Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Forward

At the end of each year, it has become customary to repeat what has happened over the past twelve months. Although it seems a little unnecessary, the media has fallen into the habit of reliving events of the current year, as though hindsight might improve our memory of the details.

Once again we are confronted with a summary of what happened over recent months including who died, who divorced, who said what embarrassing thing. We are again faced with the latest hi-jinks of the Kardashians, Oprah Winfrey and nearly every political candidate. We have the cell phone cameras and inquisitive witnesses to thank for keeping us advised about many such events.

But before we spend time and energy rehashing the year that is nearly over, perhaps we need to readjust our thinking. The evening news tonight contained snippets about the ongoing problems in the Middle East, the BP oil spill in the Gulf, and other stories of which we already aware. Why not turn our attention so that we can think ahead? After all, there is an entire year just around the corner. Perhaps we can take steps to improve the future.

Let's try and make a plan for 2012. Why don't each of us should set one goal to achieve before the end of 2012. Not a "New Year's resolution" which might sound good now but will not endure past mid-January 2012. How about one goal for the entire year? One goal per year seems doable.

How about …
Reconnecting with an old friend
Being nice to a neighbor who ignores you
Trying to cook a new dish
Being a better listener to someone you care about
Taking better care of yourself
Reading up on current matters
Finding a new hobby
Making a difference in your community
Volunteering to help a cause you care about
Learning about the history in your area/state/country
Running an errand for someone who needs help
Redecorating a room in some unexpected way
Living within a budget and saving money
Helping on a political issue
Offering to lend a hand somewhere in the community
Saying "thank you" to someone who performs a kindness

Give yourself time to adjust to this new way of thinking. Adjustments of any type may take a while to sink in. But by the time warm weather arrives in late Spring, you should try to get used to the idea of making a change. See how easy it is for one small gesture or action to send out ripples. You could be the start of something very important. It's really quite easy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Good Old Days

I dislike hearing people describe how great things were in the good old days. There is nothing we can do about "progress" and change is inevitable. But the past held many benefits. Before television, people had actual conversations. The imagination was used for things like reading and other creative pursuits.

Earlier today I ventured forth to see if the department stores held any post-Christmas bargains worth scooping up. The trip was dismal and frustrating. It wasn't the selection of merchandise that caused problems. It was a complete lack of customer service.

During the heyday of the last century, stores recognized that customers might want someone to show them merchandise or make suggestions. Stores hired people to assist the shopper and handle the financial transaction. These people were usually friendly, polite, well-groomed and knew the store's inventory. Alas, customer service has gone the way of the corset and buggy whip. Today's customer must not only search for the merchandise but must also search for someone to take their money.

Several years ago, I vowed never to wait in line to purchase merchandise, apart from waiting in the obligatory grocery check-out or perhaps movie ticket line. I have stuck with my pledge and refuse to wait to give up my money. There is something obscene about doing so. It makes sense to return the merchandise to its place and simply walk away. Few items could be so fantastic as to require my waiting in line.

Today I did find a bargain or two, items that I needed and which were on sale. It took a great deal of time to find someone to wait on me who wasn't either stocking merchandise or busy telling another sales person what she got for Christmas.

Media news reported today how business had slumped during the holidays. A few retailers indicated they will be closing stores. Wake up store managers everywhere! There might be a reason why brick and mortar buildings are in trouble. Why drive to a store, search for the correct merchandise, look for a sales associate to ask a question and eventually search for a clerk to ring up the purchase. You can transact the same purchase online in seconds. You will also know immediately whether a product is available in a certain color or size and how long it will take before it arrives.

That is the method which growing numbers of us are using for shopping before and after Christmas. Why not? Shoppers don't see the need for making trips to the mall. There are other ways to get the same result.

I wish the retail world good luck. But they need to step back and take a look at the reason for their gradual demise. Like many other aspects of our society, retail needs to re-evaluate its goal and help revitalize customer service.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beyond Christmas

Unless you have had your head in the sand, you are probably aware that Christmas is nearly here. For the kiddies, this joyous season means excitement, anticipation, school vacation and fun. For the rest of us, Christmas means a lot of things, too -- including gift shopping, gift wrapping, tree trimming, cookie baking, visitor greeting, card addressing, rushing around and finally time to relax. Once the ribbon and wrap has been gathered and the tree removed, we can then face the new year, a rather daunting opportunity to start fresh.

Recently when a friend and I were discussing the new year, I expressed frustration about subjects which required action but were not in my control. I wished change was an option. One of us used the phrase "making ripples" and that phrase seized our attention. Sometimes we have to start with incremental changes in order for progress to occur. Although they begin small, eventually ripples expand until they reach many others.

Small gestures can make a significant improvement. Take eating habits, for instance. People tend to think of diet as a penalty, something imposed against their will and which must be followed indefinitely. They don't realize that small changes in eating habits can add up over time. The final results are often surprising.

We should face the new calendar eagerly and resolve to make improvements. Here are some suggestions that we could follow to get started:

1. Get healthy. Lose a little weight. Become more active and fit. Park farther away from the shopping mall. Skip dessert occasionally. Walk after dinner instead of collapsing in a chair. Take your dog for a walk. Find an exercise partner/buddy.

2. Watch the budget. Most of us waste money on frivolous items. Avoid adding to credit card balances. Before you buy something, think about it at length to prevent impulse shopping. Watch prices for necessities and shop during sales.

3. Decide what to do each day. Make a list of things that you want to accomplish. Prioritize the chores. Then try and do as many of them as possible. At the end of the day, carry those items over to the following day so you will work on the unfinished list first. You will be surprised at how quickly this resolves procrastination.

4. Find something to do with spare time. Have you always thought about pursuing a hobby? Do you enjoy cooking? Crafts? Reading? History? Watching old movies? Photography? Nature walks? Sports? Working with animals? Chances are there is a group in your community with similar interests where you could work with others toward a goal. Ask around. Network with other crafts, photogs, cooks, etc.

5. Consider volunteering. Groups are created in nearly every town and borough to work on community projects - park beautification, helping the less fortunate, tutoring students. Ask around and get involved.

Keep in mind that when you make ripples, the result is far reaching.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Good to be Cynical

During childhood we learn many things, including what behavior is acceptable and how to tell what facts are "true."

We accept without question information from authority figures which are reliable -- parents, teachers and youth leaders. These folks are dependable. They tell us to wear a coat on cold days, to sit up straight and to tell the truth. They also help instill the basics of fear: don't run with scissors, don't ride with strangers, don't consume cleansers kept under the sink or pick a playground fight with someone bigger than you.

We soon begin to accept what we are told. Few six-year-olds challenge instruction when told to look both ways before crossing the street. Challenges which occur are usually short-lived. We may feel that adults are unfairly restricting our individual freedom. But there are certain people we should believe.

Unfortunately, a pattern of acceptance becomes second nature and many of us forget how to question what we hear. We become so used to accepting data at face value that we do not question news stories, gossip or blatant misrepresentations that occur. We lose our selective "gut" instinct and accept falsehoods along with truths.

