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This Week in Elder News: 31 January 2009

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Congress passed and our new president signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act this week. It amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other statutes so that each paycheck is a violation if the pay is discriminatory. This is an important and powerful legal tool for women, minorities and even elders to challenge discriminatory compensation in the workplace. More explanation here.

Nevertheless, 36 senators and 171 representatives voted against the Act – that is, voted against a civil right for all, not just some citizens. It’s good to track who voted how which you can do here for the Senate and here for the House.

Earlier this month, Bono wrote a lovely tribute to Frank Sinatra, particularly about what we gain as we get older and relating that to Old Blue Eyes’ changing interpretation through the years of My Way. That led me to track down one of Sinatra’s last versions of the song sung at a live concert when he was about 79 years old. His pipes may not be what they once were, but it is powerfully poignant. [5:38 minutes]

Elderblogger Tamar Orvell of Only Connect lives half each year in Atlanta and in Tel Aviv, but she won the 2009 Smile Project Award in Boston. Find out what it is, with photos, at Tamar’s blog.

Another elderblogger, Frank Paynter, has joined the ranks of writers at an excellent new environmental blog called Super Eco that is packed with useful information on going green. You can read more at the Super Eco website and at Frank’s blog, listics.

Among the many stories of the miracle plane landing in the Hudson River while I was on hiatus, The New York Times published this terrific human interest piece.

The Senate and House this month jointly introduced a bill (S.245 and H.R.468) titled the Health Care Workforce for an Aging America Act which is intended to restore education and training opportunities in the fields of geriatrics and long-term care that were allowed to lapse during the Bush administration. Only about one percent of U.S. physicians are trained in these fields and fewer new doctors choose geriatrics as a specialty each year while the number of elders is expanding by the thousands every day. Read more here.

The company that brought us Botox will soon begin marketing another drug that promises to give women longer, lusher eyelashes. It was originally developed as a glaucoma treatment, but Allergan discovered this “side effect.” Analysts say it will be the next big cosmetic drug. Just what we need, during a depression, at $120 per month to maintain its results. More here.

The White House website has long been a snore, poorly designed, hard to use and rarely updated with anything useful. But not more than five minutes after President Obama took the oath of office, a spiffy new was launched that is packed with detailed information about what is going on in the executive branch. This is definitely worth a bookmark.

Since I may as well not get out of bed in the morning if there is no coffee to be had, I was heartened to read of a new study that suggests a correlation between coffee drinking and reduced risk of dementia in late life. As with most new research, this is not definitive, but at least I have some ammunition for those who keep telling me I shouldn’t drink coffee. Read more here.

On the day of the inauguration, Jon Stewart interviewed openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson whose invocation at a celebration on the Sunday before the swearing-in was not covered anywhere in the mainstream media. If you are a regular viewer of The Daily Show, you know that few guests can break up Stewart, but the Bishop sure did. Check out the second question-and-answer in the video below. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times now and I'm still laughing each time. [3:08 minutes]

Netbook Update

category_bug_journal2.gif Bill, who blogs at prairiepoint, emailed to ask how it’s going with my new mini-laptop, the Asus Eee pc 900HA netbook.


[More photos at my first story about this netbook]

I’ve had it for about a month now and the overall answer is that I love it – with a couple of reservations.

A standard laptop keyboard measures about 11 inches by 5 inches. In contrast, the netbook keyboard is only 8.5 inches by 3.5 inches, a considerable difference. Bill asked in particular whether I can touch-type or if I use two fingers.

That answer is: both.

Generally, I can touch-type, although when I’m moving fast – trying to keep up with my thoughts – I hit a lot of wrong keys. So I have developed a hybrid of the two styles of typing. One useful solution (mostly for women) is to keep your nails well trimmed. When they are even the tiniest bit longer than the ends of my fingers, the nails catch on the key above what I’m aiming for.

There is what I consider one major design flaw: in shrinking the keyboard, Asus placed the Uparrow key between the Question mark/Slash key and the right-hand Shift key.

On full-size keyboards, they are next to one another so I have trouble remembering to reach farther to the right to shift with my little finger on this mini-machine. Really irritating and because one uses the Shift key much more frequently than the Uparrow key, it is a big-time mistake that would have been a deal breaker for me if I had known.

There are many other netbook manufacturers and I suggest you check the location of frequently-used keys before you make a purchase.

Also, there is no CD/DVD drive so you will need an exterior drive if you intend to load programs from CDs or want to view DVDs on a netbook. I don't watch DVDs on a computer and I solved the CD difficulty by switching to free programs I can download such as OpenOffice to replace Microsoft Office that I have on my full-sized laptop.

With those caveats, the netbook is a delight. Unless you play video games, edit video or music or keep a lot of those kinds of files on your computer, the 160GB hard drive is more than enough storage and if you need more, Asus provides an additional 10GB of online storage (free for 18 months) which can be accessed from other computers and shared, with a password, with friends, relatives, colleagues, whomever. I don’t know if other manufacturers supply this feature.

And the 1GB memory makes the netbook as speedy as I need for writing and image work. The smaller screen, which is much brighter than my full-size laptop, hasn’t bothered me either. I can read it easily.

With my full-sized laptop, I’ve never been able to work online when I’m outside on the deck. Whatever controls the range of my in-house network won’t reach that far. But it will on the netbook with as strong a signal as at my desk.

There is more detailed information at Amazon where I bought mine and where it is already nine dollars cheaper than what I spent 30 days ago.

So far, I mostly I use the netbook for email, surfing and writing when I'm at the kitchen counter (good, too, for having recipes where I need them without needing a printout) and in the bedroom where I like to surf and answer email while I watch television there.

I’ve also taken it with me to restaurants where I can continue to work while having lunch, but its greatest value is going to be when I travel. No more extra bag just for the computer and accoutrements and at a weight of just over two pounds, I hardly know it’s in my handbag.

The inconvenience of a much smaller keyboard, while small, is just enough that I wouldn't want a netbook to be my only computer (although if it were all I had, I would undoubtedly adapt without much difficulty). But for its mobility, sturdiness, battery life of five hours and miniscule weight - not to mention price - it is a valuable tool.

I know that Frank Paynter of listics and Saul Friedman who is the Reflections columnist here at TGB each bought one as well as a couple of other readers. It would be good to read their experience with the netbook too.

Ronni Returns with Some New Elderblogs

Well, hello, everyone. It’s good to be back and to see you again. My two-week sabbatical turned into nearly three weeks because there were that many good stories from guest bloggers.

Before I get any further into this post, a huge, warm thank you to all 18 elderbloggers who filled in for me so magnificently. Please give them a big round of applause for the excellent job they did while I rested.

I have done this three or four times before in my life: withdrawn from everyone and everything for two weeks. But I had not done it in about 15 years. Unlike past sabbaticals from daily life, I was not entirely incommunicado this time. I answered some, but not all email, enjoyed a couple of social events and joined with neighbors following three snow storms to dig ourselves out.

Primarily, however, I was alone.

Aside from my news addiction with early morning coffee, I avoided almost everything that has consumed most of my waking hours for five years - anything related to aging, blogging and the computer. I read a couple of books for pleasure, saw a couple of movies, got the cat to the vet for his annual vaccines, cleaned out all four junk drawers and spent about six hours over two days trying to unstick the E key on my laptop which, it now appears, I made worse. (Please do not ask how hard it is to write anything with a sticky E key.)

Other than that and an entire inauguration day glued to television, I cannot account for myself. Here, however, are the meager lessons I learned over these two-and-a-half, solo weeks:

  1. I am capable of thinking and doing absolutely nothing over a remarkably long period of time while feeling not a twinge of guilt and liking every moment of it.

  2. I am not capable of thinking clearly enough to arrive at any conclusions unless I am writing it – whatever IT is - while I think.

Not much to show for 18 days and that information is not entirely new, only reinforced and more acceptable to me than in the past. As unproductive as the time was, I feel so mentally refreshed that I have decided to continue this kind of blog hiatus on a semi-annual basis.

Some blog housekeeping notes:

ITEM: Feedburner, which delivers Time Goes By to many readers by RSS and email, has gone all wonky and miserable lately so new posts are sent out a day (and sometimes more) late. About a year ago, Feedburner was bought by Google which, I discovered in reading around the web, has a history of allowing acquisitions to deteriorate and there has been quite a lot of online complaint about the problems with Feedburner. I do not have a solution right now.

ITEM: Some stories for The Elder Storytelling Place have arrived (thank you so much) and that blog will resume posting new stories next Monday. If you’ve been thinking about sending a story, now would be a good time to do it. Instructions are here.

ITEM: During my sabbatical, a new regular column was inaugurated – The TGB Elder Geek from tech master extraordinaire, Virginia DeBolt. Her column will appear here twice a month and questions are welcome. So email (click the “contact” link at the top of the left sidebar) anything tech-oriented that puzzles you – about your computers, blogging, web questions, etc. and Virginia will do her best to make them easily understandable.

And remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question; if you're having trouble with it, undoubtedly someone else is too.

ITEM: If you sent an email during my hiatus that needs a reply, please resend. I’ve tried to cull them from my now overcrowded inbox, but have undoubtedly missed some.

ITEM: I fibbed, above, in explaining how I used my hiatus time: I did spend one afternoon updating the Elderbloggers List in the left sidebar. Here are 20 additions. Check them out; they’re all good elderblogs - not necessarily new, but new to the list.

20th Century Woman

Awaiting Buddha

Berry Blog

Chez Namastenancy

Country Roads

The Cyberspace Dawdler

Dying Man’s Daily Journal



How to Change the World

Lee Cantrell Speaks

Linda’s World

The Musings of a Middle-Aged Woman

Retired and Restless

Senior Health Moment

Sylvia from Over the Hill

Tread Softly

True Blue Quilting Nana

Unsilent Generation

A View from England

Again, a heartfelt thank you to all the guest elderbloggers. It was terrific to have all this time off knowing that Time Goes By was in such excellent hands.

Getting Rid of the Junk

EDITORIAL NOTE: This sabbatical/hiatus was planned to last two weeks which means I should be back today, but it will go on a a little longer. I will return on Thursday this week.

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Mike Nichols who blogs at Anxiety, Panic & Health which takes up much of his time. In it, he writes about the anxiety disorders and has several articles concerning anxiety among elders.

Mike lives with his wife and daughter in Columbus, Georgia, and is retired from the music and computer industries. Though trained as a classical musician, he loves the blues.

Three years ago my wife and I decided to move to a smaller house in a less expensive city. I had recently retired due to health reasons, and our income was halved.

Our house had two stories with a full basement, and every nook and cranny was stuffed with the detritus of 35 years of marriage, abandoned hobbies, two children and advanced packratism.

We soon came to realize that we had to think through this move, not only as to what we were going to do, but in terms of what it really meant and how it was going to affect us. The economic necessity was obvious, but if we just started throwing things this way and that, what would that accomplish but confusion and an impoverishment of spirit with less stuff?

After thinking and talking it over, we decided that what we wanted to have left are items that contribute to our quality of life, to the notions and habits that we hold dear, and to the things that help us live fulfilling lives.

In short, my wife and I came to view the move as less an economic necessity than as an opportunity to simplify our lives.

We gave away what we could: 37 cartons of books to a local book sale, a bedroom suite to a former student, darkroom equipment to my daughter's friend and even a car to the American Kidney Fund. We used Goodwill, FreeCycle, eBay, and several other agencies. What couldn't be given away or sold was tossed: We used five large construction dumpsters and could have used another.

Every item had its own story about the place it had held in our lives. Often we had to fight the urge to keep things due to sentimental reasons, but had to remember that we would have no place to put them in our new house. It was greatly liberating to get rid of those old monkeys that had been on our backs for so long.

Our "new" old house is charming, but has little more than a third of the square footage we enjoyed before. As is typical of houses of its vintage, it has few and small closets, no basement, and almost no attic storage. So we are still in the process of culling what we had already thought we had pared down to bare essentials.

Now our resolution to simplify our lives has hit a new challenge. My wife has lost her overtime hours, our investments have tanked and I am still not well enough to hold a job even if I could find one. What once was a sparse budget has become bare-bones.

Once again we are faced with making mindful decisions and taking measured actions when everything within us is screaming to panic.

Although our decisions ultimately will be about things that we can sell, services we can do without and what can be substituted for the things we want, our intention is to go beyond mere budgetary adjustments to making the process an opportunity for growth.

We found that though we have simplified our lives greatly, there is yet more work to do. Our principle of maintaining and enhancing our quality of life still has some major adjustments that need to be made.

For though we have gotten rid of a lot of physical stuff, our habits of mind have not changed. We are still the same people that are owned by the objects we accumulate, that are confused about the words "need" and "want," that are enslaved by the acquisitiveness coached by Madison Avenue and that grasp for the easiest solution to a problem.

More than clearing away the clutter of a lifetime together, we need to get rid of the junk that has accumulated in the corners of our minds over the decades. Cleaning out the habits of mind that have kept us chained for six-plus decades is much harder to do than simply tossing or selling junk or making budget cuts.

Still, our goal is not only maintaining our quality of life, but enhancing it. We are finding that we are appreciating what we do have more after having validated its place in our lives.

This is not an event that can be done in a weekend, or even in 50 weekends. It is a process, a journey toward a simplicity of mind and life that is truly liberating. Even in these trying times, it makes the future an exciting place to be.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Cover-Up from Frank Paynter. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Comparing Apples to Apples in Healthcare

EDITORIAL NOTE: This sabbatical/hiatus was planned to last two weeks which means I should have been back on Monday, but it will go on a a little longer. I will return on Thursday this week.

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is AQ who blogs at Always Question.

He is a grandfather, a retired Navy Corpsman and a Red Cross Disaster Services Volunteer. “Otherwise,” says AQ, “I’m just a guy.”

I came across an article recently which served to remind me that, as the Obama administration moves to address health care reform, the insurance and health care industry lobbies are going to be formidable influences on the finished product. I think it is critically important that we as consumers become aware of what is at stake and make our voices heard.

At the risk of sounding like another whacked-out conspiracy theorist, it occurs to me that the media may be playing for the other team on this issue, and by other team I mean the insurance industry.

Insurance companies have nothing to do with health care. They take money from us and they pay it to providers unless they can find of a way to keep it. Meanwhile, as corporate media outlets lose readership or viewers, the revenue from advertisers becomes increasingly important to their bottom line.

This headline from Reuters, More Suffering From Chronic Illnesses, and other pieces trumpeting the spiraling cost of health care could lead one to believe that universal health care is unsustainable and/or unaffordable. But we're not necessarily getting the whole story. As we speak, the health care industry and the insurance industry (they are not the same) are stacking the numbers.

I don't think anyone would dispute an increase in type 2 diabetes. Our appetite for processed carbohydrates is well documented by now. Our unhealthy lifestyles are probably also responsible to a great extent for an increase in high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

At the same time, the industry has also been lowering the diagnostic bar on some of these conditions. Cholesterol used to be high at 250, then 200 and now there is movement to treat people with a low density lipid level over 100. The same has been happening with blood pressure with an upper number above 120 now being called "prehypertension."

In 2004, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began taking the risk out of Medicare risk contracts with payments adjusted for risk through a model called Hierarchical Conditions Coding. The purpose of this scheme was to "appropriately" reimburse insurance companies for the necessary care of Medicare enrollees. (My question then is, why are the taxpayers paying for a Medicare Advantage Plan at all? If they bear no risk then they are superfluous cost centers.)

The upshot has been coding classes held throughout the health care industry to learn to combine diagnosis codes for maximum reimbursement from CMS.

For instance, I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol (and history of cancer and I'm fat, etc.). As a commercial patient, my doctor gets paid to refill my blood pressure meds and/or my cholesterol pills. When I become Medicare eligible, if I choose to join a Medicare HMO, the insurance company will be reimbursed for every condition I've ever had so long as they can document that I've had it (and they're pushing for universal electronic medical records).

If I never show another cancer cell, the American taxpayer will still pay for my cancer. The example they typically use in class is diabetes, and with correct coding they can quadruple the monthly payment from CMS.

There are going to be challenges in implementing universal health care. One heart/lung transplant can fund a prenatal program for a small town for a year or more, and we will need to talk about those things.

I'm just saying that when I see a report that ends with a comment on how hard it's going to be for us to implement universal health care with the world's most expensive health care system, it makes me wonder. Reuters never does cite the specific reports they're getting this "information" from.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, Gilbert Lake from Joy Des Jardins. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

My New Year's Revolution: The Supplement War

EDITORIAL NOTE: This sabbatical/hiatus was planned to last two weeks which means I should be back today, but it will go on a a little longer. I will return on Thursday this week.

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today it is Elaine Frankonis, who blogs at Kalilily Time and is one of the earliest elders to take up blogging. She is currently on hiatus while she settles herself into her new home and deals with other of her life's escalating complexities.

No, that's not a misspelling. “Resolution” is just not a strong enough effort. I need a Revolution – a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving.

Actually, I need to make several revolutions, but I'm starting with one I might be able to win.


That is just a part of the stash of supplements that I've accumulated in my search for the magic pill that will revitalize my joints, curb my night-time munchies, keep dementia at bay and minimize the rest of the troubling effects of aging. Do any of them work? Well, it's hard for me to say because now I have so many of them that I rarely take any of them.

So, I've decided to make some surgical strikes at my supplement collection, eliminate the least likely to succeed and come up with a reasonable number of pills to take every day. I have already thrown out all diet remedies (many of which were still unopened).

Supplements cannot replace the nutrients in whole foods, but those of us over 65 – especially if we live alone – too often don't bother to cook well-balanced meals just for ourselves. Following my doctor's advice, I already take a multivitamin as well as extra calcium. I'm also a believer in the benefits of certain herbs, so when I go to the appointment with my new doctor (I just moved to another state), I will bring a list of all the supplements I want to take.

If you decide to take supplements, there are some guidelines you should follow:

  • Check the supplement label. Read labels carefully. Product labels can tell you what the active ingredient or ingredients are, which nutrients are included, the serving size - for example, capsule, packet or teaspoonful - and the amount of nutrients in each serving.

  • Avoid supplements that provide “megadoses.” In general, choose a multivitamin-mineral supplement that provides about 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of all the vitamins and minerals, rather than one which has, for example, 500 percent of the DV for one vitamin and only 20 percent of the DV for another. The exception to this is calcium. You may notice that calcium-containing supplements don't provide 100 percent of the DV. If they did, the tablets would be too large to swallow. More importantly, divide your calcium intake throughout the day.

  • Look for “USP” on the label. This ensures that the supplement meets the standards for strength, purity, disintegration and dissolution established by the testing organization U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).

  • Look for expiration dates. Dietary supplements can lose potency over time, especially in hot and humid climates. If a supplement doesn't have an expiration date, don't buy it. If your supplements have expired, discard them.

  • Store all vitamin and mineral supplements safely. Store dietary supplements in a dry, cool place. Avoid hot, humid storage locations, such as in the bathroom.

  • Store supplements out of sight and away from children. Put supplements in a locked cabinet or other secure location. Don't leave them on the counter or rely on child-resistant packaging.

I've been taking All-One for Active Seniors for years. It's a powdered multi-vitamin that I make into a shake each morning with V-8 Fusion juice (one fruity serving of vegetables).

All-One is the only powdered vitamin that I have been able to find that contains decent doses of a variety of nutrients – especially vitamins C, D and E, calcium, the B vitamins and folic acid.. The concoction doesn't win the aging war, but it does keep the forces in formation. And having my daily vitamins in a shake means that's one or more fewer pills I have to take.

Since I have problems with joint and muscle inflammation, I'll keep the Zyflamend AM and PM. A current Columbia study is examining the positive effects of this supplement on prostate cancer. While that's certainly no personal concern of mine, the herbal ingredients of Zyflamend might help with what does keep me awake at night. The bottle calls for two pills in the morning and two at bedtime. I'm going to start with one each time.

Okay. That's one vitamin shake and two pills (one in the AM and one in the PM) a day – a small battle that should be winnable.

But I think that I also should take something that might bring some reinforcements to my vulnerable (and venerable) brain. Phosphatidylserine supposedly helps to strengthen the brain's ability to remember. According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Phosphatidylserine is a dietary supplement that has received a great deal of interest as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease and other memory problems. Most studies involving phosphatidylserine indicate a benefit — improved cognitive abilities and behaviors. However, it seems to be most effective in people with the least severe symptoms.”

You can get phosphatidylserine from various manufacturers. My bottle says “one softgel three times a day.” So, now I'm up to five pills a day, and that doesn't count the three prescription meds I take daily. I'm almost at my limit.

I discovered Acai long before Oprah, but like most of my other supplements, it had not seen any action in my daily regimen. Given the publicity it's gotten, it might be worth incorporating into my supplement strategy. My bottle says one pill daily.

Six supplement pills are almost more than I can grapple with each day, but if I can do that, the revolution will have been successful.

Of course, I'm faced with the problem that I have several other supplements in pill form from which I could benefit. It will be hard enough to remember to take the six pills on my list, but I'll keep them around just in case I get to a point at which I need to expand the battle front. They are all helpful in certain health-related situations:

Because they are not pills, there are two additional remedies I keep around in case I need them. Oregano oil is an anti-viral, and sublingual melatonin helps me fall asleep.

Six supplements, not counting three prescription drugs and a vitamin shake to ingest daily. It's going to be a challenge to remember to take them all, but at least now I can trash my stockpile of other supplements that never saw any action in my body in the first place.

It's going to be a continuing battle to keep from succumbing to advertisements for supplements that will protect my brain or revitalize my body. Developing spending self-control is, obviously, another personal revolution I need to fire up. And, given the projected state of my 2009 economy, that's going to be more necessary than ever.

I wish us all a healthily revolutionary new year.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, Svenka Brolopp (Swedish Wedding) from Alexandra Grabbe. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]


Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today it is 68-year-old Steven, who blogs at Projections. He lives in Orland, California, with his wife and a cat. He was a serious racewalker (the “funny” walk, says Steven) until this year. He was a carpenter for 30 years, became an IT guy and programmer/instructor and did that for 16 years. He dabbles in all forms of art and he journals.

When Ronni asked if I might be able to submit an article for use on Time Goes By while she was away, my first thought was to read through my daily journal and see if there was anything worth mentioning. Or reading.

Then it came to me. Journaling is what I would write about. And in my mind, journaling is something that should come naturally to an elder. Okay, I'm wrong about that. Journaling has to be learned and practiced. But it is something that should be done by each of us as a gift to those who follow us.

