Successful Aging

Let’s talk about successful aging.  With the graying of America this is becoming an increasingly important question, not only for us graybeards already immersed in the golden years, but for middle aged and younger adults as well.  On average males born today will live to see 77, their female counterparts should outlast the men by some four years, living to 81.  By contrast, a person born in 1900 had a life expectancy of just under fifty years.

There is a caveat to this last statistics that isn’t so well known.  Life expectancy at birth has increased markedly because the chance of dying in your earlier years has greatly diminished.  However, if you make it to say 60 or 70, the number of years you have left hasn’t increased much at all over the last century or even century and a half.  A couple of years is all.  Which is to say, in earlier times those who made it to 60 were a hardy bunch of survivors that had grown used to staying alive.

But back to the average person.  A century ago likely that person was already dead.  So much for retirement planning.  That same person today not only makes it to retirement, but can expect an extra ten, fifteen, twenty, or even more years on this earth.  Whether enjoying or enduring or struggling through these years, that is the question of successful aging.

It is a question that has intrigued me throughout my adult life, a working life spent in the field of gerontology.  It is a multi-faceted field, encompassing both an ever-expanding body of knowledge and a vast service network.  Over the final twenty-two years of my career, until I retired at age 68, I managed a non-profit continuing care retirement community, or CCRC.  It was easily my most satisfying period of employment, one in which I got to stare aging in the face, in all its diversity.

You’d think after a career in the field that I’d have the answers to the big question.  But such is not the case.  For sure, there is no pat answer to what constitutes successful aging, or its converse, unsuccessful aging.   My only advantage over the proverbial man in the street is that I can cloak my answers in a lot of scholarly jargon, which is to say baffle them with bullshit.

In this blog I certainly will not attempt any definitive answers.  My aim is more modest, that is, to throw out some thoughts on the subject.  It is a question, though, that people should think about and hopefully take measures to increase their odds of enjoying a successful late life experience.

My first thought is a question:  Is successful aging an objective or a subjective state of being?

If an objective state, then successful aging should relate to a set of external variables.  Some examples might be amount of retirement income, health status, number of friends, ones social standing.  The enterprising social scientist could devise a set of variables, each amenable to measurement, for example on a scale of one to five or one to ten.  The clever scientist might further weight individual scores on variables according to an assessment of their relative importance to successful aging.  The final step would be adding up the points to derive a degree of success score.  Let say he/she comes up with seven such measures for which a perfect score is 50.  The scientist does some cogitating about it and decides that any score of 40 or above represents very successful aging, with above 45 as extremely successful.  Moderately successful might lie between 30 and 40.

Then another scientist, a contrarian, comes along and asks the objectively successful oldster, Are you happy with your life?   Some affirm the score and say something like yeah, life is pretty okay for me, especially considering the alternative.  But then others answer the truth, old age sucks.  Not exactly the response of a successful oldster.

So then this researcher goes to work and develops a set of subjective measures having to do with how one is experiencing his/her late life years.  Could be such criteria as having good memories, or a sense of having accomplished life purposes, or are you happy with your life now, or do you look forward to tomorrow.

Successful aging as a state of mind likely involves the ability to live in the moment and experience it fully.  A great, if apocryphal example is the Zen Buddhist who accidentally falls off a cliff and although headed for certain death, yet in transit admires a flower on a ledge half way down.

An interesting research project might be to study the degree of correlation between the scores derived from objective measures and those derived from subjective measures.  I suspect there would be some positive correlation, but I seriously doubt that the coefficient of correlation would be anywhere near a hundred percent.  Such a study has possibly been done, but I have long ago lost touch with the research side of aging, being retired after all with other fish to fry.  (Such as writing my PI novels that hardly anyone reads.  I shamelessly direct you to my web pages.)

The person in middle age, or younger, however he/she decides to define successful aging, should begin preparing for it.  Is health status considered paramount?  Then lifestyle habits and practices that promote health should take center stage during middle adulthood.  It won’t guarantee success, but an unhealthy lifestyle is more likely to contribute to a miserable old age, or to not even getting there.

At 78, do I regard myself as an example of successful, or at least reasonably successful aging?  I think that’s one I’ll keep to myself, at least for now.

At any rate, the question continues to fascinate, which is what spurred me to blog this subject.  I welcome your comments and your ideas.





My First Sail

I will never forget my first experience on a sailboat.  I was in my late twenties, a graduate student in San Francisco, having returned to school to study gerontology after several years as a lit teacher in a small college.  I had become friends with a fellow about my own age, a really bright guy who was already an associate professor at the university.  He was also an unpretentious down-to-earth dude.

