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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What One Book . . .

     The late great political pundit William F. Buckley was once asked what one book he would bring with him if he was stranded on a desert island. He shot back his response:  a book on shipbuilding.

     As a rule I don't recommend books to people, because if they're like me, they have more books on their to-read list than they'll ever get to.  

     Nevertheless, a friend recommended a new writer last week, and I have to pass on the tip. Well, she's new to both B and me, but she's not brand new. She published her first book in 2007 and has four books out in all -- still, she's new compared to the likes of Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly or Sue Grafton, each of whom has over two dozen books to their credit.

     Her name is Tana French and she currently lives in Ireland. Her father is an economist who worked in resource management. He did extensive traveling all around world and often brought his family with him. French was born in the United States, but also lived in Ireland, Italy, Malawi and elsewhere. She has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy.

Colaiste Na Trionoide, Baile Atha Cliath (Trinity College)
     Tana French went to Trinity College, Dublin, and trained as an actress. She appeared in several plays, then did voiceovers, before "finding her bliss" as a writer of mysteries and psychological thrillers. Her first book In the Woods won several awards including the 2008 Edgar Award (named after, who else? ... Edgar Allen Poe) for best first novel.

     After our friend casually recommended Tana French over the dinner table, B brought home two of her books from the library. B is now reading Faithful Place, and I just finished the author's most recent work Broken Harbor.

     Broken Harbor features Detective Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and his rookie partner Richie Curran, who are investigating the murder of a family in a new but never finished housing complex outside of Dublin, in the wake of the country's recent economic collapse. I'll admit the book is a bit "talky" and perhaps a bit too long at 450 pgs. (B says I complain that every book I read is too long). But the dialogue is sizzling and the story is riveting. There are a few extraordinary plot twists -- but as a reader you believe them because the writer has the talent, and has taken the care, to draw out her characters as real people who sometimes do crazy things.

     Anyway, I can't wait to read Faithful Place -- if B will just hurry up and finish it! Otherwise, I'll have to download it onto my kindle.

     And if you're about to be abandoned on a desert island (for spring break maybe, or your retirement home?) you could do a lot worse than bring along a Tana French mystery to keep you company.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Where to Retire in the West

     I write weekly articles for U. S. and World Report retirement site, and I'm supposed to come up with one of those lists of ten best places to retire. The twist to this list is that it's not supposed to take cost of living into account, as most lists do, but instead offer nice, friendly retirement destinations for people who are fairly affluent. Not the Warren Buffetts of the world (after all, he lives in Omaha, and who wants to retire in Omaha?), but not people living solely on Social Security either.

Nicer than this
     I'm asking your help. I know the East Coast. I've been researching retirement locations on the East Coast for years. One of my favorites is Cape Cod, even if it is a little cold and windy in winter.

     Another is Naples, Florida. Now I know some people prefer the east coast of Florida -- say, Jupiter or Vero Beach -- and others aspire to retire in Sarasota, for its relatively upscale environment and its cultural attractions. But I've spent plenty of time in Florida, and for me the east coast is too crowded, and on the west coast I prefer Naples to Sarasota. So I'm going to include Naples on my list -- and, yes, there's a certain degree of subjectivity to my list, as there is to any other list. (I know, there's a degree of silliness to these lists as well, but what are ya gonna do?)

But not ridiculous
     Here's what I'd like some opinions on. Where to retire in Texas, in New Mexico or Arizona, and in the Pacific Northwest.

     I know an old colleague who retired to Tucson, and she seems to like it. But I've only been to Tucson once in my life -- and I don't know anything about it. Sedona is beautiful, but seems too small-townish. What about Scottsdale? It has the advantages of being near Phoenix, without the noise, traffic, dirt and heat of actually being in Phoenix. Plus, I went to someone's house in Paradise Valley last year. Boy, I would retire there in a minute . . .  if I could afford it.

     It seems there are a few people out there who live in Oregon (though not as many in Washington, I wonder why?) so I wonder where you'd find paradise in Twin Peaks territory. I've been to Eugene, which seems nice but not particularly retirement-oriented, and to Portland several times, and once to Seattle. But I don't know the area very well. I've heard that Bellingham is a nice retirement town, with a university that offers courses for retired people. Any opinions on that?

