About 80 percent of all strokes are preventable. People with diabetes and those who have survived a stroke are especially vulnerable for a devastating “brain” attack. Kids have strokes, too. For more information about strokes, the Steps Against Recurrent Stroke campaign, and locations of emergency stroke centers, visit stroke.org.
For more information about diabetes, visit diabetes.org.
Solving the Diabetes Puzzle
An international scientific consortium reports that at least six previously undetected genetic variants are involved in type 2 diabetes, boosting to 16 the total number of genetic risk factors associated with increased risk of the disease. The surprising discovery provides clues about what goes awry when diabetes develops, and may someday lead to new ways to treat or even prevent it. In the future, genetic testing may help doctors and their diabetic patients develop individualized treatment and lifestyle plans. Former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is a coauthor of the study conducted by the DIAbetes Genetics Replication And Meta-analysis (DIAGRAM) group.
Work by an Australian Ph.D. student revealing a new action of insulin may explain how it prompts body cells to absorb glucose, a question that has perplexed scientists since the 1920s discovery of the drug. Freddy Yip’s groundbreaking finding suggests that diabetes may develop when signals between insulin and the myo1c protein become blocked. Learning more about this mechanism may yield innovative therapies.
Not Diabetic? Two Reasons to Get Tested
People with high blood pressure should be screened for diabetes, even though they show no signs of it, according to recently updated federal guidelines. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force confirmed that screening is “moderately certain” to be of substantial benefit for adults with a sustained blood pressure greater than 135/80. In a major change, the group dropped a general recommendation that adults with high blood levels of fats (hyperlipidemia) get screened for diabetes, citing a lack of evidence as to whether this is beneficial. Testing might still be warranted for those with additional cardiovascular risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes, they added. Another group who should watch their blood sugar levels are those undergoing heart surgery. In a Michigan study, nearly half of all heart surgery patients experienced blood sugar levels high enough to require temporary insulin treatment after their operation, despite never having diabetes.
Avoiding the “Ouch”
Here’s a new spin on the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. When one Texas mother tired of the multiple insulin injections needed to treat her diabetes, she invented a simple and convenient alternative to the standard shots. The disposable i-port injection port, about the size of a quarter, minimizes the need to puncture the skin with each dose of medicine. When applying the adhesive device, an insertion needle guides a tiny, flexible tube under the skin. The insertion needle is then removed and the soft tube remains below the skin, allowing access into the underlying tissue. Up to 75 insulin doses from a syringe or insulin pen may be delivered through the i-port without puncturing the skin. Patton Medical Devices, the manufacturer of the device, is planning clinical trials to further support the medical need for the prescription-only device and to explore additional uses. For more information, visit i-port.com.
An experimental insulin nasal spray may someday offer diabetics a fast and convenient option for mealtime glucose control. Phase II clinical testing shows that the ultra-rapid-acting intranasal insulin maintained safe glucose levels better than oral antidiabetes medicines and basal insulin. In addition, the nasal spray performed as well as NovoLog, a rapid-acting injectable insulin. For the study, blood glucose was measured 60 and 90 minutes after a meal. Data were reported at the 2008 Scientific Sessions meeting of the American Diabetes Association.
“This week Detroit’s Big Three will unveil their long-talked-about little cars,” says the introduction to The Big Three Join the Revolution from the October 3, 1959 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The Chrysler Valiant, Ford Falcon, and Chevy Corvair were considered “three highly attractive and highly salable products,” but the article noted that General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler were “always conscious that back there somewhere there were a few foreign gleaners picking up some overlooked remnants of the market … In 1957 the crowd of small foreign brands picking up market remnants began growing faster, and by the end of the year had doubled the previous year’s volume.” This begs the question: Did the Big Three automakers ever “get it”?
Although the auto world has changed since 1959, the buyers demand for foreign cars has been on the rise since then. Today the Japanese car manufacturer Toyota is dominating the worldwide market. Consequently Toyota is also the most sold car in the United States. The Big Three are once again playing catch up to the Japanese automakers, this being evident by the statement given by Fords chief executive Alan Mulally in the this excerpt below from the Los Angeles Times.
“In a desperate, collective plea for up to $38 billion in government aid, executives from Detroit’s Big Three automakers told a Senate committee on Thursday they would start to crank out smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and streamline their businesses to stay afloat. “Now we are absolutely committed to exceeding our customers’ expectations for quality, fuel-efficiency, safety, and affordability,” said Ford’s chief executive Alan Mulally. The execs made similar pleas to members of the House of Representatives on Friday.”
When Gary Greff returned to Regent, N.D., during a respite from teaching, he had no idea his life’s work would change to helping save his hometown. Regent had dropped to 238 people. If something wasn’t done, it could become a ghost town, sharing the same sad fate of hundreds of other high plains hamlets.
But Gary had a dream, to bring people and businesses to his small community. “I’ve always been a dreamer,” 59-year-old Greff says. “When I see something, I always wonder: ‘How could you make it better?’”
His dream was triggered one day when he spotted visitors snapping pictures of a dummy in overalls hoisting a thousand-pound bale over his head. “I thought, ‘If people will drive off the road for that, how many more would come for something grander?’ No big business would come into a small community like this. We had to work with what we had, which was a paved highway, so I figured, ‘I’ll give you a reason to drive down it.’”
Enchanted Highway Is Born
That grander reason is the Enchanted Highway, gigantic folk art sculptures along thirty-two miles of panoramic views of grassland, buttes and bluffs, beginning at I-94, ending on Regent’s main street.
Today that dream is thriving, with seven scrap metal sculptures completed, beginning with Geese in Flight, taller than a 10-story building, wide as a football field, dubbed by The Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s largest scrap-metal sculpture.” Down the road about every three miles, rising into the limitless prairie sky, are Deer Crossing, Grasshopper’s Delight, Fisherman’s Dream, Pheasants on the Prairie, Theodore Roosevelt Rides Again, and (1.5 miles out of Regent) The Tin Family. All are massive, constructed of local materials — oil well tanks and pipes, old farm machinery, scrap metal. Metal wields great significance to those who work the land and depend heavily on machinery. All were assembled with common prairie-folk skills — metal cutting and fabrication, repair, and welding,
The first two sculptures reinvigorated the community, Greff says. Supported financially by city, local civic organizations, and the N.D. Council on the Arts, a local crew of farmers and ranchers spent the winter of 1992 welding and erecting Tin Family. It was first “because family was important in settling our country,” Greff says. Like the other sculptures, Tin Family utilizes local products like barbed wire for the mother‘s hair and grain
augers for her earrings, while the son licks a lollipop — the bottom of a farm fuel tank. “Normal-sized sculptures wouldn’t lure people into my sleepy town,” Greff says, so Tin Pa is 45 feet tall (supported by 16 telephone poles), Tin Ma 44, and Tin Kid 23 feet high. “Some engineering figured what size could be supported.”
Greff received some community help for the second one, Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again. Roosevelt, astride a 51-foot-high sculpture of his favorite horse, said he would not have been president except for his time in North Dakota.
Since Roosevelt, Greff has been pretty much on his own, with each sculpture taking two to four years to complete. “Nobody else could give up that kind of time,” he says.
Without artistic experience, Greff draws on graph paper and expands onto two-foot squares of butcher paper, a blueprint to make the pieces. “If the finished product doesn’t look anything like the plan, I’ll just call it modern art,” he laughs.
He figured he would be finished by 1997. “I was so naïve. It’s 2009 and I’m working on the spider web, no. 8.” Nos. 9 and 10 will be, respectively, a 75-foot-high buffalo and a tribute to Native Americans.
Greff works full-time on Enchanted Highway without an outside job, relying on donations and grants to raise $20,000 needed for each.
High-school students help. Kathy Greff, Gary’s sister-in-law, says her four sons worked on the project, along with area kids. “They’ve learned a lot, responsible job safety, welding, site mowing, and upkeep. Eagle Scout projects have been created for them, building playground equipment and bulletin boards for the sites,” which contain parking lot, picnic tables, information board, and play area.
“They’ve also learned about recycling,” Gary Greff says. “Most of the sculptures first belonged to something else.”
Success Is Tempered
Greff notes few minor setbacks. “I swore I’d measured the shop door accurately, but a pheasant three inches too wide forced me to cut it in half.” The buck’s front leg had to be cut off the buck because telephone poles made the road too narrow. It was rewelded at Deer Crossing. Welding sparks at Fisherman’s Dream started a grass fire. “In town they said we’d had the world’s largest fish fry,” Greff laughs.
Greff’s dream was to bring people into town, and in 2007-08 20,000 visitors signed the guest book at the Enchanted Highway Gift Shop. Postmaster Ervin Binstock says, “On Main Street I see an unbelievable amount of traffic and tour buses coming through”: Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, visitors from every state, plus Africa, Europe, Asia.
New businesses have started up in Regent as well: two gift shops, an RV park, a convenience store, and a B&B, though owner Donald Gion says tourism hasn’t helped his business much. “Lots of traffic comes into town, but people don’t stay. They visit the gift shops; some eat at the café or fill up gas, and move on. We need some kind of evening program, an economic development to keep people here longer.”
Gary Greff is working on that part, too. He bought the school building for a national art school, drew plans for a theme park with a signature huge eagle on a globe, as well as a water park and amphitheater. “They all need funding,” Greff says. “My dream now is to make Enchanted Highway the number-one tourist attraction in North Dakota. I really believe it can happen.”
Julius Honeyman, who donated land for Pheasants on the Prairie, says he can do it. “I think it’s amazing what one guy with a vision and a dream can do if he puts his mind to it.”
Enchanted Highway visitors think so, too. An older fellow recently stopped Gary Greff. With tears in his eyes, he said, “If I had died before I’d seen this, I would have died a poorer man.”
Singer-songwriter Paul Anka remembers the first check he received after his recording of “Diana” soared to the top of the pop charts. The amount was $300, modest even by 1957 standards, but “it seemed like a lot of money to a kid coming off a paper route in Canada,” says Anka, who was 16 at the time. Unlike many one-hit wonders whose success was short-lived in the early days of rock and roll, Anka had the savvy and talent to stay ahead of the trends. The music he wrote soon evolved from sock-hop ballads like “Puppy Love” to big-band standards like “My Way,” created for his mentor and close pal Frank Sinatra.
