Saturday, December 31, 2011

Turning the Page to 2012

New Year's has always been one of my favorite holidays. My first recollection of celebrating is New Year's 1963, when my big brother bet me a whole dime that I couldn't stay awake until midnight.

Never one to easily shrink from a challenge, I became ten cents richer when 1964 was ushered in.

So, perhaps "staying awake" is something of which I will want to do more in 2012...being more observant, more deliberate, more patient, more thoughtful in lending my voice to the human chorus, and more willing to take intelligent risks.

Much as been said about how horrible 2011 has been. Well, here are some wonderful things I've experienced:

In a previous post, I told about how enriched I felt when I heard Jason Poole speak at my church about "showing up and saying yes." With self-interest still being a major principle in today's world, perhaps I should ask myself what would I lose--or more importantly, gain--by "saying yes" to needs I see around me.

One treasure I'm been meaning to share with readers is a show I discovered recently on byuTV, "The Story Trek." They have a Facebook page (which I've "liked") and are mentioned on I'm not a Mormon, but I count many of them among my dear old friends from Burbank High School, and am honored by their love. "The Story Trek" is a utterly heartwarming show, as host Todd Hansen goes into the heart of everyday towns, and finds "ordinary people" to tell their "extraordinary stories." In a day when television is loaded with so-called "reality shows," I find shows of this caliber so very refreshing. They've just wrapped their season finale; I can't wait to see more.

In 2011, I have continued to watch "Music and the Spoken Word," with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Fine-arts fan that I am, I look forward to each broadcast. Again, another refuge on the much maligned and abused television medium.

Even the byuTV station identification is nice: "Helping You to See the Good in the World." How uplifting is that?

Among my choices of reading material (much of which I've already shared with readers), I continue to be comforted and inspired by Spirituality & Health Magazine. The new issue (January/February) has a piece, "What Went Wrong with Wheat." Many of my friends have been discussing the gluten-free trend, and so the article was of interest. Grains have been consumed for much of human history, but the article states that we may have engineered this staple out of safe consumption. I'm sure there are those who say the jury's still out on this issue. Excuse me, but in my humble opinion, engineering is something better done when building bridges, not growing our daily bread. It's so risky on so many levels. We often talk about "playing God," and this is an example it can come back to harm us. Perhaps we humans are not ready to assume such responsibility, unless we can then deal with the consequences. This magazine continues to give me (pardon the pun) food for thought. It has something for everyone, regardless of one's religious/spiritual inclination.

Back to a smile, I look forward to the new year. Even though "New Year's" is an artificial construct, it's become a way we've come to pause, celebrate, reflect, resolve, and move forward. However you mark it--whether or not dimes are at stake--do it with joy and hope.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some More "Show & Tell" Before 2011 Ends,0,7734030.story#.TvymKu2pZrI.blogger">Bottle+Tree+Ranch+is+a+folk+art+%26%23039%3Bforest%26%23039%3B+in+the+Mojave+Desert

While doing my long-promised pre-New Year's cleaning, I found this article, clipped from the L.A. Times on December 4, about Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch in the Mojave Desert. I'm finally sharing it here as more evidence of my love for all things quirky, be they people, destinations, or projects. Does anyone out there remember the famous lone phone booth that was in the desert before "the company" yanked it out? It was even on a "60 Minutes" segment, and people from literally all over the world came to talk on "the phone." I sincerely hope Mr. Long's glass creation is in existence for a long time. I'd like to see Huell Howser do a show on it.

