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Friday, December 6, 2013

Seasoned Citizens Unite!

Every once in a while, something sticks in our brains, besides nutty old songs or trying to remember someone’s name. My aha! moment came out of a class I do, called “Aging with Pizzazz,” that started out meaning aging ‘with health and humor’. I’ve since broaded that definition of pizzazz to be aging with passion. Pizzazz passion drives us to take care of ourselves physically so we have the stamina to follow our dreams, mentally to stay sharp and challenged, ethically to live an honest life; but most importantly, to age with the passion to energize and empower other people around us, and leave this world a better place than we found it.

We all have issues about which we feel passionate. After all, we live in a pretty complex and scary world. After visiting remote tribes living on atolls that are three inches above sea level, and seeing the ice melt away from Kilimanjaro and breaking ice floes in Antarctica, I’ve returned home passionate about combating global warming. I’m thinking about forming a new group: Grannies Against Global Warming, but I’m not sure the acronym would work: GAGWA?
And while I very much care about this issue, my epiphany involves a greater cause: that of harnessing the activist power of 120+ million “seasoned citizens” to combat a multitude of issues. It makes all the sense in the world:

• We certainly have opinions! (Just ask our kids)
• We care what kind of world we are leaving our grandchildren.
• We have years of education and experience to bring to the table.
• We have the time to get involved.
• We have numbers! There are 76 million Baby Boomers and another 45 million of us between 61 and 90. That’s over 120 million experienced people who can make change happen.
• We want to focus beyond all the aches and pains that come with age.
• It’s a great way to embarrass our children and our grandchildren.
• There is a problem needing a solution to fit every one of us, and the world needs us -now!
So—May I convince you to give activism a try? Activism, not such a scary word, simply means finding a cause about which you feel strongly and taking some kind of positive action. Activism can take many forms. We can get involved with grassroots organizations already fighting for what we believe in, or we can engage in what I call: “single-handed feats of activism”:
• Resolving to be kind and validate every person we have contact with every day
• Tutoring a child (our world’s next great leader?)
• Raising money for cancer research
• Helping out at an animal shelter
• Working at a food pantry
• Writing a letter to an editor
• Pulling lonely people into a support network
• Being fully engaged in seeking positive solutions to tough problems.
We can be a force in this youth-oriented culture, and return to our activist roots. It starts by finding and channeling our passions into something that helps other people and our planet. It starts by letting our pizzazz shine, one person at a time. Seasoned citizens: our time is now!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cataractical Chaos

Aaauuggh! How could something so relatively straightforward, medically speaking, be so logistically confounding? I’m talking about having cataract surgery. Even as a nurse, I find the process daunting, so I know other people are challenged.

Oh! I forgot to mention I also have glaucoma, so I’m on two different eye drops because one didn’t reduce my pressure enough. I’m a really healthy person, but apparently a good lifestyle and prevention only go so far. Because I have glaucoma and cataracts!

So my glaucoma regimen is one drop in each eye twice a day and one drop once a day. I do the twice a day in the morning before I get up. No prob. The once and twice a day are done at night, but have to be administered at least five minutes apart, so I put in one drop, rest for a couple of minutes, then go wash my face, brush my teeth, etc., go back to bed and put in the second one. Mission accomplished.

So here comes cataract surgery and THREE more kinds of drops, but just for the eye being operated on. One of them is four times a day, and the other two, three times a day. Again, at least five minutes apart. When I outline the regimen I’ve figured out, my husband just rolls his eyes and says he hopes he never has cataracts.

One reason he says that is because my machinations will affect him and his ability to get fed or to sleep at night. AND---once this process calms down, we start over with THE OTHER EYE. So here goes:

Before rising: glaucoma twice-a-day drop both eyes
Breakfast time: drop (5 minutes) drop (5 minutes) drop. Then get up and fix breakfast
Lunch: drop (5 minutes) drop (5 minutes) drop. Then get up and do whatever
Dinner: drop (5 minutes) drop (5 minutes) drop. Then get up and make dinner, after a stiff drink!
Bedtime: drop (one eye) (5 minutes) drop both eyes (5 minutes) drop both eyes, bed!

