"Believe what ya like. Think what ya like. You'll be judged for what you do."
-- Tim Minton, Eyrie

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Risky Business of Retirement

     It seems that retirement can be hazardous to our health -- both our physical and mental health.

     A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concluded that delaying retirement, by itself, reduces the five-year mortality rate for men in their early 60s by 32 percent. Delaying retirement also reduces the mortality rate for women, just not as much.

     So yes, women handle retirement better than men. But retirement can take its toll on anyone.

     One study from Ross Andel of the University of South Florida School of Aging followed a number of Australians over a 20-year period, starting in their 60s. The subjects were asked to remember random, unrelated words. The tests were repeated every four years. He found that people who were retired suffered greater memory loss compared to people of the same age who were still working.

     Of course, the explanation could be that healthier people with better memories tend to keep working, while those with health or mental problems go on to retire. But the answer is more likely that while we are working we face a series of challenges that keep us engaged. We solve problems, get some satisfaction from solving problems, perhaps feel like we've done something important. We take a guilt-free period of  relaxation (the weekend) and then go back to solve more problems. And solving problems keeps our minds in gear, keeps us sharp and focused.

     At least that's the theory put forth by Andel in his TED talk Is Retirement Bad for Your Brain?

     Another study looked at twins in Sweden who retired after age 50. They were followed for 20 years. The researchers found a significant decline in thinking speed after retirement. They also found a decline in verbal ability as well as spatial awareness.

Life is a gamble. Can you improve your odds?
     I retired in my mid-50s -- not voluntarily. So I should be a blathering idiot by now. However . . . I continued to do consulting and freelance work until just last year, as a part-time job. So maybe I'm not completely baked. Just half-baked.

     So what can we do about mental and physical decline after retirement? Andel suggests keeping active and engaged by participating in your family, doing some volunteer work, taking a course, finding an interesting hobby or a part-time job.

     My sister, who as the smart one in the family is a member of MENSA, plays a lot of bridge. It's a mentally taxing game that requires memory, tactics and intelligence. And studies have shown that there is a lower frequency of dementia among bridge players than non-players. 

     I have played a little bridge, but it's not really my game. B and I go dancing (at least in non-Covid times), and I've read that ballroom dancing helps us stay alert and alive. It provides some physical activity, social engagement and mental challenge -- you gotta remember those steps!

     Others say reading keeps our minds active and alert, as we're challenged by new ideas, new experiences -- or figuring out whodunnit in a mystery.

     B and I both takes classes at our retirement center. That helps us stay awake. During Covid I've been doing crossword puzzles. B has completed several jigsaw puzzles. I don't know if either of these really helps us stay sharp. But they've kept us busy.

     One person I know suggests adopting a puppy. Training a dog is a mental challenge by itself; plus you stay active by doing more walking, and you may improve your social life by meeting new friends and neighbors. 

      Any number of psychological studies have found that successful aging is linked to living a happy and productive life. As someone once said: Anyone who limits his vision to memories of yesterday is already dead. 

     So what do you do to stay sharp, to provide the sense of accomplishment you had when you were working or raising kids?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Rebirth or Regret?

      This spring brings rebirth in more ways than one. Yes, there are the daffodils and forsythia and other spring flowers, and the buds on the trees and the longer days and the warmer weather.

     But this year we are also coming out of the self-isolation brought on by Covid-19. Most of us have received our first vaccine, many our second. But hold on . . . not so fast.

     Despite the rollout of vaccines, the CDC is still reporting more than 60,000 new cases a day. Deaths are down below a thousand a day, for the first time since November, but the number of hospitalizations has leveled off. Some 40,000 Americans are currently in the hospital with Covid.

     Many states are lifting restrictions, which might explain why the majority are now showing increasing numbers of new cases. For example, Gov. Tom Wolf of my own state of Pennsylvania is increasing capacity for gyms and indoor dining to 75% -- despite the fact that case numbers for Pennsylvania, recently as low as 2,500 a day, are now back up above 4,000 a day.

     That's bad. But some states are worse. Michigan has gone from 1,200 cases a day to 6,000 cases a day. New York from 4,000 to 8,000 a day. New Jersey from 3,000 to 4,500.

     Still, we trust with vaccination comes the end of Covid. Over a hundred million Americans -- or a third of the population -- have received at least one shot. Some 60 million are fully vaccinated. And so some of us are making plans . . . not, we hope, prematurely.

     Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit asks: How are you reintegrating back into the post-Covid world? Is it Katie-bar-the-door? Or are you watchfully taking baby steps? In her post After Shelter in Place she offers her approach to travel, masks, indoor dining and other issues that will be facing us for the next few months and beyond.

      For her part, Rebecca Olkowski at BabyBoomster reports in Tiptoe Through the Tulips that she took a stroll through Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles to see some amazing spring flowers. She had to make a reservation, required for crowd control, and wear a mask, but she brought home some beautiful photos of the springtime displays -- and according to her smartphone, got in her steps as well!

     On the other side of the country Laurie Stone breathes a sigh of relief, realizing that Connecticut has survived another winter of storms, freezing cold, icicles, power outages and slippery roads. Like many of us, she thinks of spring as the real start of the year. There are so many Wonderful Things About Spring she writes . . .  but also one thing happening outside her window that makes her a little nervous.

     Down in Florida, Jennifer of Untold and Begin offers My Ongoing Story of New Things. That includes her first Covid shot and an appointment for her second. But more ambitiously she has started her own Etsy shop to sell Vision Board supplies. And if you don't know what a Vision Board is, you'd better hightail it over to Untold and Begin and find out what you're missing!

     Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin agrees that change is in the air as we welcome spring. For one thing, she says, "I shed a couple of pounds as light-weight clothing replaces weighty materials." Step over to Spring Unfolds to see how she has begun to venture out to see where she is going.

     Finally, I urge you to check out Rita Robison''s warning about Coronavirus scams on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide. It hit home for us, since we've been getting calls, purportedly from Amazon, saying we'd bought a $1,500 Apple computer,. It said to press 1 if this was not correct. And since it wasn't correct we were tempted to press 1. But, luckily, we didn't. Instead, we checked our Amazon account separately. Guess what. There was no such purchase on the account. Who knows what would have happened if we'd pressed 1?

     As Robison points out, scammers are inventing new schemes to take advantage of our Coronavirus anxiety. For some good advice on how to handle them, press over to her post How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams.

     Be careful. Be well. Get your shots. Wear your mask. We want no regrets. We want rebirth.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Can You Answer These 10 Citizenship Questions?

     We hear a lot about immigration and what it takes to come here legally and eventually attain citizenship. If you think you're so smart, try your hand at answering these ten citizenship questions. How many will you get right?

1. What percent of Americans are immigrants       14% or 100%

2. Texas is part of the United States ...                  True or False

3. Did Lance Armstrong land on the moon?            Yes or No

4. The best movie of all time is ...              Gone with the Wind or Caddyshack

5. Where would you rather live?                        Europe or New Zealand

6. Who was the greatest U. S. president?   Daniel Day Lewis or Martin Sheen

7. Is prostitution legal in Washington, DC?             Yes or No

8. Who is older  ...                                             Donald Trump or Joe Biden

9. Who won World War II ...                                 Germany or England

10. Geographic center of the U.S. is ...     Belle Fourche, SD or Lebanon, KS


1. 100% ... we're all immigrants, even Native Americans who came across the Bering Strait. 2. False. It's a different world entirely.  3. Yes, but he was disqualified for using performance enhancing drugs.  4. Neither -- GWTW is racist, Caddyshack isn't funny anymore.  5. Doesn't matter, you can't get into either one.

