Previous month:
July 2010
Next month:
September 2010

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Nurture Your Relationships

category_bug_journal2.gif As Dr. Robert N. Butler makes clear in Chapter 2 of his book, The Longevity Prescription titled “Nurture Your Relationships,” we should not “underestimate the value of touching, hugging, and sharing...”

He is discussing the people he calls “elemental connections,” loved ones and intimate friends, (noting that he will discuss other kinds of close relationships later in the book).

“A loved one might be a spouse, one of your children, a sibling, a parent, or a grandparent. Intimate friends, a trusted coworker, and a neighbor might belong here too...”

“You must cherish them as they cherish you. They are the ones who give us reason to live.”

Study after study over many years show that strong emotional attachments are the best (although not only) predictors of health in old age. Acknowledging that while some people have a natural ability to make and maintain friendships, Butler realizes that others of us need to work at it, but that it is a skill that can be developed.

He gives a long list of ideas that can enhance friendship. My favorites are those that remind some of us, who enjoy the sound of our own voices a bit too much, to learn to listen better and give others a chance to speak. His suggestions for making new friends are familiar, but I was most interested in his first – something I had never articulated to myself:

Decide what you desire in a friend...Among the likely attributes is trust. A priority may be a person who shares your sense of humor or likes to read to go to the movies. Good friends are curious and caring, patient, nonjudgmental, and do not take advantage...What you desire in a friend is probably very similar to what a potential friend will want to see in you.”

The one place I part company with Dr. Butler is this:

“As life's demands begin to lessen during the aging years, our need for others with whom to share our feelings, insights, and beliefs can increase.”

Maybe for some, but not me. God save me from the large number of people with whom I kept in regular touch during my working years. I called them all friends in those days (a pre-internet Facebook?), but they - however many late nights we spent in groups solving our personal, professional and all the world's problems after too much wine - were mostly acquaintances.

Even so, no one can disagree with Butler's bottom line in this section of the chapter on nurturing friendships: “How important are friends?” he asks. “Friendship is priceless.”

The focus of this chapter, however, is intimate friends and Butler devotes the majority of it to a discussion of elder sexuality which as far as I can tell is the last taboo in our sex-soaked culture. What little popular acknowledgment there is of sex in later years can be divided mostly into two categories: old people probably don't do it but if they do, “eew” (usually from young comedians) and embarrassingly salacious books (usually written by 60-plus women) on how to get as much as you did at age 25.

Dr. Butler is, instead, realistic:

“Sexuality is dynamic; it varies over time with age, health, relationship status, and other factors. That is all entirely normal. A gradual diminution in sexual interest and activity in the aging years is also common, but the notion that people of a certain age become asexual simply is not true.”

Butler's positive attitude about elder sexuality is nicely summed up in a story he tells about Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who, says Butler, “had it right”:

“Not only did he serve on the Court until age 90 (three cheers for longevity and the lively mind!), but Justice Holmes remained available to other stimuli, too. As Holmes once said upon watching a pretty girl walk by: 'Oh, to be eighty again.'”

In this chapter, there are excellent, straightforward sections on age-related sexual dysfunction for men and for women and what to do about it, including the all-important, talk to your physician.

“The passing of years can have an impact on your sex life. For men, the production of testosterone tends to fall and erectile difficulties to increase; for women the physiological changes that accompany menopause may produce a number of changes, ranging from vaginal dryness to diminished desire.

“For many people, however, these prove to be minor impediments and the practice of intimacy – physical and emotional connectedness – for many older people continues to be pleasurable, rewarding, and fulfilling.”

I can't leave this subject without telling you about Len, a neighbor on my New York City block. At this time, we had been friendly for 10 or 15 years. I had helped him get started with a computer and we often had long conversations sitting together on my front stoop on warm, summer evenings while his ancient dog rested at our feet.

As I was hurrying toward the corner on my way to work one morning in 1998, Len, who was about 85 at the time and had been widowed for many years, was just outside his door. I greeted him as I rushed past, but he called out for me to come back. “I've got some terrific news I just have to tell you, Ronni.”

“Yes, Len...” I said as I backtracked.

Clearly excited, he grabbed my arm and loud enough for anyone else on the block to hear too, he said, “Viagra works!”

He'd never told me before that he'd had a girlfriend for the past couple of years and I heard a little more than I needed to know about them that morning. But that doesn't mean I wasn't happy for him.

Butler describes young adult sex as “urgent and explosive...biological, instinctive, exciting and energetic.” It often leads to conception and is, he says, the first language of sex.

”As we age, however, we begin to understand as the young cannot that sex is not merely a matter of athleticism and productivity. Sexuality has a powerful emotional component; it is communicative as well as physical. It is later in life that we reach a deeper understanding of this 'second language' of sex.”

You might be interested in another book by Dr. Butler and his late wife, Myrna Lewis: Love and Sex After Sixty.

Your assignment for next week, my friends – if you are following along - is to read Chapter 3: Seek Essential Sleep.

The Longevity Prescription Series
A Proposal
Introduction
Chaptr 1: Mental Vitality
Chapter 3: Seek Essential Sleep


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford: V-J Day: For Uncle Mel


At Last: Updated Elderblog List

EDITOR'S NOTE: Before we get started on the update, two housekeeping items of note:

Where Elders Blog
Two more people have sent in photos for the Where Elders Blog feature. You can see Dianne Schmidley's blog desk here, Lisa's is here and instructions for including your computer area can be found here.

If you haven't discovered this feature (link is in the right sidebar under TGB Features), it's terrific fun to see where people we have come to know through their blogs and comments do their keyboard tapping.

Comment Policy
This second item is less pleasant. In the past couple of weeks, there has been a minor uptick in hostile and belligerent comments. For the seven years this blog has been in existence, it has hardly ever happened. People here have always been capable of honestly disagreeing in an intelligent, productive manner, so I have been shocked to see this.

I know from past experience how quickly snarky attitude, personal attacks and aggressiveness can kill a forum or blog. So hear this now: the perpetrators have one more chance. If your next comment is not written in the spirit of the open, friendly discussion we have collectively maintained, you will be banned from commenting at TGB without notice and irrevocably.

Please, let's all keep a civil tongue and tone and now – on to the original purpose of today's post.


Well, this is embarrassing. It's been nine months since the Elderblogger List was last updated. So, one day last week I planted myself in the desk chair and didn't move until I'd finished the update.

An amazing number on the list have been abandoned – a few by choice, a couple due to deaths and most that, without a word to readers, have not been updated for anywhere from three months to more than a year. I've removed all of those.

I have added several dozen elderblogs that have been collecting in a file. Undoubtedly I have made mistakes, so if you believe your blog has been removed in error, let me know. And conversely, if there is a blog you want included – yours or someone else's - let me know that too.

Here are the criteria:

  • The blogger must be 50 or older
  • The blog must publish at least once a week
  • The blog must be designed well enough to be easily navigable
  • The blog must be reasonably well-written and follow the generally accepted rules of spelling and grammar
  • No light-colored text on a dark background
  • It must be a personal, not commercial or business blog
  • The blog must have been regularly published for at least three months
  • The blog should be a compelling read

Well, that last item is subjective, isn’t it. In the interests of full disclosure, some other subjective criteria are these:

In general, group-written blogs are not included nor are blogs that promote a specific religion although blogs that discuss religion (or lack thereof) and spirituality in general are welcome. And it goes without saying, I hope, that no blogs are included that express prejudice or bigotry of any sort. Even once. In the past, I have removed two blogs which used unacceptable words for certain ethnic/religious groups in a derogatory manner.

That said, we all have our prejudices and I also do not include blogs promoting far right-wing politics. I've taken flak for this in the past, but the rule stands.

Because the Elderbloggers List is so long now, each Monday, five are featured in the left sidebar under the headline Featured Elderblogs. They remain there for a week when the next five are posted. Sometimes I forget to update it, so let me know if that happens.

By no means does the Elderbloggers List contain all the blogs written by old people. They are just the ones I know about. Here are the newly added blogs. Do visit some of them; you may find a new friend. (The full list is here.)

Age of Reason

amy's miscellany

Animal Beat

As Our Parents Age

Biopsy Report

the Burrow

calendar pages

Class War

Confessions of a Grandma

Crazy For Fiber

Drinks Before Dinner

Each Little World

ElderBlog

ElderChicks

Eye With a View

Folkways Notebook

Gabby Geezer

hot coffee and cool jazz

Hugging Aspens

In London After 70

Jan Heigh Abstract Art

Joe's Place

Just Life as It Is

Just My Life

Late Fruit

Len Edgerly

Life at Willow Manor

Mad, Mad World

Murrmurrs

One Kentucky Writer

paint, poems and ponderings

Plants and Stones

Positive Momentum

The Public Reader Daily Magazine

The Rant

Recollections of a Vagabonde

Roy's World

Schmidleysscribbling

A Slower Pace

The Slow Lane

Sovereignty Rag – The Broad's Side

Tea and Wheaten Bread

TechnoBabe's Adventures

The Ten Pound Pom

Two Crumblies and a Cat

Well Aged With Some Marbling

Whole Note Whimsey


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: Getting Over the Fear of Phoning


ELDER MUSIC: Really Early Rocking and Rolling

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic This is yet another inspiration from Norma, the Assistant Musicologist. She may have had the inspiration but she left me to tell you all about it.

The A.M. is a big fan of jump blues and R&B from the forties. She suggested Rocking and Rolling before Alan Freed put in the punctuation and turned it into Rock ‘n’ Roll. These are all late forties, early fifties and have their roots in blues, boogie, R&B and swing. The tunes (mostly) have some variant of rock and roll in their title or prominent in the lyrics.

I’ll start with a song that was covered by many in the rock ‘n’ roll era, including Elvis. This is the version by Wynonie Harris from 1947.

Wynonie Harris

Wynonie was born in Omaha, Nebraska, which is not your usual place for a blues singer, but I guess they can come from anywhere. He certainly produced a number of records that were forerunners of rock & roll.

Wynonie had, shall we say, a certain way with the ladies and there are a bunch of little (well, not so little any more) Harrises scattered around. He learned a lot from blues shouters Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner early in his career. Joe is also featured here today.

As there were no records produced during the War in his field of music due to the embargo on shellac, Wynonie honed his live performances so that when the embargo was lifted his recordings were spot-on. He did some stellar recordings in the forties and fifties and even some into the sixties. He died of esophageal cancer at age 53 in 1969. This is Good Rockin’ Tonight.

♫ Wynonie Harris - Good Rockin’ Tonight

(Benjamin) Sherman “Scatman” Crothers has to be included. Yes, that Scatman Crothers. Besides being in films and on TV, he had his own band in the forties. He played with T-Bone Walker and Louis Armstrong, amongst others.

Scatman Crothers

Sherman was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, yet another unusual place for a bluesman. When he auditioned for a radio program, the director didn’t think his name was catchy enough so he came up with Scat Man, apparently nothing to do with scat singing. This was later condensed to Scatman, not much in the way of condensing, removing a space.

Scatman started as a drummer at age 15 and he was also an accomplished guitarist and pianist. He appeared in many films but it’s his music that interests us today. He died in 1986 of pneumonia brought on by lung cancer. This is his song from the late 40s, I Want To Rock and Roll.

♫ Scatman Crothers - I Want To Rock and Roll

Amos Milburn is a particular favorite of the A.M. so he has to be included. Besides, he fits the criterion for inclusion so there are no problems with his being here.

Amos Milburn

Amos was born and died in Houston, Texas. I don’t know if that means he didn’t travel far or not. I go with the “not” as he was in the navy during the war and earned thirteen battle stars in the Philippines.

After that he returned to, yep, Houston where he played jazz and R&B in various clubs around town. His recording career started in 1946 and continued until 1972 when he had a stroke and died, aged 52, in 1980. His contribution today is Let’s Rock A While from 1950.

♫ Amos Milburn - Let’s Rock A While

Cecil Gant sang in local clubs in his native Nashville until WWII started. He enlisted and some time later he sang at a war bond rally in Los Angeles where he was signed by a local record company.

Cecil Gant

He had a huge hit at the time with his own song, I Wonder. Cecil’s style is more like that of Charles Brown or Nat King Cole rather than the shouters we’re featuring today. However, he could rock with the best of them when required.

