ways of aging

We are each a combination of nature and nurture, but it does seems as though how we look and feel as we get older is a lot more dependent on “nature” — on the genes we inherited that keep our bones strong, our brains sharp, and our skin not too badly wrinkled.

How we take care of ourselves, of course, can make a difference. How we view ourselves or want others to view us also can make a difference.

A link in a comment left on Ronni Bennett’s post on The Appearance of Age got me thinking about how I have chosen to appear as I age.

The link takes you to this photo of a group of women over 50 who aspire to be models.

They all have enhanced their natural looks to give themselves a uniquely attractive aesthetic. My way of dealing with my aging face and body is to make a similar (although not as successful) effort. I still love clothes and shoes, I still get my hair cut by a professional, and I still wear makeup and style my hair if I’m going to be out in public. The way I look has always been important to me, and apparently I’m not changing in that way even as I approach the age of 70.

Ronni, on the other hand, has taken a more relaxed and less expensive approach. Her identity and self-image require less vanity than mine, and I envy her for that.

A cousin of mine sent me a link to the video, below, which gives a hearty glimpse of 88 year old Hazel McCallion, mayor of Mississauga, Ontario (a city without debt) for the past 31 years. Watching this video sure made me wish that I had had the brains and heart and courage to age as she has.

“Hurricane Hazel,” as she is affectionately known, still gets on the ice and pushes a hockey puck around. In the video, she gets to fulfill one of her dreams — to make a music video.

Now, that’s aging with style.

the satisfaction of seeds, sprouting

The morning glories are up first, pushing both ways out of the little peat pots sheltered in the tiny green house. I think I see glimpses of other struggling seeds, including something called “Dream Herb” — seeds I must have acquired a while ago, forgetting why or when. I just want to see what the plant will looks like when fully grown.

I’m growing other oddities as well, like the mini tomato pod plant. I cant even find the site where I bought it now, but, from what I remember, there are little sweet tomatoes that grow inside pods. Ah, it will be very cool to see what the plant actually becomes.

There is something so very satisfying watching the daily emergence of the seeds — more satisfying even then noticing that the hostas and lilies that were dug up last fall and thrown against the back cement wall of the house (where nothing ever grew) have rooted and are thriving. Some things refuse to die. Others struggle and survive.

I sit in the dappled shade and mull over these mundane yet satisfying processes. Perhaps I, too, am sprouting roots.

the cat came back

He scooted out the door one day. It took him more than two weeks to get hungry enough to walk into the trap. And for those two weeks the family kept vigil.

Cuddles is just what his name says — soft and cuddly and affectionate. My grandson chose him at the pound several years ago; Cuddles is his cat.

For two weeks food was left out for him (the raccoons and possums and other cats had a feast). Two humane traps were set. Two outdoor cameras were set to catch any possible sight of Cuddles.

And every night Cuddles showed up on the cameras, but he was too smart to go near the traps. Until he got hungry enough.

He’s home now, much leaner and very tired. My daughter got all the matted fur out of his long black hair. My son-in-law checked him for ticks and removed several. My daughter have him a flea and tick bath and repellent. He looks half the size of what he was. His green eyes are tired.

Cuddles is home. The back door now sports a spring hinge. All’s right with the world here in the valley.

slowing down

I saw a snippet on tv news the other day about a group of Londoners who are holding a “Slow Down London” festival to encourage the people of the fastest paced city in the world to slow down.

As I napped on and off all day today, I realized just how tired I am after several years of always having to be ready to take care of my mother’s needs. That meant that if I wanted to do anything for myself, I had to do it in a hurry. I was always either hurrying to finish what I was doing or hurrying to do what she needed me to do. I’m just beginning to realize what a toll it took on my energy.

From the “Art of Slow Living:”

To stay for all your life a free thinker: this is the meaning of Slow living; to have the courage to stop, ponder and made your own choices before external events and trends will sweep you away.

I am at a place in my life at which I should be able to do that. I am surprised by how hard it’s being for me to downshift.

I think it’s going to take a lot of naps.

Joss Whedon:
a man who rights women

Actually, he “writes” women. And he writes them the right way — multi-faceted females who serve as role models for all genders. They are not perfect, but they struggle to do the right thing. They love and they war. They are strong and they are vulnerable and they make mistakes. And they’re smart. And they care.

