UP TUMAMOC!!!

Up Tumamoc

Too many of us, old and young, are loathe to get out of our comfort zones. It’s nice feeling cozy in your routine, always knowing what the day will bring. Thing is you can’t grow by sitting still, anymore than a muscle gains strength without use. Any challenge, no matter how small, builds us and makes us bolder.

 Which explains the hike I took yesterday with my 24 year-old up Tumamoc Hill. It was billed as, ‘an easy, hike,’ until you read the fine print: It was a 750-foot ascent to the top and a three-mile round-trip! Now, I haven’t hiked in. . . Well I can’t actually remember when, but I did learn a thing or two along the way:

  1. Don’t over-analyze the route before you start or you may never take it.
  2. Swing your arms when you walk whether or not it makes you look foolish. It helps.
  3. The real climb is in your head. Your legs are just there for support.
  4. Don’t worry if someone passes you. Don’t even notice or you’ll alter your own momentum. Besides, you may pass them later on.
  5. Don’t be afraid to pause and admire the view. It will help you catch your breath if nothing else.
  6. Encourage your fellow travellers. You are in this together.
  7. Don’t be shy asking for help. Most people love to offer it and it makes them feel important.  (My daughter’s left shoulder was a great support to me most of the way back down as I have no knees.) 
  8. When you’ve gone as far as you can, turn around and look how far you’ve come.  It will encourage you to go further.
  9. Be present in each step and reaching the end won’t feel so overwhelming.
  10. And finally:

 The view from the top is exactly the same as it was from the bottom, only now you can see it!!!

 

BROKEN BUT BLOOMING

broken but blooming

 I’m a pretty adept gardener but removing mistletoe from Palo Verde trees and pruning huge, spiny branches is not my forte. So, last week I hired a gardening crew for a few hours. When they arrived, I cautioned them to, ‘be careful’ of some of my new plantings. Now granted, most people do not scatter sunflower seeds among rocks but I do. It gives me immense pleasure to fill barrenness with beauty.

 It wasn’t until the following morning that I noticed one of the men had stepped on several of my sunflower shoots and broken the stems. They probably did look like weeds. I was tempted to pull them out and start over but stopped when I noticed that each one had a round, green bud that someday would yield a yellow flower. So I left them, broken and lying flat on the rocks. Perhaps the birds might peck out a bite or two I surmised.

 This morning, I was alone in the pool, which is both blessing and curse. Blessing, because I don’t have to fight for a lane and curse because I am alone with my thoughts. Today, I was a bit blue because there is so much less time ahead of me than behind me. I pictured the older people who are often here, many of who can no longer swim at all and merely tread water. I wondered if that would ever be me.

 Then I thought of the gal who arrives daily on crutches, sits down, removes her prosthetic leg, slips into the water and swims a vigorous mile.  My brief depression ended abruptly. I returned home to find this beautiful flower, which actually bloomed more than a week after it had been trampled!!  ‘Such spunk,’ I thought to myself– just like the girl with no leg and just like the kind I intend to cultivate in myself.  As Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

 

  

DRINK UP!!

coffee

 Just imagine how delighted I was to read this week that drinking coffee actually lowers your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 Diabetes by 65%. Not only that, it seems that drinking up to four cups of the lovely stuff a day might well be the charm. This information came from several studies over a long period of time and you can Google them for yourself.

 But that’s not all. Not only is coffee rich in B vitamins and minerals but it is also loaded with antioxidants. Caffeine, it turns out, not only increases your metabolism but also enhances brain function by blocking adenosine. In addition, coffee drinkers have an 84% lower risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver and a 40% lower risk of developing liver cancer. Even better? Coffee drinkers have lower rates of depression and suicide. No wonder I’m so happy!

 But lest you get too giddy reading the above, I also want to counter these findings with another article that I read in The New Yorker this week. It was entitled, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Opinions.” Apparently, we humans are subject to something called, “confirmation bias.” That is, we tend to embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.

 Incredulously, our bodies actually release dopamine when we read or hear information that supports our beliefs. Uh oh. Maybe I’m doped up right now?? “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding.” Another ‘uh-oh.’

 I guess it all goes to say that you should take these lovely findings on coffee with a grain of salt. (Whatever you do, don’t put those grains in your coffee). As for me, I am blissfully looking forward to my double espresso with non-fat milk tomorrow morning. I will sprinkle it with cinnamon and nutmeg, both of which are known to boost the immune system, strengthen cognitive function and lower heart disease risk. Oh, and did I mention that they also are anti-inflammatory agents? So, drink up my friends. Drink up!  

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!!

A TEMPORARY FIX

img_0618

 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!!