Surviving A Blue Christmas


by Roxanne Tellier

Man, I cannot stand Elvis‘ song, “Blue Christmas.” And I’ll bet you have a couple of holiday tunes you could gladly live without for the rest of your life … enough’s enough on the “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” amirite?

And no … we’re not discussing the ‘controversy’ over “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” No, we are not.

But.

But seriously … it’s that time of year, when people can get a little – or a lot – down about what seems to be an incessant and annoying full frontal campaign insisting that we all be ‘merry and bright’ and ‘ho ho ho’ ourselves into stupors.

A surfeit of merriment. Bah humbug. What to do, what to do, when you just feel blue?

csarn salons
That was the question being asked at a recent seminar I attended, that was hosted by the good people of C-SARN (Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network – find more info at csarn.ca.)

Facilitated by Matt Eldridge, from the Artists’ Health Centre, the session included curated info on dealing with holiday stress, and included much lively input from the attendees.

We touched briefly on the very real problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD.) SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the change of seasons. Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, lethargy, anxiety, weight gain and sleep disorders. About 2-3% of the general population of Ontario have SAD and another 15% have a less severe experience. It is believed that SAD is caused by changes in the level of exposure to sunlight. At this point, the main treatment for SAD is light therapy.

Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-SAD

There are special light therapy lamps, designed to mimic spring and summer light levels, that can really help relieve some of the depression of SAD, but the lamps are quite expensive.

However, help is on the way if you live in Toronto! Several branches of the Toronto Public Library now have light therapy lamps available in-library on a first-come, first served basis, as a way to treat the “winter blues.

All you need to do is sit, read or work about 2 feet away from a lamp for 20-30 minutes, without looking directly into the lamp, but allowing the light to shine on your face. It may be hard to believe, but that’s all it can take to really help.

You can give it a try at the Agincourt, Brentwood, Don Mills, Fairview, Humber Bay, Malvern, Maria A Shchuka, Parkdale or Parliament branches, or on the 5th floor and basement Toronto Star Newspaper Room of the Toronto Reference Library.

So that’s SAD dealt with – but what if you are just generally bummed out by the holiday season?

Me, I hate the ‘heaviness’ of winter … the weighty coats, the accumulation of hats, earmuffs, scarves and mitts, and the big, sturdy, non-slip boots that contrive to make me feel like a Clydesdale negotiating a steep slope. I can literally feel myself getting shorter as I assume the mantle of wintry clothing. Literally. I will probably have lost another inch in height by January.

Some determinedly, doggedly, cheery people love to tell you that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” My mission is to hunt those people down, and skin them for their magic coats.

But until I find them, I’m going to have to deal with not enjoying anything about surviving the coldest months of the year in Canada.

Perhaps it is time to embrace the Scandinavian concept of hygge (pronounced hooga.) This is a word that Danes use to express a mental strategy for coping with the winter months, describing an emotional coziness and togetherness. It is a time they spend indoors with friends and family, embracing the colder season as wholeheartedly as they do the summer months, and seeing both extremes as opportunities to cultivate the different sides of themselves.

danish hyggeHey … as long as it doesn’t include sports … I’ve never liked sports, either to play or to watch, so that leaves me out of a lot of the typical Canadian leisure time diversions and debates. About the most I can handle in terms of physical exertion in the winter is a lope to the nearest Tim Hortons for a toasty cup of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and a cinnamon dusting. I simply lack a sports gene, and find it unlikely I’ll develop one during my ‘golden years.’

winter wildlifeWhat I can always find time to do, though, is to spend a few hours with friends, to share a meal and indulge in lively discussions. Or to walk in a park, where some of our wild critters, who don’t migrate or hibernate, can benefit from a gift of the appropriate seed, treat, or suet.

I’m not a religious person, but I sometimes like to enter a house of worship, to partake, for a moment, of the peace that comes from the gathering of those who enjoy a committed faith.

Some people take great joy in volunteering, and of helping others by giving a little bit of their time or largesse to benefit those who have less than ourselves. Others look forward to participating in regular or seasonal religious ceremonies.

christmas eyebrowsI’m more of an indoor person, and can find tons of ways to amuse myself, whether it’s on the internet, or in communing with my pets. I love to search out old holiday songs, programs, and stories from other times and other countries, and to admire or laugh at how our sense of fashion has morphed over time.

Couple of things to avoid – if you are not feeling particularly cheery, go easy on the physical stressors: sugar, caffeine, alcohol and empty carbohydrates will just make you feel more jangled, and pack on the pounds. Be vigilant about eating properly, and taking the meds and supplements that keep you ticking along smoothly. Also, try not to spend a lot of time on social media; many friends and acquaintances like to take the season as an opportunity to put up their annual “highlight” reels … no, neither they nor their kids look that good all year round, and the dog is rented. Nuff said.

try something new SeussYou might be able to turn around some of your blues by making a small attitude adjustment; nobody’s perfect, but we all get a chance every new day to tweak what we’ve got. Why not try looking at your holiday challenges with an eye to a more realistic expectation of how your sister in law will behave after her third glass of wine? Is it possible that even Drunk Uncle will be a little easier to take if you practice a bit of radical acceptance of his all too human foibles? Some people just can’t help people-ing.

And the next time someone invites you to an event, or a meal, why not try saying an enthusiastic YES! to a new experience? The worse that can happen is that you spend a few hours discovering that you like or dislike this new person or food or thing.