On a more serious note, I also found another L.A. Times article, from November 20, which is another example of generativity (see the prior post on this) and also redemption. The man featured in the article, John Paul Madrona, was only born in 1975, but I'm convinced that the attribute of generativity doesn't have to be limited to seniors. Working in hospice service, especially among the prison population, surely must serve to remind one of the chances we all have, each day of our lives, regardless of the circumstances, to make a difference for ourselves and others.,0,6904576.htmlstory

Now for an example of "reverse generativity," I've been encouraged to see evidence of course offerings in "Healthy Aging" (remember how not too many years ago, the concepts of healthy and aging were regarded as contradictory?). UCLA has a Geronet website (, and I read on December 11 in the L.A. Times that the College of the Canyons is offering a Certificate in Skills for Healthy Aging Resources and Programs. This is wonderful -- preparing people to be actually educated in the theory of the developmental stage of the elderly, and practice of how to serve them. If caregivers know what to expect when faced with a senior, they will not feel the fear or hesitation that so often comes in "not knowing what to do." Seniors' care will be greatly enhanced. Suspected cases of elder abuse and neglect (the ones stemming from, as I said, the caregivers' not having adequate skills and being overwhelmed) hopefully be reduced, and the "younger folks" will also have their own aging processes demystified.

I've told readers previously about my fondness for More magazine. The current issue (December/January) features a profile on Denise Thomas, owner and founder of Home Instead. This company's mission is to assist seniors to remain comfortably, safely, and with dignity, in their own homes as they live out their remaining years. I worked for Huntington Hospital's Senior Care Network from 2001 to early 2006, and not once did I encounter a senior who positively begged to be shipped off to a skilled nursing facility (SNF, for those in the field). Don't get me wrong; there are many fine skilled and assisted living establishments around. It's just that I found that an older adult--surrounded by the safe familiarity of their furniture, photos, and curios holding so many memories--can dodge the depression that can settle in and then masquerade as "dementia."

Queen Latifah's sassy smile graces the cover of this issue, which also has terrific advice for us ladies that we can actually use -- about retirement options, money, health, and how dress so we look like the gorgeous women we are--forces to be reckoned with and taken seriously.

It's been my pleasure to find items, and pass them along to you, dear readers. I'm not sure about the idea of reincarnation; but, if it's true, perhaps I'll come back as a librarian next time around!

Happy New Year! I have high hopes for 2012--really.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Us Old Folks Need to Still Be Around,0,6676350.column">Retired Los Angeles judge launches literacy project

The above is a link to a wonderfully inspiring piece I read in last Sunday's L.A. Times about retired Judge James Reese. Appropos to the holiday season of giving, I invite you to take a few minutes to read this article by Sandy Banks.

Anyone who has ever sat through a "Psych-101" type of class may have a passing knowledge of the life-stages theory of Erik Erikson. As I read about Judge Reese's recent $100,000 gift to USC--to kick-start a local literacy program--I immediately thought of Stage 7, Generativity versus Stagnation.

From his seat on the bench in Compton, Judge Reese saw human costs of poor education. When he sentenced young men to what we now call "community service," the recidivism rate was often driven by the offenders' inability to read instructions, and hence hold the jobs that kept them out of jail. Later, the judge's learned through online research that illiteracy rates, in some areas, were used as an index of future needed number of jail cells. So, here's evidence of the ripple effect of illiteracy -- personal, societal, legal, judicial. So much easier to educate a youth and make him/her a productive citizen, rather than clean up after his/her despair later on, you think?

Generativity is simply a fancy word for the ability and willingness of the older generation to care for, and contribute to the growth and future success, of the succeeding generation. Judge Reese, at age 92, has done more than just have concern for young men's education. He has put that feeling into action by providing means to facilitate their ability to read. His mother before him had modeled the importance of basic skills in becoming independent members of society.

Bob Seeger is another one who continues to provide inspiration for boomers and younger pop artists. I read about him in today's L.A. Times Calendar section. He's 70 now, and says that he could be retire at any time. Still, in the meantime, he's got the likes of Garth Brooks paying tribute. Seeger's craft has spanned several generations. I, myself, can hear something on the radio that Seeger recorded, and go back to that time in my life. He's a generational touchstone. Who can't remember where they where when they first heard "Night Moves?" How sweet is that?

So, whether it's a retired judge, or an old rock-and-roller, giving money for education or performing for artistic enrichment, we "geezers" are really needed by the succeeding generations, whether they admit it or not. And as we move through the holidays into the New Year, we have more gifts to give to the world. It's our job to make sure we're useful until we're gone, and that our influences will be felt even after. That, everyone, is what generativity is all about.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Des'ree - You Gotta Be |Lyrics|

I have decided to defer the third installment of my bullying posts. Instead, in the contemplative spirit of the holidays, I have decided to offer this as one of my favorite motivational songs. Enjoy...and keep a lookout for my thoughts on preparing for the new year!
Happy Holidays!
Dr. Valarie Cascadden

Some Stuff I Resolved in 2011

1. Life is too short to be irritated. That's why I carefully plan my trips to the store, and to recreational venues. I've never been terribly patient by nature. So, when faced with long lines, or a shortage of parking, I now ask myself, "Is it really worth it?" Another reason I'm forsaking Costco for Smart and Final.

2. Taste is everything, especially when one is making the most of a caloric count. As pricy as it is, almond butter beats the hell out of plain old peanut butter. A little spread on multi-grain toast is a great quick breakfast.

3. The only pink in my life, from now on, will be the occasional Pepto-Bismol. The color RED will take a more prominent place in my wardrobe.

4. Out with any flouncy, fluffy, or "aging hippie" stuff hiding in the recesses of my closet. When I think of "professors" and "scholars," what comes to mind are the graying, avuncular men with their pipes and tweed jackets with elbow patches. To craft the feminine counterpart to this look, I'm thinking I'd like to find houndstooth jackets, soft charcoal-gray knit dresses, and sleek A-line skirts. And comfortable shoes one can actually walk in, like Hush Puppies. Damn the sadist who declared stiletto heels beautiful!

5. I want to be able to grow my various career ventures, and be a good, loving caregiver for my mother, who'll be 87 soon.

6. The New Yorker Magazine is well worth the time spent reading it.

7. After years of not paying attention to the often-used phrase, "friends and family," it's beginning to make sense as to why the two are linked.

8. Hard work can keep one young. So can thoughtful fun. And for that matter, moments of spontaneous silliness.

9. With the passing this year of those like Andy Rooney, James Hillman, and Elizabeth Taylor, my generation has its work cut out to find comparable legends for its legacy. Any nominations?

10. We are fast becoming the older generation. We made a lot of noise and headlines in our youth; let's go out in the same spectacular way. If, as I read the other day, "80 is the new 65," what are we going to do about it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Second in a Series: Workplace Bullying Involving Older Workers

NOTE: none of the following is to be taken as legal or human resource advice. Please, if needed, seek your own legal counsel.

Bullying--the word seems so out of place in the world of the professional, "mature" worker. It conjures up the images of the poor, hapless kid getting ganged up on in the halls or on the playground. That's one of the reasons why grown-ups are usually so reluctant to identify themselves as being bullied.

In the previous post, I mentioned someone who recently told me about her "Sunday dread," and also some of the common physical symptoms of stress related to me.

Workplace bullying can be isolating. Because of the embarrassment associated with being picked on, many people are reluctant to say anything--to anyone. There has been a movement in recent decades to encourage "assertive communication." This is all well and good, but there are certain persons (for cultural reasons or hard-wired family messages) for whom assertion would be a difficult reach. Even in 2011, we still have a significant number of females who are raised to "be nice," even at their own expense. Sometimes, even loyal friends can tire of lending a supportive ear to the bullied individual, and may begin to subtly avoid the topic--or the individual. If this person wants to spare his or her family any of the ordeal, he or she may just shut down. Depression, alcohol/substance abuse, other addictive behaviors, or explosive anger at seemingly unrelated people might provide very dysfunctional releases.

Shame is often associated with the trauma of any ongoing abuse. Aside from feeling ridiculous about saying he or she has been picked on, a worker may somehow feel that if he or she were "stronger," or "a better worker," the bullying would not happen or continue for so long. This creates a situation of emotional power for the abuser, who can change the "rules" of the "game" at anytime, so the worker never feels validated or safe. This can further feed the abuse, because the perpetrator might say, "Well, if you felt it was so bad, why didn't you say something?" The worker's feelings of credibility, along with his or her courage, erodes, because the abuser counts on nothing ever being said.

