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."