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Happy Halloween 2014

Searching for something special to celebrate Halloween here today, I couldn't find anything until this.

It is a beautifully made video titled The Kingdom of Witches that sets a great spooky mood for Halloween. The music is by Nox Arcana and the animation is based on the silhouette art of Jan Pienkowski.

As you will see in the end credits, this is several years old but that makes no difference. Happy Halloween everyone.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju: Maternal Memories


Email Bankruptcy

[EDITORIAL NOTE: It tells you something about Crabby's week, if not life, that you are getting missives (read: complaints) from her two days in a row. Aren't you lucky.


Every day, Crabby Old Lady struggles to keep up with email. It's been a losing battle for years. She slips behind several days then schedules a few hours to catch up and the most common result is that her tush turns to stone in the desk chair as the hours creep by and she still hasn't finished.

Of course, Crabby is not alone. Not infrequently she reads of busy people who have 20,000 or 30,000 unread emails in their inboxes. Hers stretch “only” to hundreds.

It helps – to a degree – that Crabby color-codes some types of incoming. Bills are fluorescent pink, for example, and the emails she receives of every comment posted to this blog and The Elder Storytelling Place are red. The latter means she doesn't need to constantly check online to keep up with comments through the day.

Personal friends are purple. Certain newsletters are blue. Elder Storytelling Place submissions are green. And Crabby has forgotten what orange is for. Everything else is black including junk by the daily dozens that bought her address from websites that undoubtedly assured her they never sell addresses.

If you don't count those sleazy retailers, Crabby's junk settings generally work quite well; it has been years since a fake Nigerian has asked her to wire money.

There are a plethora of apps, add-ons and, most of all, advice from self-styled experts who, with fake patience, purport to have the answer for cleaning out your inbox. The item that each one of them seems to think no ever thought of before is to read email in reverse order of receipt.

Come on. Anyone older than 25 has been doing that since email was born.

Crabby has been trying to get out of email bankruptcy for so long, there's nothing she doesn't know about it – what works (not much) and what doesn't (everything else).

Undoubtedly, Crabby's largest difficulty is that she feels obligated to answer almost all email from real people. She is talking about the (mostly) kind people with questions, suggestions or general thoughtfulness in regard this blog. (What would Saturday's Interesting Stuff be without all those ideas flowing in?)

But what has prompted today's blog post is that due to busy-ness, old-fashioned sloth and maybe creeping old age (she seems to be slower in general lately), Crabby is now about two weeks behind in blog-related email and that adds up to - as of this moment - 761 unread emails.

And so, as soon as Crabby is finished writing this post, she is going to take the most extreme solution there is for email bankruptcy: she will highlight her entire inbox and click “delete.”

There is nothing else she can do and remain sane. It will rid her of the guilt for not answering and give her a clean slate.

If any of you reading have sent an email in the past ten days or two weeks that you believe must have an answer, okay, send it again. But please, Crabby is begging now, think it over carefully. She desperately needs a break from email.

Emailbankruptcy2


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Maureen Browning: Fuzzy Math


By the Hair on Crabby Old Lady's Chinny Chin Chin

Before she even gets started, let Crabby Old Lady be clear: she is deeply grateful that so far – at age 73 – she has escaped the common conditions and diseases of old age. No arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. and no recurrence of the one little basal cell carcinoma from five or six years ago.

Crabby knows how lucky she is but that doesn't mean she's sanguine about the minor afflictions of age.

Floaters anyone? Not a day goes by that Crabby isn't trying to brush little black bugs off her food.

The only time of day Crabby can escape her tinnitus is in the shower when the sound of falling water neutralizes it. But silence? Crabby hasn't been without noise in her ears for six or eight years.

Toad spots (seborrheic keratoses) – harmless but ugly – come and go. The only grace is that when they appear on Crabby's face, they are usually skin color, not dark brown like the others.

All these are annoying enough but the worst is chin hair which in Crabby's case extends to her upper lip.

The reason for them is boring enough: old women have hardly any estrogen left so testosterone takes over and that means hair – just not where she wants it on her head.

Just as there is no cure for baldness, there is also no cure for excess facial hair on women and the available treatments are awful.

Electrolysis and laser treatments - if they work at all – are successful mostly on dark hair and hardly ever on light hair like Crabby's. Besides, it takes six to 12 treatments to show results, is hugely expensive and must be repeated about twice a year. Forever.

Waxing is best done professionally, is painful, expensive and must be repeated about once a month – and you know how fast time flies when you're old.

Over-the-counter creams and strips are no better. They're messy, hard to apply and too often damage skin. Trust Crabby, it is a horrible procedure.

Plucking or tweezing don't work for Crabby. They are painful and although the hair does come out, little red bumps erupt on her skin where each and every hair was pulled out. No thanks.

All that is so depressing that Crabby might consider becoming the bearded lady in a circus (do they still have those?). If only there was more hair on her chin and upper lip, but alas. So Crabby is left with shaving.

It is a myth that shaving makes new growth thicker. The real difference is that shaved hairs have blunt ends instead of the tapered, softer tips of hair that has not been is shaved.

Crabby uses a cute little electric razor made especially for old women's facial hair problems. Actually, she uses it when she remembers to which often doesn't happen until she can nearly braid the hair on her chin.

Okay, Crabby exaggerates – she's slightly more diligent than that. But she has come to understand why a lot of men hate shaving and she's not happy that this latest item on her list of irritating old age afflictions will, like all the others, last until she dies.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: This Old Man


A Mother's Stroke

”This has to be one of the modern circles of hell, stroke. Or should we call it our plague? One day my mother is walking two miles on the beach and doing crossword puzzles in ink. The next day her brain explodes and she is talking about a new way to do CT scans, with a cat on her chest, hahaha.”

That's Joyce Wadler writing in her I Was Misinformed column at The New York Times last Sunday about her 87-year-old mother, Milli. She tells us that Milli's left arm and leg don't move now and that her mind shifts frequently between clarity and confusion.

”Which is not to say the basic personality has disappeared,” Joyce continues. “It’s just a little rawer. I always thought Ma was pure id, saying whatever came into her head, but now we are really down to bedrock.

“Sitting in a visitors’ lounge or the dining hall, she shouts out news about her digestive tract that you would hesitate to confide to your primary physician.”

Let me tell you a story about Milli.

It must have been 1983, the centennial celebration in New York City of the Brooklyn Bridge. Joyce, who I've known for going on 40 years, secured a batch of tickets in the bleachers near the river for the show.

There were Joyce, her mom and dad, her friend Herb, maybe a couple of other people and me. It was a fine celebration with spectacular fireworks set to music and all. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to Sammy's Roumanian, downtown on Chrystie Street, for dinner.

It's still there. The full name is Famous Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse but I don't remember the steakhouse part and maybe they've added the “famous” since 1983. Or not. I don't know.

What I do remember is that we were ushered upstairs to a big room with other large-ish groups of diners and as soon as we were seated, a waiter arrived with a bottle of vodka frozen into a big chunk of ice. I don't believe any of us had ever seen such a thing before.

Next, a big bowl of chopped liver was plunked down on the table with a pitcher of schmaltz to mix in with it.

As much as I like chopped liver, I'd rather not be reminded of the chicken fat but Sammy's Roumanian is that kind of place and there is no point in getting sniffy about it. Just eat and enjoy.

And that we did – eat and drink and talk and laugh and maybe sing along with the live music that was as schmaltzy as the chicken liver. And then we laughed some more.

Afterwards, Milli said it was such a great night we should never go back, because nothing would beat it. She was right, of course, and I've never returned; it would only be a letdown.

On Sunday during an email exchange, Joyce said that she hopes her mom remembers that night. “I bet she does,” she added.

I'm going with believing that too.

Joyce's column is what I think of as quintessentially Joyce - funny, touching, insightful, and as painful and real as it must be when someone as honest as Joyce is writing.

The quotations above only glance at the essence of her story. For that, you need to go read it yourself.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Timm Holt: Naughty Meter


My Visitors From Oz

PeterNormaWoods

If you read Peter Tibbles' Elder Music column yesterday, you know that he and Norma Gates, the Assistant Musicologist, traveled all the way from Melbourne to visit me in Oregon.

Oh, okay. The journey wasn't just to see me. They stopped for two or three weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area to visit Peter's sister before traveling north to my home.

In his post, Peter told the story of their visit with music to match the circumstance. I'm not that clever so you'll just get some photos that all of us took at various times.

For many years, there was a trolley with a regularly scheduled route between Lake Oswego and Portland. For reasons too boring to recount, it now runs only on special occasions but it is a lovely, little antique so Peter, Norma and I gave it a try.

Trolley

The interior is pristine or, more likely, carefully restored. Here are the conductor and the volunteer who recounted the history of the trolley which, Peter and Norma informed me, would be called a tram in Australia.

(Keep the woman in mind; you'll hear more about her soon in this story.)

TrolleyInteriorwithVolunteer

Although the trolley no longer goes all the way into Portland, it is still a lovely round trip along the Willamette River.

WillametteFromTrolley

Nearby my home is Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 645 acres of woodland where there are eight miles of hiking trails, bicycle paths and horse trails too.

I especially like it because it reminds me of the forest behind my back yard where I played when I lived here as a little kid after World War II.

Norma likes to walk a lot we hied ourselves to Tryon Creek one morning for what we thought would be a minor hike. We stopped first at the Nature Center and lo – the woman behind the desk said, “I know you.”

We fumbled around for a moment and then realized she had been the volunteer on the trolley ride. Small world and an obviously busy volunteer.

She traced a hiking route for us that turned out to be a good deal longer and harder – steep trail in many places – than we had anticipated, but it was a good outing nevertheless.

Here is Peter on one of the wooden bridges and following that, me too.

PeterTryonBridge

RoniBridgeTryon

Fall is spider season in my neck of woods and in two different years, I have opened my front door at that time of year to a gigantic web covering the entire entrance. Ick.

But you can't deny that the webs are pretty when the sun catches them just right and Norma got this shot in Tryon Park.

SpiderWeb

Portland, Oregon has a spectacular Japanese Garden and although Peter and I had visited when he and Norma visited in 2012, Norma had not seen it. It was a gorgeous, clear day and Norma pointed her camera at Mt. Hood in the distance.

NormashootingMtHood

Here's the shot she got with the mountain looking a lot like it did from my bedroom window when I was a kid.

MtHood

Some other shots from the Japanese Garden: a waterfall, one of the rock gardens and this lovely tree branch that Peter noticed.

JapaneseGardenWaterfall

RockGarden

JapaneseGardenTreeBranch

We drove the two hours to the Oregon coast one day especially to visit Josephson's Smokehouse where we picked up a pound or so of the very special wine-maple smoked salmon which Peter and Norma remembered from their 2012 trip.

You don't want to know what it costs. Even so, it's worth every penny or, anyway, we think so. I forgot to take a photo there but here are Peter and me at Cannon Beach (where we had a delicious lunch) and that town's iconic Haystrack Rock.

RonniPeterCannonBeach

HaystackRock

Closer to home, one day, we had lunch in a little restaurant called Five Spice that overlooks the lake in Lake Oswego. Here, Peter is perusing the wine menu.

PeterMenu5Spice

After our meal, Norma caught Peter and me playing with a nearby interactive sculpture.

RonniPeterSculpture

Peter is a wonderful cook and when we eat at home during his visit, I am perfectly happy to leave the food preparation to him. In his post yesterday, I interrupted his narrative to tell you how extra-special, wonderful yummy his pesto pasta is.

Peter took his time meticulously selecting the basil leaves and preparing the pesto sauce to his exacting specifications. As I mentioned yesterday, it was so delicious, I had him make it again before he left. Here's my plate at the end of the meal.

PestoPastaDish

Ollie isn't the friendliest sort of cat you've ever met and although it's hard to know what cats are thinking, at least he didn't hide in the closet and seemed to be happy to have Norma and Peter here. This is a shot Peter got of him sitting in the window.

OllieintheWindow

Norma flew off to visit other friends in New York City while Peter stayed behind with me for another week or so and then back to Melbourne. It's sad that so many good friends live so far away. You'd think by now that we would be able to beam around as they do on Star Trek.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Baseball's Zen Cathedral in a Field of Corn


ELDER MUSIC: Here and There 2014

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


Regular readers of TGB will know by now that Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, and I have recently visited Ronni, the Web Mistress. Before that we stayed with my sister in San Francisco and also visited other friends and family around the Bay Area.

We flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles and then took an up and downer to San Jose. As I did last time we visited the U.S., I decided to produce a musical column about our travels.

I could have used all the music from 2012 as we visited pretty much the same places but that would be boring, so here are a bunch of different ones.

On the flight north it struck me that we were heading up to San Francisco for the Labor Day weekend show. Naturally, that brought to mind JIMMY BUFFETT.

Jimmy Buffett

Okay, there was no show that we were headed for but the song sprang to mind as we were flying north to that city at that time. That song is Come Monday.

♫ Jimmy Buffett - Come Monday

Early on, we went up to the Napa Valley and the town of Napa in particular where my nephew is senior chef at Bistro Don Giovanni.

This was not long after the Napa earthquake. Fortunately, his place was okay and not too much damage was done to B.D.G. - their crockery and glassware were either in the dishwasher or had been carefully put away to prevent such occurrences.

And, to our relief, the wines had also been carefully stowed. They understand these things in California.

Given the name of the establishment, something from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni was an obvious choice for me. KIRI TE KANAWA (playing Donna Elvira) sings the aria “Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata.”

Kiri Te Kanawa

♫ Mozart - Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata

My sister is a skilled craftsperson. She has made all manner of things over the years, but her main gig is silver smithing at which she excels.

Other metals come to hand as well (silver can be very expensive) and one day I happened upon her banging away with a sledge hammer. Alas, I didn't have my camera with me and she had finished by the time I went and got it.

Instead here is this photo of her performing more delicate work.

Silver Smithing

However, the sledge hammering reminded me of the “Anvil Chorus” or “Coro di zingari" from Il Trovatore by GUISEPPE VERDI.

Verdi

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus do their thing with it.

♫ Verdi - Il trovatore - Anvil Chorus

One day we went down to Carmel for lunch, as you do. After a particularly fine repast, we ventured to the beach where we saw the blue pearly water wash upon white silver sands (which were very much like Australian beaches).

Here we see the A.M., my sister and brother-in-law relaxing on the beach after lunch.

Carmel

Now, if my rabbitting on back there isn't a song, I don't know one. That song is White Silver Sands by DON RONDO.

Don Rondo

♫ Don Rondo - White Silver Sands

Back in Los Gatos (where my sister actually lives), the weather was so fine we ate most lunches (and dinners) on the deck outside. We were graced by many birds visiting us – woodpeckers (I nearly included the Woody Woodpecker Song but thought better of it), beautiful blue jays and particularly, hummingbirds.

These may sound prosaic to you but we have none of those in Australia so we were really thrilled to see them. I guess the equivalent is Americans visiting Australia and seeing kookaburras, spangled drongos and cassowaries (although you'd really be in trouble if that last one was flying around your backyard).

Some days, well most of them really, we had to put up netting to keep the insects away from our food and wine. Pictured is the A.M. adjusting the mesh.

Assistant Musicologist

Of all the songs I thought of that would be appropriate, the best of them is Hummingbird by B.B. KING.

BB King

♫ BB King - Hummingbird

When it was time to visit the W.M., we decided to take the train rather than fly (okay, we had decided that long before) and after an early dinner with members of the family, we headed for the railway station in San Jose.

Well, the train from Los Angeles was already two hours late when we arrived and it lost another two hours on the way to Portland. Thus it was not only a Slow Train Coming, it was also a slow train going. Cue BOB DYLAN.

Bob Dylan

♫ Bob Dylan - Slow Train

The train journey took longer than the flight from Melbourne to L.A., so we had Time to Kill. We did that by sleeping (or trying to) in the initial stages (nighttime) and spending the rest of the time in the observation car looking at the scenery.

As this was northern California and Oregon it was generally pretty wonderful. So good, in fact, we both forgot to take photos. Here is THE BAND.

The Band

♫ The Band - Time to Kill

One day we went for a trek around Tryon Creek Park, a state park near Lake Oswego. This wouldn't take too long and was a pleasant stroll, I was told. Huh!

In spite of that, we had fun looking at the trees and other flora – fauna were a bit thin on the ground; they probably come out at night or at least dusk and dawn.

Even the creeks were low (as there's been less rain than usual around these parts). There was one place where the creek was rippling along which caused me to burst into song (but only briefly), and that song was Rippling Water by the NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND, a particular favorite of mine.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Here is a photo of the three of us on a bridge looking down at our reflections in a creek (of the non-rippling variety, I believe).

Reflections

A few days later we went to the Japanese Park in Portland where there was any amount of rippling water, so the song is justified. This is at that park.

Japanese Park

This song has a very quiet lead in – about 30 seconds of actual rippling water so don't think there's something wrong if you can't hear anything for a little while.

