"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Top Ten Reasons Why I Blog

     As I've mentioned before, I serve as one of about a dozen volunteer tutors in the Academic Support Center of our local community college. I help students with their papers, essays and tests, and coach them in how to improve their writing skills.

     Last week the coordinator of the writing center called me over to her desk. She thought it was interesting that I write a blog -- a form of writing that's relatively new and different, especially for an academic setting -- and asked me if I could convey the bogging experience in 300 or 400 words, to use in their newsletter. I decided I could, but didn't think I had to take the assignment too seriously . . .

     I introduced myself as a volunteer in the Writing Center, but admitted that in my secret life I write a blog. It’s called Sightings Over Sixty, and it covers baby boomers, retirement, health, finance, grownup children and . . . how time flies. My pen name – my nom de Internet, if you will -- is Tom Sightings. And I’m over 60 years old. Get it?

     A lot of my friends are curious about why I spend my time jotting down thoughts in cyberspace. So, what do I tell them? First of all, I point out that I’m not alone. A lot of people write blogs. (And I wonder -- why do you write a blog?) The web directory technorati counts 363 blogs about baby boomers alone. There are blogs about stamp collecting, knitting, golden retrievers and a thousand other topics.

     But if you really want to know, here are the top ten reasons why I blog.  To . . .

     10. Get something off my chest – I have a few opinions on things like health care and how people drive (in my opinion, unlike Lake Wobegon, most people are worse than average drivers!), and so I can spout off whenever I want.

     9. Make friends – I have over a hundred followers of my blog. Some of them I consider friends. In January, when I vacationed in Florida, I played golf with one of my blogging friends.

     8. Join a community – You don’t just get people to read your blog. They talk back, make comments, and usually, you end up following their blog as well. It’s a party!

     7. Make people laugh – I admit it, in my younger days I was a class clown. My teachers didn't think I was funny, but some of my classmates did. If you don't believe me, check out the Humor section of my blog, and you be the judge. But hey, gimme a break . . . it’s not easy to be funny!

     6. Make money – Yes, you can sign up for advertising programs though Google and Amazon, and earn money from your blog. Why, sometimes I earn as much as $3 in one day!

     5. Practice my writing skills – As you can see . . . I need the practice.

     4. Annoy my spouse – Since I write my blog under a different name, and I don’t identify my spouse by name, I can say anything I want!

     3. Stay out of trouble – I’m retired. Well, to be more accurate, I’m unemployed. But when you get to a certain age, you can call yourself retired instead. Blogging gives me something to do while my long-suffering spouse goes off to work.

     2. Make a name for myself – Wait a second, I write the blog under a different name, so how am I making a name for myself? Er, I guess I’d better rethink that one.

     And the Number 1 reason why I blog? I blog, therefore I am – It’s a little known fact, but all the great philosophers had their own blogs. The first blog? "In the beginning . . . .”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's Snowing Advice

     What are you gonna do . . . we all get older. This round of the Best of Baby Boomer blogs circles around the issue of how we cope with the perils and pitfalls of aging -- and the opportunities that go with them.

     Martin Rice of fifty2ninety.com is a language lover, and as such, simply can’t stand euphemisms such as “chronologically gifted” when what is meant is “old.” Similarly, the phrase “male menopause” also drives him crazy. If you're interested in the difference between menopause and andropause (or, if you want to see a beefcake picture of a hunky male) exercise your option to run over and read Male Menopause.

     But if you ask me . . .  well, I'm not doctor, just a simple man who turns to the old sayings like:  Just because there's snow on the roof doesn't mean there isn't a fire in the furnace.

     Meanwhile, Karen at The Generation Above Me offers a window into Joseph Campbell and the power of myth. What piece of advice has helped guide Karen's life the most? It's the phrase "follow your bliss," which she says is often misinterpreted as a call to hedonism, but is really an invitation to find one's core identity. And isn't that one of the rewards of retirement, that by our stage in life we are free from the responsibilities of raising a family, and mature enough to ignore the voices of fear, duty or guilt that can muffle the call to fulfill our true being?

     On a more practical and down-to-earth level, Amy Blitchok of Modern Senior asks whether new mobility technology is trying to reinvent the wheel. Siemens is working on developing a "smart walker" that can help those with physical and cognitive challenges avoid obstacles and better navigate unfamiliar places. Visit Modern Senior, watch the video and answer the question Is a Smart Walker a Smart Idea or Technology Overkill?

