Best of our lives



Name Dropping

As a retired senior, I consciously try to invest my time in looking forward. During this holiday season, however, I’ve been counting my many blessings and looking back at this last year and my life in general.

Not one to keep a journal, I’m now considering making a list of all the interesting people I’ve encountered during my lifetime. What prompted this new endeavor? In looking back, it occurred to me that both my wife and I have frequently had the extraordinary good fortune to serendipitously meet interesting people.

As an example, many years ago we made our first trip to Hawaii. It was at a time when Magnum P.I. was a popular television show and Tom Selleck was the current heart-throb. On our first day in the islands, we rented a car and were headed toward Dimond Head. Somewhat lost and driving down a residential street I spotted a red Ferrari. We stopped, and sure enough they were filming inside a house. As I was taking pictures of the beautiful car, my wife walked across the street. A few minutes later, she came walking back but was not alone. She and Mr. Selleck were having a very nice chat. This kind of thing has continued to occur throughout the years. As I mentioned in a recent blog, this year I ran into and had the privilege of meeting football legend Joe Namath. Over the holidays, while I was watching an NCIS rerun, I was thrilled to see the handsome guest star, Ryan Bittle, because many years ago I was his little league coach for three years. Our families even vacationed together.

If I do get around to it, my “name dropping” encounter list will include politicians, famous business people, authors, adventurers, and many entertainers and sports figures such as Mohammad Ali, Olivia Newton John, The Rolling Stones (not in concert, I actually met all of them at a private airport), Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Stevens, George Burns, Sally Field, NFL great and actor Fred Dryer, and . . . I’m getting tired and if you are still reading you are probably getting very bored.

What’s the point of this exercise? Well, about a week ago while waiting for my wife as she went into a Florida store at a shopping mall, I encountered a very dapper elderly gentleman. He was dressed in slacks, sweater vest, sport coat, and a very neat bow tie. He sat down next to me and we began to talk. His name is Ray Zander. Being the holiday season, our conversation turned to the true meaning of Christmas. When my wife approached, I introduced her to Ray and they had a chance to get acquainted. When it was time to say our goodbyes, Ray reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a book. He said he wanted us to have it. It was titled Life of Faith, Volume X. Turns out Ray is an extraordinarily spiritual man, a poet and speaker. His books are collections of poems and outlines of faith. What a great Christmas gift.

As I said in the setup of this blog, my wife and I are often blessed by meeting very interesting and inspiring people. This year, other than our new granddaughter, meeting Ray is at the top of our list. When I did a search, I see he is all over the internet, even on youtube. Well done Ray, it was great meeting you. By the way, Ray is 92.

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As this year ends, my wife Trisha and I wish all of you the best in the new year. We were blessed to spend this holiday season with friends and family. We even got to spend some time together and enjoyed every minute. Here is Trisha at one of our favorite local Florida hangouts, Dune Dogs. See you next year.

Trisha Parker at Dune Dogs

Trisha Parker at Dune Dogs

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Retired-Life Joys and Challenges – 2013

Here we are nearing the end of another year. They really do seem to go by faster each year don’t they? Taking a moment to reflect, this year was probably typical. But that doesn’t mean it was uneventful.

As seniors, our challenges are pretty self-evident. Physically, we have begun to slow down, probably gotten a bit weaker, and somehow transformed into the grandparents we used to know. The good news for most of us, our mobility can be improved and maintained with exercise. I am still shocked by research that found 80% of seniors don’t get any regular exercise. Of course, there are natural injuries and illnesses that come into play, but the fact is most seniors lose most of their mobility due to their sedentary lifestyle. It’s a challenge we really need to take very seriously.

Emotionally, being a senior certainly has its share of challenges. Personally, I’ve never had a year in which I’ve lost more family members and friends. Its gut wrenching and you never really get over it. When I think of these wonderful and influential people in my life, it takes my breath away. All we can do is honor them by remembering the contributions they have made to our lives and be thankful for knowing them. Losing each one is the price paid for the honor and privilege of having them in our lives. In addition, most of us have family members or friends with serious health issues. Being supportive just doesn’t feel like it’s enough, but it’s often all we can do. Isn’t that what we would we want? Being there for the people we love is the essence of relationships and life itself.

