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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Guess What We're Doing

     We've been talking about it for a few years now, B and I, ever since the last of the kids left home -- a year-and-a-half after her older son graduated from college and finally got a job and then an apartment.

     The house is too big for us. Four bedrooms. Three of them are empty. A big basement with a ping pong table we no longer use, shelves of old college books and high-school projects, piles of kids' sports equipment, and a room full of tools that I don't remember how to use.

     Then there's the yard. Almost an acre. I took care of it until the middle of last summer when I finally gave up and hired a company to spray and fertilize and a local guy to cut the grass. All that gets expensive. Honestly, we have paid off our mortgage (yes, we've been homeowners for over 30 years!). But there are the real-estate taxes. Of course I want to support education, our community and the development of our kids. But it gives me heart palpitations to write the check for the school tax. That bill alone slices off more than 10 percent of our annual income.

Not our house; our shed
     So we finally did it. We put our house on the market. We're going to move away from the area where I've lived for most of my life, the town where I've lived for the past nine years, where B has raised her kids and lived for over 25 years.

     Theoretically, we could probably afford to live in our old house for the rest of our lives. We could certainly continue to live here in town if we downsized to a smaller house, or relocated over to the big age-restricted development where people go from all around the county.

     We know a few people who live there. A couple of them are younger than we are. But we got talking to a woman at B's church last week. She told us how she had moved there with her husband after their kids left for college. They bought a condo, lived there for about three years, then got divorced and she moved to another condo in the next town over. She said she hated living in the age-restricted community. Yes, there were a few younger people there, even some kids, but the people she saw routinely walking along the sidewalks, or sitting in the dining room, were frail old women using walkers, sometimes dragging along even older, more debilitated men. It was all so depressing, she said. She had to move (and we wondered if it had something to do with her divorce).

    So no age-restricted community for us, at least not for now. If only we knew where we wanted to go.

     B and I have four kids between us, and they live in four different states. We have no grandchildren. So it's up to us to decide where we want to be. B wants to live somewhere near her favorite sister who is firmly settled in southeastern Pennsylvania (Amish country, although she's not Amish.) But her son who lives in South Carolina wants her to move down south. I'm leaning in that direction myself. I prefer warmer winters, which is why I go to Florida for a couple of weeks each January. But B is resistant. She claims she actually likes the cold weather and long winter days in the north. She doesn't like to drive in the snow. But she doesn't mind shoveling snow, and she likes how it gets dark early so you can go home and curl up in front of a fire, drinking hot tea and reading a book.

     She also likes the idea of living in a real town, where you can walk to the stores and the coffee shops. But every place in the South seems to involve driving around through traffic on four-lane roads. Besides, what would we have in common with someone from South Carolina? They like football, car racing and guns. We like libraries and theater and ... okay, B likes church and there are plenty of churches in South Carolina, and I like golf, and there are plenty of golf course in South Carolina. But still, would we fit in?

     So our latest idea? We're going to take a gap year -- like the kids do before college, or after college before they take their first real job. We're going to rent an apartment and travel around doing some touristy things and looking for our next place to settle.

     But the fact is, we've been coming up with new ideas about every ten minutes. So what we'll be thinking tomorrow is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, the back liftgate on our less-than-two-year-old Subaru Forester broke on us, and our local dealer is trying to welsh on the warranty, so we have something else to worry about . . . but that's another story.

     We know plenty of people who have bigger problems than we do. So save your sympathy and support for them. But still, could you take just a moment and wish us bit of luck for the next year?  Thanks!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spring Into Some Boomer Blogs

     Spring has arrived in earnest here in the Northeast as well as most other regions in the U. S., except for those places in the very highest latitudes and very highest elevations. We celebrate the coming of spring with Earth Day, held last Friday, as well as May Day, coming up next Sunday. People around the world have been commemorating the arrival of spring ever since pre-Roman times with dancing, singing and in some places gathering around the Maypole.

     In the spirit of the season, Rita R. Robison on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers some energy saving tips to help us do our little part in saving the earth, the only planet we currently have at our disposal. For example, you can install solar-powered yard lights, use energy efficient light bulbs, install water-saving aerators for kitchen and bathroom sinks. And with today's dishwashers (as the pot scrubber in our house I particularly endorse this one), you can also skip pre-washing the dishes and put those grimy plates directly into the dishwasher. For more ideas check out Evaluate Your Energy Use on Earth Day.

