Monday, December 31, 2007

Truth or Fiction? Ignorance or Dishonesty?

Unlike most of the mainstream media, I would have a hard time choosing a news story to feature as the year's best or worst in any category. However, I have one recent story to nominate as a cautionary tale for December, 2007. It's the story of the young girl who won Hannah Montana concert tickets by writing an essay falsely claiming that her father was killed in Iraq. The various implications of this story upset me. Have demanding children and doting parents who proimise the impossible gone too far, or is this just an isolated case?

As I understand it, once the fraud was exposed, the girl's mother said that they had just done what was necessary to get those impossibly popular tickets. It sounded as though she found nothing wrong with doing whatever worked. Later, she claimed that it was "just an essay," and that she'd never claimed it was true.

Whether an exercise in deceit or expedience, this is a disturbing tale. It suggests either that all's fair in media contests and making children happy, or that there is no distinction between fact and fiction. Maybe such an attitude influenced the James Frye-Oprah fiasco, although I think the reaction was a bit overblown in that case.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Hannah Montana ticket incident is the lesson that mother is apparently teaching her daughter: any means to an end is justified.

Maybe the very fact that this story caused enough furor to bring Good Morning America stories and interviews, among others, proves that some parents still care about the examples they set, the lessons they teach their children. I hope that there is no growing trend toward such fraudulent actions. Fiction is fiction, truth is truth, and we need to acknowledge, recognize, and teach the difference.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, December 28, 2007

Puzzle Mania

It's a holiday tradition in my niece's home to work jigsaw puzzles during the holiday season. This year, there were two: the scene from Zion National Park seemed hard, but the family completed it (with limited help from me) fairly quickly.

I am not very good at these things, so I was amazed when my brother bought another puzzle: Springbok Flowers and Fruit, 1,500 pieces, measuring 28 3/4 by 36 inches, or so the box said. My first impression was "impossible," so of course I reacted by writing a poem, as follows:

About A Puzzle


Small-piece, jigsaw.

Colorful, challenging,

Time-consuming, far from easy.

Lovely picture on the box, but can we

Make it work, or will we lose our

Patience and our minds as

Valiantly we


It wasn't finished until Christmas night at 12:30 (by which time I was long asleep), but I admired it the following morning. The number of hours this project took was astounding, but there's a competitive spirit alive and well in my extended family. So what if we had to eat Christmas dinner in the kitchen? The dining room table was puzzle land. I helped a bit, but very little.

The top photo (my own) shows the unfinished version; the lower photo (taken by my brother) shows the final product.

Congratulations, John, Scott, Cindy, and Lauren! More puzzles next year? Smaller, perhaps?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Holiday Lights from Houston, Texas

I love to look at Christmas lights once a year, and Houston, Texas, is a good place to do it. Yes, there are plenty of lights in and around Chicago, too, but I seldom venture out to see them. In Houston, I can always count on a family drive around the neighborhood.

Fortunately, my brother always brings his complicated camera and knows how to use a tripod and all sorts of fancy photo equipment. My point-and-shoot digital camera doesn't do as well (although it serves me well on my trips because it's so small and easy to carry).

Anyway, here's a look at the Truby home (top) and two neighbors' homes in all their splendor. Note the motorcycling Santa; that house belongs to the neighborhood's female biker.

Photos by John Marshall, December 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas in Texas

Tomorrow I'll be off to Houston, Texas, for Christmas with my niece and her family: Cindy and Scott Truby and their daughter, my grand-niece Lauren. My brother John, Cindy's father, will be there from Utah as well. I'm looking forward to the trip.

As you can see from the 2006 photo below, their family room is an inviting place. I look forward to sitting in one of the recliners, with the pool glistening outside (although it will probably be too cold to bask by the pool much) and the fireplace to provide extra warmth on cool early mornings.

The stockings will be filled on Christmas morning (no, I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I believe in my family) with little "fun" gifts, and I'll enjoy the ritual of opening gifts on Christmas morning.

The "big" gifts are artfully arranged under the Christmas tree in the living room (see above), beautifully wrapped by my niece, who loves to do such things. There will be a lot of wonderful gifts for Lauren, as there should be. I look forward to hearing about her first term at the University of Arizona. She's smart and talented, and I assume she'll have great stories to tell. As a non-shopper who doesn't need anything, I don't expect to give or receive many gifts myself, but I always enjoy seeing the joy of others, especially the younger set. I ordered and sent my modest gifts earlier.

My niece loves to cook, too, so I anticipate overeating and the need to go on a very strict diet once I return home. It's unusual for me to be surrounded by food, but I must say I enjoy it, whatever it's dire effects on my waistline.

For me, Christmas isn't about gifts, decorations, or rushing around. It's about the one time of year I'm likely to be among family for a few days. Loner though I am, I have to admit that Christmas is a highlight of my year. Thanks, Cindy, Scott. and Lauren. Just your inviting me is gift enough!

Will I miss the traditional snowy landscape I'm used to in the midwest? Perhaps a little bit, but it will be a relief not to worry about slipping and falling on icy sidewalks. There will be time enough for that once I return.

Merry Christmas to all. I may send my greetings from Houston, and I promise I'll be back to "serious" blogging about December 27, in time to wish you all a Happy New Year. What would I do without my online family?

I do live a great deal of my life on line, but this is the time to appreciate the real thing. Thanks, Cindy, Scott, and Lauren--and my brother John. I also extend my greetings to my Minnesota family, my nephew John D. and grand-nieces Nicole and Stephanie, and to my more distant relatives scattered about the country.

Photos by the author (2006).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yes, Elders Can Write Too!

You may recall that I've written about my plan to continue blogging as and after I move into my future lifetime care residence, The Clare at Watertower, in a year or so. I like the idea of "telling it like it is" to smash some of the stereotypes about us elders and to let a bit of light into the "dark hole" that retirement buildings of most kinds are perceived to represent. (No, I'm not talking about those Florida golfing communities, although I assume that they produce their own stories.)

I never thought my plan was original, and now I have found a "kindred spirit," age 81, whose blog is about life in her senior residence she calls "The Twilight Zone." Her blog is called "Code Name Nora" at She apparently lives in a senior building very unlike The Clare, but her blog seems authentic. She writes so well, usually in the third person, that some readers have questioned whether she is "real," or really 81. The implication seems to be that no one over 65 or so can possible write so well!

"Nora" admits to using a pseudonym and a composite photo (her head with a Victoria's Secret body), but I believe that she's real. If you ever want some insight into a senior residence and some of the people who live there, check out "Code Name Nora."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Seniorwiter's Top Ten List for 2007: Good News / Bad News on Aging, Travel, Writing, and Family


No, that's not me. It's my late mother, Violet Uhl Marshall Funston, celebrating her 93rd birthday in 2004 (with her grandson, my nephew, John D. Marshall). See #1 below.

Will I be lucky enough to live that long and still look so good?

10. I turned 75. I’m glad to be alive, but I could do without the wrinkles, aches, and pains.

9. Walking on ice became impossible (two falls last winter), so I considered giving up my one-morning-a-week volunteer job. The long walk and rush hour bus ride are just too much in the winter, and it’s hard to find an available taxi here before nine a.m. However, I discovered that I can leave my heated garage, drive to the Grant Park North garage, and walk underground to the Cultural Center without venturing outside. The cost, $22, is a bit steep to get to a volunteer job, but I can probably afford it, at least until spring.

8. My future luxury high rise lifetime care residence, The Clare at Water Tower, extends at least 40 stories (out of 53) into the sky now, and it looks beautiful. Thoughts of my final move and living among "old people" (like me) still bother me a bit.

7. I traveled to Ireland for the first time. It’s a beautiful country, but to get to and from there required a long plane trip in economy class and going through London’s non-senior-friendly Heathrow Airport. My arthritic knees gave out in a big way.

6. I decided to give up overseas travel, but within months I was planning a business class trip to South Africa for 2008. Am I crazy, or what?

5. I took a creative writing class with some wonderful young people. I enjoyed the class. Two of my short stories will soon be available as Amazon Shorts, and two others have appeared in The Elders Tribune on line. My stories are about elderly people, and they’ll never be widely popular. That’s all right. My regular Writing column on eGenerations is gradually attracting more readers, as are my two blogs.

