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

Monday, March 28, 2016

No Wonder I'm Broke!

     We've been doing some spring cleaning around here, and my job has been to focus particularly on the basement where our kids are still storing a lot of their old stuff.

     I don't think this needs a lot of explanation . . . just to say that as I was tossing old papers and notebooks in the trash and boxing up books and artwork and other memorabilia, it suddenly dawned on me that at some point along the way, I paid for all this stuff. No wonder why I'm broke!

     Here's just a small sampling of the sports equipment they used when they were growing up -- and which they haven't touched in years. All that money down the drain, spent on ski equipment, lacrosse, golf, baseball, hockey, soccer.

     You see the baseball mitt? My son played Little League. But when baseball started to conflict with the tennis season, he decided to go all in on tennis. He didn't know or care that tennis costs more than baseball. A lot more. The lessons, the court time, the travel to tournaments. Then, he was good enough to get recruited by a college in Pennsylvania . . . good enough to be accepted and play on the team, but (of course!) not so good that he received an athletic scholarship.

     But as we all know, girls cost more than boys. And I also had a daughter. My investment in shoes alone was probably bigger than the gross national product of an average country in Europe.

     And don't think that box of shoes covers even the half of it. She had a pair of shoes for every pair of socks, and as you can see that drawer holds at least a hundred pairs of socks Then there were the old dolls, the stuffed animals, the art supplies, boxes of books and trophies and clothes. It's no wonder my paycheck disappeared faster than I could say, "IRA," much less actually open an account!

     I don't even know what these things are . . . some kind of ceramic animals. Hundreds of them, at probably eight or ten bucks a piece.

     And I knew you'd want to see a few stuffed animals. They are cute. And I'm not complaining. I keep telling myself, if you don't spend your money on your kids, why then, it'll probably just go to waste!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You've Got a Friend

     Fellow blogger Bob Lowry of A Satisfying Retirement suggested Jeremy Fischbach give me a call. Fischbach is starting a service for older people called The Happiness Amplification Project, based on the idea that a person's "well-being requires positive interpersonal interactions and support." (Yes, the project was started by some academics.) I'll tell you more specifically what the project does in a moment.

     But first ... after we talked for a while, I had to tell Fischbach about my mother-in-law. She is going to be a hundred years old in June and now lives in an assisted living facility.

     B's mother moved there a little over a year ago from an independent living facility. The transition was difficult. She went to a smaller apartment in a different building, where she is monitored around the clock and is dependent on the staff. Her neighbors are no longer gray haired people, but the oldest of the old, people who are shaky and frail, who use walkers and wheelchairs, who can't see or hear. And not incidentally, she is perfectly aware that once you go into assisted living you are on death's door.

     Several years ago one of B's mother's friends, a woman named Dorothy, made the same move. Dorothy was even older than B's mother and had gone blind. One evening soon after Dorothy moved to assisted living, B's mother got a phone call. It was Dorothy. They talked for a while, not about anything important, just about their day, their medications, their meals, their families. They were on the phone for about 45 minutes.

     The next evening Dorothy called again, about 7 p.m., and from then on the two women talked by phone every night. Sometimes they'd talk for only a few minutes; sometimes they'd stay on for an hour.

     For Dorothy, this was a lifeline. She had family visit her once a week or so. But most of the time she was alone -- blind, incapable of getting around by herself, dependent on the nursing staff to wash her, dress her, get her to meals. But every day she could look forward to her evening conversation with B's mother. And B's mother began to look forward to these calls as well. They became a touchstone in her day.

     Then last year, B's mother began to decline. Her memory problems got worse; she was unstable on her feet; and she had a couple of heart episodes that involved emergency attention.

     So B's mother was moved over to assisted living. Now she was in the same building as her friend Dorothy. But they were on different floors, in different wings; with different dining rooms, and of course, neither one of them could go anywhere by themselves. So they hardly ever met each other in person. Still, Dorothy continued to call B's mother every night, and now, instead of B's mother providing the lifeline, Dorothy was a lifeline for B's mother. Dorothy provided a sympathetic ear, told her all about the new place, reassured her about the new regimen.

     B's mother had a hard time adjusting to her new situation. For a couple of months we feared the worst. But eventually B's mother rallied. She became more alert; she seemed happier; she regained her will to live. And every night she continued to talk to her blind friend Dorothy, who by now couldn't even get down to the dining room anymore and took her meals in her room.

