Sunday, June 28, 2009

We came of age with Farrah

Those of us turning 60 this year know Farrah Fawcett very well from her classic pin-up poster to her role as Jill Munroe on Charlie's Angels. Her death Thursday at age 62 of cancer is a bit jarring for us. We came to know her in her good times and bad.

Men were enthralled with her and women copied her hairstyle. But we all knew her in some small way. Her death is one more reminder of our mortality because Farrah was of our generation. She fought her cancer every step of the way, although seeking alternative medical treatment when her cancer reapperared probably did not prolong her life.

Her private funeral service is scheduled for Tuesday 4 p.m. (Pacific time) at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.

We will miss her.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

We're getting older

The world’s population of seniors age 65-plus will triple in the next 40 years, according to a story in the Associated Press. That would mean that 1 in 6 would be in that age group and that will strain the ability of the United States and other nations to care for them.

"The world’s population has been graying for many years due to declining births and medical advances that have extended life spans, according to the AP. "As the fastest-growing age group, seniors now comprise just under 8 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people."

In addition, a wave of baby boomer retirements will challenge pension plans and add to rising health costs, according to experts on senior issues.

Who else was born in 1949?

Besides me, here's a short list of people turning 60 this year that I got from the Internet:

-- Actor Richard Gere; singer Billy Joel; actress Jessica Lange; singer Bruce Springsteen; athlete Bruce Jenner; boxer George Foreman; actor Don Johnson; actor Jeff Bridges; actress Meryl Streep; musician Lionel Richie; entertainer Whoopi Goldberg; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gee, they are old.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What happened in 1949?

For those of us turning 60 this year, 1949 was a great year. So what happened the year we were born? My source is one of those greeting cards that lists what happens in a specific year. Here we go:

-- Billy Graham converts 6,000 at a Los Angeles stop of his Canvas Cathedral crusade.

-- John Wayne stars in the classic, "She wore a Yellow Ribbon."

-- Audie Murphy plays Bill the Kid in "The Kid From Texas."

-- A pair of Levi's cost $3.55.

-- Arthur Miller's "Death of Salesman" opens on Broadway.

-- The Soviet Union begins testing nuclear weapons.

-- Polaroid sells the Land camera for $89.75; the remarkable camera produces a photo in 60 seconds.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reason No. 1001 that we need health care reform

If you love private sector health insurance, you'll love insurance company executives deciding your treatment. Heck, under the current system we don't even need docs. The insurance folks can treat you and then deny payment to themselves.

That's why I like the idea of President Barack Obama's reform of the health care system. It's time to change the system so that doctors can practice medicine and insurance companies can run their own businesses. Right now they want to do both.

Don't give in to the insurance companies' scare tactics about change being dangerous. The current system is a mess and only makes money for the insurance companies and other "middle men" who suck money out of our health care.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Now the gray hair finally means something

I knew losing my brown hair had to have an advantage sooner or later. And it has come later. It seems scientists have found that what's causing gray hair may actually be part of a life-saving process.

Click here to read a story on this research in NewScientist.

So if your hair is going gray early, that's great -- at least on the cancer front . . . The researchers did not say what happens when folks with gray hair color it. I hope the cancer cells aren't really dumb and think the hair isn't gray and attack.

My achy breaky muscles

I'm moving a bit slower this morning after working in the yard this weekend, and wondering if I would feel the same if I did yardwork on a more regular basis. I seem to do it in spurts, and that makes my muscles and joints sore to the point of aching.

On the verge of turning 60, I'm questioning my body a lot these days. It seems to be failing me more. . . or maybe I'm failing my body by not getting more exercise and eating better. In any event, I'll steal some lyrics from Billy Ray Cyrus and adjust them a bit to explain my fix.

But don't tell my joints, my achy breaky joints
I just don't think they'd understand
And if you tell my muscles, my achy breaky muscles
They might blow up and kill this man
Ooohhhh. . .

OK, you get the point. I can't write lyrics, even if they are handed to me, or deal with my muscles and joints getting out of whack.

I think it is time for some ibuprofen.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

House pushes health system overhaul

The House of Representatives began work on a health care reform package that sponsors say would cover 95% of Americans. It's about time. There is no reason that getting affordable health care should be a luxury in the United States.

Almost 46 million Americans are going without health insurance, according to CNN, and 25 million others are "underinsured." That must change and President Barack Obama is on track to make huge improvements in the nation's health care system.

As we get older, we understand the importance of this issue with a lot more clarity.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We're at least a week away from the big corn harvest

The calendar tells me my sweet corn will be ready in about a week, but my eye says it will be a bit longer, maybe 10 or 12 days. But the Central California heat (which is finally aproaching 100 degrees) may speed up the growing season. It has been unseasonally cool in these parts. That's been great for the energy bill, and makes for wonderful evenings.

I can't wait to see if this will be a successful corn harvest. I haven't planted backyard corn in 30 years, but this time I read the directions on the seed packet very carefully. Like most men, I usually don't read directions, and that often gets me into trouble.

In addition, I don't exactly have the green thumb that my significant other has. That means my garden bounty has always trailed hers. And she is working with a big handicap. Her soil is mostly hardpan and mine is sandy loam. But she works the soil and talks to the plants. (Or it could be me she's muttering at). Of course, she has much more patience in these matters than I do. It is one of her many special traits.

But back to the corn. I planted about 50 corn seeds in three rows, and the four-dozen-plus stalks are now about four feet tall. I think they need to be at least another foot taller. There are 10 ears forming so far in my "corn field." I hope to find several more. It seems that all those stalks should bear much more corn. I'll check it out tonight.

My dear daughter is coming home to visit this weekend and I hope the corn will be ready for her before she returns to San Diego. I can't eat it because I'm on a low-carb diet. But I'll sneak a taste just so I can report the results on this blog.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't count on a raise in Social Security benefits next year

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that Social Security recipients will not get a cost of living increase in 2010. That would be the first time in 35 years that there wouldn't be a COLA, according to the AARP. The COLA is calculated under a formula set by Congress. There may not be one in 2011, depending on inflation.

That will cause hardship for many retirees who rely on their Social Security benefits for their living expenses. More than 50 million people receive Social Security.

These retirees are already reeling from the economy, especially losing value in their homes, which many of them own. Some also could see their Medicare Part B premiums increase.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stop using Zicam

The Food and Drug Administration says consumers should stop using Zicam, an over-the-counter cold remedy, because it could permanently damage your sense of smell. These are the products the FDA is warning about: Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel and Nasal Swabs.

Click here for details from U.S. News and World Report.

The FDA reports that 130 consumers have reported a loss of smell after using Zicam products since 1999.

Matrixx, the maker of Zicam, said its products are safe, but may remove them from store shelves.

Online health service launched

HealthCare California has announced that it will start an online service that uses the latest technology to improve health care.

"This home health software service equips all HealthCare California nursing and administrative staff with real-time access to information at the point of care, reduces costs, improves efficiency and enhances communication across the continuum of care," according to a news release from the company.

You can read details of the service in Yahoo News by clicking here.

HealthCare California is the Central Valley's largest Medicare certified home health agency, providing skilled nursing, physical/occupational/speech therapy and social services to homebound patients, according to the company.

Did she mention using sun screen?

I like Debra Bass' five most important rules for skin care in her column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

1. Buy sun protection.

2. Do not forget to use sun protection.

3. Apply more sun protection than you think you need.

4. Don't forget to reappply sun protection.

5. Do not underestimate the power of sun protection.

I think she made her point.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How's the garden coming?

My sweet corn is moving toward harvest. . . June 27 is the estimated time of picking if the seed packet directions are correct. That will be 75 days since I planted the first seeds in my backyard plot. It's the Golden Beauty Hybrid by Stover.

There are 50 cornstalks, and so far nine ears are forming by my count. I'm sure the harvest will be much larger as the stalks mature. I think I need more cross-polination. But this is a time for patience.

I made a makeshift scarecrow this evening after spotting a couple of crows eyeing my corn. Yellow t-shirt on a post with a baseball cap. I'll enhance it when I have more time.

So how's your garden doing? The planting season will vary, depending on what part of the country you live in. But right now everyone should have seeds or plants in the ground.

The best thing about a backyard garden is the food is free, the work is fun and it's all organic. What do you have in your garden?

In addition to the corn, I have tomatoes and two peach trees that have tasty, although small fruit. The birds got to the peppers when the plants were samll and I don't think they'll produce this season.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Naps will make you alert -- and happy

In my experience, people who take regular naps seems a lot more alert and happier souls than those who don't. Now this is just my observance, but there also is some scientific evidence to back up my assertion.

And it seems that the busier you are, the more you should nap. We could all be more alert, and that would make us more productive. Napping is also very inexpensive, as opposed to going to the mall and buying a bunch of stuff.

Some people think if you nap a lot, you're lazy. No way. I should say right here that napping is defined (in my world) as an hour or so in the afternoon. If you're sleeping four hours in the midle of the day and not getting anything done, you're either lazy or have a health problem. If you are nodding off at work, figure out why and fix it.

But if you're taking a nap that fits into your work schedule, and feeling good about it, go for it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Don't let them fool you -- seniors can easily install digital TV converter boxes

On Friday, television stations across the country are ending their analog signals and switching to digital signals. The problem for many seniors who get their TV "over the air" is that they will need a converter box installed on their televisions to get their favorite programs.

If you get your TV reception from cable or satellite,you'll be fine, and if you have a newer television that has digital, no problem. The rest will need a converter box. The Federal Communications Commission says there are about one million homes that aren't ready, and most of them are those of older Americans.

Let me pierce a myth about this right now. It's VERY EASY to set up your converter box. Anyone can do it in minutes, unless you have physical challenges. But if the idea of dealing with technology scares you, get a family member, friend or neighbor to do it for you. It's really very simple, and cheap.

I got a coupon worth $40 to purchase my converter box for my spare bedroom. That's the only TV in the house that's not on cable. I went to Target and bought a converter box that cost $45, so my out-of-pocket expense was $5. And you don't have to wait for a mail-in rebate. The savings are immediate.

The FCC and TV stations have made such a big deal out of the difficulty of the conversion, they've convinced a lot of seniors that you have to be an engineer to install the converter box. Don't believe them. . . You can do it.

At least I can withdraw from my 401k without penalty

Hitting 59 1/2 has some advantages, although it wouldn't be wise to take money from my 401k right now since most of it is in the stock market. But it's sort of freeing to know that I could, and not face a substantial withdrawal penalty. Those early withdrawal warnings always made me very nervous. So I'm happy to be 59 1/2 -- at least for that reason.

I know. . . It's very easy to please me. But the 401k account is supposed to be a next egg and since I'm still working, this is more of an academic exercise than a serious suggestion of tapping it early. I know I'll need the next egg. I just hope it isn't right away.

But all of us in this age bracket should start thinking about our financial situations, and get some expert advice. Don't rely on your brother-in-law or the Starbucks barista for financial information.

But there are two key ages to keep in mind: 59 1/2 when you can withdraw without penalty and 70 1/2 when you must begin taking withdrawals if you're not working at the company where you have the 401k account.

I you need to know anything else about your 401k, see an expert.

AMA doesn't like Obama health plan

I just got an email from the American Medical Association that says the organization opposes President Obama's health blame, claming it would "socialize 17% of the national economy by eliminating private sector ‘competition’ to the huge proposed federal cradle-to-grave healthcare program."

The AMA apparently thinks the current system is just fine. Doctors have always been out of touch with the real world and this is just more evidence.

Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the AMA's president, said her group has "major concerns about government control over health care decisions.” The president, by the way, is scheduled to make a speech to the AMA on Monday.

Nielsen told the Associated Press that the AMA supports “affordable, high-quality health insurance,” and believes that it can be achieved by reforming the private insurance market. But the AMA does not want a government-run "cradle-to-grave" health system.

U.S. Senate to consider sweeping health care legislation

The U.S. Senate next week is scheduled to begin considering a massive bill that would make foundational changs in the nation's health care system. The office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy released the 651-page bill this week, and proponents and opponents of health care reform are already picking it apart.

But it's time to change the broken health care system. Congress must act now. Those with health problems know all too well how lives can be changed by the cost of care, not to mention the health issues themselves.

News reports say the changes include revamping the way health insurance works, with insurabce carriers having to deal with new rules. Here's the good part: Insurance companies would have to cover Americans with health issues. As we know, the current system allows insurers to duck coverage of people with health problems, or charge an arm and a leg for limited coverage.

That's just plain wrong.

Kennedy's office said there would be proposals that would help disabled seniors and healthy young adults. Taxpayers, businesses and individuals would share in the cost of adding coverage of 50 million uninsured Americans.

There would be a new long-term care insurance program that would provide modest assistance at an affordable premium to help disabled people keep living in their own homes.

Watch this space for more details of the proposal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hiking helps the brain

Brain experts tell us that exercise is good for brain function, including helping to maintain your memory as you age. My suggestion is to do regular hiking in one of our National Parks or scenic forests. That'll keep the synapses firing.

I like nearby Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks because I can make an easy day trip to these natural wonders from my Central California home. There are rigorous trails and scenic trails for less-skilled hikers. You'll get plenty of exercise and get as close to nature as you dare. Bring a camera.

On a Saturday at the end of last summer, we went to Grant Grove, home of the General Grant Tree (the nation's Christmas Tree) and strolled the Grant Tree Trail. Then we took a hike to the Buck Rock Lookout, which is in the Big Meadows area in the Seqouia National Forest. What a view.

This is a moderately strenuous walk to get to the lookout, which is on a granite dome at an elevation of 8,502 feet. The final ascent is via 172 steps on a flight of stairs, which are connected to the side of Buck Rock. It's very easy, and you can rest at various points if you get tired.

If you're ever in the area, check out Sequoia/Kings. If you don't get to this part of the country, there are National Parks, National Forests or local or state parks near you for your hiking pleasure.

Your feet may be tired when the day's done, but your brain will love you for it.

Is 60 the new 40?

Not really. In fact, 60 is the, well, new 60. You can't get away from it so you must manage this age sort of like the way you manage the garden. Weed often, but not so often that it makes you tired.

Good things will come with a little water, a little sun and some luck.

This is the first point in my life in which age actually has meant something, although I'm not quite sure what that is right now. I'll let you know through the posts on this blog as I develop answers. But it is a little startling that age has now become such a big deal in my life.

And it does give you perspective that you didn't have at 30 and 40 and 50. So that must be a good thing. Plus, you get senior discounts at restaurants. You can also see retirement on the horizon. Unfortunately, the economic bust has put that horizon a bit more into the distance.

So with my AARP card I venture forth into a world that has a lot of aging baby boomers trying to figure out the same questions I pose. Let me know if you have some usable answers.