DYING TRYING

helen-on-a-bike

There is a reason I am on this bike for the first time after almost 15 years. Research says that if I really want to be a, ‘super ager,’ I NEED to feel pain. I need to get out of my, ‘comfort zone’ and really tax my mind & body. Otherwise, my brain tissue will merely be ‘thin’ and that is NOT good. Thank you science and the rest of you folks who are forever changing your mind about we should and shouldn’t do.

A recent article in the New York Times says that, “In the United States, we are obsessed with happiness. But as people get older, research shows, they cultivate happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. This is sometimes a good idea, as when you avoid a rude neighbor. But if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Dr. Anna Lembke, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford has just thrown her hat in the ring, as well. She says that 100 years ago, doctors believed that some pain had a, ‘salutatory effect on the body, providing both a physiologic and spiritual benefit.’ However, in the time since, pain has become, “something to avoid at all costs.” Thus, the over-prescription of painkillers and the ensuing opioid epidemic.

Quite frankly, I thought I was doing OK by swimming a half-mile a day, playing a few games of competitive tennis, practicing my scales on piano and guitar and writing. Apparently not. Apparently, I am supposed to PUSH myself…not merely MOVE myself. Well, thank you very much, science.

Kudos also to my sister-in-law, Cathy, who keeps me posted on all things Alzheimer’s and aging! So, dear girl, this blog is for you. Thank you for personally whipping me into shape whether I like it or not. Right now, my knees are aching, I am winded from the hills and quite frankly, if this will help me be a ‘super-ager,’ I shall be indebted to you. If not, at least I died trying!!

TURN HEADS…CHANGE HEARTS

helen-tennis-t-shirt

About 15 years ago, an older fellow that I played tennis with gave me this T-shirt for Christmas with my picture on it. At the time, I thought the gesture was sweet but was too embarrassed to actually wear a shirt with my own face on it. Seemed downright silly.

 Fast-forward all those years and I’ve changed my mind. I love looking at that shirt now. I even remember the day the photo was taken: I had just emerged victorious from an arduous match of mixed doubles! In fact, that younger picture of me makes me so happy, that I want ALL of our elderly, particularly those in homes, to have one of themselves!

 I think that all of us should give the older folks in our lives a T-shirt with their favorite photo from ‘back in the day’ on it. If they can’t choose their own photo, do it for them. Plaster their younger self on it to remind all who come into contact with them that they were young once—that they had a life—and that they are not just the wrinkled, bent over creatures they may have become since then.

 Can’t you just see the changed look on the faces of all those caretakers in the nursing home when they see a picture of cranky, old, arthritic Doris in pigtails astride a galloping horse? Or hear the amazement in a kid’s voice when he says, “Gosh, I didn’t know Granddad could ride a surfboard!”

 If my Granny were still alive, I’d put that photo of her the afternoon she waltzed out into the backyard, tied on a pair of her old, tap shoes and started demonstrating the ‘time step’ for me. I wish all those who had only known her as an old woman could have seen that!!

 This is MY resolution for 2017: get a T-shirt for everyone over 60 with a picture of their younger self on the back! Add a slogan that says: “This is who I WAS and still AM!” It won’t just turn heads. It will change hearts. I promise you. Help me make it happen. SHARE this and send me your photos!!!!

P. S.  Personally, I would put a photo of me riding my motorcycle up Highway 101, wearing a red halter-top and shorts, with my long hair flying in the wind. Unfortunately, no one took that picture. It exists only in my mind.

THE SHADOW OF THINGS TO COME

shadow

We are born under the shadow and shelter of our parents. If we are fortunate, it comes with wide, warm and protective boughs. As adults, we step out from under that vast, verdant shade and follow the sun, creating our independent shadow. Hopefully, one day, it, too, will shelter and protect our own loved ones.

 That transition, though, can be a strange and gray one. Some of us continue to cower under the shadow of childhood long into old age, carrying resentments, fears and even vengeance. Aging happily takes courage, confidence and the ability to stand alone even if we can’t stand at all.  