     Today, B's mother has acclimated herself to her new facility. Now she's looking forward to her 100th birthday in June. The family is throwing a party for her. B's mother has even started bragging about her age and the upcoming celebration.

     Dorothy died just before Christmas. It was a blow to B's mother. But at the time she was caught up with visiting family and lots of activities. Come January we worried that she might have a post-holiday letdown. But instead, B's mother picked up the phone. "Hello, Harriet?" she said.

     And now it's B's mother who makes the call every evening, to an old friend still living in the independent facility.

     So ... back to the Happiness project. Research shows that many retirees, especially older retirees, are lonely and bored and even sometimes depressed. The Happiness project offers a new free service that gives retirees the opportunity to phone another person and have a conversation with a sympathetic volunteer who understands what the retiree is going through. This is not therapy. It is human interaction with another person who enjoys listening to people and helping them -- who can lend an ear and perhaps offer a fresh perspective on how to meet the challenges of aging.

     Right now, you have to go to the website and make an appointment to talk to someone. Eventually the project hopes to have an app for your smartphone so you can push a button and immediately be connected. If you're interested in learning more, go to the Happiness Amplification Project website to see the research, meet the team or schedule a call ... "whenever you want ... for however long you want ... to make you feel better."

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Do We Really Want Change?

     When I was younger I drove a Saab. I had three of them, one from the late 1970s and two from the 1980s. They were standard, mid-sized, four-door sedans. But I liked that they were kind of quirky, and thought they somehow made me seem special -- not like the boring young suburban husband I had become. But I also liked the way they drove, the way they handled in winter weather. I liked the front-wheel drive and boxy look of the car, and the way I sat up in the driver's seat.

My Saab, in the 1980s
     But why I liked the car is irrelevant. The point is I liked the car. But finally, by the mid-1990s, I decided I needed something different. I wanted a change.

     So I looked around at all kinds of different cars. The Honda: too commonplace. The Buick: too old fashioned. The Audi: too expensive. The Ford Taurus: too suburban.

     After months of shopping, I finally bought my new car. It was a Volvo S60, a standard, mid-sized, four-door sedan. It was kind of boxy. It had front-wheel drive and I sat up high in the driver's seat. And as I drove it home that first day it dawned on me that I now had a new car ... a car that was as much like my old car as possible and still be a different car.

     So how much do we really like change?

     I was recently listening to a psychology lecture about love. The professor outlined the three most important factors that attract us romantically to another human being. The three are: proximity, similarity, and familiarity. It's a myth that opposites attract, that we fall in love with the stranger across a crowded room. We fall in love with people of similar age and socio-economic backgrounds, of similar education and cultural tastes, and with someone we probably already know.

     And I'll leave it to you to decide how much change we want in the political world. In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned and won on change. But how much change did we really get? And now in 2016, with many people wanting change, we will likely elect Hillary Clinton, who proudly boasts of not changing much at all.

     But I digress. Blogger Meryl Baer, like many retirees, decided she needed a change of scenery and embarked on an extended road trip across the country, from New Jersey south to Florida, then across to Texas. But now she has returned home, thrilled her car started and her house remained intact, and is back to her comfortable routine. She restocked the refrigerator, spent a day doing laundry, and then wrote a few final thoughts on her trip in Seven Weeks and No Longer Counting.

     Laura Lee Carter takes a different tack toward change. She talks about how she Let Go of the Familiar and Added More Adventure and Excitement to Her Life. In midlife she found new love, a new career, and then built a solar-powered home in rural Colorado. And now, with all those changes, she's happy to stay home and enjoy her new surroundings.

     Carol Cassara at Heart-Mind-Soul takes a longer view of the changes in our lives. In Back in the Day she looks at boomer life in the 1960s and 1970s, sometimes wondering where our innocence has gone. And in It's Like We Never Said Goodbye she recounts a remarkable love story, one that ended in divorce, but had a surprise ending 27 years later when past and present came together in the most unusual of ways.

     Speaking of another kind of change, Rita R. Robison, of The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, tells us we can call up our credit card company and ask them to change the terms. According to Robison, almost 80 percent of people who asked for a lower interest rate had their request granted, and almost 90 percent who asked to get late fees waived were successful. Despite that, very few of us try to negotiate with our credit card company. But people as consumers have more power than they think, she concludes, and the worst that can happen is that they say no.

