Thursday, 12 December 2013
Helping Out Elders in Winter
Although we are finally heading back into the low 40s Farenheit today, like much of the United States for the past week or 10 days, my area has suffered frigid, below freezing weather 24/7. Unusual for northwest Oregon.
Perhaps I am more tuned to elders and cold weather because my 92-year-old grandmother, many years ago, froze to death in her home. (I wrote about that four years ago in The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman.)
I always think about how Grandma Hazel's life ended during arctic weather spells. Although hers was a special case undoubtedly involving some degree of cognitive disability, winter is more treacherous for all elders than it is for younger adults.
Hypothermia (drop in body temperature) can happen more easily in old age. It causes mental confusion, slurred speech, stiffness in arms or legs, slow body movement, irregular heart beat and death.
Body temperature below 96 degrees (98.6 is the average normal) is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment.
In old age, we do not always feel temperature changes as easily as when we were younger so it's harder to know when you're getting too cold. I've noticed this in myself and am still surprised occasionally that I don't feel as cold as I did two or three decades ago when I could be heard bitching about being out in winter weather.
Right now, I'm dreading next month's power bill. This place is heated with electricity and as I noted, it's not been this cold for this long during any of the previous three winters I've lived here so I've turned the heat on much more frequently and for longer than usual over the past 10 days.
I will be able to pay the bill, but I suspect I'm not going to be happy about it and we should all be aware of low-income friends and neighbors who might not turn up the heat enough to be safe And, of course, they would never mention it. Inside temperatures should not be set below 68-70 degrees during the day in cold weather.
If you or an elder you know uses a space heater for additional warmth, the National Institute on Aging supplies this safety checklist:
- Make sure your space heater has been approved by a recognized testing laboratory.
- Choose the right size heater for the space you are heating.
- Put the heater on a flat, level surface that will not burn.
- Keep children and pets away from the heating element.
- Keep things that can catch fire like paint, clothing, bedding, curtains and papers away from the heating element.
- If your heater has a flame, keep a window open at least one-inch and doors open to the rest of your home for good air flow.
- Turn the heater off when you leave the room or go to bed.
- Make sure your smoke alarms are working.
- Put a carbon monoxide detector near where people sleep.
- Keep an approved fire extinguisher nearby.
I would add that you should never connect a space to the wall outlet using an extension cord.
Some other important cold-weather information:
Drink alcohol sparingly or not at all – it encourages loss of body heat.
Try not to go out on the coldest, windiest days. If you must, wear several layers of loose clothing, nothing tight, that will trap and hold in body heat. Don't ever forget hat and gloves.
Ask your physician if any medications you take can affect body temperature. According to several resources, some drugs used to treat anxiety, depression and nausea can increase risk of accidental hypothermia as can some over-the-counter cold remedies.
Prepare for power outages with flashlights, additional batteries or use crank-powered flashlight, battery- or crank-operated radio, a corded phone is a help as cell towers may be inoperable and learn where your community's warming shelters are.
In addition, keep a good supply of canned food on hand because during prolonged power outages food in refrigerators and freezers can spoil.
(Here's a personal tip on that: during one power outage when I lived in Maine, I knew the temperature wasn't going to be above about 20 degrees for coming week so I just moved all the frozen food to the back deck.)
We have discussed here many time the terrible debilitating effects on elders of falls and one-third of us fall down every year. So be extra careful on snowy and icy walkways – stay in if at all possible. Footwear should have good traction, non-skid soles. If you use a cane or walker, make sure the rubber tips are not worn down.
When temperatures are below freezing and particularly during power outages when you are without heating, leave one or two water taps open and dripping to help prevent frozen pipes.
It is a kindness to check on elder friends and neighbors during cold snaps. Are they warm enough? Do they need their walk- and driveways shoveled? If they do not drive, do they need a lift to the grocery store and back?
Whew. When you've done all that, cozy up to your heat source, sit back and Let It Snow like Frank Sinatra sings.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Season's Greeting
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Let's Increase Social Security Benefits
Two or three or four years ago or maybe more (you know how hard it is track time in old age when it starts moving so much faster) I first came across the idea that Social Security benefits should not only not be cut, they should be increased.
Even though I was aware that the traditional three-legged stool of retirement – Social Security, personal savings, employer pension - had been wobbly for a long time and only Social Security was still viable, I didn't believe the political climate was anywhere near ready for such a radical step. In fact, I believed any politician mentioning it would be laughed out of the room.
And that's pretty much what happened back then. No longer.
Earlier this year, Senator Tom Harkin [D – IA] introduced The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 which includes three major steps to improve the benefit:
- Increase current payments by about $70 a month
- Change the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment to more closely track real costs of elders
- Scrap the salary cap
As one of the bill's supporters, Senator Sherrod Brown [D-OH], told Greg Sargent last month,
“There are two fundamental numbers that make this a moral case for Democrats to make...One is that a third of seniors rely on Social Security for virtually their entire income. The other is that more than half of seniors rely on Social Security for significantly more than half their income.”
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren also supports Harkin's bill as do Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and elders' stalwart Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Just two weeks ago or so, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman jumped on the bandwagon with a stirring column in support of the movement although he is cautious about timing:
”Realistically,” he concluded, “Social Security expansion won’t happen anytime soon. But it’s an idea that deserves to be on the table — and it’s a very good sign that it finally is.”
Maybe sooner than Krugman thinks. Political activist and blogger Jan Adams alerted me to another good sign. Last week, two-term Montana lieutenant-governor John Bohlinger, Jr. announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in 2014 for Montana's U.S. Senate seat, to succeed the retiring Max Baucus.
Bohlinger is making Social Security expansion a big part of his campaign:
”Current Social Security benefits are puny and we can easily fix that by lifting the cap,” he says. “Let's expand Social Security benefits. It is smart economics and the morally correct action.”
He has made his first campaign video. Take a look:
Bohlinger is a lifelong politician having served three terms in the Montana House of Representatives and two in the Montana State Senate. Over the years, he has run as both a Republican and Democrat.
I don't know enough about Bohlinger or Montana politics to know if he is a viable candidate but as Jan noted in her email, he is someone for us elders to keep our eyes on and to support.
And maybe he is a harbinger of more like him to come.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: The Recipe
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
On Confronting the Inevitable
There are a whole bunch of interesting comments on my “journal entry” post last week musing about what comes next as I get older. One of them is a question posed by an Australian TGB reader, Brigid Walsh:
”I wonder if you might explain further on the first bullet point "Yielding to the truth of what lies at the end of everyone's life journey.”
I see her point; that's hardly clear, is it? Sometimes my reach for brevity goes too far.
I was talking about accepting the fact of our own death - of confronting it, of taking the time to reconcile with it through one's personal beliefs, philosophy, experience and whatever understanding of life and death we have reached (or not).
My personal story vis a vis the reality of death might explain further.
I was five or six years old when I first came to know that I would die – that is, stop living, cease to exist, not be here anymore.
And that knowledge terrified me. Although it could not possibly be true, my sense is that for the next ten years or more I never, ever slept; I just stayed awake all night trembling with uncontrolled fear in the face of future nonexistence.
Somewhere around my high school years I began a personal and private study of religions - in particular comparing their beliefs about death and afterlife.
In the years following school, I worked my way through the ancients' belief systems and the more modern philosophers and some naturalists helped too along with, as I entered my twenties, a lot of wine- and weed-fueled all-nighters with friends on the great questions of life and death. (That's what you're supposed to do at that age.)
In my case, none of it – well, except maybe for the wine and weed - did anything to alleviate middle-of-the-night terrors until I “realized” this: You are all going to die and I am the one immortal. So there!
Don't laugh. For a good while it was my best-kept secret, something to feel superior about, and even though I didn't really believe it, I sort of did and it helped. Sort of.
At this point, not a day of my life since age five or six had gone by that I didn't think about the prospect of my personal death for at least a smidgen of time and often, in quiet moments, longer.
Here is a glimpse of my confusion on the subject: my secret immortality notwithstanding, on every birthday I privately asked myself, I wonder how many more of these I will get? Will I make it to next year?
Time passed – a lot of time – and I came to see how debilitating my fear of dying was, how it got in the way of living. It was my constant companion shadowing even the best events: Is this the last time I'll feel this good? I would wonder.
It's exhausting to be always afraid and finally, after so many, many years of it, I determined to find a way to overcome it. I wish I had a prescription for any of you with the same kind of troubles. What would be better is that you are all much smarter and more fully evolved than I and don't need my thoughts on this.
The best I can say for anyone who does want them, is what you undoubtedly already know: we each face and work to overcome our demons in our own ways and in our own time.
For me, it took half a lifetime to recognize there might be a way to escape the constant fear. Once I arrived at that point, meditation helped – still does. Sadly, the deaths of elders I knew and, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, too many men I knew who died too young helped me see the way.
And all that study when I was a young woman into religions, philosophy and biology and those late-night bull sessions? They didn't go to waste. I found, in my search for some measure of serenity, that I had learned more than I knew from them.
The point was to find acceptance for this horror and we shouldn't deny that on a personal level, that's what it is – horror. With apologies to Hamlet, to be and then not to be? How dare we be given life only to have it snatched away.
But, as they say, that's what is and I'm grateful now to be pretty sure I found acceptance of it for myself. Note that's “pretty” sure. But generally, I hardly ever feel fearful about death nowadays.
Someone within my hearing recently said that she thinks of death as the last great adventure and I used to say that too. But now I think it's too facile, a phrase meant to sound more profound than it is.
Death is too serious to be taken lightly and god knows, I can't be accused of that.
It took the earthly equivalent of eternity for me to find my way to an accommodation with death but it was worth the effort. It has felt, these past years, like a great burden has been lifted and day-to-day life is much easier now.
Whew, Brigid – aren't you sorry you asked.
That was a particularly fruitful and interesting conversation last week and toward the end of her comment, Brigid made another point that reminds me of how proud I am of what we have created together at this blog:
”I love and welcome the responses you draw from your readers, Ronni. They...encourage and contribute to the building of a community in this place.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Call Me Mister
Monday, 09 December 2013
Christmas Movies for Elders
More tired than usual one evening last week, I surfed through television channels looking for some mildly distracting entertainment that did not involve reality programs, shopping channels, talent shows or other bottomfeeders of mindrot TV.
That's hard to do during series rerun season in December. Most of what I found were Christmas movies. Lots and lots of Christmas movies, almost entirely of the cheapo variety. But not all.
What I settled on, then, was The Muppet Christmas Carol released in 1972, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge with Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife and a passel of wonderfully imagined Muppet town folk - some familiar, others not.
The official trailer gives a good sense of what an excellent production it is.
By the time the movie ended, I was sorry I'd come in late when only about 40 minutes remained but it left me wondering what other Christmas movies I would like to see again.
Not surprisingly for someone without children, grandchildren or interest in Christmas movies as a genre, the ones that came to mind are quite old – things I saw as a kid or young woman and that with one or two exceptions are probably unknown to young people today – and some I don't even like.
Like White Christmas, for example, but god help me, it's the first one that came to mind. Here are the stars, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen with the Irving Berlin title song:
More to my liking is The Shop Around the Corner, a lovely Ernst Lubitsch film from 1940 about two people who work together every day and don't know until Christmas Eve that they have been falling in love as pen pals.
It stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan but one favorite scene of mine instead involves Frank Morgan and Charles Smith.
Speaking of Jimmy Stewart, do you think maybe It's a Wonderful Life is the most beloved Christmas movie of all time? Here he is in the scene just after Clarence the Angel saves George Bailey:
There is also Miracle on 34th Street, about a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real deal, starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood when she was a little kid. I can't find a clip I like so, moving along...
We started with the Muppets Christmas Carol and perhaps it is fitting to end with the ending of A Christmas Carol - the 1971 television version from Britain with Alistair Sim as Scrooge:
Certainly there are plenty more but like I said, there aren't a lot on my list so I wonder if you have favorite old Christmas movies you like to see again and again.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Big Brother is Watching You
Sunday, 08 December 2013
ELDER MUSIC: Interesting Singers
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Here are some interesting singers. There's no linking theme, I just thought you might like to hear them. I certainly enjoyed selecting them (and many others who didn't make the cut but will certainly be present in future epistles).
These singers are a mixture of well known performers and others that may be new to some of you. I like to mix them up like that. Without further ado I'll get to the music.
To my ears it sounds as if MARK WINKLER and CHERYL BENTYNE listened very carefully to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. No bad thing in my estimation.
Their song is really two songs strung together, the second paying homage to the first. The first being the classic Paul Desmond composition Take Five and the second is Drinks on the Patio. That's Rich Eames on piano and Bob Sheppard on sax.