Conversely, if you’ve spent most of your adult life hating one of your holiday traditions – this may be the year you finally say a resounding NO! to doing it any more. Walk away from petty squabbles, refuse to eat foods that you dislike, and don’t invite trolls to be part of your celebrations. While the holidays are a time of giving, they shouldn’t also be a time of unending and painful sacrifice in the pursuit of someone else’s happiness.

Everyone experiences the holidays and winter differently, but there are some tried and true ways to increase your own enjoyment of the season. Indulge your senses with the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations that fill you with pleasure.

10-tips-for-enjoying-a-long-winter-indoorsIf you are keen on Christmas carols, fill your home with the sound! Put on your favourite play list while you tidy up your environment and enjoy the scent of seasonal candles, fruits and foliage. Open up your curtains and throw a little light on the situation. indulge yourself with a special treat, because you deserve it.

Be gentle with yourself, and let your inner dialogue express the same tenderness to yourself that you’d show towards someone you love or care about, who’s dealing with a tough time. You are just as deserving.

Above all … pace yourself! This demanding round of lunches, dinners and soirees will soon fade and become last year’s memories, but we Canadians will still have a further three or four months of cold, snow, and ice to deal with. It’s gonna take a toll on you. So try to have enough fun with your loved ones during the holidays to make yourself, if not more tolerant, than at least a little more accepting of our country’s wintry gifts.

And however you spend this holiday season, I wish you the best and most joyous one ever!

happy holidays to all

 

My City Was Gone


“Living just enough, just enough, for the city.”

The Big Cities of the past weren’t for everyone. In the hardscrabble days when I was growing up in Montreal or in Toronto, a city rat could always make ends meet, somehow, some way. There was always that neighbourhood where you could find a deal, that part of town where, while it might not be pretty, but, be it ever so humble, you could find a place to crash if you were short of dough. Or a place to score if you wanted to get high. You might not have a Rolex, but you could find a knockoff for a couple of bucks. k market 1976

When you’re really hungry, a bag of smelts tastes like caviar. And back then, the smaller, inner city groceries, run mostly by the children of immigrants, could always be counted on as somewhere to find something cheap and cheerful to feed the belly of the hungry.

 

 

But getting older often means learning the hard way that the city you once knew is gone forever, for good or for ill. Cities change, landmarks disappear, and the people’s needs change. Progress seeks to whitewash the reality of the poverty and the needy that always lurk in a big city’s depths. Your need to find a little corner of the metropolis to call your own won’t necessarily be fulfilled when you most need it, even if you’re willing to bend to nearly breaking point, just to stay where you’ve lived most of your life.

Life in the big city was never gonna be easy for everybody, but for those of us who came here chasing a dream, there was a time when it was easier to make it work. These days, the city rats have to give way to the up and coming high tech mice, who have the wherewithal to pay the big rents, the big mortgages, and who have enough of the ready to enjoy the best of the city that wants to be world class.

for sale signsWhen we sold our home in 2016, we didn’t worry about where we’d land up next. Surely we’d come up roses on a nice, new place to rent, someplace where we could keep our ‘stuff’ and exist comfortably for the foreseeable future.

But our search was far more difficult that we’d thought, and we didn’t find a cubby hole to curl up in straight away – there were a lot of twists and turns on the journey. And once here, the drawbacks of this particular rental surfaced, meaning that this isn’t where we’ll be staying long-term either.

But where we were lucky was in having a good credit rating, reasonably good health, and a couple of bucks in the bank. Not that any of that guarantees you’ll find a decent living space, but when you put them all together, it will help make the search just a little less frustrating.

There are several reasons why living in the bigger cities of North America has become harder for the lower to middle class. We’ve lived through decades of foolish governments who hung on to power by failing to increase taxes enough to keep the city running. Our infrastructure has been strained to it’s limits without the injections of cash needed to keep the trains going, or the hospitals able to handle an aging society.

Those same governments, as a rule, also tended to side with commercial leasing entities over renters, allowing businesses to take huge tax write offs on over priced properties that could stand vacant for months and even years, until a lessee with big dollars took occupation.

Real estate prices have soared in the last decade, until even the tiniest, most rundown, residential property in the city starts at a million dollars, and goes up into the stratosphere from there. Real estate agents are becoming the nouveau riche. Who can afford to buy those properties?

And yet the ‘for sale’ signs go up, and in days, come down, with the replacement sign reading, ‘sold over asking.’ How many of these buyers are house poor, I wonder? And how will they pay the overblown mortgage should one half of a couple lose their jobs or become ill?

straight outta scarboroughGentrification has been excising the more interesting parts of the city for at least the last thirty years. Within another three to five years, Yonge Street south of Bloor will be as nondescript as a Scarborough mall, packed with chain stores, fast food franchises, Starbucks, and a Shopper’s Drug Mart on every corner.

If I wanted Scarborough drab .. I’d go to Scarborough. “Cleaning up” Yonge street really means erasing our sense of history and place, and of sanding down the grit of People City, leaving behind the sort of bland, generic playground that is fit only for the children of the very wealthy.

dying from exposureI know that this is no longer the city that I came to conquer back in 1976; there are new generations coming up behind me, young and hungry, and eager to prove themselves in their fields.