Perhaps you have come to believe that imported knives shown in an infomercial are really guaranteed for life. You want to believe that friends who share remarks made behind your back are sharing that information for your best interest. You might even believe everything your doctor or your government says. If this sounds familiar, you need to dust off your cynicism.

Once upon a time being called a cynic was a sign of weakness. Reasonable people thought as one. That behavior got us through tough times, wars and the Depression. We were supposed to pull together.

Then our world changed. National and world leaders were assassinated. A U.S. president resigned office during his second term. Our social structure began to weaken. It was the dawn of widespread cynicism. Even today some people question every facet of modern life.

Cynicism in moderation is healthy. Parents should encourage their children to question things. They should be willing to help children think on their own. It's a practice that will serve them well as they become independent citizens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Over the River…

At one time not too long ago, visiting family or friends for any special occasion -- including Christmas -- meant literally traveling over the river and through the woods. Gathering for events such as a wedding, funeral or house raising was a chore and involved the bad combination of primitive transportation and extremely poor roads.

Most of us were raised with idyllic images of children singing carols from a sleigh as riders were whisked through the cold toward their festive destination. Such images were extremely misleading. Travel was brutal, particularly in climates which experienced cold weather, ice and snow. One-horse open sleighs were slow going and unpleasant.

Even today travel can be difficult. The least challenging trip to grandmother's house is by car over decent roads. Gasoline prices fluctuate daily but are usually subject to increases just prior to major holidays. If gas remains at $3.30 (plus or minus), it can be costly to fill up the ol' SUV and head out for a visit. Roads are problematical as well, especially freeways and interstate highways which are often choked with vehicles on a similar pursuit. Hopefully drivers have called ahead to confirm there is no major road construction or inclement weather forecast.

Way back in the middle of the last century, flying was actually enjoyable. Until the late 1980s, taking a trip by plane was something of a luxury. Passengers were treated to a certain amount of respect. This is hard to believe today. It was as though the airline employees and crew were grateful to travelers who chose their airline. The flight attendants served a meal, offered reading material or headsets, and generally were polite. Today's air travelers are lucky to get from Point A to Point B without sitting on the tarmac for hours or having the flight delayed or canceled altogether. Conditions have deteriorated dramatically. Anyone who has flown in recent years will appreciate two basic results of their trip: arrival at their destination and eventual receipt of their luggage. It has come down to that.

Having been raised in a family of railroaders, I still have fond memories of train travel and take the train whenever it is convenient. During the 20th century train travel lost public support in favor of car travel. Inevitable, perhaps, but millions of miles of train track was ripped up and disposed of during the 1970s, performed much too haphazardly. The increasing use of trains for moving commodities and passengers continues to surprise the public. Train travel is up in recent years as an excellent alternative in certain parts of the country.

So if you are about to embark on holiday travel, plan ahead. First ask yourself: Is this trip really necessary?

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Age of Reason

The Age of Reason: the age at which -- if you continue doing something -- you'd better have a good reason.

One of the best parts of becoming older is that you can stop doing things you dislike. Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize this fact. But then most people are often afraid of change.

I have always enjoyed being around older people who speak their minds, whether it occurs in real life, through interviews or movie roles. It is refreshing to hear people saying things that most of the audience is already thinking. Over the years a few older celebrities have endeared themselves to the public, speaking frankly and calling a spade a spade. Megastars like Groucho Marx, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn weren't afraid to let down their guard and reveal the charisma that kept them favorites of the public for decades. Other stars of the past were gracious in their later years -- people like Cary Grant and John Wayne -- but they remained guarded and "in character," which is probably how they wanted to be remembered. It takes a certain confidence and sense of self to drop the fa├žade and invite in the public.

With the approach of a new year, plenty of people focus on things they want to change once January arrives. They might want to lose weight, cut spending, eat better, finish a project or perhaps find a new partner or new job. The best advice for any of us wanting to do something is…just do it. Make an effort to pursue a goal and follow through. Start that diet and stick to it. Save money. Find a job. Thinking is good but action is better in most things.

In addition to taking action toward an end, try ending something which no longer has purpose or give you pleasure. If you dislike your job, try finding another position. Sure, the economy is not conducive to new opportunities right now. So make a plan to either further your skills or at least begin networking with others who might be able to assist you. It might take a while, but baby steps will start you down the path.

Quit doing tasks for which you have no reason. Do you always have the same thing to eat every Wednesday? Do you always have to sit near the window on the bus? Do you constantly get caught up in workplace gossip and chatter? Break that cycle. Why are you still doing anything that you don't enjoy? Out of habit? Due to lack of imagination? Then it is time to change your direction. Start thinking about how to spend your time doing something reasonable.

Like the celebrities mentioned earlier, try being yourself. Don't worry about how others perceive you. If you are confident about yourself, it will become obvious to others. Life is too short to waste time doing something you don't like just because you are afraid to change.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Careful Gifting

As we wade through the holiday morass, we should stop and reflect about why we give gifts. It is a gesture that should be based on good intentions - kindness, thoughtfulness or appreciation. We remember a neighbor, a teacher, someone who means a lot. Giving a gift should mean something, not merely that you drew a name or want to keep your job.

Every year advertisers bombard us with what has deemed as the "must have" item of the holiday season. It varies, of course, dependent on what item is either left over from the previous Christmas season or was overproduced in China due to some language translation error. "50 crates of widgets? I thought you said 500."

Just because every department store or electronic warehouse features an item in its holiday catalog does not mean the recipient will be overjoyed. Consider: Does the item serve an actual purpose? Will it last? Does it require some refill item/maintenance that will prove more inconvenient than practical? Does it provide a service that will be appreciated?

Based on television and print advertising and judging from prominent placement in stores, it appears that everyone should have a coffeemaker that brews one cup at a time. I saw these gizmos last year and thought nothing more about them. Then a few weeks ago my 12-cup coffeemaker died suddenly and I found myself at the local discount store knee-deep in coffeemakers. There were dozens of models with varying features and in several colors. The trick is to find one that suits the consumer's needs.

It was then that I explored the features of the one-cup brewer and decided that they didn't make sense for me. I like coffee and have been drinking it for most of my adult life. But as a coffee fan, I often drink the brew slowly, like on Sunday morning while consuming multiple newspapers. That often results in the coffee in my cup cooling off before I finish it. Consequently, I refill my cup of coffee before it is completely empty. According to what I have read, that trick is not possible with a single brewer. If that feature is possible, my error. But it seems to me that having a coffeemaker which makes one cup at a time has a limited audience, even if the product is kitschy and cute.

Technology has allowed the production of many new items including key chains that store photographs, auto-changing photo frames, animated and/or singing Christmas figures, etc. These are likely wonderful items for the right person. But giving someone an item without thinking it through does an injustice to the recipient and to the gift.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thinking Back

Recently in a conversation with a friend, I began to reminisce about life in the workplace during the "good ol' days." We both realized just how fortunate we had been to be working then and how today's workers could never imagine the way we -- along with most of our co-workers -- were treated.

