Sunday, October 30, 2011

Recommended "Boomer Reading" for the Season

First, a brief announcement: I'm down another 2 lbs. I'm pleased.

Now to the topic, fall reading. Much is said about "summer reading lists," but I would also propose that the cooling of the weather, shortening of the daytime hours (be sure to set your clocks back one hour on Saturday night, November 5th!), and the end-of-the-year contemplation in which many of us engage may cause us to consider a good book or two.

Here are some of my favorites:

Monday Morning Memoirs: Women in the Second Half of Life. In this anthology, I would like to call particular attention to the essays of my former Burbank High School classmate, Hillary Horan: "The Swollen Penis," "Miss Rose Kathleen," and "The Trust Thing." This is edited by Maureen Murdock, formerly of Pacifica Graduate Institute (where I did my own doctoral studies), and also now at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, by James Hollis, PhD, a Jungian analyst from Houston, Texas, one of my favorite authors, and one hell of a terrific speaker! I went to a seminar he held last year in West Los Angeles, and was honored to get his inscription on my copy of the book, and have a few precious moments of face-time. Should I admit here and now that I was just a tad star-struck? Okay, I will!

Dr. Hollis has also written Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves. Very thought-provoking, and oddly comforting in its way to help us 'fess up to our "failings."

A third from Dr. Hollis is a slightly more academic, but still quite clear is The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife.

Gail Sheehy, author of Passages, offers up a candid look at one of our generation's pressing issues in Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence. I'd like to see this book more actively promoted in caregivers' support groups held across the country.

From Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., another Jungian analyst: Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women Over Fifty. Lest any male reader of mine feel slighted, may I mention that Dr. Bolen also has written Gods in Everyman. All of Dr. Bolen's works are practical, readable, and encouraging. She skillfully draws upon a large pool of ancient myth and legend to show the ways we can conceive of ourselves--and become--the formidable selves we were meant to be.

A final one for this post: Dorothy Morrison's In Praise of the Crone: A Celebration of Feminine Maturity. Another practical guide to feeling better at "this age." Crones ARE NOT ugly old hags, as portrayed in cartoons. Rather, they are wise women; I like to think of them as being the counterparts of the Merlin figure in the Arthurian legend.

Okay, that's more than enough for this post. There is more, especially on the subject of crone-hood, which I will share in the near future.

Best regards as we approach All Hallows Eve.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Nostalgia Monster has Struck Again!

Quick, someone stop me!!

It started when I heard Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Our House" on the radio the other day.

I've gotten this urge to add another writing project to my to-do list...about the houses we grew up in, and our memories of them.
I used to sit and pore over the cookbook above as a kid, while sitting on the high kitchen stool, watching Mom do her Whirling Dervish routine. Whenever I see the cookbooks in the drawer (I've posted a few of their images on FB), I can smell the flour, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs, etc., as Mom became a blur....whizzing, responding to the demands of oven, pressure cooker, timer, all with seemingly effortless expertise.

In 1972, I graduated from Burbank High School, Given my age, personal dreams, and the tone of the times, I couldn't run away from this house and Burbank fast enough.

Now I've come full circle. Following the death of my husband, I moved back to the family home (the story of which will be in the above-mentioned writing), to keep Mom company (she, too, was alone), and give Eric a stable, safe place in which to grow up. I've never regretted this decision.

And I've decided it's okay, and maybe a little cool to have fond memories of the stuff that makes up my visual history. Even Eric--rock-star-lookalike as a teenager--has become protective of these household items.

No, I probably won't use the cookbooks much, if at all. But they're definitely staying in the family.

For more, check out my FB Page, "From My Turbo-Charged Rocking Chair."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

First follow-up, and my new exercise equipment!

First, the news. I'm down one pound from last week. YES, I'm totally okay with this. Every reputable weight-loss program, including Weight Watchers, promotes slow but steady weight loss. Dramatic drops are not only unhealthy, but they are usually not maintained over time, especially for "women my age." So, again, one pound DOWN, which means I'm going in the right direction.

When my son and daughter-in-law made their recent move, they had to leave behind this John Deere lawnmower and an edger. I eagerly took possession of both, and have assumed the role of gardener. Someone else had been performing that function, but it's time to save some money, use the muscles the good Lord gave me, and expend even more calories. My mother, who will be protective of me till the very end, is not happy about this, saying that "there's more to this than you think."

