Sunday, January 27, 2008

Aging, Driving and the Eye Test

In our society, driving a car is more than a necessity. Driving is freedom, mobility, status and youth. Many older drivers fear the loss of driving privileges more than injury or illness.

I’m thinking about this today because I just renewed my driver’s license. There has been talk for years about retesting older drivers. Some say drivers over the age of (pick a number – I’ve heard ages as low as 55) should have to take 'on the road' driving tests again, a test most drivers take once, when they get their first license in their teenage years. I’m not sure about any other state, but here in Maryland, the only test one takes to renew a driver’s license is the eye test.

Put your head here, look inside and read line four.

OK, you pass. Sit over there and wait for your number to be called.

I passed? Oh, please! I know I could only clearly see three fourths of the letters on line four. I have been wearing glasses while driving for thirty years, but I always remove them when I take the eye test. I have passed this test in five states, including four or five times in Maryland.

Don’t worry. I can see where I’m going, even without the glasses … in the daylight; less so at night. But I always wear them when driving, even though I don’t legally have to.

But it scares me that I can pass this test. I wonder how many others are OKd to drive without the restriction that requires eye correction. Maybe this is why traffic is so bad around here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Permission To Be Yourself

I wrote this before I realized it is my 200th post. It seems all the more appropriate.

Boomers are old enough to be whoever they really are, especially Boomers in the second half of the age range. And we should be damn proud of it!

This is a totally unscientific observation, but I believe that in our society, we spend much of our lives living as someone else, acting out a script written by those who we encounter along the way. Then at some point in our 50s we realize that we can begin to become ourselves - the real person each of us is.

We seem to enter adulthood as the person who our parents think we should be (after we’re done rebelling against that idea). Then we get married and become the person our spouse thinks we should be. This is especially sad because we often show a small part of ourselves during the dating years, then we are expected to always show only that narrow range of our personality.

Through our working life, we strive to be who our bosses want us to be. If we become the boss, we then have to be who both subordinates and superiors expect us to be.

OK, so maybe all of this is mostly my own life experience. However, I can’t believe I’m the only one. I’m sure I read about this behavior process somewhere.

You hear about older mid-life people changing careers from something they just fell into to something they are very passionate about. Many return to school to study what they really wanted to learn. Older Boomers and Seniors are often more vocal about their opinions and are more willing to admit to likes and dislikes, even if expressing those feelings seems out of character to friends, family and co-workers.

Do you see yourself in this? How old are you? Have you tried to just be you and found barricades blocking your path in all directions?

To anyone, at any age, who finds the courage or strength to break free from the expectations of others, I say Bravo! Congratulations for giving yourself permission to be yourself. It is not always easy, but it is worth the attempt. After all these years, I think I am finally becoming me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cold, By Any Other Name, Is Still Cold

Who invented the “wind chill factor?” … that sadistic statistic that tells us what we already know – cold feels damn cold.

The temperature was 6 degrees Farenheit at my house last night. The wind was blowing at 15 mph, which made the wind chill factor -13 degrees. Do I really need to know that six degrees felt like -13?

Can you tell the difference between 6 degrees and -13 degrees? I can’t. Either one can lead to hypothermia in a matter of minutes. If run outside to get something out of my car and fail to wear my heavy coat, I might become a 6-foot tall ice cube.

By the way, according to a couple of websites, Charles Passel and Paul Siple “invented” the wind chill factor during an Antarctic expedition in the 1930 and the weather service started using the tables and charts in the 1970s.

For me, six degrees felt like seventy last night because I stayed inside. It’s a balmy 16 this morning, so I think I’ll go to work now – in my heated car.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


In response to my recent post about candidates Obama and Huckabee, Ian noted that during his entire time as a voter, the President was either a Bush or a Clinton. George Bush was in the White House from 1989 – 1993, followed by Bill Clinton till January, 2001, followed by the first Bush’s son George. If Senator Hillary Clinton is elected our next president, the dual dynasty would continue at least four more years.

Even more remarkable, she could be elected for a second term. By then, perhaps, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush might choose to throw his hat in the ring. In that unlikely, but possible scenario, the United States would have had a Bush or a Clinton as President for thirty-two years; thirty-six years if Jeb served two terms! I wonder if Chelsea Clinton has political ambitions.