This discussion involved employment during the mid-1970s, when things were good in the U.S. The Vietnam War was over and many products were still manufactured in the U.S. at large plants scattered around the country.

At nearly every job, the minute you became an employee, you received a significant salary, full medical coverage (usually at no cost), life insurance, defined benefit pension plan and/or profit sharing. You accepted the job with the understanding that you would work hard and be well treated.

Today homeowners who purchase a house and aren't afraid to put forth some work to improve that property are said to invest "sweat equity," meaning that they will eventually reap the efforts they make. That is the way employers and employees used to relate. Employers were not afraid to pay extremely good wages to good employees. Hard work was shared and everyone prospered.

My friend and I each had careers in professions where what we did was important and valued. The feelings of importance and value were perceived by both the employer and the employee. This instilled a sense of pride in what we did and, as a result, we did a better job.

Many employers paid "bonuses" during this era. Bonuses varied from one time to the next, usually reflective of how well the company did during that calendar year. Many bonuses were paid at the fiscal year end and often amounted to several thousand dollars. It allowed some employees to take an expensive vacation, pay off bills or invest for the future. This "found" money was enough to tantalize the employees and even helped discourage workers from leaving a job on a whim.

Most employers paid some type of Christmas bonus, usually significant checks designed to help employees and their families celebrate Christmas. In my personal experience, the Christmas bonus, while still considerable, usually was smaller than the FYE bonus. However, it was an impetus to stick around and ride out possible downturns or rough spots.

During this era, most people looked forward to going to work. We were part of a team and helped each other achieve designated tasks. We shared laughs in the coffee room and even socialized on occasion. If we knew that one among us was having personal problems, we wanted to cheer that person, rather than spreading gossip or making the matter worse. After all, we were part of a team.

If this all sounds hard to believe, you likely were not working during the 1970s. I assure you these descriptions are accurate. It's almost impossible to try and describe the situation to someone who wasn't there.

The majority of employers today could care less whether workers like their job. There are plenty of other people lined up as replacements. Defined benefit pension plans? Fully paid insurance? These frills appear to be gone forever and now amount to urban legends, along with job satisfaction.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Shopping Madness

We will all stipulate that the holiday shopping season has arrived.

Here's a question to ponder: Do the big box stores really think that having repetitive and, let's face it, insufferable commercials running on television will really make us appear at their businesses with wallets in hand? Do they think we are trained to respond to the obnoxious and simply hand over our money?

Over the years we have responded to certain advertising techniques which now sound ridiculous. If you recall, in the 1950s drama and suspense were created annually over the unveiling of the new car models. Some dealerships would actually tape over the showroom windows with butcher paper so that no one could get an early glimpse. There was hoopla about the new models, festive events including an unveiling and even door prizes. People took the bait and lined up to see the new cars. (That doesn't mean that they would stampede to spend money on the new models, but they demonstrated curiosity and were treated royally for looking.)

Consumers are drawn to products which contain words on their labels like "new" and "improved." These words indicate that something is better than before and we are compelled to find out what change has occurred.

It would seem that the best thing an advertiser can hope for is that "buzz" would be generated about an event or bargain price. It's logical that advertisers are hoping the "buzz" is positive rather than negative.

Now that the holiday madness is underway, I wonder if advertisers have asked the public whether we like an ad and whether our feelings about the ad will impact where we shop. Seems to me that how people respond to ads might be important.

There are some ads running right now that are so obnoxious that when they appear on the screen, one of the following things occurs:
- I hit the mute button and look away
- I begin channel hopping
- I leave the room immediately

If I were an advertiser spending big bucks to run commercials, these reactions could be considered counterproductive.

Mr./Ms. Advertiser, please try to avoid running ads which include people I would not engage in conversation and most certainly would not allow into my home. These include:
- Extremely hyperactive women focused on getting to the bargains first
- Women with high-pitched, nasal voices who insult the viewer's intelligence
- Rude families pushing or shoving one another at the table

Most of us watching prime time television are over the age of 6, so please treat us with a little respect.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Form Letters

There are many things that we all find annoying: people sharing their cell phones with others, undisciplined children in stores, bad drivers…the list continues. But with the approach of the holidays, nothing annoys me personally as much as opening a Christmas card from an old friend to find a "form" letter.

You must be familiar with this type of letter. These are often printed on holiday stationery in an effort to look personal. But they are addressed to "Dear Friend" or "Holiday Greetings to All." I find such letters laughable and usually make humorous comments about the senders. So if you send me a letter, save yourself some time and trouble. Just mail the card.

People must be so busy that they apparently compile the contents over time to reduce holiday stress. The result is a vivid description of EVERY annoying problem they experienced throughout the year, 99% of which is of no importance. These ditties include such items as dental work, bank overdrafts or inopportune flat tires, things most of us encounter but forget immediately. No doubt these letters writers are thrilled when such events occur, noting them down for inclusion in the "annual report" to friends and family.

Many letters are actually hilarious. One family always refers to itself in the third person: "John and Susan had a great time at the beach this summer." It makes one wonder who typed the letter.

Last year, one author opened with rather trivial matters ("Our dog got out and was gone for several days)" then added several pages later -- almost as an afterthought -- that the husband's brother has a terminal illness. Come on folks. Read them over first.

The number of these letters seems to be increasing. I would estimate 75% of my cards has such an enclosure. It would serve the writers to at least personalize the contents somewhat. I have also been known to type letters because it takes less time. But I include the person's NAME and to omit the humdrum which is of little interest.

If you are in the habit of sending form letters, try to hit the highlights of the year and even include a question about the recipient: "How are you guys getting along in your new home?" "How are things in [insert city name here]?"

That way the recipient will think that you actually do care.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thank Goodness for Thanksgiving

Once we passed Halloween, it's inevitable that the "big" countdown began. As soon as the seasons changed, the advertising push for Christmas was underway.

But first, we get to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. By the time it rolls around, most people are deeply into the Yuletide shopping turmoil, checking availability for church activities or office parties and generally in a frenzy. It takes a while to get everything done before December 25, so there is no time to waste.

Whoa. Here comes Thanksgiving Day, an American original, which provides a chance to reflect and be glad for what we have. Thanksgiving represents what Christmas should be -- perhaps what it was once -- and could be again. All that Thanksgiving asks of us is to be with family and friends and enjoy simple things like time together and eating good food. Unlike Christmas, it doesn't require presents or pretension. For that fact, we are truly thankful.

The Pilgrims didn't have it easy. They ventured to this country for religious freedom and had incredible difficulties to overcome. But they succeeded and made the best of it. Their determination is worth celebrating.

Like the Pilgrims themselves, Thanksgiving is uncomplicated. The first feast was likely simple by today's standards. It's doubtful the Pilgrims were confronted with the enthusiastic banquets that many of us prepare. In observation of this most pious and solemn occasion, cooks across America have come to add "holiday favorites" each year, until their tables are overflowing with cranberry concoctions, sweet potato sculptures and vegetable varieties to please nearly every palate. Some cooks insist on including homemade noodles and cornbread along with the traditional fare: turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Dessert can include everything from pumpkin and pecan pies to bread pudding and cake.