But how are they to survive, when those with the ability to raise them up, choose instead to shackle these young spirits with internships and exposure? Where exactly are they to find the bootstraps these strugglers are supposed to pull up?

And most importantly… where are these young tyros supposed to live? And how are they to eat? When living is reduced to just surviving, there’s little time or will to create.

Once upon a time, those who yearned to enjoy and participate in Canada’s culture flocked to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, and took their chances, clawing their way to success, or falling by the wayside. But international big money has taken that option out of the equation.

If you didn’t buy real estate twenty years ago, you’re going to have to be in rarefied company to be able to afford to buy today. Even your ability to rent in a ‘better area’ of the metropolises is an iffy proposition.

Globalization, gentrification … we’re moving from the end of the industrial age into the fullness of the digital, high tech world. And our cities reflect that change, just as at one point they reflected the scions who traveled in horse and buggy.

The cities have begun to depend upon video, cellular communications, artificial intelligence, and eventually, a robotics industry that will force countries to accept a basic income that will keep the lower and middle class in just enough financial stability to stay alive … though that life may not be what many would have considered livable even a decade or two ago. The digital elite will own the residences; the rest of us will vie for the privilege of renting.

tent cities 2018And those who fall between the cracks will live in the tent cities that are now springing up to house the homeless.

The cities, as we knew them, are changing. Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, are already gone. and it could be argued that Vancouver is next, with Toronto not far behind.

As much as we may yearn to keep this from happening, globalization is inevitable, and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

And, for many, that wave is washing away the possibility of aging in place in the Big City.

 

Meep Meep! and other Augusty Thoughts


No matter how you may feel about Senator John McCain‘s political past, with his recent demise, you cannot help but remember that he was a war hero, and a stand up guy. His passing leaves us short of what might have been the last real gentleman standing in the Senate. As his life becomes a memory, those who knew him well remind us of those moments that defined a Giant of the Senate and of a politician who frequently eschewed partisanship for a wholehearted defence of democracy.

Even in death, McCain holds firm to his principles. As I read this morning, “John McCain told friends months ago that he didn’t want Donald Trump at his funeral. Instead he wanted former President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush to attend his funeral and deliver the eulogy. McCain famously lost to Bush in the 2000 Republican primary race for President, and then lost to Obama in the 2008 general election for President. Yet McCain chose these two men — one Republican and one Democrat — to eulogize him.

McCain thus ensured that his funeral would be bipartisan and inclusive, making it all the more glaring that current “President” of the United States wasn’t invited.”

Imagine what a horrific human being you have to be, to be barred from both McCain’s funeral, and the funeral of Barbara Bush. And this is the guy who thinks he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. He couldn’t negotiate peace between the two types of candy in an M&M bag.

November can’t come soon enough ….

storms coming

 

In a week that hints of a possible end to the Trump administration’s reign of terror, it is a real comfort to know that the rule of law must ultimately prevail, even over an administration as venal and corrupt as this one.

And yet, there are still those that hold a grudging admiration for the Grifter in Chief, and his army of wily surrogates and spokespeople who seek to stop his feeling any sort of retribution for his heinous , malicious whims and vindictive executive orders.

wile e coyoteThey will assure you that they would never .. NEVER … vote for the Orange Manatee. But they just can’t help themselves from grinning – just a little – when he wriggles out of yet another moral or ethical dilemma.

It’s like Trump is the RoadRunner, constantly outwitting the smarter, but nonetheless ultimately hapless, Wile E. Coyote. 

For many who feel vaguely discontented with their lot, there’s a real anger towards ‘smart people,’ those who ‘caught the breaks,’ and are often considered part of a group that seems to be determined to keep the regular Joe down. There’s a resentment for those who have more success, and a belief that somehow, those guys had more, and unfair, advantages.

tall poppies 2Because of the tales and tropes we’ve grown up believing, there can be a real bitterness in some. It is as though they believe that intelligence is a negative characteristic, that should be hidden from others, or at least, played down with great modesty.

They believe that “Real Men” don’t have to study, let alone ‘think’ … Real Men just DO! They naturally have all the information they need to solve any problem, even if it’s not in their field, or their realm of expertise. They are simply born with that ability. It’s just something that ‘real men’ know in their always righteous guts.

So when a confident, if completely incapable, con man comes along – especially one that ticks so many of our culture’s other boxes .. he’s tall, he’s imposing, he takes no shit, he is in charge, he’s got a lot of women in his life, whether through matrimony or a lifetime of libertinism … those same people can feel like they’re looking at a man of action. If not a hero, then at the very least, an anti-hero, whom they can admire.

They look at this man who will literally shove aside other men to be fully spotlighted and in charge … and something inside them admires that brutality.

trump shoves PM of Montenegro

Mistaking recklessness for bravery, lasciviousness for virility, and self-preservation for selflessness, they are happy to carry the 72 Year Old Toddler‘s water.

The OranguTAN likes to come off as a sort of lovable rogue, always ready with a quip, even when it is completely inappropriate or critically cruel of others. It’s all about the luck, the wit, the simple act of being The Donald, rather than any sort of actual information, data or reality. He is completely averse to any pretension of knowledge, or the acquiring of same, disdaining his crucial daily briefs and demanding that they instead be solely bullet points and pictographs. Because a man of his stature, you see, must always be on the run, on the go, being a manly man, playing golf, grabbing pussies. Busy busy!