This isn’t the first time multiple family members held the country’s highest office. Members of the Adams family were Presidents #2 and #6; two Roosevelts held the office in the first half of the 20th century. In the lifetime of fifty-somethings, three different Kennedy brothers ran for President; one was elected, one was killed during the campaign and the third dropped out but has been a Senator for forty-five years.

Do you think this situation is good or bad? Or does family background have any bearing on a candidate’s qualifications?

And what about race, religion and gender? Back in the 1960s, John Kennedy was ridiculed for being Catholic; and in that era it would have been unthinkable for an African-American to even be a candidate, much less a serious contender. A woman as President? The response to that question could easily have been “stop that silly talk, honey, and make me some dinner.”

Our society has come a long way, even if you only look back through the Bush-Clinton years. The lineup of Presidential candidates at this point in the election cycle is closer to the diversity of our country’s population than at any time in our history. We have more to choose from than just two old, white, Protestant men.

We are closer now than ever to the dream of the man whose birthday we celebrate with a national holiday tomorrow. If Dr. King had lived, do you think he would have run for President?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Class of ‘08

Imagine what historians would say when looking back on ’08. The brightly lit ball at Times Square dropped at midnight, starting what could be an exciting, longer-than-usual year (a leap year). It was an election year, occurring in the last months of a two-term Republican who hadn’t actually won the popular vote.

The world changed dramatically during the first years of the new century, especially in the area of technology, with exciting new planes, and communication innovation which brought the world closer together than in the past. The United States military showed its strength around the globe and U.S. citizens believed we were the best at everything.

You thought I was talking about 2008, right?

No. Everything in the first paragraph of this post refers to 1908, courtesy of a major article in the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

The ball drop at Times Square was the first annual New Year’s ball drop (although Dick Clark could very well have been there). The Republican President was Teddy Roosevelt, who was President McKinley’s Vice President and first took office when McKinley was assassinated.

The exciting new plane in 1908 was an updated Wright Flyer, piloted by Orville Wright himself over a field full of spectators near Washington DC. He set a flight record of 75 minutes. Then on the last day of the year, Wilbur Wright set another record, flying over a large crowd in France for more than two hours. The exciting new aviation event this year is regular service using that new jumbo plane that was unveiled last fall.

Communication innovations like the telephone and telegraph were in use by 1908, bringing the world ever closer. Radio wouldn’t come along commercially for another 15 or 20 years. Cell phones and the internet are the contemporary devices that make it possible to communicate with someone in Italy as easily as someone next door.

The year 1908 was also big in the transportation world; Henry Ford started making the Model T that year. Blame him next time you’re stuck in traffic. This year is a year that signals greater acceptance of cars that don’t use gasoline (or gasoline in combination with other fuels).

The U.S. military event of 1908 was a world tour of a whole fleet of navy ships. President Roosevelt thought this would be a good way to show the world that America was the new power player on the block.

What do you think historians will say about our ’08 in a hundred years?

Will someone born this year still be alive in 2108? Longer life spans could make that not just possible, but routine. Will the Smithsonian Magazine, or any magazine, still be printed? Or will citizens a hundred years from now fill their brains with information directly using implanted digital chips, rather than obtaining it using primitive reading methods such as books or computer monitors. Have you ever seen a piece of paper in a Star Trek episode?

A century from now, will there still be fighting in the Middle East, famine in Africa, poverty in the United States? Will the U.S. still be the global superpower?

Will we finally have flying cars and colonies on Mars?

Will a fifty-something in 2108 be looking ahead ten years to their retirement, or will a 50th birthday mean he or she is just getting started with life? Will the phrase “today’s 50 is yesterday’s 20” be the latest rage?

Thursday, January 10, 2008


It has been officially winter for almost three weeks, but the dreary, depressing part has, as always, been delayed by the bright and cheerful Holidays. Here in Maryland, Mother Nature took an extended vacation for a few days, leaving us with record warm temperatures this week and delaying the inevitable.

But the first real sign of winter isn’t the weather; it is that day when we notice that the Christmas lights are gone. That day was last weekend.

I live in a one-block-long suburban subdivision surrounded by farms. There are about 20 or 30 houses on the street and most of the families decorate with typical bright lights for Christmas. Some displays are simple, tasteful electric candles in the windows, others are white lights lining the roofline and still others lean toward the Griswold strategy (some years that would be us). Through most of December the street is bright and joyful each night, providing a wonderful welcome home as I end my long commute from work.

