Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Little Black Dress

I never owned a little black dress. I might have when a little girl, but I doubt it. Little girls did not wear black dresses in the 1950s.

By the time I was old enough to own a little black dress, I was no longer little.

The idea of one ubiquitous dress hails back decades. Coco Chanel, an icon of women’s fashion, formalized and popularized the concept of the ideal dress that could go anywhere. The year was 1926.

The little black dress became a uniform women admired and duplicated. Accessorized with jewelry, shoes, an over garment – sweater, blazer, vest, jacket, shawl – the garment could be dressed up or down.

This child of the sixties moved into the seventies attending college, grad school, getting married and having two babies. My wardrobe tilted towards jeans rather than dresses. Jobs through the years required what is now termed casual business attire, and I favored pants and skirts.

This deliberation concerning dress and dresses is a result of getting ‘dressed up’ twice – two times! – last week. I cannot remember the last time I dressed up at all. Twice was tough. Perusing my closet for something to wear – suitable for the weather (it was very warm), with matching shoes that fit and did not hurt my feet when walking (a near-impossible task), that was not ridiculously out of style (eliminating some outfits), and actually fit (more outfits thrown into the Goodwill bag) – there was not much left to choose from.

I am at a stage in life when wisdom should override concerns of fashion and fads. I should not worry or care what hangs in my closet. But the agony of choosing when nothing seems appropriate proved an exercise in frustration.

To avoid future problems I need to buy myself a not-so-little black dress. Then I will have at least one outfit to whip out of the closet, regardless of the occasion.

I also need matching shoes. My black heels, ages old, beginning to wear, but more important, are too tough on my feet. Walking from the parking lot to my destination required time, patience, and tiny steps.

I am not really looking forward to shopping for a black dress sans little. Clothes shopping can be fun at times, but too often turns out to be frustrating, deflating, and hard on the pocketbook.
Shopping for the perfect little black dress...
Sometimes I enjoy clothes shopping. I like looking for sweatshirts, for instance. They are large, comfy, warm, and roomy.

While shopping I may as well buy a new pair of much-needed black jeans. 

Black jeans are part of my usual ‘dress up’ outfit. Comfortable, figure enhancing, matching any top any season of the year…Coco Chanel, where are you now? How about a stamp of approval on black jeans, the one garment that will take a woman (almost) anywhere… 
Who knew? Pinterest - the new fashion trend setter!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pause to Remember

 The rural Pennsylvania landscape rolls by, green hills and valleys turning to deep reds and yellows.  The road passes a few small farmhouses and businesses - an auto repair shop, a farm-stand overflowing with pumpkins, a gas station and convenience store, a couple of abandoned buildings for sale.

Signs for the Flight 93 National Memorial are small, brown and rectangular, positioned low alongside the road, not easily seen unless looking for them. Eighteen miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike Somerset exit, the site overlooks the countryside.

Turning off Highway 30, the road meanders 3.5 miles through a new federal park to Memorial Plaza. Young trees dot the landscape, the early stages of forty forest groves rising from the ruins of two debacles - decades of strip mining and the 9/11 plane crash - one grove for each Flight 93 victim, symbols of life and renewal.

Terrorists carefully planned the attacks, but could not control all factors. Flight 93 left Newark airport 25 minutes late.  The four terrorists aboard commandeered the plane. Passengers frantically contacted family and authorities on cell phones, and heard the horrifying news of the other planes that crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers Twin Towers.

I cannot imagine the fear, rage, and disbelief every individual on that plane felt. Ordinary citizens confronting extraordinary circumstances, they managed to come together - men and women, black and white, Republicans and Democrats (no doubt both parties were represented), maybe an Independent and Libertarian or two, young and old, probably the affluent and less so. Realizing time was short 18 minutes flying time to Washington, D.C. - they quickly formulated a plan and went into action.

The results, tragic for the victims, prevented a fourth plane from striking an American landmark in Washington, D.C., believed to be the Capitol building where the Senate and House were meeting.

I am surprised by the number of people at the Memorial Plaza on this weekday sunny, warm September afternoon. Two busloads plus a parking lot full of Pennsylvania plates, with a sprinkling of states near - Ohio, New Jersey, New York - and further afield - Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan.

People wander around in groups of twos or threes, reading sign boards and walking along the path to the Memorial, a white marble wall inscribed with the names of the 40 victims. Muffled voices are heard, men shoot pictures with large mutli-lens cameras, and people linger, staring at the peaceful, bucolic fields surrounding the Plaza and the scenery beyond. The events of that day years ago seem surreal amidst this serene environment, but the names of the real victims stare at us, shining in the golden sunlight.

The Memorial is probably the closest our country comes to a national holy place.

Hub and I detoured to the Memorial on the way home from spending time with friends. We are lucky to lead busy lives, working, traveling, enjoying family and friends. The people on the 911 planes were busy leading their lives too, on business trips, looking forward to going on vacation or returning home from vacation or visiting family...but their lives were cut short, innocent victims of fanatics stirring up not only their world, but ours too.

It is difficult to put our Western-educated heads into those whose lives, history and culture are very different from ours. We find it difficult to understand a people governed by hate, who believe their hatred of a particular country and culture gives them permission to arbitrarily kill random people living in that nation.

A part of our world is plunging into a Dark Ages engineered by leaders who drag many of those close kicking and screaming into their sphere, while determined to annihilate perceived enemies near and far.

People who do not believe and do not understand the essence of our country's values  - life, liberty, pursuit of happiness - who kill the opposition and do not value anyone's life, who find liberty an idea threatening their existence and the pursuit of happiness a Western fantasy - win some battles, but will never win the war for our hearts and our minds.

I do not mean a war of traditional bombs and bullets, but a war of ideas and ideals, cultures and values and life.

Unfortunately it will be a long war, and we are war-weary.

But a visit to Shanksville gives us pause.

We remember and realize we have no choice.
Viewing flight 93 crash site from Memorial Plaza
The wall of names and
the new Visitor Center under construction.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stress Test Times Two

Hub walked out of the doctor’s office following a routine exam with a small piece of paper marked with doctor’s scrawls, which translated into an appointment for a stress test. Nothing to be concerned about the doctor believed, but best to be sure.

A few days later – one day before the scheduled test – hub received a voicemail, “This is Dr. Smith’s office (not his real name). Please call the office immediately.”


Panic time.

All sorts of bad things began to play out in hub’s mind. Am I dying? (He can get melodramatic at times). What is the problem? Was one of the routine tests really, really bad?

Suddenly he did not feel well at all.

Was he having a heart attack? The tension of not knowing what the doctor’s office wanted was overwhelming. His blood pressure rose…his heart pounded…he became very nervous…he started to pace…and immediately called the doctor’s office.

The emergency?

Insurance stuff related to the upcoming stress test.

A big sigh of relief resulted, followed by annoyance the office created such anxiety.

Did the medical staff have any idea what fear those simple words – Call the doctor’s office immediately - produced in a person’s mind?

Obviously not.

The medical office had difficulty contacting hub’s insurance provider. The stress test would have to be postponed unless insurance authorization came through.

Hub hung up and immediately contacted the insurance company. After a couple of minutes on hold (it must have been a slow day), a real person got on the line. Hub explained the situation, was again placed on hold, and a few minutes later the customer service rep returned, assuring hub all was OK, authorization was not necessary, go ahead and get the test.

He hung up reassured.

Ten minutes later the phone rang again.

This time the medical clinic stated hub’s scheduled test would be canceled because his insurance company refused to authorize the test.

Hub carefully explained that ten minutes earlier the insurance company assured him the test was approved and covered.

The clinic required authorization directly from the insurance company.

Hub initiated a three-way call between the insurance company, the doctor’s office and the clinic, and the doctor’s office and the clinic followed up on their own with the insurance company. If approval was not granted by 2:00 p.m., the computer (blame it on the computer!) would automatically cancel the appointment.

I will not bore you with the details, but at 1:58 p.m. (really) the doctor’s office called and declared the insurance glitch resolved. Two minutes later the clinic called, confirming that he could come in the following morning at 7:30 a.m. for his stress test.

“I thought this afternoon’s insurance complications was the stress test,” said hub.

One stress test down, one to go.

“You have no idea how long I worked on straightening this out,” the clinic worker responded.

And we wonder why medical costs are so outrageous. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Best of Boomers on Travel, Home, Food, and Nest Eggs

Sometimes it can be all too easy to get stuck in our comfort zone and resist new experiences that push our boundaries.  This can be especially true in the face of stressful life events. On Modern Senior, Amy shares a short film that demonstrates what can happen when we come to terms with the hand that life dealt us and seek out new experiences.  Watch 81-year-old Charlie Warner at his first Burning ManFestival.

Do your retirement plans involve travel? If so, you might be interested in following Tom Sightings as he takes a late summer journey up the New England coast -- from On the Water to Along the Cliffs and beyond.

Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen is ecstatic about the developments up at her future solar home in the Colorado foothills! View her pictures of Paradise Rocky Mountain style.

On The Survive and ThriveBoomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes about a new shopping tool and seafood calculator to help people buy seafood lower in mercury, higher in omega-3 fatty acids, and sustainably produced. Check out her article New tools help costumer pick seafood with less mercury, more omega-3 fatty acids.

Six Decades and Counting ponders the discrepancy between the retirement accounts of most of us, and the accounts of a privileged few. Yet we all should take advantage of retirement accounts and save for the good years still to come. Check out Meryl’s post - Retirement Accounts, the 99 Percent and the 1 Percent.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Retirement Accounts, the 99 Percent and the 1 Percent

I find money fascinating. Money is often on our minds. Thoughts, discussions, and transactions involving money consume a substantial part of our waking hours.

Kids learn early in life money has value. I had a savings account in elementary school and possessed a real bankbook. Occasionally money was deposited – usually gifts from relatives on holidays and birthdays – and notations made in the book, in pen, by an adult.

As a new mom, money was not in great supply during my kids’ early years. One day Number One Son wanted something at the store and I told him I did not have enough money.

“Well, Mommy, just go to the bank and get more.”

Now why didn’t I think of that?

Unless living a hermit-like existence in the wilderness, money is an important component of life, needed for the necessities – food, shelter and clothing - with hopefully some left over for a few extras.

The boomer generation faced the prospect of saving for retirement with limited role models or instructions on how or where to invest. The concept of retirement was changing in 20th century America. Living longer and enjoying a healthy, active lifestyle was just beginning to come into vogue as boomers matured.

The federal government passed legislation establishing IRAs in 1974 (ERISA – Employee Retirement Income Security Act), and subsequent legislation launched 401(k)s and other employer supported retirement plans. Large companies like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo and J.C. Penney’s began offering 401(k)s in the early 1980s.

Sometimes government accomplishes good things!

We – hub and I - started IRAs and 401(k)s and now have a nest egg.

I thought we were doing pretty well.

Until reading the latest news.

I came across an article entitled Romney-Sized IRAs Scrutinized as Government Studies Taxes. Summarizing, some very, very, fortunate individuals accumulated retirement accounts worth millions over the past few decades.

Statistics indicate it would be impossible for most people (like hub and me) to amass a fortune worth millions, even if contributing the maximum amount allowed every year from the time these accounts were established to the present.

A minuscule number of Americans – 9,000 – accumulated more than $5 million in retirement accounts.

How was this possible? Savvy businesses and individuals manipulated retirement accounts, placing assets in accounts that should have been taxed, or undervaluing stock contributions, or…I have no idea, but shrewd financial gurus come up with tax-avoidance measures all the time. And they work hard to ensure certain people accrue lots of money tax-free.

The money is taxable when withdrawn, but I bet financiers have an angle minimizing taxes on withdrawals also…

Getting back to statistics, IRA accountholders could have as much as $350,000 stashed away if contributing the maximum from 1975 through 2011, and if the funds were invested aggressively. Higher contribution limits to 401(k)s theoretically allowed accountholders to pile up as much as $4 million in their retirement accounts.

I am going to take a risk here and say that most people did not contribute the maximum every year, nor did they invest the entire amount as aggressively as necessary to amass these sums.

A grand total of 1,100 American taxpayers own accounts worth over $10 million, and 314 amassed a fortune over $25 million.

In comparison, the value of 99% of the 43 million IRA accounts is under $1 million. The average value of retirement accounts for those 55+ was $150,300 as of March 31, 2013.

Romney is mentioned in the title of the article because he is one of the blessed beings, one of the .003% with retirement accounts valued over $20 million (Romney never publicized the size of his IRA; we only know it is worth $20 million or more). His account is considered an example of companies using retirement vehicles as tax shelters. As a business owner (co-founder of Bain Capital) extra contributions, such as company stock, boosted the account value well beyond normal investment gains.

Getting back to my original ramblings, hub and I are doing nicely.

We are proud members of the 99% club, and as the saying goes, sitting pretty.

Not as pretty as those in designer clothes, cars, boats, houses, and accessories, but pretty enough for us.

The moral of this tale?

I am not sure. Maybe the rich will always find ways to work the system.

Bu that does not mean the rest of us cannot take advantage of the system.

We can and we should.

(Statistics cited are from this article unless otherwise noted.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Unskilled in the Emoji Language

I am not proficient in languages. I began taking Spanish in seventh grade, eventually competent enough to read newspapers and a few books, but was not fluent with the spoken word. The best uttered was a kind of slow-spoken, chopped-up drawl, a grammatically poor equivalent of the real Spanish language.

I butchered the Russian language for a couple of years in high school, not getting much further than the equivalent of reading and translating board books. 

I felt somewhat brainless visiting foreign countries over the years, unable to communicate with the locals, although places like Canada, England, Australia and the deep South of the USA pose no language barrier, although at times accents prove difficult to understand.

My language anxiety recently worsened. 

I discovered a new language I may have to learn, and am not excited about doing so. This language is becoming very popular. If family and friends begin using it, I may be forced to follow.

The new language is Emoji.

Emoji are pictures. String a row together, and users create messages, sentences, paragraphs, and stories - like pictographs found in caves, or hieroglyphics. To this history major it appears to be a deja-vu throwback – way back – to ancient times, but obviously I am missing something.

Emoji are new pictures. Initially used in Japan in the 1990s, Emoji crossed the Pacific and seriously invaded our shores after the turn of the 21st century.

Everyone, except maybe prisoners isolated in non-internet surroundings over the past couple of decades, are familiar with the concept of Emoji.

Think smiley faces.

Emoji icons, pictographs, emoticons (facial expressions illustrating emotions) – more sophisticated-sounding terms than ‘pictures’ – integrate a language of images, each with a specific meaning.

Emoji is spreading fast and infecting our world. The Global Language Monitor (GLM) chose Emoji as 2014’s top trending word.

The esteemed and highly regarded Oxford English Dictionary added Emoji to its lexicon, defining the word as, “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communications.”

The emojipedia helps users find Emoji expressing the idea, object, or emotion desired. The Unicode Consortium, a technology-oriented organization involved with regulating and standardizing software worldwide, is working on developing a consistent, uniform Emoji language. 

I thought it would be cool to insert Emoji in this article, originally written in Word. I found a couple of cute Emoji (iemoji.com, getemoji.com and emojipedia.org), copied and attempted to paste them into the document. Only a question mark encased in a box appeared.

Further research indicated my Word was not up to receiving Emoji. But following additional Internet inquiry, I now have an Emoji keyboard on my iPhone (check this website to load on your iPhone) and a Character Palette app with Emoji on my Mac computer. (I impress myself with the lingo!)

Lucky for me, Emoji is not a spoken language.

My generation is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to learning a new language. Experts tell us the best time to acquire new language skills are when young – very young – as an infant and toddler.

We are way, way beyond those years.

The language-skills part of my brain has lied dormant a long time and has probably begun to calcify, making the attempt to stuff new information into it difficult.

But if necessary I will try. And if failing, I will fall back on old language abilities, writing words, messages, sentences, paragraphs, and stories using the letters of the alphabet, forming words and recording them on paper or a computer or chiseling them into rock.

Communicating the old-fashioned way.  

Examples of emoji in action (with translations)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Fall Unofficially Begins

Today is cloudy, cool and breezy, high mid-70s.

I love this weather!

Yes, folks, fall approaches fast.

Autumn unofficially arrived to our shore community. Labor Day came and went, and like birds migrating south, shoobies temporary island inhabitants began flocking elsewhere. Most returned to homes throughout New Jersey and Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C.

The snowbirds will soon load their cars and head south for the winter.

Signs of summer past appear everywhere.

Fewer cars line residential streets as folks close their vacation homes for the winter.

A new gym schedule began. Smaller (yeah!) but fewer classes now.

The grocery store displays less fresh items, especially prepared foods. Those of us still around no longer entertain hordes of shoobies pretending to visit but wanting to spend long days at the beach, absorbing enough sun and fun to hold them over until next Memorial Day weekend. Unwilling to spend a lot of time cooking in summer heat, we fill the refrigerator with prepared foods.

Post-Labor Day the house no longer overflows with friends and relatives, food bills shrink, and the cooler weather is conducive to cooking.

I parked directly in front of the market this morning. No need to drive into the parking lot or cruise around the block hoping a spot opens.

Kids no longer crowd the bagel store, begging parents for brownies, cakes and drinks along with their chocolate chip bagel. Men and women women especially seem more serene, less hassled, now that their kids returned to school. They leisurely pour a cup of coffee and order a bagel sandwich, looking forward to enjoying some hassle-free, kid-free time.

Restaurants started cutting hours and days, closing three or four days a week. Some soon close for the winter. Locals do not eat out as frequently as affluent vacationers, and the islands population shrinks as winter approaches, bottoming out during the dark, gray days of January and February before slowly climbing once again.

Stores advertise end-of-season sales.

A couple of ice cream shops remain open seven days a week, but others open weekends only. By the end of October See you next summer! signs will adorn every ice cream shop window on the island.

Noticeably lighter traffic travels the islands two main streets.  Traffic signals will soon be on flash, as throngs of pedestrians carrying chairs and beach toys no longer stampede across the road on the way to the beach.

Leaves on the trees, only a few days ago a rich, dark green, lighten and turn various hues of red and gold.

My tomato plants begin to sulk, unhappy about the cooler weather and shorter days.

The sun rises later and sets earlier each day, and that saddens me. I love long days of bright light, darkness suggesting cold, loneliness, and depression.

Locals know September is the best month of the year around here. Crowds disappear. The weather is perfect for outdoor activities. Most days are sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s to low 80s. The oceans warmth lingers. Empty beaches beckon, a place of sunshiny solitude, except on a weekend when temperatures soar into the 80s and people temporarily return for one last sandy experience of the season.

September needs a song of celebration. Too many songs and literary references use September as a metaphor for the autumn of our years. I think the month deserves more cheerfulness.

I like the following song by Earth, Wind, and Fire, simply titled September, because the music is upbeat. Enjoy!

And check out the latest Best of Boomers posts!