Eventually, of course, there will be retribution. But up until that fateful day, there will be many who will throw their careers and bodies in front of Mad King Donald, as he stumbles toward a possible impeachment and a probable indictment, believing that their loyalty will be rewarded, if not in the White House halls, than in the publishing offices where they will flog their memoirs for big bucks, in hopes of bringing joy to the slathering, puerile readers who will never come within a thousand miles of such proximity to ‘greatness.’

Until the day that the roadrunner catches Mr Wile E.

the muellering

……………………………………………………..

In the flurry of convictions, plea bargains, and requests for immunity this week, one long time comrade of the Gibbering Gibbon found his string of publications in the spotlight – and most definitely not in a good way.

David Pecker, notorious tabloid king, owns nearly every supermarket tabloid and gossip sheet in the United States, including the flagship publication National Enquirer. In an effort to get ahead of the rush of those seeking immunity deals, he’s admitted to having withheld stories detrimental to the Trump campaign, by using ‘catch and kill;‘ the practice of buying up a story and then burying it. This would very likely constitute an unlawful contribution to the Trump campaign of 2016.

He’s even admitted to having an office safe dedicated solely to stories and photos of Trump in flagrante delicto. This ain’t no Geraldo hoping for an Al Capone bonanza – this is the real deal.

But while we wait, and silently shudder at what might lie within the safe’s depths, I think it has to be noted that Pecker did not just hide Trump’s offences, he maintained a constant assault on Hillary Clinton throughout the course of the campaign, on his tabloid’s covers.

national enquirer hillary covers

Despite all this Democratic insistence of ‘going high when they go low,‘ this abuse of the public’s trust, in the lies and smearing of one presidential candidate in favour of the other, cannot be ignored. While the tabloids may be considered ‘entertainment,’ there are many parts of the United States when their words are considered ‘gospel,’ based mainly on how many lesser educated people were raised – to believe that words in print must be true, simply because they have been printed.

We already know a big chunk of Americans – the ones Hillary so rightly called ‘the deplorables‘ – did and do believe these accusations and lies. They continue to buy into Pecker’s steady drip of venom against Democrats, anti-gun activists, and civil rights advocates .. every damn Saturday when they pick up their groceries at the local Wegmans or Albertsons, and then trot down to the VA for a rousing chorus of “lock her up.’

If Hillary can’t bring herself to sue the bejeezus off this turd, a civil suit should be brought against his publications. His stories constitute a willful assault upon the attention spans of the ignorant and the poorly educated.

Lies, propaganda, and a relentless, overt attack on one candidate to assure the political success of another is not free speech – it is collusion between Trump and Pecker, and campaign meddling, and it needs to be acknowledged as such.

trump pecker enquirer

 

Stuff Is Hard


scott shelson teddy boysI didn’t have the best week, to be honest. On Tuesday, I learned that a very dear friend had passed away after a series of health setbacks. Scott Shelson was a good man; look up ‘mensch’ in the dictionary – his photo should be there.

Scott was not only a fabulous musician, he was movie star handsome, smart, funny, athletic, a great husband, and an amazing dad. He ran a courier company for years, and many a musician found a temporary or long term job there when they needed it.

scott shelson sexy shirtAt the family’s ‘Celebration of Life,” the scores of those who had come to honour Scott praised his commitment to his family and friends, saying that he was a man who had never been heard to raise his voice in anger, or have a bad word to say about anyone – even those who might have sinned against him in the past.

A good man – a big loss for those of us who loved and respected him.

Two days later, the world mourned the loss of another irreplaceable human being, when Aretha Franklin succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I can’t remember a world in which she was not a force to be reckoned with, not only in music, but in civil rights, and in her position as senior female spokesperson. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. baby…

aretha franklin youngEvery musical entity on the planet .. and many non-musical entities … have written glowing tributes to the Queen of Soul. So, of course, the Orange Mango waved away the importance of her life and works when he dismissively referred to her as someone who once worked for him. Sigh. Money can’t buy class.

I do know that she was asked to perform at Dead Clown Walking’s inauguration, and vehemently refused to do so. Maybe in the fantasy carnival ride of his mind, he thinks she accepted. Who knows? Or cares?

“Though she largely refrained from publicly criticizing Trump during or after the 2016 campaign, two individuals with direct knowledge of her political opinions said she was repelled by the Republican standard-bearer, his policy prescriptions, and his rhetoric. One source close to Franklin told The Daily Beast that after the election, she confided to associates that “no amount of money” could convince her to perform at the inauguration.”

Orange Condom represents the worst America has to offer, but Miss Franklin showed the world the heights an American could achieve with a real love of her art and her country.

Rest in well deserved peace, Queen … we are richer for having had you in our lives.

While I’m not all that into astrology, August 16 is a very interesting and auspicious day for comings and goings. We lost Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n Roll, on that day, as well as Aretha, seminal blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, and baseball giant, Babe Ruth, while Madonna, Steve Carell, James Cameron, Angela Bassett and Kathie Lee Gifford were born on that day. And … August 16 is also National Bratwurst Day, National Roller Coaster Day, National Rum Day, and National Tell A Joke Day.

Things that make you go .. hmmm … and then pour a large rum and coke to go with your bratwurst, while you tell a joke about roller coasters.

In other news – the world just keeps getting more chaotic, and honest to pete, guys … can we just stop with the getting all up in our own selves, cherry picking facts, and doing a lemming-like march to every available cliff?