6. Trick question: Daniel Day Lewis isn't even American.  7. Duh ...  8. Joe Biden. Biden is 84; Trump is 14.  9. Look at Germany, look at England. You decide.  10. You always learn something new at Sightings Over Sixty, because this one is for real ... no April fooling! Counting Hawaii and Alaska, the geographic center of the U. S. is near Belle Fourche, SD. If you're thinking just the lower 48, then it's Lebanon, Kansas.

Happy April!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Art of Doing Nothing

      Some of us can go a whole lifetime before we find our real calling. And now I realize: thus it has been with me. I've spent most of my life waking up to an alarm and rushing off to school, to work, to drop the kids off at various activities.

     Even after I retired there were pressures. For example, I sometimes had to get up, get breakfast, get out of the house, and head over to our local college for a class at our Center for Learning in Retirement. And I had to do it all by 9:25 a.m.!

     But wait. It gets worse. From spring through fall, for six months of the year I had to roust myself out of bed as early as 7 a.m. so I could down a cup of coffee, drive to a golf course and find the first tee . . . all while still half asleep.

     No longer. Now we're a year into self-isolation. And I think I've discovered my real talent: The Art of Doing Nothing.

     I wake up . . . whenever I want. I go to the kitchen for my coffee, and then I look around. What do I have to do?

     Nothing. And so I sit and read the paper, or crack open my book. There's no rush. I can read until I get tired of reading, and maybe even take a nap. I never used to take a nap; but now there's no reason not to.

     Eventually, I make myself some breakfast. Then it's time to go into my room to stare at the computer for a while. What do I look at? It doesn't matter. I'm only passing the time. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? The news or sports scores? Read some blogs? Check my email? How long does this take? I dunno. I'm not on any schedule. Haven't been for a year.

     I do have a Zoom meeting a couple of times a week. But I can handle a meeting at 10:50 a.m. -- because I don't have to shower and dress ahead of time. Whew!

     Sometimes I go out for a walk. My wife walks almost every day, first thing in the morning. I go a couple of times a week, at my own pace . . . my own pace means I get around to it about 4 p.m.

My one constructive act of the day 
     Whether I walk or not, 4 p.m. seems to sneak up on me, almost every day. Where did the time go? I'd better get in the shower and do my back exercises before I'm called to dinner. 

     And yet dinner seems to go by so quickly. I think about it all day long, look forward to the meal and some conversation with B. Then, it seems, as soon as we sit down . . . suddenly it's over! Then I do the dishes.

     Lately, we've been reading A Short History of Wisconsin aloud to each other after dinner, one chapter at a time. We're planning a trip to Wisconsin in August. Of course, we planned a trip to Wisconsin last summer, and it never happened. I wonder if it will be different this year.

     Yes, we've started talking about coming out of our cocoon. We're even considering a trip in May, and beginning to think about what we're going to do for Thanksgiving. We're anxious about getting out of the house after all this time, making plans and talking to people about possibilities.

     And yet . . . even when we're fully vaccinated the CDC is still recommending against traveling. Airports, hotels, restaurants are all considered hotspots for the virus. So we wonder, with the vagaries of the vaccine and the possibility of new Covid strains  . . . is it even worth it?

     Besides, we've become so lazy, even one trip seems like an enormous undertaking. 

     After dinner and the dishes and reading about Wisconsin, we make the long trek from the dining room to the den -- almost 20 feet -- and plop down in front of the TV. We've already watched a number of shows: Schitt's Creek. Borgen. Episodes. Call My Agent. The Queen's Gambit.

     We just saw the movie Manks (overrated) and Laurel Canyon (pretty bad). Now we're watching the Australian series Offspring which we love . . . and we're looking for some others. 

     But all we do is read, watch TV, putter around the house. We have brought the idea of doing nothing to a high art. Yet we know we are running out of things to do, things to watch. And now that spring is here, we can go outside and work in the yard. Will I be playing golf again? Are we really going to travel? See our children?

     It will be a major transition for us. We have over time embraced the lifestyle of doing absolutely nothing. Can we now develop the Art of Doing Something?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

It's Not as Bad as You Think

     In her current bestselling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, Isabel Wilkerson compares America to Nazi Germany and says that the state of race relations in the U. S. today are about where they were in the 1880s. Yes, the 1880s, not the 1980s.

     Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction argues that due to climate change we are facing the very extinction of the human race as we know it.

     And surely you know -- as we do -- somebody's grownup kids who have said that they're not going to have kids themselves, because they don't want to rear children in a declining white nationalist nation, or bring children into an overpopulated world that's already choking on its own carbon dioxide and industrial waste. 

    It's enough to make you want to get away from it all and move to Mexico or Madagascar . . . or Mars.

     But then I read How I Learned to Understand the World, a memoir by Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and bioethicist who spent several years taking care of poor people in Mozambique and later went back to Africa to help put out the fires of the Ebola epidemic. He died in 2017 at age 68, but even his early demise did not dampen his optimism.

     Rosling is best known for his series of TED talks and the book called Factfulness. He says we hear about all the terrible things in the world from the media, and so we leap to the conclusion that the world is getting worse. What we don't hear about are the slow, ongoing improvements in health, longevity, education, non-violence, that go on year after year not just in the U. S. but all around the world.

    The media report on the rise of nationalistic and authoritarian governments around the globe, from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela. They report on the rise of racism and religious hatred. They search out examples of economic inequality. They report on the nuclear threat, the endless wars. They focus on global warming and even tell us we're running out of water.

     None of this is wrong. It's just one-sided, looking at the problems not the progress. To get a more balanced -- and more accurate -- picture of the world today, Rosling tells us, we have to look at the facts. And the facts demonstrate that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you consider.

     So for example:

     Life expectancy: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.

     Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity ... or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn't have a car and couldn't fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a cellphone.

     Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it's only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.

     Crime: Violent crime has been on a downward trend in the U. S. since 1990. Almost 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 1990. By 2016, with a larger population, that figure was down below 9.5 million.

     Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working ... and many of them are working by choice not necessity.

     Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The auto fatality rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 -- less than half what it was in the 1970s.

     Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles to modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children. Or consider the development of the Covid-19 vaccine. They couldn't do it in 1918. But we did it in 2020.

     Food. Between 1961 and  2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.

     Climate change. The world was getting dirtier and dirtier until the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency was established and people started to care about the environment. The world is still getting dirtier. But at a slower pace. And with the development of solar and wind energy, of geothermal and tidal and possibly hydrogen energy it is entirely possible that we will be smart enough to overcome even this latest and most serious problem.

     If you don't believe Rosling, turn to Bill Gates, the computer wizard who now focuses on world health. He tells us: "Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not." So next time someone corners you to drone on about how bad the world really is, tell them: "It's not as bad as you think."

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Family Cookbook Project

     Do you have recipes all over the place? Do you find that family and friends sometimes ask for your recipes? Do you find yourself asking for theirs?

     My wife B has an old cookbook that was handed down from her grandmother, put together almost a hundred years ago by a Mennonite church group. B still consults it on occasion and cooks up some great comfort food -- the kind we especially appreciated during the Covid lockdown.

     So when I heard from Bill Rice, founder of the Family Cookbook Project, I was immediately interested. This is a website that helps families and individuals collect and share their memories of food -- and all that goes with it.