The joys of being a senior are most frequently not appreciated. You have to get past so many of your fellow travelers with their wonderful sayings such as, “Getting old is hell.” Well, getting old is not always a walk in the park, but neither was becoming a young teenager, or a young adult. After being discharged from the military, I had no money, was back in school, working nights at a gas station, and had a wife and baby in a three room apartment above a garage. I would not want to go back to that time. Research tells us that seniors are the most content and positive of all age groups. Young adults fare the worst and have the most cases of depression and suicide. Maybe we are less anxious because we’ve reached that stage of life when we can say and do most anything we choose without worrying as much about the consequences.

The bottom line is life, no matter what our age, is what we make of it. It’s how we react to each and every situation, sling and arrow. If you’re a grumpy old man or lady, it’s a pretty sure bet you’ve always been that way. I’ve always enjoyed the story about the baseball rookie in spring camp who approached the great hitter Ted Williams seeking advice and said, “I just can’t hit a curve ball.” Williams replied, “Don’t swing at it.” When life throws us a curve, we can swing, cuss, and fume at our misfortune, or we can simply appreciate our opportunity to be at the plate.

My wife Trisha and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Trisha and John Parker

Trisha and John Parker

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Older and Wiser?

 

We’ve all heard the theory growing older makes you wiser. I can’t really confirm the veracity of this theory, but can at least confirm growing older certainly makes you more experienced in the ways of the world. Sometimes that’s good, but often it means we become less trusting and perhaps more cynical.

          One doesn’t have to be older or even wiser to understand many of the changes going on in our culture today. While we heard not so long ago the “era of big government is over,” today we have government entities attempting to control virtually every aspect of our lives. This refers to government on every level, local to national.

For example, a couple of years back I left my car parked at the home of a relative who lives in another state. When I returned I found a notice threatening me with a fine for not having that state’s license on my car. I called the bureaucrat who left the notice and he told me I needed to show proof I wasn’t living in that state. In the cause of decency, I can’t really repeat what I told him. He then referred me to the local official in charge. Taking the high road, I wrote that official a very polite and responsible email explaining my wife and I had been traveling in and around the state and merely left the car at our relative’s home while we were gone. The next day I received an email back from the kind lady in charge directing me to give her my complete itinerary including mileage, dates, and locations traveled.

At this point, you probably expect I’m going to tell you I became furious and fired off a blistering email that told her where to go and what she could do with her invasive request. Maybe you are wiser because that’s exactly what I did. A brief response followed that informed me the matter had been dropped.

We now live in a culture where various levels of government bodies can tell us what color we can paint our houses, what flags and other symbols we can display, prevent churches from erecting crosses (the very symbol of many church beliefs), what light bulbs we must use, when we can use our fireplaces, and on and on.

In the latest news, many of our children and grandchildren are being told what costumes are not allowed to be worn on Halloween. If this trend continues, someday they’ll be telling us what kind of health care we must buy.

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Seniors and Birthdays

“If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of my body.”

Eubie Blake (on his 100th birthday)

 

     Birthdays are a topic of conversation in our family every year at this time. In our immediate family, we have about a dozen birthdays within a two month time frame. That includes me, my wife, our three sons, and several of our grand kids. Fortunately, while we recognize our birthdays, our family tradition does not call for extravagant celebrations or expensive gifts. As corny as it may sound, we really do try to treat one another well throughout the entire year.

     The fact is, I’ve actually forgotten my birthday a time or two. I do remember the best present I ever received. It was on my thirty-third birthday. We took our boys to my parent’s house and my mother had baked a cake. While we enjoyed our cake and ice cream, my son Michael asked, “Daddy, how old are you?” I quickly replied, “I’m thirty-three.” My mother looked at me and said, “No, you’re thirty-two.” After some quick math (not my best subject), I realized she was right. I had spent all year thinking I was thirty-two, and now I got to be thirty-two for another whole year. It was my best present ever.

     As we grow older, for most of us as our birthdays come and go, our thoughts and concerns are correctly aimed at the well-being of our family and friends. I was reminded of that this week when I had the privilege of spending time with my old Air Force buddy and best friend. He is going through a serious health issue and the love, courage, and faith he and his wife continue to exhibit is remarkable. In the midst of this crisis, he was still able to make me smile and, at times, even laugh.

     None of us knows how many birthdays we will celebrate. What we do know is it’s the relationships we have and the love we share within those relationships that matter. Those are the true gifts.

Special Note

     My wife Trisha was asked to write an article for Delta Living Magazine this month for a special Bride’s Issue. She provided some great packing tips that I believe can be useful for all travelers, including seniors. Here is the link:

http://www.deltalivingmagazine.com

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Marto

Grandparents Day

 

     On September 8, our country will celebrate Grandparents Day. If you are lucky enough to be a grandparent, you might not want to hold your breath for the presents to roll in. The fact is, just being a grandparent is the reward in itself. My wife Trisha and I are very blessed and extremely excited we will soon be with one of our sons and his wife at the birth of their third child and our eighth grandchild. We could not be happier.

