Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Senior News

Just when I'm about to berate the newspaper industry for its emphasis on today's youth culture, I come upon one or more stories of interest to seniors. Here's what I found yesterday, all in the Tempo section of the February 26 Chicago Tribune.

Good news borrowed from HealthDay News/Newswise:

"Cats may be perfect for reducing stress."

Based on a ten-year study of 4,300 Americans, University of Minnesota researchers declared that "having a cat at home could cut yur heart attack risk by almost a third." Stress relief is the answer. We cat lovers have always known this. Let's fight anti-pet policies in senior communities!

"Cognitive impairment down among seniors."

There's a downward trend in everything from significant memory loss to dementia to Alzheimer's among people 70 and older. The drop was from 12.2 percent in 1993 to 8.7 in 2002, according to a University of Michigan stody. More education and better care are the suspected causes. That's good news.

Then there's "Five behaviors linked to healthy life past 90" by Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times News Service.

In addition to good genes and good luck, factors we can't control, the five behaviors are (1) Abstaining from smoking; (2) Weight management; (3) Blood pressure control; (4) Exercise; and (5) Avoiding diabetes.

A study followed more than 2,300 healthy men for up to 25 years. According the a February 11 article in The Archives of Internal Medicine, 970 of the men survived into their 90's. Smokers had double the risk of death before 90. Diabetics' risk was 86 percent higher; obese men 44 percent; high blood pressure sufferers 28 percent; non-exercisers 20 to 30 percent. Such factors as level of education and degree of social isolation were not included in this study.

It's a bit hard to draw conclusions beyond the obvious here: don't smoke, watch your weight and blood pressure, exercise, etc. According to Dr. Laurel B. Yates, a geriatric specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, "The take-home message . . . is that an individual does have some control over his destiny in terms of what he can do to improve the proibability that not only might he live a long time but also have good heath and good function in those older years."

That's good common-sense advice. It's time for me to get on my exercise bike!

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Brief Reviews of Six Amazon Shorts: Women's Fiction

If you are willing to spend 49 cents to download a short story, Amazon Shorts is the place to do it. I've mentioned my own two stories, "Volunteer" and "Marie's Story," but I've written Amazon reviews (reprinted here) for six other stories. They are all worth reading.

"So Many Lost Years," by Jane Marie Teel Rossen:

Elder Spousal Abuse and Murder

"So Many Lost Years" features a woman, married 48 years, who realizes about her mentally and physically abusive husband, Fred, "He's stolen my mind and body, and now I have nothing left. I'm a shell, just a dried-up shell of an old woman." This situation is well worth reading about by any woman trapped in an abusive marriage, regardless of her age. It may seem worse for older women who probably have fewer alternatives to remaining in abusive marriages. Any man with a tendency toward spousal abuse (or lack of compassion) should read it, too. The relatively short length of this story doesn't allow for the suspense that the creative plot twists should create, and the story suffers from inconsistent verb tenses. Still, it's based on an interesting premise, and that in itself makes it worth reading.

"Into the Sun," by Carmen Goldthwaite

A Powerful Tale of a War's Aftermath

While I have no personal experience with wartime loss, I lived through the era portrayed in this story: the Viet Nam war era. The three former ROTC students of this story, deceased husband and wife and best friend, bring to life the optimism of youth and some bittersweet memories as the delayed funeral of a missing pilot brings a type of closure for all involved. In today's world, it serves as a plea for the end of warfare.

"Pretend I'm Dead," by Janet Brown

Dealing with Death

Janet Brown is an excelent writer, and this fifty-two page story kept my attention from beginning to end. A fifty-three-year-old woman, mother of three teenagers, faces the tragic death of her husband, and dares to love and marry again, but there are several twists in the "happily ever after" scenario. Death is not a cheerful topic, but it's one we all face eventually. Brown shows that spousal death is a worthy topic for fiction if one can appreciate the ironies, the twists and turns, the realities of life.

"The Death of Betty Pinto," by Judith Woodcock Colombo

Little Old Ladies are Human Too

Although I'm not a mystery fan, I was intrigued by this story set in an inner city soup kitchen. I applaud the author for her pictures of older people who seem real and worthy of writing about. The mystery is full of twists and turns, and if it has any flaw, it's that it could have been longer to develop the characters even further. All in all, it's an entertaining story.

