Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Beauty of Snow

As snow buries Chicago, I'm glad to have a warm, comfortable, computer-equipped place of refuge. Here is a poem I posted some time ago on my other blog, "Write Your Life!" It seems especially appropriate right now. It's amazing how much one can say in just nine lines.

Northern Winter

White, beautiful,
Silent, soft, inviting
Snow angels, snowmen, sleds and skis.
Time for warm mittens, scarves, parkas, tall boots.
Drivers' challenge: shovel, plow, clear.
Parents' work, children's joy,
Winter's wonder:

[The Rictameter is a nine-line verse form with identical first and last lines and syllable counts of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2.]

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Diet Books: An Update

I just posted my review of Julia Cameron's The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size on my other blog, Write your Life! If you're not sick of dieting and dieting books yet, check it out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, John C. Marshall

I am an old lady. My brother is an old man. As senior citizens, we're not famous enough to be wished Happy Birthday by the major media, or by many other people, in fact. Therefore, I am using this platform to wish my brother, John C. Marshall of Hurricane, Utah, a happy 73rd birthday.

What can I say about my only brother? While we were growing up in Wisconsin, there was the usual sibling rivalry. We attended the same schools. I got better grades, not because I was smarter, but because I was a bookish nerd nearly from birth. I was like our father. He, on the other hand, was like our mother: social and popular. Girls chased him all the time. He was also a bit lazy when it came to academic endeavors, much to our parents' distress. Were we friends? I don't think so. It was more like we just ignored each other.

I have only two clear memories of our growing up at home: we both listened to Chicago Cubs game radio broadcasts (this was before TV), and he taught me how to keep score. I couldn't do it now, but for some reason I was proud to be able to do it then. When his school grades slipped, I remember trying to help him with his writing, but I don't think that worked out very well.

Even though we both attended the same college during two overlapping years, we seldom saw each other there. I majored in English, he in Chemistry. I inhabited the library; he explored the social scene. I was always on the honor role; he wasn't. I graduated near the top of my class; he didn't.

Fast forward to the later years: We both became college professors, in different fields and at different types of colleges. He, once the reluctant scholar, went on to earn a PhD, while I eventually settled for an MA. He married young and became the father of two; I married late and had no children.

We both eventually were divorced, I first, to the chagrin of our parents. I eventually remarried and had a long, happy marriage; he has not remarried, and is not likely to at this point. I retired in the big city of Chicago. He hates cities, and retired to southwestern Utah, within sight of Zion National Park

Through many years, my brother and I did not keep in touch, although I did visit on the occasion of his daughter's birth and once or twice later. Strangely enough, we eventually began to share a few interests and activities, and a few similarities began to emerge.

We both learned to love motorcycle touring. I'll admit that my second husband was the impetus for me, while John had been a mortocyclist for years. We both learned to love computers, he in a much more technical sense than I, but he became my personal computer consultant. At one time, we competed for the latest, biggest, best computer. He "sold" me on the benefits of color laser printers, although the ones he buys are far too big to fit into my condo. I do enjoy one of the smaller ones, though. I now ask his advice on electronic matters.

After my husband died, my brother invited me to spend Christmas in Utah. I was surprised and elated. His family was busy elsewhere, and I was alone. It worked out amazingly well; he got me "out of my shell" a bit. We just sat around and read a lot during the holidays, but we always had a few gifts from his family, and I began to feel more connected. I helped him by proofreading the first of his annual family calendars, which have become a tradition.

When I decided to write my first book, my memoirs, John was there to offer his comments via the Internet. I gradually sent him all the chapters, and he made some valuable suggestions. He suggested a friend of his to proofread, and her help was wonderful!

After several years of Christmas in Utah, we began to visit John's daughter and her family in Texas for the holidays, again at his urging. I now look forward to the season I once dreaded.

My brother and I still disagree on a few things, but somehow, as we age, we get more alike: determined, cerebral, and as active as age permits. He still enjoys motorcycling, exploring the Western countryside, while I enjoye non-motorcycle travel all over the world. We disagree somewhat on our parents' natures and influences, but he joined me by contributing to the family tribute to our mother. And yes, he can write very well now.

My advice to everyone, old or young, is to appreciate your siblings. If they are not quite like you, that's o.k. You may become true friends much later in life, and he/she may turn out much better than you predicted!

So Happy Birthday, John. Have many more!

Your sister, Marlys

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Friday, January 18, 2008

Elder Musings About an Opera Matinee

I enjoyed yesterday's matinee production of La Traviata at Chicago's Lyric Opera. To my non-critical ears, it was wonderful. Renee Fleming as Violetta and Matthew Polenzani as Alfredo got deserved standing ovations, and some of the arias carried my thoughts into the stratosphere.