“Frank and Sammy [Davis, Jr.] looked after me, watched over me, and allowed me into their circle,” he says of the legendary entertainers. The “circle” was Sinatra’s famed Rat Pack, and members included Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. Sinatra gave them all nicknames, which were embroidered on the robes they wore when they lounged around the saunas and pools at the Las Vegas hotels where they performed. Anka, decades younger than the rest of the Pack, emerged as The Kid. The name stuck, although “as I got older and after I wrote ‘My Way,’ the mentoring thing became more of a friendship,” he says.
With an active concert schedule and a new CD in the works, Anka doesn’t dwell on nostalgia, although a couple of current projects have him rummaging through his files and pulling out photos, clippings, and programs from the past. If everything goes according to plan, 2009 is going to be a big year. His autobiography, still untitled, is scheduled for an autumn release, and he’s in preliminary talks about a Broadway show based on his 50-year career.
At age 67, The Kid is on a sentimental journey, recalling the times he traveled with Elvis, hung out with Buddy Holly, popped up on American Bandstand, and wrote a theme song for Johnny Carson. And then there was Ole Blue Eyes….
We’ll begin there.
The Post has uncovered an interesting photo of you, Frank Sinatra, and a monkey. Is there a story behind the picture?
Actually, it was an orangutan. We were in Vegas, and Frank’s friends were throwing a birthday party for him. I remember thinking, What do you give to a guy who has everything? So I went to the circus that was playing at a nearby hotel, and I said, ‘Let me borrow the orangutan.’ It was fitting because back then the atmosphere in Las Vegas was all about the prank. I marched into the party with the orangutan and gave it to Frank. Little did I know that in those days he was wearing a very bad toupee, and [in photos taken that night] the monkey’s hair looks better than Frank’s.
Of the more than 900 songs that you’ve created, “My Way” may be most memorable. What motivated you to write the words that became Sinatra’s signature signoff?
We were at a dinner in Florida when he announced his plan to retire. The Rat Pack had dissipated and he was tired. He said he would make one more album, and then he wanted out. That moved me to go home, imagine myself in his place, and write what would be the retiring song for someone who was the premier artist of all time. I used to do everything on the typewriter — I could type 60 to 65 words a minute — and so I just rattled away from one a.m. until I finished it around five. The song became a turning point for both of us. I remember I was in New York when he called me from the studio in Los Angeles and played it for me for the first time over the phone.
Let’s talk about the early days, the ’50s and ’60s, when you toured with some of the pioneers of rock and roll. What was it like to travel with these great artists — many of them African-American — at a time when some venues didn’t welcome people of color?
I remember that period in great detail. Coming from Canada, it was very difficult for me to understand segregation. I was close to the Platters, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and the others. Consequently, I was taken aback by it. We were close because of the music, but the situation drew us even closer. I remember refusing to eat at places that wouldn’t serve them. I was part of the team and we were very protective of each other. It was a time of great camaraderie.
How did your parents feel about their son going into show business at such a young age? Did they encourage you?
Things were different than they are now. A lot of parents today are sophisticated and start training their kids at age four or five because with shows like American Idol, they know what’s at the end of the rainbow. They understand the possibilities. But that wasn’t the case for us. Television started at five in the afternoon in Canada, and the programming was limited. People really didn’t have their arms around the music yet. My parents were dealing with the unknown — and a kid who was focused and aggressive about what he wanted. They were very concerned when I borrowed some money and went off to New York. Then I called them and said, “Come on down and sign my contract.” They were dazzled by it … and so was I.
You’re working on your autobiography now, piecing together five decades of history. What’s it like to go back in time and recall all that you’ve seen and done?
It’s been cathartic and sentimental. I’ve kept all my memorabilia…all the letters, articles, itineraries, and pictures. I have 50 years’ worth of material, so it’s really a process of editing out what I feel is not important or what I’m not willing to reveal. The memories come back, maybe not the details, but the meat is there when I look at the pictures and read the letters. I can remember what was going on and the people I was meeting.
And now there’s the possibility of a Broadway show…. Do you have a performer in mind to play Paul Anka as a teenager?
Yeah, I like the young kid who was on American Idol [David Archuleta], but there would have to be someone else. My real dream stroke is Robert Downey, Jr. His energy and capabilities are what I envision. That would be the coup of the century.
The music you’ve created over the decades is so varied that it can’t be tucked into a pigeonhole or given a label. How do you continue to stay up on the trends? When you’re in the car with the radio on, what do you like to listen to?
A lot of everything. There’s so much good stuff out there; my taste is eclectic. I listen to Madonna, Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Alicia Keys, Tim McGraw…. I have to be aware of what’s going on. I’m always learning something. I can’t come from a limited point of view of not embracing all music. I think that’s a mistake. Some artists are pretty highfalutin about what they do. That’s not me. I like country music a lot…I love the lyrics; I think country is the purest American music; that and jazz. As a musician I get a little something out of all of them.
Obviously you’re not thinking about retiring. Your last couple of albums did well, and you’re headed into the studio for another. Will it be classic Anka or new material?
I’m coming off of the success of Rock Swings [album released in 2005]. That went gold in many markets and gathered a new audience for me. I’m playing to 20,000 and 30,000 people in some cases, and 30 to 40 percent are under age 35. A lot of that is because of Rock Swings. I don’t know if I want to stay on that page, because I’ve done it. The next album may be newly written material from my observations at this stage of my life. My last album took me at least nine months to finish. You can’t rush something like that. Everything looks like it will happen in 2009.
After Mary Falso paid her mortgage and other bills, there wasn’t much left over from her retirement income. The Goodyear, Arizona, woman found herself declining invitations to travel because she felt she needed to save her money in case the water heater broke.
Then she took out a reverse mortgage and used the proceeds to pay off the $110,000 mortgage on her home.
“With $900 more in my pocket each month, if I want to go somewhere, I go somewhere. I don’t have to worry about a thing,” says Falso, 70. “I was a penny pincher. After getting the reverse mortgage, it’s just like somebody took a ton of bricks off my shoulders.”
During this economic crisis, seniors facing shrinking retirement investments or foreclosure may be exploring reverse mortgages. Reverse mortgages can save some from foreclosure, and they may be a long-term solution for those who struggle to pay bills.
But each individual should explore all financial options in consultation with a HUD-certified credit counselor and a family member or advisor whom they know and trust.
If seniors have a large mortgage and little equity, a reverse mortgage can forestall a foreclosure in the short term, but if they have nothing left over after paying off the mortgage, they may still lose their home, says Jeffrey Taylor, a vice president with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
“If you’re going to use the reverse mortgage to pay off debt, you better be sure you have other income to pay taxes and insurance,” he says.
Reverse mortgages, which have been around for 20 years, allow seniors to access their home’s equity while living in their homes. Homeowners 62 and older are eligible for reverse mortgages if the house is their primary residence. Those who take out a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-backed reverse mortgage are required to receive consumer counseling from a HUD-approved counselor: the counseling is usually free or offered for a modest fee.
Borrowers choose to take the cash in a lump sum, as a line of credit, in monthly payments or as a combination of these options. Seniors do not have to pay the loan back until they move out or sell their home.
Those who already have a reverse mortgage needn’t worry about declining real-estate values. The loan amount is based on the home’s appraised value at the time of closing, so even if the home’s value drops below the amount of the loan, seniors can remain in their home, says Denise Hubbard, a reverse mortgage specialist with Mortgage Network, Inc.
“If the home should depreciate in the future, it would only affect how much equity remains when the borrower sells, and this is where the HUD mortgage insurance comes in,” says Hubbard. “It in no way affects any monthly payment they receive or their line of credit.”
Late last year, the federal government lowered the fees paid by seniors and raised the amount that seniors can borrow against their houses.
Prior to the change, the maximum allowable loan limit varied by region, with more costly areas such as California having higher borrowing limits than states like Alabama. So borrowers with homes of equal value were allowed different-size mortgages, depending upon where they lived, says Meg Burns, director of the HUD office that oversees reverse mortgages.
The new national limit for a reverse mortgage is $417,000 in the continental United States and $625,500 in Alaska and Hawaii.
The amount of equity that a home-owner is entitled to under the program is calculated based on the home’s value, the lending limit, the senior’s age, and interest rates. If there is a mortgage, outstanding tax bills, or liens on the home, they have to be paid with reverse mortgage proceeds first.
The new law also imposed a $6,000 cap on origination fees. Now, lenders can charge 2 percent for the first $200,000 of loan value and 1 percent of any additional loan value. Consumers are still charged 2 percent for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insurance. These fees are paid when the home is sold. Lenders are required to disclose all fees in writing.
With traditional mortgages, the origination fee is sometimes charged to consumers in the form of a higher interest rate, so the consumer doesn’t see the full origination fee, Burns says. “There’s a misconception that a reverse mortgage is substantially more expensive than a forward mortgage,” she says.
Reverse mortgage specialists invest more than twice as much time in each customer, she adds.
Denise Hubbard, who has sold reverse mortgages for 15 years, often spends months with a customer who ultimately decides it’s not for them. “It’s a labor-intensive program,” says Hubbard, of Laconia, New Hampshire. “For those who have been in it as long as we have, it is a labor of love.”
But like any occupation, there are a few who tarnish everyone’s image. The new law adds regulations intended to help protect seniors from unscrupulous salespeople.
Historically, some predatory lenders sold seniors other financial products, such as annuities, that they didn’t need. The new law doesn’t fully protect seniors, says Peter H. Bell, president of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. “It doesn’t stop informal collaboration of two different individuals from two separate companies.”
Cautions Burns, “Never borrow money to invest in something else.”
How It Works
When a senior applies for a reverse mortgage, the first step is education because these mortgages are more complex than traditional mortgages. Seniors’ income and credit scores are not factors in determining whether they can get a reverse mortgage.