"Merry Christmas, Miss Budge!" by Daphne C. Simkins

Christmas and Aging

As an elderly widow myself, I like this story because it reflects the discomfort of getting out of a cozy rut and experiencing new things, especially around the holidays. I'm no Miss Budge, but I admire her daring.

"Am I Wife or Daughter?" by Brenda Hill

A Common Dilemma

It seems that more and more women, especially, are being faced with the task of caring for one or more aging and/or disabled parents at the same time they are caring for their own families. This story portrays such a situation very well, and the reader is tempted to write a sequel. However, the sad thing is that there is no ideal solution for this problem, either in this story or in real life. It's a story worth reading and thinking about.

Amazon shorts:

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More on My Countdown to the Clare

As you regular readers may know, I'm planning to move to a senior retirement community, The Clare at Water Tower, toward the end of the year. Construction appears to be going well, and I'm beginning to get a bit anxious about the move. Fortunately, the staff has made available an array of moving consultants, etc., but the idea of moving (even after just seven years at my current address) is frightening. I'll be writing more about that later. Seven years are enough to assemble quite a collection of "junk."

If anyone is curious about The Clare, you'll find a link to the web site on the right side of this blog. The site may be a bit hard to navigate, so here's how:

1. Click on "Navigation." From there, you can find "Panoramic Views," "Common Levels," and "Virtual Tours," including one of my apartment model, The Kensington.

2. If you want to learn a bit more, check out the video "The Clare--one of America's Best" under "News and Events."

While The Clare is expensive and obviously not for everyone, it seems to be a fascinating idea. I'll keep you posted on how it all works out for me.
Photo: Artist's conception from the Clare web site

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Some Disturbing Thoughts

There's no denying the horror of last week's shootings at Northern Illinois University. I can only imagine the distress of the victims' families and the witnesses and the university community as a whole. Until recently, I'd always thought of colleges and universities as tranquil places devoted to learning and fun.

While I have no personal or family involvement in this event and know no one directly affected, I have become concerned about two related matters: gun control and mental health care. I've noticed that both sides of the gun control debate have had their say. One group advocates that students be permitted to carry weapons. The other--sparked by students' parents--is pushing for stronger gun control laws.

Personally, I hate guns. I suppose that if hunters must have them and can use them responsibly, that's bearable, but why college students on campus? The idea of immature students settling their disputes with guns terrifies me. That has nothing to do with the right to hunt non-human game. I can't see how an armed lecture audience would have stopped the NIU shooter. A general shoot-out might have claimed even more innocent victims.

The other issue that grabbed my attention was mental health care. It seems that the shooter lived in a mental health facility for a year. His treatment must have been successful, since he was able to become a successful, respected graduate of NIU. I've always believed that at least some of the mentally ill can be rehabilitated. On the other hand, who can predict when or if someone will snap? How can anyone force an adult to take needed medication?

I hope that this horrible shooting incident does not bring out the worst in people. I hope it leads to compassion and understanding and tolerance, not to arming students and locking up the mentallyy ill permanently in the "snake pits" of old. There are many things beyond human understanding and "easy" remedies, and the only hope we can have when such things happen depends upon common sense.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An Update on Motorcycles

Just in case anyone wants to see my brother's new motorcycle (see the second paragraph of my February 10 post), here it is!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Conspicuous Consumption Gone Mad

I seem to be big on confessions this month. Here goes another one: I just charged my first $50 tank of gas for my car. Before you accuse me of driving a huge gas guzzler, let me remind you that I drive a 2003 Mini Cooper (in need of a tune-up), and it was only a bit more than ten gallons of gas.

Also, this is not about price gouging by the big oil companies. It is about my own tendency to do everything the expensive way. It's cold outside in Chicago, and I didn't want to pump my own gas. Full service is offered only at a very few stations close to the center of the city, and it costs more. I knew that. It's just that this is the first time it's cost that much.

This happened on the same day I paid $24 to park for about four hours in an underground garage complex with a direct elevator into the Cultural Center. That was for my volunteer job. I just remind myself that $24 is much cheaper than the cost of broken bones from a fall on the ice.

I can almost hear the voice of my frugal late mother expressing her shock, and my conscience makes me feel a bit guilty when I see women older and more fragile than I waiting at bus stops. Still, the other side of me gloats a bit about my years of hard work and my good pension that make all this possible.