4. I published my second book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write. Due to poor communication between Infinity Publishing and, it appeared to be unavailable for months, although it really has been out since early October. I’ve been told that all is well now.

3. Seniorwriting received good reviews and interviews, but of course the mainstream media and bookstores aren’t interested. My first book, Reinventing Myself, and my first blog, "Never too Late!" both won awards from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women in 2007.

2. I had one short story and one essay accepted by different anthologies planned for 2007. One anthology was cancelled for lack of interest, and the other, due out on December 1, is in limbo. Oh well.

1. My mother, Violet Uhl Marshall Funston, died at age 95 in Minnesota. We weren’t especially close, but she remained an active, adventurous, friendly woman into her nineties. She will be missed, but in a way, it was good that her final pain and suffering ended. Her death brought contacts with relatives and friends I hadn’t seen or heard from in years, and I was able to edit a family-and-friends tribute to her, Remembering Violet.

So that's my strange and personal Top Ten list for 2007. To sum up the year, I can only say that nothing’s perfect, but life goes on, and there’s more good than bad. How about writing your own top ten list?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Time for Top Ten Lists Again

This is the time of year for Top 10 lists: movies, books, video games, TV, electronic gadgets, and just about every other category anyone can think of, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Of course Time magazine is a big part of that trend, with its usual lists. However, this week, in the December 24 issue, the last-page essay, "The Power of 10," by James Poniewozik, caught my eye. Poniewozik's essay consists of ten "guesses" as to why we're so fascinated by top ten lists. Here is his list, with my brief comments:

10: "God Made us Do It" (See the Ten Commandments).

9. "Numbers Rule!" (Ask any English teacher or promoter of Power Point presentations).

8. "They're Web-Friendly" (Bite-size, opinionated, easily searchable).

7. "Branding, Branding, Branding" (Definitive and catchy are in).

6, "Because That Other Guy is a Moron" (Lists are great to challenge authority).

5. "Because we Crave Justice" (Someone has to decide what's good and bad. "Every day is judgment day").

4. "To Remember (and to Forget)" (Our chance to see what's held up over time).

3. "Because the Universe is Random and Senseless" (We need to impose order and structure).

2. "Because Life is Short" (Lists allow us to assert our identities).

1. "Because if you Put Numbers on it People Will Read Anything, However Trite, Trivial and Insipid, From Beginning to End" (No additional comment needed).

Inspired by Mr. Poniewozik's list, I simply must post my own Top Ten List for 2007. Come back here tomorrow!

Source: Time, Vol. 170, #26, December 24, 2007. p. 96.

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Age Discrimination?

Leave it to Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By ( to discover these things. Apparently 24-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, made the following comment at a startup school for enterpreneurs: “I want to stress the importance of being young and technical,’ he stated. ‘If you want to found a successful company, you should only hire young people with technical expertise… Young people are just smarter.” You can check out a report on this at

I'm no fan of Facebook, but I try to be sympathetic to young entrepreneurs. After all, they'll be running the world long after I'm gone, and many of them work hard (or not) to make a lot of money. Still, it seems sad that many knowledgeable, talented elders are virtually invisible. No wonder that some older folk take extraordinary steps to look and act "young," steps that usually end in big expenses, disappointment, and further unhappiness.

I admit that some elders are forced to slow down because of poor health and other factors (I guess we all eventually are), but as usual, I resent stereotypes. I hope Mr. Zuckerberg will reconsider and interview a few Boomers and Seniors and give them a chance to prove themselves. I'm sure he can find some likely candidates.

One sad thing is that at the age of 24, I probably would have agreed with Mark Zuckerberg. I assume that he'll rethink this matter in 40 or 50 years! Maybe he can readjust his thinking earlier.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Computer Addiction, Withdrawal, and Repair Service

My usual morning ritual consists of a cup of instant Maxwell House coffee, a few minutes of the early news on Channel 7, and most important of all, a check of my email, followed by visits to several web sites, including my own two blogs, plus eGenerations and Elders Tribune.

Imagine my dismay a couple of days ago when my computer started acting up, making strange noises, and worst of all, failing to access the Internet! I was devastated.

It's not that I hadn't had trouble before. My computer was apparently jammed with too many programs at startup, and my cable modem was showing signs of unreliability. However, I had developed a regular turn off-wait-turn on again routine that usually got things running again. Not this time.

I spent all day trying to get on line, without success. I finally decided to call my cable service provider. Have you ever tried that? Perhaps it's just RCN Cable, but I got one of those endless automated lists of numbers to select, and when I finally managed to get a human being, it was a woman, probably in some third world country, whose English I could barely understand. I couldn't get a local phone number for the company at all, either via telephone or from the phone directory. All I wanted was a technician who could exchange my old modem for a new one, and of course I was resigned to the idea of paying big bucks for a service call. However, without a local number, I couldn't really do that.

I finally gave up. For the rest of the day, I unrealistically dreamed of urgent emails demanding my attention (the reality is that at this time of year, I receive mostly spam [well-handled by AOL] and ads from companies I've ordered from on line, and I'm not in the mood for any more "bargains.") I was nervous, restless, and tempted to eat huge amounts of candy. I surely must be addicted to computers and the Internet, and I was apparently suffering from withdrawal!

I was dismayed to realize how addicted I am, and I hated that helpless feeling. I am not and never have been a "techie," and I have no friends or relatives nearby to help. Wisely, I decided to consult the local Yellow Pages under Computer Service and Repair, and lo and behold, there were a few companies listed that sounded promising. I chose Home Tech Computer Solutions on the basis of their ad, called, and wonder of wonders, they promised to send a technician out the next day! He came as scheduled, and he did a wonderful job of analyzing my computer and modem problems, advising me what I needed, and actually getting me back on line, at least temporarily (he will install a new modem soon). Thank you, Michael.

So what did I learn? My computer addiction is a reality, and it's a relatively benign one for a senior citizen. The computer is my main connection to the outside world. I need it. I also learned that my brother's adage, "Nothing is a problem if you can fix it with money," has some value. I now know how to keep my computer lifeline open. I've heard a lot of complaints about poor service, so it's reassuring to learn that at least in Chicago, there are entrepreneurs willing to help for a fair price. To me, it's worth it to be back on line.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, December 10, 2007

Are Too Many People Trying to Get Rich off Baby Boomers?

In a recent post entitled "Pay Per Boom," Mark, the author of Going Like Sixty ( introduced readers to a new Boomer Web Site, After reading the description, I began to wonder who needs such a site? I admit I'm too old to be a boomer, but a lot of senior sites are arising too, some good, some not so good. To quote from Going Like Sixty:

"I may create a Dumb Ass Marketing to Boomers Award. DAMBA. And the DAMBA goes to…this is laughable. Another “new social network” launched. Here’s the really funny part: they want Boomers to PAY $19 to join. [The site offers a Premier membership for $29 too, with discounts on travel, etc., but no assurance that such discounts are or ever will really be available.]

"Of course, this [the fee] was done for our 'comfort' and to protect us from nasty comments, ads and spammers. Boy, we sure do need help with that. After all, we just can hardly figger out this internet. All those tubes and everything."

The site descriptions states, "So far the over 40 crowd has not caught the big wave of social networking. The creators of Boomers Network feel one reason for this is the commercialization of the free sites and the fact that this group of people are not interested in all of the applications that draw the younger crowds."

"Never mind the pictures that are stretched, the grammatical errors, the punctuation errors, and the typos. These people win the award just on their sheer ignorance of the marketplace."

I checked out the site myself. Yes, there are writing errors. Yes, stretching out pictures to full width makes for some interesting distortions. I can't imagine why anyone would join this site, with or without a fee. Neither can the author of Going Like Sixty.

I guess everyone is trying to figure out how to make money. That's the American way, and I'm not about to condemn it, yet all these attempts to "educate" and inform the 0ver-40 or over-50 set, both boomers and seniors, together or separately, bother me a bit. At least I hope that site developers, especially if they're not "typical" boomers or seniors themselves, will listen to us elders. The founders of the sites I write for do listen.