With the current job market, a worker may experience the desperation of feeling trapped with a hostile boss or coworker. These feelings become heightened in those who are older, or planning for a semi-comfortable retirement. It's not unheard of, even now, for a worker to simply surrender and quit out of despair. Scarier still is the thought that someone's hopelessness might turn to rage, and he or she might suddenly return to the workplace as one of those dangerous "disgruntled workers" one hears about in the media.

As the existence of workplace bullying gains credence, there are measures any worker can take to protect himself or herself:

1. Keep every piece of work-related documents from the time of hire, no matter how insignificant or irrelevant it may seem. Make sure the file is kept where it cannot be found by anyone else, and contents would somehow mysteriously "vanish." This paper trail can include one's hiring agreement, formal job description, performance evaluations, letters of praise from customers, copies of emails, etc.

2. Be comfortably cordial, but thoughtful about self-disclosure. One never knows how an innocent conversation about one's personal life can provide fodder for gossip or more malicious purposes. Don't ever feel pressured to offer up any more information than what feels safe, even at the risk of appearing aloof. ALSO, think carefully about what personal belongings are left in the side desk drawer, especially if there is no lock to the desk.

3. And NOWADAYS...make sure that your Facebook "friends" setting reflects who your friends really are. Be mindful of what you post, no matter how innocent it may seem. Someone who has less than honorable motives can mine the social media network for things to use as leverage.

3. Carefully observe the workplace culture. Who is "friends" with whom, and who are the obvious outsiders or scapegoats? What is the tone of the gossip? What is the overall style of management-worker relationships? Do shifts in allegiances or divisions occur, and under what circumstances? Are you ever asked to take sides--by whom and against whom?

If you find yourself being targeted:

1. Keep aware and listen to your intuition. Bullying can be as grossly obvious as being tailgated by a Mac truck, or it can be subtle and insidious.

2. Take care of yourself -- now is all the more reason to cultivate interests and friendships outside of work, to exercise, find a hobby or cause...all to keep your senses of self-esteem and mastery buoyed up. Counseling, such as EAP (Employee Assistance Program) services, can help validate and normalize your feelings during these times.

3. Keep your cool, and think long and hard before returning the enemy fire. In the meantime, document, document, document any and all inappropriate words and actions. Then, if you feel you'll get supported, go to your H.R., union representative, or management, but also be aware of the limitations and possible pitfalls of this are. Do research on your rights in the workplace, and get expert legal advice if you need it.

4. Take your time deciding if you can "stick it out," change jobs, or strike out into a venture like your own business. These are very serious crossroads to face, and ultimately, only you can decide what is right for you to do.

Next post: A personal account of bullying.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Workplace Bullying Involving Older Workers: The first in a series

NOTE: none of the following is to be taken as legal or human resource advice. Please, if needed, seek your own legal counsel.

As we boomers remain on the job--whether by choice or necessity--we can be at risk for unprofessional, unsafe behavior from our peers and supervisors.

In the past year, I have had a significant number of clients disclose that they have been targeted with workplace hostility. They report sleep disturbances, including bad dreams about work; abdominal pains, even when they see their workplace building on a day off; second-guessing their abilities, even when they were highly trained. These people can't "just forget about it and relax" on weekends, and one individual said she gets "Sunday dread," because she knows Monday is just 24 hours away.

Workplace bullying, sadly, is not strictly illegal by itself, per my internet research. It can include a sneaky undercurrent of looks, covert gestures, exclusion from group communication, instances of realizing that one's desk and work files are being rifled through, and one's efforts to serve the public are contradicted in front of the customer. Because so much is done out of the sight or hearing of management, or behind closed doors, the bullying goes largely unnoticed. There have also, in recent decades, some efforts made in corporations to conduct "sensitivity training" or "communication sessions" to help the rank-and-file workers "get along." With supervisors or Human Resource reps in the room, the participants are likely to sit, nod mechanically, (maybe) smile at each other across the table--and then it's back to status-quo in the departments.

