Book Giveaway with Libations

We held our Great Book Giveaway with Libations party over the weekend. Friends came and took away many bags of books. Mystery, history, music, travel — you name it — all went out the door.

We spent several days culling our collection before the big event. and we pulled a few old favorites back the night before. But we have no regrets. Books that served us well are now being read and enjoyed by others. Some of them will likely wind up at the Penn Yan Public Library annual book sale in a couple of months. That’s where the leftovers are going too. We’re packing them up tomorrow and storing them in the garage of a Friend of the Library.

We had a great time at the Giveaway and thank everyone who came.

And so, the downsizing continues. We’ve made a lot of progress, but the place doesn’t exactly echo yet.























Living Life to the Full

florence_foster_jenkinsWe enjoyed seeing Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins at the Smith Opera House recently. Florence lived life to the full. Yes — she deceived herself in thinking she could sing well enough to perform in Carnegie Hall; but she went ahead anyway and died happy. Simon Helberg, whom you’ll recognize from the Big Bang Theory, put in an excellent and empathetic performance as the pianist. Nina Arianda, playing the floozie, sure can dance! Here’s the video.

Harry Belafonte is another senior living life to the full. Belafonte will turn 90 on March 1, and has just been profiled in the New York Times. He has shaped our times, and many of us seniors carry his songs in our heads.


Harry Belafonte. Photo by David Shankbone.

Belafonte shares our fears and concerns, telling the Times, “I’ve never known this country to be so” — he paused before saying the word — “racist as it is at this moment,” he said. “It’s amazing, after all that we have been through.”

And like may of us, he feels he’s not quite done.

“It’s my last chance to say whatever I feel the need to say. And I think I’m formulating what that utterance should be. What have I not said that needs to be said more forcefully and more precisely?”

Here at Common Sense for Seniors, we’ll be listening.


The Books – Getting There

img_2120It’s no secret that we are hoarders of books, as we have come clean about this in our posts over the last two years. It is also known that we are fast approaching countdown, the time when we have to decide what to let go of and what to take with us to the down-sized townhouse.  To this end, we have been going over the books cached away around the house: the study, the basement, the “bonus room,” even the piles on the bedside tables.

In recent weeks, we have taken books that were subjects of our church study group to the church library. Ray has found a home for history books at the local history center, and I have given a number of children’s books (along with art supplies) to the local ARC, which supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. These placements seem right.  But, what about the remainder?

We are in debt to wonderful friend Becky who years ago shared with us her approach to leaving a home.  Friends were invited to visit and take away an item. No bringing of hostess gifts; the requirement was that guests help with the process of saying good-bye.

Thanks to Becky’s sharing, we have invited friends for wine and cheese and a “books takeaway.”  Doing this will allow us to see many friends whom we have not had a chance to enjoy properly, what with our goings and returns these past many months. A second boon is the pleasure we will have in passing along books that we have treasured enough to carry them with us for many years. Knowing that they will go to good homes, I am inclined to take a more critical look at the books that I think I must keep and those that I can let go of, knowing that they may be chosen in the same way that I did originally.

Speaking with friend Libby today, we talked about passing along/divesting ourselves of the stuff of our lives. We touched on real linens and family silver, among other things. For the most part, the next generations do not want them. We agreed that the rummage sale was the place for them, especially as the proceeds would benefit a worthy cause. Still, I find that books are another matter.

Another friend, Jeanie, shared in an exchange which I cannot locate easily but the substance of which I can render. Speaking of books and letting go of them, she replied, “Some of my best friends are characters I have met in books.” That about sums it up. I guess I’ll keep the best friends.

We’ll let you know how we do with the “takeaway.”


PPIs and Dementia: A Link?

I’ve been bothered by this article in Scientific American, which argues that regular use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), is associated with a number of health problems, including dementia, heart disease, and kidney disease. PPIs are used to combat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and are very widely prescribed among seniors. I take generic omeprazole myself, but PPIs also include Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec.