Pueblo-style homes face south for warmth
     Meanwhile, Laura Lee Carter has been enjoying the PBS series "10 Houses That Changed America." In her Home Designs post she shows how the TV program relates to her own choice to build a solar-oriented house in one of the higher elevations in the Colorado foothills -- and pays tribute to her husband who knows so much about creating an energy efficient home.

     Things are a little different over at Carol Cassara's blog, Heart-Mind-Soul. She focuses on our fears, not of destroying our planet, but of looking within our own selves. Most of us have experience with some dread disease that appears out of nowhere and strikes a loved one, and we often fear that the same thing can happen to us. In Hypochondriac's Nightmare she talks about the fear she feels (that we all feel) when making a doctor's appointment. Then in Don't Be Afraid, she goes on to examine the flip side of the fear coin -- how we sometimes hesitate to look within ourselves for fear of what we'll find, and how the answers to most questions lie not in the heavens, but within ourselves.

     As for Meryl Baer, she has no fear at all ... for how else can you characterize someone who's willing to fly Spirit Airlines? Okay, maybe that's unfair, but take wing over to On the Road and in the Air Again to alight on her amusing tale of how she enjoys traveling on the cheap in 21st century America.

     Finally, Kathy Gottberg at Smart Thoughts About Birthdays, Blogging and BFFS reports on traveling to Las Vegas and attending her first blogging conference. It was a birthday gift to herself (the end of April marks the 5th anniversary of her SMART Living 365 blog), and as a result she discovered how we can all learn and grow when we open our minds and hearts to new experiences. She offers a few things she learned at the conference -- Bloggers at Midlife, or #BAMC16 -- and advises us to find our own blogging niche, to develop blogging relationships, to occasionally get out of our comfort zone ... and most of all, to go have some fun!


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Voted Today

     I just came back from my local church where I voted in the New York primary. I voted for Hillary Clinton.

     Not that she doesn't have her problems. But I'm a moderate. If I was Republican, I'd vote for John Kasich.

     I'm a moderate because I am cursed with seeing both sides of an argument. For example, I am a completely nonviolent person. The last fistfight I had was in 7th grade. I managed to defer myself out of the Vietnam war. But what are you gonna do if someone punches you in the face, whether it's Japan in 1941 or terrorists in 2001?

     In general I believe people should reap what they sow, and be responsible for their own actions. But I also believe as human beings we have an obligation to help take care of those who can't help themselves. However, I don't believe we should be helping out those who know how to work the system, whether they're corporate executives packing their own boardrooms to give themselves outlandish pay packages, or regular people cheating (everybody does it!) on their taxes, lying to qualify for a mortgage, or exaggerating injuries to bilk money out of the legal system or the disability program.

     Well, on this blog I try to stay out of politics, because except for Social Security (if Bernie Sanders is so interested in saving or expanding Social Security how come he sat around in the U. S. Congress for 25 years and did nothing about it?) I don't think politics is much related to age. Besides, if you asked me to put away my own self-interest, I'd have to admit that I think we should provide more money and more programs for poor children of color, not more money for old white people.

     But I'd better get off my high horse before I fall off and hurt myself. I guess what I really think is that nobody has a monopoly on the truth, and above all, we should respect other people's opinions and not call them nasty names or make vicious fun of them. And all get out to vote this year.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

How Could I Be Hungry?

     A picture is worth a thousand words. We recently went to Costco. We were in the checkout line and, well, this just struck me as funny ...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why Is Everyone So Grumpy?

     I heard some good news recently. Actually, it's not news. Anyone who knows psychology would know about the Flynn Effect. But I only just heard about it.

     Apparently tests have shown that people are getting smarter. The average I.Q. score is 100. But over the years the tests have had to be made more and more difficult in order to keep the average at 100. If the average teenager of today with an I.Q. of 100 could take the I.Q. test of 30 years ago, the teenager would score an I.Q. of 120.

     This is especially good news when you consider that today's economy demands higher skill levels; and so the smarter people are, the better they will fare in the economy of the future.

     It also proves what I long suspected: I am smarter than my parents. Of course, it also proves the claims of my kids -- that they are smarter than I am.

     No one knows for sure why people are getting smarter. The experts suggest better nutrition, better health care, better education, better parenting. Perhaps some of these factors are arguable, but it's undeniable that many things are getting better over time. We have lower crime rates and higher educational levels. And, for sure, we have better health care, which leads to longer and healthier lives. The figures prove it: A person born in 1920 had a life expectancy of about 54 years. A person born in 1950 had a life expectancy more like 68 years. And for those us us still alive, in our 60s, we can expect to live well into our 80s.

       Yet, according to Real Clear Politics, some 66 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, while less than 30 percent believe we're headed in the right direction.

     Steve McCann in the conservative-leaning American Thinker says we realize we're in trouble for several reasons. The national debt has ballooned to almost $20 trillion. While the economy has produced almost 6 million jobs since 2008, the working age population has increased by 18 million people, which means fewer people of working age are actually employed. Also, whether you love immigrants or hate them, the sheer number of immigrants over the past quarter century has put pressure not only on the job market but on schools, housing, roads and social services. According to McCann, in 1988 there were 16 million immigrants living in the United States. Today there are 42 million immigrants, including some 12 million who are ... either "illegal" or "undocumented" depending on your political persuasion.

     All this has contributed to the unequal distribution of income which has upset the treasured American notion of a classless society. According to McCann, since 1988 the inflation-adjusted income of the top 5% of Americans has risen about 40% while the income of the bottom 50% has fallen by about 2%.

     And while younger Americans may be smarter than their grandparents, Americans have actually fallen behind on a relative basis -- we have not progressed as fast as our European or Asian counterparts. In 1990 American teenagers scored in the top 10 among industrialized countries for their proficiency in math, reading and science, but today our teenagers are ranked down in the 20s.

     McCann concludes, with an eye on the current presidential election, "A vast majority of American people sense that the future of the nation is in serious jeopardy ... and one of the most troubling aspects of the current unease is what this portends: when anger and frustration evolve into deep-seated passion, reason is too often a casualty."

     McCann has plenty of company in believing the U. S. has seen its best days. As one person wrote, reflecting the sentiment of the Real Clear Politics poll:  "It seems we're grasping for anything that will stop this decline of our country, this feeling we have that America is on the fast track to becoming a Third World Country with all the wealth at the top, this feeling that we've lost our individual liberty and freedom."

     On the other hand, James Fallows says that the narrative of America going to hell is a constant throughout American history, especially in presidential election years. He recounts in The Atlantic how he traveled through the country and found that, despite what you hear about American decay and the unraveling of the nation, there are many examples of rapidly progressing civil and individual reinvention in towns and cities across the nation, from Fresno, CA, to Ajo, AZ, to Duluth, MN and Pittsburgh, PA.

     Personally, I think it's easy to focus on the negatives -- there are certainly plenty of them around -- but I take heart in knowing that Americans are getting smarter. And I'll choose to believe what a man smarter than I am believes, for it was Warren Buffett who recently wrote:

     “It’s an election year, and candidates can’t stop speaking about our country’s problems (which, of course, only they can solve). As a result of this negative drumbeat, many Americans now believe that their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history ... America’s economic magic remains alive and well."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Remember Him?

     His father, Pietro, immigrated from Italy, arriving on Ellis Island in October 1909. He made his way to St. Louis where he settled on The Hill, the Italian section of the city. His wife came over later with their two sons, and they went on to have three more children.

     Lorenzo was born in St. Louis in 1925. His parents nicknamed him Lawdie, because they had trouble pronouncing Lawrence or Larry. The family attended the local Catholic church, and Lawdie hung around the neighborhood. He was not a particularly good student and dropped out of school after eighth grade. Apparently he didn't feel the need for book learning, for as he later said, "You can learn a lot by watching."

     Do you know who Lawdie really is? Hint: It's the beginning of baseball season.

     When World War II broke out, Lawie joined the Navy. He served as a gunner's mate aboard the attack transport USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion at Normandy. His crew shot machine guns and launched rockets into the German defenses at Omaha Beach. They took fire, but no one was seriously injured.

Museum in New Jersey
     When he came back from the war he went to Newark, NJ. He had played a lot of baseball as a kid, and had even caught the eye of the St. Louis Cardinals. But he was brought to the Newark minor league team by baseball great Bill Dickey, the Yankee catcher and coach who'd played on the championship Yankee teams with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig.

     The young man from St. Louis took Dickey's old number 8, and later said, "I owe everything I did in baseball to Bill Dickey." But we do have to be careful about quoting this baseball player, because as he himself admitted, "I really didn't say everything I said."

     He was called up to the majors toward the end of the 1946 season, and went on to become a mainstay of the Yankees for the next 17 years. He went on to play for the NY Mets, and then became a coach for the Yankees, the Mets and the Houston Astros. In all, he played in 14 World Series and won 10 championships. He was named an All Star in 15 seasons.

     One of his most notable moments was catching Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the only perfect game ever thrown in MLB postseason play. He also witnessed the record-breaking home run duel between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, famously noting as he watched them hit back-to-back homers, "It's deja vu all over again."

     He set a number of records in his position as catcher for the Yankees, and was a good hitter as well. He was considered one of the best clutch hitters in baseball, primarily because he was fast with the bat and hardly ever struck out. His lifetime batting average was .285, with 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in.

     After he retired as a player, Lorenzo Pietro Berra -- better known as Yogi Berra -- went to the NY Mets as a coach, and he was a part of the Miracle Mets that won the 1969 World Series. He had gotten the nickname Yogi as a teenager, when he went to the movies, and one of his friends thought he looked like a man practicing yoga in the film. His friends started calling him Yogi, and the name stuck.

"Half the lies they tell about me aren't true"
     In 1972 he was named manager of the Mets. The following year the team was plagued by injuries, and by mid-season the Mets were in last place. A reporter asked the new manager if the season was over for them. Yogi's famous reply: "It ain't over till it's over." Sure enough, the Mets staged a comeback and won the 1973 National League title, before succumbing to the Oakland Athletics in a hard-fought seven-game World Series.

     Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, and that same year the number 8 was retired by the Yankees, jointly honoring Berra and his mentor and fellow catcher Bill Dickey.

     Yogi Berra married Carmen Short in 1949, and they had three sons. They were longtime residents of Montclair, NJ, where the Berras sponsored the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center (which advertises, "We're open till we close") and the Yogi Berra baseball stadium at Montclair State University.

     Carmen died in 2014, shortly after celebrating their 65th anniversary. Yogi died at age 90 on Sept. 22, 2015 -- 69 years to the day after he debuted in the major leagues. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in Nov. 2015, who cited one of Yogi's favorite lines: "One thing we know for sure: If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."

Monday, April 4, 2016

Meeting My Daughter in Petersburg

     Anyone who read my March 28 post No Wonder I'm Broke! knows that we've been doing some spring cleaning at our house. My main job has been to pack up all my daughter's old stuff from the basement and clear it out.

     I consulted her about it by phone and email. I was authorized to throw some of it away. Then I loaded up the car with the rest of it -- about 8,000 pounds of books and boxes, shoes and shirts, papers and other paraphernalia -- and set off down I95 to bring it to her.

This fortification was overrun by Union forces
     My daughter lives in North Carolina, and we arranged to meet in Petersburg, Va., to make the dropoff. We both have also recently developed an interest in the Civil War, inspired by an online course by Yale University Professor David Blight called History 119: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845 - 1877. If you've got 20-some hours to devote to learning about the Civil War, I highly recommend the lecture. Blight captures the excitement, the sweep and the significance of history, and he even inspired me to go on to read a couple of books including Uncle Tom's Cabin which somehow I'd never read in school.

     I had never been to a Civil War site, and neither had my daughter. She was coming with her boyfriend, and we were staying overnight, but first we decided to meet at the national park in Petersburg and spend the afternoon immersing ourselves in Civil War history.

     In 1864, Lee was retreating through Virginia as Grant tried to encircle his forces and cut them off from the rest of the Confederacy. The two armies fought the Battle of the Wilderness, then they clashed in Spotsylvania and again in Cold Harbor. Each battle was bloody, both sides losing thousands of men, but each time Lee's dwindling forces fought off the Union attack.

The entrance to the tunnel
     The Union army arrived at Petersburg and might have taken the city if it had not hesitated in the face of lightly-manned fortifications. Then, after weeks of stalemate, some mining engineers from Pennsylvania came up with the idea of digging a tunnel under enemy lines, then blowing up tons of dynamite to create a hole in rebel defenses.

     The explosion was set off on July 30, 1864, and blew a crater hundreds of feet wide. Union forces rushed into the breach, but the Confederates regrouped. They slaughtered hundreds of Union soldiers and re-established their lines.

     That set the stage for the siege of Petersburg, as Grant slowly strangled the enemy, until the Union finally took Petersburg on April 2, and then chased Lee to Appomattox where he surrendered on April 9, 1865.

Grant's headquarters
     My daughter, her boyfriend and I spent the afternoon roaming over the battle site, then we drove out to see Grant's headquarters on the James River. Later, we found a barbecue restaurant in the city of Petersburg, now suffering not from the aftermath of the Civil War but from the aftermath of industrial decline. Petersburg has a small historic downtown amidst its urban decay ... and at least one very good barbecue place.

     And then came the denouement to my trip. In the hotel parking lot, we unloaded my car, set the stuff out on the pavement, and then repacked all the boxes, bags, loose books and stuffed animals into her car. We stayed overnight. And then in the morning we waved goodbye -- my daughter to her new house in Raleigh, NC., and me back to B, and our now-less-crowded home in New York.


Friday, April 1, 2016

A Cure for the Common Cold

     I have found a cure for the common cold. You don't believe me? Well, my sister told me about it, and she's been telling me what to do for six decades now, so it must be true. But seriously, I was skeptical at first. But now I've tried it, and I think it works.

     We all know science has been looking for this cure for decades. I remember my mother plied us with ginger ale and chicken soup, and gave us little red pills called Coricidin. They still have Coricidin. I saw it in the drugstore just the other day.

     My mother also told us to drink our orange juice, and in that respect she was ahead of her time. It was sometime in the 1970s that Vitamin C began to be touted as a cure for the common cold.

     I relied on Vitamin C for a long time. And my true feeling is that whatever you really believe in is what will work for you. I guess they call that the placebo effect. And it really works, at least for a while.

     According to Web MD, a comprehensive 2007 study concluded that taking Vitamin C after you get a cold does not result in making it any shorter or less severe. However, the study suggests that taking Vitamin C on a regular basis makes you slightly less likely to get a cold in the first place. And other studies show that Vitamin C may help prevent more serious complications from a cold, such as pneumonia.

     That's reason enough to take Vitamin C. But it doesn't really help when you're sneezing and coughing and reeling from a headache.

     But I recall a few years ago, just as I was losing faith in Vitamin C, I was in the drugstore poking through the cold remedies, and one of the guys working there asked if he could help. When I said I had a cold, he reached for a pack of lozenges with zinc and echinacea. "These work for me," he said. "And I should know. I come from Buffalo."

     That was good enough for me, so I went through a stage of believing in zinc and echinacea. I read some research and found that zinc-loaded lozenges may make cold symptoms milder and may also shorten the duration of a cold by a day or so.

     But Vitamin C and zinc and echinacea only nibble around the edges of a cold. I'm looking for a cure. So I was all ears when my sister promised me something better. She and her husband were visiting two weeks ago. Her husband came down with some kind of cold or flu and was laid out on the couch, when my sister said we had to go to the drugstore.

     We drove over to CVS. She was looking for something called Oscillococcinum.

     "What?" I said.

     "Oscillococcinum," she repeated. "It's in a yellow box. I heard about it a couple of years ago." She found the box. "It's from France," she continued. "It's all natural. I tried it once and it worked."

     She found it and we brought some back to her husband. He opened the box and sprinkled a vial of little beads into his mouth. Sure enough, by the next morning he was up and ready to go. He felt perfectly fine.

     Now the other day I was starting to feel like I was getting a cold. It was late afternoon, and I was too lazy to go to the store, so I took some NyQuil and went to bed. I did sleep through the night; but in the morning I didn't feel any better.

     So I hauled myself up to the drugstore. I couldn't remember the name, but I did recall that it was in a yellow and white box. I found it, brought it home, popped open a vial and shook the beads into my mouth. How could this possibly work? I thought. It's just a few little beads that taste like candy.

     But they did make me feel better, at least for the rest of the day. Then before bed, I popped some Vitamin C, as insurance, and went to sleep. But I woke up in the night with a killer headache. I was sweating and couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and grabbed some Advil from the bathroom, but it didn't help.

     I tossed and turned the rest of the night. In the morning I stumbled downstairs and reached for the Oscillococcinum. Within an hour my headache was gone. I was feeling almost normal. Later in the day I started feeling tired again, and the headache was coming back. I took another dose of Oscillococcinum, and felt fine. When I went to bed, I slept through the night, and felt good in the morning. I took one more dose, just to be sure.

     Oscillococcinum is classified as a homeopathic medicine, indicating it comes from a natural ingredient. The "active ingredient" is listed as Anas barbariae. This morning I googled Anas barbariae and Oscillococcinum and found they are touted not as a cure not for the common cold, but as a remedy for the flu, helping to relieve headaches, body aches, fever and fatigue.

      But I was startled to discover that Oscillococcinum is made from ... get this ... the heart and liver of duck, mixed with sugar. The best I can figure, it's one part duck to 199 parts sugar. The medicine is indeed made in France. And the good thing is, it apparently has no side effects and is therefore completely harmless. But according to the information I found, the reality is there is no scientific evidence that it has any effect at all beyond the placebo effect.

     Which begs the question: Instead of duck, maybe I should just have slurped some chicken soup? In the end, I think, the real cure for the common cold comes down to this: It's whatever medicine you believe in at the time.