Today I drive an Acura. So different?
      Then we have Kathy Gottberg in 4 Smart Agreements to Master an Awesome Life who tells us that all our perceptions are on shaky ground anyway, and that we are living an illusion. She cites Don Miguel Ruiz who says, "Ninety-five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all those lies.”

     So what can we do to break free of our illusions? Ruiz has four suggestions on how to rework our daily patterns and reclaim our personal power. To these Gottberg adds four of her own, which show how important it is not to become so familiar with our world that we don't even notice it anymore. Instead, we need to stay conscious, be aware and follow our own personal guidance. "Only then," she concludes, "can we change those things in our life that are ours to change."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Day in The City

     I don't know what The City refers to where you live; but anywhere around here, you're talking New York City --- Gotham, the Big Apple. The Capital of the World, according to essayist E. B. White. The Modern Gomorrah, according to the Rev. Thomas DeWitt Talmadge.

     For me it takes about an hour and a half to get into Manhattan, which is really The City to me and most others. The other four boroughs -- The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, even Brooklyn -- all take second place to this center of everything. It takes me a while, but I can still go there for the day, as I did last weekend to meet some relatives who were visiting from the West Coast.

     I was a little early, so I took a walk downtown. You've probably all heard of SoHo, which means south of Houston St. Well, there's another neighborhood north of Houston as well.

     Then I swung around to Washington Square Park, where I found a group of NYU students doing an impromptu production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" in front of a small but appreciative crowd.

     A couple of black guys were doing a more acrobatic show in a fountain that doesn't get put to its aquatic purpose until the weather warms up.

     Meanwhile, a few older guys were getting in on the action, singing some doo-wop songs from the 1950s. I caught them crooning "Gloria." *

     Here's a view of the Empire State Building through the arch of the monument to George Washington ...

     And of course, what would Greenwich Village be without a few artists plying their trade.

     You can see the Freedom Tower, which replaced the World Trade Center.

     And then I walked up Fifth Ave., where I found a sign of spring in the big city,

     then over to fashionable Union Square,

     which is guarded by a statue of George Washington. Remember, New York was the first capital of the country, so George Washington still looms large in the city.

     I headed farther north past the New York Public Library on Fifth Ave. at the corner of 42nd St.

     And finally I made it to the restaurant on W. 46th St. It was almost St. Patrick's Day -- and even though we have Irish in the family (don't we all?), we elected to go to a Scottish restaurant rather than an Irish pub. No worries. There was a scotch menu featuring well over a hundred different selections of scotch whiskey. We tried a few ... but not so many that we were tempted by the haggis.

     * And in case you've forgotten, while there have been several songs called "Gloria" sung through the years, this is the one you go to if you're a doo wop group ...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Do You Airbnb?

     I personally have had two experiences with Airbnb. One was in Southern California a couple of years ago; the other in Naples, Fla., just a couple of months ago.

     In the first instance I had my own wing of a house -- not a separate entrance, but my own bedroom and bathroom, with the rest of the house up a flight of stairs. The woman who hosted was perfectly nice -- friendly but not intrusive. But the real appeal to the place was the view. The house sat on a bluff high above the Pacific and offered a spectacular panorama with Catalina Island off in the distance.

     This past winter, in Naples, I had to share a bathroom with another guest. That was unexpected. I went back and looked at the listing, and while it didn't explicitly say "private bath" it did advertise "privacy" -- which I took to mean my own bedroom and bathroom.

     But other than having to share a bathroom, the place in Naples was great, located in a quiet neighborhood with a friendly married couple as hosts. They had a big-screen TV where I watched the AFC championship between the Denver Broncos the New England Patriots. A great game. But the real bonus? They cooked a fabulous breakfast, served at a big, comfortable dining room table.

     Have you ever used Airbnb? Were your experiences similar or different? B has never been to one; but now we are talking about using Airbnb to book a beach cottage outside of Charleston, SC, in September.

     There was an article in the NY Times last weekend about some of the problems posed by Airbnb and its cousins HomeAway and VRBO. The piece focused on New Orleans where apparently there are so many Airbnb rentals that they are crowding out regular residents. Similar problems have cropped up in certain neighborhoods in other urban places like Portland, Ore., Philadelphia, Pa., and Austin, Tex.

     One New Orleans resident complained that his neighborhood now consists mainly of strangers carrying suitcases, who arrive on Thursday or Friday and depart a few days later. But it seems the real problem comes with the few troublemakers who inevitably show up -- visitors who make a lot of noise, throw garbage on the street, even vomit on the front steps.

     Honestly, I can't imagine becoming an Airbnb host. Well, first of all, we don't live in a tourist area where anyone would want to stay overnight. We're too far from New York City, and we're not near the water or any major tourist attraction. There's nothing even remotely interesting about the town where we live. But even if there was, I don't think I'd like the idea of strangers coming and staying over at my house.

     And then, you're in business, so you have to keep track of all your expenses and your income and report to the IRS. That's a job in itself. And what if something goes wrong? A crime, for instance, or an injury? Would you feel terrible? Do you need special insurance? Could you get sued?

     But I do enjoy going to an Airbnb rental -- is that hypocritical, to patronize a service but not to want to participate in the sharing?

     I haven't ever tried using Uber to get a taxi (although my son swears by it) -- not because I wouldn't, but because I don't live in the city and so don't have occasion to. This so-called sharing economy definitely has its benefits; but sometimes it can be a little unsettling.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tootle on Down

     It happened last weekend, when we had another couple over for dinner. B's 20-something son decided to join us because his girlfriend, who's studying to become an accountant, was working all weekend, which accountants apparently do at this time of year.

     We were sitting around enjoying a fire in the fireplace and talking about random things. B told us about a project she had going at work, and then said she had to tootle on down to the library the next day to do ... something, I forget.

     The conversation proceeded for a few more moments, until we all realized B's son was sitting there, hunched over, his face getting red, desperately trying to suppress his laughter, until he finally erupted in a sudden and loud guffaw. He kept trying to hold it in, but he couldn't, and soon he was laughing so hard he was practically falling out of his chair.

     The rest of us smiled, and we looked around at one another. We were a little puzzled.

     "What?" said his mother.

     "Tootle?" he said. More bursts of laughter. "Tootle! When does anyone actually use the work tootle?"

Maybe she'd seen this book?
     Soon he had the rest of laughing as well. While the word had just washed over us, because it was familiar -- even though none of us had probably heard it used in normal conversation in, oh, two or three decades. But now that he had mentioned it, it was pretty funny.

     As the laughter subsided -- from all except her son who still couldn't control himself -- B admitted it was a word she'd probably heard from her grandmother. And she admitted that, yes, it had probably gone out of the standard English lexicon sometime around the 1950s.

     Although I remember my mother used to used the term occasionally, probably as late as the 1970s. But actually, my mother more often said, "Toodle loo," when bidding goodbye to someone. You don't hear that one anymore, either. I looked it up. It's defined as an archaic way to say goodbye, derived from the French a tout a l'heure. I never realized my mother was so classy!

     The next morning, as B and I reviewed the previous evening, we agreed everyone had had a good time. But as you might imagine, the word tootle came up again. After all, it brought the biggest laugh of the evening. By far. And we couldn't help but wonder: what other words did we use, or at least hear, when we were younger, but are words that today would mark us as an old fogey.

     And in case you are about to argue how we older people are not old fogeys -- take it from B's son, using the word tootle does mark you as an old fogey.

     Tizzy. If you're all in a tizzy ... are you an old fogey? You're all excited and perhaps a little confused. You're in a dither ... another archaic word.

     Actually, I think old fogey is itself an archaic term, a slightly derogatory label for an elderly person who is not up on current fashions.

     How about curmudgeon or crank? Maybe Bernie Sanders has brought a little hipness back to those two terms.

Maybe she'd seen this movie?
     Scalawag. I recall my mother using the term to refer to some unsavory characters, way back when. I thought it must have some kind of nautical connection. Maybe a scalawag was a pirate? Actually it comes from the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. A scalawag was a derogatory term in the South for a white person who had Union sympathies. Kind of like a carpetbagger. Only worse, because a carpetbagger came from the North, while a scalawag was a Southerner who had become a traitor to the cause. I don't know where my mother came up with the term. She was not a Southerner, unless you count New Jersey as part of the South.

     How about jalopy, a word I sometimes use to describe my car, or Landsakes! which I've heard B's mother utter once or twice in surprise, or how about beseech or betwixt?

     I don't know what conclusion to draw from all this -- except perhaps, language does evolve, and sometimes we old fogeys have to struggle to keep up.

Monday, March 7, 2016

My Favorite Activity

     I always joke that there are two things I am good at ... and you know, a little truth lies behind every joke.

     First is my blood type. I have A+ blood. It's the only A+ I've ever received in my life (except for 7th grade Social Studies where the teacher gave everybody an A, and the better students an A+, and the best students an A++).    

     The second thing I have going for me is that I'm an excellent sleeper. My sleeping partner B stays up late. She gets up early. She tosses and turns and has anxious dreams that disturb her sleep. Why, just last night, she told me, she dreamed she was lost in space.

     But I sack out between 11 and 11:15 every night, and I'm dead to the world until 7 a.m. the next day. Okay ... I get up once to make a trip to the bathroom; but I'm back asleep almost before my head returns to the pillow.

     This week, March 6 - 13, is National Sleep Awareness Week. With that in mind, and recognizing my expertise in the area, I offer a few suggestions. Ten of them, actually. Seriously. I once wrote an article about it -- it's not in my blog archive, but it is featured in my book You Only Retire Once.

     So take a look, and sweet dreams!

Count the Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

No one knows precisely why we sleep. But we do need sleep. Without it we will die. Yet many aspects of American life get in the way of a nice, restful sleep. Modern electronics seduce us into staying up late. The stress of daily life can cause us to toss and turn as we try to go to sleep, or after we wake up in the night. The expanding obesity rate means more Americans suffer from sleep apnea and other night-time disturbances.

In a 2011 survey more than half of Americans complained that they experience sleep problems on a regular basis. The results can be dangerous. One out of 20 adults admitted they had dozed off while driving a car during the previous month.

Professor Till Roenneberg in his book Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag and Why You’re So Tired blames the workplace for many of our sleep problems. Some people, called “larks,” naturally go to bed early and get up early, whileowls” go to bed late and like to sleep in. But whether we’re larks or owls, most of us are forced to sleep around a normal daily schedule, whether we want to or not.

Teenagers are notorious owls, but most high schools begin classes early in the day which contributes to poor school performance.

With all these impediments, how is a person supposed to get enough sleep? Here are a few tips from the experts. 

1)  Get some exercise. If you feel tired during the day, do not sit around and do nothing. Go work up a sweat. It will wake you up for a few hours, then make you sleepy later on when it’s time for bed. 

2)  Do not nap. True, some lucky people can catnap during the day without affecting their sleep schedule. But if you are having trouble getting to sleep at night, stay awake during the day. Don’t close your eyes while watching TV or reading the newspaper. 

3)  Make dinner your main meal. Eating a light breakfast and lunch will help you stay alert during the day. A big meal at night will help you get to sleep. But don’t eat right before bedtime. Give yourself a couple of hours so your digestive system is ready for sleep as well. 

4)  Don’t do anything too stimulating. Wind down and relax for at least an hour before bed. Taking a warm bath can help ease tension and soothe muscles. A shower tends to wake you up. 

5)  Set the environment. Most people sleep best in a cool room where the air is not too dry. Opening a window at night can help on both counts. You may want to use a humidifier, which also produces a white noise that some people find helpful. 

6)  Go to bed at the same time every night. You want to develop a routine. Walk the dog; brush your teeth; read a chapter of a book; turn out the light. You have a ritual for dinnertime that helps trigger your appetite. You should develop a ritual for bedtime to help you feel sleepy. 

7)  Make a list. If you’re fretting over some issue, or constantly reviewing things you have to do the next day, write down your concerns on a piece of paper or computer file. Once you’ve recorded your to-do list, give yourself permission to stop worrying about it. 

8)  Warm milk. Milk has an essential amino acid, tryptophan, which stimulates the brain chemical serotonin, believed to play a key role in inducing sleep. But avoid alcohol. It might help you get to sleep, but will likely result in a shallow and disturbed sleep cyclenot to mention a headache in the morning. 

9)  Do not oversleep. Try to get up at the same time every morning, even if you couldn’t get to sleep the night before. Sleeping late resets your body clock and makes it more difficult to get to sleep the next night. So don’t try to catch up on sleep over the weekend. And if you wake up early, consider . . . maybe you’ve slept enough. Get up and start your day. Do not take a nap. Then that evening start your regular bedtime ritual. Chances are, you’ll sleep just fine.

10) Still can’t sleep? Don’t lie in bed and get mad. Haul yourself out of bed, go into another room and engage in some quiet activity. No, not the TV, which is more likely to wake you up than put you to sleep. Take up your knitting, start drawing or playing your guitar. Or try that old faithful:  read a book.