♫ The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Ripplin' Waters

Sometime later, without anything that lent itself to a song, we went into Portland to walk around (as that's what the A.M. and the W.M. seem to like doing).

After wandering about the waterfront of Portland, looking at all the bridges – lordy, there's a lot of them - we returned home and I was seconded to prepare a very late lunch.

I've been cooking various dishes while we've been here with the W.M. but today (and I'm sorry to blow my own trumpet, but it's necessary to get this song included, although you may be a bit dubious once I say what it is) she said that what I prepared was “in its own way as good as ice cream.”

This may not seem much to you, but that is the ultimate accolade from the W.M., who is a connoisseur of ice cream. She also said “Yummy, yummy, yummy” (and a few things after that) and that was enough for me to play for you that awful song from OHIO EXPRESS.

Ohio Express

You know the one, Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love In My Tummy).

The dish I prepared was pasta with basil pesto, in case you are wondering or want to fly me to your place to prepare it for you – a great pinot noir, or several, is an essential accompaniment for this dish.

[RONNI THE WEB MISTRESS INTERRUPTING: It was a deceptively simple dish – pesto on spagetti. Sounds like no big deal but it was. And it was all in Peter's meticulously hand-crafted basil pesto or, as I have come to call the dish, Pesto Pasta. Ya shoulda been here for it. The best I ever had and so good, I “forced” Peter to make it again a week later and I had the leftover pesto on spagetti for lunch a day or two after he left for home. Yum.]

♫ Ohio Express - Yummy, Yummy, Yummy

Lake Oswego is on the main rail line to Portland and Seattle in one direction and San Francisco (okay, really Oakland) and Los Angeles in the other. Freight trains travel at all times of day.

The W.M.'s house is far enough away that at night we can just hear the lonesome whistle blowing. It's not enough to wake us but if we haven't gone to sleep it still invokes memories of old train whistles.

There were many songs that would fit this category, but the most obvious one is by HANK WILLIAMS.

Hank Williams

The song is I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow.

♫ Hank Williams - (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle

Well, that's the column but I still have a week to go before I have to return (at least, that's so as I write). You never know, there might be another column if I do anything song-worthy, but don't hold your breath. I'll be home by the time you get to read it as all my music is back there.


INTERESTING STUFF – 25 October 2014


IN PRAISE OF KNOTS

According to the story at The New York Times,

”Knots are an ancient technology. They predate the axe and the wheel, quite possibly the use of fire and maybe even man himself: Some scientists have speculated that the first knotters were animals, gorillas who tied simple 'granny knots,' interlacing branches to construct nests.”

The Times made a little film of Des Pawson, one of the world's few experts on knots. Who knew knots are so fascinating.

You can read more about Mr. Pawson and knots here.


”DON'T TOUCH MY GIRLFRIEND”

President Barack Obama stopped by his home voting precinct in Chicago last Tuesday to mark his early ballot. In the booth next to him was Aia Cooper. Her boyfriend, Mike Jones, was nearby. Hilarity ensued. Watch.

It turned out well for everyone. Aia and Mike had a voting experience they'll never forget and Obama got a light moment that must have been a relief from the grief he gets from all sides these days.


GETTING IT SO WRONG

As interesting as the rope story was, this one is awful. You would think the newspaper of record could get something as simple as this right:

Headline: Anti-Agism Is the Problem; Plastic Surgery is the Symptom

Huh? Actually, “anti-ageism” is the cure. And it would be good if the paper could spell ageism correctly. Their version makes it seem that the story has something to do with farming.

[UPDATE AT 8AM: TGB reader Pat Trimple emailed to note that The Times has changed the headline, removing the word "Anti-" and correcting the spelling.]

In addition, the “debate” itself is less that illuminating. Could that have something to do with how the issue was mis-named in the headline? See for yourself here.


WHAT IS THE REAL VALUE OF A DOLLAR?

Ever since the 2008 crash, the economy has been front and center in the news. But how much do you really understand about what economists are talking about – the economy, money itself, banking and all?

If you're anything like me, not much. But now, a company called We the Economy has produced 20-odd short films explaining how money and economies work in words and pictures anyone can easily grasp.

Here is Chapter 6 called That Film About Money that cleared up a lot of fuzzy thinking I've had:

That video is from the second section called What is Money? There are four other sections titled as follows. Each contains several videos:

What is the Economy?
What is the Role of Our Government?
What is Globalization?
What Causes Inequality?

I haven't watched the entire series yet but I've already learned plenty from the ones I've seen. Here is the second part of the video above titled, oddly enough, Second Part of That Film About Money:

You can find out more about the work of We the Economy at their website where you can also watch all the videos, or you can find the collection on the YouTube page.

Trust me, the videos are smart and compelling. You'll learn a lot and be better prepared to evaluate what economists, politicians and others tell you about the economy.


THE CARTOON LOUNGE

Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor of The New Yorker which is, undoubtedly, the premier source of great cartoons in the United States.

Last week he published a video that is the first of a new weekly series, The Cartoon Lounge, he will present about some of the cartoons in that week's issue of the magazine.

In this first outing, he considers several cartoon cliches - like desert islands, for one - and finishes up by answering a couple of questions about cartooning from readers.

Take a look:

You can read more about Mankoff's new series here.


JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA'S FOREIGN TRANSLATORS

The people who produce We the Economy videos (above) do an excellent job of making a tough topic more clear. So does John Oliver but he's also funny about it - even with painful topics which often makes his points more illuminating.

This time he tells the terrible story of how the United States treats the foreign nationals who provide crucial translation services in war zones, risking their lives and those of their families for U.S. soldiers.


CARRYING A NOBEL PRIZE THROUGH U.S. CUSTOMS

Peter Tibbles, the TGB musicologist whose column appears here on Sundays, emailed this true little tale. It is about Brian Schmidt who ran afoul of airport security in Fargo, North Dakota on his way home to Australia.

An excerpt would ruin the story so here is the whole thing as it appeared in Scientific American:

”When I won this, my grandma, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to see it. I was going to visit so I decided I’d take my Nobel Prize.

“You would think that carrying around a Nobel Prize would be uneventful, and it was uneventful, until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the X-ray machine.

“I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It’s made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.

“They’re like, 'Sir, there’s something in your bag.'

“I said, 'Yes, I think it’s this box.'

“They said, 'What’s in the box?'

“I said, 'a large gold medal,' as one does.

“So they opened it up and they said, 'What’s it made out of?'

“I said, 'gold.'

“And they’re like, 'Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?'

“'The King of Sweden.'

“'Why did he give this to you?'

“'Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.'

“At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?'”


MARIONETTE IN MANHATTAN

The more high tech our world gets, the more I seem to appreciate old-fashioned, low-tech things. This one, from Darlene Costner, fits my interest fantastically. And I don't think I've ever seen such an accomplished puppeteer. You will be amazed.


TOUCHABLE MEMORIES

Alan Goldsmith who blogs at Eldersparks sent this video about another new use for 3D printers – an amazingly wonderful one. The Youtube page says,

”Touchable Memories is a social experiment where we gave technology an innovative application, testing it in an unexplored field and achieving incredible results, making people aware of the endless possibilities of using technology to make our lives better.”


DEAR KITTEN: REGARDING THE DOG

Here's the latest lesson from the Friskies chief house cat to the newly arrived kitten.


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.


Old People Want More From Life than Safety

On Wednesday this week, I told you about Dr. Atul Gawande's exceptional new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The post prompted a friend I'd not heard from in awhile to email.

Suzette Boydston is director of the Department of Auxiliary & Volunteer Services of Samaritan Albany General Hospital in Albany, Oregon, the Samaritan Pacific Health Services Senior Companion Program and serves on a number of boards related to elder services including the Governor’s Commission on Senior Services.

Whew! That is to say, she knows what she's talking about.

Suzette wrote to recommend a documentary to me. She said that she had screened it for one of her advisory boards and that “The discussion following was lively and very interesting.”

No wonder. The Thin Edge of Dignity is a powerful statement from Dick Weinman, who wrote and delivers the script on camera, about what his life is like in an assisted living facility (ALF), and it immediately reminded me of Gawande's book.

(Duh. That is, of course, exactly why Suzette sent it to me.)

Weinman is a retired professor of broadcast communications at Oregon State University, an author and former radio personality. The 20-minute documentary contrasts his life as it is today in the ALF with how he lived before a terrible auto accident left him disabled and without the ability to take care of daily needs.

The Thin Edge of Dignity is a powerful companion piece to Gawande's indictment of the way ALFs and nursing homes in America are commonly run. In Being Mortal, Gawande tells of an 89-year-old woman who decided on her own that it was time for a nursing home.

”She picked the facility herself. It had excellent ratings and nice staff...She told me she was glad to be in a safe place – if there's anything a decent nursing home is built for, it is safety. But she was wretchedly unhappy.

“The trouble was that she expected more from life than safety. 'I know I can't do what I used to,' she said, 'but this feels like a hospital, not a home.'

“...The woman had left an airy apartment she furnished herself for a small beige hospital-like room with a stranger for a roommate. Her belongings were stripped down to what she could fit in the one cupboard and shelf they gave her.

“Basic matters, like when she went to bed, woke up, dressed, and ate, were subject to the rigid schedule of institutional life. She couldn't have her own furniture or a cocktail before dinner because it wasn't safe.”

Gawande goes on to say that some elders refuse to succumb to the rigid routine of nursing homes or ALFs and have their ways of fighting back.

As he relates in his book, when one resident called for help to the bathroom too often to suit the staff, they put her on a set schedule every two hours to match their rounds. When she resisted by wetting her bed, they put her in diapers.

“Another resident,” reports Gawande, “refuses to use his walker and takes unauthorized, unaccompanied walks. A third sneaks cigarettes and alcohol.

“A woman with severe Parkinson's disease keeps violating her pureed diet restrictions, stealing food from other residents that could cause her to choke. A man with Alzheimer's disease hoards snacks in his room, violating house rules.

“A diabetic is found eating clandestine sugar cookies and pudding, knocking his blood sugar levels off his target.

“Who knew you could rebel just by eating a cookie?”

As the 89-year-old woman stuck in the ALF proclaimed to Gawande, people want more than safety as they approach the end of their days.

With all that in mind, please take the time to watch Dick Weinman's documentary, The Thin Edge of Dignity. It will be a well-spent 20 minutes.

In Wednesday's post, I mentioned that the PBS documentary series, Frontline, is producing a program based on Atul Gawande's book, exploring the relationships doctors have with patients who are nearing the end of life.

The broadcast premier is scheduled for 13 January. Be aware, however, that PBS channels often shift dates around so check your local listings. Here is a trailer for the show:


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Wendl Kornfeld: Nirvana, As We Define It


Social Security COLA for 2015

Yesterday, the Social Security Administration announced the amount of the annual Social Security cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for 2015. It is a minor uptick of 1.7 percent.

For the average monthly benefit of $1191.70, that means a $20.25 increase. Woo-hoo.

Although my increase is higher than that $20, when I account for the increases in my Medigap premium and my Medicare Part D premium, I come in at almost exactly the average increase: $19.65.

The only good news in this is that the Medicare Part B premium remains unchanged from 2014 at $104.90, deducted from the monthly Social Security benefit. (A few people pay more than $104.90 – there are charts for that here.)

As the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) noted yesterday:

“For the fifth time in six years the annual cost of living adjustment will be at an historically low level. Over this time, under the current formula, seniors have consistently received less than 2% in COLA increases with two years of zero COLAs even though their expenses continue to rise beyond that rate.”

When you include increases in normal monthly expenses (electricity, cable TV and internet, heating, auto insurance, homeowners insurance and/or HOA, etc.) it is unlikely that anyone who relies on Social Security for the majority of his/her income will not fall behind in 2015. I certainly will.

One reason the COLA is inadequate to keep up with inflation is that elder spending differs dramatically from how the Consumer Price Index (CPI), on which the COLA is calculated, determines the rate of inflation. The NCPSSM again:

”The typical person on Medicare pays about $4,700 out of pocket in premiums, cost sharing for Medicare-covered benefits, and costs for services not covered by Medicare.

“Seniors spend 14% of their budget on health expenses which is nearly three times the share of spending in non-Medicare households.”

As we have discussed in these pages in the past, because elders' spending differs from the average working family, there ought to be a different price index for old consumers. And there is one as, again, the NCPSSM reminded us yesterday:

”The experimental CPI-E was developed in 1987 to reflect the different spending patterns of consumers age 62 and older. This formula acknowledges that health costs represent a much larger percentage of seniors’ monthly spending than is the case with other demographic groups.

“A fully developed CPI-E would more accurately measure the real-world expenses retirees’ face than the current COLA formula and would be far more accurate than the proposed Chained CPI which would cut projected benefits over time.”

You can read details of the CPI-E here. So far there has been no traction in Congress for adopting it.

Although Republican lawmakers in Washington have been trying to cut Social Security benefits for decades – recall President George W. Bush's pressure to privatize the program in 2005, among others – there are organizations and people trying to improve Social Security.

Keep your eye on Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who support expanding Social Security and vehemently oppose cuts. With few resources, the NCPSSM works hard for us – you might want to donate a little to help in their efforts.

Social Security Works also does an excellent job for elders. Just recently, they reported that their polling shows remarkable public support across party lines for adding a caregiver credit to Social Security. You can read about that here.

And here is an informative video reminder of how important Social Security is to all Americans.

You'll be reading more from me about Social Security during the 2016 presidential campaign (which begins in earnest the day after the 4 November midterm election) when, over the next two years, more proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare will, without doubt, be offered from certain kinds of candidates.

Meanwhile, enjoy your 1.7 percent COLA.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Bettijane Eisenpress: When the Time Comes


A Super-Important, Amazing New Book on End-of-Life Care

For the past couple of days I've been reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End from Atul Gawande, the Harvard Medical School professor who is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a staff writer at The New Yorker.

When a new issue of that magazine arrives containing Gawande's byline, I usually stop what I'm doing to sit down right away and enjoy a new essay by one of the most brilliant, sensitive, thoughtful people writing today.

BeingmortalgawandeThis new book, his fourth, is a cri de coeur against the “medicated mortality” treatment that is the norm in the United States for elders in the last stages of life. In explaining what is wrong with current healthcare for the aged and dying, Gawande writes in the introduction:

”You don't have to spend much time with the elderly or those with terminal illness to see how often medicine fails the people it is supposed to help. The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver's chance of benefit.

“They are spent in institutions – nursing homes and intensive care units – where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life.

“Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need.

“Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to their very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology and strangers.”

He is, of course, exactly right and it takes nothing away from Gawande to say that many – probably even most – of us on the patient side of the treatment equation have known these things forever.

However, unlike you and me, Gawande has solutions and as with brilliant answers to problems in other realms of life, his are deceptively simple – of the “I've always known that, why didn't I know that before” variety. It's just that no one else saying them is as widely read or respected as Gawande.

With the help of stories about his aging patients, his own father's last years, interviews with geriatricians and studies that illuminate needed changes, Gawande spends the rest of the book telling us what it will take to change end-of-life care into something humane.

This is the most important book on aging and dying in a long, long time. As it deserves, it is being widely reviewed and discussed, and Frontline is preparing an entire show about it for broadcast in January.

Meanwhile, Gawande is currently doing the book tour circuit to promote Being Mortal and a lot of those interviews turn up on YouTube. Here is a short excerpt of Gawande with Amy Goodman on her Democracy Now television show:

You can see the full interview here where there is also a transcript.

Being Mortal is a watershed book. It will change end-of-life treatment. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen. The book is that important.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: The Last Hummingbird


Crabby Old Lady v. the Cable Company

Crabby Old Lady does not like using her blog for rants about personal issues but every couple of years something so egregious happens that she cannot help herself.

This one is about trying to reduce her cable/internet costs and let Crabby say up front that if any of you are intending to flaunt your supposed virtue by telling her you have better things to do than watch television, don't.

Crabby likes television. She spent more than a third of her life producing network TV shows. It's in her blood.

She watches a lot of news and politics on television and, as she has maintained for the past four or five years, she believes we are living through a golden age of television drama - of much higher quality that most feature movies which Crabby hardly ever attends.

Now. Moving on.

Crabby's internet and television services are supplied by Comcast which is, according to the most recent annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) from the University of Michigan, the second most hated company in the U.S., besting Time-Warner by one whole point.

When the new figures were released in May, ACSI noted,

”High prices, poor reliability, and declining customer service are to blame for low customer satisfaction with pay TV services.”

Crabby can attest to that, having had many arguments with the company's so-called customer service representatives (CSR) over the past four years mostly about unexplained and unexpected price increases every six months.

Not to mention, if your cable/internet service is anything like Crabby's, the monthly statement is so cryptic that it may as well be written in Martian; there is no way to tell what the prices are for individual services.

This month, the new bill arrived with an increase of 9.5 percent – for this discussion, let's just round it up to 10. It's not like Crabby has noticed any enhanced service.

As far as she can tell, the increases are arbitrary – maybe when the company wants a new jet? Who knows? This time was more than Crabby could stand.

She called to see what could be done to lower her bill.

Because all the CSR's speak the same Martian language in which bills are written, Crabby doesn't understand how it happened but by the end of her first conversation with Comcast yesterday, the CSR told her that with the new “bundle,” she would be charged “only” a price that was - wait for it - six dollars higher than the new bill.

Did you get that? Higher.

There was no point in continuing so Crabby, with an immoderate comment or two, hung up. (Crabby just hates how CSRs turn people into raging harridans.)

So Crabby spent an hour looking into cutting the cord, dropping Comcast altogether. However, in her area, it is the only real broadband internet provider so she decided to see about keeping the internet but finding another source for television.

Since Crabby doesn't subscribe to premium channels, there ought to be a way with her smart TV, to work out television via internet apps. And there is. But it is complicated and Crabby doesn't have time this week to learn the details and make the best choices.

So she called Comcast again telling the recorded voice that she wants to cancel her service. (That statement always gets a better class of CSR.)

Crabby's intention was to give up the DVR on which she records programs so that she can watch them on her schedule and to reduce the service on her main TV set to what she has on the 10-year-old, 15-inch TV near her desk for news and political programs.

Her goal was two TVs each with only the most basic number of channels and no HD, no DVR, no On Demand viewing.

Just internet at the mid-level speed offered and the smallest number of basic channels on two sets.

But that was not possible. Not in the world of monopoly Comcast. The company does not allow anyone to buy these services individually; we are all forced to buy a “bundle.”

To have any television at all, Crabby is required to get a new box that doesn't record (DVR) or supply shows in HD but does give her the onscreen listing service and On Demand viewing (no other choice allowed) along with that intermediate level broadband for internet.

Now take a moment and see if you can figure out how much money Crabby saved. Here are the differences:

  • She gave up all those extra channels on her main TV in exchange for about 20-25 basic channels.
  • She got rid of HD and the DVD recorder.
  • She kept her little “news TV” at her desk for the same $2.99 per month.
  • She gave up TV altogether on the extra TV in the guest room. It can be used now only for DVDs.

Are you ready? The saving is approximately 20 bucks – 15 percent below the newest jacked-up price – about five percent lower than last month's bill before that increase. It doesn't seem worth the time - the CSR's or Crabby's.

According to several sources, about 19 percent of U.S. television customers have dropped cable altogether. Most are replacing it with combinations of indoor or outdoor rabbit ear antennas (remember those? they're back) along with Roku, Tivo or similar boxes and streaming services via smart TVs.

Crabby will soon join them but it shouldn't be this way. There shouldn't be only one premier TV/internet service per city but if we must, prices should be regulated.

Better would be other television providers and my town is one of half a dozen nationwide being considered by Google for their new fiber service for TV and internet. Maybe we will get it. Maybe at an affordable price. Or maybe not.

Meanwhile, it's a lot harder to set up television independent of the cable company so any experienced advice on handling the transition will be happily received by Crabby Old Lady.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Karen Zaun Kennedy: I Am From (take two).


It's That Time Again - Medicare Enrollment

(EDITORIAL NOTE: International readers can take the day off – most of you live in countries with more sane health programs than the United States has and don't suffer this tedious, irritating annual ritual.)


Last Wednesday, 15 October, marked the start of the Medicare Open Enrollment period which lasts until 7 December. During this time, people 65 and older may, if they choose, make changes to their Advantage programs and their Part D prescription drug plans.

Oh joy.

OVERVIEW
If you currently have traditional Medicare, you are allowed to change to a private Advantage plan – or vice versa. Traditional Medicare does not provide drug coverage so you need a separate plan (Part D) for that.

Some Advantage plans cover drugs and others do not, so if you choose a plan without drug coverage you will need a stand-alone drug program as traditional Medicare enrollees do.

REMINDER OF SOME MEDICARE BASICS

  • Part A covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing, hospice and home health care. It is free.
  • Part B covers preventive care, outpatient services and doctor visits. The monthly premium is deducted from your Social Security benefit.
  • Optional Medigap (or Supplemental) coverage pays for the “gap” between what Parts A and B cover and your out-of-pocket costs. You MAY NOT CHANGE this coverage during the 15 October-7 December open enrollment period.
  • Part C is another name for Advantage plans. These take the place of original Medicare (Parts A, B and Medigap). Premiums are usually lower, they often cover drugs but physician choice is limited to the company's network and physicians are allowed to drop out of the program mid-year.

Here is some good news. The monthly premium for Medicare Part B will remain unchanged for the second year in a row: $104.90 for most people which is deducted from your Social Security benefit.

Certain people pay higher Part B premiums. There are charts at the Department of Health and Human Services website where you can see if you are among them.

In past years during the open enrollment period, I have covered the possibilities in a lot of detail without even scratching the surface of all there is to know about Medicare.

This year, because it is such a gigantic, complicated program, I'm cutting down my reporting to the minimal you must know, and then provide a little context along with good links to help you through the ordeal – um, I mean process - of changes to coverage you might like to make.

Remember, even if you think you are happy with your current coverage, prices change, deductibles are added, subtracted, increased, etc., and drugs are added and deleted from companies' formularies. So it is just good sense to review your plans each year.

MEDICARE.GOV PLAN FINDER
The Medicare.gov website is not perfect but it gets better and easier to use each year. You can check your current enrollment, premiums, drugs list and find all sorts of general health information.

The steps to find your current coverage information are straightforward: fill in Zip Code, Medicare number, surname, the effective date of your initial Medicare enrollment and your birthdate. Medicare number and initial enrollment date are both on your Medicare card.

From there you can follow instructions to compare your current coverage to what is available in your state for 2015, be it Advantage plans or drug coverage. You can sort the lists by, among other criteria, deductible, star ratings, monthly premium and plan name.

Each listing tells you that information in addition to any restrictions, co-pays and for drugs, estimated annual cost. You can select several plans to compare them side-by-side.

When you have made a selection, you can follow a link to enroll online or you can enroll by telephone. If you want to keep your current coverage, do nothing and it will continue – well, except for a premium increase in most cases.

ONE EXAMPLE OF DRUG COVERAGE SELECTION
One of the best things about the Medicare.gov selection tool for drug coverage is that if you take the time to enter all your prescriptions and their dosages, you will get a list of plans that cover what you need and you can then compare other criteria to select what works best for you.

In my case, I use no prescription drugs and since there is no way to guess what might happen to me and what kind of drugs I would need, I punt.

I choose the least expensive plan and hope (how's that for healthcare planning?) that whatever happens to me, I will be able to afford whatever drugs I need until the next year when I can select a different plan based on the drugs I need.

There were 28 prescription drug plans in my state, the least expensive of which would mean a premium increase of more than 104 percent. Huge. My current insurer is increasing the premium by “only” 25 percent with a slight increase in the deductible – so it's a no brainer.

I assume this is one method by which insurers keep current customers. Apparently, I am supposed to be grateful for such a “low” increase but I have trouble reconciling 25 percent compared to what will be about a 1.5 percent increase in the Social Security benefit for next year.

CAUTION
The annual open enrollment period is open season for scammers. You will likely receive many snailmail advertisements for Advantage and drug plans, and phone calls too. Be smart.

  • Never give out personal information such as Medicare and Social Security numbers, account numbers, etc. to anyone who has telephoned you. Ever. Medicare representatives never call to ask this kind of information.
  • If you are due a refund for any reason from a private insurer, it will be sent to you via postal mail. If anyone calls asking for personal information to receive your refund, it is probably a scam. Hang up.
  • Many legitimate companies are offering a variety of health coverage plans during this period. But some are not who they say they are or will employ high pressure tactics to try to sell you coverage you don't need. Be aware.
  • Many offers of “free” medical supplies or checkups via postal mail are excuses to extract personal information from you. Check them out carefully before agreeing to them.

HELPFUL WEBSITES
Medicare website
Medicare telephone: 1-800-Medicare

Medicare and You
By now, Medicare enrollees will have received your annual Medicare and You booklet. If you have not received it, or misplaced it, there is an electronic version [pdf]. Note that only the print version has a list in the back of plans available in your state.

Medicare Find a Plan
Here is a direct link to the Medicare Find a Plan main page.

My Medicare Matters
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) maintains a good educational website with lots of trustworthy information about Medicare and how it works.

Medicare Rights Center Roadmaps
Another website with lots of helpful information from the Medicare Rights Center.

SHIP Help
The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a national program that offers one-on-one counseling and assistance to people with Medicare and their families. Search for your local SHIP website and counselors.

65 and Signing Up For the First Time
If you are new to Medicare, Kaiser Health News has a succinct one-pager to get you started with a lot of links to additional online information.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Trudi Kappel: Love by Gefilte Fish


ELDER MUSIC: States – South Dakota to Wyoming

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


We're in the home stretch now. Here are the last of the states (alphabetically).

SouthDakota125It seems that whenever a town or city is mentioned in these songs, I have been there.

Not too unusual except that I live in a country on the other side of the world.

Rapid City is one place where I spent some days waiting for a radiator to be fixed. It came into close contact with a deer. I hasten to add that I was a passenger at the time, not the driver.

I don't know if KINKY FRIEDMAN has ever hit a deer but nothing would surprise me when it comes to the Kinkster.

KinkyFriedman1

Kinky is better known for being from Texas (and writing books about New York), but his song is about South Dakota. It's called Rapid City, South Dakota.

♫ Kinky Friedman - Rapid City, South Dakota

Tennessee125I don't know what it is about Tennessee that inspires waltzes, but there you go.

You probably think you know what's coming up given that introduction, but it's is not to be.

Anyone who knows the music of JESSE WINCHESTER has got it right though.

JesseWinchester18

Jesse's song is The Brand New Tennessee Waltz.

♫ Jesse Winchester - The Brand New Tennessee Waltz

Texas125Another Texan, LYLE LOVETT, and his song is about that state.

LyleLovett14

To quote Tom Rush, "Lyle is not like the other children.” He has a really quirky attitude when it comes to writing songs but it's not too obvious in this one. It's called That's Right (You're Not from Texas). He performs it as if it's 1940 and Bob Wills is still the king.

♫ Lyle Lovett - That's Right (You're Not from Texas)

Utah125I couldn't find any songs about Utah, at least none with the state's name in the title.

I did find one where Utah was mentioned and that's good enough for me.With some of these I got a bit desperate. You might have noticed.

The song is sung by MARTY ROBBINS.

Marty Robbins

The song is Utah Carol, and it's taken from his terrific “Gunfighter Ballads” album.

♫ Marty Robbins - Utah Carol

Vermont125My choice for Vermont is Moonlight in Vermont.

There are many different versions of it, but one stood out as far as I'm concerned, and that is the one by BILLIE HOLIDAY. Regular readers are probably not surprised by that. I won't say anything else, just let Billie sing the song.

BillieHoliday19

Billie Holiday - Moonlight in Vermont

Virginia125DAVE ALVIN first came to prominence in the band The Blasters with his brother Phil.

DaveAlvin14

Since then he's had a solo career singing fine songs in his superb baritone voice. He mostly writes his own material, but he has released an album called "Public Domain" where he performed fine old songs, some dating back a century or more.

East Virginia Blues is one from that album.

♫ Dave Alvin - East Virginia Blues

Washington125Now to the hardest state of them all, Washington.

Oh, there are a lot of songs about Washington but they all refer to the city on the other side of the country.

I resorted to the intertube and there are some websites that suggest that there are no songs about Washington or, at least, none that mention the state in the title.

That was my unofficial criterion for these columns - that the name had to be in the title. Undeterred by that, I spent several days searching and finally found one. It's by M. WARD.

M Ward

M (his mum and dad weren't very imaginative in the naming department) has a song called Four Hours in Washington which I was assured is about the state. However, it isn't actually mentioned in the lyrics, but I'm desperate so it'll have to do.

♫ M. Ward - Four Hours in Washington

WestVirginia125KATHY MATTEA really was born in West Virginia.

KathyMattea2

So she's not lying when she sings West Virginia, My Home. Kathy was classically trained as a singer but discovered folk music and took up the guitar.

Since then she's ventured into gospel, bluegrass and has become a respected singer/songwriter. Anything she performs is well worth a listen.

♫ Kathy Mattea - West Virginia, My Home

Wisconsin125Thank heaven for GLENN YARBROUGH, he had the solitary Wisconsin song.

GlennYarbrough1

Readers with long musical memories know that Glenn started out as the lead singer for the Limeliters. He then went on to have a long solo career. Actually, the career is still continuing.

Glenn's song today is just called Wisconsin.

♫ Glenn Yarbrough - Wisconsin

Wyoming125Poor old Wyoming, always coming last alphabetically.

It never seems to be the thing to do something or other in reverse order. Even I haven't done that.

I could completely rearrange all these columns but that sounds like too much hard work, so I won't. Anyway, we have JOHN DENVER for this final state.

JohnDenver11

John's song is called Song of Wyoming.

♫ John Denver - Song of Wyoming

Well, that's it. Or is it? There's an obvious clichéd way to end this series and never let it be said that I'll always avoid the clichés.

So, an extra track from SIMON AND GARFUNKEL to sum up all that's gone before, simply called America.

S&G10

♫ Simon and Garfunkel - America


INTERESTING STUFF – 18 October 2014


114-YEAR-OLD LIES TO GET A FACEBOOK PAGE

Anna Stoer is 114 years old. You read that right – 114. She lives in Minnesota. She wanted to create a Facebook page. She had to lie because the age dropdown menu goes only to age 99.

Here's the video story:

You can read more at Buzzfeed but watch out for that $%^ autostart audio.


CHILDREN FULL OF LIFE DOCUMENTARY

From my friend Jim Stone, here is how the YouTube page explains this extraordinary video:

”...a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learns lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori.

“He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates."

Take a look at Part 1 – you will be astonished and wish that all children could have a teacher like this man.

You can watch the full documentary here. It is about 40 minutes long.


FBI MAKES ANIMAL CRUELTY A CLASS A FELONY

Cruelty to animals seems an especially heinous crime to me because unless provoked, they have nothing but love for humans. Certainly you remember the case of NFL star Michael Vick and his dog fight ring.

What you might not know is how widespread dog fighting rings and other kinds of animal cruelty are. Now, reports Alternet,

“...the FBI is making animal cruelty a Group A felony, along with homicide, arson and assault. The move, announced two weeks ago, will take animal cruelty out of the category of 'other' crimes not considered major by the FBI and will offer a way to track animal abuse.”

Read more here.


ENTERTAINMENT DURING THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION

Darlene Costner sent this video of juggler Michael Davis performing at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. For then-President Ronald Reagan and his wife along with then-Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill and his wife.


A LOT OF US HERE LIKE CATS. A LOT OF US HERE

...are grammar mavens. So this image from my friend John Brandt seems to be a good fit for us.

Grammarlycat


JOHN OLIVER TAKES ON PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES

John Oliver's HBO show, Last Week Tonight was on hiatus last Sunday so he provided us with this web-only diatribe against pumpkin spice flavor – have fun.


HOW TO CRUSH A POLITICAL BIGOT

In 1970, The New Republic magazine printed a story by Douglas J. Stewart calling for denying the vote to elders. An excerpt:

”...it makes no sense to allow the vote to someone who is actuarially unlikely to survive, and pay the bills for, the politician or party he may help elect...As a class they are not...wise, benign, and tolerant...their chief characteristics are greed, cowardice, resentment over the cheats of life...”

The New Republic gave the rebuttal forum to Fahrenheit 451 author, Ray Bradbury, which he used in the tone and attitude the proposal deserved. An excerpt:

”I am much in your debt for publishing the brilliant article by Douglas J. Stewart. Taking the vote away from old people is great. But, may I suggest an even better alternative? Let us build ovens and gas chambers and really do the job right.

“I have other plans for cripples, the blind, and the Jews, if Mr. Stewart wishes to hear them. Meanwhile, onward and upward. Let’s get that vote, first, and then the life of the Voter!”

You can (and should) read Bradbury's entire response here.

This exchange is part of a celebration of the magazine's 100 years in existence with reprints of 100 stories from their century of publication. You'll find that series here. (Hat tip to TGB reader, Tom Delmore)


PAPER SCULPTURES OF LI HONGBO

Maybe you think you know something about paper sculptures. Unless you've seen this video, you probably don't.

If you would like to know more, here's another video of the artist, who started out in his professional life as a book publisher, talking about his work.


WALTER THE LAB'S DASH FOR THE SEA

I know someone who has a dog named Walter. What makes that wonderful and pleases me every time I think of it is that the person's surname is Brennan. (Maybe you have to be older than 60 or so to get the joke.)

Here's another dog named Walter although I don't know his person's surname. The temperature had been more than 90 degrees in Sicily where Walter lives and he can't wait to cool off in the sea.

The YouTube page says Walter has “an insane passion for diving and swimming.” Here is little more of his over-the-top joy – can't you feel it?


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.


Beer and Billiards for Healthy Aging

“Active aging” is what they call it. You know, all that bungee jumping, marathon running and climbing high mountains they tell us old people need to do these days to stay healthy.

No slacking off with a nap in the afternoon when you can speed ride your bike 15 miles to the gym for an hour or two on the elliptical. Active aging is the key to a healthy old body and brain they tell us these days – exercise, exercise, exercise.

Within more reason, I don't disagree but I think a recent report on other kinds of activity has a great deal of merit:

”...to equate active ageing strictly with health is too narrow a focus, new research from University of Copenhagen shows; the elderly can reap social and health benefits from activities that do not necessarily conform to official life style recommendations - billiards for instance.”

The researcher, Aske Lassen, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen's Centre for Healthy Ageing, explains further:

“Playing billiards often comes with a certain lifestyle, drinking beer and drams for instance, and I am quite sure this was not what WHO [World Health Organization] and EU [European Union] meant when they formulated their active ageing policies.

“But billiards does constitute active ageing. Billiards is, first of all, an activity these men thoroughly enjoy.

“That enhances their quality of life while immersing them in their local community and keeping them socially active.

“And billiards is, secondly, very suitable exercise for old people because the game varies naturally between periods of activity and passivity - and this means the men can keep playing for hours.”

Mr. Lassen's work has led him to believe that we need a less restrictive definition of healthy aging. He continues:

”The question is how we define 'good ageing' and how we organise society for our ageing generations.

“We therefore need a broader, more inclusive concept of healthy and active ageing that allows for the communities the elderly already take part in and that positively impact their everyday lives, quality of life, and general health.”

None of us is very good at moderation. Here in the U.S., the obesity epidemic speaks to our collective sloth while Silicon Valley is inventing gadgets to monitor our every waking (and sleeping move).

Billiards and beer – or their regional equivalents – return some sanity to the question of what active aging should be.

You can read more about Aske Lassen's work here and here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Plunging My Poundage


Elder Women and Eleanor's Hope

When I starting out in the world on my own in the late 1950s, there weren't many careers available to women. Our choices were mostly confined to waitress or office worker and, for the few who attended college, teacher or nurse.

The quip in those days about “girls” in college pursuing their MRS degree was more fact than joke and most left school or the workforce as soon as they married.

However, after the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963, set off the second wave of feminism, the “women's lib” movement took off with astonishing speed and today, large numbers of women are, as men have always been, doctors, lawyers and corporate chiefs.

No one can deny that women have come a long way, baby. Just not far enough and that, it has become evident, is particularly hard on elder, retired women.

As increasing numbers of cracks appear in the glass ceiling, pay equity between men and women in the same jobs has lagged dramatically. For as many years as I can recall, women have been paid about 77 cents for every dollar men earn.

(Some people dispute that figure, usually Republicans, and others say the gap is even larger. Whatever the number may be, no one argues that there is no pay gap.)

What that means for elder women is that because their earnings throughout their working years are lower so, then, is their Social Security benefit. In fact, reports the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM),

”In 2012, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was only 76 percent of the benefit received by men ($12,520 compared to $16,398).”

One early morning last week, I attended a conference call sponsored by the NCPSSM announcing their new initiative called Eleanor's Hope.

It is named in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt who throughout her years as First Lady of the United States and for 17 years thereafter until she died in 1962, was a beacon of light to the world for so many social justice causes including that of women.

As NCPSSM president and CEO Max Richtman writes:

”The latest census reports that nearly 2.6 million elderly women are living in poverty and 733,000 of those live in extreme poverty. For women who live longer on lower benefits, America’s retirement crisis is very real.

“That’s why the financial protection Social Security provides is even more critical for the millions of women who depend on this vital program to keep them from poverty.”

Among the speakers during last week's conference call announcing Eleanor's Hope, were Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Gwen Moore, NOW president Terry O'Neill, and Franklin Roosevelt's grandson, James Roosevelt.

The goals of the initiative are ambitious – to recruit and train activists at the grassroots level, to support Congressional leaders who make a difference on women's retirement issues and to advocate for legislation that will improve women's health and wellbeing.

In that regard, Mr. Richtman lists these he says are among the proposals Eleanor's Hope intends to pursue:

  • Provide Social Security credits for caregivers
  • Improve Social Security survivor benefits
  • Equalize Social Security’s rules for disabled widows
  • Strengthen the Social Security Cost of Living Allowance
  • Boost the basic Social Security benefit of all current and future beneficiaries
  • Build on preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act and expanding coordination of care for beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions
  • Generate greater savings on the cost of prescription drugs by increasing manufacturer discounts, allow Medicare to receive the same drug rebates as Medicaid for dual-eligibles, and promote lower drug costs by providing for faster development of generic drugs

Definitely ambitious which is a good reason to support it. You can do that by finding out more at the Eleanor's Hope website. By learning more about the gender wage gap here [pdf].

And don't forget that we have midterm elections coming up in less than three weeks. Initiatives like Eleanor's Hope depend on electing the right kind of people to both local and national office.

You can sign a pledge at the Eleanor's Hope website to vote for the people who will make a difference.

And then, do it please on 4 November. We have come a long way in our lifetimes, but we're not there yet.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Sheiner: I Remember...


To Reclaim the Word “Old”

As I have explained here many times in the past, I made a deliberate decision when I began this blog a decade ago to never use old-age euphemisms - those cutesy-poo names like golden-ager, third-ager and oldster along with the offensive ones such as coot and biddy.

For similar reasons, I also avoid senior, senior citizen and mature because they are meant to hide the idea of old age.

Instead, my references would be straight forward – old and older, as grammar requires - and a push to reclaim elder beyond its too-limited usage for church and tribal persons of age.

As I regularly try to remind you, dear readers, there is nothing wrong with being old but you wouldn't know that from even some elders themselves.

Every time I write about the demeaning language old people are subject to, I can count on a number of comments insisting that language doesn't matter or that people who use demeaning language for old people are only trying to be kind.

No. Language intended to mask old age is not kind; it reinforces the idea that growing old is bad.

Last week, the British classicist Mary Beard spoke at the Cheltenham Literary Festival about why reaching old age should be a source of pride. As The Independent reported:

"The 59-year-old also said attempt to pay someone a compliment by saying they did not look their age was 'one of the weirdest bits of double-think in our culture.'

“'I’m really trying to do that to reclaim the word old. I think about it in terms of other kinds of reclamations of vocabulary we've had over the years, such as "black" or “queer,” she said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

“'I'm rather keen for a campaign to do that for old, instead of "old" instantly connoting the hunched old lady and gentleman on the road sign, or the picture that you get on the adverts you get for senior railcards.'"

Whew! I've been banging on about the glory and honesty of the word “old” for ten years so I am pleased to have someone of Ms. Beard's stature joining the campaign. It's about time.

And it also seems a good occasion to repeat the great George Carlin's outstanding riff on the abomination of euphemisms for “old” that I've posted before.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Who, What, When and Why?


Life Expectancy at 65 Increases

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued its annual report on life expectancy in the United States for the year 2012. It's good news for almost everyone including elders.

LIFE EXPECTANCY AT AGE 65
Every day, 7,000 (or 8,000 or 10,000, depending on who is counting) people reach their 65th birthday. If you can get that far, you can be expected, on average, to live another 19.3 years - up slightly from 2011.

As usual, women fare a little better than men. A woman age 65 in 2012, could expect an average of another 21 years, to age 86. For a man 65 in 2012, it was an average of 18 more years to about 83.

The life expectancy at birth of your grandchild born in 2012 was 78.8. It is not that your grandchild's life expectancy is lower than yours at 65. It is that the CDC calculations for life expectancy at birth include infant and teen mortality.)

The Social Security website has a life expectancy calculator that returns the number of years you can expect counting from whatever age you are today. Remember, this is based on your date of birth and gender only and does not take into account current health conditions and other indicators.

The calculator tells me I have another 14.6 years left – until age 88.2.

A slightly more comprehensive life expectancy calculator is here. This one tells me I'll likely live to be 91.5 years, and have a five percent chance of living to be 105.5.

Remember, please, that both of these calculators are amusing toys that cannot be taken with any kind of seriousness.

CAUSES OF DEATH
The CDC reports that about 2.5 million people died in 2012, an increase of 28,000 or so over 2011 that is accounted for by the growing number of elders in the U.S.