I remember that I came up with the idea of journaling sometime after my father died. It wasn't a moment of revelation; it slowly dawned on me that I didn't know very much about my father's history. And now I wouldn't be able to know about those things that made him “dad.” And I counted that as one more loss.

At the time, I was a young father and it struck me that I should leave something of me for my children, my grandchildren. I don't think this desire to leave something of yourself is about ego as much as it is about the basic human need to share our story as we pursue the question, why are we here? Without my father's story, I was at a loss for some answers, but my children would know more than I. Those were my good intentions.

Some years went by before I tried a hand-written journal. That was a failure. A few years in the medical field had ruined any skill I might have had at penmanship and I couldn't even read my own entries. How would my children make sense of them? It would be almost ten years before I found the perfect solution - the personal computer and a word processing program, Pro-Write.

I started journaling in August of 1990, August 3rd to be exact, followed by a very brief entry on the 4th. And that was the end of that exercise for almost two months. Unfortunately, that is how the first year went as I slowly developed the habit of writing daily. With each successive year, the entries grew in length and frequency. It was becoming a habit and a good one.

It's now 18-plus years later and I rarely miss a day of writing. And every entry is usually a page in length. In fact, I wrote 449 pages in 2008.

And along the way I became a blogger and now I use the journal to help me with that. No, I don't post my daily journal entry verbatim, I cut and paste and then edit ruthlessly. Some things are meant to stay within the family!

Although the journal was meant as a way for my descendents to gain some knowledge of their own place in time and how they came to be, I have found the journal to be an even better way for me to learn more about myself. I can go back to earlier entries and read about what I believed and how I felt on a certain day in history. I can go back and read of the joy, and yes, the pain of some of those days. I can see myself change over the years. Yes, I'm a “waffler.”

I can even pinpoint when I first noticed my physical condition changing. Yikes! I'm growing old! But that knowledge is handy when you have to talk to the doctor. Do you like to reminisce? A journal is the greatest for that!

With the computers and software of today, your journal can be as elaborate or as plain as you want it to be. Mine is kept in yearly volumes and my later ones contain photos and hyperlinks. That makes for fairly large file sizes and you will need a decent computer to make it work smoothly, but it's worth any effort you have to make.

Elaborate, plain or in between, it's definitely a worthy project. Someone, somewhere and sometime, will thank you.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, In the Kitchen from Nikki Stern. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

The Last Hurrah

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Mort Reichek who blogs at Octogenarian and divides his year between New Jersey and Florida.

I've never been much of a joiner. But two organizations to which I have belonged have had a very special meaning for me. One was the CBI Veterans Association., a national organization of men who served in China, Burma and India during World War II.

The other was an informal group of guys who had been in the 893rd Signal Co. in India and had banded together after the war as a sort of alumni society so that they could keep in touch as civilians. I was an honorary member of the group.

I have been a member of the CBI Veterans Association's local "basha" in south Florida, where I have a winter home. A "basha" is the official designation of the organization's local units. Instead of setting up "posts" like the American Legion and VFW, the CBI vets named their local units after the flimsy, grass-thatched structures that served as U.S. military barracks in India.

For many years, I have attended the basha's luncheon meetings, where we enthusiastically reminisced about our experiences in the CBI. Forced to listen again and again to the same stories from grizzled old men trying to recall our youthful adventures in exotic lands, I question whether my wife--or the other wives in attendance--shared our enthusiasm about the luncheon meetings.

Although I was never assigned to the 893rd Signal Co., my own outfit, the 903rd Signal Co., was stationed together with the 893rd at the same base, the Bengal Air Depot, a U.S. Army base in Titagharh, a village about 60 miles outside Calcutta. We lived and worked together for more than a year, and many of the men in the two outfits became close buddies.

The 903rd had been stationed in Egypt before it arrived in India in the spring of 1944. I had landed in India a few months earlier and was assigned to the company, which was under strength. Over the next year, there was considerable personnel turnover in the outfit as the men with lengthy overseas duty were shipped home and were replaced by newcomers to India.

The 893rd was a far more cohesive group, however, whose members had been together for many years. When the war was over, they decided to create a sort of alumni club so that they could keep in touch. Over the years, they held annual reunions and published a newsletter.

I had many close friends in the 893rd. As a result, I was considered an honorary member and was put on its mailing list. I was invited but never attended its reunions. I always looked forward, however, to the newsletter to learn about the civilian lives of men I had known as fellow soldiers.

For a half a century, I corresponded with several of my 893rd friends, and visited two of them while on business and vacation trips to California. Sadly, I learned of their deaths in the newsletter about ten years ago.

A more cheerful newsletter article reported that another 893rd alumnus, Abe Schumer, whom I had known well, was the father of New York's Senator Chuck Schumer. I found a picture of Abe in a box of wartime photos at home. I mailed the picture to the Senator and was delighted to receive a phone call from his father.

By coincidence, Abe had been planning to visit a former Long Island neighbor who now lived in my New Jersey community. He called me when he arrived at her home, and we had a delightful chat comparing notes on how we had fared since the war so many years ago.

Last year the national CBI organization's quarterly newsletter stopped coming in the mail. Nor did I receive announcements about 893rd Signal Co. reunions and the luncheon-meetings of the national association's Florida basha.

For me, the silence represents the last hurrah for my fellow World War II veterans who served in the CBI. We're now old men, and there are obviously not enough of us still around to maintain our "alumni" groups, which had enabled us to reminisce about our wartime experiences in China, Burma and India. At least, we will no longer be boring our wives with our exotic tales of adventure.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, Rowing the Boat of Life from Claude Covo-Farchi. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Select, Cut, Paste and Copy

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am pleased and delighted today to announce that Virginia DeBolt is joining the Time Goes By family of contributors with a new, regular column, Elder Geek. It will appear twice a month and as she explains below, Virginia is here to clear up the mysteries of computers and the web and give you some tips and tricks to make it all easier. Sometimes these will be the basics and sometimes it will be more complex information.

Virginia has written two how-to books on technology, contributes tech articles around the web and on her own tech blog, WebTeacher. She also keeps a writing blog, First 50 Words. You can find out more about Virginia in her TGB bio here.

Although Virginia cannot answer individually, your questions and suggestions for possible inclusion in future Elder Geek columns are welcome. You will find a link to email them at the bottom of this, Virginia’s first Elder Geek column.

Greetings to the readers of Time Goes By. Ronni asked me to join the fray here and contribute some geeky tips for her readers. I'm happy to do that and hope you learn something new and useful from my columns.

Very few elders are what we call the kids today: digital natives. Digital natives are those people growing up now who use a computer every day as an indispensable part of normal life. They absorb its intricacies through osmosis.

Elders, on the other hand, may have been presented with a computer late in life. Maybe someone taught them how to turn it on and how they could get email and photos. That may be where the lessons stopped.

For that reason, we're going to devote many of the Elder Geek columns to helping you learn the basics. The first is how to select, cut, paste and copy.

You can highlight (or select) text in anything you are typing: an email, a Word document, a web page or a blog post you're writing. In this image, you see some words I've selected highlighted with a blue background in a blog post. The highlighting isn't always blue, but it does show you exactly what you have selected.


To select something, position the cursor at the beginning. Click to position the cursor where you want it, then continue to hold down the left mouse button and drag with the mouse to highlight and select everything you want. Stop dragging and release the mouse button.

This can be tricky for various reasons. Sometimes you want to select so much that you scroll down the page and it's hard to stop scrolling where you want. Or you may have mobility problems controlling the mouse.

There's a different way to highlight that may be easier. Position the cursor at the beginning by clicking and releasing the mouse button. Next press the Shift key and hold it down. Now find the end of what you want to select and click to place the mouse cursor in that position. Everything from where you first clicked to where you last clicked will be selected. Release the Shift key. That's called shift-clicking.

When something is highlighted, whatever you do next is applied to the selected material. If you press the space bar, everything that was highlighted turns into a space. If you press the delete key, everything that was highlighted is deleted. If you type “oops" on the keyboard, everything that was selected turns to the word oops.

If you do something to highlighted material that you didn't mean to do, you can undo it. Most software has an Undo command in the menu under Edit. Some software only lets you undo the last thing you did, some software will undo several times. Think of Undo as the oops key. To undo using the keyboard type Ctrl-Z (press both keys at the same time). On a Mac, undo is Cmd-Z. The image shows Undo in the software I'm using. Your software may not look exactly the same, but it will be in the Edit menu.


When something is selected, you can Cut it. Cut is under the Edit menu too. You can also cut using the keyboard commands Ctrl-X (Cmd-X on a Mac).

Cutting isn't the same thing as deleting. When you cut something it disappears, but it is not deleted. It is temporarily stored in a little memory bank on your computer called the clipboard. The clipboard only remembers one thing. So if you cut something, it will be on the clipboard until you use it or put something else on the clipboard in its place.

What's the purpose of storing things you've cut in the clipboard? It's because you may want to paste it somewhere else. Which brings us to pasting.

I do a lot of cutting and pasting. My first draft is always a mess. I have to move things around into better order. Moving sentences, paragraphs, even a whole lot of paragraphs, is just a matter of cutting and pasting.

You highlight the material to select it. You cut it. Then you move to the place in the document where you want to paste. Click once to insert the cursor in the position you want. Then paste. Paste using the Edit menu or by typing Ctrl-V (Cmd-V on a Mac) on the keyboard.

You don't have to paste within the same document. It's possible to cut something from one document and paste it into a completely different document.

Select the material you want to copy. Choose Copy under the Edit menu. To copy with the keyboard, type Ctrl-C (Cmd-C on a Mac). You'll notice that the highlighted material stays put. But everything you just copied is now in the clipboard.

Move to the place where you want to paste the copied information. This can be just about anywhere. You can copy out of Word and paste it in an email. You can copy something off a web page and paste it in Word. You can copy from one place to another in the same document.

When you've found the place where you want to insert the copied material, you paste. Paste using the Edit menu or by typing Ctrl-V (Cmd-V on a Mac) on the keyboard. The original material is unchanged, but a copy is now pasted into the new location of your choice.

Copied material is saved on the clipboard. That means you can only copy one thing at a time. Copy and paste, then copy and paste the next thing. Whatever you last cut or copied is what is on the clipboard.

Another helpful item in the Edit menu is Select All. Use it to select everything in a whole document. The keyboard command is Ctrl-A (Cmd-A on a Mac). You can copy a whole Word document and paste it into an email or a blog post by selecting it this way.


If you're steady with the mouse, there's an advanced technique that you may like. Once you have something selected, you can use the mouse to drag it into a new spot. This is faster than cutting and pasting.

Select the material you want to move. Click anywhere inside the highlighted area with the left mouse button and continue to hold the button down. Use the mouse to drag the selected material to the new location. Let go of the left mouse button. The material drops into the new spot. This is called drag-and-drop. This technique is used to drag and drop anything.

All the tips you just learned involve the Edit menu. Depending on the software you use, you may find other helpful menu commands in the Edit menu as well. Don't be afraid to explore them and find out what they do.

You can email your questions or suggestions here for future Elder Geek columns. Virginia cannot answer individually, but she may use them as topics for future posts.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine from kenju. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

The Letter

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is 80-year-old Nancy Leitz, well-known to readers of The Elder Storytelling Place for her frequent contributions there.

