The Other I

August 9, 2017

Retirement surprises

Filed under: Growing Old,Stuff of Life: Current Exploits — theotheri @ 8:00 pm

“I need to go back to work so I will have more free time!”

The quote above is from a friend.  I told her I’m stealing it for myself — it describes my experience of getting old to a T.  How did I ever hold down a full-time job, keep the house clean, walk the dogs everyday, cook, pay the bills, and watch television all in the same day!?  We even had a garden which I occasionally weeded, I tiled a bathroom, stained the deck,  visited family, and went on vacations.

My guess is that you don’t qualify as elderly yet if you don’t know what we’re talking about.


February 22, 2017

Keeping the world at bay: my sanity strategy

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:17 pm

Image result for child on the internetParents are repeatedly advised these days to make sure their children are not becoming addicted to the internet, unable to tear themselves away to get healthy exercise and face-to-face conversation with real people.  Another problem is the “sound-bite” approach to learning, which limits children’s ability to learn to follow complex arguments through to the finish.  The temptation is to read the headlines and think you know the whole story.

I agree this is critically important for children.  But what I’m discovering for myself is that it’s critically important for us retirees whose computer skills make us subject to the same temptations as our grandchildren.

         The One

I’m not preparing lectures anymore, not grading student papers, not driving off to work, not writing academic articles, or examining research findings to determine how well they do or don’t stand up to their headline conclusions.  Nonetheless I find myself fascinated by the world, and the internet provides a store of information the like of which has never been available to us before.

But there’s so much to know, and so much that seems critically important, so much that it seems to me a responsible, educated person ought to be aware of.

And there’s the catch.

It simply is not possible for a single individual to examine every important issue in depth.

And so I have discovered that I’m capable of spending literally (and I do mean literally) hours a day running around reading a headline here, a two-line summary there, a forgotten promise to read something else in depth, a blog paragraph or two there.  As a result, I’m also not getting the regular exercise I need to maintain my energy levels.

But I’m not really getting better informed either.  I fear that in my own left-wing-ish kind of way, I’m joining the masses who make up their minds without examination and use headlines simply to confirm their own prejudices.  When I hear people say things like “I don’t believe in global warming” or “Nothing the Republicans say these days is reliable” I want to scream.  But I’m beginning to fear I have my own versions of unsubstantiated convictions that deserve more examination.

Since I don’t have the mental ability or time to be fully-informed about every issue I know is important – maybe even critical – I have been concentrating on finding another way.

Image result for "So I got it wrong"First of all, more than ever it’s necessary for me to remember that I am not all-knowing and infallible.  I obviously make assessment and decisions and try to live by my values.  But I need to remember that I might be wrong.  Even very wrong.  On things that are little.  But also about things that might be very big.

Secondly, on days when we’re not out entertaining ourselves or we don’t have guests, I am limiting my computer time to a hour at a time.  Then I get up and do something else for at least a half hour, and preferably for an hour.  Sometimes I go for a walk, do some cooking or cleaning, shopping, gardening, maintenance work, have a real live conversation, read, listen to music,  do my daily exercise stint, watch tv.

Yes, I know.  It sounds like a hum drum list.  But it really works for me.  I’m much less tired, more productive both at the computer and in everything else.  I’m even feeling younger.

I love the internet.  And I love working at my computer.  But I’m not going to let it steal my life.

February 16, 2017

Stepping Stones for the Aging

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:26 pm

As we’re growing up, most of us have stepping stones as we achieve the awesome task of “growing up.”  There are birthdays (“I’m three years old!”), Christmas (“Is there really a Santa Claus?”), starting school, graduations, the senior dance, career choices, partners, promotions, anniversaries, and if one has children the whole cycle begins again.

But I’ve never thought of stepping stones for aging.  There are various medical events, of course – cataracts, joint replacements, hearing aids, surgery for both insignificant and serious needs.  And perhaps there are significant anniversaries, especially if one makes it to the “golden years.”

Yesterday, however, I stumbled on a big stepping stone for us elderly.  Perhaps I should call it a boulder.  My husband and I were going out to a new restaurant to celebrate the 44 years we have been living together.  We left for an early meal – 6:00 – when the rush hour was at its height and it was fully dark.  But we were driving on roads with which we are very familiar, and the drive was not more than 20 minutes.  Night driving, even all-night driving both in the US and here in the UK and Europe, is something we have done probably thousands of time.  It never daunted us.

Last night was different.  It was awful.  Cars were speeding, failing to dim their head lights, and traffic was even held up by a road work vehicle.  But that wasn’t really the problem.

We’re the problem.  Our responses are getting slower, our supply of energy is less, our capacity for dealing with stress reduced.  We both found ourselves staring into the lights glaring out of the dark saying emphatically “Never again!”  We will never again voluntarily drive in the dark for recreational purposes.  If we can’t take a taxi, we’ll stay at home, cook our own dinner, and watch television.  Or go out to lunch or wait until the long days of summer.

So how is this a stepping stone?  Well, it’s really the vestibule.  I have seen in a generation before mine that facing the reality of not driving takes honesty and courage.  Giving up one’s driving license is the Great Stepping Stone.  It’s the great recognition that one is getting old.  Not older.  Old.

I think it’s unlikely that I will live long enough to indulge in driverless cars.
Image result for stepping stones quotes

So if something else doesn’t stop me first, I’ve had my first glimpse of that Great Stepping Stone that just got a little bit closer.  The great question is what I will make of it.

February 1, 2017

The Times – They are a-changing

Filed under: Growing Old,The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 5:14 pm

Image result for birthday cakeI have the feeling that the changes that are taking place in my own life keep galloping ahead in the same way that the world is changing.  On the one hand, I feel such a small part of our globalized world, and at the same time as I listen to the world news, it feels like a mirror of my own life these days.

As I’m studying political and economic events, I’ve realized that the world has gone through fundamental changes like this before.  And it’s not going to stop.  It isn’t just the industrial revolution that was so revolutionary.  There are events like this as far back as we can see.  The Black Death killed somewhere between 30 and 50% of the population.  By the time it had subsided, people had lost their faith in the promises of religious leaders and the political power of the Roman Church had been profoundly undermined, eventually reduced to a small country we now call “The Vatican.”  And because workers were now at a premium, serfs were freed from their economic slavery, able instead to offer their services to whomever paid them the most.  That might have meant freedom, but it was also a loss of security that people had relied on for centuries.  Then the confirmation that earth could be circumnavigated changed trade, and introduced a new kind of serfdom, slavery in which people were shipped like bags of coal dumped into the bowels of ships.

Today we are entering into mega-changes brought about by two forces.  The first is not, as Trump thinks, the destructiveness of global trade.  The movement of multi-national countries returning to their home bases began some years ago.  Companies are discovering that with new technological developments, companies that are selling what they produce in their countries of residence are more productive.  The force that is going to change things so drastically around the world is technological creativity, not international trade.

Widespread electricity isn’t a century old, neither is the car, but most of us take these changes as old hat.  Even the internet feels utterly familiar to millions of people.  But the changes that technological developments are going to continue to bring about in the work place and even in our home lives are going to continue to race ahead.  The unemployed factory workers of today aren’t going to get their jobs back.  But even people who are employed today are going to find that if they don’t keep learning all their lives, they are also going to be in the same unemployable position before they are ready to retire..  Work is changing and it is going to continue to do so at increasing pace.

The second force that is going to change our lives for the foreseeable future is climate change.  It won’t go away just because Trump says he doesn’t believe in it.  Droughts, floods, temperature changes, rising sea levels, storms are going to bring about changes in the kinds and places where we can produce our food, in the kind of houses we can live in, in our water sources, even where human habitation is possible.

None of us is going to live long enough to see these forces through to their finish.

My own hope is that somehow our creativity will outstrip our ignorance, and that our love for our fellow man will outstrip our impulse to pick up our toys and go home and slam the door.




November 8, 2016

How big are the little things?

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:47 am


The older I get, the more grateful I am becoming for things I used to think were trivial.

It’s too late for me to say thank you for so much.  So I’m trying  to pass the debt onto somebody else with my own trivials.

October 16, 2016

The Good Old Days of Breadmaking

As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts recently, we elderly are subject to the temptation of wiping out the negative aspects of the past from our memory banks, leading to a rather one-sided longing to return to a mythical “Good Old Days” that never really existed.

But the more I read about the history of Christianity, the more I wonder if I might still be committed to the Christian faith if I’d lived several thousand years ago before church leaders decided that the diversity of beliefs held by various sub-groups was unacceptable, and declared anybody who did not agree with them to be heretical.  Up until then, “faith” was not seen as synonymous with doctrine, but with faithfulness.  And until then, love was still, as St. Paul wrote, “the greatest of these.”

At about the same time, Constantine decided that the Christian God was a better backup for governments trying to hold onto power than the fickle gods of the pagans.  So the Romans adopted Christianity as their official religion, moved the clergy into palaces and cathedrals, gave them royal robes and head-gear, gold crosses and incense burners to demonstrate their “lordship”.

But I’ve just learned that it was at about this time, and almost certainly a result of these changes, that the meaning of “lord” and “lady” changed dramatically.  Until then, these terms did not refer to any kind of authority or royalty.  The “lord” simply referred to the “keeper of the bread,” and the “lady” was “the maker of the bread.”

That makes a lot of sense to me.  And it seems to fit so much better with the original message of Christianity.

Perhaps the change in meaning is another example of the original biblical warning that where there is power or money, there is always temptation.  Pope Francis has just said it again.


September 21, 2016

The danger of the Good Old Days

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies,Worries — theotheri @ 7:54 pm

As a cognitive psychologist, I have long known about the research showing that as we age, we tend to cleanse the past of unpleasant memories, leaving us with a view of the past that is actually better than it was.  Knowing this, and besides, being an optimist by nature, I did not expect to fall into this fallacy.

I don’t think of the past as a time to which I would like to return.  But I was rather surprised by the conversation I had with a friend last week in which we both seriously wondered if the world was in a worse state now than it has ever been.  What with our environmental destructiveness, our resistance to immigration, a seeming growth in those who believe that they have a God-given obligation to murder those who disagree with them, and the millions of starving and displaced refugees, most of whom are being refused entrance to countries who see them as dangerous and different, things seem pretty awful.

But I’ve discovered one of the most amazing books I’ve read in perhaps 15 years.  It’s Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg.

One cannot accuse him of naivete or denial.  He begins with a brief statement of the state of the world:”Terrorism.  ISIS.  War in Syria and Ukraine, Crime, murder, mass shootings.  Famines, floods, pandemics.  Global warming.  Stagnation, poverty, refugees.”

And yet the gist of his book is a strongly research-based argument that things are better now than perhaps they have ever been, and that the most dangerous thing we can do is to pull back from the conditions that have reduced famines, increased life-span, even reduced war.  The book is divided into 10 chapters, examining dramatic improvements in food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, and equality.

Norberg is not suggesting that everything is going to work out.  He is quite aware that we could destroy our environment and ourselves to the point of extinction.  But his argument is that we don’t have to wring our hands in despair.  In the last century we have already made incredible progress.

I think it is worth studying what he is saying, and I am hoping to write a series of posts summarizing what I am learning.

Right now I’m beginning to suspect that The Good Old Days might be far more than a benign fantasy of old age and instead a very dangerous myth.



September 14, 2016

Wisdom for the old

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:10 pm

Image result for foolWhen I was about ten years old, I remember my dad saying that when you are sure you are right, you can afford to be gracious and open to opposing arguments because ultimately the other person was going to demonstrate that you are right.  He was talking at the time about what he had learned as a practicing lawyer in a court of law.

I am discovering that it is equally good advice for many of us oldies.

I don’t think I am suffering from dementia, but I am emphatically slower on the uptake than I used to be, and in addition there are many things that young people take for granted in this post-modern world that are a complete mystery to me.  As a result I am discovering that I am wrong much more often than I used to be in the world in which I lived just a couple of decades ago.

But the reason my father’s advice seems to me to be newly relevant isn’t because I’m sure I’m right when I am, but much more often these days I’m sure I’m right when I’m not.

And so when a friend, a husband, a sib, or some stranger at the end of a telephone line or internet connection seems to me to be doing or saying something stupid, I have saved myself a great deal of embarrassment by being considerate even when I’m sure I’m right.  Because when I discover that I’m the one who has misunderstood, I haven’t made a double fool of myself.



September 1, 2016

Energy restorer for the elderly

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:02 pm

Image result  candy page

As I’m getting old  (not older, old), I find I need to pay much greater attention to the difference between feeling hungry and feeling tired.

These days when I’m tempted to reach for a square of chocolate, a handful of nuts, or even a cup of coffee, what I need is not calories or caffeine but rest.  Sometimes all I need is to put my head back and close my eyes for five minutes.  Sometimes I need as much as 30 minutes on a bed with a pillow.

I don’t need nearly as much food as I used to.

But I do need more frequent energy-restorers.

July 22, 2016

Going bananas

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:07 pm

I’m beginning to think that the wisdom of old age consists less of learning something new than it’s a process of unlearning something old.

I grew up being told by my mother than bananas should never be put in the refrigerator.  I learned about a year ago from a friend that isn’t quite so – that they can be frozen and used in a variety of different ways.

But now I’ve discovered that putting bananas in the refrigerator are an excellent way of preventing them from getting rotten.  Chiquita bananas, who were responsible for the original advice, have even said so.

There’s a trick, though.  You shouldn’t put them into the refrigerator until they have reached the stage at which you want to eat them.  Because although the skin will blacken, the fruit will not ripen once the fruit has been refrigerated — even after it is taken out of the fridge.

I’ve kept them green for more than two weeks.  Just out of curiosity, I’m tempted to put a test banana in the fridge and see just how long it will last.  As long as an apple?  a potato?  a grapefruit?

July 9, 2016

The orange glow

I was intrigued when I was recently reading what I thought initially was a serious review of the research into dementia.  The author – a medical doctor – claimed that curcumin (which includes the spice tumeric) drastically reduces the rate of Altzheimer’s disease, a fact demonstrated by India, where the reported percentage of this debilitating disease is lower than in any other country in the world.

Then I realized what I was reading was an advertisement for tumeric supplements.  Not just any tumeric supplements either.  Only high quality supplements will bring about the desired results.

I started to ask a few obvious questions:

  • What percentage of the population over the age of 60 in India have been in contact with a qualified professional who might have made a diagnosis of some kind of dementia?  I know more than one case in both the US and Britain where an elderly person suffering from dementia is being taken care of by family members and who have not seen a doctor in years.
  • To make matters even less clear, a certain diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is extremely difficult if not impossible without a post-mortem examination of the brain of the affected person.
  • And since the advertisement insisted that the quality of tumeric supplements was important, it may be relevant to ask just what kind and how much of this treasured spice is consumed on average every day in India.

There was no discussion of any of these issues vital to substantiating the claims made.

So to claim that India has a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease than any other country in the world, let alone to claim that this is a result of the fact that so many Indians eat curry spiced with tumeric, is highly dubious.

I have tumeric in something I eat almost everyday because I like it.  I am aware that claims for it are made for curcumin as an antioxidant, for reducing joint pain, the incidence of cancer, brain & heart disease, depression and the side effects of many cancer treatments.  I strongly suspect that tumeric, like many herbs and spices, is very good for us.

But if it’s a miracle, science has not yet proven it.

Sometimes I think the differences between religious faith, political promises, and scientific claims are indiscernible.





February 9, 2016

In the Good News Department

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 3:11 pm

As you have probably noticed, bad news makes news;  good news has to struggle to hit the headlines.

Just today, for instance, the news is about a train crash in Bavaria, Germany which has killed 9 people and seriously injured another 50.  The second headline I saw featured a man who died after setting himself on fire this morning outside Prince William and Kate’s home in London.  Headline number 3 featured the violence in Hong Kong, followed by a revenge killing in Dublin, and the starving refugees fleeing Syria.  Your list might feature different bad news, but I bet it’s mostly depressing.

I’m not blaming the media for this.  Good news is hardly ever as surprising as bad news.  And it’s often boring.  A train crash is news:  the thousands of trains throughout the world today that ran smoothly isn’t.  Or what is there to say about an ordinary shopping day in Dublin or London or Hong Kong?

But I did read some seriously good – and interesting – news today.

The prevalence of dementia among people over the age of 65 in Britain over the last two decades has dropped by some 22% per cent.  And they don’t expect that decline to reverse itself.  Because the improvement seems to be due to improved life style and better health care in general.

As someone who is well over 65, I find this especially good news.
Dorothy & Cathy at about 2 &4 yrs

And especially grateful for parents who gave me an appreciation of the importance of nutrition and exercise on that Ohio farm where I grew up. 


October 25, 2015

Fab Fibs

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:19 pm

One of the more surprising – and hopeful – things I’ve noticed about my life is how often the best things and the worst things that happen to me are the same things.

Fifteen years ago, for instance, when test results showed that my bones were losing density at a dangerous rate, my doctor laid out before me the possibility of an agonizing end of life.  Frankly, this was unambiguously Bad News.

The recommendation was that I start immediately on a regime of biphosphonates.  As I’ve laid out in this blog under the topic of osteoporosis, I decided instead to radically alter my life style, changing my eating habits, started taking calcium supplements and engaging in 30 minutes of targeted exercise daily.

The Good News isn’t just that tests over the last 15 years show that I have increased my bone density and am no longer osteoporotic.

The seriously Good News is all of the other benefits that seem to be flowing from what I have called my FAB-FIBS.

I’m not talking about fabulous fibs I tell myself.  It’s my daily routine of Flexibility, Aerobic, and Balance exercises, followed by another series of Flexibility, Impact, Balance and Strength exercises.  The benefits are multiple.  My strength and energy levels have not degenerated as fast as they other-wise would.  I find that I get an amazing psychological boost from the increased serotonin generated by exercise, and just as surprising, I also find solutions to problems while I’m exercising that evade me when I think about them sitting at the computer screen.  Research suggests that I’m also reducing my chances of cardiac arrest and cancer.

Now seriously:  isn’t that really Bad News that is one of the best things that could have happened to me?

August 24, 2015

my mystery

Filed under: Growing Old,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 3:45 pm

Recently I have been repeatedly overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of human beings.  It’s not an intellectual thing.  It’s just a speechless delight.

Sometimes it’s when I’m watching a game of soccer and I see the beauty and energy of a young man running across the field.  I felt it when I read about the courage and skill and determination of the three Americans who attacked the terrorist on the train in France last week.  Sometimes I watch a child in the supermarket and feel it.  Today I was introduced to Josh Goban – whom I’d never heard of.  But as I watched the video, it came over me again.

If somebody tried to tell me perhaps ten years ago they felt this way, I suspect I would have felt an impatient irritation at such sentimentality.  And I can’t explain it myself.  Even now, I doubt if I were actually talking to anyone reading this post, I would dare to try to express what would probably sound like claptrap.  Maybe it’s a gift that only comes to super-rational people like me with getting old.

But despite everything, despite the terrible horrors we are inflicting on each other and on this amazing world in which we live, despite the fact that we are all going to die and move into we know not what, I think the privilege of being part of this amazing incredible mysterious beauty makes living my life a treasure beyond measure.

I can no other answer make

but thanks, and thanks,

and ever thanks.

Shakespeare – Twelfth Night

August 21, 2015

Senior moments aren’t for dummies

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:19 pm

In a recent birthday party given for him in the town where he lives, Billy Graham told a story about Albert Einstein.

Einstein was on a train when the conductor came around for the passengers’ tickets.  Einstein began looking in his wallet and then in each of his pockets but couldn’t find his ticket.  The conductor assured him that it was all right – that he knew who Einstein was and that he knew he didn’t try to sneak onto trains.

But when the conductor had moved on to the next car, he looked back and saw Einstein on his knees searching under the seat.  The conductor returned to Einstein’s car and assured him that he did not have to find his ticket.  “I know who you are,” he said.

“Yes,” replied Einstein, “I know you know who I am.  And so do I.

“But I don’t know where I’m going.”

July 19, 2015

Me First, Retirement Version

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:13 pm

Parents of young children know the syndrome.  It starts with the first arrival.  It might be the middle of the night but the new baby wants to be fed and will not let you sleep until her needs have been met.  Then there are the unscheduled needs for diaper changes, which gradually emerge into tending to the tears of scratched knees and lost toys.  Then it’s help with homework, parents meetings, walks, bedtime stories, birthday parties, sports events, to name but a few.

Me First demands like these are gradually replaced by “I can do it myself!” demands which, paradoxically, merely change the kind of responses expected of parents.  But Me First demands of work also begin to muscle in at this point too.  Whatever the weather, however tired one may feel, work pressures are real and continuous.

And then comes retirement.  You might think, as I did, that the retired can at last make Me First demands for themselves.

That is emphatically not been my experience.

The last three days are an example.   Thursday night I was awakened shortly after falling asleep about midnight by a ferocious thunderstorm accompanied by torrential rain.  I got out of bed to check that our skylights were securely closed, and fell asleep again.  About an hour later, as the storm continued to rage, my husband and  were both awakened by toilets gurgling.  The outside water was not running through the outside drains quickly enough, and was noisily backing up.  When I’d contemplated the possibility of flooding in our house in the past, it did not include black water rushing out the toilets as the first sign of trouble.  The good news is that the toilets did not eventually over-run, for which I was grateful.

The next morning, though, there was two inches of water in our sun room, soaking the rya carpet, and miscellaneous pools of water in our kitchen, bathroom, hall, and entrance lobby.  Outside was a mess.

Fortunately the day was sunny and we spent the next two days cleaning up, drying out, and clearing moss from the roof which had interfered with water running efficiently into the gutters.  We even felt rather fortunate when we discovered that many places had suffered really serious damage.  The accident and emergency department of our local hospital is closed for another two days as a result of flooding, for instance.

But last night as I was preparing for bed, I switched on a light, and every plug in the house blew.    I got dressed, went out to the meter room and tried to switch the wonky circuit breaker back on.  It didn’t work, and I went to bed.

So this morning I woke up with a brand new Me First demand muscling out my normal Sunday plans.

You see what I mean?  Some thing is always lurking in the background ready to demand attention – whatever you’d been planning on doing.

PS:  I did get the circuit breaker fixed this morning.  If I hadn’t,  I couldn’t be writing this.  I wouldn’t even have had my morning cup of coffee.  Not a bad day so far.  Even if it wasn’t what I’d been planning on.

July 6, 2015


Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:29 pm

We’ve known for a long time that young children learn a second language much more easily than adults.  They can even speak it without a telltale accent imposed by their first language.

And most of us in the developed world, at least, whether we are young or old, have discovered that the young who were introduced to digital languages almost as soon as they could press a button on the tv remote control, are more fluent in computer languages than their elders.

In that context, the very best example of this generational divide was confessed to me by a mother who asked her son in exasperation: But which one is the “any key”?

July 3, 2015

Glimpse of the future

Two days ago was the hottest day ever recorded in Great Britain.  Ever.

When you look at a the globe and see that Great Britain shares a latitude with Siberia, one can appreciate just how hot that was.  The temperature hit 37.4 Centigrade or 99.3 3 Fahrenheit.

I lived for many years in New York City, and also in Spain.  So it wasn’t the hottest day I have ever experienced.  Although after living for 12 years here in England, it felt like the hottest day, and I was utterly exhausted and occasionally nauseous.

It felt like a glimpse of the future.  Environmental change is happening, and that change includes the seemingly contradictory changes reflected in exceptional heat as well as exceptionally cold winters for some, record-breaking droughts along with deadly floods and acidfying oceans.

But personally, the loss of energy I experienced felt like a it could be a glimpse of my own future as well.   If my getting to be seriously old-old is going to feel on a daily basis as tired as I felt during this heat wave, I’m not so sure I’m interested in lasting that long.

June 9, 2015

My kind of nun

NUNSA friend just sent me the link to an eulogy in the Huffington Post, The Atheist and the Nun.  She sent it to me with the note “Thought of you … your kind of nun!”  It is a tribute to a nun whom the columnist, Alice McManus, had known as a student in high school.

Alice was routinely expelled from classrooms and clubs for defending gay rights in the Catholic schools where her parents hoped she would get a good education.  But Sister Pat was different from all the other teachers.  She did not teach me to love God, says Alice.  She taught me to love people.

“I’m still an atheist,” she writes. “But Sister Pat wouldn’t have minded. … Ironically, she also taught me to have faith. Not in God, but in people. Because there are people out there who are just amazing through and through. Who do good everyday for all the right reasons. And for me, that’s even more impressive than an all-powerful being.  Sister Pat herself was a beacon of light and hope — but one that you could touch and hug.  She will be missed.”

