Previous month:
July 2007
Next month:
September 2007

You Can Help Build the First ElderBrowser

For four years, I’ve been banging on here at TGB about the neglect of elders’ needs in many areas of the culture. Today it can be announced that at last, we have liftoff – at least in the area of technology.

It is thrilling that my presentation at Gnomedex in early August caught the attention of some big-name technology companies along with some individual, expert technologists. One of the latter is a fine, young man named Joshua McKenty who chased me down at my seat in the auditorium at Gnomedex to offer his services in creating a web browser that would meet the needs of old people.

And, my friends, he wasn’t just blowing smoke. In only three weeks since Gnomedex, we are already in the early stages of developing an ElderBrowser that will make surfing easier for old people whose eyesight may be fading, whose motor skills can diminish, and which will speed the learning curve of newbie elders.

This is a first step toward making the web more elder-friendly and I will announce more initiatives as they come along.

Right now, Joshua and I would like to enlist your input to help us get the ElderBrowser right. Here are a few of the obvious changes we have identified:

  • Larger text in the location and tool bars at the top of the browser
  • More contrast between the text and background colors of the those bars
  • Make the minimize/hide/close buttons in the upper right easier to choose with a mouse
  • Make grayed out icons and text easier to read
  • Scale the ElderBrowser for use by newbie, intermediate and expert elders

Those are not all we’ve come up with, but they give you an idea of the direction we are going and now we are asking for your help on such questions as:

  • What is difficult for you to do in a web browser?
  • What confuses you?
  • What is hard to see?
  • What is hard for for you to do with your mouse?
  • What doesn’t a browser do that you would like it to do?
  • What are the things you like best about a web browser?
  • What are the things you like least?
  • What is the single change in a browser that would make it a better experience for you?

Also, try to recall what gave you trouble in a browser when you were new to using the web. Or, let us know what difficulties your parents or other newbies you know may have learning to use a web browser:

  • Were/are there too many choices? Too few?
  • What confused you (or confuses your parents) as a newbie?
  • Did you or do your parents use the default settings of a browser when you were a newbie? If so, why? If not, why?

You get the idea. This is your chance to make a real-world difference for all online elders and make it easier, for those who are just starting out, to enjoy and embrace the internet to its fullest.

Leave your answers and any other suggestions and ideas in the comments below. Every one of them will be seriously considered for inclusion in the new ElderBrowser. Keep in mind, that this project is for a web browser only, not hardware, other kinds of software or blogs. Those, if all goes well, will come later.

I cannot thank Joshua enough for taking on this project. It is his idea, he is doing it on his own time and his enthusiasm, when we met at Gnomedex and continuing now, has given me renewed energy to keep pushing for the improvements we need in many areas of elders’ lives.

As we move forward, I will keep you updated on the development of the ElderBrowser. Joshua blogs at BountyUp Founders – Mumblings from behind the curtain and he too will be writing about the progress of the ElderBrowser, so it is a good idea to bookmark his blog. I’ve added a link to it from the Elderbloggers List on the left sidebar. He is a long way yet from the minimum age of 50, but if ever a younger person deserved to be there, it is Joshua.

While I’m on a gratitude jag, I must mention the founder and producer of the Gnomedex conference, Chris Pirillo. On his various websites, blog, Blaugh cartoon and other endeavors, he has always been an enthusiastic and creative supporter of elderbloggers and elders online. Without his invitation for me to speak at Gnomedex this year, the ElderBrowser and none of some other exciting new projects would exist. So he too gets a spot on the Elderbloggers List.

There are no better young advocates of technology for elders right now than these two 30-somethings who put their personal time and expertise where their mouths are. It would be a mitzvah if you would go tell Chris and Joshua how terrific they are in taking the lead for inclusion of elders in the world of technology.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Matty is back with another tale of her grandson's one-upkidship in Out of the Mouths of Babes.]


What It’s Like To Be Retired

Elderblogger Mary Ann of Five Wells is featured in a new documentary titled 101 Ways to Retire – or Not!, produced by Sue Perlgut and Christopher Julian.

Now that I’ve screened the video, that “or Not” portion of the title appears to be the operative point of view. None of the eight “retired” people interviewed throughout the documentary, all living in the vicinity of Ithaca, New York, are taking it easy. One teaches languages. A couple raises orchids commercially. Others work as a school bus aide, a house cleaner and a caregiver. Mary Ann is a member of the Town Board.

And all that is in addition to volunteering, gardening, choir singing, taking dance and exercise classes, raising chickens, traveling and studying. These people’s lives and interests are as varied as any group of younger people’s.

It was amusing to find that most of them dislike the term “senior citizen” as much as I do, and they don’t think of themselves as retired in the traditional sense. Part of the reason for that is retirement from paid employment is not an option for most of them. The documentary alludes to problems of ill health and money among the interviewees, but skims past those details to focus on the upbeat.

However, at different moments, almost everyone speaks to the importance of money: “Social Security is not enough.” “Save your money.” “Save money out of every paycheck – even $5.00.” “Save.” “Save.” “Save.”

With the exception of one participant, they say they don’t have time for senior centers; they are too busy “still doing what I’ve always done” (although one admits, without apparent regret, to doing it a bit more slowly).

This is an important point. Just because we don’t continue to pursue our midlife careers full or even part time doesn’t mean our interests and passions – related to our career or our leisure endeavors – change. I worked in mainstream media all my life and I still track it, keep up with trends, read journalism reviews and apply the knowledge from my decades of employment to my current “career” of elderblogging. I cannot possibly be alone in this as this documentary makes clear.

In an interview conducted by email, producer Sue Perlgut said, “I do think that we need to find a new word for what it means to be ‘retired’. It’s just not a good word for what many people are doing.”

Sue is right. Like “senior citizen,” “retirement” conjures images of people in rocking chairs napping or watching television. But I wonder if that pejorative notion was ever so and if the people in this documentary are really “redefining” retirement, as the media repeatedly tells us baby boomers are doing.

My memories of old people I knew when I was growing up is that they were as busy as anyone else. One worked every day at her church. The grandmother who lived with a friend raised the family’s pre-school children after their mother died. An old man in the neighborhood worked as a gardener for many local homeowners. And my mother served on the board of directors of her former employer nearly until her death. I don’t remember old people sitting around doing nothing.

If “retired” people are more frequently starting new or part-time businesses these days than in the past, it is because there is more opportunity for it than there was 50 years ago. Particularly because of the internet, large numbers of businesses can be operated from home, and due to that and new kinds of service businesses, start-up costs are minimal these days.

We mis-remember, I suspect, what the old were doing when we were young and so-called “active retirement” is not as new as we are told.

I was surprised and it was fun toward the end of the documentary to hear Mary Ann quote Time Goes By with a shot of this blog.

This is a lively, thoughtful video that gives more than a picture of contemporary retirement; it does a great job of showing what elders are really like in their daily lives at home and in their various endeavors.

You can find out more at the website, 101waystoretireornot.com.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju wonders what might have happened during a Drama in a Strip Mall Parking Lot.]


Medicare and Hospital Errors

category_bug_journal2.gif Beginning 1 October 2008, Medicare will no longer pay hospitals for treating preventable errors. The new ruling lists eight specific conditions for which payment will be withheld:

  • Retrieval of surgical tools or sponges left in a patient
  • Surgical site infection after coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Injuries caused by falls in hospitals
  • Infections caused by prolonged use of catheters n the bladder or blood vessels
  • Treatment for bedsores developed in hospital
  • Extra care for patients harmed by incompatible blood/li>
  • Extra care for patients harmed by air embolisms

The hope is that this change will encourage hospitals to pay more attention to common-sense precautions to prevent these conditions. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention estimates

“…that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and it says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year – about 270 a day.”
The New York Times, 19 August 2007

Wall Street analysts are not so sure that loss of income, estimated at about $20 million per year spread over just under 5,000 hospitals in the U.S., is incentive enough for hospitals to reduce errors.

“Medicare pays hospitals over $100 billion a year, so $20 million is less than 0.02%,” [says Bear Stearns analyst Jason] Gurda…”I’m not expecting a significant impact although it is a first step toward paying for quality.”
CNNmoney.com, 17 August 2007

According to Investor’s Business Daily reprinted at cnnmoney.com, private insurers follow Medicare’s lead and they may also stop paying for treatment for hospital medical errors.