Thanksgiving encourages us to lend a hand to those less fortunate. Church halls and activity centers across the country serve turkey and all the trimmings to those who might not be with family or have the required resources. Similar meals are often provided at Christmas, but that season has come to be visits from Santa and toys for the kiddies and less about helping adults.

The gluttony of Christmas is a relatively recent development. People used to attend church services and enjoy a meal together, much as Thanksgiving is observed today. Holiday gift giving seems to have exploded after World War II with the advent of mass advertising, when the U.S. was riding high.

I don't expect that Christmas trends will change any day soon, although it would be nice if they did. Meanwhile, enjoy Thanksgiving as it was intended: a day to celebrate what we have and to enjoy a meal with family or friends.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Aging Gracefully

I recently read an online article which identified 30 celebrities who were deemed to be "aging gracefully". This topic happens to be one about which I feel strongly and something which everyone should try to achieve.

Among the celebrities named were several still in their 40s, doubtfully "aging" at this point. But what intrigued me more was the definition of "aging gracefully."

Certain of the identified celebrities have been outspoken against plastic surgery of any type. I happen to agree, although those listed most likely have had at least a little "work" performed. I wouldn't think too many people wish to resemble a hood ornament on a vintage automobile, windswept and forever frozen in place. Moderation is good in all things.

Aging gracefully requires more than cosmetic retouches or hair color, involving more attitude and self-confidence than skin texture. People who are "aging gracefully" have a certain joie de vivre, a vitality that sets them apart. I recently watched "The Holiday", a 2006 movie featuring a then-90-year-old Eli Wallach. The actor and his performance personified this joie de vivre. (If you haven't watched it, the film is well worth your time.)

The recent list of celebrities omitted several people who I would have included: Cloris Leachman, Eli Wallach, George Clooney, Julie Harris, James Cromwell, and Tom Wilkinson to name a few. But among those included in the article were:

Diane Keaton
Clint Eastwood
Helen Mirren
Meryl Streep
Denzel Washington
Pierce Brosnan
Emma Thompson
Jamie Lee Curtis
Isabella Rossellini
Bette White
Annette Bening

It is good to remind the public that aging should not to be dreaded. As the majority of the Baby Boomers join the "stay natural" movement, more people will learn to roll with the punches.

To quote Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Photo Frenzy

I like kids. But enough already. When did it become OK to share every photo of your grandchildren with people you barely know?

I recently received an email from a friend which attached pictures of her granddaughters. During a two-week period, I got 60 photos relating to Halloween. One set of pictures was taken at a pumpkin patch. The second set showed their adventures with trick-or-treating. Whoop-de-do.

People used to say that we should always "Know your audience." That seemed to imply it was best to share information with someone who might be interested.

When I was in college, there were two views of parenthood: (Group 1): Have kids early and figure out what to do with them later and (Group 2): Career-focused folks who wanted to give the marriage a test run and see if it stuck. I was in Group 2. We used to get together with Group 2 friends and DISCUSS things: books, cooking, movies, future plans, etc. Once our friends migrated from Group 2 to Group 1, all they could talk about was diaper changes, constipation, runny noses and embarrassing mishaps. Those of us who stayed in Group 2 vowed that if we got around to having kids, we would NEVER morph into the Group 1 gang.  But quite soon, most group transfers changed nevertheless, spoke only in monosyllables and only about the kiddies.  I always found that a little sad that they had relinquished actual conversation for the latest method to remove spit up from upholstered furniture.

Now those same Group 1 people have become grandparents, again focused on their grandchildren. When I was little, grandparents held a different position. They were sweet, patient and to be respected. They did not live to spoil us, although they did innocently and discreetly. They were to be visited and to share holidays and special occasions. A night spent at the grandparents was beyond special -- mostly because it was not a common occurrence, which kept it all the more unique.

Perhaps television is one of the reasons for the changing role of grandparents. Instead of talking to their grandparents and actual saying or hearing interesting things, now visits with grandparents often center around the television. You may talk during the commercials or when the show is over. No one must interrupt the program.

Also, a program like "America's Funniest Home Videos" has elevated events like spit-up, poop and toilet training, bringing such topics into our front rooms. "AFV" proves that there is money in turning children into characters doing stupid things. Send in the video -- no matter how private it might be -- and show the entire viewing audience that you are an indulgent parent of a less-than-stellar child. You might win enough money to make it worth your while.

I also blame the digital camera for the lack of discretion shown by parents/grandparents. In the "old" days, taking a photo required a little effort. You needed to pick a situation that warranted photographs -- birthday, Easter Sunday finery, family around the Christmas tree -- and then take a few photos to record the occasion for the future. It was also a little more costly: you had to take the film to be developed.

Now parents/grandparents take pictures of Susie waking up, Susie at breakfast, Susie getting dressed, Susie going to day care, Susie at nap time, Susie and her friends, Susie asleep. It's wonderful that the folks want to take such precious photos. Kids grow up way to quickly. But these souvenirs belong in a photo album, picture frame or hanging on the wall. For goodness sake, I don't want to look at digital photos stored on someone's telephone when I happen to encounter the grandmother in Wal-Mart's parking lot! Most photos are far more fascinating to the person who knows the subject of the picture.

So, please, grandparents out there, this year evaluate whether your holidays photos need to go to everyone in your email address book. Perhaps share them with someone who might actually care. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Really OK

Never mind that the calendar reads early November, Christmas is well on the way. Advertisers refer to early Yuletide merchandising as "Christmas creep," because, I suppose, ads quietly arrive and start shoppers thinking about the holidays.

Pick a random TV channel nearly any day and you will likely encounter ads for the following items that will make an ideal Christmas gift:
  • This year's must have toy, which probably requires absolutely no creativity from the user. Both parents and extended family are sure to be convinced that their own infant/toddler must have this gizmo. The kid could probably care less, but the advertisers are not marketing to the kiddies.
  • The newest and greatest gourmet kitchen device which likely relates to brewing something or is designed to cook an item you eat once a year at a restaurant that prepares it more easily and admittedly better.
  • A lovely jewelry item that will win her heart. She doesn't care that it's expensive or gaudy, only that you thought enough of her to go to all that bother. Jewelry is one of those purchases that sound nice and photographs well, but let's face it, other than a wedding ring and maybe one nice pair of earrings, most women will scarcely wear something with enough "bling" to get her robbed on the street.
It's really OK if we all step back this year and relax a bit about Christmas. The holiday season is going to arrive anyway and we will all feel jolly as a result. There will be enough music and old movies to set the mood. Let's try and back off on the spending just a bit, no matter how the advertisers insist.

It's really OK if you don't buy a gift for everyone, like people in the office or guys in the car pool. People inevitably feel compelled to purchase and wrap a gift for someone they might not even like just because is the thing to do. Especially in this economy, most people don't have extra funds for splurging. If a situation seems to require a gesture, why not make a charitable donation in that person's name? The local food bank or hospital charity would appreciate the funds. There are countless agencies who would appreciate a donation -- senior centers, children's homes, and veterans' facilities to name a few.