I am deeply moved that someone sees Sister Pat as the kind of person I admire, whom I would like to be like.

I do not call myself an atheist.  I do totally dismiss the popular demagogue of a supposedly all-loving, all-forgiving God who can somehow be placated by the tortuous crucifixion of his son, but whose forgiveness nonetheless includes sending people to eternal hell fire for eating meat on a Friday.  But atheists too often in my experience are just as intolerant of believers as some believers are of those who disagree with them.  I prefer to live in the amazing mystery of the universe with the knowledge that understanding it fully is beyond the bounds of human capacities — even those of the great genius.

What I do find astonishing is that praise of people like Sister Pat is so rare.  How did Christianity ever become so distorted as to assign to itself the right to judge which sinners are not “one of us,” to cast them out, to refuse to break bread with them?  How did doctrine ever become more important than loving one’s fellow human beings?

Today, becoming a saint isn’t nearly as popular an ideal as it used to be.  The achievement of sainthood, marked by inexplicable miracles seemingly beyond natural causes, is broadly seen as superstitious unscientific ignorance.  It is being replaced by a desire for celebrity, to be very beautiful, acquire great wealth, or possibly die as a martyr (also known as freedom-fighter or terrorist, depending on your point of view).

But in some deep and terrifying ways, aren’t they are all self-seeking goals for self-aggrandizement?

The older I get, the greater becomes my appreciate for those who love others.  Period.  They don’t need praise or recognition.  Love of those around them is what their lives, ultimately, are for.   I cannot think of any other achievement that I value or admire, however significant, if it is not at the same time imbued with this love of neighbour.

April 11, 2015

Fat Chance

Filed under: Diet,Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:08 pm

Almost two months ago I started my annual task of taking off the excess three pounds weight I’d put on during the Christmas & New Year holidays.

So far I’ve lost two pounds – that’s an average of one pound a month.  Our weather has finally turned the corner, and despite occasional cold and rainy days, we are clearly headed toward spring and working in the garden has increased my opportunity for faster calorie burn.  So I expect to reach my goal by the end of the month.

My arguments with my two-year-old self, however, hit a barrier two days ago with the publication of research here in the UK showing that obese people are less subject to dementia as they age than groups with lower BMI’s.

“YOU SEE!”, said my two-year-old self.  “That chocolate cookie would really be good for me.  And you won’t let me have it!”

So I looked at the research a little more carefully.  Sure enough, obesity – defined as a BMI greater than 26.5 – that begins in middle age, seems to provide some kind of protective factor against dementia, even when factors like alcohol and smoking are taken into account.  Being significantly under-weight in younger years is an even bigger factor predicting dementia, but I’ve never had a BMI approaching 20, which was the dangerous bench mark.  So my two-year-old is eyeing up that chocolate bar.

But there is also significant research suggesting that obesity is associated with increased risk of cancer.

And I do notice that nobody is recommending that people gain weight throughout middle age in order to stave off dementia.  (Although, of course, researchers do think it’s worth finding out what the protective factors are in obesity that seem to reduce dementia risk.)

So right now, I think I’ll stick with my BMI where it is – minus a pound that is.

And No, two-year-old, you can’t have that bar of chocolate until you lose another pound!  And I don’t want to hear from you again that chocolate is good for you.

March 27, 2015

Still living and learning

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:24 pm

When I was a teenager, I had a friend who was genetically Black, but whose skin was light enough for her to pass as white.  I remember her trying to decide as she was preparing to go to university whether she should pass as a white person.  In those days in America there was even more overt prejudice against Blacks than today.  Blacks were forbidden – by law – to eat in the same restaurants, use the same rest rooms, or stay in the same hotels as whites.  They were not allowed to sit in the front seats of the bus, and were expected to give up even their seats in the back if a white person would otherwise be forced to stand.

My friend decided, nonetheless, not to pass as a white.  I’m Black, she said.  Whatever the challenges that come with that, I’m not going to try to pretend my way out of that.

Ten days ago I celebrated by 75th birthday.  To my delight and surprise, so did many friends and family.  They really made me feel like it was a big deal.

But as a 75-year-old I am now subject to some of the considerable prejudice that is often felt toward the elderly in this modern world.  Especially as the baby boom is reaching old age, the younger generation often expresses the view that the old should get out of the way.  These feelings seem to me to be greater here in England than in America, but they exist in both countries and no doubt beyond.

I still don’t look my full age (at least on good days) and  I now have the choice of pretending to be younger than I am  –or at least pretending to myself that I’m fooling other people about my true age.

I’ve decided I’m not going to pretend.  Being 75, like every other year in my life, comes with both its unique challenges and unique joys.   I suspect much of the prejudice against the elderly is a result of our rapidly changing world.  Three-year-olds these days can sometimes explain computer games and devices to their grandparents.  8-year-olds can write code to create apps for the internet browser.  15-year-olds are often taller and stronger than anybody in the family’s older generation.  And often, neither the younger nor the older generation appreciates the well of wisdom and knowledge and even intelligence that this apparently simple grandparent possesses.

There are some things, though, that one can only learn with time. It takes decades to learn that what other people think about you isn’t the final arbiter of worth.  It usually takes just as long to learn that physical beauty or celebrity or money do not automatically generate peace or happiness.  It takes long and hard work to discover that a successful life partnership requires more than sexual passion.  But once one has learned these things, they are a source of great contentment and leave room for much greater joy in things that do indeed make life worthwhile.

Admittedly, I am not suffering from the ill-health, loneliness, mental deterioration, or worries about money that plague many of the elderly.  As for the future, I know no more than anyone else when and how my life will proceed, or how many years I still have to live.

But that does not that mean I cannot embrace the intense joy I so often feel now just because I am alive today.

I’m 75 years old!  And I love it!


February 23, 2015

How do I know what I know I know?

Bee on a rose by lalylaura

Bee on a rose by lalylaura

Shakespeare may have believed that a rose by any other name would still smell just as sweet, but the rose as it is seen or smelled by a bee gathering pollen is very different from the Valentine rose I received .

This example of Immanuel Kant’s epistemology has had a very big influence on my understanding of the world.  Kant said was that what we perceive is always a result not just of the object we are perceiving, but also of the organism which is perceiving it.  There is no way, he argued, to get around that.  We will always be limited to perspectives we  are capable of taking.  So a color-blind person can’t see the difference between red and green.  He might believe other people when he is told there is a difference.  But  he cannot himself perceive it.  When I hear a foreign language, I don’t hear the meaning that someone who speaks that language can hear.

I am not a philosopher, however, and I was shocked to learn that Kant had also argued that music could never be anything more than entertainment, because it did not deal with ideas.  I am sure that any well-read philosopher knows this, but I had no idea Kant was such an intellectualizer.

This matters to me because I often intellectualize.  If I can’t think something through intellectually, I haven’t been convinced I know it.  I often haven’t, in other words, trusted my feelings or my intuition.

I love music, but it is only in my very adult years that I have come to appreciate that I learn something through music that I can’t learn by logic or by applying the scientific method.  The same can be said for all sorts of other kinds of experience which are not strictly-speaking rational or logically arrived at, or which I don’t have the opportunity to examine scientifically.  Being open to my intuitions has almost been like discovering a brand new universe.

I’m not suggesting that intuition is somehow better than scientific reasoning or logical conclusions.   But it is different.  We can understand differently depending on how we arrive there.

And both approaches are subject to error.  Our religious, ethical, or moral convictions may be based on intuition or reasoning.  Either way, we can be wrong.  Obviously sometimes we are, because not only do we personally sometimes change our minds, but the world even today is rife with examples of people defending with their very lives opposing beliefs and principles.  We know that sometimes, somebody is horribly wrong somewhere.

I am not a believer in any religion.  But I am beginning to wonder if we do not need what many people may call their religious convictions, and which I might, these days, call my intuitions.  This whole question of intuition and thinking seems to me to be related to the issue of science and religion.

A subject on which I suspect I am going to risk embarrassing myself by blogging in upcoming days.

February 21, 2015

Beyond red wine: Secrets of a long life

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:48 pm

The following is an interview with Hattie Mae MacDonald of Feague, Kentucky, in the United States.  Hattie is 101 years old.

Reporter:  Can you give us some health tips for reaching the age of 101?

Hattie:   For better digestion I drink beer.  In the case of appetite loss  I drink white wine.  For low blood pressure I drink Red  Wine.  In the case of high blood pressure I drink scotch.   And when I have a cold I drink Schnapps.

 Reporter:  When do you drink water?

 Hattie:   I’ve never been that sick.




February 4, 2015

Weather reporting

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:58 pm

I have noticed as I’ve gotten older that the kind of errors I make when I’m typing have changed.  I don’t think, even with the help of the spell-checker, that they are reduced in number.  But they are different.  Instead of mistakes like writing “teh” instead of “the”, or “winder” instead of “winter,” my fingers seem to tell my brain that they already know what I want to say.  So instead of typing “arrived,” my fingers make up their own words and type “arround” — with 2 r’s yet.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have seen some examples of similar don’t-tell-me-what-to-do wilfulness that escaped my notice and so did not get scrubbed out.

Today, though, I got an email from a friend describing the record-breaking weather in America that I would be proud to say I had authored.  Apparently, NYC has had two accumulations of 5-8 inches of “know.”

But then, may it really was “know.”  She’s settled down in her apartment with a book.

And maybe a glass of wind wine?

October 6, 2014

A saga of senior moments

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:59 pm

For the uninitiated, senior moments are when you can’t remember something you know perfectly well, but which you convince yourself happens to everybody over the age of 50, and is nothing to worry about.

Except at 2 o’clock in the morning, when all the rules change.

Yesterday I transferred a substantial payment on-line to what was supposed to be the account of our roofer who is replacing our aging and rotting fascias, soffits, and gables.  When I asked for the transfer to be made immediately, the bank noted, along with the question “Are you sure you want to make this transfer?”  that it could not be reversed.   Yes, I said, I’m sure, and authorized the transfer of about $3500.

At 2 o’clock this morning I woke up.  OMG, I thought.  Are you sure you typed in the right bank account?  What if you accidentally sent it to the wrong person?  Did you even bother to double-check?  And you haven’t received an acknowledgement from the roofer.

Well, you did send it on a Sunday, said my rational self.  The office was almost certainly closed.

Not to be put off by something as flimsy as reasonable logic, my righteous panic was undeterred.  I finally fell back into a fitful sleep with nightmares about small claims court interspersed with wondering how I was going to confess this financial conflagration I had engineered to my husband.

Nonetheless, I wisely decided the next morning not to mention this dreadful possibility to him over morning coffee but to wait until I had the chance to call the roofer’s office.

The transfer has been made to the right account, and the work is still on schedule to be done next week.

Well, as I’ve said before  –  getting old is interesting.


July 15, 2014

Music for growing old

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 1:47 pm

I have lived, even by the most optimistic projections, at least three-quarters of my life.  So whether people think I look my age or not, whether I am more agile than some, or have on occasion a modicum more energy, I am elderly.

And I must say that I am finding it one of the happiest, and fascinating periods of my life.  Admittedly, I am not suffering from overwhelming physical pain, financial anxiety, or dementia.  How well I would (or will) stand up to any of these possibilities in the future I do not know.  What I do know is that there is a beauty in old age that I find almost breath-taking.  It can bring with it a kind of joy and peace and even wisdom that I didn’t so much as imagine in my youth.

Several days ago I stumbled on this you-tube from a group whose music has for many years delighted me.  They are a group of Cornwall fishermen who have been singing together now for more than two decades, and I have watched them age.  Their latest release demonstrates for me just what I mean about getting old.  Although I am sure their average age is well below mine, I can see that joy and letting go of conflict that old age can offer.

Just watch this video.  There is the physical beauty of the landscape, and the hypnotic rhythm of the tune they are performing.  But for me, the most beautiful part lies in the faces of the singers.  They are simply having a wonderful time.  One of them is even collapsing with laughter.

There’s a beauty there that all the make-up products and hair salons in the world cannot produce.  All those signs of aging don’t have to be rubbed out for someone to be beautiful.

My hair hasn’t turned grey yet.  But when it does, there’s no way I’m going to try to hide it.

July 2, 2014

The limitations of prediction

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:41 pm

I’ve been pondering the fact that the number of posts I have been writing in recent months are getting fewer and fewer.

Why, I wonder.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to blog about.  I find it impossible to read about what is going on in the world and not find myself mentally blogging.  It might be about economics, climate change, war, religion, even the possibilities of humans managing to wipe ourselves off the face of the earth.  Or it might be more light-hearted things – like Dolly Parton being the most popular act at the Glastonbury music festival last week.

So why aren’t I writing more?  it’s something I have been doing since I was ten years old.  What’s happening?

I don’t know.  I am finding myself driven out doors to be more physically active than I can ever remember. Since I tire more easily, I often sit here in front of my computer screen too exhausted to string three coherent sentences together.  But I don’t know why I’m choosing to work outside rather than write more.

One of the things that is fascinating me is how hard it is to plan reasonably about how to get old.  When we’re young, barring the unexpected, we have some idea of how our capacities will develop over the years.  We have some idea ahead of time what it’s going to be like to be 20 or 30, or even 60.  But the energy and health levels get more and more unpredictable as we move into our 70’s and beyond.  Will we be able to handle this garden in ten years?  even in five years?  will I reach a point when I can’t handle my own bank accounts, or do my own tax returns?  What about cleaning?  and cooking? in  fifteen years?  twenty?

I’m beginning to understand how life overtakes people in their old age.  I have no desire to move into a care home at this point.  But when or if I need to, will I be too old to engineer it?

I’m not afraid of dying, although I can’t say I’m looking forward to leaving this fascinating place we call life on earth.  I’m just not 100% sure how not to let my last precious years drizzle away in an unfocused haze.

Getting old is a different kind of challenge than I thought it was going to be.

March 22, 2014

Last voucher?

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:33 pm

In 1957 I was a teenager when I caught the Asian flu.  I was very sick, but the doctors said it was a new strain and those of us who got it would probably have immunity to the flu for many years.  It was 30 years before I had the flu again, and another 15 before I got it a second time.  I was sick enough that time to think I might die, but also sick enough to go back to sleep and promise to worry about it if I woke up.

Two weeks ago I came down with the 2014 version of the flu.  I haven’t been sick enough to think I was dying, but I do understand why it kills people, especially the elderly.  The worst of it, after the incessant hacking cough, is that I can’t get rid of it.  Every time I think I’ve finally vanquished it, I start coughing again, or fatigue sweeps over me and even the most mundane daily jobs seem gargantuan.  Which is why my last post was March 15.   I’m missing my cyber-conversations, though, so hope to return without too much delay.

But I am thinking perhaps I’ve used up my last flu-protection voucher issued in 1957.




January 29, 2014

I ain’t gonna study war…

I’ve been struggling with the question of war once again in response to The Game of War, a recent post on the Writer’s Treehut blog.  Then this morning I found  Ain’t Gonna Study War No More in my email, sent by a friend in memory of Pete Seeger who died two days ago.  I’ve been listening to folk songs from the 60’s and 70’s all day.

I was not prepared for the depth of feeling aroused by a return to this time in my life.  I remembered again how strongly I felt about war, about racial discrimination, about the poor.  And I thought again that we were right.

Oh yes, we were naive, and innocent, and simple.  But we were right about war.  We were right about loving each other.  We were right that we needed to care about each other.  And we were willing to go out there and fight for what we thought was right.  We were not all just sitting around in communes smoking pot and passing flowers to each other in a land of complete sexual liberty.  People literally died in the firing lines of the fight.

But we had no idea then just how unclear and how long the road for peace, for civil rights, for justice, and against poverty was.  I think we thought that the world could be turned around in a generation — our generation, in fact.  Now I look at the continued and increasing horrors of war and floods of refugees, at the environmental degradation, at the increasing difference between the rich and poor, and I never dreamed in those days that it could possibly become so bad.

We had no idea the problems we thought we could solve were so complex.  I think we still don’t.  Actually,  we don’t need to “study war no more,” but to study war and poverty and the environment and our impulse to kill each other a lot more.  We need to understand ourselves, our motivations, the conditions which bring out the best and the worst much better than we do.

Is there something about war, for instance, that we do truly find glorious and heroic?  The BBC is showing a surprisingly good documentary on World War I right now.  I learned last night that the prime minister, and at different times, members of the cabinet broke down in tears, several men even resigned their posts, as they contemplated the oncoming war.   What they saw was Germany set on control of the entire European continent.  So they saw no alternative to war.   Was there?  Were there alternatives that would have been better than those four ghastly years that killed 8 million troops and almost as many civilians?  Was there an alternative to what was basically a continuation of this war in World War II during which 66 million people died?

This very day, negotiators are gathered in Geneva struggle to find an alternative to the continuing civil war in Syria.  Northern Ireland has still not fully resolved its conflict, and Africa today is seeing the daily carnage of war.

I’m old now, and there is little I can see that I might contribute to the solutions we humans have created for ourselves.

But the truth is, young or old, none of us can do it alone.  In fact, each of us can do so little by ourselves that the great temptation is to despair.  We can touch the lives of only a very small number of people.  Our kindness can reach only a very small circle.  Our individual problem-solving must be focused or we won’t answer any questions at all.  We each must be satisfied to do our small bit, and hope that others do too.

We’re all in this together.  Even the most powerful, the most gifted, the most sainted need others.





January 28, 2014

Fried eggs or a copper pot

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:28 pm
Tags: ,

A friend who knows I am also a cognitive psychologist just sent me an email she thought I might find of interest:

“A cognitive psychologist friend of mine sent on a piece of trivia:  research has shown that intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.  i am now wearing my copper pot as a hat.    hope it works.   on the street today as i took my daily walk, folks seemed to be treating me with more respect… “



Under the influence of Bette Midler, I’ve always thought the magic trick was a fried egg.  I do try to wear it on the inside though.  I  think it’s more considerate of others not to parade my gifts.

January 26, 2014

New Year’s resolution adjustment

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:57 pm

My New Year’s resolution just over three weeks ago was to read at least one hour every day.  I’ve now tweaked it a little.  Because I can’t read a full straight hour anymore without starting to nod.  So the second half hour of my “reading” was pretty much wasted.

My first alternatives to reading were to play another computer game, or to grab something surgary, preferably something sugary with chocolate.  That, the snake in the tree said to me, would give me a boost of energy and then I could return to reading with a more lively mind.

All right, I knew the snake was leaving out half the consequences of this latter solution.  My fatigue would return quite quickly, and it would not take long for that sugary chocolate to transform itself into a little bit more stored fat than I needed.  More sensibly, I thought about introducing a daily nap in to my schedule.  But I found I wasn’t tired enough.

So I’m now onto an adjusted resolution.  I’m reading for two half-hour bits every day.

In the process, I’ve discovered something else.  It might be the German in me, but I like living on a schedule.  I am now scheduling my day much more definitively in 30-60 minute slots, and I’m getting much more done.  Or at least, I think I am, and I feel much less unpegged and potentially anxious.  I haven’t got much time to play computer games, which I didn’t enjoy anyway, even as I compulsively pressed the icon for one more game of mahjong.

Of course, life has a way of interfering with schedules.  So I have to be a little bit flexible when we wake up to find the kitchen floor flooded with last night’s rain.  Or I break another molar, requiring three previously unscheduled visits to the dentist.  Or the electricity shuts off and it takes the entire afternoon of experimentation to discover that the immersion heater in the hot water tank is what keeps shorting the system.

Whatever else though, 2014 has not been boring.  Though I do have a few suggestions to the gods of fate for future diversions.  Winning the lottery would be interesting, for instance.

January 18, 2014

What do you think about your mother?

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Teaching,The English — theotheri @ 4:53 pm

Shortly after leaving the convent and before I met my husband, someone gave me a piece of advice that still looks brilliant to me.  “If you want to know whether your perspective husband will see you as an equal, don’t look to his father;  find out what he thinks about his mother.”

It worked for me.  My husband’s mother wanted to be a teacher, but she had to leave school at the age of twelve to support her family.  Nonetheless, Peter thought she was extremely intelligent, with equal amounts of determination and energy.  When I met her I agreed.  At the time, I was wondering whether I was wasting my life as an educator.  She never expressed regret about the opportunities life had not offered her.  But just knowing her  convinced me that giving an education to a young person is one of the most wonderful gifts we can bestow.

I was reminded of that advice recently.  I am now in my 70’s and sometimes subject to the kind of prejudice against the elderly that unfortunately I see quite often here in Britain.  It may be compounded for women compared to men,  and in addition I rarely tell people that I have a Ph.D.  So if young people, particularly young men seriously listen to what I have to say, I notice.

I have a new dentist who I bet has a mother whom he respects.  He’s young, and on my first visit told me that I hadn’t just lost the filling on the tooth I was concerned about, but needed a root canal.  So I grilled him.  I told him I’d already had one root canal done by someone who didn’t know what they were doing, and that I did not approach another procedure with automatic trust.  I asked him about his background and experience, and he was completely unthreatened.  I couldn’t look up his record the way I could in the U.S., but I decided that someone who was able to answer my questions without being aggressive or defensive felt confident in his abilities.  So I decided to stay with him.  Yesterday he put the crown on the finished job.  It looks and feels terrific.

I didn’t think that I had the right to ask him what he thinks about his mother.  But I bet he has a high opinion of her.  Or if not his mother, a grandmother, aunt, older sister, or teacher.

I’d love to know.

January 15, 2014

Even my senior moments are organized

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 3:27 pm

I think it is my German DNA, but I am, above all else, organized.  Not obsessively clean — a layer of dust or a stray spider web in the corner don’t bother me much.  But I am an obsessive organizer.

Yesterday I realized this extends even to my “senior moments,” which occur most often in terms of names.  You’d  think that if one can’t remember something that by definition it can’t be organized.  My insight to the contrary came as I was trying to remember the name of a plant in our garden given to us by a friend several years ago.  I spend five frustrating minutes using the usual trick of describing the object I’m trying to remember, which often leads to success, but still came up with that irritating tip-of-the-tongue blank.  Except that I was pretty sure the plant’s name began with an “A.”

So I went to Google, typed in “perennial plants in the UK,” in the search line and went to a gardening site which listed their offerings in alphabetical order.

Sure enough, there it was – Acanthus!

January 2, 2014

My 5-minute trick supplement

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:54 pm

In my earlier post about New Year’s resolutions I described The “5-minute trick” I use to keep my craving for sugar under control.  I have found that if I can delay my urge to have “just one more” for 5 minutes, and if during that five minutes I concentrate on something else besides that blessed temptation shouting out at me, the chances are greatly increased that the craving will greatly diminish or even disappear.
Since then, I was reading an research article about exercise as an aid to dieting, which reportedly found that one of the most effective techniques for dealing with food cravings is to engage in ten minutes or so of aerobics.  But another piece of research found that engaging in as little as 3 sessions of 45 second intense aerobic exercise at 3 minute intervals has an even greater effect for some individuals.  The theory is that it works because aerobic exercise stimulates that part of the brain where rational thought predominates, and so reduces the influence of the part of the brain that is responsible for irrational and often destructive cravings.  Short bouts of intense exercise can also, for some people, actually increase overall energy.

So I’m going to try it.  It might be another one of those crazy ideas like cabbage-soup diets or those other fads that eventually return to the oblivion which they deserve.

But I can’t see that I have anything to lose.  And those five minutes with a couple of aerobic bouts might work.  In which case, it’s a 2-for-1 gain:  less sugar, more energy, better brain.   At least I might be able to tell myself it’s making a difference…

I’ll report back in the spring with my assessment.




November 12, 2013

I might be a genius

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:41 pm

I’ve never had a brilliant memory.  I remember discovering in second grade that it was often easier to figure things out than to rely on brute remembering.  I did manage to memorize the multiplication tables up to 12, but Peter can still quote long passages from Shakespeare and poets like W.H. Auden and remembers facts that have passed into oblivion for me.

And these days I’ve noticed I am increasingly searching for lost words.  Being a compulsive researcher, I even contemplated keeping track of just how many words I found myself searching for in a week.  I now sort of wish I had gone through with it, because something interesting has happened.

Lack of vitamin B12 is often a cause of memory loss, particularly as we get older, so a month ago I started to take a vitamin B12 tablet every morning with breakfast.

The question is whether my memory has improved.

I am lacking any hard data on the number of times I am currently searching for lost words.  But I do play various computer  games like Solitaire and Free Cell, which keep track of my win/loss rate.  My Solitaire win rate has gone from 20 to 35%, and I’m winning all 100% of the games on Free Cell.

