Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Two Thousand Fourteen: Summing Up

Mei Zheng Luo, China’s oldest person, age 127 (many New Years)

Dear George,
One year ends today; the next begins tomorrow.  It may be my imagination, but it feels like time is speeding up.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were celebrating the onset of the New Millenium. One could say that we get plenty of years in our lifetimes.  Or, on the other hand, not so many.  According to GenealogyInTime Magazine, only about 1 of every 6000 Americans reaches age 100.  Most of us wind up having 60 or 70 or maybe 80 years.  Now that I’ve passed through many of these, the remainder take on a particularly high value.  It’s a tricky business to try to sum up one’s past year.  I usually do this by making up a list.   Here’s what my 2014 looked like.  (Hopefully the reader will be inspired to try out this interesting exercise).

  • Most frequent outing destinations: The Cincinnati Art Museum, Zoo, Taft Museum, Clifton Cultural Arts Center
  • Best sheepdog hikes: Eden Park, Miami Whitewater Forest
  • Favorite TV shows: Homeland, Ray Donovan, Boardwalk Empire
  • Best new neighborhood restaurant: Marrakech Moroccan Cafe
  • Bravest moment: Singing "Centa Sweet Centa" in front of my OLLI writing class
  • Weekly bright spot: Friday night at the movies (Esquire, Mariemont, Western Hills Cinemark)
  • Worst nuisance: Our elevator breaking down at least half a dozen times
  • Best flea market: Flea 'N Tique, Dayton Fairgrounds
  • Favorite Books: David Sedaris, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls; Maryka Braggio, Parlour Games
  • Cause for pride: Our grandson L’s excellent adjustment to his new prosthetic foot
  • Best musical theater performance: Broadway touring show of "Evita" at the Aronoff
  • Classical Music: Cincinnati Symphony; Linton Chamber Music series; Cincinnati Opera
  • Theater: Playhouse at the Park, CCM
  • Persistent worry: The health and well-being of our 12.8 year old sheepdogs
  • Best solo trip: My week in New Orleans in March
  • Best restaurant outing: The Phoenix (Katja’s birthday)
  • Favorite standup comedians: Gabriel Iglesias; Louie C.K.
  • Favorite OLLI classes at the university: Poetry Writing Workshop; Behind the Scenes in the Arts
  • Unpleasant financial act: Writing a $4500 check to the IRS
  • Best camping trip: John Bryan State Park, Yellow Springs, with Katja and the sheepdogs
  • Main media: NPR, Sports talk radio (1530), Cincinnati Enquirer, New York Times, Google News, cable TV
  • Most family fun: Doing our annual Thanksgiving play with our grandkids, V and L
  • Most depressing: Congressional gridlock, midterm election results, Supreme Court decisions
  • Favorite line dance numbers: Blue Night Cha, Pretty Belinda, Sierra Rose
  • Best health habit: Mon-Wed-Fri workouts at the fitness center
  • Favorite movies of 2014: Frank, Foxcatcher, Into the Woods
  • Enjoyable daily obsession: Computer solitaire (Spider Solitaire)
  • Most common meal: Swedish Meatballs (Lean Cuisine)
  • Recurrent nightmares: Dissertation writing; teaching graduate student seminars
  • People I miss most: My brothers Steve and Peter and my brother-in-law George
  • Favorite campground: Miami Whitewater Forest
  • Most frequent annoyance: Faulty hearing
  • Number one restaurant choice: Skyline Chili
  • Favorite fast food place: Subway
  • Saddest property loss: Cutting down the giant yew tree in our front yard
  • Worst mistake: Didn’t see a red light at Queen City Ave., sideswiped another car
  • Best family visit: Our son J and grandkids V and L for Thanksgiving week
  • Most inept male behavior: With Katja out of town, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the hot water in the kitchen sink
  • Losses: Linda K. (Sociology secretary), Dooley W. (childhood friend)
  • Favorite everyday red wine: Gato Negro Malbec ($4.49)
  • Best sports event attended: Milos Raonic tennis match at the Western & Southern Open (Mason, OH)
  • Shakiest investment: $200 to be an “owner” in the Clifton Market, our potential but precarious neighborhood coop grocery store
  • Anxious moment: Our sheepdog Duffy disappeared and we searched the house before we found him stuck underneath our bed
  • Most fun non-family house guests: Renee and Monique
  • Silliest technology: Twitter
  • Best softserve ice cream: Chocolate sundaes at Putz’s, West Fork Road
  • Embarrassing moment: Tracking dog poop across the floor in my line dancing class
  • Family wedding: Our nephew Tyler and Amelia’s wedding in Southern California (which Katja attended)
  • Stressors: Both Katja and I being sued following her auto accident on Ludlow Ave.
  • Thankful for: Good health, sweet and smart grandchildren, old Old English Sheepdogs hanging on

I’d say 2014 was pretty good – not the best, not the worst. It looks pretty similar to my lists for 2013 and 2012, and most of the items are fairly low-key, e.g., going to the Art Museum or taking a poetry class. It would be nice to have some “bigger” positives in the coming year.  As a consequence of being retired, most of my activities and experiences these days are things that I choose to do because I enjoy them.  Consequently life is filled with “little pleasures”.  My New Year’s resolution is to try to do something special and out of the ordinary every day. We’ll see.

