ALL IN

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie (1867-1934)

sky n football

10 years ago, I was so terrified of dogs that I rarely visited friends who had them. Then this little one came home. Skylar weighed less than a pound. She’d been taken from her mother too soon so I had to feed her with a dropper around the clock. We had high hopes that she would be a companion for our children who begged us to get her. Within a few weeks, however, she became my sole responsibility.

Having never owned a dog, I didn’t relish the task. My ignorance was boundless but she was patient with me. The first time I took her for a walk, I put an old cat leash around her neck and almost strangled her. When I dropped a sock out of the laundry basket and she brought it back to me, I thought she had super powers. “Look what my puppy did!” I bragged on Facebook. “It’s called fetch,” my friends replied. Apparently every dog could do it.

Skylar watched my hair turn from brown to gray. She transformed from a rascal who chewed up shoes into an obedient pup who thought sunflower sprouts were a treat. She was there through high school then college graduations, followed us into three, different homes in three, different states and hovered at my side through two, major surgeries. She made me laugh over little things like the face she always made when I brushed her teeth. When I played the piano, she howled along as if we were in it together and we were. At night, if I tossed and turned then sighed, astonishingly, she did the same. Yes, she barked at most everything from falling leaves to FedEx trucks. However, after she alerted me to a midnight prowler, I came to respect her every growl.

I often marvel how I ever managed to live so long before finding such a grand companion. Few humans are as unabashed in both their affections and distresses. Skylar was ALL IN for everything and everyone was a potential friend. For several thousand days, I have held her close against my heart and then, last week, as she took her final breath. The house is pin drop quiet now. Our long running conversation has ended but I will never forget how wonderful it was to have.

 

 

 

STOP….LOOK…LOOK AGAIN

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 On my walk today, I happened upon this sight. It seems a perfect metaphor to our present situation. We’ve been stopped where we are but as we pause, let’s notice the beauty around us. Life will never return to the way it was before. Ultimately that may prove to be a good thing.

 I’m not just referring to the fact that crime has gone down world wide or that the bear population in Yosemite has quadrupled. It’s wonderful that residents in Punjab, India can finally see the Himalayas again after 30 years of obscurity behind air pollution. My real hope for our new future comes from the transformative way my neighbors, fellow citizens, scientists and world leaders have embraced this crisis and are carrying on.

 Health care workers are on the job despite lack of proper equipment and inordinate stress. Scientists are working globally on vaccines and cures. Educators have moved their teaching programs online. Our goods and services are being delivered and everyone is taking disinfection seriously. No longer will my guests roll their eyes when I ask them to take their shoes off at the door. All this creative restructuring may be our salvation.  

 Consider the future of a visit to the doctor. Last week, I ‘saw’ mine on my telephone from the privacy of my bedroom. He called me at the exact agreed on time and I had his undivided attention. After examining me via my handheld iPhone, he sent a prescription to my pharmacy, which was delivered to my mailbox.

 Imagine education if online schooling becomes the norm. Our over-priced colleges may well have to rethink their usefulness. Will students really want to suffer the enormities of overwhelming debt when they can get the same degrees for a fraction of the cost? Might congressmen stay in the districts they represent instead of commuting to Washington?  Can we foresee a time when we value our farmers more than our politicians?

 Although we are now wary of our neighbors we also realize just how much we need them. Experts warn that the coming recession will pale against the impending wave of depression and mental health issues that are likely to follow. As unemployment soars, so will the divorce rate. Maybe that’s a good thing. This has forced us to truly examine those we’ve chosen to share our lives with. Kindness will be king, (along with cleanliness of course). The loss of any life is hard.  The losses now are brutal and devastating.  For now, let’s just put one foot in front of the other and look for beauty anywhere we can find it.        

 

 

 

 

PEACE OUT!!

PEACE OUT

As someone who’s often made her living entertaining others, this isolationism has been torturous. Yesterday, while standing outside Trader Joe’s in a long line, loud music began pumping in the parking lot. Prince’s, “When Doves Cry” came on and I instinctively began to dance. Now, this is not unusual behavior for me but simply how I’m wired. Even in the dentist’s chair if a song with a good beat comes on, I cannot sit still. (I imagine it’s why I was always on a first name basis with my school principals).

 As I grooved to the music, I became aware that both the person in front of and behind me were visibly wincing. Although they were each six feet away, they acted as though I might somehow splash the virus on them with my outstretched arms. So, I abruptly stopped. Moments later, a van unloaded several people in the parking lot. They looked around at all of us as if trying to decide what was going on. “Don’t worry,” I called out. “You’re in the right place. This IS the audition line for the Rockettes!” Finally. . . laughter.

 Ours is an unprecedented time. We haven’t quite figured out how to handle this invisible terror that blows through our streets. We are told to stay home and then bombarded on the TV by constantly updated death statistics. How healthy is that? Where are the Lassie re-runs? As I walk in my neighborhood now, other walkers actually cross the street to avoid coming too close to me. If I smile and wave, some respond but a few actually put their heads down and seem to hold their breath.

 I have immense empathy for the young people among us who must shut down their energetic, vibrant lives. At their age, I’d likely be building a backyard trapeze and teaching myself to juggle. Yes, this is a tragic pandemic but we must not lose our joy! Let’s help each other get more creative in finding it and count our blessings.

 Here are some of mine:

 1.  My hearing has improved! I can actually hear a sneeze or cough from about 20 yards away.

2.  My house sparkles—even under the washer & dryer.

3.  If I nap, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

In the above picture, please note that I have turned my back to you. This is for your protection.

 

SIGNS I’VE TAKEN TOO MANY PAIN MEDS

 

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Recently, I had my 2nd knee replaced. Considering I’d done this once before, I thought I knew what to expect. Nope.

  1. The first night in the hospital, I’m given a dinner menu. I’m surprised to even have an appetite and attribute my complete lack of pain to a masterful anesthesiologist. Since I don’t have my glasses, I peruse the colorful pictures with deep intent. I finally settle on a lovely, triangular concoction with a fan of white at the plates’ edge. I pick up the phone, dial room service and calmly ask for, “One, white swan, please.” She asks me to repeat myself. “One, white swan,” I repeat louder, thinking she must be deaf. “Um what number might that be?” she asks sweetly. Turns out it was a club sandwich with a white, folded napkin perched next to it.
  2. The next morning I decide to call a friend. I pick up the TV remote, press the center button and patiently wait for a dial tone, which never comes. Instead, the TV magically goes on! Confused, I push the button again and hold it closer to my ear. The TV goes off and still no dial tone! It slowly dawns on me that perhaps I should use an actual phone.
  3. An hour later, my nurse informs me that they, “need my bed and (I’m) well enough to go home.”   “I’m not budging,”  I say. Several minutes later, another enters and says, “It is hospital policy to discharge a patient if the doctor says it’s OK.” (That’s what I get for pretending to feel better than I do.) “No, I am staying right here,” I say firmly. Finally, a third person enters. Before he can speak, I burst into tears and scream, “I am NOT LEAVING THIS BED!   IF YOU DARE SEND ONE, MORE PERSON IN HERE, I AM CALLING THE NEWSPAPER TO TELL THEM YOU’RE THROWING AN OLD LADY OUT OF THE HOSPITAL LESS THAN 24 HOURS AFTER MAJOR SURGERY!”   “Um, I’m just here to get your vitals,” he says meekly.
  4. Midway through my first week home, I develop debilitating nerve pain so intense it leaves me screaming, sweating and breathless. I up my meds. I am now binge watching a bizarrely, imbecilic TV show, which I find utterly compelling.
  5. At 2 AM, I actually thank God for, “not having a third knee because I could never go through this again.” Then it occurs to me that no one has a third knee.

I toss my meds.

P. S. Above is my Physical Terrorist. There is a reason he has a black eye.

 

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!!

 

PICK A PECK OF POMEGRANATES!

 

pomegranate

In the average human gut, we carry a thousand different species of bacteria, literally trillions of cells that weigh about three pounds. Believe it or not, this ‘microbiome’ inside of us actually plays a role in autism, anxiety, depression and many other disorders. To prove that theory, scientists have actually given ‘calm’ mice gut microbes from ‘anxious’ ones and sent them straight into overdrive.

 What does this mean for us? Well, it means that we really are what we eat. In another study done at UCLA, researchers gave healthy women brain scans to test their emotional responses to visual stimuli.  They then fed half the women yogurt (which is a probiotic) twice a day, while the others received none. After 12 weeks, they re-administered the scans. The yogurt eaters reacted far more calmly to the images than the other group and showed markedly measurable differences in their stress levels. They believe that the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, which then led to the production of compounds that ultimately modified their brain chemistry.

 Our gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA all of which play a key role in mood. They also generate other neuroactive chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. In fact, your microbiome can activate the vagus nerve, which is the main line of communication between the gut and the brain.  So, if you have a ‘gut instinct’ about something, you’re probably right.  Since 80% of your immune tissue is in your digestive tract, which by itself influences both mood and behavior, you need to protect it. 

 What does all this mean?   That inside of us we already have ‘natural’ anti depressants IF we keep ourselves healthy! Someday, scientists say that we will even be able to use our own bodies as healing mechanisms instead of prescription pills. Until then, keep your insides well fed. You might consider starting with pomegranates.  They may well be the perfect stocking stuffer for your loved ones.  Here are just some of their benefits:

  1. nutrient dense (contain vitamin C & K, folate & potassium)
  2. powerful antioxidant
  3. anti inflammatory
  4. may help fight both prostate and breast cancer
  5. lowers blood pressure
  6. can relieve arthritis and joint pain
  7. significantly lowers triglycerides
  8. fights bacterial & fungal infections
  9. improves both memory and exercise performance
  10. develops patience— it takes time to retrieve those 613 fruity arils! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INSIDE OUT

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Last week, the Inside Out art project came to my town. Their truck rolled up in front of the library and we, local residents let them take 4’ by 3’, black and white photos of us. These were then pasted on the walkways in front of the library. I was amazed at the diversity of faces. Our art statement didn’t last long as it rained the following day and all became a gray mush. It was a great reminder, though, of the brevity of our lives. That is why it is so important to shine while our light still flickers!

Recently, I spoke to a group on Alzheimer’s. Since all had been (or were), caregivers, I assumed they would ask questions about the disease and its’ progression. Instead, I faced a room full of people terrified that it might happen to them! In fact, one perfectly, healthy woman was actually taking an Alzheimer’s medication in hopes of preventing it before it started!

Considering that 1 million people will have dementia in some form by 2025, their concerns are valid. So, here’s what we know so far: there is NO cure or drug that can really help yet. No. Nothing–so don’t fall for those TV commercials. However, here are a few things we DO know that will give you the best prevention possible:

  1. Smoking increases your dementia risk 30-50%.
  2. Drinking one Coke a day ups your risk by 30%.
  3. Although few of my readers likely play football–watch for blows to the head—they cause inflammation to the nervous system and increase the tau proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
  4. Keep your blood pressure low.
  5. Playing a musical instrument lowers your risk by 36%. Taking up the harmonica can’t hurt.
  6. Yeah get off your butt—stub out your butt—and no more ifs ands or buts. THIS is the MOST important one!  

 Here’s the mystery of life: the things we plan for rarely happen and the ones we don’t expect often smack us right between the eyes. Considering that 24% of boys born today and 35% of girls will eventually develop dementia, starting healthy behaviors now will have a more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure. Plus, if you wanna see your face plastered up real big, track down the Inside Out Project! Smiling increases longevity and makes you feel good inside and out!

 

 

TOUCHDOWN

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You may find this hard to believe but I just saw my very, first, live, professional football game! The last time I sat in the bleachers was in 1974, during a first date in college. However, by halftime, I told the guy that I’d had enough. (It was also our last date). As for Super bowl parties? I never attended them unless coerced and even then spent every conceivable second in the kitchen or outside listening to the leaves rustle. Anything was better than watching all those big guys run after a ball that I couldn’t even see and then jump on top of each other so hard that it made me wince.

 Until last week I had no clue how the game even worked. So, let me tell you what I learned after just one match: Football is a perfect metaphor for Life.

  1. Once the whistle blows, you only have so much time left.
  2. When you have the ball, you’re always heading for the ‘end zone.’
  3. If you get caught holding the ball, you’ll be sorry.
  4. As you inch towards your goal, some folks will knock themselves out helping you get there. Others will flatten you like a pancake.
  5. There’s always somebody faster, bigger, stronger and younger gaining on you.
  6. If you’re outflanked, you pass the ball to someone else and hope they don’t fumble.
  7. You can play an entire game and never touch the ball once.
  8. You can actually knock people over on purpose and jump right on top of them, if it’s done just so.
  9. You can’t hold on to someone—no matter how much you want to—if they’re not actually holding the ball.
  10. It all starts with a coin toss.

If you can’t play, you can always sit on the sidelines and bark orders at the guys on the field, like the crazed fan behind me did the entire game.  As it happens, I was there to watch a young man I know realize his dream to play in the NFL. Now, the only thing better than chasing your own dreams is watching someone else bring theirs to life. That’s a thrill in itself! My friend played well and as his teammates slapped his butt and gripped his helmet with congratulations, it reminded me of one, more thing:   you don’t do any of it by yourself. Nope, not one, single, solitary yard. Like football, life is a team sport.      

 

 

 

 

MY INSPIRATIONS

94Recently, a young man came backstage to chat with me after a performance. As he left, he suddenly gushed, “Ms. Hudson, this was great. I just love talking to old people!” While the others around me were a bit shocked, I was quite tickled and replied, “Well, Jason, I just love talking to young ones!”

 Growing up, my grandmother was always my greatest inspiration. She was drinking carrot juice and doing yoga long ahead of her time. One afternoon, when she was 70 and I was 17, she suddenly appeared in the kitchen wearing tap shoes. I’d been moping around the house and knew that she was trying to cheer me up.  She began to hop-step-flap-ball change her way through a very, nifty, ‘time step.’  That vision of her with her gray ponytail bouncing up and down still makes me smile.

As a kid I looked up to older people and sought them out for advice. Now that I am the ‘older’ person, there are a lot fewer ahead of me than there used to be. Nevertheless, I still look to them for both encouragement and hope. Here are just some of the inspirations in my life right now: a 94 year-old with the figure of a teenager who chats everyone up while sipping her iced chai latte and grocery shopping; an 80 year-old who took up daily workouts for the first time ever after her husband passed away and a 70-something couple who only recently found each other and are now inseparable.

84 rower

 cap couple

Recently, I had the happy fortune of spending the weekend with three, young couples. One has just had their first child. The other is expecting their first and the latter are engaged to marry. It was déjà vu as I, too, once walked those very roads. I marveled at their energy and fresh faces despite sleepless nights. I was hugely impressed by the equality with which all three seem to navigate their relationships. Mostly, I just gasped at how quickly I went from their age to mine.  At the end of the weekend, one of them told me that I was, ‘an inspiration’ to him because of my energy and enthusiasm for life.  At first, I was surprised but then very grateful. For his compliment is now a great motivation to keep me charging forward with a big smile on my face!!

SURPRISE!!!

Broken Chair

Last week, one of my tennis partners and I found ourselves in a heart to heart talk about aging. Her husband recently had a stroke and can’t speak. She is his fulltime caregiver. “There are so many years behind me,” she said sadly, “and so much fewer ahead.”  So true.

 A few days later, a friend confided, “Aging is hard. I never knew it would be this hard. Sometimes I wonder if I have the strength for it.” She just got out of the hospital after what she thought was a routine bronchitis, which she’d had before. This time, she couldn’t shake it alone.

 Another emailed after taking a cruise to say that he had, “really wanted to hike through Europe” but feared his legs might not hold him up. Instead, he “saw it mostly through my cabin window.” Still another told me that she is, “terrified of falling.   I’ve put night-lights every six feet in my house. If I fall again, I’m dead. That’s it.” She recently had a hip replaced and the recovery took almost a year.

 I could chalk my friends off as being ‘alarmists’ or ‘overly pessimistic,’ but they echo my own sentiments. I, too, have set myself a daily routine to maximize safety and minimize stress. I swim, but only so far, so as not to overtax my shoulders. I walk, but avoid hills, so as not to overstress my knees. I eat healthy, nap, meditate, do mild yoga, read enlightening books and practice music daily to keep my synapses sharp.

 However, all of this moderation only carries one so far. There is no accounting for the surprises that life can throw your way. This afternoon, I made a salad and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine. As I sat down on the chair, the seat underneath me gave way. Not only did I jolt my joints but my lovely salad spread itself all over the pavement.

 Apparently, there’s good reason for all of us to take extra precautions. Right now, the accidental death rate is up 12% in the US. Why? Falls among the elderly and drug overdoses. Shakespeare, describing impending death in Hamlet said this: “And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” For now, I’ve decided to appreciate those ‘shocks.’ It means that I’m still here to tell you about them.