Being ‘woke’ is great when we’re in progressive mode. But when a huge slice of the electorate is obsessed with real and made up reasons to be frightened and angry, it’s time to get back to the middle-right, not the Middle Ages. People care a great deal about jobs, the economy, health care, education … and why their kids can’t make enough money to move the hell out of their basement.

Trying to get them to be more interested in deep states, conspiracy theories, and fiery deaths from either an apocalypse or a nuclear war is just asking too much from us on an every day basis. Especially in the summer. Especially this summer.

titanic sinkingIn a time when populist leaders like Trump and Ford are being voted in with self-proclaimed mandates to do whatever evil their warped little cerebral cortices coax them to do, we’ve got to pull way back from the sinking side of the Titanic.

There are days when I wonder if the ascent of these fools was engineered to wipe out the last of the intelligent baby boomers by having them stroke out, thus diminishing the costs of elder health care costs. But then I remember .. thee and me are still here.

There are other days when I look at America’s underbelly supporting the 72 Year Old Toddler, with their cries of “lock her up!” replacing, “She’s a witch!” and wonder just how very different things are today from how they were in the Dark Ages.

After all – it was the time between the fall of one Empire and the beginning of a renaissance. It was also another time of rejecting science and truth, and of painting bothersome women as witches or animals, with no rights.

Fake News? Oh.. the medieval scribes had an excuse for that!

TitivillusTitivillus the Error Demon: Some in the Dark Ages believed that the blame for any scribe’s error—big or small—fell squarely on the shoulders of this Muppet-lookin’ monster. The Titivillus ran with a bad crowd (aka Satan), so it made sense he’d do such devilish work.

And how very different are the most rabid anti-abortionists beliefs from preformationism; the belief that “sperm carried homunculi, tiny versions of a fully-grown human. It had organs, eyes, a brain—everything a baby had when it was born. In the womb, this little thing just grew from microscopic to baby-sized.” (boredomtherapy.com)

You wanna know what brought about the end of the Dark Ages? It was the black plague, the development of the printing press and the decline of the Catholic church.

So … I guess we’re just waiting on that plague now?

History doesn’t repeat itself .. but sometimes it rhymes … or ..

gbs quote on history reepeating

 

If Aging is Inevitable …


It really is unfortunate that Trump decided to pause his retirement to be a part time president.  He’s happier golfing, or lying in bed eating cheeseburgers, and I think we all would be delighted to see him go back to those pastimes full time. trump in bed w chzburgers

That being said, being aware of the declining thought processes of a 71 year old person who insists on being the center of attention 24/7 has, for good or ill, has shone a spotlight on how to age disgracefully.

Trump embodies much of the fears, confused thinking, and self indulgence associated with declining mental health.

One of the first and most important signs of this psychological decline is what is called ‘doom thinking,” or thought processes becoming instantly hostile, stressed or sad. With this mindset, anything that doesn’t resemble the familiar is perceived as threatening.

Another sign is extreme mood swings, with periods of elation, anger, depression or even rage. Disorganized speech, evasive answers to even the simplest questions, and a tendency to wander mentally while responding are also warnings.

Cognition EqualsPaying attention to our own physical and mental needs as we age should be a top priority for everyone – not just for our own good, but out of respect for those who will share those senior years with us.

I recently entered a study that focuses on the impact of aging on memory. I’d noticed myself having more difficulty memorizing song lyrics; I could remember the words to songs I’d sung 40 years ago, but was struggling to remember new lyrics at rehearsal. I also found myself having a tough time coming up with just the right word to use, whether in writing a column, or in discussion with others.

accept responsibilityBut it wasn’t until I began the interview process of  the study that I realized how many workarounds I’d unconsciously adapted, in order to conceal the normal mental decline we all face during the aging process. I also began to notice how often I blamed circumstances or other people when I made an error, rather than recognizing that the error was my own fault.

Our brains are wonderful things; they are extraordinarily adept at finding the least difficult way to do things.  And that is great, during our youth and middle age, when we’re negotiating our way through school, a career, relationships and all the matters that we have to contend with in the full throes of life.

But as we approach and enter retirement, a lot of the distractions have faded away, and we have less worries to occupy our thoughts. That’s when we may discover that we’ve lost some of our mental agility, along with the supple physicality of our youths.

brain stimThe study that I’m a part of requires confidentiality on the specifics, but I can say that it involves electrical and cognitive brain stimulation on a daily basis, and includes cognitive remediation (computer games) for an eight week period.

It also includes daily discussions on known methods of combating mental decline. Most of these have been around for quite some time, but so many of us fail to plan for a time when we no longer have to answer to anyone but ourselves.

Everyone approaches retirement differently, and how we hope to spend our days is often based on how we have spent our time in the previous four decades. Some are looking forward to afternoon naps and endless NetFlix, while others want to get into volunteerism, cookery, or further education.

If one’s daily work kept the wolf from the door, but didn’t fulfill an artistic urge, this might be the first chance some will have to finally pursue their ambitions.

The most important thing is to HAVE a plan. Drifting into retirement without any idea of where you’re going next, will ensure you go nowhere of interest  Time will pass; whether or not you enjoy that time is up to you.

retire happy(A good book on planning for retirement is one I read a few years back, by Canadian Ernie J. ZelinskyHow to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. It’s a great follow up to his previous book … The Joy of Not Working: 21st Century Edition – A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked. The focus of both books is on enjoying life and both encourage physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and improvements.)