     As an afterthought, I have to mention that I went to a fundraiser over the weekend for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that raises and trains dogs to help blind and visually impaired people achieve more independent lives. I met a couple of the dogs, as well as the "blind sommelier," a visually impaired woman who led us through a session of wine tasting. I also found out another interesting tidbit. As medical advances have prevented and mitigated many eye diseases and injuries, Guiding Eyes has expanded its mission to include providing companion dogs for children with autism.

     Finally, on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes about two consumer issues. In light of the massive Target hacking, Robison discovered that American companies are being targeted because banks and retailers haven’t upgraded magnetic strip credit cards to more secure cards, ones with chips. She writes about whether consumers should use their credit cards less due to security issues.

     Robison also offers her top 10 tips for reducing the chemicals used in the home to improve health -- and she covers one of my bugaboos, which is the casual use of plastic containers to store and reheat leftovers. Yuck, who wants plastic in their pasta!?!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Cold Is It?

     I got hone from Flurida yesterday. I woke up this mirning, and teh sun was streaming in the window. I crawled out of bid and wemt downstairs to the ki0then. I knew I wqs back up no-rth, so the furst thing I dud was check our thermometer.

     Wwe habe a digitral thermometet in our kitchrn. So I lookd over and was surprised -- i0t read 65 degrees. Not bad!

     Them I loked again. No . . .  not 65 dedrees. It was 6.5 degrees! Argghh!

     If you wundor what's rong wit this posting, its becaser the keys on my keyboard ar tottally frosen up and they;'re sticking.

     Thhat's one way to know that's it's really cold here. Another way -- the storm windo not only has condensation on it. But the condensation is froxen.

     Another way you know -- the leaves on the rhododendron are all curled up, huddlefg against the colsd. Just like I am!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Impressions of Florida

     I've spent a little more than two weeks in the Sunshine state. I'm on vacation so I haven't done much besides go to the beach and play golf, including a round with Douglas of Boomer Musings and two of his friends who were kind enough to let me join their foursome. I also visited with friends and relatives, and dined in restaurants with fishnets hanging from the ceiling.

     I won't bore you with the details, just leave you with a few impressions. (I had plenty of time to organize my photos yesterday since the New England/Denver game was too one-sided to hold my interest.) Anyway, one salient impression you get is that a lot of tourists visit Florida (over 87 million in 2011, the most of any state according to the Florida tourist board). And that brings in a lot of traffic. Get a load of this intersection on Route 41 south of Ft. Myers. Count 'em -- 18 traffic lights!

     And another thing -- I haven't seen so many American cars in a long time. I guess it makes sense, since a lot of visitors on the West coast of Florida hail from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and other Midwestern states. I didn't see anyone from California, Oregon or Washington. But I saw some from Utah, North Dakota and New Mexico.

     But as we all know, Florida goes from the Atlantic ocean (where it was too cold for anyone to sit on the beach) . . .

     around along the Gulf of Mexico, for a total coastline of some 1,800 miles.

     And there's plenty in between. I spent some time in Orlando and went to Disney's Celebration . . .

     where they were filming a promotional video.

    They had a farmer's market there.

     And they were filming a promotional video.

     So as you probably know there are plenty of golf courses in Florida (some 1,250 at last count).

     And boating is another favorite activity.

     There's also the "real" Florida where they have horses . . .

     and still grow oranges.

     Oh, did I tell you about the promotional video they were filming?

     Okay, enough already. I'm going home tomorrow.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Are You an Orphan?

     My ex-wife was in her mid-40s when she lost her mother. Her father had died long before, even before I'd met her, but her mother had gone on to live a long life full of friends and activities. She got cancer when she was 85, went into the hospital, and succumbed fairly quickly. She was survived by her daughter, my wife, and two sons.

      My wife took the loss of her mother quite hard -- partly because she missed her mother, but also largely because she said she felt like an orphan.

     At the time both my parents were still alive, and while I tried to support her I didn't fully appreciate what she was talking about. "I understand how you're sad that your mother died," I said. "But you're grown up now. You have two kids of your own. How can you be an orphan?"

     I realized that, technically speaking, she was an orphan in that both her parents were dead. But to me an orphan is a child. The special tragedy of an orphan is that the parents died before their time, and there's no parent left to raise the child.

    And yet I could see she really felt this way, that in some sense she'd felt abandoned, and left alone in this world. Still, she had a husband, and two children of her own.

     Ten years later, my own mother died at age 88. She'd survived more than one round of cancer, and suffered from osteoporosis, and the last few years of her life were pretty painful. In a way, for her, death was a relief.