This is Rock Little Baby recorded in 1951 at his last session, two weeks before he died suddenly aged only 37.

♫ Cecil Gant - Rock Little Baby

Doc Pomus has suggested that rock n roll wouldn’t have happened without Big Joe Turner. We know there were others performing in this style - after all, that’s the whole point of the column today - but when I listen to Joe I think that Doc has a point.

Big Joe Turner

Joe’s father was killed in a train accident when he was only five (Joe that is, not dad) and Joe started singing on the streets soon after to raise a bit of money. He eventually became a bartender in a nightclub, in his native Kansas City, where he also sang. It was there he met his lifelong musical companion, Pete Johnson. Pete played piano on pretty much everything Joe recorded.

The pair headed to New York and played with Benny Goodman and were discovered by John Hammond and appeared in one of his From Spirituals to Swing concerts at Carnegie Hall. This lead to a recording career and there’s an enormous amount of great music I’m not telling you about as I don’t have the space.

Here’s Joe with Rock The Joint from the late 40s with Pete on piano. Pete has been credited with inventing “rocking blues” and I imagine Jerry Lee Lewis grew up listening to his piano playing.

♫ Big Joe Turner - Rock The Joint

My goodness, the A.M. has set me a challenge with Doles Dickens. She suggested this track and said, “Do your stuff.”

Doles Dickens

To the best of my knowledge that’s Doles in the top left of the photo as he was a bass player and that person is holding a bass. If there are any Doles experts out there let me know if I’m wrong.

What I’ve managed to track down is the following: Doles began his recording career in 1940 with the Eddie South Orchestra. In 1943, he joined The Five Red Caps. He remained with them until 1946 and they recorded a few tunes.

He then went out on his own. With his own quartet, he recorded We’re Gonna Rock This Morning in 1949. He also had a record called, Rock and Roll written by Wild Bill Moore.

He recorded throughout the fifties and early sixties. From then on he became a studio musician. That’s all I could find out about Doles.

♫ Doles Dickens - We’re Gonna Rock This Morning

Big Joe Turner again. After all, he was the king of them all, y’all (not James Brown).

It has been suggested that rhythm and blues became rock and roll in February 1954 when Shake Rattle and Roll was recorded.

♫ Big Joe Turner - Shake Rattle and Roll


GRAY MATTERS: The Downside of Medicare

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


Those of us of a certain age sing the praises of Medicare which, thanks to the recently passed health reforms, according to the latest report of the trustees, has a new lease on life. It will serve the needs of upwards of 45 million disabled and people over 65 for longer than some banks and businesses will be around.

That is to say, the life of the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund has been extended 12 years to 2029. That fund, if you don’t know, pays for Medicare Part A, which includes hospitalization, and rehabilitation or skilled nursing care after, say, an accident or surgery, and for some home care.

In addition, the Obama administration’s bean counters estimate that the new health care overhaul, Medicare Part B – which pays part of the cost of labs and physician visits – will save $8 billion by the end of next year and a whopping $575 billion over the next ten years.

That’s something people over 65 and those approaching retirement to celebrate. Medicare will be there when employment benefits run out.

But Medicare, which was passed 45 years ago, is far from the universal health care that we one day hope to have. Unless a beneficiary has supplementary coverage from a former employer, Medicare’s deductibles and premiums or the Medigap policies to cover those costs have gotten expensive.

If you don’t yet qualify for Social Security (or haven’t had 40 or more quarters of Medicare-covered employment), Part A’s premium (normally free) can cost from $254 to $461 a month. A hospital stay will cost $1,100 for up to 60 days, $275 a day for days 61-90 and $550 a day after that.

Part B, as you know, costs most beneficiaries $96.40 a month, but much more if you are a bit affluent because Medicare under George W. Bush instituted means testing for the first time. It also carries a yearly deductible of $155, which goes up every year.

Part B covers 80 percent of the bills, with those out-of-pocket costs going up. And Part D is an added expense if you need prescription drugs and fall victim to the doughnut hole. Medicare is saving that $8 billion a year mentioned above by cutting Medicare Advantage for 10 million beneficiaries. That’s the right move, in my view, but it’s an indication that Medicare penalizes some people who were hoping to get more coverage.

We could have done better than Medicare or the cumbersome health reforms, most of which won’t take effect until 2014, if the nation wasn’t so stuck in an ideological rut.

One great alternative is called socialized medicine and it’s practiced right here in the U.S. - the Veterans Administration hospitals and health services. And its beneficiaries, non-socialists all, have included the four star generals now running our wars as well as Senator John McCain and many members of Congress.

Although they are not run by the VA, among the socialized institutions that have tended to the needs of presidents as well as lawmakers, are Walter Reed Hospital, in Washington, D.C., run by the Army, and the Bethesda Naval Hospital in the Maryland suburbs.

A few years ago, millions of Americans and I were beneficiaries of the VA health system when it developed, along with Merck and California researchers, an effective vaccine for the dreaded shingles. That was just one of the innovations credited to the VA in a new edition of a book, The Best Care Anywhere, with the subtitle, “Why VA Healthcare Is Better than Yours.”

Written by Phillip Longman, a professional demographer, and a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Washington Monthly, the book tells the story of the quality revolution launched by Dr. Ken Kizer when he took over the VA health system in 1994.

According to the Century Foundation’s Health Beat blog, Longman’s book includes “eye-popping evidence” based on peer-reviewed research

“...that when it comes to everything from outcomes to patient satisfaction and patient safety, the VA out performs. Most people don’t associate the VA with innovation. But a majority of its doctors have faculty appointments at academic institutions, one reason that the VA is on the cutting edge of evidence-based, patient centered medicine.”

Over the years, Longman reports, “the VA has been responsible for developing the CT-scanner, the first artificial kidney, the cardiac pacemaker, the first successful liver transplant, the nicotine patch,” and the shingles vaccine.”

The VA installed the VistA software program, the centerpiece of the VA’s electronic medical record system, which is now used elsewhere. With the use of the software, Longman writes that the VA system, in which everyone - doctors, researchers, nurses and technicians who work for the VA -

“...is the only health care provider in the U.S. whose cost per patient has been holding steady in recent years.”

Dr. Donald Berwick, the new head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote on the back cover of Longman’s book,

“The improvement of the VA health care system in the past decade is one of the most impressive stories of large-scale change.”

Who says government can’t do anything right?

In this case (as in many civilized nations), socialized medicine works, but it’s doubtful that the VA system will serve as a model for health reform in the U.S. We blindly reject “socialism”without knowing what it is. But we veterans know how it can be helpful in obtaining good treatment and cheap prescription drugs. Unfortunately, budget cuts over the last eight years have forced the VA to sharply limit eligibility for its health system.

While searching for alternatives to Medicare and the inadequate health reforms, I came across a paper published earlier this month on “the impact of universal national health insurance on population health” in Taiwan, of all places, a successful bastion of free enterprise on the doorstep of communist China.

Taiwan established its National Health Insurance in 1995, which covers more than 98 percent of Taiwanese, at the cost of small co-payments. In the years after the system became effective, the paper reported, deaths from

“...causes amenable to health care” declined by nearly six percent a year. The decline was highest among the young and the old and was “associated with substantial reductions in deaths from circulatory disorders for men, whilst an earlier upward trend in female cancer deaths was reversed.”

The U.S. might have had something similar to Taiwan’s NHI, Medicare For All, except for the timidity of Barack Obama, who did not have the courage of his own convictions, and the ignorance of conservative Republicans and Democrats who worried more about their political futures than the health care of their constituents.

Republicans would have had trouble attacking “Medicare For All.” It’s easier to call for the repeal of the confusing “Obama care.”

We pay for this ideological narrowness with lives; in contrast to the good news of Taiwan’s NHI, the U.S. has the worst rate of amenable mortality among 19 industrialized nations, with more than 100,000 deaths per year from disorders amenable to health care.

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


INTERESTING STUFF – 27 August 2010

Category_bug_interestingstuff This edition of Interesting Stuff is top-heavy with video, silliness and fun, but not entirely. Enjoy.

ELDER TELEMEDICINE
Only 11 percent of medical schools in the U.S. require geriatric training and there are not now, nor will there be in coming years nearly enough geriatricians - those trained in the often unique medical treatment of elders – to go around. One way to alleviate the crunch is to care for elders' routine medical needs with telemedicine.

Telemedicine has not advanced far yet and certainly not with elders. One reason is the belief that old people cannot or will not adapt to the necessary gadgets. But according to a recent story in the Washington Post,

"'I was shocked; they love the technology,' says Laurie Chichester, who directs home-care services at the Metropolitan Jewish Health System in New York, where 170 patients use remote monitoring.”

They're always underestimating us elders. I would welcome telemedicine. You can read more here.

MAKING EXERCISE FUN
It won't do the rest of us any good, but in Stockholm, taking the stairs, even after a long day's work, is growing by – well, leaps and bounds. I wish I could do this.

IT TOOK ME 50 YEARS TO GET THE JOKE
One of the fun things about returning to Portland, Oregon, where I lived until I was 15, is rediscovering buildings and landmarks that bring back memories from those years. A recent story by Anna Griffin in The Oregonian discusses the restoration of an 80-year-old sign on a Chinese restaurant.

I clearly remember this sign and the name of the restaurant, which I often saw when I was a kid, and may even have eaten there. What I didn't understand back then was why grownups laughed about the name.

Hung Far Low sign

You can read more here.

”I LOVE MY BORING LIFE”
Steve Garfield of Off on a Tangent (yes, he is the son of our very own Millie Garfield) alerted me to a blog post titled the same as this headline. I've had a few notes for a post with similar thoughts, but Len Edgerly got there first:

“I’ve spent just shy of 60 years looking for adventure, trying to be important. If you’d told me when I was 18, or 35, or even 50 that there’d come a time when the best things in my life would be boring, I’d have puked. But that time has come, my friends.”

Couldn't have said it better myself. Although Len's boring life is distinctly different from mine, the contentment is not. Read more here.

SIMON'S CAT IN A BOX
Youtube star, Simon's Cat, is endlessly entertaining, but somehow I forgot to check in for new installments during the past several months until lilialia of Yum Yum Cafe reminded me. This universal cat behavior is what makes it so funny to us cat fans.

PHILADELPHIA TAXES BLOGGERS
Now and then, Marilyn Bess posts a story to her low-traffic blog about green living. Together with some other posts on eHow over the past few years she has earned, she says, about $50. Nevertheless, in May, she received a letter from the city demanding she pay $300 to purchase a business privilege license - and pay taxes on her income.

She is not alone. Other local bloggers, including one with even less revenue than Bess, have received the same demand.

"According to Andrea Mannino of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in fact, simply choosing the option to make money from ads — regardless of how much or little money is actually generated — qualifies a blog as a business."

A bill will be introduced in September to set a floor of $100,000 profit before taxes are due, but the business privilege license would still be required. Will Philadelphia blogs go dark? Is this a First Amendment issue? Read more here.

OVERSTATING THE OBVIOUS
If people who feel the need to state the glaringly obvious are annoying, signs that do so are just stupid – or funny.

Sand

Although I'm not convinced this image isn't Photoshopped, there are some more at Huffington Post that are not.

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
It is lilalia again who sent me this link. Certainly, you have heard of StoryCorps, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the life stories of Americans from all walks of life.

They have partnered with the Rauch Brothers animation studio to produce videos using audio recordings from StoryCorps interviews with real people. The animations air on the PBS program POV and are posted online after broadcast.

That's all I'm going to say except don't skip viewing this, titled Danny and Annie.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Interesting Stuff is an occasional Time Goes By feature – about two or three times a month – listing items that have recently caught my attention, some serious and others not. Suggestions are welcome with no guarantee of publication.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Lazinsky: Radio


GAY AND GRAY: Involuntary Retirement

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif There's a lot of involuntary retirement happening in this awful economy. I'm sure some readers here are finding themselves out of work sooner than they anticipated or hoped. Ageism has always pushed older people out of work before we wished. Long time readers know Ronni started this blog when staring at this reality.

What I want to offer here is the story of a different kind of involuntary retirement that sometimes happens to gays and lesbians, in particular those trying to serve their country. The Service Members Legal Defense Network has published this letter from the spouse of a retired U.S. Navy officer as her contribution to the ongoing discussion of repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy (DADT) which effectively prevents open and honest service by LGBT people in the military.