Older workers and those who feel socially and economically marginalized are particularly vulnerable. If the bully is confronted, often he/she will deny it, say something along the lines of "Too f***ing bad, if you don't like it, just quit." And so, too often, our worker sucks up their feelings--because, as some of my clients say, "At my age, who will hire me? And I need this job!" They feel trapped, like anyone in an abusive situation. Furthermore, the longer and more pervasive the abuse, the worker's productivity and accuracy can suffer, providing more ammunition for the bully.

Sometimes, a worker will go to H.R. or their supervisors, and the first thing he or she will hear is, "Well, didn't you try to work it out with them? You know, we're in the middle of end-of-month documentation. Can't this wait?" So, a glimmer of hope of support goes out...especially when the bully finds out that the worker has tried to seek help. The abuser may feign innocence to the rest of the department, and then the worker experiences retribution.

In a day when we are trying to pull together as a nation, and revitalize the economy, the childish viciousness of workplace bullying is detrimental not only to the individual worker, but productivity of companies and the country. Let's work this out!

Next post: The personal costs of workplace bullying, and some survival strategies.

Resources:, U.S. Department of Labor, "The Bully at Work," by Gary Namie, PhD & Ruth Namie, PhD

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Laughing at the passage of time

I can't stop it, or even slow it down. So, I may as well join the chorus of people who poke fun at their own aging process.

Today, at 7:59 AM, I'll officially turn 57. And by my own screwy, defiant reckoning, I'm still lingering in middle age, since I hold fast to the cherished goal of long surpassing the century mark. I'm just now getting started on yet another life stage.

I hit my peak physically at about 22, when I consistently weighed 100 lbs., even after a multi-course holiday meal, and "dieting" meant skipping dessert for a day or two to squeeze back into my slim skirts. Looking back, though, I was a "lightweight" emotionally and intellectually. I was still easily swayed by trends and others' opinions, and filled with anxiety regarding "where I should be in my life." I'd completed a patchwork of college courses, but the seesaw of indecision had been an obstacle to my degree. There was that broken engagement, and a pesky, whining ex-boy/fiance who kept calling, wanting to be friends! (To this day, I've never quite gotten that B.S. concept, except that it's a way of avoiding being brave and moving on to take responsibility for getting one's needs met.) And there was my "Silverlake life," when I resided in a hidden back-house apartment in that funky little L.A. enclave that still holds a tiny bit of the old 1970's charm. The insurance industry was centered on Wilshire Boulevard at that time, and I earned my living as an insurance support staffer--skipping merrily from job to job as my fancy struck.

In retrospect, all this dancing around was productive. I was, at my own pace, observing life and trying it on for size. Some of my adventures were totally benign, some outrageous (material for future posts--maybe!). My family and friends were often bewildered at my impulsiveness, but things were brewing in my subconscious.

At 26, I met my now-late husband. When I was 28, we had our son. At 33, I was widowed. Talk about life taking a hard turn...

I returned to my childhood home, and my mother and I set about raising my son, and developing a mutually-beneficial family arrangement. I've written about this life in prior posts. Men I dated proved skittish about taking on a "woman with a kid," so I became primarily involved with finishing school and working. The Bachelor's finally was completed when I was 40; the Master's, 42, and the doctorate, 52. My work is my therapeutic practice, adjunct professorship, my writing, and caring for Mom. Even today, I thought of a couple of more creative projects to begin soon.

And someone dear holds my affection.

As many of my high school and college friends are winding down their careers, I do lovingly wish them well. I made up my mind in my 20's, however, that I was just going to purposefully keep going. There has been so much heart and mind invested in my callings, I wouldn't give them up even if I struck it rich tomorrow. My post-40 discoveries about the world and myself keep unfolding, making up an ever-increasingly complex tapestry of psyche, an unbroken cycle of sharing and receiving...

So, this birthday greeting is from me to the world, with gratitude. Perhaps I'll treat myself to breakfast before church, waving my AARP card and coyly dropping the fact that it's my birthday. Or if I wait till 4 PM, I could get the 20% senior discount at Denny's...and coyly dropping the fact that it's my birthday...oh, I could have SO MUCH fun.

Where's Betty White when I need her? Her company would be a hoot, especially today!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"For now we see through a glass, darkly," of our future, or not?

I've mentioned in various contexts that I'm Mom's primary caretaker, and that I've assumed this role willingly and lovingly...

Even in moments when my assistance stirs up an array of unexpected, and even scary, thoughts and feelings.

I kept up the denial for many years, knowing rationally that Mom "might someday need my help." Grownups are not really different from children in this regard. We keep the image of Mom or Dad as a 45-year-old in the forefront of our consciousness, clinging to it as a fantasy even as various capabilities fall away. With some seniors, the decline is rapid; others experience gradual aging as that proverbial "thief in the night."

My mom has been bravely holding out against frailty. What seems (wistfully, to me, at least) a scant twenty years ago, Mom was newly-retired from nursing, enthusiastically doing volunteer work, making gift batches of homemade fudge for everyone from my son's teachers to the trash collectors, baking holiday pies from scratch, and driving her little putt-putt 1966 VW Bug all over town.

Today, Mom confines her life mostly to her bedroom, and her jailer is her fear of falling. A fall which, by the way, has not yet happened.

She reluctantly gets out into the living room for meals, TV, and conversation with me at my insistence. Cautiously wheeling her walker, Mom pauses halfway down the hall, saying, "Oh, I can't do this. This is a mistake." And I'll--taking a breath and holding back any impatience--"Yes, Mom, you can. I'm here. I'll never let anything happen to you." And then it hits me--for the zillionth time--that we've come full circle, and I'm now the protector, as she was for me at the beginning of my life.

I'm not alone, though. My son, all 6'5" of him, puts aside his usual smart-alerk self when he's over here, and actually quells Mom's fears, if only briefly. Getting Mom out of the house and over to Thanksgiving dinner at a relative's home took our combined efforts, but it made my holiday complete to have her there. Eric and his father-in-law picked Mom up, wheelchair and all, transferring her safely and easily from the walkway onto the porch.

Christmas, another important family-gathering time, is something I need to start strategizing now.

Mom's impacted mobility has reminded me how tightly our senses of self are bound up in not just who we think we are, but what we think we can do. Take that away from any one, especially seniors, and the decline can begin. Not a day goes by that Mom doesn't say something like, "I don't know what I'd do without you," or "I never thought you'd be taking care of me." The fact that Mom still has most of her cognitive faculties makes her gratitude all the more bittersweet.

Recently, I posted a link on my Facebook page to the TED talk of Aubrey deGrey, about "Defeating Aging." I viewed it again the other day, and have decided I dislike his proclamation that "Aging is ghastly." Right now, with our current knowledge and technology, aging is inevitable but not horrible. I prefer those who go beyond deGrey's disgust, and focus on the practical "hows" of enhancing quality of life while it exists. Thank goodness we live in an era of AARP, and a plethora or others organizations.

Knowing that our elders have a limited time with us can be scary, and that's why I think the image of "old people" can be depressing or revolting to us boomers. These reactions are merely masks for fear that this can be our future, fear that can diminish our ability to treasure our relationships with our elders in the here-and-now. And it's good to remember that our own children are watching, taking cues as to how to react when our own time winds down. It's easy for my generation, in times of angst, to recall that Who song, "My Generation," and the line, "I hope I die before I get old...". Not me! I like to think, as I sometimes look "through the glass darkly," that total dependence is only ONE scenario that could play out for me. Much of my future, with the help of knowledge and lifestyle, might still be within my control.

And so, we solider on, down this road, Mom and I. With the help of family, friends, and resources through her Medicare and supplement, life is mostly in this good-enough state. I intend to do whatever I can to keep it that way.
That quote from I Corinthians 13, from which I borrowed for this post's title, also speaks of (depending upon the version) love and charity, among other attributes, which are great coping skills for a caregiver's task.