Saturday, June 30, 2007

Good News of the Month

I mentioned in an earlier post that since my book and this blog won first-place awards in their respective categories in the Illinois Woman's Press Association's Communications Contest for 2007, both would be sent on to the parent National Federation of Press Women's national contest.

Yesterday, I received the surprising news that both were prize winners at the national level: first place for this blog (Web writing, Personal) and third place for my book (Nonfiction, Biography/Autobiography).

I am elated! The awards will be presented at the NFPW's annual conference in Richmond, Virginia, in September, and I hope to be there. Writing is such fun!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, June 29, 2007

For Seniors: the Power of Reading and Other Brain Exercises

Of course exercise is valuable for seniors, but it's not just what you do at the gym or health club. From the Chicago Sun-Times, June 28, 2007: "Mental exercises such as reading newspapers, going to plays and playing checkers can help ward off Alzheimer's disease, a study has found--and it's never too late to start." In his article "Power of the Press," health reporter Jim Ritter reinforces my belief that keeping busy and active is the key to healthy aging.

Rush University Medical Center researchers, in a study of more than 700 elderly Chicago residents, average age 80, noted that over five years, 90 developed Alzheimer's. The ten percent of subjects who engaged in stimulating mental activities most frequently were 2.6 times less likely to develop the disease than those in the ten percent who were least active mentally. "Mental activity makes neural systems more efficient and better able to adapt to age-related brain damage."

Several companies have started to sell various games and exercises to keep brains healthy. According to researcher Robert Wilson, there's no proof that these games offer anti-Alzheimer's protection. But Wilson still advises, "Find something that's mentally stimulating that you enjoy doing."

Some suggestions:

Read newspapers, magazines, books.
Visit the library.
Write letters.
Play games such as checkers or chess.
Visit museums.
Attend concerts, plays, and musicals.

Of course I would add writing to the list. Write your life story. Become a blogger. Pass along your experiences and your memories. Have fun, and improve your mental health as you do so!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Notable Quote:

"Although media attention to elders has increased (thanks to the oldest boomers hitting 60) in the past three years, they still don’t get it right. It mostly lurches between that decline, debility and disease focus and its opposite - happy-talk denial of the realities of aging without stopping anywhere in the middle, the place where truth can most frequently be found."

Ronni Bennett, "About Ronni Bennett," Time Goes By. What it's really like to get older

Friday, June 22, 2007

Life Imitates Art?

When I interviewed author Cheryl Hagedorn (see my May 29 post here), I expressed doubt about two things in her book, Park Ridge: a Senior Center Murder. Would senior citizens actually spend so much time playing cards, and would we "mellow" oldsters actually resort to violence? I assumed that murder was the province of the young, the disadvantaged, and the deranged.

Today, I heard a news report of a shooting at a senior residence in Maywood, Illinois. A male card player shot a female fellow resident and card player. Both are in their seventies. As far as I know, both survived, and I haven't heard any speculation about the motive.

I am now convinced, however, that card games can become all-consuming and very important to some people, and that not everyone mellows with age. I wonder where the man got his gun.

Cheryl seems to have discovered promising mystery story settings and likely groups of fictional characters in environments many people choose to write off rather than write about. Good for her!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

The People's Transportation Revisited

My journeys on the Broadway and Clark Street CTA busses to and from my volunteer job yesterday were even more interesting than usual.

Shortly after 8 a.m., six, count 'em, six Clark Street busses, some full, some not, passed in rapid succession. How frustrating! I could have taken one of them, but I prefer the Broadway bus in the morning to get two blocks closer to my destinantion (my knees needed all the help they could get yesterday morning).

Twenty or twenty-five minutes later, along came a Broadway bus, fairly full but not overflowing. Again,, a kind young woman gave me her front seat. Soon, a well-dressed businessman got on. He was blind, and he was accompanied by his service dog. I was fascinated. The dog was beautiful and well-trained. I would have yielded my seat, but a young man seated next to me did so.

The dog, apparently tired, eventually lay down in the aisle, but passengers cheerfully stepped over or around him. We all cooperated. How courageous the blind man was to take the bus, especially during rush hour. How efficient the dog was in helping him off the bus after his stop was announced. I've always admired service and therapy dogs. This was a good start for my day; my knee problems seemed insignificant.

The trip home was less uplifting, but at least equally interesting. The wait was long. Listening to waiting fellow passengers talking about their problems getting to work on time by bus didn't help, and the first bus that passed bore one sign reading "Clark Street" and one that read, "Not in Service." It wasn't. Finally, along came another Clark Street bus (no Broadways, but either is fine for my homeward trip).