     Two years later, my dad died at age 91. He was healthy up until the last few months of his life, when he too got cancer and went pretty quickly. I remember getting together with my two sisters and packing up their house, getting it ready to sell. It was a very sad occasion.

     I was sad that my parents had died. I missed them. But I still didn't feel like an orphan. My parents had lived long, fulfilled lives. I was now worried about my own family, my daughter in college and my son in high school. How do you feel like an orphan when you've got a kid in college?

     What got me thinking about this was the book I read, and the item I posted the other day -- about relationships cut short vs. relationships that play themselves out and end on a more natural timetable.

     To me, an orphan suffers from a relationship cut short. Maybe my wife was reacting not so much to her mother's death, but to her father's premature death -- he'd died when she was in high school -- although she never said as much.

     Of course, death is the final parting. But there are plenty of other partings in our lives. The ones that trouble us are the ones that bring us up short, that end too soon, that leave so much unsaid and undone. (After all, isn't that what our sorrow about the Kennedys is all about?)

     People sometimes wonder why I have a pretty good relationship with my ex-wife. She and I talk about our kids, and worry about them together, almost as though we were still married. I helped her move; I've helped her out financially; she's had me over to her house. I even met her new boyfriend; and she's met B.

     I think the reason why we're on good terms is because we both knew, after 29 years of marriage, that we'd squeezed as much out of the relationship as we possibly could. We'd had a great run, produced two wonderful kids. But we were done. Our marriage was not cut short by some tragedy; or even by some sudden change of heart. It died of old age.

     Honestly, I don't know if my ex-wife feels "orphaned" by our divorce. I don't think she does. I know I don't. There's a life cycle to everything. While it's sad when things come to an end, we know that nothing lasts forever. The tragedy is when something ends before its time.

     People wonder about the meaning of life. But does something have to be permanent to have meaning? Do we have to have eternal life to have a meaningful life? I don't think so.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Is Someone Missing in Your Life?

     While on vacation I read a relatively new novel Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, a second effort by the author of the bestseller Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. The author is an artist and designer who also has an interest in historic preservation, antiquing and rescuing abandoned and abused animals.

     All these interests show up in her book, a meandering, sometimes engaging, sometimes slow-going story about Teddi Overman and her Kentucky farm family. Instead of going to college, young Teddi ran away from home, went to Charleston, SC, and took a job with an antiques dealer. She eventually opens her own shop, falls in love with a wealthy lawyer, and comes to uneasy terms with the family she left behind.

     I would recommend the book, if you like this kind of story, but what intrigued me about it was the character of Teddi's younger brother Josh, a nature lover who one night disappears into the forest never to be seen again. Throughout the rest of the book Teddi is forever trying to understand why he left, and accept the fact that he may be dead even while periodically finding evidence that he could still be alive.

     That question is never resolved absolutely. But it made me think of the people I have lost in my own life. Not the way Josh was lost, for that's the especially agonizing situation of a runaway child. But for all of us there are those who leave our lives prematurely. There are a few who died -- my older brother lost a battle with cancer; a friend's older brother was killed in Vietnam; the most beautiful girl in our high school class failed to show up at our 10th reunion -- she died of cancer before she was 30.

     We don't know if Josh died. We only know that he turned his back on home and family to follow some other dream. And it made me think more not of people who died, but of people who rejected our relationship in favor of other friends, other interests. There was my high-school girlfriend who abruptly broke up with me after Christmas vacation of freshman year in college. It was sudden; it was unexpected; and it took a long time to get over.

     I had several high school and college friends who drifted away over time as our paths diverged. That's to be expected. But some friendships are broken off. I tried to stay in touch with one of my best high school friends -- he never went far from home, but he clearly wanted to get away from me. He made excuses, wouldn't return calls, until I finally got the hint.

     The issue is not so much rejection (although that's part of it); but the sense that a relationship is torn apart, and somehow left unfulfilled. A broken promise. I developed a close friendship with a young man at the company where I spent most of my career. We had great fun shooting the breeze in each other's office; we had lunch together all the time; we had dinner at each other's houses with our wives. But then he got divorced. He started hanging out with another crowd. We no longer ate lunch together. We just exchanged awkward pleasantries as we passed in the hallways, until eventually he left the company for another job.

     I saw him again on two occasions. Once on an airplane. We changed seats so we could sit together and catch up on each other's careers and families. The second time was at a social occasion. Again, we talked and joked around, just like old times. But we never reconnected.