Joss Whedon (whose new “Dollhouse” series has its female characters pushing even more boundaries than ever) is not a name I knew, even as I got wholeheartedly, back in the late 1990s, into the tv series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Granted, at age 69, I’m not considered part of the demographics that would be drawn to teenage Buffy, but let’s face it: superlatively creative writing, clever humor, and a complex and spunky heroine should be appealing to all ages (at least those of all ages who still appreciate irreverent spunk and and still have some imaginative curiosity).

After Buffy, there was the short-lived and unique Firefly television series (and subsequent off-shoot movie, Serenity), which boasted several totally different female characters whose escapades explored just about every facet of the most compelling female archetypes. Oh, don’t get me wrong — the male characters were just as compelling, and I still have fantasies about Nathan Fillion (who is currently starring in the series Castle).

And that’s when I started noticing the name of Joss Whedon, writer, who is young enough to be my son and whose mother sure brought him up right. The more I learned about him, the more I liked him. I like him for what he writes and for how he thinks.

On April 11, he received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, addressing a crowd a Harvard with his customary honesty and humor. Watch this and you’ll be a Whedon fan too.

Whedon’s new series “Dollhouse” has not generated the audience that his fans hoped, and so, learning from the fate of the too-late-acclaimed “Firefly,” some of those fans are touting a WATCH DOLLHOUSE WEEK, beginning on Monday the 27th, to generate interest in having the series come back next season.

I’ve watched every episode of “Dollhouse” thus far, but I’m going to re-watch it all next week, recognizing that there are probably all sorts of subtle and quirky bits I probably missed the first time. There are always more to Whedon’s stories and diaglogues than it first seems.

In many ways, “Dollhouse” is framed differently from his other series, and this site provides a good analysis. Most important, I think, is the following paragraph from that piece.

One of Whedon’s perennial concerns is masculinity in a feminist era: if women are so powerful now, how are guys supposed to relate to them? It’s a good question, and one of the better themes a male writer can explore, if he’s willing to do it honestly. Whedon has offered solutions before but they’ve always been imperfect, because they haven’t addressed how pervasive gender inequality is, and how much we’re all complicit in it, how our thoughts and perceptions are informed by it from Day 1 simply because it is the context in which we live. In Dollhouse, he’s giving it deeper and more sustained focus than ever, and is more willing than ever to implicate masculinity: in parallel to the story of how the dolls work to reclaim their personhood, there’s the story of the people who take it away from them on a day-to-day basis, and how they justify their actions.

The idea of the “Dollhouse” has stirred some controversy among viewers and critics. For me, that’s even more reason to watch it.

Join me for Watch Dollhouse Week. You’re never to old to be a fan of a creative spirit like Joss Whedon.

the promise of better health care

A friend of mind sent me an email that he got from a doctor friend of his that had these things to say about Obama’s health care agenda:

Those who serve in medical careers are also planning early retirements rather than go through the possibilities of the “change”. One friend’s doctor told him that if/when this is in place, the medical building he works in will be empty… that they will just get out of the health care business. There is no such thing as a free lunch!

Most of you know by now that the Senate version (at least) of the “stimulus” bill includes provisions for extensive rationing of health care for senior citizens. The author of this part of the bill, former senator and tax evader, Tom Daschle was credited today by Bloomberg with the following statement.

Bloomberg: “Daschle says health-care reform “will not be pain free.” Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them.”

It seems to me that that the elements of the legislation cited by the Bloomberg piece are open to interpretations a lot different from the ones suggested.

It is understandable (but not forgivable) that too many of today’s doctors who who have become used to their high incomes as a result of their successes in the current health care industry object to Obama’s plans to reform that industry.

I found one really good website that clearly explains how Obama’s proposals can clean up the mess we’re in and set up a system that focuses on the needs of the consumer. That’s us, right? The consumers of health care.

These are snippets of what the health care page on the Deloitte site has to say:

In recent history, health care reform efforts have fallen short as a result of two forces: The economics of the status quo make change an uphill battle for reformers and end users – consumers – have not demanded major changes

The issue of health care reform is not about bad people; it is about a flawed system in which the results reflect perfectly the incentives upon which it is built. Health care reform is about systemic change. It is not about a single program that benefits one stakeholder at the expense of others. It cuts across every sector, every role and, indeed, every household

We believe that four interdependent areas of focus provide a solid foundation for systemic reform. The pyramid (See Figure 2: The Health Care Reform Pyramid) reflects the essential relationships among these areas. Taken together, over a 10 year period, the result is a $530 billion reduction in spending while improving quality.