I know it’s not an intelligence test.

But do you think I might be developing into a genius?

November 1, 2013

Learning from the children

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 9:36 pm

I read once that Einstein said that the idea of relativity of time first came to him from a child.

I am under no illusion that my current learning from children will lead to an insight comparable with the relativity of time, but I do find myself giving myself the kind of advice I used to give to children when they were learning something new.  Things like “yes, you can do it, but you have to be patient.”  And “Just take it one step at a time.”  Or “Don’t try to do it so fast;  you’ll figure it out faster if you go slowly.”  “Blaming somebody else won’t solve the problem.  Neither will getting mad.”

On a more encouraging level, I keep myself going by self-feedback like “That’s a good idea!  Let’s try that and see if it works.”  or suggestions like “Take a break.  Sometimes you figure things out when you’re doing something else.”

And then there’s the fall back “You can ask for help.”

We got a new tablet today and I have used every one of these strategies to get it to connect to the internet and more.

Unfortunately, it’s still not working.  I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something wrong with it.

On the other hand, I’m old enough to suspect that the chances are that the locus of the problem isn’t with the tablet.

But I’m going to take my advice and close down for the night.

October 13, 2013

Peanut butter panic

Filed under: Growing Old,Worries — theotheri @ 2:59 pm
Tags: , ,

Last night at about ten o’clock, I read a review of  some introductory research suggesting that the loss of the sense of smell is one of the earliest signs of dementia.  Specifically, if the sense of smell is more impaired in the left nostril, it may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.  If the greater impairment is in the right nostril, it may indicate some other form of cognitive impairment.

The research used about a tablespoon of peanut butter with a blind-folded patient who was instructed to indicate when they could smell it.  A difference of about ten centimeters (four inches)  in the distance between  when the peanut butter was detected by the right and left nostrils turned out to be significant.

I dashed into the kitchen and dished up a soup -spoon of peanut butter.  It could hardly be called a blind study, since it was self-administered, but it seemed to me I couldn’t smell peanut butter with either or both nostrils, at any distance.  I dug around the cupboards for something more strongly scented, but although curry powder made me sneeze, I couldn’t actually say I could smell it.  Ditto for the vinegar, orange, and tomato juice.

My scientifically validated conclusion, based on this evidence, is that either a) my allergies are still acting up, b) I’ve never had a good sense of smell, c) peanut butter doesn’t have a smell, or d) I’m in the late stages of cognitive impairment.  (Notice how I have cleverly omitted the possibility that I’m in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.)

I have noticed, though, that I have to concentrate harder than I used to when I’m working on cognitive tasks or trying to figure out a problem — like how to make some new gadget work that three-year-olds can figure out in about as many minutes.

I also  concluded many years ago that achieving true and honest self-knowledge makes understanding quantum physics look easy.

So if I’m really loosing it, some complete stranger reading this blog will probably know it well before I do.

September 29, 2013

Why do I care at all?

A comment following my post yesterday asked why I care at all about what happens to the structure of the Roman Catholic church, or about whether it might change from bottom-up after changes from the top-down have clearly failed.

Actually, I wrote the post as a result of discovering yet another of my unrecognized Catholic assumptions.  You’d think after almost half a century during which I no longer considered myself a Catholic that I wouldn’t still be discovering ways in which I am unconsciously thinking like one.  But it was only when I heard someone express the view that if Pope Francis can’t change the Vatican-controlled structure of the church, he will be a failure that I recognized this same unspoken assumption in my own thinking.

A study of history shows that power is rarely yielded by those who hold it.  Cultural and social structures change when the people no longer recognize their authority as legitimate.  Why would the Roman Catholic church be any different?  It won’t.

Do I care?  I do not take my direction from the church.  But many people do, and in that sense, I care to the extent that any powerful institution is as bigoted and sexist as the Roman Catholic church so often is.  But I do not see myself involved in any attempts to try to change that particular institution – from below, from above, or from the outside.

One thing I do ponder occasionally, however, is the recognition that some of my values were rooted in my early socialization as a Catholic.  They are values like a respect for truth, for the rights of others, for the value of work.  Not uniquely Catholic or even Christian values.  But it is where I first learned them.

I am grateful.

September 8, 2013

On Greatness

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:52 pm

Abandoned Yugoslav Monuments

“All the great men are dead.

And I’m not feeling too well myself.”


Mark Twain

August 4, 2013

Generation gap

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 1:45 pm


Pickles by Brian Crane




For those days when I think I know best…




July 13, 2013

What’s good for the goose…

When I was a graduate student not too far off half a century ago, I remember addressing the question in philosophy asking if the human mind is capable of ever fully understanding the universe and how it works.

The answer is that, although we will never exhaust our potential for learning more, we will never achieve a complete understanding of the world in which we live either.  Our minds are not sufficiently capable of transcending the kind of time and space in which we were created to survive.

This rarely  emerges as an urgent problem for most of us.  Many of us (and I include myself) don’t even understand what it is that we don’t understand.  I don’t really understand, for instance, how negative and positive electrons whirling around the nucleus of an atom produce electricity, which in turn runs all the appliances in my house with a simple switch.   Some people do.  But even physicists have no idea how some of our most basic, even everyday processes work.  Gravity is one example.  Thanks to Newton, scientists can describe gravity mathematically, but even Newton said it was a complete mystery how objects can act on each other over distances of millions of light years.  We still can’t explain it, and the number of events in which this kind of thing occurs has expanded with the evidence leading to quantum physics.  In fact, the more we learn, the longer the list gets of things we can’t fully explain.

Some people explain everything we don’t understand – and a lot that we do – with the concept of “God.”  They conclude that there must be a God, for instance, because there isn’t any other explanation for how the universe came into existence.  What people mean by the term “god,” however, varies.  God for some is a kind of all-powerful dictator whose all-encompassing love seems subject to irrational tirades during which anybody in the way gets punished for displeasing him.  Others have a  more transcendent, even mystical, idea of god, beyond simple anthropomorphic description.  Finally, there are those who decline to use the god explanation at all, and prefer to live with unanswered questions, or even in mystery.

So I Got It Wrong

The interesting thing for me, though, is that our certainty about some of the most important questions in life does not seem to depend on whether we believe in god or not.  I’ve been accused of being on my way to hell for straying from the Path of Righteousness, but I’ve heard non-believers make accusations about the pig-headedness of believers with the same level of intolerance.

I have convictions by which I live, and for which I would fight.  I think, for instance, that it is morally despicable to refuse an abortion to a woman to save her life and who is in the process of a miscarriage which was going to result in any case in the death of the fetus.  Yet that is what happened in Ireland, and members of Parliament who have just voted to change the law so this will not happen again have been accused of a sin so grave that they deserve to burn in eternal hell-fire.

But how do I know that some of my convictions are not as wrong-headed as I think some convictions of others are?  And would it not be as wrong for others to follow my convictions simply because I tell them I am right as it would be for me to follow their convictions because they say I’m destined for hell?

No.  Difficult as it is, we each have to follow our own conscience, and respect others who must do the same.

Even if they do disagree with me.

July 11, 2013

An aging day

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 4:09 pm

As I’ve said before, I’m finding that for me growing old is a surprisingly fascinating experience which mostly I am enjoying.

Aging does have its down sides, however.  I have to arrange my day differently so that I don’t run out of energy to do what I’ve committed to get done.  And I forget words with an annoying frequency.

What I don’t do very often is lose things.  That’s not because my memory is so brilliant, but because I’m compulsively organized.  Things have a place, and most of the time that’s where I put them.

Which is why I suppose I have never before in my life lost my car keys.

But three days ago I couldn’t find my keys or the attached fob that operates the alarm… 

And the car was locked and the burglar alarm was on.  I was able to use my spare key to open the door, but the battery in the fob which turns the alarm off was flat.  So I’m sitting in the car frantically pushing buttons before the entire neighbourhood is running over to tell me I have a problem.  I already knew I had a problem all right as I desperately paged through the car manual which helpfully told me that the ONLY way to turn off the alarm is with the fob.

Finally, with the alarm still blaring, I jumped into Peter’s car and drove to our local garage where we have our cars serviced.  He changed the battery in the fob for me, and said that should at least give me enough peace to find the lost keys.

That was three days ago.

But the problem, I have discovered, with having a place for everything, is that one soon runs out of obvious places to look when something isn’t where it belongs.  I’ve been through drawers, under chairs, through the trash, under the car, in the workshop, even under our mattress.  I can’t think of any more obvious places to search.  I’ve even run out of the impossible places to look.

I have two hypotheses left.  Did someone walk in and lift the car keys?  This is about ten times less likely than my winning the lottery.  Besides, if they lifted the keys, why didn’t they take the 14-year-old car, which is worth all of $250 on the open market?  So I’m not contacting the police with my problem.

The second possibility is that the keys were somehow dropped into the trash which, unfortunately, was picked up the morning before I realized they were gone.

So today I finally phoned the dealer to order a new key and fob which is uniquely coded to operate only the burglar alarm on the car.  The cost is about $250.

I think it’s the kind of thing that speeds up the aging process.

Still, it could be an awfully lot worse, couldn’t it?  I won’t say I actually feel lucky.

But in my heart of hearts, I know I am.

May 5, 2013

When less is more

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:47 pm

When I was a young faculty member, I remember a faculty member who kept agitating for our department to teach a course in geriatrics.  How boring, I thought.  Who wants a course about old age when all the exciting things in life are finished.

Oh my my my.  How wrong I was.

Getting old is one of the most fascinating, unexpected, and often enjoyable experiences of my life.

Yes, neither my husband or I are suffering from some of the diseases that typically appear among the retired that can cause so much pain and distress.  And although we’re not rich, we are not poor and we don’t have to choose between eating and heating, which is my short-hand definition of poverty.

And many of the challenges of one’s younger years are already faced as well.  I don’t worry much anymore if people like me, if I’ve attractive enough, if my chosen career has any intrinsic value.

But getting old is also rewarding in itself.  Just having a life to live somehow seems more wonderful, more amazing.  And terribly surprising.  I find all sorts of things I never appreciated before are now quite beautiful.

I have less energy than I used to though, and I have developed a strategy that I find is essential if I’m not going to drive myself absolutely mad.  I get a great deal more satisfaction if I set goals for myself that are realistic in terms of what I can reasonably accomplish today – not what I could do even five years ago.

Less really is more.  I go to bed at night feeling much happier if I have accomplished my more modest achievements for the day than if I go over an impossibly long list of things I said I was going to do and didn’t.

All of which is a rather long explanation about why I’m not blogging every day anymore.

I do hope it’s included in the times when less is more.

March 22, 2013

The you that is me

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:06 pm

I just want to clarify that my post yesterday, “Sermon to myself” really was meant to be a sermon to myself, and not to the reader.  It was a soliloquy about what makes me happy, energized, feeling as if I am living my life as it was given to me to be lived.

I’m someone who simply loves to work.  The last day I left the university, I sat in my car and sobbed.  I loved the challenge of the students, I loved the self-discipline and continued critical thinking that being a university professor called for.  I didn’t see retirement as a holiday but rather as a chance to learn different things, to face new tasks.  I’ve written two books since retiring, learned how to build walls, tile around pools, grow lemon trees, fix electrical appliances, and appreciate just how profoundly different cultures really are.

So my sermon to myself was very personal – it was not advice to other retirees.  It was merely a reminder to myself that in truth I can’t sit still and be happy.  In part, that’s a limitation.  It makes me very goal-oriented but not so good at letting go and simply appreciating the glory of the moment.

I thrive best with a schedule.  Not a schedule with rigid inflexibility, not a schedule which does not take into account the changing needs of age in myself or my husband and friends.  But I don’t do well with days filled with complete spontaneity, asking myself every quarter of an hour or so “what shall I do next?”

It’s the way I am.  But certainly not the way everybody should be.  Thank goodness they aren’t.   They’d drive me crazy.




March 21, 2013

Sermon to self

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:52 pm

You get more done and have more energy even at the end of the day if you live by a schedule.  A realistic one that is not inflexible in the light of unexpected events, but one that you take seriously.  This was easier when employment imposed certain non-negotiable requirements.  The older you get, the more you have to be self-disciplined.  You are not the kind of person who enjoys retirement as a kind of extended vacation.

Looking at a list of the things you want to get done on a day and then playing five games of Free Cell while you decide which one to tackle first saps your energy, interferes with your ability to think critically, and doesn’t help you decide anyway.

A schedule is not the same thing as a list of things to do.  You get more done if you set time limits for yourself.


February 12, 2013

That Tree of Knowledge

Another blogger writing a series of thoughts on biblical stories asked last week about those two famous trees in the garden of Eden – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Why weren’t they just called the Tree of Life and the Tree of Death?

That tree of knowledge caused me a certain amount of consternation in my earlier days.  It was suggested to me more than once that using my intelligence was a sign of hubris and unwillingness to serve others with humility.  And indeed, it did seem to me that the Genesis story did teach that the pursuit of knowledge is what began the cascade of good and evil which ultimately leads to death.

Obviously I don’t agree with that interpretation.  But I don’t think either that is what the original story in Genesis was meant to convey at all.  First of all, I think the word “knowledge” does not refer to information or intelligence, but to behavior.  I think it is used here with the same meaning often used in the bible to refer to carnal knowledge – to “know” one’s wife is to have sexual intercourse with her.  In this case, I think the “knowledge” of good and evil refers to engaging in behaviors that are destructive.  Like Cain murdering Abel.

I’m not convinced either that the Genesis story meant to suggest that before Adam and Eve human death did not exist.  The Hebrews do not seem to have preached this.

My own view is that what Genesis was saying is that there is a kind of alienation from life  which the human kind of knowledge seems uniquely capable of creating.  In our religious, philosophical, and scientific pursuits, we often set ourselves apart and above every other being in the universe.  We separate ourselves, we see ourselves as totally different.  In this isolation, our individual death really is the end of everything.  We do not see ourselves as part of a larger world, as participating in a process that is far greater than our few measured years.

We also often cut ourselves off from learning from other life forms which have not tasted of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  All living beings do not flee death in terror.  Although I am in good health, as I am getting older, I can even feel a potential letting go in myself.  I have had the privilege of being with animals and with some humans as they have reached the end of their lives.  In both, I have sometimes seen a deep, almost transcendent, sense that it is time to go.  There has not been a terrified struggle, but a peaceful letting go, a sense that this part of the story is finished.

I’m not talking about the frenzied rush which engulfs living things faced with premature death.  I saw it in the spider which managed to get into my shower at eleven o’clock last night.  I saw it on the face of a woman today who thought she had stepped into the path of an on-coming car.  It is something that most of us have experienced in the face of grave danger.

I’m talking about the general knowledge that we are going to die some day in the unspecified future.  I’m not convinced that the fear that engulfs many people as a result of simply knowing that at some point this life is going to end is intrinsically “natural.”  It is a fear that comes with the tree of Knowledge.  But it’s not a tree of true Knowledge.  It’s a tree of denial, of false superiority, of losing contact with what we really are, and where we truly belong.

That tree of knowledge of good and evil is the Genesis explanation of death because it is a tree of alienation.  Metaphorically, it is we who walked out of the Garden of Eden, and are now spinning around in ungrounded fear.

But I think we can go home again.  I think we can learn again to love what we are and our place in the universe – however mysterious that is.

February 11, 2013

The resignation of the pope

Benedict XVI announced today that he is resigning at the end of this month.  He said that he was too old to continue to do the job required of the pontiff.

If that is the real reason, I admire his capacity for self-knowledge.  It has seemed to me over the years that one of the great challenges of old age which too many of us fail is to recognize that we can’t do what we used to do.  We might have accomplished a great deal, we might have been great leaders in our fields of endeavour, our contributions may have been significant.

But no matter how large or small our achievements may have been, we do not stay at the top of our game.  Our physical and mental energies decrease.  We are not what we were.

And quite possibly, the higher up the tree one has climbed, the harder it is to recognize this.

So if Benedict has in truth been able to recognize that he simply no longer belongs in the position of leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, I think his decision is one that many of us need to emulate in our own small ways.

But of course in this age of lost innocence, one cannot help but wonder.  The popes have declared themselves infallible, but it has thus far been beyond even a pope to declare himself incorruptible, competent and wise.

Is there some scandal threatening to emerge, some new cover-up of hierarchical corruption, paedophilia, or hypocrisy that is what the pope really does not have the strength or courage to face?

I don’t know.  Obviously I don’t know.  I do hope this decision is one of humility and wisdom.  If it is, it may perhaps be one of the biggest benefits to the church of this pontiff’s reign.

January 16, 2013

Something to really look forward to

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:00 pm

Researchers at Penn State University have just published a long-term study of almost 500 people at least 75 years of age.

They have reached the conclusion that if you’re 75 or older, you can pretty much eat what you want.  That includes sugar and fat.  You can even gain weight your doctor would disapprove of at an earlier age.

I haven’t reached 75 yet, but during the morning as I waltzed around the supermarket doing my weekly shop, I thought of what it would be like to take off the restraints.  I even indulged in a chocolate nut cookie when I got home in anticipation of that magical 75 marker a few years hence.

But I’m not convinced.

I could become a sugar-addict in about ten minutes.  And every Christmas holiday I demonstrate to myself just how easily I can put on a couple of pounds.  What if I did that all year?  I have more energy with my weight the way it is.  And energy is the one thing I nurture in my senior years.  It disappears too fast already.  I don’t need to make things worse with extra pounds I don’t need.

Still, chocolate nut cookies are a tempting consolation…

December 13, 2012

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:56 pm

My husband and I are both book-o-philes, and have been collecting books since we each could read, a process that took a leap forward by the time either of us had enough money to walk into the used bookstores proliferating in most university towns.

We have over the years given away boxes and bags full of books by consoling ourselves that someone else could benefit from their riches.  Even still, we have something like 200 running feet of bookshelves crammed with books.

Given our ages, and the likelihood that we are not going to read most of these books again, we have been giving some consideration to those who will have to deal with what we leave behind.  Disposing of our books is a complicated business, not only because there are so many but because some are valuable, some are keepsakes, some are dated.

We have been anguished, though, to discover that along with the old travel books, our encyclopedias are unwanted.  We have 50 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Social Sciences that nobody wants.  In my experience, the Oxfam book store will take almost anything with print on the pages, but before lugging the books over there, I phoned and asked if they could use them.  They offered to let us use their recycling bin.  Two other book collectors gave us similar answers.

So I am, volume by volume, ripping them up.  They will go into our green bin to begin a new life as garden compost.

I know this is a process fundamental to the entire universe.  Nothing stays the same.  Everyone and everything keeps becoming.  Identity is never permanent.

Nonetheless, I think I find it easier to think about my own composting future than I am finding destroying these books.  Each page I rip out feels like a blasphemy.

November 19, 2012

This isn’t for old people like you, grandma…

The weekend newspapers have several stark reminders about just how much has changed since I was young.  One paper had an entire page discussing whether parents should take their children with them on their honeymoon, and then featured places where parents might go should they decide to be accompanied by their offspring.

Today I read that children as young as three are being taught computer code like HTML and JavaScript.  The Education Department thinks every child between the ages of 5 and 7 should (I’m not kidding)  “be able to use algorithms to write simple programs, store and retrieve data and know ways in which information is represented digitally.”  Algorithms?!  At age five?

On the other hand, there was also an article on schools’ needing to teach children approaching adolescence how to write.  By write, I don’t mean how to structure an essay or tell a story.  I mean how to actually form the letters of the alphabet with a pen or pencil.  They are children who have learned to communicate exclusively through texting.  Some of them seem able to negotiate a smart phone pad with two thumbs as fast as I can type on the original keyboard.  They can send messages around the world, but can’t write an old-fashioned note using paper and pencil.

But it was the discussion of teenage-speak used on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter than made me realize that times have really changed.  I understand OMG and btw and LOL, but I would need a whole translation service to read texting.  For anyone over forty, the London Times lists the following examples to test whether you are as bi-lingual as you thought:

  • POS  parent over shoulder
  • IDK  I don’t know
  • JK  just kidding
  • G2G  got to go;
  • LN  last night
  • S^  what’s up?  (this is my favourite)
  • NMJCU  not much, just chilling, you?
  • YOLO  you only live once
  • I43  I love you   (personally, I don’t understand the logic of this code even when it’s translated)
  • IKR  I know, right?
  • 5  wait a few minutes
  • 55  coast is clear  (I don’t think I could have figured this out myself in a lifetime)
  • A?S?L?  age, sex, location?
  • DW  don’t worry
  • K  OK
  • B4N  bye for now
  • BBL  be back later
  • BG  big grin
  • BST  but seriously though
  • B&  banned
  • CTS  changing the subject
  • CWYL:  chat with you later
  • EAK  eating at keyboard
  • F2P  free to play
  • LTNS  long time no see
  • OTP  on the phone
  • QT  cutie
  • TT2T  too tired to talk

I do wonder, though, just how many of the above the average teenage could translate.  Does any reader out there have any resident teenage subjects to ask?

PS:  FYI, I failed.  I got 4 items right – QT, K, 5, and IDK.    By the grading system I grew up with, that would give me a grade of 14%.  60% would have earned me a D if the teacher was being charitable.  14% would have resulted in an automatic demotion.

I’m reminded of the grandmother who told me her three-year-old granddaughter took the TV remote from her saying “I’ll do it for you, Grandma.  This isn’t for old people like you.”

Talk about role-reversals.

November 16, 2012

The joy of de-cluttering

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:35 pm

I know I speak for many when I say that when you reach a certain age, one begins to put as much effort into getting rid of a lot of the things one spent a great deal of effort acquiring.

There is not a room in our house that does not provide the potential joy of de-cluttering.  There are clothes – some are fit only for another climate or for activities in which I no longer engage;  some short shirts are no longer appropriate for public appearances by someone older than 40, some are worn out.  And some are simply excess to requirements.  I don’t need two pairs of high boots, four winter caps, two parkas, three purses, eight scarves – or whatever it is that’s in the next drawer down.

The kitchen yields a surfeit of dishes, pots and pans, glasses, jars, bottles, vases,  flatware, utensils, and cookbooks.

Speaking of books –  we have thousands.  It feels almost like a sacrilege to throw a book away, even if it is a travel book written 35 years ago about the best places to stay.  Mostly I put them into plastic bags and push the burden onto Oxfam.

Then there’s jewelry.  I rarely wear jewelry anymore, partly because styles have changed, partly because even in the theatre people tend to wear jeans unless they are coming in from the suburbs, and partly because on the subway or walking home through the city at night, jewelry on display doesn’t seem like a good idea.  The worst pieces of jewelry are potentially valuable pieces I have inherited.  I don’t have relatives who wear these things, but I have to convince myself that not keeping them isn’t a betrayal of those who have left them to me.

Then there is that collection of gadgets and machines and utensils that promised to magically solve the problems of cleaning, repairing, renewing, extending, adapting, updating and transforming.  I don’t buy much magic anymore, and I don’t use many of those we’ve acquired.  The vacuum cleaner and lawn mower are still in frequent use, but the nano-cleaner for the front walk, the steam mop for the tile floors, and the printer that doesn’t work with the version of Windows I now have on my computer are all excess to requirements.

Research shows that as people let older, they generally get happier.  Maybe having less stuff is as liberating for others as it is for me.


October 24, 2012

Updating the new decade

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 2:17 pm

About every ten years or so, I become aware that my energy level is just a little less than it used to be.  Up until now I haven’t had to take that too seriously, but recently I’ve been experimenting with the best ways to make my dwindling resources go further.  Here are five strategies I’ve been testing.

60-90 minute blocks:  I tried this out because it’s a good idea not to sit at a desk or computer screen uninterrupted for more than an hour and a half.  And it’s enough time to spend on a task, whether mental or physical, to actually make some headway.   I’m the kind of person who likes a schedule.  One of the things that never bothered me about convent life was the strict routine.  I knew when the bell was going to ring, how long I had for any activity, and what I would be doing next.

I’ve tried this strategy for several months with some success, but actually, it has morphed into something else.

Identify my next task:  This sounds so idiotically obvious I can’t believe that it is now the most significant strategy I’ve found for getting things done.  The 60-90 minute block, I found, still left too much time for me to procrastinate over short but essential tasks lasting less than fifteen minutes.  This is not a To Do List.  I’ve been making those for years and more often than not, find them unrealistic and overwhelming.  What does work for me is to identify quite specifically what I am going to do next, (by which I mean now)  even if it’s no more than read the morning news.

