Age of Obesity

We’re fatter now that our forebears used to be, and apparently that’s true in the UK too. The Guardian of London ran an interesting piece looking at the causes:

“So what has happened? The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed. As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue.”

This article is about the UK, but I imagine the findings apply here too. We aren’t actually eating more, or exercising less. It’s what we eat that has made such a difference.

Memo to self: eat a small serving of potatoes for supper, not a bag of potato chips. Drink a glass of skim milk, rather than eating a cup of full fat yogurt with lots of sugar added to relieve the tartness. Have two eggs for breakfast, not a bowl of cereal. Snack on fruit, not cereal bars.

I can do this.

Conscious Aging: Things I Love

I’ve written before about things I love, like my morning coffee: a blend of Peet’s Sumatra, full caffeine, and Peet’s decaf French roast. Like my late father, I make a pot in the morning and drink the whole thing while writing — he drank his before going to work, getting up early enough to read the paper and finish the pot. Given that consumption, I introduced half decaf to cut down on the amount of stimulant. My father added an unfiltered Camel cigarette or two or three to his morning read and his cups of strong black coffee. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know he died of heart disease.

Another thing I love is late summer, like we’re having now. Temperatures are still quite hot in Seattle, and the early morning begins with a red sun rising through the haze. That will change dramatically come Labor Day, so I’m relishing each early morning when I leave the shades up just enough so that I can see that sun from my bed.

We have no humidity and no bugs other than bees, but no mosquitoes or biting flies or other things that bedeviled me in my recent visit to New Jersey. The heat builds during the day, so that the hottest part is from about 3pm until 7pm or so — not like the east coast where the heat crests between 11am and about 3pm. I can still take a shower and put on my light robe and sit out on the deck until around 9pm, reading and sipping mint tea.

Archie is finishing up summer camps; Else continues at day care, which runs through the summer. The pool at Matt and Amy’s is still open. Farmer’s Markets have wonderful produce, including a late variety strawberry that is just luscious. The tulips are gone, replaced by late season sunflowers in huge, glorious bunches. Locally made ice cream still features summer flavors, like blackberry.

Summer music festivals are over; the new symphony season has not yet begun. Fall clothes are coming out in stores, of course, have been since mid-July. But no one is wearing anything fall-ish: shorts and T-shirts and sandals prevail.

The beaches at Green Lake are packed; the lake water is probably as warm as it’s going to get all season. The middle of the lake is filled with kayakers and people standing on boards, paddling along.

Cruise season is still in full swing, although the end is in sight.

I’ll take any remaining days like this I can get. 🙂

Guns and Neighbors

We seem unable to have any rational conversation about guns these days, but if we could, I believe the platform would be public health. Guns in rural areas are heavily implicated in suicide, especially in populations suffering job loss, opioid addiction, alcoholism, and other societal stresses. Guns in urban areas are the weapon of choice for gangs, and for mass shooters. Whatever sliver of common ground might be found in preventing unnecessary deaths might be a place to begin conversation.

Guns are big business in the United States. Businesses who profit from the sale of guns, ammunition. and gun paraphernalia, can also be major philanthropists in the communities where they are located. That means a lot of people, regardless of their beliefs about easy gun availability, benefit from the profit derived from guns.

Grinnell, Iowa, is ground zero for that kind of dilemma. Grinnell is the home of Brownells, a major firearms company and longtime family-owned business. Pete Brownell, CEO of the company, lives in Grinnell. He and his wife are philanthropic contributors to many local causes. The company also provides many well-paying, skilled jobs with benefits — a boon for any relatively small town.

Not everyone likes the way Brownells makes its money, even though some of that money goes to benefit the community. But it’s not a distant issue, confronting a distant and faceless corporate entity. The Brownells and many of their neighbors meet up in the local coffee shop.

Neighborliness is important in Grinnell — part of a cultural ethos called “Iowa nice.” But candor is important to some Grinnell residents too, as is the chance to talk openly about what it means for the town to benefit from gun money.

Much of this simmered below the surface until Pete Brownell became head of the NRA, and the Las Vegas shootings happened.

“For some time, none of this attracted much notice. People certainly knew that their good, generous neighbor subsidizes their quality of life with money earned in the gun industry in a state where gun deaths run nearly neck and neck with drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But at Saints Rest and elsewhere, most people broach neither subject. There’s other stuff to chat about, like how things are going.