A seat was available. A wheelchair-bound young man got on with the usual admirable cooperation. But then, along came a disheveled woman carrying a large, non-folding plastic outdoor chair! It barely fit in the aisle, but she pushed her way toward the rear, hitting other passengers all the way. Another woman soon entered, hoisting a giant suitcase aboard. It was even larger than the bag I take on long overseas vacations. There were other, smaller bags aboard, too. Where was everybody coming from or going to, and why didn't they take taxis?

I thought about stories I've read of transportation in third-world countries, where everything, including kitchen sinks and live poultry, is toted on rickety busses. This was one of my "What's the world coming to?" moments.

Eventually, the chair woman announced in a loud voice, "Wait! I can't get out the back door." Her chair wouldn't fit. She pushed her way to the front entrance, past complaining fellow passengers.

The bus driver had finally had enough. She said, "Don't you ever get on a bus with that chair again! Take a cab." The passengers muttered, either aloud or silently, "Amen." I wondered if the suitcase-toters felt guilty.

I really have no right to complain; I seldom take a bus more than once a week, and I have alternatives, expensive though they are. But you can't beat a CTA bus ride for entertainment and insights into human behavior.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the CTA web site.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

MyMemoirs Update

My long-promised new column, "MyMemoirs," has just appeared on eGenerations, formerly Seniors/Boomers Grand Central. The format is not complete yet, nor are the site's other planned improvements, but take a look! Please rate my first column and comment on it.

If you're 50 or older, why not join eGenerations? It's free. Click on "Connect."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Update: The Clare at Watertower, 06/14/07

My future senior home is growing more and more each day at the corner of Rush and Pearson Streets--up to the ninth or tenth floor now, of the final fifty-three.

The top photo shows a view from the northwest, along Pearson Street near Wabash Avenue.

The center photo shows the view I've used in other posts here, from across the street at the northeast corner of Rush and Pearson.

The bottom photo is the view from the southeast, along Rush Street toward Chicago Avenue.

Watching a tall building rise from below the ground is an interesting experience, and I'll eagerly await my first view of the thirty-fifth floor, where my apartment is to be. That's still a long way off, but I'll keep you posted!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Look at the Printers Row Book Fair on June 10, 2007

And here I am (above)! I can't say that my book sales were spectacular, but the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago's South Loop area was great. It's encouraging to see so many people of all ages who are actually interested in buying or looking at books, talking to real, live authors famous and not-so-famous, people who retain their festive moods after a long day of walking about.

These aren't generally the same people who hung out at the Wells Street Arts Fair right in front of my building this weekend: the young, beer-drinking crowd. Fortunately, I still remember being young, but I was never inspired by the idea of drinking large quantities of beer. I still have faith in the younger generations. There were young people at Printers Row too.

One of the best parts of the fair for me was talking to my fellow IWPA authors at our booth. Many types of books were represented: business manuals, children's books, histories, novels, memoirs (including mine), and on Sunday, a tribute to long-ago IWPA member Jane Addams of Hull House fame (see photo below).

The weather was wonderful this weekend: not too hot, not too cold, just right, and sunny! And if you're one of those people who read only books by famous authors, look around a bit more. Books are really the people behind them, the authors, and they are worth meeting. Explore a book fair in your neighborhood, or participate in one if you're a writer!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photos by the Author

Thursday, June 07, 2007

See me at the Printers Row Book Fair!

If you're in or near Chicago, meet me at the Printers Row Book Fair this Saturday or Sunday, June 9 and 10.

No, I won't be one of the featured authors. That honor is reserved for known authors like Joyce Carol Oates, Sara Paretsky, even Jen Schefft of TV's The Bachelor fame.

You'll find me at the Illinois Woman's Press Association booth, FF, near Clark and Polk Streets at the south end of the fair. Come visit us! You'll find some interesting books you may not have heard of, all kinds, all topics, by Association members. We'd love to talk to you.

The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on the fair, go to

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the IWPA PenPoints newsletter, Jan Lisa Huttner

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Zimmers: Never too Late, Indeed!

According to a story in today's Chicago Tribune, a group of rockers known as The Zimmers is #26 on the British Top 40 chart with their "guitar-smashing take on The Who's 'My Generation.'" What's interesting about that? I'm not even much of a rock fan. Well, the group's name came from the Zimmer frame, the British term for a walker, the kind that's so popular in nursing homes. This group was formed by Tim Samuels for a BBC documentary, and it's a 40-member group with an average age of 78. The lead singer is 90; the oldest member is 100!

"Considering we weren't on any playlists, because we were not being young and trendy enough, I think this is an absolute triumph," said Will Daws, producer of the documentary. According to Tim Samuels, the band was intended to combat the victim status of the elderly. Hooray!

Watch their video on YouTube. Try this link:

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the Zimmer web site,

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pets in Condos and Senior Residences? Yes!

Are you a cat or dog lover? If you are a senior citizen who lives in a condo or a retirement community, do you have the right to own a cat or dog if you want to? Is it possible that you'll face a no-pets-allowed living situation eventually? Even if you live on a farm or in a single-family house now, will you do so forever?

I'm not usually a supporter of "causes," but here is one for which I just signed an on-line petition. I invite you to do the same.

I grew up an a farm with a steady progression of cats and dogs. I loved them all. Since I left home and college and graduate school, I've owened many cats, from Midnight, whom I "shared" with my landladies when I lived in a tiny basement apartment in Morgantown, West Virginia, during my first teaching job, to Lyon (pictured above), who was old and diabetic by the time this picture was taken and died in late 2005. Throughout all those years, I had a friend and companion to comfort me, no matter what went wrong. I couldn't imagine life without a cat.

One of the first questions I asked in 2000 when I was widowed and decided to sell my house to move to a nearby condo was, "Are pets allowed?" I wouldn't have given up Lyon for anything. My husband and I had adopted him from a shelter and owned him--or he owned us--for a long time. I chose a building where the answer was "Yes," and Lyon moved with me. When I reserved an apartment in a senior lifetime care building (The Clare at Watertower, now under construction) I asked the same question. Lyon was still alive then, and I wouldn't have considered moving without him. I was told that pets would be allowed, and should that situation change, I'd probably change my mind about moving there. I don't have a pet now, but I'll have another cat soon.

So what's the problem? None, for me, but I know that many condo buildings, apartment buildings, even trailer parks ban pets. I also know that "companion animals" are very important in the lives of seniors, especially. I know that some long-time pets are euthanized when their owners must move. Is this fair to either the owner or the pet?

There's research to show the importance of pets to seniors. Perhaps pet-haters can't understand, but for a lonely senior, a cat or dog can be a lifesaver, a friend to care for and care about.

From the Citizens for Pets in Condos web site: "Citizens for Pets in Condos, Inc. educates the public on the health benefits of animal companionship and about responsible pet ownership in order to increase acceptance of companion animals in common interest ownership communities. We believe that association rules should concentrate on responsible pet owners, allowing a win-win situation for responsible animal guardians and animals who would otherwise be needlessly euthanazed."

So there's a cause I can support. Go to the organization's web site,, and sign the petition. Read more about the cause. Lyon would thank you if he could!

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, June 01, 2007

The People's Transportation

Getting to my Thursday morning volunteer shift at the Chicago Cultural Center requires a morning rush-hour CTA bus ride and a mid-day ride home if I want to avoid nearly $20 in taxi fares or a $22 parking fee and horrendous traffic. If I think my arthritic knees can navigate six or seven long city blocks each way, to and from the bus route, I take what a now-deceased former colleague once called "the people's transportation," in my case, the Broadway or Clark Street bus. I've never been a regular CTA commuter, so these weekly bus rides have proved to be enlightening. Yesterday's ride home was especially so.

Chicago busses tend to be crowded and irregularly-paced (a long wait is often rewarded by the arrival of a bus too full to board and/or a parade of busses arriving in rapid succession). There's a legislative battle for additional funding, more busses, better scheduling, and greater efficiency of operation, and it seems to go on and on.

Anyway, as I've noted before, most bus riders seem to be patient, long-suffering, kind, and accommodating. While I try not to look old or helpless, my necessary struggle to pull myself up into the bus always alerts someone, and I'm offered a seat. A few young riders bury their noses in their books or newspapers and ignore the other passengers, but many fellow riders are willing to offer a seat in the front section labeled for senior citizens and the handicapped. While riding a crowded bus, with or without a seat, is no picnic, I'm always happy to thank my benefactor for his or her courtesy. Yesterday, I encountered packed busses both coming and going, and I was given a seat each time. This gave me a good feeling about the citizens of Chicago.

The additional lesson from yesterday's ride home was the realization of how important bus rides are to the seriously handicapped. The northbound bus passengers included one older man and one younger woman in wheelchairs, two or three senior citizens leaning on canes, and one double amputee whose "legs" looked like metal rods inserted into the openings of his shoes. The bus lift got the wheelchair-bound aboard, able-bodied passengers vacated the fold-back seats in the wheelchair areas, the cane users made their slow progress to willingly vacated front seats, and everyone seemed helpful. I heard no complaints about the delays and inconveniences involved.

Again I was impressed by the spirit of cooperation. I also realized how fortunate I am. My only handicaps are old age and non-functioning knees, and besides, I can afford those taxi fares or parking fees when necessary. But there on the bus, I saw seriously disabled people getting around on their own. Their only alternatives are probably isolated and reclusive lives at home.

I wish Chicago city officials and others who may consider themselves above the masses would abandon their limousines and automobiles occasionally and try the people's transportation. There are lessons to be learned there that might help solve the perennial under-funding and the other problems of the Chicago Transit Authority. Public transportation is a very important, very necessary part of city life.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from Official CTA Web Site