It gives me a day full of a sense of accomplishments.  And I’m much less tempted to engage in another time-waster – like a computer game – before I get started.

Making computer games inaccessible:  I suspected this wasn’t going to work because  I’ve never been someone who adapted well to the cold turkey method.  I gave up smoking gradually, reduced my alcohol consumption the same way.  I have found that replacing computer games with a clear, even short, task is a more effective way of weaning myself away from this neurotic activity I don’t usually enjoy anyway.


Nap instead of nibble:  I don’t need to make use of this strategy too often because my energy usually lasts out my waking hours.  But I have found that I do need to distinguish between being hungry and being tired, and not reach for the quick calorie fix when what I need is twenty-minutes flat out.


Exercise:  Ah, the queen of the strategies.  My osteoporosis has made a huge contribution to getting me moving, because the alternatives are so dire.  But exercise brings with it another huge unforeseen benefit that I haven’t ever heard experts talk about. I have found that putting on some music and going through my stretching, strengthening, and aerobic routines is amazingly creative.  Solutions to problems seem to appear unsought, creative ideas develop out of nowhere, the insightful reply to someone’s difficulty which has seemed to be stuck somewhere inaccessible, its existence unrecognized, blooms when I start exercising.

I hate exercising.  It invariably starts out as utterly boring.  But at the end of 30 minutes I’m on an endorphin high, feeling ten years younger, and ten IQ points smarter. (Well, okay, maybe not ten points smarter; but definitely more in control.)

September 21, 2012

Sometimes English is a different language

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 8:45 pm

Weight Conversion CalculatorPeter and I were discussing the size of beef brisket this morning and trying to decide whether to buy the 1 or the 1.5 kilo roast. “The 1.5 kilo roast is about 8 pounds,” he said.
I looked at him in disbelief.  If you’ve lived in both the US and the UK as long as we have, you become bi-lingual in converting celsius to fahrenheit, centimetres to inches, kilometers to miles, liters to quarts, kilos to pounds.  Was this a rare and uncharacteristic manifestation of dementia?

“No,” I said. “1 1/2 kilos is just between 3 and 3 1/2 pounds.”

Peter didn’t blink.  “I was talking about pounds sterling,” he said.

Most of the time we are both bi-lingual in dollars/pounds too.


September 20, 2012

Still growing up

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:40 pm

Taking a nap, when I was growing up, was something one got old enough at about the age of three not to have to do anymore.   And  I emphatically thought of myself as grown up by the time I was three.

I’m convinced by the research suggesting that an afternoon break invariably gives a person more energy over all, but even in Spain when everyone else went took a siesta, I kept to my grown up schedule.

But I am now at last giving in occasionally.  Even just twenty minutes lying down in mid-afternoon gives me the evenings in a way that another cup of coffee or something more to eat than I need  ever does.

Besides that, I never look back at a siesta with regret the way I do about that extra dollop of sugar-saturated excess.

Nonetheless, I seem to be a slow learner when it comes to taking a nap.  I impress myself as being pretty dumb sometimes.

July 11, 2012

In gratitude for the great and the good

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 3:20 pm

I’ve been thinking about Barbara Sullivan’s grandparents who I wrote about in my post yesterday.  She credits them as one of the reasons why she is a survivor, able now to help rather than depend on others.

In that context, I’ve been thinking about my own mother who in her too-short life gave me the foundations of so much happiness and riches.  I sure didn’t think so at the time.  I was going to do something far more meaningful and important than having babies and cooking meals and playing cards with my children.  I was going to be one of the Great and the Good, and I really did mean Great.

But now on the other side of most of the years that are going to be given to me,  I think fame and fortune, even the saintly kind to which I aspired, is chimera.  We don’t know how what we do will resound, for better or worse, down the centuries after we are dead.  But I doubt very much it’s got much to do with fame.

I have no doubt that what we do does resound down the centuries.  I’m pretty sure it’s got something to do with love or lack of it, with being as fully human as we can possibly be.  But we cannot possibly know how what we do today might make a difference.

Barbara’s grandmother was saving boxes and bottles and cans for Barbara to open up a store under the kitchen table.  Oh my goodness, how superior I would have felt as a young teenager toward doing something so pathetically simple.

But if, like Barbara’s grandmother, there is someone two generations after me able to reach out a helping hand to the neglected and abused because of something I did half a century before, truly I would feel that I could enter the hall of the great and the good.

I am overwhelmingly grateful that there were those in my life who did not have to wait as long as I have to achieve this insight.

July 7, 2012

Garden of life

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:17 pm

The second edition of my book  The Big Bang to Now is finally in the hands of the publisher.  I hope to get a clear publishing date when the staff return to the office next Monday after July 4th celebrations.

It was at first with some relief that I finally made it out to the garden which has been running riot with our record-breaking rain for the last three months.  Having left the farm at an early age, I’ve never been much of a gardener, but Jung always said that the second half of our lives is when we start to explore the other half of our selves.

I think the garden has decided that my highly-organized self needs some further development in living with chaos.  I, on the other hand, have decided that a discussion with my garden can make a two-year old look positively rational.  A garden is a self-directed living organism with a will of its own, which occasionally bows to the wishes of the person who thinks she’s in control.

  • For example:
  • Plant:  I don’t have enough room!
  • Me:  Are you a weed?  I didn’t put you here.Plant:  I like it here.Me:  You are lovely but you are squashing out Agapanthus.
  • Plant:  I need more room.  Me:  What’s your name, honey?
  • Plant:  A rose is still a rose…
  • Me:  I’m going to call you Perennial Poppy.  But you’ll have to move over.
  • Plant: I don’t want to move.  Move Agapanthus.  She’s taking up my room.

The conversation with the next plant is more of the same.  “I’m tired.”  “I don’t feel well.”  “I don’t like it here anymore.”   “I want what she has.”  And of course, the all-purpose “No!”

The garden chair seems content enough with my bossing it around.  But I have the feeling it’s me that’s going to be changing more than Poppy or Agapanthus or Courgette or Tomato.

May 21, 2012

Sloooow walking

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 4:14 pm

While I’m the subject of getting old (I used to say “getting older,” but at 72 I feel I’d better face reality), I have discovered another trick.

Peter and I used to hike.  We did ever since we met and took our first camping trip to the Blue Ridge mountains.  In the Lake District we walked for 4-5 hours in the hills 2 – 3 times a week.

But now his arthritis has caught up with him, and although we still walk, it is at a much slower pace.  I’ve been wondering for some time how to maintain my own fitness at this leisurely pace.

I think I found it.  I take one long slow step for every two I used to take.  It’s a trick I adapted from Slow Exercise which people who have tried it say it harder than doing the same thing faster.

I think I’ll try it.  at the moment, my slow walking is using muscles I didn’t know I had.


May 20, 2012

90-minute chunks

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:42 pm

About a month ago I read that doctors were recommending that people do not sit at their desks or computers for more than 90 minute stretches.  Apparently, blood tends to get blocked at the back of the knee when we are sitting, a situation that ultimately increases the chances of a stroke.

So I’ve been dividing my day into 90-minute chunks.  It’s had several surprising effects.  The first is that walking away from the computer screen seems to facilitate something in my brain.  Just walking away often unblocks a problem I’ve been working on or gives me a new idea.

But I’ve also been chunking in reverse.  When I’m doing something physical, I do it in 90-minute chunks and then take a break for a cup of coffee or lunch or sometimes just to check my email or review the news on-line.

What has surprised me is that I seem to have a lot more energy on a regime like this.  I don’t get tired as early in the day, and find myself with the stamina to add an extra task that in the past would have probably outfaced me.

I don’t claim this is a panacea.  I’m still recognizably older and slower than I was ten years ago.

But I’m faster than I was a month ago.


May 18, 2012

A rose by any other name…

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:30 pm

The other day I looked at a bush in our garden and kept saying to myself “No, it is not called a pepperoni.”  Several hours later I finally remembered that it’s a “Pittosporum.”  Last month I  had to look up the name of a fairly familiar green vegetable called a “fennel,” and this morning I could not remember the name of the government’s business secretary.

And so I think it is with a whiff of recognition and a distant shudder that the joke below sent to me by a friend made me laugh out loud.

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house, and after eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen.

The two gentlemen were talking, and one said, ‘Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great.. I would recommend it very highly.’
The other man said, ‘What is the name of the restaurant?’
The first man thought and thought and finally said, ‘What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love?
You know…. The one that’s red and has thorns.’
‘Do you mean a rose?’
‘Yes, that’s the one,’ replied the man. He then turned towards the kitchen and yelled, ‘Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?’

These days, a rose by any other name … might actually be a restaurant.

May 16, 2012

Getting old

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 2:07 pm

By and large I’ve enjoyed getting older.  I know I’m fortunate to have good health, a marvellous husband, and that I find life in general immensely interesting.

Over the years I’ve seen in various relatives as they reached my age:  their impulse control isn’t as strong.  I’ve seen them have seconds and thirds on desserts and alcohol that they would have turned down before, for example.

And now I’m seeing it in myself.  It’s rather humiliating, since I’ve always been someone who adapted well to a disciplined schedule.  Now, though, I see myself playing that useless game of Freecell more often, giving into the urge for an unnecessary sugary snack more frequently, delaying tasks that in the past I would simply have accomplished without procrastination.

And since I’ve been practicing developing will power as if it were a physical muscle to be exercised, more and more I’ve had to downsize my goals.  I sometimes think I am indulging in a newly-discovered luxury of laziness.

I don’t enjoy it much.  I don’t get a high from winning 99% of the Freecell games I play.  And grabbing a snack isn’t nearly as enjoyable as actually sitting down at a proper meal.

So I’m going to work on delaying this onslaught of impulsiveness.

For starters I’m getting a bottom line for the amount of time I spend playing computer card games each week.  That at least will give me some idea of the size of mountain I’ve constructed.

My plan is to write a future post on my progress.

If I don’t get distracted.

I was also tempted to keep track of snacks, but I’ve learned that less is more.  I’ll work on the Freecell.  If that works, I’ll tackle some other compulsive obsession that is giving me no pleasure and doing me no good whatsoever.


February 29, 2012

Leap Year Question

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:55 pm

Today is February 29th, a day of the year that occurs only once every four years.

So when do people who are born on the 29th of February celebrate their birthday?

Do they stay younger longer than everybody else?

January 29, 2012

Will power tricks that work?

Filed under: Diet,Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:14 pm

I’ve been reading a review of recent research on will power and several interesting things caught my interest.  I’ve always been pretty organized and able to concentrate on getting a task done.  But without the discipline required by an academic job and also with age, I find that I could use a little help focussing on the job at hand rather than fiddling.

The first thing I noted is that will power uses up physical energy.  So we do not have an unlimited supply.  Will power, like everything else, literally needs replenishing with bouts of nutrition, exercise, rest, and recreation.  We can’t assume that if we can run one mile  we can do it ten times in a row without stopping.  Will power works just the same.

So it’s better not to make a whole host of resolutions in one fell swoop.   It’s better not even to have a long list of To Do’s which act like “shoulds” on the unconscious level and will use up will power even if we aren’t aware of it.  Because failed acts of the will are just as draining as successful ones.  (The research doesn’t say this, as far as I can see, but I think failure uses up even more energy than success.)

In addition, there were three suggestions for increasing will power that were new to me.  I’ve tried the third already which to my surprise seems to work, and this month I am about to add a second to my repertoire.

The first suggestion is to be realistic about how long it will take to do a task.  Most people underestimate how long it will take to get something done by about 50%.  So half way through the job we already are frustrated and feel like giving up.  So I am going to double the time I estimate a task will take.  That way, I should have a feeling of freedom and space throughout the day and have a much greater feeling of accomplishment at the end of it.

The second suggestion is to use the nothing alternative.  This sounds like a license to waste time but it’s really a method for avoiding procrastination and distraction.  What the nothing alternative involves is to do nothing if I have set aside a space of time to do a task and for some reason am fiddling instead of doing it.  This is a big one for a writer like me.  It means that when I can’t think of what to write, I can’t fill the time playing Free Cell or Spider anymore.   I can’t write emails or read the news on-line.  I don’t have to write, but I can’t do anything else either.

The third strategy is for dealing with compulsive behavior like going off a diet, or drinking too much.  It’s just say no.   It sounds like the kind of sex advice I was given as an adolescent, but which I have long thought was out of date and absolutely would have predicted would be of no use whatsoever.  But I’ve tried it for about three weeks now,  raging around the kitchen looking for something sugary to eat.  “Just say no!” I’ve been saying to myself.  So far I’ve lost three pounds.  I only want to lose five more to get down to what I weighed as a teenager, and at my age I’m deliberately doing it very very slowly.  Two pounds a month max.

I’ve just listed three changes, one of which I’ve been practicing already for most of January.  This month I am introducing the Be Realistic approach to constructing my to-do list.  I’m really looking forward to trying the  Nothing Alternative practice, though, so I might just sneak a bit of that in too.

I’ll write a post in a month or so confessing whether this is one of my many resolutions which have been lost on the way.

Or whether these really are steps to that elusive goal of becoming master of my own decisions.





November 2, 2011

Cystitis, cranberries and me

Almost all women and many men know what cystitis is.  It’s a bladder infection whose consequences, to say the least, are highly inconvenient.  Last week, I got an attack which is the worst I can ever remember.  Having trolled through the internet, I have to say it is not the worst case anyone has ever had, but it was bad enough that it was unsafe for me to be out of dashing distance of a bathroom for more than half an hour.

In the past, I have found that I can usually control cystitis with a few minutes of Kegal exercises,  extra glasses of water, and my regular cranberry supplements.

It didn’t work, and I was getting rather desperate.

While I was wondering if I were going to have to break down and ask my GP for an antibiotic, I googled the internet for natural treatments – barley water? cranberries? lemon juice?

I found quite an interesting – some might say drastic – suggestion:  to eliminate caffeine, alcohol, spices, and sugar from ones diet and to drink a glass of water with a handful of unsurgared frozen cranberries every hour during the day.  And also not to try to delay using the bathroom when the urge to do so  arose.  The author says the cure worked in three days.

Not having a couple of bags of frozen cranberries immediately to hand, I modified the approach.  I eliminated all caffeine except my wake-up morning coffee,  drank 16 ounces of water every hour, took a cranberry supplement with each glass, and added a handful of dried cranberries to each meal.

It worked in 24 hours.

I don’t present this as a universal cure.  Universal cures are rare.

But I do feel incredibly lucky.

October 21, 2011

We never had it so good

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:21 pm

There is an ongoing debate here in Britain over whether the elderly should have to sell their homes and help defray the cost of their care if they need to move into a care home.  A recent report published earlier this week has also suggested that the elderly should be encouraged to sell the homes they are currently living in and move into some place smaller in order to help alleviate the housing shortage here in Britain.

I personally have no problem whatsoever with selling our home if we can no longer live in it and need care.  I’m not convinced that the elderly selling their homes, however, would help solve the housing problem.  It is the buyers at the entrance level of the housing market who are having trouble affording a mortgage and I  can’t see that more big houses on the market is the essential solution.

But that is not so much what concerns me about this report.

What concerns me are many of the comments made in response to it.   The tone often suggests that the elderly are nothing more than a useless burden who are hogging all the resources and depriving the young of the opportunities they themselves had received.  “The elderly,” for some, are all post-world-war II baby boomers who were able to buy inexpensive homes and are now sitting on a fortune and sponging off the taxpayers who are paying for their pensions.  “They don’t need more than one room now,” said one comment.  “Make them move over and make room for us.”

These comments do not seem to realize that the oldest baby-boomer is by definition not more than 65 years old.  Anybody older than that was born either during or before the war.   For many of these people, “having it so good” for these elderly was five people living in two rooms and sleeping in bed with ones parents until puberty.  It meant no electricity, an outside toilet, and bathing in a tin tub in front of the fire in the kitchen-cum-living room.  It sometimes meant going to the neighbours to ask for food.  It meant shivering in bomb shelters all night, and discovering the next day that a bomb had gone through your friend’s bed or that your grandmother was buried in the house that had been demolished in the attack.

I wasn’t going to write about ageism today, but a New Yorker made a comment on my earlier post Frankly, my dear, and suggested I might like to read his article,  An Elder’s Manifesto.  I did read it, and found myself almost stuttering as I repeated “Yes!” in enthusiastic agreement.

The gist of it is that trading off the last stage of our lives as irrelevant, incoherent, useless, without joy or meaning is a huge mistake – whether the assessment is being made by the young who think they will never get to that ghastly condition called “old,” or by the elderly themselves who think their best years are over.

Well, I can tell you from first-hand experience that they aren’t.

These have been among the happiest years of my life.  Different from the kind of happy one experiences in youth.  But just as intense.  And a lot less conflicted and anxiety-ridden.

I definitely recommend it.

September 22, 2011

Frankly, my dear…

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:09 pm

One of the few things I emphatically like better about living in the States than in England is that there is less prejudice against the elderly in America.

Not, of course, that prejudice against the aged doesn’t exist in the States, and in times of economic difficulties, I know it might get worse.

But for decades, I have noticed a patronizing attitude to anyone over 55 here in England.  It’s almost as if everybody thinks that getting old inevitably marks a return to the innocence and naiveté of a child.  

I noticed it most strongly in the north of England, and thought that it was almost absent here in Cambridge.  My theory is that is probably because of the university.  One has to be careful about patronizing an older person — you might be speaking down to a Nobel Prize winner, or a genius like Newton or Einstein, or these days like Stephen Hawking.

Yesterday, however, I was in a rather up-market supermarket that we often use, and the middle-aged women greeted me at the check-out counter with “Hello, my dear, how are you today?”

I think I smiled.  I tried to.  But make no mistake.  It may have been unconscious on her part.  But in this country, to address an elderly person whom you are serving as “my dear” is patronizing.  She all but added that for a 71-year-old I was surprisingly together.  I mean I even knew how to use my credit card and was able to carry my own groceries to the car all by myself.

I still tie my own shoe laces too.

September 5, 2011

Labor Day greetings

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:53 pm

It would perhaps raise the standard of this blog if I described the origins of Labor Day in America or compared Labor Day with International Workers Day on May 1st.

But since it is not a public holiday but rather the first day of the school year here in England, I spent it labouring.  (They labour over here doing what Americans call labor.)

I wanted to get the eves of our house repainted before I got too old to do the job.  Unfortunately, I left it too late.

So instead of a mini-historical treatise which I’m too tired to compose

Best wishes for a Happy Labor Day!

September 3, 2011

For $50,000, could I…?

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:14 pm

I read today that the Catholic clergy are effectively forbidden under pain of excommunication to discuss the ordination of women.

And then I watched the evening news that documents have been discovered in the security building in Tripoli that the CIA sent terrorist suspects on secret flights to Tripoli to be interrogated, most certainly with the knowledge that they would be tortured.

My overwhelming feeling is one of sadness.  Not anger, really, or frustration, or guilt.  Something more like grieving.  The way one feels when a loved one dies.

And I realize that however much I am at odds with the institution that calls itself the Catholic Church, and however much I am aghast at so much of political life in this last decade in America, these are my communities.  I grew up in the Catholic Church.  I grew up in America.  I grew up admiring the principles of love and freedom and respect on which I thought they were built.

They are the people to whom I belong.  And I grieve when I realize how far we walk from the ideal, how human we all are.

But in the hope department, there is a wonderful story this week about twin who made a hockey shot that should have won him $50,000.  Except that the twin who actually had the ticket was ill, so it was his look-alike who made the winning shot.

The father talked it over with them, and they have forfeited the prize rather than tell a lie.

I have the terrible feeling that I might have managed to rationalize that it wasn’t really lying.  A fact that it might behoove me to remember when I’m tempted to walk around feeling morally superior to the ordinary man in the street.  Maybe not so ordinary after all

August 18, 2011

Announcing a short delay before Armageddon

In the Economist this week, Bagehot discusses a book published in 1982 by Bradford University academic, Geoffrey Pearson.  The young of Britain, it appears, have been degenerating not for decades but for centuries.

Some of the causes cited for this total break down of social structures have a surprising déjà vu quality that have been repeated for 500 years.  Inevitably, poor parenting, going soft on the punishment of criminals (let’s restore Saturday night flogging in the public square and for their own good, whipping our children more often), alcohol and drugs and the malign influence of ethnic minorities are declared to be responsible for a loss of respect for authority and traditional values.  These causes are repeated with a kind of grating regularity.

So, rather to my surprise, is music.  Not Beethoven’s kind of music, or church hymns.  But all this modern stuff that exults immorality and permissiveness  If it’s not rap, it’s rock-n roll, in 1840 “foreign music that must have come out of the jungle,” and even as far back as the 1500’s, the Puritans blamed popular songs that treated criminals as heroes.  The amoral influence of music is purportedly amplified by modern technology including everything from silent films to computer games and social networks.

All of which is not to suggest that last week’s rioting in England was trivial.  It does not suggest that the underlying causes should not be investigated and that how to deal with them should not be taken seriously.

It is to suggest, though, that just because something is new, just because it is popular with young people, or just because culture is changing that we of the older generation have some special insights about what needs to be done.  We need to ask and listen too.  We need the research and the investigations.  We need to test the validity of our own assessments before too much self-righteousness blinds us both to the problems and to the immense potential of young people today.

I doubt the “old ways” were nearly as wonderful as many of the older generation remember them to have been.

In any case, going back to the old ways is patently impossible.  For which I am hugely grateful.

PS:  I’ve always promised myself that I would resist becoming one of the older generation who thinks that the past represents some kind of Golden Era which, sadly, has been destroyed by the wild youth of today.  Right now we’re getting a large dose of Lost Golden Era exposure.  Yesterday a neighbour who himself fought in the Second World War said he felt sorry for his grandchildren and their children for the world they are inheriting.  As we closed the door behind him, Peter said to me “every age has its challenges.” 

 Yes.  And there never was a Garden of Eden.  They weren’t even allowed to eat apples there.

August 16, 2011

And the greatest of these…

Often  – though, of course not always – we get the old age we deserve.  Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, far more often than not, come home to roost if we live long enough for the chickens to come home.

When I was young, old age felt like a land of let’s pretend, a place where I would never need to be.  I was, after all, young and fit and energetic.  I haven’t met a young person who doesn’t to some extent feel the same way.  And I think that’s the way it ought to be.  Sort of like the way we all feel that, whatever happens to anybody else, we aren’t really going to die.

But we don’t need research to tell us that if we are lucky, there isn’t any alternative to growing old.  The alternative looks decidedly unlucky.

Modern research does tell us, though, a lot of things we can do both to maximize our chances of living longer, and in my opinion, perhaps even more importantly, living healthier for those longer years.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that once again, there’s a clear winner.  Give up smoking, use alcohol in moderation, eat a healthy diet, keep one’s weight down.

But the greatest, most effective strategy, even outflanking nutrition and weight, is exercise.

The latest research studying almost half a million people in Taiwan suggests that as little as 15 minutes of brisk exercise a day adds an average of three years to ones life span.   Every additional 15 minutes per day seems to increase the benefits.

I haven’t tried to figure out at just what point more exercise ceases to produce any further advantages.  My bottom line is 30 minutes a day.  After that, I’ve decided to take what comes.

Unless some other convincing source of research suggests…  No, if it says I’ll live forever, I won’t believe it anyway.


August 6, 2011

Tale of two minds

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:46 pm
Tags: ,

I must be getting old.  I can’t believe I’ve always been this dumb.

This morning I grabbed the keys to our meter room which is in a room accessible only from outside.  Along with our electricity, solar, and water meters, the emergency cut-offs are all there, should we ever need to turn off any of the utilities coming into the house.  So it is possible to go for weeks or even months without going into the meter room.

But when a utility representative wants a meter reading or in the case of an emergency such as a tripped circuit breaker or leaking pipe – both of which have been known to happen more than once – it’s usually rather important to be able to unlock the door without hesitation.

That’s the essential background.

It’s relevant because when I went to unlock the room this morning, I realized I’d come out with the wrong keys.  So I went back into the house, put the erroneous keys on the entrance table and began to look.  They weren’t in any of my pockets, in the utility room, in the conservatory, in the auto port, or with any of our garden equipment.

I started over again.  I had them yesterday — maybe they’d fallen out of my pocket.  I looked through the laundry basket, the washing machine, in the jacket I’d been wearing the last time I’d unlocked the door.  I opened and closed at least 25 drawers.  Nothing.

I began to worry because we do not have a back-up key.

Unable to find where I’d last put them, I treacherously began to wonder if Peter had picked them up and not put them away.  Thinking that it would be a poor strategy to put it quite that way, I told him instead I’d lost the key and had he seen it anywhere?  He stopped reading and began to search.