Grinnell is both progressive bastion and gun town, a place urbane and rural. It is home to an influential liberal arts college with an endowment of more than $1 billion, and also a Monsanto plant. Usually, these juxtapositions are a point of pride, if they are noteworthy at all.

But since the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, Mr. Brownell has become a divisive figure in town, to nearly everyone’s reluctance. The culture wars here — and all of the culture wars converge right here — may be about guns, or about religion, or they might be about money. But they may really be about manners.”

The question for Grinnell, and for all of us, is whether we can find a way on both sides to have a civil conversation about guns, gun deaths, the right to bear arms, and the influence of gun-related money on politics and philanthropy at all levels.

So far, Grinnell hasn’t found it. Pete Brownell hasn’t responded to invitations from local clergy and others to begin talking. People who know the Brownells say that neighborliness is a two way street, and having local residents put their concerns on Facebook was, for the Brownell famly, a step too far.

I’ll be interested to see if this one small community can find a way forward. They might provide a model for the rest of us. Brownells, and the neighbors in Grinnell, Iowa, might be a place to start.

Remembering John

John’s memorial service was thoughtful and deeply personal, as these things often are. As his daughter, nephews, brothers, friends, and work colleagues from over the years spoke about him, I found my self thinking about cancer — the cause of John’s death. Coming to terms with one’s own mortality is a supremely solitary task. No one can do it for you. At the same time, that coming to terms with imminent death takes place within the embrace of people who love you and are affected by your illness and the choices you make around it. End stage cancer is both solitary, and not.

I remembered, too, the opening line of Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled. “Life is difficult”.

My late husband Jerry’s death was very different: he was fine until a large piece of plaque tore loose from an artery. Within seconds he was unconscious, and within minutes, he was dead. There was no coming to terms, for him or for me. The line between life and death was abrupt and jagged and sharply drawn.

That’s John, in the picture on the right. He was 60, a year older than Jerry when he died. Behind John is Kansas wheat, which he grew on the balcony of their condo here in honor of his early roots. In that lovely wooden box are John’s ashes. I didn’t grow up with cremation — Catholics didn’t in the 1950’s and for some years beyond. I think cremation makes eminently good sense, especially for burial in another state, but it still feels odd to me to think of the man I saw only a few weeks ago being nothing but the remains in that box. Even though it’s a nice box.

The events following a death are often hard for me, as I’ve had a good bit of trauma around the deaths of an infant sister, my father, and then Jerry. Memorial services are soothing for many, a chance to tell stories and laugh and cry together. They are often something I grit my teeth to get through. But this one was in an open, airy Episcopal church, with chairs in a circle, lots of music and light. I did better here, much better than in a dark stone church with incense and row after row of dark wood pews and a forbidding old man in vestments mumbling on the altar.

John was a good and dear person, and I needed to be there. I was. Rest in peace, my friend.

Memorial Service

Louise and I are spending most of Saturday on Bainbridge Island attending a memorial service for our friend John, who died after a four year battle with cancer. Memorial services — unless you believe in the kind of afterlife where dead people lurk just outside our perceptual range and hover over us, taking pleasure in how they are remembered — are for the living. Certain things, like the occasional whining we all do, are best done alone. Grief is best done in a community of caring.

My late husband Jerry had a beautiful memorial service, held in the University of Rochester Interfaith Chapel — the studiously neutral setting sidestepping the fact that our family spanned both rosary-clutching Irish Catholics and conservative Jews. Free of either Jesus on the cross or torah scrolls, we were able to construct the setting in which people who loved Jerry could share their memories and their sadness. A friend who is a jazz musician played Jerry’s favorite, composer Paul Desmond’s Take Five — often played by the jazz group who first recorded it, the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Jerry’s younger sister Amy talked about Jerry as her big brother. Ralph, our longtime corporate attorney, talked about Jerry as a colleague and friend. Matt talked about Jerry as a dad. Many others spoke as well. I didn’t — it would have been too hard. But I was profoundly touched by the words of everyone who did.

The impulse for closure when there is a death, the chance to say good-bye, is a deep human need. I can’t imagine how one comes to terms with loss when there is no opportunity to close the circle of life, when those left behind don’t know what happened to a loved one, don’t even know whether the person is alive or dead — just that he or she is gone.

John was a vice president at WSU, and there will be many professional colleauges speaking about him. I’m not one, which is fine. I saw John less than a month before he died, playing with his small grandson. I’m glad I had that moment. If I were speaking, I’d say that John was a good and decent man, a rare intellect, a friend and neighbor that you could call on with trust that he’d respond, a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. He was a good steward of the precious gift of life, and like all who loved him, I wish fate had granted him a bit more time.

Oprah and Weight Watchers: the Celebrity Effect

We have a celebrity presidency, the Republican base so dazzled by Trump’s ultimate reality TV rendition of Life in the Oval Office that they are willing to cast aside any and all traditional Republican positions re trade, immigration, and balanced budgets just to be part of the Trump train.

Oprah has had a similar, although more salutary, effect on the fortunes of Weight Watchers. Membership in the longstanding weight loss program had lagged, as people become more cynical about the dieting leading to sustainable weight loss. Enter Oprah, who has made the ups and downs of her weight part of her captivating life story. She agreed to become a spokesperson, and bought a big chunk of WW stock. Voila! Her advocacy, combined with Weight Watchers’ adopting a broader focus on overall wellness, has revived the fortunes of the company and added to Oprah’s considerable fortune as well.

So are we in a celebrity driven world, and do we need a celebrity to rival Trump in 2020? God I hope not. If so, it’s apparently not going to be Oprah. After a flurry of interest after her well-received Golden Globes speech earlier in 2018, there was a push for her to be the nominee of the Democratic party. Seems she’s decided that getting down into the weeds with a nasty piece of work like Trump is not what she needs. I’d have to agree. She, unlike Trump, is a genuinely successful entrepreneur worth almost 3B dollars. Her net worth is real assets, not the inflated brand value that Trump assigns to himself and his money grubbing offspring. And her name and advocacy are clearly magic with a large swathe of the buying public.

I like Oprah. She’s a multi-talented woman, smart about business. She seems a decent human being. Why would she need to add political stripes to her profile, given what U.S. politics has become?

Conscious Aging: Grilling Up a Storm

Well, I’m grilling almost every day and building myself quite the new skill set. I tried a piece of swordfish, and it came out great. Google, as Archie reminds me, knows everything including how long to grill a firm fish like swordfish or tuna. Still need a tutorial from Matt on how to do salmon — which is much less forgiving of overcooking. Overcooked salmon tastes like wallboard. 🙂

Funny shape, this piece of fish — but it tasted restaurant quality.

Older Americans and Bankruptcy

Here’s what’s wrong with the Republican philosophy of massive tax cuts to starve the federal government of the money it needs to provide the safety net built around Social Security and Medicare: Americans don’t save nearly enough for retirement, and are ill-prepared to provide for themselves.

The working class Trump supporters who are thrilled about getting an extra $300 a year from the recent tax cut missed the other half of the sentence: “giving you back the money you paid in taxes…. so that you can provide for your own retirement and health care.” It’s that second part, the “so that you can provide for your own retirement and health care” that Trump voters are simply not getting.

According to this piece in the New York Times, older Americans are filing for bankruptcy in increasing numbers already, never mind when the wave of tax cuts really begins to bite.

You may believe, philosophically, that it’s not government’s role to provide for people as they age. That would take you back to a time before FDR’s presidency, when people truly were on their own. The rich got richer, and the poor jumped out of buildings or stood on street corners with printed signs begging for help or set off in jalopies with their few possessions tied to the roof of the car after their farms had turned to dust.

Is that really where we want to be as a nation?

Conscious Aging Part VI: The Next Ten Years

I’ve always had older friends, and I look to them as role models for what my life might be like as I move through my 70’s and into my 80’s and hopefully into my 90’s.

C. used to live in Rochester, then moved back home to Virginia’s Tidewater region to be closer to her daughter. C. and I used to get together regularly for late afternoon chats before my move — I left Rochester first. She always served tea in lovely china cups and offered me home made ginger snaps. She and Franklin had a fire lit against cold winter afternoons, real wood of course. They wore cardigan sweaters. They read a lot of books, print version and hardcover, which were stacked up all around the warmly inviting rooms of their two story wood frame city home. They had a huge porch on the front with a two-person swing held up with a thick chain, and lots of plants. She’d been a social worker, then an elder activist determined to make nursing homes more like homes and less like institutions. In that quest she was fierce. Her health didn’t decline until her 90’s. First she lost propioception, a sense of herself in space. That was manageable with the help of walking sticks, which gave her two more points of contact with the earth. Then her brilliant, incisive mind was overcome by dementia, not manageable. But she was home, where she’d grown up, with the familiar rhythms of southern life and the loving care of her daughter.

J. is also in her 90’s, still living in Rochester in a high rise assisted living community near my old home on San Gabriel Drive. Her late husband lingered in poor health for twelve years after a devastating heart attack, and they were difficult years. When Jerry died so suddenly I said to J. that I would have given anything for him to have survived, that I’d have taken care of him no matter his condition. She looked at me with a steely although not unkind gaze and said, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I wish, as I age, for C’s unending grace and J.’s steely truthfulness.

Each of my friends has suffered losses, big ones, as they’ve moved into very old age. I expect my next ten years to have losses as well, because it’s the normal arc of life. At every other stage, losses have been balanced and usually exceeded by gains: new challenges, new opportunities and relationships, new insights, new capacities. That’s what I’m not sure about: what the balance will be over the next ten years. Thoughtfully observing other lives can point to some answers, but can’t reveal my answer — every life is unique. Gains at this age are different in quality from stages of my life before, when I felt I could have tackled anything if I put my mind to it. Going back to Meryl Streep in Mama Mia, I’m not going to be jumping ten feet in the air and touching my toes. Not going to happen — and not for Streep any more either, I’d wager. But I also saw a clip of her on The View with Amanda Seyfried, the young actress who co-starred with Streep in the film. Streep was speaking with the maturity and wisdom of an older, highly successful actress to a much younger, still emerging one. This stage of Streep’s life, although she’s a few years younger than I am, doesn’t look half bad.

Stay tuned.

Conscious Aging Part V: Klainer West

Matt and Amy moved here first, and “Pacific Northwest” sounded like the other side of the world to me, an east-coaster from birth. I came to visit and liked the city, but it felt very far away. That said, my life in Rochester had begun to change. Longtime members of my social circle moved to get out of the harsh winters. Neither Sara nor Matt and Amy were getting home very much. Rochester isn’t easy to reach by air — you have to arrive via another, bigger airport like Chicago or Cleveland or New York.  I was still living in the home where Jerry and I raised our family and had our married life. That was comforting initially, but by 2010 the house began to seem too big, too empty for me alone. I decided to downsize to an apartment or condo in a more urban setting, and the pickings in Rochester were slim in terms of a chance for a vibrant life. While there were wonderful renovated loft spaces in downtown Rochester, there wasn’t much else: no coffee shop, no grocery store or movie theater, no night life, no retail, no drug store.  Seattle seemed to offer much more, and if I was going to make the change in living space, it began to seem realistic to give more radical change a shot and move to Seattle.

Sara graduated from business school in 2009, and initially took a job with Dell in Austin. The year or so after I moved to Seattle in 2010, she moved here too. The grandkids arrived shortly after, and Klainer West was formed.

Being around immediate family is rare these days, and I know how lucky I am. Matt can run over on a Saturday morning and help me with my newly assembled grill. I can swing by day care for a grandchild suspected of having pinkeye, and run the kid to the pediatrician. Sara can collect my mail when I’m away, and I can water her plants. Sara and Ben and I can meet up for Saturday breakfast, and I can drop by Matt and Amy’s for a swim in the pool when the temperatures hit the mid-80’s. Everybody can come over for grilled hot dogs at my place, last minute invite no problem. In short, we can be part of each other’s lives on a casual basis, very different from the planned, 10 day parental visit.

That said, our togetherness works because we have our individual lives, and we respect each other’s boundaries. I don’t expect my adult kids to entertain me. They don’t expect me to be an automatic child care resource or house sitter. If there’s an invite extended that isn’t especially convenient or interesting, anyone gets to say “no” without extra baggage attached. All things considered, and given our level of closeness, I think we all get on remarkably well.

tomorrow: Anticipating the next ten years.