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."