I guess I'm just an independent senior who resents anyone's attempts to stereotype me economically, socially, or any other way. I'm old, but I'm still an individual.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Another Look at Aging

I just found this interesting statement in the December 10 post, "Aging, Femininety and Sex Toys," on Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By ( (If you're looking for thrills, no, it isn't primarily about sex toys.)

"Attaining a more androgynous appearance as we get older allows us to move on to the new role nature intends for us in late life – that of elders with more concern for the world outside ourselves than during the more ego-driven mid-years."

This interests me because it brings to mind the issue of "graceful aging" vs. extreme attempts to look younger. Personally, I've given up the battle to stay or look young and am just doing the best I can, but I marvel at some of the seniors I see who are still obsessed with clothes and hair and face lifts. In my opinion, some of them look like clowns with their intense, colorful makeup, "young" hair styles, and pseudo-sexy, age-inappropriate clothes. Some look as though their faces are frozen, and they probably are, thanks to Botox.

In my opinion, many of my peers are too concerned with shopping, cosmetic surgery, and exotic wardrobes. On the other hand, I believe in the right to spend one's money as one sees fit, to dress and look any way one wants. I just advise taking a careful look in the mirror.

I'm also aware that I haven't been completely consistent. My hair isn't entirely its natural drab color, and I can't explain why I bother visiting the nearby beauty shop occasionally. I guess it's my single induldence. I explain it not as wanting to look young, but wanting to avoid looking older than I really am. Oh well.

Back to the quote: rather than dwelling on our growing physical imperfections, let's concentrate more on "concern for the world outside us" and less on shopping for that perfect suit or fur coat or "young" hairstyle. That means volunteer work, sharing our life stories through writing, helping others, and all the other things many of us are already trying to do. I do see a few "senior princesses" occasionally, and I try not to judge them on exteriors alone.

We elders can't really win the battle of attaining or regaining or preserving feminine perfection, but there are other battles out there that we can still win if we try. It's all part of aging gracefully, and that's a very difficult thing to do!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Retirement Planning: Looking Beyond the Money. A Review

A Review of Your Retirement, Your Way, by Alan Bernstein and John Trauth (McGraw Hill, 2007)

It seems to me--and I admit the possibility that I may be wrong--that when I retired back around the turn of the century (1999, to be exact), retirement planning books were mostly about money. Yes, financial planning is very important, but it always seemed to me that by the time you reach retirement, you've done it or you haven't. I'd planned in my own conservative way, so I never read those books.

Today, thanks to the self-help book craze, the scope and number of retirement guides seem to have expanded. I'm not a fan of self-help books in general, and I've been retired quite a while, but I still decided to take a look at one of the retirement guides for the new age.

Your Retirement, Your Way, by Alan Bernstein and John Trauth, is subtitled, "Why it takes more than money to live your dream." In thirteen chapters, including "Preparing Psychologically for Change," "Creating Your NewLife Master Plan Summary," and "Determining How You Want to Be Remembered," Bernstein and Trauth cover many of the retirement concerns I've faced, and they provide common-sense guides for coming to terms with these issues.

The authors of this book invite you to create a "personal, customized NewLife Master Plan . . . through a structured process that will give you the power to take your future life into your own hands and create the best possible retirement lifestyle unique to your own interests, personality, relationships, and situation." A lofty goal, indeed!

I especially like Bernstein's "Who Were You? Who Are You? Who Can You Become?" chapter because the author suggests writing down things such as "What I was doing when I was at my best," "Situations in which I've been at my worst," and many more. I promote the same strategy in a less structured way in my own book, Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors who Want to Write (Infinity, 2007). "Writing to Discover," as I call it, is a great idea! I'm glad to see it included here.

I was also happy to be introduced to the "Birkman personality profile" (copyright Birkman International, Inc.), a somewhat complex but very interesting strategy used by some psychotherapists "to better understand people negotiating complex transitions."

I tried the included "Birkman Interest and Style Summary" to discover my interest and lifestyle colors: Red (Implementer), Green (Communicator), Yellow (Administrator) or Blue (Planner). My result was blue all the way. That means I like to plan activities, deal with abstraction, think of new approaches, innovate, and work with ideas. It also means that I appear perceptive, agreeable, conscientious, reflective, and creative.

Blue means that my interests include abstracting, theorizing, designing, writing, and originating, and that my fields include writing a book, joining a spiritual commuinity, teaching, and volunteering. My style is insightful, relective, selectively sociable, creative, thoughful, emotional, imaginative, and sensitive, and my preferred environment is cutting edge, informallly paced, organized in private offices, low key, and future oriented. With the exception of "joining a spiritual community," these terms fit me perfectly. If I had not pretty much done so already in my own way, I could have gone on with goals, strategies, objectives, and specific activities and tasks to create my NewLife Chart.

There's much more in this book, including one chapter on financial planning, but the emphasis is on self-anaylsis, facing reality, and planning ahead. This book fulfills its stated purpose to "help you recognize and draw on resources that you may never have recognized . . . to create a truly fulfilling life, custom-designed for you and you alone."

I heartily recommend Your Retirement, Your Way to anyone nearing or even beginning to think about retirement. It's a big step; don't take it unprepared.

Buy on

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Postscript 12/10: I seldom hear from main-stream publishers or their authors, so I was very happy to receive the following comment on this review. Thank you, Mr. Bernstein!

"Dear Ms. Styne,Thank you for your sympathetic and appreciative review of Your Retirement, Your Way. Nothing feels as good to a writer as being read-- and understood-- and you obviously accomplished both in spades. Since we are both triple Blues (Birkman), I imagine we see the world through similar filters.I wonder if I could ask you to send your review to our Amazon site? We have had only 5 star reviews so far and another-- written as cogently as yours-- will help our stars shine. If there is anything I might do for you or your site please do not hesitate to ask.Warm regards,Alan Bernstein."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Blogs By, For, and About Seniors

In an earlier post (July 14, 2007, to be exact), I quoted from Mary Gale Hare's Baltimore Sun/Chicago Tribune article "Seniors [are] Surging to [the] Internet." According to that article, "The number of [Internet] users over 65 jumped more than 160 percent since 2000, while no other age segment grew more than 70 percent during the same period. . . . Advocates for older Americans believe that trend is crucial to maintaining a healthy life style. Computers are an important way to stay connected, and that's important to successful aging."

Yes, I have friends who resist computers fiercely as new and intrusive, and yes, I have met so-called advocates for the elderly who appear to think that computers are too complex to be understood by "the old dears." Yes, my late mother, when in her late eighties, was afraid to touch a computer, even though she had one, as well as children and grandchildren eager to help her learn. She was a stubborn woman, but after all, she was born in 1911, and computers just hadn't been a part of her life.

Despite such objections, I have noticed some positive things. On visits to my mother's nursing home, I walked past an open door where a female resident was using a computer with huge text on a large screen. That was her way of keeping in touch, and although I never had a chance to talk to her, I admired her from afar. Screen magnification is easily possible for those with poor vision. User-friendly keyboards, track balls, and voice input systems are inexpensively available for those whose fingers are too stiff to type. It's possible to talk and have your speech translated into a typed message. You can find details on all of these things with an Internet search, and there's information in as well.

If you're reading this, you're probably a confirmed computer user, but I hope you'll urge any computer-phobics you know to give computers a try. Anyway, my real purpose here is to remind you that one of the most interesting features of the Internet is the "Elderblog." Among the plethora a senior information and social networking sites (some of them catering too much to boomers at the expense of seniors, I fear), there are many fascinating blogs, or web logs, by, for, and about seniors. Here's where you can learn to appreciate a variety of opinions and concerns, to learn what senior living in all its varieties is really like.

How do you find senior blogs of interest to you (besides this one, of course)? One easy source which I've mentioned before is "Planet Elders" at Click on "Planet" at the top of the page for a news aggregator list of recent posts on elder-related blogs. Both of my blogs are covered there, but so are many more. If the beginning of the post sounds interesting, you can click to read the whole thing and explore that blog. You may find some new favorites.

Perhaps the best-known Elderblogger is Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By ( Ronni maintains a long list of other elderblogs on the left side of her blog, too. Check some of them out.