Want to do something but can't spare the funds? How about helping out as a volunteer? There is probably some nearby organization which would appreciate an extra set of holiday hands to wrap gifts or help serve meals. You could really make a difference and will probably walk away from the experience enriched yourself.

Christmas used to mean more than ca-ching. It meant being with family, reflection on happier times behind and hopefully ahead, creating memories to help us through times such as these. It also meant recognizing the good in each other, a trait that seems elusive in today's world.

Let's all try to face the coming holiday season calmly. It's really OK.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Older and Wiser

I happen to subscribe to the notion that maturity brings wisdom -- or at least a sense of calm. Just look around you for examples of how judgment and responsibility seem to increase with age. If you still aren't convinced, here are some quotes by well-known folks who apparently share this inside knowledge.

To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.                                                                - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.


You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.                        - Pearl S. Buck

Age does not protect you from love, but love to some extent protects you from age.
                                                                                         - Jeanne Moreau

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.     - Henry David Thoreau

And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years.
                                                                                    - Abraham Lincoln

There's no such thing as old age, there is only sorrow.          - Edith Wharton

Live your life and forget your age.        - Norman Vincent Peale
 
I don't believe one grows older. I think that what happens early on in life is that at a certain age one stands still and stagnates.                      - T.S. Eliot

The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy.             - Helen Hayes

The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.           - Carlos Castaneda

And one of my personal favorites:

Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese. - Billie Burke             
                                                                                                                                         
 

So the next time you think you are alone in this aging process, think again!  There are some great ideas out there from such folks as quoted here.  See for yourself!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why is Everyone So Afraid?

The arrival of Halloween this year made me wonder: Why are so many Americans afraid all of the time? Rather than being scared by vampires or ghouls briefly during October, many citizens seem to be constantly afraid of daily life.

Granted, the last few years have been tough, especially in view of our failing economy and world turmoil. People have experienced increasing unemployment, decreasing real estate values, a volatile stock market and uncertainty at every turn. In our present worldwide economy, problems in other parts of the world -- including Greece and Ireland -- greatly impact stock markets around the globe only contributing to the instability.

This isn't the first time our country has experienced widespread tension but the current crisis has lasted for years without much hope on the horizon. What happened to that old American bravado? Why is everyone so negative about our future?

There might be a logical explanation for our insecurity. It may be that the financial volatility and related concerns have fallen victim to excessive media overexposure. The existence of cable news/information programs and talk radio have naturally driven competition throughout the media. The huge amount of airtime to be filled each day -- which includes many 24-hour channels -- has also ramped up the need for more information to be regurgitated for public consumption. In decades passed, reports merely provided highlights and then moved on to the next story. Now the evening news programs bestow details of the day's investment trading disaster, what analysts think about it and how Congress reacted, sometimes filling more than half of the entire news show. Viewers are left with a single issue enthusiastically repeated and examined from every possible angle.

News editors also seem a little less selective about which features are chosen for reporting. Have you ever watched a piece on the news and wondered how a story of no general concern or interest even made it into the coverage? Chances are the reason is that they have plenty of empty air time to fill. As a result, viewers are exposed to a variety of rather insignificant items of relatively no importance, but shown repeatedly to drive home the point.

There is plenty of work to be done to improve matters in this country. People are struggling every day just to survive, education needs an overhaul and we are still trying to figure out how to bring troops home. But what seems to be missing is focus. While much of the population -- the "99%" -- has learned by necessity to multi-task, the country as a whole has not. Until we can cut out some of the rhetoric and most of the static, we will continue to flail.

We need to concentrate on what really matters and recognize what we can fix and how to do it. To that end, I like this comment by philosopher W.W. Bartley:

For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there is none, never mind it.

Let's all try to pull together and find our way back to a positive plan.
 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's the Little Things…

We all have different ideas about what we need to make us happy. Those ideas begin to form during childhood and remain dangling before our vision like the proverbial carrot on a stick. The "happiness thoughts" keeps us thinking ahead, moving forward to attain the goal. Some people might think happiness is found in a big house, a job significant enough to impress others or a hefty bank account. Others aspire to some goal which is likely unobtainable but nevertheless provides a focus.

As we strive to reach our happiness target, we should try to focus on fully experiencing each day in order to make the most of it. After all, it is in the present that we spend our time. View each day as though it really matters -- because it does.

Explore pleasure in the little things of daily life.

This is a habit that I began to practice during an extremely difficult time in my life. When I would awaken each morning, I forced myself to immediately think of something positive to lift my spirits. On the rare occasion when I could not think of anything pleasant, I stopped in my tracks to make that happen. It became an utmost priority. Thinking a good thought first thing in the day set my mood on the right path.

Many days during that period, I might only find one positive element in the entire day; but that was enough. It might be something relatively insignificant -- like wearing a favorite item of clothing, enjoying a delicacy or exotic coffee for breakfast or knowing that a great movie was scheduled on TCM that night. It wasn't the object itself that was important but the deliberate concentration on a pleasant experience.

There are countless stories of concentration camp survivors who lost everything during World War II -- family, home and friends -- then went on to live full and seemingly happy lives. How could these people possibly endure such hardship and tragedy and then go on with their lives? This horror occurred during a period when modern mental health was in its infancy and before doctors prescribed pills to help with anxiety. How did they do it? Surely such extreme situations test an individual's strength. Their ultimate survival required incredible coping skills. They surely learned to keep focused on each day rather than wondering how many days stretched ahead before they could live freely again.

The world continues to challenge us. Even those of us who have much to be thankful for are often discontent with our lives. We need to step back and exam what is really important to us and learn to live fully each day. Take pleasure in the little things. Whether it is lingering over lunch with a friend, relaxing with your pet companion or watching a sunset, the little indulgences can add up to a stack of happy days.

It's a good path to follow.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reflections

Several recent events have caused me to think about death.

Not my own specifically, but death in general. Let's face it -- death is part of life's circle, whether it involves losing a loved one, a pet companion or merely experiencing the change of seasons. Although fall and winter are my two favorite seasons, some people find falling leaves and fewer hours of sunshine depressing, even incapacitating. But change will continue occur, whether or not we want it.

Loss has surrounded me during most of my life. A childhood playmate was a polio victim during the 1950s. Two high school friends were killed in a car accident during the summer before my senior year. Then the Vietnam War scooped up a huge number of boys from my hometown. All of these events occurred before I reached the age of 21. Scattered throughout this period were the deaths of my grandparents, paternal and maternal relatives and neighbors. Death was neither easy nor very far away.

Possibly those of us who experience loss early in life have a different perspective. We appreciate that we are all on shaky ground and life brings no guarantees. The biggest shock to my adolescent being was acknowledging the death of people who were my own age. This fact was unsettling to say the least, especially because young people always feel (and hope) they are "immortal." The older we get, the more loss we inevitably suffer.