Although I've attended operas off and on for many years (I'm down to a four-performance matinee series now), I'm no opera expert. At the risk of sounding like one of those people who say, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like" as they admire Elvis on Velvet, I'll say that I love beautiful operatic melodies, and La Traviata has many of them. I'm a fan of Verdi and Puccini and Wagner for different resons, but all have that mind-transporting effect on me.

Opera demands a certain suspension of belief, with its time-honored traditions of convoluted story lines and people constantly singing at each other, as well as its monumental-sized singers of old (rare today; Fleming looked lovely). I guess I've always been torn between my desire for artistic realism and my love of tradition.

During intermission, I noticed (again) that the average age of the matinee audience is over seventy. That's my age group, so I don't know why that fact made me uncomfortable. Am I still denying that I'm old, or is it just that I fear opera has become irrelevant to the younger population? Actually, some of the young probably can't afford the ticket prices (although that doesn't seem to affect attendance at rock concerts, etc.), and many people are at work on Thursday afternoons. Still, I don't remember evening opera audiences being much younger.

I noticed the many senior residence buses from all over the city and suburbs lined up outside as I entered and left the opera house. How nice that seniors have such opportunities, but should I look forward to being hauled around like that? I'm not sure.

Considering the trouble I had getting home, perhaps I should look forward to such senior bus trips. It took me nearly an hour, plus much walking, to finally hail a cab. Chicago is full of taxis, but during a cold, snowy winter evening rush hour, someone always gets to them first. Talk about pushy! I guess it's a man thing.

I finally got home, cold but otherwise unscathed. So what's the point of these musings? I've concluded that opera is worthwhile, but that growing old, especially alone, is not for the weak or timid. Still, I'm not ready to give up opera yet.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Are Seniors Really That Stupid?

I know that elders are favorite targets for scammers. I get emails from those friendly African financiers quite often, but I erase them from my spam folder regularly. I suppose some of those "You've just won $1,000,000!" notices are attractive to someone trying to pay the rent, but I'm much too skeptical for such things. Anyway, I've always given my fellow seniors credit for wisdom and common sense.

An article published today by the Echo Press of Alexandria, Minnesota, made me wonder. What do you think? Here is an excerpt:

"Senior citizens warned of new scam"

"An Olmsted County woman has lost $7,000 in a new scam that is primarily targeting the elderly. The scam begins with a phone call from someone claiming to be the victim’s grandchild or other close relative. The caller claims to be in trouble in Canada and in need of money to pay a fine. Without the money, they say, they face jail time. The caller then asks the victim not to discuss the matter with his or her parents for fear of angering them.

“'These frauds are devastating for the victims, and the people behind them know how to con vulnerable citizens,' says John Willems, special agent in-charge of the state’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division. 'It’s critical Minnesotans recognize and report these frauds so authorities can track down the offenders.'"

The article goes on to discuss the state's anti-fraud efforts and gives Minnesota residents a number to call to report fraud attempts.

I'm glad that public officials in Minnesota, one of my favorite states, a state where I've attended graduate school and where some of my relatives still live, is striving to protect its seniors, but this article left me with a question: Who is stupid enough not to know whether he or she is really talking to a "grandchild or other close relative"? Is anyone, regardless of age, willing to believe some strange caller, no matter how clever, is really a relative? Wouldn't you ask a few questions? I admit that I have no grandchild, and few close relatives, but I certainly would not send money to anyone without checking on a few facts.

I guess my points are these: Yes, seniors, and everybody else, should be wary of scammerss, and there are many of them out there. However, using such a silly example (it may have happened, but it certainly is not typical) tends to suggest that elders are idiots. It doesn't do much for stereotypes of Minnesotans, either. I have reason to believe that most elders, in Minnesota and elsewhere, are too smart and wary to fall for such a scam.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Almost Everybody Complains about the Weather

Calling all Northerners: is the winter weather beginning to get to you? Read "Chi-Chi-Chicago W-W-W-Weather" on the "Joy of Six" blog for a lighthearted look at the subject.

No, Chicago doesn't look like this right now. This photo was taken in 2005. We Chicago residents know it's coming, though, and we take it in our stride. Snow is beautiful if you don't have to shovel it or dig your car out of a snow bank--or try to walk on ice.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An Alarming Story about Extreme Elder Abuse

Thanks to Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By (, I've read a very disturbing story from the Boston Globe entitled "Courts strip elders of their independence," subtitled "Within minutes, judges send seniors to supervised care" (see link below).

It seems that Dawn Cromwell, 73, is a virtual prisoner in a nursing home twenty months after what was supposed to be a short rehabilitation stay for a broken ankle. She is in a category called "unbefriended elders"--people who lack relatives or even friends to serve as their guardians. A nursing home doctor's short, nearly illegible diagnosis led to her being declared mentally ill by a judge and assigned to an overworked and/or imcompetent guardian. Dawn is apparently not mentally ill, or at least not seriously so.