$50? That's a lot, but I won't need to fill up again for several months. I rarely drive these days. I'm not complaining. However, I realize how fortunate I am. Perhaps sending checks to Meals on Wheels and the Greater Chicago Food Depository will help.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

I guess this is another of those holidays kept alive by the greeting card companies, but I like the idea of letting one's significant other, if any, know that you love him or her. Appreciation is always in order.

Now, eight years after the death of my own "Valentine," I can only remind those still fortunate enough to have partners to say a simple "I love you!"
My husband Jules and I were not much for exchanging gifts; we were the kind of independent people who always went out and bought ourselves pretty much whatever we wanted. Due to our differences, finding that "perfect gift" was nearly impossible.

On Valentine's Day, we usually ate out at an upscale restaurant (I guess we often ate out anyway, due to my distaste for cooking), and I remember that we usually exchanged Valentine cards. They were simple ones; we were usually too busy to spend much time choosing. We weren't a sentimental pair, but somehow, the valentine sentiments hit the mark. I even created a valentine on my computer occasionally. I wish he were here today so that I could say "I love you" again, but life goes on.

Just remember: it's not the quality of the card or gift that counts, or the number of stars in the restaurant's rating. What really counts are those three little words. Anyone can say them; be sure you do, with feeling. I LOVE YOU!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

There's Something About Motorcycles . . .

I live in Chicago, and I’m seventy-five years old, and it’s February. So why am I thinking about motorcycles and motorcycling? Perhaps it’s because my brother, who lives in southwestern Utah, is eagerly looking forward to riding, and he recently bought a new motorcycle. Here’s a quote from one of his recent emails:

"The even better news is that the riding season is just around the corner. For the past couple of weeks I have been adding stuff to my new bike. As it always happens in the world of motorcycles, a new bike is a blank canvas unto which one paints one’s own personality in VERY expensive chrome goodies. Bottom line, my bargain-priced bike is turning into less that a great bargain."

Note that enthusiasm. My brother is only two years younger than I am, but motorcycles are a big part of his life. That’s not true of me any more, but strangely enough, it once was. Here is a quote from a self-interview in my eGenerations journal and my other blog, "Write your Life!"

"I guess many may not know that this stodgy old professor has toured the U.S. and Europe on the back of her husband's BMW motorcycles. We traveled through the Alps four times, and our final foreign trip by motorcycle was our fascinating trip to Russia in 1990."

While I’m quoting myself, here’s a sentence from my first book, Reinventing Myself. This is from the chapter "Mountain Memories, 1976," about our first European motorcycle trip, the one during which I fell off and broke a leg. That happened in Austria.

"There’s nothing like motorcycling to make anyone feel almost a part of the mountains." Yes, indeed. That’s how I explained being eager to get back on and take almost the same alpine tour in 1981, and twice more in the 1980's, and then the trip to Russia, with many U.S. and Canadian trips between.

And this is from my late mother’s autobiography, "My First Eighty-Six Years: A Midwestern Life":

"My cousin Roy . . . bought a motorcycle with a sidecar. About once a week, usually on Saturday, he came to Aunt Mary’s for dinner and then took me for a ride. I really enjoyed those rides, which were often two to three hours long . . . Grandma and Aunt Mary didn’t really approve of my motorcycle rides, but accepted them, with instructions to Roy to drive carefully. How ironic that my attitude was about the same as theirs much later, when motorcycling became a part of life for both of my grown children."

So what’s the fascination of motorcycling? I’ve heard parents say, "I’d never let my son (or daughter) ride one of those dangerous things!" Of course parents don’t really have a say after the kids grow up. My husband and I began our trips in our forties. Was I afraid? Yes. I’d read all those stories about motorcycle accidents, but then I’d read plenty about automobile carnage on the roads as well. Besides, I was and am more or less a fatalist. If I had little sense of daring earlier, my late husband helped me to develop one.

My husband’s riding skills improved after that accident in Austria, and I learned how to fall correctly. We always wore helmets. If you analyze motorcycle accident statistics, I think you’ll find that most victims are young and foolhardy. We were neither, although our trips amazed some of our friends. We belonged to a club that included doctors, lawyers, and business people of all types, hardly Hell’s Angel or Outlaw types. We never had another accident, and my husband’s death had nothing to do with motorcycling, although he continued riding until his final illness.