It took him a maximum of three minutes to pick up the keys I’d left on the entrance table – you know, the keys I’d taken out to the meter room in the first place but were the wrong keys.  “What are these?” Peter asked blandly?

“OMG,” I said.  “Those are the keys.”

Maybe I’m not getting old.  Maybe I have always been this dumb.

It’s  just that I don’t remember.

July 19, 2011

93 candles

Nelson Mandela celebrated his 93rd birthday yesterday.

He asked for the most marvellous birthday present.

He asked people to spend 67 minutes on the day doing something for somebody else.

It sounds like hundreds of thousands of people did.

12.5 million schoolchildren sang “Happy Birthday” before starting class.  Television and radio stations urged the nation to join in.    From what it sounded like on the news coverage here, practically the entire nation was singing Happy Birthday at 10:30 yesterday.

67 is the number of years Mandela spent in active public service.  Counting the 27 years in prison.  They must have been the hardest.  To keep hoping for so long, against what must have seemed insuperable odds that it mattered at all, to keep on believing that being locked up for so long could make any difference.

It sort of makes any excuses I offer for feelings of despair in the face of my helplessness look pretty thin.

I think, though, that Mandela would say he is one of the lucky ones.  He has lived to see the fruits of his struggle.  A lot of others didn’t.

But they mattered just as much as Mandela in the fight for freedom.


July 18, 2011


It is now 4 o’clock a.m. and I’ve been sitting at my computer for the last hour unable to sleep but not really able to do anything worthwhile in the awake mode either.

It’s due, I know, to the gin and tonic I had before dinner last night.  It was just one, but my sensitivity to alcohol seems to be increasing with age.

I realized in my early forties that alcohol seemed to make my joints ache.  It took me a long time to accept this and to forego my evening glass of wine after work.  I’d stop for a couple of months, and then read research that a daily glass of red wine was actually positively healthy.   So I’d try again.  Until I finally decided that drinking in moderation might be healthy for some people, but  it simply wasn’t for me.  I seem to have an allergy to something in wine — at least the wines I could afford to buy — that was gradually crippling me with arthritic pain.

So although I never formally gave up drinking wine, I will now go for years without joining my husband in a pre-dinner glass.

I could though, indulge occasionally in a gin and tonic.  This seemed at least one immoderation that, within limits, I could manage with maturity.  But I’m afraid even a single gin and tonic now seems to grab a hold of my bio-rhythms and rev them up like a triple blast of caffeine.

So I’m sitting here at my computer in the middle of the night thinking that the pleasure just isn’t worth the pain.

“Behavior has consequences,” I say to myself.  The consequences of a gin and tonic these days seem to be that at first I get mellow.  Then I get cranky.  Then I get too tired to do anything but go to bed.  And then about three hours later I wake up with this drug-induced inability to sleep.

It’s not worth it.

  I’m going back to my cup of tea.

July 15, 2011

Cheerfulness keeps breaking through

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:55 pm

“The last time I was in London was about 14-15 years ago.  I was about 60 years old – just a kid with a crazy dream….

“Since then I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies and  religions.

“But cheerfulness kept breaking through.”

Leonard Cohen

Live in London Concert 2008

 Leonard Cohen, a Canadian born in 1934,  is a singer-songwriter, musician, poet and novelist.   After a successful career, he spent five years in a Zen Buddhist monastery in the 1990’s.  When he left, he discovered that his accountant had lost all his money and Cohen returned to public performing.  Since then, his song Hallelujah has become massively popular.

June 28, 2011

An attack on old age

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:34 pm

This isn’t really an attack on old age.  It’s an attack on the idea of old age that is held so broadly throughout the modern world that people rarely even question it.

Fundamentally, the assumption is that old age is not a positive achievement.  In fact, “you don’t look that old” is considered a compliment.  And promises that various cosmetic products and other youth-preserving strategies will take years off one’s appearance is a major ploy of advertisers.   Similarly, “I’m feeling very old”, or “I’m getting old” are never meant as achievements.

In fact, we are urged to deny that we are getting older.  Old means tired and out-of- contact with the real world, it means forgetful, and maybe kindly but not with a whole lot to contribute.  Most people do not think of old people as ecstatically happy or innovative or creative.

Well, every stage we go through in life has its unique challenges, and old age is no exception.

But old age has its unique potential and delights as well, and I am determined to make the most of them.

Okay, right now it’s pretty easy.  I’m still in good health and my mind still works reasonably well.  I do get tired more easily than I used to, but I’ll be damned if I am going to agree with those people – young and old – that getting old is a drag.

It’s not.  It’s the stage that includes the last years of my life and I’m going to get every bit of living out of them that they offer.  I’m not spending this time wishing I were young again.  I’m not spending it regretting that the past is gone and can never be recovered to be improved upon the second time round.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m younger than I am or hope that nobody notices my greying hair and wrinkles (which I will say I’ve earned).

I don’t find getting old a drag.  I find it exciting and stimulating and challenging, and I love it!

June 23, 2011

Mother Nature’s mothering

I doubt there are many women on this planet who are not acquainted with cystitis and its capacity for creating sheer panic.  Whether it is caused by a mild bladder infection, the results of pregnancy, or simply the aging process, the need to get to a bathroom within the next two minutes is an experience most of us share at one time or another.

Most of us,I suspect, have developed some kind of strategy or other to deal with this most human of conditions.  My grandmother drank barley water laced with lemon.  I learned what we Americans call Kegels and what here in England are called simply pelvic exercises.  Sheer survival instinct keeps me performing them for two minutes on a daily basis along with my morning and evening teeth-brushing routine.

About six weeks ago, however, I began to notice a worrying decrease in the effectiveness of these exercises.  Last week I barely escaped – without putting too fine a point on it – what felt like imminent catastrophe.

Cranberry Double Strength

That was when I finally put two and two back together.  Several months ago, I ran out of the cranberry supplements I usually take every day and did not bother replacing them.  I’ve taken them as a precaution for years against cystitis but didn’t take their effect too seriously.

Three days ago, I picked up a couple of bottles and started to take a tablet again with breakfast and another with dinner.

What is astonishing is the complete and almost immediate transformation.  For the first time in months I am not getting up in the night.  I am worry free for 4-5 hours during the day, and even then I have been saved the mad hysteria which I have personally begun to call “incontinence panic.”

I’m not a great believer in alternative medicine.  I’m one of those people who say what we call alternative medicines that work “medicine.”

But I will admit that I would view a global failure of cranberry crops on par with a blight of coffee beans.

Now that I think of it, I think I will put cranberries on my happiness list.

June 22, 2011


Happiness, as you may have noticed, has become a political issue.  Stimulated by a recent spate of research,  governments are asking whether it is part of their role to create conditions that are more apt to make people happier and not just richer.          David ChernoffTrue Happiness David Chernoff

I’ve read a lot of the research and find it quite interesting to examine some of the apparent patterns of reported happiness.  Once one is securely above the poverty line – probably what one might broadly say is able to afford a lower middle-class life style – money does not generally make people happier.  Getting older does.  Around the world middle age people are happier than younger people, and old people are often the most content of all.

I personally am not interested in giving a government chief responsibility for my happiness, though I do appreciate that there are things governments can do to make people happier.

But after reading this research I have been asking myself  about what specifically makes me happy.  Like almost everyone else, my family and friends are critical.  But beyond that, each of us are individuals.  What, I have been asking myself, do I enjoy most often in an ordinary day?  Is there a pattern that we can detect in our own lives that tell us something about ourselves?  perhaps what kind of career we would find fulfilling, or even what activities we find make for the best weekends, or best retirement, or best summer holiday?

I was talking to the granddaughter of a friend yesterday who is trying to decide on her major in college as a preparation for her adult life.  We began to talk about happiness research and have agreed that each of us will keep a list of three things we most enjoy each day, and at the end of a month will analyze each list to see what we can learn about ourselves.

I hope in a couple of months time to be able to report on whether this is a useful endeavor for either young or old.

June 18, 2011

Are we going to hell in a hand basket?

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:01 pm

One of the temptations that seems to come with getting older is the tendency to romanticize the past and criticize the present.  Not everybody, of course, does this, and not everybody who does do it is particularly old.  But I have had several conversations with my elderly compatriots lately in which they have expressed the view that people are more selfish than they were in the “old days.”

I always find myself responding with something between irritation and outrage to these complaints about the world today.  First, because it is not a view I necessarily share.  But secondly because it is a completely unverifiable accusation.  News stories, admittedly, more often feature the negative side of the human condition.  But news stories are hardly a random sample.  Bad news sells a lot more stories than good news.

The effects of the royal wedding have perhaps begun to wear off.  But I found the following video provided a jolt for a feel-good-experience.  Kindness still runs deep.

Sophia, a twenty-seven-year-old Bornean orangutan, holds her newborn in her enclosure at Brookfield Zoo October 23, 2008 in Brookfield, Illinois. The female infant, which was born October 6, is one of only two orangutan births expected in North American zoos this year. There are an estimated 61,000 orangutans remaining in the wild, a 50 percent decline since 1990.

May 31, 2011

Life solutions for dummies

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 2:51 pm

One of the very earliest solutions I learned to solving computer problems was the advice to “Turn Off Computer and Reboot.”  I have found that it’s a kind of “System Restore Command  for Dummies.”

It’s a little late in life, but I have now discovered a similar solution for life’s problems:  Walk Away.  It is amazing the number of problems for which this works.  And it works for the most extraordinary number of different kinds of conundrums.  These days if  I don’t know how to respond to an email, how to get the ice-maker working, where to find my lost reading glasses, I walk away, and lo and behold, the answer just seems to emerge fully formed hours or days later.

It’s even working for figuring out my new-fangled cell phone.

I mean, it is a seriously useful Solution of Dummies.

May 16, 2011

Use-by Date

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 8:20 pm

I heard today that Boots Pharmacy plans on marketing a test for aging, a sort of use-by date for life.

Apart from having serious doubts as to just how accurate it might be, I find this a challenging question.  Would I like to know how fast I am aging relative to other people?  Would I like to know how much time I can reasonably expect to live?

For starters, if I had a reasonable idea of how long they are going to have to last it would certainly make organizing retirement finances much easier.

I think it would be something like half way between being told one has a terminal disease with some specific time doctors would expect me to live and knowing that we are all terminal but just don’t know when.

But what if I knew that I probably had six more months to live?  or ten years? or twenty or even thirty?  I don’t think I would mind so much, but would it really make a difference?  I would live with just as much energy as I do now.

And I quite respect the human condition for what it is.  Which is not knowing, possibly until the very last minute, that I am about to die.

So I think I’ll skip the Boots test after all.

Well, that’s a savings of $500 or so.

Would that all savings were this easy to achieve.

April 28, 2011

“I can (still) do that!”

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 3:11 pm

Developmental psychology is packed with research studying the ages at which children generally learn various skills.

The appearance of these new achievements, at least in our house, were inevitably preceded by protestations that “I can do that!”  No matter that using a spoon to actually get the food into ones mouth, the first unassisted steps, learning to tie ones shoes or buttoning ones own shirt appeared at age-appropriate ages.  These triumphs were  always met with cheers suggesting that surely this is the most intelligent child yet to be born.

Now I am at the other end of the developmental road, and the inevitable protestation is not “I can do that!” but “I can still do that.”  Or even increasingly  “Can I still do that?” or “Should I still be trying to do that?”

But the waning of capacities with age is not quite as tightly determined by age as it is at the beginning of the life cycle and that’s the problem.  If you don’t tie your shoes at the age of two, it is quite clear to everybody that you haven’t yet learned.  Now, it’s true that if I can no longer carry at 40-pound sack of manure from the car to the back yard, it’s quite clear that I can’t do it anymore and should stop trying.  But if I should no longer be standing up and giving university lectures or handling my own finances and tax returns or getting behind the wheel of a car, is a lot harder to recognize.  Some people should stop in their sixties, others are still brilliant lecturers and safe drivers at ninety.  And so many physical, mental, and psychological factors determine whether one can still reasonably participate in these more complex activities, and whether, in fact, one can recognize the objective reality about ones own changing abilities.

I have a deep admiration for older people who can recognize that they are no longer able to do what they once could and who step aside gracefully and with a full heart.  On the other hand, younger people often dismiss older people (defined in their minds as shockingly young from my present perspective) as decrepit and pretty dumb.  It’s a lot harder to find where a seventy-year-old really belongs than it is with a two-year-old.

All of which casts little light on who is right about our roof.   I have recently  been alternatively scandalizing and thrilling the neighbours by climbing onto our roof to clear off the accumulated moss.  Some people seem to think that being someone who qualified for early retirement a decade ago, by definition, I should not be there.  Others express admiration and cheer me on.

Either attitude irritates me just a little.  My clearing the roof is remarkable only because I am considered elderly.  (Well, okay, perhaps it is made a little worse by my not only being elderly but also being a woman instead of a man.  But look, I’m only scraping moss off the roof tiles.  It’s not much more challenging than scraping food of plates before loading the dishwasher.)  I’m finding it confusing enough to keep tabs on what I can and cannot, or at least should not, be doing as I grow older without these uninformed stereotypes being foisted on me.

But as I’ve said before about growing old:  I am finding it an incredibly interesting – and even stimulating – trip.

Good thing, I suppose, since there is only one way I’m going to get off this train.

April 26, 2011

Some things that won’t change

Filed under: Growing Old,Intriguing Science — theotheri @ 8:25 pm

The Times here on Saturday did a full-page feature on ten things that they predict will shape the near future.  By near future, they are talking about this century, but some of them are predicted for the next twenty.  These near events include internet contact lenses – LED arrays that will enable people wearing them simply to blink to access the internet, a computer-supported kind of telepathy, and an unlimited capacity to grow spare organs and body parts as needed.

With 50-60 years they are predicting that extinct animals will have been brought back to life — maybe even Neanderthal man – aging will have been dramatically slowed done.

By 2100,  cancer will no longer be life threatening, people will be building star ships and space elevators, and  robotic machines will have merged with some forms of life.

My first thought was that I’m not all that sorry that I won’t be around to live in this brave new world.

My second though was that some things never change.  If we are still thinking beings in a century, we will still be wondering about the meaning of life,  the nature of the universe, and whether there is any way to beat death rather than simply delay it until we are a thousand years old or so.

Which, by the way, doesn’t sound all that enviable to me.

April 22, 2011

My Good Friday reverie

Along with all the theology and immensely rich ritual of Holy Week and Easter, death came to our door as I was growing up rather often during this season.  So even today, Good Friday has a frisson for me that few other days of the year elicit.

Which is probably why I’ve been thinking today about my own death.  It seems that however much I think and talk about the certainty of dying, when that moment comes, I am going to be profoundly shocked.  When the doctors say “there is nothing more we can do,” or in whatever version the new dawn announces itself, I am not, somehow yet prepared for it.

Giving up the fear of hell that was so deeply instilled in our Catholic socialization in itself is no help.  It is the thought of me no longer being here, me no longer adding my two cents worth to life, that seems so unbelievable.

So I’ve been looking closely at the life of other living things.  I am, after all, a part of this great, marvellous, beautiful system that includes trees and flowers, spiders and cats, dogs and birds and squirrels, and the clucking hens our neighbours have just brought home on the other side of our garden fence.

Part of the beauty of this life for every single living thing is being born, is living and growing, and then being finished.  It is dying, often with great beauty and grace.  One can see the age in trees and dogs just as one sees it on the faces and the studied walk of my fellow elderly humans.

Age is beautiful, notwithstanding the unrelenting advertising of Botox and cosmetics suggesting that it is to be feared and banished from consciousness.

So on this Good Friday, I am trying to remember that age isn’t just the price of life.  Age in itself is beautiful.

If I trust life, if my only faith is that existence is somehow worth it whatever the cost, then I must trust that death is somehow right too.  It is not the outrage that I have so often thought.  It’s not a punishment for sin, whatever Adam and Eve thought.

Which is why I’m trying to get my head around what life means.  I want to be able to embrace my death when the time comes.  As somehow, in some inexplicable way, it is part of the gift of life, not just its price.

April 16, 2011

All in this together

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,The Younger Generation — theotheri @ 8:22 pm

Since my post yesterday, I’ve heard a lot of stories about the struggles of people trying to figure out the high powered universal, amazing and simple gadgets of the modern world.

What surprises me most is to discover that it is not a problem belonging primarily to the elderly who were born in the first part of the last century.  I’m beginning to suspect that many young people are often as confused by all the options, icons, and new vocabulary as I am.

I’ve heard some wonderful stories about phones, i-pads, remotes, Kindles and even about a garage door opener.  My favourite is the woman who told me she was visiting her son and his family and was failing in her attempt to change the television channel using a multi-functional remote.   Her three-year-old granddaughter took it saying kindly “This isn’t for old people, Grandma.  I’ll show you how to do it.”


As Lucy would say.

April 10, 2011


Filed under: Family,Growing Old — theotheri @ 4:25 pm

By popular request, here is the full Haiku sent by our ten-year-old nephew to celebrate my sister’s 65th birthday:

You are kind of old

We will make you an old cake

Happy Birthday, B

Love, LP

March 27, 2011

Of course I’m right!

I learned from an early age from my lawyer father that if you know you are right, the approach that is going to make you look absolutely brilliant is to explore with all apparent sincerity the possibility that you are wrong.  That way, when your original position is vindicated, you look simply brilliant.

That may be where I first developed a deep distrust for people who are absolutely, nonnegotiably certain they are right about almost anything.

Lately, though, I’ve had the uncomfortable feeling that I am practicing a little more of this certainty myself than is good for me.  I am constantly outraged by the news and I read articles that are just as outraged.  The right seems so obviously right, wrong so demonstrably wrong, if not immoral, stupid, and self-destructive.

The discontent and lack of peace that this outrage brings me does not impress me, however, as being good for anybody.  And I am increasingly distrusting it in myself.

I was helped along by three separate authors, each of whom seems to think his or her evaluation of Western and Arab nations actions in relation to Colonel Gaddafi and Libya is obviously insightful, generous and moral.  There is a suggestion of outraged anger at all the stupid, self-serving people who disagree with them.

The problem is that each of these obviously right arguments are completely different.

One says that our intervention is high-lighting our true imperialist mission.

Another says that we are meeting a moral responsibility to stop genocide and protect basic human rights

The third says that if we don’t find a non-violent alternative to either bombing Libya or ignoring what is happening there, we will all be in trouble.

Oh yes.  And Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa says that we should stay out of Libya because he is against “regime change.”

So I think I will continue to concentrate a little more in the days to come on realizing that I do not possess the wisdom nor have the responsibility to run the entire world single-handedly.

Despite knowing, of course, that I am right.

March 17, 2011

New wonders of aging

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 2:59 pm

Research shows that multi-tasking may be more risky for the elderly.  Crossing the street in heavy traffic, for instance, while talking on the phone is not recommended.

Personally, I don’t need research to reveal this astonishing fact.

I’ve discovered it all by myself.

March 10, 2011

Changing the meaning of time

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 3:22 pm

When I was about five years old, I remember trying to figure out how long a second was.  I didn’t begin to wonder until middle age, though, about how much time there was altogether since time started in the very beginning of the world.

When I retired from university teaching, I wrote The Big Bang to Now and am currently working on the second edition.  But right now I am less concerned about trying to understand how long thirteen and a half billions years is and where everything fits in that happened between then and now.

I am trying to turn waiting into something a little more positive than it currently feels like.  I have finally heard from the doctor’s office that the results of my bone density scan are in, and I have an appointment to discuss them with my GP next Monday morning.

At this moment, four days feels like what about four years usually feels like these days.  It’s more like what four days felt like when I was small and Mom would say that it’s only “four more days to Christmas.”  It sounded like about four centuries to me then.

Now my sense of time suggests that every moment is precious, we have so little of it even in a long life.

Which is why I’m trying to turn waiting into something positive, into actually doing something.  Waiting is a good time to prepare, of course, but I have thought about my decision to by-pass the advice of majority medical opinion until I have no more thoughts about it.  When I find out the results of the most recent scan and what my GP thinks, I’ll process my current situation then.

In the meantime, I will concentrate on living today.  Not just trying to skip the four days between now and next Monday.

February 7, 2011

Learning what we knew before we forgot

Filed under: Growing Old,The Younger Generation — theotheri @ 7:57 pm

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work.  I told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw.  She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’

Howard Ikemoto

January 31, 2011

The sunshine option

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 9:40 pm

I have a bone density scan scheduled for the middle of next week.  Three years ago, the scan showed that I had managed through a change in life style alone to stop bone loss in its tracks and possibly even begun to reverse the process.  So I am now extremely eager to see if the process has continued.  Particularly since I declined in the first place to treat the problem by taking bi-phosphonates despite the strongest recommendation of several MD’s familiar with the problem.  I had two particular reasons:

The first was the fact that, although bi-phosphonates increased bone density, they often did not reduce the incidence of bone fracture, which is the main point of the treatment.

The second reason was that after doing a fair amount of reading on the subject, it occurred to me that I had come close to creating a perfect storm for the occurrence of bone density loss:

We had moved from Spain to the north of England.  Although we kept walking in the hills of the Lake District two or three times a week at first, often for as long as four hours at a time, foot-in-mouth disease closed the trails within a year after our arrival.  So I retreated to my computer and spent an average of six hours a day writing a book.  And when I did go out, I covered myself from head to foot to protect myself from feeling cold.  So both my daily exercise and sunshine quotients were dangerously low.

Then I read that peanut butter was a highly recommended low GI food that is an excellent way of keeping one’s blood sugar levels steady.  So I began to eat it every day, and even developed a craving for it.  What I didn’t know was that it was packed full of oxalic acid that interferes with calcium absorption.

Not that I was getting much calcium anyway, since I was not taking any vitamin or mineral supplements.

What more could I possibly have done to speed up my bone loss?  I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t taking any supplements, I wasn’t making any vitamin D through exposure to the sun, I was eating foods that positively interfere with calcium absorption.  Oh, and I was probably drinking too much coffee.

So six years ago I started on a new regime.  If the bone density report, which I probably won’t get until March, continues the positive trend of three years ago, I will itemize what I think are the most important variables contributing to my bone health.

If the report shows a deterioration, I don’t know what I will do.  The Federal Drug Administration in the U.S. reported several months ago what I suspected years ago – that bi-phosphonates sometimes seem to increase rather than decrease bone brittleness and subsequent fractures.

In the meantime, I am continuing to take large enough doses of Vitamin D to scandalize my GP but which are not into the overdose quotients.

Apparently vitamin D not only helps maintain bone density, it also is implicated in reduced levels of many kinds of cancer, memory loss, and heart disease.

So along with my bottle of virgin olive oil and an apple a day, I might live forever.

Well, maybe for another decade or two.  If I’m seriously lucky.

Or not.

January 24, 2011

Walking tall

Filed under: Growing Old,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 9:25 pm

Most of us women have discovered that standing up straight instead of slouching can take ten pounds off one’s appearance.  Those of us who are old enough have also discovered that it can take ten years off one’s appearance as well.

Research has long demonstrated that taller people get an initial respect slouchers often have to earn.  Now research suggests another reason.  It makes people feel more confident, more in charge, more apt to take the initiative rather than waiting for someone else to step in.

Having read this article, I tried out a little mini-experiment on myself.  I have a weak back, and like many of my relatives, I tend to walk slightly bent forwards.  So I tried walking around for ten minutes consciously making sure I was standing up straight.

The effect, I must say, was quite surprising.   I felt the self-assurance I felt when I was 20 years younger.

The most surprising thing was that I felt like one of those older women whom I see occasionally who give the impression that there is nothing old fogey about them.  They are often kind and thoughtful, but they don’t walk around with a look that’s vaguely apologetic for no longer having a full grasp.  They don’t act as if they no longer are sure of themselves.

It was a great feeling, I’d recommend it to anyone over the age of 60.  It’s a great way to feel confidant about all that wisdom one has spent years accumulating.

I’m definitely going to incorporate it into my daily presentation of self to myself.

January 10, 2011

The Decline Effect in reverse

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 4:26 pm

This isn’t really about the Decline Effect.  It’s really about our declining years.

Research has found that for most people, our least happiest years are when  we in our 40’s or early 50’s.  But then, the astonishing thing is that if we manage to survive our mid-forties, data from all over the world suggests that we really do get happier.  Despite our worst expectations, most people really do somehow manage to get wiser, less troubled, and simply happier.