G-mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (12-31): David,  Oh my what a face :))  Happy New Year!!!  Lots of love !    G

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Visiting Magic and Mistletoes

Dear George,
The Krohn Conservatory is having its holiday Magic and Mistletoe show.  Toy trains, models of Cincinnati landmarks, decorated Christmas trees, and many thousands of flowers.  Here are a few of the images.  Merry Christmas to all!

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (12-25):  Dear Dave,  Gorgeous photos.  Dayton in Jan?  Phyllis

Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Blues and Blahs

Dear George,
For a while I’ve been aware of slipping into a gloomy funk as the Xmas season approaches.  At first I thought that it was just a routine holiday depression.  But this time I realized that my bad mood sets in the very moment that Daylight Savings Time ends.  It’s such a shock -- getting cold and dark before 6 p.m.  And it’s not simply a matter of unpleasant weather.  The loss of daylight is just one sign that the forces of darkness are creeping through the ether and taking over our lives.  

There are many illustrations of  bad things accompanying the onset of darkness.  For example, we always spend more time huddling around the TV when the days get shorter.  This year, though, our cable TV stopped working correctly just when we needed it most.  The cable guy came, and he fiddled around with the knobs and wires.  Then he explained that our problem was due to a city-wide collapse that would take their engineers a couple of weeks to correct.  If they already knew it was a system-wide problem, why did they send a technician to our house to explain that in person?  Maybe they think customers will be less irate if there’s a personal touch.

Soon after our cable TV started acting up our elevator stopped working altogether.  The elevator came with our house, and, though we don’t really need it, Katja likes to have it available.  She called various elevator repair companies, but none would come because we’re a private household and their liability insurance wouldn’t apply.  Finally she got someone from a medical supply company to come.  They installed a new cable for $1,500.  The elevator worked for four days before it stopped functioning again.  Fortunately, the repair job had a thirty-day warranty, so they came the next time for free.  Then it broke again five days later.  Still under warranty, they fixed it once more, but it continued breaking down every week or so.  This happened at least six times in the last eight weeks.  The technicians seem quite relaxed – almost jolly -- about it and told us to just call them and they’ll be happy to come back as often as needed.  Now it stopped working again yesterday.  I guess the elevator repairmen will just be permanent visitors to our house.    

Before Thanksgiving Katja came home in a state of distress and reported that she’d been in a three-car accident on Ludlow Avenue.  Some guy had cut in front of the car just ahead of her, that driver had hit her brakes, Katja ran into her, and somebody behind Katja then ran into her.  Though the person who caused the accident simply drove away, the police gave citations to Katja and the driver who collided with her.  Our car survived but was in the shop for three weeks.  Then Katja and I both got registered letters from a local lawyer announcing that we were each being sued for $25,000.  Katja was being sued for being negligent for crashing into another car.  I was being sued because the car was registered in my name and I had negligently allowed Katja to drive it.  This was a nasty business which has left us in a constant state of anxiety, even though we anticipate that the insurance company will take care of it.  To make matters worse, Katja then got a letter from the Municipal Court reporting that her driver’s license had been suspended for mysterious reasons.  It required a couple of days of not driving but she was eventually able to clear it up by paying a $150 fine.

Then, when it seemed there wasn’t much else that could go wrong, Katja lost her I-phone.  We searched Katja’s purse, the clothes she’d been wearing, the car, and all around the house, but we couldn’t find it anywhere.  After a week, Katja decided to go to her cell phone provider and get a new phone.  As a final check, she completely emptied her purse.  Miracle of miracles, there was her phone at the bottom of the purse, its black face looking upwards, making it practically invisible.

Many other things have gone awry in recent weeks, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Yesterday (Dec. 21) was the shortest day of the year, and this means that hours of daylight as well as life in general will be looking up in coming weeks.  According to the Weather Channel, sunset was at 5:20 p.m. yesterday, and it will be at 5:20 again today.  Tomorrow it’s 5:21 p.m., and it will be 5:21 again on Wednesday.  Then 5:22 for a couple of days.  It looks like we can count on 30 seconds more daylight each day.  Thirty seconds may not seem like that much, but, when you’re desperate, every little bit helps.  We can hardly wait for the New Year to arrive.  