Hospitals are concerned that they will need to absorb the costs of additional tests to determine what infections or conditions are present when a patient is admitted. Fortunately, the new Medicare ruling disallows “shifting costs of preventable errors to patients or their insurers”, according to The New York Times.

Overall, this appears to be a good move to light a fire under hospital workers to improve what most of us would consider basic hygiene practices. A three-year-old study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports:

“Doctors cleansed their hands 57% of the times that they should have. They cleansed hands most often when a hand-rub solution was easily available.

“They did not wash hands as often when they had busy workloads with many patient interactions and when they performed activities with high risks for spreading infections. These activities required cleansing hands immediately before examining patients or between examining different body sites on the same patient.

“Medical students and internists (internal medicine doctors) washed hands most often, whereas anesthesiologists, critical care physicians, and surgeons washed hands least often. Doctors who valued hand hygiene and considered themselves role models washed hands often.”

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones explains how well experience applies - or not - in Old Hands at Minding New Granddaughter.]


Oliver and the Tiny Intruder

category_bug_oliver It’s been a long time since there has been an Oliver the cat story here – more than nine months in fact. Time to catch up.

While I was on the west coast earlier this month, Ollie celebrated his third birthday. A few months ago, thinking he might need a companion of his own ilk, I brought home a year-old shelter cat. Disaster ensued.

The new cat tore up a rug, terrorized Ollie and passed on an unpleasant respiratory disease – all within the space of 24 hours. The cat was returned to the shelter.

It has come to pass in recent weeks, that my downstairs neighbor, singer/songwriter Graham Isaacson, has acquired a black kitten named Salem, after her home town in Massachusetts.

A few days ago, there was a yowling outside my apartment door. Investigation resulted in the discovery of said small, black kitten who did not wait for an invitation to come in.

01saleminkitchen


To Ollie’s dismay, as he followed her at a few cat paces, she immediately made herself at home checking out each room, then ducking under the bed ready for a game of hide-and-seek.

02salemstail


Ollie was not going to be trapped under a bed with this snoopy, little stranger, but he wasn’t going to let her escape without his notice either.

03oliverpeekingunderbed


Salem, not yet old enough to have discovered her dignity, gave in and when she emerged, the first scuffle erupted – bopping each others’ heads - followed by galloping from one end of the house to other - first Salem chasing Ollie and then back again with Ollie in pursuit. Up and over furniture, around and under tables, crashing into a wall or two until Salem raced toward the bathroom.

04salemcrawlingoutfromunderbed


Apparently, cat culture dictates that no attack can take place during a pee break for which the little hussy hopped into Ollie’s litter box as though she’d been using it all her short life. Having relieved herself, she immediately jumped into the bathtub where Ollie likes to keep his best toys. He didn’t pursue her; he waited patiently for her next move.


05oliverinbathroom


Salem leapt from the tub, ran several laps around the house until Ollie trapped her in the library. For a moment, they rested – warily…

06oliverandsalemresting


…until they both attacked at once, tussled one on top of the other with a few yelps and howls, but no blood was let.

07oliverandsalemattack


Salem extricated herself from Ollie’s half-Nelson and calmly sauntered out of the room to Ollie’s utter amazement and disappointment - he was just starting to have fun - Salem was finished with their romp.

08salemwalksaway

In time, I think, Salem and Ollie would be friends. But I can’t talk Graham out his new kitten.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today Eva Craw, as told to her daughter Candace Craw-Goldman, recalls the harrowing tale - The First Time I Ever Rode a Horse.]


CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke

[UPDATE: An anonymoius guest left a comment on 29 August advising that Alina Cho was substituting for Betty Nguyen on this news report. Since trying to verify this has proved difficult, I am taking the guest's word for it and have edited the text accordingly.]

category_bug_ageism.gif CNN was a distant drone in the kitchen as I changed beds Saturday morning with the help of Ollie the cat. We were having a good game of it and then, something on TV about the first extensive study on late life sexuality grabbed me.

What followed from CNN Saturday Morning anchors Betty Nguyen Alina Cho and T.J. Holmes, labeled “Frisky Seniors” at the bottom of the screen, was a real rib-tickler report about elder sexual activity. Punctuating their remarks with smirking asides and rolling of eyes, the anchors didn't even try to control their guffaws.

Much was made of how the poor old dears might hurt themselves - pull a muscle or bruise their skin - in their silly attempt to continue an activity they should have given up years ago. Pillows is the answer. Pillows, advised the correspondent, to more faux-suppressed laughter from the anchors.

It is not possible to overstate the crude, lewd tone of the CNN story, more suitable to Saturday Night Live in the days of John Belushi than a news program. Little information was transmitted among all this hilarity.

At the end of the 90-second piece Mr. Holmes, pretending to have lost control of his laughter, walked off the set leaving Ms. Nguyen Cho, her disgust at the idea of elders and sex on full, loutish display, to finish the segment with this knee-slapper of a punchline to the correspondent: “You bring this to us as we’re just waking up and having our coffee?”

Riiiight - elder sex is a smutty howler, isn't it, on the order of schoolyard jokes about farting in church.

Although continued sexual activity into old age is not news to elders, the study is important to healthcare professionals who are only somewhat more likely than CNN anchors to be informed about it. Physicians do not commonly ask elders about their sex lives.

No one watching CNN on Saturday morning could guess that the study is a “goldmine” of data, as one of the authors noted when it was published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. It was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto, and partially funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

3005 Americans (1550 women; 1455 men) age 57 to 85 gave detailed descriptions of their sexual activities. Among the findings, according to CNN.com’s more rational, online print report are:

“Sex with a partner in the previous year was reported by 73 percent of people ages 57 to 64; 53 percent of those ages 64 to 75; and 26 percent of people 75 to 85. Of those who were active, most said they had sex two or three times a month or more.”

“More than half of men and a quarter of women said they had masturbated during the previous year, a figure that remained constant whether they were sexually active or not.”

“Half of people having sex reported at least one related problem. Most common in men was erection trouble (37 percent); in women, low desire (43 percent), vaginal dryness (39 percent) and inability to have an orgasm (34 percent).”

CNN.com, 22 August 2007

This is the first study to be conducted nationally in the U.S. with older people from the general population.

“’There’s a large perception out there that sex somehow does not occur in the later years, and this study demonstrates authoritatively that for many people sexual activity does not diminish much at all,’ said Robert N. Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York who, with his late wife, Myrna I. Lewis, wrote Love and Sex After 60.

“’Human relationships are important to the very end,’ said Butler, who was not involved in the study.”

The New York Times via The Orlando Sentinel, 23 August 2007

Obviously, CNN does not see it that way.

Media ageism is common but rarely as blatant as this mockery of journalism from CNN's Betty Nguyen Alina Cho and T.J. Holmes. And it is worse than just two blow-dried anchors whose prejudice against elders is showing. Their employers, the producers, executives and owners of CNN, apparently share their anchors' bias; they thought the NguyenCho/Holmes report was so good, they repeated it on Saturday evening so even more people could share every crude snigger and jeer.

Isn’t it hilarious that elders have the need and desire for sex - along with the love and comfort that accompany it - just like people at every other age in life.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, an update on its growth and development during its first five months.]


The Question of a Woman President

category_bug_politics.gif [This post is adapted from one that was originally posted at Blogher.org.]

What better issue is there for elders than concern for the future of the country and the world. With careers done or on the wane, with children raised, elders have more time for thoughtful consideration of political, cultural and social issues. And sometimes, maybe, we have a bit more experience and perspective to contribute to the public discourse.

It is disturbing, in a presidential race that may be the most crucial of our lives, to see so many women supporting Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, as if that were a qualification. And Senator Clinton herself frequently reminds audiences that “It’s about time we had a woman president.”

I disagree. I think it’s about time we had a president of any gender who respects the oath of office, upholds the Constitution, runs an open, not secretive, government and sees to the welfare of all the citizenry, not just the wealthy elite.

Only a few people in the United States these days would vote against a candidate just because she is a woman. Most polls show that 90 percent or more of voters are “ready for a woman president.” So that question is settled.

The only other pertinent question about every candidate of any gender is: can he or she lead the United States out of the quagmire it has sunk into, and correct the wrongs that have been perpetrated against its citizens and the Constitution.

Women are as qualified – or not – as men. Women are also as beholden to corporate money interests as men. There are suggestions that Mrs. Clinton will raise half a billion dollars for her campaign.

That is an obscene amount of money that can buy an election with ease, a good deal of it from lobbyists and bundlers, big pharma and other corporate contributors that some other candidates have refused – and others have accepted.

