Thursday, December 24, 2009

Another Christmas in Tulsa!


I'm spending a second Christmas in Tulsa with my niece Cindy and her family. How fortunate I am to have at least the remnants of a family to spend the holidays with! Being old and childless can send me into a deep depression, so Cindy's invitation is wonderful. My brother (Cindy's father) comes here from Utah, and we always have a good, if quiet, time.
There comes a time when the old childhood home is gone, the parents are long gone, and it's time for new traditions. Cindy loves Christmas; she always has a lovely tree surrounded by a lot of presents, and she cooks up a storm. Her food is too tempting for my fat body, but it's certainly enjoyable.
I seldom do any decorating or gift buying on my own, so I really appreciate this new holiday tradition, transported here from Houston, where Cindy used to live. Even as we wait for a predicted snow storm, the fireplaces burn cheerfully and the Christmas carols play. I can feel a bit of Christmas spirit just beginning to affect me. Happy holidays to all, and a great 2010!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Politics? Why me?

As you may have noticed, I usually steer clear of poilitics in my writing. I do not belong to any party; I'm as afraid of the liberal left as of the religious right, and my usual reaction is just to shrug my shoulders at the goings on in government.

Imagine my surprise when I received an official-looking notice, a "2010 Obama Agenda Survey" from the Republican National Committee. It included a survey marked "DO NOT DESTROY" and a letter admonishinbg, "So please, no matter what, do not discard or destroy your survey." It contains an ID number, so there's no chance of remaining unanimous.

The letter begins as follows:

"Please carefully read and complete the enclosed survey which is registered in your name and affixed with a tracking code to ensure tha it is accounted for in the tabulated results. . . . .I am sending out this questionnaire to gauge here you and other grassroots Republicans stand on the critical issues facing our nation.. I need to hear back from you right away."

Grassroots Republican? I am no such thing. Where did they get my name? Is there an assumption that all old people are Republicans, or just old people who live in luxury buildings? The letter is four pages long and rather repetitious; it accuses President Obama of just about every "sin" in the Republican repertoire.

"That's why we are asking where you stand on Barack Obama's promise to raise taxes...on his plans to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, which could lead to billions of dollars in government handouts and possibly bankrupt Social Security. And how do you feel about Obama's efforts to nationalize health care and have it run by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.? These are Obama's top priorities!"

Then we get to the bottom line: fundraising. Several times this sentence appears: "please complete your Registered copy of the 2010 Obama Agenda Survey, then make out your check or provide your credit card information in the space provided for your contribution of $500, $250, $100, $50, or even $30 to the Republican National Committee, place it in the postage-paid envelope provided, and mail it right away." The implication is, "no contribution, no survey."

As you can imagine, they won't hear from me. I may return an empty envelope, although that's probably coded too. I'm not a strong supporter or critic of Barack Obama. I guess my basic attitude is to give him a chance. He couldn't do worse than his predecessor. I like his idealism, although I think he is sometimes unrealistic about what he can accomplish. At any rate, I don't see him as a destroyer of our country or an enemy, as this letter presumes I should.

If I'm on some list of Republicans--or Democrats--please remove my name. I am srtrictly independent, and no appreciator of political rhetoric on either side. Please respect my privacy, and don't insult my intelligence!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Again!

Last Thanksgiving, I wrote about enjoying a Healthy Choice frozen turkey dinner in the privacy of my condo. This year, I'll be having dinner here at The Clare; the menu seems to include almost everything. This year, my problem will be trying not to eat too much to sabotage my recent weight loss. I still have a lot of weight to lose. I still remember Thanksgivings past, most of them fondly, so I have decided to repeat my 2007 post, also repeated last year.

"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 [2007], 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."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Travel Tips for Senior Citizens

The following guest post was contributed by Christine Howell who frequently writes about Online Health Care Degrees and college related topics for Online College Guru, an online college directory and comparison website.

Now that you have more time on your hands as you've reached the "golden years," you find that you may want to travel more so you can see the things you missed all those years while working on a career and raising the kids. Of course life has changed for you and you're not that "spring chicken" anymore, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy yourself. Here are a few tips to make your traveling a lot more enjoyable and secure.

Do some pre-planning before your trip:

1. Contact your travel agent about where you are thinking of going. A lot of travel agencies cater to seniors these days.

2. Make sure to find out about medical facilities in the area where you are planning to go.

3. Do research on the climate where you will be visiting.

4. If you are traveling with a wheelchair or guide dog, make sure these can be accommodated.

5. Think about purchasing travel insurance and make sure that it will cover any pre-existing illness that you might have.

When packing, keep these things in mind:

1. Make sure that your carryon bag contains everything you will need during your flight, if you are flying.

2. Always make sure that your carryon bag contains a medical kit, which should include everything from your medications to band aids.

3. Try to use suitcases that have wheels on them for an easier commute.

Traveling with a disability:

1. It might be wise to call the airports and airlines to make sure that your disability can be taken care of.

2. Make all reservations in advance to save time and hassles.

3. Book direct flights whenever possible.

4. Contact the local tourist information center at your destination to get information about their public transportation system.

5. If you are going outside of the country, make sure to find out from the embassy about any regulations there might be about wheelchairs, guide dogs and medicines.

Pre-trip medical checkups:

1. Always make sure to get a physical before leaving on a trip and ask your doctor about anything special you may need to do or know.

2. Discuss your trip plan with your doctor so they are aware of what to expect. That way they will be able to give you sound medical advice based on what information you have given them.
If you are a diabetic, it's important that you find out from your doctor how to stagger your medication in different time zones.

3. Make sure to get flu and pneumonia shots before leaving for any extended trip.

4. If you are going somewhere that is known for having a high ratio of infectious disease, make sure to be vaccinated accordingly.

When traveling with medications:

1. Make sure you discuss your medications with your doctor so you know what you should be taking.

2 Get a letter from your doctor explaining what the drugs are you are taking and why you are taking them.

3. Always leave the drugs in their original containers so as not to cause confusion and suspicion, especially to other countries.

4. If you have to inject your medication, make sure to bring plenty of syringes of your own with you and not rely on places to buy them at your destination.

Clothing while traveling:

1. Make sure that the clothing you are traveling in is loose fit and comfortable. Wearing comfortably fitting clothing allows for better blood circulation, which is important when you may be sitting for long periods of time.

2. Always avoid tight socks or stocking.

Important information you should carry with you:

1. All of your doctors' contact information.

2. Travel agent's number if you booked your trip with an agency.

3. Airline's contact number.

4. Number for the U.S. Embassy if you are traveling out of the country.

5. Emergency contact numbers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Hearing Aids: Will They Help?


Yesterday, my new heraring aids were delivered and fitted. Unlike my old ones, which I wore on and off for about six years, these fit behind the ear, with only a little plastic tube going inside the ear.

I've learned a lot about hearing aids over the years: (1) They are expensive, and Medicare does not pay for them. (2) No hearing aid can restore absolutely normal hearing. (3) Sometimes they can be more trouble than help, especially in a place where you'd rather not hear the heating system, noisy neighbors, or other unwelcome sounds. (4) They seem to be a sign of old age; some elders reject them long after they become isolated by silence. (5) In-the-ear models like my old ones can react to heat and humidity (as mine did in Egypt) and short out. Repairs are expensive.

So why have I resolved to try again? The old aids are worn out; one worked on occasion, the other not at all. Part of it is noticing those around me at The Clare. Trying to share a table with three other hard-of-hearing resdidents becomes a comedy of errors punctuated by "What did you say? Can you speak louder?" I've found myself just nodding, as if I've heard everything. This is enough to make me even more of a loner than I am naturally.

Young people often complain about elders refusing to wear hearing aids, implying that doing so would solve all communication problems. 'Taint so. Perfect hearing is often a dream, even with the best hearing aids available. Be careful: don't attribute difficult conversations with seniors to lack of intelligence or knowledge or to crankiness. Despite hearing aids, we sometimes just can't get it, especially if you have an unfamiliar accent. Even British accents on TV seem to bother me, hearing aids or not. Be sure to speak slowly and clearly.

