Monday, February 26, 2007

A Few Brief Updates

Be sure to read the cover article in the current (February 26) issue of Time. The title is something like "Why They Hate Each other," and it is about the fighting factions in the Middle East, Shiites and Sunnis, etc. It's full of information about things many of us (including me) find hard to understand.

I have no updates on my dieting progress or on The Clare right now. I fell on the ice last week (twice), and although I didn't break any bones, my aches and bruises have made me the ultimate couch potato. My stiff knees make dealing with ice virtually impossible, and it's been hard to avoid this winter. Buying "slip-proof" flat-heeled boots obviously didn't help. Oh well. And no, I don't want to escape to a warmer climate. I still love Chicago. Spring is on the way.

There's a lot to be said about staying in, reading, and writing. I read Nicholas Sparks' Dear John for entertainment, and I'm now in the middle of Jimmy Carter's The Virtues of Aging. I'll probably write a review of that book soon. I'm also working occasionally on my next book (I hope), Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher, I guess.

I'll be out and about as soon as the snow and ice disappear.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Clare at Water Tower: A Winter Update from February 17

I promised regular updates beginning in the spring. No, spring has not come to Chicago yet, but since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to show what was going on at the site on Saturday, February 17. The weather was cold, but bearable. Construction workers were on the job, and the Clare is beginning to look like a real building. There's obviously a long way to go to reach 53 floors. See my earlier post, "Countdown to the Clare," to see what the building is expected to look like eventually.

Cement is being poured (see the middle photo) and the site is a busy place. I was happy to retreat to a warm taxi. These pictures were taken from the corner of Rush and Pearson, looking west and southwest.

Stay tuned for future updates!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos by the author.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Weight Problems? Some Thoughts on Dieting

159 ............149 ............?

On Saturday, I had a pre-theater buffet brunch at the Ritz-Carlton (great brunch, steep price) with a tall, thin friend my age who's never had a weight problem. She just doesn't understand why people like me have been known to gobble down entire packages of cookies and boxes of candy in a single sitting, with distastrous results.

When I told her that my doctor always weighs me to admonish me (kindly) about the dangers of being overweight, she said that her doctor weighs her to be sure she weighs enough to take her current doses of medication. Under a certain weight, the dosage has to be cut!

Actually, I've been keeping my resolution to lose weight in 2007--not that I haven't made the same resolution before. I've probably lost--and gained--hundreds of pounds over the years. You don't need to remind me that is not healthy. Have I finally learned? My motivation now is not looking better, but walking more easily. Have you noticed that many people like me with "bad knees" and walking difficulties are on the heavy side? Even a small weight loss makes walking easier.

I know that weight loss depends on eating less and exercising more. Of course. Easier said than done. So why are there so many diet books and diet pills available? I guess that publishing a diet book or distributing a new diet pill with a catchy name can be the road to riches. The person who invents a safe, effective diet pill that works for everyone can make millions. I don't think it will happen.

Over the years, I've actually read quite a few diet books and tried several kinds of diet pills. Why? Hope springs eternal. I didn't actually believe in the magic of pills, but I learned some interesting things.

First, non-prescription, non-harmful, "natural" diet pills can work, in a sense. They usually must be taken a half-hour before each meal with a full glass of water. That works three ways:

1) Taking the pills regularly keeps your mind focused on losing weight.
2) The water takes the edge off your appetite.
3) Drinking lots of water is generally a good thing.

However, a cheaper alternative is to drink a glass of water a half-hour before each meal without the pills.

Second, weight management ("diet" is just a four-letter word) is a very individual matter. I am an emotional eater and a binge eater. I try to exercise, but I have a few physical limitations. Also, Chicago's winter weather keeps me from walking as frequently as I'd like to. For me, it's important to eat often: five or six small meals a day. I spend a lot of time at home writing and reading, so snack attacks can be disastrous. All kinds of goodies are less than a block away at Walgreen's and Treasure Island. When strong cravings hit, I'm weak.

I've tried some diet programs, too. Seattle Sutton's (weekly fresh food delivery) works, but it requires some discipline. It's best for those with regular jobs outside the home, those who can't eat continuously even if they want to. Also, the desserts are too good; they tempt me toward binges. Nutrisystem (packaged food via Internet or phone and national delivery) works too, but it has too many great desserts and chips. I ate all of those from a five-week program in the first few days, and was off to Walgreen's for more sweets. (Yes, I know that's crazy.)