Perhaps the key to experiencing a rich life is not to waste time dwelling on events of the past. A great percentage of people not only focus on trivial, perceived slights, but repeat the tale to anyone who will listen. This may be a result of watching too much reality television. We somehow feel entitled to complain and criticize, an attitude which spills over into our actual lives. But regardless of the reason, this negative outlook is filled with bitterness and selfishness and, unfortunately, can become contagious.

Instead, we should try to enjoy every day to its fullest, as though each might be our last day. I would imagine people who are killed in some horrible accident -- like a plane crash -- don't spend their final moments recalling the many projects they left unfinished or phone calls they neglected to return. Their thoughts are likely about loved ones or fond memories. I might be wrong on that point. But just think about that for a moment.

We should strive to enjoy each day. Perform random acts of kindness and be appreciative of others. We could all benefit from re-learning how to relax and laugh. Try to live in the moment. Who knows how many more moments we have?

Simple though this approach might be, it is a good guide for daily life.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Memorable Quotes

During a lifetime, each of us will hear an assortment of quotable lines from generally well-intentioned intervals. "Sit up straight." "Don't talk with your mouth full." "Sure, I'll call you again." The statements vary over time but when we hear the lines, we choose to either use or discard the information offered.

Recently I heard a statement from a fellow snappy senior which set me thinking about previous quotes I have heard. Three such proclamations stood out as regrettable on behalf of the person who said each one. I offer the lines here for general review and welcome any comments.

1. "I don't need pretty." While shopping with a friend, I noticed a beautiful nightgown of silky material patterned with dainty flowers of lavender and pink. "Oh, look," I observed. "How pretty." My friend snorted, "I don't need pretty."

I said nothing. But it seems to me that nearly everyone needs pretty on occasion. Who couldn't use a little something special in his/her life, whether it is a special food treat, a splash of delightful cologne or a lovely piece of lingerie? We need to treat ourselves the way we would like to be treated by others.

2. "I've already learned all that I ever want to learn." This remark has been previously quoted on this website. But it is repeated here because of its notable impact. Anyone who truly believes that there is nothing more to learn or experience is setting themselves up for a dull and predictable life. No one -- at any age -- should resign himself to never again experiencing a new food or a fresh thought. Such a person is missing a great deal on the journey through life.

3. "I've already got my man." I once worked with a lovely woman named "Karen" who had been divorced and was raising two sons alone. At the age of 50 or so, Karen remarried and just as she entered her new life, she began to change. She appeared to care less and less about how she looked and dressed and she gained a significant amount of weight. One day some of us were joking about the calorie content of a certain snack food when Karen joined in the conversation. "Oh, I don't worry about that," she smiled. "I've already got my man." Women should never get complacent about their lives. Situations can change in an instant. Make an effort. Care about your appearance, your attitude, your life, if not for the benefit of someone else, then for your own satisfaction. A little effort goes a long way.

Pay attention to those around you. See if quotations such as these catch your ear. I'll bet you will be surprised about the frequency with which such comments surface.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Make an Effort

There are plenty of benefits to being retired. You can chart your own schedule and complete projects when you happen to be in the mood. Feel like cleaning house today? Nope. It can wait. How absolutely liberating! If you have spent decades complying with a work schedule, it's a joy to again resume being in charge of your own time.

However, the downside of having time to do what you want to do is the temptation to do nothing at all. After all, you have worked for many years and deserve to indulge yourself.

Farther down that road, it is easy to become absolutely slothful. At first, I found this chapter of life to be fun. If I chose to, I could wear jeans and slippers all day, go without make-up or attempts to fix my hair. If I was not going anywhere, who was to know? I certainly didn't care.

One day, I started noticing that the majority of women at the grocery store on Tuesday morning appeared to be indulging themselves as well. None wore make-up or made any effort to improve their appearance. As long as they could pull on a sweatshirt or over sized T-shirt and slip into elastic waist pants, they were ready to go anywhere.

Women aren't required to keep up with the latest fashion trends. But there are certain requirements that should be kept in mind: dress age appropriately and cover the most obvious portions of your anatomy.


Whether it concerns fashion or taste in general, all women -- not only seniors -- need to pay attention to whether their choices are appropriate. Just because long, blond hair looked good in 1975 doesn't mean it is the most flattering style for now. Need confirmation of your fashion choices? Ask a friend. Don't trust the opinion of a friend or spouse? Buy a mirror. Some people will wear what they want anyway. The results are visible every day.

As for covering the most obvious portions of your anatomy, this subject doesn't sound like one that requires explanation. If some part of you shows, make sure it is something that you really want to display. Look for fabric tucked into places where it doesn't belong, material which is transparent in any light and styles better displayed on your grandchildren. Simple enough.

Learn to try new styles for a new look. But keep in mind that leggings may not come in size 3X for the same reason that thong underwear often stops at XL. Not all fashions look the same on everyone. Age appropriate means just that. Think before you thong.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pay Attention

It seems that no one pays attention to "details" anymore. That's a shame.

In this age of instant communication and text messages, widespread carelessness appears to have taken hold. Text messages such as "sending this just to see how u r " have opened the dore to bad speling. Y bothr w/ speling whn the reedr nos what y meen? (You get the idea.)

The entire country stopped on September 11th to observe the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy and to display for the first time the memorial created on the grounds where the twin towers stood. It was somber tribute to those whose lives were lost and the families left behind. A few days later, the media reported that one of the names appeared on the memorial had been misspelled. Of all the fuss and preparation for the ceremony to open the impressive memorial, something as simple as getting the names spelled correctly seems simple and necessary. The family involved was shocked and disappointed at the error -- as they should be -- and those in charge said the matter would be corrected. If the purpose of the tribute and memorial was to make sure these individuals are honored, does it seem like too much to have the names spell correctly?

Accurate spelling seems to be slipping away as one more of those seemingly unimportant details that don't really matter. Shirley the reedr nos what you meen. But carelessness and inattention are rampant and turn up in the most surprising places. To find them, however, you must pay attention.

I was recently watching "Annie Hall," one of my all-time favorite movies. For decades, I have admired Woody Allen for his quirky humor and entertaining films. Not only are his films delightful, but Allen is known for his craftsmanship and unending attention to detail. As the credits ran at the end of the movie, I noticed that the name of fantastic actor Christopher Walken is actually spelled wrong (Wlaken)! I couldn't believe that such a great film -- an Academy Award-winning film -- had a blatant typo. Perhaps Woody Allen or a member of his crew "planted" the error to see if someone would notice. I doubt that is the case, but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Amazing.

I've always been a fairly good speller, so perhaps I spot these mistakes more easily than most people. A local television commercial has a large graphic typo in one of its ads that runs at least several times a week. (Hopefully they will care enough to fix it eventually.) I was in a restaurant last week where daily specials were listed on a board near the door and included an "avacado" salad. Like I mentioned, the errors are everywhere and obvious. If you watch for them, you will see them.

I sincerely hope that while we are trying to pump up the economy, create jobs and control the national debt, we do not completely ignore the little niceties that we used to value. To me, correct spelling is a signal that the writer/speller/typist cares about the finished product and in completing the task has paid attention.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Something New

Many people I know who have decided to retire did so because, well, they were tired. Tired seems a good reason to retire, doesn't it?

