little pain in my chest -- nothing major, just something knocking inside, refusing to allow me to ignore it, reminding me that, yes, it was still there.

A chest X ray -- not mine
     A week went by, then ten days, and it didn't go away. I got a little worried. I went to my computer and called up WebMD and the Mayo clinic site. Chest pain. They advised me to seek medical attention immediately. But I knew they were thinking "heart attack," and I was pretty sure I wasn't having a heart attack. I have no history of heart disease in my family; my cholesterol counts have always been good; and besides, if it was a heart attack I would have been dead ten days ago!

     The sites wanted to know if I had any other symptoms. Body aches? No. Increased sweating? No. Decreased appetite. No. Cough? Maybe a little. Fearful? I had to admit, I was getting fearful.

     I searched through the list of possible maladies. Common cold. I didn't think I had a cold, because I wasn't sniffling. Allergies? I checked the pollen count, and it has been high. I didn't have itchy eyes or other symptoms, but I've had mild allergies in the past, so I bought some Claritin and took it for a few days, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

     My symptoms didn't get any worse. They didn't get any better. Indeed, the pain, or the "feeling" seemed to move around in my chest. First it was on the right side, then in the center, then on the left. Then lower down. Was it possible I had some kind of stomach issue?

     I checked WedMD and the Mayo clinic again. Got past the warnings of a heart attack. Could I possibly have COPD, or sinusitis, or bronchial adenoma (whatever that is)?

     Then I saw it: Lung cancer. And that's when I did break out in a nervous sweat. I have a history of cancer in my family -- not lung cancer, but my brother had cancer; several females in my family have had breast cancer; even my dad eventually died of cancer although it wasn't until he was 91.

     I went on to do a little research in small cell cancer (the most deadly) and non-small cell lung cancer (the most common). There are over 200,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed every year -- about the same number as prostate cancer or breast cancer. But breast cancer kills only about 40,000 women per year, and prostate cancer kills only 30,000 men; while lung cancer is far more deadly, killing more than 150,000 Americans every year.

     The chances of getting lung cancer increase if you're a smoker -- or if you've been a smoker. I smoked when I was in college and for a few years after that. Even after I gave up, I cheated for quite a while. But in my favor, I hadn't touched any kind of cigarette or cigar in at least ten years.

     Chest pain shows up as a symptom of lung cancer in about a quarter of the cases. But often there are no symptoms at all until ... basically, it's too late. Did I have shortness of breath? No. Had I lost weight? No. Was I coughing? Yes, a little bit. Was I hoarse? I didn't know. None of my friends or family had mentioned that I sounded hoarse. But I was too scared to ask B outright.

     First I convinced myself that I might have lung cancer. Then I convinced myself that I didn't -- it really didn't seem as though I had the symptoms. Besides, I've had a few aches and pains in the past, and eventually I'd gone to the doctor, and it was always "nothing." So this must be nothing.

     Or was I in denial? Did I think it just couldn't happen to me?

     One day last week I woke up in the night. When I slid back into bed the now-familiar pain started pinging me in the chest. I tried to ignore it; I turned on my side; I tried to fight my way back to sleep. After two hours I got up, went downstairs and read my book for a while, until I fell asleep in the living room.

     That was the day I decided I really should see the doctor. I'd had the pain for three weeks. It wasn't going away. I should either face up to the fact that something might be wrong -- or deal with the embarrassment of going to the doctor and finding out that "it's nothing."

     My primary care physician fit me into an appointment the next day. The nurse took my pulse and blood pressure; the doctor asked about my symptoms and nodded thoughtfully; he thumped my chest and made me breathe deep. He finally declared that he thought it ... was nothing. "It sounds to me like it's something muscular," he concluded.

     But he sent me for a chest X ray and an EKG, just to make sure. I took the stairs down to the lab, got the two tests and drove home. I was supposed to call the office later in the afternoon for the results.

     The tests only took a few minutes and seemed very routine. But even though I'd had a measured, unworried response from my doctor, I'd be lying if I told you I didn't break into a sweat when I made the call later that day. The nurse came on the line. "Oh yes," she said. "I got a note from the doctor. Hold on a minute."

     She put me on hold. I paced the living room listening to the barely audible hum in the background. The seconds ticked by. Nothing. Maybe a minute, before I said aloud into the phone, "Come on, what's the hold up?"

     The nurse came back. "Hi, I found the note," she said. "Nothing showed up."

     I queried her three times to make sure that "nothing showed up" meant that everything was normal; there was no disease; I was completely normal.