     Anyway, thanks for your help and advice. Gee, I just thought of a bonus for me: if someone offers me a really super idea I've never heard of, maybe I'll start packing my bags!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What's the Worst Four-Letter Word?

     What's the dirtiest word you can think of, the one that's most negative, that produces the most self-destructive behavior?

     It's not the F-word, that's for sure. After all, the F-word is nothing but a crude term for what can be a loving act and exhilarating experience, a connection that is responsible for all life as we know it. Not one of us would be here without the F-word.

     Maybe the R-word is the worst. It is the cruel, ugly, violent version of the F-word.

     Another candidate might be Hell. Although it's generally considered a fairly mild curse word -- I even heard my mother say it once or twice! -- it in fact refers to the worst condition, the worst situation, that the human mind can imagine. Some people soften it and say, "Heck." I remember when my very proper fifth-grade teacher got frustrated or mad, she would smile knowingly and say, "Oh, Hades!"

     But from my experience, the worst four letters put together in the English language is the word, "Cool."

As cool as ice
Cool as a cucumber
     No other word has led people to do crazier things. In the effort to be "cool," people undermine their health, sabotage their careers, destroy their relationships and compromise every other aspect of their lives.

     You don't think so? So why did you start smoking all those years ago?

     A few young women may have started smoking to lose weight (although the only reason they wanted to lose weight was to be cool). I started smoking to keep up with my older brother and his friends. They were soooo cool, I could barely stand it.

     It took me two decades to quit smoking entirely, after many attempts, many false starts, and years and years of "cheating." All that work -- and possibly shortening my life -- just because when I was 15 years old I was trying to be cool.

     How many teenagers start drinking because they think it's cool? By the time I got to college, it wasn't cool to drink anymore. It was cool to take drugs. It was kind of cool to smoke marijuana, but the real cool kids took speed or mescaline. Fortunately, I was never cool enough to try the hard drugs. But I had a few friends who did -- and it didn't do them any good.

     I admit there is a positive aspect to coolness. Playing sports is usually considered cool, and many aspects of sports are good for us. In a few, select groups it's considered cool to be smart or talented. But how many young people want to be writers or actors or musicians, because they think it's cool -- and then end up disappointed, unemployed and scrambling to get their lives back on track when they're 30?

     How many people drive gas-guzzling, air-polluting SUVs or high-performance sports cars, because (whether they admit it or not) they think it's cool?

     How many people end up in bad relationships because they think the person is cool, or hang around with mean, nasty people because they're the in-crowd?

Coolest of them all
     I remember when I was a kid, playing the disaffected youth personified by James Dean was considered cool. That never did me any good, I can tell you. Later, maybe it was Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin or Keith Moon. But I know you're not as cool as they were, because if you were, you wouldn't still be around.

     Remember Karen Carpenter? She wanted to be so cool, and so skinny, that she starved herself to death. Okay, now I'm getting a little far afield. But isn't there some element of anorexia, as well as other behavioral diseases, that stems from people wanting to be more beautiful, more loved ... more cool?

     Trying to be cool leads many of us to do stupid things -- sometimes they're funny, sometimes they turn out to be tragic. But one advantage of growing older, I think, is that we can give up trying to be cool. Although, why else am I on facebook? So maybe I'm wrong.

     Which reminds me of the time, back when I was in 8th grade . . . hmmm, I don't know if I want to tell that story. Maybe next time.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Put the Glass Down

     I ran across this story, via a friend of mine, on the Sun Gazing facebook page. They suggested sharing it, so I'm sharing it.

     A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question.

     Instead, she smiled and inquired, “How heavy is this glass of water?”

     Answers ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

     The psychologist paused for effect, then replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it doesn't feel heavy at all. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass hasn't changed, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

     She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – and incapable of doing anything.”

     It's important to let go of your stresses. When the day is done, put down your burdens. Don’t carry them through the evening and worry about them all night. Remember to put the glass down!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Snakes Are Smiling

     I know I just logged a post saying how I wasn't going to be doing much blogging for the time being, because I got a work assignment last week. But it's Sunday, my day of rest, so let me pause to wish you a Happy St. Patrick's Day.

     I'm half Irish. Most of my friends don't know that, however, because my name isn't Irish. My father's family hailed from Austria, or so they said, by which they really meant, somewhere in Eastern Europe. When they came to America in late 1800s, Austria ruled half of Europe, so we don't honestly know where they came from, exactly. What I do know is they weren't Polish.