So, what are a few things that anyone can put into practice to build new brain cells, and alleviate mental decline?

Cognitive impairment is not inevitable. You can really reduce the risk of age-related memory loss by keeping mentally stimulated, through activities that stimulate new connections between nerve cells. To develop neurological ‘plasticity’, indulge in mentally stimulating activities, like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and crafts like drawing and painting, that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort.

healthy eating. jpgIt is tempting to ease up on our diets as we age, but it’s probably more important  to be nutritionally wise as you age, than it is during the more physically active years. It’s not just about how much or little you eat, as it is what you’re eating. Reducing consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal sources and of trans-fatty acids from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, along with a concentration of foods high in the B vitamins can help lower your homocysteine levels, which are often linked to an increased risk of dementia. Eat your greens, and enjoy more grains.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is designed to reduce blood pressure, but could also protect against dementia.

The ten foods considered healthy are:

    •    green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale 
    •    other vegetables, such as red peppers, squash, carrots and broccoli 
    •    nuts 
    •    berries, including blueberries and strawberries 
    •    beans, lentils and soybeans 
    •    wholegrains 
    •    seafood 
    •    poultry 
    •    olive oil 
    •    wine (in moderation)

Five foods considered unhealthy include red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried or fast foods. So .. all the fun stuff. <le sigh>

 Beyond staying lean, it’s particularly important to keep a stern eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. Diabetes is not a given as you age.

Although you may not want to hear it, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake are pretty much essential. Some say up to two alcoholic drinks a day is safe for men, with slightly less being ideal for women. Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia.

Good, refreshing sleep is probably the greatest gift you can give your brain cells. A deep, REM sleep of from six to eight hours a night replenishes the brain, and allows ‘janitor cells’ to clear away dead cells and make room for the new. There is some evidence that sleeping on your left side makes that process easier for your body.

https://dailyhealthpost.com/6-hidden-health-benefits-of-sleeping-on-your-left-side-that-you-should-know-about/

Anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted people are at an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age. Keeping control of our emotions will help. Having a circle of friends and acquaintances with whom you enjoy interacting is also very important for keeping a positive attitude.

Despite the aches and pains often associated with aging, older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain.

MDS LogoExercise is known for promoting both body and mind, with the elderly seeing especially great improvements. But it is not known which type of exercise is best for the elderly. To help address this, the traditional fitness group conducted mainly repetitive exercises like cycling or Nordic walking, while the dance group was challenged with something new each week.

Consistently changes in dance routines of different genres were implemented. These included the likes of jazz, square, Latin-American, and line dancing. To help keep the dances more challenging, speed and rhythms were changed every week to simulate the learning process as the seniors learned new routines.

Both groups were found to have increases in their hippocampus regions of the brain – an important area prone to age-related decline and affected by neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. the hippocampus is also known for playing key roles in memory, learning, and even balance.

 “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity. In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance,” says Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany.”

Aging is not for sissies .. or the lazy. But with mindfulness, self love, and an open mind, it can be the best time of your life. Live! Love! Dance!

admire kind people

For more information on the paid study on aging and memory:

http://www.camh.ca/en/research/research_areas/studies_and_recruitment/study-websites/Pages/PACt-MD.aspx

 

Of Time and Tides


not ready for growingupNext week, I’ll be heading to British Columbia to visit my daughter, granddaughters, family and friends. My husband gifted me the fare; he knows I’ve been aching to see the girls. I’ll be there for my daughter’s birthday, and to reacquaint myself with my granddaughters, who are teetering on the brink of their teenage years, at ages 11 and 13. My daughter will have her hands full for the next decade with these two little minxes.

I, on the other hand, have ‘grandmother privilege.‘ I get to see them when they’re on their best behaviour, and to leave the room for a nap or to visit friends when they’re acting up. Life is good!

For years I was unable to travel. A weird combination of finances and bureaucracy kept me from obtaining the necessary identification to board a train or plane. My clever friend, Barbette Kensington, steered me through the morass of paperwork, and now … I am a genuine, legally viable, traveling person!

So I’m looking forward to this trip, for many reasons, and despite my insane fear of flying. It’s a joy and a privilege to be able to travel, and one that I’ve not been able to do in over 16 years.

Getting older is a privilege as well, although many of us hate to think about it. As our loved ones, idols and contemporaries succumb to time, it starts to seem like the world we once knew is fading away, leaving us adrift in an altered space.

Coming to grips with aging looks a lot like getting thru the stages of grief. You’re gonna have to go through denial, anger, bargaining and depression before you finally come to acceptance.

I have my own theory on how we deal with getting older; I think I read it somewhere, but it’s mine now. Basically, there’s three stages.

In the first stage, you feel pretty much like you always did. You still want to do all of the things you used to do, and for the most part, you are able to socialize, travel, and maintain your hobbies with maybe a little more resting time needed than before. But you’re still a you that you recognize, and if you’ve got a few bucks, you can finally relax and enjoy life.

