Boomers: What to do with all the extra years we have gained in the past century?

In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.

U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth, 1930–2010
Birth Year   Both Sexes   Male   Female
2010   78.7   76.2   81.1
2000   77.0   74.3   79.7
1990   75.4   71.8   78.8
1980   73.7   70.0   77.4
1970   70.8   67.1   74.7
1960   69.7   66.6   73.1
1950   68.2   65.6   71.1
1940   62.9   60.8   65.2
1930   59.7   58.1   61.6
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs)

It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?

From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting.

For the study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.

Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.

My new”Sky Garden”

It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire.

I have learned from Mike the value of having a few strong avocations like cooking, gardening, photography and other forms of creativity, but first I had to let go of those early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It is really OK to enjoy your day and do what you love. No one is watching and judging you. Do what makes you happy perhaps for the first time in your life! Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.

Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!

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And I thought I had it bad… see “Five Feet Apart”

“We’re all living on borrowed air…enjoy it!

Just finished watching the new film “Five Feet Apart” about teenagers with Cystic Fibrosis, and as one who has my own difficulties breathing, I can heartily recommend it!

Since I have been pretty healthy my whole life, I wonder why at around age sixty various systems have begun failing. I even feel sorry for myself when I cannot enjoy the higher elevations anymore. At present I wait to see the results of a recent lung biopsy. Why me? Why now?

But when I see a film like this, I can only feel super lucky to have been all the places I’ve been in my 64 years, had all of those great and not-so-great relationships, and done pretty much whatever I wanted to.

What can you say about two teenagers who fall deeply in love for the first time in their lives, and aren’t supposed to touch each other? This film is tastefully done, with great dialogue and music. It makes you think about life and death and why we are all here. See it. You won’t regret it!

What’s looking happy in my mid-summer Spanish Peaks garden?

A sunset view from my garden!

When everything else in life seems crazy, it’s back to the garden for me. I’m sure some of you can relate…. We have received some nice rain showers this July, bringing us up to 13.5 inches of rain so far this water year (October to September). Compared to last year’s 9 inches, we are doing great! So, what’s looking super happy in my garden right now?

My Blue Mist Spirea is so happy here! They bloom the end of July

The Blue Mist Spirea bushes for one! I have five of these because I found out last year how happy they can be here with no deer to bother them.

The Gallardia or Blanket Flower is also quite content. I have always had great luck with these nearly native orange and yellow plants. But this year I tried a new variety that is all red. I am quite pleased with the results! It just keeps on blooming.

Colorado Four-O’clock, a tough native to do in!

Another shocker is that my native Mirabilis Multiflora or Colorado Four-O’clock is coming back again with a vengeance after a horrible time last summer with the wildfires around here. I have one plant (a taproot variety) on the edge of my garden, that was there before we started building here. Then when we hardscaped the garden this spring, I was afraid we had killed it, but nope. It’s a beauty again this year! Impossible to transplant, but also tough to kill.

Now do you see why I love gardening? With time and patience, there’s always something new to wonder about and be surprised by…

Pet scans and such, cancer anyone?

I find I have nothing to say at the moment. Have you ever had to wait to see if you have cancer? That’s where I’m at. I had a Petscan Tuesday afternoon and of course there seems to be no doctor who isn’t on vacation or just “off” who can call me and tell me the results.

What is a Petscan? Mayo Clinic:

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity. This scan can sometimes detect disease before it shows up on other imaging tests. The tracer may be injected, swallowed or inhaled, depending on which organ or tissue is being studied. The tracer collects in areas of your body that have higher levels of chemical activity, which often correspond to areas of disease. On a PET scan, these areas show up as bright spots.

A PET scan is useful in revealing or evaluating several conditions, including many cancers, heart disease and brain disorders. 

American medicine at work. I ask you, could our system be anymore fucked up??? I truly doubt it… So I meditate, I sleep, I listen to great music and try not to think about death, and what it might mean to those who truly love me.

A couple strange things about Petscans. Did you know that the radioactive isotope they put in your veins is so strong that it can impact anyone in the room with you? Really! For a minute I thought the tech who put it in was kidding! And then there’s that cocoon they put you in inside of that tiny hole. Close your eyes and you hardly know you’re there unless your nose starts to itch, badly. But I survived all that and now I wait because no doctor is willing to take the time to give me a call…

Postscript: A small spot of “unusual cell growth” was found in my lungs. Further tests next week…

Boomers: Why or Why Didn’t We Go To College?

One thing I never want to happen, but I know does, is that potential new friends here may decide we cannot relate because I spent so much time at the university. To tell you the truth, this discrepancy never even occurs to me.

My own observation about boomers and college:

Those who didn’t go to college often wish they had had the chance.

Those who did go sometimes wonder why they bothered.

How many boomers went to college anyway? Census data estimates that 28.8 percent of Baby Boomers have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher, while another 28.9 percent have attended some college classes.

It seems family views and monetary pressures were the largest influence on why many of us attended college. Because my Dad was a professor, everyone in my family got free tuition at Colorado College. We all went there at some time including my Mom.

I guess I always assumed that those who didn’t go to college didn’t want to, but I see now how parental encouragement or total non-encouragement played an important role. Mike’s father didn’t offer any support or encouragement. It was the old, “the Navy training was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for you!” And this was during the Vietnam War! I also learned from Mike that a lot of us learn more easily from doing, not listening to some long-winded professor. Some of us are physical and visual learners.

Overjoyed at college graduation… back when I had all the answers!

I was raised by a college professor and a teacher. I was totally brain-washed that college is good for you. My Dad and Mom were the first kids in their family to go to college, and I would have to say it was “very, very good to them.” It was also a career-maker for me, and I truly appreciate that fact, but that isn’t where I learned the most important lessons in my life. Not even close. In the end, I attended graduate school for a specific career.

I think we learn our most important lessons by living our lives and paying close attention to what works for us, and what doesn’t. What careers or work environments bring out the best in us? What jobs feed on our own natural abilities and talents? Unfortunately I had to wait until I quit work altogether to learn the most about my natural interests and talents.

Gardening: An old friend who has come in handy in retirement!

Ask yourself today: What would you do if you had all the time in the world? What activities make you lose touch with time and place and take you away to your own great place in your head? Now I only do what gets me going and I have the time to observe exactly what that is. For me now it is gardening, anything with vivid colors, photography, cooking, yoga….

Seeking solace in nature

The mornings are when I seek solace in my garden. No matter how difficult my sleep has been, or how disturbing the world seems, when I walk outside and hear the silence of nature, I find reassurance that we are all OK.

My previous backyard and garden

I have come to realize that this is a feeling most will never know, and one that you must fully experience to know in your heart. Recent and not so recent studies have shown that a prolonged and solid connection with nature soothes us and reduces our stress. I had small glimpses of this in my backyard in Fort Collins, but I could still hear road traffic in the distance. I could still feel the tension in those around me, the need for city vigilance.

Now I know, finally at the age of 64, the peace that only nature can offer. I hope you also experience this in your daily life.