Meet Your Future Geezer

Wonder what you’ll be like as an older person?

Well, researchers at the University of Chicago can polish your crystal ball. Their study of people aged 57-85…the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project…goes into people’s homes and asks about their health, relationships and sex lives, though how they get honest answers about sexual behavior in face-to-face interviews with a spouse in the next room is a mystery. Their walls must be thicker than mine.

Health Findings: Parfum de Tiger Balm

In the health department, arthritis is one thing these older adults had in common. In the 75+ group, 62.8 % had arthritis, which explains the sweet smell of Tiger Balm in the morning in the homes of older folks — that and our snappy copper bracelets. Among that same older group, though, only 16.8 % reported a heart attack. Is this good news, or have those with heart problems already passed into the Great Beyond, beyond the questions of researchers? It’s a mystery.

Statistically, hypertension may also be in your future in that 60% of the same older group — 75 to 85 — have high blood pressure, which may be related to the fact that 55.2 % of them are also obese. And the younger group is even more rotund — 61.2 % of the 57-64 year olds are obese. (I am beginning to feel very self-conscious about the cupcakes I made last night.)

About Relationships

I hope this won’t ruin your day, but not all older people said they like to spend time with their partners. Only about 50% of men said they like to spend time with their partners and by the time partnered women got to be over 75, only 47.7 % said they liked to spend time with their honey buns.

If these results aren’t misprints, we have a problem. Retirement means two people alone in a house all day. So do Covid lockdowns. Lordy, if you don’t enjoy that, your days are toast.

But here’s the mystery: The vast majority of people in the study said they were happy in their relationships. Maybe the contradiction just translates into what has become a retirement mantra: I married you for life, dear, but not for lunch. Get the heck out of the house.

Now… The Sex Thing

The younger ones in the study had more lifetime sex partners than the people 75+. Forty-seven percent of women 57-64 had more than two lifetime sex partners, while only 20% of the oldest women had more than two sex partners in their lifetimes.

Well, no surprise here. The fast-lane Boomers among the group had reliable contraceptives and Woodstock. The older ones — well, they were pre-pill and pre-rock and probably lived more in the Tony Bennett lane.

Last, when it comes to sex, men stay true to form. While most women 75 and older said sex is NOT an important part of life, 75% of men over 75 said sex is still important.

So go ahead. Put that picture in your crystal ball — it’s going to be marriage counseling in our walkers.

This column originally appeared in the Huffington Post. It has been updated.

Sunshine Vitamin May Help Older People With Chronic Pain

Though experts currently have differing opinions about sun exposure, one thing is clear and can be acted upon: If you have unexplained or unrelieved muscle or bone pain, you may want to talk to your doc about testing your vitamin D level.

Is vitamin D an action hero painkiller? It sounds silly — pain old vitamin D as a possible reliever of pain. We know vitamin D as the Clark Kent of supplements, found in ordinary grocery stores, easily available from sunlight, available in fortified foods, egg yolks and fish, good for bones, but certainly not as a super hero painkiller.


However, if you have generalized muscle and bone pain, you will want to know what was uncovered by researchers at the Mayo Clinic: People with low vitamin D levels take nearly twice as much narcotic medication for pain as people whose vitamin D levels are normal. So far it’s just a correlation between the level of meds people require and their vitamin D levels, not a proven cause and effect.

But if groups of people who are low on D require almost twice as much morphine, fentanyl or oxycodone as those with a good D level, maybe they are in twice as much pain because they have half as much of what might turn out to be a natural pain preventer or reliever. That’s the theory that has grabbed the attention of medical investigators.

“Vitamin D is known to promote both bone and muscle strength. Conversely, deficiency is an under-recognized source of diffuse pain and impaired neuromuscular functioning. By recognizing it, physicians can significantly improve their patient’s life.”

Body Fat Steals Your D

Dr. Turner adds that people who are overweight are prone to have pain caused by low vitamin D because vitamin D likes to reside in fat. So when any of us have inviting layers of fat, the vitamin takes up residence in Fat City rather than circulating throughout the body the way it’s supposed to, bathing muscles and bones in a nice D bath. Dr. Turner also adds that checking D levels requires just a simple blood test that can be ordered by your doctor.