Here are two recent blog posts on senior living and senior issues that may interest you, both from today's "Planet Elders" list:

"Not So Privaate Eye," on Dogwalk Musing:

"Should We Beware of These Nursing Homes" on Gilbert Guide:

Tell me about your favorite blogs by, for , and about seniors!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

All Those Old People--and I'm One of Them

I usually think I'm dealing with old age well now, but sometimes I wonder. This time the occasion was a "Lifestyle" meeting on downsizing and interior decor for future residents of The Clare, my soon-to-be senior facility.

Always the interested observer, I noticed a few things that made me uncomfortable. First, the presenter lacked skill in giving her slide-illustrated lecture. I don't suppose an interior designer is generally expected to do such things well, and some will blame it on the computer. However, in these days of the ubiquitous Power Point, I was surprised. Was this a second-class presentation from a lifetime care facility said be to the newest, the best, and surely among the most expensive?

While I admit that I'm not exactly young and vibrant, many in attendance had faded a great deal since the first future residents' meeting I attended several years ago. Earlier I admired all the active seniors, but this time the rapid passing of time and the effects of aging impressed me more. It doesn't help that among the few future residents I've met, one couple had to withdraw and move to asssisted living elsewhere at least a year ago, and another woman died of cancer.

I'm ashamed to say that the halting speech and irrelevant questions asked by some of those in atttendance bothered me, too.. These are, for the most part, people who demand the best and can afford it, but I sympathize with project management in their struggle against impossible odds to satisfy everyone's exacting requirements.

I began to think about the larger question of that final senior move, even if it's to a luxury senior apartment. As an independent loner who has been retired since 1999, downsized into a condo, and reinvented myself, mainly through writing, I made my decision to move because of the Clare's location and because I had no family to take care of me later. I believed it was important to make my plans while still relatively healthy.

It bothers me a bit that even the well-meaning staff of this high-end facility seem to assume that future residens will live endlessly social lives filled with theater and opera and elegant dining, perhaps enlivened by lifetime learning university classes and travel. All that is fine, but I've been doing it for years. It's not enough. Do my writing activities make me too independent for this community? I still hope to find some kindred spirits there, but if not, I'll take comfort in the fact that I'm doing fine now, and my new apartment will have a better view.

The necessary lifestyle changes brought by age are probably disturbing to all seniors. A quote from Charles Darwin seems appropriate here: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." I'll try.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos: Clare web site (left) and the author

Monday, November 26, 2007

On Laundry and "Going Green"

As Kermit the Frog sang years ago, "It's not Easy Being Green." Today, being green, in the environmental sense, is in, but like those celebrities who lend their names to the anti-global warming cause but drive their SUV's to the corner store, I have a problem when it comes to my own comfort and convenience.

I was reminded of how much I depend on my environmentally threatening devices when I read two articles in the December 3 issue of Time, "The Right to Dry," by Elizabeth Schemme, and "It's Inconvenient Being Green," by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. According to Cullen, "Environmental consciousness is no konger just another lifestyle choice . . . . it has been upgraded to a moral imperative, and this has produced a diagnosable conditioin called eco-anxiety." I'm too laid back for that.

The issue Schemme focuses on is one that interests me because it involves us all: laundry. Unless we can afford to leave it up to the servants or professionals, we all have to wash some clothes. And today, the convenience of automatic washers and dryers often must be balanced with the environmentally sound but aesthtically unattractive outdoor clothesline. Homeowners' associations often ban outdoor drying of laundry, so it has become a human rights issue as well as an environmenatal one.

Some activists point out that clothes dryers use up 6% of total electricity and emit up to a ton of CO2 each year per household. But outdoor clotheslines have long been considered evidence of poverty and destroyers of property values. I remember being appalled by the laundry displays in less-developed countries (see the ultimate outdoor laundry in Mumbai [Bombay], India, above.)

Those who grew up on farms (as I did) or in small towns often remember sweet-smelling, right-off-the clothesline garments fondly, but not me. To me, hanging clothes out on the line was a chore, just another of my mother's tedious responsibilities. She embraced the automatic washer and dryer as soon as they became available, and I've never hung laundry outside in my adult life, as far as I remember.

Admittedly, I have lived in a large city for many years, and outdoor clothes drying has never been an option. But when I read about Mary Lou Sayer, an over-85 resident of a Concord, NH, retirement village and her efforts to abolish the community's clothesline ban, I'm tempted to ask how I, as a senior myself, would respond in a similar situtuation. I'm afraid that in my case, convenience and aesthetics would win out over concern for the environment. I can't imagine hanging laundry outside after all these years. No, it's not easy being green!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo by the author, 2005

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thoughts About Thanksgiving Day

I remember the hot kitchen, the wonderful smells, my grandma in her white "cooking dress" making sure that everything was just right. I remember the spotless white linen tablecloth and napkins, the polished silver, the gleaming china and crystal, the place settings arranged just right, no fork out of place.

I remember the small family gathered about, just five of us, my father silent as usual, my mother trying to be helpful despite her barely-disguised dislike of her mother-in-law. I remember my brother impatiently waiting for the food, eager to escape to a more active atmosphere somewhere, perhaps a ball game with his friends if the weather was good. I remember sneaking just one more chocolate from the Whitman’s Sampler box that was a holiday tradition. I had no fear of "spoiling" my gigantic appetite when I was surrounded by such great smells!

I remember my own little apartment kitchen, my husband struggling to cook everything on the tiny stove and in the tiny oven while I tried to find places for all the mismatched plates on the long, makeshift table with the slightly stained gold permanent press tablecloth. The napkins were paper.

I remember the crowd of ten or twelve crammed into the little apartment, mostly the single patrons of my husband’s bar who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Family Thanksgivings had been a tradition in my husband’s family, so this was an important day for him. I was as inept at cooking then as I am now, but he did it enthusiastically. Most of the guests were men, and they ate every crumb of food. We seldom had leftovers in those years. A few guests fell asleep immediately after dinner, usually on the floor if any space was available there. We continued this Thanksgiving dinner tradition for several years after we moved to our house nearby. It was not a large house, but we filled it with good food and holiday joy for many of the same guests, and a few more.

I remember the year when we finally ran out of friends to invite for Thanksgiving dinner; everyone had a family and lived in the suburbs by then, while we were still a city family of two. We made reservations for dinner at the Signature Room at the top of the John Hancock Center. It seemed very expensive to my frugal husband, but he ultimately enjoyed the experience. We ate so much at the sumptuous buffet that we couldn’t eat much of the small turkey provided for us, so we took it home (as advertised and recommended). Jules made turkey soup and turkey sandwiches enough to last at least a week. I think we got our money’s worth that year.

I remember our last Thanksgiving together in 1999. It was also my last Thanksgiving with my mother, who was eighty-eight years old by then and living in a retirement condo in Northfield, Minnesota. My nephew and his wife cooked dinner at their house, and two grand-nieces were there as well. The food was fine, but I remember little about it. My mother lived on until this year, and I always sent her flowers for Thanksgiving. However, I didn’t join her in Northfield for the holiday again.

I remember mostly that my husband was not feeling well on Thanksgiving, 1999, that he left immediately after dinner to return to the motel to rest. That was very uncharacteristic of him; he was usually the life of the party. I was very worried. He seemed to feel better later, but it wasn’t long after our return home that his pancreatic cancer was diagnosed. He would die in March of the following year.

I remember later Thanksgivings with a friend’s family, including her husband and her two daughters. That tradition, begun when Jules was still alive, ended when one of my friends’ daughters moved away and her parents began to visit her for Thanksgiving. I understood.

This year, I’ll enjoy my Lean Cuisine turkey dinner, watch parades on television, read, write, and feel content. I may even open a bottle of Chardonnay. I’ve come to terms with the changes brought by aging and the passing of time and loved ones, and it’s all right. However, I am happy to remember those Thanksgivings from the past and many more, the good and the bad. Life goes on.