     We know we lose friends and lovers as we go through life. It's the ones who leave us abruptly, who leave us too soon, who haunt us forever.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Wasting Away in Floridaville

     When you come to Florida, and the weather is bad, there isn't much to do. Yesterday we watched some of the Chris Christie press conference about bridge-gate, or whatever they're calling it. Apparently one of his aides closed some traffic lanes leading up to the George Washington Bridge, as part of a "traffic study," but really in retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee because he hadn't supported Christie in his bid for re-election.

Selling firewood in Florida
     The whole thing didn't make a lot of sense to us, since Christie is a Republican and the mayor of Fort Lee is a Democrat, so why would the governor expect that the mayor would support him? Besides, how would causing problems on the highway adversely affect the mayor of Fort Lee? Drivers wouldn't get mad at the mayor -- most people probably aren't even aware that they're in Fort Lee as they approach the George Washington Bridge -- they'd more likely get mad at the New Jersey state transportation authority, and blame the governor.

     Well, I don't know how these things work. I confess that I like Governor Chris Christie. He has a reputation as someone who's tough and straightforward, who can actually run the government without selling out to this special interest or that group of political hacks. As I watched the press conference I was thinking:  He's doing a good job; he's standing up to tough questioning and seems to be convincing; and he's hardly breaking a sweat. But ... I'm not quite buying it.

Gray skies over paradise
     Anyway, here in Florida there's usually more talk about the weather than there is about national politics. But when it's cold and cloudy, people don't wax so eloquently about the sun and the balmy breezes. It's 30 degrees warmer here than it is at home up in NewYork. But that's cold comfort when you're shivering in your light summer jacket.

     So we didn't get to play golf; didn't go to the beach. We did don a sweater and go over to the driving range to hit a few golf balls. We had a putting contest (I won!). But we're not getting the full flavor of the tropics in winter.

     Instead, we talked a lot about where we would go to dinner; and what else we could do; and sat around and read our books. We got so desperate we went to an art museum yesterday afternoon.

     We drove over to a bar down by the beach for dinner; then last night we went to a more upscale place overlooking a gray and roiling Atlantic Ocean.

     But this morning the thermometer reads 68 degrees, and the clouds are breaking up. Yes, the real Florida will be upon us soon enough.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

     Yesterday, at home . . .

it was snowy and cold . . .

     So I went to Florida, where . . .  hey, wait a second, it was 28 degrees when I went outside today! And the place was pretty much abandoned!

     But hope springs eternal. I met a guy on the beach. He told me it's going to be 70 degrees by Friday. Think I'm going in?


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Answers to: Are You Prepared for Retirement?

     You took the quiz -- and if you've been paying attention at Sightings Over Sixty you should know most of the answers. So . . .  check out the explanations below to see if you're really ready for retirement:

     1. b)  Most experts estimate that you can safely spend about 4% of your retirement assets every year, without worrying about running out of money. Some people who are concerned about current low interest rates recommend a more conservative 3% withdrawal rate; but if that doesn't work for you, you can always (but I'm not necessarily recommending it) buy an annuity which will pay more; or even a 30-year Treasury bond at the current rate of 4%.

     2. c)  According to Social Security actuarial tables, the average 66-year-old male can expect to live another 16 years, 10 months. The average 66-year-old woman will live another 19 year and 5 months . . . for an average of about 18 years.

     3. b)  In smaller accommodations near their old home. According to the U. S. Census Bureau fewer than 2% of retirees moved across state lines in 2010, the latest year reported. Most retirees do downsize at some point, but they typically stay within a two-hour drive of their old home, to be near family and friends.

     4. a)  Florida. In 1990 better than one out of four retirees who moved out of their home state relocated to Florida. Today, it's down to one out of seven. Still, despite the increasing popularity of the Carolinas and the Pacific Northwest as retirement destinations, more retirees move to Florida than any other state.

     5. c)  62. You can start withdrawing money from your IRA without penalty at age 59 1/2. You can begin your Social Security benefits at age 62 -- and receive "full benefits" once you hit full retirement age, which is 66 for most of us. But the better way to look at it: you're eligible to begin benefits anytime between age 62 and 70, on a sliding scale. The longer you wait, the bigger your check.

     6. d)  The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker as of Nov. 2013 (the latest available figure) was $1,274. Benefits are going up marginally for 2014.

     7. e)  All of the above. If Social Security is your only source of income, you will likely pay no income tax. But a portion of your benefit may be taxed by the Federal government if your total income is above a certain amount, starting at $25,000 a year. Also, if you're under 66 and have more than $15,480 in earned income, your benefit will be "reduced." In addition, there are 15 states that, depending on your income, may levy state income tax on your Social Security benefit.

     8. c)  As noted, you can begin Social Security anytime starting at age 62, and the longer you wait the higher your monthly benefit ... up to age 70. After that, you get no increase, so there's no point in waiting beyond age 70.

     9. c)  65. While the age that Social Security considers "Normal Retirement Age" has gone up from 65 to 66, and will continue to go up to 67 for people born in 1960 and later, the age at which you're eligible for Medicare has remained the same, at 65.

     10. d)  It's hard to pin down your chances of ending up in a long-term care facility. Today, there are slightly more than 1 million people in these facilities, and close to 90% of them over age 65. The best guess you'll end up in a facility? About one out of three. If you are female, the chances are higher; for males the chances are lower.

     11. c)  According to Genomes Unzipped, the baseline risk of getting Alzheimer's is approximately 9% for men and 17% for women, for an average of about 13%. It's not that women lose their minds more often; it's that they live longer -- and the primary risk factor for Alzheimer's is age.

     12. b)  Despite all the advances in heart medicine, from statins to transplants, the number one killer in America today is heart disease, accounting for 31.8% of deaths for people over age 65. Cancer is number two, responsible for 21.6% of deaths. Alzheimer's is the cause of death for fewer than 5% of older Americans.

     13. e)  According to several sources, retirees say their favorite activity is traveling. Retirees also volunteer, spend time with friends and family, play golf, go fishing and work in their gardens. But in actual fact, according to U.S. News Retirement, people's favorite activity in retirement is relaxing -- reading, resting, watching TV.
     14. a)  The Big O himself, Roy Orbison. Other members of this late-'80s band included Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and George Harrison.

Here's "Handle with Care" by the Traveling Wilburys which came out in 1988:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Are You Prepared for Retirement?

     Are you dreaming of retirement, or are you already there? Either way, you can test your knowledge on the subject, and benefit from the results, by taking this simple 14-question test. Go ahead and find out what your Retirement IQ is . . .

     1. Financial experts estimate that you can spend how much of your retirement assets per year?

a) 2%    b) 4%    c) 6%    d) 8%    e) 10%

     2. You're 66. How much longer (according to Social Security actuarial tables) can you expect to live?

a) 10 years    b) 14 years    c) 18 years    d) 22 years    e) 26 years

     3. You're retiring. Maybe you know where you're going to live. But most retirees live:

a) in their old house    b) in a smaller home near their old neighborhood    c) farther out in the country    d) at the seashore    e) in a Sunbelt retirement community

     4. Not everyone moves to the Sunbelt. But if you do, where are you most likely to go?

a) Florida    b) Arizona    c) the Carolinas    d) Pacific Northwest    e) Hawaii

     5. At what age can you start receiving Social Security benefits?

a) 59 1/2    b) 60    c) 62    d) 65    e) 66

     6. What is the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit?

a) $975    b) $1020    c) $1222    d) $1274    e) $1492

     7. Do you have to pay income tax on your Social Security benefit?

a) no    b) depends on how much income you have    c) depends on where you live    d) depends on how old you are    e) all of the above

     8.  At what age do you max out the monthly amount of your Social Security benefit?

a) 65    b) 66    c) 70    d) 72    e) never

     9.  At what age are you eligible for Medicare?

a) 59 1/2    b) 62    c) 65    d) 66    e) 67

     10.  You have probably heard of long-term health insurance that will pay for a nursing home. What are the chances you will actually end up in a long-term-care facility?

a) 5%    b) 10%    c) 25%    d) 33%    e) 50%

     11. What are the chances you'll get Alzheimer's?

a) 5%    b) 8%    c) 13%    d) 21%    e) 48%

     12. What's the number 1 killer of older Americans?

a) cancer    b) heart disease    c) stroke    d) suicide    e) traffic accident

     13. What is the favorite activity of retirees?
a) sports    b) travel    c) family    d) sex    e) relaxing

     14. Not everything's about medicine or money . . . who was a member of the Traveling Wilburys?

a) Roy Orbison    b) Johnny Cash    c) Bruce Springsteen    d) Orville Redenbacher    e) Arlo Guthrie

     How do you think you did? Check back on Sat., Jan. 4 for the answers.