     I asked him for some background on his project . . . and how you go about digitalizing your recipes, organizing them on the computer and then, if you're really ambitious, printing out a family cookbook.

     This is what he told me.

                                                       *       *       *

     Genealogy is the tracing of your family roots, focusing on births, marriages, deaths. But genealogy only tells a small part of the story. So much of our lives is undocumented -- our jobs, our hobbies, our friends, our family relationships. These things are never recorded.

     One aspect of our lives that is often written down, but not always shared, is the tradition around food. Those old-time recipe boxes filled with handwritten recipes are often family treasures. The recipes may have been clipped out of a newspaper, or provided by a friend, but often there is not a lot of perspective on why that recipe was important. There's only so much you can fit on a 4 X 6 index card.

     Sharing a recipe box is also difficult as it is typically one of a kind, and it takes a lot of work to copy and share with other family members. But in today's digital world, family cookbooks have changed all that. Today we can collect our recipes, put them online, organize them, format them into cookbooks, and even have them printed. 

     These cookbooks typically contain a lot more than just recipes. They often feature photos of the ingredients, the food, and the people who made it. They usually include personal notes and memories about each dish -- when it was enjoyed, who ate it, why it was important to us.

     Preserving these recipes means we will also be remembered by future generations. For example, I was recently looking through my grandmother's recipe box. I came across a recipe for Scottish shortbread that was attributed to my great grandmother May Ann McDougall Peatie, born in Scotland in 1883. The recipe had been buried and forgotten in a pile of old papers. But now it's part of my own family cookbook . . . so everyone can now enjoy these traditional Scottish shortbread cookies, and give a thanks to Grandma Peatie.

     Here are some tips on creating your own family cookbook:

     Go through your recipe collection and pick the most meaningful recipes that bring back memories of a family gathering or special event.

     For those recipes that you never wrote down because you've made them so many times you know them by memory, make the dish again. But this time write down the recipe step-by-step as you prepare it.

     Measure the ingredients! Even if you use a "handful" of something, take a handful and put it into a measuring cup, and write it down before throwing it in the pot.

     Write personal notes about why this recipe is important, who gave it to you or any special memories of meals when it was served. My mother's Chicken Supreme will always remind me of her serving it at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding.

     Including photos is a great way to make your cookbook special, and help preserve those personal memories. 

     Consider making it a family affair. Ask family members to contribute their favorite recipes, along with their memories of why they are special or important. 

     Behind every recipe you love is a story you want to share -- and a family cookbook makes that sharing a lasting heirloom.

                                          *       *       *

     There are several ways to get your family cookbook together -- and then you can print it out at FedEx or another printing service, or publish it through Amazon's self-publishing unit. But the Family Cookbook Project website does seem to offer an easy and effective way to do it.

     I have not used the program myself, so I cannot personally vouch for it. But it sure looks like, uh, a tasty way to go about it, especially if you want your great grandchildren to enjoy your special cookies, or any other traditional family dish.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Wait ... Is This for Real?

     For the last two months I've focused entirely on getting vaccinated. I signed up with our county health department, our local hospital, my general medical practice. I got on a list at Rite Aid and CVS and Walgreen's. I drove over to a local pharmacy that required in-person registration and filled out a form for my wife B and myself. I signed up at grocery stores Wegman's and Weiss and Giant.

     I had each of these tagged on the bookmark page of my browser and checked through them several times a day. The only message I ever got was:  Appointments Unavailable. Fully Booked. No Vaccines. Sales ended. Registrations Closed. 

     B had pretty much the same experience. And together we watched as a lot of our friends and relatives started getting vaccinated, while we felt left behind.

     Then last Monday, after dinner, B checked her email once again and . . . there it was! She'd received an email from the county. She couldn't believe it! Suddenly, she was allowed to sign up for a Covid vaccine.

     My response:  What!?! I'd signed up with the county before she did. I got my name on the list on January 17; she hadn't signed up until January 20. Also, I happen to be older than she is. We assumed I'd be contacted first. I should have been contacted first!

     She scheduled her appointment for Thursday at our community college. She, too, wondered why I hadn't been contacted, told me to double-check my email.

     She felt a little guilty that she had gotten an appointment, and not me. She even wondered if she could somehow give her appointment to me. But I said, no, no, that wouldn't be right, and besides she probably couldn't do it anyway, and I reminded her that this was good news since it's better that one of us is vaccinated than neither of us.

     Still, I wondered:  Were they skipping over me? Was I going to be denied a vaccine because somehow the bureaucratic machinery didn't accept my registration? 

     We couldn't figure it out. But I kept looking. Then on Tuesday night I received an email from the hospital. Spots were opening up the next day starting at 8 a.m. 

     So I went on my computer at 7:55. I checked the website, as I'd done many times before. The new sign-up sheet was there. I clicked on it and saw:  Fully Booked. Fully Booked. Fully Booked.

     Geez, not again! Then at the bottom of the page I saw a phone number for those who had trouble signing up online. So I figured: What the heck. I called the number. It was 8:01 a. m. I got a recording. I was number 12 in the queue.

     Number 12, I thought. There's no way. I might as well just hang up. But I had nothing else to do, so I put the phone on Speaker and propped it on the corner of my desk. 

     Number 11 . . . Number 9 . . . Number 5 . . . and finally a woman -- a real person! -- answered the phone.

     I felt ridiculous even asking. But I plowed ahead. "I'm calling to see if I can get a Covid vaccine."

     "Sure, I can help you with that," she said.

     Wait, I thought, is this for real? She took my name and birthdate and booked an appointment for 9:20 a.m. the same day.

     I still wasn't sure I believed it, but I got dressed and B drove me down to the hospital. I went in the front door and was met by a volunteer. Would he let me through?

     Yes! He ushered me into the proper hallway. Another volunteer asked for my license and Medicare card. A very nice nurse gave me the shot. Didn't hurt at all. She told me to drink plenty of water and take Tylenol, not Advil, if I had any aches or pains.

     I got a Pfizer vaccine. I was handed a card with my appointment for the second shot, then I spent 15 minutes in the waiting area to make sure there were no side-effects. Then I walked out to the parking lot and met up with B.

     The next day we made the trip to the community college, and I in turn waited while B got her shot. 

     B got her vaccination the way it's supposed to happen. I stumbled into a lucky break. But I can say to those who have not yet received their shots: Keep the faith. They are coming.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Best Places to Retire: 2021

     Many of us know where we're going to retire -- or we've already retired and settled into our retirement home. A lot of people just stay in their hometown after they retire, because that's where their friends and family are. Or, if we like the warm weather, it's no secret that Florida and Arizona are popular places to relocate.

     Nevertheless, there are some objective criteria for deciding on a good retirement destination. Most retirees live on a fixed income, so for many of us it's important to be in a place with a low cost of living. We also know that we'll need more health care as time goes on, so we want access to good medical facilities.

     U. S. News recently came out with a list of best places to retire. Seven out of the top ten places, and 12 out of the top 20, are located in Florida. So anyone retiring to Florida must be doing okay. Sarasota takes top honors, with Fort Myers, Port St. Lucie and Naples following close behind.

In my dreams

     I know Florida is a popular retirement destination. But I'm surprised that many cities make the list. And I'm surprised that no place in Washington or Oregon cracks the top 20 -- a lot of people have retired to the Pacific Northwest.

     The locations in the top 20, according to U S. News, that are not in Florida are:

     # 5 Lancaster, PA, an affordable small city with a college campus and well-regarded hospital, surrounded by bucolic farms.