“I love to write the stories that my children ask me about,” says Nancy. “It all started when they would say, ‘Mom, what happened that time Uncle Bob came here in the middle of the night?’ Then I would tell how my brother, Bob, (The former pope) was looking for his dog who had been missing etc, etc,. They would laugh at the story and say, ‘You should write these stories down, Mom, so the kids that are too little now can hear them later.’

“That's how it all began. As I commented to someone at The Elder Storytelling Place the other day, you should write down as many experiences as you can because if you don't, the stories will be lost forever. I said that when an old person dies, it is like the library burnt down.”

Nancy and her husband of 58 years, Roy, live near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 25 miles from Philadelphia. She has four children and eight grandchildren.

Roy's brother, Ernie, was a bachelor all of his life. When he was a young man his father, who was a baker, wanted Ernie to follow in his footsteps and also become a baker, but Ernie had other ideas. He was very mechanically inclined and wanted to be a welder.

He had been born in 1914 and by the time he was 18, it was the height of the Depression and there were not many opportunities for young men. But being a welder was something he felt he could turn into a business for himself.

Pop Leitz was furious and insisted he become a baker, but Mom saw the benefits of being a mechanic and having a good skill and slipped him the money to go to welding school. He became a very good welder.

In 1937, before the Second World War started, Ernie went to enlist in the Marine Corps, but was turned down by them because he had a deformed finger (He had caught it in a machine).

He then heard of a man named Rice who taught welding in the Philadelphia schools and also had a shop in southwest Philadelphia. Ernie went to work for Mr. Rice and learned even more about welding by doing so many jobs on oil tanks that were being installed in everyone's house to replace the old coal fired furnaces.

Eventually, Mr. Rice sold the business to Ernie and now he was the proud owner of Paschall Welding Co. which he ran for four successful years, both teaching and doing regular welding work.

At the time of the Second World War in 1941, he was called before the draft board and again turned down for service because, by this time ,he had a welding school and that skill was vital to the war effort.

He was ordered to report to Cramp's Shipyard on the Delaware River in North Philadelphia. His assignment was to teach welding so that the shipyard had a steady supply of skilled workers. He stayed at Cramp's for the duration of the war and when he was released from there, he joined Steamfitter's Local 420 in Philadelphia as a journeyman welder.

In 1949, he met a girl named Pat who was a dancer in various clubs in the city. Being a dancer did not endear her to Mom Leitz and so she discouraged Ernie from seeing Pat. They continued to date against Mom's wishes but Ernie never brought her to Mom's house again because he knew she disapproved.

Pat kept very late hours because of her career and it made Mom angry when Pat would call at 2AM to speak to Ernie. One of Ernie's friends owed him some money for work he had done and paid him by giving him a small cottage he owned in the woods by the Perkiomen Creek. Ernie began to fix the cottage up and that became a place where he and Pat could see each other without Mom's interference.

This went on for years and I always wondered if they would marry. But it was not to be. Then I heard that Pat had married someone else and had moved to California. I thought that was the last of her, but it was not over yet.

Over the succeeding years, Ernie remained the bachelor uncle who was very good to the kids. Once, he bought our Chris a red tractor that you sat on and rode down the sidewalk. It had a gear shift and horn. The kids loved it.

One day Ernie was coming down Greenway Avenue and there was Chris driving the tractor as fast as it would go with Steve running behind him crying for a turn. That was more than Ernie could stand. That evening after dinner, our front door opened and in came Uncle Ernie with another bright red tractor for Steve. It was such a nice thing to do.

Everybody remembers Uncle Ernie on Christmas. He would come in to his sister, Sue's, house and sit in a chair with a stack of 20-dollar bills and the kids would line up in front of him. He would ask, "And who are you?"

"I'm Andy Wurzbach."

"Whose kid are you?"


"Oh. you're Norman's daughter. OK here's your twenty. Next…”

"I'm Carol, Roy's daughter"

“Okay, here's your money, Merry Christmas...”

And on and on it went until all the kids had their gift. The kids still talk about those Christmas days and Uncle Ernie.

Sometime in the 1980s, Ernie told Roy that he was no longer answering the phone because Pat had been calling him from California. He set up a signal for Roy to use so he would know it was Roy and would answer.

It seems Pat's husband had died a few years before and although she and Ernie had never really lost contact, they had not seen each other since Pat had left. Now it seems she was calling.

We asked Ernie why he didn't want to talk to her. He told us that he DID want to talk to her, but that he wanted to make the call because he didn't want Pat to have to pay for a long distance call. In those days long distance was a big deal to Ernie. So, abiding by his wishes, we always rang once, hung up, and rang again.

On Christmas Day 1991, we were having Christmas dinner at Roy and Nancy's and were waiting for Ernie to come in. He was usually late for everything, but this time he was really late. Uncle Arthur had not come because Aunt Betty was not feeling well, so we called and asked him to take his key and go to Front Street and see if everything was all right with Ernie.

Unfortunately, he called to say that he had found Ernie dead at the bottom of the stairs in the dining room. Roy left immediately to take care of things and came back to sadly report that Ernie had apparently had a heart attack and had died.

The next day, we went to Ernie's house to see what had to be done and to carry out the arrangements he had said he wanted Roy to take care of for him. While we were there I noticed a letter addressed to Pat, all ready to go, sealed and stamped. I didn't know what to do with it.

Suppose it was written to tell her not to call him anymore. Maybe he was writing to say to stay out of his life now. Who knows what was in that letter? I took it home with me and said a prayer to St. Anthony to guide me on whether or not to mail it. What should I do?

I was really torn. I didn't want to send her anything that would hurt her, but having no idea what it said I hesitated. What I finally did was write Pat a letter explaining that Ernie had died and that I had found this letter to her and was sending it because Ernie wanted her to have it. In the envelope with my letter, I enclosed the unopened letter from Ernie.

About a week later, a letter came from California. I actually shook while I opened it. What would she say to me? What she said was, "Thank you, thank you for sending Ernie's letter to me. In the letter he told me that he had always loved me and that when he felt better he was going to come to California to see me."

I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was a letter in which he said all the things she had wanted to hear for years.

Pat and I kept in touch for a few years after that and then her daughter wrote to tell me that she, too, had died. I have always been happy that something told me to send her the letter.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, Curiosity from Norm Jenson. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Old Age is Not For Sissies

[Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is 79-year-old Chancy who blogs (avidly) at driftwood inspiration from Georgia where she was born and raised.

She has been married for 57 years, has three children and six grandchildren, four of whom, age 4 through 12, live nearby. “I was born to be a grandma,” says Chancy, “and I am good at the job.”

I had a positive role model for aging; my mother, who never let the vicissitudes of life get her down. My father died in 1939, when I was nine and my mother was only forty- five.

Times were hard for us but she made sure we got by. No luxuries but since it was during the Depression and World War 2, I did not feel poor. Most everyone was in the same boat. We even had ration coupons for shoes. I did not feel deprived wearing the same pair of saddle oxfords and one pair of penny loafers all through high school. Scarcity was the norm during the war years.

My mother didn't moan and cry about being left a widow with a small child. She had nowhere to turn for financial or emotional support. In 1939 at age, 45, she was considered too “old“ to teach school. She had been a school teacher years before in a one-room school house. There was no demand for someone of her “advanced age” in the local schools. Besides it was during the Depression, but somehow she made do.

Later on, after I married, my mother lived with us for thirteen years. Not always a bed of roses but she was wonderful with our children, and my husband was an understanding, caring person who welcomed her into our home.

She was a positive person filled with a strong faith in life and God. She remained so until she died at the age of 91. She suffered greatly at the end, but she endured with grace and dignity.

I want "just one more day" to sit and talk with her and tell her I understand so much better now the rough times she encountered as she aged.. I am sure she would have some invaluable insight she could share with me, her 79-year-old daughter.

Since I can no longer learn from my mother, I searched the web for insight into old age. Some years back, Art Linkletter had a popular TV show. Then later, his lecture tour was entitled "Old Age Is Not for Sissies,” also the title of his 23rd book. Art was born in 1912, and is still living at age 96.

“Spend your time doing what you love. If you’re working. If you decide to retire. Fill your days with your passion. Get satisfaction. Create joy,” he says.

“Share yourself, your time and your money with others. Get involved. Nothing creates more health and happiness than doing something for others. You’ll live longer.

“Find a great family doctor. Get to know him or her. See them a couple times a year and follow their advice.”

Linkletter says his life was saved more than once by good medical intervention.

“Love your family. That is your rock. Your place of strength. Value them, love them.”

We can learn from positive examples of those who have successfully traveled the road to old age before us.

Prayer in Old Age, attributed to a 17th Century nun:

"Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am getting older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

“Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

“Keep my mind from the recital of endless details - give me the wings to come to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

“I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

“Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken. Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.

“Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and the talents in unexpected people. And give me the grace to tell them so."

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Art of Dying from Alan G. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

An Inauguration For the Ages

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman writes the bi-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. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections I have always had mixed feelings about the seven inaugurations I’ve covered because they fell on my wedding anniversary and I had to work and leave my wife to celebrate alone.

Not this time, for this one belongs to the ages, as someone once said. And I’ll be at home, warm and watching, and celebrating with my Evelyn and considering those other times.

Most of us of a certain age have said at one time or another that things - education, entertainment, music, movie stars, sex - were better back then. And inevitably someone reminds us that every generation says that.

That may be true. Maybe nostalgia is a sign of age. But that doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

Mine is a generation with memory. And I’m here to insist that in one realm with which I am familiar – politics - we have come a long way down in the last 20 years or so.

Perhaps that is about to change, for my hope and expectation is that beginning now, Barack Obama and team, as well as many of the new members of Congress, will reintroduce us to civility in politics and restore it as a calling for public service. That’s the politics my generation has grown up with.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sanguine or overly romantic about the rough and tumble of politics. I learned about what has been called “the art of the possible,” in Texas as a cub reporter for The Houston Chronicle. This gang that is leaving did not practice politics, as I’ve known and written about it. There was only take, and no give. There was deception, downright lying, hypocrisy and self aggrandizement. There was no love for the institutions of our republic and almost no public service.

But I digress: My early political teachers included Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice-president, John Nance (Cactus Jack) Garner, who I was sent to interview on his 96th birthday in Uvalde, Texas. He’s the fellow who, when John Kennedy asked Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate, advised Johnson that the vice-presidency “isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss.”

Garner, who served two terms with Roosevelt, then broke with him because he felt FDR was too liberal, confirmed that was what he said. Nevertheless, he praised LBJ, who as a New Deal congressman brought an old people’s home to Austin by getting the contract to build it for a Texas firm that became a supporter.

Thus Johnson was also one of my teachers and he and his fellow Texan, Sam Rayburn, virtually ran the country for a while, when Johnson was the Senate majority leader and Rayburn was House speaker and Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Johnson was the personification of the wheeler-dealer and one of my favorite stories about his political style comes from a Texas novel about him. Asked if he believed in the political maxim, “half a loaf is better than none,” Johnson replied, “Hell, one slice’ll do.”

I also covered the new Republican county chairman, in Houston, Harris County, George H. W. Bush, who, with his eastern finishing school-bred wife, Barbara, were a breath of fresh, civilized air among the generally racist, UN-hating right-wingers, mostly former Democrats who eventually took over the party of Lincoln. Looking back, Barry Goldwater seems a moderate; the elder Bush was a throwback to noblesse oblige.