Anyway, I got the latest and supposedly best digital aids this time; I have several fittings to go, and I've had some uncomfortable sound feedback. So far, I do think I hear better, but I'll need to try the aids out in social situations and get more adjustments before I can make a true evaluation. In the meantime, I'm hoping to become more aware of what's going on around me. I'm hoping that cocktail parties cease to be annoying experiences. Hearing aids won't make me a social butterfly, but if I'm lucky, they'll help a bit. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

There's Something About Afternoon Tea

An old friend treated me to afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel for my birthday yesterday. Somehow, afternoon tea brings to mind hats and white gloves and society ladies wasting time on quiet afternoons, but of course things have changed.

While everyone was well, if casually, dressed on this Monday afternoon (no hats or white gloves in sight), there was still an air of elegance in the large room. Even from the second floor, the Chicago view was nice, but it doesn't equal the view from my own thirty-fifth floor apartment two blocks away.

The Peninsula is described as a "super luxury" hotel, actually quite typical of hotels in this area. I couldn't afford to stay there. Still, this little taste of luxury made me feel good. A small string emsemble played soft music from a balcony, and the service was attentive.

The food was served on the usual three-tier arrangement of plates, and it all looked very good. There were small sandwiches, mini-quiches, pastries, and of course scones with all the usual accompaniments. The tea assortment was immense, and not knowing the difference, except between black and green, I asked what the most popular green tea was. I no longer remember the name, but it was good tea.

The room was well-populated, but not crowded, and I could carry on a conversation with my friend quite easily, in spite of my hearing loss and the fact that my new hearing aids have not arrived yet. My friend has similar hearing problems, although she's more than ten years younger than I. She's still active as a teacher (at Columbia College, Chicago) and a writer. Her world is quite different than mine now, and it was interesting to reminisce.

I guess I'm quite isolated from the local social scene, so this tea was a chance to see how other people live. For one thing, they must be rich. Tea for one cost $38! I guess elegance is fine once in a while, especially since my friend paid. I've survived another birthday, and I hope I'll be mobile enough to celebrate more of them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Birthday!

Another Birthday! I really don't look forward to birthdays anymore, now that the number has crept up (this is my 77th). Birthdays were never very special in my family, at least until my late mother reached her nineties. Then the scattered family gathered to wish her well, at least for as long as she was in shape to appreciate our visits. We didn't celebrate her final birthday, her ninety-fifth, because she wouldn't have recognized us or appreciated the gesture. We gathered later in the year for her funeral.

As for me, I don't remember anyone making a fuss about my birthday. In later years, however, two old friends have made a point of taking me out to dinner on the occasion, one on the day and one the day before or after. I have really appreciated that. This year, one of them is taking me to the nearby Penninsula Hotel for afternoon tea; that will be a pleasant change, although it may ruin my diet. My only other planned activity is getting a seasonal flu shot here in the building.

Not being an especially friendly or social person, I've never had a large group of friends give me a surprise birthday party, and I've never expected one. My few relatives are all in other states. I'm content to be here at The Clare, alone yet not alone. My birthday somehow makes me uncomfortable (my late husband used to give me a card and take me out to dinner), but at least I'll get a chance to talk to an old friend (who lives in the suburbs, by the way). I have no complaints. I've had a couple of good wishes from Internet friends. Thank you. Let's hope that I live to celebrate more birthdays in good health!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Taking My Driving Test

My birthday was fast approaching (actually, it's tommorow), and one effect of dreading the aging process seemed to be postponing renewal of my driver's license. As the deadline loomed, I began to analyze my reluctance.

Despite my accident-free record, I could not just renew via email or take the vision test and a new picture and get an extension of four more years, as usual. I had to take a driving test, which meant that I could not renew my license downtown, but had to drive to the far north side. For obvious reasons, no road tests are given in Chicago's crowded Loop.

There were other issues, too. Do I really need to own a car? It's expensive, thanks to insurance, licensing, and parking costs, and I drive as little as once a week. Am I an old and incompetent driver? I hope not. The "giving up driving" dilemma seems to hit all elders sooner or later, but I'm only turning 77! I still hope to know when it's time to give up, since I don't have a family to decide for me. Anyway, I finally decided to take the test and see what happened.

I realized that, as far as I can remember, I had only taken one road test, on the occasion of my originally getting a license. I started driving later in life than many do, but that happened in the late 1950's. No wonder I was terrified! Would I be asked to parallel park (something I've never been good at)? Would the examiner make me nervous? I approached the exam with anxiety.

The first positive thing I noticed was that senior citizens were allowed to go to the head of the line in the crowded facility where we took our vision tests. I passed that, but what I feared most was still ahead. After a fairly long wait in a line of cars, I was relieved to see a seemingly nice young woman enter my car for the test. It turned out that she was, indeed, nice and non-threatening.

The good news is that the test was easy. I'm good at using turn signals, stopping at stop signs, and observing traffic. I didn't have to parallel park. I managed to avoid the cones when I had to back up (something I don't do particulartly well). I passed, had a ridiculously bad photo taken, and soon had my new license good for four years. I was elated!

By the time my license runs out next time, I'll be over eighty (if still alive), and I may well be ready to give up driving by then. I've already vowed to make my 2003 Mini Cooper my last car. It's easy to get along without a car here in the middle of the city, but I guess I had to prove that I can still drive. I'm glad things turned out as they did.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Afterthought to my Previous Post

Lest you think that The Clare represents a racist society, I assure you that it does not. We are integrated by race, religion, ethnicity, and any other standard you can think of (except perhaps economically). I suspect that this incident has more to do with politics than with race, and as a whole, we all get along very well.

Some Uncomfortable Thoughts about Elders

This is the tranquil view from my window on a recent weekend. However, I have felt less calm since I got a disturbing phone call yesterday. It seems that the son of one of my fellow residents took issue with the commentary written by one of our black residents in the September issue of our newsletter, The Clarion, and wrote an angry letter to The Clare's acting Executive Director.

In my view, the commentary was liberal but inoffensive, and it was accompanied by an invitation to submit opposing views; still, the letter writer stated that he didn't want to find this newsletter at his mother's or father's door again. That's all right with me, but I was led to some uncomfortable thoughts. Assuming that this complaint originated with a resident rather than his or her son, have elders become so set in their ways that they cannot abide controversy? Can't they accept opposing views, or anything they don't agree with? Whatever happened to our democratic urge to fire off letters to the editors when we want to criticize something? Do we have at least one closet racist, or at best an arch conservative, in our midst?

I was reminded of TV images of seniors protesting imaginary "death squads" in the health care debate and those praising Medicare while objecting to all government involvement. Whatever happened to logic and fairness? While I have found Clare residents to be generally intelligent and fair-minded, I was caught off guard by that letter. How I wish that the resident involved would identify himself or herself to me and/or write a scathing criticism of the article.

I am a supporter of freedom of the press, including senior newsletters, and this incident, plus the earlier censorship fiasco, made me wonder if we elders are supposed to be sheeplike followers of whatever is the majority position or the senior residence management's view? Without free speech and a free press, life is not worth living, and that is true for elders as much as it is for the young. Let's have intelligent controversy involving logic rather than anger! As long as we have the ability to think, let's do so, and let no young people be surprised to discover disagreements among seniors. Assuming that we all are --or should be-- alike is very dangerous.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

NFPW Conference Photos
















The Illinois Contingent at the Awards Ceremony (left) and the Communicator of Achievement Banquet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reflections on the NFPW Conference, September 10-12

This year's conference of the National Federation of Press Women was held in San Antonio, Texas, this year. This is the second national conference of the group that I have attended (the other was in 2007), and I basically enjoyed the experience. However, I was reminded that traveling is tough for us elders. Here are a few observations (not really meant to be complaints).

1. Must the airport experience be so difficult? I understand about security, but the time it takes to personally examine my whole body with a wand because my two knee replacements set off the alarm seems a bit unnecessary. I certainly can't look like a dangerous terrorist, especially at my age. This process may deter me from flying again for a while.