But I’m not here to argue the merits of Senator Clinton’s candidacy; only to emphasize that her gender is irrelevant and I am ashamed, as a woman, of all the women’s organizations and blogs I read urging support of Clinton based on her gender.

All candidates, even if they raise less money than Clinton, owe their souls to corporate backers. And that is my point: before she is a woman, Senator Clinton is a politician and deserves no less scrutiny, before we vote, than a male candidate.

And no extra credit for being a woman.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Matty explains a case of dental foot-in-mouth disease in When Will I Ever Learn?]


Elders and the Unfriendly Skies

An old man is shuffling through security at an airport. The line behind him is long, peopled mostly with business road warriors who know the routine and give no truck to laggards. The old man is gruffly told by a TSA agent to remove his shoes. It is clear he cannot bend over to untie them and a road warrior grumbles, “Christ, can’t people learn to wear shoes without laces to airports.”

No TSA agent will help. There is no chair for the old man to sit in to remove his shoes. He is helpless, as the grumbling behind him spreads, until an old woman, a stranger to the man, bends over to untie his shoes for him and place them in the tray for x-ray. She bends over again on the other side of the security frame and almost lovingly puts on his shoes and reties them, but not without warnings from the TSA agent to hurry it along.

Crabby Old Lady could fill several posts with such airport security stories. Sometimes it is a young mother wrangling a couple of kids and an infant who slows up the line. More often it is an elder, occasionally walking with a cane, who can’t move fast enough to suit the TSA and other travelers.

But the air travel difficulties for elders don’t stop at security.

Much to her surprise, Crabby has traveled in the past year at least as frequently as she did when she was working for the television networks. She has, in that year, been through about 20 airports and none are equipped for or accommodate elders.

If you can’t sprint a mile or more between flights dragging a 40-to-50 pound bag plus a personal bag with heavy laptop, reading material and the other usual accoutrements, you are not welcome at airports.

Unless one lives in a large city and is traveling to another large city, it is no longer possible to get to a destination on one airplane. Because the probability of checked bags arriving with the passenger at the same time and place was never high even before airline cutbacks, and is much lower now, Crabby never packs more than she can stuff into a carry-on.

But the ramps from the plane, which appear to get longer with each trip, are steep for hauling 40 - 50 pounds and Crabby must stop to rest several times. No one ever offers to help.

Some of the small airplanes have no enclosed ramp and so an old traveler is obliged, on arrival, to haul her bag up two flights of stairs. No easy task for Crabby these days. It happened three times on her latest trip and she was grateful for the young man at one airport who carried her bag up for her.

Once in the airport, exhausted from the ramp or stairs, there is a mile or more to walk to the next plane or the front of the airport for a taxi and in all her travels this year, Crabby has encountered only one airport with electric carts.

Remember those? They carry six or eight people with their bags and toot along at a pace equal to about twice walking speed. They were terrific, even when Crabby was young and had too much to carry. But no more. Only wheelchairs are available which require a 10-to-20 minute wait (usually when you have 30 minutes until the next take-off) and require a minimum five dollar tip to the pusher which is, essentially, an extra fee for not being young and spry.

The requirement to be with one’s bags at all times irks Crabby too. It is close to impossible to get into a restroom stall with carry-on and laptop bags and still sit on the toilet. In pre-9/11 days, other passengers were willing to watch bags while you went to the restroom or to the newsstand to buy a paper. No more; now they are afraid you are a terrorist.

There is another baggage twist Crabby is obliged to suffer on the small planes that depart from and arrive in Portland, Maine: carry-ons do not fit in overhead compartments, so there is a trolley on the tarmac next to the plane from which porters load the bags into the hold. Invariably, all the space is taken on the lower racks by the time Crabby arrives with no one in sight to help hoist her bag onto the top rack.

Although this complaint is not exclusive to elders, what about legroom. As Crabby was obtaining her boarding passes at a kiosk last week, a screen informed her that for an additional $90 or so she could have a seat with more legroom. Crabby is guessing that is about $18 per inch – outrageous – and not in Crabby’s budget.

Crabby is 5’ 2” tall and her knees always touch the seat in front of her. What do taller people (almost everyone else) do? If you err and do not pull out all the reading matter, water bottle and other items you might need during the flight, you do without; it is not possible to get your pocketbook from under the seat when knees touch the back of the seat in front of you.

These days, Crabby always arrives at her destination exhausted and weak, needing a day to recover. But that’s not possible in our go-go, 21st century world of sardine-can airplanes that are no better than buses in the sky. Who can afford an extra day’s hotel bill that would be required for a rest in arriving a day early?

And to add to her misery, on this trip Crabby again picked up some bug – undoubtedly from an airplane’s recycled air – that has left her still feeling flu-ish, tired and coughing. If Crabby Old Lady were king of the world, she would dispense with terrorist screenings and require a health certificate from every passenger.

Crabby doubts she will adhere to her every end-of-trip vow to never go anywhere again that requires getting on an airplane. But the single thing that would improve air travel for elders is reinstating electric carts at all airports. A young person’s sprint is an old person’s heart attack waiting to happen.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior recalls a school class that no longer exists in Adventures in Home-Ec.]


Oregon Journey – A Course Change

category_bug_journal2.gif On another day of my visit with my brother in Oregon, we drove to Astoria which is at the northwest corner of the state where the Columbia River – five miles wide there – flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Like Multnomah Falls, the Astor Column – named for John Jacob Astor – was a regular stop on family forays around Oregon when I was a kid. My mother made us stop to read every historical marker we passed (“hysterical marker” to Mom) and who knows; I probably learned a lot of the history that way.

Astorcolumn


But the high point of the day was visiting my brother’s sailboat, Ingenue, for the first time. He has sent photos over the years, but it’s not the same thing as being there. I’m pretty sure he spends more time working on her than sailing, but she is a beauty.

Ingenue


I have no knowledge of sailing, but I like boats. God knows I’m no neat freak, but the necessity of order on a boat pleases my sense of tidiness and I am always intrigued at the ingenuity in the use of small spaces on boats.

Paulonboat


After an hour or so at the Ingenue, we stopped into the Cannery Café for lunch which had been, in the past – obviously – a fish cannery. The Dungeness crab cakes were excellent, the weather was glorious and it was good to be in an old haunt from my childhood.

Cannerycafe


Yes, I understand they are just rats with wings but seagulls are, I suppose, my favorite bird. I never tire of the perfection of their proportions when they are soaring – wings set just so and just the right size for their bodies. This one was resting and isn’t it amazing that west coast seagulls look like east coast seagulls.

Seagullastoria


Back in Portland a day or two later, we had lunch at the Dan and Louis Oyster Bar. The clam chowder (New England variety; I don’t believe in the red, Manhattan clam chowder) was excellent.

Shuckingoystersdanlouis


So excellent, in fact, that we returned that night for dinner. The fried oysters were not as good as the chowder had been, but everything else was good and the important part was being with my brother.

Danandlouisexterior


The sun had almost set as we drove through downtown Portland after dinner. I have no photos to show, but it was as lively, busy and colorful on a weekday evening, as Manhattan is without the crush of the crowds and the never-ending noise.

Restaurant tables spilled out onto sidewalks, neon lit the streets without being garish, people were out and about laughing and talking with one another and there was a sense of place as strong as in New York City. The emotional pull to be there for more than a visit was enormous.

Have I told you how I chose Portland, Maine, when I needed to sell my apartment in New York and move to a less expensive town? Probably, but I’m going to do it again anyway to explain this…

It broke my heart to leave New York. I’d been there for 37 years. It was home. My town. I know every inch, every building, all the history of Greenwich Village where I lived for most of that time. I wept for three days when I finally made the financially-necessary decision to sell and leave my beloved city.

I may moan and wail for awhile when confronted with hard choices but it doesn’t last long and once finished, I get down to business.

Where to go was the question. My choices were limitless, so I did it by elimination.

  1. I don’t like hot weather – humid or dry - and for that reason, dismissed the entire southern half of the U.S.
  2. I do like oceans, so that took care of every place in the northern middle of the country
  3. I’m a city girl leaving the choices of Seattle, Boston and the two Portlands, Maine and Oregon
  4. After all those years in New York and visiting Boston and Seattle from time to time, those two towns seem to have all the disadvantages of big cities and none of the advantages

Either Portland, then, would work and in the end I chose Maine because I thought I had a better chance of New York friends visiting me here than in Oregon. And there have been a goodly number of house guests who have made the trek north.

But now, after these past days in Oregon, I know: poor decision made for a frivolous reason.

I felt it while I was in Oregon, but wanted some time at home before taking it seriously. Back in Maine now for several days, I don’t need to think about it more.

Some people love the desert. Others like mountains. Some prefer suburbia or even rural areas. There are even those who need no place, who are wanderers. Most of us, I think, have affinities for certain weather, geology, flora and fauna and mine, I know now, is for northwest Oregon where I grew up. And who can say how much of that is, in old age, about the emotional draw of one’s beginnings. Perhaps, in my case, it is partly a need to round out a life, to complete the circle.

I love the weather in Maine, particularly living on the ocean side of a hill where no matter how hot a day is, I know there will be a breeze by late afternoon and the temperature will fall to the 60s or so. I like four definitive seasons; Portland, Oregon, has about three - it rarely snows there.

After 37 years in cramped apartments in New York, I relish this large apartment, newly renovated with its deck to sit on and read of an afternoon or think in an evening in the fresh air. I finally have the real library I have wanted since childhood. And I like my neighbors. I don't know what I could afford in Oregon.

But Oregon is deeply etched in my soul. And I didn’t know that until this trip. The lush greenness, the mountains always in sight and the abundance of trees – big, magnificent trees. What they call a woods or forest in the east is a giggle to anyone who grew up in the west. You can wrap your arms around the oldest trees here in Maine or Connecticut or New York. Not so with Douglas fir in Oregon. Those trees have majesty.

When I was a kid, we lived in a house where I could see Mt. Hood – more than 11,000 feet high – outside my window each morning, snow-capped year 'round. Mt. St. Helens out the other window too. Someday, there will be no one left on earth who has seen that beautiful peak before it blew up. But I did, almost every day of my childhood.

And then there is my brother. We hardly know each other really, having been split up when I was 14 and he was nine.

I felt a comfortableness, an easiness with myself in Oregon on this visit and I want to live there again.

The trick now is: can I make it happen.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz tells of her son's literal and triumphant awakening from the dark in Steve and the May Procession.]


Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Tour

category_bug_journal2.gif When I was a kid growing up in Portland, Oregon, a common family excursion was a drive up the Columbia River Gorge to Multnomah Falls. Even as frequently as we made the drive, it never was ordinary and so, in the week following the Gnomedex conference when I visited my brother in Oregon, it was a given that he and I would take that daytrip together.

The Gorge is a canyon through which the mighty Columbia River flows into the Pacific. There is a modern highway, I-84, but that is not the way to go. The parallel, old Columbia River Highway winds through forests of incomparable beauty with stretches of dappled sunlight like this one:

01dappledroad


Along the way, many streams flow into the Columbia leaving an opportunity for stone bridges like this one, some of which, under the tree canopy, are covered in moss year round.

02stonebridge


The origin of some of those streams is a waterfall of which there are twenty or more in the Gorge. This is either Bridal Veil Falls or maybe Horsetail Falls. I lost track of which is which.

03bridalveilorhorsetailfalls


Here is another stone bridge from the wooded side facing toward the narrow, two-lane highway.

04stonebridge2


The destination when driving the Columbia River Highway is Multnomah Falls – the most magnificent of them all. There is a stone lodge which houses a restaurant where my brother Paul and I had lunch that day on the patio that afforded a glimpse of part of the Falls through a break in the trees above the table umbrella.

05multnomahfallsfrompatio


After lunch on our walk toward the Falls, I couldn’t resist of shot of this stone outcropping with so many shades of green.

06greenwall


And here is Multnomah Falls, a total of 620 feet through two drops. You could say that it is just a waterfall - spectacular though it is. But it is a connection to my childhood and takes on additional importance to me for that reason.

07multnomahfalls

There is much more I wish I'd written in my post yesterday about Gnomedex. My excuse is an airplane bug that has laid me low and my brain is operating at about half speed. There will be more another day.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Randy Clark tells of My Gypsy Childhood with a satisfying surprise at the end.]


An Elderblogger at Gnomedex

Introduction
When, several months ago, Chris Pirillo invited me to speak at the seventh annual Gnomedex, I was surprised – and proud. As a two-day, single-track conference, there is room for only about a dozen presenters. How did elderblogging get included in such a small mix?

But Gnomedex is not your ordinary tech conference with multiple sessions at once, many of them given in deeply esoteric techie-talk that escapes my limited understanding. As Chris explains on the Gnomedex website:

“While technology brings us together, technology at Gnomedex is ancillary to its role in our daily lives. Software, hardware – it all boils down to experiences, personal and shared…”

As I thought about the truth of that and his invitation, my surprise (but not my pride) diminished. After all, when I tweaked Chris a year or more ago about using “senior” in one of his BLaugh cartoons instead of “elder”, he immediately switched. And in subsequent conversations, Chris revealed his deep interest in elders in relation to blogging and online in general.

But then, on the morning of the first day, I was confronted with a flight of the most elder-unfriendly stairs (especially hauling my way-too-heavy laptop) I’ve seen since Machu Pichu:

Gnomedexstairs

Few people – even young ones – were using those forbidding stairs and I found an elevator to whisk me to the conference floor where I settled into a table, hooked up my computer and was soon listening to Chris’s opening remarks:

Gnomedexchrisopenremarks

Presenting
The speakers who preceded me were daunting. While some thought Robert Steele’s keynote made him appear to be a political crackpot and I thought he crammed too much information into 45 minutes, his overall message was important. Although Guy Kawasaki’s presentation on evangelism was practiced and canned, it was packed with great tips for me in promoting the cause of elder technology. Plus, his charm is irresistible.

Darren Barefoot spoke on using our skills, power and influence for good in the world and I liked his parting advice: “Be the best ancestor you can.”

There were others before it was my turn, but I’m not experienced at public speaking, so growing nervousness overtook by ability to concentrate. Soon, video of all the presentations will be online and you will be able to judge them for yourselves. Meanwhile, here is a still shot of me on stage via Rachel C.

Rbatgnomedex

As I approached the stage, Chris and his wife Ponzi welcomed me so warmly and were so encouraging that I didn’t dare let them down. As to what I said, Joared at her Along the Way blog has an excellent recap. Particularly gratifying is the gradual turnabout of the young people who were live chatting on the streaming video page – from “Who is this old woman?” to, eventually, “She is cool.”

Part way through my presentation, someone asked if I had seen an iPhone yet. The audience laughed when I said I had not, and Chris popped up on stage with his own which, I believe, was a recent birthday gift from Ponzi. In person, the iPhone is as cute as it is on television and its touch screen works with a satisfyingly snappy response. Then, Matthew Gifford asked Chris to show me the keyboard.

In two words: Im Possible. The attendees laughed again when I said that. Each letter is about the size of and as close together the type on this blog and I am not built with enough patience to work out how to use it. Plus, a different keyboard is required to add symbols and punctuation such as a slash and colon in a URL. Who at Apple thought that is a good idea?

The geekiest of geeks and those who must have the latest hot gadget before everyone else will love it. As I said, it is cute and alluring, but my bottom line: whatever your age, I don’t think the iPhone, particularly at its price, is ready for prime time.

In the end, my intention was to grab the interest of the technologists, programmers, evangelists and influencers in attendance to empower elders by creating hardware and software that is easy for old computer newbies to understand and accommodates fading eyesight, reduced motor skills and coordination. I think I succeeded…

The Aftermath
Gnomedex is a friendly conference and for the rest of my stay, more people than I could count sought me out to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation.

Some really good news: people from HP and Microsoft (both Gnomedex sponsors) were enthusiastic and genuinely interested in speaking with me further about implementing some of the suggestions I have for improving computer use for elders. As that develops, I will keep you updated.

Joshua McKenty, a terrific young technologist who lives in the beautiful town of Victoria, B.C. and even knew the name of the Chinese restaurant I like there, says it is not much of a stretch to create an “elderbrowser.” We will follow up on that soon too.

When Andrew McCaskey, who is the producer and host of Slashdot Review Podcast introduced himself to me, I was puzzled as to why I know his name; I knew I’d never met him nor seen his podcast. It turns out his father’s name is Andrew McCaskey too and there is a link on the Elderblogger List to his blog, Topic, which I recommend to you all.

And I was most pleased to spend a lot of time with my new friend Stan James who is the founder and CTO of Lijit, another Gnomedex sponsor. (See his blog search engine in the upper right corner of this page; you might want to try it too.) It took me the entire two days of Gnomedex, but he will probably be happy to know that I finally can pronounce Lijit properly; it does not rhyme with widget as I thought – it rhymes with legit.

There were many more people I was pleased to meet and talk with and I’m sorry I can’t name them all here although I am sure some will turn up in future posts on TGB.

Responses
As I mentioned above, joared did a magnificent job of summarizing my presentation. Frank Paynter of listics has a good collection of links to commentary on my appearance and as he notes, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave me a nice mention. Others who might give you an idea of the presentation include Tris Hussey, writing at One By One Media, who headlined me “uber elderblogger” - I like that!

David Risley of PC Mechanic has an excellent overview and some opinions of his own about my presentation and technology for elders, and Scott Rosenberg of Wordyard has some nice things to say too.

Overall, Gnomedex is the best tech conference I’ve attended. The topics presented were varied and compelling in keeping Chris Pirillo’s philosophy of making “technology ancillary to its role in our daily lives”. I got a lot of new ideas, met smart, interesting people and I was pleased to see more grey heads than I expected.

It was exhilarating to find so many people interested in elders and elderblogging and most of all, Gnomedex was loads of fun thanks, I believe, to Chris’s and Ponzi’s enthusiasm for everyone attending (presenters and attendees), their unflagging good cheer and the hard work they do in making the conference flow smoothly.

Can you tell I'm glad I attended?

[There are not many people who get to know a great grandparent, but Darlene Costner did and she tell us about this indomitable woman in Stories of Gram Norris at The Elder Storytelling Place today.]


Guest Blogger 2007: Marian Van Eyk McCain

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

Marian Van Eyk McCain, a wise woman I got to meet in person recently who blogs at ElderWomanBlog, is here today with a story titled The Need to Lie Down. Please make her welcome with lots of comments and visit her blog.


For half a century, I took my spine for granted. You do, don't you?

Apart from those unfortunate few who, through sports or accidents, suffer spinal injuries, most young people have trouble-free backs. I see them at Yoga classes, straight as ramrods, sitting effortlessly in lotus position. I see them curled up asleep in airplane seats in postures that would have me limping for days afterwards.

We all take our spines for granted – treating them like unappreciated donkeys until the day comes when some long-suffering vertebra finally crumples under the strain. With me, it was all because of the boy scouts.

They had promised to come and dig the post holes for the new play equipment we were constructing in the garden of the community house. Two of us from the Management Committee had arranged to meet them there with spades and show them where to dig. But they didn't turn up.

Impatient to get going, and with all the poles ready to sink into the ground, I suggested we dig the holes ourselves. "I can't do that", said my colleague, who was slightly older than me. "I have a bad back."

I scoffed inwardly and rolled up my sleeves. Post holes we had planned and post holes we would jolly well get, boy scouts or no boy scouts.

She went home and I stayed the rest of the afternoon and dug all the holes myself. Then I sank the posts and cemented them in. I went home at dinner time, exhausted but triumphant.

The next morning, I couldn’t even get out of bed. Over the next few years, through trial and error, physical therapy, chiropractic and various other kinds of bodywork, I learned how to manage my 'bad back'. I learned to carry a small pillow everywhere with me, for lumbar support. I learned what sort of chairs I could afford to sit in and which I couldn't, in order to avoid sciatica. I figured out which exercises helped to keep pain at bay and which ones were likely to bring it on.

Above all, I learned to feel when things were 'out' and to find ways of adjusting my own spine. I became – and still am – enamoured of the 'click' that tells me something has gone back to where it should be. And I know that if I can stretch full length on the ground for a while, even the most stubborn pain will ease.

My partner is the same. He has had a dodgy back since he was in his early fifties, and like me he likes to lie full length and stretch whenever he can. The difference is that he just goes ahead and does it, wherever he happens to be, whereas I am more afraid of getting funny looks.

One day, when we were on a long drive and needed a break, we called into one of those big, regional shopping malls and he stayed with the car while I went in search of sandwiches for our lunch. There was a grassy area next to the parking lot so he spread out the picnic blanket, did a few Yoga stretches and then lay down on his back with his hat over his face to shield it from the sun.

He was awakened by two concerned, female shoppers. "Are you alright?" they wanted to know. Yes, he said, he was fine. He was just resting his back. Off they went, looking bemused.

People just don't lie down in car parks unless they are ill, drunk or homeless. He put his hat back over his face. But his catnap on the grass didn't last long. Next time he took the hat off his face it was to find himself staring at a policeman.

I know the feeling. Twice in my life I have been reprimanded by a man in uniform for daring to be horizontal in a place where the rule is that one must remain vertical at all times, namely a Greyhound bus station.

Never mind that you are on a cross-country journey that feels as though it will never end, your ankles are swollen, your back aches and you feel as though you will go crazy if you can't stretch your spine this very second. Or never mind that because of some suspected terrorist incident that delayed your departure from Cleveland by two hours, you missed the midnight connection to New York and there isn’t another till seven-thirty tomorrow morning.

No, the rule must not be flouted. Thou Shalt Not Lie Down in a Greyhound Bus Terminal.
Greyhound ought to employ more people with bad backs. It's only if you have one yourself that you understand. Some of us just HAVE to lie down sometimes.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Matti tells a hilarious story titled, Boy Talk, that proves you can’t beat a kid at his own game.]


Guest Blogger 2007: Deejay

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

Deejay, who blogs at Small Beer, is here today with a story titled Man Alone. Please make him welcome with lots of comments and visit his blog too.


There are many music albums I count among my personal favorites. One of these is A Man Alone, a 1969 concept album recorded by Frank Sinatra and written especially for him by poet-songwriter Rod McKuen.

A curious amalgam of songs (some of which were really tone poems) and spoken narrative, the album was not a commercial success. The theme running through it are the reflections of an aging single man looking back on his past loves, lost loves, and life's little irritants that taken individually are minor, but cumulatively can be destructive:

I sometimes wonder why people make promises they never intend to keep.
Not in big things, like love or elections, but in the things that count -
The newspaper boy who says he will save an extra paper ... and doesn't.
The laundry that tells you your suit will be ready on Thursday - and it isn't

While A Man Alone has grown in personal significance for me with time's passing, the nature of that significance has changed. When I was younger, it was a melancholy companion when I would be drowning my sorrows in a glass of something potent following the breakup of what I had believed was the Love of My Life (I had many such - in fact, at one time or another I guess they all were).

My stepfather was a traditionalist when it came to male and female roles. While he gladly indulged my mother's every desire, he never allowed her to have a paid job, for he felt having a working wife reflected badly on a man.

Dad once told her he worried about my seeming inability to maintain a relationship because, "When he gets old he'll need a woman to take care of him." I never quite understood that; I guess it was a generational thing. In fact, most of my past involvements seemed to work the other way around: I usually fell for very independent careerists for whom a man might be a desirable accessory, but definitely an optional one.

I was 60 when my last relationship ended, but somewhat to my surprise my life didn't follow its usual post-breakup pattern of wallowing in alcohol and self-pity.

Instead, I began making plans for what I concluded would be permanent bachelorhood. Did I want to continue working? (No.) Could I afford to retire? (Yes.) That settled, the next step was to decide where to retire.

I decided to stay where I am, except for moving from a large house in the suburbs to a condo apartment in the city, where nearly all of my life's necessities are nearby, often within walking distance. I also began laying out a life pattern centered around being A Man Alone.

I have always liked to cook, so I spread the word among relatives that when they might be seeking gift suggestions, remember that kitchenware, small appliances and cookbooks were always welcome. I told the building managers that unless I had told them I was going away, they had my blanket permission to enter my unit when there were telltale signs something might be amiss: mailbox full, no one had seen me around in a while, newspapers piling up at my front door, etc. (I get most of my news from TV and the Internet, but I subscribe to the local paper anyway, as a cheap form of insurance.)

Also, at her suggestion, I send an e-mail every morning to my daughter in another part of the country..

I have a feeling of security, and something I read years ago has proven to be true: the older you get, the less frightening the prospect of being alone becomes. And that's just as well, for in my latter-life bachelorhood I have acquired some bad habits that would probably make me anathema to a lady: I eat in front of the TV, drink milk straight from the carton, and – probably worst of all – have fallen back into the habit of leaving the seat up.

A Man Alone remains one my favorite albums, but while I had earlier thought that my theme song from it would be:

In me, you see a man alone
Drinking up Sundays and spending them alone
A man who knows that love's not always what it seems
Only other people's dreams

Another song from that album has taken its place:

I have been a rover
I have walked alone
Hiked a hundred highways
Never found a home
Still in all I'm happy
The reason is, you see
Once in a while along the way
Love's been good to me

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior recalls a high school contest probably more clearly than she cares to in a story titled, Reach For The Top!]


Guest Blogger 2007: Ellen Lee

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

Ellen Lee, who blogs at The Pomegranate Tiger, is here today with a story titled The (Not So) Greying of America. Please make her welcome with lots of comments and visit her blog too.]


Some months ago, while in a nostalgic mood, I wrote the following few verses:

My mind says I’m a smooth-skinned babe Turning heads when stars align. Vibrant, fun and full of life. Sometimes silly, giddy, weird.

Blank stares tell me otherwise.
Invisible to all except fellow invisibles
And those who love me or
Knew me when-then.

Amazing how well grey hair
Works as invisibility cloak.

The grey hair and invisibility part of the above is what kept niggling at my brain.

It's evident that Western society encourages us to look young for as long as possible. We’re encouraged to use anti-aging this and anti-aging that; use anti-wrinkle creams for every conceivable body part; and use dyes to colour “stubborn, hard to cover white” hair; not to mention all the nipping, tucking and Botox injecting that goes on.

It doesn’t seem to matter that statistics show the number of seniors is growing at an unprecedented rate bolstered by aging baby-boomers. There's no doubt we're an aging population. It just seems that no one wants to admit to being part of those aging. Just look at stores and fashion magazines to see this age-denial in all its glory.

But back to the grey hair.

I’ve noticed there are fewer and fewer people my age (late fifties) – or even within a decade either side – who allow themselves to have grey or white hair anymore. It’s almost an aberration for someone my age to show their white hair. Those with clearly white hair are usually in their seventies or above. Heaven forbid a forty, fifty or sixty year-old admit to having white hair. Who are they kidding?

I think this is just another example of age-denial; that with enough collagen, botox, nips and tucks, and hair colouring, we can keep age at bay and look thirty- to forty-something indefinitely.

To me, this only adds to the problem of invisibility for elders. It’s bad enough that our youth-obsessed society doesn’t want to see elders – except in stereotyped cute, crotchety or forgetful, dim-wit roles – we elders are making ourselves invisible by trying to look like something other than what we are. If we can’t be comfortable in our own skins, then we’re contributing to the ageism that views growing older as a negative.

The grey-haired have become invisible and it’s our own fault.

A recent trip to the drugstore only reinforced this opinion. I was trying to find a shampoo for white or grey hair. On the advice of my hairdresser, I had been told to get a shampoo specially formulated for white hair. My hair had been taking on a yellowish tint from minerals in our water supply and, she said, a white hair shampoo would fix it.

It wasn’t a small drugstore. It’s a major chain that has an entire double-sided aisle devoted entirely to hair care products. One side of the aisle contained shampoos, conditioners and gels. There were special shampoos for blondes, special shampoos for redheads, special shampoos for brunettes, and special shampoos for people who colour their hair. The other side contained hair colouring products of every colour imaginable - many of them touting their ability to “cover grey”. I didn’t want to cover my grey, darn it. I wanted to let it shine through!

I finally found a shampoo for white hair, but it wasn’t easy. It was tucked away on the bottom shelf. Two lonely bottles.

I can’t blame the store for not stocking more. They respond to market demand and obviously the market doesn’t demand shampoo for the white-haired. Either that, or the white-haired don't speak up.

Maybe I'm just overly-sensitive about this.

My hair started turning white when I was quite young. My first strand of white was discovered by an annoying boy named Leo who sat behind me in second grade. He plucked the offending strand from the back of my head, stood up, and announced to the class in mock horror that I was “OLD”!

I continued to experience these random discoveries by new acquaintances throughout public school and university. “Did you know you have white hair?” they’d say, as if I'd never looked in the mirror. I got quite adept at tossing back, “That’s because I’m really eighty years old.”

By my thirties, I was a pronounced salt and pepper (think Emmy-Lou Harris in the 80s). I traversed this stage of my whiteness with casual indifference. I rebuffed hairdressers who kept offering to cover up the white. It became a part of my identity.

But I don’t want you to think that I completely resisted the allure of hair colouring. At forty-ish, my youngest son – still in elementary school – asked me why I had so many white hairs. His one comment was enough to send me scurrying to the drugstore for some Nice ‘n Easy and the cycle of dying, touch-ups and refreshing.

Thankfully, this period didn’t last long. With my fast-growing hair, I got tired of touch-ups every two weeks; not to mention the necessity of timing those touch-ups with scheduled vacation time to avoid the dreaded "skunk" look while away.

I tell my friends that deciding not to colour my hair was one of the most liberating things I’ve done for myself. I'm now a silvery white and think it looks pretty good. People often compliment me on my striking hair colour. They're probably in shock that someone my age doesn't colour her hair.

It is possible to be grey and still look stylish and attractive. Just look at Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. They look terrific with their silver and grey locks.

During my internet surfing, I did manage to find a "pro" grey article: How to Love Your Gray. It's written by a New York hair stylist who says, "this once-maligned hair hue has become a new style option". Well, hallelujah! Maybe there's hope – but I'm not holding my breath.

I've taken it upon myself to be on a mission to free other women from the tedious treadmill of trying to make naturally white hair any other colour except white. (Funny how men are allowed to be white and "distinguished" rather than old, but that's an entirely different blog.)

It's time to come out of the grey closet and stop being invisible.

In this regard, I think we need role models to help the cause. I’ve already mentioned Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. They prove that you can be grey and still look amazing. I wonder if it's just a coincidence that they're Brits? For North Americans, wouldn’t it be great if a Hilary Clinton or Oprah let themselves become silver and fabulous? Anyone else?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jim Filer tells a tale of games that are played when there’s a new kid on a submarine titled, Never Trust a Sailor.]


Guest Blogger 2007: Alexandra Grabbe

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

Alexandra Grabbe, who blogs at Wellfleet Chezsven and By Bea’s Bedside, is here today with a story titled At 60, The Time if Now. Please make her welcome with lots of comments and visit her blogs too.]


Over the past few decades, the subject of aging never crossed my mind. I eagerly awaited 20, felt exhilarated by 30. Friends joined me to celebrate 40 with champagne and festivities. 50 ushered in the sobering thought that half a century had passed since birth, and this realization gave pause. Still, life was rushing along and I went with the flow. Then came the big 6-0.

Two major events have taken place over the past year, both milestones that made me reflect on age in a new way. On April 7th, I turned 60, and on November 29th, my mother passed away. Life does end. This may seem obvious, but our be-young-forever culture allows us to bask in the illusion that aging is a mere footnote in the book of life.

My college roommate recently commented that she is taken aback when she looks in the mirror and sees this little old lady peering back at her. I checked my mirror and – sure enough – my hair is starting to turn white. My face wears its worry lines like medals.

Can this person really be me? Outward appearance may change, but who we are – our essence – remains the same. That strangers do not react to us in the same way is disconcerting, to say the least.

Curiously enough, Mom could never wrap her mind around the idea of reaching 96. “How old am I?” she would ask over and over. My response was met with incredulity: “How did I get to be that old?” In her mind, she remained Jack Benny’s proverbial 39, full of energy and promise, not bedridden and cared for by hospice.

Denial may not work for her daughter, however. My 60th birthday brought the realization that if there is anything I have not accomplished, the time to start doing it is now.

Why, you say? I have noticed the older body does not heal as easily, and daily aches and pains have made me lower expectations of physical abilities. My Swedish husband is about to turn 70. Together we are learning to marshal our energies as we attempt to wow Cape Cod tourists with Wellfleet’s first green bed & breakfast in order to pay a ridiculous $1250/month for health insurance, $1000 more than it cost when we moved here from Europe 10 years ago.

I used to be able to go all day and part of the night. After a bout with Lyme Disease, I’m grateful if I can go at all.

I am a relatively recent reader of Timegoesby, delighted that Ronni has undertaken her review of aging, drawing attention to ageism and age discrimination. How wonderful that someone dares to focus on the elder reality, encountered by more and more boomers every day: being 60 does not mean decrepitude. Still, in my opinion, 60 is not the new 30. Projects need to simmer, not cook at a brisk boil.

Retirement can bring the leisure to harness one’s energies in a different direction. Take up a cause, volunteer at a local charity.

Here in Boston, long-time anchor and television pioneer Natalie Jacobson just quit her job to move on to her Next Big Thing, helping boomers figure out what their Next Big Thing will be. (The start of the 63-year-old’s online “multi-media business” did not seem to coincide with departure, so perhaps she is resting up in between?)

My next big thing is the revision of a novel I wrote at 40. What’s yours?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson is back with a college story about the gods titled Lightning.]


Guest Blogger 2007: Mick Brady

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

Mick Brady, who blogs at Dancing in Tongues and The Blog Brothers, is here today with a story titled How to Make a Perfect Human Being. Please make him welcome with lots of comments and visit his blogs too.]


Fools rush in where wise men never go.
But wise men never fall in love,
So how are they to know?

- Mercer & Bloom
We are the descendants of hundreds of thousands of bad attitudes.
- Mick Brady

(Note: I post this with great trepidation and in the deepest humility; far, far from perfection.)

Mother_child_hands Naturally, the making of any human being begins with the parents. They are the ones who will either create an environment where love and nurturing occurs consistently over an entire lifetime or, as in most cases, becomes lost in the tangled, confused, inadequate, battered and ego-driven personalities of the parents.

The decisive factor in all this, of course, is whether the parents, as individuals, have done the difficult work of becoming themselves before they even marry, let alone have children.

To become themselves, fully themselves, they must first be open to learning the truth about themselves - the root causes of their fears, their rages, their blind spots and inadequacies, their cravings and obsessions, their lack of trust.

This can be very hard on the ego and only the brave and humble will voluntarily undergo it. There is a price to be paid for freedom and it appears to be much too expensive for most people. But for those who succeed, they soon learn what a bargain it is.

This work can be done through intensive therapy, sincere and honest religious practice, by facing life's painful lessons directly and openly with loved ones, but above all, a willingness to face and admit the truth at all times: if you lie, confess it; if you cheat, correct it; if you crave anything, including love, get to the bottom of it and eradicate it.

Unless you are the rare individual who has already been raised perfectly, there is no other way and if you don't do it before entering marriage, everything within you will soon become visible to your partner anyway, and it will explode in your face.

If two people who have already done this work then meet and fall in love, they begin the second process, learning to become a complete couple. All of the painful lessons learned in becoming a complete individual will have provided them with the tools they'll need to do this successfully: transparency, self-love, self-sacrifice, trust, and the ability to love and be loved.

Ideally, there should be a period of several years to accomplish this before having children. Remember, we're talking perfection here, and no one is perfect. These are no more than goals, approximations, ideals.

In its simplest terms, then, each parent should first come to know and love themselves; then they will be ready to begin the work (and joy) of learning to know and love one another. Once a certain level of stability and trust is achieved, they will then be able to provide the love and nurturing which will enable the child to grow into a complete and happy individual. Hey, that's not expecting too much, is it?

Mother_baby_52

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Lest anyone think that I am setting the bar too high, keep in mind that this is written with a full understanding of the fact that perfection, in any sense of the word, is not achievable in this world.

I intentionally chose that word to express the limits of what is possible: to raise children who are intelligent, confident, ethical, healthy, open, loving and free - children who grow up to become well-grounded human beings capable of creative and critical thinking, who are unafraid of new ideas or change, who enjoy life and contribute to the lives of others.

This essay comes from the heart of a father, and now grandfather, looking back over the many mistakes and painful lessons experienced in his own lifetime, offered in the hope that it might spare some of those who follow the necessity of repeating those mistakes.

What is being discussed here is a limited and admittedly idealistic, human form of perfection that anyone can achieve if they desire to do the work. It is not easy. But if you want to play Chopin, you must practice, practice, practice. Otherwise, just go out and buy the CD.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, Sharon Lippincott tells how young man she knew in high school taught her a life lesson she still puts to use today in a story titled, Profile of Courage.]


Guest Blogger 2007: Claudia Snowden

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

Claudia Snowden, who blogs at Fried Okra Productions, is here today with a story titled Kokopelliwoman's Paradigm. Please make her welcome with lots of comments and visit her blog too.]


Working for a university these days is like taking one step forward and two steps back. We received a letter from the Prez saying that the Texas State legislature budgeted precious few monies for the next biennium. Then I had to "choose" our single remaining insurance plan. Next week staff dial-up internet goes away.

None of this is inherently negative or bad. It is rather disconcerting, however, to realize that my Golden Years may be more modestly funded than I had planned, prompting a reality check that paradigm shifts come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some appear in a blinding flash; others span decades.

There's a growing flood of elders who cannot afford to retire, regardless of whether or not we enjoy our work. This is not a matter of stopping all meaningful work to embark on some completely separate, magical journey - ceasing work that you truly love, that helps you remain productive. For me, this means remaining at my current job as long as possible, and supplementing with a side gig.

I tried that for close to a year. Selling and relentlessly/endlessly folding infant and toddler clothing in a high-end retail store for 20-40 hours a week on top of my day gig. Brutal. I fell asleep every time I sat down. Paradigm as rug yanked from under you. I did get an interesting scar.

That was several shifts ago. Lately, the frequency seems to be increasing. I'm beginning to believe that aging is a paradigm shift per se. The adventures never stop. This aging thing takes a lot of ingenuity, especially if you have limited resources. Acting against my instincts tends to attract negative shifts, so I've learned to depend on my intuition. The trick is to surf on top of the changes.

When I was six, my parents told us the Easter Bunny was too poor to visit that year. I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. In one fell swoop, all my childhood icons crumbled to reveal my folk's solemn faces in the dashboard light of our '52 Chevy. I swallowed the revelation with good grace. A pleasant fantasy, nourishment for a robust imagination. After all, I was growing up, and that was good. I was satisfied with my new perspective.

Since then, I've racked up a few "aha" moments. For instance, I assumed that everyone lived by the Golden Rule. Wrong. Took years to sink in that the world is not fair, and that it was unrealistic to expect it to be so. About that time, I finally understood that the only person you can change is yourself.

A little later, I lived in Sydney for two years. Australians drive on the left. I actually felt the shift when my brain reversed directions. Driving was easy - when you see oncoming traffic, you'll automatically move to the left. It was much harder to adapt when walking. The childhood habit of looking right-left-right before crossing the street goes deep. Takes longer to make the flip. Oddly, walking didn't shift back when I returned. I continue to move left with oncoming pedestrians.

Recent shifts involve health issues. We've all been there. Some not especially good news that rips through your denial and turns your lifestyle upside down. That cold ball of fear in the pit of your stomach that tells you this paradigm shift means business. You are closer to death than to birth. Death and birth are cyclical, in a benign interpretation of that particular paradigm.

Some shifts sneak up on you. Think back to the early 1970's, and to the groundswell of concern about oil and the environment. We predicted that in thirty years we would be in an oil crisis. I allowed myself to be distracted. I lost that urgent drive to save the planet.

Look what happened. The mess is worse than we predicted. We're hardly batting an eye while the current administration burns the house down with everyone in it. I guess some of us were not so distracted, and got busy manifesting that which we most dreaded.

Here's a happy shift: I don't care if anyone finds me attractive or even likes me. Great for reducing stress and saving money. I don't have to listen to commercials, read advertisements, or be bombarded with exactly why I'm not OK with the rest of the world. Makeup ads don't move me. IMHO, "looking younger" is a fantasy, and a complete waste of money. I'm not saying one shouldn't feel good about ones' self. That's part of being healthy.

Listen up - aging is not a sin or affliction, much in the same way that pregnancy and childbirth is not an illness. It's just life, folks. Growing old is cool, considering the alternative. Replace those worn-out, shallow paradigms with making someone's life a little better, take a trip to Prague, or write poetry.

Good or bad, I'm in for the ride. From daily minutiae to world-shaking events to mind-blowing revelations, I'll take any lesson the universal gear box torques out rather than live with a brittle, closed mind. Shifting can keep you agile and increase your options. Have you had a paradigm shift lately? Let's hear about it.


Guest Blogger 2007: Susan Fisher

[TWO EDITORIAL NOTES: 1. My Gnomedex presentation can been seen live today online at 2:30PM Pacific Time.

2. While I am away, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers. Susan Fisher, who blogs at Suzzwords, is here today with a story titled A Dose of Laughter. Please make her welcome with lots of comments and visit her blog too.]


What is big and purple and swims in the ocean?

Give up?

Moby Grape!