Ready for a Thanksgiving joke?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, November 16, 2007

Eiight Rules for a Healthy Life

Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By, offers these simple, common-sense rules for a healthy life:

Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
Avoid too much fat, red meat and sweets
Take some regular physical exercise – every day
Exercise your mind too
Get enough sleep
Don’t smoke tobacco
Get a physical checkup once a year

If we all followed these rules, there would be no need for all of those best-selling books about staying young, about turning back the clock. Ronni suggests that we save our money. I agree. Like her, I am a realist.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Those 73-Year-Olds: A Review

The protagonists of Howard Englander's twenty short tales or fictional portraits (73 ,BookSurge, 2007) are all seventy-three years old. All are struggling with the inevitable changes and problems that old age brings: the loss of employment-related esteem, of beauty, of energy, of loved ones. While we may laugh at the characters' foibles and their unjustified expectations, we also laugh with them as we realize that they are old and dealing with matters we are all likely to face, or have faced already.

There's Morris, who snaps and is accused of assault after he encounters "all those Barbie and Ken doll look-alikes jabbering away on their cell phones non-stop . . . everybody talking, talking, talking . . . nobody listening . . . I was invisible, an alien from another planet." This episode triggers memories of the past, when his grandmother used a wall-mounted party-line phone and looked upon the dial system as a new-fangled invention.

There's Jake, crazed by the death of his beloved wife, whose imagination conjures up an elaborate plan to shoot a holocaust-denying university professor, but who settles for writing a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune.

There are sexual fantasies (mostly male), youth and beauty fantasies propelled by repeated plastic surgeries, fantasies of impressing former classmates at collIege reunions, fantasies of happy living in idyllic but impractical locations, of finding meaning through mystical meditation. In a sense, none of these fantasies becomes reality, but the message seems to be, "Too bad, but we won't stop trying."

I can't say that I always appreciated the well-intentioned senior and Jewish stereotypes hinted at in Mr. Englander's book (I am over 73; I'm not Jewish, although my late husband was), and I found the sans serif typeface in this book a bit difficult to read. Still, I like any book that dares to depict active seniors in a society that, according to a blurb on this book's cover, "regards people in their seventies like old cars ready for the junk heap."

Howard Englander and I both know we elders have our problems, and that we aren't ready for the junk heap. While we probably wouldn't agree on what's funny, we both know that a sense of humor is very useful. Despite a few reservations about it, I am glad I read this book.

I hope Mr. Englander, a "nationally recognized advertising writer and commercial director" who is now a freelance writer and part-time tour guide in Chicago, will continue writing, with more details about his own apparently fascinating life.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Cautionary Message on Health Care

Most of us agree that there's a health care crisis in the United States, but we don't agree on possible solutions. Read this post from Grandad's Irish blog, "Head Rambles." To me, it suggests that we should be careful before we say that other countries have systems superior to ours. I have my doubts about that. Do I have a solution of my own? No, but I don't trust our government or any other to tell me where and from whom I can get medical care.

A Useful Message on Aging

Here is a great image I borrowed from a British blog, Judith's "Not Dead Yet!" See

My Bumpy Road to Happy Volunteering

Doing volunteer work is a good way for retirees to keep active and to help others. My own road to becoming a volunteer was rather bumpy; that probably has a lot to do with my quirky personality and fierce independence, but anyway, here is what happened.

After I retired, and my husband died less than a year later, I realized that I needed to do something besides sit around and feel sorry for myself. "Volunteer," I was advised. Someone suggested holding babies in a hospital ward, but that idea scared me to death. I’d never held a small baby in my life, as far as I could remember, and it wasn’t something that I was prepared to do. Mind you, I have nothing against babies, but . . . .Another friend suggested theater ushering. That interested me, but I realized that walking up and down sloping aisles or steps and standing for long periods of time were not possible for me.

Some time later, a large national organization to which I belong put out a call for volunteer workers at its national convention, to be held in Chicago that year. I filled out the form. This is more my style, I thought. I’d participated in many conferences while I was teaching.

Eventually, we were called–hundreds of us–to an orientation meeting at McCormick Place. O.K. It was a mob scene, but I absorbed the necessary information. The problem came afterward, when we were lined up in a hot, crowded hallway to get our individual assignments. The line stretched for blocks, and it didn’t seem to be moving. The harried people at the tables seemed unable to find individual names on voluminous multi-paged lists, and those at the front of the line seemed to have problems and stories to tell. I guess most lonely seniors are eager to talk. I’d never seen anything so slow and inefficient!

After at least an hour and a half of standing and sweating, I finally dared to cut into the line to observe what was happening. Apparently, nothing was, except that the mob was growing impatient and overheated. I walked to the end of the table and spoke up: "Take my name off the list!" I walked out. I still belong to that organization, but volunteering for it is out. Any organization that treats volunteers like cattle turns me off.

At about the same time, a male friend told me about his efforts to volunteer. Probably because he appeared relatively strong and able for a senior, he was constantly being asked to act as a volunteer security guard at various events (this was not in Chicago). No one ever asked him what he wanted to do.

Finally, through an Internet search, I discovered volunteer opportunities at the Chicago Cultural Center. I was vaguely familiar with this landmark building, but I had little idea what went on there. I thought it might be interesting to find out, so I went there and met the Director of Volunteers. She became a friend almost immediately; we were both writers, and we both had books coming out soon. She immediately recommended that I join the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (it turned out that she was in charge of membership; the organization has nothing to do with the Cultural Center). I was surprised; I was not and never had been a "press woman," nor had I heard of that organization. My horizons were being broadened rapidly. It turns out that the IWPA welcomes book authors too, even unknown ones, so I was in. I am happy that I joined.

The Cultural Center has a large number of volunteers who do everything from stuffing envelopes to working information desks to staffing information booths at Chicago’s summer festivals, as well as ushering at various concerts and other events in the building. The volunteers are mostly senior, mostly educated, and very interesting people. And I’d found a caring human being running the show! No cattle calls here, as far as I could tell.

My first volunteer assignment was in one of the Mayor’s information booths at Taste of Chicago, the city’s huge celebration of gluttony. The work involved handing out brochures and providing directions to visitors. This was interesting, and I learned more about the city’s parks and other attractions so that I could pass the information on. My fellow workers were interesting, too. We shared life stories. However, there were two problems: Chicago’s late June heat and humidity and the need to stand for long periods of time. My body didn’t stand up to either very well. I soon learned that this was not a good assignment for me, much as I had hoped it would be. It really bothered me that a couple of volunteers in their eighties handled it much better than I did.

From then on, I specified inside-only, mostly seated assignments. That led me to information desk duty as a fill-in for 3 ½ hour shifts at either the Randolph Street or Washington Street desk. This appealed to me. I was able to greet and talk to many visitors from everywhere, and I quickly learned more about my own city than I had ever known. I learned a bit about the landmark Cultural Center, formerly Chicago’s Public Library, with its Tiffany dome, mosaic ceilings featuring authors’ names, meeting rooms, art galleries, and regular Monday and Wednesday lunch hour concerts. I learned about the Renaissance Court Senior Center and the Chicago Visitors’ Center off the Randolph Street lobby. The latter is filled with more tourist information about the city than I could absorb in a lifetime.

I had found my volunteer niche. I asked for and got a regular Thursday morning shift at the Washington Street information desk, where things tend to be quiet except when huge groups of school children come in for special concerts, tours, or other events. I enjoy sitting beneath the mosaic names of my favorite American authors. It’s a beautiful lobby. I enjoy talking to the staff and visitors. When things are very quiet, I read or work Sudoku puzzles. I even wrote several installments of a short story entitled "Volunteer" as I sat there, and I developed ideas for some blog posts. If I could walk better or climb stairs, I might choose more active assignments, but alas. Anyway, I’m happy where I am.

I realize that this assignment doesn’t sound very exciting or charitable. However, my point is that it suits me. To me, helping tourists enjoy their Chicago visits is a worthy pursuit. If, instead, you are devoted to a certain charity or cause and can provide valuable help, go for it! If your church or other organization needs your help, by all means do it! If you are very active and prefer outdoor assignments, fine. Volunteer duty choices are very personal and individual, and that’s as it should be. We all tend to be better at doing something we like to do. Don’t get discouraged if your first choice is not a good fit. You should be doing something you enjoy, especially if you’re working without pay.