     # 7 Ann Arbor, MI, home to the University of Michigan with plenty of culture -- and plenty more sports.

     # 8 Asheville, NC, nestled in the Blue Ridge with moderate weather and plenty of outdoor activities.

     # 11 Myrtle Beach, SC, with mild weather, miles of beaches and millions of golf courses.

     # 12 Nashville, TN, featuring a notable music scene and excellent health care.

     # 14 Manchester, NH, with New England charm and nearby skiing.

     # 18 Dallas, TX, offering a mix of suburban lifestyle, urban culture and taste of the cowboy life.

     # 19 Chattanooga, TN, benefitting from urban renewal, coupled and lots of outdoor recreation.

     Another top ten list, from Forbes, identifies a more geographically diverse 25 best places to retire. Only three Florida cities make the grade: Sarasota, Jacksonville and Orlando. Instead, the Forbes list features a lot of places that are not in the Sunbelt and don't get as much attention, from Pittsburgh, PA to Columbus, OH, Evansville, IN, Jefferson City, MO, Fargo, ND, Boise, ID. 

Get real

   Forbes also taps two Arizona locales for its list: Green Valley, near Tucson, and Mesa, near Phoenix.

     Money Magazine just came out with a new list. The top three are:

     # 1 Madison, the capital of Wisconsin and home to the Badgers.

     # 2 Largo, near Tampa.

     #3 Lower Marion, a Philadelphia suburb.

     Money includes a few of the usual suspects on its retirement list, like Boise and Ashville. But get this: Bridgewater, NJ, makes the Money top ten list. That's the first time I've ever seen a place in New Jersey mentioned on any list of best places to retire.

     So I looked it up. Wallethub ranks New Jersey as the absolute worst state to retire in, right behind New York and Mississippi. (The top three Wallethub states are Florida, Colorado and Delaware.)  But a little more research finds that while there is a lot of traffic in New Jersey, and the cost of living is high, the state offers excellent health care and, the Sopranos notwithstanding, actually enjoys a surprisingly low crime rate.

       Dave Ramsey, the financial guru and radio personality, came out with his own list. He puts four Florida cities in his top ten. He also offers some familiar names like Lancaster, Ashville, Nashville and Dallas.

     If you don't find your town or city on any ten-best list . . . not to worry. It really doesn't matter. The best advice I ever saw about where to retire doesn't cite any states or cities. Instead, it boils the process down to five criteria: 

     # 1 Make sure it's a place you can afford.

     # 2 It should have good access to health care.

     # 3 You should have some friends and family in the  area.

     # 4 There should be some interesting things for you to do -- fishing or golf, the theater or the opera -- whatever it is that makes you happy. 

     # 5 It should be a place where you either have, or will develop, an emotional attachment. In other words, whether it's a place you've lived a long time, or if you're just moving there, you want the place to feel like home.

     The point is, the best place to retire is entirely personal. It depends on your family, your interests, your financial situation. And mostly importantly, your "feel." Why, for some people, the perfect place to retire could even be . . . New Jersey!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Stepping Ahead of Arthritis

    I have chronic osteoarthritis in my ankle and my knee, due primarily to old injuries. I've also had bouts of stenosis in my neck -- which is basically the same as arthritis. Then last year my back started bothering me. At first I tried to ignore it, but eventually I went to the doctor, and sure enough, he confirmed I have signs of arthritis in my lower spine as well.

     By the way, I blame my parents for my bad bones. My dad dealt with a back pain for as long as I can remember, and my mother got osteoporosis later in life. Also, I have two sisters. Both of them have had bone issues. One has had surgery on her foot and her shoulder. The other has two new knees.

     I have not gone under the knife myself. But over the years I've been through several regimens of physical therapy -- for my ankle, my knee, my neck, and now my back.

     I remember when I first had neck issues, I was given an exercise regiment which I did regularly -- until my neck stopped hurting. Then I stopped. Of course, the pain and numbness returned, and I had to go for more physical therapy. So now I've learned my lesson, and I'm pretty good about doing my prescribed exercises -- because they do seem to work, and there's no greater motivation for doing exercises than to avoid pain.

    Fortunately, my back exercises are similar to the ones I do for my knees -- so I kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. I do one session in the morning, and a "refresher course" of about ten minutes before  I go to bed.

     I like to play golf and ping pong. I've also played a little pickleball. When we're able to go out again in public -- after we all get our shots, maybe by summer -- I've been thinking of joining a pickleball group. So I asked the doctor if that would be okay. His basic response was, the best thing you can do is keep moving. So do anything, as long as it doesn't hurt -- although he did tell me not to run long distances (no danger of that), and suggested that biking and swimming are two great low-impact exercises that strengthen the legs and body. So I bike and swim when I can, but honestly, not too often.

     He also recommended over-the-counter pain medications. I took Naproxen (Aleve) for a while, but then I heard it can give you a heart attack or stroke or something. So now I take Ibuprofen (Advil) a couple of times a week when the ache doesn't go away -- or more lately Acetaminophen (Tylenol), since I read somewhere that Ibuprofen makes you more susceptible to Covid. I don't even know if that's true. But anyway, luckily, I have not felt the need to go on to anything more powerful.

     I've also tried CBD ointment on my knee and ankle. I think it might have helped a little, but it's hard to tell. It might just be the placebo effect.

      I'm always wondering if there's anything else I can do to slow down arthritis, to keep the pain levels down, maybe prevent it from popping up elsewhere in my body. There's a lot of advice about diet. The problem is that none of it is conclusive.

      Everyone agrees that eating plenty of vegetables, especially broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, is good for arthritis, as well as virtually every other health issue we might have. We're supposed to consume lots of fiber, and restrict intake of salt and sugar. People disagree about milk and milk products -- although nobody thinks eating a lot of cheese is a good idea. But that may be as much for its fat and salt content as its milk content.

     The truth of the matter is that you can't eat your way out of arthritis. There's really no "cure." Pain killers might help. Surgery can work in the most severe cases. But for most of us the best medicine is exercise. Stretching for sure, as well as light-to-moderate, low-impact movement like swimming, walking, biking. And . . . by summer I hope to put pickleball on the list.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Remember Inflation?

     B came home the other day and said to me, "Gas prices are way up again. I paid over $3 a gallon!"

     We've gotten used to a low gasoline prices for the past year, ever since they plummeted due to the pandemic. But I checked. B is right. Gas prices have gone up -- by 15% in the last month alone. And today they are 3% higher than this time last year.

     Then we got a notice from our town. We were told that due to Covid, which has caused town expenses to go up and revenues to go down, our town taxes are increasing 12% this year. 

     The school tax has edged up just 2%. But that's still higher than the general inflation rate of 1.4% as reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with all the pressures that schools are under, I wouldn't be surprised if 2021 brings a much larger increase.

     Fortunately, our Social Security benefit is adjusted for inflation, at least by some measures. We got a 1.3% increase for 2021. But some of that extra money got stripped away by a 2.7% increase in Medicare premiums.

     Food prices are up. I read that chicken prices are 20% higher than last year. Meanwhile, the price of plastic is 8% higher, raising the cost of virtually every packaged good we buy.

     And I hope you don't want to buy a house. According to the most recent Case-Shiller report the price of the average home in the U. S. is up by 10.4%  from Dec. 2019 to Dec. 2020.

     Inflation has been low for a number of years. It is possible we've been lulled into a false sense of complacency?