Seniors are encouraged to discuss the concept with spouses, adult children, financial advisors, and lawyers, says Bruce McClary, a certified financial specialist with ClearPoint Financial Solutions.
“There are a number of options you should look at before you go into a reverse mortgage,” McClary says. “It should not be done hastily.”
The next step is meeting with a counselor. There, McClary says, the consumer should disclose his or her entire financial picture. A reverse mortgage is considered an option for those facing long-term budgetary strain, but generally not for someone with a short-term need. (However, seniors with terminal illnesses have used reverse mortgages to pay for in-home care so they can die at home.)
Consumers may want to consider liquidating other assets before choosing a reverse mortgage. “It is a last resort,” he says.
On the other hand, says Taylor, from Wells Fargo, with the stock market at record lows, seniors may not want to sell stocks to pay the taxes or fix the roof.
Steve Boland, who directs Bank of America’s reverse mortgage business, says each case is different, and seniors should explore all their options. “Our job is to advise that this definitely isn’t for everyone,” he says.
While more than 90 percent of reverse mortgages are HUD-sponsored, Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) loans, some are not. HECMs, which are seniors’ safest option, are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is part of HUD.
Seniors are encouraged to shop around for a lender. Reverse mortgage lenders who are members of NRMLA, the trade association, agree to ethics and professional standards, says Bell.
Many of those who get a reverse mortgage are like Mary Falso, who is divorced and has no living children. They have enough in their retirement savings to live on, but they worry that they won’t have enough saved if something goes wrong, so they avoid travel or deny themselves simple pleasures like taking their grandchildren out for ice cream and buying flowers for their yard.
“That’s the nice thing,” she says. “When friends invite her out, now I can say okay.”
When Not to Get a Reverse Mortgage
While each individual’s circumstances are different, experts agree a reverse mortgage is ill-advised if seniors are getting it for the following reasons.
* To loan another person money.
* To start a business or help someone else start a business.
* To invest in the stock market, gamble, or purchase risky financial products.
* When the financial need is short term and temporary.
* When you have other assets that you can liquidate if you need funds.
* If you only plan to stay in the home for three years or less.
To gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of how reverse mortgages work and to help you decide if the financial option works for you, visit the following websites for more information.
• Go to hud.gov and search for “reverse mortgages” or call 1-800-CALLFHA
• Go to www.nrmla.org, the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association
• Go to aarp.org and use their Reverse Mortgage Calculator to help determine how much cash you could get.
It’s a sultry afternoon in Dallas, Texas, and T. Boone Pickens, the legendary oil wildcatter, is sitting in his boardroom, staring at a television screen, watching a cable news commentator tell his viewers that America must drill for more oil offshore and in Alaska. “We have to get to every drop of our own oil that we can,” the commentator declares. “Otherwise, we’re in real trouble.”
“Come on,” Boone snaps, tossing a pen on the table. “Has that guy not been listening? Does he still really think some more drilling is the answer?”
What? An oilman decrying oil? You would think that a man who made several fortunes in the oil business (and whose net worth today he estimates at close to $4 billion) would always be found singing the praises of black gold. Yet since last May, Pickens has been mounting a fierce national campaign to convince us that it’s time to rely on other sources of energy. You’ve no doubt seen his network television commercials in which he claims that the country can no longer afford, at a cost of $700 billion a year, to import 70 percent of the 21 million barrels of oil it uses every day. You’ve also probably heard him say that there is not enough oil left in the United States to solve our energy needs. (“We cannot drill our way out of this problem no matter where we decide to drill,” he loves to say.)
What is perhaps most surprising, however, is Pickens’ audacious plan to create more new domestic energy sources. The Pickens Plan, as it is now known, calls for Congress and the next presidential administration to spur businesses to build giant wind farms in what he calls “the wind belt”: the enormous corridor that extends the length of the Great Plains from Texas to the Canadian border. He wants the wind power that will come from those farms to replace the natural gas that we now use to make electricity. (About 22 percent of America’s electricity each year comes from natural gas; the other 70 percent comes from coal and nuclear power, and the rest comes from other smaller sources.) He then wants to use the freed-up natural gas to be used to power our automobiles.
Such a move, Pickens asserts, would replace more than one third of our foreign oil imports, saving us close to $300 billion a year. “And we can do it in ten years,” he says. “All we have to do is get our government’s leaders behind the plan. We need to get them to provide tax incentives to all the companies that want to do wind energy, or build automobiles that can run on natural gas, or re-do their gas stations so that they actually provide natural gas instead of just gasoline.”
To that end, Pickens says he and his followers (so far, more than one million citizens have gone to his website, pickensplan.com, to sign up for what he calls the New Energy Army) are going to descend on Washington within the first one hundred days of the new Barack Obama administration and hold a major demonstration demanding the adoption of the Pickens Plan. “Every president since Richard Nixon has said, ‘Vote for me, and we’ll be energy independent,’ but not one of them has done a damn thing about it,” growls Pickens. “Well, that’s about to change.”
Pickens is so convinced his plan will work that he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Earlier this year, he started work on what he calls “the biggest deal” of his career: the construction of the world’s largest wind energy farm, containing as many as 2,000 wind turbines spread over four Texas Panhandle counties that, when completed, will cost $10 billion and will generate enough electricity to power more than 1.3 million homes. He’s also the majority stockholder and board member of California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp., North America’s largest provider of vehicular natural gas.
But for all of Pickens’ enthusiasm, is it realistic to believe the country will make such a wholesale change in its energy policy? Can the federal government really do enough to promote more wind energy and more natural gas automobiles? And even if the Pickens Plan is enacted, will it work? Will it come close to solving our energy problems? Or should we be turning to other energy sources such as nuclear and solar power, or perhaps electric cars?
Here is what Pickens, and other experts, have to say:
Pickens is indeed born and bred in oil. Raised in the Oklahoma oil patch (his father was a landman), he immediately went to work as an oilfield geologist after his graduation from Oklahoma State University in 1951 and started his own exploration and production company a few years later. But he has no illusions abut the oil business. “There’s always a declining production curve with oil,” he says. “No matter how big of an oil field you find, it gradually depletes. That’s why I like wind. It’s not only clean and renewable, it never declines. The wind never stops blowing.”
So far, wind produces still only a little over 1 percent of the country’s total amount of energy. The Department of Energy claims the U.S. has the capacity to produce wind power in 45 states, easily enough to generate at least 20 percent of our nation’s power. One 3-megawatt wind turbine, which stands 410 feet tall, with blades that stretch 148 feet in length, can produce the same amount of annual energy as 12,000 barrels of imported oil. What’s more, those turbines produce no air or water pollution and do not interfere with land use.
And as a side benefit, construction of wind farms would yield billions of dollars’ worth of economic development to the country’s stressed rural economy, creating thousands of jobs and bringing more income to farmers who lease their land to their new wind-energy partners. But the wind doesn’t blow 24 hours a day. Nor can power generated by wind be stored. That means electric companies that buy wind energy will always need backup sources of power to fill in the gaps when the wind does not blow.
The most daunting challenge, however, centers on the fundamental question of how customers will actually get the electricity generated by the wind turbines. For the Pickens Plan to succeed, the U.S. transmission grid will need to be overhauled. Thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars (and maybe more), will have to be built to carry the electricity from turbines clustered on the prairies in America’s heartland to distant cities, where the electricity is most needed.
Pickens is undeterred. “What we need is a commitment among our leaders that’s equal to the Eisenhower administration’s commitment to constructing the Interstate Highway system,” he says. “We came together to get our interstates built. And we can come together to get a wind energy system in place.”
Prior to Pickens’ advertising campaign, many Americans had no idea that vehicles could be retrofitted to run on compressed natural gas, or CNG. Now, just about everyone has heard the statistics: the price of natural gas as an automotive fuel is not only half that of gasoline, it burns much cleaner, releasing one-third fewer carbon gas emissions than gasoline. “The best thing of all is that all the natural gas we need can be found right here, not over in the Mideast,” Pickens says. “How can you beat that?”
There are more than 8.7 million natural gas vehicles operating worldwide, yet only 120,000 of them are in the United States. And almost all of those are heavy-duty buses and trucks. Automakers certainly know how to build natural gas cars: the Honda Civic GX (which Pickens often drives these days) is rated as the cleanest internal-combustion vehicle in the world. But the reason you don’t see many of these cars, of course, is because there are very few places to fill them up. Only 1,600 natural gas stations are scattered throughout the country.
Clearly, an entirely new infrastructure has to be built to get natural gas cars on the road. Pickens wants the federal government to offer tax credits and other incentives to gas stations that would offer natural gas as a fuel, and he also wants tax breaks to automakers to build the cars that would run on it. Without waiting for government action, his Clean Energy Fuels is building 35 to 40 filling stations across the country. Recently, the company purchased a Toronto firm that sells a home fueling device which lets people gas up at home via a natural gas line (sort of the way an outdoor barbeque is connected to the home’s natural gas line). But it’s expensive: the machine costs about $5,500, including installation ($1,500) and shipping ($200).
There is also the question of just what would happen to the price of natural gas if the Pickens Plan were enacted. Some experts believe that a larger demand for gas would cause the price to climb—and the price increase would inevitably be passed on to those who use natural gas to heat their homes.
Pickens acknowledges gas prices would rise to some degree, but he says with the recent discoveries of huge natural gas shale fields around the country, the rise would not be significant—certainly not compared to the way the price of oil is going to rise. “It’s not just us but countries like China and India that are demanding more and more oil, which means the price of oil is destined to rise. If we maintain the status quo and come up with no other plan, we’ll inevitably see the price hit $200 a barrel, which means America will be spending $1 trillion a year for our foreign oil exports. I sure as hell would rather have that money circulating in our economy than in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.”
OTHER ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES
Although the Pickens Plan focuses on wind and natural gas, Pickens is hardly averse to the country using other renewable energy sources. “I’ll take just about anything as long as it gets us off foreign oil,” he says.
Here’s his take on some of the other alternatives:
Solar: Boone believes more solar energy plants should be built in the southwest, which he calls the “solar corridor.” Solar energy, he says, has all the benefits of wind energy: it’s constantly renewable. But it has the same problems. For one, a whole new system of transmission lines would have to be built to get the electricity from the southwest to the cities. Pickens believes the government’s focus should first be on a wind program—(studies do conclude that wind turbines can produce more electricity than solar panes)—and then later build a strong solar program.
Nuclear: The 104 nuclear power plants now operating in this country supply nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. During the presidential campaign, the centerpiece of John McCain’s energy plan was the construction of 45 more nuclear plants by the year 2030 at a cost of between $6 to $7 billion per plant. He called nuclear power “safe and clean, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
There is no question that nuclear energy is one of the best ways to minimize serious harm from global warming that comes with the large amount of carbon emissions due to burning fossil fuels. Pickens says he supports nuclear power, but he does say the government needs to be certain it knows what to do with the radioactive waste it produces. (Scientists are split about the safety of the present nuclear-waste disposal plan: burying it deep in a mountain in Nevada.) He adds, “A nuclear plant can’t run a car or an 18-wheeler.” His point: nuclear power only provides electricity. If there is no additional plan to get rid of our oil addiction, he says, “then we are just spinning our wheels.”
Ethanol: Pickens is not wild about ethanol, a gasoline substitute made from corn. He says if we distilled our nation’s entire corn crop into ethanol, the fuel produced would displace less than a sixth of the gasoline we currently guzzle. As for other biofuels on the market, he points out that they produce only 85 percent of the energy of gasoline, require retrofitting car engines, and are incompatible with existing oil pipelines, meaning they would be almost impossible to move around the country. “A natural gas car is so much more efficient,” he says.
Electric Cars: Pickens does not deny that automobiles powered by electric batteries could radically transform the use of oil in the United States. In fact, automakers are working hard to improve battery and electric drive technologies. Chevrolet promises that its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid will be in showrooms in the fall of 2010 (at a cost of $40,000 each). Another company—A123 Systems—will soon be supplying plug-in retrofit kits for the Toyota Prius hybrid that will enable the cars to run solely on electricity for 40 miles and increase gas mileage to 100 miles per gallon.
But Pickens argues the country “still has a long way to go” before the highways are full of electric cars. He notes that Barack Obama’s goal during the presidential campaign was to get one million plug-in hybrids on the road in ten years. “That’s a drop in the bucket, considering that we’ve got 250 million vehicles in America,” Pickens notes. “With the right government incentives, we can start putting more natural gas cars on the road today.”
Pickens is very aware that critics claim he is pushing wind energy and natural gas vehicles only because he has a monetary interest in seeing them succeed. And yes, he admits, he does want his projects to make a profit. “But I want to make money so that other entrepreneurs will realize they can make money doing the same thing,” he says. “Come on, I’m eighty years old. I’ve got more money than I’ll ever need. I’m pushing the Pickens Plan because it’s the right thing to do for this country. No, my plan is not perfect, but at least it’s a plan. And right now, this country has no plan.”
In the past few months, as the world financial system has unraveled and a steep drop in oil prices has eased the public’s alarm about energy costs, Pickens has found it more difficult to keep the Pickens Plan in the spotlight. But he insists he is not letting up. He is spending an average of five days a week on his jet, crisscrossing the country, meeting with everyone from top political leaders to college students, warning them of the crisis that is on its way.
“The bottom line is that total global production of oil is at 85 million barrels a day; total global demand is now hitting 87 million barrels a day, and we can’t make up the difference,” he says. “It’s frightening—I mean, flat-out scary. Is that what we really want for our future? Is that what we really want?”
It’s been a “surprising ride” for the seasoned Olympian, who at 41 is living proof that there’s no age limit on dreams.
It is a balmy fall day just a few weeks post-Beijing Olympics. Inside the historic Hilton Hotel on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, guests and fans are swirling in a frantic frenzy like worker bees preparing the hive for its queen.
Milling around the hallways are the biggest and best names of last summer’s Olympic games: NBA’s Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and WBNA’s Lisa Leslie; pitcher Jennie Finch; decathlete Bryan Clay; volleyball queens Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh; swimmers like Jason Lezak and Aaron Peirsol; tae kwon do’s Steven Lopez and Mark Lopez; and the women’s water polo team. The excess of athletic star power is the result of Oprah’s season kickoff show at the nearby Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Of the more than 150 athletes brought in for the show, most have ended up here.
Included in the mix is 41-year-old Dara Torres, the record-setting five-time Olympic athlete who made news for competing in the 2008 Olympics as the oldest swimmer in the history of the games. Torres stands nearly six-feet tall. Her striking pixie-cut hair, megawatt smile, and toned frame are the essence of athletic power. Her left wrist and hand are bandaged in a brace — the result of her smashing her hand into the pool wall during one of her three silver-medal races where she tried to out-touch her nearest competitor, Germany’s Britta Steffen, in the 50-meter freestyle, only to lose by 1/100th of a second.
“I was bummed I lost by a fingernail,” she says. “But it was just an awesome feeling to be back there, having that adrenaline rush to be competing and racing the best in the world.”
At this particular moment, Torres is concerned about getting a table at the now-packed Pavilion, a casual hotel-based restaurant that has a long line trailing into the hallway. With Torres is a posse of friends and trainers, including Anne Tierney, one of Dara’s two personal stretchers. Our group is told there aren’t any available tables. Taking control of the situation, Torres wanders through the restaurant. Seeing a few empty spots, she returns and implores the hostess to combine a few tables. Within a minute or two, we are seated.
Torres starts scanning the menu. Around her neck are two chains she wears for good luck when traveling. On one is a pair of her father’s World War II dog tags. The other — a necklace with an angel — is a good luck charm.
“All I ate while I was in China was McDonald’s,” Torres says with a laugh while ordering a sandwich with fries.
These days, Torres is concerned with being a mother to her 2½-year-old, Tessa Grace, and trying to make a living through post-Olympic endorsements.
“You just have to find a balance, like any working mom,” she says. “At first it was hard. My biggest fear was doing my training and being away from my daughter. You just have to realize you have to do your thing and also be a mother.”
The fifth of six children and oldest of two girls, Torres spent her youth in California. As a Beverly Hills teenager, she attended Westlake, a private girls’ school in Los Angeles. A self-proclaimed tomboy, Torres ran around in tube socks playing soccer with her older brothers. Years later, she earned 28 All-American swimming honors at the University of Florida.
She competed in her first Olympics in 1984 at the age of 17, followed by stints in 1988, 1992 and 2000. It was after her third Olympics that Torres became the first athlete model in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She also spent time swimming with sharks and jumping out of planes while hosting “Extreme Step,” a segment of the Discovery Channel’s former science and technology show The Next Stop.
After a seven year-drought from competitive swimming, Torres started training for the Olympics in the spring of 1999. In five months, she dropped her time to best the previous world record she’d set in the 50-meter freestyle more than 15 years earlier. At the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Torres, then a 33-year-old, competed as the then-oldest member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, winning five medals — three individual bronze and two golds on relays. Befitting her past, Torres took time off once again, opting to commentate for NBC at the 2004 games in Athens, instead of being in the pool.
“You have to do it when you are ready,” she says. “At that time, I was glad I wasn’t swimming.”
Torres was taking time off from swimming when, after struggling to have a baby, she became pregnant. Torres and her partner, David Hoffman, gave birth to their daughter in April 2006. Torres didn’t waste any time trying to get back into shape. Her well-documented comeback started just hours after giving birth.
“I was a little too embarrassed to ask before I gave birth,” Torres says.
But Torres says she promised one of her coaches she would swim a week and a half later, to help him garner publicity for a meet. Lying in the hospital with her newborn daughter, Torres stopped the doctor after he congratulated her.
“He started to leave, and I grabbed his white lab coat,” she says.
After telling him she wanted to work out again, Torres says he told her she could go to the weight room the next day but would have to wait six weeks to do anything aerobic. But when she ran into her doctor in the gym a week and a half later, he told her she could start swimming again.
Now, Torres spends much of her time at her home in Parkland, Florida. Her daughter enjoys watching Torres swim — even if it means Torres’ friends rewind their TiVo many times over.
“She says, ‘Oh I want to watch Mommy on TV. Play it again, play it again,’” Torres says.
As for the medals, at first Torres’ daughter didn’t want anything to do with them.
“Because she’d say, ‘Those are Mommy’s,’ but then when I started showing them to other people, she started taking them and putting them on herself,” Torres says with a laugh.
Torres says the 2012 Olympics in London are a possibility, but it also depends on how her body handles the next few years. At the time of this interview, Torres was one week post-shoulder surgery to correct a rotator cuff problem that has bothered her since 2000. She also had knee surgery last year and a bone spur removed from her shoulder. Still Torres plans on continuing to swim.
Torres’ key to keeping fit is working her core, especially her abdominals. With her trainers, Tierney and Steve Sierra, Torres recently released a workout video — Resistance Stretching — the cover photo shot in Torres’ daughter’s playroom. The video gives useful tips on increasing flexibility and strength while removing muscle tension.
“She resists while we stretch her,” says Tierney, who has trained other Olympians like gymnast Nastia Liukin. “It’s not like she is just lying there. She is kicking down as we are taking her leg above her head, so she’s working the entire time. It’s about creating strength in your entire range of motion.”
Torres, despite all of her success, is still amazed by all the attention she’s received, calling it a “surprising ride.”
“I’m so used to kids coming up and asking me for autographs, and now I have middle-aged people coming up to talk to me,” she says. “I like hearing their stories. I hope what I’ve done has helped inspire other people to do things they thought they were too old to do.”
Emerson testified to the art gallery in the skies. Now, a group of cloud-watchers seek to share the magnificence found above.
Walk down a busy street. If most of the people passing by you had their heads tilted back staring up at the clouds, what would you think — that you were dreaming or that Martians were landing? The scenario seems unlikely in our pent-up present-day world, yet more people are taking the time to gaze upwards at nature’s magnificent displays in the sky.
A growing movement — nurtured by the Internet — now focuses attention on the upper skies and their curious, ever-changing daytime formations.
“I call it cloud consciousness,” says Jack Borden, a former Boston TV reporter who has made cloud watching and its promotion his primary passion for several decades. His For Spacious Skies organization helps promote “sky awareness” to young people through school projects.
Thirty years ago, Borden walked down an Arlington, Massachusetts, street, microphone in hand, stopping people, putting his hand over their eyes visor-style, and asking them to describe the sky. Not one mentioned the big puffy clouds drifting across the deep-blue background. “They didn’t even know if there were any clouds,” he says.
Borden’s reporting brought an outpouring of calls and letters from viewers whose sky awareness had been aroused. Area teachers became excited about sky watching and began building lessons around sky field trips to view what Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted to be the ultimate art gallery just above. The new experience seemed to stimulate learning. “The teachers were amazed at how it improved scholarship,” says Borden, who left reporting and started his nonprofit organization. His group was behind the series of cloud stamps issued a few years ago by the U.S. Postal Service.
Gavin Pretor-Pinney, an English author and cloud advocate, has connected thousands of closet cloud watchers on his Cloud Appreciation Society Internet site.
The site is filled with more than four thousand gorgeous cloud photos of every classification and type snapped from every corner of the globe — even some from outer space, via cloud-spotting NASA astronauts.
“Maybe you can’t travel to all these places, but you can see the clouds over their skies,” says Pretor-Pinney. He’s thought about, but is not sure how to make, international cloud watching done in real time, though he thinks some day it may happen.
All the wonder above us begs the question of why most people relate to the sky and clouds simply as a kind of visual Muzak, unable to focus on some of nature’s most sublime free entertainment.
“Paying attention is a habit,” Borden explains, “and people are just not in the habit of seeing clouds as something relevant to their lives. Others tell them the weather, and most folks don’t seem to care any further.”
But for people who do take it further, there’s a wonder and pleasure that come only from looking upwards and really seeing the water droplets and air interplay in unending formations and movements in the atmosphere.
“Having a link with something that moves in such an eternal and graceful way slows you down,” says Pretor-Pinney. “And so I say spending time with your head in the clouds makes you a bit more grounded.”
- The various colors of clouds can tell you what may be going on inside them. Clouds arise when water vapor in the air cools and condenses into micro-droplets. When the particles of water are densely packed, they reflect sunlight, giving a cloud its characteristic white color.
- As a cloud grows, its water droplets combine to produce larger droplets, causing the space between the droplets to enlarge as well and allowing light to penetrate. The more light that penetrates and is not reflected back, the grayer the cloud becomes. Thus grayer clouds may indicate rain.
- Bluish-gray clouds occur because blue and green light, at the short end of the visible spectrum, are more easily scattered by water droplets, while long wavelengths (red and yellow) are absorbed. The bluish color indicates rain-sized droplets in the cloud.
- A greenish hue appears when sunlight is scattered by ice. When a cumulonimbus cloud turns green, heavy rain, hail, strong winds, and tornadoes may be imminent.
- Yellowish clouds are rare and occur primarily during forest fire season. The yellow indicates the presence of smoke.
- Pink, orange, and red clouds are seen only at sunrise or sunset, the result of clouds reflecting the unscattered long rays of sunlight during those hours.
Sky Watch and Be Mindful
Do you know what the clouds looked like today? Here in Los Angeles County at dusk, long sheets of cirrus clouds streaked down the center of a mulberry-lit sky. Gorgeous. As I walked this evening—as I do every evening—I watched and did not see one person look or glance up at the sky. We live in a stunning world. What a shame to flash by it on a regular basis. Three things on this planet anchor us to the fact that we’re basically wind-swept flecks in an unhurried cosmos: the ocean, the mountains, and the celestial patterns in the sky. This most certainly includes clouds.
And while not everyone is lucky enough to have a view of the mountains or the sea, everyone gets an equal opportunity to look at the sky, 24/7, for free. Bill Gates and the poorest man standing near him see the exact same cloud formations above their heads.
Now if you were one of those kids who loved to lie on your back and stare for hours at the clouds making strange shapes, try to revive some of that youngster in you. Unfortunately, for most people over the age of ten, sky-watching probably falls in the “Don’t you have something better to do!” category. Try and ignore this.
The most powerful way I know to shift your “cloud awareness” is to take mindful note of the sky every day by jotting down the sky’s cloud formations for a month or more in your journal. If you don’t have a journal, start a cloud journal—or scribble the formations down on stray sheets of paper and keep them in a pile.
Myself, I’ve kept sporadic track of clouds for decades, and what I’ll ever do with the knowledge that on Sep-tember 15, 1982, the sky over Los Angeles was filled with extraordinary pink cumulus clouds at sunset, I’m not sure. But I do believe, in some way, that my taking notice has elevated my life.
Cloud Watching on the Web
Visit the following excellent websites to connect with other cloud lovers.
Website devoted to cloud photography. Colorado photographer Gregory Thompson, an atmospheric scientist and meteorologist, displays breathtaking photos, including many rarer clouds, such as rotor, mammatus and Kelvin-Helmholtz wave clouds. Also offers excellent tips on cloud and sky photography.
Imaginative fans of clouds-that-look-like-things will want to check out the Environmental Graffiti website. Featuring what it calls the “30 Creepiest Clouds on Earth,” including cloudy famous faces [Bette Davis] and figures [cross-legged demons], cloud animals [Energizer Bunny] and various bizarre shapes [smoke angels and ET’s pointing finger]. Great fun—and what the kid in all of us adores about cloud humor.
In his warm, witty, and utterly candid autobiography, first published in 1960, the beloved artist offered Post readers a glimpse into his life and the often mischievous world around him.
When I was ten years old, a skinny kid with a long neck and narrow shoulders, I wanted to be a weight lifter. So I began a program of exercises to strengthen myself. Every morning I would do pushups, deep knee bends, jumping jacks, and the like before my bedroom mirror. After a month or so, unable to detect any improvement, I gave up. Instead of becoming a weight lifter, I decided to fall back on what seemed to be my only talent — drawing. And here I am, 56 years later, still drawing.
Every so often, usually when I’m having trouble with a picture, I spread on my studio floor reproductions of the 306 Post covers I have painted since 1916, walk around them, and try to decide whether my work has progressed through all those years. If it hasn’t, I say to myself, I’m washed up.
I never seem able to decide whether my work has improved, because my memories keep intruding. Looking at all those covers, I recall their history: the models I used, the trouble I had getting the original idea, how the public reacted. Everything I have ever seen or done has gone into my pictures in one way or another. The story of my life is really the story of my pictures and how I made them.
There was my uncle, Gil Waughlum, for example, a well-to-do elderly gentleman, who in his youth had been something of a scientist and inventor. It was always told with pride in my family that Uncle Gil, in the course of one of his experiments, had flown the great Gil Waughlum kite from a tower on Washington Square in New York. I don’t know what the experiment proved — something to do with Benjamin Franklin and electricity, I believe — but it was important, for in their day Gil Waughlum and the great Gil Waughlum kite were well known.
When I knew him he had given up science. A stout old gentleman with pink cheeks and a bald head, he was always giggling and nudging my brother Jarvis and me to make sure we were properly merry. Whenever I think of him, I’m reminded of Mister Dick, the kindly, gay simpleton who was Betsey Trotwood’s companion in Dickens’ David Copperfield. I don’t mean that Uncle Gil was a simpleton. He wasn’t. But he had one eccentricity — he got holidays mixed up.
On Christmas Day, with snow on the ground, Uncle Gil would bring firecrackers to celebrate the Fourth of July. On Easter he would bring us Christmas gifts; on Thanksgiving, chocolate rabbits. The next year we had firecrackers on my birthday and chocolate rabbits for Christmas. We never knew what to expect. I always wondered where he got firecrackers in December or Christmas cards in April. But I guess the merchants in Yonkers, his hometown, understood his problem.
He always sneaked into the house and hid our gifts — under pillows, behind the couch in the parlor, in dresser drawers — so that we might have the fun of a treasure hunt. I remember him shouting, “Warm. Norman, warm!” as I approached a hidden present, and “Hurrah!” when I found it. In 1936, when I painted a Post cover of a small boy searching the pockets of his grandfather’s overcoat for a gift, I was really painting Uncle Gil.
Of course, I don’t claim to have put on canvas 66 years’ worth of people, places, and events. Rather, I store up things in my mind, and when I need something for a picture—a feeling, a character, a wry smile—there it is. And I draw it out and paint it.
Whenever I want embarrassment, I think of the time I tried, and for several agonizing minutes failed, to lift a 250-pound soprano during a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. For rackety-bang confusion, I recall my early days as an illustrator, when my models were surly dogs, rambunctious children, and a cheerful duck. Whenever I want despair, I remember the time I was swindled out of $10,000. For chagrin I remember my flops — the affair of me and the seven movie stars; the United Nations picture I couldn’t bring off.
And for a mixture of embarrassment, confusion, despair, and chagrin I recall my dinner at the White House. Come to think of it, that dinner embraces vanity, exuberance, fright, and a wonderful, warm personality. It’s too complex to paint; it wouldn’t fit inside a frame.
It all began one sunny day in May 1955, when I received a note from President Eisenhower, inviting me to a stag dinner at the White House. I had painted his portrait in 1952, but I had never expected an invitation to dinner. Overcome with delight and anxiety, I posted my acceptance and hurried to the attic to dig out my tuxedo. As I pulled it from a steamer trunk, a cloud of moths flew up. The sleeves were tattered, the seat ragged, the lapels threadbare. Hastening to a local haberdasher for a replacement, I was shown a midnight blue jacket with lapels dropping in a fat, glittering curve to the waist. I thought it looked cheap.
“You’re sure it’s fashionable?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” said the clerk, “midnight blue, shawl collar — that’s the latest.” So, in spite of my misgivings, I bought it.
That wasn’t the end of my preparations. I expected to be nervous, even scared, at the dinner. Suppose my mouth dried up and I was unable to speak? What then? I thought. Why, you’ll be ashamed of yourself. (“Hello,” says the President — “Gargle,” say I.)
I visited the office of my friend, Dr. Donald Campbell. Could medical science help me? It could. Doctor Campbell handed me a tranquilizer pill. “Take it 20 minutes before you go to the White House,” he said, “and you won’t be afraid of a thing, Norman. It obliterates apprehension, tension, and dread.”
Armed with my pill (pea green) and my tuxedo (midnight blue) I went to Washington, confident that I was bulwarked against catastrophe. On arriving at my hotel I inquired how long it took to drive to the White House. Then I went to my room and worked out a schedule. At 6:30, exactly one hour before the dinner, I gave my tuxedo to the valet to press. At 7:00 he brought it back. As I fumbled for a tip, I noticed him looking at the tuxedo queerly.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Nothing, sir, nothing,” he said, recovering the blank stare of valets waiting for a tip.
“The tux isn’t fashionable, is it?”
“Well, sir,” said the valet, “I might say that I have never seen that particular shade of blue before.”
When he had left, I stared morosely at my reflection in the shiny lapels of the tuxedo. Patting the pillbox in my coat pocket, I thought, At least you’ve got that; you may look like a fool, but you’ll feel like Grant at Appomattox.
I went into the bathroom, drew a glass of water, and shook the pill out of its box into my hand. It fell on its edge, rolled into the sink, and went down the drain.
“In 15 years,” I said out loud, “I’ll laugh at that.” Stunned, I went into the bedroom, put on my extraordinary tux, tied my tie, and went downstairs.
As I reached the taxi stand outside the hotel, a battered old cab chugged up, clanking and rattling. At the wheel was a stout, middle-aged woman with a chauffeur’s cap cocked over one eye. The doorman waved her away, but I signaled her to stop, feeling that we two, the cab and I, victims of adversity, should stick together.
“The White House,” I said.
“My land!” she exploded heartily. “You going to the White House? Whatta you going to do there?”
“I’m going to dinner,” I said, cheered by this onslaught of good nature.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never taken nobody to the White House before. I’ll get ya there in five minutes flat.” The cab leaped forward with a roar like a wounded rhinoceros.
“Wait!” I said. “I don’t want to be early. We’d better go to the White House and then drive back and forth in front of it until the dot of 7:30.”
“O.K., mister,” she said.
While we were cruising up and down Pennsylvania Avenue she asked, “What’s your name? You famous?”
“I do covers for The Saturday Evening Post,” I said. “My name’s Norman Rockwell.”
“Are you scared?”
“Yes,” I said, studying my watch. “Get ready now. It’s almost time…. Now!”
We turned into the White House gate and jolted to a stop. The guards checked my invitation. Continuing up the drive, we waited while a chauffeur helped a gentleman out of a limousine. A crowd of Secret Service men and other functionaries were standing at the entrance. I paid my fare and started up the steps. “Hey, Mr. Rockwell,” boomed a voice behind me. I turned around. The cab driver was waving at me. “Good luck, Mr. Rockwell!” she shouted. “Good luck!” The Secret Service men laughed. I waved back. “Thanks,” I called.
A secretary ushered me upstairs and into a sitting room. I almost panicked as I crossed the threshold, for all the tuxedoes were black, with dull lapels. A minute later President Eisenhower greeted me warmly, and I felt right at home.
Then the President, raising his voice a trifle, explained to all of us that his stag dinners are informal get-togethers; he hoped we would not talk to the press about the dinner. So I will only say that I had a fine, easy time and enjoyed myself very much.
After leaving the President, as we were standing on the steps of the White House, we sounded like a bunch of kids discussing the high school football hero. A secretary had told us that our evening had lasted one-half hour longer than any of the President’s other informal evenings. We were delighted and flattered, which shows how President Eisenhower affects people. You just can’t help liking him.
I have one dark confession to make. Before each place at the dinner table was a small jackknife, a gift from the President to each guest. There was no inscription on the knife, however, so I went to a jeweler’s in New York the next day and asked to have “From DDE to NR” engraved on the knife. During the next few months, whenever I took out my knife, always being careful to show the inscription, people would say, “DDE? Is that President Eisenhower? Where’d you get that knife?” So I’d get a chance to describe my evening at the White House. Ah, vanity, vanity, thy name is Norman!
I sometimes wonder why I was so nervous at the prospect of dining at the White House. After all, I’m no pink-cheeked innocent. Still, I have a rather simple view of life. To me, a President is an awe-inspiring figure. I can’t be as cool as a clam at the prospect of dining at the White House.
And then I have a mercurial temperament. When that pill rolled down the drain, my spirits followed. The same sort of thing happens with my work. When the art critics call me “cornball” and my work “kitsch,” which I’m told is a derogatory term for popular art, I begin to worry. But I always pick up my brushes and go back to work. For better or for worse, I’ll never be a fine arts painter or a modern artist. I’m an illustrator, which is very different.
The modern artist and the fine arts painter have only to satisfy themselves. The illustrator must satisfy his client as well as himself. He must express a specific idea so that everybody will understand it. He must meet deadlines. The proportions of the picture must always fit the proportions of the magazine.
Ten or fifteen years ago a Bohemian art student — beard, long hair, sandals — kept hanging around a studio I had rented in Provincetown, Massachusetts. One day he interrupted my work on a painting of Johnny Appleseed — an old man with an iron kettle on his head and a burlap sack for a coat, striding across a hilltop, flinging out handfuls of seed.
“Whatta ya do it that way for?” the art student asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Whyn’t ya do it with more feeling?” he said. “Like this.” He pulled some colored chalk out of his pocket and outlined a tall rectangle on a big piece of paper. “Now,” he said, filling in with light-brown chalk a shape like a hawk’s beak, “that’s old Johnny’s body. It was browned by the wind and sun. O.K.?”
I nodded, startled,
“O.K.,” he said, and above the hawk’s beak, which projected from the lower right corner, he divided the rectangle into a red area and a white area, each roughly triangular. “He was kind of a religious fanatic,” he said. “Right?”
I nodded dumbly.
“So the white’s his spirit,” he said, “and the red’s the physical part of him, and they’re contending, the physical and the spiritual.” He rubbed blue chalk over the area below the hawk’s beak — “That’s nature.”— made the base of the rectangle dark brown —“That’s earth.”— and drew a hand casting a seed, the arm coming out of the hawk’s beak.
“But,” I said when he’d finished, “nobody knows it’s Johnny Appleseed. Only you know it’s Johnny Appleseed. Nobody else can tell who it is.”
“So? What difference does it make about anybody else? I know it’s old Johnny. I’m painting it for myself. Who cares about the unwashed masses?”
“Besides,” I said, “your picture won’t fit into the book it’s supposed to appear in. The proportions are wrong. You’ve got it too tall.”
“So make the book tall,” he said.
All of which demonstrates, I think, that a modern artist or fine arts painter doesn’t go at a picture the same way an illustrator does. I believe strongly that a painting should communicate something to large numbers of people. So, according to some critics, my work is old-fashioned, trite, banal. This criticism worries me now and then, especially when a picture I’m trying to finish is going badly, but I’ve learned that I can’t change. I’m not a modern artist and never will be. I don’t see things the way modernists do, even though I enjoy studying their work. I’ve been an illustrator since I was 16 years old. I’m not particularly satisfied with my work — at least I’m always trying to improve it — but I believe in it.
It’s not that painting Post covers is easy. I haven’t been doing it for 43 years just because it was the simplest way to earn a living. It’s been darned difficult at times. Once I couldn’t finish a picture for six months; I almost went under that time. And there is a recurring crisis when I seek Post cover ideas.
During my first years as an illustrator, when I’d sit down in the evening to think up a batch of new ideas I’d feel all washed out, blank, nothing in my head but a low buzzing noise. I’d stare at the wall and doodle. One day, after I’d been aimlessly sketching and crumpling up sheets of paper for hours, I said to myself, This has got to stop; I can’t sit here and muse all day. So I figured out a system and used it for 20 years or so.
When I had run out of ideas, I’d eat a light meal, sharpen 20 pencils, and lay out a dozen pads of paper on the dining room table. Then I’d draw a lamppost (after a while I got to be the best lamppost artist in America). Then I’d draw a drunken sailor leaning on the lamppost. I’d think about the sailor. Did his girl marry someone else while he was at sea? He’s stranded in a foreign port without money? No. I’d think of the sailor patching his clothes on shipboard. That would remind me of a mother darning her little boy’s pants. Well, what did she find in the pocket? A top. A knife handle. A turtle — I’d sketch a turtle slouching slowly along to —
Slowly. That would make me think of a kid going to school. No, it’s been done. How about the kid in school? Of course, he hates school. Gazes out the window at his dog. I’d sketch that. The dog runs after a cat. Cat climbs a tree. Dog ambles about, looking for trouble. Sees an old bum stealing a pie from a kitchen window. Dog latches onto the seat of his pants. I’d sketch that. Bum escapes. Eats the pie. Sheriff collars bum. I’d sketch that. Bum to jail….
I’d keep this up for three or four hours, the rough drawings piling up on the floor. Then, worn out, I’d arrive at the absolute conviction that I was dried up, through, finished. So I’d go to bed, completely discouraged.
The next morning I’d be desperate. After pawing at my breakfast eggs for a few minutes, I’d push them away and drag myself out to the studio. What was I going to do? No ideas. I’d kick my trash bucket and suddenly, as it rolled bumpety-bump across the floor, an idea would come to me like a flash of lightning. I’d given my brain such a beating the night before that it was in a sensitive state. Pretty soon I’d have a Post cover.
Nowadays I don’t think up ideas in exactly the same way, but the process is just as nerve-racking. You’d think that by this time I would have thought up a simple, efficient system, but I haven’t. A good idea for a Post cover is hard to come by. I have to work for it. But a picture is worth any amount of bother. I cling to this belief in spite of the trouble it’s got me into. Further on I’ll tell about how I bought almost all the old clothes in Hannibal, Missouri, because of it. And why I’d be embarrassed if I met Stan Musial, Van Johnson, Loretta Young, or Lassie on the street.
