Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reflections on Christmas

Holidays can be difficult for those of us alone, with no nearby family and not a large number of friends. For the past few years, I have traveled to Texas or Oklahoma to spend Christmas with my niece and her family, and it's been wonderful. This year, due to very understandable circumstances, my niece was not able to play hostess, and my limited mobility made me decide to stay at home, here at The Clare.

Lest anyone feel sorry for me, The Clare is a fine place for the holidays: many Christmas trees, concerts and activities, special meals. My niece sent a box of gifts to open on Christmas morning, and they were very much appreciated. I exchanged Christmas cards with some old friends (not as many as in the past, but enough). I had a phone call from one nearby friend, and another came over for lunch before leaving town for her own holiday celebration.

Television provided many cheerful Christmas stories which I enjoyed. While I didnt get out much, I continued to volunteer at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday mornings, and was able to enjoy the decoraations and exhibits there.

I even decided to go on the Atkins diet and lose at least ten pounds by the end of January--more on that later.

We have a special New Years Eve dinner and gathering Saturday night, but I may skip those and just enjoy the coming of the new year on TV. My wants are simple, and I don't need a fattening dinner (as nearly all food here is). I'd like to see some snow: it's unusual not to have any here in Chicago yet, but I may regret this wish.

My conclusion? Things are always changing, and I've discovered that I can manage on my own very well. In sone ways it's been a lonely season, but in general, I'm doing fine. Let's hope that continues as I turn 80 next year.

To anyone who reads this: I hope your holidays brought you what you needed and wanted, especially a feeling of peace.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freedom of Speech

I attended a presentation by a semi-retired federal judge who lives in our building on the subject of the First Amendment, or freedom of speech. Of course I believe in this freedom, and yet it occurred to me that I have often had doubts about it. What about the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters and their offshoots in Chicago and elsehere? Where do their rights stop and the rights of ordinary pedestrians and workers begin?

I am too old to have belonged to the protest movements of the 1960's and 1970's. In fact, I remember being "saved" on the street during a Chicago "Days of Rage" protest back then by an Abraham Lincoln look-alike when I was merely walking home. Those times were scary to me, and I've never had any desire to protest anything. Does this make me too complacent? Perhaps. Of course I see, and have seen, inequities in society, but other than writing letters, I've never felt empowered to change things much.

Another factor: I remember my late husband, who worked in one of Chicago's federal buildings, remarking that there were some protesters around his workplace. When I asked him what they were protesting, he said he didn't know. Somehow, that made me feel that protest was just an empty gesture. Is protesting just to make the protestor feel good, or does it have a more positive effect? I don't know. Aside from the civil rights marches, with their clear and just cause, I don't recall many, if any, positive results from protesting.

I admit to being old and steeped in law-and-order society (although I don't relate to any political party). While I feel a bit guilty for saying so, I guess I've always felt that protest marches and sit-ins were a waste of time. I'll always believe in individual rights and free speech, but I just don't know how they can best be implemented. Fortunately I'm not a judge, and won't have to make such decisions. With many of my peers, I can just sit back and watch, for better or worse.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ramsey Lewis Played for My Birthday!

No, not really, but I did have the opportunity to hear one piano selection by Mr. Lewis today, my 79th birthday.

The real occasion was The Clare's "Joie de Vivre" award presentation, with Ramsey Lewis as this year's winner. The award "recognizes an outstanding senior who has experienced the Joy of Living through his artistic and educational contributions to the next generation and sharing of his talents with the people of the world."

The main entertainment was a jazz combo from the Merit School of Music, with which Lewis has been deeply involved. The pianist, bassist, drummer, and trombonist were wonderful, as, of course, was Lewis' piano solo. After a glass of white wine, I finally began to feel that birthdays aren't so bad after all.

Birthdays without family are generally days I prefer to ignore, but this year's reminded me of the big "80" coming a year from now. Now that sounds old! Getting four birthday cards and many friendly greetings helped. As luck would have it, I met a woman, the mother of a Clare resident, celebrating her 93rd birthday today as well, and she looked quite good. And a fellow resident ten years older than I celebrates tomorrow. This age thing is something to contend with, and I don't always handle it very well. Still, I'll remember this year because of Ramsey Lewis!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rictameters Again


Guilty pleasure,
Waste of time, yet often,
When the day seems dull, I watch too
Many news shows, same old stories, Cubs games,
But still I lack the strength to break
Away and turn it off
For other things.


Favorite meal
To start the day, to wake
Energy, imagination,
Prelude to a day of actiity
Or maybe just relaxation,
Anyway the only
way to begin,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More Rictameters

It's been three years since my little, mostly-unread book of poetry was published (Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters is still available on, but from time to time I still write poems in my favorite format, the rictameter: nine unrhymed lines with two, four, six, eight, ten, eight, six, four, two lines, the first and last lines the same. At least one of my fellow Clare residents has become hooked on this form. It's amazing how much can be said in how few words.

For some reason, I've begun to think of new rictameters. They truly are addictive, so I've decided to include some here from time to time. Here are two for today:

I'm Old

I'm old.
Funny things have
Happened: gray hair, wrinkles,
Halting gait, early fatigue, to
Prove the inevitable: my time is
Running out, my future not so
Endless, bright, promising
As once I thought.
I'm old.

Bright Days

Bright days
Of golden sun
Viewed from highrise heaven,
Everything takes on a golden
Glow that makes the world seem better than on
Grayer days, when troubles, problems
Take the foreground, make me
Long for sunshine,
Bright days.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eat Alone? Only in my Own Apartment

One of my old friends (old in time, not actual age; she's younger than I am) asked me if I went to eat at restaurants alone. The answer is no, unless I'm traveling alone by car or stranded somewhere. When I was younger, I occasionally went to a restaurant by myself, but later I began to feel too self-conscious to do so. I enjoyed the convenience of having a husband to escort me on eating-out occasions, but that ended more than ten years ago.

For one thing, I have an uncomfortable relationship with food, all of which seems to add unneeded pounds. The less I eat, the better, so a "diet" frozen dinner in my apartment is not only convenient, but satisfying. Although I live in an area full of Chicago's best restaurants, the trouble of dressing up to go to one alone doesn't appeal to me. I look forward to the very few occasions when a friend invites me to a restaurant meal, but I usually just live vicariously through the restaurant revues a fellow Clare resident provides monthly for the resident newsletter I edit. I can't afford some of those places anyway.

Living at The Clare means that three gourmet meals are available each day if I care to partake of them, but I tried breakfast and dinner and gained five pounds in a very short time--even skipping desserts and other obvious temptations. A large part of my non-refundable food allowance goes unused. The food is just too good here, and designed, I think, to keep my thinner fellow residents healthy. I eat only the Healthy Choice breakfast (an egg white omelet with vegetables, orange juice, once slice of whole wheat toast, a small bowl of fresh berries, and coffee) four days a week. The other days, I have cold whole grain cereal with skim milk. Then, on Sunday, I have brunch with three fellow residents. Sometimes it's a regular omelet or scrambled eggs with bacon; sometimes it's luncheon fare like fish with vegetables and salad (and sometimes dessert, I must admit). My lunches are usually cereal or a salad or some cheese or fruit. I do have the special holiday dinners on occasion. Those are quite spectacular.

I yearn to be one of those skinny women who seem to be able to eat anything, and perhaps if I were, I'd venture out to restaurants more often. As it is, though, my fear of food, my lack of outside eating companions, and my shyness keep me at home. It's not a bad way to live, really, for a "hermit" like me. I'm seldom hungry.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Return to Exercise!

Anyone who knows me knows that I've never been the athletic type. Exercise has always been a "bad word," despite my overweight and generally sedentary body. I quit the three-times-weekly exercise classes at The Clare because there were so many things I couldn't do, such as raise my arms or stand for long periods. It was too depressing. The director was very kind and non-threatening, but it just became too much. Besides, it came too soon after breakfast for me to be at my best, whatever that is.

Anyway, I had a new burst of energy, inspired by my exercise-nut brother, and decided on a new exercise program. For more than a week now, I have been going to our fitness room at 7:00 a.m. three or four days a week to use my two favorite machines (actually, the only two approved by my doctor) for fifteen minutes each. One machine is the Nu-Step (pictured above); the other is a recumbent stationary bicycle.

Excercising early in the morning suits me. I've tried afternoons, but I'm either too tired, or involved in something more interesting (even if it is a dull TV program). So far, I've had no trouble being up and ready to go by 7:00. Since I'm always up by at least 5 a.m., this schedule makes sense to me. Besides, I can be sure that the fitness center isn't crowded with both of "my" machines in use. By 7:30, I'm ready for my Healthy Choice breakfast in the Grafton dining room. Since I'm a creature of routine, I think I can keep up this schedule unless sickness or injury intervenes.