The Atkins and South Beach Diets can work too. Eating more protein and fewer "bad" carbs is good. However, Atkins can get boring and perhaps dangerous, and it has those tempting chocolate bars too. So does South Beach, and that program requires more choices, shopping, and cooking. Both of these diets are better for people who like to cook, and I don't.

So what's working for me now? The Medifast five-plus-one diet (Internet or phone and national delivery). I eat one "lean and green" meal of meat or fish plus salad and/or certain vegetables, plus five varied Medifast meals (oatmeal, shakes, hot drinks, pudding, soups, and others). Don't order the meal bars if you're a binge eater like me. This is not gourmet eating, but it's good enough to keep me from being hungry. At the brunch mentioned above, I had salmon, shrimp, and salad veggies.

No, I'm not endorsing the Medifast plan or any other diet program. It's a very individual matter. If you have serious health problems, see your doctor. Talk to a nutritionist. But ask youself what will work for you. Do you have a family to cook for and a love of cooking? Do you have a demanding, stressful job? Do you have a busy social life that usually involves eating? Information on all the diets I've mentioned, and many more, can be found on line.

If you're always hungry (I'm not), no diet will last long. I haven't strayed into a sweets binge for several weeks. I've lost ten pounds since January 5, but of course the rate of loss is slowing down. One or two pounds per week is fine. I have at least fifteen or twenty pounds to go. I hope to reach my goal of 130-135 pounds eventually, go through the recommended transition and maintenance periods, and practice weight management for the rest of my life. My past record is poor, but the older I get, the higher the stakes. Perhaps relating my experiences here occasionally will help me stick to my goal. Please share by adding your comments.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Countdown to The Clare

The tall building on the left, above, is an artist's rendition of The Clare at Water Tower, a senior lifetime care highrise being built at Rush and Pearson on Loyola University's near north side campus. It will be just off Chicago's Magnificent Mile, and it will be my future home.

When I told a younger friend about my decision, she said something like, "What? You're moving to an old folks' home?" or perhaps she mentioned a nursing home or assisted living. The implication was that since I'm already retired, still relatively healthy and active, and living in a very nice midrise condo, this is an incomprehensible plan. Others have asked why I'm not moving to a warmer climate. A few understand.

My husband died in 2000. I have no children. My mother's deterioration, especially after age 90, has reminded me of my mortality. Who will take care of me when I'm no longer able to care for myself? Who will make decisions for me if I can't? What's more, I'm devoted to city living (see my post "I am a Ruppie!" in the September 2006 archives of this blog).

Weather? Yes, Chicago gets cold, but I've never liked the typical "retirement paradises" very much. Heat and humidity bother me more than cold, and I don't play golf or want to do so. Chicago winters are usually quite manageable, especially if one can avoid long waits at bus stops. I stay indoors on the coldest days.

Isn't downton Chicago living expensive? Yes, but I've lived not far from the site of The Clare for many years. To me, the convenience is worth the expense. I'll move into a lovely two-bedroom apartment with a balcony and a good view, and both assisted living and nursing care facilities will exist in the same building in case I need them later. I'm a great believer in planning ahead. The decision about where to live in retirement is a very personal and individual one, and one I wanted to make for myself.

Check out this blog occasionally. I plan to take and post photos of the construction progress here weekly, beginning in Spring 2007 whenever standing outside taking pictures becomes comfortable. In the meantime, if any other future residents of The Clare read this, please send me an e-mail (the address is on my prifile page) or make a comment here. I'd like to begin a Clare residents' newsletter. I welcome other retirees' and friends' comments too as I continue my "Countdown to The Clare."

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne.
Photo: Artist's rendition from the Clare web site at

Monday, February 05, 2007

Senior Stereotypes Gone Mad? Fiction

Age Discrimination

I don’t know how Jack could fire me after forty years on the job. Budget cuts, he says. I’ll bet that’s his way of getting around the age discrimination laws. Maybe I need a lawyer.

Who’s going to run the office now? Not Jack; all he does is fiddle with his computer, talk on the phone, play golf, and go out for long lunches. That’s why he needs me. Turn my job over to that blond bimbo in the mini-skirts, skimpy shirts, and high-heeled sandals who sashays in late and leaves early every day? No way. This place needs me. Who is going to report on the bimbo every time she comes in late? The boss needs to know about such things.