     Inflation can have a big impact on retirees, since many of us live on fixed incomes. And even though we no longer have to feed a family or save for a child's high-priced college education, we still have to cover food, housing and medical bills. As an example, if the inflation rate goes to 3% and stays there, our costs will go up by 16% over five years and 34.5% over ten. So ten years from now that $3 gallon of gas will set us back a little over $4, and everything else we buy will cost a third more.

     Of course, you might think . . . ten years from now, who cares? But assuming Covid doesn't kill us, a lot of us will be around not just for another ten years, but for 15 or 20. Today, the average 70-year-old  lives to age 85 -- and one in five of us will live past age 90. So we need to consider our financial lives well into the future.

     For example, you might want to check your pension. Many pensions are not adjusted for inflation, but some are. If you have a pension, it would be good to know if your payment is tied to inflation, so you can modify the rest of your life accordingly.

    You might also want to bring up the issue with your financial adviser, if you have one. In the meantime, you should know that if you have an annuity, or invest in bonds, the higher the inflation rate the more you lose out. On the other hand, stocks (or ETFs or mutual funds) in your 401K or IRA will generally go up along with inflation -- unless we hit a period of hyperinflation like we did in the 1970s. Commodities like gold -- and yes, evil oil -- tend to outperform during inflationary times. Maybe bitcoin, too. I don't know. I wouldn't know what to do with a bitcoin.

     Real estate rises along with inflation, so owning your own home is a good hedge against inflation. (See the 10.4% increase in home values cited above.) Rental property also pays off during inflationary periods since you can usually raise the rent. But remember, when you're a landlord you're not truly retired. Managing real estate takes time and attention, and not everyone thinks it's worth the trouble.

      You can always fight inflation by downsizing. You can sell off a second car, or move to a community with a lower cost of living. Or you can decide not to travel. We're now looking at a rental place for next winter in South Carolina -- the same place we've rented twice before. The quoted price is $1,500 a week -- which is 5% more than last year's price (when we didn't go) and 12% (gulp!) higher than what we paid when we were there in 2019.

     Or you could always get a job. Unlike pensions, wages and salaries often increase with inflation and so employees are carried along on the inflation ride. But I don't know about you. I'm retired. I don't want to have to go back to work just to buy chicken or pay the town tax.

     However, we'll have to see about that vacation. I'd hate not to be able to go on vacation.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The Cure for Stress

     Right now the best cure for stress is the Covid vaccine. Several people have told me recently that they hadn't even realized they were suffering from stress, but as soon as they got their shot they felt the weight of anxiety fall off their shoulders. Suddenly they could breathe.

     But if you're like me, and haven't been able to get a shot yet, you're still feeling the stress. There's stress from the self-isolation that has just . . . gone . . . on. . . too . . . long. And stress from waiting for the vaccination . . . and waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting.

     I counted up. I am on six different lists to get a shot. But so far nothing has come through. I just sit here, waiting, feeling like I have no control over the situation.

     Stress can cause a lot of problems. I remember in the few years before I retired, when my company was stumbling and losing profits and laying off people, I suffered from a pinched nerve in my neck, causing pain and numbness in my arm. I had to go to physical therapy and once even had to wear one of those neck collars.

     As soon as I left work, those problems went away. No more stress, no more pinched nerve.

    So now in the face of Covid I along with everyone else have been trying to keep the stress at bay. How do we do it?

     A lot of people turn to meditation and mindfulness. Honestly, I'm not too big on meditation. I don't do yoga. But I can still do things to calm my mind, to focus on the present and stop worrying about things I can't control. So I try to carve out 15 minutes a day to just relax and breathe and release the tension in my muscles. It works, at least sometimes.

     I also know that exercise is a good antidote to stress. My usual forms of exercise -- golf and table tennis and occasionally swimming -- are closed off to me these days. About the only thing left to do is take a walk. I'm not an enthusiastic walker or hiker. I just don't find it that interesting. But when I do take a walk, every two or three days, it clears my mind and makes me feel better. I should do it more often.

     Stretching is another stress reducer. I got in the habit of stretching when I had my neck problem. To this day I'm pretty good about keeping a regimen. I do a short set after my daily shower working on my back and legs, and another set before I go to bed to ease out the kinks in my neck and shoulders.

    We all know that having a strong social support system helps us deal with stress. I'm lucky to have B. But I also look forward to my Zoom calls, when I feel engaged with other people's lives. The same goes for my senior classes. I'm taking a history class on the Civil War. It's interesting, informative, and certainly does put my own problems into perspective. Same with my discussion group and my book group -- we talk about issues larger than ourselves, and the sharing of ideas and experiences always makes our own worries seem a little more manageable. 

     I also try to eat a good diet -- go easy on the sugar and drink plenty of water. This is easier for me in the winter, since my weakness is ice cream, and even I don't want to eat ice cream when there's snow on the ground. I try to have a good breakfast -- orange juice, fruit, oatmeal or other high-fiber cereal -- and B keeps me on the straight and narrow at dinnertime. She goes easy on the meat; and no meal is served without at least one green vegetable, and sometimes two. 

     The effects of stress are cumulative, so it makes sense that we're more stressed now than we were back in he spring or summer. But reducing stress also has a cumulative effect. The more we consciously manage the stress, the better we get at it and the better we feel. So we'll get through this without going crazy or having a heart attack or turning to alcohol or drugs.

     After we get the vaccine we still have to be careful -- wash hands, wear masks, keep our distance when we can -- but at least we'll know that we're doing something that makes a difference. That in itself mitigates the stress.

     I read that as of Thursday more than 50 million doses of vaccine had been administered in the U. S. So it can't be that long before they get to me, can it?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

What's in a Word?

      Some people find inspiration in choosing a "word of the year" to guide them or focus their energies. I came across a word this past week that provides no guide, but does seem to describe our current reality. The word is acedia.

     Acedia means "laziness, or lack of interest or caring." The word -- and the emotion -- goes back as far as ancient Greece. Later, in the 5th century, the monk John Cassia considered acedia a deadly sin. He described how the feeling could overwhelm a colleague who "cannot stay still in his cell, or devote any effort to reading." He feels "such body listlessness and yawning hunger as though he were worn by a long journey or a prolonged fast . . . Next he glances about and sighs that no one is coming to see him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting."

     I don't know about you, but lately I've been feeling just like the monk in his cell.

     Yet our Baby Boomer bloggers resist the temptation toward the word acedia. For Carol Cassara her word instead might be within. In this week's post Looking Within she focuses on how we allow life events to touch and change us, and urges us to "inhabit our truth" and stand firm in what's important to us.

     Laurie Stone of Musing, Rants & Scribbles might choose the word mirage. "It always starts innocently," she says. "I'm minding my own business on Facebook when it appears on the sidebar. Like a mirage in the desert the object shimmers on the edges, enticing and beckoning. That shirt I pined for last month, but never found, is there in the perfect fit and color." She doesn't need it. But her hand hovers over the mirage . . . and so in 5 Ways Amazon Doesn't Play Fair she once again realizes that "they know what I want before I do." 

     Rebecca Olkowski would probably turn to hippie as her word. She asks:  What were you doing during the Summer of Love? One of her friends, who was living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury at the time, recently published a memoir about her experiences. Check out the book Natural Born Guilt to follow her tragicomedy from happy to hippie to hooked.

     Rita R. Robison, consumer and personal finance journalist, picks scam. She reminds us that, pandemic or no, we must watch out for scammers who want to steal our identity by posing as a government official or pulling an online shopping trick. In FTC's Fraud List for 2020 she reveals that some 2.2 million people reported scams to the Federal Trade Commission. She lists the biggest fraud categories and offers a website where you can report suspicious activity.

     For Jennifer of Untold and Begin the word is art. Last week she enjoyed an immersive Van Gogh experience at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL. And now in her post How Does One Become a Painter? she offers a revelation about how we all can become better at our craft.

     Finally, for Meryl Baer the word is surely shot. She says it's hard to believe that we are closing in on one year of Covid-19 restrictions. In Scenes from a Pandemic-Restricted Life she offers a few glimpses of how the pandemic has altered our lives . . . including the highlight of her week which involved an hour's drive to a fire-training center to get a shot in her arm.

     And so as we line up for our vaccinations, and the world slowly opens up, perhaps we can all think of a more hopeful, more positive word than acedia for 2021.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Are You Feeling Stressed?

     One great benefit of retirement is a lower level of stress. Or at least it has been in my experience, both for myself and my friends.

     I remember shortly after I got "packaged out" of my company I had lunch with a former colleague who had left the company about a year before I did. His new life was now all set, he said. He was happily married, the kids were grown up and out of the house, his mortgage was paid off. He and his wife enjoyed a couple of modest pensions as well as subsidized medical insurance, and they had a rental property in Vermont that brought in some additional income.

     He acknowledged that his income was lower than it had been. But he slept better because he didn't have worries that jangled through his mind and kept him up at night, and he never felt the dread he sometimes faced when he got up in the morning before work. Instead, now he had time to exercise and eat right -- he'd lost about 15 pounds -- and he could actually relax and read a book after breakfast or before dinner. "I'm healthier and happier than I've been in 30 years," he told me.

     In my own case, I know that I eat more when I suffer from stress -- they don't call it comfort food for nothing -- and I tend gain weight. During my last years at work I pushed the scale up over 200 pounds. Then, when the real stress appeared, I suffered a pinched nerve in my neck, which brought tingles and sometimes numbness down my left arm. I had three different episodes in my last five years at work. I did three bouts of physical therapy and once even had to wear one of those next collars, day and night, for several weeks.

     My last episode occurred just a few months before I left work. Since then I have not had one problem with my neck or my arm. I do my exercises -- because I have the time to do them -- and since I'm so much more relaxed -- and spend less time chained to a desk -- I simply haven't had any issues with my neck. And, by the way, I now weigh 15 pounds less than I did during my last year at work.

   But the stress has been rebuilding over the last year. Hasn't it? I'm not stressing over money or a job (although I do worry about my kids). But I'm stressed about being imprisoned at home with only electronic means for human contact. Many of my routines have been canceled -- like table tennis and dancing -- and of course any travel plans have been completely destroyed. I'm supposed to spend the month of February on a South Carolina beach. Instead I'm shivering in snow-covered Pennsylvania!

     Of course, we've made accommodations to our new situation. We don't go out to restaurants; but we do take a walk into town just to see some lights and some other human beings. Many of our activities are going strong on Zoom. But it's Zoom, not live action.

     We recently found an app called Readeo which gives us the opportunity to read books with our one-year-old grandchild. She got the gist of the first one, about a duck. The second one, on snow, didn't seem to interest her. But even as we try to make the best of things, the experience is nothing like sitting your grandchild on your lap and smiling at her and playing with her, and then getting her to turn the pages as you read and act out the story. 

     But what brings on the stress, for me especially, is the lack of control, the lack of information, the seemingly lack of care or cooperation from the authorities. I live in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania is among the worst states in the country for the rollout of the Covid vaccine.

     I realize it's a difficult job. But that doesn't explain why every contiguous state to Pennsylvania -- all six of them -- are getting vaccine into people's arms at a lot faster rate than we are.

     We got an "official" announcement to register with the county -- but there is no information except that they are still vaccinating health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

     I received an email from my doctor's office:  "We are prioritizing patients who are 75 and older. Once these patients have been scheduled, we will move to the next group -- which will include you. We will notify you directly when the vaccine is available. This make take several weeks. We have 1,508 patients over age 75. At present we only have the availability to schedule 140 appointments per week with the current vaccine supply levels."

     So do the math. At this rate it will take ten weeks, until the end of April, before they even begin to get to my group. 

     Then I heard a rumor. One of my fellow CLR instructors told us he called St. Lukes Hospital. He left a message; someone called him back in an hour; and now he has his vaccine shot scheduled for this afternoon.

     So I called St. Lukes, gave them my age, address, email and phone number. Someone did actually call me back. She informed me that the Hospital is currently vaccinating only people 75 and over. She registered me, but couldn't tell me how long before I would be eligible. The vaccine arrives in spurts, she said. So it could be few days, or it could be a few weeks. There's no way to tell.

     That's pretty vague. But at least I now know someone is listening to me, registering my interest -- instead of communicating with a computer and thinking you're just being dumped into a black hole.

     So today my stress levels are down a little bit. No doubt, they will go up again. April is a long time away. I'll probably be gaining  few more pounds.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

"I'm Mad as Hell. . ."

      I'm an optimist. I usually focus on all the progress the world has made during our lifetime. The end of the Cold War. The spread of literacy. The decrease in poverty. The decrease in racial and sexual discrimination. The increase in life expectancy. Advancements in science and medicine.

     But sometimes, just sometimes, you see the other side of the coin.

     The other day I ran across a post on Reddit, a social media outlet targeted toward Millennials, in connection with a spike in certain stocks on Wall Street. I don't know if you paid attention -- but smaller companies like Gamestop were bid up by a group of individuals from social media, and the phenomenon was billed as a kind of revolt against Wall Street. The situation quickly passed. It was just a media-hyped fad. But I think a significant Millennial sentiment was captured by an ER doctor who wrote an open letter to Wall Street:

     When I was a resident physician in Detroit, Obama was president. During his presidency the quality of life of the predominantly African Americans in Detroit did not improve. Despite Obamacare, I saw little improvement in the health outcomes of the patients I worked with. I saw continued proliferation of illicit drugs, overdoses, and gang violence. YOU have left these people behind.

     I spent the last several years working in a small town in the Midwest, when Trump was president. During his presidency the quality of life of the predominantly white Americans also did not improve, and have in fact worsened. I saw continued proliferation of illicit drugs, overdoses, and suicides. These patients I care for are also people YOU have left behind.

     With the pandemic I have seen those who are already at the brink of financial solvency lose their jobs and I see lines outside food banks. I see the health outcomes of my patients decline as they forego preventive care. I, on the other hand, kept my job, got a raise, and saw the value of my 401K rise as the economy crashed around me. Going to work every day is a constant and stark reminder of the brokenness and disparity of the economic system and my sheer powerlessness to change it. I realize now that it is not political. It is YOU.

     This brought home to me the reality that I have not suffered at all financially from the pandemic. My Social Security deposit arrives on time. My IRA balance has only gone up. And since I'm spending less, I actually have more money in the bank -- even though my wife and I sent extra contributions to various charities during December.

     The pandemic has impacted our children to some extent. But not that bad. One actually got a new job, with an increase in salary. One is able to work from home, at full salary, and is saving the time and money of commuting. One did get furloughed for several months in the spring. But he's back to normal now.

     Do I feel guilty that the pandemic hasn't impacted me as negatively as others -- that my IRA keeps going up as so many other people are suffering? No, I don't. Do I feel lucky? Yes, I do.