Can Low D Happen to You?

Yes, especially if you are older. Scientists say that about 50 to 60 percent of older people in North America do not have satisfactory vitamin D levels. Articles in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American Medical Association and other reputable sources state that many adults are deficient in Vitamin D. Why? We older people are not outdoors as much as we were when young. We are office-bound or at home cocooning, especially now with Covid isolation. And fearing skin cancer or wrinkles, when outside we cover up and use sunscreen, so the sun can’t get through to work its D magic on the skin.

Dermatologists, naturally invested in preventing skin cancer and wrinkles, say we can get all the D we need through supplements, but there are other experts who advise also getting a little sunshine, not only for pain, but for depression and other ills. Dr. Christiane Northrup, women’s menopause health guru, recommends daily brief exposure to the sun. Her specific recommendations — the dos and don’ts of safe solar exposure — can be found at Now, however you decide to obtain vitamin D, you should know the current optimum level. The National Institutes of Health recommend that women age 51 to 70 get 600 IU’s a day.

Bottom line? Though experts currently have differing opinions about sun exposure, one thing is clear and can be acted upon: If you have unexplained or unrelieved muscle or bone pain, you may want to talk to your doc about testing your vitamin D level.

If vitamin D works to treat your pain, great — then Clark Kent has turned into Superman. And if it doesn’t take away the pain, at least you won’t have rickets.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, HOT GRANNY, Chronicle Books, is available at Amazon. 


Is That All There Is? No, Here’s More

Oh, we have worn out Netflix, seen reruns of Gray’s Anatomy down to the last smashed leg, learned every movie on Amazon Prime and found ourselves watching old Doris Day movies until we began to turn blond and smiley. But there is more at-home sheltering to do, if not this spring, maybe this fall and winter. Anyhow, so sayeth the virus experts.

So are you frozen  to one viewing spot, a permanent dent in the couch, one where generations to come will say: And that is where an ancestor endured the Great Pandemic of 2020? But truly, is this kind of couch muffin entertainment all there is? Netflix, Amazon Prime and popcorn?

Well,  you know there is more, but where to find it?  Here are some choices beyond the usual TV series and movies, choices where you can deepen and refresh  your brain with new ideas, images and pleasures.

For all round results, no matter what your interests are, move on over to 

If you are uptight…who is not?…put relaxing music into the YouTube search box at the top of the page. The choices are amazing and provide hours of soft music, nature sounds, music to sleep by, even chants with nice visuals…whatever works.

And whatever your interest is, you can find a video about it on YouTube. Bridge, birdwatching, vegetarian cooking, heart health, watercolors, pet turtles, closet organization, even animal scat…which is how I found out there was a bear in the yard at our last house.

Plus some of these videos will get you off the couch. Even if you are 90 and a bit frail around the edges, there will be a YouTube exercise video that can get the body…the one you used to acknowledge as yours…moving. If you have trouble standing…feet, knees, ankles and hips on the fritz…search chair exercises for seniors. That will get you into a section that also offers yoga for seniors and pilates standing up…that’s in case you have trouble getting up and down from the floor, an occupational hazard of age.

If you want exercise for your brain, search on YouTube for TED.  TED offers short talks that are worth while…their motto is Ideas Worth Spreading…and right now they are focusing on ideas worth spreading in a time of pandemic. You can also go straight to Your brains and possibly antique opinions will thank you.

If you’ve ever loved a flower, you can’t leave YouTube without doing some gardening. My love of the moment is Monty Don, the BBC hunk who, despite his good looks and talent as a TV presenter,  actually knows more about gardening than any expert I know. But he is not rigid in his rules. He says not to worry too much about pruning roses “the right way”. This is music to the ears of a wayward chopper like me.

Monty Don has done many series over the years. Seniors living in tight quarters might like the series, Big Ideas Small Spaces. I wore that one out and am now into his series, Gardener’s World. Big caveat: watching will mesmerize  people into spending big bucks at the local gardening center.