Then there is the long walk from terminal to gate. Of course I'm old enough, though not visibly impaired, to request a wheelchair, and I often did so before my knee operations. Now I consider myself reasonably healthy and fit, but that walk is a real challenge. Whatever happened to those carts that used to ply the aisles to transport anyone who requested a ride? I only saw one, and it was marked for special VIPs, some of whom looked young and vigorous when they passed me. Can't we older commoners have some help? I've discovered that brisk walking for long distances makes me short of breath and in need of a seat, and often there is no place to sit until I reach my gate, or the baggage claim area when I arrive.

What's with the baggage fees? This is my first time having to take out a credit card once each way to pay $15 to transport my small bag. Many carry similar bags aboard, but I'm not strong enough to do that. And the size and number of bags carried onto a full plane are mind-boggling. There have always been too many carry-ons, but the charges seem to encourage virtually everyone to carry on as much as possible. The loading and unloading of those overhead bins is quite a process; one seems to risk life and limb avoiding having a large bag fall on one's head.

2. We stayed in a nice enough hotel, but I was not especially comfortable. For one thing, the shower was in a slippery bathtub without grab bars, and I did not dare take a shower. One slip (and I'm not very sure-footed) could have disabled me for the rest of my life. I had to make do with what my mother used to call "sponge baths," so I hope I didn't have B.O.

Most of the lamps in the room apparently had burned-out bulbs or other problems. Since there was one good working lamp for reading, as well as a ceiling light, I didn't register any complaints. Actually, the most annoying feature of the place was the toilet. I'd always thought that all toilets are pretty much alike, but then I had my knee replacements. My condo toilets were both rather low, so I had to buy a raised seat. Those here at The Clare are of more reasonable height, and they've given me no trouble. Those at the San Antonio hotel hit a new low. They were too low for all but the smallest child. Getting both down and up provided me with real challenges, and when possible, I used the handicapped stalls in pubic restrooms (not very useful in the middle of the night). What was this hotel thinking? I've never seen such low toilets anywhere outside a child care center. Apparently all the rooms were so-equipped.

All this made me ponder, as usual, the "joys" of growing old. Do I really need to request airport wheelchairs and handicap-accessible rooms when I travel? Or should I just quit traveling altogether? I don't think of myself as a fragile old lady, but this trip make me wonder. It's nice to be back home!

(As I said, I did enjoy the conference, although I ate too much. See my other blog, "Write Your Life!" for an account of my awards.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Answer is Yes!

A while ago I wrote, "Are we seniors getting too comfortable?" You may have noticed that it's been a long time since that last post. Yes, the problem is laziness or inertia. I've certainly had time to add posts here, but it's so easy to relax at The Clare. Even though I don't participate in all of the activities offered, I do venture out from time to time. However, I love to read, work puzzles, watch the Cubs games on TV, and just enjoy the lake view.

That said, I want to mention that I actually completed the summer fitness challenge, or so the fitness director says, even though my visits to the fitness center with its machines have been few and far between. What I have been doing is going to the morning exercise class three times a week without fail. That amazes me, since I've never been a fitness buff, or been fit, for that matter. To drag my overweight body to the class is hard, but I'm glad I've done it. Our fitness director, Jan, is great. She knows she is dealing with old people, so she's very understanding. I haven't been able to raise my right arm since an accident in 1942, and I'll never be able to. Jan understands, and lets me adopt the exercises to what I can do. Of course a lot of my peers are far more agile and athletic than I, but no one criticizes. I'd be lost in a class of young, toned bodies, but here it's different.

So what else is happening at The Clare? The Clarion, the residents' newsletter I edit, is going well, thanks to a willing and able staff of about seven. We meet once a month to discuss the contents, and I think The Clarion is getting better and better.

Catastrophe has struck, too. About two weeks ago, a gasket broke in the ceiling over the lounge, sending hot water cascading down. The devastation was huge; the water not only ruined the piano beneath the leak, but ran down a floor to destroy some offices and even down manuy fioors to flood the mail room. What a mess! We have been living with scaffolding and other equipment, but it's being handled well, with interruptions kept to a minimum. I hear the good news is that all this is covered by insurance. I certainly hope so!

I'll try to get back here more often. I'm going to the National Federation of Press Women's conference in San Antonio next week, so that should give me something to write about. Who knows what else will happen in this relatively uneventful, comfortable life? I'll try to avoid getting too comfortable again.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Do We Seniors Get Too Comfortable?

A comment on my previous post started me thinking. Sadie, of "Musings, Meanderings & More," wrote:

"For a while I worked as a waitress in a senior citizens facility. Although I really enjoyed working there, at times I became a bit overwhelmed with the reality of aging. While there, I noticed that too many of the residents became to comfortable with their surroundings and all the conviences that came along with living within one of those communities. They stopped planning and left everything up to managerment. Take that trip and any other that you can squeeze into your budget. And never stop planning...don't nix something that's free and fun, and can easily be trashed and started again from scratch. Stepping outside of the box will do you a world of good..."

Yes, I've noticed how easy it is to relax and do nothing, and some of that is good. However, I've observed that life is so good here at The Clare that it's easy to lie back in one's recliner, enjoy the gourmet meals, and gain weight. I've heard a few compaints on the same subject from other residents. Yes, we have a fitness program, exercise classes of all types, and almost any sort of activity imaginable. We have bicyclists, long-distance walkers, and a champion swimmer among us. No one forces us to eat three large meals a day, including desserts. I still suspect that the majority of residents are doing less than they're capable of.

The time will probably come for most of us that we will need assisted living and/or nursing care; that's time enough to forgo activity. Even at those levels, we can keep our minds active, if not our bodies.

So this easy life has its drawbacks. That's why I have changed my eating habits and resolved to become more active. I'll accept those conference invitations and keep going as long as possible. There's such a thing as relaxing too much, especially at a place like The Clare.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

When is it too Late to Plan Ahead?

During her later years, my late mother (she lived to age 95) often quoted one of her fellow elders: "I don't even buy green bananas." The point was, don't plan too far ahead. I always laughed at that, but now that I'm almost 77 and living in a senior residence, the quotation has more meaning.

When one is young, the future seems to stretch far ahead, offering endless opportunities. Sometime around 70, at least for me, the vista changed. I'm now reluctant to plan too far ahead. With no job and few responsibilities, it's easy to become recliner-bound and oblivious to all the opportunities that surround me. Two recent emails made me think again of the "green bananas."

First I heard from an officer of the Illinois Woman's Press Association, a group of which I am a member. She asked me what I could contribute to the National Federation of Press Women's national conference, to be held in Chicago in August, 2010. I can't help with media contacts (I have none), and assignments that require extensive walking or standing are out, too. I finally agreed to host and introduce a speaker (as yet unknown). Somehow, this event seemed so far away. Unconsciously, I wondered how I'd feel by then. Why? I have no known serious health problems except the usual age-related ones, but I guess I've already seen too much physical decline among my fellow residents to be confident about my future. On the otherr hand, the 101-year-old resident looks great, in spite of being tethered to an oxygen tank. Anyway, I now have an August engagement to put on my 2010 calendar--when I get one.

The other email was more surprising. As I mentioned, this blog was featured in the Story Circle Network newsletter recently, and is now one of six (thus far) member "Star Blogs." The author of the email asked whether I intended to attend the organization's conference in Austin, Texas, next Februry to participate in a panel on blogging. Well, Texas is far away, and I'm going to San Antonio for this year's NFPW conference in September, so I hadn't considered another Texas trip so soon. I'm not that fond of Texas. Besides, these conferences are expensiuve when one adds up the registration fees. airfare, and hotel costs. I tentatively nixed the idea. But then I began to think (I have plenty of time for that these days). Texas is certain to be warmer than Chicago in February, and I have no other cold weather plans. Why not go?

There was a time when I welcomed opportunities such as these enthusiastically, perhaps dreaming of fame and fortune. Money was no object, at least in my working years. Things are different now: fame and fortune have eluded me, and I've grown old. But as long as my mind lasts, why not enjoy such opportunities? My newly-resurrected motto has become Carpe Diem (seize the moment). I don't know for how long I can do so, but full speed ahead! I buy green bananas, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Are Seniors Ready to be Plugged In?

You've probably noticed that many people are "plugged in" to their IPods, cellular phones, or other communication and entertainment devices. You've probaly also noticed that these people are generally younger; seniors seem more likely to have hearing aids in their ears than ear bud speakers.

Now a company called LinkedSenior has come along to get us all connected. I've never seen the devices, but apparently the idea is to provide Linked Senior Players to residents of senior residences, where they can then connect to a central kiosk to download music, audio books, talk shows, cooking lessons, and/or anything else we might want to listen to. Here is the basic product information:

"The player: The Linked Senior Player is simple and straightforward to operate; it has five large tactile pushbuttons and provides excellent sound quality.

"The station:
The Linked Senior Kiosk is designed with ease-of-use for older adults in mind. Its operating system and its peripheral equipment have been carefully tailored to meet the needs of older adults.

"The content: The current selection contains about 63,000 audio pieces and is continuously updated with audio books, talk shows, radio shows, music, audio emails, news, cooking lessons, games and more. "

The mission of Linked Senior is as follows:

"Linked Senior was founded with the goal of creating a world in which the life in senior communities is enhanced through better access to entertainment. This new service revolutionizes how the 60+ spend their time and helps facilities provide quality activities to their residents. By opening up their everyday settings to the world and fostering social communities, Linked Senior provides seniors a mean to stay active and connected."

I'm sure that the developers of these devices are serious about offering entertainment for seniors (as well as serious about making money), but I have my doubts about the success of this project. Perhaps the idea of special services for seniors still distresses me a bit, a carry-over from the time I refused to consider myself old. I'm sure the developers are younger people. Are they right in seeing a need for such a service?

I have my doubts. Speaking only for myself, I can say that I have no desire to shut out the world to listen to "canned" music or whatever, at least as long as I can listen to recordings and read real books. I'm reminded of those science fiction ear radio devices designed to keep the population from thinking. See Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. We already have high definition TV, AM/FM radio, CD and DVD players, and 24-hour programming everywhere, not to mention films in theaters and on rentable DVD's.

I may be old-fashioned, but I can keep very busy reading, writing, thinking, and even watching TV. Perhaps the Baby Boomer generation has grown up in a world of personal electronic devices and will be ready to embrace the Linked Senior system when their time comes, but for those of us who grew up in a different era, I don't see the value of such a system. (And won't those Boomers have their own computers and listening devices to bring with them into retirement?)

What do you think?

For more information, go to http://www.linkedsenior.com/.
For a press release, go to http://www.prlog.org/10277516-entertainment-for-senior-communities-retirement-communities.html

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Censorship Rears its Ugly Head

I nearly resigned from my unpaid job as editor of the resident newsletter at The Clare. Why? That old bugaboo, censorship. I finallly decided that it was just the nature of the place I live, or Catholic tradition, or narrow-mindedness, so after I cooled down, I changed my mind. I guess my initial reaction was dictated not by the minor incident itself, but by the fact that the changes (which I didn't make myself) destroyed the spacing of the whole newsletter, leaving some confusing juxtapositions in a few articles.

So what happened? A resident submitted a little short-short story involving a seedy character who used two "bad" words. I don't use or recommend profanity, but I've always thought that it sometimes deserves a place in fiction, within moderation. Seedy characters don't talk like college professors. As a matter of fact, Illinois' former governor illustrated on wiretaps that even public officials--and their wives--sometimes use filthy language, far worse that what was involved here. I've always been against censorship in fiction, ever since I read about the Huckleberry Finn case. I couldn't believe that a book I consider one of the best was taken from library shelves.

Anyway, the present case involved only two words, used one time each. One was indeed offensive, although I think it has lost its original meaning to become just a very negative insult. The other word was so common that I never suspected it would offend anyone. It was just a common word for excrement. Would a killer call anyone a "piece of excrement"? I doubt that he would.

I argued a bit with the building staff (responsible for printing the newsletter), but to no avail. It wasn't a great story anyway, but I believe in residents' right to free speech. What are those in charge trying to protect us from, anyway? I'd never print a profanity-filled story, but two words used in an appropriate fictional context? Come on! Lighten up! We may be old, but we're still able to think for ourselves.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

4th of July Nostalgia:



I first wrote this in 2007, and I repeated it last year. However, since it is my definitive memory of the holiday, it seems worth repeating again.


Parade Memories and July 4th at Grandma's


My paternal grandmother lived in town, and that was exciting to me as a child. I grew up on a farm with visions of big-city skylines in my head; Whitewater, Wisconsin, did not qualify, but I considered it a step in the right direction.The excitement there was the 4th of July parade.

As I remember, it began on Main Street and turned down North Franklin street to the city park. Grandma lived on North Franklin Street. I remember the joy of swinging back and forth on Grandma's front porch glider and admiring the passing bands and floats and marchers, feeling patriotic, and always munching on some snacks that my plump body surely didn't need.

As I look back, I realize that it wasn't much of a parade by today's standards. The "floats" began as farm wagons, trucks, cars, and even children's wagons, and the bands sometimes played out of tune. Still, the parade spirit was there. I loved the flags and the excitement.

As I recall, I've participated in only three or four parades during my lifetime. In those days on Grandma's porch, I dreamed of parading as an honored celebrity or Grand Marshal, but of course it never happened. In Whitewater, I wore an ill-fitting purple band uniform, played my clarinet, and marched with our fledgling high school marching band once or twice. Ours was the smaller of the town's two high schools, and as I remember, the larger one had a bigger, better band. I once rode on a farm wagon-based float that proclaimed "Education Reflects the Spirit of Liberty" on the side and featured an old-fashioned mirrored "crystal ball," dance hall style, in the center.

At Luther College, I remember riding on a homecoming parade float in a fancy new yellow gown. It rained that day, and what I remember best is that the dress was ruined by run-off from the blue crepe paper decorating the float. My parents were in the crowd to observe this spectacle. I can't remember either the theme of the float or the sponsoring organization, but it may have been either the drama group or the literary society.

Today, I enjoy parades vicariously on TV. I admire the flowers and the beauty of the Rose Bowl Parade floats, the hype and variety of the New York Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and the marching politicians, commercialism, and enthusiasm of Chicago's many big parades. Still, no parade quite provides the excitement of being "downtown" on Grandma's small-town front porch, swinging back and forth and eating. That experience was a generator of big dreams.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another Point of View on Places for Seniors to Live

In response to my previous post, my brother, John Marshall, of Hurricane, Utah, asked for equal time to present his contrasting point of view. Isn't it funny how senior siblings brought up together can end up with such opposing views? Here is his statement from his yearly calendars:

"In the interest of fairness to those of us that appreciate small town America! Why Hurricane, Utah?

"Several years ago, when I first moved to Hurricane, my sister, a long-time Chicago resident, sent me and EMAIL in which she gently chastised me for hating civilization; she referred to me as a “rural hermit” intent on escaping from society. My response to her, which follows in edited form, explains, at least to me, why I am here. The following was first written in December of 2000 and it remains an essentially accurate description of my feelings about where I live and why I live here. Regrettably, “progress” is beginning to take its toll and the area is expanding recklessly; Hurricane, UT has been “discovered” and is the fastest growing city in Southern Utah; paradise lost?

"Lebensraum in Utah
There are many things that caused me to “escape” and become a “rural hermit” in Hurricane, Utah. Biologists have long known what will happen when you crowd a mammalian population into too small a space. For example, when over-crowded a significant fraction of an arctic lemming* population will run to the sea and drown themselves. However, their noble and selfless approach to maintaining the social order is virtually unknown in mammalian populations higher up the evolutionary ladder. Normally what happens is both violent and chaotic. The human approach, as we are the most intellectual of the mammals, is the most horrible of all. Hitler articulated the crowding problem when he spoke euphemistically of “lebensraum,” or room to live. History has recorded his quest for lebensraum, and it serves as a horrific example of just how far this quest for space can drive an otherwise sane and compassionate people.

