Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So what have I learned on this road to 60?

Well, here's something tangible. In a blog post in June, I discovered I wasn't using enough sunscreen. Columnist Debra Bass said these are the five most important rules for skin care:

Buy sun protection; don't forget to use sun protection; apply more sun protection than you think you need; don't forget to reapply sun protection; do not underestimate the power of sun protection.

So at age 59 and 11 months, I've been using enough sunscreen to keep Neutrogena in business.

There are other things I've learned. It's difficult for me to write in such a personal way so I think I've learned to be more introspective during this exercise about my journey to 60. That's been good for me.

I also learned that a lot of people feel the same way as I do about getting older and they have identified with this blog. That's very cool.

They've told me they are OK with getting older but have some of my fears -- remaining in good health as they get older, wondering if those increasing memory lapses are the beginning of Alzheimer's, hoping they have planned well enough for a financially secure retirement. To that latter point, I say don't retire and keep buying lottery tickets.

Looking at the calendar, I see I'm now 20 days from my 60th birthday. I was asked the other day about what will happen to this blog when I actually turn 60. To tell you the truth, I don't know. I'm having fun writing this. But if it's about turning 60, it seems a bit foolish to continue it after I hit 60.

So the jury is still out on the question of this blog's future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Your brain and creativity

I was fascinated by a column on Sunday in The Fresno Bee by farmer/philosopher David Mas Masumoto. He talked about the brain and the many ways the creative process works.

As I've written a few times in this blog, my brain sometimes goes on vacation to the Bahamas at the exact time I'm trying to remember a name or a fact that should be easy to recall. I'm not even talking about the creative process. I'm searching my brain for basic facts. It's like a Rolodex keeps spinning in my brain, but the card with the name I want won't fall into the right slot. Now that's frustrating.

Mas used the research of Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist, as a basis for his column on Sunday about how the brain works during the creative process. Here's part of Mas' column:

Imagine the left side of the brain desperately searching for an answer, trusting logic over randomness, reason over emotion. Precision is asked for as we focus.

We repeat the question over and over in our minds, tightening our muscles, squinting, grimacing, clenching our fists, gritting our teeth. We believe that if we concentrate hard enough, somehow the right solution will fly out of our mouths.

But then we struggle. We incorrectly assume our focus helps us cut distractions and pay attention only to relevant details. Instead, we suppress options and inhibit creative connections that can lead to a break through.

Finally exhausted, just at the verge of quitting, we pause and take a break. In a resting state, we generate greater right brain activity; the right hemisphere is allowed to join in. Then new brain communication occurs between regions that are not ordinarily connected. A broader, general search party begins, the whole brain hunts for options. Then and only then, Jung-Beeman concludes, can the mental balancing act unfold and creative insight occur.

In these cases, the brain just needs to relax, Mas writes. "We give ourselves time and space to think. In Zen, they call this focusing on not being focused."

So it's really very simple. We just need to relax. Wow, that Rolodex card just dropped into the right slot.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oh, those aches and pains

My shot put training slowed down a bit after I tweaked a calf muscle while tossing the shot in my backyard this afternoon. I evidently didn't warm up properly and it became so sore that I couldn't continue. One more hazard of almost being 60.

But while this is a minor setback, I'm still pushing to reach my goal of tossing the shot 36 feet in a seniors track meet. I'm just over 27 feet now, and my progress toward my goal has been much slower than I had anticipated. I'm throwing a 12-pound ball and the meet calls for an 11-pound ball in the 60-65 category. So I may have a bit more distance from the 11-pound ball.

I've noticed that it takes me a long time to warm up with the shot put and I think I get impatient. My arm is ready, but my legs are much slower to warm up. That may have contributed to my injury by throwing the shot too hard too soon.

I'm going to stretch it out a bit after work on Monday and see if I can toss a few without too much pain. As they say, "No pain, no gain." But as a former athlete, I know the risk of coming back too soon and aggravating a minor injury into a full-fledged one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Did I just admit on the radio that I was turning 60?

My Surviving Turning 60 blog caught the attention of KYNO radio and I spent some time this morning on Alan Autry's talk show on the Big 1300 on the AM dial discussing the blog and the implications of reaching this milestone in 25 days. So this diary of my thoughts on turning 60 is very public now.

I told KYNO listeners that I wanted to do two things as I moved toward age 60: Something intellectual, which is writing this blog and chronicling my feelings; and something physical, which is training for the shot put to compete in a seniors track meet.

Autry seemed stunned that I would be training for the shot put at my age. "Why," he asked. "Because I can't pole vault or do the high hurdles." Of course, I've never done the shot put either, but it seems a better opportunity for me than trying to fling myself over a bar or clear hurdles in a race.

Part of our discussion this morning was about "where the time went," which is what everyone says as they get into their later years. Autry is 57, and he said it seems like only yesterday that he was playing football in college and then in the NFL. Now he's in his late 50s. I feel the same way. . . How did a kid of 19 suddenly become 59?

We talked about the unfinished business we have -- all the things we've yet to do. I like the quotation from an anonymous thinker who said life is a series of short stories. You do things in segments and then move on to other short stories. I'm wondering what the short story of my 60s will read like.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Turning 60 and living to write about it

I continually get asked why I'm writing this blog about turning 60. The short answer is that I'm a writer, and I process things by writing them down. It helps me think when I'm at the keyboard, and I've thought a lot about the milestone of being 60. So the "Surviving Turning 60" blog just evolved.

My first blog posting was on June 10, and my 60th birthday was still more than four months away. I headlined the item "Is 60 the new 40?" and concluded that it wasn't. This is a milestone unlike any other.

"You can't get away from it so you must manage this age sort of like the way you manage the garden," I wrote in that first post. "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."

So here I am 26 days from age 60 and still trying to make sense of it all. This blog has been an adventure. I've read more about the pros and cons of aging than I can remember (that memory issue is one of the cons). I've also become a bit self-absorbed writing about me in a personal way that I've never done as a newspaper writer. I've felt exposed, even while writing under the pseudonym Opinionman.

I'm training for a seniors track meet in the shotput, trying to lose weight and get healthy, and using all the senior discounts that my age entitles me to. You've read about those things, as well as the passages along the way, including the many weddings I've been to this year.

I believe this blogging experience has made me a stronger person. As we age, we all want people to think better of us, and we try to do a bit of late-in-life polishing of our rough spots. This blog has given me wonderful insight into who I am as I turn 60.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One more wedding to mark the road to 60

We got my pal John married off on Saturday night, and it was a very cool wedding ceremony in a Northwest Fresno backyard. Actually, the backyard was a small park and it was an ideal setting.

John and Stacy wrote their own vows, and they were just about as close to perfect as could be. Getting married a bit later in life gives the bride and groom a wonderful perspective about the importance of that commitment. Don't you wish you were this smart when you were 21? The funny thing is, I thought I knew everything back then. Those were the days when you didn't trust anyone over 30. Now I'm almost twice that age.

I was feeling good in my tux on Saturday night, thinking I looked like Robert Redford. It was more like Fred Flintstone, but this is my blog and I can create the images I want. Besides, it's fun to pretend, even when you're pushing 60. I gave the best man toast, and tried to work in a plug for a part-time legislature. I veered off that course when I saw the guests getting restless. They were looking at me like I was a Delta smelt stealing their water. No problem. . . time for funny stories about the groom without embarrassing him.

So we toasted, and ate and danced and told stories that we've told dozens of times before. The stories still got laughs. You just can't wear out a story when you're with old friends.

As I have said previously on this blog, I love weddings for all that they stand for. The uniting of a couple in love, of course, but also the long-lost friends that you get to see once more.

As I move toward 60, these occasions mean so much more to me. Maybe I'm getting sentimental, but I think God finally said it's time to give the old guy a bit of wisdom. I thank Him for that, and will try to act in accordance with all the blessings that I have received.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's 30/60 time

We are exactly 30 days until I turn 60 so today has a bit of significance as a milestone. I've been alive 59 years, 11 months -- and yes, I'm counting. That's what this blog is all about: "Surviving Turning 60."

I am surviving well, by the way. Tonight we had the rehearsal for the wedding of John and Stacy. I'm standing up with him, and it's been a while since I was in a wedding. This is going to be fun.

The wedding is in the gorgeous backyard of a Northwest Fresno home, and the surroundings will help make this a wonderful occasion. Bob, who is also part of the wedding party, was very generous in offering his home.

The big event is at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and then the party will begin. Right now I'm thinking about the toast I'll give, and want the words to be just right. I'll keep it simple, and make it from the heart.

That's my commitment for this wedding and for everything I do as I turn 60.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't worry, be happy

I think I'm pre-disposed to being a happy person, and I've tried to weather problems in an upbeat way. They are usually temporary setbacks and then things right themselves. The one thing you can control is how you react to stuff. I'm pretty good at it, although I mentioned in an earlier post that I got very upset by a telephone customer experience encounter.

As I get older, I have become more mellow. I suppose it's that decreasing testosterone.

I stumbled across an article recently with the headline "10 Tips from Happy People." That headline writer did his/her job because it sucked me in. Out of risk of offending may female friends, I offer this paragraph about happiness:

"Older women become less happy than their male counterparts, who report increased levels of happiness as they age." But what about those 10 tips?