The author wants it publicized, so I am simply sharing Lynne Kennedy's letter to military authorities who are currently assessing the potential impact of repeal. [Emphasis is mine.] - Jan Adams


In 1990 - while working as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress - I met Joan Darrah, an active duty naval officer. I already knew about the ban on open service, but I soon woke up to the harsh reality that loved ones of gay and lesbian family members are forced to serve in silence, too.

Over the years, Joan had adjusted to living two lives - in the closet at work and out after hours. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment as I had been fortunate to work for an employer who valued my skills and expertise and realized that my being a lesbian in no way detracted from my ability to do a great job.

I knew that Joan could be deployed at any moment. She may be away from home for two or three years. I realized that being with an active duty military officer was even more constricting than I could have possibly imagined and I worried constantly about Joan’s well being. Yet, through it all, I knew our relationship was worth the compromises. I knew we had to make it work for Joan to continue to serve our country.

Joan and Lynne

There were so many things that we had to be careful about. For example, Joan had asked that I not call her at work unless it was truly an emergency. When we were out in public, if Joan saw someone from work, I learned to “disappear” until Joan’s co-worker moved on. We didn’t dare go to nice restaurants on Valentine’s Day or even Saturday nights. We could not show any familiarity while out in public. I went to parties at colleagues' homes alone lest a guest I didn't know learn that Joan was in the Navy.

The events of September 11, 2001, caused us both to appreciate more fully the true impact of DADT on our lives and the reality of our mutual sacrifices. At 8:30AM that morning, Joan went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30AM she left that meeting. At 9:37AM, the plane flew into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space that Joan had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of her colleagues.

In the days and weeks that followed, Joan went to several funerals and memorial services for her co-workers who had been killed. Most people attended these services with their spouses whose support was critical at this difficult time, yet Joan was forced to go alone, even though I really wanted to be with her to provide support.

"As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone I would have been had Joan been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family," which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But, none of that support would have been available for me, because under DADT, I didn’t exist.

In fact, I would have been one of the last people to know had Joan been killed because nowhere in her paperwork or emergency contact information had Joan dared to list my name.

Whenever I hear Joan recount the events of that day, I relive it and realize all over again how devastated I would have been had she been killed. I also think of the partners of service members injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unable to get any support from the military and they must be careful about the amount of support they offer to their closeted service member loved ones.

The events of September 11th caused us to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process, we realized that this discriminatory law was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Eight months later, in June 2002, Joan retired from the U.S. Navy, and I retired from the Library of Congress. If it wasn’t for DADT, we might both still be serving in our respective positions.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Sensory Summers


The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Mental Vitality

category_bug_journal2.gif Most of the people who regularly follow Time Goes By don't need lessons in how to keep their minds active. We are avid readers, bloggers, activists, family chroniclers, necessarily students of computer workings, writers, poets, photographers, teachers, travelers and more.

Many of us have made the transition from our careers to retirement, but just as many, I suspect, have yet to travel that divide and Dr. Butler makes an important point I have used here to promote blogging as an elder activity that covers much of the known prescriptions for maintaining our mental acuity as we age.

“...many people do not realize that the workplace is their major source of intellectual and social stimulation; the loss of that day-to-day exposure to conversation, ideas and challenges needs to be filled by other activities.

“By all means, retire from your day job if you wish; but do so with an awareness that you will have not only hours to fill, but you may feel a loss purpose, structure and companionship.”

For some, like me, retirement is suddenly forced upon them through layoffs. You don't realize, at first, that there is never going to be another job and it is only after months, even a year or more, of seeking employment, that you have been permanently heaved out of the workforce.

After 40 or 50 years of daily routine, it is tempting to put up your feet and take the good, long rest you've never had time for. That's not a habit to cultivate if you want to keep your mind sharp in the coming years.

Chapter 1 of Dr. Robert Butler's The Longevity Prescription, “Maintain Mental Vitality,” contains many tactics for keeping our brains healthy within three overall strategies:

  1. Cognitive calisthenics
  2. Reconfigure your brain
  3. Improve your lifestyle choices

In each of the three sections, there are lists of activities to achieve optimal cognitive function throughout our late years. They are many, so I won't go through them and you probably know most of them. What I find valuable in this chapter is Dr. Butler's reassuring refutation, based on latest scientific studies, of common misconceptions about old brains.

“In the absence of severe brain disease, humans do not stop developing, whatever our age...your brain continues to regenerate nerve cells, including neurons and other so-called neural lineages. The process is not as rapid in the mature central nervous system as it is in a child's, but the adult human brain is constantly adapting and even reprogramming itself.”

Although our jokes about “senior moments” contain a strong whiff of whistling past the graveyard, Butler reports that most of us overestimate our memory dysfunction:

“About 80 percent of older people report memory loss – but testing has found that such subjective reports are overstated. It appears that our fear of a fading memory exaggerates real but minor memory loss...

“For most people the elusive memories will be accessed in a matter of time; yesterday's mild forgetfulness is nothing to worry about, as it does not involve other cognitive functions and isn't likely to be progressive.”

Butler reports on a study investigating the impact of training elders 65 and older in aspects of mental vitality:

“The results were impressive – and encouraging. Those who received the ten sessions of training saw their cognitive abilities improve. The benefit was measurable, immediate and long lasting, as the trial found that gains made in reasoning, memory and speed of mental processing were still very much in evidence five years later.”

Because I have a lot of trouble engaging in activities for activities' sake – walking without a destination is an example that impedes my exercise routine – brain games that were introduced a few years ago bore me. I prefer to do some research into something I want to understand or solve a problem I'm having. But if you have better tolerance than I, these should not be ignored. Butler mentions SharpBrains.com and Luminosity.com (there is a fee involved) among others. But he also says,

“Keep in mind that the discipline of seeking information, on the Web and otherwise, is in itself an intellectual exercise that can help sharpen memory and mental processing skills.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place, the companion blog to Time Goes By, contributors often relate anecdotes and events from their younger lives. When I was a kid and older folks at a party, picnic or holiday gathering started telling their stories - “When I was your age...” - I tried to tune out. Dr. Butler explains that it wasn't just kids who would rather have been playing tag who dismissed elders' reminiscences:

“...the rather ill-informed professional consensus among authors of psychology and gerontology textbooks in the 1950s dismissed older people who engaged in reminiscing as 'garrulous,' 'boring,' and 'living in the past.' Their minds were 'wandering,' the professionals thought, with the implication that their memories were useless...

“Yet studies...have found that reminiscences in later life have an important role, as aging people all undergo an important inner experience. The term 'life review' was coined to describe this process of reminiscence, and today continuing research buttresses the importance of looking backward.”

So keep writing those wonderful Elder Storytelling Place memories.

Dr. Butler's book is not just a how-to for a long, healthy life, but a primer for the study of aging itself. As useful as the advice is – whether new information or reminders of activities we may have let lapse – his explanations, in laymen's language, of new research give insight and depth to his prescriptions.

Are you reading along with this series? If so, what did you get out of this chapter?

Next week we'll delve into Chapter 2 on relationships.

The Longevity Prescription Series
A Proposal
Introduction
Chapter 2: Nurture Your Relationships/a>
Chapter 3: Seek Essential Sleep


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lewis LeMaster: Dad's Homemade Sauerkraut and Beer


REFECTIONS: On Jobs and the CCC

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.


Category_bug_reflections Judging by his record of job creation, which has been rather benign during the worst employment drought since the Great Depression, it should be clear by now that Barack Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt. Although he admires the Roosevelt legacy, he seems to have learned too little from history.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, if he followed up on what he’s accomplished so far.

To his credit, Obama began his presidency by keeping a promise he made the month before he took office when he proposed the elements of his economic recovery program which included public works. As he said, “We need action – and action now.”

He said he would invest record amounts of money, about $700 billion  in a vast infrastructure program, including work on schools, sewer systems, mass transit, dams and public utilities.

Toward those ends, Obama shoved through the Congress, with no help from Republicans, the $784 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, along with $170 billion for an economic stimulus (less than what he wanted), $3 billion for the popular “cash for clunkers,” $100 billion to refinance defaulting mortgages and $90 billion in emergency unemployment insurance.

The outgoing Bush administration contributed $600 billion for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), under which the government bought shaky assets from banks.

In addition, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury invested or loaned billions (much of which has been paid back with interest) to bail out giant banks and two of the big three auto manufacturers. In spite of almost unanimous Republican opposition, the states lined up to get their share of stimulus money after several vowed that they would take nothing from the federal government.

The latest flip-flopper is Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina who was moved to change his position in the face of a ten percent unemployment rate in his state.

Despite criticism of TARP and the assorted bailouts, two eminent economists, Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Economy and a former adviser to Sen. John McCain, and Princeton’s Alan Blinder, former vice-president of the Federal Reserve Board, pronounced the Obama programs successful in averting “what could have been called Great Depression 2.0.”

In their 23-page paper entitled, How The Great Recession Was Brought To An End, they note that

“...the government’s response (which began in the last days of the Bush administration) to the financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession included some of the most aggressive fiscal and monetary policies in history...Yet almost every one of these policies remain controversial...with critics calling them misguided, ineffective or both.”

But, they added,

“We estimate that without the government’s response the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2010 would be about 11.5 percent lower, payroll employment would be less than 8.5 million jobs and the nation would now be experiencing deflation.”

Despite the persistently high unemployment rate, they claim the fiscal stimulus alone raised this year’s GDP to 3.4 percent and 2.7 million jobs were saved or added. But the latest economic news, including a lower GDP and deeper unemployment, accompanied by spreading poverty among working and middle class families, has blemished their optimism.

Part of the problem: Of the $784 billion in the recovery act, more than $266 billion has not yet been spent and the deaf and dumb Republicans want that amount suspended and used to reduce the deficit. The administration says 80 percent of the projects are under contract and another $50 billion are in the process of being awarded.

Nevertheless, cities are turning out street lights and replacing paved roads with gravel to save money. The fact is that the recovery act and the inadequate stimulus have yet to put much of a dent in the unemployment rate, which is far above the official rate of 9.5 percent.

As Bob Herbert reported in The New York Times, the reason the rate is not higher is because 181,000 workers left the labor force this summer. One economist, Charles McMillion, who analyzes employment trends. told him that

“...over the past three months 1,155,000 unemployed people dropped out of the active labor force and were not counted as unemployed. Even ignoring population growth, if these unemployed had not dropped out of the labor force...the official unemployment rate would have risen from 9.9 percent in April to 10.2 percent in July.

“When you combine the long term unemployed with those who are dropping out and those who are working part time because they can’t find anything else. It is just far beyond anything we’ve seen..since the 1930s.”

Yet, said Herbert, Washington, including the president, who says, “I feel your pain,”is not doing much about the crisis.

“With 14.6 million officially jobless, and 5.9 million who have stopped looking but say they want a job. And 8.5 million who are working part time...you end up with 30 million Americans who cannot find the work they want and desperately need...There are now 3.4 million fewer private sector jobs than there were a decade ago. In the last ten years, we’ve seen the worst job creation record since 1928-1938.”

What can be done? How about following the advice of a couple of Nobel Prize winning economists, Joseph Stiglitz and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman? Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank told Bloomberg TV that the administration’s stimulus and public works effort were

“...a big gamble and it doesn’t look like it’s paying off. The recovery is so weak that it’s not strong enough to generate new jobs for the new entrants in the labor force, let alone to find jobs for the 15 million who would like to get a job, but can’t find one.”

One reason the recovery act has been slow in creating jobs is that many of the projects and contracts must go through the slow process of being approved by state and local jurisdictions and competing labor unions. That’s why Stiglitz, Krugman, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Blinder have called for the resurrection of New Deal-style job creation programs like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and, for younger men and women trying to enter the labor force who need to do useful work, the once popular Civilian Conservation Corps.

Reich noted that the U.S. already has a “giant jobs program,” the thousands of men and women in the military, sapping valuable taxpayer funds that are justified as necessary for national security, when a nation with so many jobless is economically insecure. Noting the U.S. had a National Defense Education Act during the Eisenhower presidency, Reich said,

“Maybe this is the way to convince Republicans to spend more federal dollars putting Americans back and working on things we genuinely need: call it the National Defense Full Employment Act.”

When the ’s Ezra Klein asked Blinder what needs to be done to give a blood transfusion to the anemic recovery, Blinder said,

“I would do two things, both aimed at jobs. I would do the so-called new jobs tax credit on a much bigger and better scale than the HIRE Act, which was a baby step. The second thing I would do is a WPA-like program of direct, public hiring. People could work in parks in maintenance, the many paper-shuffling jobs in government.”

Actually, the WPA and CCC did a lot more than that. Here’s what I wrote months ago when Obama offered what became too little:

“The WPA, born in 1935 at an initial cost of $4.8 billion, was at the time, the largest “relief” program in American history (now it’s called “stimulus”). By 1941, when spending on the coming war pulled America out of the lingering slump, WPA had cost $11.4 billion and put eight million men and women to work building 1,634 public schools, 105 airports, 3,000 tennis courts, 5,800 libraries, 3,300 storage dams, hundreds of miles of roads, sewer lines.

“At the same time the CCC built roads through national and state parks, fire towers, and scores of campgrounds, many of which are in use today.

“I doubt if George Bush even suspected that his weekend retreat, Camp David, which Franklin Roosevelt called Shangri-la, was built by the WPA and CCC as a recreation area in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. Do baseball fans know that WPA workers built Doubleday Field, in Cooperstown, New York in 1939 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of America’s pastime on that hallowed ground?

“The architecturally unique bridges of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut were built by the WPA. Not until 1937 did New York City get an airport, La Guardia Field (named after the city’s New Deal era mayor) with its beautiful art-deco main terminal, all built by WPA labor.

“The WPA, I should add, hired women, although the agency’s boss, Harry Hopkins, frowned on giving work to both a husband and a wife and leaving children unattended. About 15 percent of the workers were in the Women’s Division and they received equal pay, which was the local prevailing wage, from $19 to $94 a month for a maximum of 30 hours of work each week.

“The WPA also provided jobs for 350,000 blacks, and helped dent some color barriers. And the WPA’s Education Division, gave work to teachers who taught reading to thousands of illiterate blacks and whites.”

But the WPA, which was ridiculed by Republicans (naturally) as a make-work program (and nothing is wrong with make-work when there are no other jobs), was paired with the CCC in putting Americans in useful jobs. The genius of the CCC is that it concentrated on young men 18 to 24 (later 18-28), many of whom were roaming the country like hoboes, to give them work that needed doing, providing them the discipline of a military-like structure and seeing to it that they sent part of their wages to their struggling families at home.

As New York State’s governor, Roosevelt, an ardent conservationist, had run a similar program. But barely three weeks into his presidency, on March 21, 1933, he told the Congress.

“I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great financial loss, but also as a means of creating future national wealth.”

Today, I suppose the Republican right (e.g., Rep Michele Bachmann of Minnesota) would accuse Obama of trying to put America’s youth into concentration camps. But the law that created the CCC, for Emergency Conservation Work, was passed ten days after Roosevelt proposed it. And he promised it “would give 250,000 young men meals, housing, uniforms and small wages for working on national forests and other government properties.”

Those numbers grew as the depression deepened.

If you travel to a national forest, you’ll notice that many of the fire watch towers were built by the CCC. My late brother-in-law and a close friend left their Depression-weary urban homes for service in the CCC. But among the more prominent alumni were Hyman Rickover, who became a four-star admiral and the father of the nuclear submarine fleet; actors Raymond Burr, Robert Mitchum and Walter Matthau; baseball greats Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst and test pilot Chuck Yeager.

Volunteers came from every state, including the then territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to Wikipedia, the CCC became the most popular New Deal program among the public, eventually providing jobs for 3 million men, most of them from families on relief. Then-Interior Secretary Harold Ickes insisted that black youth were included and 200,000 signed up, although they were segregated.

During its life, from 1933 to 1942, CCC volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide, most of which became state parks, and a network of thousands of miles of roads in forests and rural lands.

The Indian Division of the CCC built schools and operated extensive road building projects on Indian lands. Crews built dams, sowed grass to stop erosion. In addition, it trained men to be carpenters, truck rivers, radio operators, mechanics and stock raisers. About 24,000 of the 85,000 Indian enrollees later served in the military and 40,000 left the reservations for war jobs in the cities.

What was it about the Roosevelt presidency that enabled the passage and creation of the WPA, the PWA, the CCC, not to mention regulatory agencies (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, FDIC, the Securities Exchange Commission, SEC, the Federal Trade Commission, FTC) and laws, The Glass-Stegall Banking Act?

The Obama presidency, which promise a revival of Rooseveltian hope, has steadily weakened with compromise virtually every New Deal era effort to deal with funny money Wall Street and financial shenanigans. It’s true that Obama has confronted highly partisan and an ideologically extremist Republican Party, but has he fought them?

Roosevelt, who ran in 1932 on a promise to balance the budget, abandoned that vow when faced with the misery and crises of the Great Depression. Obama has endorsed a right-wing budget-cutting deficit commission, which wants to cut Social Security benefits, among other federal programs.

Roosevelt said he welcomed the opposition from what he called the “economic royalists” whose business-loving Republican Party had run the country for more than a dozen years with Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Roosevelt, with the courage of his convictions and prodding from Eleanor, did not seek bipartisanship but fought the Republicans and their banker allies.

In the vernacular, Roosevelt stayed with the voters who brung him to the presidency. In 1934, the people supported him, winning nine seats each for Democrats in the House and Senate, which happens rarely for the party in power. But even as the Depression got worse, the voters responded to FDR’s partisanship and set the stage for the best of the New Deal that was to come.

Surely there’s a lesson in this for today. Here is part of another Bob Herbert column:

“The problem with the U.S. economy today, as it was during the Great Depression, is the absence of sufficient demand for goods and services. Consumers, struggling with sky-high unemployment and staggering debt loads, are tapped out. The economy cannot be made healthy again, and there is no chance of doing anything substantial about budget deficits, as long as so many millions of people are left with essentially no purchasing power. Jobs are the only real answer.

“President Obama missed his opportunity early last year to rally the public behind a call for shared sacrifice and a great national mission to rebuild the United States in a way that would create employment for millions and establish a gleaming new industrial platform for the great advances of the 21st century.

“It would have taken fire and imagination, but the public was poised to respond to bold leadership. If the Republicans had balked, and they would have, the president had the option of taking his case to the people, as Truman did in his great underdog campaign of 1948.

“During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt explained to the public the difference between wasteful spending and sound government investments. 'You cannot borrow your way out of debt,' he said, 'but you can invest your way into a sounder future.'”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Olga Hebert: Back-to-School Shoes


Reverse Mortgage Part 7: Lender Conditions

category_bug_journal2.gif When last we left off my tale of pursuing a HECM – an FHA-insured reverse mortgage - the appraiser had visited and I was awaiting his valuation of my home.

It is a nerve-wracking period. My broker and I had used the purchase price I paid in May to calculate an estimate of the loan amount and its costs. If the appraisal came in too low – a not unreasonable result in our volatile housing market - I might want to re-evaluate the terms of the loan I had selected and we would need to re-do the numbers.

The appraisal arrived ten days ago: almost to the dollar what I paid for it. They are so close, it is hardly worth noticing the difference. (Old woman wipes brow and issues a sigh of relief.)

My broker sent the papers I needed to read and sign here, initial there – a lot of them – and then he assembled the package for submission to the mortgage lender. A few days later, he emailed to say that the bank had approved the loan. (“Whew,” again.) Two giant hurdles leapt within one week's time.

But wait.

It's not as easy as it sounds. Nothing ever is with large bureaucracies whose goal sometimes appears to be to fell an entire forest for one transaction.

There are conditions to the approval - a couple that are, to me, arbitrarily niggling; others are just how banks spend their time; and one that is flat out unreasonable.

Certified closing statement from the sale of my Maine property. In other words, they want to know where I got the money to buy my new home. My copy won't do; it must be sent from the title company.

Certified closing statement from the purchase of my Oregon property. I have no quibble with this one.

Proof of residence in the Oregon apartment. I assume this means they suspect I'm lying about living here. They wanted the three most recent utility bills: fine.

Flood certification. This was investigated when I bought the property, but now the bank is balking because the apartment designation in the legal description is a number and the identifier used by the postal service and condominium is a letter. Again, more paper.

Condominium data. The bank wants to know how many apartment owners are delinquent in homeowner's association dues and what percentage of apartments are rented versus owner-occupied.

The condo management company charged $56 for this information. If they can't answer those two questions with three or four clicks of their keyboard, they aren't worth the money the condo is paying them. You can bet I will have something to say about that fee at the next condo meeting.

Paper trail of where I got the money to purchase my apartment in Oregon. The settlement statement from my Maine sale covers the largest part of the purchase price, but not all. I'm unwilling to send copies of my (so-called) investment account to show the source the remaining funds, so we are working out a method that doesn't reveal my entire financial life which I'm unwilling to do.

Letter from me explaining why I moved. This is intrusive and I don't think this is any of the bank's business, nor do they need it to approve a loan. I resent the question, but sent them a short, two sentence letter to move this process along.

These items together with the nearly one-inch thick application, including the 20-page appraiser's report, plus various checks of public records the lender itself orders seem excessive for what amounts to, in the world of too-big-to-fail banks, a loan the size of a flea secured by an apartment in an established condominium already approved for HECMs by the FHA. But one can also look at it this way:

Given the country-wide housing debacle and the bank's past history of handing out sub-prime mortgages without checking even applicant's income, the bank is being ultra-conservative now in its due diligence. I wonder why I think that's not really it. I don't recall anything near this complex in applications for past mortgages – pre-housing bubble.

The point you should take away from this, if you are pursuing a reverse mortgage, is to have all your paper ducks in a neat an tidy row for the lender. It's a pain in the ass tracking it all down.

And I still can't figure out what possible use it is to the bank to know the reason I moved. Nor what would be a negative answer that would sink the mortgage application. If there is no possible negative answer, there is no reason for the question.

The TGB Reverse Mortgage Series
Part 1: One Reason For a Reverse Mortgage
Part 2: The Basics
Part 3: Finding a Lender
Part 4: Do Not Fear HECMs
Part 5: The Mandatory Counseling Session
Part 6: The Home Appraisal


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: The Widower and the Worm Farm


ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Entertainers

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Today I’m doing songs about other entertainers – singers or actors. There are a lot of these and I’m just scratching the surface. A number of the tunes many of you may not recognize. That’s because I’m being self-indulgent and including several songs by Australian artists, so sit back and enjoy them. I sure did while I was researching this.

The obvious place to start is with Elvis. I’m sure I could do a complete column on songs about him. The first I can remember of those is a song called All American Boy. I wasn’t going to include this one, but thought, “Oh, why not?”

The 45 I had of it had the artist’s name as Bill Parsons. Years later, I discovered that it was actually Bobby Bare who recorded it.

Bobby Bare and Elvis Presley

I’m indebted to Don Powell, who played guitar on that record, for setting me straight. Okay, Don didn’t do it personally, I found it on the intertube.

It seems that not long before recording it, Bobby had been drafted into the army. A touch of irony there when you listen to the song.

He wasn’t going to be able to tour and promote the record so he got his good friend, Bill Parsons, who was in the studio that day, to take the credit and tour with the song. Bill was soon found out as he wasn’t the singer that Bobby was and returned to playing in bars in Dayton, Ohio.

♫ Bobby Bare - All American Boy

I’m continuing with Elvis as the best song about him I’ve encountered is by Glenn Cardier. Glenn is an Australian singer/songwriter, one of the best – certainly the most interesting. His only competitors for the title are Paul Kelly and Mike McClellan.

Glenn Cardier and Elvis Presley

Glenn has toured with or written songs for a diverse bunch of performers including Harry Chapin, Frank Zappa, Spike Milligan, Fairport Convention and Olivia Newton-John. That’s pretty diverse. This is from his album, “House of Mirrors,” and it’s called, Elvis at the Checkout.

♫ Glenn Cardier - Elvis At the Checkout

Rodney Crowell knew Johnny Cash. Indeed Rodney became Johnny’s son-in-law when he married Roseanne. He later became his ex-son-in-law. He must have remained on reasonably friendly terms judging by this song.

Rodney Crowell and Johnny Cash

I recently saw Rodney perform and I wondered if he was going to sing this song. He did, with a little help from a friend who did a pretty decent Johnny Cash, as the original was no longer available. You’ll understand what I mean when you hear it. This is I Walk the Line (Revisited).

♫ Rodney Crowell - I Walk the Line (Revisited)

A particular favorite of Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, is Paul Wookey's song, Brigitte Bardot. I like it too.

Paul Wookey and Brigitte Bardot

Paul is yet another Australian singer/songwriter (we have a bunch of them) who is an excellent guitarist as well and, based on the last time we saw him, seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop, folk and blues songs. The song is fairly self explanatory – it's what teenaged boys were thinking about in country Victoria at the time (city Victoria too).

♫ Paul Wookey - Brigitte Bardot

The Go Betweens were a cult band in the Eighties. Not just here but around the world it seems. Indeed, as the years have passed, their cult status has grown to something approaching mythical status these days.

The few times I encountered them (not live, just on TV or radio), I thought they were just an average pop band. I'd have downgraded even that, but they seemed to have a wicked sense of humor. I'm not worried that all those serious fans may flame me as they are at least a generation behind even the youngest of us, so I doubt they're logging on to TimeGoesBy.

One time I do remember them was on some TV show along with Lee Remick, who was visiting the country at the time, and they sang this song. She thought it was a real hoot and there may be a single (a real one – 45) out there somewhere with her autograph on it. The song is, I Love Lee Remick.

Go Betweens and Lee Remick

♫ The Go-Betweens - Lee Remick

Coincidentally, the day I wrote this it was announced that a new bridge in Brisbane will be named after the Go Betweens - an appropriate name for a bridge when you think about it.

Shelley Winters is the subject of Charles Jenkins's song called – surprise, surprise - Shelley Winters.

Charles Jenkins and Shelley Winters

I don't know a great deal about Charles; he's one of the interesting young people (well, young to me) who are producing entertaining music (I define that as music that most of us would be happy to listen to). Apart from his solo recordings, he's a member of the group Ice Cream Hands.

♫ Charles Jenkins - Shelley Winters

There's a very entertaining album (actually, there are two of them) that Tom Russell and Barrence Whitfield recorded together called, Hillbilly Voodoo. (The other is called, Cowboy Mambo - both are worth seeking out).

From the first of these is the song today called Chocolate Cigarettes. This was written by Tom and Sylvia Fricker. Those with long memories will recall that she is the Sylvia of Ian and Sylvia, and you can find her in a previous column about Ian Tyson.

This song is sung by Barrence (who was known to his mum and dad as Barry White, but that name was already taken) and its subject is the little sparrow, Edith Piaf.

Barrence Whitfield and Edith Piaf

♫ Barrence Whitfield - Chocolate Cigarettes


GRAY MATTERS: Social Security's Diamond Jubilee

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


FDR Signs SSA

”We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life," said FDR that day. "But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-ridden old age.”

I have not yet celebrated the Diamond Jubilee – the 75th anniversary last week of the adoption of Social Security. That’s because I suspect President Obama may consider agreeing to a cut in benefits for future retirees by raising the retirement age, which would be disastrous for them and for his presidency.

So far, he has not said whether he’s for or against the idea, advanced by Republicans and his fiscal commission. Once he was against it but now, as you’ll see, we cannot be sure.

In the days leading up to the August 14 anniversary, Obama said most of the right things. In his White House proclamation, Obama recalled that in the midst of the Great Depression,

“...the Social Security Act brought hope to some of our most vulnerable citizens, giving elderly Americans income security and bringing us closer to President Roosevelt’s vision of a nation free from want or fear.”

He added,

“My administration is committed to strengthening...and protecting Social Security as a reliable income source for seniors, workers who develop disabilities and dependents....Let us ensure we continue to preserve this program’s original purpose in the 21st century.”

He didn’t say how, but presidential proclamations are usually empty of substance. Obama followed with his weekly Saturday radio address in which he repeated his administration’s

“...obligation to keep that promise (of Social Security) for our seniors, people with disabilities and all Americans – today, tomorrow and forever.”

Then he vigorously promised to protect Social Security from

“...some Republican leaders in Congress who are pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall.”

Privatization, allowing workers to create personal retirement accounts, like 401(k)s, he said, is

“...an ill-conceived idea that would add trillions of dollars to our budget deficit while tying your benefits to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market.”

That’s true enough, but to mix a metaphor, Obama was beating a dead straw man.

George W. Bush’s failed attempt to sell privatization in 2005, crippled his presidency. And as the Associated Press pointed out in reporting on the president’s speech,

“...most Republicans, in fact, are wary of touching that idea because Social Security is virtually sacrosanct to voters, particularly seniors.”

Indeed, the most prominent Republican favoring privatization of Social Security and Medicare, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has gotten little support from his Republican colleagues.

What was missing from Obama’s address was a single proposal to solve Social Security’s long-term shortfall which the program’s trustees estimate will come in 2037. That is when the program’s $2.6 trillion trust fund, which is held in treasury bonds, may run out. According to the trustees, a one percent raise each in the payroll taxes split between employee and employer enacted now would end the problem. Even now, the trust fund is continuing to grow with interest payments of more than $100 billion a year.

During his presidential campaign, Obama criticized Republican John McCain for favoring cuts in benefits. And Obama, who repeatedly has said that Social Security was not facing a “crisis,” offered a sensible, relatively painless proposal, which is now favored by most Social Security advocates.

Obama proposed raising the amount of one’s income that is subject to the payroll tax from the present $106,800 to $250,000. And in a gesture to the middle class, he proposed exempting from the tax the first $20,000 of a worker’s salary. (Some advocates would abolish the ceiling, which would go a long way towards putting Social Security in the black for the rest of this century.)

But Obama has not repeated that proposal nor has he said what he would oppose. Instead, he has created a commission to cut the deficit, a commission which is populated with right-wingers who are hostile to Social Security and believe, wrongly, that Social Security adds to the deficit.

Even before the commission went to work, members made cutting Social Security benefits one of their targets. One proposal that is most prominently supported by deficit hawks and Republican congressional leaders is raising the retirement age from 66 to 70.

As I’ve said, Obama has taken no position on this but he said in his radio speech that he’s

“...committed to working with anyone, Democrat or Republican, who wants to strengthen Social Security.”

It would be easy for a Republican or the commission to claim that Social Security would be “strengthened’ by raising the retirement age and saving the benefits that now go to those under 70. Besides, when have Republicans worked with Obama, except to cut spending? Today’s extremist Republicans have never supported Social Security – probably because it’s a government program that works.

That’s why my alarm bells rang when a search in Google brought me a story in Slate by Peter Bray about the Obama campaign and Social Security, way back there on September 19, 2008. It said,

“This week the Obama campaign modified his position on a sensitive issue, Social Security. Compare the current ‘Seniors & Social Security’ page with the previous version.

“Now, tell me, why, oh why, would the Obama campaign delete the following sentence: ‘[Obama] does not believe it is fair to hardworking seniors to raise the retirement age...The new page includes some reassuring language about ‘work[ing] with members of Congress from both parties to strengthen Social Security and prevent privatization while protecting middle class families from tax increases and benefit cuts.’

“Still, for those who pay attention to such things, what the new page leaves out is as important as what it puts in.”

As I said, I believe Obama has not taken a position on raising the retirement age; and I don’t know if he’s been asked. But such a proposal is anathema to most of Obama’s supporters. Ruben Burks [pdf], an official of the labor-backed Alliance of Retired Americans said,

“Can you imagine working until 70? In physically demanding jobs like construction, manufacturing and the service sector, I just don’t see how you can. And in a tough job market who would hire someone in their late 60s? Raising the retirement age is a benefit cut – plain and simple. We cannot allow it to be done.”

Social Security is keeping 20 million older and disabled Americans and over a million children out of poverty. Polls report that 77 percent of Americans an 68 percent of Republicans believe that Washington should find other ways, rather than Social Security, to reduce the deficit. And AARP’s survey shows strong majorities would prefer that their payroll taxes are raised rather than see benefits cuts.

Because Obama has yet to make his views known on raising the retirement age, AARP – the nation’s largest and most powerful organization of older Americans - has yet to take an official position on the issue which is an ominous sign. But a high-ranking source told me,

“In fact, we opposed raising the age to 70. The idea is tremendously unpopular and amounts to a serious, across-the-board benefit cut and is based on the fantasy that employers would hire people that age.

“Most have forgotten that normal retirement age goes to 67 under current law. Half of all people turning 62 claim Social Security today. Accepting a 25 percent benefit cut is mostly shortsighted in view of needs later on.”

The National Academy of Social Insurance says raising the retirement age would save about a third of the projected shortfall, but it suggests caution because low income and older workers in physically demanding jobs have shorter life spans than, say, white collar workers.

I will repeat what I asked in my column some weeks ago, how many men and women in their sixties will die while waiting for their first Social Security check.

Richard Eskow of ourfuture.org reported that while voters, Democrats and Republicans, oppose Social Security benefit cuts

"...not enough Democrats have promised they won't. Some, including the president, are avoiding the issue...The president spoke about Social Security again [on Wednesday] in Columbus, Ohio. While reassuring voters the program is 'not in crisis,' he repeated his statement that 'fairly modest changes' will stabilize it...voters will get the benefits they deserve' rather than the benefits as designed."

Might those changes mean raising the retirement age?

Liberal economist Dean Baker says that those who would slice benefits are saying, in effect,

“In the future, Social Security might have to cut benefits. To prevent these possible future benefits cuts, we must cut future benefits.”

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman charges that Republicans and the deficit commission say,

“...in order to avoid the possibility of future benefit cuts we must cut future benefits.”

Tell us this isn’t so, Mr. President.

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


Bill's Dilemma

Throughout my life, I have appreciated women friends greatly. Most are open to talking about everything together no matter how intimate. In fact, that is the life blood of our connections, isn't it. My women friends have never failed to be supportive, funny, understanding – and always there in good times and bad.

At the same time, I have often envied men their kind of relationships, particularly when they are among strangers. No matter how much their cultural, social and economic circumstances differ, they share sports - “How 'bout them Mets” - as a common starting place. You must have noticed this too when, for example, they are stuck at airports, are having an after-work drink together or in the kitchen at a party.

My mistake, I think, has been in assuming that with time, their relationships deepen and become more personal, more like women's.

Earlier this week, I received an email from a 58-year-old, retired freelance consultant and TGB reader who lives in Wisconsin that goes a long way toward confirming my error. The issue is something I've occasionally heard before, but dismissed too easily. Here is part of Bill's email:

“I am a man with an active and inquisitive mind, and don't give a rip about sports, hunting, drinking or being an Elk, Moose, etc. I can talk business and politics but ultimately, it becomes a bunch of men spewing their frustration, dissatisfaction (what goes unsaid is their general helplessness to change things). Aside from reading and caring for the lawn and gardens I've never really had hobbies.

“I'm happily married and envy the wonderful friendships my wife has with women. I've always found women considerably more interesting than men and that doesn't help one find groups of men to get together with.

“It seems socially inappropriate (and not particularly welcome) for me to seek out groups of women.

“I assume there are at least some other men who share the same problem, but no one talks about it.

“Any thoughts on how men can find new groups of friends?”

I wonder if some of the difficulty is generational. Without any proof whatsoever my sense, from personal experience and observation, is that younger men – in their 20s and 30s – more readily reach beyond the superficial with their male friends. But that doesn't help Bill.

By email, I consulted my wise and learned friend in England, Marian Van Eyk McCain of Elderwomanblog. She showed her partner the part of Bill's email I had quoted to her:

"He said, 'That's me!,” wrote Marian. “He struggles with the same problem: how to have the same sort of connections with male friends as I have (and he has) with women friends. We've often talked about it and it is something I've been pondering for years.”

So, Bill, there is one compadre. Too bad he is so far away. Marian continued:

“I'm remembering a conversation I had about this some years ago with a guy in the village. I'd heard someone was trying to start a men's group and I thought he and his pals might like to join. I knew they were very close and did lots of stuff together like going to the movies and to the pub and playing music.

“He asked me how would a 'men's group' be different. And when I said that they could talk about their feelings, maybe help each other with issues, mutual emotional support etc., he said: 'Men don't do it that way. We couldn't. All those things happen, but for us they happen sort of invisibly somehow, as a side effect of doing stuff together. We never actually admit it or talk about it.'"

Well, that friend of Marian's isn't helpful either. I don't believe Bill is talking about full-blown encounter sessions, beating drums in the forest and baring his soul with other men, although when personal issues come up (the kind that go so far to cement women's connections), it would be good to feel comfortable talking about them.

It is so easy for women, in the same conversation, to range among intimacies, debating politics and showing off gorgeous new shoes that I don't know the dynamics of how we do it.

As with all of us, men and women, there are fewer opportunities to meet people following retirement, but women seem to be more adept at finding simpatico friends. As Marian also said, “Yeah, Mars and Venus. Two different planets. Better believe it!!”

So today, I'm calling on the men who read Time Goes By to chime in with your thoughts on Bill's dilemma. Some personal experiences might be useful - if you guys can manage to choke them out (sorry, couldn't resist).

Women may join in too, of course, but we know I didn't need to say that.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Alzheimer's Part 11 – The Early Years: Before Alzheimer's.


Elderblogger MeetUp and a Sobering List

Yes, I know I said on Monday that I would have more information on the Elderblogger MeetUp on Tuesday. So I lied. There was the book club post and Millie's Birthday – important items – and here we are on Thursday.

When I announced the MeetUp of elderbloggers and readers (see post here) who live in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon to be held at my home, I chose Saturday 18 September. Oy vey.

All it meant to me is that until 40 years ago, it was my wedding anniversary. But as a reader pointed out, that date is Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the Jewish year. How embarrassing for someone who is, at least nominally, a Jew.

Whether the holiday was the reason or not, only about two people agreed to attend in person, a bunch have previous plans, and half a dozen or so said they would call in via Skype. Here's the deal: It is not possible to choose a date when everyone who would like to attend can do so. On the other hand, I don't think it is really a MeetUp with fewer than six or eight people and more would be even better fun. (I own lots of chairs.)

So I have chosen two dates that have been vetted for holidays. If these are the days you have chosen to privately celebrate Dinosaur Month, Magazine Month or Sarcastic Awareness Month (they are real - to someone), I will understand.

• Saturday, October 9

• Saturday, October 16

I think these dates are more reasonable in that annual vacations are mostly finished, grandkids are back in school, Thanksgiving is not yet upon us and weather has a good chance of not being inclement.

If you would like to attend, you can indicate that along with which date (or both) in the Comments section or email me through the “Contacts” link in the upper left corner of the page. Additionally,

  1. The MeetUp will begin at 10AM, although arrival is certainly flexible
  2. Spouses or significant others are welcome
  3. There are reasonably-priced hotels in Lake Oswego if an overnight stay makes sense
  4. Food and beverages will be served
  5. Skype attendance still applies
  6. Details will be forthcoming as the chosen date gets closer

That date will the one that is most popular with attendees. If there are not at least half a dozen, the MeetUp will be postponed to a future date, probably in spring 2011 when we'll try again.

I would really like to do this.

The Sobering List
Since 1998, Beloit College in Wisconsin has issued its annual “Mindset List” describing the year's incoming freshmen. I've always enjoyed reading it and a thank you goes to Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles for sending on the most recent edition.

The College's introduction to this year's List begins:

“Born when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage, members of this year's entering college class have emerged as a post-email generation for whom the digital world is routine and technology is just too slow.”

I've been saying for years that kids these days are born with little computer mice clutched in their tiny fists. How out of date. Undoubtedly they now arrive holding smartphones on which a text message has just arrived from another newborn down the hall.

This year's Beloit Mindset List is a little disappointing, not as shocking as some years – or maybe I've been following it too regularly for there to be much difference year to year.

Nevertheless, it's fun to read and is always an excellent lesson in the cultural differences between us old folks and the youngest adults around us. Here are some examples that leapt out at me:

• Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

• A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority – unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

• Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than Dirty Harry.

• Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

• They have never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

• DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

• Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

• They first met Michaelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

You can find the rest of 75 items on Beloit College's Mindset List here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Heat


Millie Garfield is 85 Years Old Today

Happy Birthday Millie

Today, Millie reaches one of those big-deal, must-celebrate birthdays - number 85 - marking the halfway point through her ninth decade.

I no longer remember how I came across Millie's blog - My Mom's Blog - but it was not long after Time Goes By began in 2004, and she was here before I was - a pioneer elderblogger before the word came along. There were hardly any old people in the blogosphere back then.

Millie became a special friend, and the first Millie Garfield Online Birthday Bash took place in 2005. Now in its sixth year, it is an elderblog tradition and it is a good thing to keep up tradition.

Here is all you need to do to join in: go to Millie's blog and leave a big, fat, wonderful message of congratulations and good cheer.

It's not every day someone reaches 85, and some of us won't. So let's celebrate with Millie.

HAPPY 85 YEARS, MILLIE


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: The Dangers of Swimming


The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Introduction

category_bug_journal2.gif I am astonished – well, actually, knocked off my pins that so many of you jumped at my proposal last week to read and discuss this book together. More than 50 responded - positively, even excitedly - in the comments, and at least a dozen more in private emails. Oh, the pressure on me (just kidding, sort of).

I'll do my best to relate the primary points for those who are not reading with us, along with my thoughts. The pressure on you is to add to, multiply and enhance however you see fit.

The introductory chapter of Dr. Robert N. Butler's book, The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life, is subtitled, “Embracing Longevity,” and indeed, he strongly notes that accepting the realities of age is crucial to a long, healthy life.

“Denial often poses a danger,” he writes. “It can be a form of lying or self-delusion...”

“If we an agree that denial is a destructive and unhealthy behavior in most of its guises, then perhaps our health would be best served by acknowledging an important reality:

“Namely, that we are aging.

“Go ahead, say it: I am aging. Let's not deny that we are aging. Let's deal with it, accept it, and use it.”

I've been saying that on this blog in a hundred different ways for years and I probably got it from Dr. Butler when, early on, I read one of his previous books, Why Survive? Growing Old in Ameria, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Before we go any further, say it out loud again: “We are aging. Deal with it.” Make it your mantra for learning and applying the practicalities from this book.

Like TGB contributor, Saul Friedman, Dr. Butler never wrote a sentence that isn't packed with information which makes it hard to distill, although not hard – I must impress on you – to read. Some quick takeaways from the Introduction (quotations):

• No matter what your age, there are ways to enhance your longevity.

• A detailed analysis of [twins-studies] data found that about one-third of variations in longevity could be attributed to genetic factors...the longevity correlation between parent and child is surprisingly small.

• Your attitude to aging can change and slow the course of aging.

• [The] risk of heart disease falls for the smoker who quits, whatever his age or number of smoking years.

• There is a strong correlation between an active life and a long one.

• As we age, ADEQUATE SLEEP AND REST, at night and as naps, are essential to sustaining good health.

• Two strong predictors for high physical function in the eighth decade of life were higher mental function, the other the presence of emotional support.

Although Butler's discussions throughout the book range far and wide among personal anecdotes and a dozen or more research disciplines related to aging, the meat of this introductory chapter is a tool, The Longevity Index, that assesses and scores your current health practices.

The Index is a list of 25 questions, the answers to which you score from zero (not at all true) to three (true). Obviously, that is too much to enumerate here (sorry, you'll have to get ahold of the book to prepare your score) but covers eating habits, activities, emotional relationships, brain work, stress levels and physical caretaking.

Out of a perfect score of 75 (yeah, right) I came in at 52, “acceptable” but above “need judicious changes” by only two points. The other possible categories are “impressive but keep reading” at the top and “your health is in jeopardy” at the bottom.

The Index leads to making a preliminary list of changes before reading further and, then, undoubtedly amending. I chose the top five zero answers (not at all true) in my Index. (The questions are constructed so that threes are positive health practices and zeroes are all negative.) Here is my list of changes:

Smoking: I quit smoking years ago, but I am a serial recidivist. Twice a calendar year, I smoke for week, never longer. But god, I miss it - every day - even though it's been way more than a decade since I gave it up. I must stop the deliberate backsliding. (By the way, I refuse to discuss this with anyone so just glide on by to the next paragraph and don't mention it in the comments.)

Physical Activity: I've slackened off on my morning walks. I'm now setting a goal of five days a week, three miles each (about an hour). When the temperature settles down to below 80, I'll add two evenings a week of the same length. Plus, my BMI estimate (see page 141 for the calculation instructions – Kindle readers, page numbers are different) is 29.3, just .7 shy of obese designation. Gotta fix that.

Not Married and No Significant Other: Well, there's not much I can do about that and I'm pretty sure that after 20-odd years without one, it's by choice. But I can strengthen relationships with the people I love by keeping in closer, more frequent touch – even at a physical distance.

Social Life: Some of us (I'm one of them) don't need as many people around or as frequently as others do and I think it is important to understand one's nature. But now that my depression of the past three months is lifting, it's time to get out and make some new friends.

Stress Reduction: Meditation works well for me and I've done it all my adult life, but off and on. It's been off since I arrived Oregon and since I'm naturally a bit tightly wound, meditation here I come – if that phrase is not an oxymoron.

I've had a little fun with my five-point list, but I am serious about it. I'm sure I'll screw up, but I know from past experience that trying leads to improvement and practice can become habit. The trick for me is to establish good habits; I am happiest inside my head and too lazy physically.

Throughout the rest of the book, Dr. Butler supplies many doable strategies for us to choose from to improve and maintain our health during late life. There are no quick-fix nostrums with clever names designed to sell books in airports, but there is nothing, either, that is not attainable.

“The following pages,” writes Butler at the end of the introduction, “contain authoritative, accessible, and practical advice, which adds up to a prescription for maximum physical, intellectual and emotional health during the aging years...

“You will learn about stress, social and intimate involvements, sleep and other matters than have powerful and direct impact on the aging process. You will need to make changes, to discipline yourself to reach out and embrace new activities.

“A plan will emerge, a prescription for a longer, healthier life.”

One of the many things I like about Dr. Butler is that he not only makes me believe I can make changes, he makes me want to.

Okay, your turn. And be sure to read Chapter 1: Maintain Mental Vitality for next week.

The Longevity Prescription Series
A Proposal
Chapter 1: Mental Vitality
Chapter 2: Nurture Your Relationships/a>
Chapter 3: Seek Essential Sleep


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Summer Poem


Coming Up For Air

category_bug_journal2.gif In some postings since my move to Oregon three months ago, TGB readers may have detected a lack of enthusiasm. They would not be wrong. I did not address it directly, but it's there. You might have sensed it between the lines.

Among the perceived disappointments that informed my pessimism was living in a suburb, one that is - however conveniently close-in to town - a bit rich and oh-so-cute for my tastes. And, anyway, I'm a city girl.

What I had imagined for myself was living in the Northwest section of Portland with its beautiful old apartment buildings, urban hubbub and a mishmash of shops both necessary and not. Pretty much anything you could want is there, all as walkable, interesting and convenient as my Greenwich Village neighborhood where I lived contentedly for 40 years. But it was beyond my means.

My new home, while well-maintained and nicely upgraded through its 20 years of existence – and particularly the large alcove off the living room for my office – is, well, awfully young, lacking architectural details and charm that I liked so much in the old homes – of one to two centuries - I have lived in for most of my life.

The condominium complex, 112 units among the 14 two-story buildings, is less diverse than I expected or wanted. With the exception of about half a dozen families (I'm guessing from casual observance), it's an ad hoc retirement community. On most days I see only gray hair among the residents I run into.

A nearby neighbor has been caring for her two young grandchildren this summer and I like hearing their chatter and squeals through my open windows. With fall approaching, they will soon be gone.

It has been hard to maintain my enthusiasm for Time Goes By. Normally, I have a running list of 20 to 30 story ideas in various stages of development – some needing research, others partially written or, in many cases, only sketchy notes requiring more thought.

In my ennui, I had willfully ignored those that involve a lot of work, used up many of the simpler ones and had added hardly any. My normal eagerness to get on with them - making choice harder than execution - had flagged. Was it time, I wondered, to let go of the blog?

And another thing: some dybbuk had invaded my head nagging that I haven't yet been in to Portland – only 15 or 20 minutes away by car or public transportation – except for dinner at a seafood restaurant one evening with my brother and his wife.

When I expressed all this to a friend in a telephone conversation a month or so ago, he suggested that I was clinically depressed, perhaps enough to seek medical treatment. Another friend I spoke with a week later agreed. I love and respect these two friends, but I rejected their solution.

Yesterday in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, the writer objected (rightly) to a proposed change in a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that would label normal grief at the death of a loved one a "major depressive disorder." This, as the Op-Ed points out, would lead to wholesale medicalization (not to mention more profit for pharmaceutical companies) of a normal human experience,

"...an unavoidable part of life," notes the writer, Allen Frances, "the necessary price we all pay for having the ability to love other people. Our lives consist of a series of attachments and inevitable losses, and evolution has given us the emotional tools to handle both."

The Op-Ed crystallized what I had been slowly coming to understand since those conversations with my friends; I have been grieving for the loss of part of my identity - leaving behind, with this move and choice of home, a piece of my definition of myself, of my long-held belief in who I am.

Superficially, I appear foolish to give so much value to location and type of living that black clouds descended when they changed. But not so fast. It takes a long time to develop and nurture our privately-held senses of self. Mine, which I began building 50 years ago, is hip, big city, cool, street-smart and up-to-date.

Any reasonable amount of self-reflection would have disabused me of that description – and belief in the value of it - a decade, two decades ago. In one sense I did. The more I became interested in what getting old is really like (see subtitle of this blog) and passionate about the cultural issues of aging, the less I participated in anything that would meet that definition.

But the definition itself didn't change. Beneath new, late-life interests, it remained bedrock – still part of the foundation on which my sense of self rested and thus, my disappointment – and depression these past two or three months.

It is interesting how, sometimes, we know things before we know them. When I accepted that I could not buy into my first-choice neighborhood (the one affordable apartment would have required half again the purchase price in repairs and upgrades), I honed in on the realities for a retired woman of 69 years who would not be moving again by choice: no stairs, in above average condition, affordable fixed costs, easily adaptable to potential future physical needs, close-by neighbors for emergencies, walkable distances to daily necessities and public transportation elsewhere.

Although those existential questions of identity nudged at the back of my mind while I continued to house shop, I nevertheless chose, however reluctantly, a home that met the appropriate considerations of my time in life. I have always been able to trust myself in the practicalities and I traded that fanciful identity for them.

What I learned is that my sense of who I am hadn't caught up to who I am now (and have been for some time), and for these past three months, I have been grieving for what I liked and must leave behind.

The depression has been gradually lifting in the past ten days or so – again, a knowing before I knew what I know.

I can tell in several ways. Last week, I started the series on Dr. Robert Butler's book that we will read together here – something too ambitious for my mood even a couple of weeks ago. I announced an elderblogger MeetUp (the date will change; more on that tomorrow). On Saturday, in a flurry, I added about ten ideas to my list for future TGB stories.

(I also tried to make a design change at The Elder Storytelling Place and screwed up the styling in the footer below the stories. Bear with me – I'll fix it soon.)

I took a break halfway through writing this on Sunday to run an errand. On my way to the car, I met a young neighbor, the mother of those children I mentioned. Due to personal need of the moment the family, now including mom, have moved in with the grandmother.

We had a long, lovely chat and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily and politely the children fitted into the conversation. The two kids, a boy and a girl of about five and seven, were eager to tell me about their dog and cat, and to explain the stickers on their scooters.

Silly me, I couldn't tell those smiling, roly-poly, toothless, pink cartoon drawings were dinosaurs.

Recently, I initially dismissed as ho-hum a study about the healing effects of forests.

"Forests and other natural, green settings," the author reports, "can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness."

During these weeks of darkened mood, I have spent a lot of time in my favorite reading chair which faces this window in my living room.

Window and Trees

With this as my backdrop, I've spent more time pondering than reading. Well, more like wallowing in my misery as the sun and whispers of breeze played with shadow and light. Who can say how much this scene contributes to my recovery which has arrived in due course without medication.

I'm more content lately in my home and suburban surroundings. On the main streets of Lake Oswego, tree-covered hills (they would call them mountains in the east) are so close by, I could almost touch them.

They call to mind my childhood in this very town, they feel familiar - which is a good thing when you are finally coming up for air and working on a new sense of self that will more closely match current reality.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford: Mom's Air Conditioning


ELDER MUSIC: Some More Guitarists I Like

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Mike Bloomfield was supposed to appear in the first piece on guitarists but due to a mix up on my part, he missed the cut so he appears first today.

Michael Bloomfield would be included just for his work in the Butterfield Blues Band, especially on “East-West”. He also could be included just for his work on the first Bob Dylan electric albums. Both make him a certainty for inclusion.

His good friend Al Kooper said of him,

“He was the son of an amazingly rich man. I think Bloomfield was embarrassed by that and so he took to the South Side of Chicago, hanging out with these ne'er-do-wells and playing blues music. That was his reaction to that.”

Bloomfield found like-minded musos in the clubs there like Paul Butterfield and Mark Naftalin. Butterfield formed his band with these and some members of Muddy Waters’ band.

After leaving the Butterfield band, Bloomfield formed the band Electric Flag and then left it not too long after they released their first album (I guess leaving a band you create is better than being thrown out of a band you create as happened to Al Kooper with Blood Sweat and Tears).

He was a flawed and tragic figure. Towards the end of his life he suffered from arthritis that severely restricted his guitar playing. He also had a serious drug problem that was the cause of his death in 1981.

This is the track Albert's Shuffle from “Super Session” he made with Al Kooper. Mike was dissatisfied with this album, viewing it merely as a money making exercise. I think it’s a fine album that still stands up today.

Mike Bloomfield

♫ Michael Bloomfield - Albert's Shuffle

I first saw Robbie Robertson on Bob Dylan’s 1966 electric world tour.

Robbie Robertson

He was in a band that backed Bob which morphed into The Band, the best rock band ever. On virtually every song Bob, Robbie and Rick Danko would stand with their backs to the audience jump in the air and hit a power chord that would give Zeus pause.

They were the loudest band I had seen to that point and there have been only two or three since who surpassed them in volume. When they became a self-sustained unit, The Band left the volume behind (well, some of it) and produced songs that haven’t been equaled in the rock canon.

Robbie wrote most of the songs (after the first album) and played guitar in the group. His playing with The Band was what was needed for the particular song, not the show-off 10-minute solos that his contemporaries were playing.

Bob Dylan once referred to Robbie as "the only mathematical guitar genius I’ve ever run into who doesn’t offend my intestinal nervousness with his rearguard sound". Nice one Bob, clear as ever.

I’ll revert to 1963 when The Band were still The Hawks backing Ronnie Hawkins. Here’s Ronnie singing Who Do You Love with Robbie tearing it up on guitar.

♫ Ronnie Hawkins - Who Do You Love

Ry Cooder can play in any style imaginable (and some others no one imagined until he did it).

Ry Cooder

He is somewhat of a musical archaeologist, uncovering and recording older styles of music – gospel, blues, old style country music, jazz, calypso, Tex-Mex and on it goes. He is able to play in all these styles and more.

Ry was instrumental in getting the Buena Vista Social Club - about traditional Cuban music - film and recording produced. He’s also worked with pretty much everyone in the world who has made a record.

There’s either too much or not enough to say about Ry, so I’ll just stop there (how’s that for a copout?)

This is Ry with I Think It's Going to Work Out Fine.

♫ Ry Cooder - I Think It's Going to Work Out Fine

B.B. King has said that he learned everything he knows about playing the guitar from T-Bone Walker (or Aaron Thibeault Walker as his mum probably preferred).

T-Bone Walker

T-Bone pretty much defined how electric blues and rock n roll guitar should be played. Les Paul is the only other person who comes close to him in influence in this regard. Indeed, T-Bone said that the first person he heard playing electric guitar was Les.

Women would throw knickers and money on stage when T-Bone performed. After the shows, they would throw themselves in his general direction as well. Nothing much has changed in that respect.

Here he is with Don't Leave Me Baby.

♫ T-Bone Walker - Don't Leave Me Baby

Richard Thompson started out in the group Fairport Convention in the Sixties. In a band that also included the late, lamented Sandy Denny they were always worth a listen (even when they sang Bob Dylan’s songs in French).

Richard Thompson

After leaving Fairport he had a brief solo career before teaming up with Linda Peters who eventually became his wife. They recorded a number of fine albums but in the way of these things, they split. Richard was once again a solo performer.

There are few who can match him on either acoustic guitar or electric. He tours with either just a bass player backing him or a full-on band.

Here’s an extended workout of one of his songs, Tear Stained Letter.

♫ Richard Thompson - Tear Stained Letter


GRAY MATTERS: Medicare Anniversary

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


It’s not too late to observe and celebrate the 45th anniversary of Medicare, for it’s a good occasion to wonder, in this time of economic distress, what life would have been like without it for the 45 million of us who are eligible because we are disabled or over 65.

One reason I ask is I suspect those deficit crazies have not thought about the consequences for Medicare if, as Republicans suggest, the Social Security retirement age is raised from 66 to 70 on the grounds that we’re all living longer.

It does not occur to these loonies that Social Security and Medicare are among the reasons for the increase in longevity. But then members of Congress will always have all the coverage they need for themselves and their families, subsidized by your taxes and mine.

Nevertheless, by putting aside the human issues for a phony bottom line and a deficit that matters little to most of us, it would not be long before these lawmakers on Barack Obama’s deficit commission would raise the Medicare age eligibility. That, of course, would sharply increase, by at least a few million, the nearly 50 million Americans under 65, including 10 million children and babies, who are without adequate health coverage and are dependent on emergency rooms or free clinics.

If I may get personal, let me tell you what Medicare has meant for me, for my experience has not been unusual, although I’m lucky to have supplementary coverage through my wife’s former employer, which used to be free but now costs a bundle. Most other Medicare beneficiaries have similar secondary coverage through former employers or one of several Medigap policies sold by several insurers to cover some or all of the costs not covered by Medicare.

I don’t mean to get too basic, but Medicare Part A, which pays for hospitalization, has rather high deductibles; Medicare Part B covers 80 percent of the cost of physician and lab services. Secondary insurance covers those Medicare gaps, and some may provide drug coverage.

Anyway, in 2003, I had a serious stroke, which partly paralyzed my right side and necessitated hundreds of hours of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at several of the nation’s finest facilities. The stroke was caused by a heart malfunction which was cured with minor surgery.

In 2005, after too many years as a smoker (I had quit in 1976), I was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, which is usually fatal. But chemotherapy, radiation and radical surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore saved my life.

For all this, plus frequent checkups, CT scans, routine doctor visits and a recent prostate procedure, I have paid nothing aside from the reasonable Medicare Part B premiums and the cost of secondary coverage. In short, I can say what millions of Medicare beneficiaries say: without Medicare, I’d be broke, bankrupt or dead.

But that, alas, has been the experience of the millions who, because they are too young, have been denied Medicare. Nor do they yet have decent, dependable and affordable health care because a compromising president and a spineless Congress, mostly Republicans and conservative Democrats, have declined to give the rest of the nation what they and the rest of the world have, universal health coverage like Medicare.

The anniversary of Medicare’s adoption, by a liberal Democratic Congress and president (Lyndon B. Johnson), has give advocates an opportunity to list its lesser known accomplishments. While most of the new health reforms won’t become effective until 2014 (the Part D doughnut hole won’t close until six years later), Medicare was serving 19 million Americans a year after passage.

LBJ Signs Medicare Bill

In a paper written by June Eichner and Medicare’s first director, Bruce Vladek, they point out that beginning in 1966, as the nation’s largest purchaser of health care, Medicare desegregated most hospitals as a condition for receiving Medicare reimbursement. Since then, they wrote, Medicare has contributed not only to the improvements to the lives and health of the disabled and older populations, but has gone far in erasing disparities between blacks and whites. More than 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were living in poverty in 1965.

The passage of Medicare came just after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which is why southern Democrats joined Republicans in resisting Medicare. But because of those two landmark pieces of legislation, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that

“the gains in black access to hospitals (in Mississippi) coincide with a striking reduction in black post-neonatal deaths for causes considered preventable.”

The cost for these improvement were borne by Medicaid, passed along with Medicare to provide care for the very poor.

Another study noted that Medicare played a significant role in the education of today’s physicians. According to an April Wall Street Journal story, there are about 110,000 resident positions in teaching hospitals that rely heavily on Medicare funding.

