Archive for April, 2011

Preparing for Your Sweet Soixante

Saturday, April 30th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

I used to repeat the line about 60 being the new 50 or even 40. Sounded good to me. But now, well advanced into that decade, I believe that 60 is not the new 40. It is the new 60 if you work it right which is what I’ve been advising lately to my younger friends who are still in the 59-and-holding-on-for-dear-life club.

I am here to tell you little sisters the next decade has its rewards.

There is one clear benefit to turning 60 and that is you can stop worrying about getting older. You are there.

You may think of yourself as high middle age, and I’ll support you on that, but you’re already past senior in some people’s eyes. Like the kid at the box office who automatically rings you up for a $7 old person ticket. That’s okay. He might do the same to Helen Mirren and Diane Sawyer, both well into their 60s.

It always make me feel better, to check out my chronological mates. Punk rocker Patti Smith will be 65 this year – old enough for Medicare and a brand new author with an award-winning book.

Believe me one day you will look back at 59, and think what’s so old about that?

Lots of new things happen in the 60s. You start thinking about turning points. Like quitting the job. The R-word comes up. Time now to think of what you can look forward to when you have more time. Find a cello teacher. Investigate docent training at your favorite museum so you can get in free.

Hitting 60 is a good time to practice putting work in its place. The transition from a full time job to putting yourself first takes real adjustment. Take care of your friendships. In the 60s you start attending and planning a lot more memorial services. Be open to new friends, too. The kind who will go hiking with you when you stop going into the office every day. And who believe it is a sin to watch daytime TV.

Then there’s the body, which if it hasn’t already, will send out definite warning signs to pay attention. This is the time to care for your bones and brain. If you’re lucky enough to have a job with health insurance, get all skin things checked out. Do the bone scan. If you have vision insurance order a couple extra pairs of glasses, especially if they’re progressives. Complete all pricey dental work. Paying out of pocket is a shocker.

Find a gym or a walking buddy. Don’t neglect the cardio-vascular stuff. But don’t get too thin. After 59, skinny equals gaunt and saggy.

If you are fortunate to have a matching 401k, put away as much as you can. You’re never too old to get smart about money. There are powerful people who want to destroy Social Security and pensions and put older people on an ice floe. Well, at least the poor ones. Avoid becoming poor.

Depending on the above, start to prepare for the thrifty life. When you leave work you may have to give up some luxuries. This might be a good time to learn to cut your own hair. Or your dog’s. Or your husband’s.

Fill out those durable power of attorney forms. Make a will. Talk to your kids about what you want done if you get hit by a bus. Be selfish about what you read. You are not required to finish any book that bores you. Even for book club. I met an 84-year-old woman at the library who reads only non-fiction “because,” she said, “there’s so much more I need to know.”

Record all PIN numbers. Save your brain for other important information. Use the good china.

Who You Calling Entitled?

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

The problem with the word entitlement is that it has a couple of meanings and many inferences.

The dictionary defines an entitlement as something for which someone has a rightful claim, provided to them by law and contract. Like Medicare. But it’s come to also imply an unreasonable expectation of special treatment or privileges.

When you mix up the two uses of the word, which politicians often do, it creates confusion.

That is why many who receive Medicare and believe in the government program, object to it being called an entitlement. Because while Medicare is an entitlement in the sense of a lawful claim, it is not an entitlement in the sense of “who do you think you are” special privilege case.

I am entitled to Medicare not because I am a money moocher but because by mutual agreement, between me and my government, I put in money through my working years, in order to receive government-provided health insurance at 65. But that doesn’t mean that I am asking for a handout, something only a senior slacker would expect from a nanny state.

Just because I want what is owed me does not mean I am asking for special treatment. Do not confuse me with someone who has a “sense of entitlement,” in the manner of someone born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

I’ve been paying for Medicare for the more than 40 years I received a paycheck. And I’m still paying for it in premiums. But I don’t expect something for nothing because I’ve had a bunch of birthdays.

Frankly, I could probably survive without a special senior ticket at the movies. I don’t need to get 10 percent off at the hardware store on Wednesdays or a discount every Thursday at the department store. The senior ski passes are a pretty good savings, however. And it is all very generous of people who want to give customers in their 60s a break. But it’s not necessary. If the airport shuttle was losing money on giving me $2 off my ride to San Francisco International I’d be happy to pony up and pay full price.