10. Live in a happy country.
9. Solve problems.
8. Simplify your life.
7. Exercise.
6. Accept emotions -- positive or negative.
5. Spend time in nature.
4. Buy Happiness -- if that's possible.
3. Meditate.
2. Study positive psychology.
1. Don't be happy.

OK, the last one needs an explanation. This is what the article says:

"There are actually some compelling ideas against happiness. Naysayers aren't against happiness; rather, they point out some of the effects of happiness that may negatively affect people besides the person who claims to be happy.

"What are the downsides of happiness? For one thing, happier people are more prone to prejudicial behavior [source: Holt]. One possible explanation is that a contented, lackadaisical or happy attitude allows people to easily turn to stereotypes or other caricatures when making judgments."

For me, I'll take what Bobby McFerrin says: "Don't worry, be happy."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuxedo even makes aging baby boomer look good

I picked up my tuxedo for Saturday's wedding in which my pal John is getting married to Stacy, and it looks pretty darned good on me. Well, that's my assessment, but it's hard to look bad in a tux, even if you're pushing 60.

I joked with John about wearing a lime green tux to stand out in the wedding party. He was having none of it and this tux is basic black. I like it. And the shirt is a very cool ivory color. I asked the clerk at the rental store if the shirt were a cream color. I think she rolled her eyes eyes, and then said "Ivory."

Every time I see someone in a tuxedo I'm reminded of the John Candy movie in which he plays a private detective. Candy's character goes under cover at a formal event, but the rental place doesn't have any black tuxedos left and he settles for lime green. As he slip into the event, a woman comes up to him and ask if he's part of the entertainment. So much for being inconspicuous.

This is the second wedding this month. My nephew got married on Sept. 5, and I wrote about it in an earlier post. We're heading for October, which is the big birthday month. We are exactly 33 days from birthday No. 60. I think I might wear a tux on my birthday.

Monday, September 14, 2009

That senior discount labels you

As my brown hair started turning gray, clerks at fast-food restaurants sometimes would offer me a soda or coffee with a senior discount, even though I hadn't requested it. One day at McDonald's I asked the young woman behind the counter what age was considered a senior, and she said 60. I was 56 at the time, and I said I'm not quite there yet.

"No problem," she responded with a smile. "My manager said if anyone looks close to 60, give them the discount without asking."

This enhanced "customer service" was supposed to make me feel better. Somehow the clerk didn't catch onto the fact that a man of 56 doesn't want to be viewed as 60. I don't care if you're getting a cup of coffee for 49 cents.

But as I close in on 60, I'm finding that senior discounts aren't all that bad. The problem is, businesses are all over the lot on what age qualifies for a discount. . . 50, 55, 60, 65? The discounts are often substantial, even though I don't see a reason from someone who is 60 getting a break on the cost of breakfast over someone who is 30. I understand that many seniors are on fixed incomes, but many are not.

I suppose businesses have senior discounts for marketing reasons, and now that they've created the concept, they must offer them to compete for the business of seniors. But with so many aging baby boomers, I'm wondering what the fate of senior discounts will be. But could you imagine the whining from baby boomers (my generation) if senior discounts were dropped?

But one writer suggests that senior discounts may be cut back substantially when the economy rebounds. In this piece in the New York Times, Daniel Hamermesh says senior discounts are "anachronisms from times when seniors were scarce and generally poorer than the average American." They should go away, he said.
"After all, why should the average consumer subsidize members of this privileged group (including me)?"

I don't know about Mr. Hamermesh, but I'm going to stand in line to get my senior discounts. I'm not defending them, but as long as they are handing them out, I want my share.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Are we being forgetful -- or is it something worse?

I've had a few brain freezes lately. You know the type. I couldn't remember a woman's name who I've worked with for years and I've struggled for a word occasionally to describe something. I've done this in the past, but I'm wondering now if there's something more to it.

Is this what happens when you hit 60? Self-doubt creeps in when you have a momentary mental lapse? I hope not, but I do joke about whether this is early stages of Alzheimer's. Maybe I should track these incidents to see if there's a pattern.

A friend said I've had a stressful week and I was probably on brain overload. Maybe, but what if that's not it?

In a post earlier this month, I wrote about a study concluding that moderate drinking helps stave off Alzheimer's. I stopped drinking a few years ago for health reasons, and thought maybe I should take it up again if it will help me remember. But does that make sense? I thought drinking killed brain cells.

So I'm 31 days from 60 and wondering if I'm losing it. It's one of those things you think about as you get older. Sort of like paying more attention to the obituary page because you start seeing friends in there -- instead of friends' parents.

Now what was I writing about?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I didn't know this would be like dancing

My brilliant idea of throwing a shot put in a seniors track meet is not exactly on schedule. I have found that this event is not merely one of brute strength. It's almost a ballet as you skip across the ring and push the 12-pound ball with the right force, and without going out of the ring. As you finish, you hop on one foot to avoid fouling.

This reminds me of people who watch Olympic curling on the TV and then say, "I can do that." Well, maybe not. You don't realize that there's a special skill to everything and you need to learn it, and then practice, practice, practice.

I'm working on my shot put technique, as well as increasing my arm and leg strength. My legs are especially tired. My right arm and shoulder feel pretty good, though.

So with 39 days until I turn 60, I'm an old dog trying to learn a very new trick. If I master the steps of the shot put, I may try out for Dancing with the Stars (seniors division).

When my daughter was home this weekend, I had her shooting my technique with the video camera. In my mind, I looked a lot better than what I saw on the video screen. But I have made some progress in distance, and now I'm at 27 feet. I need to throw 36 feet to be competitive and 42 feet to have a chance of placing in a meet.

The meet next Saturday in San Diego is out of the question, and I'm not sure I will have the distance required to make the Oct. 4 meet in Las Vegas. But I'm working on it. Can you imagine throwing the shot and then heading for one of the buffets on the Las Vegas strip?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wedding memories on a special September evening in a Clovis backyard

One of the nicest things about weddings is the opportunity to catch up with family and friends. As I leave my 50s, I'm realizing just how important these events are to not only bride and group, but also the wedding guests.

Obviously for the married couple, this is a landmark event. They are starting a long journey together, and the wedding represents the first steps on that journey. But the guests also will mark that day as one in which they talked with longtime friends and reminisced with family members. The wedding will be remembered for different reasons by every person in attendance.

On this first Saturday of September, we gathered in the spacious backyard of a Clovis home. The surroundings were wonderful and the ceremony was perfect. Even the hot afternoon gave way to a gentle and cool breeze.

This was the wedding of my nephew -- my brother's son -- and a delightful new member of our family, who has already fit in nicely. Justin and Crissie have been married just over 25 hours as I write this blog. They'll soon be heading for their honeymoon in Monterey.

Friends and family came great distances to mark this occasion. It was great having my daughter home from San Diego for the wedding. Our pastor Tim Rolen, married Justin and Crissie. This was the sixth wedding that he's performed for members of our family.

Pastor Tim talked about his connection to our family. He went to school with my sister at Hoover High. More importantly for this story, he baptized my Dad in 1992, a few days before he died of cancer. That was a pivotal time in the relationship between Tim and our family. This was not a chance encounter with a pastor. I believe it was God's handiwork in using Tim to connect the Lord to our family -- time and again.

My father only came to Jesus in his last dying days. Last night, Tim told of how my father asked him to remind family members that they needed to walk with the Lord. Tim has done that at weddings and funerals ever since. It's a story that must be told at every opportunity to complete what was intended by Him through that important encounter with our family.

This blog is about my journey to age 60, so it's time for the countdown clock: We're at 42 days. That's six weeks until 60. I thank the Lord for the opportunities he gave this Okie boy from a poor family. I have been blessed in so many ways.

I feel myself getting more sentimental about life's memories as I complete my 50s. I suppose that's what happens when you have more years to look back upon that you have in front of you. Well, maybe He will let me live to 120, but I doubt it.

I have another wedding to go to in two weeks when a longtime friend is getting married. I'll stand up with him, as he and his bride take their vows. This is a second wedding for both, and a wonderful second chance. It will be another opportunity to catch up with friends. I love weddings. They have great meanings for all who attend.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Would I be healthier if I hadn't stopped drinking?

A few years ago, I went on a health kick that included losing weight, getting regular exercise and stopping drinking. As I approached age 60, I thought all this would help me live longer and with a better quality of life. For the most part, I feel much healthier.

That is until I read a New York Times story the other day. It says that people over 60 who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

So I may feel better because I don't drink, but I won't know it because I won't even know who I am. Now this could drive me back to drinking.

OK, so moderate drinking is what researchers are talking about. Does that mean one drink a night, which is seven drinks a week? No. . . it could be as many as 28 drinks a week. That means four drinks a night, every night -- seven days a week. Who are these people studying? People entering the Betty Ford Clinic?

In my day, we'd call 28 drinks a week alcoholism, not moderate drinking.

But back to the study. . . Compared with abstainers, reserachers found that male drinkers reduced their risk for dementia by 45% and women by 27%. No word on the impact of the drinking on their bodies. I'm betting they had their share of liver problems and were on a first-name basis with the cops at DUI checkpoints.

And according to my unofficial study, these moderate drinkers went through life looped on four drinks a day. Who cares if they could recognize their granchildren?