What? Am I not capable of doing myself what we've been paying good money to have done for us? Oh, Mom, "of little faith...". And anyway, I've always found gardening--working up a sweat and becoming marvelously dirty--to be the best therapy for me on my day off. Also, I love the smell of freshly-cut grass--aromatherapy for free. I CAN do the reseeding, fertilizing, cutting and edging, along with the weeding and pruning of the roses bushes I've always done. Ever since I re-landscaped the backyard in 2004, inspired by Bob Villa's "Gardening by the Yard" and also HGTV, my yard is MY DOMAIN. Time to reclaim it! I can be extreme in my efforts; I'd LOVE to wear a teeshirt that proclaims, in block stencil-letters, something like "I don't use gardening gloves!"

So, next Wednesday, I'll kindly thank the gardener for his services, send him on his way, and take over from there.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Maintenance Due for a High-Mileage Chassis

Sooner or later, it happens to each of us...the day of reckoning with our physicality.

I grew up in a household in which servings of food were oversized, given the influence of my paternal grandmother. Food was dished out by my mother at the end of the table, and we were expected to clean our plates of whatever was placed on them. There was always dessert, and it, too, was "required consumption." To refuse any food was considered a form of disrespect.

I was a decidedly non-athletic kid, and the last one anyone wanted on their team in P.E. So, the only exercise I got was walking to and from school, except when on one of grownups prevailed upon me to let them drive me. I hated the way I looked, but my excess weight was laughingly dismissed by my family as "just baby fat," even into my late teens.

When I finally escaped via a freshman year of college away from home, I quickly made a cadre of new friends and become active. Food was no longer the center of my universe, and I only ate what I truly wanted. The days of moping in my room were behind me, and without my focusing on what was happening, thirty pounds dropped off. Mom and Dad came for Student-Parent Day, about six weeks into the term. Casually bounding up to greet them, I was puzzled by their shocked expressions. Was I sick? Was I unhappy? Did I want to come home? To which I emphatically answered, No, no, and most definitely NO! I loved having the age-appropriate energy--and body--of a seventeen-year-old. It took my family a long time to adjust to Valarie sans "baby fat."

As the years rolled by, I maintained my weight (for the most part) a 100 -105 lb. range. Even after ballooning up to 154 just prior to delivering my son, I promptly got back to my prenatal proportions, only half-joking that, with a new child, I couldn't have afforded to buy a new wardrobe in a new size.

And so the scale stayed at that spot until I hit 40. Then my activity level dropped. My son and I had enjoyed weekends hiking in the local hills and at nature centers, but now he was a teenager who preferred hitting the arcades with his friends. I was working a full-time job, going to school at night, doing an unpaid internship--and resorting to fast food rather than planning to-go meals for my long days away from home. I saw the needle on the scale dial going up....WHEN I was weighed in at doctor's appointments. I would have rather not thought about the number, because I still "felt okay," and could jam myself into my skirts.

Lately, it's been a struggle, and I'm embarrassed to say I've been in a position of lazy surrender. So, after my most recent MD visit, I've gotten on Weight Watchers Online, and (drum roll here), I've begun to drop this ballast! I'm blogging this to go public with my effort, to be accountable. I want to report in to you each Sunday, my friends and readers, as I become svelte again. Here are some of my commitments:

1. To continue to follow the WW Online program to the letter. So many of my friends have had success with it, so I'm without excuse.

2. To avoid drive-throughs -- both food and ATM's. Anything I want to do, or eat, I need to walk towards it. That's what two feet are for!

3. To avoid the "comfort foods," of which I have a very long list. I deserve to be happy, but logically, how does ingesting an extra 500 calories address my mood or issues?

4. To be diligent about daily exercise. I preach about the benefits of activity to my clients, so I need to stop being a hypocrite. Part of this will be to skip the elevators in two of the offices I use. As I climb, I will be carrying my briefcase, purse, and thermos. The extra resistance should help burn a few more calories!

5. To be hopeful. I didn't pack on the pounds overnight. I need to remember that permanent weight loss and maintenance is an ongoing process.

No, I'm NOT doing this for anyone else, or for my upcoming high school reunion. This is for ME, and for the pretty clothes that are waiting for me in the back of my closet.