So love flowers this week. Maybe get outside, away from tired TV shows and CNN and do a little gardening, a little flower worship. I already spent a half hour today staring at the rambling roses in my patio. My Native American name should be: Staring At Roses.

Better than Staring at Headlines.

Moms in Lockdown…on Earth or in Heaven

Ok, this is not like any other Mother’s Day since you first gave birth several centuries ago. That change might have some advantage. There are no restaurant brunches where the service is bad, the eggs cold and the prices hiked. There is no breakfast in bed for us sheltered seniors….a meal where the crumbs in the night remind one of the burnt toast in the morning.

Some of those child-made meals were high on good will, but low on skill. At five years of age, with nobody in the house but mom and me and with nothing much in the house because of war rationing, I served my mom a meal of lettuce leaves decorated with Necco Wafers. I looked upon the plate and thought it was good. What my mom thought was not recorded.

Then there are the thoughts that always come this day about our dear departed moms. How to honor them? Cranky Pants and I found a way after I read that some ancient Greeks used to set a place for one of the Olympus gods even though they knew Zeus or Hera  would not show up. So we set a place at the table for his mom and mine. After toasting them, we spend the meal trading stories about our mothers. It’s something you can do today to honor your own. And tell your kids you have not lost it, but found a new way to honor your mom. It’s Greek. It’s classic. Just like you.

So today, your kids, if your area is still in lockdown, will not show up. The flowers might not make it to the front door. But there may come an invitation to Zoom, Skype, Face Time or phone. Whatever works. You can enjoy the love in whatever form it arrives. And you can set that place at your table for absent mom. Is it possible to imagine a pleasant conversation where you re-live the best moments of her momhood? After a glass of champagne, yes. And ask forgiveness for some of the worst things you ever did as a child.

Mom, I have to talk to you about those Necco wafers.

Three Things Everybody Needs

Nineteen. What did you need at that age? Depends on gender. Male: A fake ID, wheels and a condom in your wallet. Female: A fake ID, lipstick, comb. Forward 50 years. Age 79. What do you need? A blood pressure monitor, a thermometer and a oximeter, a little fingertip device that measures your oxygen, your hot air, though friends can also tell you about that. I’d add in that all of us at the dewy dawn of old age need night lights,  so we do not stumble and tumble on the way to the small room in the middle of the night. (The older one gets, the more frequent trips. Maybe celebrate by getting two night lights. I know. I am a wild, wild woman.)

Clearly, I am lying about the number three as there is still another thing we older people need and that is sleep, right now. What I am hearing from my peers is that people are having constant trouble sleeping. Side effect of Covid news: insomnia.

I’m pretty sure you’ve read all the remedies: Stay away from late day caffeine,  get off the computer, take a relaxing bath, keep your room quiet and yes, no TV in the bedroom. Ha. Whoever writes these is not on my planet.

I know people who cannot sleep without their TV on. It lulls and comforts them. James Garner in the room cheers one off to dreamland. So yes, TV if it suits you. But no to chocolate. If you don’t want the caffeine in chocolate to disturb, eat it early in the day. Breakfast would be really safe. And many older people can’t get in and out of their tubs and it takes too long anyhow. Take a shower. Put on those sleepy time sweats. Watch something incredibly old fashioned on your bed iPad. No violence. Bosch will keep you awake and incidentally raise your BP. Mine went up to 170 over trouble after the last murder. So try the 90 reruns of the series All Creatures Great and Small about a veterinarian in Yorkshire in the 1940’s. It’s relaxing to watch cows get their teats fixed by our hero.

(Masterpiece Theater is now shooting a new version of All Creatures for PBS.)

Also know that there are many relaxing music videos on YouTube. Do not let the presence of another human in the bed deter you from watching old shows on your iPad or listening to music videos. Earphones solve the problem. And then there is bedtime Kindle reading. Last night, thanks to author Robert Harris,  I was present at the murder of Cicero and Cranky Pants slept right through it.

Which gets me to the midnight snatching of the covers. Shivering wakes. If you sleep with someone else, it is going to happen as he or she rolls over and hogs the covers. We here in Shelter Prison have finally solved it: Bought a quilt on Overstock that was so humongous that no rollover could snatch the covers from anyone. Moral: Go big or go freeze.