The murder of John F. Kennedy had given Johnson great power and new stature when I arrived in Washington in 1965 to cover the Congress for the Knight Newspapers and the Detroit Free Press. Johnson, of course, was president and Hubert Humphrey, who had been one of Minnesota’s senators, was vice-president.

They were an odd couple; Johnson the southerner who grew up with segregation and Humphrey, the northern liberal who had driven Strom Thurmond out of the Democratic Party on the issue of race. But together, they gave the country activist, liberal government the like of which had not been seen since the New Deal.

But – and I’m getting to my point – they did it with the help of a Congress, especially the Senate, filled with people who I believe were deeply committed to politics as public service. Many of them had come from service in World War II into reform politics. And like several of the Vietnam and Iraq veterans now serving, they came to make a difference.

The House of Representatives of the 90th Congress had its stars – John McCormack was speaker, Gerald Ford was the minority leader. But the bigger names who personified what was best in American politics at that time were in the U.S. Senate.

I’ll name a few, in no special order, and you’ll see what I mean.

After Humphrey, his successors in Minnesota were Walter Mondale, a future vice-president, and Eugene McCarthy, both of whom eventually ran for president.

William Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson, of Wisconsin, the latter a father of the modern environmental movement and Earth Day.

Philip A. Hart, of Michigan, a war hero who was called “the conscience of the Senate.”

Wayne Morse, of Oregon, who had the courage to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that put us into the Vietnam War.

J. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, who challenged his own party’s president to end the war.

Sam Ervin, of North Carolina, a constitutional scholar who got to the sordid truth in Watergate.

George McGovern, of South Dakota, who fought Richard Nixon on the Vietman War.

Robert F. Kennedy of New York, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Edmund Muskie of Maine, Frank Church of Idaho, Henry (Scoop) Jackson of Washington, Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut, whose hearings made Ralph Nader famous and Mike Mansfield, of Montana, the gentleman majority leader.

The Republicans also included people of stature who believed in politics as public service, among them, Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the minority leader; Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the only woman in the Senate; Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the first black since Reconstruction; Jacob K. Javits, of New York; James Pearson of Kansas; Howard Baker of Tennessee; Charles Percy of Illinois; and Mark Hatfield of Oregon.

Sure, there were a few louts and know-nothings, like Republican Roman Hruska, of Nebraska, who once said the “mediocre” people needed representation on the Supreme Court; or segregationists Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and James Eastland of Mississippi.

But when the time came and Johnson wheeled and dealed and appealed to their better nature, Republicans helped Democrats break southern filibusters and to pass a series of landmark civil rights bills, as well as the gems of the Great Society, Medicare and Medicaid and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, all of which stand today.

All that ended with the first inaugural I covered – that of Richard Nixon, on January 20, 1969. I watched Johnson and Ladybird smile with relief at the moment, at noon, when their burden was lifted. But they had accomplished much. The nightmare year of 1968 was over.

You know what happened next. The brand of politics I loved and enjoyed was brought down, eventually, to Al D’Amato and Ted Stevens. I believe the most important single cause – which stands as a lesson for the new political generation – was a corrosive, expensive and unnecessary war.

We’ve waited a long time for an inaugural that gives us hope for a return to some good old days. Hail to the Chief!

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, Aunt Sue and the Electric Typewriter from Nancy Leitz. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

A Few Odd Moments in the IT Industry

[Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By.

Today, it is Peter Tibbles, from Australia, who sent along this bio:

I was born in a small country town in western Victoria (Nhill, in case you're interested and it's pronounced nil) and lived there for my first thirteen years, writes Peter Mum was very happy there (that's where she was born) but dad thought he'd like to give his kiddies the best education possible. He said I could keep going as long as I won scholarships (as he didn't have much money).

Well, I was a bit of a smart-fart and did just that [that sounds a bit big-headed]. So, we came to the big smoke (Melbourne) and I eventually went to Melbourne University, initially as a physics major but I switched to mathematics as it entailed less work and was easier.

I eventually stumbled into the IT industry when mum thrust The Age in front of me (after I'd been lounging around at home for a couple of months) and said, 'There's a job for a computer programmer. Go get it.'

I married in 1971 and divorced not long afterwards. No kids (which means, of course, that I never grew up). Although technically not a baby boomer (I was born a year or so too early), I share many of the values of the older boomers - not worrying about the future especially. This is the reason I'm still working.

Peter also enclosed his short bio:

I drink wine
I listen to music
I read books
Often at the same time.

I may not be the oldest person working in the IT industry, or one who has spent the longest time doing this. However, I think I'd come close, certainly on the second count.

I thought when I started this I'd do it until something more interesting came along. Maybe as a fabulously well-paid, best-selling author, someone Paul Auster would look up to (oops, perhaps that should be Peter Carey). Or perhaps a great rock guitarist. Someone who would make Robbie Robertson think twice about playing alongside.

However, apart from the odd piece on TimeGoesBy and trying to get to the end of "Stage Fright" before the arthritis kicks in, I haven't given up the day job yet.

I started in this business in 1967. It's been 42 years now. The first computer I worked on, and this is for the folks who appreciate these things, was an IBM 360-20. This was a giant machine that had its own air-conditioned room. It was about the size of four refrigerators laid on their side. High enough to lean on (which we did quite often). This had 20K of memory, no disk, no terminal.

It had a card reader and punch, a printer and four tape drives. To compile a program required the computer to read it from the card reader, burble away for a long time, backwards and forwards on the tape drives and eventually spit out the program on the card punch.

This process took so long that we quickly learned to write efficient, accurate programs. If there was a mistake we couldn't repeat the process until the next day. Try telling that to the young folks today and they won't believe you (sorry, I couldn't resist that).

There were some positives about this industry. One was being able to travel and be paid for it. It resulted in my spending some considerable time in the USA (that's travel for a young lad from Australia) in a few of the more entertaining parts - San Francisco, Boston, Albuquerque and Los Angeles.

An interesting point, as we are on TimeGoesBy: about ten years ago I was on a contract for a development that had to be completed rather quickly, about a year or so - that's quick in this business. There were eight contractors brought in to do the job. Not one of us was under fifty years old.

The job came in on time and under budget (as they say in Hollywood). Actually, I don't know about the budget bit, but as it was on time I assume this was so. Imagine that. A bunch of fifty-plus folks doing cutting-edge IT work. Tell that to the young folks (etc).

I was out of work for a couple of years not so long ago which did nasty things to my bank account. The company I was working for (actually as a contractor, not an employee) decided I was surplus to requirements. Oh dear, check the job adverts.

I'd apply for jobs and pretty much always get an interview. However, you could see it in their eyes: "Hmm, I'd be employing my father. What does he know about computers?" Sometimes even grand-father. "What's this old codger doing here? My grand-dad doesn't even know how to turn on a computer." Well, he probably does, he's almost certainly surfing the web for whatever turns him on.

They wouldn't say anything like that, of course. That was just my over-active imagination.

Now and then the person was closer to my age. For ten or fifteen years after I started in this strange way to make a living, everyone knew everyone in the industry. Or at least knew of everyone. These interviews usually were more reminiscences of people and places we had in common. Didn't get those jobs either.

After a couple of years, the company alluded to above decided that they needed me after all. Back in the day I'd have told them to go jump but, as I was getting somewhat nervous about buying food and the like, I rejoined.

Fortunately, they decided they wanted me badly enough I could negotiate. More loose scratch than I was getting before and only working four days a week. I could buy groceries again (not to mention good wine, CDs and books).

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Ring-Tailed Tooter of Thunder Road from Cowtown Pattie. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Steven's Dragon - Part 2

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is not an elderblogger, but she is a gifted writer and my sabbatical is a good time to repeat a two-part story of hers first published here two-and-a-half years ago.

Sylvia is a true citizen of the world who currently lives on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain with her now 14-year-old son, Connor. She was born in Germany, spent part of her childhood in Los Angeles, moved to Europe full time as an adult and lived in England too before settling in Spain seven years ago because she missed the sunny warmth of southern California.

She blogs in her own old-fashioned style at Can’t Backspace where she talks about writing and about stories.

This is Part 2 of the delightful Steven’s Dragon . Part 1 is here.

StevensDragon2 "There's a lot to see still," John whispered, lying on that hospital bed. "Don't you stop exploring just because I'm not around to share it with you."

When my husband died, I swore I wouldn't let it change me. It did of course, I became more isolated: self-sufficient I called it. But really I just didn't want to let someone get that close to me just to lose them again. I'd already lost my son in that dreadful car accident and then when John went too it just felt like my very last support had been taken from me.

That's when I stopped travelling and used my degree to get a job in teaching. I wanted something to keep me busy and it fit the bill. That was 20 years ago and it's still keeping me busy.

It wasn't until the boy started coming round to visit that I realised I was lonely. Imagine, being grateful for the companionship of a ten-year old boy. Almost eleven, he keeps telling me.

Not that I'm reliant on him for company, definitely not. An hour or two of his questions is about all that I can stand. But he seemed so withdrawn, so isolated, and it seemed such a shame for a nice bright boy like Steven to be looking so lost.

Lord knows he'll have plenty of time to feel like that after puberty.

At some point it sunk in that if it I thought that was sad, well, it was a sad state for me to be in, too. 62 years old and not even a stray cat to throw my affection at. I'd become the stereotype of a spinster. And once I realised that, I decided I didn't like it one bit.

So I started broadening these recent horizons of mine, doing a bit more than just working and coming home and watching television. Making sure this old brain of mine stays sharp as a whistle and a step ahead of those kids. Oh, they still fear me and I know what they call me behind my back. But they're a lot more interested in a dry old subject like history now that I'm more interested in them.

I got a computer, bought it myself and now I'm online. Keep up with the world with a couple of key-strokes. It's amazing how easy it is once you start. I thought of it as a young person's thing but I was wrong. There's lots of us out there, elders is the word I like that they use. It's like going back in time, we're still talking about the best ways to change the world, just like we all were at University campuses everywhere 40-odd years ago. Except this time, we know a lot more about it.

Oh John, I'm sorry. I let you down, I know that now. I gave up the ghost when you left me. But there is still a lot to explore right here and now and I'm telling you, John, I'm not going to waste another day.

* * *

My sister Irene has been following me around the house all day. She is such a pain; she won't find something to do. They are learning about geography in school and she was trying to quiz me on where all the different continents were and thought I wouldn't know. Luckily, Mrs Hartman gets out that old atlas every time she picks up one of her treasures from her travels and makes sure I know where it came from, so it was no problem at all.

I told Mom I didn't mind babysitting Irene and I don't, really. I know she needs looking after. But it's hard to find her things to do so she'll leave me alone to finish my homework. I want to go to the park when Mom comes home and I can't unless I finish this first.

"Steeeeeeven." I hate how Irene whines my name. I've told her a million times to call me Steve, but she ignores me. That's what they call me in school, 'Steve,' it sounds much cooler than "Steven". And they don't call me Stupid Steve, just Steve.

It sort of started with the dragon thing. I didn't tell anyone about my plans to hatch a dragon, they really would call me stupid if they knew. But all those stories and stuff that Mrs Hartman told me about them, well, they were pretty interesting. And at lunch, I heard some boys and they were arguing about a type of dragon and I just sort of turned around and started talking to them.