And a final note to those in charge of volunteers: we senior citizens deserve respect. Never assume that we’re all alike in our abilities or needs or wants. Take the time to explore our interests and treat us with understanding and compassion. You may be able to learn from us, as well.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo: Washington Street Lobby, Chicago Cultural Center, by the author

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Clare at Water Tower Again

Here, hiding behind a neighboring building, from a vantage point looking south on Rush Street, is my future home, The Clare at Water Tower. My apartment is probably one of those at the very top so far; the construction crew seems to have reached about the 35th floor, where I expect to live, or so it appears to me from ground level.

Since the final count will be 53 floors, there's still a lot of work to be done. Ground-level photography of the building is virtually impossible now, so I haven't walked that way so often lately. However, I'm beginning to think about all of the issues involved in moving into a lifetime care senior building. Have I made the best possible choice? I hope so.

I look forward to blogging my way toward this move late in 2008. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, if any of you have made a similar move, please share your experiences. Tell me about your senior residences. What do you like and dislike about them?

There are many uncertainties in youth and middle age, but is old age even more uncertain? Will I be able to retain the independence of my enjoyable but non-lucrative writing career? How long can I remain healthy enough to avoid assisted living or nursing care? Does anyone else share these thoughts?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo by the author on 10/31/07
For more information on the building, click on the link to the right under "My Links."

Monday, October 29, 2007

This is My Tarot Card?

Can this be me? I got the idea from a new blog, Check it out.

You are The Moon

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Moon is a card of magic and mystery - when prominent you know that nothing is as it seems, particularly when it concerns relationships. All logic is thrown out the window.

The Moon is all about visions and illusions, madness, genius and poetry. This is a card that has to do with sleep, and so with both dreams and nightmares. It is a scary card in that it warns that there might be hidden enemies, tricks and falsehoods. But it should also be remembered that this is a card of great creativity, of powerful magic, primal feelings and intuition. You may be going through a time of emotional and mental trial; if you have any past mental problems, you must be vigilant in taking your medication but avoid drugs or alcohol, as abuse of either will cause them irreparable damage. This time however, can also result in great creativity, psychic powers, visions and insight. You can and should trust your intuition.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

A Geriatrician's Views on Aging

Thanks to Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By, I have encountered Geriatrician William H. Thomas, of the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Country.

Check out his blog at, as well as Ronni's interview of him at

The second part of the inteview will appear on Time Goes By tomorrow. I plan some comments on Dr. Thomas' ideas later.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Support Little-Known Authors!

Do you restrict your reading to best-sellers, old classics, and books by authors who specialize in expensive publicity campaigns? Do you depend exclusively on books from your local library? Why not expand your tastes to a few books you've never heard of? Two good ways of doing this are by searching by author, title, or genre and by attending your local book fairs.

I was one of thirty authors appearing yesterday at the Illinois Woman's Press Association Fall Book Fair (see program front and back covers above), and I was favorably impressed by my fellow authors: their diversity, their variety of topics and genres, and most of all, their enthusiasm. Of course I have not read all the books on display there, but those I have read were well worth reading. They all tell fascinating stories. There are books here for all ages.

Here is a list of the participating authors and their titles. If these books sound interesting, look them up on line. Find out what the small press and self-publishing world is up to. You may be surprised and pleased.

* Indicates IWPA members.

Kathy Catrambone and Ellen Shubart: Taylor Street: Chicago's Little Italy

Larry W. Green: Water Tanks of Chicago: A Vanishing Urban Legacy

Lenore and John Weiss: Traveling the Historic Three; As the Story Goes; Traveling the New, Historic Route 66 of Illinois.

Jerry Crimmins: Fort Dearborn

* David G. Clark: Exploring Route 66 in Chicagoland; Route 66 in Chicago

* Marianne Wolf: Joliet, Images of America

Renee Rosen: Every Crooked Pot

Naedi Okorafor-Mibachu: Zahrah the Windseeker; The Shadow Speaker

Lynn Voedisch: Excited Light

Carol June Stover: Current River Redemption

Michael Cain: The Tangled Web: The Life and Death of Richard Cain--Chicago Cop and Mafia Hitman

Judy Douglas Knauer: Bad Catholics, a Novel of Dark Suspense; Ecstasy Reclaimed

Tina L. Jens: The Blues Ain't Nothin: Tales of the Lonesome Blues Pub

John Weagly: The Undertow of Small Town Dreams

Tina L. Jens and John Weagly: Book of Dead Things; Tales From the Red Lion; Spooks!

* George Scheber: Earl the Squirrel Series: Peanut Butter Apple Pie; Hollywood; Chicken Big

Linda Hoffman Kimball: Come with Me on Halloween

Cindi Dammann: Tailgating Tales: Diary of a Female Football Fan

* Helena Lehman: Pillar of Enoch Ministry Books: The Language of God in the Universe; The Language of God in Humanity; The Language of God in History; The Language of God in Prophecy

*Marlys Marshall Styne: Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor; Seniorwriting: A Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write

* Jane Ranshaw: 101 Tips For Marketing Your Services; Quick Guide to Grammar and Style

Thomas R. Jones, Sr.: Lost Survivor

Jennie Spallone: Deadly Choices

* Rachel Madorsky: Create Your Own Destiny! Spiritual Path to Success

Stephanie E. Wilson-Coleman: Embracing Life Lessons; Is Anybody Listening?

Yvonne F. Brown: Self Creation: 10 Powerful Principles for Changing Your Life

* Susan Brauer: Just Keep Dancing

* Francine Pappadis Friedman: MatchDotBomb: A Midlife Journey Through Internet Dating

Rami Yelda: A Persian Odyssey

* Dr. Elena Ashley: Splunkunio Splunkey Detective and Peacemaker Case One: The Missing Friendship Bracelet (bilingual, English-Spanish)

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Never too Late, Indeed: Today's "Senior Class"

"Call it the graying of community colleges. With more free time on their hands, more retirees, many of them in their 70's or older, are finding their way back to the classroom."

In her article, "This senior class grayer, and still hungry to learn: Community colleges flooded with retirees" in the October 19 Chicago Tribune, staff reporter Megan Twohey explores the growing back-to-class trend among seniors. Community colleges are creating or expanding programs to meet their needs.

Among Chicago-area suburban colleges with flourishing programs is The College of DuPage. Its Older Adult Institute, which opened in 1982, has grown from 65 to 7,000 students. Oakton Community College's Emeritus Program, 25 years old, has more the 23,000 students, and the newer Harper College Lifelong Learning Institute is also growing.

According to a national survey, while less that 25% of community colleges had special programs for seniors in 1990, 69% had them in 2005. "It's just going to keep growing," said the Oakton Emeritus Program's manager Leona Hoelting. The average age in her program is 75.

Some seniors take classes for credit to earn associates' degrees; others appreciate the "no grades, no pressure" atmosphere in non-credit lectures and classes that they find interesting: everything from Iraq to art to Shakespeare, from history to religion. Of course there are social aspects too: theater and other cultural events, sports, ballroom dancing.

As a long-time community college professor, mainly before the growth of specialized programs for seniors, I noted that my older students were often my better students. They wanted to learn, did their homework, and asked questions. Now, some Oakton students said they'd tried golf, Florida, and other typical retirement locations and activities, but CCNY grad Larry Pressner, 81, says, "Golf doesn't send me."

Having spent virtually my whole life in one classroom or another, I have not explored these senior programs extensively myself. I live in the city, but such programs are expanding here as well. I'd like to try teaching a writing or literature class for my fellow seniors, but if senior students are in demand, senior teachers don't seem to be.

Whether you want to explore those subjects you never had time for in college, or did not have time or money for college at all when you were younger, check out your local community college. It's never really too late: "We had one student who was 100 years old," said Marget Hamilton of College of DuPage's Older Adult Instutute.

Link to story:,0,833896.story

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Video -- and a Book --Worth Noticing!

On September 30, I reviewed Donna G. Humphrey's book of poetry, I Speak of Simple Things (Ampersand, Inc., 2007) on my other blog, "Write your Life!" Donna Humphrey, the 89-year-old mother of a federal judge in Chicago, is sometimes remembered as the victim, along with the judge's husband, of a horrible murder in 2005. Mrs. Humphrey's daughters Joan Humphrey Lefkow and Judith Humphrey Smith discovered her poetry in drawers and closets after her death and published this book as a tribute to her.