I remember my first boss, Don. He always got here early. He was really on top of things. He loved my neatly-typed reports—even fired a few people on my advice. He had a dress code, too: dark suits for everybody. We all looked professional; I still do. I still love my suits and frilly blouses. No short skirts or sandals for me. No pants, either. Those are for men. These days, it seems that anything goes.

I might have quit earlier, except that I won’t be able to live very well on Social Security, and we get no pensions here. I never saved much. I know I won’t be able to afford my apartment without a job. I suppose I can move to that senior living center that keeps sending me brochures, but I can’t see myself in those "active seniors" pictures. I’ve always hated senior activities. That includes bridge and bingo. Besides, the people in those ads always look so old, and the senior apartments I’ve seen are so small.

Well, Jack says I have to clear out my office today. Office? It’s really just a cubicle. I’m the only one who still uses a typewriter. Computers are just too complicated, and the screens are hard to read. What’s wrong with typewriters anyway? My reports and schedules look just as good as those computer-printed ones.

Vince, my boss before Jack, tried to take away my typewriter and put a computer on my desk. Hah! After I complained and threatened to tell his wife about his affair with Betty, I had my typewriter back in less than a day.

It’s time to take down my pictures. Hmm—the frames look dusty. I’ll have to write a report on those cleaning people. I think they stole some candy out of the jar on my desk, too.

Now that I think about it, all the people in these pictures are dead: Mother, Father, my brother Jim, even my big white cat, Hercules. There’s my late husband, Sam, too. He wasn’t much good, but he sure looks handsome there. We didn’t stay married long. Sam said I was too bossy and pushed him too hard to get a job. Actually, he moved in with the blond down the hall. I haven’t told anyone here at the office about that. I just said that my husband died young. That’s true; they don’t need to know the rest. Anyway, I hope Jack adds my picture to the wall of retired employees over there in the conference room.

Look at these files! They’re perfect—nothing out of order. Forty years of reports and memos and schedules. I’ve always kept the cabinet locked. Now what do I do? Nobody keeps files like these any more. It’s all on computers now. Anyway, I’d better see if that old paper shredder under the desk still works. I haven’t used it much.

Wait! There’s Jack. Maybe he’s coming to tell me he’s changed his mind about firing me. He seems to change his mind a lot. No, there comes the bimbo, Jennifer or some name like that. Lunch time. He’s actually kissing her, right there in the outer office! They’re hugging and laughing on their way out the door. They don’t even notice that I’m still here.

Let’s see; what’s Jack’s wife’s phone number? I must have it somewhere. I’ll show him.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed are not those of the author.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Super Bowl Fever and other Winter Diseases

In case anyone has wondered why there haven't been any new posts here recently, I'll reveal that I've been suffering from a cold. I even had to miss a volunteer assignment and an opera last week. Fortunately, I'm almost back to normal now; I completed today's morning volunteer shift and attended Turandot at Lyric Opera this afternoon. I enjoyed both.

If you live in or near Chicago, you probably know that the real winter disease this year is Super Bowl Fever. The Art Institute lions are wearing gigantic Bears helmets. The lights at the top of the John Hancock building, which I can see from my condo, are orange and blue. Several buildings are illuminated at night with "Go Bears" and other appropriate slogans. Most of the Chicago Information signs (the one pictured heree is on Washington Street outside the Chicago Cultural Center) devote one side to the Bears. The flags in the other photo are flying on the State Street side of Macy's, formerly Marshall Field's. The giant brachiosaurus outside the Field Museum of Natural History is wearing an orange Brian Urlacher jersey, number 54.

I'm not much of a sports fan, and I confess that two weeks of no-news news reports from Miami have been annoying (do I care which Bears player bought an orange Ferrari? How many times can I watch previews of Super Bowl commercials?)

Still, I admit being caught up in the spirit of it all. The citizens of Chicago seem to be in good spirits, despite some very cold weather, and I mean nearly everyone, not just the younger jocks in the beer commercials . It's surprising how many people of all ages, both men and women, are sporting Bears jackets, caps, and scarves and asking for Lovie Smith masks. I hope the Chicago Bears win! I'll be watching the game from the comfort of my recliner. A Bears win is just what we need to brighten a Chicago winter.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos by the author.