In the second stage, something goes wrong, either physically or mentally. Maybe you break a hip, or have a stroke. Now you’re wishing you had gotten in that trip to Peru before your lungs decided high altitudes were no longer an option. You get a little angry that your social calendar looks barer than it used to, and you might start to tell people that you’re “not as young as you used to be,” in order to get out of doing any sort of strenuous movement … like walking up the stairs.

do not regret growing olderIn the third stage, you can’t do very much at all, and there isn’t much you look forward to anymore. That’s the last bit of the human journey, and probably the least anticipated.

Aging is inevitable, and few would prefer the alternative. Ready or not, at some time in your late fifties or early sixties, you will realize that you’re nearing, or in, that first stage, and that you have no idea when exactly the second stage will kick in.

We live in wonderful times. While we can’t turn back the clock, we can be grateful that medical science now allows an array of options for dealing with aging bodies. Hip surgeries and knee replacements are commonplace. Who knows what miracles will be available as we age and need a few more drastic nips and tucks?

laser surgery. jpgWe simply can’t anticipate what the future will hold, for good or ill. As a kid, I never dreamed that there would someday be a surgery available to correct vision … I had just assumed that I’d eventually lose my sight entirely, as both of my grandmothers had. Thanks to lasers, I had two decades of perfect vision. One of these days, I’ll have more laser surgery, and that will correct the effects of aging as well.

It would be great if there were big advances in cancer treatments. Cancer is a cruel bitch, and she’s taken away too many of my loved ones. Last fall, I had to finally admit that it was time to stop smoking, and I quit cold turkey. I’ll be dealing with the damage that I did to myself from here on in, and keeping my fingers crossed that I escape the Big C.

Took me too long to realize that you only need to change a few letters to go from ‘excuse’ to ‘exercise.’ A regular exercise program makes me feel a lot less stressed. Maybe the aquafit will also help me lose a few pounds. Couldn’t hurt. For sure it’s refocusing my attention on how good it feels to be able to stretch without pain.

The first stage of aging can be a bit of a shock – it’s almost as though our bodies are betraying us. After years of doing pretty much whatever was asked of them, our bodies have gone mutinous, and are demanding that we treat them with more care.

There’s several reasons for these changes, but they are all inevitable, so you may as well get used to them.

” Two biological phenomena appear related to the aging process:

• Accumulation of waste products in the cells
• Loss of elasticity of the connective body tissue

These changes, sometimes called nongenetic, occur at the cellular level. They have a direct bearing upon many declines we experience in our physical and sensory capabilities.

Many bodily changes take place over the entire lifespan— some beginning with birth. They are part of a relentless, post-maturational phenomenon called senescence (biological aging).

Senescence results in a decrease in the physical capacity of an individual, accompanied by an increase in a person’s vulnerability. As a result, any product or environment may become less friendly and less supportive for some people while adequately providing support for others.

Most of the changes that characterize senescence occur slowly. As they occur, individuals adapt to them. For example, people with arthritis may select utensils with larger and softer handles to ease the pain and enhance their grip.”

http://www.transgenerational.org/aging/aging-process.htm)

While the changes are inevitable, how we deal with them is up to us. Denying the realities of aging only leads to a more rapid decline, and if we try to force ourselves to perform at the same level, mentally or physically, as we did in our prime, we’re doomed to failure, and to setting up a negative feedback loop that tells us that it’s no use to even try for what improvement we can rationally expect.

What we really crave is a happy aging experience, and that’s easier to get to when we aim for smaller goals, with less dramatic gains, but gains that are progressive and ongoing. In a positive feedback loop of self-reinforcing and self- energizing behaviours, we can find the sweet spot of feeling comfortable at any age.

those who love deeply never grow old. jpgThere’s got to be joy in our lives. That’s what really motivates us, and leads us to the healthy actions and interactions that make getting up every morning something to anticipate rather than dread.

We need ‘fresh air and friendly faces,’ people that we care about and people who care about us. We need to love and be loved, and to hold dear those whom we treasure for the good impact they’ve had in our lives.

We need to appreciate where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, while embracing new experiences that stretch our abilities. And sometimes we need to get on an airplane even when we’re terrified of flying.

There’s no sense in denying your ‘golden years;’ there’s only the reality of how you’ll choose to live them. My choice is to make the rest of my life, the best of my life.

mark twain on travel

 

Temptation Redux


Much as I have tried to pull together at least a preview of a project that I’m working on to share with you, it is not to be; there is much back burner simmering to be done before that column is ready to be savoured.

Hmmm… back burner simmering … sounds like something good to eat! Speaking of eating … here’s something I wrote in the Spring of 2013, and have revised and updated for your dining and dancing entertainment. Bon Appetit!

The Last Temptation

Mmm … food. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. For some, food is a sensual pleasure, as delicious and desirable as sex. To others, feeding themselves is a chore; if they could, they would be content to fill their nutritional needs by swallowing a tablet.

Gourmet or gourmand? That is the question. I believe the essence of human sensuality is embodied in one who not only enjoys good food, but revels in all its glories; heaven on the palate, a visual treat, and a tactile experience. To me, there is little as delightful as a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Good food, in all of its 3D wonderment, warms the cockles of my heart, quickens my breath, and eases the tensions of life.

Oh yes, I know. Everything in moderation, and if I ever figure out how to do that, I’ll get right on it! But the warring culinary DNA factors in my blood and heart crave lashings of French cooking, with a shanty Irish reliance on carbohydrates swimming in butter, and a British sensibility that encourages such brutal delicacies as steak and kidney pudding. I love food. pomegranateNo – I am in lust with good, honest, fresh, beautifully prepared, delicately seasoned, lovingly plated and brilliantly presented food.