     I still can remember visiting my grandmother when I was a kid, driving up to her old industrial town in New England, where everyone on her street had a name that ended in "ski" or "kov" or "ini," and all the men worked in the local metal factory. My grandmother would sneer at the Poles, spitting and cursing and saying they were no good bums. I, myself, being an American from suburbia, was amazed that she could even tell the difference between a Pole and a Ukrainian or a Hungarian. But she could.

     But that's a subject for another blog post. The Irish side of my family was my mother's clan. She was as Irish, she used to say, as you could get if you came from New Jersey. The names in her family were Callahan, Kiernan, Sullivan and Murphy.

     I won't bore you with the whole family story, as my Uncle Tom used to do, always starting out with, "There were three brothers, Patrick, Frank and Thomas, who lived on a small farm in County Westmeath, along the road to Horseleap, right by the old dangerous bridge . . ."

     My Uncle Tom was a successful lawyer, but also a classic hard-drinking, flush-faced Irishman who loved to tell a story or two. He died at the age of 93, in 1996. So he's long gone now, as are his mostly-made-up stories. But I do miss him.

     Anyway, did you see yesterday's article in the New York Times reporting that Ireland, where St. Patrick drove out all the snakes, now has a problem with snakes slithering through the countryside? Apparently, during the so-called Celtic boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, snakes became popular as pets among the young and newly rich. But when the bust came, these people didn't want to spend the money to feed them and take care of them, so they let them loose into the brush and the heath where they have thrived in the mild wet winters.

     I saw one report that a 16-foot python was found in a garden in Mullingar, the county seat of Westmeath. My Uncle Tom surely could have made a grand story out of that one, he would!


Friday, March 15, 2013

Working It Out

     I got a job last week. Nothing full time. Just an assignment I occasionally get from one of my old industry contacts.

     There are a few select people who, through some combination of high income and economical living, have achieved true financial independence by the time they're in their 50s. They have the option to retire early, no problem.

     I myself retired early ... through no fault of my own. It's just that, as the old saying goes, after what my employer said to me, at age 53, I found I couldn't possibly work for them anymore. What did they say? "You're fired!"

     However, despite a decent salary, along with reasonably economical living -- as economical as you can get if you have two kids -- I fell short of the threshold of "true financial independence."

Happy at work
    John Nelson, co-author of What Color Is Your Parachute for Retirement: Planning a Prosperous and Happy Future, says, “When it comes to financial independence, we can get caught in ‘all-or-none’ thinking. Especially for our jobs, we think that financial independence means not working at all."

     But retirement is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. And neither is financial independence.

     So after I got laid off I decided I didn't have to go all in with a full-time job. (Besides, I got laid off during the early 2000s recession and at age 53 would have been lucky to find any job at all, even if I was willing to take less of a salary with a longer commute.)  So I decided to tighten my belt and go into the consulting business. And that's what I've been doing ever since.

     Meanwhile, I got a kick out of the storm of controversy that came when Yahoo ceo Marissa Mayer decreed that her employees can no longer work from home. They have to go into the office, at least several times per week. I've got the opposite problem. No one will let me come into their office.

     So anyway, occasionally I take a limited-engagement job. Nothing that really pays all that well. But it does pay something. And it helps me keep financially fit.

     I was inspired by a friend of mine, a few years older than me, who had been laid off by my same company a couple of years before I was. He was able to arrange for some consulting work from our old company, and he picked up a few other projects from people he knew, and he set up an office at home and soon found himself working 20 to 30 hours a week. The bonus: "As soon as I left my job," he told me, "my back problems went away. I started to eat better and do more exercise. I make half as much money, but I feel twice as good, and I'm twice as happy."

     Recently I asked the same fellow, now in his early 70s, if he had any plans to truly retire. "Why should I?" he said. "I really retired ten years ago. Now I love what I'm doing!" 

     I do enjoy working, now and then, because it gives me some focused activity; it brings in a little money; and it makes me feel good to be engaged in work that's important enough for someone to pay me for it. It takes me out of myself, and makes me feel like I'm worth something beyond my own little life and my own family.

     I don't know if I'll still feel that way ten years from now, when I'm in my 70s, but I really do feel that way now.

