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

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Danger in the Night

     We went down to the Delaware River on Christmas day to witness a group of men gather together in the afternoon to recreate an historic event.

     For it was just about 4 p.m. on Christmas afternoon, as it was beginning to get dark, when a ragtag group of American men assembled in the rain and the cold, and prepared to cross the river and fight a desperate battle.

The troops assemble
    It was 1776. That autumn General George Washington had been pushed out of New York. His army of roughly 5000 men had retreated through New Jersey and crossed the Delaware to encamp along the shoreline in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, British troops had settled down in New York for the winter and had left a force of Hessian soldiers to guard their southern flank in New Jersey.

     During their retreat, the Americans had been forced to leave behind precious supplies. Morale among recruits was low. Over a thousand of them were ailing or injured and unfit for duty. A number of soldiers had deserted. Many of the others were looking forward to going home, since their enlistment period was expiring.

     But Washington wouldn't give up. He sent some of his men to enlist new recruits from around the area. They signed up a number of new men, largely because of the mistreatment by British soldiers throughout New York and New Jersey. Then Thomas Paine published his pamphlet The American Crisis:  "These are the times that try men's souls ..."

Two men to carry one oar
     Washington read the inspiring pamphlet to his men, and it lifted their spirits. Then a separate American force of approximately 2000 men managed to join them by the river, providing much-needed reinforcements.

     And so Washington decided to cross the Delaware River and make a surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers who defended Trenton.

     A small fleet of open boats was assembled from people along the Delaware. At dark, around 4 p.m., the Americans began to march quietly down to the riverbank. As night fell, the rain turned to sleet. But Washington pressed on. The general rode in one of the first boats to cross the river, but it took until 3 a.m. for the entire force to get across -- and longer to finish transporting the supplies.

The plan of attack
     Once they were in New Jersey, the small army split into two groups and marched nine miles through the night to the small city of Trenton. They attacked the Hessian outpost at dawn, catching them completely by surprise. The Americans lost three men. The Hessians had 22 killed before surrendering. The American soldiers then destroyed or captured Hessian supplies, and took several hundred prisoners.

     Washington brought his men, and the prisoners, back across the Delaware to his outpost in Pennsylvania, and the Americans reveled in their victory, drinking rum captured from the Hessians. A few days later the Americans crossed into New Jersey again, and on January 3, 1777 they won a decisive victory in the battle of Princeton.

Cannon fire
     Washington's army then spent the winter in Morristown, NJ. But the struggle for independence was far from over. By the next winter the British had occupied Philadelphia, leaving Washington to winter over in Valley Forge. And it was another five long years before the British finally admitted defeat, after they lost the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia. The war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783. America gained its independence ... and the next chapter had begun.

     On this December day, in 2018, the river was high and ran fast. The reenactors decided not to cross the river, and I don't blame them one bit. Too dangerous. But they gathered the boats, assembled together, read the speeches, and then shot off the cannon, memorializing a bunch of men who were, I believe, far stronger and braver than we can ever claim.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

6 Things Retirees Can't Afford

     Right now I'm feeling a little cautious, maybe because I'm realizing that I've grown complacent after ten years of good economic times. My retirement funds are flush because of a rising stock market; we've been able to sell our old house and move because of the good housing market; and we haven't had to worry about our kids because they've been working and prospering in their careers. But as we know, all that can change pretty quickly.

     We should keep in mind that we are lucky to be able to retire. It’s an option not available to many others in the world. And except for the rich and famous, it was never available here in America until well into the 20th century. And who knows if it will be available for our children and grandchildren?

     There are no guarantees that come with retirement -- any more than guarantees come with a job, a marriage or how our kids are going to turn out. All of life is a gamble. So I'd like to reflect on some things we simply cannot afford to do if we want a secure and happy retirement. Let me know if you disagree, or think I'm worrying too much. Or maybe you have other suggestions about what we should be careful about, especially at this time in our lives, as we face another new year.

     1. We can’t afford to ignore our finances. It doesn’t matter how big our nest egg is, or how generous our pension, we have to remember that we could easily live another 20 or 30 years -- all without a paycheck. We will inevitably go through a financial crisis or two, perhaps another bout of inflation. The purchasing power of a pension that looks good today could dwindle if inflation returns. Ask your parents who lived through the 1970s and ‘80s. So we should make sure that our investments are diversified, and if possible that our income derives from several sources -- Social Security, pension, savings, working, whatever -- so if one source runs into trouble the others will pick up the slack.

     2. Or ignore our health. This is right in front of our eyes . . . but sometimes we don’t see it. As we get older, our bodies become less tolerant of injury and more susceptible to disease. An injury we could recover from in two weeks when we were in our 30s now takes two months . . . or it may never fully heal at all. So we should get our checkups, eat right, sleep well, avoid stressful situations, get our exercise. But let's not be foolhardy. Walk or hike, play tennis or golf; don’t go skiing or skateboarding or skydiving unless you really know what you’re doing.

     3. We can't afford not to downsize. We may like our suburban house with its backyard, and there are probably sentimental memories attached to it as well. But we are getting older and less able to clean and maintain and improve a big three-or-four-bedroom house, especially if it’s showing its age and may need a new roof and new windows. We don’t want to end up like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations – rattling around in a big old white elephant that’s falling down around our feet.

     4. Or not to plan ahead. Retirement is not a destination; it’s a starting point. We may have planned out our retirement lifestyle and think that all those decisions have been made. But life goes on. Maybe you now need to account for your creaky knees or painful hip, and live in a place with a bedroom on the first floor. Maybe your divorced daughter will come back to live with you – or perhaps there’s a grandchild in your family now. Our job is to look ahead, as best we can, and set ourselves up for the most likely possibilities, and then still be able to adapt to new situations.

     5. We can’t afford to lose our friends. Many older people are lonely. They’ve lost some friends; others have moved away; the kids are halfway across the country. So we can't just plan where we’re going to live and what we’re going to do. We have to figure out who we’re going to do it with. B and I moved away from our old hometown, in part because our old friends were drifting apart for one reason or another. Now we've moved to a new town, and we're trying to take the advice of B's older brother who relocated about ten years ago. He told us: Say yes to everything -- to every invitation, every activity -- and eventually you'll find a new and hopefully supportive group of friends. We're still working on it. But we are invited to a Christmas party hosted by one of my new golfing buddies, so we're making progress.

