WARMING UP

fire

Last week, my 94 year-old, friend left me this voicemail: “Helen, would you please write my obituary? And could you come over today?” Since I’ve never written one before, I looked up a few before heading to her house. Reading them made me wish I’d known the people themselves:

 “Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1936, a spinal disc in 1974, his thyroid gland in 1988 and his prostate on March 27th, 2000. His loving wife of 57 years will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink.” –Walt Bruhl

 “Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them. Go to a nursing home and kiss everyone. Invite new friends to Thanksgiving dinner.”—-Mary Mullaney

 “He despised phonies, know-it-all Yankees and Southerners who used the word “veranda.” He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest. –Harry Stamps

 Joe Heller told his family, “Just dig a hole in the backyard and roll me in.”  His daughter, however, wrote him a funny send off, detailing things like, “He left his family a house full of crap and 300 pounds of birdseed.” She recalled that his doctor approached her towards the end of his life and informed her that he was, “a very sick man.” “You have no idea,” she countered.

 “I was given the gift of life and now I have to give it back. This is hard but I was a lucky woman and for that I am grateful. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world—this sun, that moon and the memory of a child’s hand in mine.” –Jane Lotter  

I would not need any of these for inspiration, for when I arrived at her house, she was not up to the task. Days later she was in hospice. Then in a breath, gone. Words said after the fact can’t take the place of those spoken while we are still here. Tonight, warming by the fire, I remember this: she made me laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

ARE YOU YEARS YOUNG….OR OLD??

 

Lani

I met this lovely gal at Trader Joe’s this morning. She was such a knockout in all blue that I asked her to, “Stand right where you are because I MUST take your picture!” She had just finished her 2 ½ mile daily walk, was grabbing some groceries then headed off to one of her two part-time jobs. Her gait was lively, her smile quick and her enthusiasm for life, palpable. Lani is a force and I was inspired not just because of her person but her chronological age. Can you guess it?

One of the best things about aging is that we’ve had years to learn that not only can you not judge a book by its’ cover, you can’t count on the cover to even give you a book. We make a lot of assumptions about others that are wrong and it can affect both our health and psyche negatively. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Talking to Strangers,” gets at the heart of our prejudices and presuppositions about others. He writes, “When it comes to judgments about our own character and behavior, we are willing to entertain all manner of complexity but when it comes to making those same judgments about others, we are depressingly simplistic.”

Such is the case for Olympic athletes. One would assume that all three medalists would be equally ecstatic. It turns out that silver medalists are the most depressed ones on the podium. They have just missed the gold and their disappointment is much greater than the bronze winner who is thrilled to have medaled at all. Researchers have even shown higher rates of depression among silver medalists. It seems that most of us are victims of ‘counterfactual thinking.’ That is, instead of rejoicing in “what actually is,” we compare our objective achievements to what, “might have been.”

That, of course, is the toughest thing about aging: accepting what is and letting go of what was. Scientists know that what truly ages us is the eventual breakdown of our cells and their ability to repair themselves and divide. Recently researchers from the U of A have discovered that by altering the sleep patterns of cells they may be able to slow down the aging process. For now, though, that aging process is zipping by for most of us. The important thing is to shine in the moment—like Lani, who is 81 years young!!

 

IT’S A NO BRAINER

choco

Almost two-thirds of the 6 million American’s with Alzheimer’s are women. It was once thought that our longevity was the reason we developed Alzheimer’s more often than men. That belief is now being challenged by scientists who say that we are genetically more disposed to dementias because our brains have more “bridging regions.” Makes sense.  We’re connectors.  However, this puts us at greater risk for the widespread plaques and tangles of amyloid beta, which cause Alzheimer’s.

Brain difference is not the only thing increasing our risk. Hormone replacement therapy may also be adding a new set of dangers.  Several of my girlfriends swear by it.  However, there is growing evidence that it may contribute to dementia and increase our propensity for other female cancers.

What to do?

1. Eat LOTS of fruits and vegetables. According to a study in Sweden, those who eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily live longer than those who don’t.

2.  Lessen exposure to wireless radiation. Even the FCC suggests putting calls on speakerphone to increase the distance between your phone and your head.

3.  Avoid fried foods. A 24-year study at the University of Iowa shows that women, ages 50- to 65-years have a higher chance of dying from stroke and heart problems if they do.

4.  Eat more fish or take omega-3 fatty acid supplements, especially if your triglyceride levels are high or you suffer from depression or osteoporosis. During a 16-year study, involving more than 180,000 women, researchers found that those who ate fish at least three times a week or took supplements were 35 percent less likely to die of cognitive decline and heart problems.

5.  Don’t eat late at night. The body’s circadian rhythms are coordinated in the hypothalamus, which is the mother lode of stem cells that control how fast we age. According to UCLA researchers, eating late at night also disrupts the daily rhythm of the hippocampus – the brain’s memory center.

6.  Exercise daily! This keeps harmful immune cells out of your brain and diminishes the presence of inflammatory microglia in your hypothalamus. Your body knows— and it shows– if you don’t.

7.  Eat dark chocolate!!! Researchers at Loma Linda University say that consuming chocolate high in cacao (over 70%) causes an increase in the frequency of gamma waves. These reduce stress, improve mood, enhance neuroplasticity and improve cerebral blood flow.  My new motto?  “A square a day keeps dementia away.”  It’s a no brainer.

 

 

 

DEM BONES

 

foot

This morning I called my orthopedist for an appointment. My new knee has suddenly begun to swell, the other knee is about to give out altogether and my right hip is making me limp. I’m crumbling as we speak.

“I’d like to schedule an appointment to address a few issues,” I begin.

“Well exactly what, ONE thing do you want to speak to the doctor about?” the receptionist asks me.

“There are three things,” I tell her, “and they’re all connected. You know just like that song, ‘the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone, the knee bone’s connected to the shin bone  . . .”

She remains unmoved. Perhaps, she’s too young to remember the song? Nope. She’s following her script.

“You need to pick just ONE thing to see the doctor about,” she huffs, “That’s how we plan how long an appointment should take.”

“Are you kidding me?” I query. “So if I break two toes on my foot, he’ll only look at ONE of them? That makes NO sense.”

“I can only book ONE at a time,” she repeats.  “How about just seeing him concerning the swelling in your new knee,” she says, obviously trying to make my choice easier and get me off the phone.

“Fine,” I say, “Book it.”

I hang up, redial the doctor and get another receptionist.

“I’d like to schedule an appointment for my right hip,” I say. “I’ll be bringing it in all by itself.”  She doesn’t get the joke and books me at a different time on a different day.

Yes, I dial a third time and book a third appointment. I’m stunned to go through this bizarre hoop but what other option do I have?  As I’m placed on hold, it occurs to me that three appointments bring in much more money than one. Back in the day, the family doctor could take out your tonsils, your babies and even act as your therapist. Now they’re so specialized it takes a team of them to cover all of your body parts. Go ahead. Add up all your doctors and you might discover that you have enough to field the offense for a football team.

We don’t just have an opioid crisis in America.   We have a crisis of conscience. When I see my doctor tomorrow, he’s not only going to get a piece of my mind, he’s going to get all three of my body parts as well.  Why?  Because THEY’RE ALL CONNECTED!!!

 

 

CARRY ON!

 

Mr. Ed

“Hi! I’m Mr. Ed,” my seatmate says to me as we begin a four-hour flight to Phoenix. “Like the talking horse,” he continues. “Remember that TV show?” “Oh, Yes,” I assure him and I do.

 Now I’m a talker. I was constantly scolded for talking in class and my grandmother even nicknamed me, “chatterbox.” However, I was no match for Mr. Ed, who even at 87, manages to fill every, solitary, single second with a burbling fountain of gushing words. But oh, what stories he has to tell!

 Ed signed up for the army at 17 and fought in the famous Chosin reservoir battle. “We were cut off by over 200,000 Chinese. 120 of us went over but only 18 of us came home. The rest froze to death. I took a hat with earmuffs from a dead Chinese soldier. That’s why I made it through those six months.”

 I learn that Ed is one of 13 children and worked for General Motors for 30 years. He’s had both of his knees replaced twice and loves fishing. His wife has Alzheimer’s and is now in a nursing home. “It’s okay she doesn’t know my name,” he confides, “cuz she still knows I’m her husband.”

 Ed laughs at his own stories and so do I.