     We hung up the phone, and I know I had a smile on my face. A silly smile because I was happy that nothing was wrong, and a little embarrassed that I'd bothered the medical group for no reason. And I was also amused by my own ... my own what? Frailty? Weakness? I dunno. I just panicked. But I was glad the doctor was there to tell me everything was okay.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blogging Boomers and Their Wide Ranging Tastes

     The Boomers are once again cooking up a blog's full of delightful dishes, offering as many specialties as even the hungriest Baby Boomer could possibly want. For starters, the Accidental Locavore reports that she finally got back into the kitchen. What was on the menu? Homemade pastrami from local grass-fed beef. Check it out here.

     (Also, dial into her very cool video clip, where she demonstrates the secrets of preparing zucchini and summer squash.)

     Do you ever wonder what it is like for an American expat to live in the Middle East? See how Katie Foster of "Arabian Tales" explained to her college friends the joys and challenges of "Living In An Islamic Country."

     (She remarks on the similarities between the basic values of Islam and her own Christian belief, and she also explains some of the lesser known aspects of women's rights and marriage.)

     Meanwhile, SoBabyBoomer shines a spotlight on Baby Boomers and entrepreneurship, pointing out that from 1996 to 2011 the number of Baby Boomers starting a business increased by nearly seven percent, the largest increase among all age groups. For people 20-44, the number of people starting a new business actually fell about five percent during that same time period.

     (He also reminds us that in America 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 ... every day! He says it's important to encourage people -- especially those of us who are early retirees -- to continue to work "in ways that truly use their talents to support the economy as well as themselves.")

     Despite the business prospects for Baby Boomers, we all know that as we age few of us will escape either the role of the person in need of extra care or caregiver. Laura Lee wishes to share with you a bit of what she has learned about the natural guilt involved in being a primary caregiver.  

     Finally, Vaboomer wonders:  Are you a confident woman? Whatever your answer, she redefines the concept in a brief but insightful post at her portal to the Boomeranger world.

     As for me, I've been thinking about a few things lately, mostly to do with my health. I had a little scare last week, so I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with . . . hypochrondria. Fortunately.

     (I'll tell you more about that in my next post. But right now I've suddenly developed a strong craving for something from the kitchen. I don't know why. But regardless, I'm going to make myself a pastrami sandwich!)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Remember Her?

     Honestly, I don't remember much about her. She died when I was in junior high school (now known as middle school). But I recall that she loomed large in my young mind, as she was probably the most important woman in the country even though to me she seemed quite elderly. She was born in 1884, which made her almost as old as my grandmother.

      But she couldn't have been more different from my grandmother, who came to America in the late 1890s as a poor immigrant from Eastern Europe. This woman, who's first name was Anna, was born in Manhattan to a wealthy member of New York high society.

     But Anna's life was not simple, and it was not easy. Her mother died from diphtheria when she was only eight, and her father, an alcoholic, was confined to a sanatorium and then died two years later. One of her brothers (she had two brothers and a half brother) also died of diphtheria.

Her home in NY, now a National Historic Site
     Anna went to live with her grandmother in upstate New York along the Hudson River. She was shy and insecure as a child and according to one of her biographers she considered herself "ugly." She was home schooled until age 15, then sent off to a finishing school outside London, England, where she learned French and came under the tutelage of a feminist educator who encouraged her to develop her own independent thinking.

     After she returned to the U. S. she came out at a debutante ball at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, then went to work as a social worker in the New York slums. (Maybe she saw my grandmother there!) At the same time she met her future husband, a dashing Harvard student -- and famously took him on a tour of the tenements where she worked.

     They were married in 1905 by the headmaster of her husband's upper-class prep school, and went on a three-month honeymoon trip to Europe. They set up housekeeping in a Manhattan apartment provided by her husband's family and vacationed in upstate New York and in Maine. Over the next ten years the couple had six children, as her husband began to pursue a political life. He won election to the New York state senate, then an appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He decided to run for the U. S. Senate from New York, but he stumbled and lost in the primary to a fellow Democrat who in turn lost to Republican James W. Wadsworth (who served two terms 1914 - 1926).

     The path of their life soon changed, first when Anna found out that her husband was having an affair with her secretary. They did not get divorced, but Anna then resolved to achieve fulfillment on her own merits and not live in the shadow of her husband. Then, a couple of years later, in 1921, her husband fell ill -- diagnosed with polio (although researchers later suggested it might have been Guillain-Barre syndrome) -- and she stepped forward to take a more active life in politics, giving speeches, developing relationships and building her popularity.