Now the street is dark. There are no street lights on this street, further emphasizing the darkness.

The Christmas lights are down and stored till next fall. Reality has hit.

As I write this on Thursday night it is raining and 38 degrees, the forecast calls for normal seasonal temps over the weekend and spring is months away.

Winter is here.

And it’s dark.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Viva WHAT?

I regularly post lists of songs from our youth that appear in commercials. Certainly marketers are trying to appeal to Boomers by associating positive past memories with their products. Examples: the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” for Total cereal, Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” for Cadillac, the Zombies’ “Time Of The Season” for Sprite and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” for VISA.

But Elvis must be turning over in his grave now that Viva Las Vegas has been rewritten as Viva Viagra. That lyric is sung with great enthusiasm in recent commercials touting the popular medical solution to erectile dysfunction.

If Elvis was alive he’d be celebrating his 73rd birthday next Tuesday.

Would he be horrified at this use of one of his signature songs? Or would he be a spokesman for the product?

Friday, January 04, 2008

If the election was today …

By the time I post this, someone will have already asked the inevitable question: If the election was today, and the candidates were Obama and Huckabee, who would you vote for?

The campaign has been going on for a year and the election is still eleven months away, but we finally have had an event that actually means something. The Iowa caucuses Thursday ended in victory for Democrat Obama and Republican Huckabee. Of course, this is just the beginning and these results are not definitive predictors of the future. A caucus is not an election and Iowa is fairly small. But this is a great start.

Here is what I like about these two winners. So many candidates sound alike as they try to appeal to the middle, but these two are reasonably specific about where they stand on issues and they are very different from each other. If these were the two candidates in the general election, my choice would be easy and clear.

We can only hope that this much clarity is evident in November.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Weight A Minute

Who the heck would start a diet in the middle of the Winter Eating Season?

Oh, uhhh … ME.

If you are a Boomer, you’ve probably heard the term “middle age spread.” It is a phrase my parents used to describe the weight gain they experienced in their 50s and 60s. They considered middle age spread to be an inevitable part of aging. Although most people actually do gain weight as they grow older, it is not a must do part of life and we don’t really have to accept this.

The issue isn’t that we gain weight as much as it is that we often let the weight gain get out of control. Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes, heart disease and numerous problems. And one doesn’t have to be the size of Santa Claus to be considered obese.

A few years ago my doctor told me my weight was about 20 pounds more than it should be for my height. I started a diet and exercise plan and lost about 10 pounds. Two summers ago I overdid a workout and hurt myself enough that I stopped working out and walking the treadmill for several months. My eating and exercise have been inconsistent ever since.

I gained back the ten pounds and then some. I am not Santa sized, but I am 25 pounds over my recommended weight. This is not acceptable.

So I started early on a New Year’s Resolution to get my health back on track. The week before Christmas, I started a diet and got back on the treadmill. Yes, that is crazy, but the timing was perfect because I didn’t do my usual holiday binge. So far, so good.

Here’s the specific goal, published for all to see:

- Lose 10 pounds by the end of April

- Lose 10 more pounds by the end of August

- Lose the last 5 by Thanksgiving.

My biggest problems with food are portion control, ice cream and the vending machine at work.

So here’s the plan:

- Watch what I eat – quit laughing so hard. What I have to do, and this really works for me, is to pay attention, savor the bites, and don’t “clean the plate.” Sorry, but Mom was wrong with that advice 40-something years ago. I can always save something for leftovers the next day.

- A couple of spoons of ice cream, my delicious, precious ice cream, are as good as the whole pint. Great taste, less filling.

- Don’t ever put money in the vending machine at work. Excuse me, machines with an s – there are at least five of them in my company’s parts of the building.

As for exercise, I have no excuse. A comfortable, working treadmill lives in my basement, right next to a set of dumbbells and a weight bench. The plan … vigorous exercise for 30 minutes a day, 4 or 5 days a week.

A parallel fitness goal is that I plan to walk in at least two charity walkathons this year, specifically the Help The Homeless DC Walkathon and the Kidney Foundation Walkathon, both in mid fall in Washington, DC. I have friends who participate in both and I interview the organizers on the radio every year, so I have no excuse for not participating this year.

I started this plan three weeks ago, and so far have hit every goal. Wish me luck.