G-mail Comments
-Linda C (12-22): It might be light longer only for a few seconds, but look at all the religions that have light festivities to celebrate.  I'm just happy the sun is moving in a proper way so I can praise a sun god and think I will get my share of grain next year.  Otherwise, I agree the time change makes me a little nuts.  Happy day after winter solstice . Love to you both, Linda
-Phyllis S-S (12-22): But that's 30 seconds to the good both morning and evening.  It adds up, and pretty soon its spring.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Retirement Facts

Dear George,
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be celebrating the six-year anniversary of my retirement from the university.  That certainly whizzed by quickly.  I do feel I’ve settled into a reasonable new life path, though retirement is a huge transition, probably equivalent to marriage or the birth of one’s first child.  After 43 years in my workplace, I’m aware of big losses as well as opportunities to remake a life of my own choosing.  For years beforehand I quizzed older colleagues and acquaintances about their retirements, and, with few exceptions, they were enthusiastic, even exuberant.  One knowledgeable female friend, though, warned me that retirement for strongly career-oriented people can be devastating, a precursor to depression, illness, and death.  I wondered if she were being the most realistic.  There is quite a bit of social science research on the correlates and consequences of retirement.  Here are some of the things that I ran across on the Internet:

NUMBERS OF RETIREES: According to the Social Security Administration, there are currently about 38 million retired workers in the U.S.  (12)  [note: numbers in parentheses refer to sources listed at end] 
-Over 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire every day for the next two decades.  (4)

TIMING OF RETIREMENT: In 1991 half of American workers planned to retire before age 60; today that number has dropped to 23%.  (4)
-The typical American worker now retires at age 62.  (13) 
-On average, individuals who retire at age 65 can expect to live for 18 to 20 years in retirement.  (7)

RETIREMENT AND FINANCES: Investment firms typically recommend that retirees have assets of 8 to 11 times their annual wages to prepare adequately for old age.  (19)
-88% of Americans are worried about "maintaining a comfortable standard of living in retirement," and 40% plan to work "until they drop."  (4)
-According to the Social Security Administration, 20% of retirees' incomes come from pensions; 15%, asset income; 36%, Social Security, and 29%, part-time work.  (10)
-One in six older Americans lives below the poverty line ($22,350 for a family of four).  (17)

SATISFACTION WITH RETIREMENT:  Numerous studies indicate that most adults look forward to retirement and, once retired, are happy with retirement.  (9) 
-For example, one large-scale national survey study found that 61.5% of retirees reported high levels of satisfaction with retirement, 32.9% said they were somewhat satisfied, and 5.6% expressed dissatisfaction.  (16)
-Satisfaction with retirement is positively correlated with good health, satisfaction with one's previous job, engagement in productive activities (e.g., paid work, formal or informal volunteering, care-giving), self-esteem, and a sense of personal control over one's life outcomes.  Having been forced to leave work is associated with retirement dissatisfaction.  (11, 16)

RETIREMENT AND PHYSICAL HEALTH:  Gerontologists have not found any major long-term effects of retirement (independent of age) on physical health. (3)
-When retirees do experience negative health outcomes, these are more likely if individuals are unmarried, lack social support, don’t engage in physical activity, don’t work part-time, and have retired at an earlier age.  (1)

RETIREMENT AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING: Retirement per se has little impact, positive or negative, on mental health.  Researchers find that the most positive psychological effects of retirement are found for people with solid social supports who are engaged in their communities and spend more time with family and friends.  (15)
-In a review of twenty years of retirement research, social scientists Mo Wang and Beryl Hesketh conclude that psychological well-being in retirement varies as a function of five factors: 
  • (1) Individual attributes (financial status, physical health); 
  • (2) Pre-retirement job-related factors (e.g., lower well-being connected to work stress, job dissatisfaction, unemployment before retirement, stronger work identity);  
  • (3) Family factors (greater well-being for married vs. single persons, higher marital quality; less well-being with a working spouse, more dependents, losing a partner); 
  • (4) Retirement transition factors (e.g., greater well-being with voluntary retirement, retirement planning; less when retiring earlier than expected, retiring for health reasons); 
  • (5) Post-retirement activities (greater well-being with bridge employment, volunteer work, leisure activities; less with anxiety associated with social activities).  (18)
- One health website suggests that depression following retirement is likely to be most common for people: (a) who have invested a lot in their careers and neglected other areas of their lives; (b) whose sense of self-worth is dependent on their work; (c) who are frequently in the spotlight and don’t realize the impact of attention and admiration on their sense of self-esteem.  (5) 
- A recent retirement survey describes over two-thirds of retirees as active and enjoying a vigorous part of their life.  95% of retirees consider themselves open-minded; 94% peaceful; and 94% independent.  (14)