"Primarily because of crowding, the major urban areas in America have become virtual battle zones, filled with directed and undirected anger. This contributes to a mentality of violence on a national scale and war on an international scale. To me such environments are not pleasant places to be, so I chose not to be there. In Hurricane, UT, specifically, and in the rural southwest in general, there is very little of the endemic angst so pervasive in the crowded urban centers. Here, you are trusted until you prove that you cannot be trusted; people wonder what they can do for you, not to you. People want to know how they can help you, not how they can use you. There is relatively little crime; there is no place in Hurricane or the surrounding area that I would fear to go at any time of day or night.

"So, while problems with pollution, both human and industrial, and heavy traffic, both human and vehicular, are factors in my dislike of urban areas, the main factor is the general quality of the social order. And, the quality of the social order depends on the quality, integrity and mood of the people with whom you live. For me and my house, I choose Hurricane, UT.

*Footnote:
Lemmings are small rodents, usually less than 5 inches long and weighing only 5 or 6 ounces. There are many known species, some living in the United States. However, the collared or arctic lemming of Scandinavia exhibits the behavior described. While the sacrificial lemming migration to the sea seems a noble and selfless solution to overcrowding, the real truth is not so noble. When an arctic lemming population gets too large for the local food supply, they migrate aimlessly, eating everything in their path. As they migrate, they swim rivers and lakes in their relentless quest for food. Eventually, as they live on a peninsula, many of them reach the ocean. They do not realize that swimming to the other side is impossible, nor are they smart enough to return to shore when they discover that.Finally, while the lemming behavior may not be as altruistic as it would at first appear, it is universally true that crowding in mammalian populations leads to irrational, antisocial and destructive behavior. For example, contemplate what happens when vast numbers of your relatives come for a visit for the holidays, and stay too long."

Photo: My brother's home, sweet home (on right). John Marshall photo.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Defense of City Living

This photo was taken on the ninth floor terrace of The Clare. Yes, we have flowers, and some residents even helped John, the gardener, plant them. I offer this photo as evidence that living in a big-city highrise does not require divorce from the beauties of nature.

Then there's Lake Michigan; I enjoy seeing white sailboats in brilliant blue water from every window, but especially from my living room, which faces east. The sunrise is lovely there too, especially in winter. At any time of year, I'm likely to see skies gradually turn pink or red in the early morning hours.

There are several small parks nearby, with benches for observing nature, human and otherwise. For walkers, the lakefront and Lincoln Park are within reach. For bicyclists there are the lakefront bike paths. The planters in the Michigan Avenue median are filled with seasonal flowers from spring through fall; the tulips there are often early signs of spring, marking the end of the cold season. I realize that some of you southerners are eager to avoid snow and cold, but for me, the changing seaasons are a delight. Summer and fall in Chicago are wonderful times.

Of course, especially for elders, convenience is everything. Every kind of store, restaurant, cultural institution, and entertainment venue is close by, and cabs and busses are everywhere when walking is not convenient or possible. I've admitted before that I grew up on a farm near a small town, but I dreamed of big-city skyscrapers and far-away places as soon as I was able to read. I respect everyone's right to prefer other environments, but please keep your minds--and your options--open. Of course city living is expensive, and big cities have problems. However, for me, Chicago is fascinating.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Honor for this Blog!

I just discovered that the Story Circle Network featured this blog in its July National e-Letter. Here is the article:

"Marlys' award-winning blog is titled "Never too Late! In the very beginning, she makes her intention plain with a quotation from George Eliot: 'It is never too late to be who you might have been.' In every blog post, Marlys opens up another angle of vision on "never too late." She retired from college teaching in 1999, began serious writing in 2005 (at age 73), and published her first book not long after. Five months ago, she moved to a high-rise retirement community, where she immediately started a resident newsletter (of course!) Marlys continues to write, win recognition for her work, and keep her commitment to the blog world, documenting her progress through the years and giving us all a wonderful lesson in how to age consciously and deliberately. Thanks, Marlys, for your gifts to us!"

Check out Story Circle Network at www.storycircle.org.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Elder Images

I've seen two newspaper references to elders recently. Of course we're all concerned about how older people are thought of and treated by society as a whole, but these cases seem to shift the emphasis straight back to our own behavior.

Of course you were shocked by the story of the 80-something white supremacist shooting up the Washington Holocaust Museum. And obviously the problem there was the man himself, not the way society views him. Anyone, regardless of age, who acts as he did, resulting in the death of an innocent person, deserves condemnation.

A more problematical story involved the 70-something woman who was stopped for a traffic violation, resisted the officer, and was felled by a taser gun. Of course it isn't nice to be treated that way, but what about the woman's actions? Apparently she refused to listen to instructions, and threatened to drive away.

I know that if I were stopped by a policeman, I would follow his directions faithfully. If he's wrong, I can fight the ticket in court or file a law suit. However, as many gun-weilding gang members have discovered, it's dangerous to fight back against an armed officer. What was that woman thinking?

I don't believe that old age is an excuse to defy the rules of society in dangerous situations. Peaceful protest can be all right, but these stories suggest that some elders are creating their own bad images. We elders may be special people who deserve care and compassion, but that doesn't excuse us from social responsibility. We don't want people to think that all or most old people are cranky, defiant, and/or dangerous.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Life Goes on at The Clare

People keep asking me how I like living at The Clare. My answer is always "I like it," and I do. Still, it's taking me a very long time to adjust (five months so far). There's something about moving to a lifetime care building that seems so final! Then, I am still trying to recover financially from the reduced price I received for my condo.

What's good? The food. I am not and never was a cook, so it's nice to know that three meals a day are available here (although our monthly fee covers only one full meal--I usually work in breakfast and lunch).

We have a Town Car and driver to take us places, but I've used it only twice. It seems luxurious, though. We have a great location; If I could walk better, I could walk almost anywhere I want to go. As it is, I sometimes relax too much and stay indoors, especially if the weather is dreary (which it is today).

We have seemingly endless activities available. I am still exercising three times a week, still at the beginners' level, but those exercise classes do keep me from being a total couch potato. We have excercise machines too; I sometimes use the cross trainer and the stationary bicycle. I haven't joined the book club yet, since I have so many unread books piled up to read (and sometimes review). I have plenty of time for reading, but I waste too much time on puzzles and magazines and TV. Bridge and gardening and several other activities don't interest me, but it's nice to know they're available.

My favorite activity is The Clarion, the resident newsletter I started. I have help from a starff of five or six, and I really enjoy the process of creating the newsletter each month. I'm still trying to get residents to contribute more. Why are people so afraid of writing? This is a building full of MDs and PhDs, so I am sure I'm not the only writer here.

The included one-a-week cleaning service is nice, although I no longer get my microwave oven cleaned, as I did when I hired my own service. I'll have to get out of my recliner and clean it myself soon. Package delivery is prompt and courteous. Mail and newspaper delivery are efficient. TV reception on my new HDTV is great.

I participated in the Printers Row Lit Fest (formerly the Printers Row Book Fair) on Saturday. It was nice to have Bob, the doorman, get a cab for me. I enjoy these fairs, even though I don't sell many books. The main problems this year were cold and rain. I left a bit early.

There's no way to escape aging, but a place like this gives a somewhat unwelcome look at the realities of growing old. The number of broken bones from falls, the number of hospitalizations for one thing or another, the number of knee replacement operations scheduled, the problems of healthier partners faced with the care of ailing spouses, the number of hearing problems (I have one myself) all give me cause for concern. On the one hand, it's good to know that nearby care and sympathy are available, but who wants to be reminded of all these realities? Fortunately, I've never been a head-in-the-sand person. As a realist, I believe I'm in the right place at the right time. Who knows what the future brings?

It seems to me that a lifetime care community is a good choice for someone like me, over 70 and childless. The luxurious Clare is hard for me to afford, but since I can't get my youth back, I'm happy here. Will I be so happy if and when I need to move to assisted living or nursing care? For now, I'll just enjoy independent living and my beautiful lake view and hope for the best.

