"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Art of Washing Dishes

      There's the James Beard Award for chefs. Celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri show off their talents on TV. Famous cooking competitions are refereed by Gordon Ramsey and other culinary stars. But as far as I know, there are no celebrity dishwashers, no dishwashing TV shows, no dishwashing competitions that bring fame and fortune to the winners.

     But there should be. There should be an award.

     Cooking is considered a highly skilled occupation, a calling, an art. But dishwashers are taken for granted, if they're lucky, otherwise they're abused and forgotten.

     But how would you like to go to a restaurant, and find old cheese hardened onto the side of your plate? Or bits of broccoli stuck to the tines of a fork, or some unidentifiable brownish stain on the bottom of your glass?

     No. Dishwashers do not get the credit they deserve.

     I know, because I'm the dishwasher in the family. And let me tell you, it is an underrated job that requires a lot more skill than people realize. 

     "Oh, what are you talking about?" people say to me. "You just stick the dishes in the dishwasher. They get clean!"

     Well, I don't know how to answer these people, except to say that they are no-talent dishwashing hacks!

     First of all, not everyone has an automatic dishwasher. So you have issues involving brushes and sponges, water temperature, dish sequencing, length and strength of scrubbing . . . and more.

     But most of us do have a dishwasher. And like most modern conveniences, that only makes things more complicated.

     First, there's the sorting process. You have to decide what can go in the dishwasher. Some pots and pans are too big. Special serving platters and cut-glass bowls are forbidden by the lady of the house to undergo the trials and tribulations visited upon dishes by the electric dishwasher. 

     Then, where do the larger glasses go, where can you fit the smaller ones? Which knives and forks go straight up, which go pointy end down? (A sharp knife must go point down, unless you want to stab your finger and make a trip to the ER.) That is, unless you have a top rack, in which case sharp instruments go up there.

     You see? It's more complicate than you think. I know, because I learned my dishwashing skills at the foot of my father. When I was a little boy, my older sister had the job of doing the dishes . . . my job was clearing the table. After my sister went to college, my dad took over . . . until my mother retired my father and promoted me to chief bottle washer.

     Later, I honed my skills in college. I lived off campus in a rowhouse with five other guys. Two of them cooked. Three of us took turns doing cleanup.

     You'd think a bunch of college guys would have low standards in the cleanliness department. But we didn't have an electric dishwasher. A missed glob of mashed potatoes or a greasy plate brought on a major investigation -- and the sloppy offender could and would be subjected to snide cutting comments and even physical harassment. One guy (seriously) was kicked out of the house for his lax -- and somewhat disgusting -- cleaning standards. 

     After college, and a couple of difficult years with a proudly messy roommate, I moved into my girlfriend's apartment. She was a cook. So my dishwashing skills came in handy . . . and were much appreciated. So much so that we got married!

     Anyway, enough of my personal history. The bottom line is that I am somewhat of an expert at washing dishes -- how to sort, when to rinse and when you don't have to rinse, how to rinse efficiently, how to position the dishes in and around the racks, how to deal with specialty items. And finally, the best way to unload the dishwasher.

     And if you think it doesn't matter how you empty the dishwasher . . . well, clearly you have a few things to learn. Which brings me to my point about getting dishwashers the credit they deserve.

     I'm proposing an award for dishwasher of the year. The Soapy Award and the Sudsy Award have both already been claimed by soap operas. So our award could be . . . The Squeaky.

     Unless you have a better idea for a name. And meanwhile, don't be shy about nominating a candidate for the award from your own life. We dishwashers need some recognition.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

How Old Do You Feel?

      Research has shown that subjective age -- how old we feel -- and not our actual age is a better predictor of our overall health, memory, physical strength and longevity. So instead of asking someone how old they are, you should ask: How old do you feel?

     Cues about age can influence how old we feel. So one way to feel younger is to socialize with people who are younger. An older person married to a younger person may have a younger subjective age -- they feel younger, act younger. Spouses who are significantly younger actually tend to live shorter lives, older spouses live longer lives.

     Women who have children later in life are often surrounded by younger age-related cues in the form of younger mothers. The relatively older mothers have a longer life expectancy than women who bear children earlier in life.

     Women feel younger after having their hair colored and show a healthy decrease in blood pressure. Bald men see an older self in the mirror which may speed up the aging process. There is some evidence that bald men have higher risk of prostate cancer and coronary heart disease. So cosmetic changes -- coloring our hair, wearing a toupee -- could actually have some health-related benefits.

     As a corollary, when asked what age they would like to be, most people say 10 years younger than they actually are, according to a study from the Stanford Center on Longevity. So 70-year-olds say they want to be 60, and 60-year-olds say they'd like to be 50. Nobody says they want to be 20 again -- maybe because they remember they had a lot of uncertainty about their lives at age 20, and they don't want to relive all that anxiety again.

     What age would you like to be . . . you know, if you had a magic genie to grant you a wish? Me? I'd want to be 50 again. Which is 20 years younger than my actual age . . . but 10 years younger than how I feel.

     How do I know all this? I picked up a book called Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging by Alan Castel. He offers plenty of good advice and interesting insights, some familiar, some new, at least to me.

     Castel refers to an old study from the 1980s that concluded there are three main factors to successful aging. 1) Being free of disability or disease; 2) having high cognitive and physical abilities; and 3) interacting with others in meaningful ways.

     He doesn't argue with this definition. But another definition of successful aging may involve the simple fact of reaching old age . . . because a lot of people, sometimes very successful people, don't get there, due to bad habits, bad luck, bad genes. So I guess those of us who have made it to 70 can congratulate ourselves. By one measure anyway, we are successful agers!

     Research has found that older adults do lose their ability to remember things. We cannot remember random numbers as easily as younger people. However, older adults are better at focusing on crucial information, and we do better remembering the important things. He quotes Cicero who said, "I've never heard of an old man who forgot where he buried his treasure."

     Castel does not believe in eating any specific foods to improve our health. Chocolate, blueberries, red wine, have all been promoted as miracle foods. The problem is, in order to gain any benefits, you'd have to eat or drink so much that the negative effects would far outweigh any benefits. He just recommends a standard healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, not too much fat or sugar or salt.

     Physical exercise is also an important factor in staying healthy and living a long life . . . and to ward off dementia. But you don't have to do anything extraordinary. Castel says walking is the perfect exercise for older people. 

     In terms of keeping our minds sharp, it's not so much what we do as learning something new. If you've been doing crossword puzzles all your life, doing more crossword puzzles will not improve your mental facility. The secret is to learn something new -- how to paint, how to play the piano, how to speak a foreign language. On the other hand, if you already play the piano, but don't do crossword puzzles, then starting to do crossword puzzles could be helpful.

     The exception is reading. Reading keeps our minds sharp, regardless of how much we've been reading before. And curiously, even though reading is a solitary activity, somehow it also improves our social skills. And we all know that having an active social life helps us stay healthy and alert. So maybe joining a book club is the answer.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

You Retired . . . Where?

     I recently read a couple of articles about the best places to retire. For example, U. S. News rates the best cities for retirement. (Hint: most of the top ones are in Florida or, believe it or not, Pennsylvania). Wallethub focuses on the best states for retirement. (Virginia is Number 1, Florida 2, Pennsylvania 14.)

     These lists are typically based on statistics about climate, income, life expectancy, access to health care. But all these are theoreticals. I wonder what people really care about when they decide where they're going to live after they retire.

     We had neighbors who didn't know where they wanted to retire. So they sold their house, rented an RV and spent a year traveling around the country, searching for their retirement haven. They ended up in Raleigh, NC. Why? I don't know. But for them it was the place to be.


     We have friends from New York who retired to Charleston, SC. They told us they had always expected to move to Florida, "because that's where New Yorkers go." But they never found a place in Florida where they truly felt comfortable. Then they stopped off to see a friend in Charleston, SC. "We fell in love with the city immediately," they said. Two days later they agreed to buy a townhouse. And now, seven years later, they've built a life there . . . and their daughter has moved to Charleston as well.

     Then there's my sister-in-law who lives in Seattle. She and her husband are retiring later this year, and they're talking about moving to Costa Rica. They took a tour last fall, specifically designed for Americans who are thinking about retiring in Costa Rica. We'll see if they actually go through with it.

     I have two sisters. One moved to Florida in her 30s. And she's still there. The other worked all around the country. Her last job was in Phoenix, and so after she retired that's where she stayed.

     What's your story? Where did you move when you retired? And what led you to go there? Or, if you never moved at all, why not?

     My wife and I moved from New York to Pennsylvania. We were both born and raised in the Northeast and realized we would never be comfortable living anywhere else. Florida? The Carolinas? The West Coast? Great places to visit. But not to live. At least for us.

     We might have moved to be near our children. But we have four children between us, and they are spread out all over the country. So that wasn't in the cards.

     Still, we wanted someplace less expensive than our pricey New York suburb. We considered Cape Cod. Too cold and dreary for nine months of the year. We visited Delaware . . . kind of blah.

     We looked at half a dozen towns in New Jersey, including Cape May. But we found out it would be less expensive if we moved across the state line into Pennsylvania. So that's what we did.

     B does have some family in Pennsylvania and nearby New Jersey. That was a draw. And now, we've made plenty of new friends . . . a few of them fellow retirees from New York and New Jersey.

     That's our real-life retirement story. What's yours?

Saturday, April 1, 2023

State of the Country

      Possibly you've seen reports about a Wall Street Journal/University of Chicago poll that recently took the pulse of American sentiment.

     To me the amusing -- and somehow sad -- thing about it is that the conservative press (like the New York Post) screeches that the poll is proof Americans have fallen for the "woke" agenda. They have become soft and spoiled, interested only in money and pursuing their own pleasures. They are not as patriotic, not as religious, and not as family oriented as they used to be. Young people aren't even interested in having kids anymore! In other words, America is in deep trouble.

     Meanwhile, the liberal press sees the same poll and massages the numbers to prove that Americans are becoming more progressive, more tolerant, more open to new ideas, more cognizant of our impact on the environment, and more focused on peaceful resolutions to our problems in the world. In short, we're becoming more enlightened.

     Of course, they could both be right, couldn't they?

     I went to the original poll, which I found in a link from a Wall Street Journal article. Here are a few of the results that stood out in my mind.

     The economy -- 80% say it's bad. 20% say it's good.

     Yet 62% say they are satisfied with their own personal financial situation. Go figure.

     Will life for our children's generation be better or worse than it has been for us? 78% say it won't be. Only 21% feel confident that it will be.

     Yet 71% say the U.S. is the best, or one of the best, countries in the world.

     And 68% say they're happy. 27% say they're not.

     How essential, or important, are these qualities in defining your identity? Here they are in order of importance:

  1.      Gender: 77%
  2.      Occupation:  73%
  3.      Family heritage:  67%
  4.      Religion:  63%
  5.      Race:  62%
  6.      Political affiliation:  53%

     So it seems, despite the ranting of the left and the raving of the right, race is not as important as some other things in life. And politics is less important still.

     How much confidence do you have in our public schools? 26% say quite a bit. 40% say some. 33% say not much. 

     Four-year college degree. Is it worth it? 42% say yes. 56% say no. In my opinion, that's not a great report card for our schools.

     Do you favor, or not favor, people using "gender neutral" pronouns like she/her?  20% favorable. 45% not favorable. 35% don't care.

     Do you consider yourself liberal, moderate or conservative:  Liberal 23%. Moderate: 47%. Conservative: 28%. Really? So much for the theory that our country is caught in a stark partisan divide.

     There's more in the poll. If you want to dig deeper and do your own analysis, here is a link to the original site.

     Like the conservatives, or the liberals or the moderates, you'll probably find just what you want to find in the poll. That seems to be how the human mind works. What do they call it? Confirmation bias?

     But even assuming you see what you want to see -- and disregard the rest -- just maybe you'll recognize that other people can have a different point of view, and just because they do doesn't make them stupid or hateful, or know-it-all self-important elites. You, uh, do agree with me, right?