I’m not sure I could get through the night without my omeprazole, but I sure would like to avoid dementia. Particularly bothersome is the inability of scientists so far to identify any causal pathway that might explain why people taking PPIs tend to have higher rates of dementia. Perhaps it’s that lower levels of stomach acid due to PPI use inhibit the absorption of vitamin B12, needed for brain health. I’m already taking a B12 supplement, so maybe I’m OK. Or maybe not.

Another theory is that seniors tend to take many drugs — a phenomenon known as
“polypharmacy” — and that this in itself has been shown to be associated with memory loss. So the problem might not be PPIs in particular.  Some suggest that people practicing polypharmacy are likely to be people who see physicians regularly, increasing their chances of being diagnosed with something or other, including dementia. Maybe that’s the problem.

Anyway, I’m planning do discuss the PPI issue with my own physician, next time I’m in.


The Importance of Primary Care

This New Yorker article by Atul Gowande emphasizes how important it is — and how life-extending — to have a strong and lasting relationship with your primary care physician. Incremental care at the primary level can do more to promote health and well-being than heroic surgeries and other interventions by specialists after a problem has been neglected.

Unfortunately, the incentives in our health care system work against primary care. Surgeons and specialists earn twice as much as primary care physicians, discouraging medical students from pursuing primary care or elder care careers. Meanwhile,  deductibles and co-pays can discourage people from making regular doctor visits. Looming changes to the Affordable Care Act and Medicare may make the situation worse.

As usual with Gowande, the article is extremely well written, and chock full of interesting medical anecdotes.

What We Call Progress

We are plugging away at the stuff.  Having undertaken the family archives and sent some documents on their way to historical institutions, universities and libraries, we are more and more confronting the books. What to do with these companions that we have read, savored and held onto over the years?

Well, for my part, much of the problem was hoarding. I’ve read about it and experienced it first hand in others. I just can’t seem to let go of something that gave pleasure.  Another part of the problem is that I fool myself that I will return to read them once again. Well,  I am at that point of life when there is not sufficient time to re-read all of them and still read the other books on my life list. I think I’m finally growing up here.

We are becoming more  critical, more discerning regarding those tomes that we want to retain and will actually read or reference again. We have agreed that the paperback Shakespeare plays can go. We can borrow them from the library should need arise or Google particular questions that we might have. We will keep our hardback copies of the ancient classics. They speak to us still.

Then there are the books that have been formative in our thinking. Those we will keep for sure. What are some of them, you might ask? Well, here’s a sample.

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

1491 by Charles C. Mann

Machiavelli, A Portrait by Christopher S. Celenza

Ornament of the World by Maria Rosa Menocal

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills

Growing Up by Russell Baker

Dante by Barbara Reynolds

Someone quotable once opined that you can tell much about a man [person] by the books he/she keeps. Draw your own conclusions.

So, (a word that linguists and folks of their ilk voted to retire a year ago) what are we left with (oops, a dangling preposition?) Right, and now where does the question mark go? Yikes!

We’ll tell you more shortly.




High Tech Help for Aging in Place

If you are caring for a senior senior, or worried about how you’ll manage when you become one, you’ll be interested in this story from Marketplace.  It’s about a company based in Baltimore, Sentinel Care, that works nationwide with alarm companies, such as ADT, to put sensors around the home that can alert up to ten caregivers to problems. It all works through a cell phone app.

Has the loved one gotten out of bed this morning? Has the medicine cabinet been opened? How many times was the bathroom used last night? (Frequent visits could indicate a health issue.)  Is the kitchen being used at mealtimes? More basically, is there motion within the apartment, indicating that the loved one is at home and moving around?

Sounds intrusive, but many of us know of instances in which a senior has fallen and lain for hours unattended. Even if they have a panic button, they may have left it somewhere or not wanted to push it for fear of causing a fuss. We also know of folks who have wandered off outside due to dementia.

Here’s the website of Sentinel Care, also known as Concordia Systems. (Be careful when browsing. There seem to be a number of companies called Sentinel Care.)