     Her husband spent much of the 1920s fighting to regain his health, and in 1928 she had mixed feelings as he took up the call to run for governor of New York. She supported his ambitions, but feared that she would be relegated back to a behind-the-scenes role.

     Have you guessed who she is? The entire country got to know her after her husband was elected president of the United States and took office in 1933 during the depths of the Depression.

     But even before then, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt had been working for social progress by supporting union activity, calling for the establishment of a 48-hour week, and trying to abolish child labor. Now she took up the cause of her fellow women, spoke in favor of peaceful international relations, and supported rights for African Americans. She wrote about her concerns for women's magazines and penned a syndicated column called "My Day," which ran from 1936 to 1962, and in noting her daily activities addressed subjects such as unemployment, education, rural life and the role of women in society.  

     After FDR died in 1945, Eleanor worked at the United Nations under President Truman, and she supported Adlai Stevenson for president in 1952, 1956, and also in 1960. She had reservations about John Kennedy because of his early reluctance to condemn Joseph McCarthy. But she did eventually throw her support behind him, and after he was elected he in turn appointed her to another post at the U.N.

     There's a lot more to the Eleanor Roosevelt story. If you're interested, a good place to start is the 1995 Doris Kearns Goodwin Pulitzer Prize-winning book No Ordinary Time. Then there's Joseph Lash's 1971 tome Eleanor and Franklin, and a two-volume look at Eleanor Roosevelt by feminist Blanche Wiesen Cook, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt's own autobiography, a book of the best of her "My Day" columns and a guide to her everyday philosophy called You Learn By Living.

     Or if you happen to be in New York, take a trip up the Hudson and visit her house Val-Kill, located across the street from the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, NY.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Welcome to the Month of May

     In early Europe, May 1 marked the first day of summer. The summer solstice on June 21 was actually considered midsummer. May Day was a time to celebrate the fertility of the earth -- both for spring planting and for human sexual activity.

     Pagan villagers danced around the Maypole, a symbol that historians have been trying to interpret for centuries. One theory is that the Maypole symbolized the axis of the earth; another says it represented the trees that figured so prominently in the Germanic tradition. Or, as many have suggested, it may have been a phallic symbol representing fertility. Check out the youtube clip at the end of the post to see which interpretation Lerner & Loewe most likely relied on when penning the classic from Camelot.

     May 1 is also a day of solidarity for workers around the world. The origin of this commemoration goes back to the Haymarket massacre.

     In the 1880s, the U. S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions declared that a full workday should be limited to eight hours. When factories refused to cooperate, on May 1, 1886, thousands of workers went on strike. Two days later Chicago police opened fire on a group of strikers, killing six people. The next day a bomb exploded and killed several cops, leading to more police attacks. The person who set the bomb was never identified, but eight workers were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Four of them were executed; one committed suicide; and three were eventually pardoned. On May 1, 1890, sympathizers held demonstrations throughout Europe and America to memorialize the Haymarket massacre, and in the years that followed socialists, unionists -- and now Occupy Wall Streeters -- have celebrated May Day as an international workers' holiday.

     May is also National Bike Month, which is dedicated to the "power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride." The week of May 14 - 18 is Ride Your Bike to Work Week.

     May is also Get Caught Reading Month, as well as Asian and Pacific Islander month. The first week of May was named Asian American Heritage Week by Congress in 1978, to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in 1843 as well as the contribution of many Chinese Americans who helped build the first transcontinental railroad, completed in May 1869.

     May 1 also marks the birthday of some famous musicians, including Kate Smith (1907), Judy Collins (1939), Rita Coolidge (1945) and Tim McGraw (1967).

     But perhaps most important for us geezers, the U. S. Administration on Aging has declared May Older Americans Month, which it calls "a proud tradition that shows our nation's commitment to recognizing the contributions and achievements of older Americans." Every year brings a different theme. Last year it was "Connecting the Community. This year the theme is "You're Never Too Old to Play."

     Hmm, never too old to play, huh? Okay, I guess I owe it to my fellow older Americans -- I will go out and play golf today.

     P. S. As a follow-up to my two postings on the cost of health care, take a look at Sunday's New York Times article "In Hopeful Sign, Health Spending Is Flattening Out." But the question:  Is it a good sign because health care might be getting marginally more affordable? Or is it a bad omen since the reasons are largely due to the recession, when people lost health insurance and skipped nonurgent care?

     Now for that clip from the 1967 movie version of Camelot, starring Vanessa Redgrave :