I've enjoyed your comments on the English "manage to [X]" construction, and have learned a good deal from them. I found the dialect differences especially interesting; it looks as if the construction is perhaps in the process of undergoing change, which would mean that there are some generation-gap effects on its interpretation.
It happens that in English any utterance whatsoever can be spoken as hostile language, with its otherwise neutral content being overruled by intonation and tone of voice and other bodyparl. When the context is appropriate, the hostility will be more clear; when it's not, people will be left to wonder "what [the speaker] meant by that." This is as true for the "manage to" construction as it is for any other English utterance.
I would suggest, however, that in view of the potential for misunderstanding associated with this construction, and the dialect variation, it would be wise to choose something other than the "manage to" chunk when you genuinely want to compliment someone.
Your comments on choosing from among my list of twenty things to do (strictly speaking, nineteen things to do, since "punt" doesn't really count), have been truly helpful. There's even something that almost approaches an emerging consensus -- for the touch dominance novel, the USCOL fiction, the verbal self-defense book for kids, and the translation project. I wasn't at all sure what would result from the post, and I have been very pleased with what did in fact happen.
Making those choices at on-the-verge-of-70 is different, you perceive. Certainly we all know that anyone can die at any time. I've had enough experience with sudden early deaths in my own extended family to teach me that lesson, if there had ever been any doubt in my mind about it. But when you get past the age of 60, you start being very aware that the time you have left for getting things done is almost certainly limited. You know that your death is getting more likely with every passing year. You know that even if you live to be 100 the chances that your physical or mental state will make meaningful work impossible for you are growing with every passing year. This is not morbid thinking; it's common sense, and it's necessary for competent eldering.
At age 30, you can say to yourself, "I'll do A, B, and C now -- and then after I retire I'll do D and E." You know intellectually that you may not live to be 31, that that's always possible, but you also know that you'll probably go on to at least 70 and perhaps quite a bit longer. Your perception is that unless you fritter away your time heedlessly you have plenty of time to accomplish what you've decided is a reasonable To Do list. After you get to roughly age 70, that perception is very different, and the choices get much harder to make.
For many elders, the solution to the problem is to say "I've worked hard all my life, and now that I'm old I'm going to just relax and enjoy myself." I'm solidly behind that choice for those who make it, but it won't work for me. I look around in this world and all I can see in every direction is work that badly needs doing; I wouldn't be comfortable, and I for sure wouldn't be able to enjoy myself, if I didn't at least try to get some of it done. It may be that when (and if) I turn 80 I won't feel that way any longer; time will tell.
It occurs to me .... as I'm writing this, it occurs to me .... that perhaps the reason I'm having so much trouble choosing my projects for this year is precisely the fact that I am now so vividly aware of the time constraints. And that makes your help even more valuable. I think that as a result of that help I can now sit down and fill in my calendar for 2006 with a clear conscience, instead of feeling that I might as well be just throwing darts at my list. Yesterday I blocked in all the time that I need for doing the newsletters, and all the time I need for the two conventions, and all the family-celebration dates. And now I'm ready to start filling in the rest.
I've found your analysis and discussion of the English "manage to [X]" construction so interesting that I'd be very interested in finding out what you have to say about "at least." For example....
1. "I don't see any way I can get this article finished by the deadline, but I think I could at least get a rough draft done."
2. "I turned off the lights in the car before I came in here. At least, I think I did."
3. "Well, you could AT LEAST call your GRANDmother!" [Not to be confused with "Well, you could at least CALL your grandmother!"]
4. "I know we messed everything up, Commander, but at LEAST we TRIED!"
I find "at least" mystifying, myself; I try to avoid using it, because I'm not at all sure what it means.