This sort of high tech system may well make it possible for seniors, even those living alone, to remain at home into advanced age.

More Things Under Heaven and on Earth…

Ray has been sharing his trip down memory lane as he goes through his family memorabilia. See his post.  While he has taken laudable action to preserve his father’s papers and other items related to Pop’s career at TVA, the matter of the snippet of his grandmother’s wedding gown is now looming large.

I hesitate to tell him that he doesn’t know yet what trouble with wedding gowns is. I am going through other Copson family items. Lo and behold, we have his mother’s wedding gown in its entirety. Mame, while average for her time, would be called diminutive today. Not many brides could wear it, even for nostalgic reasons. Well, our daughters could because, while they are much taller, they are also as slim as they come. But, we have married them off.

If that isn’t enough, I have my mother’s ball gown from a weekend at West Point in the 1930’s. It’s somewhat the worse for wear – not her wearing, but my sister’s and mine. Mom let us dress up in her old gowns when we were young. I’m afraid that we were not as respectful of them as we should have been.  Along with the current white cotton sheath with a flounced skirt below the knees, I vividly remember the white satin slinky  gown with the faux diamond clip at the shoulder strap and the slim green crinkly gown with an aura of mystery about it.

Some thoughts come to mind. We could donate them to the local theater company which has taken some of our funkier items for their wardrobe. On the other hand, perhaps the local history center would like them for its collection of period clothing. The wedding gown was worn in 1932, and is a classic. And I don’t know anyone among my acquaintances who went to a West Point weekend with a cadet.

I’ll pursue these avenues, with Ray’s permission of course. Who knows, maybe we’ll drag these pieces with us to our next stop. Let the girls agonize when the time comes. Serve them right for all the stuff they have left behind in their time.






Family Memorabilia: To Keep or Not To Keep?

A bittersweet aspect of downsizing is sorting through family memorabilia. The task summons fond memories, and forces reflections on the lives of loved ones, now gone. That leads to reflections on the purpose and meaning of life in general. Then comes the practical decision on what to keep and what to throw away.

The other day I came across a group photo including my father at age 39, just over a year before I was born.

Raymond L. Copson

Raymond L. Copson

I’ve cropped him here from the photo, taken in March 1943 at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Nitrate Plant No. 2 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The plant was being honored at that point for its contributions to the war effort, and he was playing a key role in transforming civilian fertilizer manufacturing operations for the production of weapons. In the box with the photo was a letter from a friend, jokingly calling him the “handsomest chemical engineer in America.” You can see why.

After the war, he moved back to private industry and loved his 1950s job as director of research at a chemical plant in Baltimore. But then that plant was bought by the Allied Chemical behemoth, and he became a cog in a vast machine, which he didn’t much care for. Allied sent him to Syracuse, which he didn’t care for either — but that’s where I met Donna. Every cloud has a silver lining.

I think the last years of Pop’s career were a bit of a downer for him, but he picked himself up after retiring by volunteering for the International Executive Service Corps, which sent him to South Korea to teach chemical engineering, and then to Mexico to consult for a chromium chemical company. He and my mother treasured those experiences, just as they savored their retirement in Florida. (IESC still exists, incidentally, and is looking for both mid-career and retired volunteers.)

Am I keeping my father’s papers or throwing them away? A bit of both — and I’ve found a third way: donation. The University of North Alabama collects TVA-related materials and has been delighted to receive my fathers papers, photos, and professional articles from that part of his career. They are even calling it the Raymond L. Copson Collection. The Onondaga County Historical Society has taken a few things from the Syracuse period. Before sending these items off, I’ve scanned anything that might be of interest to the family in later years to a thumb drive. As for the rest, I’ve thrown out duplicates and some files that dealt with personnel matters, but most has gone back into the box.

We’ll still need some storage space for family history in our new place — especially since items related to my father’s career are just a part of what we have.

And now, back to work. What am I going to do with this snippet from grandmother’s wedding dress?