Sunday, April 27, 2008

Greetings from Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Here I am! I don't have much internet access here, but come back for more about my trip after May 7.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Off to South Africa!

No more posts here for a while. I'm off to South Africa for about three weeks. Look for a report on my trip--and some pictures--after I get back.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Revisiting The Clare at Water Tower

I attended another session about my future residence yesterday. This one was finally geared especially to my interests: IT and communications and computers and the coming building web site. As I've admitted before, most of the traditional activities of elders (golf, shuffleboard, bridge, dancing, knitting, etc.) don't interest me. It's not that's there's anything wrong with any of those things, but that I'm an individualist who may take pride in not conforming to any senior stereotypes.

I was happy to learn about the coming new web site, Clarity, and I eagerly await its completion. Of course I volunteered to help out in any way I can, and I hope to be able to teach a few Internet basics to residents less computer-savvy than I. Of course I'm not the only computer-literate future resident. There are quite a few of us, I think, although so far, I've had no good way of reaching the others. Clarity should help solve that problem.

Making the big decision to move into a lifetime care community (beginning with independent living) is difficult, but I made mine long ago. My emotions have alternated among joy, fear, and dismay about the prospect of moving in later this year, but yesterday's meeting cheered me up. Apparently today's senior communities actually listen to their residents and don't depend on the old stereotypes of what seniors do, or should, want or need. Moving will be hard, but I look forward to continuing and sharing my writing activities there. I've been alone too long.

You can be sure that I'll be blogging my way through the entire moving process. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Young at Heart"

Have you heard about the new documentary featuring the Young at Heart musical group, minimum age 70? As the British group The Zimmers proved earlier, it's really never too late to put your musical talents, if any, to use.

Check out the official Young at Heart web site:

And/or this You-Tube video:

Aging Parents, Self-Sacrifice, and Elder Abuse: Don't Make That Promise!

Have you promised your aging parents or other relatives that you will never send them to a nursing home? Don't do it. Of course no one, young or old, enjoys the prospect of that final move, and such promises are usually make with only the best intentions. But are they realistic? There's nothing like being 75 to make me consider the realities of aging.

From my reading and observations, I've concluded that this promise has the possibility of two tragic outcomes: destructive self-sacrifice for the caregiver and worse, elder abuse.

I have no children or other close relatives to make such a promise to me, nor would I accept it if offered. Yet my mother died last year in a nursing home at age 95 (no known abuse) despite her grandson's noble promise of years earlier that she'd remain at his home.

That grandson (my nephew) did his best, but as people live longer and longer, this noble promise often becomes unrealistic. Good intentions may not be enough. Despite my nephew's valiant efforts, there came a time when Mother needed constant care that he could not give. No nursing home is a palace, but she spent her final years in a good one, among caring people.

I've observed and read about too many cases of extraordinary caregiving sacrifices: marriages, families, personal health forfeited to care for an elder until his or her death, until it is too late for the caregiver to recover as well. That's sad, but there is an even worse possible scenario.

According to an April 10 Chicago Tribune article by reporter Gerry Smith, the Illinois Department of Aging found a 53 percent increase in reports of elder abuse, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, passive neglect, financial exploitation, willful deprevation and confinement, between 1998 and 2007. The numbers of reported cases rose from 6,213 to 9,489, and many cases are believed to remain unreported. About 80 percent of cases occur at the hands of relatives.

In one of the worst cases reported in Illinois, two sisters, aged 54 and 47, were accused of criminal neglect after their 84-year-old mother was discovered, in the home they all shared, "dehydrated, malnourished and lying on soiled sheets covered with ants." Even though she suffered from cancer and had suffered a stroke earlier, she hadn't seen a doctor in nine months.

I have no inside knowledge of that case, but I can imagine the extreme frustration of caregivers in such a situation. Did they have financial problems? Psychological problems? Of course they should have done better. Had they made "the promise"? I don't know.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating sending the "old folks" to nursing homes automatically, ignoring religious or cultural instincts. Do the best you can, but face reality. No one knows what the years will bring. Noble self-sacrifice can go too far, at worst descending into intentional or unintentional elder abuse.