I grew up when food was only available in season, and then just in the grocers for a very small window of time. Pomegranates, black cherries, tangerines … gifts from the gods! We snapped up these delicacies, pressed them to our breasts, and rushed them home to be enjoyed in the loving spirit in which they had been grown.

dragonfruitTimes have changed, and for the most part, I applaud the growers of the world, who now bring old favourites and new sensations to our tables and taste buds all year ’round. I approached my first Dragon Fruit with apprehension, but fell to its creamy goodness. I still have yet to cook an artichoke, so fearful am I of bruising its delicate heart. I weep for the people of South America, whose primary staple grain and protein, quinoa, has fallen afoul of North American foodies and vegans – their lust for this important protein supplement is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in Brazil.

Oh brave new world that has such wonders in it!

The flip side of this global food consciousness is, of course, the prolific rise of fast food – an abomination in my eyes – and the voraciousness of the gaping maws of people who apparently no longer have an OFF switch on their hunger. shopping nightmareA visit to the grocer the day before a holiday will have you convinced that we’ve just been alerted to an impending weather disaster, zombie apocalypse or nuclear holocaust. Carts crashing into each other, shoppers strip the aisles clean of all available food stuff like piranha. It is to weep.

Food has always been woven into our culture, enshrined in art, music and literature.

Today, trained and novice chefs compete for our attention in an orgy of food porn on their own television channels. From the likeable Jamie Oliver, intense and so well meaning, to the scatological ravings of kitchen madman Gordon Ramsey, to the ‘en garde!’ insanity of Iron Chef, or the folksy drawlings of now diabetic Paula Deen, you can scarcely spend an hour in the 500 channel universe without being reminded that you’ve not eaten in at least fifteen minutes.

nigella lawsonNigella Lawson is embraced and acknowledged as the courtesan of TV food; although neither a trained chef nor cook, her softly curving figure and clearly erotic attention to the food she prepares seduces the viewer into a relaxed and loving appreciation of goose fat and Riesling.

But it is in classic film that the connection between food and sensuality is best exhibited, in a veritable moveable feast.

In 1963, a lascivious dining scene in Tom Jones, of Albert Finney and Joyce Redman devouring a chicken, left movie goers gasping.

Or consider … Alan Bates describing the best way to eat a ripe fig in Women in Love (1969). Phew! “Like a prostitute, the bursting fig makes a show of her secret.”

In 9 ½ Weeks, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke played sensually with jello, pasta, grapes, cherries and strawberries and the surprise of an jalapeno until her face was sticky with juices and she begs, with mouth agape, for more. Not very subtle, but very effective.

Babette’s Feast, (1987,) a film based on a story written by Isaak Dinesen, showed the healing properties of glorious, delicious food on a religious community divided by fear of strangers. Big Night, (1996,) Stanley Tucci’s film about a New Jersey restaurant, exalted in the remarkable healing powers of a shared meal.

Is there a right way to eat ramen, that glorious noodle soup? Why yes – and Tampopo (1985) showed us how to give respect to the ingredients. “Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas. Jewels of fat glimmering on the surface. Schinachiku roots shining. Seaweed slowly sinking. …” More than a haiku to the food, it is total appreciation. There’s also a nod to drink, with the sipping of sake from a woman’s navel.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Goodfellas –  a celebration of food! “Pauly … had this wonderful system for doing the garlic. He used a razor, and he used to slice it so thin that it used to liquefy in the pan.”

La Grande Bouffe is nothing more than a story of four friends who set out to eat and screw themselves to death in the French countryside. I’ll spare you the visuals on that one. Nor will I include scenes from the shocking waste of butter in Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider’s romp in Last Tango in Paris. Butter aficionados will find it on their own.

No Reservations (2007), starred Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sexy chef who made her puppy dog underling sit up and beg for treats.

You’ll never feel the same about quail after watching this scene from Like Water for Chocolate (1993) Tita uses her suitor’s gift, seasoned with her blood and longing, to make quail in rose petal sauce. Her passion is communicated through the delicious food to Pedro, her potential lover, while her haughty mother dines in salty disapproval. Eventually, her heat causes an outhouse to erupt into flames.

In the similarly themed Chocolat (2000), Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche enjoyed the magic of lovingly handmade chocolate candies. In Woman on Top (2000) Penelope Cruz, playing a chef, has phallic-looking chilli peppers rubbed on her lips.

You remember the shimmering, shadowed, shower, but do you remember Jennifer Beals devouring a lobster tail in the seduction scene in Flashdance (1983) ?

A full menu of films that piqued our appetites would leave us overstuffed, so I’ll stop there.

We all hope to age gracefully and beautifully, like a fine wine. But many of us will eventually come to the point where, for health or dietary reasons, we can only look longingly at a delicious spread, and whimper into our hands.

harvest.jpgAs harvest time nears, and before political correctness, weight gain, national health, and propriety wipe these elemental pleasures from our memories, bite into a ripe strawberry, bury your nose into a bushel of fresh tomatoes, nibble at the edges of a freshly cut pastrami or hold a mouthful of champagne against your taste buds, reveling in it’s effervescence.

And raise a glass and a fork to one of the most basic and natural joys of living … the enjoyment of food!