SIX PHASES OF RETIREMENT: Gerontologist Robert Atchley theorizes that there are six phases of retirement that individuals go through with retirement:
  • (1) Pre-retirement (disengagement from the workplace; planning);
  • (2) Retirement, including three alternative possible paths:
·       [a] the "Honeymoon", as if on indefinite vacation;
·       [b] the "immediate retirement routine", busy and comfortable;
·       [c] "Rest and relaxation", very low activity;
  • (3) Disenchantment (disappointment, uncertainty, felt lack of productivity);
  • (4) Reorientation ("taking inventory", finding a satisfying lifestyle);
  • (5) Retirement Routine (mastering a rewarding routine);
  • (6) Termination of Retirement (retirement role replaced by the subsequent role of disabled elder).  (8)

By and large, these data offer an encouraging picture.  I would sum it up by saying that people’s quality of lives in retirement vary as a function of physical health, income, social ties, and engagement in meaningful activities.  I’d say Katja and I are doing o.k. in these different domains.  Perhaps the most challenging is seeking out productive activities.  Our workplaces provided us with a host of goals and tasks that took up much of our daily lives.  Now there’s much less external structure and external pressure, and our daily rounds of activities are much more up to ourselves.  There’s more room for personal choice, but also more possibility for ennui.  Today my next steps will be to take a half-mile walk with the sheepdogs, eat a Lean Cuisine (Swedish Meatballs), work on my blog, and go off to my line dancing class.  Sounds good to me.

SOURCES:  (1):, “The effects of retirement on physical and mental health outcomes”; (2):, “Be ready for the 3 stages of retirement”; (3):, “Chapter 2: The effects of retirement”; (4):, "25 bitter and painful facts about the coming baby boomer retirement crisis"; (5):, “Beating depression after retirement”; (6): www.merckmanuals, "Effects of Life Transitions on Older People"; (7):, "Facts about retirement"; (8):, "Stages of retirement"; (9): www.psychsocgerontology.oxfordjournals,org, "Gender and Life Satisfacton in Retirement"; (10):, "Retirement trivia"; (11):, "Retirement and Life Satisfaction; (12):, "Social Security Basic Facts"; (13):, "Retirement statistics"; (14):, "Retirement facts"; (15):, “Retirement: a trigger for distress or welcome relief from the rat race?”; (16):, "Satisfaction and Engagement in Retirement"; (17):, "8 scary retirement facts"; (18):, “Achieving well-being in retirement”; (19), “Many blacks, Latinos have no retirement savings, report finds” 

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (12-17):  Dear Dave,  Interesting.  Did you see all the research that is coming out on the benefits if being bilingual?  Phyllis

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

First Annual Grandchildren Interviews

Dear George,
Because our grandchildren, V and L, live pretty far away, we only get together three or four times a year.  With several months between each trip, it’s always exciting because the children have changed in noticeable ways.  They’re six years old now and in first grade in their Spanish immersion school, and they’re still more verbal, knowledgeable, and socially skilled than they were just six months ago.  During their recent Thanksgiving visit, J and I took the kids to nearby Mason on a snow sledding expedition.  L didn’t feel like sledding, so he and I spent some time in the car.  I suggested that we pretend that I was a newspaper reporter doing an interview with him, and L went along with the game.  He answered my questions while I took notes.  Then, later in the day, I did the same with V.  That proved to be fun and interesting for everybody.  Here are some of the children’s responses to interview questions, starting with L.      