TIMI YURO had an amazing voice that she used to spectacular effect in the song Hurt. You won't hear that one today, but it will be featured in 1961, so be patient.
Timi was one of the first singers to perform in a style that's now referred to as Blue-Eyed Soul. Alas, in the eighties she was diagnosed with throat cancer from which she eventually died. Here she performs She Really Loves You.
CÉCILE SALVANT was born and bred in Miami.
She was the product, if that's not too crude a way of putting it, of a French mother and an Haitian father. She was classically trained on both piano and voice and studied in France where, besides extending her musical repertoire into Baroque and modern classical music, Cécile also earned a law degree.
It was in France that she discovered jazz. There's a lot more that could be mentioned but I only have a bit of space.
Here is her interpretation of the J. Russel Robinson song, St Louis Gal. Old J was active in the early part of the 20th century and collaborated with W.C. Handy, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and James P. Johnson amongst others from that time.
HELEN SHAPIRO is another singer with an extraordinary voice, easily the finest of the female pop singers in the early sixties.
It was difficult to believe that she was only 14 when she first burst on to the musical scene. Helen had many hits in the next few years and once toured as headlining act with an unknown, but up and coming, group called The Beatles.
They got on really well and they gave her a song to record. She would have been the first artist to record a Lennon/McCartney song but her record company nixed that saying that the group was a flash in the pan and they knew better what was best for her.
This isn't that song, it's It's so Funny I Could Cry.
TINY TOPSY started performing in the forties when she sang with the Al Smith band in Chicago.
After that band split up, she went solo in the late fifties and early sixties, usually under the name Tiny Topsy and the Five Chances which featured saxophonist Ray Felder and the vocal group The Charms.
There's some doubt about her real name but the best guess is that she was born Otha Lee Hall. She died young, just 34. Whoever she was, today she's singing Miss You So.
I had a little help from Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, in selecting a song from SARAH VAUGHAN.
The A.M. is a big fan of Sarah's and I had the selection culled to two songs. She chose the one we have today, You're Not the Kind.
DORIS TROY was born Doris Higginsen and her rather strict parents disapproved of this music nonsense.
She was later an usherette at the Apollo where she was discovered by James Brown. Doris eventually worked with the great Solomon Burke as well as The Drifters, Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and pretty much everyone else in show biz. Her song is Exactly Like You.
Although DOROTHY MOORE has recorded a couple of dozen albums and released quite a few singles, she's best known for just one song.
I could have chosen something else, but that song is so good I'm going with it. Misty Blue.
CATHERINE RUSSELL was obviously destined for a career in music. Her father was Louis Armstrong's long time musical director and her mother gained degrees in music from both Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music.
Besides being a singer Catherine plays keyboards, drums and guitar. An all-round entertainer. She's a terrific singer too as you'll hear in Don't Leave Me.
I had a little help from the A.M. on this next artist as well although I had pretty much chosen the track that the A.M. came up with. The singer is SUSANNAH MCCORKLE.
Those who know Susannah will realize what a great talent she was. They will also know the tragic circumstance of her premature death, which I won’t go into here.
Susannah sings I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle, a song popularized by Bessie Smith and Susannah sings the blues rather than her usual jazz performance.
Saturday, 07 December 2013
INTERESTING STUFF – 7 December 2013
FOUR STAR CHEF SWITCHES TO A SOUP KITCHEN
According to this story from KARE-TV, this man gave up a six-figure income as executive chef at one of the finest restaurants in Minneapolis/St. Paul for a Salvation Army soup kitchen. And wait until you see the meals he serves.
WEIRD, CREEPY, AMAZING MAGIC
From illusionist Criss Angel. That's all I'm gonna say.
You can find out more about Criss Angel at Wikipedia. (Hat tip to Darlene Costner)
This from Michael Caronaro may not be as spectacular as Criss Angel's but it is funnier and it's kind of sweet too – a segment from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. (Thank you to Nancy Leitz)
GOOD THINGS ELIZABETH WARREN HATH WROUGHT
A so-called “relationship banker” refused to honor the request of a 93-year-old to close an account without penalty because she was one day past the deadline date that had fallen on a holiday. When the 93-year-old's son, Mike Frenkel, asked to speak to a manager,
”I learned that this branch had no supervisor on the premises,” he wrote. “After an uncomfortable silence, my Relationship Manager then offered to call the 'Advocacy Team' to see if they could waive the penalty.
“She whispered into what looked like a real landline phone, nodded a few times, hung up the receiver, smiled and then shook her head. 'Sorry. They said it's not possible.'"
Back home, Mr. Frenkel took a shot at rectifying the issue by sending an email to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) via its website.
”I expected one of those, 'We're sorry' replies from the CFPB. Instead, a mere four days after I had filed my complaint, I received a written apology from the bank, a waiver of all penalty fees and the promise to 'escalate this matter for further policy review.' I couldn't believe it. Elizabeth Warren's crew had come to my rescue.”
A government agency that helps real people. Amazing. Thank Senator Elizabeth Warren for that but you should also go read the Mike Frenkel's whole story. It's worth the effort of one click.
RHAPSODY IN BLUE LIKE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD IT
Israeli pianist Astrith Baltsan performs Gershwin with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra – an amazing performance of a familiar and beloved piece. (Again, thank you to Darlene Costner)
GUINNESS WORLD RECORD DOMINO CHAIN
Let me know if you get tired of these because I don't. This one is a world record, says Guinness - 100,000 dominos.
It was created by the people at Austria Domino Art and you can read more about it at the YouTube page.
Bernard Durin, who died in 1988, was a French artist who painted bugs. Yes, bugs. Insects.
Recently, a book of some of those paintings, Beetles and Other Insects, was reissued in an enhanced edition from its 1980 original. And wow – what a book it is. Reporter Dana Jennings writes in The New York Times:
”Painted with passion and precision, each insect here is a marvel of evolutionary architecture and engineering, but also a wonder of color, texture and detail. I’d forgotten how hairy so many insects are, and the hues and patterns on many of these exoskeletons suggest ancient mosaics or fine Italian tile. These are mere vermin?”
They may be but look how beautiful the Sphaerocoris anulus is:
Look at the gorgeous pantaloons on the Anisocelis flavolineata.
This got almost more publicity last week than the ACA website so you may have seen it but I couldn't skip it. Drones to deliver Amazon products in 30 minutes.
It was a good stunt but I don't believe it. Too many trees at my house for it to work. What about power lines? And apartment houses. Can it ring the bell like the UPS guy does at my house when he delivers a package?
But even if you don't believe in it, the video is fun to watch.
You can find out more at Amazon Prime Air.
DOG CHEATS AT SNOW MAZE
They built the snow maze just for him but the dog doesn't see any reason to follow human game rules – it's too much fun to just play.
Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.
You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.
Friday, 06 December 2013
Journal Entry: The Next Step in My Old Age
All we know for sure is that life is short. Or, more likely, it's only old people who know that.
When I was young, in my 20s and contemplating my future, to be 70 someday felt like an eternity, even two eternities - so far off that there was no reason to wonder about it.
But from where I am now at 72, I can close my eyes and feel 20 as near in my mind's eye as yesterday. I have grown old enough now to “grok” that life doesn't last very long.
Yet I am not so old – nor sickly – that death feels close by as I expect it to feel in ten or 15 years should I be given that much time (or will I be as wrong about that as I was at 20 about the nature of longevity)?
And unlike the callow youth I was half a century ago, so cavalierly certain there would be so much time for everything that I didn't need a plan, now I want to consider the best possible way to use the rest of my life.
I don't mean anything as simple as a bucket list of destinations, events or experiences. If there are to be any of those, they should grow naturally out of what I am working to decide now.
The question – a question, anyway – is this: on what information or knowledge or notions or convictions should I base my choices? There are only two or three things, in addition to the brevity of life, I know for sure:
• Yielding to the truth of what lies at the end of everyone's life journey gives me the freedom to live as fully and intensely as I want.
• Even as death closes in, there is no reason life cannot be made pleasurable and productive.
• We are each of us on our own which is the reason we must take care of one another.
• If I live longer than another year or two, I will need to revise these choices as life pulls me in directions I am still too young to imagine.
This is as far as I've gotten. Interim goals elude me for now but I know that when the last of my days are nigh (I would consider it a blessing to be aware), I want to believe I have done the best I could manage, and be comfortable knowing it is time to go.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Thomas Moore: Never the Hero