     There's a lot of irony is this "revolt." First, it didn't come from the poor and disadvantaged. It came from middle-class people who had the time and money to speculate in the stock market. Also, there was a tinge of nostalgia about the whole thing. The Reddit crowd didn't bid up shares of Apple or Amazon. They plowed into Gamestop, AMC theaters, Blackberry, Nokia and other struggling companies that were popular back in the 1990s. The Millennials must think that things were better back then when they were growing up. But don't we all think that to some extent?

     Was this physician right to blame Wall Street for all these problems? Maybe . . . but Wall Street was just as big and powerful in the '90s as it is now. Is it the political system? Is it big tech? Or should he blame his complacent, self-satisfied Baby Boomer parents?

     Beyond the blame, what can we do that neither Obama nor Trump could do repair our economic system? To help lift the despair felt by so many that leads to taking illicit drugs and committing suicide? To give people more opportunity . . . and perhaps even more importantly to rekindle the feeling that the future is brighter than the past?

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Opportunity Knocks

     This past week I started up my volunteer jobs again, after several months of doing almost nothing. I volunteer as a tutor with our local literacy group, and as an instructor at our senior learning center.

     I haven't done much tutoring for almost a year. Last spring the semester was cut short in March. There was a fall semester, but I was just a fill-in. Now I've been assigned to a regular tutoring schedule, and will be working on Zoom once a week for the spring.

     The last senior learning class I did was the first week in December. Now, starting next week, we'll be in full session. I host three classes, and take two others as a student.

     So after months of drifting through the days without much to do, I'll finally be engaged with other people. I'll finally feel like I'm doing something worthwhile -- beyond just killing time by doing crossword puzzles, watching Netflix, and reorganizing the house.

     My wife B also volunteers at the learning center. But she focuses more on organizations that help feed and clothe disadvantaged people. I think that's important, and I'm glad that she does it. But it's not my thing. I'd much rather help people learn -- on the theory that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime. But I'll be honest. I'm a little selfish. I get bored dishing out meals. I like tutoring and instructing. So that's what I do. That's a great thing about volunteering: there are lots of different opportunities.

     It's not hard to find a volunteer job. In fact, once you do, people usually try to get you to do more. I started out teaching one senior class. Now I'm involved in three.

Our senior learning center

     You don't need any special skills or knowledge. You can collect clothes or pack lunches or drive people to appointments. But if you do have a skill, it's all to the better. We have a couple of computer experts who lend their expertise to our learning center. We have retired teachers who spearhead our ESL program.

     I majored in English in college, so I don't have much of a specialty. I don't teach a history course or computer workshop. I lead discussion groups, since discussion -- aka shooting the breeze -- seems to be the only thing I can do. I'm living proof that you don't need a real skill, or have to be particularly gifted, in order to help out people in your community.

     All you really need is an interest in something ... anything. You have to be sufficiently motivated to do some work and not get paid for it. But if you find some position that engages you, then it makes it worthwhile.

     I guess you need to have a desire to help other people. But by volunteering you also begin to realize that by helping others you are also helping yourself. You learn things; you meet people in the community; you get a feeling of accomplishment.

     You do have to be dependable. If you set up a class or a meeting, you have to show up on time to host it. It helps to have some common sense. As a volunteer you often do not get a lot of supervision or direction. You have to make some decisions on the fly ... you're doing what's right, not what the bureaucratic rulebook says. One exception: I was told never to meet with anybody one-on-one outside official channels, to avoid any possibility of bad behavior or false accusations.

     Most volunteer jobs involve other people, so it doesn't help if you're angry or cynical or determined to foist your opinions on other people. Volunteering is not about you. It's about others.

     You might also have to have some patience. Some of the people I've tutored have missed class or shown up late or didn't do their homework. You have to realize that it's not because they're lazy or unmotivated. It's because they had to work late, or their car broke down, or one of their kids got sick. People really do have other responsibilities, other pressures.

     Finally, it helps to have a little humility. Several people in my senior learning classes have more advanced degrees than I do. Some of the people I tutor are smarter than I am. They just didn't have the opportunity to go to school. I'm reminded of the 40-year-old guy who could barely read, and couldn't write a decent sentence. Then I found out he had started and was managing a successful auto-body shop -- something I could never do -- and was now taking classes because he felt it was finally time to get his GED.

     Maybe that's the real reason why we volunteer -- to discover that there's a whole other world out there.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Lose Weight the Natural Way

     Have you gained a few pounds over the holidays? Or put on the so-called Covid 15? Need to go on a diet? You've come to the right place, because I am an expert. I have been on no less than 21 diets in my life. Every single one was an unqualified success. On my diets I have lost anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds.

     I've written about dieting before (see How to Get Fat). The only thing I can't explain is why I now weigh 20 pounds more than I did when I went on my first diet in the mid-1970s, when I gained a few pounds after I got married.

     While I am an expert on dieting, I want to assure everyone that I do not condone fat shaming. Why? Because it's not your fault! It's your spouse's fault (see above). It's your parents' fault. There may be too many fast-food places in your neighborhood, or you have poor impulse control due to an overactive pituitary.

    I've been around long enough to see the Atkins Diet, the Gluten Free diet, the South Beach diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, and a hundred others. Most don't work. But mine does. Why? Because with my diet you can have as much food as you want, and do whatever you want with it -- except eat it. Just follow these simple strategies:

     Honest Spillage. I got the idea for this diet one evening during dinner when I dropped some spaghetti sauce off my fork. I looked down. Oops, there it was on my sleeve. Then I looked more closely at my shirt and noticed a bit of egg from breakfast that had somehow found its way onto my collar. There was another stain on my pants . . . maybe from the French fries last night. The dietary lesson? If you spill, drop or otherwise lose 5 to 10 percent of your meal, you have cut your calorie intake by that same 5 to 10 percent!

     The leftover corollary: Be more discriminating with leftovers. I swear, B (who is thinner than I am, but how she does it I'll never know) will eat a plate of food that's been moldering in the refrigerator for a full week. And she eats leftover pizza. Leftover pizza! Yuck!  Just . . . don't . . .  go . . . there.

     Serious competition. I grew up as the youngest in a family of four kids. I had some serious competition for the mashed potatoes, not so much for the cauliflower. So I developed a taste for the vegetables that nobody else wanted.

     Later on, I would watch families eating in a restaurant. The kids would order a meal, eat about half of it, and leave the rest scattered around the table. Then the dad would go to work scooping up the leftover mashed potatoes and hunks of meat. This seemed like a good deal . . . for the dad. So after I got married I talked to my wife, and we agreed to have kids. The result? Sure, I gained a little weight. But my kids never got fat.

     The dessert corollary: B and I go out to dinner. Do you want any dessert? asks the waiter. Yeah, I'll have a piece of chocolate cake, says I. Oh, nothing for me, B demurs, just an extra fork. Well, you can see where this is going. I order dessert, B eats the lion's share of it. And I retain my thin, youthful appearance.

     Inedible meals. I recall several incidents when B and I have gone to a fancy restaurant. She would goad me into trying something new and exotic from the menu -- usually something I couldn't pronounce -- and I would feel very sophisticated, until the meal actually arrived and I would discover that the meat came from some unmentionable part of an animal's body ... and smelled like it too. I'd go home with an empty wallet -- and no bloated feeling since I'd consumed less than a hundred calories.