I'm sure that this amount of exercise won't end in weight loss, but it seems to be making me feel slightly more energetic. Every little bit helps, I guess. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Memories and Change

This is adapted from The Clarion, resident newsletter of The Clare at Water Tower, the place where I live. It expresses my sadness that a neighborhood restaurant is scheduled to close.

My first exposure to Bistro 110 came a few years back when a former neighbor of mine, now a suburbanite and still a teacher, invited me to celebrate my birthday. I gladly accepted, partly because I could look out the window and see the structure of The Clare gradually taking shape. That was exciting at the time; you know how long many of us had to wait.

I remember an excellent, expensive (or so it seemed to me) meal, but the only "dish" that I really remember was the Gateau “Paradis au Chocolat,” described as "A giant piece of our famous cake layered with toffee and served with caramel sauce." It's embarrassing for one with a weight problem to mention it, but this was the chocolate cake of my dreams!

I revisited the restaurant last summer, and the cake was still on the menu. I had to have it, ala mode this time! On my third and last visit, I managed to avoid looking at the dessert menu, but it's still there. Perhaps the closing of Bistro 110 will help instill better eating habits in me. Still, I'll miss it. That cake is delicious!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Another July 4 Coming Up

As I've told you, I don't care much for holidays. My 4th of July story from childhood has been told here several times; it you're interested, see the archives of this blog. Now that I'm in a building where all holidays are "celebrated," of course I have the option to attend the picnic on the 9th floor outdoor deck. One drawback is that it's likely to be very hot out there, making it necessary to carry food into the adjoining air-conditioned Bistro. Another is that the menu is filled with fattening but tempting goodies such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and pie, among many other things. Having no willpower, I will certainly overeat. The trouble is with me, not the picnic.

How I envy the pencil-thin residents who seem to eat far more than I, yet never gain weight. I'm probably the only one who has been dieting strenuously for over a year with no weight loss whatsoever. My doctor says I should be satisfied that I am not gaining. Small consolation. At what age will I be able to accept my fat body as it is, without resentment? I still dread the comments I always hear at the annual family Christmas gathering. People seem to think that I live on fattening foods. Far from it. Of course I don't get much exercise, but that's out of my control right now. I must have the slowest metabolism in the country. Oh well, I still will have to make up my mind about the picnic. I have plenty to do if I decide not to go. I guess this is just another dilemma of aging. I have always been at least a bit heavy, but this is the first time no diet has worked at all. I've always lost at least a few pounds before. Perhaps it's just too late.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Outside My Comfort Zone

I gave a speech last week, a speech on self-publishing to about 25 fellow Clare residents This was an unusual occurrence for me; I haven't given a real speech since my retirement 12 years ago. (I did take part in two panel discussions in 2008). By now, I've retreated further into my introverted silence and my green leather recliner.

To say that I was nervous would be understatement. I was terrified. For one thing, I can no longer stand for long, so I had to ask for a stool. Of course I got one. I was asked if I wanted to give a Power Point presentation, but I explained that Power Point was just gaining ground when I retired, and I've had no need to learn how to use it (actually, I'd like to, but I don't have it on my copy of Microsoft software -- it's not the professional edition).

So how did it go? Surprisingly well. I actually recycled most of the material from my other blog, Write Your Life! which I no longer work on. In fact, my articles on self-publishing won awards from IWPA and NFPW a couple of years back. My audience seemed interested. Perhaps I'm finally getting my old message about the need for elders to write their life stories across. I even had some questions to answer! I hope those who congratulated me on a good presentation were being sincere. I'm neither well-known nor popular here (partly by choice, partly by circumstance), so this experience left me somewhat elated. If I get a small amount of movement toward a community of writers, I'll be happy, So far, I've inspired two residents to write Rictameters, my favorite poetic form, so there may be hope.

Now if I can only think of some ideas for another self-published book--I really enjoy the process. Speaking? Not so much, but at least I've proved to myself that I can still do it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A May Update and a Sad Commentary on Aging

In case anybody is wondering, my cracked kneecap has healed, more or less, and my enforced confinement ended with the month of March. It was a rather depressing time, but somehow, since I had little to do anyway, it didn't matter that much. Anyway, I'm basically O.K. and back to my routine, slight as it is. My doctor said everyone living in a senior facility needs at least three regular obligations to keep life interesting. I have them: my Thursday morning volunteer duties at the Washington Street information desk at the Chicago Cultural Center, my regular Sunday brunch with three fellow residents, and my monthly editorial meeting and the editing process for The Clarion, our resident newsletter. I'm afraid I'm no longer able to take long walks (I haven't been for quite some time), but I'm not entirely a hermit. Of course there are numerous activities here at The Clare, but not all of them interest me. I'd like to add a regular blogging schedule, but so far, I don't seem to have much to write about. Perhaps I'll try harder.