The three extra ones start a couple days before surgery and then go for one-to-two weeks after, encompassing travel and time-zone changes. I know this isn’t serious, just something akin to a Keystone Kops routine. I am truly blessed with good health. It was just too funny not to write about!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Caring for My Parents: Things I Learned from my Sister

Our parents are now 90 and 88 with some significant health issues, but more difficult to deal with, political and control issues. During a recent visit, my dad excoriated me about not understanding the horrible shape this country is in, courtesy of the Democrats, our president, yadda, yadda. We don’t share the same political beliefs, but more importantly, he has never told us what he wants us to do about it. So going to visit is like walking on eggs. I want them to be as independent as they can be, but have the resources they need to stay that way. When we try to help, it is often greeted with a resounding: “No! Back off. I don’t need help.” And yet they do.

While we made some strides during my visit, I left feeling exhausted and like I was fleeing the scene of a crime. A few days later, enter one of my three sisters, the one who has been taking care of her equally difficult, but thankfully local, mother-in-law. She is also the one with the active listening skills honed from years in special education. And boy, does she use them, and well! In the few days she was with my parents, she made major strides in making them safer and starting a dialogue about “what if”. They visited a multi-level senior care center with independent living apartments, assisted living, skilled and dementia care. And they kind of liked it.

Because of my sister’s listening skills, Mom was able to say that she didn’t feel safe in the shower, something I had talked with her about and she insisted was fine. My sister went shopping with them and got them a shower chair with a back and arms. What they had tried before had neither, and my mom couldn’t get down or back up, making falling an even greater possibility. After they got it, my sister helped her take her first shower, making small adjustments, lowering the hand-held shower holder, so everything was well within reach. Now Mom feels safer and we breathe easier. Her success with our parents got me to thinking back about every encounter during my visit and I could see where I could have handled those situations differently.

What they both need is to feel heard without having someone volunteer solutions all the time. As my sister found, they come up with their own solutions if they have someone to bounce their thoughts off, and it has the added benefit of keeping them in control and feeling validated. For now, I can practice my active listening skills with them over the phone and next time I visit, since I can’t undo. Luckily, I had my sister for that. And I’m keeping her close by as my personal consultant so I can learn from the best.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

More Trips for Oldsters

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just plan a trip and do it? Not so fast. At our age, stuff happens. This was the second year the three amigas planned to hike the Grand Canyon and the second year we had to cancel it. What’s the point of being the Three Amigas if one of us can’t do it? Last year a blood clot sidelined one. This year, it was a bad knee.

By holding on to our prior expectations, all we did was increase our stress and the guilt feelings of the amiga with the bad knee. Not a good way to start a road trip.

So the order of this trip was to cancel all the reservations and start over. We were packed and the car was loaded, so last minute is an understatement. Consequently, we took stuff we didn’t need and left things we could have used. Making it a little more complicated was an extended monsoon season. So all our hiking and sightseeing involved dodging raindrops and finding dry clothes to change into.

But it worked because we were able to let go of our expectations and grab for the fun where we found it. If there is anything useful we can learn as we age is to be flexible and choose to have fun. It helped that we had firmly affixed in our minds the reasons we were doing this trip: to spend some extended girl time with dear friends and guard this oasis of fun between frantic bouts of normal activity. Everything else is gravy.

We got one extended lovely hike in before the heavens opened up, and then spent most of the rest of the time in a cave—very handy during monsoons. And a lovely cave it was: Carlsbad Caverns with its size, theatrical lighting and amazing formations kept us busy for quite some time. And did I mention the bats? Carlsbad has a thriving bat population. We watched them fly out in the evening and would have watched them fly back in the morning if it hadn’t been pouring on the al fresco amphitheater. So instead, we adopted bats for all our grandchildren and various other relatives. (Won’t they be surprised?)

When we came home, we were all three recharged and ready to face whatever mayhem presents itself. We also had a long bucket list of future trips with varying degrees of activity, depending on which one of us is indisposed next year!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mountaineering Mamas (and Papas)

So many younger people are too busy to do much hiking through the wilderness, but age has its privileges. Because we live high in the mountains of Colorado at a slower non-9-to-5 pace and this year has been exceptional for wildflowers, we get out there any chance we get.

But we all realize we have to be smart about it. After all, the equipment doesn’t work as effortlessly as it once did, and because we’re all on the shady side of 60, we’ve learned how to keep doing it. One of us has an arm problem, another, sciatica, and me, well, my depth perception kind of stinks. Still, we tackle long treks at altitude, even those coveted Colorado fourteeners (peaks over 14,000 feet).

While my 88-year-old mom keeps asking me when I’m going to grow up and act my age, I think I have. I’m out there hiking smart and loving it. We avoid scree, or as my friend calls it, ball-bearings. That’s the fine gravel that can make you slip and slide, especially going steep downhill. We use poles, especially for those sometimes treacherous water crossings, and we keep a steady but slow pace. And we pick our hikes, based on how well the body is working on a given day.

We seasoned citizens are of one mind on this. The important thing is to keep doing it. The more we do, the more we can. We just do it smarter than other hikers we’ve encountered: climbing high right after arriving from the flatlands, wearing open-toed sandals, not being prepared for changes in weather, and not carrying enough water for the distance and temperature.

Our hikes take us into some areas seldom seen by most people our age. There is a reason for that. It’s work! Not only that, but you have to develop a comfort level with bush toilets, rain and bugs. And as my husband would add, it helps to have a high tolerance for whining.

To be prepared for sudden climate changes and to tote enough water and calories to keep going requires a good day pack. I carry a large waist pack in the back with a water bottle holder on the front because my shoulders bother me with the traditional day pack. My friend with sciatica finds a well-fitting day pack with built-in water pouch hydration system the most comfortable. Day packs and waist packs should not exceed 15% of the body weight of that person. Make sure you allow room for food, first aid supplies: ibuprofen for muscle or joint soreness, bandages, cleansing wipes, antiseptic cream, sprain wraps, and moleskin. 

Now we’re ready to boogie up those mountains and have the time of our lives doing it!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

True Love Knows No Age

But second love requires some common sense. That’s what I found out when I went to a birthday party and a wedding broke out! Perhaps I should explain? We have some long-time friends we’ve traveled with for 20 years. They have been a couple for as long as we have known them, and then some: twenty-four years. She was divorced; he, widowed. So they “hooked up” in modern parlance and have grown in love over the years as they’ve traveled the world together.

Last weekend, we were invited to an all weekend bash to celebrate her 70th birthday. We had a pre-party Friday evening, the big birthday bash Saturday evening, and wrapped it up with a Sunday brunch. It was all very festive and we reconnected with many friends.

Friday was wonderful. Saturday evening came, and when we reconvened for a lovely dinner, her beau who was hosting it, stood up, invited her to join him at the front, and said he had three questions for her: How many countries has she been to? (277) What was her favorite one? (The next one) And then he got down on his knee and asked: Will you marry me? After a communal gasp, she said yes, and explained that in Colorado you don’t need to be married BY someone; you can just marry each other, as long as you have the proper paperwork and the required witnesses. And that is what they proceeded to do! None of their closest friends knew this was coming. They repeated their vows to each other. He slipped a gorgeous ring, purchased in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, of course, on her finger and they were married! Lots of laughter and tears as we celebrated their joy.

Back to the point: not only did they NOT rush into marriage (24 years-seriously??), but they checked out all the legal and financial ramifications before they did: things like divorce settlement and pension issues. Neither had children, which made it simpler. When I talked to her later, she explained that there was no downside to it. Our country is pretty pro-marriage. So Mazel tov all around!

For many couples, that’s not the case. Besides children worried about losing their inheritance, many couples could lose necessary retirement income from survivor benefits and others by getting married. Because of that, to stay solvent, they live together outside marriage. So I guess it pays to look before you leap. Our friends did and were able to leap with abandon. Me? I’m going to keep my original model, going on 45 years now. What’s his is mine and vice versa. That works for us.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Sometimes, we get mired in problems that in the whole scheme of things are pretty minor. That distracts us from focusing on what really matters. I’ve had cancer a couple of times, but I don’t now, as far as I know. I’ve also just discovered I have glaucoma and cataracts. Me? Yes, me. As a writer, my ability to function could be impacted, but I discovered them in time to prevent the glaucoma from further eroding my peripheral vision; and I can have the cataracts removed.  So, moving on with my life. Are those so very serious? Of course not, as long as I remain vigilant with my eyes and the rest of my health.

We can always focus on what’s not ideal about ourselves, but what happens to the day-to-day miracles we then miss because of our preoccupation? I’ve always been enthralled by the different interesting turns my life has taken: from nurse to teacher to medical writer; from single to couple to parent to grandparent. And still I can’t wait to see what’s next. But rather than waiting for it to unfold, it helps to have a general goal in mind.

My goal is for whatever I end up doing as I grow up is for it to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a simple concept, and it applies to everything we do:

·         Through my writing to share important health information, lovely travel experiences, and laughter about the bumps in the road

·         Through listening and valuing my parents’ existence and my children’s talents and inherent goodness

·         By helping my granddaughters navigate life with their self-esteem intact

·         By giving my true love the kind of support that speaks to his needs, not just mine

·         By giving myself and my caring to strangers who aren’t accustomed to receiving any

So whatever work projects, volunteering, or family assistance I take on, using that goal as my guiding principle helps ensure that whatever I do will have a meaningful impact, and I’ll grow up just fine.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Requesting Youth Do-Over, Please!

Most of us Boomers talk frequently about our misspent youths. Misspent mostly on underachievement, it seems. Today’s young people have accomplished so much more when they hit 20 that it boggles my aging mind. Last year, I had the opportunity, as a Saint Louis University alumnus, to interview students applying for the Presidential Scholarship, a full-ride tuition scholarship for four years, not chump change by a long shot. As I reviewed their resumes and talked to them, they sounded more like college graduates than high school, or maybe people who has been OUT of college for a while. Two of them had already established their own non-profit organizations working on international projects.

What was I doing in high school? Besides trying to impress my parents with my GPA, I was going to dances, doing volunteer work at a local hospital, and participating in school clubs. Homework took up a lot of my time.

For today’s high-schoolers, homework continues, but somehow they manage to take advance-placement college classes, compete in high level sport teams, establish non-profit organizations and still have a social life. How is this possible?

Most of my friends agree that we wouldn’t want to re-live our high school years to become overcommitted, but there are some things I would have liked to have done. Recently I came back from a trip to Cuba, sanctioned by the US State Department as a cultural exchange. One of the things we did was to watch a rehearsal of the Opera de la Calle, street opera, a concept developed by a Cuban opera performer who has performed all over the world. His goal was to make opera more accessible and affordable for the average Cuban. What he developed was a vibrant, colorful and life-affirming performance that just lifted you out of your seat. More like West Side Story than Othello, it was magnetic. As I watched it, all I could think was: “I want to do that. I want to BE that!”
Well, let’s be real. I’m not 19 years old and I’m not a great dancer. As my husband pointed out: “Did you see how LONG they kept that up? We don’t have that kind of stamina!” But I have the soul of that person and I wish those types of opportunities had been available when I was in High School. That they weren’t, and my parents would never have understood, doesn’t mean I can’t find some semblance of that dream at age 65.

A wise person recently said (and of course, I can’t remember who that was) that we should write down all the things we would do IF there were no barriers (money, age, health, etc.), and then start doing them. So I just need to find an old-fogey band, some other people near my age who want to sing and dance, and start putting together our group. Even if we have to perform for nursing homes, hey! A gig is a gig!
#   #   #

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gratitude Increasing with Age

I think one of the truly great things about advancing age is the time and experience we accumulate to amp up our gratitude quotient. Some of the things I’m grateful for:

1.      My “Old Love” of 45 years, Tom, who have been at my side through thick and thin
2.      My parents: At 90 and 88, they are one of the greatest blessings to still have in my life at my ripe old age of 65.
3.      My son and daughter-in-law: great people, great parents
4.      My two (don’t get me started) smart, adorable granddaughters
5.      My sisters: three truly remarkable women who inspire me daily to be more than I am
6.      My health: I can do what I want to accomplish without health issues holding me back.

And if that weren’t enough, my financial comfort. That was never a more apparent gratitude than after a recent trip to Cuba. With the US embargo of Cuba in its 56th year and with Cuba being a Communist country, the people there have dealt with considerable adversity. After their main supporter and importer, the USSR, collapsed in 1991, the country spiraled into an economic downspin. The average Cuban had lost 20 pounds through malnutrition by 1994. They went to rationing for key staples.  

There are no supermarkets in Cuba. Farmers can’t own the beef from their own cows. Only certain ages are entitled to milk. All products in Cuba, if available, are very expensive because, other than produce, have to be shipped in from other countries, usually around the horn of South America. Because of the embargo, ships bound for Cuba can’t even use the Panama Canal. And yet, the Cuban people are alive, vibrant, and produce music and art to die for.

When we returned from the trip, I had to go to the grocery to buy perishables. I felt a profound sense of guilt at the amount of products available to us at reasonable costs. The choices can be overwhelming. I stood in the canned tomato section for 15 minutes totally at sea as to what type of diced tomatoes I needed. Such a dilemma to have!

We could all spend five minutes thinking about our blessings and the things for which we are grateful. It makes all the creepy parts of getting older pale in comparison.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Was Right About Skiing

When I was about 11, my dad took me skiing for the first (and last) time. It was the most humiliating day of my life. I couldn’t stop on those darn skis even snowplowing like I’d been taught. Down I went. Down I went. Down I went. Just trying to get across an almost level area to the other side was fraught with peril. I started sliding, was able to grab onto a low sign before my feet when out from under me, and I was left hanging from the sign with an entire crowd of people laughing their heads off. I was never going skiing again! And I didn’t.

After a long and fairly accident-prone life, and being in the health management field, I have become convinced that as we age, by pushing ourselves, we will continue to function physically and mentally at a higher level longer than if we don’t. After last week, I’m thinking under certain circumstances, it can also get us killed.

Case in point: we belong to two different chapters of our University of Michigan alumni association: Denver and St. Louis. The Denver group has some frantically active members who do all kinds of things, including climbing mountains.

We found out they were climbing a numbered peak of 13,760 ft to apply for the right to name it: Wolverine Peak, naturally. Two weeks before that, they were climbing another “thirteener” so we decided it would make a good training hike. Now we have climbed 30 peaks over 14,000 ft, and two peaks of 19,000+ feet, including Kilimanjaro; okay, a few years ago.

So we showed up for the training hike to find 24 people there, all in their 20s and 30s, and us on the dark side of 60. The girls were all six feet tall with legs up to my armpits. They took off and we brought up the rear—and came pretty darn close to the top before we pooped out.

Now comes the big Name-the-Peak day. Knowing we are a bit slower than this pack, we start out 90 minutes ahead so we won’t get shown up too badly. This hike made the other one look like a walk in the park. We took the recommended route, which included an almost vertical scramble up a scree field of loose gravel with multiple snow fields. We could see the top beyond a field of huge boulders. It looked like we could shorten it a bit by crossing a very steep snow field. I led the way gamely, tramping across to about the middle, at which point my feet shot out from under me and I found myself body skiing down the mountainside over snow and rocks toward a precipice, with nothing to stop my descent. My poor husband had to stand there and watch, not knowing if he would be taking me home in a body bag.

My life and several others flashed in front of my eyes as I headed for the edge. Finally, guardian angel working overtime, I came to a stop on the edge of rocks. Frozen, soaked, scratched, and sore all over, I had more than 250 feet to climb up to regain my starting level.

The thing about near-death experiences is the adrenalin rush, followed by the rubbery legs. I think we both experienced that. We met up with the climbers near the top: five 20-something guys—and handed off the sign, so someone could take it back up and plant it. Limping home, I realized I had been right about one thing: Stay away from skiing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On the Road with Two Best Buds

Think Thelma and Louise here, but without the downer ending. Last year, three of us did a driving, hiking and pueblo-discovering trip across New Mexico and Arizona. I hadn’t taken a trip with anyone but family for quite some time, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Doing a road trip with two other over-the-hill friends seemed like it would be complicated.

Take, for instance, bedtimes. One of us is an early riser, and I do mean early. She’s up way before dawn to meditate and get her day started. She’s asleep by 9 pm. The second one is an early riser by my standards, up by 5:30 or 6 am. She has big critters and has to get them watered and fed. But she will stay up later, until about 10:30 or so. And then there’s me. I’m a night owl. I can read until 2 am and will wake up by myself in the summer with the sun in my eyes about 7:30 am. (Add an hour to that for winter.) Before that, I need an alarm. So our solution in a room with two queen-size beds was for the two night owls to share a bed and a reading light, while our early sleeper got the dark side of the room.

Hot versus cold: That can be a huge divider when three women of a certain age are sharing a room. The early riser doesn’t have a heat problem. The other two of us are throwing off covers all night. Seriously, who wants to share a bed with that? Luckily, the early-to-bed gal is also the colder one, so she piles on a full sweat suit to sleep in so we can crank up the air conditioner. Luckily, she is also the one who turns in early, so she gets the bed in the dark corner and the farthest away from the air-conditioner.

Driving: One of us (that would be me) is severely directionally impaired. I can get lost coming out of an elevator. So the other two decided right off the bat to keep me out of the driver’s seat. Because one of us (not me) had planned out the route beautifully beforehand, much of it familiar to her, we had a lovely stress-free itinerary.

Diet: Two of us are carnivores and the third, a vegan. We eat vegetarian/vegan a lot on these trips, which is really good for us; and most restaurants cater to a variety of preferences for those occasional meat cravings. We all like wine, so we’re good!

The only downside of a vegetarian diet is that vegetables, especially raw food, are higher in fiber. That, combined with an aging gastrointestinal system that has a harder time absorbing some fibers, sugars and starches and we tend to toot more. But since the trip is mostly about being outdoors and hiking, we can toot away! 

Physical limitations: We’re all about the same age with the same abilities, so hiking and nature discovery have been some of our most enjoyable pastimes. After a couple temporary physical problems, we know the value of flexible planning, so we don’t worry about them. For now, we keep on pounding up and down the mountains.

Road trips with good friends are a treat and help nourish our friendships and overall well-being. If you aren’t a hiker or a bicyclist or a kayaker or a bird watcher, road trips are still a good option, even without driving. Train travel can be very relaxing and allows you to get out into scenic places stress-free. Bus tours with a good guide and someone to schlep your luggage can make travel enjoyable with physical limitations.

So get out there. Hit the world or your corner of the USA. See things you haven’t seen before. Try things you’ve never done. And do it with good friends or people you think might be good friends if you spent more time with them. Your life will be the better for it.