Did you laugh? I did when I heard that silly joke from a seven-year-old.

According to Michael Miller, M.D., director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, laughter, along with a good sense of humor, may protect you from a heart attack.

"We don't know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack."
- University of Maryland Medical Center

A study of 300 participants – half with heart disease, half without – compared their humor responses. Miller said that the most significant finding was that

"…people with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations."

Dr. Miller’s advice to stay healthy includes

“Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, a healthy diet and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis.”
- Psychology Today, 6 April 2005

Can you just imagine taking a prescription to the video store? “Uh, yeah, says here I’m supposed to check out the Lucy classics, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and that cartoon movie about the Ice Age.”

Laughter can also help reduce blood sugar levels and improve job performance, especially for people in creative or problem solving positions.

Laughter has also been said to be the glue to a happy marriage.

“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.”
- Victor Borge

Hey, so there really is some truth to that old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

Wait, there’s more good news. Laughter helps you feel better. Laughter stretches muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure rises and our faster breathing sends more oxygen to our tissues.

"I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off," says Steve Wilson, M.A., CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist. "The effects of laughter and exercise are very similar," says Wilson. "Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate."

Picture this: You walk into a high-tech comedy club, but instead of the usual stand-up comic on stage, you are presented a menu. “Okay, honey, what say we start off with a 15-minute stand-up, followed by an entrée of cartoons, topped off with a British comedy like Are You Being Served or Monty Python.

There are a number of other factors that affect our health, including companionship and emotional support from family and friends; laughter is sort of like the sprinkles on ice cream.

Speaking of calories, Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, did a small study that measured the calories burned while laughing. Turns out 10 to 15 minutes of laughter burns 50 calories. Now that’s my kind of research!
- WebMD via cbsnews.com, 7 April 2006

And sure, there are times in our lives when we just can’t laugh, at least not for a while - maybe later. But with time and healing, the laughter usually comes back.

Just because we grow older doesn’t mean we have to grow up. Every now and then that kid inside us gets out to enjoy a hearty laugh.

“You're never too old to become younger.”
- Mae West

And what better way to end this piece than with a joke or three.

Psychiatry students were in their Emotional Extremes class.

"Let's set some parameters," the professor said. "What's the opposite of joy?" he asked one student.

"Sadness," the student replied.

"The opposite of depression?" he asked another student.
"Elation," she replied.

"The opposite of woe?" the prof asked a student from Texas.

The Texan replied, "Sir, I believe that would be giddyup."

A highway patrolman pulled alongside a speeding car on the freeway. Glancing at the car, he was astounded to see that the blonde behind the wheel was knitting! Realizing that she was oblivious to his flashing lights and siren, the trooper cranked down his window, turned on his bullhorn and yelled, "PULL OVER!" "NO!" the blonde yelled back, "IT'S A SCARF!"
A guy walks into a bar and there's a horse serving drinks. The horse asks, "What are you staring at? Haven't you ever seen a horse tending bar before?" The guy says, "It's not that. I just never thought the parrot would sell the place."

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju gives some important life advice in How We Achieved 40 Years of Marriage.]


Guest Blogger 2007: Frank Paynter

[EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away speaking at the Gnomedex conference in Seattle and then off to Oregon for a few days vacation, several excellent elderbloggers agreed to fill in for me as guest bloggers.

It has become tradition over several years and trips now that Frank Paynter of listics always contributes. Today his story is titled I Could Be Handy Mending a Fuse…. Please make him welcome with lots of comments and visit his blog too.]


The older I get the more people ask me about "retirement," and the less satisfactory seems my glib answer that "I took an early retirement in the sixties and now I'll have to work until I die."

Right now I'm winding down a long term contract with a customer who had begun to seem like an employer instead of a client. The parting is a good thing for me. I was less and less engaged doing things that interested me there. But as has always been the case over the last ten years of my consulting practice, I'm faced with the question, "What will I do next?"

I'm sixty-two and Beth is not much younger. Right now, with both of us working we're not rich but we're comfortable. If we can count on our savings not being incinerated in a massive inflation and also count on a Social Security benefit that includes medical coverage, we should be able to do okay when we actually do retire at the age of 65 or 66 or later.

I have three or four projects in front of me, but I'm trying to figure out how to monetize any of them. There's the children's book about the disappearing cat. When I've finished writing it and Christine has illustrated it we may have a few bucks to split between us. Coffee money.

There's my little tech service start-up idea that might turn into a decent business if I can sell the service. There's the book on bloggers that has practically written itself and is now just waiting for me to pull it together and submit it to an agent or two. Also I've been thinking about selling stuff on eBay. (Insert smiley face here; I know how vocationally challenged I sound).

I have started hunting for paying work, casting a wide net to find an engagement as a project manager or a planning consultant. I've also started doing some ab curls each morning. One of the cruelest tricks of aging is how my outside appearance has diverged over time from my self-image.

Winston remarked the other day on how as we get older our friends start to look older than us. He had his tongue in his cheek on that one, and I know what he meant. No matter how we joke though, to find work when you look as old and overweight as I do is not often easy.

Add to that the fact that I have some high expectations regarding autonomy and responsibility and compensation, and that I'm competing for work with younger people and it looks even more daunting.

The U.S. has a law against Age Discrimination. Employers can't discriminate against you just because you're over forty. FORTY? Forty is the full bloom of youth. And a lot of employers discriminate against you if you're 62, if only subconsciously.

If your friends wonder about your retirement plans, so does an employer; and, if she's looking for someone for the long haul, well - how much longer can she expect you to haul it?

I think I'm being realistic about my prospects right now. It won't be easy finding the next right thing. But I'm optimistic anyway. There are over six billion people on the planet and we all have needs. Finding a rewarding way to help fill those needs is my next challenge, and that challenge sure beats what I've been doing for a living for the last several months.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mike Rubbo retells a famous old story that has resonated with him through the decades, titled An Occurrence at Owl Creek.]


Ronni Goes on Vacation

Early tomorrow morning, I am off to Gnomedex in Seattle. I’ve been looking forward to speaking at this conference for months and I expect to meet a lot of people I’ve come to know through email, along with others in the blogging and tech communities whom I know by reputation.

Chris Pirillo, who runs Gnomedex and invited me to speak there this year, says the Gnomedex presentations will be streamed live online. I am scheduled to speak on Friday at 2:30PM Pacific time. There will be a reminder and link at the top of Friday's guest blog in case you would like to watch.

On Sunday, I’ll travel to the town where I was born, Portland, Oregon, to spend a few days with my brother whom I haven’t seen since 1992. This will be my first vacation – a trip of more than a day or two - purely for pleasure in a decade.

That’s not to say that Gnomedex won’t be a pleasure; it will. But during my time in Oregon I won’t need to “perform” (public speaking does not come easily to me) and I have no obligations there other than those to myself to eat lots of salmon, Dungeness crab and razor clams.

The blog will not fall silent. Some extraordinarily good writers with strong personal voices graciously agreed to fill in here while I’m gone. You will enjoy their contributions – I know, I’ve read them and it occurs to me that Time Goes By could profit from my going away more often. I know you will welcome them with open arms and lots of comments.

There will also be daily stories at The Elder Storytelling Place. As usual, there will be a note about the day’s entry at the bottom of the TGB blog. But because of the three-hour time difference, the day's link may be delayed and you will need to go to The Elder Storytelling Place and click on the title in the left sidebar. I will add those links when I can.

If you have been considering sending a story to The Elderstorytelling Place, it would be nice to return home from my journey to a bunch of new stories ready to place in the queue. (hint, hint - especially to those who have not contributed yet.)

The eve of this trip seems a good time to express my gratitude to you for the thriving community you have created here at Time Goes By proving that there is a large audience for participation in things elder. So many of you have become friends and it has been an additional boon to have you all at the other end of the ether, particularly so during my first year in my new town. I would have been lonely without you and your daily presence here and on your blogs has made all the difference to me.

Along with that, I look forward every day to the lively discussions and conversations that go on in the comments. Even on days when my posts are far less compelling than I would like them to be, even when my mind is mostly blank and my post is a piss-poor example of sentient thought, you run with it as though I actually wrote something worthwhile. Thank you for your patience on those days and for making the lesser posts better than they are with your thoughts, ideas, stories and jokes.

Now I am going to go pack and take care of last-minute details for the trip. See you again on Monday, 20 August.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marti tells how she has been green for years in Shopping Locally Done Outside My Back Door.]