You probably have your own idea about what a person absolutely should have these days at this age. Please write it in the public comment section below. What keeps me humble is that the comment section after a column is often better than the column.

Go for it and get some sleep.


New Info About Covid You Need to Know Now

This is a first. I have been writing columns for many years, syndicated by King Features and appearing weekly in the Mercury News, but never have I substituted someone else’s column for my own. This piece below by E.R. physician Richard Levitan appeared this afternoon on the front page of the New York Times. It will tell you about early oxygen deprivation as a silent symptom of Covid. With Covid, people can be very low on oxygen and not know it and thus do not seek treatment.

This column on silent hypoxia or oxygen deprivation may get you on Amazon to buy a simple fingertip oximeter, a painless little device to measure your blood oxygen. Just looked online: Prices are rising on oximeters and some deliveries are not until early May. I bought one years ago for $20. Some are now in the $30’s and up to the $60’s.

But let Dr. Levitan tell you about it below and also consider subscribing to the New York Times. They deserve our support for bringing information like this.


The Infection That’s Silently Killing Coronavirus Patients

This is what I learned during 10 days of treating Covid pneumonia at Bellevue Hospital.


Dr. Levitan is an emergency doctor.

I have been practicing emergency medicine for 30 years. In 1994 I invented an imaging system for teaching intubation, the procedure of inserting breathing tubes. This led me to perform research into this procedure, and subsequently teach airway procedure courses to physicians worldwide for the last two decades.

So at the end of March, as a crush of Covid-19 patients began overwhelming hospitals in New York City, I volunteered to spend 10 days at Bellevue, helping at the hospital where I trained. Over those days, I realized that we are not detecting the deadly pneumonia the virus causes early enough and that we could be doing more to keep patients off ventilators — and alive.

On the long drive to New York from my home in New Hampshire, I called my friend Nick Caputo, an emergency physician in the Bronx, who was already in the thick of it. I wanted to know what I was facing, how to stay safe and about his insights into airway management with this disease. “Rich,” he said, “it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

He was right. Pneumonia caused by the coronavirus has had a stunning impact on the city’s hospital system. Normally an E.R. has a mix of patients with conditions ranging from the serious, such as heart attacks, strokes and traumatic injuries, to the nonlife-threatening, such as minor lacerations, intoxication, orthopedic injuries and migraine headaches.

During my recent time at Bellevue, though, almost all the E.R. patients had Covid pneumonia. Within the first hour of my first shift I inserted breathing tubes into two patients.

Even patients without respiratory complaints had Covid pneumonia. The patient stabbed in the shoulder, whom we X-rayed because we worried he had a collapsed lung, actually had Covid pneumonia. In patients on whom we did CT scans because they were injured in falls, we coincidentally found Covid pneumonia. Elderly patients who had passed out for unknown reasons and a number of diabetic patients were found to have it.

And here is what really surprised us: These patients did not report any sensation of breathing problems, even though their chest X-rays showed diffuse pneumonia and their oxygen was below normal. How could this be?

We are just beginning to recognize that Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call “silent hypoxia” — “silent” because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs in which the air sacs fill with fluid or pus. Normally, patients develop chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems. But when Covid pneumonia first strikes, patients don’t feel short of breath, even as their oxygen levels fall. And by the time they do, they have alarmingly low oxygen levels and moderate-to-severe pneumonia (as seen on chest X-rays). Normal oxygen saturation for most persons at sea level is 94 percent to 100 percent; Covid pneumonia patients I saw had oxygen saturations as low as 50 percent.

To my amazement, most patients I saw said they had been sick for a week or so with fever, cough, upset stomach and fatigue, but they only became short of breath the day they came to the hospital. Their pneumonia had clearly been going on for days, but by the time they felt they had to go to the hospital, they were often already in critical condition.

In emergency departments we insert breathing tubes in critically ill patients for a variety of reasons. In my 30 years of practice, however, most patients requiring emergency intubation are in shock, have altered mental status or are grunting to breathe. Patients requiring intubation because of acute hypoxia are often unconscious or using every muscle they can to take a breath. They are in extreme duress. Covid pneumonia cases are very different.

A vast majority of Covid pneumonia patients I met had remarkably low oxygen saturations at triage — seemingly incompatible with life — but they were using their cellphones as we put them on monitors. Although breathing fast, they had relatively minimal apparent distress, despite dangerously low oxygen levels and terrible pneumonia on chest X-rays.

We are only just beginning to understand why this is so. The coronavirus attacks lung cells that make surfactant. This substance helps keep the air sacs in the lungs stay open between breaths and is critical to normal lung function. As the inflammation from Covid pneumonia starts, it causes the air sacs to collapse, and oxygen levels fall. Yet the lungs initially remain “compliant,” not yet stiff or heavy with fluid. This means patients can still expel carbon dioxide — and without a buildup of carbon dioxide, patients do not feel short of breath.

Patients compensate for the low oxygen in their blood by breathing faster and deeper — and this happens without their realizing it. This silent hypoxia, and the patient’s physiological response to it, causes even more inflammation and more air sacs to collapse, and the pneumonia worsens until their oxygen levels plummet. In effect, the patient is injuring their own lungs by breathing harder and harder. Twenty percent of Covid pneumonia patients then go on to a second and deadlier phase of lung injury. Fluid builds up and the lungs become stiff, carbon dioxide rises, and patients develop acute respiratory failure.

By the time patients have noticeable trouble breathing and present to the hospital with dangerously low oxygen levels, many will ultimately require a ventilator.

Silent hypoxia progressing rapidly to respiratory failure explains cases of Covid-19 patients dying suddenly after not feeling short of breath. (It appears that most Covid-19 patients experience relatively mild symptoms and get over the illness in a week or two without treatment.)

A major reason this pandemic is straining our health system is the alarming severity of lung injury patients have when they arrive in emergency rooms. Covid-19 overwhelmingly kills through the lungs. And because so many patients are not going to the hospital until their pneumonia is already well advanced, many wind up on ventilators, causing shortages of the machines. And once on ventilators, many die.

Avoiding the use of a ventilator is a huge win for both patient and the health care system. The resources needed for patients on ventilators are staggering. Vented patients require multiple sedatives so that they don’t buck the vent or accidentally remove their breathing tubes; they need intravenous and arterial lines, IV medicines and IV pumps. In addition to a tube in the trachea, they have tubes in their stomach and bladder. Teams of people are required to move each patient, turning them on their stomach and then their back, twice a day to improve lung function.

There is a way we could identify more patients who have Covid pneumonia sooner and treat them more effectively — and it would not require waiting for a coronavirus test at a hospital or doctor’s office. It requires detecting silent hypoxia early through a common medical device that can be purchased without a prescription at most pharmacies: a pulse oximeter.

Pulse oximetry is no more complicated than using a thermometer. These small devices turn on with one button and are placed on a fingertip. In a few seconds, two numbers are displayed: oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Pulse oximeters are extremely reliable in detecting oxygenation problems and elevated heart rates.

Pulse oximeters helped save the lives of two emergency physicians I know, alerting them early on to the need for treatment. When they noticed their oxygen levels declining, both went to the hospital and recovered (though one waited longer and required more treatment). Detection of hypoxia, early treatment and close monitoring apparently also worked for Boris Johnson, the British prime minister.

Widespread pulse oximetry screening for Covid pneumonia — whether people check themselves on home devices or go to clinics or doctors’ offices — could provide an early warning system for the kinds of breathing problems associated with Covid pneumonia.

People using the devices at home would want to consult with their doctors to reduce the number of people who come to the E.R. unnecessarily because they misinterpret their device. There also may be some patients who have unrecognized chronic lung problems and have borderline or slightly low oxygen saturations unrelated to Covid-19.

All patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus should have pulse oximetry monitoring for two weeks, the period during which Covid pneumonia typically develops. All persons with cough, fatigue and fevers should also have pulse oximeter monitoring even if they have not had virus testing, or even if their swab test was negative, because those tests are only about 70 percent accurate. A vast majority of Americans who have been exposed to the virus don’t know it.


There are other things we can do as well to avoid immediately resorting to intubation and a ventilator. Patient positioning maneuvers (having patients lie on their stomach and sides) opens up the lower and posterior lungs most affected in Covid pneumonia. Oxygenation and positioning helped patients breathe easier and seemed to prevent progression of the disease in many cases. In a preliminary study by Dr. Caputo, this strategy helped keep three out of four patients with advanced Covid pneumonia from needing a ventilator in the first 24 hours.

To date, Covid-19 has killed more than 40,600 people nationwide — more than 10,000 in New York State alone. Oximeters are not 100 percent accurate, and they are not a panacea. There will be deaths and bad outcomes that are not preventable. We don’t fully understand why certain patients get so sick, or why some go on to develop multi-organ failure. Many elderly people, already weak with chronic illness, and those with underlying lung disease do very poorly with Covid pneumonia, despite aggressive treatment.

But we can do better. Right now, many emergency rooms are either being crushed by this one disease or waiting for it to hit. We must direct resources to identifying and treating the initial phase of Covid pneumonia earlier by screening for silent hypoxia.

It’s time to get ahead of this virus instead of chasing it.

Richard Levitan, an emergency physician in Littleton, N.H., is president of Airway Cam Technologies, a company that teaches courses in intubation and airway management.

Why Revive a Sleeping Blog?

Dearest Readers,

You have been abandoned the last two years as life intruded on my writing. For that, I am sorry. This blog and its weekly columns ran about 8 years before being distracted by moving back to Carmel from the Sierra Foothills,  by the kidney cancer of Cranky Pants and the larynx cancer of me.

The thing about cancer is this: it keeps you busy and keeps you driving. We drove the Honda so many times to doctors and scanning centers,  Cranky Pants,  whose daily name is Mac, called it The MelMac Cancer Bus.

The good news is…they got it all. I am getting my voice back and CP is recovering slowly from a surgery that involved a five-armed robot named Da Vinci. If you ever meet this creature, you will be lucky as the delicacy of this robot, controlled by highly trained surgeons, can work miracles not possible with ordinary surgical cutting.

So where to go from here? Back to human, factual, funny writing about aging, about life between 65 and 100. No robots involved. Just heart and brains. I figure, during our hermit and Covided lives, we need a little distraction, acknowledgement of what’s going on that is not covered by the discouraging media.

So What’s Happening to You?

What do you miss most is what I want to know. Your job is probably high on the list if you are unemployed,  but what about the little things that none of us are supposed to mention or complain about…not in such a serious time. I do know  what you are not missing is toilet paper as I imagine most of you  have a Tower of Paper hidden somewhere in the house.

Me, I missed flowers on the coffee table. The pre-quarantine ones were long gone. The bright center of the living room was missing. But who would be silly enough to go to the grocery store, not just for eggs and milk, but for flowers? Me. I donned my robber mask, my gloves and my mental Super Woman cape , waded into market battle and got me some flowers. Alstroemeria is what to buy during a pandemic because it lasts long enough for you to watch several years of televised episodes of favorite shows on Netflix. It also makes a nice background for your Zoom calls.


Older people have to be careful about these video calls from the kids, as the kids, having read that geezers are prime target for a virus, are checking you out as they talk. Do you look sick? Are you coughing? Is your house neglected? I even put lipstick on for a Zoom cameo as I don’t want them worrying about me…pale and wan…an aged hermit in her den.

And about the hermit part… Have you discovered your Inner Hermit, the one that has been waiting to come out for 60, 70 or 80 years?   Mine is out and soaking up the quiet, loving the empty calendar and just sitting around doing nothing. I should dress like a monk to express this newly emerged self, but it would scare Cranky Pants, so I put on the pink sweatshirt he had made for me after I got a clean pathology report. On the front it says in block letters: All Final Margins Are Clear.

So that’s my story… lived to see another day, both of us. Lived to begin writing to you again. And  you can leave your story in the comments below, which are public…just so you know. Other readers can be inspired by the utterly useless and embarrassing things you miss while trapped at home.

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts”.

Winnie the Pooh

Lost & Found: The Pleasures of Life

Have you noticed a weird category of life experiences—things that give great pleasure, but because they are not part of your habit pattern, you forget how wonderful they are and so you don’t pursue those pleasures? Then you run across the great experience again, repeat it and resolve not to forget and then forget and so on and so on?

Are we all forgetters of fun?

These memory lapses are not the Alzhammered forgettings of age. As a teen, I would forget how much I loved swimming in a lake at night until some friend would say, let’s go swimming under the moon. In the water, I would remember and resolve to do it again and then I would forget. Forget the lake, forget the moon.

Today what I forget is how much I like jazz, clarinets and saxophones. Also, I keep forgetting how I love gardenia perfume,  peanut butter on fresh bread, Doris Day, a roast chicken stuffed with spaghetti and cheese and dinner parties where the laughter of six people is the sauce of the evening.

It’s a mystery…

So how can a human designed to seek pleasurable rewards, keep forgetting her pleasures? Maybe my reflexes need re-conditioning. I don’t get it and want to take this up with Pavlov, but he’s permanently retired.

Maybe I will just settle for naming the phenomenon—forgetting the unforgettable.

Lord, another paradox to fog up life.

But I’m trying to pull the wonderful forgottens back into my life. For instance, what I saw last weekend at a jazz festival is reminding me about the power of music. I saw that you can settle a sedate 91-year-old into a concert chair, but if he hears something like Pennsylvania 6-500, he will be smiling and tapping and rocking and swaying and having a 1940’s kind of good time.

Ditto for me and Cranky Pants. There’s nothing like the pleasure of Dixieland, swing or ragtime to get the body going and the endorphins doing the double lindy in your brain.

So that’s my resolution. To become again what an old boyfriend once called me…a Pleasure Potato. To that end, I will write, not a Bucket List, but a Buck Up list, things to do that bring joy to the spirit.

One resolution is to turn on jazz every day at 3 PM, The Mind Sludge Hour. Yep, get the pleasure habit locked into the life pattern: Jazz, tea and a peanut butter snack at three. And then there are still chickens to roast and I can bite the ladle and ask friends to dinner.

I don’t live near a lake now, but I still live near a moon. Now I have to remember what else you can do with a moon.

by myyorgda/flickr

When retirement is a pain in the posterior…

Though retirement is stereotyped as a geezer Garden of Eden furnished with recliners and a flat screen TV, it can be tough. You’d never know it, though, from the ads. You’ve seen them—beautiful Botoxed models with silver hair, riding bikes on a country lane or sitting in seaside bath tubs waiting for the moment to be right.

In reality, retirement is no chocolate truffle. It’s a mixed bag. Some people love it, some hate it and some just struggle, trying to understand who they are besides unemployed and what they should do now since they are finally in charge.

Sounds good—being in charge of your life, but if you’ve invested total energy in a job now gone and in a family now departed, facing the future is scary. What will you do with yourself? Who will you become?  The silly old person of the stereotypes? A super senior who skydives and makes the news? A grandpa who babysits and loves it because he missed out on his own kids’ childhoods? (Too busy earning a living.)

Maybe a grandma who starts a new business?  Or someone who never retires—who works as a consultant or at a part-time job to make money or to feel useful? (The biggest poverty of the later years may be the lack, not of money, but of meaning.)

How to get a grip

First, go easy on yourself. You don’t have to get the new you in place tomorrow. A good first thing to do: practice some personal archeology. That means digging out the interests you used to have. Did you always want to raise orchids, sing in a choir, be an artist, take photos like Ansel, help abused animals?

You may reply it’s too late for all that and I will reply it’s only too late if you don’t start now. Actually, that’s the title of a book by Barbara Sher—It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now: How To Create Your Second Life At Any Age. Sher is a genius at getting people off the dime, out of their fear freezes and into new lives that fit. Certainly her books helped me go back to school in my sixties and get an MA in Gerontology, the study of older people. So any Sher book on Amazon would be number two on my get-going list.

Third: Find a retirement buddy, someone who struggles with the same issues. This could be your mate, a former co-worker or a neighbor. It helps to know you are not alone. Exchanging ideas may result in a new perspective on retirement issues. Sometimes others can see you better than you can and might share what things they think you could do and enjoy.

Fourth: Test out some ideas with classes. Take classes in your interests at community colleges or adult ed classes in your area. Also look online. I got my degree from USC totally online. If you don’t care about credit—you just want the subject matter—-take free online university courses.

A major wakeup call for the brain

Free online courses from major schools are a treasure chest of ideas and information and a good way to get your feet wet in any subject. For a list of high-quality courses, go to

MIT excels at this, and not just in science, but In the humanities with a wide offering of music courses. Carnegie Mellon is a leader online with many science courses. Tufts has wide offerings and excels in nutrition and medicine, both human and veterinary. UC Berkeley is not to be outdone. I had to stop writing this column just to listen to a computer class. All the links to these universities are at the website above.

Fifth: Don’t wait for the perfect thing to magically come your way. It takes effort and bravery to go down unknown paths. To his credit, Cranky Pants ventured forth to fall in a river after a fish, to suffer through golf lessons in the heat of an LA summer and to spin out on a race track going over 100 mph. He decided who he was not: a fisherman, Tiger Woods or Sterling Moss. He found civil grand jury work instead—interesting and done on cool dry land at zero mph.

So, again, we salute him and others who get out there in retirement as test pilots of their own lives. Fly on.

Mel Walsh is a columnist, blogger, gerontologist and author of HOT GRANNY, Chronicle Books. She lives in Carmel CA with Cranky Pants.

Turkey Soup: The Remains of the Day

What differentiates us from the younger generation—besides not smoking our house plants?

I say it’s turkey soup—knowing how to make it, eat it and value it enough to rescue the carcass from a hostess’ intent to throw it in the garbage. To cooks of a certain age, turkey bits and bones are poultry gold. The day after Thanksgiving, I drove home with my daughter’s turkey carcass in the back seat.

Turkey soup is chicken soup with muscle and worth every minute it takes to make, which is actually about ten minutes to start and another five at the end to strain it and get it ready for the refrigerator. The cooktop does the rest, simmering the infant soup into adult shape in about two hours.

By JaseMan

But let me begin at the beginning, which is after Thanksgiving when most of the meat has been harvested to make white bread sandwiches with lots of mayonnaise. The actual soup recipe is so simple it should not be called a recipe…maybe just heirloom instructions for getting the most out of a bird. Our grannies did this after Thanksgiving the way our grandchildren get up now at 3 AM to wade into Black Friday shopping—both post-turkey day traditions.

First, pull any remaining chunks of turkey off the bird to save for another meal. Then put the bones in your biggest pasta pot. You may have to break up the carcass to have it fit in the pot. Add a few carrots, celery stalks and chopped onions if you have them. (Stores sell the packaged beginnings for stuffing—chopped celery and onions—and those will do nicely instead.)

Fill the pot with water to cover the bird. Put on high heat until it just boils. Turn down immediately to just a simmer. (You need to make sure it doesn’t boil over.) Let it stew for 2 hours bubbling away slowly.

Then turn it off. Let cool. Add salt and pepper to taste. Strain the cooled soup into a large bowl. Throw the remains away. Refrigerate the soup.

When ready to use, skim the fat off the top of the bowl and take out as much cold soup as you want to warm up for a meal. (The “soup” may look like jelly at this stage and I love to eat it cold and jellied with plenty of lemon pepper grated on top, but that’s peculiar to me.)

You can eat this soup warmed up as just a plain broth or instead, boil various pastas in the broth—tortellini swimming in warm broth with sprinkles of cheese on top are good. Adding bits of veggies ups the nutrition, which is why I keep grated carrots and frozen spinach leaves on hand. Or you can make a turkey vegetable soup—adding turkey bits and veggies of choice and maybe a handful of couscous to rev up the bulk.

Turkey broth can be frozen, but I never have enough left to freeze.

By David Masters

And that’s how to get the most from your turkey. Now, if I could only figure out how to squeeze the most out of each day, boil the time down to one delicious essence.