Chicago Tribune photo.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Honors and Awards--Again!

Spring seems to be honors and awards time for many organizaations, associations, and volunteer groups. At least four of us here at The Clare have received awards this spring, and there may be more.

This year, I was again surprised and honored to receive awards in the Illinois Woman's Press Association's Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest. Multiple awards were presented at a luncheon yesterday at the Union League Club. I had been notified that I was a winner, but I was expecting not much more than honorable mention this year; I did less writing than usual in 2008.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive two firsts and one second on my three entrees. Lightening struck a third time when my third book, Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters won first in the "Creative Verse: Book or Chapbook of Poetry" category. The other two won firsts in other categories in 2007 and 2008. So now I'm not only a writer; I'm a poet! Now if the literary world would only take note. This book has sold even less well than Reinventing Myself and Seniorwriting. I know of only one person outside my family who has read all three of my books: The Clare's Dining Room Manager. Thanks, Carl. I'm glad I donated a copy of each book to The Clare Library.

Here are the anonymous judge's comments:

"Poet Styne ably summarizes the strengths and joys of her work in the final poem of the tome. Lovely!" (I'm not sure that a 50-some page book qualifies as a tome, but then I am a woman of few words.)

Of course you're not likely to have read or remembered that final poem, so here it is:


My Rictameters

Great art?
No, not these poems
Of mine, and yet if they
Just make you ponder, wonder, think
Or dream, consider your own life or write
A story, draw or paint the truth,
Learn who or what you are,
These poems inspire
Great art.


My other first place award was for "In Defense of Self-Publishing"--Parts I & II" published in my other blog, "Write Your Life!" The category was "Writing for the Web: For Hobby or Special Interest Sites."

The comments on this:

"The author uses the platform well to successfully create an easy-to-read explanation of self-publishing. With clear and focused writing the author put forth good effort in content styling for emphasis, scannability for reading and linking to provide context and additional resources. Excellent potential for more interacftivity through chats or issue focused discussions boards."

You can find these entries here:

http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/08/priorities-choices-and-opportunities-in.html
http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/08/matter-of-choices-in-defense-of-self.html

Finally, my second place award was for two book reviews here on "Never too Late!": "Aging, Life, and Death: A Book Review" (on Where River Turns to Sky, by Gregg Kleiner (Avon 1996; Perennial paperback 2002) and "Realities of Alzheimer's: A Book Review" (on Measure of the Heart: a Father's Alzheimer's, a Daughter's Return, by Mary Ellen Geist (Springboard 2008). Find these reviews by clicking on the "Book Reviews" label toward the bottom of the sidebar. The category was "Writing for the Web: Commentary (reviews)."

These may be small-time awards, but they make me feel good. Never underestimate the power of honors and awards to make people--especially elders--feel appreciated.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne


Friday, May 15, 2009

Success! The Clarion has Been Published

I wrote earlier about my efforts to begin a residents' newsletter here at The Clare. I'm happy to report that the first issue of The Clarion has come out to raves from residents and staff alike. I received an ovation from the exercise class and congratulations from nearly everyone, including the doorman and the desk clerk. I have a new feeling of elation!

So how did it turn out? There are five pages; participation is limited thus far, so there's too much about me in this issue, but people are now interested. This issue features a short article on moving to The Clare, a report from the chair of the Dining Committee, and introductions to five resident artists and their works, from sculpture to drawing to embroidery. The resident interview is my own self-interview (no others were available yet), and four residents receiving honors and awards from various organizations this spring were mentioned. I even promoted the June 6-7 Printers Row Lit Fest (formerly Printers Row Book Fair).

So far, I have found an art editor and seven interested participants, although not all have had time to contribute yet. I'm planning a staff meeting on June 2 for the June 15 issue. I'm optimistic about the future of The Clarion; I almost feel like I have a job again, and I love it!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Please listen, Oprah!

Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By (http://www.timegoesby.net/) has taken the great Oprah Winfrey to task for her emphasis on youth and staying young. Bennett features a video by geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas appealing for fairer medfia treatment of the aged. She suggests that Dr. Thomas should appear on the Oprah show, and I second the motion. Check out Bennett's post and the video at http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2009/05/hello-oprah-an-elder-advocates-appeal.html.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My New TV


I got a new TV set this week. I'm still old enough to remember a world without tv, and then the tiny round screens, all the way up to the monster sets that extended backwards and took up a lot of room.

I've lived through the old console sets, the black-and-white pictures, and the flickering screens, not to mention the age of huge entertainment centers, one of which I donated to charity when I moved this year. I've never been one to demand the newest and best, but with encouragement from my brother, I decided it was time for a new flat screen model (since he doesn't have one yet, I questioned his motives; he doesn't live close enough to enjoy my TV.) Anyway, he visited last weekend, and we went to a giant electronics store.

I don't think I'd ever taken HDTV seriously; I seldom visit electronics stores, and my gigantic eight-year-old Sony provided a great picture. However, the minute I reached the TV section of the store, I was hooked. There's something about those HD pictures that is amazing. My resolve to buy a smaller set disappeared quickly; the salesman and my brother insisted that nothing less than a 40-inch set was worth buying. I know better, but I'm weak.

Unfortunately, I'm not rich, especially these days. But with the magic of a credit card, I became the proud new owner of a Sony Bravia 40-inch set and a new HD cable box--the store had a representative from Comcast on the premises, and she arranged it all. Of course my monthly bill increases, too.

I don't know what lessons I learned from this experience. Perhaps I'm weak; I'm not usually a big spender or a demander of the newest and best. Maybe it's this old age thing; my attitude seems to be changing from "I don't need it" to "Why not?" I'll have to fight this attitude. At least I have a beautifal picture of life rolling out before my eyes, and I've done my part to jump-start the U.S. economy. If you haven't checked out HDTV yet, be careful; you may be hooked as I was. Not that I'm complaining, at least not until my credit card bill arrives.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thanks for the Newsletter Advice

I want to thank everyone who responded to my request for help as I begin the new Clare newsletter. Fortunately, I soon found Microsoft's Newsletter Wizard, which seems to be fairly easy to use, as a softwaare base for the project.

I want to comment on Steve Gurney's comment. Here it is, in case you haven't read it:

"You do a fantastic "newsletter" with this blog! I would recommend that you follow a similar model for The Clare. If you feel like you really need something in "print," simply print and copy a 1 page summary of the elements that can be distributed in everyone's mailbox much less expensively that will drive them to the site. If residents don't have a computer, they can gain access on the computer in the common area which I hope The Clare has. This is the model that our nations newspapers are following to reinvent themselves, don't revert back to 'old media'."

Thanks, Steve, but The Clare has had a residents' web site for quite a while, and it is largely ignored. Mine (a different one) is the only blog there, and the number of computer users seems small, despite training sessions. Yes, there are computers for public use here. I realize that seniors are becoming increasingly computer literate, and I'm certainly in favor of that, but so far, the Clare group has been resistent. Perhaps I can use a print newsletter to encourage more computer use.

When I stop to think about it, I realize that computers are still foreign objects to many of the older residents of The Clare (the oldest resident is 101, by the way). Many retired before computers gained popularity, and of course none of us grew up with computers. As a person who embraces computers, but still likes to read a printed daily newspaper, I am willing to rely on "old media" for a while. It seems the only way to reach an audience right now. I see Steve's point, but I'm a realist.

The first issue of The Clarion (that's the name for now) should come out in mid-May. I'm hoping that the first issue will inspire more people to join me; so far, the staff is small. I'll report on the results soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Senior Newsletter: Any Advice?

I have taken on the dauntng task of establishing a residents' newsletter for our community at The Clare. Does anyone have any experience and/or advice on forming a staff, contents, format, computer software to use, etc?

I'd be happy to see samples of successful publications, too. I have some experience in desktop publishng, but is it enough? I want to keep it simple and manageable.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Learning About Elders

I just attended a meeting of my fellow residents to announce staffing changes and other matters at The Clare. The meeting turneed into a complaint session. I kept my mouth shut, but I had plenty of time to assess my fellow elders. Here are a few conclusions:

1. This group is, in general, articulate and well educated, as well a affluent. (I'm probably one of the least affluent residents).