The research is so widespread I think it is unlikely that the results will gradually dissipate as a result of a Decline Effect – the replication should already have shown this to be the case if it were going to happen.

Speaking for myself, I have unquestionably learned how to be happier as I’ve gotten older.

Paradoxically, now that I think about it, I’m also a great deal less resentful about the fact that I am going to die.  Even though, since I am undoubtedly past my prime, it will inevitably be sooner rather than later.

December 31, 2010

New Year’s resolution

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 2:47 pm

Today is the last day of the first decade of the second millennium CE or AD, whichever system one prefers.  I can’t speak personally about the millennia, but this decade seems to have shot past.   Another entire decade of each of our lives has been lived.  Given that even the most fortunate don’t get many more than ten of those, it’s a big chunk of life for each of us.  

I’m standing here on this pinnacle of 2011, wondering what beginning to feel the increasing effects of growing old will be like in the next decade, and what kind of “old” person I want to be.  Already, I can see that my mental abilities are slower than they used to be.  I have to concentrate more and can’t “multi-task” as easily as I used to.  When I’m driving, I often have to stop talking or risk not being sufficiently aware of the road.  I can’t do mental arithmetic as fast any more, and I’m tempted to over-organize and over-control.  Even I sometimes find myself annoying.

What I do hope I don’t become – what I am going to try very hard not to become – is one of those old people who think that because they’ve been around longer than everybody else that they know best.  That infuriating kind of arrogance is no more valid and even less appealing in old people than it is in youth.  Except that perhaps by the time we are old, we really should know better.

So how does an old person avoid becoming a know-it-all?  The only safeguard I can think is to keep being interested, to keep asking, to keep being unsatisfied with what I already think I know.  About people, about the universe, about how to live.

I hope I do not become an old person who suffers from dementia (as opposed to forgetting words, which is already a lost cause).  There is only so much I can do about that possibility.  I suspect that the most important thing I can do to cushion getting old is getting a good solid dose of exercise every day.  I wish I could say I thought it was nutrition, which is mostly more fun than exercise.  But though I think what we eat and drink matters, I don’t have to work at that very hard because it’s easy.

So I guess my New Year’s resolutions are to keep up a regime of serious daily exercise.  And to stay involved in the world out there.

And if I do start babbling incoherently, well, as Bette Midler once said

“Oh please don’t let anybody notice.

“But if they do notice, please don’t let them say anything.”

November 4, 2010

On the mail boat

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:07 pm

Modern communications systems are amazing.

And wonderful.

I mean, it is possible to communicate almost instantaneously with people anywhere on the planet, on land, sea, or even air.

But it does have a down-side.

It’s a lot harder to resist frenetic activity almost 24/7.

Email is my current object of attack.  For months now, I have been refusing to look at email in my in-box like a firecracker about to go off if I don’t answer it.  Or to scourge myself as an uncaring friend for letting it sit there for weeks unanswered.

I’m finding it a terrific practice.  These days I think of email waiting to be answered like a letter than has arrived by boat.  It can sit there being treasured rather than being on my conscience as some testimony to my slothfulness.

Some emails I answer immediately because what I want to say is right there practically jumping out of my head.  But some emails need time, need care, need thoughtfulness.  And feeling guilty about them does not help at all.

There’s a grace in slowing down sometimes.

I like to think this insight represents the achievement of a modicum of wisdom on my part.

But it could be that I’m just getting old, and making a virtue out of necessity.

November 1, 2010

Bitter Tea

Filed under: Growing Old,Political thoughts — theotheri @ 11:10 pm

I think perhaps the Tea Party is not quite as selfless as I thought when I was writing my post yesterday.  They seem to be greatly in favor of repealing Obama’s health care legislation but increasing payments for Medicare.

Medicare is health care for the elderly.   And a disproportionate number of Tea Party members seem to be over 60.

Meanwhile, today I drove right past the supermarket where I’ve been hundreds of times and where I was planning on going today in the first place.  I was talking to my husband about something completely different.

They say one isn’t as good at multi-tasking as one gets older.

In other words, I need to pay more attention to what I’m doing.  Like maybe I shouldn’t drive and talk at the same time?

October 16, 2010


Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 7:40 pm

Einstein said that when we travel faster, time slows down.

I can add a corollary to that:  when we get older, time goes faster.

That’s why 24 hours in a day at 71 isn’t equal to 24 hours in a day at 17.

It’s also why I’m taking a blog break for a week.

October 9, 2010

To Do list

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:04 pm

I walked around today looking at the things that need to be done in the house or on the property, and realized that I will never get to the bottom of my To Do list.

But that if I ever did, it would be like going to what I used to think was on offer in heaven:  everything would be done:  everything would be perfect.

And I would go mad with boredom.

Being unfinished is much more exciting.

September 29, 2010

Gifts that cost too much

I think it takes a certain amount of wisdom as well as experience to really believe that it is possible to have too much money.  Or to be too beautiful, or too smart, or too talented, or too famous.  Or too much anything that we tend to think of as “gifts”.

A study recently published of 210 children identified as prodigies when they were young reported on the number of them that had achieved in adult life the potential suggested by their IQs as children.

Out of 210 children, how many would you guess had matured into high achievers?

I would have guessed perhaps 40-50%.  That is, something close to 100.

The answer found by the study is six.

The study found that finding everything easy, being able to compete on an academic level at the age of 11 with Oxford students, being recognized at the age of ten as a genius, put tremendous pressure on children, and they often found a way of ultimately running away from it.  One subject is alleged to be selling sex for $250/hour.  Another ran away to South America, another resorted to stacking supermarket shelves.

Many educators are now concluding that gifted children should be treated like other children with no attempt to drive them faster.

I used to wonder if I’d gone to schools that pushed me to my limit what I would have achieved.  (Not that I was a child prodigy:  I wasn’t.)  But I look now at the fault lines in my personality, at the places where I could have cracked if I’d been put under intolerable pressure.  And I’m grateful I had something closer to an “ordinary” education.

Though I also remember with almost unlimited gratitude those 3 or 4 brilliant teachers who changed my life.

September 28, 2010

Going nuts

Filed under: Food chains,Growing Old — theotheri @ 4:03 pm

I’ve been searching the net trying to find out where the phrase “going nuts”

came from.  So far have  not found any suggestions about the etymology.  There are a lot of examples though, none of which seem to fit any of the many benefits of nuts that I’ve recently read about:

  • walnuts help reduce cholesterol, and are recommended as a defense against memory loss and heart disease
  • almonds are valuable weight-loss aids, and, like walnuts, help reduce cholesterol and memory loss
  • hazel nuts are recommended for skin cell renewal which tastes better than anti-aging cream
  • pistachios seems to reduce the incidence of several kinds of cancers
  • peanuts help in avoiding diabetes and gallstones

Now if I can just find a similar list about the benefits of chocolate, I might live a happy and healthy life for a century or more.  That is, if the list of things I’m going to have to give up isn’t too long.  I’m ignoring the research that suggests that eating less seems to lead to longevity.

September 25, 2010

What growing old is good for

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 7:32 pm

The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life

Muhammad Ali

Advice for those days when I wish I’d done it differently in the first place.

September 18, 2010

Coming home again

As I have said several times before in this blog, it was my husband who first suggested to me more than 35 years ago that “not being a Catholic anymore” involved a lot more than just not believing in the various doctrines of Catholicism or not going to Mass on Sundays.

My insights into just how broadly and deeply and profoundly my early religious upbringing shaped the whole structure of my world and the depths of my personality have never stopped.  I reached what I thought was a culmination several months ago with the huge liberation I felt when I realized I’d rejected absolutely the existence of another world of spirits, of heaven or hell, that somehow is supposed to transcend this universe.  I belong here, not somewhere else, I evolved within this universe, when I die all what is me will remain a part of this universe.  I’m not going anywhere else.  I’m already home.

I’ve just come to understand, though, in another way just how alienating the metaphysics underlying Catholic teaching has been for me.  To some extent this is probably true for all Catholics, but it has been especially so for me, I think, because I was quicker than most to grasp the theological and philosophical issues to which I was exposed even as a child listening to the erudite discussions that took place around our dinner table.

What Catholic doctrine did for me was far more than teach me some critical  dogmas like the teaching that Jesus was both God and man, that he physically rose from the dead after his crucifixion, and that his disciples watched him ascend to heaven some time after that.  Those beliefs I gave up long ago.

The much longer struggle has been for me first to recognize and then to change my tendency to ignore my personal experiences as inferior to reasoning.  Far too often, I have looked first for the “right” answer.  If my own intuitions or experiences don’t match that right answer, then it was my feelings that were wrong.  In fact, my feelings were completely unimportant, were irrelevant to assessing the situation.

Now there is nothing wrong with not trusting one’s intuitions without reservation.  In fact, it is an extremely important thing to do.  But there is something terribly askew if one never questions the “right” answers either, if one never really says to oneself “what do I think?  what do I want?  how do I feel about this?”  And that is what I have done far more often than I would had I not been such an accomplished Catholic thinker.

For example, when I decided to enter the convent, I never asked myself if I wanted to be a nun.  I asked myself if God had called me to be a nun.  The decision, in other words, was not mine but God’s.  Once I decided God had called me, I had to answer it whether or not I wanted to.  I do not remember ever once asking myself what I wanted to do with my life.  The “right” answer to that question lay somewhere else:  what did God want me to do with the life he’d given me?

In the same way, after I entered the convent, we were each asked by our superiors when they were considering whether we should be accepted to take our vows, if we’d been happy since we had come there.  A good friend of mine answered “no.”  I was appalled.  “No” was absolutely the wrong answer!  If you said no, you wouldn’t be accepted.  And she wasn’t.

But my own error was even greater.  I said yes, I had been happy.  But I said it because I knew it was the right answer.  I wasn’t aware of this.  But I did not even ask myself if I’d been happy.  Referring to my own feelings was irrelevant.  If I was going to stay in the convent, I was supposed to be happy, and so the right answer was that I was.

Yesterday I was reading Tony Equale’s newest book The Mystery of Matter in which he discusses the difference in Greek philosophy of existence and essence.  Essence, he points out, is what really matters;  existence is somehow secondary.  And I suddenly realized how profoundly this apparently esoteric distinction going back 4,000 years has influenced my own thinking processes all my life.

And in a matter of minutes, I understood something about myself I have been puzzling about for decades.  Why do I like modern art and feel so constricted by renaissance artists?  Why do I find such delight in discovering that even the strongest scientific theories have cracks in them?  Why do I feel so constrained by rigidly laid out gardens and so liberated by naturalistic plantings?  Or why do I remember so vividly the student who did not have the capacity to analyze the problem but who looked at me and said stubbornly “The data is wrong:  blacks aren’t less smart than white people.  It’s just wrong.  I can’t explain it.  But it’s wrong.”  And why did I know she was right, and why did I spend the next decade of my career analyzing that data which looked so convincing but which somehow I too knew was wrong?

It’s as if something in me has always been saying “smash the damn right answers;  right answers are never absolute;  right answers aren’t everything.”  But I never knew before what it was that I wanted to put in the place of those right answers.

And I realized as I was reading a the recent post on Equale’s blogthat what I want to put in place of those right answers is myself, is the validity of my own experience.  I feel as if until now part of me hasn’t ever let the other part of me actually live.

I’m an old woman now.  But I’m dancing.

I’ve come home again.

September 16, 2010

Getting a grip

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:48 pm

It’s exercise, stupid.

I knew it, I knew it.  I’ve known it for years, but  I kept hoping it would go away.

Research that I’ve read in the last week found that the stronger a person’s grip, the longer their life expectancy.  Life expectancy is correlated with lots of other small examples of physical strength and stamina as well – how fast you can walk or how easily one gets out of a chair.

I’d sort of been hoping the magic elixir would be chocolate.

But I guess I’ll keep on trying to open bottle caps with my bare hands instead.

Do you think that will work?

August 30, 2010

A test of unimportance

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:32 pm

The following is a test of things that in one time in my life I thought were important:

Which of the following in each of the pairs below represents the correct spelling?

independant or independent

vacume or vacuum

separate or seperate

recommend or recomend

playright or playwright

speech or speach

I won’t bother identifying the right answers.  If you use either spelling, most people will know what you mean.  And if my old-fashioned self grits my teeth at a misspelling, I will remind myself to look over these blog posts and all my own misspelled words.

It’s not that I don’t think spelling matters at all.  It’s just that I realize after all these years that we misspell words for a lot of reasons beside carelessness.

August 26, 2010

Backwards in small steps

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 9:42 pm

For years I have had the habit of turning on music and exercising for 20-30 minutes every day.  I do have opt outs – never on Sunday or any other day where I’ve walked for at least an hour or been working flat out physically for most of the day.

Somehow I’ve managed to convince myself that I’ve been working “flat out” every day for the last three weeks, and having thus smothered my conscience, missed both my exercise and my music.

I have been noticing that a certain tension has been building up.  I’m sure both my heart rate and blood pressure were abnormally high and I’ve been having trouble sleeping.

“Too much coffee,” I said to myself.  So I switched to decaf.  It didn’t seem to help.

“Ah ha!” I said to my receptive self.  “I think you should have a gin and tonic several times this week instead of waiting until Friday.”  “Oh good,” my receptive self said.  And so I did.

I should have known it would only make things worse.

Today, though, I actually snapped.  I’m not a person given to temper tantrums and when I’m rarely upset if I need to change my scheduled plans.

But a delivery was supposed to be made sometime two days ago for an item we badly need for the garden.  So we waited in all day.  It didn’t come.  I called the delivery service and they said it was due to arrive yesterday so we waited in all day again.  It still wasn’t delivered.  This morning they said it would be delivered about eleven am.  today.  So Peter and I both readjusted our plans.  At 11:30 I checked the mail and found a notice saying the delivery had been attempted.  I called the delivery service again and they said the delivery man had banged on the door but nobody answered.  Nor were any neighbours at home.  (Well, they were, and so were we, so I have my suspicions.)

But the vagaries of the delivery man isn’t really my problem.  My problem was that I reacted physically and psychologically with absolute shock.  I was afraid to drive the car for fear I would be too distracted by this terrible catastrophe which had befallen me.

Truly, my physical reaction would have been appropriate to being told that I had two weeks to live.

I kept telling myself it was ridiculous, but adrenalin was still sweeping through my system ringing every alarm bell it could find.

And it finally dawned on me.

I need my music.  And I need my exercise.  They aren’t optional extras in my days any more than food or drink or brushing my teeth.  And if I don’t get them, I might regress in small steps I don’t notice.

But backwards I go.

So I didn’t skip the music or the exercise today.  I can tell even without counting that my pulse rate is back in its normal range.

And I really do believe that the garden will manage to survive until the delivery arrives.  It’s promised for tomorrow.

August 11, 2010

Childhood grows up

Filed under: Growing Old,Growing Up,The Younger Generation — theotheri @ 4:15 pm

In the supermarket this morning, I overheard a conversation between a boy about age 7 and a woman who looked like his grandmother.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked him.

In one of the those grown-up voices that makes one wonder sometimes if children are really only rather short adults, he answered:  “I want to be an archaeologist.”  Then after a short pause, “Or an astrophysicist.”  We moved out of earshot as he was explaining to his grandmother what archaeologists do.

What a great change since I was a child.  It’s not just computers and the internet and i-pods.  It’s the scope of possibilities.

At seven, I thought my options were to be a nun, a teacher, or a nurse.  Or just a plain old mother which even then I knew I didn’t think was exciting enough.  (I know:  I apologize to every mother for this gross misunderstanding.)  Later I added the options of social worker and secretary.

So I opted to be a Maryknoll nun because working with the poor in underdeveloped countries seemed about the most exciting challenging thing I could imagine.  And of course it came with the extra advantage of social kudos from those who thought it was truly a holy God-given vocation that had been bestowed on me.

I consider myself to be extraordinarily fortunate.

But I wonder what my young self would have answered “what do you want to be when you grow up” if I were seven years old today.  Like every seven-year-old I would have a lot to learn.  Some things don’t change.  By the time you are seventeen, you know a great deal more than the previous generation.   Yet it’s amazing how much ones parents learn by the time one is 27.

August 5, 2010

One of my treasures

Filed under: For when nothing is going right,Growing Old,Teaching — theotheri @ 8:17 pm

When I left teaching for the last time, one of my students gave me a poster:

A teacher affects eternity:

he can never tell where his influence stops

It still hangs on my study wall.

July 31, 2010

Haggling deficit syndrome

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:43 pm

For most of my life, I’ve felt pretty confidant about my ability to figure things out when I need to.  And I’m pretty good at explaining things, which I suppose is why I enjoyed teaching so much.

But I am a hopeless nervous wreck when it comes to negotiating.  Considering that it seems to be just as about deeply engrained in the human psyche as hunting and gathering, this seems to be a pretty fundamental deficit.  But so it is.

All I want is to be told the price of something so I can decide if I can afford it, and if I can afford it, if I want it that much.

Please don’t suggest I should haggle.

Over the years, Peter and I have developed a system that works better than most.  I’m the soft cop — frankly, I’d probably give away the store — but I’m good at getting a lot of information from sellers, and occasionally they offer concessions I think just because I seem so vulnerable.

But my confidence comes from knowing that I’m backed by a hard-cop type.  No one would call Peter over-trusting.

It was this combination that finally helped us unearth why we could not get regular electricity, water, and mail service to our newly built house.  It had been “denounced,” a secretive process that may have been unique to Spain, but which involved papers being “lost” by the town hall, and our incomplete ownership to a piece of real estate for which we had paid in full, and which had been negotiated for us by no less than two lawyers.

We are now negotiating a trade-in on our car.  By now we should be very good at it, but we just might be getting too old for this kind of caper.

Watch this space.

July 29, 2010

Hug a grandmother

Filed under: Growing Old,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 3:01 pm

In the last five years or so, I have been hugged by the most unexpected people.  Unexpected because they are typically young men – in their 20’s or 30’s – whom I barely know and whom I will never see again.

The first hug in this category was from a young man who came to take photographs for our property in the Lake District we were putting on the market.  The real estate agent wanted a distance photograph taken from the fells so we hiked ten minutes or so into the hills to get a good shot.  On the way, he told me about several uncanny dreams he’d had which seemed to be psychic.

I listened carefully because I have a healthy respect for folklore and traditions.  Mixed in with some silly superstitions, I think people often know a lot of things they don’t know they know, and when it shows up in dreams or intuitions, think it is psychic.  His stories were interesting and I didn’t laugh at them.

After the photographs had been taken, we walked back to his car.  He stored his equipment, and got in.  Then, unexpectedly, he got back out, gave me a hug, and wished us luck.  I never saw him again.

It happened again in a hotel in France when all the guests had been required by the fire department to leave their rooms.  It was fairly late at night and we all sat around a table while the young hotel manager served coffee or tea and biscuits while he tried to answer our questions.  When we were finally permitted to return to our rooms, I thanked him for what I imagined was as unexpected a night for him and it was for us.  Why he gave me a hug I don’t know.  He didn’t hug any of the other guests.  I don’t know what my husband thought.  We were both tired, and by the next morning I forgot to ask.

I was hugged again last week.  One of the young men who were topping up the cavity insulation in our property walls found me kneeling on the floor where I was cleaning behind the furniture they had needed moving.  “Oh,” he said, “you’re taking advantage of having to move everything.”  I laughed and said yes.  And when I stood up, he gave me a hug.

I absolutely do not know why I was the recipient of this unsought and rather delightful show of affection.  Although I am of an age to be a grandmother, I have never actually thought of myself as the grandmotherly type.

Perhaps these young men had grandmothers whom they loved.

Image from

Whatever the reason, unsolicited hugs are not to be dismissed.  I would never have thought I would remember a hug I received five years ago from  someone I’d never seen before and whose name I don’t even remember.

But I do.

July 12, 2010

Get older to get smarter

Filed under: Growing Old,Intriguing Science — theotheri @ 7:54 pm

Sky Dive Orange County in Orange, Virginia Tandem Sky Diving Orange County Virginia USA

Almost since psychologists devised tests of intelligence, it has been accepted as proven that intelligence peaks in a person’s 20’s or early 30’s, when a slow and inevitable decline relentlessly begins.

It now looks as if this proven “fact” isn’t correct.

It depends on what is tested.  Speed and short-term memory do generally peak before we hit 30.  But vocabulary, emotional intelligence, social skills, problem-solving, and decision-making all improve with age and do not necessarily decline unless some debilitating disease intervenes.

There are some things that one can do to keep in peak cerebral condition as one moves toward one’s second century of life.  One, of course, is to remain involved in life.

Alas, another is exercise.  A 73-year-old from Wales goes sky-diving about once a month.  He’s sure it’s helping to improve his thinking.

My hope is that I might escape with something a little less extreme.

Which reminds me:  I haven’t done my 30 minutes in the rocking chair yet today.

July 7, 2010

In need of something fishy

I’ve just listened to a research report suggesting that people whose diets are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids are less apt to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.  Apparently the typical Greek diet is unusually high in omega 3’s, while incidence of Alzheimer’s is relatively low.

I was already acquainted with research suggesting that omega 3’s are good for the heart, and are considered “brain food” for children.  But this is the first time I ever read that it could be implicated in reducing the chance of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3’s are particularly concentrated in oily fish.  After that, soya, flaxseed, and canola (known as rapeseed over here in Europe), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are the best sources.  And supplements.

It’s recommended, of course, not to wait until my age before acting on this.  But it’s probably better late than never.

May 19, 2010

Mature wishes

Filed under: Growing Old,Growing Up,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 4:06 pm

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work;

I want to achieve it through not dying.

Woody Allen

I remember when I blew out all the candles on my birthday cake and all I wished for was a pet horse.

Never got it, by the way.

May 17, 2010


Filed under: Growing Old,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 2:16 pm

Cornwall Weblog: Elderly people sign (IMG_0933.JPG, 568 x 600, 96.0K) When I was a child,  we called our grandparents plus anybody with grey hair “old.”

But gradually, youthfulness replaced age in terms of desirability, and calling someone “old” morphed from a badge of honour to a disparaging description suggesting that the person was no longer relevant to our dynamic, exciting, and changing world.

So political correctness set in and the old were politely referred to as the “elderly.”  With this transformation, it became acceptable to address anyone with grey hair as “dear,” and the polite stance was one of patronizing patience.

But it became apparent that the term “elderly” did not sufficiently obfuscate the intended target, and it was gradually replaced with “senior citizens.”

Yesterday I was introduced to a new term:  OAPs.  OAPs are Old Age Pensioners, to distinguish them from those receiving a disability pension or a single-parent pension.

OAPs is the parent category of OATS, a subgroup of  Old Age Teetotalers.

Just kidding.  I made that last part up.

May 14, 2010

Man with a bucket

Filed under: Growing Old,Living in Spain,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 7:22 pm

When Peter and I moved to Spain, I was equipped with two years of high school Spanish.  But I knew even less Spanish than that.

Because according to the dictionary, “mañana” means “tomorrow.”  It took some time, but I finally realized that is not what it means at all.  “Mañana” sits somewhere between “not now” and “never, but I don’t want to say no.”

Poco a poco,” however, means something entirely different, and it took not only a different translation but a little wisdom for me to understand what it really means.  Literally, “poco a poco” means “little by little,” or “slowly.”  But my first glimmer of what it really means, and how it underpins a whole philosophy of the Spanish way of life took place as I watched a Spanish workman.

He was filling up a hole roughly the size of half a swimming pool.  In America, a tractor or even steam shovel would have been hauled in.  In Spain, I watched as this single man trudged with a large bucket from the bottom of the hill to dump earth into what looked to me like a cavernous hole.  He didn’t even have a wheel barrow.  He just walked slowly back and forth, up and down the hill all morning filling and emptying the bucket.

And the hole got filled.

I can’t count the times I’ve looked at jobs that just seem too big for me ever to finish all by myself.  Or how many problems I’ve thought I could never figure out.

And how many times I’ve thought about that workman with the bucket.

I’m an American and for many years I shared the philosophy that “fast” and “big” and “efficient” are best.  It tended to make me feel rushed.  No matter what I was doing, I always had something else I had to get done next.

So I rarely just did what I was doing.  I never just walked up and down that hill with a bucket getting a job done poco a poco.

But I do now.  When I’m doing a job, I don’t think quite so often that it isn’t enough, because there is so much more to do.  And I don’t worry so much about not having all the answers to life either.

I’m finding it quite a fulfilling way to live.

Probably good for my blood pressure too.

May 4, 2010

The wisdom of age?

Filed under: Growing Old,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 8:13 pm

I think wisdom comes with age, and you’ve had a lot of knocks by 35.”

Natalie Imbruglia, Singer

Do you think you get to be twice as wise if you’ve been knocking around for twice that long?

March 23, 2010

Whose life is it?

I have just finished reading a large excerpt from The Last Goodnights, the story of a man running his own legal practice in Seattle, Washington eleven years ago when his father, and a year later his mother, asked his help to commit suicide.  His father was a psychiatrist suffering from terminal cancer, his mother an independent, intelligent lively woman who knew she was suffering from dementia.

This is a true story told about something that happened in California, but assisted suicide is discussed in the press and taken to the courts far more publicly and probably far more often here in Britain than in the States.  The issue has been high-lighted by a number of high-profile cases:

  • Terry Pratchett, the author, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  He wants to be able to choose when and how to end his life and has been campaigning for a clarification of the law.
  • Another woman suffering from MS wants her husband to accompany her without fear of prosecution to the Dignitas Clinic in Sweden where she can be helped legally to end her life peacefully when the time comes.
  • Police have decided not to prosecute the parents who acquiesced to their son’s request to accompany him to Dignitas after he was totally paralyzed from the neck down in a football accident.
  • A mother was recently found not guilty of murder by a jury after she admitted helping her daughter, irreversibly and permanently bedridden and severely disabled, to take enough pills to end her life.

The argument against assisted suicide here is generally not that an individual does not have a right to end their own lives.  It is not against British law to commit suicide.  But it is against the law to help someone else commit suicide.  The argument against changing the law is the fear that people – especially the old and infirm – will be talked into committing suicide by those who find caring for them a burden and/or who would benefit financially from their death.

Personally, I believe that a person should be permitted to help someone else commit suicide if one is convinced they are of sane mind, have a realistic assessment of what they are facing, and are clear that they wish help to end their lives because they cannot end their own lives without help.  I am quite clear that there are circumstances under which I would end my life without guilt.

I also have very little respect for religious arguments that a life should be solely in the hands of God.  I might respect – if not agree – with this position a little more if these same people argued against capital punishment with the same energy that they wish to impose their values regarding abortion and assisted suicide on believers and non-believers alike.

But I also think any law on assisted suicide must be crafted very carefully.  Not only is there the temptation to hurry up the death of someone whose demise will benefit us personally.  There is also often the pain of watching a loved one suffer and the temptation to end ones own agonizing by ending the suffering of someone else by killing them, whether or not they wish it.  Euthanasia or mercy killing is not the same as assisted suicide.

I think it’s my life.  But it’s also my suffering.  And if I am able, I prefer to make my own decisions about when and how I might wish to end either.

March 19, 2010

Shock vs surprise

Filed under: Family,Growing Old — theotheri @ 10:25 pm

I got a message through our family list serve last night that my younger (younger!) brother had been rushed to hospital with a heart attack.  I’ve talked to him and he hopes to be home in several days, so the news isn’t nearly as traumatic as it could have been.

But even a brush like this with our mortality comes as a shock.  Actually, there are many of us in the family who have already lived long and full lives, and this kind of news is going to start coming.  So it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

But I realized again that surprise and shock are completely different things.  Knowing that death is coming does very little to reduce shock when it does.  It’s like preparing oneself for a slap in the face or stepping into a freezing shower.  Knowing that it’s coming doesn’t make it less shocking when it does.

I really haven’t the slightest idea of how to reduce its impact.  It’s certain that I and everyone I know and love – and don’t know and don’t love, for that matter – are going to die.

But somehow it’s such a shock.

We were made to live.  I think perhaps a time comes when one realizes – really deep down from within the depths of oneself – that it’s time to go.  But I must admit I haven’t found it in myself yet.

March 16, 2010

Opera glasses with lost provenance

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:19 pm

I sometimes think these days that we spend the first three-quarters of our lives acquiring things and the last quarter trying to get rid of them responsibly.  Assuming things are not yet ready for the trash bin, there are the easy off loads to Oxfam and other charities.  I always feel slightly guilty giving them my discards but they ask for them, so I pass them on feeling more like the recipient than the donor.

But some things are more challenging.  Especially those things which belonged to earlier generations.  Who is willing to be the custodian for the next generation of these exquisite tea cups that nobody drinks from anymore?  Or this old-fashioned brooch that belonged to my husband’s grandmother?  Or this wool shawl lovingly knitted by a great aunt?

Antique Mother of Pearl and brass French opera glasses

Now Peter and I have discovered a new twist to our problem.  We’ve had a pair of opera glasses in a rather fine leather case floating around in a drawer for years.  They are never used, but since they belonged to his mother, I have not felt it was up to me to worry about them.  But yesterday he mentioned that they had belonged, not to his mother, but to mine.

I was flabbergasted.  Opera glasses belonging to my mother?!  And even if they had, how would I ever have gotten possession of them?  He was equally adamant that they did not, could not, have belonged to his mother or anyone else in his family.

So now we have this rather posh set of opera glasses with absolutely no idea to whom they belong.  I asked my sister who said in the same tone of voice I’d used “Is Peter sure they didn’t belong to his mother?”

My guess is that somehow they came from my family, but I have no idea by what route.  “Made in Japan” is the only hint I’ve managed to find thus far, which doesn’t narrow the field by much.

Perhaps Oxfam can use them along with my discarded books and old shoes?

March 6, 2010

Age diagnosis

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 10:01 pm

How old do you think you have to be to startled by the fact that the people who are starting college this fall were born in 1992?

Yes.  I’m  old enough.

By decades, I think.

March 2, 2010

Old bones

Filed under: Growing Old,Osteoporosis,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 8:52 pm

Between the weather and the flu, my daily exercise regime came to almost a full stop for most of February.

Wow, does it make a difference!

We went to Wimpole Hall, Wimpole Hall

a National Trust property of 2500 acres and a magnificent home where Rudyard Kipling’s daughter once lived.  It is less than ten minutes from where we live and we simply walked for the sheer delight of feeling the sun light upon our faces.  But within 15 minutes I could feel the pull on my back.  I’m seriously out of condition.

I think regular exercise might be even more important than nutrition if I want to keep as fit as possible as the years pile up.  Especially for me on the edge of full-blown osteoporosis.  It’s amazing how fast one can deteriorate with so little effort.

Anyway, I think I’m well enough to return to my regular regime of 30 minutes serious mixed exercise a day.

Well, serious by my standards.  Probably not much more than a quick warm-up for most.       Wimpole Hall Estate

February 16, 2010

A private education

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 9:12 pm

It’s a little late, but I’ve been re-teaching myself music appreciation by a method I wish I’d applied years ago.

I’ve been going through my entire collection of recordings and in an exuberance of mad freedom, wildly giving away everything I’ve always thought I should like but don’t.   It’s marvellous.  Instead of looking at all those recordings lining my shelves and feeling guilty about not playing half of them since they were purchased, I now look greedily at what I am going to enjoy next.

I’ve given away every single one of the Gregorian chants and all the monophonic music of the Middle Ages.  I’ve saved several treasures from the Renaissance, most of which is music that didn’t make it into the church probably on grounds that it was too worldly, but everything else went.  I’ve kept everything Baroque – Handel, Bach, Vivaldi – and Classical – Mozart, Haydn, Haydn.  I’ve pruned the 18th century of almost every composer except Wagner, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, and what remains from the 20th century are Grieg’s Finlandia, Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and Dvorak’s New World and a huge collection of folk and country music.

People’s taste in music, even among professional musicians, is extraordinarily individual and we don’t necessarily like the same things.  I think Fauve’s Requiem is awful;  I have a brother who thinks it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.   Peter likes modern jazz,  my step-mother loved opera, my sister Bernadette loves musicals, my sister Catherine understands the 20th century.

So why not start out by asking young people to listen to all kinds of music and decide what they like?  Rather than feeling vaguely uncultured or uneducated  listening to music that creates no resonance, we could start out by experiencing the best of what music can do for the human spirit.

I speak from direct experience:  it’s exciting and guilt-free.  At my age anyway.

February 4, 2010

Selective learning preferences

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:47 pm

I knew I loved learning from the very first day I walked into St. Joseph’s grade school and sat down at a desk.

But I didn’t want to learn absolutely everything, and some things I absolutely refused to learn at all.  Like how to milk the cow.  And acquiring decent penmanship never seemed worth the effort either.

When we moved to Spain, my learning took on a whole new dimension.  We had more time than money, and I discovered that my own labour was free.  So I figured out how to repair our dishwasher, the washing machine, the pool pump and leaking faucets.  I learned how to tile and build walls and lay patios.  But after ten years, I was tired of figuring out how things worked and it was a relief to call in a repairman in England to fix the microwave and hot water heater rather than facing the frustration of trying to figure it out myself.

I am now weary of new technology.  I just got a new mobile phone to replace the one that conveniently departed this life on the day our land line phone also stopped working.

You’d think figuring out a mobile phone wouldn’t be all that difficult.   But it’s installing a new battery and sim card, and finding the new IMEI, choosing a ring tone and password, and finding out how the radio and alarm and flashlight and network access all work.   It’s just a simple phone by modern standards so it doesn’t have a GPS or camera.  I’m so grateful.

So apart from the games option, which I skipped, I managed the entire gargantuan mind-boggling task in about an hour.

Yet somehow I found myself longing for the days when telephones were just telephones, and using them was within the scope of a three-year-old without a period of intense training.

Although come to think of it, maybe mobile phones are within the scope three-year-olds these days.

February 3, 2010

The Big Three

Filed under: Diet,Growing Old,Illness and disease — theotheri @ 4:38 pm
Tags: , ,

As one who has survived the process of growing up and growing old in a generally functioning state, the Big Three of cancer, cardiac arrest, and dementia inevitably appear as possible companions at some point in my life.  What happens will happen, of course, but our futures are not totally beyond our influence.  What happens to each of us is, to some extent, the result of our own choices.

And I realize I know much more about those choices than earlier generations.

When my mother died of cancer at the age of 48 just over 50 years ago, the doctors couldn’t tell us much about what caused it.  Too much coffee was the principle hypothesis.

Today we know a lot more.  Partly it’s genetic.  But mostly it’s life style – what we eat and drink, whether we smoke, and how much exercise we get.

Fifteen years ago when my sister was dying of cancer, I realized that the recommendations for reducing cardiac disease were almost identical to those recommended for reducing cancer.

Right now, the media are featuring news on dementia in Britain, and again the list of causes of dementia and how to reduce the chances of senile dementia are just about the same:

  • genes can make a difference:  just as with cancer and cardiac disease, some of us are more vulnerable than others.  We  can’t do much about that

But the list of everything else that makes a difference are almost all under our control, and don’t require any more money than the life styles most of us live in the developed world.

  • exercise – life-long, regular exercise is unbelievably important.  I have reached this conclusion with great reluctance, because I am not an exercise freak.  I prefer walking for getting somewhere to almost any other mode of transport, but apart from that, I find exercise for its own sake one of the most boring endeavours of my life.  But I can’t avoid the conclusion that there is no more effective method for staving off the Big Three.
  • then there is diet:  lots of fruit and vegetables, low fat and sugar, fresh rather than processed foods and additives, minimal alcohol.
  • I imagine most people know that smoking is associated with increases in cancer and cardiac disease, but I was surprised to learn that smoking was implicated in dementia too.
  • And so is stress.

There is a village in India where incidence of dementia is significantly lower than it is in the developed world.  The explanation isn’t genetic.  It’s life style.

I hate to say this, but I think I would go absolutely made living there.  I couldn’t even survive on the farm where I was born in Ohio.

But I will go do my thirty minutes of daily exercise.  I guess it’s not quite as boring as I thought.  And at least I can turn on some music.

February 1, 2010

The aches of aging

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 9:00 pm

I was reminded again of something I discovered 20 years ago and have confirmed repeatedly ever since.

Stiff and painful joints that so often begin to appear in  middle age and generally get worse as we get older are often caused by allergies which become more virulent with age.

I have finally managed to give up drinking wine altogether by reminding myself before – instead of after – that if I start drinking wine, I am going to find walking and bending and even standing up comes at a painful price.

My husband has undergone a transformation in just a week by giving up wheat.  He’s known for years that he has a low tolerance of wheat, but the allergy has grown worse with age.  He went through a similar transformation in his mid-fifties when he stopped drinking Vichy water.

From what I have read, these kind of allergies are multiple and often unsuspected by the person being crippled by them.  In my experience, the negative effect can show up in just a day or two.

But in the good news department, the positive effects of staying away from culprits of ones personal nemeses show up in a week.  Ssometimes less.

January 25, 2010

Learning to let go or losing it?

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 9:19 pm

I’ve thought for many years that the process of growing old gracefully requires learning to let go.  I discovered how much I still had to learn when I realized this morning that I’d accidentally trashed my back-up credit cards.  Garbage was picked up yesterday.

I’ve cancelled the cards and haven’t lost any money, but I was upset enough to realize that I’m not as ready for the infirmities of old age as I thought.  Whether it really is due to my old age, or whether I’ve been doing this kind of stupid thing all my life, I’m not sure.  In any case, I decided the time has come to stop relying solely on my memory for information storage.

The experience has greatly expanded my sympathy for the woman in Israel several months ago.   She bought her mother a new mattress, had it delivered and installed it herself while her mother was away.

Unfortunately, the mattress had already been carted off to the dump when her mother returned and told her daughter where she’d been keeping her savings of $20,000.

December 13, 2009

Forgetting isn’t what it used to be

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 9:28 pm

I’ve just had a panicky 45 minutes.  It started when I realized I didn’t know where my spare debit card was.  I knew I hadn’t taken it to London, but it was not in its usual place with my passport.

By some unthinkable chance, had the neighbour to whom we had given our house keys when we were gone taken it?  No, I couldn’t believe it.

But where could it be?  I checked all the usual places where I keep things, and then moved onto the usual places where I lose them – coat pockets, underneath the seat of the car, desk drawers, in back of the bed, behind my filing cabinet.  With each minute, my panic grew.   I checked my account on line to see if any unauthorized purchases had been made.  No.

I tried to calm myself down so that I could concentrate on remembering.   Calm or otherwise, I could not remember moving the card from its usual place of rest.  In desperation, I tried my last strategy, which was to take a card and walk around the house looking for a place to put it.  That’s how I found it.

I still can’t remember ever having put it under that lamp, though.  And I think it was a stupid idea.

But the scariest part is the forgetting.  This kind of thing happens to most people, and it’s happened to me before.  But now that I’m approaching 70, forgetting suggests a fearful possibility.

Am I losing it?  I know I can’t work problems in my head as quickly as I used to.  And I experience the immense frustration of not being able to remember names of people and places and things, sometimes for hours.  Occasionally even days.

Peter says I am still operating in the real world in as logical a fashion as I’ve managed in the past, which I admit isn’t always saying much.  But I don’t seem to be obviously getting any less rational than my earlier norm.

Still:   forgetting just isn’t what it used to be.

December 11, 2009

Fundamentalism at the shopping mall

Filed under: Growing Old,The English,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 5:19 pm

Many of the shopping malls here in England have recently instituted a “No Hoodies” policy.  The declared aim of the policy is for the protection of shoppers and shops, but it is unabashedly aimed at young people perceived to be slinking around, shoulders hunched, and faces out of view of CCT cameras aimed at shop-lifters.

I think it’s a rather nasty, petty, lip-pursing policy myself, but at least I understand the point.

We have a rather grand shopping mall in Cambridge called “The Grand Arcade” whose security guards have been instructed to enforce the “no hoodies” policy.  Unfortunately, they seem to have a rather fundamentalist perception of the rule.  For them “no hoodies” means “no hoodies,” and that means they should ask anyone wearing a hood to please remove it.  Failing that, the offender should presumably be asked to leave the mall.  In fact, escorted off the premises, if necessary.

So when an 84-year-old woman walking with a stick and accompanied by her 84-year-old husband entered the mall with the fur-lined hood of her parka pulled up, the security guard instructed her either to remove it or to leave.

What more can I say?

The mall officials say they are “reviewing their policy.”

November 26, 2009

Why I can’t say thank you

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:50 pm

Several weeks ago while I was waiting for a plane at Heathrow Airport, I wandered into the local Starbucks for two lattes.  While I was waiting, a brother and sister, about 12 and 10, came in and ordered a chocolate drink, a latte, and two espresso to go.  When the clerk told the older brother the cost, he said “wait a minute,” and went away, presumably to get another pound or two from the waiting adults.  But he returned and said he didn’t have the money.

I waited to see what the clerk would say.  What she did say was that she couldn’t serve him if he couldn’t pay. He did a rapid calculation and said “skip the latte.”  It was obviously his drink he was foregoing.

“I’ll pay for it,” I said.  (It was a bank-breaking $3.50.)  The ten-year old sister turned to me and said with the unnerving maturity that children are sometime are capable of “Oh thank you so much.  Thank you.  I hope we will be able to repay you some day.”

“No,” I said.  “You won’t be able to repay me.  You will have to repay someone else some day.  You won’t have the chance to repay me.  That’s how life works.”

And that’s why I can’t say thank you on this wonderful Thanksgiving Day.  Because so many of the people I want to say thank you to are no longer here.

  • I can’t say thank you to my mom who was dead for several decades before I realized what an outstandingly generous woman she was.
  • I can’t say thank you to the three teachers who introduced me to a world of math and philosophy and science that I did not dream I was capable of.
  • I can’t say thank you to the young man who grabbed me on the escalator when my trailing coat got caught in the moving stairs and possibly saved my life.
  • I can’t say thank you to the woman who simply shook her head in the negative when saw me flirting with a married man who was a womanizer, and who saved me, I am sure, from an episode of angry bitterness.
  • I can’t say thank you to some of my students who made my teaching life so rewarding.
  • I can’t say thank you for hundreds of other small and large gifts I have received undeserved.  Because the people I would like to thank aren’t in my life any more.

But I still have a profound debt of gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day.

On a $3.50 repayment plan, I’m going to have to live an awful lot longer to pay it back.

November 25, 2009

The limitations of perfection

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.                                                                                                                  Albert Einstein

I’ve never actually worked the numbers, but I think most of my family have above average IQs.  Most of us are also well-organized, hard-working, industrious, and reliable.  On occasions even heroically so.

But by and large, I don’t think we’re very creative.  Take me, for example.  I am good at explaining difficult concepts.  Even on occasion something as difficult as relativity – once I got my own head around it.  I’m good enough at criticizing theories, comparing them, rejecting or provisionally accepting them.  But I could probably count the number of original thoughts I’ve had with the fingers of one hand and still have several fingers to spare.

Yesterday the reason for this suddenly seemed blindingly obvious.  We were raised as Roman Catholics.  Not only as Catholics, but as thinking Catholics.  Which means that we were immersed in the Platonic world view in which perfection exists in a supernatural world and toward which we should strive.

The problem with perfection, though, is that there isn’t any room for mistakes.  Getting the right answers, doing the right thing is perfect.  Saying something foolish or outlandish is to fall short.  So if one doesn’t know the right answer, it is better to be quiet rather than blurt out something stupid.

Or unexpected. Or creative.

For example, my little sister Mary once put forth the idea that we think with our stomachs.  Oh how we laughed.  I remembered that last month when I read that researchers have found clear changes that take place in the stomach when we concentrate.  But Mary, at the age of probably about five, was humiliated.

And that’s the problem.  Aiming to be perfect sets one on a very narrow path of established right answers.  If you are smart enough, you trip less often than most.  But you won’t risk being creative.  Not unless you are very courageous, willing to be laughed at, or simply have such a kooky brain that these outrageous ideas just keep coming whatever the social cost.

Brainstorming is often the first step toward coming up with a creative idea.  Saying anything that comes to mind, not criticizing it but seeing where else it can take you.  We didn’t brainstorm in my family.  We worked at getting the right answer.

As  I move toward completing my 7th decade, I am reaching the conclusion that right answers have a lot to answer for.

November 15, 2009

Scottish reverie

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Growing Old — theotheri @ 2:22 pm

If you’ve ever been to Scotland and heard the bagpipes calling over the rolling hills, or racing the heart at a memorial ceremony at Edinburgh Castle, or simply raising the spirits around the tables in a pub, you may already know what I am talking about.  It’s about Scottish intuition.

This story is about a Scottish woman who with her husband had been good neighbours of my husband’s parents for decades.  After the death of her own husband and of Peter’s mother, Jane had become an important support to Peter’s father, Ernest.  Peter and I had been living in Spain, at least 24 hours drive and a ferry crossing at the English Channel away.  We tried to get Ernest to come live with us, but his promises always reverted to his inevitable refrain “I’m stopping here.”

We visited him in northern England for months at a time, occasionally as a planned journey, but most often it was a mad dash after late-night calls from Ernest telling us we’d better get there in a hurry or we’d find him “in his coffin.”  By the time this had happened for the third time, we no longer took his announcements of imminent doom too seriously.

But we did finally close up our house in Spain and moved into the back bedroom of his house in England so we could look after him.

One evening we returned home from the supermarket to find Ernest lying in bed with Jane and another neighbour in tears at his bedside.  As we came into the bedroom we heard him saying “The time comes to all of us.  It came to Churchill.”  (Long pause.)  “It came to Roosevelt”  (Long pause).  “It came to King George.”  (Ahem)  “And now it is coming to me.”

Peter and I burst out laughing, and suggested that he sit up to have supper.  Jane was appalled and furious.  “How can you?!” she said aghast.  “He will be gone by tomorrow morning and you’re laughing.”

He won’t be gone by the morning, we assured her.  “I’m Scottish,” Jane returned, “and I know about these things.  I’m sure he has less than 24 hours to live.”

I don’t have a lot of it myself, but I’m a great believer in intuition.  And the Scots do tell some extraordinary stories which I tend to think often have a grain of truth.

But like every other kind of human knowledge, it’s not infallible.  No matter how certain it feels.

Ernest died six months later.

November 5, 2009

Letting Go

Filed under: Growing Old,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 10:18 pm

Perhaps it is the particular task of getting old to learn to let go.  We learn to let go of our childhood, our plans for the future,  our careers, our children, perhaps our partners and many friends.

Finally, we learn to let go of ourselves.  To face that eventuality that the individual self that I am will no longer be.

I began to accept this when I realized that I don’t miss any of my former selves – that me that was a baby or a child or a teenager.  Or even the me that existed five years ago.  And so the loss of my current self no longer seems so unbearable.

I do hope that somehow I will become part of the great cosmic mystery we live in.  I certainly hope I don’t find myself in some kind of static, non-changing,  “perfect” place with nothing to do but sit around.

When my sister was visiting here last month, we were walking in the fields and found a feather.   Her thoughts, too, are about learning to let go.

Way Of The Single Feather

Last night’s mockery of Orwellian shamanism

Still twitched at the corners of my mouth

When I happened upon (never mind that there were several)

Sun stroked remains bearing witness to a pheasant’s sky circles

Brought to a



What meaning might be brought to this synchronous memento of living flight?

There is at first the courage born of facing loss,

and then the dusty futility of objectifying breath

as if, by drying a flower, or mounting the hunted, or refusing to exhale

we might hold sway over the letting go.

Still, a legacy will not be denied this lone feather.

An afterlife, beyond its evolutionary process has begun.

Let it be the pen through which these words flow

An on-going eulogy to a life of sky circles

Marking the pages of my mind’s meanderings.

It will never fly again.  No.

Yet its unconscious beauty allows a sense of awe in my life.

Perhaps I too am a mere part

That the very term realization is a feint.

Is the bird itself a feather?

I will take the way of this single feather as my way for a time.

Perhaps I will learn something.

Perhaps I will remember that I too once flew in great sky circles

And that I can no longer is not my failure

But simply my new normal.

And when the mere shadow of my former self

Loses sight in the darkness of its own passing

I will most certainly contemplate

the way this lone feather came into its incredible shamanic power

and laugh my way to the light again.

October 26, 2009

Are you anybody I know?

Filed under: Growing Old,The Younger Generation — theotheri @ 4:06 pm

This week I have received three requests to be friends on Facebook from people whose names suggest they are complete strangers to me.  Does this happen to a lot of people?

I read recently that a poll showed the majority of young people today consider email old-fashioned.  They are more at home with Facebook and Twitter.  And I wonder why I am so un-enamoured with social networks.  I checked on my Facebook profile the other day, and I have said nothing, absolutely nothing, about myself.  If I didn’t recognize my name, I wouldn’t know who it was.

I think my problem is the lack of distinction between a public and private self.  I’ve always thought of myself as someone who usually likes people, and inevitably finds them interesting.  But I don’t like the implied suggestion that somehow someone is more important or more successful if they have more “friends,” and if more people know what they are doing. It’s as if getting as many people as one can onto ones network is a value.

Of course it’s a great medium for publicity – to sell an idea, a product, a book, to develop a following for a cause.  But not to sell one’s self.

I suspect that, although this is why I don’t like social networks much, a great number of young people who use it are quite capable of separating their public and private selves, and do not find having their profile in cyberspace quite the invasion that I do.

I think it’s because I’ve lived longer.  I no longer value celebrity and see anonymity as a great prize to be protected.

September 11, 2009

Regression in the doctor’s office

Filed under: Cataracts: a story,Growing Old — theotheri @ 2:32 pm

I went to the ophthalmologist yesterday for my annual check up due about 12 months ago.  Despite the fact that I’d delayed it with unjustified excuses, my vision has been one of the great delights of living since I had cataract surgery two and a half years ago, and I was eager to see if I’d maintained my 20/20 vision since then.

But as I ran through about an hour’s worth of tests, I found myself regressing.  I pressed the buzzer as I was told to do every time I saw the purple light flash or the green light blink or the blue light move.  But it wasn’t as if we were testing for my vision.  It was more like the final exam for nuclear physics, and when I got my score at the end of the each test, it was like getting a grade.

I did come out with test results that were wonderful.  But whether I was really thrilled because my eyes are in such good condition or because I got an A+ and the technician kept saying “Excellent” I’m not sure.

I really can’t walk into a doctor’s office without feeling that somehow I have to measure up.  And being sick is comparable to getting caught not doing my homework.  In fact, I am constantly fighting the temptation to slant the truth toward “the right answer” that would indicate that nothing is wrong.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  You’d think by my age I’d have at least grown out of that.

Do you think it would be worse if I were a hypochondriac?

August 28, 2009

Relativity covers pretty much everything

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Uncategorized — theotheri @ 3:59 pm

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

Albert Einstein

I think I’d better come to terms with it:  uncertainty is the human condition.

August 21, 2009

Practicing God

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Growing Old — theotheri @ 2:35 pm

I have a mere seven months short of 70 years worth of experience, and the scope of my utter ignorance sometimes astonishes me.

I have a good mind for dialogue and discourse and I grew up in a family where this kind of discussion was routine fare over our family dinner table.    I remember those dinners – especially Saturday nights – when my father and Father Basil turned over some theological, ethical, or political issue, giving us demonstrations week after week of what the best of  serious intellectual pursuit of truth was like.  They taught me to think and brought me huge benefits.

But they resulted in one huge blind spot which I am only now fully recognizing.  I thought that understanding the theology of faith was essential to  its practice.  A friend who was a practicing Catholic blithely dismissed the Resurrection.  Another said he’d never bought that “Jesus is God” part of Christianity.   I felt quietly superior to these well-meaning heretics.

So I’ve spent years trying to clarify a concept of God that was not riddled with impossible contradictions.  As if God were a concept we can possibly encompass.

How did it ever happen that I thought for so long that understanding God was more important than practicing God?  How did I not see for so long what now seems so obvious?  As I said in an earlier post, I prefer the word The Ineffable, or Sacred, or Mystery to “God” which comes with too much baggage for me.  But if we can sense at all the Ineffable, the Mystery at the heart of the universe,  it is in truth, in love, in honesty, in beauty.

We learn about “God”  through living.  In the profound and the mundane – in Beethoven’s Fifth and supper tonight.  It’s in delighting in the child and the rain storm, in balancing the check book and repairing the car and figuring out how to get to Mars.

How could I ever have possibly thought that having an accurate concept of God was more critical than practicing “God”?  than living with my eyes and heart and hands and – yes – mind?

Those people who get their theology in a contradictory muddle and don’t even care are probably much closer to what matters.

We don’t have to be theologians or philosophers or wise men.  We find “God” by living here and now.  As Eguale argues so eloquently in his post Pointless, it’s not our theology that gives life its purpose.  It’s embracing life.

If we don’t do that, then maybe it all is “pointless.”

Personally, I don’t think it is.

July 30, 2009

Accidental steal

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:32 pm

We walked out of the supermarket this morning and when we got home realized we’d walked out without paying for the newspaper we’d picked up.

I am not consumed with guilt.

But it reminded me of the time several years after I’d left the convent when I began to wonder if I didn’t steal things because I really thought it was wrong.  Or if I was just afraid I was too stupid not to get caught.

So I walked into a department store, and after much observation and deliberation, stole a scarf.

I told my therapist whom I was seeing at the time and he thought my motives needed further exploration than the simple explanation I offered.

But I’ve never stolen anything again and being tempted to do steal things isn’t one of my particular devils.  So I think I really was just trying to convince myself that I wasn’t just a coward.

Unfortunately, though I am now convinced I am not a closet thief, I’m not sure I’m not a closet coward.  I’m not tempted to rob a bank to try to find out, though.

July 19, 2009

Scrabble Speak

Filed under: Family,Growing Old — theotheri @ 9:14 pm

Two of my sisters have got me playing on-line Scrabble, a game we played as children with a proper board and tiles, a single abridged Webster’s dictionary to settle disputes, and words that we used in conversation.  The most sophisticated were words we learned for our school essays.

My goodness things have changed in the last sixty years.  These days one can go on-line and download an unabridged list of all two- and three-letter words in the entire English language.   Not only that, but I have just lost my case that we should at least know what the words we use mean.  In Scrabble, what matters is that you know the word exists, not that you can use it in any other meaningful context outside the Scrabble board.  And of course, the more words you know which include the letters X, Z, and Q, the more successful you will be.  There is an entire Scrabble Vocabulary with words that I think are used exclusively for Scrabble competition.

In desperation, I’ve been paging through my five-inch thick Cambridge Unabridged Revised English Dictionary with a magnifying glass.  Relying on something as limited as a Microsoft spellchecker or Thesaurus is useless.  So far, I’ve learned the meaning of words as esoteric as ZA, ZARU, UT, XU, and GOX.  I doubt, though, that any of them will enter into routine conversation with any normally sane person.

What is astonishing is that my will to win seems undimmed from the heights of my energetic youth.

I may even have to learn to play like a fanatic.

July 12, 2009

Waiting for something

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:31 pm

As I get older, I sometimes feel as if I’m getting smarter (even if I do keep forgetting words).  We saw Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot last night in London which was a case in point.

I read the play the first time some years before I left the convent, and frankly, had little patience for it.  As I saw, it was a play about two old men caught in a rather boring and psuedo-sophisticated angst, unable to decide what to do next.

I watched a completely different play last night.  I could see why I could not possibly have understood it in my twenties when I still had all the answers, when right and wrong were still firmly black and white, when ambiguity and doubt were problems only for non-believers.  Back then I knew the meaning of life and relationships and what I was doing on this earth.

Last night I left the theatre thinking that perhaps Samuel Beckett was as much a prophet as playright.  To the cynic, to those who no longer hold the simple faith they were taught in childhood, to those who are no longer sure what anything means, or if anything means anything at all, Beckett does not offer enlightenment.  Instead he offers a challenge to choose even in the dark.

Not everyone may see the same thing in his play, but I think he was saying that Godot is what happens today, the man you meet today, the helping hand you might extend that is too insignificant to possibly be important enough to be Godot.

No, we don’t understand, Beckett says.  But don’t wait until the Big Chance. Don’t wait until you are Saved.  Don’t wait until it is clear what we are doing here.

Which is to say that the Godot we are waiting for will never come.  Because when he comes we won’t recognize him.  He’s something completely different than what we are expecting.

Godot is now.

July 8, 2009

Living almost forever

Filed under: Growing Old,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 7:40 pm

A Cambridge geneticist recently announced his assessment that people alive today might live to be a thousand years old.  We  have learned so much about how to repair the cellular and molecular damage that is the ultimate cause of death, he says, that quite soon the average age at which people die might be several thousand years.

Oh God save us!

I like living very much.  I’m not looking forward to dying anytime soon.  But I do not,  do not want to live to be a thousand.

Apart from my personal preferences in the matter, can you imagine a world in which people live 20-30 times longer than we do now?  I’m almost aghast as I contemplate the possibility.

China already has a one-child policy.  Obviously, unless we find another planet on which to live, we would have to stop having children on a far more drastic scale than that.  Alternatively, the murder rate might increase dramatically as we fight for food and water.  Possibly even space to lie down.

And of course, the retirement age would have to be delayed somewhat.

No, it’s a terrible idea.  I’ve just read an article about the implications of the speed at which the global population is aging.   It’s enough already.

The end of my natural life will come sooner rather than later.  I might not greet death with delight.

But the alternative would be much much worse.

July 3, 2009

Will you still love me when…

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:49 pm

I remember once saying in about mid-November that I was getting through winter very well.  My brother Bob who lives just south of the Canadian border, laughed.

To say that I’m enjoying my old age is probably comparable.  Being a few months short of seventy is unlikely to qualify me as highly experienced in aging.  Nonetheless, it never occurred to me that I might be in for some big surprises if I live long enough.  And not all of them negative.

What do you think you will be doing if you live to be 90?  I have to admit that I was startled to read that a woman here in England has just published her first novel at the age of 93.

Lorna Page says it has transformed her life and is planning to use the royalties to buy a large house for friends currently in a nursing home.

Her book, A Dangerous Weakness, is available on Amazon.  I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t have an opinion about the end product.  But I’m in delight and awe at the process.  If I live to be 93, I wonder if I’ll be still even be writing this blog.

It’s worth a try.

June 26, 2009

Not as dumb as we might look

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:30 pm

We were in the bank yesterday where Peter had to enter his password into the computer in order to confirm a transaction.  He didn’t have his reading glasses with him and it looked as if achieving this was a new and challenging experience for someone barely acquainted with this modern world of computing.

To his credit, the bank clerk did not adopt that annoyingly patronizing patience which I saw so often in the north of England toward anyone old enough to have grey hair.

After we left the bank, though, Peter remarked that the frailties of old age – like deteriorating eyesight or hearing – often make one look less intelligent than one is.

Which is true.  I’m not complaining – we get a great deal less of it in Cambridge because you can never be sure if you are talking to a Nobel prize winner or some other august member of Cambridge University.  So most of us over the age of fifty are given the benefit of the doubt.

But it did make me reflect on what it would be like to be young and disabled and to be kindly disregarded as not very bright because abled people misinterpret and think you look as if you aren’t.

May 18, 2009

Reverie about life

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 9:05 pm

I have just read a review of a new play in London based on the life of Jacqueline du Prey, the greatly gifted cellist who was struck down with MS at a young age.  

The play asks the central question:  how do you live when what you are living for is taken away?  The question has been haunting me all day, because it seems to be a question so many of us must ask.  And in some stumbling way, answer.

Sometimes the question is stark and violent – the parents whose child is abducted or lost or stricken down;  the gifted athlete paralyzed by a freak accident;  the Vietnamese refugee medical doctor I met once in New York working as the school janitor.

Often the question is more commonplace.  Sometimes a couple must decide which of them will pursue his or her career.  Sometimes it is a divorce, or the unexpected responsibility of aging parents or personal illness that change forever ones life’s goals.  

Most often, I think, the question is posed by old age.  Some people are angry when they are forced from the work they love and think they can still do.  Some people  wonder why they are still alive when no one needs them, and they have nothing to contribute that anyone wants.

How do you live when what you are living for is taken away?

The people who learn how to answer that seem to me to be very wise.  To understand that life is a value sometime beyond anything we ourselves contribute to it, beyond what we accomplish, beyond even our generosity or kindness or any virtue.

After the above, readers of this blog may be relieved that I will be away from my computer for the next three weeks.  

April 30, 2009

Does anybody darn socks anymore?

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:03 pm

I have too many things.  The problem, though, is that as soon as I get rid of something through a judiciously-chosen self-serving donation to a charitable concern or by throwing it directly into the trash, I immediately need it.

I was faced with just such a dilemma yesterday as I contemplated the stocking darning bulb at the bottom of the sewing box I’d inherited from my stepmother.  I cannot remember the last time I darned a sock, but it is more than half a century.

Surely I could now safely depart with this bulb without fear that I will need it tomorrow?  Does anyone darn socks anymore?  And even, in the highly unlikely event that I actually want to darn a sock, could I not make due with an inverted glass or old bottle?

Of course.  But although I am unlikely to need a darning bulb for its originally intended use, is there not a possibility that I will – the first thing tomorrow morning – think of a novel use for which it would be perfect?  maybe even indispensable?  

And barring that, there is the question of whether I should actually throw away this heirloom.  Perhaps in a generation or two, some great great grandchild might discover it, and wonder at this evidence of Olden Times?  Perhaps I should donate it to a museum.

I found myself unable to grapple successfully with this serious existential problem.

So the darning bulb is still at the bottom of my sewing box.  It will probably be there when I die.  Maybe some great great great grandchild will find it when she inherits the sewing box.

Unfortunately, I seem to live in a house filled with these challenging objects.

April 13, 2009

Pretty good – for my age

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 9:16 pm

Some years ago, a nephew who was visiting us here in England, remarked that we knew a lot about computers “for people our age.”  At the time, I could not help but recall my own view of people who were in their 60’s when I was in my 20’s, and wryly concluded that we were being viewed through those same youthful lens which I had used.

Now, though, I realize that there are computer developments that I am going to have to sit down and learn.  I am going to have to figure out how to use Twitter and RSS feeds.  And for some reason more than ten people in the last week have asked me to be their friend on Facebook.

Facebook, I suspect, is replacing email for the younger generation the way email replaced letters for me.  So far I’ve learned the differences between writing something in the Status bloc, on the Wall, and sending a message.

But Facebook really may be a generational thing to which I am not going to adapt.  Thus far, Facebook seems to me to be both too public and too impersonal.  I suspect I’m going to stick with what I have.   A blog like this is public and impersonal, insofar as it’s not written for or to an individual.  And my emails are generally individual, personal, and private, though of course, like Facebook, they can be sent to a specific group hand chosen for the purpose.

Ah, the other thing that I don’t think I will ever really get a real hold of is the modern preference for pictures.  U-tube, for instance.  I enjoy many videos, but in the end, I think and communicate with words, not images.

So maybe my nephew was more insightful than I gave him credit for at the time.  I really may be pretty good with computers.  But I don’t use them the same way that the next generation uses them.

I’m might be “pretty good.”  But I’m different from the next generation.

April 9, 2009

An improved world order?

Holy Week – which it is in the Christian calendar – seems to be inevitably a time when I start remembering my childhood.  

Today I was thinking about the time when, at about the age of seven, I asked my Dad why, if God didn’t want us to commit sins, and if he could do anything he wanted, he let us do bad things.  Dad said it was because God wanted us to be free more than he didn’t want us to sin – an answer that, in retrospect, was more explosive than I could possibly have realized at the time.

Eventually  my childhood conundrum matured into the question philosophers call “the problem of evil,”  which  led to a complete and fundamental rethink of my belief in that God of my childhood.

That one grows out of ones childhood conception of God should not be so shocking.  We grow up and realize our parents are not the paragons of perfection and power we might have thought.  We get married and discover that there was a great deal to our partner that we never suspected in the first mad passion.  Certainly our concept of divinity should also change as profoundly.

Today, the nature of the problem of evil has also changed for me.  I’ve been taking a sharp left turn since I asked myself exactly what kind of a world I would have created if I were God.

I was shocked to realize that I cannot improve on the present model.  Every time I get rid of one bad thing, something equally good disappears at the same time.  The only way I can think to rid the world of what I consider evil or injustice or suffering is to create a static, boring, unchallenging world.

Which gives me a lot of sympathy for my brother Tom’s problem at the age of seven, which was that heaven sounded horribly boring, and hardly an improvement on hell at all.  Certainly not worth sacrificing all the joys of living today to get there.

The world today certainly isn’t my idea of heaven by any definition.  But what is?  The question gives me a whole new problem with the problem of evil.

April 5, 2009

And now for some light relief

Filed under: Growing Old,Husband — theotheri @ 3:48 pm

Before yesterday, the last time I had my wedding ring off was in the emergency room of our local hospital in the Lake District, where I repaired after falling onto a bag full of glass.  I took it off again last night because it was irritating a blister I’d brought up raking moss from the lawn.

It took several applications of soap and grim determination to get it off.  Even after the blister is healed, I doubt I can get it on again.

So Peter is going to buy me a new one.

After 35 years, the fact that we are in agreement about this seems like a good sign.  I’d rather have the old one, though.  I’m going to ask the jeweller if it can be stretched, but I’m not hopeful.

April 2, 2009

The old kitchen table

Filed under: Family,Growing Old,Husband — theotheri @ 3:44 pm

There was a table in Peter’s parents’ house in the north of England.  It was dark oak, and has been in the family for generations.  The marks of what it has witnessed are on its face.

 It was there during the Depression, when coal miners were often out of work, and Peter’s grandfather helped make ends meet by serving hot tea to workers on their way to the mines before day break.

The table was there during all of World War II as the bombs dropped over the coal mines where Peter’s father worked the night shift.

It was there the first time I met Peter’s parents.  And the last.

And now it is in our kitchen.  Peter has sanded off the dark oak stain and revealed the grains that give it character.  But what I love even more than the flow of the wood are the marks of living.  I don’t know where most of them came from.  One mark looks as if a hot cup was left to stand so long that it actually seared into the wood.  Another seems to be the result of an almighty bang that chipped off a corner.  There are spills that might have been beer or soy sauce or maybe even shoe polish but which have soaked in deep enough to be there forever.  

My favorite mark is a gash about a sixteenth of an inch deep cutting about six inches diagonally across the table top.   My brother Bob was helping us install bookcases, and was using the table as a sawing horse.  The cut looks so old and weathered enough now to be antique.  It is unremarkable alongside fellow marks that have been softened with age and sanding and refinishing, and blend in with the deeper life of the wood.

But all of them have been earned by the people who sat before it.  Each of them is a testament to the struggles of staying alive, of the simple processes of eating and drinking and probably of projects both successful and failed.  Of mistakes and spills and hopes and plans that make up the years of life.

 It’s a living table, that has come down to us for generations.  That’s what I love about it.

March 30, 2009

My problem with the g-word

Ever since a friend sent me the book An Unknown God by Tony Equale, I’ve been pondering the problem of using the word “God” to describe – well, to describe God.

Theologians from almost every perspective are in unusual agreement that we humans cannot comprehend God.  Or at least the God which is given credit for creation and for what happens to us both here on earth and after we die.  God, they all agree, is an unfathomable mystery.

Despite this near theological unanimity, however, Western thought has managed to create an image of God which has the advantage of being eminently recognizable but unfortunately for me both unbelievable and not particularly admirable.  It seems to me to be a god with an outrageous, often uncontrolled temper, whose vindictiveness lasts for eternity, and who curses the offspring of those who displease him for unending generations.  To finish it off, it is a god who is finally appeased by the torture and murder of his only son by the very creatures who have so displeased him.

I appreciate that for many, my description is an unfair caricature.  But I am not trying to ridicule the beliefs of people who recognize this God as the one in whom they believe and which has helped them live more meaningful, fulfilled, loving lives.  For many years, it is an approximate description of a God in whom I believed and to whom I dedicated my life.

Although this approximation of God no longer inspires me to live a life of dedication and service, I cannot say accurately that I am an atheist or even an agnostic.  It is not that I don’t believe in God.  Rather, that I don’t believe in this God so often seen in Western thought as the only possible true God.

My problem when someone asks me if I believe in God is that neither “yes” or “no” exactly communicates what intuition of God I have.  Nor do I have a single neat word that encapsulates my thinking.  Yet at the heart of the universe I feel there is something profound, ineffable, even sacred, something ultimately beyond my capacity ever to know completely.

Sometimes I think all I am seeing is the universe as it exists in itself in all its mystery.  Other times I sense there is something deeper, something out of which meaning emerges, that makes being ultimately something good, rather than bad or merely neutral.

This sense of something “more than” gets stronger, although no less clear, as I grow older.  I would call it God if even I myself sometimes did not trip up with this image of an irascible being presiding over the universe which he created but which he now finds so disappoints all the hopes he had for it.  That God I do not think exists except in the minds of men.

But I believe there is another reality which I myself most often sense through people, in music, and in the explorations of science.  

It is what I would call god.  

If I didn’t have so much trouble with the g-word.

March 12, 2009

Fragile point

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 8:40 pm

We watched a tv program last night that I found unbelievably disturbing.  It was technically fiction, but it was taken from a series of real-life crimes involving the abduction, rape and murder of young girls in Yorkshire, England in the 1970’s.  It was a story of police corruption and collusion by newspapers and business, and the destruction of the fibre of decent people to even try to fight back.  Except for one young journalist.

The explicit violence was both believable and violent, and in some terrible way, after Abu Graib, terrifyingly familiar.

The program lasted the longest hour and a half I can remember in a long time.  I sat there forcing myself not to walk away, telling myself that I had no special claim to being protected from this.  Millions of people are subject to this kind of brutality even today.

But I was literally almost gagging, and I spent a restless night moving in and out of nightmares.

I never was very good at watching violence on the screen.  But I’m much more fragile now than I used to be.

There’s a second episode of the trilogy tonight.  I’m not going to watch it.  Rightly or wrongly, I’ve convinced myself that the world will not be a better place just because I do something that would be so painfully hard.

March 7, 2009

The surprising definition of old

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 4:02 pm

Yesterday, the BBC covered a research report finding that exercise will help extend one’s life expectancy, whatever age one might be when one takes it up.  It was no surprise to learn that starting to exercise “even” as late as fifty could improve the quality of old age significantly.

What did surprise me was their illustrating the point by interviewing a 63-year-old man who does regular garden work and swims a couple of times a week.  “I feel terrific,” he said.

For heavens sake, if you think 63 is an illustration of “old,” you’ve got a shock coming.  Unless you die young, of course.  

At the age of 70 or so.

For the record, there is research showing that even taking up regular exercise after a full life of lazy sloth at the age of 90 has beneficial effects.

February 24, 2009

Alternative alternatives

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:49 pm

I met a woman at a dinner party the other night whose views of life are emphatically not my own, but which are nonetheless intriguing.

Eleanor has lived on all five continents, including Africa, Greenland, America, India, and several countries of Europe.  Unlike many people here in Britain, she has not done this as part of a military family, which tends to cacoon its members from a full exposure to the cultures where they are living.  She lived, often with her husband and children, immersed in the culture – living in the same kinds of home they did, eating their foods, adopting their life styles, becoming acquainted with the values and survival strategies of the people there.

Taking strands of the cultures of the many primitive peoples with whom she has lived, she has cobbled together a kind of – well, what shall I call it? – a kind of alternative spirituality.  It involves religious practices, alternative medicine, and a philosophy of life put together in a unique montage.  

She calls herself a psychotherapist and healer, and offers to guide people who are confused and in pain toward enlightenment.  Many people claim that their lives have been transformed as a result of their journey with her.

Fascinating as her life story is, and courageous as some of her struggles seem to be, I personally have to swallow hard.  I neither want nor trust somebody else’s “enlightenment.”

Not that I can’t learn from the wisdom of others.  I have benefitted immensely and often from their  greater lights.  But don’t give me Right Answers.  I don’t believe them.  Don’t introduce me to The True Way.  I don’t trust it.

I don’t think enlightenment comes easily and it rarely comes quickly.  Above all it doesn’t come from somebody else.  One has to find it for oneself.

February 15, 2009

Free treatment for memory loss

Most people know that exercise has all sorts of benefits that can’t be achieved in any other way:

  • the chance of being afflicted by many kinds of cancer can be reduced by regular exercise.
  • exercise ups the level of resting metabolism, so it is the best possible way of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • cardiovascular health is increased by exercise.
  • exercise is one of the most effective ways of treating depression anyone has found, and unless it’s overdone, it doesn’t come with negative side-effects.
  • I know from both the research and my personal experience about the effectiveness of impact exercise on bone health.

I have now read Sue Halpern’s book Can’t Remember What I Forgot and learned that memory loss is not something to which one must passively submit with age.  In fact, doing something about is free, and comes with additional side benefits.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that the one incontrovertible means of keeping the brain functioning and producing workable memories is aerobic exercise.

I do wish it weren’t so boring.  On the other hand, it sure beats forgetting.

Not to mention cancer, heart attacks, broken bones, and depression.

Or being fat and tired.

So I guess it’s back to the tread mill.  Or Nordic Track.

To see additional posts on osteoporosis, click on “Select Category” in the right-hand column, and selection Osteoporosis.

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