One morning in the late spring of a year in the early nineteen seventies, he invited me to take a sail with him, just the two of us.  I had known for some time that he had a sailboat, a Columbia 26.  Even worse, I had shamelessly hinted that I would like to see what sailing was all about.  His boat was moored at a small marina in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate from SF.  Before we left the dock, Dave familiarized me with some common sailing terms.  He was showing a lot of confidence in this untested novice.  I listened with rapt attention as he expanded my nautical vocabulary beyond the familiar port and starboard.

We sailed out of Sausalito on a gorgeous late spring day.  San Francisco Bay is famous for its good winds.  That day they were blowing a steady 20 knots.  Once clear of the dock, Dave had me take the tiller.  After instructing me to keep the bow pointed directly in the wind, he went forward and raised the main.  I guess I was a quick study.  He gave me a “thumbs up” and proceeded to raise the head sail, a small jib. 

“Fall off,” he commanded.  As he had explained, it meant that I should pull the tiller toward me, moving the boat in the opposite direction, so that the wind would fill the sails.  The boat heeled over to about twenty degrees off horizontal.  Our skipper gingerly crept back to the cockpit along the high side, one hand on the grab rail atop the cabin.  Always one hand for the boat when on deck, my first lesson in safe seamanship.  Entering the cockpit, he hit the kill switch on the outboard and took the tiller.

“Good show.  Keep at it and you’ll make a passable sailor,” he complimented.

The engine, the auxiliary in sailboat speak, ceased firing and the only sound was the water rushing by the hull.  The Columbia rode the waves, rising and falling.  I sat on the high side of the cockpit, my feet braced against the opposite seat.  Every few minutes, the wind sent spray over the bow, giving us a light shower.  It was exhilarating.  The view was magnificent.  We were sailing toward San Francisco.  Turning my head, I could take in the famous skyline.  Directly before me was the Golden Gate Bridge.  Seeing these from the water, feeling the motion of the boat, I experienced an elation of emotion unique in my young life.

Three hours on the water and the sail was over much too soon.  The whole experience was indescribable.  There might just be a reason for all those hours at the graduate student grindstone.  My ticket to a reasonably good job and the cash to buy my own sailboat.

A year later I graduated and took a job in Seattle Washington.  I bought that first boat, also a Columbia, a year later.   Let me be clear: That Seattle is considered the boating capital of the United States when measured by the proportion of sailboat owners to the overall population played absolutely no part in my decision.  Well, if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

IMG_0995Over the years I’ve owned and loved four sailboats.  I never was what is known as a blue water sailor, nor was I ever hooked on racing.  I was a cruising sailor, enjoying weekend sails to familiar anchorages and two or three week cruises in the summer.  Nonetheless, sailing has defined my life as much as, or maybe more than my career in the field of aging services.

Even after I retired at age 68 and moved to Tucson, I and my late-life-love would journey to the Pacific Northwest  for a month or two that included a good dose of sailing. 

Why I Make Soups



Shirley and blogger, January 2017, Velas Vallarta, our home resort

If this were simply a set of homemade soup recipes, I would have titled it something like “my favorite soup recipes.”  No, this is a lifestyle blog,  a blog about choices and about fitness, more specifically fitness at 80, not 30 or 40, although that too.

I read today on MSN that our United States is the most obese nation on earth.  Almost forty percent of us are not just overweight but obese, as measured by body mass index (BMI).  Mexico is a distant second.  The least obese country is Japan.  The Scandinavian countries also do well on this measure.

heart balloonsI met my late life partner on New Year’s Eve day, the last day of 2007, at a singles golf tournament at Gold Mountain near Apache Junction, Arizona.  At 175 pounds on a five foot four frame she was slightly on the wrong side of the obesity borderline.  It was her winning personality, her zest for life, and her big heart that attracted me.  But let’s be honest.  I wanted to see her a few pounds lighter, both for her self-image and for health.  A year earlier, she had been diagnosed with diabetes.  So she was motivated to shed some pounds as well.

It was not an easy struggle.  In the eight years through December 2015 she lost ten to twelve pounds, depending on whether or not we’d dined at a favorite Tucson restaurant or been captive at one of the many potlucks that abound in our senior living community.  By this time, Shirley (lets call her by her real name) at 165 pounds or so was within hailing distance of her goal, which was to weigh less than me.  Full disclosure:  My BMI is 21 and I have weighed a pound or two either side of 158 for many years.