Doesn't hurt you if you don't eat it
     Similarly, B has a couple of favorite dishes she likes to cook. The other night she fried up some sausage (okay so far), but then in another pan she made broccoli rabe, which is like spinach, only worse. Then she throws it all together with little curly pasta that's impossible to fork up from the plate. So the stuff tastes awful, but even if you did want to eat it, you can't possibly transport it from the plate to your mouth. Sure, I go to bed hungry, but who cares if you're hungry when you're asleep?

     The European corollary: Go to France (as I once did). You won't believe what they try to get you to eat over there! No wonder French women are so thin!

     Play with your food. I got this technique from my daughter. Back when she was a teenager and experimenting with veganism, she would lift her chicken breast off the plate, let it hang there dripping over the table, and then start waving it around, complaining in a pained and exasperated voice: How can you ask me to eat dead animals? That's so gross!

     Of course, this kind of behavior, expected from a teenager, is not really acceptable for a grown man. So I use another technique, also inspired by my kids. When they were young, they could never sit still through an entire meal. It was up to me to entertain them -- push away from the table, walk them around, find something else for them to do for a little while.

     So now, many years later, I find that I, myself, can no longer sit through an entire meal either. To this day, halfway through a meal, I find myself getting up from the table and taking a little walk around the house. I come back. The table is cleared. Hey, I wasn't finished with my supper! It's too late. The dishes are cleared. Oh well, I realize, I wasn't hungry anymore, anyway.

     The chopstick corollary: Order Chinese food ... with chopsticks. You can never get fat as long as you're fumbling with these little sticks that are completely unsuitable for the task at hand.

     The seafood addendum:  Order lobster, mussels or clams for dinner. You actually use up more calories fighting for the food than you take in by eating it. This addendum also applies to a few fruits and vegetables, such as grapefruits, artichokes, or pretty much anything in a salad.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Is Longevity in Your Future?

       The world is awash in studies on longevity. Perhaps the most famous are those from Dan Buettner who identified several "Blue Zones" around the globe -- in places like Japan, Greece, Italy -- which boast unusually high numbers of centenarians. Buettner credits the longevity of these people to moderate exercise, healthy social connections, strong family ties, and mostly vegetarian diets with a moderate amount of alcohol.

     But what about here in the United States? I ran across a 2020 study from Washington State University that analyzed the elderly in the state of Washington. The researchers identified a number of factors associated with longevity -- and a few that aren't. Their conclusions were derived from a somewhat narrow study of 144,000 people, age 75 and older, in just one state. But it's reasonable to think that the results apply to the rest of us as well.

     Less than 2% of us reach the ripe old age of 100. However, because of advances in medicine and public health, the number of centenarians is projected to increase dramatically, from less than a million today to an estimated 3.7 million in 2050. Still, social and environmental factors -- not the latest surgical techniques -- are the main determinants of healthy aging, which is defined as "the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age."

     So here's what the Washington researchers found:

     Race and gender. Women are more likely than men to live to see 100. White people are more likely to reach 100 than African Americans. However, Hispanics and Asians have lower mortality rates compared to both African Americans and white Americans at all ages, and thus have the best chance to cross the centenarian goal line.

     Neighborhood. Living in a walkable neighborhood has "a strong positive correlation" with the likelihood of living to 100. Walking, a healthy activity in itself, is associated with lower body mass index and other measures of health. But also, people in walkable neighborhoods typically have access to public transit, medical facilities, healthy food and other helpful goods and services.

   Education. Previous studies have linked higher levels of education with better health and lower mortality. But this study actually found the opposite: "education was found to be negatively associated with becoming a centenarian." The authors speculate that the finding may apply specifically to the older population they were studying. In other words, it's possible a higher education increases your chances of making to age 75 -- because of better employment opportunities and a healthier lifestyle associated with higher socioeconomic status (such as not smoking, better diet, less risky behavior). But if you've already made it to 75, then education doesn't seem to matter anymore.

     Marital status.  Compared to married older adults, those who never married or were widowed, divorced or separated were more likely to become centenarians. This also flies in the face of some previous research which has identified a "marriage protection" for older people due to greater social connectedness, less self-destructive behavior, and the healthier habits generally found in married people. But this study found that the marriage protection seems less relevant among older people. Why? They may have became widowed earlier in life; hence stress associated with the trauma is long gone. The study also included more women, who suffer less negative effects from the break-up of a marriage than men. Additionally, some people still married may be experiencing a strained relationship which can take its own toll on health.

     Socioeconomic status. People who live in middle and upper middle-class areas are more likely to reach age 100 than those who live in poor areas. A higher income is associated with all kinds of advantages, including closer and stronger social connections, as well as healthier lifestyle choices and better access to medical facilities, parks and recreational activities and many other social services. 

     Population. The study found clusters of healthy older people in urban, higher socioeconomic areas, but very few centenarians in rural areas of the state. The researchers concluded that these communities, with more younger working people, enjoyed more government support, greater availability of community organizations, better access to transportation and health care services -- all factors that separately influence longevity and the chance of become a centenarian. 

     What does all this mean for us? Many of the factors that determine our longevity, such as race and gender, are beyond our control. But lifestyle matters a lot. We can exercise more, eat healthier diets, develop stronger social connections -- not so much to improve our chances to live to 100, but more to support "the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age."

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Questions to Ask Yourself

     At the beginning of the year we tend to assess our lives, wonder about the future. I think it's especially true this year, since we've all been sitting around the house with not enough to do, and too much time to think.

     So here are some questions to ask for 2021:

     What am I most excited about, right now? It is your grandkids, your volunteer job, your future travel plans? Of course, we can be interested in more than one thing, and we shouldn't feel that we're slighting one aspect of our lives just because we're focusing on another. But if your volunteer work seems like a drag, but your grands light up your life -- or visa versa -- don't feel guilty spending time on what you love.

     What's the best thing that happened in 2020? It's easy to focus on the negative. But surely all of us have at least something we did in 2020 that we loved -- and want to do again. For me, it's our February trip to South Carolina. Can't wait to go back!

     What are we most looking forward to in 2021? Probably first and foremost we want the pandemic to end -- to get our vaccination and resume somewhat normal life. But once normal life does begin, what's at the top of your list? Even before South Carolina I want to go see my new grandchild in Wisconsin. We were scheduled to make the trip last summer, but we canceled due to fear of exposure. Hopefully by this summer we'll feel safe enough to make the trip.

     What can I do for fun? I just read a memoir by a hard-drinking Irishman. He had a lot of fun in his youth. We all did. But what fun can we have at this age? Well, some of us, like my brother-in-law, still like to pop into the local bar for a drink and some camaraderie. But he lives in Florida with outdoor service even in January. As for me, it's table tennis. Alas, we're not playing anymore since Covid hit. But I'm hoping we can get our club back together this year -- outdoors for the summer if we have to.

     What is the most important charitable cause I can support? Some of us give time, some give money. And we each have our own focus. B is involved with our local Opportunity Council and other organizations providing food to the hungry. I focus on education, based on the old idea that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime. But there is no right or wrong way to go about helping others. We each have a role to play.

     What should other people know about me? Many people used to be defined by their job -- they were a lawyer, a teacher, a housewife, a dentist. Now many retirees feel that nobody knows who they are, or pays attention to them. That's why we need to define ourselves in retirement -- by highlighting what's important to us, who our friends are, what we spend our time on. So in my town, I'm the guy with the Center for Learning in Retirement. I do lots of other things -- I'm a volunteer tutor, I play golf and table tennis -- but mostly I'm the man to call for CLR. So . . . who are you in your community?