     6. Or take our family for granted. Our kids, or our siblings, may have been around so long that we just assume they will always be there for us. But no law says they can’t move away for a job or a new lifestyle. We need to make an effort to stay connected to our families -- which, in our case, means driving a thousand miles up and down the East Coast, and taking an occasional trip on American Airlines to see the West Coast branch of the family. So before any of us retires to Hawaii or Key West, or possibly another country, we need to think about how we're going to stay in touch with our family. And as B and I are beginning to find out now -- you can never underestimate the pull of grandchildren. For, as I discussed in my last post, we all have the cutest grandchildren in the world!

Friday, December 14, 2018

What Do We Lie About?

     B had cataract surgery the other day. She's fine. But I think she's still suffering a little bit from the sedative they gave her. And I have a cold, so I'm a little disoriented not only from the bugs running around in my body, but also from the DayQuil, NyQuil, cough drops, vitamin C, echinacea and other pills and potions I'm consuming.

     So we're both a little loopy. Other than that, I don't know how the topic came up, but over dinner we were trying to list the things that people lie about the most.

     My top three were:

     How much sex you have (and how good it was). Well, you can lie to your friends, but you can't lie to your spouse, at least not about the quantity.

     How much money you win at gambling. More on that in a minute.

     And how long your commute really is. I had several different jobs during my career, but the one I held the longest involved an eight-minute commute. I didn't have to lie about my commute. But when I took the train to the city, involving a 39-minute ride on the express train, everyone in town said their commute was, oh, 40 or 45 minutes. But you have to get to the train, wait for the train, and then get to the office after you get off the train. Believe me, it took at least an hour. And that doesn't count the times you missed the express and had to take the local, or the train was late due to weather, mechanical problems or just plain incompetency in the ranks of conductors, engineers or paper pushers. And don't even get me started on people who drive to work and the traffic problems they encounter but fail to account for. Everyone believes that their commute to work is shorter than it really is.

     Now I remember how the topic came up. We were at a wedding and meeting up with a lot of old friends, catching up on what they are doing. But we didn't find out what her son's friend Robbie is doing. Later, however, B talked to her son, and found out that what he is doing is ... day trading.

     Trying to make a living day trading? Otherwise known as gambling? Was he kidding?

     But my brother-in-law also does some day trading. He's been doing it for years. According to him, he just does small-time stuff. Acts on a tip now and then. And he makes, "Oh, I dunno, maybe a few thousand dollars a year."

     I once asked his wife, my sister, about this. Her response? Yeah, he loses about five thousand dollars a year. But I don't let it worry me. It gives him something to do, keeps him out of trouble, and it costs less than taking a two-week vacation, which we hardly ever do anymore.

     Which reminded me of the time I went to the track with some friends. One of the guys professed to be an expert in betting at the track. He knew the horses, he knew the odds, he knew how the whole thing worked.

     So everyone in our party gave him $50. He would be in charge of the betting. We saw maybe four or five races, I forget exactly. I believe one of our horses came in, but most of them were in the back of the pack. At the end of the day our friend gave us each $28. "See," he said. "We each won twenty eight dollars!"

     I don't know if he was lying to us, or if he was lying to himself. Or if he was just kidding. But see what I mean about the lying?

     Meanwhile, B's top three lies were:

     How much money you spent at the mall. This may be lying to your spouse to avoid an argument. Or, it could be lying to yourself, so you don't feel so bad.

     How great a time you had on vacation. Especially with facebook, nobody will admit, even to themselves, that they've just spent a fortune going to Europe or Hawaii or the beach or the mountains and didn't have good time. They remember the sunny days and the gorgeous sights, but not the delays at the airport, the overheated hotel room, the strange stomach bug they picked up, or the time they got ripped off by a vendor.

     How cute your grandchildren are. Every grandparent thinks their grandchild is the cutest. They can't all be right, can they?

     Although I remember when I had my own daughter. The nurse brought me to the nursery to show me my little girl -- this was back in the days when they did it that way. There were eight or ten babies in the nursery. But the nurse didn't have to tell me which one was mine -- because I could see that my little girl was the cutest baby in the nursery.

     Later, I saw my wife, and she asked me if I'd seen the baby. And I told her, yes, I'd seen her and she was the cutest, the prettiest baby in the nursery, and probably the smartest too. There was a different nurse in the room at the time, and I heard her chuckle and mumble under her breath, "Yeah, all the dads say that."

     I heard her, and so I looked over at the nurse and then at my wife, lying there in bed with a big grin on her face, and I said to the woman, "You're correct. All the dads do say that. But, you know, one of those dads is right. And I'm the dad who is right -- our daughter is the cutest baby in the nursery."

     Lies? What lies?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Christmas Lights

     We went over to Peddler's Village the other night to have dinner and see the lights.

     Peddler's Village is a collection of shops and restaurants housed in charming old-style colonial buildings.

     It's an outdoor mall, really, but the shops are arranged around a kind of village green, with a brook running through it, and they are connected by a series of winding brick paths.

     The shops feature clothes, household goods, arts and crafts, kick knacks, tchotchkes, Christmas ornaments and decorations of all sorts.

     Yes, it appeals to tourists, from all over. Well, all over this area. People come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, a few from New York. You always see a few buses in the parking lot, bringing people in from senior-living facilities, women's clubs, community centers.

     My favorite store is Knobs 'n Knockers which focuses almost exclusively on cabinet hardware, doorknobs, towel racks, weathervanes, mailboxes -- and yes, door knockers, some costing as much as $200. They're nice, but would you pay $200 for a door knocker?

     I wouldn't. But, hey, it's free to walk around and enjoy the lights and soak up the Christmas spirit.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Fist Fight

     My dad grew up in an immigrant family. His mother and father came from Austro-Hungary in the 1890s. I never met my grandfather -- he died before I was born -- but my grandmother was a fierce woman who spoke only broken English, but was bound and determined that her children would grow up and succeed in this new country.

     We called her Grammy, and I only knew her as a fat old lady. But in her day she must have been a proud woman. She and my grandfather bought a house sometime around 1910. It was a two-family rowhouse, in the ethnic neighborhood of an old industrial city in New England, but still, it was a house. And she was proud that she was heavy -- it meant she could afford to eat!

     She had seven children altogether. Uncle Johnny was the oldest surviving boy (the first son died in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic), and he must have been smart, although I remember him more as being aggressive and pugnacious. My dad was the next son. He was more reserved and studious. Grammy used to tease him because he was ranked 2nd in his high school class . . . and he was beaten by a girl!

     But somehow, through luck or persistence, or maybe a kind of early affirmative action, my Uncle Johnny got a scholarship to the nearby Ivy League college, and went on to become a lawyer. My father followed in his footsteps. They both bought nice houses in the suburbs, had healthy families, and went on to send their children to good colleges.

      But the third son had a rougher time of it. He'd suffered from polio, and he had diabetes and probably some other ailments as well. He went to a community college in New Jersey and became a teacher, back in the days when teachers made no money. He and his wife had a side business restoring antiques, just to help make ends meet. Uncle Fred walked with a cane, and his face was creased with long, deep furrows.

     Uncle Fred lived on a dirt road with his wife and son. When we went to visit them in the summer the kids would go swimming in a nearby creek, with an old tire on a rope so we could swing out into the water. It was a lot of fun.

     Fun for me. But Uncle Fred held some resentments. The whole family used to get together at my aunt's house in rural Connecticut a couple of times a year. So this incident happened over Easter. I think it was 1965.

     I was in high school, just beginning to get tired of going to the family get-togethers. And a little embarrassed, too. I lived a suburban white kid's life where everyone lived in nice houses with green patches of lawn. The men donned suits to go to work, the women wore dresses, and everyone was polite and proper. But my father's family still had some rough edges. They drank and got loud and talked in the strange mixed language of my grandmother.

Uncle Johnny (left) and my dad, c. 1940
     My grandmother was the roughest of them all, ordering her sons around, telling them what to do. My own mother did not like Grammy. "She never thought any woman was good enough for her precious sons," she said with some bitterness.

     So it was that year that Uncle Johnny's son, my cousin, flunked out of college. And not just any college. He flunked out of his father's Ivy League college.

     So we were all sitting on the stoop outside my aunt's house. Uncle Johnny looked over at his younger brother, Uncle Fred. Maybe Fred could help out, he thought, maybe Fred could use some influence and get his son into his no-name college in New Jersey for a semester or two, until his son got back in good graces with his fancy Ivy League school. At least his son would be somewhere in college, not hanging around home causing trouble.

     I'm sure Uncle Johnny was just trying to be a good dad. But Uncle Fred bristled at the idea. "Are you kidding?" he snarled at his older brother. "Where I work, where I went to school . . . it was never good enough for you. But now your kid gets in trouble, and you come crawling to me for help? Where were you when I needed a little help?"

     "Oh, you're full of crap," Uncle Johnny shot back. "I helped you for years. Gave you money to get that house of yours built. Now I'm asking for a little favor. Just put in a good word. He needs to go to school. No skin off your neck."

     Uncle Fred put down his drink and stood up. "You got a lotta nerve. . ."

     Uncle Johnny stood up and faced him. Looked him hard in the eyes, challenging him. Uncle Fred took a step forward. Then he pushed Uncle Johnny back so he stumbled on the step. Johnny turned and bent over, thrusting his arms out to catch himself on the concrete step. Then he whipped around and lunged at Uncle Fred, throwing punches to his body and tackling him to the ground.

     Uncle Fred rolled over, got on top and was landing some blows -- even though he was handicapped he was still ten years younger. But then Grammy banged out of the front door. She stood imperiously on the front porch, looking down at them and yelling to stop.

     My two uncles obeyed immediately. They got up and dusted themselves off. Uncle Fred labored up the steps and went into the house. Uncle Johnny's hand was bleeding, scraped on the concrete stairs when he fell on the porch. He laughed it off, sneering, "Oh, gripes, he'll never learn." He picked up his drink, took a swig and looked around at four or five of us kids, sitting slack-jawed on side of the driveway. We thought only kids fought; we didn't know that adults could fight as well.

     "Come on, get the baseball, let's go play some catch," Uncle Johnny said.

     By the end of the day everything was back to normal. My uncles were slapping each other on the back, laughing and apologizing. "Nevermind." "Don't worry about it." "No hard feelings." We then herded into our cars and started on the trip home.

     As you might have guessed, Uncle Johnny's son never went to school in New Jersey. Instead, he went into the military. He learned to fly airplanes and eventually went back to college, got his degree and became a computer analyst. Now he's retired in upstate New York and likes to ride motorcycles. Me? I still live in the suburbs.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

So the Holidays Begin

     I have a terrible confession to make. I hate Thanksgiving. All you do is sit around and overeat and watch football ... and I'm not a football fan. To add insult to injury, you often have to withstand the perils and pitfalls of traveling on some of the busiest days of the year, fighting traffic and airport lines and surly crowds.

     And then you're supposed to go shopping? I don't think so!

     Maybe it goes back to my childhood. Thanksgiving was a too-short holiday just before you had to start studying for exams or write the papers you'd been putting off for weeks. And then it's cold. And there are no decorations. No presents. And if your family is getting together, there's no doubt someone will have too much to drink and embarrass everyone.

     I remember one Thanksgiving when my two uncles got into a fistfight. But that's a story for another post (and that's what we call a tease).

     But thankfully, other people have a much better outlook. For example, Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving365 says, "I doubt it is a surprise ... that one of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving." So this week she offers 10 Favorite Gratitude Quotes and Why They Matter. My favorite is the quote from Oprah Winfrey, but you may decide another one is even more telling in these tenuous times.

     Still, before you conclude that I'm an old curmudgeon, let me tell you ... I love Christmas!

     As I sit here at my desk, I'm noticing my neighbors across the street have put up Christmas lights that sparkle all along the bushes in front of their house, and a brightly lit Santa Claus stands happily on the front porch. I'll be putting out my Christmas lights in a few days -- nothing fancy, just a string of lights outlining the garage, but a cheery antidote to the dark December nights.

    Anyway, if you're having a tough time getting through the holidays, or for any other reason, you might want to check out Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit. She says that when tough times hit, it's only natural to try to find a way out of them. But what if the way out is actually found by going within? So take a deep breath and spirit your way over to Find the Way In.

     Meryl Baer has a good attitude about it all -- or at least a sense of humor. She spent Thanksgiving with family in Florida. The trip involved a flight to Florida and a return trip five days later. She points out that air travel is not necessarily pleasant these days (understatement!), but as an optimist Baer tries to see the positives in The Upside of Air Travel, while also being grounded in reality as she revisits the flight home in The Downside of Air Travel.

     If you do decide to brave the stores -- or the internet -- for some timely Christmas shopping, Rita Robison on the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers a list of the Top 10 Stores for Cyber Monday Shopping. When cyber shopping, she advises, be sure to compare prices, find out about return policies and use only secure websites.

     Meanwhile, Laura Lee Carter was curious about Black Friday. Check out her post Where Did the Term "Black Friday" Come From if you want the true story of this (somewhat) special day.

     Of course, if you're in sunny, balmy Los Angeles, you might have a whole different approach to the holidays. Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com has put together a list of Best Los Angeles Holiday Events, just in case you're in the area anytime between now and New Year's Eve. Even though there isn't any snow, she says, there is plenty of fun to be had.

     And finally, in the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to leave you with a laugh. So we turn to Jennifer of Unfold and Begin who is a big proponent of laughter. She feels that it keeps you young, and recently learned that it's helpful and has a positive effect on you during times of adversity. Find out more at Learn to Laugh at Trouble.

     Which reminds me . . . what kind of music did the Pilgrims like? Plymouth rock. Okay, okay, if the Pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for? Their AGE. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Driving Home the Point

     I just drove home from South Carolina, via Raleigh, NC, which is about a 750-mile haul. The northern part of the trip routes along I95 through Richmond, Washington and Baltimore. Thankfully, I survived the journey . . . sometimes I wondered if I would.

     Last year 37,133 people lost their lives on the roads of America. This is actually down a little bit from the 37,806 fatalities in 2016, but otherwise it's higher than anytime in the last ten years.

     We are all appropriately horrified when we hear about the 79 people (at last count) who lost their lives last week in California's Camp Fire. But in that same week over 700 Americans were killed in car accidents.

     Despite whatever horrors we hear about in the news -- Iraq, Afghanistan, hurricanes, fires, gang violence, mass shootings -- many more people die on our roads, day in day out, week after week, year after year. The fact is, the most immediate and deadly danger you face is right there in front of you -- the much more familiar threat of a deadly car accident.

     So perhaps our political outrage should not be directed at the Russians, the Chinese or the terrorists, or the Democrats, Republicans or the "crooks" in Washington. It should be directed at the high degree of lawlessness on American roads. People routinely drive 10, 15, even 20 miles over the speed limit. And as I so recently witnessed, a significant portion of drivers tailgate, pass on the right, weave in and out of traffic, change lanes without signaling. And god only knows how many are doing all this while they're munching on some cookies or fiddling with their iPhone.

     According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the top three reasons for car accidents are: inattentiveness, speeding, and tailgating.

     Inattentiveness can be caused by texting or eating while driving. But the main cause of inattentiveness is fatigue. Nearly half of drivers admitted to driving while drowsy, and two out of every ten drivers admitted they had fallen asleep while driving! Inattentiveness also comes from drivers being emotionally disturbed, sometimes exacerbated by perfectly legal substances like nicotine, caffeine or prescription medications.

     Also, when you change drivers, do you check the mirrors? And do you regularly clean your windshield -- both outside and inside? A dirty windshield or misaligned mirror can cause driver distraction.

     As far as tailgating goes, you're supposed to adhere to the two-second rule when following another vehicle, meaning you travel far enough behind the car in front so it takes two seconds to catch up. So obviously, the faster you go, the more space you need to leave. You should increase your following space to three seconds if it's foggy, raining or snowing, or if you're following a tractor trailer.

     You shouldn't drive side by side to another vehicle, either, for pretty much the same reason -- no room for error. If cars are side by side and a driver decides to change lanes, there is no room to maneuver and no time to do it. So word of caution: When merging or changing lanes, always use your turn signal, and don't rely on your mirrors alone -- look quickly to the side to make sure your blind spot is clear. And by the way, as a defensive measure, do not drive in someone else's blind spot.

     As far as speeding goes, if you're interested in saving gas -- and the planet -- remember that the typical car gets the best gas mileage at 45 to 55 mph. Once you hit 60 mph and beyond, gas mileage deteriorates. So at 70 mph, for example, you're getting 15 - 20% fewer miles per gallon than you are at 50 or 55 mph.

     The crucial safety issue with speeding is that it cuts your reaction time if something goes wrong. At 55 mph, by the time you recognize a problem, react and brake, it will take about six seconds and 100 yards to stop. At 70 mph, it will take the same six seconds, but at that faster speed you've gone 150 yards -- or 50 more yards to run into something or someone.

     There's another reason why speeding is so deadly. What causes injury and death is the force of impact against the human body, which is in direct proportion to the weight of a vehicle (which is why all other things being equal (which they rarely are) a heavier car is safer than a lighter vehicle). But the force of impact has a squared relationship with speed, which is why, no matter how equal or unequal everything else is, you're a lot more likely to suffer severe injury or death at 70 mph than you are at 55 or 60 mph.

     Why otherwise law-abiding people ignore traffic laws is beyond me -- except maybe, most of the time, they get away with it. People rarely get a ticket, and when they do the policeman usually drops it down to a lesser offense. There's no downside to breaking the traffic law . . . until there is.

     But no matter how much of a hurry you're in, keep this is mind. According to traffic experts, on a 10-mile trip with a speed limit of 45 mph, going 60 should theoretically save you about 3 minutes. However, if there are lights, which are often timed to match speed limits, the speeding driver ends up getting caught in more red lights, and perhaps more traffic as well.

     The speeder ends up saving less than 1 minute on the trip, even though they're going 15 mph over the limit. Is this really worth the gamble -- one minute against your life?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Discovering the Lost Cause

     A few years ago my daughter transplanted to Raleigh, NC, where on May 20, 1861, state representatives voted to secede from the Union. Meanwhile, I recently moved to Pennsylvania, near a number of historic sites memorializing the Underground Railroad -- including Oakdale in Chadd's Ford, the first stop north of the Delaware line on the pre-war journey to freedom.

     So my daughter and I have become interested in the Civil War (even though we do not have ancestors who were involved in any way). We're not experts, believe me, but we visited the Petersburg, VA, battle sites, and we have both read a number of books and taken a few classes.

     A couple of weeks ago, while my daughter was in New Orleans, she stopped in to see the Louisiana Civil War Museum. She was disappointed, however, because it isn't really a museum of the Civil War. It is a museum of the Confederacy. It displays Confederate uniforms, weapons, documents, memorabilia -- and virtually nothing about the cause of the war or the experience of the black population.

     For my own trip south, my daughter gave me a book called Denmark Vesey's Garden by Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts. Denmark Vesey was a free black man who led a slave rebellion in Charleston, SC, in 1822. The rebellion failed before it even got started, and Vesey and more than 30 co-conspirators were swiftly tried, convicted and executed.

     The book is not about the rebellion itself. It's about the legacy of slavery, and how the Lost Cause movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries molded our view of history -- and to this day influences our understanding of the Civil War and the South.

     We know that African Americans were freed in the Civil War and soon after were able to take part in civil affairs. By the end of the 1860s South Carolina had a black majority in its state legislature.

     However, in 1877 when the government removed federal troops, the white planter and commercial interests took back power. Reconstruction was over, and a series of Jim Crow laws segregated the South for another hundred years -- and one could argue that much of the South, as well as the rest of the country, is still segregated today.

Charleston's Confederate Museum
     But the point of the book is that along with taking over the government, the white power class hijacked the history of the South and of slavery itself -- and thus was born the myth of the Lost Cause.

     The Lost Cause presented the Civil War as a battle between the underdog South and the much larger North, for states rights and the preservation of the traditional Southern way of life. Slavery was rarely mentioned, and when it was, it was blamed on the North, since most slaving ships came from New England. Besides, this version went, even some blacks themselves had slaves, and plantation owners were paternalistic and supported African Americans with room and board and everything else.

     For a long time, up until the 1960s and into the 1970s -- and even in certain respects up until today -- the history of Charleston, and the South in general, was told by white Southern families. Historical sites mostly included Confederate statues and historical homes once owned by wealthy planters and traders. As tourism became a bigger industry in the 1900s, the picture presented to visitors from the North and elsewhere was a Gone with the Wind version of the South.

     Even today, the tallest statue in Charleston shows slaveholder and secessionist John C. Calhoun towering over Marion Square, which itself is named after another slave owner, Revolutionary war general Francis Marion. The Confederate Museum stands at one end of the historic old Central Market. And like the Louisiana Civil War Museum, it focuses on the Confederate army and the Confederate cause.

     The Charleston museum is owned and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which makes a point of denouncing hate groups, but affirms that "Confederate memorial statues and monuments are part of our shared American story and should remain in place." So you can take that for what you will.

The Old Slave Mart Museum
     Since the 1970s the African-American side of the story has slowly emerged from the mists of time, both in Charleston and around the rest of the South. The Old Slave Mart in Charleston was purchased by the government and reopened in 2007 to focus on the city's role in the domestic slave trade, and present a more realistic view of slavery. In 2014 a statue of Denmark Vesey was erected in Charleston's Hampton Park to commemorate his resistance to the slavery laws. And an International African American Museum is scheduled to open in 2020, built on the waterfront where "more enslaved African captives arrived in the U. S. and were sold than any other location."

     Tourism is Charleston's biggest industry. As a tourist, I'll appreciate getting the full story of South Carolina's history, not just the antiseptic version that was created to make Southerners and white tourists feel better about themselves.

     As Kytle and Roberts conclude, we should not be held responsible for the moral failings of our European ancestors, nor should Americans today feel guilty for the sin of slavery. But getting the past right and remembering slavery honestly will inform our approach to race and inequality today. This honesty can help us understand the people whose ancestors felt the pain of the whip and the shame of servitude, and make us appreciate the resiliency of those who for generations have fought for freedom and equality.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Which One Would You Choose?

     B and I are spending two weeks on the beach outside Charleston, SC, as we have been doing once in the fall and again in February every year for the past few years. We like Charleston; we like the warmer weather; but most of all we like seeing our son and his wife and the grandson.

     But they're working and going to school and taking care of a baby, so while we do hang out at his house, and also host them out at the beach in our rental, we also find some things to do on our own.

     Yesterday we drove into Charleston and made a stop at Kaminsky's, a locally famous dessert place. It's located across the street from the historic city market, a several-block-long, open-air space that offers art, jewelry, clothes, all sorts of tourist trinkets and also the famous handmade sweetgrass baskets.

     At Kaminsky's I ordered the traditional butterscotch sundae.

     B had the brownie sundae.

     Which one would you go for?

     In case you ever find yourself in Charleston, I also heartily recommend 167 Raw, a fish restaurant featuring oysters, shrimp and all kinds of delectables from the sea. You can see it's crowded, even in the middle of the day. We went there last time we were here; we're planning to go again. We found out 167 is part of a restaurant chain . . .  kind of. There's one other one, on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.

    We took a tour around Charleston harbor to see the city from the water, including Fort Sumter where the Civil War started.

     It's hard to miss the Ravenel bridge, which dominates the Charleston skyline. It opened in 2005 and leads to the suburb of Mount Pleasant and beyond to Myrtle Beach and eventually North Carolina.

     This view, from under the bridge, looks toward downtown Charleston.

     The end of the day found us back at the beach, looking for the sunset. It was a little too cloudy for any spectacular fireworks. But, for us anyway, the sky and the sea never disappoint.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

What a Difference a Day Makes

     I was going to write a heartfelt post, this weekend ahead of election day, about how despite all our differences, both Democratic or Republican, liberal and conservative, we should try to understand one another, and respect each other even though we disagree, and not demonize one another by hurling insults and calling other people names -- and how we should all acknowledge that we need to put country above party, unity above divisiveness, etc., etc.

     And then I thought: Nobody wants to hear that. It's like listening to your mother tell you to eat your vegetables. We all know we should. But either we eat our vegetables or we don't. Having someone hector you about it isn't going to change anything.

     But if you're discouraged about our seemingly irreconcilable differences, perhaps you can take heart in this Oct. 31 piece by Michael Smerconish about how Congress Is Out of Step with the Rest of Us. Perhaps we're not so divided after all.

     Anyway, to the point of this post. Yesterday, this was my view of a tree on our street at home.

     But today -- because I'm retired, and because I can -- this is the view I have outside the back of the house we're renting for the next two weeks. And we got a reasonable price, because we're out of season.

     Sometimes it's good to get away. I sent in my absentee ballot a week ago. I did my civic duty. And now I can enjoy a little peace and quiet, like a retired person should, far away from the maddening crowd.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

While the Wife's Away ...

     B's mother and sister live about an hour and a half west of us. It's just far enough so we really don't like to go for the day, although we've done that a few times. We usually go overnight, or sometimes for two or three nights. Sometimes we stay with her sister; sometimes we pony up for the bed & breakfast located halfway between her sister's house and the assisted-living facility where her mother lives.

     Sometimes B and I go together. But this time she's visiting by herself, and I am home alone.

     I love B dearly. But, you know, in any relationship there are lots of little compromises. So I like being home by myself. I get to do what I want, instead of what we want.

     Since B likes to have all her stuff around her, and I'm the neat one in the family, the first thing I do is go around the house and tidy up. I put all the dishes are in the dishwasher and clean off the kitchen counter. I take her clothes off the bed or the living room chair, fold them up and put them on her dresser. I gather the Sunday paper and the old magazines and catalogs and toss them in the recycling bin. Now I can finally see the top of the coffee table.

     But there is at least one lapse in my tidying up. It's my job to make the bed, partly because B usually gets up before I do (except on golf days). Besides, making the bed is a habit of mine leftover from summers at Boy Scout camp. I never made much of a Boy Scout, but one thing I did learn was how to make a bed. (Yes, the camp counselors did bounce a quarter on the bedspread to make sure it was tight.)

     So pretty much every morning of my life, I make the bed -- except when B is away. Then, who cares? Nobody else is around. You see ... it's a little bit of a vacation.

     When I'm on my own, and only answering to myself, I can do whatever I want. I could drink beer or stay up late if I wanted, although I don't do either of those things. But I still have the opportunity to indulge my bad habits. And the only reason I give myself license to do that is because I know when B gets back, I'll have to stop.

     So, normally, B cooks dinner for us almost every night. She's a good cook and always includes a vegetable or two. This is good for me. I know it, and appreciate it. But when B is away, I sometimes go to Panera's, with free refills of Pepsi -- and dessert only costs an extra dollar. Or I get a couple of slices of pizza, with . . . well, what do you know, free refills of Coke.

     The other night I went to our local grocery store that puts out a spread every day, like a cafeteria. I had peppers and sausage, mashed potatoes, and some macaroni and cheese. Then a berry tart for dessert. While I was there I bought some Halloween candy. And when I got home, I tried it out. Just one piece. Well ... two pieces, but they were very small.

     I should also admit that I spend more time watching TV when B is away. It's easy to plop down in front of the TV when I'm eating breakfast. Or it's 4:30 p.m. and I'm home and it's not time for dinner yet, so I flip on the set and see what's going on. Maybe I catch an old Seinfeld rerun or just mindlessly watch the weather or one of the cable news shows.

     At night I'll watch something on Netflix. I'm currently in the middle of "Moneyheist", a Spanish crime drama recommended to me by a friend. It's okay, but the dubbing is terrible and the plot is slow-moving at times.

     Of course, I do my regular activities while B is away. This week I tutored English on Monday at the library, and on Tuesday I went to the dentist. On Wednesday I ran errands. After B gets back from visiting her family, we're leaving for Charleston, SC, so I'm paying bills, returning books to the library, going to the bank, stopping off at the post office. I even went to the YMCA to do my exercises.

     So I'm not totally playing hooky from life. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, for the most part. But I will admit, on the way home from the Y, I stopped at our local ice-cream emporium. The butterscotch sundae is one of my many weaknesses.

     B is due back later today. It's a good thing. I'm okay by myself for a couple of days. But after that, my stomach begins to act up, the kitchen counter looks barren and empty, and the coffee table seems bare and abandoned. Besides, I get tired of my own company. It gets pretty lonely around here.

     Speaking of which . . . I better go make that bed.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Dark Side

     My wife B is just the sweetest, nicest, most innocent person you could imagine. She's friendly, with a sunny disposition, and always thinks the best of everyone. But then as October rolls around and the weather turns cooler, and the nights grow longer, she goes and arranges this display in front of our house.

     Just goes to show you. There's a dark side to everyone. But she is not the only one in town who finds herself seduced by the Halloween spirit. Down the street we have a ghost hanging from the front porch.

     And a little farther along the spiders have been at work.

     A lone watch-skeleton stands guard at this house . . .

     While it seems some rather strange entities are having a party in this neighborhood.

     Perhaps it's a wake for this poor person . . .

     But not all is scary this October. B put up a pretty wreath on the fence gate in our side yard.

     And look at this display. No ghouls or goblins at this house. These people live on the sunny side of the street.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sign of the Times

     Yesterday, B and I attended a public debate between our two candidates for the U. S. House of Representatives. The incumbent, a Republican, is Brian Fitzpatrick, a freshman Congressman running for re-election. His Democratic challenger, Scott Wallace, is from an old political family (his grandfather, Henry A. Wallace, was vice president under FDR from 1941 - 1945), but is himself new to elective politics.

     There's good news and bad news. I'll tell you the bad news first -- or at least it's a bad sign, in my opinion. As we walked into the auditorium at our local university, the ushers handed out flyers to everyone entering the building. These flyers did not offer biographies of the candidates, or summarize their positions.

     Instead, they were a warning to the audience:  "Respect the candidates by refraining from interfering with the program . . . Refrain from standing up, raising signs or creating other distractions. Refrain from applauding or demonstrating support or nonsupport for a candidate . . . If you do not adhere to these rules you will be asked to leave today's event."

     Maybe some people will think this message infringes on our free-speech rights. But I take it as a sign of the times . . . that we the public can't be trusted to behave in a responsible manner, and even as adults we have to be admonished to act civilly and respectfully to other people.

     Even so, during the debate there were several outbursts of applause, for both candidates. The Democrat got a couple of "unauthorized" rounds of applause when he went after Donald Trump. The Republican got one when he made an impassioned call for bipartisanship.

     Several times the moderators -- a man from the Chamber of Commerce and a woman from the League of Women Voters -- had to ask the audience to quiet down. But there were no signs, there was no shouting from the back of the room, and nobody had to be escorted from the building.

     I will admit that my opinion of Congress, in general, is pretty low. How can it not be if you read or watch the news on even an occasional basis? So my expectations were low. But both B and I came away with the impression that these candidates were good, responsible people, both showing good intentions and espousing good government.

     Maybe it's because we live in a swing district, in a swing state, but both candidates went out of their way to decry the ultra-partisanship in Washington. Both pledged to try to work in a bipartisan manner, to reach across the aisle and try to find common solutions for our country's problems.

     There were some differences. But they weren't extreme. The Republican is an ex-FBI agent who made a point of emphasizing that he's a member of a bipartisan caucus in the House, with 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats, who are trying to agree on solutions and offer legislation to solve our problems. It's called the Problem Solver Caucus. He realizes that 48 representatives, out of 435, is not a majority. But he hopes that the caucus will expand over time and develop into a serious power in the legislative process.

     And then the Republican went on to call his opponent a liar. So . . . while I like the idea of bipartisanship, I'm not sure I'm buying it entirely. The Democrat charged that the Republican wants to cut funds for Social Security and Medicare. But Fitzpatrick said that was a lie, that he has no plan and no intention of cutting Social Security.

     Wallace is a wealthy lawyer who apparently inherited a chemical company fortune, and has spent a good part of his career running his family's non-profit foundation. When he rose to criticize the Trump tax bill as a giveaway to the 1 percent, which Fitzpatrick voted for, the Republican countered that his opponent is a part of the 1 percent, and would most likely pay more tax under the new bill than the old tax law. The Republican challenged his opponent to release his tax returns, which apparently the Democrat has refused to do.

     The Republican was unabashedly pro-growth. He insisted that the corporate tax cut only brings the U. S. corporate rates more in line with other countries, and will allow U . S. companies to compete better on the international stage. That, he claims, will lead to a better economy, more jobs, and more federal revenues.

     The Democrat claims that if we raised the corporate tax rate by just 1 percent, from the current 21 percent to 22 percent (the new tax law brought the corporate rate down from 35 percent to 21 percent) we would have the money to solve the entire student debt problem that burdens our youth. He also recommended doing away with the ceiling on the payroll tax for Social Security, to shore up Social Security and Medicare, and so the rich will "pay their fair share."

   Both are in favor of some additional gun regulation. But the Republican skirted the issue of banning assault weapons, while the Democrat proposes installing bio-markers on guns so only the owners could shoot them. (That's the only way, he said, that the Newtown, CT, mass shooting could have been avoided).

     The Republican is in favor of term limits. The Democrat is not. However, the Democrat pledged that he would self-limit to three terms, if elected. Both say climate change is an important problem and both are in favor of green energy, but the Republican wants to shift to wind and solar over time, while the Democrat wants an Apollo-like program to switch to green energy right away.

    Both candidates are in favor of providing more financial support for education, infrastructure and the criminal justice system in order to rehabilitate and educate prisoners.

     Both candidates presented themselves as moderates. Is that I good thing? I think so. But I do remember, back in the 1990s, when members of Congress got along better than they do now, a lot of people criticized them for being too much alike. You could vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee. It didn't make much difference.

     But that was then. This is now. I'd be happy with either Tweedledum or Tweedledee, as long as they work together to solve some of our problems.

     Sure, there was political gobbledegook during the debate. And they did challenge each other, sometimes pointedly. But they both behaved in a civil and responsible manner -- more civil and responsible than the organizers feared that the audience would be. Which, maybe, is a good sign.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fall Course Catalog

     B and I are in the midst of our fall term at the Center for Learning and Retirement, held at our local university in Pennsylvania. So I'm in a classroom three times a week, twice as a student and once as a teacher.

     I know many of us are interested in pursuing our education, whether for profit, leisure or cultural enrichment -- whether we go to our local adult-education class, attend an OLLI course at a nearby university, or take off on an educational trip with Road Scholar.

     In that spirit, I offer you a list of opportunities from our blogging group's course catalog. See if you want to take a class on . . . 

     Fashion. Rebecca Olkowski in Flattering Clothing for Mature Women tries on a cascading vest and tee shirt from Covered Perfectly, a company that caters to women over 50. According to our expert the outfit is comfortable; it covers up middle age bellies; and it looks cute. I myself am no expert. But it looks good to me!

     Financial Analysis. Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting was tempted not by money, but by re-establishing a connection with long-lost relatives. So she took a risk and opened Spam Email in Another Language. What do you think she found? Go ahead (don't worry, you won't get spammed) and open up her link to find out.

     Health Insurance. Rita Robison reports on the increase in rates of people who don't have health insurance. Texas tops a list of states with the highest rate of uninsured, at 17.3%, and Massachusetts has the lowest at 2.8%. For a full report -- and to see how your state stacks up -- check out Uninsured Rates for Health Insurance on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide.

     Marriage. Stroll down the aisle to Kathy Gottberg's 7 Thoughts on Marriage and Relationships. As a relative newly wed myself, I found her advice both useful and relevant.

     Networking. Jennifer Koshak of Untold and Begin presents How to Get the Most Out of a Blogging Conference based on a recent conference she attended in Florida. She shares highlights from her experience, and offers tips on how to get the most out of any conference you attend, as well as ideas on how to find the conference that's perfect for you.

     Sociology. Laura Lee Carter, who has a master's degree in history, offers up some political analysis in Who Voted for Donald Trump: A Cohort Study. I wonder if you'd agree with her.

     Stress. Carol Cassara reminds us that stress can hit even in retirement, and suggests that we might not know as much about stress as we think. In How to Manage Stress she offers some perspective, plus a few tips on how to refocus your days in order to better manage your life.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Push and Pull of a Pet

     We have a dog, a mixed breed, mid-sized female who is getting on in years. She weighs about 60 pounds. B got her as a rescue from the North Shore Animal League in 2006. So now Sophie is 12 years old, with a cloud of white spreading around her nose, and a touch of arthritis in her legs.

     B's sister-in-law and her husband used to have two dogs. One died a couple of years ago, and the other died last year. They had dogs for most of their lives, but now for the past year or so they have been without a dog. They live near us, and so last spring we thought they might like to dog sit Sophie. They agreed, and took her into their home for two weeks while we were away.

     Then, when we were going to Cape Cod this summer, we asked them if they'd like to dog sit Sophie again. But they begged off, making an excuse.

A camera shy Sophie
     Later, B's sister-in-law confided that having Sophie around made her husband sad. She reminded him of how much he missed their old dogs. He really didn't think he could handle dog sitting Sophie again.

     We saw them again last month at a family get-together, and I got talking with him about dogs. His daughter has a mixed-breed dog, and his son has two standard poodles. And then he reflected that he'd had dogs all his life, until recently. But he didn't think they would get another one.

     Why not? I asked.

     I'm 68 years old, he told me, and getting a dog is a long-term commitment. Sure, I'd like to have a dog now. But I don't know if I'd be able to handle the responsibility in six or eight or ten years. And, you know, I'd hate to be in that position -- having to find someone else to take my dog. And giving up a dog at that point would be really hard for me.

     My first reaction was that he was borrowing trouble -- worrying about something that might happen in the distant future, and missing out on all the things a pet brings into your life in the meantime.

     Or maybe he and his wife were just tired of having a dog tie them down -- and he couldn't admit it. Their kids are grown. They are retired. Maybe they want the freedom to travel, or the freedom from having to train and walk and take care of a pet.

     Then just last week I found out my former brother-in-law John (my ex-wife's brother) just got a new German shepherd. He, too, has owned dogs for most of his life -- as well as a couple of cats, and he once had a parrot as well. He's now divorced and lives on his own.

     John is 71, or three years older than my brother-in-law. And he suffers from multiple myeloma. He's been dealing with myeloma for a few years, and he is now stabilized, but his life expectancy has to be a lot less than my brother-in-law. But he has decided he can take on the responsibility for a new dog. I guess he feels that he can manage it. Or, maybe he just needs the companionship.

     There are many different reasons why someone wants a dog, or any pet for that matter. I have the best of both worlds. Since B got Sophie before we moved in together, she feels that Sophie is really her responsibility, and she does 80% of the upkeep. She feeds and walks her in the morning. She takes care of her medical issues. And she's the one who arranges for a pet sitter when we go away. All I do is feed her at night, and go out for a brief walk with B and Sophie in the evening.

     So I get all the benefits of having a dog, without the work. But if I ever found myself living alone, like John, I would probably get a dog of my own. I'd want the companionship. And I'd think that eight or ten years from now, my dog would take as much care of me as I would of him. (Many studies, including this one from Scientific Reports, show that dog owners enjoy health benefits and actually live longer than those who don't own pets.)

     I hate to think that one day we'll be without Sophie. But that will probably happen. Will we get a new dog at that point? Maybe we'll just downsize. My sister in Arizona has a Pomeranian that weighs in at about five pounds. He looks kinda cute!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Men Should Behave More Like Women

     This is the follow-up to my previous post about the problems of men in America today ... which I got to thinking about after my recent flu shot.

     But just so you know, my wife and I often go against type. I'm the one who stops and asks for directions, not her. I'm the one who goes to the doctor and gets my checkups, not her. And I'm the one taking a book discussion course at the senior center, with two other men and 18 women. Meanwhile, B is doing a technology course with mostly men and only a few women.

     So what's my point? I can't speak for B. But as for myself, I'm trying to behave more like a woman, simply because I believe it will help me live longer -- which at this stage of life is of more urgent concern than it was 20 or 30 years ago when ... you know, I was going to live forever.

     We all know that in general women live longer than men. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy for a male born in the United States today is about 76 years. For a female it's 81. Even before they're born, males are at risk. About 115 males are conceived for every 100 females. But on average only 104 of those males make it into the world, as 11 of them fail to survive until birth.

     A 2012 study from Australia suggested that mutations in DNA account for at least some of the difference between life expectancies. And it's not just in humans. The life expectancy of a male chimpanzee is 45 years, compared to 59 for the female. The average male mosquito lives a week, the female a month.

     The study supports what scientists have long known -- that at least some of the difference in longevity between men and women is in the genes. Natural selection favors reproduction over longevity, in essence using the body simply as a vehicle for passing on genes. Males have shorter lifespans because once they pass on their genes, they are disposable. Females are built to stick around to raise their young -- especially in species like humans who take many years to mature.

     A related theory suggests that males compete with one another for the attention of females. The male who proves his mettle by engaging in risky behaviors like hunting and fighting is more likely to attract the female and therefore pass on his genes -- at least, evolutionarily speaking. But unfortunately for males, the more risky the behavior, the shorter the lifespan.

     But scientists estimate than only about 30% of the variation in longevity can be attributed to genetics. The rest depends on environmental and societal factors -- your exposures and your behaviors. So what can we men do to increase their life expectancy?

     Take fewer risks. Men in their late teens and 20s go through a testosterone surge that tends to produce aggressive and risky behaviors. Young men drive too fast, don't wear their seatbelts; they fight and experiment with deadly weapons, and engage in risky sexual behavior (but I don't really want to go there -- that's a topic for another blog post, and one not written be me). Even today, this all leads to a higher death rate among young men, as more men than women die in accidents and homicides. And we all know that risky behavior doesn't always end when a man turns 30.

     Get a safer job. Traditionally, men took on dangerous jobs, from the military to mining, while women filled safer jobs such as teaching, nursing and child care. In modern times, dangerous jobs have become safer, and the gender gap is closing. Nevertheless, men still work most of the dangerous jobs in America, from fishermen to farmer, roofer to truck driver.

     Don't smoke or drink or take drugs. Men tend to party more than women, and it takes its toll on their health. Fortunately, this gender gap is shrinking, as over the last two decades men have smoked less and less. Unfortunately, the results are different for drugs.

     Eat a healthier diet. Men eat more meat, more high-fat snacks, more high-fructose corn syrup -- all leading to higher levels of cholesterol. A diet with more fruits and vegetables (which can reduce colon cancer) and less red meat (which reduces the risk of both cancer and heart disease) will help men improve their health and extend their life expectancy.

     Deal with your stress. Researchers once thought that men suffered more stress because of their demanding jobs. That may no longer be true, as women are working more, earning more and shouldering more financial responsibility for themselves and their families. But one thing is certain. Men internalize their stress, or deal with it in harmful ways, such as drinking or fighting. Men also have higher suicide rates than women. And stress plays an important role in heart disease. So it's crucial for men to find healthful outlets for stress through sports, counseling, meditating or support groups.

     Go to the doctor. A lot of men (but not me!) won't go to the doctor, no matter how much it hurts, out of a false sense of bravado. While it may not be necessary for young males to undergo an annual physical, older men should see a doctor regularly and make sure to keep up with preventive care, from monitoring cholesterol to screening for prostate and colon cancer.

     One last note. Women shouldn't take their longer life expectancy for granted. The gender gap has been closing. According to a report from the University of Washington, between 1989 and 2009, life expectancy increased by 4.6 years for men, but only 2.7 years for women. Let's hope that any further narrowing of the gap is not due to women acting more like men, but men behaving more like women.