2. Seniors love to talk--loudly. Loud talk is good for those of us, including me, with hearing loss. But many tend to repeat themselves too often.

3. As with people of all ages all over, there are few agreements on anything among this group, despite the age similarities.

4. Moving into this building has marked a major turning point for everyone, and most of us are a bit uneasy about how everything will turn out. Will the assisted living and nursing facilities ever open? If so, and if we need such help, will it be available for everyone (the independent living apartments far outnumber the assisted living units).

5. Everyone feels that communication is lacking here. I feel that it's not been bad, considering the newness of the place.

6. There are too many pessimists here; I prefer to look on the brighter side. Some seem to believe that the emphasis will shift too far toward assisted living and nursing care.

7. Specific complaints: lack of shower grab bars (I have them) and long waits for food at dinner (I seldom eat dinner here). These seem to be valid complaints, but there were few of them. Most of what I heard seemed to be theories that the sky was falling in some way.

8. Dealing with a group of independent old people who are accustomed to the best must be very difficult. Personally, I enjoy living here.

9. I'm trying to establish a residents' newsletter. I think that should be a wonderful way to let people express their opinions. I hope they are willing to put them in writing.

10. My advice is to give the new management a chance.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When Do the Positive Financial Reports Begin Again?

I made the mistake a day or so ago of opening and reading one of my quarterly mutual fund statements. I had made no additions or withdrawals, but the ending value had decreased by nearly $9,000. How's that for bad news for 2009? This news comes from a respected company I won't name here, and I expect a couple of others from another company.

I'm not much of an investor, and these funds do not contain my entire "fortune." However, it's distressing to wonder if such losses will continue. Should I have bailed out long ago? It seems a bit late to do so now. The fatalist in me believes that I should leave things as they are and hope for eventual recovery. If the stock market recovers while I'm still alive, I'll be able to profit. If not, it will be intereseting to see how low my balance can go.

I always laughed at my mother's conservative financial habits. Her only investments were insured bank CD's and a couple of small, paid up life insurance policies. Still, she managed to live to the age of 95 with a little money left over. Will I be as fortunate?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Breakfast Follies

I've always realized that no stereotypical picture of senior citizens fits all of us, but I'm not sure I was aware of how far out of the main stream I am when it comes to breakfast. Since I moved into The Clare about three months ago, we have had free continental breakfast in the lounge and cooked breakfasts in the adjoining dining room (part of our food allowance). The former offered a sweet roll, orange juice, and coffee, as well as fresh fruit. The latter offered bacon and eggs, ham and eggs, omelets, oatmeal, and other common breakfast goodies, as well as juice, coffee, fruit, and pretty much everything found on the usual breakfast menu.

My favorite has been the "healthy choice breakfast" in the dining room: an egg white omelet with vegetables, orange juice, whole wheat toast, and coffee--no potaatoes. I often took a piece of fruit back to my apartment, too. I've also had bacon and eggs on occasion, as well as oatmeal with raisins. The only problem is that traffic in the dining room early in the morning is nearly non-existent. The lounge was sometimes crowded; it seemed to attract far more residents than the dining room.

Ever experimenting, the Clare staff has changed the breakfast routine. First, the continental breakfast was served buffet-style at the end of the dining room and carried into the lounge. Now the continental breakfast is served in the Bistro, the casual restaurant eight floors down. A few other things are offered (for a price), but the fruit has disappeared--too expensive, they say. How does this affect me? Well, this morning I was the only one in the dining room. It's obvious that the staff is not going to keep hiring a waitress and cooks to serve me and the few others who occasionally come in.

I was surprised by this breakfast pattern. I had thought elders would appreciate the virtues of a more healthy breakfast, but rolls and scones seem to be the preferred foods. Last I knew, eggs, especially egg whites, had improved their reputation and sweets were on the no-no list. I'm still searching for answers.

Is it money? I doubt it; most residents, like me, usually fail to use up their paid food allowances, and there are no refunds. Besides, this is a group of generaly affluent seniors who can afford almost anything they want. Is it a general dislike of breakfast? Is it the bad reputation eggs have had in the past? Some people may have been warned by their doctors to avoid eggs, but I'll bet they were not told to replace them with sweets. How about a good, inexpensive bowl of oatmeal?

Perhaps the breakfast-skipping habits of younger generations have rubbed off on elders. Some residents eat large lunches in the dining room (not very many) and most concentrate on dinners. I, for one, usually skip dinner in favor of something light in my apartment. I've never enjoyed going out for dinner every evening, no matter how gourmet the restaurant. Too much food in the evening interferes with my early to bed, early to rise pattern.

Will I succumb to the continental breakfast craze? Will I start cooking scrambled eggs in my kitchen? Will I go on a crash diet? There's no chance I'll starve. As with most of the growing-pain problems at The Clare, I look at this situation with amusement and curiosity to see how things will eventually work out. I guess my tastes and interests are even more outside the elder norm than I thought they were. And yes, I support the rights of elders and everybody else to eat as they choose. I should be used to being different by now.

Friday, April 03, 2009

My Dental Visit


I've written about my transportation to my dentist's office. Now for a few comments about my experience!

If you've read my first book, you may remember the chapter entitled "My $30,000 Teeth." My teeth are marvels of expensive crowns and restorations. Now they require a lot of upkeep, or so my dentist says. I recently received a card thanking me for five years of business; it was signed by everybody in the office. I must be the star patient (and probably the oldest).

The purpose of this week's visit was merely examination and cleaning. Little did I know that it was more involved than that. Ever careful, my dentist insisted that I take a massive dose of antibiotics because of my knee replacement surgery. It seems that what goes on in one's mouth can affect the rest of the body, so any infection could be disastrous. My gums were in bad shape after less than great dental hygeine while I was in the hospital and nursing home.

Now I have to return in two or three weeks for further antiobiotics and futher care. I have always hated going to the dentist, but now it's becoming a regular activity. More that $300 later, I was dismissed until April 22. Would I have been better off with my "old" teeth? They might have fallen out by now. How much do regular dentures cost?

As I've said before, I'm glad to have an improved smile, but is all this realistic? How many elders can afford such extensive dental services? Can I? Not really. Are big-city dentists just better salesmen? I wonder if all this is necessary.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life in the Fast Lane

I needed to visit my dentist yesterday. My knee surgery and moving and other problems had kept me away, and anyway, I have always avoided dentists when I could.

Another reason to avoid my dentist is the difficulty of getting to his office. It's not that it's far away, but there is absolutely no parking anywhere nearby, and I no longer live within walking distance, at least for me.

Takin g a bus involves too much walking, too. Taking a cab is easy, but getting one on the way home is less so. Anyway, living at the Clare gives me another perk: complimentary transportation within a certain area, including my dentist's street. Keith drives a big Town Car, by appointment, free of charge. He is employed by the building.

We've had this service for some time, but I've never used it. After all, I'm within walking distance of most things, and I own a car, too. Having a car and driver to depend on is not only beyond my budget, but against my middle class sensibilities. Yesterday, I decided to try it anyway.

Now I'm beginning to appreciate the luxuries of the wealthy. What a convenience to climb into a waiting car, get to my destination quickly, and get picked up for the ride home! I could get used to such things.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Income Tax? It's Easier Than You May Think

Every year about this time, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I begin to dread the annual ritual of filing my income taxes, state and federal. The very thought is enough to make me find other things to do, or worse yet, to go on an eating binge. I avoided the latter this year, but the dread was still there.

Actually, I've discovered over the years that filling out tax forms is easy, thanks to the computer and Turbo Tax. This is not an advertisement for Turbo Tax; I'm sure other programs do just as well, but that's the one Ive used for some years. I really believe that any educated, computer-savvy person should be able to file his or her own taxes as long as they don't involve complicated transactions. Those with million-dollar portfolios can easily afford the best accountants, so I'm not talking about them.

I guess I made my decision to do my own taxes years ago, when one of my freshman English students wrote about getting a job at a popular tax service despite her lack of training and knowledge. Considering that student's modest reading and writing abilities, I could understand why she didn't last long in the job. More importantly, my fierce sense of independence kicked in. Surely I could do a better job than she did. I went ahead, with my husband's blessings. He always left accounting matters to me.

The very simple federal tax form can be completed for free online, but then there are usually charges for upgraded tax programs, state forms, and e-filing (which I've also done since it became available). As a repeat customer with a need for something just a bit more advanced, I just started filling in my information in Turbo Taxd Deluxe, paid the fees (just under $100, including sales tax), by credit card, and finished in a couple of hours. You can try the program without charge.

The good news is that for the first time in many years, I get a tax refund. Not much has changed; I just overpaid my estimated tax, but I appreciate any bit of good news. I'll pay less in estimated taxes this year. Not having bought or sold any individual stocks, I can't write off any losses, but my mutual funds may eventually recover.

So after a couple hours of work, I've finished my income taxes. Yes, I pay a lot (my pension income is mainly taxable by the feds, and my required minimum withdrawals from my tax-sheltered annuities are definitely taxed.) So far, the state of Illinois does not tax retirement income, but I fear that's about to change.

By this morning, I'd been notified by e-mail that both my federal and state tax forms had been accepted, and my refund will be in my bank account fairly soon. I felt relief; why had I spent so much time dreading all this? Thanks to computers, doing taxes is easy for many of us. Unless you're in a complicated tax situation, don't be afraid. Just pull out your tax information and sit down at the computer.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Confessions of an (Almost) Reformed Couch Potato

I've always been a couch potato: overweight, inactive, awkward, and lazy. I was never athletic; I never participated in any sports in high school or college. I've certainly been prodded by parents, doctors, and friends to get moving, but I've seldom done so. The inactivity brought on by my fairly recent knee replacement surgery only made things worse.

Now I find that this retirement paradise where I live is serious about fitness. Not that anyone forces anyone into any activity, but there's always a list of exercise classes and activities, from beginning to advanced, on the schedule.

Thanks to my visiting niece, who prodded me gently, I began to attend a beginning excercise class three times a week. Guess what? I've stayed with it. I also try to visit the fitness room to use the exercise bike, recumbent cross trainer, even the treadmill, twice a week or so. For the first time in my long life, I seem to be sticking to an exercise routine. Will wonders never cease?

I once owned a treadmill. Along with the recumbent exercise bike that replaced it, it served as a good rack for clothes and as a dustcatcher. I seldom bothered to use either. So what's the difference? For one thing, I have a "now or never" feeling. If I don't get into shape now, when will I? Time may be running out.

Then there's peer pressure. We have a skilled, kind leader who understands elders. It's comforting to see fellow residents obviously older and less fit than I (along with others more fit) exercising together. I'll never be the star of the class, but I can generally keep up. It's annoying and embarrassing to have one arm I can't raise over my head and legs that give out occasionally, but I'm used to those problems, and nobody comments.

The Clare is serious about all this. I had to give permission to contact my doctor (she'll be overjoyed to hear that I'm getting out of my recliner to exercise) and sign an agreement not to hold the staff responsible for injury or death. Actually, I'm more likely to die at the dinner table than on the exercise equipment, so signing was not a problem.

Now, I hope I can keep this up. It's easy to make excuses when I feel tired or sore, but in reality, exercise usually peps me up. Now if I can stop using food to cure depression, my body may have a chance. I guess it's better late than never to give up my couch potato status, but it may be a struggle.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Amortality? Not For Me

In this age of Botox and cryonic preservation of bodies, it's no wonder that someone (Catherine Mayer, in #5 of "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now," Time, March 23, 2009) has coined a new term: "Amortality." "It's more than just the ripple effect of baby boomers' resisting the onset of age. Amortality is a stranger, stronger alchemy, created by the intersection of that trend with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion--all viewed through the blue haze of Viagra."

"Amortal" is Mayer's term for those who seem to "live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death." One example is singer Madonna. The idea is apparantly a quest never to get old or slow down, no matter what.

As a woman well beyond baby boomer age, I have had some years to learn to deal with the aging process, and I neither expect or want to live forever. I have slowed down in many ways, and I have no desire to be a human dynamo--or an amortal. Being old has its perks. Those of us fortunate enough to have planned for our "golden years" ("amortals rarely make adequate provision for their final years") enjoy the luxury of not working. I, for one, try to keep active, but I have no desire to be "on the go" all the time, like a few of my contemporaries.

I wonder if the typical amortal knows the joys of reclining with a good book and a view of Lake Michigan on a sunny day? How about the occasional half-day spent at the computer in an old robe and without makeup, bloogging about whatever comes to mind?

I'm all for happy, healthy aging, but it seems to me that some retirees try too hard. The idea of being booked with constant activities, whether bridge, golf, shuffleboard, or even cultural events, to name just a few possibilities, makes me tired. I admit to being a loner with reclusive tendencies, but I do make sure to get out from time to time.

To the baby boomers and my fellow elders, my advice is to relax. Don't slow down too much, but listen to your mind and your body. Do you really want to play bridge again? Are three concerts in a week too many? Are you always tired? I, for one, am mortal, and I'll do my best to prolong and enjoy the aging process. Trying to be an amortal is not for me.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Comforting Return to Routine

Yesterday I returned to my old volunteer post at the Chicago Cultural Center for the first time in more than five months. My old Thursday morning shifts at the Washington Street information desk were parts of my routine for about two years, and I enjoyed them.

My knee operations kept me away for a long while. Of course someone else took over my regular shift, and I considered not returning. Still, I found that I need the certainty of a familiar place to go. Yesterday, the Washington Street security guard greeted me enthusiastically and brought me his newspapers to read during quiet times. Things were back to normal. Unfortunately, many of the other people I knew at the Cultural Center, including the Director of Volunteers, were victims of Chicago's budget cuts while I was away.

My volunteer job is a no-brainer; I mainly give directions to different events and exhibits, and to the washrooms, the Senior Center, the gift shop, and the Chicago Visitors' Center. I've been told, however, that seeing a welcoming, smiling face is important to tourists who may wander into the building in bewilderment. The building is beautiful, and many of the exhibits are fascinating. I hope to attend more concerts and other activities there in the future.

So I'm overcoming my intertia back at the information desk. Boring? Occasionally, but it's a routine that seems to suit me. I hope I get my Thursday morning schedule back, but if not, I'll fill in when needed. Next up: next Friday afternoon.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Good Financial News for a Change

Aren't the news reports dreary these days? No wonder I was depressed by the idea of a nearly half-million dollar promissory note coming due. It all depended on the sale of my condo, and there were no takers.

I'm happy to say that the condo has been sold, my note has been paid, and the pressure is off. Worrying about money is a new experience for me, but I hope my worries are over. Now if the state of Illinois can only keep its pension systems going!

Each day, I talk to other Clare residents also waiting for buyers for their houses and condos. I guess I was lucky, relatively speaking. No wonder some of us old folks ask, "What's the world coming to?" No one at The Clare is likely to starve or become homeless, but we feel compassion for those elders less fortunate than we are.

Now I hope that the news reports get better. It's hard for us seniors to recover what we've lost.

Plumbers and Hot Water: They Just Take Time

A week or so ago, my shower spouted one temperature of water: luke-warm. I complained, and a plumber came in to fix it. I asssumed that all was well, but the next day, I discovered that no water came from that shower at all. I have another shower stall, but that one was filled with pictures awaiting hanging on my walls.

Soon my niece came to visit, so fortunately she did the heavy lifting and we cleaned out the guest shower stall. I'd never tried that shower, but we discovered that it worked fine.

Fast-forward a week: today, three plumbers arrived at my door. After a lot of effort and two visits, they got my shower working again, or at least I hope so. Actually, one shower is enough for me, but I prefer the more convenient one. Besides, I may have a guest again in the future.

I'm beginning to appreciate the complications of getting a large high-rise building up and running.