Figure 2
Figure 2

I am lucky to have found an excellent doctor who is interested in addressing how all of my physical complaints combine to affect my health. The goal is to get an accurate assessment of my health problems, to prevent any of the situations from getting any worse, and to avoid surgery and hospital stays. Her care of me is covered under Medicare, as my care under other doctors has been. But she is more thorough and thoughtful. We need a lot more doctors like her, who already are operating in the new “change” mode. We don’t need doctors like the kind quoted above, who threaten to retire rather than adapt.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, part of Deloitte LLP, delivers research on and develops solutions to some of our nation’s most pressing health care and public health related challenges. Learn more about the Center.

If you’re interested, the Center will hold a live webcast on May 27. You have to register, but registration is free.

Topic: More than $140 billion of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was targeted to health care projects. And beyond the stimulus package, the White House Office of House Reform has been working on key legislative and regulatory changes destined to reshape the health industry landscape for years to come. We’ll discuss:

* The status of these investments and how monies have been deployed.
* What’s ahead in terms of health care reform?
* Key legislative and regulatory changes.
* Recent activities within key House and Senate Committees.

Deloitte also includes several centers that explore other crucial issues such as the environment and technology. Those of interested in corporate and government use of technology for information management might like to take a look at its Center for Network Innovation.

As for me, I just want to feel better, and I believe that Obama’s health care agenda will support my continuing to work at that.


the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single “Ow!”

bilateral facet hypertrophic degenerative change
bilateral paravertebral disc osteophyte complex
bilateral neural foraminal stenosis
marked central spinal stenosis
bilateral subarticular recess compromise
flattening of the interior thecal sac
multilevel disc bulging and spondylosis
multilevel facet arthrosis and disc herniations

That’s what my recent spinal MRI showed. It’s not going to kill me, but it sure gives me some pain and concern. Some of it’s simply a result of aging. But some might have been prevented.

So, how come all of my former doctors who saw X-rays of my spine only told me that I had bone spurs on my spinal discs and that was nothing to worry about. How come not one of them thought to send me for an MRI to get a better sense of what was going on.

Well, my new excellent doctor, who also sat down and went over all of the details with me, took that extra diagnostic step. The next step for me is to see an arthritis specialist. Then, probably some physical therapy. Ow!

As a friend of mine says the Jewish Buddha says:

Accept misfortune as a blessing.
Do not wish for perfect health, or a life without problems.
What would you talk about?


If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

the letting-go dilemma

Stories begin somewhere in the bowels of truth. Do these things happen or do they not? Who is to know what is true? I only know my truth. And so I tell my story.

It is two days ago, and an April morning the likes of which we had been waiting for. I am sitting in a sun beam, leisurely eating a corn muffin, sipping a cup of green tea, and waiting for my mom to wake up. I am supposed to be in Albany, attending my friend’s quilt show and then getting together for mine and my women friends’ combined annual birthday celebration. But my mother is catching a cold and is feeling more miserable than usual.

He walks in, waving two different socks of hers, angrily accusing me of losing their mates in the wash. Later, I find the mates to those socks stuffed into the pocket of one of her jackets, along with balls of Kleenex and a comb. It doesn’t matter. As far as he’s concerned, anything that’s “missing” or “broken” is my fault. He will not let go of needing to blame me.

The newly hired live-in aide arrives the next day. She is a perfect “Mary Poppins” to my mom’s now childlike persona. She speaks Polish. She is kind and gentle and understanding. I wonder if he will wind up letting her go. Or, perhaps, like me, she will finally do the going.

My mother is more upset and upsetting than usual. Her nose is running. We think she has a fever. I catch her trying to bite into a paper plate and later find a wad of Kleenex in her mouth. She goes through boxes and boxes of the stuff — folding, shredding, tearing, and, apparently, trying to eat. She lashes out in frustration, smacking her hand against the wall, causing a wash of blue skin — just one more place on her body that will now hurt. Sometimes, when she’s quiet, when the air around her is quiet and we sit side by side on the edge of her bed, rocking and humming, she asks “What is happening to me?” “You just got old, mom,” I say, and start singing “Pack up all your cares and woes, here we go, singing low. Bye, bye Blackbird.”

And so I finally go, tired of the blaming, realizing that now he will have to find a way to coexist with the aide. She and I have similar approaches to caring for a frail, usually demented old woman, although she has a lot more practical experience than I. How will she deal with his enforcefullness (yes, I made that word up, but it says it all)? Will he let her do what she is there to do? He will need to let go of his need to control. I wonder if that is even possible.