 “My buddy’s wife didn’t like football. So he sits her down one day to watch his favorite quarterback, Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw gets sacked. When they show the instant replay, the guy’s wife screams, “Run, sucker run! They’re gonna get you again!!”

 “My body is like one of those old cars you have to push up a hill to jumpstart. Once it starts you gotta keep it going.”

 “I took one of those Selfie things and boy was I shocked! Those wrinkles must just come in the night cuz I sure don’t remember them growing when I’m awake!”

 Mr. Ed also preaches in prisons. Recently, when he told the men that, “God knows the day you will die,” one of the inmates, Big John, said, “So, God knows when I’m gonna die, huh? Well what if I walk in front of a truck right now?” “Don’t worry,” Mr. Ed assured him, “God knows you’re stupid, too!”

 As we part, he says, “Now remember, Chatterbox, the best thing you can do for yourself is what you do for others.” Carry on Mr. Ed!  

 

 

 

   

SUNNY SIDE UP!!!

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Apparently I’m now at the age where no matter what doctor I go to when, there will always be something wrong. Last week I saw the eye doctor: “You have cataracts on both eyes but the right eye is much worse. They’re slow growing so you don’t have to operate yet.” Then I went for my yearly skin exam: “That’s a pre-cancerous lesion on your arm so I’m going to remove it.”   Out came the hypodermic and a razor blade.

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My next stop was the dentist for a routine cleaning. Easy peasy, right?  2 ½ hours later, I left with a very sore mouth. Apparently, there has been a shadow on my x-rays for the last three years, which my previous dentist didn’t catch. A piece of cement from an old crown that had not been removed had led to a gaping pocket and bone loss in my jaw.

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 What next? I can only imagine. Now all of this is quite minor compared to friends who’ve had strokes, cancer or ended up as one pal has with a body-wasting disease. However, it’s not fun so I’ve come to a decision: in between doctor visits I’m going to find as much joy as possible. That means surrounding myself with people who enjoy my company; making others laugh when I can and yes, occasionally doing Tarzan calls on the Pickleball court and beating my chest.

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 I’m also going to be sure that I take in as much beauty as possible. To that end, I went to Trader Joe’s this morning and didn’t buy a single thing. Instead, I took my camera and snapped everything that looked beautiful to my eyes and I’m sharing it here with you. Enjoy!

 

LOOK BEFORE YOU LANYARD

lanyard

Lately, I’ve taken to wearing a lanyard around my neck, which holds my keys and a series of store tags from the places where I usually shop. Since I began this practice I have not lost my keys once! Until today, it has been a lifesaver. However, while checking out of Ace hardware this morning, when the cashier asked for my tag, I held up the ACE one for him to scan. Without looking, he grabbed it—not realizing that it was attached to me—and almost pulled me across the counter. “Whoa there,” I said, “or you’ll have me in your lap.” Poor kid was horrified. The incident set me thinking about the ways we try to protect ourselves but don’t always do so. Some recent cases in the news come to mind:

  1. Should I still be taking Omega-3 supplements? New information says this is not always a good idea as it can cause blood thinning and excessive bleeding among other issues.
  2. Should I be eating gluten free? New studies show that unless you have certified celiac disease, you might be causing more harm than good. You may even be increasing your risk of heart disease. They’ve also discovered that gluten is a good prebiotic that actually feeds the ‘good’ bacteria in our gut.
  3. It’s on ads all over TV, but is Prevagen really a safe drug to take for a sharper mind?   Um, nope. Not according to the science.
  4. Should I be slathering myself with conventional sunscreens? Um, not unless I want the chemicals in them going smack into my bloodstream and liver.
  5. Are routine dental x-rays really no big deal? They always tell you that the ‘radiation exposure is minimal,’ but do you realize that if you don’t insist on a lead, shield collar for your neck, you can actually fry your thyroid and end up with hypothyroidism or cancer?

So what’s the takeaway? I guess that it’s, still, after more than 2,000 years, just what the Greek poet, Hesiod advised us in 700 BC: “all things in moderation.” Otherwise, the apparently helpful things we think we are doing might ultimately cause more harm than good.  Or, like me, you could end up in a strangers’ lap simply because you didn’t want to lose your keys.