I will be posting photos--before and after--at a future date. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

WE are the Economy

"Every man is the architect of his own fortune." -- Appius Claudius

Is anyone else tired of the onslaught of doom and gloom about the financial future of the city, the state, the nation, the world? Even as much as a realist as I am, I know I've long since been "done" with the wave of collective depression and helplessness. When I see the words "economy" and "recession" in the same sentence, my eyes just glaze over and I pull my attention elsewhere.

That's why, despite what I just wrote, I did watch the recent Charlie Rose segment with Warren Buffet. This is a man who looks like he could be someone's kindly uncle or grandpa (he's 81 now, still active, and looks damned good). From what I've read, he's driven the same car for a long time, and lived in the same house for forty-plus years. He's not someone who advocates extremes--living in a tent on one hand, or pulling some series of crazy schemes to get that mansion at others' expenses.

Mr. Buffet's biography reads like an inspirational American-boy-makes-good story. This is a person who started at age 13 with a paper route, started making money as a kid beginning with one pinball machine, and is now a billionaire. Yesterday we lost a visionary, Steve Jobs -- another who started with simple ideas, and wasn't afraid to dream big. Who knows what Mr. Jobs would have achieved had he lived longer, but his legacy, his ideas, will be seed for grander innovations to come.

My 9/10/10 post, "Back to Small," spoke of the potential power of independent businesses. Our country was founded on this kind of sheer hard work. It seems we've come full circle. And yes, even us in, or facing "retirement," need to be considering that we still have much to contribute in terms of energy and creativity. Bluntly, we gotten to be a country that's lost much of its vision, courage, and initiative. We have to make our own lives happen. The times of relying on "someone" (government, 40+ years in one job with cushy retirement to follow) to rescue us are gone. Like someone who gets dumped in a relationship -- once the initial pain and fear subside, the possibilities of independence begin to unfold.

Remember the anti-drug slogans, "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste?" I have personally committed to actively work past age 100, like that inspirational Hedda Bolgar (written up in last Sunday's L.A. Times). I believe the incredible knowledge, experiences, and wisdom of older Americans is also "a terrible thing to waste." Along with our younger generations, each of us who willingly defies the roles ascribed to older Americans can assist in pushing our country past this current collective despair.

Let's stop thinking of "THE ECONOMY" as some self-propelled blob of evil, ready to consume everything and everyone in its path, like the monster in that cheesy sci-fi flick. The economy is simply the sum total of us, and our decisions. It is our past and present purchases, jobs, and financial portfolios. It is our wise investments, and our foolish impulses driven by greed, fear, or ego. It is each of us, and at the same time, all of us.

Mr. Buffet stated, in the Charlie Rose show, that things will be better -- someday. He spoke of us (collectively) as having been on a spree, and now we're paying for it with the inevitable hangover. Each of us should take his perspective to heart as a call to action. It's not necessary to aspire to be another Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs, but each of us can take responsibility for his or her own life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Joining a fight that isn't (at least now) too personal

While doing my usual Saturday grocery run yesterday, I picked up two Dannon Oikos yogurts. For one thing, I've developed a recent love for Greek-style yogurt. Another draw was the coupon I had. The third, and most compelling for me, was the label that said that Dannon will donate at least ten cents for every time someone goes to, and enters the code under the foil lid.

So, I did, and I feel a little sense of happiness to have contributed to the cause. Each donation of any kind, each 5/10K walk, each...anything...brings us closer to research leading to more effective diagnoses, treatments, and cures.

As far as "The Big C" bothering me, I've been very lucky -- so far. There are the my good genes and family history negative for breast cancer (except for the small tumor my maternal grandma had at 92, which got shrunk to virtually nothing by Tamoxifen by the time she died at 94). I do everything right, I think. Okay, so I'll admit to being irrationally squeamish about the recommended self-exams (What if I find a lump? How will I stand the fear?). But I DO go for the annual boob-squashing ritual, followed by a day or two of breath-holding...but that puts me in the clear, right?

In the fall of 2001, I got a thump on the head, of sorts. At that time, I was working as a case manager at Senior Care Network, a department of Huntington Hospital. It was about 2:30 PM on a Friday, and my office mate and I were doing the usual before-weekend paper shuffling and chatting casually.

My phone rang. A staffer from my doctor's office crisply said that my recent mammogram had been just read, and "they saw something." Would I mind coming in on Monday morning for a follow-up, and...have a nice weekend.