     Besides, even retirees who are truly financially independent, the experts tell us, need to find pursuits that engage their interests. Nobody can expect to be happy sitting in front of the TV for the rest of their lives. We need activities that stimulate our imagination, connect us to other people, and help us develop a commitment to something more than our own self-interest.

     Maybe one day, when I'm truly financially independent, I'll find satisfaction in golf or gardening, in photography or following the stock market. But for now, I'll keep on taking an odd job. Or, at least that's what I tell myself as I type out my replying email, saying I'd be more than happy to do the work. 

     All by way of saying, I'll be working for a few weeks, and may be posting less often. Somehow I think the blogosphere will survive my partial absence.

     See you around ... and if I'm looking a little frazzled, it's because I'll be blogging in my off hours, with my other eye on the paycheck being dangled in front of my nose.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Best of the Boomer Blogs

     It must be getting close to the Ides of March, the day Caesar was assassinated, because this time around the entries for Best of Boomer Blogs seem to be slouching toward more serious subjects.

     Laura Lee, the Midlife Crisis Queen, was pleased to see the mainstream media finally confronting a difficult topic on "60 Minutes" last Sunday:  Suicide. This is the same topic that inspired her to write her new book Find Your Reason to Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita R. Robinson consumer journalist writes about six ways to be a better shopper to celebrate National Consumer Protection Week. The tips include:  use apps to compare prices, know the steps to take when your purse or wallet is stolen, learn how to protect yourself in financial dealings, watch out for scams, and complain if something goes wrong.

     Katie Foster at Arabian Tales has a great book to suggest to female boomers who have attained that "seasoned age."

     Do you think your menopausal searing hot flashes, tumultuous mood swings and nasty irritable behavior is bad? Nothing compares to the hell that Abby experiences as she wades through a truly treacherous menopausal journey in Mental Pause, written by global nomad and freelance author Anne O'Connell. The novel, launched on March 8, International Women's Day, is a "must read" for every woman experiencing or about to experience this dreaded rite of passage.

     Meanwhile, Lisa Garon Froman says today more than ever we need compassion, courage and creativity to navigate through the world. On her blog Tao Flashes: A Woman's Way to Navigating the Midlife Journey with Integrity, Harmony and Grace she explains how midlife is the time to tap into the creative, sacred feminine spirit for wisdom and healing.

     Finally, Sara Cornell of Life After Married takes a look at what to do when you know something you wish you didn't know . . . do you share it with someone or just try to forget it?

     Here's a bit of information I know. If it's getting toward the Ides of March, then spring is around the corner. There will be no more snow, I guarantee it!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

You've Got to See This!

     If you ever think the world is in a heap of trouble, worry that our young people are falling behind and half of them can't even read when they get out of high school, and wonder what will happen when it's time for them to step up to their responsibilities . . . then take a look at this. Okay, by itself this will not change the world. But, boy oh boy, it's pretty impressive. The clip was recorded last week -- and just remember, this is what he does for fun!

     A California college student solves a Rubik's Cube while juggling, and also while his friends are joking around and talking to him . . .

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Marriage Dilemma

     Why do homosexuals want to be able to get married to another person of the same sex -- but older heterosexual couples seem more comfortable living together and not getting married at all?

      I'm no expert, so I can only guess why homosexuals want the opportunity for same-sex marriage. For one thing, I suppose it legitimizes their sexual orientation -- that marriage between two gay people makes those people feel "just as good" as two heterosexual people. And maybe there is also a monogamous impulse among gays, just as there is among heterosexuals -- although at least in males, the monogamous gene is counterbalanced by the well-documented urge to have sex with many different partners, especially if those partners are pretty and younger than you.

     However, the monogamous impulse in heterosexual males is supported by the monogamous impulse in females, which is probably stronger, and females influence the males. But I'd think gay males at least, absent the female influence, would feel less of a pull toward monogamy, making them less interested in getting married.

     Anyway, most people naturally (biologically?) feel that they want to have children. In my day, gays typically got married to a person of the opposite sex; produced children, and then "came out" as gay after they'd been married for a while, in their 40s or even 50s. But today, people recognize their sexual proclivity earlier in life. So gays are not as likely to go through that heterosexual stage. If they want children, therefore, they would adopt them rather than create them, either by themselves or with a partner. And in all ways it's easier to adopt a child with a partner than by yourself.