Turned out they play this game during break, dungeons and dragons, where you get to be a hero and fight through battles and explore lands and stuff. And though it's not the real myths, not the stuff Mrs Hartman tells me about, it's still really good stories and even better you get to be a part of the story. So I want to get this done so I can go to the park and we can do the next bit of the adventure. I'm a rogue, that's like a thief, and I get to sneak around and unlock doors and stuff. It's pretty cool.

On the days that we don't play, I still go to Mrs Hartman's house. She buys fresh cookies now, not like the stale ones she originally gave me. I had to teach her about the cookie stall at the mall where you can get the really nice ones, she didn't know about that. And I told her about the special disabled program they are doing in town for kids like Spastic Sam, because we heard about it in our social studies class and she didn't know about that either. It still feels weird to me when I know something she doesn't, she knows so much. But she goes there now once a week and helps so I guess she's glad I told her.

It's sort of funny seeing her around school, although at least she's not my teacher this year which helps. I kinda nod at her if I think no one is watching. All the kids are scared of her; I want to tell them that she's okay, really, but I'm afraid they'd laugh at me. She keeps telling me I care too much about what people think about me but I can't help it.


A minor miracle, Irene's managed to say my name like a normal human being.

"What are you thinking about?" Her blue eyes are like big mirrors, I can see my reflection in them.

"Nothing important, Irene." I wouldn't know how to explain to her about being friends with a teacher. It just sounded too weird. So I shrugged and told her nothing, and looked, I mean really looked at her for what felt like the first time.

I mean, yeah, I see her every day, she's my sister. But I don't normally really look at her. I spend most of my time doing my best to ignore her, to be honest. And I thought about Mrs Hartman and how nice it is when someone listens to you for a change and I looked at my sister again.

"Irene, do you want to do something together?"

"Yes!" She jumped up in the air, full of excitement, her blonde hair flying around her head. I tried to think of the kind of things I liked when I was seven, but I was different then. I didn't do things with other people, just went wandering off on my own all the time.

"What kind of things do you do with your friends at school?" I hoped she'd give me some ideas.

"We play with our Barbies. Will you play with my Barbies with me?"

I started to use a bad word, then I choked and swallowed it back and I bit my lip and I nodded. She ran to her room and pulled out three tangled together plastic dolls and a whole stack of pink clothes.

"You can pick which one you want," said Irene with a serious look. I realised she was trying to be nice.

I picked up a doll with a sigh and stood her on the ground. "What's her name then?"

"Barbie. They are all called Barbie."

"Okay," I said, trying to work out how to survive this.

"Okay," I said again, "listen up. We'll play with these but we're going to do it my way. The girls are all kung-fu experts and they aren't called Barbie. This one is Killer-Angel, this one is Roundhouse Girl and the one you've got is Egg Fu Yung. And we aren't playing dress-up. We're sending them to the Planet of Goo to try to survive the attack of the..." I looked around and saw Mom's little statue on the bookshelf. "The attack of the Buddhas! Deal?"

Irene beamed a smile at me and agreed. And then we played with the dolls and we turned the coffee mug into a space ship and the Buddha statue was the bad guy. I was pretty surprised but it was kind of fun.

I just hope my friends never find out.

* * *

When that old egg of mine first went missing, I had no idea what it was going to lead to. I just saw a young boy skirting trouble and wanted to stop him from going bad. I didn't really expect to look forward to his company.

That was over a year ago. He still comes over after school about once a week or so though, and picks something out from all the junk I collected over the years and I tell him stories about the things and the places they came from and he asks intelligent questions.

Truth is, I've been teaching so long I'd forgotten that kids could be interested in what they are taught. I have to admit I watch for the things that catch his eye and I use them in class, making the dry curriculum that little bit more interesting.

And it's not just me. Steven is doing better at school too. Steve, he keeps telling me to call him, but I can't get used to it.

I gather his math is still very bad but over all his grades are up and he's increasing in confidence. He even tried out for a role in the Nativity play and got the part of Joseph. I think he was more surprised than anyone else.

Sometimes I think kids just need to feel like someone is paying attention.

I ignore him at school and I'm pretty sure he prefers that. I know I do: I've got a reputation as a strict teacher, Mrs Hard-as-Nails they call me, and worse, when they think I'm not listening. But you have to keep control of these kids, else they run all over you. One-on-one is easy but not when you've got a class full.

I usually don't tell Steven to come over, I just leave it up to him. Now that he's got more friends at school, he keeps busy, which I have to admit suits me fine. I'm busy too, these days. Of course I still enjoy his company but in little doses.

I made an exception, this time. I told him to come around to my house after the school play and we'd have some of his favourite cookies to celebrate. It's the last day of school until January and I don't know if I'll see him during the holidays.

It was hard, wrapping up his present so that it wasn't obvious what was in the package; I used half the Sunday newspaper and a whole roll of tape to disguise the shape.

I just hope he likes it.

* * *

The whole thing with old lady Hartman took me by surprise. I mean, it never even occurred to me that she would get me a Christmas present or that maybe I should have made her a card like I made for my mom or something. I was a little bit embarrassed when I got to her house and saw this big present on her coffee table.

She said it was okay that I didn't get her anything so I guess she's not sore. She said she thought I might like it and that that's what friends are for.

I wouldn't call her a best friend or anything like that, but I guess she's right that we are friends now. I like talking to her about school and other kids and stuff and she seems to understand. Lots of times if I'm bored I go to her house after school, just to see what she's got new to show me. She doesn't mind if I don't go to her house though, it's not like she expects me or anything. She says it's important to just play sometimes.

But then I was surprised when she talked to me at school and told me to go to her house after the play. I didn't know what to expect but not this! It was really putting me on the spot, giving me a present. She's never done it before.

Then I picked it up, all big and heavy, and was wondering if it was okay to just rip off the paper like at home, and it got worse.

"Do you know what the kids call me? The other kids, I mean, at school." She stared at me and I wasn't sure if I should tell the truth or not. Sometimes it seems like it's better not to tell the truth, even though it's a lie just by not saying.

I shrugged and bit my lip and started pulling the paper off my present, in case she changed her mind about giving it to me.

She just kept staring at me, I had to say something.

"A witch," I finally said, ready to run out the door if she got mad at me.

She winced and I sorta started to move but she didn't shout or anything. Just sorta held her breath a bit.

"Well, yes, a witch," she said. "And 'that old dragon', I heard someone whisper in the hallway as I walked past."

I nodded carefully, watching her, wondering if she was gonna start crying or something. I'd heard people call her that too. And then I realised, she was laughing. I wondered if she'd finally lost her mind. We had talks about how what people call you isn't important as who you are and stuff, but this was just crazy.

"Open the present," she said. So at least she hadn't changed her mind about that. I pulled off a ton of newspaper and finally ripped a big hole through the middle and out fell that old egg I stole from her last year.

"You are giving me your egg?" I looked at her.

"Don't you see it?" She grinned at me. "You got your dragon in the end. From the egg. It just doesn't look like you thought it would."

I looked at old Mrs Hartman and finally I understood and I started laughing too. I laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt and then I picked up the egg and hugged it.

"Thank you," I said in my best polite grown-up voice.

"You hatched me," she said.

She really was a bit loony. But I gave her a hug too and wrapped the egg up carefully to take home.

"My first treasure," I told her as I left. "One day I'll share it with another little boy."

"You do that," she said, and closed the door. I'm sure I heard her still laughing as I walked through her garden to my house.

- Finis -

Steven's Dragon - Part 1

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is not an elderblogger, but she is a gifted writer and my sabbatical is a good time to repeat a two-part story of hers first published here two-and-a-half years ago.

Sylvia is a true citizen of the world who currently lives on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain with her now 14-year-old son, Connor. She was born in Germany, spent part of her childhood in Los Angeles, moved to Europe full time as an adult and lived in England too before settling in Spain seven years ago because she missed the sunny warmth of southern California.

She blogs in her own old-fashioned style at Can’t Backspace where she talks about writing and about stories.

Here is Part 1 of the delightful Steven’s Dragon. Part Two can be found here.

StevensDragon2 "Steven, what are you looking for?"

I ignored the small voice behind me, my meddling little sister, and continued to push the spade into the hard earth of our garden.

"Mom's going to be upset with you when she sees what you've done to the grass."

"Irene, go away," I said in my meanest voice and carried on digging.

"Tell me what you are looking for or else I'm telling Mom!" Her voice had that telltale whine; I knew she meant it.

I took a deep breath and put down the spade.

"Will you help me dig if I tell you?" I didn't want the help, but if she were a part of the digging then she'd be much less likely to rat me out.

Irene sat down in front of me and picked up the spade and started stabbing it at the shallow hole I'd created. She turned 6 last month and since then she's been convinced that she's my equal.

I lay down in the grass, my chin in my hand, and watched her. It took about five minutes for her to realise that I hadn't answered her question, such was her glee at tearing into the dirt. Eventually, though, her energy ran out and she looked at me.

"Well? I helped you." A trace of that whine threatened to re-enter her voice.

"China," I said, trying hard not to grin. "China is on the other side of us, down there. I want to dig a hole and pop my head through and say hello."

"Steeeven!" She made my name sound horrible, drawing it out like a scream. "You don't speak Chinese!"

Smart aleck. I'd never even thought of that. Irene was a pain but I had to admit she was clever. Not as clever as me, though. I'm almost four years older and know loads more than she does.

"I'll take one of those phrase books, like Dad has for Spanish." She nodded, happy with this, and carried on striking at the ground with the spade. It wasn't doing much, just loosening up the bottom, but it didn't matter. She'd keep her mouth shut. Now I just needed to get rid of her.

The sun was hot on the back of my black t-shirt as I lay watching her blonde head bent over the hole. I'd let her dig a bit more until she got bored and then send her in for some lemonade. She'd probably get distracted on the way and forget to come back for an hour, by which time I'd be finished. Meanwhile, she wasn't doing any harm and I could rest my arms.

I had just lost myself in a daydream of Valerie looking at me with rapt awe as I walked down the street, the hero of the neighbourhood, when Irene spoke again.

"My wrist hurts. This is too hard." She was back to a full-blown whine, time to get rid of her.

"Give me the spade then." She handed it to me. "Why don't you go inside and get us some drinks so we can keep going?"

I allowed myself one last vision of Valerie begging to be my best friend, then sat up and started digging in earnest. I needed to be finished before Irene got back.

I'll be ten in October, the big one-oh, just in time for Halloween. Even though I'm the oldest in my class, people don't take me seriously. I don't have any friends. The other kids call me Stupid Steven just because it sounds funny. Ha ha, I say. I don't want to play their silly games anyway.

But I'm going to show them all. When I come to school with my pet dragon following behind me, well, then they'll change their minds. I won't be Stupid Steven anymore I'll be Stupendicific Steven the Great Dragon Tamer.

The hole is almost big enough now. Irene hasn't shown up, she's probably watching cartoons, so I have plenty of time. I already collected a bunch of mown grass from the park to act as an incubator. I read up all about it at the school library, I even got a nice note home from the librarian for doing extra study. The only thing I don't know is how long it's going to take, but I can check every day. As long as it hatches before the weather turns cold, it's a flawless plan, or my name isn't Steven Johnson.