If you're the son or daughter, don't make that promise. If you're the elder, don't demand it.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Income Tax Blues

Somebody asked me today why I wasn't smiling. I guess I'm not really a smiling kind of person (I can blame that on my previously bad teeth), but I wasn't aware of any particular problems today. I blamed my lack of cheer on the awful weather: cold and rainy. Upon further relection, I concluded that I was suffering from the Income Tax Blues.

Yes, I finally completed and submitted my 2007 tax forms on Wednesday. That's very late for me. Some people file early in anticipation of refunds, but I knew better than that. I suspected that, despite large quarterly estimated tax payments, I'd owe more. That explains my procrastination.

It turns out that I was right. Writing that big check, plus another for my first 2008 estimated tax payment, dismayed me, although I was able to do it without the prospect of any missed meals. I guess this was a wake-up call. What did I learn?

First, it seems that tax rates are rather high these days. I put too much in tax-sheltered annuities while I was teaching, and now those Required Minimum Withdrawals, in addition to my pension, are killing me. I pay more in taxes than I did when I was working.

Second, I need a tax planner and advisor. I've always assumed that any intelligent person should be able to use a tax preparation program himself or herself, and I've done so successfully. But as my newly-acquired financial advisor pointed out, I'm paying the government too much. I seem to pay more than a lot of really rich people, and I don't qualify for this year's tax rebate, either. I don't even have a home mortgage deduction. Perhaps I'm too conservative.

Am I complaining? Not really; I feel fortunate to have such a problem nine years past retirement, and to be able to afford the tax payments. Still, there's something about writing those checks that made me less than cheerful. Next year: better planning and lower taxes, I hope.

If that doesn't work, I have to learn to just pay up again and keep smiling.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Truth About Elders and Elderblogging: A Link

Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By, appeared on the Brian Lehrer Live TV show on CUNY-TV last week. In case you don't live in or near New York, or if you missed that show, go to Ronni's blog post for today to watch a video of the show. It's well worth your time (about 15 minutes) to hear the most comprehensive explanation of elderblogging I've ever found.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Back to Blogging

The picture on the left is a bit outdated now. That's the computer monitor that quit on me after five years and had to be replaced.

Of course, like TV screens, computer monitors have changed shapes by now: they are long rather than nearly square. That has created a problem for my system.

Apparently, my five-year-old computer isn't equipped for the new kind of display. The new screen looks beautiful, but everything is stretched horizontally. I can live with that for a while, but it looks like a new video card--or a new computer--is in order.

One good outcome of this "tragedy" (if you use your computer as much as I use mine, you'll know why I call it that): when I bought the new monitor, I also bought an external hard drive for backup. I've been living dangerously lately; if the computer itself had failed, I would have lost virtually all of my files. From now on, regular backups are the order of the day.

Anyway, I'm back to blogging, even though I need to finish my income tax immediately and get ready for my coming trip to South Africa and do a lot of other things.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wednesday Morning Musings

Two news stories, one big, one small, caught my attention today. First was the much-reported story of dismal big city public high school graduation rates. Then there was a follow-up to the story of Monday's big Chicago Cubs opening day dedicatiion of a huge statue of Ernie Banks.

It seems that an apostrophe is missing from the inscription: it reads, "Lets play two!" (no apostrophe). The inscription will be corrected. That will be relatively easy. How I wish the high school graduation rate could be fixed so easily.

Still, I'm not sure that graduation from high school means an understanding of apostrophes. I doubt that the inscription engraver was a dropout.

Perhaps only a former English prof would notice or care.

(Note: No computer fix yet, but I'm working on it. I'm still using my laptop, and it's too slow.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Why No New Posts for a While?

You may have noticed the lag in new posts here lately. Sad to say, I've been having desktop computer problems, and my laptop is much too slow and quirky these days. In the meantime, check out my other blog, "Write your Life!" at I've kept up with my personal poetry writing challenge there.

Come back here in a few days to find out if--and how--I solved my computer problems.