It’s a marvel to me the situations I’ve got into and out of during my life. When I was 15 years old, I taught French and athletics at a private school, though I couldn’t speak a word of French or play a slow game of tiddlywinks. Later on, my life was complicated by impostors who committed practical jokes — even swindles — in my name. Compounding confusion, my name is sometimes mistaken for that of Rockwell Kent, the noted artist, writer, and left wing sympathizer. But all these stories are for later telling. Right now, I guess, I’d better begin at the beginning.
I was born on February 3, 1894, in a shabby brownstone-front house on 103rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue in New York City. My mother was an Anglophile — I wore a black arm band for six weeks after Queen Victoria died — and she named me after Sir Norman Perceval, an English ancestor who reputedly kicked Guy Fawkes down the stairs of the Tower of London after he had tried to blow up the House of Lords. The line from Sir Norman to me is tortuous but unbroken, and my mother insisted that I always sign my name Norman Perceval Rockwell.
“You have a valiant heritage,” she said. “Never allow anyone to intimidate you or make you feel the least bit inferior. There has never been a tradesman in your family. You are descended from artists and gentlemen.”
But I had the notion that Perceval was a sissy name. I darn near died when a boy called me “Mercy Percy”; to my relief, the name didn’t stick. When I left home I dropped the Perceval immediately, despite my mother’s protestations.
Until I was nine or ten years old, my family spent every summer in the country at various farms, which took in boarders. The grown ups played croquet, or sat in high slat-backed rockers on the front porch. We kids were left to do just about anything we wanted. We helped with the milking, fished, swam, trapped birds, cats, turtles, and snakes, smoked corn silk behind the barn, fell off horses and out of lofts — did everything, in fact, that country boys do, except complain about the drudgery and boredom of farm life.
Those summers, as I look back on them now, more than 50 years later, have become a collection of random impressions outside of time, not connected with a specific place or event, and all together forming an image of sheer bliss. I remember throwing off my shoes and socks to wiggle my bare toes in the cool green grass on our first day in the country, then running off gingerly over gravel road and hay stubble for a swim in the river. I remember the hayrides, all the boarders singing as the horses trotted along the dark country lanes; the excitement of eating lunch with the threshing crew at long board tables; hunting bullfrogs with a scrap of red silk tied to the end of a pole; the turtles and frogs we carried back to the city in the fall, snuffling and crying on the train because summer was over.
During the summer I lived an idealized version of the life of a farm boy in the late nineteenth century, and my memories of those days had a lot to do with what I painted later on. Every artist has his own way of looking at life, and this view affects the treatment of his subject matter. Coles Phillips and I used to use the same girl as a model. She was attractive, almost beautiful. In his paintings Coles Phillips made her sexy, sophisticated, and wickedly beautiful. When I painted her, she became a nice, sensible girl, wholesome and rather drab.
This view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly. I paint life as I would like it to be. Somebody once said that I paint the kind of girls your mother would want you to marry.
In 1951, for the Thanksgiving issue of the Post, I painted a cover showing an old woman and a small boy saying grace in a shabby railroad restaurant. The people around them were staring, some surprised, some puzzled, some remembering their own childhood; but all were respectful. If you actually saw such a scene, some of the staring people would have been indifferent, some insulting and rude, and perhaps a few would have been angry. But I didn’t see it that way. I just naturally made the people respectful.
Frederic Remington painted the romantic, glamorous aspects of the West — cowboys sitting around a campfire, an attack on a stagecoach. Any old-timer can tell you that life in the wild West was often dull. But Remington, who was born and reared in upstate New York, didn’t find drudgery and boredom out West. In the same way I missed the dullness of farm life. I doubt that I would have idealized the country if I had grown up as a farm boy.
Maybe as I grew up and found that the world wasn’t the perfectly pleasant place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided to compensate. So I painted only the ideal aspects of life — pictures in which there were no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers, in which, on the contrary, foxy grandpas played baseball with the kids and boys got up circuses in the back yard. If there were problems in this created world of mine, they were humorous problems. The people in my pictures aren’t mentally ill or deformed. The situations they get into are commonplace, everyday situations, not the agonizing crises and tangles of life.
The summers I spent in the country as a child became part of this idealized view of life. Of course, country people fit into my kind of picture better than city people. Their faces are more open and expressive, lacking the coldness of city faces. I guess I had a bad case of the American nostalgia for the clean, simple country life, as opposed to the complicated world of a city.
Then, I have other motives for painting as I do. For one thing, I have always wanted everybody to like my work, so I have painted pictures that I knew everyone would understand and like. I could never be satisfied with the approval of the critics; and, boy, I’ve certainly had to be satisfied without it.
Brush With Genius
While critics once dismissed Rockwell as merely an “illustrator,” art historians and collectors alike now celebrate his unique talents. The Post invited some well-known Rockwell collectors to share their thoughts about the artist’s universal appeal.
“Norman Rocwell was brilliant. He captured society’s ambitions and emotions and, more importantly, the cultural fantasy and the ideal of society during that particular time in American history. Through his illustrations, you get a sense of what Americans were thinking during those years, and of what was in their hearts.” — George Lucas
“Norman Rockwell’s work illustrated simple values, the pride of citizenship in the nation, in the community and in the home, and a truly American sense of ‘we’ll get through this’ in troubled times. From today’s point of view, you could claim that Rockwell idealized America and its citizens, but he also gave us images of poignant nostalgia and future promise.” — Steven Spielberg
“I first learned about Norman Rockwell while I was selling The Saturday Evening Post magazines door to door, when I was six years old. I admired his paintings of The Four Freedoms and A Scout Is Reverent. Years later I became interested in, and purchased his paintings of, the Homecoming Military Heroes at the end of World War II.
“My all-time favorite Norman Rockwell painting is Breaking Home Ties. This painting epitomizes the generation I grew up in, where parents made great sacrifices to see that their children were properly educated, by sending them to college.
“I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rockwell and engaged him to paint a portrait of my son. Unfortunately, he passed away while the painting was still in progress. His staff sent me the unfinished copy of the painting.
“Norman Rockwell’s paintings truly capture the spirit of our country, including the very difficult times of the Depression and World War II.
“Prints and copies of his paintings are in my office, and I have the good fortune of viewing them every day.” — Ross Perot
Even with falling gas prices, you can save big money while sacrificing little.
America’s longtime love affair with the big car hit a pothole last summer, when skyrocketing gas prices pushed more and more drivers toward smaller vehicles. As the price of gasoline plummeted in the fall, car dealers wondered whether the country’s rediscovered interest in fuel economy and mpg ratings would remain strong.
If gasoline is not $4 a gallon — or even $3 a gallon — is it still important to trade in your gas-guzzling wheels for something more economical? For many, the answer is still yes. Industry experts say the price of gas is likely to be all over the chart in the coming months and years, so there’s no telling when it might climb back up to uncomfortable levels. Just as important, anyone considering unloading a less economical vehicle will find that it’s not an easy deal to make when gas prices are at their peak. A time when “rightsizing” your car feels not quite as urgent may actually be the best time to do so.
Fred Rozell, retail pricing director for the Oil Price Information Service, was not surprised to see the price of gasoline crash this past fall. “We’ve been forecasting this for a while,” he says. “When it was $4, people never thought it would be under $3 again. What we’re going to see over the next few years is great volatility in fuel prices.”
Car dealers have definitely seen more interest in fuel-efficient choices, says Paul Taylor, chief economist with the National Automobile Dealers Association. “Overall, the small-car category is up 6.2 percent year-to-date,” he says. There’s also a lot of interest in crossover utility vehicles, those models that in some ways resemble gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles but are based on car chassis and, therefore, get better mileage.
“The sweet spot has been the crossover utility vehicle space,” he says. “Sales of crossovers has reached nearly 3 million in yearly volume.” Earlier this decade, people bought about that many SUVs in a year, but that volume is down by about a third now.
Why don’t more people rightsize their wheels? Some have tried but have found that their gas-guzzling trade-in is no longer worth enough to make a deal feasible, with a trade-in value far lower than the amount needed to pay off the loan. That situation may be on the mend, Taylor says, with gas prices in retreat. For example, while high gas prices resulted in lower SUV trade-in values, every dollar that the price of gas drops can add back as much as $2,000 to the trade-in value of a relatively new SUV, he says.
Of course, a lot of people who drive gas guzzlers have an all-American aversion to deprivation. They don’t want to give up the benefits of the wheels they love. But the reality is that achieving better gas mileage needn’t demand sacrifice when it comes to comfort and luxury. There are plenty of moves you can make that preserve what you love the most about your less economical car, while offering significant relief at the pump. Following are some possibilities, with fuel economy statistics courtesy of the federal government (check out fueleconomy.gov to see how your vehicle compares with others).
Escaping From Your Grand Cherokee
So you love driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but cringe when you pull up to the pump. No wonder. Its city/highway combined mileage is 15 mpg. Even at the more reasonable place where gas prices arrived in October, a 2009 four-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee with a 5.7-liter gasoline engine cost $4.43 to propel 25 miles. Now consider how much your wallet would appreciate a switch to a 2009 four-wheel-drive Ford Escape Hybrid. We’re still talking SUV here, but the combined mileage is nearly double, at 28 mpg. Driving 25 miles in this vehicle costs just $2.38, and the average owner would pay $1,238 less per year to keep the tank filled. The planet benefits, too: the Ford emits 6.6 tons of carbon dioxide over the course of a year, while the Jeep churns out 12.2. If you’d rather stick with a gasoline-burner, you could opt for a Pontiac Vibe crossover utility vehicle. Order it with a five-speed manual transmission and your mileage will be 24, your cost per 25 miles will be $2.77, and your carbon footprint will be 7.7 tons.
From One Flagship to Another
For a luxury ride, it’s hard to beat the Audi A8 L, with a 12-cylinder engine and a raft of amenities. But it’ll cost you at the pump — $4.88 per 25 miles — partly because it requires premium fuel and partly because its combined city/highway fuel economy is 15 mpg. On one hand, the flagship Kia Amanti is no Audi, but it does have leather seats, an Infinity sound system, a V-6 that delivers 264 horsepower, and fuel economy of 19 using regular unleaded. Make this switch and you’ll save $832 a year on fuel, and reduce your carbon emissions by about a quarter.
Gotta Have a Camry
It’s among the world’s most popular cars, and with gas mileage of 23, the Camry outfitted with a 3.5-liter engine is not too bad at the pump. But you can do even better, without sacrificing anything on amenities. Just swap it for a Camry Hybrid, watch your fuel economy jump to 34, save an average of $563 per year, and cut your annual CO2 emission from 8.0 tons to 5.4.
Another Kind of Gas
For fuel economy, the standard Honda Civic is a great option, with an average combined city/highway economy of 29 miles per gallon and an average annual bill of $1,377. Not bad at all. Honda also makes a version of the Civic that runs on compressed natural gas, which has lower carbon emissions and an average annual fuel bill that’s nearly identical, at $1,366. You’ll do best with the hybrid Civic, though, with its gas mileage of 42 and annual fuel bill of $950.
The Dodge Avenger is a decent choice when it comes to economy, averaging 20 mpg, which translates into an annual average fuel cost of $1,995. But you’ll get just about the same interior room and even more trunk space in the Hyundai Elantra, along with fuel economy of 28 mpg. Trade in for an Elantra and you’ll save $571 per year in fuel costs, and put out 6.6 tons of CO2 annually, compared with 9.2 from the Dodge.
Keep on Truckin’
Pickups have been popular for years, not just on the farm but in suburbia. High gas prices have driven some people away from their pickups, but others have found ways to economize. If you drive a four-wheel-drive Chevy Silverado with a 6.2-liter engine, you’re looking at an annual fuel cost of $2,849. Trade it in for a Silverado 15 Hybrid 4WD and your mileage will jump from 14 to 20, while your average annual cost will drop by $854. The planet will appreciate the 3.9 fewer tons of carbon dioxide emitted by your hybrid every year.
Totally Electric and Sporty
Everyone loves the Ford Mustang, and the current models are just as cool as those from the late 1960s. You’ll pay $4.58 to drive this classic 25 miles, using the premium gas that’s recommended for maximum performance. Or, you could really turn heads behind the wheel of an all-electric Tesla Roadster. This is every bit as sporty — and powerful, too — able to accelerate from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. You’ll go 244 miles on a full charge, but the best part is that the same 25 miles you paid $4.58 to drive in your Mustang will cost you just 85 cents worth of electricity in your Tesla, built by California-based Tesla Motors. That’s an average annual savings of $2,239. And there’s no carbon emission at all, compared with 11.4 tons per year from the Mustang.
The Ethanol Option
There are pluses and minuses associated with ethanol-based fuels. On the positive side, your car will pump out a lot less carbon if it’s burning E85 gasoline, which is mostly ethanol. But doing so cuts your fuel economy, and it can cost more, too; so if you’re looking to pocket some savings, you may be disappointed. Consider the Chevrolet Impala flex-fuel version that lets you take your pick between fuels. Fill it with gasoline and you’ll be generating 8.0 tons of CO2 per year, compared with 6.5 if you burn E85 instead. But your annual fuel cost using E85 will be $2,884, compared with $1,736 for gasoline.
So, will American interest in rightsizing vehicles continue, with gas prices lower? The jury is still out. As Rozell with the Oil Price Information Service notes, “When the price was $1 a gallon, people didn’t give miles per gallon a thought. When it got to $1.75, people were screaming, but it was still more of an inconvenience. When it moved to $3 and $4, it was on their minds.”
Stay on track with New Year’s resolutions by following proven tactics from one of the country’s most popular fitness experts.
At 5′ 4″ and 120 pounds, Denise Austin may seem an unlikely powerhouse. But with her trademark enthusiasm and unbridled optimism, the diminutive dynamo has inspired millions to get up and get moving, earning her the reputation as “America’s favorite fitness expert.”
Austin’s philosophy is simple. For more than 25 years, she has promoted a sensible, realistic, and positive approach to achieving robust good health.
“I’m 50 and work out 30 minutes almost every day,” says the busy mom, business executive, and wife. “I love motivating people to achieve their goals — it’s all positive.”
With people living longer and feeling younger than ever, her clear message is certainly on target.
“People my age — 50 and older — feel young,” Austin says, adding that age is not a barrier. “You’re never too old to begin, even if you haven’t exercised in years. By starting with a 10-minute daily routine, you plant the seeds of a healthier habit that puts you squarely on the path to better health.”
No specialized equipment or gym membership is required to start.
“Go for a walk, or do 10 minutes of calisthenics,” she advises. “Devote time and establish a regular routine. If possible, try to exercise the same time each day, because research shows that people are more likely to exercise routinely if performed at a set time.”
That 10-minute routine will eventually grow to 12 minutes, then 15, with the eventual goal of achieving 30 minutes of daily exercise at a minimum. Don’t think the 10-minute prescription accomplishes much? Austin hears from people all over the country who say otherwise.
“I can’t believe how many people watch one of my programs then write, ‘I started with ten minutes and ended up watching your whole show,’ or ‘I ended up going for three miles instead of just one.’ People quickly realize that it doesn’t take much time and effort to get in better shape.”
Throughout the day, Austin says you can always find ways to incorporate exercise into daily activities.
“In the car on the way to work or in line at car pool, I tighten my tummy muscles,” the seasoned trainer says. “For example, you can tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your bellybutton in like you’re zipping up a pair of jeans. The isometric exercise is good for your abs as well as your back. Isometrics work wherever you are. I have 15 to 20 different stretches I do almost every hour whether at the computer or while out and about. At the office, you can do many exercises. While sitting at your desk, do leg exercises by moving one leg up and down—you’ll strengthen the thigh muscles. Right now, for example, I’m stretching one arm and walking while talking to you on the telephone.”
Austin focuses on strengthening core muscle groups that stabilize our backs and boost our balance—an important issue as one ages.
“We know through research that 80 percent of people who suffer from low back pain have weak abdominal muscles,” says Austin. “If you keep the abdominals strong, in return they act as a girdle for your spine. I’m a big believer in core exercises.”
Throughout her career, Austin has squarely addressed the cornerstones of fitness.
“Exercise and diet are the most important ways to lose weight and feel better,” she adds. “It’s what you choose to eat that’s so important. I’m a big believer in consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and good carbohydrates. Don’t starve yourself. I don’t believe in skipping meals or fad diets. Eat every three to four hours, even if it’s yogurt with a banana, just to keep your metabolism stable throughout the day.”
Too busy? Too tired? How can we overcome the many excuses and hurdles we confront in our hectic world?
“No time to exercise is the main excuse that I hear,” explains Austin. “People ask me, ‘How do you find the time?’ I say ‘I make the time.’ People must make the time for exercise. Put it on your calendar. When it becomes part of daily life, you carve time out for yourself and make it an important part of your day. If people say they are ‘too tired,’ I advise them to wake up a half an hour earlier and exercise in the morning—that way you’ll stick to it. If I wait until the end of the day, I can find a million excuses to never exercise. Another strategy is to find a friend. A friend keeps you going. I exercise a couple of mornings a week with my husband in the privacy of our house. You keep your routine up that way. When you get through the workout, you want to do it the next day. That’s the key to feeling better about yourself.”
Sustaining motivation day to day is imperative.
“God gave us one body, and we have to take good care of it,” says Austin. “Get off that couch and do something for yourself—you’ll feel so much better. Exercise is such a great mental filter for anyone coping with anxiety or stress. I promote pedometers because it’s fun to see how many steps you can take in a day. A pedometer is probably the best piece of equipment anyone could ever buy to get in shape. It’s a motivating and fun way to see if you can do more steps today than you did yesterday.”
As for hitting plateaus in our weight-loss plans, Austin offers some guidelines to tip the scales in your favor.
“The key to jump-starting your metabolism is doing things differently from what your body is used to,” explains Austin. “In the course of a week, I use different workouts. Some days I run, while other days I focus on yoga, Pilates, or weight training. By mixing up your routine, you surprise your muscles, which helps make a change in the body. If you’ve been walking for fitness all the time and hit a plateau, do something different—add weights to your workout or run two minutes of a 30-minute walk. Challenge yourself. Doing something different can make a big difference.”
Turning 50 was a milestone for the fitness icon.
“One of the biggest changes I noticed when I hit 50 is that you can’t let up because, if you do, you get softer quicker,” Austin says. “It’s also harder to get back into shape if you take three or four days off. The best part is that muscle has great memory and comes back more quickly: it just takes a little longer. You’ve got to fight it all the way because muscles work miracles on your metabolism. Muscle cells are very active while fat cells are sedentary. Throughout the day, evening, and even while you sleep, muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells.”
Along with a healthy diet, Austin boosted her nutritional intake.
“Eating healthy is the most important step you can take,” she explains. “As I age, however, I’ve included more omega-3 in my diet — from flaxseed or by consuming salmon at least twice a week — in addition to taking a multivitamin, extra vitamin C, calcium, and vitamin D.”
For people living with arthritis, back pain or other ailments, exercise can become an important tool to successfully cope with the problem.
“I always stress how important it is just to keep moving,” says Austin. “Swimming is good for people suffering from arthritis, because your body weighs less in the water. For people with low back or knee problems, strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints helps keep muscles strong. For people with osteoporosis, weight-bearing exercises are very important. Everything goes back to exercise.”
On the inside track of the latest research, Austin finds that the weight-loss equation is actually pretty straightforward.
“It comes down to simple things like how many calories you’re eating and how many calories you’re burning through muscle-conditioning exercise, flexibility, cardio strength,” Austin stresses. “I’m a big believer in balance — cardio to burn fat and condition your heart, flexibility, and muscle conditioning. By the end of the week, make sure you’ve done all three.”
Like so many mid-lifers, Austin has no plans to slow down.
“I hope to be like Jack LaLanne, God willing,” says Austin, a spokesperson for Keep Going Live Healthy campaign. “He looks amazing at 94. I find new elements of health and fitness to motivate people all the time. The sky’s the limit. Look at America — I still have a lot to do.”
For more on what you can do to keep your resolution, check out saturdayeveningpost.com/fooddiary