     If you have ever wondered where Grandparents Day came from, let me explain. The idea came from a housewife in Fayette County, West Virginia by the name of Marian McQuade. She was very involved in working with the elderly in nursing homes and wanted them to get the attention they deserved. She also hoped grandchildren in the country would learn from their grandparents and see them as a source of wisdom and knowledge. In 1978, President Carter ushered in the first official Grandparents Day. It is now celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day. Now you know.

     Here are a few quotes that better sum up being a grandparent:

“Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting.”

   Unknown

“Grandchildren don’t make a man feel old; it’s the knowledge he’s married to a grandmother.”

   G. Norman Collie

“Never have children, only grandchildren.”

Gore Vidal

“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”

Welsh Proverb

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”

Rudy Giuliani

“Grandchildren are God’s way of compensating us for growing old.”

Mary H. Waldrip

“Grandmother-grandchild relationships are simple. Grandmas are short on criticism and long on love.”

Unknown

“It’s amazing how grandparents seem so young once you become one.”

Unknown

“What a bargain grandchilden are. I give them my loose change and they give me a million dollars’ worth of pleasure.”

Gene Perret

“When grandparents enter the door, discipline flies out the window.”

Ogden Nash

“One of the most powerful handclasps is that of a new grandbaby around the finger of a grandfather.”

Joy Hargrove

“Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.”

Unknown

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Seniors and the 4th of July

Happy 4th of July to one and all.

On this grand day in our country’s history, I’ve decided to do something a little different. I, like most of you, get numerous forwards emailed to me from family and friends each week. Recently I received two that I’ve decided to share with readers of this blog. I hope you enjoy them as much I as did.

From my friend Dick:

Being Green

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much
older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic
bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green
thing’ back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your
generation did not care enough to save our environment for future
generations.”

She was right — our generation didn’t have the ‘green thing’ in
its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles
to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and
sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.
So they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we
reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage
bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings.Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.

But too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every
store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t
climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our
day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the
throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling
machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our
clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their
brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing”
back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in
every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief
(remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In thekitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electricmachines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item tosend in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, notStyrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engineand burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a healthclub to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the “green thing.” We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we
old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back
then?

Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson
in conservation from a smart—- young
person…

We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take
much to set us off…especially from a tattooed, multiple pierced dummy who can’t make change without the cash register telling them how much.

Never Forget

And, from friend Mike, this great video – perfect for the 4th.

On Their Shoulders – YouTube

Tip of the Day

Some friends recently suggested to my wife an all-purpose cleaner called L.A.’s Totally Awesome. Well, she has been raving about it for all of our household tasks. A couple of days ago, I decided it was time to clean up our little boat, so I grabbed the spray bottle to give it a try. I was amazed at how well it cleaned everything, but was in for a shock. The stern of our boat has a padded area that people lay on or step on getting in and out of the water. Its a type of vinyl covering and has become discolored over time. When I sprayed on this cleaning product, it magically became like new. Actually, I think it looks better than new. My whole boat is sparkling.

I don’t have stock or sponsorship in this product, but had to pass it along. Even better news is you can buy it at Dollar Tree for, you guessed it, $1. And that’s in a spray bottle.

Happy 4th of July.

eiffel tower

Trisha and John Parker

 

Tips For Seniors Traveling Abroad

Having recently returned from an incredible travel adventure to Italy and France, I thought it might be beneficial to share a few travel tips for those considering such a trip.

1. If you plan on driving while in a foreign country, make sure you check in with your insurance agent. In most cases they will advise you to purchase additional coverage from the rental car company in the country you are visiting. This is important because when renting a car in the U. S., if your coverage is like mine, the rental car’s coverage is typically not necessary.

2. When possible, book a hotel in the middle of the cities you want to visit. Most foreign countries have rapid transit much better than ours and you can travel easily through most of them. Often, the entire country is connected by efficient rail systems. On our recent trip to Italy, we became very familiar with the Milan train station as we traveled through it several times. Of course, the way most foreign cities have been centrally designed, once there, you can walk to most of your destinations.

3. Because we are all connected to our smart phones, don’t feel you have to get expensive extended coverage while abroad. Most hotels, restaurants, coffee houses, etc., have free Wifi. To stay in communication back home, we simply sign up for a $10 universal texting plan. It gives you peace of mind in case you need to contact a family member or friend. Otherwise, forget you have a phone and enjoy your trip.

4. As a senior, there is a registration program the U. S. government offers that will also provide an extra sense of security while abroad. Here is the link for registration. This will give your family members an extra way to communicate with you in case of emergency. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

5. Take your personal safety and security seriously. In most countries you will visit, you probably won’t have to worry about major crime. The fact is, petty crime such as pick pockets, etc., exists in all cities. Keep your passport, credit cards, cash, travel tickets, and I.D. in a hidden travel belt. I have always resisted this suggestion, but during our long recent trip, I decided to wear one and found it quite convenient.

6. If you have any other questions about your health and safety in a country you plan to visit, here are two more links that will keep you informed:

Current Travel Warnings and Current Travel Alerts

Bon Voyage

 

Older and Wiser

Having just returned from a month-long travel adventure, I’m struggling to get back into the swing of a normal life. My wife Trisha and I were very blessed to have experienced the trip of a lifetime. Nearly four weeks in Italy and two brief days in Paris. I am no longer John, I’m Giovanni.

I hope to share some highlights of our trip in future blogs, but only after we have reviewed the 1,400 photos (it’s true) my wife took, and the four hours of video I shot. Our sons are actually in the process of drawing straws to see who will brave to visit first and be subjected to the media barrage.

Interestingly, my most enduring recollections are not the snow-covered Swiss Alps framing beautiful Lake Como, nor the moon hovering over the romantic bay of Positano on the Amalfi coast. For me, it was our travel companions, fellow travelers we met along the way, friends we visited in their home country, and all the other interesting people we met in chance encounters that made us richer for the experience.

As usual, every time we travel outside the U. S., I’m always struck by the realization that people are very much the same all over the world. I understand that’s not a novel nor profound observation, but it’s a consistent impression with each venture to new lands. All of us want nothing more than to live in peace and enjoy life. We were fortunate on this trip to have had hours of conversations and good times with people we encountered along the way, each of whom served to enrich our experience.

First of all, after one week on our own in southern Italy, we were joined in Milan by dear friends and travel companions Lyn and Herb. Now, after several trips, more  like sisters and brothers, we shared both adventures and numerous hours in ristorantes, pizzerias, trattorias, and bars, laughing, discussing history, trivia, solving world problems, and simply gazing out at the beautiful areas we visited. 

It seemed in every place we traveled, from tourist to inn keeper, local to shop owner, most everyone was personable and interesting. In fact, one such  memorable experience came one night at a local ristorante we frequented in Verenna on Lake Como. I had the good fortune of ordering a delicious plate of smoked salmon ravioli. After everyone sampled, Trisha asked the owner if she might learn how to cook this heavenly dish. He invited her to report for duty the next night before the dinner service began. When she arrived the next evening, the chef not only taught her how to cook the dish, she actually prepared our dinner. The owner and server took great pride as the dish was served, proud of their student.

There were many other interesting people we met along the way. While we didn’t get the names of everyone, we did share information with several. To name a few: Al and Marsha, Matt and Debbie, Robert and Kim, Australians Greg and Ingrid with son Harry, Al and Martha, Rock and Paula, Frederick from the south of France, Australians Larry and Nina with friends Greg and Theresa, John and Barb, Australians Martin and Roxanne (who gave us lots of travel tips), Scott and Valerie, Joe and Donna, Brian and Kim, newly wed Australians Brook and Sam, horse breeder Mimmo from Positano, Italian train traveler Alexia from London, and engaged couple Amit and Sonal who graciously interrupted their romantic afternoon along the Seine in Paris and offered to take our picture with Notre Dame cathedral in the background.

An especially memorable part of our trip came when we visited the Lake Garda area of Italy. Our friends, Italian entertainer Maurizio and his lovely wife Danna, actually rented a van and picked us up at the train station. The van was essential given all of our luggage. They entertained us at their beautiful 800 year old home, part of the castle grounds in their small town. They also shared their favorite eateries where we all sampled the local wines and cuisine. Graciously, they also drove us to incredibly scenic and historic areas of the lake. They even awakened early on our last day and drove us to the Verona airport. We cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and generosity.  