* * *

"Mrs Johnson? It's Kate Hartman, Steven's history teacher. I'm so sorry to bother you, but it's about your little boy. Well, I put on a special display yesterday at school and, I'm very sorry, I'm not sure how to put this. He was very interested in a knick-knack of mine, a carved jade egg I got in Indonesia years ago. It's not valuable, just a memento from the trip, but I'm afraid to say it's missing. I didn't notice until un-packing everything back at home this afternoon but it's definitely gone.

I did check at the school to make sure it hadn't been misplaced. No, I don't know what he'd want with such a thing either. But he was the last person seen with it. I'm sure the boy didn't mean to steal, but he did express an interest in it and kept going back to it. Do you think you could check and see if he's got it? I don't want him in trouble, but it's best to nip this sort of thing in the bud.

Thanks, just send him over to my house with it and I'll talk to him. Yes, yes, of course, if he has it. I have to say, though, I'm sure he must. Boys will be boys, no harm done if he brings it back over."

I felt bad when I got off the phone to his mother. He's not a bad kid, I'm sure he didn't think what he was doing was stealing. But he's at that stage where you really have to watch boys. If you don't jump on the small stuff, they end up thinking that it's okay, and then you have real problems on your hands.

My son was a bit of a terror when he was small, I have to admit. Little Steven does make me think of him. If I'm honest, I like Steven better than the other kids in his class, although it's a terrible thing to say. But at least he's got a bit of spunk in him. Or maybe it's just that he looks a bit like my son did.

The boy came knocking on my door a few hours after the phone call, in a sweat and with an unhappy face, his fingernails full of dirt. I started to tell him to go straight home for a bath and talk to me after he was cleaned up. But he had the jade ornament in his hands, reaching it out to me.

"I didn't mean to steal it," he said. His bottom lip was quivering. "I mean, I did, but I thought you wouldn't mind when I came back to class and showed you the dragon."

I forgot all about his grass-stained jeans and muddy shoes and told him to come in. He sat stiff as a ram-rod on the couch while I got him a glass of milk and some cookies from a packet. Not that he looked starving but I thought it might help calm him down.

"What dragon," I asked, once he'd had a sip.

"From the egg." He pointed at the jade egg on the table between us. "I was going to hatch it."

I started to laugh, then I saw the how earnest his little face was. I bit back the first words and nodded at him, thinking fast.

"You reckon it's a magic egg?"

"It's a dragon's egg. I saw a picture of one, it looked just like that." Steven's eyes were big as he explained about the picture book of Chinese antiquities he'd seen at the library, including something called a dragon's egg that looked like mine.

"Ah, but you see, it's not Chinese," I told him. "It's from Indonesia, in Southern Asia." Never one to miss a chance to teach someone something, I got out the atlas. "Here, see? There's Thailand and Malaysia, and there is Indonesia."

He nodded seriously over the map. "But it's not far from China," he said. "Maybe it's still a Chinese dragon egg."

I smiled at his remark. I like that in the boy, he doesn't just nod and accept what grown-ups tell him, he thinks it through.

I was surprised to find myself interested in this new game: "find out about the dragon egg." The truth is, I picked it up travelling down a dusty road, from a wizened old man sitting on a blanket with various items spread out around him. It's certainly junk, aimed at the silly Westerners like my husband and me, travelling through the country looking to find some new mystical truth. But it could be interesting to find out what it was based on, what real treasure it was supposed to mimic.

"Let's find out," I told the boy. "Let's find out exactly where it's from. Maybe you are right."

He beamed a smile at me, thrilled to find a partner in crime, even though I'm over six times his age.

"I have to go home now," he said. "But I can come back tomorrow after school if you want."

"It's a date." I saw him to the door and then sat back down on the couch, nibbling a left-over cookie and looking at my jade egg in a new light.

* * *

She's not bad, old Mrs Hartman. She could have raised a big old stink about her egg, got me suspended from school and everything. I did just take it without permission. But she wasn't mad at me at all, asking me questions, and when I explained about hatching a dragon she really did listen to me, not just roll her eyes the way most teachers would do.

She's a lot different at her house than she is at school, that's for sure. She glares a lot in class and if you make just the slightest sound like dropping your pencil she's all over your case. Everyone is afraid of her, not just me.

But she didn't glare at me at all when I went back to her house. She's still a bit teachy but she showed me all kinds of neat things that she has and pulled out a bunch of books on ancient China and a nearby place called Indonesia. She's been to both places and all sorts of other places too, I never knew that. It kinda makes history more interesting when you're being taught by someone who's been there.

So that first day, she pulled out this book and found a whole chapter on Chinese dragons and she told me that the Chinese people refer to themselves as descendants of the dragon. This made me a bit nervous.

"I don't really want some Chinese person following me around everywhere," I told her. It made me think of Irene. "I don't even speak Chinese!"

"Well, I don't think they mean it literally," she said. "The Chinese worship dragons and not each other, so that's a good sign." She flipped through the pages and read me out bits of it.

"Dragons were believed to be connected to water and weather," she said, and a lot of other stuff about ruling the rivers that I sort of only half listened to. I was flipping through a different book that she'd given me about mythology and legends. I thought somewhere there must be a story about someone who hatched a dragon, but there was nothing like that at all, just weird stories about dragons helping emperors in the old days.

"Is there really any such things as dragons," I asked her. It seemed to me it was just a story, like Santa Claus, just one for grown-ups instead of for kids. I was surprised to see her nod yes.

"There is," she said. "There are a lot of things we don't understand. That doesn't mean they don't exist."

I wasn't sure whether to believe her or not. She's pretty old and maybe she's just a bit batty. But she told me to leave it with her and she'd see what she could find out. Meanwhile, she said, if I wanted to visit her again, I was welcome.

She's not bad, for a teacher. I kinda like her now, although I'd never admit that at school.

* * *

I still hear his voice as clearly as if he were sat across from me. All I have to do is close my eyes and he's there again. Our last conversation plays in my mind lately, like a broken record.

Steven's Dragon - Part 2

Hope and Fear

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Kate Winner of KateThoughts who says she is a product of her time, her family, her religious history, her (often much older) friends, and her varied, and not always traditional education.

She thinks she knows all about the School of Hard Knocks, says Kate, but her life has been pretty easy. She has written and/or “journaled” for years, and began blogging back in the days when she was creating a coaching business. Now she blogs for fun, for clarity of mind, and for exploring the ideas that sprout from the writings of others.

Lately, there has been a lot of stuff about hope and heart and resolutions, about change and pulling together, and about bailouts and bunglers. Some of it is seasonal, some is political and economic. All of it has to do with, and can be affected by our consciousness, both individually and collectively.

Most people I know are fearful these days. Me too. Often.

But fear works directly against me, I think. So does hope.

Consider hope as a word. According to the Free Dictionary, it always points to the future. It means,

  • to look forward to with confidence or expectation
  • ...theological virtue defined as the desire and search for a future good...

Pema Chödrön, in her book called When Things Fall Apart, has this to say:

"Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there's one, there's always the other…In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives."

She goes on to say,

"Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can't simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment."

So, if we abandon hope and its partner fear, what is left to us? I think it is mindfulness; an opportunity to be fully present with ourselves – right now – in a way that can clear up the turmoil we feel when we focus on the current economic news, for example. Those of you who meditate may understand this better than I or be able to articulate it better.

I believe that all, literally ALL, is rocking along exactly as it should. I can imagine that everything that has and is happening is doing so in order for me to get just exactly the right lessons to move me forward on the path I've chosen. I believe that is true for us as a nation, too.

We got here by the actions that we took, the decisions we made. Collectively, of course. The fact that I didn't vote for Bush didn't stop him from being my president. It means to me that, collectively, We the People chose him. So my job now is to learn from the experience and determine what my next step(s) will be.

I learned to count worth in terms of dollars. Most of us did. And that has led us to a culture that builds in obsolescence. Things must get old and worn out, so we can buy a new one - a better one - one that comes with everything! If we don't, the economy will falter and people will lose jobs and it will all be my fault.

What does this have to do with aging?

Is it any wonder that people become obsolete, too? That ”old” in our culture starts at about 30 or 35, and that we “should” all die, or at least have the grace to stay out of sight with our mouths shut?

What am I to do about that? What is most important for me to consider now, at age 61-and-a-half?

I can be clear. I can be present. I can NOT play the “ain't it awful” game with my neighbor. I can choose to see that right now I have the best opportunity to reconsider how I live and what I model for others.

I'm learning more about recycling; I'm considering what I really need rather than continuing that sort of knee-jerk shopping that I used to do so thoughtlessly. I can start a discussion about the future here, and with my friends and neighbors. I can imagine a new and different country. Yes, we need some economic recovery. And don't we also need a new and different ethic and a little less fear?

I strongly believe that the words we use and the thoughts we think all have an energy of their own that has a part in creating the world in which we live. So, I must choose my words and actions carefully and imagine that someone is watching; someone who will learn from me about how to be.

This, I believe, is a part of my purpose for being here and a big part of my legacy for the future; my job, if you will. I believe it applies to all of us. It is in these things that our present happiness resides. If we attend to these now, the future will take care of itself, and us.

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Man Who Thought He Was a Train from Susan Fisher. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

New Laws Help LGBT Elders

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams 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.]

The first week of a new year usually brings a spate of newspaper articles about new laws that that have gone into effect. Imagine my surprise at learning about a couple of good ones for lesbian and gay elders.

In California, the state will now require "licensed health care professionals" to undergo "diversity training" meant to "prevent bias in senior care facilities and nursing homes."

I guess that means they are going to expose doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and the like to the idea that same sex partners might expect to live in the same senior facilities together and have the right to visit each other.

Nationally, President Bush has signed the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (WRERA) which will protect domestic partners who inherit retirement savings.

Previous pension legislation made it optional for employers to write their plans so that "non-spousal" beneficiaries could roll inherited retirement benefits directly to an individual retirement account and avoid immediate taxation. WRERA means that if employers have any such pension plan, they must provide the rollover without penalty.

Small potatoes you may be thinking. How many elders are lucky enough to have a pension these days - or able to afford choices about "senior care facilities"?

And you are right. What these laws illustrate for me is why so much of the LGBT community is agitated about winning full, legal marriage rights.

Marriage is a relationship between people, but it is also a status that comes with a huge body of law. Because we have a precedent-based legal system, just about any human interaction under the sun has been litigated at some time. Laws and precedents have been created that make marriage's implications at least somewhat predictable.

When same sex couples can't marry, all those precedents either don't fit or are up for grabs. Literally thousands of minor legal corrections, like those explained above, have to be made to approximate equal status. And civil unions haven't proved very good at doing the same job.

A New Jersey state review commission concluded in December that

"After eighteen public meetings, 26 hours of oral testimony and hundreds of pages of written submission from more than 150 witnesses, this Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children," read the first paragraph of its report.

I'll be honest here - I never thought I'd be putting energy in to campaigning for gay marriage. But it really does look as if winning the option for all would be the simplest way to ensure equality for all - and good for children, young people, and elders.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton Sandy Davis gives us a strong example of Perseverence.]

Old and Leading the Way

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Paul Goode who blogs as Citizen K and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

After a career in the high-tech business, he enjoys writing about such lifelong obsessions as politics, music, movies, books, travel and the Boston Red Sox. Getting older doesn’t stop him from having a good time even if getting out of bed isn’t as easy as it used to be.