 So, as we all move forward towards the uncertainty of 2017, may we be brave, bold and brazen in the face of what lies ahead and let go of what was. We are always just shy of the shadow of things to come and it can be scary.  But time is a well-worn road that many before us have already walked:

 We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

–Buddha

 Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

–Abraham Lincoln

 The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.

–Michelangelo

 This life is but a walking shadow; a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

–Shakespeare

 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff protect me.

–Psalm 23

 

 

OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN!

 

cropped-cropped-handstand1.jpgApparently the days of embarrassing myself are still not over. Getting in the wrong car because it looked like mine, or thinking someone said, “ass” when actually they said, “ask” was a minor gaffe. Wearing my shirt backwards all day in public was a mere oversight. But I’m not quite sure how to explain this next one.

 Every 6 months, I have my blood drawn for a cholesterol check. Just the thought of that, long, silver-pointed needle jabbed into my vein, sucking out my life force, gives me the Willies!! After years of phlebotomists having trouble finding my vein, I have come up with a surefire solution: I do 20 pushups, then using the arms of the chair in the waiting room, I lift my butt out of the seat 20 times. Finally, I do a handstand against the wall. Works like a charm.

 Recently, I was in the process of packing for a major move across country when suddenly, I remembered, that I had to have my blood drawn! Quickly, I threw on a sweatshirt and drove downtown. When I arrived at the doctor’s office, there were only two, young boys, in the waiting room. They looked like brothers in their matching khaki shorts. I guessed them to be about 10 and 12.

 “The nurse will be ready for you in a few minutes, “ the receptionist said, “So go ahead and do your handstand now!”

 I walked over to my favorite spot on the wall, put my hands down on the carpet and sent my legs straight up. Just as I did, I felt my sweatshirt slip down to my neck. It was only then that I realized that I had forgotten to put on a bra!!  Immediately, I came down but I could tell by the red faces of those boys that I did not come down fast enough.

 “Oh,” I said to them, “I am SO sorry about that! It was NOT my intention to shock you, so please forgive me.”  Shyly, they both continued looking down, though each was slightly smiling. Neither said a word.  Gosh,” I blurted as I made my getaway, “Let’s just pretend that never happened.”  Then I fled down the hall.  

 Well, on the bright side, at least I was upside down. At my age, that’s likely an improvement!

A TEMPORARY FIX

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 I was shocked today to learn that a friend of mine, fully 15 years my junior, recently had Botox. Granted, she does look a bit more relaxed and slightly more youthful about the face. But bottom line? It won’t last. It’s like wearing a pushup bra. You look pretty hot, until you take it off that is. Time marches on and despite our temporary fixes, we will indeed, age, infirm and die.

 Consider this: I have worked out almost every day of my life for the last 40 some years. Yes, it has paid off in terms of ‘staying fit,’ but really? My workouts have become shorter and less aggressive over the years. My rotator cuff is hanging by a thread and my knees are shot. So, though I swim a half-mile a day, and do yoga and play a bit of tennis, the decline is continuous and certain. I’ll be honest. I am watching myself go downhill piece by piece, although I am trying to stay upbeat about it all.

 Then you add the actual statistics. Right now, 1,000 people a day are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. 1% of us will have it by age 60. By the time we reach 85, fully 40% of us will have it. Not only that, the disease itself will begin a full 10 years before we even notice the symptoms! There is NO cure. There is NOTHING that will slow it down and even science says that at this point, “nothing can be done to stave it off.”

 Oh sure, you can exercise, eat well and get Botox. But frankly? That’s like getting a polio vaccine after you already have polio. If you’re lucky, you’ll be one of those,‘super agers,’ and the disease won’t even darken your door. If you’re an average Joe, though, you’d better get your affairs in order: make a Living Will, find someone you trust and make them your power of attorney, and if you want to spend your final years at home, keep your eyes open for a good caretaker!! I am ALWAYS looking—even at the supermarket!

 My advice? Close your computer right now. Turn off your cell phone and walk outside. Look up at the sky. Notice how cumulonimbus clouds merge into cirrus and keep on moving. Whether you see stars or mountains, sea or cactus, love the view. Realize that whatever you see before you right now, you will someday not see at all.  Be grateful for the moment, this moment. Now.

 

 

TIME FLIES SO WALK THE MINUTES WISELY

alz-clock

Amazon is now selling a special clock just for those with Alzheimer’s. Apparently, the big selling point is that it spells out the day since those with dementia struggle with abbreviations. But here’s the thing. Just because you can say what time it is doesn’t mean that you’re ‘all there.’ It simply means that you can mimic a clock. It’s the minutes that really count in life, particularly the ones you spend making friends.

 A few days ago, I reunited with three women whom I first met when I was only 13. Our re-connection was seamless, as if little time had passed at all. However, having lived 50 more years since then, we now have much more to share with each other. Yes, time has changed, re-arranged, shrunk, expanded, puffed and wrinkled us in ways that we never dreamed possible at 13! That’s probably a good thing. One should feel fresh, fearless and free in youth but we tend to lose those qualities as both time and experience wear us down.

 That’s where friends come in. If you choose them wisely when you are young they will help keep you young as you age. They will remind you of your earlier self while encouraging your present one. They will forgive your youthful missteps and help you up the steps now that you are older. Most of all? If you choose friends with attributes that you wished you had yourself, you will receive the benefit of those very qualities albeit indirectly.

 My ‘old’ girlfriends still have the gifts that I once envied as a child, but now deeply admire. One was gregarious and accepted others just as they were even all those years ago. She still does. Another was an artist who could fill a blank page with beauty so breathtaking that you simply stared in awe. Today, she is a talented interior designer. The last had a rebellious, adventurous spirit that even now keeps her freshly on the edge of things au courante. So, dear readers, should I ever lose my mind, kindly put the faces of my friends in front of me, not a clock!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

STANDING TALL

saguaro

 My granny raised me in Phoenix, Arizona. My most vivid memory of those years was always trying to make friends with someone who had a pool. Otherwise, you spent your summers trying to uncap fire hydrants, stand under sprinklers or stick your blistering feet into six-inch, deep creeks that held more crawfish than water. By the time I was 18, I fled to California in my VW bug, swearing that I would, “never, ever return to a land of nothing but cactus and old people.” Well, two weeks ago (and 45 years later), I have returned to that desert once again.

 This time, though, I am one of the ‘old people,’ and that’s fine by me. No more shoveling snow or slipping on ice. No more bundling and layering against the cold and watching the sky grow dark by 4 PM. No more hunkering down under blankets in front of the fire or turning on the faucets at night so the pipes don’t freeze. At last, I’m warm under a wide, open, bright sky and it’s heaven.

 One Christmas, shortly before I graduated from high school, Granny gave me a Smith Corona, portable typewriter, along with a silly joke book about saguaros. I LOVED the typewriter. The book? Not so much. Inside were silly pictures of saguaros with goofy captions. At the time, I remembered thinking, ‘I hope I never have to look at one of these old, prickly things ever again.’

 Now? I love their weaving arms and the holes that birds have made in their trunks for nests. I admire how they rise from desert rock with seemingly no water or nurture whatsoever. I applaud the statuesque beauty with which they carry themselves. Mostly, I wish that I had that old, silly book back. It told me that saguaros don’t reach their full height or produce their first blooms until they’re 70 and that they don’t even grow their first arms until they’re close to 100!

 Next week, I am hosting four girlfriends at my place for Thanksgiving. Some of them I have not laid eyes on since Granny gave me that typewriter and saguaro book. I worry they might find me old, wrinkled and gray. But if they are worried about the same, I shall remind them that if we were saguaros, we have not yet reached our full height! For now, I am thrilled THAT we are all still here, standing tall and upright!!