The top ten leading causes of death remained the same. In order, they are:

Heart disease
Cancer
Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases
Stroke
Unintentional Injuries
Alzheimer's Disease
Diabetes
Influenza and Pneumonia
Kidney Disease
Suicide

There is a chart in the CDC report showing deaths per 100,000 population for each cause. Here's a fun fact: the top two causes of death, heart disease and cancer, account for 46.5 percent of all U.S. deaths, a decrease over time.

In addition, the age-adjusted death rate decreased 1.1 percent from 2011 or 2012 to record low of 732.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Americans appear to be getting healthier, if that's what declining death rates indicate, but still lag behind other developed countries.

Medical News Today has published as in-depth report on these top ten causes of death with more detailed (and easy to read) statistical information than I have provided along with expanded definitions, descriptions and related health data.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Big Spender


Elder Touch Hunger

There are several people online who write blogs, columns and books about sex for old people. You won't see much about them here.

It's not that I don't think sex is important in old age – without question, it is. Well, except to young people who think it's icky. (They'll get over that as they they reach old age.)

The reason I ignore those writers is that for me, sex is too intimate, too magical to – as it were – have the clinical details laid bare in print and images along with all the silly names for our private body parts.

For me, reading step-by-step instructions is too much like finding out how a magician does his tricks. I prefer to hang on to the mystery of discovering one another's longing and need, urgency, pleasure and release that, even after years of “practice,” is – or can be, if you do it right - new again each time.

That does not mean I object to pornography. It's fine with me, just not for me. Been there, done it, didn't get turned on. Next.

I have read that indifference to pornography is not uncommon to women, or maybe it's just me. That doesn't matter. Whatever works is fine. I'm for more sex for everybody with the single necessity that no one is ever forced.

Further, I'm pretty sure that most people reach old age having learned a great deal about sex and probably don't need instruction. But if they do, those sex for old people writers serve a purpose. I just wish they didn't sound so Cosmopolitan magazine-ish, so adolescent.

All that is lead-in to telling you about a story I read at Salon a few days ago with the hard-to-resist title, What I Learned From Teaching a Sex-Writing Class, by Steve Almond.

They teach this stuff?

Apparently so. The last thing I expected from the essay was that it had anything to do with elders and sex. Almond first explains how he begins his classes by asking students to write

”...the worst sex scene they can. I specifically instruct them to make it graphic and to use crude language, including as many absurd genital euphemisms as they can stomach. Shining shaft of manhood. Candy shop. Secret garden. Sperm puppet. You get the idea.”

After they have finished writing, students are required to read their sex scenes to the class. He describes several of the stories and then,

”The most striking scene of all came from a woman I’ll call Estelle. By her own estimation, Estelle was half a century older than the rest of the students. She was frail and soft-spoken and I would later learn that she had fallen on the stairs leading to the classroom.”

Estelle tells Almond that she is too shy to read her scene aloud but the younger students gently prod her to do so.

”What emerged was miraculous: a heartbreaking scene between an elderly couple in a museum,” explains Almond.

“The woman is full of suppressed longings. She fantasizes about going back to their hotel room and lying back on the bed and letting the man part her legs and her sex. She can’t express these desires out loud, though, so instead, when they get back to their room, the sexual act focuses on the man and his failure to achieve an erection.

“After a long and mortifying effort, the woman manages to bring him off. Her own needs are completely ignored.

That's when Almond's essay gets interesting. For a few paragraphs, he almost forgets the topic of sex writing and talks about what it means to be human in this regard.

“After she finished reading,” he continues, “Estelle glanced around the room sheepishly. I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:

“'I came here today because I want people to know that elderly people still have desires. Nobody wants to think about it. But we do. I live in a retirement community where it’s mostly women and the men are sort of beat up. But we still have needs. We still need to be touched.'”

A friend of mine calls this need – that is both sexual and not sexual - “touch hunger” - the idea that when, through death, divorce or other circumstance, we live without a partner in old age, we can feel our skin longing, even aching for the touch of another person.

In 2013, without knowing the phrase yet, I wrote about touch hunger here and that I had found a partial remedy for myself in massage. It helps a lot but it is expensive, more than many elders can afford frequently or at all, and as good at it is, it's not the same as what Estelle is talking about.

She is, of course, exactly right: “We still need to be touched" and the operative word there is "need." I believe it is a health issue and it's too bad Medicare doesn't cover a monthly or even bi-monthly massage.

(Note to self: a gift certificate for a massage to single, aging friends is an excellent idea.)


At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Anita McCune: Surprise! Surprise!


ELDER MUSIC: 1962 Again

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


What happened in 1962?

  • Sheryl Crow was born
  • The Beatles auditioned for Decca Records. They were rejected, as guitar groups weren't popular any more.
  • Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best
  • Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev danced together for the first time
  • Bob Dylan released his first album. It didn't sell very well.
  • Johnny Carson began hosting the Tonight Show
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was released
  • Essendon were premiers

I mentioned Bob and The Beatles in the introduction but ELVIS was still The King in 1962.

Elvis Presley

The song, She's Not You, was written by Doc Pomus, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

♫ Elvis Presley - She's Not You

I think that THE SHIRELLES would give The Supremes a run for their money as the best "girl group" from the sixties.

Shirelles

The Shirelles all met at school and started singing (and writing songs) there. They weren't called that at the time – they went through quite a few names for the group.

Eventually they were signed to a major label and started churning out hits, one of which is Baby It's You. The Beatles later covered this but their version wasn't as good.

♫ The Shirelles - Baby It's You

Don and Phil are back with us again. For those not conversant with first names, they are the EVERLY BROTHERS.

Everly Brothers

Although they kept recording and touring, That's Old Fashioned (That's the Way Love Should Be) was their last top 10 hit. People are fickle.

♫ Everly Brothers - That's Old Fashioned (That's the Way Love Should Be)

Bossa Nova reared its head around this time and that lead to a lot of rubbish music purporting to be just that. Not this one though. I don't know if this is the real deal, but it's really fine music.

How could it miss with STAN GETZ and CHARLIE BYRD?

Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd

Besides Stan and Charlie, that's Gene, Charlie's brother in the photo. The tune is Desafinado.

♫ Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd - Desafinado

BEN E. KING went solo after a brief stint with The Drifters where he sang all their best songs.

Ben E. King

He left because he didn't receive songwriting credit for the songs he wrote. A lot of performers fade away after leaving a successful group but not Ben. He produced some of the best songs of the early sixties. This is one of them, Don't Play That Song (You Lied).

♫ Ben E. King - Don't Play That Song (You Lied)

DION DiMucci's song The Wanderer made the charts at the tail end of 1961 but was still there in 1962, so I've included him.

Dion

Dion started out singing DooWop with his friends The Belmonts, named after Belmont Avenue in The Bronx whence they hailed. They had a bunch of hits. In 1960, Dion went out as a solo performer and had some more hits, including this one.

♫ Dion - The Wanderer

I don't know about the rest of the world, but Dear One by LARRY FINNEGAN was a number 1 hit here in Australia in 1962.

Well, I do know a bit about the rest of the world because it did okay in America too (where Larry was from for those who are unfamiliar with him).

Larry Finnegan

This was his only hit and soon after he went to Sweden to live. Apparently he had some hits there. Unfortunately, he died at 34 from a brain tumor.

♫ Larry Finnegan - Dear one

Although she sounded like a sixteen year old, SUE THOMPSON was well into her thirties when she had a series of hits in the early sixties.

Sue Thompson

They all bordered on novelty (who can forget Sad Movies?) and this is no exception: James (Hold The Ladder Steady), written by John D. Loudermilk.

♫ Sue Thompson - James (Hold The Ladder Steady)

Wolverton Mountain sounds like a nice whimsical tale, but it's pretty much all true. Clifton Clowers was a real person (who lived to 102) on Woolverton mountain in Arkansas (the mountain's name was changed in the song to protect something or other).

Clifton's nephew, Merle Kilgore, wrote the song and CLAUDE KING sang it to great success.

Claude King

Claude recorded many songs but this is easily his best known.

♫ Claude King - Wolverton Mountain

RAY CHARLES wasn't the first soul singer to record country songs; Solomon Burke had already done that a few years earlier. Ray is more famous for doing so, however.

Ray Charles

Ray recorded a couple of albums of such music: "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music" (Volumes 1 and 2). These were remarkable albums, especially the first, demonstrating the link between the two forms of music.

You Don't Know Me is one of the songs from that first album.

♫ Ray Charles - You Don't Know Me

You can find more music from 1962 here. 1963 will appear in two weeks' time.