Medicare pays $9.1 billion a year to teaching hospitals which pays residents’ salaries as well as the higher operating costs associated with teaching hospitals which tend to see the sickest, most costly and uninsured patients. Unfortunately conservative diehards kept out of the health reforms any increase in the number of funded residencies.

There are, too, a few glitches that have shown up lately in Medicare that need fixing. Under current law, persons over 65 who end their employment and employer health coverage must apply for Medicare during a “special enrollment period” up to eight month after that coverage ceases.

But if the workers chooses to get COBRA coverage, which usually lasts 18 months, they may not realize that they will be disqualified from the special enrollment period and will have to wait until the regular open enrollment period, from January through March 31. In that case, their Medicare coverage won’t begin until July 1. This rule is 24 years old but because it’s happening frequently, legislation is pending to permit signing up for Medicare when COBRA runs out.

Here’s another glitch, discovered by Bloomberg News. Under current law, a person (who suffered a stroke or was injured) is entitled to skilled nursing care and rehabilitation after three days in a hospital. But lately some hospitals, to save money, are keeping patients “under observation” and not admitting them, thus depriving them of the rehabilitation they need. Medicare auditors are challenging this practice, which should be reported as fraud to Medicare.

Finally, the biggest necessary fix is the one Obama said he was for before he became president; Medicare For All. It is the subject of a new appeal to the Congress by Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D, Ohio), John Conyers (D, Mich.), and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

If Congress won’t pass it, they asked that states be permitted to adopt it. It would be better, of course, if Medicare for All was federal law. If Obama led the way, he could be in the same leagues as LBJ. But our president for change, who has yet to speak forcefully against cutting or tampering with Social Security benefits, is too busy to listen. Maybe it’s possible in a second term, if he gets one.

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


INTERESTING STUFF: 13 August 2010

[EDITORIAL NOTE: There has been little response to my invitation on Wednesday to a meetup at my home on 18 September for elderbloggers and readers in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. (Honest, I bathe regularly.) On the theory that people don't read this blog every day, please see the invitation here.]

Category_bug_interestingstuff OUR BEDROOMS AREN'T MUCH DIFFERENT FROM CAVEMEN'S
I remember my mother saying that in her experience – three husbands – men always choose the side of the bed nearest the door and she believed it is vestigial chivalry - to protect their wives from intruders.

Now, a new German study posits that the placement of furniture in our bedrooms is “remarkably consistent with the physical environment prehistoric men and women preferred.”

”[The researchers] note that, for cave dwellers, nighttime safety 'can be maximized by choosing a sleeping place that (a) allows one to detect a potential aggressor as early as possible, (b) allows one to remain hidden from the aggressor as long as possible, and (c) allows for maximum reaction time in case of an attack.'

“Are our design choices driven by those same ingrained needs? The study suggests they are indeed.”

Aren't Moms amazing. What's your experience?

BAD AND GOOD NEWS ABOUT ALZHEIMER'S No sooner had the Los Angeles Times reported bleak news on the prevention of Alzheimer's - "nothing has been proved to keep the disease at bay" - The New York Times and many other media reported "exciting news."

“'This is what everyone is looking for, the bull’s-eye of perfect predictive accuracy,' Dr. Steven DeKosky, dean of the University of Virginia medical school, who is not connected to the new research, said about the spinal tap study."

There is a long way to go for treatment or a cure, but this is a huge step forward for a disease that until now could not be diagnosed except at autopsy.

"...they are testing hundreds of new drugs that, they hope, might change the course of the relentless brain cell death..."

Read more here.

LOBSTER ROLLS SNARL TRAFFIC
My favorite short drive when I was living in Maine was to Wiscasset, about an hour from Portland, where I could get what many people justifiably consider the best lobster roll in Maine. Here's my photo of the wait line from three years ago.

Redseats

Now, reports The New York Times, traffic snarls at the point where narrow Route 1 passes Red's Eats have some people suggesting that the 70-year-old establishment should be moved.

Having a bit of knowledge of Mainers after four years there, I doubt that will happen. Read more here.

GOVERNMENT "SMELL TEST" FOR GULF SHRIMP
According to AP, unnamed "government" sources tell Louisiana fishermen that shrimp caught off the coast of St. Bernard's Parish "must be safe to eat because they don't smell too bad." Even shrimpers don't buy it:

"'If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?' asked [Rusty] Graybill, a 28-year-old commercial oyster, blue crab and shrimp angler who grew up fishing the marshes of St. Bernard. 'I wouldn't feed it to you or my family. I'm afraid someone's going to get sick.'"

I don't believe it either. Be sure to double check the origin of shrimp with your fish monger and read more here.

LOONY POLITICIAN EDITION
We have no shortage of whackjob politicians; any given quote from Sharron Angle, Michelle Bachman and Rand Paul make my point. But a candidate in this week's Colorado primary may have surpassed them all in the tinfoil hat competition.

Dan Maes, running for the Republican nomination for governor, took aim at the Denver mayor's bike sharing program, similar to those in 600 other American cities, saying it is "promoted by a group that puts the environment above citizens' rights," according to the Denver Post.

"Maes said... he once thought the mayor's efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes 'that's exactly the attitude they want you to have.'"

"'This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms,' Maes said."

Dan Maes won the Republican nomination in Tuesday's primary. Read more here.

87-YEAR-OLD TV NEWSMAN RETIRES
When Stan Chambers began working at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles in 1947, some of you reading this weren't even born yet. He retired Wednesday on his 87th birthday.

"KTLA News Director Jason R. Ball said: 'Stan probably has the record for the longest career in American television news. It's unheard of in this industry for someone to have a career lasting 63 years, and he's seen the entire history of the news business.'"

What's important about this, in addition to a remarkable career, is that Mr. Chambers was allowed to work until he decided it was time to go. Every employer in the U.S. should take note. You can read more here and this is a short overview of his 63 years on the job.

WE KEEP REPEATING: EVEN LIGHT EXERCISE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
There is no controversy, no contradicting evidence: even a short walk each day helps keep aging bodies and minds in good health. Now, another new study reports that largest benefits in mild exercise are to those people who have been sedentary:

"Just achieving the recommended levels of physical activity (equivalent to 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity activity on 5 days a week) reduces the risk of death by 19%...while 7 hours per week of moderate activity (compared with no activity) reduces the risk of death by 24%."

Read more here.

THE LIVES OF DINER WAITRESSES
Marian Van Eyk McCain of Elderwomanblog sent along this story, a fascinating peek into the careers of American coffee shop and diner waitresses. There are sketches of half a dozen women, mostly elders, who have made their living on their feet this way all their lives.

"Over the years," writes Andrea Walker, "these waitresses grow roots, build friendships with the staff and the customers, and many choose to work past retirement age. Some waitresses have tried to retire but went back to work because they missed it so much."

Read the whole story here.

MY BEST LAUGH IN WEEKS
Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles – herself one of the funniest people I know – forwarded this video of North Carolina elder humorist Jeanne Robertson. "Humorist" doesn't begin to describe her; let's try falldown funny instead. I suggest a visit the bathroom before you click the go button below so you don't wet yourself.

You can find more equally hilarious videos at Jeanne Robertson's website or just search her name at YouTube.

Oh, hell, I can't stop there. Here's another:

EDITORIAL NOTE: Interesting Stuff is an occasional Time Goes By feature – about two or three times a month – listing items that have recently caught my attention, some serious and others not. Suggestions are welcome with no guarantee of publication.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Carol and the Fake Fruit


Reverse Mortgages Part 6: The Home Appraisal

category_bug_journal2.gif Until the bank makes their offer of the principal amount of one's reverse mortgage, the numbers you have been working with in the Good Faith Estimate of loan costs from the broker are just that, an estimate.

In my case, since I bought this place fewer than three months ago, my broker used the purchase price for the calculations.

In the years since the inception of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's FHA-insured HECM program, loan brokers hired the appraiser. Recently HUD changed the rules. Now, the appraiser is picked randomly by an appraisal management company from a pool of state-certified appraisers. The reason for the change is to eliminate influence or pressure to inflate the value of the home and to ensure it is unbiased.

In practice, that means a new business has been created, a middleman who facilitates the process of choosing. The fee for the appraisal is, in some cases, paid by the applicant up front and in others is tacked onto the reverse mortgage.

Due to the additional layer of bureaucracy, the new system has increased the price of the appraisal to the borrower. In my area, it now costs between $450 and $550, up from $350 to $450 and the appraiser, who once got the full fee, now collects only half. The rest goes to the appraisal management company.

The nerve-wracking part of the appraisal process for the applicant is waiting for the value the appraiser places on your home because that, in the largest part, determines the amount of the reverse mortgage. In addition to a physical inspection of your home, recent sale prices of comparable properties in your vicinity are used to determine the appraised value.

Comparables, according to my broker Jerry Gilmour, are nearly everything in determining the appraised value, about 80 percent.

In past economic times, home values remained relatively stable over several months and easily predictable within a few thousand dollars. To decide the asking price of my New York home five years ago, I checked sale prices over the previous two years of condominium apartments that matched as closely as possible the location, size, age and desirability of mine.

By the way, that's how I knew the housing market was beginning to tank and I should sell as quickly as possible. There had been a steady and clearly discernible decline of about five to six percent over those two years in the sale prices of my comparables. Which leads one to wonder what those hotshot masters of the universe at Wall Street banks, not to mention the Fed chairman who kept saying the housing bubble was stable, do with their time.

In our current depressed housing market, home values are continuing to drop and many people are selling, when they can, at any price to get out of underwater forward loans. Plus, there may be low-priced foreclosure sales which, my counselor Buz Zeman says, is an unclear factor in reverse mortgage value determinations.

Jerry says foreclosures and short sales do count, but it is a hot topic in the mortgage business with many varying opinions.

Last week, Jerry told me an appraiser would call sometime this week to make an appointment to see my home. Depending on his/her schedule, I figured it might be a week or two until then. But on Monday, “Randy” phoned to say he had a hole in his schedule and could come by that day at around noon.

He was distantly friendly, efficient and clearly experienced as he wasted no time getting started. First, he measured the exterior bounds of my apartment. Inside, I showed him all the rooms and helped hold the tape measure as he recorded the dimensions on his clipboard.

I tried a minor sales pitch on him, pointing out that all the kitchen appliances, granite countertops and cupboards; the two toilets; all the windows; the carpeting and kitchen flooring were new within the past one to three years. Randy was noncommittal. He asked if the fireplace is gas or wood burning.

My concern is that when I was looking at potential homes in April, I saw two others in this condominium complex that were priced substantially lower, but had not been upgraded or maintained nearly as well as the this one. How the appraiser would know that is the unanswered question.

Randy wanted to know the amount of the condominium homeowners' association dues and what they cover – exterior building and grounds maintenance, landscaping, water and sewer fees, trash pickup, etc. He also asked about amenities – swimming pool, assigned parking, meeting/party room, rental apartment for guests.

He took a bunch of photos, inside and out; then he was gone. At most, Randy spent 20 minutes here. He called the next day to ask about the amount of guest parking and the number on my personal parking space. Who knew such details matter.

Randy said the appraisal would be sent today, Thursday, but I suspect that is a fluid time frame. When Jerry receives it, it will be packaged with the rest of my application papers and sent to the bank. I have requested a copy of the appraisal and if the value comes in too far short of the purchase price, I will ask to speak with Randy.

I have no idea if my inspection is typical. The couple who bought my Maine home did not have it appraised.

But when I sold my Greenwich Village apartment four years ago, the buyer's appraiser spent an hour with me and was fascinating. That building is more than 200 years old and he, obviously expert in New York City building codes and practices over centuries, showed me, among other things, what parts of the interior exposed brick were original and what had been replaced - more than a hundred years before - and how he could tell.

And, he pulled out a loose, two-inch nail in the utility room ceiling that was so old – original, said the appraiser – it had been hand-forged in a square shape. I have kept it as a souvenir of that beloved home.

I'll let you know if the appraisal comes in at an amount that is satisfactory.

The TGB Reverse Mortgage Series
Part 1: One Reason For a Reverse Mortgage
Part 2: The Basics
Part 3: Finding a Lender
Part 4: Do Not Fear HECMs
Part 5: The Mandatory Counseling Session
Part 7: Lender Conditions


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Memories