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

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Who's Going to Travel?

      The last time we went anywhere was February 2020 -- 14 months ago --when we made our annual trip to Charleston, SC, to see kids and grandkids. We had planned to travel to Wisconsin last summer to see more kids and grandkids, but that trip got canceled.

     Now we're vaccinated, and we've decided it's safe -- or safe enough -- to get on the road again. We're heading to Virginia and South Carolina at the end of the week. We are driving. We are staying in a condo with vaccinated friends for two nights in Virginia. Then we will have our own airbnb for two weeks on a Carolina beach outside of Charleston.

     So no hotels. We will bring along our portable potty so we don't have to stop at a public restroom. We will be seeing the grandchildren, who of course have not been vaccinated. But they're used to wearing masks, so we've resolved to wear masks as well. It will be hard to keep them on all the time. But we think we'll survive a few slip-ups since, as I said, we're both vaccinated.

     We'll have to go into a supermarket to pick up groceries. We'll wear masks. And we think we could actually be safer doing that in South Carolina, rather than Pennsylvania, since the Covid count is lower there (15 cases/100,000 population in Charleston vs. 36/100,000 at home). Presumably, less virus in the air means less chance of being infected.

     We also plan to go to a restaurant or two -- but only outside. It should be plenty warm in the South Carolina evenings at this time of year.

Destination: Charleston
     We think we will be safe. We hope we will be safe. But regardless, we've decided it's worth the risk -- and we're not even sure being away is any risker than staying home.

     However ... we do have a plan to fly to Phoenix in the beginning of June. This outing has me a little more worried. An airport, an airplane, a rental car. Another airbnb. But it's a family thing. And we feel as though we have to go.

     And then in August we're finally going to make that trip to Wisconsin. Again, we'll be driving; we're staying in an airbnb by ourselves -- although it's far enough away that we will have to hazard a night in a hotel on the way there and the way back.

     We're relying on the miracle of modern medicine (we both got the Pfizer shots) to keep us safe, along with our own caution in staying to ourselves as much as possible, staying outside when we can, keeping our masks on when we're with other people.

     Are we crazy? 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Please ... Be Careful

      Okay, this maybe too much information, but I typically get up once in the night to go to the bathroom. Usually around 4 a.m. It's pretty routine. I can do it in my sleep . . . or so I thought.

      The other night I got up as usual, stumbled into the bathroom and for some reason I tried to lean against the edge of the shower. I stuck my arm out. Felt my hand bump against the wall. Then it slipped. Next thing I knew, I was keeling over. I hit my head on the edge of the shower.

     I caught myself before I fell over completely. So I just banged my head a bit. But, ouch, it hurt! I stood there for a moment. Rubbed my head. I'd only fallen the length of my arm. How bad could it be?

     I proceeded to go to the bathroom, then take a drink of water, and go back to bed. I fell right back to  sleep.

     In the morning I woke up at the usual time. Remembering my middle-of-the-night fall, I touched my head on the left side where it hit. It was still a little sore. Was there a bump? I didn't think so, but I couldn't really tell.

     I popped a couple of Tylenol and went about my day. I did some yardwork, ran through my exercises, read my book, watched TV. To be honest, I felt a little fuzzy, especially toward evening. I probably should have rested for the day instead.

     The next day I still felt a little fuzzy, but the soreness had mostly gone away. Ironically, I had a doctor's appointment that afternoon. But it wasn't with my regular doctor, it was with an orthopedist who was checking out my bad knee. He gave me a Cortisone shot, which I've been getting about once a year for the past few years. That seems to be enough to keep the arthritis at bay -- along with the knee exercises I do almost every day for 20 minutes or so.

     It was the day after that when I saw on the news some fellow in the Midwest had gotten into a fight. He was knocked down. He struck his head in the parking lot, and he died before he even got to the hospital.

     My head was pretty much better by then. Still, the news report gave me the chills. I realized a head injury is nothing to scoff at, nothing to ignore.

     And, of course, neither is the prospect of falling. I've fallen a few times. Once in the shower, around 2014 or 2015. I remember I slipped on the slick shower floor. I grabbed for the soap holder, yanked it out of the wall, and took the shower curtain and shower rod down with me as I fell over the bathtub. I ended up with a nasty bruise that ran along my side from the top of my thigh up to my armpit. 

     I couple of years later I tripped over one of those cement bars in a restaurant parking lot. I scraped up my hands and arms pretty good. Then last year I slipped on a wet railroad tie on a golf course. (See After the Fall.) I got another big bruise from that one. It took about a month to go away.

     In case you think I'm clumsy (well, okay, I am)), I'm not the only one. B tripped on the sidewalk last year. For some reason she couldn't get her hands out in front of her, so she went down right on her face. That was pretty ugly . . . although she eventually healed up, no scar. She took another fall this past winter on the walking path in the park -- slipped on a patch of ice.

     As I've reported before, every year some 3 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries. The majority of severe hip fractures are caused by falls.

     So now I've learned to be careful in the shower. In the parking lot. On the golf course and now when I go to the bathroom at night. But is that enough?

     We've been told to make sure our stairs are well-lit, to keep a light on at night. We get rid of throw rugs and other tripping hazards. Keep our cables and wires neatly stashed away. Watch out for wet tiles in the bathroom and kitchen. But beyond all the obvious things, just please be careful. It always seems to happen when we least expect it. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"But I Might Need It Someday!"

      When  I was younger I liked to go sailing. I never owned a boat. But I had a friend who sailed out of Stamford, CT, and he took me on a couple of weekend trips up to Block Island and Cape Cod. One summer I  took a series of sailing lessons on the Hudson River, and another summer I rented a small sailboat which I used to tool around Long Island Sound.

     Sometimes, when I dreamed of sailing away into the sunset, I'd wonder if I could fit all my possessions onto a boat. I thought I probably could. A few clothes -- not many, since I would be sailing into the southern latitudes. A few provisions, a bag of books, one box of memorabilia.

     I never got a chance to prove it because I never sailed away into the sunset. That's probably a good thing, for many reasons, not least of which is that it's easier to downsize in your head than it is to downsize in reality.

     But I do remember downsizing from our four-bedroom house into a one-bedroom condominium. We got rid of a  lot of stuff, put a lot more into a storage locker, and crammed the rest into our condo. It was hard.

     I'm sure many of you have been through the process yourselves. What was the hardest part of downsizing for you?

     As we tossed out stuff, we kept saying, "But we might need this again someday." Or else it would be, "But I paid $700 for these . . . " You fill in the blank. Sports equipment, musical instruments, special furniture.  Or else we'd say, "But the kids might want this dining set from Aunt Martha." 

     We managed to get rid of a lot. But we still found that when we upsized again, into a small house, we ended up giving away or tossing out a few items from the condo and at least half the stuff we'd stashed in the storage locker.

Some of my decluttering sins
     I realized, the biggest enemy of downsizing are the words: "We might need this again someday."

     But the fact is, you probably won't. And if you do, it will be easier to buy a new one than dig out the old one -- one that might not work anyway. We have several pieces of audio equipment to prove it. Some speakers, a CD player, an old radio. But now we get our music on an iPhone, or through our Google Play, or via Youtube. Those speakers are still moldering away down in the basement.

     Here's one suggestion I read about. Put your least-used "I might need it someday" into boxes and store them somewhere. Maybe you can exchange some boxes with a similar-minded friend. You each store the other's boxes in your basement. After a year or two, you can revisit your boxes and decide if you still want to keep them. Chances are you won't.

     As for those other words: "But I paid $700 for those . . . " I'll tell you about my son. He was a musician in high school and college. We'd invested literally thousands of dollars in guitars, drums, amps, mixers and other equipment. He didn't want them anymore. They were outdated. So I tried to sell some of it. Nobody would buy it, but I managed to give away some of the stuff. However, I just could not bring myself to let go of the saxophone that had been glued to his hip for 15 years, or the banjo that he decided he just had to learn to play in 11th grade.

     I'm no expert on decluttering. I've just been through it. And so I can tell you. Get rid of the just-in-cases. Get rid of the but-I-paid-so-much-for-this. Divest yourself of the old coin collection or photo equipment if you're no longer interested in the hobby. Give away the clothes that no longer fit. Toss all the stuff that's outdated or doesn't work anymore. And take the hint: If your kids don't want it, neither do you.

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.

     My wife B and I both take 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!