Christmas 2015,  my brother the nutrition nut arrives from Phoenix carrying several health oriented tomes, our Christmas gifts.  His latest enthusiasm is a book entitled Wheat Belly.  Over New Year’s Shirley and I read it together and decide to give its recommended draconian diet a try, well, within reason.  It espouses removing all vestiges of wheat from your diet to a ridiculous extreme.  We pledged ourselves a reduction to a manageable extreme.  In less than two months, Shirley lost seven or so pounds, and for a few days met her goal of weighing less than me.  (Note: We weigh ourselves in our birthday suits first thing every morning on one of those electronic scales for accuracy.)  On this diet I also lost a pound, even eating like a horse, so it was neck and neck–no groans please.  At any rate, she had jump-started a meaningful weight loss program.  But by that time, we were thoroughly tired of the no wheat bit.  She loves Eggo’s, for example, her favorite breakfast.  I’m an egg and toast guy, sometimes like to make a roux and add some sausage to top the toast.  However, everything in moderation,  Aristotle’s golden mean.

She continued to hover around 160, which was the status of things when we arrived at our summer retreat in Show Low Arizona, at 6300 feet some twenty degrees on average cooler than Tucson.  And that’s when I happened on soups in an article that touted its weight reduction potential.  We decided to put ourselves on a soup diet, not exclusively, but soup for dinner, just soup and possibly a small salad, two or three times a week.  No side dishes, and absolutely no desserts on those nights.  Then eat normally but sensibly the other nights.

According to my brother many commercial soups are salt bombs filled with bad stuff, a conspiracy of the processed food industry to kill us off.  I take him with a grain of salt–do I hear more groans?  Notwithstanding, I determined that my soups would be homemade from basic quality ingredients.  Together we read over the soup sections of our accumulated cookbooks.  In addition, with previous culinary endeavors I had discovered Google.  Got recipes for pot roasts, turkey dressing, chicken alfredo, various casseroles, stuff like that.  I found Google to be an absolute gold mine for soup recipes.  Enter, say, black bean soup, my first foray, and a row of photos appears, showing enticing bowls of various recipe offerings with links to websites like, taste of home, or allrecipes.  I’d print out the recipe, give the page the three hole punch, and add it to my loose leaf binder that contained my earlier productions.

I like to think of myself as a creative cook.  So I make a few adjustments, maybe cut down on the salt and added some spices.  Often add a little heat.  I have a favorite, New Mexico chili powder, but for soups I use the mild version and at most a teaspoon, unless I’m doing a Southwestern or Tex-Mex species.

That first, a “contest winning” black bean soup, turned out to be absolutely wonderful.  A revelation of what starting from scratch could yield, starting with the overnight soak of a package of black beans.  I followed it pretty much as written, although cut way down on the cumin, a spice I don’t care for, and cooked it in the slow cooker with a ham hock thrown in.  Being our only entre, we ate more than a normal serving, more like two ample bowls.

At the next morning weigh in, she’d dropped a full pound.  Over the course of the summer, I made homemade soups, virtually all from Google-generated recipes, about two times a week.  I did several in the bean and pea family,  lima beans, split pea, lentil, and also made forays into the vegetable garden, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, carrot, or cabbage as the main focus, and always the obligatory onion, maybe celery.  Later on, got even more adventurous.  Did a French Onion and a Salmon Bisque.

I became something of a soup whisperer.  Learned to take a pretty good recipe and make it exceptional, if I do say so.  I don’t trust rapid weight loss,  a pound a week, no more, but consistent.  By the middle of September Shirley was well below 150, and was closing in on the low 140’s.

Late last fall, she stabilized at a pound or two above 140.  She hints about wanting to get to 135, but I personally think she’s good  where she is, given her age, eighty next birthday.  The BMI says she’s no longer obese or even overweight, but falls at the high end of the normal range.

Maybe it’s the diabetes, but she “goes off” (our term for getting a severe case of munchies) about every three hours,  When we go through the check-out counter at Fry’s or Safeway, a mounds bar or two will magically find its way on the moving belt.  The lower weight has reduced her calorie needs, making it harder for her to maintain, let alone reduce further.  To compensate, she focuses on portion control, stops when full, and hands the remaining tidbits over to me, her garbage can, as my dilemma is losing, not gaining.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like to eat, especially my own creations, but unlike Shirley, I simply don’t get hungry, not even after eight, ten hours.  As a result, I don’t snack between meals and often skip lunch because I get involved in stuff like my fiction writing, or this blog.  I also hit the fitness center regularly.

So what’s the current strategy?  When that dinner out or that potluck adds a pound or two, one of us will raise the war cry, “Time to make some soup,” and we share a laugh.  It’s working so far.  Within the week, soup brought her back to her set weight (140) after our annual four weeks in Puerto Vallarta added that dreaded three pounds.

Now for my final comment on why I make soups.  I have simply come to relish the process of soup making.  I start with a base recipe from Google,  or now that my loose leaf collection of recipes is overflowing, from there.   Then comes the cogitating of additions and subtractions from a target recipe, followed by lots of tedious peeling and slicing of stuff like garlic and onions and carrots and selecting spices and carefully chopping or crushing the fresh ones, the ones we grow in our spice trays, and finally the washing up of  dirty pans and pots.

It’s become almost an art form.  How can I make this one special?  It’s been largely self taught, trial and error, gaining a sense of what and how much of a particular ingredient  will contribute to, change, enhance the final product.  Then the tasting while the concoction simmers, the judicious adjusting of the emerging creation.  Serving the one that will earn from Shirley, “This is your best ever.”  Music to my ears.

So no recipes, not even any hard won hints, in this blog.  Maybe another time.  Americans, we gotta get ourselves in shape.  This blog points one way, via a personal journey, on how that can be achieved.  Check the site below for nutritional information on ingredients in your favorite recipes.  You may rethink them.




AN obscure author’s lament

Most fiction writers are like the California gold rush miners of eighteen forty-nine, the intrepid forty-niners.  They pan like demons looking for gold nuggets (readers) and go broke while the smarter, shrewder guys, those with their eyes on more certain profits, open supply stores, two story hotels thrown together with cheap lumber, bars and brothels, all crafted to service the needs of their marks (customers) and transfer the meager (for the most part) hard-won specks of glitter to their own pockets.  For smarter guys, read the paid advertisers, publicists,  cover designers, webpage designers, paid reviewers, agents, a whole host of entrepreneur that promise to make your books the next big thing, or at least generate some significant sales.  And they don’t have to write the damn books.  Of course the miners love what they do, which is why they put up with it.  And there’s always that one in a hundred who makes a decent living at it, and that one in ten thousand (one in a hundred thousand?) who discovers and mines a rich vein, and thereafter flies around in his or her private jet to book signings, guest lectures, and various exclusive literary events.

On this note, I could end this blog.  Keep it short.  But being a writer who loves to vomit words, bear with me as I proceed to the more personal side of this story.  Let me also make clear that I hold no enmity for my listing above.  They are not parasites nor sycophants–or at least not the great majority–but genuinely want to see their clients succeed.  It’s just the nature of today’s publishing game.

Since turning 71 some seven years ago I have panned my mental ore for five and counting books of fiction, four of the PI genre and one a collection of longish short stories.  Initially I wrote for my own amusement, as a way of keeping my brain active and nourished.  I would re-read my stuff and chuckle–at the best parts anyway–although more often, my overriding emotion was embarrassment.

After strong encouragement from my significant other and an ex-wife with whom I’ve remained friends, I uploaded them as they got finished to Kindle, using Kindle’s free software in consideration of my own somewhat meager retirement income.  I even POD’d them on Create Space and brashly ordered author copies that I gave away or sold at cost to friends and acquaintances here in the age-restricted (read senior living) park that I now call home.  My captive audience began reading the several that I had published on Create Space, as precious few of my chronologically challenged friends and neighbors own Kindles.  And they also echoed the enthusiasm of my two initial critics.  On all other fronts, my offspring have languished in obscurity.  Maybe a buck or two every other month or so into my checking account from Amazon.

Warmed by these informal endorsements, which I confess is music to my ears, I am embarking on a conscious marketing effort to gain a wider audience.  The risk to my self-esteem is that this wider neglect is due not to lack of proper exposure but to inherent deficiencies in the product.  But I have a robust ego and other compensations.  My golf game ain’t all that bad for a dude of 78.  And this summer I am contemplating chartering a small sailboat, just me and my late life love, for a nostalgic week of sailing in the Canadian Gulf Islands of B.C.  Yup, I still feel physically capable of this one last hurrah.