My "Write your Life!" is a blog designed to promote the writing of life stories, and reading this book made me realize that poetry is a very useful medium for telling such stories, as it obviousy was in Donna Humphrey's case.

On yesterday's Today Show, Matt Lauer interviewed Joan Lefkow and Judy Smith about the book, and the interview underscores the importance of leaving one's thoughts, experiences, and memories behind. The family had realized that Mrs. Humphrey wrote frequently during her later years, even feeling guilty when she didn't take time to write, but they were surprised at the extensiveness of her poems and by all the things they revealed: her enjoyment of nature, her concerns about aging, her feelings about family. These poems present a picture of a real person, well worth remembering.

For a video of the Today Show interview, go to

To read my review, go to

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another Look at the Bold Women of the Past: Models for the Future

Top: Coordinator Cecelia Green as Rosie the Riveter.

Bottom: Models, with Commentator and Script Writer Marlene Cook. (Seniorwriter as Jane Addams, center of back row, behind "Elvis").

National Federation of Press Women Conference, Richmond, Virginia, 9/21/2007.

Click on photos for larger views. See also my September 24 post.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Joys and Benefits (?) of Chocolate

Nutritionists have recently discovered that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is good for us. Hooray! But . . .

After I added this information to my mental list of food facts right above the benefits of wine, I stopped to think for a moment. As my ample figure shows, I have always had a problematic love-hate relationship with food, and chocolate has always been one of my biggest problems. I'm afraid I'm one of those crazy binge eaters. If elated, I want to celebrate with chocolate. If depressed, I need the comfort of chocolate. Cake, cookies, ice cream, candy: I want it all, as long as there's chocolate in it (and sometimes even when there's not).

I drink wine occasionally, seldom more than one glass a week, and it's not a problem. I can drink a single glass of wine without demanding the whole bottle. But give me a chocolate, and I want the whole box. Serious, rational woman though I am, I crumple at the sight, smell, taste, or even the thought of chocolate.

When I was finally old enough to go to the dentist alone, I preceded nearly every visit with a trip to the five-and-dime for a bag of chocolate candy, usually old-fashioned chocolate drops with that creamy white stuff inside, as I recall. I'm sure that my dentist knew, despite my heroic rinsing efforts, but that habit probably contributed to my lifetime financial support of a long line of dentists.

Another example of my chocolate insanity came a couple of years ago, while I was taking care of a neighbor's cat during the holidays. I went into his apartment twice daily to take care of Gracie, the elderly cat. My honesty was sorely tested. Had there been money lying around, or a pile of diamonds on the table, I would have ignored them completely, but there on the kitchen counter was -- a Christmas box of almonds covered in dark chocolate! The box had already been opened, so what was the harm of my trying one or two? My neighbor wouldn't notice.

Well, one or two led to three or four or more, and remember that I was going in twice a day! As my nieghbor's return approached, I paniced. The box was nearly empty. I couldn't replace this particular gift package. I decided to write a confessional note; I was really ashamed of myself, and very apologetic.

Fortunately, my neighbor laughed, and even presented me with the remainder of the box. I was forgiven, but I was also embarrassed.

I've never had any of the standard addiction problems: drugs, alcohol, even smoking. However, I guess each of us has his or her own "Achilles heel." I'd probably be better off if those nutritionists had discovered that chocolate is poisonous to humans--but have you noticed that Peanut M & M's now come with a dark chocolate coating? Yummy!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, October 12, 2007

About Turning 75

Today is my 75th birthday. Young people often look forward to birthdays. To them, birthdays mean great things like permission to drive, drink legally, get a job. For us oldsters, birthdays are not always so eagerly anticipated. I thought I was "over the hill" at 55, then 60, then 65, then 70. Now I'm 75, and I'm still around.

My situation is not really typical; I have no children, no grandchildren, no family nearby to throw a party or wish me well. I'm not a party person anyway, so I don't mind. What I do have are a few good friends. Two offered to take me out for birthday dinners, so I'll enjoy good food and good conversation tonight and tomorrow night. Thanks, Jane and Margot.

As seniors often do, I received birthday cards from my alderwoman and my insurance agent, and I'll probably get an e-card from my brother. That's fine.

So what's good and bad about turning 75? The bad is obvious: wrinkles, aches, and pains. I miss my husband, who died in 2000, and my mother, who died this year. She always used to send me a birthday card and/or call me. I'd like to be able to walk more and better. However, the good is there, too. I'm relatively healthy and active for my age. While I'm not wealthy, I have enough income to live fairly well. More important, I have the time and energy to follow my passion, writing, wtihout worrying about its notorious lack of financial reward.

If there are secrets to successful aging, here they are:

Follow you passions.
Make use of whatever assets and abilities you have.
Appreciate your family and friends, but rely on yourself as long as possible.
Enjoy life according to your own wishes, not the expectations of others.
Pass along your experience and memories to future generations.
Help others when you can.

Growing old isn't so bad, considering the alternative.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, October 11, 2007

From Fiction to Reality: Presidential Campaign Fashions

Red ties are so over. Color matters. In this seemingly endless presidential campaign, the most important people may be the candidates' fashion consultants. Clothes make the man--or the woman--or the presidential nominee.

I learned all this by watching a segment of Good Morning America yesterday, or did I? Perhaps I really learned this lesson many years ago when I read a favorite book of mine, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Yes, that's the satire about book burning, but there's a lot more to it.

As Guy Montag, the book-burning fireman who has begun to question his job, forces his wife Mildred and her friends to discuss "serious topics" rather than glue their attentions to the TV walls, one of their topics is elections:

"I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it on the line for President Noble. I think he's one of the nicest-looking men ever became president," says Mrs. Bowles.

"Oh, but the man they ran against him!"

"He wasn't much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn't shave too close or comb his hair very well."

"What possessed the 'Outs' to run him? You just don't go running a little short man like that against a tall man. Besides, he mumbled. Half the time I couldn't hear a word he said. And the words I did hear I didn't understand."

"Fat, too, and didn't dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble. Even their names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds and you can almost figure the results."

Well, I don't know the color of either Noble's or Hoag's necktie (I'm surprised that Mrs. Bowles and Mildred Montag didn't mention it), but I do see a parallel. Are we too concerned about what our candidates wear and how they look? I have a suspicion, and I hope that I'm wrong, that far too many Americans pay more attention to how the candidates look and dress than to what, if anything, they really say and stand for. Does tie color (or the color of Hillary's suit) really matter?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Need a Laugh?

Do you think Robert Browning might have had something to say about self-image and romance on the Internet (see my previous post)? I borrowed this cartoon from Grandad's "Head Rambles," an Irish blog.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Robert Browning Lives! Some Retirement Nostalgia

Last night I ate dinner at a long table at Emilio’s with a group from the Two-Year College English Association-Midwest’s annual conference. Eight years retired, I was there at the invitation of my old friend and colleague, Jane Wagoner, who was ably running this year’s conference sponsored by my former employer, the City Colleges of Chicago. I had done the interior layout for the printed conference program, so I had a connection to the event.

I was an outsider among this young group, and yet, as an observer of people, I regained an appreciation for my old profession. In a pop culture world, English teachers are often the repositories and promoters not only of good writing, but of the literary classics as well.

A few of us actually discussed, briefly, the soliloquies and dramatic monologues of nineteenth-century English poet Robert Browning (1812-1889), a favorite of mine. It’s been years since I’ve encountered anyone who recognized that name–my late husband connected the name "Browning" only to weapons until he endured a lecture I gave in the early 1970's.

Why Robert Browning? I can’t explain why he’s a favorite of mine, but there’s something about his soliloquies and dramatic monologues, especially, that intrigues me. "My Last Duchess," "Porphyria’s Lover," "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," "The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church"–I still remember them all. One of my young table companions last night referred to these poems as Browning’s "crazy poems." Well, yes, but I think what fascinated me most was Browning’s ability to explore the gap between the way people see themselves and the way others see them. The poems deal with life’s insane obsessions and misguided self images, the same foibles that often lead to murder and other crimes today. That’s their timeless quality.