However, I do expect to receive what my government promised me. I’ve had money taken from my paycheck since 1966 and am now old enough to collect on my investment. That includes Social Security, too, another entitlement caught in the name game.

And if someone tries to take them away, Medicare or Social Security, or to suggest I’d be better off to let the banks and insurance companies do it for me, I feel very entitled to scream bloody murder. Or at least, liar, liar, pants on fire.

Besides, Medicare is no freebie. I pay around $90 a month to the government for Medicare in case I need to go to the hospital. And another $90 to Kaiser so I can go to a doctor and get the pills I need.

Maybe there are people who don’t feel entitled to Medicare and don’t need it. Maybe they’d rather buy the best platinum insurance coverage they can get. Maybe they should all pool their unneeded Medicare allowance – even though it is their legal entitlement – and donate it back to the government. That might help the old federal budget.

Now, if you want to look at someone with a sense of entitlement how about the very wealthy? Some of them seem to feel entitled to team up with their banker and Wall Street pals and send the country over a cliff and then ask for a bail-out, tax breaks and obscene bonuses. Talk about an undeserving bunch expecting special treatment.


Library Mondays with Addison

Thursday, April 7th, 2011 © by Susan Swartz

A bouquet of daffodils sat on the library’s front desk Monday morning. It was a burst of sunny hope on a black news day. That morning’s newspaper reported that Sonoma County libraries, including ours in Sebastopol, are the latest victims of budget cuts and will be slicing hours and personnel. And the library will be closed on Mondays.

Mondays are our library days. Addison’s and mine. Our granddaughter is almost five and has been coming to our house in Sebastopol every Monday since she was a baby. From the time she gave up her morning nap, she and I have made the library our Monday morning ritual.

I counted roughly 40 customers when the library opened on that bad news Monday. Lots of familiar and long faces.

Addison and I walk to the library on Mondays. She waves hello to the front desk and she goes to the right to find her books – she’s now into the I Can Read, beginning series. I turn left to the reserved section and we meet at a couch in the children’s corner to read. Then we check out, stop at the fountain out front to toss in pennies and make wishes, head over to the cookie store and visit a few shops on the way home.

The library is pivotal. When I forget it’s a Monday holiday and we arrive to find a “closed” sign we’re both disappointed. The first time it happened she asked, “How can a library be closed?” as if it was the most bewildering betrayal.

Come the next Monday she walked in and said, “We missed you guys” to her friends at the front desk.

Painful cuts caused by reduced tax revenues have caught up with the library. The cutbacks will include layoffs and affect children’s programs and class visits. Like with everything else that serves the public good now being axed we are urged to recognize that tough times require necessary sacrifices until things get back to normal.

Libraries are our normal. They’re such predictable civilized places. Business is conducted in soft voices. Well-behaved children are as welcome as well-behaved adults to browse and read and take home books. Return in three weeks. It’s an excellent place to teach little kids to respect other people’s privacy and property, called a lending library because its books are to be shared, not scribbled in, nor lost under a bed.

Addison and I are part of the library community. The librarians comment on her book choices and her colorful fashion sense – the purple striped dress with leopard tights was a big hit. Once we met a man from another town who forgot his library card but could still get books because he’d memorized all 12 numbers on his card.

When her baby brother Theo was born Addison announced it to everyone in line at the checkout desk. Theo was going to be our next Monday regular but given the news, that probably won’t happen.

Book-wise our grandkids will be okay. They have enough relatives who love to read and give books as presents. But we’ll miss our Library Mondays.

The economy is hurting everyone but I don’t think cutting here, slashing there is forward-thinking. We keep hearing about how we must cut spending now in order to protect our grandchildren’s future. But what kind of future are we giving them by whittling away at libraries and schools and swim centers?

Addison’s future is now. Addison’s future is next Monday.

TO LOCALS: That said, here’s one way to help the libraries. On April 23 the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation and the Sonoma County Book Festival will put on a dinner featuring more than a dozen Bay Area authors. You get to drink wine, mingle and dine with well known writers inside the downtown Santa Rosa library. For information and tickets go to the Sonoma County Public Library Foundation website,