Imagine the horror of finding oneself forgotten, with an alarm device strapped to an ankle to prevent escape, virtually no clothes, no prescription eyeglasses, no information about the medications she's forced to take. She can't even find out what happened to her apartment and her possessions.

Before you dismiss this as just an unfortunate mistake made in the Massachusetts probate courts, read the complete article. When you're young, it may be easy to dismiss such a story, or to believe that most elders are demented and incompetent to manage their own affairs. However, as we get older, we need to think about such things. If you're fortunate enough to have a loving family, or even loyal friends, nearby, you can probably avoid such tragedies. However, some of us are not so lucky.

At the very least, every senior should be sure to have a living will, grant power of attorney, especially for health care decisions, and maintain a safe place to keep this and all other personal information. It's time to think about who will take charge in case of emergency.

This article should serve as a wakeup call for anyone who doesn't recognize the perils of aging, or anyone who plans to rely on the government and the court system as the ultimate care giver. No elder, anywhere, deserves to end up in Dawn Cromwell's situation.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Senior Citizens and the Chicago Transit Crisis

As all Chicago citizens are probably aware, there's a big public transit funding crisis in Illinois. Several "doomsday" proposals involving draconian route eliminations and employee layoffs have been announced, only to be postposed by band-aid temporary bailouts. The legislative fights have involved talk of tax increases, gambling expansion, and other politically sensitive matters.

I am not at all political, but I have found this struggle interesting--and in general, depressing. The latest episode features much-maligned Governor Rod Blagojevich's new plan to attach free rides for seniors 65 and over to a legislative plan that includes a sales tax hike. That's his way of "sweetening the pot," I guess.

As an arguer against senior stereotypes and a believer in self-reliance, I object. While I admit to using a half-fare senior transit card from time to time just because I can, I object to the idea, to quote from Eric Zorn's January 13 Chicago Tribune column, that "those over 65 tend to live in Dickensian poverty." Actually, as Zorn points out, "Other identifiable groups need free rides more than seniors do: Students. People eligible for food stamps. The disabled. [Some] single mothers."

I guess my main objection is to the "What's in it for me?" idea that seems to be a guiding force, not only in Illinois, but across the country. To me, the answer to our many problems is not more government programs, but more reflection and more independence. Help those who need help, but skip the entitlement programs for those of us who don't need them. I, for one, won't vote for Governor B on the strength of such a proposal, which may further delay a funding settlement and is likely to raise transit fares for all except seniors.

Respect us seniors, but recognize that we are individuals. Some need help. Fine. But realize that we are not all poor, or demented, or out of touch with economic reality. We recognize political manipulation when we see it.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

To read Eric Zorn's article, go to,1,7215016.column?ctrack=4&cset=true

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Diet Books: Roads to Riches?

Every January I regret not having had the forethought to write a diet book. Do I have any special expertise in this subject? No, but that doesn't seem to matter much any more. Apparently any diet book with a catchy title and an attractive cover will sell, especially this month. Whatever happened to "Eat less, Exercise more"?

The January 21 issue of Time, just out, features "Calorie Countdown," by Andrea Sachs, a report on ten books "that claim to have the skinny on shedding pounds." I don't intend to buy any of them.

A few seem to offer sensible advice and/or old formulas (even Dr. Atkins' diet has been revived again, but not by Dr. Atkins, who is deceased). Actually, that one worked for me for a while, but I weakened.

Some of the more outrageous or openly commercial are the folowing: Eat This, Not That! by David Zinczenko, with Matt Goulding, is aimed at men who eat mainly at fast-food restaurants. One tip is to eat a Big Mac (540 calories) instead of a Whopper (760). I can't imagine eating either one.

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, is a vegan guide forbidding not only meat, but sugar, dairy, white flour, coffee, diet drinks, and artificial sweeteners. I'm not sure what's left (well, fruits and veggies, but . . .).

The Ultimate Tea Diet, by Mark (Dr. Tea) Ukra, urges a well-balanced diet and exercise (fine) plus endless helpings of tea (which the author happens to sell).

Granted, several of the other books mentioned seem more sensible, including Dr. Dean Ornish's The Spectrum, which promotes a low-fat way of life.

Let's face it: eating is a very personal, emotional matter. I've lost weight; I've gained weight. Unless I lose my appetite (not likely to happen until I'm at death's door), no book is going to make me thin (or young). However, I've read a few diet books in my lifetime. If they're your "cup of tea," go ahead. Just don't nibble on chocolate or potato chips while you're reading! And if you're a writer, have a diet book ready by next January.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Building Resentment"? Rich Seniors Need Love Too

"Building Resentment" is the title of an ABC7Chicago I-Team feature presented Wednesday evening, January 9, by reporter Chuck Goudie. This was a piece, or an expose, you might call it, about my future residence, The Clare at Water Tower.