Interview with L
How old are you this year?  Six. 
What grade are you in?  First grade.
Who is your teacher?  Miss A***.
What do you like about her?  She teaches us.
What is the hardest thing in school?  Vocabulary tests.   
Do you have a pet at home?  A dog.
What’s his name?  Iko.
What does Iko like?  Dog food.  Playing with V.  
What do you and V like to do?  Hide and seek.
Who is your favorite superhero?  Batman. 
Why is Batman your favorite?  He’s cool.  I have a Lego Batman set.
Do you have any hobbies?  Art.
What kind of art?  Clay.  Making pinch pots.
What is your favorite vacation?  Going to California to see Grandma.
Who is the president of the United States?  I don’t know.   
Who would make the best president – you or your sister?  Me.  
What do you like about New Orleans?  Everything.     
If you were older than you are now, how old would you want to be?  Ten.
Why is that?  Being big.
How old are old people?  About 80.
How old are your mom and dad?  45 and 46.  Not so old.
What do you dream about most often?  Vacations. 
What are you good at?  Playing with V.  I’m a good eater. 
Are you good at learning Spanish?  Yes.
What do you want to be when you grow up?  I don’t know. 
How do you like your robot foot?  Good.  It’s cool. 
What is scary to you?  Going into the forest. 
Who do you like best at school?  B***.  He is six and a half.  He is taller than me and funny. 
Is there anybody who don’t like?  I don’t like Z***.  He’s mean.
Is he mean to you?  Mmm hmm.
Do you stand up for yourself?  Yup. 
What is your favorite: animal?  Lion.
Are you serious or funny?  Funny.
Are you selfish or generous?  Generous.
Good-looking or strong?  Strong. 
Do you ever get mad at your sister?  Yes, when she does really mean things on purpose. 
What do you think is the best time of life – like babies or kids or teenagers or adults?  Babies.
Do you think adults work more or have fun more?  Work more.  They have to work to get money.
What is the worst thing that human beings can do?  Smoke.
What is your biggest fear?  Rattlesnakes. 
If you got a weekly allowance, what would you like it to be?  Eighty dollars. 
What is the most fun that your family has together?  Family fun night at any park.  
Which would you like most: to have lots of friends; or to make lots of money; or to be smart?  To be smart.
Which would you want to be: a writer; a musician; an athlete?  An athlete.
Which would you want to be: an astronaut; a policeman; a soldier?  An astronaut.
What animal are you most like?  A lion.        

Interview with V
How old are you now?  Six.
What grade are you in?  First.
Who is your favorite teacher?  Miss T*** and Miss O***. 
What is your favorite subject?  Arts and crafts
What is the hardest thing in school?  Reading.
Do you have a favorite hobby?  Arts and crafts.
Do you have a pet?  Iko.
What kind of dog is he?  A Schnauzer.
What is Iko like?  He really barks.
Who does he bark at?  Dogs and cats.
Do you know who the president is?  Obama.
Do you like him?  Yes.
Why?  He’s nice.
Does President Obama have any kids.  I don’t know.
Who would be the best president – you or your brother?  Me. 
What do you want to be when you grow up?  A vet.
Would you want to take care of large animals or small animals?  Small animals -- cats and dogs.
Which of the following would you want to do the most: End war; end hunger; end poverty?  End war. 
Who is your favorite superhero?  Wonder Woman.
Why do you like Wonder Woman?  She’s cool.
Which would you like to be the most – a politician, a movie star, or a detective?  Detective. 
What would you like most: to have a lot of friends, or make a lot of money, or be smart?  Be smart.
What do you think you are good at?  Taking care of animals.  Playing with L. 
If you could change something about the world what would it be?  No more wars.
What could you change to improve yourself?  Following directions.
What would you like to change about your parents?  Every day -- ten TV shows.
Would you say you are more serious or more funny?  More serious.
Are you selfish or generous?  Generous.
Good-looking or strong?  Good-looking. 
What is your favorite sport?  Soccer.
Your favorite food?  Chicken skin. 
What do you dream about most often?  Flying. 
What do you think is scary?  Sledding. 
How do you like L’s robot foot?  It’s beautiful.
What do you like about New Orleans?  Everything.
What do you think is the best time in life – for example, babies, kids, teenagers, adults?  Babies. 
Which is better childhood or adulthood?  Childhood.  Because adults have to do chores, like cleaning diapers. 
Do you think adults work more or have fun more?  Have fun more.
What are the worst things humans can do?  Suffer for death.
What makes you happy?  My parents.
When do you get mad at your brother?  I never get mad at my brother.
If you got a weekly allowance, what do you think it should be?  Ten million dollars.
No…what would you like for an allowance realistically?  Infinity. 
What is the most fun your family has together?  Going to the movies.
What is your earliest memory as a little child?  Swallowing a dime.  
What animal are you like?  A chicken.

I realized I’m biased, but I think the children are such delights.  They are thoughtful, funny, and smart.  They responded to this task with such openness.  Most of all, I’m impressed to the degree to which they can readily verbalize things about themselves, their loved ones, and the world about them.  I’m also impressed that both children have positive attitudes toward most aspects of their lives.  I think this is a product having very loving parents.  Now I’m looking forward to see what the children have to say when they reach age seven.

G-mail Comments
Phyllis S-S (12-10): Beautiful idea.
-Jennifer M (12-10): A lovely project.
-KKB (12-10): You made my day!!!!!!