Right. Now that got my attention.

When my RN coworker noticed that I had been sitting for too long in a catatonic-like state, too quiet, she came over and gave me a hug. All of a sudden, words and images welled up and came flooding out, including every cancer story I had ever read or heard in my life. All kinds of "what if" scenarios bombarded me. What if it is cancer? What if they find that it's already spread too far? What if I got too sick to work, to finish my doctoral program, to see Eric grow up and get married....I wanted to live, to maybe find love again, to be a grandma....

Fear. Freaking-out Two of the other f-words. I was off and running with them.

I went home and stuttered out the news to my retired-nurse mom, who actually took it very well. Thankfully, she's always been a hard-core pragmatist, and had a wealth of professional reassurances to share, making my inevitable preoccupation over the weekend slightly easier.

Monday's follow-up appointment transpired, leading to some lab work, two more "inconclusive" mammograms, and a statement that "we'll let you know what else we're going to have done." I went about my work and home lives in a detached state, punctuated by periods of frustrated rages. "(Expletives deleted here), why can't they really tell me something? Am I sick, or am I OK?"

Finally, partly because she was really concerned about my emotional state, and also to quell the storm in our office, my coworker suggested I go to Huntington Hospital's Hill Breast Center. There, I ended up having a state-of-the-art breast ultrasound. They could see my "parts" in exquisite 3-D detail. Even in the throes of my worries, I was fascinated by the technology....and reassured at the end by it.

The doctor came in afterwords, took my hands in his, and said, "You're going to be fine. You just got breasts with lots of fibrous tissue."

I laughed and cried at the same time, relieved as I had never been before. "Fine" and "fibrous" are "f-words" I can live with very nicely, thank you very much. Call me a wimp if you want to, but this is the closest I want to come to having breast cancer. And I wish that for (yes, they can get breast cancer!) and women.

Having written this almost makes me feel sheepish. When I think of the women I know who weren't nearly as lucky as me (yes, I know some Stage 4 survivors, and also some who have passed away), I feel somewhat self-indulgent recalling my scare ten years ago.'s burned in my brain, and I won't look at the issue of breast cancer the same way again.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Comforting anchors, as considered this October 1st

This is more than a month-by-month calendar. This is a fixture, as permanent to our house as the plumbing or wiring.

It's one of the calendars my Mom orders from the Miles Kimball catalog around early September. We were recalling the other day that she has been placing this same order, every year, for over forty years!

One goes on her bedroom wall, within easy viewing range of her bed, with its large numbers and uncluttered printing. Yes, Mom also has others hung on the walls, especially the ones from various animal causes showing cute puppies and kittens. This is the one, however, Mom automatically glances at when I'm telling her of some social or business-related function I'll be attending. It's her way, even at my age, of lovingly keeping tabs on me...(I sigh at the inevitability of that fact).

Another gets sent directly to my brother and his wife in their tiny South Carolina town, because, as he said to Mom one time, "It wouldn't seem like Christmas if I didn't get my calendar from you."

The one shown above has been hung on the kitchen wall for decades. I even recall--as far back as my days at John Muir Junior High--Mom marking doctor appointments and days I'd be late coming home from school in upper-case black marker notations. It was, for so long, the chronicle of our individual and family existences. Even when my son and I moved back here in 1988, Mom began noting, and continues to do so, "special events" on the very back page, which is the "Forget-Me-Not Diary." Such milestones have included when Eric and I planted the elm tree in the very back lawn when an old garage was torn down in 1988, the day I had the new back walk installed, and even when the cat Tiggy got spayed and had her teeth cleaned!

Fast forward -- and now I sadly admit that I've hardly ever looked at the kitchen calendar recently. It's there, of course, but I'm so dependent now on the one on my computer, with its email reminder feature. The only time I notice the Miles Kimball heirloom is when I'm standing, half-conscious in the early morning, brewing my coffee.

Even Eric, on one of his now-hurried visits now that he's married and moved away, remarked how the calendar is something he'd miss if it wasn't there.

In one of my recent redecorating brainstorm sessions, I actually thought of doing away with the kitchen calendar when I finally get around to repainting. But I don't have the heart. I hate to think of the void there would be if, in one of our family conversations, someone said, "Well, go look on the calendar..." and it wasn't there anymore.

No, the calendar stays, no matter what.