Today, I realize that motorcycling (as a passenger, not a driver; I don’t even drive a car very well) was good for me. It "loosened me up" both physically and mentally, making me more tolerant and flexible and informal, and best of all, more daring and adventurous. The thrill has obviously continued for my brother, and a retired male teaching colleague nearly my age is still an avid motorcyclist. Sometimes I wish I could put on a helmet and a leather jacket and get back on one of those BMW’s; I had to quit riding in 1990 due to arthritis.

Still, I credit the motorcycle experience for making me willing to take a few chances in life. Motorcycling seems to run in my family, and I have some fond motorcycling memories. Old age can be rather dull without at least a little bit of daring; I hope I haven’t lost that hard-to-explain feeling.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Seniorwriter's Confession, Super Tuesday 2008

Since most of my fellow bloggers seem to feel compelled to discuss this year's political campaigns, I feel an urge to confess: I did not vote in yesterday's Illinois primary. Hate me for that if you must, but here's my confession.

I've always resisted writing or talking about three subjects: sex, religion, and politics. It's not that I don't think those topics are important, but they generate so much emotional controversy and conflict that I take the easy way out. Besides, I obviously do not have any amazing insights in any of those areas. But here goes: Why didn't I vote yesterday?

Yes, I usually vote. However, I admit that all the Super Tuesday hpye this time eventually got to me, and I tuned it out. My superficial, old-lady excuse for not voting was the icy, slushy sidewalks.. Getting to my polling place would have been difficult, but probably not impossible.

Had the weather been better, I might have voted, but there were other factors at work. I really couldn't decide between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I could support either. I like the idea of a woman president, but I like Obama too. His win in Illinios was a sure thing.

Local races? Chicago-area politics have always turned me off. I probably would have voted for the condidate with the funniest animated attack campaign ad, but I understand he lost be a wide margin. My vote wouldn't have elected him, and I have no way of knowing whether he had any qualifications beyond a daring spin doctor. His opponent's ads implied that the one with the funny ads is just another political hack. Do you detect cynicism on my part? Yes, indeed.

This country needs the idealism of youth, and I sometimes regret that I lack it. Big government, dirty politics, campaign phone calls, empty rhetoric, and media hype have overwhelmed me. Couldn't all that money be used more beneficially?

On the other hand, my world travels have not shown me any country I'd rather live in or any system of government that works better than ours. For all its problems, ours is still a great country. I wish that I could believe that a new president will provide all the answers, or even most of them, but alas. I have to believe in the art of compromise.

Anyway, I can't say I'm very sorry for missing the primary election, but barring my death, a serious health setback, or a monumental snowstorm in November, I promise to vote in the general election.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Amazon Shorts: A New Cure for the Winter Doldrums?

Yesterday, I found myself with nothing I wanted to do, nothing I was especially interested in reading, nothing I wanted to watch on TV. Notice that I used the words "wanted to do": I have quite a collection of books to read, plenty of mind-numbing tasks awaiting me, and stores within walking distance--and the sidewalks even appear to be reasonably clear after the recent snows. I am not exactly housebound.

Anyway, I wanted something new and different. So what did I do? I downloaded five Amazon Shorts, and read and wrote customer reviews of two of them. Never heard of Amazon Shorts? I admit that (to my surprise) I've written two myself and had them accepted recently ("Volunteer" and "Marie's Story"), but this wasn't about my stories. It was about shorrt, quick, and easy immediate gratification. At 49 cents each, that's only $2.45 on my credit card. Each story is about 2,000 to 10,000 words in length, easily read on screen or printed out.

I selected stories from the "Literature and Fiction" group, "Women's Fiction" division. That's where my stories reside, so I cllicked on and read about other stories that appeared to deal with older women, their lives and their problems.

So far, I've read and written very short customer reviews of "Am I Wife or Daughter?" by Brenda Hill and "Merry Christmas, Miss Budge!" by Daphne C. Simkins. I enjoyed both stories. Do they rank with the masterpieces we're all familiar with? Not really, but for enjoyable reading on a cold Saturday afternoon, they were great. I look forward to reading the others today; they now reside on my computer as PDF files.

There are thousands of Amazon Shorts available, in many different genres and categories, fiction and non-fiction, from Business and Investing to Cooking, Food, and Wine to Religion, from Mystery to Romance to Science Fiction. You're sure to find something interesting. Give it a try, and tell me what you think. And how about reading and reviewing my stories?

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne