Family recently gathered to celebrate the first communion of Abigail, our youngest granddaughter.  I got chatting with her “Uncle Pete”, a long time family friend. He asked me what I thought about the new health care reform law.

A colleague of mine once described the speed of his brain as similar to an old cash register - you sequentially push one key after the other and then push the total key. This was in contrast to the speed of a younger person's brain, which was compared to a high-speed computer. High contrast in processing speed, same result.

As I get older, it's amazing the number of people who have mentioned to me in passing that they're worried about the health of their brains. They worry they're starting to lose it, that maybe it's the beginning of dementia.

Lila lived for 2 ½ years in a nursing home funded by Medicaid. Her daughter was concerned about her decline and called the Area Agency on Aging [AAA] to see if it was possible for her to move out and live in a less restricted residential setting. 

I was nine years old when Kennedy was assassinated. Child that I was, his election was the first presidential election I was able to remember with some detail; I was old enough to have the memories of that day imbedded in me for a lifetime.  That evening my family sat glued to the television in silence watching every detail that came over the air. 

Wasn’t it just recently we were focusing on Y2K? How can that be a decade ago? The speed of a decade takes my breath away. When I was in college an older friend, then eighty something, told me that time would simply go faster and faster as I aged. It was hard for me to believe as my schedule was full of classes, studying and friendships. Time seemed to go plenty fast already.

Home for the Holidays ---- where is home anyway? I think the best definitions come in a non-traditional sense.

Notions of a traditional trip to a childhood homestead are relatively rare among the people I know. More often, people reconnect with family and cherished friends whenever and wherever they can. Not all see each other each year. Life is messy. Death, separation, illness and economic worry can put strains on a season where gaiety is in the spotlight. What if you don’t feel gay?

I don’t tend to watch a lot of TV. Now and then it’s relaxing, but often it seems like there’s nothing on. With precious few hours in the evening, TV time can feel like lost time for living. 

In the King & I Anna encouraged her son to whistle a happy tune so no one could tell he was afraid. They whistled like pros and off they went. I’ve never been able to whistle worth a darn. My mother however, encouraged me to “Stand tall, shoulders back, and smile”. Good advice; it served the same purpose.

The projected life expectancy for women just passed 80 years of age. That means that a baby girl born today can expect to live just over 80 years. A baby boy can expect to live to 77 years.  We’ve come a long way.
 

What constitutes retirement nowadays seems to be rapidly changing. I recently had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Marc Freedman, a well-known author on the changing face of retirement and co-founder of The Purpose Prize and Experience Corps – both of which focus on people finding or creating meaningful work after the “job” of their earlier life has ended. His talk put the retirement of the baby boomers in a different perspective.

Recently my husband and I had the opportunity to visit some dear friends in France. We hadn’t been to visit them in sixteen years. How long it had been became immediately apparent as we landed, made our way to the rental car and headed out. I had to search for every bit of broken French I knew. An unmanned toll booth directing “prenez un billet” or “take a ticket” left me momentarily baffled – where were those words I once knew? By the end of a week and a half I was feeling somewhat like an old pro; albeit one with terrible grammar.

“If you want to predict the future, create it.” Henry Ford

That quote has inspired me so many times, especially when a dilemma or challenge feels particularly daunting.  It seems the embodiment of the American spirit. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The swell, crash and froth of huge, unceasing white caps beating against the light house and break wall until all is awash is mesmerizing from the shore. It’s amazing these structures hold up. Every year some lives are claimed. On the shores of Lake Michigan we live in comfort on the edge of an untamable wilderness.

Nature can put life into perspective. Many use it to bring peace and calm nerves in a fast paced and changing life. I’ve always loved hiking and used to do quite a bit of it. Out of practice for a long time but determined to try again, this year is exciting because two big hikes are planned.

A couple weeks ago I finished the first one – climbing Mt. LeConte in Smoky Mountain National Park. It was twenty years since I’d made that hike. Five hours going up, four hours coming down.  My attempts at preparation on a treadmill were woefully inadequate.  I made it – but the difference between making the hike in my thirties versus my fifties was startling. I hobbled around for a few days, took deserved ribbing from friends and was relieved when walking got back to normal.

My sore muscles were less my age than lack of conditioning. In fact, folks who made the climb that day were mostly in the forty through sixty something range. The twenty year olds were noticeably missing. I hoped that it wasn’t a lack of interest.

I worry our auto dependent; internet savvy society is keeping us indoors too much.

Most of my childhood summers were spent at a family cottage on Lake Huron. My parents never allowed a television there. You could read, play a game, or be outdoors. Nowadays the younger set has many temptations to keep them inside: television, DVDs, internet, cell phones, games that mimic sports and the outdoors rather than actually being there.

A recent research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a disturbing trend. In the United States and other developed countries people of all ages are spending less time outdoors.

Child advocacy expert Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, links lack of nature in the lives of youth to disturbing childhood trends such as rises in obesity, attention-deficit order and depression.

 In 1995 the Nature Conservancy started an Internship Program for City Youth to try address youth’s disconnect from nature in New York City. Teens live and work for four weeks on nature preserves. The experience tends to be life changing.

Ersane John, seventeen, reflected back on his month, “There was always something for me to do…..I was helping nature. To come back to the city, to just sit home on the couch and be lazy? It was terrible. I felt homesick for somewhere that wasn’t even my home”.

Are today’s youth building an appreciation of nature? Are they recognizing their own dependence on a healthy environment and understanding how inter-related life is? I don’t know, but I think older generations can help.

National groups like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Administration on Aging, and the National Senior Conservation Corps are active promoters of intergenerational avenues for environmental and outdoor education.  A number of new organizations have been started such as Green Seniors to motivate older generations to get involved.  The Children & Nature Network is building a movement to reconnect children and nature.

There are great local attempts - from scouting to Sarett Nature Center - but environmental awareness needs to be part of our collective consciousness. We need to be involved.

My recent hike sharpened my own awareness - and humbled me to be a little more diligent in preparation before my next hike.

 

In the early 1970s I took a course at Western Michigan University called “Introduction to Gerontology”- the study of age.

As a little boy in the late 1930s, my husband remembers hobos coming to the back door of his family home in South Bend looking for odd jobs or a meal or shelter. It seemed normal to him and he and his friends didn’t think much of the times. His mother would make pancakes or biscuits and find some chore for the transients to do. One of them hand dug a basement under the house and lived there for six months.

This year's early accumulation of snow and ice made holiday travels exceptionally challenging.
A recent wait at an airport was typical for full crowds and bad weather. Seats filled up,
people sat everywhere. Many tapped cell phones or computers. Others read, knitted or tried
to keep themselves busy. Others just watched. Most stayed in good cheer.

“Nothing is certain but death and taxes”. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN 
And maybe we can add that November winds will howl, winter will come and spring will surely follow.
Or…every spring it’s tax time; every fall it’s drug time.
Every fall Medicare beneficiaries who depend on prescription drug insurance through Medicare Part D
have an opportunity to re-examine the varied policies being offered and pick the one that best covers
the drugs they need.

The Area Agency on Aging has a new tree. It’s a Chinese Dogwood planted along the boulevard entrance to the agency. It’s a memorial tree, donated and planted by Bob Dolsen, founder of the agency in memory of Dorothy Richmond. Dorothy was Office Manager of the Area Agency for over thirty years. She loved plants, particularly flowering plants and the beautiful little flowering dogwood is a fitting remembrance of her welcoming style and ready smile.

I don’t know if I have a favorite season of the year anymore. I used to say it was fall because the air was so crisp and colors so vibrant. I seem to cherish them all as I grow older – maybe hoping that appreciating them will slow their inevitable march.

My parents were reared during the Great Depression. Their families believed in hard work, personal responsibility and the value of a dollar – values I’m grateful they impressed strongly on their children. They did very well.

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