Admittedly, working can be a drag, no matter how much you like your job. The workday schedule can become a real nuisance -- getting up, making your way to a job, returning home again. Oh, and there is the actual job itself and its requirements. It's all rather tedious and tiring to be sure and yes, we all need a rest sometimes.

But don't hit the sofa on retirement without considering remaining a part of the work force again. Try to think about your future in a new and refreshing way.

Some folks believe work is an adventure, a challenge, something stimulating. We probably all felt like that when we originally entered the workforce. Working and earning an income was new and exciting.

Don't think about staying at your full-time job until you can no longer stand it. Some morning they might find you slumped over your desk. What a shame.

Consider working part-time.

When I retired, I suddenly felt that I had lost control over the hours of every day. After all, I had worked for nearly 50 years. Work provided a type of rhythm, a framework around which to schedule and complete daily tasks. Work has a pattern, one with which we are all familiar. Discarding the rhythm entirely can be disquieting. Rather than try to switch it off, try to taper off gradually.

After pursuing one career path for so long, I seriously needed a change and was delighted to retire. As I reviewed the summer jobs and the typical part-time employment during college, there were certain work areas in which I no experience.

I had never worked in the food industry. Now in my golden years, this pursuit held little interest. I envisioned waiting on picky food critics such as I had become. Preparing food and serving me was not something I wanted to experience. Anyway, I could do this at home anytime I chose.

Another area I had not tried was working in retail sales. I had accumulated plenty of experience in customer service and had always liked working with people. So I found a part-time job in retail sales.  Diverse. Interesting. Flexible. Suddenly -- and maybe for the first time ever -- I had a job rather than the job having me.  Although that situation did not last more than a few weeks, it was a very good experience and showed me that I could still endure the workplace pace.

You might be surprised at the offerings available for part-time work, even in the current economy. Don't just read the want ads in the local newspaper. Get out there and look for a job. Contact your friends and let them know you are looking for a part-time position.

Make certain that you have a firm grasp of how many hours you would like to work. Some job listings for "part-time" work really mean up to 39½ hours per week. One way that employers can avoid paying benefits is to consider a position of nearly full-time hours as part-time. If you aren't careful, you might soon find yourself working a great many more hours than you either want or need.

At least investigate job opportunities for part-time work in your area. Such an arrangement will allow you to get out, meet people and remain a part of the working community. You will still have plenty of time to continue with other interests. It's a good way to keep active and preserve your self-confidence.

Happy hunting.
 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

"Youth has no age."   -- Pablo Picasso

As with most stages of life, getting older is a matter of perspective. An often-quoted birthday card sentiment states that getting older is a case of mind over matter; if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. Examples of those who pursue this line of thinking are countless. They include an assortment of forward-thinking folks from famous celebrities to your neighbors just down the block. They have learned to enjoy each day and stay involved in activities that provide joy. Members of this lucky group seem to have turned a blind eye to the calendar.

Throughout civilization, the word "aging" has often conjured images of infirmity and hostility, the proverbial old man screaming at the kids to stay off his pristine lawn, Ebenezer Scrooge, etc. You know what I mean. This is the imagery that promotes anxiety among those of us who are seniors and have sworn to avoid becoming geezers (one word that should be banned entirely!).

But "aging" can also provide a fresh opportunity to explore the world. Don't sweat everything. By now, we know that much of what we "worry" about doesn't matter at all. Learn to relax.

Stop trying to please everyone. Why worry what people think about you, people that you don't like anyway?  No amount of cosmetic procedures or hair implants can impress others as much a serenity, internal confidence and a great attitude.

Try to keep an open mind. Welcome input about new technology and ideas. You don't have to embrace the latest fads but just knowing the terms in passing or what is involved will help you feel connected to others. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Don't fear change. Threatening and unpleasant things have been with us for a very long time including most of the 20th century which brought us world wars and armed conflicts, rampant disease and worldwide depression. Did we whine when those situations left? No. It was change for the better. Much of change is for the better, even if it takes us a while to catch on.

Learn to tune out the static that pours in from all sides and look for the occasional gem of wisdom. But don't shut out everything. I once worked with a younger woman who was trying to conquer a simple office task. When I offered to show her an easy shortcut, she smiled and said nicely, "No thanks. That's OK. I've already learned all that I ever want to learn." She was 25 years old.

I have since wondered whether her wish was granted, poor girl.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Simplify

We all own too much stuff. Every household likely contains clothes we don't wear, items we seldom even see (let alone use), meaningless papers (miscellaneous receipts and obsolete warranties) and lots of "stuff" we have obtained, all of which seemed like a good idea at the time when they were obtained.

In part, this compulsion to obtain "stuff" comes naturally. Our childhood years were ripe with conspicuous consumption. Homes overflowed as our families enjoyed the post-war boom combined with new product technology. We had air conditioners, televisions, hi-fi stereos, sleek cars and mail order catalogs, all representing vast lifestyle improvements in a surprisingly short period of time.

It was this fascination with obtaining "stuff" that helped our towns evolve from communities with friendly downtown stores to huge shopping centers and big box stores. Less time wasted driving and parking meant more time to shop for "stuff."

Over time, our personal inventory of nearly everything expanded to the point of absurdity. We currently have shoes and clothes that don't fit or are slightly out of style. What do we do to remedy this situation? Buy closet organizers and bundles of new hangers. We have more pots, pans and dishes and utensils than we will ever need, not to mention electric gizmos we used once but "might need again."

The back of every linen closet hides old towels, mismatched sheets or lint rollers in need of a refill. What is it about our inbred sense of practicality that makes us keep such "stuff"?

Let's face it. Now is the time to simplify.

Look around and clean out those closets. Separate out clothes of no possible good. Make them into dust cloths or discard entirely. Donate the better items to local charities. Plenty of people will appreciate your gesture to a worthy cause. Or have a yard/garage sale. This choice may require a little effort to collect and organize the items. Allow plenty of time if you want to advertise the sale in your local paper. But a yard sale can be fun, allows you to clear out non-essentials and may even bring in some money.

If you are intimidated about getting rid of something you might want later, start small. Carefully review what you are going to eliminate from your surplus, excluding items of sentimental value. Perhaps you want to dispose of extra copies of a DVD or some large platters you only use on certain holidays. You think you can't dispose of your daughter's high school "letter sweater" so ask your married daughter if she would like to have it hanging in her own closet. You'll soon get into the swing of things.

Even if you aren't planning to move or downsizing isn't in your immediate future, you'll feel glad to be rid of extra items. It's a little like cleaning out your purse. You'll be rid of the excess and get yourself newly organized.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Late bloomers

At some point the life of nearly everyone reaches a peak. That high point may not involve financial success. Rather it may relate to contentment with certain events -- marriage, family, or professional achievement. But eventually such a summit is reached, whether or not the person recognizes it.