A sure sign of pending dotage came when I idly flipped through Rolling Stone magazine’s top 50 CDs of the year and realized that of the two I owned, one of them was by 67-year-old Bob Dylan. And not only that, I hadn’t even heard of the other 48.

A deep fear set in, forcing me to confront the question I had been evading for years. Does aging mean the end of being cool? Does it imply a cultural hip replacement that relegates our CD player to endless repeats of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Greatest Hits?

It is true that the best work of many of the singers and bands we came of age with is long behind them. When I saw CSN last summer, it was to hear Teach Your Children and Almost Cut My Hair, to hear the old songs and reconnect with my youth. That’s fine: our kids might make fun of it now, but they will do it too.

I'm not getting any younger and much new rock and rap music doesn't speak to me by virtue of differences in life experience. That hardly disqualifies it from excellence, but it does disqualify me from grasping it well enough to comment on it intelligently.

That being said, I'm nonetheless struck by the exceptionally high quality of music released in 2008 by older artists, even if I am predisposed to appreciate it. In particular, I mean those musicians who find inspiration in aging, using perspective and hard-won wisdom to expand and deepen their artistic vision.

The best album I heard in 2008 was, hands down, Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (1989-2006). This collection of demos, alternate versions, old folk songs, live cuts and previously unreleased songs coheres unexpectedly into a sweeping dystopian vision of a major artist approaching old age.

This world is no great shakes, Dylan says, but music is at least a way of getting to the truth of it while celebrating the ability of humans to create and communicate through song.

On About Time, the trailblazing avant-garde pianist Paul Bley (75) improvises for 33 minutes about the nature of time and memory. Tempi shift suddenly, dynamics change, phrases linger nostalgically and then give way to something more pressing.

Largely contemplative, Bley explores the elusive nature of his subjects with insight and nuance. While his introspective style recalls Bill Evans, to these ears Bley plays with greater complexity and muscularity. Like time, About Time passes all too quickly while seeming to stand still, so for fun he includes an interpretation of Sonny Rollin's Pent-Up House. Beautiful, wise and compelling.

Joan Baez’ (67) pristine soprano is now more of a weathered contralto. No matter: On Day After Tomorrow, the voice of experience buttressed by a deeply held faith and Steve Earle's sympathetic production betters the easy certainties of her youth.

Singing ten songs by the likes of Earle, Patty Griffin, Elyza Gilkyson, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits (!), Baez makes them all indelibly hers. She looks back with few regrets, looks ahead with hope and still believes.

The Cuban songstress Omara Portuondo (78) may not be well known in this country, but that’s a function of misguided politics and not talent: Omara has the pipes of 25-year-old but sings with the wisdom of age.

Gracias consists mostly of ballads and lullabies supported by spare arrangements featuring fingerpicked seven-string guitar and various Cuban percussion instruments. The occasional guest enhances the proceedings, but they are hardly necessary.

The accompanying booklet is a gem: there's a photograph for every song of Omara at different stages of her life starting with childhood. The pictures range from candid family photos to glam shots from her days at the Havana Tropicana. The name of the CD may be Gracias, but it's we who should thank her for recording this gem.

Other older artists who released notable CDs in 2008 include Jackson Browne (60), Dr. John (68), Dick Gaughan (60), Emmylou Harris (61), Richie Havens (67), Charles Lloyd (70), Otis Taylor (60), and Andre Williams (72).

Last year, I saw outstanding performances from Baez, Kevin Burke (58), Gaughan (60), Lloyd, Robert Plant (60) with Alison Krauss, Bruce Springsteen (59), James Blood Ulmer (66), and Johnny Winter (64). 74-year old Leonard Cohen toured Europe and received scintillating reviews.

If I had to pick, the best performance I saw last year was by the 70-year old saxophonist Lloyd. It's enough to make me believe that my most creative days lie ahead.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Morgana King reflects on a most remarkable life in Second Saturn Cycle Retrospective.]


Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is 90-year-old Leah Aronoff. Here is the short bio she sent to go with this story:

Born 1918, in New York City. Daughter of Russian immigrants. Hunter College graduate (no tuition!). Latch key child, both parents worked in garment industry. Our social life was in the arts and theater.

Grew up, more or less, and married a Cincinnatian, which meant moving to Cincinnati. Fish out of water. Work experience: from NYA to car hop to dental assistant to University of Cincinnati Art Librarian, to faculty member in the Graduate Department of Community Planning, University of Cincinnati.

Retired and stopped smoking at the same time. Two grown (of course) children. Grandcats and granddogs.

Current activities: reading, museums and galleries, politics, theater. Also interested in modern dance, masks, and, in the past, did a lot of spinning, dyeing, weaving.

Trying to deal with a diagnosis of stomach cancer, and not looking forward to a late January operation. I mention this only because I’m trying to find people with a similar experience with whom I can feel free to chat about related issues, and this seems a straw-grasping opportunity.

Being ninety is what others make of you. It is not necessarily what you are. This leaves you free to be whatever you want to be.

Time and timing take on extra significance. You think you did or said something five minutes ago, when actually you did or said it five months ago - or weeks, or years. When the discrepancy is noted, you weakly respond, “Oh, yes,” with an expression on your face that you hope looks less foolish than you feel, or sound.

Mentally, things are just a wee bit worse than they were at 89. Fortunately, the downward progression is gradual for the most part and barely noticed, certainly by the 90-year-old. The drawback? The person who catches one in a memory lapse is likely to say, or think, “What else can you expect of someone that old?”

This 90-year-old feels wistful about the future, which could be next week as well as six months from now. There is a definite uncertainty about just how much future lies ahead.

Some things lose relevance to a greater or lesser degree. Take the AARP publications, for example. For some years you’ve been letting your anger build up at the belief that AARP and its writers have no understanding of the differences between 50 (the age of membership acceptance) and 70 and above. Many over seventy are not only unable to manage the physical accomplishments of their 50-year-old selves, they completely have lost all physical resemblance to the vibrant, slim, full-haired overachievers pictured in AARP publications.

At 90, the sight and contents of these newsletters and magazines cause the reaction, “What the hell does all that have to do with me?”

(I personally believe AARP should split in two and thus be more appropriately able to serve the two separate age groups in every category, including finances and health. For instance, at 50 your financial efforts are certainly more lively than at 70, at which time you are more than likely retired, or unable to work. And how many 50-year-olds are helped by the advice to take their multiple pills in pudding?)

A good part of being what you are at 90 is, as noted, is what others make of you. As described above, according to those younger than you, you are probably dragging a bit mentally. It takes a little longer to get the right words out, but you do eventually manage, either by yourself or with the help of your listeners.

Does this make you more stupid than you were? I don’t know, protestations of my grown children and my younger friends notwithstanding.

Physical incapacities are definitely assumed by everyone in your immediate vicinity. Not necessarily noted, just assumed. That is, the 90-year-old is distinctly viewed as incapable, true or not. Offers of help come pouring out from friends and strangers alike. “I’ll take that.” “Let me carry that.” “I’ll do that.” Hands grab for elbows - “That’s a curb.” “That’s a step.” “I’ll open that.” And there’s the generic, “Let me.”

I am offered the most help by an 88-year-old friend who is no more capable than I. Perhaps it’s the maudlin tenor of the voice that disturbs me most. I’d be so much happier if people waited for me to ask for help, which I would do without qualm if I felt the necessity.

If, at 90, you enjoy being catered to and waited on, be my guest. I suspect your slothful ways may work against you - keep you from doing things for yourself when the capability is there, and no one is around to give you a hand. It is easier to lose your self-sufficiency and capability at 90, when it is downright refreshing to be able to say, “I can do that.” “I don’t need help,” I often feel like shouting. I don’t feel the need to make other people feel better at my expense.

Fifty- and sixty-year-olds of my acquaintance don’t need help opening jars and cans. Eighty- and 90-year-olds pour over self-help catalogs with the same enthusiasm once reserved for Esquire and Vogue. Gadget manufacturers take notice!

Fifty- and 60-year-olds can still afford to be adventuresome in their dining habits. My taste buds seem to have been eroded sometime within the past few years. I, who couldn’t prepare food without garlic, can no longer taste that necessity of life. Food no longer tastes as good, and we don’t seem to need as much of it. (Could all the medications we consume be replacing part of the pyramidal food chain?)

Finally, I, for one, am quite a bit easier going than I was and don't get so upset by behaviors and comments that once drove me nuts and kept me awake at night.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sydney Halet gives us a poem of childhood, Goin' Fishin'.]

Early Work Tips

Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By. Today’s guest blogger is Steve Sherlock who blogs mainly at Steve’s 2 Cents and also at quiet poet where his verse and sherku can be found at Franklin Matters, about his current hometown in Massachusetts.

Recently part of a "reduction in force" by his former employer, he is enjoying some "sabbatical time" to put together a business plan for what he will do next. This business plan will the be key to assuring Dolores, his wonderful wife, that all will be well. Together, they want to continue enjoying the empty nest while their daughters are away; one at college, one recently graduated and working.

  • Wet it but don't let it drip
  • Hit it while it's pink

These are two good pieces of advice I received early in my working life that still ring true. Knowing how to slice steel or scoop ice cream is important.

In the early 1970's, my first "real" job was scooping ice cream for the Newport Creamery that used to operate on Central Ave in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I learned quickly that the ice cream scoop needed to be wet to scoop the hard packed ice cream without breaking your arm.

The scoop shouldn't be dripping wet. That would bring water into the ice cream which would crystallize and make the ice cream more "ice" than cream. Taking the scooper from the little shelf where running water kept them wet, shaking it on a towel to remove the excess water, and then reaching in to the container to bring out the single or double scoop of maple walnut, pistachio, or one of the many other flavors that Newport Creamery was noted for was much easier that way.

I only worked at the take out counter for about six weeks before my father managed to get me into his steel mill, Washburn Wire Company in Phillipsdale, Rhode Island. This was a steel mill that had operated from the early 1900s. I felt like I was stepping back into time going there. I also tripled the hourly wage I was making so that was great.

If you were given a hatchet and asked to take a sample from that coiled steel rod, would you say something like: "You're crazy!" I did.

But it was true. Holding the end of the coiled steel with a pair of tongs, I would use the hatchet to slice about a foot off the rod. The sample would be put into a bucket for the metallurgist to test to ensure that the mill was running well. He would check to see that the rod was indeed being drawn into the round, oval or rectangular shape that the run required.

In the #2 Wire Mill, the rod started out in the furnace where the two-inch by six-inch billet was heated to approximately 1900 degrees F. It ejected from the furnace and was guided into a series of rollers.

There were four monstrous devices that at each step pulled the billet, shaping it and stretching it out from its original 30-foot length to end up coiled at my foot more than 300 foot in length. It was still so hot that stepping up to the coil, I could drop a candy wrapper into the center and in would incinerate before touching the ground as flakes.

Using the tongs, I grabbed the end of the rod, stretched it out over a cutting block and used the hatchet to slice off the sample. The key was to hit the steel while it was still pink. Once it started turning silver, the hatchet would bounce off. If a sample was really required from that coil, I would need to use some serious wire cutters. But as long as the steel was pink, the hatchet sliced it like butter.

I have not had much opportunity to cut steel recently but when scooping ice cream for dessert, the water trick works as well today as it did then.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson deals with the difficulty of dressing for the holiday season in The Joy of Aging.]