My grandson’s cat Cuddles has not come home. It’s been two weeks since he escaped out the back door. They know he shows up in their yard at night because they have set up outdoor cameras. They leave food out for him. They bait traps with his food and their smelly clothes. So far they’ve caught a possum, a raccoon, and two tabby cats. But no Cuddles. My daughter goes out in the middle of the night and sits in the shadows, waiting to see if he might venture near. She said today that she just might have to let go of the idea of catching him. He will either come home or he won’t.

And my mother will either let go or she won’t.

And all I can do is tell my story.

chicken soup as catalyst

I made a big pot of chicken soup the other day (see previous post).

Except for echinacea and goldenseal, I have never found any concoction that does battle with a sore throat and cold better than chicken soup. Of course, you have to add lots of garlic and onions. I also add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to leech the calcium from the chicken bones into the broth. And I load it with all kinds of other vegetables, which I discard after I have strained them out of the soup.

I picked out the wishbone to take home to my grandson so that we can both wish that his run-away cat would come home. That darned cat has been gone for almost a week — gone from the house (he’s been an indoor cat) but not from the property. He shows up every night on the outdoor camera that has been set up near the dish that’s left outside for him. I’m betting that he’s having the time of his life, and that even my outstanding chicken soup would not lure him back into captivity. On the other hand, he might come back for the love that awaits him behind that door that he now just ignores.

As I was ladling the hearty broth into freezer containers, I had flashes of some lines from an August Strinberg play that my once-husband once directed. (He was a big Strindberg fan.) It had something to do with servants discussing the fact that even though their employers got to eat the meat, the servants got the broth, and that’s where all the nutrition really is.

After my broth has cooled in the containers, I skim off the chicken fat accumulated at the top of each. I pick some up on my finger and taste it. Yum. Tasty cholesterol. When I was a kid, my mother would save the chicken fat from the soup and use it to brown chicken pieces for chicken fricasee. (Does anyone make chicken fricasee any more?)

My mother made chicken soup a staple in our house when I was a kid. Back then, in the 1940s, she used chicken necks and wings because they were cheap. (That was before chicken wings became so popular, of course.) I would help her pick out the meat from among the tiny boiled bones so that she could make chicken salad.

These days my mother doesn’t seem to like the watery consistency of chicken soup, so I thicken the broth into gravy, add the boiled chicken and freshly cooked vegetables, and turn it all into a hearty stew.

These days it’s hard to find food stuffs that mom really likes Something she devours one day she will refuse the next time it’s offered.

That’s the one thing you can count on regarding dementia — you can’t count on anything working more than once.

As it should be, there are all sorts of experiments going on to find ways to prevent and stall the progress of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. What I wish is there was a better understanding of how to “make comfortable” people like my mother, who are at the far end of the journey and for whom there doesn’t seem to be any medications that are able to give her the peace of mind and pain-free body that she deserves.

I’ve already warned b!X that, before I get that bad, I will move in with him in Oregon, where they have a Death with Dignity law.

Or maybe I’ll just OD myself on chicken soup.

old remedies, old bones

I’m back in the place I left. Blood sometimes takes away the choice.

Plans hardly ever go as planned around here. New roofs sag, ceilings get cracks, seeds planted and nurtured succumb to frost, walls never get painted.

My plan for this trip to visit my mother was to help a new live-in aide acclimate to my mother and to this forsaken place. But, after an on-site interview, the aide changed her plans and is not coming after all. I can’t say I blame her. It would take a kind of frontierswoman personality to take on the situation here.

So, I’m here, instead to nurse my mother through some kind of sore throat. Or cold. The doctor said it is not strep.

She can’t seem to swallow pills any more, so I’m giving her liquid Tylenol. There are two bottles here, one is labeled “sore throat relief” and the other is “rapid blast.” The ingredients of both are identical. I guess the marketing ploy works, because here I am with two separate bottles when one would do When she wakes up at night, I make her tea with lemon and honey..

I am making a big pot of chicken soup. A whole chicken. Five cloves of garlic. Lots of carrots and celery. A parsnip and a turnip and onions. I wanted to put fresh parsley in the for Vitamin C, but the grocery store was out of parsley. Something to do with Easter and eggs, I’m supposing. I will cook the soup for hours and, hopefully, she will drink the broth.

She hurts all over. Our bones are tired.

I miss my grandson, he of the wall of hats, one of which belonged to my dad and is over a half-century old. Here he is, wearing it, acting out scenes for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

From my daughter’s post on Facebook: Mr. Magorium: “You don’t have to be happy that I am leaving. All I ask is that you turn the page, keep reading, and let the next story begin. And when someone asks, tell them my story, with all its wonder, and end it, simply, ‘he died’.”