During high school, I observed fellow students who appeared already to have it all -- beauty, popularity, social expertise or athletic prowess. They seemed sophisticated beyond their years.

What I failed to understand at the time was that many of these high school students had already reached their individual peaks -- at the age of 17! Having become as athletic, popular or attractive as was possible, there was nowhere to go but downhill.

If you knew anyone in high school who also fits this description, chances are you have observed a similar pattern of decline. The speed with which these superstars fell from their attained peaks likely varied. But I have found few exceptions to this pattern. The sooner these exotic flowers bloomed, the sooner they withered.

For those of us who eventually found our own way, we came to realize that not all flowers bloom at the same time. The more fortunate among us were the most magnificent species of flower - the late bloomer.

Maturity is a great time in which to bloom. Much of the humdrum of life has been confronted and conquered. We have dealt with our share of trials and tribulations and have gained a great deal of self confidence. We possess mature judgment, are slow to lose our tempers and have developed an appreciation for doing the right thing at the right time. We can laugh at our own foibles and don't take ourselves too seriously. We have learned not to sweat the small stuff.

The best part of being a "late" bloomer is that we have spent more time in the sunlight and absorbing nutrients from the soil. So our blooms can endure longer.

It's time to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Many of the early bloomers have faded until they are nothing but a distant memory. It may have taken us late bloomers a bit longer to reach our glory. But we are here now. So we must learn to relax and enjoy each day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Proactive

A proactive person is someone who is observant about what is going on around him/her. Most of us would benefit from being a bit more proactive about everyday matters, including our health.

I like doctors. They serve the public even if their collective reputation has become somewhat tarnished in recent years. The kindly, local doctor who knew the patient and their family has largely gone the way of the buggy whip. Today's doctors are either specialists, focusing on one part of the anatomy or are in general practice. The latter means the doctor sees one patient after another in more or less rapid succession, often spending only a brief amount of time with each.

So let's say you feel the need to see your doctor. Consider doing a little homework before your appointment. Be prepared with questions you might have and write down your concerns. Note how certain medication or foods made you feel. Does your back hurt? What exercising or lifting did you do that may have contributed to it? The more information you provide to the doctor, the better your result.

Today's doctors seem trained to treat the immediate complaint, a bit like a parent who sees their child's scraped knee and reaches for the band-aids. The goal is to fix the pressing problem. At the conclusion of the appointment, the patient usually feels better, relieved that the problem was neither complicated nor exotic. The doctor moves on to see the next patient.

Doctors may appreciate having a dialogue with the patient about the reason for the visit. Concern by the patient demonstrates that he/she has reflected on the purpose of the appointment and may help shed light on perhaps a larger ailment/injury. Several years ago, I met with my doctor and explained my problem, offering a suggested reason. My doctor became extremely upset and shouted, "If you think you are so much smarter than me, then I think you need to see another doctor." With that outburst, he told me to leave his office. I was stunned and shaken, but found another doctor and while my problem was easily resolved, the incident was not forgotten. It was some time before I dared to hold an open discussion with a doctor again. Hopefully, such incidents do not frequently occur.

Liike the vehicles we drive, the body is a complicated machine which may require fine tuning. When you have questions about diagnosis or treatment, check the internet and visit one of many helpful websites. There are many available to answer questions about aches, pains or procedures. Get familiar with the internet and what is has to offer. If you are not comfortable with searching the web, ask someone to help you. Most libraries have assistants who can help you.

Before your next scheduled meeting with your doctor, do a little investigation into the matter, see what you can find and jot down your questions. Both you and the doctor may benefit.

Some sites to get you started:
http://www.healthfullivingsf.com/
http://www.webmd.com/
http://www.cdc.gov/
 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Choices

By the time we reach age 60 or so, other people have likely been controlling our decisions for years.

Our parents helped us choose what to wear, how to behave, when to get up and go to bed, even shaped our food choices. As we grew, siblings, grandparents and extended family were added to the control group. Then other forces joined in: teachers, clergymen, friends, bosses and spouses, perhaps our own children.

The list of influences continued to grow as we strived to meet their demands. As a result, control of our own lives slipped further away. Whether or not we were aware of it, we spent decades being impacted by these outside constraints.

Once we reach retirement, this pattern undergoes a dramatic shift.

You resume control over your own life. Of course, some restrictions will remain in place. But the majority of control will be yours, perhaps for the first time ever. This realization can be intimidating. How are we supposed to figure out what we are going to do?

Call this new phase independence, freedom or self-reliance. Charting your own course is no small feat. Being responsible for your own future can be wonderful -- and frightening.

Some people find that they are simply not up to making decisions regarding their own lives. As a result, some choose to postpone retirement indefinitely. Perhaps they have relinquished the ability to make their own decisions for so long, they are unsure of their ability to make choices.

But many people will rejoice at the mere prospect.

During conversations about retirement, some people make comments such as, "Oh, that's not for a couple of years. I haven't even thought about that yet."

People underestimate the impact that retirement will have on their lives. I don't mean the financial impact, although that is certainly a consideration. I mean the impact of not having to answer to the clock, to drudge at a job they may hate.

You will be free to do what you want to do.

Be aware that the sheer novelty of freedom will wear off. Children may wait breathlessly for summer vacation, shrieking with joy at the final day of class. However, two weeks later they are whining about not having anything to do.

Even if the prospect of retirement seems far away, begin thinking about it occasionally. What would you like to do with your time? What interests you? Do you have a hobby that is of great interest? What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?

You need to think what course you would like to follow so that you can design a plan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Change is Good

Things change.

Seasons and the weather change. Fashions change. Food trends and ocean tides ebb and flow. Even the planet's climate seems to be changing.

Change can be a good thing, offering new ways to think and function. It keeps us observant about what is happening around us. Change is also inevitable.

Like a great number of post-war women, I began working during high school. I couldn't wait to get a job, make a little money, grow up and stake my independence.

Even if our mothers worked, ours was among the first wave of women who eagerly burst into the workplace. In the 1950s and even 1960s, few of my friends had working mothers. Most moms -- including mine -- stayed home until the kids reached adolescence. When that flock of mothers entered the work force, it was a gradual transition over several years.

By the 1970s, a large percentage of women were working. When the first wave of retiring women began in the 1960s, women left the working world as they had entered -- gradually and over time.

Now it's our turn. Vast numbers of females are now facing retirement. The U.S. government talks of an overload to the Social Security system. I'm going to let the government worry about that facet of the issue.

I'm here to address the ladies.

Recently I walked into a party where four mature, college-educated women were in an animated conversation about the prospects of life after their careers. The air vibrated with phrases like "what now" and "what will I do."

Unfortunately, I've heard similar pleas from my peers. That could explain why many women continue to work well beyond time to retire. It isn't necessarily because of devotion to their employer or any financial concern.

It's simply because they have no idea how to fill each day.

Today's seniors are a departure from previous generations. There is an element of truth in the declaration that age 70 is the new 50. Many people remain vital and active well into their 80s and beyond.

There is a lot going on out there and in this blog we will explore the many options available to today's seniors.

Come and join the conversation.