     Finally, there are the economic factors. A lot of gay people want to get married for the health benefits they can enjoy through a covered partner. Plus the life insurance, the social Security benefits, and whatever other economic benefits accrue with marriage.

     So, yeah, I can see how gays would at least want the opportunity to get married. Not the obligation, but the opportunity.

     But why does it work the other way with older heterosexual partners? Why do they not want to get married?

     One reason may be children from a previous marriage. A new marriage might upset the delicate family balance among the children, and in some ways it might be more delicate with older children than with younger ones.

     Some people might simply be gun shy. They were married once or twice, and it didn't work out, so they're reluctant to try again. If you're a widow or widower, there might be feelings of fealty toward the dead spouse. Might some people think it's a betrayal to get married again? I don't know. I've never studied it, and I myself have only been divorced, never widowed.

     Finally, there are the economic factors. Seniors are more likely to lose economic benefits rather than gain them, when they get married. They may lose a life insurance benefit from a diseased spouse; they may lose Social Security benefits.

     In my case, my ex-wife has told me more than once that she will never get married again. I don't think that's because she still has any love left for me, or that her experience with marriage was so terrible she would never think of subjecting herself to that again. I think it's because the Social Security benefits she gets from me are higher than those she'd qualify for on her own.

     There are other financial issues as well. A wealthy person may be reluctant to marry a poorer person -- and I think that situation is more likely to occur later in life. Or, merging two incomes of older, established people might push them into a higher tax bracket. And, obviously, if both people are on Medicare, there are no medical benefits to be gained by getting married.

     I haven't reached any conclusions here about the advisability of marriage, for either gay couples or older couples. But it does seem like a strange situation, doesn't it? I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud. So go ahead, tell me why I'm wrong. I usually am.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Nothing Happened

     We talked to B's son by Skype over the weekend. "What's new?" we wanted to know.

     He told us about a new assignment at work. He moved to South Carolina about four months ago to take a job. He's learning new skills and meeting new people. He's also decorating his apartment. He got a dog at the animal shelter and started his first class of puppy training. He made some new friends -- people who live in his apartment complex -- and they all had dinner together the night before. Next week he's going to Raleigh, NC, to get some management training.

     Meanwhile, B got home Monday night. "Anything new at work?" I wanted to know. "Nope, same old, same old," she said. "How about you?" she asked. "No, nothing," I confessed.

     We talked to my son on Friday. He's traveling up to Albany, NY, next weekend ... for some reason, he wouldn't tell me exactly, he was being vague and kind of mysterious. The week after that his company is sending him to Austin, Texas, for three days. And he signed up to play tennis -- at the rooftop courts above the train station.

     I talked to my sister this morning. She's retired. "What's going on?" I asked. "Not much," she replied. She recently had surgery and has been mostly house-bound for the past three weeks. Her only news: The physical therapy is going well. And ... oh yeah, her husband made her breakfast this morning.

Their calendar
Our calendar
     B's older son called the other day. He was excited because he'd just interviewed for a new job, in New York City. He'll probably be moving soon. He shares an apartment with two friends, but their lease is up next month, and he's ready to get his own place. Besides, if he does land this new job, he'll have to move anyway. Oh, he and his girlfriend went skiing over the weekend. And he's talking about going back to school part-time to get a master's degree -- especially if this new job doesn't come through -- and he's taking the GRE exams next weekend.

     We had dinner with an old friend Sunday night. "What's new?" we asked. "Nothing. Just working." The husband thinks he's coming down with a cold. That's about it.

     But their daughter? She relocated to Texas last fall, and she loves her new job and exploring all the new places and has been having fun moving in and decorating her apartment. And, oh yeah, she's got a boyfriend now. He seems like a nice guy.

     I talked with my ex-wife. "What's going on?" I asked. "Oh, nothing really." She's dealing with getting onto Medicare and wondering if it was time to start Social Security, or if she should wait. Otherwise, just day-to-day living.

     It's nice to have a settled retired life, with no stresses or strains, no fears of an uncertain tomorrow, no new adventures on the horizon. Okay, I'm exaggerating a little here. My sister is planning a trip to Seattle. And B and I do have a few things on our calendar: We're going dancing next weekend. We're planning a week-long vacation for the summer. And, uh ... yeah, the electrician is coming over later this week to replace our kitchen light.