So here goes: last week, the Chicago Tribune published an article entitled, "This Old Soldier Won't Just Fade Away: Pushing 90, vet battles to stay in apartment where he and his wife have lived for years." The story affected me, because I've done a lot of thinking about the plights of old people, many of whom may not be as fortunate as I am.

The veteran in question and his wife have lived in a tiny apartment in a Near North high-rise building for a decade, and now the management wants them out by May 31. The issue apparently is not financial; one stated issue is bedbugs, which the vet claims came from extermination efforts next door. However, the real reason seems to be doubts that the couple, childless, can continue to live in a building that doesn't offer social services or help of any kind. The man's wife is described as having "cognitive impairment" and was found roaming the building halls alone and confused after her husband was briefly hospitalized after a winter fall.

I suspect that situations like this are not rare. According to the couple's lawyer, the old soldier feels disrespected, and doesn't want to move. The management has switched from forced eviction to an offer of a month-to-month lease continuation, allowing their lawyer to find the couple more suitable living quarters, but they don't want to move. With military pride, the vet defends his years of military service and points with pride at the mementos hanging on the walls.

It's impossible not to have synpathy for this man and others like him. What is the answer for old people without relatives to watch over them? Where do individual rights end? Aging is inevitable, and cognitive impairment is more common than we like to believe. So what should happen to old people like this? That's a very big problem our society must face, and those of us with the foresight and the resources to avoid such a situation should consider ourselves lucky. One of the problems of aging seems to be resistance to change, and change is inevitable, in more ways than one.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


As a resident of a senior building, I thought I was aware of all the ailments that affect seniors, and there are many. Somehow, I came up with a new one, a cracked kneecap. No, I hadn't fallen; I have no explanation for how it happened.

As you may recall, I had both arthritic knees replaced more than two years ago. All went well, and I have been pain-free. Then I suddenly got pain in my right knee about three weeks ago. I was worried, and the pain did not go away, so I finally called my orthopedic surgeon. There's no such thing as a quick appointment for a non-emergency, so I had a bit of a wait. I finally got in last week. Guess what? The x-rays showed a cracked kneecap. I'd never heard of such a thing. The prescription was to wear a "knee immobilizer" (a big black velcro-equipped wrap that keeps my right knee from bending) for four weeks. It is removable, so fortunately I don't have to sleep in it, but imagine having to stagger around with one unbendable knee!

At the end of the four weeks, I see the doctor again. He is expecting the crack to heal by then. I certainly hope so. Most of the time, I have to sit in my recliner with my legs up, so I'm getting a lot of reading, puzzles, and TV watching done, but little else. I still stagger to the dining room for breakfast every morning, but my usual Thursday morning volunteer assignment is on hold until April. I order groceries and supplies from Pea Pod--I'd forgotten how convenient that is. It's expensive, too, but I don't have much choice. I'm skipping most of the activities here at The Clare because my leg isn't supposed to hang down for too long. More fun!

As someone said, old age is not for the weak.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Reading in the 21st Century

As an avid reader of books, I determinedly resisted the lure of the Kindle and its cousins, the electronic readers that have become so popular.

This Christmas morning, among my niece's array of gifts placed under the Christmas tree, there were a beautifully wrapped Kindle and a red leather case with my name on them. Since I never do much about gifts, I was pleasantly surprised. I decided to give the Kindle a try. I was amazed at how fast and easy it was to download a best-seller (John Grissom's The Confession). I like a good crime story once in a while, and this one had many twists and turns to keep me interested. I read it in no time and ordered another book. I'm now nearly finished with that one (Jonathan Franzen's Freedom). I wanted to know what all the excitement was on Oprah. The cost? $9.99 for the first, $12.99 for the second, nearly paid for by the $20 Amazon gift certificate I also received.

So there you have it: I'm hooked on the Kindle. That doesn't mean I'll give up all "real" books, but I'll certainly read more best sellers in addition to the self-published books I've emphasized for a long time. Most of those aren't in Kindle format unless they have amazing sales, as most don't. It's not worth the cost to offer my own books for Kindle publication; they'll never be best-sellers.

We seniors need to give new technology a chance; with a Kindle and a wi-fi connection, a whole world of reading is available, and you can make the type size as large as you like. Pages turn easily, and the device is easy to hold. It's another near-miracle of the modern world.