So onward.  I recently put together my own author website, hosted by, to which this blog is attached.  Each page contains the back-cover blurb and first chapter of one particular book.  Over the last several months, in anticipation of this marketing effort, I have extensively edited, revised, and even re-written long passages to make them more polished and readable.  I now truly believe that you do learn by writing.  My two critics who have been there since the beginning ardently support this thesis.  They have both pronounced my latest effort, The Revenge Dance, to be the real deal, professional grade.  Maybe not New York Times best seller rank, but in the mix, surely.  Okay, what are friends for!  So, shameless pitch time:  ninety-nine cents on Kindle.  Think of me as that lost, down-on-his-luck soul on the busy street corner, holding up that imploring sign ending in “God bless.”  You’d roll down your window and pass him a buck.  I’m betting on it.


(Daily prompt: precipice)  Next week I will be 78.  I am “standing” on a precipice.  Ten minutes ago (actually ten years ago) three of us, long-time sailboaters all, were on a passage from the Lasqueti Islands to Nanaimo in the Georgia Strait (British Columbia).  The boat was a Cal 34 owned and skippered by my long-time best buddy, Gary Johnson.  (I’d introduced him to sailing, but that’s another story.)  We’d left our sheltered anchorage in a moderate wind, put up the big sail, the genoa, not smart given the marine forecast of 25 knots.  But very pleasant sailing, the NW wind slightly abaft the beam, as long as we were sheltered by the islands.  Then we entered open waters, and suddenly it was blowing 30 knots, the seas really kicking up made worse by an opposing current.  What to do?  Loosen up on the jib sheet and lower the halyard just enough to take the pressure off the sail before heading into the wind to finish the job.  The wind had other ideas and promptly wound the sail around the forestay, leaving it flapping out of control.   I climbed out of the cockpit and started forward to grapple with the damn thing.  Gary and Ray both yelled at me to get back in the cockpit.  The better part of valor, fire up the diesel auxiliary and motor down to Nanaimo, leaving the damn sail flapping.  Motoring was a good idea, but I couldn’t abide the flapping, the thought of it tearing his sail to rags.  So I continued forward, very gingerly.  Reaching the bow, I tried pulling the sail the remaining way down.  But the halyard was jammed.  I started to stand up, which was too much for Gary.  If you fall overboard, there’s no way we can rescue you in these seas, but we’d have to try and all of us would drown.  You want that?  For not the first time, I was “standing” on the precipice.  I kneeled back down and crept my way back to the cockpit.  Readers should note that precipice has at least two meanings, my source being Encarta, the first, the more common, a steep rock face, and the second, as used in this tale from my past, a very dangerous situation.   What’s yours?

Robert’s Fourth Quarter

JRR hippie dance
writer at play

At 77, I have now entered the fourth quarter in the game of life.   A grueling quarter, hard to move the ball and the defense stacked against you to take away your best plays.  I spent my working quarters in the field of gerontology, the last 25 until I retired at 68 as a retirement center administrator.  Six years ago, I wrote my first novel as a kind of bucket list thing.  The result was an episodic, disjointed piece of junk.  It has long since been shit-canned from my hard drive.  But I didn’t quit, mainly because I found that I liked writing.  I next wrote several short stories and then started a second piece of longer fiction, which I titled Shady Acres, after the name of the long-term care center that is the focus of that tale.     

Shady Acres was the first of what has become a series.  It didn’t start out to be a series, so in submitting it and subsequent works to Kindle, I checked “no” in response to the question, “Is this a series?”  Afraid I can’t get by with that any longer, as three later adventures have followed.  Furthermore, I shamelessly refer to previous incidents in the later narratives.

They (the ubiquitous they) say that you should write about what you know.  Being of Norwegian heritage I don’t know much, or so goes the old Scandinavian joke, mainly told by Swedes.  However, I do know Tucson Estates, the setting for this piece of fiction.  Being of limited imagination, I’ve borrowed the specifics in excruciating detail.  Saves a lot of work and time in inventing things like street names.

Completely my own are the main characters, four happy go lucky retired guys, early sixties who find themselves, through no fault of their own, the four principals of their own Private Investigator firm.  It all started with Gus’ younger brother who just happens to be the FBI agent in charge of the Phoenix office.  How that came about is set forth in the beginning chapters of Shady Acres.

A final note regarding the masthead photo.  The dude in the photo wearing the pirate’s cap is, no surprise, your Tucson Estates author, Robert Solem, out partying and somewhat tanked.  He definitely shows his age.  The gorgeous lady at his side and looking at least ten years younger is his loveable late life partner.  Would you believe they’re the same age?  Birth certificates don’t lie (usually).