Aside from being one of the (less wealthy) depositors, I have no special knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts of this growing high rise, so I didn't quite understand the issues presented. Had I been a stranger to the project, here is what I would have gathered from the report:

1. The Franciscan Sisters, known for their devotion to the poor, are building a residence for the rich.

2. The filthy-rich future residents are mostly interested in real estate tax breaks, since the building is sponsored by a religious group.

3. A tax break for "fat cats," if it exists, is unfair--a spokesman for fair taxation considers this a high-profit venture, the sponsors and/or residents of which should pay.

4. There is something unfair and/or immoral and/or illegal going on (I don't know what).

Here are some things I do know that weren't made clear in the broadcast:

The Clare will be a Lifetime Care facility for seniors, with luxury apartments and assisted living, memory care, and nursing care. We residents won't actually own our apartments; we'll move to the other levels as needed, and when we move out or die, our deposits will be about 90% refundable to our estates. That doesn't sound like the road to riches to me, but I admit I'm naive about such things.

As for the Franciscan Sisters, having to provide for an aging population requiring ever-increasing care doesn't sound like a sure path to wealth, either. I am not Catholic, but I assume that the good sisters will share any profits with the poor.

I'm probably not typical of future Clare residents (I'm certainly not one of the high-living seniors featured in their ads), but my motive for moving there is not money. I'm 75 and alone, and beginning to worry what will happen to me if and when I can't take care of myself. I'm willing to stretch my resources to live downtown rather than in the suburbs, where cheaper lifetime care facilities are available.

Don't the rich, and those of us less than rich, but comfottable, deserve nice places to live and continuing care if we can pay for them? Real estate taxes? I've paid around $6,000 plus per year for some time, and I assume that I'll continue to pay thrugh my large deposit, my monthly fees, or some other way at The Clare.

I'm not convinced that there's anything wrong with The Clare at Water Tower, and I'm not sure exactly who resents it. I hope someone will enlighten me further.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A New Year: Time for Resolutions and Reassessment and Questions

Many of us have made our traditional New Years resolutions by now: often "traditional" in the sense that we repeat the same ones each year, always hoping we'll finally be able to keep them and see lasting results. For me, it's losing weight.

I may be making some progress. No, I didn't become slim and trim. In fact, while I lost some weight off and on during 2007, the usual holiday feeding frenzy got to me again. However, there's some good news. As I took down my 2007 kitchen calendar, where I periodically recorded my weight during the year, I noticed that I am now seven pounds lighter than I was at this time last year! Not much of a loss for a year, but surely better than gaining.

This very small triumph started me thinking about new years and new beginnings. Who am I? Where have I been? Where am I going? Am I O.K.? I've dealt with those questions before, but two things inspired such thoughts.

First, I read an article in the January-February 2008 issue of Arthritis Today, "Loving Life as a Loner," by Polly Campbell. I especially liked this statement: "Although an estimated three-quarters of the population are extroverts who thrive in social situations, the rest of us feel best only after we've had time to ourselves." How nice to feel validated!

Basically, the news is good: according to Elaine Aron, PhD, as an introvert, I "have a good life balance and a rich inner life," and I tend to nurture my creativity. "Highly sensitive introverts think carefully, observe and then react."

This article helps to explain my objections to organized senior activities, no matter how well-intentioned. It explains why "idle chitchat and large social functions can be an energy drain" for me and others who crave quiet.

The article concludes that, "If frequent socializing simply isn't your nature, don't feel obligated to join the party crowd in order to live well and feel good." I guess I'm O.K. At seventy-five, it's a bit late to change anyway.

Soon after reading that article, I came upon an online personality survey at, thanks to Grandad's Irish blog "Head Rambles." The survey takes only about ten minutes, and it's fun. The only drawback is that after completing the survey, you're asked to sign up for a $39.95, 100-page feedback report. The only free report I could find was a short excerpt sent to stimulate my interest, I guess. I passed on the $39.95 offer.

Still, from the free excerpt I learned this: my Extroversion score was 30, vs. the average female score of 67. My Emotionality score was 41, vs. an average female score of 76. "My balanced way of dealing with emotions is a guiding part of [my] personality."

Update 1/4: I just got a "special offer" of my complete personality report for only $9.95. Still no sale. When it's free, I may download it.

So I am, indeed, an introvert. As the Arthritis Today article says, I "think carefully, observe and then react," at least quickly enough to avoid paying $39.95 for what I already know. I guess I really am O.K. Maybe I will lose twenty pounds this year, but it won't involve organized social activities.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne