An old friend

An old buddy stopped by my house the other day. He came over because I got in touch with him due to a series of challenges I had personally taken on. This task was to contact an old friend. Just connecting with him was an undertaking because he had dropped his land line which was the only phone number I had for him. I checked his Facebook page to no avail but finally found his brother’s number. I talked to his sister-in-law who gave me his new cell number. Now we were cooking.

I have known him for over four decades. Donna and I used to go to his home on weekends to go swimming in his pool. He and I had built a deck off the back of his house. This had a platform that overhung the side of the pool for diving. We used to have cookouts for dinner and the two of us would go out to a farmer’s field and pick corn for roasting. I hadn’t seen this buddy in quite a few years so we spent about two hours catching up with each other.

We talked about the weather and the recent wind storm. If you are from Western New York, you always talk about the weather. I showed him our new bedroom addition on the back of our house and he loved it. He appreciated the fact that it looked as if it has been there forever. He liked the floors, the en-suite bathroom with a walk in shower and elevated toilet. He loved the walk in closet, the pocket door, the number of outlets I had the electrician put in (22 of them in the bedroom alone) and even the magnetic doorstop. I put in a lot of thought when I was designing this space.

His son has now grown and has given him a grandson and his son lives just around the corner from my son, small world. My buddy is a very proud grandfather. His grandson is as cute as can be and looks just like his father. We told him about the exploits of our own grandchildren, discussed our children and many other things.

We talked about banks and online banking (he is for it, I’m not). According to the FDIC, the national average interest rate on savings accounts currently stands at 0.09% so I don’t see any compelling reason to keep money in a bank.

He is a Vietnam Era veteran just like I am but we didn’t discuss politics. Politics and religion are the two subjects I refuse to discuss.

We chatted about what we were doing now. About how I blog and write articles for newspapers and even get a few of them published internationally. I told him about the article I had written, a sarcastic piece on the song “Baby it’s cold outside” and the radio stations that refused to play this classic winter song. It caused such a turmoil that I no longer write for the online paper where it was first published. However, it was distributed elsewhere without a problem. This song has gotten a politically correct remake this year by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.

My buddy now drives a school bus and boy, did he have a few stories to tell! My wife asked him about passing a stopped school bus and did she ever hit a hot button! He told us about the people that blast past his bus as he is discharging kids and indicated his experience was not uncommon. We must have chatted about this subject for at least a half an hour.

According to the New York State DMV website, a majority of school bus related injuries and deaths happen when children are crossing the street after being dropped off by the bus, not by collisions involving school buses. There is nothing you are doing, there is no place you are going, that is worth injuring a child.

He wasn’t aware that a mutual friend of ours had passed so we informed him about it. It’s sad how we lose track of our friends and loved ones over the years. I also updated him on another person, Ed, which we both knew. We go out to dinner with Ed monthly.

Our twin grandsons were spending the day at my house due to the schools being closed and were playing upstairs but you wouldn’t know it. I called them down to the living room and they introduced themselves and shook my buddy’s hand. After they went back up to play, my buddy remarked what polite, well behaved young men they were.

Our visit was very, very enjoyable and when he left it was like we hadn’t lost any time at all. Unfortunately, he had to leave and go do his afternoon bus run. I hope he comes over again soon and often. Next time I encourage him to bring his son, his son’s wife and of course, his grandson.

Good help is hard to find

I ran a handyman type business part time for 35 years until health problems caused me to quit. I put an ad in the paper for just one week and was as busy until the day I closed it out. It surprised me that I would be so busy but in retrospect I now know why.

My customers would pass my name around to their friends and family because I treated then like I wanted to be treated. Apparently this concept has gone the way of black and white television and rotary dial telephones. I have now reached the age where I am the one that needs some help.

I sided my house several years ago but a wind storm caused one piece to come loose. I called several people and the first person that showed up nailed it back up with the nail heads showing, but the next windstorm we had the nails pulled thru the siding, leaving holes. So he went on the “S” list and tried again.

One man showed up in the back seat of a car driven by a relative. He looked over the job and asked if I had a ladder to get up there. What? You don’t have a ladder?  He then said would have to go on the internet to see how to do the repairs I needed.  Another entry to “the list”. Finally I had a man from Lancaster do the job and he did it the right way. It hasn’t blown off since. 

One day, the automatic garage door opener stopped working. Investigation revealed that the underground wiring I had installed over thirty years ago had shorted out. Because I had a concrete patio installed right over the in ground conduit, I decided to call an electrical contractor to install a new underground feed. They dug up my yard, burrowed under the sidewalk and put the new wiring into the back of my garage instead of the side where I had originally installed it.

Shortly after that, after it had snowed, my wife came into the house and asked if there should be sparking where the old wiring entered the garage wall. I looked out the window and saw that the siding was melted and had black marks on it. I quickly ran to the basement and shut off the circuit breaker before my garage and two inside vehicles burned up. If it wasn’t for the fact that there was snow piled up against the wall, I probably would have lost the building and my cars.

Seeing as they were a licensed electrical contractor, I never inspected the job they had done. I figured they would do it right and to code.  Wrong! My investigation of this problem revealed the old wiring had never been disconnected and they didn’t install the National Electrical Code required disconnect. So I called them and read them the riot act including quoting the specific code they violated when they wired my garage.

I told them they had two choices. The first one was fixing the problems including replacing the burned and melted siding or I would report them. They were out the next day to repair the wiring.

I needed my gutters cleaned. I called several people that were recommended on Facebook but only one showed up. I would have called them Curley, Larry and Moe but I think Moe was still in prison. They did do what I asked. They cleaned the gutters but left the downspouts as plugged tight as a duck’s arse. I didn’t find this out until the next time it rained and they all overflowed. My list is getting longer.

I wanted my exterior doors replaced. They had been here since 1919 and they wouldn’t close in the summer and leaked so bad in the winter that the breeze would blow out a candle. One person showed up, a large company that advertises on the television. They gave me a price but because my doors were oversize doors, they would only install a standard door leaving a 4” gap at the top for me to deal with. I am running out of paper. Finally I found a person to do what I wanted. Replace 2 doors, two storm doors and all for the low, low price of $6000.

I wanted a digital thermostat installed in my master bedroom suite. So again I went to Facebook for suggestions. A man contacted me and we agreed he would come over the next day. When he arrived, he had our new thermostat and his tools in a plastic “Tee shirt” bag.

I left the room and sat in the living room when I heard a zap, saw sparks and all the lights went out in the bedroom. So I got up to see if he was laying on the floor. Four and a half hours later, after several zaps, damns and f bombs and after he reinstalled the old thermostat that was not working now, I told him to go home. He took some of the pieces with him and left a pile of spare parts. My list gets even longer.

It was cold that night and it’s going to be a cold for a few more nights. We still have no heat.

Brain Health

I do Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles and write 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. I feel that keeping my brain healthy is as important as keeping my body healthy. I recently found some support for this opinion.

The Daily Mail reports that doing Crosswords and Sudoku could keep your brain up to ten years younger. They stated that doing a puzzle every day might have a “dramatic effect” on your memory and help to ward off dementia as you get older.

The Mail reports that joint studies were done by the University of Exeter and King’s College, London. This involved participants that were between 50 and 93 years old. The participants took an online survey, reporting how often they did these types of puzzles, as well as tests to measure the changes in their brain function.

This research concluded that doing a puzzle every day could lower your brain age by up to a decade. According to a study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, people over 50 can improve their brain function by completing word games. 19,100 people took part in this research, and they were tested on their attention, memory, and reasoning and were asked how frequently they did puzzles. Findings showed that those who did these puzzles performed better in tests, and had a lower ‘brain age’ than those who didn’t. The difference in brain function was ten years for those who worked on the puzzles regularly and an eight-year difference for short-term memory.

I find that writing stimulates long forgotten memories. I call this opening the “file cabinets of my mind”. As soon as I open a drawer, hundreds of memories come pouring out. Memories of people I knew and things I did. Memories from my childhood right thru last week.

Sometimes they come so fast, this hunt and peck typist has trouble writing them all down. Frequently when the memories stop, I find I have written 1500 words or more. Now comes the job of paring it down to an acceptable size. I try to cut it to 800 to 900 words and save much of what I remove for another day. I frequently tell my wife that I have a 25 year old mind in a 70 year old body.

Dr. Anne Corbett, senior author of the Daily Mail studies, said: “Most of the people involved in the research did crosswords or Sudoku every day, which exercises the memory and improves problem-solving abilities and focus.” The theory behind these results is that the brain is just like anything else in the body. Continuing to use your mind and not vegging out will improve it’s capacity and adaptability.

The brain has a lot of connections that we need to use regularly doing activities like puzzles. It’s the old “use it or lose it” theory. We don’t really comprehend though if people like doing puzzles because they possess a higher level of brain function or if their mental function improves due to the fact they are solving puzzles.

Some people say that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain. This means you can lessen your risk of dementia by having a balanced, healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, keeping alcohol use to a minimum, and quitting smoking. I quit smoking after 45 years and I never felt better. I think that maintaining social connections with your friends and family might also reduce cognitive decline.

The brain controls many things like memory, making decisions and much more. These cognitive abilities can affect how we are able to perform everyday tasks and if we can live independently. Changes in thinking as people age are normal. Older adults could have problems with multi-tasking, difficulty finding words and recalling names and decreased ability to pay attention. However, as a person gets older, certain parts of the brain shrink, particularly those areas that are important to learning and other complex mental activities. This doesn’t mean you cannot learn new things. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

I changed careers at 60, taking a job that I had absolutely no experience in or training for. I love a good challenge and just figuring out how to do this job made me feel younger. To do this job, I had to write PowerPoint training modules, something I had never done before. Not only was I able to write them for my job but other supervisors asked me to write modules for them. The last time I attended college, I went to UB when I was 62. Since then, I have received several certificates and diplomas from online courses including from NCCC and the University of Central Florida.

There is increased scientific evidence that the mind does not remain static but is able to take on new challenges as people age. It is not exactly clear why certain people think just as well when they get older and others don’t but exercising your brain is very important.

You can reach Norb at Nrug@juno.com. If he doesn’t answer you right away, he is probably trying to find his glasses.

Celebrating a half century of true love

As appearing in the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union Sun and Journal

8/11/2019

Last Friday, my wife Donna and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

A half-century ago, we were a pair of young, clueless kids. We went out into the world with everything we owned in the back of a Volkswagon “beetle” and drove 500 miles from home to establish a life of our own in Newport, Rhode Island. If it weren’t for wedding presents, we wouldn’t have had enough money for gas to get to Newport, which was my ship’s home port while I was in the Navy.

We first moved into a fleabag motel. Living there depleted our funds quickly so we scoured want ads in the local papers, looking for a cheap apartment. We didn’t have much money but we had our love to keep us going.

Then a shipboard buddy told us about some inexpensive apartments in Fall River, Massachusetts, just across the state line. We moved into this welfare development where your rent was based on your income. I was earning $64 a month back then. Our rent was $32 a month. Fortunately our rent included the heat and electricity. After I paid the rent, I had $8 a week left over for our phone bill, food, gasoline and auto insurance. Heaven forbid my car would break down. All the money we had left from our wedding went into cheap, pressed wood furniture. We still have some of that furniture today.

We were living without the benefit of family nearby so we had no safety net and we had to do whatever it took on our own to survive. We learned more about self-dependence than we had ever known. It made us reliant on each other.

I was proud of Donna the first time I went to sea. She didn’t go home to her parents. The apartment we shared was now home to her, and with the help of a few friends who were close to us, she was able to stay in our place. I am thankful to our next door neighbors, Millie and her family, for helping Donna out. Tony, Millie’s youngest, would spend more time at our house than his own keeping Donna company.

One of my friends, Cole, a bosun’s mate and mountain of a man, would check in on her to see if she was OK during my absences and if she needed anything.

The neighbors would share their food with us and showed us how to apply for a monthly allotment of surplus food that the state gave to low income people. Every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the complex. We would meet up with whatever free food we didn’t want and swap it for food we did.

It was during this time we had two of our children. How crazy were we to do this? I don’t know. We figured, “How expensive would it be to have children?” Of course, this was in the days of cloth diapers, rubber pants and diaper pails.

As I look back on those times, I have to wonder just how we made it. Foolish as we were, we managed to survive. We were from the generation that believed when you made a promise, you kept it.

I think often about how much in love we were. How our marriage was made stronger by having to make it on our own in the early years. How we couldn’t run home to our parents when we had differences of opinion. How I learned the four phrases that helped keep us together: “Yes dear,” “You are right,” “I understand,” and most importantly, “I love you.”

Now, 50 years later, I think about all the problems we overcame together, standing back to back with our guns drawn, ready to take on whatever came at us.

I now send my wife a cheesy text every morning, professing my love for her to make her smile and to let her know that I am thinking about her. I also try to keep fresh flowers in the house just because. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I love her with all my soul.

The first time I saw her, my heart whispered “That’s the one.” Imagining my life without her is impossible and I am so lucky to be able to spend my life with her.

Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. His email is nrug@juno.com where he welcomes comments

Growing older

People my age are so much older than me.

When I think of old age, I to think of my maternal grandfather. When I was a kid, I considered this white-haired, 65-year-old man as old. I can still vividly remember his vegetable gardens at 101 Bickford Avenue, Buffalo and how he taught me how to trap yellow jackets.

He sold Watkins products and aprons to women around his own age. I recall going on sales calls with him in his dark blue 1948 dodge. This was a treat for me because I got to ride in the front seat of the “Blue Bird” as he called it and every client he had invited me in for milk and cookies. Instant grandmothers!

Now that I’m in my early 70’s, my concept of old age is substantially different than it used to be and I suspect I’m not alone. I am positive that everyone else is growing older and that person that I see in my mirror each morning is somehow aging at a slower pace. I frequently ask my wife how come everybody we know is getting older and we’re not, ala Dorian Grey.

If you’ve been pushing yourself for many years by working, raising a family or both, it feels strange to have time to yourself once you have retired and the kids have all flown the coop. One good thing about getting older is that you’ve been there, done that. Now you can take the time to impart what you’ve learned over the years. I try to do this by writing.

Baby boomers seem to be having a hard time admitting to the inevitability of growing older. Granted, we are all mortal, but I never imagined this referred to me. Sure, I am in my seventies and have been married for fifty years. Yeah, my children are in their forties and have grandchildren in their twenties. Indeed, I have been retired for four years and have been fighting cancer for ten. But those are only numbers to me, not an indicator of how old I feel.

When I take sum of my life, everything I’ve created, experienced and collected, I can count more positives than negatives. More than anything else I learn with each and every passing day the importance of appreciating what I have and choosing to be happy. Taking time to laugh with my family and friends becomes more important. Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members.

My 8 year old grandsons will yell “Papa run over here.” I have to explain, Papa doesn’t do run anymore.  There’s a lot that Papa doesn’t do anymore. Papa doesn’t drink anymore. Papa doesn’t go to the basement or attic anymore. Sure I move a bit slower, but that’s just my body that’s acting it’s age, my mind and my spirit are still in their twenties. The great irony, in this, say the experts on aging, is that this could be a healthy thing. Believing you are younger can actually make you feel younger.

“People, particularly older people, usually say they feel younger than they are,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State. “People who report feeling younger actually tend to live longer and healthier lives and they don’t tend to have as much of a pattern of decline.” says Chopik. In most circumstances, people state that they feel around 20 percent younger than they actually are. This is according to a Michigan State study of over than 500,000 people.

They say when you are older, you heal slower but my innate ability to recover from injuries is well known among my friends and family. Recently I hurt my ankle but I thought I could just walk it off. After 8 days of walking on it, I discovered I had broken it. I was in a boot for six weeks after that and still wear a splint. The orthopedic surgeon I went to said “The x-ray revealed that your bones are, and I going to use a medical term here, crap.” (I love a doctor with a good sense of humor). He said he wasn’t sure just how long it would take me to heal but he suggested it would take months.  I surprised him by how quickly I healed. I have had cancer three times, and managed to spit in death’s eye each time.

So, at my age, I’m on a low salt diet, do Physical Therapy, quit smoking, and have to take an assortment of meds to control my blood pressure, cholesterol, edema and pain. I wear bifocals and hearing aids and But I still don’t look into the mirror and see an old man looking back and I definitely do not see a septuagenarian gazing at me. I see someone that is much younger and more vibrant than that. Then again, I never put my glasses on before I look in the mirror. You remember the age old adage “You are only as old as you feel.”? I believe this to be true. In my mind I am still only 25.

It’s kind of funny how being old doesn’t seem so old now that I am old.

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport.

Watching Children

Donna and I watch our grandchildren and a few other children. As we counted them up, we have watched over 20 children not counting our own children. I think that babysitting your grand-kids improves and extends your life and studies have confirmed that.

If you discovered the secret to a longer and more meaningful life I am sure we would all do it.  Apparently, watching children is that secret. People frequently say that being around children will make you feel younger and reports can actually measure and identify the benefits from caring for children. If the experts are all saying that “caregiving” gives older people a purpose in life and helps keeps them active, then maybe even small doses of babysitting may extend your life.

 “Caregiving may give caregivers a purpose of life because caregivers may feel useful for the others and for the society,” said Bruno Arpino, who was the associate professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, in 2016, according to Reuters Health.

Researchers have actually found that grandparents who watch their grandchildren have a tendency to live longer than seniors who don’t. Researchers with Berlin Aging Study conducted investigations over almost 20 years on the effect of caregiving on mortality. The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2016.

The Berlin study showed that after factoring in grandparents’ age and state of health, the risk of dying over a 20-year period was one-third less for seniors who took care of children as compared to those who didn’t. More than 500 seniors were interviewed and had medical tests at their homes, doctors’ offices, and hospitals, and these tests were repeated every other year between 1990 and 2009.

Participants were asked how often they cared for children of during the last year. This was defined as looking after or doing something with a child without the parents being there. Then this was scored from 1 (never) to 7 (every day). The sample did not include any primary caregivers who had full custody of the children, though it did include those who watched non-family members.

We are watching both grandchildren and children of friends that I affectionately call the strays or OPCs (Other People’s Children). The oldest OPC, Andrew, will be 22 in August and lives in Arlington Texas. Donna started watching him after the company Donna was working for closed. We are looking forward to seeing Joedin this summer another of our OPCs. She and her family moved to North Carolina seeking employment. She comes up during the summer to spend time with us. We think of them both often. They feel just like kin to us.

This study concluded that spending time with your grandchildren and helping friends and family members with their children most likely gives people a feeling of purposefulness and assists them to keep mentally and physically active running after a child. Anyone who has looked after a preschooler can attest to having to be physically active.

We are in our 70’s and are still looking after grandchildren and OPCs. Every time a child leaves our care due to entering school, moving or a change in their family situation, we discuss taking on another child. We both agree that we don’t need the money or that it’s tiring for us to do but then someone asks “Are you still watching children?” We always answer yes and take on another child.

As per Reuters Health, half of the grandparents who took care of their grandchildren were still alive 10 years from their first interview. Whereas, those who didn’t provide help lived for only about five years. It is extremely important however for every person to decide, just what “moderate amounts of help” means. As long as you do not feel frazzled about the help you provide you might just be doing something good for others and for yourself.

Researchers have found that grandparent babysitters had a 37% lower mortality risk than adults of the same age that do not provide care. Research has also indicated that people involved in providing care to children had a reduced risk of dying during the study follow up than people that didn’t watch children. But the study can’t prove cause and effect can only suggest this correlation.

So if you are a senior, go find some relatives or neighbors who need your help or support part-time. It might be a challenge but there are all sorts of ways you can help others. Watching kids so mom and dad can work or have a night out, picking kids up after school or providing a “bridge” between the time the kids get out of school and the time their parents get home. We have done all three.

Additional research would be required to find out the cause of the longer life expectancy of caregivers, however researchers present a few explanations. But I really don’t need some expensive research from some razzle dazzle organization to tell me just how good watching children makes me feel, how it lets me connect with my youth again.

Old Age

I thought I would feel completely different about growing older. I thought I’d worry more about getting gray hair and the spare tire that would collect around my stomach after I had retired than I have. As I begin my 70’s, I can’t muster more than a shrug about any of those things. MEH. Last I remember I was in my 20’s so I don’t know where the last 50 years went. Instead, what I find terrifying about getting older is that I’ve totally lost the capability to comprehend what people do and why they do it.

Up until recently, more recently than I really want to confess, I didn’t know what a meme was. I had to look memes up on the internet to find out what they were and I am not really sure I understand what they are yet. It was around last week Monday, when I decided to dig deep down into my own oblivion to write this piece, that I discovered that Drake is not just a male duck.

I need a good strong drink and a  to reduce my stress every time I need to remember a password. I have trouble using the 4 remotes that control my TV that my 7 year old grandsons can use in their sleep. Remotes are bad enough. I see you can now turn your lights on and off, luck and unlock your doors and adjust your thermostat with your smart phone. I just want to make a phone call!

I also have no idea how to use Snapchat, WhatsAPP, Tumbler or Venmo, whatever those are. I have a Facebook account, mainly because I want to let people how things are going, to see how they are doing, find recipes and to promote my writing. I have a Twitter account that I only use to stay in touch with a granddaughter who is now going to school out of state.

I’m hearing that cutting back on social media is starting to be trendy, so I might just find out that I am, for one brief second accidentally on-point. We will see how long that lasts. What should I do now? Try to close up the void between the generations, or should I embrace it?

A few years ago, when I first started to sense a technological gap opening up between me and the youth, I tended to enjoy it, much like an old person who’s reached that spot in life where it’s perfectly acceptable for me to dismiss all new music as racket or trip a passerby with my cane just because.

People in a few generations behind me are now becoming parents and CEOs, and I am becoming exactly what I’ve spent the last 40 years accusing my elders of being, angrily befuddled by every new skill needed to get by in life. Give me a smart phone and strand me in a desert and I’ll most likely die there.

When I was in school, “pop culture” just seemed like a course you took for the easy credits not something that was fun, but I did pay attention because it was fun. Part of the charm of becoming an adult was that I could stop working on the oppressively boring task of having to remember trigonometry, history and the periodic table.

Now, though, it turns out that there’s even more for me to try and jam into my brain. The problem is I’ve been in an elective, educational coma for few decades, having reached my interest in modern culture. I don’t know how many Kardashians there are, nor do I care. Just the thought of trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed now is exhausting.

I’m a member of a generation that can remember a time before texting and email and chat rooms. I learned these things in slowly during my 40s, and it wasn’t a problem. I scoffed at, and even felt bad for, anyone who was older and said that they weren’t prepared to try new stuff.

We have a very negative stereotype of people in thier 70s and that stereotype is usually incorrect. Elderly people are very likely to describe the last five or ten years of their lives as the happiest years of their lives.

It may come as a surprise to some, but studies have shown that seniors are among the happiest segments of the population and they are frequently more contented than people in who are in their middle ages. Older people frequently have a very healthy sense of satisfaction that comes from their achievements. These accomplishments don’t need be great feats.

In John Lennon’s lyric, “A working class hero is something to be,” Lennon explains it succinctly. Achievements like being happily married, raising healthy and happy children, serving in the military or retiring from a company in after years of dedicated service, may see ordinary but they can be the basis of contentment in old age.