I’m sure you get the idea by now. With all the history, beauty and art that surrounded us, it was the personal connections we found the most meaningful. Trisha and I are renewed, encouraged, and profoundly blessed to have had such an adventure. I’m hopeful we will take from our experiences and bring the same spirit and optimism into our daily lives here at home. Becoming a bit wiser as we grow older is a worthy goal.

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Feliciano

When my wife Trisha and I speak to senior groups and organizations about successful aging, one of our most important recommendations is to socialize. Living in isolation has long been shown to be extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. Remaining social as we age has been one of the most studied and verified behaviors for continued good health and mental fitness.

This brings me to my story. More than forty years ago during the Viet Nam era, I served in the U. S. Air Force. After my first tour of duty stateside, I was sent to a NATO base in southern Italy. Being a newly wed, I desperately wanted my wife to join me. Not having much money, I devised a plan whereby I gave a buddy who was sending his wife home on a Christmas charter a few bucks, and my wife assumed her identity on the return flight. Being in such a remote part of the country, there was no room on the base for us to live so we had to live on the local economy.

Prior to her arrival, I heard of a man in a small town several miles away (it actually had a small castle) that would rent to Americans from the base. I borrowed a car and went to talk with him. He turned out to be a wonderful man named Feliciano. He was the town electrician and had four apartments above his business. He spoke very good English because during WWII he was captured by the allies early on and spent the entire war on a farm in Scotland. Beyond his language skills, during his captivity he realized a value and interest in meeting people from other cultures and perspectives. I was able to rent an apartment from him and it would be our home until my two-year tour was finished.

Visiting with Feliciano was a daily occurrence. Watching soccer on the television in his shop was great fun. He was interesting, polite, and what we might call an “old world gentleman.” Our frequent parties and loud music  brought an occasional knock on our door, but he just smiled and would say “some of the old people have complained.”

I recently discovered Feliciano died last year. It seems his beloved wife had passed away ten years ago and both of his daughters had moved out of the country to be with their husbands. The NATO base had long since closed, and when he retired, Feliciano was left with only his little home on the quiet street of his small Italian village. Finally, one morning he dressed in his suit and tie, lay on his back, put a pistol under his shirt and pulled the trigger. Unbelievably, the official report said he then pulled his shirt down and died. Proper to the end.

Learning of Feliciano’s death, and perhaps more disturbing, his loneliness, has left me very sad. I know he tried all he could to be social and he lived in isolation for as long as he could. I hope he is at peace now.

The life lessons here are so obvious, I’ll spare you the clichés. For us, hearing about our old friend got Trisha and me reminiscing about our time in that village. After some detective work on the internet, I was able to locate a couple who were good friends from our time in Feliciano’s apartment house. They live on the other side of the country, and we haven’t seen them in forty years, but we already have plans to get together sometime next month. I think Feliciano would be very pleased.

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I Get It. I’m Getting Older

          This is a tricky one. I value all my family and friends dearly and don’t want to offend anyone. But enough is enough. For some reason, a number of folks in my age group seem to be obsessed with getting older. That’s fine and it’s really none of my business nor should I be evaluating their fixations or state of mind. But some lines are being crossed. 

If you have reached your golden years, perhaps you will identify with my dilemma. In a nutshell, it seems I can’t go a day without someone telling me how worthless they’ve become because they couldn’t think of a name or some other fact. This is always accompanied with the obligatory complaint about growing old. Also, every day my email contains more than one “funny” cartoon and/or forward about the perils of growing older. 

In a lesser vein, I also receive numerous emails taking strolls down memory lane. Did you know everything was better back in the good old days? Performers, automobiles, and virtually every other thing you can think of. Really? You may actually have some memory issues. 

Now before someone actually gets angry, let me say I understand. Fact is we do slow down in almost every way as we age. And yes, I would love to be riding around in my red ’56 Chevy. But here’s the deal. We are living in this world today. Key word here is living. Sure, we have some years on us, but there are questions we could be asking and answering each day. What would be productive and interesting for me? What can I accomplish? Who can I help? What would be fun? 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not up in some ivory tower scolding and passing judgment. I’m an observer of the aging process. In my humble opinion, we don’t really miss those old cars; we miss ourselves at that age driving those cars. Were drive-in movies really better than watching our big screen plasma with surround sound in the comfort of our home? No, but we remember being at the drive-in with that hot date on a Saturday night and miss all the fun of being young and having our lives in front of us. It’s perfectly understandable.  

But this is life. I’m always inspired by those who accept life and live it fully to its completion. You pick the cliché, but while we still have the ability to think and love, I would hope we would embrace life with every bit of energy and passion we can summon.         

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