     But, ah, to be young again, starting out with your whole life ahead of you, new places, new people, new experiences, new opportunities. Do we live vicariously, through our children? 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Remember Her?

      She was born Elizabeth Ann Boomer in Chicago, Ill., the daughter of William Boomer, a traveling salesman, and his wife Hortense. She had two older brothers, Robert and William Jr.

     The family moved from Chicago to Denver, then to Michigan, where she went to school and fell in love with dancing. As a child she studied tap dance, ballroom dancing and ballet, and at age 14 began modeling at a department store. During high school she taught dancing as a counselor at summer camp, and also as a volunteer at the Mary Free Bed Home for Crippled Children.

     Her father died when she was 16. He was working under his car in their garage and fell victim to carbon monoxide poisoning -- even though the garage door was open.

     She graduated from Central High School in 1936 and, against her mother's advice, went off to the Bennington School of Dance in Bennington, Vt., where she caught the eye of Martha Graham. She moved to New York City to continue studying dance, living in Greenwich Village and Chelsea and taking modeling jobs to earn some money. She danced with the Martha Graham dance troupe and once performed with the company at Carnegie Hall.

     However, her mother remained skeptical of her career choice and urged her to come home to Michigan. They finally reached a compromise. Elizabeth would return home for six months. After that, if she still felt the pull to New York, she could go back with her mother's blessing.

     Elizabeth moved back in with her mother, who had remarried, and just as her mother thought, she became immersed in life back at home. She took a job at a department store and began teaching dance at various sites around town. Six months went by, and she did not return to New York.

    In 1942 she married childhood friend William Warren, a salesman who moved around from job to job. The young couple lived in Toledo, Ohio, then Fulton, NY, and eventually moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where Elizabeth again took a department store job.

     Unfortunately, Warren suffered from diabetes and was also an alcoholic. In 1945 he fell into a coma and was moved to his parents' home. He struggled to recover, and for two years Elizabeth lived with her in-laws, nursing her husband back to health while holding down a job. In 1947, with Warren back at work, Elizabeth filed for divorce. They had no children.

     She began dating a World War II Navy veteran, a local lawyer who was running as a Republican for the U. S. Congress. He asked her to marry him; but insisted they wait until after he had secured the nomination -- he worried some supporters might cast a dim view of him marrying a divorced ex-model and dancer. They were then married in October 1948, a couple of weeks before the general election.

     Her husband won the election, the first of 13 terms in the House of Representatives, and they moved to Virginia, in the Washington suburbs. They went on to have three sons, Michael, John and Steven, and a daughter Susan. The parents claimed they never spanked their children, believing there were better ways to foster discipline and self-control.

     Her husband eventually became the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, and in 1973 was appointed vice president. When Richard Nixon resigned, her husband Gerald Ford ascended to the presidency of the United States.

     Ford ran for election in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter. The New York Times summed up his legacy: "Mrs. Ford's impact on American culture may be far wider and more lasting than that of her husband, who served a mere 896 days, much of it spent trying to restore the dignity of the office of the president."

     Betty Ford, more than her husband, had captured the hearts and minds of the American public. She wore a mood ring, chatted on a CB radio with the handle First Mama, and made a cameo appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She held nuanced views on such controversial subjects as drugs, premarital sex and abortion, and to the consternation of some conservatives in the Republican party, she was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. Yet she enjoyed huge popularity with both the press and the public. As she said during her husband's election campaign, "I would give my life to have Jerry have my poll numbers."

     Betty Ford also went public with her problems. She sought psychiatric treatment to help her deal with the stresses of being a Washington wife. She had a mastectomy for breast cancer in 1974 and raised public awareness about the disease. Later, after her husband's defeat, she admitted that she abused alcohol and prescription drugs. She went for treatment for alcoholism, and later established the Betty Ford Center in California to treat people with any kind of chemical dependency. She wrote two books: Betty: A Glad Awakening in 1987 and Healing and Hope in 2003.

     Betty Ford continued to work for women's rights, and served as chairperson of the board of the Betty Ford Center until 2005 when she relinquished the post to her daughter Susan.

     Husband Gerald died in 2006 at age 93. By that time Betty Ford had curtailed her public appearances, and she herself died of natural causes in 2011, also at age 93. She and her husband are buried at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.