My fascination with poetry in general revolves around the great poets’ ability to express profound thoughts briefly. What I would need at least a chapter to explain in prose comes through more clearly in the pictures Browning created.

After strangling the object of his obsessive love by winding her hair into "one long yellow string," Porphyria’s Lover is able to prop up her head and sit quietly with her body. "And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!" The Duke is able to say of his less-than-haughty former Duchess, "I gave commands, / Then all smiles stopped together," as he goes on to point out his lovely home’s magnificent art work to a representative of his future Duchess’ father.

Browning portrays an envious monk fixated on the rituals of religion rather that its principles in "The Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." There, the speaker destroys Brother Lawrence’s carefully-tended garden and plots his damnation. Brother Lawrence’s "sins"? He does not properly cross his knife and fork after dining, "As do I, in Jesu’s praise," and "I the Trinity illustrate, / Drinking watered orange pulp– / In three sips the Arian frustrate; / While he drains his at one gulp."

Yes, I realize that this may seem old-fashioned, and perhaps crazy, but unfortunately, obsessive love, arrogance, jealousy, and extreme religious zealotry have not disappeared from our world. A glance at nearly any newspaper or TV news broadcast will prove that.

I was inspired to read Robert Browning’s poems again. Why don’t you explore your own nostalgic memories from your reading–and your jobs–of the past? Who wrote, "Everything old is new again"? How true.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Program cover design by Allison Wagoner

Thursday, October 04, 2007

First Interview on My New Book

I was happy to see an interview by Paul Lam of The Elders Tribune about my new book, Seniorwriting, on his site this morning. Check it out at Thanks, Paul.

My book is now out and available at

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nursing Homes: Investment Bonanza or Coming Disaster?

Few people want to think about nursing homes, either as necessary final residences for themselves or for their aging parents. In fact, nursing homes are seldom mentioned until advancing age brings statements such as, "I hope I never have to go to a nursing home" or "I'll never put [Mom or Dad] in a nursing home." Calling them "Care Centers" or downplaying them as sections of continuing care communities doesn't help much, either.

The reality is that as life spans increase, many of us will outlive our ability to care for ourselves, and perhaps the capabilities of our families as well--and some of us have no chldren to take on the caregiver role.

In the October 2, 2007, AFT [American Federation of Teachers] Retiree E-News, I encountered a disturbing article entitled "Wall Street Firms Buying Nursing Homes, Cutting Costs and Quality." Ronald Silva, president and CEO of Fillmore Capital Partners, which paid $1.8 billion last year to buy one of the country's largest nursing home chains, said that nursing homes will see "essentially unlimited consumer demand as baby boomers age," adding, "I've never seen a surer bet." And Charlene Harrington, a University of California - San Francisco professor who studies nursing homes, said, "The first thing owners do is lay off nurses and other staff that are essential to keeping patients safe. . . . Chains have made a lot of money by cutting nurses, but it's at the cost of human lives."

According to the article, nursing home chains owned by private investment groups before 2006 scored worse than national average rates in 12 of 14 care indicators, including preventable infections and bedsores. And the complex corporate structures established make it difficult for families to sue for patient abuse or neglect

As a childless, aging American whose mother died this year in a nursing home at age 95, despite the earlier heroic efforts of a grandson to care for her at home, I find this situation disturbing. Private investment is the American way, and yet we're talking about aging human beings here.

As I approach age 75, the reality is that I am likely to outlive my ability to care for myself, as my formerly healthy, active mother did. She died as a private patient at a relatively good nursing home not owned by an investment group, but even there, short staffing was a problem.

Should we seniors and baby boomers become just another investment bonanza, or is there a better way? What does the future hold?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Many Dilemmas of Aging: A Book Review

A review of 60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in America (Beacon Press, 2007), by Lillian B. Rubin, Ph.D.

Lillian B. Rubin’s new book begins with the sentence, "Getting old sucks!" It is a beautifully written book, based on interviews and personal experience, debunking many of the myths of aging promoted by so many today. This book should be "must" reading for everyone over 50 and for all those who study us, advertise to us, and oversee our care.

Lillian B. Rubin is an 83-year-old psychologist and sociologist who tells it like it is when it comes to growing old. The only problem I see with the book is that, like bitter medicine, it is a bit hard to take. As a reader about to turn 75, I see the truth in everything Rubin says, and am impressed by her fair-mindedness and scientific efforts to look at all sides of each question. Still, even for the generally (or formerly) scholarly and serious me, it is a bit hard to deliberately plunge into reality when I could be escaping into televised baseball or reading or writing fiction.

However, it’s a short book (184 pages, including acknowledgments and end notes), and for me, the plunge was worthwhile. Don’t look at this book as light pleasure reading, but look at it as a source of straightforward information on the aging process from one who has both research data and first-hand knowledge of that process.

I was tempted to include quotations from nearly every page, so here are just a few points I found especially interesting. From the first chapter: "Our revulsion with aging, our flight from it at almost any cost, is deeply ingrained . . . . What do you think when you look in the mirror and see the signs of your own aging? . . . Do you want to turn away, rush off to the nearest cosmetics counter and buy up every cream that promises to remove the lines . . . run to the gym . . . call a plastic surgeon?" We want the outside to match the inside, according to Rubin; we are frantic to turn back the clock. Perhaps we can for a while, but as we live longer, that usually becomes a futile effort. We now tend to live in that uncomfortable place called old age for a long time.

Dr. Rubin quotes geriatrician Kate Scannell, who says, "We are regularly consumed with commercial messages that promote an experience of aging that is far more possible on billboards than in the three-dimensional lives of most elderly people. . . .Our culture’s compulsive spinning of old age into gold can inflict psycho-spiritual harm when it lures people into expecting a perpetually gilded existence."

Rubin goes far beyond self-image to discuss our roles in society and the ways our society attempts to classify older people. Sometimes it’s the "young old" (65 to 74), the "old old" (75 to 84), and the "oldest old" (85 and older). (Of course the idea that I’m moving into the "old old" category in less than two weeks distresses me a bit.) Some use "middle old," "third age," and/or "fourth age." It seems to Rubin–and to me–that fixed categories all have their weaknesses; there are many individual differences.

Still, many of us share certain problems: outliving our savings or pensions, losing social connections, having to care for even older parents when we ourselves are old, spending our children’s intended inheritances, and many more. Dr. Rubin’s interview subjects freely discussed all of these matters. The book even includes a chapter entitled "It’s Better Than the Alternative, Isn’t It?" The answer is "Yes, but . . ." Is it always wise to prolong a life of intense suffering long after all hope is gone? Our inclination is to cling to life as long as possible, no matter what.

Lillian Rubin quotes the Dylan Thomas poem she originally planned to make the epigram of her book:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

However, in writing this book, she learned that "It’s one thing to ‘burn and rave’ at old age and another to do so ‘against the dying light.’" She came to understand "How much our fight against the ‘good night’ costs, how our fear of death imprisons us . . . and contaminates our life, how our denial of it closes us off from the full affirmation of the life we could be living." Strangely enough, the author found that even the deeply religious fear death and take heroic measures to postpone the inevitable.

Dr. Rubin believes that "the growing belief (myth?) that aging is a disease rather than a natural consequence of living has generated a steady stream of ‘good advice’ about how we can beat back the clock, leaving us confused about what’s possible and anxious about what we’re doing ‘wrong’"when we fail.

She favors staying active and engaged as long as possible, but points out that health issues and societal restrictions eventually put an end to that strategy. Even those happy, active seniors living in retirement communities often reach a point when they need to slow down and relax. The earlier years of retirement may be golden, but for many who live to be "old old" or "oldest old," life may become less than golden. As life expectancy increases, more and more of us are likely to reach those stages.

This a book those of us readers over 70 are likely to react to with, "That’s so true!" while baby boomer readers may shrug and continue to look for ways to escape aging. More importantly, perhaps younger readers who study us and care for us will learn the folly of making hasty generalizations about aging. Dr. Rubin does not have all the answers, and neither do I, but this is a valuable book that describes old age as it is. We all need to pay attention.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne